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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Millionaire Baby - Chapter 17. In The Green Boudoir
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The Millionaire Baby - Chapter 17. In The Green Boudoir Post by :Nick_Krehnke Category :Long Stories Author :Anna Katharine Green Date :May 2012 Read :1772

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The Millionaire Baby - Chapter 17. In The Green Boudoir

CHAPTER XVII. IN THE GREEN BOUDOIR

So far in this narrative I have kept from the reader nothing but an old experience of which I was now to make use. This experience involved Mrs. Ocumpaugh, and was the cause of the confidence which I had felt from the first in my ability to carry this search through to a successful termination. I believed that in some secret but as yet undiscovered way, it offered a key to this tragedy. And I still believed this, little as I had hitherto accomplished and blind as the way continued to look before me.

Nevertheless, it was with anything but a cheerful heart that I advanced that morning through the shrubbery toward the Ocumpaugh mansion.

I dreaded the interview I had determined to seek. I was young, far too young, to grapple with the difficulties it involved; yet I saw no way of avoiding it, or of saving either Mrs. Ocumpaugh or myself from the suffering it involved.

Mrs. Carew had advised that I should first see the girl called Celia. But Mrs. Carew knew nothing of the real situation. I did not wish to see any girl. I felt that no such intermediary would answer in a case like this. Nor did I choose to trust Miss Porter. Yet to Miss Porter alone could I appeal.

The sight of a doctor's gig standing at the side door gave me my first shock. Mrs. Ocumpaugh was ill, then, really ill. Yet if I came to make her better? I stood irresolute till I saw the doctor come out; then I walked boldly up and asked for Miss Porter.

Just what Mrs. Carew had advised me not to do.

Miss Porter came. She recognized me, but only to express her sorrow that Mrs. Ocumpaugh was totally unfit to see any one to-day.

"Not if he brings news?"

"News?"

"I have news, but of a delicate nature. I should like the privilege of imparting the same to Mrs. Ocumpaugh herself."

"Impossible."

"Excuse me, if I urge it."

"She can not see you. The doctor who has just gone says that at all hazards she must be kept quiet to-day. Won't Mr. Atwater do? Is it--is it good news?"

"That, Mrs. Ocumpaugh alone can say."

"See Mr. Atwater; I will call him."

"I have nothing to say to _him_."

"But--"

"Let me advise you. Leave it to Mrs. Ocumpaugh. Take this paper up to her--it is only a sketch--and inform her that the person who drew it has something of importance to say either to her or to Mr. Atwater, and let her decide which it shall be. You may, if you wish, mention my name."

"I do not understand."

"You hold my credentials," I said and smiled.

She glanced at the paper I had placed in her hand. It was a folded one, fastened something like an envelope.

"I can not conceive,--" she began.

I did not scruple to interrupt her.

"Mrs. Ocumpaugh has a right to the privilege of seeing what I have sketched there," I said with what impressiveness I could, though my heart was heavy with doubt. "Will you believe that what I ask is for the best and take this envelope to her? It may mean the ultimate restoration of her child."

"This paper?"

"Yes, Miss Porter."

She did not try to hide her incredulity.

"I do not see how a picture--yet you seem very much in earnest--and I know she has confidence in you, she and Mr. Ocumpaugh, too. I will take it to her if you can assure me that good will come of it and no more false hopes to destroy the little courage she has left."

"I can not promise that. I believe that she will wish to receive me and hear all I have to say after seeing what that envelope contains. That is as far as I can honestly go."

"It does not satisfy me. If it were not for the nearness of Mr. Ocumpaugh's return, I would have nothing to do with it. He must hear at Sandy Hook that some definite news has been received of his child."

"You are right, Miss Porter, he must."

"He idolized Gwendolen. He is a man of strong feelings; very passionate and much given to follow the impulse of the moment. If his suspense is not ended at the earliest possible instant, the results may be such as I dare not contemplate."

"I know it; that is why I have pushed matters to this point. You will carry that up to her?"

"Yes; and if--"

"No ifs. Lay it before her where she sits and come away. But not beyond call. You are a good woman--I see it in your face--do not watch her as she unfolds this paper. Persons of her temperament do not like to have their emotions observed, and this will cause her emotion. That can not be helped, Miss Porter. Sincerely and honestly I tell you that it is impossible for her best friends to keep her from suffering now; they can only strive to keep that suffering from becoming permanent."

"It is a hard task you have set me," complained the poor woman; "but I will do what I can. Anything must be better for Mrs. Ocumpaugh than the suspense she is now laboring under."

"Remember," I enjoined, with the full force of my secret anxiety, "that no eye but hers must fall upon this drawing. Not that it would convey meaning to anybody but herself, but because it is her affair and her affair only, and you are the woman to respect another person's affairs."

She gave me a final scrutinizing look and left the room.

"God grant that I have made no mistake!" was the inward prayer with which I saw her depart.

My fervency was sincere. I was myself frightened at what I had done.

And what had I done? Sent her a sketch drawn by myself of Doctor Pool and of his office. If it recalled to her, as I felt it must, the remembrance of a certain memorable visit she had once paid there, she would receive me.

When Miss Porter reentered some fifteen minutes later, I saw that my hazardous attempt had been successful.

"Come," said she; but with no cheerful alacrity, rather with an air of gloom.

"Was--was Mrs. Ocumpaugh very much disturbed by what she saw?"

"I fear so. She was half-asleep when I went in, dreaming as it seemed, and pleasantly. It was cruel to disturb her; indeed I had not the heart, so I just laid the folded paper near her hand and waited, but not too near, not within sight of her face. A few minutes later--interminable minutes to me--I heard the paper rattle, but I did not move. I was where she could see me, so she knew that she was not alone and presently I caught the sound of a strange noise from her lips, then a low cry, then the quick inquiry in sharper and more peremptory tones than I had ever before heard from her, 'Where did this come from? Who has dared to send me this?' I advanced quickly. I told her about you and your desire to see her; how you had asked me to bring her up this little sketch so that she would know that you had real business with her; that I regretted troubling her when she felt so weak, but that you promised revelations or some such thing--at which I thought she grew very pale. Are you quite convinced that you have news of sufficient importance to warrant the expectations you have raised in her?"

"Let me see her," I prayed.

She made a sign and we both left the room.

Mrs. Ocumpaugh awaited me in her own boudoir on the second floor. As we went up the main staircase I was afforded short glimpses of room after room of varying richness and beauty, among them one so dainty and delicate in its coloring that I presumed to ask if it were that of the missing child.

Miss Porter's look as she shook her head roused my curiosity.

"I should be glad to see her room," I said.

She stopped, seemed to consider the matter for a moment, then advanced quickly and, beckoning me to follow, led me to a certain door which she quietly opened. One look, and my astonishment became apparent. The room before me, while large and sunny, was as simple, I had almost said as bare, as my sister's at home. No luxurious furnishings here, no draperies of silk and damask, no half-lights drawing richness from stained glass, no gleam of silver or sparkle of glass on bedecked dresser or carved mantel. Not even the tinted muslins I had seen in some nurseries; but a plain set of furniture on a plain carpet with but one object of real adornment within the four walls. That was a picture of the Madonna opposite the bed, and that was beautiful. But the frame was of the cheapest--a simple band of oak.

Catching Miss Porter's eye as we quietly withdrew, I ventured to ask whose taste this was.

The answer was short and had a decided ring of disapproval in it.

"Her mother's. Mrs. Ocumpaugh believes in simple surroundings for children."

"Yet she dressed Gwendolen like a princess."

"Yes, for the world's eye. But in her own room she wore gingham aprons which effectually covered up her ribbons and laces."

The motive for all this was in a way evident to me, but somehow what I had just seen did not add to my courage for the coming interview.

We stopped at the remotest door of this long hall. As Miss Porter opened it I summoned up all my nerve, and the next moment found myself standing in the presence of the imposing figure of Mrs. Ocumpaugh drawn up in the embrasure of a large window overlooking the Hudson. It was the same window, doubtless, in which she had stood for two nights and a day watching for some sign from the boats engaged in dragging the river-bed. Her back was to me and she seemed to find it difficult to break away from her fixed attitude; for several minutes elapsed before she turned slowly about and showed me her face.

When she did, I stood appalled. Not a vestige of color was to be seen on cheek, lip or brow. She was the beautiful Mrs. Ocumpaugh still, but the heart which had sent the hues of life to her features, was beating slow--slow--and the effect was heartbreaking to one who had seen her in her prime and the full glory of her beauty as wife and mother.

"Pardon," I faltered out, bowing my head as if before some powerful rebuke, though her lips were silent and her eyes pleading rather than accusing. Truly, I had ventured far in daring to recall to this woman an hour which at this miserable time she probably would give her very life to forget. "Pardon," I repeated, with even a more humble intonation than before, for she did not speak and I hardly knew how to begin the conversation. Still she said nothing, and at last I found myself forced to break the unbearable silence by some definite remark.

"I have presumed," I therefore continued, advancing but a step toward her who made no advance at all, "to send you a hurried sketch of one who says he knows you, that you might be sure I was not one of the many eager but irresponsible men who offer help in your great trouble without understanding your history or that of the little one to whose seemingly unaccountable disappearance all are seeking a clue."

"My history!"

The words seemed forced from her, but no change in eye or look accompanied them; nor could I catch a motion of her lips when she presently added in a far-away tone inexpressibly affecting, "_Her history! Did he bid you say that?"

"Doctor Pool? He has given me no commands other than to find the child. I am not here as an agent of his. I am here in Mr. Ocumpaugh's interest and your own; with some knowledge--a little more knowledge than others have perhaps--to aid me in the business of recovering this child. Madam, the police are seeking her in the holes and slums of the great city and at the hands of desperate characters who make a living out of the terrors and griefs of the rich. But this is not where I should look for Gwendolen Ocumpaugh. I should look nearer, just as you have looked nearer; and I should use means which I am sure have not commended themselves to the police. These means you can doubtless put in my hands. A mother knows many things in connection with her child which she neither thinks to impart nor would, under any ordinary circumstances, give up, especially to a stranger. I am not a stranger; you have seen me in Mr. Ocumpaugh's confidence; will you then pardon me if I ask what may strike you as impertinent questions, but which may lead to the discovery of the motive if not to the method of the little one's abduction?"

"I do not understand--" She was trying to shake off her apathy. "I feel confused, sick, almost like one dying. How can I help? Haven't I done everything? I believe that she strayed to the river and was drowned. I still believe her dead. Otherwise we should have news--real news--and we don't, we don't."

The intensity with which she uttered the last two words brought a line of red into her gasping lips. She was becoming human, and for a minute I could not help drawing a comparison between her and her friend Mrs. Carew as the latter had just appeared to me in her little half-denuded house on the other side of the hedge-row. Both beautiful, but owing their charms to quite different sources, I surveyed this woman, white against the pale green of the curtain before which she stood, and imperceptibly but surely the glowing attractions of the gay-hearted widow who had found a child to love, faded before the cold loveliness of this bereaved mother, wan with suffering and alive with terrors of whose depth I could judge from the clutch with which she still held my little sketch.

Meanwhile I had attempted some kind of answer to Mrs. Ocumpaugh's heart-rending appeal.

"We do not hear because she was not taken from you simply for the money her return would bring. Indeed, after hours of action and considerable thinking, I am beginning to doubt if she was taken for money at all. Can you not think of some other motive? Do you not know of some one who wanted the child from--_love_, let us say?"

"Love?"

Did her lips frame it, or did I see it in her eyes? Certainly I heard no sound, yet I was conscious that she repeated the word in her mind, if not aloud.

"I know I have startled you," I pursued. "But, pardon me--I can not help my presumption--I must be personal--I must even go so far as to probe the wound I have made. You have a claim to Gwendolen not to be doubted, not to be gainsaid. But isn't there some one else who is conscious of possessing certain claims also? I do not allude to Mr. Ocumpaugh."

"You mean--some relative--aunt--cousin--" She was fully human now, and very keenly alert. "Mr. Rathbone, perhaps?"

"No, Mrs. Ocumpaugh, none of these." Then as the paper rattled in her hand and I saw her eyes fall in terror on it, I said as calmly and respectfully as I could: "You have a secret, Mrs. Ocumpaugh; that secret I share."

The paper trembled from her clasp and fell fluttering downward. I pointed at it and waited till our eyes met, possibly that I might give her some encouragement from my look if not from my words.

"I was a boy in Doctor Pool's employ some five years ago, and one day--"

I paused; she had made me a supplicating gesture.

"Shall I not go on?" I finally asked.

"Give me a minute," was her low entreaty. "O God! O God! that I should have thought myself secure all these years, with two in the world knowing my fatal secret!"

"I learned it by accident," I went on, when I saw her eye turn again on mine. "On a certain night six years ago, I was in the office behind an old curtain--you remember the curtain hanging at the left of the doctor's table over that break in the book-shelves. I had no business there. I had been meddling with things which did not belong to me and, when I heard the doctor's step at the door, was glad to shrink into this refuge and wait for an opportunity to escape. It did not come very soon. First he had one patient, then another. The last one was you; I heard your name and caught a glimpse of your face as you went out. It was a very interesting story you told him--I was touched by it though I hardly understood."

"Oh! oh!"

She was swaying from side to side, swaying so heavily that I instinctively pushed forward a chair.

"Sit," I prayed. "You are not strong enough for this excitement."

She glanced at me vaguely, shook her head, but made no move toward accepting the proffered chair. She submitted, however, when I continued to press it upon her; and I felt less a brute and hard-hearted monster when I saw her sitting with folded hands before me.

"I bring this up," said I, "that you may understand what I mean when I say that some one else--another woman, in fact, may feel her claim upon this child greater than yours."

"You mean the real mother. Is she known? The doctor swore--"

"I do not know the real mother. I only know that you are not; that to win some toleration from your mother-in-law, to make sure of your husband's lasting love, you won the doctor over to a deception which secured a seeming heir to the Ocumpaughs. Whose child was given you, is doubtless known to you--"

"No, no."

I stared, aghast.

"What! You do not know?"

"No, I did not wish to. Nor was she ever to know me or my name."

"Then this hope has also failed. I thought that in this mother, we might find the child's abductor."

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