“She at this place of death? How could that be? Who would take a young girl there?”
The father, experiencing, perhaps, more compassion for this soon-to-be-disillusioned lover than he thought it incumbent upon him to show, answered shortly, but without any compromise of the unhappy truth:
“She went; she was not taken. No one, not even myself, could keep her back after she had heard that a murder had been committed in the town. She even intruded into the house; and when ordered out of the room of death took up her stand in the yard in front, where she remained until she had the opportunity of pointing out to us a stain of blood on the grass, which might otherwise have escaped our attention.”
“Impossible!” Frederick’s eye was staring; he looked like a man struck dumb by surprise or fear. “Amabel do this? You are mocking me, sir, or I may be dreaming, which may the good God grant.”
His father, who had not looked for so much emotion, eyed his son in surprise, which rapidly changed to alarm as the young man faltered and fell back against the wall.
“You are ill, Frederick; you are really ill. Let me call down Mrs. Harcourt. But no, I cannot summon her. She is this girl’s aunt.”
Frederick made an effort and stood up.
“Do not call anybody,” he entreated. “I expect to suffer some in casting this fascinating girl out of my heart. Ultimately I will conquer the weakness; indeed I will. As for her interest in Mrs. Webb’s death”—how low his voice sank and how he trembled!” she may have been better friends with her than we had any reason to suppose. I can think of no other motive for her conduct. Admiration for Mrs. Webb and horror—–”
“Breakfast is served, gentlemen!” cried a thrilling voice behind them. Amabel Page stood smiling in the doorway.
“Wait a moment, I must speak to you.” It was Amabel who was holding Frederick back. She had caught him by the arm as he was about leaving the room with his father, and he felt himself obliged to stop and listen.
“I start for Springfield to-day,” she announced. “I have another relative there living at the house. When shall I have the pleasure of seeing you in my new home?”
“Never.” It was said regretfully, and yet with a certain brusqueness, occasioned perhaps by over-excited feeling. “Hard as it is for me to say it, Amabel, it is but just for me to tell you that after our parting here to-day we will meet only as strangers. Friendship between us would be mockery, and any closer relationship has become impossible.”