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The Story of a New Zealand River


page 324


two nights later, as David Bruce was walking alone towards his shanty from the store, he was arrested by a light shining from the dining-room of Tom Roland's house. He could not have told exactly why he stopped, for it was not unusual for a light to be there even at midnight. He speculated about it, knowing the boss was away, and that no one was ill. Suspecting why it still burned, he turned towards it with a sigh.

He walked in by the back door unannounced, and, as he expected, he found Alice sitting up alone. One glance at her face told him why she waited.

“You are sitting up for her,” he said.

She resented the reproach in his tone.

“David, I cannot bear it any longer. I must speak. She stays out later and later every night.”

He stood before her, making no attempt to sit down.

“Do you think speaking to her will stop that?” he asked wearily.

“Yes. She will have to listen to me. I have something to say that will make her listen.”

For once he missed the significance of her positive tone.

“She will listen, my dear. She will listen courteously enough. She will tell you she understands your feeling and your point of view. And you know what she will do after that, don't you?”

She looked up at him and away again. He saw that her lips were set in an agony of determination, and that she was unmoved.

“She will do exactly what she wants to do,” he went on quietly.

She dropped her face into her hands.

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“She will not, David. Not after I have talked to her.”

“Oh, my dear girl”—the impatience in his tone stung her—“don't you know yet that talking to people of her type does no good. It would be all right for Betty and Mabel. They would be scared off anything at the first breath of criticism. You would have to save them because in the end they would want to be saved. But do you think people like Asia and Ross are going to allow any one to regulate their feelings for them? For God's sake do see it before it is too late.”

As he spoke her lips trembled, and tears welled up in her eyes. It hurt him to see that her recent colour was almost gone. It hurt him to know that she was still her own enemy. He determined to try once more to get her to see that she was not responsible for the sins of the world.

Leaning down, he pulled her up to face him.

“Come out with me,” he said softly. “Get a cloak. And be quick. It would be a pity for her to find us here.”

Mechanically she found a wrap and followed him outside. He led the way along the path towards his shanty.

“It's all right,” he said, sensing her misgivings. “No one will see us, and no one will come.”

She stood on the porch while he found and lit his lamp. Then he set his most comfortable chair so that the light would fall behind her. Nervous because she knew she was going to hear something unpleasant, she sat down stiffly, keeping her wrap about her shoulders.

The lamplight glowed dully upon metal things in the room, a tobacco jar, brass candlesticks, gilt picture frames. Bruce made no pretence of running elegant bachelor quarters. His shanty was a large unpapered room, lined with oiled boards, the ceiling showing the rafters. It had an open fireplace at one end, and rugs of no particular kind upon the floor. He had one bunk, rugged and cushioned like a lounge, several chairs, rough book and other shelves, a doctor's cabinet, and three tables. On two of the tables and on many of the shelves was spread a strange assortment of page 326 objects, good and bad. The good had been gifts from Alice, Asia and Mrs. Brayton; the bad, the sentimental offerings of numerous patients.

The room had an extraordinary atmosphere of comfort. Asia had always declared it was the friendliest room she had ever seen, that it had the peace of a confessional, and the welcome of a wayside inn. The only door, which faced the green hill and was shaded by a small porch, was always open, night and day, whatever the season or the weather, and the only things, as far as Bruce knew, that had entered with designs upon his property were dogs, cats and a calf.

Alice had long been familiar with every detail of it by day, but pursuing her policy of extreme discretion, she had never visited him alone at night. Her doing so now had a suggestion of adventure that affected her, making her still more nervous, and complicating the sources of her mental dislocation.

Bruce drew a chair near to her, putting his pipe and tobacco on a table within reach. The something about his leisureliness that had always fascinated her helped now to still the jump of her nerves.

The years had deepened the lines of suppression on Bruce's face, and had streaked his black hair with grey, but they had not dulled the humorous gleam of his brown eyes, or put even a suggestion of age into the easy movements of his limbs. Six years before this he had finally beaten out his periodical craving for whisky, and though that battle for the complete possession of his soul had not left him scatheless it had added to the power of his attractions and to his ability to make the most of them.

The triumph of his life had been his management of his friendship with Alice Roland. He knew she had never realized to what an extent he had controlled it. He had been amazed at the way in which she had finally settled down to it as something that would never change. He had wondered that she could go on living with Tom Roland as she had for years without open signs of revolt. He never had page 327 been quite able to understand her extraordinary acceptance of life as other people arranged it, her submission to her husband, her lack of fighting quality, of a sense of adventure. On the other hand he had never ceased to be astonished at her powers of endurance, her infinite capacity for silent suffering. He knew that her ill health had been the chief agent in cultivating her lack of initiative and her pitiful desire for peace, but there had always been something he could not get at in her. It had piqued his curiosity again and again.

He knew that though she had altered much in the last few years she was not half as broad-minded as she, with a pleasant vanity, had supposed herself to be, and he felt sadly, as he looked at her now, that in spite of all that he had tried to do for her, she was ill-prepared to meet the facts of life that were now about to descend upon her. Accustomed as he was to introducing the facts of life to unsuspecting people he could never do it without a full appreciation of the pain and disruption it caused.

With a short appealing look at her he dropped his head into his hands, and stared at a frayed piece near the corner of his rug. She looked apprehensively at him, fearing now that he was withholding some bad news.

“What is it, David? You are worrying about them too. I know it.”

But she saw she was mistaken when he raised his face.

“I am not. I see no reason for worrying about them. It's you I'm thinking about.”

“Me, David?” She returned his quiet look with one of grieved astonishment.

“Yes, you. I really don't know any one else that I should be worrying about at present.”

She drew herself up a little, pushing back her cloak.

“Do you mean to say, David, that you don't believe those two are in any danger?”

“Even if they were I should not be worrying about them. page 328 Why worry about people who will never worry about themselves? It's silly.”

He turned to the table, and deliberately filled his pipe and lit it. Though she rarely criticized him, Alice thought his action seemed heartless. Her eyes hardened.

“David, I don't expect you to feel about this as I do, but I did think you would understand why I feel, and that you would help——”

Her voice broke in spite of her effort to keep it steady.

He melted at once, and, leaning forward, took her hands. Before he spoke he straightened out a piece of lace on her throat that had been crumpled under her cloak. He noticed for the first time that she was wearing a violet dress he liked, and that she had evidently expected him to dinner.

“You believe they are in danger,” he began gently, “in danger of what?”

“You know, David.”

“My dear, I don't know what you think the danger is. Do you mean that they may live together, or that they may be suspected, or found out? Just what do you mean by the danger?”

“David, if they do anything they will be found out.”

He continued to look at her with solemn gentleness.

“Supposing you knew for certain they would not be found out, would you worry about what they did?”

Her eyes fell away from his.

“Would you?” he repeated.

“It's no use asking me that question,” she said impatiently. “The two things go together. They cannot go on doing anything and not be found out.”

“Do you know what they intend to do? Have they told you?”

He did not mean to hurt her by the question. It brought home to her the fact that she was probably the last person they would ever tell. As he saw her lips tremble he squeezed her hands.

“My dear. I did not mean that to hurt. But you know page 329 you have nothing to go on but suspicions. Now, you may as well know what you really do have to face. I know, for they have told me.”

She sat very still while he talked on, finding that in spite of what he said she was relieved to have it put plainly so that she could see what it meant.

“The thing they have to face is that Ross may never be able to get his divorce. Unless his wife applies for it he cannot at present. He left her. He keeps her. She is willing to live with him. Unless she goes mad, dies, or lives with some man, he will not be free. Ross and Asia are in love. He lives now as a single man. A useless, hysterical and selfish woman is the only thing between them and the conventions. They have a chance here that may never come to them again in life to love each other in freedom. Lynne, you and I will know. Tom will suspect. No one else will ever know unless we tell them, and none of us will ever tell them. In the autumn they will go to Sydney, not by the same boat, but she will go a month or so after him. They will not attempt to live openly together. They will work together. He plans to make her his secretary. They will not be reckless, or yell defiance at the world. They will know how to keep away from scandal. They both have fine and loyal friends who will cover up their tracks. As time goes on their friendship will be known and its possibilities suspected, but they will win the world to believe in their friendship, and to shut its eyes to what may happen between them in private. People like them can do that to-day. It can be done in every city. There are several cases in Auckland. You have met one pair often at the Hardings. Now I want you to see at once that you cannot stop one bit of all this. There are even people whom you like who would blame you if you tried to. Not that that would stop you. But if you will take my advice you will shut your eyes and see nothing until you are told, and then you will reserve your judgment.”

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He clasped his hands over hers as he stopped, and sitting up again, lit his pipe, and puffed slowly.

Alice sat very still looking away from him. She began to repeat to herself the things he had said, so that she would remember them all for consideration afterwards. She did not cry, now that she knew the worst, or feel like crying. She did not feel as wretched as she had expected to feel. She felt more than anything else a buzz and confusion of conflicting emotions and opinions that made her head spin. She sat clenching her hands in the effort to get some order into her thoughts. Things she wanted to know got mixed up with things she was trying to think.

At last something in the peace of the room and the stillness of the night, and the comfortable sight of David Bruce smoking soothed her brain. When she turned to him she was ready with the questions.

“Do you think they are right, David?”

The absence of hostility in her voice pleased him.

“I don't know that I have to decide that. They think they are right. If we judge them at all, we must judge them by that.” He saw that for the time being she had forgotten her fears, and that something else was on her mind.

“You don't think she will be any different if she lives with him?”

He looked curiously into her questioning eyes in which there was more than a grain of unbelief.

“My dear, do you really believe that a girl is branded in some mysterious way if she has relations with a man on the prehistoric side of the marriage ceremony? Do you think the failure to repeat a few words alters cells?”

“It alters minds, David.”

“Oh, no. It's the attitude of other people towards your action that affects your mind when it is affected. There is nothing in the action itself that does it.”

“You would not think any differently of her, David? You would respect her just the same?”

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“Oh, God!” He sat up suddenly. “You have known me for fifteen years, and you ask that question!”

But she continued her questions.

“You would marry a woman who had lived with a man?”

“Certainly, if I loved her. It would make no difference at all. I can't imagine why you ask. You know how I feel about these things.”

“I know how you have talked when we have read books,” she said slowly.

“I see, and you thought I was only talking.” He leaned towards her again. “Well, I wasn't. And nothing that Asia could do with Ross could affect my opinion of her. Do you understand that now?”

He looked almost resentful. He could not understand her doubt.

“Yes,” she answered, and looking down, she seemed to him to be facing some new difficulty.

He guessed rightly what it might be.

“Have you remembered that there may be a child, David?” She could not keep solemnity out of her tone for that.

Ready for her, he answered at once quietly.

“Of course. But that will be provided for. You know people of their type don't have children to-day unless they want them.”

Although she had heard this hinted at before, it came to her with the force of a shock now that it was mentioned in connection with a child of hers.

“My dear girl, this comes as a shock to you because you don't know human beings. You have never really wanted to know them. You have shirked knowing them. You have divided them up into the good and the bad. You have put the people you liked with the good and the people you did not like with the bad. You have said to yourself there are certain things the good will never do, certain things the bad are likely to do. You have thought human beings were all of a piece. Because you have classed me with the good you would not believe I would do things you thought wrong. page 332 As a matter of fact, I have done many things you would think infamous. You do not know Asia. You do not know how she thinks or what she would do, or what she knows. She knows more of life than you ever did or ever will. You can't tell her anything she doesn't know. It may be a stale joke to say the daughters of to-day could educate their mothers, but it is also a great truth. You do not know onehalf of the things that have happened round you in this little place. You did not want to know, so we all formed a conspiracy to keep everything unpleasant away from you. You have had troubles enough of your own, God knows. But you have let them shut you up, my dear. That is the pity. Now, if you will only bear the truth, you have the chance to help. Give up judging where you don't know. It's so useless.”

As she listened to him a conviction of failure, the most numbing and despairful she had ever known, swept over her. Remembering it afterwards, she wondered if it was under such stress of feeling that people committed suicide. When he saw tears of dumb misery coming to her eyes he pushed his chair beside hers, threw his arm round her shoulder, and began to comfort her, talking brokenly.

“Don't worry about it now, dear. Leave the past alone, and begin again. See Asia and Ross as they are—two fine young things who want to go through fire and water for each other. Let them. Whatever happens to them they won't whine or upset the world. They may be hurt—they are bound to be hurt whatever they do, courageous and thoughtful people are always hurt, no one can stop that, any sort of life hurts them—but they won't be broken. That is the great thing. I know it is hard to realize, but things have changed. You keep thinking of England as you and I knew it. You think they will be damned, but they will not out here. They will only be suspected—people will wonder, that's all.”

She became amazed as he went on that he seemed to have no convictions about their action. There was nothing in his page 333 words to show that he had any regard for standards, that he recognized moral laws or the necessity for social safeguards. And yet she knew that his life had belied the lax philosophy that a chance listener would have inferred from his speech. She dare not listen to his heresy. It would have made of her whole life too ghastly a sacrifice to be contemplated.

“David,” she burst out passionately, “I don't care what you say. There are laws—there ought to be laws. Where would we end? I believe we ought to make sacrifices to keep them. I believe the finest people do—you have yourself, you know you have—there are ideals. I must believe Asia right or wrong, wise or unwise. I can't let it go at just leaving them alone—I can't be indifferent. People may be more charitable—I suppose they are—but it can't alter my feeling.”

“My dear, I know that.” He turned and faced her. “I know you can't help feeling. I'm feeling about it myself. I think it is a pity they have to compromise with life that way. But I don't see that it is any worse a compromise than—than your marriage, for example.”

Her eyes fell in swift confusion.

“You see, my dear,” he went on gently, “there are things Asia could say to you if you began to talk to her. I can't believe that you don't see it. And what you ever thought you could say that would convince her I don't know.”

As she threw her head up suddenly he saw that words had been stopped on the tip of her tongue, and that she was startled that she had nearly let them slip.

“What were you going to say?” he asked with curiosity. He saw fear and indecision in her eyes. He leaned forward, looking hard at her. “Do you mean to tell me that there is anything that you are afraid to say to me?”

“Oh, David,” she threw out her hands to him. “There is something I have never told you—I don't know why—I have wanted to, but I was afraid it—it might make a difference. But now I know it won't, oh, David, it won't, will it?”

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“Oh, do you have to ask me that?”

Even then she looked half fearfully at him as she answered.

“When I was eighteen I did as she is going to do, and she is the child.”

“What!” he cried out. “That! that!” His voice broke off as if he had suddenly found himself alone At the same time he looked at her as if she had just dropped through the ceiling. Searching his eyes for every shade of expression, she could see nothing but his incredulous amazement.

“You kept that from me,” he stammered. “All those years you were afraid to tell me—that's what it was. And you were afraid to tell me. And it was that—God! now I see—it was that——”

He ended as if he were again talking to himself.

Curiously calm now that she had told him, Alice saw that her confession had been also an explanation, and that it seemed to answer some riddle that had long puzzled him. If there had been any thought in her mind of amazing him, any desire to give him the shock of his life, she would have had a sense of flattering success, but all she felt in the moment following his words was that his opinion of her was really not lowered, and then that he was hurt because she had never told him before.

“You were afraid to tell me——” he began again.

“Oh, David,” she caught one of his hands, everything else swept out of her mind by that look of positive pain. “Don't think it was that. I—I often wanted to tell you, I know it would have helped me, but—but—oh, I don't know. But do understand—if you were a woman you would never tell that.”

“Have you never told any one?”

“I—I did tell Mrs. Brayton—never any one else. Oh, David, don't look like that! It wasn't that I didn't trust you.”

“Oh, yes, it was.” He shook his head sadly. “And I confessed to you once.”

page 335

“That was quite a different thing,” she pleaded.

“Was it? Well, all right. But I have always prided myself on the fact that nobody would ever hide anything from me. I see it was a delusion, and I thought I hadn't any.” His head dropped into his hands.

Alice stared at him. She could not believe that he was thinking more of that than of the thing she had told him. She sat tense in her chair, her hands clasped on her knee, unable to think, seeing as in a dream his stooping form before her and his hands pressed into his face.

But David Bruce's thoughts had swiftly turned from the discovery of the unsuspected delusion to the other aspects of the thing he had heard. In a flash he saw that her whole life had been a reaction from the pitiful mistake of her youth. He saw that the years had been one long penance, one determined sacrifice, one everlasting fear of being found out, one long support of the respectabilities, all the more fierce because she had suffered so much from her own failure to observe them.

He saw now why she had so carefully guarded her reserves, why she had been afraid to open out, why she had fought against the insinuating approach of confidences, why she had shut down again and again on discussions that might bring her near to an expression of opinion on moral lapses.

He guessed now that her marriage had been an escape to begin with, and afterwards a cross to be borne, a duty to be observed at any cost. Her early attitude to himself was now explained. It was all as clear to him as daylight.

He realized too, in those first minutes, that she would see this repeating of history with Asia as a Nemesis, an inevitable result of her own action.

And seesawing back and forth in these flashes of review and realization were moments of astonishment that he had not seen it before, and that she had been strong enough to keep it from him.

Because his natural responses were at first judicial it was a few minutes before the facts became emotionalized page 336 in his mind. Then the tragedy of the sacrifice and the waste sickened and enraged him. With a groan he sat up to find Alice's eyes devouring his face uneasily.

Impulsively he threw out his arms to her, and with a look that spread reverence about her like a soft and gracious garment he dropped on his knees, and buried his face in her lap. They sat like that for some time before he raised his face.

“Can you tell me about it, dear?” he asked gently.

“Yes, I can now, David.” Her eyes shone at him.

Getting up again, he put his arms about her. At intervals while she talked his hands closed and relaxed upon her arms, but he said nothing. Though she hardly looked at him, she never for a moment found it difficult to go on with her story.

“I didn't know anything, David—no one had ever told me—my mother was dead. I had lived a lot to myself and I always felt so much, and I read silly romances till I longed for a husband. We were so shut up—my father wouldn't let us see men—and I don't know what was the matter with me, I suppose it was too much sex—but I craved to be engaged and married. I supposed it was wrong and I tried to fight it, but it was no use, and when I was eighteen I met the man. He was older than I—he was thirty—and he was the handsomest man who was ever seen in our town. Oh, it was the same old story, David. I attracted him and that made me infatuated, and when my father forbade him to call we met on the sly. He said we were engaged, and he promised to marry me—and so it happened. Only for two weeks, David, and then I got frightened. And one night he did not come—he went away and never came again. And then—then I found I was going to have a child.”

She moved a little in her chair and went on.

“I nearly died of horror. I don't know now how I went through it. I couldn't commit suicide—I was religious. I felt I had to think of the child—that saved me. I took what page 337 money I had, and came out to Australia. My father did not even say good-bye to me—I never saw him after he found out. One brother helped me, but none of them ever wrote to me. Asia was born in Sydney, and I hadn't a ring or anything, so people guessed. But one woman, good kind soul, bought me a wedding ring and made me widow's clothes, and told me to go to New Zealand as a widow, and never to tell anybody—and to marry, if I got the chance, for the sake of the child.”

As she thought she heard him groan she paused and turned her face, but he was staring ahead, and made no move to look at her.

“It was the wrong done to the child that obsessed me—it nearly drove me mad. I felt I had to save her. I would have told any lies to save her—I knew I was damned anyway—so I came to Christchurch with my piano and hardly any money. I couldn't stand the cold and I wasn't getting on, and one day, I remember every bit of it—it was snowing, and I was two miles from my room, with Asia—I had been in a shop and I lost my purse. I didn't find it out till I got outside. I went back, but no one had seen it. That was the last straw—it had nearly all my money. I just sat down on a chair and cried—you see what a coward I was—I felt I would die, and the child too, that nothing could save us——”

Her voice broke a little, but she recovered it and went on.

“Tom Roland was in that shop, and he saw me and came up. He looked so kind—and somehow I knew he was honest. He offered to lend me money, and he called a cab and took me home. I don't know how it was, but he got part of my story—he dominated me, I was so helpless. He told me he was to be there only a week, and he urged me to come north to Auckland where he knew people. He said he would get me pupils and he left fifty pounds with me—I couldn't stop him. I prayed about it till I was sick, but I couldn't see anything else to do. So I came, and he started me, and then he said he wanted to marry me—he page 338 had never touched me before—I didn't know that he cared——”

She paused again, and sat very still for a while. She felt Bruce's fingers grip into the flesh of her shoulder, but still he said nothing.

“He said he cared, David. He seemed to, but I—I did not love him. I told him I liked him. He said that was enough, that he could make me love him. And I knew he was liked—I knew he was the sort of man that would get on—and there was Asia. Oh, David, and I knew I would never get on—I had belonged to a family that made parasites of its women. No woman in it had ever earned her living. I could not face poverty. I had no commercial sense. I did not know how to manage people. I could not advertise myself—I thought that was vulgar—I could not stand alone. He dominated me, and I thought it was the best thing for the child, so I married him.”

“He took me in good faith—I was the attractive and respectable woman he wanted for his wife. His belief in me made me more afraid than ever. I felt I had to be his slave because I had deceived him—and I did want peace. But there was no peace. I got so little sleep, he was irritable, he hated crying children—and he was so awfully alive. He always dominated me. I grew so afraid of him. I could never manage him—you know how I was—and it was just as bad as it could be when we came here. I did not see how I could live shut up with him—and then you——”

Turning, she saw that his face was set in lines of desperation.

“I saw that you would dominate me too, if I ever let you. It terrified me when I saw that I could love you. I don't know what was the matter with me. I could not stop myself caring. I tried, but I couldn't and I knew if you did anything—I was afraid of myself and I thought he would find out, and kill us, or make scenes. And so I was afraid of you, David, afraid of you——”

As she spoke he sprang out of his chair with a groan. page 339 The cool detachment of her voice had maddened him to the point where he could not hear another word. The tragedy that had long since wreaked its worst upon her and was now only an ache in her memory had become to him, through her quiet telling of it, vivified into a present intolerable wrong. One of his rare sudden rages seized him. Shaking, he strode to his door.

“Hell and damnation! God in heaven, damn you!” The words, ground out, ended in an indescribable sound as he clenched his fists at something out in the night. Then he seemed to crumple up as he put out his hands to hold on to the door.

After a suspensive moment Alice saw what was the matter with him, and her one thought was to minimize it as a cause for suffering.

“Oh, David, it is all over now. It does not matter——”

“It does matter!” he shouted, swinging round. “It will always matter! That ghastly waste! That stupid sacrifice! God! It makes me sick to think of it—sick—sick——” Staggering forward as he spoke, he tumbled on to his bed, and lay face downwards.

Alice got up from her chair, and stood looking uncertainly at him. She had seen him impatient, even angry. She had seen him hurt. But never before had she seen his control really broken. When she saw his body shake and heard something that sounded like a sob she felt miserably helpless.

“Oh, David, don't cry,” she choked, falling on to her knees beside him, and gathering his head into her arms.

But she could not stop him, and there had been nothing in that two weeks of anxiety, fear and impotent anger half so disrupting to her as his terrible sobbing, for he cried like a beaten man. It was hard for her to understand that he suffered more in the sorrows of others than he did in his own, that he hated cruelty and injustice in the abstract as most people hate insults and injuries to themselves. She could not understand why her story had moved him so. page 340 He had known her life at the bay, she thought, and she had managed to live, often comfortably for periods in which she had gathered strength to go on. It had not all been intolerable, or she could never have lived.

She knew as well as he did that her life had been a sacrifice and a waste, but she had known it for so long that the thought of it had ceased to rouse in her more than a dull despair. Lately she had sought to forget it, to shut it out of her consciousness, and she had succeeded even better than she had hoped until the present blow had revived it all for her. But even then, and in the telling of it, it had seemed more like a dream than a reality.

Stupidly at first she tried to comfort Bruce, and then seeing that she could not, she broke down herself. They cried together like two heart-broken children, till, recovering himself, he drew himself up on his bunk, pulled her beside him, and sat still with his arms about her.

For some time they did not attempt to speak. Suffering a physical reaction, he did not even try to think. When, at last she turned to him, ready to talk, she woke him out of his rare apathy.

“Don't think about it any more, David. It's all over now. It doesn't hurt me now.”

He stared stupidly at her, realizing she was trying to comfort him.

“You see now why I feel about Asia,” she went on in a low voice.

He roused himself.

“Oh, my dear, don't talk about them any more to-night. Let them alone. Let them alone. I can't talk about them, or anything.”

His head dropped upon her shoulder as if he were a tired child.

She soon realized her own weariness as she sat half propping him, watching moths crowd about his lamp. Mechanically she followed the agitated circles of one much larger than the rest till it dashed itself against the globe and fell page 341 blistered and maimed upon the table, where it plunged up and down in tortured throes.

The sound of its thuds attracted Bruce's attention. He could not bear the sight of its frantic agony. He got up and crushed it under his ash tray.

The action helped him. When he turned to Alice he saw her for the first time for half an hour. Something in his eyes as he looked down at her brought her to her feet. They stood for a minute looking at each other. Then he threw out his arms and drew her against him, and began to kiss her as he had not dared to kiss her for a long time. Although he did it quietly and deliberately something about it arrested her.

In his own time he stood away from her, and she saw how utterly worn out he looked.

“I'd better go home, David.”

“Yes.” He saw how white she was. “We can't talk any more to-night.”

But there was something she felt she must say.

“David, I wish now I'd told you, but I did want you to go on loving me, and I was afraid. I couldn't be sure—there are so few people like you—and it makes no difference?”

As if to be doubly sure she searched his eyes again.

“No difference whatever,” he answered gently.

The peace of that certainty was the peace of absolution.

It was not till they were out upon the path that she remembered how much the night had revealed.

As if he saw he spoke about it.

“Don't do anything, about Asia, I mean, till you've seen me again, will you?” he asked.

“All right, David.”

At the front gate he put his arms round her again.

“I can't tell you what I feel about it—your story. I could never speak calmly about it. God! it won't bear thinking about—I've got to forget it. Good night. I'll be here all day to-morrow; I'll see you in the evening. Think about page 342 what I said, about Asia and Ross—because your life was spoiled you don't have to spoil theirs. Good night.”

Kissing her on the forehead, he turned away at once and stumbled homewards.