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The Master of Silence: A Romance, a novel by Irving Bacheller

Chapter 9

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Painful as had been our introduction to polite society, the reaction which followed it was scarcely less so. Next day we stayed indoors until evening, when we ventured out for a walk with fear and trembling lest the newspapers had already increased our fame and our mortification. The twilight of a cloudless autumn day was closing in upon the city, and the keen, bracing winds which sweep over the American metropolis from the sea brought the color to our faces. We walked down Broadway, now quite deserted, in silence, and as we were passing Wallack's Theatre Rayel stopped suddenly, and stood for a moment looking into the brightly lighted foyer. Stepping in, he beckoned me to follow. I immediately saw what had attracted his eye, for on an easel just inside the entrance was the portrait of our woman. On a placard below the picture was the name "Edna Bronson." Our surprise was mingled with sad regret at seeing it playing a false part to serve the ends of an unscrupulous manager.

"Perhaps she is here! suddenly exclaimed Rayel.

"That is very unlikely," I answered, "but we shall see."

I bought tickets for the evening's performance and we hastened home, strangely elated, to dress for the play.

Our seats were in one of the lower proscenium boxes and quite clearly exposed to the gaze of the thousands who filled the theatre in winding rows, ascending and receding to the roof high above us. The garish decorations, the gay throng bedizened with jewels sparkling in the light and the hundreds of fair faces and bright eyes that were turned toward us presented a spectacle entirely new to Rayel. Shortly the curtain rose and the play began. Its first scene was a counterfeit of real stage life in an English theatre. An important performance is impending and at the last moment both the leading lady and her understudy are suddenly taken ill. The management is in a quandary. In the midst of its confusion the stage carpenter suggests that he has a daughter who can play the part. When this functionary came upon the scene my interest in the play began to wax stronger. Hester Chaffin's father had been a stage carpenter, and this turn in the scene startled me not a little after having found our picture in the foyer.

The carpenter's suggestion is at first treated with ridicule. He insists that she has learned the part from witnessing the rehearsals, and urges the managers to give her a trial. The performance must begin in four hours or be postponed. It is found that the costumes prepared for the part will fit the young lady. They consent to try her, the company is hastily summoned together for rehearsal, and the curtain falls on the first act. The audience waited impatiently for it to rise again and show what fortune might have in store for the carpenter's daughter, but of all that audience I was probably the most impatient.

"There is the Count," whispered Rayel, directing my attention to the opposite box. The diabolical little Frenchman was there, sure enough, sitting next to the rail, and sweeping the audience with his opera-glasses.

Soon the curtain was rung up and the rehearsal began which was to test the powers of the venturesome young lady. Suddenly she appears at the rear of the stage dressed for her part in Elizabethan costume. She is greeted with loud applause, and she stands a moment, waiting for silence. The lights have been turned down and I cannot see her face distinctly. Before the last ripple of applause is quieted, she advances down the centre of the stage and begins to speak her lines. That voice! What is there in it that thrills me so strangely? When she ceases speaking she is standing almost within reach of my hand. Suddenly her eyes meet mine and I see Hester Chaffin standing there on the stage and looking into my face. She recognizes me, for she seems confused and proceeds with evident embarrassment.

I turned to Rayel--he, too, was deeply moved by this great surprise.

"Our woman has come to life," said he, in tremulous whispers. "I knew we would see her sometime."

How she had changed! She was little more than a child when I saw her last: now she was almost a woman, but not more beautiful than when I bade her good-by in the moonlight at her father's gate--long, long ago, it seemed to me now. Was the scene I had witnessed a passage in her own life since I had left Liverpool? At the close of the act an usher carried my card to her. Presently I was summoned to one of the corridors where a lady was waiting for me.

"Is this Kendric Lane?" she asked, extending her hand.

"It is," I responded.

"I have heard of you often. Miss Bronson is an old acquaintance of yours, whom you knew as Hester Chaffin. Would you like to see her?"

"I wish to see her to-night, if possible," said I.

"May I ask you, then, to go to this address and wait for us until the performance is over? Hand this card to the night clerk of the hotel and he will show you to our rooms."

Scribbling a few words upon the card, she gave it to me, and hurried behind the scenes.

Rayel and I immediately left the theatre and walked to our apartments. The play would soon be over and we had no time to lose. On the way home I noticed that he frequently turned about and peered through the darkness as if expecting some one to join us. He said nothing, however, and as I was so preoccupied by my own thoughts, I did not ask for whom he was looking.

"Shall I not go with you?" he asked, when we had reached home.

"You had better wait up for me; I shall not be gone long," I answered.

"I can walk back again when we get there, or perhaps I can wait for you in the hotel?" said he.

He was not yet accustomed to life in a great city, and it did not seem wise, either, to permit him to walk home alone, or to wait for me in the hotel among strangers. He did not seem quite content to stay, however, and there was a troubled expression on his face, which was new to it, and which I could not put out of my mind after I had left the house. The hotel to which I had been directed was on Union Square. It was not far from our apartments, and I intended to walk there, but I had not gone half a block before the street was lit up with a vivid flash of lightning, followed by deafening thunder, and the wind blew damp in my face. I hurried toward Third Avenue, intending to mount one of the horse cars going down-town, but suddenly a fierce gust of wind swept over me, sowing great drops of rain along the pavement. I looked about for a cab. The street was deserted and so dark that I could see nothing except the gloomy rows of brown stone that stood on either side. While I was looking backward another flash of lightning illumined the street. What man was that coming in the distance? Was it Rayel? No, that was scarcely possible. I had only caught a momentary glimpse of him in the quick flash. He was tall and erect like Rayel, and I thought the hat was his. But my imagination must have tricked me after all, for nothing showed clearly. I walked back a few steps and listened. I could hear no footsteps, but then he might have followed me, and I ought to be sure. So I called, "Rayel! Rayel!" twice, and waited for an answer, but could hear none. I had not time to go back to our rooms, as Hester was undoubtedly waiting for me now, and Rayel was certainly not the man I had seen, or he would have answered me. So I hurried along without giving any further thought to my fears. But where was Third Avenue? Its character was not then so sharply defined as in these days of elevated rail-roads--perhaps I had passed it. I had already walked a long distance, and I had not yet recognized that thoroughfare. I could hear footsteps behind me and I determined to wait a moment and inquire my way.

"I am going there--walk along with me," said the man whom I questioned. Just then we passed under a street lamp. I observed that he wore a large coat and muffler and that he was walking under an umbrella. Another man, also under an umbrella, fell in with us at the next corner. As we walked along in silence I heard some person coming at a run down the street quite a distance behind us. I was listening to this sound when I received a terrific blow on the back of the head. I fell forward, one side of my face striking heavily upon the pavement. Strangely enough, I seemed unable to make any outcry, but I had not lost consciousness, for, as I lay with my face resting on the wet stones, I could feel the rain drops falling on it. I could hear those quick footsteps coming nearer. Yes, I could hear Rayel's voice shouting in a loud and angry tone, but, try as I would, I could not utter a sound. As I listened, the two men clutched me with strong hands and dragged me through an open door, which quickly closed behind them. It was no sooner shut than Rayel threw himself against it with terrific force. I could hear the door groan and shake under the strain. Once--twice, I was struck with cruel force upon the head--then a loud roaring in my ears drowned everything.

I can remember well the first return of consciousness. It was like the slow breaking of dawn in the sky. I could hear voices singing:

Hark! hark! my soul! angelic voices swelling O'er earth's green fields and ocean's wave-beat shore.

I could just distinguish those words. Where was I? Strange thoughts began trooping through my mind. Then a great wave of emotion swept over me. I could hear a low moaning sound that came from my own throat. I could feel the hot tears rolling down my cheeks. A gentle hand was brushing them away and some one was speaking to me. I was lying on a soft bed. A sweet-faced woman was bending over me, whom I had never seen before.

"Where am I?"

"In the hospital," she answered.

"The singing--who is singing?" I asked.

"It is the chapel choir," she answered; "the services are nearly over now. It is Sunday."

"Is Rayel here?"

"Your friend? yes, he has been with you every day."

"How long?"

"Almost a month."

I tried to ask other questions, but a drowsy feeling overcame me and I fell asleep.

When I awoke again Rayel was sitting beside me. As I opened my eyes he leaned over and kissed my hands.

"They thought you were dead once," he said; "but I knew you were not dead--I knew you were not dead." I lay for a moment trying to collect my thoughts. My head was in tight bandages and something was binding my chest.

"Where is Hester?" I asked. Rayel did not answer. He was not there, but somebody was holding one of my hands. It was a lady kneeling beside me, her face leaning forward upon the bed. Who could it be? I closed my eyes and listened to the rustling of withered leaves outside the window, and the low humming of insects in the autumn sun. These were prophetic sounds, and they opened the gates of thought and memory. A new life was coming now. What was it to be? Again I felt myself drifting into sleep. I tried to keep my eyes open and resist the drowsiness that overcame me, but in vain. When I awoke Rayel had returned.

"You have slept a long time," said he.

"When I fell asleep a lady was here."

"Yes, it was our 'Woman,'" he replied--"the lady you love. She has come every day to see you."

"Where is she now?"

"She had to go away, but she will soon come back again."

"Who brought me here?"

"I broke down the door--I found you there. You could not see me nor speak to me, but I knew you were not dead. The men were gone. I carried you out into the street. A policeman met me, and I told him what had happened. Then the ambulance came and we put you into it, and you were brought here. For a long time you lay like my father after he was dead. Your face was white--like snow. They had stabbed you in the side--they would have killed you if I had not broken the door."

"Who struck me?" I asked.

"I knew," he said, his eyes flashing, "I knew the devil was in their heads--that is why I wished to go with you. They followed us that night."

"Who?" I asked, eagerly.

"The Count de Montalle and another man."

My cousin's answer amazed me.

"Have you made known your suspicions?" I asked.

"No. I have been waiting to talk with you first."

"Do not speak of it yet to any one," I said. "Let us await developments."

I foresaw that Rayel would only get a reputation for insanity if pressed to the point of explaining his suspicions. It seemed quite likely, also, that any futile discussion of the subject would defeat justice.

That day brought me a letter from Hester, whom I had been looking for with much impatience since I had begun to feel more like myself. She would shortly have fulfilled all her professional engagements, and would then return at once to New York. "I wonder," she added, somewhat coquettishly, "if you will be glad to see me." On this point there was no doubt in my mind, and although my strength increased rapidly, the days passed with tedious slowness after that.

I was sitting by the window one morning, looking out upon the moving throng in the opposite street, when the door of my room was suddenly opened. I supposed that one of the physicians had come to see me, and I waited for him to speak.


It was Rayel who spoke my name, but somehow his voice did not seem quite natural, and I turned to greet him.

"This is our 'Woman,'" said he, advancing toward me with Hester upon his arm.

I rose feebly to my feet, confused by the sudden announcement, and took her extended hand. We looked into each other's eyes for a moment without speaking. My own were rapidly filling with tears, and I could see her but dimly.

"What a fine outlook you have!" she said, in a tremulous voice, turning suddenly to the window and looking out upon the trees now half stripped of their foliage by the autumn winds. We both stood staring out of the window in silence. For my part, I could not have spoken if I had known what to say. How she had changed! The blushing little miss who had awakened the pangs of first love in my youthful heart was a beautiful young woman, now full grown and arrayed in costly finery. Rayel was the first to speak.

"You must be glad to meet again--you have loved each other so long," said he.

Honest Rayel! He knew our hearts--their longings, their histories, and also the vanity and pride that dwelt in them. Why should there be any concealment between her and me?

"It has been a long time--a very long time to me, Hester, for I have loved you ever since we first met."

She turned toward me, her eyes filled with tears, and I drew her to my heart and kissed her fondly.

"We have only known each other as children, Kendric," said she. "Your heart may change and mine may change--let us wait and see."

Then she left us, promising to come again next day. _

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Read previous: Chapter 8

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