‘You mean to say you knocked over the table by accident?’
‘I did indeed. And I wish I’d been burnt myself instead of her.’
He had suffered, by the way, no inconsiderable scorching, to which his hands would testify for many a week; but of this he was still hardly aware. Emmeline, with a glance of uttermost scorn, left him, and ascended to the room where the doctor was busy. Free to behave as he thought fit, Mumford beckoned Cobb to follow him into the front garden, where they conversed with masculine calm.
‘I shall put up at Sutton for the night,’ said Cobb, ’and perhaps you’ll let me call the first thing in the morning to ask how she gets on.’
’Of course. We’ll see the doctor when he comes down. But I wish I could understand how you managed to throw the lamp down.’
‘The truth is,’ Cobb replied, ’we were quarrelling. I’d heard something about her that made me wild, and I came and behaved like a fool. I feel just now as if I could go and cut my throat, that’s the fact. If anything happens to her, I believe I shall. I might as well, in any case; she’ll never look at me again.’
‘Oh, don’t take such a dark view of it.’
The doctor came out, on his way to fetch certain requirements, and the two men walked with him to his house in the next road. They learned that Louise was not dangerously injured; her recovery would be merely a matter of time and care. Cobb gave a description of the fire, and his hearers marvelled that the results were no worse.
‘You must have some burns too?’ said the doctor, whose curiosity was piqued by everything he saw and heard of the strange occurrence. ’I thought so; those hands must be attended to.’
Meanwhile, Emmeline sat by the bedside and listened to the hysterical lamentation in which Louise gave her own—the true—account of the catastrophe. It was all her fault, and upon her let all the blame fall. She would humble herself to Mr. Higgins and get him to pay for the furniture destroyed. If Mrs. Mumford would but forgive her! And so on, as her poor body agonised, and the blood grew feverish in her veins.
’Accept it? Certainly. Why should we bear the loss if he’s able to make it good? He seems to be very well off for an unmarried man.’
‘Yes,’ replied Mumford, ’but he’s just going to marry, and it seems—Well, after all, you know, he didn’t really cause the damage. I should have felt much less scruple if Higgins had offered to pay—’
‘He did cause the damage,’ asseverated Emmeline. ’It was his gross or violent behaviour. If we had been insured it wouldn’t matter so much. And pray let this be a warning, and insure at once. However you look at it, he ought to pay.’
Emmeline’s temper had suffered much since she made the acquaintance of Miss Derrick. Aforetime, she could discuss difference of opinion; now a hint of diversity drove her at once to the female weapon— angry and iterative assertion. Her native delicacy, also, seemed to have degenerated. Mumford could only hold his tongue and trust that this would be but a temporary obscurement of his wife’s amiable virtues.