I left soon after. There was little I could do. But I comforted her as best I could, and said good night. My heart was heavy as I went down the stairs. For, twist things as I might, it was clear that in some way the Howell boy was mixed up in the Brice case. Poor little troubled Lida! Poor distracted boy!
I had a curious experience down-stairs. I had reached the foot of the staircase and was turning to go back and along the hall to the side entrance, when I came face to face with Isaac, the old colored man who had driven the family carriage when I was a child, and whom I had seen, at intervals since I came back, pottering around Alma’s house. The old man was bent and feeble; he came slowly down the hall, with a bunch of keys in his hand. I had seen him do the same thing many times.
He stopped when he saw me, and I shrank back from the light, but he had seen me. “Miss Bess!” he said. “Foh Gawd’s sake, Miss Bess!”
“You are making a mistake, my friend,” I said, quivering. “I am not ’Miss Bess’!”
He came close to me and stared into my face. And from that he looked at my cloth gloves, at my coat, and he shook his white head. “I sure thought you was Miss Bess,” he said, and made no further effort to detain me. He led the way back to the door where the machine waited, his head shaking with the palsy of age, muttering as he went. He opened the door with his best manner, and stood aside.
“Good night, ma’am,” he quavered.
I had tears in my eyes. I tried to keep them back. “Good night,” I said. “Good night, Ikkie.”
It had slipped out, my baby name for old Isaac!
“Miss Bess!” he cried. “Oh, praise Gawd, it’s Miss Bess again!”
He caught my arm and pulled me back into the hall, and there he held me, crying over me, muttering praises for my return, begging me to come back, recalling little tender things out of the past that almost killed me to hear again.
But I had made my bed and must lie in it. I forced him to swear silence about my visit; I made him promise not to reveal my identity to Lida; and I told him—Heaven forgive me!—that I was well and prosperous and happy.
Dear old Isaac! I would not let him come to see me, but the next day there came a basket, with six bottles of wine, and an old daguerreotype of my mother, that had been his treasure. Nor was that basket the last.
The coroner held an inquest over the headless body the next day, Tuesday. Mr. Graves telephoned me in the morning, and I went to the morgue with him.
I do not like the morgue, although some of my neighbors pay it weekly visits. It is by way of excursion, like nickelodeons or watching the circus put up its tents. I have heard them threaten the children that if they misbehaved they would not be taken to the morgue that week!