’Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned’. —William Congreve (The Mourning Bride, 3.8)
She had waited for him to appear for some time. Those who had first seen her enter the breakfast room noted that she was well-dressed against the unseasonably cold weather, and in a way that put many of the other women there into an envious state of mind. She was not a young lady, probably about thirty, but had not yet lost her good looks.
Her slight impatience as she had looked about the room, had been obvious to those who delighted in the rewarding pastime of watching how people carried themselves as they scurried about, or waited—patiently or impatiently. There was a story to be read in everything that happened, and few such stories were ever as innocent as they might at first seem, and possibly not in this case. She knew she was the focus of general attention, but there was nothing she could do about it, so she accepted it and ignored it as a person of breeding must.
When she did deign to return a curious glance, she met that glance with unwavering eyes in a barely smiling face, seeing the observer quickly look elsewhere. She was difficult to read. They would wait, observe, and speculate. She had not stayed overnight in this establishment—unless she had gone for a late morning walk in the park opposite—but had arrived for a meeting with someone. Why else would she be here? She almost certainly was married. A single woman would not choose to be here without escort or a companion, nor would be as assured as this one was. She was waiting for a man—that much was obvious. He must perhaps be a resident of the hotel, and she had arranged to meet him in that coffee room. He would be neither brother nor husband, or she would have gone straight up to his room. She had dressed for a man—carefully choosing her clothing to emphasize her not-insubstantial attributes, knowing that her appearance could not be faulted by any man who still had an ounce of life left in him, while causing any respectable woman observing her, to wonder what game she might be playing.
Those who observed her saw the possibility of intrigue in every nuance of what happened or did not happen—a deeper breath, almost a sigh, an impatient gesture as though sweeping a fly away from her, a fleeting glance as someone entered the room but not the one she expected—or a start, as some piece of cutlery was dropped. The lady’s growing anxiety and impatience (though quite well hidden) had become more evident for some minutes as she glanced often at the large clock that sat like a sentinel over by the entryway. He was late! She tried to ignore those who were curious about her. Her obvious stiffness had been soon enough hidden and replaced by a look of silent triumph when she had seen him walk into the dining room at last.
He was dressed as a gentleman—well enough not to attract attention and with no vain ostentation. He had a sharp penetrating eye from which others glanced away when it fell upon them. He seemed nervous as well as cautious. Reassured that he knew no one, he approached the table but did not immediately sit down. The observers waited in anticipation for some sign of affection between them, but they were both too careful to betray themselves. Rather than being a meeting between two lovers away from the prying eyes of those who might know them or their spouses, it seemed to be an uncomfortable meeting—at least for him.
She had a smile of welcome on her face that would have softened any heart, but he remained standing and tense. Had they been found out, and this meeting was the last they dared have with each other? No one was looking directly at them, and yet they were the focus of attention for many of those in that room who wished that they might overhear them.
“After you had not responded to any of my letters, I was not sure you would come.” Her smile was not returned. He did not incline his head or bow to acknowledge her. It was not a meeting he was comfortable with. He stood there with a look on his face that was devoid of any obvious feeling, either of joy, happiness, or annoyance—to those who could see his face—as he seemed to debate whether or not to sit down. He seemed ill at ease and gave the appearance that he would rather have been somewhere else. They were not to know that he felt a nagging premonition concerning why she had suggested they meet surreptitiously, as they were doing. As the moments dragged out, it became clear that he was there against his better judgment.
They must have been found out.
“I was not sure that I would come either, Mrs. Enright.” He sat down, loath to attract even more attention to himself and to appear out of place to those who were still curious about him. He kept his concerns about meeting with her to himself. He was aware of the difficulties she might cause him, just as she had for her husband a year and more earlier, when he had gone against her. She had endeavored to ruin his reputation at a distance after that, until her efforts had suddenly faced the sobering reality of seeing her situation become less comfortable and secure if she did not desist.
She skated beyond the brief interruption. “I would have preferred Lyons, but I believe you decided that it would be too public, and that you might be recognized. I am at a loss as to why you might not wish to be seen in my company.”
He had no such lack of understanding. Nor did she.
“We encountered each other once, Madam, and that was once too often for me, as your subsequent attempts to contact me each week showed. I returned your letters, unopened. I should have declined to meet you here even. You are dangerous, ma’am.”
She laughed at the truth of that, but the observers noted that her initially excited look had been replaced by one less relaxed. It might not be going as she had intended.
“Only in a playful way where you are concerned, Reginald. I am not so much dangerous, as attentive to what is important to me.”
“They amount to the same thing in a woman’s mind when things do not go her way.” He was wary. She could see the look on his face. He was not comfortable recalling their only meeting.
“Oh dear. Not a good start. No pleasant smile. No kind inquiry after my health, which, you will be pleased to hear, is good. Madam, and not my name—Serena. You cannot have forgotten it so soon. You said it in my ear often enough once we had moved past the initial introductions so rapidly and decisively. Oh, Reginald, Mr. Morton, how ungallant of you, sir!” She seemed to be the one in control of the way things might go.
He was not comfortable with her using his name so easily in this place. Others might make note of it. She nodded to the waiter who had placed a coffee in front of each of them, disappointed that they had then fallen silent as they had studied each other, and he was not about to overhear any of their conversation, and left the silver carafe at one side of the table.
“I remember once that my name flowed so easily, even tenderly from your lips not so long after we first encountered each other. What we did together happens quite often you know, between like-minded adults, even in polite society, though always in private. It is never openly spoken of, except as we seem to be doing, though is often the subject of speculation and idle gossip.” She looked at him suggestively from under her long eyelashes, almost blushing at the pleasure that she remembered they had shared that afternoon, but he remained silent. He did not share her memory of that moment in the same way.
She sighed. He was going to be difficult, and it was not going to be the meeting she had hoped that it might be. “Is that why you did not open or answer my letters, or write more than the formal one of your own, agreeing to our first meeting?” He had been justifiably alarmed by her intent after that first meeting, with her striving to draw him into providing a trail of correspondence that he would be unable to deny. “I still treasure that first one in response to my own, though it was far too formal and precise, and lacked the promise of our subsequent meeting. ’Dear Madam, my steward and I will meet with your manager’ . . . etcetera.” She waved her hand, dismissing the rest of it. “Still, we had not then met, had we? And you were not to know what awaited you once you had sent your own man off for the doctor. He would never find him, however—I had seen to that, and even if he had, he would not have known where to find us, or where we might have gone. You were not to know what awaited you after that, though the fact that I had left my own man behind and met with you alone should have alerted you to my possible intent.” She seemed to be enjoying his discomfort.
After the waiter was well out of range, the gentleman spoke. He laid his hat and cane on the chair beside him. He would be careful not to provoke a scene from which it would be difficult to extricate himself.
“Yes, I should have taken warning from that. It may have seemed innocent at first, but there was nothing innocent about what happened after that between us. I rapidly became aware that you knew exactly what you were doing, however, though I was too slow to wake up to that. You had planned the entire thing to go as it did, to ensnare and trap me in a difficult situation. I regret that I did not have more restraint and more backbone myself. More character.” She laughed at his charming naiveté and simplicity.
“Oh, dear Reginald. Are you really so innocent? Yes, you are. You could no more resist what happened between us than a hungry dog might refuse a marrow bone. However, it did go forward as I intended that it would. By the time you woke up to what I had planned, it was too late for you.” She smiled, almost sympathetically. “But you should not agonize over that as you seem to do, nor feel any twinge of conscience about what happened. Do not blame yourself.” She reached across and patted his hand before he might remove it.
“A clever and patient woman who knows what she wants, and who intends to have it, can overcome the reservations of any man, if she but thinks about how best to do it and lays the scene. My mother always told me that in matters of the heart, one must play the man, and the emotional advantage she always enjoys with her alluring female advantages—if she knows how to use them—and must never reveal her hand until after the game is played. It is just a pity that I chose the wrong man for my first adventure”—she hurried to correct what he might think—“not you—my husband.
“It is so easy, really. You are all like little boys in front of a plate of sweets, and so predictable when presented with the right stimulating temptation—helpless to refuse a woman’s gentle entreaties as the clothes inevitably come off, with the correct sounds of ladylike resistance and expected protest—albeit to be sure that I was not injured, as my cries persuaded you that I had been. At least that is how I intended I should appear. Despite my tears, and my resistance and reservations, you managed to overrule my weakening protestations and shyness, eventually, as I knew you would. I thought I gave a credible performance of being shy and protective of my virtue, despite my injuries . . .”
“Feigned injuries!” he corrected her. She had been neither shy nor modest once she had seen how easily he had been aroused.
“. . . Fleeting injuries, as I tried to keep you from discovering too much of me too quickly, though I did not try so hard”—she blushed at the memory—“relenting only when I could resist your necessary, persistent efforts borne of a disarming concern for me, no longer. I was truly touched. I kept myself covered quite well, some of the time, though I failed at the last, once my gentle resistance crumbled and left me exposed, vulnerable, and eagerly welcoming of your attentions, but you were not to know that. I tried to make it seem difficult for you, so that you would have to overrule me and then let nature take its course. I almost could not contain my excitement or my laughter at how easy it was, with you suffering, as you so obviously were, with that horn colic condition that told me all about you. You were the one who was entirely helpless about then, and I was not about to object to learning more about that—and you.” She smiled understandingly at him as she picked up her cup and sipped at the coffee.
“That was how I also trapped my husband into marrying me, though he needed more encouragement. I should have taken warning from that.” She frowned at that thought, momentarily marring her otherwise perfect countenance. “I needed what he had—a fine house, a title, position, money. But then I did not realize how well he might deny me them too, after I saw him leave me, trapping me in exile miles from London—penniless, in the bleak and inhospitable countryside. A fine house then becomes little more than a prison. What use is wealth if one does not control it or use it? What value is a title if one cannot flaunt it in broader society? He denied me both. He made sure that I could not pester him in London, for fear of me seeing my limited allowance cut off totally or that I might be exiled even further out. This is my first visit in a year.”
He corrected her, “He did not leave you, as you say. You deliberately made his life with you unbearable. You saw that he would have no choice in going, but without you having thought about the consequences. Surely you did not think he would feel kind enough to you after that obvious betrayal of his affection, to take you with him, or to empower you in any way in society. You tormented and hounded the poor man until he realized that he could no longer live under the same roof with you. You should have known that he would starve you of funds after that when he saw your intent in trying to ruin him, although he does give you a generous allowance—conditional upon you staying away from London, of course, and not stirring up trouble for him.” Her eyes flashed to his face. How did he know all that?
She sought to correct him—rattled to realize that he seemed to know more than he should. “A pitiful allowance that only a church mouse might live on, and provided I remain in exile as I am, with but one or two visits to my sister a year, and no visits to me by anyone. At least, not worth speaking of. I have no say in taking on or getting rid of difficult or disobliging servants, who all spy upon me for him. Their allegiance is not to me. I was trapped! I felt I would go mad until I realized the possibilities. I was only a prisoner in my own mind. I found the countryside to be not so bleak once I woke up. I have ambition. I still have my looks for a few more years. I have horses and can ride. I have a carriage. I have freedom—of a kind. You were one such distraction, though what happened between us did not continue as I had hoped it might. A woman must protect and provide for herself as she can, and that is what I set out to do, as I spread my net out to see what I might catch. I wish I had woken up earlier to the possibilities.” She carelessly rattled her spoon in the saucer before she caught herself. “I do not regret what happened between us. I hope you don’t. You shouldn’t. If it is any consolation to you, you could not avoid doing what we did. I had also hoped that that would be the first of many such encounters between us.” She looked at him and spoke as she looked pointedly at him and even blushed quite charmingly. “I would still like it to be.” He did not respond and avoided meeting her eyes.
She sighed. “Ah well! Then perhaps not. I wonder how it was that I scared you off.” She toyed with the spoon again. “If you fear that you might have been deficient in your performance in that office of lover in some way that is causing you some anxiety, you should relieve yourself of that concern. I found it a promising start, and entirely satisfying. It was better than I had expected for our first meeting, and without the usual shyness or clumsy overtures. I like decisiveness in a man, and you were so decisive! We could have continued for years. You would have been a suitable alternative to the London scene, even though you were already married. I would have been discreet, as I am sure you would have been too.”
He did not join in the conversation, which he found to be discomforting.
She continued. “I analyzed the circumstance after that, to decide what I might have done to have put you off me so well when you did not respond to any of my letters, nor would meet with me again.” He had been careful that way, after what had already happened between them. He did not trust her. There were always women who sought to turn a simple situation into something not at all simple.
“You caused me to engage in a good deal of soul-searching. What might I have done wrong? Was I not loving enough or eager enough for your attention? I thought I was. I deliberately cast all reservations about what I must do to one side and left you in no doubt as to what I intended for you. I started with a gentle touch at your shoulder, a warm sigh and my breath upon your face as you examined my neck and shoulders for injury. After that, as you progressed further with your more daring discoveries, my resistance slowly crumbled. I do not know how I could have been more appealingly attentive or passionate after that.” She looked for some sign or remembrance in his expression, but saw nothing. “I cannot imagine that your wife still appeals to you in that way, having borne you four—or is it five—children? I imagine she might be almost as loose and as unexciting as a horse’s collar upon you, big as you are, whereas I . . ..” She left the rest unsaid. It was obvious that he vividly remembered that moment from his heightening color. Or was it what she had said and the way she had said it?
He did not answer that pointless question or disparagingly vulgar observation, which reflected her lowly origins, but once more entered the mostly one-sided conversation. He tried to smile for the benefit of those curious few, still observing them from afar, but it was a wooden smile. “What we did, madam”—she did not like his constantly calling her madam; it was far too formal considering what they had shared just a short time before—“was more than enough. It was also wrong. You drew me into that meeting with you, on a pretext—nothing more—concerning a piece of land between our two estates that you suggested was in need of clarification as to where the boundaries might lie. You said something in your letter, madam, of disputed ownership.”
“Serena, please. My name is Serena. It once sounded so gentle and so pleasant on your lips. What gentleman could refuse a lady who appealed to him as I did to you after I had fallen when my horse was startled by a rabbit? I was in pain and the breath knocked from me. Did my cries and prostration not convince you that I was hurt? I feared I had broken some bones.”
“You were more than convincing, else I would not have sent Chollacomb after the doctor. I did not realize until afterward that you had not fallen by accident, as you said, but had done so deliberately. You were also not in pain, or what followed between us would certainly not have happened as easily as it did. I should have realized earlier what you were up to. You missed your calling!”
She smiled, though she did not feel like it. It had not been a compliment. How she could find humor in any of it escaped him. “I do hope you mean that in terms of performing on the stage, as I once aspired to, rather than of performing in that other, older profession, in the Academy of despoiled virgins, the Pushing School, though both are challenging roles and provide their own rich rewards to a clever woman, wise to the ways and needs of men—the right class of men. Similar rewards too, in the end, if one is careful in one’s choice of men.” She was enjoying his discomfort. “Or is it that you are moralizing? It is too late for that on both of our parts. I was sure that I convinced you that I was at least severely bruised (I was), if not worse, with broken bones, and I needed your help and close attention. We were far away from any doctor. We were also close to a cottage on my own estate that I knew would be empty that afternoon, as well as being out of the way and not likely to be easily found by your man. I had planned it all so well. You carried me there after I had swooned from the pain. You were gentle with me as you loosened my clothing and bathed me to revive me. I could see that I excited you, even then. When you dared go no further, I miraculously recovered my senses and clutched my clothing to me, upsetting that bowl of water onto us both so that my remaining clothing had to come off me as I lay shivering under that thin sheet. Almost under that sheet! Some of the time!” She recalled it all too well for his comfort. He looked around nervously, hoping that no one else might overhear her shocking recollections or see the look on her flushed face as she recalled that time.
He tried to redirect her thoughts. “So why this meeting this time? What is the grave urgency you refer to that you insisted I meet with you here? I thought I had discouraged any further ambitions you might have in that other direction.”
“You did! You also ignored me for too long. I had to do something to get your attention. If you do but think about it, you will know why we are here.”
“I don’t know.”
She smiled at him patiently, as though she knew a secret that he didn’t. “Of course you do, Reginald. I made no pretext of my ambition with you after I had first bowled you over, and after your oh-so-excited first visit to Eve’s custom house. My Eve’s custom house—and so eagerly too. It did not take long for us to become riveted together that first time, with you plowing a notable furrow in my delicate and tender little garden, and then fertilizing it excitedly too—several times.” She could see that he had closed his eyes, possibly reliving that moment, or shocked that she dared to describe it in those graphic terms. “Then, once I seemed to have tearfully forgiven you for your moments of weakness as you held me close to comfort me, what we then proceeded to do passionately yet again, and in a more protracted and satisfying fashion, but with the same wondrous outcome together. I had not known you might recover so well or so quickly. Perhaps your wife is not attentive to you in that way as she should be—as I would be.” She still held hope of a continuation of what they had started. “I was in a forgivingly guilty mood, if you recall, needing more consolation, and reluctant to see you leave me in any way until I had recovered my disordered feelings. You seemed concerned that hysteria might take over, as it threatened to do if you left me too soon after what you had done to me.” She fluttered her eyelashes at him as she dealt with such a delicate subject. “Tears, uncertainty, guilt—such useful little props. So, ever the gentleman, you didn’t leave me. You were completely helpless.”
“Your efforts to help me dress, failed several times after that. I broke down in tears once more and needed comforting and support, as I was in danger of falling again. I could see that you were not sure how you might get me safely home without it all being discovered about us. Me, in my tearful and mostly disrobed state, having difficulty getting dressed by my own efforts or even with your help—you, constantly being faced with maddening temptation. I needed your close and attentive presence, reassurance, and support for quite some time, as well as your tender, calming ministrations to help me regain my previous composure and to settle my disordered spirits.”
He decided that he should bring this discomforting interview to an end. “So there must be a point to all of this. Why are we here?” She looked at him for some moments before she spoke.
Her voice had become more hard and calculating. “There are often repercussions from . . . what we did!” She watched his face, waiting for understanding to dawn, then saw a sudden awakening to what she meant, cross his face. “There, I knew you would be able to recall that, and to understand. Yes . . . there will be fruit from our passionate labors. I am with child, Reginald. Yours! Once is all it can take you know, though in your eagerness we were not so restrained that afternoon before you were able to see me calmed, and then at least partially dressed once more. I know I presented a well-used and disheveled appearance for the servants to see when I arrived home, but that was my intention. I am sure that they dutifully reported it to my husband. You were not sure you could safely leave me before your own man might return to discover he had been sent off on a snipe hunt, and what we had undoubtedly done, so many times, in his absence. We could have continued after that for several months as we grew even closer before I broke the joyous (or not so joyous) news to you. I wanted to—I had hoped that we would.” She paused for some moments as she watched various emotions cross his face. “It is yours.” She bit daintily into a biscuit.
“I don’t know that.”
“I do.” She sipped at her coffee as she smiled at him over it, but then frowned a little. “That is the second or third ungallant thing you have said to me.” She smiled in her self-assurance at the power of her situation. “You have barely touched the coffee. It is really quite good, and so are the biscuits. Though the company is too attentive.” He made no move to do so, as she looked about the room.
“What of your husband?” He dragged her thoughts back, though they had not gone far.
“Enright? What of him?” He was easily dismissed. “You were right. I sent him off two years ago. I was already carrying his child by then, though it took us almost a year to manage what you and I did in one afternoon. Men are such predictable beasts! And such fools! It took so long to become impregnated that I almost gave up on him. I was truthful with him then too, just as I am with you about this pregnancy. I doubt that he could so easily impregnate me with this one at that distance and after such a long time apart, considering the difficulty he had the first time.”
She looked at the disbelieving expression on his face. “It is yours, as I am sure will be evident when it is born and is revealed with those unmistakable features that all of the Morton children show—the hair, the eyes, the general features, and all of you, handsome. I envy you that.” She had him at a disadvantage. He had not liked her using his name again.
“Why did you ask me to meet you here? It cannot have been just to tell me that.”
“Of course not. I wanted us to meet so that we might reach an understanding with each other, as a continuation of that closer relationship seems to be beyond us, though I would not object if you would now wish to pick up where we left off.” She would still have welcomed that, but the signs from his expression were not promising. “Ah well, it does not matter. I find that with having no husband close by me, and being held a prisoner where I am with nowhere else to go, that I am lonely (and destined to stay that way, it seems) and I never have enough money to bring up even one child, but then I may send him off to my sister in London. Every time I look at him, he reminds me of his father. He will probably turn out to be the same too—weak, unfeeling, and spiteful.” She uttered that last word with distaste at the memories that evoked. “It will be even more difficult for me with a second underfoot, and I seem to have developed a desire to experience some rather expensive tastes and other pastimes, as I sense a denial of any closer relationship between us.”
“You will need to change those desires. You have approached the wrong man. You cannot blackmail me, and I have no intention of encouraging any relationship between us other than a remote one.”
“Blackmail?” She looked shocked and looked about herself to be sure that no one had overheard that word, though not really caring if they had or not. “What a dreadful word to bring into this gentle conversation! I merely seek to ensure that my child, our child, will not come into the world without some basic advantages as you seem ready to deny him a father that he can openly acknowledge, or that will acknowledge him”—she looked at him—“unless . . . No, I expect not. I believe that he should be hosed and shod, do not you, even if he will not know his heartless father?” There were others gaining a sense that there was something exceptionally personal being discussed for the gentleman to be so flushed and possibly angry.
“You approached the wrong man, as I told you. Blackmail is what it is, and blackmail—and those who conduct it—blackmailers, are never satisfied, but tend to become more and more greedy.” He recognized that others were taking an interest in their conversation. “Do your damnedest, madam. But be careful how you think to move this forward.”
She smiled in turn, but her eyes did not match that smile. She felt she had a strong hand, despite his response, and had come to realize as their conversation had progressed that he would resist. “I probably will. I am sure your wife, with three young daughters between two and four, and twins, a son and another daughter, Oliver and Charlotte, at breast, would not wish to hear of this.” She seemed to know too much about his family. “I should write to her. She would understand the pleadings of a wronged—a much-wronged—woman at your brutal hands when you had come upon me unexpectedly. But then all men are brutal that way. That is what makes them so appealing and exciting as they overpower us at the last with their violence and passion as they lose themselves upon us! You took me quite by surprise with your ruthless and passionate attack, or so I shall tell her, with details of your subsequent efforts to encounter me on my own estate as you laid in wait for me, to brutalize me further, which I shall assure her that you did. Then once you had damaged me beyond recovery and ruined me, my approaching her to lay all before her as I tearfully beg her forgiveness for having aroused the beast . . . she might feel betrayed that she could no longer trust you after such a history of . . .” She left the rest unsaid.
“And would you do that? Would you risk that, with so many lies?”
“Not lies, Reginald. Convenient and constructive deceptions! What risk is there to me? You have convinced me that I have no other recourse, as you seem to intend to abandon me. I have nothing to lose, therefore I risk nothing. Why not?”
“Because I would deny it. There are no letters between us that might compromise me. I was careful over that when I suspected what your intent might be. No one knows that I met with you then, or what happened between us, but they do know of other of your recent and not-so-recent liaisons. The whole of Brokeston is aware of them by now, and that you appear to have the moral restraint of an alley cat. If only I had known that before I met with you then. No one knows that I am meeting with you now in this out-of-the-way place.” His eyes flickered about the room again to be sure that he knew no one. “I believe my wife will believe me, rather than you. She is aware that I love her, even after so many children. The least damaging course of action is for me to report this conversation to her when I return home, and even to confess what happened between us two months ago, and in a way, that will undoubtedly conflict with your own telling of it. She and her friends have long suspected your ambitions in our society. She also knows me. It may be difficult for a while, but we will survive it. I have always believed that honesty is the best medicine for such trouble. It is only a pity I did not tell her of this two months ago, as I should have done, but I had hoped that it would fade from mind and that I would not hear any more of it.”
“It did not fade from my mind. Not now. Not with this growing in me! You put it there.” Her hand rested briefly upon her abdomen.” That gesture was noted by others. The nature of their meeting now began to make sense. The lady’s expression had gradually frozen at his intransigence to her threats. “Be careful . . . Have you never heard the expression that ‘hell hath no fury, like a woman scorned’?” He said nothing but stood up from the table.
She could not let him leave without a warning. “If not now, then sometime in the future, you shall be made to recall this conversation—it will be too late to regret walking away then.” She was angry, but it was under control.
“I already regret it in every way, but not the walking away.” He picked up his hat and cane and nodded his head to her with a fixed smile on his face as he bade her goodbye. He turned his back and walked off, settling her bill before he left in order not to invite more awkwardness.
Those who had observed them were aware that the issue that they had met to discuss, whatever it was, was personal—possibly a lovers’ quarrel, but it had not been resolved to the satisfaction of either party.
She swore in an unladylike way under her breath as she smiled calmly. She drank more of her coffee and nibbled at a biscuit, all for the benefit of those who had seen him leave, apparently in anger if his fixed expression were any indication, and watched for her response. She seemed cool, confident, and composed. They were not to know that she was seething within. She had miscalculated, and had lost, for the moment. He would pay, one way or another. Even in blood, if need be. She would be patient. She would visit Mrs. Morton in a month or so and inform her of her husband’s infidelity, and of his violent ways, along with other choice, discomforting comments about what he had done to her.
Once he had escaped from that difficult meeting, Reginald Morton resolved to close off two obvious avenues of difficulty as soon as he might. He would disclose the entire matter to his wife as soon as he arrived home, with all of the problems that would then ensue for him. Better she heard it from him rather than her. It would be a difficult year, but he would survive it. He would also acquaint his friend—Dyball Enright—of his wife’s devious nature and let him know of her threats. He would tell him everything that had happened on that fateful first day, and in their following meeting in that breakfast room. Their friendship might not survive that disclosure, but it should be done. He would try to minimize the damage that she might do and let her husband know that he would be likely to hear from her about it, and in exaggerated detail. It had not been an easy letter to write, but at least he would try to minimize the damage that she intended. He was not to know that the fate of his entire family, and of two other families, had been put onto a different and more cruel track by his meeting that morning.
No one could know that a villain had been conceived in that moment of weakness by Mr. Morton, or what the consequences would be.