“I wish she was my daughter—about five minutes!”
New sounds from without—men’s voices in greeting, and a ripple of response from Cora somewhat lacking in enthusiasm—afforded Mr. Madison unmistakable relief, and an errand upon which to send his deadly offspring.
Hedrick, after a reconnaissance in the hall, obeyed at leisure. Closing the library door nonchalantly behind him, he found himself at the foot of a flight of unillumined back stairs, where his manner underwent a swift alteration, for here was an adventure to be gone about with ceremony. “Ventre St. Gris!” he muttered hoarsely, and loosened the long rapier in the shabby sheath at his side. For, with the closing of the door, he had become a Huguenot gentleman, over forty and a little grizzled perhaps, but modest and unassuming; wiry, alert, lightning-quick, with a wrist of steel and a heart of gold; and he was about to ascend the stairs of an unknown house at Blois in total darkness. He went up, crouching, ready for anything, without a footfall, not even causing a hideous creak; and gained the top in safety. Here he turned into an obscure passage, and at the end of it beheld, through an open door, a little room in which a dark-eyed lady sat writing in a book by the light of an oil lamp.
The wary Huguenot remained in the shadow and observed her.
Laura was writing in an old ledger she had found in the attic, blank and unused. She had rebound it herself in heavy gray leather; and fitted it with a tiny padlock and key. She wore the key under her dress upon a very thin silver chain round her neck. Upon the first page of the book was written a date, now more than a year past, the month was June—and beneath it:
“Love came to me to-day.”
Nothing more was written upon that page.
Laura, at this writing, looked piquantly unfamiliar to her brother: her eyes were moist and bright; her cheeks were flushed and as she bent low, intently close to the book, a loosened wavy strand of her dark hair almost touched the page. Hedrick had never before seen her wearing an expression so “becoming” as the eager and tremulous warmth of this; though sometimes, at the piano, she would play in a reverie which wrought such glamour about her that even a brother was obliged to consider her rather handsome. She looked more than handsome now, so strangely lovely, in fact, that his eyes watered painfully with the protracted struggle to read a little of the writing in her book before she discovered him.
He gave it up at last, and lounged forward blinking, with the air of finding it sweet to do nothing.
“Whatch’ writin’?” he asked in simple carelessness.
At the first sound of his movement she closed the book in a flash; then, with a startled, protective gesture, extended her arms over it, covering it.
“What is it, Hedrick?” she asked, breathlessly.