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Dead Men Tell No Tales E. W. Hornung

Chapter X Wine and Weakness

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Heaven knows how much or how little I took that evening! I can swear it was the smaller half of either bottle - and the second we never finished - but. the amount matters nothing. Even me it did not make grossly tipsy. But it warmed my blood, it cheered my heart, it excited my brain, and - it loosened my tongue. It set me talking with a freedom of which I should have been incapable in my normal moments, on a subject whereof I had never before spoken of my own free will. And yet the will to - speak - to my present companion - was no novelty. I had felt it at our first meeting in the private hotel. His tact, his sympathy, his handsome face, his personal charm, his frank friendliness, had one and all tempted me to bore this complete stranger with unsolicited confidences for which an inquisitive relative might have angled in vain. And the temptation was the stronger because I knew in my heart that I should not bore the young squire at all; that he was anxious enough to hear my story from my own lips, but too good a gentleman intentionally to betray such anxiety. Vanity was also in the impulse. A vulgar newspaper prominence had been my final (and very genuine) tribulation; but to please and to interest one so pleasing and so interesting to me, was another and a subtler thing. And then there was his sympathy - shall I add his admiration? - for my reward.

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I do not pretend that I argued thus deliberately in my heated and excited brain. I merely hold that all these small reasons and motives were there, fused and exaggerated by the liquor which was there as well. Nor can I say positively that Rattray put no leading questions; only that I remember none which had that sound; and that, once started, I am afraid I needed only too little encouragement to run on and on.

Well, I was set going before we got up from the table. I continued in an armchair that my host dragged from a little book-lined room adjoining the hall. I finished on my legs, my back to the fire, my hands beating wildly together. I had told my dear Rattray of my own accord more than living man had extracted from me yet. He interrupted me very little; never once until I came to the murderous attack by Santos on the drunken steward.

"The brute!" cried Rattray. "The cowardly, cruel, foreign devil! And you never let out one word of that!"

"What was the good?" said I. "They are all gone now - all gone to their account. Every man of us was a brute at the last. There was nothing to be gained by telling the public that."

He let me go on until I came to another point which I had hitherto kept to myself: the condition of the dead mate's fingers: the cries that the sight of them had recalled.

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Dead Men Tell No Tales
E. W. Hornung

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