He seized his hat and fled, leaving his wife to shed bitter, scalding tears at his cruel words. Poor thing! She prided herself upon being the possessor of a superior brand of virtue and was always quick to take refuge in tears when any one decried that virtue; indeed, she never felt quite so virtuous as when she clothed herself, so to speak, in an atmosphere of patient resignation to insult and misunderstanding. People who delude themselves into the belief that they can camouflage their own nastiness and weaknesses from discovery by intelligent persons are the bane of existence, and in his better half poor Daney had a heavy cross to bear.
He left the house wishing he might dare to bawl aloud with anguish at the knowledge that he was yoked for life to a woman of whom he was secretly ashamed; he wished he might dare to get fearfully intoxicated and remain in that condition for a long time. In his youth, he had been shy and retiring, always envying the favor which the ladies appeared to extend to the daring devils of his acquaintance; consequently, his prenuptial existence had not been marked by any memorable amourous experiences, for where other young men sowed wild oats Mr. Daney planted a sweet forget-me-not. As a married man, he was a model of respectability—sacrosanct, almost. His idea of worldly happiness consisted in knowing that he was a solid, trustworthy business man, of undoubted years and discretion, whom no human being could blackmail. Now, as he fled from the odor of respectability he yearned to wallow in deviltry, to permit his soul, so long cramped in virtue, to expand in wickedness.
On his way down-town he met young Bert Darrow, son of the man after whom the adjacent lumber-town had been christened. Mr. Darrow had recently been indicted under the Mann law for a jolly little interstate romance. But yesterday, Mr. Daney had regarded Bert Darrow as a wastrel and had gone a block out of his way to avoid the scapegrace; to-night, however, Bert appealed to him as a man of courage, a devil of a fellow with spirit, a lover of life in its infinite moods and tenses, a lad with a fine contempt for public opinion and established morals. Morals? Bah, what were they! In France, Bert Darrow would have earned for himself a wink and a shrug, as though to say: “Ah, these young fellows! One must watch out for the rascals!” In the United States, he was a potential felon.
“Evening, Bert,” Mr. Daney saluted him pleasantly, and paused long enough to shake the latter’s hand. “I saw your ad in the Seattle P.I. this morning. You young dog! Hope you crawl out of that mess all right.”
“C’est la guerre,” Bert murmured nonchalantly. “Thanks, awfully.”
Mr. Daney felt better after that brief interview. He had clasped hands with sin and felt now like a human being.
He went directly to the local telephone office and placed his New York call with the chief operator, after which he sat in the manager’s office and smoked until ten o’clock, when New York reported “Ready!”