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  III The Heart Of Man Anna Katharine Green

XXXII Tell Me, Tell It All

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The day was a grey one, the first of the kind in weeks. As Doris stepped into the room where Oswald sat, she felt how much a ray of sunshine would have encouraged her and yet how truly these leaden skies and this dismal atmosphere expressed the gloom which soon must fall upon this hopeful, smiling man.

He smiled because any man must smile at the entrance of so lovely a woman, but it was an abstracted smile, and Doris, seeing it, felt her courage falter for a moment, though her steps did not, nor her steady compassionate gaze. Advancing slowly, and not answering because she did not hear some casual remark of his, she took her stand by his side and then slowly and with her eyes on his face, sank down upon her knees, still without speaking, almost without breathing.

His astonishment was evident, for her air was strange and full of presage,- as, indeed, she had meant it to be. But he remained as silent as she, only reached out his emaciated hand and, laying it on her head, smiled again but this time far from abstractedly. Then, as he saw her cheeks pale in terror of the task before her, he ventured to ask gently:

"What is the matter, child? So weary, eh? Nothing worse than that, I hope."

"Are you quite strong this morning? Strong enough to listen to my troubles; strong enough to bear your own if God sees fit to send them?" came hesitatingly from her lips as she watched the effect of each word, in breathless anxiety.

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"Troubles? There can be but one trouble for me," was his unexpected reply. "That I do not fear - will not fear in my hour of happy recovery. So long as Edith is well - Doris! Doris! You alarm me. Edith is not ill; - not ill?"

The poor child could not answer save with her sympathetic look and halting, tremulous breath; and these signs, he would not, could not read, his own words had made such an echo in his ears.

"Ill! I cannot imagine Edith ill. I always see her in my thoughts, as I saw her on that day of our first meeting; a perfect, animated woman with the joyous look of a glad, harmonious nature. Nothing has ever clouded that vision. If she were ill I would have known it. We are so truly one that - Doris, Doris, you do not speak. You know the depth of my love, the terror of my thoughts. Is Edith ill?"

The eyes gazing wildly into his, slowly left his face and raised themselves aloft, with a sublime look. Would he understand? Yes, he understood, and the cry which rang from his lips stopped for a moment the beating of more than one heart in that little cottage.

"Dead!" he shrieked out, and fell back fainting in his chair, his lips still murmuring in semi-unconsciousness, "Dead! dead!"

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