My Cousin Rachel Chapter 26

I put the envelope back in the drawer. I turned the key. I took the bunch of keys and replaced it on the dressing table. I did not look at her, as she lay sleeping in her bed. I went to my room.

I think I was more calm than I had been for many weeks. I went to my washing-stand, and standing there beside the jug and basin were the two bottles of medicine that the doctor had prescribed for me. I emptied the contents from the window. Then I went downstairs, with a lighted candle, and into the pantry. The servants had all gone to their quarters long ago. On the table near the washing-sink stood the tray with the two cups upon it from which we had drunk our tisana. I knew that John was sometimes idle of an evening, and might leave the cups till morning to be washed, as indeed he had. The dregs of the tisana lay in both the cups. I examined both of them by candlelight. They looked the same. I put my little finger into the dregs, first hers, then mine, and tasted. Was there a difference? It was hard to tell. It might be that the dregs from my cup were just a little thicker, but I could not swear to it. I left the pantry, and went again upstairs to my room.

I undressed and went to bed. As I lay there in the darkness I was not aware of anger, or of fear. Only compassion. I saw her as someone not responsible for what she did, besmirched by evil. Compelled and driven by the man who had power over her, lacking, through fault of circumstance and birth, in some deep moral sense, she was capable by instinct and by impulse of this final act. I wanted to save her from herself, and knew not how. It seemed to me that Ambrose was beside me, and I lived again in him, or he in me. The letter he had written, which I had torn in shreds, was now fulfilled.

I believed, in her strange way, that she had loved us both, but we had become dispensable. Something other than blind emotion directed her actions after all. Perhaps she was two persons, torn in two, first one having sway and then the other. I did not know. Louise would say that she had been the second always. That from the very first every thought, every move, had some premeditation. In Florence with her mother, after her father died, had it started then, or even before, the way of living? Sangalletti, dying in a duel, who had never been to Ambrose or myself other than a shadow without substance, had he suffered too? Louise, no doubt, would tell me that he had. Louise would insist that from the first encounter with Ambrose, two years before, she planned to marry him, for money. And when he did not give her what she wanted, planned his death. There was the legal mind. And she had not read the letter I had torn to shreds. What would be her judgment if she had?

What a woman had done once without detection, she can do twice. And rid herself of yet another burden.

Well, the letter was torn; neither Louise nor any one else would ever read it. The contents mattered little to me now. I did not think so much of them as of the last scrap that Ambrose wrote, dismissed by Rainaldi, and by Nick Kendall too, as being the final utterance of a brain diseased. “She has done for me at last, Rachel my torment.”

I was the only one to know he spoke the truth.

I was back again, then, where I had been before. I had returned to the bridge beside the Arno, where I had sworn an oath. Perhaps, after all, an oath was something that could not be foresworn, that had to be fulfilled, in its own time. And the time was come…

Next day was Sunday. Like all the Sundays past, since she had been a visitor to the house, the carriage came to take us both to church. The day was fine and warm. It was full summer. She wore a new dark gown of thin light stuff, and a straw bonnet, and carried a parasol. She smiled good morning at Wellington, and at Jim, and I helped her into the carriage. When I took my seat beside her, and we drove off through the park, she put her hand in mine.

I had held it many times, in love, before. Felt the small size of it, turned the rings upon the fingers, seen the blue veins upon the back, touched the small close-filed nails. Now, as it rested in my hand, I saw it, for the first time, put to another purpose. I saw it take the laburnum pods, in deft fashion, and empty out the seeds; then crush the seeds, and rub them in her palm. I remembered once I had told her that her hands were beautiful, and she had answered, with a laugh, that I was the first to tell her so. “They have their uses,” she said. “Ambrose used to say, when I was gardening, that they were workmen’s hands.”

Now we had come to the steep hill, and the drag was put upon the rear wheel of the carriage. She touched my shoulder with her shoulder, and putting up her parasol against the sun she said to me, “I slept so sound last night, I never heard you go,” and she looked at me, and smiled. Though she had deceived me for so long, I felt the greater liar. I could not even answer her, but to keep up the lie held her hand the firmer, and turned away my head.

The sands were golden in the westward bay, the tide far out, the water sparkling in the sun. We turned along the lane that led to the village, and to church. The bells were ringing out across the air, and the people stood around the gate and waited for us to alight from the carriage and pass in before them. Rachel smiled and bowed to all of them. We saw the Kendalls, and the Pascoes, and the many tenants from the estate, and we walked up the aisle to our pew as the organ played.

We knelt in prayer for a brief moment, our faces buried in our hands. “And what,” I thought to myself, for I did not pray, “is she saying to her God, if she acknowledges one? Does she give thanks for success in all she has achieved? Or does she ask for mercy?”

She rose from her knees and sat back on the cushioned seat, opening her prayer book. Her face was serene and happy. I wished that I could hate her, as I had hated her for many months, unseen. Yet I could feel nothing now but this strange, terrible compassion.

We stood up as the vicar entered, and the service began. I remember the psalm we sang upon that morning. “He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house: he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight.” Her lips moved with the words, her voice was soft and low as she sang. And when the vicar mounted the pulpit to preach his sermon, she folded her hands upon her lap and composed herself to listen, and her eyes, serious and intent, lifted to watch his face as he gave out his text, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

The sun came through the stained glass of the windows and shone upon her. I could see, from my seat, the round rosy faces of the village children, yawning a little as they waited for the sermon to finish, and I could hear the shuffle of their feet, pinched into Sunday boots, longing to be barefoot on the green in play. I wished passionately, for one brief moment, that I might be young again, and innocent, with Ambrose, and not Rachel, beside me in the pew.

“There is a green hill far away, beneath a city wall.” I don’t know why we sang that hymn this day; perhaps there had been some festival in connection with the village children. Our voices rose loud and clear in the parish church, and I did not think of Jerusalem, as I was no doubt supposed to do, but only of a plain grave in its corner of the Protestant cemetery in Florence.

When the choir had departed and the congregation were stepping out into the aisles, Rachel whispered to me, “I believe we should ask the Kendalls and the Pascoes to dine today, as we used to do. It has been so long, and they will grow offended.”

I thought a moment, and then nodded briefly. It would be better so. Their company would help to bridge the gulf between us, and occupied in conversation with the guests, used to my silence on these occasions, she would have no time to look at me, and wonder. Outside the church, the Pascoes needed no persuasion, the Kendalls rather more. “I shall be obliged to leave you,” said my godfather, “immediately we have dined, but the carriage can return again to fetch Louise.”

“Mr. Pascoe has to preach again at evensong,” interrupted the vicar’s wife, “we can take you back with us.” They fell into elaborate plans of transportation, and while they were thus arguing, and arranging how it could best be done, I noticed that the foreman in charge of the workmen who were employed upon the building of the terrace walk and the future sunken garden stood at the side of the path to speak to me, his hat in his hand.

“What is it?” I said to him.

“Excuse me, Mr. Ashley sir,” he said, “I looked for you yesterday, when we were done work for the day, but did not see you, just to warn you, if you should go on the terrace walk, not to stand on the bridgeway we are building across the sunken garden.”

“Why, what is wrong with it?”

“It’s only a framework, sir, until we can get working on it Monday morning. The planking looks firm enough to the eye, but it doesn’t bear no weight upon it. Anyone stepping on it, thinking to cross to the further side, could fall and break their neck.”

“Thank you,” I said, “I will remember.”

I turned to find my party had come to their agreement, and as on that first Sunday, which now seemed so long ago, we split into three groups, Rachel and my godfather driving in his carriage, and Louise and I in mine. The Pascoes, in their brougham, followed third. No doubt it had come about like this many times between; yet as we climbed the hill, and I got out and walked, I kept thinking of the first time, nearly ten months before, on that Sunday in September. I had been irritated by Louise that morning, sitting so stiff and proud, and had neglected her from that day forward. She had not wavered, but had stayed my friend. When we topped the hill, and I stepped once more into the carriage, I said to her, “Did you know that laburnum seeds are poisonous?”

She looked at me, surprised. “Yes, I believe so,” she said; “I know that if cattle eat them they die. And children too. What makes you ask? Have you lost cattle at the Barton?”

“No, not yet,” I said, “but Tamlyn spoke to me the other day about moving the trees that lean from the plantation to the field beneath, because of the seeds falling to the ground.”

“It might be wise to do so,” she replied. “Father lost a horse once, years ago, eating yew berries. It can come about so quickly, and there is nothing one can do.”

We came along the lane, and to the park gates, and I wondered what she would say if I told her of my discovery of the night before. Would she stare at me in horror, telling me I was mad? I doubted it. I thought she would believe me. This was not the place, though, with Wellington seated on the box and Jim beside him.

I turned my head; the other carriages were following behind. “I want to talk to you, Louise,” I said to her. “When your father leaves, after dinner, make some excuse to stay.”

She stared at me, a question in her eyes, but I said no more.

Wellington pulled up before the house. I got out and gave Louise my hand. We stood waiting for the others. Yes, it might have been that other Sunday, in September. Rachel was smiling now, as she smiled then. She was looking up at my godfather, talking as she did so; and I believe they were at politics again. That Sunday, though drawn towards her, she had been a stranger to me still. And now? Now, no part of her was strange. I knew the best, I knew the worst. Even the motives for all she did, baffling perhaps even to herself, I guessed them too. She hid nothing for me now, Rachel my torment…

“This,” she said smiling, as we all assembled in the hall, “is like old times again. I am so happy you have come.”

She embraced the party in a glance, and led the way to the drawing room. The room, as always, looked its best in summer. The windows were flung wide open, it was cool. The Japanese hortensias, feathery blue, stood long and slender in the vases, and reflected in the mirrors on the walls. Outside the sun beat down upon the lawns. It was very warm. A lazy bumblebee droned against one of the windows. The visitors sat down, languid, and content to rest. Seecombe brought cake and wine.

“You are all overcome because of a little sun,” laughed Rachel. “To me, it is nothing. In Italy we have it thus for nine months in the year. I thrive upon it. Here, I will wait upon you all. Philip, remain seated. You are still my patient.”

She poured the wine into the glasses and brought it to us. My godfather and the vicar both stood up, protesting, but she waved them aside. When she came last to me, I was the only one who did not drink.

“Not thirsty?” she said.

I shook my head. I would take nothing from her hands again. She put the glass back upon the tray, and with her own went and sat beside Mrs. Pascoe and Louise upon the sofa.

“I suppose,” said the vicar, “that in Florence now the heat is well-nigh unbearable, even to you?”

“I never found it so,” said Rachel. “The shutters would be closed early in the morning, which kept the villa cool throughout the day. We adapt ourselves to the climate. Anyone who stirs without in the middle of the day asks for disaster; so we stay within, and sleep. I am lucky, at the villa Sangalletti, in having a little court beside the house that faces north and never has the sun upon it. There is a pool there, and a fountain; and when the air feels used I turn on the fountain; the water dripping has a soothing sound. In spring and summer I never sit anywhere else.”

In spring, indeed, she could watch the buds upon the laburnum tree swell and turn to flower, and the flowers themselves, with drooping golden heads, make a canopy for the naked boy who stood above the pool, holding the shell between his hands. In their turn the flowers would fade and fall, and when high summer came to the villa, as it had come here, in less intensity, the pods upon the branches of the tree would burst and scatter, and the green seeds tumble to the ground. All this she would have watched, sitting in the little court, with Ambrose at her side.

“I would dearly love to visit Florence,” said Mary Pascoe, her eyes round, and dreaming of God knew what strange magnificence, and Rachel turned to her, and said, “Then you must do so, next year, and come and stay with me. You must all come and stay with me, in turn.” At once we were in the midst of exclamations, questions and expressions of dismay. Must she go soon? When would she return? What were her plans? She shook her head in answer. “Presently I shall go,” she said, “and presently return. I act on impulse, and will not confine myself to dates.” Nor would she be drawn into further detail.

I saw my godfather glance at me, out of the corner of his eye; then, tugging his mustache, stare at his feet. I could imagine the thought that was passing through his head. “Once she has gone, he will be himself again.” The afternoon wore on. At four, we sat to dinner. Once more I was seated at the head of the table and Rachel at the foot, my godfather and the vicar on either hand. Once more there was talk and laughter, even poetry. I sat, much with the same silence that I had at first, and watched her face. Then, it had been with fascination, because unknown. The continuation of conversation, the change of topic, the inclusion of each person at the table, was something that I had never seen a woman do, so it was magic. Now, I knew all the tricks. The starting of a subject, the whisper behind her hand to the vicar, and the laughter of both followed at once by my godfather leaning forward asking, “Now what was that, Mrs. Ashley, what did you say?” and her immediate reply, quick and mocking, “The vicar will inform you,” with the vicar, blushing red and proud, thinking himself a wit, embarking on a story that his family had not heard. It was a little game that she enjoyed, and we were all of us, with our dull Cornish ways, so easy to handle, and to fool.

I wondered if in Italy her task was harder. I did not think so. Only her company there was more suited to her mettle. And with Rainaldi at her hand to help her, speaking the language she knew best, the talk would sparkle at the villa Sangalletti with greater brilliance than it had ever done at my dull table. Sometimes she gestured with her hands, as though to clarify her rapid speech. When she talked to Rainaldi in Italian, I had noticed she did it even more. Today, interrupting my godfather in some statement, she did it once again; both hands, so quick and deft, brushing aside the air. Then, waiting for his answer, her elbows resting lightly on the table, the hands folded themselves, were still. Her head was turned to him as she listened, so that from the head of the table, where I sat, I looked on her in profile. She was always a stranger, thus. Those neat clipped features on a coin. Dark and withdrawn, a foreign woman standing in a doorway, a shawl about her head, her hand outstretched. But full-face, when she smiled, a stranger never. The Rachel that I knew, that I had loved.

My godfather finished his story. There was a pause, and silence. Trained now to all her movements, I watched her eyes. They looked to Mrs. Pascoe, then to me. “Shall we go into the garden?” she said. We all rose from our chairs, and the vicar, pulling out his watch, sighed and observed, “Much as I regret it, I must tear myself away.”

“I too,” remarked my godfather. “I have a brother sick at Luxilyan, and promised to call and see him. But Louise may stay.”

“Surely you have time to drink your tea?” said Rachel; but it seemed the hour was later than they thought, and at length, after some pother, Nick Kendall and the Pascoes departed in the brougham. Louise alone remained.

“Since there are only the three of us,” said Rachel, “let us be informal. Come to the boudoir.” And smiling at Louise she led the way upstairs. “Louise shall drink tisana,” she called, over her shoulder. “I will show her my method. When her father suffers from insomnia, if ever, this is the remedy.”

We all came to the boudoir and sat down, I by the open window, Louise upon the stool. Rachel busied herself with her preparations.

“The English way,” said Rachel, “if there can be an English way, which I rather doubt, is to take peeled barley. I brought my own dried herbs from Florence. If you like the taste, I will leave some with you when I go.”

Louise rose from the stool, and stood beside her. “I heard from Mary Pascoe that you know the name of every herb,” she said, “and have doctored the tenants here on the estate for many ailments. In old days, the people knew more about these things than they do now. Yet some of the old folk can still charm away warts and rashes.”

“I can charm more than warts,” laughed Rachel. “Call in at their cottages, and ask them. Herb-lore is very ancient. I learned it from my mother. Thank you, John.” John had brought up the kettle of steaming water. “In Florence,” said Rachel, “I used to brew the tisana in my room, and let it stand. It is better thus. Then we would go out into the court, and sit, and I would turn on the fountain, and while we sipped our tisana the water dripped into the pool. Ambrose would sit there, watching it, for hours.” She poured the water that John had brought into the teapot. “I have a mind,” she said “to bring back from Florence, next time I come to Cornwall, a little statue, like the one above my pool. It will take some finding, but I shall be successful in the end. Then we can put him to stand in the middle of the new sunken garden we are building here, and make a fountain too. What do you think?” She turned to me, smiling, and she was stirring the tisana with a spoon in her left hand.

“If you like,” I answered.

“Philip lacks all enthusiasm,” she said to Louise; “either he agrees to all I say, or does not care. Sometimes I think my labors here are wasted, the terrace walk, the shrubs in the plantation. He would have been content with rough grass, and a muddied path. Here, take your cup.”

She gave the cup to Louise, who sat down on the stool. Then she brought me mine, where I was sitting on the windowsill.

I shook my head. “No tisana, Philip?” she said. “But it is good for you, and makes you sleep. You have never refused before. This is a special brew. I have made it double strength.”

“You drink it for me,” I replied.

She shrugged her shoulders, “Mine is already poured. I like it to stand longer. This must be wasted. What a pity.” She leaned over me, and poured it from the window. Drawing back, she put her hand on my shoulder, and from her came the scent I knew so well. No perfume, but the essence of her own person, the texture of her skin.

“Are you not well?” she whispered, so that Louise could not hear.

If all knowledge, and all feeling, could be blotted out, I would have asked it then, and that she should remain, her hand upon my shoulder. No letter torn to shreds, no secret packet locked in a little drawer, no evil, no duplicity. Her hand moved from my shoulder to my chin, and stayed there for a moment in a brief caress, which, because she stood between me and Louise, passed unseen. “My sullen one,” she said.

I looked above her head, and saw the portrait of Ambrose above the mantelpiece. His eyes stared straight into mine, in youth and innocence. I answered nothing; and moving from me she put back my empty cup onto the tray.

“What do you think of it?” she asked Louise.

“I am afraid,” apologized Louise, “that it would take me a little time to like it well.”

“Perhaps,” said Rachel; “the musty flavor does not suit all persons. Never mind. It is a sedative to unquiet minds. Tonight we shall all sleep well.” She smiled, and drank slowly from her own cup.

We chatted a little while, for perhaps half an hour or more, or rather she did with Louise; then rising, and putting back her cup upon the tray, she said, “Now it is cooler, who will walk with me in the garden?” I glanced across at Louise, who, looking at me, stayed silent.

“I have promised Louise,” I said, “to show her an old plan of the Pelyn estate that I came across the other day. The boundaries are strongly marked, and show the old hill fortress being part of it.”

“Very well,” said Rachel, “take her to the drawing room, or remain here, as you please. I shall take my walk alone.”

She went, humming a song, into the blue bedroom.

“Stay where you are,” I said softly, to Louise.

I went downstairs, and to the office, for in truth there was an old plan that I had somewhere, among my papers. I found it, in a file, and went back across the court. As I came to the side door, that led from near the drawing room to the garden, Rachel was setting forth upon her walk. She wore no hat, but had her sunshade, open, in her hand. “I shall not be long,” she said, “I’m going up to the terrace—I want to see if a little statue would look well in the sunken garden.”

“Have a care,” I said to her.

“Why, of what?” she asked.

She stood beside me, her sunshade resting on her shoulder. She wore a dark gown, of some thin muslin stuff, with white lace about the neck. She looked much as I had seen her first, ten months ago, except that it was summer. The scent of the new cut grass was in the air. A butterfly flew past in happy flight. The pigeons cooed from the great trees beyond the lawn.

“Have a care,” I said slowly, “of walking beneath the sun.”

She laughed, and went from me. I watched her cross the lawn and climb the steps towards the terrace.

I turned back into the house, and going swiftly up the stairs came to the boudoir. Louise was waiting there.

“I want your help,” I said briefly, “I have little time to lose.”

She rose from the stool, her eyes a question. “What is it?”

“You remember the conversation that we had those weeks ago, in the church?” I said to her. She nodded.

“Well, you were right, and I was wrong,” I answered, “but never mind that now. I have suspicious of worse beside, but I must have final proof. I think she has tried to poison me, and that she did the same to Ambrose.” Louise said nothing. Her eyes widened in horror.

“It does not matter now how I discovered it,” I said, “but the clue may lie in a letter from that man Rainaldi. I am going to search her bureau here, to find it. You learned a smattering of Italian, with your French. Between us, we can reach some translation.”

Already I was looking through the bureau, more thoroughly than I was able to do the night before by candlelight.

“Why did you not warn my father?” said Louise. “If she is guilty, he could accuse her with greater force than you?”

“I must have proof,” I answered her.

Here were papers, envelopes, stacked neatly in a pile. Here were receipts and bills that might have alarmed my godfather had he seen them but meant little to me, in my fever to discover what I sought. I tried again the little drawer that held the packet. This time it was not locked. I pulled it open, and the drawer was empty. The envelope had gone. This might be an added proof, but my tisana had been poured away. I went on opening the drawers, and Louise stood beside me, her brows knit with anxiety. “You should have waited,” she said. “It is not wise. You should have waited for my father, who could take legal action. What you are doing now is what anyone might do, a common thief.”

“Life and death,” I said, “do not wait for legal action. Here, what is this?” I tossed her a long paper, with names upon it. Some of them in English, some Latin, some Italian.

“I am not sure,” she answered, “but I think it is a list of plants, and herbs. The writing is not clear.”

She puzzled over it, as I turned out the drawers.

“Yes,” she said, “these must be her herbs and remedies. But the second sheet is in English, and would seem to be notes on the propagation of plants; species after species, dozens of them.”

“Look for laburnum,” I said.

Her eyes held mine an instant, in sudden understanding. Then she looked down once more to the page she held in her hands.

“Yes, it is here,” she said, “but it tells you nothing.”

I tore it from her hands and read, where her finger pointed. “Laburnum Cytisus. A native of south Europe. These plants are all capable of being increased by seeds, and many of them by cuttings and layers. In the first mode, the seeds should be sown, either in beds or where the plants are to remain. In spring, as about March, and when of sufficient growth, transplanted into nursery rows, to remain till of a proper size for being planted in the situations where they are to grow.” Beneath was an added note of the source from where she had taken the information: The New Botanic Garden. Printed for John Stockdale and Company, by T. Bousley, Bold Court. Fleet Street. 1812.

“There is nothing here about poison,” said Louise.

I continued searching the desk. I found a letter from the bank. I recognized the handwriting of Mr. Couch. Ruthless and careless now, I opened it. “Dear Madam, We thank you for the return of the Ashley collection of jewels, which, according to your instruction, as you are shortly to leave the country, will remain with us in custody until such time as your heir, Mr. Philip Ashley, may take possession of them. Yours faithfully, HERBERT COUCH.”

I put the letter back, in sudden anguish. Whatever Rainaldi’s influence, some impulse of her own directed this action.

There was nothing else of any matter. I had searched thoroughly each drawer, raked every pigeonhole. Either she had destroyed the letter, or carried it upon her. Baffled, frustrated, I turned again to Louise. “It is not here,” I said.

“Have you looked through the blotter?” she asked, in doubt.

Like a fool, I had laid it on the chair, never thinking that so obvious a place could hide a secret letter. I took it up, and there, in the center, between two clean white sheets, fell out the envelope from Plymouth. The letter was still inside. I pulled it from its cover, and gave it to Louise. “This is it,” I said, “see if you can decipher it.”

She looked down at the piece of paper, then gave it back to me. “But it isn’t in Italian,” she said to me. “Read it yourself.”

I read the note. There were only a few, brief lines. He had dispensed with formality, as I had thought he might; but not in the manner I had pictured. The time was eleven of the evening, but there was no beginning. “Since you have become more English than Italian, I write to you in your language of adoption. It is after eleven, and we weigh anchor at midnight. I will do all you ask of me in Florence, and perhaps more beside, though I am not sure you deserve any of it. At least, the villa will be waiting for you, and the servants, when you at last decide to tear yourself away. Do not delay too long. I have never had great faith in those impulses of your heart, and your emotions. If, in the end, you cannot bring yourself to leave that boy behind, then bring him with you. I warn you though, against my better judgment. Have a care to yourself, and believe me, your friend, Rainaldi.”

I read it once, then twice. I gave it to Louise.

“Does it give you the proof you wanted?” she asked.

“No,” I said.

Something must be missing. Some postscript, on a further scrap of paper, that she had thrust into another sheet of the blotter. I looked once more, but there was nothing. The blotter was clean, save for one folded packet lying on the top. I seized it, and tore away the wrapping. This time it was not a letter, nor a list of herbs or plants. It was a drawing of Ambrose. The initials in the corner were indistinct, but I supposed it was by some Italian friend, or artist, for Florence was scribbled after the initials, and the date was the month of June, of the year he died. As I stared at it, I realized it must be the last likeness ever taken. He had aged much, then, after leaving home. There were lines about his mouth I did not know, and at the corners of his eyes. The eyes themselves had a haunted look about them, as though some shadow stood close to his shoulder and he feared to look behind. There was something lost about the face, and lonely too. He seemed to know disaster was in store. Though the eyes asked for devotion, they pleaded for pity too. Underneath the drawing, Ambrose himself had scribbled some quotation in Italian. “To Rachel. Non ramentare che le ore felici. Ambrose.”

I gave the drawing to Louise. “There is only this,” I said. “What does it mean?”

She read the words aloud, then thought a moment. “Remember only the happy hours,” she said slowly. She gave it back to me, and the letter from Rainaldi too. “Did she not show it you before?” she asked.

“No,” I answered.

We looked at one another in silence for a moment. Then Louise said, “Can we have misjudged her, do you think? About the poison? You see yourself, there is not any proof.”

“There never will be any proof,” I said. “Not now. Not ever.”

I put the drawing back upon the bureau, and the letter too.

“If there is no proof,” said Louise, “you cannot condemn her. She may be innocent. She may be guilty. You can do nothing. If she be innocent, and you accused her, you could never forgive yourself. You would be guilty then, not her at all. Let’s leave this room, and go down into the drawing room. I wish now we had not meddled with her things.”

I stood by the open window of the boudoir staring out across the lawn.

“Is she there?” asked Louise.

“No,” I said, “she has been gone nearly half an hour, and has not returned.”

Louise crossed the room and stood by my side. She looked into my face. “Why is your voice so strange?” she said. “Why do you keep your eyes fixed there, on those steps leading to the terrace walk? Is anything the matter?”

I brushed her aside and went towards the door.

“Do you know the bell-rope on the landing beneath the belfry,” I said to her, “the one that is used at noon to summon the men to dinner? Go now, and pull it hard.”

She looked at me, puzzled. “What for?” she asked.

“Because it is Sunday,” I said, “and everyone is out, or sleeping, or scattered somewhere; and I may need help.”

“Help?” she repeated.

“Yes,” I said, “there may have been an accident, to Rachel.”

Louise stared at me. Her eyes, so blue and candid, searched my face.

“What have you done?” she said; and apprehension came upon her, conviction too. I turned, and left the room.

I ran downstairs, and out across the lawn and up the path to the terrace walk. There was no sign of Rachel.

Near to the stones and mortar and the stack of timber above the sunken garden the two dogs were standing. One of them, the younger, came towards me. The other stayed where he was, close to the heap of mortar. I saw her footsteps in the sand and lime, and her sunshade, still open, tipped upon its side. Suddenly the bell rang out from the clock-tower on the house. It went on and on, and the day being still and calm the sound of it must have traveled across the field, down to the sea, so that men fishing in the bay would have heard it too.

I came to the edge of the wall above the sunken garden, and saw where the men had started work upon the bridge. Part of the bridge still remained and hung suspended, grotesque and horrible, like a swinging ladder. The rest had fallen to the depths below.

I climbed down to where she lay among the timber and the stones. I took her hands and held them. They were cold.

“Rachel,” I said to her, and “Rachel” once again.

The dogs began barking up above, and louder still came the sound of the clanging bell. She opened her eyes, and looked at me. At first, I think in pain. Then in bewilderment. Then finally, so I thought, in recognition. Yet I was in error, even then. She called me Ambrose. I went on holding her hands until she died.

They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days.

Not anymore, though.