"Burned!" cried Mamie, starting a little from the attitude of quiescent capacity in which she had hitherto sat to hear me, her hands folded in her lap.
There was an appreciable pause.
"I beg your pardon, Loudon," began Jim at last, "but why in snakes did you burn her?"
"It was an idea of Nares's," said I.
"This is certainly the strangest circumstance of all," observed Mamie.
"I must say, Loudon, it does seem kind of unexpected," added Jim. "It seems kind of crazy even. What did you--what did Nares expect to gain by burning her?"
"I don't know; it didn't seem to matter; we had got all there was to get," said I.
"That's the very point," cried Jim. "It was quite plain you hadn't."
"What made you so sure?" asked Mamie.
"How can I tell you?" I cried. "We had been all through her. We WERE sure; that's all that I can say."
"I begin to think you were," she returned, with a significant emphasis.
Jim hurriedly intervened. "What I don't quite make out, Loudon, is that you don't seem to appreciate the peculiarities of the thing," said he. "It doesn't seem to have struck you same as it does me."
"Pshaw! why go on with this?" cried Mamie, suddenly rising. "Mr. Dodd is not telling us either what he thinks or what he knows."
"Mamie!" cried Jim.
"You need not be concerned for his feelings, James; he is not concerned for yours," returned the lady. "He dare not deny it, besides. And this is not the first time he has practised reticence. Have you forgotten that he knew the address, and did not tell it you until that man had escaped?"
Jim turned to me pleadingly--we were all on our feet. "Loudon," he said, "you see Mamie has some fancy; and I must say there's just a sort of a shadow of an excuse; for it IS bewildering--even to me, Loudon, with my trained business intelligence. For God's sake, clear it up."
"This serves me right," said I. "I should not have tried to keep you in the dark; I should have told you at first that I was pledged to secrecy; I should have asked you to trust me in the beginning. It is all I can do now. There is more of the story, but it concerns none of us, and my tongue is tied. I have given my word of honour. You must trust me and try to forgive me."
"I daresay I am very stupid, Mr. Dodd," began Mamie, with an alarming sweetness, "but I thought you went upon this trip as my husband's representative and with my husband's money? You tell us now that you are pledged, but I should have thought you were pledged first of all to James. You say it does not concern us; we are poor people, and my husband is sick, and it concerns us a great deal to understand how we come to have lost our money, and why our representative comes back to us with nothing. You ask that we should trust you; you do not seem to understand; the question we are asking ourselves is whether we have not trusted you too much."
"I do not ask you to trust me," I replied. "I ask Jim. He knows me."
"You think you can do what you please with James; you trust to his affection, do you not? And me, I suppose, you do not consider," said Mamie. "But it was perhaps an unfortunate day for you when we were married, for I at least am not blind. The crew run away, the ship is sold for a great deal of money, you know that man's address and you conceal it, you do not find what you were sent to look for, and yet you burn the ship; and now, when we ask explanations, you are pledged to secrecy! But I am pledged to no such thing; I will not stand by in silence and see my sick and ruined husband betrayed by his condescending friend. I will give you the truth for once. Mr. Dodd, you have been bought and sold."
"Mamie," cried Jim, "no more of this! It's me you're striking; it's only me you hurt. You don't know, you cannot understand these things. Why, to-day, if it hadn't been for Loudon, I couldn't have looked you in the face. He saved my honesty."
"I have heard plenty of this talk before," she replied. "You are a sweet-hearted fool, and I love you for it. But I am a clear- headed woman; my eyes are open, and I understand this man's hypocrisy. Did he not come here to-day and pretend he would take a situation--pretend he would share his hard-earned wages with us until you were well? Pretend! It makes me furious! His wages! a share of his wages! That would have been your pittance, that would have been your share of the Flying Scud--you who worked and toiled for him when he was a beggar in the streets of Paris. But we do not want your charity; thank God, I can work for my own husband! See what it is to have obliged a gentleman. He would let you pick him up when he was begging; he would stand and look on, and let you black his shoes, and sneer at you. For you were always sneering at my James; you always looked down upon him in your heart, you know it!" She turned back to Jim. "And now when he is rich," she began, and then swooped again on me. "For you are rich, I dare you to deny it; I defy you to look me in the face and try to deny that you are rich--rich with our money--my husband's money----"