Rosalie tiptoed to the desk, bringing pen and ink, which she laid on the table beside Norcross. It was quite evident that one of their number was by this time enjoying the situation.
“Keep everybody here for three minutes—I’ll be back,” she said to Blake, and floated out of the door.
As Norcross handed over the check, Dr. Blake spoke:
“I am taking Miss Markham away. She is not to see this woman again—taking her to my aunt’s house. I, too, want a witness. If I have done anything for you to-night, will you return it by setting us down in your automobile?”
“Certainly,” responded Norcross. “I suppose I ought to thank you—but I’ve got to think this thing out.” He scrutinized Blake closely. “How about you and the papers—I hadn’t thought of you—”
Blake, still dropping soft love pats on Annette’s hair and shoulders, looked into the eyes of the railroad king.
“I have earned that opinion, I suppose,” he said. “I can’t say that I feel myself greatly superior to—to anyone here—tonight. But I’ve done what I started to do. My name is Blake, Mr. Norcross—Dr. Walter H. Blake—lately army surgeon in the Philippines, if you take my profession as a voucher. My father was Rear-Admiral Blake, if family will help establish me. Or, better, I intend to marry this girl as soon as the license clerk will let me—and it isn’t likely that I’ll make public anything that involves my wife and her people. Does that satisfy you?”
Norcross ran his eye across them. It rested a moment upon Annette; and a ghost of that late emotion, of which she had been the instrument, flashed across his face.
“I guess I’m satisfied,” he said.
Now Rosalie, in hat and wraps, stood at the door carrying her suit case.
“Sorry to leave without notice, Mrs. Markham,” she said, “but you remember I haven’t drawn no pay as housekeeper for doin’ you up. I guess we’d all better be goin’. Here’s your hat, Dr. Blake, and a fur coat and boots for Miss Markham.”
Paula Markham, twirling the fifty thousand dollar check idly in her fingers, rose from the piano stool.
“I wish you to listen, Dr. Blake,” she said, “although you may not believe it, I am really fond of Annette. The temptation to use her became too strong. Believe me, I have intended for some time to stop it. I had stopped it in fact, when this big fish came to my net. You have seen, no more keenly than I, how hard it was on her nerves. Take her away and give her a good time—she needs it. Indeed, had you come into her life a little later, I should have welcomed you—for after I found that she had no clairvoyance in her, I wanted her to be happy.”
“You had an admirable way of showing it,” responded Dr. Blake. “What about putting aside earthly love for strength?”
“It kept off the undesirables,” said Mrs. Markham, “and just then—with this large order in hand—you were an undesirable. I shall not ask you to let me see her for the present—indeed, I am going away—but years from now, when you and she have softened—”