"THIS IS THE MOST BLESSED OF ALL YOUR CONTRADICTIONS"
THE GIRL ACROSS THE HALL
I do hate changes, but when my sister Laura, who keeps house for me, determined to move further uptown, I really had no choice in the matter but to acquiesce. I am a bachelor of long standing, and it's my opinion that the way to manage women is simply to humor their whims, and since Laura's husband died I've been rather more indulgent to her than before. Any way, the chief thing to have in one's household is peace, and I found I secured that easily enough by letting Laura do just as she liked; and as in return she kept my home comfortable and pleasant for me, I considered that honors were even. Therefore, when she decided we would move, I made no serious objection.
At least, not in advance. Had I known what apartment-hunting meant I should have refused to leave our Gramercy Park home.
But "Uptown" and "West Side" represented to Laura the Mecca of her desires, and I unsuspectingly agreed to her plans.
Then the campaign began.
Early every morning Laura scanned the papers for new advertisements. Later every morning she visited agents, and then spent the rest of the day inspecting apartments.
Then evenings were devoted to summing up the experiences of the day and preparing to start afresh on the morrow.
She was untiring in her efforts; always hopeful, and indeed positive that she would yet find the one apartment that combined all possible advantages and possessed no objectionable features.
At first I went with her on her expeditions, but I soon saw the futility of this, and, in a sudden access of independence, I declared I would have no more to do with the search. She might hunt as long as she chose; she might decide upon whatever home she chose; but it must be without my advice or assistance. I expressed myself as perfectly willing to live in the home she selected, but I refused to trail round in search of it.
Being convinced of my determination, my sister accepted the situation and continued the search by herself.
But evenings I was called upon as an advisory board, to hear the result of the day's work and to express an opinion. According to Laura it required a careful balancing of location and conveniences, of neighborhood and modern improvements before the momentous question should be decided.
Does an extra bathroom equal one block further west? Is an onyx-lined entrance greater than a buttoned hall-boy? Are palms in the hall worth more than a red velvet hand-rail with tassels?
These were the questions that racked her soul, and, sympathetically, mine.
Then the name. Laura declared that the name was perhaps the most important factor after all. A name that could stand alone at the top of one's letter paper, without the support of a street number, was indeed an achievement. But, strangely enough, such a name proved to be a very expensive proposition, and Laura put it aside with a resigned sigh.
Who does name the things, anyway? Not the man who invents the names of the Pullman cars, for they are of quite a different sort.
Well, it all made conversation, if nothing more.
"I wish you would express a preference, Otis," Laura would say, and then I would obligingly do so, being careful to prefer the one I knew was not her choice. I did this from the kindest of motives, in order to give the dear girl the opportunity which I knew she wanted, to argue against my selection, and in favor of her own.
Then I ended by being persuaded to her way of thinking, and that settled the matter for that time.
"Of course," she would say, "if you're never going to marry, but always live with me, you ought to have some say in the selection of our home."
"I don't expect to marry," I returned; "that is, I have no intention of such a thing at present. But you never can tell. The only reason I'm not married is because I've never seen the woman I wanted to make my wife. But I may yet do so. I rather fancy that if I ever fall in love, it will be at first sight, and very desperately. Then I shall marry, and hunt an apartment of my own."
"H'm," said my sister, "you seem to have a sublime assurance that the lady will accept you at first sight."
"If she doesn't, I have confidence in my powers of persuasion. But as I haven't seen her yet, you may as well go ahead with your plans for the continuation of the happy and comfortable home you make for me."
Whereupon she patted me on the shoulder, and remarked that I was a dear old goose, and that some young woman was missing the chance of her life in not acquiring me for a husband!
At last Laura decided, regarding our home, that location was the thing after all, and she gave up much in the way of red velvet and buttons, for the sake of living on one of the blocks sanctioned by those who know.
She decided on the Hammersleigh; in the early sixties, and not too far from the river.
Though not large, the Hammersleigh was one of the most attractive of the moderate-priced apartment houses in New York City. It had a dignified, almost an imposing entrance, and though the hall porter was elevator boy as well, the service was rarely complained of.
Of course dwellers in an apartment house are not supposed to know their fellow-tenants on the same floor, any more than occupants of a brown-stone front are supposed to be acquainted with their next-door neighbors. But even so, I couldn't help feeling an interest which almost amounted to curiosity concerning the young lady who lived in the apartment across the hall from our own in the Hammersleigh.
I had seen her only at a few chance meetings in the elevator or in the entrance hall, and in certain respects her demeanor was peculiar.
Of course I knew the young lady's name. She was Miss Janet Pembroke, and she lived with an old uncle whom I had never seen. Although we had been in the Hammersleigh but two weeks, Laura had learned a few facts concerning the old gentleman. It seems he was Miss Pembroke's great-uncle, and, although very wealthy, was of a miserly disposition and a fierce temper. He was an invalid of some sort, and never left the apartment; but it was said that his ugly disposition and tyrannical ways made his niece's life a burden to her. Indeed, I myself, as I passed their door, often heard the old ogre's voice raised in tones of vituperation and abuse; and my sister declared that she was not surprised that the previous tenants had vacated our apartment, for the old man's shrill voice sometimes even penetrated the thick walls. However, Laura, too, felt an interest in Miss Pembroke, and hoped that after a time she might make her acquaintance.
The girl was perhaps twenty-one or twenty-two, of a brunette type, and, though slender, was not at all fragile-looking. Her large, dark eyes had a pathetic expression, but except for this her appearance was haughty, proud, and exceedingly reserved. She had never so much as glanced at Mrs. Mulford or myself with the least hint of personal interest. To be sure, I had no reason to expect such a thing, but the truth is, I felt sorry for the girl, who must certainly lead a hard life with that dreadful old man.
Laura informed me that there was no one else in the Pembroke household except one servant, a young colored woman.
I had seen Miss Pembroke perhaps not more than a half-dozen times, and I had already observed this: if I chanced to see her as she came out of her own door or descended in the elevator, she was apparently nervously excited. Her cheeks were flushed and her expression was one of utter exasperation, as if she had been tried almost beyond endurance. If, on the other hand, I saw her as she was returning from a walk or an errand, her face was calm and serene—not smiling, but with a patient, resigned look, as of one who had her emotions under control. At either time she was beautiful. Indeed, I scarcely know which aspect seemed to me more attractive: the quivering glow of righteous indignation or the brave calm of enforced cheerfulness.
Nor had I any right to consider her attractive in either case. It is not for a man to think too personally about a woman he has never met.
But I had never before seen a face that so plainly, yet so unconsciously, showed passing emotions, and it fascinated me.
Aside from Miss Pembroke's beauty, she must be, I decided, possessed of great strength of character and great depth of feeling.
But beyond all doubt the girl was not happy, and though this was not my affair, it vaguely troubled me.
I admitted to myself, I even admitted to Laura, that I felt compassion for this young woman who seemed to be so ill-treated; but my sister advised me not to waste my sympathy too easily, for it was her opinion that the young woman was quite capable of taking care of herself, and that in all probability she held her own against her poor old uncle.
"I don't see why you assume a poor old uncle," I said, "when you know how he berates her."
"Yes, but how do I know what she may do to deserve it? Those dark eyes show a smouldering fire that seems to me quite capable of breaking into flame. I rather fancy Miss Pembroke can hold her own against any verbal onslaught of her uncle."
"Then I'm glad she can," I declared; "as she has to stand such unjust tyranny, I hope she has sufficient self-assertion to resent it. I'd rather like to see that girl in a towering rage; she must look stunning!"
"Otis," said my sister, smiling, "you're becoming altogether too deeply interested in Miss Pembroke's appearance. She is a good-looking girl, but not at all the kind we want to know."
"And why not, pray?" I inquired, suddenly irritated at my sister's tone. "I think she is quite of our own class."
"Oh, gracious, yes! I didn't mean that. But she is so haughty and moody, and I'm sure she's of a most intractable disposition. Otis, that girl is deceitful, take my word for it. I've seen her oftener than you have, and I've heard her talk."
"You have! Where?"
"Oh, just a few words now and then—in the elevator perhaps; and one day she was talking to the agent who lives on the first floor of the apartment. Tumultuous is the only word to describe her."
"H'm; she must be of a tumultuous nature if she can't control it when talking to an elevator boy or a house agent."
"Oh, I don't mean she was then; but she gave me the impression of a desperate nature, held in check by a strong will."
"Sounds interesting," I said, smiling at my sister's vehemence.
"But that's just what I don't want!" declared Laura, emphatically. "You're not to get interested in that Pembroke girl; I won't have it! If you're going to fall in love at first sight, it must be with some one more gentle and more pleasing of demeanor than our mysterious neighbor."
"But you see, I've already had my first sight of Miss Pembroke, and so——" I looked at my sister, teasingly.
"And you've already fallen in love? Oh, don't tell me that!"
"Nonsense! Of course I haven't done anything of the sort! I've seen Miss Pembroke two or three times. I admire her beauty, and I can't help thinking that she is terribly treated by that cruel uncle. She may be a termagant herself—I've no means of knowing—but as a casual observer my sympathies are with her, and I can't help feeling hard toward the old man."
"You take a perfectly ridiculous attitude," Laura responded. "Like all men you are bewitched by a pair of big dark eyes and a pathetic mouth. I tell you, in all probability that poor old man is more entitled to sympathy than that melodramatic-looking girl!"
As I have said, I always humor Laura, even in her opinions; so I only responded: "Very likely you are right, my dear," and let the subject drop. I'm a lawyer, and I'm thirty-two years old, both of which conditions have led me to the conclusion that in dealing with women acquiescence in unimportant matters is always expedient.
But we were destined to become intimately acquainted with the Pembroke household, and to have opportunities to judge for ourselves whether Miss Janet deserved our sympathy or not.
The hall boy usually brought the first morning mail to our door at about eight o'clock, and when he rang the bell it was my habit to open the door and take the letters from him myself.
One morning I did this, as usual, and stood a moment looking carelessly over the letters before I closed the door. I may as well own up that I did this partly in the hope that Miss Pembroke would appear at the opposite door, where the boy was already ringing the bell. But my hope was unfulfilled, for, with a little click, the door was pulled open, then suddenly stopped with a sharp snap by reason of a night-chain.
"Laws!" exclaimed what was unmistakably a negro girl's vice, "I nebber can 'member dat chain!"
The door was clicked shut again, and I could hear the chain slid back and released; then the door opened and the grinning face of the colored girl appeared, and the boy gave her the letters. As there was no further hope of catching a glimpse of Miss Pembroke, I went back to my breakfast.
It was perhaps half an hour later when I again opened my front door, to start for my downtown office. Laura accompanied me into the hall, as she often does and chattered a few parting inanities as we stood by the elevator. The car was rising, and as we are only on the third floor I had a half-formed intention of walking down the stairs, when the door of the other apartment flew open and Miss Pembroke ran out to meet the elevator. She was greatly excited, but not with anger, for her face was white and her eyes looked big and frightened.
Surely the word tumultuous applied to the girl now. But, it was plain to be seen that whatever caused her excitement it was something of importance. She had received a shock of some kind, and though she had herself well in hand, yet she was fairly trembling with almost uncontrollable emotion. She paid not the slightest attention to Laura or me, but clutched at the coat of an elderly gentleman who stepped out of the elevator.
"Oh, Doctor Masterson," she cried, "come in quickly, and see what is the matter with Uncle Robert! He looks so strange, and I'm afraid he's——"
She seemed suddenly to realize our presence, or perhaps she noticed the staring face of the elevator boy, for she left unfinished whatever she had been about to say, and, still clutching the doctor's coat, urged him toward her own door.
I did not presume to speak to Miss Pembroke, but I could not resist an impulse that made me say to the doctor: "If I can be of any assistance, pray call upon me."
There was no time for response—I was not even sure that the doctor heard me—but I turned back with Laura into our own apartment.
"Something has happened," I said to her, "and I think I'll wait a bit."
"Do," said my sister. "It may be that we can be of assistance to that poor girl; for if her uncle has a serious attack of any kind she will certainly want help."
I looked at Laura with admiring affection, for I saw at once that she had realized that Miss Pembroke was in serious trouble of some sort, and her true womanly heart went out to the girl, forgetting entirely her previous dislike and suspicion.
Almost immediately our door-bell rang, and, feeling sure that it was a summons in response to my offer, I opened the door myself.
Sure enough, there stood the elderly doctor, looking very much perturbed.
"You kindly offered your assistance, sir," he said, "or I should not intrude. I want immediate help. Mr. Pembroke is dead, Miss Pembroke has fainted, and their servant is so nearly in hysterics that she is of no use whatever."
Laura is always splendid in an emergency, so of course she rose to the occasion at once.
"Let me go to Miss Pembroke," she said, in her quiet, capable way. "I'm Mrs. Mulford, and this is my brother, Otis Landon. We are new-comers here, and do not know Miss Pembroke personally, but we are only too glad to do anything we can for her."
"Thank you," said the old gentleman, looking at Laura with an air of approval. "I'm Doctor Masterson, the Pembroke's family physician. I'm greatly surprised at this sudden death. I'm surprised, too, that Janet should faint away, for I have never known her to do such a thing before."
By this time we had all three crossed the hall, and were inside the Pembrokes' door, which opened into a short cross hall. On the right was the drawing-room, and here we found Miss Pembroke, who had not yet regained consciousness. She lay on a couch, and as the doctor bent over her she gave a convulsive shudder, but did not open her eyes.
"She'll be all right in a moment," said Doctor Masterson. "Janet is a plucky girl, and sound as a nut. I'll leave her in your care, Mrs. Mulford."
Laura was already hovering over the girl, and, with her intuitive womanliness, was doing exactly the right things.
The colored woman was crouched in a heap on the floor, and was rocking herself back and forth, with occasional wails.
"Stop that noise, Charlotte," commanded the doctor. "Don't make us any more trouble than we already have."
The command was not heeded, but without further comment he turned away from her, and as he beckoned to me I followed him from the room.
"I was at my wits' end," he exclaimed, "with those two women on my hands, and this dead man to look after!" As he spoke, we crossed the short hall and entered what was apparently the old gentleman's bedroom. I gazed with interest at the face of Robert Pembroke, and, save for what Doctor Masterson had told me, I should have thought I was looking at the face of a sleeping man. My first feeling was one of admiration, for the features were of classic mould, and the white hair, thick and rather long, waved back from a noble brow.
"What a handsome man!" I exclaimed involuntarily.
"Did you know him?" asked Doctor Masterson, looking at me keenly.
"No," I replied; "I've never seen him before. I've lived in this house but two weeks."
"Robert Pembroke was a handsome man," agreed the doctor, "but, with the best intentions, and with all the respect due the dead, there is little else good to be said of him. But his sudden death puzzles me greatly. I have been his physician for many years, and I should have said that he had not the least apoplectic tendency. Yet apoplexy must have caused his death—at least, so far as I can judge without a more thorough examination."
As he spoke Doctor Masterson was examining the body, and his look of bewilderment increased.
"He looks as if he were asleep," I said.
"That's just it," said the doctor. "There is no indication of a convulsive struggle or a spasm of any kind. His limbs are quietly composed, even relaxed, as if he had died in his sleep; which is not quite indicative of a stroke of apoplexy."
"Heart disease?" I suggested.
"He had no valvular trouble of the heart," said the doctor, who was continuing his examination. "He had gout, indigestion, rheumatism, and many ailments incidental to old age, but nothing organic, and I had supposed he would live many years longer to torment that poor girl in there."
"He was irascible, I know," I responded, feeling that I ought to say something.
"Irascible faintly expresses it," declared the Doctor, in a low voice; "he was cruel, domineering, tyrannical and of a brutal temper."
"And he vented it on innocent Miss Pembroke?"
"Yes; he did, though Janet is no patient Griselda. She can hold her own! I've known her to——"
Doctor Masterson ceased talking as he went on with his investigation.
A dozen questions rose to my lips, but I refrained from uttering them. Miss Pembroke's affairs were none of my business; and, too, the doctor was not definitely addressing me, but seemed rather to be talking to himself.
"Here's a key," he said, holding toward me a small bright key; "just take it for the moment, Mr. Landon, as it is doubtless an important one."
"Where was it?" I asked.
"On the bed, by Mr. Pembroke's side. It had probably been under his pillow. It looks like the key of a safety box of some sort."
I put the key in my pocket, with a pleased thought that it would give me an opportunity to speak with Miss Pembroke. Meantime I noticed that Doctor Masterson's attitude was becoming more and more that of a greatly perplexed man.
"I don't understand it," he muttered. "A man can't die without a cause. And every known cause shows its own symptom. But I find no symptoms. What can this man have died of?"
"No foul play, I hope," I observed.
"No, no; nothing of that sort! Mr. Pembroke died peacefully in his sleep. But how?"
Suddenly he straightened himself up with an air of resolve.
"Is there a doctor living in this house?" he asked.
"Yes," I answered; "there is one on the first floor. Shall I fetch him?"
"Do," said the old man. "Tell him that Doctor Masterson wishes to call him in consultation on a serious matter." I hastened on my errand, though not so rapidly as not to pause a moment to glance in at Miss Pembroke, who had recovered consciousness, and was lying quietly back on the sofa pillows, while Laura bathed her forehead with cologne. I well knew the soothing capabilities of Laura's finger-tips; and I also was not surprised to notice that the black girl had ceased her convulsive shuddering, and, though still sitting on the floor, was gazing at Laura as if fascinated.
All this I took in in a brief glance, and then ran hurriedly down the stairs in search of Doctor Post.
"Is this Doctor Post?" I asked as I entered his office.
"Yes," he replied, laying down the gloves and hat he held. Apparently, he was just about to go out, and I had fortunately arrived in time.
"Will you go up-stairs with me?" I went on. "Mr. Pembroke, on the third floor, is dead; and his physician, Doctor Masterson, is at a loss to discover the cause of his death. He sent me to ask you to join him in consultation."
"Doctor Masterson!" exclaimed Doctor Post, and I saw at once that the younger man was flattered at being called in consultation by the older and celebrated practitioner. "He wants me?" he asked, as if scarcely able to believe it.
"Yes; it is a peculiar case, and he asks your help. Will you go with me at once?"
"Certainly," and in another moment Doctor Post and I were in the elevator.
"Old Mr. Pembroke dead?" asked the boy as we entered.
"Yes," I answered briefly.
"Gee, is he? Well, I can't give him any weeps! He was sumpin fierce! He just put it all over that young loidy. Sometimes she'd come down in this elevator all to the teary, so's I 'most hadta order a consignment of weep-catchers for myself. She's a looker all right, and she sets off the house great, but she leads the dismal swamp life, an' that's right!"
I had neither time nor inclination then to reprove the boy for thus crudely expressing his opinion, for we had reached the third floor, and Doctor Post and I went at once to Robert Pembroke's bedroom.
I introduced the new-comer to his older colleague, and then turned aside while they consulted on the problem that faced them.
I was surprised that a physician of Doctor Masterson's age and experience should find it necessary to call the younger man to his aid, but as I knew little of medical men and their ways, I had no definite opinion on the subject. I felt a slight embarrassment as to my own presence in the room, but I also felt a hesitancy about returning to the drawing-room until the doctors should have reached a decision. I endeavored not to hear the low words they were speaking, but I couldn't help gathering that there was an element of mystery in Robert Pembroke's death. In order not to appear curious, I walked about the room, and idly noted its furnishings. Though not over-ornate, the appointments were comfortable and even luxurious. A great easy-chair stood by the window, which opened on an inner court, and which was in fact directly opposite the window of my own bedroom in our duplicate apartment. Near by stood a desk, open, and with its contents tidily arranged. The position of ink-stand, pen-racks and stationery proved the old gentleman to have been of methodical habits and orderly tastes. My lawyer's brain immediately darted to the conclusion that Robert Pembroke's sudden death had found him with his affairs all in order, and that his heirs, whoever they might be, would doubtless have no trouble in adjusting his estate. The dressing bureau and chiffonier presented just such an appearance as one would expect to see in the room of an elderly gentleman. While there were no fancy knick-knacks, there was a multitude of ebony-backed brushes and other toilet appurtenances. Moreover there were several bits of really good bric-a-brac, two or three bronzes, a carved silver box and some antique curios, that were evidently valuable.
Mr. Pembroke may have been quick-tempered and cruel-natured, but he rose in my opinion as I noticed the good taste displayed in the furnishing of the room. However, this might be due to Miss Pembroke's housekeeping, and it somehow pleased me to fancy that it was.
Two scraps of paper or cardboard lay on the floor near the foot of the bed. Obeying my instinct for tidiness, and really without thinking of what I was doing, I picked them up and threw them into the waste basket. As I did so, I noticed they were stubs of theater tickets. I felt a momentary surprise at this, for I had been told that Mr. Pembroke never went out of the house. However, it was quite within the possibilities that the stubs represented Miss Pembroke's attendance at the theatre, or might even have been dropped there by some caller. These matters took no definite shape in my mind, but were mere drifting thoughts, when I heard Doctor Masterson say:
"Excuse me, Mr. Landon, but may I ask you to leave Doctor Post and me by ourselves for a few moments? This affair is assuming a very serious side, and it is necessary that a professional secrecy be observed, at least for the moment."
"Certainly," I replied, greatly awed by the apprehension clearly evident on the Doctor's kindly old face. "I have no wish but to be of service in any way I may, and I'm completely at your orders."
"Thank you, Mr. Landon," returned Doctor Masterson, courteously, "I will tell you that we have to deal with a very grave situation, but I will ask you to say nothing to the people in the other room concerning it."
Leaving the two doctors to their consultation I went back into the drawing-room.
Although this room was the duplicate of our own living-room in the apartment across the hall, it presented quite a different appearance because of its richer furnishings. The simple tastes of my sister and myself did not incline us to velvet hangings and heavily upholstered furniture. Our whole room was lighter in effect, but the Pembroke drawing-room, while harmonious in coloring and design, was almost oppressive in its multitude of appointments. Tall pedestals supported large pieces of Chinese bronze. Embroidered screens made a background for high, carved chairs and inlaid tabourets. The rugs were antique and thick, the curtains conventionally draped and the pictures on the walls were paintings of value.
I instinctively felt that all of this reflected the old uncle's taste, rather than that of Miss Pembroke, for, though I had not seen her often, her general appearance had a note of modernity quite different from the atmosphere of her home.
I glanced at the girl as she sat beside Laura on the sofa. Though not a connoisseur in women's clothes, I am yet not so absurdly ignorant as many men are. Miss Pembroke wore a simple house dress of soft material and of an old rose color. There was a big black satin bow effectively attached somewhere—I can't describe its location, but it had broad streamers that fell gracefully to the floor. The simply cut garment and the soft dull color suited the girl's pale white complexion and dark hair. She was doubtless of an unusual pallor that morning, which made the thick curls clustering round her brow, and the big brown eyes seem even darker than usual.
It was late in October and a lighted gas log gave a comfortable warmth to the room.
Miss Pembroke seemed to be quite herself again, though still somewhat dazed, apparently, by what had happened. She showed no inclination to talk, but her manner was quiet and composed as she asked me to be seated. I had no wish to intrude, but I thought there might be other ways in which I could serve her, so I sat down and waited. There was an indescribable something in her manner, or rather in her appearance, that puzzled me.
I had thought her beautiful before, but in this time of sorrowful emergency there was a mysterious expression on her face that gave her an added charm. She was not pathetic or appealing in effect, but seemed to be possessed of an energy and excitement which she determinedly suppressed. She showed no sign of grief at her uncle's death, but her calmness and self-control were unmistakably the result of a strong will power. Had she been broken-hearted, but for some reason determined that no one should know it, she would have acted this same way; but it also seemed to me that had she felt a secret sense of relief, even almost of gladness, at being released from the old man's tyranny, she must have acted much the same.
Occasionally her composure was broken by a sudden, quick gesture or an abrupt, impulsive remark.
"Charlotte," she said suddenly, "why do you stay here? You may as well go to the kitchen and go on with your work."
The black girl rolled her eyes apprehensively toward Mr. Pembroke's room, as if a superstitious dread made her hesitate.
"I don't like to go off my myse'f alone, Miss Janet," she said.
"But you must, Charlotte," said Miss Pembroke nervously, but not unkindly; "you must go and clear away the breakfast things."
"But yo' haven't had yo' breakfast, Miss Janet, honey."
"Never mind, Charlotte; I can't eat any breakfast. Clear it all away. I don't want anything."
I was much impressed with the tense, drawn expression of the speaker's face, and the quick, sharp accents of her voice, as if she had almost reached the limit of her self-control.
Here Laura interposed: "I'm sure, Miss Pembroke, you would feel better able to meet the day if you would eat something. Charlotte, if you will bring just a cup of coffee and a roll on a tray, I think Miss Pembroke will take some of it."
"Yas'm," said Charlotte, and, falling, as nearly every one did, into the way of obeying Laura's suggestions, she went away.
I endeavored to keep up the conversation by casual and unimportant remarks, and Laura ably assisted me, by responding to my observations. But though Miss Pembroke tried to join the conversation, it was impossible for her, and, as I had feared, her tense self-control gave way and she suddenly broke down in a fit of hysterical sobbing.
Laura tried to soothe her, but had sense enough not to try to stop her crying. She let the nervous and overwrought girl give way to her tears which of themselves brought relief.
"I didn't love him!" she exclaimed, her voice broken by sobs, "and that's why I feel so bad. I tried to love him, but he wouldn't let me. I honestly tried—don't you believe I did?"
She grasped Laura's hands as she spoke, and looked into her eyes.
"Of course I believe it," replied Laura, heartily; "don't think about that now, Miss Pembroke. I'm sure you have nothing to reproach yourself for."
"Oh, yes, I have. I'm a wicked girl! I ought to have been more patient with Uncle Robert. But he was so old and so cruel. He was my mother's uncle, you know, and he took me on sufferance—because he couldn't help himself—and he never let me forget it. He told me a dozen times a day that I was dependent on him for the bread I ate. And last evening we had a most awful quarrel! One of our very worst. Oh, I can't bear to remember it!"
"Don't remember it, dear," said Laura, with her arm still around the quivering body of the girl; "don't think of it."
"Think of it! I can never forget it. You see, he was determined that I should——"
Apparently Miss Pembroke had been about to make a confidant of Laura, when she suddenly remembered my presence. She straightened up with a start, and seemed to recover not only her poise, but the hauteur which I had so often observed in her demeanor.
It was a relief to the situation when at that moment Charlotte, the maid, returned with a daintily-appointed breakfast tray.
It was quite evident that the colored girl adored her young mistress. She hovered about her, arranging the tray on a small table at her side and looked at Miss Pembroke with an air of loving concern.
"Do try and eat sumpin, Miss Janet, honey; do, now."
"Thank you, Charlotte," and Miss Pembroke looked kindly at the girl; "I will try."
With a little nod, she tacitly dismissed the maid, but Charlotte lingered. After a moment of hesitation, she volunteered a suggestion, which was evidently weighing on her mind.
"Miss Janet, honey," she said, slowly, "ain' yo' gwine send fo' Master George?"
"George!" exclaimed Janet Pembroke. "Why, how strange I hadn't thought of it! Of course we must send for George. I'll telephone at once. You may go, Charlotte."
Again Charlotte left the room, and Miss Pembroke turned to Laura to explain.
"George," she said, "is George Lawrence, my cousin. He is my only relative except—Uncle Robert. He used to live with us, but a few months ago he moved to bachelor apartments farther downtown. If you will excuse me, I will telephone for him."
The telephone was in a small adjoining room, which was really rather a large alcove off the drawing-room. This was apparently a sort of music-room here, while my corresponding alcove—for the apartment was, of course, a duplicate of our own—I used as my smoking-room.
I heard Miss Pembroke, in a calm, clear voice, call up her cousin and ask him to come at once. She did not tell him what had happened. Then she hung up the receiver and returned to where we sat.
"I don't see why I didn't think of George sooner," she said. "I ought to have sent for him the very first thing."
"You were so dazed," I suggested, "that what would ordinarily be the most natural thing to do did not occur to you."
"Yes," she said, catching at my suggestion almost eagerly—"yes, that must have been it. I was dazed, wasn't I?"
"Indeed you were," said Laura soothingly. "You fainted quite away."
"Oh, yes," returned the girl; "that was when Doctor Masterson told me that Uncle Robert was dead. It was such a shock. I couldn't believe it, you know. Why, I never faint! I'm not that sort."
"Even so," said Laura, "the sudden shock was quite enough to cause you to faint."
The girl looked at her almost wistfully. "Yes, it was enough, wasn't it?" she said; "a shock like that would make anybody faint, wouldn't it? I just couldn't believe it. We—we never dreamed he would die suddenly. I wonder what George will say?"
"Is there any one else that you would like to have notified?" I asked.
"No," she said. "I have no other relatives at all. Of course we must tell Milly Waring, but I'll wait until after I see George."
"But aside from relatives, Miss Pembroke," I said, "is there no one else who ought to be notified? Ought you not to advise your uncle's lawyer?"
I was all unprepared for the effect this casual suggestion had upon the girl. Although she had recovered her composure almost entirely, it now seemed to desert her again. But instead of weeping her emotion was of a different nature; she seemed intensely angry. A red spot appeared in either pale cheek, and her dark eyes flashed fire. Her voice quivered when she spoke, but it sounded like the accents of suppressed rage.
"Uncle Robert's lawyer!" she exclaimed, in a tone of scorn; "he's the last person I want to send for!"
The words of themselves were astonishing, but not nearly so much so as the scathing inflection with which they were uttered.
"Then we won't send for him," said Laura, in her soothing way. "You shan't be troubled just now."
Laura looked at me with a glance of deep reproach, which was, to say the least, unjust; for, as a lawyer, it seemed to me I had made a most rational suggestion. Moreover, my sister's change of base somewhat surprised me. She it had been who denounced Miss Pembroke as being deceitful, melodramatic and untrustworthy! Now, she was not only befriending the girl as only one woman can befriend another, but she was resenting a most common-sense suggestion on my part.
Publisher: BookRix GmbH & Co. KG
Publication Date: 07-31-2013
All Rights Reserved