He made as if he would rise, but her hands turned swiftly in his, turned and held him fast.
“Everard—Everard, why should you go?” she whispered tensely into the darkness that hid his face.
He yielded in a measure to her hold, but he would not suffer himself to be drawn nearer.
“Why?” she said again insistently.
He hesitated. “I think,” he said slowly “that you will find an answer to that question—possibly more than one—when you have had time to think it over.”
“What do you mean?” she breathed.
“Must I put it into words?” he said.
She heard the pain in his voice, but for the first time she passed it by unheeded. “Yes, tell me!” she said. “I must know.”
He was silent for a little, as if mustering his forces. Then, his hands tight upon hers, he spoke. “In the first place, you are Dacre’s widow, and not—my wife.”
She quivered in his hold. “And then?” she whispered.
“And then,” he said, “our baby is dead, so you are free from all—obligations.”
Her hands clenched hard upon his. “Is that all?”
“No.” With sudden passion he answered her. “There are two more reasons why I should go. One is—that I have made your life a hell on earth. You have said it, and I know it to be true. Ah, you had better let me go—and go quickly. For your own sake—you had better!”
But she ignored the warning, holding him almost fiercely. “And the last reason?” she said.
He was silent for a few seconds, and in his silence there was something of an electric quality, something that pierced and scorched yet strangely drew her. “Someone else can tell you that,” he said at length. “It isn’t that I am a broken man. I know that wouldn’t affect you one way or another. It is that I have done a thing that you would hate—yet that I would do again to-morrow if the need arose. You can ask Ralston what it is! Say I told you to! He knows.”
“But I ask you,” she said, and still her hands gripped his. “Everard, why don’t you tell me? Are you—afraid to tell me?”
“No,” he said.
“Then answer me!” she said, her breathing sharp and uneven. “Tell me the truth! Make me understand you—once and for all!”
“You have always understood me,” he said.
“No—no!” she protested.
“Well, nearly always,” he amended. “As long as you have known my love—you have known me. My love for you is myself—the immortal part. The rest—doesn’t count.”
“Ah!” she said, and suddenly the very soul of her rose up and spoke. “Then you needn’t tell me any more, dear love—dear love. I don’t need to hear it. It doesn’t matter. It can’t make any difference. Nothing ever can again, for, as you say, nothing else counts. Go if you must,—but if you do—I shall follow you—I shall follow you—to the world’s end.”
“Stella!” he said.