“I have not discussed you with her,” he answers, very solemnly, and still looking at me with that profound and greedy eagerness in his eyes; “with no living soul would I discuss my wife—I should have hardly thought I need tell you that! What I heard, I heard by accident. She—as I believe, in all innocence of heart—referred to—the—the— circumstance, taking it for granted that I knew it—that you had told me of it, and I—I—” (raising his clinched right hand to emphasize his speech)—“I take God to witness, I had no more idea to what she was alluding—as soon as I understood—she must have thought me very dull—” (laughing hoarsely)—“for it was a long time before I took it in—but as soon as I understood to what manner of anecdote it was that she was referring—then, at once, I bade her be silent!—not even with her, would I talk over my wife!”
He stops. He has risen from his chair, and is now standing before me. His breath comes quick and panting; and his face is not far from being as white as mine.
“But what I have learned,” he continues presently, in a low voice, that, by a great effort, he succeeds in making calm and steady, “I cannot again unlearn! I would not if I could!—I have no desire to live in a fool’s paradise! I tried hard this morning—God knows what constraint I had to put upon myself—to induce you to tell me of your own accord—to volunteer it—but you would not—you were resolutely silent. Why were you? Why were you?” (breaking off with an uncontrollable emotion). “I should not have been hard upon you—I should have made allowances. God knows we all need it!”
I sit listening in a stony silence: every bit of me seems turned into cold rock.
“But now” he says, regathering his composure, and speaking with a resolute, stern quiet; “I have no other resource—you have left me none —but to come to you, and ask point-blank, is this true, or is it false?”
For a moment, my throat seems absolutely stopped up, choked; there seems no passage for my voice, through its dry, parched gates. Then at length I speak faintly: “Is what true? is what false? I suppose you will not expect me to deny it, before I know what it is?”
He does not at once answer. He takes a turn once or twice up and down the silent room, in strong endeavor to overcome and keep down his agitation, then he returns and speaks; with a face paler, indeed, than I could have imagined any thing so bronzed could be; graver, more austere than I ever thought I should see it, but still without bluster or hectoring violence.
“Is it true, then?” he says, speaking in a very low key. “Great God! that I should have to put such a question to my wife; that one evening, about a week ago, on the very day, indeed, that the news of my intended return arrived, you were seen parting with—with—Musgrave” (he seems to have an intense difficulty in pronouncing the name) “at or after nightfall, on the edge of Brindley Wood, he in a state of the most evident and extreme agitation, and you in floods of tears!—is it true, or is it false?—for God’s sake, speak quickly!”