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قراءة كتاب The Four Corners of the World

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‏اللغة: English
The Four Corners of the World

The Four Corners of the World

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
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outside the door with him. He could not have moved six paces from the door, for though he closed it behind him, we heard the sound of his voice and of his servant's speaking in low tones. Moreover, there was no appreciable moment of time between the cessation of the voices and Cranfield's reappearance in the room. He came back to the fireplace and said very quietly:

"'I have something terrible to tell you. Brayton has shot himself.'

"He then glanced from Linfield's face to mine, and sat down in a chair heavily. Then he crouched over the fire shivering. Both Linfield and myself were too shocked by the news to say a word for a moment or two. Then Linfield asked:

"'But is he dead?'

"'Humphreys says so,' Cranfield returned. 'I have telephoned to the police and to the doctor.'

"'But we had better go upstairs ourselves and see,' said I. And we did."

Thus Chalmers. Humphreys, the man-servant, gave the following account:

"The bell rang from Captain Brayton's room at half-past five. I answered it at once myself, and Captain Brayton asked me at what hour the post left. I replied that we sent the letters from the house to the post-office in the village at six. He then asked me to return at that hour and fetch those of his which would be ready. I returned precisely at six, and I saw Captain Brayton lying in a heap upon the rug in front of the fire. He was dead, and he held a revolver tightly clenched in his hand. As I stepped over him, I smelt that something was burning. He had shot himself through the heart, and his clothes were singed, as if he had held the revolver close to his side."

These stories were repeated at the inquest, and at this particular point in Humphreys' evidence the coroner asked a question:

"Did you recognise the revolver?"

"Not until Captain Brayton's hand was unclenched."

"But then you did?"

"Yes," said Humphreys.

The coroner pointed to the table on which a revolver lay.

"Is that the weapon?"

Humphreys took it up and looked at the handle, on which two initials were engraved--"A. C."

"Yes," said the man. "I recognised it as Mr. Cranfield's. He kept it in a drawer by his bedside."

No revolver was found amongst Captain Brayton's possessions.

It became clear that, while the three men were talking in the billiard-room, Captain Brayton had gone to Cranfield's room, taken his revolver, and killed himself with it. No evidence, however, was produced which supplied a reason for Brayton's suicide. His affairs were in good order, his means sufficient, his prospects of advancement in his career sound. Nor was there a suggestion of any private unhappiness. The tragedy, therefore, was entered in that list of mysteries which are held insoluble.

"I might," said Chalmers, "perhaps resume the argument which Humphreys interrupted in the billiard-room, with a better instance than any which I induced--the instance of Captain Brayton."


III


"You won't go?" Archie Cranfield pleaded with Mr. Twiss. "Linfield and Chalmers leave to-day. If you go too, I shall be entirely alone."

"But why should you stay?" the lawyer returned.

"Surely you hardly propose to remain through the winter in this house?"

"No, but I must stay on for a few days; I have to make arrangements before I can go," said Cranfield; and seeing that he was in earnest in his intention to go, Mr. Twiss was persuaded. He stayed on, and recognised, in consequence, that the death of Captain Brayton had amongst its consequences one which he had not expected. The feeling in the neighbourhood changed towards Archie Cranfield. It cannot be said that he became popular--he wore too sad and joyless an air--but sympathy was shown to him in many acts of courtesy and in a greater charity of language.

A retired admiral, of a strong political complexion, who had been one of the foremost to dislike Archie Cranfield, called, indeed, to offer his condolences. Archie Cranfield did not see him, but Mr. Twiss walked down the drive with him to the gate.

"It's hard on Cranfield," said the admiral. "We all admit it. It wasn't fair of Brayton to take his host's revolver. But for the accident that Cranfield was in the billiard-room with Linfield and Chalmers, the affair might have taken on quite an ugly look. We all feel that in the neighbourhood, and we shall make it up to Cranfield. Just tell him that, Mr. Twiss, if you will."

"It is very kind of you all, I am sure," replied Mr. Twiss, "but I think Cranfield will not continue to live here. The death of Captain Brayton has been too much of a shock for him."

Mr. Twiss said "Good-bye" to the admiral at the gate, and returned to the house. He was not easy in his mind, and as he walked round the lawn under the great trees, he cried to himself:

"It is lucky, indeed, that Archie Cranfield was in the billiard-room with Linfield and Chalmers; otherwise, Heaven knows what I might have been brought to believe myself."

The two men had quarrelled; Brayton himself had imparted that piece of knowledge to Mr. Twiss. Then there was the queer change in Archie Cranfield's character, which had made for him enemies of strangers, and strangers of his friends--the slyness, the love of solitude, the indifference to the world, the furtive smile as of a man conscious of secret powers, the whole indescribable uncanniness of him. Mr. Twiss marshalled his impressions and stopped in the avenue.

"I should have had no just grounds for any suspicion," he concluded, "but I cannot say that I should not have suspected," and slowly he went on to the door.

He walked through the house into the billiard-room, and so became the witness of an incident which caused him an extraordinary disquiet. The room was empty. Mr. Twiss lit his pipe and took down a book from one, of the shelves. A bright fire glowed upon the hearth, and drawing up a chair to the fender, he settled down to read. But the day was dull, and the fireplace stood at the dark end of the room. Mr. Twiss carried his book over to the window, which was a bay window with a broad seat. Now, the curtains were hung at the embrasure of the window, so that, when they were drawn, they shut the bay off altogether from the room, and when they were open, as now, they still concealed the corners of the window-seats. It was in one of these corners that Mr. Twiss took his seat, and there he read quietly for the space of five minutes.

At the end of that time he heard the latch of the door click, and looking out from his position behind the curtain, he saw the door slowly open. Archie Cranfield came through the doorway into the room, and shut the door behind him. Then he stood for a while by the door, very still, but breathing heavily. Mr. Twiss was on the point of coming forward and announcing his presence, but there was something so strange and secret in Cranfield's behaviour that, in spite of certain twinges of conscience, he remained hidden in his seat. He did more than remain hidden. He made a chink between the curtain and the wall, and watched. He saw Cranfield move swiftly over to the fireplace, seize a little old-fashioned clock in a case of satinwood which stood upon the mantelshelf, raise it in the air, and dash it with an ungovernable fury on to the stone hearth. Having done this unaccountable thing, Cranfield dropped into the chair which Mr. Twiss had drawn up. He covered his face with his hands and suddenly began to sob and wail in the most dreadful fashion, rocking his body from side to side in a very

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