“Oh, my reasons—” groaned Durham.
“I have learned to understand them,” she persisted, “by being so much, lately, with Fanny.”
“But I never told her!” he broke in.
“Exactly. That was what told me. I understood you through her, and through your dealings with her. There she was—the woman you adored and longed to save; and you would not lift a finger to make her yours by means which would have seemed—I see it now—a desecration of your feeling for each other.” She paused, as if to find the exact words for meanings she had never before had occasion to formulate. “It came to me first—a light on your attitude—when I found you had never breathed to her a word of our talk together. She had confidently commissioned you to find a way for her, as the mediaeval lady sent a prayer to her knight to deliver her from captivity, and you came back, confessing you had failed, but never justifying yourself by so much as a hint of the reason why. And when I had lived a little in Fanny’s intimacy—at a moment when circumstances helped to bring us extraordinarily close—I understood why you had done this; why you had let her take what view she pleased of your failure, your passive acceptance of defeat, rather than let her suspect the alternative offered you. You couldn’t, even with my permission, betray to any one a hint of my miserable secret, and you couldn’t, for your life’s happiness, pay the particular price that I asked.” She leaned toward him in the intense, almost childlike, effort at full expression. “Oh, we are of different races, with a different point of honour; but I understand, I see, that you are good people—just simply, courageously good!”
She paused, and then said slowly: “Have I understood you? Have I put my hand on your motive?”
Durham sat speechless, subdued by the rush of emotion which her words set free.
“That, you understand, is my question,” she concluded with a faint smile; and he answered hesitatingly: “What can it matter, when the upshot is something I infinitely regret?”
“Having refused me? Don’t!” She spoke with deep seriousness, bending her eyes full on his: “Ah, I have suffered—suffered! But I have learned also—my life has been enlarged. You see how I have understood you both. And that is something I should have been incapable of a few months ago.”
Durham returned her look. “I can’t think that you can ever have been incapable of any generous interpretation.”
She uttered a slight exclamation, which resolved itself into a laugh of self-directed irony.
“If you knew into what language I have always translated life! But that,” she broke off, “is not what you are here to learn.”
“I think,” he returned gravely, “that I am here to learn the measure of Christian charity.”
She threw him a new, odd look. “Ah, no—but to show it!” she exclaimed.
“To show it? And to whom?”