“Oh, you shall not fence with me like a baby!” she exclaimed. “Tell me, or lie to me, or refuse to tell me! Which is it?”
“Upon my honour,” I said, looking at her curiously, “I have no idea whom you mean!”
She looked at inc steadily for several moments, her lips parted, her breath seeming to come sharply between her teeth.
“I mean your father,” she said. “Whom else should I mean?”
TWO TO ONE
I looked across at the woman, who was waiting my answer with every appearance of feverish interest.
“What should I know about him?” I said slowly. “I have been told that he is dead. I know no more than that.”
She started as though my words had stung her.
“It is not possible!” she exclaimed. “I must have heard of it. When he left me—it was less than three months ago—he seemed better than I had known him for years.”
“All my life,” I said, “I have understood that my father died by his own hand after his disgrace. To-night for the first time I was told that this was not the fact. I understood, from what my informant said, that he had died recently.”
She drew a sharp breath between her teeth, and suddenly struck the cushioned arm of the carriage by her side with her clenched hand.
“It is a lie!” she declared. “Whoever told you so, it is a lie!”
“Do you mean that he is not dead?” I exclaimed. “Do you mean that you have not seen him yourself—within the last few months?” she demanded fiercely. “He left me to come to you on the first day of the New Year.”
“I have never seen him to my knowledge in my life,” I answered.
She leaned back in her seat, murmuring something to herself which I could not catch. Past-mistress of deceit though she may have been, I was convinced that her consternation at my statement was honest. She did not speak or look at me again for some time. As for me, I sat silent with the horror of a thought. Underneath the rug my limbs were cold and lifeless. I sat looking out of the rain-splashed window into the darkness, with fixed staring eyes, and a hideous fancy in my brain. Every now and then I thought that I could see it—a white evil face pressed close to the blurred glass, grinning in upon me. Every shriek of the engine—and there were many just then, for we were passing through a network of tunnels—brought beads of moisture on to my forehead, made me start and shake like a criminal. Surely that was a cry! I started in my seat, only to see that my companion, now her old self again, was watching me intently.
“I am afraid,” she said softly, “that you are not very strong. The excitement of talking of these things has been too much for you.”
“I have never had a day’s illness in my life,” I answered. “I am perfectly well.”