He was standing on the brink of the cliff, looking down on Paradise Valley, spread like a silver-etched map far below in the moonlight. The flare and sough of the furnace at the iron-works came and went with regular intermittency; and just beyond the group of Chiawassee stacks a tiny orange spot appeared and disappeared like a will-o’-the-wisp. He was staring down at the curious spot when he said:
“If I say that I have no duty toward Nan, you will believe it is a lie—as you did once before. Have you ever reflected that it is possible to trample on love until it dies—even such love as I bear you?”
“It is a shame for you to speak of such things to me, Tom. Consider what I have endured—what you have made me endure. People said I was standing by you, condoning a sin that no right-minded young woman should condone. I bore it because I thought, I believed, you were sorry. And at that very time you were deceiving me—deceiving every one. You have dragged me in the very dust of shame!”
“There is no shame save what we make for ourselves,” he retorted. “One day, according to your creed, we shall stand naked before your God, and before each other. In that day you will know what you have done to me to-night. No, don’t speak, please; let me finish. The last time we were together you gave me a strong word, and—and you kissed me. For the sake of that word and that kiss I went out into the world a different man. For the little fragment of your love that you gave me then, I have lived a different man from that day to this. Now you shall see what I shall be without it.”
Before he had finished she had turned from him gasping, choking, strangling in the grip of a mighty passion, new-born and yet not new. With the suddenness of a revealing flash of lightning she understood; knew that she loved him, that she had been loving him from childhood, not because, but in spite of everything, as he had once defined love. It was terrible, heartbreaking, soul-destroying. She called on shame for help, but shame had fled. She was cold with a horrible fear lest he should find out and she should be for ever lost in the bottomless pit of humiliation.
It was the sight of the little orange-colored spot glowing and growing beyond the Chiawassee chimneys that saved her.
“Look!” she cried. “Isn’t that a fire down in the valley just across the pike from the furnace? It is a fire!”
He made a field-glass of his hands and looked long and steadily.
“You are quite right,” he said coolly. “It’s my foundry. Can you get back to the hotel alone? If you can, I’ll take the short cut down through the woods. Good night, and—good-by.” And before she could reply, he had lowered himself over the cliff’s edge and was crashing through the underbrush on the slopes below.
AS BRUTES THAT PERISH