A Poor Wise Man by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Life had beaten Lily Cardew. She went about the house, pathetically reminiscent of Elinor Doyle in those days when she had sought sanctuary there; but where Elinor had seen those days only as interludes in her stormy life, Lily was finding a strange new peace. She was very tender, very thoughtful, insistently cheerful, as though determined that her own ill-fortune should not affect the rest of the household.
But to Lily this peace was not an interlude, but an end. Life for her was over. Her bright dreams were gone, her future settled. Without so putting it, even to herself, she dedicated herself to service, to small kindnesses, and little thoughtful acts. She was, daily and hourly, making reparation to them all for what she had cost them, in hope.
That was the thing that had gone out of life. Hope. Her loathing of Louis Akers was gone. She did not hate him. Rather she felt toward him a sort of numbed indifference. She wished never to see him again, but the revolt that had followed her knowledge of the conditions under which he had married her was gone. She tried to understand his viewpoint, to make allowances for his lack of some fundamental creed to live by. But as the days went on, with that healthy tendency of the mind to bury pain, she found him, from a figure that bulked so large as to shut out all the horizon of her life, receding more and more.
But always he would shut off certain things. Love, and marriage, and of course the hope of happiness. Happiness was a thing one earned, and she had not earned it.
After the scene at the Saint Elmo, when he had refused to let her go, and when Willy Cameron had at last locked him in the bedroom of the suite and had taken her away, there had followed a complete silence. She had waited for some move or his part, perhaps an announcement of the marriage in the newspapers, but nothing had appeared. He had commenced a whirlwind campaign for the mayoralty and was receiving a substantial support from labor.
The months at the house on Cardew Way seemed more and more dream-like, and that quality of remoteness was accentuated by the fact that she had not been able to talk to Elinor. She had telephoned more than once during the week, but a new maid had answered. Mrs. Doyle was out. Mrs. Doyle was unable to come to the telephone. The girl was a foreigner, with something of Woslosky's burr in her voice.
Lily had not left the house since her return. During that family conclave which had followed her arrival, a stricken thing of few words and long anxious pauses, her grandfather had suggested that. He had been curiously mild with her, her grand father. He had made no friendly overtures, but he had neither jibed nor sneered.
"It's done," he had said briefly. "The thing now is to keep her out of his clutches." He had turned to her. "I wouldn't leave the house for few days, Lily."
It was then that Willy Cameron had gone. Afterwards she thought that he must have been waiting, patiently protective, to see how the old man received her.
Her inability to reach Elinor began to dismay her, at last. There was something. sinister about it, and finally Howard himself went to the Doyle house. Lily had come back on Thursday, and on the following Tuesday he made his call, timing it so that Doyle would probably be away from home. But he came back baffled.
"She was not at home," he said. "I had to take the servant's word for it, but: I think the girl was lying."
"She may be ill. She almost never goes out."
"What possible object could they have in concealing her illness?" Howard said impatiently.
But he was very uneasy, and what Lily had told him since her return only increased his anxiety. The house was a hotbed of conspiracy, and for her own reasons Elinor was remaining there. It was no place for a sister of his. But Elinor for years had only touched the outer fringes of his life, and his days were crowded with other things; the increasing arrogance of the strikers, the utter uselessness of trying to make terms with them, his own determination to continue to fight his futile political campaign. He put her out of his mind.
Then, at the end of another week, a curious thing happened. Anthony and Lily were in the library. Old Anthony without a club was Old Anthony lost, and he had developed a habit, at first rather embarrassing to the others, of spending much of his time downstairs. He was no sinner turned saint. He still let the lash of his tongue play over the household, but his old zest in it seemed gone. He made, too, small tentative overtures to Lily, intended to be friendly, but actually absurdly self-conscious. Grace, watching him, often felt him rather touching. It was obvious to her that he blamed himself, rather than Lily, for what had happened.
On this occasion he had asked Lily to read to him.
"And leave out the politics," he had said, "I get enough of that wherever I go."
As she read she felt him watching her, and in the middle of a paragraph he suddenly said:
"What's become of Cameron?"
"He must be very busy. He is supporting Mr. Hendricks, you know."
"Supporting him! He's carrying him on his back," grunted Anthony. "What is it, Grayson?"
"A lady - a woman - calling on Miss Cardew."
Lily rose, but Anthony motioned her back.
"Did she give any name?"
"She said to say it was Jennie, sir."
"Jennie! It must be Aunt Elinor's Jennie!"
"Send her in," said Anthony, and stood waiting Lily noticed his face twitching; it occurred to her then that this strange old man might still love his daughter, after all the years, and all his cruelty.
It was the elderly servant from the Doyle house who came in, a tall gaunt woman, looking oddly unfamiliar to Lily in a hat.
"Why, Jennie!" she said. And then: "Is anything wrong?"
"There is and there isn't," Jennie said, somberly. "I just wanted to tell you, and I don't care if he kills me for it. It was him that threw her downstairs. I heard him hit her."
Old Anthony stiffened.
"He threw Aunt Elinor downstairs?"
"That's how she broke her leg."
Sheer amazement made Lily inarticulate.
"But they said - we didn't know - do you mean that she has been there all this time, hurt?"
"I mean just that," said Jennie, stolidly. "I helped set it, with him pretending to be all worked up, for the doctor to see. He got rid of me all right. He's got one of his spies there now, a Bolshevik like himself. You can ask the neighbors."
Howard was out, and when the woman had gone Anthony ordered his car. Lily, frightened by the look on his face, made only one protest.
"You mustn't go alone," she said. "Let me go, too. Or take Grayson - anybody."
But he went alone; in the hall he picked up his hat and stick, and drew on his gloves.
"What is the house number?"
Lily told him and he went out, moving deliberately, like a man who has made up his mind to follow a certain course, but to keep himself well in hand.