“The gutter—or worse—that’s what! And when it’s all over, most people say: ’Served her right—she had a happy home once, why didn’t she stay in it?’ And somebody else says: ’She was always wild and foolish—I knew her as a girl.’ And some don’t say a blessed word because they couldn’t dirty their clean lips with her name-the hypocrites!—and so they cart off her poor body and dump it in a lot back of Calvary cemetery. Oh, I know ’em, and that’s what makes me get hot under the collar every time I get talkin’ as I’ve been to-night!—And now let’s quit it. If yer dead-beat wants a job, and we can keep him from stealin’ the tires off the wagon and the shoes off my big Jim, he can come to work in the mornin’, and John will pay him a dollar a day and he can sleep over the stables. And if he’s decent, he can come in here once in a while and I’ll warm him up with a cup of coffee. I’m glad to take him on just because ye want it—and ye knew that before I said it, for there’s nothin’ I wouldn’t do for ye, and ye know that, too. Listen! That’s John drivin’ in, and I’m going out to meet him.”
To the fears already possessing Lady Barbara a new one had now been added, freezing her blood and leaving her prostrate and helpless, like a plant stricken by an icy blast.
There had been no sleep for her after Martha’s revelations regarding the presence of Felix in town, and turn as she would on her pillow, she could not escape the dread of one hideous possibility—her meeting him face to face, uncovering to his penetrating gaze her shame.
That he had had any other purpose in pursuing her across the sea than to humiliate and punish her, she did not believe. No man, certainly no man as proud as her husband, would forgive a woman who had trailed his ancestral name in the mud, and made his family life a byword in clubs and drawing-rooms. That Martha believed he could still love her was natural. Such good souls, women of the people, who had always led restrained and wholesome lives, would believe nothing else, but not a woman of her own class. She had only to recall a dozen instances where the bonds of marriage had been broken, with all the attendant scandal and misery, to be convinced of what would befall her were she and Felix to meet.
Her one hope was that her husband, baffled in his search, had left the city, and that neither Martha nor Stephen would ever see him again. Their inability to find him of late might mean that he had given up the search, having found no trace of her during all the months in which he had been trying to find her. Or it might mean that he, too, had succumbed to the same poverty which she had endured and, being no longer able to maintain himself in the great city, had sought work elsewhere.