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- A Sappho of Green Springs - 30/32 -
where he would join her at once. Everything had been arranged as she had wished.
Even a more practical man than Rushbrook might have lingered over the picture of the tall, graceful figure of Miss Nevil, quietly enthroned in a large armchair by the fire, her scarlet, satin-lined cloak thrown over its back, and her chin resting on her hand. But the millionaire walked directly towards her with his usual frankness of conscious but restrained power, and she felt, as she always did, perfectly at her ease in his presence. Even as she took his outstretched hand, its straightforward grasp seemed to endow her with its own confidence.
"You'll excuse my coming here so abruptly," she smiled, "but I wanted to get before Mr. Leyton, who, I believe, wishes to see you on the same business as myself."
"He is here already, and dining with me," said Rushbrook.
"Ah! does he know I am here?" asked the girl, quietly.
"No; as he said you had thought of coming with him and didn't, I presumed you didn't care to have him know you had come alone."
"Not exactly that, Mr. Rushbrook," she said, fixing her beautiful eyes on him in bright and trustful confidence, "but I happen to have a fuller knowledge of this business than he has, and yet, as it is not altogether my own secret, I was not permitted to divulge it to him. Nor would I tell it to you, only I cannot bear that you should think that I had anything to do with this wretched inquisition into Mr. Somers's prospects. Knowing as well as you do how perfectly independent I am, you would think it strange, wouldn't you? But you would think it still more surprising when you found out that I and my uncle already know how liberally and generously you had provided for Mr. Somers in the future."
"How I had provided for Mr. Somers in the future?" repeated Mr. Rushbrook, looking at the fire, "eh?"
"Yes," said the young girl, indifferently, "how you were to put him in to succeed you in the Water Front Trust, and all that. He told it to me and my uncle at the outset of our acquaintance, confidentially, of course, and I dare say with an honorable delicacy that was like him, but--I suppose now you will think me foolish--all the while I'd rather he had not."
"You'd rather he had not," repeated Mr. Rushbrook, slowly.
"Yes," continued Grace, leaning forward with her rounded elbows on her knees, and her slim, arched feet on the fender. "Now you are going to laugh at me, Mr. Rushbrook, but all this seemed to me to spoil any spontaneous feeling I might have towards him, and limit my independence in a thing that should be a matter of free will alone. It seemed too much like a business proposition! There, my kind friend!" she added, looking up and trying to read his face with a half girlish pout, followed, however, by a maturer sigh, "I'm bothering you with a woman's foolishness instead of talking business. And"--another sigh--"I suppose it IS business for my uncle, who has, it seems, bought into this Trust on these possible contingencies, has, perhaps, been asking questions of Mr. Leyton. But I don't want you to think that I approve of them, or advise your answering them. But you are not listening."
"I had forgotten something," said Rushbrook, with an odd preoccupation. "Excuse me a moment--I will return at once."
He left the room quite as abstractedly, and when he reached the passage, he apparently could not remember what he had forgotten, as he walked deliberately to the end window, where, with his arms folded behind his back, he remained looking out into the street. A passer-by, glancing up, might have said he had seen the pale, stern ghost of Mr. Rushbrook, framed like a stony portrait in the window. But he presently turned away, and re-entered the room, going up to Grace, who was still sitting by the fire, in his usual strong and direct fashion.
"Well! Now let me see what you want. I think this would do."
He took a seat at his open desk, and rapidly wrote a few lines.
"There," he continued, "when you write to your uncle, inclose that."
Grace took it, and read:--
DEAR MISS NEVIL,--Pray assure your uncle from me that I am quite ready to guarantee, in any form that he may require, the undertaking represented to him by Mr. John Somers. Yours very truly,
A quick flush mounted to the young girl's cheeks. "But this is a SECURITY, Mr. Rushbrook," she said proudly, handing him back the paper, "and my uncle does not require that. Nor shall I insult him or you by sending it."
"It is BUSINESS, Miss Nevil," said Rushbrook, gravely. He stopped, and fixed his eyes upon her animated face and sparkling eyes. "You can send it to him or not, as you like. But"--a rare smile came to his handsome mouth--"as this is a letter to YOU, you must not insult ME by not accepting it."
Replying to his smile rather than the words that accompanied it, Miss Nevil smiled, too. Nevertheless, she was uneasy and disturbed. The interview, whatever she might have vaguely expected from it, had resolved itself simply into a business indorsement of her lover, which she had not sought, and which gave her no satisfaction. Yet there was the same potent and indefinably protecting presence before her which she had sought, but whose omniscience and whose help she seemed to have lost the spell and courage to put to the test. He relieved her in his abrupt but not unkindly fashion. "Well, when is it to be?"
"Oh, not for some time. There's no hurry."
It might have struck the practical Mr. Rushbrook that, even considered as a desirable business affair, the prospective completion of this contract provoked neither frank satisfaction nor conventional dissimulation on the part of the young lady, for he regarded her calm but slightly wearied expression fixedly. But he only said: "Then I shall say nothing of this interview to Mr. Leyton?"
"As you please. It really matters little. Indeed, I suppose I was rather foolish in coming at all, and wasting your valuable time for nothing."
She had risen, as if taking his last question in the significance of a parting suggestion, and was straightening her tall figure, preparatory to putting on her cloak. As she reached it, he stepped forward, and lifted it from the chair to assist her. The act was so unprecedented, as Mr. Rushbrook never indulged in those minor masculine courtesies, that she was momentarily as confused as a younger girl at the gallantry of a younger man. In their previous friendship he had seldom drawn near her except to shake her hand-- a circumstance that had always recurred to her when his free and familiar life had been the subject of gossip. But she now had a more frightened consciousness that her nerves were strangely responding to his powerful propinquity, and she involuntarily contracted her pretty shoulders as he gently laid the cloak upon them. Yet even when the act was completed, she had a superstitious instinct that the significance of this rare courtesy was that it was final, and that he had helped her to interpose something that shut him out from her forever.
She was turning away with a heightened color, when the sound of light, hurried footsteps, and the rustle of a woman's dress was heard in the hall. A swift recollection of her companion's infelicitous reputation now returned to her, and Grace Nevil, with a slight stiffening of her whole frame, became coldly herself again. Mr. Rushbrook betrayed neither surprise nor agitation. Begging her to wait a moment until he could arrange for her to pass to her carriage unnoticed, he left the room.
Yet it seemed that the cause of the disturbance was unsuspected by Mr. Rushbrook. Mr. Leyton, although left to the consolation of cigars and liquors in the blue room, had become slightly weary of his companion's prolonged absence. Satisfied in his mind that Rushbrook had joined the gayer party, and that he was even now paying gallant court to the Signora, he became again curious and uneasy. At last the unmistakable sound of whispering voices in the passage got the better of his sense of courtesy as a guest, and he rose from his seat, and slightly opened the door. As he did so the figures of a man and woman, conversing in earnest whispers, passed the opening. The man's arm was round the woman's waist; the woman was--as he had suspected--the one who had stood in the doorway, the Signora--but--the man was NOT Rushbrook. Mr. Leyton drew back this time in unaffected horror. It was none other than Jack Somers!
Some warning instinct must at that moment have struck the woman, for with a stifled cry she disengaged herself from Somers's arm, and dashed rapidly down the hall. Somers, evidently unaware of the cause, stood irresolute for a moment, and then more silently but swiftly disappeared into a side corridor as if to intercept her. It was the rapid passage of the Signora that had attracted the attention of Grace and Rushbrook in the study, and it was the moment after it that Mr. Rushbrook left.
Vaguely uneasy, and still perplexed with her previous agitation, as Mr. Rushbrook closed the door behind him, Grace, following some feminine instinct rather than any definite reason, walked to the door and placed her hand upon the lock to prevent any intrusion until he returned. Her caution seemed to be justified a moment later, for a heavier but stealthier footstep halted outside. The handle of the door was turned, but she resisted it with the fullest strength of her small hand until a voice, which startled her, called in a hurried whisper:--
"Open quick, 'tis I."
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