“You—you told me—you were—pure.”
She was silent, but her body went all a-tremble. He stepped forward until she could almost touch him; there standing straight and tall he glared down upon her.
“Answer me,” he whispered in a voice hard with its tight held sobs. A misery darkened her face and the light died from her eyes, yet she looked at him bravely and her voice came low and full as from afar.
“I asked you what it meant to be pure, Bles, and—and you told—and I told you the truth.”
“What it meant!—what it meant!” he repeated in the low, tense anguish.
“But—but, Bles—” She faltered; there came an awful pleading in her eyes; her hand groped toward him; but he stepped slowly back—“But, Bles—you said—willingly—you said—if—if she knew—”
He thundered back in livid anger:
“Knew! All women know! You should have died!”
Sobs were rising and shaking her from head to foot, but she drove them back and gripped her breasts with her hands.
“No, Bles—no—all girls do not know. I was a child. Not since I knew you, Bles—never, never since I saw you.”
“Since—since,” he groaned—“Christ! But before?”
She knew the end had come. Yet she babbled on tremblingly:
“He was our master, and all the other girls that gathered there did his will; I—I—” she choked and faltered, and he drew farther away—“I began running away, and they hunted me through the swamps. And then—then I reckon I’d have gone back and been—as they all are—but you came, Bles—you came, and you—you were a new great thing in my life, and—and—yet, I was afraid I was not worthy until you—you said the words. I thought you knew, and I thought that—that purity was just wanting to be pure.”
He ground his teeth in fury. Oh, he was an innocent—a blind baby—the joke and laughing-stock of the country around, with yokels grinning at him and pale-faced devils laughing aloud. The teachers knew; the girls knew; God knew; everybody but he knew—poor blind, deaf mole, stupid jackass that he was. He must run—run away from this world, and far off in some free land beat back this pain.
Then in sheer weariness the anger died within his soul, leaving but ashes and despair. Slowly he turned away, but with a quick motion she stood in his path.
“Bles,” she cried, “how can I grow pure?”
He looked at her listlessly.
“Never—never again,” he slowly answered her.
Dark fear swept her drawn face.
“Never?” she gasped.
Pity surged and fought in his breast; but one thought held and burned him. He bent to her fiercely:
“Who?” he demanded.
She pointed toward the Cresswell Oaks, and he turned away. She did not attempt to stop him again, but dropped her hands and stared drearily up into the clear sky with its shining worlds.