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    Chapter 21

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    Chapter 21
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    THE BRIDE OF DEATH

    Time had long ceased to have any significance for Maisie White. There was daylight and nightlight. She seemed to remember that she had made a great fight on the day she arrived at this strange house when the hard-faced nurses had strapped her to the bed, and an old man, with trembling fingers, had pushed a needle into her arm. She remembered it hurt, and then she remembered very little else. She viewed life with a dull apathy and without much understanding. She ceased to resent the presence of the women who came and went, and even the uncleanly old doctor no longer filled her with a sense of revulsion. She just wanted to be left alone to sleep, to dream the strangest dreams that any girl had ever had. She did not know that this was the action of bromide of potassium, consistently administered in every drink she took, in every morsel of food she ate. Bromide in bread, in coffee, in mashed potatoes, in rice, in all the vehicles by which the drug could be administered.

    Sometimes by reason of her sheer vitality she flung off the effects of the dope, and was keenly conscious of her surroundings. There was one girl who came and went, a pretty girl with fluffy golden hair, who looked at her dispassionately and made no reply to the questions with which Maisie plied her. And once she had seen Pinto and would have screamed, but they stopped her in time. One night the old doctor had come into the room very drunk. He was crying and moaning in a maudlin fashion about some mysterious position which he had lost, and he had sat on the bed and, cursed his passion for strong drink with such vehemence that she, in her half-dazed state of mind, had found herself interested against her will.

    In one of her lucid intervals she had realised a vital fact, that she was under the influence of a drug, and instinctively knew that she was becoming more and more immune to its action. She formed a vague plan, which she had almost forgotten the next morning. She must always be sleepy, almost dazed; she must never show signs of returning consciousness. She had been a week in the "nursing home" before she made this plan. She could lie now with her eyes shut, picking up the threads. She heard somebody talk of a ship and of a passport, and learned that she was to be removed in another week. She could not find where, but it was somewhere on a ship. She tried once, when the nurses were out of the room, to get out of bed and walk to the window. Her legs gave way beneath her, and it was with the greatest difficulty that she managed to crawl back to bed.

    There was no escape that way. There was no help either from the nurses who were not nurses at all, nor from the maudlin little doctor, nor from the pretty girl who came sometimes and looked down on her with undisguised contempt--or was it pity? Then one night she woke in a fright. Two people were talking. She half turned her head and saw that Pinto was in the room, and his face was a flaming fury. She had seen that look before, but now his rage was directed at somebody else, and with a start she recognised the pretty girl that the nurses called Lollie.

    "You're not in this, Lollie," said the man, and she laughed.

    "That's just where you're wrong, Silva," she replied. "I'm very much in it. What happens to this girl when she leaves here heaven only knows--I guess it's up to the colonel. But while she's here I'm looking after her."

    "You are, are you?" he said between his teeth. "Well, now you can go and take a walk."

    "I can also take a seat too," she said.

    He walked over to her and glowered down at the girl, and she puffed a cloud of cigarette smoke in his face.

    "I'm a crook because it pays me to be a crook," said the girl calmly. "If it's jollying along one of the colonel's blue-eyed innocents, or keeping a watchful eye upon Mr. King, or acting trustful maiden to some poor fool from the country--why, I'm ready and willing, because that's my job. But this is a different matter altogether. If the colonel says she's got to go abroad, why, I suppose she's got to go. But she's not going to be on my conscience, that's all," said Lollie.

    They passed through the door into a smaller room where the night watchers sat. She made as though to sit at the table when he gripped her arm and swung her round. She put up her hands to defend herself, but was thrown against the wall, and his grip was on her throat.

    "Do you know what I'll do for you?" he hissed.

    "I don't care what you do," she said. She was on the verge of tears. "You're not going into that room--you're not going!"

    She sprang at him, but with a snarl like a wild beast, he turned and struck her, and she fell against the wall.

    "Now get out"--he pointed to the door--"get out and don't show your face here again. And if you've got any information, you can report it to the colonel and see what he's got to say to you!"

    She slunk from the room. Pinto went back to the room where the girl lay.

    "Cover your head with a blanket, my pretty?" he said. "Pinto must not see that pretty face, eh?"

    He laid hold of the blanket's edge and pulled it gently down. But the blanket would not come away. It was being clutched tightly. With a jerk he wrenched it down, then stumbled backwards to the floor, a grotesque and ludicrous figure, for the white silk mask of Jack o' Judgment confronted him and the hateful voice of his enemy shrilled:

    "I'm Death! Jack o' Judgment! Poor old Jack! Jack, the hangman! You'll meet him one day, Pinto--meet him now!"

    Pinto collapsed--he had fainted.
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