It was Oliver. Oliver unkempt and with signs upon him of a night’s work of study or writing; but Oliver!—her lover once, but now just a stranger into whose hand she must put this letter.
She tried to stammer out her errand; but the sudden pallor, the starting eyes—the whole shocked, almost terrified appearance of the man she was facing, stopped her. She forgot the surprise, the incredulity of mind with which he would naturally hail her presence at his door in a place so remote and of such inaccessibility. She only saw that his hands had gone up and out at sight of her, and to her sensitive soul, this looked like a rebuff which, while expected, choked back her words and turned her faintly flushing cheek scarlet.
“It is not I,” burst from her lips in incoherent disclaimer of his possible thought. “I’m just a messenger. Your father—”
“It is you!” Quickly his hands passed across his eyes. “How—” Then his glance, following hers, fell on the letter which she now remembered to hold out.
“It’s the copy of a telegram,” she tremblingly explained, as he continued to gaze at it without reaching to take it. “You could not be found in Detroit and as it was important that you should receive this word from your father, I undertook to deliver it. I remembered your fondness for this place and how you once said that this is where you would like to write your book, and so I came on a venture—but not alone—Mr. Black is with me and—”
“Mr. Black! Who? What?” He was still staring at his father’s letter; and still had made no offer to take it.
“Read this first,” said she.
Then he woke to the situation. He took the letter, and drawing her inside, shut the door while he read it. She, trembling very much, did not dare to lift her eyes to watch its effect, but she was conscious that his back and not his face was turned her way, and that the moment was the stillest one of her whole life.
Then there came a rattling noise as he crushed the letter in his hand.
“Tell me what this means,” said he, but he did not turn his head as he made this request.
“Your father must do that,” was her gentle reply. “I was only to deliver the letter. I came—we came—thus early, because we thought—we feared we should get no opportunity later to find you here alone. There seem to be people on the road—whom—whom you might feel obliged to entertain and as your father cannot wait—”
He had wheeled about. His face confronted hers. It wore a look she did not understand and which made him seem a stranger to her. Involuntarily she took a step back.
“I must be going now,” said she, and fell—her physical weakness triumphing at last over her will power.
“Oliver? Where is Oliver?”
These were Reuther’s first words, as, coming to herself, she perceived Mr. Black bending helplessly over her.