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CHAPTER III
A DEAD MAN'S HAND

I had taken rooms temporarily at the Savoy Hotel, not knowing how long it might be ere I should be moved in spirit to desert London; and that night, instead of looking in at the club as I had meant, I went from the theatre straight to the hotel.

There was a fire burning in my room, and I drew up a chair before it to smoke an unlimited number of cigarettes, and to think of Karine Cunningham.

I had parted from Farnham outside the theatre, and had made an appointment to meet him next day at dinner, which he was to eat with me at my hotel.

I felt no inclination for bed, nor was I in the least sleepy, and yet, before an hour had passed, I must have fallen into a doze.

Suddenly I was awakened by the impression of having heard a sound. I looked round me, half dazed still from my dreams. The fire had died down, and I had left myself with no other light. Only a ruddy glow lingered on the hearth, and a small clock on the mantelpiece just above lightly chimed out the hour of two.

I must have dreamed the sound, I told myself, for all was silent in the sleeping hotel, and even the rattle of cabs outside was dulled. Still, the impression lingered, and I could hardly persuade myself that I had not heard Harvey Farnham's voice calling my name, and finishing with a gurgling, despairing cry for help, the horror of which had chilled the blood in my veins, even in my sleep.

Though the fire was dead, the room was still warm, and I hardly knew why I should be so cold. Nevertheless, I felt chilled to the bone, and I was glad enough to get into bed as quickly as I could. Several times I was on the point of falling asleep again, but, at just the critical point between reflectiveness and sinking into the soft depths of slumber, I waked with an almost convulsive start, and a remembrance of the cry I had heard or dreamed. I was sure it must have been the latter, although, I told myself, there might actually have been some fracas in the street which, in my sleep, I had confused with a dream of Harvey Farnham.

Resigning myself to wakefulness at last, I began to plan out the programme of the next week, and wonder how soon I might avail myself of Lady Tressidy's invitation to call. She was at home on Sundays informally, she had said, whenever she happened to be in town during the winter, though Thursday was her "day" during the season.

Now, the Thursday following would be Christmas Day (this most eventful night being Christmas Eve of last year), but I did not see why I might not look in for a few moments on the ensuing Sunday. It had only been because Sir Walter's affairs rendered a short stay in town necessary, that they were spending Christmas in Park Lane. They would probably go away in a few days, and I could not afford to lose my chance; for, though I had admired many women in my time, I had never yet seen one whom I wished to make my wife, until Karine Cunningham's lovely face had risen–fair and sweet as a new moon that mingled its silver with the rose of sunset–over my horizon.

I had laughed at men who gravely discussed the possibility of love at first sight, but now I began to realise, half shamefacedly, that it was not a thing to be convinced of through argument, but by thrilling, magical experience. I would have staked my life that Karine Cunningham's heart and mind were all that her face presaged of them, and I resolved that, if she were to be won, I would put my very life into the attempt to win her.

So thinking, and so resolving, I fell at last from waking dreams to sleeping ones, hoping dimly, as I slipped over the edge of realities, that they might be of Karine Cunningham. But they were not of her. Hardly had slumber got its hold upon me, when I saw myself by the river, looking down into a swiftly rushing tide. It seemed to be somewhere in the country, though I had little thought for my surroundings; and I was conscious that I was watching anxiously for the appearance of some object, whose nature I did not accurately know. It had been daylight in my vision at first–a cold, grey, wintry daylight–but suddenly night fell, with the rapidity that all changes come and go in dreamland, and the only light was a spot of phosphorescent radiance that lay just under the surface of the water, floating gradually down towards me. I knew, in my sleep, that my eyes were destined to behold some sight of horror, yet I was bound, in a species of frozen fascination, to the spot where I stood, forced to wait for the oncoming of the light and its revelation of mystery.

Slowly it was borne along with the tide, until, having reached a bend in the river opposite the spot where I was standing, it ceased to move. I stooped down and saw that the pale light shone forth from a great white diamond on the finger of a dead man's hand. The body was faintly and darkly outlined; even the floating arm might also have been a floating mass of blackened river weed; but the hand was white as alabaster, and as I bent over it, staring down, one of the fingers moved and beckoned. Then I woke with a loud cry–"Harvey Farnham!"

I had gone through a good many dangers in my roving life, and had passed through many a queer adventure, believing that I could still boast unshaken nerves. Neither was I used to dreaming, and the hours of sleep were usually for me a long and peaceful interval of complete unconsciousness.

Now, however, my forehead was damp with a cold sweat, and I could hardly shake off the horror of the vision. It was ridiculous, I said to myself, and yet, even with my eyes open, I could see the white awfulness of that dead finger, as it beckoned me, shining palely in the light of the diamond ring.

Exactly why I had shouted the name of Harvey Farnham as I waked, I could not understand, unless–with the odd "hang togetherativeness" of dreams–it was because I had happened to notice during the evening at the theatre that he still wore on the last finger of his left hand a very remarkable ring, which he had also worn, and of which he had told me the history, when we had met four years previously in America. I had thought it perhaps the very finest diamond I had ever seen in the possession of a private person, and he had mentioned that it had been taken from the first mine of which he had ever been the owner. He had had it for some years, and, having grown stouter meanwhile, the gold setting had cut rather deeply into the flesh of his finger.

He had laughingly alluded to this in Denver, saying that he had promised a pretty girl that she should have the stone when he should be obliged to have the ring cut off, and he meant to stick to it as long as he could. Except for the fact of having remarked that he still wore the ring, and that his finger looked as pinched as a woman's waist beneath its clasp, I could not in any way have described Harvey Farnham's hand. I had doubtless a general impression of its shape and contour in my mind, but I did not now recall that there had been any recognisable likeness between it and the dead hand my dream had shown me. Still, though I was able to give myself a perfectly rational explanation of the dream, and even of the impression of Farnham's voice earlier in the night, I could not shake off a curious and unpleasant sensation of there being some duty connected with the vision which I had left unperformed, or which was yet to be exacted of me in the future.