“My music,—my music!” gasped the voice; “my music, or I shall die!”
“Die? Yes, it were well you should die. You cumber the earth! Shall I do it?” Helwyse muttered to his heart,—“merely as a means of culture!”
Perhaps it was said only in a mood of sardonic jesting. The next moment, no doubt, Balder Helwyse would have retired to his cabin, leaving the voice of darkness forever. But at that moment the hurried flash of a lantern on the captain’s bridge fell full on the young man’s face and shoulders, gleaming in his eyes, and lighting up the masses of yellow hair and mighty beard. He was standing with one hand resting on the taffrail. The dim halo of the fog, folding him about, made him look like a spirit.
Helwyse resists the devil.
As the light so fell, hoarse voices shouted, and then a concussion shivered through the steamer, and her headway was slackened. But of this Helwyse knew nothing; for the voice had burst forth in a cry of fear, amazement, and hate; and in another breath he found himself clutched tightly in long, wiry arms, and felt panting breath hot against his face.
He struggled at first to free himself,—but he was held in the grip of a madman! Then did the turbid current of his blood begin to leap and tingle, and strange half-thoughts darted through his mind like deformed spectres, capering as they flew! The bulwark of his will was overthrown; he could not poise himself long enough to recover his self-sway. He was sliding headlong down a steep, the velocity momently increasing.
Was it Balder Helwyse that was struggling thus furiously, his body full of fire, his brain of madness, his heart quick-beating with savage, wicked, thirsty joy? His soul—his own no longer—was bestridden by a frantic demon, who, brimming over with hot glee, drove him whirling blindly on, with an ever-growing purpose that surcharged each smallest artery, and furnished a condensed dart of malice wherewith to stab and stab again the opposing soul. He waxed every instant madder, wickeder, more devilishly exultant; and now, although panting, breathless, pricking at every pore from the agony of the strain, he could scarce forbear screaming with delight! for he felt he was gaining, and—O ecstasy!—knew that his adversary felt it also, and that his heart was as full of black despair and terror as was his conqueror’s of intolerable triumph! Gaining still!
Strange, that all through this wild frenzy in which body and soul were rapt, the essential part of Balder Helwyse seemed to be looking on, with a curious, repellent twist of feature, commenting on what was going forward, and noting, with quiet interest and precision, each varying phase of the struggle,—noting, as of significance, that the sway of the demon of murder made the idea of other crimes seem beyond words congenial, enticing, delicious!