He was in the best of health

In that chilly hour preceding dawn, under the searching grey eye of
earliest morning, the coffin was opened in the presence of Pentland
and his family. The likeness between the lawful son and the unlawful,
even more apparent in death than in life, startled the woman best
prepared to countenance a gross deception. Leah could almost have
imagined this waxen, awful face to be that of Jim; and an emotion of
genuine fear shook her to the soul she had so deliberately burdened.
Moreover, and not without reason, that haunting thought of an
_assisted_ death became appallingly obtrusive before these medicated
remains. Was Demetrius–was she–guilty of—-? Her will fought
desperately against the suggested word, and this mental struggle still
further compelled the revelation of elemental feelings. Streaming
tears, trembling hands, furtive glances, testified to truthful
terrors, breaking through calculated pretence. It needed a scornful
look from Frith the sceptic, and an amazed stare on the part of
Demetrius, to assure her that she beheld a corpse of no importance,
save as a substitute for a living double. And even then this ironic
inspection of the false seemed but a gruesome masquerade of Jim’s
lying in state, when his turn really came.

The actuality of her feelings afforded a welcome escape from further
harrowings; and she left the room, clinging to the arm of Demetrius,
careless whither he led her. The picture gallery was his goal, since
its seclusion invited no eavesdroppers, and here he experimented with
personally manufactured salts, pungent and rousing. These, it soon
appeared, were scarcely needed. Lady Jim, released from the necessity
of playing a grim comedy, recovered speedily, and with recuperation
came the disposition to flick away the disagreeable.

“What a fool I am!” said Leah, enraged to discover she was but mortal.

“A woman, a woman,” murmured Demetrius, cynically complacent.

“But no heroine. Ugh!” she shivered, and huddled in her chair. “I
shall dream of that thing for the next year. It was so like Jim. Ugh!
ugh! Horrible! horrible!”

“Why should the sight of an empty house so startle you, madame?”

“I am in no mood for metaphors. Go away; you will be needed to shut
that thing up.”

“My successor the undertaker will do that. I have done my share.”

“I only hope you have not overdone it,” muttered the woman.

“And the meaning of that remark, madame?”

Leah wanting to know, yet, fearing to know, evaded an answer and
shirked a question. “Leave me for a time,” she entreated.

“No–if you will pardon my rudeness. We have much to talk about.”

“Cannot you wait till after the funeral?” she said crossly. “It will
look so strange, your remaining here with me.”

“Ah, but no, madame. To those who might speak I am but your doctor,
who has brought you here to recover yourself.”

“I am perfectly recovered–perfectly.”

“In that case we can talk,” he insisted.

She yielded, not being yet her old fighting self after the
soul-shaking. It was dangerous to enter upon a contest with flawed
armour, so she temporised. It would be best, she decided, to hear his
story, without committing herself to comments. Later, when her nerves
were steady, she could answer more cautiously the question he was
about to ask at an inopportune moment. Her wary nature declined a
consideration of marriage arrangements, to the extent of fixing a date
for a ceremony in which she did not intend to take part. Still, he
could plead, and she could, and would, procrastinate; therefore would
the victory be with her when this unprepared interview ended.

“Talk on,” she said languidly; then added, with a spite created by
shattered nerves, “though I think it very disagreeable of you, to make
me look on that horrid dead thing.”

Demetrius was tolerant of feminine irrelevance. “Madame, to avert
possible suspicion, it was necessary.”

“Undoubtedly it was necessary,” admitted self-contradicting woman.
“But–what a risk!”

“Ah, pardon; in the dark, all cats are grey.”

“I know nothing about cats, but the faces of the dead certainly vary,
M. Demetrius. And dangers cannot be explained away by proverbs.”

“In this case the danger has explained itself. We are now safe.”

The plural struck disagreeably on Leah’s ear, and reminded her
somewhat pointedly of the readjusted relations between herself and the
doctor. “_We_ are now safe,” she echoed, with reproving emphasis.

“Assuredly,” responded Demetrius, wilfully blind. “Monseigneur has
been completely deceived; also M. le Marquis and Madame his wife;
while your tears, my dear friend, have washed away any possible doubts
which, for my part, I do not believe existed.”

Again she was faced by positive circumstances, for the Russian’s last
words hinted a sarcasm which annoyed her. It might be that, with still
quivering nerves, she looked too anxiously for causes of offence, but
the familiar ease of his manner was unpalatable. A second implied
rebuke would avail as little as had the first, and Leah, mindful of
her dignity, abstained from indicating in words the Rubicon he was not
to cross. Demetrius knew overmuch for her to speak authoritatively, so
it was necessary to permit him the odious intimacy of an accomplice.
But he should pay hereafter for his usurpation of such a position:
that she vowed inwardly, even while smiling on his success. Smiling
was possible now, as the prospect of an inevitable verbal duel braced
her to abnormal self-control.

“Sit down,” she commanded abruptly. “I have yet to learn details of
your scheme.”

“_Our_ scheme,” he reminded her.

“You flatter me, M. Demetrius, since I cannot take credit for your
clever inventions.”

“We are all in the same boat, madame.”

“You, I, and—-?” she glanced at him inquiringly.

“Your husband.”

“Can you not grasp the fact that I am a widow? When I have a husband,”
she smiled meaningly, “do you think he will sanction Mr. Berring
rowing in the boat you mention?”

Suspicious people are the easiest to gull, and the smile, rather than
the words, changed the gloomy doubter into a confiding child. Her
enforced diplomacy was gaining her ground already. “My angel! you
mean—-”

Leah cleverly shortened a possible rhapsody. “Of course I do. Ah!”
with a sentimental sigh; “what have I done to be so doubted?”

“Never by me, I swear. Believe me, soul of my soul—-”

“Hush!” she raised an admonitory finger to check dithyrambic wooings
at an untoward moment. “We are yet in the wood.”

“Out of it, while here–yes, here, where you so sweetly promised we
should become one”; his voice sank tenderly.

“After certain preliminaries had been observed, M. Demetrius.”

“Say, Constantine.”

“As you will, Constantine. I can deny you few things, after what you
have done.”

“Yet what you deny is what I desire.”

Lady Jim displayed impatience at this headlong haste. “We are not in
Verona, nor will your age permit you to play Romeo to a Juliet of my
temperament. When my husband’s body is buried”–she laughed
consciously–“and my months of mourning are ended, then–well,
then–ah, be patient, Constantine.”

“Am I not to touch your finger-tips meanwhile?”

“If it is any satisfaction”; and she gave him her hand to mumble,
ruminating meanwhile on this shrinking of giant to dwarf. The
unendurable lasted half a minute; then, “Be sensible, M. Demetrius.”

“Ah!” the child sighed for his lost rattle; “you descend from poetry
to prose.”

She nodded. “Would you versify explanations?”

“Explanations?”

“Necessary ones. How did you transfer Garth’s body to Jamaica?”

The doctor looked piteous. “To think of wasting this golden hour,” he
murmured.

“Oh!” The ejaculation was careless, but the instinct was to box a
dullard’s ears. “Business before pleasure, M. Demetrius.”

“At least, Constantine.”

“M. Demetrius,” she repeated inflexibly. “We are to marry, well and
good; but beforehand, I must understand my position as a Russian
princess.”

The pessimism of the Slav asserted itself in renewed doubts. “I am a
simple doctor, madame.”

“Very simple, if you imagine–but that can be discussed later. Come,”
cajolingly to a hesitating and sullen being, “an account of your
adventures must prove amusing. Cheer me up for the funeral.”

This extraordinary conclusion staggered a man not easily moved to
amazement. “Mon Dieu!” Then in English: “You were weeping some minutes
ago, madame.”

“And I may be weeping some minutes later,” she retorted, suppressing
rising irritation. “I ask explanations rather than give them. Tell me
how you managed.”

Shrugging away a question relative to female weathercocks, Demetrius
reluctantly obeyed. He desired love-talk, and she hard facts; but
naturally her subject forced his subject out of sight. Man being
romantic, and woman practical, the latter invariably clips the
former’s wings, lest he should soar beyond the necessities of her
hour. Moreover, his pinions rendered useless, Demetrius could not
dispute common-sense views. Thus, dexterously managed, did he yield to
a puppet, Fate, the strings of which were pulled by obstinacy and
selfishness, blended into what Leah called firmness. She was an adept
at ticketing her vices virtues.

“That poor Garth”–the doctor mentioned his late patient thus
endearingly throughout the narrative–“died of consumption.”

“Of consumption?” Leah put the question she had been shirking for so
long with nervous emphasis, and with short, indrawn breaths.

“Assuredly, and earlier than I expected. There was no need to—-”

“I know–I know! Do not put it into words,” she fiddled with her
handkerchief, looking up, down, everywhere except at her companion.
“Did he suffer much?” was her inquiring whisper.

“Not at all; he died in his sleep. Pray do not alarm yourself, madame;
the release was a happy and an easy one.”

“I am so glad–so relieved,” murmured Lady Jim, seeing the spectre
which had long haunted her pillow dissolve into thin air. “You see, I
thought–that is, I fancied—-” she hesitated, and passed her tongue
over dry lips.

“The need did not arise,” explained the doctor, answering somewhat
contemptuously her unspoken fears; “although I was prepared to—- No,
do not shudder; there is no blood on my hands, nor on yours. We can
marry in peace.”

The doubly false prophecy of the last sentence provoked her into
ignoring the entire speech. “Go on–please go on. Garth died a natural
death at Funchal. Well?”

“I did not say that, madame.”

“Absurd! Why, your explanation—-”

“Is yet to come, if you will accord me a hearing”; whereupon,
accepting an impatient permission, Demetrius slipped into the
undramatic–literally so, for he avoided oratorical snares, the high
colouring of superlatives, and the temptation to dilate on obviously
sensational moments. He might have been reciting the alphabet, so dry
was his deliver of an advisedly barren tale.

One Richard Strange, mariner–so commenced the sober _Odyssey_–owned
and captained a sea-gipsy, prowling on ocean highways and in harbour
byways for the picking up of chance cargoes. As an instinctive
buccaneer, ostensibly law-abiding, he lent himself and his
tramp-steamer to whatever nefarious proposals promised the acquisition
of money at slight risks. Thus fitted for the Russian’s requirements,
secret instructions brought him to anchor in Funchal Bay. With him
sailed, for possible restoration to health, a consumptive nephew,
Herne by name, also a factor in an admirably conceived scheme.

“The dead was necessary for the living, and the dead for the dead,”
said Demetrius, paradoxically.

“What do you mean by that?” questioned Lady Jim, very naturally.

“The body of that poor Garth had to be buried in Madeira, madame; yet,
being wanted here, to pass as the corpse of your husband, it was
necessary to arrange for a substitute.”

“I understand. Herne was to pass as Garth, and Garth as Jim.”

Demetrius assented and proceeded. With his two patients the doctor
lodged at a second-rate hotel, not a stone’s-throw from the shore. In
due time Herne died, and Demetrius, at once transferring the body to
Garth’s bedroom, induced the surviving consumptive to board the
_Stormy Petrel_–so the sea-gipsy was named–for the purpose of
informing its skipper of his relative’s death. Strange, previously
advised, detained the young man, and Demetrius proceeded to bury Herne
under the prisoner’s name.

“An easier task than you would think, madame,” he explained; “for the
Portuguese landlord confused the names of my patients, owing to his
ignorance of their language.”

“But scarcely of their appearance, I should think,” observed Lady Jim,
shrewdly.

Demetrius shrugged away the objection. “I cannot say that the landlord
had studied Lavater. To his uninformed eye, two fair young Englishmen
were much alike; and consumption, madame, begets a family likeness in
those it afflicts. I assure you that this Portuguese was as satisfied
that my poor Garth had died, as is Monseigneur convinced that his son
lies in the coffin we inspected.”

Leah shuddered for the twentieth time at the mental picture evoked.
“Ugh! What then?”

The doctor informed her placidly. As Garth, under a tombstone suitably
inscribed, the skipper’s nephew was buried–the very fact that he had
existed thus being blotted out by a chiselled lie. Then did the
sea-tramp loaf–the word is appropriate–over-seas to Jamaica at a
slow ten knots an hour; with bad luck it would seem to one passenger,
at least.

“He died on board,” exclaimed the listener.

“That poor Garth–ah yes; as a child did he fall asleep, to
waken—-” Demetrius spread his hands, at a loss to supply further
information. His ideas of a future state were vague.

With an admirably embalmed body on board, the disreputable craft of
Captain Strange slipped her anchors in Kingston Harbour; but no
half-masted ensign intimated her lugubrious cargo. Lord James Kaimes,
forewarned by a cypher letter, rowed out to inspect an eidolon of
himself, as he would one day appear. His nerves being shaken by
enforced invalidism, he did not appreciate the sight. Also, the
medicines of Demetrius, given to induce counterfeit consumption and
lean, sallow looks, made him fear lest this rascally comedy should
deepen into a real tragedy for himself. Those in Kingston with whom he
had made acquaintance were not surprised when Demetrius took him
eastward to the famous Blue Mountains, in the hope that the healing
air would mend his lungs; nor did any one manifest astonishment when,
after a discreet period, news came of his death. Perhaps, if these
sympathisers had seen one James Berring sneak on board the _Stormy
Petrel_, and had beheld that ship rolling south to Buenos Ayres, they
would have expended less pity on his untimely decease. As it was,
while Jim foregathered with the skipper–a man after his own
buccaneering heart–former acquaintances, Government officials, and
local doctors were complimenting Demetrius on the clever way in which
he had embalmed the late James Kaimes’ body, with such few scientific
appliances as could be at hand in the Blue Mountains.

“They had no suspicion–these people?” questioned Leah, abruptly.

“I assure you, no, madame. My mummy, you saw it, yourself.”

Leah rose, lest her mind’s eye should conceive too vivid a picture. “I
shall always see it,” she murmured, with loathing. “Ugh! What a fool I
am–what a fool!”

“A woman, a woman. And so, madame, we recommence our conversation.”

“It has already lasted too long,” she rejoined. “Lord Frith—-” Here
she stopped, too discreet to repeat club gossip, which might
strengthen still more the already strong position of Demetrius.

“You were about to observe, madame?”

“Nothing! It is of no moment. You are sure all is safe–sure?”

“As sure as I am that we, you and I, shall be happy.”

“Sentiment and business mix about as well as snow and fire,” snapped
Leah, yet ridden by a nightmare memory of that dead face; “but this
sailor whose nephew you borrowed?”

“Captain Strange? He will say what I will.”

“At a price, no doubt.”

“Of the smallest, madame. One thousand pounds.”

“Ridiculous! Extortionate!”

“One cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs,” said Demetrius,
in dry tones; “it would be well not to vex my friend Strange.”

“Who wants to vex him? He shall have his money. Anything else?”

“This letter from your late husband”; and Demetrius handed over an
envelope directed in Jim’s sprawling hand, and sealed with Jim’s
ancestral coat of arms.

“Fool!” was Leah’s comment on this carelessness. “Doesn’t he know he
is dead, and is about to be buried?” She thrust the letter hastily
into her pocket and was about to hurry away, when she caught a glimpse
of the Russian’s darkening face. She paused wisely, to dismiss him
with a compliment. “You have managed splendidly, M. Demetrius.”

“Do I not deserve to be called Constantine, now?”

“Yes–no–that is–oh, don’t bother”; Lady Jim snatched away the hand
he had captured. “You foreigners never learn sense.”

“Are you teaching it to me now?” he asked in a metallic voice.

“I am–if you are clever enough to learn the lesson. See as little of
me as possible, and don’t speak to me at all. When Jim–that is, when
Garth–is buried, we shall see.”

“But, madame—-”

“Quite so. Consider your objections answered.”

“They will be answered,” said Demetrius, very distinctly, “before the
altar of any church you may select.”

A remembrance of his capacity for being dangerous, and an anxious
survey of his narrowing eyes, made her deceptive. She diplomatically
employed feminine strategy, against which no man living can
man[oe]uvre. “You doubt me, Constantine,” whispered the she-Judas,
with trembling tenderness; “will not this—-?” She bent forward to
drop a butterfly kiss on his forehead, and left him dazed, in the
seventh and most exalted Paradise of Fools.

“Faugh!” said Lady Jim, when shut up in her own room. There she read
the communication from her legally deceased husband. It narrated a
story similar to that detailed by Demetrius, but scarcely so
concisely. Mr. Berring showed a disposition to ramble, and his
excursions ended on every occasion in a command to send half the
insurance money at once–the last two words being aggressively
underlined. He was in the best of health, on his way to Buenos Ayres;
thence would travel to Rosario–“where that woman lives,” commented
Leah, tearing off the address and carefully burning Jim’s maunderings.
“Half the money–eh? Fifteen thousand pounds! I think not, Mr.
Berring. That captain, too, with his absurd charge, and after all my
trouble! I wonder Demetrius does not claim his share, also.”

It would have been cheaper had he done so, since she possessed the
money and he intended to possess her. But he would refuse a cheque and
claim her hand, as she reflected with impotent rage. What a pity she
could not pay him off, and, along with Jim and Strange, dismiss him
into Limbo! She did not exactly know what Limbo was, or where it was,
save that once there these people could not bother her. But with all
the will in the world she could not get out of the apparent cul-de-sac
she had walked into.

“Demetrius wants _me_, and these other beasts my money,” she raged
inwardly. “What a mean advantage they all take! Pigs! As though I
worked for nothing. What is to be done? What–what?”

This question was difficult to answer. Jim she could bamboozle with a
small sum, since he could not well betray her without laying himself
open to a charge of conspiracy. But the Russian and the skipper, both
adventurers of the most reckless type, would assuredly demand their
wages. “I shall have to pay that captain,” she decided regretfully;
“but Demetrius–insolent little creature!–he shall go to Siberia,
even if I have to kiss him again. Faugh!”

Then she descended to tell the Duke how the sight of poor dear Jim’s
face had broken her up entirely. Yet people said that Leah Kaimes had
no sense of humour.