As they drove home Vandervelde told her, as well as he could, all that the little wrecked vessel which was now nearing its last harbor had told him. He was deeply moved. He said, patting her hand.
“It was decent of you to come. You’re a little sport, Anne.”
For a while she was silent. Peter Champneys, then, was capable of kindness. He could do a gentle and generous deed. And perhaps he also was finding the heavy chain of his promise to his uncle, of his marriage to herself, galling and wearisome. She reached a woman’s swift decision.
“I’m going to be a better sport,” said she. “I’m going to reward Peter Champneys by setting him free. I shall have our marriage annulled.”
Peter Champneys was packing up for a summer’s work on the coast when he received Vandervelde’s letter, advising him that Mrs. Champneys had instituted proceedings to have her marriage annulled. The attorney added that by this action on Anne’s part the entire Champneys estate reverted to him, Peter Champneys, with the exception of fifty thousand dollars especially allotted to Anne by Chadwick Champneys’s will. Vandervelde took it for granted there would be no opposition from Peter. He hoped his client would find it possible to visit America shortly, there being certain details he should see to in person.
Opposition? Peter’s sensation was one of overwhelming relief. This was lifting from his spirit the weight of an intolerable burden: he felt profoundly grateful to that red-haired woman who had had the courage to take her fate in her own hands, forego great wealth, and sever a bond that threatened to become an iron yoke. He couldn’t but respect her for that; he determined that she shouldn’t be too great a loser. He thought she should have half the estate, at the very least.
He had never had the commercial mind. He had never asked that the allowance settled upon him by his uncle should be increased. As his own earnings far outstripped his modest needs, that allowance had been used to allay those desperate cases of want always confronting the kindly in a great city. The Champneys estate back there in America had bulked rather negligently in his mind, obscured and darkened by the formidable figure of the wife who went with it. She had loomed so hugely in the foreground that other considerations had been eclipsed. And now this ogress, moved thereto God knew why, had of a sudden opened her hand and set him free!
That strenuous and struggling childhood of his, whose inner life and aspirations had been so secret and so isolated, had taken the edge off his gregariousness. He did not continuously feel the herd-necessity to rub shoulders with others. The creative mind is essentially isolated. Peter loved his fellows with a quiet, tolerant affection, but he remained as it were to himself, standing a little apart. His heart was like a deep, still, hidden pool, in which a few stars only have room to shine.