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During the next half-hour small practical tasks occupied Diane's mind and kept the thought of Derek Pruyn's arrival from becoming more than a subconscious dread. She informed the manager of her success with his mysterious young guest, and arranged that Dorothea, when she came, should spend the night with her. Then she put herself in telephonic communication, first with Mrs. Wappinger, and then with Fulton. She gave the former the intelligence that Carli had departed, and received from the latter the information that Simmons had found his master, who had been able to leave for Lakefield by the ten-five train. These steps being taken, there was nothing to do but to sit down and wait for Dorothea. Allowing thirty or forty minutes for possible delays, she calculated that the girl ought to arrive a good half-hour before her father. This would give her time to deal with each separately, clearing up misunderstandings on both sides, and preparing the way for such a meeting as would lead to mutual concessions and future peace.
Physically tired, she took off her hat and threw herself on the couch in her little sitting-room. By sheer force of will she continued to shut out Derek from her thought, concentrating all her mental faculties on the arguments and persuasions she should bring to bear on Dorothea. She had no nervousness on this account. The naughty, headstrong child that runs away from home does not get far without a realizing sense of its happy shelter. She divined that the long ride through the dark, with an unknown man, toward an unknown goal, would have already subdued Dorothea's spirits to the point where she would be only too glad to find herself dropping into familiar, feminine arms.
At eleven o'clock she got up from her couch with a vague impulse to be in a more direct attitude of welcome. At half-past eleven she went to the office to inquire of the manager how long a motor going slowly should take to reach Lakefield from New York, assuming that it had got away from the city about six o'clock. Alarmed by his reply, she begged him to keep a certain number of the servants up, and the hotel in readiness to cope with any emergency or accident, promising liberal remuneration for all unusual work. After that came another long hour of waiting. It was about half-past twelve when there was a sound of a carriage coming up the driveway. It was probably Derek; and yet there was a possibility that, the automobile having broken down, Reggie and Dorothea had been obliged to finish their journey in a humbler way than that in which they had started. Diane hurried to the terrace. The moon had disappeared, but the stars were out, and the night had grown colder. The pines surrounding the hotel shot up weirdly against the midnight sky, soughing with a low murmur, like the moan of primeval nature. Up the ascent from the main road the carriage crept wearily, while Diane's heart poured itself out in a sort of incoherent prayer that Dorothea might have arrived before her father. The horses dragged themselves to the steps, and Derek Pruyn sprang out.
Instinctively Diane fell back.
"Oh, it's you," she gasped, unable for the instant to say more.
"Yes," he returned, quickly, peering down into her face. "What news?"
"Dorothea hasn't come. The--the other person has gone."
"He went away of his own accord."
"That is, you sent him."
"Not exactly; he was willing to go. He saw he'd been doing wrong."
A porter having come from the hotel and seized Derek's valise, it was necessary for them to go in and attend to the small preliminaries of arrival. When they were finished Derek returned to Diane, who had seated herself in a wicker chair beside one of the numerous tea-tables to which a large part of the hall was given up. Under the eye of the drowsy clerk, who still kept his place at the office desk, she felt a certain sense of protection, even though the width of the hotel lay between them.
"Now, tell me," Derek said, in his quick, commanding tones; "tell me everything."
The repressed intensity of his bearing had on Diane the effect of making her more calmly mistress of herself. Quietly, and in a manner as matter-of-fact as she could make it, she told her tale from the beginning. She narrated her summons from Mrs. Wappinger, her visit to his own house, her arrangements there, her journey to Lakefield, and her interview with Carli Wappinger. Without making light of what he and Dorothea had undertaken to do, she reduced their fault to a minimum, turning it into indiscretion rather than anything more grave. She laid stress on the excellence of the young man's character, as well as on the promptness with which he had relinquished his part in the plan as soon as he saw its true nature. In spite of himself Derek began to think of the lad as of one who had sprung to his help in a moment of need, and to whom he was indebted for a service. Not until Diane ceased speaking was he able to brush this absurd impression away, in the knowledge that Dorothea, who should have arrived nearly two hours ago, was still out in the dark. That, for the moment, was the one fact to which everything else was subordinate.
"I can't understand it," he said, nervously. "If they left New York by six, or even seven, they should have been here by eleven at the latest. That would have given them time for slow going or taking a circuitous route."
He rose nervously from his seat, interviewed the clerk at the desk, went out on the terrace, listened in the silence, walked restlessly up and down, and, returning to Diane, enumerated the different possibilities that would reasonably account for the delay. Glad of this preoccupation, since it diverted thought from their more personal relations, she pointed out the wisdom of accepting whatever explanation was least grave until they knew the certainty. When he had gone out several times more, to listen on the terrace, he came back, and, resuming his seat, said, brusquely:
"You look tired. You ought to get some rest."
The tone of intimate care reached Diane's heart more directly than words of greater import.
"I would," she said, simply--"that is, I'd go to my room if I thought you'd be kind to Dorothea when she came."
"And don't you think so?"
"I think you'd want to be," she smiled, "if you knew how."
"But I shouldn't know how?"
"You see, it's a situation that calls directly for a woman; and you're so essentially a man. When Dorothea arrives, she won't be a headstrong, runaway girl; she'll be a poor little terrified child, frightened to death at what she has done, and wanting nothing so much as to creep sobbing into her mother's arms and be comforted. If you could only--"
"I'll do anything you tell me."
"It's no use telling; you have to know. It's a case in which you must act by instinct, and not by rule of thumb."
In her eagerness to have something to say which would keep conversation away from dangerous themes, she spoke exhaustively on the subject of parental tact, holding well to the thread of her topic until she perceived that he was not so much listening to what she said as thinking of her. But she had gained her point, and led him to see that Dorothea was to be treated leniently, which was sufficient for the moment.
"Now," she finished, rising, "I think I'll take your advice, and go and rest till she comes. That's my door, just opposite. I chose the room for its convenience in receiving Dorothea. You'll be sure to call me, won't you, the minute you hear the sound of wheels?"
He had sat gazing up at her, but now he, too, rose. It was a minute at which their common anxiety regarding Dorothea slipped temporarily into the background, allowing the main question at issue between them to assert itself; but it asserted itself silently. He had meant to speak, but he could only look. She had meant to withdraw, but she remained to return his look with the lingering, quiet, steady gaze which time and place and circumstance seemed to make the most natural mode of expression for the things that were vital between them. What passed thus defied all analysis of thought, as well as all utterance in language, but it was understood by each in his or her own way. To her it was the greeting and farewell of souls in different spheres, who again pass one another in space. For him it was the dumb, stifled cry of nature, the claim of a heart demanding its rightful place in another heart, the protest of love that has been debarred from its return by a cruel code of morals, a preposterous convention, grown suddenly meaningless to a woman like her and to a man like him. Something like this it would have been a relief to him to cry out, had not the strong hand of custom been upon him and forced him to say that which was far below the pressure of his yearning.
"This isn't the time to talk about what I owe you," he said, feeling the insufficiency of his words; "it's too much to be disposed of in a few phrases."
"On the contrary, you owe me nothing at all."
"We'll not dispute the point now."
"No; but I'd rather not leave you under a misapprehension. If I've done anything to-night--been of any use at all--it's been simply because I loved Dorothea--and--and--it was right. When it was in my power, I couldn't have refused to do it for any one--for any one, you understand."
"Oh yes, I understand perfectly; but any one, in the same circumstances, would feel as I do. No, not as I do," he corrected, quickly. "No one else in the world could feel--"
"I'm really very tired," she said, hurriedly; "I'll go now; but I count on you to call me."
He watched her while she glided across the room; but it was only when her door had closed and he had dropped into his seat that he was able to state to himself the fact that the mere sight of her again had demolished all the barricades he had been building in his heart against her for the last six months. They had fallen more easily than the walls of Jericho at the blast of the sacred horn. The inflection of her voice, the look from her eyes, the gestures of her hands, had dispelled them into nothingness, like ramparts of mist. But it was not that alone! He was too much a man of affairs not to give credit to the practical abilities she had shown that night. No graces of person or charms of mind or resources of courage could have called forth his admiration more effectively than this display of prosaic executive capacity. What had to be done she had done more promptly, wisely, and easily than any man could have accomplished it. She had foreseen possibilities and forestalled accident with a thoroughness which he himself could not have equalled.
"My God!" he groaned, inwardly, "what a wife she would have made for any man! How I could have loved her, if it hadn't been for--"
He stopped abruptly and leaped to his feet, looking around dazed on the great empty hail, at the end of which a porter slept in his chair, while the clerk blinked drowsily behind his desk.
"I do love her," he declared to himself. "All summer long I have uttered blasphemies. I do love her. Whatever she may have been, she shall be my wife."
Out on the terrace the cold wind was grateful, and he stood for a minute bareheaded, letting it blow over his fevered face and through his hair. It had risen during the last hour, making the pines rock slowly in the starlight and swelling their moan into deep sobs.
As Derek Pruyn paced the terrace in strained expectation he was deceived again and again into the thought that something was approaching. Now it was the champing and stamping of horses toiling up the ascent; now it was the bray and throb of the automobile; now it was the voices of men, conversing or calling or breaking into laughter. Twenty times he hastened to the steps at the end of the terrace, sure he could not have been mistaken, only to hear the earth-forces sob and sough and shout again, as if in derision of this puny, presumptuous mortal, with his evanescent joy and pain.
So another hour passed. His mind was not of the imaginative order which invents disaster in moments of suspense, so that he was able to keep his watch more patiently than many another might have done. Once he tried to smoke; but the mere scent of tobacco seemed out of place in this curious world, alive with odd psychical suggestions, and he threw the cigar away into the darkness, where its light glowed reproachfully, like a dying eye, till it went out.
It was after three when a sudden sound from the driveway struck his ear; but he had been deceived so often that he would pay it no attention. Though it seemed like the unmistakable approach of an automobile, it had seemed so before, and he would not even look round till he had reached the distant end of the terrace. When he turned he could see through the trees, and along the dark line of the avenue, the advance of the heralding light. Dorothea had come at last. She was even close upon them. In a few more seconds she would be alighting at the steps.
He hurried inside to wake the porter and warn Diane.
"She's here!" he called, rapping sharply at her door. "Please come! Quick!"
There was a response and a hurried movement from within, but he did not wait for her to appear. When she came out of her room she could see from the light thrown over the terrace that the motor had already stopped at the steps. Some one was getting out, and she could hear men's voices. Advancing to a spot midway between her room and the main entry, she stood waiting for Derek to bring her his daughter. A moment later he sprang into the light of the doorway with features white and alarmed.
"Go back!" he cried to her, with a commanding gesture. "Go back!"
"But what's the matter?"
"Go back!" he ordered, more imperiously than before.
"Oh, Derek, it's Dorothea! She's hurt. I must go to her. I will not go back."
She rushed toward the entry, but he caught her and pushed her back.
"I tell you you must go back," he repeated.
"It's Dorothea!" she cried. "She's hurt! She's killed! Let me go! She needs me!"
"It isn't Dorothea," he whispered, forcing her over the threshold of her own room and trying to close the door upon her.
"Then what is it?" she begged. "Tell me now. You're hurting me. Let me go! You're killing me."
But there was no need to say more, for the main door swung open again and the Marquis de Bienville entered, followed by a porter carrying his valise.
At his appearance Derek relinquished Diane's hands, and Diane herself was so astonished that she stepped plainly into view. Not less astonished than herself, Bienville stopped stock-still, looked at her, looked into the room behind her, looked at Derek with a long, half-amused, comprehending stare, lifted his hat gravely, and passed on.
When he had gone there was a minute of dead silence. With parted lips and awe-stricken eyes Diane gazed after him till he had spoken to the clerk at the desk and passed on into the darker recesses of the hotel. When she turned toward Derek he was smiling, with what she knew was an effort to treat the situation lightly.
"Well, this time we've given him something to talk about," he laughed, bravely.
She shrugged her shoulders and spread apart her hands with one of her habitual, fatalistic gestures.
"I don't mind. He can't do me more harm than he's done already. It's not of him that I'm thinking, but of Dorothea. She hasn't come."
"No, she hasn't come."
The fact had grown alarming, so much so as to make the incident of Bienville's appearance seem in comparison a matter of little moment. Diane remained on the threshold of her room, and Derek in the hail outside, while, for mutual encouragement, they rehearsed once more the list of predicaments in which the young people might have found themselves without serious danger.
Diane was about to withdraw, when a man ran down the hall calling:
"The telephone!--for the gentleman!"
Derek started on a run, Diane following more slowly. When she reached the office Derek had the receiver to his ear and was talking.
"Yes, Fulton. Go on. I hear.... Who has rung you up?... I didn't catch ... Miss--who? Oh, Miss Marion Grimston. Yes?... In Philadelphia, at the Hotel Belleville.... Yes; I understand... and Miss Dorothea is with her.... Good!... Did she say how she got there?... Will explain when we get back to New York to-morrow morning.... All right.... Yes, to lunch.... She said Miss Dorothea was quite well, and satisfied with her trip!... That's good.... Well, good-night, Fulton. Sorry to have kept you up."
He put up the receiver and turned to Diane.
"Did you understand?"
"Perfectly. I think I know what has happened. I can guess."
"Then, I'll be hanged if I can. What is it?"
"I'll let them tell you that themselves. I'm too tired to say anything more to-night."
She kept close to the office where the clerk was shutting books and locking drawers preparatory to closing.
"You must let me come and thank you--" he began.
"You must thank Miss Marion Grimston," she interrupted, "for any real service. All I've done for you, as you see, has been to bring you on an unnecessary journey."
"For me it has been a journey--into truth."
"I'll say good-night now. I shall not see you in the morning. You'll not forget to be very gentle with Dorothea, will you--and with him? Good-night again--good-night."
Smiling into his eyes, she ignored the hand he held out to her and slipped away into the semi-darkness as the impatient clerk began turning out the lights.
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