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III The Heart Of Man Anna Katharine Green

XXVII The Image Of Dread

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"I must give her daily exercises," he decided within himself. "That look of pain shows how difficult this work is for her. It must be made easy at any cost to my time. Such beauty calls for accomplishment. I must not neglect so plain a duty."

Meantime, she was struggling to find words in face of that great Dread. She had written Dear Miss Challoner and was staring in horror at the soulless words. Only her sense of duty upheld her. Gladly would she have torn the sheet in two and rushed away. How could she add sentences to this hollow phrase, the mere employment of which seemed a sacrilege. Dear Miss Challoner. Oh, she was dear, but -

Unconsciously the young head drooped, and the pen slid from her hand.

"I cannot," she murmured, "I cannot think what to say."

"Shall I help you?" came softly from the bed. "I'll try and not forget that it is Doris writing."

"If you will be so good," she answered, with renewed courage. "I can put the words down if you will only find them for me."

"Write then. 'Dear Miss Challoner!"

"I have already written that."

"Why do you shudder?"

"I'm cold. I've been cold all day. But never mind that, Mr. Brotherson. Tell me how to begin my letter."

" This way. 'I've not been able to answer your kind letter, because I have had to play nurse for some three or four weeks to a very fretful and exacting patient.' Have you written that?"

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" No," said Doris, bending over her desk till her curls fell in a tangle over her white cheeks. " I do not like to," she protested at last, with an attempt at naivete which seemed real enough to him.

" Well, leave out the fretful if you must, but keep in the exacting. I have been exacting, you know."

Silence, broken only by the scratching of the stubborn, illy-directed pen.

"It's down," she whispered. She said, afterward, that it was like writing with a ghost looking over one's shoulder.

"Then add, 'Mr. Brotherson has had a slight attack of fever, but he is getting well fast, and will soon -, Do I run on too quickly?"

"No, no, I can follow."

"But not without losing breath; eh, Doris?"

As he laughed, she smiled. There was a heroism in that smile, Oswald Brotherson, of which you knew nothing.

"You might speak a little more slowly," she admitted.

Quietly he repeated the last phrase. "'But he is getting well fast and will soon be ready to take up the management of the Works which was given him just before he was taken ill.' That will show her that I am working up," he brightly remarked as Doris carefully penned the last word. "Of myself you need say nothing more, unless -" he paused and his face took on a wistful look which Doris dared not meet; "unless - but no, no, she must think it has been only a passing indisposition. If she knew I had been really ill, she would suffer, and perhaps act imprudently or suffer and not dare to act at all, which might be sadder for her still. Leave it where it is and begin about yourself. Write a good deal about yourself, so that she will see that you are not worried and that all is well with us here. Cannot you do that without assistance? Surely you can tell her about that last piece of embroidery you showed me. She will be glad to hear - why, Doris!"

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