“I will help you to—understand!” An ashen shade came over his face, but it passed quickly; his voice sounded brusk. “For months, since a fatal evening all light, brilliancy, beauty!—the convict has been trying to hold back the inevitable; but the net whose first meshes were then woven, has since been drawing closer—closer. In the world two forces are ever at work, the pursuers and the pursued. In this instance the former,” harshly, “were unusually clever. He struggled hard to keep up the deception until he could complete a defense worthy of the name. But to no avail! He felt the end near; did not expect it so soon, however, this night!—this very night—!”
The man paused; there was a strange gleam in the dark eyes that lingered on her; its light was succeeded by another, a fiercer expression. For the first time she moved, shrank back slightly. “I’m afraid I used a few of them roughly,” he said with look derisory. “There was no time for soft talk; it was cut and run—give ‘leg bail,’ as the thieves say.” Did he purposely relapse into coarser words to clench home the whole damning, detestable truth? Her fine soft lips quivered; it may be she felt herself awakening—slowly; one hand pressed now at her breast. In the grate the fire sank, although a few licking flames still thrust their fiery tongues between black lumps of coal.
“But it was a close call, out there in the garden! They were before the convict in the woods; he must needs double back to the shadow of the house! At the bottom of a moat he looked up to a balcony overhead, small as Juliet’s—–though I swear he thought it led to armory hall, not here; had he known the truth, he would have stayed there first, and—But, as it was, he heard voices around the corner; afar, men approaching. The ivy at Strathorn House is almost as old as the house itself, the main branches larger than a man’s arm. It was not difficult to get here, though I wish now—” he dared smile bitterly—“they had come on me first.”
The breeze at the window slightly shook the curtain; it waved in and out; the tassels struck faint taps on the sill.
“But why—?” she began at length, then stopped, as if the question were gone almost as soon as it suggested itself.
“—did I return here,—reenter Strathorn House?” he completed it for her. “Because there seemed nothing else to do; it was probably only temporizing with the inevitable—but one always temporizes.”
She moved slowly out into the room; his face was half-averted; all the light that came from the grate, rested now on hers. At that instant she seemed like a shadow, beautiful, but a shadow, going toward him as through no volition of her own. The thick texture on the floor drowned the sound of her steps; she paused with her fingers on the gilded frame of a settee. He did not turn, although he must have known she was near; with his back toward her he gazed down at the soft, bright hues of the rug, and on it a white thing, a tiny bit of lace, a handkerchief that some time before had fluttered to the floor and had been left lying there.