Uneasy Money/Chapter 18
Lord Dawlish stood in the doorway of the outhouse, holding the body of Eustace gingerly by the tail. It was a solemn moment. There was no room for doubt as to the completeness of the extinction of Lady Wetherby's pet.
Dudley Pickering's bullet had done its lethal work. Eustace's adventurous career was over. He was through.
Elizabeth's mouth was trembling, and she looked very white in the moonlight. Being naturally soft-hearted, she deplored the tragedy for its own sake; and she was also, though not lacking in courage, decidedly upset by the discovery that some person unknown had been roaming her premises with a firearm.
'Oh, Bill!' she said. Then: 'Poor little chap!' And then: 'Who could have done it?'
Lord Dawlish did not answer. His whole mind was occupied at the moment with the contemplation of the fact that she had called him Bill. Then he realized that she had spoken three times and expected a reply.
'Who could have done it?'
Bill pondered. Never a quick thinker, the question found him unprepared.
'Some fellow, I expect,' he said at last brightly. 'Got in, don't you know, and then his pistol went off by accident.'
'But what was he doing with a pistol?'
Bill looked a little puzzled at this.
'Why, he would have a pistol, wouldn't he? I thought everybody had over here.'
Except for what he had been able to observe during the brief period of his present visit, Lord Dawlish's knowledge of the United States had been derived from the American plays which he had seen in London, and in these chappies were producing revolvers all the time. He had got the impression that a revolver was as much a part of the ordinary well-dressed man's equipment in the United States as a collar.
'I think it was a burglar,' said Elizabeth. 'There have been a lot of burglaries down here this summer.'
'Would a burglar burgle the outhouse? Rummy idea, rather, what? Not much sense in it. I think it must have been a tramp. I expect tramps are always popping about and nosing into all sorts of extraordinary places, you know.'
'He must have been standing quite close to us while we were talking,' said Elizabeth, with a shiver.
Bill looked about him. Everywhere was peace. No sinister sounds competed with the croaking of the tree frogs. No alien figures infested the landscape. The only alien figure, that of Mr Pickering, was wedged into a bush, invisible to the naked eye.
'He's gone now, at any rate,' he said. 'What are we going to do?'
Elizabeth gave another shiver as she glanced hurriedly at the deceased. After life's fitful fever Eustace slept well, but he was not looking his best.
'With—it?' she said.
'I say,' advised Bill, 'I shouldn't call him "it," don't you know. It sort of rubs it in. Why not "him"? I suppose we had better bury him. Have you a spade anywhere handy?'
'There isn't a spade on the place.'
Bill looked thoughtful.
'It takes weeks to make a hole with anything else, you know,' he said. 'When I was a kid a friend of mine bet me I wouldn't dig my way through to China with a pocket knife. It was an awful frost. I tried for a couple of days, and broke the knife and didn't get anywhere near China.' He laid the remains on the grass and surveyed them meditatively. 'This is what fellows always run up against in the detective novels—What to Do With the Body. They manage the murder part of it all right, and then stub their toes on the body problem.'
'I wish you wouldn't talk as if we had done a murder.'
'I feel as if we had, don't you?'
'I read a story once where a fellow slugged somebody and melted the corpse down in a bath tub with sulphuric—'
'Stop! You're making me sick!'
'Only a suggestion, don't you know,' said Bill apologetically.
'Well, suggest something else, then.'
'How about leaving him on Lady Wetherby's doorstep? See what I mean—let them take him in with the morning milk? Or, if you would rather ring the bell and go away, and—you don't think much of it?'
'I simply haven't the nerve to do anything so risky.'
'Oh, I would do it. There would be no need for you to come.'
'I wouldn't dream of deserting you.'
'That's awfully good of you.'
'Besides, I'm not going to be left alone to-night until I can jump into my little white bed and pull the clothes over my head. I'm scared, I'm just boneless with fright. And I wouldn't go anywhere near Lady Wetherby's doorstep with it.'
'It's no use, I can't think of it as "him." It's no good asking me to.'
Bill frowned thoughtfully.
'I read a story once where two chappies wanted to get rid of a body. They put it inside a fellow's piano.'
'You do seem to have read the most horrible sort of books.'
'I rather like a bit of blood with my fiction,' said Bill. 'What about this piano scheme I read about?'
'People only have talking machines in these parts.'
'I read a story—'
'Let's try to forget the stories you've read. Suggest something of your own.'
'Well, could we dissect the little chap?'
'And bury him in the cellar, you know. Fellows do it to their wives.'
'Try again,' she said.
'Well, the only other thing I can think of is to take him into the woods and leave him there. It's a pity we can't let Lady Wetherby know where he is; she seems rather keen on him. But I suppose the main point is to get rid of him.'
'I know how we can do both. That's a good idea of yours about the woods. They are part of Lady Wetherby's property. I used to wander about there in the spring when the house was empty. There's a sort of shack in the middle of them. I shouldn't think anybody ever went there—it's a deserted sort of place. We could leave him there, and then—well, we might write Lady Wetherby a letter or something. We could think out that part afterward.'
'It's the best thing we've thought of. You really want to come?'
'If you attempt to leave here without me I shall scream. Let's be starting.'
Bill picked Eustace up by his convenient tail.
'I read a story once,' he said, 'where a fellow was lugging a corpse through a wood, when suddenly—'
'Stop right there,' said Elizabeth firmly.
During the conversation just recorded Dudley Pickering had been keeping a watchful eye on Bill and Elizabeth from the interior of a bush. His was not the ideal position for espionage, for he was too far off to hear what they said, and the light was too dim to enable him to see what it was that Bill was holding. It looked to Mr Pickering like a sack or bag of some sort. As time went by he became convinced that it was a sack, limp and empty at present, but destined later to receive and bulge with what he believed was technically known as the swag. When the two objects of vigilance concluded their lengthy consultation, and moved off in the direction of Lady Wetherby's woods, any doubts he may have had as to whether they were the criminals he had suspected them of being were dispersed. The whole thing worked out logically.
The Man, having spied out the land in his two visits to Lady Wetherby's house, was now about to break in. His accomplice would stand by with the sack. With a beating heart Mr Pickering gripped his revolver and moved round in the shadow of the shrubbery till he came to the gate, when he was just in time to see the guilty couple disappear into the woods. He followed them. He was glad to get on the move again. While he had been wedged into the bush, quite a lot of the bush had been wedged into him. Something sharp had pressed against the calf of his leg, and he had been pinched in a number of tender places. And he was convinced that one more of God's unpleasant creatures had got down the back of his neck.
Dudley Pickering moved through the wood as snakily as he could. Nature had shaped him more for stability than for snakiness, but he did his best. He tingled with the excitement of the chase, and endeavoured to creep through the undergrowth like one of those intelligent Indians of whom he had read so many years before in the pages of Mr Fenimore Cooper. In those days Dudley Pickering had not thought very highly of Fenimore Cooper, holding his work deficient in serious and scientific interest; but now it seemed to him that there had been something in the man after all, and he resolved to get some of his books and go over them again. He wished he had read them more carefully at the time, for they doubtless contained much information and many hints which would have come in handy just now. He seemed, for example, to recall characters in them who had the knack of going through forests without letting a single twig crack beneath their feet. Probably the author had told how this was done. In his unenlightened state it was beyond Mr Pickering. The wood seemed carpeted with twigs. Whenever he stepped he trod on one, and whenever he trod on one it cracked beneath his feet. There were moments when he felt gloomily that he might just as well be firing a machine-gun.
Bill, meanwhile, Elizabeth following close behind him, was ploughing his way onward. From time to time he would turn to administer some encouraging remark, for it had come home to him by now that encouraging remarks were what she needed very much in the present crisis of her affairs. She was showing him a new and hitherto unsuspected side of her character. The Elizabeth whom he had known—the valiant, self-reliant Elizabeth—had gone, leaving in her stead someone softer, more appealing, more approachable. It was this that was filling him with strange emotions as he led the way to their destination.
He was becoming more and more conscious of a sense of being drawn very near to Elizabeth, of a desire to soothe, comfort, and protect her. It was as if to-night he had discovered the missing key to a puzzle or the missing element in some chemical combination. Like most big men, his mind was essentially a protective mind; weakness drew out the best that was in him. And it was only to-night that Elizabeth had given any sign of having any weakness in her composition. That clear vision which had come to him on his long walk came again now, that vivid conviction that she was the only girl in the world for him.
He was debating within himself the advisability of trying to find words to express this sentiment, when Mr Pickering, the modern Chingachgook, trod on another twig in the background and Elizabeth stopped abruptly with a little cry.
'What was that?' she demanded.
Bill had heard a noise too. It was impossible to be within a dozen yards of Mr Pickering, when on the trail, and not hear a noise. The suspicion that someone was following them did not come to him, for he was a man rather of common sense than of imagination, and common sense was asking him bluntly why the deuce anybody should want to tramp after them through a wood at that time of night. He caught the note of panic in Elizabeth's voice, and was soothing her.
'It was just a branch breaking. You hear all sorts of rum noises in a wood.'
'I believe it's the man with the pistol following us!'
'Nonsense. Why should he? Silly thing to do!' He spoke almost severely.
'Look!' cried Elizabeth.
'I saw someone dodge behind that tree.'
'You mustn't let yourself imagine things. Buck up!'
'I can't buck up. I'm scared.'
'Which tree did you think you saw someone dodge behind?'
'That big one there.'
'Well, listen: I'll go back and—'
'If you leave me for an instant I shall die in agonies.' She gulped. 'I never knew I was such a coward before. I'm just a worm.'
'Nonsense. This sort of thing might frighten anyone. I read a story once—'
Bill found that his heart had suddenly begun to beat with unaccustomed rapidity. The desire to soothe, comfort, and protect Elizabeth became the immediate ambition of his life. It was very dark where they stood. The moonlight, which fell in little patches round them, did not penetrate the thicket which they had entered. He could hardly see her. He was merely aware of her as a presence. An excellent idea occurred to him.
'Hold my hand,' he said.
It was what he would have said to a frightened child, and there was much of the frightened child about Elizabeth then. The Eustace mystery had given her a shock which subsequent events had done nothing to dispel, and she had lost that jauntiness and self-confidence which was her natural armour against the more ordinary happenings of life.
Something small and soft slid gratefully into his palm, and there was silence for a space. Bill said nothing. Elizabeth said nothing. And Mr Pickering had stopped treading on twigs. The faintest of night breezes ruffled the tree-tops above them. The moonbeams filtered through the branches. He held her hand tightly.
The breeze died away. Not a leaf stirred. The wood was very still. Somewhere on a bough a bird moved drowsily 'All right?'
And then something happened—something shattering, disintegrating. It was only a pheasant, but it sounded like the end of the world. It rose at their feet with a rattle that filled the universe, and for a moment all was black confusion. And when that moment had passed it became apparent to Bill that his arm was round Elizabeth, that she was sobbing helplessly, and that he was kissing her. Somebody was talking very rapidly in a low voice.
He found that it was himself.
There was something wonderful about the name, a sort of music. This was odd, because the name, as a name, was far from being a favourite of his. Until that moment childish associations had prejudiced him against it. It had been inextricably involved in his mind with an atmosphere of stuffy schoolrooms and general misery, for it had been his misfortune that his budding mind was constitutionally incapable of remembering who had been Queen of England at the time of the Spanish Armada—a fact that had caused a good deal of friction with a rather sharp-tempered governess. But now it seemed the only possible name for a girl to have, the only label that could even remotely suggest those feminine charms which he found in this girl beside him. There was poetry in every syllable of it. It was like one of those deep chords which fill the hearer with vague yearnings for strange and beautiful things. He asked for nothing better than to stand here repeating it.
That sounded good too. There was music in 'Bill' when properly spoken. The reason why all the other Bills in the world had got the impression that it was a prosaic sort of name was that there was only one girl in existence capable of speaking it properly, and she was not for them.
'Bill, are you really fond of me?'
'Fond of you!'
She gave a sigh. 'You're so splendid!'
Bill was staggered. These were strange words. He had never thought much of himself. He had always looked on himself as rather a chump—well-meaning, perhaps, but an awful ass. It seemed incredible that any one—and Elizabeth of all people—could look on him as splendid.
And yet the very fact that she had said it gave it a plausible sort of sound. It shook his convictions. Splendid! Was he? By Jove, perhaps he was, what? Rum idea, but it grew on a chap. Filled with a novel feeling of exaltation, he kissed Elizabeth eleven times in rapid succession.
He felt devilish fit. He would have liked to run a mile or two and jump a few gates. He wished five or six starving beggars would come along; it would be pleasant to give the poor blighters money. It was too much to expect at that time of night, of course, but it would be rather jolly if Jess Willard would roll up and try to pick a quarrel. He would show him something. He felt grand and strong and full of beans. What a ripping thing life was when you came to think of it.
'This,' he said, 'is perfectly extraordinary!' And time stood still.
A sense of something incongruous jarred upon Bill. Something seemed to be interfering with the supreme romance of that golden moment. It baffled him at first. Then he realized that he was still holding Eustace by the tail.
Dudley Pickering had watched these proceedings—as well as the fact that it was extremely dark and that he was endeavouring to hide a portly form behind a slender bush would permit him—with a sense of bewilderment. A comic artist drawing Mr Pickering at that moment would no doubt have placed above his head one of those large marks of interrogation which lend vigour and snap to modern comic art. Certainly such a mark of interrogation would have summed up his feelings exactly. Of what was taking place he had not the remotest notion. All he knew was that for some inexplicable reason his quarry had come to a halt and seemed to have settled down for an indefinite stay. Voices came to him in an indistinguishable murmur, intensely irritating to a conscientious tracker. One of Fenimore Cooper's Indians—notably Chingachgook, if, which seemed incredible, that was really the man's name—would have crept up without a sound and heard what was being said and got in on the ground floor of whatever plot was being hatched. But experience had taught Mr Pickering that, superior as he was to Chingachgook and his friends in many ways, as a creeper he was not in their class. He weighed thirty or forty pounds more than a first-class creeper should. Besides, creeping is like golf. You can't take it up in the middle forties and expect to compete with those who have been at it from infancy.
He had resigned himself to an all-night vigil behind the bush, when to his great delight he perceived that things had begun to move again. There was a rustling of feet in the undergrowth, and he could just see two indistinct forms making their way among the bushes. He came out of his hiding place and followed stealthily, or as stealthily as the fact that he had not even taken a correspondence course in creeping allowed. And profiting by earlier mistakes, he did succeed in making far less noise than before. In place of his former somewhat elephantine method of progression he adopted a species of shuffle which had excellent results, for it enabled him to brush twigs away instead of stepping flatfootedly on them. The new method was slow, but it had no other disadvantages.
Because it was slow, Mr Pickering was obliged to follow his prey almost entirely by ear. It was easy at first, for they seemed to be hurrying on regardless of noise. Then unexpectedly the sounds of their passage ceased.
He halted. In his boyish way the first thing he thought was that it was an ambush. He had a vision of that large man suspecting his presence and lying in wait for him with a revolver. This was not a comforting thought. Of course, if a man is going to fire a revolver at you it makes little difference whether he is a giant or a pygmy, but Mr Pickering was in no frame of mind for nice reasoning. It was the thought of Bill's physique which kept him standing there irresolute.
What would Chingachgook—assuming, for purposes of argument, that any sane godfather could really have given a helpless child a name like that—have done? He would, Mr Pickering considered, after giving the matter his earnest attention, have made a detour and outflanked the enemy. An excellent solution of the difficulty. Mr Pickering turned to the left and began to advance circuitously, with the result that, before he knew what he was doing, he came out into a clearing and understood the meaning of the sudden silence which had perplexed him. Footsteps made no sound on this mossy turf.
He knew where he was now; the clearing was familiar. This was where Lord Wetherby's shack-studio stood; and there it was, right in front of him, black and clear in the moonlight. And the two dark figures were going into it.
Mr Pickering retreated into the shelter of the bushes and mused upon this thing. It seemed to him that for centuries he had been doing nothing but retreat into bushes for this purpose. His perplexity had returned. He could imagine no reason why burglars should want to visit Lord Wetherby's studio. He had taken it for granted, when he had tracked them to the clearing, that they were on their way to the house, which was quite close to the shack, separated from it only by a thin belt of trees and a lawn.
They had certainly gone in. He had seen them with his own eyes—first the man, then very close behind him, apparently holding to his coat, the girl. But why?
Creep up and watch them? Would Chingachgook have taken a risk like that? Hardly, unless insured with some good company. Then what? He was still undecided when he perceived the objects of his attention emerging. He backed a little farther into the bushes.
They stood for an instant, listening apparently. The man no longer carried the sack. They exchanged a few inaudible words. Then they crossed the clearing and entered the wood a few yards to his right. He could hear the crackling of their footsteps diminishing in the direction of the road.
A devouring curiosity seized upon Mr Pickering. He wanted, more than he had wanted almost anything before in his life, to find out what the dickens they had been up to in there. He listened. The footsteps were no longer audible. He ran across the clearing and into the shack. It was then that he discovered that he had no matches.
This needless infliction, coming upon him at the crisis of an adventurous night, infuriated Mr Pickering. He swore softly. He groped round the walls for an electric-light switch, but the shack had no electric-light switch. When there was need to illuminate it an oil lamp performed the duty. This occurred to Mr Pickering after he had been round the place three times, and he ceased to grope for a switch and began to seek for a match-box. He was still seeking it when he was frozen in his tracks by the sound of footsteps, muffled but by their nearness audible, just outside the door. He pulled out his pistol, which he had replaced in his pocket, backed against the wall, and stood there prepared to sell his life dearly.
The door opened.
One reads of desperate experiences ageing people in a single night. His present predicament aged Mr Pickering in a single minute. In the brief interval of time between the opening of the door and the moment when a voice outside began to speak he became a full thirty years older. His boyish ardour slipped from him, and he was once more the Dudley Pickering whom the world knew, the staid and respectable middle-aged man of affairs, who would have given a million dollars not to have got himself mixed up in this deplorable business.
And then the voice spoke.
'I'll light the lamp,' it said; and with an overpowering feeling of relief Mr Pickering recognized it as Lord Wetherby's. A moment later the temperamental peer's dapper figure became visible in silhouette against a background of pale light.
'Ah-hum!' said Mr Pickering.
The effect on Lord Wetherby was remarkable. To hear some one clear his throat at the back of a dark room, where there should rightfully be no throat to be cleared, would cause even your man of stolid habit a passing thrill. The thing got right in among Lord Wetherby's highly sensitive ganglions like an earthquake. He uttered a strangled cry, then dashed out and slammed the door behind him.
'There's someone in there!'
Lady Wetherby's tranquil voice made itself heard.
'Nonsense; who could be in there?'
'I heard him, I tell you. He growled at me!'
It seemed to Mr Pickering that the time had come to relieve the mental distress which he was causing his host. He raised his voice.
'It's all right!' he called.
'There!' said Lord Wetherby.
'Who's that?' asked Lady Wetherby, through the door.
'It's all right. It's me—Pickering.'
The door was opened a few inches by a cautious hand.
'Is that you, Pickering?'
'Yes. It's all right.'
'Don't keep saying it's all right,' said Lord Wetherby, irritably. 'It isn't all right. What do you mean by hiding in the dark and popping out and barking at a man? You made me bite my tongue. I've never had such a shock in my life.'
Mr Pickering left his lair and came out into the open. Lord Wetherby was looking aggrieved, Lady Wetherby peacefully inquisitive. For the first time Mr Pickering discovered that Claire was present. She was standing behind Lady Wetherby with a floating white something over her head, looking very beautiful.
'For the love of Mike!' said Lady Wetherby.
Mr Pickering became aware that he was still holding the revolver.
'Oh, ah!' he said, and pocketed the weapon.
'Barking at people!' muttered Lord Wetherby in a querulous undertone.
'What on earth are you doing, Dudley?' said Claire.
There was a note in her voice which both puzzled and pained Mr Pickering, a note that seemed to suggest that she found herself in imperfect sympathy with him. Her expression deepened the suggestion. It was a cold expression, unfriendly, as if it was not so keen a pleasure to Claire to look at him as it should be for a girl to look at the man whom she is engaged to marry. He had noticed the same note in her voice and the same hostile look in her eye earlier in the evening. He had found her alone, reading a letter which, as the stamp on the envelope showed, had come from England. She had seemed so upset that he had asked her if it contained bad news, and she had replied in the negative with so much irritation that he had desisted from inquiries. But his own idea was that she had had bad news from home. Mr Pickering still clung to his early impression that her little brother Percy was consumptive, and he thought the child must have taken a turn for the worse. It was odd that she should have looked and spoken like that then, and it was odd that she should look and speak like that now. He had been vaguely disturbed then and he was vaguely disturbed now. He had the feeling that all was not well.
'Yes,' said Lady Wetherby. 'What on earth are you doing, Dudley?'
'Popping out!' grumbled Lord Wetherby.
'We came here to see Algie's picture, which has got something wrong with its eyes apparently, and we find you hiding in the dark with a gun. What's the idea?'
'It's a long story,' said Mr Pickering.
'We have the night before us,' said Lady Wetherby.
'You remember The Man—the fellow I found looking in at the window, The Man who said he knew Claire?'
'You've got that man on the brain, Dudley. What's he been doing to you now?'
'I tracked him here.'
'Tracked him? Where from?'
'From that bee-farm place where he's living. He and that girl you spoke of went into these woods. I thought they were making for the house, but they went into the shack.'
'What did they do then?' asked Lady Wetherby
'They came out again.'
'That's what I was trying to find out.'
Lord Wetherby uttered an exclamation.
'By Jove!' There was apprehension in his voice, but mingled with it a certain pleased surprise. 'Perhaps they were after my picture. I'll light the lamp. Good Lord, picture thieves—Romneys —missing Gainsboroughs—' His voice trailed off as he found the lamp and lit it. Relief and disappointment were nicely blended in his next words: 'No, it's still there.'
The soft light of the lamp filled the studio.
'Well, that's a comfort,' said Lady Wetherby, sauntering in. 'We couldn't afford to lose—Oh!'
Lord Wetherby spun round as her scream burst upon his already tortured nerve centres. Lady Wetherby was kneeling on the floor. Claire hurried in.
'What is it, Polly?'
Lady Wetherby rose to her feet, and pointed. Her face had lost its look of patient amusement. It was hard and set. She eyed Mr Pickering in a menacing way.
Claire followed her finger.
'Good gracious! It's Eustace!'
She was looking intently at Mr Pickering. 'Well, Dudley,' she said, coldly, 'what about it?'
Mr Pickering found that they were all looking at him—Lady Wetherby with glittering eyes, Claire with cool scorn, Lord Wetherby with a horror which he seemed to have achieved with something of an effort.
'Well!' said Claire.
'What about it, Dudley?' said Lady Wetherby.
'I must say, Pickering,' said Lord Wetherby, 'much as I disliked the animal, it's a bit thick!'
Mr Pickering recoiled from their accusing gaze.
'Good heavens! Do you think I did it?'
In the midst of his anguish there flashed across his mind the recollection of having seen just this sort of situation in a moving picture, and of having thought it far-fetched.
Lady Wetherby's good-tempered mouth, far from good-tempered now, curled in a devastating sneer. She was looking at him as Claire, in the old days when they had toured England together in road companies, had sometimes seen her look at recalcitrant landladies. The landladies, without exception, had wilted beneath that gaze, and Mr Pickering wilted now.
'But—but—but—' was all he could contrive to say.
'Why should we think you did it?' said Lady Wetherby, bitterly. 'You had a grudge against the poor brute for biting you. We find you hiding here with a pistol and a story about burglars which an infant couldn't swallow. I suppose you thought that, if you planted the poor creature's body here, it would be up to Algie to get rid of it, and that if he were found with it I should think that it was he who had killed the animal.'
The look of horror which Lord Wetherby had managed to assume became genuine at these words. The gratitude which he had been feeling towards Mr Pickering for having removed one of the chief trials of his existence vanished.
'Great Scot!' he cried. 'So that was the game, was it?'
Mr Pickering struggled for speech. This was a nightmare.
'But I didn't! I didn't! I didn't! I tell you I hadn't the remotest notion the creature was there.'
'Oh, come, Pickering!' said Lord Wetherby. 'Come, come, come!'
Mr Pickering found that his accusers were ebbing away. Lady Wetherby had gone. Claire had gone. Only Lord Wetherby remained, looking at him like a pained groom. He dashed from the place and followed his hostess, speaking incoherently of burglars, outhouses, and misunderstandings. He even mentioned Chingachgook. But Lady Wetherby would not listen. Nobody would listen.
He found Lord Wetherby at his side, evidently prepared to go deeper into the subject. Lord Wetherby was looking now like a groom whose favourite horse has kicked him in the stomach.
'Wouldn't have thought it of you, Pickering,' said Lord Wetherby. Mr Pickering found no words. 'Wouldn't, honestly. Low trick!'
'But I tell you—'
'Devilish low trick!' repeated Lord Wetherby, with a shake of the head. 'Laws of hospitality—eaten our bread and salt, what!—all that sort of thing—kill valuable monkey—not done, you know—low, very low!'
And he followed his wife, now in full retreat, with scorn and repulsion written in her very walk.
It was Claire. She stood there, holding something towards him, something that glittered in the moonlight. Her voice was hard, and the expression on her face suggested that in her estimation he was a particularly low-grade worm, one of the submerged tenth of the worm world.
'Eh?' said Mr Pickering, dazedly.
He looked at what she had in her hand, but it conveyed nothing to his overwrought mind.
'Very well,' she said.
She flung something on the ground before him—a small, sparkling object. Then she swept away, his eyes following her, and was lost in the darkness of the trees. Mechanically Mr Pickering stooped to pick up what she had let fall. He recognized it now. It was her engagement ring.