The secret of the sorrow

The Old Ancient House lay in silence—a sinister silence, Bethune
thought—after the rumours and alarms of the night. The dawn was
breaking yellow over a grey, still world. What did it herald? he
wondered, as he looked out of his dormer window under the roof.

One thing it was bringing, he told his sullen heart—the new day of the
new life of Raymond Bethune. Raymond Bethune, the disgraced, who had
failed his comrade.

When that wild cry had rung out into the night, “Harry, Harry, Harry!”
it had sounded, in his ears, like the death-cry of his honour; a parting
from all that he had held dear; a parting from his highest and closest,
than which no parting between soul and body could be more bitter.

He had sat on his bed, and listened—listened, expecting he knew not
what. What, indeed, had he now to expect? He had heard the running of
feet, the opening and shutting of doors, all the busy noises of a house
alarmed. Was she dead? Dead of her joy, in that supreme moment of
reunion? Would there not be a heaven, even in his anguish, for him who
could thus take her dying kiss!

By-and-by he had roused himself; and, after a look of horror upon that
bed of dreams, mechanically dressed for his departure. To go away—that
was all that was left to him—the last decency. He put a grim control
upon his nerves as he wielded the razor and the brushes that Harry
English’s fingers had so recently touched.

Harry English … out of the grave!

Bethune could not yet face the marvel of the situation. He had yet no
power over his dazed brain to bring it to realise that for so long he
had been living near his old comrade in the flesh, and had not known—he
who had not passed a day, since their parting, without living with him
in the spirit! Still less could he speculate upon the reasons of
English’s incognito, upon his singular scheme, his recklessness of his
own reputation; nor by what miracle he had been saved from death; nor by
what freakish cruelty of fate he had been buried from their ken till the
irreparable had been worked on other lives.

No; Bethune had no single thought to spare from the overwhelming fact of
what he had himself done.

How silent was this house, now, in the dawn! And how much worse was
silence than the most ominous sounds. Was it not his own silence that
had betrayed both himself and his friend?

He packed deliberately, feeling the while a fleeting childish warmth of
comfort in the thought that Harry wore his old shooting-jacket—that
Harry had still something of his about him. He folded the discarded
babu garments with almost tender touch. Then he paused and hesitated.

There were the papers—the damnable, foolish papers that had started all
the mischief; and these he must sort. Some must be destroyed; some, not
his to deal with, must be laid by before he could leave the place.

He stole to the door, carrying his portmanteau. There was no fear of his
meeting any of those whom he dreaded; for, in the rambling old house,
his floor had a little breakneck stairs to itself which landed him in a
passage outside the hall.

There was a stir of life and a leap of firelight behind the half-open
door of the kitchen; but, in a panic, he passed quickly out of reach of
the voices lest he should hear. Was she dying … or dead? Or, since
joy does not kill, was she happy in a sublime egotism of two? He had no
courage for the tidings—whatever they might be.

The little room where he had worked with such fervour was filled with a
grey glimmer that filtered in through the mist-hung orchard trees. The
fire had been set but not yet lit. He put a match to it; he would have
much to burn. Then he sat down by the table and drew forth his
manuscripts. The last line he had written—that line set only yesterday
from a full heart—met his eye:

English was then in the perfection of his young manhood—a
splendid specimen of an Englishman, athletic, handsome,
intellectual, a born leader of men, and withal, the truest
comrade ever a man had.

Out of the half-finished page, the past rose at Raymond Bethune and
smote him in the face. So had he written, so had he thought of Harry
English yesterday, when he believed him dead.

A man of more sanguine temperament, of more imaginative mind, might well
have comforted himself with explanatory reflections, with reasons so
plausible for his own behaviour, that he must end by believing in them
himself, regarding his own act in a gradually changing light, till it
assumed a venial, not to say meritorious, aspect. But Raymond Bethune,
with his narrow conception of life, with his few, deep-cut affections,
had this in him—virtue or deficiency—that he could not lie. And now he
knew the naked truth. He knew that, when his only friend had come from
out the dead and laid claim upon him, in the overwhelming surprise of
the moment he had betrayed friendship—that some unknown base self had
sprung into life. He had not been glad—he had not been glad … and
Harry had seen it. Harry had read into his heart—and there had read,
not gladness but dismay.

The sweat started again upon Bethune’s forehead as he re-lived that
moment and again saw his failing soul mirrored in the wide pupils of
English’s eyes.

* * * * *

Outside, upon the grey-brown twisted boughs of the apple-tree nearest
the window, a robin began to sing. The insidious sweetness of the
little voice pierced the lonely man to the marrow, with an intolerable
pang of self-pity. He looked out on the bleak winter scene of the
garden, where the mist hung in shreds across the sodden grass, over the
bare boughs. It was an old, old orchard and the trees were leprous with
grey lichen. It seemed as though they could not bear flower or fruit
again. Vaguely, for his brain was not apt to image, he thought: “In
some such desolation lies the future for me.” And if the robin sang—oh,
if the robin sang—its message never could be for him!

His eye wandered back into the room. Here had he worked so many days,
in austere, high ardour of loyalty. Aye, and yonder, in the armchair,
had she sat; and he had judged her from this same altitude of mind. Now
he knew himself better, saw the earthy soul of him as it really was.
All his anger, all his scorn, all his antagonism, from the very first
instant when her pale luminous beauty had dawned upon him, had been but
fine-sounding words in his own mind to hide the thing, the fact—his
passion for Harry English’s wife!

He took some of the manuscript into his hands, rough sheets as well as
neatly typed copy; and, standing before the now leaping fire, began
slowly to tear it, page by page, and fling it into the blaze. He smiled
as he watched the red twists fly up the chimney. There was subtle irony
in the situation. Major Bethune calling upon his friend’s widow to wake
from her sleep of oblivion, forcing her back to the sorrow she would
fain forget, sparing her no pang, watching her as the warder watches the
convict to see that not a jot of her task escape her; seeing, as he
watched, the old love reclaim her with strong hands, so that, wooed once
more and once more won, she was ready, as surely no woman was before, to
greet the dead returned! … “Harry, Harry, Harry!” He would never get
that cry out of his head.

He let himself fall into the chair upon the hearth, his hands resting
listlessly from their task. How was he to endure life, how carry out
the most trivial business with this sick distaste of all things upon
him?

* * * * *

Aspasia opened the door and looked in. She gave a cry of pleasure as
she saw him.

“How cosy!” she said, and came over to the fire.

Then she stood, gazing down at him, with a small smile trembling on her
lips. She had evidently been crying, and the curves of these same lips
looked softer and more childish than ever. Her cheeks were flushed, her
eyes darkly shadowed.

Bethune sat motionless. After a pause she spoke, still staring
reflectively at the flames.

“I wondered where you had been all this dreadful night. You know what
has happened? Of course you know.”

“I know.”

Nothing in his voice or manner struck her—she was so full of the
tremendous occasion.

“Ah!” she cried, suddenly flashing upon him, “I think I’m sorry you
already know. I should have liked to have been the first to tell you.
For you—for you, at least, it’s all glorious. Oh, how glad you must be!
What it must mean to you!”

He sat like stone: she was worse than the robin. He had thought he had
suffered to the fullest capacity; but the girl, with her clear voice and
her honest eyes, was tearing his heart to pieces. Then she became
conscious that in his silence, though she had known him ever as a silent
man, there was something almost sinister.

“What is it?” she asked him. “Oh, I suppose you knew all along? No—you
didn’t, you couldn’t!”

He shook his head.

“Ah!” Her bright face clouded. “It is because of her, of poor Aunt
Rosamond—of him, rather? You think he has come back to her too late,
only to lose her?”

He resumed the tearing up of his manuscript with fingers clenched upon
the page.

“What are you doing?” she cried, quickly diverted. “Oh, Major Bethune,
why? Don’t tear up all that beautiful life—all you’ve been working at
so long. Oh, what a pity—what a pity!”

He crumpled a mass of paper violently together and flung it into the
flames, thrusting it down among the embers with his hand. He felt the
startled amazement growing upon her, and forced his pale lips to speak.

“He would hate it.”

Saying this, he tried to smile. Aspasia contemplated him for a while,
her eyes wondering. Then she stretched out her hand and touched his
timidly.

“Don’t be unhappy—let me tell you; I think I understand. Oh! I’m sure
I understand, for we have been friends a little, too, have we not? You
think it’s worse for him to come back. You think he had better be dead,
if she is to die. But she won’t.” Aspasia nodded confidently. “I tell
you she won’t die. I’ve just seen Dr. Châtelard; he’s quite satisfied.
I have seen him—Captain English—too. I said to him: ’She won’t die.’
And he said to me: ’I know it.’ He is there outside her room—so strong
and patient. Now,” said the girl, and was not, in her innocent wish to
comfort, aware how tenderly she spoke, “now you will let yourself be
glad for yourself, since you’ve got him back, will you not?”

Bethune suddenly turned and caught the gentle hand that touched him in
both his. He broke into sobs—a man’s difficult, ugly, tearing sobs,
that surprise no one more than him whom they overtake. For an instant
Aspasia was terrified. But for that desperate clutch she would have
fled. The next moment, however, all the woman in her awoke.

“Oh, don’t cry!” she said, as if she were speaking to a child, and laid
her free hand upon his close-cropped hair.

And then—neither of them knew how it happened—her arm was round his
shoulder, and his head was lying upon her tender breast. The dry agony
that shook him passed; and tears that fell like balm rolled down his
cheeks.

Baby, carried quite out of herself in this astounding whirl of events,
began to weep, too, quite softly, to herself. And, as he lifted his
face to hers and drew her down to him, their lips met upon the bitter of
their tears, and yet in sweetness undreamed of. At the touch of that
child-mouth and at her voiceless surrender, Bethune knelt before her in
his heart and consecrated himself to her for ever. Closed henceforth
for him the magic casement on “perilous seas” of passion, “on faëry
lands forlorn.” Gone those visions, exquisite and deadly! A faithful
loving hand, a child’s hand, had been held out to him in his moment of
utmost misery; it had lifted him from the deeps; it he would clasp and
go to meet life’s duty, content—aye, humbly grateful—that his winter
should have harboured a robin after all; ready to open his heart to its
song of spring.

* * * * *

Afterwards, he knew, he would blame himself for that moment of weakness
which had won him, unworthy, so true and unsuspecting a heart. But the
deed was irrevocable, and he would not have been human not to rejoice.

* * * * *

The secret of the sorrow that had given to Aspasia the man she loved,
she would never know. And even her frank lips could never seek the
story. As sacred as the memory of their first kiss, she would hide in
her heart the memory of those strange and terrible sobs.

Wiser than Psyche she would light no lamp, but keep this first mystery
of love in unprofaned shadow.

Bethune and Aspasia quickly parted.

Love had come as a messenger of comfort; but to linger under its wings
in anything that approached to joy, in that stricken house would have
seemed desecration. Bethune, moreover, was glad to be alone. His own
trouble was too strong upon him. He felt as if he must have the cold
clean air upon his face, gather the winter solitude about the nameless
confusion of his thoughts. He wanted to meet himself face to face and
have it out with Raymond Bethune; Raymond Bethune, who had gained an
unlooked-for love, but had lost—everything else. He went forth into the
orchard—seeking himself in those barren spaces, that, but a while ago,
had seemed to hold the image of his future.

But he was no longer the shamed, hopeless man of that hour of dawn, with
his eye fixed on some near death, as the savage instinct of some sick
wild creature is fixed upon the hole that shall hide the last struggle.
Henceforth he would be no longer alone; and if the thought of the gentle
comradeship brought solace, it brought also its own serious
responsibility, almost its terror—the weight of another life, the loss
of his soul’s freedom….

Presently, as he tramped up and down the drenched grass, a chill and
numbing touch seemed to be laid upon him and to invade him with the
blankness of the universal winter sleep. The recurrent waves of a
lover’s exaltation that had seized him at each reminiscence of the young
bosom beneath his cheek, of the tear-wet face pressed so close to his,
died down within him; and died, too, those spasms of horror over that
moment when, by a single evil thought, he had betrayed the true facts of
a lifetime.

His mind seemed to become nearly as dull as the sky above him—iron grey,
flecked with meaningless wrack; his heart to grow cold, like the inert
sod beneath his feet. And he let himself go to the respite of this
mood. The robin was silent. He was glad of that. There was no sound
but the drip of the boughs as he passed. Disjointed visions, foolish
tags of memory, flashed through his brain—the echo of Baby’s thrumming,
the picture of the Eastern palace room, with its English illusions, as
he stood waiting; Lady Gerardine, in the rosy radiance of the Indian
evening, fitting her slender hand into the imprint of the queens’
death-touches on the stone; her smile upon him over the languid Niphotis
roses in the narrow varnished cabin, the open port-holes and the green
sea-foam springing up across them in the lamplight, the mingled smell of
the brine and the flowers; Aspasia dancing on the frozen grass, brown
and red like a robin; Muhammed standing before him in his soldier-pride,
the ironic smile on his face—son of the East, with the winter-lichened
boughs of the English orchard above him!

At the end of his beat Raymond wheeled round and looked down the
moss-grown avenue where that day the red-turbaned Eastern had met his
gaze; and now, with the fantastic effect of a dream, he beheld the
selfsame square-shouldered figure swing into sight between the grey
boles with their ghostly look of age. Advancing with quick strides, it
was bearing straight upon him.

Bethune stood as if held by a resistless force. He knew life would have
no more crucial moment for him; yet his heart beat not a stroke the
faster. He turned his face towards the inevitable. After all, a man
can but endure. The illusion of Muhammed had quickly passed, as the
steady step drew closer, into that reality that was stranger than any
fantasm.

Harry English, with head bare to the tart airs, with strong line of
clean-shaven chin catching the bleak light, and deep eyes lit with a
very human lire—the old comrade in the flesh! He halted within a pace,
and the two looked at each other for a second’s silence. Then, while
Bethune’s countenance remained set in that iron dulness, the other’s
face was suddenly stirred.

“What the devil is the meaning of this?” cried Harry English, in a loud
voice of anger. “I see your portmanteau packed. Do you think for a
second that you can leave me now?”

The deepest reproach, the utmost note of sorrow or scorn, could not have
touched Bethune so keenly as this familiar explosion. A thousand
memories awoke and screamed. How often had not his captain rated him
with just such a rough tongue and just such a kindly gleam of the eye!
All the ice of his cold humour of reaction was shivered into bits under
the rush of upheaving blood.

“Harry!” he stammered. “Harry … I … my God!” …

He saw, as before, in that hideous moment in the little bedroom, but now
blessedly, a reflection of his own thought on the face opposite to him.

Harry English put out his hand and clapped him on the shoulder.

“My God!” said Bethune again. He turned his head sharply away and his
jaw worked. The cry broke from him. “I ought to have died for you!
Would to Heaven I had died for you at Inziri! …”

The grasp of his shoulder was tightened. English shook his comrade
almost fiercely.

“Old man, you were never one of the talkers. Hold your tongue now.”

Bethune drew a deep breath. The intolerable weight rolled from his
heart. English’s hand dropped. It was over and done with; the two
friends had met again, soul to soul.

In silence they turned and walked towards the house, side by side, steps
together, as so often—God, so often!—in the good old days of hardship.

“Let us go in,” said English, at the door. “They tell me that there can
be no change, up there, and she’s in good hands, thank Heaven, but I
cannot find a moment’s peace out of the house. Come, we’ll have a cup
of tea together.”

The sun had risen just clear of the moor line into a space of clarity,
and shone, a white dazzling disc, sending faint spears into their eyes.
It shone, too, pale yet brisk, through the open window of the little
dining-room, where, as yet, the board was but half spread, where an
ill-kindled fire had flickered into death. (What self-respecting
servant could do her work as usual when the family is in affliction?)

“Just see to the fire, Ray,” said English, and went out of the room.

Bethune, with the bachelor’s expediency, had recourse to a candle culled
from a sconce, and produced a cheerful, if somewhat acrid flame, to
greet his friend when he returned, black kettle in one hand, brown
teapot in the other. Soon the hot fragrance circled into the room.

“If we’d had a brew of this up at Inziri, those last days, it would have
made a difference, eh?” said the master of the house.

They drew their chairs to the hearth and sat, each with his cup in his
hand, even as in times bygone, with their tin mugs before the camp fire
at dawn. In spite of the sense of that hushed room above and the
suspense of its brooding over them, Bethune had not felt so warm in his
heart these many years.

“Man!” he exclaimed suddenly, reverting unconsciously to the Scotch
idiom of his youth, “why in the name of Heaven did you do it?”

Harry English, staring at the red coals, answered nothing for a while.
Not that he had failed to understand the train of thought that ended in
the vague-seeming, yet comprehensive question—but that the answer was
difficult if not painful.

“You see,” he said slowly, at last, without shifting his abstracted
gaze, “there was so much to find out and so much to consider….”

“To find out?”

“I had to be sure.”

Bethune laid his cup on the hob and leaned over towards his friend, his
fingers lightly touching the arm of the other’s chair. After a while:
“I think I understand,” he said, knitting his rugged brows.

English gave him a fleeting smile of peculiar sadness.

“When one has been dead eight years, it is wiser, before coming to life
again, to make sure that one’s resurrection will be a benefit.”

Bethune fell back into his place, with a grey shade about the lips.
English dropped his eyes and there came silence between them. After a
pause, he began to mend the fire from the scuttle; and, placing the
lumps of coals one by one, he spoke again:

“It was all a story of waiting, you see, from beginning to end.”

“Rajab—Rajab is gone, by the way, poor old chap. He swore he’d seen you
fall, more dead than the prophet himself,” said Bethune, with the harsh
laugh that covers strong emotion. “And from the fort, through the
glass, we watched those devils chucking the bodies into the torrent—dead
and wounded, too. We thought the great river was your grave with many
another’s! Never a bone could we find of all the good chaps.”

Harry English straightened himself and laughed, too, not very
mirthfully. Then he pulled open the loose collar of his shirt and laid
bare a jagged scar that ran from the column of the throat across the
collar bone.

“I’m confoundedly hard to kill, you know. Just missed the jugular. I
must have been spouting blood like a fountain. And then I got a blow on
the head from a hilt that knocked me into nothingness. Rajab was about
right—I was as dead as the prophet for the time being. If I had not had
nine lives——”

Again the silence. Then Bethune inquired, casually, fumbling in his
pocket for a pipe:

“And how is it you weren’t chucked overboard with the rest?”

“Old Yufzul had a fancy for keeping me alive. Ah, if he could have
caught the chap that cut me down, he would not have left much skin on
him. He’d given stringent orders to spare mine. The old beggar took a
notion that I was a sort of mascot, or something, that I carried
luck—that it was the influence of my precious person kept things going
so triumphantly at the fort…. You may remember he was always sending
envoys to me with flattering offers? By the Lord, Ray, I believe it was
half to get me that he stuck to the business so long. So much for my
carrying luck!”

The speaker smiled, with a bitter twist of the lip, and poked the fire
unnecessarily.

“Remember,” he added, “that business about the flag on the roof, when
the bullets were going so lively? It seems our friend was watching and
was much struck to see that I was not.”

“I remember,” answered Bethune’s deep bass.

Did he not remember? Had he been of the nationality of M. Châtelard,
with what a hand-clasp, with what a flow of rhetoric would he not now
emphasise his vivid recollection of that hour!

English, lying back in his armchair, with his head resting on the top,
closed his eyes wearily. His face looked very pallid and sharp-featured
thus upturned and relaxed from its usual stern control; and Bethune shot
many an anxious look at it as he sat silent, the pipe he forgot to draw
hanging loosely between his teeth.

Presently the other resumed, in low, reminiscent tones:

“I became the Khan’s fetish. So long as he had me he was sure of his
luck. He thought himself safe. In the end, I think, he thought he could
not die.”

“Well?” said Bethune, as the pause grew over long.

“Well, that’s all. I was a fetish, very well looked after. Too well.
God!” said the man, sitting up, a sudden passion on eye and lip, “I was
kept prisoner, if you like. For five years, Raymond Bethune, I was
chained to that old Khan’s carcase, night and day.”

“For five years,” echoed Bethune, stupidly; “and what were you doing?”

English did not answer till the silence seemed to have obliterated the
question. Then he said slowly:

“I was waiting.”

“Then?”

“Then the old devil died—and I escaped. Oh, you don’t want me to spin
you that yarn now! You can imagine it for yourself, if you ever imagine
anything, you old dunderhead. There was blood spilt, if you care to
know. I had waited a long time, you see.”

“But,” objected the Major of Guides, after some minutes devoted to
calculation, “that was three years ago.”

“Aye,” laughed English, good-naturedly contemptuous, “but a man doesn’t
walk off the Karakoram on to the English lines in a day, especially if
he’s an Afghan captive. I had to take a little round through Turkestan,
and back through Baluchistan—on foot, Raymond, every yard of the way—as
a dervish.”

“Good Lord!” said Bethune.

“I flatter myself I know more of the Karakorams and the Turkoman
frontier than any white man yet. And I can speak the lingo of every
tribe that calls Ali chief. Aye, and I know their tricks and customs,
their very habit of thought. There was not a camp or hut where they did
not take me for one of themselves. It was just a year after Yufzul’s
death that I landed at Kurrachee.”

“Oh, Harry,” cried his friend, impulsively, “why did you not come to
me?”

“Have I not told you already?” answered English, after one of his deep
pauses. “I had things to find out first. Where is your canniness? If
live men have to go slow, what about dead men? … No—no.” The bitter
smile came back to his lips. “I lay low, and lived in the bazaar, as
good a servant of the prophet as ever salaamed to the East; and
then”—his voice changed—”oh, then—I got all the news I wanted!”

Bethune dared not raise his eyes.

“More than I wanted,” added Harry English, with his bleak laugh. “You
don’t need to be told why I remained a Pathan, do you?”

When Bethune once more found courage to speak to his friend, it was
because the stillness, pregnant with so much meaning, seemed
intolerable.

“Well?” he queried hoarsely.

“Well, then,” said Harry English, “I waited—again.” …

And his comrade felt more than this he was never to know of the hardest
moment of all the man’s hard life.

“I dare say,” resumed English, his old air of serenity coming back to
him, “you wonder why I did not extend that botched business as far as
the jugular this time, and have done with it. But, you see, there was
just a chance, I told myself; and so,” he repeated, falling back into
his significant formula, “I waited. I got work with an old babu; and
by-and-by my opportunity came, and I took it.”

“Good Lord!” exclaimed Bethune, shifting restlessly in his chair. “It
was the maddest business!”

“Perhaps,” said English, a shade of pain sweeping across his face. “But
I had to know. Any other course was too dangerous. Oh, I am not
speaking of myself—think how dangerous!”

“But, man—man,” cried the other, “it need not have taken you all that
time! When you’d seen with your own eyes, when you had found that the
old fellow was killing her, when you were here in this house, and had
seen her in her sorrow—then——”

English flung one lightning glance upon the speaker.

“And even then,” he said slowly, “I had still to know—more.”

A moment Bethune stared at him open-mouthed; then his own unclear
conscience pointed the otherwise inconceivable idea to his slow-working
wits. He felt the dark blood mount to his forehead.

“Now I’ve told you all,” said Harry English, and got up from his chair.

“Thank you,” said Bethune.

* * * * *

Aspasia’s bright presence was suddenly with them. English wheeled round;
but her smiling face was reassurance sufficient.

“I’ve come as I promised,” she said, “to give you the last report. Dr.
Châtelard says all is going as he wishes. He will be down immediately
for some breakfast, and then he will tell you himself. Isn’t he a
darling little man?” she went on. “I am sorry I said he had a pink
head! What should we do now without it? By the way, some one must send
a wire to Melbury Towers for his luggage.”

“Let me go,” said Bethune, starting forward.

“Let him go,” echoed Baby, saucily, turning to Captain English.

With such new happiness before her, the natural buoyancy of her nature
was triumphant over all present doubt and anxiety. Bethune put out his
hand, and she slipped her own confidingly into it.

“Harry,” said he, and the girl wondered and was highly flattered at the
sudden emotion that shook his voice, “you see how things stand between
us?”

Again English flashed that glance of vivid scrutiny. This time his
friend met it steadily, though again with a heightening colour. Then,
after a perceptible pause:

“I am glad,” said Captain English, simply.

And Bethune dropped the girl’s hand to meet the strong clasp held out to
him.

He knew that from henceforth all misunderstanding was swept away from
between them. If he had felt before for his friend that love closer
than a brother’s, it was cemented now by the strongest bond that can
exist between generous natures—that of forgiver and forgiven. He was
forgiven with the only real forgiveness—that which understands.

“Have they not brought breakfast?” cried Baby, the housekeeper, very
bustling all at once, to cover her pretty confusion. She sprang to the
bell, then checked herself, with finger on lip, and tripped from the
room, pointing her feet and laughing over her shoulder, as if to her
happy years even that sad precaution of quietness must have its mirthful
side.

Both men looked after her indulgently. Then Bethune’s face clouded.

“She is but a child, after all,” he said doubtfully.

“Nay,” said Harry, “it seems to me she has a woman’s heart.”

“She is as true as steel,” asserted her lover.

When the girl returned, English went restlessly forth. He would wait
for M. Châtelard, he said, in the hall. The newly betrothed were alone;
and, for a second or two, eyed each other shyly. Then Bethune’s face
softened in the old, good way; and yet with something, too, that had
never been there before, something which made Aspasia drop her lids.

“Well, Robin?” said he, and beckoned. She came to him sidling.

It would always be thus between them. He would beckon and she would
come. Had the impossible happened, had that mistress of his hidden
ideal condescended to him, he would have gone far to crave the least
favour, and always with a trembling soul. But the life that touches the
transcendent joy, the rare ecstasy is fated to know but little
happiness. Providence, perhaps, was not dealing unkindly with this man.

“Why do you call me Robin?” she asked.

He was not of those who explain. With a kiss on her hand he told her
simply that she was like a robin.

“Then I hope you’ll remember, sir,” she said, briskly disengaging
herself, “that the robin is a bird that makes music in season and out of
season.”