After he had studied his paper a few moments longer, he felt that he ought to modify matters in some way or other. Evidently his wife was not going to patch up peace at a word. So he said:
"Where did George get the dog he has there in the yard?"
"I don't know," she snapped.
He put his paper down on his knees and gazed idly out of the window. He did not propose to lose his temper, but merely to be persistent and agreeable, and by a few questions bring around a mild understanding of some sort.
"Why do you feel so bad about that affair of this morning? he said, at last. "We needn't quarrel about that. You know you can go to Waukesha if you want to."
"So you can stay here and trifle around with some one else?" she exclaimed, turning to him a determined countenance upon which was drawn a sharp and wrathful sneer.
He stopped as if slapped in the face. In an instant his persuasive, conciliatory manner fled. He was on the defensive at a wink and puzzled for a word to reply.
"What do you mean?" he said at last, straightening himself and gazing at the cold, determined figure before him, who paid no attention, but went on arranging herself before the mirror.
"You know what I mean," she said, finally, as if there were a world of information which she held in reserve — which she did not need to tell.
"Well, I don't," he said, stubbornly, yet nervous and alert for what should come next. The finality of the woman's manner took away his feeling of superiority in battle.
She made no answer.
"Hmph!" he murmured, with a movement of his head to one side. It was the weakest thing he had ever done. It was totally unassured.
Mrs. Hurstwood noticed the lack of color in it. She turned upon him, animal-like, able to strike an effectual second blow.
"I want the Waukesha money to-morrow morning," she said.
He looked at her in amazement. Never before had he seen such a cold, steely determination in her eye — such a cruel look of indifference. She seemed a thorough master of her mood-thoroughly confident and determined to wrest all control from him. He felt that all his resources could not defend him. He must attack.
"What do you mean?" he said, jumping up. "You want! I'd like to know what's got into you to-night."
"Nothing's GOT into me," she said, flaming. "I want that money. You can do your swaggering afterwards."
"Swaggering, eh! What! You'll get nothing from me. What do you mean by your insinuations, anyhow?"
"Where were you last night?" she answered. The words were hot as they came. "Who were you driving with on Washington Boulevard? Who were you with at the theatre when George saw you? Do you think I'm a fool to be duped by you? Do you think I'll sit at home here and take your 'too busys' and 'can't come,' while you parade around and make out that I'm unable to come? I want you to know that lordly airs have come to an end so far as I am concerned. You can't dictate to me nor my children. I'm through with you entirely."
"It's a lie," he said, driven to a corner and knowing no other excuse.
"Lie, eh!" she said, fiercely, but with returning reserve; "you may call it a lie if you want to, but I know."
"It's a lie, I tell you," he said, in a low, sharp voice. "You've been searching around for some cheap accusation for months and now you think you have it. You think you'll spring something and get the upper hand. Well, I tell you, you can't. As long as I'm in this house I'm master of it, and you or any one else won't dictate to me — do you hear?"
He crept toward her with a light in his eye that was ominous. Something in the woman's cool, cynical, upper-handish manner, as if she were already master, caused him to feel for the moment as if he could strangle her.
She gazed at him — a pythoness in humor.
"I'm not dictating to you," she returned; "I'm telling you what I want."
The answer was so cool, so rich in bravado, that somehow it took the wind out of his sails. He could not attack her, he could not ask her for proofs. Somehow he felt evidence, law, the remembrance of all his property which she held in her name, to be shining in her glance. He was like a vessel, powerful and dangerous, but rolling and floundering without sail.
"And I'm telling you," he said in the end, slightly recovering himself, "what you'll not get."
"We'll see about it," she said. "I'll find out what my rights are. Perhaps you'll talk to a lawyer, if you won't to me."
It was a magnificent play, and had its effect. Hurstwood fell back beaten. He knew now that he had more than mere bluff to contend with. He felt that he was face to face with a dull proposition. What to say he hardly knew. All the merriment had gone out of the day. He was disturbed, wretched, resentful. What should he do? "Do as you please," he said, at last. "I'll have nothing more to do with you," and out he strode.