He grasped the extended hand, bending low over it, unwilling in that instant that she should look upon his face. Again and again he pressed his dry lips upon the soft flesh.
“I do love you, Beth,” he said at last, chokingly, “love you always, in spite of everything. I will do now as you say. Your train is already here. You know my address in Denver. Don’t make this forever, Beth—don’t do that.”
She did not answer him; her lips quivered, her eyes meeting his for a single instant. In their depths he believed he read the answer of her heart, and endeavored to be content. As the great overland train paused for a moment to quench its thirst, the porter of the Pullman, who, to his surprise, had been called to place his carpeted step on the platform of this desert station, gazed in undisguised amazement at those two figures before him—a man bareheaded, his clothing tattered and disreputable, half supporting a woman who was hatless, white-faced, and trembling like a frightened child.
“Yas, sah; whole section vacant, sah, Numbah Five. Denvah; yas, sah, suttinly. Oh, I’ll look after de lady all right. You ain’t a-goin’ ’long wid us, den, dis trip? Oh, yas; thank ye, sah. Sure, I’ll see dat she gits dere, don’t you worry none ’bout dat.”
Winston walked restlessly down the platform, gazing up at the car-windows, every ounce of his mustered resolve necessary to hold him outwardly calm. The curtains were many of them closed, but at last he distinguished her, leaning against the glass, that same dull, listless look in her eyes as she stared out blindly across the waste of sand. As the train started he touched the window, and she turned and saw him. There was a single moment when life came flashing back into her eyes, when he believed her lips even smiled at him. Then he was alone, gazing down the track after the fast disappearing train.
THE SUMMIT OF SUCCESS
There followed three years of silence, three years of waiting for that message which never came. As though she had dropped into an ocean of oblivion, Beth Norvell disappeared. Winston had no longer the slightest hope that a word from her would ever come, and there were times when he wondered if it was not better so—if, after all, she had not chosen rightly. Love untarnished lived in his heart; yet, as she had told him out in the desert, love could never change the deed. That remained—black, grim, unblotted, the unalterable death stain. Why, then, should they meet? Why seek even to know of each other? Close together, or far apart, there yawned a bottomless gulf between. Silence was better; silence, and the mercy of partial forgetfulness.