The End and "The Beyond"
It took Lilian Rosenberg some time to make up her mind.
"It's extraordinary," she said to herself, "how fond I am of Shiel. I used to think it an impossibility for me to be really fond of anyone.... The question is, however, am I sufficiently in love with him, to give him up to that soft little cat—Gladys Martin! If it weren't for this illness—if I could only persuade myself that he isn't as ill as Miss Whatever-her-name-is—said, I shouldn't think twice—I should let things be—but as I feel sure he is really ill—dangerously ill—and the only chance of his recovery lies in the possibility of his marrying Martin—I must deliberate. Shall I or shall I not? If it were any other woman I shouldn't so much mind—but—Gladys Martin! I can't endure her. There is one hope, however, namely—that if he marries her, he will soon tire of her—and—and come to me. What a tremendous score off her that would be! But, no! I wouldn't do that! Because—because—well there—just like my infernal luck—I love him. Could I marry him, I wonder, even if there were no Gladys Martin? It is doubtful! Yet I believe I could. But what is the good of conceiving impossibilities! There is a Gladys Martin—and—I can never have Shiel. The only question I have to settle is—Shall she have him? Shall I marry Kelson so that Martin can marry Shiel?"
Lilian Rosenberg turned this question over in her mind for a whole day and night, sometimes arriving at one decision, sometimes at another. In the end—very elaborately dressed, and looking daintier than she had ever done in her life, she waylaid Kelson and asked him to have tea with her.
Any pretty face, accentuated by all the allurements of a large mushroom hat and hobble skirt, was enough for Kelson; but when that face belonged to the one girl for whom, above all other girls, he had a colossal weakness, he simply could not feast his eyes enough on it.
"Have tea with you? Of course I will," he said. "But we must be careful. Hamar is about. If you walk on up the Haymarket, I'll follow in a taxi, and pick you up, directly I get to a safe distance."
"I see you are as much in awe of Mr. Hamar as ever," Lilian Rosenberg laughed. "I'm not! I've found him out—he's all talk. But do as you will—get your taxi and I'll walk on—we'll have tea in my new flat."
Kelson was so delighted he hardly knew if he stood on his head or his heels. "You are prettier than ever," he said, as the taxi-door shut and they sped away. "I declare there seems no limit to your beauty."
"Only because you're partial," she said. "I shall grow ugly one day. Perhaps—soon." With a savage energy, she set to work to completely overcome him. With a languishing expression in her eyes—eyes, which she made use of mercilessly, without giving him a moment's respite—she watched his whole being vibrate with love and adoration.
They had hardly entered the drawing-room of her flat when he threw himself at her feet, and poured forth his worship of her in the most extravagant phrases.
"Look here, Mr. Kelson," she said at length, withdrawing the hand it seemed as if he would never leave off kissing, "this is all very well; but I daresay you make love to countless other girls in this same fashion. How can I tell if you are really serious?"
"Don't I look as if I am?" he cried.
"One can never judge correctly by looks," she replied; "they are terribly deceptive. You are very emphatic in your avowals of love, but you say nothing about marriage."
"Then you do care for me! Jerusalem! How happy I should be if only I thought that!"
"Think it, then," Lilian Rosenberg said, "and let us come to an understanding. Can you afford to keep a wife—keep her, as I should expect to be kept—plenty of new dresses, jewelry, theatres, balls, motors, Ascot, Henley, Cowes?"
"I reckon I could do all that," Kelson replied. "I've just over a hundred and fifty thousand pounds in the bank, and with this 'cure' business, I'm taking on an average ten thousand per week. I would settle a hundred thousand on you, and make you a handsome allowance—a thousand a week—more if you wanted it."
"Well!" Lilian Rosenberg said after a slight pause, during which Kelson had again seized her hand and was kissing it convulsively, "to quote one of your Americanisms—I reckon I'll fix up with you. On one condition, however."
"And that," Kelson murmured, still kissing her feverishly.
"That we marry a week to-day!"
Kelson dropped her hand as if he had been shot. "We can't!" he cried. "The Compact!"
"Oh, damn the Compact!" Lilian Rosenberg said coolly. "You marry me then—or not at all!"
"You are joking—you know what the Compact means!"
"I know what you think it means. For my own part I don't see that you have the slightest reason to fear. The Unknown cannot really harm you. All you have to do is to turn religious. Anyhow you must risk it—that is to say, if you want me."
"It will lead to a quarrel with Hamar," Kelson said desperately. "The Firm will dissolve—and I shan't get a cent more money."
"I'll be content with what you have in the bank now. We can live on the interest of fifty thousand. The hundred thousand you will, of course, settle on me at once."
He was silent. She taunted him, she ridiculed him; she at last lost her temper with him—whereupon he succumbed. The marriage should take place at a registry office within the week.
"There'll be no time for a trousseau!" he said.
"Oh, hang the trousseau!" she said. "I shall have the hundred thousand pounds. And now for a word of advice. Be sure that you do not let Hamar get any inkling of our approaching marriage, and be most careful to avoid doing anything that might arouse his suspicions. It isn't that I'm afraid of him—but I don't want rows—I'm sick to death of them!"
"You can rely on me to be careful, darling!" Kelson said, kissing her on the lips. "I'll be discretion itself," and so he meant to be. All the same—as is the case with every lover—every lover worthy of the name of lover—who loves with all the full, ripe vigour of genuine passion, his heart played havoc with his head; and he was blind to everything save visions of his beloved. In other circumstances this would not have mattered very much, but with Hamar's lynx eyes continually watching him, it was certain to lead to disaster.
"Ed!" Hamar said to Curtis one day. "Matt's been getting into mischief. I know the symptoms well. He can't look me in the face, and every now and then, when he fancies my attention is attracted elsewhere, I catch him peeping furtively at me as if he were frightened out of his life I should ferret out some secret. It would be deplorable if now that we have got so near the end of the Compact, we should be held up by some idiotic blunder—some nonsensical love affair of his. I wonder whether it's Rosenberg or some other girl. Will you find out?"
"How can I?" Curtis growled. "I'm not his keeper."
"I know that!" Hamar said. "Come be reasonable. You want to be a Crœsus—so that you can eat and drink your head off—don't you! Well! You will! You will be one of the three wealthiest men in the world—you will have the world at your feet, if only you stick to me for the next seven months: till we have passed the seventh stage. If you don't—if either you or Matt deliberately quarrel with me, or marry—then, as I've dinned into your ears a thousand times, the Compact will be broken, and—not only that, but some frightful catastrophe will wipe us off. Now will you do what I ask? Come—a dinner with me every night this week, at the Piccadilly—champagne—and no vegetables!"
"All right," Curtis said sulkily, "for the good of the cause I suppose I must, but I hate spying."
Two nights later in a private room at the Piccadilly, after dinner, when the champagne and liqueurs had got into Curtis's head and he was leaning back in his chair, smiling and silly, Hamar suddenly said, "Ed! you remember what I told you—about watching Kelson. Have you discovered anything?"
"Shupposing I have," Curtis replied, "shupposing I haven't—whatch then?"
"Ah, but I know you have," Hamar said, striving to hide his eagerness. "Come, tell me, another liqueur—I'll square it with the Unknown—it won't hurt you!"
"Won't it!" Curtis gurgled. "Wont'ch it! I'll tell you everything. No—nothingsh, I mean."
But Hamar when once he had smelt a rat, was not easily put off. He coaxed, and coaxed, and eventually succeeded.
"Leonsh!" Curtis said, with a sudden burst of drunken confidence. "Leonsh! it's worse than either you or I shuspected. I caught them alone this morning—in my offish."
"Them! Rosenberg and Matt!"
"Yesh, of course, shilly! I told Matt I was going out. He thought I had—so into the room I came—quite unshuspected, unobsherved. She was sitting on hish knees, cuddling—and he was putting a ring on her finger. 'Four more days, darling,' shays he, 'and we are married! Jerushalem! Damn the Compact and damnsh Hamar!' 'Hamar doesn't shuspect, does he?' Rosenberg shays. 'Not a bit—not in the slightest,' old Matt replieshes, 'why it is I who amsh brave now.' Then he kisshes her, and fearing they would detect my presence, I slipsh quietly out."
"Will you swear this is true?" Leon said, his voice trembling with excitement.
"I'll schwear it!" Curtis answered, "but you look crossh. Whatsh the matter, Leon? God! What's the matter!"
An hour later, as Kelson was rising from his chair in front of the fire to gaze, for the hundredth time that evening, into the eyes of Lilian Rosenberg's portrait on the mantelshelf, the door of his room flew open and in staggered Curtis—white, wet and bloated.
"Great heavens!" Kelson cried. "What the deuce have you been doing to yourself? You look a perfect devil!"
"I am one!" Curtis groaned. "I am one, Matt! I've given your show away."
"My show away! Why, what the deuce do you mean?"
In a string of broken sentences Curtis explained what had happened. "I'm damned sorry, Matt, old man," he pleaded. "It was the drink that did it—I didn't know what I was saying till it was too late—till I saw Leon's face—and that cleared my brain—brought me to myself. It was hellish. I remember the moment I mentioned the word marriage—he sprang up from his chair, and as he hurried out, I heard him mutter, 'I'll go to her straight—I'll—' Matt, old man, he meant mischief. I'm certain of it. Come with me to her flat—for God's sake—COME." And catching hold of Kelson, who leaned against the mantelshelf, dazed and stupefied, he dragged him into the street.
To revert to Hamar. Curtis's information had transformed him. He was, now, another creature. Prior to his conversation with Curtis, he had suspected, at the most, that Kelson might be contemplating a secret engagement to Lilian Rosenberg—but a hasty marriage—a marriage in a few days' time—he had never dreamt that Kelson could be as mad as that. It was outrageous! It was abominable! It was sheer wholesale homicide! At all costs the marriage must be stopped. And mad with rage, Hamar dashed out of the hotel, and calling a taxi, drove direct to Lilian Rosenberg's flat.
He found her alone—alone—and with a strange expression in her eyes—an expression he had never noticed in them before. She was in the act of examining a magnificent diamond ring.
"You're quite out of breath," she said coolly, "didn't you come up by the lift?"
"I've come to talk business," Hamar panted. "It's no use looking like that. I know your secret."
"My secret!" Lilian Rosenberg replied, opening her eyes and simulating the greatest unconcern, "what secret? I don't understand."
"Oh, yes, you do!" Hamar said, "you understand only too well—you deceitful minx. Had I only been smart—I should have given you the sack months ago. This marriage of yours with Kelson shall not come off."
"My marriage with Mr. Kelson!" Lilian Rosenberg said, turning a trifle pale. "I really don't know what you are talking about."
"You do!" Hamar shouted, his fury rising. "You do! You know all about it. You were seen sitting on his knee this morning, and all your conversation was overheard. I have found out everything. And I tell you, you shan't marry him."
"I shan't marry him!" Lilian Rosenberg said with provoking coolness. "Whoever thinks I want to marry him?"
"He does—I do!" Hamar shouted—his voice rising to a scream. "You've hoodwinked me long enough—you hoodwink me no longer. You've encouraged him from the first—made eyes at him every time you've seen him—taken advantage of my absence to prowl about the passages to waylay him—had him round to your rooms and visited him in his. You've no sense of shame or honour—you've broken your promises to me—you're a liar!"
"Anything else Mr. Hamar!" Lilian Rosenberg said, her eyes glittering. "When you've quite finished, perhaps—you'll kindly go and leave me in peace."
"Go! Leave you in peace!" Hamar shouted. "Damn you, curse your impertinence! Go! I'll not budge an inch till I wring from you an oath—a solemn binding oath, that you'll break off your engagement with Kelson at once."
"Really, Mr. Hamar!" Lilian Rosenberg said, "I cannot put up with quite so much noise. Will you go, or shall I ring for the porter to turn you out?"
She moved in the direction of the bell as she spoke, but before she could touch it Hamar had intercepted her.
"Stop this foolery!" he said catching hold of her wrist, "I'm in grim earnest—the lives of all three of us are at stake—jeopardized through you—through your infernal greed and selfishness. Do you hear!"
"Please let go my wrist," she said quietly.
"I won't!" he shouted. "I'll squeeze, crush it, break it! Break you, too, unless you swear to break off your marriage!"
"I'll swear nothing," Lilian Rosenberg said faintly. "You're a brute. Let me go or I'll cry for help."
She screamed, but before she could repeat the scream, Hamar had her by the throat—and then blind with passion and before he fully realized what he was about, he had shaken her to and fro—like a terrier shakes a rat—and had dashed her on the floor.
For some minutes he stood rocking with passion, and then, his eyes falling on the inanimate form at his feet, he gave a great gasping cry and bent over it.
"God in Heaven!" he ejaculated, "she's dead! I've killed her!"
He was still bending over her—still feeling her lifeless pulse, still trying to resuscitate her—feebly wondering how he had killed her, feverishly debating the best course to pursue—when Curtis and Kelson burst in on him.
At the sight of Lilian Rosenberg's lifeless body both men started back. "Great God! Hamar!" Curtis gasped. "What have you done to her?"
"Nothing!" Hamar said, turning a ghastly face to them. "I—I found her like this!"
"Liar!" Kelson shouted beside himself with fury. "Liar! We heard her scream. Look at your hands—there's blood on them! You've killed her!"
Before Curtis could stop him he sprang at Hamar, and the next moment both men were rolling on the floor.
"Call for the police, Ed!" Kelson gasped, "the police—or—" But before he could utter another syllable, walls, floor and ceiling shook with loud, devilish laughter. There was then silence—enthralling, impressive, omnipotent silence—the electric light went out—and the room filled with luminous, striped figures.
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