A Modern Mephistopheles: Chapter VII

by Louisa May Alcott

A storm raged all that night; but dawn came up so dewy and serene, that the world looked like a child waking after anger, with happy smiles upon its lips, penitential tears in its blue eyes.

Canaris was early astir, after a night as stormy within as without, during which he had gone through so many alternations of feeling, that, weary and still undecided, he was now in the mood to drift whithersoever the first eddy impelled him. Straight to Gladys, it seemed; and, being superstitious, he accepted the accident as a good omen, following his own desire, and calling it fate.

Wandering in the loneliest, wildest spot of all the domain, he came upon her as suddenly as if a wish had brought her to the nook haunted for both by pleasant memories. Dew-drenched her feet, hatless her head; but the feet stood firmly on the cliff which shelved down to the shore below, and the upturned head shone bright 89against the deep blue of the sky. Morning peace dwelt in her eyes, morning freshness glowed on her cheek, and her whole attitude was one of unconscious aspiration, as she stood there with folded hands and parted lips, drinking in the storm-cooled breeze that blew vigorous and sweet across the lake.

“What are you doing here so early, little dryad?” and Canaris paused, with an almost irresistible desire to put out his arms and hold her, lest she fly away, so airy was her perch, so eager her look into the boundless distance before her.

“Only being happy!” and she looked down into his face with such tender and timid joy in her own, he hardly had need to ask,—

“Why, Gladys?”

“Because of this,” showing a string of pearls that hung from her hand, half-hidden among the trailing bits of greenery gathered in her walk.

“Who gave you that?” demanded Canaris, eying it with undisguised surprise; for the pearls were great, globy things, milk-white, and so perfect that any one but Gladys would have seen how costly was the gift.

“Need you ask?” she said, blushing brightly.

“Why not? Do you suspect me?”

90“You cannot deceive me by speaking roughly and looking stern. Who but you would put these in my basket without a word, and let me find them there when I laid my work away last night? I was so pleased, so proud, I could not help keeping them, though far too beautiful for me.”

Then Canaris knew who had done it; and his hand tightened over the necklace, while his eye went towards the lake, as if he longed to throw it far into the water. He checked himself, and, turning it about with a disdainful air, said, coldly,—

“If I had given you this, it should have been quite perfect. The cross is not large nor fine enough to match the chain. Do you see?”

“Ah, but the little cross is more precious than all the rest! That is the one jewel my mother left me, and I put it there to make my rosary complete;” and Gladys surveyed it with a pretty mixture of devout affection and girlish pleasure.

“I’ll give you a better one than this,—a string of tiny carved saints in scented wood, blessed by holy hands, and fit to say prayers like yours upon. You will take it, though my gift is not half so costly as his?” he said, eagerly.


“Helwyze gave you that.”

“But why?” and Gladys opened wide her clear, large eyes in genuine astonishment.

“He is a generous master; your singing pleases him, and he pays you so,” replied Canaris, bitterly.

“He is not my master!”

“He will be.”

“Never! I shall not go, if I am to be burdened with benefits. I will earn my just due, but not be overpaid. Tell him so.”

Gladys caught back the chain, unclasped the cross, and threw the pearls upon the grass, where they lay, gleaming, like great drops of frozen dew, among the green. Canaris liked that; thought proudly, “I have no need to bribe;” and hastened to make his own the thing another seemed to covet. Drawing nearer, he looked up, asking, in a tone that gave the question its true meaning,—

“May I be your master, Gladys?”

“Not even you.”

“Your slave, then?”

“Never that.”

“Your lover?”


92“But I can give you nothing except myself.”

“Love is enough;” and finding his arms about her, his face, warm and wistful, close to hers, Gladys bent to give and take the first kiss, which was all they had to bestow upon each other.

Singularly unimpassioned was the embrace in which they stood for a brief instant. Canaris held her with a clasp more jealous than fond; Gladys clung to him, yet trembled, as if some fear subdued her joy; and both vaguely felt the incompleteness of a moment which should be perfect.

“You do love me, then?” she whispered, wondering at his silence.

“Should I ask you to be my wife if I did not?” and the stern look melted into an expression of what seemed, to her, reproach.

“No; ah, no! I fancied that I might have deceived myself. I am so young, you are so kind. I never had a—friend before;” and Gladys smiled shyly, as the word which meant “lover” dropped from her lips.

“I am not kind: I am selfish, cruel, perhaps, to let you love me so. You will never reproach me for it, Gladys? I mean to save you from ills you know nothing of; to cherish and protect you—if I can.”

93Verily in earnest now; for the touch of those innocent lips reminded him of all his promise meant, recalled his own unfitness to guide or guard another, when so wayward and unwise himself. Gladys could not understand the true cause of his beseeching look, his urgency of tone; but saw in them only the generous desire to keep safe the creature dearest to him, and loved him the more for it.

“I never can think you selfish, never will reproach you but will love and trust and honor you all my life,” she answered, with a simplicity as solemn as sincere; and, holding out the hand that held her dead mother’s cross, Canaris pledged his troth upon it with the mistaken chivalry which makes many a man promise to defend a woman against all men but himself.

“Now you can be happy again,” he said, feeling that he had done his best to keep her so.

She thought he meant look out upon the lake, dreaming of him as when he found her; and, turning, stretched forth her arms as if to embrace the whole world, and tell the smiling heaven her glad secret.

“Doubly happy; then I only hoped, now I know!”

Something in the exultant gesture, the fervent 94tone, the radiant face, thrilled Canaris with a sudden admiration; a feeling of proud possession; a conviction that he had gained, not lost; and he said within himself,—

“I am glad I did it. I will cherish her; she will inspire me; and good shall come out of seeming evil.”

His spirits rose with a new sense of well-being and well-doing. He gathered up the rejected treasure, and gave it back to Gladys, saying lightly,—

“You may keep it as a wedding-gift; then he need give no other. He meant it so, perhaps, and it will please him. Will you, love?”

“If you ask it. But why must brides wear pearls? They mean tears,” she added, thoughtfully, as she received them back.

“Perhaps because then the sorrows of their lives begin. Yours shall not: I will see to that,” he promised, with the blind confidence of the self-sacrificing mood he was in.

Gladys sat down upon the rock to explore a pocket, so small and empty that Canaris could not help smiling, as he, too, leaned and looked with a lover’s freedom.

“Only my old chain. I must put back the cross, else I shall lose it,” laughed Gladys, as she 95brought out a little cord of what seemed woven yellow silk.

“Is it your hair?” he asked, his eye caught by its peculiar sunshiny hue.

“Yes; I could not buy a better one, so I made this. My hair is all the gold I have.”

“Give it to me, and you wear mine. See, I have an amulet as well as you.”

Fumbling in his breast, Canaris undid a slender chain, whence hung a locket, curiously chased, and tarnished with long wear. This he unslung, and, opening, showed Gladys the faded picture of a beautiful, sad woman.

“That is my Madonna.”

“Your mother?”


“Mine now.” The girl touched it with her lips, then softly closed and laid it on her lap.

Silently Canaris stood watching her, as she re-slung both poor but precious relics, while the costlier one slipped down, as if ashamed to lie beside them. He caught and swung it on his finger, thinking of something he had lately read to Helwyze.

“Kharsu, the Persian, sent a necklace to Schirin, the princess, whom he loved. She was a Christian, and hung a cross upon his string of pearls, as you did,” he said aloud.

96“But I am not a princess, and Mr. Helwyze does not love me; so the pretty story is all spoiled.”

“This thing recalled it. I have given you a necklace, and you are hanging a cross upon it. Wear the one, and use the other, for my sake. Will you, Gladys?”

“Did Schirin convert Kharsu?” asked the girl, catching his thought more from his face than his words; for it wore a look of mingled longing and regret, which she had never seen before.

“That I do not know; but you must convert me: I am a sad heathen, Helwyze says.”

“Has he tried?”


“Then I will!”

“You see I’ve had no one to teach me any thing but worldly wisdom, and I sometimes feel as I should be better for a little of the heavenly sort. So when you wear the rosary I shall give you—‘Fair saint, in your orisons be all my sins remembered;’” and Canaris put his hand upon her head, smiling, as if half-ashamed of his request.

“I am no Catholic, but I will pray for you, and you shall not be lost. The mother in 97heaven and the wife on earth will keep you safe,” whispered Gladys, in her fervent voice, feeling and answering with a woman’s quickness the half-expressed desire of a nature conscious of its weakness, yet unskilled in asking help for its greatest need.

Silently the two young lovers put on their amulets, and, hand in hand, went back along the winding path, till they reached the great eglantine that threw its green arches across the outlet from the wood. All beyond was radiantly bright and blooming; and as Canaris, passing first to hold back the thorny boughs, stood an instant, bathed in the splendor of the early sunshine, Gladys exclaimed, her face full of the tender idolatry of a loving woman,—

“O Felix, you are so good, so great, so beautiful, if it were not wicked, I should worship you!”

“God forbid! Do not love me too much, Gladys: I do not deserve it.”

“How can I help it, when I feel very like the girl who lost her heart to the Apollo?” she answered, feeling that she never could love too much.

“And broke her heart, you remember, because her god was only a stone.”

98“Mine is not, and he will answer when I call.”

“If he does not, he will be harder and colder than the marble!”

When Canaris, some hours later, told Helwyze, he looked well pleased, thinking, “Jealousy is a helpful ally. I do not regret calling in its aid, though it has cost Olivia her pearls.” Aloud he said, with a gracious air, which did not entirely conceal some secret anxiety,—

“Then you have made a clean breast of it, and she forgives all peccadilloes?”

“I have not told her; and I will not, till I have atoned for the meanest of them. May I ask you to be silent also for her sake?”

“You are wise.” Then, as if glad to throw off all doubt and care, he asked, in a pleasantly suggestive tone,—

“The wedding will soon follow the wooing, I imagine, for you make short work of matters, when you do begin?”

“You told me to execute your wish in my own way. I will do so, without troubling Mrs. Surry, or asking you to give us your blessing, since playing the father to orphans is distasteful to you.”

Very calm and cool was Canaris now; but a sense of wrong burned at his heart, marring the 99satisfaction he felt in having done what he believed to be a just and generous act.

“It is; but I will assume the character long enough to suggest, nay, insist, that however hasty and informal this marriage may be, you will take care that it is one.”

“Do you mean that for a hint or a warning, sir? I have lied and stolen by your advice; shall I also betray?” asked Canaris, white with indignation, and something like fear; for he began to feel that whatever this man commanded he must do, spite of himself.

“Strong language, Felix. But I forgive it, since I am sincere in wishing well to Gladys. Marry when and how you please, only do not annoy me with another spasm of virtue. It is a waste of time, you see, for the thing is done.”

“Not yet; but soon will be, for you are fast curing me of a too tender conscience.”

“Faster than you think, my Faust; since to marry without love betrays as surely as to love without marriage,” said Helwyze to himself, expressing in words the thought that had restrained the younger, better man.

A week later, Canaris came in with Gladys on his arm, looking very like a bride in a little bonnet tied with white, and a great nosegay 100of all the sweet, pale flowers blooming in the garden that first Sunday of September.

“Good-bye, sir; we are going.”

“Where, may I ask? To church?”

“We have been;” and Canaris touched the ungloved hand that lay upon his arm, showing the first ring it had ever worn.

“Ah! then I can only say, Heaven bless you, Gladys; a happy honeymoon, Felix, and welcome home when—you are tired of each other.”