Yet to the watcher the place was as sinister as a prison. Behind the solemn walls and the superficial flash of the windows, beneath the silence and the serenity, lay a life more terrible than death, engaged now in some drama of which he could not guess the issue. A conflict was proceeding there, more silent than the silence itself. Two souls fought for one against a foe of unknown strength and unguessed possibilities. The servants slept apart, and the old mistress apart, yet in one of those rooms (and he did not know which) a battle was locked of which the issue was more stupendous than that of any struggle with disease. Yet he could do nothing to help, except what he already did, with his fingers twisting and gripping a string of beads beneath the window-sill. Such a battle as this must be fought by picked champions; and since the priesthood in this instance could not help, a girl’s courage and love must take its place.
From the village above the hill came the stroke of a single bell; a bird in the garden-walk beyond the paling chirped softly to his mate; then once more silence came down upon the moonlit street, the striped shadows, the tall house and trees, and the bearded face watching at the window.
The little inner hall looked very quiet and familiar as Maggie Deronnais stood on the landing, passing through her last struggle with herself before the shock of battle. The stairs went straight down, with the old carpet, up and down which she had gone a thousand times, with every faint patch and line where it was a little worn at the edges, visible in the lamplight from overhead; and she stared at these, standing there silent in her white dress, bare-armed and bare-necked, with her hair in great coils on her head, as upright as a lance. Beneath lay the little hall, with the tiger-skin, the red-papered walls, and a few miscellaneous things—an old cloak of hers she used on rainy days in the garden, a straw hat of Laurie’s, and a cap or two, hanging on the pegs opposite. In front was the door to the outer hall, to the left, that of the smoking-room. The house was perfectly quiet. Dinner had been cleared away already through the hatch into the kitchen passage, and the servants’ quarters were on the other side of the house. No sound of any kind came from the smoking-room; not even the faint whiff of tobacco-smoke that had a way of stealing out when Laurie was smoking really seriously within.
She did not know why, she had stopped there, half-way down the stairs.
She had dined from a tray in her own room, as she had said; and had been there alone ever since, for the most part at her prie-Dieu, in dead silence, conscious of nothing connected, listening to the occasional tread of a maid in the hall beneath, passing to and from the dining-room. There she had tried to face the ordeal that was coming—the ordeal, at the nature of which even now she only half guessed, and she had realized nothing, formed no plan, considered no eventuality. Things were so wholly out of her experience that she had no process whereby to deal with them. Just two words came over and over again before her consciousness—Courage and Love.