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The enthusiasm, the expectation in Mrs. Deo's voice were unmistakable. This good woman believed in this rescued waif of turbulent caprices and gipsy ways, and from this moment he began to believe in her too, and consequently to share some of the excitement which had now become prevalent all through the house.
His suspense was destined to be short. While he was straining his eyes to see what might be going on down the road, a small crowd of people came round the corner of the house. In their midst walked a woman with a shawl or cape over her head--a fierce and wilful figure which shook off the hand kind Mrs. Deo laid on her arm, and shrank as the great front door fell open, sending forth a flood of light which, to one less wedded to wild ways and outdoor living, promised a hospitable cheer.
"Georgian's form!" muttered Ransom involuntarily to himself. "And Georgian's face!" he felt obliged to add, as the light fell broadly across her. "But not Georgian's ways and not Georgian's nature," he impetuously finished as she slipped out of sight.
Then the mystery of the brother came rushing over him and he yielded himself again to the wonder of the situation till he was reawakened to realities by the shuffling of feet on the stairway and the raised tones of Mrs. Deo as she tried to make herself understood by her new and somewhat difficult guest. A maid followed in their wake, and from some as yet unexplored region below there rose the sound of clattering dishes.
It was a trying moment for him. He longed for another glimpse of the girl, but feared to betray his own curiosity to the two women who accompanied her. Should he be forced to allow her to enter her room unseen? Might he not better run some small risk of detection? He had escaped discovery before; wasn't it possible for him to escape it again? He finally compromised matters by first flinging his door wide open and then retreating to the other end of the room where the shadows appeared heavy enough to hide him. From this point he cast a look down the hall which was in a direct line from his present standpoint, and was fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of the girl with her face turned in his direction. Her companions, on the contrary, were standing with their backs to him, one beside the door she had just thrown open, the other at his wife's door on which she had just given a significant rap.
Such was the picture.
The girl absorbed all his attention. The shawl--a gay one with colors in it--had fallen from her head and was trailing, wet and bedraggled, over an equally bedraggled skirt. Soused with wet, her hair disheveled, and all her garments awry with the passion of her movements, she yet made his heart stand still, as, with a sullen look at those about her, she rushed into the room prepared for her use and slammed the door behind her with a quick cry of mingled rage and relief. For with all these drawbacks of manner and appearance she was the living picture of Georgian; so like her, indeed, that he could well understand now the shock which his darling received when, in the unconsciousness of possessing a living sister, she had encountered in street or store, or wherever they had first met, this living reproduction of herself.
"No wonder she became confused as to her duty," he muttered. "I even feel myself becoming confused as to mine."
"Bring me up something to eat," he now heard this latest comer shout from her doorway. "I don't want tea and I don't want soup; I want meat, meat. And I shan't go down afterward, either. I'm going to stay right here. I've seen enough of people I don't know. And of my sister too. She was cross to me because I hated the coach and wanted to walk, and she shan't come into my room till I tell her to. Don't forget; it's meat I want, just meat and something sweet. Pudding's good."
All shocking to Mr. Ransom's taste, but more so to his heart. For notwithstanding the coarseness of the expressions, the voice was Georgian's and laden with a hundred memories.
He was still struggling with the agitation of this discovery when he heard Mrs. Deo give another tap on his wife's door. This time it was unlocked and pushed softly open, and through the crack thus made some whispered orders were given. These seemed to satisfy Mrs. Deo, for she called the maid to her and together they hurried down the hall to a rear staircase, communicating with the kitchen. This was fortunate for him, for if they had turned his way he would have had to issue from his room and take open part in the excitement of the moment.
A few minutes of quiet now supervened. During these he decided that if he must keep up this watch--and nothing now could deter him from doing so--he must take a position consistent with his assumed character. Detection by Georgian was what he now feared. Whatever happened, she must not get the smallest glimpse of him or be led by any indiscretion on his part to suspect his presence under the same roof as herself. Yet he must see all, hear all that was possible to him. For this a continuance of the present conditions, an open door and no light, were positively requisite. But how avert the comment which this unusual state of things must awaken if noticed? But one expedient suggested itself. He would light a cigar and sit in the window. If questioned he would say that he was engaged in deciding how he would end the story he was writing; that such contemplation called for darkness but above all for good air; that had the weather been favorable he would have obtained the latter by opening the window; but it being so bad he could only open the door. Certain eccentricities are allowable in authors.
This settled, he proceeded to take a chair and envelope himself in smoke. With eyes fixed on the dimly-lighted vista of the hall before him, he waited. What would happen next? Would his wife reappear? No; supper was coming up. He could hear dishes rattling on the rear stairway, and in another moment saw the maid coming down the hall with a large tray in her hands. She stopped at Anitra's door, knocked, and was answered by the harsh command:
"Set it down. I'll get it for myself."
The maid set it down.
Next instant Mrs. Ransom's door opened.
"Don't be too generous with me," he heard her call softly out. "I can't eat. I'm too upset for much food. Tea," she whispered, "and some nice toast. Tell Mrs. Deo that I want nothing else. She will understand."
The maid nodded and disappeared down the hall just as a bare arm was thrust out from Anitra's door and the tray drawn in. A few minutes later the other tray came up and was carried into Mrs. Ransom's room. The contrast in the way the two trays had been received struck him as showing the difference between the two women, especially after he had been given an opportunity, as he was later, of seeing the ferocious way in which the food brought to Anitra had been disposed of.
But I anticipate. The latter tray had not yet been pushed again into the hall, and Mr. Ransom was still smoking his first cigar when he heard the lawyer's voice in the office below asking to have pen and ink placed in the small reception-room. This recalled him to the real purpose of his wife's presence in the house, and also assured him that the opportunity would soon be given him for another glimpse of her before the evening was over. It was also likely to be a full-face one, as she would have to advance several steps directly towards him before taking the turn leading to the front staircase.
He awaited the moment eagerly. The hour for signing the will had been set at nine o'clock, but it was surely long past that time now. No, the clock in the office is striking; it is just nine. Would she recognize the summons? Assuredly; for with the last stroke she lifts the latch of her door and comes out.
She has exchanged her dark dress for a light one and has arranged her hair in the manner he likes best. But he scarcely notes these changes in the interest he feels in her intentions and the manner in which she proceeds to carry out her purpose.
She does not advance at once to the staircase, but creeps first to her sister's door, where she stands listening for a minute or so in an attitude of marked anxiety. Then, with a gesture expressive of repugnance and alarm, she steps quickly forward and disappears down the staircase without vouchsafing one glance in his direction.
His vision of her as she looked in that short passage from room to staircase was momentary only, but it left him shuddering. Never before had he seen resolve burning to a white heat in the human countenance. There was something abnormal in it, taken with his knowledge of her face in its happier and more wholesome aspects. The innocent, affectionate young girl, whose soul he had looked upon as a weeded garden, had become in a moment to his eyes a suffering, determined, deeply concentrated woman of unsuspected power and purpose. A suggestion of wildness in her air added to the mysterious impression she made; an impression which rendered this instant memorable to him and set his pulses beating to a tune quite new to them. What was she going to do? Sign away all her property? Beggar her heirs for--He could not say what. No; even such a resolution could not account for her remarkable expression of concentrated will. There was in her distracted mind something of more tragic import than this; and he dared not question what; dared not even approach this woman who, less than a week before, had linked herself to him for life. The uneasy light in those fixed and gleaming eyes betrayed a reason too lightly poised. He feared any additional shock for her. Better that she should go down undisturbed to her adviser, who bore a reputation which insured a judicious use of his power. What if she were about to will away her fortune to the man she called brother? He himself had no use for her wealth. Her health and happiness were all that concerned him, and these possibly depended on her being allowed to go her own way without interference. But oh, for eyes to see into the room into which she had withdrawn with the lawyer! For eyes to see into her heart! For eyes to see into the future!
His suspense presently became so great that he could no longer control himself. Throwing up the window, he thrust his head out into the rain and felt refreshed by the icy drops falling on his face and neck. But the roar of the waterfall rang too persistently in his ears and he hastily closed the window again. There was something in the incessant boom of that tumbling water which strangely disturbed him. He could better stand suspense than that. If only the wind would bluster again. That, at least, was intermittent in its fury and gave momentary relief to thoughts strained to an unbearable tension.
Afterwards, only a short time afterwards, he wondered that he had given himself over to such extreme feeling at this especial moment. Her appearance when she came quietly back, with Mrs. Deo chatting and smiling behind her, was natural enough, and though she did not speak herself, the tenor of the landlady's remarks was such as to show that they had been conversing about old days when the two little girls used to ransack her cupboards for their favorite cookies, and when their united pranks were the talk of the town.
As they passed down the hall, Mrs. Deo garrulously remarked:
"You were never separated except on that dreadful day of the schoolhouse burning. That day you were sick and--"
"Please!" The word leaped from Georgian in terror, and she almost threw her hand against the other's mouth. "I--I can't bear it."
The good lady paused, gurgled an apology, and stooped for the tray which disfigured the sightliness of the neatly kept hall. Then, nodding towards a maid whom she had placed on watch at the extreme end of the hall, she muttered some assurances as to this woman's faithfulness, and turned away with a cordial good night. Georgian watched her go with a strange and lingering intentness, or so it seemed to Ransom; then slowly entered her room and locked the door.
The incidents of the day, so far as she was concerned, appeared to be at an end.
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