“Such would be his purpose,—such would be his purpose. To make her a devil, without the chance of knowing it possible to be anything else!”
“He was a fool,” growled Helwyse. “The plan is folly,—impracticable in twenty ways. A soul cannot be so influenced. Devils are not made by education. The only devil would be the educator!”
But the voice had forgotten his presence. It ceased not to mutter to itself while he was speaking, and now it broke forth again.
“Years have passed,—she is a woman now. She knows not that the world exists. All is yet latent within her. But the time is at hand when the hidden forces shall flower! Plunged into life, with nothing to hold by, no truth, no divine help; her marvellous powers and passions in full strength,—all trained to drag her down,—not one aspiring, maddened by new thoughts, limitless opportunities opening before her,—she will plunge into such an abyss of sin as has been undreamt of since the Deluge!”
“Well,—what of it? what is the upshot?” questioned Helwyse with sullen impatience. The emotion now apparent in the voice, uncanny though it was, counteracted the spell wrought by its purely intellectual depravity. Helwyse was perhaps beginning to understand that he had ventured his stock of virgin gold for a handful of unclean waste-paper!
“He will come back,—her father,—my enemy! I have waited for him from youth to age. I have seen him in my dreams, and in visions. I am with him continually,—we talk together. At first, cringingly and softly, I lead him to recall the past, to speak of the dead wife,—the lost child,—her baby ways and words. I lure him on till imagination has fired his love and given life and vividness to his memory. Then I whisper,—She lives! she is near! in a moment he shall behold her! And while his heart beats and he trembles, I bring her forth in her beauty. Take her! your daughter! the one devil on earth; but devils shall spring like grass in the track of her footsteps!”
The voice had worked itself into a frenzy, and, forgetting caution, had crazily exposed itself. Its owner was probably some poor lunatic, subject to fits of madness. But Helwyse was full of scorn and anger, born of that bitterest disappointment which admits not even the poor consolation of having worthily aspired. He had been duped,—and by the cobwebs of a madman’s brain! He broke into a short laugh, harsh to the ear, and answering to no mirthful impulse.
“So! you are the hero of your story? You have brooded all your life over a crazy scheme of stabbing a father through his child, until you have become as blind as you are vicious! As for the girl, you may have made her ignorant and stupid, or even idiotic; but that she should become queen of Hell or anything of that kind—”
He stopped, for his unseen companion was evidently beyond hearing him. The man seemed to be actually struggling in a fit,—gasping and choking. It was a piteous business,—not less piteous than revolting. But Helwyse felt no pity,—only ugly, hateful, unrelenting anger, needing not much stirring to blaze forth in fearful passion. Where now were his wise saws,—his philosophic indifference? Self-respect is the pith of such supports; which being gone, the supports fail.