“Have you determined what to do?” asked the sister, gazing into the fire.
“Not yet. But I sha’n’t go back West. Flight doesn’t avail. And, Ruth”—
“Yes, brother; you’ve cabled?”
“I have. He’ll come at once, this time.” A step on the porch drew the speaker to the door.
The telegram from the capital had come. But until its bearer had gone again and was out of hearing down the street the young man lingered in the porch. His mind was wholly on that evening when Isabel had passed with the lantern. Would she pass now? From the idle query he turned to go in, when Ruth came out, and they stayed another moment together. Presently their ear caught a stir at the side of the Morris cottage.
“Hmm,” murmured Ruth half consciously, and, with a playful shudder at the cold, whispered, “Come in, come in!”
But then quickly, lest this should carry a hint of distrust, she tripped in alone, closed the door, and glided to the bright hearth. There a moment of waiting changed her mind. She ran again to the door, and began to say as she threw it open, “My brother! you’ll catch your”—
But no brother was there.
THE THIN ICE BREAKS
Isabel, who had never confessed her trouble to her mother until now, had this evening told all there was to tell.
“No, no, my dear,” she said as she moved to go, “I have no dread of his blows. I don’t suppose he will ever strike me again. Ah, there’s the worst of it; he’s got away, away beyond blows. I wish sometimes he’d brain me, if only that would stop his secretly watching me.
“If he’d never gone beyond blows, I would have died before I would have told; not for meekness, dearie, nor even for love,—of you, or my child, or any one,—but just for pride and shame. But to know, every day and hour, that I’m watched, and that every path I tread is full of traps,—there’s what’s killing me. And I could let it kill me and never tell, if being killed were all. But I tell you because—Oh, my poor little mother dearie, do I wear you out, saying the same things over and over?
“This is all I ask you to remember: that my reason for telling you is to save the honor of my husband himself, and of you, dear heart, and of—of my child, you know. For, mother, every innocent thing I do is being woven into a net of criminating evidence. Sooner or later it’s certain to catch me fast and give me over, you and me and—and baby, to public shame.”
As they went toward the arbor door Isabel warily hushed, but her mother said: “There’s no one to overhear, honey-blossom; Minnie’s at your house with Sarah.”
But neither was there more to be said. The daughter shut herself out, and stood alone on the doorstep pondering what she had done. For she had acted as well as spoken, and, without knowledge of Leonard’s move, was calling Godfrey home herself. Her mother was to send the dispatch in the morning.