“Ah, thank God!”
* * * * *
It was over a month before Mrs. Ravenel and Katrine were able to take Frank south, where he longed to be. The St. Petersburg engagement was cancelled, and the Metropolitan manager, angry at Katrine’s forgetfulness to notify him that she could not sing the night Mrs. Ravenel had come for her, made many caustic newspaper criticisms. But both events seemed entirely unimportant to her, for Frank’s paralysis, which the doctors had believed but a temporary affair, did not leave him as soon as had been hoped.
There was a splendid Celtic recklessness in the way she surrendered everything for him, a generosity which Mrs. Ravenel saw with commending eyes, believing it, by some strange mother-reasoning, to be but just. But Frank was far from taking the same attitude in the matter. Almost the first day he was able to be wheeled on the great piazza in the sunshine he spoke to Katrine of the time she must soon leave, to keep the St. Petersburg engagements.
“I have no St. Petersburg engagements,” she explained, briefly. “I cancelled them.”
He sat with closed eyes, but she saw the tears between the lids as he spoke. “I have not had the courage to tell you,” he said, at length, slowly, “before, but all that McDermott said is true, Katrine.”
“Indeed!” Words could not explain the tone. She might have received news of the Andaman Islanders as carelessly.
“You know what it means to me!” he said, after a silence.
“I know what you think it means to you,” she answered.
“It means that I have and am nothing. When I think of mother—” He looked at Katrine, with her radiant beauty, as she reached upward for an early rose. “And your friend McDermott,” he went on, “has done a strange thing. This morning I opened my mail for the first time since my illness. In it I found a letter from him, saying that it could be proven that my father had never made an early marriage, and that Quantrelle was a great liar. I don’t understand it. I saw Quantrelle myself, as well as his brother, when I was in France. There is not a doubt the marriage was an entirely legal one, not the shadow of a doubt. Ah,” he cried, “Katrine, it seems to kill me when I think of it!”
“Francis Ravenel,” she cried, the old smile on her face as she came toward him and placed her hand caressingly on his cheek, “you told me once, not long ago, to ask you to marry me. I do.”
“Ask you to marry me.”
“And I refuse,” he said, firmly. “I will not be married through pity.”
“Oh, very well.” She seated herself on some cushions on the top step, humming softly, as though his words were of no moment whatever.
“You don’t think I mean it, do you?” he demanded, at length.
She made no answer whatever.
“Katrine,” he said, at length.