“Land sakes, look out! he’s going to fall,” cried Mrs. Sykes in terror.
“Breakdown,” said the professor briefly. “I expected something of the kind. Help me to get him to the car.”
“Oh, Land, Land,” moaned; Mrs. Sykes, “whatever”—but realising that the time for questioning was not yet, she did what she was told without more words.
“Better send for Dr. Parker,” said Willits crisply to Miss Philps who had come in quietly. “Better tell the minister, too. Keep the little girl down stairs. I’ll be back as soon as I can. Mrs. Sykes, I shall want you to come with me.”
“Oh, Land—” but she got no further, the car was off like the wind.
Later when the doctor had been put to bed like a child and telegrams dispatched which would bring a specialist and a nurse on the afternoon train, the good lady drew a long breath and decided that she couldn’t “last out” a moment longer.
Drawing Willits from the room her questions burst forth in their unstemmed torrent.
The tall man listened at first in bewilderment. Then, as the true inwardness of the case dawned on him, a look which was almost admiration came over his angular countenance.
“Why, Mrs. Sykes,” he said, “is it possible that you do not know? I would have told you before but I took your knowledge for granted. The poor lady whom my friend was to marry was found dead in her bed. She died during the night. An overdose of sleeping powder.”
Autumn that year was short and golden. Winter came early. In November it stormed, thawed, stormed again and began to freeze in earnest. The frost bit deeply but one night when its grip was sure, the temperature rose a little and snow began to fall. For days and nights it snowed, softly, steadily, without wind, and then the clouds parted and the sun shone out—a far off sun in a sky as blue as summer and cold as polar seas. The air tingled and snapped with frost. In the azure cup of the sunlit sky it sparkled like golden wine, and, like wine, it thrilled and strengthened. People stamped their feet and beat their hands to keep warm but smiled the while and murmured: “Glorious!”
So much for the weather—since it was the weather which became the main factor in helping Coombe forget the tragedy at the Elms. Wonder is no nine-day affair in Coombe. One sensation is carefully conserved until the next one comes along, but in this case the early winter with its complete change of interests, its sleighing, skating and snow-shoeing, its reawakening of business and social bustle proved a distraction almost as effective as battle, murder or sudden death. The talk died down, the interest slackened, and the principal actors were once more permitted to become normal persons living in a normal world.
For a time it had seemed that this desired condition would never be obtained. Coombe had felt the breath of a mystery. It was supposed to know everything and suspected that it knew nothing—a state of things aggravating to any well regulated community.