CHAPTER XXVI

LOVERS AND A LETTER

At noon that day I telephoned to Margery.

"Come up," I said, "and bring the keys to the Monmouth Avenue house. I have some things to tell you, and—some things to ask you."

I met her at the station with Lady Gray and the trap. My plans for that afternoon were comprehensive; they included what I hoped to be the solution of the Aunt Jane mystery; also, they included a little drive through the park, and a—well, I shall tell about that, all I am going to tell, at the proper time.

To play propriety, Edith met us at the house. It was still closed, and even in the short time that had elapsed it smelled close and musty.

At the door into the drawing-room I stopped them.

"Now, this is going to be a sort of game," I explained. "It's a sort of button, button, who's got the button, without the button. We are looking for a drawer, receptacle or closet, which shall contain, bunched together, and without regard to whether they should be there or not, a small revolver, two military brushes and a clothes brush, two or three soft bosomed shirts, perhaps a half-dozen collars, and a suit of underwear. Also a small flat package about eight inches long and three wide."

"What in the world are you talking about?" Edith asked.

"I am not talking, I am theorizing," I explained. "I have a theory, and according to it the things should be here. If they are not, it is my misfortune, not my fault."

I think Margery caught my idea at once, and as Edith was ready for anything, we commenced the search. Edith took the top floor, being accustomed, she said, to finding unexpected things in the servants' quarters; Margery took the lower floor, and for certain reasons I took the second.

For ten minutes there was no result. At the end of that time I had finished two rooms, and commenced on the blue boudoir. And here, on the top shelf of a three-cornered Empire cupboard, with glass doors and spindle legs, I found what I was looking for. Every article was there. I stuffed a small package into my pocket, and called the two girls.

"The lost is found," I stated calmly, when we were all together in the library.

"When did you lose anything?" Edith demanded. "Do you mean to say, Jack Knox, that you brought us here to help you find a suit of gaudy pajamas and a pair of military brushes?"

"I brought you here to find Aunt Jane," I said soberly, taking a letter and the flat package out of my pocket. "You see, my theory worked out. Here is Aunt Jane, and there is the money from the Russia leather bag."

I laid the packet in Margery's lap, and without ceremony opened the letter. It began:

"My Dearest Niece:

"I am writing to you, because I can not think what to say to Sister Letitia. I am running away! I—am—running—away! My dear, it scares me even to write it, all alone in this empty house. I have had a cup of tea out of one of your lovely cups, and a nap on your pretty couch, and just as soon as it is dark I am going to take the train for Boston. When you get this, I will be on the ocean, the ocean, my dear, that I have read about, and dreamed about, and never seen.

"I am going to realize a dream of forty years—more than twice as long as you have lived. Your dear mother saw the continent before she died, but the things I have wanted have always been denied me. I have been of those that have eyes to see and see not. So—I have run away. I am going to London and Paris, and even to Italy, if the money your father gave me for the pearls will hold out. For a year now I have been getting steamship circulars, and I have taken a little French through a correspondence school. That was why I always made you sing French songs, dearie: I wanted to learn the accent. I think I should do very well if I could only sing my French instead of speaking it.

"I am afraid that Sister Letitia discovered that I had taken some of the pearls. But—half of them were mine, from our mother, and although I had wanted a pearl ring all my life, I have never had one. I am going to buy me a hat, instead of a bonnet, and clothes, and pretty things underneath, and a switch; Margery, I have wanted a switch for thirty years.

"I suppose Letitia will never want me back. Perhaps I shall not want to come. I tried to write to her when I was leaving, but I had cut my hand in the attic, where I had hidden away my clothes, and it bled on the paper. I have been worried since for fear your Aunt Letitia would find the paper in the basket, and be alarmed at the stains. I wanted to leave things in order—please tell Letitia—but I was so nervous, and in such a hurry. I walked three miles to Wynton and took a street-car. I just made up my mind I was going to do it. I am sixty-five, and it is time I have a chance to do the things I like.

"I came in on the car, and came directly here. I got in with the second key on your key-ring. Did you miss it? And I did the strangest thing at Bellwood. I got down the stairs very quietly and out on to the porch. I set down my empty traveling bag—I was going to buy everything new in the city—to close the door behind me. Then I was sure I heard some one at the side of the house, and I picked it up and ran down the path in the dark.

"You can imagine my surprise when I opened the bag this morning to find I had picked up Harry's. I am emptying it and taking it with me, for he has mine.

"If you find this right away, please don't tell Sister Letitia for a day or two. You know how firm your Aunt Letitia is. I shall send her a present from Boston to pacify her, and perhaps when I come back in three or four months, she will be over the worst.

"I am not quite comfortable about your father, Margery. He is not like himself. The last time I saw him he gave me a little piece of paper with a number on it and he said they followed him everywhere, and were driving him crazy. Try to have him see a doctor. And I left a bottle of complexion cream in the little closet over my mantel, where I had hidden my hat and shoes that I wore. Please destroy it before your Aunt Letitia sees it.

"Good-by, my dear niece. I suppose I am growing frivolous in my old age, but I am going to have silk linings in my clothes before I die.

"Your Loving Aunt Jane."

When Margery stopped reading, there was an amazed silence. Then we all three burst into relieved, uncontrolled mirth. The dear, little, old lady with her new independence and her sixty-five-year-old, romantic, starved heart!

Then we opened the packet, which was a sadder business, for it had represented Allan Fleming's last clutch at his waning public credit.

Edith ran to the telephone with the news for Fred, and for the first time that day Margery and I were alone. She was standing with one hand on the library table; in the other she held Aunt Jane's letter, half tremulous, wholly tender. I put my hand over hers, on the table.

"Margery!" I said. She did not stir.

"Margery, I want my answer, dear. I love you—love you; it isn't possible to tell you how much. There isn't enough time in all existence to tell you. You are mine, Margery—mine. You can't get away from that."

She turned, very slowly, and looked at me with her level eyes. "Yours!" she replied softly, and I took her in my arms.

Edith was still at the telephone.

"I don't know," she was saying. "Just wait until I see."

As she came toward the door, Margery squirmed, but I held her tight. In the doorway Edith stopped and stared; then she went swiftly back to the telephone.

"Yes, dear," she said sweetly. "They are, this minute."

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