A Romance of Billy-Goat Hill by Alice Hegan Rice
For the next month little else was talked about but Donald Morley's trial. The truth of the matter sustained a compound fracture every time the subject was discussed. In some quarters it was confidently asserted that the fugitive from justice had been captured the moment he landed in America, and was allowed his liberty only under a heavy bond. Others contended that a guilty conscience had driven him to confession.
Meanwhile his friends were either exasperated at his folly in reviving the old scandal, or quixotically enthusiastic over his demand for justice. Mrs. Sequin bitterly opposed his action until she found that the Bartrums, Dr. Queerington, and other influential friends upheld him, then she decided to suspend her judgment until the trial was over. Of course if he was going to be a hero, she wanted to be his loving sister, but if he was going to be convicted, she would have nothing more to do with him. He had gone directly against her advice in coming home, and she observed with ominous certainty that "he would see."
Donald threw himself into the work before him with grim determination. He spent hours daily in Mr. Gooch's stuffy office going over transcript of testimony in the Dillingham trial; he made a number of visits to Billy-goat Hill, recalling every detail of the shooting. On the first visit he had sought out Sheeley, confident of being able to jog his memory, concerning his part in the affray, but to his dismay he found that Sheeley had already been summoned to the office of the prosecuting attorney. In every direction he turned he encountered the octopus of the law.
Mr. Gooch gave him little encouragement. He wheezed, and whined, and contested every suggestion. His client appeared to him a foolhardy boy who had gotten well out of an ugly scrape, and did not have sense enough to stay out. So strongly did he feel this that he felt called upon to express it at great length, on every possible occasion.
Donald would sit before him with arms folded, and jaws set, waiting impatiently for these harangues to cease. He had employed him because he was the family lawyer, and because he was a friend of Doctor Queerington's. At the end of the first week he realized that he had made a mistake, and confided the fact to Noah Wicker.
Noah, having successfully worked through the law course at the university, was now, by the persistent efforts of Miss Lady, occupying a dark corner of Mr. Gooch's outer office. Here, with feet hooked under a rung of a stool, and fingers grasping his pompadour, he doggedly wrestled with the cases he heard in court, laboriously puzzling out obscure points by the aid of the Statute and the Code.
Donald soon fell into the habit of discussing his approaching trial with him, at such times as Mr. Gooch was absent. He found Noah's calm, impersonal point of view a relief after the skeptical, disapproving attitude of the older attorney.
During these days Donald spent as little time as possible at Angora Heights. The family skeletons that had always lurked in the Sequin closets, seemed to revel in their commodious new quarters. It is a melancholy fact that the more closets one acquires, the more skeletons there are to occupy them!
Mrs. Sequin's existence, if restless in town, was trebly so in the country. Between catching trains and receiving and speeding guests, engaging and dismissing servants, and agonizing over the non- essentials, she dwelt in the vortex of a whirlwind that disturbed everything in its wake.
Between her and Margery the gulf was widening. Having declared her independence, the girl went further, and entered a training class in the kindergarten, an act which caused a rupture that threatened to be serious, until the head of the family for once asserted his authority, and unexpectedly sided with his daughter.
Basil Sequin during these days had little time to bestow upon family matters. He rose at six o'clock, drank three cups of black coffee, devoured the newspapers, and was on the way to the office before his gardener was out of bed. Before and after banking hours he had committee meetings, and special appointments, snatching a few minutes for luncheon at the nearest restaurant.
Donald had had but one chance to talk with him since his return, and that was one evening when he was summoned to his den. He found him pacing restlessly up and down the room, his hands thrust deep in his pockets.
"You've decided to stand the trial, I hear?" Mr. Sequin asked abruptly.
"Yes, I had to get the matter cleared up. It is all so idiotic, my being indicted! I don't anticipate any trouble."
"You can't tell," said Mr. Sequin, "but I didn't send for you to discuss the trial. It's business I want to talk about. Do you know how much stock you own in the People's Bank?"
"No, I can't say that I do exactly."
"Well, it's time you were finding out. How would you like to take charge of your own affairs from now on?"
Donald looked at him in undisguised surprise. Heretofore the only time that money matters had been discussed between them was when he had been guilty of some extra extravagance. This sudden change of tactics on the part of his brother-in-law was disconcerting.
"Why, I shouldn't like it at all, unless it would relieve you," he said.
"It isn't that. One bother more or less doesn't matter. The point is, I want you to act for yourself. The result of this trial is by no means certain; you may need considerable ready money before you get through with it. Why don't you sell your bank stock, and make some better paying investments on your own hook?"
"Why, I thought the bank stock--" began Donald, but Mr. Sequin wheeled upon him impatiently.
"Do you want my advice or not?"
"Of course I want it."
"Very well. Listen to me. Almost every dollar you have is tied up in the People's Bank. Go down to-morrow morning to a broker, Gilson's the best man, tell him that you must have a big sum of money at once. In order to get it you are willing to sacrifice every share of your People's stock. Tell him not to put it on the market, but to sell it in small blocks to different people, and not to stick at the price. Make him understand that it has to do with your trial, and caution him particularly not to let me know of the transaction."
"But I don't understand," said Donald, watching with troubled eyes the stooped figure that continued to pace up and down the room like an animal in a cage.
"I didn't offer to explain. I offered to advise," Mr. Sequin snarled. "There are complications that couldn't be made clear to you in a month! I'll ask you not to refer to this matter again to me or to any one else. I have a lot of papers to look over now, so I'll say good night."
Donald rose from where he had been sitting at the table.
"Of course you know what is best," he said irresolutely. "And I know I've got no business shifting my responsibilities on you. By the way, can't I help you with some of this stuff? You look about done for to- night."
"Done for?" Mr. Sequin smiled ironically, and ran his fingers through his scant gray hair. "Why, Don, I'd change places with any old corpse to-night, just for a chance to lie down in a quiet corner and stop thinking! No, there's nothing you can do. There's nothing anybody can do. Good night; close the door as you go out, and leave word downstairs if I am called over the 'phone to say I am not here."
All things considered it is small wonder that Donald passed as little time as possible at Angora Heights. The time he was not occupied with his trial hung heavy on his hands. Distrustful of his friends, sensitive to criticism, and dreading the humiliating ordeal to come, he spent one of the most wretched months of his life. He tried to write, but fancy fled before the glare of the actual. The only place where he found temporary peace was under the roof of the grim-looking house in College Street.
From the first Doctor Queerington had championed his cause, and urged upon him his hospitality. To be sure the Doctor's hospitality usually began and ended with his welcome, after which he would take himself off to the study, and leave his guest to the care of the family.
At such times Miss Lady invariably went with him. In fact, Donald had never seen her alone since the night of his arrival, and the very fact that she seldom remained down-stairs in the evenings, made his conscience lighter about lingering in her vicinity.
Mrs. Ivy was the first to comment on his frequent visits. She confided to Mrs. Sequin that she was afraid he was getting interested in Connie Queerington, and that somebody ought to tell him that Connie had been in love with dear Gerald for years and years. An impartial observer might have expressed a less confident opinion concerning the object of Miss Connie's affections.
Noah Wicker, for instance, while not exactly an impartial observer, had arrived at quite a different conclusion.
"You watch the way she looks at Don," he said darkly to Miss Lady on one occasion.
Miss Lady laughed, "Oh! Connie's like the Last Duchess, she likes whate'er she looks on, and her looks go everywhere."
"Yes, but this is different. Has she ever said anything to you about him?"
"Mercy, yes, Connie talks to be about all the boys."
"Does she talk about me?" Noah's eyes were as wistful as a dog's.
For a second Miss Lady hesitated, then she compromised with truth and said, "yes." She did not add that Connie was particularly voluble on the subject of his hair, and the creak of his boots and his apparent genius for ubiquity.
"Do you know what I'd do if I were you, Noah?" she said. "I'd have me a new suit of clothes made."
"Why, these are new!"
"Yes, I know, but they don't fit. And get some shoes that don't creak, and--and you won't mind my telling you, Noah? Pompadours went out of style six years ago."
Noah gloomily shook his head. "It's not my clothes. It's not clothes that make Don Morley. By the way, aren't you two friends, any more?"
Miss Lady faced the question unflinchingly. "Yes, we are friends. Is he going to win out?"
"With Miss Connie?"
"No, you foolish boy. In his trial."
"I don't know."
"What will happen if he loses?"
"The case will be appealed."
"And if he loses in the Court of Appeals?"
"It's up to Gooch to see that he doesn't lose. I only wish I was as certain of a few other things as I am of Donald Morley's innocence!"
One afternoon, a few days before the trial, Donald after oscillating between the hotel and his club and finding each equally intolerable, jumped on the car and went out to the Queeringtons. It was a cold, raw day, with a fine mist filling the air, and even the dull formality of the drab parlor seemed a relief from the gloom without.
Miss Lady started up from the piano as he entered, but Connie pulled her back:
"You shan't run off and leave us, shall she, Cousin Don? She was just going to play for Mr. Wicker to sing. Did you know he could sing?"
"Oh, yes. Wick's the Original Warbler. Do you remember our serenades on the Cane Run Road, Wick?"
"Yes," said Noah glumly.
"I forgot that you and Mr. Wicker used to know each other," Connie said curiously. "Why the Cane Run Road runs by Thornwood, doesn't it?"
"Yes," said Don calmly, seizing the conversation and shoving it out of shoal water. "Go ahead, Wick, and sing something; we'll join in the chorus."
But when the time for the chorus came Donald had forgotten his promise. He was leaning back in a corner of the sofa, his hand shading his eyes, watching Miss Lady, and wondering what trick of fate had driven her to marry John Jay Queerington. There was no man in the world whose moral worth he admired more, but Miss Lady seemed as out of place in his life as a darting, quivering humming-bird in a museum of natural history. He noticed the faint shadows about her eyes, and the wistful droop of her lips. If he could only set her free! A mad desire seized him to see her once more joyously on the wing with all her old buoyancy and daring. And yet she had walked open eyed into her cage, and he had yet to see the tiniest flutter of her wings against the bars.
On that first night of his home-coming surely he had read a welcome in her eyes! But never since by word or gesture had he reason to think that she remembered. She was gracious and elusive, and she talked to him as she talked to Decker and Gerald Ivy, only she looked at them when she talked, and she never even looked at him.
Yet she had cared! He had only to recall the flashing revelation of her eyes that night in the garden to know for one transcendent moment, at least, she was his. It was the look that had sustained his faith in her through all those weary months of silence, making him cling to the belief, until he heard the truth from her own lips, that she had failed to get his letter. It was the remembrance of that look and what it had promised that rushed upon him now as he watched her.
All the reckless impulse of his boyhood, the long years of unrestraint, surged over him, urging him on to wake in her some answer to his fierce, insistent demand. She should remember the way he had loved her, she should know the way he loved her now. If there was any heart left in her she must respond in some way to his imperative need.
But her eyes kept steadily on the key-board, and her fingers unfalteringly followed the notes. Could he have known how the tears burned under her lashes, and how cold her fingers were on the keys; could he have guessed how she sat there under his steady gaze, with tense muscles and quivering nerves, calculating the minutes that must elapse before Noah's interminable verses would end, and she could escape, he might have had compassion on her.
"Sing, Cousin Don!" demanded Connie; "you are leaving it all to Mr. Wicker and me, while you sit there looking exactly as if you had lost your last friend."
"No, only my illusions, Connie."
"Where did you lose them?"
"In Singapore. All but one. I hung on to it clear around the world, only to lose it on Christmas night when I got home. Don't you feel sorry for me?"
"Not a bit," said Connie saucily. "I couldn't feel sorry for anybody as good looking as you are,--could you, Mr. Wicker? Where did Miss Lady go?"
"She said she was going to lie down, that her head ached," said Noah.
"I know what's the matter," said Connie; "she tries to keep us from seeing it, but she's all broken up over selling Thornwood."
"Thornwood!" cried Donald; "she hasn't sold it?"
"No, but it's been put up for sale. She'd die at the stake for Father. He doesn't even know about it."
"But surely there is some other way." Connie shrugged her shoulders. "I am sure I don't know. Hattie's given up music and French, and we've put Bertie in the public school, and I haven't had but one party dress this winter. But a girl doesn't have to depend on clothes to have a good time, does she, Mr. Wicker?"
That night Donald sat up late, turning things over in his mind. Once the trial was over he must go away, where he could not see Miss Lady or hear of her. He must plunge into some business that would absorb his time and attention. But before he went he must make an investment and make it at once. In order to do so, he would follow Basil Sequin's advice, and offer his bank stock for sale in the morning.