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- The Judgment House - 50/85 -
couldn't think that you could be so careless of your opportunities, or that I would pay for the candle without burning it."
"On the contrary, I think they would believe anything you told them."
She laughed happily. "Wouldn't you like to call me Alice, 'same as ever,' in the days of long ago? It would make me feel at home after Gleg's icy welcome."
He smiled, looked down at her with admiration, and quoted some lines of Swinburne, alive with cynicism:
"And the worst and the best of this is, That neither is most to blame If she has forgotten my kisses, And I have forgotten her name."
Lady Tynemouth made a plaintive gesture. "I should probably be able to endure the bleak present, if there had been any kisses in the sunny past," she rejoined, with mock pathos. "That's the worst of our friendship, Ian. I'm quite sure the world thinks I'm one of your spent flames, and there never was any fire, not so big as the point of a needle, was there? It's that which hurts so now, little Ian Stafford--not so much fire as would burn on the point of a needle."
"'On the point of a needle,'" Ian repeated, half-abstractedly. He went over to his writing-desk, and, opening a blotter, regarded it meditatively for an instant. As he did so she tapped the floor impatiently with her umbrella, and looked at him curiously, but with a little quirk of humour at the corners of her mouth.
"The point of a needle might carry enough fire to burn up a good deal," he said, reflectively. Then he added, slowly: "Do you remember Mr. Mappin and his poisoned needle at Glencader?"
"Yes, of course. That was a day of tragedy, when you and Rudyard Byng won a hundred Royal Humane Society medals, and we all felt like martyrs and heroes. I had the most creepy dreams afterwards. One night it was awful. I was being tortured with Mr. Mappin's needle horribly by--guess whom? By that half-caste Krool, and I waked up with a little scream, to find Tynie busy pinching me. I had been making such a wurra-wurra, as he called it."
"Well, it is a startling idea that there's poison powerful enough to make a needle-point dipped in it deadly."
"I don't believe it a bit, but--"
Pausing, she flicked a speck of fluff from her black dress--she was all in black, with only a stole of pure white about her shoulders. "But tell me," she added, presently--"for it's one of the reasons why I'm here now--what happened at the inquest to-day? The evening papers are not out, and you were there, of course, and gave evidence, I suppose. Was it very trying? I'm sure it was, for I've never seen you look so pale. You are positively haggard, Ian. You don't mind that from an old friend, do you? You look terribly ill, just when you should look so well."
"Why should I look so well?" He gazed at her steadily. Had she any glimmering of the real situation? She was staying now in Byng's house, and two days had gone since the world had gone wrong; since Jasmine had sunk to the floor unconscious as Al'mah sang, "More was lost at Mohacksfield."
"Why should you look so well? Because you are the coming man, they say. It makes me so proud to be your friend--even your neglected, if not quite discarded, friend. Every one says you have done such splendid work for England, and that now you can have anything you want. The ball is at your feet. Dear man, you ought to look like a morning-glory, and not as you do. Tell me, Ian, are you ill, or is it only the reaction after all you've done?"
"No doubt it's the reaction," he replied.
"I know you didn't like Adrian Fellowes much," she remarked, watching him closely. "He behaved shockingly at the Glencader Mine affair--shockingly. Tynie was for pitching him out of the house, and taking the consequences; but, all the same, a sudden death like that all alone must have been dreadful. Please tell me, what was the verdict?"
"Heart failure was the verdict; with regret for a promising life cut short, and sympathy with the relatives."
"I never heard that he had heart trouble," was the meditative response. "But--well, of course, it was heart failure. When the heart stops beating, there's heart failure. What a silly verdict!"
"It sounded rather worse than silly," was Ian's comment.
"Did--did they cut him up, to see if he'd taken morphia, or an overdose of laudanum or veronal or something? I had a friend who died of taking quantities of veronal while you were abroad so long--a South American, she was."
He nodded. "It was all quite in order. There were no signs of poison, they said, but the heart had had a shock of some kind. There had been what they called lesion, and all that kind of thing, and not sufficient strength for recovery."
"I suppose Mr. Mappin wasn't present?" she asked, curiously. "I know it is silly in a way, but don't you remember how interested Mr. Fellowes was in that needle? Was Mr. Mappin there?"
"There was no reason why he should be there."
"What witnesses were called?"
"Myself and the porter of Fellowes' apartments, his banker, his doctor--"
"And Al'mah?" she asked, obliquely.
He did not reply at once, but regarded her inquiringly.
"You needn't be afraid to speak about Al'mah," she continued. "I saw something queer at Glencader. Then I asked Tynie, and he told me that--well, all about her and Adrian Fellowes. Was Al'mah there? Did she give evidence?"
"She was there to be called, if necessary," he responded, "but the coroner was very good about it. After the autopsy the authorities said evidence was unnecessary, and--"
"You arranged that, probably?"
"Yes; it was not difficult. They were so stupid--and so kind."
She smoothed out the folds of her dress reflectively, then got up as if with sudden determination, and came near to him. Her face was pale now, and her eyes were greatly troubled.
"Ian," she said, in a low voice, "I don't believe that Adrian Fellowes died a natural death, and I don't believe that he killed himself. He would not have that kind of courage, even in insanity. He could never go insane. He could never care enough about anything to do so. He--did--not--kill--himself. There, I am sure of it. And he did not die a natural death, either."
"Who killed him?" Ian asked, his face becoming more drawn, but his eyes remaining steady and quiet.
She put her hand to her eyes for a moment. "Oh, it all seems so horrible! I've tried to shake it off, and not to think my thoughts, and I came to you to get fresh confidence; but as soon as I saw your face I knew I couldn't have it. I know you are upset too, perhaps not by the same thoughts, but through the same people."
"Tell me all you think or know. Be quite frank," he said, heavily. "I will tell you why later. It is essential that you should be wholly frank with me."
"As I have always been. I can't be anything else. Anyhow, I owe you so much that you have the right to ask me what you will.... There it is, the fatal thing," she added.
Her eyes were raised to the red umbrella which had nearly carried her over into the cauldron of the Zambesi Falls.
"No, it is the world that owes me a heavy debt," he responded, gallantly. "I was merely selfish in saving you."
Her eyes filled with tears, which she brushed away with a little laugh.
"Ah, how I wish it was that! I am just mean enough to want you to want me, while I didn't want you. That's the woman, and that's all women, and there's no getting away from it. But still I would rather you had saved me than any one else who wasn't bound, like Tynie, to do so."
"Well, it did seem absurd that you should risk so much to keep a sixpenny umbrella," he rejoined, drily.
"How we play on the surface while there's so much that is wearing our hearts out underneath," she responded, wearily. "Listen, Ian, you know what I mean. Whoever killed Adrian Fellowes, or didn't, I am sure that Jasmine saw him dead. Three nights ago when she fainted and went ill to bed, I stayed with her, slept in the same room, in the bed beside hers. The opiate the doctor gave her was not strong enough, and two or three times she half waked, and--and it was very painful. It made my heart ache, for I knew it wasn't all dreams. I am sure she saw Adrian Fellowes lying dead in his room.... Ian, it is awful, but for some reason she hated him, and she saw him lying dead. If any one knows the truth, you know. Jasmine cares for you--no, no, don't mind my saying it. She didn't care a fig for Mennaval, or any of the others, but she does care for you--cares for you. She oughtn't to, but she does, and she should have married you long ago before Rudyard Byng came. Please don't think I am interfering, Ian. I am not. You never had a better friend than I am. But there's something ghastly wrong. Rudyard is looking like a giant that's had blood-letting, and he never goes near Jasmine, except when some one is with her. It's a bad sign when two people must have some third person about to insulate their self-consciousness and prevent those fatal moments when they have to be just their own selves, and have it out."
"You think there's been trouble between them?" His voice was quite steady, his manner composed.
"I don't think quite that. But there is trouble in that palace. Rudyard is going to South Africa."
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