“Well, it’s your own fault,” Mark replied to that, “if you make me take advantage of you.” Winch had withdrawn his hand, which was back, violently shaking keys or money, in his trousers pocket; and in this position he had abruptly a pause, a sensible, absence, that might have represented either some odd drop of attention, some turn-off to another thought, or just simply the sudden act of listening. His guest had indeed himself — under suggestion — the impression of a sound. “Mayn’t you perhaps — if you hear something — have a call?”
Mark had said it so lightly, however, that he was the more struck with his host’s appearing to turn just paler; and, with it, the latter now was listening. “You hear something?”
“I thought you did.” Winch himself, on Mark’s own pressure of the outside bell, had opened the door of the apartment — an indication then, it sufficiently appeared, that Sunday afternoons were servants’, or attendants’, or even trained nurses’ holidays. It had also marked the stage of his convalescence, and to that extent — after his first flush of surprise — had but smoothed Monteith’s way. At present he barely gave further attention; detaching himself as under some odd cross-impulse, he had quitted the spot and then taken, in the wide room, a restless turn — only, however, to revert in a moment to his friend’s just-uttered deprecation of the danger of boring him. “If I make you take advantage of me — that is blessedly talk to me — it’s exactly what I want to do. Talk to me — talk to me!” He positively waved it on; pulling up again, however, in his own talk, to say with a certain urgency: “Hadn’t you better sit down?”
Mark, who stayed before the fire, couldn’t but excuse himself. “Thanks — I’m very well so. I think of things and I fidget.”
Winch stood a moment with his eyes on the ground. “Are you very sure?”
“Quite — I’m all right if you don’t mind.”
“Then as you like!” With which, shaking to extravagance again his long legs, Newton had swung off — only with a movement that, now his back was turned, affected his visitor as the most whimsical of all the forms of his rather unnatural manner. He was curiously different with his back turned, as Mark now for the first time saw it — dangling and somewhat wavering, as from an excess of uncertainty of gait; and this impression was so strange, it created in our friend, uneasily and on the spot, such a need of explanation, that his speech was stayed long enough to give Winch time to turn round again. The latter had indeed by this moment reached one of the limits of the place, the wide studio bay, where he paused, his back to the light and his face afresh presented, to let his just passingly depressed and quickened eyes take in as much as possible of the large floor, range over it with such brief freedom of search as the disposition of the furniture permitted. He was looking for something, though the betrayed reach of vision was but of an instant. Mark caught it, however, and with his own sensibility all in vibration, found himself feeling at once that it meant something and that what it meant was connected with his entertainer’s slightly marked appeal to him, the appeal of a moment before, not to remain standing. Winch knew by this time quite easily enough that he was hanging fire; which meant that they were suddenly facing each other across the wide space with a new consciousness.
Everything had changed — changed extraordinarily with the mere turning of that gentleman’s back, the treacherous aspect of which its owner couldn’t surely have suspected. If the question was of the pitch of their sensibility, at all events, it wouldn’t be Mark’s that should vibrate to least purpose. Visibly it had come to his host that something had within the few instants remarkably happened, but there glimmered on him an induction that still made him keep his own manner. Newton himself might now resort to any manner he liked. His eyes had raked the floor to recover the position of something dropped or misplaced, and something, above all, awkward or compromising; and he had wanted his companion not to command this scene from the hearth-rug, the hearthrug where he had been just before holding him, hypnotising him to blindness, because the object in question would there be most exposed to sight Mark embraced this with a further drop — while the apprehension penetrated — of his power to go on, and with an immense desire at the same time that his eyes should seem only to look at his friend; who broke out now, for that matter, with a fresh appeal. “Aren’t you going to take advantage of me, man — aren’t you going to take it?”
Everything had changed, we have noted, and nothing could more have proved it than the fact that, by the same turn, sincerity of desire had dropped out of Winch’s chords, while irritation, sharp and almost imperious, had come in. “That’s because he sees I see something!” Mark said to himself; but he had no need to add that it shouldn’t prevent his seeing more — for the simple reason that, in a miraculous fashion, this was exactly what he did do in glaring out the harder. It was beyond explanation, but the very act of blinking thus in an attempt at showy steadiness became one and the same thing with an optical excursion lasting the millionth of a minute and making him aware that the edge of a rug, at the point where an arm-chair, pushed a little out of position, over-straddled it, happened just not wholly to have covered in something small and queer, neat and bright, crooked and compact, in spite of the strong toe-tip surreptitiously applied to giving it the right lift Our gentleman, from where he hovered, and while looking straight at the master of the scene, yet saw, as by the tiny flash of a reflection from fine metal, under the chair. What he recognised, or at least guessed at, as sinister, made him for a moment turn cold, and that chill was on him while Winch again addressed him — as differently as possible from any manner yet used. “I beg of you in God’s name to talk to me — to talk to me!”
It had the ring of pure alarm and anguish, but was by this turn at least more human than the dazzling glitter of intelligence to which the poor man had up to now been treating him. “It’s you, my good friend, who are in deep trouble,” Mark was accordingly quick to reply, “and I ask your pardon for being so taken up with my own sorry business.”
“Of course I’m in deep trouble” — with which Winch came nearer again; “but turning you on was exactly what I wanted.”
Mark Monteith, at this, couldn’t, for all his rising dismay, but laugh out; his sense of the ridiculous so swallowed up, for that brief convulsion, his sense of the sinister. Of such conivence in pain, it seemed, was the fact of another’s pain, and of so much worth again disinterested sympathy! “Your interest was then ——?”
“My interest was in your being interesting. For you are! And my nerves —!” said Newton Winch with a face from which the mystifying smile had vanished, yet in which distinction, as Mark so persistently appreciated it, still sat in the midst of ravage.
Mark wondered and wondered — he made strange things out. “Your nerves have needed company.” He could lay his hand on him now, even as shortly before he had felt Winch’s own pressure of possession and detention. “As good for you yourself, that — or still better,” he went on — “than I and my grievance were to have found you. Talk to we, talk to we, Newton Winch!” he added with an immense inspiration of charity.
“That’s a different matter — that others but too much can do! But I’ll say this. If you want to go to Phil Bloodgood ——!”
“Well?” said Mark as he stopped. He stopped, and Mark had now a hand on each of his shoulders and held him at arm’s-length, held him with a fine idea that was not disconnected from the sight of the small neat weapon he had been fingering in the low luxurious morocco chair — it was of the finest orange colour — and then had laid beside him on the carpet; where, after he had admitted his visitor, his presence of mind coming back to it and suggesting that he couldn’t pick it up without making it more conspicuous, he had thought, by some swing of the foot or other casual manoeuvre, to dissimulate its visibility.
They were at close quarters now as not before and Winch perfectly passive, with eyes that somehow had no shadow of a secret left and with the betrayal to the sentient hands that grasped him of an intense, an extraordinary general tremor. To Mark’s challenge he opposed afresh a brief silence, but the very quality of it, with his face speaking, was that of a gaping wound. “Well, you needn’t take that trouble. You see I’m such another.”
“Such another as Phil ———?”
He didn’t blink. “I don’t know for sure, but I guess I’m worse.”
“Do you mean you’re guilty ———?”
“I mean I shall be wanted. Only I’ve stayed to take it.”
Mark threw back his head, but only tightened his hands. He inexpressibly understood, and nothing in life had ever been so strange and dreadful to him as his thus helping himself by a longer and straighter stretch, as it were, to the monstrous sense of his friend’s “education.” It had been, in its immeasurable action, the education of business, of which the fruits were all around them. Yet prodigious was the interest, for prodigious truly — it seemed to loom before Mark — must have been the system. “To ‘take’ it?” he echoed; and then, though faltering a little, “To take what?”
He had scarce spoken when a long sharp sound shrilled in from the outer door, seeming of so high and peremptory a pitch that with the start it gave him his grasp of his host’s shoulders relaxed an instant, though to the effect of no movement in them but what came from just a sensibly intenser vibration of the whole man. “For that!” said Newton Winch.
“Then you’ve known ———?”
“I’ve expected. You’ve helped me to wait.” And then as Mark gave an ironic wail: “You’ve tided me over. My condition has wanted somebody or something. Therefore, to complete this service, will you be so good as to open the door?”
Deep in the eyes Mark looked him, and still to the detection of no glimmer of the earlier man in the depths. The earlier man had been what he invidiously remembered — yet would he had been the whole simpler story! Then he moved his own eyes straight to the chair under which the revolver lay and which was but a couple of yards away. He felt his companion take this consciousness in, and it determined in them another long, mute exchange. “What do you mean to do?”
“On your honour?”
“My ‘honour’?” his host returned with an accent that he felt even as it sounded he should never forget.
It brought to his own face a crimson flush — he dropped his guarding hands. Then as for a last look at him: “You’re wonderful!”
“We are wonderful,” said Newton Winch, while, simultaneously with the words, the pressed electric bell again and for a longer time pierced the warm cigaretted air.
Mark turned, threw up his arms, and it was only when he had passed through the vestibule and laid his hand on the door-knob that the horrible noise dropped. The next moment he was face to face with two visitors, a nondescript personage in a high hat and an astrakhan collar and cuffs, and a great belted constable, a splendid massive New York “officer” of the type he had had occasion to wonder at much again in the course of his walk, the type so by itself — his wide observation quite suggested — among those of the peacemakers of the earth. The pair stepped straight in — no word was said; but as he closed the door behind them Mark heard the infallible crack of a discharged pistol and, so nearly with it as to make all one violence, the sound of a great fall; things the effect of which was to lift him, as it were, with his company, across the threshold of the room in a shorter time than that taken by this record of the fact. But their rush availed little; Newton was stretched on his back before the fire; he had held the weapon horribly to his temple, and his upturned face was disfigured. The emissaries of the law, looking down at him, exhaled simultaneously a gruff imprecation, and then while the worthy in the high hat bent over the subject of their visit the one in the helmet raised a severe pair of eyes to Mark. “Don’t you think, sir, you might have prevented it?”
Mark took a hundred things in, it seemed to him — things of the scene, of the moment, and of all the strange moments before; but one appearance more vividly even than the others stared out at him. “I really think I must practically have caused it.”
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Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10