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When the party broke up for the night Thorpe walked a half mile over the dunes, until, for any evidence of civilisation, he was alone in the wilderness, then lay down on the warm sand and took counsel with himself.
He had taken the plunge, and he had no regrets. He recalled his doubts, his certainty that the Randolph skeleton was not the figment of a girl’s morbid imagination, his analysis of a temperament which he was only beginning to understand, and wherein lay gloomy foreshadowings, the fact that her first appeal had been to his animalism and that the appeal had been direct and powerful. Until the morning of the elk-hunt, he had not admitted that he loved her; but in a flash he had realised her tragic and desolate position, little as he guessed the cause, and coincidently his greater love for her had taken form so definitely that he had not hesitated a moment to ask her to marry him. Later, he had persuaded himself that he was well out of it; but between that time and this he had allowed himself hardly a moment for meditation.
To-night he had not a regret. The certainty that she loved him put his last scruple to flight, and changed his attitude to her irrevocably. He had never loved before, nor had she. She seemed indivisibly and eternally a part of him, and he recalled the sense of ownership he had experienced the night he had met her, when the evil alone in her claimed him. To-night the sense was stronger still, and he no longer believed that there was a spark of evil in her; the moment he became a lover, he became an idealist. He exaggerated every better quality into a perfection; and all other women seemed marionnettes beside the one who could make him shiver with hopes and fears, affect his appetite, and control his dreams, who made him wild to surrender his liberty before he was thirty, and accept a woman of the people as a mother-in-law.
The full knowledge suddenly poured into his brain that he was in love, he,—Dudley Thorpe, who had crammed his life so full of other interests that he had rarely thought of love, believing serenely that it would arrive when he was forty, and ready for it. He lay along the sands and surrendered himself to the experience, the most marvellous and delicious he had ever known. Once he caught himself up and laughed, then felt that he had committed a sacrilege. He knew that as he felt then, as he might continue to feel during his engagement, was an isolated experience in a man’s life. He felt like clutching at even the tremours and fears that assailed him, and cutting them deep in his brain, that he might have their memory sharp and vivid when he was long married and serenely content. He was happier in those moments, lying alone on the dry warm sand under the crowding stars which had outlived so many passions, than when he had held her in his arms. He felt that something had escaped him when they had been together, some thought had strayed; and he determined to concentrate his faculties more fully and to become a master in love. He did nothing by halves, and he would be completely happy.
Then his thoughts became practical once more. Her admission that she loved him had given him a right to control her life, to protect her, to think for both. He was a very high-handed man, and, having made up his mind to marry Nina Randolph, he regarded her opposition as non-existent. He would argue it out with her, when she was ready to speak, knowing that the mental tide of woman, when undammed, must have its way; but he alone would decide the issue.
He should no longer torment himself with imaginings, rehearsing every ill that could befall a woman, whether the act of her own folly or the cruel hatching of Circumstance. It mattered nothing; he should marry her. His want of her was maddening. The desire to pluck her from her present life, to make her happy, possessed him.
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