"I have nothing to chart," said Austen, "except such pilgrimages as this,--and these, after all, are unchartable. Your friend, Mr. Crewe, on the other hand, is well away on his voyage after the Golden Fleece. I hope he is provided with a Lynceus."
She was silent for a long time, but he was feverishly conscious of her gaze upon him, and did not dare to turn his eyes to hers. The look in them he beheld without the aid of physical vision, and in that look was the world-old riddle of her sex typified in the image on the African desert, which Napoleon had tried to read, and failed. And while wisdom was in the look, there was in it likewise the eternal questioning of a fate quite as inscrutable, against which wisdom would avail nothing. It was that look which, for Austen, revealed in her in their infinite variety all women who had lived; those who could resist, and those who could yield, and yielding all, bestow a gift which left them still priceless; those to whom sorrow might bring sadness, and knowledge mourning, and yet could rob them of no jot of sweetness. And knowing this, he knew that to gain her now (could such a high prize be gained!) would be to lose her. If he were anything to her (realize it or not as she might), it was because he found strength to resist this greatest temptation of his life. Yield, and his guerdon was lost, and he would be Austen Vane no longer--yield, and his right to act, which would make him of value in her eyes as well as in his own, was gone forever.
Well he knew what the question in her eyes meant or something of what it meant, so inexplicably is the soul of woman linked to events. He had pondered often on that which she had asked him when he had brought her home over the hills in the autumn twilight. He remembered her words, and the very inflection of her voice. "Then you won't tell me?" How could he tell her? He became aware that she was speaking now, in an even tone.
"I had an odd experience this morning, when I was waiting for Mrs. Pomfret outside the state-house," she said. "A man was standing looking up at the statue of the patriot with a strange, rapt expression on his face,--such a good face,--and he was so big and honest and uncompromising I wanted to talk to him. I didn't realize that I was staring at him so hard, because I was trying to remember where I had seen him before,--and then I remembered suddenly that it was with you."
"You were standing with him, in front of the little house, when I save you yesterday. His name was Redbrook. It appears that he had seen me," Victoria replied, "when I went to Mercer to call on Zeb Meader. And he asked me if I knew you."
"Of course you denied it," said Austen.
"I couldn't, very well," laughed Victoria, "because you had confessed to the acquaintance first."
"He merely wished to have the fact corroborated. Mr. Redbrook is a man who likes to be sure of his ground."