After a time, she went on to Lucerne. Here the life on the surface was gayer, and she was roused from her state of lethargy in spite of herself. Once, from her little balcony in the National, she saw two of her old acquaintances in the chorus at the Gaiety. They were wearing many pearls. Another time, she met them in the street. She was rather quietly dressed. They did not notice her. But the prosperous Hebraic gentlemen who attended them were not so careless.
One day a card was brought to her rooms. For the next two weeks she had a true and unavoidable friend in Lucerne. It would appear that Mrs. Rowe-Martin had not been apprised of the rift in the Wrandall lute. She had no reason to consider the exclusive Miss Castleton as anything but the most desirable of companions. Mrs. Rowe-Martin was not long in finding out (though how she did it, heaven knows!), that Lord Murgatroyd's grandniece was no longer the intimate of that impossible person, Sara Gooch. She couldn't think of Sara without thinking of Gooch.
But at last Mrs. Rowe-Martin departed, much to Hetty's secret relief, but not before she had increased the girl's burthens by introducing her into a cold-nosed cosmopolitan set from which there were but three ways of escape. She refused to marry one of them, denied another the privilege of making love to her, and declined to play auction bridge with all of them. They were not long in dropping her, although it must be said there was real regret among the men.
From Mrs. Rowe-Martin and others she heard that Mrs. Redmond Wrandall and Vivian were to be in Scotland in October, for somebody-or-other's christening, and that Leslie had been doing some really wonderful flying at Pau.
"I am SO glad, my dear," said Mrs. Rowe-Martin, "that you refused to marry Leslie. He is a cad. Besides, you would have been in a perpetual state of nerves over his flying."
Of Sara, there was no news, as might have been expected. Mrs. Rowe-Martin made it very clear that Sara was a respectable person,—but heavens!
The chill days of autumn came and the crowd began to dwindle. Hetty made preparations to join in the exodus. As the days grew short and bleak, she found herself thinking more and more of the happy-hearted, symbolic dicky-bird on a faraway window ledge. His life was neither a travesty nor a tragedy; hers was both of these.
Something told her too that Brandon Booth had wormed the truth out of Sara, and that she would never see him again. It hurt her to think that while Sara believed in her, the man who loved her did not. It is a way men have.
On the eve of her departure, an event transpired that was to alter the whole course of her life; or, more properly speaking, it was destined to put her back into an old groove.
She was walking along the quay, in the dusk of early evening, her mind full of the next day's journey over the mountains to Milan. The wind was cold; about her neck there was a boa of white ostrich feathers, one end of which fluttered gaily over her shoulder. She was continually turning half-way about against the wind to reclaim the truant end of the boa. It was in the act of doing so on one occasion that her attention was drawn to two men who sauntered across the avenue from the approach to the Schweitzerhof.
She stopped still in her tracks, petrified by amazement—and alarm, if we may anticipate the sensation by a second or two.
One of the men was Leslie Wrandall, the other—her own father!
In a flash came the impulse to avoid them, to fly before they recognised her. But even as she turned and started off with a sudden acceleration of speed, a shout assailed her ears, and then came the swift rush of footsteps over the hard pavement.
"Hetty! As I live!" cried Leslie, planting himself in front of her. His astonishment alone kept him from laying hands upon her, to make sure that she was really there. "Well, of all the—"
She extended her hand. "This is a surprise," she said, with admirable control. "I hadn't the faintest notion you were in Lucerne."
"By Jove!" he mumbled, shaking hands with her but still dazed and uncertain. He suddenly remembered his companion. Turning with a shout, he brought the soldierly, middle-aged gentleman about-face with scant ceremony. "Hey! Colonel Castleton! See who's here! Doesn't this bowl you over completely?"
Colonel Castleton, sallow, ascetic, deliberate in his movements, raised his glass to his eye as he came toward them.
"'Pon my soul!" burst from his astonished lips a second afterward. He stopped short and his jaw dropped in a most unmilitary fashion. "'Pon my soul! It CAN'T be my daughter!" He seemed to be having difficulty not only with his head but with his feet; neither appeared to be operating intelligently. As a matter of fact, he stood for an instant on his toes and then on his heels. He was perilously near to being bowled over completely and literally.
Hetty was the first to recover. She advanced with a fair assumption of warmth in her manner. Her heart, belying her, was as cold as ice.
"Father!" she cried, holding out her hands.
He grasped them, and looked wildly about.
"Kiss me!" she whispered imperatively.
He stooped and brushed her cheek with his long moustache.
"Good God!" he muttered, still incredulous.
She turned to the excited Leslie with a quavering smile on her lips.
"We haven't seen each other in twelve years, Mr. Wrandall," she said.
"'Pon my soul!" added her father for the third time, thereby reaching the limit of emphasis, having placed it differently each time.
Leslie surprised himself by rising to the occasion. It occurred to him that they would like to be alone for a little while at least.
"Then, I'll stroll on, Colonel," he said. "By Jove!" The mild expletive was a tribute to Providence.
Not a word was spoken by father or daughter until Wrandall was many rods away.
"Where did you meet Leslie Wrandall?" she demanded, showing which way her thoughts ran. They were far from filial.
"Aviation field—somewhere," said he in a vague sort of way. "Pau, I dare say. What are you doing here? I hear you've cut loose from Wrandall's sister-in-law. Was that a sensible thing to do?"
"I fancy you've been misinformed," said she in an emotionless voice, but offered no further word of explanation.
"Shan't we sit down here on this bench, my dear?" suggested the Colonel, distinctly ill at ease.
"For the sake of appearances, yes," she assented.
Leslie, looking over his shoulder from a distance, saw them sitting together on one of the outer benches.
"By Jove!" he said to himself once more, this time with accumulative perplexity.
"See here, Hetty, my child," began the Colonel nervously, "it's all nonsense your taking the stand you do toward me. I am your father. I repeat, it's all nonsense—damned nonsense. You've got to—"
"Has it taken you all these years to find out that it's nonsense?" she demanded, her eyes flashing. "It's no good arguing, father. I don't like you. There is a very good reason why I should despise you. We won't go into it. After this meeting, we go our separate ways again. This, it seems, was unavoidable. I shan't ask anything of you, and I advise you to ask nothing of me."
"My God, that a child should utter such words to a father!" he groaned.
"A father!" she cried so scornfully that he must have shrivelled had he been any one else but Colonel Castleton of the Indian Corps. As it was, he had the grace to turn a very bright red. "A noble father you have been! And what a splendid, self-sacrificing husband you were. No! I can't forget how my mother lived and died. You call it nonsense. Well, I call it something else. You took a most effective way to punish my poor mother for having the temerity to marry an English gentleman. Thank God, I have my mother to look back to for my own ideas of gentility."
"You never understood the way things went wrong between your mother and me," he said harshly. "She wasn't all you may be pleased to think she was. She—"
"How dare you insinuate—"
"She chucked me. That's the sum and sub—"
"Oh, I was old enough to know that she left you—chucked you, if you will—and to know why she did it. I—I suppose you are looked upon by—these people here—Leslie Wrandall and every one else, as a fine English gentleman, a cousin of the great Lord Murgatroyd. Are you?"
"Confound you, Hetty, how dare you use such a tone in speaking to me?" he exclaimed.
"They THINK you are a gentleman, do they?"
"THINK? Why, dammit, I am a gentleman. The only ungentlemanly thing I ever did in my life was to—" He checked the angry words, biting his lips to keep them down.
"Was to desert your wife," she supplied scathingly.
"No! To marry her!" He blurted it out in his rage.
"Oh!" she cried, shrinking farther away from him, cut to the quick.
He regarded her with cold, fishy eyes. She was uncommonly pretty, he was bound to admit that. Her mother's eyes, her mother's exquisite skin, but singularly like certain Castleton portraits that he knew. It somehow galled him to find that there was quite as much of the blue-blooded Castleton in her as there was commonplace Glynn; galled him more particularly because she was his own flesh and blood after all and, in spite of that, could taunt him with it.
"I didn't mean to hurt you, Hetty," he said, to his own surprise. The touch of tenderness had a brief life. He scowled an instant later. "We won't discuss the past, if you please. God knows I don't want to dig up rotten bones. You are against your own father. That's enough for me. I shan't impose myself upon you. You—"
"Why couldn't you have treated her with—" began Hetty hotly.
"Sh! No more of that, I say. I will not be upbraided by my own child. Now, see here, what do you mean by letting a chance like that get away from you?" He jerked his head in the direction Leslie had taken.
"Yes. This Wrandall fellow. 'Gad, I've known him less than a fortnight and he's told me every secret he ever knew. Why don't you marry him? He's not a bad sort."
"That is my affair," said she coldly.
"I'd take him like a shot if I was a gel in your shoes."
"He told you I had refused to marry him?"
"A hundred times."
"Did you reward his confidence by relating the WHOLE history of the Castleton family?"
He stared at her. "Good Lord, do you think I'm an ass?"
"What have you told him?"
"Nothing. I permitted him to do all the telling. He gave me a highly commendable account of myself, of you, of the fine old family of Glynns and—God knows what all. He restored my pride, 'pon my soul he did." The Colonel laughed as he twisted his moustache with ironic fondness.
She was quite still for a minute or two. "I heard you were in England," she said, changing the subject.
"It may interest you to know that the old man overlooked us completely," he said, striking the calf of his leg with his thin walking-stick.
"Why should he leave anything to you?"
"And why not, curse him?" he growled. "Am I not his brother's son? What do you mean by asking a question like that?"
"I think I will say good-bye to you now, father," she said deliberately. "We may never see each other again." She arose and stood before him, cold and proud, without a spark of emotion in her eyes.
He sat still, looking up at her in surprise. "Do you think you're doing the right thing, Hetty?" he asked, annoyed in spite of himself. "Remember that I am your father. I can and will overlook all you have said and done—"
"If you will go to her grave and kneel there and ask her pardon, I may think differently of you because, after all, I am your daughter. You will not find her buried among the stately Castletons, but in a poor little spot far, far away from them. I can tell you how to find it. You have never inquired, I suppose?"
His eyes narrowed. "By Jove, you are a mean little beggar!"
"Mean?" she cried, clenching her hands. Then she laughed suddenly, shrilly. "Oh, if my mother could hear you say that to me!"
"Damme!" he exclaimed, coming to his feet in considerable agitation. "Do you want people to hear us ragging each other? Don't go into hysterics, Hetty! See here, do you forget that I have written to you—loving letters they were—from the heart—written, I say, over and over again and what do I get in return? Not a single stroke of the pen from you, except the note a year ago telling me where you were and—"
"And that was merely to relieve your anxiety when you found I'd given up my work on the stage and might become a burden on you. Oh, I read between your lines."
"Nothing of the sort. I never wanted you to go on the stage. Why have you persistently refused to answer my subsequent letters?"
"Because I read between the lines in all of them," she said levelly.
"You have no right to say that I expected you to get money out of that bally Wrandall woman—the goods merchant's daughter. That's downright insulting in you. I shan't let it go undefend—"
"You knew I couldn't lend you a thousand pounds, father," said she, very slowly and distinctly.
He coughed, perhaps in apology to her but more than likely to himself.
"You are at liberty," she went on, "to tell Mr. Leslie Wrandall all there is to tell about me. He doesn't know, but it won't matter much if he does have the truth concerning me. Tell him all if you like."
"My child," said he, with a fine display of wounded dignity, "I am not quite the rotter you think I am."
He did not feel called upon to explain to her that he had already borrowed a thousand pounds from her disappointed suitor, and was setting his nets for another thousand or two.
"It really won't matter," she said wearily. "Good-bye. I am leaving at nine to-morrow for Italy."
"See you at dinner? Or afterward, just for a—"
"I think not. I do not care to see Mr. Wrandall."
"Think it over again, Hetty. Don't—"
"Oh, father! How can you say such things to me?" she cried, a break in her voice.
"Good God, my dear, isn't it natural for a father to want to see his daughter well provided for?"
She turned away.
"I am contemplating a visit to the States shortly," he remarked, following after her.
She whirled on him. "What!"
"Young Wrandall has asked me over for a month or two about the first of the year. His people are in Scotland now, I hear."
"Are you THROUGH with India?" she asked in a very low voice.
"Resigned," said he succinctly.
He flushed and muttered an oath. She understood. He had been "kicked out!"
"Hello!" called out a sprightly voice from the gathering darkness, and the next moment Leslie joined them. "Have dinner with us to-night, Hetty? Just the three of us. Please do."
"No, thank you, Mr. Wrandall. I am getting ready to leave to-morrow. Packing and all that sort of thing."
"Did Colonel Castleton tell you that I'm off for New York on Saturday? Mother and Viv are to get the boat at Southampton. I thought you'd be interested to know what's just turned up over there?"
"What has happened?" she cried quickly.
Leslie hesitated. A curious gleam stole into his eyes. Was it of triumph?
"Father's got rather old-fashioned ideas about certain things," he observed, by way of preface. "He writes that Sara is contemplating a second venture into the state of wedded bliss."
Hetty stared at him. "I—I don't believe it," she said flatly. "How can it be possible? She sees no one."
He laughed. "You're wrong there," said he mendaciously. "She's been seeing a great deal of a certain mutual friend of ours—all summer long."
"Brandon Booth. Father says that rumour has it they are to be married after the holidays. I fancy he needed consolation, after what happened to him earlier in the year. He was pretty hard hit, believe me." After a moment, he went on boldly: "I ought to be in a position to sympathise with him, I suppose, but I don't. It isn't in me to—"
"You say they are to be married?" cried Hetty, dazed and bewildered.
They had fallen behind Colonel Castleton, who walked on stiffly ahead of them.
Leslie treated her to his most engaging smile.
"Looks very Goochy, doesn't it? I'm coming to believe more than ever that blood will tell. Sara knew what she was doing when she cleared her decks for action a few months ago. 'Gad, I understand now why she was so eager to bring off the—well, another match we know about. Pretty canny, eh?"
"It is incredible," said she, with unnecessary vehemence.
"Not in the least. Clever person, Sara is. Sets her heart on a thing, and—woof! she gets it, whether or no. Now, don't misunderstand me. I'm fond of Brandon Booth. We all are. We don't object to him as a sort of family attachment. But if she's going to marry him, we want to know where we stand in a business way. You see, he will not only step into my brother Chal's shoes at home, but at the office. And, heaven knows, Brandy is not a good business man. He's great on portraits, but—I beg pardon!"
"I must leave you here, Mr. Wrandall. Good-bye!"
"Oh, I say, can't we see something of—"
"I am afraid not."
He kept pace with her through the hall.
"I suppose your father told you that I—I haven't altogether given up hope of—you."
"He spoke of going to America with you, if that's what you mean," she said coldly, and left him at the foot of the staircase.
Leslie's hand trembled as it went up to his moustache. "I can't understand her beastly obstinacy," he said to himself.
VIVIAN AIRS HER OPINIONS
Chief among Booth's virtues was his undeviating loyalty to a set purpose. He went back to America with the firm intention to clear up the mystery surrounding Hetty Castleton, no matter how irksome the delay in achieving his aim or how vigorous the methods he would have to employ. Sara Wrandall, to all purposes, held the key; his object in life now was to induce her to turn it in the lock and throw open the door so that he might enter in and become a sharer in the secrets beyond.
A certain amount of optimistic courage attended him in his campaign against what had been described to him as the impossible. He could see no clear reason why she should withhold the secret under the new conditions, when so much in the shape of happiness was at stake. It was in this spirit of confidence that he prepared to confront her on his arrival in New York, and it was the same unbounded faith in the belief that nothing evil could result from a perfectly just and honourable motive that gave him the needed courage.
He stayed over night in New York, and the next morning saw him on his way to Southlook. There was something truly ingenuous in his desire to get to the bottom of the matter without fear or apprehension. At the very worst, he maintained, there could be nothing more reprehensible than a passing infatuation, long since dispelled, or perhaps a mildly sinister episode in which virtue had been triumphant and vice defeated with unpleasant results to at least one person, and that person the husband of Sara Wrandall.
Pat met him at the station and drove him to the little cottage on the upper road.
"Ye didn't stay long," said he reflectively, after he had put the bag up in front. He took up the reins.
"Not very," replied his master.
After a dozen rods or more, Pat tried again.
"Just siventeen days, I make it."
"Perhaps you'll be after going back soon."
"Why should you think that, Patrick?"
"Because you don't seem to be takin' much interest in your surroundin's here," said Pat loftily. He delivered a smart smack on the crupper with his stubby whip, and pursed his lips for the companionship to be derived from whistling.
"I suppose you know why I went to Europe," said Booth, laying his hand affectionately on the man's arm.
"Sure I do," said Pat, forgetting to whistle. "And was it bad luck you had, sor?"
"A temporary case of it, I'm afraid."
"Well," said the Irishman, looking up at his employer with the most profound encouragement in his wink, "if it's anny help to you, sor, I'll say that I've niver found bad luck to be annything but timporary. And, believe ME, I've had plinty of it. Mary was dom near three years makin' up her mind to say yis to me."
"And since then you've had no bad luck?" said Booth, with a smile.
"Plinty of it, begob, but I've had some one besides meself to blame for it. There's a lot in that, Mr. Brandon. Whin a man marries, he simply divides his luck into two parts, good and bad, and if he's like most men he puts the bulk av the bad luck on his wife and kapes to himself all he can av the good for a rainy day. That's what makes him a strong man and able to meet trouble when it comes. The beauty av the arrangement is that bad luck is only timporary and a woman enjoys talking about it, while good luck is wid us nine-tinths of the time, whether we know it or not, and we don't have to talk about it."
This was fine philosophy, but Booth discerned the underlying motive.
"Have you been quarrelling?"
"I have NOT," said Pat wrathfully. "But I won't say as much for Mary. The point av me argument is that I have all the good luck in havin' married her, and she claims to have had all the bad luck in marryin' me. Still, as I said before,'tis but timporary. The good luck lasts and the bad don't. She'll be after tellin' me so before sundown. That's like all women. You'll find it out for yourself wan o' these days, Mr. Brandon, and ye'll be dom proud ye're a man and can enjoy your good luck when ye get it. The bad luck's always fallin' behind ye, and ye can always look forward to the good luck. So don't be down-hearted. She'll take you, or me name's not what it ought to be."
Booth was inclined to accept this unique discourse as a fair-weather sign.
"Take these bags upstairs, Pat," said he on their arrival at the cottage, "and then come down and drive me over to Mrs. Wrandall's."
"Will ye be after stayin' for lunch with her, Mr. Brandon?" inquired Pat, climbing over the wheel.
"I can't answer that question now."
"Hiven help both av us if Mary's good luncheon goes to waste," said Pat ominously. "That's all I have to say. She'll take it out av both av us."
"Tell her I'll be here for lunch," said Booth, with alacrity. From which it may be perceived that master and man were of one mind when it came to considering the importance of Mary.
Pat studied his watch for a moment with a calculating eye.
"It's half-past eliven now, sor," he announced. "D'ye think ye can make it?"
Booth reflected. "I think not," he said. "I'll have luncheon first." Whereupon he leaped from the trap and went in to tell Mary how happy he was to be where he could enjoy home-cooking.
At four he was delivered at Sara's door by the astute Patrick, announced by the sedate Watson and interrogated by the intelligent Murray, who seemed surprised to hear that he would NOT have anything cool to drink. Sara sent word that she would be down in fifteen minutes, but, as a matter of fact, appeared in less than three.
She came directly to the point.
"Well," she said, with her mysterious smile, "she sent you back to me, I see." He was still clasping her hand.
"Have you heard from her?" he asked quickly.
"No. But I knew just what would happen. I told you it would prove to be a wild goose chase. Where is she?"
He sat down beside her on the cool, white covered couch.
"In Switzerland. I put her on the train the night before I sailed. Yes, she did send me back to you. Now I'm here, I want the whole story, Sara. What is it that stands between us?"
For an hour he pleaded with her, all to no purpose. She steadfastly refused to divulge the secret. Not even his blunt reference to Challis Wrandall's connection with the affair found a vulnerable spot in her armour.
"I shan't give it up, Sara," he said, at the end of his earnest harangue against the palpably unfair stand both she and Hetty were taking. "I mean to harass you, if you please, until I get what I'm after. It is of the most vital importance to me. Quite as much so, I am sure, as it appears to be to you. If Hetty will say the word, I'll take her gladly, just as she is, without knowing what all this is about. But, you see, she won't consent. There must be some way to override her. You both admit there is no legal barrier. You tell me to-day that there is no insanity in her family, and a lot of other things that I've been able to bring out by questioning, so I am more than ever certain that the obstacle is not so serious as you would have me believe. Therefore, I mean to pester you until you give in, my dear Sara."
"Very well," she said resignedly. "When may I expect a renewal of the conflict?"
"Would to-morrow be convenient?" he asked quaintly.
She returned his smile. "Come to luncheon."
"Have I your permission to start the portrait?"
"Yes. As soon as you like."
He left her without feeling that he had gained an inch along the road to success. That night, in the gloaming of his star-lit porch, he smoked many a pipeful and derived therefrom a profound estimate of the value of tact and discretion as opposed to bold and impulsive measures in the handling of a determined woman. He would make haste slowly, as the saying goes. Many an unexpected victory is gained by dilatory tactics, provided the blow is struck at the psychological moment of least resistance.
The weeks slipped by. He was with her almost daily. Other people came to her house, some for rather protracted visits, others in quest of pillage at the nightly bridge table, but he was seldom missing. There were times when he thought he detected a tendency to waver, but each cunning attempt on his part to encourage the impulse invariably brought a certain mocking light into her eyes and he veered off in defeat. Something kept telling him, however, that the hour was bound to come when she would falter in her resolution; when frankness would meet frankness, and the veil be lifted.
A rather impossible relative in the person of an aunt came to spend the month of August with Sara—her father's sister. She was a true, unvarnished Gooch. Booth shuddered at times when she emerged flat-foot from the background and revelled in the Goochiness that would not stay put, no matter how hard she tried to subdue it. She was a good soul,—much too good, in fact,—and her efforts to live up to requirements were not only ludicrous but exasperating. Sara was quite serene about her, however. She made no excuses for the old lady; in fact, she appeared to be quite devoted to her. Booth was beginning to appreciate something of the horror the Wrandalls must have felt when Challis took unto himself a Gooch. He berated himself in secret for his snobbishness and in public made atonement by being expansively polite to Mrs. Coburn. The good lady had the habit of telling every one what a wonderful person Sebastian Gooch had been, sometimes comparing him not unfavourably with Napoleon Bonaparte and George Washington: he was like the Corsican in getting the better of his adversaries, no matter how he had to go about it, but like the Father of his Country in the matter of veracity. So far as she knew, Sebastian had never told a lie. To Mrs. Coburn, Sebastian was Saint Sebastian.
The portrait was finished before Mrs. Coburn left. She liked everything about it except the gown, the drapery and—yes, the hands. They were too long and tapering. No Gooch ever had a hand like that. The Gooch hands were broad and strong: like her own. All this, notwithstanding the fact that Sara's hand lay exposed all the time she was speaking, a physical contradiction to her assertion.
She stayed the month and then re-entered Yonkers.
There were no letters from Hetty, no word of any description. If Sara knew anything of the girl's movements she did not take Booth into her confidence.
Leslie Wrandall went abroad in August, ostensibly to attend the aviation meets in France and England. His mother and sister sailed in September, but not before the entire colony of which they were a part had begun to discuss Sara and Booth with a relish that was obviously distasteful to the Wrandalls.
Where there is smoke there is fire, said all the gossips, and forthwith proceeded to carry fagots.
A week or so before sailing, Mrs. Redmond Wrandall had Booth in for dinner. I think she said en famille. At any rate, Sara was not asked, which is proof enough that she was bent on making it a family affair.
After dinner, Booth sat in the screened upper balcony with Vivian. He liked her. She was a keen-witted, plain-spoken young woman, with few false ideals and no subtlety. She was less snobbish than arrogant. Of all the Wrandalls, she was the least self-centred. Leslie never quite understood her for the paradoxical reason that she thoroughly understood him.
"You know, Brandon," she said, after a long silence between them, "they've been setting my cap for you for a long, long time." She blew a thin stream of cigarette smoke toward the moon.
He started. It was a bolt from a clear sky. "The deuce!"
"Yes," she went on in the most casual tone, "mother's had her heart set on it for months. You were supposed to be mine at first sight, I believe. Please don't look so uneasy. I'm not going to propose to you." She laughed her little ironic laugh.
"So that is the way things stood, eh?" he said, still a little amazed by her candour.
"Yes. And what is more to the point, I am quite sure I should have said yes if you had asked me. Sounds odd, doesn't it? Rather amusing, too, being able to discuss it so unreservedly, isn't it?"
"Good heavens, Viv!" he cried uncomfortably. "I—I had no idea you cared—"
"Cared!" she cried, as he paused. "I don't care two pins for you in that way. But I would have married you, just the same, because you are worth marrying. I'd very much rather have you for a husband than any man I know, but as for loving you! Pooh! I'd love you in just the way mother loves father, and I wouldn't have been a bit more trouble to you than she is to him."
"'Gad, you don't mind what you say!"
"Failing to nab you, Brandy, I dare say I'll have to come down to a duke or, who knows? maybe a mere prince. It isn't very enterprising, is it? And certainly it isn't a gay prospect. Really, I had hoped you would have me. I flatter myself, I suppose, but, honestly now, we would have made a rather nice looking couple, wouldn't we?"
"You flatter me," he said.
"But," she resumed, calmly exhaling, "you very foolishly fell in love with some one else, and it wasn't necessary for me to pretend that I was in love with you—which I should have done, believe me, if you had given me the chance. You fell in love, first with Hetty Castleton."
"First?" he cried, frowning.
"And now you are heels over head in love with my beautiful sister-in-law. Which all goes to prove that I would have made just the kind of wife you need, considering your tendency to fluctuate. But how dreadful it would have been for a sentimental, loving girl like Hetty!"
He sat bolt upright and stared hard at her.
"See here, Viv, what the dickens are you driving at? I'm not in love with Sara—not in the least,—and—" He checked himself sharply. "What an ass I am! You're guying me."
"In any event, I am right about Hetty," she said, leaning forward, her manner quite serious.
"If it will ease your mind," he said stiffly, "I plead guilty with all my heart."
She favoured him with a slight frown of annoyance.
"And you deny the fluctuating charge?"
"Most positively. I can afford to be honest with you, Viv. You are a corker. I love Hetty Castleton with all my soul."
She leaned back in her chair. "Then why don't you dignify your soul by being honest with HER?"
"What do you mean?"
For a half-minute she was silent. "Are you and I of the same stripe, after all? Would you marry Sara without loving her, as I would have done by you? It doesn't seem like you, Brandon."
"Good heaven, I'm not going to marry Sara!" he blurted out. "It's never entered my head."
"Perhaps it has entered hers."
"Nonsense! She isn't going to marry anybody. And she knows how I feel toward Hetty. If it came to the point where I decided to marry without love, 'pon my soul, Viv, I believe I'd pick you out as the victim."
"Wonderful combination!" she said with a frank laugh. "The quintessence of 'no love lost.' But to resume! Do you know that people are saying you are to be married before the winter is over?"
"Let 'em say it," he said gruffly.
"Oh, well," she said, despatching it all with a gesture, "if that's the way you feel about it, there's no more to be said."
He was ashamed. "I beg your pardon, I shouldn't have said that."
"You see," she went on, reverting to the original topic, "people who know Sara are likely to credit her with motives you appear to be totally ignorant of. She set her heart on my brother Challis, when she was a great deal younger than she is now, and she got him. If age and experience count for anything, how capable she must be by this time."
He was too wise to venture an opinion. "I assure you she has no designs on me."
"Perhaps not. But I fancy that even you could not escape as St. Anthony did. She is most alluring."
"You don't like her."
"Obviously. And yet I don't dislike her. She has the virtue of consistency, if one may use the expression. She loved my brother. Leslie says she should have hated him. We have tried to like her. I think I have come nearer to it than any of the others, not excepting Leslie, who has always been her champion. I suppose you know that he was your rival at one time."
"He mentioned it," said Booth drily.
"I should have been very much disappointed in her if she had accepted him."
"I sometimes wonder if Sara spiked Leslie's guns for him."
"I can tell you something you don't know, Vivian," said he. "Sara was rather keen about making a match there."
Vivian's smile was slow but triumphant. "That is just what I thought. There you are! Doesn't that explain Sara?"
"In a measure, yes. But, you see, it developed that Hetty cared for some one else, and that put a stop to everything."
"Am I to take it that you are the some one else?"
"Yes," said he soberly.
"Then, may I ask why she went away so suddenly?"
"You may ask but I can't answer."
"Do you want my opinion? She went away because Sara, failing in her plan to marry her off to Leslie, decided that it would be fatal to a certain project of her own if she remained on the field of action. Do I make myself clear?"
"Oh, you are away off in your conclusions, Viv."
"Time will tell," was her cabalistic rejoinder.
Her father appeared on the lawn below and called up to them.
"You are wanted at the telephone, Brandon. I've just been talking to Sara."
"Did she call you up, father?" asked Vivian, leaning over the rail.
"Yes. About nothing in particular, however."
She turned upon Booth with a mocking smile. He felt the colour rush to his face, and was angry with himself.
He went in to the telephone. Almost her first words were these:
"What has Vivian been telling you about me, Brandon?"
He actually gasped. "Good heavens, Sara!"
He heard her low laugh. "So she HAS been saying things, has she?" she asked. "I thought so. I've had it in my bones to-night."
He was at a loss for words. It was positively uncanny. As he stood there, trying to think of a trivial remark, her laugh came to him again over the wire, followed by a drawling "good-night," and then the soughing of the wind over the "open" wire.
The next day he called her up on the telephone quite early. He knew her habits. She would be abroad in her gardens by eight o'clock. He remembered well that Leslie, in commenting on her absurdly early hours, had once said that her "early bird" habit was hereditary: she got it from Sebastian.
"What put it into your head, Sara, that Vivian was saying anything unpleasant about you last night?"
"Magic," she replied succinctly.
"I have a magic tapestry that transports me, hither and thither, and by night I always carry Aladdin's lamp. So, you see, I see and hear everything."
"Very well. I will be sensible. If you intend to be influenced by what Vivian or her mother said to you last night, I think you'd be wise to avoid me from this time on."
Prepared though he was, he blinked his eyes and said something she didn't quite catch.
She went on: "Moreover, in addition to my attainments in the black art, I am quite as clever as Mr. Sherlock Holmes in some respects. I really do some splendid deducing. In the first place, you were asked there and I was not. Why? Because I was to be discussed. You see—"
"Marvellous!" he interrupted loudly.
"You were to be told that I have cruel designs upon you."
"Go on, please."
"And all that sort of thing," she said sweepingly, and he could almost see the inclusive gesture with her free hand. He laughed but still marvelled at the shrewdness of her perceptions.
"I'll come over this afternoon and show you wherein you are wrong," he began, but she interrupted him with a laugh.
"I am starting for the city before noon, by motor, to be gone at least a fortnight."
"What! This is the first I've heard of it."
Again she laughed. "To be perfectly frank with you, I hadn't heard of it myself until just now. I think I shall go down to the Homestead with the Carrolls."
"Virginia," she added explicitly.
"I say, Sara, what does all this mean? You—"
"And if you should follow me there, Vivian's estimate of us will not be so far out of the way as we'd like to make it."
True to her word, she was gone when he drove over later on in the day. Somehow, he experienced a feeling of relief. Not that he was oppressed by the rather vivacious opinions of Vivian and her ilk, but because something told him that Sara was wavering in her determination to withhold the secret from him and fled for perfectly obvious reasons.
He had two commissions among the rich summer colonists. One, a full length portrait of young Beardsley in shooting togs, was nearly finished. The other was to be a half-length of Mrs. Ravenscroft, who wanted one just like Hetty Castleton's, except for the eyes, which she admitted would have to be different. Nothing was said of the seventeen years' difference in their ages. Vivian had put off posing until Lent.
The Wrandalls departed for Scotland, and other friends of his began to desert the country for the city. The fortnight passed and another week besides. Mrs. Ravenscroft decided to go to Europe when the picture was half-finished.
"You can finish it when I come back in December, Mr. Booth," she said. "I'll have several new gowns to choose from, too."
"I shall be busy all winter, Mrs. Ravenscroft," he said coldly.
"How annoying," she said calmly, and that was the end of it all. She had made the unpleasant discovery that it WASN'T going to be in the least like Hetty Castleton's, so why bother about it?
Booth waited until Sara came out to superintend the closing of her house for the winter. He called at Southlook on the day of her arrival. He was struck at once by the curious change in her appearance and manner. There was something bleak and desolate in the vividly brilliant face: the tired, wistful, harassed look of one who has begun to quail and yet fights on.
"Will you go out with me to-morrow, Brandon, for an all-day trip in the car?" she asked, as they stood together before the open fireplace on this late November afternoon. Her eyes were moody, her voice rather lifeless.
"Certainly," he said, watching her closely. Was the break about to come?
"I will stop for you at nine." After a short pause, she looked up and said: "I suppose you would like to know where I am taking you."
"It doesn't matter, Sara."
"I want you to go with me to Burton's Inn."
"That is the place where my husband was killed," she said, quite steadily.
He started. "Oh! But—do you think it best, Sara, to open old wounds by—"
"I have thought it all out, Brandon. I want to go there—just once. I want to go into that room again."
ONCE MORE AT BURTON'S INN
Again Sara Wrandall found herself in that never-to-be-forgotten room at Burton's Inn. On that grim night in March, she had entered without fear or trembling because she knew what was there. Now she quaked with a mighty chill of terror, for she knew not what was there in the quiet, now sequestered room. Burton had told them on their arrival after a long drive across country that patrons of the inn invariably asked which room it was that had been the scene of the tragedy, and, on finding out, refused point-blank to occupy it. In consequence, he had been obliged to transform it into a sort of store and baggage room.
Sara stood in the middle of the murky room, for the shutters had long been closed to the light of day, and looked about her in awe at the heterogeneous mass of boxes, trunks, bundles and rubbish, scattered over the floor without care or system. She had closed the door behind her and was quite alone. Light sneaked in through the cracks in the shutters, but so meagrely that it only served to increase the gloom. A dismantled bedstead stood heaped up in the corner. She did not have to be told what bed it was. The mattress was there too, rolled up and tied with a thick garden rope. She knew there were dull, ugly blood-stains upon it. Why the thrifty Burton had persevered in keeping this useless article of furniture, she could only surmise. Perhaps it was held as an inducement to the morbidly curious who always seek out the gruesome and gloat even as they shudder.
For a long time she stood immovable just inside the door, recalling the horrid picture of another day. She tried to imagine the scene that had been enacted there with gentle, lovable Hetty Glynn and her whilom husband as the principal characters. The girl had told the whole story of that ugly night. Sara tried to see it as it actually had transpired. For months this present enterprise had been in her mind: the desire to see the place again, to go there with old impressions which she could leave behind when ready to emerge in a new frame of mind. It was here that she meant to shake off the shackles of a horrid dream, to purge herself of the last vestige of bitterness, to cleanse her mind of certain thoughts and memories.
Downstairs Booth waited for her. He heard the story of the tragedy from the surly inn-keeper, who crossly maintained that his business had been ruined. Booth was vaguely impressed, he knew not why, by Burton's description of the missing woman. "I'd say she was about the size of Mrs. Wrandall herself, and much the same figger," he said, as he had said a thousand times before. "My wife noticed it the minute she saw Mrs. Wrandall. Same height and everything."
A bell rang sharply and Burton glanced over his shoulder at the indicator on the wall behind the desk. He gave a great start and his jaw sagged.
"Great Scott!" he gasped. A curious greyness stole over his face. "It's—it's the bell in that very room. My soul, what can—"
"Mrs. Wrandall is up there, isn't she?" demanded Booth.
"It ain't rung since the night he pushed the button for—Oh, gee! You're right. She IS up there. My, what a scare it gave me." He wiped his brow. Turning to a boy, he commanded him to answer the bell. The boy went slowly, and as he went he removed his hands from his pockets. He came back an instant later, more swiftly than he went, with the word that "the lady up there" wanted Mr. Booth to come upstairs.
She was waiting for him in the open doorway. A shaft of bright sunlight from a window at the end of the hall fell upon her. Her face was colourless, haggard. He paused for an instant to contrast her as she stood there in the pitiless light with the vivid creature he had put upon canvas so recently.
She beckoned to him and turned back into the room. He followed.
"This is the room, Brandon, where my husband met the death he deserved," she said quietly.
"Deserved? Good heavens, Sara, are you—"
"I want you to look about you and try to picture how this place looked on the night of the murder. You have a vivid imagination. None of this rubbish was here. Just a bed, a table and two chairs. There was a carpet on the floor. There were two people here, a man and a woman. The woman had trusted the man. She trusted him until the hour in which he died. Then she found him out. She had come to this place, believing it was to be her wedding night. She found no minister here. The man laughed at her and scoffed. Then she knew. In horror, shame, desperation she tried to break away from him. He was strong. She was a good woman; a virtuous, honourable woman. She saved herself."
He was staring at her with dilated eyes. Slowly the truth was being borne in upon him.
"The woman was—Hetty?" came hoarsely from his stiffening lips. "My God, Sara!"
She came close to him and spoke in a half-whisper. "Now you know the secret. Is it safe with you?"
He opened his lips to speak, but no words came forth. Paralysis seemed to have gripped not only his throat but his senses. He reeled. She grasped his arm in a tense, fierce way, and whispered:
"Be careful! No one must hear what we are saying." She shot a glance down the deserted hall. "No one is near. I made sure of that. Don't speak! Think first—think well, Brandon Booth. It is what you have been seeking for months:—the truth. You share the secret with us now. Again I ask, is it safe with you?"
"My God!" he muttered again, and passed his hand over his eyes. His brow was wet. He looked at his fingers dumbly as if expecting to find them covered with blood.
"Is it safe with you?" for the third time.
"Safe? Safe?" he whispered, following her example without knowing that he did so. "I—I can't believe you, Sara. It can't be true."
"It IS true."
"You have known—all the time?"
"From that night when I stood where we are standing now."
"I had never seen her until that night. I saved her."
He dropped suddenly upon the trunk that stood behind him, and buried his face in his hands. For a long time she stood over him, her interest divided between him and the hall, wherein lay their present peril.
"Come," she said at last. "Pull yourself together. We must leave this place. If you are not careful, they will suspect something downstairs."
He looked up with haggard eyes, studying her face with curious intentness.
"What manner of woman are you, Sara?" he questioned, slowly, wonderingly.
"I have just discovered that I am very much like other women, after all," she said. "For awhile I thought I was different, that I was stronger than my sex. But I am just as weak, just as much to be pitied, just as much to be scorned as any one of my sisters. I have spoiled a great act by stooping to do a mean one. God will bear witness that my thoughts were noble at the outset; my heart was soft. But, come! There is much more to tell that cannot be told here. You shall know everything."
They went downstairs and out into the crisp autumn air. She gave directions to her chauffeur. They were to traverse for some distance the same road she had taken on that ill-fated night a year and a half before. In course of time the motor approached a well-remembered railway crossing.
"Slow down, Cole," she said. "This is a mean place—a very mean place." Turning to Booth, who had been sitting grim and silent beside her for miles, she said, lowering her voice: "I remember that crossing yonder. There is a sharp curve beyond. This is the place. Midway between the two crossings, I should say. Please remember this part of the road, Brandon, when I come to the telling of that night's ride to town. Try to picture this spot—this smooth, straight road as it might be on a dark, freezing night in the very thick of a screaming blizzard, with all the world abed save—two women."
In his mind he began to draw the picture, and to place the two women in the centre of it, without knowing the circumstances. There was something fascinating in the study he was making, something gruesome and full of sinister possibilities for the hand of a virile painter. He wondered how near his imagination was to placing the central figures in the picture as they actually appeared on that secret night.
At sunset they went together to the little pavilion at the end of the pier which extended far out into the Sound. Here they were safe from the ears of eavesdroppers. The boats had been stowed away for the winter. The wind that blew through the open pavilion, now shorn of all its comforts and luxuries, was cold, raw and repelling. No one would disturb them here.
With her face set toward the sinking east, she leaned against one of the thick posts, and, in a dull, emotionless voice, laid bare the whole story of that dreadful night and the days that followed. She spared no details, she spared not herself in the narration.
He did not once interrupt her. All the time she was speaking he was studying the profile of her face as if fascinated by its strange immobility. For the matter of a full half-hour he sat on the rail, his back against a post, his arms folded across the breast of the thick ulster he wore, staring at her, drinking in every word of the story she told. A look of surprise crept into his face when she came to the point where the thought of marrying Hetty to the brother of her victim first began to manifest itself in her designs. For a time the look of incredulity remained, to be succeeded by utter scorn as she went on with the recital. Her reasons, her excuses, her explanations for this master-stroke in the way of compensation for all that she had endured at the hands of the scornful Wrandalls, all of whom were hateful to her without exception, stirred him deeply. He began to understand the forces that compelled her to resort to this Machiavellian plan for revenge on them. She admitted everything: her readiness to blight Hetty's life for ever; her utter callousness in laying down these ugly plans; her surpassing vindictiveness; her reflections on the triumph she was to enjoy when her aims were fully attained. She confessed to a genuine pity for Hetty Castleton from the beginning, but it was outweighed by that thing she could only describe as an obsession!...How she hated the Wrandalls!...Then came the real awakening: when the truth came to her as a revelation from God. Hetty had not been to blame. The girl was innocent of the one sin that called for vengeance so far as she was concerned. The slaying of Challis Wrandall was justified! All these months she had been harbouring a woman she believed to have been his mistress as well as his murderess. It was not so much the murderess that she would have foisted upon the Wrandalls as a daughter, but the mistress!...She loved the girl, she had loved her from that first night. Back of it all, therefore, lay the stern, unsuspected truth: from the very beginning she instinctively had known this girl to be innocent of guile....Her house of cards fell down. There was nothing left of the plans on which it had been constructed. It had all been swept away, even as she strove to protect it against destruction, and the ground was strewn with the ashes of fires burnt out....She was shocked to find that she had even built upon the evil spot! Almost word for word she repeated Hetty's own story of her meeting with Challis Wrandall, and how she went, step by step and blindly, to the last scene in the tragedy, when his vileness, his true nature was revealed to her. The girl had told her everything. She had thought herself to be in love with Wrandall. She was carried away by his protestations. She was infatuated. (Sara smiled to herself as she spoke of this. She knew Challis Wrandall's charm!) The girl believed in him implicitly. When he took her to Burton's Inn it was to make her his wife, as she supposed. He had arranged everything. Then came the truth. She defended herself....
"I came upon her in the road on that wild night, Brandon, at the place I pointed out. Can you picture her as I have described her? Can you picture her despair, her hopelessness, her misery? I have told you everything, from beginning to end. You know how she came to me, how I prepared her for the sacrifice, how she left me. I have not written to her. I cannot. She must hate me with all her soul, just as I have hated the Wrandalls, but with greater reason, I confess. She would have given herself up to the law long ago, if it had not been for exposing me to the world as her defender, her protector. She knew she was not morally guilty of the crime of murder. In the beginning she was afraid. She did not know our land, our laws. In time she came to understand that she was in no real peril, but then it was too late. A confession would have placed me in an impossible position. You see, she thought of me all this time. She loved me as no woman ever loved another. Was not I the wife of the man she had killed, and was not I the noblest of all women in her eyes? God! And to think of what I had planned for her!"
This was the end of the story.
The words died away in a sort of whimpering wail, falling in with the wind to be lost to his straining ears. Her head drooped, her arms hung limply at her side.
For a long time he sat there in silence, looking out over the darkening water, unwilling, unable indeed, to speak. His heart was full of compassion for her, mingling strangely with what was left of scorn and horror. What could he say to her?
At last she turned to him. "Now you know all that I can tell you of Hetty Castleton,—of Hetty Glynn. You could not have forced this from me, Brandon. She WOULD not tell you. It was left for me to do in my own good time. Well, I have spoken. What have you to say?"
"I can only say, Sara, that I thank God for EVERYTHING," he said slowly.
"I thank God for you, for her and for everything. I thank God that she found him out in time, that she killed him, that you shielded her, that you failed to carry out your devilish scheme, and that your heart is very sore to-day."
"You do not despise me?"
"No. I am sorry for you."
Her eyes narrowed. "I don't want you to feel sorry for me."
"You don't understand. I am sorry for you because you have found yourself out and must be despising yourself."
"You have guessed the truth. I despise myself. But what could be expected of me?" she asked ironically. "As the Wrandalls would say, 'blood will tell.'"
"Nonsense! Don't talk like that! It is quite unworthy of you. In spite of everything, Sara, you are wonderful. The very thing you tried to do, the way you went about it, the way you surrender, makes for greatness in you. If you had gone on with it and succeeded, that fact alone would have put you in the class with the great, strong, virile women of history. It—"
"With the Medicis, the Borgias and—" she began bitterly.
"Yes, with them. But they were great women, just the same. You are greater, for you have more than they possessed: a conscience. I wish I could tell you just what I feel. I haven't the words. I—"
"I only want you to tell me the truth. Do you despise me?"
"Again I say that I do not. I can only say that I regard you with—yes, with AWE."
"As one might think of a deadly serpent."
"Hardly that," he said, smiling for the first time. He crossed over and laid his hand on her shoulder. "Don't think too meanly of yourself. I understand it all. You lived for months without a heart, that's all."
"You put it very gently."
"I think I'm right. Now, you've got it back, and it's hungry for the sweet, good things of life. You want to be happy. You want to love again and to be loved. You don't want to be pitied. I understand. It's the return of a heart that went away long months ago and left an empty place that you filled with gall. The bitterness is gone. There is something sweet in its place. Am I not right?"
She hesitated. "If you mean that I want to be loved by my enemies, Brandon, you are wrong," she said clearly. "I have not been chastened in that particular."
"You mean the Wrandalls?"
"It is not in my nature to love my enemies. We stand on the same footing as before, and always shall. They understand me, I understand them. I am glad that my project failed, not for their sake, but for my own."
He was silent. This woman was beyond him. He could not understand a nature like this.
"You say nothing. Well, I can't ask you to understand. We will not discuss my enemies, but my friends. What do you intend to do in respect to Hetty?"
"I am going to make her my wife," he said levelly.
She turned away. It was now quite dark. He could not see the expression on her face.
"What you have heard does not weaken your love for her?"
"No. It strengthens it."
"You know what she has done. She has taken a life with her own hands. Can you take her to your bosom, can you make her the mother of your own children? Remember, there is blood on her hands."
"Ah, but her heart is clean!"
"True," she said moodily, "her heart is clean."
"No cleaner than yours is now, Sara."
She uttered a short, mocking laugh. "It isn't necessary to say a thing like that to me."
"I beg your pardon."
Her manner changed abruptly. She turned to him, intense and serious.
"She is so far away, Brandon. On the other side of the world, and she is full of loathing for me. How am I to regain what I have lost? How am I to make her understand? She went away with that last ugly thought of me, with the thought of me as I appeared to her on that last, enlightening day. All these months it has been growing more horrible to her. It has been beside her all the time. All these months she has known that I pretended to love her as—"
"I don't believe you know Hetty as well as you think you do," he broke in. "You forget that she loved you with all her soul. You can't kill love so easily as all that. It will be all right, Sara. You must write and ask her to come back. It—"
"Ah, but you don't know!" Then she related the story of the liberated canary bird. "Hetty understands. The cage door is open. She may return when she chooses, but—don't you see?—she must come of her own free will."
"You will not ask her to come?"
"No. It is the test. She will know that I have told you everything. You will go to her. Then she may understand. If she forgives she will come back. There is nothing else to say, nothing else to consider."
"I shall go to her at once," he said resolutely.
She gave him a quick, searching glance.
"She may refuse to marry you, even now, Brandon."
"She CAN'T!" he cried. An instant later his face fell. "By Jove, I—I suppose the law will have to be considered now. She will at least have to go through the form of a trial."
She whirled on him angrily. "The law? What has the law to do with it? Don't be a fool!"
"She ought to be legally exonerated," he said.
Her fingers gripped his arm fiercely. "I want you to understand one thing, Brandon. The story I have told you was for your ears alone. The secret lives with us and dies with us."
He looked his relief. "Right! It must go no farther. It is not a matter for the law to decide. You may trust me."
"I am cold," she said. He heard her teeth chatter distinctly as she pulled the thick mantle closer about her throat and shoulders. "It is very raw and wet down here. Come!"
As she started off along the long, narrow pier, he sprang after her, grasping her arm. She leaned rather heavily against him for a few steps and then drew herself up. Her teeth still chattered, her arm trembled in his clasp.
"By Jove, Sara, this is bad," he cried, in distress. "You're chilled to the marrow."
"Nerves," she retorted, and he somehow felt that her lips were set and drawn.
"You must get to bed right away. Hot bath, mustard, and all that. I'll not stop for dinner. Thanks just the same. I will be over in the morning."
"When will you sail?" she asked, after a moment.
"I can't go for ten days, at least. My mother goes into the hospital next week for an operation, as I've told you. I can't leave until after that's over. Nothing serious, but—well, I can't go away. I shall write to Hetty to-night, and cable her to-morrow. By the way, I—I don't know just where to find her. You see, we were not to write to each other. It was in the bargain. I suppose you don't know how I can—"
"Yes, I can tell you precisely where she is. She is in Venice, but leaves there to-morrow for Rome, by the Express."
"Then you have been hearing from her?" he cried sharply.
"Not directly. But I will say this much: there has not been a day since she landed in England that I have not received news of her. I have not been out of touch with her, Brandon, not even for an hour."
"Good heaven, Sara! You don't mean to say you've had her shadowed by—by detectives," he exclaimed, aghast.
"Her maid is a very faithful servant," was her ambiguous rejoinder.
He walked home swiftly through the early night, his brain seething with tumultuous thoughts. The revelations of the day were staggering; the whole universe seemed to have turned topsy-turvy since that devastating hour at Burton's Inn. Somehow he was not able to confine his thoughts to Hetty Castleton alone. She seemed to sink into the background, despite the absolution he had been so ready, so eager to grant her on hearing the story from Sara's lips. Not that his resolve to search her out and claim her in spite of everything was likely to weaken, but that the absorbing figure of Sara Wrandall stood out most clearly in his reflections.
What an amazing creature she was! He could not drive her out of his thoughts, even when he tried to concentrate them on the one person who was dearest to him of all in all the world, his warm-hearted, adorable Hetty. Strange contrasts suggested themselves to him as he strode along, head bent and shoulders hunched. He could not help contrasting the two women. He loved Hetty; he would always love her, of that he was positive. She was Sara's superior in every respect, infinitely so, he argued. And yet there was something in Sara that could crowd this adored one, this perfect one out of his thoughts for the time being. He found it difficult to concentrate his thoughts on Hetty Castleton.
How white and ill Sara had looked when she said good-night to him at the door! The memory of her dark, mysterious eyes haunted him; he could see them in the night about him. They had been full of pain; there were torrents of tears behind them. They had glistened as if burnished by the fires of fever.
Even as he wrote his long, triumphant letter to Hetty Castleton, the picture of Sara Wrandall encroached upon his mental vision. He could not drive it out. He thought of her as she had appeared to him early in the spring; through all the varying stages of their growing intimacy; through the interesting days when he vainly tried to translate her matchless beauty by means of wretched pigments; up to this present hour in which she was revealed, and yet not revealed, to him. Her vivid face was always before him, between his eyes and the thin white paper on which he scribbled so eagerly. Her feverish eyes were looking into his; she was reading what he wrote before it appeared on the surface of the sheet!
His letter to Hetty was a triumph of skill and diplomacy, achieved after many attempts. He found it hard not to say too much, and quite as difficult not to say too little. He spent hours over this all-important missive. At last it was finished. He read and re-read it, searching for the slightest flaw: a fatal word or suggestion that might create in her mind the slightest doubt as to his sincerity. She was sure to read this letter a great many times, and always with the view to finding something between the lines: such as pity, resignation, an enforced conception of loyalty, or even faith! He meant that she should find nothing there but love. It was full of tenderness, full of hope, full of promise. He was coming to her with a steadfast, enduring love in his heart, he wanted her now more than ever before.
There was no mention of Challis Wrandall, and but once was Sara's name used. There was nothing in the letter that could have betrayed their joint secret to the most acute outsider, and yet she would understand that he had wrung everything from Sara's lips. Her secret was his.
He decided that it would not be safe to anticipate the letter by a cablegram. It was not likely that any message he could send would have the desired effect. Instead of reassuring her, in all probability it would create fresh alarm.
Sleep did not come to him until after three o'clock. At two he got up and deliberately added a postscript to the letter he had written. It was in the nature of a poignant plea for Sara Wrandall. Even as he penned the lines, he shuddered at the thought of what she had planned to do to Hetty Castleton. Staring hard at the black window before him, the pen still in his hand, he allowed his thoughts to dwell so intimately on the subject of his well-meant postcript that her ashen face with its burning eyes seemed to take shape in the night beyond. It was a long time before he could get rid of the illusion. Afterwards he tried to conjure up Hetty's face and to drive out the likeness of the other woman, and found that he could not recall a single feature in the face of the girl he loved!
When he reached Southlook in the morning, he found that nearly all of the doors and windows were boarded up. Wagons were standing in the stable-yard, laden with trunks and crates. Servants without livery were scurrying about the halls. There was an air of finality about their movements. The place was being desolated.
"Yes, sir," said Watson, in reply to his question, "we ARE in a rush. Mrs. Wrandall expects to close the 'ouse this evening, sir. We all go up this afternoon. I suppose you. know, sir, we 'ave taken a new apartment in town."
"No!" exclaimed Booth.
"Yes, sir, we 'ave, sir. They've been decorating it for the pawst two weeks. Seems like she didn't care for the old one we 'ad. As a matter of fact, I didn't care much for it, either. She's taken one of them hexpensive ones looking out over the Park, sir. You know we used to look out over Madison Avenue, sir, and God knows it wasn't hinspirin'. Yes, sir, we go up this afternoon. Mrs. Wrandall will be down in a second, thank you, sir."
Booth actually was startled by her appearance when she entered the room a few minutes later. She looked positively ill.
"My dear Sara," he cried anxiously, "this is too bad. You are making yourself ill. Come, come, this won't do."
"I shall be all right in a day or two," she said, with a weary little gesture. "I have been nervous. The strain was too great, Brandon. This is the reaction, the relaxation you might say."
"Your hand is hot, your eyes look feverish. You'd better see your doctor as soon as you get to town. An ounce of prevention, you know."
"Well," she said, with a searching look into his eyes, "have you written to her?"
"Yes. Posted it at seven o'clock this morning."
"I trust you did not go so far as to—well, to volunteer a word in my behalf. You were not to do that, you know."
He looked uncomfortable. "I'm afraid I did take your name in vain," he equivocated. "You are a—a wonderful woman, Sara," he went on, moved to the remark by a curious influence that he could not have explained any more than he could have accounted for the sudden gush of emotion that took possession of him.
She ignored the tribute. "You will persuade her to come to New York with you?"
"For your sake, Sara, if she won't come for mine."
"She knows the cage is open," was her way of dismissing the subject. "I am glad you came over. I have a letter from Leslie. It came this morning. You may be interested in what he has to say of Hetty—and of yourself." She smiled faintly. "He is determined that you shall not be without a friend while he is alive."
"Les isn't such a rotter, Sara. He's spoiled, but he is hardly to be blamed for that."
"I will read his letter to you," she said, and there was no little significance in the way she put it. She held the letter in her hand, but he had failed to notice it before. Now he saw that it was a crumpled ball of paper. He was obliged to wait for a minute or two while she restored it to a readable condition. "He was in London when this was written," she explained, turning to the window for light. She glanced swiftly over the first page until she found the place where she meant to begin. "'I suppose Hetty Castleton has written that we met in Lucerne two weeks ago,'" she read. "'Curious coincidence in connexion with it, too. I was with her father, Col. Braid Castleton, when we came upon her most unexpectedly. I ran across him in Paris just before the aviation meet, and got to know him rather well. He's a fine chap, don't you think? I confess I was somewhat surprised to learn that he didn't know she'd left America. He explained it quite naturally, however. He'd been ill in the north of Ireland and must have missed her letters. Hetty was on the point of leaving for Italy. We didn't see much of her. But, by Jove, Sara, I am more completely gone on her than ever. She is adorable. Now that I've met her father, who had the beastly misfortune to miss old Murgatroyd's funeral, I can readily see wherein the saying "blood will tell" applies to her. He is a prince. He came over to London with me the day after we left Hetty in Lucerne, and I had him in to meet mother and Vivian at Clarridge's. They like him immensely. He set us straight on a good many points concerning the Glynn and Castleton families. Of course, I knew they were among the best over here, but I didn't know how fine they were until we prevailed on him to talk a little about himself. You will be glad to hear that he is coming over with us on the Mauretania. She sails the 27th. We'll be on the water by the time you get this letter. It had been our intention to sail last week, but the Colonel had to go to Ireland for a few days to settle some beastly squabbles among the tenants. Next year he wants me to come over for the shooting. He isn't going back to India for two years, you may be interested to hear. Two years' leave. Lots of influence, believe me! We've been expecting him back in London since day before yesterday. I dare say he found matters worse than he suspected and has been delayed. He has been negotiating for the sale of some of his property in Belfast—factory sites, I believe. He is particularly anxious to close the deal before he leaves England. Had to lift a mortgage on the property, however, before he could think of making the sale. I staked him to four thousand pounds, to tide him over. Of course, he is eager to make the sale. 'Gad, I almost had to beg him to take the money. Terribly proud and haughty, as the butler would say. He said he wouldn't sleep well until he has returned the filthy lucre. We are looking for him back any hour now. But if he shouldn't get here by Friday, we will sail without him. He said he would follow by the next boat, in case anything happened that he didn't catch the Mauretania.'"
Sara interrupted herself to offer an ironic observation: "If Hetty did not despise her father so heartily, I should advise you to look farther for a father-in-law, Brandon. The Colonel is a bad lot. Estates in the north of Ireland! Poor Leslie!" She laughed softly.
"He'll not show up, eh?"
"Not a bit of it," she said. "He may be charged to profit and loss in Leslie's books. This part of the letter will interest you," she went on, as if all that had gone before was of no importance to him. "'I hear interesting news concerning you, my dear girl. My heartiest congratulations if it is all true. Brandy is one in a million. I have hoped all along to have him as a full-fledged brother-in-law, but I'm satisfied to have him as a sort of step-brother-in-law, if that's the way you'd put it. Father writes that every one is talking about it, and saying what a fine thing it is. He has a feeling of delicacy about approaching you in the matter, and I fancy it's just as well until everything is settled. I wish you'd let me make a suggestion, however. Wouldn't it be wise to let us all get together and talk over the business end of the game? Brandy's a fine chap, a corker, in fact, but the question is: has he got it in him to take Challis's place in the firm? You've got to consider the future as well as the present, my dear. We all do. With his artistic temperament he might play hob with your interests, and ours too, for that matter. Wouldn't it be wise for me to sound him a bit before we take him into the firm? Forgive me for suggesting this, but, as you know, your interests are mine, and I'm terribly keen about seeing you get the best of everything. By the way, wasn't he a bit gone on Hetty? Passing fancy, of course, and not deep enough to hurt anybody. Good old Brandy!'"
"There is more, Brandon, but it's of no consequence," she said, tossing the letter upon the table. "You see how the land lays."
Booth was pale with annoyance. "By Jove, Sara, what an insufferable ass he is!"
"The shoe pinches?"
"Oh, it's such perfect rot! I'm sorry on your account. Have you ever heard of such gall?"
"Oh, he is merely acting as the family spokesman. I can see them now in solemn conclave. They think it their indisputable right to select a husband for me, to pass upon him, to accept or decline him as they see fit, to say whether he is a proper man to hang up his hat and coat in the offices of Wrandall & Co."
"Do you mean to say—"
"Let's not talk about it, Brandon. It is too silly."
They fell to discussing her plans for the immediate future, although the minds of both were at work with something else.
"Now that I have served my purpose, I suppose you will not care to see so much of me," she said, as he prepared to take leave of her.
"Served your purpose? What do you mean?"
"I should have put it differently. You have been most assiduous in your efforts to force the secret from me. It has been accomplished. Now do you understand?"
"That isn't fair, Sara," he protested. "If you'll let me come to see you, in spite of what the gossips and Mr. Redmond Wrandall predict, you may be sure I will be as much in evidence as ever. I suppose I have been a bit of a nuisance, hanging on as I have."
"I admire your perseverance. More than that, I admire your courage in accepting the situation as you have. I only hope you may win her over to your way of thinking, Brandon. Good-bye."
"I shall go up to town to-morrow, kit and bag. When shall I see you? We have a great deal left to talk about before I sail."
"Come when you like."
"You really want me to come?"
He studied her pale, tired face for a moment, and then shook his head. "You must take care of yourself," he said. "You are unstrung. Get a good rest and—and forget certain things if you can. Everything will come out all right in the end."
"It depends on what one is willing to accept as the end," she said.
The next morning she received an expected visitor at her apartment. Expecting him, she made a desperate effort to appear as strong and unconcerned as she had been on the occasion of a former meeting. There was little in her appearance to suggest worry, illness or alarm when she entered the rather unsettled little library and confronted the redoubtable Mr. Smith.
The detective had dropped her a line earlier in the week asking for an audience at the earliest possible moment.
"You are worried, madam," he said, after he had carefully closed the door leading to the hall, "and so am I."
"What do you want now?" she demanded. "You have received your money. There is nothing else that we—"
"Beg pardon, Mrs. Wrandall, but there is something else. I'm not after more money, as you may suspect. The size of the matter is, I'm here to put you wise to what's going on without your knowing anything about it. Right or wrong, I'm still interested in this case of yours. Understand me, I haven't lifted a finger since that day in the country. I've quit cold, just as I said I would. The trouble is, other people are still nosing around."
"Sit down, Mr. Smith. Now, tell me what you are here for."
Smith followed her example and sat down, drawing a chair quite close to hers. He lowered his voice.
"Well, I've got next to something I think you ought to know. Maybe old man Wrandall is back of it, but I don't think he is. You see, so far as outsiders are concerned, that reward still stands. A murder's a murder and that's all there is to it. There are men in this business who are going to hunt for that woman until they get her. See what I mean?"
"Please go on. I suppose some one else suspects me, and may have to be bought off," she said so significantly that he turned a bright red.
"Now don't think that of me, Mrs. Wrandall. I am not in on this, I swear. You paid me of your own free will and I laid down on the job. I don't deny that I expected you to do it. I'm not what you'd call a model of virtue and integrity. I served time in the pen a good many years ago. They say it takes a thief to catch a thief. That's not true. A detective has to be dead honest or the thief catches him. I think most of the men in my business are honest. They have to be. You may not agree with me, but I thought I was doing the square thing by you last summer. I had a theory and I was honest in believing it was the right one. I thought you'd pay me to drop the matter. I'm now dead sure I was wrong in suspecting you for a minute. I'm no fool. I—"
Sara interrupted him.
"Will you be good enough to come to the point, Mr. Smith?" she said coldly.
"Well," he said, leaning forward and speaking very deliberately, "I've come here to tell you that the police haven't quit on the job. They're about to make a worse mistake than I made."
She felt herself turn pale. It required a great effort of the will to suppress the start that might have betrayed her to the keen-eyed observer.
"That would be impossible, Mr. Smith," she said, shaking her head and smiling.
"They've been watching that Ashtley girl you sent out West just after the—er—thing happened. The show-girl, you'll remember."
He must have observed the swift look of relief that leaped into her eyes.
"What arrant stupidity," she cried, unable to choose her words. "Why, that unhappy girl is dying a slow and awful death. Surely they can't be hounding her now. Her innocence was clearly established at the time. That is why I felt it to be my duty to help her. She went out to her old home, to die or to get well. They must be fools."
"I'm just telling you, Mrs. Wrandall, that's all. Maybe you can call 'em off, if you know for a certainty that she's innocent." There was something accusing in his manner.
She became very cautious. "My opinion was formed upon the girl's story, and by what the police said after investigating it thoroughly."
"It's a way the police have, madam. They were not satisfied at the time. They simply gave her the rope, that's all. All this time they've had men watching her, day by day, out there in Montana. They say they've got new evidence, a lot of it."
"It is perfectly ridiculous," she cried, very much distressed. "And it must be stopped. I shall see the authorities at once."
"You may be too late. I heard last night that she is to be re-arrested out there and put through a fierce examination. They believe she's weakening and will confess if they go after her hard enough."
"Confess? How can she confess when she knows she is innocent?" she said sharply.
"You don't know much about the third degree, Mrs. Wrandall. I've known innocent people to confess under the bullying—"
"It must be stopped! Do you hear me? This: thing cannot go on." She began to pace the floor in her agitation. "Yes, I have heard of those third degree atrocities. You are right, they may brow-beat the poor, sick thing into a confession. Does she know they have been watching her?"
"Sure. That's part of the game. They make it a point to get on the nerves. Something is bound to give, sooner or later. They've got her scared to death. She knows they're simply waiting for a chance to catch her unawares and trip her up. I tell you, it's a fearful strain. Strong men go down under it time and again. What must it be to this half-dead girl, who hasn't much to be proud of in life at the very best?"
"Tell me what to do," she cried, sitting down again, her eyes suddenly filling with tears.
"I don't know, ma'am. You see, if we had a grain of proof to work on, we might be able to turn 'em back, but there's the rub. We can't say they're wrong without having something up our sleeves to show that we are right. See what I mean?"
"But I tell you she is innocent!"
"Can you swear to that, Mrs. Wrandall?"
"I—I believe I can," she said, and then experienced a sharp sense of dismay. What possessed her to say it? "That is, I could stake my—"
"All that won't count for anything, if they get a signed confession out of her. Now we both know she is innocent. I'm willing to do what I can to help you. Turn about is fair play. If you want to send me out there, I'll try to spike their guns. Maybe I can get there in time to put fresh heart in the girl. She's safe if she doesn't go to pieces and say something she oughtn't to say."
"Oh, this is dreadful," she cried, harassed beyond words.
"It sure is. You see, the police work on the theory that some one's just got to be guilty of that crime. If it ain't the girl out yonder, then who is it? They know her private history. She said enough when she was in custody last year to show that she might have had a pretty good reason for going after your husband—begging your pardon. You remember she said he'd given her the go-by not more than two days before he was killed. They'd been good friends up to then. All of a sudden he chucks her, without ceremony. She admits she was sore about it. She says she would have done him dirt if she had had the chance. Well, that's against her. She did prove an alibi, as you remember, but they're easy to frame up if necessary. I don't think she was clever enough to do the job and get away as slick as the real one did. She was a booze-fighter in those days. They always mess things up. A mighty smooth party did that job. Some one with a good deal more at stake than that poor, reckless girl who didn't care much what became of her. But the trouble is here: they've got her half crazy with fear. First thing we know, she'll go clear off her head and BELIEVE she did it. Then the law will be satisfied. She's so far gone, I hear, that she won't live to be brought to trial, of course. There's some consolation in that."
"Consolation!" cried Sara bitterly. "She is bad, as bad as a woman can be, I know, but I can't feel anything but pity for her now."
"I guess your husband made her what she was," said Smith deliberately. "I don't suppose you ever dreamed what was going on."
She regarded him with a fixed stare. "You are mistaken, Mr. Smith," she said, and it was his turn to stare. "Come back this evening at six. I must consult Mr. Carroll. We will decide what action to take."
"I'd advise you to be quick about it, Mrs. Wrandall. Something's bound to happen soon. The time is ripe. I know for a positive fact that they're expecting news from out there every day. It'd be a God's blessing if the poor wretch could die before they get a chance at her."
She started. "A God's blessing," she repeated dully.
"Pretty hard lines, though," he mused, fumbling with his hat near the door. "Even death wouldn't clear her of the suspicion. Pretty tough to be branded a murderess, no matter whether you're in the grave or out of it. I'll be back at six."
She stood perfectly still, and, although her lips were parted, she allowed him to go without a word in, response to his sombre declaration.
Half an hour later Mr. Carroll was on his way to her apartment, vastly perturbed by the call that had come to him over the telephone.
While waiting for him to appear, Sara Wrandall deliberately set herself to the task of concocting a likely and plausible excuse for intervention in behalf of the wretched show-girl. She prepared herself for his argument that the police might be right after all, and that it would be the better part of wisdom to shift the burden to their shoulders. She knew she would be called upon to discount some very sensible advice from the faithful old lawyer. Her reasons would have to be good ones, not mere whims. He was not likely to be moved by sentimentality. Moreover, he had once expressed doubt as to the girl's innocence.
It did not once occur to her that it was Mr. Carroll's business to respect the secrets of his clients.
THE HOLLOW OF HER HAND
To her secret amazement, the old lawyer did not offer a single protest when she repeated her convictions that the girl was innocent and should be protected against herself as well as against the police. There was something very disquieting in the way he acquiesced. She began to experience a vague, uneasy sense of wonder and apprehension.
"I am beginning to agree with that amiable scoundrel, Smith," he said, fixing his inscrutable gaze on the snapping coals in the fireplace. "A cleverer woman than this Miss—er—What's-Her-Name managed that affair at Burton's Inn."
She watched his face closely. Somehow she felt that he was about to mention the name of the woman he suspected, and it seemed to her that her heart stood still during the moment of suspense.
He lifted his eyes to her face. She saw something in them that set her to trembling.
"Why not be fair with me, Sara?" he asked calmly. She stared at him, transfixed. "Who killed Challis Wrandall?"
She opened her lips to protest against this startling question, but something rushed up from within to completely change the whole course of her conduct; something she could not explain but which swept away every vestige of strength, and left her weak and trembling, open-mouthed and pallid, with the liberated truth surging up from its prison to give itself into the keeping of this staunch, loyal old friend and counsellor.
Carroll heard her through to the very end of the story without an interruption. Then he crossed over and laid his hands on her shoulders; there was a gleam of relief and satisfaction in his eyes.
"I am sorry you did not come to me with all this in the beginning, Sara. A few words from me,—kindly words, my dear,—would have shown you the error of your ways and you would have cast out the ugly devils that beset you. You would not have planned the thing you are so ashamed of now. Together we could have protected Hetty and she would not be your accuser now. You began nobly. I am sorry you have the other part of it to look back upon. But you may rest assured of one thing: you and Miss Castleton have nothing to fear. We will keep the secret, if needs be, but if it should come to the worst no harm would result to her through the law. The main thing now is to protect that unhappy girl out West against the inquisition."
She sat with bowed head.
When Smith returned at six o'clock, he found not only Mr. Carroll waiting for him but Brandon Booth as well. His instructions were clearly defined and concise. He was to proceed without delay to Montana, where he was to bolster up the frail girl's courage and prevent if possible the disaster. Moreover, he was to assure her that Challis Wrandall's wife forgave her and would contest every effort made by the police to lay the crime at her door. He was empowered to engage legal counsel on his arrival in the Western town and to fight every move of the police, not only in behalf of the girl herself, but of Sara Wrandall, who thus publicly pronounced her faith in the young woman's innocence.
It was all very cleverly thought out, and Smith went away without being much wiser than when he came. Before departing he offered this rather sinister conclusion for Sara's benefit:
"Of course, Mrs. Wrandall, you understand that the police will wonder why you take such an interest in this girl. They're bound to think, and so will every one else, that you know a good deal more about the case than you've given out. See what I mean?"
"They are at liberty to think what they like, Mr. Smith," said she.
After Smith had gone, the three discussed the advisability of acquainting Hetty with the deplorable conditions that had arisen.
"I don't believe it would be wise to tell her," said Booth reflectively. "She'd be sure to sacrifice herself rather than let harm come to this girl. We couldn't stop her."
"No, she must not be told," said Sara, with finality.
"She is almost sure to find this out for herself some time," said the lawyer dubiously. "I think we'd better take her into our confidence. It is only right and just, you know."
"Not at present, not at present," said Sara irritably. "It would ruin everything."
Booth appreciated her reasons for delay much more clearly than they appeared to the matter-of-fact lawyer.
"The girl may die at any time," he explained, addressing Mr. Carroll, but not without a queer thrill of shame.
"That is not what I meant, Brandon," she exclaimed. "I want Hetty to come back with but one motive in her heart. Can't you see?"
As Booth and the lawyer walked down Fifth Avenue toward the club where they were to dine together, the latter, after a long silence, made a remark that disturbed the young man vastly.
"She's going all to pieces, Booth. Bound to collapse. That's the way with these strong-minded, secret, pent-up natures. She has brooded all these months and she's been living a lie. Well, the break has come. She's told you and me. Now, do you know what I'm afraid will happen?"
"I think I know what's in your mind," said the younger man seriously. "You are afraid she'll tell others?"
The lawyer tapped his forehead significantly. "It may result in THAT."
"Never!" cried the other emphatically. "It will never be that way with her, Mr. Carroll. Her head is as clear as—"
"Brain fever," interrupted Carroll, with a gloomy shake of his head. "Delirium and all that sort of thing. Haven't you noticed how ill she looks? Feverish, nervous, irritable? Well, there you are."
"It is a dreadful state of affairs," groaned Booth.
"Not especially pleasant for you, my friend."
"God knows it isn't!"
"I believe, if I were in your place, I'd rather have the truth told broadcast than to live for ever with that peril hanging over me. It would be better for Miss Castleton, too."
"I am not worrying over that, sir," said the other earnestly. "I shall be able and ready to defend her, no matter what happens. To be perfectly honest with you, I don't believe she's accountable to any one but God in this matter. The law has no claim against her, except in a perfunctory way. I don't deny that it is only right and just that Wrandall's family should know the truth, if she chooses to reveal it to them. If she doesn't, I shall be the last to suggest it to her."
"On that point I thoroughly agree with you. The Wrandall family should know the truth. It is—well, I came near to using the word diabolical—to keep them in ignorance. There is something owing to the Wrandalls, if not to the law."
"Of course they would make a merciless effort to prosecute her," said Booth, feeling the cold sweat start on his brow.
"I am not so sure of that, my friend," was the rather hopeful opinion of the old man. He appeared to be weighing something in his mind, for as they walked along he shook his head from time to time and muttered under his breath, the while his companion maintained a gloomy silence.
The perceptions of the astute old lawyer were not far out of the way, as developments of the next day were to prove. When Booth called in the afternoon at Sara's apartment, he was met by the news that she was quite ill and could see no one,—not even him. The doctor had been summoned during the night and had returned in the morning, to find that she had a very high temperature. The butler could not enlighten Booth further than this, except to add that a nurse was coming in to take charge of Mrs. Wrandall, more for the purpose of watching her symptoms than for anything else, he believed. At least, so the doctor had said.
Two days passed before the distressed young man could get any definite news concerning her condition. He unconsciously began to think of it as a malady, not a mere illness, due of course to the remark Carroll had dropped. It was Carroll himself who gave a definite report of Sara. He met the lawyer coming away from the apartment when he called to inquire.