This is to wish you and all kind friends good-bye. So that there may be no misunderstanding on the part of our charitable gossips, pray tell them at once that I have finally chosen the broad road as it really suits me best. As for Tessa—I bequeath her and her little morals to the first busybody who cares to apply for them. Perhaps the worthy Father Monck would like to acquire virtue in this fashion. I find the task only breeds vice in me. Many thanks for your laborious and, I fear, wholly futile attempts to keep me in the much too narrow way.
Bernard looked up from the note with such fiery eyes that Ralston who was on the verge of a scathing remark himself had to stop out of sheer curiosity to see what he would say.
“A damnably cruel and heartless woman!” said Bernard with deliberation.
Ralston’s smile expressed what for him was warm approval. “She’s nothing but an animal,” he said.
Bernard took him up short. “You wrong the animals,” he said. “The very least of them love their young.”
Ralston shrugged his shoulders. “All the better for Tessa anyhow.”
Bernard’s eyes softened very suddenly. He crumpled the note into a ball and tossed it from him. “Yes,” he said quietly. “God helping me, it shall be all the better for her.”
THE DARK NIGHT
An owl hooted across the compound, and a paraquet disturbed by the outcry uttered a shrill, indignant protest. An immense moon hung suspended as it were in mid-heaven, making all things intense with its radiance. It was the hour before the dawn.
Stella stood at her window, gazing forth and numbly marvelling at the splendour. As of old, it struck her like a weird fantasy—this Indian enchantment—poignant, passionate, holding more of anguish than of ecstasy, yet deeply magnetic, deeply alluring, as a magic potion which, once tasted, must enchain the senses for ever.
The extravagance of that world of dreadful black and dazzling silver, the stillness that was yet indescribably electric, the unreality that was allegorically real, she felt it all as a vague accompaniment to the heartache that never left her—the scornful mockery of the goddess she had refused to worship.
There were even times when the very atmosphere seemed to her charged with hostility—a terrible overwhelming antagonism that closed about her in a narrowing ring which serpent-wise constricted her ever more and more, from which she could never hope to escape. For—still the old idea haunted her—she was a trespasser upon forbidden ground. Once she had been cast forth. But she had dared to return, braving the flaming sword. And now—and now—it barred her in, cutting off her escape.
For she was as much a prisoner as if iron walls surrounded her. Sentence had gone forth against her. She would not be cast forth again until she had paid the uttermost farthing, endured the ultimate torture. Then only—childless and desolate and broken—would she be turned adrift in the desert, to return no more for ever.