The Tempting of Tavernake by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Chapter XXV. The Madman Talks
Tavernake turned on the light. Pritchard, with a quick leap forward, seized Wenham around the waist and dragged him away. Elizabeth had fainted; she lay upon the floor, her face the color of marble.
"Get some water and throw over her," Pritchard ordered.
Tavernake obeyed. He threw open the window and let in a current of air. In a moment or two the woman stirred and raised her head.
"Look after her for a minute," Pritchard said. "I Il lock this fierce little person up in the bathroom."
Pritchard carried his prisoner out. Tavernake leaned over the woman who was slowly coming back to consciousness.
"Tell me about it," she asked, hoarsely. "Where is he?"
"Locked up in the bathroom," Tavernake answered. "Pritchard is taking care of him. He won't be able to get out."
"You know who it was?" she faltered.
"I do not," Tavernake replied. "It isn't my business. I'm only here because Pritchard begged me to come. He thought he might want help."
She held his fingers tightly.
"Where were you?" she asked.
"In the bathroom when you arrived. Then he bolted the door behind and we had to come round through your bedroom."
"How did Pritchard find out?"
"I know nothing about it," Tavernake replied. "I only know that he peered through the latticework and saw you sitting there at supper."
She smiled weakly.
"It must have been rather a shock to him," she said. "He has been convinced for the last six months that I murdered Wenham, or got rid of him by some means or other. Help me up."
She staggered to her feet. Tavernake assisted her to an easy chair. Then Pritchard came in.
"He is quite safe," he announced, "sitting on the edge of the bath playing with a doll."
"What is he doing with it?" she asked.
"Showing me exactly, with a shawl pin, where he meant to have stabbed you," Pritchard answered, drily. "Now, my dear lady," he continued, "it seems to me that I have done you one injustice, at any rate. I certainly thought you'd helped to relieve the world of that young person. Where did he come from? Perhaps you can tell me that."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"I suppose I may as well," she said. "Listen, you have seen what he was like to-night, but you don't know what it was to live with him. It was Hell!"--she sobbed--"absolute Hell! He drank, he took drugs, it was all his servant could do to force him even to make his toilet. It was impossible. It was crushing the life out of me."
"Go on," Pritchard directed.
"There isn't much more to tell," she continued. "I found an old farmhouse--the loneliest spot in Cornwall. We moved there and I left him--with Mathers. I promised Mathers that he should have twenty pounds a week for every week he kept his master away from me. He has kept him away for seven months."
"What about that story of yours--about his having gone in swimming?" Pritchard asked.
"I wanted people to believe that he was dead," she declared defiantly. "I was afraid that if you or his relations found him, I should have to live with him or give up the money."
"And to-night you thought--"
"I thought he was his brother Jerry," she went on. "The likeness was always amazing, you know that. I was told that Jerry was in town. I felt nervous, somehow, and wired to Mathers. I had his reply only last night. He wired that Wenham was quite safe and contented, not even restless."
"That telegram was sent by Wenham himself," Pritchard remarked. "I think you had better hear what he has to say."
She shrank back.
"No. I couldn't bear the sight of him again!"
"I think you had better," Pritchard insisted. "I can assure you that he is quite harmless. I will guarantee that."
He left the room. Soon he returned, his arm locked in the arm of Wenham Gardner. The latter had the look of a spoilt child who is in disgrace. He sat sullenly upon a chair and glared at every one. Then he produced a small crumpled doll, with a thread of black cotton around its neck, and began swinging it in front of him, laughing at Elizabeth all the time.
"Tell us," Pritchard asked, "what has become of Mathers?"
He stopped swinging the doll, shivered for a moment, and then laughed.
"I don't mind," he declared. "I guess I don't mind telling. You see, whatever I was when I did it, I am mad now--quite mad. My friend Pritchard here says I am mad. I must have been mad or I shouldn't have tried to hurt that dear beautiful lady over there."
He leered at Elizabeth, who shrank back.
"She ran away from me some time ago," he went on, "sick to death of me she was. She thought she'd got all my money. She hadn't. There's plenty more, plenty more. She ran away and left me with Mathers. She was paying him so much a week to keep me quiet, not to let me go anywhere where I should talk, to keep me away from her so that she could live up here and see all her friends and spend my money. And at first I didn't mind, and then I did mind, and I got angry with Mathers, and Mathers wouldn't let me come away, and three nights ago I killed Mathers."
There was a little thrill of horror. He looked from one to the other. By degrees their fear seemed to become communicated to him.
"What do you mean by looking like that, all of you?" he exclaimed. "What does it matter? He was only my man-servant. I am Wenham Gardner, millionaire. No one will put me in prison for that. Besides, he shouldn't have tried to keep me away from my wife. Anyway, it don't matter. I am quite mad. Mad people can do what they like. They have to stop in an asylum for six months, and then they're quite cured and they start again. I don't mind being mad for six months. Elizabeth," he whined, "come and be mad, too. You haven't been kind to me. There's plenty more money--plenty more. Come back for a little time and I'll show you."
"How did you kill Mathers?" Pritchard asked.
"I stabbed him when he was stooping down," Wenham Gardner explained. "You see, when I left college my father thought it would be good for me to do something. I dare say it would have been but I didn't want to. I studied surgery for six months. The only thing I remember was just where to kill a man behind the left shoulder. I remembered that. Mathers was a fat man, and he stooped so that his coat almost burst. I just leaned over, picked out the exact spot, and he crumpled all up. I expect," he went on, "you'll find him there still. No one comes near the place for days and days. Mathers used to leave me locked up and do all the shopping himself. I expect he's lying there now. Some one ought to go and see."
Elizabeth was sobbing quietly to herself. Tavernake felt the perspiration break out upon his forehead. There was something appalling in the way this young man talked.
"I don't understand why you all look so serious," he continued. "No one is going to hurt me for this. I am quite mad now. You see, I am playing with this doll. Sane men don't play with dolls. I hope they'll try me in New York, though. I am well-known in New York. I know all the lawyers and the jurymen. Oh, they're up to all sorts of tricks in New York! Say, you don't suppose they'll try me over here?" he broke off suddenly, turning to Pritchard. "I shouldn't feel so much at home here."
"Take him away," Eizabeth begged. "Take him away." Pritchard nodded.
"I thought you'd better hear," he said. "I am going to take him away now. I shall send a telegram to the police-station at St. Catherine's. They had better go up and see what's happened."
Pritchard took his captive once more by the arm. The young man struggled violently.
"I don't like you, Pritchard," he shrieked. "I don't want to go with you. I want to stay with Elizabeth. I am not really afraid of her. She'd like to kill me, I know, but she's too clever --oh, she's too clever! I'd like to stay with her."
Pritchard led him away.
"We'll see about it later on," he said. "You'd better come with me just now."
The door closed behind them. Tavernake staggered up.
"I must go," he declared. "I must go, too."
Elizabeth was sobbing quietly to herself. She seemed scarcely to hear him. On the threshold Tavernake turned back.
"That money," he asked, "the money you were going to lend me--was that his?"
She looked up and nodded. Tavernake went slowly out.