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III The Heart Of Man Anna Katharine Green


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Oswald had heard nothing, seen nothing. But he took note of Doris' silence, and turning towards her in frenzy saw what had happened, and so was in a measure prepared for the stern, short sentence which now rang through the room:

"Wait, Miss Scott! you tell the story badly. Let him listen to me. >From my mouth only shall he hear the stern and seemingly unnatural part I played in this family tragedy."

The face of Oswald hardened. Those pliant features - beloved for their gracious kindliness - set themselves in lines which altered them almost beyond recognition; but his voice was not without some of its natural sweetness, as, after a long and hollow look at the other's composed countenance, he abruptly exclaimed:

"Speak! I am bound to listen; you are my brother."

Orlando turned towards Doris. She was slipping away.

"Don't go," said he.

But she was gone.

Slowly he turned back.

Oswald raised his hand and checked the words with which he would have begun his story.

"Never mind the beginnings," said he. "Doris has told all that. You saw Miss Challoner in Lenox - admired her - offered yourself to her and afterwards wrote her a threatening letter because she rejected you."

"It is true. Other men have followed just such unworthy impulses - and been ashamed and sorry afterwards. I was sorry and I was ashamed, and as soon as my first anger was over went to tell her so. But she mistook my purpose and -"

"And what?"

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Orlando hesitated. Even his iron nature trembled before the misery he saw - a misery he was destined to augment rather than soothe. With pains altogether out of keeping with his character, he sought in the recesses of his darkened mind for words less bitter and less abrupt than those which sprang involuntarily to his lips. But he did not find them. Though he pitied his brother and wished to show that he did, nothing but the stern language suitable to the stern fact he wished to impart, would leave his lips.

"And ended the pitiful struggle of the moment with one quick, unpremeditated blow," was what he said. "There is no other explanation possible for this act, Oswald. Bitter as it is for me to acknowledge it, I am thus far guilty of this beloved woman's death. But, as God hears me, from the moment I first saw her, to the moment I saw her last, I did not know, nor did I for a moment dream that she was anything to you or to any other man of my stamp and station. I thought she despised my country birth, my mechanical attempts, my lack of aristocratic pretensions and traditions."


"Now that I know she had other reasons for her contempt - that the words she wrote were in rebuke to the brother rather than to the man, I feel my guilt and deplore my anger. I cannot say more. I should but insult your grief by any lengthy expressions of regret and sorrow."

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