“I mean, if I can not be his wife, I can not in honor be any man’s. God pity me, but must I make it plainer?”
Here, he believed, was his last throw. “Have I not told you that nothing mattered, nothing at all save that I love you?”
“I can not argue more,” wearily.
“He will tire of you again,” desperately.
“I know it. But in my heart something speaks that he will need me; and when he does I shall go to him.”
“God in heaven! to be loved like that!”
Scarcely realizing the violence of his action, he crushed her to his heart, roughly, and kissed her face, her eyes, her hair. She did not struggle. It was all over in a moment. Then he released her and turned away toward the dusty road. She was not angry. She understood. It was the farewell of the one man who had loved her in honor. Presently he seemed to dissolve into the shadows, and she knew that out of her life he had gone for ever.
The next morning Fitzgerald found Cathewe’s note under his plate. He opened it with a sense of disaster.
“MY DEAR OLD JACK:
I’m off. Found a pony and shall jog to Ajaccio by the route we came. Please take my luggage back to the Grand Hotel, and I’ll pick it up. And have my trunk sent ashore, too. I shan’t go back to America with the admiral, bless his kindly old heart! I’m off to Mombassa. Always keep a shooting-kit there for emergencies. I suppose you’ll understand. Be kind to her, and help her in any way you can. I hope I shan’t run into Breitmann. I should kill him out of hand. Happiness to you, my boy. And maybe I’ll ship you a trophy for the wedding. Explain my departure in any way you please.
The reader folded the note and stowed it away. Somehow, the bloom was gone from things. He was very fond of Cathewe, kindly, gentle, brave, and chivalrous. What was the matter with the woman, anyhow? How to explain? The simplest way would be to state that Cathewe had gone back to Ajaccio. The why and wherefore should be left to the imagination. But, oddly enough, no one asked a second question. They accepted Cathewe’s defection without verbal comment. What they thought was of no immediate consequence. Fitzgerald was gloomy till that moment when Laura joined him. To her, of course, he explained the situation.
Neither she nor Hildegarde cared to go up to the forest. They would find nothing but a hole. And indeed, when the men returned from the pines, weary, dusty, and dissatisfied, they declared that they had gone, not with the expectation of finding anything, but to certify a fact.
M. Ferraud was now in a great hurry. Forty miles to Corte; night or not, they must make the town. There was no dissention; the spell of the little man was upon them all.