Tom’s heart burned within him, and the race thirst—for vengeance that could be touched and seen and handled—parched his lips and swelled the veins in his forehead. Vincent Farley had it all: the business, the good repute, the love of the one woman. At such crises the wild beast in a man, if any there be, rattles the bars of its cage, and—well, you will see that the gnashing of teeth and that fierce talk of heart-cutting at the quickening moment were not inartistic.
Soberer second thought, less frenzied, was no less vengeful and vindictive. Tom had lived four formative years in a climate where the passions are colder—and more comprehensive. Also, he was of his own generation—which slays its enemy peacefully and without messing in bloody-angle details.
Riding up the pike one sun-shot afternoon in the golden September, Tom saw Ardea entering the open door of the Morwenstow church-copy, drew rein, flung himself out of the saddle and followed her. She saw him and stopped in the vestibule, quaking a little as she felt she must always quake until the impassable chasm of wedlock with another should be safely opened between them.
“Just a moment,” he said abruptly. “There was a time when I said I would spare Vincent Farley and his kin for your sake. Do you remember it?”
She bowed her head without speaking. Her lips were dry.
“That was a year ago,” he went on roughly. “Things have changed since then; I have changed. When my father is buried, I shall do my best to fill the mourners’ carriages with those who have killed him.”
“How is your father to-day?” she asked, not daring to trust speech otherwise.
“He is the same as he was yesterday and the day before; the same as he will always be from this on—a broken man.”
“You will strike back?” She said it with infinite sadness in her voice and an upcasting of eyes that were swimming. “I don’t question your right—but I pity you. The blow may be just—I don’t know, but God knows—yet it will fall hardest on you in the end, Tom.”
His smile was almost boyish in its frank anger. But there was a man’s sneer in his words.
“Excuse me; I forgot for the moment that we are in a church. But I am taking consequences, these days.”
She looked out from the cool, dark refuge of the vestibule when he mounted and rode on, and her heart was full. It was madness, vindictive madness and fell anger. But it was a generous wrath, large and manlike. It was not to be a blow in the dark or in the back, as some men struck; and he would not strike without first giving her warning. Ardea had been cross-questioning Japheth about the assault at the Woodlawn gates—to her own hurt. Japheth had evaded as he could, but she had guessed what he was keeping back—the identity of the two footpads blackened to look like negroes. It was a weary world, and life had lost much that had made it worth living.