The Altar of the Dead HTML version

Chapter 8
He had ruthlessly abandoned her--that of course was what he had done.
Stransom made it all out in solitude, at leisure, fitting the unmatched pieces
gradually together and dealing one by one with a hundred obscure points. She
had known Hague only after her present friend's relations with him had wholly
terminated; obviously indeed a good while after; and it was natural enough that of
his previous life she should have ascertained only what he had judged good to
communicate. There were passages it was quite conceivable that even in
moments of the tenderest expansion he should have withheld. Of many facts in
the career of a man so in the eye of the world there was of course a common
knowledge; but this lady lived apart from public affairs, and the only time perfectly
clear to her would have been the time following the dawn of her own drama. A
man in her place would have "looked up" the past--would even have consulted
old newspapers. It remained remarkable indeed that in her long contact with the
partner of her retrospect no accident had lighted a train; but there was no arguing
about that; the accident had in fact come: it had simply been that security had
prevailed. She had taken what Hague had given her, and her blankness in
respect of his other connexions was only a touch in the picture of that plasticity
Stransom had supreme reason to know so great a master could have been
trusted to produce.
This picture was for a while all our friend saw: he caught his breath again and
again as it came over him that the woman with whom he had had for years so
fine a point of contact was a woman whom Acton Hague, of all men in the world,
had more or less fashioned. Such as she sat there to-day she was ineffaceably
stamped with him. Beneficent, blameless as Stransom held her, he couldn't rid
himself of the sense that he had been, as who should say, swindled. She had
imposed upon him hugely, though she had known it as little as he. All this later
past came back to him as a time grotesquely misspent. Such at least were his
first reflexions; after a while he found himself more divided and only, as the end
of it, more troubled. He imagined, recalled, reconstituted, figured out for himself
the truth she had refused to give him; the effect of which was to make her seem
to him only more saturated with her fate. He felt her spirit, through the whole
strangeness, finer than his own to the very degree in which she might have been,
in which she certainly had been, more wronged. A women, when wronged, was
always more wronged than a man, and there were conditions when the least she
could have got off with was more than the most he could have to bear. He was
sure this rare creature wouldn't have got off with the least. He was awestruck at
the thought of such a surrender--such a prostration. Moulded indeed she had
been by powerful hands, to have converted her injury into an exaltation so
sublime. The fellow had only had to die for everything that was ugly in him to be
washed out in a torrent. It was vain to try to guess what had taken place, but
nothing could be clearer than that she had ended by accusing herself. She
absolved him at every point, she adored her very wounds. The passion by which
he had profited had rushed back after its ebb, and now the tide of tenderness,