Miss Milray hesitated. She was thinking superficially that she had never heard Clementina say had ought, so much, if ever before. Interiorly she was recurring to a sense of something like all this before, and to the feeling which she had then that Clementina was really cold-blooded and self-seeking. But she remembered that in her former decision, Clementina had finally acted from her heart and her conscience, and she rose from her suspicion with a rebound. She dismissed as unworthy of Clementina any theory which did not account for an ideal of scrupulous and unselfish justice in her.
“That is something that nobody can say but yourself, Clementina,” she answered, gravely.
“Yes,” sighed Clementina, “I presume that is so.”
She rose, and took her little girl from Miss Milray’s knee. “Say good-bye,” she bade, looking tenderly down at her.
Miss Milray expected the child to put up her lips to be kissed. But she let go her mother’s hand, took her tiny skirts between her finger-tips, and dropped a curtsey.
“You little witch!” cried Miss Milray. “I want a hug,” and she crushed her to her breast, while the child twisted her face round and anxiously questioned her mother’s for her approval. “Tell her it’s all right, Clementina!” cried Miss Milray. “When she’s as old as you were in Florence, I’m going to make you give her to me.”
“Ah’ you going back to Florence?” asked Clementina, provisionally.
“Oh, no! You can’t go back to anything. That’s what makes New York so impossible. I think we shall go to Los Angeles.”
On her way home Clementina met a man walking swiftly forward. A sort of impassioned abstraction expressed itself in his gait and bearing. They had both entered the shadow of the deep pine woods that flanked the way on either side, and the fallen needles helped with the velvety summer dust of the roadway to hush their steps from each other. She saw him far off, but he was not aware of her till she was quite near him.
“Oh!” he said, with a start. “You filled my mind so full that I couldn’t have believed you were anywhere outside of it. I was coming to get you—I was coming to get my answer.”
Gregory had grown distinctly older. Sickness and hardship had left traces in his wasted face, but the full beard he wore helped to give him an undue look of age.
“I don’t know,” said Clementina, slowly, “as I’ve got an answa fo’ you, Mr. Gregory—yet.”
“No answer is better that the one I am afraid of!”
“Oh, I’m not so sure of that,” she said, with gentle perplexity, as she stood, holding the hand of her little girl, who stared shyly at the intense face of the man before her.
“I am,” he retorted. “I have been thinking it all ever, Clementina. I’ve tried not to think selfishly about it, but I can’t pretend that my wish isn’t selfish. It is! I want you for myself, and because I’ve always wanted you, and not for any other reason. I never cared for any one but you in the way I cared for you, and—”