“Ah, my God!” I heard her murmur. Then again she called to me, as he thought to himself; so that all was as it had been, for the time.
A silence fell before she went on.
“Sir Richard,” she said at length, “we do not meet again. I await now your full apology for these things you have said. Such secrets as I have learned of England’s, you know will remain safe with me. Also your own secret will be safe. Retract, then, what you have said, of my personal life!”
“Oh, well, then,” he grumbled, “I admit I’ve had a bit of wine to-day. I don’t mean much of anything by it. But here now, I have come, and by your own invitation—your own agreement. Being here, I find this treaty regarding Oregon torn in two and you gone nun all a-sudden.”
“Yes, my lord, it is torn in two. The consideration moving to it was not valid. But now I wish you to amend that treaty once more, and for a consideration valid in every way. My lord, I promised that which was not mine to give—myself! Did you lay hand on me now, I should die. If you kissed me, I should kill you and myself! As you say, I took yonder price, the devil’s shilling. Did I go on, I would be enlisting for the damnation of my soul; but I will not go on. I recant!”
“But, good God! woman, what are you asking now? Do you want me to let you have this paper anyhow, to show old John Calhoun? I’m no such ass as that. I apologize for what I’ve said about you. I’ll be your friend, because I can’t let you go. But as to this paper here, I’ll put it in my pocket.”
“My lord, you will do nothing of the kind. Before you leave this room there shall be two miracles done. You shall admit that one has gone on in me; I shall see that you yourself have done another.”
“What guessing game do you propose, Madam?” he sneered. He seemed to toss the torn paper on the table, none the less. “The condition is forfeited,” he began.
“No, it is not forfeited except by your own word, my lord,” rejoined the same even, icy voice. “You shall see now the first miracle!”
“Under duress?” he sneered again.
“Yes, then! Under duress of what has not often come to surface in you, Sir Richard. I ask you to do truth, and not treason, my lord! She who was Helena von Ritz is dead—has passed away. There can be no question of forfeit between you and her. Look, my lord!”
I heard a half sob from him. I heard a faint rustling of silks and laces. Still her even, icy voice went on.
“Rise, now, Sir Richard,” she said. “Unfasten my girdle, if you like! Undo my clasps, if you can. You say you know my past. Tell me, do you see me now? Ungird me, Sir Richard! Look at me! Covet me! Take me!”
Apparently he half rose, shuffled towards her, and stopped with a stifled sound, half a sob, half a growl.
I dared not picture to myself what he must have seen as she stood fronting him, her hands, as I imagined, at her bosom, tearing back her robes.