It paused outside her door, and her heart beat so that she could hardly bear it.
‘May I come in?’
It seemed to her that he did not wait for her low reply. He came in, and shut the door. There was a bright colour in his face, and his breath came fast, as he stood beside her, with his hands on his sides.
‘Are you sure you like my coming?’ he said, brusquely.
She did not answer in words, but she put out her hand, and drew him towards her.
He knelt down by her, and she flung an arm round his neck, and laid her fair head on his shoulder with a long sigh.
‘You are very tired?’
‘No. I knew you would come.’
A silence. Then he said, waveringly, stooping over her:
’Phoebe—I was very hard to you. But there was a black pall on me—and now it’s lifting. Will you forgive me?—my dear—my dear!’
She clung to him with a great cry. And once more the torrent of love and repentance was unsealed, which had been arrested through all these weeks. In broken words—in mutual confession—each helping, each excusing the other—the blessed healing time passed on its way; till suddenly, as her hand dropped again upon her knee, he noticed, as he had often bitterly noticed before, the sham wedding-ring on the third finger.
She saw his eyes upon it, and flushed.
‘I had to, John,’ she pleaded. ‘I had to.’
He said nothing, but he thrust his hand into the breast-pocket of his coat, and brought out the same large pocket-book which still held her last letter to him. He took out the letter, and offered it to her. ‘Don’t read it,’ he said, peremptorily. ‘Tear it up.’
She recognised it, with a sob, and, trembling, did as he bade her. He gathered up the small fragments of it, took them to the grate, and lit a match under them. Then he returned to her—still holding the open pocket-book.
‘Give me your hand.’
She held it out to him, bewildered. He slowly drew off the ring, put it aside; then from the inmost fold of the pocket-book he took another ring, slipt it on her finger, and kissed the hand. After which he knelt down again beside her, and they clung to each other—close and long.
’I return it’—he murmured—’after twelve years! God bless you for Carrie. God bless you for coming back to me. We’ll go to Italy. You shall do that for me. But I’ll repay you—if I live. Now, are you happy? Why, we’re young yet!’
And so they kissed; knowing well that the years are irreparable, and yet defying them; conscious, as first youth is never conscious, of the black forces which surround our being, and yet full of passionate hope; aware of death, as youth is never aware of it, and yet determined to shape something out of life; sad and yet rejoicing, ‘cast down, but not destroyed.’