At these words the spaniel John rose from his corner and advanced to the middle of the floor. He stood there curved in a half-circle, and looked darkly at his master.
“Confound it!” said Mr. Pendyce. “It’s—it’s damnable!”
And as if answering for all that depended on Worsted Skeynes, the spaniel John deeply wagged that which had been left him of his tail.
Mrs. Pendyce came nearer still.
“If George refuses to give you that promise, what will you do, Horace?”
Mr. Pendyce stared.
“Promise? What promise?”
Mrs. Pendyce thrust forward the note.
“This promise not to see her again.”
Mr. Pendyce motioned it aside.
“I’ll not be dictated to by that fellow Bellew,” he said. Then, by an afterthought: “It won’t do to give him a chance. George must promise me that in any case.”
Mrs. Pendyce pressed her lips together.
“But do you think he will?”
“Think—think who will? Think he will what? Why can’t you express yourself, Margery? If George has really got us into this mess he must get us out again.”
Mrs. Pendyce flushed.
“He would never leave her in the lurch!”
The Squire said angrily:
“Lurch! Who said anything about lurch? He owes it to her. Not that she deserves any consideration, if she’s been——You don’t mean to say you think he’ll refuse? He’d never be such a donkey?”
Mrs. Pendyce raised her hands and made what for her was a passionate gesture.
“Oh, Horace!” she said, “you don’t understand. He’s in love with her!”
Mr. Pendyce’s lower lip trembled, a sign with him of excitement or emotion. All the conservative strength of his nature, all the immense dumb force of belief in established things, all that stubborn hatred and dread of change, that incalculable power of imagining nothing, which, since the beginning of time, had made Horace Pendyce the arbiter of his land, rose up within his sorely tried soul.
“What on earth’s that to do with it?” he cried in a rage. “You women! You’ve no sense of anything! Romantic, idiotic, immoral—I don’t know what you’re at. For God’s sake don’t go putting ideas into his head!”
At this outburst Mrs. Pendyce’s face became rigid; only the flicker of her eyelids betrayed how her nerves were quivering. Suddenly she threw her hands up to her ears.
“Horace!” she cried, “do——Oh, poor John!”
The Squire had stepped hastily and heavily on to his dog’s paw. The creature gave a grievous howl. Mr. Pendyce went down on his knees and raised the limb.
“Damn the dog!” he stuttered. “Oh, poor fellow, John!”
And the two long and narrow heads for a moment were close together.
RECTOR AND SQUIRE