He looked away, and there was a short silence. A woman’s song died sweetly away in an ante-room beyond, the murmur of pleasant conversation floated once more all around them. The Duchess unfurled a fan of wavy white feathers and half sheltered him. She only saw the dimness in his eyes as he went on.
“Those few minutes,” he said, “I cannot speak of. Then there came, by some hateful chance, a cloud over my happiness. I remembered the warnings with which I had been pestered; the fool in me spoke whilst the man was silent. I demanded a pledge from her. I asked her when she would marry me. She bade me be patient, hinted at an obstacle—some day I should know everything. The fool in me raved. I demanded her promise to marry me as a token of her sincerity. Then she answered me as I deserved. If I did not trust her I might go—and, God help me, I went.”
Again the bitter silence, and again the feathers swelled and waved. The band was playing softly, waltz music now. The Duchess, who was a motherly woman, and loved young men, felt her own eyes grow dim.
“After all,” she said, “you must not blame yourself too much. Emily had her faults like other women. She was a little vain, a little imperious, not always wise. She should have told you everything.”
Douglas rose and made his adieux.
“She trusted me once, Duchess, when everything looked against me, and never even deigned to ask for an explanation. She was a woman. When my turn came I was a coward.”
A JOURNEY—AND A WEDDING
A brilliant and scathing criticism of a successful society play, signed by Douglas in full, and admitted to the columns of a periodical whose standing was unique, followed close upon the issue of his novel. His articles to the Courier were as vivid and characteristic as ever—he had passed with scarcely an effort after his initial success into the front ranks of contemporary writers. Of his private sorrows the world knew nothing, and he carried himself always with an impenetrable front. Yet after that night he felt that a break in his life was imperative—was a necessary condition indeed of his sanity. The literary and society papers chronicled his retirement into the wilds of Devonshire, where he was reported to be studying the plot of his next novel. As a matter of fact he had embarked upon a longer journey.