Regenia had retired earlier than usual the evening of Mrs. Levitt's mysterious disappearance, therefore she did not learn of her absence until the next morning at breakfast. She had felt some surprise before coming down to her morning's meal that she had not heard the usual rap upon her chamber door and the usual admonition, "It is time to rise, my dear." "Where is Mrs. Levitt?" she enquired of a servant, as she unfolded her napkin and prepared to eat breakfast.
"In her room, I suppose," answered the person addressed. "She has not been down—perhaps she is sick," suggested the servant. "Shall I go and see?"
"Never mind; I will go myself," replied Regenia, feeling that if anything had gone wrong with Mrs. Levitt, the matter required her immediate attention.
"Pushing back her chair, she hastened to Mrs. Levitt's chamber, and after knocking, first gently, then more imperatively, she ventured to open the door. Not finding Mrs. Levitt, she rapidly retraced her steps to the dining-room, where she informed the astonished servant of the fruitlessness of her search.
"Were you awake when Mrs. Levitt returned from church?" she asked excitedly of the servant.
"I did not hear her come in," was the answer. "I remained up reading an interesting story until long after church was out."
"I wonder where she could have gone," said Regenia, tears slowly trickling down her cheeks. "Do you suppose anything has happened to her?" she asked, drying her eyes on the napkin.
"If she was at church, perhaps the rector knows something about her. I will run over there and find out if she was a church," she said, rising. Throwing a shawl around her shoulders and weeping as she went, with flying feet she started for the rectory. "Was Mrs. Levitt at church last night?" she asked the minister's wife as soon as the door was opened to admit the excited girl. The rector, hearing the question, also came to the door.
"Come in and compose yourself," he said kindly. "Mrs. Levitt was in her usual place last night, did she not return after services?"
"I do not know, but she is not at home this morning, and we are at a loss to account for her absence," Regenia replied, with increasing composure.
"She was certainly in church," remarked the rector's wife, for I saw her turn down the street that leads to the "Elms."
Mrs. Levitt was known to be interest in charity work, and the rector therefore suggested, "She may have gone to some sick friend's house and the nature of the case detained her during the night."
To this remark Regenia made no reply, but aimlessly rising, she prepared to go. Both the rector and his wife bade the broken-hearted girl to cheer up, at the same time assuring her that Mrs. Levitt would return in her own good time with the very best excuse for the scare she had unwittingly given them.
From the rectory, Regenia directed her steps toward "Seven Corners." She did not think Dr. Leighton knew anything of Mrs. Levitt, but it was perfectly natural that she should appeal to him in the hour of her great misfortune.
"Good morning," he cried in his cheery way, as Regenia entered. "What has brought my fair cousin out so early this inclement morning?" he asked. Then, as if having just discovered her swollen eyes and tear-stained face, "Why, what's the matter? You are not ill?" he exclaimed, as she sat down in one of the large office chairs.
Regenia told him what the reader already knows that Dr. Leighton was well aware of, striving as she repeated the story to retain her self-possession.
The doctor listened to her plaintive recital with well feigned surprise and when she had concluded questioned her carefully concerning Mrs. Levitt's movements, her evening at the church, the rector's story and the general habits of her foster-mother.
When he had ascertained how much was known of Mrs. Levitt's movements on the previous evening, he sat for some time as if in contemplation of the best method to pursue to find the old lady and restore her to her friends.
"The rector is probably right," he said at last. "She must be detained somewhere on a pressing mission of mercy."
"The probability is hardly admissible," said Regenia thoughtfully. "It is so unlike Mrs. Levitt. If she were going to be absent all night, she would have come home first to tell me, however urgent the call. She knows too well what a fright her failure to return from church would occasion."
"Now that my poor aunt is no more," said Dr. Leighton, "it may be that Mrs. Levitt feels that she is not obliged to give such a strict account of her doings. The most trusted servants grow careless when the pressure from the parlor is removed."
"Mrs. Levitt was never a servant in our house," spiritedly objected Regenia. "She has never been obliged to give any account of her movements."
"If she was not a servant, what was she?" asked the doctor, unable to hide his annoyance. "I confess my inability to understand your fine distinctions. She lived with you and assisted in the direction of the affairs of the house. If she was not my aunt's equal she must have been an inferior; in other words, a servant. I mean no discredit to the old woman," he said in an apologizing way, as Regenia arose to leave.
"I do not know what you consider her, but she has been everything to me—mother, companion and friend, and on these terms she shall remain," replied Regenia.
"If we are able to find her," said the doctor laughingly. He bade her as she left the office, to try and compose herself. "If anything can be done to find Mrs. Levitt, you may depend upon me to do it." He promised to advertise in the evening paper, offering a reward for any information concerning Mrs. Levitt and to forthwith put detectives on the case, providing they suspected foul play.
With laggard steps and heavy heart, Regenia returned home from her bootless search. For the first time during her short life she realized what it is to be alone in the world. All that day she watched in vain, for Mrs. Levitt's return. Every footfall that reached her ears, she hoped marked the coming of her dear old friend. The day slowly wore away, and night came, but brought no news to Regenia of the much desired object of her solicitation. Dr. Leighton came over, early in the evening, only to inquire if the lost had been heard from. The rector's wife also came over to cheer the young girl and strive to revive her drooping spirits.
So the first night came and went and the next day and the next week, until poor Regenia, despairing, gave up all hope of ever again seeing her friend. With a grief that could not be consoled, she passed her days in waiting; her nights in weeping. From a bright, happy girl, in a few weeks she had grown prematurely settled. She looked years older than she did the day we first saw her standing on the steps of the "Elms" saucily allaying the thirst of Clement St. John and Lotus Stone.
One morning about two weeks after the search for Mrs. Levitt commenced, Dr. Leighton called. Regenia's heart beat high with swelling hope as she saw him enter the gate. A glance at his face assured her he was on no unimportant mission. She was certain he brought news of Mrs. Levitt's whereabouts.
"You have heard something from Mrs. Levitt," she said, as the doctor followed her into the library.
"I am sorry to say, that I have not," replied the Doctor, making no attempt to dissemble his annoyance, that the girl seemed to think of nothing but her old nurse. "I am here on business of quite a different nature."
Regenia interest immediately subsided. "If he knows nothing of Mrs. Levitt," she thought, "anything else he has to say is of no consequence."
"You do not ask the purpose of my business," he said, piqued at the awkward silence which followed his first affirmation.
"I am waiting," she said spiritlessly.
"Did it every occur to you that at sometime Mrs. Underwood's business would have to be settled and her last intentions concerning the distribution of her estates ascertained?"
he asked sharply.
"I never gave the matter a moment's consideration. Grandmother had no child, but mother," she continued, lowering her voice, "and my mother none but me. I naturally supposed—" she hesitatingly added—"there was no one else to inherit what she left."
"Very true from your standpoint, and if things could be adjusted in that simple direct way, writing wills would be a waste of energy," replied the Doctor, with a forced laugh which made Regenia shudder and wish for Mrs. Levitt.
"Mrs. Levitt knew more of grandmother's wishes than anyone else; if she were only here," sighed the puzzled girl.
"Mrs. Levitt can not be found, it seems, but in her absence we may be able to find something more important. Where did my aunt keep her papers?" he said, at the same time rising and approaching a secretary in another part of the room.
"I do not know, but she often wrote at that desk," timidly replied Regenia.
Dr. Leighton opened the writing desk, and taking out the key proceeded to unlock and examine the contents of drawer after drawer. He at last drew forth a package, yellow with age, and, untying it, took out a paper, which, after looking over it a few moments, appeared to greatly agitate him.
"What is it?" said Regenia. "Have you found the will?"
"This seems to be it," said the doctor slowly, "but there seems to be some mistake. Look at it."
Regenia took up the document and had read but a short time before she dropped it with the exclamation: "Why this gives everything to you! Poor grandmother, how could she have felt so bitterly against me!"
"It was the expressed wish of Judge Underwood, she says here, and in keeping with a promise extracted from her by him on the day he died," said Dr. Leighton.
The severity of the conditions of the will did not dawn upon Regenia until Dr. Leighton said: "You need have no fears, I will always look after you. The will enjoins, as nothing could be left you directly, that I provide an allowance which is to be yours exclusively as long as you live."
"Mrs. Underwood had a right to leave my mother's portion to whoever she listed, but placing me on your bounty, Dr. Leighton, is beyond her power. If I am to be disinherited, I will not accept the verdict with recommendations to mercy."
"I willingly assume the responsibility," he said approaching and essaying to stroke her hair.
"I am not a child," she said, "and need no cajoling. I thank you very much for your generosity, but I do not feel that I can accept anything from you on the terms set forth in that will."
"You are entirely wrong, my dear," said the Doctor, attempting to take her hand. "I want to be a friend to you. Is it my fault that your mother made a wretched mistake?"
"Not another word," said Regenia. "Whatever my mother did, her child willingly accepts as right."
"But, my dear Regenia, you must let me explain," he said, throwing himself between the irate girl and the door through which she attempted to escape.
"Explanations are unnecessary," she said, waving him away. "I fear, Doctor, you will end by adding insult to injury."
"Don’t be a fool," said he, losing his temper. "Do you persist in your refusal of my offer?"
"I do," she replied. He stood aside and she passed through the door and with measured steps made her way upstairs.
Dr. Leighton smiled as she left, thinking how easily his scheme had worked. There was a degree of dissatisfaction, however, in the girl's refusal to accept the offered allowance. "I'll bring her around," he thought, as he helped himself into his overcoat and prepared to leave the house.
"Now to have the will probated and I take possession—nine points of the law," he chuckled.
Regenia went to her room no longer a girl. This last stroke of sorrow had made the girl a woman. To question the genuineness of the will Dr. Leighton had produced, never occurred to her. If an expert had examined it, he could have told her that its aged look was the work of a clever villain; that deft hands had forged the signature and that the very paper was placed in that drawer not a week previous to the day it was found. She had not been in her room five minutes before she had decided upon her course. Brushing away her tears, she began packing her trunk. If the property were Dr. Leighton's, she had no right to remain there another day. She must go away, but where? "I will go to Lucile," she said, half aloud.
She had a little money; she counted it over and found it was enough to pay her fare to Minton and a few dollars besides.
"When this is gone, what then?" she thought. "God will take care of me," she said devoutly.
Having packed her trunk she put on her wraps and prepared to leave. "An hour to train time," said she, consulting her watch. Before she left, she went into Mrs. Levitt's room, and kneeling there asked God's guidance and that the patient, loving disposition of Mrs. Levitt might fall upon her, and then, with streaming eyes, she left the house.
She ordered her trunks sent to the depot and in less than two hours after Dr. Leighton left her, she was flying toward Minton.
Chapter 14 -- Chapter 16