“I don’t understand you,” answered Hetty coldly, and passed on.
John Romley was patrolling the pavement outside. She forced up a smile to meet him. “There has been some difficulty with the licence,” said she, and marvelled at her own calmness. “I am sorry, John, to have brought you here for nothing. He hid it from me—in kindness: but meanwhile I am going back.” With this brave falsehood she turned to leave him, knowing that he believed it as little as she.
He too marvelled. “Is it necessary to go back?”
“It is necessary.”
“Then let me find you some conveyance.” But he saw that she wished only to be rid of him, and so shook hands and watched her down the street.
“The infernal hound!” he said to himself; and as she passed out of sight he turned to the lodging-house door and entered without knocking.
He emerged, twenty minutes later, with his white bands twisted, his hat awry, and a smear of blood on the surplice he carried—altogether a very unclerical-looking figure. On the way back to his inn he kept looking at his cut knuckles, and, arriving, called for a noggin of brandy. By midday he was drunk, and at one o’clock he was due to appear at the Chapter House. The hour struck: but John Romley sat on in the coffee-room staring stupidly at his knuckles.
And all this while in the lodging-house parlour sat or paced the man who has no name in this book. He also was drinking: but the brandy-and-water, though he gulped it fiercely, neither unsteadied his legs nor confused his brain. Only it deadened by degrees the ruddy colour in his face to a gray shining pallor, showing up one angry spot on the cheek-bone. Though he frowned as he paced and muttered now and again to himself, he was not thinking of John Romley.
Some men are born to be the curse of women and, through women, of the world. Despicable in themselves they inherit a dreadful secret before which, as in a fortress betrayed to a false password, the proudest virtue hauls down its flag, and kneeling, proffers its keys. Doubtless they move under fate to an end appointed, though to us they appear but as sightseers, obscure and irresponsible, who passing through a temple defile its holies and go their casual ways. We wonder that this should be. But so it is, and such was this man. Let his name perish.
Late that evening and a little after moonrise, Johnny Whitelamb, going out to the woodstack for a faggot, stood still for a moment at sight of a figure half-blotted in the shadow.
“Miss Hetty—oh, Miss Hetty!” he called softly.
Hetty did not run; but as he stepped to her, let him take her hands and lifted her face to the moonlight.
“What are they doing?” she whispered.
Johnny was never eloquent. “They are sitting by the fire, just as usual,” he answered her, but his voice shook over the words.