“Certainly not,” was the immediate reply.
The silence that followed could have been cut with a knife. Everyone stood as though turned to stone. Surely this denial would be enough. Pell did not move. A menacing expression came over his face. As though there were no one else in the world, he glanced first at his wife and then at Jones, and affirmed with quiet deliberation:
“You’re a couple of rotten liars!”
Had he been struck in the face, Gilbert could not have been angrier. He saw it all now—he was in this man’s power, utterly. It had been planned craftily, smoothly. And there was no escape for Lucia. God! what he had gotten her in for! He cursed the tongue of Uncle Henry, and mentally he heaped maledictions on his own head for his gross stupidity. So this was how the land lay—this was the path that led to his destruction—ah! not only his, but hers! Angry as he was, he knew it would be futile to do anything but try, even now, to placate this wretched specimen of a man. He had to think quickly. There was not an instant to lose.
“But you said you didn’t believe ...” he began; but Pell came mercilessly back at him!
“I didn’t—then. The time was inopportune.”
Uncle Henry clutched the arms of his chair. “Ooooooh! The dirty bum!” he yelled.
Pell went on, inexorably. “But now that she herself has admitted it, and—”
“Admitted it!” Gilbert cried, his rage now at the boiling point.
“Yes! By everything she has said and done to-day. My dear fellow,” with a subtle change of tone, “God knows I am no prude.” He smiled a bland smile. “But there are limits to what any husband can endure.” His lips became thin and terrible; his eyes were gleaming slits.
Gilbert was aghast. He saw no solution of this painful situation; no safety for Lucia—his thoughts were all of Lucia.
“You don’t think that!” he said, “You couldn’t possibly think that! Oh, my God!”
Morgan Pell sneered at him. “I know what I would have done, in your place and with your opportunities.”
Gilbert found it hard to realize that any husband could say a thing like this in the presence of his wife. It revealed, if anything further were needed to reveal, the cur in the man.
“We’re not all as rotten as you are, Pell! Don’t forget that!” he cried. “You’re a dog—a low-down dog.” It was all he could do not to spring upon this craven and pin him to the floor.
“And we’re not all as discreet as you!” Pell flung back. “And now, if you don’t mind,” he added insinuatingly, “I’d like to talk to my wife—alone.”
Gilbert was consumed with fear for Lucia. “What?” he cried.
“Have you any objections?” Pell said, curling his lip. The irony in his tone was unmistakable.
Gilbert moved toward the door. “Why—no.”
“Thank you,” Pell said; and he threw wide the door leading from the alcove so that his host might pass through. He waited for him to do so. Gilbert hesitated for the fraction of a second. He looked at Pell, and then at Lucia, still lovely for all her suffering. There was nothing to say—nothing he could say. He disappeared into the other room, and shut the door behind him. Pell immediately turned to the others. “Well?” he said.