Something in the silence that followed his words made him turn his head to look at his brother. Everard was sitting perfectly rigid in his chair staring at the ground between his feet as if he saw a serpent writhing there. But before another word could be spoken, he got up abruptly, with a gesture as of shaking off the loathsome thing, and went to the window. He flung it wide, and stood in the opening, breathing hard as a man half-suffocated.
“Anything wrong, old chap?” questioned Bernard.
He answered him without turning. “No; it’s only my infernal head. I think I’ll turn in directly. It’s a fiendish night.”
The rain was falling in torrents, and a long roll of thunder sounded from afar. The clatter of the great drops on the roof of the verandah filled the room, making all further conversation impossible. It was like a tattoo of devils.
“A damn’ pleasant country this!” murmured the man in the chair.
The man at the window said no word. He was gasping a little, his face to the howling night.
For a space Bernard lay and watched him. Then at last, somewhat ponderously he arose.
Everard could not have heard his approach, but he was aware of it before he reached him. He turned swiftly round, pulling the window closed behind him.
They stood facing each other, and there was something tense in the atmosphere, something that was oddly suggestive of mental conflict. The devils’ tattoo on the roof had sunk to a mere undersong, a fitting accompaniment as it were to the electricity in the room.
Bernard spoke at length, slowly, deliberately, but not unkindly. “Why should you take the trouble to—fence with me?” he said. “Is it worth it, do you think?”
Everard’s face was set and grey like a stone mask. He did not speak for a moment; then curtly, noncommittally, “What do you mean?” he said.
“I mean,” very steadily Bernard made reply, “that the scoundrel Dacre, who married Madelina Belleville and then deserted her, left her to go to the dogs, and your brother-officer who was killed in the mountains on his honeymoon, were one and the same man. And you knew it.”
“Well?” The words seemed to come from closed lips. There was something terrible in the titter quietness of its utterance.
Bernard searched his face as a man might search the walls of an apparently impregnable fortress for some vulnerable spot. “Ah, I see,” he said, after a moment. “You must have believed Madelina to be still alive when Dacre married. What was the date of his marriage?”
“The twenty-fifth of March.” Again the grim lips spoke without seeming to move.
A gleam of relief crossed his brother’s face. “In that case no one is any the worse. I’m sorry you’ve carried that bugbear about with you for so long. What an infernal hound the fellow was!”
“Yes,” assented Everard.
He moved to the table and poured himself out a drink.