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Page:Weird Tales volume 30 number 01.djvu/33

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31
THE WHISTLING CORPSE

the table before him. Aggressive unbelief depressed the corners of his long, firm mouth. His upper lids drooped quizzically over cold inquiring eyes. Doctor Fielding sighed, paused as if to marshal inner reserves of strength, then began again on a new flat note of narrative devoid of emotion.

"The whole thing started with an affair between Guy Lackland and Eldred Vernon's very young, very lovely wife, Kathleen Vernon. It blazed up tropically swift and hot. Lackland was attractive, very! Nordic type. In love with life, with himself, and above all with Kathleen Vernon. Brilliant, rollicking youngster. Irresponsible as a puppy off the lead. And whistled like a blackbird."

A stifled groan escaped the stewardess. "It was a characteristic that features largely in my tale, sir, Lackland's whistling. Dancing, swimming, deck-games, I strolling round — you could always keep track of him by that trick he had of whistling. But there was one tune he whistled for one person alone—a sort of lover's signal. The tune was Kathleen Mavourneen."

Mrs. Maddox engulfed herself in a large, crumpled pocket-handkerchief. Steevens rubbed a bristly chin. The first mate shifted his feet as if the deck had rolled beneath him, and his throat muscles worked convulsively.

"Her name was Kathleen, as I said. She was a dark, fragile, exquisite thing. Lonely and unhappy. Afraid of her husband. Ripe for a lover. And she fell for young Lackland hard. Inevitably. I never witnessed anything more heart-breaking than her passion for him. Like seeing a brilliant-tinted leaf riding the peak of a monstrous tidal-wave. Swept past all barriers. The pair of them—lost to everything but youth and love—the glory of it! Tragic young fools!"

Captain Ross made no audible comment. His set, obstinate face spoke fathomless misunderstanding.

"Eldred Vernon was a good fifty. A lean, secretive, silent man. Intellectual—repellently so. His brain-power was abnormal. His reasoning faculties, will, concentration were terrific. He'd developed them at the expense of every other quality that makes a decent, likable human being. There was dark blood in him, too. His swaying walk, a peculiar way of rolling his eyes, the lines of jaw and skull. Unmistakably negroid. The boy shows it in his sketch here."

Captain Ross glared at it and grunted noncommittally.

"The ugliest thing of all was his jealousy. It's a poisonous quality in anyone. In Vernon it was satanic. He never interfered, though. On the contrary, he arranged to throw them together quite deliberately. We didn't begin to fathom his motives, but the whole situation made our blood run cold. There was none of the ordinary scandal. The affair was too serious, everyone felt scared. I spoke to young Lackland; so did others. One or two of the women warned the wife. Both of them laughed. Eldred Vernon laughed too. It sidetracked the pair of them, the way he laughed! She vowed her husband didn't care two straws what she did as long as she left him alone. Incredible! Everyone was afraid of what Vernon would do except the two most concerned."

Doctor Fielding dropped his cigarette, which had burned down unsmoked between his fingers.

"The inevitable crisis came. She gave Vernon a sleeping-draft in his last whisky one night, then went along to Lackland's stateroom, Number 14 on A deck. Waited for a moment. Heard him inside, moving about, whistling—whistling Kathleen Mavourneen."