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III The Heart Of Man Anna Katharine Green

XXVII The Image Of Dread

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Had he loved her, he would have perceived the chill which shook her whole body, as he spoke. But his first thought, his penetrating thought, was not for her and he saw only the answering glance, the patient smile. She had not expected him to see more. She knew that she was quite safe from the divining look; otherwise, he would have known her secret long ago.

"I'm ready," said she. But she did not lay down her bundle. She was not ready for her task, poor child. She quailed before it. She quailed so much that she feared to stir lest he should see that she had no command over her movements.

The man who watched without seeing wondered that she stood so still and spoke so briefly. But only for a moment. He thought he understood her hesitation, and a look of great earnestness replaced his former one of grave decision.

"I know that in doing this I am going beyond my sacred compact with Miss Challoner," he said. "I never thought of illness, - at least, of illness on my part. I never dreamt that I, always so well, always so full of life, could know such feebleness as this, feebleness which is all of the body, Doris, leaving the mind free to dream and long. Talk of her, child. Tell me all over again just how she looked and spoke that day you saw her in New York."

"Would it not be better for me to write my letter first? Papa will be coming soon and Truda can never cook your bird as you like it."

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Surprised now by something not quite natural in her manner, he caught at her hand and held her as she was moving away.

"You are tired," said he. "I've wearied you with my commission and complaints. Forgive me, dear child, and -"

"You are mistaken," she interrupted softly. "I am not tired; I only wished to do the important thing first. Shall I get my desk? Do you really wish me to write?"

"Yes," said he, softly dropping her hand. "I wish you to write. It will ensure me good sleep, and sleep will make me strong. A few words, Doris; just a few words."

She nodded; turning quickly away to hide her tears. His smile had gone to her very soul. It was always a beautiful one, his chief personal attraction, but at this moment it seemed to concentrate within it the unspoken fervours and the boundless expectations of a great love, and she who was the aim and cause of all this sweetness lay in unresponsive silence in a distant tomb!

But Doris' own smile was not lacking in encouragement and beauty when she came back a few minutes later and sat down by his side to write. His melted before it, leaving his eyes very earnest as he watched her bending figure and the hard-worked little hand at its unaccustomed task.

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