The Mayor's Wife by Anna Katharine Green
Chapter XXVI. "Bitter as the Grave"
But Nixon was wrong. Mr. Steele did not die--not this time. Cared for by the physician who had been hastily summoned, he slowly but surely revived and by midnight was able to leave the house. As he passed the mayor on his way out, I heard Mr. Packard say:
"I shall leave the house myself in a few minutes. I do not mean that your disaffection shall ruin my campaign any more than I mean to leave a stone unturned to substantiate my accusation that you had no right to marry and possess legal claims over the woman whose happiness you have endeavored to wreck. If you are wise you will put no further hindrance in my way."
I heard no answer, for at that instant a figure appeared in the open door which distracted all our attention. Miss Thankful, never an early sleeper and much given, as we know, to looking out of her window, had evidently caught the note of disaster from the coming and going of the doctor. She had run in from next door and now stood panting in the open doorway face to face with Mr. Steele, with her two hands held out, in one of which, remarkable as it seems to relate, I saw the package of bonds which I had been fortunate enough to find for her.
The meeting seemed to paralyze both; her face which had been full of tremulous feeling blanched and hardened, while he, stopped in some speech or final effort he was about to make, yielded to the natural brutality which underlay his polished exterior, and, in an access of rage which almost laid him prostrate again, lifted his arm and struck her out of his path. As she reeled to one side the bonds flew from her hand and lay at his feet; but he saw nothing; he was already half-way down the walk and in another moment the bang of his carriage door announced his departure.
The old lady, muttering words I could not hear, stared mute and stricken at the bonds which the mayor had hastened to lift and place in her hands.
Pitying her and anxious to relieve him from the embarrassment of her presence when his own mind and heart were full of misery, I rushed down to her side and endeavored to lead her away. She yielded patiently enough to my efforts, but, as she turned away, she cast one look at the mayor and with the tears rolling down her long and hollow cheeks murmured in horror and amaze:
"He struck me!"
The flash in Mayor Packard's eye showed sympathy, but the demands of the moment were too great for him to give to those pathetic words the full significance which I suddenly suspected them to hold. As I led her tottering figure down the step and turned toward her door I said gently:
"Who was the man? Who was it that struck you?"
She answered quickly and with broken-hearted emphasis "My nephew! my sister's son, and I had come to give him all our money. We have waited three days for him to come to us. We thought he would when he knew the bonds had been found, but he never came near, never gave us a chance to enrich him; and when I heard he was ill and saw the carriage which had come to take him away, we could not stand it another minute and so I ran out and--and he struck me! looked in my face and struck me!"
I folded her in my arms, there and then at the foot of her own doorstep, and when I felt her heart beating on mine, I whispered:
"Bless God for it! He has a hard and cruel heart, and would make no good use of this money. Live to spend it as your brother desired, to make over the old house and reinstate the old name. He would not have wished it wasted on one who must have done you cruel wrong, since he has lived so many days beside you without showing his interest in you or even acknowledging your relationship."
"There were reasons," she protested, gently withdrawing herself, but holding me for a minute to her side. "He has had great fortune--is a man of importance now--we did not wish to interfere with his career. It was only after the money was found that we felt he should come. We should not have asked him to take back his old name, we should simply have given him what he thought best to take and been so happy and proud to see him. He is so handsome and fortunate that we should not have begrudged it, if he had taken it all. But he struck me! he struck me! He will never get a dollar now."
Relieved, for the natural good sense of the woman was reasserting itself, I gave her hands a squeeze and quickly ran back to where the mayor was holding the door for me.
"She is all right now," I remarked, as I slid by him upstairs; and that was all I said. The rest must wait a more auspicious moment-- the moment when he really would have time to take up the gage which Mr. Steele had thrown down to him in his final words.
I was not a witness to the parting interview between Mayor Packard and his wife; I had stolen into the nursery, for a look at the little one. I found her sleeping sweetly, with one chubby hand under her rounded cheek. Thus had she lain and thus had she slept during all those dreadful minutes, when her future hung, trembling in the balance.