Now Isabel noticed the cessation of his steps. In the door between them the key turned; then the door opened, and he stood, haggard and dishevelled, gazing on her. She sat up in the bed, wan, tear-spent, her glorious hair falling over the embroideries of her nightdress.
“Arthur, dear, I am sorry for every angry word I have spoken. But the things I have denied I must deny forever.
“If you should wait till doomsday, I could confess no more.
“I have never harbored one throb of unworthy or unsafe regard toward any man in this wide world.
“For me to say differently would be to lie in God’s own face.
“I have had great happiness of Leonard’s companionship, and I have been proud to be myself a proof that a man and a woman can be close, dear, daily friends without being lovers or kin, and earth be only more like heaven for it, to them and all theirs. If Leonard has confessed one word more than that for me,—or even for himself, Arthur, dearest,—he has lost his reason. It’s a frightful explanation, but I find no other.
“Leonard Byington is not wicked, and if he were he wouldn’t be so in a dastard’s way.
“Never since the day I first plighted my faith to you, dear heart, has he given me one sign of a lover’s love.
“Oh, Arthur, I do love my husband! This night has proved it to me as I never knew it before; and if you will only believe me and go back to Leonard, I believe he can tear the mask off this horrible mystery.”
Arthur turned and once more locked the door. His wife flamed red and hearkened, and the light footfall which had tortured her for hours began again. Suddenly she left the bed and hurried to dress.
At the mirror, with her hair lifted on her hands, she paused and again hearkened. Sleighbells stopped at the front door.
Now some one was let in down there, and now, at her husband’s room, Giles, his English man of all work, announced Mr. Byington:—
“Yes, sir, but he says if you can’t come down ’e will ’ave to come up, sir.”
GIVE YOU FIVE MINUTES
As Arthur entered the library Leonard came from its farther end, and they halted on opposite sides of a large table. Arthur was flushed and looked fearfully spent. Leonard was pale.
“I have your letter, Arthur.”
The rector bowed. He gave a start, but tried to conceal a gleam of triumph.
Leonard ignored it and spoke on:—
“A gentleman, Arthur,—I mean any one trying to be a whole gentleman,—is a very helpless creature, nowadays, in matters of this sort.”
He looked formidable, and as he lightly grasped a chair at his side it seemed about to be turned into a weapon.
“The old thing once called satisfaction,” he continued, “is something one can no longer either ask or offer, in any form. He can neither rail, nor strike, nor spellbind, nor challenge, nor lampoon, nor prosecute.”