“My dearest child,” came the peevish old voice, “you might have allowed my own son—”
“No, no, Auntie, you really mustn’t. I know how bad your head is ... yes, yes; he’s very well. You’ll see him in the morning.”
And all the while she was conscious of the figure that must be faced again presently, waiting on the landing.
“Shall I go and see that everything’s all right in his room?” she said. “Perhaps they’ve forgotten—”
“Yes, my dearest, go and see. And send Charlotte to me.”
The old voice was growing drowsy again.
Maggie went out swiftly without a word. There again stood the figure waiting. The landing lamp had been forgotten. She led the way to his room.
“Come, Laurie,” she said. “I’ll just see that everything’s all right.”
She found the matches again, lighted the candles, and set them on his table, still without a look at that face that turned always as she went.
“We shall have to dine alone,” she said, striving to make her voice natural, as she reached the door.
Then once more she raised her eyes to his, and looked him bravely in the face as he stood by the fire.
“Do just as you like about dressing,” she said. “I expect you’re tired.”
She could bear it no more. She went out without another word, passed steadily across the length of the landing to her own room, locked the door, and threw herself on her knees.
She was roused by a tap on the door—how much later she did not know. But the agony was passed for the present—the repulsion and the horror of what she had seen. Perhaps it was that she did not yet understand the whole truth. But at least her will was dominant; she was as a man who has fought with fear alone, and walks, white and trembling, yet perfectly himself, to the operating table.
She opened the door; and Susan stood there with a candle in one hand and a scrap of white in the other.
“For you, miss,” said the maid.
Maggie took it without a word, and read the name and the penciled message twice.
“Just light the lamp out here,” she said. “Oh ... and, by the way, send Charlotte to Mrs. Baxter at once.”
The maid still paused, eyeing her, as if with an unspoken question. There was terror too in her eyes.
“Mr. Laurie is not very well,” said Maggie steadily. “Please take no notice of anything. And ... and, Susan, I think I shall dine alone this evening, just a tray up here will do. If Mr. Laurie says anything, just explain that I am looking after Mrs. Baxter. And.... Susan—”
“Please see that Mrs. Baxter is not told that I am not dining downstairs.”
Maggie still stood an instant, hesitating. Then a thought recurred again.