“Yes, I do pity him. It’s enough to tear one’s brain out,—his when he was alive—and mine now. The thought of it will freeze my soul for all eternity. I can’t tell you what I feel.” She cast out her hands imploringly to the autumn fields. “I pity him as I would pity some one remote from me—a criminal whom I might have seen done to death by awful tortures. It’s a matter of the brain, not of the heart. No. I have all the understanding. But I can’t find the pardon.”
“That will come,” said I.
“In the next world, perhaps, not in this.”
Her tone of finality forbade argument. Besides what was there to argue about? She had said: “There never was an Adrian.” From her point of view, she was mercilessly right.
“It’s horrible to think,” she went on after a pause, “that all this time I’ve been living, first on stolen property and now on charity—Jaffery’s charity—and he hasn’t even had a word of thanks. Quite the contrary.” Again she laughed the shrill, dead laugh. “You see, I must go home—to my father’s—I’m strong enough now—and start my life, such as it is, all over again. I can’t touch another penny of the Wittekind money. Castleton’s people and Jaffery must be paid.”
“Tom Castleton,” I said, “was alone in the world, and Jaffery’s not the man to take back a free gift beautifully given. If you don’t like to keep the money—I appreciate your feelings—you can devote it to philanthropic purposes.”
“Yes, I might do that,” she agreed. “But is this fraud—this false reputation—to go on forever?”
“I’m afraid it must,” said I. “Nobody would be benefited by throwing such a bombshell of scandal into society. If anybody living were suffering from wrong it might be different. But there’s no reason to blacken unnecessarily the name you bear.”
“Then you really think I should be justified in keeping the secret?” she asked anxiously.
“I think it would be outrageous of you to do anything else,” said I.
“That eases my mind. If it were essential for me to make things public, I would do it. I’m not a coward. But I should die of the disgrace.”
“To poor Adrian,” said I.
She flashed a quick, defiant glance.
“To Adrian,” I insisted, smitten with a queer inspiration. “He sinned—the unpardonable sin, if you like. But he expiated it. He’s expiating it now. And you love him. And it’s for his sake, not yours, that you shrink from public disgrace. You were so irrevocably wrapped up in him”—I pursued my advantage—“that you feel yourself a partner in his guilt. Which means that you love him still.”
She raised a stark, terror-stricken face. I touched her shoulder. Then, all of a sudden, she collapsed, and broke into an agony of sobs and tears. I drew her to a desolate rustic bench and put my arm round her and let her sob herself out.
After that we did not speak of Adrian.