On the last night of his visit, Alice and Sperry sat together in a corner of the veranda. Thayor had gone over to Holcomb’s cabin for a talk; Margaret had retired early.
Alice had been strangely silent since dinner. The doctor’s figure in the wicker armchair drawn close to her own, showed dimly in the dusk. Tree toads croaked in the blackness beyond the veranda rail; the air smelled of rain. All growing things seemed to have ceased living; the air was heavy and laden with a resinous, dreamy vapour—magnetic, intoxicating. Such a night plays havoc with some women. Under these stifled conditions she is no longer normal; she becomes weak, pliable—she no longer reasons; she craves excitement, deceit, misadventure, confession—quarrels—jealousy—love—stringing their nerves to a tension and breeding a certain melancholy; it tortures by its suppression; a flash of lightning or a drenching rain would have been a relief.
For some moments neither had spoken. The man close to her in the dusk was biding his time.
“Dear—” he whispered at length.
She did not answer.
He leaned toward her until the glow from his cigar illumined her eyes; he saw they were full of tears. His hand closed upon her own lying idle in her lap. She began to tremble as if seized with a nervous chill. It was the condition he had been waiting for. He watched her now with a thrill of satisfaction—with that suppressed exultance of a gambler holding a winning card.
“There—there,” he said affectionately, smoothing with comforting little pats her trembling fingers. Being a born gambler he sat in this game easily; just as he had sat in many a game before when the stakes were high—yet he knew that never in his whole discreditable life had he played for as high stakes as this woman’s heart.
Her silence irritated him. He threw his half-smoked cigar into the blackness beyond the veranda rail and leaned close to her white throat, framed in the soft filmy lace of her gown.
“Why are you so silent?” he asked. “Is it because—of to-morrow?”
“Sh-sh-sh! Do be careful,” she cautioned him; “someone might hear you.”
“We are quite alone, you and I,” he returned curtly. “You know he is with Holcomb and Margaret is in bed.” His voice sunk to infinite tenderness. “You are very nervous, dear,” he said, raising both her hands firmly to his lips.
“Don’t,” she moaned faintly. “Can’t you see I’m trying to be brave; can’t you see how hard it is? You must not!”
He bent closer with slow determination until she felt the warmth of his breath upon her lips.
“Kiss me,” he pleaded tensely; “I love you.”
Her breath came quick, her whole body trembling violently. There was a hushed moment in which he saw her dark eyes dilate and half close with a savage gleam.
He sprang toward her.
“For God’s sake, don’t!” she gasped, as he tried to take her in his arms.