Ethel Watts Mumford Grant.

Whitewash online

. (page 3 of 13)
Online LibraryEthel Watts Mumford GrantWhitewash → online text (page 3 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

bigger than ever. There are fifty trains a day
to and from Auray. Every road is choked with
vehicles. He d be a fool if he were caught, and
we know he isn t that. Oh, why isn t the doctor

" Madelaine, Madelaine ! " the countess s voice
screamed suddenly from the next room.

" Thank Heaven ! " Victoria muttered, " the
mother s all right. Perhaps she knows what is
best to be done. Go and see. Bring her in here
as soon as you dare yet, no the shock, right
after the chloroform I don t know what to say.
Oh, where is the doctor? "

As if in answer to her prayer the sound of


opening doors and the stir of voices announced
an arrival.

" Bring him here, Sonia," she begged. " The
child is so weak, she needs him first."

The hotel-keeper, talking excitedly and fol
lowed by a commissaire and a gendarme, pressed
into the room.

" This is the lady," indicating Sonia. " It was
she who gave the alarm "

"The doctor didn t the doctor come?" in
terrupted Victoria, beside herself with disap

" Not yet, mademoiselle, presently," the gen
darme answered, kindly, as he advanced to the
bedside. His face grew graver as he watched the
child s labored breathing. " We must get on the
rascal s track at once. Did you see him, too? I
understand you and the other lady room together."

Victoria prevaricated. " My friend recognized
him when she saw him going down the fire-escape,
but I can give you a good description of him,
for I noticed him particularly during the day."

She rapidly portrayed the stranger, while her
hearer jotted hastily in a note-book. In the win-



dow recess Sonia and the commissaire were en
gaged in animated conversation. Finally an
exhaustive examination was made of the rooms,
and the balcony by which the thief had entered
and left. Nothing of any interest was found, but
the maid, at last fully conscious, though laboring
under great excitement, was able to give her

" The countess, worn out by her journey, had
thrown herself, fully dressed, on her bed; the
child was dozing. She. the witness, was sitting
at the table with her back to the window, when
she became conscious of a peculiar odor. She
turned her head, and was at once caught from
behind, and a gag forced between her teeth. She
struggled, but was instantly overpowered. A
cloth saturated with something was tied over her
nose and mouth, and she lost consciousness."

" Had she seen her assailant? "

" Not fully. She had the impression of a very
heavy, thick-set man. She thought he had a
black beard. His clothes were dark, of that she
was sure. As he had attacked her from behind,
she had not been able to see him clearly; but of


his hands, which she had seen upon her shoulder
and in fastening the gag, she had a definite recol
lection. They were coarse, hairy, and callous,
the hands of a laborer, or, at least, one accustomed
to manual work."

" Would she recognize them if she saw them
again? "

" Certainly. She would never forget them -
and she became hysterical.

The countess remembered nothing, having
passed from her natural sleep into the anaesthetic
with only a slight struggle. But from her the
motive of the crime was learned. She had brought
a large sum of money and a quantity of jewels,
which it had been her intention to present to the
miraculous statue, if, by St. Anne s intercession,
her child were cured. It was evident the thief
had some knowledge of this treasure, the police
argued, from the fact that none of the more ac
cessible rooms in the house had been disturbed.

The countess gave her testimony through tears
and entreaties, begging to be taken to her daugh
ter. The arrival of the doctor interrupted the
examination, and by his orders the unfortunate



mother was at once admitted to the child s bed
side. The effects of the anaesthetic had passed,
but no recognition lit the feverish eyes. Even
the mother s voice and touch failed in their mis
sion. When at last the long closed lips parted,
shriek after shriek of blind terror woke the silence
of the room. The doctor intervened, and drugged
the child to unconsciousness again.

The room had been cleared of all strangers,
except Sonia and Victoria, who remained in
obedience to the supplication of the distracted
woman. To Victoria s trembling inquiry the doc
tor shook his head.

" It s only a matter of time. Meningitis she
would have died anyway, but the fright and the
chloroform it will not be long."

" You must prepare her. She still hopes for
a miracle," said Victoria, glancing at the kneeling
figure of the black countess, who, prostrated at
the foot of her daughter s bed, repeated prayer
after prayer with agonized rapidity, clasping a
worn rosary in her burning hands.

The candles, guttering in their holders, threw
gigantic deformed shadows on the bare walls,


lighted up the tumbled bed, and drew sharp lines
about the face of the dying child. Against the
whiteness of sheets and pillows, the intensely
black, shrunken figure of the bereaved woman
seemed doubly sombre.

The doctor, with his squat figure, oddly as
sorted garments, and heavy, weary face, seemed
a creature of Balzac s pen turned flesh and blood.
Victoria gazed on the scene, her nerves tingling.

" I think," she whispered to him, " we, my
friend and I, would better go. You can t let
this blow strike her suddenly. I m sure she d go
mad. If you should need us, send word; we ll
come at once. But she would better be alone
when she knows."

The physician nodded, and Victoria, beckon
ing to Sonia, slipped from the room into the hall.
The whole house seemed dimly astir, but they
saw no one as they made their way to their room.
They did not undress, but lay down on their cots
without speaking, and gazed on the sickly dawn
that made a pale square of the window. An hour
two hours; the stir of waking things grew in
the outer air; crowing of cocks, singing of



birds, vague hallos, the stamping and champing
of stabled horses. The chimes rang four, then
five, then six. The light of the newly risen
sun was streaming pale yet brilliant on the old
courtyard. Above the chimney-pots the white
church spires gleamed against the hazy blue of
the July morning. St. Anne s colossal statue,
doubly gilded by its own precious leaf and
the sun s contribution, gleamed and glittered.
Through the opened window, a shaft of light
boiled with tiny motes of gold.

Sonia turned for the thousandth time on her
narrow bed.

" Are you asleep, Victoria? " she murmured.

Her friend shifted her position, threw a rounded
arm over her tumbled hair, and sighed. " No,
I m not are you ? "

" No."

" I can t shake off the impression. That poor,
poor woman ! "

" Nor I," and Sonia half-raised herself.
" Have you ever read Maeterlinck s play, The
Intruder ? Well, I feel like the blind man, who



sees Death in the room. I have an actual horror
of what seems a physical presence."

Victoria slipped her feet to the bare floor. " So
have I. It s all a nightmare, and, Sonia, think
what a contrast. Yesterday we were with the
pilgrimage; the songs of praise, peace, good-will
to men ; faith, hope, charity, lights, music, mys
tery. Then, suddenly, it s sickness, crime, death !
We came to a miracle play, and we have seen a
tragedy ! "

There was a silence, during which the square of
sunshine crept softly down the room.

Sonia spoke. " To have robbed that woman,
bringing her offerings to St. Anne, seems worse
than robbing a church, doesn t it? How shall
such a man be punished ? "

" He won t be caught," Victoria answered,
with conviction. " He has timed himself so well.
He s a man of resource. If we hadn t seen him,
he would have been perfectly safe. I bet he car
ried his stuff away in that leather camera-case.
A foreigner with a camera, the most natural
thing in the world, supposing he were seen before
he could put his booty in a place of safety."



" Did you notice," said Sonia, dreamily, " that
the maid s description of the hands didn t fit
at all?"

Her friend nodded. " Yes, there may have
been two men. One may have gone down the
ladder when you came to the door for me ; hardly,
though ! you would have heard distinctly if there
had been more than one. Oh, well, I suppose the
woman was too excited to see straight. The
beard, of course, may have been false; but they
won t find him, anyway."

" We ought to get up, I suppose. It s after
eight. Are you going out to see the procession ? "
The Russian rose as she spoke, and proceeded
to make as dainty a toilet as the place permitted.

Victoria followed her example languidly. " I
suppose we might as well see all there is to be
seen, but I have no heart for anything. Where
are the girls ? I should have thought they would
have come for us long ago."

Sonia wrapped her hair in a shining coil.
" No, I told them last night to get up and go out
when they pleased, and leave us to sleep late. I



have no patience with travelling in a party where
all feel they must hang together, even if their
tastes are varied. If the girls went out early,
they probably breakfasted in the tents, and don t
know anything yet. I suppose we ought to eat,"
she added, after a moment.

" I m not hungry," the answer came promptly.

Sonia leaned from the window and called to
a passing servant, " Send two dejeuners up,
please." Then, withdrawing her head, she smiled.
There are advantages in living over the stable ;
it ensures better service. We might have spent
the whole morning ringing a bell, and been ig
nored, but bawling out of the window ensures

Breakfast arrived with surprising promptness,
the two girls having developed into important
persons in the household. At any other time the
curiosity and manoeuvring of the servant would
have been vastly amusing, now it was only an
irritation. They answered awestruck questions
with abrupt sharpness, and finally, unable to rid
themselves of her queries, took refuge in si



" It s nearly time for the procession," Sonia
observed, glancing at her watch, as the reluctant
waitress disappeared ; " we ought to go early if
we want to see anything."

Absently adjusting the old campaign hat on
her heavy hair, Victoria picked up her beloved
camera. " I m going to inquire how they are;
I ll meet you in the office."

" Better finish your coffee," Sonia called after
her. But the firm tread was already reverberating
far down the bare hallway. The Russian pushed
back her plate, and rose wearily. Truly life was
a strange thing, so strange it dizzied one s brain
with its questions of whence and whither. Per
haps even now that little child knew more than
she, with all her varied and multiplied experi
ences. If there be any conscious knowledge on
that mysterious other side! She drew her hat
over her eyes and stepped out. The passage
was cold and chill. She shivered slightly, and
quickened her step. Out in the warmth and
sunshine once more, her thoughts would be more
cheerful, she reflected, as she made her way
through the labyrinthine passages. She reached


the office, filled with chattering visitors by whom
the robbery of the night was being discussed
from every standpoint. The crowd made way
for her, and she reached the doorway, where
she leaned, waiting. The square was a seething
mass of struggling humanity, swaying, vast, ex
pectant. Men in white, bearing staves, were open
ing a passage before the great main entrance of
the church. A full brass band was massing its
forces, ready to herald the opening of the doors.
Everywhere people were hurrying, running, call
ing, scrambling for better positions, or endeavor
ing to fight their way through the press. All
was color, light, animation, expectation, and faith.
A soft touch on her arm roused her. She looked
up into Victoria s face, set hard and white
as two heavy tears slipped slowly down her

For a moment Victoria dared not trust her
voice, but swallowed hard, looking straight ahead
with fixed eyes.

" She s dead ! " she said, simply. " I have
seen her."

The band crashed forth a strain of triumph,



the cathedral doors swung wide, and amid the
acclaiming of the crowd, surrounded by cardinals
and bishops in scarlet and purple, the statue of
many miracles, under its canopy of gold, swung
glittering into the sunlight.



_1 HE room was hung in green of varying
shades from palest malachite and reseda to deep
est olive and emerald. This verdant retreat was
the outcome of an essay that had fallen into
Philippa Ford s hands at the time of the purchase
and restoration of the old Verplank mansion in
New York. One statement was to the effect that
a love of green indicated strong individuality,
and this appealed at once to the girl, whose
keenest desire in life was to enforce her person
ality. Being blonde and lissome, the little recep
tion-room framed what she was pleased to style
her beauty with an added elegance and refinement,
at the same time proving advantageously unbe
coming to many of her callers. Just now she
looked really charming as she leaned among the
divan cushions, daintily gowned in a creation of
cream lace and lavender crepe that made her


seem some great pale-toned Parma violet in its
setting of leaves.

" Do pour yourself some tea, dear girl," she
murmured. " I m too lazy to move, or I d do
it for you; besides, I am searching your long-
lost countenance for the ravages of time, and
I can t find one not a ravage."

Victoria, sitting opposite, raised her gray eyes,
in which a gleam of mischief sparkled. " Be sure
you tell every one else that," she laughed.

Philippa squirmed. She had been mentally
rehearsing a speech to her next interested
caller. " The poor, dear Claudel girl is terribly
haggard. I fear she has been trying to live on
nothing over there. You know how Americans
do." It was as if the " poor dear " had suddenly
taken a peep at her brains. So, quickly assuming
her sweetest tone of grieving affection, she ejac
ulated, "Oh, Vic! After all the years of our
ideal friendship, how could you infer such a

" You are teased as easily as ever, I see," was
all the answer she received, as the returned prod
igal brushed cake crumbs from her well fitting



tailor-made gown of the newest and most Parisian

" It s a sweet frock," Philippa commented,
dreamily, "and your toque is very smart; that
forward tilt suits you. The hats this year are
simply invented to annoy me. Everything over
the eyes, and my style is the off-the-face flaring
thing. Have you seen many people since you
arrived our people, I mean ? "

Her friend shook her head slowly. " No, not
many. Bob and Howard Dame met me at the
wharf, and last night Morton Con way came up.
Dear old thing! I was jolly glad to see him."

She was staring at the Dutch silver tea-caddy,
and did not see the quick flush that mounted to
the white temples of her hostess.

" A charming fellow, and one to whom I have
become greatly attached," the lady remarked in
the somewhat stilted language she affected when
she remembered to do so.

Victoria s frank eyes sought her face at once
with eagerness.

" Really? I thought you were mere acquaint
ances. I forget how long I have been away,


and how many friendships have been made and
unmade. No wonder you like him, though. Old
Mort is the salt of the earth. A Don Quixote
of most admirable intelligence. Indeed, I don t
know another of whom I can speak in such un
reserved praise, and seeing that I ve known him
all my life, which amounts to a quarter of a
century, that is saying a great deal."

A green glint shot from Philippa s half-closed
blue eyes possibly the reflection of her sur
roundings, possibly the evidence of the where
abouts of a certain monster, as she recalled the
common supposition of a former understanding
between these two. Mentally, she was quickly
calculating. Was Victoria in love with him?
Had he ever had a tenderness for her? If either
or both were the case, were her own fascinations
superior? With marvellous accuracy she took
count of stock, and concluded that Victoria would
be a dangerous rival, but her belief in her own
power made her confident of ultimate success,
even if Morton were not already completely under
her spell. However, with instinctive foresight
she decided that she should precipitate matters


and bring about the proposal she had been holding
off with consummate skill for the past month.
Engagements entailed obligations, but Morton
Conway was too good a catch to lose, and
Philippa felt instinctively that the only danger
that menaced her supremacy was personified be
fore her.

All this passed in a brain flash, with the swift
ness and certainty of a lightning-calculator, while
she idly punched the pillows into more alluring
curves, and her society self supplied a small-talk

" Tilly Genadet is to be married next week ; are
you going to her wedding? "

" I think so," Miss Claudel replied, as she
rose to her feet, and with various facial contor
tions proceeded to readjust her veil.

" You re not leaving now, are you, dear? " and
Philippa uncurled herself. " It s only five o clock."

" Yes, I m off. Ethel Tracy sent a note over
this morning asking me to drop in to dinner
just the family, you know. Good-bye. Come over
to the studio any time. I m sharing Mrs. Testly



Durham s apartment, so you won t see my name
on the board."

"Mrs. Testly Durham, the writer?" Philippa
asked, eagerly.

" Yes. You seem surprised."

" Where did you meet her? "

" In Paris. We spent last winter in the same

" I d like to know her."

" Well, call on me in the morning, and you ll
find her at home. Good-bye again."

Philippa stepped to the window and watched
her friend s odd but not inelegant figure as it
descended the broad steps. " What should her re
lations with Victoria be? " she mused. Evidently
she had new advantages and losses to adjust and
balance. Victoria staying with Mrs. Testly Dur
ham, the famous authoress, was a different thing
from Victoria by herself in some studio. Then
there was the Morton question. These sugges
tions hardly framed themselves as thoughts. She
was unconscious of her own calculating mean
ness, tuft-hunting and snobbishness, and looked



upon herself as a veritable paragon of sincerity,
loyalty, and broad-minded independence.

She turned with a little sigh back to the green
depths of the divan and contemplated her reflec
tion in the tilted mirror opposite. Yes, gossip
had for years prophesied Victoria s engagement
to Morton. There must be fire where smoke is
seen. She must make sure of Morton at once.
It was a nuisance, particularly just now, when
her flirtation with Valdeck was so interesting;
but she could keep the secret from every one but
Victoria. Once in a position to make a confi
dante of her, she could be sure that her manor
would remain unpoached upon.

Suddenly the question presented itself defi
nitely, why was she so afraid of Victoria? She
had no real reason : only merest gossip held that
the lifelong affection that existed between the two
had ever been, or ever would be, anything more
than intellectual fraternity. The answer came
back from her other self : " Because Victoria has
never appreciated me at my true worth." In
fact, she more than suspected that she was not
looked up to and approved of in this new quarter.



If Victoria knew of the impending engagement,
she was quite capable of making a desperate oppo
sition. Philippa s heart hardened with a passing
qualm of hate; she sat up suddenly and angrily.
Almost she had admitted to herself that she was
no fit mate for such a man, and that the
effort that Victoria would undoubtedly make was
founded on a quite accurate penetration of her
real character. The momentary spasm of dislike
that had gripped her returned a hundredfold
stronger, steady and burning. She must lose
the excitement of her present life, because her
hand was forced; she must make sure of the
brilliant future her marriage to Morton Conway
would bring. The cards of that trick must be
played and the mystery of her game dispelled ; all
because a long-absent member of her set had seen
fit to return too soon.

A ring at the door-bell roused her. Hastily
she smoothed her hair, and assumed a pose of
absent-minded grace.

" Monsieur Valdeck," announced the butler, in
a gentle tone of self-effacement.

The sea-green portieres parted and the visitor


advanced, extending a well-gloved hand in elab
orate greeting.

Philippa smiled with animation and held up her
jewelled fingers to the lingering and meaning
kiss of the new arrival. She colored a little,
which lent an unexpected ingenue expression to
the consummate artificiality of her pose. The
trick of blushing, really due to the physical per
fection and delicacy of her skin, passed with all
save Victoria and a few rather amusedly cynical
men for a sympathetically emotional expression of
her innocent young soul.

A short, rather troubled silence ensued, which
he broke abruptly, tossing a square box into her

" See the wonders of love, my lady. I divined
what robe you would wear, and I matched it on
my way here."

She thanked him with her eyes, and poutingly
fumbled with the string.

" Permit me," he murmured, and leaning over
her till his auburn hair touched her cheek, delib
erately cut the ribbon with his tiny gold-handled



penknife. He drew back slowly, as if her near
ness held him like a magnet.

With a pretty gesture of admiration she drew
from their wrappings a heavy bunch of Russian
violets that instantly shed the perfume of their
blossoms through the room.

" And now it grows and smells, I swear, not
of itself, but thee," he quoted, smiling directly
at her.

" That was when she sent the wreath back,"
Philippa laughed. "Shall I?"

"Do you want to break my heart?" he in
quired, seriously.

She sniffed the bouquet, looking over the
flowers with eyes now grown as violet as the
blossoms. " I don t know. I think I might "

" You ought to say, I know I have.

She shook her head. " No, not yet."

" You never believe," he sighed.

" No."

" Shall I never get my passport to your heart ? "

She temporized. " Let me see, how should I
make it out : Permit to travel in the heart of
Philippa Ford, one Lucius Valdeck, native of Po-


land. Height, five feet, eleven inches. Black
eyes and eyebrows, auburn hair. Weight, about
- let s see a hundred and seventy "

" Much more two hundred."

" Two hundred ! Nonsense ! "

" My heart is so heavy."

" Don t be a bore."

"Am I a bore?"

She nodded.

" What must I do to amuse? "

" Oh, tell me anything that s interesting tell
me about yourself."

He sobered. " I have already told you too

She leaned toward him sweetly. " You can
trust me. I am a woman who can keep a secret."

" I believe it," he answered, in the same grave
tone. " Otherwise I never would have breathed
a word of my mission here."

" You know," she continued, laying her hand
on his arm, " I am with you in all sympathy.
I understand your noble wish to help your people.
If you had been a Nihilist 1 never could have
listened to you with such confidence. But your



plan to raise your fellow countrymen by educa
tion, even if it has to be given in secret, is wholly
good and wise and noble. It is the first really
sensible effort I have heard of."

Taking her hand, he kissed it with respectful
adoration. You give me courage, my lady."

Carried away by the situation, she went on
with exaltation. " And if ever I can help you,
let me know r ; you will always have a friend in

" What you have just promised I beg you to
remember. Some day I may have to ask your
favor," he said, slowly. Then, rising nervously,
he peered into the empty hall.

" We are alone," she murmured, reassuringly;
" you are quite safe."

He seated himself, relaxing to the luxurious
fulness of the divan. " I forget I am in the land
of the free, I have lived so long under the es
pionage of the police. And to think," he said,
hotly, " that my only crime is the desire to help
and educate my unfortunate people. The Rus
sians, having taken away our lands and privi

1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryEthel Watts Mumford GrantWhitewash → online text (page 3 of 13)