Chapter 110243771

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Chapter NumberI
Chapter TitleLINKED TO A TERRIBLE CRIME
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article110243771
Full Date1892-01-08
Page Number2
Corrections9
Word Count1641
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2019-01-30
Newspaper TitlePetersburgTimes (SA : 1887 - 1919)
Trove TitleThe Italian Peasant
article text

THE ITALIAN PEASANT.

CHAPTER I.

LINKED TO A TERRIBLE CRIME.

" You'll kill me yet !" was my wife's parting taunt.

It was the end. Rising from my own dinner-table, at which I had been seated prior to this sudden outburst of frenzy, I stepped into the hall, drew on my overcoat, and with those bitter words ringing in my my ears, stepped into the street.

We had been married ten years, and this was not by any means our only quarrel. Never before had my wife manifested such an intensity of hatred. It was my first awakening to the fact that Anna despised me. As she had glared at me across the table, with her cruel eyes, it would have been hard to tell whether she feared or

coveted assassination.

The insinuation was meaningless to me at the time, for I had never harmed her in the slightest respect. To a stranger, however, her vicious language would have indicated that dreadful scenes had preceded this one. In her eyes I saw the latent fires of wrath that once enkindled in a

woman's heart are never quenched. She thoroughly hated me for the time, though she might repent her words before the sun rose. But, poor girl, she had been ill for some days, and our family physician, Dr. Stanage, had warned me that her mind was not as strong as when I had first known and loved her. Such was the apology I made for her.

And still I was a very unhappy man, as I slowly made my way toward the Juniper Club. When I reached the door of the club house my face had such a worn expression that the old porter departed from his customary frigid civility far enough to say —

" I beg pardon, Mr. Jasper ; are you ill ?"

I tried to avoid my friends that night as much as possible. I went into the supper room and drank a cup of black coffee. I next lit a cigar and strolled into the library. Nothing there to divert my mind. Seeking the card-room, I found a vacant place at a poker-table. For four hours I played mechanically, without sense or skill, and with varying fortune. The stakes were not high, and my recklessness saved me from heavy loss. At midnight I quit the game, slightly behind.

The recollection of my domestic unhappiness did not leave me for an instant.

Descending to the smoking-room, I found a vacant chair at one of the windows, and throwing myself into it, I gazed out upon the avenue. Lonely as was the thoroughfare, it seemed merry with conviviality when I studied my own heart. A bus driver passed up-town on his last trip. Ah ! he was going home—a place I no longer possessed.

How I envied him !

I arose to leave the building : I would go to a hotel to pass the night.

At the door, likewise taking his departure, I met Harris a near neighbor. We lived in Thirty-Seventh Street, in the same block, just out of Fifth Avenue.

" Well, Jasper, going home ?" he asked.

" Yes," I answered mechanically, though I intended to say " No." It was not an act of aphasia, this. I had become such a creature of irresolution that in the brief interval between the question and the reply I had resolved to return home and make peace.

We walked slowly up-town, my neighbor and I. What we talked about, I cannot recall, because my mind was fully occupied with my own thoughts - my overmastering sorrow. We separated at my door, and, as we did so, the clock in the great brick church at the corner of the avenue struck the hour.

" One o'clock !" exclaimed Harris. " I

hadn't any idea it was so late." Then we said good-bye.

Here stood my home, all in darkness - its family skeleton shrouded like the dead of night. Everybody was in bed.

I had not decided on a procedure that would insure the restoration of my happiness. Something of the kind though was imperative. I stepped into my library and dropped into an arm-chair before the dying embers in the grate. It was the very place for such

deliberation.

Anna and I had quarrelled about a very commonplace matter, as I have said. There was no limit, however, to her indignation. Doubtless, on some forgotten occasion, or in some unrecognized way, I had provoked her. It was the part of manhood to assume the blame, anyhow. I'd do so. For the sake of our home and our daughter, I would not leave her alone, even for one night. I had loved Anna very deeply, and nothing but her recent uncontrollable outbursts of temper had estranged me. Why should it alter my affection, especially as she was sick and physically distressed ?

This apologetic line of reasoning quietened my mind for the time, and I absolutely ceased to think. Perhaps I dozed for a few minutes. When I resumed my self-communing, I was rather surprised to find that my argument had taken an antithetical turn. The provocation was certainly hers. She was very unreasonable. Why should I humiliate myself by the further sacrifice of self-respect ? Though this line of thought was repugnant to my better impulses, I could not divert my mind into a channel that accorded with them. Several times, to my surprise, I detected myself speaking aloud,

and with bitterness.

After a little time, my manhood reasserted itself ; my duty as a husband and as a father became clear, despite all conflicting impulses.

and I decided to restore the harmony of our

household.

I sat very still, watching the fire burn out, as had my happiness.

I must have fallen into a troubled sleep, for when I again looked into the grate its coals were dull, the rooms were chilly, and a ray of moonlight that had not been there earlier entered from the window, crossing

the heavy Persian rug at my feet.

I shivered. I was conscious of a feeling that something had happened in the house while I had slept. Stepping to the window and getting in the sheen, I looked at my

watch.

It was almost three o'clock : I had been home two hours !

I quietly ascended the stairs to my room - our room. It was a large apartment at the front, just over the drawing-room.

I opened the door cautiously. Within was darkness, except for the moonlight that streamed through one of the windows across the bed. The bed was empty, and undisturbed !

Had Anna fled ? No ! How stupid ! She had doubtless gone to some other room to sleep.

I called her name in a low voice, once - and, again, louder.

No answer.

I found a match in my pocket, struck a light, and discovered my wife lying, dressed in a white wrapper, on a sofa in the centre

of the room.

How pretty she was ! What should I do ? Was she sleeping, or shamming ? Asleep, of course. The storm had passed, she was calm now : the gently-parted lips told me, without out moving, that she was penitent and longed for forgiveness. I wouldn't wait for her to ask. I'd sit down beside her on the couch, and awaken her with a kiss. I'd rehearse

the nursery-tale of the Prince and the Sleeping Beauty. Dear heart, the old love should be ours again.

I approached on tiptoe, having still some doubts as to the way in which my offer of affection would be received. Would she resent my caress ? Heavens only knew.

I knelt by her side on the edge of the wide sofa, and, bending slowly over her, pressed my lips to hers. Oh, God !

I sprang to my feet. The mouth was damp with the nameless moisture of death—

the ooze of the tomb. I clutched her wrist

—no pulse. I placed my hand upon her

heart—no throb. I tried to raise her to a sitting posture, but her limp form escaped from my trembling grasp and fell in a heap upon the floor. The eyelids slowly opened, revealing the cold, gray orbs, now stony in

their stare.

Dead !

Remorse-stricken, that Anna had died before

forgiving me, I sank to a kneeling posture beside the corpse. I was utterly incapable of reasoning, or of comprehending the awful calamity that had come upon our household.

How had such a fate overtaken her ? Could it be that she had killed herself ? Surely that was preposterous.

Staggering to the light, I turned it higher, and saw on my shirtcuff a great bright-red blotch, like a peony. Her blood ! Looking more closely now, I saw a similiar spot on

her bosom.

Murder ! My poor Anna murdered !

Again and again, in the anguish of my woe, did I clasp her limp corpse to my breast. Next, seeing the blood-spot on her white dress, I tore it open, and found, just over the heart, a wound—not half an inch long, but deep as a stab from a sword-cane. Oh, whose work, this ? I had loved the lost one, after all. As I lay there by her side upon the floor, I recalled the gentleness of her youth, when our love was young -

Was I mistaken, or didn't the hall door, that I had shut, open slightly and as silently

close ?

I sprang to it and flung it wide open.

Silence : darkness.

A dozen different lines of thought ran through my mind simultaneously. And yet my will to shout for the police and to alarm the inmates of the house would not assert itself.