The Hermit of ——— Street, by Anna Katharine Green

Chapter iv.

I Learn Hypocrisy.

Only eighteen, but from that moment, a woman. Sunk in horror as I was, I yet had wit enough to clap my hands to my head and say I had been dazzled by the sun.

Ambrose, who, in the week I had been with them, had shown himself delighted with the change my coming had made in the house, looked alarmed at this and wanted to call Mr. Allison; but I forbade him, and said I would go in by myself, which I did under a stress of will-power rarely exercised, I dare believe, by a girl so young and so miserable.

“What shall I say to him? how shall I meet him? how can I hide my knowledge and act as if this thing had never been?” For even in that rush of confusing emotions I recognized one fact; that I must not betray by look or word that I knew his dreadful secret. If he were villain enough to keep a woman, and that woman the rightful owner of the property he was himself enjoying, in a prison he had made for her in her own house, then he was villain enough to strangle the one who had discovered this fact, were she the cherished darling of his seared and calculating heart. I was afraid of him now that I knew him, yet I never thought of flying his presence or revealing his crime. He was, villain or no villain, my husband, and nothing could ever undo that fact or make it true that I had never loved him.

So I went in, but went in slowly and with downcast eyes. The bead and the paper I had dropped into my vinaigrette, which fortunately hung at my side.

“Humphrey,” I said, “when are we going to leave this house? I begin to find it lonesome.”

He was preparing to gather up his papers for his accustomed trip down town, but he stopped as I spoke, and look at me curiously.

“You are pale,” he remarked, “change and travel will benefit you. Dearest, we will try to sail for Europe in a week.”

A week! What did he mean? Leave his prisoners — alas, I understood his journeys to the top of the house now — and go away to Europe? I felt myself grow livid at the thought, and caught a spray of lilac from the table where I stood and held it to my face.

“Will your business affairs warrant it?” I asked. “Are you sure Mrs. Ransome’s affairs will not suffer by your absence?” Then, as I saw him turn white, I made a ghastly effort, happily hid by the flowers I held pressed against my face, and suggested, laughingly, “How, if she should come back after your departure! would she meet the greeting she deserves?”

He was half the room away from me, but I heard the click of subdued passion in his throat, and turned sick almost to the point of fainting. “It is four days since you mentioned Mrs. Ransome’s name,” he said. “When we are gone from here you must promise that it shall never again pass your lips. Mrs. Ransome is not a good woman, Delight.”

It was a lie yet his manner of speaking it, and the look with which he now approached me, made me feel helpless again, and I made haste to rush from the room, ostensibly to prepare for our trip down town, in order to escape my own weakness and gain a momentary self-possession before we faced the outside world. Only eighteen years old and confronted by such a diabolical problem!

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37