I paused, as soon as we reached the pavement, for a look about me. We were evidently in the fashionable quarter of the town. The street was wide, well-kept, and shaded by stately elms. The houses which stretched away on either hand had that spaciousness, that air of dignity and quiet, which bespeaks wealth and leisure. Here was no gaudy architecture, no flamboyant flourish of the newly-rich; rather the evidence of families long-settled in their present surroundings and long-accustomed to the luxuries of a cultured and generous existence.
But it was to the house directly before us that I gave the closest scrutiny. It was a large one, two-storied, with a wide veranda running across the entire front. It stood well back from the street, and was sheltered on each side by magnificent trees. The grounds seemed to be very extensive and were beautifully kept. Along the pavement, a curious crowd was loitering, kept in motion by a policeman, but staring at the house as though they expected to read the solution of the mystery in its inexpressive front.
Mr. Royce nodded to the officer, and we passed through the gate. As we went up the walk, I noticed that the blinds were closely drawn, as though it were a house of mourning—and, indeed, dead hopes enough lay there!
A maid admitted us, and when my companion inquired for Mr. Curtiss, led the way silently along the hall. In the dim light, I could see the decorations of palms and wreaths of smilax, relieved here and there by a mass of gorgeous bloom, and through a door to the right I caught a glimpse of many tables, set ready for the luncheon which was never to be eaten. There was something ghostly about the deserted rooms—something chilling in the thought of this arrested gaiety, these hopes for happiness so rudely shattered. It recalled that vision which had so astonished poor Pip—the vision of Miss Havisham, decked in her yellow wedding finery, sitting at her gilded dressing-table in the darkened room, with the bride-cake cobwebbed and mouldy, and the chairs set ready for the guests who were never to arrive. Only here, I reflected, the clocks should be stopped at noon, not at twenty minutes to nine!
And all the time I knew that it was not a nightmare, but grim reality; that Philip Vantine was dead—killed by a woman. Who had told me that? And then I remembered the sobbing voice….
Two or three persons came into the room—Parks and the other servants, I suppose; I heard Godfrey's voice giving orders; and finally someone held a glass to my lips and commanded me to drink. I did so mechanically; coughed, spluttered, was conscious of a grateful warmth, and drank eagerly again. And then I saw Godfrey standing over me.
"Feel better?" he asked.
As I threw off coat and hat and dropped into the chair before my desk, I could see the heat-waves quivering up past the open windows from the fiery street below. I turned away and closed my eyes, and tried to evoke a vision of white surf falling upon the beach, of tall trees swaying in the breeze, of a brook dropping gently between green banks.
"Fountains that frisk and sprinkle The moss they overspill; Pools that the breezes crinkle,"...