One of the letters was from Sir Paul, telling the story over again from the man’s point of view, and laying bare at last the great secret the Boy had so often longed to hear. Nothing was kept back. Even every note—every little scrap of his mother’s writing—had been sacredly kept and was now enclosed for the eyes of their son to read. The closed door in Father Paul’s life was unlocked now, and his son entered and understood, wondering why he had been so blind that he had not seen it all before. The writing on the wall had certainly been plain enough. And he smiled to remember the readiness with which he had believed the plausible story of Isabella Waring!
And that man—the husband of his mother—the king who had taken her dear life from her with a curse upon his lips! Thank God he was not his father! No, in all the world of men, there was no one but Paul Verdayne—no one—to whom he would so willingly have given the title—and to him he had given it in his heart long before.
He sat and read the letters through again, word by word, living in imagination the life his mother had lived, feeling all she had felt. God! the bliss, the agony of it all!
And Paul Zalenska, surrounded by the messages from the past that had given him being, and looking at the ruin of his own life with eyes newly awakened to the immensity of his loss, bowed his face in his hands and wept like a heart-broken child over the falling of his house of cards.
Ah! his mother had understood—she had loved and suffered. She was older than he, too, and had known her world as he could not possibly know it, and yet she had bade him take the gifts of life when they came his way.
And—God help him!—he had not done so!
The next morning, Paul Zalenska rose early. He had not slept well. He was troubled with conflicting emotions, conflicting memories. The wonder and sorrow of it all had been too much even for his youth and health to endure. His mother had won so much from life, he thought—and he so little! He thought of Opal—indeed, when was she ever absent from his thoughts, waking or sleeping?—and the memory of his loss made him frantic. Opal—his darling! And they might have been just as happy as his mother and father had been, but they had let their happiness slip from them! What fools! Oh, what fools they had been! Not to have risked anything—everything—for their happiness! And where was she now? In Paris, in her husband’s arms, no doubt, where he could hold her to him, and caress her and kiss her at his own sweet will! God! It was intolerable, unthinkable! And he—Paul, her lover—lying there alone, who would have died a thousand deaths, if that were possible, to save her from such a fate!
At last he forced the thought of his own loss from him, and thought again of his mother. Ah, but her death had been opportune! How glorious to die when life and love had reached their zenith! in the fullness of joy to take one’s farewell of the world!