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Those Who Wait
by [?]

Again he flung out his arms with a wide gesture, and again out of the night there came a long roll of thunder that was like the menace of a tortured thing. A flicker of lightning gleamed through the open door for a moment, and Conyers’ dark face was made visible. He had ceased to smoke, and was staring with fixed, inscrutable eyes into the darkness. He did not flinch from the lightning; it was as if he did not see it.

“What would she do, I wonder, if the prodigal returned,” he said quietly. “Would she be glad–or sorry?”

“He never will,” returned Hugh quickly. “He never can–after fifteen years. Think of it! Besides–she wouldn’t have him if he did.”

“Women are proverbially faithful,” remarked Conyers cynically.

“She will stick to me now,” Hugh returned with confidence. “The other fellow is probably dead. In any case, he has no shadow of a right over her. He never even asked her to wait for him.”

“Possibly he thought that she would wait without being asked,” said Conyers, still cynical.

“Well, she has ceased to care for him now,” asserted Hugh. “She told me so herself.”

The man opposite shifted his position ever so slightly. “And you are satisfied with that?” he said.

“Of course I am. Why not?” There was almost a challenge in Hugh’s voice.

“And if he came back?” persisted the other. “You would still be satisfied?”

Hugh sprang to his feet with a movement of fierce impatience. “I believe I should shoot him!” he said vindictively. He looked like a splendid wild animal suddenly awakened. “I tell you, Conyers,” he declared passionately, “I could kill him with my hands if he came between us now.”

Conyers, his chin on his hand, looked him up and down as though appraising his strength.

Suddenly he sat bolt upright and spoke–spoke briefly, sternly, harshly, as a man speaks in the presence of his enemy. At the same instant a frightful crash of thunder swept the words away as though they had never been uttered.

In the absolute pandemonium of sound that followed, Hugh Palliser, with a face gone suddenly white, went over to his friend and stood behind him, his hands upon his shoulders.

But Conyers sat quite motionless, staring forth at the leaping lightning, rigid, sphinx-like. He did not seem aware of the man behind him, till, as the uproar began to subside, Hugh bent and spoke.

“Do you know, old chap, I’m scared!” he said, with a faint, shamed laugh. “I feel as if there were devils abroad. Speak to me, will you, and tell me I’m a fool!”

“You are,” said Conyers, without turning.

“That lightning is too much for my nerves,” said Hugh uneasily. “It’s almost red. What was it you said just now? I couldn’t hear a word.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Conyers.

“But what was it? I want to know.”

The gleam in the fixed eyes leaped to sudden terrible flame, shone hotly for a few seconds, then died utterly away. “I don’t remember,” said Conyers quietly. “It couldn’t have been anything of importance. Have a drink! You will have to be getting back as soon as this is over.”

Hugh helped himself with a hand that was not altogether steady. There had come a lull in the tempest. The cartoon on the wall was fluttering like a caged thing. He glanced at it, then looked at it closely. It was a reproduction of Dore’s picture of Satan falling from heaven.

“It isn’t meant for you surely!” he said.

Conyers laughed and got to his feet. “It isn’t much like me, is it?”

Hugh looked at him uncertainly. “I never noticed it before. It might have been you years ago.”

“Ah, perhaps,” said Conyers. “Why don’t you drink? I thought you were going to give me a toast.”

Hugh’s mood changed magically. He raised his glass high. “Here’s to your eternal welfare, dear fellow! I drink to your heart’s desire.”

Conyers waited till Hugh had drained his glass before he lifted his own.

Then, “I drink to the one woman,” he said, and emptied it at a draught.

* * * * *

The storm was over, and a horse’s feet clattered away into the darkness, mingling rhythmically with a cheery tenor voice.

In the room with the open door a man’s figure stood for a long while motionless.

When he moved at length it was to open the locked drawer of the writing-table. His right hand felt within it, closed upon something that lay there; and then he paused.

Several minutes crawled away.

From afar there came the long rumble of thunder. But it was not this that he heard as he stood wrestling with the fiercest temptation he had ever known.

Stiffly at last he stooped, peered into the drawer, finally closed it with an unfaltering hand. The struggle was over.

“For your sake, Damaris!” he said aloud, and he spoke without cynicism. “I should know how to wait by now–even for death–which is all I have to wait for.”

And with that he pulled the fluttering paper from the wall, crushed it in his hand, and went out heavily into the night.


[Footnote 1: This story was originally issued in the Red Magazine.]