小说搜索     点击排行榜   最新入库
首页 » 儿童英文小说 » Children of the Whirlwind » CHAPTER XXIV
选择底色: 选择字号:【大】【中】【小】
CHAPTER XXIV
Presently Miss Sherwood said something about tea, excused herself, and disappeared within the house. Maggie saw that Hunt watched Miss Sherwood till she was safely within doors; then she was aware that he was gazing steadily at her; then she saw him execute a slow, solemn wink.

Maggie almost sprang from her chair.

“Shall we take a little stroll, Miss Cameron?” Hunt asked. “I think it will be some time before Miss Sherwood will want us for tea.”

“Yes—thank you,” Maggie stammered.

Hunt led her down a walk of white gravel to where a circle of Hiawatha roses were trained into a graceful mosque, now daintily glorious with its solid covering of yellow-hearted red blooms. Within this retreat was a rustic bench, and on this Hunt seated her and took a place beside her. He looked her over with the cool, direct, studious eyes which reminded her of his gaze when he had been painting her.

“Well, Maggie,” he finally commented, “you certainly look the part you picked out for yourself, and you seem to be putting it over. Always had an idea you could handle something big if you went after it. How d'you like the life, being a swell lady crook?”

She had hardly heard his banter. She needed to ask him no questions about his presence here; his ease of bearing had conveyed to her unconsciously from the first instant that her previous half-contemptuous estimate of him had been altogether wrong and that he was now in his natural element. Her first question went straight to the cause of her amazement.

“Didn't you recognize me when you first saw me with Miss Sherwood?”

“Yes.”

“Weren't you surprised?”

“Nope,” he answered with deliberate monosyllabioness.

“Why not?”

“I'd been wised up that I'd be likely to meet you—and here.”

“Here! By whom?”

“By advice of counsel I must decline to answer.”

“Why didn't you tell Miss Sherwood who I am and show me up?”

“Because I'd been requested not to tell.”

“Requested by whom?”

“Maggie,” he drawled, “you seem to be making a go of this lady crook business—but I think you might have been even more of a shining light as a criminal cross-examiner. However, I refuse to be cross-examined further. By the way,” he drawled on, “how goes it with those dear souls, Barney and Old Jimmie?”

She ignored his question.

“Please! Who asked you not to tell?”

There was a sudden glint of good-humored malice in his eyes. “Mind if I smoke?”

“No.”

He drew out a silver cigarette case and opened it. “Empty!” he exclaimed. “Excuse me while I get something from the house to smoke. I'll be right back.”

Without waiting for her permission he stepped out of the arbor and she heard his footsteps crunching up the gravel path. Maggie waited his return in pulsing suspense. Her situation had been developing beyond anything she had ever dreamed of; she was aquiver as to what might happen next. So absorbed was she in her chaos of feeling and thoughts that she did not even hear the humble symphony of the hundreds of bees drawing their treasure from the golden hearts of the roses; and did not see, across the path a score of yards away, the tall figure of Joe Ellison among the rosebushes, pruning-shears in hand, with which he had been cutting out dead blossoms, gazing at her with that hungry, admiring, speculative look with which he had regarded the young women upon the beach.

Presently she heard Hunt's footsteps coming down the path. Then she detected a second pair. Dick accompanying him, she thought. And then Hunt appeared before her, and was saying in his big voice: “Miss Cameron, permit me to present my friend, Mr. Brandon.” And then he added in a lowered voice, grinning with the impish delight of an overgrown boy who is playing a trick: “Thought I'd better go through the motions of introducing you people, so it would look as if you'd just met for the first time.” And with that he was gone.

Maggie had risen galvanically. For the moment she could only stare. Then she got out his name.

“Larry!” she whispered. “You here?”

“Yes.”

Astounded as she was, she had caught instantly the total lack of amazement on Larry's part.

“You're—you're not surprised to see me?”

“No,” he said evenly. “I knew you were here. And before that I knew you were coming.”

That was almost too much for Maggie. Hunt had known and Larry had known; both were people belonging to her old life, both the last people she expected to meet in such circumstances. She could only stare at him—entirely taken aback by this meeting.

And indeed it was a strangely different meeting from the last time she had seen him, at the Grantham; strangely different from those earlier meetings down at the Duchess's when both had been grubs as yet unmetamorphosized. Now standing in the arbor they looked a pair of weekend guests, in keeping with the place. For, as Maggie had noted, Larry in his well-cut flannels was as greatly transformed as Hunt.

It was Larry who ended the silence. “Shall we sit down?”

She mechanically sank to the bench, still staring at him.

“What are you doing here?” she managed to breathe.

“I belong here.”

“Belong here?”

“I work here,” he explained. “I'm called 'Mr. Brandon,' but Miss Sherwood knows exactly who I am and what I've been.”

“How long have you been here?”

“Since that night when Barney and Old Jimmie took you away to begin your new career—the same night that I ran away from those gunmen who thought I was a squealer, and from Casey and Gavegan.”

“And all the while that Barney and my father and the police have thought you hiding some place in the West, you've been with the Sherwoods?”

“Yes. And I've got to remain in hiding until something happens that will clear me. If the police or Barney and his friends learn where I am—you can guess what will happen.”

She nodded.

“Hunt got me here,” he went on to explain. “I'm assisting in trying to get the Sherwood business affairs in better shape. I might as well tell you, Maggie,” he added quietly, “that Dick Sherwood is my very good friend.”

“Dick Sherwood!” she breathed.

“And I might as well tell you,” he went on, “that since that night at the Grantham when I heard his voice, I've known that Dick is the sucker you and Barney and Old Jimmie are trying to trim.”

She half rose, and her voice sounded sharply: “Then you've got me caught in a trap! You've told them about me?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Not so loud, or we may attract attention,” he warned her. “I haven't told because you had your chance to give me away to Barney that night at the Grantham. And you didn't give me away.”

She sank slowly back to the bench. “Is that your only reason?”

“No,” he answered truthfully. “Exposing you would merely mean that you'd feel harder toward me—and harder toward every one else. I don't want that.”

She pondered this a moment. “Then—you're not going to tell?”

He shook his head. “I don't expect to. I want you to be free to decide what you're going to do—though I hope you'll decide not to go through with this thing you're doing.”

She made no response. Larry had spoken with control until now, but his next words burst from him.

“Don't you see what a situation it's put me in, Maggie—trying to play square with my friends, the Sherwoods, and trying to play square with you?”

Again she did not answer.

“Maggie, you're too good for what you're doing—it's all a terrible mistake!” he cried passionately. Then he remembered himself, and spoke with more composure. “Oh, I know there's not much use in talking to you now—while you feel as you do about yourself—and while you feel as you do about me. But you know I love you, and want to marry you—when—” He halted.

“When?” she prompted, almost involuntarily.

“When you see things differently—and when I can go around the world a free man, not a fugitive from Barney and his gunmen and the police.”

Again Maggie was silent for a moment. It was as if she were trying to press out of her mind what he had said about loving her. Truly this was, indeed, different from their previous meetings. Before, there had almost invariably been a defiant attitude, a dispute, a quarrel. Now she had no desire to quarrel.

Finally she said with an effort to be that self-controlled person which she had established as her model:

“You seem to have your chance here to put over what you boasted to me about. You remember making good in a straight way.”

“Yes. And I shall make good—if only they will let me alone.” He paused an instant. “But I have no illusions about the present,” he went on quietly. “I'm in quiet water for a time; I've got a period of safety; and I'm using this chance to put in some hard work. But presently the police and Barney and the others will learn where I am. Then I'll have all that fight over again—only the next time it'll be harder.”

She was startled into a show of interest. “You think that's really going to happen?”

“It's bound to. There's no escaping it. If for no other reason, I myself won't be able to stand being penned up indefinitely. Something will happen, I don't know what, which will pull me out into the open world—and then for me the deluge!”

He made this prediction grimly. He was not a fatalist, but it had been borne in upon him recently that this thing was inescapable. As for him, when that time came, he was going to put up the best fight that was in him.

He caught the strained look which had come into Maggie's face, and it prompted him suddenly to lean toward her and say:

“Maggie, do you still think I'm a stool and a squealer?”

“I—”

She broke off. She had a surging impulse to go on and say something to Larry. A great deal. She was not conscious of what that great deal was. She was conscious only of the impulse. There was too great a turmoil within her, begotten by the strain of her visit on Miss Sherwood and these unexpected meetings, for any motive, impulse, or decision to emerge to even a brief supremacy. And so, during this period when her brain would not operate, she let herself be swept on by the momentum of the forces which had previously determined her direction—her pride, her self-confidence, her ambition, the alliance of fortune between her and Barney and Old Jimmie.

They were sitting in this silence when footsteps again sounded on the gravel, and a shadow blotted the arbor floor.

“Excuse me, Larry,” said a man's voice.

“Sure. What is it, Joe?”

Before her Maggie saw the tall, thin man in overalls, his removed broad-brimmed hat revealing his white hair, whom she had noticed a little earlier working among the flowers. He held a bunch of the choicest pickings from the abundant rose gardens, their stems bound in maple leaves as temporary protection against their thorns. He was gazing at Maggie, respectful, hungry admiration in his somber eyes.

“I thought perhaps the young lady might care for these.” He held out the roses to her. And then quickly, to forestall refusal: “I cut out more than we can use for the house. And I'd like to have you have them.”

“Thank you,” and Maggie took the flowers.

For an instant their eyes held. In every outward circumstance the event was a commonplace—this meeting of father and daughter, not knowing each other. It was hardly more than a commonplace to Maggie: just a tall, white-haired gardener respectfully offering her roses. And it was hardly more to Joe Ellison: just a tribute evoked by his hungry interest in every well-seeming girl of the approximate age of his daughter.

At the moment's end Joe Ellison had bowed and started back for his flower beds. “Who is that man?” asked Maggie, gazing after him. “I never saw such eyes.”

“We used to be pals in Sing Sing,” Larry replied. He went on to give briefly some of the details of Joe Ellison's story, never dreaming how he and Maggie were entangled in that story, nor how they were to be involved in its untanglement. Perhaps they were fortunate in this ignorance. Within the boundaries of what they did know life already held enough of problems and complications.

Larry had just finished his condensed history when Dick Sherwood appeared and ordered them to the veranda for tea. There were just the five of them, Miss Sherwood, Maggie, Hunt, Dick, and Larry. Miss Sherwood was as gracious as before, and she seemingly took Maggie's strained manner and occasional confusions as further proof of her genuineness. Dick beamed at the impression she was making upon his sister.

As for Maggie, she was living through the climax of that afternoon's strain. And she dared not show it. She forced herself to do her best acting, sipping her tea with a steady hand. And what made her situation harder was that two of the party, Larry and Hunt, were treating her with the charmed deference they might accord a charming stranger, when a word from either of them might destroy the fragile edifice of her deception.

At last it was over, and all was ready for her to start back to town with Dick. When Miss Sherwood kissed her and warmly begged her to come again soon, the very last of her control seemed to be slipping from her—but she held on. Larry and Hunt she managed to say goodbye to in the manner of her new acquaintanceship.

“Isn't she simply splendid!” exclaimed Miss Sherwood when Dick had stepped into the car and the two had started away.

Larry pretended not to have heard. He felt precariously guilty toward this woman who had befriended him. The next instant he had forgotten Miss Sherwood and his pulsing thoughts were all on Maggie in that speeding car. She had been profoundly shaken by that afternoon's experience, this much he knew. But what was going to be the real effect upon her of his carefully thought-out design? Was it going to be such as to save her and Dick?—and eventually win her for himself?

In the presence of Miss Sherwood Larry tried to behave as if nothing had happened more than the pleasant interruption of an informal tea: but beneath that calm all his senses were waiting breathless, so to speak, for news of what had happened within Maggie, and what might be happening to her.


欢迎访问英文小说网http://novel.tingroom.com

©英文小说网 2005-2010

有任何问题,请给我们留言,管理员邮箱:tinglishi@gmail.com  站长QQ :点击发送消息和我们联系56065533

鲁ICP备05031204号