She scanned the long rows of books, the strange weapons, the heroic and sinister flags, the cases of butterflies. With each inspection she stepped nearer and nearer, till by reaching out his hand he might have touched her. Quietly he rose. It was a critical moment.
She was startled. She had thought she was alone.
“Pardon me,” she said, in a low, musical voice; “I did not know that any one was here.” And then she saw his face. Her own blanched and her hands went to her heart. “Karl?”
THE DRAMA BEGINS
She swayed a little, but recovered as the pain of the shock was succeeded by numbness. That out of the dark of this room, into the light of that lamp, in this house so far removed from cities that it seemed not a part of the world . . . there should step this man! Why had there been no hint of his presence? Why had not the clairvoyance of despair warned her? One of her hands rose and pressed over her eyes, as if to sponge out this phantom. It was useless; it was no dream; he was still there, this man she had neither seen nor heard of for five years because her will was stronger than her desire, this man who had broken her heart as children break toys! And deep below all this present terror was the abiding truth that she still loved him and always would love him. The shame of this knowledge did more than all else to rouse and to nerve her.
“Karl?” It was like an echo.
“Yes.” There was war in his voice and attitude and not without reason. He had wronged this woman, not with direct intention it was true, but nevertheless he had wronged her; and her presence here could mean nothing less than that fate had selected this spot for the reckoning. She could topple down his carefully reared schemes with the same ease with which he had blown over hers. And to him these schemes were life to his breath and salt to his blood, everything. What was one woman? cynically. “Yes, it is I,” in the tongue native to them both.
“And what do you here?”
“I am Admiral Killigrew’s private secretary.” He wet his lips. He was not so strong before this woman as he had expected to be. The glamour of the old days was faintly rekindled at the sight of her. And she was beautiful.
“Then, this is the house?” in a whisper.
“You terrify me!”
“Hildegarde, this is your scheme,” shrugging. “Tell them all you know; break me, ruin me. Here is a fair opportunity for revenge.”
“God forbid!” she cried with a shiver. “Were you guilty of all crimes, I could only remember that once I loved you.”
“You shame me,” he replied frankly, but with infinite relief. “You have outdone me in magnanimity. Will you forgive me?”
“Oh, yes. Forgiveness is one of the few things you men can not rob us of.” She spoke without bitterness, but her eyes were dim and her lips dropped. “What shall we do? They must not know that we have met.”