Me-en-gan was already holding open the door. “You come,” he smiled, beseechingly.
But the Factor’s suspicions were aroused.
“There is something in this,” he decided. “I think you may stay, Virginia.”
“You are right,” broke in the young man, desperately. “There is something in it. Miss Albret knows who gave me the rifle, and she was about to inform you of his identity. There is no need in subjecting her to that distasteful ordeal. I am now ready to confess to you. I beg you will ask her to leave the room.”
Galen Albret, in the midst of these warring intentions, had sunk into his customary impassive calm. The light had died from his eyes, the expression from his face, the energy from his body. He sat, an inert mass, void of initiative, his intelligence open to what might be brought to his notice.
“Virginia, this is true?” his heavy, dead voice rumbled through his beard. “You know who aided this man?”
Ned. Trent mutely appealed to her: her glance answered his.
“Yes, father,” she replied.
A dead silence fell on the room. Galen Albret’s expression and attitude did not change. Through dull, lifeless eyes, from behind the heavy mask of his waxen face and white beard, he looked steadily out upon nothing. Along either arm of the chair stretched his own arms limp and heavy with inertia. In suspense the other three inmates of the place watched him, waiting for some change. It did not come. Finally his lips moved.
“You?” he muttered, questioningly,
“I,” she repeated
Another silence fell.
“Why?” he asked at last.
“Because it was an unjust thing. Because we could not think of taking a life in that way, without some reason for it.”
“Why?” he persisted, taking no account of her reply.
Virginia let her gaze slowly rest on the Free Trader, and her eyes filled with a world of tenderness and trust.
“Because I love him,” said she, softly.
After an instant Galen Albret turned slowly his massive head and looked at her. He made no other movement, yet she staggered back as though she had received a violent blow on the chest.
“Father!” she gasped.
Still slowly, gropingly, he arose to his feet, holding tight to the edge of the table. Behind him unheeded the rough-built armchair crashed to the floor. He stood there upright and motionless, looking straight before him, his face formidable. At first his speech was disjointed. The words came in widely punctuated gasps. Then, as the wave of his emotion rolled back from the poise into which the first shock of anger had thrown it, it escaped through his lips in a constantly increasing stream of bitter words.