“You must forgive me,” I said. “I cannot stay.”
She said nothing. I looked back at her from the door. Her eyes were fixed upon me, a little distended, full of mute questioning. I only shook my head. So I left her and passed out into the night.
There followed for me a period of unremitting hard work, days during which I never left my desk save at such hours when I knew that the chances of meeting any one scarcely existed. Several times I saw Lady Angela from my window on the sands below, threading her way across the marshes to the sea. Once she passed my window very slowly, and with a quick backward glance as she turned to descend the cliff. But I sat still with clenched teeth. I had nailed down my resolutions, I had determined to hold fast to such threads of my common sense as remained. Only in the night-time, when sleep mocked me and all hope of escape was futile, was I forced to grapple with this new-born monster of folly. It drove me up across the Park to where the house, black and lightless, rose a dark incongruous mass above the trees, down to the sea, where the wind came booming across the bare country northwards, and the spray leaped white and phosphorescent into the night like flakes of wind-hurled snow. I stood as close to the sea as I dared, and I prayed. Once I saw morning lighten the mass of clouds eastwards, and the grey dawn break over the empty waters. I heard the winds die away, and I watched the sea grow calm. Far across on the horizon there was faint glimmer of cold sunlight. Then I went back to my broken rest. It was my solitude in those days which drove me to seek peace or some measure of it from these things.
At last a break came, a summons to London to a meeting of the Council. I was just able to catch my train and reach the War Office at the appointed time. There were two hours of important work, and I noticed a general air of gravity on the faces of every one present. After it was over Ray came to my side.
“Ducaine,” he said, “Lord Chelsford wishes to speak’ to you for a few moments. Come this way.”
He led me into a small, barely-furnished room, with high windows and only one door. It was empty when we entered it. Ray looked at me as he closed the door, and I fancied that for him his expression was not unfriendly.
“Ducaine,” he said, “there has been some more of this damned leakage. Chelsford will ask you questions. Answer him simply, but tell him everything—everything, you understand.”
“I should not dream of any concealment,” I answered.
“Of course not! But it is possible—Ah!”
He broke off and remained listening. There was the sound of a quick footstep in the hall.
“Now you will understand what I mean,” he whispered. “Remember!”
It was not Chelsford, but the Duke, who entered and greeted me cordially. With a farewell nod to me Ray disappeared. The Duke looked round and watched him close the door. Then he turned to me.