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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Survivor - Chapter 29. Joan Strong Finds Her Brother
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The Survivor - Chapter 29. Joan Strong Finds Her Brother Post by :erikhj Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :2744

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The Survivor - Chapter 29. Joan Strong Finds Her Brother

CHAPTER XXIX. JOAN STRONG FINDS HER BROTHER

Douglas threw away his cigar and held out both his hands. The trouble passed from Cicely's face. His tone was full of pleasure and his eyes were radiant.

"What fortune, Cissy," he cried. "You were the last person in my thoughts. Thank God that I have found you again."

"You are sure you wanted to see me?" she asked, with some timidity.

"Absolutely," he answered.

"I was foolish to run away--that evening."

"It was too bad of you--and to keep away."

"I think that your visitor frightened me, Douglas."

He laughed.

"Then you need have no more fears," he said. "She has gone abroad."

"Do you have many--ladies to see you?" she asked.

"She has never been before or since," he answered.

Cicely laughed.

"I was foolish," she said. "I will ask no more questions."

They had reached the railings, and he pointed downwards to the gardens below.

"There is an empty seat," he said. "Shall we go there and sit down?"

She nodded.

"Anywhere. Joan is out. I need not go home for an hour."

"Still," he asked, with a grim smile, "searching?"

Cicely did not smile. It was the tragedy of her life to see her sister, once devoted purely to domestic interests, quick-tongued, cleanly, severe, calvinistic, spend fruitless hours day by day seeking a futile vengeance. Joan she had always thought of as a typical farmer's housewife--severe with her tongue perhaps, shrewd, and a trifle of a scold. But this woman who walked the streets of London in her solemn black clothes, pale-faced, untiring, ever with that same glitter in her eyes, was a revelation. She turned to Douglas suddenly.

"Douglas," she said, "did Joan care for you very much?"

"I should not have said so," he answered. "She was willing to marry me when your father ordered it. You know what our engagement was like. We were called into the parlour the Sunday morning before I--I--you remember my trial Sunday at Feldwick?

"Well, he just turned to Joan and said, 'Joan, it is my will that you marry Douglas.' She was evidently prepared, for she held out her hand to me.

"'I am willing, Douglas,' she said. That was all. As for me, I was certainly weak, but for the life of me I could think of nothing to say. Then the chapel bell began to ring, and we were hurried away, and your father solemnly announced our engagement as the people came together. There was not any lovemaking, if that is what you mean."

"Yet, I think," she said, "that Joan must have cared. I sometimes think that it is not the man whom she believes to have killed Father, for whom she seeks--it is for the man who slighted her."

"I hope," he said, gravely, "that she may never find either. Let us forget that such a person exists."

"Willingly," she answered, with a little shrug of the shoulders. "What shall we talk about?"

"Ourselves."

"First of all then, why are you in evening dress on a Sunday?"

"Been out to dinner," he answered. "Let me tell you all about it."

He tried to let her understand something of the period of depression through which he had passed, and he found her, as ever, wonderfully sympathetic, quick to comprehend, keenly interested. They talked of his novel, he told her of his new ideas, of the fancies which had come dancing into his brain during the last few hours. But she was perhaps more moved than at any time, when he spoke of that wonderful visit of his to the Abbey. He tried to make her feel what it had meant to him, and in a measure he succeeded. Suddenly he stopped--almost in the middle of a sentence. He was astonished to realise how pretty she was.

"Now tell me about yourself," he said. "Have you sent anything to Drexley yet?"

She nodded.

"I think Mr. Drexley is quite the nicest man I know," she declared gaily. "I sent him three little fairy tales, and last week he sent me a cheque for them and asked for more. And do you know what he said, Douglas? I asked him to let me have his honest opinion as to whether I could make enough to live on by such work as I sent him, and he replied that there could be no possible doubt about it. He wants me to write something longer."

He took her hand--which she yielded to him frankly--and forgot to restore it. He was honestly delighted. He noticed too that her fingers were very shapely and their touch--she had withdrawn her gloves--a pleasant thing.

"Cissy," he said, "I must see more of you. We are comrades and fellow-workers. We have begun to do the things we talked about up amongst the hills in the old days. Do you remember how we lay in the heather and the dreams we had? Actually I believe that they are coming true."

Her dark eyes were soft with reminiscences and her face was brilliant with smiles.

"It sounds delightful, cousin Douglas," she replied. "Oh, if only Joan would come to her senses. It seems like a thunderbolt always hanging over us. I believe that if she were to see us together she would go mad."

"I have little to reproach myself with as regards Joan," he said. "Of course that night must always be a black chapter in my life. I could not get to London without money, and I took only a part of what was my own. I need not tell you, Cicely, that I never raised my hand against your father."

Her fingers closed upon his.

"I believe you, Douglas, but there is something I must ask."

"Whilst we are talking of it ask me. Then we will put the subject away for ever."

"Do you know who it was?"

His face grew very pale and stern.

"I believe I do," he answered.

"And you are shielding him? Your silence is shielding him, is it not?"

"I am doing more," he said. "I destroyed my own identity, and the Douglas Guest of Feldwick is an accounted murderer by others besides Joan. I can tell you only this, Cissy. I did it because it seemed to me the best and the most merciful thing to be done."

She looked at him gravely.

"He was my father, Douglas, and though I am not like Joan, yet I too would have justice done."

"There are things," he added, "which you do not know. There are things which I pray that you may never know."

"It is hard to understand," she said.

"It is better not to understand," he answered. "It is even better for Joan to believe what she does. That is all I can tell you."

They sat in silence for a while. There was a frown on Cicely's face. She was not wholly satisfied. And from the river, with its fringe of yellow lights, came the whistling of tugs as they passed out on their way to the ocean, and the flashing of strange illuminations on her dark bosom.

Then suddenly Cicely started forward on the seat, her fingers seized his arm with a feverish grip. She gazed with distended eyes at the grim form coming slowly along in the centre of the asphalted path. It was Joan who came towards them. Their surprise was too great--her coming too sudden for words. Only Douglas felt a small hand steal into his, and Cicely, in spite of her mortal terror, experienced a pleasant sense of protection as those strong fingers closed over hers.

Joan was fifty yards away, level with another seat, on which a solitary man had been sitting in a slouching attitude. As she drew near him the two who were watching with fascinated eyes saw him draw himself upright and then shrink suddenly back. But he was too late. Joan's eyes had lighted upon him. She stopped short, the man's attempt at evasion was obvious. In a moment she was at his side.

"David," she cried. "David!"

He rose up, and would have slunk off, but she caught him by the arm. He shook her away, but there was no escape. He looked around like a hunted animal. She sat down by his side, and he was a prisoner.

"Come," Douglas whispered.

They rose up and went off together.

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