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III The Heart Of Man Anna Katharine Green

XXXIX The Avenger

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"Dear Mr. Challoner:

    "With every apology for the intrusion, may I request
    a few minutes of private conversation with you this evening
    at seven o'clock? Let it be in your own room.

    "Yours truly,

Mr. Challoner had been called upon to face many difficult and heartrending duties since the blow which had desolated his home fell upon him.

But from none of them had he shrunk as he did from the interview thus demanded. He had supposed himself rid of this man. He had dismissed him from his life when he had dismissed Sweetwater. His face, accordingly, wore anything but a propitiatory look, when promptly at the hour of seven, Orlando Brotherson entered his apartments.

His pleasure or his displeasure was, however, a matter of small consequence to his self-invited visitor. He had come there with a set purpose, and nothing in heaven or earth could deter him from it now. Declining the offer of a seat, with the slightest of acknowledgments in the way of a bow, he took a careful survey of the room before saying:

"Are we alone, Mr. Challoner, or is that man Sweetwater lurking somewhere within hearing?"

"Mr. Sweetwater is gone, as I had the honour of telling you yesterday," was the somewhat stiff reply. "There are no witnesses to this conference, if that is what you wish to know.

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"Thank you, but you will pardon my insistence if I request the privilege of closing that door." He pointed to the one communicating with the bedroom. "The information I have to give you is not such as I am willing to have shared, at least for the present."

"You may close the door," said Mr. Challoner coldly. "But is it necessary for you to give me the information you mention, to-night? If it is of such a nature that you cannot accord me the privilege of sharing it, as yet, with others, why not spare me till you can? I have gone through much, Mr. Brotherson."

"You have," came in steady assent as the man thus addressed stepped to the door he had indicated and quietly closed it. " But," he continued, as he crossed back to his former position, "would it be easier for you to go through the night now in anticipation of what I have to reveal than to hear it at once from my lips while I am in the mood to speak?"

The answer was slow in coming. The courage which had upheld this rapidly aging man through so many trying interviews, seemed inadequate for the test put so cruelly upon it. He faltered and sank heavily into a chair, while the stern man watching him, gave no signs of responsive sympathy or even interest, only a patient and icy-tempered resolve.

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