It seems probable enough that Myrtle’s whole spiritual adventure was an unconscious dramatization of a few simple facts which her imagination tangled together into a kind of vital coherence. The philosopher who goes to the bottom of things will remark that all the elements of her fantastic melodrama had been furnished her while waking. Master Byles Gridley’s penetrating and stinging caution was the text, and the grotesque carvings and the portraits furnished the “properties” with which her own mind had wrought up this scenic show.
The philosopher who goes to the bottom of things might not find it so easy to account for the change which came over Myrtle Hazard from the hour when she clasped the bracelet of Judith Pride upon her wrist. She felt a sudden loathing of the man whom she had idealized as a saint. A young girl’s caprice? Possibly. A return of the natural instincts of girlhood with returning health? Perhaps so. An impression produced by her dream? An effect of an influx from another sphere of being? The working of Master Byles Gridley’s emphatic warning? The magic of her new talisman?
We may safely leave these questions for the present. As we have to tell, not what Myrtle Hazard ought to have done, and why she should have done it, but what she did do, our task is a simpler one than it would be to lay bare all the springs of her action. Until this period, she had hardly thought of herself as a born beauty. The flatteries she had received from time to time were like the chips and splinters under the green wood, when the chill women pretended to make a fire in the best parlor at The Poplars, which had a way of burning themselves out, hardly warming, much less kindling, the fore-stick and the back-log.
Myrtle had a tinge of what some call superstition, and she began to look upon her strange acquisition as a kind of amulet. Its suggestions betrayed themselves in one of her first movements. Nothing could be soberer than the cut of the dresses which the propriety of the severe household had established as the rule of her costume. But the girl was no sooner out of bed than a passion came over her to see herself in that less jealous arrangement of drapery which the Beauty of the last century had insisted on as presenting her most fittingly to the artist. She rolled up the sleeves of her dress, she turned down its prim collar and neck, and glanced from her glass to the portrait, from the portrait back to the glass. Myrtle was not blind nor dull, though young, and in many things untaught. She did not say in so many words, “I too am a beauty,” but she could mot help seeing that she had many of the attractions of feature and form which had made the original of the picture before her famous. The same stately carriage of the head, the same full-rounded neck, the same more than hinted outlines of figure, the same finely shaped arms and hands, and something very like the same features startled her by their identity in the permanent image of the canvas and the fleeting one of the mirror.