Book III
Chapter XV
 

I

Mortimer looked nonplussed when Alexina informed him at dinner of the immediate solution of their difficulties. He detested Tom and Maria Abbott; there were certain things he could forget in his aristocratic wife's presence, far as she had withdrawn, but never in theirs. Moreover he feared Abbott. He was as keen as a hawk; an unconsidered word and he might as well have told the whole story. Well, he never talked much anyhow; he would merely talk less.

When Alexina asked him if he had any better plan to propose he was forced to shrug his shoulders and set his lips in a straight line of resignation. When she told him what her original plan had been he was so appalled, so humiliated at the bare thought of his wife in a servant's apron (to say nothing of the culinary arrangements) that he almost warmed to the Abbotts.

II

Ten days later, on the eve of the Abbotts' arrival, the equanimity of spirit he was striving to regain by the simple process of thinking of something else when his late delinquencies obtruded themselves, received a severe shock. Alexina handed him a cheque for ten thousand dollars and asked him to place it to Gora's account in the bank where she kept her savings.

"Where did you get it?" he asked stupidly, staring at the slip of paper so heavily freighted.

"Anne Montgomery sold some of my things to a good-natured ignoramus whose husband made a fortune in Tonopah. She doesn't know how to buy and Anne advises her."

"What did you sell? Your jewels?"

"Some. I never wear anything but the pearls anyhow; and it's bad taste to wear jewels unless you're wealthy. I had some old lace that is hard to buy now, and real lace isn't the fashion any more. New rich people always think it's just the thing. I also sold her two of the biggest and clumsiest of the Italian pieces. She is crazy about them. Anne told her that they were as good as a passport."

Mortimer sprang to the only, the naive, the eternal masculine conclusion.

"You do love me still!" The dull eyes of his spirit flashed with the sudden rejuvenation of his heavy body. "I never really believed you had ceased to care....you were capricious like all women...a little spoilt. I knew that if I had patience...Only a loving wife would do such a thing."

Alexina made a wry face at the banality of his climax, although the fatuous outburst had barely amused her.

"No, I don't love you in the least, Mortimer, and never shall. Make up your mind to that. Love some one else if you like....I did this for two reasons: I did not have the courage to tell Gora the truth--and that I was too unjust and penurious to restore the money you had taken; and as your wife it would have hurt my pride unbearably."

"And you are not afraid to trust me with this money?" he asked, his voice toneless.

"Not in the least. There's no other way to manage it and I fancy you know what would happen if you didn't hand it over. There is such a thing as the last straw."