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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Millionaire Baby - Chapter 23. A Coral Bead
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The Millionaire Baby - Chapter 23. A Coral Bead Post by :joker Category :Long Stories Author :Anna Katharine Green Date :May 2012 Read :2521

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The Millionaire Baby - Chapter 23. A Coral Bead

CHAPTER XXIII. A CORAL BEAD

"What's that?"

It was Mr. Rathbone who first found voice.

"To what a state have I come when in every woman's face, even in hers who is dearest, I see expressions I no longer understand, and in every child's voice catch the sound of Gwendolen's?"

"Harry's voice is not like Gwendolen's," came in desperate protest from the ready widow. A daring assertion for her to make to him who had often held this child in his arms for hours together. "You are not yourself, Justin. I am sorry. I--I--" Almost she gave her promise, almost she risked her future, possibly his, by saying, under the stress of her fears, what her heart did not prompt her to, when--

A quick move on her part, a low cry on his, and he came rushing up the steps.

I had advanced at her hesitating words and shown myself.

When Mr. Rathbone was well up the terrace (he hardly honored me with a look as he went by), I slowly began my descent to where she stood with her back toward me and her arms thrown round the child she had evidently called to her in her anxiety to conceal the little beaming face from this new intruder.

That she had not looked as high as my face I felt assured; that she would not show me hers unless I forced her to seemed equally certain. Every step I took downward was consequently of moment to me. I wondered how I should come out of this; what she would do; what I myself should say. The bold course commended itself to me. No more circumlocution; no more doubtful playing of the game with this woman. I would take the bull by the horns and--

I had reached the step on which she crouched. I could catch sight of the child's eyes over her shoulder, a shoulder that quivered--was it with the storm of the last interview, or with her fear of this? I would see.

Pausing, I said to her with every appearance of respect, but in my most matter-of-fact tones:

"Mrs. Carew, may I request you to send Gwendolen down to the girl I see below there? I have something to say to you before you leave."

_Gwendolen!

With a start which showed how completely she was taken by surprise, Mrs. Carew rose. She may have recognized my voice and she may not; it is hard to decide in such an actress. Whether she did or not, she turned with a frown, which gave way to a ravishing smile as her eyes met my face.

"You?" she said, and without any betrayal in voice or gesture that she recognized that her hopes, and those of the friend to whose safety she had already sacrificed so much, had just received their death-blow, she gave a quick order to the girl who, taking the child by the hand, sat down on the steps Mrs. Carew now quitted and laid herself out to be amusing.

Gravely Mrs. Carew confronted me on the terrace below.

"Explain," said she.

"I have just come from Mrs. Ocumpaugh," I replied.

The veiled head dropped a trifle.

"She could not sustain herself! So all is lost?"

"That depends. But I must request you not to leave the country till Mr. Ocumpaugh returns."

The flash of her eye startled me. "Who can detain me," she cried, "if I wish to go?"

I did not answer in kind. I had no wish to rouse this woman's opposition.

"I do not think you will want to go when you remember Mrs. Ocumpaugh's condition. Would you leave her to bear the full burden of this deception alone? She is a broken woman. Her full story is known to me. I have the profoundest sympathy for her. She has only three days in which to decide upon her course. I have advised her to tell the whole truth to her husband."

"You!"

The word was but a breath, but I heard it Yet I felt no resentment against this woman. No one could, under the spell of so much spirit and grace.

"Did I not advise her right?"

"Perhaps, but you must not detain _me_. You must do nothing to separate me from this child. I will not bear it. I have experienced for days now what motherhood might be, and nothing on earth shall rob me of my present rights in this child." Then as she met my unmoved countenance: "If you know Mrs. Ocumpaugh's whole history, you know that neither she nor her husband has any real claim on the child."

"In that you are mistaken," I quickly protested. "Six years of care and affection such as they have bestowed on Gwendolen, to say nothing of the substantial form which these have taken from the first, constitute a claim which all the world must recognize, if you do not. Think of Mr. Ocumpaugh's belief in her relation to him! Think of the shock which awaits him, when he learns that she is not of his blood and lineage!"

"I know, I know." Her fingers worked nervously; the woman was showing through the actress. "But I will not give up the child. Ask anything but that."

"Madam, I have had the honor so far to make but one requirement--that you do not carry the child out of the country--yet."

As I uttered this ultimatum, some influence, acting equally upon both, caused us to turn in the direction of the river; possibly an apprehension lest some word of this conversation might be overheard by the child or the nurse. A surprise awaited us which effectually prevented Mrs. Carew's reply. In the corner of the Ocumpaugh grounds stood a man staring with all his eyes at the so-called little Harry. An expression of doubt was on his face. I knew the minute to be critical and was determined to make the most of it.

"Do you know that man?" I whispered to Mrs. Carew.

The answer was brief but suggestive of alarm.

"Yes, one of the gardeners over there--one of whom Gwendolen is especially fond."

"She's the one to fear, then. Engage his attention while I divert hers."

All this in a whisper while the man was summoning up courage to speak.

"A pretty child," he stammered, as Mrs. Carew advanced toward him smiling. "Is that your little nephew I've heard them tell about? Seems to me he looks like our own little lost one; only darker and sturdier."

"Much sturdier," I heard her say as I made haste to accost the child.

"Harry," I cried, recalling my old address when I was in training for a gentleman; "your aunt is in a hurry. The cars are coming; don't you hear the whistle? Will you trust yourself to me? Let me carry you--I mean, pick-a-back, while we run for the train."

The sweet eyes looked up--it was fortunate for Mrs. Carew that no one but myself had ever got near enough to see those eyes or she could hardly have kept her secret--and at first slowly, then with instinctive trust, the little arms rose and I caught her to my breast, taking care as I did so to turn her quite away from the man whom Mrs. Carew was about leaving.

"Come!" I shouted back, "we shall be late!"--and made a dash for the gate.

Mrs. Carew joined me, and none of us said anything till we reached the station platform. Then as I set the child down, I gave her one look. She was beaming with gratitude.

"That saved us, together with the few words I could edge in between his loud regrets at my going and his exclamations of grief over Gwendolen's loss. On the train I shall fear nothing. If you will lift him up I will wrap him in this shawl as if he were ill. Once in New York--are you not going to permit me?"

"To go to New York, yes; but not to the steamer."

She showed anger, but also an admirable self-control. Far off we could catch the sounding thrill of the approaching train.

"I yield," she announced suddenly. And opening the bag at her side, she fumbled in it for a card which she presently put in my hand. "I was going there for lunch," she explained. "Now I will take a room and remain until I hear from you." Here she gave me a quick look. "You do not appear satisfied."

"Yes, yes," I stammered, as I looked at the card and saw her name over that of an inconspicuous hotel in the down-town portion of New York City. "I merely--"

The nearing of the train gave me the opportunity of cutting short the sentence I should have found it difficult to finish.

"Here is the child," I exclaimed, lifting the little one, whom she immediately enveloped in the light but ample wrap she had chosen as a disguise.

"Good-by--Harry."

"Good-by! I like you. Your arms are strong and you don't shake me when you run."

Mrs. Carew smiled. There was deep emotion in her face. "_Au revoir!_" she murmured in a tone implying promise. Happily I understood the French phrase.

I bowed and drew back. Was I wrong in letting her slip from my surveillance? The agitation I probably showed must have caused her some thought. But she would have been more than a diviner of mysteries to have understood its cause. Her bag, when she had opened it before my eyes, had revealed among its contents a string of remarkable corals. A bead similar in shape, color and marking rested at that very moment over my own heart. Was that necklace one bead short? With a start of conviction I began to believe so and that I was the man who could complete it. If that was so--why, then--then--

It isn't often that a detective's brain reels--but mine did then.

The train began to move--

This discovery, the greatest of all, if I were right, would--

I had no more time to think.

Instinctively, with a quick jump, I made my place good on the rear car.

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