Secondly: he was to regard all relations between us as finished; we were to be strangers henceforth in every particular save that of the money obligation already mentioned.
Thirdly: he was never to acknowledge this compact, or to cast any slur upon the father whose reasons for this apparently unnatural conduct were quite disconnected with any fault of his or any desire to punish or reprove.
Fourthly: he was to pray for his father every night of his life before he slept.
Was this last a confession? Had I meant it to be such? If so, it missed its point. It awed but did not enlighten him. I had to contend with his compunctions, as well as with his grief and dismay. It was an hour of struggle on his part and of implacable resolution on mine. Nothing but such hardness on my part would have served me. Had I faltered once he would have won me over, and the tale of my sleepless nights been repeated. I did not falter; and when the midnight stroke rang through the house that night, it separated by its peal, a sin-beclouded but human past from a future arid with solitude and bereft of the one possession to retain which my sin had been hidden.
I was a father without a son—as lonely and as desolate as though the separation between us were that of the grave I had merited and so weakly shunned.
And thus I lived for a year.
But I was not yet satisfied.
The toll I had paid to Grief did not seem to me a sufficient punishment for a crime which entailed imprisonment if not death. How could I insure for myself the extreme punishment which my peace demanded, without bringing down upon me the full consequences I refused to accept.
You have seen to-day how I ultimately answered this question. A convict’s bed! a convict’s isolation.
Bela served me in this; Bela who knew my secret and knowing continued to love me. He gathered up these rods singly and in distant places and set them up across the alcove in my room. He had been a convict once himself.
Being now in my rightful place, I could sleep again.
But after some weeks of this, fresh fears arose. An accident was possible. For all Bela’s precautions, some one might gain access to this room. This would mean the discovery of my secret. Some new method must be devised for securing me absolutely against intrusion. Entrance into my simple, almost unguarded cottage must be made impossible. A close fence should replace the pickets now surrounding it—a fence with a gate having its own lock.
And this fence was built.
This should have been enough. But guilt has terrors unknown to innocence. One day I caught a small boy peering through an infinitesimal crack in the fence, and, remembering the window grilled with iron with which Bela had replaced the cheerful casement in my den of punishment, I realised how easily an opening might be made between the boards for the convenience of a curious eye anxious to penetrate the mystery of my seclusion.