“He can’t have it, I told you. You must say that my orders are strict.”
He held out his hand. “Then you won’t go to France with me?”
“Let me sleep on it,”—her fingers were firm on his own—“and don’t scold me any more.”
“Did I scold?”
“I am sorry.”
She smiled at him. The slow smile which transformed her. “I’ll forgive you. Call me up in the morning, please.”
She let him out, and went silently up the stairs. The General was again awake. “I want to talk,” he told her; “take off your cap, and sit where I can look at you.”
He was still feverish, still not quite responsible for what he might say.
She sat with the light falling full upon her. She never made an unnecessary movement, and her stillness soothed him. She was a good listener, and he grew garrulous.
At last he spoke of his wife. “Sometimes I think she is here and I find myself speaking. A little while ago, I thought I heard her moving in her room, but when I opened my eyes you were bending over me. Sometimes I seem to hear her singing—there is never a moment that I do not miss her. If I were good enough I might hope to meet her—perhaps the Lord will let the strength of my love compensate for the weakness of my will.”
So on and on in the broken old voice.
Bronson came at six, and Hilda went away to have some sleep. While the General drowsed she had put the collar safely away behind the Chinese scroll.
As she passed through the hall, she stopped for a moment at the head of the stairs. The painted lady smiled at her, the painted lady who was loved by the old man in the shadowed room.
No, Hilda was not a thief. Yet as she stood there, in the cold dawn of that Thanksgiving morning, she had it in her mind to steal from the painted lady things more precious than a pearl collar or an ermine cloak or the diamonds in a crown!
WHEN THE MORNING STARS SANG
Jean was having her breakfast in bed. Emily had slipped downstairs to drink an early cup of coffee with the Doctor and to warn him, “Don’t tell her to-day.”
“It will spoil her feast. Derry Drake is coming to dinner.”
“Do you really feel that way about it?”
“I don’t know how I feel.”
He rose and went to the window. “It’s a rotten morning.”
“It is Thanksgiving.”
“I haven’t much to be thankful for,” moodily. “I am, you tell me, about to lose my daughter. I am, also, it would seem, to part company with my best nurse.”
“Yes. I wanted her to take charge of things for me in France. She elects to stay here.”
“You don’t mean that. And I must say that I am rather glad that she is not going.”