She called to her mistress: “Lock and bolt that door on you, and don’t open it until I tell you.”
Again she confronted Dalton, her contempt for him increasing as she caught the wave of anxiety that swept his face at her reference to the men who would help her. “Now, you can have just one minute to leave this room, Mr. Dalton,” she cried, throwing back the door. “If you’re over that time, the policeman on the block will help you down-stairs.”
Dalton hesitated. The allusion to Stephen, whoever he might be, and to the other man, disturbed him. That the woman knew more of his history than she was willing at that time to tell was evident. That she was entirely in earnest, and meant what she said, and that it would be more than dangerous for him to defy her, should she appeal to the police for help, were equally evident.
“Of course, my dear woman,” he said, with assumed humility, his eyes glistening with anger, “if you do not want me to stay, I suppose I shall have to go. I did not come to make any fuss; I only came to take my wife home where I can take care of her. She seems to think she can get along without me. All right—I am willing she should try it for a while. She has my address, which is more than I had when she left me without a word of any kind.”
He slid his hand under his cape to assure himself that the mantilla was safe and out of sight, picked up his hat, and stepped jauntily out, saying as he went down the staircase: “Next time, she will come to me. Do you hear? Tell her so, will you?”
Sometimes on life’s highway we meet a man who reminds us of one of those high-priced pears seen in fruiterers’ windows: wholesome, good to look at, without a speck or stain on their smooth, round, rosy skins—until we bite into them. Then, close to their hearts, we uncover a greedy, conscienceless worm, gnawing away in the dark—and consign the whole to the waste-barrel.
Dalton, despite his alluring exterior, had been rotten at heart from the time he was sixteen years of age, when he had lied to his father about his school remittances, which the old man had duplicated at once.
That none of his associates had discovered this was owing to the fact that no one had probed deeper than the skin of his attractiveness—and with good reason: it was clean, good to look at, bright in color, a most welcome addition to any dinner-table. But when the drop came—and very few fruits can stand being bumped on the sidewalk—the revelation followed all the quicker, simply because bruised fruit rots in a day, as even the least qualified among us can tell.
And the bruises showed clearer as time went on. The lines in his once well-rounded, almost boyish face grew deeper and more strongly marked, the eyes shrank far back beneath the brows, the lips became thinner and less mobile, the hair was streaked with gray, and the feet lacked their old-time spring.