“Why not?” King asked, with a good deal of curiosity.
“I did it once too often—and the last time I sent a dying soul to the other world with my curses in its ears—the soul of a child, Jord. I lost my head because his mother had disobeyed my orders, and the little life was going out when it might have stayed. When I came to myself I realized what I’d done—and I made my vow. Never again, no matter what happened! And I’ve kept it. But sometimes, as to-night—Well, there’s only one thing I can do: keep my tongue between my teeth as long as I can, and then—get away somewhere and smash things till I’m black and blue.”
“That’s what you’ve been doing back in the woods?” King ventured to ask.
“Rather. Anyhow, it’s evened up my circulation and I can be decent again. I’m not going to tell you what made me rage like the bull of Bashan, for it wouldn’t be safe yet to let loose on that. It’s enough that I can treat a good comrade like you as I did and still have him stand by.”
“I felt a good deal in the way, but I’m glad now I was with you.”
“I’m glad, too, if it’s only that you’ve discovered at last what manner of man I am when the evil one gets hold of me. None of us likes to be persistently overrated, you know.”
“I don’t think the less of you for being angry when you had a just cause, as I know you must have had.”
“It’s not the being angry; it’s the losing control.”
“But you didn’t.”
“Didn’t I?” A short, grim laugh testified to Burns’s opinion on this point. “Ask that woman I put on the train to-night. Jord, on her arm is a black bruise where I gripped her when she lied to me; I gripped her—a woman. You might as well know. Now—keep on respecting me if you can.”
“But I do,” said Jordan King.
A STRANGE DAY
“Len, will you go for a day in the woods with me?”
Ellen Burns looked up from the old mahogany secretary which had been hers in the southern-home days. She was busily writing letters, but the request, from her busy husband, was so unusual that it arrested her attention. Her glance travelled from his face to the window and back again.
“I know it’s pretty frosty,” he acknowledged, “but the sun is bright, and I’ll build you a windbreak that’ll keep you snug. I’m aching for a day off—with you.”
“Artful man! You know I can’t resist when you put it that way, though I ought not to leave this desk for two hours. Give me half an hour, and tell me what you want for lunch.”
“Cynthia and I’ll take care of that. She’s putting up the stuff now, subject to your approval.”
He was off to the kitchen, and Ellen finished the note she had begun, put away the writing materials and letters, and ran up to her room. By the end of the stipulated half hour she was down again, trimly clad in a suit of brown tweeds, with a big coat for extra warmth and a close hat and veil for breeze resistance.