Gwen now transferred her attention to Maitland, and asked: “Had not one of us better go for an officer?” Maitland, whose power of concentration is so remarkable as on some occasions to render him utterly oblivious of his surroundings, did not notice the question and Browne replied to it for him. “I should be only too happy to fetch an officer for you, if you wish,” he said. Have you ever noticed how acute the mind is for trifles and slight incongruities when under the severe tension of such a shock as we had experienced? Such attacks, threatening to invade and forever subjugate our happiness, seem to have the effect of so completely manning the ramparts of our intellect the nothing, however trivial, escapes observation. Gwen’s father, her only near relative, lay cold before her,—his death, from her standpoint, the most painful of mysteries, —and yet the incongruity of Browne’s “only too happy " did not escape her, as was evident by the quick glance and sudden relaxation of the mouth into the faintest semblance of a smile. All this was momentary and, I doubt not, half unconscious. She replied gravely:
“I would indeed be obliged if you would do so.”
Maitland, who had now finished his examination, noticed that Browne was about to depart. When the artist would have passed him on his way to the hall door, he placed his hand upon that gentleman’s shoulder, saying: “Pardon me, sir, but I would strongly urge that you do not leave the room!”
Browne paused. Both men stood like excited animals at gaze.
Nothing is so full of possibilities as the seemingly impossible.
Maitland’s request that Browne should not leave the room seemed to us all a veritable thunderbolt. It impressed me at the time as being a thinly veneered command, and I remember fearing lest the artist should be injudicious enough to disregard it. If he could have seen his own face for the next few moments, he would have had a lesson in expression which years of portrait work may fail to teach him. At length the rapidly changing kaleidoscope of his mind seemed to settle, to group its varied imaginings about a definite idea,—the idea that he had been all but openly accused, in the presence of Miss Darrow, of being instrumental in her father’s death. For a moment, as he faced Maitland, whom he instinctively felt to be a rival, he looked so dark and sinister that one could easily have believed him capable of almost any crime.
Gwen was no less surprised than the rest of us at Maitland’s interference, but she did not permit it to show in her voice as she said quietly: “Mr. Browne has consented to go for an officer.” As I felt sure she must have thought Maitland already knew this, as anyone else must have heard what had passed, I looked upon her remark as a polite way of saying:
“I am mistress here.”