From every gesture and expression I could see that he was a reserved, self-contained man, with a dash of pride in his nature, more likely to hide his wounds than to expose them. Then suddenly, with a fierce gesture of his closed hand, like one who throws reserve to the winds, he began.
"The facts are these, Mr. Holmes," said he. "I am a married man, and have been so for three years. During that time my wife and I have loved each other as fondly and lived as happily as any two that ever were joined. We have not had a difference, not one, in thought or word or deed. And now, since last Monday, there has suddenly sprung up a barrier between us, and I find that there is something in her life and in her thought of which I know as little as if she were the woman who brushes by me in the street. We are estranged, and I want to know why.
"Now there is one thing that I want to impress upon you before I go any further, Mr. Holmes. Effie loves me. Don't let there be any mistake about that. She loves me with her whole heart and soul, and never more than now. I know it. I feel it. I don't want to argue about that. A man can tell easily enough when a woman loves him. But there's this secret between us, and we can never be the same until it is cleared."
"Kindly let me have the facts, Mr. Munro," said Holmes, with some impatience.
"I'll tell you what I know about Effie's history. She was a widow when I met her first, though quite young--only twenty-five. Her name then was Mrs. Hebron. She went out to America when she was young, and lived in the town of Atlanta, where she married this Hebron, who was a lawyer with a good practice. They had one child, but the yellow fever broke out badly in the place, and both husband and child died of it. I have seen his death certificate. This sickened her of America, and she came back to live with a maiden aunt at Pinner, in Middlesex. I may mention that her husband had left her comfortably off, and that she had a capital of about four thousand five hundred pounds, which had been so well invested by him that it returned an average of seven per cent. She had only been six months at Pinner when I met her; we fell in love with each other, and we married a few weeks afterwards.
"I am a hop merchant myself, and as I have an income of seven or eight hundred, we found ourselves comfortably off, and took a nice eighty-pound-a-year villa at Norbury. Our little place was very countrified, considering that it is so close to town. We had an inn and two houses a little above us, and a single cottage at the other side of the field which faces us, and except those there were no houses until you got half way to the station. My business took me into town at certain seasons, but in summer I had less to do, and then in our country home my wife and I were just as happy as could be wished. I tell you that there never was a shadow between us until this accursed affair began.
"There's one thing I ought to tell you before I go further. When we married, my wife made over all her property to me--rather against my will, for I saw how awkward it would be if my business affairs went wrong. However, she would have it so, and it was done. Well, about six weeks ago she came to me.
"'Jack,' said she, 'when you took my money you said that if ever I wanted any I was to ask you for it.'
"'Certainly,' said I. 'It's all your own.'
"'Well,' said she, 'I want a hundred pounds.'
"I was a bit staggered at this, for I had imagined it was simply a new dress or something of the kind that she was after.
"'What on earth for?' I asked.
"'Oh,' said she, in her playful way, 'you said that you were only my banker, and bankers never ask questions, you know.'
"'If you really mean it, of course you shall have the money,' said I.
"'Oh, yes, I really mean it.'
"'And you won't tell me what you want it for?'
"'Some day, perhaps, but not just at present, Jack.'
"So I had to be content with that, thought it was the first time that there had ever been any secret between us.