“What is it, Grace? What is the matter? What is it, Veath?” he gasped. She sank to her knees on the floor and sobbed.
“Oh, Hugh! I am not worthy to be loved by you.” He tried to lift her to her feet, absolutely dumb with amazement. “Don’t! Don’t! Let me lie here till you are gone. I can’t bear to have you see my face again.
“Grace!” he cried blankly.
“Oh, if I had been drowned this could have been avoided. Why don’t you say something, Henry? I cannot tell him.” Veath could only shake his head in response to Ridgeway’s look of amazed inquiry.
“Is she mad?” groaned the returned lover.
“Mad? No, I am not mad,” she cried shrilly, desperately. “Hugh, I know I will break your heart, but I must tell you. I cannot deceive you. I cannot be as I once was to you.”
“Cannot be—deceived me—once was—” murmured he, bewildered.
“While I mourned for you as dead I learned to love another. Forgive me, forgive me!” It was more than a minute before he could grasp the full extent of her confession and he could not believe his ears.
Gradually his mind emerged from its oblivion and the joy that rushed to his heart passed into every vein in his body. At his feet the unhappy girl; at the window the rigid form of the man to whom he knew her love had turned; in the centre of this tableau he stood, his head erect, his lungs full, his face aglow.
“Say you will forgive me, Hugh. You would not want me, knowing what you do.”
“For Heaven’s sake, Hugh,” began Veath; but the words choked him.
“So you love another,” said Hugh slowly, and cleverly concealing his elation at the unexpected change in the situation. He was not without a sense of humor, and forgetting, for the moment, the seriousness of her revelation, he could not resist the temptation to play the martyr.
“My dear girl,” he went on with mock gravity, “I would sacrifice my life to see you happy! Whoever he may be, I give you to him. Be happy, Grace;” and with decided histrionic ability concluded heart-brokenly: “Forget Hugh Ridgeway!”
A portrait of a buxom lady hanging on the wall received the full benefit of his dejected glance; and she could have told the unhappy lovers that the wretched man had winked at her most audaciously.
“When are you to be married?” he resumed solemnly.
“To-night,” she choked out, then added quickly:
“But I won’t, Hugh—I won’t marry him if you say—”
“Not for the world! You must marry him, Grace, and I’ll bless you,” he interrupted quickly, even eagerly. Then there came a new thought: “Tell me truly, do you love him better than you loved me?”
“I love him better than the world!”
“Thank God!” exclaimed the discarded lover devoutly. “Give me your hand, Henry, old man—there is no one in all the world whom I’d rather see get her than you. You saved her and you deserve her. Take her and be good to her, that’s all I ask; and think of me once in a while, won’t you? you? Good-by.”