Tragedy was abroad that day, crossing and recrossing Williams Street. Tragedy has the same prerogative as love and death—the right to enter the palace or the hovel, into the heart of youth or age. It was not a killing to-day, only a breaking of hearts, that is to say, the first step. Tragedy never starts out on her rounds roughly; she seeks her cause first; she seeks her anonymous letter, her idle hands, her lying tongue; then she is ready. Tragedy does nothing hastily; she graduates her victim.
Warrington stumbled rather than walked home. When he reached the opposite curb he slipped and fell, bruising his hands. ... Deny it? Deny it when convicted without trial? There are never any proofs to refute a letter written by an unknown enemy. There is never any guard against the stab in the back. ... He and Kate! It was monstrous. And John? Did John know? Did John see that letter? No, Patty surely had not shown it to John. He knew John (or he believed he did); not all the proofs or explanations Heaven or earth could give would convince John, if that letter fell into his hands. ... And he was to speak at a mass meeting that night! God! He stumbled up the steps to the door. He was like a drunken man. ... Patty believed it; Patty, just and merciful, believed it. If she believed, what would John, the jealous husband, believe? There were so many trifling things that now in John’s eyes would assume immense proportions. ... In less than half an hour the world had stopped, turned about, and gone another way. He opened the door. As he did so a woman rushed into the hall.
“Richard, Richard, I thought you would never come!”
“You, and in this house alone?” His shoulders drooped.
Mrs. Jack did not observe how white he was, how dull his eye, how abject his whole attitude. She caught him by the sleeve and dragged him into the living-room.
“Richard, I am dying!” she cried. She loosened the collaret at her throat. “What shall I do, what shall I do?”
He realized then that he was not alone in misery.
“What is it, girl?” stirring himself.
“Listen, Dick!” She dropped into the old name unconsciously. She had but one clear thought; this man could save her. “Some time ago—the night you and John went down town together—I received a telephone call from that vile wretch, McQuade.”
“McQuade?” Warrington’s interest was thoroughly aroused by that name; nothing else could have aroused it.
“He said that if I did not persuade you to withdraw your name before the convention met he would not oppose the publication of a certain story concerning my past and yours. Horrible! What could I do? I remained silent; it was Patty’s advice. We were afraid that John would kill McQuade if we told him.” She let go of his arm and paced the room, beating her hands together. “Think of the terror I have lived in all these weeks! Half dead every evening when John came home; not daring to read the papers; afraid of calling on my few friends! I have never, in all my life, done an evil action, either in thought or deed. What terrible gift is this that God gives to some people to make truth half a truth and half a truth a lie? Read this!”