Come and Find Me by Elizabeth Robins (Chapter 7)
Come and Find Me by Elizabeth Robins
Hypertext formatting by Joanne E. Gates
December did not bring Galbraith--nor even Bella.
"Jack found he could n't leave that odious Mr. Borisoff to settle up some business all alone, but my brother Tom has got mama to consent to stay over Christmas with me in New York at Marion's. So Jack and I shan't die, as we fully intended to if we were separated."
Just as the girl and her mother, early in the new year, were at last going home, a cable came from England to say that Bella's sister, Mrs. Hilton, had been badly hurt in a carriage accident.
The cable was couched in the most alarming terms--there seemed to be every prospect of three little children being left motherless. Bella and her mother took the first ship that sailed.
"If we have to stay at any time, Jack says he will come over."
They did stay, and Jack was as good as his word. Mrs. Hilton did not die, but she lay for months in a critical condition, and her mother mounted guard over the new baby and the three other little people.
Bella meanwhile was amusing herself right royally.
"I've been presented and I 'm having a perfect, rapturous time.
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"And now it 's decided we don't have to wait quite a whole year--we are going to be married before we come back to America, some time in the summer. Just think of it, Hildegarde! You and I not to meet again till I 'm married! Oh, do write and say you 'll love me just as much as ever."
Then for a time no more long letters, but a shower of happy little notes, that descended with tolerable regularity. After that, the wedding invitation! Ten days' interval and then two communications by the same mail. The first:
"Mother and I are just back from a week-end at Tryston. It was rather dull. All the men were immensely distinguished and at least eighty. I was glad to get back to town. Hengler's Circus has been turned into a skating-rink. We all went to a delightful party there last week. The wife of the Governor-General of Canada skated most wonderfully. I wish I could. Jack did n't take his eyes off her. Mr. Borisoff has come to London. I hate Mr. Morisoff as much as ever, if not worse.
"I haven n't time for more if I 'm to catch this post. But I can't have you thinking I forget you in my happiness. Besides, I shall be happier when Mr. Borisoff goes back to his fellow-barbarians, and leaves me and Jack alone. The next, I promise, shall be a great, long letter. You 'll see! I do love you, Hildegarde.
"From you loving
"P.S. I wish you were here."
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It struck Hildegarde it was the first time she had said that since Jack had appeared on the scene.
The other letter was without date or beginning.
"Jack and I have quarreled. Oh, if you were here!
Immediately after, a mysterious cable, that told simply the date of Bella's homeward sailing. Had the quarrel frightened her lover and so hastened on the marriage? But no, for while Bella was still upon the sea came a formal notice that the marriage was "postponed." It have been mailed some days before the cable was sent.
HILDEGARDE's first feeling upon Bella's return was that since the writing of that final note from London, and the dispatching of the postponement notice, the trouble, whatever it had been, was patched up. Impossible to think there was a cloud in her sky. Not matured at all; only a little thinner and, save for that, exactly the same Bella--"unthinking, idle, wild, and young."
But as the minutes went by and she ran from one familiar thing to another in garden and house, with greeting and gay comment, spinning out the time till she and Hildegarde should be alone together, the older girl began to have her doubts. Was Bella as happy as she pretended, flitting about with all her "dear Mars?"
Nothing possible to gather from her eagerness to be assured that so far from being forgotten, she was more than ever an object of interest and devotion. Nothing new Bella's little weakness for wanting everybody to be visibly enlivened by her return from "abroad," bringing
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her adorable frocks (for Bella's American mama had come into money, and Bella was helping her to come out of a certain portion), bringing remembrances for everybody, bringing a whiff of foreign airs, and a touch of something exciting, exotic, into the lives of stay-at-home folk. Bella had always been one of those who, however much adored, would like to be adored yet a little more. She could n't bear that any one within reach of her influence should escape caring about her, and she cast a net uncommon wide. It was meant to enmesh even Hildegarde's mother, partly because that lady was so little lavish in bestowing her affection, but mostly because if you were much in the Mar house it mattered enormously upon what terms you were with Mrs. Mar. But, as ill-luck would have it, Bella never thought of the lady once she was away from her. Though she had brought back scarf-pins for the boys, and a silver-mounted blackthorn for Mr. Mar, and a quite wonderful necklace for Hildegarde, there was nothing--nothing at all for Mrs. Mar--and it was serious.
Bella never realized the awful omission till, having dispensed the other gifts, she stood with the rest of the family in the garden, not even asking where Mrs. Mar was, till looking up, she saw that lady at her bedroom window carefully trying on a new pair of gloves. "Everything depends on the way they 're put on the first time." Bella could hear her saying it, and she looked up smiling and waving her hand, as much as to say, "Oh, please hurry down! You 're the person I 'm pining most of all to see again." But, of herself, Miss Bella was silently asking, "What am I to do! What will happen if she should see she 's the only one I 've forgot-
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ten?" Bella's brain worked feverishly. Glancing down, her eye fell on a gold pencil she was wearing on a chain. Surreptitiously detaching this latest gift of her mother's, Bella slipped it in her pocket, talking all the time; telling Mr. Mar what it felt like to see sunshine, real Californian sunshine again; offering up to public scorn the English girl who had disapproved of the unappreciative Californians for rooting arum lilies out of their gardens, and throwing them away in sheaves, which Bella admitted was what they did with the "pest." "Just like your American extravagance," the English girl had said.
Oh, it was so perfectly heavenly to be at home again! Bella beamed in her old conscienceless way at poor Trenn, who found a heady tonic--a hope new born, in hearing the adored one call the Mar house "home."
But even while he was savoring the sweetness of that thought, there was the distracting creature linking her arm in Harry's, and saying: "Come away a moment and tell me something I want to know."
What could a boy like Harry possibly tell Bella that she could want to know!
Harry's own huge satisfaction in the incident was cruelly damped upon Bella's saying: "Does your mother still love stumps?"
"Stumps! Love s-stumps!" he muttered in amazement.
Yes. You have n't forgotten how she always kept her pencils till they were so little nobody else could have held on to them"
"Oh, that kind. Yes. Stumps! I see."
"Well, does she dote on them as much as ever? Does she pick them out of the fender, when Mr. Mar has
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thrown his away? Does she still say: 'Well I 'm not so well off that I can put a thing in the fires that 's only half-used?' Does she do that the same as ever, or are you all too rich now?"
Harry laughed. "Oh, we 'll never be so rich that mother won't use a pencil to its last grasp."
"Well, then I've got the very thing for her! A nice gold one--pencil, you know. But rather a stump, too. See?--just her size!"
Harry looked doubtfully down upon the somewhat massive pencil-case which Bella had drawn from her pocket and was telescoping in and out. "That 's an awfully fine one, but I can't quite imagine mother giving up her--"
"Well, look here," interrupted Bella, "Mrs. Mar 's a person you can't take risks with. Do you mind going up-stairs and showing her this? Just ask her what she thinks of it--as though I 'd brought it to you, you know." Harry departed on the errand, while Bella returned to the others, but her emissary was back directly with a doubtful face, and Mrs. Mar following not far behind.
"Well?" Bella demanded in an undertone.
"Oh--a--I asked her if she did n't think it was an awfully fine one, and all she said was: 'The Lord was very good. He had delivered her many years ago from gold pencils.'"
"What on earth does she mean?"
"Have n't the ghost-- 'Sh!"
"Oh, how do you do, dear Mrs. Mar!" Bella flew to embrace the lady, who received the advance with self-possession, but not without a glint of pleasure.
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Harry still stood with the intended tribute in his hand. Mrs. Mar's eye fell upon it critically.
"Is it true--a--you don't think much of gold pencils?" hazarded Bella.
"Oh, if you 're a person of leisure--"
"What 's that got to do with it?"
"It 's a pursuit in itself, keeping a gold pencil going."
"Oh, no. Look. This one goes beautifully." Bella took it from Harry and shot it in and out.
"That 's just its wiliness. Wait till you need it."
"Really this one 's very good. It 's warranted--"
"I 'll warrant it 'll always be wanting a new lead. Especially at the moment when you can't possibly stop to niggle about with fitting one in. Then you'll put the thing away till you can take an afternoon off just to get your handsome gold pencil into working order again. And when you 've done that and gone thoroughly into the subject, you 'll find there is n't a store on the Pacific coast that keeps your size leads. No lead in any store will ever fit your pencil. Then you ll write to New York to a manufactory. Then you 'll wait a month, maybe two. Then, by the time you 've got them, you 'll find that the pencil has forgotten how to assimilate leads. It will break them off short and spit them out. If you try to discipline the pencil, it 'll turn sulky and refuse to open. Or it stays open and refuses to shut."
"I assure you, Mrs. Mar, this one--"
"And I assure you, Miss Bella Wayne, that even if you 're under the special favor of Providence, and none of these things happen, you 'll still find you can never get the work out of a twenty-dollar gold pencil that you can out of a five-cent cedar."
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Bella was catching Harry's eye and trying not to laugh.
"And remember what I tell you," Mrs. Mar wound up, "you'll have to treat that gold pencil as you treat Mrs. Harrington Trennor, with reverence and awe. If you don't you 'll be sorry. If you lean on it, it will collapse. If you do anything but admire it, it will teach you better." Bella opened her lips--Mrs. Mar stopped her with, "Unless you come to my way of thinking, you 'll use that pencil in fear and trembling till the merciful grave offeres you a refuge from your slavery. As I told Harry" --she buttoned the last button on her new gloves (why had n't Bella brought her anything as sensible as gloves!) and she drew down her cuff with a business-like air-- "the lord has delivered me from many snares; gold pencils among the rest!" And she marched off toward the gate.
"Oh, mother," said Hildegarde, at her side, "how could you! That dear little Bella brought the beautiful gold pencil for you all the way from Europe."
"Do you suppose I did n't guess that? Good-by!" She looked back and nodded to Bella. "I've got to go to the missionary meeting now, but I 'll see you at supper."
"Oh, and you 'll tell me the rest then?" asked the wicked Bella, with an innocent look.
"The rest!" Mrs. Mar glanced sharply over her shoulder as she laid her hand on the latch of the gate. "There is no rest for anybody who depends on a contrivance like that. Whenever I see a person with a gold pencil, I know it won't be long before she 's asking me to lend her my wooden stump. As a rule she likes my wooden stump so well she walks off with it."
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As Mrs. Mar vanished round the corner, Bella gave way to suppressed chuckles. Impossible to think she had a care in the world greater than a rejected gold pencil.
"Yes, Hildegarde. I 'm coming directly; only Trenn has n't given me a spray of lemon verbena yet, to console me for the scandalous way his mother treats me. Don't you remember you always give me lemon verbena when we 're in the garden?" She showed no impatience when Trenn prolonged the time-honored process--not a bit of it, went on laughing and chattering there in the sunshine and telling how they thought in England that the American girl was only keeping up the transatlantic reputation for "telling tall stories," when Bella had said that verbena at home was a tree, and grew to the second-story window. Then having undone in half an hour any good of peace regained by the "Mar boys" through her absence and engagement, Miss Bella found her way upstairs.
Her vivacity fell visibly from the moment she crossed the threshold of Hildegarde's familiar little room. But she commented favorably upon the new home-worked counterpane, and then, as though without seeing it, walked past the familiar old altar-table, with its ferny background and the roses ranged below. There was the big silver locket hung above, like some peasant's votive offering at a foreign shrine, and down there in front of the massed roses was that other picture, that had been new only a year ago, when Bella's happiness was born.
She went straight to the window and stood quite silent, looking down upon Hildegarde's flower borders. Then
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without turning round, "Will you do something for me?"
"Take that picture away. The locket, too."
"Oh, Bella! Is it as bad as that?"
"You 'll put them out of sight?"
"Yes, yes; of course I will."
"Now!" She might as well have said: I won't turn round until they 're gone.
Hildegarde opened a drawer. "I'll put them in here till things come right again."
"Things are n't ever coming right."
Not till she heard the drawer shut did the girl turn from the window, and Hildegarde could see that the small face was quivering.
"Bella, dear!" Her friend swept to her on a sudden wave of pity. "It will all come right."
But the younger girl drew back. Although her tears were brimming she spoke with a certain half-choked hardness: "I've hurried mother back as fast as boats and trains could bring us; just to be with you again, but not to hear you say that. I wanted to be with you just because you will know better. Hildegarde--I--I 'd like to stay with you awhile. May I?"
"I want nothing so much--we all want you."
"Trenn, too?" she actually laughed through her tears. What a queer creature.
"Trenn, too. Only"--Hildegarde glanced from the empty place on the altar-table, to the shut drawer--"only you 'll be kind enough not to break Trenn's heart as well."
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"As well as my own?"
Hildegarde's face grew hard with the words. "As well as Jack Galbraith's."
Bella, too, was grave enough now: "I have n't broken his heart. But--I 've got a crack in my own. Only"--she lifted her pretty eyes with an air almost of panic--"only nobody else is to know. You"--she came nearer and laid a nervous hand on Hildegarde's firm arm--you must help me to keep everybody from knowing."
"Dear," was all Hildegarde's answer, but she leaned her cheek against Bella's thin face.
"And there 's another thing," the younger girl went on a little feverishly, still clinging to Hildegarde's arm, "I hate talking about it."
"Of course. Just at first, it must be--"
"No, it is n't 'of course' and it 's not only at first. It 's for always. Most girls talk their love affairs to tatters I 've noticed that. I want you to help me to--to keep my--" Her voice went out upon a sudden flood of tears. Hildegarde drew her into the window-seat and sat down beside her. They were silent for a time, until Bella laid her wet face down on her friend's shoulder with, "Mind, Hildegarde! We are n't to talk about it. Not even you and I. John Galbraith is too--too--" She raised her head, drew her small hand across her eyes, and then sprang up and faced the window, as if some enemy without had challenged her. "It may be that I don't understand what a great man he is, as Mr. Borisoff says. But, at least, I know he's not the sort of person to be chattered over."
Hildegarde remembered with a sting how for years she
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had "chattered" with Galbraith for her theme. And she had n't little Bella's excuse. Yes, it was always like this She was for ever stumbling upon something dignified and fine in Butterfly Bella.
The pretty tear-stained face was lifted to the sunlight, and the childish red mouth, so used to laughter, was pitifully grave, as Bella, staring up into the square of sky over Hildegarde's head said: "He is up there!"
"Jack!" Hildegarde exclaimed in a half-whisper.
"John Galbraith," said Bella. He is way up there, and I won't be the one to put him down."
"Oh-h. I was half afraid you meant he was dead."
"As good as dead."
Fear took fresh hold on the older girl. He is going to marry some one else, Hildegarde said to herself. Yes, yes; as she looked at poor Bella's face, she was sure of it. And now the slim little figure had sunk on its knees. She leaned against her friend for support. But she looked out across Hildegarde's shoulder, searching space through tears. Hildegarde held tight the childish-looking hands, and asked the last question she was ever to put about the common hero of their girlhood. "Where is he?" she said.
"He's gone off with Mr. Borisoff somewhere."
"You mean you don't know where?"
"Somewhere in the arctic." She hid her face in Hildegarde's lap.
They sat so a long, long, time.
IN spite of her year's absence, Bella found nothing much changed in the Valdivia situation, except that the Mar Boys had "got on" more than ever, and that their father's
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form of progress seemed still more strikingly to consist in "getting on" in years.
It was a long time since his wife had given him the credit for doing more than his share at the bank with a view to promotion to be head cashier, or even a "silent partner." Each time a vacancy occurred some one else had stepped into it; Louis Cheviot had been the last. But Mrs. Mar learned through the years that the reason her husband accepted increased tasks was that he was born to bear burdens as the sparks to fly upward. If any extra work was "going," so to speak, it gravitated unerringly to Nathaniel Mar. As to the question of his reward, what would be gained by giving a better position to a man who in any crisis could be depended on to do all the work of a higher office, and never ask for increased emolument? The only person who ever hinted such a thing to the Trennors had been Cousin Harriet. The Trennor Brothers' success (which was proverbial in Valdivia) had long extended to avoidance of Cousin Harriet. Certainly Mr. Mar's life-long ill- luck brought out more clearly the fact of his boys' early prosperity. Not that it was enormous as yet, though quite sufficient to have enabled them to marry, had they so chosen.
Mrs. Mar's satisfaction in her sons was checkered by the fact that each of these otherwise reasonable and enterprising young men clung to his boyish infatuation for Bella Wayne, long after their boyhood had gone the way of the years. It certainly did seem as though not till one or both were cut out by her marrying some one else, would either Trenn or Harry look at any of the girls Mrs. Mar considered more desirable. Not that the boys' mother had been able wholly to escape the general Mar
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devotion to the disturber of their peace, but as the seasons passed, and Bella rejected one swain after another, it became increasingly vexatious to Mrs. Mar that her sons should not realize and amend the stupidity of caring about a girl who was more and more under suspicion of being handicapped by a silly passion for a mad fool who had given up the substance for the shadow, and had met his due reward--being now these many months lost in the arctic ice.
H ILDEGARDE's theory that since the unhappy issue of the love affair, Bella had greater need of her friend than ever before, and Hildegarde's own consequent inaccessibility to others was the cause of some restiveness on Cheviot's part. His old friendliness for Bella had vanished. He spoke of her with a humorous disparagement that did him ill-service with Hildegarde. But he was grave enough sometimes.
"I never get a word alone with you, nowadays," he said one night, as he sat smoking on the steps of the porch at Hildegarde's feet, while Bella walked about the garden with Trenn. Hildegarde made some perfunctory answer, and they sat silent for a time.
The light wind brought up waves of fragrance from the tangle of roses under Hildegarde's window, and the little path stretched away to indefiniteness in the star-light, till it was lost long before it reached the garden's end. The limits of the narrow inclosure, so sharply drawn by day, were nobly enlarged, lost even, at this hour, in the dim reaches of green turned silver and black, as the moon came over the tops of the conifers.
Down by the arbor vitæ hedge growing things that
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Hildegarde had planted sent their souls to her across the lawn, piercing the heavier air of roses with arrowy shafts of spicy sweetness.
On such a night no one is alone. Where two go down a darkling walk or sit on the steps in the dusk, others gather round them. Invisible prescences--the singers, the beautiful ones, the stern doers of great deeds--join us common folk, and give us a share in their glory or their steadfast pain. Hopes of our own, that look too large by day--too dim and inaccessible, they come walking in our garden at such an hour, beckoning us or looking, smiling on. Living men, rumored to be far away, suddenly stand before us. Women who have been long aloof draw near. All the barriers go down. Even the dead come home.
John Galbraith was down there, where Bella's white gown shown among the trees, and John Galbraith was sitting between those other two on the steps.
And Cheviot knew it.
Hildegarde was reminded of the visible presence by his saying, in a low voice, that he understood the reason of his ill-success with her.
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, Bella told me. Years ago. When she was so little you thought she--"
"Told you what?"
"That you had been in love with John Galbraith since you were sixteen.
"But you must see that 's absurd. I 've never even seen him!"
"I wish to God you had! Then you might get over it."
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Hildegarde roused herself to say with equal emphasis, "You are really talking the greatest foolishness--"
"Have n't you got his picture in your room this moment?"
"I have the picture he--had taken for Bella."
"Before he ever met Bella you had a picture of Galbraith. You used to wear it. Bella said--"
"You seem to forget you 're talking about what happened when I was a little school-girl, and about an old--a very old friend of my family. We all have pictures of Mr. Galbraith--and why, there 's one of you there, too."
"On the altar?"
(Oh, Bella! Bella! How could you!) "The one on the flower-table was put there because Bella asked me to. It 's not there any more. And while it was, I looked upon it as the future husband of my dearest friend."
But the description of Bella sounded suddenly ironic. It hurt. For Cheviot was the man who all along had laughed at the girls' friendships, and all along he had known that Bella was capable of--
"It is n't that I could n't forgive you for not being in love with me," he said. "But for being in love with a photograph and a packet of letters-- no! that was n't easy. At the same time I knew well enough that if your life had n't been so at the mercy of this one romantic figure in it. If you 'd been able to travel, or even to go to the university--if you 'd had any other door open, you would n't have looked so long out of that one window."
A scrap of one of Mrs. Browning's letters flew across her mind--the dearer somehow for being a little inco-
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herent, not fitted together at all, yet finely consequent to the inner spirit--those words: "The pleasantest place in the house is the leaning out of the window."
Ah, it was very true of the Mar house.
"And your mother," Cheviot went on, "always ready to puncture any home-blown bubble with the needle of her wit; mercilessly critical, for fear her children should have too low standards; ready to flay anybody alive in the cause of education. Never letting you rest satisfied for a moment with the attainable--you must always be reaching out--reaching out--and when you reached out you touched Galbraith."
How strangely well he knew--this man. It was odd, but she could never again think him obtuse, at any rate. That comfort was gone.
"I was even sorry for you while the engagement lasted," the low voice went on, unmindful of the uneasy stir of the figure sitting above him in the dusk. He took the half-smoked cigar from his lips and laid it by the pillar. Over the edge of the porch the tip shone red. "I saw how hard it was for you; you had been weaving romances round Galbraith for years--you had looked upon him for so long as your special property--" Hildegarde drew back into the deeper shadow. But by his own suffering urged to win a companion in pain, her persisted: "And you thought if it had been you he had met, it would have been you that he--" Hildegarde's skirts rustled as if she were getting up--"Look here, I 've told you before you 've got a genius for truth--I'm treating you on that basis." She said nothing, but she sat still. "There was a moment," Cheviot's voice was unnaturally low, "last spring, when I knew I was gaining ground
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with you. It was the day I came back from Mexico. I came here straight from the station, and you --you--" She heard him strike his hands suddenly together in the dusk, and a curious excitement took hold of her. "When I went home, I found the invitation to Bella's wedding. It had been lying there for days. Then I understood. You had had all those days and nights to get accustomed to realizing it was the end of the old--where are you going? Can't you even bear to have me speak of it this once?"
The white figure was still again.
"Oh, I understood!" He picked up the cigar again. "I felt just the same as you did. I knew the ghost that had stood so long between us was suddenly gone. He had moved out of the way, and you could see that I was there. For those next days you were--you were-- I was full of hope. Then came word that Bella had broken her engagement."
"No, that the marriage was postponed."
He waited a moment, seemed about to speak, and then, instead of saying anything, with a sharp movement he threw his half-smoked cigar across the whitening silver of the path into the inky blotch the shrubbery made. Hildegarde's eyes followed the flying red light till, against a tree trunk, it fell in a splash of sparks, and was swallowed up in shadow.
"I shan't forget," Cheviot went on, still on that low restrained note, "the look in your face as you said: 'I never thought they were suited to one another. It would never have done.'"
Did I say that?"
Yes, and I looked up and I saw the ghost was there
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again and presently I saw he was n't a ghost any longer, but a real man. An active expectation on your part--"
"No, no." The voice was less denial than beseeching.
"Yes, a plan."
The hands that were gripping the wicker chair pulled her quickly to her feet. "Bella!" she called to the white flicker by the dial. "It 's getting late!"
Cheviot stood up, too. "On your honor, Hildegarde--" Was it the moonlight blanched her, or was she indeed so white? His heart smote him--but, "On your honor can you deny it?" he demanded.
"No," she said, with sudden passion; "I don't deny it." And while her words should have steeled him, her voice brought a lump to his throat.
"You mean," he asked, huskily, "to wait till John Galbraith comes back?"
"I know it's quite mad--but there! A thing can take you like that. You can't change."
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