- CHAPTER XXIV "TRYING TO KNOW"
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"TRYING TO KNOW"
THAT Loyd Hilton should feel strongly, be it sorrow or joy, without the cognisance of his twin, was impossible. And his mood for days before his visit to Hope had been one of gloomy anticipation and dogged resolve to meet the worst, and face it without flinching. "For Lorna's sake," he assured himself; but in his heart, deep down, lay the thought of Hope and the determination to prove himself a brave man if an erring one, as well as the resolve to be magnanimous toward the dead, and to seize for himself no advantage by blackening the fame of her brother.
All this Lorna feels, and has felt, and there is no need for words between them; but Loyd's gloom has bred in Lorna a certain restlessness. The same feelings has prompted him to seek seclusion and solitude, urged her to look for companionship, and to seek, in the nearness of others, the atmosphere of kindliness and strength which her soul loved and demanded. While ever watchful of her brother, she yet held aloof and protected him in his solitude. | | 257 Usually Lorna has clung to her stepmother, and found comfort even in her silent companionship; but of late Mrs. Hilton has felt the restraint, the holding back of confidence which the girl has deplored, yet cannot overcome.
In these days of dreariness there has been one influence, one atmosphere, which Lorna has basked in and longed for; and one other which has braced her to resistance like a tonic. It is Hope who has brought with her, for Lorna, the tonic atmosphere; and it is Aunt Cass--sensible, collected, unromantic Aunt Cass--in whose presence the girl has rested, and felt soothed and strengthened.
From the beginning the spinster has stood staunchly by Mrs. Hilton, coming as often as possible to Redlands; and during the days of the sheriff's absence she is as good as, or better than, her word.
In these days, as it seemed to Hope, her aunt was almost constantly awheel, and while the little spinster's outings carry her sometimes to the cemetery, and often toward, and very near, the cottage of Mrs. Rice--which now holds only the widow and her nephew--she also finds time to look in at Redlands almost daily, if only en passant, with some sage word of philosophy or cheer.
At first Lorna has shunned her wheel, looking back with horror to that last fatal ride; and one of the spinster's kindly and wise efforts has been to overcome this dread.
At first it is the pretext of a lesson in the uses of tool-bag, next a plea for companionship, and now, for some days, Lorna has taken a short ride along | | 258 the lake shore, sometimes alone, sometimes with Aunt Cass, but never once with her brother; and during these rides with her kind elder comrade the girl has grown more and more ready to confide in her, and to rely upon her good sense and practical judgment.
One was a dreamer, the other saw the world through clear, wide-open eyes, but the one supplemented the other. One was ever ready to receive, the other, out of her strength, to give.
Ten days have passed since Loyd turned from Hope's door a sadder and yet a happier man than he who had entered there; and Lorna, pedaling along the lake shore path, meets Aunt Cass, and wheels about to ride at her side, as she has done before of late.
There is an earnest, asking look in the girl's face, and a pathetic droop of the rose-lipped mouth, that causes the spinster to look closely, and then to ask in her direct, kindly way--
"My child, what is it? That old look of anxiety, of discouragement with all things, has got back into your face, your eyes! Is there a new lion to slay? and shall I draw my weapon and begin the combat?"
"It's the old lion, dear Miss Cassandra, or two of them. I think the one brought the other. I am so worried about Loyd! Since ten days ago he is different--somehow."
Aunt Cass glances at her askance. She was absent from the villa at the hour of Loyd's visit, but she had been very observant of late, and has not | | 259 been above questioning Hope's maid, "for Hope's good."
"How different?" she asks easily.
"Oh, I can't describe it as I feel it! Before this he has been so outwardly controlled, his face always the same; that repressed look, you know, which tells me, as if he said it, that he is holding back a burden of misery and hopelessness, and that he is strong enough to control what he cannot conquer. Do I make you understand?"
"Well, now, there are moments when he does not, or cannot, keep out of his eyes that inner struggle. But--most of all--there are times-rare times--when, for just an instant, his face lights up, and he looks like one who has won a fight, has conquered the last citadel, and is triumphant in the midst of woe. It is only a look, a gleam, and then it is gone."
The spinster is silent a moment, then--"That is not a thing to be anxious about, my child. I am glad to have heard it. Don't dwell unhappily upon that. Your brother is a strong man, trust him, and--wait. Why"--with sudden change of tone--"I almost feared that your old dream, or fancy, had begun to trouble you again."
If this is said to bring about a change of topic it has the desired effect. Lorna starts and almost misses her balance.
"Ah," she sighs, "you must be a witch. I am more and more possessed with that idea, and last night, Miss Cassandra, I dreamed about it."
"Tell me about it." They are riding along the | | 260 shore, and have now reached one of the wood, paths, lately cleared for the wheel by Loyd's efforts, and leading toward the west path to the Heights. It is a path heretofore shunned by Lorna, but to-day Miss Cassandra turns her wheel in this direction, and adds, "And let's try this path."
As if unconscious of the way she is taking, Lorna swings into the wood path, with that graceful close curve her brother has taught her so well, and resumes--
"Its all so hatefully distinct! I had gone to my room thinking of Loyd, and that strange change, now and then, of look and tone; and all at once the old puzzle came into my mind, as if determined to possess it--like a thought, you know, that you can't get rid of--and presently I was going over all the ground again--that ride to the Heights--the earlier talk--the strange feeling of languor and lack of will--the shadowy hour, or more, which seems like a lost dream--and then his wild words--my feeling of being fettered, forced out of myself; and then--oh, I won't go over it!" Her wheel turns unsteadily, and Aunt Cass drops swiftly from her own and says--
"Let's rest here; there's a rise just ahead. We can sit by this tree--it's very pleasant--and you can finish your--story."
"It always comes back to the same thing," Lorna resumes, when they are seated side by side, "and when I reached that point the same old question came up and asked itself over and over, 'What did I hear when I felt myself falling down and down? or did I hear anything? and what, when my face | | 261 was turned skyward and my body was upon the ground, did I see up above me? Was it anything? Was it a trick of my dizzy eye and brain, or was it a face? and if so, how could it fall! Oh, I don't wonder that the doctor told them all to pay no heed to my sick fancy, and mamma begged me to put it out of my mind, lest a mere fancy might mislead others, or cause them to think it an invention--to shield Loyd; Loyd--who is innocent!"
"And--the fancy--the vision--does it never grow clearer?"
"Never! but always the same. Miss Chetwynde, how good of you to let me tell you this thing that I have never ventured to tell to any other but Loyd. It was a relief to tell it to some one who would not try to hush me! If only I could remember it more clearly, and--oh, oh! if, after all, it should be him!"
"Close your eyes, Lorna; try to be quite calm, and see if you can see and describe your--fancy."
Miss Cassandra speaks in her usual kindly tone, but her eyes are very intent and keen. Lorna shuts her own.
"I am falling," she says dreamily. "I do not look up, but the sky is suddenly above my upturned face, blue through a break in the leaves. Then--there is a face--just a face--and the eyes--I never thought of it before, but they are its prominent feature; I see the eyes rather than the face, and then--something comes, not from the eyes--the face, but straight down--just a swift gleam. It seemed as if the bushes rustled just then, and--that is all."| | 262
They are both silent a moment, then--
"Do you know, Miss Chetwynde, I have sometimes felt that if I were to go to that place and look up, as I did that day, I could be sure!"
A sudden gleam comes into the eye of the spinster, but she turns toward the girl very deliberately, and asks almost indifferently--
"Should you fear to try?"
Lorna Hilton starts. "I have never thought-" she begins. Then, "Would you go with me?"
"If you wish."
"I am not a coward, Miss Cassandra. Not afraid of real things, and I never harmed Felix Chetwynde. I beg your pardon!"
"There is no need. Of course you never harmed him. He harmed you, and I think, if you can ride so far, that is, that it may be the very best thing for you to go up there and try to see it all calmly. You are not afraid, but you have dreaded and hated the place. It is best often to face what we hate as well as what we fear. If you are sure that you wish it, I will go with you."
Lorna rises slowly, a look of resolve upon her fair face. "Let us go," she says. "It will be trying to know--to understand--even if nothing comes of it."
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