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Gloria pushed past Griggs and stood beside him in the narrow entry. He shut the door mechanically, and turned slowly towards her, still holding up the lamp so that it shone upon her face.
"What has happened to you?" he asked, slowly and steadily, his shadowed eyes fixed upon her.
"He has beaten me, and I have come to you. Look at my face."
He saw the red bar across her cheek. He did not raise his voice, and there was little change in his features, but his eyes glowed suddenly, like the eyes of a wild beast, and he swore an oath so terrible that Gloria turned a little pale and shrank from him. Then he was silent, and they stood together. She could hear his breath. She could see him trying to swallow, for his throat was suddenly as dry as cinders. Very slowly his frown deepened to a scowl, and two straight furrows clove their way down between his eyes, his dark eyebrows were lifted evilly, upward and outward, and little by little the strong, clean shaven upper lip rose at the corners and showed two gleaming, wolfish teeth. The smooth, close hair bristled from the point where it descended upon his forehead.
Gloria shrank a little. She had seen such a look in an angry lion; just the look, without a motion of the limbs. Then it all disappeared, and the still face she knew so well was turned to hers.
"Will you come in?" he asked in a constrained tone. "It is my work-room. I will light a fire, and you must dry yourself. How did you get so wet? You did not come on foot?"
He opened the door while he was speaking, and led the way with the lamp. Gloria shivered as she followed, for there was a small window open in the entry, and her clothes clung to her in the cold draught. She closed the door behind her, as she went in. It was very little warmer within than without, and the small fireplace was black and cold. Instinctively she glanced at Griggs. He wore a rough pilot coat that had seen much service, buttoned to his throat. He set the little lamp with its green shade down upon the table amidst a mass of papers and books, and drew forward the only easy-chair there was, a dilapidated piece of furniture covered with faded yellow reps and ragged fringes that dragged on the floor. He took a great cloak from a clothes-horse in the corner and threw it over the chair, smoothing it carefully with his hands.
"If you will sit down, I will try and make a fire," he said quietly.
She sat down as he bade her, wondering a little at his calmness, but remembering the awful words that had escaped his lips when she had spoken, and the look of the wild beast and incarnate devil that had been one moment in his face. She looked about her while he began to make a fire, not hindering him, for she was shivering. The room was large, but very poorly furnished. There were two great tables, covered with books and papers; there was a deal bookcase along one wall and an antiquated cabinet between the two windows, one of its legs propped up with a dingy faded paper. The coarse green carpet was threadbare, but still whole. There were half-a-dozen plain chairs with green and white rush seats in various parts of the room. On the narrow white marble mantel-shelf stood two china candlesticks, in one of which there was a piece of candle that had guttered when last burning. In the middle a cheap American clock of white metal ticked loudly, and the hands pointed to twenty minutes before nine. In one corner was the clothes-horse, with two or three overcoats hanging on it, and two hats, one of which was hanging half over on one side. It looked as though two cloaked skeletons in hats were embracing. In another corner by the door a black stick and an umbrella stood side by side. But for the books the place would have had a desolate look. The air smelt of strong tobacco.
Gloria looked about her curiously, though her heart was beating fast. The man was familiar to her, dear to her in many ways, and over much in her life. The place where he lived contained a part of him which she did not know. Her breath came quickly in the anticipation of an emotion greater even than what she had felt already, but her eyes wandered in curiosity from one object to another. Suddenly she heard the loud cracking of breaking wood. There was a blaze of paper from the fireplace, illuminating all the room, and some light pieces he was throwing on kindled quickly. He was breaking them—she looked—it was one of the rush-bottomed chairs.
"What are you doing?" she cried, leaning suddenly far forward.
"Making a good fire," he answered. "There happened to be only one bit of wood in my box, so I am taking these things."
He broke the legs and the rails of the chair in his hands, as a child would break twigs, and heaped them up upon the blaze.
"There are five more," he observed. "They will make a good fire."
He arranged the burning mass to suit him, looked at it, and then turned.
"You ought to be a little nearer," he said, and he lifted the chair with her in it and set her before the fireplace.
It had all looked and felt desperately desolate half a minute earlier. It was changed now. He went to a corner and filled a small glass with wine from a straw-covered flask and brought it to her. She thanked him with her eyes and drank half of it eagerly. He knelt down before the fire again, for as the paper burned away underneath, the light sticks fell inward and might go out. When he had arranged it all again, he looked round and met her eyes, still kneeling.
"Is that better?" he asked quietly.
"You are so good," said Gloria, letting her eyelids droop as she looked from him to the pleasant flame.
He put out his hand and gently touched the hem of her cloth skirt.
"You are drenched," he said.
Then, before she realized what he was doing, he bent down and kissed the wet cloth, and without looking at her rose to his feet, got another chair and sat down near her. A soft blush of pleasure had risen in her cheeks. They were little things that he did, but they were like him, unaffected, strong, direct. Another man would have made apologies for having no wood and would have tried to make a fire of the single stick. Another man would have made excuses for the disorder of his room, or for the poverty of its furniture, perhaps. The other man she thought of was her husband, and possibly she had her father in her mind, too.
"When you are rested, tell me your story," he said, and his face hardened all at once.
She began to speak in a low and uncertain voice, reciting almost mechanically many things which she had often told him before. He listened without moving a muscle. Her voice was dear to him, whether she repeated the endless history of her woes for the tenth or the hundredth time. Where she was concerned he had no judgment, and he had no criterion, for he had never loved another woman with whom he could compare her. All that was of her was of paramount interest and weighty importance. He could not hear it too often. But to-night her first words had told him of the violent crisis in her life with Reanda, and he listened to all she said, before she reached that point, with an interest he had never felt before. But he would not look at her, for he must have taken her in his arms, as he had done once, months before now. She had come for protection and for help, and her need was the life spring of his honour.
As she went on, her voice took colour from her emotion, her hands moved now and then in short swift gestures, and her dark eyes burned. The marvellous dramatic power she possessed blazed out under the lash of her wrongs, and she found words she had only groped for until that moment. She described the miserably nervous feebleness of the man with scathing contempt, her tone made evil deeds of his shortcomings, her scorn made his weakness a black crime; her jealous anger fastened upon Francesca Campodonico and tore her honour to shreds and her virtues to rags of abomination; and her flaming pride blazed out in searing hatred and contempt for the coward who had struck her in the face.
"He broke my fan across my face!" she cried with the ascending intonation of a fury rising still, and still more fiercely beautiful. "He slashed my face with it and broke it and threw the bits down at my feet! There, look at it! That is his work—oh, give it back to him, kill him for me, tear him to pieces for me—make him feel what I have felt to-day!"
She had pushed her brown hat and veil back from her head, and her wet cloak had long ago fallen from her shoulders. One straight, white hand shot out and fastened upon her companion's arm, as he sat beside her, and she shook it in savage confidence of his iron strength.
A dead silence followed, but the fire made of the broken chairs roared and blazed on the low brick hearth. The man kept his eyes upon it fixedly, as though it were his salvation, for he felt that if he looked at her he was lost. She had come to him not for love, but for protection, of her own free will. Yet he felt that his honour was burning in him, with no longer life, if she stayed there, than the short, quick fire itself. His voice was thick when he answered, as though he were speaking through a velvet pall.
"I will kill him, if he will fight," he answered, with an effort. "I will not murder him, even for you."
She started, for she had not realized how he would take literally what she said. She had no experience of desperate men in her limited life.
"Murder him? No!" she said, snatching back her hand from his arm. "No, no! I never meant that."
"I am glad you did not. If you did, I should probably break down and do it to please you. But if he will fight like a man, I will kill him to please myself. Now I will go and get a carriage and take you home."
He rose to his feet and, turning, turned away from her, going toward the corner to get an overcoat. She followed him with her eyes, in silence.
"You are not afraid to be left alone for a quarter of an hour?" he asked, buttoning his coat, and looking toward his umbrella.
"Do not go just yet," she answered softly.
"I must. It is getting late. I shall not find a carriage if I wait any longer. I must go now."
"Do not go."
She heard him breathe hard once or twice. Then with quick strides he was beside her, and speaking to her.
"Gloria, I cannot stand it—I warn you. I love you in a way you cannot understand. You must not keep me here."
"Do not go," she said again, in the deep, soft tone of her golden voice.
He turned from her and went towards the door. Soft and swift she followed him, but he was in the entry before her hand was on his arm. It was almost dusk out there. He stopped.
"I cannot go back to him," she said, and he could see the light in her eyes, and very faintly the red bar across the face he loved.
"You should—there is nowhere else for you to go," he said, and in the dark his hand was finding the bolt of the door to the stairs.
"No—there is nowhere else—I cannot go back to him," she answered, and the voice quavered uncertainly as the night breeze sighing amongst reeds.
"You must—you must," he tried to say.
Her weight was all upon his arm, but it was nothing to him. He steadily drew back the bolt. He turned up his face so that he could not see her.
With sudden strength her white hands went round his sinewy dark throat as he threw back his head.
"You are all I have in the world!" she half said, half whispered. "I will not let you go!"
"You?" His voice broke out as through a bursting shell.
"Yes. Come back!"
His arm fell like lead to his side. Gently she drew him back to the door of the study. The blaze of the fire shot into her face.
"Come," she said. "See how well it burns."
"Yes," he said, mechanically, "it is burning well."
He stood aside an instant at the door to let her pass. His eyelids closed and his face became rigid as a death mask of a man dead in passion. One moment only; then he followed her and softly shut the door.
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