She said, “Nothing to what?” but abandoned this position as untenable. She despatched the maid with the key to the wall safe in her husband’s room. “Why isn’t there?” she demanded. “Rodney won’t look at young girls. They bore him to death—and no wonder, because he freezes them perfectly brittle with fright. But Hermione’s really pretty intelligent. She can understand fully half the things he talks about and she’s clever enough to pretend about the rest. She’s got lots of tact and skill, she’s good-looking and young enough—no older than I and I’m two years younger than Roddy. She’ll appreciate a real husband, after having been married five years to John Woodruff. And she’s rich enough, now, so that his wild-eyed way of practising law won’t matter.”
“All very nice and reasonable,” he conceded, “but somehow the notion of Rodney Aldrich trying to marry a rich widow is one I’m not equal to without a handicap of at least two cocktails.” He looked at his watch again. “By the way, didn’t you say he was coming early?”
She nodded. “That’s what he told me this morning when I telephoned him to remind him that it was to-night. He said he had something he wanted to talk to me about. I knew I shouldn’t have a minute, but I didn’t say so because I thought if he tried to get here early, he might miss being late.”
They heard, just then, faint and far-away, the ring of the door-bell, at which she cried, “Oh, dear! There’s some one already.”
“Wait a second,” he said. “Let’s see if it’s him.”
The paneled walls and ceiling of their hall were very efficient sounding-boards and there was no mistaking the voice they heard speaking the moment the door opened—a voice with a crisp ring to it that sounded always younger than his years. What he said didn’t matter, just a cheerful greeting to the butler. But what they heard the butler say to him was disconcerting.
“You’re terribly wet, sir.”
Frederica turned on her husband a look of despair.
“He didn’t come in a taxi! He’s walked or something, through that rain! Do run down and see what he’s like. And if he’s very bad, send him up to me. I can imagine how he’ll look.”
She was mistaken about that though. For once Frederica had overestimated her powers, stimulated though they were by the way she heard her husband say, “Good lord!” when the sight of his brother-in-law burst on him.
“Praise heaven you can wear my clothes,” she heard him add. “Run along up-stairs and break yourself gently to Freddy.”
She heard him come squudging up the stairs and along the hall, and then in her doorway she saw him. His baggy gray tweed suit was dark with the water that saturated it. The lower part of his trousers-legs, in irregular vertical creases, clung dismally to his ankles and toned down almost indistinguishably into his once tan boots by the medium of a liberal stipple of mud spatters. Evidently, he had worn no overcoat. Both his side pockets had been, apparently, strained to the utmost to accommodate what looked like a bunch of pasteboard-bound note-books, now far on the way to their original pulp, and lopped despondently outward. A melancholy pool had already begun forming about his feet.