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|Alexander's Bridge||Willa Cather|
|Page 2 of 4||
"I'll do anything you wish me to, Bartley," she said tremulously. "I can't stand seeing you miserable."
"I can't live with myself any longer," he answered roughly.
He rose and pushed the chair behind him and began to walk miserably about the room, seeming to find it too small for him. He pulled up a window as if the air were heavy.
Hilda watched him from her corner, trembling and scarcely breathing, dark shadows growing about her eyes.
"It . . . it hasn't always made you miserable, has it?" Her eyelids fell and her lips quivered.
"Always. But it's worse now. It's unbearable. It tortures me every minute."
"But why NOW?" she asked piteously, wringing her hands.
He ignored her question. "I am not a man who can live two lives," he went on feverishly. "Each life spoils the other. I get nothing but misery out of either. The world is all there, just as it used to be, but I can't get at it any more. There is this deception between me and everything."
At that word "deception," spoken with such self-contempt, the color flashed back into Hilda's face as suddenly as if she had been struck by a whiplash. She bit her lip and looked down at her hands, which were clasped tightly in front of her.
"Could you--could you sit down and talk about it quietly, Bartley, as if I were a friend, and not some one who had to be defied?"
He dropped back heavily into his chair by the fire. "It was myself I was defying, Hilda. I have thought about it until I am worn out."
He looked at her and his haggard face softened. He put out his hand toward her as he looked away again into the fire.
She crept across to him, drawing her stool after her. "When did you first begin to feel like this, Bartley?"
"After the very first. The first was-- sort of in play, wasn't it?"
Hilda's face quivered, but she whispered: "Yes, I think it must have been. But why didn't you tell me when you were here in the summer?"
Alexander groaned. "I meant to, but somehow I couldn't. We had only a few days, and your new play was just on, and you were so happy."
"Yes, I was happy, wasn't I?" She pressed his hand gently in gratitude. "Weren't you happy then, at all?"
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, as if to draw in again the fragrance of those days. Something of their troubling sweetness came back to Alexander, too. He moved uneasily and his chair creaked.
"Yes, I was then. You know. But afterward. . ."
"Yes, yes," she hurried, pulling her hand gently away from him. Presently it stole back to his coat sleeve. "Please tell me one thing, Bartley. At least, tell me that you believe I thought I was making you happy."
His hand shut down quickly over the questioning fingers on his sleeves. "Yes, Hilda; I know that," he said simply.
She leaned her head against his arm and spoke softly:--
"You see, my mistake was in wanting you to have everything. I wanted you to eat all the cakes and have them, too. I somehow believed that I could take all the bad consequences for you. I wanted you always to be happy and handsome and successful--to have all the things that a great man ought to have, and, once in a way, the careless holidays that great men are not permitted."
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