The smoking-room was crowded as Stafford made his way in. Through the clouds of smoke he saw his father standing at one end, surrounded by the money-spinning crew, Falconer seated in a chair near him with a black cigar between his lips. The group were laughing and talking loudly, and all had glasses in their hands. Some of the younger men, who had just come from the hall-room, were adding their laughter and chatter to the noise. Dazed and confused, half mad with rage and despair, with a sense that Fate was joining her mocking laughter with that of the men round him. Stafford took a glass of wine from the butler who advanced with it, and drinking it off, held it out to be refilled. The man refilled it twice, and Stafford, his eyes aflame, almost pushed his way through the various groups to where his father stood.
“I have come for your congratulation, sir,” he said, in a voice which, though not loud, was so clear as to break through the row. “Miss Falconer has promised to be my wife!”
A silence, so sudden as to be startling, fell upon the hot and crowded room; then, as Sir Stephen grasped his son’s hand, a din of voices arose, an excited buzz of congratulations and good wishes. Stafford faced them all, his face pale and set, his lips curved with a forced smile, his eyes flashing, but lit with a sombre fire. There was a smile on his lips, a false amiability in his eyes, but there was so much of madness in his heart that he was afraid lest at any moment he should dash the glass to the ground and break out into cursing.
An hour later he found himself in his room, and waving Measom away from him, he went to the window and flung it wide open, and stood there with his hands against his throbbing brow; and though no word came from his parched lips, his heart cried:
“Ida! Ida!” with all the agony of despair.
The hours dragged along as Stafford faced the tragedy of his life. As he paced the room or flung himself into a chair, with his head bowed in his hands, the effects of the wine he had taken, the suppressed excitement under which he had laboured, passed away, and in the reaction his brain cleared and he began to realise the terrible import of the step he had taken, the extent of the sacrifice he had made. His own life was wrecked and ruined irreparably; not only his own, but that of the girl he loved.
The step he had taken was not only irreparable but irrevocable; he could not go back. He had asked Maude Falconer to be his wife, he had spoken words which must have sounded to her as words of love, he had kissed her lips. In a word, he was pledged to her, and the pledge could not be broken.
And Ida! What should he do in regard to her? He had promised that if his feelings underwent any change towards her he would not go and tell her. And at that moment, he felt that the promise had not been a vain one; for he knew that he could not go to her, that at sight of her his resolution would melt like snow in the sun, that his love for her would sweep him away on a torrent of passion, and that he would be as false to Maude Falconer as he had been to Ida.