“Certainly she did,” Richard said, harshly. And looking at him the other man saw that his face looked haggard and colourless. “She did not mention your name, I presume out of a sense of generosity to you. I could have wished,” he added, “that you had been similarly generous, and had seen fit to leave her, and leave my daughter alone. I think I must ask you to excuse me,” said Richard at the door. His tone was one of absolute suffocation. “I can see no object in your frankness to-night, unless to distress and humiliate Mrs. Carter. My daughter, and not myself, is the one entitled to your confidence, and you are well aware of my feeling where she is concerned! I would to God,” said Richard, with bitterness, “that I had never seen your face! Mrs. Carter has been a useful—and indispensable!—member of this family for many years; if there was in her past some unpleasant and painful event, that is her own affair—!”
“Not when she marries a man who is unaware of it,” Blondin suggested, in his pleasant, soft tones.
“That is mine!” Richard said, sternly. And he opened the library door. “Good evening!” he said.
“Good evening!” Blondin, with his light, loitering step, crossed the threshold, and Richard closed the door. He took his chair again, and reached toward the bell that would have brought Bottomley to summon Nina in turn. But halfway to the bell his resolution wavered, disappeared. Instead, he rested his elbows on the table, and his head in his hands, and there sounded from his chest a great sigh that was almost a groan.
Oh, he was tired—he was tired—he was tired! It was all a mess— the boy, the girl, their mother, his own arrangements for their protection and safety. All a mess.
She had been beautiful, that girl, with her golden hair in the lamplight, and her white arms a little raised to rest her locked hands on the chair. Like some superb actress of tragedy, some splendid and sullen prisoner at the bar. The slender figure in the dull wrapping of satin, and the white bosom, had looked so young, so virginal, the blue eyes were so honestly frightened and ashamed. And she had been that bounder’s wife—in his arms! Divorced! Harriet Field? Poor girl, cornered by this unscrupulous scoundrel, this bully, with all the ugly past dragged up like the muddy bottom of a river, staining and clouding the clear waters. And what a look she had given him, there under the lamp!
“It’s a funny code,” he mused. “Barbarians, that’s what we are, when it comes to women. Nina, Ida, Isabelle, Harriet—all of them pay for the man-made rule! I shouldn’t have forced her hand in this business marriage; it was taking an advantage of her. No woman wants to marry for anything but love, and if she had married for love, she would have made a clean breast of this old affair, of course. I didn’t exact that. We’ve made a nice mess of it, all around!
“I mustn’t let her work herself into a fever over all this!” he found himself thinking.