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The stillness was all around them and seemed to fold them together as they sat side by side. A deep sigh quivered and paused and was drawn again almost with a gasp that stirred the air. Suddenly Francesca's face was hidden in her hands, and her head was bowed almost to her knees. A moment more, and she sobbed aloud, wordless, as though her soul were breaking from her heart.
In the great gloom there was something unearthly in the sound of her weeping. The man who could neither suffer any more himself nor feel human pity for another's suffering, turned and looked at her with shadowy eyes. He understood, though he could not feel, and he knew that she had borne more than any one had guessed.
She shed many tears, and it was long before her sobbing ceased to call down pitiful, heart-breaking echoes from the unseen heights of darkness. Her head was bent down upon her knees as she sat there, striving with herself.
He could do nothing, and there was nothing that he could say. He could not comfort her, he could not deny her grief. He only knew that there was one more being still alive and bearing the pain of sins done long ago. Truly the judgment upon that man by whom the offence had come, should be heavy and relentless and enduring.
At last all was still again. Francesca did not move, but sat bowed together, her hands pressing her face. Very softly, Griggs rose to his feet, and she did not see that he was no longer seated beside her. He stood up and leaned upon the broad marble of the balustrade. When she at last raised her head, she thought that he was gone.
"Where are you?" she asked, in a startled voice.
Then, looking round, she saw him standing by the rail. She understood why he had moved—that she might not feel that he was watching her and seeing her tears.
"I am not ashamed," she said. "At least you know me, now."
"Yes. I know."
She also rose and stood up, and leaned upon the balustrade and looked into his face.
"I am glad you know," she said, and he saw how pale she was, and that her cheeks were wet. "Now that it is over, I am glad that you know," she said again. "You are beyond sympathy, and beyond pitying any one, though you are not unkind. I am glad, that if any one was to know my secret, it should be you. I could not bear pity. It would hurt me. But you are not unkind."
"Nor kind—nor anything," he said.
"No. It is as though I had spoken to the grave—or to eternity. It is safe with you."
"Yes. Quite safe. Safer than with the dead."
"He never knew it. Thank God! He never knew it! To me he was always the same faithful friend. To you he was an enemy, and cruel. I thought him above cruelty, but he was human, after all. Was it not human, that he should be cruel to you?"
"Yes," answered Griggs, wondering a little at her speech and tone. "It was very human."
"And you forgive him for it?"
"I?" There was surprise in his tone.
"Yes," she answered. "I want your forgiveness for him. He died without your forgiveness. It is the only thing I ask of you—I have not the right to ask anything, I know, but is it so very much?"
"It is nothing," said Griggs. "There is no such thing as forgiveness in my world. How could there be? I resent nothing."
"But then, if you do not resent what he did, you have forgiven him. Have you not?"
"I suppose so." He was puzzled.
"Will you not say it?" she pleaded.
"Willingly," he answered. "I forgive him. I remember nothing against him."
"Thank you. You are a good man."
He shook his head gravely, but he took her outstretched hand and pressed it gently.
"Thank you," she repeated, withdrawing hers. "Do not think it strange that I should ask such a thing. It means a great deal to me. I could not bear to think that he had left an enemy in the world and was gone where he could not ask forgiveness for what he had done. So I asked it of you, for him. I know that he would have wished me to. Do you understand?"
"Yes," said Griggs, thoughtfully. "I understand."
Again there was silence for a long time as they stood there. The tears dried upon the woman's sweet pale face, and a soft light came where the tears had been.
"Will you come with me?" she asked at last, looking up.
He did not guess what she meant to do, but he left the step on which he was standing and stood ready.
"It must be late," he said. "Should you like to try and rest? I will arrange a place for you as well as I can."
"Not yet," she answered. "If you will come with me—" she hesitated.
"I will say a prayer for the dead," she said, in a low voice. "I always do, every night, since he died."
Griggs bent his head, and she came down from the step. He walked beside her, down the silent nave into the darkness. Before the Chapel of the Sacrament they both paused and bent the knee. Then she hesitated.
"I should like to go to the Pietà," she said timidly. "It seems so far. Do you mind?"
He held out his arm silently. She felt it and laid her hand upon it, and they went on. It was very dark. They knew that they were passing the pillars when they could not see the little lights from the chapels in the distance on their left. Then by the echo of their own footsteps they knew that they were near the great door, and at last they saw the single tiny flame in the silver lamp hanging above the altar they sought.
Guided by it, they went forward, and the solitary ray showed them the marble rail. They knelt down side by side.
"Let us pray for them all," said Francesca, very softly.
She looked up to the marble face of Christ's mother, the Addolorata, the mother of sorrows, and she thought of that sinning nun, dead long ago, who had been called Addolorata.
"Let us pray for them all," she repeated. "For Maria Braccio, for Gloria—for Angelo Reanda."
She lowered her head upon her hands. Then, presently, she looked up again, and Griggs heard her sweet voice in the darkness repeating the ancient Commemoration for the Dead, from the Canon of the Mass.
"Remember also, O Lord, thy servants who are gone before us with the sign of faith, and sleep the sleep of peace. Give them, O Lord, and to all who rest in Christ, a place of refreshment, light, and peace, for that Christ's sake, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
Once more she bent her head and was silent for a time. Then as she knelt, her hands moved silently along the marble and pressed the two folded hands of the man beside her, and she looked at him.
"Let us be friends," she said simply.
"Such as I am, I am yours."
Then their hands clasped. They both started and looked down, for the fingers were cold and wet and dark.
It was the blood of Angus Dalrymple that had sealed their friendship.
The swift sure blade had struck him as he stood there, repeating the name of his dead wife. There had been no one near the door and none to see the quick, black deed. Strong hands had thrown his falling body within the marble balustrade, that was still wet with his heart's blood.
There Paul Griggs found him, lying on his back, stretched to his length in the dim shadow between the rail and the altar. He had paid the price at last, a loving, sinning, suffering, faithful, faultful man.
But the friendship that was so grimly consecrated on that night, was the truest that ever was between man and woman.
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