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Dead Men Tell No Tales E. W. Hornung

Chapter XIX My Great Hour

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"How wicked I am!" she moaned. "How ungrateful I must be! You offer me the unselfish love of a strong, brave man. I cannot take it. I have no love to give you in return."

"But some day you may," I urged, quite happily in my ignorance. "It will come. Oh, surely it will come, after all that we have gone through together!"

She looked at me very steadily and kindly through her tears.

"It has come, in a way," said she; "but it is not your way, Mr. Cole. I do love you for your bravery and your - love - but that will not quite do for either of us."

"Why not?" I cried in an ecstasy. "My darling, it will do for me! It is more than I dared to hope for; thank God, thank God, that you should care for me at all!"

She shook her head.

"You do not understand," she whispered.

"I do. I do. You do not love me as you want to love."

"As I could love -"

"And as you will! It will come. It will come. I'll bother you no more about it now. God knows I can afford to leave well alone! I am only too happy - too thankful - as it is!"

And indeed I rose to my feet every whit as joyful as though she had accepted me on the spot. At least she had not rejected me; nay, she confessed to loving me in a way. What more could a lover want? Yet there was a dejection in her drooping attitude which disconcerted me in the hour of my reward. And her eyes followed me with a kind of stony remorse which struck a chill to my bleeding heart.

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I went to the door; the hall was still empty, and I shut it again with a shudder at what I saw before the hearth, at all that I had forgotten in the little library. As I turned, another door opened - the door made invisible by the multitude of books around and upon it - and young Squire Rattray stood between my love and me.

His clear, smooth skin was almost as pale as Eva's own, but pale brown, the tint of rich ivory. His eyes were preternaturally bright. And they never glanced my way, but flew straight to Eva, and rested on her very humbly and sadly, as her two hands gripped the arms of the chair, and she leant forward in horror and alarm.

"How could you come back?" she cried. "I was told you had escaped!"

"Yes, I got away on one of their horses."

"I pictured you safe on board!"

"I very nearly was."

"Then why are you here ?"

"To get your forgiveness before I go."

He took a step forward; her eyes and mine were riveted upon him; and I still wonder which of us admired him the more, as he stood there in his pride and his humility, gallant and young, and yet shamefaced and sad.

"You risk your life - for my forgiveness?" whispered Eva at last. "Risk it? I'll give myself up if you'll take back some of the things you said to me - last night - and before."

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Dead Men Tell No Tales
E. W. Hornung

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