Ida’s slight figure sprang erect, her face grew crimson and her eyes flashed with a just wrath which could no longer be suppressed.
“I think you must be mad,” she said in a low voice. “Indeed, you must be mad, or you would not insult me in this way. If I were guilty of the conduct of which you accuse me, I should not be fit to live, should not be fit to remain in any respectable house.”
“You are guilty,” retorted Mrs. Heron. “And as to your being fit to remain under this roof—and it was a respectable and happy one until you came—you are the best judge. I shall inform your cousin John of what has passed—it is my duty to do so—and he shall decide whether you are to remain, a firebrand, and a disturber of the peace of a Christian household. It is my duty to protect my poor boy.”
At that moment the hall door was opened and closed, and the “poor boy,” after shuffling about in the hall for a moment or two, opened the drawing-room door. His hat was on the back of his head, one end of his collar was unfastened, his face was flushed, and there was mud on his coat, as if he had fallen—which he had. He lurched into the room with a tipsy leer, and nodded to them with an affectation of extreme sobriety, which is unfortunately always assumed by the individual who is hopelessly intoxicated. Mrs. Heron rose with outstretched hands.
“Oh, Joseph, are you ill? My poor boy!”
“Ill?” he repeated, with a hiccough. “No, I’m not ill. Yes, I am, though; it’s mental worry, it’s a ’arassed ’eart;” he looked at Ida and shook his head reproachfully. “She knows, but she don’t care—But whatsh the matter,” he broke off, staring at Isabel, who was still struggling with her sniffs and sobs. “Whatsh up? Whatsh Isabel cryin’ for? Ida been cryin’ too? Look ’ere, I won’t shtand that. If they’ve bin ill-treating you, Ida, my dear, you shay so, and I’ll know the reashon why. You come to me, my dear.”
He lurched towards Ida, and as she drew back with a shudder of horror and loathing, Isabel and his mother caught the wretched young man by the arm, and with cries of alarm and commiseration, endeavoured to soothe him.
“Don’t speak to her, don’t think of her; she’s not worth it!” said Mrs. Heron. “She’s not worth any sensible man’s thoughts, least of all a man like you, Joseph. You are ill, you must come to bed!”
“Stuff an’ ’umbug,” he hiccoughed, as he struggled feebly with them, and cast enamoured and would-be reassuring glances at Ida’s white and stern face. “She’s a shplendid girl; she’s a good girl; finest gal I know; and she an’ me undershtand one another; twin shouls. We’ve kep’ our secret from you, mother, but the time has come—the time has come to reveal the truth. I love Ida. It’sh no good your frowning at me like that; I shay I love Ida.”