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III The Heart Of Man Anna Katharine Green

XXVII The Image Of Dread

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"Yes, that's it. How could you guess? He's from New York. Nobody knows why he's here. Don't seem to have no business."

"Well, never mind. Run on, Johnny. And don't forget to come earlier to-morrow; Mr. Brotherson gets tired waiting."

"Does he? I'll come quick then; quick as I can run." And he sped off at a pace which promised well for the morrow.

Challoner! There was but one Challoner in the world for Doris Scott, - Edith's father. Was this he? It must be, or why this haunting sense of something half remembered as she caught a glimpse of his face. Edith's father! and he was approaching, approaching rapidly, on his way back to town. Would he stop this time? As the possibility struck her, she trembled and drew back, entering the house, but pausing in the hall with her ear turned to the road. She had not closed the door; something within - a hope or a dread - had prevented that. Would he take it as an invitation to come in? No, no; she was not ready for such an encounter yet. He might speak Edith's name; Oswald might hear and - with a gasp she recognised the closeness of his step; heard it lag, almost halt just where the path to the house ran into the roadside. But it passed on. He was not going to force an interview yet. She could hear him retreating further and further away. The event was not for this day, thank God! She would have one night at least in which to prepare herself.

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With a sense of relief so great that she realised, for one shocked moment, the full extent of her fears, she hastened back into the sitting-room, with her collection of books and pamphlets. A low voice greeted her. It came from the adjoining room.

"Doris, come here, sweet child. I want you."

How she would have bounded joyously at the summons, had not that Dread raised its bony finger in every call from that dearly loved voice. As it was, her feet moved slowly, lingering at the sound. But they carried her to his side at last, and once there, she smiled.

"See what an armful," she cried in joyous greeting, as she held out the bundle she had brought. "You will be amused all day. Only, do not tire yourself."

"I do not want the papers, Doris; not yet. There's something else which must come first. Doris, I have decided to let you write to her. I'm so much better now, she will not feel alarmed. I must - must get a word from her. I'm starving for it. I lie here and can think of nothing else. A message - one little message of six short words would set me on my feet again. So get your paper and pen, dear child, and write her one of your prettiest letters."

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