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Dead Men Tell No Tales E. W. Hornung

Chapter XII My Lady's Bidding

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I saw her shrink, virago as she was. I waved my arms, I shrieked in her face. It was not all acting. Heaven knows how true it was about the sleep. I was slowly dying of insomnia. I was a nervous wreck. She must have heard it. Now she saw it for herself.

No; it was by no means all acting. Intending only to lie, I found myself telling little but the strictest truth, and longing for sleep as passionately as though I had nothing to keep me awake. And yet, while my heart cried aloud in spite of me, and my nerves relieved themselves in this unpremeditated ebullition, I was all the time watching its effect as closely as though no word of it had been sincere.

Mrs. Braithwaite seemed frightened; not at all pitiful; and as I calmed down she recovered her courage and became insolent. I had spoilt her night. She had not been told she was to take in a raving lunatic. She would speak to Squire Rattray in the morning.

"Morning?" I yelled after her as she went. "Send your husband to the nearest chemist as soon as it's dawn; send him for chloral, chloroform, morphia, anything they've got and as much of it as they'll let him have. I'll give you five pounds if you get me what'll send me to sleep all to-morrow - and to-morrow night!"

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Never, I feel sure, were truth and falsehood more craftily interwoven; yet I had thought of none of it until the woman was at my door, while of much I had not thought at all. It had rushed from my heart and from my lips. And no sooner was I alone than I burst into hysterical tears, only to stop and compliment myself because they sounded genuine - as though they were not! Towards morning I took to my bed in a burning fever, and lay there, now congratulating myself upon it, because when night came they would all think me so secure; and now weeping because the night might find me dying or dead. So I tossed, with her note clasped in my hand underneath the sheets; and beneath my very body that stout weapon that I had bought in town. I might not have to use it, but I was fatalist enough to fancy that I should. In the meantime it helped me to lie still, my thoughts fixed on the night, and the day made easy for me after all.

If only I could sleep!

About nine o'clock Jane Braithwaite paid me a surly visit; in half an hour she was back with tea and toast and an altered mien. She not only lit my fire, but treated me the while to her original tone of almost fervent civility and respect and determination. Her vagaries soon ceased to puzzle me: the psychology of Jane Braithwaite was not recondite. In the night it had dawned upon her that Rattray had found me harmless and was done with me, therefore there was no need for her to put herself out any further on my account. In the morning, finding me really ill, she had gone to the hall in alarm; her subsequent attentions were an act of obedience; and in their midst came Rattray himself to my bedside.

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Dead Men Tell No Tales
E. W. Hornung

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