Citadel of Fear, by Francis Stevens

Chapter XIX

Cliona Receives a Guest

“I’LL pay the fare, for I’ve no tickets.” The conductor nodded and counted out change.

“A nasty sort of night, Mr. O’Hara,” he observed affably.

Like every man on that short line, he knew half his passengers by sight, many by name, and there was little gossip going about at any of the smaller stations with which he was not acquainted. O’Hara had ridden with him only a few times, but the conductor was familiar with every extraneous fact concerning the Irishman’s life at Carpentier. He remembered taking him to Undine earlier in the evening.

Now O’Hara was going in town, where he was said never to go, and accompanied by a mysterious female.

At that hour — eleven thirty — there was not another passenger on the inbound train, so the conductor had plenty of leisure for curious thoughts.

Sitting on the dusty red plush cushions beside his silent Dusk Lady, O’Hara’s mind dwelt grimly on the results of his little expedition.

The disappearance of Marco’s body troubled him, though he had made no effort to find it. Perhaps in the few moments that he was absent above-stairs, Genghis Khan had carried it away; or it might be that another witness than the girl had seen the slaying of Marco, someone who feared to show himself to this savage invader of Reed’s domicile.

One idea he clung to. Whatever he himself had done, Reed’s daughter should not spend another night in that house of mysterious human and bestial inhabitants.

She was silent and unquestioning, and he glad of her silence. When she talked his reason continually rebelled against the eccentricities of her speech. Silent, he felt renewed that intangible bond which seemed to exist between his nature and hers. Silent, he could almost forget that between them was also the dread specter of insanity.

“My lord, are you still angered with me?”

At the sound of that low, slightly tremulous voice, O’Hara turned reluctantly to the girl beside him. Toward her when she spoke he felt only gentleness and pity, but he dreaded what she might say, feeling a sort of personal shame in her irrationality.

“I have no anger with you, little lady,” he answered kindly.

“Ill pleased, then. Is it because I have told you nothing of my story? One and another person I have told, but they had no — no understanding —— ”

She broke off, hesitating, and O’Hara groaned inwardly, thinking, “And how should they understand? Poor lass, only God understands foolishness!”

“But you are not as others; you will believe, for you are great and strong and noble, and, moreover, you are bound to me by the Golden Thread.”

Colin started.

“Tell me nothing!” he broke in hastily. Then, seeing that she shrank away with a little hurt motion, he added, “We’ve no time just now for the length of your tale. Do you just wait, little lady, till we are safe at home with my sister. It’s but a few minutes now till we get off the train.”

“I will wait,” she answered with a submissive sigh, and indeed there was no more time for talk. They were then entering the trainshed at the city terminal, and shortly thereafter Colin was hurrying his charge toward the gates and through them, thankful for the late hour and bad weather.

But there were few people about on the train floor, and in any case his fears proved needless. As they went she clung tightly to his arm, shrinking against him.

Green Gables at last, and as Colin, standing in the shelter of the porte-cochère, paid off his driver, another car swung in and came to a halt just behind the taxi. This midnight motorist was Rhodes, very much belated — for him — but aglow with the results of a successful business day. A few minutes later that satisfaction was obliterated in pure astonishment.

Colin, full of the trouble and excitement of the past few hours, had clean forgotten that by Rhodes he was still supposed to be several thousand miles away, and it was a moment before he could see any reason for his brother-in-law’s thunderstruck amazement.

Between that and genuine delight at finding him there, Rhodes did not notice the girl standing so silent at O’Hara’s side until the latter, protesting that explanation must come later, called attention to this mysterious companion.

“Little lady,” said he, drawing her forward, “here is a good friend of mine who will be a friend to you, too, I am thinking. This is Mr. Anthony Rhodes, the husband of my sister. Tony, Miss Reed has come far and is needing rest.”

“My wife will be delighted to welcome you, Miss Reed. Won’t you come in?”

For all his cordial tone Rhodes was secretly filled with growing amazement. O’Hara’s abrupt and unheralded return had surprised him, but that he should drop out of nowhere at 12:45 A.M. accompanied by a mysterious and lovely female who appeared to be dumb — for she had acknowledged neither the introduction nor his invitation to enter save by a barely perceptible inclination of the head — this struck him as unreasonably queer, and altogether out of keeping with O’Hara’s known character.

The latch-key was scarcely withdrawn from the opening door when Cliona appeared at the head of the stairs. She had sent the servants to bed, but herself waited up for her husband. Having planned a pleasant little supper à deux with her beloved Tony, and having donned for his benefit a most charming negligée, all soft white frills and chiffon rues with little gold bands to their edges, her glimpse of two other figures entering after him disconcerted her. Then, recognizing Colin, she came flying down the stairs like a small white whirlwind of welcome.

Colin laughed, holding her off at ands length. “Rues and ribbons,” said he, “do you not see that I am dripping from the rain?”

“We have a visitor, Cliona,” put in Rhodes in his pleasantest manner. “Miss Reed, let me make you acquainted with my wife.”

“Oh,” murmured Cliona, peering around her brother, behind whose shielding bulk the visitor seemed to have retreated. “I’m so glad to know you, Miss Reed. Won’t you come upstairs and remove your wraps? I see that as usual Colin has scorned to carry an umbrella, and I fear has let you suffer the consequences.”

Pause and silence.

“As for that, though, I don’t suppose any umbrella would survive a wind such as we have had all evening. We’ll have a little supper in a few minutes, and something hot to prevent all three of you from catching your death of cold.”

No answer nor acknowledgment from the mysterious one.

“Will you come with me, Miss Reed?”

No response to that, either.

It is rather difficult to continue a flow of cordial welcome addressed to a dark, motionless, speechless figure, whose very presence carries an ominous foreboding. And while her tongue had run lightly enough, Cliona’s mind was a confusion of surmise.

Who on earth could this strange woman be? Reed? Reed? Why, that was the name of the man who owned the queer stock-farm. And Colin had come openly to Green Gables, which he was not to do till the bungalow affair was finished.

Was the mystery solved, then? And what had this Miss Reed to do with it? Why lead Colin brought her here, in the middle of the night and without warning? When he had phoned her at seven o’clock there had been nothing definite to report, or so he said.

Cliona ceased to speak, and one of those sudden ghastly silences overtook all four of them — the kind that the ideal hostess is supposed never to allow. Cliona wanted to be an ideal hostess — she looked appealingly from Rhodes to Colin.

The latter realized that the time had come when he must begin to explain. With a sigh for the task ahead of him, he turned to his Dusk Lady.

“Take off your coat, child,” he said gently. “This is my sister that I told you of. You’ll find only kindness in this house.”

Cliona and Tony looked at her, fascinated. The situation had passed beyond conventional handling. There was something here which only Colin understood.

They beheld a magnolia pale face, with crimson lips and starry, frightened eyes, but no words came from her.

“Oh!” cried Cliona again involuntarily, and Rhodes echoed the exclamation in his mind. Where had Colin discovered this girl with her unearthly beauty and equally unearthly manner? In South America? Spanish, perhaps? She looked like a Latin of some sort.

“Let me take your things,” offered Cliona, realizing that the girl’s coat was as wet as Colin’s own.

“Shall I remove them here?”

The mysterious Miss Reed asked the question of O’Hara, as though she regarded him as the arbiter of even her smallest acts.

“You may as well.” He took off his own ulster and thoughtfully flung it over the umbrella-stand in the entry. It was too wet for Cliona’s hall-rack.

Miss Reed wore no hat, only the hood of her coat. Unfastening the coat itself, she slipped lithely out of it, leaving it in O’Hara’s hands.

A startled and simultaneous gasp issued from three mouths at once, but Colin’s was the most expressive. Saints above, he was glad there had been no occasion for her to remove that coat in the train or station!

Save that her feet were no longer bare, there stood his Dusk Lady exactly as she had stood upon the rug in Reed’s entrance-hall while he stooped to examine Marco’s body. Her green gown, wet as ever, clung to body and limbs in the revealing lines of a thin bathing suit. Her dark hair hung in the same beautiful but informal curls, and for the first time Colin was painfully aware of those worn places in her gown through which bare limbs shone whitely.

Her eyes darted from one face to another of those about her, frightened, questioning. They were all, even her “lord,” looking at her in the strange way that no one had ever regarded her before the beginning of her long time of sadness. In the place of her nativity, no such tremendous and burdensome value was laid on mere costume as “civilization” places there, and little indeed had been her chance to learn. In the house at Undine she had been kept close and guarded.

Something was wrong. What was it?

Glancing at his sister’s flushed, astounded face, O’Hara wished with all his heart that he had not so much — so very much explaining ahead of him. To introduce a crazed and half-clad maiden and the fact that he was in his own opinion a murderer, all in the same hour — well ——

With another deep, weary sigh Colin undertook the beginning of his task.

It was morning. Wind and rain had followed night into the past, and a glorious late October sun was doing its utmost to cast a last glamour of summer over the shivering, storm-denuded trees and to gild the sodden leaf-carpet that covered lawns and gardens. But it found more success when it peered in the windows of Cliona’s breakfast room, already a sufficiently cheerful apartment.

Though the hour was near noon, Cliona and Rhodes were first at table. With a very thoughtful brow she was putting slices of bread into an electric toaster, while her husband glanced mechanically through the morning paper.

Casting it aside, he picked up the first edition of a so-called afternoon journal which had a paradoxical habit of appearing at 11 A.M. Therein he came on an item which changed his perfunctory interest to keen attention and caused him, after twice reading it, to fold up the sheet and with a very pale face thrust it in his pocket.

Cliona’s attention had been riveted on the toast, but, glancing up, she saw that something was wrong.

“Are you not feeling well?” she asked quickly. “What’s the matter, Tony?”

He smiled reassuringly. “Nothing that coffee won’t mend, dear. A slight headache. Last night’s revelations were a trifle upsetting, though you weren’t upset, were you?”

He gave her an admiring glance. Dainty and fresh in her plain house-gown of blue linen, her appearance denied the sleepless night behind them.

“You are the only woman in the world, I believe, who could bear such a strain in the way you are doing. Frankly, I thought Colin was crazy himself to come here with that girl and that story so soon after your illness. But I see he knows you better than I do!”

“Not better — differently.” She smiled back at him, then grew extremely grave.

“Tony, are we going to let him do it?’

“What? Give himself up? Now, Cliona, I don’t see what else he can do. If he had been content to leave the girl where he found her, go quietly home and keep still afterward, I doubt if he could have been connected with the mur — the death of this man Marco. No one would have paid any attention to her story, even if she had the sense to tell it.

“But as it is, and having removed the girl from her father’s house, and having been recognized by that conductor and very likely several other people, there is no possibility of his not being connected with it. No one who knows Colin is ever going to believe that he meant to kill the man, and the provocation was probably greater than he says. His bringing the girl here is proof enough of his good intentions, and now that the thing has gone so far the only course for him is to plead either justifiable or involuntary manslaughter.

“I’m no criminal lawyer, but I think when Reed’s place is investigated, and everything is cleared up and the evidence laid before an impartial jury, Colin will get off scot free. This beautiful insane girl, left to the mercy of a huge ape and a probable degenerate, is bound to appeal to popular sympathy amazingly.

But you and I have our work cut out in dealing with that unruly conscience of Colin’s . He says he meant to kill the man and that he wishes to take the consequences. If he says the same thing in court, and when the relative bulk of Colin and Marco is considered, the court is likely to take him at his word! I’m not trying to frighten you, darling, but I wish you to realize that Colin must — be — persuaded!”

Cliona looked at him quite calmly.

“He has to be persuaded to more than that — he has to be persuaded that ’twas not he but that big monkey, Genghis Khan, who killed Marco!”

Rhodes opened his mouth to speak, then shut it again. A woman’s conscience is a tender thing, but it is not like a man’s . Cliona, most innocent of women, considered perjury a small price for her brother’s life and liberty. Yet after all it was no more perjury than what her husband had himself proposed.

Rhodes possessed a deep and genuine friendship for his wife’s brother. But he also knew the violence and impetuosity of the man. In his heart he believed that Colin had, as he insisted, intended for one furious moment the death of Marco. However, to his masculine mind there was a difference between the lie involved in a plea of involuntary manslaughter and the bolder lie which shifted the whole burden to another’s shoulders, even though they were the shoulders of a beast.

And at that moment Colin himself appeared.

If possible he looked more depressed than on the previous night. Having shamed himself before these two, he must now go and shame himself before a less sympathetic audience at city hall. And the girl he loved was as mad as a hatter! The world looked very cold and bare to Colin O’Hara that morning, despite its sunshine.

“Where’s my — Miss Reed?” he demanded as he seats himself.

“Your Miss Reed is still in bed,” retorted Cliona with an attempt at lightness. “I ordered her breakfast sent up.”

“Oh! All right.”

Colin attacked his breakfast, served by the dignified butler whom the Rhodes had acquired with their large menage. But he found his appetite surprisingly slight. The instant they were alone he laid down his grapefruit spoon, leaned back and thrust his hands in his pockets.

“I’m going in town now.”

“Yes,” said Cliona quietly. “And we are going with you.”

“You’re not.”

“Before anyone goes,” Rhodes interposed with great firmness, “we shall have to talk things over a little further.”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” began Colin in his most obstinate manner, but just then the door opened and a timid, beautiful face appeared in the aperture.

“May I— is it fitting that I enter?”

“Of course — come right in, dear. Did you find it too lonely in your room?”

Cliona, though she had good cause to dislike this ************** who had brought sorrow to all of them, was incapable of treating her in other than a kindly manner. Rising she went to the door and opened it for her fair and singular guest.

The green gown was no longer in evidence, though Colin darkly suspected it of being somewhere beneath the pale lavender peignoir which now adorned her person. Cliona knew better. That unfortunate garment had been removed by herself at 3 A.M., after an expenditure of diplomacy sufficient to settle the fate of nations, but barely enough to persuade her guest out of it and into one of her own dainty nightrobes.

Under Cliona’s guidance the girl entered and seated herself in the fourth chair at the small, square table, facing Colin. Every motion she made, every glance of her bright, mournful eyes, expressed the timidity of a graceful wild creature, anxious to please and to believe in the sincerity of those about it, but intensely conscious of the strangeness of its surroundings.

She had been given no opportunity to tell her story. Last night they had all seemed desperately concerned over the killing of one who she well knew deserved his death — so concerned that no attention could be spared her, and every effort she made to speak — went wrong, some way.

They would look at her, kindly, pityingly — and very courteously indicate that silence on her part was greatly to be preferred. The more important part of her story she had not dared even begin on. That was for her lord’s ear alone. Surely he, who was so irrevocably bound to her, must understand and believe.

Strange how the speaking or withholding of one word will sometimes affect whole destinies! One word — one of several names that were on her very tongue-tip — and the hindering veil of miscomprehension would have fallen.

But she deemed her “lord” as ignorant of those names as everyone else of the few she had been allowed to meet in this mad world that lay outside her native hills. She knew him and he her, and they knew each other not at all — a paradox that was to cost dear before the finish.

The girl was beautiful enough, in all conscience — more beautiful in the morning sunshine than he had thought her by the lights of night. Her hair was dry now, and had that dull black softness about her face which had caused O’Hara to name her “Dusk Lady” on first sight. Her smooth skin possessed a pearly, translucent whiteness, almost like alabaster with a faint pink light behind it, and her eyes were pleadingly, deceptively intelligent. Yet just now Rhodes felt that Colin himself was a sufficient problem and the presence of his insane protégée superfluous.

“Did you sleep well, Miss Reed?” he inquired.

And she replied with an admirable simplicity: “I slept.”

“And why not?” demanded Colin, heavily cheerful. “You’re out of that house, and not even your father shall put you back there, little lady.”

“My — father? Oh! You mean he who names himself Chester Reed? He is not my father.”

“No?” Rhodes tried to look interested. “Your name not Reed, then?”

The girl drew herself up with a funny little air of hauteur, and replied surprisingly: “I have no name!”

A pained expression flashed across O’Hara’s frank face. Again he was troubled by that double emotion — shame for her pitiful speeches, and, deeper than that, a sympathy which took no count of madness.

She saw the pain in his eyes, the momentary astonishment of the two other faces, and its instant veiling behind that kindly, intolerable tolerance with which well-bred sanity confronts an unsound mind. She saw, for she shrank back in her chair and her dark eyes glimmered.

“You know, dear child,” said Cliona gently, “because we all have names ourselves, we get in the habit of expecting other people to have them, too. But indeed, if you are wishing it to be so, you need have no name with us.”

Frowning, the girl glanced from one to another, as if trying to determine exactly what they, their surprise and Cliona’s too-soothing assurance might really mean. The she said in a very low tone, speaking only to herself, it seemed: “All the customs are so strange!”

“They are that,” conceded O’Hara with suspicious heartiness. “But now don’t you be troubling your mind for the matter a minute longer. What do we care for names — the four of us here? Faith, ’tis the same to us if there were no names at all in the world — you need none, little lady, nor your mother nor your father —— ”

“Oh,” cried the girl, brightening unexpectedly, “but of course my father had a name, and gave one to my mother likewise, but for me, I am not wed. Do your unwed maidens bear names, then?”

“Generally.” Rhodes sighed. He supposed they must humor the poor girl. “If you would tell us your father’s name we could call you that, you know — that is if you object to ‘Miss Reed.’”

For the first time she laughed. “To call me as if I were my father! How strange are your customs!”

Then she looked anxiously about the table.

“I have heard him say that some harm had come to his name — what, I did not understand — so that it would bring him sorrow in this, the land of his birth. But you are my friends — you will not speak it to others. You are friends, are you not?”

Colin, though he groaned in the soul of him, nodded and smiled bravely. Rhodes laughed in a kindly, encouraging way, and Cliona, filled with pity, leaned over and kissed the poor, sick girl on her beautiful forehead.

“We are friends,” she replied softly. Then: “Oh — what is it, Masters?”

The butler, who had just entered, straightened himself with a resolutely passive face. “There are two men in the reception hall, and they asked me to tell you, Mr. Rhodes, that they are from headquarters and wish to see Mr. O’Hara at once. One of them says his name is MacClellan, sir.”

Masters had come to Green Gables shortly after O’Hara’s departure for “South America,” and consequently, though MacClellan had previously visited the house several times, he was unknown to the butler. But Masters did know that he disapproved of a household in which red-haired giants appeared at breakfast dressed in worn, water-proofed khaki, and were then called upon by plain-clothes men.

However, Masters’ inward disturbance was nothing compared to the consternation roused by his announcement in the bosoms of three of his hearers.

No one said anything, but their eyes, meeting across the table, spoke volumes. Then Rhodes turned to his stately servitor with what calmness he could command at the moment.

“All right, Masters. Go tell them to wait a few minutes — right there in the hall.”

“Very well, sir.”

Masters’ restraining presence removed, O’Hara came straight to the point.

“They traced me so soon! Indeed, I’ve never given that lad MacClellan credit for such intelligence. Well, it’s sorry I am, Tony, that they should take me from your house.”

But as Colin was rising from the table, Rhodes stopped him.

“Wait a minute! I don’t think they’ve come for that, and I want you not to see them. I have something to tell you —— ”

“Let it wait!” Colin shook off his brother-in-law’s hand and stood up. His face was darkly flushed but his eyes shone with a grim determination. He dominated the rest of them like a giant at a pigmies tea-party.

“Not see them? Would you have me sneak out the back door, then? Be sure they’ll see me if I’m in the house — and I’ll not run away. Do you stay here.”

He strode to the door, but his last command was disregarded. When he entered the reception hall Rhodes was behind him, still protesting, while Cliona and the strange girl brought up the rear.

“Ah, Mr. O’Hara!” And MacClellan’s rather heavy and stolid, countenance brightened as he beamed upon the advancing Irishman in a manner singularly cordial to be bestowed upon a murder-suspect. “I thought I might find you here. Quick work, eh? I suppose you’ve read all about it in the early afternoon editions?”

“No.” Colin favored his prospective captor with a morose stare. “I’d no notion they’d be having it — so early.”

“Oh, they got it at headquarters. We tried to phone out to Mr. Rhodes here, but they said you didn’t answer. Line out of order?”

“Not that I know of.” Rhodes was nervous. He was becoming more and more positive that MacClellan was innocent of any knowledge dangerous to O’Hara, but at the same time there was imminent peril of his acquiring such information within the next few moments. O’Hara must be kept quiet until there was time for further conference.

“More likely something wrong with the operator,” he continued. “But I read the paper, MacClellan, and was just going to show it to the rest when you arrived.”

“And I was just on my way,” began O’Hara, but Rhodes forestalled him, speaking very loudly and quickly.

“It’s the bungalow again, Colin. The bungalow received another visitation last night!”

And pulling the folded newspaper from his pocket, he thrust it into O’Hara’s hands, pointing to the column in question and for the moment at least effectually distracting his attention.

Cliona, keyed to a worse calamity, laughed and exclaimed involuntarily: “Is that all?”

“Ain’t it enough?” MacClellan looked a trifle offended. No man likes to bear news of a mountain and hear it called a mole-hill. “I tell you, Mrs. Rhodes, it was enough to send me and Forester here shooting out to Carpentier within ten minutes after we got word of it. The news was phoned in by a milkman — name of Walker — and he said when he went up there to deliver the milk, there wasn’t, in a manner of speaking, any place to deliver it at. Said you’d been living there alone, Mr. O’Hara, and the way he talked we got the idea you was murdered and laid out in the ruins.

“So Forester, here, and me shot out there, and sure enough the place was pretty well smashed up, but not a sign of you or anybody else hurt. So on the train comin’ in we got talkin’ with the conductor — we central office men pick up lots of valuable clues just talking, here and there — and he says the night man told him how you and a lady went in town somewhere after eleven-thirty last night.

“Well, we was anxious to get in touch with you, just to let you know we’re on the job, so I tried to get Mr. Rhodes by phone. While I was trying, Forester, he called up the hotels and drew them blank, so I says the best thing was to come straight out here, and we did and here’s Mr. O’Hara, just like I thought.”

MacClellan was so enamored of his own perspicacity in locating Colin that he was quite good-natured again. But to that gentleman himself it seemed a childishly simple feat — particularly when compared to the one which he had suspected MacClellan.

He had meant to make the whole of last night’s doings known to the complacent detective, but now he hated to do it. Somehow MacClellan would arrogate to himself as much credit as if he had captured a desperate criminal in the red act of assassination. Besides, there was the bungalow. After waiting six weeks for that visit, it had come in earnest during his one night of absence!

“So the place was pulled down?” he asked slowly, scanning the headlines.

“Oh, no. That was Walker’s exaggeration. But it was pretty well wrecked up all right — worse than the first time. And Walker said that when he got up there, there was a horrible smell about the place. Some sort of chemical, I guess, though that may have been some more of his imagination. It didn’t look to me like there’d been any explosion.”

“I smelled something queer myself when we went inside.” This from Forester, an intelligent-looking but very young man. “Don’t you remember I called your attention to it?”

“Yes, and I said you was dreamin’,” snapped his superior. “If there was any smell it got out the windows before we reached there.”

Forester shrugged and subsided. But to O’Hara this talk of a mysterious odor called up a memory. The scene was a large, bare, dusty interior, illuminated by one leaping white ray. Faith, and it was a most unpleasant stench the place had been filled with! The front and the back door of that storehouse had stood open — open! And it was from Reed’s place that Genghis Khan had wandered all the way to Carpentier — and tried to strangle him! Had Khan “wandered”?

“I’ll be returning to the bungalow,” he announced.

“Oh, no!” To Cliona, Carpentier and its vicinity were by this time doubly enhanced with terror. “Colin, darling, promise me you’ll never go near there again!”

“I’ll have to. Sure, every stitch of clothes I have but these are out there. You’d not have me sacrifice my entire wardrobe, Cliona?”

“You can send for them — besides, that’s not your reason!” she added suspiciously.

“And what if it’s not? In broad daylight! For shame, little sister, ’tis not like yourself to be so unreasonable!”

“I don’t mean to be,” Cliona considered, while MacClellan turned away to examine a picture — and grin. He disliked this domineering Irishman as instinctively as O’Hara despised him, and it was highly amusing to hear him plead against petticoat rule as meekly as the least of his fellows. “You may go,” decreed Cliona at last, “if you’ll take these gentlemen with you.”

Rhodes laughed. “I’m going myself, so you’ll have quite a bodyguard, Colin.”

Somewhat to his surprise Cliona offered no objection to that. Perhaps she felt there was safety in numbers, and anyway, on reflection, a daylight expedition to the bungalow could rouse little dread. There must be people all over the place, too, as she had been told there were while first she lay there unconscious.

“Where’s the — the — Miss Reed?”

It was Rhodes who asked. All the time they talked, the girl had stood close to Cliona, partly in shadow and so motionlessly silent as to be practically forgotten by all save Colin. He never quite forgot her, but she had been pushed to the back of his mind by these more pressing matters.

“I think — perhaps she went back in the breakfast room. Shall I look for her?” Cliona made a motion toward the door, but her brother checked her, drawing her somewhat aside from the rest.

“’Tis as well,” he said in a guarded tone, “that MacClellan does not see her just now. Who knows what the day may bring? I’ll not bid her farewell, either, for the poor lass might not understand. Just tell her I’ve gone and will return soon, and do you try and get at the truth of this business of her father. I’d not be surprised if there was real truth behind that. Be good to her and gentle — ah, I know there’s no need to say that! Were you ever aught else in your life, little sister? But indeed, I’m that troubled —— ”

“Colin, MacClellan says he has only another hour or so to spare. If we’re going we’d better start.” This from Rhodes.

“I’ll take care of her, Colin.” Cliona gave his arm a reassuring pat as he turned to obey Rhodes’ summons. But she looked after him with a sadness in her eyes.

Though so much younger, she understood Colin, as a mother understands a beloved son, and she knew that it was not only shame or despair for his deed at Undine that had taken all the buoyancy from his step, all the happiness from his face. She had seen him look at the girl he had brought here, heard his voice when he spoke of her — and the girl was so lovely — so hopelessly, pitifully lovely!

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30