When the eggnog was being served and the guests were broken up into knots and groups, all discussing the beauty of the reading, she suddenly left Willits, who had followed her every move as if he had a prior right to her person, and going up to St. George, led him out of the room to one of the sofas in Richard’s study, her lips quivering, the undried tears still trembling on her eyelids. She did not release his hand as they took their seats. Her fingers closed only the tighter, as if she feared he would slip from her grasp.
“It was all so beautiful and so terrible, Uncle George,” she moaned at last—“and all so true. Such awful mistakes are made and then it is too late. And nobody understands—nobody—nobody!” She paused, as if the mere utterance pained her, and then to St. George’s amazement asked abruptly “Is there nothing yet from Harry?”
St. George looked at her keenly, wondering whether he had caught the words aright. It had been months since Harry’s name had crossed her lips.
“No, nothing,” he answered simply, trying to fathom her purpose and completely at sea as to her real motive—“not for some months. Not since he left the ship.”
“And do you think he is in any danger?” She had released his hand, and with her fingers resting on the sleeve of his coat sat looking into his eyes as if to read their meaning.
“I don’t know,” he replied in a non-committal tone, still trying to understand her purpose. “He meant then to go to the mountains, so he wrote his mother. This may account for our not hearing. Why do you ask? Have you had any news of him yourself?” he added, studying her face for some solution of her strange attitude.
She sank back on the cushions. “No, he never writes to me.” Then, as if some new train of thought had forced its way into her mind, she exclaimed suddenly: “What mountains?”
“Some range back of Rio, if I remember rightly. He said he—”
“Rio! But there is yellow fever at Rio!” she cried, with a start as she sat erect in her seat, the pupils of her eyes grown to twice their size. “Father lost half of one of his crews at Rio. He heard so to-day. It would be dreadful for—for—his mother—if anything should happen to him.”
Again St. George scrutinized her face, trying to probe deep down in her heart. Had she, after all, some affection left for this boy lover—and her future husband within hearing distance! No! This was not his Kate—he understood it all now. It was the spell of the story that still held her. Richard’s voice had upset her, as it had done half the room.
“Yes, it is dreadful for everybody,” he added. And then, in a perfunctory manner, as being perhaps the best way to lead the conversation into other channels, added: “And the suspense will be worse now—for me at any rate—for I, too, am going away where letters reach me but seldom.”
Her hand closed convulsively over his.