“Good-bye!” He held out his hand to her, but she looked him full in the face.
“Good-bye!” she said, and then turned quickly, and in a moment the door was closed between them.
He did not see her hurry away, her hands pressed against her breast. He did not see the face, all womanly and sweet, and soft and tender now. He had only the memory of her brief farewell, the memory of her cold, steady eyes—nothing else beside.
THE GENERAL CONFESSES
“My dear, my dear, life is short. I am an old man, and yet looking back it seems but yesterday since I was a boy beginning life. Climbing the hill, my dear, climbing the hill; and when the top was gained, when I stood there in my young manhood, I thought that the world belonged to me. And then the descent, so easy and so swift. The years seem long when one is climbing, but they are as weeks when the top is passed and the descent into the valley begins.” He paused. He passed his hand across his forehead. “I meant to speak of something else, of you, child, of your life, of love and happiness, and of those things that should be dear to all us humans.”
“I know nothing of love, and of happiness but very, very little,” she said.
He took her hand and held it. “You shall know of both!” he promised. “There is strife, there is ill-feeling between you and that lad, your husband.”
She wrenched her hand free, her face flushed gloriously.
“You!” she cried. “You too !”
“Yes, I too! I sought him out yesterday, and asked him to this house on purpose that you and he should meet, praying that the meeting might bring peace to you both. I knew the lad’s father as I knew yours. Alicia Linden wrote to me and told me all about this unhappy marriage of yours. She told me that she loved you both, that you were both good, that life might be made very happy for you two, but for this misunderstanding—”
“Don’t!—don’t. Oh, General Bartholomew, how can I make you understand? It is untrue—I am not his wife! I have never been his wife. It was a lie! some foolish joke of his that he will not or cannot explain!”
He looked at her, blinking like one who suddenly finds himself in strong light after the twilight or darkness.
“I never saw that man in my life before I met him at Lady Linden’s house, not two weeks ago. All that he has said about our marriage, his and mine, are foolish lies, something beyond my understanding!”
The General waved his hands helplessly.
“It is all extraordinary! Where can that foolish old woman have got hold of this story? What’s come to her? She used to be a very clear-minded—”
“It is not she, it is the man—the liar!” Joan cried bitterly. “I tell you I don’t understand the reason for it. I cannot understand, I don’t believe there is any reason. I believe that it is his idea of humour—I can’t even think that he wanted to annoy and shame and anger me as he has, because we were utter strangers.”