“Why did not I live when she lived, to marry her?” muttered Helwyse in a dream. “A woman whose infinite variety age could not alter nor custom stale! A true wife would have kept me from error. What man can comprehend the world, if he puts half the world away? Now it is too late; she might have helped me rise to greatness, but not to bear disgrace. Ah, Balder Helwyse, poor fool! you babble as if she stood before you to take or leave. You rise to greatness? You never had the germs of greatness in you! You are so little that not the goddess Freya herself could have made you tall! Through what delusion did you fancy yourself better than any other worm?”
There was an interval, not more than a rod or two in width, in the tree-hedge which lined the opposite cliff. Through this one might get a narrow glimpse of what lay beyond. A strip of grassy lawn extended in front of what seemed to be the stone corner of a house. The distance obscured detail, but it looked massively built, though not after the modern style. As Helwise gazed, sharpening his eyes to discern more clearly, he saw a figure moving across the lawn directly towards him. Advancing to the brink of the cliff, it there paused and seemed to return his glance. Helwyse could not tell whether it were man or woman. Had the river only been narrower!
The next moment he remembered his telescope, and, taking it from its case, he was at a bound within one hundred yards of the western shore. Man or woman? he steadied the glass on his knee and looked again. A woman, surely,—but how strangely dressed! Such a costume had not been in vogue since Damascus was a new name in men’s mouths. Balder gazed and gazed. Accurately to distinguish the features was impossible,—tantalizingly so; for the gazer was convinced that she was both young and beautiful. Her motions, her bearing, the graceful peculiarity of her garb,—a hundred nameless evidences made it sure. How delightful to watch her in her unconsciousness! yet Helwyse felt a delicacy in thus stealing on her without her knowledge or consent. But the misgiving was not strong enough to shut up his telescope; perhaps it added a zest to the enjoyment.
“The very princess you were just now dreaming of! the most beautiful and complete woman! Would I were the prince to win thee!”
This aspiration was whispered, as though its object were within conversable distance. Balder could be imaginative enough when the humor took him.
Hardly had the whisper passed his lips when he saw the princess majestically turn her lovely head, slowly and heedfully, until her glance seemed directly to meet his own. His cheeks burned; it was as if she had actually overheard him. Was she gracious or offended? He saw her stretch towards him her arms, and then, with a gesture of beautiful power, clasp her hands and draw them in to her bosom.