Mrs. Presty laid the letter down, privately resolving to write to Randal, and tell him to keep his convictions for the future to himself. A glance at her daughter’s face warned her, if she said anything, to choose a new subject.
The second letter still remained unnoticed. “Shall we see what the lawyer says?” she suggested—and opened the envelope. The lawyer had nothing to say. He simply inclosed a letter received at his office.
Mrs. Presty had long passed the age at which emotion expresses itself outwardly by a change of color. She turned pale, nevertheless, when she looked at the second letter.
The address was in Herbert Linley’s handwriting.
When she was not eating her meals or asleep in her bed, absolute silence on Mrs. Presty’s part was a circumstance without precedent in the experience of her daughter. Mrs. Presty was absolutely silent now. Mrs. Linley looked up.
She at once perceived the change in her mother’s face and asked what it meant. “Mamma, you look as if something had frightened you. Is it anything in that letter?” She bent over the table, and looked a little closer at the letter. Mrs. Presty had turned it so that the address was underneath; and the closed envelope was visible still intact. “Why don’t you open it?” Mrs. Linley asked.
Mrs. Presty made a strange reply. “I am thinking of throwing it into the fire.”
“Yes; your letter.”
“Let me look at it first.”
“You had better not look at it, Catherine.”
Naturally enough, Mrs. Linley remonstrated. “Surely I ought to read a letter forwarded by my lawyer. Why are you hiding the address from me? Is it from some person whose handwriting we both know?” She looked again at her silent mother—reflected—and guessed the truth. “Give it to me directly,” she said; “my husband has written to me.”
Mrs. Presty’s heavy eyebrows gathered into a frown. “Is it possible,” she asked sternly, “that you are still fond enough of that man to care about what he writes to you?” Mrs. Linley held out her hand for the letter. Her wise mother found it desirable to try persuasion next. “If you really won’t give way, my dear, humor me for once. Will you let me read it to you?”
“Yes—if you promise to read every word of it.”
Mrs. Presty promised (with a mental reservation), and opened the letter.
At the two first words, she stopped and began to clean her spectacles. Had her own eyes deceived her? Or had Herbert Linley actually addressed her daughter—after having been guilty of the cruelest wrong that a husband can inflict on a wife—as “Dear Catherine”? Yes: there were the words, when she put her spectacles on again. Was he in his right senses? or had he written in a state of intoxication?
Mrs. Linley waited, with a preoccupied mind: she showed no signs of impatience or surprise. As it presently appeared, she was not thinking of the letter addressed to her by Herbert, but of the letter written by Randal. “I want to look at it again.” With that brief explanation she turned at once to the closing lines which had offended her when she first read them.