“Certainly I will be present, with the greatest—no, not the greatest pleasure. But I will be present—I will come to luncheon, Clara.”
When she was gone he thought again of the strange coincidence, both of the man and of the inheritance. Yet what had his Iris in common with a girl who had been brought up in America? Besides, she had lost her inheritance, and this other Iris had crossed the ocean to receive hers. Yet a very strange coincidence. It was so strange that he told it to Iris and to Lala Roy. Iris laughed, and said she did not know she had a single namesake. Lala did not laugh; but he sat thinking in silence. There was no chess for him that night; instead of playing his usual game, Mr. Emblem, in his chair, laughed and chuckled in rather a ghastly way.
“It is my cousin.”
“Well, Joe,” said his wife, “and how is it going to finish? It looks to me as if there was a prison-van and a police-court at the end. Don’t you think we had better back out of it while there is time?”
“You’re a fool!” her husband replied—it was the morning after his visit to Clara; “you know nothing about it. Now listen.”
“I do nothing but listen; you’ve told me the story till I know it by heart. Do you think anybody in the world will be so green as to believe such a clumsy plan as that?”
“Now look here, Lotty; if there’s another word said—mind, now—you shall have nothing more to do with the business at all. I’ll give it to a girl I know—a clever girl, who will carry it through with flying colors.”
She set her lips hard, and drummed her fingers on the table. He knew how to rule his wife.
“Go on,” she said, “since we can’t be honest.”
“Be reasonable, then; that’s all I ask you. Honest! who is honest? Ain’t we every one engaged in getting round our neighbors? Isn’t the whole game, all the world over, lying and deceit? Honest! you might as well go on the boards without faking up your face, as try to live honest. Hold your tongue, then.” He growled and swore, and after his fashion called on the Heavens to witness and express their astonishment.
The girl bent her head, and made no reply for a space. She was cowed and afraid. Presently she looked up and laughed, but with a forced laugh.
“Don’t be cross, Joe; I’ll do whatever you want me to do, and cheerfully, too, if it will do you any good. What is a woman good for but to help her husband? Only don’t be cross, Joe.”
She knew what her husband was by this time—a false and unscrupulous man. Yet she loved him. The case is not rare by any means, so that there is hope for all of us, from the meanest and most wriggling worm among us to the most hectoring ruffian.
“Why there, Lotty,” he said, “that is what I like. Now listen. The old lady is a cake—do you understand? She is a sponge, she swallows everything, and is ready to fall on your neck and cry over you for joy. As for doubt or suspicion, not a word. I don’t think there will be a single question asked. No, it’s all ’My poor dear Claude’—that’s your father, Lotty—and ’My poor dear Iris’—that’s you, Lotty.”