Maxwell Wyndham leaned across the table. “She is your wife—yes,” he said. “But isn’t that a reason for considering her to the very utmost? Have you always done that, I wonder? No, don’t answer! I’ve no right to ask. Only—you know, doctors are the only men in the world who know just what women have to put up with, and the knowledge isn’t exactly exhilarating. Give her a month or two to get over this! You won’t be sorry afterwards.”
It was kindly spoken, so kindly that the flare of anger died out of Piers on the instant, and the sweetness dormant in him—that latent sweetness that had won Avery’s heart—came swiftly to the surface.
He threw himself down again, looking into the alert, green eyes with an oddly rueful smile. “All right, doctor!” he said. “I shan’t go to her if she doesn’t want me. But I’ve got to make sure she doesn’t, haven’t I? What?”
There was a wholly unconscious note of pathos in the last word that sent the doctor’s mouth up at one corner in a smile that was more pitying than humorous. “I should certainly do that,” he said. “But I’m afraid you’ll find I’ve told you the beastly truth.”
“For which I am obliged to you,” said Piers, with a bow.
THE HAND OF THE SCULPTOR
During the week that followed, no second summons came to Piers from his wife’s room. He hung about the house, aimless, sick at heart, with hope sinking ever lower within him like a fire dying for lack of replenishment.
He could neither sleep nor eat, and Victor watched him with piteous though unspoken solicitude. Victor knew the wild, undisciplined temperament of the boy he had cherished from his cradle, and he lived in hourly dread of some sudden passionate outburst of rebellion, some desperate act that should lead to irremediable disaster. He had not forgotten that locked drawer in the old master’s bureau or the quick release it contained, and he never left Piers long alone in its vicinity.
But he need not have been afraid. Piers’ thoughts never strayed in that direction. If his six months in Crowther’s society had brought him no other comfort, they had at least infused in him a saner outlook and steadier balance. Very little had ever passed between them on the subject of the tragedy that had thrown them together. After the first bitter outpouring of his soul, Piers had withdrawn himself with so obvious a desire for privacy that Crowther had never attempted to cross the boundary thus clearly defined. But his influence had made itself felt notwithstanding. It would have been impossible to have lived with the man for so long without imbibing some of that essential greatness of soul that was his main characteristic, and Piers was ever swift to feel the effect of atmosphere. He had come to look upon Crowther with a reverence that in a fashion affected his daily life. That which Crowther regarded as unworthy, he tossed aside himself without consideration. Crowther had not despised him at his worst, and he was determined that he would show himself to be not despicable. He was moreover under a solemn promise to return to Crowther when he found himself at liberty, and in very gratitude to the man he meant to keep that promise.