“Damn you, Drexley,” he muttered . . . but at the foot of the stairs he looked up. It was only a momentary impulse. It was not in his nature to grudge any man his salvation.
“Sorry, old chap,” he called up. “Good luck to you.”
He walked down the street with the echo of Drexley’s cheerful reply still in his ears.
“SHE WAS A WOMAN: I WAS A COWARD!”
Again Douglas found himself face to face with a future emptied of all delight, only this time as a saner and an older man. The growth of his literary powers, an increased virility, following upon the greater freedom of his life, and the cessation of those haunting fears which had ever hung like a shadow over his earlier days in London, came to his aid. All that was best and strongest in his character was called into action. He faced his future like a brave man determined to make the most of his days—to make the best use of the powers which he undoubtedly possessed. He remodelled his manner of living to suit his altered circumstances, took rooms in Jermyn Street which he furnished quietly but comfortably, and although he never became a society man, he went out often and did not indulge in an excess of solitude. He had grown older and graver, but had lost none of his good looks, and was particularly careful never to pose as a man of disappointments. Of Emily de Reuss he saw or heard nothing. She seemed to have vanished completely from her place in society, and although he ventured to make a few careful inquiries he never chanced to come across any one who could tell him anything about her. It was astonishing how soon she was forgotten, even amongst those who had been her greatest admirers. He seldom heard her name mentioned, and although he never failed to believe that she would return some day to London, he set himself as deliberately as possible to forget her. On the whole, he believed that he was succeeding very well. He was a favourite amongst women, for he treated them charmingly, always with a ready and natural gallantry, but always with the most profound and unvarying respect. Only the very keenest observers fancied sometimes that they detected the shadow of a past in his far from cheerless demeanour. For Douglas held his head high, and met the world which had turned aside to welcome him with outstretched hands.
One evening, at a large and crowded reception, a man, whom he knew slightly, touched him on the shoulder.
“Guest,” he said, “there is a lady with whom I have been talking who wishes to renew her acquaintance with you. May I take you to her?”
Douglas murmured a conventional acquiescence and bowed to the pleasant-faced, grey-headed old lady with a sense of pleasure.
“I am honoured that you should have remembered me, Duchess,” he said. “It seems quite a long time since I have had the honour of meeting you.”