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XLVII


David was beaten; most tragic defeat of all, beaten by those he
had loved and faithfully served.

He did not rise on Christmas morning, and Dick, visiting him after
an almost untasted breakfast, found him still in his bed and
questioned him anxiously.

"I'm all right," he asserted. "I'm tired, Dick, that's all. Tired
of fighting. You're young. You can carry it on, and win. But I'll
never see it. They're stronger than we are."

Later he elaborated on that. He had kept the faith. He had run
with courage the race that was set before him. He had stayed up
at night and fought for them. But he couldn't fight against them.

Dick went downstairs again and shutting himself in his office fell
to pacing the floor. David was right, the thing was breaking him.
Very seriously now he contemplated abandoning the town, taking
David with him, and claiming his estate. They could travel then;
he could get consultants in Europe; there were baths there, and
treatments -

The doorbell rang. He heard Minnie's voice in the hail, not too
friendly, and her tap at the door.

"Some one in the waiting-room," she called.

When he opened the connecting door he found Elizabeth beyond it,
a pale and frightened Elizabeth, breathless and very still. It
was a perceptible moment before he could control his voice to speak.
Then:

"I suppose you want to see David. I'm sorry, but he isn't well
to-day. He is still in bed."

"I didn't come to see David, Dick."

"I cannot think you want to see me, Elizabeth."

"I do, if you don't mind."

He stood aside then and let her pass him into the rear office.

But he was not fooled at all. Not he. He had been enough. He
knew why she had come, in the kindness of heart. (She was so
little. Good heavens, a man could crush her to nothing!) She had
come because she was sorry for him, and she had brought forgiveness.
It was like her. It was fine. It was damnable.

His voice hardened, for fear it might be soft.

"Is this a professional visit, or a Christmas call, Elizabeth? Or
perhaps I shouldn't call you that."

"A Christmas call?"

"You know what I mean. The day of peace. The day - what do you
think I'm made of, Elizabeth? To have you here, gentle and good
and kind - "

He got up and stood over her, tall and almost threatening.

"You've been to church, and you've been thinking things over, I
know. I was there. I heard it all, peace on earth, goodwill to
men. Bosh. Peace, when there is no peace. Good will! I don't
want your peace and good will."

She looked up at him timidly.

"You don't want to be friends, then?"

"No. A thousand times, no," he said violently. Then, more gently:
"I'm making a fool of myself. I want your peace and good will,
Elizabeth. God knows I need them."

"You frighten me, Dick," she said, slowly. "I didn't come to bring
forgiveness, if that is what you mean. I came - "

"Don't tell me you came to ask it. That would be more than I can
bear."

"Will you listen to me for a moment, Dick? I am not good at
explaining things, and I'm nervous. I suppose you can see that."
She tried to smile at him. "A - a little work, a sleep, a little
love, that's life, isn't it?"

He was watching her intently.

"Work and trouble, and a long sleep at the end for which let us be
duly thankful - that's life, too. Love? Not every one gets love."

Hopelessness and despair overwhelmed her. He was making it hard
for her. Impossible. She could not go on.

"I did not come with peace," she said tremulously, "but if you don't
want it - " She rose. "I must say this, though, before I go. I
blame myself. I don't blame you. You are wrong if you think I came
to forgive you."

She was stumbling toward the door.

"Elizabeth, what did bring you?"

She turned to him, with her hand on the door knob. "I came because
I wanted to see you again."

He strode after her and catching her by the arm, turned her until
he faced her.

"And why did you want to see me again? You can't still care for me.
You know the story. You know I was here and didn't see you. You've
seen Leslie Ward. You know my past. What you don't know - "

He looked down into her eyes. "A little work, a little sleep, a
little love," he repeated. "What did you mean by that?"

"Just that," she said simply. "Only not a little love, Dick. Maybe
you don't want me now. I don't know. I have suffered so much that
I'm not sure of anything."

"Want you !" he said. "More than anything on this earth."

Bassett was at his desk in the office. It was late, and the night
editor, seeing him reading the early edition, his feet on his desk,
carried over his coffee and doughnuts and joined him.

"Sometime," he said, "I'm going to get that Clark story out of you.
If it wasn't you who turned up the confession, I'll eat it."

Bassett yawned.

"Have it your own way," he said indifferently. "You were shielding
somebody, weren't you? No? What's the answer?"

Bassett made no reply. He picked up the paper and pointed to an
item with the end of his pencil.

"Seen this?"

The night editor read it with bewilderment. He glanced up.

"What's that got to do with the Clark case?"

"Nothing. Nice people, though. Know them both."

When the night editor walked away, rather affronted, Bassett took
up the paper and reread the paragraph.

"Mr. and Mrs. Walter Wheeler, of Haverly, announce the engagement
of their daughter, Elizabeth, to Doctor Richard Livingstone."

He sat for a long time staring at it.


The End





The Breaking Point by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Category:
General Fiction

Mystery and detective stories
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