And so, in the midst of this quiet inland town, where a mere accident had placed Mr. Bernard Langdon, there was a concentration of explosive materials which might at any time change its Arcadian and academic repose into a scene of dangerous commotion. What said Helen Darley, when she saw with her woman’s glance that more than one girl, when she should be looking at her book, was looking over it toward the master’s desk? Was her own heart warmed by any livelier feeling than gratitude, as its life began to flow with fuller pulses, and the morning sky again looked bright and the flowers recovered their lost fragrance? Was there any strange, mysterious affinity between the master and the dark girl who sat by herself? Could she call him at will by looking at him? Could it be that—? It made her shiver to think of it.—And who was that strange horseman who passed Mr. Bernard at dusk the other evening, looking so like Mephistopheles galloping hard to be in season at the witches’ Sabbath-gathering? That must be the cousin of Elsie’s who wants to marry her, they say. A dangerous-looking fellow for a rival, if one took a fancy to the dark girl! And who is she, and what?—by what demon is she haunted, by what taint is she blighted, by what curse is she followed, by what destiny is she marked, that her strange beauty has such a terror in it, and that hardly one shall dare to love her, and her eye glitters always, but warms for none?
Some of these questions are ours. Some were Helen Darley’s. Some of them mingled with the dreams of Bernard Langdon, as he slept the night after meeting the strange horseman. In the morning he happened to be a little late in entering the schoolroom. There was something between the leaves of the Virgil which lay upon his desk. He opened it and saw a freshly gathered mountain-flower. He looked at Elsie, instinctively, involuntarily. She had another such flower on her breast.
A young girl’s graceful compliment,—that is all,—no doubt,—no doubt. It was odd that the flower should have happened to be laid between the leaves of the Fourth Book of the “AEneid,” and at this line,
“Incipit effari, mediaque in voce resistit.”
A remembrance of an ancient superstition flashed through the master’s mind, and he determined to try the Sortes Virgilianae. He shut the volume, and opened it again at a venture.—The story of Laocoon!
He read with a strange feeling of unwilling fascination, from “Horresco referees” to “Bis medium amplexi,” and flung the book from him, as if its leaves had been steeped in the subtle poisons that princes die of.
People will talk. ‘Ciascun lo dice’ is a tune that is played oftener than the national air of this country or any other.