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XX


On the seventh of June David and Lucy went to the seashore, went
by the order of various professional gentlemen who had differed
violently during the course of David's illness, but who now suddenly
agreed with an almost startling unanimity. Which unanimity was the
result of careful coaching by Dick.

He saw in David's absence his only possible chance to go back to
Norada without worry to the sick man, and he felt, too, that a
change, getting away from the surcharged atmosphere of the old
house, would be good for both David and Lucy.

For days before they started Lucy went about in a frenzy of nervous
energy, writing out menus for Minnie for a month ahead, counting
and recounting David's collars and handkerchiefs, cleaning and
pressing his neckties. In the harness room in the stable Mike
polished boots until his arms ached, and at the last moment with
trunks already bulging, came three gift dressing-gowns for David,
none of which he would leave behind.

"I declare," Lucy protested to Dick, "I don't know what's come over
him. Every present he's had since he was sick he's taking along.
You'd think he was going to be shut up on a desert island."

But Dick thought he understood. In David's life his friends had
had to take the place of wife and children; he clung to them now,
in his age and weakness, and Dick knew that he had a sense of
deserting them, of abandoning them after many faithful years.

So David carried with him the calendars and slippers, dressing-gowns
and bed-socks which were at once the tangible evidence of their
friendliness and Lucy's despair.

Watching him, Dick was certain nothing further had come to
threaten his recovery. Dick carefully inspected the mail, but no
suspicious letter had arrived, and as the days went on David's peace
seemed finally re-established. He made no more references to Johns
Hopkins, slept like a child, and railed almost pettishly at his
restricted diet.

"When we get away from Dick, Lucy," he would say, "we'll have beef
again, and roast pork and sausage."

Lucy would smile absently and shake her head.

"You'll stick to your diet, David," she would say. "David, it's
the strangest thing about your winter underwear. I'm sure you had
five suits, and now there are only three."

Or it was socks she missed, or night-clothing. And David, inwardly
chuckling, would wonder with her, knowing all the while that they
had clothed some needy body.

On the night before the departure David went out for his first short
walk alone, and brought Elizabeth back with him.

"I found a rose walking up the street, Lucy," he bellowed up the
stairs, "and I brought it home for the dinner table."

Lucy came down, flushed from her final effort over the trunks, but
gently hospitable.

"It's fish night, Elizabeth," she said. "You know Minnie's a
Catholic, so we always have fish on Friday. I hope you eat it."
She put her hand on Elizabeth's arm and gently patted it, and thus
was Elizabeth taken into the old brick house as one of its own.

Elizabeth was finding this period of her tacit engagement rather
puzzling. Her people puzzled her. Even Dick did, at times. And
nobody seemed anxious to make plans for the future, or even to
discuss the wedding. She was a little hurt about that, remembering
the excitement over Nina's.

But what chiefly bewildered her was the seeming necessity for
secrecy. Even Nina had not been told, nor Jim. She did not resent
that, although it bewildered her. Her own inclination was to shout
it from the house-tops. Her father had simply said: "I've told your
mother, honey, and we'd better let it go at that, for a while.
There's no hurry. And I don't want to lose you yet."

But there were other things. Dick himself varied. He was always
gentle and very tender, but there were times when he seemed to
hold himself away from her, would seem aloof and remote, but all
the time watching her almost fiercely. But after that, as though
he had tried an experiment in separation and failed with it, he
would catch her to him savagely and hold her there. She tried,
very meekly, to meet his mood; was submissive to his passion and
acquiescent to those intervals when he withdrew himself and sat or
stood near her, not touching her but watching her intently.

She thought men in love were very queer and quite incomprehensible.
Because he varied in other ways, too. He was boyish and gay
sometimes, and again silent and almost brooding. She thought at
those times that perhaps he was tired, what with David's work and
his own, and sometimes she wondered if he were still worrying about
that silly story. But once or twice, after he had gone, she went
upstairs and looked carefully into her mirror. Perhaps she had not
looked her best that day. Girl-like, she set great value on looks
in love. She wanted frightfully to be beautiful to him. She wished
she could look like Beverly Carlysle, for instance.

Two days before David and Lucy's departure he had brought her her
engagement ring, a square-cut diamond set in platinum. He kissed
it first and then her finger, and slipped it into place. It became
a rite, done as he did it, and she had a sense of something done that
could never be undone. When she looked up at him he was very pale.

"Forsaking all others, so long as we both shall live," he said,
unsteadily.

"So long as we both shall live," she repeated.

However she had to take it off later, for Mrs. Wheeler, it developed,
had very pronounced ideas of engagement rings. They were put on the
day the notices were sent to the newspapers, and not before. So
Elizabeth wore her ring around her neck on a white ribbon, inside
her camisole, until such time as her father would consent to announce
that he was about to lose her.

Thus Elizabeth found her engagement full of unexpected turns and
twists, and nothing precisely as she had expected. But she accepted
things as they came, being of the type around which the dramas of
life are enacted, while remaining totally undramatic herself. She
lived her quiet days, worried about Jim on occasion, hemmed table
napkins for her linen chest, and slept at night with her ring on
her finger and a sense of being wrapped in protecting love that was
no longer limited to the white Wheeler house, but now extended two
blocks away and around the corner to a shabby old brick building
in a more or less shabby yard.

They were very gay in the old brick house that night before the
departure, very noisy over the fish and David's broiled lamb chop.
Dick demanded a bottle of Lucy's home-made wine, and even David
got a little of it. They toasted the seashore, and the departed
nurse, and David quoted Robert Burns at some length and in a horrible
Scotch accent. Then Dick had a trick by which one read the date on
one of three pennies while he was not looking, and he could tell
without failing which one it was. It was most mysterious. And
after dinner Dick took her into his laboratory, and while she
squinted one eye and looked into the finder of his microscope he
kissed the white nape of her neck.

When they left the laboratory there were patients in the
waiting-room, but he held her in his arms in the office for a
moment or two, very quietly, and because the door was thin they made
a sort of game of it, and pretended she was a patient.

"How did you sleep last night?" he said, in a highly professional
and very distinct voice. Then he kissed her.

"Very badly, doctor," she said, also very clearly, and whispered,
"I lay awake and thought about you, dear."

"I'd better give you this sleeping powder." Oh, frightfully
professional, but the powder turned out to be another kiss. It
was a wonderful game.

When she slipped out into the hall she had to stop and smooth her
hair, before she went to Lucy's tidy sitting-room.





The Breaking Point by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Category:
General Fiction

Mystery and detective stories
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