Read CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE - The Climax of A madness. of Blind Policy , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on ReadCentral.com.

“One minute.  Sit down while I attend to this.”

The inspector took a chair, but his follower, evidently a plain clothes’ officer, remained standing by the door; while, as if bound to make a memorandum of some important case, Chester took ink and paper and began writing rapidly for a few minutes, listening intently the while for the sound of steps upon the stairs, every nerve on the strain, as he wondered at the patience with which the two men waited.

At last, with his heart throbbing painfully, Chester heard a faint rustling sound outside, and the front door close, just as the inspector broke the silence.

“Beg pardon, sir,” he said, “but this is a case of emergency.  I should be glad if you can come at once.”

“Come at once?”

“Yes,” said the inspector, coolly.  “Only in the next street.  Case of attempted suicide.  Doctor with the party wants a second opinion.”

Chester drew a deep breath, wrote another line of incoherent words, and then, having hard work to speak composedly, he rose and said ­

“I am at your service now.”

He followed the inspector to the door, and feeling half stunned at what seemed like so strange an escape, he went to the house where, in a mad fit, the occupant had taken desperate measures to rid himself of a life which had grown hateful; and while Chester aided his colleagues for the next hour in the difficult task of trying to combat the poison taken, he could not help feeling that this might have been his own case if matters had gone otherwise, for despair would have prompted him also to take a life that had become horrible ­an existence that he could not have borne.

He went back home at last, but he made no attempt to see sister or aunt, his anger for the time being was too hot against them, and he was in no disposition to make any excuse.  His next step was, he felt, to set Marion’s mind at rest regarding the police, and he was about to start for Isabel’s temporary London home, when he hesitated, shrinking from meeting her again.  He felt that his position was despicable, and now the danger was past he mentally writhed at the obligation which he had so eagerly embraced.

“What a poor, pitiful, contemptible object I must seem in her eyes,” he muttered as he paced the room.

But he grew cooler after a time.  Marion’s happiness must stand first.  She was prostrate with horror and despair, and at any cost he felt that he must preserve her from danger, and set her mind at rest.

“But I cannot go,” he muttered ­“I cannot face her again.”  Then, half mad with himself for his miserable cowardice, he cast aside the pen with which he was about to write, and determined to go.

“She will forgive me,” he said; and he hurried into the hall, took up his hat, and then stopped short, aghast at his helplessness.

Where was he going?  He had not the most remote idea as to where Isabel was staying, and maddened by his position, he forced himself to go up to the drawing-room and ask his sister for the address.

“I must be half mad,” he muttered.

He threw open the drawing-room door and, strode in, determined to insist upon the address being given him if Laura should refuse.

But the room was empty, and, staggered by this fresh surprise and with ominous thoughts beginning to arise, he went out on to the landing to call his sister by name.  Then he called aloud to his aunt, with the result that an answer to his shouts came from below in the servant’s voice ­

“Beg pardon, sir; Miss Laura and Mrs Crane went out more than an hour ago.”

“What!  Where did they go?”

“I don’t know, sir.  I had to whistle for a cab, and they each took a travelling bag.”

Chester went down to his consulting-room, checkmated, and feeling completely stunned at his position.

What was he to do?  He might set a detective to try and find the cabman who took them away, but it would be days before he could have the man traced.

Then came a bright idea.

The hotel where Isabel had been staying ­the manager there would know where she and her father and mother went on leaving.

He took a cab there, but the manager did not know.  He thought the old people went abroad, and the young lady went into private apartments.

“But their letters ­where were their letters to be addressed?”

“To their country house, sir.”

Chester hurried away again.  Perhaps something might be made of that, and he went to the first post-office and telegraphed down to the person in charge of the house, paying for a reply to be sent to Raybeck Square, to which place he returned, and paced his room for two hours before he obtained the brief reply: ­

“Address not known.  They have not written yet. ­Susan.”

“Was any poor wretch ever so tortured by fate?” he muttered; and he threw himself into a chair to try and think out some way of finding out the address to which he had sent Marion.

At last, faint, and with his brain in a whirl, he sought for temporary release from his sufferings in one of the bottles of drugs in his consulting-room.

But the ordinary dose seemed to have no effect, and he repeated it at intervals twice before he sank into a state of lethargy from which he did not awaken till morning, to find himself lying back in a corner of the couch, with the three servants gathered in consultation.

“Yes,” he cried wildly, “what is it? ­what is the matter?”

“Nothing, sir, only that you frightened us.  It’s past eleven o’clock, and we were going to send for a doctor,” said the parlour-maid.

“No, nothing the matter.  I was tired out, and overslept myself.  Here, stop!  Has ­has Miss Laura come back?”

“No, sir.”

“That will do.  Go away.”

“Hadn’t you better have a cup o’ tea, sir?” said the cook, suggesting the universal panacea.

“No, no!” he cried, so fiercely that the servants backed out, and the wretched man let his burning, confused head sink into his hands while he tried to collect his thoughts.

But it was in vain.  He bathed his temples, went into the breakfast-room and tried to partake of food, but gave it up in disgust, and finally turned to the drug again.

“This can’t go on,” he muttered; “the human brain cannot stand it.  Months of strain now, and my position worse than ever.  And even now the police may have traced her, and she be looking vainly to me for help.”

He did not hear a ring at the front door, for he went back to his consulting-room, to sit with his head in his hands; neither did he hear the conversation going on after the closely-veiled lady who rang had been admitted.

“Gone!  You think Miss Laura will not return?”

“I don’t think so miss.”  There was a few moments’ thoughtful silence.  “Where is your master?”

“In his consulting-room, miss, in a dreadful state.  Oughtn’t a doctor to be fetched to him?  He looks so awful; his eyes roll at you as if he was going mad.”

There was another thoughtful pause, and then the visitor said firmly, “Go and ask Mr Chester if he will see me for a few moments.”

“Please, miss ­ma’am ­I really daren’t,” said the maid, pitifully.  “He frightened me so last time I went into the room that I’d sooner leave at once than go in.”

There was a third period of hesitation, and then without a word the visitor went straight to the consulting-room, entered, and closed the door.

Chester did not stir, but sat there in the gloomy place with his head bent, the image of utterly abased despair; and the visitor stood looking down pityingly at him for some moments before she spoke.

Her voice seemed to galvanise him into life, and he started up and gazed at her wonderingly.  “Isabel?” he cried.  “Yes, Fred; I have come.”

“Hah! and Marion?  How is she?” There was no reply for a few moments; then in a low, compassionate voice, “She was very, very ill last night, but later on she dropped asleep, and I left her about three, perfectly calm and peaceful.”

Chester gazed at her wildly.

“Yes,” he cried, “go on.”

“I went in to see her at intervals of an hour, and she was still sleeping calmly.”

“And you have left her!” he cried angrily.  “You should not have done this.”

“No; I ought not to have done this,” said Isabel, sadly.  “You placed her in my charge, and I have betrayed your trust.”

“What!  What do you mean?”

“I went to her room about nine, and ­”

“Yes,” he cried, springing up and catching her arm so fiercely that her pale, sad face grew full of suffering.

“Tell me; you are keeping something back.”

“Must I tell you?” she said faintly.

“Yes, yes!” he cried.  “Why do you torture me?”

“Fred, I was to blame,” she said piteously.  “I would have done anything for your sake.  I could not foresee it all.  She has gone!”

“Gone?” he gasped.

She held out a letter addressed to him, and he snatched at it and tore it open, to read with burning eyes: ­

“Good-bye for ever.  I love you too well to come between you and the happiness that may some day be yours.  Do not seek for me:  my love would prove a curse.  I know it ­I feel it.  Forgive me the suffering I have caused to you and the gentle woman who has tended me.  She will forgive you the past as I have prayed her to; and she will forgive me, knowing as she does that it was in all innocency I did her that wrong.  Think of me as one who was not to blame for her position.  I did not know everything; they kept it from us weak women.  I did know, though, that they were engaged in some unlawful scheme, and prayed my brother to take me away; but he could not shake off his bonds ­I could not leave him.  Good-bye:  think of me kindly.  We shall never meet again.”

Chester read to the last word, then turned half round and fell heavily to the floor.

It was as if the tie which bound him to life had snapped in twain.