“Rudolph, I had a trifle underrated your resources. For you are a brave man—we physical cowards, you know, admire that above all things—and a strong man and a clever man, in that you have adroitly played upon the purely brutal traits of women. Any she-animal clings to its young and looks for protection in its mate. Upon a higher ground I would have beaten you, but as an animal you are my superior. Still, a thing done has an end. You have won back your wife in open fight. I fancy, by the way, that you have rather laid up future trouble for yourself in doing so, but I honor the skill you have shown. Colonel Musgrave, it is to you that, as the vulgar phrase it, I take off my hat.”
Thereupon, Mr. Charteris uncovered his head with perfect gravity, and turned on his heel, and went down the road, whistling melodiously.
Musgrave stared after him, for a while. The lust of victory died; the tumult and passion and fervor were gone from Musgrave’s soul. He could very easily imagine the things Jack Charteris would say to Anne concerning him; and the colonel knew that she would believe them all. He had won the game; he had played it, heartily and skilfully and successfully; and his reward was that the old bickerings with Patricia should continue, and that Anne should be taught to loathe him. He foresaw it all very plainly as he stood, hand in hand with his wife.
But Anne would be happy. It was for that he had played.
They came back to Matocton almost silently. The spell of the dawn was broken; it was honest, garish day now, and they were both hungry.
Patricia’s spirits were rising, as a butterfly’s might after a thunderstorm. Since she had only a few months to live, she would at least not waste them in squabbling. She would be conscientiously agreeable to everybody.
“Ah, Rudolph, Rudolph!” she cooed, “if I had only known all along that you loved me!”
“My dear,” he protested, fondly, “it seemed such a matter of course.” He was a little tired, perhaps; the portmanteau seemed very heavy.
“A woman likes to be told—a woman likes to be told every day. Otherwise, she forgets,” Patricia murmured. Then her face grew tenderly reproachful. “Ah, Rudolph, Rudolph, see what your carelessness and neglect has nearly led to! It nearly led to my running away with a man like—like that! It would have been all your fault, Rudolph, if I had. You know it would have been, Rudolph.”
And Patricia sighed once more, and then laughed and became magnanimous.
“Yes—yes, after all, you are the boy’s father.” She smiled up at him kindly and indulgently. “I forgive you, Rudolph,” said Patricia.
He must have shown that pardon from Patricia just now was not unflavored with irony, for she continued, in another voice: “Who, after all, is the one human being you love? You know that it’s the boy, and just the boy alone. I gave you that boy. You should remember that, I think—”