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AT half past five that afternoon David had let himself into the
house with his latch key, hung up his overcoat on the old walnut
hat rack, and went into his office. The strain of the days before
had told on him, and he felt weary and not entirely well. He had
fallen asleep in his buggy, and had wakened to find old Nettie
drawing him slowly down the main street of the town, pursuing an
erratic but homeward course, while the people on the pavements
watched and smiled.

He went into his office, closed the door, and then, on the old
leather couch with its sagging springs he stretched himself out to
finish his nap.

Almost immediately, however, the doorbell rang, and a moment later
Minnie opened his door.

"Gentleman to see you, Doctor David."

He got up clumsily and settled his collar. Then he opened the door
into his waiting-room.

"Come in," he said resignedly.

A small, dapper man, in precisely the type of clothes David most
abominated, and wearing light-colored spats, rose from his chair
and looked at him with evident surprise.

"I'm afraid I've made a mistake. A Doctor Livingstone left his seat
number for calls at the box office of the Annex Theater last night
- the Happy Valley company - but he was a younger man. I - "

David stiffened, but he surveyed his visitor impassively from under
his shaggy white eyebrows.

"I haven't been in a theater for a dozen years, sir."

Gregory was convinced that he had made a mistake. Like Louis
Bassett, the very unlikeliness of Jud Clark being connected with
the domestic atmosphere and quiet respectability of the old house
made him feel intrusive and absurd. He was about to apologize and
turn away, when he thought of something.

"There are two names on your sign. The other one, was he by any
chance at the theater last night?"

"I think I shall have to have a reason for these inquiries," David
said slowly.

He was trying to place Gregory, to fit him into the situation;
straining back over ten years of security, racking his memory,
without result.

"Just what have you come to find out?" he asked, as Gregory turned
and looked around the room.

"The other Doctor Livingstone is your brother?"

"My nephew."

Gregory shot a sharp glance at him, but all he saw was an elderly
man, with heavy white hair and fierce shaggy eyebrows, a portly and
dignified elderly gentleman, rather resentfully courteous.

"Sorry to trouble you," be said. "I suppose I've made a mistake.
I - is your nephew at home?"

"No."

"May I see a picture of him, if you have one?"

David's wild impulse was to smash Gregory to the earth, to
annihilate him. His collar felt tight, and he pulled it away from
his throat.

"Not unless I know why you want to see it."

"He is tall, rather spare? And he took a young lady to the theater
last night?" Gregory persisted.

"He answers that description. What of it?"

"And be is your nephew?"

"My brother's son," David said steadily.

Somehow it began to dawn on him that there was nothing inimical in
this strange visitor, that he was anxious and ill at ease. There
was, indeed, something almost beseeching in Gregory's eyes, as
though he stood ready to give confidence for confidence. And, more
than that, a sort of not unfriendly stubbornness, as though he had
come to do something he meant to do.

"Sit down," he said, relaxing somewhat. "Certainly my nephew is
making no secret of the fact that he went to the theater last night.
If you'll tell me who you are - "

But Gregory did not sit down. He stood where he was, and continued
to eye David intently.

"I don't know just what it conveys to you, Doctor, but I am Beverly
Carlysle's brother."

David lowered himself into his chair. His knees were suddenly weak
under him. But he was able to control his voice.

"I see," he said. And waited.

"Something happened last night at the theater. It may be important.
I'd have to see your nephew, in order to find out if it is. I can't
afford to make a mistake."

David's ruddy color had faded. He opened a drawer of his desk and
produced a copy of the photograph of Dick in his uniform. "Maybe
this will help you."

Gregory studied it carefully, carrying it to the window to do so.
When he confronted David again he was certain of himself and his
errand for the first time, and his manner had changed.

"Yes," he said, significantly. "It does."

He placed the photograph on the desk, and sitting down, drew his
chair close to David's. "I'll not use any names, Doctor. I think
you know what I'm talking about. I was sure enough last night.
I'm certain now."

David nodded. "Go on."

"We'll start like this. God knows I don't want to make any trouble.
But I'll put a hypothetical case. Suppose that a man when drunk
commits a crime and then disappears; suppose he leaves behind him
a bad record and an enormous fortune; suppose then he reforms and
becomes a useful citizen, and everything is buried."

Doctor David listened stonily. Gregory lowered his voice.

"Suppose there's a woman mixed up in that situation. Not guiltily,
but there's a lot of talk. And suppose she lives it down, for ten
years, and then goes back to her profession, in a play the families
take the children to see, and makes good. It isn't hard to suppose
that neither of those two people wants the thing revived, is it?"

David cleared his throat.

"You mean, then, that there is danger of such a revival?" "I think
there is," Gregory said bitterly. "I recognized this man last night,
and called a fellow who knew him in the old days, Saunders, our
stage manager. And a newspaper man named Bassett wormed it out of
Saunders. You know what that means.

David heard him clearly, but as though from a great distance.

"You can see how it appears to Bassett. If he's found it, it's the
big story of a lifetime. I thought he'd better be warned."

When David said nothing, but sat holding tight to the arms of his
old chair, Gregory reached for his hat and got up.

"The thing for him to do," he said, "is to leave town for a while.
This Bassett is a hound-hog on a scent. They all are. He is
Bassett of the Times-Republican. And he took Jud - he took your
nephew's automobile license number."

Still David sat silent, and Gregory moved to the door.

"Get him away, to-night if you can."

"Thank you," David said. His voice was thick. "I appreciate your
coming."

He got up dizzily, as Gregory said, "Good-evening" and went out.
The room seemed very dark and unsteady, and not familiar. So this
was what had happened, after all the safe years! A man could work
and build and pray, but if his house was built on the sand -

As the outer door closed David fell to the floor with a crash.





The Breaking Point by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Category:
General Fiction

Mystery and detective stories
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