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"I DON'T HEAR"
The afternoon passed without further developments. Mr. Harper, who had his own imperative engagements, left on the evening train for New York, promising to return the next day in case his presence seemed indispensable to his client.
That client's final word to him had been an injunction to keep an eye on Georgian's so-called brother and to report how he had been affected by the news from Sitford; and when, in the lull following the lawyer's departure, Mr. Ransom sat down in his room to look his own position resolutely in the face, this brother and his possible connection with the confusing and unhappy incidents of this last fatal week regained that prominent place in his thoughts which the doubts engendered by the unusual character of these incidents had for a while dispelled.
What had been the hold of this strange and uncongenial man on Georgian? And was his reappearance at the same time with that of a supposedly long deceased sister simply a coincidence so startling as to appear unreal?
He had not seen Anitra again and did not propose to, unless the meeting came about in a natural way and without any show of desire on his part. If any suspicion had been awakened in the house by his peculiar conduct in the morning, he meant it to be speedily dissipated by the careful way in which he now held to his rôle of despairing husband whose only interest in the girl left on his hands was the dutiful one of a reluctant brother-in-law, who doubts the kindly feelings of his strange and unwelcome charge.
The landlady, with a delicacy he highly appreciated, cared for the young girl without making her conspicuous by any undue attention. No tidings had come in of any discovery in the mill-stream or in the river into which it ran, and there being nothing with which to feed gossip, the townsfolk who had gathered about the hotel porches gradually began to disperse, till only a few of the most persistent remained to keep up conversation till midnight.
Finally these too left and the house sank into quiet, a quiet which remained unbroken all night; for everybody, even poor Mr. Ransom, slept.
He was up, however, with the first beam entering his room. How could he tell but that news of a definite and encouraging nature awaited him? Some one might have come in early from town or river. All search had not been abandoned. There were certain persistent ones who had gone as far as Beardsley's. Some of these might have returned. He would hasten down and see. But it was only to find the office empty, and though the household presently awoke and the great front door was thrown open to all comers, no eager straggler came rushing in with the tidings he equally longed and dreaded to receive.
At half-past ten the representative of the county police called on Mr. Ransom, but with small result. Shortly after his departure, the mail came in and with it the New York papers. These he read with avidity. But they added nothing to his knowledge. Georgian's death was accepted as a fact, and the peculiarities of their history since their unfortunate wedding-day were laid bare with but little consideration for his feelings or the good name of his bride. With a sorer heart than ever, he flung the papers from him and went out to gather strength in the open air.
There was a corner of the veranda into which he had never ventured. It was likely to be a solitary one at this hour, and thither he now went. But a shock awaited him there. A lady was pacing its still damp boards. A lady who did not turn her head at his step, but whom he instantly recognized from her dress, and wilful but not ungraceful bearing, as her whom he was determined to call, nay recognize, as Anitra Hazen.
His judgment counseled retreat, but the fascination of her presence held him, and in that moment of hesitation she turned towards him and flight became impossible.
It was the first opportunity he had had of observing her features in broad daylight. The effect was a confused one. She was Georgian and she was not Georgian. Her skin was decidedly darker, her eyes more lustrous, her bearing less polished and at the same time more impassioned. She was not so tall or quite so elegantly proportioned;--or was it her rude method of dressing her hair and the awkward cut of her clothes which made the difference. He could not be sure. Resolved as he was to consider her Anitra, and excellent as his reasons were for doing so, the swelling of his heart as he met her eye roused again the old doubt and gave an unnatural tone to his voice as he advanced towards her with an impetuous utterance of her name:
She shrunk, not at the word but at his movement, which undoubtedly was abrupt; but immediately recovered herself and, meeting him half-way, cried out in the unnaturally loud tones of the very deaf:
"They don't bring my sister back. She is drowned, drowned. But you still have Anitra," she exclaimed in child-like triumph. "Anitra will be good to you. Don't forsake the poor girl. She will go where you go and be very obedient and not get angry ever again."
He felt his hair rise. Something in her look, something in her manner of making evident the indefinable barrier between them even while expressing her desire to accompany him, made such a disturbance in his brain that for the moment he no longer knew himself, nor her, nor the condition of things about him. If she saw the effect she produced, she gave no evidence of it. She had begun to smile and her smile transformed her. The wild look which was never long out of her eyes softened into a milder gleam, and dimples he had been accustomed to see around lips he had kissed and called the sweetest in the world flashed for a moment in the face before him with a story of love he dared not read, yet found it impossible to forget or see unmoved.
"What trial is this into which my unhappy fate has plunged me!" thought he. "Can reason stand it? Can I see this woman daily, hourly, and not go mad between my doubts and my love?"
His face had turned so stern that even she noticed it, and in a trice the offending dimples disappeared.
"You are angry," she pouted. "You don't want Anitra. Nod if it is so, nod and I will go away."
He did not nod; he could not. She seemed to gather courage at this, and though she did not smile again, she gave him a happy look as she said:
"I have no home now, nor any friend since sister has gone. I don't want any if I can stay with you and learn things. I want to be like sister. She was nice and wore pretty clothes. She gave me some, but I don't know where they are. I don't like this dress. It's black and all bad round the bottom where I fell into the mud."
She looked down at her dress. It showed, in spite of Mrs. Deo's effort at cleaning it, signs of her tramp through the wet lane. He looked at it too, but it was mechanically. He was debating in his mind a formidable question. Should he grasp her hand, insist that she was Georgian and demand her confidence and the truth? or should he follow the lawyer's advice and continue to accept appearances, meet her on her own ground and give her the answer called for by her lonely and forsaken position? He found after a moment's thought that he had no choice; that he could not do the first and must do the last.
"You shall come with me," said he quietly. "I will see that you have every suitable protection and care."
She surveyed him with the same unmoved inquiry burning in her eyes.
"I don't hear," said she.
He looked at her, his lips set, his eyes as inquiring as her own.
"I don't believe it," he muttered just above his breath.
The steady stare of her eyes never faltered.
"You loved sister, love me," she whispered.
He fell back from her. This was not Georgian. This was the untutored girl about whom Georgian had written to him. Everything proved it, even her hands upon which his eyes now fell. Why had he not noticed them before? He had meant to look at them the first thing. Now that he did, he saw that he might have spared himself some of the miserable uncertainties of the last few minutes. They were small and slight like Georgian's, but very brown and only half cared for. That they were cared for at all astonished him. But she soon explained that. Seeing where his eyes were fixed, she cried out:
"Don't look at my hands. I know they are not real nice like sister's. But I'm learning. She showed me how to rub them white and cut the nails. A woman did it for me the first time and I've been doing it ever since, but they don't look like hers, for all the pretty rings she bought me. Was I foolish to want the rings? I always had rings when I was with the gipsies. They were not gold ones, but I liked them. And Mother Duda liked rings too and made me one once out of beads. It was on my finger when my sister took me home with her. That is why she brought me these. She didn't think the bead one was good enough. It wasn't much like hers."
Ransom recalled the diamonds and the rich sapphires he had been accustomed to see on his bride's hand.
But this did not engage him long. Some method of communication must be found with this girl, which could be both definite and unmistakable. Feeling in his pocket, he brought out pencil and a small pad. He would write what he had to say, and was hesitating over the words with which to open this communication, when he saw her hand thrust itself between his eyes and the pad, and heard these words uttered in a resolute tone, but not without a hint of sadness:
"I cannot read. I have never been taught."
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