Chapter XVII. Shall Be Given
 

For one long week of seven long days and seven long nights Annette fought out her gallant fight for life, fought and won. Throughout the week at her side Adrien waited day and night, except for a few hours snatched for rest, when Patricia took her place, for there was not a nurse to be had in all that time and Patricia begged for the privilege of sharing her vigil with her.

Every day and in the darkest days all day long, it seemed to Adrien, McNish haunted the Maitland home--for he had abandoned all pretence of work--his gaunt, grey face and hollow eyes imploring a word of hope.

But it was chiefly to Jack throughout that week that Adrien's heart went out in compassionate pity, for in his face there dwelt a misery so complete, so voiceless that no comfort of hers appeared to be able to bring relief. Often through those days did Annette ask to see him, but the old doctor was relentless. There must be absolute quiet and utter absence of all excitement. No visitors were to be permitted, especially no men visitors.

But the day came when the ban was lifted and with smiling face, Adrien came for Jack.

"You have been such a good boy," she cried gaily, "that I am going to give you a great treat. You are to come in with me."

With face all alight Jack followed her into the sick room.

"Here he is, Annette," cried Adrien. "Now, remember, no fussing, no excitement, and just one quarter of an hour--or perhaps a little longer," she added.

For a moment or two Jack stood looking at the girl lying upon the bed.

"Oh, Annette, my dear, dear girl," he cried in a breaking voice as he knelt down by her side and took her hand in his.

So much reached Adrien's ears as she closed the door and passed to her room with step weary and lifeless.

"Why, Adrien," cried her sister, who was waiting to relieve her, "you are like a ghost! You poor dear. You are horribly done out."

"I believe I am, Patricia," said Adrien. "I believe I shall rest awhile." She lay down on the bed, her face turned toward the wall, and so remained till Patricia went softly away, leaving her, as she thought, to sleep.

Downstairs Patricia found Victor Forsythe awaiting her.

"Poor Adrien is really used up," she said. "She has a deathly look in her face. Just the same look as she had that night of the hockey match. Do you remember?"

"The night of the hockey dance? Do I remember? A ghastly night--a horrid night--a night of unspeakable wretchedness."

As Vic was speaking, Patricia kept her eyes steadily upon him with a pondering, puzzled look.

"What is it, Patricia? I know you want to ask me something. Is it about that night?"

"I wonder if you would really mind very much, Vic, if I asked you?"

"Not in the very least. I shall doubtless enjoy it after it's out. Painless dentistry effect. Go to it, Patsy."

"It is very serious, Vic. I always think people in books are so stupid. They come near to the truth and then just miss getting it."

"The truth. Ah! Go on, Pat."

"Well, Vic," said Patricia with an air of one taking a desperate venture, "why did you not give Adrien her note that night? It would have saved her and me such pain. I cried all night long. I had so counted on a dance with Jack--and then never a word from him. But he did send a note. He told me so. I never told Adrien that, for she forbade me, oh, so terribly, never to speak of it again. Why didn't you give her or me the note, Vic?" Patricia's voice was very pathetic and her eyes very gentle but very piercing.

All the laughter died out of Victor's face. "Pat, I lied to you once, only once, and that lie has cost me many an hour's misery. But now I shall tell you the truth and the whole truth." And he proceeded to recount the tribulations which he endured on the night of the hockey dance. "I did it to help you both out, Pat. I thought I could make it easy for you. It was all a sheer guess, but it turned out to be pretty well right."

Patricia nodded her head. "But you received no note?"

"Not a scrap, Patricia, so help me. Not a scrap. Patricia, you believe me?"

The girl looked straight into Vic's honest eyes. "Yes, Vic," she said, "I believe you. But Jack sent a note."

Vic sprang to his feet. "Good-bye, Watson. You shall hear from me within an hour."

"Whatever do you mean? Where are you going?"

"Dear lady, ask no questions. I am about to Sherlock. Farewell."

At the door he overtook Jack. "Aha! The first link in the chain. Hello, old chap, a word with you. May I get into your car?"

"Certainly. Get in."

"Now then, about that note. Nothing like diplomacy. The night of the hockey dance you sent a note to a lady?"

Jack glanced at him in amazement.

"Don't be an ass, Vic. I don't feel like that stuff just now."

"This is serious. Did you send a note by me that night of the hockey dance?"

"By you? No. Who said I did?"

"Aha! The mystery deepens. By whom? Nothing like finesse."

"It is none of your business," said Jack crossly.

"Check," cried Vic.

"What are you talking about, anyway?" inquired Jack.

"A note was sent by you," said Vic impressively, "through some agency at present unknown. So far, so good."

"Unknown? What rubbish. I sent a note by Sam Wigglesworth, who gave it to some of you for Adrien. What about it?"

As they approached the entrance to the Maitland Mills Vic saw a stream of employees issue from the gate.

"Nothing more at present," he said. "This is my corner. Let me out. I am in an awful hurry, Jack."

"Will you tell me, please, what all this means?" said Jack angrily.

"Sorry, old chap. Awfully hurried just now. See you later."

"You are a vast idiot," grumbled Jack, as Vic ran down the street.

He took his place at the corner which commanded the entrance to the Maitland works. "Here I shall wait, abstractedly gazing at the passers-by, until the unhappy Sam makes his appearance," mused Vic to himself. "And by the powers, here Sam is now."

From among the employees as they poured from the gate Victor pounced upon his victim and bore him away down a side street.

"Sam," he said, "it may be you are about to die, so tell me the truth. I hate to take your young life." Sam grinned at his captor, unafraid. "Cast your mind back to the occasion of the hockey dance. You remember that?"

"You bet I do, Mister. I made a dollar that night."

"Ah! A dollar. Yes, you did, for delivering a note given you by Captain Jack Maitland," hissed Vic, gripping his arm.

"Huh-huh," said Sam. "Look out, Mister, that's me."

"Villain!" cried Vic. "Boy, I mean. Now, Sam, did you deliver that note?"

"Of course I did. Didn't Captain Jack give me a dollar for it? I didn't want his dollar."

"The last question, Sam," said Vic solemnly, "to whom did you deliver the note?"

"To that chap, the son of the storekeeper."

"Rupert Stillwell?" suggested Vic.

"Huh-huh, that's his name. That's him now," cried Sam. "In that Hudson car--see--there--quick!"

"Boy," said Vic solemnly, "you have saved your life. Here's a dollar. Now, remember, not a word about this."

"All right, sir," grinned Sam delightedly, as he made off down the street.

"Now then, what?" said Vic to himself. "This thing has got past the joke stage. I must do some thinking. Shall I tell Pat or not? By Jove, by Jove, that's not the question. When that young lady gets those big eyes of hers on me the truth will flow in a limpid stream. I must make sure of my ground. Meantime I shall do the Kamerad act."

That afternoon Annette had another visitor. Her nurse, though somewhat dubious as to the wisdom of this indulgence, could not bring herself to refuse her request that McNish should be allowed to see her.

"But you must be tired. Didn't Jack tire you?" inquired Adrien.

A soft and tender light stole into the girl's dark eyes.

"Ah, Jack. He could not tire me," she murmured. "He makes so much of what I did. How gladly would I do it again. Jack is wonderful to me. Wonderful to me," she repeated softly. Her lip trembled and she lay back upon her pillow and from her closed eyes two tears ran down her cheek.

"Now," said Adrien briskly, "you are too tired. We shall wait till to-morrow."

"No, no, please," cried Annette. "Jack didn't tire me. He comforts me."

"But Malcolm will tire you," said Adrien. "Do you really want to see him?"

A faint colour came up into the beautiful face of her patient.

"Yes, Adrien, I really want to see him. I am sure he will do me good. You will let him come, please?" The dark eyes were shining with another light, more wistful, more tender.

"Is he here, Adrien?"

"Is he here?" echoed Adrien scornfully. "Has he been anywhere else the last seven days?"

"Poor Malcolm," said the girl, the tenderness in her voice becoming protective. "I have been very bad to him, and he loves me so. Oh, he is just mad about me!" A little smile stole round the corners of her mouth.

"Oh, you needn't tell me that, Annette," said Adrien. "It is easy for you to make men mad about you."

"Not many," said the girl, still softly smiling.

McNish went toward the door of the sick room as if approaching a holy shrine, walking softly and reverently.

"Go in, lucky man," said Adrien. "Go in, and thank God for your good fortune."

He paused at the door, turned about and looked at her with grave eyes. "Miss Templeton," he said in slow, reverent tones, "all my life shall I thank God for His great mercy tae me."

"Don't keep her waiting, man," said Adrien, waving him in. Then McNish went in and she closed the door softly upon them.

"There are only a few great moments given to men," she said, "and this is one of them for those two happy people."

In ten days Annette was pronounced quite fit to return to her family. But Patricia resolved that they should have a grand fete in the Maitland home before Annette should leave it. She planned a motor drive in the cool of the day, and in the evening all their special friends who had been brought together through the tragic events of the past weeks should come to bring congratulations and mutual felicitations for the recovery of the patient.

Patricia was arranging the guest list, in collaboration with Mr. Maitland and the assistance of Annette and Victor.

"We will have our boys, of course," she began.

"Old and young, I hope?" suggested Mr. Maitland.

"Of course!" she cried. "Although I don't know any old ones. That will mean all the fathers and Vic, Jack, Hugh and Rupert, and Malcolm--"

"Ah! It has come to Malcolm, then?" murmured Vic. "Certainly, why not? He loves me to call him Malcolm. And then we will have Mr. Matheson. And we must have Mr. McGinnis--they have become such great friends. And I should like to have the Mayor, he is so funny. But perhaps he wouldn't fit. He does take up a lot of attention."

"Cut him out!" said Victor with decision.

"And for ladies," continued Patricia, "just the relatives--all the mothers and the sisters. That's enough."

"How lovely!" murmured Vic.

"Oh, if you want any other ladies, Vic," said Patricia severely, "we shall be delighted to invite them for you."

"Me? Other ladies? What could I do with other ladies? Is not my young life one long problem as it is? Ah! Speaking of problems, that reminds me. I have a communication to make to you young lady." Vic's manner suggested a profound and deadly mystery. He led Patricia away from the others. "I have something to tell you, Patricia," he said, abandoning all badinage. "I hate to do it but it is right for you, for myself, for Adrien, and by Jove for poor old Jack, too. Though, perhaps--well, let that go."

"Oh, Vic!" cried Patricia. "It is about the note!"

"Yes, Patricia. That note was given by Jack to Sam Wigglesworth, who gave it to Rupert Stillwell."

"And he forgot?" gasped Patricia.

"Ah--ah--at least, he didn't deliver it. No, Patricia, we are telling the whole truth. He didn't forget. You remember he asked about Jack. There, I have given you all I know. Make of it what you like."

"Shall I tell Adrien?" asked Patricia.

"I think certainly Adrien ought to know."

"Then I'll tell her to-night," said Patricia. "I want it all over before our fete, which is day after to-morrow."

Rupert Stillwell had been in almost daily attendance upon Adrien during the past two weeks, calling for her almost every afternoon with his car. The day following he came for her according to his custom. Upon Adrien's face there dwelt a gentle, tender, happy look as if her heart were singing for very joy. That look upon her face drove from Rupert all the hesitation and fear which had fallen upon him during these days of her ministry to the wounded girl. He took a sudden and desperate resolve that he would put his fate to the test.

Adrien's answer was short and decisive.

"No, Rupert," she said. "I cannot. I thought for a little while, long ago, that perhaps I might, but now I know that I never could have loved you."

"You were thinking of that note of Jack Maitland's which I sent you last night?"

"Oh, no," she said gently. "Not that."

"I felt awfully mean about that, Adrien. I feel mean still. I thought that as you had learned all about it from Victor, it was of no importance."

"Yes," she replied gently, "but I was the best judge of that."

"Adrien, tell me," Rupert's voice shook with the intensity of his passion, "is there no hope?"

"No," she said, "there is no hope, Rupert."

"There is someone else," he said, savagely.

"Yes," she said, happily, "I think so."

"Someone," continued Rupert, his voice trembling with rage, "someone who distributes his affections."

"No," she said, a happy smile in her eyes, "I think not."

"You love him?" he asked.

"Oh, yes," she whispered, with a little catch in her breath, "I love him."

At the door on their return Jack met them. A shadow fell upon his face, but with a quick resolve, he shouted a loud welcome to them.

"Hello, Adrien," he cried, as she came running up the steps. "You apparently have had a lovely drive."

"Oh, wonderful, Jack. A wonderful drive," she replied.

"Yes, you do look happy."

"Oh, so happy. I was never so happy."

"Then," said Jack, dropping his voice, "may I congratulate you?"

"Yes, I think so," she said. "I hope so." And then laughed aloud for very glee.

Jack turned from her with a quick sharp movement, went down the steps and offering his hand to Rupert, said:

"Good luck, old chap. I wish you good luck."

"Eh? What? Oh, all right," said Rupert in a dazed sort of way. But he didn't come into the house.

Never was there such a day in June, never such a fete. The park never looked so lovely and never a party so gay disported themselves in it and gayest of them all was Adrien. All day long it seemed as if her very soul were laughing for joy. And all day long she kept close beside Jack, chaffing him, laughing at him, rallying him on his solemn face and driving him half-mad with her gay witchery.

Then home they all came to supper, where waited them McNish and his mother with Mr. McGinnis, for they had been unable to join in the motor drive.

"Ma certie, lassie! But ye're a sight for sare een. What hae ye bin daein tae her, Mr. Jack," said Mrs. McNish, as she welcomed them at the door.

"The Lord only knows," said Jack.

"But, man, look at her!" exclaimed the old lady.

"I have been, all day long," replied Jack with a gallant attempt at gaiety.

"Oh, Mrs. McNish," cried the girl, rippling with joyous laughter, "he won't even look at me. He just--what do you say--glowers, that's it--glowers at me. And we have had such a wonderful day. Come, Jack, get yourself ready for supper. You have only a few minutes."

She caught her arm through his and laughing shamelessly into his eyes, drew him away.

"I say, Adrien," said Jack, driven finally to desperation and drawing her into the quiet of the library, "I am awfully glad you are so happy and all that, but I don't see the necessity of rubbing it into a fellow. You know how I feel. I am glad for you and--I am glad for Rupert. Or, at least I told him so."

"But, Jack," said the girl, her eyes burning with a deep inner glow, "Rupert has nothing to do with it. Rupert, indeed," and she laughed scornfully. "Oh, Jack, why can't you see?"

"See what?" he said crossly.

"Jack," she said softly, turning toward him and standing very near him, "you remember the note you sent me?"

"Note?"

"The note you sent the night of the hockey dance?"

"Yes," said Jack bitterly, "I remember."

"And you remember, too, how horrid I was to you the next time I saw you? How horrid? Oh, Jack, it broke my heart." Her voice faltered a moment and her shining eyes grew dim. "I was so horrid to you."

"Oh, no," said Jack coolly, "you were kind. You were very kind and sisterly, as I remember."

"Jack," she said and her breath began to come hurriedly, "I got that note yesterday. Only yesterday, Jack."

"Yesterday?"

"Yes, only yesterday. And I read it, Jack," she added with a happy laugh. "And in that note, Jack, you said--do you remember--"

But Jack stood gazing stupidly at her. She pulled the note from her bosom.

"Oh, Jack, you said--"

Still Jack gazed at her.

"Jack, you will kill me. Won't you hurry? Oh, I can't wait a moment longer. You said you were going to tell me something, Jack." She stood radiant, breathless and madly alluring. "And oh, Jack, won't you tell me?"

"Adrien," said Jack, his voice husky and uncontrolled. "Do you mean that you--"

"Oh, Jack, tell me quick," she said, swaying toward him. And while she clung to him taking his kisses on her lips, Jack told her.