“Needn’t mind the water. I’m all right,” stammered Hugh, moving away with legs as stiff as rods. “Where is she now?”
“At the home of her uncle, Mr. Coleman. There were seven of them saved, after being buffeted about by the sea for three days in the boat in which they left the wreck. When they were picked up by the Sea Gull, they were almost dead with hunger, thirst and madness. It seems Miss Vernon had written her uncle before sailing; and the letter, coming by way of San Francisco, got here two or three weeks before she was expected. Afterward, Mr. Coleman got the government to send ships out to find the wreck. It was many weeks before Miss Vernon was fully recovered.”
“Thank you,” muttered he. “Come, Lady Huntingford, we will go to a hotel.” She arose and silently followed him to the door. The men in the office glanced at each other, completely mystified, Captain Hildebrand as much so as any one.
For a long time the occupants of a certain carriage looked straight before them as if bereft of the power of speech or comprehension. A great abyss of thought confronted them; they were apparently struggling on the edge, utterly unable to grasp a single inspiration or idea.
“She’s been waiting a year, Tennys. Do you know what that means?”
“Yes, Hugh; I know too well. She has prayed and hoped and loved, and now you are come to her. It means that she will be happy—oh, so happy!” murmured his white-lipped companion, cold as ice.
“But I can’t go to her and tell her what we know. It would kill her. I can’t go to her—it is impossible! I’d die if she looked at me,” he groaned.
“You must go to her,” she said intensely. “She will know you have been rescued. She will thank God and wait for you to come to her. Think of that poor girl waiting, waiting, waiting for you, filled with a joy that we can never know. Oh, I will not have you break her heart. You shall go to her!”
“I cannot, I tell you! I cannot tell her that I love you! That would be worse than any cruelty I can imagine.”
“You are not to tell her that you love me. I release you, Hugh. You were hers first; you are hers now. I would kill myself rather than lake you from her. Go to her—go to her at once. You must!” She was nervous, half-crazed, yet true nobility shone above all like a gem of purest ray.
“Don’t force me to go, Tennys,” he pleaded, as she left him to go to her room.
“Go now, Hugh—go if you love me,” she said, turning her miserable face from him.
“But what is to become of you—of me?” he protested.
“We must think only of her. Go! and bring her to see me here! I want to tell her how happy I am that she has found you again;” and then she was gone.
The dominant impulse was to rush after her, grasp her and carry her back to the waves from which he had unwittingly saved her. Then the strong influence that she had exerted over him, together with the spark of fair-mindedness that remained, forced him to obey the dictates of honor. He slowly, determinedly, dejectedly re-entered the carriage and started toward the end.