- PART III
- CHAPTER IV THE SHADOW OF DEATH
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THE SHADOW OF DEATH
This was on Saturday, and by Monday the whole town of Crompton, from District No. 5 to the village on the seashore, was buzzing with the news told eagerly from one to another. The young girl who had sprained her ankle while coming to take charge of the school in District No. 5 had, it was told, turned out to be the daughter of Mrs. Amy, and was at the Crompton House with her mother, who had thought her dead. This some believed and some did not, until assured by Mrs. Biggs, who, having done her washing on Saturday, was free on Monday to call upon her neighbors and repeat the story over and over, ending always with, "I mistrusted from the first that she was somebody."
The second piece of news was scarcely less exciting, but sad. After his interview with Eloise, the Colonel had complained of nausea and faintness, and had gone early to bed. Before going, however, he had asked if Eliza Ann were still in the house. An' idea once lodged in his brain was apt to stay, and Eliza Ann had taken too strong a hold upon his senses to be easily removed.
"Bring her here," he said.
She came at once and asked what she could do for him.| | 316
"Sit down," he said. "You seem to be lame."
He had evidently forgotten about the accident, and Eloise did not remind him of it, but sat down while he catechised her with regard to what she had told him of herself. Some of his comments on Homer Smith were not very complimentary, and this emboldened Eloise to tell him who her real father was.
"Thank God!" he said emphatically. "I'm glad you are not that rascal's, and because you are not you can stay with Amy and fare as she fares. But why did she think you dead?"
Eloise told him all she thought necessary to tell him, while his face grew purple with anger, and his clenched fists beat the air as if attacking an imaginary Homer Smith.
"It's a comfort to know, if there is a God--and I know there is--he is getting his deserts," he said. Then, as his mood changed, he continued, "And you are the little normal I didn't want, and you board with Mrs. Biggs?"
"Yes," Eloise replied. "I am the normal you did not want, and I board with Mrs. Biggs, where I heard a great deal of Mrs. Amy, as they call her. I must have a slow, stupid mind, or I should have suspected who she was. I never heard the name Harris connected with her. If I had I should have known. It is so clear to me now."
The Colonel looked at her a moment, and then said, "If you are Amy's daughter you are a Harris, and they are queer, with slow minds,--and now go. I am infernally tired, and cannot keep up much longer."| | 317
He moved his hand toward her, and Eloise took it and pressed it to her lips.
"D-don't," the Colonel said, but held fast to the soft, warm hand clasping his. "If one's life could roll back," he added, more to himself than to Eloise, as his head dropped wearily upon his breast, and he whispered, "I am sorry for a great deal. God knows I am sorry. Call Peter."
The old servant came and got him to bed, and sat by him most of the night. Toward morning, finding that he was sleeping quietly, he, too, lay down and slept until the early sun was shining into the room. Waking with a start, he hurried to his master's side, to find him with wide-open eyes full of terror as he tried to ask what had happened to him. All power to move except his head was gone, and when he tried to talk his lips gave only inarticulate sounds which no one could understand.
"Paralysis," the doctor said when summoned. "I have expected it a long time," he continued, and would give no hope to Amy and Eloise, who hastened to the sick-room.
The moment they came in the Colonel's eyes brightened, and when Amy stooped and kissed him he tried to kiss her back. Then he fixed his eyes on Eloise with a questioning glance, which made her say to him, "Do you know me?"
He struggled hard for a moment, and then replied, "Yesh, 'Lisha Ann! Stay!" and those were the only really intelligible words he ever spoke.
They telegraphed to Worcester for Howard, and learning that he was in Boston, telegraphed there, and found him at the Vendome. "Come at once. Your uncle is dying," the telegram said, and Howard | | 318 read it with a sensation for which he hated himself, and which he could not entirely shake off. He tried to believe he did not want his uncle to die, but if he did die, what might it not do for him, the only direct heir, if Amy were not a lawful daughter? And he did not believe she was. She had not been adopted, and he had never heard of a will, and before he was aware of it a feeling that he was master of Crompton Place crept over him. Amy would live there, of course, just as she did now, even if he should marry, as he might, and there came up before him the memory of a rainy night and a helpless little girl sitting on a mound of stones and dirt and crying with fear and pain. He had seen Jack's interest in Eloise with outward indifference, but with a growing jealousy he was too proud to show. He admired her greatly, and thought that under some circumstances he might love her. As a Crompton he ought to look higher, and if he proved to be the heir it would never do to think of her even if Jack were not in his way. All this passed like lightning through his mind as he read the telegram and handed it to Jack, who, he insisted, should return with him to Crompton.
"I feel awfully shaky, and I want you there if anything happens," he said, while Jack, whose first thought had been that he would be in the way, was not loath to go.
Eloise was in Crompton, and ever since he left it, a thought of her had been in his mind.
"If I find her as sweet and lovely as I left her, I'll ask her to be my wife, and take her away from Mrs. Biggs," he was thinking as the train sped on over the New England hills toward Crompton, which it reached about two P.M.| | 319
Peter was at the station with Sam, and to Howard's eager questions answered, "Pretty bad. No change since morning. Don't seem to know anybody except Mrs. Amy and Miss Eloise. She's with him all the time, and he tries to smile when she speaks to him."
"Who?" both the young men asked in the same breath, and Peter told them all he knew of the matter during the rapid drive to the house.
Howard was incredulous, and made Peter repeat the story twice, while his brain worked rapidly with a presentiment that this new complication might prove adverse to him.
"What do you think of it?" he asked Jack, who replied, "I see no reason to doubt it," and he was conscious of a pang of regret that he had not asked Eloise to be his wife before her changed circumstances.
"She would then know that I loved her for herself, and not for any family relations," he thought.
He had no doubt that Amy was Col. Crompton's daughter, and if so, Eloise's position would be very different from what it had been.
"I'll wait the course of events, as this is no time for love-making," he decided, as they drove up to the door, from which the doctor was just emerging.
"Matter of a few hours," he said to Howard. "I am glad you have come. Evidently he wants to see you, or wants something, nobody can make out what. You have heard the news?"
Howard bowed, and entering the house, ran up to his uncle's room. The Colonel was propped on pillows, laboring for breath, and trying to articulate words impossible to speak, while, if ever eyes talked, | | 320 his were talking, first to Amy and then to Eloise, both of whom were beside him, Amy smoothing his hair and Eloise rubbing his cold hands.
They had been with him for hours, trying to understand him as he struggled to speak.
"There is something he wants to tell us," Eloise said, and in his eyes there was a look of affirmation, while the lips tried in vain to frame the words, which were only gurgling sounds.
What did the dying man want to say? Was he trying to reveal a secret kept so many years, and which was planting his pillow with thorns? Was he back in the palmetto clearing, standing in the moonlight with Dora, and exacting a promise from her which broke her heart? No one could guess, and least of all the two women ministering to him so tenderly,--Amy, because she loved him, and Eloise, because she felt that he was more to her than a mere stranger. She was very quiet and self-contained. The events of the last two days had transformed her from a timid girl into a fearless woman, ready to fight for her own rights and those of her mother. Once when Amy was from the room a moment she bent close to the Colonel and said, "You are my mother's father?"
There was a choking sound and an attempt to move the head which Eloise took for assent.
"Then you are my grandfather?" she added.
This time she was sure he nodded, and she said, "It will all be right. You can rest now," but he didn't rest.
There was more on his mind which he could not tell.
"I believe it is Mr. Howard," Eloise thought, and | | 321 said to him, "He is coming on the next train. I hear it now. He will soon be here. Is that what you want?"
The dying man turned his head wearily. There was more besides Howard he wanted, but when at last the young man came into the room, his eyes shone with a look of pleased recognition, and he tried to speak a welcome. In the hall outside Jack was waiting, and as Eloise passed out he gave her his hand, and leading her to a settee, sat down beside her, and told her how glad he was for the news he had heard of her, but feeling the while that he did not know whether he were glad or not. She had never looked fairer or sweeter to him than she did now, and yet there was a difference which he detected, and which troubled him. It would have been easy to say "I love you," to the helpless little school-teacher at Mrs. Biggs's, and he wished now he had done so, and not waited till she became a daughter of the Crompton House, as he believed she was. Now he could only look his love into the eyes which fell beneath his gaze, as he held her hand and questioned her of the Colonel's sudden attack, and the means by which she had discovered her relationship to Amy.
Again he repeated, "I am so glad for you," and might have said more if Howard had not stepped into the hall, his face clouded and anxious.
"He wants you, I think," he said to Eloise. "At least he wants something,--I don't know what."
Eloise went to him at once, and again there was a painful effort to speak. But whatever he would say was never said, and after a little the palsied tongue ceased trying to articulate, and only his | | 322 eyes showed how clear his reason was to the last. If there was sorrow for the past, he could not express it. If thoughts of the palmetto clearing were in his mind, no one knew it. All that could be guessed at was that he wanted Amy and Eloise with him.
"Call him father. I think he will like it," Eloise said to her mother, while Howard looked up quickly, and to Peter, who was present, it seemed as if a frown settled on his face as a smile flickered around the Colonel's mouth at the sound of the name Amy had not given him since she came from California.
All the afternoon and evening they watched him, as his breathing grew shorter and the heavy lids fell over the eyes, which, until they closed, rested upon Amy, who held his hand and spoke to him occasionally, calling him father, and asking if he knew her. To the very last he responded to the question with a quivering of the lids when he could no longer lift them, and when the clock on the stairs struck twelve, the physician who was present said to Eloise, "Take your mother away; he is dead."
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