Anne slipped from her bed and ran to her, falling upon her knees and clinging to her, weeping bitterly.
“Poor heart!” she cried. “Poor, dearest heart!”
Her touch and words seemed to recall Clorinda to herself. She started as if wakened from a dream, and drew her form up rigid.
“I have gone mad,” she said. “What is it I do?” She passed her hand across her brow and laughed a little wild laugh. “Yes,” she said; “this it is to be a woman—to turn weak and run to other women—and weep and talk. Yes, by these signs I am a woman!” She stood with her clenched hands pressed against her breast. “In any fair fight,” she said, “I could have struck back blow for blow—and mine would have been the heaviest; but being changed into a woman, my arms are taken from me. He who strikes, aims at my bared breast—and that he knows and triumphs in.”
She set her teeth together, and ground them, and the look, which was like that of a chained and harried tigress, lit itself in her eyes.
“But there is none shall beat me,” she said through these fierce shut teeth. “Nay I there is none! Get up, Anne,” bending to raise her. “Get up, or I shall be kneeling too—and I must stand upon my feet.”
She made a motion as if she would have turned and gone from the room without further explanation, but Anne still clung to her. She was afraid of her again, but her piteous love was stronger than her fear.
“Let me go with you,” she cried. “Let me but go and lie in your closet that I may be near, if you should call.”
Clorinda put her hands upon her shoulders, and stooping, kissed her, which in all their lives she had done but once or twice.
“God bless thee, poor Anne,” she said. “I think thou wouldst lie on my threshold and watch the whole night through, if I should need it; but I have given way to womanish vapours too much—I must go and be alone. I was driven by my thoughts to come and sit and look at thy good face—I did not mean to wake thee. Go back to bed.”
She would be obeyed, and led Anne to her couch herself, making her lie down, and drawing the coverlet about her; after which she stood upright with a strange smile, laying her hands lightly about her own white throat.
“When I was a new-born thing and had a little throat and a weak breath,” she cried, “’twould have been an easy thing to end me. I have been told I lay beneath my mother when they found her dead. If, when she felt her breath leaving her, she had laid her hand upon my mouth and stopped mine, I should not,” with the little laugh again—“I should not lie awake to-night.”
And then she went away.
There were in this strange nature, depths so awful and profound that it was not to be sounded or to be judged as others were. But one thing could have melted or caused the unconquerable spirit to bend, and this was the overwhelming passion of love—not a slight, tender feeling, but a great and powerful one, such as could be awakened but by a being of as strong and deep a nature as itself, one who was in all things its peer.