That night the Governor's condition took an unfavorable turn and Dr. Mosgrove was summoned. He remained until the crisis was passed.
"We must expect progress to be retarded now and then; but now that we've got by this we may feel more confident. He hasn't been wholly conscious at any time, but he's muttered a name several times—Julia; is that the sister? Then the sight of her may help us in a day or two when his mind clears up."
Archie was beset with many fears as he waited the arrival of Mrs. Graybill.
His utter ignorance of any details touching the life of his friend seemed now to rise before him like a fog which he was afraid to penetrate. And there was Ruth, with her happiness hanging in the balance; she was in love with a man of whom she knew nothing; indeed the mystery that enfolded him was a part of his fascination for her, no doubt; and if in the Governor's past life there was anything that made marriage with a young woman of Ruth's fineness and sweetness hazardous, the sooner it was known the better. But when he caught a glimpse of Mrs. Graybill in the vestibule of the train his apprehensions vanished. The poise, the serenity of temper, an unquestioning acceptance of the fate that played upon her life, which he had felt at their first meeting struck him anew.
"Our patient is doing well. The news is all good," he said at once.
"I felt that it would be; I couldn't believe that this was the end!"
"We will hope that it is only the beginning!" he said gravely.
"A capital place for a beginning, or ending!" she remarked glancing with a rueful smile at the desolate street and shabby hotel.
Putney and his wife had moved to Heart o' Dreams for a few days. It would be a second honeymoon, Putney said. Mrs. Graybill was introduced into the hotel without embarrassment. It might have seemed that she had foreseen just such a situation and prepared for it. She won Dr. Reynolds' heart by the brevity of her questions, and expressed her satisfaction with everything that had been done. When she came down to the dining-room for luncheon she avoided all reference to the sick man. In her way she was as remarkable as the Governor himself. Her arrival had greatly stirred Mrs. Leary, who, deprived of Sally's services, served the table. Archie was struck by the fact that with only the exchange of commonplace remarks the two women, born into utterly different worlds, seemed to understand each other perfectly. He had merely told Mrs.
Leary that the Governor's sister was coming and warned her against letting fall any hint of her knowledge of his ways.
"I've never been in these parts before," Julia remarked to Archie; "I should be glad if you'd show me the beach. We might take a walk a little later."
The hour in which he waited for her tried his soul. The Governor was the one man who had ever roused in him a deep affection, and the dread of finding that under his flippancy, his half-earnest, half-boyish make-believe devotion to the folk of the underworld, he was really an irredeemable rogue, tortured him.
These were disloyal thoughts; he hated himself for his doubts. It was impossible that a man of the Governor's blood, his vigor of mind and oddly manifested chivalry could ever have been more than a trifler with iniquity.
"I'm going to ask you to bear with me," said Mrs. Graybill when they reached the shore, "if I seem to be making this as easy for myself as possible. I know that my brother cares a great deal for you. He sent me little notes now and then—he always did that, though the intervals were sometimes long; I know that he would want you to know. Things have reached a point where if he lives he will tell you himself."
"Please don't think I have any feeling that I have any right to know. It's very generous of you to want to tell me. But first it's only fair to give you a few particulars about myself. You said in New York that you knew me and I must apologize for my failure to recall our meeting."
"It was fortunate you didn't! I've known some of your family, I think; your sister is Mrs. Howard Featherstone. Away back somewhere the Van Dorens and a Bennett owned some property jointly. It may have been an uncle of yours?"
"Yes; Archibald Bennett, for whom I was named."
"That's very odd; but it saves explanations. We are not meeting quite as strangers."
"I felt that the moment I saw the name Van Doren. I had never seen your brother until we met in Maine; he was of the greatest service to me; I was in sorry plight when he picked me up."
He was prepared to tell the story of the meeting, everything indeed that had occurred. He had imagined that she would be immensely curious as to all the phases and incidents of his relationship with her brother.
"Just now I shall be happier not to know," she said, and added with a smile:
"Later, when my heart is lighter than it is today you may tell me."
She was magnificent, a thoroughbred, this woman, who walked beside him with the air of a queen who might lose a throne but never the mastery of her own soul. She was far more at ease than he, walking with her hands thrust carelessly into the pockets of her coat, halting now and then to gaze across the water.
"My brother is Philip Van Doren, and there were just the two of us. An unusual sympathy bound us together from childhood, and there was never a closer tie between brother and sister. I married his most intimate friend. My husband betrayed him; it was the breach of a trust in which they were jointly liable.
It was not merely a theft, it was a gross, dastardly thing, without a single mitigating circumstance. My husband killed himself."
She spoke without a quaver of the beautiful voice, meeting his gaze as she uttered the last sentence as though anxious to spare herself nothing in her desire to convince him of her perfect composure. One might have thought her an amiable woman attempting to entertain a dull companion by summarizing a tale she had read that had not interested her particularly.
"It broke Philip's heart; it broke his spirit! It destroyed his generous faith in all men. He was a brilliant student in college and promised to go far in the law; but he felt keenly the dishonor. The financial part of it he of course took care of; that was the least of it. There was always a strain of mysticism in him; and he had gone deeply into astrology and things like that; and when the dark hour came he pretended to find consolation in them. He was born under an evil star, he said, and would not be free of its spell until he had passed through a period of servitude. It sounds like insanity, but it was only a grim ironic distortion of his reason. He said that if honor was so poor a thing he would seek a world that knew no honor. I dread to think how he has spent these years!"
"I have found him the kindest, the most loyal, the most lovable of men. He has simply mocked at life—the life he used to know."
"Yes; I suppose that was the way of it," she said pensively. "In one of his brief messages he spoke of a young woman who had interested him, but I never can tell when he's serious—"
Archie met the question promptly.
"A charming young girl, Ruth Hastings, whose antecedents and connections are the best. You need have no fears on that score. You shall see her, very soon."
She permitted him to describe the meeting with Ruth and Isabel at Rochester, and her face betrayed relief and pleasure as he made it clear that the Governor's romance was in no way discreditable.
"It is curious, and in his own way of looking at things may be significant, that your telegram reached me on the day following the seventh anniversary of the beginning of his exile."
"He had looked forward to the seventh anniversary as marking the end of the dark influences; he believed there would be a vast change in his affairs."
"If only he lives!" she exclaimed. "Is it possible that he can ever step back into the world he left?"
"You may be sure he has planned a return, with marriage at the very threshold."
"Then God grant that he may live!" she said fervently.
The following evening, after Dr. Mosgrove's visit had left their hopes high, Archie carried her to Heart o' Dreams. Happiness shone in the stars over the northern waters. Putney Congdon and his wife were enjoying to the full the peace that followed upon the storms of their married life. They had established themselves in a tent on the outskirts of the camp and declared that they might remain there forever. A girl bugler sounded taps and the lights went out, leaving tired and happy youth to the fellowship of dreams.
Isabel gave Archie no opportunity to speak to her alone, and he found her aloofness dismaying. Her scruples against hearing protestations of love from a man she believed she had injured were creditable to her conscience, but Archie was all impatient to shatter them. She made a candid confession to Mrs.
Congdon, with Putney and Archie standing by.
"With malice aforethought I practiced my vampirish arts upon these two men!
And, Alice, the crudest thing you could do would be to forgive me! I couldn't bear it. I flirted with Mr. Congdon; not only that but I took advantage of his distress over his father's efforts to estrange you two to counsel him to lead a reckless, devil-may-care existence. And I tried the same thing on Mr.
Bennett, only he was much more susceptible than your husband and took me more seriously. I want you, one and all, to be sure that I hate myself most cordially!"
"The end justified the means, I think," said Mrs. Congdon.
"I found a friend I'm not going to lose as one result," said Putney. "And if the sick man across the bay recovers I hope I have another lifelong friend there."
"Oh, it's all so strange!" cried Mrs. Congdon. "One might think that we must suffer tribulation before we know what perfect happiness is! And I never expect to understand all that has happened to you men. Is it possible that you'll ever settle down again?"
"That depends—" Archie remarked, glancing meaningfully at Isabel,—a glance which Mrs. Congdon detected and appraised with that prescience which makes every woman a match-maker.
On the wharf they lingered, like a company of old friends reluctant for even a brief parting; Ruth, lantern in hand, stood beside Mrs. Graybill, looking like a child beside the stately woman. As Archie cried "All aboard," Julia caught Ruth in her arms and kissed her.
"Good night, little girl!" she said softly.
It was like a benediction and the very graciousness of act and word lightened Archie's vigil as all night he watched outside the Governor's door.