“Yes. My wife,” said I.
“Thank goodness—” He drew a breath. “There’s no one here capable of doing anything. I had to get in the nurse and the other woman.”
Jaffery had summoned Barbara from her vain task.
“Mrs. Boldero is very ill—as ill as she can be. Of course you were aware of her condition—well—the shock has had its not very uncommon effect.”
“Life in danger?” Jaffery asked bluntly.
“Life, reason, everything. Tell me. I’m a stranger. I know nothing—I was summoned and found a man lying dead on the floor in that room”—he pointed to the study—“and a woman in a dreadful state. I’ve only had time to make sure that the poor fellow was dead. Could you tell me something about them?”
So we told him, the three of us together, as people will, who Adrian Boldero was, and how he and his genius were all this world and a bit of the next to his wife. How I managed to talk sensibly I don’t know, for beating against the walls of my head was the thought that Adrian lay there in the room where I had seen the strange woman, lifeless and stiff, with the laughing eyes forever closed and the last mockery gone from his lips. Just then the woman appeared again. The young doctor beckoned to her and said a few words. Jaffery and I followed her into the death-chamber, leaving the doctor with Barbara. And then we stood and looked at all that was left of Adrian.
But how did it happen? It was not till long afterwards that I really knew more than the scared maid-servant and the porter of the mansions then told us. But that little more I will set down here.
For the past few days he had been working early and late, scarcely sleeping at all. The night before he had gone to bed at five, had risen sleepless at seven, and having dressed and breakfasted had locked himself in his study. The very last page, he told Doria, was to be written. He was to come down to us for Christmas, with his novel a finished thing. At ten o’clock, in accordance with custom, when he began to work early, the maid came to his door with a cup of chicken-broth. She knocked. There was no reply. She knocked louder. She called her mistress. Doria hammered . . . she shrieked. You know how swiftly terror grips a woman. She sent for the porter. Between them they raised a din to awaken—well—all but the dead. The man forced the door—hence the splinters on the jamb—and there they found Adrian, in the great bare room, hanging horribly over his writing chair, with not a scrap of paper save his blotting-pad in front of him. He must have died almost as soon as he had reached his study, before he had time to take out his manuscript from the jealous safe. That this was so the harassed doctor afterwards affirmed, when he could leave the living to make examination of the dead. Still later than that we heard the cause of death—a clot of blood on the brain. . . .