“I need her—to hold me to my best.”
“Hold yourself to it, Bruce—” She stood up. “I must go to bed, and so must you. We have busy days before us.”
He spoke impulsively. “You are a good woman, Emily—there’s no one in the world that I would trust to stay with Jean but you.”
She smiled a little wistfully as she went upstairs. She had perhaps comforted him, but she had left unsaid the words she should have spoken. “You must not take Hilda with you. If you take her with you, will your Jean be proud of her Daddy in France?”
HILDA WEARS A CROWN
At two o’clock on Thanksgiving morning the light burned low in the General’s room. Hilda, wide awake, was reading. Derry stopped at the door.
She rose at once and went to him.
“Is he all right, Miss Merritt?”
“Yes. He’s sound asleep.”
“Then you think he’s better?”
“Good. I hope you can stay on the case. Dr. McKenzie says it is all because of your splendid care of him. I just left McKenzie, by the way. I took him and his daughter to the ball at the Willard. We had a corking time.”
Her eyes saw a change in him. This was not the listless Derry with whom she had talked the day before—here were flushed cheeks and shining eyes—gay youth and gladness—.
“A corking time,” Derry reiterated. “The President was there, and his wife—and we danced a lot—and—” he caught himself up. “Well, good-night, Miss Merritt.”
“Good-night.” She went back to the shadowed room.
Bronson, following Derry, came back in a half hour with a dry, “Is there anything I can do for you, Miss Merritt?” and then the house was still.
And now Hilda was alone with the old man in the lacquered bed. There would be no interruptions until morning. It was the moment for which she had waited ever since the hour when the General had sent her into his wife’s room for a miniature of Derry, which was locked in the safe.
The suite which had belonged to Mrs. Drake consisted of three rooms—a sitting room, a bedroom and a sun-parlor which had been Derry’s nursery. Nothing had been changed since her death. Every day a maid cleaned and dusted, and at certain seasons the clothes in the presses were brushed and aired and put back again. In a little safe in the wall were jewels, and the key was on the General’s ring. He had given the key to Hilda when he had sent her for the miniature. His fever had been high, and he had not been quite himself. Even a nurse with a finer sense of honor might have argued, however, that her patient must be obeyed. So she knew now where his treasure was kept—behind a Chinese scroll, which when rolled up revealed the panel which hid the safe.
Hilda had never worn a jewel of value in her life. She possessed, it is true, a few trinkets, a gold ring with her monogram engraved in it, a string of Roman pearls, and a plain wrist watch. But such brilliance as that which met her startled eyes when she had first looked into the safe was beyond anything conceived by her rather limited imagination.