“There is nothing,” she said earnestly, “within my power to grant for which you shall ask in vain.”
“Let me beg of you then,” he replied, “never again to seek to repay me for any services you may fancy I have rendered. There is nothing you could bestow upon me which I would accept.” She gave him a quick, searching glance and I noticed a look of pain upon her face, but Maitland gave it no heed, for, indeed, he seemed to have much ado either to know what he wanted to say, or knowing it, to say it.
“And now,” he continued, “I must no longer presume to order your actions. You have considered my wishes so conscientiously, have kept your covenant so absolutely, that what promised to be a disagreeable responsibility has become a pleasure which I find myself loth to discontinue. All power leads to tyranny. Man cannot be trusted with it. Its exercise becomes a consuming passion, and he abuses it. The story is the same, whether nations or individuals be considered. I myself, you see, am a case in point. I thank you for the patience you have shown and the pains you have taken to make everything easy and pleasant for me; and now I must be going, as I have yet much to do in this matter. It may be a long time,” he said, extending his hand to her, “before we meet again. We have travelled the same path—” but he paused as if unable to proceed, and a deadly pallor overspread his face as he let fall both her hand and his own. He made a heroic effort to proceed.
“I—I shall miss—very—very much miss—pray pardon me—I—I believe I’m ill—a little faint I’d—I’d better get out into the air—I shall—shall miss—pardon—I—I’m not quite myself— goodbye, good-bye!” and he staggered unsteadily, half blindly to the door and out into the street without another word. He certainly did look ill.
Gwen’s face was a study. In it surprise, fear, pain, and dismay, each struggled for predominance. She tried to retain her self-control while I was present, but it was all in vain. A moment later she threw herself upon the sofa, and, burying her face in the cushions, wept long and bitterly. I stole quietly away and sent Alice to her, and after a time she regained her self-control, if not her usual interest in affairs.
As day after day passed, however, and Maitland neglected to call, transacting such business as he had through me, the shadow on Gwen’s face deepened, and the elasticity of manner, whereof she had given such promise at Maitland’s last visit, totally deserted her, giving place to a dreamy, far-away stolidity of disposition which I knew full well boded no good. I stood this sort of thing as long as I could, and then I determined to call on Maitland and give him a “piece of my mind.”
I did call, but when I saw him all my belligerent resolutions vanished. He was sitting at his table trying to work out some complicated problem, and he was utterly unfitted for a single minute’s consecutive thought. I had not seen him for more than two weeks, and during that time he had grown to look ten years older. His face was drawn, haggard, and deathly pale.