Jeanne did as she was told, and her face grew white
Distinctly between the strokes she heard the sound of a man moaning!
Once more the two men sat over the remnants of their evening meal. This time the deterioration in their own appearance seemed to have spread itself to their surroundings. The table was ill-laid, there were no flowers, an empty bottle of wine and several decanters remained where they had been set. There was every indication that however little the two might have eaten, they had been drinking heavily. Yet they were both pale. Cecil’s face even was ghastly, and the hand which played nervously with the tablecloth shook all the time.
“Forrest,” he said abruptly, “it is a mistake to clear out all the servants like this. Not only have we had to eat a filthy dinner, but it’s enough to make people suspicious, eh? Don’t you think so? Don’t you think afterwards that they may wonder why we did it?”
“No!” Forrest answered, with something that was almost like a snarl. “No, I don’t! Shut up, and don’t be such an infernal young fool! We couldn’t have town servants spying and whispering about the place. I caught that London butler of yours hanging around the library this afternoon as though he were looking for something. They were a d—d careless lot, anyhow, with no mistress or housekeeper to look after them, and they’re better gone. Who is there left exactly now?”
“There’s a kitchen-maid, who cooked this wretched mess,” Cecil answered, “and another under her from the village, who seems half an idiot. There is no one else except Pawles, a man who comes in from the stables to do the rough work and pump the water up for the bath. We are practically alone in the house.”
“Thank Heaven it’s our last night,” Forrest answered.
“You really mean, then,” Cecil asked, in a hoarse whisper, “to finish this now?”
“I mean that we are going to,” Forrest answered. “You know I’m half afraid of you. Sometimes you’re such a rotten coward. If ever I thought you looked as though you were going back on me, I’d get even with you, mind that.”
“Don’t talk like a fool!” Cecil answered. “What we do, we do together, of course, only my nerves aren’t strong, you know. I can’t bear the thought of the end of it.”
“Whatever happens to him,” Forrest said, “he’s asking for it. He has an easy chance to get back to his friends. It is brutal obstinacy if he makes us end it differently. You’re only a boy, but I’ve lived a good many years, and I tell you that if you don’t look out for yourself and make yourself safe, there are always plenty of people, especially those who call themselves your friends, who are ready and waiting to kick you down into Hell. I am going to have something more to drink. Nothing seems to make any difference to me to-night. I can’t even get excited, although we must have drunk a bottle of wine each. We’ll have some brandy. Here goes!”