“Well, I don’t,” he returned doggedly. “And another thing: I’m not to be put off with hard words. I ask you again what has happened? Who has been lying about me this time?”
Three other guests of the hotel were entering the music-room and the quarrel had to pause. Ardea had a nerve-shaking conviction that it would never do to leave it in the air. He must be made to understand, once for all, that he had sinned beyond forgiveness. She caught up the light wrap she had been wearing earlier in the evening and turned to one of the windows opening on the rear veranda. “Come with me,” she whispered; and he followed obediently.
But there was no privacy to be had out of doors. There was a goodly scattering of people in the veranda chairs enjoying the perfect night and the white moonlight. Ardea stopped suddenly.
“You were intending to walk down to the valley?” she asked.
“I will walk with you to the cliff edge.”
It was a short hundred yards, and there were many abroad in the graveled walks: lovers in pairs, and groups of young people pensive or chattering. So it was not until they stood on the very battlements of the western cliff that they were measurably alone.
“Has no one told you what happened last March—on the day of the ice storm?” she asked coldly.
“Don’t you know it without being told?”
“Of course, I don’t; why should I?”
His angry impassiveness shook her resolution. It seemed incredible that the most accomplished dissembler could rise to such supreme heights of seeming.
“I used to think I knew you,” she said, faltering, “but I don’t. Why don’t you despise hypocrisy and double-dealing as you used to?”
“I do; more heartily than ever.”
“Yet, in spite of that, you have—oh, it is perfectly unspeakable!”
“I am taking your word for it,” he rejoined gloomily. “You are denying me what the most wretched criminal is taught to believe is his right—to know what he is accused of.”
“Have you forgotten that night last winter when you—when I saw you at the gate with Nancy Bryerson?”
“I’m not likely to forget it.”
She seized her courage and held it fast, putting maidenly shame to the wall.
“Tom, it is a terrible thing to say—and your punishment will be terrible. But you must marry Nancy!”
“And father another man’s child?—not much!” he answered brutally.
“And father your own children—two of them,” she said, with bitter emphasis.
“Oh, that’s it, is it?” he said, with a deeper scowl. “So there are two of them, are there? That’s why no woman in Mr. Farley’s country colony is at home to me any more, I suppose.” And then, still more bitterly: “Of course, you are all sure of this?—Nan has at last confessed that I am the guilty man?”
“You know she has not, Tom. Her loyalty is still as strong and true at it is mistaken. But your duty remains.”