"I felt that you would understand," he answered. He could not trust himself to speak further. How much did she know? And how much was she capable of grasping?
His reticence served only to fortify her trust--to elevate it. It was impossible for her not to feel something of that which was in him and crying for utterance. She was a woman. And if this one action had been but the holding of her coat, she would have known. A man who could keep silent under these conditions must indeed be a rock of might and honour; and she felt sure now, with a surging of joy, that the light she had seen shining from it was the beacon of truth. A question trembled on her lips--the question for which she had long been gathering strength. Whatever the outcome of this communion, she felt that there must be absolute truth between them.
"I want to ask you something, Mr. Vane--I have been wanting to for a long time."
She saw the muscles of his jaw tighten,--a manner he had when earnest or determined,--and she wondered in agitation whether he divined what she was going to say. He turned his face slowly to hers, and his eyes were troubled.
"You have always spared my feelings," she went on. "Now--now I am asking for the truth--as you see it. Do the Northeastern Railroads wrongfully govern this State for their own ends?"
Austen, too, as he thought over it afterwards, in the night, was surprised at her concise phrasing, suggestive; as it was, of much reflection. But at the moment, although he had been prepared for and had braced himself against something of this nature, he was nevertheless overcome by the absolute and fearless directness of her speech.
"That is a question," he answered, "which you will have to ask your father."
"I have asked him," she said, in a low voice; "I want to know what--you believe."