[Transcriber's note: Extensive research found no evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
FRONT PAGE MYSTERY SERIES
GARDEN CITY ———— NEW YORK
DOUBLEDAY, DORAN & COMPANY, INC.
When Esther rang the bell of Numero 86 Route de Grasse, she felt within her that pleasant sort of stage-fright—a mixture of dread and exhilaration—which one is apt to experience when venturing into the unknown. The thrill might be out of all proportion to the prosaic character of her mission—for what is there exciting in applying for a post as a doctor's assistant?—yet there was no gainsaying the fact that when this door confronting her opened, anything, everything, might happen. That is the way Youth regards things.
"Opportunity—a door open in front of one." So in earlier years her Latin teacher had dilated on the inner meaning of the word. Esther smiled reminiscently and congratulated herself that she was not going tamely back to her work in America, choosing instead, when she found a door open, to enter and explore on the other side.
Numero 86 was a conventional and dignified villa, noncommittal in appearance, like a hundred others. Clean windows blinked in the sunshine, the doorstep was chalky white, the brass plate on the lintel glittered with the inscription, "Gregory Sartorius, M.D." Beside the gate a mimosa shook out its yellow plumage against the sky. Mimosa—in February! ... New York, reflected Esther, was in the clutch of a blizzard. She could picture it now, with its stark ice-ribbed streets, its towering buildings, a mausoleum of frozen stone and dirty snow. As for flowers—why, even a spray of that mimosa in a frosty florist's window would be absurdly expensive; one would pay...
"Vous desirez, mademoiselle?"
She turned with a start to find the door open, framing the squat figure of a man-servant, a brigand in appearance, French of the Midi; black hair grew low on his forehead; his beetling brows met over sullen shiny eyes which scanned her with a hostile gaze. Diffidently she mustered her all-too-scanty French.
"Est-ce Monsieur le docteur est chez lui?" she ventured, hoping for the best.
To her relief the brigand broke into a friendly smile.
"Mademoiselle come about job?" he replied in English. "Yes, come this way, please."
He led the way through an entrance hall into a large salon of chill and gloomy aspect.
"Take a seat," he bade her, grinning cheerfully. "I go tell doctor."
The salon was plainly a reception-room for patients. Looking about, Esther wondered why physicians' reception-rooms were invariably so uninviting, so lacking in personality. This one was particularly drab and cold, though she could not say that it was shabby or in more than usual bad taste. It was furnished in nondescript French style, a mixture of periods, with heavy olive-green curtains at the windows shutting out most of the light, and pale cotton brocade on the modern Louis Seize chairs. A plaster bust of Voltaire on the mantel-piece was flanked by Louis Philippe candlesticks, the whole reflected in a gilt-framed mirror extending to the ceiling. Across the middle of the room stretched a reproduction Louis Quinze table with ormolu mounts, and on it were stacked regular piles of magazines, French and English. Everything was in meticulous order. The parquet shone with a glassy finish. From the corner a tall clock ticked loudly, deliberately. The house was very still.
Suddenly Esther felt uncomfortable, oppressed. Yet why? There was no reason to dread the coming interview. Indeed, she could think of no plausible explanation for the absurd panic which overtook her in a flash. Why, for a single instant she had half a mind to bolt out of the house before the doctor appeared. What utter nonsense! How ashamed she would have been! To steady herself she picked up the folded copy of the morning paper facing her and opening it re-read the advertisement that had brought her here. It was plain and to the point:
"Dr. Gregory Sartorius of 86, Route de Grasse, wishes to find a well-educated young Englishwoman, trained nurse preferred, to assist him in his work. Good references essential. Applicants may call between two and four."
It sounded just the thing. Suitable jobs were not plentiful in Cannes, her three-day search had been sufficient to convince her of that fact. She hoped she would land this one; if not, it would probably mean New York again, and the blizzard. She hated to be beaten.
A shadow darkened the glass doors. She sprang to her feet, slightly disconcerted to feel that the doctor had been silently inspecting her from without, perhaps for several seconds. Again she was impatient with herself for the odd suggestion of alarm which came upon her. She was not usually nervous like this.
What an immense man he was! That was her first thought as he paused for an instant in the doorway, scrutinising her. Big and rather clumsily built, with awkward, slow movements. He had a student's stoop, and his skin was brownish and dull, his whole heavy person suggesting the sedentary worker. His low forehead, receding into a bald head, was oddly flattish in shape. It reminded Esther of something—she couldn't think what. He stood with his head slightly lowered and regarded her deliberately, appraisingly, before he uttered a word. She could hear his breathing.
"Good afternoon, Miss..."
He stopped inquiringly.
"My name is Rowe. I've come about the advertisement, doctor."
He approached slowly, showing a sort of lethargic reluctance towards effort which extended even to the muscles of his almost expressionless face. To some he might have appeared dull and stupid, but Esther knew this was not true. There was life in the flicker of his small eyes, deep-set, bilious in tinge, and as she looked into them she received the impression of a great inner concentration of energy.
"You are American, I see."
"Well, Canadian, as a matter of fact. I trained in New York."
"A nurse, then. Where did you train?"
She thought this made a good impression.
He made a chary movement of his hand towards a chair and at the same time sank into a fragile fauteuil, which creaked with his weight. He sighed, obviously bored with the prospect of the interview.
"What are you doing in France?"
"I came here as companion to a patient of mine who hates travelling alone. We stopped a week in Paris; then I brought her here, where she met some friends with whom she went on to Algeria. It was arranged beforehand. I was only to come as far as Cannes. I've been here a week now, and I was going back to New York, only——"
Esther smiled with the complete frankness which was one of her greatest assets.
"Well, doctor, I've never been abroad before, and I may never come again. It seems so stupid, having come so far, not to stay more than two weeks. I love it here. Only in order to stay I must get some work; I can't afford to be idle."
He seemed to find this reasonable, though not interesting, glancing away from her in a bored fashion.
"I see. Now about this place. What I want is a nurse who will be in attendance here from nine in the morning till six in the afternoon; someone thoroughly responsible, who will make appointments, do a little secretarial work, answer the telephone, and, of course, assist when there are examinations. The usual thing."
"Yes, doctor, I understand."
"Can you typewrite?"
"A little. I'll improve with practice."
"Not too well, but I mean to study."
"It's of no great consequence, most of my patients are English. How old are you?"
It was a medical, impersonal question. He might have been inquiring the age of her grandmother in Manitoba.
"I'm nearly twenty-six."
"You look younger, but no one can tell these days. Now as to references. What can you show me?"
"I have brought my certificate from the hospital, and I have my passport, of course——"
"Let me see them."
He examined both, not omitting to look at the libellous photograph on the passport.
"Still, these are not really sufficient, Miss—Miss Rowe. They tell me nothing of your reputation, your character."
"I'd thought of that," she replied quickly. "I've got a letter written by Miss Ferriss, the patient I came with. She's known me several years."
"Ah! And how am I to know you didn't write the letter yourself?"
She was on firm ground now.
"I thought of that, too. I got her to write it in the presence of the manager of the Carlton Hotel and deposit it with him. You can ask him to show it to you."
He raised his brows slightly, seeming to admit, though with a bad grace, that she might not be as much of a fool as he first thought her. She suspected that his opinion of women was low.
"I see. Of course it won't tell me what I chiefly want to know, but I'll look it up. What I must have," and he brought his hand down weightily on the table, "is accuracy. Accuracy and precision ... you see, I shall want you sometimes to help me in the laboratory."
"I thought you were a scientist!"
He looked at her with a flicker of interest.
"Oh? Why did you think that?"
She felt confused.
"I'm not quite sure. Something about you suggests a scientist. I worked one summer with a Rockefeller Institute man who was doing research. Perhaps that's why."
"Who was he?"
"Dr. Blumenfeld. He was working on infantile paralysis."
He nodded. "Blumenfeld; yes, I know him. He's on the wrong tack."
Slowly he hoisted his big body up out of the chair, giving the impression that the interview was finished.
"What am I to understand, then, doctor? Do you think you will want me?"
He bent his cold and impersonal gaze on her and again she felt oppressed. Her eyes dwelt on his rather ugly, flattish forehead, which somehow fascinated her. He appeared to be thinking of something else and trying at the same time to bring his attention to bear on the problem of the moment.
"Ah yes. I'll probably let you know this evening, after I've seen that letter. What is your address?"
She gave him the name of her small hotel and he wrote it down. Then suddenly she recalled the question of salary, which had escaped his notice altogether.
"One thing more, doctor. You haven't told me what you pay."
He mentioned a sum in francs; she put it quickly into dollars. It was a much smaller amount than she made in America, but she thought she could live on it. After all, was it not worth a little managing to stay on in this beautiful sunny place?
"You'll get your lunches here—and your tea," the doctor informed her.
He moved towards the door, plainly anxious to be rid of her. It crossed her mind that seldom had she seen a medical man with a less genial personality. She found it an effort to answer naturally, suddenly wondering what it would be like to have her lunch in this house, and whether she had to have it with him.
"All right, doctor, I won't look further till I've heard from you."
At the front door she looked up at him and was about to hold out her hand, but one glimpse of his dour, preoccupied face made her change her mind. Still, it was so incurably her habit to be trusting and friendly that on the doorstep she turned to shed on him her candid smile—only to find the door already closed. The rebuff was like a cold shower; it made her catch her breath. Had she made a bad impression on the man? Did he consider her rather confiding simplicity unbusinesslike? She resolved hastily to cultivate a severer demeanour for European use.
"Never mind," she reflected philosophically. "I have a feeling I'll land the job, which is the main thing. And as for the doctor—however queer he is, he'll be safe in one respect—he'll never make love to me!"
This, in her eight years' experience on her own, she had learned to consider. Not that all doctors and male patients made love, but there were a sufficient number who did, in spite of what certain invidious colleagues might say about girls getting only what they asked for.
For a moment she looked up at the house, its red-brick front and painted door so blank and non-committal, so little revealing, then with a laugh at her recent discomfiture she drew her fur closer about her throat and set off briskly towards the centre of the town.
She had not taken a dozen steps when the loud bang of a door made her look suddenly behind. Yes, it was the doctor's door, the same that had been shut in her face a moment ago. A young man—English by the look of him—had issued hastily from the house and was now getting into a small, rather smart car that stood by the curb.
In another moment the car and its occupant glided past her, the young man sullenly intent on the road ahead. Esther had a close view of his face, clean-shaven, healthily bronzed, with a sort of neat and inconspicuous good looks, somehow marred by a shallow hardness in the eyes and fine lines that spoke of high-living. Not a person one would notice very especially, yet at sight of him the girl's thoughts were instantly diverted into a new channel. She frowned as she watched the disappearing car.
"Now where is it I have seen that man before?" she pondered.
She had certainly met no one in Cannes; she knew few if any Englishmen, yet the face, with its combined hint of cynicism and petulance, was undoubtedly familiar. It stirred some vibration in her memory, recent, and in an indefinable way unpleasant. Where had she seen him?
She gave it up.
An hour later Esther sat at a table in the magnificent Restaurant des Ambassadeurs, drinking her tea with enjoyment and revelling in the scene before her. She felt a little guilty at being here, for she was a conscientious young woman, averse to throwing money about when there was nothing coming in. Still, she had not indulged herself to any great extent since Miss Ferriss departed, having bent all her efforts towards finding work, and now that there was employment in prospect she thought she had earned the right to a little relaxation. Gaiety was all about her, the very air of this holiday place held the suggestion of it like a pervading perfume. Consequently, when she had roamed about for an hour and finally gravitated towards the Croisette, the temptation came upon her to satisfy her longing for tea in some place where she could look upon the care-free world that flocked here to play. Not that she belonged to that world, heaven knows!—though, travelling de luxe with patients, as she often did, she knew a good deal about it, and it was always fun to pretend for a brief time that she did not have to work for her living.
The huge room was filling rapidly; it was the hour of the the dansant. An orchestra, rich with saxophones, played a waltz that everyone in France was singing. It was from the latest musical success now running in Paris, and it pleased Esther to think she had seen the piece itself, ten days ago: it made her feel herself au courant of things new and smart. Leaning back in her chair she listened to the insidious little tune that grew more captivating with each repetition, meanwhile letting her eyes wander happily over the circling figures of the dancers. Glamour overspread the scene; she was in the mood to see only the gracious and gay. For the moment the obvious boredom of confirmed pleasure-seekers escaped her entirely; the efforts of spoiled youth and jaded old age to escape from themselves had no place in the pattern of the life she saw before her. No, on the contrary, as she gazed through half-closed eyes, she fancied she saw a multi-coloured bed of flowers—flowers in rhythmic motion, that was all. Delicious frocks, swirling, floating, delicate shades of rose, mauve, periwinkle-blue, accents of black, graceful bodies, slender legs and ankles ... not all so slender, she amended presently, becoming more critical. There were lower extremities of the grand-piano type, and short, fat feet with a look of pincushions resolutely stuffed into shoes.
Her own slender, well-shod feet would do more than pass muster here, she reflected with satisfaction. Indeed, although she was more plainly dressed than most of the women present, she rejoiced to feel she did not suffer too much by comparison. Esther was never dowdy. She was not ashamed of her well-tailored coat and skirt, marron in colour—which went well with her eyes and hair—nor of her little new felt hat, purchased in Paris. Her small choker fur was of good stone-marten, even her gloves and the handkerchief peeping from her pocket had the correct touch. Trifles, perhaps, but trifles that mattered. She made "good money," and she had always found it paid to dress well and carefully.... Of course, she would not be able to buy clothes on her salary from Dr. Sartorius—but what did it matter, for six months or so? It was surely worth a sacrifice to remain in France. Besides, she had a little saved up.
The doctor ... that rather odd, cold creature. The prospect of working for him did not fill her with enthusiasm. What exactly was it she felt about him? She strove to analyse her impression, and found herself thinking only of his small, dull eyes and queer, flat forehead.... He was an able man, no charlatan, of that she was sure, instinctively. Primarily, a student, no doubt. What was his practice like, if indeed he had any? Not a good manner for a doctor, too remote, too negative, too lacking in humanity.
"For a moment I felt positively creepy!" she told herself. "What was it he reminded me of? Something that fascinated and repelled ... or am I merely imagining things?"
After all, what did it matter? She always got on well with people....
"My Dinah's gone away to Carolina, My Dinah's gone and broke my heart in two. Lonesome and blue, Nothin' to do, I roams around a-feelin' like I had the 'flu..."
From the region of the saxophones a gorgeous baritone had soared forth. Glancing around she saw the glistening black face of a faultlessly attired American negro. The song, one of the mournful type now emanating from Broadway, was the last word in banality, but the honeyed voice, suave, insinuating, gave it the charm of a narcotic. Even the waiters stopped where they were and gazed as they listened, transfixed. Conversation died, the great room was stilled to drink in the notes. A storm of applause, the chorus was repeated once, twice. Then fell a moment's lull and ordinary sounds began again.
It was at this moment that, tea-pot in hand, Esther heard close at her elbow the choking sound of a woman's sob. It startled her so that she very nearly looked around, curious to see the person who was so moved by the sentimental tribute to the lost Dinah. Then she was glad she had not turned, for she caught these words, low, passionate, distinct:
"Arthur—if you go away from me, as you speak of doing, I think, quite quietly, I shall kill myself!"
Good heavens! The woman, whoever she was, said it as it she meant it. It was no joking voice, its owner was deeply moved. She was evidently French, though her English was nearly faultless, the accent a mere flavour. Esther recalled that a man and woman had taken the table on her right and a little behind her. She longed to look at them, but controlled her impulse, out of curiosity to hear more. There was a silence that seemed interminable. Then the woman spoke again, her voice vibrant, urgent:
"You heard me! Why don't you answer? Why? Ah! My God, it is like beating against a stone wall!"
At last a man's voice, low, cold and a little sulky.
"What do you want me to say, Therese? You know as well as I do I've got to live."
"Ah, but is that the reason—the only reason for your going?"
"Good God, what else would it be? You don't imagine I'd choose to bury myself in a rotten hole like that, do you?"
There was a long sigh, quavering with tears.
"I know how fearfully difficult it all is, only, Arthur, why must you decide at once? Why not wait a bit?"
"If I wait, I lose the job. That's why. I thought you understood. Besides, what is there to hang about here for?"
"Well ... There's always a chance, isn't there?"
An exclamation of contempt followed by the scratch of a match, then again silence, fraught, so Esther felt, with tension. Who, what were these people? She must try to steal a glance at them. Cautiously she turned her head, then, finding both the occupants of the next table were looking the other way, she indulged in a good inspection.
The woman claimed her attention first. Young—a very young thirty-five, Esther decided—blonde with delicate transparency, and lovely; her natural beauty was accentuated by careful make-up and clothes so exquisite that they could be called "elegant" without a misuse of the word. It seemed evident that she was wealthy. Her gown of filmy black had the cachet of an exclusive house, the expensive simplicity that serves so well as a background for wonderful jewels. Against it gleamed a heavy strand of glistening pearls—"Real ones, too!" thought Esther—on one slender arm slid negligently half a dozen diamond bangles, on the hand which supported her chin an enormous square diamond blazed. Her skin, shadowed by her little close black hat, was dazzling, her eyes large, grey flecked with gold, and shaded by long dark lashes. Altogether there was about her the clear beauty of a star, which even the traces of emotion now discernible could not dim.
And her companion—what was he like? Esther glanced at him and gave a start. It was the young Englishman who had come out of the doctor's house, the man she had seen before somewhere—she still did not recall where. Studied at close range he revealed points of interest. He was dressed with that perfection crowned with negligence which the Englishman of the upper classes so admirably achieves. He was, in fact, unmistakably a gentleman, at least by birth, though his bored manner held a hint of insolence, a suggestion of the bounder. His hazel eyes, glancing about with irritable restlessness, were curiously devoid of any depths, his mouth showed a mixture of weakness and obstinacy, devil-may-care courage and lack of moral stamina. An after-the-war product, no doubt, nervy and jumpy, frayed by stimulants and late hours, and yet, with all this, attractive. Yes, curiously attractive, there was no denying it.
"Waiter—where's that blasted waiter gone?"
He turned in Esther's direction, and for an instant his eyes met hers and took her in, though with little show of interest. Seeing him full-face she suddenly recalled him. Of course! When she and Miss Ferriss had first arrived, they had seen him on two occasions lunching in the Carlton grill, in company with a swarthy over-dressed Spanish-looking woman and her daughter. She remembered now. Shrewd old Miss Ferriss had said about him:
"Esther, that young Englishman over there is very nice-looking, but I can tell you he's what we call at home a cake-hound. I can always spot them!"
Esther smiled at the recollection.
"Waiter—bring me a 'doctor'—will you? And hold on—what do you want, Therese?"
"Rien—rien du tout. Non, tenez—du the de Chine, simplement."
She took care of her looks, that was evident. The waiter gone, Esther saw the Frenchwoman lean across to her companion with an obvious effort of self-control.
"Arthur—tell me once more. What is it, this job you speak of?"
"What, the Argentine? I don't know. The Toda woman wants to take me out there as a sort of manager or something. She sails on the eighth; she expects me to go with her."
"T'ck! I knew it!"
The beautiful woman's voice rose shrilly with a strident note which was an odd revelation.
"So that is it! Manager—ha, ha, ha! But, of course, I might have known, it is quite plain, she wants you for herself—the old cow! Naturellement!"
"S'sh, Therese, for God's sake——"
"Well, isn't it true? What can you do on a ranch? Why does she want you if not for herself? Do you deny it?"
"What's the use of denying anything? You'll believe what you want to believe."
He sounded cold, indifferent. The woman made an impulsive gesture.
"Ah, mon cher, now I have hurt you! Naturally I know you cannot care for this creature, this mountain of fat, cette espece de vache espagnole"—she uttered the epithet literally through her teeth—"but all the same I know that she wants you, and I also know that if you go so far away—thousands and thousands of miles—it will be the end. You know it too."
Out of the tail of her eye, Esther saw the young man merely shrug his shoulders. She grew more and more interested.
"Listen, Arthur. Can we not find you something here?"
"Good God, in Cannes?"
She answered the utter contempt of this with a burst of self-reproach.
"Mon Dieu, mon Dieu, c'est de ma faute, si j'avais su——"
"Oh, cut it, old girl, what's the good of post-mortems?"
"But it was my fault! If only I hadn't let him think it was baccarat—if I'd thought of some other excuse! But I never knew, I never dreamed—and now, of course, I'm so utterly helpless, my hands are tied!"
She made a hysterical gesture which shivered the diamond bangles in a mass together.
"Arthur, tell me! Is there no other way, absolutely no other? Must you go with this creature?"
A pause while the returning waiter set before them tea and a cocktail. Then the young man's voice, wearied and irritable.
"I tell you I've got to live. And I can't live on air."
Another long pause and Esther began to fear they would say no more. She had become so interested, too, it seemed a shame. After a wait of at least three minutes the woman spoke once more in an altered, quieter tone:
"I forgot to tell you something. Yesterday I went again to Fleuristine. You remember Fleurestine?"
"Oh, that woman!"
"Oh, I know you don't believe in her, but ... well, anyhow, yesterday she went into a trance. She was quite, quite unconscious. She saw things. She saw Charles..."
"Oh, she did, did she?"
As if moved by a common impulse, both turned and took a brief survey of the neighbouring tables. On Esther they bent but a casual glance. She was apparently quite absorbed in the contents of her bag.
"She saw him in bed, ill, very ill. There was a nurse beside him."
"Oh, ill enough for a nurse ... Well, did she see anything more?"
"No, that was all, except that she described the doctor."
"Not my friend Sartorius?"
"Yes, she described him perfectly."
Esther strained her ears to catch all they said. Dr. Sartorius—so these people were patients of his!
"Nothing. She woke up."
He gave an ironical laugh.
"Still, Arthur, one can't help thinking ... after all, he's seventy-three...."
"Yes, and he'll live to be ninety. You'll see."
"I'm not joking. It wouldn't surprise me if he outlived us both."
There was a gasp of horror from the Frenchwoman.
"Oh, Arthur, it's cruel of you! Besides, I tell you, it's impossible; it's——"
"Yes, I know, it's simply not done. But he'll do it, you'll see."
"I will not see. I refuse to believe it. He cannot, he——"
"Steady on, Therese!"
There was a note of warning in his voice the cause of which Esther perceived when a moment later the couple were joined by a plump Frenchwoman with hennaed hair and a burnt-orange make-up.
"Comment ca va, Therese? Ah, Captain, on me dit que vous avez l'intention de nous quitter. C'est vrai?"
What ensued was lost in a cackle of French interspersed with high-pitched laughter. The friend sat down for a few minutes, joked with the "Captain," drank the remainder of his cocktail, and patted him familiarly on the cheek. Esther stole a glance at the beautiful blonde woman and found her calm, gazing across the room with narrowed eyes and an expression of thought. At last she got out her mirror and made herself up, as delicately as a cat washes its face, little touches here and there.
"Yes, I shall see if the doctor will give me a piqure. I am very tired."
"I thought you had them on Mondays and Thursdays."
"Yes, but sometimes I have an extra one. They pick me up."
"Ah, les piqures! Je suis, tres bien, ca!"
In two minutes all three had risen and disappeared into the crowd about the broad stairs that led into the room. Left behind, Esther felt a sense of flatness and anti-climax. She had begun to take such a keen interest in the blonde woman and her young Englishman, that the thought of not finding out more about them filled her with disappointment. Still, they were patients of the doctor she was perhaps going to work for; there was a chance that she might learn something more. She sat turning over in her mind all she had overheard. Though not particularly worldly wise, she was no fool, and while she was not quite clear about the situation of these two and their relations to each other, the various implications they had let fall were not entirely lost on her.
She had not seen the last of the Captain, as it happened. Five minutes later she caught sight of him sauntering about near the entrance with a vacant eye and a restless manner. Simultaneously there approached her corner a short, enormously fat, overdressed woman, barging aggressively ahead towards the vacant table, her huge bosom well in advance like the prow of a ship. As the swarthy face drew nearer she saw that it and the bosom belonged to the Spanish woman of the Carlton—no doubt the very one who was trying to entice the young man to the Argentine. Yes, and there was the daughter coming in her wake, a clumsily built girl in pink satin, her swart arms bare to the shoulder. The elder woman attacked the waiter almost bodily, and in hard, guttural French commanded him to move the table closer to the dancing floor—an operation causing considerable annoyance to the surrounding guests. For a moment the Spaniard pressed her hulk so close to Esther that the latter was nearly choked with the fumes of her chypre. Then suddenly there was a shriek of delight. The lady, as Esther expressed it to herself, had discovered her "boy friend."
"What will be the end of it?" wondered Esther as she paid her bill and rose to go. "Which of these two women is going to get her way?"
With amusement she watched the stolid daughter led away by a "professional" to dance the tango, leaving her mother in eager conversation with the Englishman, tapping his arm with her pudgy hand, her black eyes like burnt holes in the whiteness of her powdered face. Then she threaded her way out of the restaurant and through the main entrance of the Casino.
When she reached her hotel the sallow clerk called to her as she passed his desk.
"Oh, Mees, I have here a note for you. It has just arrived."
She tore open the envelope. It contained two lines in a small, slovenly hand, on thick, engraved paper.
"Dr. Sartorius will expect Nurse Rowe to-morrow, Wednesday, at nine in the morning."
So that was that!
Esther was not mistaken in her surmise that the doctor was by choice at least more of a scientist than a physician. Patients he had to be sure, a respectable number, composed mostly of English and American tourists, well-to-do people. Esther thought that if he had been more keenly interested or a better business man he might have developed his practice into a large and lucrative one. She recognised in him the sure instinct of the natural diagnostician, she knew enough to realise that his methods and knowledge were up to date. Even that manner of his, though a little forbidding, had the merit of inspiring confidence. One felt he was a big man and could afford to dispense with geniality. Yet it was perfectly apparent that his practice never came first with him. Esther had not been in the house with him half a week before she made that discovery. Every free minute of the day found him engrossed in his experiments, to the utter exclusion of all else, so intolerant of interruption that he more than once kept patients waiting a quarter of an hour in the gloomy salon while he finished some piece of work.
The laboratory, with which Esther quickly became familiar, was at the top of the house, up two flights of stairs, a bare, L-shaped room built originally for a studio. A sloping skylight admitted a strong north light, which streamed down on the long table covered with all the paraphernalia of research. There were two glass cabinets containing bottles of many descriptions, and a plain Normandy oak armoire, fitted with shelves upon which were specimens and materials for work. A fibre mat and a couple of kitchen chairs completed the furnishings of the main part, but in a sort of alcove which formed the base of the L, and which was curtained off by thick red hangings, was a camp bed with a table beside it and a chest of drawers. Here, so she was told by Jacques the servant, the doctor not infrequently slept when he had carried on his labours far into the night. He would drop down on the hard bed at perhaps five in the morning, just as he was, in his shirt and trousers, with only an old army blanket over him, and there he would sleep like a dead man till Jacques brought him his tea.
Esther learned a good deal from Jacques who, despite his desperado exterior, proved to be friendly and communicative, glad no doubt of someone to chat with since his master was so particularly reserved. His master, Jacques confided about the third day, was not a man at all but a machine. Work, work, work—day and night, no thought for comfort, no distractions, no voices. Voyons! It was against nature when a man lived like that. And what did he get for it?
"Ecoutez, mademoiselle," the little man of the Midi said to her earnestly, laying his finger on her arm, "if the doctor worked only one half so hard—only one half, now I am telling you—he could be a rich man to-day, with a palace, three, four cars, a chauffeur, a valet de chambre. It is only because he spends his time up there in that room that he makes so little money."
Esther knew that he was right, although she understood better than he the unworldly aims of the man.
Jacques had more to tell her. Such was the doctor's complete stupidity, not to be comprehended by rational beings, that whenever he had a little money put aside he would shut up shop and take a holiday, so as to be able to devote all his days to research.
"Mademoiselle knows that is not a way to do," complained Jacques in an aggrieved voice. "People think he not practise any more, they find another doctor. Many, many times he lose patients that way. Quelle betise, voyons!"
"He must have been practising pretty steadily now for some time," remarked Esther, "to have as good a practice as he seems to have."
"Ah, yes, it is long now, for him, and I think he gets now what you English call fed-up. I believe he would like to throw it all up to-morrow, but he cannot. It is the season, there are many English here. Later, in the summer, perhaps, he take a rest."
These confidences took place chiefly at dejeuner, which Esther ate alone in the salle a manger, a room more cheerful than the salon, being on the sunny side of the house. The doctor, consecrating the lunch hour to work, had his meal brought to the laboratory on a tray. The food was excellent, in the best French bourgeois style, cooked and served by Jacques, who did all the work of the place with the help of a femme de menage in the mornings. He was frankly delighted when Esther did justice to his dishes.
"Mademoiselle will have a little more of the blanquette de veau," he would say pleadingly. "It is very good, yes, the champignons I choose myself. The doctor up there will eat whatever I give him. If it is bread and cheese it make no difference, but I, I say to him, 'Il faut que cette demoiselle soit nourie!'"
He was the one human element in the establishment, Jacques, and his familiarity was not offensive.
As for her employer, Esther decided that she could live at close quarters with him for a year and know him no better than she did now. At the end of a week she regarded him as an unknown quantity. A man of one idea, extraordinarily concentrated, methodical, abstracted, without friends, no outside interests whatever. That is all she could gather. Silent, yet hardly secretive, he merely gave her the impression that he had nothing he wished to impart. He was not curious about other people, why should they want to know about him? Not by any stretch of imagination could she connect him with a human emotion. He never asked her a question about herself or her antecedents, and only once did he volunteer any information in regard to himself, and then it seemed as though for a moment he was thinking aloud. He referred absent-mindedly to a time when he lived in Algeria, mentioning the fact that for almost two years he was able to experiment without interruption.
"I had a bit of money," he remarked, "a windfall..."
"I suppose someone died and left you a legacy," suggested Esther, washing test-tubes at the basin in the corner.
He appeared to have forgotten the subject, but presently he roused himself to reply:
"Eh? What was that?" he murmured vaguely, holding a tube up to the light. "There is a sediment here, certainly.... Yes, that was it. A legacy. I lived on it for two years, then I had to go back to the grind again."
Esther was curious to know more about the research which so completely absorbed him, but he was not eager to talk about it. Still, by watching him and prodding him occasionally with direct questions, she discovered what she wanted to know. Two of his serums were in general use; she had heard of them. Indeed, she knew enough to be impressed. This was a valuable man of science; why, he might yet be awarded the Nobel prize; his discoveries were quite important enough to merit it. Yet she suspected that the idea of fame had never entered his head, he worked for the love of it. He was engaged now in trying to find anti-toxins for certain deadly diseases, tetanus for one. When she thought of the extent to which his efforts might benefit humanity, she felt inclined to forget the man's repellent personality in the dignity of his accomplishments.
As for what she had to do, she found it neither very difficult nor very tiring—not half so hard as ordinary nursing. While the doctor was out on a round of visits, she put the laboratory to rights, arranging everything neatly and in perfect order, for that was of paramount importance to her employer; then she attended to the small amount of clerical work that fell to her task, answered the telephone, and made appointments. In the afternoon there was a fairly steady stream of patients for consultations, and she was kept moderately busy, yet with frequent moments in which to sit down and read or "have a go" at her French grammar.
The evenings at her hotel threatened to be a little dull; she did not care to go alone to the Casino and, barring the cinema, there was not much in the way of distraction. Still, she was far from regretting her determination to stay in Cannes. She wrote long letters to her sisters in Canada, to Miss Ferriss in Bousaada, to a certain young doctor in New York, who for years had lavished on her an unrewarded devotion. She thought of him dimly as belonging to another life. Already she had slipped into new habits, fresh ways of thinking. She planned excursions for Saturday afternoons and Sundays, meaning to see as much of this country as possible while she had the chance.
"If only Jean were here, what fun we'd have!" she reflected regretfully.
Jean was her favourite sister, now a librarian in Montreal.
At the end of the week something happened. Late one afternoon a patient arrived who had no appointment. Jacques admitted her, went up to tell the doctor, who had thought consultations over for the day, then, returning, spoke to Esther in the salle a manger.
"It is Lady Clifford," he whispered. "It is the second time now she come like this. Always before, the doctor he go to her."
Esther knew the name, her book had told her that the doctor paid regular visits to a Lady Clifford. She turned up the visits for the next day. Yes, there it was, Thursday, Lady Clifford, 11.30.
She heard the doctor's heavy step on the stairs, so she hastily replaced the crisp white coif she had removed a moment ago and repaired to the salon. A slender woman was standing at the window looking out and tapping her foot with nervous impatience. She was smartly dressed in black, with a magnificent silver fox about her shoulders.
"Will you come this way, please," said Esther. "The doctor will see you."
The woman turned suddenly and Esther received a shock of surprise. It was the blonde woman of the Restaurant des Ambassadeurs. As she was French it had never occurred to Esther to connect her with the unknown Lady Clifford. For a moment she felt self-conscious, afraid lest the beautiful patient should recognise her. But no, there was no need for alarm, the Frenchwoman passed her with a brief, incurious glance. Probably on that former occasion she had never noticed Esther at all, or if she had, the nurse's uniform was sufficient to effect a complete alteration. Who was this exquisite creature, French, but with an English name? All Esther's curiosity returned in full force.
Dr. Sartorius stood, heavy and uncompromising, beside the flat mahogany desk. He scarcely took the step forward which courtesy demanded. Surely his manners were the least ingratiating Esther had ever known in a professional man!
"Forgive me, doctor, for coming like this," the patient began impulsively. "But to-morrow morning I find I cannot be at home, and I do hate to miss my piqure!"
"Very well, you can have it now."
That was his grudging response to an appeal full of winning charm. Women and their fascination had evidently no part in his life.
"Ah, that is good of you! It puts strength into me—and I have need of all my strength. I"—she paused to moisten her lips—"I wish also to have a word with you again about my husband."
She had stripped off her gloves and was clasping and unclasping her hands.
"Yes, I—I don't feel quite so satisfied about him as I did. I want to ask you some questions."
While she was speaking, the doctor, having signed to Esther to remain, had opened a drawer and was taking out several small bottles which he examined one after the other.
"Miss Rowe," he said, "all these are empty. On the top shelf in the oak cupboard in the laboratory you will find a full one. Bring it to me, please."
He extended an empty bottle for her to see the label.
"Yes, doctor, I won't be a minute," Esther replied, and hastened out, closing the door behind her.
She ran up the two flights of stairs without stopping to take breath, and looked into the Normandy armoire, but neither on the top shelf nor any of the others could she find what she wanted. She went over the contents of the cupboard a second time to make sure, examining the labels of various drugs, chemicals, serums, cultures. What was this new bottle? Tetanus—horrible! She gave a slight shudder, realising that the stuff in that bottle was enough to give lockjaw to half the inhabitants in Cannes. No, the doctor was mistaken, the mixture she sought was not here.
Rather more slowly than she had come up, she retraced her steps to the bottom floor. At the last landing she stopped, listening acutely.
"Non, non, je ne peux pas, je ne peux pas le faire!"
It was the Frenchwoman's voice, high-pitched, emotional, the protest wrung from her as if in agony. What was she saying? A rapid stream of French followed—Esther could not catch a word of it—then at the end a phrase or two that was intelligible.
"Je vous jure, je mourrais—je mourrais...."
The doctor's voice cut in upon her, dominating, brutal even, a tone that caused Esther to gasp and clutch the stair-rail.
"Stop that! Stop that nonsense! Are you an utter fool?" It was like bidding a dog to lie down. Silence followed, then a stifled sob.
Esther's first thought was, "Why does she stand being talked to like that? I wouldn't, not for a moment."
It was as if all his latent contempt for the opposite sex was concentrated into that one vitriolic burst. Well——! Some physicians, she knew, practised with hyper-emotional subjects the method of "treating them rough." This was probably Sartorius's idea. Certainly she was ready to believe that Lady Clifford was of the uncontrolled, hysterical type, who easily gave way to her feelings; perhaps the doctor had found this the best way of dealing with her. As she still paused, hesitating to enter the room, the doctor spoke again. "Sit down and try to behave like a reasonable woman. Remember all I have told you. Why should you upset yourself like this?"
There was no audible reply. Esther retreated upward a few steps, then descended with a brisk step and opened the door. She observed Lady Clifford sitting with a submissive mien on the edge of a stiff Francois Premier chair, biting her underlip and pulling a small lace-edged handkerchief between her fingers. The doctor, with an immovable face, was filling a hypodermic syringe from a small phial.
"I'm sorry, doctor——" Esther began, when he interrupted her.
"No, no, it's all right, nurse, I found I had some here after all. Now, if you will assist Lady Clifford with her dress——"
"I suppose you give it in the thigh?"
"In the thigh."
Lady Clifford had crossed to the hard couch by the window, and was now seated, leaning up against the cushions at the end, cautiously, so as not to disarrange her hat. Esther drew up the narrow skirt, exposing slender legs encased in gossamer stockings and six inches or so of a diaphanous under-garment, pink georgette, delicate as a cobweb and scented like the rest of its owner with an indefinable and slightly cloying perfume. On the white skin just below the hip there showed startlingly a blue-black bruise, the size of a franc piece—the visible mark of repeated injections. Esther sponged a fresh spot and the doctor shot in the long needle with a casual indifference. Simultaneously the woman on the couch closed her eyes and stretched out her limbs with a feline luxurious movement. Esther was tempted to believe she enjoyed the stabbing pain. There were people who took a sensual delight in suffering, or at least she had heard that there were. She watched curiously the sort of rapturous twist of the patient's body, the convulsive grip of her hands on the rim of the couch.
Hands? For the first time Esther noticed them. What was it about them that was different, that filled her with a mixture of fascination and repugnance? They were not large; they were soft, milky-white, marvellously manicured, each nail a plaque of carmine enamel. Yet there was something wrong, almost like a deformity. Of course! It was the shortness of the fingers, or rather, of the first joint, a general look of stumpiness, the nails trained to long points to hide the deficiency. The thumbs, in particular—how squat, how stunted! They appeared to have only two joints instead of three. Somehow they gave her a feeling akin to nausea.... She sponged the puncture with iodine, smoothed down the skirt, cleaned and replaced the needle in its case, and all the time she was thinking of those oddly repulsive hands. Repulsive to her, that is. She knew that not many people would have noticed them specially.
Lady Clifford had risen, a sort of nervous expectancy in her manner. The doctor glanced at her, then turned to Esther.
"You may as well go home, if you like, Miss Rowe," he said. "I don't think I shall need you for anything more."
"Oh, thank you, doctor!"
It still wanted half an hour until the time she usually left off. For a moment it flashed upon her that there was, after all, a spark of kindliness concealed in that big, slow-moving machine, and the thought warmed and pleased her. She always wanted to like the people she worked for, it was so much jollier. But when she smiled her appreciation she met with no answering gleam whatever. He had already forgotten her as a person, was merely waiting for her to leave the room.
"There's no use," she sighed ruefully as she closed the door. "I might as well try to be fond of the Woolworth Building!"
"Oh, nurse," Lady Clifford called to her suddenly. "Perhaps you will be so good as to give a message to my chauffeur. Tell him he is not to wait, but to call instead for Sir Charles at his club."
"Yes, Lady Clifford."
She quickly got into her things and slipped out of the front door. The car waiting by the curb was a luxurious Rolls, the sandy-haired English chauffeur was smoking a cigarette and reading the Sporting Times by the aid of a tiny electric light. Inside the car on dark blue cushions a small Aberdeen terrier, the picture of patient good-behaviour, sat gazing resignedly out of the window. The rug heaped beside him showed a lining of sable pattes. Clearly Lady Clifford, whoever she might be, possessed an abundance of this world's goods. How doubly odd that she should allow her physician to order her about in so peremptory a fashion! Probably no one else dared to, she looked arrogant enough herself, for all her fairness and fragility.
The chauffeur stared at Esther attentively while she delivered the message, then with a stolid face, "Right-o, miss," he replied and, touching his cap, started the engine.
"How do you do, Miss Rowe? Is this the place where you are employed?"
Esther jumped, astonished at anyone's knowing her name. Then, seeing who it was who had come up behind her, she smiled in recognition.
"Oh! Miss Paull! I had no idea."
It happened that Miss Paull was the one person at her hotel with whom she had any extensive conversation. She was a tall and angular Englishwoman, clad always in voluminous black, a wide-brimmed, old-fashioned hat resting uneasily atop her mountain of snowy hair.
"Yes, that is the doctor's house," added Esther in reply to her acquaintance's question. "I'm just off for the day."
"Shall we walk along together then?" suggested the other, slightly modifying her tremendous strides. In spite of her elderly and quaint appearance—rather in the style of an ancient Du Maurier drawing—the lady was a tireless pedestrian, covering miles daily, armed with an umbrella, a water-colour box, and a folding camp-stool. Esther had more than once met her, racing along, not the least impeded by her paraphernalia, her black cloak and veil streaming behind her in the wind.
"Do you know this neighbourhood?" Esther was inquiring, when she noticed that her companion had stopped stock still and was regarding with frank curiosity the Rolls Royce, which had just succeeded in reversing its position.
"I seem to know that car," remarked Miss Paull. "I certainly know the chauffeur's face. Can it be—yes, now I know." She walked on again with a satisfied air. "That car belongs to a countryman of mine; he has a villa over there"—she waved a black-gloved hand—"in the part that they call La Californie."
Esther's tone was one of lively interest. Now she would hear something.
"He's a Mr. Clifford—or no, he is Sir Charles Clifford now, he was knighted for something or other during the war. He's a big mill owner in Lancashire—cotton, you know. Perhaps you've heard of the firm of Seabrook & Clifford?"
Esther had not.
"No, of course not. I forgot you don't know England. It's an important firm, though, several big factories. They make the Seacliff Fabrics. Sir Charles was our Conservative member for years. He has a place near my home, between Chester and Altringham. I've often seen him."
"There is a Lady Clifford with the doctor now. What is she—a daughter-in-law? She's quite young."
"Is she French?"
"Ha! That's his wife. His second wife, of course. He married again about six years ago, some Frenchwoman he met down in this part of the world. There was a great deal of excitement about it at the time, the whole neighbourhood was astonished. It must have been a shock to his family."
"Then he has a family?"
"Only a son, he lost another boy in the war. And then, of course, there is a sister, unmarried, about my own age. I've met her sometimes at charity bazaars and so on."
"Do you know Lady Clifford?"
"Heavens, no! Though I've seen her here in Cannes. I believe she was an actress."
There was no mistaking Miss Paull's sentiments in regard to the stage. Esther was secretly amused.
"They spend nearly all their time here now," continued the spinster, "though whether on account of Sir Charles's health or because his wife prefers it I can't say. I daresay it wasn't gay enough for her in Cheshire—not enough distractions. You know how it is with these young women who marry old men, they don't want to sit at home and do needlework."
She ended on an expressive note, as though implying more than her delicate maiden mind would permit her to say. Esther thought of the young Englishman in the restaurant at the Casino, and was silent.
Their walk led them through the older, more picturesque part of the town, a portion Esther loved, finding in its steep winding streets and irregular architecture the charm that was missing from the modern cities of her knowledge. Here, she thought, one could imagine anything happening—intrigues, romantic incident, crimes even, all the material that went to form tales of adventure. This was its habitat. From the newer, cleaner streets, the luxurious Promenade de la Croisette, the heterogeneous Route de Grasse, or that region of plutocrats, La Californie, one expected nothing of the kind.
"Fascinating, isn't it?" remarked her companion, echoing her thoughts. "I am so fond of all this part. When the weather gets a little warmer I am going to bring my sketchbook out one day and get a few nice bits. That corner, for instance—delightful, don't you think?"
They dawdled a bit, through a littered street of open markets where they examined the contents of barrows—flowers, cheap lace, stockings, furs, trays of battered coins and bits of china, brass and copper vessels—now and then peering into a provocative alley-way, held by the spell of the exotic. Hatless women with smooth shining heads bustled past them, children in black pinafores played noisily in the gutters, ouvriers in dust-coloured corduroys bound about the waist with red sashes lurched along, often with a clatter of black varnished sabots. In a doorway one of these fellows, a swarthy brigand, was feeding a particularly ill-favoured mongrel, kneeling beside it and admonishing it to eat. "Allez, vite, mange donc, Helene!" he was saying, and Esther found entertainment in the mangy cur's rejoicing in the name of Helene.
It was dark now, lights flared in the windows. Leaving the market, they turned into a street of shops which Esther had several times explored, and paused before an antiquaire whose windows showed a display of old majolica, silver-gilt, and Limoges enamel against a Flemish tapestry.
"This is one of my favourite shops," said Miss Paull. "You know it, too? But of course I never buy anything, the things are too dear for my purse. Cannes is like Chester when it comes to antiques—too many tourists."
As she spoke a taxi rattled up the street at a characteristic break-neck speed, stopping abruptly at the shop next door, a dingy jeweller's. From the taxi stepped a woman, young, smartly dressed. She paid the fare, then stood looking somewhat uncertainly at the name on the shop door.
"C'est bien vingt-quatre, madame," said the driver, as if to help her.
"Oui—ca va bien," she replied, but still hesitating.
Esther had turned at sound of her voice just in time to see her gather her silver fox closer about her neck, clutch her red morocco pochette against her chest and enter the shop. The taxi, with a little "cling" of the meter, shot off down the hill. Esther touched her companion's arm.
"That was Lady Clifford who went into that shop," she said.
Miss Paull dropped her tortoiseshell lorgnon.
"Was it? I didn't notice. Where? What shop?"
"This one, just here."
"Really! That's an odd, dirty little place for her to go into!"
She raised her lorgnon again and examined the printing on the door. It was "Abel Klement, achat de bijoux, anciens et modernes." Then, not content with this superficial inspection, she went close to the door and, bending, gazed with frank curiosity into the interior. Lacking her indifference to appearances, Esther made a pretence of looking into the window.
"She's taking something in a small box out of her bag," announced the Englishwoman after a deliberate scrutiny. "Ah, of course, some bit of jewellery to be repaired. No, she's not opening the box, after all. She's following the man out through the door at the back of the shop. Now she's gone."
Satisfied that she could ascertain no more, Miss Paull turned away from the door.
"Doesn't look at all her sort of shop," she remarked thoughtfully as they pursued their way. "Such a dingy little second-rate place. And why do you suppose she came up in a taxi instead of her own car?"
She appeared to ponder this question so deeply that Esther was amused at what seemed to her a morbid desire to scent a mystery in an affair which, no doubt, had the most ordinary explanation.
"Now I should say," her companion added, confidentially, "that that fashionable lady is up to something she doesn't want known. That is my conviction—you can take it or leave it."
"I say, have you got any matches anywhere?"
Esther jumped at the sudden sound of a man's voice close to her ear, and looked up from the accounts she was writing. She had heard someone moving about in the salon, but she had thought it must be Jacques, who a few minutes before had been cleaning the brass on the front door. The voice, which addressed her casually and without any preliminary greeting, stirred something in her memory. She rose from her desk by the window and shot the intruder a glance, at the same time reaching the matches from the sideboard.
"Here you are," she said, holding out the box.
The visitor, cigarette in mouth and hands in pockets, sauntered into the room and took it from her. He was young, English, immaculately dressed, except for a rather baggy Burberry, worn loosely over his tweed suit, and he carried a pair of very smart motoring gloves, which he cast upon the table. His manner was at once hard and immature, languid and curiously restless. A second glance assured Esther that her first suspicion was correct. Undoubtedly he was the young man she had seen on several occasions, notably with the Frenchwoman at the Restaurant des Ambassadeurs.
Puffing contemplatively, he let his eyes roam about the room.
"Doctor still out?" he inquired in a vacant tone.
"Yes, but he'll probably be home in a few minutes. It's nearly lunch-time."
She was going to ask if she could do anything for him, but she decided the question was superfluous. He had the air of a friend, not a patient, of an intimate dropping in for an informal call. It came to her that she must amend her opinion that Dr. Sartorius was quite without social ties. She was about to return to her work when the young man's roving eyes reached her in their tour and rested upon her face for several seconds, their vacant gaze giving way to speculative attention.
"You have a familiar look, you know," he remarked. "I seem to recall seeing you somewhere. Where was it?"
Esther met his scrutiny for a moment, then slowly shook her head.
"Odd. You've not been here before, have you? With Sartorius, I mean?"
He carefully flicked an ash upon the rug, then looked at her again.
"Yet I'm positive I've seen your face somewhere about Cannes." The problem appeared mildly to interest him. "Have you any idea where it could have been?"
She regarded him for some seconds, considering what to say.
"Yes," she replied deliberately. "I can tell you where it was. At least, I believe I know."
"In the grill-room of the Carlton. About a fortnight to three weeks ago, at lunch."
"Oh!"—he weighed the suggestion for a moment. "You may be right. I daresay."
Resolved not to mention that other encounter when he had been with Lady Clifford, Esther grew bolder.
"Weren't you there with two ladies, rather Spanish-looking, one much older than the other?"
He raised his brows and blew out a cloud of smoke.
"I shouldn't wonder," he assented, and seemed to dismiss the subject from his thoughts.
While Esther resumed her task he roamed aimlessly about, winding up again in the salon, where she heard him rustling a newspaper. Jacques, coming in to lay the table for dejeuner, glanced across the hall and whispered to Esther.
"That capitaine will stay for dejeuner. It is good I have a ragout to-day, there will be assez for three. I need only to put another egg in the omelette."
He laid three places, then from the recess at the bottom of the sideboard he produced a cocktail shaker and a variety of bottles.
"That young man he stay here once for three weeks," remarked Jacques. "Always he mix the cocktails, many different kind. But to-day he will not like it that I have no ice."
A latch-key grated in the outer door, the doctor's heavy step resounded along the hall, pausing at the salon.
"Ah, Holliday," he said without surprise. "I saw your car outside."
"About the last you'll see of it, doctor," the visitor replied, joining him. "I'm going to sell it. Know anybody who wants a decent little car cheap?"
The two entered the salle a manger together. Esther saw the doctor give his friend a slow ruminative glance before inquiring:
"Why do you want to get rid of it?"
"Oh, I'm thinking of leaving this part of the world in a few weeks' time. No good carting a car as far as I'm going—too damned expensive."
"And where are you going?"
The doctor stood blinking down on the young man with his odd, sluggish little eyes. He appeared tired and not specially interested, yet there was a sort of negative friendliness in his attitude which Esther had not seen before.
"I may go out to the Argentine. There's a job offered me out there."
The sleepy gaze flickered over the whole slight, dapper person of the captain, betraying frank scorn.
"So that's it, is it?" He began feeling in his pocket for a cigarette, adding as an after-thought, "I suppose you've made up your mind about it?"
"Not entirely. But there's no point in sticking around here ... as things are. There's precious little, I want to tell you, between me and starvation. Still, I'm taking a few weeks to think things over."
"Won't you lose the post if you let so much time go by?" inquired the doctor, with the heavy air of making conversation.
His friend's lip curled in easy contempt.
"Not this post," he answered laconically, and turned his attention to the sideboard. After a brief inspection of the array of bottles he called through the little passage that led to the kitchen:
"Jacques! Here then! Got any lemons?"
"Des citrons? Oui, monsieur, j'en ai."
"Squeeze a couple and bring me the juice."
With a thoughtful face Holliday measured equal parts of gin and Cointreau into the shaker. Esther found herself watching the operation with interest. Still busy, he remarked without turning:
"Old Clifford seems a bit seedy."
The doctor had sunk heavily into a chair at the top of a table with a sigh of relaxation. He replied:
"Yes, so his wife mentioned to me a few days ago, but I have not seen him."
"I have. Last night. I was there to dinner. The old boy was quite off his feed, and pushed off to bed about nine o'clock. I daresay you'll be hearing from him before long."
Sartorius yawned. "I daresay," he agreed, and broke off an end of the long stick of bread before him. It occurred to Esther that it was the first time she had seen him sit down properly at the table for a meal.
The lemon-juice arriving at this point, the expert added it to the contents of the shaker and agitated the whole violently.
"It's a long, long way to that Argentine ranch," he remarked pensively. "See here, doctor, you're a farseeing man. On general principles, what would you advise?"
The doctor looked up from his contemplation of the mustard-pot, and it seemed to Esther that his dull eyes met and held the young man's shallow hazel ones for an appreciable space of time.
"Well," he said at length, "do you particularly want to go?"
"Like hell," was the brief reply.
"H'm! In that case I should certainly leave the decision till the last possible moment. There's always some slight chance of something's turning up."
"No! Do you think there is, though?" demanded Holliday eagerly, stopping with the shaker in his hands.
"On general principles."
The visitor's face brightened noticeably. Whistling a bar or two of "Gigolette" he poured out two glasses of a pale straw-coloured liquid, then with the shaker poised over a third glass looked inquiringly at Esther.
"What about you?" he invited.
Esther hesitated and succumbed to the temptation. After all, why not?
"As a resident of a dry country," she said, smiling, "I can't refuse."
He filled the glass and handed it to her just as Jacques entered, bearing the hot and savoury omelette aux champignons.
"Well!"—and Captain Holliday raised his glass and his left eyebrow simultaneously with easy nonchalance, "may we all get what we want!"
"Hear, hear," murmured the doctor mechanically, and drank his cocktail at a gulp.
Esther sipped hers, finding it a subtle and delicious concoction. Later she decided it was a potent one as well. Soon she observed that a hint of unwonted animation crept into the doctor's manner and indeed as the meal progressed he became almost gay, though how much of the change was due to the cocktail and how much to the company she could not tell. Moreover he ate steadily and voraciously. She thought she had never seen a man eat so much, it was like stoking an engine. Holliday, on the contrary, had little appetite for the excellent meal and seemed strung up with a kind of nervous excitement.
Afterwards this scene recurred to her more than once, showing to her imagination like a close-up on the screen. In the light of subsequent happenings it held for her a curious fascination. She could at any time shut her eyes and see the three of them, so ill-assorted, sitting around the table in that bourgeois dining-room, eating and conversing, herself one of the party by accident and virtually ignored by the other two, yet linked with them in a sort of casual camaraderie that was somehow established when she accepted the cocktail. Out of all that followed, no incident remained for her so sinister and at the same time so paradoxically trivial and absurd as this chance gathering at dejeuner.
One bright afternoon about ten days after this the Rolls Royce of the Cliffords drew up at the doctor's door, and when the sandy-haired chauffeur had descended and rung the bell, there emerged from the car in somewhat ceremonial order Lady Clifford, her sister-in-law, and Sir Charles himself. To the casual eye it would appear that the first of these three could have no possible connection with the other two, any more than a bird of paradise would have with a pair of rooks.
"She has brought the old man with her this time," confided Jacques to Esther en passant, having admitted the trio to the salon. "He is a very bad colour, that man! I don't like his look."
Nor did Esther, when a moment later she opened the salon door and caught her first glimpse of Sir Charles, a gaunt, heavily built old man with sunken eyes, unnaturally bright, and a dry, yellowish skin tightly stretched across his prominent cheek bones. He sat leaning forward in his chair, wearing his heavy overcoat with the fur-lined collar drawn up about his thin neck and his big bony hands clasped so rigidly over the handle of his stick that the knuckles shone blanched and polished. He shivered slightly at the opening of the door.
"Here, Charlie, put on your cap," commanded his sister quickly. "This room is always creepy."
"Yes, do put it on," murmured Lady Clifford gently, taking a grey tweed cap from the table and trying to fit it on his head.
He brushed her aside with a petulant gesture.
"No, no, I don't want my hat on in the house. What do you take me for?"
The two women exchanged resigned glances, which patently said, "Well, if he won't, he won't." Miss Clifford sighed as if a little anxious, and the furrow between her brows deepened. She was strikingly like her brother, with the same heavy features, but she was a good ten years younger, and with her ruddy red-brown complexion and bright brown eyes under rather bushy brows had a look of alertness and vigour, as well as certain kindly simplicity which attracted Esther. She was dressed in good plain country clothes, and her felt hat fitted badly because of the thick coils of her hair, brown, streaked with grey.
"Will you come this way?" said Esther, holding open the consulting-room door.
The three filed past her, Sir Charles walking with a firm if inelastic tread. There was about him a look of obstinate, almost rude, determination; he had the air of coming here under protest. Miss Clifford looked at Esther with a certain interest.
"I have not seen you before. When did you come?"
"Only a few weeks ago."
"Ah, I see you're American. No, Canadian, is it? Well, it's pleasant having someone here who speaks English."
Dr. Sartorius had come forward with a more cordial manner than he usually displayed. He positively smiled as he took Miss Clifford's hand.
"Well, you're not looking very ill," he remarked in a tone almost jovial. "Don't try to tell me there's anything the matter with you. I'll refuse to believe it."
"Oh, heavens, no, I'm all right," laughed Miss Clifford agreeably. "It's this tiresome brother of mine who's been bothering us a bit. He's been feeling seedy for several days, haven't you, Charlie?"
Sir Charles shook his head, though whether in dissent or simply out of an ingrained desire to contradict was not apparent.
"Feeling seedy, has he? Well, and what seems to be the trouble?" inquired the doctor with that sort of purring patter which one can readily believe to be the first thing learned by a student of medicine. "Caught a slight chill, perhaps? The weather's been a bit tricky."
"Ah, I think it is that," put in the Frenchwoman eagerly. "That Wednesday at the polo, Charles, when it came on to rain...."
"Not a bit of it," denied her husband positively. "If it comes to that, I had all these feelings before I ever thought of going to the polo."
"I begged him to let me send for you, doctor, but you know what he is like," interpolated Miss Clifford. "He hates to admit he is ill."
"What sort of feelings?" blandly inquired the doctor.
Sir Charles thrust out his lower lip. He had planted himself in an armchair, while his wife remained standing a little behind him, her face, it seemed to Esther, full of anxiety.
"Oh, headaches, backaches. The back's the worst. Goes on steadily. Had it for days."
"No, dull. Not like lumbago."
"He has no appetite," added his sister.
"Well, well, let's have a look at you."
The doctor drew a chair beside Sir Charles and reached for the gaunt brownish hand. At the same moment Lady Clifford made a little movement of solicitude, laying her gloved hand on the old man's shoulder.
"Are you quite comfortable there, mon cher?" she whispered. "You're not in a courant d'air?"
He let her hand rest, but shook his head impatiently.
"No, no, I'm all right. My God, doctor, what with these two women for ever fussing about my health and asking me how I feel a hundred times a day, the wonder is I manage to keep going at all."
He closed his eyes while the doctor counted his pulse. During the ensuing silence it struck Esther that both women were more worried than was necessary. The Frenchwoman in particular watched with an air of tense apprehension.
The doctor shut up his watch with a snap.
"Now the tongue," he said non-committally.
He examined the tongue, then the eyeballs, after which he held out his hand without looking round and took the thermometer Esther had ready for him. The silence continued while the old man sat sucking the little glass tube.
"Well," said the doctor at last, holding the instrument to the light, "he certainly has got a slight temperature."
Miss Clifford let her breath escape explosively.
"Thank Heaven for that!" she ejaculated in a tone of relief.
All eyes turned towards her in surprise.
"I suppose you're glad I'm ill, are you, Dido?" queried her brother dryly.
"Nonsense, don't be absurd! I'm only glad you'll have to admit you're ill and be put to bed properly where we can look after you. You should have been there days ago."
"Oh, very well, I'll go to bed. You'll never be happy till you've laid me by the heels, you and Therese both. What have I got, doctor? Touch of 'flu? They call a lot of things 'flu these days."
The doctor smiled and clapped him on the back reassuringly.
"Oh, perhaps. It's impossible to say yet. However, your sister's right; you mustn't be walking about with a temperature, however slight." He rose and the others followed suit. "Go home, get comfortably to bed, and I'll drop in early in the evening and have another look at you."
"Then you think it's nothing serious?" inquired Lady Clifford with a sudden appeal, her beautiful eyes glancing from her husband to the doctor.
"You know, doctor," broke in Miss Clifford eagerly, "I've sometimes wondered if there was anything wrong with the water. I ..."
"Rubbish, Dido, I never drink the water."
There was a general laugh at this.
"I'm not sure that you don't," insisted the old lady defensively. "And I've always been told the water in France is only to be used externally."
"And precious little of it is used in that way," commented Sir Charles, moving towards the door, where he looked back with a curt, ironic gesture of leave-taking. "It's au revoir then, doctor, and not good-bye. Coming, Dido?"
His wife followed him to the outer door.
"In a minute I will join you, darling. Get into the car and put the rug well around you."
She bundled the fur collar closely about his throat and patted him affectionately on the shoulder. He was well over six feet, even though he stooped a little, so that she had to stand on tiptoe to reach him.
"There, I'm all right," the old man objected testily, but he was not displeased.
Perhaps, thought Esther, she was mistaken after all in regard to Lady Clifford's sentiments towards her husband. She could not, of course, be supposed to be wildly in love with him, but she undoubtedly did appear to be fond of him, even though her feeling might be that of a daughter for a father. At any rate, when it came to the point, she seemed genuinely concerned over the idea of his being ill. Most likely, in common with many very emotional women, she dramatised and exaggerated her slightest feeling, professing far more than she meant. This would easily explain that conversation at the tea-table. She might have meant all she said at the time, but she had probably forgotten it completely by now.
Waving aside all offers of assistance, Sir Charles made his way slowly to the car. His sister let him go ahead, then halting on the doorstep, took hold of Esther's arm confidentially. "One moment, nurse," she said in an undertone, "I'd like to ask you something. Tell me frankly, do you think the doctor saw anything alarming in my brother's symptoms?"
Her plain, pleasant face was puckered with anxiety, her eyes searched Esther's.
"Why, no, I honestly think he meant what he said, that it is too soon to tell anything definite."
"I wonder! Doctors are all alike, they never give anything away," and she frowned thoughtfully. "I daresay you think me foolish, but the fact is I am extremely apprehensive. You see, I'm afraid it may be typhoid."
Esther could only repeat the word, unwilling to admit that the same suspicion had occurred to her.
"Yes, there's a great deal of it about the Riviera this season, as you may know."
"I've heard so."
"There have been several cases quite close to us, and one actually in the house, one of the maids. She went down with it four weeks ago, and has had a severe case. She's in a nursing home now. An attack of typhoid as violent as that would probably prove fatal to a man of my brother's age and in his state of health—for he hasn't been at all strong for several years. So you can understand how I—how we—feel about it."
With an impulse of sympathy Esther grasped the gloved hand on her arm and gave it a warm squeeze.
"You mustn't think such things," she admonished earnestly. "It may be nothing at all serious, over-fatigue, a slight cold. Besides, typhoid fever needn't be fatal, even at his age."
The elder woman's face lit up with a sudden, grateful smile.
"You're right. I shouldn't cross bridges—and I mustn't let him see I'm worried. Thank you, my dear!"
She took a step downward, then turned and smiled again at Esther with friendly curiosity.
"What is your name," she asked, "and how do you come to be here?"
Esther told her.
"Well," remarked Miss Clifford, "you're a very different sort from the young Frenchwoman the doctor had here before you came—all paint and powder, busy making herself up whenever she thought you weren't looking, always ready for a flirtation." She made a grimace. "Not that she got very far with the doctor, I may tell you," she added, then nodding good-bye, joined her brother in the car.
Esther went into the salon and straightened the disarranged pile of magazines. Then going to the window she peered through the net curtain at the two occupants of the Rolls Royce. The old man was leaning back with his eyes shut and his haggard face sunken into lines of weariness; his sister was adjusting the rug more comfortably about him, watching him with troubled eyes. What a good sort she was! Esther liked her downright honesty and warm-heartedness; she thought she had never met anyone of that age so utterly guileless. How did she get on with her temperamental sister-in-law? What did she think of her really?
She heard the door of the consulting-room open, the other one, leading to the hall.
"You think—but are you sure?"
It was Lady Clifford who put this question in a voice which, though low-pitched, had a note of sharp insistence.
"Sure! Can one be absolutely sure of anything?"
All the geniality was gone from the doctor's voice; he sounded cold, as though wearied by a tiresome topic.
"Yes, but you know what my nerves are like! Can't you say something more?"
A short silence. Then:
"You say he had his milk regularly—the pint and a half a day?"
"Yes, yes, of course—every day."
"Oh, then, I don't think I should worry."
The front door closed; a moment later the car drove away.
Puzzled and slightly curious, though not intensely so, Esther found herself wondering what meaning there was in the doctor's last words. Was the old man ill—or wasn't he?
As she continued putting the room to rights the doctor pushed open the glass doors and stood regarding her undecidedly. There was no clue to his thoughts, but then there seldom was.
"Fools, these people," he remarked at last. "The more money they have the bigger fools they are. Always insisting that you tell them more than you know yourself, never willing to wait for a disease to declare itself."
With a kind of contemptuous snort he lumbered back into the consulting-room and closed the door. Had he been offering an explanation in case she had overheard? Or merely expressing aloud a general opinion regarding patients, all of whom he evidently held in scorn? For the life of her she could not decide.
Several days slipped by, during which she heard nothing further of the Cliffords. Nor indeed did she think about them very much, there being more vital matters to occupy her attention. Esther was but mortal. There was a particular chestnut-coloured crepe-de-Chine jumper in a shop-window along the Croisette that drew her like a magnet—her colour, and what a background for her golden amber beads, brought her recently by a patient from Peking. Should she give way to the extravagance, or ought she to save her money? The problem was a weighty one. Besides this, there was a young Italian, merry and good-mannered, whom she had met at her hotel, and who was beseeching her to come out one evening and dance. What ought she to say to him? Her soul longed for gaiety—Italians were good dancers, as a rule. There was, moreover, a letter from New York from the devoted doctor who wanted to marry her, a long letter, fraught with complete understanding and fidelity which left her cold, but gave her something to think about. On the whole she had quite enough to occupy her idle thoughts.
Yet now and again she recalled the sudden liking she had felt for Miss Clifford, and at these moments she wondered what was happening to the old cotton manufacturer up there in La Californie. She knew the doctor called twice daily. She decided to question him.
"Doctor, what happened to Sir Charles Clifford?"
The doctor frowned into a test-tube and waited for her to explain.
"I mean, if he is ill, what has he got?"
"Oh, typhoid fever," replied the doctor indifferently, intent on his experiment.
"So it was typhoid after all!" Esther exclaimed, conscious of a certain regret.
He lowered the tube and slowly levelled his small dull eyes upon her. Without knowing in the least why, she felt uncomfortable.
"Why do you say 'after all'?"
"I merely meant that his sister told me she was afraid it might be that. One of their housemaids had it."
"Yes, that is so. There's enough of it about."
She wanted to inquire how the old man was, but she could not bring herself to continue the subject with a person who somehow made her feel that her questions were superfluous, if not actually impertinent. She watched him fit a slide into his huge microscope, entirely absorbed by the matter in hand. Patients as human beings meant nothing to him. Two days later the thing occurred which altered her whole mode of life.
She was aware that something had happened when she arrived as usual in the morning, for Jacques, who met her in the hall, had a somewhat mysterious and wholly ironical manner.
"Ah, mademoiselle, what have I told you? Did I not say it would be so?"
"Say what? What do you mean?"
"Did I not say he was what you call fed up?"
"Jacques, what are you talking about?"
He shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.
"Go in there; you will soon know. He is waiting to speak to you."
Considerably puzzled, she tapped on the consulting-room door and was bidden to come in. As she did so, the doctor looked up from what seemed an unusual confusion on his desk, and as his gaze encountered hers she thought that the dull heaviness of his demeanour was oddly lightened by a spark of something she could not define.
"Ah, Miss Rowe, you see me about to make a rather sudden change. The fact is I have been persuaded to put aside my practice for a short time—I can't say exactly how long it will be—and during the interval to act as private physician to Sir Charles Clifford."
Frankly taken by surprise, Esther could at first only exclaim, "No, really!" and wait for him to go on. Whatever had induced him to do this? She reflected that the Cliffords must have offered him a good deal of money.
"I have arranged with a colleague to take over my practice for the next few weeks," the doctor continued, busy sorting papers as he spoke. "Although naturally my patients can please themselves about going to him. He is a competent man. Needless to say Sir Charles will make it worth my while, and for the rest I badly need a holiday. The change will do me good."
So this was why he looked more cheerful. Even a machine needs a rest once in a while. Then Esther thought of that other work of his, the research of which he seemed never to tire.
"What about your experiments?" she ventured.
"I shall be able to snatch a couple of hours now and then," he replied. "But of course I must resign myself to giving up really serious work in the laboratory until the case is finished. It is regrettable, for, as you know, I am in the midst of that series of tests in regard to the anti-toxin for tetanus. Every week I lose increases the chance of some other fellow's finding it; there are a number of experimenters hot on the trail. However, it can't be helped." He sighed and added to himself, "You can't have it both ways."
It now occurred to Esther to inquire how this alteration of plans affected her.
"Then I suppose, doctor, you won't be wanting me for the next month or so?"
"I was coming to that. No, I shall not; and I don't know that it would be worth my while to pay you to stay on while I have nothing for you to do."
"Oh, no, naturally. I understand."
"If, however, you still wish to remain in Cannes, I have an offer to make you. There is an English nurse looking after Sir Charles, but he is going to require another. Perhaps you'd care to take on the job of day-nurse to him?"
It was a second surprise.
"Oh! Would they like me to come?"
"It was Miss Clifford's suggestion. I believe from what she said to me she took a liking to you when she saw you here the other day."
The detached tone in which he made this observation implied that such a thing as taking a liking to a person did certainly exist and therefore must be scientifically recognised, incredible as it might appear.
The image of the simple, friendly eyed, north-country woman flashed across Esther's mental vision, obscuring the less comprehensible figure of her sister-in-law. She thought for a moment.
"Why, yes, if you like, I'll be glad to come," she agreed.
The doctor raised a corrective hand. "It's if you like," he amended. "I can get another nurse from the British Nursing Home in an hour's time, it is all the same to me. If you come, however, they will pay you at the rate usual in your country—more than an English nurse gets, as you know."
"I wasn't thinking of the money," declared Esther hastily and with truth. "I was only wondering ... but it doesn't matter. I'll come. When do you want me?"
"At once. How soon can you be ready?"
"Oh, I can be ready in an hour or so. I've only to pack my things and settle my hotel bill."
"Very well, try to get to the house before lunch. I will telephone to say you are coming. Here is the address."
He scrawled it on a slip of paper and handed it to her, instantly turning his whole attention to something else in the way he had when a matter was concluded. It was exactly like shutting a door in one's face, she thought with rueful amusement. In another minute she had left the house and was on her way back to her hotel.
In the little lobby she met Miss Paull, just drawing on a pair of black gloves preparatory to setting off on a ramble.
"And what are you doing here at this hour?" she greeted Esther cheerfully, curiously beaming in every line of her rather noble face.
Esther explained hurriedly.
"How extremely odd! The very people we were discussing the other day. And you say your doctor is giving up his entire practice to devote himself to Sir Charles? They must have money to burn. I wonder what you will think of them. I wonder if the son is there? Such a nice-looking boy he was. I used to see him often. And the beautiful French wife—you must tell me what she is like, to know, that is. Of course she looks like something on the films, doesn't she?"
Esther assented, anxious to get away.
"I should like to know what she was doing in that dirty little jeweller's shop, going into the back room and all," mused the spinster regretfully. "Well—good luck to you!"
Esther smiled to herself as she got into the tiny lift. Miss Paull extracted so much enjoyment out of life from inventing mysteries out of simple things. What a pity she could not be in her, Esther's, place! What capital she would have made out of her opportunities!
It was with a slight feeling of excitement that two hours later she toiled in a creaking taxi up to the steep streets of Cannes, her hat-box and neat dressing-bag reposing on the seat beside her, her small trunk in front. What luck, she reflected, to have brought her uniforms along! She had not really thought she would need them. A thin rain fell, but the sky showed signs of breaking, and the raindrops sparkled on the thick green foliage of the trees and added beauty to the feathery sprays of mimosa wherever it raised its yellow plumage. The town left behind, villa after villa came into view, many half-hidden in greenery. The drive seemed a longish one, but of course a good car would have done it in half the time....
How strange to think that the very first woman who had in any way impressed her in Cannes should now be employing her to nurse her husband! It was a good thing Lady Clifford had never recognised her; no doubt if she had done so she would have thought twice about engaging her services.
Ah, here it was, the Villa Firenze—a spacious, even imposing mansion of pinkish brick, the front covered in wistaria. Acacias shut off the well-kept garden from the road and bordered the drive, a circular one, the approach terminating in wide, shallow stone steps, flanked by carved stone baskets of fruit. While she was paying the taxi, the door opened and a manservant, English, with sparse grey hair and a pleasant wooden face, came out and took her bag and hat-box.
"I daresay you'll be wanting to go straight to your room, miss?" he suggested.
"Yes, thank you."
She found herself in a large, irregular entrance hall with a sweep of stairs facing her. On the left was a high Gothic chimney-piece of grey stone, the fireplace banked with azaleas, flame-coloured and rose. There were a few tall Stuart chairs and a carved oak coffer. The long windows were curtained with old needlework. She followed the butler up the carpeted stairs and from a broad upper hall along a passage towards the back of the house, meeting no one on the way but a housemaid.
The room into which she was shown had the charm of harmonious simplicity. The plain furniture was painted black, outlined in mauve; the curtains and covers were of Toile de Jouy in one of those delightful reproductions of an eighteenth-century pattern, showing a dozen scenes of pastoral life, mauve on a white ground. The carpet was black, and on the mantelpiece was a black Wedgwood bowl filled with anemones, placed between crystal candlesticks.
"Your box will be up directly, miss," the butler said as he left her.
She went to the window and looked out over wet green lawns with hedges and oleanders. Rain dripped from the shrubs, but a shaft of watery sunlight had broken through the clouds. She breathed in the fragrance of the garden for several moments, then, her trunk arriving, set herself to work to unpack the belongings so recently stowed away. This done, she quickly changed into one of her pale buff uniforms with its accompanying snowy apron, stiff cuffs and coif—an uncompromising costume at the best of times, yet she had managed to have hers well-cut and of a becoming colour, which was the most that one could do.
As she was putting the final touches to her attire there was a tap on the door and the maid she had seen in the passage entered. She was a wholesome-looking Scotch girl with a strong Glasgow accent, and she smiled on Esther in a friendly way.
"If you please, nurse, Miss Clifford is wanting to see you when you've done dressing. She said there was no pertickler hurry."
"I'll come at once," said Esther promptly, and followed her out of the room, back to the central landing, and a few yards along another hallway to the right. Here, in an open doorway, Miss Clifford was standing. At once Esther noticed in her appearance a marked alteration; her strong colour had faded and she looked tired and distressed. However, she smiled in a welcoming fashion and extended her hand as to a friend.
"Ah, I am glad you could come, Miss Rowe," she exclaimed with an air of relief. "It was my first thought when Dr. Sartorius consented to come to us. I felt I should so like to have you look after my brother."