Chapter XII
 

For many, many seconds after his departure she lay without breathing, exactly as he had left her, listening, listening with all the strength that remained to her for the sounds of conflict.

But all she heard was Piet's voice pitched so low that she could not catch a word. Then came Jerry's in sharp, staccato tones. He seemed to be surprised at something, surprised and indignant. Twice she heard him fling out an emphatic denial. And, while she still listened with a panting heart, there came the tread of their feet upon the stairs, and she knew that they had descended to the lower regions.

For a long, long while she still crouched there listening, but there came to her straining ears no hubbub of blows--only the sound of men's voices talking together in the room below her, with occasional silences between. Once indeed she fancied that Jerry spoke with passionate vehemence, but the outburst--if such it were--evoked no response.

Slowly the minutes dragged away. It was growing very late. What could be happening? What were they saying to each other? When--when would this terrible strain of waiting be over?

Hark! What was that? The tread of feet once more and the sound of an opening door. Ah, what were they doing? What? What?

Trembling afresh she raised herself on the bed to listen. There came to her the sudden throbbing of a motor-engine. He had come in his car, then, and now he was going, going without another word to her, leaving her alone with Jerry. The conviction came upon her like a stunning blow, depriving her for the moment of all reason. She leapt from the bed and threw herself against the door, battering against it wildly with her fists.

She must see him again! She must! She must! She would not be deserted thus! The bare thought was intolerable to her. Did he hold her so lightly as this, then--that, having followed her a hundred miles through blinding snow, he could turn his back upon her and leave her thus?

That could only mean but one thing, and her blood turned to fire as she realized it. It meant that he would have no more of her, that he deemed her unworthy, that--that he intended to set her free!

But she could not bear it! She would not! She would not! She would escape. She would force Jerry to let her go. She would follow him through that dreadful wilderness of snow. She would run in the tracks of his wheels until she found him.

And then she would force him--she would force him--to listen to her while she poured out to him the foolish, the pitiably foolish truth!

But what if he would not believe her? What then? What then? She had sunk to her knees before the door, still beating madly upon it, and crying wildly at the keyhole for Jerry to come and set her free.

In every pause she heard the buzzing of the engine. It seemed to her to hold a jeering note. The outer door was open, and an icy draught blew over her face as she knelt there waiting for Jerry. She broke off again to listen, and heard the muffled sounds of wheels in the snow. Then came the note of the hooter, mockingly distinct; and then the hum of the engine receding from the house. The outer door banged, and the icy draught suddenly ceased.

With a loud cry she flung herself once more at the unyielding panels, bruising hands and shoulders against the senseless wood.

"Jerry! Jerry!" she cried, and again in anguished accents, "Jerry! Come to me, quick, oh, quick! Let me out! Let me out!"

She heard a step upon the stairs. He was coming.

In a frenzy she beat and shook the door to make him hasten. She was ready to fly forth like a whirlwind in the wake of the speeding motor. For she must follow him, she must overtake him; she must--Heaven help her! She must somehow make him understand!

Oh, why was Jerry so slow? Every instant was increasing the distance between her and that buzzing motor. She screamed to him in an agony of impatience to hurry, to hurry, only to hurry.

He did not call in answer, but at last, at last, his hand was on the door.

She stumbled to her feet as the key grated in the lock, and dragged fiercely at the handle. It resisted her, for there was another hand upon it, and with an exclamation of fierce impatience she snatched her own away.

"Oh, be quick!" she cried hysterically. "Be quick! He is miles away by this time. I shall never catch him, and I must, I must!"

The door opened. She dashed forward. But a man's arm barred her progress, and with a cry she drew back. The next moment she reeled as she stood, reeled gasping till she slipped and slid to the floor at his feet. The man upon the threshold was her husband!