“Let me live for you and serve you! Though the world has no Balder, may not I have mine? You shall be everything to me! Without you I cannot be; but I want no other God if I have my Balder!”
This was another matter! Nevertheless,—so subtle is the boundary between love human and divine,—Gnulemah in these first passionate moments may easily have deemed the one no less sublime than the other.
But there was no danger of Balder’s falling into such an error. The distinction was clear to him. Yet with remorse and abasement strove the defiant impulse to pluck and eat—forgetful of this world and the next the royal fruit so fairly held to his lips! For herein fails the divinity of nature,—she can minister as well to man’s depravity as to his exaltation; which could not happen were she one with God. Nay, man had need be strong with Divine inspiration, before communing unharmed with nature’s dangerous loveliness.
His hand in Gnulemah’s was now neither cold nor lax. She raised it in impetuous homage to her forehead. The diamond left a mark there; first white, then red. For a breath or two, their eyes saw depths in each other beyond words’ fathoming....
A door was closed above; and the echo stole down stairs and crept with a hollow whisper into the conservatory. The little lord chamberlain fluttered down from his lofty perch and hovered between the two faces, his penetrating note sounding like a warning, Gnulemah drew back, and a swift blush let fall its rosy veil from the golden gleam of her jewelled forehead-band to below the head of the serpent which twisted round her neck.
One parting look she gave Balder, pregnant of new wonder, fear, and joy. Then she turned and glided with quick ophidian grace to the doorway from which she had first appeared, and was eclipsed by the curtain. The inner door shut; she was gone. Dull, dull and colorless was the conservatory. The hoopoe had flown out through the hall to the open air. Only the crocodile continued to keep Balder company.
After standing a few moments, he once more threw himself down on the moss couch beneath the palm-trees. There he reclined as before, supported on his elbow, and turned the diamond ring this way and that on his finger in moody preoccupation.
Was the crocodile asleep, or stealthily watching him?
If Balder Helwyse had been in a vein for self-criticism at this juncture, the review might probably have dissatisfied him. He possessed qualities which make men great. He could have discharged august offices, for he saw things in large relations and yet minutely. His mind and courage could rise to any enterprise, and carry it with ease and cheerfully. His nature was even more receptive than active. He had force of thought to electrify nations.