THREE days had passed since Mr. Edmund Austen's coming, and I was no nearer the truth than before ; and to-morrow the entire family would return to Boston.
As the accepted lover of his sister, I had been pretty intimate with him during this time. I had tried to overcome those horrible thoughts which had taken possession of me; I had tried to blot out from my remembrance the vision of his face as I had seen it four months previous, - the face of Stephen Maymore's murderer. I could not: that unseen presence of guilt was with me night and day. Enough of this: I live over again the horror of that time.
Edmund and I had arranged to climb Red Hill together some time during his stay. It was a pleasant tramp, - some ten miles to the summit and back, - and the beautiful September weather made him very anxious to attempt it. I was less eager, for obvious reasons. We started off in the afternoon. Edith came to the doorway just as we took the road. We looked back, and she waved her hand at us. It was the last time - except once.
It was warmer than I thought, although my companion did not seem distressed by this circumstance. The sunlight surged in wavy lines across the dusty road before me. Every object I saw took on an unnatural glare. My head was hot and heavy, my veins all afire; but I kept on. Even with him beside me, I kept on. He talked cheerily, and I answered in monosyllables at first, then at random, wildly; I saw him looking at me with an expression of curious concern; and I saw a spot of red, like blood, in his left cheek. That is the reason, the only reason -
Red Hill! What a brilliantly beautiful landscape lay before us! I do not wonder at people who go into ecstasies over it. It is not grand mountain scenery, but it is the perfection of natural beauty. But that afternoon, lying there on the topmost rock, with all that fair lake, with its hundreds of islands and inlets, stretched like a map before me, I could drink in none of the peacefulness of the scene. For I saw again that look upon Edmund Austen's face - that look that I have seen so often since; the look I cannot at all understand.
"You are not feeling well," he said at last, coming toward me, and laying his hand gently on my shoulder. I shook it aside suddenly, furiously; could I not smell blood on it?
"I am well enough. I do not wish to be pitied."
"Pitied? What do you mean, Carl? What is the matter with you?"
"But you have not been yourself for several days."
"Ha, did you notice it?" I cried. "Nothing ails me but - but THAT." I looked him steadily in the face; I saw him quail.
"What are you saying?" he demanded slowly, yet with a certain intensity of fierceness that thrilled all my veins. What! was he about to enact a similar part in another tragedy? Was I to go the way of poor Stephen Maymore?
Even then I felt doubtful of the truth; even then I suspected myself of being unable to comprehend fully the situation. Might there not.
Just then I heard a little twitter, and whirring of wings. I looked up to see a flight of swallows above us. While I was still looking at them, and he was looking at me, with the look, one of the birds fell out a little from her companions, and circling round and round, drew very near, until - until - then I saw that its plumage was blood-red, and a drop of blood fell.
"What have you done with Stephen May-more?"
He turned deathly white. In another moment my hand was at his throat, and we two rolled over upon that quiet hillside in deadly conflict. Merciful Heaven, I was frantic now, - a burning fire of madness in my brain, that is upon me, now - now * * *
Once I saw her, my beautiful Edith, once, as the coach rolled away from the door. They told me -there were two of them, and they held me by either arm, although I tried to shake them off - they told me that she was to go home, that I could not follow just then, not until I got better of the fever. I never shall get better. Not here, in Buenos Ayres, in my counting-room. I call this my counting-room, though people look at me as if they did not believe what I say, - the look, you know. She looked at me, Edith, from the carriage - ah! so sadly. There were tears in her eyes.
"You have been crying," I called.
Then they cried, "Hush!" and led me away.
Why does not Edith Austen come to me? Shall
I never see her again? * * *
CHAPTER VI.Postscript, by Mr. Edmund Austen.
POOR Carl! He has made a very intelligible narrative, for the most part, till the time when he saw me, and declared me Stephen Maymore's murderer; and I had never seen Stephen May-more.
How to explain his sudden delinium on the night of his room-mate's disappearance, I do not know. Supernatural visions there are, unexplained and inexplicable. Of course, one can call it insanity, if one wishes. It is a strange delusion, too, that the poor fellow should imagine himself to be doing a large importing business at Buenos Ayres. But he is kept out doors as much as possible, always with the attendants in sight. It is a small but well-furnished and pleasant house at Manumet Point, near Plymouth, where he lives.
The disappearance of his room-mate - which no one has ever yet accounted for, except to suppose that the poor fellow met an accidental death on the night in question - worked upon him in such a manner that the very sad result ensued. I see by reading his account of the matter that, with the wonderful precision and clearness which insanity sometimes attains, he has given a very clear account of all that happened up to the time of that terrible outbreak on Red Hill. There he burst forth a raving madman. What might have happened had not two other pedestrians fortunately approached, I do not pretend to say. Yet, previous to that occurrence, till within two or three days, at least, no one had appeared to suspect him of not being in his right mind. My poor sister Edith! How she has suffered in this sad affair! It comes to light, however, when all is said and done, that some of his college friends had noted some inexplicable mystery about his conduct, even at the very time of young Maymore's disappearance.
So I have let his story stand. I am surprised to find how clear it is; how grave a case, indeed, he has made out against me. For so "the gods make mock at us," as he himself has said.