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An Old Meerschaum by David Christie Murray

She told how Demetri was madly


creature was little Thecla,

and would not chatter with her maid. She had given nobody her confidence; and now, having once confessed that she was unhappy, she broke out, with her pretty head on Lilian's lap, and had a grand, refreshing, honest cry. That over, she set forth her story. She told how Demetri was madly, foolishly jealous; how he had tried to murder the gentleman of whom he was jealous; and how at last, finding herself alone in the world, and being afraid of Demetri, she had sought an asylum in England. She did not say of whom Demetri was jealous, and Lilian had not the remotest notion of the truth. It very soon came out, however; and then Lihan was sore afraid for Thecla Perzio's happiness. She had no great belief in her brother. She loved him very much; but she was dimly afraid that James was an impracticable and unmarriable man, a person who could set all the wiles and all the tenderness of the sex at calm defiance--a born bachelor. And, besides that, being, in spite of her many charms and virtues, an Englishwoman, she had a natural and ridiculous objection to the marriage of any person whom she valued to any other person of foreign blood, excepting in the case of British royalty, in whose foreign matches she felt unfeigned delight--wherefore, Heaven, perchance, knoweth. But then Lilian was not a woman of a logical turn of mind; she was inconsistent and amiable, as good girls always are; and being strongly opposed to marriages of this kind in general, determined to lay herself out, heart and
soul, for the prosperity of this particular arrangement. So she kissed Thecla vivaciously, and went to mamma, and persuaded that estimable lady to a visit to Thames Ditton in search of James. Mamma, having regard to the missing Barndale, and being in some matronly alarm for him, consented, and the two set out together.

Barndale in the meantime had gone to his own chambers, and had there smoked many deliberative and lonely pipes. When he came near to the enterprise he had so readily undertaken in his friend's behalf, he began to feel signally nervous and uncomfortable about it. Of course he did not for one moment think of resigning it; but he was puzzled, and in his be-puzzlement retired within himself to concoct a plan of action. Having definitely failed in this attempt, he resolved to go off at once without preparation, and ask at the hotel for Miss Perzio, and then a round, unvarnished tale deliver. This resolution formed, he started at once and hurried, lest it should break by the way. Lilian and he were within twenty yards of each other, neither of them knowing it, when his cab rushed up to the door of the hotel.

Lilian knew the house-boat and its ways. One of the Amphibia of Ditton conveyed the two ladies in a capacious boat to the aquatic residence of the two friends. Lilian stepped lightly to the fore deck, and assisted mamma from the boat.

'They are both away,' said Lilian, smiling and blushing. 'And the careless creatures have left the doors open. We will wait for them and give them a surprise.'

The two women, full of fluttering complacency, entered the living room. Lilian went first, and fell upon her knees with a sudden shriek, beholding the prone figure on the floor; the mother darted to her side, saw and partly understood, whipped out a vinaigrette, seized a caraffe of water, and applied those innocent restoratives at once. Neither mother nor daughter had time to think of anything worse than a fainting fit, until Lilian, who had taken her brother's head upon her lap, found blood upon her hands. Then she turned white to the very lips, and tore open the blue serge coat and waistcoat. The white flannel shirt beneath was caked with blood. The two women moaned, but not a finger faltered. They opened the shirt tenderly, and there, on the right breast, saw a dull blue stain with a crimson thread in the middle of it. A gunshot wound looks to unaccustomed eyes altogether too innocent a thing to account for death or even for serious danger. But the cold pallor of the face and body, the limp and helpless limbs betokened something terrible.


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