eBooks Cube
 
XXXII


David was brought home the next day, a shrivelled and aged David,
but with a fighting fire in his eyes and a careful smile at the
station for the group of friends who met him.

David had decided on a course and meant to follow it. That course
was to protect Dick's name, and to keep the place he had made in
the world open for him. Not even to Lucy had he yet breathed the
terror that was with him day and night, that Dick had reached the
breaking point and had gone back. But he knew it was possible.
Lauler had warned him against shocks and trouble, and looking back
David could see the gradually accumulating pressure against that
mental wall of Dick's subconscious building; overwork and David's
illness, his love affair and Jim Wheeler's tragedy, and coming on
top of that, in some way he had not yet learned, the knowledge that
he was Judson Clark and a fugitive from the law. The work of ten
years perhaps undone.

Both David and Lucy found the home-coming painful. Harrison Miller
rode up with them from the station, and between him and Doctor
Reynolds David walked into his house and was assisted up the stairs.
At the door of Dick's room he stopped and looked in, and then went
on, his face set and rigid. He would not go to bed, but sat in his
chair while about him went on the bustle of the return, the bringing
up of trunks and bags; but the careful smile was gone, and his
throat, now so much too thin for his collar, worked convulsively.

He had got Harrison Miller's narrative from him on the way from the
station, and it had only confirmed his suspicions.

"He had been in a stupor all day," Miller related, "and was being
cared for by a man named Bassett. I daresay that's the man Gregory
had referred to. He may have become suspicous of Bassett. I don't
know. But a chambermaid recognized him as he was making his escape,
and raised an alarm. He got a horse out of the courtyard of the
hotel, and not a sign of him has been found since."

"It wasn't Bassett who raised the alarm?"

"No, apparently not. The odd thing is that this Bassett disappeared,
too, the same night. I called up his paper yesterday, but he hasn't
shown up."

And with some small amplifications, that is all there was to it.

Before Harrison Miller and Doctor Reynolds left him to rest, David
called Lucy in, and put his plea to all of them.

"It is my hope," he said, "to carry on exactly as though Dick might
walk in to-morrow and take his place again. As I hold to my belief
in God, so I hold to my conviction that he will come back, and that
before I - before long. But our friends will be asking where he is
and what he is doing, and we would better agree on that beforehand.
What we'd better say is simply that Dick was called away on business
connected with some property in the West. They may not believe it,
but they'll hardly disprove it."

So the benevolent conspiracy to protect Dick Livingstone's name was
arranged, and from that time on the four of them who were a party
to it turned to the outside world an unbroken front of loyalty and
courage. Even to Minnie, anxious and red-eyed in her kitchen, Lucy
gave the same explanation while she arranged David's tray.

"He has been detained in the West on business," Lucy said.

"He might have sent me a postcard. And he hasn't written Doctor
Reynolds at all."

"He has been very busy. Get the sugar bowl, Minnie. He'll be back
soon, I'm sure."

But Minnie did not immediately move.

"He'd better come soon if he wants to see Doctor David," she said,
with twitching lips. "And I'll just say this, Mrs. Crosby. The
talk that's going on in this town is something awful."

"I don't want to hear it," Lucy said firmly.

She ate alone, painfully remembering that last gay little feast
before they started away. But before she sat down she did a touching
thing. She rang the bell and called Minnie.

"After this, Minnie," she said, "we will always set Doctor Richard's
place. Then, when he comes - "

Her voice broke and Minnie, scenting a tragedy but ignorant of it,
went back to her kitchen to cry into the roller towel. Her world
was gone to pieces. By years of service to the one family she had
no other world, no home, no ties. She was with the Livingstones, but
not one of them. Alone in her kitchen she felt lonely and cut off.
She thought that David, had he not been ill, would have told her.

Lucy found David moving about upstairs some time later, and when
she went up she found him sitting in Dick's room, on a stiff chair
inside the door. She stood beside him and put her hand on his
shoulder, but he did not say anything, and she went away.

That night David had a caller. All evening the bell had been
ringing, and the little card tray on the hatrack was filled with
visiting cards. There were gifts, too, flowers and jellies and
some squab from Mrs. Sayre. Lucy had seen no one, excusing
herself on the ground of fatigue, but the man who came at nine
o'clock was not inclined to be turned away.

"You take this card up to Doctor Liviugstone, anyhow," he said.
"I'll wait."

He wrote in pencil on the card, placing it against the door post to
do so, and passed it to Minnie. She calmly read it, and rather
defiantly carried it off. But she came down quickly, touched by
some contagion of expectation from the room upstairs.

"Hang your hat on the rack and go on up."

So it was that David and the reporter met, for the first time, in
David's old fashioned chamber, with its walnut bed and the dresser
with the marble top, and Dick's picture in his uniform on the mantle.

Bassett was shocked at the sight of David, shocked and alarmed. He
was uncertain at first as to the wisdom of telling his startling
story to an obviously sick man, but David's first words reassured him.

"Come in," he said. "You are the Bassett who was with Doctor
Livingstone at Norada?"

"Yes. I see you know about it."

"We know something, not everything." Suddenly David's pose deserted
him. He got up and stood very straight, searching eyes on his
visitor. "Is he living?" he asked, in a low voice.

"I think so. I'm not certain."

"Then you don't know where he is?"

"No. He got away - but you know that. Sit down, doctor. I've got
a long story to tell."

"I'll get you to call my sister first," David said. "And tell her
to get Harrison Miller. Mr. Miller is our neighbor, and he very
kindly went west when my health did not permit me to go."

While they waited David asked only one question.

"The report we have had is that he was in a stupor in the hotel,
and the doctor who saw him - you got him, I think - said he appeared
to have been drinking heavily. Is that true? He was not a
drinking man."

"I am quite sure he had not."

There was another question in David's mind, but he did not put it.
He sat, with the patience of his age and his new infirmity, waiting
for Lucy to bring Harrison Miller, and had it not been for the
trembling of his hands Bassett would have thought him calm and even
placid.

During the recital that followed somewhat later David did not move.
He sat silent, his eyes closed, his face set.

"That's about all," Bassett finished. "He had been perfectly clear
in his head all day, and it took headwork to get over the pass. But,
as I say, he had simply dropped ten years, and was back to the Lucas
trouble. I tried everything I knew, used your name and would have
used the young lady's, because sometimes that sort of thing strikes
pretty deep, but I didn't know it. He was convinced after a while,
but he was dazed, of course. He knew it, that is, but he couldn't
comprehend it.

"I was done up, and I've cursed myself for it since, but I must
have slept like the dead. I wakened once, early in the night, and
he was still sitting by the fire, staring at it. I've forgotten
to say that he had been determined all day to go back and give
himself up, and the only way I prevented it was by telling him
what a blow it would be to you and to the girl. I wakened once
and said to him, 'Better get some sleep, old man.' He did not
answer at once, and then he said, 'All right.' I was dozing off
when he spoke again. He said, 'Where is Beverly Carlysle now?
Has she married again?' 'She's revived "The Valley," and she's
in New York with it,' I told him.

"When I wakened in the morning he was gone, but he'd left a piece
of paper in a cleft stick beside me, with directions for reaching
the railroad, and - well, here it is."

Bassett took from his pocket-book a note, and passed it over to
David, who got out his spectacles with shaking hands and read it.
It was on Dick's prescription paper, with his name at the top and
the familiar Rx below it. David read it aloud, his voice husky.

"Many thanks for everything, Bassett," he read. "I don't like to
leave you, but you'll get out all right if you follow the map on
the back of this. I've had all night to think things out, and I'm
leaving you because you are safer without me. I realize now what
you've known all day and kept from me. That woman at the hotel
recognized me, and they are after me.

"I can't make up my mind what to do. Ultimately I think I'll go
back and give myself up. I am a dead man, anyhow, to all who might
have cared, but I've got to do one or two things first, and I want
to think things over. One thing you've got a right to know. I
hated Lucas, but it never entered my head to kill him. How it
happened God only knows. I don't."

It was signed "J. C."

Bassett broke the silence that followed the reading.

"I made every effort to find him. I had to work alone, you
understand, and from the west side of the range, not to arouse
suspicion. They were after me, too, you know. His horse, I heard,
worked its way back a few days ago. It's a forsaken country, and
if he lost his horse he was in it on foot and without food. Of
course there's a chance - "

His voice trailed off. In the stillness David sat, touching with
tender tremulous fingers what might be Dick's last message, and
gazing at the picture of Dick in his uniform. He knew what they
all thought, that Dick was dead and that he held his final words
in his hands, but his militant old spirit refused to accept that
silent verdict. Dick might be dead to them, but he was living.
He looked around the room defiantly, resentfully. Of all of them
he was the only one to have faith, and he was bound to a chair.
He knew them. They would sit down supinely and grieve, while time
passed and Dick fought his battle alone.

No, by God, he would not be bound to a chair. He raised himself
and stood, swaying on his shaking legs.

"You've given up," he said scornfully. "You make a few days'
search, and then you quit. It's easy to say he's dead, and so you
say he's dead. I'm going out there myself, and I'll make a search - "

He collapsed into the chair again, and looked at them with shamed,
appealing eyes. Bassett was the first to break the silence, speaking
in a carefully emotionless tone.

"I haven't given up for a minute. I've given up the search, because
he's beyond finding just now. Either he's got away, or he is - well,
beyond help. We have to go on the hypothesis that he got away, and
in that case sooner or later you'll hear from him. He's bound to
remember you in time. The worst thing is this charge against him."

"He never killed Howard Lucas," David said, in a tone of conviction.
"Harrison, read Mr. Bassett my statement to you."

Bassett took the statement home with him that night, and studied it
carefully. It explained a great deal that had puzzled him before;
Mrs. Wasson's story and David's arrival at the mountain cabin. But
most of all it explained why the Thorwald woman had sent him after
Dick. She knew then, in spite of her protests to David, that Jud
Clark had not killed Lucas.

He paced the floor for an hour or two, sunk in thought, and then
unlocked a desk drawer and took out his bankbook. He had saved a
little money. Not much, but it would carry him over if he couldn't
get another leave of absence. He thought, as he put the book away
and prepared for bed, that it was a small price to pay for finding
Clifton Hines and saving his own soul.





The Breaking Point by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Category:
General Fiction

Mystery and detective stories
Nabou.com: the big site