“The harm has come already, Jack. I’m hit hard. She showed me a mirage of happiness that has made my present world a desert. I am reckless; I’m desperate. You may think it is weak and unmanly, but you don’t know anything about it. Time or the fever may cure me, but now I am bankrupt in all that gives value to life. A woman with an art so consummate that it seemed artless, deliberately evoked the best there was in me, then threw it away as indifferently as a cast-off glove.”
“Tell me how it came about.”
“How can I tell you? How can I in cold blood recall glances, words, intonations, the pressure of a hand that seemed alive with reciprocal feeling? In addition to her beauty she had the irresistible charm of fascination. I was wary at first, but she angled for me with a skill that would have disarmed any man who did not believe in the inherent falseness of woman. The children in the house idolized her, and I have great faith in a child’s intuitions.”
“Oh, that was only a part of her guile,” said Ackland, frowningly.
“Probably; at any rate she has taken all the color and zest out of my life. I wish some one could pay her back in her own coin. I don’t suppose she has a heart; but I wish her vanity might be wounded in a way that would teach her a lesson never to be forgotten.”
“It certainly would be a well-deserved retribution,” said Ackland, musingly.
“Jack, you are the one, of all the world, to administer the punishment. I don’t believe a woman’s smiles ever quickened your pulse one beat.”
“You are right, Will, it is my cold-bloodedness—to put your thought in plain English—that will prove your best ally.”
“I only hope that I am not leading you into danger. You will need an Indian’s stoicism.”
“Bah! I may fail ignominiously, and find her vanity invulnerable, but I pledge you my word that I will avenge you if it be within the compass of my skill. My cousin, Mrs. Alston, may prove a useful ally. I think you wrote me that the name of this siren was Eva Van Tyne?”
“Yes; I only wish she had the rudiments of a heart, so that she might feel in a faint, far-off way a little of the pain she has inflicted on me. Don’t let her make you falter or grow remorseful, Jack. Remember that you have given a pledge to one who may be dead before you can fulfil it.”
Ackland said farewell to his friend with the fear that he might never see him again, and a few days later found himself at a New England seaside resort, with a relentless purpose lurking in his dark eyes. Mrs. Alston did unconsciously prove a useful ally, for her wealth and elegance gave her unusual prestige in the house, and in joining her party Ackland achieved immediately all the social recognition he desired.