“I loved her to folly,” he answered at length, his eyes still fixed on the mare’s shoulder; “and yet not to folly, for she was a good woman: a married woman, some three or four years older than I and close upon twenty years younger than her husband, who was major of my regiment.”
“You ran away with her? . . . Say that he was not your friend.”
“He was not; and you may put it more correctly that I helped her to run away from him. He was a drunkard, and in private he ill-used her disgustingly. . . . Having helped her to escape I offered him his satisfaction. He refused to divorce her; but we fought and I ran him through the arm to avoid running him through the body, for he was a shockingly bad swordsman.”
Ruth frowned. “You could not marry her?”
“No, and to kill him was no remedy; for if I could not marry an undivorced woman, as little could she have married her husband’s murderer.” He hunched his shoulders and concluded, “The dilemma is not unusual.”
“What happened, then?”
“My mother paid twenty calls upon the Duke of Newcastle, and after the twentieth I received the Collectorship of this port of Boston. It was exile, but lucrative exile. My good mother is a Whig and devout; and there is nothing like that combination for making the best of both worlds. Indeed you may say that at this point she added the New World, and made the best of all three. She assured me that its solitudes would offer, among other advantages, great opportunity for repentance. ‘Of course,’ she said, ‘if you must take the woman, you must.’”
He ended with a short laugh. Ruth did not laugh. Her mind was masculine at many points, but like a true woman she detested ironical speech.
“That is Mr. Langton’s way of talking,” she said; “and you are using it to hide your feelings. Will you tell me her name?—her Christian name only?”
“She was called Margaret—Margaret Dance. There is no reason why you should not have it in full.”
“Is there a portrait of her?”
“Yes; as a girl she sat to Kneller—a Dryad leaning against an oak. The picture hangs in my dressing-room.”
“It should have hung, rather, in Dicky’s nursery; which,” she added, picking up and using the weapon she most disliked, “need not have debarred your seeing it from time to time.”
He glanced up, for he had never before heard her speak thus sharply.
“Perhaps you are right,” he agreed; “though, for me, I let the dead bury the dead. I have no belief, remember, in any life beyond this one. Margaret is gone, and I see not how, being dead, she can advantage me or Dicky.”
His words angered Ruth and at the same time subtly pleased her; and on second thoughts angered her the more for having pleased. She thought scorn of herself for her momentary jealousy of the dead; scorn for having felt relief at his careless tone; and some scorn to be soothed by a doctrine that, in her heart, she knew to be false.