So that, “My dear, my dear!” he swiftly said: “I don’t think I can word just what my feeling is for you. Always my view of the world has been that you existed, and that some other people existed—as accessories—”
Then he was silent for a heart-beat, appraising her. His hands lifted toward her and fell within the moment, as if it were in impotence.
Anne spoke at last, and the sweet voice of her was very glad and proud and confident.
“My friend, remember that I have not thanked you. You have done the most foolish and—the manliest thing I ever knew a man to do, just for my sake. And I have accepted it as if it were a matter of course. And I shall always do so. Because it was your right to do this very brave and foolish thing for me. I know you joyed in doing it. Rudolph ... you cannot understand how glad I am you joyed in doing it.”
Their eyes met. It is not possible to tell you all they were aware of through that moment, because it is a knowledge so rarely apprehended, and even then for such a little while, that no man who has sensed it can remember afterward aught save the splendor and perfection of it.
* * * * *
And yet Anne looked back once. There was just the tall, stark shaft, and on it “John Charteris.” The thing was ominous and vast, all colored like wet gravel, save where the sunlight tipped it with clean silver very high above their reach.
“Come,” she quickly said to Rudolph Musgrave; “come, for I am afraid.”
And are we then to leave them with glad faces turned to that new day wherein, above the ashes of old errors and follies and mischances and miseries, they were to raise the structure of such a happiness as earth rarely witnesses? Would it not be, instead, a grateful task more fully to depicture how Rudolph Musgrave’s love of Anne won finally to its reward, and these two shared the evening of their lives in tranquil service of unswerving love come to its own at last?
Undoubtedly, since the espousal of one’s first love—by oneself—is a phenomenon rarely encountered outside of popular fiction, it would be a very gratifying task to record that Anne and Rudolph Musgrave were married that autumn; that subsequently Lichfield was astounded by the fervor of their life-long bliss; that Colonel and (the second) Mrs. Musgrave were universally respected, in a word, and their dinner-parties were always prominently chronicled by the Lichfield Courier-Herald; and that Anne took excellent care of little Roger, and that she and her second husband proved eminently suited to each other.
But, as a matter of fact, not one of these things ever happened....
“I have been thinking it over,” Anne deplored. “Oh, Rudolph dear, I perfectly realize you are the best and noblest man I ever knew. And I have always loved you very much, my dear; that is why I could never abide poor Mrs. Pendomer. And yet—it is a feeling I simply can’t explain——”