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She lay in the abandonment of profound slumber, one hand under her cheek, the other hidden by the white spread Mrs. Deo had been careful to draw closely about her. Both Mr. Harper and Mr. Ransom regretted this fact, for each instinctively felt that in her hands, if not in her sleeping face, they should be able to read the story of her life. If that life had been a hard one, such as must have befallen the waif, Anitra, her hands should show it.
But her hands were covered. And so, or nearly so, was her face; the latter by her long and curling locks of whose beauty I have hitherto spoken. One cheek only was visible, and this cheek looked dark to Ransom, decidedly darker than Georgian's; but realizing that the room itself was dark, he forbore to draw the attention of the lawyer to it, or even to allow it to affect his own judgment to the extent it reasonably called for.
His first scrutiny over, Mr. Harper crossed over to his old seat against the wall. Mr. Ransom remained by the bed. And thus began their watch.
It was a long and solemn one; a tedious waiting. The gloom and quiet of the small room was so profound that both men, for all their suspense and absorption in the event they awaited, welcomed the sound of a passing whisper or the careful stepping of feet in the corridor without.
If they turned to look they could just catch the outline of each other's countenance, but this they did not often attempt. Their attention was held by the silent figure on the bed, and so motionless was this figure in the profound slumber in which it lay enchained, and so motionless were they in their increasing suspense and expectation, that time seemed to have come to a standstill in this little room. There was one break. The lips which had hitherto remained mute opened in a quiet murmur, and Mr. Harper, watching his client, saw him clutch the headboard in sudden emotion before he finally rose and, with looks still fixed on the bed, approached him with the startling announcement:
"The word she whispered was 'Love'! It must be Georgian."
Alas! the same thought struck them both. Was this a proof? Mr. Ransom flushed hotly and crept softly back to his post.
Again time seemed to stop. Then there came a cautious rap on the door, followed by the hasty retreat of the person knocking. It caused Mr. Ransom to stir slightly, but did not affect the lawyer. Suddenly the former rose with every evidence of renewed agitation. This drew Mr. Harper from his seat.
"What is it?" he cried, softly approaching the other and whispering, though after events proved that he might have spoken aloud with impunity.
Mr. Ransom pointed to her temple from which her hair had just fallen away.
"The veining here. I have often studied it. I recognize its every convolution. It is Georgian, Georgian who lies there--ah, she's stirring, waking! Let me go--"
He dragged himself from Mr. Harper's detaining hand, bent over the bed and murmured softly but with the thrilling intensity of a suffering, hoping heart, the name which at that moment meant the whole wide world to him:
Would she greet this expression with recognition and a smile? The lawyer half expected her to and stepped near enough to see, but the eyes which had opened upon the white wall in front of her stared on, and when they did turn, as they did after one halting, agonizing minute, it was in response to some movement made by Mr. Ransom and not in reply to his voice.
This sudden and unexpected overthrow of his secretly cherished hopes was terrible. As he saw her rise on one elbow and meet his gaze with one which revealed the astonishment and resentment of a wild creature suddenly entrapped, he felt, or so he afterwards declared, as if the viper which had hitherto clung cold and deathlike about his heart had suddenly sprung to life and stung him. It was the most uncanny moment of his life.
Aghast at the effect of this upon his own mind, he reeled from the room, followed by the lawyer. As they passed down the hall they heard her voice raised to a scream in uncontrollable shame and indignation. This was followed by the snap of her key in the lock.
They had made a great mistake, or so the lawyer decided when they again stood face to face in Mr. Ransom's room. That the latter made no immediate answer was no proof that he did not coincide in the other's opinion. Indeed it was only too evident that he did, for his first words, when he had controlled himself sufficiently to speak, were these:
"I should have taken your advice. In future I will. To me she is henceforth Anitra, and I shall treat her as my wife's sister. Watch if I fail. Anitra! Anitra!" He reiterated the word as if he would fix it in his mind as well as accustom his lips to it. Then he wheeled about and faced Harper, whose eyes he doubtless felt on him. "Yet I am not so thoroughly convinced as to feel absolute peace here," he admitted, striking his breast with irrepressible passion. "My good sense tells me I am a fool, but my heart whispers that the sweetness in her sleeping face was the sweetness which won me to love Georgian Hazen. That gentle sweetness! Did you note it?"
"Yes, I noted what you mention. But don't let that influence you too much. The wildest heart has its tender moments, and her dreams may have been pleasant ones."
Mr. Ransom remembered her unconscious whisper and felt stunned, silenced. The lawyer gave no evidence of observing this, but remarked quite easily and with evident sincerity:
"I am more readily affected by proof than you are. I am quite convinced myself, that our wits have been wool-gathering. There was no mistaking her look of outraged womanhood. It was not your wife who encountered your look, but the deaf Anitra. Of course, you won't believe me. Yet I advise you to do so. It would be too dreadful to find that this woman really is your wife."
"I know what I am saying. Nothing much worse could happen to you. Don't you see where the hypothesis to which you persist in clinging would land you? Should the woman in there prove to be your wife Georgian--" The lawyer stopped and, in a tone the seriousness of which could not fail to impress his agitated hearer, added quietly, "you remember what I said to you a short time ago about guilt."
"No, the word was shame. But guilt better expresses my meaning. I repeat, should the woman prove to be, not the lovely but ignorant girl she appears, but Georgian Ransom, your wife, then upon her must fall the onus of Anitra's disappearance if not of her possible death. No! you must hear me out; the time has come for plain speaking. Your wife had her reasons--we do not know what they were, but they were no common ones--for wishing this intrusive sister out of the way. Anitra, on the contrary, could have desired nothing so much as the preservation of her protector. The conclusion is not an agreeable one. Let us hope that the question it involves will never be presented for any man's consideration."
Mr. Ransom sank speechless into a chair. This last blow was an overwhelming one and he sank before it.
Mr. Harper altered his tone. He had real commiseration for his client and had provided himself with an antidote to the poison he had just so ruthlessly administered.
"Courage!" he cried. "I only wished you to see that there were worse losses to consider than that of your wife's desertion, even if that desertion took the form of suicide. There is a reason which you have forgotten for acquitting Mrs. Ransom of such criminal intentions and of accepting as your sister-in-law the woman who calls herself Anitra. Recall Mrs. Ransom's will; the general terms of which I felt myself justified in confiding to you. In it there are no provisions made for this Anitra. Had Mrs. Ransom, for any inexplicable reason, planned an exchange of identities with her sorely afflicted sister, she would have been careful to have left that sister some portion of her great fortune. But she did not remember her with a cent. This fact is very significant and should give you great comfort."
"It should, it should, in face of the other alternative you have suggested as possible. But I fear that I am past comfort. In whatever light we regard this tragedy, it all means woe and disaster to me. I have made a mess of my life and I have got to face the fact like a man." Then rising and confronting Mr. Harper with passionate intensity, he called out till the room rang again:
"Georgian is dead! You hear me, Georgian is dead!"
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