“And why were you?” cry I, losing all command over myself. “What business had you? Were not there plenty of other rooms—rooms where there were lights and people?”
“Plenty!” he replies, coldly, still with that look of heavy displeasure; “and for my part I had far rather have staid there. I went into the billiard-room because Mrs. Huntley asked me to take her. She said she was afraid of the draughts anywhere else.”
“Was it the draughts that were making her cry so bitterly, pray?” say I, my eyes—dry now, achingly dry—flashing a wretched hostility back into his. “I have heard of their making people’s eyes run indeed, but I never heard of their causing them to sob and moan.”
He has begun again to tramp up and down, and utters an exclamation of weary impatience.
“How could I help her crying?” he asks, with a tired irritation in his tone. “Do you think I enjoyed it? I hate to see a woman weep! it makes me miserable! it always did; but I have not the slightest objection—why, in Heaven’s name, should I?—to tell you the cause of her tears. She was talking to me about her child.”
“Her child!” repeat I, in an accent of the sharpest, cuttingest scorn. “And you were taken in! I knew that she made capital out of that child, but I thought that it was only neophytes like Algy, for whose benefit it was trotted out! I thought that you were too much of a man of the world, that she knew you too well—” I laugh, derisively.
“Would you like to know the true history of the little Huntley?” I go on, after a moment. “Would you like to know that its grandmother, arriving unexpectedly, found it running wild about the lanes, a little neglected heathen, out at elbows, and with its frock up to its knees, and that she took it out of pure pity, Mrs. Zephine not making the slightest objection, but, on the contrary, being heartily glad to be rid of it—do you like to know that?”
“How do you know it?” (speaking quickly)—“how did you hear it?”
“I was told.”
“But who told you?”
“That is not of the slightest consequence.”
“I wish to know”
“Mr. Musgrave told me.”
I can manage his name better than I used, but even now I redden. For once in his life, Roger, too, sneers as bitterly as I myself have been doing.
“Mr. Musgrave seems to have told you a good many things.”
This is carrying the war into the enemy’s quarters, and so I feel it. For the moment it shuts my mouth.
“Who is it that has put such notions into your head?” he asks, with gathering excitement, speaking with rapid passion. “Some one has! I am as sure as that I stand here that they did not come there of themselves. There was no room for such suspicions in the pure soul of the girl I married.”
I make no answer.