Read CHAPTER XVIII of The Breaking Point, free online book, by Mary Roberts Rinehart, on ReadCentral.com.

Dick stood with the letter in his hand, staring at it.  Who was Bassett?  Who was “G”?  What had the departure of whoever Bassett might be for Norada to do with David?  And who was the person who was to be got out of town?

He did not go upstairs.  He took the letter into his private office, closed the door, and sitting down at his desk turned his reading lamp on it, as though that physical act might bring some mental light.

Reread, the cryptic sentences began to take on meaning.  An unknown named Bassett, whoever he might be, was going to Norada bent on “mischief,” and another unknown who signed himself “G” was warning David of that fact.  But the mischief was designed, not against David, but against a third unknown, some one who was to be got out of town.

David had been trying to get him out of town. ­The warning referred to himself.

His first impulse was to go to David, and months later he was to wonder what would have happened had he done so.  How far could Bassett have gone?  What would have been his own decision when he learned the truth?

For a little while, then, the shuttle was in Dick’s own hand.  He went up to David’s room, and with his hand on the letter in his pocket, carried on behind his casual talk the debate that was so vital.  But David had a headache and a slightly faster pulse, and that portion of the pattern was never woven.

The association between anxiety and David’s illness had always been apparent in Dick’s mind, but now he began to surmise a concrete shock, a person, a telegram, or a telephone call.  And after dinner that night he went back to the kitchen.

“Minnie,” he inquired, “do you remember the afternoon Doctor David was taken sick?”

“I’ll never forget it.”

“Did he receive a telegram that day?”

“Not that I know of.  He often answers the bell himself.”

“Do you know whether he had a visitor, just before you heard him fall?”

“He had a patient, yes.  A man.”

“Who was it?”

“I don’t know.  He was a stranger to me.”

“Do you remember what he looked like?”

Minnie reflected.

“He was a smallish man, maybe thirty-five or so,” she said.  “I think he had gaiters over his shoes, or maybe light tops.  He was a nice appearing person.”

“How soon after that did you hear Doctor David fall?”

“Right away.  First the door slammed, and then he dropped.”

Poor old David!  Dick had not the slightest doubt now that David had received some unfortunate news, and that up there in his bedroom ever since, alone and helpless, he had been struggling with some secret dread he could not share with any one.  Not even with Lucy, probably.

Nevertheless, Dick made a try with Lucy that evening.

“Aunt Lucy,” he said, “do you know of anything that could have caused David’s collapse?”

“What sort of thing?” she asked guardedly.

“A letter, we’ll say, or a visitor?”

When he saw that she was only puzzled and thinking back, he knew she could not help him.

“Never mind,” he said.  “I was feeling about for some cause.  That’s all.”

He was satisfied that Lucy knew no more than he did of David’s visitor, and that David had kept his own counsel ever since.  But the sense of impending disaster that had come with the letter did not leave him.  He went through his evening office hours almost mechanically, with a part of his mind busy on the puzzle.  How did it affect the course of action he had marked out?  Wasn’t it even more necessary than ever now to go to Walter Wheeler and tell him how things stood?  He hated mystery.  He liked to walk in the middle of the road in the sunlight.  But even stronger than that was a growing feeling that he needed a sane and normal judgment on his situation; a fresh viewpoint and some unprejudiced advice.

He visited David before he left, and he was very gentle with him.  In view of this new development he saw David from a different angle, facing and dreading something imminent, and it came to him with a shock that he might have to clear things up to save David.  The burden, whatever it was, was breaking him.

He had telephoned, and Mr. Wheeler was waiting for him.  Walter Wheeler thought he knew what was coming, and he had well in mind what he was going to say.  He had thought it over, pacing the floor alone, with the dog at his heels.  He would say: 

“I like and respect you, Livingstone.  If you’re worrying about what these damned gossips say, let’s call it a day and forget it.  I know a man when I see one, and if it’s all right with Elizabeth it’s all right with me.”

Things, however, did not turn out just that way.  Dick came in, grave and clearly preoccupied, and the first thing he said was: 

“I have a story to tell you, Mr. Wheeler.  After you’ve heard it, and given me your opinion on it, I’ll come to a matter that ­well, that I can’t talk about now.”

“If it’s the silly talk that I daresay you’ve heard ­”

“No.  I don’t give a damn for talk.  But there is something else.  Something I haven’t told Elizabeth, and that I’ll have to tell you.”

Walter Wheeler drew himself up rather stiffly.  Leslie’s defection was still in his mind.

“Don’t tell me you’re tangled up with another woman.”

“No.  At least I think not.  I don’t know.”

It is doubtful if Walter Wheeler grasped many of the technicalities that followed.  Dick talked and he listened, nodding now and then, and endeavoring very hard to get the gist of the matter.  It seemed to him curious rather than serious.  Certainly the mind was a strange thing.  He must read up on it.  Now and then he stopped Dick with a question, and Dick would break in on his narrative to reply.  Thus, once: 

“You’ve said nothing to Elizabeth at all?  About the walling off, as you call it?”

“No.  At first I was simply ashamed of it.  I didn’t want her to get the idea that I wasn’t normal.”

“I see.”

“Now, as I tell you, I begin to think ­I’ve told you that this walling off is an unconscious desire to forget something too painful to remember.  It’s practically always that.  I can’t go to her with just that, can I?  I’ve got to know first what it is.”

“I’d begun to think there was an understanding between you.”

Dick faced him squarely.

“There is.  I didn’t intend it.  In fact, I was trying to keep away from her.  I didn’t mean to speak to her until I’d cleared things up.  But it happened anyhow; I suppose the way those things always happen.”

It was Walter Wheeler’s own decision, finally, that he go to Norada with Dick as soon as David could be safely left.  It was the letter which influenced him.  Up to that he had viewed the situation with a certain detachment; now he saw that it threatened the peace of two households.

“It’s a warning, all right.”

“Yes.  Undoubtedly.”

“You don’t recognize the name Bassett?”

“No.  I’ve tried, of course.”

The result of some indecision was finally that Elizabeth should not be told anything until they were ready to tell it all.  And in the end a certain resentment that she had become involved in an unhappy situation died in Walter Wheeler before Dick’s white face and sunken eyes.

At ten o’clock the house-door opened and closed, and Walter Wheeler got up and went out into the hall.

“Go on upstairs, Margaret,” he said to his wife.  “I’ve got a visitor.”  He did not look at Elizabeth.  “You settle down and be comfortable,” he added, “and I’ll be up before long.  Where’s Jim?”

“I don’t know.  He didn’t go to Nina’s.”

“He started with you, didn’t he?”

“Yes.  But he left us at the corner.”

They exchanged glances.  Jim had been worrying them lately.  Strange how a man could go along for years, his only worries those of business, his track a single one through comfortable fields where he reaped only what he sowed.  And then his family grew up, and involved him without warning in new perplexities and new troubles.  Nina first, then Jim, and now this strange story which so inevitably involved Elizabeth.

He put his arm around his wife and held her to him.

“Don’t worry about Jim, mother,” he said.  “He’s all right fundamentally.  He’s going through the bad time between being a boy and being a man.  He’s a good boy.”

He watched her moving up the stairs, his eyes tender and solicitous.  To him she was just “mother.”  He had never thought of another woman in all their twenty-four years together.

Elizabeth waited near him, her eyes on his face.

“Is it Dick?” she asked in a low tone.

“Yes.”

“You don’t mind, daddy, do you?”

“I only want you to be happy,” he said rather hoarsely.  “You know that, don’t you?”

She nodded, and turned up her face to be kissed.  He knew that she had no doubt whatever that this interview was to seal her to Dick Livingstone for ever and ever.  She fairly radiated happiness and confidence.  He left her standing there going back to the living-room closed the door.