It was rather a business to read it. It involved spectacles, a pushing aside of a plate, and a slight turning to catch the light. Mrs. Baxter read it, and handed it back, making three or four times the sound written as “Tut.”
“The tiresome boy!” she said querulously, but without alarm.
“What are we to do? You see, Mr. Morton thinks we ought to do something. He mentions a Mr. Cathcart.”
Mrs. Baxter reached out for the toast-rack.
“My dear, there’s nothing to be done. You know what Laurie is. It’ll only make him worse.”
Maggie looked at her uneasily.
“I wish we could do something,” she said.
“My dear, he’d have written to me—Mr. Morton, I mean—if Laurie had been really unwell. You see he only says he doesn’t attend to his work as he ought.”
Maggie took up the letter, put it carefully back into the envelope, and went on with breakfast. There was nothing more to be said just then.
But she was uneasy, and after breakfast went out into the garden, spud in hand, to think it all over, with the letter in her pocket.
Certainly the letter was not alarming per se, but per accidens—that is to say, taking into account who it was that had written, she was not so sure. She had met Mr. Morton but once, and had formed of him the kind of impression that a girl would form of such a man in the hours of a week-end—a brusque, ordinary kind of barrister without much imagination and a good deal of shrewd force. It was surely rather an extreme step for a man like this to write to a girl in such a condition of things, asking her to use her influence to dissuade Laurie from his present course of life. Plainly the man meant what he said; he had not written to Mrs. Baxter, as he explained in the letter, for fear of alarming her unduly, and, as he expressly said, there was nothing to be alarmed about. Yet he had written.
Maggie stopped at the lower end of the orchard path, took out the letter, and read the last three or four sentences again:
Please forgive me if you think it was unnecessary to write. Of course I have no doubt whatever that the whole thing is nothing but nonsense; but even nonsense can have a bad effect, and Mr. Baxter seems to me to be far too much wrapped up in it. I enclose the address of a friend of mine in case you would care to write to him on the subject. He was once a Spiritualist, and is now a devout Catholic. He takes a view of it that I do not take; but at any rate his advice could do no harm. You can trust him to be absolutely discreet.
It really was very odd and unconventional; and Mr. Morton had not seemed at all an odd or unconventional person. He mentioned, too, a particular date, February 25, as the date by which the medium would have returned, and some sort of further effort was going to be made; but he did not attempt to explain this, nor did Maggie understand it. It only seemed to her rather sinister and unpleasant.