Even with his baffling black spectacles he looked a gallant figure of a man. He was precisely dressed in perfectly fitting dinner jacket and neat black tie; well-groomed from the points of his patent leather shoes to his trim crisp brown hair. And beneath this scrupulousness of attire lay the suggestion of great strength.
Marigold brought in the tray with decanter, siphon and glasses, and put them on a table, together with cigars and cigarettes, by his side. After a few deft touches, so as to identify the objects, Boyce smiled and nodded at Marigold.
“Thanks very much, Sergeant,” he said.
If there is one thing Marigold loves, it is to be addressed as “Sergeant.” “Marigold” might—indicate a butler, but “Sergeant” means a sergeant.
“Perhaps I might fetch the Colonel a more comfortable chair, sir,” said he.
But Boyce laughed, “No, no!” and Marigold left us.
Boyce’s ear listened for the click of the door. Then he turned to me.
“I was rather mean in sending you in that password. But I felt as if I should go mad if I didn’t see you. You’re the only man living who really knows about me. You’re the only human being who can give me a helping hand. It’s strange, old man—the halt leading the blind. But so it is. And Vilboek’s Farm is the damned essence of the matter. I’ve come to you to ask you, for the love of God, to tell me what I am to do.”
I guessed what had happened. “Betty Connor has told you something that I was to tell you.”
“Yes,” said he. “This afternoon. And in her splendid way she offered to marry me.”
“What did you say?”
“I said that I would give her my answer to-morrow.”
“And what will that answer be?”
“It is for you to tell me,” said Boyce.
“In order to undertake such a terrible responsibility,” said I, “I must know the whole truth concerning Althea Fenimore.”
“I’ve come here to tell it to you,” said he.
It was to a priest rather than to a man that he made full confession of his grievous sin. He did not attempt to mitigate it or to throw upon another a share of the blame. From that attitude he did not vary a hair’s breadth. Meea culpa; mea maxima culpa. That was the burthen of his avowal.
I, knowing the strange mingling in his nature of brutality and sensitiveness, of animal and spiritual, and knowing something of the unstable character of Althea Fenimore, may more justly, I think, than he, sketch out the miserable prologue of the drama. That she was madly, recklessly in love with him there can be no doubt. Nor can there be doubt that unconsciously she fired the passion in him. The deliberate, cold-blooded seducer of his friend’s daughter, such as Boyce, in his confession, made himself out to be, is a rare phenomenon. Almost invariably it is the woman who tempts—tempts innocently and unknowingly, without intent to allure, still less with thought of wrong—but tempts all the same by the attraction which she cannot conceal, by the soft promise which she cannot keep out of her eyes.