“Some of my oldest friends, then,” he answers, looking a little amused, “since you will have me so exact.”
“If Mrs. Huntley is the oldest friend you have in the world,” say I, acrimoniously, still sticking to his first and most offensive form of expression, and heavily accenting it, “I wonder that you never happened to mention her existence before you went.”
“So do I,” he says, a little thoughtfully. “I am not much of a friend, am I? but—” (looking at me with that sincere and hearty tenderness which, as long as I am under its immediate influence, always disarms me) “my head was full of other things; and people drop out of one’s life so; I had neither seen nor heard of her since—since she married.”
("Since she was engaged to you,” say I, mentally interlining this statement, “and threw you over because you were not rich enough! why cannot you be honest and say so?”) but aloud I give utterance to nothing but a shrewish and disbelieving “Hm!”
A pause. I do not know what Roger is thinking of, but I am following out my own train of thought; the fruit of which is this observation, made with an air of reflection:
“Mr. Huntley is a very rich man, I suppose?”
“Rich! poor Huntley! that is the very last thing his worst enemy could accuse him of! why, he was obliged to run the constable two years ago.”
“But I suppose,” say I, slowly, “that he was better off—well off once—when she married him, for instance?”
“How did you know that?” he asks, a little surprised. “Who told you? Yes; at that time he was looked upon as quite a parti.”
“Better off than you, I suppose?” say I, still speaking slowly, and reading the carpet. “I mean than you were then?”
Again he laughs.
“He might easily have been that? I had nothing but my younger son’s portion and my pay; why, Nancy, I had an idea that I had told you that before.”
“I dare say you did,” reply I, readily, “but I like to hear it again.”
Yet another pause.
“He is badly off now, then,” say I, presently, with a faintly triumphant accent.
“About as badly off as it is possible to be,” answers Roger, very gravely; “that is my business with his wife; she and I are trying to make an arrangement with his creditors, to enable him to come home.”
“To come home!” echo I, raising my eyebrows in an artless astonishment; “but if he does come home, what will become of Algy and the rest of them?”
“The rest of whom?” asks Roger, but there is such a severity in his eye as he puts the question that it is not too much to say I dare not explain. The one thing hated of Roger’s soul—the one thing for which he has no tolerance, and on which he brings to bear all the weight of his righteous wrath, is scandal. Not even me will he allow to nibble at a neighbor’s fame.