He looked at her, under his eyebrows, smiling mechanically—weighing the relative advantages of prudence or violence. Prudence carried the day.
“You are just the same spitfire, I see, as you used to be! All right. I see you understand. Well, now, how am I to get my money—my damages?” She turned away, and went quickly to an old bureau that had been her uncle’s. He watched her, exultant. It was all true, then. Dick Tanner had been her lover, and Ellesborough knew nothing. He did not know whether to be the more triumphant in her tacit avowal, or the more enraged by the testimony borne by her acquiescence to her love for Ellesborough. He hated her; yet he had never admired her so much, as his eyes followed her stooping over the drawers of the bureau, her beautiful head and neck in a warm glow of firelight.
Then, suddenly, he began to cough. She, hunting for her cheque-book, took no notice at first. But the paroxysm grew; it shook the very life out of him; till at last she stood arrested and staring-while he fell back in his chair like a dead man, his eyes shut, his handkerchief to his lips.
“Shall I—shall I get you some brandy?” she said, coldly. He nodded assent. She hurriedly looked for her keys, and went to a cupboard in the kitchen, where Janet kept a half bottle of brandy for medical use if needed.
He drank off what she brought—but it was some time before he recovered speech. When he did it was in a low tone that made the words a curse:—–
“That’s your doing!”
Her only answer was a gesture.
“It is,” he insisted, speaking in gasps. “You never showed me any real love—any forbearance. You never cared for me—as you know I cared for you. You told me so once. You married me for a home—and then you deserted—and betrayed me.”
There was a guilty answer in her consciousness which made her speak without anger.
“I know my own faults very well. And now you must go—we can’t either of us stand this any more. Do you give me your solemn promise that you will trouble me no more—–or the man I am going to marry—if I do this for you?”
“Give me a piece of paper—” he said, huskily.
He wrote the promise, signed it, and pushed it to her. Then he carefully examined the self cheque “to bearer” which she had written.
“Well, I dare say that will see me out—and bury me decently. I shall take my family down to the sea. You know I’ve got a little girl—about three? Oh, I never told any lies about Anita. I’ve married her now.”
Rachel stood like a stone, without a word. Her one consuming anxiety was to see him gone, to be done with him.
He rose slowly—with difficulty. And the cough seized him again. Rachel in a fevered exasperation watched him clinging to the table for support. Would he die—or faint—then and there—and be found by Janet, who must now be on her way home? She pressed brandy on him again. But he pushed it away. “Let me be!” She could only wait.