“Was the child with you—at your side I mean, all this time?”
“I never let go her hand.”
“Woman, you are keeping nothing back?”
“Nothing but my terror at the sight of Bela running in all bloody to escape the people pressing after him. I thought then that I had been the death of servant as well as master. You can imagine my relief when I heard that yours was but a passing attack.”
Sincerity was in her manner and in her voice. The judge breathed more easily, and made the remark:
“No one with hearing unimpaired can realise the suspicion of the deaf, nor can any one who is not subject to attacks like mine conceive the doubts with which a man so cursed views those who have been active about him while the world to him was blank.”
Thus he dismissed the present subject, to surprise her by a renewal of the old one.
“What are your reasons,” said he, “for the hopes you have just expressed? I think it your duty to tell me before we go any further.”
It was an acknowledgment, uttered after his own fashion, of the truth of her plea and the correctness of her woman’s insight. She contemplated his face anew, and wondered that the dart she had so inconsiderately launched should have found the one weak joint in this strong man’s armour. But she made no immediate reply, rather stopped to ponder, finally saying, with drooped head and nervously working fingers:
“Excuse me for to-night. What I have to tell—or rather, what I have to show you,—requires daylight.” Then, as she became conscious of his astonishment, added falteringly:
“Have you any objection to meeting me to-morrow on the bluff overlooking Dark—–”
The voice of the clock, and that only! Tick! Tick! Tick! Tick! That only! Why then had she felt it impossible to finish her sentence? The judge was looking at her; he had not moved; nor had an eyelash stirred, but the rest of that sentence had stuck in her throat, and she found herself standing as immovably quiet as he.
Then she remembered. He had loved Algernon Etheridge. Memory still lived. The spot she had mentioned was a horror to him. Weakly she strove to apologise.
“I am sorry,” she began, but he cut her short at once.
“Why there?” he asked.
“Because”—her words came slowly, haltingly, as she tremulously, almost fearfully, felt her way with him—“because—there—is—no— other place—where—I can make—my point.”
He smiled. It was his first smile in years and naturally was a little constrained,—and to her eyes at least, almost more terrifying than his frown.
“You have a point, then, to make?”
“A good one.”
He started as if to approach her, and then stood stock-still.
“Why have you waited till now?” he called out, forgetful that they were not alone in the house, forgetful apparently of everything but his surprise and repulsion. “Why not have made use of this point before it was too late? You were at your husband’s trial; you were even on the witness-stand?”