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secrecy, to Mrs. Bayford. In her hands it was like invested capital,
adding to itself, while he did nothing at all. Months of insinuation on
his part would have failed to achieve the result that she brought about
in a few days' time, with no more effort than a rose makes in shedding
perfume.

Before Derek had been able to recover from the feeling of having passed
through a strange waking dream, before Dorothea and he had resumed the
ordinary tenor of their life together, before he had seen Diane again,
he was given to understand that the little scene on Bienville's arrival
at the Bay Tree Inn was familiar matter in the offices, banks, and clubs
he most frequented. The intelligence was conveyed by a score of trivial
signs, suggestive, satirical, or over-familiar, which he would not have
perceived in days gone by, but to which he had grown sensitive. It was
clear that the story gained piquancy from its contrast with the
staidness of his life; and his most intimate friends permitted
themselves a little covert "chaff" with him on the event. He was not of
a nature to resent this raillery on his own account; it was serious to
him only because it touched Diane.

For her the matter was so grave that he exhausted his ingenuity in
devising means for her protection. He refrained from even seeing her
until he could go with some ultimatum before which she should be obliged
to yield. An unsuccessful appeal to her, he judged, would be worse than
none at all; and until he discovered arguments which she could not
controvert he decided to hold his peace.

Action of some sort became imperative when he found that Miss Lucilla
Van Tromp had heard the story and drawn from it what seemed to her the
obvious conclusion.

"I should never have believed it," she declared, tearfully, "if you
hadn't admitted it yourself. I told Mrs. Bayford that nothing but your
own words would convince me that any such scene had taken place."

"Allowing that it did, isn't it conceivable that it might have had an
honorable motive?"

"Then, what is it? If you could tell me that - "

"I could tell you easily enough if there weren't other considerations
involved. I should think that in the circumstances you could trust me."

"Nobody else does, Derek."

"Whom do you mean by nobody else? - Mrs. Bayford?"

"Oh, she's not the only one. If your men friends don't believe in you - "

"They believe in me, all right; don't you worry about that."

"They may believe in you as men believe in one another; but it isn't the
way I believe in people."

"I know how you believe in people if ill-natured women would let you
alone. You wouldn't mistrust a thief if you saw him stealing your watch
from your pocket."

"That's not true, Derek. I can be as suspicious as any one when I like."

"But don't you see that your suspicion doesn't only light, on me? It
strikes Diane."

"That's just it."

"Lucilla! he cried, reproachfully.

"Well, Derek, you know how loyal I've been to her. It's been harder,
too, than you've ever been aware of; for I haven't told you - I
_wouldn't_ tell you - one-half the things that people have hinted to me
during the past two years."

"Yes; but who? A lot of jealous women - "

"It's no use saying that, Derek; because your own actions contradict
you. Why did Diane leave your house, if it wasn't that you believed - ?"

"Don't." He raised his hand to his face, as if protecting himself from a
blow.

"I wouldn't," she cried, "if you didn't make me. I say it only in
self-defence. After all, you can only accuse me of what you've done
yourself. Diane made me think at first that you had misjudged her; but I
see now that if she had been a good woman you wouldn't have sent her
away."

"I didn't send her away. She went."

"Yes, Derek; but why?"

"That has nothing to do with the question under discussion."

"On the contrary, it has everything to do with it. It all belongs
together. I've loved Diane, and defended her; but I've come to the point
where I can't do it any longer. After what's happened - "

"But, I tell you, what's happened is nothing! If it was only right for
me to explain it to you, as I shall explain it to you some day, you'd
find you owed her a debt that you never could repay."

"Very well! I won't dispute it. It still doesn't affect the main point
at issue. Can you yourself, Derek, honestly and truthfully affirm that
you look upon Diane as a good woman, in the sense that is usually
attached to the words?"

"I can honestly and truthfully affirm that I look upon her as one of the
best women in the world."

"That isn't the point. Louise de la Vallière became one of the best
women in the world; but there are some other things that might be said
of her. But I'll not argue; I'll not insist. Since you think I'm wrong,
I'll take your own word for it, Derek. Just tell me once, tell me
without quibble and on your honor as my cousin and a gentleman, that you
believe Diane to be - what I've supposed her to be hitherto, and what you
know very well I mean, and I'll not doubt it further."

For a moment he stood speechless, trying to formulate the lie he could
utter most boldly, until he was struck with the double thought that to
defend Diane's honor with a falsehood would be to defame it further,
while a lie to this pure, trusting, virginal spirit would be a crime.

"Tell me, Derek," she insisted; "tell me, and I'll believe you."

He retreated a pace or two, as if trying to get out of her presence.

"I'm listening, Derek; go on; I'm willing to take your word."

"Then I repeat," he said, weakly, "that I believe her, I _know_ her, to
be one of the best women in the world."

"Like Louise de la Vallière?"

"Yes," he shouted, maddened to the retort, "like Louise de la Vallière!
And what then?" He stood as if demanding a reply. "Nothing. I have no
more to say."

"Then I have; and I'll ask you to listen." He drew near to her again and
spoke slowly. "There were doubtless many good women in Jerusalem in the
time of Herod and Pilate and Christ; but not the least held in honor
among us to-day is - the Magdalen. That's one thing; and here's something
more. There is joy, so we are told, in the presence of the angels of
God - plenty of it, let us hope! - but it isn't over the ninety-and-nine
just persons who need no repentance, so much as over the one poor,
deserted, lonely sinner that repenteth - that repenteth, Lucilla, do you
hear?-and you know whom I mean."

With this as his confession of faith he left her, to go in search of
Diane. He had formed the ultimatum before which, as he believed, she
should find herself obliged to surrender.

It was a day on which Diane's mood was one of comparative peace. She was
engrossed in an occupation which at once soothed her spirits and
appealed to her taste. Madame Cauchat, the land-lady, bewailing the
continued illness of her lingère, Diane had begged to be allowed to take
charge of the linen-room of the hotel, not merely as a means of earning
a living, but because she delighted in such work. Methodical in her
habits and nimble with her needle, the neatness, smoothness, and purity
of piles of white damask stirred all those house-wifely, home-keeping
instincts which are so large a part of every Frenchwoman's nature. Her
fingers busy with the quiet, delicate task of mending, her mind could
dwell with the greater content on such subjects as she had for
satisfaction.

They were more numerous than they had been for a long time past. The
meeting at Lakefield had changed her mental attitude toward Derek Pruyn,
taking a large part of the pain out of her thoughts of him, as well as
out of his thoughts of her. She had avoided seeing him after that one
night, and she had heard nothing from him since; but she knew it was
impossible for him to go on thinking of her altogether harshly. She had
been useful to him; she had saved Dorothea from a great mistake; she had
done it in such a way that no hint of the escapade was likely to become
known outside of the few who had taken part in it; she had put herself
in a relation toward him which, as a final one, was much to be preferred
to that which had existed before. She could therefore pass out of his
life more satisfied than she had dared hope to be with the effect that
she had had upon it. As she stitched she sighed to herself with a
certain comfort, when, glancing up, she saw him standing at the door.
The nature of her thoughts, coupled with his sudden appearance, drew to
her lips a quiet smile.

"They shouldn't have shown you in here," she protested, gently, letting
her work fall to her lap, but not rising from her place.

"I insisted," he explained, briefly, from the threshold.

"You can come in," she smiled, as he continued to stand in the doorway.
"You can even sit down." She pointed to a chair, not far from her own,
going on again with her stitching, so as to avoid the necessity for
further greeting. "I suppose you wonder what I'm doing," she pursued,
when he had seated himself.

"I'm not wondering at that so much as whether you ought to be doing it."

"I can relieve your mind on that score. It's a case, too, in which duty
and pleasure jump together; for the delight of handling beautiful linen
is like nothing else in the world."

"It seems to me like servants' work," he said, bluntly.

"Possibly; but I can do servants' work at a pinch - especially when I
like it."

"I don't," he declared.

"But then you don't have to do it."

"I mean that I don't like it for you."

"Even so, you wouldn't forbid my doing it, would you?"

"I wish I had the right to. I've come here this afternoon to ask you
again if you won't give it to me."

For a few minutes she stitched in silence. When she spoke it was without
stopping her work or lifting her head.

"I'm sorry that you should raise that question again. I thought it was
settled."

"Supposing it was, it can be reopened - if there's a reason."

"But there is none."

"That's all you know about it. There's a very important reason."

"Since - when?"

"Since Lakefield."

"Do you mean anything that Monsieur de Bienville may have said?"

"I do."

"That wouldn't be a reason - for me."

"But you don't know - "

"I can imagine. Monsieur de Bienville has already done me all the harm
he can. It's beyond his power to hurt me any more."

"But, Diane, you don't know what you're saying. You don't know what he's
doing. He's - he's - I hardly know how to put it - He's destroying your
reputation."

She glanced up with a smile, ceasing for an instant to sew.

"You mean, he's destroying what's left of it. Well, he's welcome! There
was so little of it - "

"For God's sake, Diane, don't say that; it breaks my heart. You must
consider the position that you put me in. After you've rendered me one
the greatest services one person can do another, do you think I can sit
quietly by while you are being robbed of the dearest thing in life, just
because you did it?"

"I should be sorry to think the opinion other people hold of me to be
the dearest thing in life; but, even if it were, I'd willingly give it
up for - Dorothea."

"It isn't for Dorothea; it's for me."

"Well, wouldn't you let me do it - for you? I'm not of much use in the
world, but it would make me a little happier to think I could do any one
a good turn without being promised a reward."

"A reward! Oh, Diane!"

"It's what you're offering me, isn't it? If it hadn't been for - for - the
great service you speak about, you wouldn't he here, asking me again to
be your wife."

"That's your way of putting it, but I'll put it in mine. If it hadn't
been for the magnitude of the sacrifice you're willing to make for me, I
shouldn't have dared to hope that you loved me. When all pretexts and
secondary causes have been considered and thrust aside, that's why I'm
here, and for no other reason whatever. If you love me," he continued,
"why should you hesitate any longer? If you love me, why seek for
reasons to justify the simple prompting of your heart? What have you and
I got to do with other people's opinions? When there's a plain,
straightforward course before us, why not go right on and follow it?"

She raised her eyes for one brief glance.

"You forget."

The words were spoken quietly, but they startled him.

"Yes, Diane; I do forget. Rather, there's nothing left for me to
remember. I know what you'd have me recall. I'll speak of it this once
more, to be silent on the subject forever. I want you to forgive me. I
want to tell you that I, too, have repented."

"Repented of what?"

"Of the wrong I've done you. I believe your soul to be as white as all
this whiteness around you."

"Then," she continued, questioning gently, "you've changed your point of
view during the last six months?"

"I have. You charged me then with being willing to come down to your
level; now I'm asking you to let me climb up to it. I see that I was a
self-righteous Pharisee, and that the true man is he who can smite his
breast and say, God be merciful to me a sinner!"

"A sinner - like me."

"I don't want to be led into further explanations," he said, suddenly on
his guard against her insinuations. "You and I have said too much to
each other not to be able to be frank. Now, I've been frank enough.
You've understood what I've felt at other times; you understand what I
feel to-day. Why draw me out, to make me speak more plainly?"

"I am not drawing you out," she declared. "If I ask you a question or
two, it was to show you that not even the woman that you take me
for - not even the forgiven penitent - could be a good wife for you. I
can't marry you, Mr. Pruyn. I must beg you to let that answer be
decisive."

There was decision in the way in which she folded her work and smoothed
the white brocaded surface in her lap. There was decision, too, in the
quickness with which he rose and stood looking down at her. For a second
she expected him to turn from her, as he had turned once before, and
leave her with no explanation beyond a few laconic words. She held her
breath while she awaited them.

"Then that means," he said, at last, "that you put me in the position of
taking all, while you give all."

"I don't put you in any position whatever. The circumstances are not of
my making. They are as much beyond my control as they are beyond yours."

"They're not wholly beyond mine. If there are some things I can't do,
there are some I can prevent."

"What things?"

His tone alarmed her, and she struggled to her feet.

"You're willing to make me a great sacrifice; but at least I can refuse
to accept it."

"What do you mean?" She moved slightly back from him, behind the
protection of one of the tables piled breast-high with its white load.

"You're willing to lose for me the last vestige of your good name - "

"I don't care anything about that," she said, hurriedly.

"But I do. I won't let you."

"How can you stop me?" she asked, staring at him with large, frightened
eyes.

"I shall tell Dorothea's part in the story."

"You'd - ?" she began, with a questioning cry.

"All who care to hear it, shall. They shall know it from its beginning
to its end. They shall lose no detail of her folly or of your wisdom."

"You would sacrifice your child like that?"

"Yes, like that. Neither she nor I can remain so indebted to any one, as
you would have us be to you."

"You - wouldn't - be - indebted - to - me?"

"Not to so terrible an extent. If it's a choice between your good name
and hers - hers must go. She'd agree with me herself. She wouldn't
hesitate for one single fraction of an instant - if she knew. She'd be
grateful to you, as I am; but she couldn't profit by your magnanimity."

"So that the alternative you offer me is this: I can protect myself by
sacrificing Dorothea, or I can marry you, and Dorothea will be saved."

"I shouldn't express it in just those words, but it's something like
it."

"Then I'll marry you. You give me a choice of evils, and I take the
least."

"Oh! Then to marry me would be - an evil?"

"What else do you make it? You'll admit that it's a little difficult to
keep pace with you. You come to me one day accusing me of sin, and on
another announcing my contrition, while on the third you may be in some
entirely different mood about me."

"You can easily render me ridiculous. That's due to my awkwardness of
expression and not to anything wrong in the way I feel."

"Oh, but isn't it out of the heart that the mouth speaketh? I think so.
You've advanced some excellent reasons why I should become your wife,
and I can see that you're quite capable of believing them. At one time
it was because I needed a home, at another because I needed protection,
while to-day, I understand, it is because I love you."

"Is this fair?"

"I dare say you think it isn't; but then you haven't been tried and
judged half a dozen times, unheard, as I've been. I'll confess that
you've shown the most wonderful ingenuity in trying to get me into a
position where I should be obliged to marry you, whether I would or not;
and now you've succeeded. Whether the game is worth the candle or not is
for you to judge; my part is limited to saying that you've won. I'm
ready to marry you as soon as you tell me when."

"To save Dorothea?"

"To save Dorothea."

"And for no other reason?"

"For no other reason."

"Then, of course, I can't keep you to your word."

"You can't release me from it except on one condition."

"Which is - ?"

"That Dorothea's secret shall be kept."

"I must use my own judgment about that."

"On the contrary, you must use mine. You've made me a proposal which I'm
ready to accept. As a man of honor you must hold to it - or be silent."

"Possibly," he admitted, on reflection. "I shall have to think it over.
But in that case we'd be just where we were - "

"Yes; just where we were."

"And you'd be without help or protection. That's the thought I can't
endure, Diane. Try to be just to me. If I make mistakes, if I flounder
about, if I say things that offend you, it's because I can't rest while
you're exposed to danger. Alone, as you are, in this great city,
surrounded by people who are not your friends, a prey to criticism and
misapprehension, when it is no worse, it's as if I saw you flung into
the arena among the beasts. Can you wonder that I want to stand by you?
Can you be surprised if I demand the privilege of clasping you in my
arms and saying to the world, This is my wife? When Christian women were
thrown to the lions there was once a heathen husband who leaped into the
ring, to die at his wife's side, because he could do no more. That's my
impulse - only I could save you from the lions. I couldn't protect you
against everything, perhaps, but I could against the worst. I know I'm
stupid; I know I'm dull. When I come near you, I'm like the clown who
touches some exquisite tissue, spun of azure; but I'm like the clown who
would fight for his treasure, and defend it from sacrilegious hands, and
spend his last drop of blood to keep it pure. It's to be put in a
position where I can't do that that I find hard. It's to see you so
defenceless - "

"But I'm not defenceless."

"Why not? Whom have you? Nobody - nobody in this world but me."

"Oh yes, I have."

"Who?"

She smiled faintly at the fierceness of his brief question.

"It's no one to whom you need feel any opposition, even though it's some
one who can do for me what you cannot."

"What I cannot?"

"What you cannot; what no man can. _Asperges me hyssopo, et mundabor_.
Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean. Derek, He has
purged me with hyssop, even though it has not been in the way you think.
With the hyssop of what I've had to suffer He has purged me from so many
things that now I see I can safely commit my cause to Him."

"So that you don't need me?"

She looked at him in silence before she replied:

"Not for defence."

"Nor for anything else?"

She tried to speak, but her voice failed her.

"Nor for anything else?" he asked again.

Her voice was faint, her head sank, her body trembled, but she forced
the one word, "No."




XXIII


"Mademoiselle has sent for me?" Bienville kissed the hand that Miss
Grimston, without rising from her comfortable chair before the fire,
lifted toward him. The hand-screen with which she shielded her face
protected her not only from the blaze, but from his scrutiny. In the
same way, the winter gloaming, with its uncertain light, nerved her
against her fear of self-betrayal, giving her that assurance of being
mistress of herself which she lacked when he was near.

"I did send for you. I wanted to see you. Won't you sit down?"

"I've been expecting the summons," he said, significantly, taking the
seat on the other side of the hearth.

"Indeed? Why?"

"I thought the day would come when you would be more just to me."

"You thought I'd - hear things?"

"Perhaps."

"I have. That's why I asked you to come."

During the brief silence before she spoke again he was able to
congratulate himself on his diplomacy. He had checked his first impulse
to come to her with his great news immediately on his return from
Lakefield. He had seen how relatively ineffective the information would
be were it to proceed bluntly from himself. He had even restrained Mrs.
Bayford's enthusiasm, in order to let the intelligence filter gently
through the neutral agencies of common gossip. In this way it would seem
to Miss Grimston a discovery of her own, and appeal to her as an
indirect corroboration of his word. He had the less scruple in taking
these precautions in that he believed Diane to have justified anything
he might have said of her. It was no small relief to a man of honor to
know he had not been guilty of a gratuitous slander, even though it was
only on a woman. He awaited Miss Grimston's next words with complacent
expectancy, but when they came they surprised him.

"I wondered a little why you should have been at Lakefield."

"I'm afraid you'll think it was for a very foolish reason," he laughed,
"but I'll tell you, if you want to know. I went because I thought you
were there."

"I? At three o'clock in the morning?"

"It was like this," he went on. "You'll pardon me if I say anything to
give you offence, but you'll understand the reason why. On the day when
we all lunched together at the Restaurant Blitz - you, Madame your aunt,
your friend Monsieur Reggie Bradford, and I - I was a little jealous of
some understanding between you two, in which I was not included. You
spoke together in whispers, and exchanged glances in such a way that all
my fears were aroused. Afterward you went away with him. That evening,
at the Stuyvesant Club, I heard a strange rumor. It was whispered from
one to another until it reached me. Your friend Monsieur Bradford is not
a silent person, and what he knows is sure to become common property.
The rumor - which I grant you was an absurd one - was to the effect that
he had persuaded you to run away and marry him; and that you had
actually been seen on the way to Lakefield in his car."

"I was in his car. That's quite true."

"Ah? Then there was some foundation for the report. Madame your aunt
will have told you how I hurried here, about eleven o'clock that night.
You had disappeared, leaving nothing behind but an enigmatic note saying
you would explain your absence in the morning. What was I to think,
Mademoiselle? I was afraid to think. I didn't stop to think. I
determined to follow you. It was too late for any train, so I took an
auto. I reached the Bay Tree Inn - and saw what I saw. _Voilà_!"

A smile of amusement flickered over her grave features, but she made no
remark.

"If I was guilty of an indiscretion in following you, Mademoiselle," he
pursued, "it was because of my great love for you. If you had chosen to
marry some one else, I couldn't have kept you from it; but at least I
was determined to try. Though I thought it incredible that you should
take a step like that, in secrecy and flight, yet I find so many strange
ways of marrying in America that I must be pardoned for my fear. As it
is, I cannot regret it, since, by a miracle, it gave me proof of that
which you have found it so difficult to believe. It has grieved me more
than I could ever make you understand to know that during all these
months you have doubted me."

"I'm sure of that," she said, softly, gazing into the fire. "But haven't
you wondered where I was that night when you followed me to Lakefield?"

"If I have, I shouldn't presume to inquire."

"It's a secret; but I should like to tell it to you. I know you'll guard


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