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The Spinster 1905

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I had arrived at Inley Abbey that afternoon, and was sitting at dinner with Inley and his pretty wife, whom I had not seen for five years, since the day I was his best man, when we all heard faintly the tolling of a church bell. Lady Inley shook her shoulders in a rather exaggerated shudder.

"Someone dead!" said her husband.

"It's a mistake to build a church in the grounds of a house," Lady Inley said in her clear, drawling soprano voice. "That noise gives me the blues."

"Whom can it be for?" asked Inley.

"Miss Bassett, probably," Lady Inley replied carelessly, helping herself to a bonbon from a little silver dish.

Inley started.

"Miss Sarah Bassett! What makes you think so?"

"Oh, while you were away in town she got ill. Didn't you know?"

"No," said Inley.

I could see that he was moved. His dark, short face had changed suddenly, and he stopped eating his fruit. Lady Inley went on crunching the bonbon between her little white teeth with all the enjoyment of a pretty marmoset.

"Influenza," she said airily. "And then pneumonia. Of course, at her age, you know—— By the way, what is her age, Nino?"

"No idea," said Inley shortly.

He was listening to the dim and monotonous sound of the church bell.

Lady Inley turned to me with the childish, confidential movement which men considered one of her many charms.

"Miss Bassett is, or was, one of those funny old spinsters who always look the same and always ridiculous. Dry twigs, you know. One size all the way down. Very little hair, and no emotions. If it weren't for the sake of cats, one would wonder why such people are born. But they're always cat-lovers. I suppose that's why they're so often called old cats."

She uttered a little high-pitched laugh, and got up.

"Don't be too long," she said to me carelessly as I opened the dining-room door for her. "I want to sing 'Ohé Charmette' to you.

"I won't be long," I answered, thinking what exquisite eyes she had.

She turned, and went out in her delicious, thin way. No wonder she had made skeletons the rage in London. When I came back to the dinner-table Inley was sitting with both his brown hands clenched on the cloth. His black eyes—inherited from his dead mother, who had been one of the Neapolitan aristocracy—were glittering.

"What is it, Nino?" I asked as I sat down.

We had been such intimate friends that even my five years' absence abroad had not built up a barrier between us.

"I wonder if it is Miss Bassett?" he said, looking at me earnestly.

"But was she a great friend of yours?" I said. "If Lady Inley's description of her is accurate, I can hardly imagine so."

"Vere doesn't know what she's saying."

"Then Miss Bassett——"

"Oh, she does look like that; dried up, unemotional, tame, English, even comic."

"The regular spinster, eh?"

"She looks it. But, damn it all, Vere has no business to say she has no emotions, to wonder why such people are born. But she doesn't know—Vere doesn't know."

His agitation grew, and was inexplicable to me. But I knew Inley, knew that he was bound to tell me what was on his mind. He could be reserved, but not with me. So I took a cigar, cut the end off it deliberately, struck a match, lighted it, and began to smoke in silence. He followed my example quickly, and then said:

"Vere talks like that, and, but for Miss Bassett, Vere would have been murdered two years ago."

I started, and dropped my cigar on the table....