He was also a model man of business. Even from his most flagrant extravagances, as Batty Langton notes in another epistle, he usually contrived to get back something like his money’s worth. He would lend money, or give it, where he chose: but to the man who overreached him in a money bargain he could be implacable. Moreover, though a hater of quarrels, he never neglected an enmity he had once taken up, but treated it with no less exactitude than a business account.
Their happiness had endured a little more than three months when, one morning, he entered Ruth’s morning-room with a packet of letters in his hand. He was frowning, not so much in wrath, as in distaste of what he had to tell.
“Dear,” he said brusquely, bending to kiss her, “I have ill news. I must go back to England, on business.”
“To England ?” she echoed. Her wrists were laid along the arms of her chair, and, as she spoke, her fingers clutched sharply at the padding. She was not conscious of it. She was aware only that somehow, at the back of her happiness this shadow had always lurked; and that England lay across the seas, at an immense distance. . . .
He went on—his tone moody, but the words brief and distinct. “For a few months, only; five or six, perhaps; with any luck, even less. That infernal aunt of mine—”
“Lady Caroline ?” She asked it less out of curiosity than as a prompter gives a cue; for he had come to a full stop. She was wondering how Lady Caroline could injure him, being so far away. . . .
He laughed savagely, yet—having broken his news, or the worst of it—with something of relief. “She shall smart for it—if that console you?”
“Is it on my account?”
“Only, as I guess, in so far as she accuses you of having played the devil with her plan for marrying me up with my cousin Di’? If Di’ had been the last woman in the world. . . . But the old harridan never spoke to me after the grooming I gave her that morning at Natchett. ’Faith, and I did treat her to some plain talk!” he wound up with another laugh.
“But what harm can she do you?”
He explained that his late uncle Sir Thomas had, in the closing years of his life, shown unmistakable signs of brain-softening, and that a symptom of his complaint had been his addiction to making a number of wills—“two-thirds of ’em incoherent. Every two or three days he’d compose a new one and send for Huskisson, his lawyer; and Huskisson, after reading the rigmarole through, as solemn as a judge, would get it solemnly witnessed and carry it off. He had three boxes full of these lunacies when the old man died, and I’ll wager he has not destroyed ’em. Lawyers never destroy handwriting, however foolish. It’s against their principles.”
“But,” said Ruth, musing. “I understood that he died of a jail fever, caught at the Assizes, where he was serving on—what do you call it?”