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The Mayor's Wife

19. The Cry From The Stairs
I was alone in the library when Nixon returned. He must have seen Mrs. Packard
go up before he left, for he passed by without stopping, and the next moment I
heard his foot on the stairs.
Some impulse made me step into the hall and cast a glance at his ascending
figure. I could see only his back, but there was something which I did not like in
the curve of that back and the slide of his hand as it moved along the stair-rail.
His was not an open nature at the best. I almost forgot the importance of his
errand in watching the man himself. Had he not been a servant--but he was, and
an old and foolishly fussy one. I would not imagine follies, only I wished I could
follow him into Mrs. Packard's presence.
His stay, however, was too short for much to have been gained thereby. Almost
immediately he reappeared, shaking his head and looking very, much disturbed,
and I was watching his pottering descent when he was startled, and I was
startled, by two cries which rang out simultaneously from above, one of pain and
distress from the room he had just left, and one expressive of the utmost glee
from the lips of the baby whom the nursemaid was bringing down from the upper
Appalled by the anguish expressed in the mother's cry, I was bounding up-stairs
when my course was stopped by one of the most poignant sights it has ever
been my lot to witness. Mrs. Packard had heard her child's laugh, and flying from
her room had met the little one on the threshold of her door and now, crying and
sobbing, was kneeling with the child in her arms in the open space at the top of
the stairs. Her paroxysm of grief, wild and unconstrained as it was, gave less hint
of madness than of intolerable suffering.
Wondering at an abandonment which bespoke a grief too great for all further
concealment, I glanced again at Nixon. He had paused in the middle of the
staircase and was looking back in a dubious way denoting hesitation. But as the
full force of the tragic scene above made itself Felt in his slow mind, he showed a
disposition to escape and tremblingly continued his descent. He was nearly upon
me when he caught my eye. A glare awoke in his, and seeing his right arm rise
threateningly, I thought he would certainly strike me. But he slid by without doing
What did it mean? Oh, what did it all mean?