“Tell me what you know, for Heaven’s sake,” cried the dismayed Ridgeway.
“I was in your sister’s room earlier in the day. Her trunk was open and I saw a portfolio with Vernon in silver lettering; and I was more mystified than ever when I observed that the initials on her trunk were ‘G.V.’ All day yesterday I tried to solve the problem, taking into consideration the utter absence of family resemblance between you, and I was almost sick with curiosity. To-day I was convinced that her name is not Ridge. She inadvertently signed her name to the purser’s slip in my presence, and she did not sign the—yours. She scratched it out quickly and asked him to make out another one. Now, what is this mystery?” She bent her gaze upon his face and he could not meet it.
“Do you want to know the reason why I did not see you yesterday?” she continued.
“Yes,” he murmured, mopping his brow.
“Because I was so distressed that I feared I could not face either of you, knowing what I do.”
“What do you mean?”
“I know you are running away.” Not a word was spoken for a full minute. He could scarcely breathe. “You do not deny it?” she questioned gently. “Please do not fear me.”
“I do not fear you,” he half whispered, sinking his chin in his hands. Another long silence.
“There are some circumstances and conditions under which a woman should not be condemned for running away,” she said in a strained, faraway voice. “Has—has she children?”
“Good Heaven!” cried Hugh, leaping to his feet, horror-struck.
THE HARLEQUIN’S ERRAND
Lady Huntingford, alarmed by his manner, arose and steadied herself against the deck-house. His exclamation rang in her ears, filling them with its horror. At length he roughly grasped her arm, thrusting his face close to hers, fairly grated out the words:
“You think she is a wife?”
“I feared so.”
“She is not! Do you hear me? She is not!” he cried so fiercely that there was no room for doubt. “She is the purest, dearest girl in the world, and she has done all this for me. For God’s sake, do not expose us.” He dropped back in the chair. “It’s not for my sake that I ask it, but for hers,” he went on quickly.
“I’m sure I have wronged her and I have wronged you. Will you believe me?”
He did not answer at once. His turbulent brain was endeavoring to find words with which to convince her of the innocence of the escapade. Looking up into her eyes, he was struck by their tender staunchness. Like a flash came to him the decision to tell her the true story, from beginning to end.
“Lady Huntingford, I will tell you everything there is to tell. It is not a long tale, and you may say it is a very foolish one. I am sure, however, that it will interest you.”