HIS OWN PEOPLE
"You never met Selwyn, did you?"
"Never heard anything definite about his trouble?" insisted Gerard.
"Oh, yes, sir!" replied young Erroll, "I've heard a good deal about it. Everybody has, you know."
"Well, I don't know," retorted Austin Gerard irritably, "what 'everybody' has heard, but I suppose it's the usual garbled version made up of distorted fact and malicious gossip. That's why I sent for you. Sit down."
Gerald Erroll seated himself on the edge of the big, polished table in Austin's private office, one leg swinging, an unlighted cigarette between his lips.
Austin Gerard, his late guardian, big, florid, with that peculiar blue eye which seems to characterise hasty temper, stood by the window, tossing up and catching the glittering gold piece—souvenir of the directors' meeting which he had just left.
"What has happened," he said, "is this. Captain Selwyn is back in town—sent up his card to me, but they told him I was attending a directors' meeting. When the meeting was over I found his card and a message scribbled, saying he'd recently landed and was going uptown to call on Nina. She'll keep him there, of course, until I get home, so I shall see him this evening. Now, before you meet him, I want you to plainly understand the truth about this unfortunate affair; and that's why I telephoned your gimlet-eyed friend Neergard just now to let you come around here for half an hour."
The boy nodded and, drawing a gold matchbox from his waistcoat pocket, lighted his cigarette.
"Why the devil don't you smoke cigars?" growled Austin, more to himself than to Gerald; then, pocketing the gold piece, seated himself heavily in his big leather desk-chair.
"In the first place," he said, "Captain Selwyn is my brother-in-law—which wouldn't make an atom of difference to me in my judgment of what has happened if he had been at fault. But the facts of the case are these." He held up an impressive forefinger and laid it flat across the large, ruddy palm of the other hand. "First of all, he married a cat! C-a-t, cat. Is that clear, Gerald?"
"Good! What sort of a dance she led him out there in Manila, I've heard. Never mind that, now. What I want you to know is how he behaved—with what quiet dignity, steady patience, and sweet temper under constant provocation and mortification, he conducted himself. Then that fellow Ruthven turned up—and—Selwyn is above that sort of suspicion. Besides, his scouts took the field within a week."
He dropped a heavy, highly coloured fist on his desk with a bang.
"After that hike, Selwyn came back, to find that Alixe had sailed with Jack Ruthven. And what did he do; take legal measures to free himself, as you or I or anybody with an ounce of temper in 'em would have done? No; he didn't. That infernal Selwyn conscience began to get busy, making him believe that if a woman kicks over the traces it must be because of some occult shortcoming on his part. In some way or other that man persuaded himself of his responsibility for her misbehaviour....