THE NINTH GENERATION
The house was very silent. An odour of disinfectants pervaded the atmosphere. Upstairs hushed, swift steps moved to and fro.
Hugh Vallincourt stood at the window of his study, staring out with unseeing eyes at the smooth, shaven lawns and well-kept paths with their background of leafless trees. It seemed to him that he had been standing thus for hours, waiting—waiting for someone to come and tell him that a son and heir was born to him.
He never doubted that it would be a son. By some freak of chance the first-born of the Vallincourts of Coverdale had been, for eight successive generations, a boy. Indeed, by this time, the thing had become so much a habit that no doubts or apprehensions concerning the sex of the eldest child were ever entertained. It was accepted as a foregone conclusion, and in the eyes of the family there was a certain gratifying propriety about such regularity. It was like a hall-mark of heavenly approval.
Hugh Vallincourt, therefore, was conscious at this critical moment of no questionings on that particular score. He was merely a prey to the normal tremors and agitations of a husband and prospective father.
For an ageless period, it seemed to him, his thoughts had clung about that upstairs room where his wife lay battling for her own life and another’s. Suddenly they swung back to the time, a year ago, when he had first met her—an elusive feminine thing still reckoning her age in teens—beneath the glorious blue and gold canopy of the skies of Italy.
Their meeting and brief courtship had been pure romance—romance such as is bred in that land of mellow warmth and colour, where the flower of passion sometimes buds and blooms within the span of a single day.
In like manner had sprung to life the love between Hugh Vallincourt and Diane Wielitzska, and rarely has the web of love enmeshed two more dissimilar and ill-matched people—Hugh, a man of seven-and-thirty, the strict and somewhat self-conscious head of a conspicuously devout old English family, and Diane, a beautiful dancer of mixed origin, the illegitimate offspring of a Russian grand-duke and of a French artist’s model of the Latin Quarter.
The three dread Sisters who determine the fate of men must have laughed amongst themselves at such an obvious mismating, knowing well how inevitably it would tangle the threads of many other lives than the two immediately concerned.
Vallincourt had been brought up on severely conventional lines, reared in the narrow tenets of a family whose salient characteristics were an overweening pride of race and a religious zeal amounting almost to fanaticism, while Diane had had no up-bringing worth speaking of. As for religious views, she hadn’t any.