It was on their way back from this little dinner-party that Mr. Courtland confessed to Ella Linton that he had come to think of her dearest friend as a most charming and original girl; she had never once referred to his achievements in New Guinea, nor had she asked him to write his name in her birthday book. Yes, she was not as other girls.

“I’m so delighted to hear you say so much,” said Ella. “Oh, Bertie! why not make yourself happy with a sweet girl such as she, and give no more thought to such absurdities as you have been indulging in? Believe me, you don’t know so well as I do in what direction your happiness lies.”

“I don’t know anything about happiness,” said he. “I don’t seem to care much, either. When I made up my mind to find the meteor-bird, don’t you suppose that there were many people who told me that, even if it was found, it was quite unlikely that it would be more succulent eating than a Dorking chicken? I’m sure they were right. You see, I didn’t go to New Guinea in search of a barndoor fowl. I don’t want domestic happiness, I don’t want anything but you—you are my meteor-bird. I found, after my first visit to New Guinea, that it was impossible for me to rest until I had found the meteor-bird. I have found that it is impossible for me to live without you, my beloved.”

“You will have to learn to live without me,” said she, laying her hand upon his. They had now reached her house, so that no immediate reply was possible. He did not attempt to make a reply until they had gone into a small drawing room, and she had flung off her wrap. They were alone.

Then he knelt on the rug before her and took both her hands in his own—a hand in each of his hands—as they lay on her dress. His face was close to hers: she was in a low chair. Each could hear the sound of the other’s breathing—the sound of the other’s heart-beats. That duet went on for some minutes—the most perfect music in life—the music which is life itself—the music by which man becomes immortal.

“Do not hold me any longer, Bertie,” said she. “Kiss me and go away—away. Oh, why should you ever come back? I believe that, if you loved me, you would go away and never come back. Oh, what is this farce that is being played between us? It is unworthy of either of us!”

“A farce? A tragedy!” said he. “I want you, Ella. I told you that I could not live without you.”

“You want me? You want me, Bertie?” said she. Tears were in her eyes and in her voice, for there was to her a passion of pathos in those words of his. “You want me, and you know that it is only my soul that shall be lost if I give myself to you. God has decreed that only the soul of the woman pays the penalty of the man’s longing for her.”

“You soul shall be saved, not lost,” said he. “At present it is your soul that is in peril, when you give your sweetness to the man whom you have ceased to love—ah! whom you never loved. You will save your soul with me.”

“I shall lose it for all eternity,” said she. “Do you think that I complain? Do you fancy for a moment that I grumble at the decree of God, or that I rail against it as unjust?”

“You are a woman.”

“I am a woman, and therefore you know I will one day be ready to lose my soul for you, Bertie, my love. Oh, my dear, dear love, you say you want me?”

“Oh, my God!”

He had sprung to his feet and was pacing the room before her.

“You say that you want me. Oh, my love, my love, do you fancy for a moment that your longing for me is anything to be compared to my longing for you?”

“My beloved, my beloved!”

His arms were about her. His lips were upon hers. She kissed him as he kissed her.

Then she turned her head away so that his kisses fell upon her cheek instead of her mouth. She turned it still farther and they fell upon her neck—it was exquisite in its shape—and lay there like red rose-leaves clinging to a carved marble pillar.

“Wait,” she said. “Wait; let me talk to you.”

She untwined his arms from about her—the tears were still in her eyes as she tried to face him.

“Why should you still have tears?” said he. “If anything stood between us and love, there might be room for tears, but nothing stands between us now. I am yours, you are mine.”

“That is the boast of a man who sees only the beginning of a love; mine are the tears of a woman who sees its end, and knows that it is not far off.”

“How can you say that? The end? the end of love such as ours? Oh, Ella!”

“Oh, listen to me, my love! I am ashamed of the part I have played during the past six months—since we were together on the Arno, and you are ashamed, too.”

“I am not ashamed. I have no reason to be ashamed.”

“No; you are not ashamed of the part you have played; but you are ashamed of me, Bertie.”

“Oh you? I—ashamed of you? Oh, my darling, if you talk longer in that strain I will be ashamed of you.”

“You are ashamed of me—I have sometimes felt it. A man with a heart such as I know yours to be, cannot but be ashamed of a woman, who, though the wife of another man, allows him to kiss her—yes, and who gives him kiss for kiss. Oh, go away—go away! I have had enough of your love—enough of your kisses, enough shame! Go away! I never wish to see you again—to kiss you again.”

She had walked to the other end of the room, and stood under a Venetian mirror—it shone like a monstrous jewel above her head—looking at him, her hands clenched, her eyes flashing through the tears that had not yet fallen.

He had had no experience of women and their moods, and he was consequently amazed at her attitude. He took a step toward her.

“No—no,” she cried angrily. “I will not have any more of you. I tell you that I have had enough. I find now that what I mistook for love was just the opposite. I believe that I hate you. No—no, Bertie, not that, it cannot be that, only——Oh, I know now that it is not hate for you that I feel—it is hate for myself, hate for the creature who is hateful enough to stand between you and the happiness which you have earned by patience, by constancy, by self-control. Yes, I hate the creature who is idiotic enough to put honor between us, to put religion between us, to put her soul’s salvation between us.”

“Ella, Ella, why will you not trust me?” he said, when she had flung herself into a chair. He was standing over her with his hands clasped behind him. He was beginning to understand something of her nature; of the nature of the woman to whom love has come as a thief in the night. He was beginning to perceive that she had, in her ignorance, been ready to entertain love without knowing what was entailed by entertaining him. “If you would only trust me, all would be well.”

She almost leaped from her chair.

“Would it?” she cried. “Would all be well? Would it be well with my soul? Would it be well with both of us in the future? Would it be well with my husband?”

He laughed.

“I know your husband,” he said.

“And I know him, too,” said she. “He cares for me no more than I care for him, but he has never been otherwise than kind to me. I think of him—I think of him. I know the name that men give to the man who tries to make his friend’s wife love him. It is not my husband who has earned that name, Mr. Courtland.”

He looked into her face, but he spoke no word. Even he—the lover—was beginning to see, as in a glass, darkly, something of the conflict that was going on in the heart of the woman before him. She had uttered words against him, and they had stung him, and yet he had a feeling that, if he had put his arms about her again, she would have held him close to her as she had done before; she would have given him kiss for kiss as she had done before. It is the decree of nature that the lover shall think of himself only; but had he not told Phyllis that his belief was that Nature and Satan were the same? He was sometimes able to say, “Retro me, Sathana”—not always. He said it now, but not boldly, not loudly—in a whisper. The best way of putting Satan behind one is to run away from him. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Yes, but, on the whole, it is safer to show him a clean pair of heels than to enter on an argument with him, hoping that he will be amenable to logic. Herbert Courtland said his, “Retro me,” in a whisper, half hoping, as the gentlewoman with the muffins for sale hoped, that he would escape notice. For a few moments he ceased to think of himself. He thought of that beautiful thing before him—she was tall, and her rosy white flesh was as a peach that has reached its one hour of ripeness—he thought of her and pitied her.

He had not the heart to put his arms about her, though he knew that to do so would be to give him all the happiness for which he longed. What was he that he should stand by and see that struggle tearing her heart asunder?

“My poor child!” said he, and then he repeated his words, “My poor child! It would have been better if we had never come together. We are going to part now.”

She looked at him and laughed in his face.

He did not know what this meant. Had she been simply acting a part all along? Had she been playing a comedy part all the while he was thinking that a great tragedy was being enacted? Or was it possible that she was mocking him? that her laugh was the laugh of the jailer who hears a prisoner announce his intention of walking out of his cell?

“Good-by,” said he.

She fixed her eyes upon his face, then she laughed again.

He now knew what she meant by her laugh.

“Perhaps you may think that you have too firm a hold upon me to give me a chance of parting from you,” said he. “You may be right; but if you tell me to go I shall try and obey you. But think what it means before you tell me to leave you forever.”

She did think what it meant. She looked at him, and she thought of his passing away from her forever more. She wondered what her life would be when he should have passed out of it. A blank? Oh, worse than a blank, for she would have ever present with her the recollection of how he had once stood before her as he was standing now—tall, with his brown hands clenched, and a paleness underlying the tan of his face. “The bravest man alive”—that was what Phyllis had called him, and Phyllis had been right. He was a man who had fought his way single-handed through such perils as made those who merely read about them throb with anxiety.

This was the man of whom she knew that she would ever retain a memory—this was the man whom she was ready to send back to the uttermost ends of the earth.

And this was to be the reward of his devotion to her! What was she that she could do this thing? What was she that she should refrain from sacrificing herself for him? She had known women who had sacrificed themselves to men—such men! Wretched things! Not like that man of men who stood before her with such a look on his face as it had worn, she knew, in the most desperate moments of his life, when the next moment might bring death to him—death from an arrow—from a wild beast—from a hurricane.

What could she do?

She did nothing.

She made no effort to save herself.

If he had put his arms about her and had carried her away from her husband’s house to the uttermost ends of the earth, she would not have resisted. It was not in her power to resist.

And it was because he saw this he went away, leaving her standing with that lovely Venetian mirror glittering in silver and ruby and emerald just above her head.

“You have been right; I have been wrong,” said he. “Don’t try to speak, Ella. Don’t try to keep me. I know how you love me, and I know that if I ask you to keep me you will keep me until you die. Forgive me for my selfishness, my beloved. Good-by.”

She felt him approach her and she felt the hands that he laid upon her bare shoulders—one on each side of her neck. She closed her eyes as he put his face down to hers and kissed her on the mouth—not with rapturous, passionate lips, but still with warm and trembling lips. She did not know where the kiss ended, she did not know when his hands were taken off her shoulders. She kept her eyes closed and her mouth sealed. She did not even give him a farewell kiss.

When she opened her eyes she found herself alone in the room.

And then there came to her ears the sound of the double whistle for a hansom. She stood silently there listening to the driving up of the vehicle—she even heard the sound of the closing of the apron and then the tinkling of the horse’s bells dwindling into the distance.

A sense of loneliness came to her that was overwhelming in its force.

“Fool! fool! fool!” she cried, through her set teeth. “What have I done? Sent him away? Sent him away? My beloved!—my best beloved—my man of men. Gone—gone! Oh, fool! fool!”

She threw herself on a sofa and stared at the Watteau group of masquerading shepherds and shepherdesses on the great Sevres vase that stood on a pedestal near her. The masks at the joining of the handles were of grinning satyrs. They were leering at her, she thought. They alone were aware of the good reason there was for satyrs to grin. A woman had just sent away from her, forever, the bravest man in all the world—those were Phyllis’ words—a king of men—the one man who loved her and whom she loved. She had pretended to him that she was subject to the influences of religion, of honor, of duty! What hypocrisy! They knew it, those leering creatures—they knew that she cared nothing for religion, that she regarded honor and duty as words of no meaning when such words as love and devotion were in the air.

She looked at the satyr masks, and had anyone been present in the room, that one would have seen that her lovely face became gradually distorted until the expression it wore was precisely the same as that upon the masks—an expression that had its audible equivalent in the laugh which broke from her.

She lay back on her broad cushions. One of the strands of her splendid hair had become loose, and after coiling over half a yard of the brocaded silk of a cushion, twisted its way down to the floor. She lay back, pointing one finger at the face on the vase and laughing that satyr-laugh.

“We know—we know—we know!” she cried, and her voice was like that of a drunken woman. “We know all—you and I—we know the hypocrisy—the pretense of religion—of honor—duty—a husband! Ah, a husband! that is the funniest of all—that husband! We know how little we care for them all.”

She continued laughing until her cushion slipped from under her head. She half rose to straighten it, and at that instant she caught a glimpse of her face in the center silvered panel of the Venetian mirror. The cry of horror that broke from her at that instant seemed part of her laugh. It would not have occurred to anyone who might have heard it that it was otherwise than consistent with the incongruity, so to speak, of the existing elements of the scene. The hideous leer of the thing with horns, looking down at the exquisite picture of the fete champetre—the distorted features of the woman’s face in the center of the ruby and emerald and sapphire of the Venetian mirror—the cry of horror mixed with the laugh of the woman who mocked at religion and honor and purity—all were consistently incongruous.

In another instant she was lying on the sofa with her face down to the cushion, trying to forget all that she had seen in the mirror. She wept her tears on the brocaded silk for half an hour, and then she slipped from where she was lying till her knees were on the floor. With a hand clutching each side of the cushion she got rid of her passion in prayer.

“Oh, God! God! keep him away from me! keep him away from me!” was her prayer; and it was possibly the best that she could have uttered. “Keep him away from me! keep him away from me! Don’t let my soul be lost! Keep him away from me!”

When she struggled to her feet, at last, she stood in front of the mirror once again.

She now saw a face purified of all passion by tears and prayer, where she had seen the soulless face of a Pagan’s orgy.

She went upstairs to her bed and went asleep, thanking God that she had had the strength to send him away; that she had had strength sufficient to stand where she had stood in the room, silent, while he had put his arms on her bare shoulders and kissed her on the mouth, saying “Good-by.”

She felt that she had every reason to thank God for that strength, for she knew that it had been given to her at that moment; it had not sprung from within her own heart; her heart had been crying out to him, “Stay, stay, stay!” her heart took no account of honor or purity or a husband.

Yes, she felt that the strength which had come to her at that moment had been the especial gift of God, and she was thankful to God for it.

That consciousness of gratitude to God was her last sensation before falling asleep; and, when morning came, her first sensation was that of having a letter to write. Before she had breakfasted she had written her letter and sent it to be posted.

This was the letter:

“MY ONE LOVE: I was a fool—oh, such a fool! How could I have done it? How could I have sent you away in such coldness last night? Believe me, it was not I who did it. How could I have done it? You know that my love for you is limitless. You know that it is my life. I tell you that my love for you laughs at such limits as are laid down by religion and honor. Why should I protest? My love is love, and there can be no love where there are any limits.

“Come to me on Thursday. I shall be at home after dinner, at nine, and see if I am not now in my right mind. Come to me; come to me, Bertie, my love.”

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