Page:Tales of John Oliver Hobbes.djvu/461

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A Bundle of Life.
445
 

must remain, the greatest—the only perfect gift—that God has given us. So I have told you." Her lips trembled a little as she added, "I suppose, too, you have heard it already from Lady Mallinger?"

"What could I hear from Lady Mallinger," he asked, growing more and more bewildered. Teresa's expression was so frigid though her words were so kind. "I am sure we are talking at cross purposes."

"Do you mean to say," she stammered, "that she never told you all—all I said to her this afternoon?"

"She has never uttered your name."

Teresa hid her face in her hands and forced back her tears. She had needlessly betrayed her secret.

"I will explain," she said, at last. "Lady Mallinger told me this afternoon that she was going to marry you: we had some words and I—I confessed quite plainly what I—I said just now. And I thought she would surely repeat it—so— in order to avoid any misapprehension—I decided to let you hear it from me also. It needed courage, but now all my courage has gone—I had only enough for that. It wanted so much. Do not say a word: please go."

"Lady Mallinger is not going to marry me," he said, quietly.

He touched Teresa's hand, and conquered his impulse to kiss it: that was not the moment, nor indeed could he imagine a time when it might be the moment. She seemed to stand in an enchanted circle. Suddenly, he saw that she was crying. This touch of weakness seemed to supply the one thing he had always missed in her character. Teresa had, as a rule, a self-command which was almost forbidding—even her occasional indis-