“It was cattish.”
“I don’t like your saying that,” he put in quickly.
“I’m sorry. Can you imagine Una doing a similar thing?”
“No,” he admitted, “but Una has been brought up differently.”
Another silence. In spite of the recrudescence of Una we were on dangerous ground. But hope had given me temerity. In another moment he was back to the earlier questions.
“I see no reason why you shouldn’t answer me, Roger. I’ve got to know what all this trouble means. If Una has been imprudent I want to know why, still more so, if she is to suffer as a consequence of it. If Marcia’s insinuations are cruel I’ve got to understand what they mean.”
“You may take my word for their cruelty,” I said dryly and stopped with compressed lips. He clasped his hands over his knees and looked down into the pool before us.
“Do you think you’re quite fair with me, Roger? I give you my confidences and you refuse—”
“Half-confidences, Jerry. My usefulness to you is ended. If you would speak, I could perhaps help you, solve some of your problems, answer your questions. But—”
I paused, throwing out my hands in a helpless gesture.
“What more do you want?” he asked.
I took the bull by the horns. I had wanted to for weeks.
“Freely, unreservedly, the nature of your relations with Marcia Van Wyck—”
He rose suddenly, his face flushing darkly and took up his rod and creel.
“If you don’t mind my saying so,” he muttered, “that is none of your affair.”
I rose, though his reproach stung me bitterly.
“Confidences and advice are inseparable,” I said coldly.
“You hate Marcia,” he mumbled.
“Because she’s unsound, unsafe, im—”
“Be careful!” he cried.
I shrugged but was silent, I think, from the fear of Jerry’s fists which were clenching his rod and creel ominously.
“She’s the woman I love,” he declared with pathetic drama.
I braved the fists and laughed.
“Tush!” I said.
He was furious. For a moment I thought he was going to strike me. Had he done so I should have been ended there and then, and this interesting history brought to an untimely conclusion on the very eve of its most interesting disclosures.
But he thought better of it and with a shaking forefinger pointed toward the path downstream. “Go, Roger,” he said in a trembling voice, “please go.”
I obeyed. There was nothing left for me to do. Our afternoon had ended in disaster, but I was not sorry. I had thought from all Jerry had told me that he was beginning to awaken, to rouse himself and tear asunder the web of enchantment that this girl Marcia had woven about him. I had meant to help him lift the veil to let him see her as she was, a beautiful, selfish little sensualist with a silken voice and an empty heart. But the time was not yet. I sighed, lamenting my failure but not regretting my temerity. If he would not waken at least I had the satisfaction of knowing it was not because I had not tried to wake him.