As he spoke, youth with its brilliant hopes, illusions, and beliefs, passed from me, never to return in the same measure again. I stared at the glimmering amethyst, I stared at the empty vial, and, as a full realisation of all his words implied seized my benumbed faculties, I felt the icy chill of some grisly horror moving among the roots of my hair, lifting it on my forehead and filling my whole being with shrinking and dismay.
Sinclair, with a quick movement, replaced the tiny flask in its old receptacle, and then, thrusting the whole out of sight, seized my hand and wrung it.
“I am your friend,” he whispered. “Remember, under all circumstances and in every exigency, your friend.”
“What are you going to do with those?” I demanded, when I regained control of my speech.
“I do not know.”
“What are you going to do with — with Dorothy?”
He drooped his head; I could see his fingers working in the moonlight.
“The physicians will soon be here. I heard the telephone going a few minutes ago. When they have pronounced the old woman dead we will give the — the lady you mention an opportunity to explain herself.”
Explain herself, she! Simple expectation. Unconsciously I shook my head.
“It is the least we can do,” he gently persisted. “Come, we must not be seen with our heads together — not yet. I am sorry that we two were found more or less dressed at the time of the alarm. It may cause comment.”
“She was dressed, too,” I murmured, as much to myself as to him.
“Unfortunately, yes,” was the muttered reply, with which he drew off and hastened into the hall, where the now thoroughly-aroused household stood in a great group about the excited hostess.
Mrs. Armstrong was not the woman for an emergency. With streaming hair and tightly-clutched kimono, she was gesticulating wildly and bemoaning the break in the festivities which this event must necessarily cause. As Sinclair approached, she turned her tirade on him, and as all stood still to listen and add such words of sympathy or disappointment as suggested themselves in the excitement of the moment, I had an opportunity to note that neither of the two girls most interested was within sight. This troubled me. Drawing up to the outside of the circle, I asked Beaton, who was nearest to me, if he knew how Miss Camerden was.
“Better, I hear. Poor girl! it was a great shock to her.”
I ventured nothing more. The conventionality of his tone was not to be mistaken. Our conversation on the veranda was to be ignored. I did not know whether to feel relief at this or an added distress. I was in a whirl of emotion which robbed me of all discrimination. As I realised my own condition, I concluded that my wisest move would be to withdraw myself for a time from every eye. Accordingly, and at the risk of offending more than one pretty girl who still had something to say concerning this terrible mischance, I slid away to my room, happy to escape the murmurs and snatches of talk rising on every side. One bitter speech, uttered by I do not know whom, rang in my ears and made all thinking unendurable. It was this:
“Poor woman! she was angry once too often. I heard her scolding Dorothy again after she went to her room. That is why Dorothy is so overcome. She says it was the violence of her aunt’s rage which killed her — a rage of which she unfortunately was the cause.”
So there were words again between these two after the door closed upon them for the night! Was this what we heard just before that scream went up? It would seem so. Thereupon, quite against my will, I found myself thinking of Dorothy’s changed position before the world. Only yesterday a dependent slave; to-day, the owner of millions. Gilbertine would have her share — a large one — but there was enough to make them both wealthy. Intolerable thought! Would that no money had been involved! I hated to think of those diamonds and ——
Oh, anything was better than this! Dashing from my room, I joined one of the groups into which the single large circle had now broken up. The house had been lighted from end to end, and some effort had been made at a more respectable appearance by such persons as I now saw; some even were fully dressed. All were engaged in discussing the one great topic. Listening and not listening, I waited for the front-door bell to ring. It sounded while one woman was saying to another:
“The Sinclairs will now be able to take their honeymoon in their own yacht.”
I made my way to where I could watch Sinclair while the physicians were in the room. I thought his face looked very noble. The narrowness of his own escape, the sympathy for me which the event, so much worse than either of us anticipated, had wakened in his generous breast, had called out all that was best in his naturally reserved and not-always-to-be-understood nature. A tower of strength he was to me at that hour. I knew that mercy, and mercy only, would influence his conduct. He would be guilty of no rash or inconsiderate act. He would give this young girl a chance.
Therefore, when the physicians had pronounced the case one of apoplexy (a conclusion most natural under the circumstances), and the excitement which had held together the various groups of uneasy guests had begun to subside, it was with perfect confidence I saw him approach and address Gilbertine. She was standing fully dressed at the stair-head, where she had stopped to hold some conversation with the retiring physicians; and the look she gave him in return, and the way she moved off in obedience to his command or suggestion, assured me that he was laying plans for an interview with Dorothy. Consequently, I was quite ready to obey him when he finally stepped up to me and said:
“Go below, and if you find the library empty, as I have no doubt you will, light one gas jet, and see that the door to the conservatory is unlocked. I require a place in which to make Gilbertine comfortable while I have some words with her cousin.”
“But how will you be able to influence Miss Camerden to come down?” Somehow, the familiar name of Dorothy would not pass my lips. “Do you think she will recognise your right to summon her to an interview?”
I had never seen his lip take that firm line before, yet I had always known him to be a man of great resolution.
“But how can you reach her? She is shut up in her own room, under the care, I am told, of Mrs. Armstrong’s maid.”
“I know; but she will escape that dreadful place as soon as her feet will carry her. I shall wait in the hall till I see her come out; then I will urge her to follow me, and she will do so, attended by Gilbertine.”
“And I? Do you mean me to be present at an interview so painful — nay, so serious and so threatening? It would cut short every word you hope to hear. I— cannot ——”
“I have not asked you to. It is imperative that I should see Miss Camerden alone.” (He could not call her Dorothy, either.) “I shall ask Gilbertine to accompany us, so that appearances may be preserved. I want you to be able to inform any one who approaches the door that you saw me go in there with Miss Murray.”
“Then I am to stay in the hall?”
“If you will be so kind.”
The clock struck three.
“It is very late,” I exclaimed. “Why not wait till morning?”
“And have the whole house about our ears? No. Besides, some things will not keep an hour, a moment. I must hear what this young girl has to say in response to my questions. Remember, I am the owner of the flask whose contents killed the old woman!”
“You believe she died from swallowing that drop?”
I said no more, but hastened downstairs to do his bidding.
I found the lower hall partly lighted, but none of the rooms.
Entering the library, I lit the gas as Sinclair had requested. Then I tried the conservatory door. It was unlocked. Casting a sharp glance around, I made sure that the lounges were all unoccupied, and that I could safely leave Sinclair to hold his contemplated interview without fear of interruption. Then, dreading a premature arrival on his part, I slid quickly out, and moved down the hall to where the light of the one burning jet failed to penetrate. “I will watch from here,” thought I, and entered upon the quick pacing of the floor which my impatience and the overwrought condition of my nerves demanded.
But before I had turned on my steps more than half a dozen times, a brilliant ray coming from some half-open door in the rear caught my eye, and I stepped back to see if any one was sharing my watch. In doing so I came upon the little spiral staircase which, earlier in the evening, Sinclair had heard creak under some unknown footstep. Had this footstep been Dorothy’s, and if so, what had brought her into this remote portion of the house? Fear? Anguish? Remorse? A flying from herself or from it? I wished I knew just where she had been found by the two young persons who had brought her back into her aunt’s room. No one had volunteered the information, and I had not seen the moment when I felt myself in a position to demand it.
Proceeding further, I stood amazed at my own forgetfulness. The light which had attracted my attention came from the room devoted to the display of Miss Murray’s wedding-gifts. This I should have known instantly, having had a hand in their arrangement. But all my faculties were dulled that night, save such as responded to dread and horror. Before going back I paused to look at the detective whose business it was to guard the room. He was sitting very quietly at his post, and if he saw me he did not look up. Strange that I had forgotten this man when keeping my own vigil above. I doubted if Sinclair had remembered him either. Yet he must have been unconsciously sharing our watch from start to finish — must even have heard the cry as only a waking man could hear it. Should I ask him if this was so? No. Perhaps I had not the courage to hear his answer.
Shortly after my return into the main hall I heard steps on the grand staircase. Looking up, I saw the two girls descending, followed by Sinclair. He had been successful, then, in inducing Dorothy to come down. What would be the result? Could I stand the suspense of the impending interview?
As they stepped within the rays of the solitary gas jet already mentioned, I cast one quick look into Gilbertine’s face, then a long one into Dorothy’s. I could read neither. If it was horror and horror only which rendered both so pale and fixed of feature, then their emotion was similar in character and intensity. But if in either breast the one dominant sentiment was fear — horrible, blood-curdling fear — then was that fear confined to Dorothy; for while Gilbertine advanced bravely, Dorothy’s steps lagged, and at the point where she should have turned into the library, she whirled sharply about, and made as if she would fly back upstairs.
But one stare from Gilbertine, one word from Sinclair, recalled her to herself, and she passed in, and the door closed upon the three. I was left to prevent possible intrusion, and to eat out my heart in intolerable suspense.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09