THE GUIDING HAND
Tom Arundel opened his eyes to the sunshine. He had left behind him a world of darkness and of pain, a curiously jumbled unreal world, in which it seemed to him that he had played the part of a thing that was being dragged by unseen hands in a direction that he knew he must not go, a direction against which he fought with all his strength. And yet, in spite of all his efforts, he knew himself to be slipping, slowly but surely slipping.
Then out of the blackness and chaos grew something real and tangible, a pair of small white hands, and on the finger of one of these hands was a ring that he remembered well, for it was a ring that he himself had placed on that finger, and the hands were held out to him, and he clutched at them.
Yet still the fight was not over, still the unseen force dragged and tugged at him, yet he knew that he was winning, because of the little white hands that yet possessed such wonderful strength.
And now he lay, wide-eyed in the sunshine, and the blackness and chaos were gone, but he could still see the hands, for one of them was clasped in his own, and lifting his eyes he saw the face that he knew must be there—a pale face, thinner than when he had seen it last, a face that had lost some of its childish prettiness. Yet the eyes had lost nothing, but had gained much. There was tenderness and pity and joy too in them.
“Marjorie,” he said, and the weakness of his own voice surprised him, and he lay wondering if it were he who had spoken. “Thank you,” he said. He was thanking her for the help those little hands had given him, yet she was not to know that. So for a long time he lay, his breath gentle and regular, the small hand clasped in his own. And now he was away in dreams, not the black and terrifying dreams of just now, but dreams of peace and of a happiness that might never be. And in those dreams she whom he loved bent over him and kissed him on the lips, and said something to him that set the thin blood leaping in his veins.
Tom Arundel opened his eyes again, and knew that it had been no dream. Her lips were still on his; her face, rosy now, almost as of old, was touching his.
“Marjorie,” he whispered, “you told me—”
“I told you what was not true, but I thought it was—oh, I believed it was, dear. I believed it was the truth—but I knew afterwards it was not.”
“I—I got hurt, didn’t I? I can’t remember—I remember but dimly—a horse, Marjorie. You don’t think—you don’t think I did that on purpose after what you said?”
“No, no!” she said. “I know better. Perhaps I did think it, but oh, Tom, I was not worth it! I was not worth it!”
“You are worth all the world to me,” he said, “all the world and more.”
Lady Linden opened the door. She came in, treading softly; she came to the bedside and looked at him and then at the girl.