Mr. Black smiled. The woman delighted him. The admiration which he had hitherto felt for her person and for the character which could so develop through misery and reproach as to make her in twelve short years, the exponent of all that was most attractive and bewitching in woman, seemed likely to extend to her mind. Sagacious, eh? and cautious, eh? He was hardly prepared for such perfection, and let the transient lighting up of his features speak for him till he was ready to say:
“You find the judge very agreeable, now that you know him better?”
“Yes, Mr. Black. But what has that got to do with the point at issue?”
And she smiled, but not just in his manner nor with quite as little effect.
“Much,” he growled. “It might make it easier for you to reconcile yourself to the existing order of things.”
“I am reconciled to them simply from necessity,” was her gentle response. “Nothing is more precious to me than Reuther’s happiness. I should but endanger it further by raising false hopes. That is why I have come to cry halt.”
“Madam, I commend your decision. It is that of a wise and considerate woman. Your child’s happiness is, of course, of paramount importance to you. But why should you characterise your hopes as false, just when there seems to be some justification for them.”
Her eyes widened, and she regarded him with a simulation of surprise which interested without imposing upon him.
“I do not understand you,” said she. “Have you come upon some clew? Have you heard something which I have not?”
The smile with which he seasoned his reply was of a very different nature from that which he had previously bestowed upon her. It prepared her, possibly, for the shock of his words:
“I hardly think so,” said he. “If I do not mistake, we have been the recipients of the same communications.”
She started to her feet, but sat again instantly. “Pray explain yourself,” she urged. “Who has been writing to you? And what have they written?” she added, presuming a little upon her fascinations as a woman to win an honest response.
“Must I speak first?”
If it was a tilt, it was between even forces.
“It would be gentlemanly in you to do so.”
“But I am not of a gentlemanly temper.”
“I deal with no other,” said she; but with what a glance and in what a tone!
A man may hold out long—and if a lawyer and a bachelor more than long, but there is a point at which he succumbs. Mr. Black had reached that point. Smoothing his brow and allowing a more kindly expression to creep into his regard, he took two or three crushed and folded papers from a drawer beside him and, holding them, none too plainly in sight, remarked very quietly, but with legal firmness:
“Do not let us play about the bush any longer. You have announced your intention of making no further attempt to discover the man who in your eyes merited the doom accorded to John Scoville. Your only reason for this—if you are the woman I think you—lies in your fear of giving further opportunity to the misguided rancour of an irresponsible writer of anonymous epistles. Am I not right, madam?”