“Against her will?”
He looked at me with something like pity.
“Who can tell what a woman’s will will be in a week? In less than that she will marry me cheerfully. I hope you may grieve as short a time as she will.”
In my inmost heart I knew it was true. I had staked everything, not for a woman’s love, but for the whim of a girl! For a moment it was too hard for me, and I bowed my head on the table by me and hid my face.
Then he came and put his hand on mine, and said:
“Yes, Martin; young and old, we are all alike. They’re not worth quarreling for. But Nature’s too strong.”
“May I see her before I go?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“Yes,” he said once more. “Go now—if she can see you.”
I went up and cautiously opened the door. The signorina was lying on the bed, with a shawl over her. She seemed to be asleep. I bent over her and kissed her. She opened her eyes, and said, in a weary voice:
“Is it you, Jack?”
“Yes, my darling,” said I. “I am going. I must go or die; and whether I go or die, I must be alone.”
She was strangely quiet—even apathetic. As I knelt down by her she raised herself, and took my face between her hands and kissed me—not passionately, but tenderly.
“My poor Jack!” she said; “it was no use, dear. It is no use to fight against him.”
Here was her strange subjection to that influence again.
“You love me?” I cried, in my pain.
“Yes,” she said, “but I am very tired; and he will be good to me.”
Without another word I went from her, with the bitter knowledge that my great grief found but a pale reflection in her heart.
“I am ready to go,” I said to the President.
“Come, then,” he replied. “Here, take these, you may want them,” and he thrust a bundle of notes into my hand (some of my own from the bank I afterward discovered).
Arrived at the boat, I got in mechanically and made all preparations for the start.
Then the President took my hand.
“Good-by, Jack Martin, and good luck. Some day we may meet again. Just now there’s no room for us both here. You bear no malice?”
“No, sir,” said I. “A fair fight, and you’ve won.”
As I was pushing off, he added:
“When you arrive, send me word.”
I nodded silently.
“Good-by, and good luck,” he said again.
I turned the boat’s head put to sea, and went forth on my lonely way into the night.
A DIPLOMATIC ARRANGEMENT.