He sprang to his feet. For the moment Idepski, Hellbeam, everything was forgotten. His thought had bridged the miles between Farewell Cove and the ancient city of the early French, Nancy! That woman—that devoted wife who was striving with all the power of a frail body to serve him. There would be a letter in that mail from Nisson, telling him—Yes. There might even be a letter from Nancy herself.
The sack was in his hands. He had broken the seals. He shook out the contents upon the floor. A packet of less than half a hundred letters, and the rest was an assortment of parcels of all shapes and sizes. It was the letter packet that interested him, and he untied the string that held it.
A swift search produced the expected. Standing looked for the handwriting of Charles Nisson, the shrewd, obscure lawyer in the country town of Abercrombie. He had never yet failed him. He would not be likely to. A bulky letter remained in his hand. The others lay scattered broadcast upon the desk.
For some moments he held the letter unopened. The lean fingers felt the bulk of the envelope, while feverish eyes surveyed, and read over and over the address in the familiar small, cramped handwriting. The impulse of the moment was to tear open the letter forthwith, to snatch at the tidings he felt it to contain. But something deterred. Something left him doubting, hesitating. It was what Bat had called his “yellow streak.” Suppose—suppose—But with all his might he thrust his fears aside. He tore off the outer cover and unfolded the closely written pages.
Long, silent moments passed, broken only by the shuffling of the sheets of the letter as he turned them. Not once did he look up from his reading. Right through to the end, the dreadful, bitter end, he read the hideous news his loyal friend had to impart. Twice, during the reading, the sharp intake of breath, that almost whistled in the silence of the room, told of an emotion he had no power to repress, and at the finish of it all the mechanically re-folded page’s fell from shaking, nerveless fingers upon the littered desk.
His eyes remained lowered gazing at the fallen letter. His hands remained poised where the letter had fallen from them. His face had lost its healthful hue. It was grey, and drawn, and the lips that parted as he muttered had completely blanched.
“Dead!” he whispered without consciousness of articulation. “Dead! Nancy! My boy! Both! Oh, God!”
THE “YELLOW STREAK”
The grey, evening light was significant of the passing season. A chilly breeze whipped about the faces of the men at the fringe of the woods. They were resting after a long tramp of inspection through the virgin forests. It was on a ledge, high up on the hillside of the northern shore of the cove, where the ground dropped away in front of them several hundreds of feet to the waters below. Behind them was a backing of standing timber which sheltered them from the full force of the biting wind.