The woman at the table languidly peeling a peach looked like a beautiful white flower floating on a lake of flame as she sat half hidden in ferns and flowers under the glare cast by the shaded electric lights. Any less fortunate sister of hers who had glanced in through the open windows leading to the garden would have envied her as one of those who toil not, neither do they spin. She looked so beautiful, so detached and aloof from the cares and troubles of the world. She was dressed in a pallid evening gown, all lace and dainty chiffon, and about her was all the evidence of luxury and wealth. Nothing was wanting there, from the dull red of the walls with their pictures, the glint of silver on the table, the gleam of crystal glass; it seemed not unlike a scene from some society comedy. And yet the girl's face was drawn and hard, there were deep lines under her eyes and a queer, proud tremor about the corner of a mouth that was made for smiles and kisses, rather than for the hard lines of sorrow.
At the other end of the table the man was seated, a big fine-looking man with the frame and appearance of an athlete, comparatively young, handsome in an animal way, and the owner of this beautiful house. But, at the same time, the blue eyes were dull and bleared, the hand that trifled with the coffee cup was tremulous and shaky, and on the man's forehead a bead of perspiration had gathered. A doctor would have guessed what Robert Molyneux was suffering from at a glance. To the trained eye those twitching muscles and the loose, hanging lips would have told their own story in a word. For Robert Molyneux was a dipsomaniac, and the beautiful girl sitting opposite to him was his wife. The beautiful surroundings were no more to her than a human cage.
For two years Cecil Molyneux had lived a life that it would be impossible to describe. If there was one comfort that she deprived, one drop of consolation in her sea of misery, it lay in the fact that she cared nothing for her husband, and that he was equally indifferent to her. He had never loved her; he had married her because he would, because she had loathed and despised him, and because it had seemed good to him that he should break that proud spirit of hers. He had known at the time that her heart was given to Godfrey Coventry, but this had merely been part of the punishment that he had designed for her. He had taken every advantage of the fact that fate had placed her father's good name in the hollow of his hands, and with this lash over her head she had gone like a statue to the altar. She had known, too, only too well, the character of the man whose name she had taken. She was used now to his insults and humiliations, and she was little better than a nurse who is charged with looking after a dangerous lunatic. And there were times when her husband was dangerous, there were times when she carried the marks of his violence on her white flesh, times when she knelt by her bedside and prayed a merciful Providence to put an end to it. And one of these times was at hand now. She knew the signs too well to be deceived even for a minute.
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