“Yes,” said Madison.
“Then this is what I want to say,” said Thornton seriously. “For my own sake, because it was my wife’s wish, and for other reasons as well, my interest here, though I am going away, will be just as great as it has ever been; and so I want you to keep me thoroughly posted, and when the time comes that I can be of further material assistance to let me know. I impose only one condition—you are to say nothing to Miss Vail about it—you can make anything that I may do appear to come from yourself.”
“Say nothing to Miss Vail!” repeated Madison vaguely—then a sort of ironic jest seemed to take possession of him: “But Miss Vail keeps all the funds.”
“That is why I am asking you to represent me,” said Thornton quietly. “I am afraid that she might have a natural diffidence about accepting anything more from me—I asked Miss Vail to marry me to-night, and she refused.”
The cigar kind of slid down unnoticed from the corner of Madison’s mouth—and he leaned forward, hanging with a hand behind him to the bedpost—and stared at Thornton.
“You—what!” he gasped.
“Yes; I know,” Thornton answered—and moved abruptly toward the door. “Love makes one’s temerity very great—doesn’t it? I asked her to marry me—because I loved her.” He came back from the door and held out his hand, “I’ve told you what I would tell no other man, Madison. You understand now why—and you’ll do this for me?”
What answer Madison made he never knew himself—he only knew that he was staring at the door after Thornton had gone out, and that he wanted to laugh crazily. Marry Helena! Thornton had asked Helena to marry him because he loved her. God, there was humor here! His brain itself seemed to cackle at it—marry Helena!
And then suddenly there seemed no humor at all—only black, infamous shame and condemnation—and he straightened up from where he leaned against the bedpost, his face set and strained.
“Thornton had asked Helena to marry him because he loved her”—the words came slowly, haltingly, aloud—and then he covered his face with his hands. But he, he who loved her too—what had he done!
For a little time Madison stood there in his room, motionless, staring unseeingly before him—and then, as one awakening from a dream that had brought dismay and a torment too realistic to be thrown from him on the instant, his brain still a little blunted, he took up his hat mechanically, went out from the room, descended by the back stairs to the rear door of the hotel, and took the road to the Patriarch’s cottage.