23. Oh, I Defy Thee, Hell, To Show On Beds Of Fire That Burn Below, A Deeper Woe
Philip pushes a chair forward as if to signify there is no need to guard the window.
The action excites Eleanor to passion.
"It is cowardly to kill," she cries through her clenched teeth.
"And if I did, what should I get in return for all he has stolen from me? Could he give me back your heart? Could he blot out the past with his blood? Should I regain the pure thing I lost, the wife I treasured, the woman I adored? Think how he shattered my life and wrecked my happiness, when he enticed you with the golden apple, that rots and decays, turning to wormwood between the lips! You were allured by the seductive cajolery, the damnable influence of a scoundrel."
Eleanor's breast heaves, she staggers forward in a frenzy.
"Stop! What you say is false. I was not 'enticed.' I went because I loved him body and soul; because existence without him was empty--impossible. If I had stayed with you, loving him, I should not have been true to myself; I should have played the traitor in my own home; the curse would have been on you and on your children. If such a thing were possible, here in this new land, my passion developed, increased, tenfold. The night and day, the light, the darkness, they hold nothing for me but this rapturous love, all that is precious, tender, sweet. I have fed on in this paradise till you
came, like an image of death, to bring back all that is odious, hateful."
"Yes," he replies slowly, "I can believe you were happy, clinging to the prize you held so dear. Your words have not surprised me, I have listened to them so often in fancy, picturing this scene, when you and I alone should stand together and bare our souls. I expected to hear your short-lived rapture hurled at me as a shield, a fortification! I am ready to judge it, to weigh it if you will, in the scales of right and wrong. Will you not continue?"
His words wither Eleanor's defence; she shrinks back into herself.
"Surely you have something more to say," with an ironical laugh, that re-echoes discordantly round the room.
She shakes her head mournfully, and drops her hands to her sides.
"Perhaps," he continues, "I was to blame. I was not in harmony with you; I failed to please."
The words are a protest, wrung from the bottom of her soul.
"Or I did not place sufficient confidence in you; we had 'family jars,' 'vexed questions,' 'disagreements.'"
"Philip, for pity's sake----"
He runs his fingers through the grey hair, lying moist upon his sun-bronzed brow. The crow's feet of sorrow furrow the corners of his eyes, which are stern, but not angry. They have looked for the last time on the golden season of life, now they stare at Eleanor as if reading in her face the key of the everlasting twilight that has fallen on his days.
Instinctively she cowers back, hiding her burning face in her hands, red with a flush of deepest shame.
"Don't shrink from me," he says. "It is almost incomprehensible, Eleanor, but----"
She looks up quickly.
"Ever since you left me I have had no thought but you. In life's morning you were my love, my all. I could not tear you from my heart had I wished to. But I never tried."
"Is that possible?" she gasps incredulously. "You must indeed have loved me!"
"I may be mad, but it is so. I love you now in your degradation, and misery, in spite of all!"
The confession staggers her.
"And you show it by hunting me down to destroy my happiness. You must have sought long to find me here, and now that you are successful, now that I am run to earth, what will you do?"
"What do you think?
His face becomes fiendish. She watches his sinister smile.
"I have told you what I believe you capable of--you will murder him. I know it. You have no pity! The love you boast of is swallowed up in hate."
An evil flame lights his mocking eyes.
"Yes, I might spring at his throat as he comes from the jungle, I might set 'Help' upon him in the dark. He is a weak man, easily unnerved. The very sight of this knife----"
Philip has drawn a sharp blade of steel from his coat and flashed it in the moonlight, with a bitter groan.
He replaces it at the sight of her terror, with something of regret in his hard smile.
"What false professions!" sneers Eleanor. "You dare to speak of loving mo, when you would rob me of the man in whom all my happiness lies!"
Philip winces as if suddenly recalled to facts.
"Yes, your whole future was controlled by him."
His words fill her with a vague misgiving, but she draws herself up proudly and replies:
"It is safe in Carol's keeping."
"You are sure of that?"
She bows a cold assent.
"Then listen, Eleanor." He speaks authoritatively. "Come here. Sit down."
He points to a chair, but she sinks on the edge of the sofa, too agitated to notice her proximity to the huge mastiff.
"There is need of explanation," Philip continues, never taking his eyes off her white, scared face. "It is time you understood me. You say I have 'run you to earth,' as if through this long period of separation I had been hunting you like a bloodhound, and suddenly found myself on your track. You imagine I have just discovered you."
Eleanor's lips part as if to speak, but the words are choked back in her throat. "Help" stirs his head, for the first time she sees he is at her feet.
"You recall," says Philip, "that small dog--a suspicious Irish terrier--you were given some time back?"
"What of him? How did you know?" turning her eyes wonderingly from "Help" to Philip.
"It was killed in some bushes by a wild beast, when you were riding one day with your lover."
The mastiff rises slowly, and stretches himself, as if wearied by his day's work.
Eleanor draws her skirts away from contact with his coarse hair.
She sees it all at last.
"Killed," she repeats, "and by your dog."
Her breath comes quicker, she turns and peers through the window, as if expecting something.
"There is still more," declares Philip. "That cat's-eye ring I gave you, Eleanor--where is it?"
His voice pulses with suppressed force.
"Carol was attacked in the jungle one night----"
"By a masked fiend, who tore him from his horse and shook him by the throat, like a cat with a mouse, then flung him aside as a scorpion too poisonous to touch--a foul thing, only fit to lie beneath a rock, hidden from the sight of man. When he rose up, his assailant had gone, like a silent ghost on that lonely road."
Philip holds his lean fingers before her eyes, and flashing on one of them gleams the greenish light of the cat's-eye gem.
Again Eleanor looks fearfully out into the night, she fancies she hears Carol on the steps below.
"While you have been basking in your 'paradise' dreaming your short-lived vision of love, I have watched and waited, prowling to and fro with 'Help,' a faithful servant, at my heels. Your dog scented me, he proclaimed my presence, so I let 'Help' silence him once and for all. Many a night when you sat together, there in that verandah, your hand linked in his ringless fingers, your eyes feasting on his false face, I crouched below, watching. Did you never feel my nearness? Ah, you shudder! It was
strange--very strange. It maddened me that he should wear your ring--my ring--so I wrenched it from him."
She listens like one in the thralls of a hideous nightmare. If Carol comes now--he is lost!
"Why, when I had him by the throat," asks Philip, "did I not strangle the life from his body? Why did I stay my hand? How was it I watched your happiness with hungry eyes, and did not strike? I could have shot you dead in each other's arms scores of times. I inexorably determined on his death, but held the sword suspended, like Damocles, by a single hair."
She listens acutely to his every syllable.
"Why?" she stammers feebly, her mind groping in the dark.
"So long as he was faithful to you--so long as he valued what you flung at his feet, I would not wake you from your Elysium. By this I proved
the love you discredit. My action should not plunge you into an abyss of woe; but now
that he is false--false as Hell
"Liar!" breaks in Eleanor hotly; "your miserable accusation is unfounded."
"Wait. When he left you for long days of 'sport,' what do you think was the nature of that chase?"
Eleanor is silent, numbed by dread and despair.
"His game--was a woman, who knew from his lips your whole history. I have seen them together for hours at a time--heard them speak--jest at your expense. But, in spite of this, she was jealous of you, and, but for a bad shot, would have taken your life that day in the jungle, when I killed her horse under her. You see I was guarding you, Eleanor. He has been scheming to go away with her; to desert you as a toy that is broken--a flower which has lost its scent."
She leaps to her feet, and flings open the window.
"You are hoodwinking me with a trumped-up story; it is not true!"
"Hear me out. He is serving you as you treated me. It is retribution. You forfeited his respect and consideration. He gave you only the brief glamour of his passion, which has died, to re-live in the smiles of 'Paulina.'"
"Philip, these lies are dastardly--cruel! You do not know what you are saying."
"You cling hard to your faith!" he retorts savagely, her staunchness to Carol awaking a fever of indignation within him. "Did I ever in the old days deserve that hard term 'liar'?"
She shakes her head. "Oh, no!"
"You are waiting for him to-night, Eleanor. He had promised, I believe, to return?"
She gazes down the slanting road.
"Yes. He is late." Then, with a sudden cry: "And when he comes--oh! Philip, I had not realised it--your revenge! What can I do to save him? Anything--I care not what! I will go and leave him--I will kill myself here before your eyes, as a ransom! You are mistaken, he is not
false to me; any moment he may arrive. Only spare his life, for the love of Heaven!"
She falls on her knees at Philip's feet, beating the air with her hands.
He raises her gently, but firmly.
"You need not look," he says, as her terrified eyes stare out at the moonlit scene, white and ghostly. "Yesterday he wrote to the woman Paulina, making all arrangements for their flight this night. She dropped the letter in the jungle, from a satchel full of shot. It is here."
He holds out the torn envelope, with its broken seal and deadly intelligence.
Eleanor takes it mechanically--as yet she cannot believe--while the sight of the familiar handwriting sends the hot blood coursing freely once more through her brain.
She draws the closely-worded sheet from its resting-place and crosses to the light to scan the text.
Philip watches her face as it bends over the letter. He has struck a match and holds it up to illuminate that fatal message.
Every vestige of life seems to fly from her features. The page swims before her tailing sight, the words become crossed and blurred. She has read enough!
Then she remembers Paulina's fingers have touched this paper, perhaps her lips, and it flutters from Eleanor's hands at the thought, falling silently between her and Philip.
"Now," he cries, "can you grasp my mission? Do you guess why I am here? There was no longer any cause for him to live." Philip throws back his coat, and she sees the shirt beneath it is splashed with blood.
Philip throws back his coat, and she sees the shirt beneath it is splashed with blood.
He takes her icy hand and draws her towards the verandah.
"I killed him at sunset," he whispers, pointing outwards, "over there, on that far hill. When night came I bore him back to you. Now in the moonlight, down near the well, or to-morrow at dawn, you will find your lover. His set face is looking up from the long grass, his last word was 'Paulina!'"
Eleanor staggers to the rails, and points towards the well.
She seems struggling to speak, but there is only a low gurgle in her throat.
Philip stands on the steps. "'Help,'" he says abruptly, calling the dog. "Come."
Together the man and beast pass like visions into the night.
Eleanor crouches away to the far corner of the verandah, her limbs relax, and she huddles herself in a heap on the hard ground, without a cry; without a moan.
Another day breaks gloriously over the East; in the first rays of sunlight Eleanor stirs. With difficulty she rises from her cramped position, a shudder runs over her frame as she walks unsteadily down the steps, in the direction of the well.
The jungle fowl on tree and ground give forth their sharp shrill cries.
The bulbul whistles sweet notes like those of a thrush.
The golden oriole with its bright yellow plumage whirrs as a flash of sunlight through the trees, and the birds at home are singing.