“I’ll burn the beastly thing,” he said. But he could not burn it. He tried to throw it into the flames, but his own hands, as if restrained by some old primitive feeling, would not let him. And so Saunders found him pale and irresolute, with the hand still clasped tightly in his fingers.
“I’ve got it at last,” he said in a tone of triumph.
“Good; let’s have a look at it.”
“Not when it’s loose. Get me some nails and a hammer and a board of some sort.”
“Can you hold it all right?”
“Yes, the thing’s quite limp; tired out with throttling poor old Peter, I should say.”
“And now,” said Saunders when he returned with the things, “what are we going to do?”
“Drive a nail through it first, so that it can’t get away; then we can take our time over examining it.”
“Do it yourself,” said Saunders. “I don’t mind helping you with guinea-pigs occasionally when there’s something to be learned; partly because I don’t fear a guinea-pig’s revenge. This thing’s different.”
“All right, you miserable skunk. I won’t forget the way you’ve stood by me.”
He took up a nail, and before Saunders had realised what he was doing had driven it through the hand, deep into the board.
“Oh, my aunt,” he giggled hysterically, “look at it now,” for the hand was writhing in agonized contortions, squirming and wriggling upon the nail like a worm upon the hook.
“Well,” said Saunders, “you’ve done it now. I’ll leave you to examine it.”
“Don’t go, in heaven’s name. Cover it up, man, cover it up! Shove a cloth over it! Here!” and he pulled off the antimacassar from the back of a chair and wrapped the board in it. “Now get the keys from my pocket and open the safe. Chuck the other things out. Oh, Lord, it’s getting itself into frightful knots! and open it quick!” He threw the thing in and banged the door.
“We’ll keep it there till it dies,” he said. “May I burn in hell if I ever open the door of that safe again.”
* * * * *
Mrs. Merrit departed at the end of the month. Her successor certainly was more successful in the management of the servants. Early in her rule she declared that she would stand no nonsense, and gossip soon withered and died. Eustace Borlsover went back to his old way of life. Old habits crept over and covered his new experience. He was, if anything, less morose, and showed a greater inclination to take his natural part in country society.
“I shouldn’t be surprised if he marries one of these days,” said Saunders. “Well, I’m in no hurry for such an event. I know Eustace far too well for the future Mrs. Borlsover to like me It will be the same old story again: a long friendship slowly made—marriage—and a long friendship quickly forgotten.”
But Eustace Borlsover did not follow the advice of his uncle and marry. He was too fond of old slippers and tobacco. The cooking, too, under Mrs. Handyside’s management was excellent, and she seemed, too, to have a heaven-sent faculty in knowing when to stop dusting.