Read CHAPTER XVIII - MISSING of Bylow Hill, free online book, by George Washington Cable, on

After a time a new conjecture brought him to his feet.  To solve it he would go to the pond.  If he had truly been there and done this appalling thing, he would know it by the empty imprint of the boulder he had taken from its resting place of years.  If he had not, then Isabel had fled to her mother and would be found with her in the morning, and the blot of her murder, though it blackened his soul, was yet not on his hands.

He went to the water, and soon he came again with the step and face of one called out of his grave.  Slowly he counted the disordered coverings of his wife’s couch, stood a moment in desolate perplexity, and then went quickly and counted those of his own.  A sheet and a blanket were gone.  He turned to a closet and supplied the lack, and then paced the floor until dawn.

Before the servants were fairly astir he laid away the clothing Isabel had put off, and contrived to leave the house and pass through the arbor unseen until he reached its farther end; but there Mrs. Morris, in a dressing gown, opened to him before he could knock.  She forced her usual laugh, but he saw the white preparedness of her face.

“She knows my crime,” he thought, and was in agony to guess how she had got the knowledge and what she would do with it.

“Why, Arthur,” she sweetly began, “what brings you”-But her throat closed.

“Mother,” he interrupted emotionally as they shut themselves in, “is Isabel here?”

“Isabel?-No-o!  Why-why, Arthur, she went home last night before ten o’clock!” The little lady knew her acting was not good, but it was better than she had hoped to make it.  “Arthur Winslow! don’t tell me my child is not at home!  Oh, my heavens!”

“Wait, mother; listen.  I beseech you.  Do you absolutely know she’s not here?”

“I know it!  Oh, Arthur, are you only trying to break bad news to me by littles?  Has Isabel destroyed herself?  Has she fled?” The inquirer played well now; her pallor, that had seemed to accuse him, was gone, and her question offered a cue which he greedily took.

“Fled?  Isabel!  Destroyed herself,-that spotless soul?  Oh no, no, no!  But Oh merciful God!  I am afraid she has been stolen!” He sank into a seat and dropped his face into his hands.

The maid’s steps sounded overhead, and he started up.  Mrs. Morris laid a hand on his arm.  She was pale again, but her words were reassuring.

“It’s Minnie,” she murmured:  “let me go and see her.  She’ll not be surprised; I’m always the first one up.”  She went, and was soon back again.

“There is no time to lose”-Arthur began.

“No, you must go.  Go search for every clue that will tell us a word of her; but, whatever you do, let no one, not even Sarah, know she is missing, until we know enough ourselves to protect her from every shadow of reproach!”

“True! true! right! right!” said Arthur, while with secret terror he cried to himself:  “This woman knows!  She knows, she knows, and all this is make-believe, put on to gain time!”

But he saw no safer course than to help on the sham.  “Right,” he said again; “only, mother, dear, how shall we hide her absence?”

“We needn’t hide it.  You know she got another telegram last night, begging her to come at once to the wedding.  We can say she went on this morning’s train, before day; it makes such good Southern connections.  And now go! make your search with all your might! and after a while I’ll come over and pack a trunk full of her things, and express it South, just as if she were there, and had gone so hurriedly that-Don’t you see?”

Arthur said he saw it all, but he did not; he saw much that was not, and much that was he saw not.  He did not see that the dust of the old street, and of the new town as well, was on Mrs. Morris’s shoes; and that Isabel, in a gown which she had left at the cottage when she went to be mistress of his home, was really on the train, bound South.

Dropping all pretence of having any search to make, he hurried back to his own room, and by and by told the pleasantly astonished Sarah and Giles the simple truth as Mrs. Morris had put it into his mouth, but told it in the firm belief that he was covering a hideous crime with an all but transparent lie.

After a false show of breakfasting he went into his study,-“to work on his sermon,” he said; but did nothing there but pace the floor, hold his head, and whisper, “It will not last an hour after he has heard it,” and, “O God, have mercy!  Oh, my wife, my wife!  Oh, my brain, my brain!”