The judge choked, and Breckon eagerly asked, “And shall I—may I see her now?”
“Why—yes,” the judge faltered. “If you’re sure—”
“What about?” Breckon demanded.
“I don’t know whether she will believe that I have told you.”
“I will try to convince her. Where shall I see her?”
“I will go and tell her you are here. I will bring her—”
Kenton passed into the adjoining room, where his wife laid hold of him, almost violently. “You did it beautifully, Rufus,” she huskily whispered, “and I was so afraid you would spoil everything. Oh, how manly you were, and how perfect he was! But now it’s my turn, and I will go and bring Ellen—You will let me, won’t you?”
“You may do anything you please, Sarah. I don’t want to have any more of this,” said the judge from the chair he had dropped into.
“Well, then, I will bring her at once,” said Mrs. Kenton, staying only in her gladness to kiss him on his gray head; he received her embrace with a superficial sultriness which did not deceive her.
Ellen came back without her mother, and as soon as she entered the room, and Breckon realized that she had come alone, he ran towards her as if to take her in his arms. But she put up her hand with extended fingers, and held him lightly off.
“Did poppa tell you?” she asked, with a certain defiance. She held her head up fiercely, and spoke steadily, but he could see the pulse beating in her pretty neck.
“Yes, he told me—”
“Oh, I love you, Ellen—”
“That isn’t it. Did you care?”
Breckon had an inspiration, an inspiration from the truth that dwelt at the bottom of his soul and had never yet failed to save him. He let his arms fall and answered, desperately: “Yes, I did. I wished it hadn’t happened.” He saw the pulse in her neck cease to beat, and he swiftly added, “But I know that it happened just because you were yourself, and were so—”
“If you had said you didn’t care,” she breathlessly whispered, “I would never have spoken to you.” He felt a conditional tremor creeping into the fingers which had been so rigid against his breast. “I don’t see how I lived through it! Do you think you can?”
“I think so,” he returned, with a faint, far suggestion of levity that brought from her an imperative, imploring—
Then he added, solemnly, “It had no more to do with you, Ellen, than an offence from some hateful animal—”
“Oh, how good you are!” The fingers folded themselves, and her arms weakened so that there was nothing to keep him from drawing her to him. “What—what are you doing?” she asked, with her face smothered against his.
“Oh, Ell-en, Ellen, Ellen! Oh, my love, my dearest, my best!”
“But I have been such a fool!” she protested, imagining that she was going to push him from her, but losing herself in him more and more.