There was a short silence. Brice looked anxiously through the gathering darkness at the dimly seen face so near to his own. He could not guess, for the life of him, whether the girl was silent because she refused to tell him what he sought so eagerly to know, or whether she was still fighting to control her voice.
As he sat gazing down at her, there was something so tiny, so fragile, so helplessly trustful about her, that it went straight to the man’s heart. He had played and schemed and risked life itself for this crucial hour, for this hour when he should have swept aside the girl’s possible suspicions and enlisted her complete sympathy for himself and could make her trust him and feel keen remorse for the treatment he had received.
Yes—he had achieved all this. And he had done infinitely more. He had awakened in her heart a sense of loneliness and of need for some one in whom she might confide.
He had done all this, had Gavin Brice. And, though he was not a vain man, yet he knew he had done it cleverly. But, somehow—even as he waited to see if the hour for full confidences were indeed ripe—he was not able to feel the thrill of exultation which should belong to the winner of a hard-fought duel. Instead, to his amazement, he was aware of a growing sense of shame, of disgust at having used such weapons against any woman, —especially against this girl whose whiteness of soul and of purpose he could no longer doubt.
Then, through the silence and above the soft lap-lap-lap of water against the idly drifting boat’s side, Claire drew a deep breath. She threw back her drooping shoulders and sat up, facing the man. And in the dusk, Gavin could see the flash of resolve in her great eyes.
“Yes!” she said, impulsively. “Yes. I’ll tell you. If it is wrong for me to tell, then let it be wrong. I’m sick of mystery and secrets and signals and suspense, and—oh, I’m sick of it all! And it’s—it’s splendid of you to want to help me, after what has happened to you through meeting me! It’s your right to know.”
She paused for breath. And again Gavin wondered at his own inability to feel a single throb of gladness at having come so triumphantly to the end of this particular road. Glumly, he stared down at the vibrant little figure beside him.
“There is some of it I don’t know, myself,” she began. “And lately I’ve found myself wondering if all I really know is true, or whether they have been deceiving me about some of it. I have no right to feel that way, I suppose, about my own brother. But he’s so horribly under Rodney Hade’s influence, and—”
Again, she paused, seeming to realize she was wandering from the point. And she made a fresh start.
“It all began as an adventure, a sort of game, more than in earnest,” she said. “At least, looking back, that’s the way it seems to me now. As a wonderfully exciting game. You see, everything down here was so thrillingly exciting and interesting to me, even then.”