William trimmed away at his washer.
“Hello! Who’s been putting this in the ledger?” The old man held up a thin strip of leather. “Oh, Willum, here’s a very bad ’un!”
“What name?” asked William indifferently, without turning his head.
“Wesley, Reverend Samuel—Wroote and Epworth Rectory— twelve-seventeen-six. Two years owing, and not a stiver on account. Oh, a poisonous bad ’un!”
“That’s all right!”
“Not a stiver on account!”
“All right, I tell you. There won’t be any paying on account with that bill: it’ll be all or nothing. All, perhaps; and, if so, something more than all”—he laid down his clasp-knife and almost involuntarily put a hand up to his cheek—“but nothing, most like. I put that slip of leather there to remind me, but I don’t need it. ’Twelve-seventeen-six’—better scratch it off.”
“‘Scratch it off’? Scratch off twelve-seventeen-six!” Old Wright spun round on his stool. But William sat gazing out of the window. He had picked up his knife again, but did not at once resume work.
The next thing old Wright heard was the clatter of a knife on the bench. William sprang up as it dropped, crept swiftly to the shop door, and stood there craning his head into the street and fumbling with his apron.
“What’s the matter? Cut yourself? It don’t want a doctor, do it?”
William did not answer: suddenly he plucked off his apron, flung it backwards into the shop, and disappeared into the street. The old man tottered forward, picked it off the floor and stood examining it, his mouth opening and shutting like a fish’s.
“‘Brought him’! Who told you to bring him?”
Hetty’s lover faced her across the round table in the lodging-house parlour. The table was spread for two, and Hetty’s knife and plate stood ready for her with a covered dish before it. He had breakfasted, and their entrance surprised him with an empty pewter in his hand, his chair thrust back sideways from the table, his legs extended towards the empty fire-place, and his eyes bent on his handsome calves with a somewhat moody frown.
“Who told you to bring him?”
John Romley stood in the doorway behind Hetty’s shoulder. She turned to him bravely and quietly, albeit with the scare in her face.
“I ought not to have brought you in like this. You will not mind waiting outside, will you?—a minute only—while I explain—”
Romley bent his head and walked out, closing the door.
“Dear”—Hetty turned—“you must forgive me, but I could not rest until I had brought him.”
He had risen, and stood now with his face averted, gazing out of the window where a row of clouts and linen garments on a clothes-line blocked the view of an untidy back-yard. He had known that this moment must come, but not that it would take him so soon and at unawares. He let his anger rise while he considered what to answer; for a man in the wrong will miss no excuse for losing his temper.