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XXXIV


The summer passed slowly. To David and Elizabeth it was a long
waiting, but with this difference, that David was kept alive by
hope, and that Elizabeth felt sometimes that hope was killing her.
To David each day was a new day, and might hold Dick. To Elizabeth,
after a time, each day was but one more of separation.

Doctor Reynolds had become a fixture in the old house, but he was
not like Dick. He was a heavy, silent young man, shy of intruding
into the family life and already engrossed in a budding affair with
the Rossiter girl. David tolerated him, but with a sort of
smouldering jealousy increased by the fact that he had introduced
innovations David resented; had for instance moved Dick's desk
nearer the window, and instead of doing his own laboratory work
had what David considered a damnably lazy fashion of sending his
little tubes, carefully closed with cotton, to a hospital in town.

David found the days very long and infinitely sad. He wakened
each morning to renewed hope, watched for the postman from his
upper window, and for Lucy's step on the stairs with the mail.
His first glimpse of her always told him the story. At the
beginning he had insisted on talking about Dick, but he saw that
it hurt her, and of late they had fallen into the habit of long
silences.

The determination to live on until that return which he never ceased
to expect only carried him so far, however. He felt no incentive to
activity. There were times when he tried Lucy sorely, when she felt
that if he would only move about, go downstairs and attend to his
office practice, get out into the sun and air, he would grow
stronger. But there were times, too, when she felt that only the
will to live was carrying him on.

Nothing further had developed, So tar as they knew. The search had
been abandoned. Lucy was no longer so sure as she had been that
the house was under surveillance, against Dick's possible return.
Often she lay in her bed and faced the conviction that Dick was
dead. She had never understood the talk that at first had gone on
about her, when Bassett and Harrison Miller, and once or twice the
psycho-analyst David had consulted in town, had got together in
David's bedroom. The mind was the mind, and Dick was Dick. This
thing about habit, over which David pored at night when he should
have been sleeping, or brought her in to listen to, with an air of
triumphant vindication, meant nothing to her.

A man properly trained in right habits of thinking and of action
could not think wrong and go wrong, David argued. He even went
further. He said that love was a habit, and that love would bring
Dick back to him. That he could not forget them.

She believed that, of course, if he still lived. But hadn't Mr.
Bassett, who seemed so curiously mixed in the affair, been out
again to Norada without result? No, it was all over, and she felt
that it would be a comfort to know where he lay, and to bring him
back to some well-loved and tended grave.

Elizabeth came often to see them. She looked much the same as ever,
although she was very slender and her smile rather strained, and
she and David would have long talks together. She always felt
rather like an empty vessel when she went in, but David filled her
with hope and sent her away cheered and visibly brighter to her
long waiting. She rather avoided Lucy, for Lucy's fears lay in her
face and were like a shadow over her spirit. She came across her
one day putting Dick's clothing away in camphor, and the act took
on an air of finality that almost crushed her.

So far they had kept from her Dick's real identity, but certain
things they had told her. She knew that he had gone back, in some
strange way, to the years before he came to Haverly, and that he
had temporarily forgotten everything since. But they had told her
too, and seemed to believe themselves, that it was only temporary.

At first the thought had been more than she could bear. But she
had to live her life, and in such a way as to hide her fears.
Perhaps it was good for her, the necessity of putting up a bold
front, to join the conspiracy that was to hold Dick's place in the
world against the hope of his return. And she still went to the
Sayre house, sure that there at least there would be no curious
glances, no too casual questions. She could not be sure of that
even at home, for Nina was constantly conjecturing.

"I sometimes wonder-" Nina began one day, and stopped.

"Wonder what?"

"Oh, well, I suppose I might as well go on. Do you ever think that
if Dick had gone back, as they say he has, that there might be
somebody else?"

"Another girl, you mean?"

"Yes. Some one he knew before."

Nina was watching her. Sometimes she almost burst with the drama
she was suppressing. She had been a small girl when Judson Clark
had disappeared, but even at twelve she had known something of the
story. She wanted frantically to go about the village and say to
them: "Do you know who has been living here, whom you used to
patronize? Judson Clark, one of the richest men in the world!"
She built day dreams on that foundation. He would come back, for
of course he would be found and acquitted, and buy the Sayre place
perhaps, or build a much larger one, and they would all go to
Europe in his yacht. But she knew now that the woman Leslie had
sent his flowers to had loomed large in Dick's past, and she both
hated and feared her. Not content with having given her, Nina,
some bad hours, she saw the woman now possibly blocking her
ambitions for Elizabeth.

"What I'm getting at is this," she said, examining her polished
nails critically. "If it does turn out that there was somebody,
you'd have to remember that it was all years and years ago, and
be sensible."

"I only want him back," Elizabeth said. "I don't care how he comes,
so he comes."

Louis Bassett had become a familiar figure in the village life by
that time. David depended on him with a sort of wistful confidence
that set him to grinding his teeth occasionally in a fury at his
own helplessness. And, as the extent of the disaster developed,
as he saw David failing and Lucy ageing, and when in time he met
Elizabeth, the feeling of his own guilt was intensified.

He spent hours studying the case, and he was chiefly instrumental
in sending Harrison Miller back to Norada in September. He had
struck up a friendship with Miller over their common cause, and
the night he was to depart that small inner group which was fighting
David's battle for him formed a board of strategy in Harrison's
tidy living-room; Walter Wheeler and Bassett, Miller and, tardily
taken into their confidence, Doctor Reynolds.

The same group met him on his return, sat around with expectant
faces while he got out his tobacco and laid a sheaf of papers on
the table, and waited while their envoy, laying Bassett's map on
the table, proceeded carefully to draw in a continuation of the
trail beyond the pass, some sketchy mountains, and a small square.

"I've got something," he said at last. "Not much, but enough to
work on. Here's where you lost him, Bassett." He pointed with his
pencil. "He went on for a while on the horse. Then somehow he must
have lost the horse, for he turned up on foot, date unknown, in a
state of exhaustion at a cabin that lies here. I got lost myself,
or I'd never have found the place. He was sick there for weeks, and
he seems to have stayed on quite a while after he recovered, as
though he couldn't decide what to do next."

Walter Wheeler stirred and looked up.

"What sort of condition was he in when he left?"

"Very good, they said."

"You're sure it was Livingstone?"

"The man there had a tree fall on him. He operated. I guess that's
the answer."

He considered the situation.

"It's the answer to more than that," Reynolds said slowly. "It
shows he had come back to himself. If he hadn't he couldn't have
done it."

"And after that?" some one asked.

"I lost him. He left to hike to the railroad, and he said nothing
of his plans. If I'd been able to make open inquiries I might
have turned up something, but I couldn't. It's a hard proposition.
I had trouble finding Hattie Thorwald, too. She'd left the hotel,
and is living with her son. She swears she doesn't know where
Clifton Hines is, and hasn't seen him for years."

Bassett had been listening intently, his head dropped forward.

"I suppose the son doesn't know about Hines?"

"No. She warned me. He was surly and suspicious. The Sheriff had
sent for him and questioned him about how you got his horse, and I
gathered that he thought I was a detective. When I told him I was
a friend of yours, he sent you a message. You may be able to make
something out of it. I can't. He said: `You can tell him I didn't
say anything about the other time.'"

Bassett sat forward.

"The other time?"

"He is under the impression that his mother got the horse for you
once before, about ten days before Clark escaped. At night, also."

"Not for me," Bassett said decisively. "Ten days before that I
was - " he got out his notebook and consulted it. "I was on my way
to the cabin in the mountains, where the Donaldsons had hidden Jud
Clark. I hired a horse at a livery stable."

"Could the Thorwald woman have followed you?"

"Why the devil should she do that?" he asked irritably. "She didn't
know who I was. She hadn't a chance at my papers, for I kept them
on me. If she did suspect I was on the case, a dozen fellows had
preceded me, and half of them had gone to the cabin."

"Nevertheless," he finished, "I believe she did. She or Hines
himself. There was some one on a horse outside the cabin that night."

There was silence in the room, Harrison Miller thoughtfully drawing
at random on the map before him. Each man was seeing the situation
from his own angle; to Reynolds, its medical interest, and the
possibility of his permanency in the town; to Walter Wheeler,
Elizabeth's spoiled young life; to Harrison Miller, David; and to
the reporter a conviction that the clues he now held should lead
him somewhere, and did not.

Before the meeting broke up Miller took a folded manuscript from
the table and passed it to Bassett.

"Copy of the Coroner's inquiry, after the murder," he said. "Thought
it might interest you..."

Then, for a time, that was all. Bassett, poring at home over the
inquest records, and finding them of engrossing interest, saw the
futility of saving a man who could not be found. And even Nina's
faith, that the fabulously rich could not die obscurely, began to
fade as the summer waned. She restored some of her favor to Wallie
Sayre, and even listened again to his alternating hopes and fears.

And by the end of September he felt that he had gained real headway
with Elizabeth. He had come to a point where she needed him more
than she realized, where the call in her of youth for youth, even
in trouble, was insistent. In return he felt his responsibility
and responded to it. In the vernacular of the town he had "settled
down," and the general trend of opinion, which had previously
disapproved him, was now that Elizabeth might do worse.

On a crisp night early in October he had brought her home from
Nina's, and because the moon was full they sat for a time on the
steps of the veranda, Wallie below her, stirring the dead leaves
on the walk with his stick, and looking up at her with boyish
adoring eyes when she spoke. He was never very articulate with
her, and her trouble had given her a strange new aloofness that
almost frightened him. But that night, when she shivered a little,
he reached up and touched her hand.

"You're cold," he said almost roughly. He was sometimes rather
savage, for fear he might be tender.

"I'm not cold. I think it's the dead leaves."

"Dead leaves?" he repeated, puzzled. "You're a queer girl,
Elizabeth. Why dead leaves?"

"I hate the fall. It's the death of the year."

"Nonsense. It's going to bed for a long winter's nap. That's all.
I'll bring you a wrap."

He went in, and came out in a moment with her father's overcoat.

"Here," he said peremptorily, "put this on. I'm not going to be
called on the carpet for giving you a sniffle."

She stood up obediently and he put the big coat around her. Then,
obeying an irresistible impulse, he caught her to him. He released
her immediately, however, and stepped back.

"I love you so," he stammered. "I'm sorry. I'll not do it again."

She was startled, but not angry.

"I don't like it," was all she said. And because she did not want
him to think she was angry, she sat down again. But the boy was
shaken. He got out a cigarette and lighted it, his hands trembling.
He could not think of anything to say. It was as though by that
one act he had cut a bridge behind him and on the other side lay
all the platitudes, the small give and take of their hours together.
What to her was a regrettable incident was to him a great dramatic
climax. Boylike, he refused to recognize its unimportance to her.
He wanted to talk about it.

"When you said just now that you didn't like what I did just then,
do you mean you didn't like me to do it? Or that you don't care for
that sort of thing? Of course I know," he added hastily, "you're
not that kind of girl. I - "

He turned and looked at her.

"You know I'm still in love with you, don't you, Elizabeth?"

She returned his gaze frankly.

"I don't see how you can be when you know what you do know."

"I know how you feel now. But I know that people don't go on
loving hopelessly all their lives. You're young. You've got"
- he figured quickly - "you've got about fifty-odd years to live
yet, and some of these days you'll be - not forgetting," he
changed, when he saw her quick movement. "I know you'll not forget
him. But remembering and loving are different."

"I wonder," she said, her eyes on the moon, and full of young
tragedy. "If they are, if one can remember without loving, then
couldn't one love without remembering?"

He stared at her.

"You're too deep for me sometimes," he said. "I'm not subtle,
Elizabeth. I daresay I'm stupid in lots of things. But I'm not
stupid about this. I'm not trying to get a promise, you know.
I only want you to know how things are. I don't want to know why
he went away, or why he doesn't come back. I only want you to face
the facts. I'd be good to you," he finished, in a low tone. "I'd
spend my life thinking of ways to make you happy."

She was touched. She reached down and put her hand on his shoulder.

"You deserve the best, Wallie. And you're asking for a second best.
Even that - I'm just not made that way, I suppose. Fifty years or
a hundred, it would be all the same."

"You'd always care for him, you mean?"

"Yes. I'm afraid so."

When he looked at her her eyes had again that faraway and yet
flaming look which he had come to associate with her thoughts of
Dick. She seemed infinitely removed from him, traveling her lonely
road past loving outstretched hands and facing ahead toward - well,
toward fifty years of spinsterhood. The sheer waste of it made
him shudder.

"You're cold, too, Wallie," she said gently. "You'd better go home."

He was about to repudiate the idea scornfully, when he sneezed!
She got up at once and held out her hand.

"You are very dear to feel about me the way you do" she said, rather
rapidly. "I appreciate your telling me. And if you're chilly when
you get home, you'd better take some camphor."

He saw her in, hat in hand, and then turned and stalked up the
street. Camphor, indeed! But so stubborn was hope in his young
heart that before he had climbed the hill he was finding comfort
in her thought for him.

Mrs. Sayre had been away for a week, visiting in Michigan, and he
had not expected her for a day or so. To his surprise he found
her on the terrace, wrapped in furs, and evidently waiting for him.

"I wasn't enjoying it," she explained, when he had kissed her.
"It's a summer place, not heated to amount to anything, and when
it turned cold - where have you been to-night?"

"Dined at the Wards', and then took Elizabeth home."

"How is she?"

"She's all right."

"And there's no news?"

He knew her very well, and he saw then that she was laboring under
suppressed excitement.

"What's the matter, mother? You're worried about something, aren't
you?"

"I have something to tell you. We'd better go inside." He followed
her in, unexcited and half smiling. Her world was a small one, of
minor domestic difficulties, of not unfriendly gossip, of occasional
money problems, investments and what not. He had seen her hands
tremble over a matter of a poorly served dinner. So he went into
the house, closed the terrace window and followed her to the library.
When she closed the door he recognized her old tactics when the
servants were in question.

"Well?" he inquired. "I suppose - " Then he saw her face.
"Sorry, mother. What's the trouble?"

"Wallie, I saw Dick Livingstone in Chicago."





The Breaking Point by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Category:
General Fiction

Mystery and detective stories
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