Lady Arabella looked more than ever disdainful and was passing on; the mongoose jumped at her in a furious attack. Adam rushed forward with his stick, the only weapon he had. But just as he got within striking distance, the lady drew out a revolver and shot the animal, breaking his backbone. Not satisfied with this, she poured shot after shot into him till the magazine was exhausted. There was no coolness or hauteur about her now; she seemed more furious even than the animal, her face transformed with hate, and as determined to kill as he had appeared to be. Adam, not knowing exactly what to do, lifted his hat in apology and hurried on to Lesser Hill.
At breakfast Sir Nathaniel noticed that Adam was put out about something, but he said nothing. The lesson of silence is better remembered in age than in youth. When they were both in the study, where Sir Nathaniel followed him, Adam at once began to tell his companion of what had happened. Sir Nathaniel looked graver and graver as the narration proceeded, and when Adam had stopped he remained silent for several minutes, before speaking.
“This is very grave. I have not formed any opinion yet; but it seems to me at first impression that this is worse than anything I had expected.”
“Why, sir?” said Adam. “Is the killing of a mongoose—no matter by whom—so serious a thing as all that?”
His companion smoked on quietly for quite another few minutes before he spoke.
“When I have properly thought it over I may moderate my opinion, but in the meantime it seems to me that there is something dreadful behind all this—something that may affect all our lives—that may mean the issue of life or death to any of us.”
Adam sat up quickly.
“Do tell me, sir, what is in your mind—if, of course, you have no objection, or do not think it better to withhold it.”
“I have no objection, Adam—in fact, if I had, I should have to overcome it. I fear there can be no more reserved thoughts between us.”
“Indeed, sir, that sounds serious, worse than serious!”
“Adam, I greatly fear that the time has come for us—for you and me, at all events—to speak out plainly to one another. Does not there seem something very mysterious about this?”
“I have thought so, sir, all along. The only difficulty one has is what one is to think and where to begin.”
“Let us begin with what you have told me. First take the conduct of the mongoose. He was quiet, even friendly and affectionate with you. He only attacked the snakes, which is, after all, his business in life.”
“That is so!”
“Then we must try to find some reason why he attacked Lady Arabella.”
“May it not be that a mongoose may have merely the instinct to attack, that nature does not allow or provide him with the fine reasoning powers to discriminate who he is to attack?”