Veath excused himself and left the room. In the hall, out of Hugh’s sight, he stopped, clenched his hands, closed his eyes and shivered as if his blood had turned to ice. Presently he returned to the room, having gone no farther than the hall.
“I have sent for her,” he said in a strange voice.
Grace was coming down stairs when Veath admitted Hugh. Startled and almost completely prostrated, she fell back, where Veath found her when he went to announce the news. Finally, with throbbing heart, she crept to the curtain that hung in the door between the parlors and peered through at the two men. Ridgeway was standing in the centre of the room, nervously handling a book that lay on the table. His face was white and haggard; his tall, straight figure was stooped and lifeless. Veath stood on the opposite side of the table, just as pale and just as discomposed.
“Does she often speak of me?” she heard Hugh ask hoarsely. The other did not answer at once.
“Frequently, Hugh, of course,” he said finally.
“And—do—you—think she—she loves me as much as ever?” There was fear in his voice; but poor Grace could only distinguish pathetic eagerness. Veath was silent, his hands clasped behind his back, his throat closed as by a vise. “Why don’t you answer? Does she still love me?”
Grace glanced at the drawn face of Henry Veath and saw there the struggle that was going on in his mind. With a cry she tore aside the curtains and rushed into the room, confronting the questioner and the questioned.
“Grace!” gasped the former, staggering back as if from the effect of a mighty blow. Through his dizzy brain an instant later shot the necessity for action of some kind. There stood Grace, swaying before him, ready to fall. She loved him! He must clasp her to his heart as if he loved her. This feeble impulse forced him forward, his arms extended. “Don’t be afraid, dear. I am not a ghost!”
Veath dropped into a chair near the window, and closed his eyes, his ears, his heart.
“Oh, Hugh, Hugh,” the girl moaned, putting her hands over her face, even as he clasped her awkwardly, half-heartedly in his arms. He was saying distressedly to himself: “She loves me! I cannot break her heart!”
Neither moved for a full minute, and then Hugh drew her hands from her eyes, his heart full of pity.
“Grace, look at me,” he said. “Are you happy?”
Their eyes met and there was no immediate answer. What each saw in the eyes of the other was strange and puzzling. She saw something like hopeless dread, struggling to suppress itself beneath a glassy film; he saw pitiful fear, sorrow, shame, everything but the glad lovelight he had expected. If their hearts had been cold before, they were freezing now.
“Happy?” she managed to articulate. “Happy?”
“Yes, happy,” he repeated as witlessly.
“Don’t look at me, Hugh. Don’t! I cannot bear it,” she wailed frantically, again placing her hands over her eyes. His arms dropped from their unwilling position and he gasped in amazement.