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The Two Destinies

21. She Comes Between Us
WHAT emotion had I thoughtlessly aroused in Miss Dunross? Had I offended or
distressed her? Or had I, without meaning it, forced on her inner knowledge some deeply
seated feeling which she had thus far resolutely ignored?
I looked back through the days of my sojourn in the house; I questioned my own feelings
and impressions, on the chance that they might serve me as a means of solving the
mystery of her sudden flight from the room.
What effect had she produced on me?
In plain truth, she had simply taken her place in my mind, to the exclusion of every other
person and every other subject. In ten days she had taken a hold on my sympathies of
which other women would have failed to possess themselves in so many years. I
remembered, to my shame, that my mother had but seldom occupied my thoughts. Even
the image of Mrs. Van Brandt--except when the conversation had turned on her--had
become a faint image in my mind! As to my friends at Lerwick, from Sir James
downward, they had all kindly come to see me--and I had secretly and ungratefully
rejoiced when their departure left the scene free for the return of my nurse. In two days
more the Government vessel was to sail on the return voyage. My wrist was still painful
when I tried to use it; but the far more serious injury presented by the re-opened wound
was no longer a subject of anxiety to myself or to any one about me. I was sufficiently
restored to be capable of making the journey to Lerwick, if I rested for one night at a
farm half-way between the town and Mr. Dunross's house. Knowing this, I had
nevertheless left the question of rejoining the vessel undecided to the very latest moment.
The motive which I pleaded to my friends was--uncertainty as to the sufficient recovery
of my strength. The motive which I now confessed to myself was reluctance to leave
Miss Dunross.
What was the secret of her power over me? What emotion, what passion, had she
awakened in me? Was it love?
No: not love. The place which Mary had once held in my heart, the place which Mrs. Van
Brandt had taken in the after-time, was not the place occupied by Miss Dunross. How
could I (in the ordinary sense of the word) be in love with a woman whose face I had
never seen? whose beauty had faded, never to bloom again? whose wasted life hung by a
thread which the accident of a moment might snap? The senses have their share in all
love between the sexes which is worthy of the name. They had no share in the feeling
with which I regarded Miss Dunross. What was the feeling, then? I can only answer the
question in one way. The feeling lay too deep in me for my sounding.
What impression had I produced on her? What sensitive chord had I ignorantly touched,
when my lips touched her hand?
 
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