Like her mother, Margaret in her womanhood—she was eighteen—was well made; her figure being as firm and well knit as that of a boy. For an instant his eyes wandered over her simple gown of white mull, tied at the throat with the daintiest of pink ribbons, her well shaped ears and the wealth of auburn hair that sprang from the nape of her shapely neck and lay in an undulating mass of gold all over her pretty head. Whatever sorrows life had for him were nothing compared to the joy of this daughter.
All his anger was gone in an instant.
“Little girl, you know it’s against orders, this reading in bed,” he said in his kindly tone. Never in all her life had he spoken a cross word to her. “You’ll ruin your eyes and you must be tired.”
She closed her book. “Tired—yes, I am tired. Mother’s dinners are such dreadfully long ones, and, then, daddy, to-night I’ve been worrying about you. You seemed so silent at dinner—it made my heart ache. Are you ill, daddy? or has something happened? I tried to sleep, but I couldn’t. I’ve been waiting for you. Tell me what has happened—you will tell me, won’t you, daddy?” Her smooth, young arms were about his neck now. “Tell me,” she pleaded in his ear.
“There’s nothing to tell, little girl,” he said. “I’m tired too, I suppose; that’s all. Come—you must go to sleep. Pouf!” and he blew out the flame of the reading candle at her bedside.
* * * * *
For a long time that night Thayor sat staring into the fire in his room, his mind going over the events of the day—the luncheon—the talk of those around the table—the tones of Holcomb’s voice as he said, “It was about his wife,” and then the added refrain: “He couldn’t get away; his little girl fell ill.” How did his case differ?
Suddenly he roused himself and sprang to his feet. No! he was wrong; there was nothing in it. Couldn’t be anything in it. Alice was foolish—vain—illogical—but there was Margaret! Nothing would—nothing could go wrong as long as she lived.
With these new thoughts filling his mind, his face brightened. Turning up the reading lamp on his desk he opened his portfolio, covered half a page and slipped it into an envelope.
This he addressed to Mr. William Holcomb, ready for Blakeman’s hand in the morning.
Two days subsequent to these occurrences—and some hours after his coupe loaded with his guns and traps had rumbled away to meet Holcomb, in time for the Adirondack express—Thayor laid a note in his butler’s hands with special instructions not to place it among his lady’s mail until she awoke.
He could not have chosen a better messenger. While originally hailing from Ireland, and while retaining some of the characteristics of his race—his good humor being one of them—Blakeman yet possessed that smoothness and deference so often found in an English servant. In his earlier life he had served Lord Bromley in the Indian jungle during the famine; had been second man at the country seat of the Duke of Valmoncourt at the time of the baccarat scandal, and later on had risen to the position of chief butler in the establishment of an unpopular Roumanian general.