- CHAPTER XVI. LOVE WILL RULE.
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LOVE WILL RULE.
DOCTEUR CANONGE was greatly troubled in mind about Mark. He thought that Mark had been so cruelly treated by his brother's will that it seemed as if the kind old man sought in every possible way to give expression to his own tenderness for his afflicted grandson. Mark felt this, and exerted himself as much as possible to be cheerful and even gay, for fear of his grandfather's suspecting him of brooding over what was indeed a disappointment, for Mark felt most bitterly his helpless dependence upon the active but feeble old man, who lived up to his small income, and whose only regret was that he had no more to give; and as yet there did not appear any possibility of relief from this heavy dependence for poor Mark. Mark would have gladly changed places with the healthy Irish ditcher, whom he saw digging away at the earth, and wheeling his scrapers full of dirt in building up the great levees.
One morning Docteur Canonge proposed at the breakfast table that Mark should make one more trial for the recovery of the use of his limbs by going again to the Arkansas hot springs for a few weeks. When he was there before he got so much | | 167 better that he could stand upon his feet, though still unable to walk; but the hot vapor baths, while they seemed to benefit him in one respect, had weakened him so much in others, that the resident physician had advised his leaving the place and abandoning the use of the waters.
Natika listened, while her grandfather passed his eulogium on the wonderful effects of the hot and mud baths, and then said she believed she would go too, as the vapor baths had great cosmetic power. Natika had spied a small pimple on her face, and she fancied that if there were any humors in the skin, she would get rid of them by these vapor baths. Mark was willing to please his grandfather, though he had little hope himself of any great benefit; the surgeons had told him so repeatedly that no external impulse or application would be of any avail to him, that the circulation of the interrupted nerve force must come from internal matter, that the impulse must proceed directly from his own brain.
"One powerful rush of life-force might do it," said they.
Victor was piqued at Natika's waking her plans independently of him, so he played with his teaspoon on the edge of his cup, while the others were discussing their preliminary arrangements, and when his grandfather alluded to him as being of course included in the proposed party for the jaunt, he | | 168 electrified the small company by declaring that he for one had no fancy for the trip, and preferred to remain where he was. "Lizbette would take care of him," he said, and he should go shooting with Cherokee Joe, play billiards with young Smith, and go to see Miss Panola and her mother."
Natika's eyes flashed when she heard this defiant proclamation of his independence ; but she knew him too well to press the matter, or to say anything to change his resolution. She knew Victor would weary sooner than she would of their separation. So she kept silence while Docteur Canonge and Mark expostulated with Victor and tried to persuade him to change his resolution, and to accompany the party. Like all weak natures with strong desires and of infirm impulses Victor was very jealous of the appearance of being influenced by others. He thought it showed a strong mind and was manly to stick to his own way, even when reason would show him that the way of others was probably better than his. he had no real principles, but he was very obstinate in opinions and in small matters. Natika understood him thoroughly. She often had some contempt for him mingled with her real affection for him, which latter was as much the growth of habit and gratification of the sense of power as a real preference for Victor. If she had real preference for any human being it eras for Mark, not Victor. Victor remained inflexible in his determination to the Arkansas springs he would not go.| | 169
Just as the party arose from the table and Mark was wheeled into his study, the door bell rang, and Antony Coolidge was announced. he had come by appointment to drive out with Natika. Victor looked gloomily after her as she drove past the window of Mark's room. Seeing him standing she kissed her hand gracefully to him in token of adieu. The loveliest smile shone upon her face. She was imperturbable in her good humor. Victor looked after the buggy as it vanished in the distance, and then, turning away from the window with a muttered curse, threw himself down in a chair near Mark, who was reading as usual. Mark looked up. Victor was sitting with his head buried in his hands.
"Victor," said Mark, laying down his book, "Victor, there are only us three cousins to care for each other in this world-that is, of our own family. I have the love of a brother for you and for Natika. May I use the freedom of a brother and speak out frankly to you?"
"Say any thing you please," said Victor, bitterly. "I don't promise that I shall take any advice you may please to proffer. I don't like advice, but I will listen to what you have to say, if that suits you."
"Well, what I have to say is this, dear Victor. You love Natika?"
"Yes," bitterly said Victor.| | 170
"Does she return your love?"
"No." This was scornfully said by Victor.
"Then why waste your whole life in this useless pursuit of a woman who does not love you?"
"Because I can't help it. Because Natika is my fate. Do you suppose I have not struggled? Do you suppose I like to be the slave of this woman's whines and caprices? Again and again I have said to myself all and more than you can possibly say to me on this subject. I have kept away; I have tried dissipation, other scenes, and have always gone back to her, and I know I always shall. Natika is the curse of my life and yet all the joy of it."
"Victor, what I am going to say to you is more important to you than even the moral objections you may have urged against love for Natika. You ought not to marry Natika, even if she were willing. My reasons are solely medical ones. I have watched you both carefully, and I tell you now that both Natika and yourself are inclined to be consumptive, and that if you marry, the lungs of the weaker one, whichever it may be, will certainly fail, and one will die. I have observed this fact so frequently. I have so often seen the weak lungs of the husband relieved by the wife taking his disease from him and perishing in consequence, and vice versa. Now I forewarn you, that will be your fate, for Natika is stronger than you are, and if you marry, she will be your death unconsciously."| | 171
"So be it," said Victor, sombrely. "I have been told this before. A gypsy said as much once when we had our fortunes told in England. She told me my love for Natika would cause my death. I expect it will some way or other, but I think I shall blow my brains out some day. I won't wait to die of consumption."
"Oh, Victor!" ejaculated Mark, truly shocked at the light manner of his cousin. "Oh, Victor God forbid!"
"Needs must when the devil drives," replied Victor. "What a stupid fool Antony Coolidge is! Poor moth, to burn himself in that flame. I could find it in my heart to grieve for Antony. I know where he will end: in the bottom of the bayou, or in the mad house, or in the inebriate asylum, or on the end of a rope. Alas, for Antony! He is in the net of the Cleopatra who will only laugh! and mock at him, and fling him off when she is wearied, as a child does a squeezed orange."
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