The sound of Frank’s harsh voice came as a gross intrusion on our silence.
“What evidence have you got of all this?” he asked, but the ring of certainty had gone from his tone.
Mrs. Banks pointed with a superb gesture at his father.
The old man was leaning forward in his chair with his face in his hands. There was no spirit in him. Probably he was thinking less of the present company than of Claire Severac.
Frank Jervaise showed his true quality on that occasion. He looked down at his father with scowling contempt, stared for a moment as if he would finally wring the old man’s soul with some expression of filial scorn, and then flung himself out of the room, banging the door behind him as a proclamation that he finally washed his hands of the whole affair.
Old Jervaise looked up when the door banged and rose rather feebly to his feet. For a moment he looked at Arthur, as though he were prepared, now, to meet even that more recent impeachment of his virtue which he had feared earlier in the day. But Arthur’s face gave no sign of any vindictive intention, and the old man silently followed his son, creeping out with the air of a man who submissively shoulders the burden of his disgrace.
I had been sorry for him that morning, but I was still sorrier for him then. Banks was suffering righteously and might find relief in that knowledge, but this man was reaping the just penalties of his own acts.
I do not believe that any of them saw me leave the room.
As soon as old Jervaise had gone, all of them had turned with an instinct of protection towards the head of the family. He, alone, had been sacrificed. Within an hour his whole life had been changed, and I began to doubt, as Anne had doubted, whether so old a tree would bear transplanting. Whatever tenderness and care could do, would be done for him, but the threat of uprooting had come so suddenly. In any case, I could not help those gentle foresters whose work it would be to conduct the critical operation; and I walked out of the room without offering any perfunctory excuse for leaving them.
I made my way into the garden by the side door through which I had first entered the Home Farm; and after one indeterminate moment, came to a halt at the gate on the slope of the hill. I did not want to go too far from the house. For the time being I was no more to the Banks than an inconvenient visitor, but I hoped that presently some of them—I put it that way to myself—would miss me, and that Arthur or Anne would come and tell me what had been arranged in my absence. I should have been glad to talk over the affair with Arthur, but I hoped that it would not be Arthur who would come to find me.