In the silence that followed there came to her the certain knowledge that he was suffering, that he was in an inferno of torment that goaded him into fierce savagery against her, like a mad animal that will wreak its madness first upon the being most beloved. It was out of his torment that he did this thing. She saw him again agonizing in the flames.
If he had had patience then, that divine pity of hers might have come to help them both; but he read into her silence the abhorrence which a little earlier had possessed her soul; and the maddening pain of it drove him beyond all bounds.
He seized her suddenly and savagely between his hands. “Are you any the less my wife,” he said, speaking between his teeth, “because you have found out what manner of man I am?”
She resisted him, swiftly, instinctively, her hands against his breast, pressing him back. “I may be your wife,” she said gaspingly. “I am not—your slave.”
He laughed a fiendish laugh. Her resistance fired him. He caught her fiercely to him. He covered her face, her throat, her arms, her hands, with kisses that burned her through and through, seeming to sear her very soul.
He crushed her in a grip that bruised her, that suffocated her. He pressed his lips, hot with passion, to hers.
“And now!” he said. “And now!”
She lay in his arms spent and quivering and helpless. The cruel triumph of his voice silenced all appeal.
He went on deeply, speaking with his lips so close that she felt his breath scorch through her like the breath of a fiery furnace.
“You are bound to me for better—for worse, and nothing will ever set you free. Do you understand? If you will not be my wife, you shall be—my slave.”
Quiveringly, through lips that would scarcely move she spoke at last. “I shall never forgive you.”
“I shall never ask your forgiveness,” he said.
So the gates of hell closed upon Avery also. She went down into the unknown depths. And in an agony of shame she learned the bitterest lesson of her life.
A FRIEND IN NEED
“Why, Avery dear, is it you? Come in!” Mrs. Lorimer looked up with a smile of eager welcome on her little pinched face and went forward almost at a run to greet her.
The brown holland smock upon which she had been at work fell to the ground. It was Avery who, after a close embrace, stooped to pick it up.
“Who is this for? Baby Phil? You must let me lend a hand,” she said.
“Ah, my dear, I do miss you,” said Mrs. Lorimer wistfully. “The village girl who comes in to help is no good at all at needlework, and you know how busy Nurse always is. Jeanie does her best, and is a great help in many ways. But she is but a child. However,” she caught herself up, “I mustn’t start grumbling the moment you enter the house. Tell me about yourself, dear! You are looking very pale. Does the heat try you?”