- CHAPTER XVIII "AT HEADQUARTERS"
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AND now, at last, Hope knows the truth as between her own soul and her Maker; knows it, and in the loneliness of long nightly vigils scoffs at her imaged face in the mirror, and declares to herself her ultimatum.
Hope Chetwynde, the girl into whose woful eyes she looks with scorn, in that moment's mood, shall do what reason and self-respect, sisterly duty, and the duty of a citizen demands. She will avenge her brother's wrongs, she will punish her brother's self-confessed slayer! And all the more shall it be done because, in the face of right and duty, and of his hateful crime, she has dared--she, Hope Chetwynde, to feel pity, to feel tenderness, and a longing to forgive; yes, to feel as she has never yet felt toward any other man! Ah! she knows the name to give it; she will not shuffle with her own soul and conscience, at least; she loves Loyd Hilton, and why, why, why? It must have been in her heart always, and only now sprung awake! Yes, that is surely it. It was there, before, and of course, being | | 206 there so long, she could not cast it out, and love never changes, never dies. No, she has given up the battle; she cannot chain down, cannot control this turbulent, rebellious heart of hers, but--she can control her deeds! And the world shall never say that she has forgiven her brother's murderer. It was right, it was duty, it was justice, that called out for his punishment. It was Felix Chetwynde--her brother--who from his grave, bade her remember his wrongs.
She has heard Lorna Hilton's story, and, because she will neither see nor hear of Loyd, after they two have met, and he has told her his own, she is gentleness itself to Lorna, only she will never utter those words Lorna prays to hear--"I believe you. He is innocent!"
He is guilty; again and again she reiterates it to Aunt Cass, and the little spinster only shakes her head, for she has ceased to argue with Hope, never crosses her now, and watches over her with an anxiety she is careful to conceal.
She will break down soon if something does not happen to relieve her mind, Aunt Cass says to the sheriff and to Mrs. Hilton, and, very privately, to Doctor Jarvis, "Her state of mind is a horribly unnatural one"; and though they all agree, none of them quite comprehends, none save Lorna Hilton. And she, with a wisdom beyond her years, is silent. In the meantime, Lorna's suddenly aroused and changed mood has been a source of wonder to her friends. The discovery, so much feared and dreaded by them, of Loyd's part in the tragedy of the Heights, has seemed to stimulate her benumbed | | 207 faculties, while her fixed faith in Loyd's innocence has taken from the dreaded revelation of his participation in the wretched affair its sting and its danger. And, from the moment when Hope Chetwynde went so suddenly and swiftly forth from their presence, neither Loyd nor Mrs. Hilton have been able to withhold from Lorna any item of the many they have been so carefully and fearfully guarding from her knowledge. She has insisted upon hearing all, and her faith--as unshaken as her belief in Providence--in Loyd and in his ultimate vindication is the rock upon which her strength has renewed itself until, from being an object of their care and constant solicitude, she is their support and mainstay and cheer.
She does not reason, she will not argue; but she believes, and, secure in what she accepts as a heaven-born instinct, she can face Hope with a courage matching her own, and a serenity Hope would give much to feel, if only for an hour.
"If I did not know," she says, when after two days she reverses the previous order of things and seeks Hope in her own home, and tells her frankly and as gently and charitably as possible, the story of that afternoon upon the Heights-still hazy as to parts, but grown clearer as to the first and last scenes.
"If I did not know, with a sureness of knowledge which I cannot explain to you, but which is inborn, and which nothing can shake, I could not lift my head. I know Loyd believes that he fired the fatal shot. But he is mistaken, and the truth will appear some day. Meantime, as I know he is not guilty of the deed, I can wait and be patient."| | 208
In telling what she can of that day, Lorna never comments; never allows a tone of resentment, or criticism of Felix and his motives, to creep into the story. She tells it simply, almost impersonally.
"I don't think I was afraid at the first moment. I don't think he was unkind--but--I know it now--he bent my will to his own; and at the last, when suddenly he let himself go, and that awful burst of desperation and wrath and recklessness swept away his strong grasp of himself, and broke the spell upon me, then I was filled with the wildest terror. I have heard that, when drowning, one sees a lifetime pass before one, with a host of memories crowded into a moment, and I felt like this when, suddenly, the scales seemed to fall from my eyes, and I knew all that he had meant--and did mean. Miss Chetwynde, it was not your brother Felix--never believe it! It was a madman!"
But Hope, thinking over this strange interview, is not so sure, and the unpleasant question has more than once of late thrust itself upon her, "Was the Felix Chetwynde whom they, whom she, had known--gay, careless, indolent, but generous and kindly, and so devoted--was he the real Felix? Or had the real man thrown down his mask on that last day, at that last moment? and was it the face of the real Felix that had looked out from the coffin, cold, unsmiling unreadable, baffling?"
One day she takes out the letter which Aunt Cass has guarded for a time and finally given into her hands, and peruses again, for the twentieth time no doubt, the strange words of the stranger woman who had signed herself "Inez."| | 209
What could the writer of this letter tell, that she should dare taunt Felix Chetwynde with the possibility of her momentary appearance at the villa? Every word, every line, she perceives, as never before, tells of a power, a sword, held over his head. And what is it which she calls, with coarse irony Hope thinks, a "stick"? A stick which she promises to restore to him. What can it mean, this figurative "stick," which, she assumes, he will be rejoiced to retain? Can it be--
Hope springs suddenly to her feet, her face aflame with a new strange intuition. How stupid she has been! How idiotic!
It is early afternoon, and she rushes to her aunt's door. The room is empty, but her own maid appearing at the moment explains.
"Miss Cassandra has gone out on her wheel, miss," she says demurely. "I think she thought you were asleep, and she said I was just to tell you that she had gone out for a little exercise."
"And is that all she said?"
"Why, miss," with slow hesitancy, "she did say, sort of to herself, that she'd paid dearly enough, she knew, to learn to ride a wheel, and now she meant to ride it. You know, Miss Hope, she did get some awful falls, even with Mr. Felix to help her."
Hope is more than vexed.
"I suppose a bicycle will be in at my marriage, death, and burial," she complains to herself. "If it weren't for a pair of bicycles--but there, Aunt Cass is Aunt Cass, and she doesn't dream how much I want her this moment!"
She does not delay, however, the thing she has in | | 210 mind, but drives with all speed to see, where she hopes, at this hour, to find Sheriff Cook holding official state; that is, at his headquarters.
As she steps from her carriage to the pavement, she holds in her hand, not the beruffled silken parasol affected by ladies who drive, but a large sun umbrella, loosely rolled and strapped, and she enters the sheriffs presence with this in hand.
He is alone, or rather he has cleared his office at sight of her pony carriage before his windows, and she comes straight to the point.
"Mr. Cook, I wonder what you have thought of my half measures and shilly-shallying ways in dealing with you. Will you tell me, please, why you have not made me behave like a reasonable being, and having empowered you to act for me, commanded me to cease hampering your movements? Why have you not asked for these letters?" and she places before him the anonymous letters dropped in her lap on the Lakeville express, and the other signed "Inez." "Why," she goes on breathlessly, "did you not demand--this?" she has shaken out the folds of the sun umbrella, and she now draws from out of them the oddly carved and mounted cane found beside her brother's body. "And--most of all--why did you not bid me throw open to you my brother's room--his desk, his letters, and all that?"
"Because, my dear young lady," he replies, when at last she ceases to pour out her catechism, "I was quite certain that, in due time, you would do precisely what you have done: bring these things to me or place them at my disposal."| | 211
"But what did you think of such weakness--such folly?"
"It has been neither. You have very naturally dreaded what you saw more and more clearly day by day must be done--and known. Sit down, Miss Chetwynde. Do you think I have not known the struggle in your mind, the dread of what might become public property once it is known that there is an 'Inez' otherwise unknown, and so on, and so on? I have been simply waiting your time, sure that, sooner or later, you would decide to let things come to some definite conclusion. To know the best--and the worst."
"Thank you. You restore my self-respect, and the time has come. Only--I ask once more that nothing be made known to the public until there is positive proof of murder, of intent; and that it is not a case of a wrong, or sin, recoiling upon the sinner."
She takes up the cane, her voice is firm, her manner direct and composed. "In reading that note from 'Inez,'" she asks, "has it occurred to you that the 'stick,' which I have been taking for a mere figure of speech, means in reality this cane?"
He takes it from her hand, looks at it critically, then puts it aside. "Yes," he answers, smiling, "I have thought of that."
She rises, and turns as if to go.
"I leave all in your hands now," she says firmly. "There shall be no more reservations or concealments."
When Aunt Cass returns, which she does not do until Hope has been two hours at home from Lee, | | 212 that young woman, without stopping to observe that the little spinster seems somewhat excited and self-absorbed, tells her across the tea-table what she has done, all of it, omitting nothing; and her aunt sums up her approval in these words--
"Well, I'm glad it's done at last. You were wise--finally;" and then, after a moment's pause, "Are you sure, now, that you have told him everything?"
"Everything," declares Hope--"every simple item."
"Oh, then of course you did not omit to mention once more the shabby boy who came here at the last moment to see Felix in his coffin?"
And Hope starts and looks her guilt. She has forgotten it quite. The boy, and the crushed red rose under the coffin lid, both have slipped entirely from her memory.
"Well," comments Aunt Cass leniently, "you've had quite too much to remember, I'm sure. And now, let me announce my discoveries."
"What are they?"
"First, that Redlands ghost, that we heard of so long ago, has begun to walk--or fly."
"Oh, you have been to Redlands?"
"To Redlands, and to the cemetery. I really think, at last, that I have mastered my wheel, Hope."
Hope is silent, and Aunt Cass hastens away from the topic of discord. "Do you know, my dear, that some one puts fresh flowers on Fee's grave almost daily?"
"Fresh flowers--what flowers?"
"Roses; great half-blown red roses!"
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