“Tell me, loveliest lady,” he said, with the touch of exaggeration which his manner always holds toward me, “tell me, haven’t I squared up part of your account with the old girl this last week?”
“Why, what do you mean?” I stammered.
“Don’t pretend such innocence,” he retorted. “If you want me to tell you in so many words, I beg leave to inform you that I’ve been doing my little best to annoy your august mother-in-law to pay her off for her general cussedness toward you, and, incidentally, me.”
“But she hasn’t been cross to me,” I protested.
“Not the last three or four days perhaps, but I’ll bet you’ve had quite a dose since she came to live at your house, and you’ll have another if she ever finds out my wicked designs upon you.” He smiled mockingly and took a step nearer to me. “Don’t forget you owe me a kiss,” he said, with teasing maliciousness, referring to the time when he had threatened to “kiss me under water.” “Don’t you think you had better give in to me now?”
Dicky’s step in the hall prevented my rebuking him as I wished. I told myself that, of course, his persistent reference to that kiss was simply one of mockery and I also admitted to myself that as much as I loved Lillian I was glad that her husband was to be no longer a guest in our house.
A MYSTERIOUS STRANGER
“Well, my dear, what are you mooning over that you didn’t see me come in? I beg your pardon, Madge, what is the matter? Tell me.”
Lillian Underwood stood before me a week after her visit to us. Lillian, whose entrance into the small reception room of the Sydenham, at which we had an appointment, I had not even seen. She stood looking down at me with an anxious, alarmed expression in her eyes.
“There is nothing the matter,” I returned, evasively.
“Don’t tell me a tarradiddle, my dear,” Lillian countered smoothly. “You’re as white as a sheet, and I can see your hands trembling this minute. Something has happened to upset you. But, of course, if you’d rather not tell me—”
There was a subtle hint of withdrawal in her tone. I was afraid that I had offended her. After all, why not tell her of the stranger who had so startled me?
“Look over by the door, Lillian,” I said, in a low voice, “not suddenly as if I had just spoken to you about it, but carelessly. Tell me if there is a man still standing there staring at us.”
Lillian whistled softly beneath her breath, a little trick she has when surprised.
“Oh-h-h!” she breathed, and turning, she looked swiftly at the place I had indicated.
“I see a disappearing back which looks as though it might belong to a ‘masher.’ I just caught sight of him as he turned—well set-up man about middle age, hair sprinkled with gray, rather stunning looking.”
“Yes, that is the man,” I returned, faintly, “but, Lillian, I’m sure he isn’t an ordinary ‘masher.’ He had the strangest, saddest, most mysterious look in his eyes. It was almost as if he knew me or thought he did, and I have the most uncanny feeling about him, as if he were some one I had known long ago. I can’t describe to you the effect he had upon me.”