« ForrigeFortsæt »
occurring simultaneously, combined into a motive for immediate action.
Going up to the table he examined the quantity of milk that was in the jug. There was too much for his purpose; and as he saw no receptacle handy into which to pour some of it away and had no time to lose, he disposed of what was superfluous by drinking it. Then he took a couple of capsules, pierced them with the sharp point of his penknife, emptied the contents into the milk that was left, threw the empty little cases into the fire, and shook and stirred the jug. The milk bubbled for a few seconds, and was then apparently just the same as before, save for an almost imperceptible change of colour which was far too slight to be noticed in the waning light of a November afternoon. And then Reginald replaced the jug exactly where it had stood before and went back to his seat, believing that he had accomplished his object most satisfactorily and unseen by any eye except the cat's.
It happened, however, that some time previously Leah had borrowed a can from the oil-merchant, and had afterwards forgotten all about it till he to-day reminded her of the loan and asked to have it returned. She at once went back to fetch it; and remembering that she had left it out behind the house after washing, did not go indoors, but passed round outside. On her way she glanced in at the window, and saw Reginald standing by the table and handling the milk jug. But as her mind was pre-occupied about other matters it was not in a condition to reason just then about any fresh impression it might receive. Therefore it did not strike her that there was anything odd in his interfering with her milk, nor did she stop to watch him and see exactly what he did. When she rejoined him after her oil transactions were completed, she did not think of asking for an explanation of his proceedings during her absence, nor did she happen to allude to her having had to return for the borrowed can. And consequently when he presently said good-bye to her and left the cottage, he was in blissful unconsciousness of her having any knowledge or suspicion of his manipulations with the jug of milk.
He looked back on the visit he had just paid with great satisfaction, and thought he might safely congratulate himself on what would result from it. Even though he might have failed in convincing Leah, as he had tried to do, of his entertaining an ardent and undying affection for her, yet that would not matter now. He would not be in bondage to her any longer, for he had made arrangements which must inevitably lead to speedy emancipation. She was quite sure to drink that milk when she had her tea; and as the little addition which he had taken the liberty of making was tasteless and inodorous, she would not discover its presence, and would unsuspectingly
imbibe a deadly poison. She lived so completely alone that there was no danger of inconvenient spectators to notice effects and describe any symptoms that might indicate the poison. And he was not afraid of its telling tales at a post-mortem, because it was so subtle and quickly absorbed that it was certain to have disappeared before any such examination would be held in a remote part of the world like this, where there were only a lot of stupid, heavy boors to take action in any matter. She would be found dead; no one would know she had been poisoned; she would be supposed to have died in a fit; and there the thing would end. Ah! he flattered himself, he had struck his coup cunningly, and need no longer fear having the satisfaction of possessing Nant Olchfa spoilt by an eternal liability to the extortions and endearments of this fierce, ugly, coarse, herculean termagant, whom he loathed from the very bottom of his soul, and yet was forced to conciliate at all costs.
When tea-time came in the cottage he had left, the object of his aversion set about preparing for that meal as usual. Having put the kettle on to boil, she began getting out and arranging on the table tea-things, bread, sugar, and other requisites, amongst which was naturally included milk. taking up the jug she was surprised to find its contents less than she expected. She had fancied there was a good drop left, and instead of that there was only a little. However, she had not been noticing particularly about the quantity when last she had looked into the jug, and so she supposed that she must have been mistaken and that it could not really have been as much as she had imagined it to be.
Meanwhile the cat, who was getting hungry and had regarded the taking hold of the milk jug as preliminary to its wants being supplied immediately, began to express impatience at the delay. Leah responded promptly to the appeal, partly filling a saucer with milk, and retaining only a very small share for her own use. This arrangement, however, was not approved of by her pet, who objected to be defrauded of the whole saucer-full to which it was accustomed. It expressed its desire for more by continuing to lick the saucer vigorously after the last drop had been exhausted; then looking wistfully at the jug and uttering a discontented mew; and then once more applying its tongue to polish the empty saucer with an energy which drove that article to and fro upon the floor. These signs were quite intelligible to Leah, who was all the less likely to refuse her favourite's request because the creature's general health had so far suffered from the injuries received in combat that its appetite had become somewhat fanciful of late, and there had been a difficulty in getting it to take proper nourishment. Now, therefore, that it was a question of whether the cat or its mistress should do without milk, the choice of the latter was
very quickly made.
Of course the invalid must have what it wanted, and she herself could very well drink her tea for once without milk. Besides, as the cat could not be made to understand by telling that milk was scarce, it would think that the food it asked for was being withheld out of deliberate unkindness, and that must not on any account be allowed.
So the jug was emptied into the saucer, and the last drop of the doctored milk descended the throat of the cat instead of that for which it had been destined by Mr. Reginald Marshall.
It was on Tuesday afternoon that Reginald paid his visit to Leah, and the following day was that on which he and Gladys and Mr. and Mrs. Morgan were to go to Llysderw, for "a couple of days' shooting pic-nic," as Mr. Morgan called the expedition. All Wednesday morning Reginald was on the look-out to secure a tête-à-tête with Gladys, but without success. She was busy about something or other incessantly, and he found it impossible to be alone with her. After lunch it was just the same story over again till it was time to start for Llysderw. And as the drive thither was performed in a carriage which contained Mr. and Mrs. Morgan also, the journey evidently did not afford a suitable occasion for the young man to ask the important question which he had come to ask. At last, however, after their arrival at Llysderw and shortly before dressing-time, his manœuvres for a private conversation with his cousin were successful, and he was able to repeat his proposal in due form and with every appearance of passionate love for her.
Now Gladys being of course aware that this would come sooner or later, had meditated long and deeply during his absence on what she would say to him when called upon for a final answer. She did not entertain the slightest doubt that it would be an extremely right, proper, advisable, expedient, and generally advantageous arrangement for her to marry him, provided that her feelings for him were of a kind to justify the proceeding. And as conscientiousness was a decided feature in her character, she thought herself bound to do her best to see if she could bring her sentiments into the condition which seemed to be so eminently desirable. Her pride, too, was all on the same side. If she never married, Percy would be certain to suppose it was because he had left a void which no one else could fill, and that her remaining an old maid was all on his account. It would be odious to let him suppose that! As it was, the recollection of
having loved a man who did not care for her made her cheeks burn with a sense of humiliation; and would it not be fifty times worse to think she was giving him reason to believe that she was so foolishly weak as still to continue to love him?
That she had loved him she knew was only too true-bitterly as she now regretted it. But directly she had found that her affection was unreturned and despised, had she not resolved to root it out and get rid of it absolutely? And after that, was it to be supposed that any relic of it could yet linger in her heart? Certainly not! Her self-respect could not for an instant tolerate the idea that the work of eradication might have been inefficiently performed, and that it was possible for her to have so little proper spirit as to be capable of still caring for him.
But in spite of all this, when she applied herself seriously to contemplate a marriage with someone else she found that somehow or other the idea was perfectly intolerable, and one to which she could by no means reconcile herself—no, not even in order to have the satisfaction of proving to the traitor Percy how entirely indifferent she was to him! And thus the upshot of all her deliberations and self-examination was, that when Reginald a second time returned to the charge and asked her to be his wife, he was dismayed to receive a friendly, kindlyexpressed, but quite unmistakable refusal, instead of the acceptance to which he had looked forward confidently.
He pleaded, argued, implored, and strove by every means he could think of to induce her to reconsider her decision. it was of no avail, for her mind was made up too firmly to be changed, and he was at last obliged to desist from his futile efforts and to accept the terrible fact that she was thoroughly in earnest in refusing to marry him, and that consequently it was all up with his chances of escaping the impending crash. Since that was so, the sooner he bolted the better; for he must get out of England and as far away as might be before anyone had time to suspect his intention and interfere with his liberty of action.
Had he not better invent some pretext for cutting short his visit then and there, and beating a retreat without losing another moment?
As this thought flashed across his mind the ringing of the dressing-bell reminded him that the hour was inconveniently late for such a sudden departure as he contemplated; and after a minute's hesitation he determined to postpone it till next morning. Then he betook himself to his own apartments to get ready for dinner, in a state of savage fury and disappoint
He had thought himself on the point of escaping ruin, yet now here he was face to face with it owing to the cursed perversity of this girl. With one word she had shattered his
hopes, destroyed his prospects of happiness, frustrated his schemes, spoilt his future life, flung him into misery! She might have admitted him to the paradise of wealth, and had chosen instead to relegate him to the infernal regions of poverty. Her mere existence inflicted grievous injury on him by excluding him from the inheritance which would otherwise have been his; and, not content with that, she had now added to her offence by deliberately refusing to remedy the injury when she might easily have done so. And any well-wisher of hers who had seen the expression of vindictive malevolence which came over his face as he meditated upon these things would certainly have felt sincerely glad that he contemplated a prompt removal from her vicinity.
But that evil expression was reserved strictly for the privacy of his own room. A politely smiling, smooth, company face was assumed (like the choice flower in his button-hole) as the crowning point of his toilette; and there was no trace of evil passion or menace in his looks when he descended to the drawing-room, nor any visible sign, as he sat at dinner, to indicate his bitter hatred for the unsuspicious girl opposite to him, and whom he would gladly have seen choked by the food she ate.
"By-the-bye, Carry," said Mr. Morgan to his wife, as he ladled out the soup, "just now, when I was seeing after some things outside, I happened to notice the fire-escape. I find it's all out of order, so that it wouldn't be a bit of good if it were wanted. Don't you think we'd better get it put to rights at
"Dear me, yes; most certainly," replied Mrs. Morgan emphatically. "I'd no notion it was out of order, or I should have spoken about it directly. But, of course, those sort of big, out-door things aren't a woman's department to look after so much as a man's, and so I never troubled myself about it. The sooner it's put right again the better, and I'm sure I shan't be easy in my mind till I know it's been done. One can't help being very nervous of fire in an old house like this which has been altered and added to once or twice, and has flues, and beams of wood, and rafters all about in the walls and near the chimneys, and nobody knows where! Besides, some of the windows are such high ones that I don't suppose anything but. the fire-escape would get at them, if a fire did break out. Look at the room Gladys is sleeping in, for instance -the tower
"The tower-room!" returned Mr. Morgan. "Why, what's she gone there for, instead of to her own quarters ?"
"How could she ?" answered his wife, with a look of reproach for his forgetfulness. "Don't you remember that we settled her room was one of those which was to be recarpeted whilst