What was in her mind? what might she be? Had she lived always in this enchanted spot, companionless (for poor old Hiero could scarcely serve her turn) and ignorant perhaps that the world held other beings endowed like herself with human gifts? Had she vainly sought throughout nature for some kinship more intimate than nature could yield her, and thus at length fancied herself a unique, independently created soul, imperial over all things? Since her whole world was comprised between the wall and the river, no doubt she believed the reality of things extended no further.
In Balder she had found a creature like, yet pleasingly unlike herself, palpable to feeling as to sight, and gifted with that articulate utterance which till now she had accounted her almost peculiar faculty. Delightful might be the discovery, but awesome too, frightening her back by its very tendency to draw her forward.
Whether or not this were the solution of Gnulemah’s mystery, Balder recognized quiet to be his cue towards her. Probably he could not do better than to get the ear of Doctor Hiero, and establish himself upon a footing more conventional than the present one. His next step accordingly was to ask after him by name.
She peeped at the questioner between her fingers, but ventured not quite to emerge from behind them, as she answered,—her primary attempt at description,—
“And how long have you been here?” inquired Balder with a smile.
Gnulemah forgot her embarrassment in wondering how so remarkable a creature happened to ask questions whose answers her whole world knew!
“We are always here!” she exclaimed; and added, after a moment’s doubtful scrutiny, “Are you a spirit?”
“An embodied spirit,—yes!” answered he, smiling again.
“One of those I see beyond,”—she pointed towards the cliff,—“that move and seem to live, but are only shadows in the great picture? No! for I cannot touch them nor speak with them; they never answer me; they are shadows.” She paused and seemed to struggle with her bewilderment.
“They are shadows!” repeated Helwyse to himself.
Though no Hermetic philosopher, he was aware of a symbolic truth in the fanciful dogma. Outside his immediate circle, the world is a shadow to every man; his fellow-beings are no more than apparitions, till he grasps them by the hand. So to Gnulemah the cliff and the garden wall were her limits of real existence. The great picture outside could be true for her only after she had gone forth and felt as well as seen it.
Fancy aside, however, was not hers a condition morally and mentally deplorable? Exquisitely developed in body, must not her mind have grown rank with weeds,—beautiful perhaps, but poisonous? Herein Balder fancied he could trace the one-sided influence of his crack-brained uncle.—Whether his daughter or not, Gnulemah was evidently a victim of his experimental mania. What particular crotchet could he have been humoring in this case? Was it an attempt to get back to the early sense of the human race?