“How you must despise me! I despise myself. I am not worthy, Lydia; but if you can care—”
“Stop!” she said softly, as if she would lay the compelling finger of silence upon his lips. “I told you I was not like other women. Can’t you see—?”
“You must marry me,” he urged, in a veritable passion of self-giving. “I want to help you! You will let me, Lydia?”
She shook her head.
“You could not help me; I am better alone.”
She looked at him, the glimmer of a smile dawning in her eyes.
“You do not love me,” she said; “nor I you. You are my friend. You will remain my friend, I hope?”
She arose and held out her hand. He took it without a word. And so they stood for a moment; each knowing without need of speech what the other was thinking; the man sorry and ashamed because he could not deny the truth of her words; and she compassionately willing to draw the veil of a soothing silence over his hurts.
“I ought to tell you—” he began.
But she shook her head:
“No need to tell me anything.”
“You mean,” he said bitterly, “that you saw through my shallow pretenses all the while. I know now how you must have despised me.”
“Is it nothing that you have asked me—a convict’s daughter—to be your wife?” she asked. “Do you think I don’t know that some men would have thanked heaven for their escape and never spoken to me again? I can’t tell you how it has helped to hearten me for what must come. I shall not soon forget that you offered me your self—your career; it would have cost you that. I want you to know how much I—appreciate what you have done, in offering me the shelter of an honest name.”
He would have uttered some unavailing words of protest, but she checked him.
“We shall both be glad of this, some day,” she predicted gravely.... “There is one thing you can do for me,” she added: “Tell them. It will be best for both of us, now.”
It was already done, he said, explaining his motives in short, disjointed sentences.
Then with a feeling of relief which he strove to put down, but which nevertheless persisted in making itself felt in a curious lightening of his spirits, he was again walking rapidly and without thought of his destination. Somber bars of crimson and purple crossed the west, and behind them, flaming up toward the zenith in a passionate splendor of light, streamed long, golden rays from out the heart of that glory upon which no human eye may look. The angry wind had fallen to quiet, and higher up, floating in a sea of purest violet, those despised and flouted rags of clouds were seen, magically changed to rose and silver.