There was no way of avoiding a reply, without arousing her suspicions; Herbert knew that she was keen-witted and persistent.
“Yes,” he said, “he had a quantity.”
“Have those shares been sold?”
This was a more troublesome question, but Herbert was compelled to answer.
“No; not yet. It’s unfortunate that the market broke before I could get rid of them, but it may rally. I’m rather disturbed about the matter; but, after all, one has to take one’s chance in buying shares. Dealing in the speculative sorts is to a large extent a game of hazard.”
“I suppose so, but then somebody must win.”
“No,” returned Herbert, “now and then everybody loses.”
Sylvia glanced at him with a mocking smile.
“Even those in the inside ring? When that happens, it must be something like a catastrophe. But I’m sorry for George; he doesn’t deserve this.”
Herbert could not deny it; but, to his surprise, the girl leaned forward, speaking in an authoritative tone.
“I don’t know what you can do, but you must do something to get George out of the difficulty. It’s obvious that you led him into it—he isn’t the man to go in for rash speculation; he would have chosen something safe.”
It was a relief to Herbert that his wife came in just then; but, as he had reason for believing that she would not remain, he decided that he would go out and post some letters. Sylvia seemed to be in an inquisitive mood, and he did not wish to be left alone with her.
The night was fine but dark; in places a thin, low-lying mist that hung over the meadows obscured the hedgerows, and it grew more dense as Herbert approached the river, which brawled noisily among the stones. The man, however, scarcely noticed this; his mind was occupied with other matters. Sylvia’s attitude had disturbed him. She was useful as an ally, but she could not be allowed to criticize his conduct or to give him orders. Moreover, he had reasons for believing that investors in his company might share her views, and he looked for serious trouble with two or three gentlemen who blamed him for their losses, and had so far incivilly refused to be pacified by his explanations.
Herbert was of a philosophic disposition, and realized that one must not expect too much. Having made a handsome profit, he felt that he ought to be content, and bear a certain amount of suspicion and contumely with unruffled good-humor. For all that, he found it disagreeable to be looked upon as a trickster, and it was worse when his disgusted associates used more offensive epithets in his presence.
He was considering how he should deal with them when he entered a thicker belt of mist. It shut him in so that he could see nothing ahead, but there was a strong fence between him and the river, and he went on, lost in thought, until the mist was suddenly illuminated and a bright light flashed along the road. The hoot of a motor-horn broke out behind him, and, rudely startled, he sprang aside. He was too late; somebody cried out in warning, and the next moment he was conscious of a blow that flung him bodily forward. He came down with a crash; something seemed to grind him into the stones; there was a stabbing pain in his side, and he lost consciousness.