Then Mrs. Raleigh turned, and in her eyes was a deep compassion, a motherly tenderness of pity, that was to Audrey the confirmation of her worst fears.
She did not speak again. Her heart felt constricted, paralysed. But Mrs. Raleigh saw the entreaty which her whole body expressed, and, stooping, she took the rigid hands into hers.
My dear,” she said, “he has gone into the Hills in disguise, up to the native fort beyond Wara, as that is where he expects to find Phil. Heaven help him and bring them both back!”
Audrey stared at her with a stunned expression. Her lips were quite white, and Mrs. Raleigh thought she was going to faint.
But Audrey did not lose consciousness. She sat there as if turned to stone, trying to speak and failing to make any sound. At last, convulsively, words came.
“They will take him for a spy,” she said, both hands pressed to her throat as if something there hurt her intolerably. “The Waris—torture—spies!”
“My darling, my darling, we must hope—hope and pray!” said the Irishwoman, holding her closely.
Audrey turned suddenly, passionately, in the enfolding arms and clung to her as if in physical agony.
“You may, you may,” she said in a dreadful whisper, “but I can’t—for I don’t believe. Do you in your heart believe he will ever come back?”
Mrs. Raleigh did not answer.
Audrey went on, still holding her tightly:
“Do you think I don’t know why he wrote to you? It was to put me in your care, because—because he knew he was never coming back. And shall I—shall I tell you why he went?”
“Darling, hush—hush!” pleaded Mrs. Raleigh, her voice unsteady with emotion. “There, don’t say any more! Put your head on my shoulder, love. Let me hold you so.”
But Audrey’s convulsive hold did not relax. She had been a child all her life up to that moment, but, like a worn-out garment, her childhood had slipped from her, and she had emerged a woman. The old, happy ignorance was gone for ever, and the revelation that had dispelled it was almost more than she could bear. Her newly developed womanhood suffered as womanhood alone can suffer.
And yet, could she have drawn the veil once more before her eyes and so have deadened that agonising pain, she would not have done so.
She was awake now. The long, long sleep with its gay dreams, its careless illusions, was over. But it was better to be awake, better to see and know things as they were, even if the anguish thereof killed her. And so she refused the hushing comfort that only a child—such a child as she had been but yesterday—could have found satisfying.
“Yes, I can tell you—now—why he went,” she said, in that tense whisper which so wrung Mrs. Raleigh’s heart. “He went—for my sake! Think of it! Think of it! He went because I was fretting about Phil. He went because—because he thought—– that Phil’s safety—meant—my happiness, and that his safety—his—his precious life—didn’t—count!”