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XXIX


David was enjoying his holiday. He lay in bed most of the morning,
making the most of his one after-breakfast cigar and surrounded by
newspaper and magazines. He had made friends of the waiter who
brought his breakfast, and of the little chambermaid who looked
after his room, and such conversations as this would follow:

"Well, Nellie," he would say, "and did you go to the dance on the
pier last night?"

"Oh, yes, doctor."

"Your gentleman friend showed up all right, then?"

"Oh, yes. He didn't telephone because he was on a job out of town."

Here perhaps David would lower his voice, for Lucy was never far
away.

"Did you wear the flowers?"

"Yes, violets. I put one away to remember you by. It was funny
at first. I wouldn't tell him who gave them to me."

David would chuckle delightedly.

"That's right," he would say. "Keep him guessing, the young rascal.
We men are kittle cattle, Nellie, kittle cattle!"

Even the valet unbent to him, and inquired if the doctor needed a
man at home to look after him and his clothes. David was
enormously tickled.

"Well," he said, with a twinkle in his eye. "I'll tell you how I
manage now, and then you'll see. When I want my trousers pressed I
send them downstairs and then I wait in my bathrobe until they come
back. I'm a trifle better off for boots, but you'd have to knock
Mike, my hired man, unconscious before he'd let you touch them."

The valet grinned understandingly.

"Of course, there's my nephew," David went on, a little note of
pride in his voice. "He's become engaged recently, and I notice
he's bought some clothes. But still I don't think even he will
want anybody to hold his trousers while he gets into them."

David chuckled over that for a long time after the valet had gone.

He was quite happy and contented. He spent all afternoon in a
roller chair, conversing affably with the man who pushed him, and
now and then when Lucy was out of sight getting out and stretching
his legs. He picked up lost children and lonely dogs, and tried
his eye in a shooting gallery, and had hard work keeping off the
roller coasters and out of the sea.

Then, one day, when he had been gone some time, he was astonished
on entering his hotel to find Harrison Miller sitting in the lobby.
David beamed with surprise and pleasure.

"You old humbug!" he said. "Off on a jaunt after all! And the
contempt of you when I was shipped here !"

Harrison Miller was constrained and uncomfortable. He had meant
to see Lucy first. She was a sensible woman, and she would know
just what David could stand, or could not. But David did not
notice his constraint; took him to his room, made him admire the
ocean view, gave him a cigar, and then sat down across from him,
beaming and hospitable.

"Suffering Crimus, Miller," he said. "I didn't know I was homesick
until I saw you. Well, how's everything? Dick's letters haven't
been much, and we haven't had any for several days."

Harrison Miller cleared his throat. He knew that David had not
been told of Jim Wheeler's death, but that Lucy knew. He knew too
from Walter Wheeler that David did not know that Dick had gone west.
Did Lucy know that, or not? Probably yes. But he considered the
entire benevolent conspiracy an absurdity and a mistake. It was
making him uncomfortable, and most of his life had been devoted to
being comfortable.

He decided to temporize.

"Things are about the same," he said. "They're going to pave
Chisholm Street. And your Mike knocked down the night watchman
last week. I got him off with a fine."

"I hope he hasn't been in my cellar. He's got a weakness, but
then - How's Dick? Not overworking?"

"No. He's all right."

But David was no man's fool. He began to see something strange in
Harrison's manner, and he bent forward in his chair.

"Look here, Harrison," he said, "there's something the matter with
you. You've got something on your mind."

"Well, I have and I haven't. I'd like to see Lucy, David, if she's
about."

"Lucy's gadding. You can tell me if you can her. What is it? Is
it about Dick?"

"In a way, yes."

"He's not sick?"

"No. He's all right, as far as I know. I guess I'd better tell
you, David. Walter Wheeler has got some sort of bee in his bonnet,
and he got me to come on. Dick was pretty tired and - well, one or
two things happened to worry him. One was that Jim Wheeler - you'll
get this sooner or later - was in an automobile accident, and it
did for him."

David had lost some of his ruddy color. It was a moment before he
spoke.

"Poor Jim," he said hoarsely. "He was a good boy, only full of
life. It will be hard on the family."

"Yes," Harrison Miller said simply.

But David was resentful, too. When his friends were in trouble he
wanted to know about it. He was somewhat indignant and not a little
hurt. But he soon reverted to Dick.

"I'll go back and send him off for a rest," he said. "I'm as good
as I'll ever be, and the boy's tired. What's the bee in Wheeler's
bonnet?"

"Look here, David, you know your own business best, and Wheeler
didn't feel at liberty to tell me very much. But he seemed to
think you were the only one who could tell us certain things. He'd
have come himself, but it's not easy for him to leave the family
just now. Dick went away just after Jim's funeral. He left a young
chap named Reynolds in his place, and, I believe, in order not to
worry you, some letters to be mailed at intervals."

"Went where?" David asked, in a terrible voice.

"To a town called Norada, in Wyoming. Near his old home somewhere.
And the Wheelers haven't heard anything from him since the day he
got there. That's three weeks ago. He wrote Elizabeth the night
he got there, and wired her at the same time. There's been nothing
since."

David was gripping the arms of his chair with both hands, but he
forced himself to calmness.

"I'll go to Norada at once," he said. "Get a time-table, Harrison,
and ring for the valet."

"Not on your life you won't. I'm here to do that, when I've got
something to go on. Wheeler thought you might have heard from him.
If you hadn't, I was to get all the information I could and then
start. Elizabeth's almost crazy. We wired the chief of police
of Norada yesterday."

"Yes!" David said thickly. "Trust your friends to make every
damned mistake possible! You've set the whole pack on his trail."
And then he fell back in his chair, and gasped, "Open the window!"

When Lucy came in, a half hour later, she found David on his bed
with the hotel doctor beside him, and Harrison Miller in the room.
David was fighting for breath, but he was conscious and very calm.
He looked up at her and spoke slowly and distinctly.

"They've got Dick, Lucy," he said.

He looked aged and pinched, and entirely hopeless. Even after his
heart had quieted down and he lay still among his pillows, he gave
no evidence of his old fighting spirit. He lay with his eyes shut,
relaxed and passive. He had done his best, and he had failed. It
was out of his hands now, and in the hands of God. Once, as he lay
there, he prayed. He said that he had failed, and that now he was
too old and weak to fight. That God would have to take it on, and
do the best He could. But he added that if God did not save Dick
and bring him back to happiness, that he, David, was through.

Toward morning he wakened from a light sleep. The door into Lucy's
room was open and a dim light was burning beyond it. David called
her, and by her immediate response he knew she had not been sleeping.

"Yes, David," she said, and came padding in in her bedroom slippers
and wadded dressing-gown, a tragic figure of apprehension,
determinedly smiling. "What do you want?"

"Sit down, Lucy."

When she had done so he put out his hand, fumbling for hers. She
was touched and alarmed, for it was a long while since there had
been any open demonstration of affection between them. David was
silent for a time, absorbed in thought. Then:

"I'm not in very good shape, Lucy. I suppose you know that. This
old pump of mine has sprung a leak or something. I don't want you
to worry if anything happens. I've come to the time when I've got
a good many over there, and it will be like going home."

Lucy nodded. Her chin quivered. She smoothed his hand, with its
high twisted veins.

"I know, David," she said. "Mother and father, and Henry, and a
good many friends. But I need you, too. You're all I have, now
that Dick - "

"That's why I called you. If I can get out there, I'll go. And
I'll put up a fight that will make them wish they'd never started
anything. But if I can't, if I - " She felt his fingers tighten
on her hand. "If Hattie Thorwald is still living, we'll put her
on the stand. If I can't go, for any reason, I want you to see
that she is called. And you know where Henry's statement is?"

"In your box, isn't it?"

"Yes. Have the statement read first, and then have her called to
corroborate it. Tell the story I have told you - or no, I'll
dictate it to you in the morning, and sign it before witnesses.
Jake and Bill will testify too."

He felt easier in his mind after that. He had marshalled his forces
and begun his preparations for battle. He felt less apprehension
now in case he fell asleep, to waken among those he had loved long
since and lost awhile. After a few moments his eyes closed, and
Lucy went back to her bed and crawled into it.

It was, however, Harrison Miller who took the statement that morning.
Lucy's cramped old hand wrote too slowly for David's impatience.
Harrison Miller took it, on hotel stationery, covering the carefully
numbered pages with his neat, copper-plate writing. He wrote with
an impassive face, but with intense interest, for by that time he
knew Dick's story.

Never, in his orderly bachelor life, of daily papers and a flower
garden and political economy at night, had he been so close to the
passions of men to love and hate and the disorder they brought
with them.





The Breaking Point by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Category:
General Fiction

Mystery and detective stories
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