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“Nothing, nothing,” he sadly repeated.
I kissed his forehead; it was drenched. “So what have you done with it?” “I’ve burned
it.” “Burned it?” It was now or never. “Is that what you did at school?” Oh, what this
brought up! “At school?” “Did you take letters?- or other things?” “Other things?” He
appeared now to be thinking of something far off and that reached him only through
the pressure of his anxiety. Yet it did reach him. “Did I steal?” I felt myself redden to
the roots of my hair as well as wonder if it were more strange to put to a gentleman
such a question or to see him take it with allowances that gave the very distance of his
fall in the world. “Was it for that you mightn’t go back?” The only thing he felt was
rather a dreary little surprise. “Did you know I mightn’t go back?” “I know
He gave me at this the longest and strangest look. “Everything?” “Everything.
Therefore did you-?” But I couldn’t say it again.
Miles could, very simply. “No. I didn’t steal.” My face must have shown him I believed
him utterly; yet my hands-but it was for pure tenderness-shook him as if to ask him
why, if it was all for nothing, he had condemned me to months of torment. “What then
did you do?” He looked in vague pain all round the top of the room and drew his
breath, two or three times over, as if with difficulty. He might have been standing at
the bottom of the sea and raising his eyes to some faint green twilight. “Well-I said
things.” “Only that?” “They thought it was enough!” “To turn you out for?” Never,
truly, had a person “turned out” shown so little to explain it as this little person! He
appeared to weigh my question, but in a manner quite detached and almost helpless.
“Well, I suppose I oughtn’t.
“But to whom did you say them?” He evidently tried to remember, but it dropped-he
had lost it. “I don’t know!” He almost smiled at me in the desolation of his surrender,
which was indeed practically, by this time, so complete that I ought to have left it there.
But I was infatuated-I was blind with victory, though even then the very effect that
was to have brought him so much nearer was already that of added separation. “Was it
to everyone?” I asked.
“No; it was only to-” But he gave a sick little headshake. “I don’t remember their
names.” “Were they then so many?” “No-only a few. Those I liked.” Those he liked? I
seemed to float not into clearness, but into a darker obscure, and within a minute there
had come to me out of my very pity the appalling alarm of his being perhaps innocent.
It was for the instant confounding and bottomless, for if he were innocent, what then on
earth was I? Paralyzed, while it lasted, by the mere brush of the question, I let him go a
little, so that, with a deepdrawn sigh, he turned away from me again; which, as he
faced toward the clear window, I suffered, feeling that I had nothing now there to keep
him from. “And did they repeat what you said?” I went on after a moment.
He was soon at some distance from me, still breathing hard and again with the air,
though now without anger for it, of being confined against his will. Once more, as he
had done before, he looked up at the dim day as if, of what had hitherto sustained him,