“Mr. Laurie’s gone into the smoking-room, miss,” said the servant, looking at her oddly.
He was standing by the table as she went in; so much she could see: but the candles were unlighted, and no more was visible of him than his outline against the darkening window.
“Well, Laurie?” she said.
“Well, Maggie,” said his voice in answer. And their hands met.
Then in an instant she knew that something was wrong. Yet at the moment she had not an idea as to what it was that told her that. It was Laurie’s voice surely!
“You’re all in the dark,” she said.
There was no movement or word in answer. She passed her hand along the mantelpiece for the matches she had seen there just before; but her hand shook so much that some little metal ornament fell with a crash as she fumbled there, and she drew a long almost vocal breath of sudden nervous alarm. And still there was no movement in answer. Only the tall figure stood watching her it seemed—a pale luminous patch showing her his face.
Then she found the matches and struck one; and, keeping her face downcast, lighted, with fingers that shook violently, the two candles on the little table by the fire. She must just be natural and ordinary, she kept on telling herself. Then with another fierce effort of will she began to speak, lifting her eyes to his face as she did so.
“Auntie’s just fallen...” (her voice died suddenly for an instant, as she saw him looking at her)—then she finished—“just fallen asleep. Will ... you come up presently ... Laurie?”
Every word was an effort, as she looked steadily into the eyes that looked so steadily into hers.
It was Laurie—yes—but, good God...!
“You must just kiss her and come away,” she said, driving out the words with effort after effort. “She has a bad headache this evening.... Laurie—a bad headache.”
With a sudden twitch she turned away from those eyes.
“Come, Laurie,” she said. And she heard his steps following her.
They passed so through the inner hall and upstairs: and, without turning again, holding herself steady only by the consciousness that some appalling catastrophe was imminent if she did not, she opened the door of the old lady’s room.
“Here he is,” she said. “Now, Laurie, just kiss her and come away.”
“My dearest,” came the old voice from the gloom, and two hands were lifted.
Maggie watched, as the tall figure came obediently forward, in an indescribable terror. It was as when one watches a man in a tiger’s den.... But the figure bent obediently, and kissed.
Maggie instantly stepped forward.
“Not a word,” she said. “Auntie’s got a headache. Yes, Auntie, he’s very well; you’ll see him in the morning. Go out at once, please, Laurie.”
Without a word he passed out, and, as she closed the door after him, she heard him stop irresolute on the landing.