Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
THE END OF AN EVENING
To see into the room at all, Arnold had been compelled to step down from the grass on to a narrow, tiled path about half a yard wide, which led to the back door. Standing on this and peering through the chink in the boards, he gained at last a view of the interior of the house. From the first, he had entered upon this search with a certain presentiment. He looked into the room and shivered. It was apparently the kitchen, and was unfurnished save for half a dozen rickety chairs, and a deal table in the middle of the room. Upon this was stretched the body of a motionless man. There were three others in the room. One, who appeared to have some knowledge of medicine, had taken off his coat and was listening with his ear against the senseless man's heart. A brandy bottle stood upon the table. They had evidently been doing what they could to restore him to consciousness. Terrible though the sight was, Arnold found something else in that little room to kindle his emotion. Two of the men were unknown to him--dark-complexioned, ordinary middle-class people; but the third he recognized with a start. It was Isaac who stood there, a little aloof, waiting somberly for what his companion's verdict might be.
Apparently, after a time, they gave up all hope of the still motionless man. They talked together, glancing now and then towards his body. The window was open at the top and Arnold could sometimes hear a word. With great difficulty, he gathered that they were proposing to remove him, and that they were taking the back way. Presently he saw them lift the body down and wrap it in an overcoat. Then Arnold stole away across the lawn toward a gate in the wall. It was locked, but it was easy for him to climb over. He had barely done so when he saw the three men come out of the back of the house, carrying their wounded comrade. He waited till he was sure they were coming, and then looked around for a hiding-place. He was now in a sort of lane, ending in a cul de sac at the back of Mr. Weatherley's house. There were gardens on one side, parallel with the one through which he had just passed, and opposite were stables, motor sheds and tool houses. He slipped a little way down the lane and concealed himself behind a load of wood. About forty yards away was a street, for which he imagined that they would probably make. He held his breath and waited.
In a few minutes he saw the door in the wall open. One of the men slipped out and looked up and down. He apparently signaled that the coast was clear, and soon the others followed him. They came down the lane, walking very slowly--a weird and uncanny little procession. Arnold caught a glimpse of them as they passed. The two larger men were supporting their fallen companion between them, each with an arm under his armpits, so that the fact that he was really being carried was barely noticeable. Isaac came behind, his hands thrust deep into his overcoat pocket, a cloth cap drawn over his features. So they went on to the end of the lane. As soon as they had reached it, Arnold followed them swiftly. When he gained the street, they were about twenty yards to the right, looking around them. It was a fairly populous neighborhood, with a row of villas on the other side of the road, and a few shops lower down. They stood there, having carefully chosen a place remote from the gas lamps, until at last a taxicab came crawling by. They hailed it, and Isaac engaged the driver's attention apparently with some complicated direction, while the others lifted their burden into the taxicab. One man got in with him. Isaac and the other, with ordinary good-nights, strode away. The taxicab turned around and headed westward. Arnold, with a long breath, watched them all disappear. Then he, too, turned homewards.
It was almost midnight when Arnold was shown once more into the presence of Sabatini. Sabatini, in a black velvet smoking jacket, was lying upon a sofa in his library, with a recently published edition de luxe of Alfred de Musset's poems upon his knee. He looked up with some surprise at Arnold's entrance.
"Why, it is my strenuous young friend again!" he declared. "Have you brought me a message from Fenella?"
Arnold shook his head.
"She does not know that I have come."
"You have brought me some news on your own account, then?"
"I have brought you some news," Arnold admitted.
Sabatini looked at him critically.
"You look terrified," he remarked. "What have you been doing? Help yourself to a drink. You'll find everything on the sideboard there."
Arnold laid down his hat and mixed himself a whiskey and soda. He drank it off before he spoke.
"Count Sabatini," he said, turning round, "I suppose you are used to all this excitement. A man's life or death is little to you. I have never seen a dead man before to-night. It has upset me."
"Naturally, naturally," Sabatini said, tolerantly. "I remember the first man I killed--it was in a fair fight, too, but it sickened me. But what have you been doing, my young friend, to see dead men? Have you, too, been joining the army of plunderers?"
Arnold shook his head.
"I took your sister home," he announced. "We found a light in her sitting-room and the door locked. I got in through the window."
"This is most interesting," Sabatini declared, carefully marking the place in his book and laying it aside. "What did you find there?"
"A dead man," Arnold answered, "a murdered man!"
"You are joking!" Sabatini protested.
"He had been struck on the forehead," Arnold continued, "and dragged half under the couch. Only his arm was visible at first. We had to move the couch to discover him."
"Do you know who he was?" Sabatini asked.
"No one had any idea," Arnold answered. "I think that I was the only one who had ever seen him before. The night I dined at Mr. Weatherley's for the first time and met you, I was with Mrs. Weatherley in her room, and I saw that man steal up to the window as though he were going to break in."
"This is most interesting," Sabatini declared. "Evidently a dangerous customer. But you say that you found him dead. Who killed him?"
"There was no one there who could say," Arnold declared. "There were no servants in that part of the house, there had been no visitors, and Mr. Weatherley had been in bed since half-past nine. We telephoned for a doctor, and we fetched Mr. Weatherley out of bed. Then a strange thing happened. We took Mr. Weatherley to the room, which we had left for less than five minutes, and there was no one there. The man had been carried away."
"Really," Sabatini protested, "your story gets more interesting every moment. Don't tell me that this is the end!"
"It is not," Arnold replied. "It seemed then as though there were nothing more to be done. Evidently he had either been only stunned and had got up and left the room by the window, or he had accomplices who had fetched him away. Mr. Weatherley was very much annoyed with us and we had to make excuses to the doctor. Then I left."
"Well?" Sabatini said. "You left. You didn't come straight here?"
Arnold shook his head.
"When I got into the road, I could see that there was a policeman on duty on the other side of the way, and quite a number of people moving backwards and forwards all the time. It seemed impossible that they could have brought him out there if he had been fetched away. Something made me remember what I had noticed on the evening I had dined there--that there was a small empty house next door. I walked back up the drive of Pelham Lodge, turned into the shrubbery, and there I found that there was an easy way into the next garden. I made my way to the back of the house. I saw lights in the kitchen. There were three of his companions there, and the dead man. They were trying to see if they could revive him. I looked through a chink in the boarded window and I saw everything."
"Trying to revive him," Sabatini remarked. "Evidently there was some doubt as to his being dead, then."
"I think they had come to the conclusion that he was dead," Arnold replied; "for after a time they put on his overcoat and dragged him out by the back entrance, down some mews, into another street. I followed them at a distance. They hailed a taxi. One man got in with him and drove away, the others disappeared. I came here."
Sabatini reached out his hand for a cigarette.
"I have seldom," he declared, "listened to a more interesting episode. You didn't happen to hear the direction given to the driver of the taxicab?"
"I did not."
"You have no idea, I suppose," Sabatini asked, with a sudden keen glance, "as to the identity of the man whom you believe to be dead?"
"None whatever," Arnold replied, "except that it was the same man who was watching the house on the night when I dined there. He told me then that he wanted Rosario. There was something evil in his face when he mentioned the name. I saw his hand grasping the window-sill. He was wearing a ring--a signet ring with a blood-red stone."
"This is most engrossing," Sabatini murmured. "A signet ring with a blood-red stone! Wasn't there a ring answering to that description upon the finger of the man who stabbed Rosario?"
"There was," Arnold answered.
Sabatini knocked the ash from his cigarette.
"The coincidence," he remarked, "if it is a coincidence, is a little extraordinary. By the bye, though, you have as yet given me no explanation as to your visit here. Why do you connect me with this adventure of yours?"
"I do not connect you with it at all," Arnold answered; "yet, for some reason or other, I am sure that your sister knew more about this man and his presence in her sitting-room than she cared to confess. When I left there, everything was in confusion. I have come to tell you the final result, so far as I know it. You will tell her what you choose. What she knows, I suppose you know. I don't ask for your confidence. I have had enough of these horrors. Tooley Street is bad enough, but I think I would rather sit in my office and add up figures all day long, than go through another such night."
"You are young, as yet," he said. "Life and death seem such terrible things to you, such tragedies, such enormous happenings. In youth, one loses one's sense of proportion. Life seems so vital, the universe so empty, without one's own personality. Take a pocketful of cigarettes, my dear Mr. Chetwode, and make your way homeward. We shall meet again in a day or two, I dare say, and by that time your little nightmare will not seem so terrible."
"You will let your sister know?" Arnold begged.
"She shall know all that you have told me," Sabatini promised. "I do not say that it will interest her--it may or it may not. In any case, I thank you for coming."
Arnold was dismissed with a pleasant nod, and passed out into the streets, now emptying fast. He walked slowly back to his rooms. Already the sense of unwonted excitement was passing. Sabatini's strong, calm personality was like a wonderful antidote. After all, it was not his affair. It was possible, after all, that the man was an ordinary burglar. And yet, if so, what was Isaac doing with him? He glanced in front of him to where the lights of the two great hotels flared up to the sky. Somewhere just short of them, before the window of her room, Ruth would be sitting watching. He quickened his steps. Perhaps he should find her before he went to bed. Perhaps he might even see Isaac come in!
Big Ben was striking the half-hour past midnight as Arnold stood on the top landing of the house at the corner of Adam Street, and listened. To the right was his own bare apartment; on the left, the rooms where Isaac and Ruth lived together. He struck a match and looked into his own apartment. There was a note twisted up for him on his table, scribbled in pencil on a half sheet of paper. He opened it and read:
If you are not too late, will you knock at the door and wish me good night? Isaac will be late. Perhaps he will not be home at all.
He stepped back and knocked softly at the opposite door. In a moment or two he heard the sound of her stick. She opened the door and came out. Her eyes shone through the darkness at him but her face was white and strained. He shook his head.
"Ruth," he said, "you heard the time? And you promised to go to bed at ten o'clock!"
She smiled. He passed his arm around her, holding her up.
"To-night I was afraid," she whispered. "I do not know what it was but there seemed to be strange voices about everywhere. I was afraid for Isaac and afraid for you."
"My dear girl," he laughed, "what was there to fear for me? I had a very good dinner with a very charming man. Afterwards, we went to a music-hall for a short time, I went back to his rooms, and here I am, just in time to wish you good night. What could the voices have to tell you about that?"
She shook her head.
"Sometimes," she said, "there is danger in the simplest things one does. I don't understand what it is," she went on, a little wearily, "but I feel that I am losing you, you are slipping away, and day by day Isaac gets more mysterious, and when he comes home sometimes his face is like the face of a wolf. There is a new desire born in him, and I am afraid. I think that if I am left alone here many more nights like this, I shall go mad. I tried to undress, Arnie, but I couldn't. I threw myself down on the bed and I had to bite my handkerchief. I have been trembling. Oh, if you could hear those voices! If you could understand the fears that are nameless, how terrible they are!"
She was shaking all over. He passed his other arm around her and lifted her up.
"Come and sit with me in my room for a little time," he said. "I will carry you back presently."
She kissed him on the forehead.
"Dear Arnold!" she whispered. "For a few minutes, then--not too long. To-night I am afraid. Always I feel that something will happen. Tell me this?"
"What is it, dear?"
"Why should Isaac press me so hard to tell him where you were going to-night? You passed him on the stairs, didn't you?"
"He was with another man," he said, with a little shiver. "Did that man come up to his rooms?"
"They both came in together," Ruth said. "They talked in a corner for some time. The man who was with Isaac seemed terrified about something. Then Isaac came over to me and asked about you."
"What did you tell him?" Arnold asked.
"I thought it best to know nothing at all," she replied. "I simply said that you were going to have dinner with some of your new friends."
"Does he know who they are?"
"Yes, we have spoken of that together," she admitted. "I had to tell him of your good fortune. He knows how well you have been getting on with Mr. and Mrs. Weatherley. Listen!--is that some one coming?"
He turned around with her still in his arms, and started so violently that if her fingers had not been locked behind his neck he must have dropped her. Within a few feet of them was Isaac. He had come up those five flights of stone steps without making a sound. Even in that first second or two of amazement, Arnold noticed that he was wearing canvas shoes with rubber soles. He stood with his long fingers gripping the worn balustrade, only two steps below them, and his face was like the face of some snarling animal.
"Ruth," he demanded, hoarsely, "what are you doing out here at this time of night--with him?"
She slipped from Arnold's arms and leaned on her stick. To all appearance, she was the least discomposed of the three.
"Isaac," she answered, "Uncle Isaac, I was lonely--lonely and terrified. You left me so strangely, and it is so silent up here. I left a little note and asked Arnold, when he came home, to bid me good night. He knocked at my door two minutes ago."
Isaac threw open the door of their apartments.
"Get in," he ordered. "I'll have an end put to it, Ruth. Look at him!" he cried, mockingly, pointing to Arnold's evening clothes. "What sort of a friend is that, do you think, for us? He wears the fetters of his class. He is a hanger-on at the tables of our enemies."
"You can abuse me as much as you like," Arnold replied, calmly, "and I shall still believe that I am an honest man. Are you, Isaac?"
Isaac's eyes flashed venom.
"Honesty! What is honesty?" he snarled. "What is it, I ask you? Is the millionaire honest who keeps the laws because he has no call to break them? Is that honesty? Is he a better man than the father who steals to feed his hungry children? Is the one honest and the other a thief? You smug hypocrite!"
Arnold was silent for a moment. It flashed into his mind that here, from the other side, came very nearly the same doctrine as Sabatini had preached to him across his rose-shaded dining table.
"It is too late to argue with you, Isaac," he said, pleasantly. "Besides, I think that you and I are too far apart. But you must leave me Ruth for my little friend. She would be lonely without me, and I can do her no harm."
Isaac opened his lips,--lips that were set in an ugly sneer--but he met the steady fire of Arnold's eyes, and the words he would have spoken remained unsaid.
"Get to your room, then," he ordered.
He passed on as though to enter his own apartments. Then suddenly he stopped and listened. There was the sound of a footstep, a heavy, marching footstep, coming along the Terrace below. With another look now upon his face, he slunk to the window and peered down. The footsteps came nearer and nearer, and Arnold could hear him breathing like a hunted animal. Then they passed, and he stood up, wiping the sweat from his forehead.
"I have been hurrying," he muttered, half apologetically. "We had a crowded meeting. Good night!"
He turned into his rooms and closed the door. Arnold looked after him for a moment and then up the street below. When he turned into his own rooms, he was little enough inclined for sleep. He drew up his battered chair to the window, threw it open, and sat looking out. The bridge and the river were alike silent now. The sky signs had gone, the murky darkness blotted out the whole scene, against which the curving arc of lights shone with a fitful, ghostly light. For a moment his fancy served him an evil trick. He saw the barge with the blood-red sails. A cargo of evil beings thronged its side. He saw their faces leering at him. Sabatini was there, standing at the helm, calm and scornful. There was the dead man and Isaac, Groves the butler, Fenella herself--pale as death, her hands clasping at her bosom as though in pain. Arnold turned, shivering, away; his head sank into his hands. It seemed to him that poison had crept into those dreams.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.