“Watch that baby for a while,” he remarked, “and you will learn the lesson of most human endeavour. Madam, I have a proposition to make you. You cannot wish to remain at the inn, nor can you be long happy separated from your daughter. I have lost Bela. I do not know how, nor would I be willing, to replace him by another servant. I need a housekeeper; some one devoted to my interests and who will not ask me to change my habits too materially. Will you accept the position, if I add as an inducement my desire to have Reuther also as an inmate of my home? This does not mean that I countenance or in any way anticipate her union with my son. I do not; but any other advantages she may desire, she shall have. I will not be strict with her.”
Deborah Scoville was never more taken aback in her life. The recluse opening his doors to two women! The man of mystery flinging aside the reticences of years to harbour an innocence which he refused to let weigh against the claims of a son he has seen fit to banish from his heart and home!
“You may take time to think of it,” he continued, as he watched the confused emotions change from moment to moment the character of her mobile features. “I shall not have my affairs adjusted for such a change before a week. If you accept, I shall be very grateful. If you decline, I shall close up my two rear gates, and go into solitary seclusion. I can cook a meal if I have to.”
And she saw that he would do it; saw and wondered still more.
“I shall have to write to Reuther,” she murmured. “How soon do you want my decision?”
“In four days.”
“I am too disturbed to thank you, judge. Should—should we have to keep the gates locked?”
“No. But you would have to keep out unwelcome intruders. And the rights of my library will have to be respected. In all other regards I should wish, under these new circumstances, to live as other people live. I have been very lonely these past twelve years.”
“I will think about it.”
“And you may make note of these two conditions: Oliver’s name is not to be mentioned in my hearing, and you and Reuther are to be known by your real names.”
“Yes, madam. No secrecy is to be maintained in future as to your identity or my reasons for desiring you in my house. I need a housekeeper and you please me. That you have a past to forget and Reuther a disappointment to overcome, gives additional point to the arrangement.”
Her answer was:
“I cannot take back what I have said about my determined purpose.” In repeating this, she looked up at him askance.
He smiled. She remembered that smile long after the interview was over and only its memory remained.
SOUNDS IN THE NIGHT