Matilde meanwhile filled the other two cups, and handed one to her husband, who took it in silence, unsuspectingly.
“I can never understand why the tea we make here is better than mine,” she said, smiling. “It is the same tea, of course. But it certainly is better in your room.”
“Is it?” asked Veronica, carelessly and looking down at the cup she held on her knee, while she slowly stirred the contents.
As though to verify Matilde’s assertion, she bent a little, raised the cup, and tasted the liquid. It was still too hot to drink, and she stirred it again on her knee. She noticed that although it had been sweet enough to her taste, there was a lump of sugar, not yet dissolved, still in the cup: she never took but one piece, and her aunt had evidently put in two.
Still holding the cup on her knee, where Matilde could not possibly see it, she quietly fished the superfluous piece of sugar out with her teaspoon, and bending down again she deposited it in the saucer from which the cat was lapping the last drops of cream. She noticed that it was only dissolved at the corners, but she had observed before that one sometimes finds a lump of sugar which remains hard a long time. The cat would eat it, for it liked sugar, as some cats do.
Then she filled the cat’s saucer again. By that time what she had was cooler, and she drank some of it.
“It is certainly very good tea,” she said thoughtfully. “I think you probably make it better than I do.”
As she drank again, Gregorio’s unearthly laugh cracked and jarred in the room. But neither he nor his wife had seen what Veronica had done. They were staring hard at each other, and for the second time Matilde felt that her brow was moist.
The Maltese cat died before six o’clock. The poor creature suffered horribly, and Elettra carried it off to her room that Veronica might not see its agony. But Veronica followed her maid. Elettra had laid the beast upon a folded rug on the floor and knelt beside it. It seemed half paralyzed already, but when Veronica knelt down, too, and tried to caress it, the cat sprang from them both in sudden terror. It stood still an instant, wagging its head while its shoulders contracted violently. Then it glided under the chest of drawers to die alone, if possible, after the manner of animals of prey. The girl and her maid heard its rattling breathing and its convulsions: its body thumped against the lower drawer. Then, while Veronica listened and Elettra bent, candle in hand, till her face touched the floor, to see it and get it out, all at once it was quiet.
“Get up,” said Veronica, nervously, for she was fond of the creature. “Help me to move the chest of drawers out. Then we can get it out.”
“It is dead,” answered Elettra, still on the floor, and thrusting her long, thin arm under the piece of furniture. “But I cannot pull him out,” she added. “He is so big!”