“Her children rise up, and call her blessed. . . .” Her children? But she had let him go, after all, without telling her secret.
Mr. Langton sat and balanced a malacca cane in his hand. When his man announced the Reverend Mr. Silk, he laid it down carefully on the floor beside him.
“Show Mr. Silk up, if you please.”
Mr. Silk entered with an affable smile. “Ah, good-morning, Mr. Langton!” said he, depositing his hat on the table and pulling off a pair of thick woollen gloves. “I am prompt on your call, eh? But this cold weather invites a man to walk briskly. Not to mention,” he added, with an effort at facetiousness, “that when Mr. Langton sends for a clergyman his need is presumably urgent.”
“It is,” said Mr. Langton, seemingly blind to the hand he proferred. “Would you, before taking a seat, oblige me by throwing a log on the fire? . . . Thank you—the weather is raw, as you say.”
“Urgent? But not serious, I hope?”
“Both. Sit down, please. . . . I am, as you know, a particular friend of Sir Oliver Vyell’s.”
“Say, rather, his best.” Mr. Silk bowed and smiled.
“Possibly. At all events so close a friend that, being absent, he gives me the right to resent any dishonouring suspicion that touches him—or touches his lady. It comes to the same thing.”
Mr. Silk cocked his head sideways, like a bird considering a worm. “Does it?” he queried, after a slight pause.
“Certainly. A rumour is current through Boston, touching Lady Vyell’s virtue; or, at least, her conduct before marriage.”
“’Tis a censorious world, Mr. Langton.”
“Maybe; but let us avoid generalities, Mr. Silk. What grounds have you for imputing this misconduct to Lady Vyell?”
“Me, sir?” cried Mr. Silk, startled out of his grammar.
“You, sir.” Mr. Langton arose lazily, and stepping to the door, turned the key; then returning to the hearth, in leisurely manner turned back his cuff’s. “I have traced the slander to you, and hold the proofs. Perhaps you had best stand up and recant it before you take your hiding. But, whether or no, I am going to hide you,” he promised, with his engaging smile. Stooping swiftly he caught up the malacca. Mr. Silk sprang to his feet and snatched at the chair, dodging sideways.
“Strike as you please,” he snarled; “Ruth Josselin is a—” But before the word could out Batty Langton’s first blow beat down his guard. The second fell across his exposed shoulders, the third stunningly on the nape of his neck. The fourth—a back-hander— welted him full in the face, and the wretched man sank screaming for pity.
Batty Langton had no pity. “Stand up, you hound!” he commanded. The command was absurd, and he laughed savagely, tickled by its absurdity even in his fury, while he smote again and again. He showered blows until, between blow and blow, he caught his breath and panted. Mr. Silk’s screams had sunk to blubbings and whimpers. Between the strokes he heard them.