The Return Game by Ethel M. Dell
As one in a dream she stood on deck and watched India slipping below the horizon. Her restlessness was subsiding at last. She was conscious of an intense weariness, greater than any she had ever known. As soon as that distant line of land had disappeared she told herself that she would go and rest. Her fellow passengers had for the most part settled down. They sat about in groups under the awning. A few, like herself, stood at the rail and gazed astern, but there was no one very near her. She felt as if she stood utterly alone in all the world.
Slowly at last she turned away. Slowly she crossed the deck and began to descend the companion. A knot of people stood talking at the foot. They made way for her to pass. She went through them without a glance. She scarcely even saw them.
She went to her cabin and lay down, but she knew at once that sleep would not come to her. Her eyes burned as though weighted with many scalding tears, but she could not weep. She could only lie staring vaguely before her, and dumbly endure that suffering which she had vainly fancied could never again be her portion. She could only strive--and strive in vain--to shut out the vision of the man she loved standing alone at the altar waiting for the woman who had played him false.
The dinner hour approached. Mechanically she rose and dressed. She did not shrink from meeting the eyes of strangers. They simply did not exist for her. She took her place in the great dining saloon, looking neither to right nor left. The buzz of conversation all around her passed her by. She might have been sitting in utter solitude. And all the while the misery gnawed ever deeper into her heart.
She rose at last, before the meal was ended, and went up to the great empty deck. She felt as if she would stifle below. But, up above, the wash of the sea and the immensity of the night soothed her somewhat. She found a secluded corner, and leaned upon the rail, gazing out over the black waste of water.
What was he doing, she wondered. How was he spending this second night of misery? Had he begun to console himself already? She tried to think so, but failed--failed utterly.
Irresistibly the memory of the man swept over her, his gentleness, his chivalry, his unfailing kindness. She was beginning to see the whole bitter tragedy by the light of her repentance. He had loved her, surely he had loved her in those old days when she had tricked him in sheer, childish gaiety of soul. And, for her sake, that her suffering might be the briefer, he had masked his love. She had never thought so before, but she saw it clearly now.
It had all been a miserable misunderstanding from beginning to end, but she was sure, now, that he had loved her faithfully for all those years. And if it were against all reason to think so, if all her experience told her that men were not moulded thus, had not his chosen friend declared him to be one in ten thousand, and did not her quivering woman's heart know him to be such? Ah, what had she done? What had she done?
"Oh, Pat!" she sobbed. "Pat! Pat! Pat!"
The great idol of her pride had fallen at last, and she wept her heart out up there in the darkness, till physical exhaustion finally overcame her, and she could weep no more.