Lover’s Whisper: Resisting the Irresistible (Friends and Lovers Book 2)
Gladys looked, hesitated, and a shade of perplexity dimmed the clear brightness of her glance, as if vaguely conscious of distrust, and troubled by its seeming causelessness. Helwyze saw it, and quickly added the magical word which lulled suspicion, roused interest, and irresistibly allured her fancy. Believe me, Gladys, your voice is a treasure, which, having discovered, we want to share between us. Her heart fluttered with tender hopes and fears, like a nestful of eager birds; and, forgetting 68 doubt in delight, she yielded to the lure held out to her. Surry has done so much, I can ask no more, but rather hasten to relieve her of all further care of me.
It would be very sweet to do it; and I know how, excellently well, for I have had good training. My father was an invalid, and I his only nurse for years. Would this satisfy you, Gladys, till something better can be found? I long for all these lovely things, but never hoped to have them. Can I earn so much happiness? Am I a fit companion for this poor lady, who must need the gentlest nursing, if she suffers in the midst of so much to enjoy? Just be your own happy, helpful self, and you can make sunshine anywhere. We will talk more of this when you have turned it over in that wise young head of yours.
Olivia may have some more attractive plan to offer. Surry is likely to propose. She says I must not work, but rest and enjoy myself. I will work; I love it; ease steals away my strength, and pleasure seems to dazzle me. I must be strong, for I have only myself to lean upon; I must see clearly, for my only guide is my own conscience. I will think of your most kind offer, and be ready to accept it whenever you like to try me, sir.
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As he spoke, Helwyze drew a low seat beside the couch, and beckoned her to come and take it; for she had risen as if to go, and he had no mind to be left alone yet. I shall keep them off with this pretty fan, and you will find the faint perfume soothing.
Full of the sweetest good-will, Gladys leaned 71 across the couch to darken the recess before the lullaby began. But Helwyze, feeling in a mood for investigation and experiment, arrested the outstretched hand, and, holding it in his, turned the full brilliance of his fine eyes on hers, asking with most seductive candor,—.
You compel truth as well as sleep, and I cannot deceive you, while you so willingly serve me. A moment she stood looking down into the singular countenance before her with a curious intentness in her own. A slight quickening of the breath was all the sign she gave of a consciousness of the penetrative glance fixed upon her, the close grasp of his hand; otherwise unembarrassed as a child, she regarded him with an expression maidenly modest, but quite composed.
Helwyze keenly enjoyed these glimpses of the new character with which he chose to meddle, yet was both piqued and amused by her present composure, when the mere name of Felix filled her with the delicious shamefacedness of a first love. Slow to arrive, the answer was both comprehensive and significant, but very brief, for three words held it. I fancied you as unsophisticated as if you were eight, instead of eighteen, and here I find you as discreet as any woman of the world,—more so than many. Where did you learn it, child?
Rest easy, little friend, the proprieties shall be preserved, and you can come, if you decide to do me the honor. My old housekeeper is a most decorous and maternal creature, and into her keeping you will pass. Felix pleased me well, but his time is too valuable now; and, selfish as I am, I hesitate to keep for my own comfort the man who can charm so many.
Will you come, and take his place? Still detaining her, that he might catch the sweet aroma of an opening heart, Helwyze added, as the last temptation to this young Eve, whom he was beguiling out of the safe garden of her tranquil girlhood into the unknown world of pain and passion, waiting for womankind beyond,—.
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Life is full of perils for him, and he needs a home. I cannot make one for him, except in this way, for my house is my prison, and he wearies of it naturally. Will you help me in this?
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Such women weary while they dazzle, the gentler sort win while they soothe. We shall see less of her in future; it is not well for Felix. Glad to take refuge in music, the girl assumed her seat, and began to sing dreamily to the slow waving of the green spray. Helwyze feigned to be courting slumber, but from the ambush of downcast lids he stole sidelong glances at the countenance so near his own, that he could mark the gradual subsiding of emotion, the slow return of the repose which made its greatest charm for him.
And so well did he feign, that presently, as if glad to see her task successfully ended, Gladys stole away to the seclusion of her own happy thoughts. Busied with his new plans and purposes, Helwyze waited till his patience was rewarded by seeing the face of Canaris appear at the window, glance in, and vanish as silently as it came. But 75 one look was enough, and in that flash of time the other read how the rash wooing had sped, or thought he did, till Olivia came sweeping through the room, flung wide the curtains, and looked in with eyes as brilliant as if, they had borrowed light of the fire-flies dancing there without.
Then I will come in, and hear how the new handmaid suits. I saw her at her pleasing task. I have my whims, like you, and follow them as recklessly. It will be amusing to see which tires first. I shall miss him; but his place is already filled, and Gladys has the charm of novelty. My kindness to Felix was the sparing him an avowal, which was simply absurd. A word, a laugh, did it, for ridicule cures more quickly and surely than compassion. Why try to fence with me, Madama?
He found Felix waiting for him, in a somewhat haughty mood; Olivia having judged wisely that 77 ridicule, though a harsh, was a speedy cure for the youthful delusion, which had been fostered by the isolation in which they lived, and the ardent imagination of a poet. What are your commands? Consult your own time and pleasure, and, when it is happily accomplished, be assured I shall not forget that you have shown me the obedience of a son.
Quick as a child to be touched, and won by kindness, Canaris flushed with grateful feeling and put out his hand impulsively, as he had done when selling his liberty, for now he was selling his love. I will be guided by you, for I owe you my life, and all the happiness I have known in it. Gladys shall be a daughter to you; but give me time—I must teach myself to forget. His voice broke as he stumbled over the last words, for pride was sore, and submission hard.
Accept the gentle comforter I bring you, for I have known the same pain, and I had no Gladys. So the days went by, fast and fair in outward seeming, while an undercurrent of unquiet emotion rolled below.
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Helwyze made no sign of impatience, but silently forwarded his wish, by devoting himself to Olivia; thereby making a green oasis in the desert of her life, and leaving the young pair to themselves. At first, Canaris shunned every one as much as possible; but sympathy, not solitude, was the balm he wanted, and who could give it him so freely as Gladys? Her mute surprise and doubt and grief at this capricious coldness, after such winning warmth, showed him that the guileless heart was already his, and added a soothing sense of power to the reluctance and regret which by turns tormented him.
But the very virtues which won, also made him hesitate, though rash enough when yielding to an attraction far less noble. A sense of unworthiness restrained him, even when reluctance had passed from resignation to something like desire, and he paused, as one might, who longed to break a delicate plant, yet delayed, lest it should wither too quickly in his hand. Helwyze and Olivia watched this brief wooing with peculiar interest. She, being happy herself, was full of good hope for Gladys, and let her step, unwarned, into the magic circle drawn around her.
Suspense gave zest to the new combination, surprise added to its flavor, and a dash of danger made it unusually attractive to him. Canaris came to him one day, with a resolute 81 expression on his face, which rendered it noble, as well as beautiful. Is cowardice to be added to disobedience and falsehood? Surely you love her now, or you are a more accomplished actor than I thought you. How can I look into her innocent, confiding face, and tell her,—she who is all truth,—that I love as she does?
Is it so hard for you to deceive?
But the sincerity of his desire brought courage even out of shame; and, lifting his head with a humility more impressive than pride or anger, he said, steadily,—. I never knew that I had lost it, till Gladys showed me how poor I was in the virtue which makes her what she is. Where would this truth-telling bring you?
Did you imagine you could play with her, to pique Olivia, without harm to Gladys? Is yours a face to smile on a woman, day after day, and not teach her to love? In what way but this can you atone for such selfish thoughtlessness? Come, if we are to talk of honor and honesty, do it fairly, and not shift the responsibility of your acts upon my shoulders. I never meant to trouble her. Is there no way out of it but this? Oh, sir, I am not fit to marry her!
What have I to offer her but the truth in return for her love, if I must take it to secure her peace? If I know her, the loss of that would wound her heart more deeply than the disappointment your silence will bring her now. Think of this, and be wise as well as generous in the atonement you should make. Canaris stood perplexed, abashed, remorseful; for Helwyze had the art to turn even his virtues into weapons against him, making his new-born regard for Gladys a reason for being falsely true, dishonorably tender.
The honest impulse suddenly looked weak and selfish, compassion seemed nobler than sincerity, and present peace better than future happiness. Helwyze saw that he was wavering, and turned the scale by calling to his aid one of the strongest passions that rule men,—the spirit of rivalry,—knowing well its power over one so young, so vain and sensitive.
Since you are more enamoured of truth than Gladys, choose, and abide by it. I shall miss my congenial comrade, but I will not 84 keep him if he feels my friendship slavery. I release you from all promises: go your way, in peace; I can do without you. A daring offer, and Helwyze risked much in making it; but he knew the man before him, and that in seeming to set free, he only added another link to the invisible chain by which he held him.
Canaris looked relieved, amazed, and touched, as he exclaimed, incredulously,—. I must befriend her, as you will not; and when she comes to me, as she has promised, if she is happy, I shall keep her. Canaris affirmed, not asked, this; and, in the changed tone, the suspicious glance, Helwyze saw that he had aimed well.