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cided that life is no longer bearable; and the little reptile will just kiss her arm, and she will pass into the dreamless sleep.
Now, Hamberton had read a good deal, knew all about these Roman methods, was an artist and had taste, was refined and hated a mess; and yet, strange to say, he elected to make his bow to the human auditorium in a vulgar and unclean manner. He had none of the excellent Roman reasons for leaving life, absolutely none. He simply made his choice, just as he would purchase a ticket for London, and then set about accomplishing his design.
Maxwell and his ward had not been long married, and the former was down at Caragh for a few days' fishing, when Hamberton one night, on entering his bedroom, thought he would experiment a little with his weapons, and toy a little with death, before finally embracing him.
He had kissed good-night to Claire, and she had entered her own room, and had been some time in bed, when Hamberton, having donned his dressing-gown, went over to a large mahogany wardrobe, opened a drawer at the top, and took out a small, silver-chased revolver. He handled the deadly toy with ease, and fitted in the little cartridges, each snug in its own cradle. He then went over to his dressing-table, and sat down.
There was no sound in the house. The hoarse wash of the sea came up through the midnight darkness, and that was all. He listened long to catch the faintest sound that would show that his niece was sleeping; but he heard nothing. He laid the revolver on the table, and began to think.
“If now I were to use that deadly weapon on myself, just a short, sharp shock-no pain-how would it be with me?” And his stifled soul seemed to sob out: “Silence, darkness, rest for evermore! And for them? Horror, shame, despair !”
“ Pah!” he cried in his own cynical way, “I would be forgotten the day they had buried me. These young people are engrossed in one another too much to heed a poor suicide.”
“And for the world ? A newspaper paragraph to day! Tomorrow, oblivion as deep as that which sleeps above an Egyptian sarcophagus !”
He leant his head on his hand, and looked long and earnestly at the face that stared him from the mirror.
It was a strong, square face, somewhat pallid, and pursed beneath the
VOL. LXXXVI, -15
eyes; but it was a calm face, with no trace of anything morbid or nervous or hysterical. “They cannot say: 'Temporary Insanity, '" he thought. “Although the Irish will sometimes perjure themselves through their d-d politeness."
He took up the weapon, examined it, and raised it carefully and slowly, placing the tiny mouth of the muzzle against his right temple, and pressing it so that it made a tiny circle of indentation on the flesh. He kept it steadily in this position for a while. Then he stole his index finger slowly along, until it touched the trigger. Very gently he moved the soft papilla of the finger along the smooth side of the steel, thinking, thinking all the while: “Only a little pressure, the least pressure, and all was over!” Then suddenly, as if for the first time, the thought struck him that he would make a dirty mess of blood and brains in this way; and how the servants would find him thus in the morning and handle him rudely, and litt him with certain scorn from his undignified position; and how the rude doctor, that detestable Westropp, the drunken dispensary physician, whom he would not let inside his door, would paw him all over and talk about his well-known insanity; and how a jury of his own employees would sit on him, with Ned Galway in the chair.
He laughed out with self-contempt and loathing, and in his own cynical way he muttered:
“The Romans had the advantage over us—they folded their togas around them as they died; and no d-dhinds and idiots dared disturb their dignity in death.”
And he threw the weapon down on the table. There was a flash of fire, one little tongue of flame, and a puff of smoke, and Hamberton fell backwards, not stricken, but in affright.
“That little pellet was not fated,” he thought, “to find its grave in my brain."
And then, as another idea struck him, the strong man grew pale and trembled all over, and the sweat of fear came out and washed all his forehead with its dew.
For as he looked he saw that the still smoking muzzle of the revolver pointed straight to the wall, or rather thin partition, that screened Claire's room from his; and a dreadful thought struck him, as he gauged the height at which the bullet struck, that just at that height, and just beyond that partition, was the bed on which his ward was sleeping. His heart stood still, as he held his breath and listened. No sound came
to reassure him that she had been startled, but not hurt: "What if that bullet, with which he had been criminally experimenting, had pierced through that lath and paper, and found its deadly berth in the heart of the only being on earth whom he really loved ? How could he explain it? What excuse could he give ? How would he meet Maxwell ?" And the words of Father Cosgrove came back and smote him:
“You cannot go out of life alone !"
He stood still and listened. If Claire had only screamed he would have been reassured. But, no; not a sound broke the awful stillness, only the hollow thunder of the sea in the distance. The strong man sat down, weak as a child.
Then he thought he should solve the mystery, or die just there. So he crept along the carpet of his room, softly opened the door, and passed down the corridor towards his ward's room, where he listened. No; not a sound came forth. “She is dead," he thought, “killed in her sleep and in her innocence." He tapped gently. No answer. He tapped louder. No answer still. He then, trembling all over at the possibility of finding his worst fears confirmed, opened the door and said in a low, shaky tone:
“ Claire !" Still no answer. Then in despair he almost shouted the name of his ward. The girl turned round and said in a sleepy voice : “ Yes; who is it? What is it?" “It is only 1,” he said. “I thought you might be unwell!" “Not at all," she said. “What time is it?"
“ Just midnight,” he replied. “I'm so sorry I disturbed you. Go to sleep again." And he drew the door softly behind him and re-entered his
There he did an unusual thing for him. He flung himself on his knees by his bedside and said:
“I thank thee, God Almighty, Father of heaven and earth, for this mercy vouchsafed thy unworthy servant."
He buried his face in the down quilt, and heard himself murmuring :
“ There is a God! There is a God!”
Then he rose up, took the dangerous weapon, drew the remaining cartridges, and placed them and the revolver in the cabinet, undressed, and lay down. But he had no sleep that night.
The dread horror of the thing accompanied and haunted him for several weeks; and then, as is so usual, it died softly away, and the old temptation came back. But now he had determined that, if he should succeed in passing away from life, it should be in such a way that the most keen-eyed doctor or juryman should see nought but an accident. Because, for sev. eral days after that dreadful night, he was distrait; and often he caught Claire's great brown eyes resting mournfully upon him, and as if questioning him about the meaning of that midnight visit. And he found himself perpetually asking: “Does she know? Does she suspect ?" Until, somehow, a deep gulf seemed to yawn between them of distrust and want of confidence; and he said: “It is the new love that has ejected the old !” And she thought: “Does uncle fear that I have forgotten him in Robert ?"
But it seemed to accentuate his desire to be done with things—to pass out to the dreamless sleep that seemed to be evermore the one thing to be desired.
One evening, late in the autumn, he was out on the sea in Ned Galway's fishing boat. He enjoyed with a kind of rapture these little expeditions; and the more stormy the weather, and the rougher the elements, the greater was his ecstasy. Ned always steered, for he was an excellent seaman; and Hamberton used to watch, with mingled curiosity and admiration, the long, angular figure, the silent, inscrutable face, with the red beard hanging like so much tangled wire down on the deep chest; and the care and watchfulness with which the man used to handle his boat, despite his apparent forgetfulness and silence. He seemed always to rest in that humble posture of silence and quiet, as if dreading to disturb Hamberton; and he never dared speak, except to answer some question.
Hamberton on calm seas would rest in the prow of the boat, half inclined on a cushion, reading or watching the play of the waters. When the weather was rough, he stood on the thwarts, supporting himself with his arm around the mast; and swaying and dipping with every plunge of the boat.
This autumnal evening was black and lowering as if with brewing tempests; and the sea was heaving fretfully under a strong landbreeze that made the breakers smoke near the shore.
Keeping the boat's head steadily against the rush of the incoming tide, Ned managed to avoid the dangerous troughs of the seas; and there was no inconvenience, except for the shipping of a few seas that left but tiny pools, which Ned soon baled out with his free hand. This evening Hamberton stood up on the very last thwart near the bow, yet so that he could support himself against the mast; and the old temptation came back with terrible force.
“Only a little slip of the foot-only a momentary loss of grasp-and all is over. There, there beneath these sweet salt waves, is rest if anywhere."
He began to dream of it, as he watched the waters swirling by the boat, or the fissure in front where the prow cut the waves, and sent the hissing sections aft; until he felt himself almost mesmerized by the element. The continuous watching of the green and white waters seemed to obliterate and confuse his sight; and with the dimness of sight came dimness of perception, until at last he began to think that he had accomplished his dread design, and that he was actually beneath the waves. Again and again the delusion returned, each time with more force, until, at last, reason and imagination became merged together, and the former was about to topple over, even as he loosed his hold, when he was recalled to existence by the harsh voice of Ned Galway :
“For the love of God, yer 'anner, come down out o' dat ! If you fell over, nothin' on airth could save my nick from the hangman!"
For a moment Hamberton did not understand him. Then he laughed with a grim humor, and silently sat down. Presently he asked :
“How is that, Ned? If I toppled over, what is that to
"Everything," said Ned. “ On account of our dissinsions, you know, the whole say wouldn't wash me clane before a jedge and jury!"
Hamberton saw the truth of the observation at once; and at once realized again the truth of Father Cosgrove's words:
“ You cannot go out of life alone!” But he said:
“ It wouldn't make so much difference, Ned, to the world, if you were hanged and I was drowned."
A remark that convinced Ned fully that the "masther was tetched in his head"; and made him doubly eager to steer for