She made a sharp gesture of protest.
“I don’t deserve that,” she said. “You know it.”
His grim lips relaxed a very little.
“I shouldn’t talk about deserts if I were you,” he said.
His tone scared her again, but she made a valiant effort to compose herself.
“You say that,” she said, “because you are very angry with me. I don’t dispute your right to be angry. I know I’ve made a fool of you. But—but after all”—her voice began to shake uncontrollably; she forced out the words with difficulty—“I’ve made a much bigger fool of myself. I think you might consider that.”
He did consider it with drawn brows.
“Does that improve your case?” he asked at length.
She did not answer him. She was trying hard to read his face, but it told her nothing. With a swift movement she slipped to her feet and stood before him.
“I don’t know,” she said, speaking fast and passionately, “what you have in your mind. I don’t know what you think of me. But I suppose you mean to punish me in some way, to—to give me a lesson that will hurt me all my life. You have me at your mercy, and—and I shall have to bear it, whatever it is. But before—before you make me hate you, let me say this: I am your wife. Hadn’t you better remember that before you punish me? I—I shan’t hate you so badly so long as I know that you remember that.”
She stopped. She was wringing her hands fast together to subdue her agitation.
Piet had risen with her, but she could no longer search his face. She had said that she did not fear him, but in that moment she was more horribly afraid than she had ever been in her life.
She thought that he would never break his silence. Had she angered him even further by those words of hers, she wondered desperately? And if so—oh! if so—Suddenly he spoke, and every pulse in her body leaped and quivered.
“Since when,” he said, “have you begun to remember that?”
“I have never forgotten it,” she said, in a voiceless whisper.
He took her hands, separated them, held up the left before her eyes.
“Never?” he said. “Be careful what you say to me.”
She looked up with a flash of the old quick pride.
“I have spoken the truth,” she said. “Why should I be careful?”
He dropped her hand.
“What have you done with your wedding-ring?”
“I—lost it.” Nan’s voice and eyes sank together. “It was an accident,” she said. “We dropped it in the lake.”
“We?” said Piet.
She made a little hopeless gesture.
“Yes, Jerry and I. It’s no good telling you how it happened. You won’t believe me if I do.”
He made no comment. Only after a moment he put his hand on her shoulder.
“Have you anything else to say?” he asked.
She shook her head without speaking. She was shivering all over.