A Strange Step
One day, when my head was clearer, I seemed to have lain a great while waiting for someone to come. I asked where Mrs. Harborough was.
She was "engaged for the moment."
Presently I asked what kept her. The nurse rang and sent a message.
Mrs. Harborough came up at once. She had been talking to Mr. Annan, she said. And would I like to see him?
No. I shrank under the bedclothes, and turned my face to the wall.
An afternoon, soon after that, brought me the sudden clear sense of Eric's being again in the house. I was sure that he timed his visits so that he might see the doctor. When the doctor left the room that afternoon I asked if Mr. Annan had been again.
Yes; and did I want to see him now?
"He has come to-day with another friend of yours," said Mrs. Harborough, lingering.
"One of the Helmstones?" I asked dully.
"No; Mr. Dallas."
Ranny! Ranny was downstairs. The happy, care-free people were going still about the world.
"Is he married?" I asked.
"Married?" Mrs. Harborough seemed surprised. Certainly, he seemed free to devote a great deal of time to us. Mr. Annan and he between them had left no means untried, she said.
"I have been told a thousand times," I interrupted, "that everything has been done, but no one ever tells me what." I fell to crying.
Looking more stirred than I had ever thought to see her, she told me that young Dallas had offered rewards, and had gone from place to place in search. . . . "
I seized her hands. I made her sit by the bedside.
Yes, and always he had come back here, making his report and asking questions.
Eric brought the doctors and the nurses . . . but Ranny had done better. Ranny had stirred up Scotland Yard. When Eric told him the nurse had said I was for ever raving about barred win-
dows, Ranny had flung out of my aunt's drawing-room and was gone a day and a night.
Yes, he came back. He had found the house. He got a warrant, and he went with the police when they made their search. He had seen the woman. She brazened it out. She had never heard of either Bettina or me.
My story? Oh, very possible, she said, that I and my sister had been "seeing life." No uncommon thing for young women to lie about their escapades. "Drugged?" the usual excuse.
The next day I asked them to let me see Ranny. They refused.
I did not sleep that night.
The doctor came earlier the next morning and was troubled. "What is it?" he said.
I told him. "I will promise to be very quiet," I said. I would promise anything if they would only let me see Ranny.
Mrs. Harborough went out and sent a message. Mr. Dallas was staying quite near, she said. But I waited for him a thousand years. And then . . . a footstep on the stair.
My heart drew quivering back from the two-edged knife of Wanting-to-know and Dreading-
to-know. Then all that poignancy of feeling fell to dulness, for the step was not Ranny's and not Eric's. I had never heard this slow, uncertain footfall.
The door opened, and it was Ranny.
He did not look at me.
His eyes were circling low, like swallows before rain. They settled on the coverlid till, slowly, he had come and stood beside me.
Then Ranny lifted his eyes . . .
Oh, poor eyes! Poor soul looking out of them!
"Ranny," I whispered, "speak to me."
"I have failed," he said. He leaned heavily against the chair.
"I have heard," I managed to say, "how hard you have been trying. . . . "
"But I have failed!" he said once more; and I hope I may never again hear such an accent.
I pointed to the chair . . . we could neither of us speak for a while. And then he cleared his throat.
"They took her out of that house and hid her," he said. "And then they took her abroad. I
traced her to their house in Paris. But she had gone. Always I have been too late."
When I could speak I said: "You are a good friend, Ranny. . . . " He made an impatient gesture. "Nothing is any good!" He stood up. "But I wanted you to know that I am trying. . . . Trying still. Nothing that you could do but I am doing it. Will you believe that?"
"But, Ranny," I said, "how can you do all this? Haven't you . . . other claims?"
"Other claims?" he said, as though he had never heard of them.
"You surely did have other claims?"
"I thought I had. But when this came I saw they were nothing." He stopped an instant near the door. "You don't believe I would lie to you?"
"No," I said.
"Then get well. You have something to live for. You and Annan. Not like me."
He went out with that strange-sounding step.
End Chapter XXXIII
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