|Chapter Title||ET TU BRUTE !|
|Newspaper Title||PetersburgTimes (SA : 1887 - 1919)|
|Trove Title||The Italian Peasant|
CHAPTER III. ' ET TU, BRUTE !'
I am back at my own door, and I have Dr. Stanage with me.
We enter the house ; but, despite all my caution, my companion stumbles on the stairs and makes a considerable noise. I hear the nurse-maid moving in her room, and
realize that she has heard us enter.
I have not dared to tell Stanage all the facts. Briefly, I have indicated that my wife needs immediate attention. We are in the hall before the door of the death-chamber. I manage to unlock it so skilfully as to deceive my companion into believing that the delay is occasioned by groping for the knob. We enter the apartment - to me so chilly and ghastly. The next moment I lock the door and turn up the light.
Instinctively, the physician—no longer my old school-fellow, Oscar Stanage, but a ministering angel—goes towards the recumbent figure. He takes three very quick steps, then checks himself and exclaims,—
" She's dead !" Then he slowly turns his face toward mine, and repeats, interrogatively,
" Dead ?"
" Yes, doctor - for I do not call him Oscar, as I would under almost any other circumstances. " That is where, and how, I found her."
" Are you sure ?" he asks, in a tone of awful gravity. He may have meant to ask if she had been moved, or if anything in the room had been changed, but I detect in his query the very suspicion of me that I had feared. He grows pale as he stares at me !
" I am positive. I found her dead on the sofa when I came into this room, and in attempting to raise her she fell to the floor. I replaced her in exactly the same position which she first occupied. Then I went for you." My voice sounds harsh and heartless even to my own ears as I conclude -
" What do you think ?"
He does not answer. I never have seen Stanage act so strangely. He threw off his overcoat and set his hat upon the bureau. Then he carefully surveyed the room, as I had done before him. Not a feature, even to the blinded windows, escaped his keen scrutiny.
He realizes that he is entangled in what
will be, beyond any doubt, a celebrated
I need not say that in that moment of scrutiny and retrospection he grasped and combined every incident of my visit to his house, my guarded language to him through the speaking-tube which communicates with his bedside, the poverty of my explanations
when he appeared at his door, my nervous, though resolute purpose to compel and hasten his progress, the stealthy entrance to my own home, and the final crushing surprise - coupled with my then stoical conduct in finding my wife dead. That he beheld a corpse, his practised eye told him at the first glance. Professionally, he could be of no service to me. His interest in this woman's death is that of friend and neighbour. How had she died ? is the first question which suggested itself. Stanage glanced at the blood on Anna's breast and on my clothing, but attached less importance to its presence on my shirt-cuffs than I had. He then carefully
examines the wound. The blow had been
given with an instrument long and keen, but sharp only on one side. A distinct discolouration begins to appear, as from a bruise, at one end of the cut. The doctor then made a discovery startling in the extreme. There was still a faint trace of warmth in the region of the heart, where the gaping wound lay. Rigor mortis had not been established and, as we stand silently deliberating, the jaw of the dead woman begins to fall.
" When did you come home ?" asks Stanage. His manner is strange and thoughtful.
" At one o'clock."
" And you have been here since ?"
I replied in the affirmative feeling that something
dreadful was coming.
" Why, man, your wife has not been dead an hour and a half, and it is now after three."
" My God ! then she was murdered while I
sat in the library !"
" And you heard nothing ! Tell me the truth now, John. Go on, speak !"
As calmly as I could, I repeated the story
of my visit to the library, the sleep and the subsequent journey up the stairway, at about three o'clock, to my wife's room. I spared no detail though I felt that I was further entangling myself.
" What, in heaven's name, caused you to lounge in your library at that hour of the night ?"
Then I went back in my narrative and told him of our quarrel, of my misery during the evening, of my wish for a reconciliation and of my final determination to ask forgiveness. As I added each detail, my friend's face grew more grave. He was gradually reaching the conclusion, already accepted by me, that I should have to stand a trial for my wife's murder. His thoughts are clearly indicated by his next query :
" Do you ever walk in your sleep ?"
What could I answer ? He does not give me time to frame a defence, but asks, abruptly,—
" What hat did you wear to the club tonight ?"
" A tall, black Derby."
" Have you more than one such ?"
" No." I am in such perplexity. What is he aiming at ?
' You came to my house in a Scotch cap, did you not ! In this ?" - he concludes, stepping to the table and taking up the worsted cap that I had thrown there.
" Then whose hat is this on the dressing
It is in my hand in a moment ; and I answer -
" How did it get here ?"
" I don't know."
" Could you have worn your hat for two hours in the library and carried it here when you first came up ?"
" I certainly never did before.' ' That's bad - very bad."
" What do you mean, Stanage ? Do you
" No ; not yet. Come, there is one thing left. We must search this house from cellar to garret. We must decide whether the murderer is within its doors before we resolve upon a policy. The perpetrator of this murder must be found at once, or he never
" But he is not in the house."
" Oh ! you have made the search, have you ?"
" No, I—have—not."
" Then, sir, how do you know the murderer
is not here ?"
" I merely assume it ; I now see how unwarranted my expression was."
" Indulge in much careless talk of that kind, and your fellow-citizens might " as- sume " to arraign you as a murderer. I say, lead the way to the cellar. Matches, candles, tallow dips ; anything that will make a light ! No more darkness. You've indulged in too much of it already ; far too much."
We light matches. Then we descend to the butler's pantry, where a half-dozen candles are found. We peer under every table, into every closet, in the parlor and the dining room, and then turn to enter the library. Stanage touches me on the arm, beforre we cross the threshold, and whispers —
" Look closely, now, and tell me if everything here is as you left it.'
I carefully survey the desolate apartment. Apparently, yes.
To Be Continued.