Out he went on his mission for the lady of his heart, and the lady of his heart, sitting wet and worried in the pale-gray bedroom, was saying to herself, monotonously, “It’s all over now—no man could see me like this and love me—”
Cecily and her husband and the doctor and Landry came in out of the darkness together. They went up-stairs together, then stopped on the threshold as Cissy held up a warning hand.
She continued to croon softly the lullaby which had belonged to her own babies: “Hushaby, sweet, my own—”
It was Cecily and the doctor who went in to her, and Landry, standing back in the shadows, waited. He spoke to Cissy as she came out.
“I am going so early in the morning,” he said, “will you give me just one little minute now?”
In that minute he told her that he loved her.
And Cissy, standing in the library in all the disorder of uncurled locks and gray kimono, demanded, after a rapturous pause, “But why didn’t you tell me before?”
He found it hard to explain. “I didn’t quite realize it—until I saw you there so tender and sweet, with the baby in your arms—”
“A Madonna-creature,” murmured Cissy Beale.
But he did not understand. “It isn’t because I want you to sit in a chimney-corner—it wasn’t fair of you to say that—”
Then in just one short speech Cissy Beale showed him her heart. She told of the years of devotion, always unrewarded by the affection she craved. “And here was the baby,” she finished, “to grow up—and find somebody else, and forget me—”
As he gathered her into his protecting embrace, his big laugh comforted her.
“I’m yours till the end of the world, little grandmother,” he whispered. “I shall never find any one else—and I shall never forget.”
Kingdon Knox was not conscious of any special meanness of spirit. He was a lawyer and a good one. He was fifty, and wore his years with an effect of youth. He exercised persistently and kept his boyish figure. He had keen, dark eyes, and silver in his hair. He was always well groomed and well dressed, and his income provided him with the proper settings. His home in the suburb was spacious and handsome and presided over by a handsome and socially successful wife. His office was presided over by Mary Barker, who was his private secretary. She was thirty-five and had been in his office for fifteen years. She had come to him an unformed girl of twenty; she was now a perfect adjunct to his other office appointments. She wore tailored frocks, her hair was exquisitely dressed in shining waves, her hands were white and her nails polished, her slender feet shod in unexceptional shoes.
Nannie Ashburner, who was also in the office and who now and then took Knox’s dictation, had an immense admiration for Mary. “I wish I could wear my clothes as you do,” she would say as they walked home together.