“Oh, hush!” smiled Aubrey, in contemptuous amusement. “Excellent young men who make innocent love in rose-gardens, never say ‘damn.’ And in those days, dear boy, we did not use shoe-blacking. Pray calm yourself, and sit down. You are upsetting the internal arrangements of your Infant. If you swing a baby violently about, it makes it sick. Any old Gamp will tell you that.”
Ronnie sat down; but solely because his knees suddenly gave way beneath him. The floor on which he was standing seemed to become deep sand.
“Keep calm,” sneered Aubrey Treherne. “Perhaps you would like to know my excellent warrant for concluding that Helen was my wife in a former life? She came very near to being my wife in this. She was engaged to me before she ever met you, my boy. Had it not been for the interference of that strong-minded shrew, Mrs. Dalmain, she would have married me. I had kissed my cousin Helen, as much as I pleased, before you had ever touched her hand.”
The incandescent lights grew blood-red, leaping up and down, in wild, bewildering frolic.
Then they steadied suddenly. Helen’s calm, lovely figure, in a shaft of sunlight, reappeared in the empty chair.
Ronnie handed the Infant to her; rose, staggered across the intervening space, and struck Aubrey Treherne a violent blow on the mouth.
Aubrey gripped his arms, and for a moment the two men glared at one another.
Then Ronnie’s knees gave way again; his feet sank deeply into the sand; and Aubrey, forcing him violently backward, pinned him down in his chair.
“I would kill you for this,” he whispered, his face very close to Ronnie’s; blood streaming from his lip. “I would kill you for this, you clown! But I mean to kiss Helen again; and life, while it holds that prospect, is too sweet to risk losing for the mere pleasure of wiping you out. Otherwise, I would kill you now, with my two hands.”
Then a black pulsating curtain rolled, in impenetrable folds, between Ronnie and that livid bleeding face, and he sank away—down—down—down—into silent depths of darkness and of solitude.
AUBREY PUTS DOWN HIS FOOT
Ronnie’s first sensation as he returned to consciousness, was of extreme lassitude and exhaustion.
His eyelids lifted heavily; he had some difficulty in realising where he was.
Then he saw his ’cello, leaning against a chair; and, a moment later, Aubrey Treherne, lying back in the seat opposite, enveloped in a cloud of tobacco smoke.
“Hullo, West!” said Aubrey, kindly. “You put in your half-hour quite unexpectedly. You were trying, in a sleepy fashion, to tell me how you came to purchase this fine ’cello; but you dropped off, with the tale unfinished.”
Ronnie looked in silence at his wife’s cousin.
“Are you the better for your sleep?”