DEMORALIZATION set in. Even the comfort of the maid was dulled. They decided that Cho-Cho-San should go to see the good consul, while the maid and the baby remained at home to welcome him if, perhaps, he had not gone with the war-ship. They had already created this hope.
The maid helped her down the steepest part of the hill. Nevertheless, when she arrived at the consulate she was quite breathless. The consul was alone. There were no frivolities now. Each knew that the other understood.
" Me? I got--liddle heart-illness, I thing," the girl panted in excuse of her lack of ceremony and the consul's pitying stare. She looked very ill; but her smile was still tragically bright.
The consul placed her a chair. She declined it. There was a moment of conscious silence. Then he went hesitatingly to his desk, and got an envelop containing money--a large sum. He silently handed her this.
She looked at him in appealing inquiry, but she did not take the money.
" It is only--only in remembrance of the--the past. He wishes you to be always happy--as--he says he is. He confidently hopes for your good wishes and congratulations."
There was moisture in the consul's eyes, only questioning in hers. He suddenly saw that she did not understand. He decided that she never should. He did not speak again, nor did she for a space. Then:
" Happy--happy? " she murmured dizzily. " But how kin I be happy if he do not come? How kin he be--happy--if--he do not come?"
The consul was silent. He still held the money toward her. She tried to smile a little, to make him think she was indifferent concerning his answer to the question she was about to ask.
" Ah--oh--ah! You tole him 'bout--'bout that joke--that liddle joke we make on him ? "
The consul pretended ignorance. She explained:
" That 'bout me go'n' marry with Yamadori, an' take his bebby 'way? "
He had to answer now:
" Oh, that was--too--too foolish to talk about seriously."
Pinkerton had been glad to hear it.
" But--you--tole him? "
She hoped now he had not.
He looked out of the window. He would not strike, but she would be struck.
"But--you--you tole him?" She had raised her voice piteously.
" Yes," answered the consul, dully, wondering what he could say next.
She gasped, and wiped her dry lips.
" Yaes; tha' 's--right. Tha' 's--what I--as' you do. An'--an' what he--say? " she questioned huskily.
The consul was willing to lie as deeply as the occasion might demand. The woe in the girl's face afflicted him. He saw in her attire the pitiful preparations to welcome the husband he now knew to be a craven, and in her face what it had cost to wait for him. But in specie the lie was difficult.
" Well," he began uncertainly, " we--it all happened about as you had supposed. He got very angry, and would have rushed right up the hill, as you thought, only--only--" What next? The wish to lie had grown upon him wondrously as he went on. But invention flagged. The despatches on his desk caught his eye. " Only--he was not permitted a moment's leave while in the harbor. He had all these despatches to prepare for--for his government--the war, you know. All in cipher."
He showed them to her. A brilliant thought came into his head.
" See! They are all in his handwriting."
He had not written a line of them.
" His ship was ordered away suddenly to China; but he 'll be back here some of these fine days, and then--"
The rest was for her. At any rate, he could lie no more.
" All--all the gods in heaven bless--you," she said, sinking with the reaction.
She reeled, and he put her into the chair. Her head fell limply back, and her pallid face looked up at him with the weary eyes closed. But there was rest and peace on it, and it was still very beautiful.
Some one was approaching in haste, and he drew a screen before her.
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