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HALF-PAST ONE IN THE MORNING
Nothing now held Mr. Ransom to his room. The two women in whose fate he was so nearly concerned, his sister-in-law and his wife, had both retired and there was no other eye he feared. Indeed, he courted an interview with the lawyer, if only it could be naturally obtained; and he had little reason to think it could not. So he went down-stairs.
In a moment he seemed to have passed from the realm of dreams to that of reality. Here was no mystery. Here was life as he knew it. Walking boldly into the office, he ran his eye over the half-dozen men who sat there and, picking out the lawyer from the rest, sauntered easily up to him and sat down.
"My name is Johnston," said he. "I'm from New York; like yourself, I believe."
The lawyer, with a twinkle in his light-blue eye, answered with a cordial nod; and in two minutes a lively conversation had begun between them on purely impersonal subjects suited to the intelligence of the crowd they were in. This did not last, however. An opportunity soon came for them to stroll off together, and presently Mr. Ransom found himself closeted with this man who he had reason to believe was the sole holder of the key to the secret which was devouring him.
A bottle of wine was on the table between them, and some cigars. As Mr. Ransom filled the two glasses, he spoke:
"I have to thank you--" he began, but saw immediately that he had made a wrong start.
"For what, Mr. Johnston?" asked the other coldly.
"For giving me this opportunity to speak alone with you," Ransom explained with a nervous gesture. "An hour of unrestrained gossip is so necessary to me after a day of hard work. Perhaps you don't know that I am an author--have been one for seven whole hours. I find it exhausting. You could give me great relief by talking a little on some foreign subject, say on the one now engrossing every one in the house, the twin ladies from New York. You were in the same coach with them. Did they quarrel and did the most wilful of the two insist on getting out at the foot of the hill and walking up through the lane?"
"I doubt if I have anything to say to Mr. Johnston on this subject," was the wary reply.
"What if he added another name to the Johnston?"
"It would make no appreciable difference. The driver is a loquacious fellow, talk to him."
Mr. Ransom felt his heart fail him. He surveyed closely the mouth which had uttered this off-hand sentence and saw that it was set in a line there was no mistaking. Little enlightenment was to be got from this man. Yet he made one more effort.
"Did my wife sign the will?" he asked. "All pretense aside, this is a very important matter to me, Mr. Harper; not on account of the money involved, but because the doing of this simple act seemed to require such an effort on her part."
"You are mistaken," was the quick reply, harshly accentuated. "She did just what she wanted to do. She was not in the least coerced, unless it was by circumstances."
"Circumstances! But that is what I mean. They seem to have been too much for her. I want to understand these circumstances."
The lawyer honored him with his first direct look.
"I don't understand them myself," said he.
Mr. Ransom set down the wineglass he had raised half-way to his lips.
"You have simply followed her orders?"
"You have said it. Your wife is a woman of much more character than you think. She has amazed me."
"She is amazing me. I am here; she is here; only a few boards separate us. But iron bars could not be more effectual. I dare not approach her door; dare not ask her to accept from me the natural protection of a lover and husband. Instinct holds me back, or her will, which may not be stronger than mine but is certainly more dominant."
"Lawyers do not believe much in instinct as a usual thing, but I should advise confidence in this one. A woman with a tremendous will like that of Mrs. Ransom should be allowed a slack tether. The day will arrive when she will come to you herself. This I have said before; I can say nothing more to you to-night."
"Then there is nothing in the will you have drawn up to show that she has lost her affection for me?"
The lawyer drained his glass.
"I have not been given permission to declare its terms," said he, when his glass was again upon the table.
"In other words, I am to know nothing," exclaimed his exasperated companion.
"Not from me."
And this ended the conversation. Ransom withdrew immediately up-stairs.
At ten o'clock he retired. The last look he cast down the hall had shown him the drowsy figure of the maid still sitting at her watch. It seemed to insure a peaceful night. But he had little expectation of sleep. Though the wind had quieted down and the rain fell with increasing gentleness, the roar of the waterfall surged through all his thoughts, which in themselves were turbulent. He did sleep, however, slept peacefully till half-past one, when he and all in the house were startled by a wild and piercing cry rising from one of the rooms. Terror was in the sound and in an instant every door was open save the two which were shut upon Georgian and her twin sister.
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