― 96 ―

Two Verdicts.

HE sat beside her on the sofa, holding her two hands in his.

Neither spoke, for they imagined they understood one another perfectly, and the silence was only broken by the droning hum of London's traffic, and the rustling of the lace curtains in the soft June breeze that played with the girl's brown hair. She was the first to break the silence:

“Kenneth, dear!”—the pencilled eyebrows arched inquiringly —“Kenneth, dear, how much do you love me? So much that nothing, nothing, nothing could ever make any difference?”

“Nothing could: you know that well, little woman,” he answered. “What's up with you now?”

“I'm so glad,” she said. “I wanted to tell you something. I always meant to tell you, but somehow I couldn't till to-night. Ken, there was a man once——”

“Was there, really? I expect there were several men once, if you were like you are now.”

“No there were n't. There was only one; he made love to me, and I thought I cared for him; and I tried to show him how much I cared. There was only one sort of love he seemed to understand, and I—I—oh, Ken, it was five years ago, and—you aren't angry, Ken, darling, are you?”

The man's face was chalk-white.

In the silence that followed the girl thought she could hear her heart beat. Then the man slowly and deliberately took the diamond-and-turquoise ring from her finger—and left her.

He turned at the door, and looked at her. “You've spoilt my life,” he said. “Good-bye!”

He paused on the Thames embankment, looking at the muddy river.

“Two tenners is n't much,” he said; and then two diamonds glinted for a second in the moonlight as they touched the water.

The turquoise did not catch the light; but then turquoise signifies “love”—and love was dead. From somewhere in the

  ― 97 ―
Strand, he could hear a string-band playing Tosti's “Venetian Song,” once a favorite song of his. Now the words seemed meaningless to him as he hummed them—

We are alone!
The world, my own,
Doth hold but you and me!

“What damned rot!” he said.

They sat together in a long cane chair on the station verandah.

The stillness of the moonlight night was only broken by the wail of the curlews and an occasional “moo” of motherly solicitude from the milkers outside the calf-pen fence. The girl spoke first.

“How much do you love me, Ken?” she asked.

“So much, darling,” the man answered, “that I won't marry you under false pretences. You think I'm a sort of a King Arthur, but I've been more of a Don Juan; I've been several different sorts of a blackguard, dear. You can't understand; you're too good and pure; but five years ago I came a bad cropper through a woman, and I've been a beast since. I wish I could make you understand, but——”

“I do understand, old boy,” she answered; “but tell me, Ken—never since you knew me?”

“Never, darling, I swear that. Do you hate me for what I've told you?”

“Hate you? No, why should I; you're mine now, and what does it matter to me what you used to be?”

In the drawing-room the squatter's other daughter, fresh from a Sydney school, began to sing Tosti's “Venetian Song” (with the soft pedal down).

We are alone!
The world, my own,
Doth hold but you and me,
But you and me!

The man drew the girl close to him and kissed her.

“I just love that song!” he said.