“I’m thinking of Olive,” he said; “I don’t want her worried with that sort of thing.”
“Perhaps Olive can manage for herself. In these days it doesn’t do to interfere with love.”
“Love!” muttered the Colonel. “What? Phew!”
If one’s own wife called this—this sort of—thing, love—then, why had he been faithful to her—in very hot climates—all these years? A sense of waste, and of injustice, tried to rear its head against all the side of him that attached certain meanings to certain words, and acted up to them. And this revolt gave him a feeling, strange and so unpleasant. Love! It was not a word to use thus loosely! Love led to marriage; this could not lead to marriage, except through—the Divorce Court. And suddenly the Colonel had a vision of his dead brother Lindsay, Olive’s father, standing there in the dark, with his grave, clear-cut, ivory-pale face, under the black hair supposed to be derived from a French ancestress who had escaped from the massacre of St. Bartholomew. Upright fellow always, Lindsay—even before he was made bishop! Queer somehow that Olive should be his daughter. Not that she was not upright; not at all! But she was soft! Lindsay was not! Imagine him seeing that young fellow putting her handkerchief in his pocket. But had young Lennan really done such a thing? Dolly was imaginative! He had mistaken it probably for his own; if he had chanced to blow his nose, he would have realized. For, coupled with the almost child-like candour of his mind, the Colonel had real administrative vigour, a true sense of practical values; an ounce of illustration was always worth to him a pound of theory! Dolly was given to riding off on theories. Thank God! she never acted on ’em!
He said gently:
“My dear! Young Lennan may be an artist and all that, but he’s a gentleman! I know old Heatherley, his guardian. Why I introduced him to Olive myself!”
“What has that to do with it? He’s in love with her.”
One of the countless legion that hold a creed taken at face value, into whose roots and reasons they have never dreamed of going, the Colonel was staggered. Like some native on an island surrounded by troubled seas, which he has stared at with a certain contemptuous awe all his life, but never entered, he was disconcerted by thus being asked to leave the shore. And by his own wife!
Indeed, Mrs. Ercott had not intended to go so far; but there was in her, as in all women whose minds are more active than their husbands’, a something worrying her always to go a little farther than she meant. With real compunction she heard the Colonel say:
“I must get up and drink some water.”
She was out of bed in a moment. “Not without boiling!”
She had seriously troubled him, then! Now he would not sleep—the blood went to his head so quickly. He would just lie awake, trying not to disturb her. She could not bear him not to disturb her. It seemed so selfish of her! She ought to have known that the whole subject was too dangerous to discuss at night.