She had her hands clasped tightly in her lap, and he saw that her face was as white as paper, and drawn with pain. She gasped once or twice as she tried to answer him, and then began, speaking low, and swiftly. "Jurgis, I — I think I have been out of my mind. I started to come last night, and I could not find the way. I walked — I walked all night, I think, and — and I only got home — this morning."
"You needed a rest," he said, in a hard tone. "Why did you go out again?"
He was looking her fairly in the face, and he could read the sudden fear and wild uncertainty that leaped into her eyes. "I — I had to go to — to the store," she gasped, almost in a whisper, "I had to go — "
"You are lying to me," said Jurgis. Then he clenched his hands and took a step toward her. "Why do you lie to me?" he cried, fiercely. "What are you doing that you have to lie to me?"
"Jurgis!" she exclaimed, starting up in fright. "Oh, Jurgis, how can you?"
"You have lied to me, I say!" he cried. "You told me you had been to Jadvyga's house that other night, and you hadn't. You had been where you were last night — somewheres downtown, for I saw you get off the car. Where were you?"
It was as if he had struck a knife into her. She seemed to go all to pieces. For half a second she stood, reeling and swaying, staring at him with horror in her eyes; then, with a cry of anguish, she tottered forward, stretching out her arms to him. But he stepped aside, deliberately, and let her fall. She caught herself at the side of the bed, and then sank down, burying her face in her hands and bursting into frantic weeping.
There came one of those hysterical crises that had so often dismayed him. Ona sobbed and wept, her fear and anguish building themselves up into long climaxes. Furious gusts of emotion would come sweeping over her, shaking her as the tempest shakes the trees upon the hills; all her frame would quiver and throb with them — it was as if some dreadful thing rose up within her and took possession of her, torturing her, tearing her. This thing had been wont to set Jurgis quite beside himself; but now he stood with his lips set tightly and his hands clenched — she might weep till she killed herself, but she should not move him this time — not an inch, not an inch. Because the sounds she made set his blood to running cold and his lips to quivering in spite of himself, he was glad of the diversion when Teta Elzbieta, pale with fright, opened the door and rushed in; yet he turned upon her with an oath. "Go out!" he cried, "go out!" And then, as she stood hesitating, about to speak, he seized her by the arm, and half flung her from the room, slamming the door and barring it with a table. Then he turned again and faced Ona, crying — "Now, answer me!"
Yet she did not hear him — she was still in the grip of the fiend. Jurgis could see her outstretched hands, shaking and twitching, roaming here and there over the bed at will, like living things; he could see convulsive shudderings start in her body and run through her limbs. She was sobbing and choking — it was as if there were too many sounds for one throat, they came chasing each other, like waves upon the sea. Then her voice would begin to rise into screams, louder and louder until it broke in wild, horrible peals of laughter. Jurgis bore it until he could bear it no longer, and then he sprang at her, seizing her by the shoulders and shaking her, shouting into her ear: "Stop it, I say! Stop it!"
She looked up at him, out of her agony; then she fell forward at his feet. She caught them in her hands, in spite of his efforts to step aside, and with her face upon the floor lay writhing. It made a choking in Jurgis' throat to hear her, and he cried again, more savagely than before: "Stop it, I say!"
This time she heeded him, and caught her breath and lay silent, save for the gasping sobs that wrenched all her frame. For a long minute she lay there, perfectly motionless, until a cold fear seized her husband, thinking that she was dying. Suddenly, however, he heard her voice, faintly: "Jurgis! Jurgis!"
"What is it?" he said.
He had to bend down to her, she was so weak. She was pleading with him, in broken phrases, painfully uttered: "Have faith in me! Believe me!"
"Believe what?" he cried.
"Believe that I — that I know best — that I love you! And do not ask me — what you did. Oh, Jurgis, please, please! It is for the best — it is — "
He started to speak again, but she rushed on frantically, heading him off. "If you will only do it! If you will only — only believe me! It wasn't my fault — I couldn't help it — it will be all right — it is nothing — it is no harm. Oh, Jurgis — please, please!"
She had hold of him, and was trying to raise herself to look at him; he could feel the palsied shaking of her hands and the heaving of the bosom she pressed against him. She managed to catch one of his hands and gripped it convulsively, drawing it to her face, and bathing it in her tears. "Oh, believe me, believe me!" she wailed again; and he shouted in fury, "I will not!"
But still she clung to him, wailing aloud in her despair: "Oh, Jurgis, think what you are doing! It will ruin us — it will ruin us! Oh, no, you must not do it! No, don't, don't do it. You must not do it! It will drive me mad — it will kill me — no, no, Jurgis, I am crazy — it is nothing. You do not really need to know. We can be happy — we can love each other just the same. Oh, please, please, believe me!"
Her words fairly drove him wild. He tore his hands loose, and flung her off. "Answer me," he cried. "God damn it, I say — answer me!"
She sank down upon the floor, beginning to cry again. It was like listening to the moan of a damned soul, and Jurgis could not stand it. He smote his fist upon the table by his side, and shouted again at her, "Answer me!"
She began to scream aloud, her voice like the voice of some wild beast: "Ah! Ah! I can't! I can't do it!"
"Why can't you do it?" he shouted.
"I don't know how!"
He sprang and caught her by the arm, lifting her up, and glaring into her face. "Tell me where you were last night!" he panted. "Quick, out with it!"
Then she began to whisper, one word at a time: "I — was in — a house — downtown — "
"What house? What do you mean?"
She tried to hide her eyes away, but he held her. "Miss Henderson's house," she gasped. He did not understand at first. "Miss Henderson's house," he echoed. And then suddenly, as in an explosion, the horrible truth burst over him, and he reeled and staggered back with a scream. He caught himself against the wall, and put his hand to his forehead, staring about him, and whispering, "Jesus! Jesus!"
An instant later he leaped at her, as she lay groveling at his feet. He seized her by the throat. "Tell me!" he gasped, hoarsely. "Quick! Who took you to that place?"
She tried to get away, making him furious; he thought it was fear, of the pain of his clutch — he did not understand that it was the agony of her shame. Still she answered him, "Connor."