Chapter IX

It was in the early hours of the morning that Nina Perceval reached Bombay.

She had sat wide-eyed and motionless all through the night. She had felt no desire to sleep. An intense horror of her surroundings seemed to possess her. She was like a hunted creature seeking to escape from a world of horrors. She would know no rest till she reached the sea, till she was speeding away over the glittering water, and the land--that land which had become more hateful to her than any prison--was left far behind.

She had played her game, she had sped her shaft, and now panic--sheer, unreasoning panic--filled her. She was terrified at what she had done, too terrified yet for coherent thought. She had taken her revenge at last. She had pierced her conqueror to the heart. As he had once laughed at her, as he had once, with a smile and a jest, broken and tossed her aside--so she had done to him. She had gathered up her wounded pride, and she had smitten him therewith. She was convinced that he would never laugh at her again.

He would get over it, of course; men always did. She had known men by the score who played the same merry game, men who broke hearts for sport and went their careless ways, unheeding, uncomprehending. It was the way of the world, this world of countless tragedies. She had learned, in her piteous cynicism, to look for nothing else. Faithfulness had become to her a myth. Surely all men loved--they called it love--and rode away.

No, she did not flatter herself that she had hurt him very seriously. She had dealt his pride a blow, that was all.

She reached Bombay, and secured her berth. The steamer was to sail at noon. There were not a great many passengers, and she managed to engage a cabin to herself. But she could not even attempt to rest in that turmoil of noise and excitement. She went ashore again, and repaired to a hotel for a meal. She took a private room, and lay down; but sleep would not come to her, and presently, urged by that gnawing restlessness, she was pacing up and down, up and down, like a wild creature newly caged.

Sometimes she paused at the window to stare down into the busy thoroughfare below, but she never paused for long. The fever that consumed her gave her no rest, and again she was pacing to and fro, to and fro, eternally, counting the leaden minutes that crept by so slowly.

At last, when flesh and blood could endure no longer, she snatched up her hat and veil, and prepared to go on board. Standing before a mirror, she began to adjust these with trembling fingers, but suddenly stopped dead, gazing speechlessly before her. For her own eyes had inadvertently met the eyes of the haggard woman in the glass, and dumbly, with a new horror clutching at her heart, she stared into their wild depths and read as in a book the tale of torture that they held.

When she turned away at length, she was shivering from head to foot as though she had seen a spectre; and so in truth she had. For those eyes had told her what she had not otherwise begun to realise.

That which she had believed dead for so long had been, only dormant, and had sprung to sudden, burning life. The weapon with which she had thought to pierce her enemy had turned in her grasp and pierced her also, pierced her with an agony unspeakable--ay, pierced her to the heart.