One mad impulse seized me to go out under her window and call to her, asking her to come down. But Lenox nights were very still, and the near neighbors on either side doubtless wide awake to all that was going on around the Sloman cottage.
So I sat still like an idiot, and counted the clock-strokes, and nervously calculated the possibility of her reappearance, until I heard, at last, footsteps coming along the hall in rapid tread. I darted up: “Oh, Bessie, I knew you would come back!” as through the open door walked in—Mary, Mrs. Sloman’s maid!
She started at seeing me: “Excuse me, sir. The parlor was so—I thought there was no one here.”
“What is it, Mary?” I asked with assumed indifference. “Do you want Miss Bessie? She went up stairs a few moments ago.”
“No, sir. I thought—that is—” glancing down in awkward confusion at the key she held in her hand. She was retiring again softly when I saw in the key the reason of her discomposure.
“Did you come in to lock up, Mary?” I asked with a laugh.
“Yes, sir. But it is of no consequence. I thought you had gone, sir.”
“Time I was, I suppose. Well, Mary, you shall lock me out, and then carry this note to Miss Bessie. It is so late that I will not wait for her. Perhaps she is busy with Mrs. Sloman.”
Something in Mary’s face made me suspect that she knew Mrs. Sloman to be sound asleep at this moment; but she said nothing, and waited respectfully until I had scribbled a hasty note, rifling Bessie’s writing-desk for the envelope in which to put my card. Dear child! there lay my photograph, the first thing I saw as I raised the dainty lid.
“Bessie,” I wrote, “I have waited until Mary has come in with her keys, and I suppose I must go. My train starts at nine to-morrow morning, but you will be ready—will you not?—at six to take a morning walk with me. I will be here at that hour. You don’t know how disturbed and anxious I shall be till then.”
Morning came—or rather the long night came to an end at last—and at twenty minutes before six I opened the gate at the Sloman cottage. It was so late in September that the morning was a little hazy and uncertain. And yet the air was warm and soft—a perfect reflex, I thought, of Bessie last night—an electric softness under a brooding cloud.
The little house lay wrapped in slumber. I hesitated to pull the bell: no, it would startle Mrs. Sloman. Bessie was coming: she would surely not make me wait. Was not that her muslin curtain stirring? I would wait in the porch—she would certainly come down soon.
So I waited, whistling softly to myself as I pushed the withered leaves about with my stick and drew strange patterns among them. Half an hour passed.
“I will give her a gentle reminder;” so I gathered a spray from the honeysuckle, a late bloom among the fast-falling leaves, and aimed it right at the muslin curtain. The folds parted and it fell into the room, but instead of the answering face that I looked to see, all was still again.