Her words were quick and vehement, her whole being pulsated. She challenged his look with eyes of shining resolution.
His arms were round her in a moment; he held her fast. “My Stella! My wife!” he said.
She clung closely to him. “By your side, I will face anything. You know it, darling. I am not afraid.”
“I know, I know,” he said. “I won’t leave you behind. I couldn’t now. But a time will come when we shall have to separate. We’ve got to face that.”
“Wait till it comes!” she whispered. “It isn’t—yet.”
He kissed her on the lips. “No, not yet, thank heaven. You want to know what has happened. I will tell you. Ermsted—you know Ermsted—was shot in the jungle near Khanmulla this afternoon, about half an hour ago.”
“Oh, Everard!” She started back in horror and was struck afresh by the awful intentness of his eyes.
“Yes,” he said. “And if I had been here to receive that message, I could have prevented it.”
“Oh, Everard!” she said again.
He went on doggedly. “I ought to have been here. My agent knew I was in the place. I ought to have stayed within reach. These warnings might arrive at any time. I was a damned lunatic, and Ermsted has paid the price.” He stopped, and his look changed. “Poor girl! It’s been a shock to you,” he said, “a beastly awakening for us both.”
Stella was very pale. “I feel,” she said slowly, “as if I were pursued by a remorseless fate.”
“You?” he questioned. “This had nothing to do with you.”
She leaned against him. “Wherever I go, trouble follows. Haven’t you noticed it? It seems as if—as if—whichever way I turn—a flaming sword is stretched out, barring the way.” Her voice suddenly quivered. “I know why,—oh, yes, I know why. It is because once—like the man without a wedding-garment, I found my way into a forbidden paradise. They hurled me out, Everard. I was flung into a desert of ashes. And now—now that I have dared to approach by another way—the sentence has gone forth that wherever I pass, something shall die. That dreadful man—told me on the day that Ralph was taken away from me—that the Holy Ones were angry. And—my dear—he was right. I shall never be pardoned until I have—somehow—expiated my sin.”
“Stella! Stella!” He broke in upon her sharply. “You are talking wildly. Your sin, as you call it, was at the most no more than a bad mistake. Can’t you put it from you?—get above it? Have you no faith? I thought all women had that.”
She looked at him strangely. “I wasn’t brought up to believe in God,” she said. “At least not personally, not intimately. Were you?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Ah!” Her eyes widened a little. “And you still believe in Him—still believe He really cares—even when things go hopelessly wrong?”
“Yes,” he said again. “I can’t talk about Him. But I know He’s there.”