Chapter X. The Long Voyage

She never remembered afterwards how she accomplished the homeward journey. The rough stones cut her feet again and again, but she never felt the pain. She went as one who has an urgent mission to perform, though what that mission was she scarcely knew.

The night--that night of dreadful tragedy--had changed her. Columbine, the passionate, the impulsive had turned into a being that was foreign to herself. All the happy girlhood had been stamped out of her as by the cruel pressure of a hot iron. She had ceased to feel the agony of it; somehow she did not think that she ever could feel pain again. The nerve tissues had been destroyed and all vitality was gone. The creature that passed like a swift shadow through the twilight of the dawn was an old and withered woman who had lived beyond her allotted time.

She reached the old Ship Inn, meeting no one. She entered by the door of the conservatory through which she had flitted aeons and aeons before to meet her lover. She went to her room and changed into her own clothes. The suit that had belonged to Rufus so long ago she laid away with an odd reverence, still scarcely knowing what she did, driven as it were by a mechanism that worked without any volition of hers.

Then she went to the glass and began to coil up her hair. It was dank and heavy yet with the seawater, but she wound it about her head without noticing. The light was growing, and she peered at herself with a detached sort of curiosity, till something in her own eyes frightened her, and she turned away.

She went to the window and opened it wide. The sound of the sea yet filled the world, but it was not so insistent as it had been. The waves, though mountainous still, were gradually receding from the shore. It was as though the dawn had come just in time to prevent the powers of darkness from triumphing.

She heard someone moving in the house and turned back into the room. Aunt Liza must be told.

Through the spectral dawnlight she went down the stairs and took her way to the kitchen. The door stood half open; she heard the cheery crackling of the newly lighted fire before she entered. And hearing it, she was aware of a great coldness that clung like a chain, fettering her every movement.

Someone moved as she pushed open the door. An enormous shadow leaped upon the wall like a fantastic monster of the deep. She recoiled for a second, then, as if drawn against her will, she entered.

By the ruddy glow of the fire she saw a man's broad-chested figure, she saw the gleam of tawny hair above a thick bull-neck. He was bending slightly over the fire at her entrance, but, hearing her, he turned. And in that moment every numbed nerve in Columbine's body was pierced into quivering life.

She stood as one transfixed, and he stood motionless also in the flickering light of the flames, gazing at her with eyes of awful blue that were as burning spirit. But he spoke not a word--not a word. How could a dead man speak?

And as they stood thus, facing each other, the floor between them began suddenly to heave, became a mass of seething billows that rocked her, caught her, engulfed her. She went down into them, and as the tossing darkness received her, her last thought was that Rufus had come back indeed--not to say farewell, but to take her with him on the long voyage from which there is no return....