eBooks Cube
 
XLIV


Lucy Crosby was dead. One moment she was of the quick, moving
about the house, glancing in at David, having Minnie in the kitchen
pin and unpin her veil; and the next she was still and infinitely
mysterious, on her white bed. She had fallen outside the door of
David's room, and lay there, her arms still full of fresh bath
towels, and a fixed and intense look in her eyes, as though, outside
the door, she had come face to face with a messenger who bore
surprising news. Doctor Reynolds, running up the stairs, found her
there dead, and closed the door into David's room.

But David knew before they told him. He waited until they had
placed her on her bed, had closed her eyes and drawn a white
coverlet over her, and then he went in alone, and sat down beside
her, and put a hand over her chilling one.

"If you are still here, Lucy," he said, "and have not yet gone on,
I want you to carry this with you. We are all right, here.
Everybody is all right. You are not to worry."

After a time he went back to his room and got his prayer-book.
He could hear Harrison Miller's voice soothing Minnie in the lower
hall, and Reynolds at the telephone. He went back into the quiet
chamber, and opening the prayer-book, began to read aloud.

"Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits
of them that slept - "

His voice tightened. He put his head down on the side of the bed.

He was very docile that day. He moved obediently from his room for
the awful aftermath of a death, for the sweeping and dusting and
clean curtains, and sat in Dick's room, not reading, not even
praying, a lonely yet indomitable old figure. When his friends
came, elderly men who creaked in and tried to reduce their robust
voices to a decorous whisper, he shook hands with them and made
brief, courteous replies. Then he lapsed into silence. They felt
shut off and uncomfortable, and creaked out again.

Only once did he seem shaken. That was when Elizabeth came swiftly
in and put her arms around him as he sat. He held her close to him,
saying nothing for a long time. Then he drew a deep breath.

"I was feeling mighty lonely, my dear," he said.

He was the better for her visit. He insisted on dressing that
evening, and on being helped down the stairs. The town, which
had seemed inimical for so long, appeared to him suddenly to be
holding out friendly hands. More than friendly hands. Loving,
tender hands, offering service and affection and old-time
friendship. It moved about sedately, in dark clothes, and came
down the stairs red-eyed and using pocket-hand-kerchiefs, and it
surrounded him with love and loving kindness.

When they had all gone Harrison Miller helped him up the stairs to
where his tidy bed stood ready, and the nurse had placed his hot
milk on a stand. But Harrison did not go at once.

"What about word to Dick, David?" he inquired awkwardly, "I've
called up Bassett, but he's away. And I don't know that Dick ought
to come back anyhow. If the police are on the job at all they'll
be on the lookout now. They'll know he may try to come."

David looked away. Just how much he wanted Dick, to tide him over
these bad hours, only David knew. But he could not have him. He
stared at the glass of hot milk.

"I guess I can fight this out alone, Harrison," he said. "And Lucy
will understand."

He did not sleep much that night. Once or twice he got up and
tip-toed across the hall into Lucy's room and looked at her. She
was as white as her pillow, and quite serene. Her hands, always a
little rough and twisted with service, were smooth and rested.

"You know why he can't come, Lucy," he said once. "It doesn't
mean that he doesn't care. You have to remember that." His
sublime faith that she heard and understood, not the Lucy on the
bed but the Lucy who had not yet gone on to the blessed company
of heaven, carried him back to his bed, comforted and reassured.

He was up and about his room early. The odor of baking muffins
and frying ham came up the stair-well, and the sound of Mike
vigorously polishing the floor in the hall. Mixed with the odor
of cooking and of floor wax was the scent of flowers from Lucy's
room, and Mrs. Sayre's machine stopped at the door while the
chauffeur delivered a great mass of roses.

David went carefully down the stairs and into his office, and there,
at his long deserted desk, commenced a letter to Dick.

He was sitting there when Dick came up the street...

The thought that he was going home had upheld Dick through the days
that followed Bassett's departure for the West. He knew that it
would be a fight, that not easily does a man step out of life and
into it again, but after his days of inaction he stood ready to
fight. For David, for Lucy, and, if it was not too late, for
Elizabeth. When Bassett's wire came from Norada, "All clear," he
set out for Haverly, more nearly happy than for months. The very
rhythm of the train sang: "Going home; going home."

At the Haverly station the agent stopped, stared at him and then
nodded gravely. There was something restrained in his greeting,
like the voices in the old house the night before, and Dick felt
a chill of apprehension. He never thought of Lucy, but David...
The flowers and ribbon at the door were his first intimation, and
still it was David he thought of. He went cold and bitter, standing
on the freshly washed pavement, staring at them. It was all too
late. David! David!

He went into the house slowly, and the heavy scent of flowers
greeted him. The hall was empty, and automatically he pushed open
the door to David's office and went in. David was at the desk
writing. David was alive. Thank God and thank God, David was alive.

"David !" he said brokenly. "Dear old David !" And was suddenly
shaken with dry, terrible sobbing.

There was a great deal to do, and Dick was grateful for it. But
first, like David, he went in and sat by Lucy's bed alone and talked
to her. Not aloud, as David did, but still with that same queer
conviction that she heard. He told her he was free, and that she
need not worry about David, that he was there now to look after him;
and he asked her, if she could, to help him with Elizabeth. Then
he kissed her and went out.

He met Elizabeth that day. She had come to the house, and after
her custom now went up, unwarned, to David's room. She found David
there and Harrison Miller, and - it was a moment before she realized
it - Dick by the mantel. He was greatly changed. She saw that.
But she had no feeling of pity, nor even of undue surprise. She
felt nothing at all. It gave her a curious, almost hard little
sense of triumph to see that he had gone pale. She marched up to
him and held out her hand, mindful of the eyes on her.

"I'm so very sorry, Dick," she said. "You have a sad home-coming."

Then she withdrew her hand, still calm, and turned to David.

"Mother sent over some things. I'll give them to Minnie," she said,
her voice clear and steady. She went out, and they heard her
descending the stairs.

She was puzzled to find out that her knees almost gave way on the
staircase, for she felt calm and without any emotion whatever.
And she finished her errand, so collected and poised that the two
or three women who had come in to help stared after her as she
departed.

"Do you suppose she's seen him?"-

"She was in David's room. She must have."

Mindful of Mike, they withdrew into Lucy's sitting-room and closed
the door, there to surmise and to wonder. Did he know she was
engaged to Wallie Sayre? Would she break her engagement now or not?
Did Dick for a moment think that he could do as he had done, go away
and jilt a girl, and come back to be received as though nothing had
happened? Because, if he did...

To Dick Elizabeth's greeting had been a distinct shock. He had not
known just what he had expected; certainly he had not hoped to pick
things up where he had dropped them. But there was a hard
friendliness in it that was like a slap in the face. He had meant
at least to fight to win back with her, but he saw now that there
would not even be a fight. She was not angry or hurt. The barrier
was more hopeless than that.

David, watching him, waited until Harrison had gone, and went
directly to the subject.

"Have you ever stopped to think what these last months have meant
to Elizabeth? Her own worries, and always this infernal town,
talking, talking. The child's pride's been hurt, as well as her
heart."

"I thought I'd better not go into that until after - until later," he
explained. "The other thing was wrong. I knew it the moment I saw
Beverly and I didn't go back again. What was the use? But - you
saw her face, David. I think she doesn't even care enough to hate me."

"She's cared enough to engage herself to Wallace Sayre!"

After one astounded glance Dick laughed bitterly.

"That looks as though she cared!" he said. He had gone very white.
After a time, as David sat silent and thoughtful, he said: "After
all, what right had I to expect anything else? When you think that,
a few days ago, I was actually shaken at the thought of seeing
another woman, you can hardly blame her."

"She waited a long time."

Later Dick made what was a difficult confession under the
circumstances.

"I know now - I think I knew all along, but the other thing was
like that craving for liquor I told you about - I know now that
she has always been the one woman. You'll understand that, perhaps,
but she wouldn't. I would crawl on my knees to make her believe it,
but it's too late. Everything's too late," he added.

Before the hour for the services he went in again and sat by Lucy's
bed, but she who had given him wise counsel so many times before
lay in her majestic peace, surrounded by flowers and infinitely
removed. Yet she gave him something. Something of her own peace.
Once more, as on the night she had stood at the kitchen door and
watched him disappear in the darkness, there came the tug of the
old familiar things, the home sense. Not only David now, but the
house. The faded carpet on the stairs, the old self-rocker Lucy
had loved, the creaking faucets in the bathroom, Mike and Minnie,
the laboratory, - united in their shabby strength, they were home
to him. They had come back, never to be lost again. Home.

Then, little by little, they carried their claim further. They
were not only home. They were the setting of a dream, long
forgotten but now vivid in his mind, and a refuge from the dreary
present. That dream had seen Elizabeth enshrined among the old
familiar things; the old house was to be a sanctuary for her and
for him. From it and from her in the dream he was to go out in
the morning; to it and to her he was to come home at night, after
he had done a man's work.

The dream faded. Before him rose her face of the morning,
impassive and cool; her eyes, not hostile but indifferent. She
had taken herself out of his life, had turned her youth to youth,
and forgotten him. He understood and accepted it. He saw himself
as he must have looked to her, old and worn, scarred from the last
months, infinitely changed. And she was young. Heavens, how
young she was!...

Lucy was buried the next afternoon. It was raining, and the quiet
procession followed Dick and the others who carried her light body
under grotesquely bobbing umbrellas. Then he and David, and Minnie
and Mike, went back to the house, quiet with that strange emptiness
that follows a death, the unconscious listening for a voice that
will not speak again, for a familiar footfall. David had not gone
upstairs. He sat in Lucy's sitting-room, in his old frock coat and
black tie, with a knitted afghan across his knees. His throat
looked withered in his loose collar. And there for the first time
they discussed the future.

"You're giving up a great deal, Dick," David said. "I'm proud of
you, and like you I think the money's best where it is. But this
is a prejudiced town, and they think you've treated Elizabeth badly.
If you don't intend to tell the story - "

"Never," Dick announced, firmly. "Judson Clark is dead." He smiled
at David with something of his old humor. "I told Bassett to put up
a monument if he wanted to. But you're right about one thing.
They're not ready to take me back. I've seen it a dozen times in
the last two days."

"I never gave up a fight yet." David's voice was grim.

"On the other hand, I don't want to make it uncomfortable for her.
We are bound to meet. I'm putting my own feeling aside. It doesn't
matter - except of course to me. What I thought was - We might go
into the city. Reynolds would buy the house. He's going to be
married."

But he found himself up against the stone wall of David's opposition.
He was too old to be uprooted. He liked to be able to find his way
around in the dark. He was almost childish about it, and perhaps a
trifle terrified. But it was his final argument that won Dick over.

"I thought you'd found out there's nothing in running away from
trouble."

Dick straightened.

"You're right," he said. "We'll stay here and fight it out together."

He helped David up the stairs to where the nurse stood waiting,
and then went on into his own bedroom. He surveyed it for the
first time since his return with a sense of permanency and intimacy.
Here, from now on, was to center his life. From this bed he would
rise in the morning, to go back to it at night. From this room he
would go out to fight for place again, and for the old faith in him,
for confiding eyes and the clasp of friendly hands.

He sat down by the window and with the feeling of dismissing them
forever retraced slowly and painfully the last few months; the
night on the mountains, and Bassett asleep by the fire; the man
from the cabin caught under the tree, with his face looking up,
strangely twisted, from among the branches; dawn in the alfalfa
field, and the long night tramp; the boy who had recognized him
in Chicago; David in his old walnut bed, shrivelled and dauntless;
and his own going out into the night, with Lucy in the kitchen
doorway, Elizabeth and Wallace Sayre on the verandah, and himself
across the street under the trees; Beverly, and the illumination
of his freedom from the old bonds; Gregory, glib and debonair,
telling his lying story, and later on, flying to safety.
His half-brother!

All that, and now this quiet room, with David asleep beyond the
wall and Minnie moving heavily in the kitchen below, setting her
bread to rise. It was anti-climacteric, ridiculous, wonderful.

Then he thought of Elizabeth, and it became terrible.

After Reynolds came up he put on a dressing-gown and went down the
stairs. The office was changed and looked strange and unfamiliar.
But when he opened the door and went into the laboratory nothing
had been altered there. It was as though he had left it yesterday;
the microscope screwed to its stand, the sterilizer gleaming and
ready. It was as though it had waited for him.

He was content. He would fight and he would work. That was all
a man needed, a good fight, and work for his hands and brain. A
man could live without love if he had work.


He sat down on the stool and groaned.





The Breaking Point by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Category:
General Fiction

Mystery and detective stories
Nabou.com: the big site