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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Survivor - Chapter 20. Cicely Asks A Question
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The Survivor - Chapter 20. Cicely Asks A Question Post by :erikhj Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :3400

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The Survivor - Chapter 20. Cicely Asks A Question

CHAPTER XX. CICELY ASKS A QUESTION

After all, it was the woman who sought him who passed him by, her unwilling companion who recognised him at once, in spite of his altered dress and bearing. They were swallowed up in the crowd before Douglas had recovered himself. Something in Cicely's terrified gaze had instantly checked his first instinct which prompted him to accost them. They were gone, leaving him alike speechless and bewildered. He staggered into a small restaurant, and sitting at an unoccupied table, called for a bottle of wine.

With the first draught his courage returned, his mental perspective commenced to rearrange itself. Cicely and Joan were in London, Cicely had seen him, Joan had not. From the first he had realised that there was danger to him in this encounter. Cicely had seen him, but she had made no motion of recognition, she had obviously refrained from telling her sister of his near presence. From this he concluded that whilst she believed in him and was still his friend, Joan was his enemy. He rolled a cigarette with nervous fingers, and lighted it. Did Joan suspect that he was still alive? and was she looking for him? To the world in general Douglas Guest was dead. How was it with these two girls? There were various small reasons why they might be inclined to doubt what to other people would seem obvious. He recalled Joan's face, grim and forbidding enough, almost a tragical figure in her black garb, as severe and sombre as a country dressmaker could fashion it. He must get to know these things. He must find Cicely. He walked thoughtfully back to the offices of the Courier, where he found some work, which, for the time, completely engrossed him.

The next morning the following advertisement appeared in most of the London newspapers.

"To C. S. I must see you. British Museum to-day at six."

For three days Douglas watched in vain. On the fourth his heart gave a great leap, for a sombre little figure stepped out from an omnibus at the corner of Russell Square and stood hesitatingly upon the pavement, looking in through the iron bars at the Museum. He came across the street to her boldly--she turned and saw him. After all, their greeting approached the conventional. He remembered to raise his hat--she held out her hand--would have withdrawn it, but found it already clasped in his.

"Cicely. How good of you. You saw my advertisement?"

"Yes."

"And you saw me in the Strand, but you would not speak to me. Was that because of Joan?"

"Yes."

"I want to talk to you," he said. "I have so much to say."

She raised her eyes to his, and he saw for the first time how much thinner she was.

"Douglas," she said, "there is something I must ask you first of all before I stay with you for a moment. Must I put it into words?"

"I do not think you need, Cicely," he answered. "I went to your father's room that night beyond a doubt, but I never raised my hand against him. I should have very hard work to prove it, I fancy, but I am wholly innocent of his death--innocent, that is to say, so far as any direct action of mine was concerned."

She drew a long deep breath of relief. Then she looked up to him with a beautiful smile.

"Douglas," she said, "I was sure of it, yet it is a great weight from my heart to hear you say so. Now, can you take me somewhere where we can talk? I am afraid of the streets. I will tell you why afterwards."

He called a hansom and handed her in. After a moment's hesitation he gave the address of the restaurant where he had first met Rice.

"It is only a shabby little place," he explained to her, apologetically, "but we can talk there freely."

"Anywhere," she answered; "how strange it seems to be here--in London with you."

There was a sense of unreality about it to him, but he only laughed.

"Now tell me about Joan."

She hesitated.

"It will not be pleasant."

"I do not deserve that it should be," he answered gravely.

"She has always been quite sure that it was not you who was killed in the railway accident. She even imbued me with that belief."

"Her instinct there, at any rate, was true enough," he answered.

"She also believes," Cicely continued, more slowly, "that you robbed and murdered Father."

Douglas shivered. It was hard even now to recall that night unmoved. "Well?"

"She has made up her mind that you are in London, and that sooner or later she will find you."

"And if she does?"

"She has been to Scotland Yard. They will arrest you."

The cab pulled up with a jerk, and a commissionaire threw open the apron. Douglas handed his companion out, and they entered the restaurant together. In a distant corner they found a table to themselves, and he ordered dinner.

"Well, we are safe from Joan here for a little time, at any rate," he said, laughing. "Are you living with her, then?"

Cicely nodded.

"Yes. We have left the farm. There was very little money, you know, after all, and Joan and I will have to take situations. At present we are living upon our capital in the most shameful way. I am afraid she is completely absorbed by one idea--it is horrible."

"It is odd that she should be so vindictive," he said, wearily.

Cicely shrugged her shoulders. She was intensely interested in the little brown pot of soup which the waiter had brought them.

"Joan is very peculiar," she said. "When I think of her I feel like a doll. She is as strong as steel. I think that she cared for you, Douglas, and, putting aside everything else, you behaved shamefully to her."

"She is not like other women," he answered decidedly. "Her caring for me was not a matter of sentiment. Her father ordered, and she obeyed. She knew quite well that it was exactly the same with me. I have never uttered a word of affection to her in my life. Our engagement was an utter farce."

"Still I believe she cared," Cicely continued; "and I believe that, apart from anything else, a sort of slow anger towards you is rankling in her heart all the time."

"I was a coward," Douglas said decidedly. "Even now I cannot understand why for a moment I ever accepted such an impossible situation."

Cicely showed all her teeth--she had fine, white teeth--in a brilliant smile.

"Joan would be quite handsome," she said, "if she were decently dressed."

"Some people might think so," he answered. "She wouldn't be my style. I think I agreed, because in those days we all seemed to do exactly what your Father ordered. Besides, the thing was sprung upon me so suddenly. It took my breath away.

"That was rather like Father," she remarked. "He liked taking us by storm. Now I want to hear how you have got on, and what you are doing. Let us drop the past for a little while, at any rate."

He poured her out a glass of wine, and found time to notice how pretty she was, with her slightly flushed cheeks and bright eyes.

"I am on a newspaper," he said, "the _Daily Courier_. I got on quite by chance, and they are going to keep me."

She looked at him with keen interest.

"How delightfully fortunate!" she exclaimed. "It is what you wanted all your life, isn't it? And the _Ibex story?

"Will appear next month. I have lots of orders for others too. The first thing I wrote for the Courier was quite successful."

She looked at him wistfully. "Couldn't you send it to me?" she asked.

He took out pencil and paper.

"Of course. Give me your address."

She began, but stopped short with a little cry.

"Whatever am I doing!" she exclaimed. "Why, Douglas, you mustn't think of writing nor of sending anything to me. Joan might see it, and she would know your handwriting in a moment."

He paused with the pencil in his hand.

"That's rather a nuisance," he said. "Isn't there somewhere else I can write?"

She shook her head regretfully.

"I'm afraid not."

"It is rather ridiculous," he said frowning. "I don't want to go about in fear and trembling all my life. Don't you think that if I were to see her or write to you I could convince--"

She stopped him, horrified.

"Douglas," she said, "you don't understand Joan. I am not sure that even I, who live with her, do. She reminds me sometimes of those women of the French revolution. There is a light in her eyes when she speaks of you, which makes me shiver. Stay in London if you must, but pray always that chance may not bring you two together."

He answered her with an affectation of lightness, but her words were not without effect upon him. He paid the bill and she lowered her veil. Out in the street he would have called a hansom, but she checked him.

"An omnibus, if you please, Douglas!" she exclaimed. "Joan would never forgive me the extravagance if she saw me in a cab. I can find one at the corner, and I should feel so much more comfortable if you would leave me here."

He looked down at her and realised once more the dainty Watteau--like grace of her oval face and slim, supple figure. He thought of the days when they had stolen out together on to the hillside, oftenest in the falling twilight, sometimes even in the grey dawn, and his heart beat regretfully. How was it that in those days he had never more fully realised her charms?

"I hate letting you go alone," he said, truthfully; "and I certainly cannot let you go like this, without any idea as to your whereabouts."

"We are staying in Wensum Street," she said. "I tell you that you may avoid the neighbourhood. If I am to see you again, it certainly must not be there."

"Why not here?" he urged; "next Thursday night--say at half-past six. I must not lose sight of you again--so soon."

She raised her eyes quickly. It was pleasant to her to think that he cared.

"I think I could manage that," she said, softly.

Douglas went off to his club with a keen sense of having acquired a new interest in life. He was in that mood when companionship of some sort is a necessity.

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