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"No; stay where you are; I'll go." Derek spoke with the terse command of subdued excitement, almost pushing Diane back, as she, too, attempted to go to Marion's assistance. She sank obediently into one of the great chairs, too dazed even for curiosity as to what was passing in the hail. Derek closed the door behind him, and, though confused sounds of voices and shuffling feet reached her, she gave them but a dulled attention. It was not till he came back that her stunned intelligence revived sufficiently to enable her to think.
He closed the door again, throwing himself wearily into another of the big leathern chairs.
"They've taken her into Lucilla's room. She'll be all right now. It was better that it should end like that."
"I'm not so sure. I'm afraid for him."
"Oh, he'll survive it."
"You don't know our Frenchmen. They're not like you, nor any of your men. With their sensitiveness to honor and their indifference to moral right, it's difficult for you to understand them. I shouldn't be surprised at anything he might do."
"I'll go and see him to-morrow and try to knock a little reason into him."
"If it isn't too late."
"Oh, I dare say it will be. Everything seems to be--too late."
"It's better that some things should come too late rather than not at all."
"What things do you mean?"
"I suppose I mean the same things as you do." He gave a long sigh that was something of a groan, slipping down in his chair into an attitude, not of informality, but of dejection. For the moment neither was equal to facing the great subjects that must be met.
"I wonder what Bienville will do to himself?" he asked, suddenly, changing his position with nervous brusqueness, leaning forward now, with his elbows on his knees. "I wish you'd go and see him to-night." "Well, perhaps I will. I've a good deal of fellow-feeling with him. I can't help thinking that he and I are in much the same box, and that he has shown me the way Out."
She sprang up with a cry of alarm, standing, with hands crossed on her breast, in a sudden access of terror.
"Oh, don't be afraid," he laughed, grimly, staring up at her. "I'm not his sort. There are no heroics about me. Men of my stamp don't make theatrical exits; we're too confoundedly sane. Whether we do well or whether we do ill, we plod along on our treadmill round, from the house to the office, and from the office to the grave, as if we never had anything on the conscience. But if I had the spirit of Bienville, do you know what I should do?"
"No, no, no!" she burst out. "Don't say it! Don't say it!"
"Then I won't. But if Bienville thought of it, why shouldn't I? What has he done that is worse than what I've done? What has he done that's as bad? For, after all, you were little or nothing to him, when you were everything to me. I knew you as he didn't know you. I had lived in one house with you, watched you, studied you, tried you, put you to tests that you never knew anything about, and had seen you come through them successfully. I had seen how you bore misfortune; I had seen how you carried yourself in difficult situations; I had seen the skill with which you ruled my house, and the wisdom with which you were more than a mother to my child; I had seen you combine with all that is most womanly the patience and fortitude of a man; and it wasn't enough for me--it wasn't enough for me!"
He threw himself back into his seat, with a desperate flinging out of the hands, letting his arms drop heavily over the sides of his chair till his fingers touched the floor.
"My God! My God!" he groaned, ironically. "It wasn't enough for me! I doubted her. I doubted her on the first idle word that came my way. I did more than doubt her. I haled her into my court, and tried her, and condemned her, and, as nearly as might be, put her to death. I, with my ten hundred thousand sins--all of them as black as Erebus--found her not pure enough for me! It ought to make one die of laughter. Diane," he went on, in another tone--a tone of ghastly jocularity--"didn't it amuse you, knowing yourself to be what you are--knowing what you had done for Mrs. Eveleth--knowing the things Bienville has just said of you--didn't it amuse you to see me sitting in judgment on you?"
"It doesn't amuse me to see you sitting in judgment on yourself."
"Doesn't it? I should think it would. It seems to me that if I saw a man who had done me so much harm visited with such awful justice as I'm getting now, it would make up to me for nearly everything I ever had to suffer."
"In my case it only adds to it. I wish you wouldn't say these things. If you ever did me wrong, I always knew it was--by mistake."
"Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord!" He laughed outright, getting up from his chair and dragging himself heavily across the room, where, with his hands in his pockets and his back against the bookshelves, he stood facing her. "What do you think of Bienville's attitude toward Marion Grimston?" he asked, with an inflection that would have sounded casual if it had not been for all that lay behind.
"I can understand it; but I think he was wrong."
"You think he ought to allow her to marry him?"
"Weighing one thing with another--yes."
"Would you marry a man who had shown himself such a hound?"
"It would depend."
"Oh, on a good many things."
She hesitated a minute before deciding whether or not to walk into his trap, but, as his eyes were on the ground and she felt stronger than a minute or two ago, she decided to do it.
"It would depend, for one thing, on whether or not I loved him."
"And if you did love him?"
Again she hesitated, before making up her mind to speak.
"Then it would depend on whether or not he loved me."
She had given him his chance. The word he had never uttered must come now or never. For an instant he seemed about to seize his opportunity; but when he actually spoke it was only to say:
"Would you marry me?"
"No." She gave her answer firmly.
She shrugged her shoulders and threw out her hands, but said nothing in words.
"Is it because I haven't expressed regret for all the things I have--to regret?"
She shook her head.
"Because if it is," he went on, "I haven't done it only for the reason that the utmost expression would be so inadequate as to become a mockery. When a man has sinned against light, as I've done, no mere cries of contrition are going to win him pardon. That must come as a spontaneous act of grace, as it wells out of the heart of the Most High--or it can't come at all."
"That isn't the reason."
"Then there's another one?"
"Yes; another one."
"One that's insurmountable?"
"Yes, as things are--that's insurmountable."
With a look of dumb, unresenting sadness, he turned away, and, leaning on the mantelpiece, stood with his back toward her, and his face buried in his hands.
Minutes went by in silence. When he spoke it was over his shoulder, and, as it were, parenthetically:
"But, Diane, I love you."
He stood as he was, listening, but as if without much expectation, for a response. When none came, and he turned round inquiringly, he beheld in her that radiant change which was visible to those who saw the martyred Stephen's face as he gazed straight into heaven.
For a long minute he stood spellbound and amazed.
"Was it that?" he asked, in a whisper.
She gave him no reply.
"It was that," he declared, in the tone of a man making a discovery. "It was that."
"Why didn't you tell me so before?" she found strength to say.
"Tell you, Diane? What was the use of telling you--when you knew? My life has been open, for you to look into as you would."
"Yes, but not to go into. There's only one key that unlocks the inner shrine of all--the word you've just spoken. A woman knows nothing till she hears it."
He looked at her with the puzzled air of a man getting strange information.
"Well," he said, after a long pause, "you've heard it. So what--now?"
"Now I'm willing to say that I love you."
"Oh, but I knew that already," he returned. "A man doesn't need to be told what he can see. That isn't what I'm asking. What I want to learn is, not what you feel, but what you'll--do."
She smiled faintly.
"I'm asking what you'll--do?" he repeated.
"If you insist on my telling you that," she said glancing up at him shyly, "I'll say that--since the inner shrine is unlocked--at last--I'll go in."
"Then, come, come."
He stood with arms open, his tone of petition still blended with a suggestion of command, as she crossed the room toward him.
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