That this would be a difficult thing to do, Doris was soon to realise. Mr. Challoner continued to pass the house twice a day and the time finally came when he ventured up the walk.
Doris was in the window and saw him coming. She slipped softly out and intercepted him before he had stepped upon the porch. She had caught up her hat as she passed through the hall, and was fitting it to her head as he looked up and saw her.
“Miss Scott?” he asked.
“Yes, Mr. Challoner.”
“You know me?” he went on, one foot on the step and one still on the walk.
Before replying she closed the door behind her. Then as she noted his surprise she carefully explained:
“Mr. Brotherson, our boarder, is just recovering from typhoid. He is still weak and acutely susceptible to the least noise. I was afraid that our voices might disturb him. Do you mind walking a little way up the road? That is, if your visit was intended for me.”
Her flush, the beauty which must have struck ever him, but more than all else her youth, seemed to reconcile him to this unconventional request. Bowing, he took his foot from the step, saying, as she joined him:
“Yes, you are the one I wanted to see; that is, to-day. Later, I hope to have the privilege of a conversation with Mr. Brotherson.”
She gave him one quick look, trembling so that he offered her his arm with a fatherly air.
“I see that you understand my errand here,” he proceeded, with a grave smile, meant as she knew for her encouragement. “I am glad, because we can go at once to the point. Miss Scott,” he continued in a voice from which he no longer strove to keep back the evidences of deep feeling, “I have the strongest interest in your patient that one man can have in another, where there is no personal acquaintanceship. You who have every reason to understand my reasons for this, will accept the statement, I hope, as frankly as it is made.”
She nodded. Her eyes were full of tears, but she did not hesitate to raise them. She had the greatest desire to see the face of the man who could speak like this to-day, and yet of whose pride and sense of superiority his daughter had stood in such awe, that she had laid a seal upon the impulses of her heart, and imposed such tasks and weary waiting upon her lover. Doris forgot, in meeting his softened glance and tender, almost wistful, expression, the changes which can be made by a great grief, and only wondered why her sweet benefactress had not taken him into her confidence and thus, possibly, averted the doom which Doris felt had in some way grown out of this secrecy.
“Why should she have feared the disapproval of this man?” she inwardly queried, as she cast him a confiding look which pleased him greatly, as his tone now showed.
“When I lost my daughter, I lost everything,” he declared, as they walked slowly up the road. “Nothing excites my interest, save that which once excited hers. I am told that the deepest interest of her life lay here. I am also told that it was an interest quite worthy of her. I expect to find it so. I hope with all my heart to find it so, and that is why I have come to this town and expect to linger till Mr. Brotherson has recovered sufficiently to see me. I hope that this will be agreeable to him. I hope that I am not presuming too much in cherishing these expectations.
Doris turned her candid eyes upon him.
“I cannot tell; I do not know,” said she. “Nobody knows, not even the doctor, what effect the news we so dread to give him will have upon Mr. Brotherson. You will have to wait — we all shall have to wait the results of that revelation. It cannot be kept from him much longer. When I return, I shall shrink from his first look, in the fear of seeing it betray this dreadful knowledge. Yet I have a faithful woman there to keep every one out of his room.”
“You have had much to carry for one so young,” was Mr. Challoner’s sympathetic remark. “You must let me help you when that awful moment comes. I am at the hotel and shall stay there till Mr. Brotherson is pronounced quite well. I have no other duty now in life but to sustain him through his trouble and then, with what aid he can give, search out and find the cause of my daughter’s death which I will never admit without the fullest proof, to have been one of suicide.”
“It was not suicide,” she declared, vehemently. “I have always felt sure that it was not; but to-day I KNOW.”
Her hand fell clenched on her breast and her eyes gleamed strangely. Mr. Challoner was himself greatly startled. What had happened — what could have happened since yesterday that she should emphasise that now?
“I’ve not told any one,” she went on, as he stopped short in the road, in his anxiety to understand her. “But I will tell you. Only, not here, not with all these people driving past; most of whom know me. Come to the house later — this evening, after Mr. Brotherson’s room is closed for the night. I have a little sitting-room on the other side of the hall where we can talk without being heard. Would you object to doing that? Am I asking too much of you?”
“No, not at all,” he assured her. “Expect me at eight. Will that be too early?”
“No, no. Oh, how those people stared! Let us hasten back or they may connect your name with what we want kept secret.”
He smiled at her fears, but gave in to her humour; he would see her soon again and possibly learn something which would amply repay him, both for his trouble and his patience.
But when evening came and she turned to face him in that little sitting-room where he had quietly followed her, he was conscious of a change in her manner which forbade these high hopes. The gleam was gone from her eyes; the tremulous eagerness from her mobile and sensitive mouth. She had been thinking in the hours which had passed, and had lost the confidence of that one impetuous moment. Her greeting betrayed embarrassment and she hesitated painfully before she spoke.
“I don’t know what you will think of me,” she ventured at last, motioning to a chair but not sitting herself. “You have had time to think over what I said and probably expect something real, — something you could tell people. But it isn’t like that. It’s a feeling — a belief. I’m so sure —”
“Sure of what, Miss Scott?”
She gave a glance at the door before stepping up nearer. He had not taken the chair she preferred.
“Sure that I have seen the face of the man who murdered her. It was in a dream,” she whisperingly completed, her great eyes misty with awe.
“A dream, Miss Scott?” He tried to hide his disappointment.
“Yes; I knew that it would sound foolish to you; it sounds foolish to me. But listen, sir. Listen to what I have to tell and then you can judge. I was very much agitated yesterday. I had to write a letter at Mr. Brotherson’s dictation — a letter to her. You can understand my horror and the effort I made to hide my emotion. I was quite unnerved. I could not sleep till morning, and then — and then — I saw — I hope I can describe it.”
Grasping at a near-by chair, she leaned on it for support, closing her eyes to all but that inner vision. A breathless moment followed, then she murmured in strained monotonous tones:
“I see it again — just as I saw it in the early morning — but even more plainly, if that is possible. A hall —(I should call it a hall, though I don’t remember seeing any place like it before), with a little staircase at the side, up which there comes a man, who stops just at the top and looks intently my way. There is fierceness in his face — a look which means no good to anybody — and as his hand goes to his overcoat pocket, drawing out something which I cannot describe, but which he handles as if it were a pistol, I feel a horrible fear, and — and —” The child was staggering, and the hand which was free had sought her heart where it lay clenched, the knuckles showing white in the dim light.
Mr. Challoner watched her with dilated eyes, the spell under which she spoke falling in some degree upon him. Had she finished? Was this all? No; she is speaking again, but very low, almost in a whisper.
“There is music — a crash — but I plainly see his other hand approach the object he is holding. He takes something from the end — the object is pointed my way — I am looking into — into — what? I do not know. I cannot even see him now. The space where he stood is empty. Everything fades, and I wake with a loud cry in my ears and a sense of death here.” She had lifted her hand and struck at her heart, opening her eyes as she did so. “Yet it was not I who had been shot,” she added softly.
Mr. Challoner shuddered. This was like the reopening of his daughter’s grave. But he had entered upon the scene with a full appreciation of the ordeal awaiting him and he did not lose his calmness, or the control of his judgment.
“Be seated, Miss Scott,” he entreated, taking a chair himself. “You have described the spot and some of the circumstances of my daughter’s death as accurately as if you had been there. But you have doubtless read a full account of those details in the papers; possibly seen pictures which would make the place quite real to you. The mind is a strange storehouse. We do not always know what lies hidden within it.”
“That’s true,” she admitted. “But the man! I had never seen the man, or any picture of him, and his face was clearest of all. I should know it if I saw it anywhere. It is imprinted on my memory as plainly as yours. Oh, I hope never to see that man!”
Mr. Challoner sighed; he had really anticipated something from the interview. The disappointment was keen. A moment of expectation; the thrill which comes to us all under the shadow of the supernatural, and then — this! a young and imaginative girl’s dream, convincing to herself but supplying nothing which had not already been supplied both by the facts and his own imagination! A man had stood at the staircase, and this man had raised his arm. She said that she had seen something like a pistol in his hand, but his daughter had not been shot. This he thought it well to point out to her.
Leaning toward her that he might get her full attention, he waited till her eyes met his, then quietly asked:
“Have you ever named this man to yourself?”
She started and dropped her eyes.
“I do not dare to,” said she.
“Because I’ve read in the papers that the man who stood there had the same name as —”
“Tell me, Miss Scott.”
“As Mr. Brotherson’s brother.”
“But you do not think it was his brother?”
“I do not know.”
“You’ve never seen his brother?”
“Nor his picture?
“No, Mr. Brotherson has none.”
“Aren’t they friends? Does he never mention Orlando?”
“Very, very rarely. But I’ve no reason to think they are not on good terms. I know they correspond.”
“Yes, Mr. Challoner.”
“You must not rely too much upon your dream.”
Her eyes flashed to his and then fell again.
“Dreams are not revelations; they are the reproduction of what already lies hidden in the mind. I can prove that your dream is such.”
“How?” She looked startled.
“You speak of seeing something being leveled at you which made you think of a pistol.”
“Yes, I was looking directly into it.”
“But my daughter was not shot. She died from a stab.”
Doris’ lovely face, with its tender lines and girlish curves, took on a strange look of conviction which deepened, rather than melted under his indulgent, but penetrating gaze.
“I know that you think so; — but my dream says no. I saw this object. It was pointed directly towards me — above all, I saw his face. It was the face of one whose finger is on the trigger and who means death; and I believe my dream.”
Well, it was useless to reason further. Gentle in all else, she was immovable so far as this idea was concerned and, seeing this, he let the matter go and prepared to take his leave.
She seemed to be quite ready for this. Anxiety about her patient had regained its place in her mind and her glance sped constantly toward the door. Taking her hand in his, he said some kind words, then crossed to the door and opened it. Instantly her finger flew to her lips and, obedient to its silent injunction, he took up his hat in silence, and was proceeding down the hall, when the bell rang, startling them both and causing him to step quickly back.
“Who is it?” she asked. “Father’s in and visitors seldom come so late.”
“Shall I see?”
She nodded, looking strangely troubled as the door swung open, revealing the tall, strong figure of a man facing them from the porch.
“A stranger,” formed itself upon her lips, and she was moving forward, when the man suddenly stepped into the glare of the light, and she stopped, with a murmur of dismay which pierced Mr. Challoner’s heart and prepared him for the words which now fell shudderingly from her lips:
“It is he! it is he! I said that I should know him wherever I saw him.” Then with a quiet turn towards the intruder, “Oh, why, why, did you come here!”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09