Her interview with Father Mahon precipitated her half-formed resolution; and after tea she went upstairs to write to Mr. Cathcart.
It was an unconventional thing to do, but she was sufficiently perturbed to disregard that drawback, and she wrote a very sensible letter, explaining first who she was; then, without any names being mentioned, she described her adopted brother’s position, and indicated his experiences: she occupied the last page in asking two or three questions, and begging for general advice.
* * * * *
Mrs. Baxter displayed some symptoms after dinner which the girl recognized well enough. They comprised a resolute avoidance of Laurie’s name, a funny stiff little air of dignity, and a touch of patronage. And the interpretation of these things was that the old lady did not wish the subject to be mentioned again, and that, interiorly, she was doing her best ignore and forget it. Maggie felt, again, vaguely comforted; it left her a freer hand.
* * * * *
She lay awake a long time that night.
Her room was a little square one on the top of the stairs, above the smoking-room where she had that odd scene with Laurie a month or so before, and looking out upon the yew walk that led to the orchard. It was a cheerful little place enough, papered in brown, hung all over with water colors, with her bed in one corner; and it looked a reassuring familiar kind of place in the firelight, as she lay open-eyed and thinking.
It was not that she was at all frightened; it was no more than a little natural anxiety; and half a dozen times in the hour or two that she lay thinking, she turned resolutely over in bed, dismissed the little pictures that her mind formed in spite of herself, and began to think of pleasant, sane subjects.
But the images recurred. They were no more than little vignettes—Laurie talking to a severe-looking tall man with a sardonic smile; Laurie having tea with Mrs. Stapleton; Laurie in an empty room, looking at a closed door....
It was this last picture that recurred three or four times at the very instant that the girl was drowsing off into sleep; and it had therefore that particular vividness that characterizes the thoughts when the conscious attention is dormant. It had too a strangely perturbing effect upon her; and she could not imagine why.
After the third return of it her sense of humor came to the rescue: it was too ridiculous, she said, to be alarmed at an empty room and Laurie’s back. Once more she turned on her side, away from the firelight, and resolved, if it recurred again, to examine the details closely.
Again the moments passed: thought followed thought, in those quiet waves that lull the mind towards sleep; finally once more the picture was there, clear and distinct.
Yes; she would look at it this time.