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I remained awhile at the top of the stair, but with the effect presently of understanding
that when my visitor had gone, he had gone: then I returned to my room.

The foremost thing I saw there by the light of the candle I had left burning was that
Flora’s little bed was empty; and on this I caught my breath with all the terror that, five
minutes before, I had been able to resist. I dashed at the place in which I had left her
lying and over which (for the small silk counterpane and the sheets were disarranged)
the white curtains had been deceivingly pulled forward; then my step, to my
unutterable relief, produced an answering sound: I perceived an agitation of the
window blind, and the child, ducking down, emerged rosily from the other side of it.
She stood there in so much of her candor and so little of her nightgown, with her pink
bare feet and the golden glow of her curls. She looked intensely grave, and I had never
had such a sense of losing an advantage acquired (the thrill of which had just been so
prodigious) as on my consciousness that she addressed me with a reproach. “You
naughty: where have you been?”- instead of challenging her own irregularity I found
myself arraigned and explaining. She herself explained, for that matter, with the
loveliest, eagerest simplicity.

She had known suddenly, as she lay there, that I was out of the room, and had jumped
up to see what had become of me. I had dropped, with the joy of her reappearance,
back into my chair-feeling then, and then only, a little faint; and she had pattered
straight over to me, thrown herself upon my knee, given herself to be held with the
flame of the candle full in the wonderful little face that was still flushed with sleep. I
remember closing my eyes an instant, yieldingly, consciously, as before the excess of
something beautiful that shone out of the blue of her own. “You were looking for me
out of the window?” I said. “You thought I might be walking in the grounds?” “Well,
you know, I thought someone was”- she never blanched as she smiled out that at me.

Oh, how I looked at her now! “And did you see anyone?” “Ah, no!” she returned,
almost with the full privilege of childish inconsequence, resentfully, though with a long
sweetness in her little drawl of the negative.

At that moment, in the state of my nerves, I absolutely believed she lied; and if I once
more closed my eyes it was before the dazzle of the three or four possible ways in
which I might take this up. One of these, for a moment, tempted me with such singular
intensity that, to withstand it, I must have gripped my little girl with a spasm that,
wonderfully, she submitted to without a cry or a sign of fright. Why not break out at
her on the spot and have it all over?- give it to her straight in her lovely little lighted
face? “You see, you see, you know that you do and that you already quite suspect I
believe it; therefore, why not frankly confess it to me, so that we may at least live with
it together and learn perhaps, in the strangeness of our fate, where we are and what it
means?” This solicitation dropped, alas, as it came: if I could immediately have
succumbed to it I might have spared myself-well, you’ll see what. Instead of
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