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The Delafield Affair By Florence Finch Kelly Characters: 6615

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Lucy Bancroft and her father were unusually silent as they drove toward home. After an effort to chatter gayly she grew quiet-to her father's surprise, for she was ordinarily a vivacious companion. Speculating uneasily whether or not she had heard Conrad's story, and reassuring himself that it could mean nothing to her in any event, he made several efforts to draw her into speech. But she answered with her mind so evidently intent elsewhere that he gave up the attempt. The fear grew on him that she had overheard the conversation and that it had left an undue impression on her mind.

A mirage of singularly perfect illusion lay across the plain to their left, and he drew her attention to its silvery surface, the trees bordering its unreal banks, the cattle standing knee-deep in its waters, and the steamboat puffing across its breast. Lucy admired and wondered for a moment, then turned the other way and looked back at the green tree clusters and white buildings of the ranch they had left. Her gaze lingered there until they crossed the hill, and its summit hid the scene from view.

Bancroft sought to reassure himself. Did she not say she had been asleep? And the door was shut. Surely she could not have heard! Even if she had why should she care about it? Nevertheless, her silence made him anxious. It annoyed him to think that her mind was intent upon Conrad's story. He made another effort to draw her out of her abstraction by asking how soon she expected their friend, Louise Dent, who was coming to spend the Summer with them. Lucy showed interest in this and they discussed plans for her entertainment. But presently she fell silent again, looking straight ahead with a little frown on her brow.

The conviction gripped Bancroft's mind that she had overheard the cattleman's recital of his wrongs. Alarm stirred in his heart as he tried to imagine what impression it had made upon her. Would she sympathize with Conrad? For the moment he forgot everything else-business deals and political contests, friendships and enmities, in his desire to know what had been the effect upon the girl beside him of Conrad's outburst. But much as he wished to know, he feared still more the surety of what her feeling might be, and he could not bring himself to ask the questions that would draw her out.

Presently Lucy's voice broke suddenly upon their silence. "I wonder what became of his sisters!" Her color rose as she spoke and she gazed with exaggerated interest at a tall, yellow-flowered cactus beside the road.

"Whose sisters, Lucy?" her father asked carelessly, flicking the horses to a faster pace. But his heart sank as he thought, "She did hear it all!"

"Why, Mr. Conrad's. You know he said he was left when he was only fifteen with two younger sisters and a little brother to take care of."

"Oh-Conrad-I don't know. They are probably married by this time. That was a long time ago. I've heard him mention his sisters before, I think. Yes; I recall now that he has told me they are both married and prosperous somewhere in Illinois or Iowa."

"And his younger brother?"

"Oh, he's just a young fellow, and Curtis is putting him through college. Conrad banks with me, and I've noticed his checks sometimes when they come back."

"How good he is to them! It must ha

ve been very hard on him," Lucy's tone was sympathetic, but her father replied briskly:

"Oh, I don't know! Responsibility is sometimes just the thing to bring out all the good there is in a young fellow and show what sort of stuff he's made of."

"I suppose that's why he's never married," Lucy went on, following her own line of thought, her voice still sounding the sympathetic note, "because he had to take care of the others."

"I don't suppose that's a fault in your eyes, my dear."

"Of course not, daddy!" Lucy flashed back, smiling and dimpling. "Of course a girl likes a young man better because he's more interesting and can pay her more attention. You would yourself, daddy, if you were a girl."

"Very likely, my dear. But I like Curtis Conrad well enough, even if I'm not as young as you are and of your sex. I was disappointed in him to-day, though, and surprised as well. You must have heard what he said; how did it strike you to hear a young man boast of his intention to commit murder?"

He spoke so earnestly and the persuasive quality in his voice was so insistent that Lucy turned upon him a quick look of surprise and question. Then her eyes fell as a sudden rush of emotion, coming she knew not whence or why, almost choked her utterance.

"I don't know," she began tremulously, "perhaps he wouldn't really do it-I don't believe he would-he seems too good and kind to be really wicked or cruel." She stopped a moment, only to break out abruptly:

"And it was such a wicked thing that man Delafield did! Oh, he must have been a villain! As wicked and cruel-oh, as bad as he could be! I can't blame Mr. Conrad for feeling as he does. I know it seems an awful thing for me to say, but I really can't blame him, daddy, when I think what that man made him suffer-and he was only one; there must have been many others. I might even feel the same way if I were in his place and it had been you that was killed!" There was a thrill in her voice that seemed in her father's ears to be the echo of that which had vibrated through Curtis Conrad's words when he so passionately declared his purpose. Her words were as knife-thrusts in his heart as she went on, "Oh, how I should hate him! I know I should hate him with all my strength!"

He made no immediate reply, leaning forward to tap the horses with the whip-lash. Lucy choked down a sob or two, turned, threw her arms around his neck, and burst into tears. He put his arm about her with a sudden close pressure, and she, with her eyes hidden against his shoulder, could not see that his face had gone suddenly white and that underneath his brown moustache and pointed beard his lips were pale and tense.

"Well, well, Lucy," he said presently, his voice calm and caressing, "there's no need to be tragic over it. Is it any of our affair, even if Conrad is our good friend? Possibly Delafield wasn't as bad as he says-it's likely Curt exaggerates about him-he usually does when he dislikes anybody. And perhaps Delafield suffered as much as-the others. Come, dear, brace up and don't be hysterical."

Lucy straightened up and gave her father a wavering, wistful smile. "It was silly of me, wasn't it, daddy, to act like that! I'm ashamed of myself. I don't know why I cried-I guess it was because I am tired."

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