The Sacrifice by Ethel M. Dell
Burleigh Wentworth looked around him with a frown of discontent.
He ought to have been in good spirits. Life on the moors suited him. The shooting was excellent, the hospitality beyond reproach. But yet he was not satisfied. People had wholly ceased to eye him askance. He had come himself to look back upon his trial as a mere escapade. It had been an unpleasant experience. He had been a fool to run such a risk. But it was over, and he had come out with flying colours, thanks to Percival Field's genius. A baffling, unapproachable sort of man--Field! The affair of his marriage was still a marvel to Wentworth. He had a strong suspicion that there was more in the conquest than met the eye, but he knew he would never find out from Field.
Violet was getting enigmatical too, but he couldn't stand that. He would put a stop to it. She might be a married woman, but she needn't imagine she was going to keep him at a distance.
She and her husband had joined the house-party of which he was a member the day before. It was the end of their honeymoon, and they were returning to town after their sojourn on the moors. He grimaced to himself at the thought. How would Violet like town in September? He had asked her that question the previous night, but she had not deigned to hear. Decidedly, Violet was becoming interesting. He would have to penetrate that reserve of hers.
He wondered why she was not carrying a gun. She had always been such an ardent sportswoman. He would ask her that also presently. In fact, he felt inclined to go back and ask her now. He was not greatly enjoying himself. It was growing late, and it had begun to drizzle.
His inclination became the more insistent, the more he thought of it. Yes, he would go. He was intimate enough with his host to do as he liked without explanation. And he and Violet had always been such pals. Besides, the thought of sitting with her in the firelight while her husband squelched about in the rain was one that appealed to him. He had no liking for Field, however deeply he might be in his debt. That latent antagonism between them was perpetually making itself felt. He hated the man for the very ability by which he himself had been saved. He hated his calm superiority. Above all, he hated him for marrying Violet. It seemed that he had only to stretch out his hand for whatever he wanted. Still, he hadn't got everything now, Wentworth said to himself, as he strode impatiently back over the moor. Possibly, as time went on, he might even come to realise that what he had was not worth very much.
He reached and entered the old grey house well ahead of any of the other sportsmen. He was determined to find Violet somehow, and he made instant enquiry for her of one of the servants.
The reply served in some measure to soothe his chafing mood. Her ladyship had gone up into the turret some little time back, and was believed to be on the roof.
Without delay he followed her. The air blew chill down the stone staircase as he mounted it. He would have preferred sitting downstairs with her over the fire. But at least interruptions were less probable in this quarter.
There was a battlemented walk at the top of the tower, and here he found her, with a wrap thrown over her head, gazing out through one of the deep embrasures over the misty country to a line of hills in the far distance. The view was magnificent, lighted here and there by sunshine striking through scudding cloud-drifts. And a splendid rainbow spanned it like a multi-coloured frame.
She did not hear him approaching. He wondered why, till he was so close that he could see her face, and then very swiftly she turned upon him and he saw that she was crying.
"My dear girl!" he exclaimed.
She drew back sharply. It was impossible to conceal her distress all in a moment. She moved aside, battling with herself.
He came close to her. "Violet!" he said.
"Don't!" she said, in a choked whisper.
He slipped an arm about her, gently overcoming her resistance. "I say--what's the matter? What's troubling you?"
He had never held her so before. Always till that moment she had maintained a delicate reserve in his presence, a barrier which he had never managed to overcome. He had even wondered sometimes if she were afraid of him. But now in her hour of weakness she suffered him, albeit under protest.
"Oh, go away!" she whispered. "Please--you must!"
But Wentworth had no thought of yielding his advantage. He pressed her to him.
"Violet, I say! You're miserable! I knew you were the first moment I saw you. And I can't stand it. You must let me help. Don't anyhow try to keep me outside!"
"You can't help," she murmured, with her face averted. "At least--only by going away."
But he held her still. "That's rot, you know. I'm not going. What is it? Tell me! Is he a brute to you?"
She made a more determined effort to disengage herself. "Whatever he is, I've got to put up with him. So it's no good talking about it."
"Oh, but look here!" protested Wentworth. "You and I are such old friends. I used to think you cared for me a little. Violet, I say, what induced you to marry that outsider?"
She was silent, not looking at him.
"You were always so proud," he went on. "I never thought in the old days that you would capitulate to a bounder like that. Why, you might have had that Bohemian prince if you'd wanted him."
"I didn't want him!" She spoke with sudden vehemence, as if stung into speech. "I'm not the sort of snob-woman who barters herself for a title!"
"No?" said Wentworth, looking at her curiously. "But what did you barter yourself for, I wonder?"
She flinched, and dropped back into silence.
"Won't you tell me?" he said.
"No." She spoke almost under her breath. He relinquished the matter with the air of a man who has gained his point. "Do you know," he said, in a different tone, "if it hadn't been for that fiendish trial, I'd have been in the same race with Field, and I believe I'd have made better running, too?"
"Ah!" she said.
It was almost a gasp of pain. He stopped deliberately and looked into her face.
"Violet!" he said.
She trembled at his tone and thrust out a protesting hand. "Ah, what is the use?" she cried. "Do you--do you want to break my heart?"
Her voice failed. For the first time her eyes met his fully.
There followed an interval of overwhelming stillness in which neither of them drew a breath. Then, with an odd sound that might have been a laugh strangled at birth. Burleigh Wentworth gathered her to his heart and held her there.
"No!" he said. "No! I want to make you--the happiest woman in the world!"
"Too late! Too late!" she whispered.
But he stopped the words upon her lips, passionately, irresistibly, with his own.
"You are mine!" he swore, with his eyes on hers. "You are mine! No man on earth shall ever take you from me again!"