At four o’clock Richard came home, and the instant Harriet saw his face she realized, with a shock even sharper than the original moment of incredulity, that he had had no success in his search. He was alone.
She was standing in one of the doorways of the lower hall when he crossed it, but he did not see her. His face was drawn and gray, he looked hot and rumpled and utterly weary; more, he who had always been the pink of well-groomed perfection looked old. He asked Bottomley briefly if Madame Carter was in her room, and, being informed that she was, went hastily upstairs.
Harriet could only imagine, later, that he had gone in to see his mother before brushing and changing, or perhaps to avoid Nina, who with Amy catapulted down the stairway a few seconds after he went up. At all events, it was to the old lady’s beautiful sitting room that Harriet was summoned a few minutes later. She knew at once that he had told his mother all he knew and feared.
Madame Carter was shockingly agitated. She had a deep sense of the dramatic, but she was not entirely acting now. Her face was pale under its rouge, and the painful tears of age stood in her eyes. She was sitting erect in a chair beside the divan where Richard sat; he did not look up as Harriet came in, but continued to stroke his mother’s hand.
“Miss Field!” said Madame Carter, “we have just had a most terrible—a most unexpected—blow!”
Harriet simulated expectancy.
“There is every reason to believe,” pursued Madame Carter, majestically, “that my unfortunate daughter-in-law, Mr. Carter’s wife, Isabelle, has yielded to the passion of her lover! No, let me talk, Richard,” she interrupted herself, as the man raised haggard eyes to watch her impersonally, “far better to face the facts, my dear! My son tells me, Miss Field the—the well-nigh incredible statement that—forgetting the honour of womanhood, and the tender claims of maternity—”
“Miss Field,” Richard did not have the manner of interruption, but his quiet voice dominated the other voice none-the-less. Madame Carter fell silent, and watched him with mournful pride. “Miss Field,” he said, “we want your help. The facts are these: Williams had all the roads watched; they did not go by motor. Mrs. Carter reached New London at five o’clock yesterday; Pope’s boat, the Geisha, pulled out at half-past six. From what Williams’ men picked up, at the dock, Pope did not expect her, was to have sailed this morning. She arrived, and evidently he thought it wise to hurry their start. The pier had a dozen boxes for the Geisha on it, groceries and what not, that they left behind! They will probably skirt the coast for a few days, and put in somewhere for supplies. But that”—he passed his hand wearily across his forehead—“that doesn’t concern us now. We got there at ten last night—hours too late, of course.”