Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Charles Neville Buck > Tyranny of Weakness > This page

The Tyranny of Weakness, a novel by Charles Neville Buck

Chapter 33

< Previous
Table of content

The logs on the hearth leaped and crackled, spurting tongues of blue flame, and after they had roared up to their fullest they slowly subsided, until the shadows about the walls spread and encroached from their corners toward the center of the room. The polish of furniture and the bright angles of silver and bric-a-brac stood out with diminishing high-lights. Hour by hour and minute by minute the faces of two unmoving figures seated on a low and heavily cushioned couch grew less clear and merged into the growing darkness.

Then the logs glowed only as embers against their bed of white ashes and the table lamp burned on in single steadfastness.

Silence held the place, abandoned now by the furies, to the smile on two unstirring faces. The gray of the east had begun to brighten into the rose that comes ahead of the sun, when slowly, as if struggling under a weight of pyramids the heavy lids of one of the faces fluttered. They fluttered with no recognition as yet of the difference between death and life, realizing only the burden of an immeasurable inertia.

Almost imperceptibly the currents of submerged vitality began to steal back into the veins of Conscience Tollman.

For ages she seemed struggling through the heavy shades of coma, and even after she was able to see her surroundings, it was without a realization of their significance.

She sat studying with an impersonal gaze the quiet figure at her side, looking even at her own hand resting upon its shoulder with the same absence of interest that she might have felt for another hand and another shoulder.

But about the time that the sun came over the eastern skyline, dissipating the mistiness of dawn into the birth of a new day, she crossed the line between the palpable and impalpable, and her brain began to awaken to the need of battle with this lethargy.

The unmoving figure at her side was no longer simply an object upon which her eyes dwelt without recognition, but the man she loved and was sending away, and the hand which rested on his shoulder must no longer lie there idle.

Then with all its complicated features of phenomena, the bewilderment of the situation burst on her, and she struggled to her feet, reeling under the assaults of dizziness and weakness and wonderment.

How had they come to be sitting there in that unaccountable fashion together and alone, while the first brightness of morning stole in at the French windows and the lamp burned on with its sickly mingling of day and night and the fresh breeze swept in through a broken and flapping door?

Where was Eben?

Conscience raised her voice--still weak from the drug--and called wildly, but there was little sound and no answer. Undefined but strong, the realization struck in upon her that tragedy in some monstrous shape had entered the place and left its impress.

She stood, still groping with amazement, and her hands rose with a fumbling uncertainty until the touch of their fingers fell upon the bosom from which the drapery had been torn, and instinctively gathered it again over her breast and throat.

But whatever the riddle might portend it could await construction. One primary fact proclaimed itself in terms so clear and unmistakable that all else was lost.

Stuart seemed lifeless. She herself had the feeling of one who had been tangled in the fringes of death: who had struggled out of the meshes of a fatal web.

He had saved her, when she was too weak to fight--it all seemed very long ago.... She loved him.... She must save him now.

She knelt at his side, chafing his wrists and trying his heart with ear and touch--her eyes wide with almost hopeless forebodings.

At last she rose and pressed her hands tight to her throbbing temples.

"Thank God," she whispered, for a faint flutter of life had rewarded her investigation. In a bewildered voice she murmured: "I must think. I must remember! We were all sitting here--we were talking."

Again she called, feebly at first, then with a growing strength, for her husband, and when no answer came except the echo of her own voice, she left the room and went gropingly, supporting herself against furniture and wall, to the telephone--but the telephone, too, was dead. The storm had done that.

Confused now with a torrent of alarms and a sense of futility, she came back to the man whose life seemed so tenuously suspended, having no plan beyond a Valkyrie passion of resolution to bring him back from the border of death by the sheer force of invincible will. She succeeded, after many attempts, in shifting him from his sitting posture to a greater ease. Between his still lips she forced brandy.

After ages of suspense and vigil, with his head on her lap and her fingers wildly working at his wrists, she vacillated terribly between the hope that life was returning and the fear that it was waning. After other ages she saw his lids flicker almost imperceptibly and then, when anxiety had taken a heavy toll, his eyes looked up in uncomprehending life. Conscience bent her face close to his and there was breath on his lips and nostrils. Eben had been a Machiavelli in spirit only. In effect he had bungled.

* * * * *

Mystery still hung over the house of Eben Tollman an hour or two later, but the two figures that had sat with the quietness of unaccomplished death were again sensate and restored to full consciousness.

Conscience had been able to go to her own room, and Stuart, now dressed, came slowly and as yet somewhat haltingly down the stairs, holding carefully to the rail. He was setting out to search for Eben Tollman, and to call in medical help. But in the hall he paused, and then, turning on impulse, went slowly into the living-room.

There he stood looking about as a man who has dropped from his own planet to one wholly unfamiliar may seek to take his bearings.

His eyes fell as he paused on two patches of white which showed against the dark richness of the rugs and laboriously he picked them up. One was a yellow envelope inscribed "S. F. & C. W."

As a sudden blow may bring back a lost identity to the victim of amnesia the discovery electrified the man and he straightened into an abrupt erectness. His features lost their sleep-walking indefiniteness and his jaw stiffened.

As the significance of his discovery dawned on him, a pallor quite separate from that of his condition came over his face and a murder light broke in his eyes. He would go on with his search for Eben, but when he found him now--! He wheeled suddenly and began looking at the table, and across the confused screen of his brain flashed a complete picture and an understanding.

Then he studied the other and smaller envelope--and recognized it as the one which Dr. Ebbett had given Eben Tollman when they talked of a merciful release for the dog that had outlived his enjoyment of life.

"I don't believe I'll ever find him--alive," he said very slowly, under his breath; "I think I understand."

Then after a moment of grave reflection he added:

"I don't see why she need know it all," and he dropped the two letters and the small envelope upon the dead logs and touched a match to their edges. Then he carried three wine glasses out to the pantry, and carefully washed them, pouring again a few drops of clear wine, like residue, into their bottoms. "Coroners are inquisitive," he told himself musingly.

After that he opened the door and went out into the morning, which, succeeding the storm, was a morning of sunlight.

Charles Neville Buck's Novel: Tyranny of Weakness


Read previous: Chapter 32

Table of content of Tyranny of Weakness


Post your review
Your review will be placed after the table of content of this book