“Yet, such is the reaching out of the drowning for straws, I did not utterly despair till Nixon brought me from this man’s lodging-house, where I had sent him, a specimen of his handwriting.
“Nixon is the only confidant I have had. Nixon knew me as a girl when he worked in my uncle’s home, and has always had the most unbounded, I may say jealous, affection for me. To him I had dared impart that I did not trust your new secretary; that he looked like a man I once knew who was a determined opponent of the party now trying to elect you; that a specimen of his writing would make me quite sure, and begged him to get it. I thought he might pick up such in the little office below, but he was never able to do so—Mr. Steele has taken care not to leave a line written in this house—but he did find a few lines signed with his name in his own room at the boarding-house, and these he showed me before he told me the result of his errand. They settled all doubts. What is to be my fate? Surely this man has no real claim on me, after all these years, when I thought myself your true and honest wife. He may ruin your campaign, defeat your hopes, overwhelm me with calumny and a loss of repute, but surely, surely he can not separate us. The law will not uphold him in that; will it, Henry? Say that it will not, say—oh, say that—it—will not—do—that, or we shall live to curse the day, not when we were born; but when our little innocent child came to us!”
THE FINGER ON THE WALL
At this appeal the mayor rose and faced his secretary and the spectacle was afforded me of seeing two strong men drawn up in conflict over a woman both had cherished above all else. And it was characteristic of the forceful men, as well as the extreme nature of the conflict, that both were quiet in manner and speech—perhaps the mayor the more so, as he began the struggle by saying:
“Is what Mrs. Packard says of your playing with her fears during these two weeks true, Mr. Steele?”
Without a droop of his eye, or a tremor in his voice, the answer came short, sharp and emphatic:
“Then, you are a villain! and I shall not feel myself called upon to show you any consideration beyond what justice demands. Have you any plea to urge beyond the natural one of her seemingly unprovoked desertion of you? Has not my wife—” the nobility with which he emphasized those two words made my heart swell—“spoken the truth?”
Ah! then the mask of disdainful serenity with which the other had hitherto veiled the burning anguish of his soul fell in one burst of irresistible passion.
“True! yes, it is true. But what does that truth involve for me? Not two weeks, but seven years of torture, five of them devoted to grief for her, loss, and two to rage and bitter revulsion against her whole sex when I found her alive, and myself the despised victim of her deception.”