At three o’clock next day (which was the day before the day fixed for the reception) I heard the motor-car going off to meet my husband at Blackwater. At four o’clock I heard it return. A few minutes afterwards I heard my husband’s voice in the hall. I thought he would come up to me directly, but he did not do so, and I did not attempt to go down. When, after a while, I asked what had become of him, I was told that he was in the library with Alma, and that they were alone.
Two hours passed.
To justify and fortify myself I thought how badly my husband had behaved to me. I remembered that he had married me from the most mercenary motives; that he had paid off his mistress with the money that came through me; that he had killed by cruelty the efforts I had made to love him; that he had humiliated me by gross infidelities committed on my honeymoon. I recalled the scenes in Rome, the scenes in Paris, and the insults I had received under my own roof.
It was all in vain. Whether God means it that the woman’s fault in breaking her marriage vows (whatever her sufferings and excuse) shall be greater than that of the man I do not know. I only know that I was trembling like a prisoner before her judge when, being dressed for dinner and waiting for the sound of the bell, I heard my husband’s footsteps approach my door.
I was standing by the fire at that moment, and I held on to the mantelpiece as my husband came into the room.
He was very pale. The look of hardness, almost of brutality, which pierced his manner at normal moments had deepened, and I could see at a glance that he was nervous. His monocle dropped of itself from his slow grey eyes, and the white fat fingers which replaced it trembled.
Without shaking hands or offering any other sort of salutation he plunged immediately into the matter that was uppermost in his mind.
“I am still at a loss to account for this affair of your father’s,” he said. “Of course I know what it is supposed to be—a reception in honour of our home-coming. That explanation may or may not be sufficient for these stupid islanders, but it’s rather too thin for me. Can you tell me what your father means by it?”
I knew he knew what my father meant, so I said, trembling like a sheep that walks up to a barking dog:
“Hadn’t you better ask that question of my father himself?”
“Perhaps I should if he were here, but he isn’t, so I ask you. Your father is a strange man. There’s no knowing what crude things he will not do to gratify his primitive instincts. But he does not spend five or ten thousand pounds for nothing. He isn’t a fool exactly.”
“Thank you,” I said. I could not help it. It was forced out of me.
My husband flinched and looked at me. Then the bully in him, which always lay underneath, came uppermost.