The Great Secret/Chapter 31

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As winter passed away Eugene and Anatole were able once more to leave their cavern and look after getting a fresh supply of food.

Eugene was not of so much use to Anatole as she had been the summer before, yet she would not be left behind, a deep tenderness filled her whole being, also a fear to be left alone and a dread lest he might be hurt in any of his adventures.

"I could not live if anything happened to you, my darling—so you must be careful for our sake."

Anatole kissed her fondly and promised that he would not recklessly risk his precious life.

They had resumed again their childhood's custom of saying their prayers night and morning, and this old and nearly-forgotten habit gave them a new interest in life, and seemed to bring them closer together. It was no longer merely a passion and adoration of the body but a spirit of tenderness that drew them by a thousand unseen fibres soul to soul.

"How I wish we had a prayer book here, Anatole, for I can only remember the Creed, Paternoster and 'Hail Mary,' but there are prayers to 'Our Mother,' which, if repeated regularly for a time, gives one their wishes if lawful. We are married, of course, Anatole, in the eyes of God; do you not believe so?"

"Yes," replied Anatole with sturdy conviction, as he embraced her.

"I have not been a good woman in the past, dearest, yet I have told you all that past and how I abhor it now. You would make me your wife in the eyes of man as well as of God, would you not, Anatole, in spite of my wicked past?"

She looked at him with piteous appeal in her lovely blue eyes, her lips quivering with emotion.

"Of course I would, Eugene, and consider myself only too lucky to have the privilege. But why trouble about that now? When our chance comes we will go and be married; while, as for your past—why it is only a quarter page compared to mine. I know that you never loved before, and that is good enough for me."

"But not for me now, Anatole," replied the countess sadly. I thought nothing of these things then, when I had cast from me the Church and its teachings, as tyrannical and fabricless superstition; but here, on this lonely land, I have had more leisure to examine myself, and think of the differences of sexes and their different obligations and duties, particularly, dearest, since another life besides my own has thrilled me. Now it is that I miss my prayer book and the little present my mother gave me called The Imitation of Christ, which once gave me pleasure, before I was led astray.

I think now with so much regret and remorse on my past life. It seems nothing to me, Anatole, what you have done with your past life, for although you may have wronged others, Nature prevented you from wronging yourself. Man is but as a sower walking along and casting the grain upon the ground, but woman is the soil on which the grain is cast. The sower passes untouched, but the soil receives whatever is cast into it, the thistle down and the rank weeds which spread their sturdy roots and will not be eradicated, even although the plough may often turn them up and seemingly destroy them, so that the good grain becomes choked or weakened. Preachers prate of virtue and purity to women who are ripe for fruit when they would be better understood if they preached wisdom, selection and reserve. We are only gardens whom God has fenced in and prepared for one gardener to occupy, and if more than one is permitted to sow, the result is confusion."

"I don't follow you, my love; a garden can take and mature many crops at different times."

"The human garden cannot, for it is all pervaded, with the first sowing; yet Anatole, I hope that true love may keep a constant watch and pluck out the degenerate weeds as they appear, for I want, with all my soul, our child to be your own."

She flung herself on his breast with an abandonment of rapture that he could not understand. How could a man? He only knew that she was all that was tender and delicious, and that satisfied him.

One morning, as they went along the sands after a fearful storm, they had a strange find—a little box lay in the shallow water which, when brought ashore and opened, contained a priest's vestment and stole with other articles appertaining to the sacred office, and, amongst others, a prayer book, rosary and crucifix. The book was called The Garden of the Soul, which no sooner did Eugene behold than she knelt down reverently and kissed.

"God has listened to us, Anatole. Here is the thirty days' prayer to the Blessed Virgin. Let us begin it at once, and within a month we will get our desires."

Anatole, who had been born a Roman Catholic, had no doubts on the subject, so he kneeled beside her, and with the crucifix set up they repeated the prayer and silently expressed the wish—she, that they might receive the sanctification of her church before her baby came, he, that she might receive her wish.

After this she went about in a more contented state of mind, yet with an air of constant expectancy; she was praying with faith, and looking out for the reward with eager confidence.

"I shall get what I want, Anatole, I know," she repeated each night with feverish exultation, as she kissed and blessed him, her own true love, her husband, and the father of her coming child.

So she began to prepare for the coming event. The softest eider-down from the birds was gathered to make a warm nest and skins, beaten out and oiled so that they might be suitable for the situation. No squaw of the Indians ever worked harder than Eugene did over this work nor exercised more loving taste.

How she longed for a woman now to teach her what to do, for this was to be her first baby, and about the duties of maternity she was totally ignorant. How bitterly she blamed her own ignorance that seemed now to be so culpable, and the false civilisation that deputed to men what every woman ought to understand as soon as she has discernment, yet on this point also she tried to have faith and prayed fervently for help.

A month and a day exactly after she had commenced her thirty days' prayer, she shut up the prayer book and arranged the cavern as if it had been a chapel, decorating it as well as she could with her limited means.

"The Blessed Virgin will answer our prayers to-night or to-morrow, Anatole, I am sure."

Her beauty had increased during these thirty days, even if she was paler and softer in expression. Anatole looked on her with a man's pride and satisfaction, particularly man in his free and savage state as Anatole then was.

They had finished supper and were resting on their skins when silently the outer curtain was drawn aside and a stranger entered—a pale-faced man, clean shaven, with the patch on his crown which expressed his order.

"God keep all here to-night," he said, as he stood before them, while both Anatole and Eugene, recognising his profession, fell on their knees before him without considering how he had come.

"Welcome, holy father."

"Will you grant me shelter, for the night is cold, and I have wandered far."

Eugene rose and bustled about to get supper for the stranger, while Anatole waited on his explanation.

"I saw a light as I passed and ventured, thinking that other wrecked souls were on this island; is it not so?"

"Yes, father, we have been here over a year."

"I have not been so long, yet, never fear, a ship will come by and by. You are husband and wife?"

"Not yet, father, but we will be if you will unite us," answered Anatole.

"Good; I will confess you both to-night, and to-morrow I will marry you."

That night the lovers were parted for the first time for a year, yet they were happy, for they had made a good confession, and to-morrow no man could part them.

In the morning the priest consecrated their union, and when all was over he said,—

"And now farewell, my children, and be happy and faithful to your vows."

"Will you not stay with us till the next ship comes?" asked Anatole.

"No; I can provide for myself, and I wish to see more of this island while I am here. I may see you again before you leave this island. God be with you, now let me go alone."

It appeared like a command as he uttered the words, so they let him go; not, however, before they had laden him with presents of provisions and directions how best to cater for himself. Then he left them, walking away with his load.

They watched him go up the valley until a cliff hid him, and then they turned and embraced each other.

"Now, indeed, you are my own wife."

"Yes, Anatole; and our baby need not blush for its parents," she replied, a happy smile irradiating her lovely face.

Three weeks after this, as Anatole lay asleep, he had a singular dream. He dreamt that a woman, young and beautiful, came into the cave and whispered something to his wife, then other females came and formed a chain round her, as if some mystery was being enacted that he should not know, then after a time he heard the cry of a baby.

Was it all a dream? As he woke, the firelight still glowed redly, and as he turned round to his wife he heard her whisper faintly,—

"Be careful, Anatole, for our baby has come—and it is a boy."

Then he raised himself gently, and saw that his wife held to her breast a pink and naked morsel of humanity.

"How did it happen?"

"I don't know, Anatole; the angels of God must have helped me. Oh, I am so happy, so tired, so thirsty; get me a drink."

Then Anatole rose up and did his duty like a good husband.

Two months passed away and the baby throve apace, for the mother was like Venus and had milk enough and to spare. Then one afternoon a couple of whaling ships put in and began work.

"Shall we go with them back to civilisation, Eugene?" asked Anatole.

"Why should we go, unless to have the baby christened? You are happy enough here, are you not, my husband, with baby and me?"

"Yes; and you"?"

"I want no other life. We are safe here. Let us not tempt Providence which has been so kind," and Eugene turned to play with her child.

Anatole had a number of skins to spare, so he did a traffic with the whalers, getting some of their tools, which he strictly required, and a boat in exchange for his sealskins; then after helping them in their hunting, he saw them depart with relief, for he had much to do before another winter set in.

On the evening of their departure the priest again appeared.

"The whalers have just left, father."

"I know, but they will wait for me. I have come to baptize your boy."

At his mother's desire he was called John; because, she said, he showed the Grace of God.

The priest stayed with them that evening, but when they woke up in the morning they found his place empty; he had gone away while they slept. They were once again alone with their work before them.

But they were happy and contented, forgetting the cares and vanities of the world and by the world forgot. Their island was a picturesque one and stern, requiring hard labour and constant exertion, yet no one disputed it with them; and gradually, as time passed, they made more comforts for themselves and their children, for more followed in the footsteps of John; indeed, the countess was a prolific wife and a noble mother.

Other ships came and brought them what they needed, such as was suitable for that climate—animals for domestic purposes—so that by and by their cavern was made into a stable, while they built better quarters for themselves; and then they began to accumulate riches, and so lost all sympathy with Anarchism.

Other people came to the island and settled down, owning them as landlord and landlady, then the old order of things and sentiments passed away, and they adapted themselves naturally to the new.

But it was a virtuous and wholesome settlement, where men and women had to study economy and work hard, and in this they found their delight and consolation. Anatole and Eugene have no desire to leave their adopted land, whatever their family may do in the future. They both escaped a frightful danger, yet were able to find peace and rest with Love.