Your womanish outburst of despairing tears over, a hot fever of restlessness besets you. The space is narrow for disquiet such as yours,—you hunt up and down the strip of floor like a caged beast. No way out,—no way out!—Face to face with lingering death, why not hasten it? No moral scruple withholds you. Yet will you not die by your own hand. Through all your suffering you will cling to life and worship it. Never will you open your arms to death,—which seems to you no grave, compassionate angel, but a malignant fiend lying in ambush for your soul. And such a fiend will your death be; for to all men death is the reflection of their life in the mind’s mirror.—Still to and fro you fare, a moving shadow through a narrow gloom, walled in with stone.
Awful is this unnatural sanity of intellect: it is like the calm in the whirlwind’s centre, where the waves run higher though the air is deadly still, and the surly mariner wishes the mad wind back again.—To and fro you flit, goaded on and strengthened by untiring anguish. You are but the body of a man; your thought and emotion are abroad, haunting the unconscious, happy lovers!—
Suddenly you stop short in your blind walk, throw up your arms, and break into an irrepressible chuckle. Has your brain given way at last?—No, your laugh is the outcome of a genuine revulsion of feeling, intense but legitimate. What is the cause of it?—You plunge into the rubbish-heap at one end of the room, and grasp and draw forth the rickety old ladder which has been lying there these twenty years. You have seen it almost daily, poking out amidst the cobwebs, and probably for that very reason have so long failed to perceive that it was susceptible of a better use than to be food for worms. You set it upright against the wall; its top round falls three feet below the horizontal aperture. Enough, if you tread with care. Narrow, steep, and rickety is the path to deliverance; but up! for your time is short.
Upward, with cautious eagerness! The ladder is warped and rests unevenly, and once or twice a round cracks beneath the down-pressing foot; the thing is all unsound and might fall to pieces at any moment. However, the top is gained, and your nervous hands are on the sill at last. Easing yourself a little higher, you look forth on the world once more.
Not so late after all! Red still lingers along the western horizon, but against it is mounting and expanding a black cloud, glancing ever and anon with dangerous lightning. In a clear sky-lake above the cloud, steadily burns a planet. The gentle twilight rests lovingly on earth’s warm bosom—
Hark! look! what moves yonder beneath the trees?—
Your parched, eager face strained forwards, your hungry eyes eating through the gloom,—see emerge from the avenue two figures, sauntering lover-like side to side! How forgetful of the world they seem! Little think they of you, of the rack on which you have been outstretched. But their hour has come. This moment shall be their last of peace,—their last of happy love.