- CHAPTER XVI THE MAN WHO MUST
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THE MAN WHO MUST
"SHE will be quite herself again soon." This is what the sage physician, called down from city to attend Lorna Hilton, has told them when he has examined her case. "The shock of her neighbour's sudden death has, doubtless, been the cause, and it is merely a question of reaction of the nerves. Give them time! Give them time, madam!"
The city doctor, who must be told something, has been told just enough, merely that the gentleman, a neighbour and her brother's friend, with whom Lorna had been cycling just a little earlier, had been found dead, close to the spot where the two had separated, and the thing had been a great, a severe shock, &c. More than enough, he concedes, to unnerve a sensitive young woman. "But it won't last; it won't last! She is finely organised, but elastic--elastic! She'll be quite herself in a few days."
And he is not too sanguine.
Ten days after that eventful one on the Heights Lorna is outwardly herself again. Graver than usual, more reserved, and inclined to long silences | | 187 but as strong as ever, and with her memory strangely clear.
It is while lying in her hammock, with Loyd's hand soothingly passing across her brow, and after some effort to review the affair in detail, that she suddenly realises the truth.
"Loyd!" she exclaims, "why, it's like a magic lantern slide suddenly opening to my mind! I understand--I understand it at last! and--I understand, too, what mama meant by her strange questions. Don't--don't remove your hand, Loyd! I seem to think better so."
And then, slowly, with many pauses and comments and exclamations of wonder, now from one, now from the other, she reviews the scene; recalling their rambling talk, the arrival at the bridge, and the strange gradual sensation of languid yielding to, or agreeing with, his views and arguments on many subjects. A feeling of dulness, as if no longer able, or caring, to resist. Of hearing him say that she loved him, and was promised to him, with the feeling that it must be; a feeling indeed of aloofness, as if there were no others in the universe; and, above all, the sensation, scarcely strong enough to call belief, that she was with some one else--a personality vague, shadowy, but clear.
And then comes the talk of their flitting, and her feeling that it must be. Then, something like a faintest mental shock, an echo of something far away, a feeble soul resistance, and all the time a knowledge of its futility, and then-- At this point Lorna pauses, and the rich colour dyes her cheeks and chin, and for a time Loyd sits beside her, his own cheeks pallid and his lips set. Then--| | 188
"Well, sister," he says, with an effort, "Then you cry out. Something has aroused you. What was it?"
"That seems strangest of all! Some one calls to me from ever so far, calls me clearly, loudly. It is like a voice," dreamily, "and it is like--a name, and I am calling aloud, and striving to cast off restraining hands, to flee! I was filled with terror, and the call, whether it came from across the ravine, or up or down, whether it was a real cry, or came from my own spirit, it roused me--and--I--escaped." She looks at him from under half-opened lids, and her eyes are troubled. "I cannot understand," she resumes, musingly, "how you came so opportunely--you and--"
"And Glynne! It is simple, though. I met Glynne. I fancy he was seeking you. I told him how you went toward the Heights, and he at once took the alarm because of the unsafe bridge. Lorna," the brother bends over her and takes her slim little hand, "Terry is the truest friend man or woman ever had! I wish you could treat him more--more cordially."
His eyes are fixed in keen inquiry upon her face, but even while she lifts herself to an upright position she shuns his gaze, and draws away her suddenly tremulous hand, as she answers--
"I shall never open my lips in dispraise of Terence Glynne nor to condemn him. But don't ask me to meet him, Loyd, except as one must to avoid comment. Heaven knows how thankful I would be if I need never meet him at all. I--I thought he was going away?"| | 189
Loyd looks at his sister with gloomy eyes. "God knows how much I long to mend this cursed state of things," he says, almost savagely. "It hurts me like a knife-thrust to see you so cold to Terry. I ask, he asks, mere common kindness, nothing more! Lorna, for my sake, never let a living soul see you cold and unkind to Terence Glynne. You don't know what I owe him!"
Lorna's little feet drop to the floor, not lightly, but as if weighted. She rises from her hammock, and turns to look for a moment out over the lake. Then she takes a step past him.
"I do know!" is what she whispers across her shoulder. "But--I will try to do--as you--wish." And then, as he makes a forward movement, she cries, as she springs away, "Don't follow me!" and is gone.
Half an hour later her maid appears at the door of Mrs. Hilton's "den."
"Mrs. Hilton," she begins anxiously, "I'm afraid Miss Lorna is not so well this evening. I have put her a-bed already, but she's hot with the fever, and her eyes look so strange, and--she's not spoken a word to me, ma'am, since she told me to make ready her bed for her."
Tired and feverish Lorna may be simply as the result of too much talking and too little strength, and her eyes, that may be only the effect of the lamplight or Jennie's fancy. But--not to speak kindly to her maid when dismissing her, not to utter the sweet word of thanks for the little last services along with her dismissal, or the thoughtful little word of interested inquiry, which is never | | 190 omitted or forgotten--! Mrs. Hilton utters the needed and ever-ready word of reassurance and commendation; and dismissing the maid, goes at once to the dimly lighted chamber where Lorna Hilton lies with locked hands, and the dry sobs breaking now and then from between her lips.
"Loyd--wait; I must have a word with you!"
"Mother, I have been wondering if I might venture so late to invade your den after giving up all hope of finding you outside of it to-night."
"Come with me," she says; and he follows her in silence to the den where, since Jennie's visit two hours earlier, she has not been.
He has just returned to the piazza after two long hours of pacing up and down the lake shore, and Mrs. Hilton has been sitting silent for the most part, soothing ever, by Lorna's bedside.
Mrs. Hilton is one of those sweetly reasonable women, slow to judge and to speak. It is seldom that her face shows agitation, but it shows there to-night-agitation and a great anxiety. But, even so, she is loath to speak, to accuse, and while she looks in his face and hesitates he opens the way.
"Mother--what is it? Is Lorna-ill again?"
"Lorna has not been well--since a day--of which you know. Loyd, is it possible that you did not give due weight to my account of what the doctor said of Lorna's condition that day--?"
"He said, and in all seriousness, that your sister, with her finely organised temperament and her sensitiveness to all untoward influences, had received | | 191 a severe shock; that the strain of it had been, and still was, severe; and that she was mentally and physically unfit for such another. These were his own words. 'Your daughter, madam, is peculiarly organised from a physical shock or injury, such as a fall from a horse, a broken member; she will recover quickly because she has been hygienically well trained, her blood is clean and pure, and there is no taint of disease in her whole physical system; beside this, her mind will rise above bodily ills, and it is the mind, madam, that drags down the body--' Do you remember?" "I know; I know, mother!" "'But,'" he added, "'the mental shock in her case will react upon every portion of her physical system. Give her mind trouble enough, and it will destroy the body. Mind will endure longest; the spiritual quenches the vital!'" "Mother, has Lorna had another shock? and, if so--how?" "That is what I fear to learn. Loyd, what has passed between you two to-night? Does she know--the truth?" A look almost haughty, almost of anger, crosses his face; then, checking the words that first arise to his lips, he moves a step nearer--for both are standing--too anxious, too eager, to think of their own comfort--and says, in a gentle, deliberate tone, that tells of strong self-repression-- "Mother, when I learned how the doctor had declared that Lorna must not receive another shock, must learn nothing worse than what she must know when full memory returned, I promised--swore--to | | 192 you to keep my secret for her sake. I am keeping it; I have kept it, only for her. If I thought I might venture, do you think I would carry about this load of--"
"Hush, boy!" The lady sinks upon her own soft divan, and for a moment buries her face in its soft cushions. "Sit down and let me think. Something has come upon the child--suddenly; and I feared that, during your talk, the truth had come out. I knew she was prepared to tell you all her story, all she could remember, in detail."
"She did! It was all that I feared; I could have done nothing else. He was mad, insane, I verily think. He would have dragged her away before my eyes, and I could have done nothing, even could I have reached them, except by making her name a scandal the country over."
"You did--what you could. I do not dare to question your act, but it would kill her, Loyd. She must never know!"
"I know it! I know it. We have been over all that before."
"But--not as I see it now! In quieting one fear in my heart you have let in another, Loyd. Did you ever think that she cared?"
"Cared! For whom--or what?"
"N--," he opened his lips, but the word died in his throat. "Why?" he asked drily instead.
"Jennie called me some time ago. She feared her mistress was worse. I sent her away, and went alone to Lorna's room--" She pauses a moment. "I know Lorna," she resumes, "in all her moods. | | 193 She was never hysterical, and she only weeps when her pity is aroused. To-night she was--she is, I daresay--lying with the set look in her face that we both know, and the tearless, dry sobs were shaking her. It hurt me so that I let myself go, and tried to question her. She scarcely spoke at all, but she could not deny her wretchedness, and begged me not to 'remember it,' and ended by tacitly admitting that she--that, after all, she had cared--and that the discovery of his real nature, that sudden revelation of himself, has been eating into her heart. There have been times--when you first made Felix Chetwynde known to us--when I could see that he attracted her strongly, but later it seemed to have come to naught. But I was wrong--all wrong! and now--she will break her heart over a man who--"
"Mother, one word! Are you sure there is no other--no other-person?"
"I do not know of any other. Once I hoped it might be your friend Glynne--if either. But--she has always seemed to wish to avoid him somehow; and now--"
"She dislikes him. I am sure of it. She would hardly hear me speak of him with patience."
Loyd's face is quivering, and she catches his two hands in both her own. "My boy, this grows daily harder, more horribly, miserably hopeless to our eyes. But there will come a way out! You are--you were--always too upright, too innocent of all ill-intent. God judges the heart; man only the deed. This cloud must lift, and you must be brave for Lorna's sake, and more than ever now must we | | 194 keep the truth from her ears! I did not dream that she cared for him. I fear she is only just now learning the truth herself."
"But, mother! If she cared for him, why such fear of him? such terror? such a cry for help?"
"I do not understand it. If you could only have heard his words! He must have shocked her while in that unnatural state in some way which she cannot, or will not, tell. And there is something--I could see it to-night--in what she avoided or evaded rather than in what she said. She knows or believes something which she dreads to put in words."
"Yes, dreads! shrinks from. She begged over and again not to question her, and never to speak of that--awful day--until I must."
Loyd Hilton sinks wearily back among the downy cushions, puzzled, dejected; and, in spite of his faith, his courage, his strong will and steady nerve, more broken and hopeless than he had felt at any moment since that day of fate which had changed the present and darkened the future for so many.
"I can't realise it!" he groans, "and yet you are always right, mother. But how could she love that man, and yet fear him so?"
"She was not herself, remember. In coercing her will he was frustrating his own hopes."
"And I, must I think that all might have been well had I only held my hand?"
"No, no, no, Loyd! He was a bad man! I sure of it, and so I believe is she!"
"Then"--Loyd sits suddenly erect--"if that is true, I may have been the blind instrument of fate. | | 195 But I wish--" He checks his desperate speech, and sets his jaw in stern, hard lines. "You must let me go, mother! I can't--bear--any more."
He goes even as the words drop from fiercely controlled lips, goes to fight--with--this new horror alone. And the good woman, whose grave, keen eyes and calm judgment are seldom deceived, bows her head and lets the silent tears fall unrestrained, sorrowing over the children she loves as if they were indeed her very own flesh.
And Lorna? As midnight passes and the small hours begin to measure their sleepless minutes, she rises, and, sinking down by her open window, looks out upon the lake; and, sitting thus, she murmurs brokenly, while gazing across the water with tearless eyes, "Oh, it is too much! To live with a heartache concealed is hard, but to conceal the real sorrow while assuming an unreal one is more; and yet, it is better so, perhaps. While they think me grieving over the man who is dead, they will not wonder at my grief, nor guess that I have no tears save for the living man who killed the other--for my sake--for MY SAKE!"
If love is blind, sorrow is selfish, and Loyd Hilton is as nearly distraught as a sane and healthy man may well become when he enters Terence Glynne's rooms at the Lee House next morning. He has passed a night of distracting thought, and he has utterly forgotten all save his own wretchedness, when Terry, laying his friendly hands upon his shoulders, says, "Loyd, old man, it is going hard with you! And there's so little a man can do in such a case to help you. You won't break down, dear boy? You | | 196 must not, for--for your sister's sake!" And Loyd with all the misery of that sleepless night seething in his breast, pours it out upon his hapless friend, with no thought save that, at last, he may voice his uttermost woe and find sure sympathy.
"Break down! Oh no, I shall not break down! How dare I break down when to go mad and babble out all that is heavy on my soul would strike my sister down, mad like myself, perhaps, with the knowledge that I have slain the man whom she has found too late that she loves and the brother of the woman whom I love. Oh, it is a sweet secret to carry all a man's life!" He flings himself down in Terry's great easy-chair, with his face buried in its cushioned back, and he does not see the light die out of the face bent above him, nor guess that a heart leaden heavy beats in the breast of the true friend who lays a tender, strong hand upon his head, and says huskily--
"Loyd, my old chum, I cannot bear it for you if I would, but--let me bear it with you! You were right to come to me. A man can't fight such a horror alone," and while saying this he knows that one may, must.
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