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"Indeed I couldn't,” she whispered, letting her hand lie passive in his tight grasp. "I only wish I could give you something more, or better, or whatever it is you want."
He was touched by the sincere accent of these simple words.
“I tell you what you can do you can tell me whether you would have gone with me like this if you had known of whom that abominable idiot of a hotelkeeper was speaking. A murderer—no less!"
“But I didn't know you at all then," she cried. "And I had the sense to understand what he was saying. It wasn't murder. I never thought it was.”
"What made him invent such an atrocity?" Heyst exclaimed. “He seems a stupid animal. He is stupid. How did he manage to hatch that pretty tale ? Have I a particularly vile countenance ? Is black selfishness written all over my face ? Or is that sort of thing so universally human that it might be said of anybody ?"
"It wasn't murder,” she insisted earnestly.
As to killing a man, which would be a comparatively decent thing to do, well—I have never done that.”
“Why should you do it ?" she asked in a frightened voice.
“My dear girl, you don't know the sort of life I
have been leading in unexplored countries, in the wilds; it's difficult to give you an idea. There are men who haven't been in such tight places as I have found myself in who have had to—to shed blood, as the saying is. Even the wilds hold prizes which tempt some people; but I had no schemes, no plans —and not even great firmness of mind to make me unduly obstinate. I was simply moving on, while the others, perhaps, were going somewhere. An indifference as to roads and purposes makes one meeker, as it were. And I may say truly, too, that I never did care, I won't say for life I had scorned what people call by that name from the first—but for being alive. I don't know if that is what men call courage, but I doubt it
much.” "You! You have no courage ?" she protested.
“I really don't know. Not the sort that always itches for a weapon, for I have never been anxious to use one in the quarrels that a man gets into in the most innocent way, sometimes. The indifferences for which men murder each other are, like everything else they do, the most contemptible, the most pitiful things to look back upon. No, I've never killed a man or loved a woman-not even in my thoughts, not even in my dreams."
He raised her hand to his lips, and let them rest on it for a space, during which she moved a little
closer to him. After the lingering kiss he did not relinquish his hold.
“To slay, to love—the greatest enterprises of life upon a man! And I have no experience of either. You must forgive me anything that may have appeared to you awkward in my behaviour, inexpressive in my speeches, untimely in my silences.”
He moved uneasily, a little disappointed by her attitude, but indulgent to it, and feeling, in this moment of perfect quietness, that in holding her surrendered hand he had found a closer communion than they had ever achieved before. But even then there still lingered in him a sense of incompleteness not altogether overcome—which, it seemed, nothing ever would overcome the fatal imperfection of all the gifts of life, which makes of them a delusion and a
All of a sudden he squeezed her hand angrily. His delicately playful equanimity, the product of kindness and scorn, had perished with the loss of his bitter liberty.
“Not murder, you say! I should think not. But when
you led me to talk just now, when the name turned up, when you understood that it was of me that these things had been said, you showed a strange emotion. I could see it."
“I was a bit startled,” she said.
“At the baseness of my conduct ?” he asked.
“It would be as if I dared to judge everything that there is.” With her other hand she made a gesture that seemed to embrace in one movement the earth and the heaven. “I wouldn't do such a thing.”
Then came a silence, broken at last by Heyst:
"I! I! do a deadly wrong to my poor Morrison!" he cried. “I, who could not bear to hurt his feelings! I, who respected his very madness! Yes, this madness, the wreck of which you can see lying about the jetty of Diamond Bay. What else could I do? He insisted on regarding me as his saviour; he was always restraining the eternal obligation on the tip of his tongue, till I was burning with shame at his gratitude. What could I do? He was going to repay me with this infernal coal, and I had to join him as one joins a child's game in a nursery. One would no more have thought of humiliating him than one would think of humiliating a child. What's the use of talking of all this ! Of course, the people here could not understand the truth of our relation to each other. But what business of theirs was it ? Kill old Morrison! Well, it is less criminal, less base—I am not saying it is less difficult—to kill a man than to cheat him in that way. You understand that ?"
She nodded slightly, but more than once and with evident conviction. His eyes rested on her, inquisitive, ready for tenderness.
“But it was neither one nor the other,” he went on. “Then, why your emotion ? All you confess is that you wouldn't judge me.”
She turned upon him her veiled, unseeing grey eyes in which nothing of her wonder could be read.
"I said I couldn't," she whispered.
“But you thought that there was no smoke without fire!" The playfulness of tone hardly concealed his irritation. “What power there must be in words, only imperfectly heard—for you did not listen with particular care, did you? What were they? What evil effort of invention drove them into that idiot's mouth out of his lying throat ? If you were to try to remember, they would perhaps convince me, too."
"I didn't listen,” she protested. “What was it to me what they said of anybody ? He was saying that there never were such loving friends to look at as you two; then, when you got all you wanted out of him and got thoroughly tired of him, too, you kicked him out to go home and die.”
Indignation, with an undercurrent of some other feeling, rang in these quoted words, uttered in her enchanting voice. She ceased abruptly and lowered her dark lashes, as if mortally weary, sick at heart.