“Oh, I know—I know!” she said, and there was a sound of heartbreak in her voice. “But—the odds have been too heavy. I thought you had forgotten—long ago.”
“Forgotten!” he said.
“Yes.” With a sob she answered him. “Men do forget—nearly all of them. Fletcher Hill didn’t. He kept on waiting, and—and—they said it wasn’t fair—to spoil a man’s life for a dream—that could never come true. So—I gave in at last. I am—promised to him.”
“Against your will?” His arms tightened upon her again. “Tell me, little new chum! Was it against your will?”
“No! Oh, no!” She whispered the words through tears. “I gave in—willingly. I thought it was better than—an empty life.”
“Ah!” The word fell like a groan. “And that’s what you’re going to condemn me to, is it?”
She turned in his arms, summoning her strength. “We’ve got to play the game,” she said. “I’ve got to keep my word—whatever it costs. And you—you are going to keep yours.”
“My word?” he questioned, swiftly.
“Yes.” She lifted her head. “If—if you really care about being honest—if your love is worth—anything at all—that is the only way. You promised—you promised—to save him.”
“Save him for you?” he said.
“Yes—save him for me.” She did not know how she uttered the words, but somehow they were spoken.
They went into a silence that wrung her soul, and it cost her every atom of her strength not to recall them.
Bill Warden stood quite motionless for many pulsing seconds, then—very, very slowly—at length his hold began to slacken.
In the end he set her on her feet—and she was free. “All right, little new chum!” he said, and she heard a new note in his voice—a note that waked in her a wild impulse to spring back into his arms and cling to him—and cling to him. “I’ll do it—for you—if it kills me—just to show you—little girl—just to show you—what my love for you is really worth.”
He stood a moment, facing her; then his hands clenched and he turned away.
“Let’s go down the hill!” he said. “I’ll see you in safety first.”
In the midst of a darkness that could be felt Fletcher Hill stood, grimly motionless, waiting. He knew that strong-room, had likened it to a condemned cell every time he had entered it, and with bitter humour he told himself that he had put his own neck into the noose with a vengeance this time.
Not often—if ever—before had he made the fatal mistake of trusting one who was untrustworthy. He would not have dreamed of trusting Harley, for instance. But for some reason he had chosen to repose his confidence in Warden, and now it seemed that he was to pay the price of his rashness. It was that fact that galled him far more than the danger with which he was confronted. That he,