Thornton’s face flushed with a quick-sweeping flood of crimson.
“I’m a brute—a brute with a blundering tongue!” he cried miserably. “You had not thought of that—and I made you. I could have found another excuse for going if I had only had wit enough. I was a brute once before to-night, and—” He stopped, and for a moment stood there looking at her, stood in the firelight, his face white again even in the ruddy glow—and then he was gone.
Time passed without meaning to Helena. The steady patter of the rain was on the leaves, the sullen, constant drip of water to the ground, and now, occasionally, a rush of wind, a heavier downpour. She sat before the fire, staring into it, her elbows on her knees, her face held tightly in her hands, the brown hair, wet and wayward now, about her temples. Once she moved, once her eyes changed their direction—to fix upon her sleeve in a strange, questioning surprise.
“I let him go without his coat,” she said.
It was early afternoon, as Madison, emerging from the wagon track, and walking slowly, started across the lawn toward the Patriarch’s cottage. He was in a mood that he made no attempt to define—except that it wasn’t a very pleasant mood. Before Thornton had returned to Needley it had been bad enough, after that, with his infernal car, it had been—hell.
Madison’s fists clenched, and his gray eyes glinted angrily. His hands had been tied like a baby’s—like a damned infant’s! Helena was getting away from him further every day, and he couldn’t stop it—without stopping the game! He couldn’t tell Thornton that Helena belonged to him—had belonged to him! He couldn’t even evidence an interest in what was going on. He had to put on a front, a suave, cordial, dignified front before Thornton—while he itched to smash the other’s face to pulp! Hell—that’s what it was—pure, unadulterated hell! He couldn’t get near Helena alone with a ten-foot pole, morning, noon or night—she had taken good care of that. And he wanted Helena—he wanted her! It was an obsession with him now—at times driving him half crazy,—and it didn’t help any that he saw her grow more glorious, more beautiful every day! Of course she knew she had him—had him where she knew he couldn’t do a thing—where she could laugh at him—go the limit with Thornton if she liked. But, curse it, it wasn’t only Thornton—that was what he could not understand—she had begun to keep away from him before ever Thornton had come back.
Madison was near the porch now, and, raising his eyes, noted a supplicant going into the shrine-room—a woman, richly dressed but in widow’s weeds, who walked feebly. The game went on by itself, once started—there were half a hundred more about the lawn! Like a snowball rolling down hill, as he had put it at the Roost. The Roost! If he only had Helena back there for about a minute there’d be an end of this! She’d go a little too far one of these days—a little too far—it was pretty near far enough now—and then there’d be a showdown, game or no game, and somebody would get hurt in the smash, and—