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XLV


One thing Dick knew must be done and got over with. He would have
to see Elizabeth and tell her the story. He knew it would do no
good, but she had a right to the fullest explanation he could give
her. She did not love him, but it was intolerable that she should
hate him.

He meant, however, to make no case for himself. He would have to
stand on the facts. This thing had happened to him; the storm had
come, wrought its havoc and passed; he was back, to start again as
nearly as he could where he had left off. That was all.

He went to the Wheeler house the next night, passing the door twice
before he turned in and rang the bell, in order that his voice might
be calm and his demeanor unshaken. But the fact that Micky, waiting
on the porch, knew him and broke into yelps of happiness and ecstatic
wriggling almost lost him his self-control.

Walter Wheeler opened the door and admitted him.

"I thought you might come," he said. "Come in."

There was no particular warmth in his voice, but no unfriendliness.
He stood by gravely while Dick took off his overcoat, and then led
the way into the library.

"I'd better tell you at once," he said, "that I have advised
Elizabeth to see you, but that she refuses. I'd much prefer - "
He busied himself at the fire for a moment. "I'd much prefer to
have her see you, Livingstone. But - I'll tell you frankly - I
don't think it would do much good."

He sat down and stared at the fire. Dick remained standing. "She
doesn't intend to see me at all?" he asked, unsteadily.

"That's rather out of the question, if you intend to remain here.
Do you?"

"Yes."

An unexpected feeling of sympathy for the tall young man on the
hearth rug stirred in Walter Wheeler's breast.

"I'm sorry, Dick. She apparently reached the breaking point a week
or two ago. She knew you had been here and hadn't seen her, for
one thing." He hesitated. "You've heard of her engagement?"

"Yes."

"I didn't want it," her father said drearily. "I suppose she knows
her own business, but the thing's done. She sent you a message," he
added after a pause. "She's glad it's cleared up and I believe you
are not to allow her to drive you away. She thinks David needs you."

"Thank you. I'll have to stay, as she says."

There was another uncomfortable silence. Then Walter Wheeler burst
out:

"Confound it, Dick, I'm sorry. I've fought your battles for months,
not here, but everywhere. But here's a battle I can't fight. She
isn't angry. You'll have to get her angle of it. I think it's
something like this. She had built you up into a sort of superman.
And she's - well, I suppose purity is the word. She's the essence
of purity. Then, Leslie told me this to-night, she learned from
him that you were back with the woman in the case, in New York."

And, as Dick made a gesture:

"There's no use going to him. He was off the beaten track, and he
knows it. He took a chance, to tell her for her own good. He's
fond of her. I suppose that was the last straw."

He sat still, a troubled figure, middle-aged and unhandsome, and
very weary.

"It's a bad business, Dick," he said.

After a time Dick stirred.

"When I first began to remember," he said, "I wanted whisky. I
would have stolen it, if I couldn't have got it any other way.
Then, when I got it, I didn't want it. It sickened me. This other
was the same sort of thing. It's done with."

Wheeler nodded.

"I understand. But she wouldn't, Dick."

"No. I don't suppose she would."

He went away soon after that, back to the quiet house and to David.
Automatically he turned in at his office, but Reynolds was writing
there. He went slowly up the stairs.

Ann Sayre was frankly puzzled during the next few days. She had
had a week or so of serenity and anticipation, and although things
were not quite as she would have had them, Elizabeth too impassive
and even Wallie rather restrained in his happiness, she was
satisfied. But Dick Livingstone's return had somehow changed
everything.

It had changed Wallie, too. He was suddenly a man, and not, she
suspected, a very happy man. He came back one day, for instance,
to say that he had taken a partnership in a brokerage office, and
gave as his reason that he was sick of "playing round." She rather
thought it was to take his mind off something.

A few days after the funeral she sent for Doctor Reynolds. "I
caught cold at the cemetery," she said, when he had arrived and
was seated opposite her in her boudoir. "I really did," she
protested, as she caught his eye. "I suppose everybody is sending
for you, to have a chance to talk."

"Just about."

"You can't blame us. Particularly, you can't blame me. I've got
to know something, doctor. Is he going to stay?"

"I think so. Yes."

"Isn't he going to explain anything? He can't expect just to walk
back into his practise after all these months, and the talk that's
been going on, and do nothing about it."

"I don't see what his going away has to do with it. He's a good
doctor, and a hard worker. When I'm gone - "

"You're going, are you?"

"Yes. I may live here, and have an office in the city. I don't
care for general practise; there's no future in it. I may take a
special course in nose and throat."

But she was not interested in his plans.

"I want to know something, and only you can tell me. I'm not
curious like the rest; I think I have a right to know. Has he
seen Elizabeth Wheeler yet? Talked to her, I mean?"

"I don't know. I'm inclined to think not," he added cautiously.

"You mean that he hasn't?"

"Look here, Mrs. Sayre. You've confided in me, and I know it's
important to you. I don't know a thing. I'm to stay on until the
end of the week, and then he intends to take hold. I'm in and out,
see him at meals, and we've had a little desultory talk. There is
no trouble between the two families. Mr. Wheeler comes and goes.
If you ask me, I think Livingstone has simply accepted the situation
as he found it."

"He isn't going to explain anything? He'll have to, I think, if he
expects to practise here. There have been all sorts of stories."

"I don't know, Mrs. Sayre."

"How is Doctor David?" she asked, after a pause.

"Better. It wouldn't surprise me now to see him mend rapidly."

He met Elizabeth on his way down the hill, a strange, bright-eyed
Elizabeth, carrying her head high and a bit too jauntily, and with
a sort of hot defiance in her eyes. He drove on, thoughtfully.
All this turmoil and trouble, anxiety and fear, and all that was
left a crushed and tragic figure of a girl, and two men in an old
house, preparing to fight that one of them might regain the place
he had lost.

It would be a fight. Reynolds saw the village already divided into
two camps, a small militant minority, aligned with Dick and David,
and a waiting, not particularly hostile but intensely curious
majority, who would demand certain things before Dick's
reinstatement in their confidence.

Elizabeth Wheeler was an unconscious party to the division. It was,
in a way, her battle they were fighting. And Elizabeth had gone
over to the enemy.

Late that afternoon Ann Sayre had her first real talk with Wallie
since Dick's return. She led him out onto the terrace, her
shoulders militant and her head high, and faced him there.

"I can see you are not going to talk to me," she said. "So I'll
talk to you. Has Dick Livingstone's return made any change between
Elizabeth and you?"

"No."

"She's just the same to you? You must tell me, Wallace. I've been
building so much."

She realized the change in him then more fully than ever for he
faced her squarely and without evasion.

"There's no change in her, mother, but I think you and I will both
have to get used to this: she's not in love with me. She doesn't
pretend to be."

"Don't tell me it's still that man!"

"I don't know." He took a turn or two about the terrace. "I don't
think it is, mother. I don't think she cares for anybody, that way,
certainly not for me. And that's the trouble." He faced her again.
"If marrying me isn't going to make her happy, I won't hold her to
it. You'll have to support me in that, mother. I'm a pretty weak
sister sometimes."

That appeal touched her as nothing had done for a long time. "I'll
help all I can, if the need comes," she said, and turned and went
heavily into the house.





The Breaking Point by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Category:
General Fiction

Mystery and detective stories
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