It was Steele who answered, with a lift of his head as full of assertion as it was of triumph.
“You? nothing; she? everything. You do not know this woman, Mayor Packard; for instance, you do not know her name.”
“Not know her name? My wife’s?”
“Not in the least. This lady’s name is Brainard. So is mine. Though she has lived with you several years in ignorance of my continued existence, no doubt, she is my wife and not yours. We were married in Boone, Minnesota, six years ago.”
THE WIFE’S TALE
Ten minutes later this woman was pleading her cause. She had left the side of the man who had just assumed the greatest of all rights over her and was standing in a frenzy of appeal before him she loved so deeply and yet had apparently wronged.
Mayor Packard was sitting with his head in his hands in the chair into which he had dropped when the blow fell which laid waste his home, his life, the future of his child and possibly the career which was as much, perhaps more, to him than all these. He had not uttered a word since that dreadful moment. To all appearance her moans of contrition fell upon deaf ears, and she had reached the crisis of her misery without knowing the extent of the condemnation hidden in his persistent silence. Collapse seemed inevitable, but I did not know the woman or the really wonderful grip she held on herself. Seeing that he was moved by nothing she had said, she suddenly paused, and presently I heard her observe in quite a different tone:
“There is one thing you must know—which I thought you would know without my telling you. I have never lived with this man, and I believed him dead when I gave my hand to you.”
The mayor’s fingers twitched. She had touched him at last. “Speak! tell me,” he murmured hoarsely. “I do not want to do you any injustice.”
“I shall have to begin far, far back; tell about my early life and all its temptations,” she faltered, “or you will never understand.”
Sensible at this point of the extreme impropriety of my presence, I rose, with an apology, to leave. But she shook her head quickly, determinedly, saying that as I had heard so much I must hear more. Then she went on with her story.
“I have committed a great fault,” said she, “but one not so deep or inexcusable as now appears, whatever that man may say,” she added with a slow turn toward the silent secretary.
Did she expect to provoke a reply from the man who, after the first triumphant assertion of his claim, had held himself as removed from her and as unresponsive to her anguish as had he whom she directly addressed? If so, she must have found her disappointment bitter, for he did not respond with so much as a look. He may have smiled, but if so, it was not a helpful smile; for she turned away with a shudder and henceforth faced and addressed the mayor only.