The house was very still, and the far-off, muffled rumble of omnibuses and cabs gave a background of dignity to this interior peace and luxurious quiet. For long she sat unmoving—nearly two hours—alone with her inmost thoughts. Then she went to the little piano in the corner where stood the statue of Andromeda, and began to play softly. Her fingers crept over the keys, playing snatches of things she knew years before, improvising soft, passionate little movements. She took no note of time. At last the clock struck twelve, and still she sat there playing. Then she began to sing a song which Alice Tynemouth had written and set to music two years before. It was simply yet passionately written, and the wail of anguished disappointment, of wasted chances was in it—
“Once in the twilight of the Austrian hills,
A word came to me, beautiful and good;
If I had spoken it, that message of the stars,
Love would have filled thy blood:
Love would have sent thee pulsing to my arms,
Thy heart a nestling bird;
A moment fled—it passed:
I seek in vain
For that forgotten word.”
In the last notes the voice rose in passionate pain, and died away into an aching silence.
She leaned her arms on the piano in front of her and laid her forehead on them.
“When will it all end—what will become of me!” she cried in pain that strangled her heart. “I am so bad—so bad. I was doomed from the beginning. I always felt it so—always, even when things were brightest. I am the child of black Destiny. For me—there is nothing, nothing, for me. The straight path was before me, and I would not walk in it.”
With a gesture of despair, and a sudden faintness, she got up and went over to the tray of spirits and liqueurs which had been brought in with the coffee. Pouring out a liqueur-glass of brandy, she was about to drink it, when her ear became attracted by a noise without, a curious stumbling, shuffling sound. She put down the glass, went to the door that opened into the hall, and looked out and down. One light was still burning below, and she could see distinctly. A man was clumsily, heavily, ascending the staircase, holding on to the balustrade. He was singing to himself, breaking into the maudlin harmony with an occasional laugh—
“For this is the way we do it on the veld,
When the band begins to play;
With one bottle on the table and one below the belt,
When the band begins to play—”
It was Rudyard, and he was drunk—almost helplessly drunk.
A cry of pain rose to her lips, but her trembling hand stopped it. With a shudder she turned back to her sitting-room. Throwing herself on the divan where she had sat with Ian Stafford, she buried her face in her arms. The hours went by.
IN WALES, WHERE JIGGER PLAYS HIS PART
“Really, the unnecessary violence with which people take their own lives, or the lives of others, is amazing. They did it better in olden days in Italy and the East. No waste or anything—all scientifically measured.”