From the stark alternative, once raised, there was no escape. Queed closed with it, and together they went down into deep waters.
In which Queed’s Shoulders can bear One Man’s Roguery and Another’s Dishonor, and of what these Fardels cost him: how for the Second Time in his Life he stays out of Bed to think.
Sharlee, sitting upstairs, took the card from the tray and, seeing the name upon it, imperceptibly hesitated. But even while hesitating, she rose and turned to her dressing-table mirror.
“Very well. Say that I’ll be down in a minute.”
She felt nervous, she did not know why; chilled at her hands and cold within; she rubbed her cheeks vigorously with a handkerchief to restore to them some of the color which had fled. There was a slightly pinched look at the corners of her mouth, and she smiled at her reflection in the glass, somewhat artificially and elaborately, until she had chased it away. Undoubtedly she had been working too hard by day, and going too hard by night; she must let up, stop burning the candle at both ends. But she must see Mr. Queed, of course, to show him finally that no explanation could explain now. It came into her mind that this was but the third time he had ever been inside her house—the third, and it was the last.
He had been shown into the front parlor, the stiffer and less friendly of the two rooms, and its effect of formality matched well with the temper of their greeting. By the obvious stratagem of coming down with book in one hand and some pretense at fancy-work in the other, Sharlee avoided shaking hands with him. Having served their purpose, the small burdens were laid aside upon the table. He had been standing, awaiting her, in the shadows near the mantel; the chair that he chanced to drop into stood almost under one of the yellow lamps; and when she saw his face, she hardly repressed a start. For he seemed to have aged ten years since he last sat in her parlor, and if she had thought his face long ago as grave as a face could be, she now perceived her mistake.
The moment they were seated he began, in his usual voice, and with rather the air of having thought out in advance exactly what he was to say.
“I have come again, after all, to talk only of definite things. In fact, I have something of much importance to tell you. May I ask that you will consider it as confidential for the present?”
At the very beginning she was disquieted by the discovery that his gaze was steadier than her own. She was annoyingly conscious of looking away from him, as she said:—
“I think you have no right to ask that of me.”
Surface’s son smiled sadly. “It is not about—anything that you could possibly guess. I have made a discovery of—a business nature, which concerns you vitally.”
“Yes. The circumstances are such that I do not feel that anybody should know of it just yet, but you. However—”