He was down there in the early starlight when Ruth drove softly into the garden, bringing Isabel. Warily the mother came out into the pillared porch, and silently received the house’s mistress into her arms.
“He doesn’t know,” she said. “I couldn’t tell him till you should come, for fear of disappointing him.”
The argument seemed strained, but no one said so, and with a whispered good-night Ruth drove away, and the two went in. As they stole upstairs they debated how Isabel had best reveal herself. “I’m terribly afraid that won’t work, blessing,” said Mrs. Morris; “you’d better let me break it to him, first.”
“No, dearie, I don’t think so. I haven’t the shadow of a fear”—
“Oh, my darling child, you never have!”
“But I know him so well, mother. We have only to come unexpectedly face to face and—Oh, I’ve seen the effect so often!” They entered her room whispering: “I’ll change this dress for the one he last saw me in, and stand over here by the crib where I stood then, and—Oh, sweet Heaven! is this my little flower sleeping just as I left her?” With clasped hands and tearful eyes she bent over the child.
Then she began to unrobe, but stopped to throw her arms about her mother’s neck.
“Now, dearly beloved, you hurry away down the path and persuade him up and send him in. I’m only afraid you’ll find him chilled half to death, it’s growing cold so fast. And you can follow in after him, dearie, if you wish,—only not too close.”
The mother went, and had got no farther than the cross-path when she came all at once upon the master of the house.
“Oh! ho, ho! here you are! I was just—Arthur, dear, where is your overcoat? Do go right up to your room, my son, till I can get Sarah to have a fire started in the library.” She multiplied words in pure affright, so drawn was his face with anguish, and so wild his eyes with aimless consternation.
Without reply he passed in and went upstairs. Mrs. Morris remained below.
Isabel’s heart beat fast. She had made her change of dress, and in a far corner of her room, with her face toward the open door that let into his, was again leaning with a mother’s ecstasy over the sleeping babe, when she heard his step.
It came to his outer door, which from her place could not be seen.
Did he stop, and stand there? No, he had not stopped; he was only moving softly, for the child’s sake.
She stood motionless, listening and looking with her whole soul, and wishing the light were less dim in this shadowy corner, but knowing there was enough to show her to him when he should reach the nearer door. The endless moment wore away, and there on the threshold he stood—if that—Oh merciful God!—if that was Arthur Winslow.
His eyes fell instantly upon her, yet he made neither motion nor sound, only stayed and stared, while an unearthly terror came into his face.