in the retrospective light shed by the letters he was blinded to their specific meaning. he was not a man who concerned himself with literature, and they had been to him, at first, simply the extension of her brilliant talk, later the dreaded vehicle of a tragic importunity. he knew, of course, that they were wonderful; that, unlike the authors who give their essence to the public and keep only a dry rind for their friends, mrs. aubyn had stored of her rarest vintage for this hidden sacrament of tenderness. sometimes, indeed, he had been oppressed, humiliated almost, by the multiplicity of her allusions, the wide scope of her interests, her persistence in forcing her superabundance of thought and emotion into the shallow receptacle of his sympathy; but he had never thought of the letters objectively, as the production of a distinguished woman; had never measured the literary significance of her oppressive prodigality. he was almost frightened now at the wealth in his hands; the obligation of her love had never weighed on him like this gift of her imagination: it was as though he had accepted from her something to which even a reciprocal tenderness could not have justified his claim.
he sat a long time staring at the scattered pages on his desk; and in the sudden realization of what they meant he could almost fancy some alchemistic process changing them to gold as he stared. he had the sense of not being alone in the room, of the presence of another self observing from without the stirring of subconscious impulses that sent flushes of humiliation to his forehead. at length he stood up, and with the gesture of a man who wishes to give outward expression to his purpose--to establish, as it were, a moral alibi--swept the letters into a heap and carried them toward the grate. but it would have taken too long to burn all the packets. he turned back to the table and one by one fitted the pages into their envelopes; then he tied up the letters and put them back into the locked drawer.