Hilda took a quick, soft breath. She looked at his heavy shoulders and big,
determined head, thrust forward like a catapult in leash.
"What about us, Bartley?" she asked in a thin voice.
He locked and unlocked his hands over the grate and spread his fingers close to
the bluish flame, while the coals crackled and the clock ticked and a street
vendor began to call under the window. At last Alexander brought out one word:--
Hilda was pale by this time, and her eyes were wide with fright. She looked about
desperately from Bartley to the door, then to the windows, and back again to
Bartley. She rose uncertainly, touched his hair with her hand, then sank back
upon her stool.
"I'll do anything you wish me to, Bartley," she said tremulously. "I can't stand
seeing you miserable."
"I can't live with myself any longer," he answered roughly.
He rose and pushed the chair behind him and began to walk miserably about the
room, seeming to find it too small for him. He pulled up a window as if the air
Hilda watched him from her corner, trembling and scarcely breathing, dark
shadows growing about her eyes.
"It . . . it hasn't always made you miserable, has it?" Her eyelids fell and her lips
"Always. But it's worse now. It's unbearable. It tortures me every minute."
"But why NOW?" she asked piteously, wringing her hands.
He ignored her question. "I am not a man who can live two lives," he went on
feverishly. "Each life spoils the other. I get nothing but misery out of either. The
world is all there, just as it used to be, but I can't get at it any more. There is this
deception between me and everything."
At that word "deception," spoken with such self-contempt, the color flashed back
into Hilda's face as suddenly as if she had been struck by a whiplash. She bit her
lip and looked down at her hands, which were clasped tightly in front of her.
"Could you--could you sit down and talk about it quietly, Bartley, as if I were a
friend, and not some one who had to be defied?"