“Tell us something about her,” said Mr. Cooper, hastily.
“I daren’t,” said Mr. Simpson. “Doesn’t that prove I’m her husband? But I’ll tell you things about your wife, if you like.”
“You dare!” said Mrs. Cooper, turning crimson, as she realized what confidences might have passed between husband and wife. “If you say a word of your lies about me, I don’t know what I won’t do to you.”
“Very well, I must go on about Bob, then—till he recognizes me,” said Mr. Simpson, patiently. “Carry your mind—”
“Open the door and let him out,” shouted Mr. Cooper, turning to his sister. “How can I recognize a man through a deal door?”
Mrs. Simpson, after a little hesitation, handed him the key, and the next moment her husband stepped out and stood blinking in the gas-light.
“Do you recognize me?” he asked, turning to Mr. Cooper.
“I do,” said that gentleman, with a ferocious growl.
“I’d know you anywhere,” said Mrs. Cooper, with emphasis.
“And you?” said Mr. Simpson, turning to his wife.
“You’re not my husband,” she said, obstinately.
“Are you sure?” inquired Mr. Cooper.
“Very good, then,” said her brother. “If he’s not your husband I’m going to knock his head off for telling them lies about me.”
He sprang forward and, catching Mr. Simpson by the collar, shook him violently until his head banged against the dresser. The next moment the hands of Mrs. Simpson were in the hair of Mr. Cooper.
“How dare you knock my husband about!” she screamed, as Mr. Cooper let go and caught her fingers. “You’ve hurt him.”
“Concussion, I think,” said Mr. Simpson, with great presence of mind.
His wife helped him to a chair and, wetting her handkerchief at the tap, tenderly bathed the dyed head. Mr. Cooper, breathing hard, stood by watching until his wife touched him on the arm.
“You come off home,” she said, in a hard voice. “You ain’t wanted. Are you going to stay here all night?”
“I should like to,” said Mr. Cooper, wistfully.
Thirty years ago on a wet autumn evening the household of Mallett’s Lodge was gathered round the death-bed of Ursula Mallow, the eldest of the three sisters who inhabited it. The dingy moth-eaten curtains of the old wooden bedstead were drawn apart, the light of a smoking oil-lamp falling upon the hopeless countenance of the dying woman as she turned her dull eyes upon her sisters. The room was in silence except for an occasional sob from the youngest sister, Eunice. Outside the rain fell steadily over the steaming marshes.
“Nothing is to be changed, Tabitha,” gasped Ursula to the other sister, who bore a striking likeness to her although her expression was harder and colder; “this room is to be locked up and never opened.”