The Shadow of the East (Chapter 6, page 2 of 20)


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Chapter 6

Day had succeeded day in torturing indecision. He had lived, slept with the problem, at no time was it out of his mind. In the course of the long rides that had become more frequent, obtruding during the monotonous hours spent in the estate office, the problem persisted. In the sleepless hours of the night he wrestled with it. If it had been a matter of personal inclination, if the past had not risen between them there would have been no hesitation. He would have gone to her months ago, would have begged the priceless gift that she alone could give. He wanted her, almost above the hope of salvation, and the inducement to ignore the past had been all but overpowering. He loved and desired with all the strength of the passionate nature he had inherited. He craved for her with an intensity that was anguish, that set him wondering how far the power of endurance reached, how much a man could bear.

He was torn with the fierce promptings of primeval forces. To take her, willing or unwilling, despite honour, despite all that stood between them, to make her his and hold her in the face of all the world--at times the temptation had been maddening. There had been days when he had not dared to look on her, when he had drawn himself more than ever apart from the common life, fearful of himself, fearful of circumstances that seemed beyond his ordering. And the thought that another could take what he might not had engendered an insensate jealousy that was beyond reason. He did not recognise himself, he had not known the depths of his own nature. If there had been no bar, if she could have come to him willingly, if there could indeed have been for him the full ties of home--the thought was agony. Miss Craven's words had been a sword turning in an open wound. To the burden he already carried had been added this.

The future of his ward had been his problem as well as Miss Craven's. Only a little while ago a way had seemed clear, not a way to his own happiness--by his own act he had put himself beyond all possibility of that--but a way that would mean security and happiness for her who had come to mean more than life to him. For her safety he would have given his soul. The term of his guardianship was drawing to an end, in a few months his legal control over her terminated. Miss Craven who had surrendered her independence for two years would be returning to her own home, to her old life; it had seemed a foregone conclusion that Gillian would accompany her.

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