“I—I’m afraid it is, daughter,” gasped the general. There was an abashed embarrassment in his attitude and his hands shook. He had hoped to keep such facts beyond the utmost horizon of his daughter’s life.
Eugenia crossed to the hearth rug and stood looking into Bernard’s face. She made an appealing gesture with her hands.
“Bernard, it is not true,” she said.
He turned away from her and, nervously lifting the poker, divided the smouldering log. A red flame shot up, illuminating the gathered faces that stood out against the dusk. The glare lent a grotesque irony to the flabby, awe-stricken features of the general, brightened the boyish ill-humour in Bernard’s eyes, and played peaceably over Miss Chris’s tranquil countenance.
“Bernard, it is not true,” she said again.
The poker fell with a clatter to the hearth; and the noise irritated her. Bernard put out a sudden, soothing hand.
“It is what they say in Kingsborough,” he answered.
She turned from him to the window, pushed the curtains aside, and went out again into the sunset.
She ran swiftly along the walk, into the gloom of the avenue, and out again to the open road. The sunset colours were flaming in the west, and above them a solitary star was shining. The fields lay sombre and deserted on either side, but straight ahead, in the lighter streak of the road, she saw Nicholas’s figure swinging onward. She might have called to him, but she did not; she sped like a shadow in his path until, hearing her footfalls in the dust, he looked back and halted.
“You!” he exclaimed.
She came up to him, her hand at her throat, her face turned towards the sunset. For a moment her breath failed and she could not speak; then all the words that she had meant to say—the appeal to him for truth, the cry of her own belief in him—rang theatrical and ineffectual in her brain.
When at last she spoke, it was to voice the mere tripping of her tongue—to utter words which belied the beating of her thoughts.
“You must marry her,” she said, and it seemed to her that it was a stranger who spoke. She did not mean that—she had never meant it.
He looked at her blankly, and made a sudden movement forward, but she waved him off.
“For God’s sake, whom?” he demanded.
She wished that he had laughed at her—that he had laid bare the whole hideous farce, but he did not; he regarded her gravely, with a grim inquiry.
“Whom do you mean?” he repeated.
A light wind sprang up, blowing across the pasture and whirling the dead leaves of distant trees into their faces. Overhead other stars came out, and far away an owl hooted.
“Oh! you know, you know,” she said, with a desperate anger at his immobility. “When I saw you with her to-day, I did not—I did not—”