At first I did not realise what was happening. I saw the Duke’s eyes contract, and the muscles of his mouth drawn down, and, at the same time, a tense upward movement of his whole body. Then, suddenly, the strain undone: a downward dart of the head, a loud percussion. Thrice the Duke sneezed, with a sound that was as the bursting of the dams of body and soul together; then sneezed again.
Now was his will broken. He capitulated. In rushed shame and horror and hatred, pell-mell, to ravage him.
What care now, what use, for deportment? He walked coweringly round and round his room, with frantic gestures, with head bowed. He shuffled and slunk. His dressing-gown had the look of a gabardine.
Shame and horror and hatred went slashing and hewing throughout the fallen citadel. At length, exhausted, he flung himself down on the window-seat and leaned out into the night, panting. The air was full of thunder. He clutched at his throat. From the depths of the black caverns beneath their brows the eyes of the unsleeping Emperors watched him.
He had gone through much in the day that was past. He had loved and lost. He had striven to recapture, and had failed. In a strange resolve he had found serenity and joy. He had been at the point of death, and had been saved. He had seen that his beloved was worthless, and he had not cared. He had fought for her, and conquered; and had pled with her, and—all these memories were loathsome by reason of that final thing which had all the while lain in wait for him.
He looked back and saw himself as he had been at a score of crucial moments in the day—always in the shadow of that final thing. He saw himself as he had been on the playing-fields of Eton; aye! and in the arms of his nurse, to and fro on the terrace of Tankerton—always in the shadow of that final thing, always piteous and ludicrous, doomed. Thank heaven the future was unknowable? It wasn’t, now. To-morrow—to-day—he must die for that accursed fiend of a woman—the woman with the hyena laugh.
What to do meanwhile? Impossible to sleep. He felt in his body the strain of his quick sequence of spiritual adventures. He was dog-tired. But his brain was furiously out of hand: no stopping it. And the night was stifling. And all the while, in the dead silence, as though his soul had ears, there was a sound. It was a very faint, unearthly sound, and seemed to come from nowhere, yet to have a meaning. He feared he was rather over-wrought.
He must express himself. That would soothe him. Ever since childhood he had had, from time to time, the impulse to set down in writing his thoughts or his moods. In such exercises he had found for his self-consciousness the vent which natures less reserved than his find in casual talk with Tom, Dick and Harry, with Jane, Susan, and Liz. Aloof from either of these triads, he had in his first term at Eton taken to himself as confidant, and retained ever since, a great quarto volume, bound in red morocco and stamped with his coronet and cypher. It was herein, year by year, that his soul spread itself.