With a smothered cry he sprang to his feet and gazed around upon his companions. They, too, had observed the untoward accident, and to them as well as to him it was a symbol of disaster. Not one of them doubted that the bottom would fall out of his fortunes as out of his glass, for by such signs as these the gambler reads his destiny.
He pulled himself together and made a jest of the accident, but it was impossible for him to dissipate the impression it had made on the minds of his companions or to banish the gloom from his own soul. And so after a few brave but futile efforts to break the spell of apprehension, he slipped quietly away, opened the door and passed out into the night.
THE INEVITABLE HOUR
“How shall I lose
the sin yet keep the sense,
And love th’ offender, yet detest the offense?”
After wandering aimlessly about the city for awhile the half-crazed gambler turned his footsteps toward home. He longed for and yet dreaded its quiet and repose. The forces of attraction and repulsion were so nearly balanced that for a long time he oscillated before his own door like a piece of iron hung between the opposite poles of a battery.
At last he entered, both hoping and fearing that Pepeeta would be asleep. He had a vague presentiment that he was on the verge of some great event. The guilty secret so long hidden in the depths of his soul seemed to have festered its way dangerously near to the surface, and he felt that if anything more should happen to irritate him he might do something desperate.
So quiet had been his movements that he stood at Pepeeta’s door before she knew that he had entered the house, and when he saw her kneeling by her bedside he stamped his foot in rage. The worshiper, startled by the interruption, although she was momentarily expecting it, hastily arose.
As she turned toward him, he saw that there was a light on her pale countenance which reflected the peace of God to whom she had been praying, as worshipers always and inevitably reflect, however feebly, the character of what they worship. Her beauty, her humility, her holiness goaded him to madness. He hated her, and yet he loved her. He could either have killed her or died for her.
She smiled him a welcome which revealed her love, but did not conceal her sadness nor her suffering, and, approaching him, extended her hands for an embrace. He pushed her aside and flung himself heavily into a chair.
“You are tired,” she said soothingly, and stroked his hair.
He did not answer, and her caress both tranquilized and frenzied him.
She placed before him the little lunch which she always prepared with her own hands and kept in readiness for his return.
“Take it away,” he said.
She obeyed, and returning seated herself upon an ottoman at his feet.