There was an anguish in the stifled voice which made sympathy impertinent. Alcott asked some practical questions, and Buntingford repeated his wife’s report of the boy’s condition, and her account of an injury at birth, caused by the unskilful hands of an ignorant doctor.
“But I shall see him to-morrow. Ramsay and I go together. Perhaps, after all, something can be done. I shall also make the first arrangements for the divorce.”
Alcott was silent a moment—hesitating in the dark.
“You will make those arrangements immediately?”
“If she dies? She may die.”
“I would do nothing brutal—but—She came to make a bargain with me.”
“Yes—but if she dies—might you not have been glad to say, ’I forgive’?”
The shy, clumsy man was shaken as he spoke, with the passion of his own faith. The darkness concealed it, as it concealed its effect on Buntingford. Buntingford made no direct reply, and presently they parted, Alcott engaging to send a messenger over to Beechmark early, with a report of the patient’s condition, before Buntingford and Dr. Ramsay started for London. Buntingford walked on. And presently in the dim moonlight ahead he perceived Geoffrey French.
The young man approached him timidly, almost expecting to be denounced as an intruder. Instead, Buntingford put an arm through his, and leaned upon him, at first in a pathetic silence that Geoffrey did not dare to break. Then gradually the story was told again, as much of it as was necessary, as much as Philip could bear. Geoffrey made very little comment, till through the trees they began to see the lights of Beechmark.
Then Geoffrey said in an unsteady voice:
“Philip!—there is one person you must tell—perhaps first of all. You must tell Helena—yourself.”
Buntingford stopped as though under a blow.
“Of course, I shall tell Helena—but why?—”
His voice spoke bewilderment and pain.
“Tell her yourself—that’s all,” said Geoffrey, resolutely—“and, if you can, before she hears it from anybody else.”
Buntingford and French reached home between ten and eleven o’clock. When they entered the house, they heard sounds of music from the drawing-room. Peter Dale was playing fragments from the latest musical comedy, with a whistled accompaniment on the drawing-room piano. There seemed to be nothing else audible in the house, in spite of the large party it contained. Amid the general hush, unbroken by a voice or a laugh, the “funny bits” that Peter was defiantly thumping or whistling made a kind of goblin chorus round a crushed and weary man, as he pushed past the door of the drawing-room to the library. Geoffrey followed him.
“No one knows it yet,” said the young man, closing the door behind them. “I had no authority from you to say anything. But of course they all understood that something strange had happened. Can I be any help with the others, while—”