And not that alone. It meant the rending in pieces of that which was holy, the trampling into the earth of that sacred gift which had only now been bestowed upon him. It meant the breaking of a woman’s heart—that of the only woman in the world, the woman he worshipped, body and soul, the woman who in spite of herself had come to love him also.
He flung up his arms with a wild gesture. The torment was more than he could bear.
“No!” he cried. “No!” And it was as if he cried out of the midst of a burning, fiery furnace. “I’m damned—I’m damned if I will!”
"Monsieur Pierre! Monsieur Pierre!" It was Victor’s voice beside him, full of anxious remonstrance.
He looked round with dazed eyes. His arms fell to his sides. “All right, my good Victor; I’m not mad,” he said. “Don’t be scared! Did you ever hear of a chap called Damocles? He’s an ancestor of mine, and history has a funny fashion of repeating itself. But there’ll be a difference this time all the same. He couldn’t eat his dinner for fear of a naked sword falling on his head. But I’m going to eat mine—whatever happens; and enjoy it too.”
He raised his glass aloft with a reckless laugh. His eyes sought those of the woman on the wall with a sparkle of bitter humour. He made her a brief, defiant bow.
“And you, madam, may look on—and smile!” he said.
He drank the wine without tasting it and swung round to depart. And again, as he went, it seemed to him that somewhere near at hand—possibly in his own soul—a devil laughed and gibed.
Yet when he lay down at length, he slept for many hours in dreamless, absolute repose—as a voyager who after long buffeting with wind and tide has come at last into the quiet haven of his desire.
THE PLACE OF TORMENT
DEAD SEA FRUIT
“I doubt if the County will call,” said Miss Whalley, “unless the fact that Sir Piers is to stand for the division weighs with them. And Colonel Rose’s patronage may prove an added inducement. He probably knows that the young man has simply married this Mrs. Denys out of pique, since his own charming daughter would have none of him. I must say that personally I am not surprised that Miss Rose should prefer marriage with a man of such sterling worth as Mr. Guyes. Sir Piers may be extremely handsome and fascinating; but no man with those eyes could possibly make a good husband. I hear it is to be a very grand affair indeed, dear Mrs. Lorimer,—far preferable in my opinion to the hole-in-a-corner sort of ceremony that took place this morning.”
“They both of them wished it to be as quiet as possible,” murmured Mrs. Lorimer. “She being a widow and he—poor lad!—in such deep mourning.”
“Indecent haste, I call it,” pronounced Miss Whalley severely, “with the earth still fresh on his poor dear grandfather’s grave! A May wedding too! Most unsuitable!”