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The Mysterious Mr. Miller, Page 2

William Le Queux

relentless,even murderous resentment.

  I was about to assure him of Sammy's utter disinclination to poke fun atany foreigner, when I saw that if I did so I should only aggravate thesituation. Therefore I let it pass.

  The Italian was a man of refinement, exquisite of manner towards theladies as was all his race, and though I cannot explain it he struck meas being well-born, and superior to those sitting at table with him.Yet he vouchsafed but little as regards himself. Italy was his home--that was all. And Italy is a great place; a country of a hundrednations. The Venetian is of a different race from the Sicilian, theTuscan from the Calabrian. I still suspected he was a Tuscan, yet hespoke the Italian tongue so well that at one moment I put him down as aborn Florentine, while at the next as a Livornese or a Roman.

  He saw that I knew Italy and the Italians, and was purposelyendeavouring to mislead me.

  That same night, just after midnight, Jane, one of themaids-of-all-work, rapped at my door, saying:--

  "Please, sir, the Italian gentleman's been taken awful ill. We can'tmake out what 'e wants. Would you kindly go to 'im?"

  I dressed hurriedly, and, ascending to the stranger's room, asked, inItalian, permission to enter.

  A faint voice responded, and a moment later I was at the stranger'sbedside. The feeble light of the single candle showed a great change inhis countenance, and I saw that he was suffering severely and seemed tobe choking.

  "I--I thank you very much, signore, for coming to me," he said, withconsiderable difficulty. "I am having one of my bad attacks--I--I--"

  "Had you not better see a doctor? I'll call a friend of mine, if you'llallow me."

  "Yes. Perhaps it would really be best," was his reply, and I saw thathis hands were clenched in sudden pain.

  Therefore, after telling Sammy of the foreigner's illness, I put on myhat and went round into the Holland Road for my friend Tulloch.

  The latter came with me at once, and as soon as I had interpreted thestranger's symptoms, and he had made a careful examination, he turned tome and said in English:--

  "The man's very bad--cancer in the stomach. He's evidently been neardeath half a dozen times, and this will probably prove fatal. Don'tfrighten him, Godfrey, but just put it to him as quietly as you can.Tell him that he's really very much worse than he thinks."

  "Is it worth while to tell the poor fellow the truth?" I argued. "Itmay only have a bad effect upon him."

  "His other doctors have, no doubt, already warned him. Besides it'sonly fair that he should know his danger. I never keep the truth from apatient when things are desperate, like this."

  "Then you hold out but little hope of him?"

  Bob Tulloch, who had been with me at Charterhouse, stroked his darkbeard and replied in the negative, while the stranger, who had beenwatching us very closely, said in Italian in a low faint voice:--

  "I know! I know! I'm dying--dying!" and he laughed curiously, almosttriumphantly. "I'm dying--and I shall escape them. Ah! signore," headded, with his bright black eyes fixed upon mine, "if you only knew thetruth--the terrible, awful truth--you would pity me--you would, I amconvinced, stand my friend. You would not believe the evil that men sayof me."

  "Then tell me the truth," I urged quickly, bending down to him ineagerness.

  But he only shook his head and clenched his even white teeth.

  "No," he said, with a fierce imprecation in Italian. "Mine is asecret--her secret--a secret that I have kept until now--a secret thatnone shall know!"



  Tulloch left half an hour later, and Sammy, whose curiosity had beenaroused concerning the foreigner, entered the room and inquired afterthe patient.

  But hoping to learn more from the stricken man, I sent my friend back tobed and remained there through the night, administering to the patientwhat my friend Tulloch had ordered.

  The long hours dragged on in silence. Only the ticking of the cheapAmerican clock broke the quiet. Lying upon his back the stranger fixedhis dark eyes upon me, until his hard gaze caused me quite anuncomfortable feeling. It is unpleasant to have a dying man's eyesfixed so attentively upon one. Therefore I shifted my chair, but eventhen I could not escape that intent penetrating gaze. He seemed as ifhe were reading my very soul.

  If I spoke he answered only in low monosyllables. Whenever I attemptedto put a question he made a quick gesticulation, indicating hisimpossibility to reply. And so passed the whole long vigil until daybroke in brightening grey, and the sun shone forth again.

  Yet the man's hard stony stare was horrifying. Somehow it utterlyunnerved me.

  Had Tulloch not declared that the fellow was dying, I should certainlyhave left him; yet I felt it was my duty as a man to remain there, forwas I not the only person in that household acquainted with the Italiantongue?

  Ever and anon he clenched his teeth tightly and drew a long hard breath,as though bitterly vengeful at thought of some incident of the past.

  "_Accidenti_!" was an ejaculation that escaped his lips now and then,and by it I knew that he was praying that an accident might befall hisenemies--whoever they were. He uttered the most bitter curse that anItalian could utter.

  Presently, about five o'clock, just as the sun's rays entering throughthe opening between the dingy old rep curtains fell across thethreadbare carpet in a golden bar, he became quiet again.

  "Ah, signore," he said gratefully, "it is really extremely good of youto put yourself out on my account--a perfect stranger."

  "Nothing, nothing," I assured him. "It is only what you would do for meif I were ill in a foreign country where I could not speak thelanguage."

  "Ay, that I would," he declared. And after a pause he added: "Nearnessto death causes us to make strange friendships--doesn't it?"

  "Why?" I asked, somewhat puzzled.

  "Well--in me, for instance, you are making a strange friend," he said,with a queer, harsh laugh.

  "Why strange?"

  "Because you are utterly unaware of who or what I am."

  "I know your name--that is all," I responded quietly. "You know thename by which I choose to be known here. It is not likely that I shoulddisclose my real identity."

  "Why not?"

  "Because--well, there are strong reasons," was his vague answer, and hismouth shut with a snap, as though he discerned that he had already saidtoo much. Then a moment later he added: "As I've already told you, youhave made a strange acquaintance in me. You will probably be surprisedif ever you really do ascertain the truth, which is, however, not verylikely, I think. At least I hope not."

  I recollected that he had spoken of a secret--some woman's secret--whichhe intended, at all hazards, to preserve. What was it, I wondered?

  The thin drawn face upon the white pillow wore a wild, desperateexpression. The stranger had actually laughed in triumph at thesuggestion of death. A man must be desperate ere he can face the opengrave with a smile upon his lips.

  After a few minutes he raised his thin yellow finger beckoning mecloser, and in a fainter voice said:--

  "You are the only friend I have in this great capital, Signor Leaf,"--for at table I had told him my name and something about my wanderinglife on the Continent--"you will not allow them to bury me as a pauper?There is money--see, in that left-hand top drawer--over there. Will youget my purse?"

  I rose, opened the drawer he indicated, and handed him a bulky redmorocco wallet, one of those in which Italians carry their papercurrency.

  He opened it and I saw that it was crammed with hundred-franc and eventhousand-franc notes. In the wallet there was probably over a thousandpounds.

  "Will you take charge of it?" he asked, handing it back. "I shall neverwant it again. Pay all the expenses, and I would ask of you one favour.Upon the stone over my grave put no name--only the words: `In Memory ofone who was Unfortunate'--that is all."

  "And the balance of the money--to whom shall I hand that?"

  He thou
ght a few moments, his eyes fixed upon the low, smoke-blackenedceiling.

  "If there is no just claimant within one year take five thousand francsas a souvenir of me, and present the remainder to a hospital--whateverhospital in London you think the most deserving. You will also find thedirections for obtaining certain securities deposited in Italy. Obtainthem and deal with them as you deem advisable."

  "But have you no relations?" I inquired, foreseeing a great difficultyin carrying out these verbal instructions.

  "Relations! Bah! what are relations?" he cried excitedly. "Only aninfernal encumbrance. I suppose I have some somewhere--everybody hasmore or less."

  "And don't you know where