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Dead Men Tell No Tales E. W. Hornung

Chapter XIX My Great Hour

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He was on his knees no more, but he held her in his arms, and as I entered he was kissing the tears from her wet, flushed cheek. Her eyelids drooped; she was pale as the dead without, so pale that her eyebrows looked abnormally and dreadfully dark. She did not cling to him. Neither did she resist his caresses, but lay passive in his arms as though her proper paradise was there. And neither heard me enter; it was as though they had forgotten all the world but one another.

"So this is it," said I very calmly. I can hear my voice as I write.

They fell apart on the instant. Rattray glared at me, yet I saw that his eyes were dim. Eva clasped her hands before her, and looked me steadily in the face. But never a word.

"You love him ?" I said sternly.

The silence of consent remained unbroken.

"Villain as he is?" I burst out.

And at last Eva spoke.

"I loved him before he was one," said she. "We were engaged."

She looked at him standing by, his head bowed, his arms folded; next moment she was very close to me, and fresh tears were in her eyes. But I stepped backward, for I had had enough.

"Can you not forgive me?"

"Oh, dear, yes."

"Can't you understand?"

"Perfectly," said I.

"You know you said - "

"I have said so many things!"

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"But this was that you - you loved me well enough to - give me up."

And the silly ego in me - the endless and incorrigible I - imagined her pouting for a withdrawal of those brave words.

"I not only said it," I declared, "but I meant every word of it."

None the less had I to turn from her to hide my anguish. I leaned my elbows on the narrow stone chimney-piece, which, with the grate below and a small mirror above, formed an almost solitary oasis in the four walls of books. In the mirror I saw my face; it was wizened, drawn, old before its time, and merely ugly in its sore distress, merely repulsive in its bloody bandages. And in the mirror also I saw Rattray, handsome, romantic, audacious, all that I was not, nor ever would be, and I "understood" more than ever, and loathed my rival in my heart.

I wheeled round on Eva. I was not going to give her up - to him. I would tell her so before him - tell him so to his face. But she had turned away; she was listening to some one else. Her white forehead glistened. There were voices in the hall.

"Mr. Cole! Mr. Cole! Where are you, Mr. Cole?"

I moved over to the locked door. My hand found the key. I turned round with evil triumph in my heart, and God knows what upon my face. Rattray did not move. With lifted hands the girl was merely begging him to go by the door that was open, down the stair. He shook his head grimly. With an oath I was upon them.

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Dead Men Tell No Tales
E. W. Hornung

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