“Hush!” cried Carley. She could endure no more. She could no longer be a lie.
“You’re white—you’re shaking,” exclaimed Rust, in concern. “Oh, I—what did I say? Forgive me—”
“Rust, I am no more worth loving and fighting for than your Nell.”
“What!” he ejaculated.
“I have not told you the truth,” she said, swiftly. “I have let you believe a lie. . . . I shall never marry Glenn. I broke my engagement to him.”
Slowly Rust sank back upon the pillow, his large luminous eyes piercingly fixed upon her, as if he would read her soul.
“I went West—yes—” continued Carley. “But it was selfishly. I wanted Glenn to come back here. . . . He had suffered as you have. He nearly died. But he fought—he fought—Oh! he went through hell! And after a long, slow, horrible struggle he began to mend. He worked. He went to raising hogs. He lived alone. He worked harder and harder. . . . The West and his work saved him, body and soul . . . . He had learned to love both the West and his work. I did not blame him. But I could not live out there. He needed me. But I was too little—too selfish. I could not marry him. I gave him up. . . . I left—him—alone!”
Carley shrank under the scorn in Rust’s eyes.
“And there’s another man,” he said, “a clean, straight, unscarred fellow who wouldn’t fight!”
“Oh, no-I—I swear there’s not,” whispered Carley.
“You, too,” he replied, thickly. Then slowly he turned that worn dark face to the wall. His frail breast heaved. And his lean hand made her a slight gesture of dismissal, significant and imperious.
Carley fled. She could scarcely see to find the car. All her internal being seemed convulsed, and a deadly faintness made her sick and cold.
Carley’s edifice of hopes, dreams, aspirations, and struggles fell in ruins about her. It had been built upon false sands. It had no ideal for foundation. It had to fall.
Something inevitable had forced her confession to Rust. Dissimulation had been a habit of her mind; it was more a habit of her class than sincerity. But she had reached a point in her mental strife where she could not stand before Rust and let him believe she was noble and faithful when she knew she was neither. Would not the next step in this painful metamorphosis of her character be a fierce and passionate repudiation of herself and all she represented?
She went home and locked herself in her room, deaf to telephone and servants. There she gave up to her shame. Scorned—despised—dismissed by that poor crippled flame-spirited Virgil Rust! He had reverenced her, and the truth had earned his hate. Would she ever forget his look—incredulous— shocked—bitter—and blazing with unutterable contempt? Carley Burch was only another Nell—a jilt—a mocker of the manhood