A Poor Wise Man by Mary Roberts Rinehart
At midnight Howard Cardew reached home again, a tired and broken man. Grace had been lying awake in her bedroom, puzzled by his unexplained absence, and brooding, as she now did continually, over Lily's absence.
At half past eleven she heard Anthony Cardew come in and go upstairs, and for some time after that she heard him steadily pacing back and forth overhead. Sometimes Grace felt sorry for Anthony. He had made himself at such cost, and now when he was old, he had everything and yet nothing.
They had never understood women, these Cardews. Howard was gentle with them where Anthony was hard, but he did not understand, either. She herself, of other blood, got along by making few demands, but the Cardew women were as insistent in their demands as the men. Elinor, Lily - She formed a sudden resolution, and getting up, dressed feverishly. She had no plan in her mind, nothing but a desperate resolution to put Lily's case before her grandfather, and to beg that she be brought home without conditions.
She was frightened as she went up the stairs. Never before had she permitted things to come to an issue between herself and Anthony. But now it must be done. She knocked at the door.
Anthony Cardew opened it. The room was dark, save for one lamp burning dimly on a great mahogany table, and Anthony's erect figure was little more than a blur of black and white.
"I heard you walking about," she said breathlessly. "May I come in and talk to you?"
"Come in," he said, with a sort of grave heaviness. "Shall I light the other lamps?"
"Will you sit down? No? Do you mind if I do? I am very tired. I suppose it is about Lily?"
"Yes. I can't stand it any longer. I can't."
Sitting under the lamp she saw that he looked very old and very weary. A tired little old man, almost a broken one.
"She won't come back?"
"Not under the conditions. But she must come back, father. To let her stay on there, in that house, after last night - "
She had never called him "father" before. It seemed to touch him.
"You're a good woman, Grace," he said, still heavily. "We Cardews all marry good women, but we don't know how to treat them. Even Howard - " His voice trailed off. "No, she can't stay there," he said, after a pause.
"But - I must tell you - she refuses to give up that man."
"You are a woman, Grace. You ought to know something about girls. Does she actually care for him, or is it because he offers the liberty she thinks we fail to give her? Or" - he smiled faintly - "is it Cardew pig-headedness?"
Grace made a little gesture of despair.
"I don't know. She wanted to come home. She begged - it was dreadful." Grace hesitated. "Even that couldn't be as bad as this, father," she said. "We have all lived our own lives, you and Howard and myself, and now we won't let her do it."
"And a pretty mess we have made of them!" His tone was grim. "No, I can't say that we offer her any felicitous examples. But the fellow's plan is transparent enough. He is ambitious. He sees himself installed here, one of us. Mark my words, Grace, he may love the child, but his real actuating motive is that. He's a Radical, because since he can't climb up, he'll pull down. But once let him get his foot on the Cardew ladder, and he'll climb, over her, over all of us."
He sat after that, his head dropped on his chest, his hands resting on the arms of his chair, in a brooding reverie. Grace waited.
"Better bring her home," he said finally. "Tell her I surrender. I want her here. Let her bring that fellow here, too, if she has to see him. But for God's sake, Grace," he added, with a flash of his old fire, "show her some real men, too."
Suddenly Grace bent over and kissed him. He put up his hand, and patted her on the shoulder.
"A good woman, Grace," he said, "and a good daughter to me. I'm sorry. I'll try to do better."
As Grace straightened she heard the door close below, and Howard's voice. Almost immediately she heard him coming up the staircase, and going out into the hall she called softly to him.
"Where are you?" he asked, looking up. "Is father there?"
"I want you both to come down to the library, Grace."
She heard him turn and go slowly down the stairs. His voice had been strained and unnatural. As she turned she found Anthony behind her.
"Something has happened!"
"I rather think so," said old Anthony, slowly.
They went together down the stairs.
In the library Lily was standing, facing the door, a quiet figure, listening and waiting. Howard had dropped into a chair and was staring ahead. And beyond the circle of lights was a shadowy figure, vaguely familiar, tall, thin, and watchful. Willy Cameron.