“Oh—that? I meant the Algonquin matter—” He checked himself, seeing for the first time in his life contempt distorting Grandcourt’s heavy face.
“Man! Man!” he said thickly, “is there nothing in that letter for you except money offered?”
“What do you mean?”
“I say, is there nothing in that message to you that touches the manhood in you?”
“You don’t know what is in it,” said Dysart listlessly. Even Grandcourt’s contempt no longer produced any sensation; he looked at the letter, tore it into long strips, crumpled them and stood up with a physical effort:
“I’m going to burn this. Have you anything else to say?”
“Yes. Good God, Jack, don’t you care for your wife? Can’t you?”
“I don’t know.” His tone became querulous. “How can a man tell why he becomes indifferent to a woman? I don’t know. I never did know. I can’t explain it. But he does.”
Grandcourt stared at him. And suddenly the latent fear that had been torturing him for the last two weeks died out utterly: this man would never need watching to prevent any attempt at self-destruction; this man before him was not of that caste. His self-centred absorption was of a totally different nature.
He said, very red in the face, but with a voice well modulated and even:
“I think I’ve made a good deal of an ass of myself. I think I may safely be cast for that role in future. Most people, including yourself, think I’m fitted for it; and most people, and yourself, are right. And I’ll admit it now by taking the liberty of asking you whom you were with in Baltimore.”
“None of your damned business!” said Dysart, wheeling short on him.
“Perhaps not. I did not believe it at the time, but I do now.... And her brother is after you with a gun.”
“What do you mean?”
“That you’d better get out of town unless you want an uglier scandal on your hands.”
Dysart stood breathing fast and with such effort that his chest moved visibly as the lungs strained under the tension:
“Do you mean to say that drunken whelp suspects anything so—so wildly absurd——”
“Which drunken whelp? There are several in town?”
Dysart glared at him, careless of what he might now believe.
“I take it you mean that little cur, Quest.”
“Yes, I happen to mean Quest.”
Dysart gave an ugly laugh and turned short on his heel:
“The whole damn lot of you make me sick,” he said. “So does this club.”
A servant held his rain-coat and handed him his hat; he shook his bent shoulders, stifled a cough, and went out into the rain.
In his own home his little old father, carefully be-wigged, painted, cleaned and dressed, came trotting into the lamp-lit living-room fresh from the ministrations of his valet.