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   Chapter 24 THE PROLOGUE ENDS

The Danger Mark By Robert W. Chambers Characters: 6795

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"Your sister," observed Dr. Bailey to Scott Seagrave, "must be constructed of India-rubber. There's nothing whatever the matter with her spine or with her interior. The slight trace of concussion is disappearing; there's no injury to the skull; nothing serious to apprehend. Her body will probably be black and blue for a week or two; she'll doubtless prefer to remain in bed to-morrow and next day. And that is the worst news I have to tell you."

He smiled at Kathleen and Duane, who stood together, listening.

"I told you so," said Scott, intensely relieved. "Duane got scared and made me send that telegram. I fell out of a tree once, and my sister's symptoms were exactly like mine."

Kathleen stole silently from the room; Duane passed his arm through the doctor's and walked with him to the big, double sleigh which was waiting. Scott followed with Dr. Goss.

"About this other matter," said Dr. Bailey; "I can't make it out, Duane. I saw Jack Dysart two days ago. He was very nervous, but physically sound. I can't believe it was suicide."

He unfolded the telegram which had come that morning directed to Duane.

"Mrs. Jack Dysart's husband died this morning. Am trying to communicate with her. Wire if you know her whereabouts."

It was signed with old Mr. Dysart's name, but Dr. Bailey knew he could never have written the telegram or even have comprehended it.

The men stood grouped in the snow near the sleigh, waiting; and presently Rosalie came out on the terrace with Kathleen and Delancy Grandcourt. Her colour was very bad and there were heavy circles under her eyes, but she spoke with perfect self-possession, made her adieux quietly, kissed Kathleen twice, and suffered Grandcourt to help her into the sleigh.

Then Grandcourt got in beside her, the two doctors swung aboard in front, bells jingled, and they whirled away over the snow.

Kathleen, with Scott and Duane on either side of her, walked back to the house.

"Well," said Scott, his voice betraying nervous reaction, "we'll resume life where we left off when Geraldine did. Don't tell her anything about Dysart yet. Suppose we go and cheer her up!"

Geraldine lay on the pillows, rather pallid under the dark masses of hair clustering around and framing her face. She unclosed her eyes when Kathleen opened the door for a preliminary survey, and the others filed solemnly in.

"Hello," she said faintly, and smiled at Duane.

"How goes it, Sis?" asked her brother affectionately, shouldering Duane aside.

"A little sleepy, but all right. Why on earth did you send for Dr. Bailey? It was horribly expensive."

"Duane did," said her brother briefly. "He was scared blue."

Her eyes rested on her lover, indulgent, dreamily humorous.

"Such expensive habits," she murmured, "when everybody is economising. Kathleen, dear, he needs schooling. You and Mr. Tappan ought to take him in hand and cultiwate him good and hard!"

Scott, who had been wandering around his sister's room with innate masculine curiosity concerning the mysteries of intimate femininity, came upon a sketch of Duane's-the colour not entirely dry yet.

"It's Sis!" he exclaimed in unfeigned approval. "Lord, but you've made her a good-looker, Duane. Does she really appear like that to you?"

"And then some," said Duane. "Keep your fingers off it."

Scott admired in silence for a while, then: "You cert

ainly are a shark at it, Duane.... You've struck your gait all right.... I wish I had.... This Rose-beetle business doesn't promise very well."

"You write most interestingly about it," said Kathleen warmly.

"Yes, I can write.... I believe journalism would suit me."

"The funny column?" suggested Geraldine.

"Yes, or the birth, marriage, and death column. I could head it, 'Hatched, Matched, and Snatched'--"

"That is perfectly horrid, Scott," protested his sister; "why do you let him say such rowdy things, Kathleen?"

"I can't help it," sighed Kathleen; "I haven't the slightest influence with him. Look at him now!"-as he laughingly passed his arm around her and made her two-step around the room, protesting, rosy, deliciously helpless in the arms of this tall young fellow who held her inflexibly but with a tenderness surprising.

Duane smiled and seated himself on the edge of the bed.

"You plucky little thing," he said, "were you perfectly mad to try to block that boar in the scrub? You won't ever try such a thing again, will you, dear?"

"I was so excited, Duane; I never thought there was any danger--"

"You didn't think whether there was or not. You didn't care."

She laughed, wincing under his accusing gaze.

"You must care, dear."

"I do," she said, serious when he became so grave. "Tell me again exactly what happened."

He said: "I don't think the brute saw you; he was hard hit and was going blind, and he side-swiped you and sent you flying into the air among those icy rocks." He drew a long breath, managed to smile in response to her light touch on his hand. "And that's how it was, dear. He crashed headlong into a tree; your last shot did it. But Miller and I thought he'd got you. We carried you in--"

"You did?" she whispered.

"Yes. I never was so thoroughly scared in all my life."

"You poor boy. Are the rifles safe? And did Miller save the head?"

"He did," said Duane grimly, "and your precious rifles are intact."

"Lean down, close," she said; "closer. There's more than the rifles intact, dear."

"Not your poor bruised body!"

"My self-respect," she whispered, the pink colour stealing into her cheeks. "I've won it back. Do you understand? I've gone after my other self and got her back. I'm mistress of myself, Duane; I'm in full control, first in command. Do you know what that means?"

"Does it mean-me?"

"Yes."

"When?"

"When you will."

He leaned above her, looking down into her eyes. Their fearless sweetness set him trembling.

On the floor below Kathleen, at the piano, was playing the Menuet d'Exaudet. When she ended, Scott, cheerily busy with his infant Rose-beetles, went about his affairs whistling the air.

"Our betrothal dance; do you remember?" murmured Geraldine. "Do you love me, Duane? Tell me so; I need it."

"I love you," he said.

She lay looking at him a moment, her head cradled in her dark hair. Then, moving slowly, and smiling at the pain it gave her, she put both bare arms around his neck, and lifted her lips to his.

It was the end of the prologue; the curtain trembled on the rise; the story of Fate was beginning. But they had no eyes except for each other, paid no heed save to each other.

And, unobserved by them, the vast curtain rose in silence, beginning the strange drama which neither time nor death, perhaps, has power to end.

THE END

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