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III The Heart Of Man Anna Katharine Green

XXX Chaos

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"You have still something to say," suggested the latter, as an oppressive silence swallowed up that icy sentence I have already recorded.

"I have," returned Mr. Challoner, regaining his courage under the exigencies of the moment. "Miss Scott is very anxious to have your promise that you will avoid all disagreeable topics with your brother till the doctor pronounces him strong enough to meet the trouble which awaits him."

"You mean -"

"He is not as unhappy as we. He knows nothing of the affliction which has befallen him. He was taken ill -" The rest was almost inaudible.

But Orlando Brotherson had no difficulty in understanding him, and for the second time in this extraordinary interview, he gave evidences of agitation and of a mind shaken from its equipoise. But only for an instant. He did not shun the other's gaze or even maintain more than a momentary silence. Indeed, he found strength to smile, in a curious, sardonic way, as he said:

"Do you think I should be apt to broach this subject with any one, let alone with him, whose connection with it I shall need days to realise? I'm not so given to gossip. Besides, he and I have other topics of interest. I have an invention ready with which I propose to experiment in a place he has already prepared for me. We can talk about that."

The irony, the hardy self-possession with which this was said struck Mr. Challoner to the heart. Without a word he wheeled about towards the door. Without a word, Brotherson stood, watching him go till he saw his hand fall on the knob when he quietly prevented his exit by saying:

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"Unhappy truths cannot be long concealed. How soon does the doctor think my brother can bear these inevitable revelations?"

"He said this morning that if his patient were as well to-morrow as his present condition gives promise of, he might be told in another week."

Orlando bowed his appreciation of this fact, but added quickly:

"Who is to do the telling?"

"Doris. Nobody else could be trusted with so delicate a task."

"I wish to be present."

Mr. Challoner looked up, surprised at the feeling with which this request was charged.

"As his brother - his only remaining relative, I have that right. Do you think that Dor - that Miss Scott, can be trusted not to forestall that moment by any previous hint of what awaits him?"

"If she so promises. But will you exact this from her? It surely cannot be necessary for me to say that your presence will add infinitely to the difficulty of her task."

"Yet it is a duty I cannot shirk. I will consult the doctor about it. I will make him see that I both understand and shall insist upon my rights in this matter. But you may tell Miss Doris that I will sit out of sight, and that I shall not obtrude myself unless my name is brought up in an undesirable way."

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