Instantly Nick straightened himself and turned away. He went to the window and leaned his head against the sash. He had the spent look of a man who has fought to the end of his strength. The thunder of the waves upon the shore filled in the long, long silence.
Minutes crawled away, and still he stood there with his face to the darkness. At last a voice spoke behind him, and he turned. Daisy had risen.
She stood in the lamplight, quite calm and collected. There was even a smile upon her face, but it was a smile that was sadder than tears.
“It’s been a desperate big fight, hasn’t it, Nick?” she said. “But—my dear—you’ve won. For the sake of my little baby, and for the sake of the man I love—yes, and partly for your sake too,”—she held out her hand to him with the words—“I am going back to the prison-house. No, don’t speak to me. You have said enough. And, Nick, I must go alone. So I want you, please, to go away, and not to come to me again until I send for you. I shall send sooner or later. Will you do this?”
Her voice never faltered, but the misery in her eyes cut him to the heart. In that moment he realised how terribly near he had been to losing the hardest battle he had ever fought.
He gave her no second glance. Simply, without a word, he stooped and kissed the hand she had given him; then turned and went noiselessly away.
He had won indeed, but the only triumph he knew was the pain of a very human compassion.
Scarcely five minutes after his departure, Daisy let herself out into the night that lay like a pall above the moaning shore. She went with lagging feet that often stumbled in the darkness. It was only the memory of a baby’s head against her breast that gave her strength.
“I believe I heard a gun in the night,” remarked Mrs. Ratcliffe at the breakfast-table on the following morning.
“Shouldn’t be surprised,” said Dr. Jim. “I know there was a ship in distress off Calister yesterday. They damaged the lifeboat trying to reach her. But the wind seems to have gone down a little this morning. Do you care for a ride, Muriel?”
Muriel accepted the invitation gladly. She liked accompanying Dr. Jim upon his rounds. She had arranged to leave two days later, a decision which the news of Daisy’s presence at Brethaven had not affected. Daisy seemed to have dropped her for good and all, and her pride would not suffer her to inquire the reason. She had, in fact, begun to think that Daisy had merely tired of her, and that being so she was the more willing to go to Mrs. Langdale, whose letters of fussy kindliness seemed at least to ensure her a cordial welcome.
She had discussed her troubles no further with Dr. Jim. Grange’s letter had in some fashion placed matters beyond discussion. And so she had only briefly told him that her engagement was at an end, and he had gruffly expressed his satisfaction thereat. Her one idea now was to escape from Nick’s neighbourhood as speedily as possible. It possessed her even in her dreams.