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The Delafield Affair By Florence Finch Kelly Characters: 9771

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Louise Dent sank back upon her pillows as Lucy hurried from the room, too amazed and horrified for speech by the girl's declaration of her love for Curtis Conrad and her determination to reveal to him her father's identity. Ill in body, distracted in mind almost to the point of irresponsibility, her thoughts tossed about and took wild shapes in her fevered brain. The one idea looming constantly before her was that Bancroft was in deadly, imminent peril. Her bitter resentment against Conrad and the hate and anger she had nursed so long in secret distorted all her conception of his character. Now, as her thoughts pounded back and forth through her dizzy, aching head, he seemed to her to be capable of any monstrous deed. He would learn from Lucy the secret of her father's identity, and then nothing would prevent him from rushing forthwith to get his fill of bloody vengeance.

She rose and staggered to the window. Dark clouds were overspreading the sky. It would rain soon, they would turn back from their ride, and he would bring her home. Then he would hasten to the bank, and into Aleck's room-and she covered her eyes as if to conceal what her mental vision insisted on seeing. If Aleck only knew that Curtis had learned the truth, if he could be warned in time, he might conceal himself until it would be possible for him to go away. Leave the town he must, and go far, far away, where there would be no fear of discovery.

She alone knew his danger. But could she tell him that she was aware of his secret? She shrank from making him suffer that humiliation. Furthermore, could she do it without betraying her own secret, without laying bare the love that burned in her heart? Yet-what mattered the rest if she could save his life and, perhaps, his future? She followed with her eye the line of the canyon. Where were they now? The clouds were black and lowering and a gray veil of rain hid the purple of the distant mountains and spread an advancing blur over their slopes. If she was to save Aleck she must go-at once.

Her loud and hurried knocking at the door of Bancroft's private office sent to his heart the quick apprehension to which he had become an easy prey. He sprang to his feet with his hand upon the revolver that of late lay always ready upon his desk. Not only was it a relief to find that it was nobody but Louise, but the very sight of her was so welcome and so easeful to his overwrought and desperate mind that unconsciously he addressed her by her Christian name. Her wild eyes and distraught face alarmed him.

"Louise! What is the matter? You have come in all this rain? How wet you are! Has anything happened?"

"No; not now; not yet! Wait, let me get my breath-I will tell you. Aleck, how pale you are! Has anything happened to you?" In their excitement neither of them noticed that she also used his Christian name.

"No; nothing has happened to me-no more than usual. I am in deep trouble, Louise."

"I know, I know," she cried, coming close to him. "I know what it is-I have come to warn you. Curtis Conrad-"

"What about him?" Bancroft exclaimed, starting back. "What do you know about him?"

"What you know, Aleck-that he means to kill you. He is coming here this very afternoon-he will be here soon-he will kill you. You must hide from him!"

He drew back as she spoke, and then turned sharply upon her. "Do you know why? Are you another who knows?"

She moved a step aside and dropped her gaze, but her voice was tender and compassionate as she replied, "Yes, Aleck; I know."

He looked at her with astonished eyes. "How did you find it out? How long have you known?"

"For years," she said softly, stretching her hand impulsively toward him. "Josephine told me when she died, so I could guard Lucy against all knowledge of it. I have kept it as secret as the grave. Nobody has ever had from me any suspicion of the truth. It has made no difference to me, Aleck! I have only respected you the more, because you could begin over again and build up a new name and a new life."

He took her hand. It was wet and cold, and he folded it in his, and as she went on drew her closer to his side. He felt the soothing comfort of her words and manner, but his eyes were on the floor as he muttered, "I thought nobody knew; I thought it was hidden so well!"

The room had grown dark and darker. Outside, the rain was coming down in gray sheets, and dazzling flashes of lightning flooded the heavens. Peal upon peal of thunder smote their ears. She thought, "They are at home by this time; he will be here soon." Laying her other hand upon Bancroft's arm she hurried on, in broken, pleading speech: "Aleck, you must not stay here! You must hide somewhere, where he cannot find you! Conrad-I came to warn you-he knows, by this time-who you are. He will be here soon."

"Conrad! Does he know? Are you sure?"

"Yes. T

hey went to ride up the canyon, he and Lucy. She said she was going to tell him. Aleck, you must not stay here! He may come any minute!"

He dropped her hand and started back. "Lucy!" he cried, and again, "Lucy! Does she know, too?" He sank into his chair and buried his face in his arms. Louise stood beside him, her hand upon his shoulder, her voice soft with loving compassion.

"I don't know how she knew, nor how long she has known. Until this afternoon I had no idea that she, or any one, knew anything about it. But she came to my room and told me that she was going to ride with him, that she loved him, and that she was going to tell him who you are."

He made no answer; but she guessed by his troubled breathing with what shame and despair he was struggling. She bent over him, her arm across his shoulder, her cheek upon his hair. Above the pealing, echoing thunder and the rattling boom of some sound which in their absorption they had scarcely noted, there came into the room the sudden din of cries and shouts and pistol shots.

"It's Conrad! He's coming!" cried Louise, running to the window, her excited mind still dominated by the single idea. Bancroft grasped the pistol. Looking back, she saw him point it at his own temple. Springing to his side, she seized it with both hands, crying out, "Aleck, don't do that! Don't give up! Give it to me!"

His grasp relaxed and she took the weapon from his hand.

"Aleck! Bancroft! Aleck!" they heard from outside, in Conrad's voice. More words followed, but through the noise of the shouting and the thunder and that rattling roar, now grown louder and nearer, they could distinguish only, "your life!" A galloping horse rushed near the window, there was a pistol shot without, and an answering shot from within.

A shriek pierced the clamor, and Bancroft cried, "That was Lucy's voice!" By a flash of lightning which rent for an instant the gray darkness, they saw the horse wheel into the hill street, and saw Lucy in Conrad's arms.

The pistol dropped from Louise's hand as she cried out in a passion of grief, "Oh, Aleck! Our little girl! Have I killed her?"

He leaned toward her with compassionate arms.

Conrad glanced over his shoulder as he wheeled his mare into the cross street, and saw the towering wall of water at their very heels. Brown Betty was staggering under her burden, but with shout and spur he drove her on up the steep incline. A grinding crash mingled with the roar of the flood, and another backward glance let him see the bank building toppling, collapsing, embosomed in the awful avalanche of water. A great wave rushed after them and swept Brown Betty from her feet. Had the mare been less sturdy of spirit they would have been carried back on its retreating current. But Conrad's persuading, encouraging calls were in her ears and she struck out bravely, swimming against the force of the waves that swirled about them and buffeted her with the debris they carried. But the waters that spread up the cross street soon lost their force, and she regained her footing. Curtis bent over Lucy, saying, "We are safe now, sweetheart!" Blood was dripping over her garments, and she lay white and still upon his arm.

At last they reached the door of the Bancroft home, and Curtis carried Lucy, still unconscious, within, and went in search of Miss Dent. But the house was deserted. Alone, he ministered to the girl's needs. He located the injury, and found that a bullet, as to whose source and intention he made his own secret guess, had pierced her arm, but had left merely a flesh wound. Recovered from her swoon, he carried her up-stairs and left her to change her wet clothing while he went in search of blankets. Wrapped in these, with her arm bandaged, he left her in bed while he hastened down the hill, hoping to find news of her father and Miss Dent with which to relieve her anxiety.

The rain had ceased and the flood had passed, leaving in its wake the wreck of a ruined town. Where the bank building had stood were tottering walls and a shapeless heap of brick and timbers. Beneath the wreckage, where had been the president's office, they found the bodies of Bancroft and Louise, enfolded in each other's arms.

The sky cleared and only in the east did some low-lying clouds, still wet and angry, give any hint of the storm which had swept over the town and left desolation in its track. As Conrad climbed the hill to tell Lucy of her double bereavement, in the tenderest words his love could make possible, he faced the glories of a setting sun whose resplendent pageant filled the sky and touched with its glowing colors the pitiful devastation of the little valley.

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Transcriber's Note:

Minor changes have been made to correct typesetters' errors; otherwise, every effort has been made to remain true to the author's words and intent.

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