To Billy it seemed that the bitterest drop of the cup was at his lips. Those two—upon the pylon—were they never coming down? He was waiting for them in every nerve, and yet he shrank from the look he might read upon their faces. He thought, very grimly, that this could mean but one thing, and that thing was the end forever and ever, for him.... His heart was sick in him and he longed most desperately to break away from these other women and the sham of talk and dash off to dark solitude where the primitive man could have his way, could tramp and fight and curse and sob and break his heart in decent privacy. He faced with loathing the refinements of torture which civilization imposes.
But the game had to be played. He was no quitter, he told himself fiercely; he could stand up and take his punishment like a man. She was not for him. He had loved her from the first, he had loved her so that he had been clairvoyant to her peril, he had risked his neck for her a dozen times and snatched her from a life that was a death-in-life—and yet she was not for him. She was for a man who had not believed in her danger, had not bestirred himself.... Black, seething bitterness was boiling in Billy B. Hill. Darkly, through a fog, he heard the outer man replying to some speech from the girl beside him.
He understood, he told himself in a burst of despairing anguish, how Kerissen could have plotted for her. Almost he longed to be a scrupleless Oriental and carry her off across his saddle bow.... And then he brought himself up short.
Was that all she meant to him, he asked himself with the sweat of pain on his forehead beneath that black lock which was finding such favor in Lady Claire’s eyes—was that all she meant to him?—a prize to be won? One man had tried to steal her; he had wished to earn her—but she was a gift beyond all price and the giving lay in her own heart alone.... And if Falconer was the man for her, then at least he, Billy B. Hill, was man enough to stand up and be glad for her and be humbly grateful to the end of his days that he had been able to save her ... and give her her happiness. For it was really he who had given it to her. And in that thought Billy Hill’s young heart expanded, and his soul stretched itself to such unwonted heights that it seemed to push among the stars.
* * * * *
“It is an unforgettable night,” said the girl in the rose cloak.
He thought that was just the word for it, and a wryly humorous glint was in the look he gave her. And he thought that she, too, was playing the game mighty stanchly, and had been playing it bravely these three days, since her conquering little rival had made her reappearance. His heart warmed toward her in understanding and compassion. They were comrades in affliction. He was not the only one in the world who was not getting the heart’s desire.
Aloud he answered, “And the last night for me.”