When he had gone she drew off her riding-gloves, removed her hat, and dropped them both upon the nearest chair, then crept wearily up the stairs to her room.
A moment later the latticed wooden blinds at the end of the parlor swung open, and through the front window stepped Stephen Cortlandt. Behind him was a hammock swung in the coolest part of the balcony. The pupils of his eyes, ordinarily so dead and expressionless, were distended like those of a man under the influence of a drug or suffering from a violent headache. He listened attentively for an instant, his head on one side, then, hearing footsteps approaching from the rear of the house, he strolled into the hall.
A maid appeared with a tray, a glass, and a bottle. “I could not find the aspirin,” she said, “but I brought you some absinthe. It will deaden the pain, sir.”
He thanked her and with shaking fingers poured the glass full, then drank it off like so much water.
“You’re not going out again in the heat, sir?”
“Yes. Tell Mrs. Cortlandt that I am dining at the University Club.” He went slowly down the steps and out through the flowering shrubs.
A PLOT AND A SACRIFICE
Kirk never passed a more unpleasant night than the one which followed. In the morning he went straight to Runnels with the statement that he could take no part in the little testimonial they had intended to give Cortlandt.
“But it’s too late now to back out. I saw him at the University Club last evening and fixed the date for Saturday night.”
“Did you tell him I was in the affair?”
“Certainly. I said it was your idea. It affected him deeply, too. I never saw a chap so moved over a little thing.”
Kirk thought quickly. Perhaps Edith had spoken rashly in her excitement, and her husband did not know her feelings after all. Perhaps he only suspected. In that case it would never do to withdraw. It would seem like a confession of guilt.
“If he has accepted, that ends it, I suppose,” he said, finally.
“What has happened?” Runnels was watching him sharply.
“Nothing. I merely wish I hadn’t entered into the arrangement, that’s all. I’ve ordered a watch for him, too, and it’s being engraved. I wanted to give him something to show my own personal gratitude for what he and his wife have done for me. Lord! It took a month’s salary. I know it’s a jay present, but there’s nothing decent in these shops.”
“Look here! I’ve wanted to say something to you for some time, though it’s deuced hard to speak of such things. Maybe I have more moral scruples than some people, but—” Runnels stirred uncomfortably in his chair. “Steve Cortlandt has put us where we are—you understand, when I speak of him I include his wife, too. Well, I like him, Kirk, and I’d hate to see him made unhappy. If a chap loves a married woman, he ought to be man enough to forget it. Rotten way to express myself, of course—”