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Title: The Blue Wall - A Story of Strangeness and Struggle
Author: Child, Richard Washburn, 1881-1935
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE BLUE WALL

A Story of Strangeness and Struggle

by

RICHARD WASHBURN CHILD



[Illustration: A PICTURE THERE AMONG THE LAW BOOKS]



New York
Grosset & Dunlap
Publishers

Copyright, 1912, by Richard Washburn Child
All Rights Reserved



CONTENTS

   BOOK I--THE PROBLEM OF MACMECHEM

         I. The House Next Door                                3

        II. A Moving Figure                                   22

   BOOK II--THE AUTOMATIC SHEIK

         I. A Woman at Twenty-two                             39

        II. A Pledge to the Judge                             65

       III. The Torn Scrap                                    80

        IV. The Face                                         101

         V. At Dawn                                          126

        VI. The Moving Figure again                          137

   BOOK III--THE DOCTOR'S LIMOUSINE

         I. A Shadow on the Curtain                          157

        II. Margaret                                         170

   BOOK IV--A PUPIL OF THE GREAT WELSTOKE

         I. Les Trois Folies                                 181

        II. The House on the River                           196

       III. A Visitor at Night                               219

        IV. A Suppression of the Truth                       240

         V. Again the Moving Figure                          261

   BOOK V--THE MAN WITH THE WHITE TEETH

         I. Blades of Grass                                  283

        II. In the Painted Garden                            292

   BOOK VI--A PUPPET OF THE PASSIONS

         I. The Vanished Dream                               301

        II. Mary Vance                                       312

       III. The Ghost                                        323

   BOOK VII--THE PANELED DOOR

         I. The Scratching Sound                             337

   BOOK VIII--FROM THE WOMAN'S HAND

         I. The Voice of the Blood                           351

        II. This New Thing                                   362

   BOOK IX--BEHIND THE WALL

         I. An Answer to MacMechem                           371

        II. "Why Care?"                                      378



ILLUSTRATIONS

            A picture there among the law-books     Frontispiece

            "Listen to me, Estabrook"                        120

            "It must be Julianna!"                           238

            She did not speak. She seemed in doubt           372

                       From drawings by Harold J. Cue.



                                 BOOK I

                        THE PROBLEM OF MACMECHEM

                             THE BLUE WALL


                                CHAPTER I

                          THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR


What's behind this wall?

As I write, here in my surgeon's study, I ask myself that question.
What's behind it? My neighbors? Then what do I know--really know--of
them? After all, this wall which rises beyond my desk, the wall against
which my glass case of instruments rests, symbolizes the boundary of
knowledge--seemingly an opaque barrier. I am called a man of science, a
man with a passion for accuracies. I seek to define a part of the
limitless and undefined mysteries of the body. But what is behind the
wall? Are we sensitive to it? You smile. Give your attention then to a
narrative of facts.

How little we know what influence the other side has upon us or we upon
the human beings beyond this boundary. We think it is opaque,
impassable. I am writing of the other wall. _There_ was a puzzle! The
wall of the Marburys!...

Here I risk my reputation as a scientific observer. But that is all; I
offer no conclusions. I set down in cold blood the bare facts. They are
fresh enough in my memory. All seasons are swift when a man slips into
age and it was only four short years ago that this happened--so
marvelous, so suggestive of the things that we may do without
knowing--mark me! the things we may accomplish--_beyond the wall!_

You will see what I mean when I make a record of those strange events.
They began when poor MacMechem--an able practitioner he was, too--was
thrown from his saddle horse in the park and died in the ambulance
before they could get him to the Matthews Hospital. I inherited some of
his cases, and Marbury was one of those who begged me to come in at the
emergency. It was meningitis and it is out of my line. Perhaps the
Marbury wealth influenced me; perhaps it was because the banker--of
course I am not using the real names--went down on his knees on this
very rug which is under my feet as I write. There is such a thing as a
financial face. You see it often enough among those who deal with loans,
percents, examiners, and the market. It's the face of terror peering
through a heavy mask of smugness, and it was dreadful to see it looking
up at me.... I yielded.

The Marburys' house faces the group of trees which shade the very spot
where MacMechem's horse went insane. It is one of a block where each
residence represents a different architect--a sort of display of
individuality and affluence squeezed together like fancy crackers packed
in a box. My machine used to wait for me by the hour in front of the
pretentious show of flowers, tub-evergreens, glass and bronze
vestibules, and the other conventional paraphernalia of our rich city
successes.

It was their little girl. She was eight, I think, and her beauty was not
of the ordinary kind. Sometimes there rises out of the coarse,
undeveloped blood of peasants, or the thin and chilly tissue of families
going to seed, some extraordinary example like my little friend
Virginia. The spirit that looks out of eyes of profound depth, the
length of the black lashes lying upon a cheek of marvelous whiteness,
the delicate lines of the little body which delight the true artist, the
curve of the sensitive lips, the patient calm of personality suggesting
a familiarity with other worlds and with eternity, makes a strong
impression upon a medical man or surgeon who deals with the thousands of
human bodies, all wearing somewhere the repulsive distortions of
civilization. The ordinary personality stripped of the pretense which
cannot fool the doctor, appears so hysterical, so distorted by the
heats of self-interest, so monkey-like!

Oh, well,--she was extraordinary! I was impressed from the moment when,
having reread MacMechem's notes on the case under the lamp, and then
having crossed the blue-and-gold room to the other wall, I drew aside
the corners of an ice pack and gazed for the first time upon little
Virginia.

When I raised my glance I noticed the mother for the first time. I might
have stopped then to wonder that this child was her daughter, for the
woman was one of those who with a fairly refined skill endeavor to
retain the appearance of youth. I knew her history. I knew how her feet
had moved--it always seems to me so futilely--through miles and miles
and miles of dance on polished floors and her mouth in millions of false
smiles. She had been débutante, belle, coquette, old maid. Marbury had
married her when wrinkles already were at her chin and her hands had
taken on the dried look which no fight against age can truly conceal;
then after six years of longing for new hopes in life she had had a
single child.

Just as she turned to go out, I saw her eyes upon me, dry, unwinking.
But I know the look that means that death is unthinkable, that a woman
has concentrated all her love on one being. It is not the appeal of a
man or woman--that look. Her eyes were not human. I tell you, they were
the praying eyes of a thoroughbred dog!

I knew I must fight with that case--put strength into it--call upon my
own vitality....

The bed on which Virginia lay was placed sideways along the wall--as I
have said--the Marburys' wall. I drew a chair close to it, and before I
looked again at the child I glanced up at the nurse to be sure of her
character. Perhaps I should say that I found her to be a thin-lipped
person not over thirty, with long, square-tipped fingers, eyes as cold
as metal, and colorless skin of that peculiar texture which always
denotes to me an unbreakable vitality and endurance, and perhaps a mind
of hard sense. Her name was Peters.

MacMechem's notes on the case, which I still held in my hand, set forth
the usual symptoms--headache, inequality of the eye pupils, vertigo,
convulsions. He had determined that the variety was not the
cerebro-spinal or epidemic form. He had tapped the spinal canal with
moderate results. According to his observations and those of the nurse
there was an intermittent coma. For hours little Virginia would lie
unconscious, and restless, suffering failing strength and a slow
retraction of the head and neck, or on other occasions she would rest
in absolute peace, so that the disease, which depends so much upon
strength, would later show improvement. The cause of this case, he
believed, was either an abscess of the ear which had not received
sufficient treatment--probably owing to the fact that the child, though
abnormally sensitive, had always masked her sufferings under her quiet
and patience, or a blow on her head not thought of consequence at the
time it had happened.

Well, I happened to turn the notes over and, by George!--there was the
first signal to me. It was scrawled hastily in the characteristic
nervous hand,--a communication from poor Mac, a question but also a sort
of command,--like a message from the grave!

These were the words,--"What keeps her alive? What is behind the
Marburys' wall?"

They startled me. "Behind the wall?" I said to myself. "Behind the wall?
What wall?"

There were the scientific notes he had made! Then at the end a sane and
eminent doctor had written shocking gibberish. "What's behind the wall?"

"Come here," I called to that grim machine, the nurse.

She came, looked over my shoulder at my finger pointing at the words,
and her face filled with a dreadful expression of apprehension, all the
more uncouth because it sat upon a countenance habitually blank. She did
not answer. She pointed. I looked up. And then I knew that the wall in
question was that blank expanse of pale blue, that noncommittal wall
that rose beside the bed, at one moment flat, hard, and impenetrable, at
another with the limitless depths and color of a summer sky.

"Turn up that light a little," said I uneasily. "What has this wall to
do with us?"

"Nothing," said Miss Peters. "Nothing. I refuse to recognize such a
thing."

"Then, what did Dr. MacMechem see?" I asked.

"He saw nothing," she answered. "It is the child who knows that
something is beyond that wall. It is her delirium. There is no sense in
it. She believes some one is there. She has tried to explain. She puts
her hands upon that surface and smiles, or sometimes her face, as she
looks, will all screw up in pain. It has a strange effect upon her."

"How?" said I. "You are impressed, too, eh? Well, how does it show?
MacMechem was no fool. Speak."

The raw-boned woman shivered a little, I thought. "That's what causes me
to wonder, Doctor," she said. "There _is_ an effect upon her. She can
foretell the condition of her disease. She seems conscious that her
life depends on the welfare of something else or the misfortune and
suffering of something else--beyond--that--wall."

"Poppycock!" I growled at her. "It's a pretty pass when sane medical men
in their practice begin to fancy--"

"Sh--sh!" she said, interrupting me sharply. "See! Now the child is
conscious! Watch!"

I drew back a little from the bedside as Virginia stirred, but I could
see the milk-white lids of her eyes--eyes, as I have said, deep and blue
and intense like the wall behind her, with their long black lashes. Her
slender body shook as if she was undergoing the first rippling torsions
of a convulsion. Her face was drawn into such an expression as one might
imagine would appear on the face of an angel in agony, and then,
gradually, as some renewed circulation relaxed the nerve centres, her
breath was expelled with a long patient sigh. And this I noticed,--she
did not turn toward us, but with an almost imperceptible twist of her
body and the reaching of her little hands she sought the wall.

I confess I half believed that she would float off into the infinite
blue of the plaster and be lost in its depths. I found my own eyes
following hers. I felt, I think, that I too was conscious of some
dreadful or marvelous, horrible or inspiring something behind the
partition; but in light of subsequent discoveries my memory may have
been distorted. Besides, I have promised none but the cold-blooded facts
and I need only assert that the little girl looked, moved her lips,
stretched her arms, and then suddenly, as if she had sensed some agony,
some fearful turbulence, she cried out softly, her face grew white, her
upper lip trembled, she fell back, if one may so speak of an inch of
movement, and lay panting on her pillow. The nurse, I think, seized the
moment to renew the cold applications. Yet I, who had scoffed, who had
sneered at poor MacMechem's perplexity, stood looking at that blank blue
wall, expecting to see it become transparent, to see it open and some
uncanny thing emerge, holding out to little Virginia a promise of life
or a sentence of death.

My first instinct would have endeavored to shake off the question of the
other side of that wall. I would, perhaps, if younger, have rejected the
whole impression, declared the girl delirious, and would not now be
reciting a story, the conclusion of which never fails to catch my
breath. But mine is an empirical science. We deal not so much with
weights and measures as with illusive inaccuracies. To be exact is to be
a failure. To reject the unknown is to remain a poor doctor, indeed. The
issue in this case was defined. Either the congestion of the membranes
in the spinal cord was producing a persistent hallucination or else
there was, in fact, something going on behind that wall. Either an
influence was affecting the child from within or an influence was
affecting her from without. I was mad to save her. Even a doctor who
habitually views patients and data cards with the same impersonal regard
may sometimes feel a call to work for love. And I loved that little
child. I meant to exhaust the possibilities. As poor MacMechem had asked
the question, I asked it.

I touched Virginia's hands with the tips of my fingers. Her eyes turned
toward me, and again I was sure that no madness was in them. You, too,
would have said that, awakened from the intermittent coma, the little
thing, though mute and helpless, was none the less still the mistress of
her thoughts.

"You have not asked her?" I inquired of Miss Peters.

The woman, folding her arms, at the same time shook her head solemnly.

"No," she said as if she disapproved.

But I bent over Virginia. "I am the new doctor," I said. "Do you
understand?"

She smiled, and, I tell you, no monster could have resisted that
tenderness.

"What is there?" I whispered, pointing with my free hand.

Her eyes opened as children's eyes will do in the distress of
innocence; her feeble hand moved in mine as a little weak animal might
move. Her face refilled with pain.

"Something is there," she whispered.

"What?"

She shook her head weakly.

The nurse touched my elbow. I thanked her for reminding me of the
chances I was taking with the little girl's quiet. I left instructions;
then, perhaps not wholly at peace with myself, I crept softly down the
stairs. I did not wish an interview with Mrs. Marbury. I did not wish to
see that begging look on her face. I would have been glad to have
escaped Marbury himself.

He was waiting for me. He waited at the bottom of the steps with that
smug financial face of his--a mask through which, in that moment, the
warmth of suffering and love seemed struggling to escape. He was
plucking, from his thin crop, gray hairs that he could ill afford to
lose.

I anticipated his questions.

"It is a matter of conservation of strength," I told him; "a question of
mental state, a question of the nervous system. No man can answer
now--beforehand."

He drew out his watch and looked at it without knowing what he did or
why or observing the hour.

"By the way," said I, "who lives next door--in there?"

"Who?" he answered. "Why, the Estabrooks."

"A large family?"

"Two. Jermyn Estabrook and his wife. They were married six years ago and
have lived there ever since. We know them very little. His father has
never forgiven my objection to his membership on a certain directorate
in 1890. The wife was the daughter of Colfax, the probate judge. They
have no children. But perhaps you know as well as I."

"No," said I, studying his face. "I know nothing of them. Are they
happy? Is there anything to lead you to believe that some tragedy hangs
over them?"

For a moment he looked at me as if he believed me insane; then he
laughed nervously.

"Bless me, no," he said. "Imagine a couple very happy together,
surrounded by influences the most refined, leading a conservative life
well intrenched as to money, the husband a partner and heir-apparent to
an important law practice, the wife an attractive young woman who rides
well and cares little for excitement. You will have imagined the
Estabrooks."

"They and their servants are in the house?"

"Yes. Possibly Jermyn is away just now. I think I heard so. But I do
not know."

His words seemed to clear away the chance of any extraordinary abnormal
situation beyond the wall.

"What is the mystery?" he asked nervously.

I can hear the querulous tone of his voice now; I can see the tapestry
that hangs above the table in their hall.

"Thank you," I said, without answering. And so I left him.

Outside, I stopped a moment to look up at that house next door.

It was October tenth. I remember the date well. The good moon was
shining, for it has the decency to bathe with its light these cities we
make as well as God's fields. It lit up the front of the residence so
that I could see that, perhaps of all in the block, the Estabrooks' was
the plainest, the most modest, with its sobriety of architecture and
simplicity, and on the whole the most respectable of all. It seemed to
insure tranquillity, refinement, and peace to its owner. I tell you that
at that moment, with my chauffeur coughing his hints behind me, I felt
almost ashamed for the fancies that had led me to find a mystery behind
its stones and mortar.

And then, as suddenly as I speak, I realized that a window on the second
floor was being opened gently. I saw two hands rest for a moment on the
sill, some small object was dropped into the grass below, and my ears
were shocked by a low cry of suffering with which few of the millions
which I have heard could be compared!

It is always so, I find. We are ever forced by pure reason away from
those delicate subconscious whisperings. I had sensed something beyond
the wall, and as science, after all, is not so much truth as a search
for truth, I would perhaps have done well to have retained an open mind.
Instead, I had sneered at the whole idea. And to rebuke me the house, as
if it were itself a personality, had for a fleeting second disclosed the
presence of some hidden secret. The window was closed, and then I stood
upon the deserted thoroughfare, the hum of my fretting limousine behind
me, staring up at the moonlit front of the Estabrooks' home. You may be
sure that it was with a mind full of speculations that I left the spot,
asking myself as MacMechem had asked himself, what was behind the wall,
what was the thing which was determining the question of the life or
death of so lovable a child as little Virginia Marbury....

It is already raining. As I write again, the slap of it on the window
makes one feel the possibilities of loneliness in city life....

It is hard for me to describe what a fascination there is in
campaigning against death in those special extraordinary cases where the
doctor becomes something more than a man of science and is also a man of
affections. It is impossible to describe the irritation of being unable
to act in cases like Virginia's--cases where the fight is made between
strength of body and mind, on the one hand, and some deep-seated
infection, like meningitis, on the other. I was more than anxious for
the late afternoon hour when I could again go to the child. Her blue
eyes, as deep and mysterious as the sea, called to me, if I may use that
word. And there was something else that called to me as well--the blue
wall--blank blue wall beyond the bed.

I found Miss Peters there, sitting in the patient's room and the
gathering gloom of dusk, her muscular hands flattened upon her knees in
the position of a red granite Rameses from the Nile, looking out the
window at the waving treetops of the park and the clouds of falling
leaves which were being driven by the dismal October wind across the
white radiance of the arc lamps. I thought that I detected upon her
metallic face a faint gleam of pleasure.

"It has been a good day," she said, without rising and with her
characteristic brusqueness. "Mrs. Marbury is glad that you have not
suggested a hospital, and desired me to say so." Indicating the bed
with its inert little human body she added, "Peaceful."

"The wall?" said I.

She smiled insultingly.

"You are interested?" she asked.

I scowled, I think.

"Oh, well," she said, moving her shoulders, "she has been talking to
it,--whatever is behind there,--and, do you know, I believe it has been
talking to her!"

With those deliberate movements which characterized, I suppose, the
movements of her mind itself, she lit the light; under its yellow rays
lay the girl Virginia, her long lashes fringing her translucent eyelids,
her delicately turned mouth with lips parted, and an expression of peace
about the whole of her body.

"At twelve to-day," said the nurse with her finger on the chart, "she
went through apparent distress. Something seemed to give her the
greatest anxiety. She even spoke to me twice. She pointed. She said, 'It
is bad! It is bad!' with great vehemence. It was like that for more than
an hour. Then suddenly she became peaceful. She went to sleep. I have
not wakened her since."

Maybe I shuddered. I remember I merely said in answer, "Yes, yes, that's
all right!" and bent over the sleeping child. In the next moment I was
lost in wonder at the improvement which had taken place in twenty-four
hours. The tension and retraction of the neck and head had relaxed,
respiration had diminished, the lips were pink and moist, the spasmodic
nerve reaction and muscular twitching had almost ceased. I felt that
exultation which comes when instinct as much as specific observation
assures me that the tide has turned, that the arrow of fate has swung
about, and the odds have changed. Strange as it may seem to many
persons, these turns are felt by the doctor at times when the patient is
wholly unconscious of them, and often enough I have wondered if, after
all, this does not show that the crises of life are not determined
within ourselves, but by some watching eye and mind and hand outside of
us. As I bent over the little Virginia some such reflection was in my
mind.

Then you can imagine, perhaps, how startling, how much an answer to my
unspoken question, was the sound which at that very moment came from the
blue wall beyond the bed!

How can we analyze our sense of hearing? Do you know the sound of your
wife's footsteps? When you were young, could you pick out the approach
of your father by the sound of his walk? Yes. But can you tell how? Are
you able to say what it is that distinguishes it from the sounds a
hundred other men would make going by your closed door? No. And neither
can I tell you why I recognized this sound.

All that I can say is this,--the wall was opaque, the sound so faint as
to be hardly heard, and yet I knew, as well as if the partition had been
of plate glass, that the impact was that of a human body!...

There was something in this sound on the wall which drew an involuntary
exclamation from me as the jar of forceps draws a tooth. And the sound
of my voice, sharp and explosive, woke the child.

She stared up at me with that strange look of infinity--I must so
describe it--infinity; then, as if she too had heard, she turned toward
the wall.

"What do you see?" I asked near her ear.

She gave me one of her tender smiles and made a little gesture as if to
say that she felt her inability to express something.

"It is there?" I asked, indicating the blank wall at last.

Her eyes sought that space of mysterious blue. Then she whispered,
"Yes."

I must say that, though I knew no more than I had at first, I derived
some satisfaction from the mere fact that for the second time Virginia
had confirmed the extraordinary belief or fancy which had possessed
prosaic MacMechem, the unimaginative Miss Peters, and, finally, myself.
It seemed to justify positive steps in an investigation; after a further
examination of the little body on the bed which offered still better
evidence of an improvement in the course of the malady, I left the
Marburys' door, determined to settle the question once and for all.



                               CHAPTER II

                            A MOVING FIGURE


It may strike you as absurd that I did not accept the possibility that
Virginia was suffering from delirium. I confess that, after I had closed
the house door behind me, I was for the moment convinced of the
connection between congestion at the base of the brain and the abnormal
fancy of the child. I had come to the house on foot, no vehicle was
waiting for me, and I remember that when I started off I turned in the
direction leading away from the Estabrooks' door.

The day had promised a much-needed rain; now the coming night threatened
one of those angry tempests of the autumn. It was already dark and the
street was deserted as if every one had hurried to find cover. The
lighted windows suggested warmth and protection; but outside the dust
and flying, rustling leaves, the dancing shadows on the pavements, the
wail of the wind, the tossing treetops in the park, the musty odor of
the death of the year all bore down upon the spirit and awoke that
superstitious uneasiness which we inherit, I suppose, from ancestors who
fled the storm to find shelter for their naked bodies in caves and
hollow trees.

This wild and funereal scene and the proximity to the spot where poor
MacMechem met his end brought him back into my memory, and again I found
myself wondering, as he had wondered, and then I remembered the low cry
I had heard issue from the window.

One feels at times that determination comes from without. You can almost
imagine, then, that some part of your own self which exists outside your
body has tapped you on the shoulder, spoken a command, and directed your
action. Certainly I cannot remember why I turned around, nor can I
recall why I went back toward the Estabrooks'. I do remember that it
occurred to me that, if I should see the young lawyer or his wife, all
that I asked of them about the other side of the blue wall would
probably incline them to the belief that I was as mad as any hare of
March. But even that thought did not retard my steps.

If I hesitated at the point where I again reached the Marburys', it was
for good cause, for what I saw gave me no little uneasiness. Out of the
shadow of the Estabrooks' entrance, where a high iron grilled fence
curves toward the steps, there came, as if it were some wild and furtive
animal startled from its shelter, a moving figure!...

I endeavor to speak with accuracy.... It was dark. Everything seemed to
sway in the galloping wind--the trees, the shrubs, the magnetic arc
lights and even the luxurious iron and stone inclosures before the line
of houses. Furthermore the dust was blinding. In spite of all this, in
spite of the fact that the vision was fleeting, I received the definite
impression that this figure sought to escape unseen. It hurried away
into the darkness, hugged the shadows, and took up a position in a place
that would have been chosen by one who wished to observe secretly what I
was about to do.

"Bah!" said I to myself. "Some loiterer. He cannot be connected with the
Estabrooks' affairs."

Yet, for some reason, feeling that I was watched, I determined to walk
away again, and as I went I looked along the ground in the manner of one
who has lost something. The cross-street was near and I turned it. I
thought after a moment or two of waiting under the wall of the corner
residence that I heard receding footbeats on the pavement; therefore,
having allowed a minute or two to pass, I retraced my steps. The figure
was no longer anywhere in sight. Holding my hat so that the ugly gusts
of cold wind would not blow it away, I walked up the white steps of the
Estabrook home and pressed the electric button which projected from a
bronze disk. This disk, so the sense of touch indicated, had at one time
been one of those Chinese carved metal mirrors and was now set into the
stone. I remember how it spoke to me of the extents to which the
metropolitan architects and decorators will go to appeal to the whims
and pretensions of the rich, who, after all, are out of the same mould
as other men so obscure and wretched that the money spent for such a
capricious ornament would support a family of them for six months.
Perhaps the irony of it is that, no matter how much wealth may protect
one from the others, it can never protect one from himself. And then--I
pressed the button again.

There were silk curtains within the long heavy glass panels on either
side of the door, but had a light been lit within I could have seen it.
The whole house, however, was dark, and only by chance did I catch the
sly movement of one of the curtains and the glint of an eye, peeping out
at me. Whoever its owner might be, he or she had crept across the tiled
vestibule silently and was now behind the outer door conducting a covert
investigation.

"An odd procedure for a house of a respectable, conservative family,"
said I to myself, and without hesitating I rang again.

A light in the ceiling of the vestibule glowed forth immediately and I
heard the movement of heavy metal locks and latches; the door swung back
and I found myself standing before a middle-aged woman dressed in the
black-and-white garb of well-trained servants.

This woman had a face that one may find sometimes among veteran nuns--a
strong and kindly face, patient and self-subjugated--the face of the
convent. But, of course, old family serving-women may have this same
expression, for they too are nuns in a sense; in household rites they
renounce the world, and if the spirit does not sour, little by little,
they take wordless vows and obliterate themselves in service. This woman
who stood before me, with skirts and apron blown about her substantial
figure by the chill wind that poured into the vestibule, seemed at first
to be one of them. It was only when I perceived that her eyes were
filled with some guilty fear, and that her hands were half raised as if
to ward off some impending danger, that I began to suspect that hers was
one of those masks which hypocrisy and deceit grow upon the countenance
of evil souls.

"I wish to see Mr. Estabrook," said I.

"He is not at home. He is away."

"Mrs. Estabrook."

"She is not well, sir. She cannot see anybody."

These conventional answers seemed to put an end to the interview: if
she had not spoken again, with that strange look of apprehension and
terror rising to her eyes, I would have bowed and turned away. But her
voice trembled as she moved toward me timidly and said, "Will you leave
a message? Will you call again? Will you say--will you say--"

Her sentence failed like that. As it did, words sprang to my mouth. I
looked at her accusingly.

"Yes," I snapped. "On the second story of the Marburys' house there is,
of course, a partition. I called to ask Mrs. Estabrook what was on _her_
side of that wall."

This information acted like dynamite. You would have said that it had
blown to pieces some vital organ of the old servant. The color ran out
of her face as if her head had lost its connection with her body.

"This is terrible," she choked. "Oh, 'tis awful! Who are you? Who can
you be? Somebody has sent you."

She caught the edge of the door and pushed it toward me.

"I know who you are," she exclaimed. "You are somebody that is sent by
_him_!"

With a final shove, then, she closed the crack which had remained, the
locks moved again, the light in the vestibule went out, and I was alone
on the step.

Such was the success of my first attempt to find an answer to
MacMechem's question--to solve the riddle of the blue wall. But I
realized, as I stood there, looking up into the gray sky of night with
its wind-driven clouds, that the presence of some peculiar form of good
or evil was no longer in doubt; that little Virginia, with the sensitive
receptiveness of childhood, of suffering, and of her own endearing,
unworldly personality, had not been wrong; that MacMechem, like a true
physician, had not excluded the unknown and now was vindicated, and that
there are sometimes strange affairs that baffle our feeble diagnosis of
mankind....

This is merely a recital of the facts. I am not attempting to prove
anything. I merely state that, as I descended the Estabrook steps and
struck off into the park, the detective instinct which lies in every one
of us had wakened in me. It may have been the reason for my turning
around, after I had crossed the street, between the whirr and lights of
two automobiles, and stood at the opening of one of the paths of the
park.

The house I had just left met my scrutiny with a cold, impassive stare
of its own--its look might have been the stare of the sphinx or of a
good poker player. It gave no sign. My eyes traveled up to the roof,
then back again to the ground, and only when my glance dropped did I
see for the second time the lurking figure of the man.

"He was watching me from first to last," said I to myself. "He probably
saw my little strategy of waiting around the corner."

Indeed, my first impulse was to walk rapidly over the way, head him off,
and ask him his business; but I considered it unwise, and plunging into
the shadows of the wailing trees, I walked briskly toward the distant
lights that marked my district of the city.

You know, perhaps, the feeling that you are being followed. Without
recognition of any definite sight or sound, you become more and more
conscious of some one skulking in the shadows behind. Finally, you hear,
in one of those moments when the wind catches its breath, the breaking
of a twig, the disturbance among the dry leaves that have blown in
drifts over the path, and you know that some one is there.

I admit freely that I felt I had involved myself in such a manner that
some one wished to do me harm. If, on the other hand, he who followed
sought to rob me, the situation was as bad. The park was deserted. One
does not like to call for help unless certain of danger. And therefore,
though I am no longer moulded for speed, I broke into a run.

I had gone but a few paces before the other discovered that I was in
flight. I heard the rapid patter of his shoes behind me. In another
twenty feet I heard his voice. It was not loud and it was cautious, but
it reached my ears with a suggestion of extraordinary savageness.

"Stop!" it called with an oath. "I've got you. Stop!"

It was not a reassuring message, of course. I tried to run faster. A
moment of this endeavor only showed me that my pursuer was gaining. I
therefore stopped short, stepped into the heavy shadow of an evergreen,
and waited for my new friend. Though it was dark I could see him as he
came, and I assure you that it surprised me when I noted that the man
was well-dressed and bore the appearance of respectability.

Just as he reached the spot in front of me, I saw him hesitate as if he
had discovered that I was no longer running along in front of him. I
knew that an encounter could not be avoided. Accordingly I sprang
forward and drove my fist into his neck. Instantly I found myself
grappling with him. I felt the watch in his waistcoat pocket as I
pressed my knee into his stomach, and with my face near his I could see
by the look in his eyes that my blow had staggered him and put him at a
disadvantage. Some years ago I could deliver a heavy punch and the knack
had stayed with me. I threw my weight against him once more, bore him
down onto the leaves and gravel, and found myself on top.

Both of us were panting; we were breathing into each other's faces when
suddenly I saw his eyes open wide as if he had seen a vision.

"I know you now. You are the doctor!" cried he. "Stop! Tell me, for
God's sake, what's wrong with my wife!"

"Your wife?" I cried, dumbfounded. "Who are you?"

He struggled to his feet and leered at me. His face twitched with
emotion.

"I am Jermyn Estabrook," he gasped.

You may imagine my astonishment when, after struggling with a man who
had pursued me through the dark paths of the park like one who sought my
life, he whom I had never seen before should now appeal to me as if I
could lift him from the depths of some profound despair. He had cried
out that I must tell him what was wrong with his wife. I had never so
much as set eyes upon her. He had said he was Jermyn Estabrook. And
though, with my face close to his, I could see that he was covered with
bits of dead leaves and mud and the sweat of his desperate struggle, I
felt that he told the truth.

"I have never been to your home but once in my life," I said. "You were
watching me on that occasion--to-night. That is plain. I did not go
in."

"I have made a mistake," he gasped. "I'm sorry. I have been through
torments beyond telling. Something is going on--some ghastly, horrible
tragedy within my own walls."

The word caught my ear; I gripped his shoulder.

"Listen, Estabrook," I cried. "It is no time for us to mince matters. I
am attending Marbury's little child. It is an odd form of meningitis. I
am fighting to save her. Do you understand?"

He shook his head stupidly as if worn dull by mental agony. "What of
her?" he asked.

"What of her, eh?" I cried. "I'll tell you! I'll tell you! She is
affected--perhaps her life or death depends upon--something--or
somebody--that is behind the wall--the blue wall--something in your
house next door. Come! Let us go back there. Let us force this thing. It
is your home! Enter it!"

"I can't!" he cried, thrusting his fingers upward.

"Can't!" I roared at him.

"No," he said. "Not yet. I have promised her. She has my word."

"But think, man, what may be going on there!" I said.

"I have sworn not to pass the door," he said obstinately. "Heaven knows
I am nearly crazy for light upon all this. But I must keep my word!"

As if to lend emphasis to his exclamation, a gust of wind roaring
through the trees of the park brought the first deluge of rain--a cold,
stinging downpour of the wild autumn night. Estabrook shivered. I could
see that he was a man, badly tired, unnerved, and still dizzy from the
blow I had given him.

"Follow me," said I roughly. "You need warmth--stimulant. And I want
your story, Estabrook."

He looked at me with an empty stare, but at last nodded his assent, and
without another word between us, we came to this house and into this
very room.

He sat there before the fire--burning then as it is now--and as the
warmth penetrated his trembling body, he seemed to regain his
self-composure.

I saw then that this young man, well under forty, did not lack
distinction of appearance. His head was carried upon his strong neck in
the masterful manner of those who have true poise and strength of
personality. His hair had turned gray above his ears, and his
well-shaven face carried those lines that the grim struggles of our
modern civilization gouge into the fullness of youth and health.

"I must tell somebody," he said, while I was observing his features upon
which the firelight danced. "I have never dreamed that I would come to
such a pass. But you shall hear my love story. You may be able to throw
some light upon it. Contrary to the notion of my friends, who consider
me incapable of adventure, my experience in the affections is one that
offers opportunity for speculation--it would appeal to a great
detective!"

I leaned forward quickly. Such a statement from any man might awaken
interest, but Estabrook was not any man. He represented the essence of
conventional society. He belonged to a family of well-preserved
traditions, a family whose reputation for conservative conduct and
manners of cold self-restraint was well known in a dozen cities. They
were that particular family, of a common enough name, which was known as
the Estabrookses Arbutus. Jermyn had had a dozen grandfathers who, from
one to another, had handed down the practice of law to him, as if for
the Estabrooks it was an heirloom.

"Perhaps I had better tell you from the beginning," said he, drawing the
back of his fine hand across his forehead. "For it is strange--strange!
And who can say what the ending will be?"

I counseled him to calm himself and asked that he eliminate as much as
possible all unnecessary details of his story. I shall repeat, then, as
accurately as possible, the story he told me. I will attempt to write it
in his own words....



                                 BOOK II

                          THE AUTOMATIC SHEIK


                                CHAPTER I

                          A WOMAN AT TWENTY-TWO


Some men do not fall in love. I had supposed from the beginning of my
interest in such things that I was one of these men. I did not doubt
that all of us have an inherent tendency, perhaps based upon our coarser
natures, to love this or that woman thrown in our way by a fortunate or
unfortunate chance. But the traditions of our family were strong; I had
been educated by all those who were near to me in earlier life to look
upon marriage, not as a result of natural instinct so much as the result
of a careful and diplomatic choice of an alliance. I had been
taught--not in so many words, but by the accumulation of impressions
received in my home and in my youthful training--that one first
scrutinized a woman's inheritance of character, wealth, and position,
and as a second step fell in love with her.

This cannot be called snobbishness. It is prudence. And I followed this
course until I was nearly thirty years old. If the test of its success
lies in the fact that I had never had more than a temporary affection,
sometimes stimulated by the curve of a bare shoulder and sometimes by
the angle of a bright mind, then it had successfully kept me from the
altar.

And yet you shall see that at last I reversed the order of our
traditions; you shall see, too, that it resulted in one of the strangest
of courtships and a tangle of mystery of which the rest of the world
knows nothing, but which you have adequate proof threatens my happiness
and the ghastly end of which may now be skulking within the walls of my
house.

The wild weather of this night, with the howl of the wind and the rattle
of dead leaves driven against the blinds, is in extraordinary contrast
to the day of beautiful spring sunlight when I first set eyes upon her
who was Julianna Colfax.

It is not necessary to tell you who her father was, because you have
probably many times toasted your feet before the grate in the club with
him.

He was a master of human interest, as grizzled as that old Scotch hound
which became his constant companion after Mrs. Colfax died, and his
contact with all those hosts of men and women, for whom he administered
justice so faithfully for more than twenty years, had stamped on his
shaven face sad but warm and sympathetic lines. All men liked him and
those who knew him best loved him heartily. Under his gruffness there
was a lot of sentiment and tenderness. After his reserved moments, when
he was silent and cold, he would burst forth into indulgences of fine,
dry humor, like an effervescent fluid which gains in sparkling vigor by
remaining corked awhile. It was commonly said--and often said by Judge
Graver, of the Supreme Court--that old Colfax remained in the
comparative obscurity of a probate judgeship simply from an innate
modesty and a belief that he had found his work in life in which he
might best serve humanity without hope of personal power and glory.
Gaunt, tall, stoop-shouldered, gray, walking the same path each
day,--home, court-house, club, neighbors, home,--with a grapevine stick
as thick as a fence-post in his hand--such was her father.

Exactly seven years ago the first of last June, on a spring day when I
believe every bird that dared came into the city to make his song heard,
I came up from downtown and dropped off a surface car before the
gleaming white pillars of the new probate court building. My pocket was
stuffed with a lot of documents in that Welson _vs._ Welson litigation,
which I had just succeeded in closing.

Behind those swinging green doors which flank the big bench is the
judge's retiring-room; pushing the crack there wider, I was able to peek
in, and saw at once that the old atmosphere of Judge Colfax's study had
not remained in the old dingy court-house, where the dismantlers' picks
were already breaking up the ancient mortar, but had followed the
personality of the man into these new pretentious quarters. The
retiring-room already gave forth an alluring odor of law books and
document files, the floor already had been forced into use to bear up
little piles of transcripts of evidence, tin document boxes and piles of
books, open at reference pages, occupying obscure corners. The Judge's
black silk hat was in its familiar place, resting with the opening
upward, on the old black walnut desk which its owner had affectionately
brought with him, and which made a strange and cynical contrast with the
mahogany woodwork and new rug.

"Come in," he said, and with one of his long-fingered hands he made a
gesture toward the opposite side of the room and spoke my name and that
of another.

She was there! I had never seen her before. She was there. I had no
thought of her ancestry, her wealth, or her position. She was there, and
into my throat came something I had never felt before, into my face a
suffusion of hot blood, into my lungs a long-held inhalation of breath.

Sometime you may see her. She has changed a little. But then she was
twenty-two, and the simplicity of her attire seemed to be at once the
propriety of nature and the infinite skill of art. She wore a black
gown, without ornamentation, and a black hat of graceful form. Not a
harsh or stiff fol-de-rol was about her anywhere. You will pardon me for
this detail. But, oh, she was so different from the others. She was a
picture there among the law books.

The most attractive thing there can be in a woman is that combination of
youth, innocence, glowing health, modesty. The perfect skin, with its
grapelike, dusty bloom which shows where the collar droops at the front
of the neck, the even lashes, from under which the deep eyes gaze out at
you half timidly, the brave, honest uplifting of a rounded chin, the
undulations of fine lungs, the almost imperceptible movement of
restrained vigor in a poised, delicate, graceful figure, the gentleness
and tenderness of a voice which at the same time suggests refinement and
decision and strength, the absence of any effort to make an impression,
either in manner or dress,--these are rare and beautiful attributes in
an age when female children hatch out as artful women without the
intervening period of girlhood. After all, the best men of us will not
choose one of these modern maidens who imitate the boldness of the
character and dress of the adventuress or the stage and opera favorite.
It has become a tiresome feature of our modern life with the insidious
faculty of corrupting the manners even of families who know better. She
was so different! And in that moment I knew her superiority as a woman.
I could not speak.

We exchanged no words. Yet as we looked at each other in the manner of
children, the Judge, I thought, sensed a significance. When my eye
sought his, I found a cloud upon his stern face, but immediately, as if
he had tossed a haunting thought aside, he laughed.

"Julianna," said he, "this is the Mr. Estabrook who is as insane as I.
That is, he devotes no end of time and energy and seriousness to the
game of chess. We have never yet met each other on the field of battle.
Some afternoon, here in this room, however--"

She did not allow him to finish; she said hastily that she must witness
the contest.

"Then at my home," he said, beaming at me. "To-morrow will you come to
dinner?"

I remember that Julianna had raised her eyes, that they were smiling,
and that I received the definite, convincing impression that I was
looking at a girl who never had given her love away. I tell you that one
feels a truth like that by instinct, and that a woman wears not only her
spotlessness, but also her purity of thought, like a faint halo. Yet at
that moment I knew she was glad that I had accepted the invitation:
there was a blushing eagerness in her eyes, upon her lips, in the
movement of her graceful hands. For the rest of the morning I was half
dizzy with the mad sense of triumph, of conquest--that strange onslaught
of the emotions which gives no quarter to the disordered phalanx of
reason.

I must admit that when I met Judge Colfax on the court-house steps the
next afternoon to walk home with him, I had not given a thought to his
daughter's forebears or security of place in the social structure. In
fact, the social structure had vanished; an individual had, at least for
the time, filled its place.

I even jumped when the first sentence the Judge addressed to me began
with her name.

"My daughter plays an excellent game herself," he said, as if in
explanation of her interest. "In fact, I may say, with an old man's
modesty, that there are only two persons in this city who can win from
me consistently. She is one."

"And the other, sir?" I asked as we turned our faces toward the hot
stare of the late afternoon sun.

"The other," he said, "is an automaton. I have named it the Sheik of
Baalbec. But I believe he calls himself the Player of the Rolling Eye."

It is impossible for me to say why the mere mention of the fanciful name
of an automatic chessplayer should have caused me to feel a peculiar
uneasiness--the sensation of apprehension. I am not susceptible
ordinarily to the so-called warnings of voices from within. And yet I
suppose the Judge saw a look of inquiry on my face, for he drew out his
large, old-fashioned gold watch, which he carried in his trousers
pocket, with his keys.

"We will stop there," said he. "There is time. The automaton has a
corner of the lower hallway in the old Natural History Museum. It's not
far out of our way, and if you will start with a problem I will give you
and play with him, it will afford me an opportunity to measure you
before our game this evening."

Such were the circumstances which brought me into a mystery not yet
solved, the ending of which I fear to guess. In a modern era, when it is
commonly supposed that skeletons no longer hang in closets, that day
after day brings commonplace occurrences or, at the best, trivial
abnormalities to be explained to-morrow, that romance is dead, it is
strange that Fate should have picked me, when, by custom and my own
desire, I am aloof from all things turbulent, morbid, and uncanny, to
play an unwilling part in so extraordinary a drama, or, possibly, a
tragedy.

At any rate, that day found me face to face with the half-human
personality which the Judge had named the Sheik of Baalbec, and whose
eye has cast an evil cloud upon my life.

Of course I do not know whether you are familiar with the old Natural
History Society and its musty exhibit. A controversy about a curator in
1873 had caused the formation of the new American Institution of
Biology. A few old men continued thereafter to support the ancient
Society by annual subscription, and when they died, one or two of them,
acting from stubborn partizanship, left the museum tied up with trusts
and legacies, preventing the sale of a valuable city property and yet
not furnishing enough to keep the building in repair or dust the case
containing "Beavers at Work." Finally the old museum, once the pride of
the municipality, had come down to the disgraceful necessity of letting
its lower floor to a ten-cent exhibition of respectable waxworks, the
principal attraction of which was the automatic chessplayer, which a
year before my visit had gained suddenly a reputation for playing at
times with the skill of a fiend. I faced the mechanism that afternoon
for the first time, little realizing the intimacy, if I may use the
word, which was to spring up between it and me.

The representation of a squatting Arab, robed in red Oriental swathes
and with a chessboard fastened to its knees, sat cross-legged on a
box-like structure. Upon dropping a coin into a slot in the flat top,
two folding-doors in front of this box would open for a few moments,
showing a glass-covered interior, which, as far as the back of the box,
was filled with a tangle of wheels and pulleys, seeming to preclude the
possibility that a human being could hide therein. As soon as these
doors closed, a flat space in the chest of the Sheik opened, with a
faint purr of machinery to expose internal organs of metal levers and
gears.

The effect of this last exposure was extraordinary, and in all the time
I knew the Sheik, I never got over it. The moment this cavity in his
chest opened, he was an impersonal piece of mechanism; the moment it
closed, however, the soul, the personality of a living being returned,
and it seemed to me that the brown, wax skin of his nodding head, the
black hair of his pointed beard, the red of his curved, malicious lips,
the whites of his eyes, which showed when he moved with a squeak of
unoiled bearings in his neck, and even the jointed fingers of his hand,
with which he moved the pawns in short, mechanical jerks about the
board, all belonged to a human body, containing an individual
intelligence.

This was my feeling as the Judge arranged the chess problem on the board
above the gilt-and-red Turkish slippers on the feet of the thing's
shapeless cotton-stuffed legs, and briefly described the point to be
gained by the Sheik in the series of moves which he was to begin and the
success of which I was to combat. The creature made its first move in
its deliberate manner and then I stepped forward.

I ask you to believe me that, as I did so, the whirring of wheels within
the contrivance stopped, and at that moment I heard a human throat
inhale a long breath with a frightened gasp! It was as if the balanced
glass eyes of the figure had recognized me or seen in my coming an event
long expected.

For a moment I hesitated, then made my move. The figure hesitated, made
another. I studied the situation before my second attempt, and then was
surprised at the absurd mistakes made by the automaton, who, in his next
moves, was playing in slipshod fashion, as if preoccupied. I now had the
advantage, and believed that I should win. My triumph was short-lived,
however; my opponent awakened to his danger, and yet perhaps my first
warning of the final move came when the Judge laughed heartily, clapped
me on the shoulder, and pointed toward the board. Another turn made it
plain to me. I had lost.

And at the same moment the infernal Sheik lifted his head with the
clicking of gears, stared at me, drew down one papier-maché eyelid in a
hideous wink and rolled the other glassy eyeball in a complete orbit of
the socket, and as soon as this evil, mechanical grimace had been
accomplished, the head fell forward, the door in the being's chest
opened once more, showing the moving wheels, and again the creature
seemed to become soulless.

"He always rolls his eye at you when he wins," explained Judge Colfax as
we went out into the sunlit street again, and he patted me on the
shoulder in gentle banter.

"I believe I do not like your Sheik machine," said I, laughing
nervously. "I felt all the time as if a hidden pair of human eyes were
on me--as if there was a personality behind it all."

The Judge chuckled.

"But you forget," said he. "Of course there is a person--some man--or
woman. I have often wished to have a look at that person, Estabrook."

As you will see, I have had cause to feel as he did on that memorable
night--memorable because I first sat at table with Julianna--with
Julianna, whose magnificence was not boldness, whose spirit was not
immodesty, and whose gentleness did not rob her of either her beauty or
vivacity.

Though it seems to me that to-night, in the depths of anxiety, I find
myself in love with a new and deeper feeling, there can be no doubt
that, as I looked at her across the table, I thrilled with the thought
that she might one day be my wife, and felt that delicious and painful
ecstasy when her deep eyes met mine and her lips smiled back at me the
encouragement of a modest woman who does not guard too closely her own
first interest in an exchange of ardent glances. I had then forgotten
most fully the theories of my training.

I remember now that she wore a gown of soft and ample drapery and of a
dark green, suggestive of the colors in the shady recesses of a forest.
I was charmed by the shape and subtle motions of her white hands, the
quality of the affectionate attitude she maintained toward her father,
the refinement of her voice when she answered my comments or addressed
the old serving-maid.

About this serving-maid I must speak. On that occasion her ample form
moved about in the shifting shadows outside the brilliant glow of the
flickering candles, like a noiseless ghost, hovering about a feast of
the living. But I liked her, because, when she looked toward Julianna,
she wore that expression of loyal affection which perhaps one never sees
except upon the faces of mothers or old servants. She had been in the
Judge's family even at the time of the death of his wife years before,
and she had looked as old then as she does when I see her in my own home
now. The old woman's name is Margaret Murchie. You will see that she,
too, is involved in this affair.

How I noticed her at all that evening, or how I kept up an intelligent
conversation with Judge Colfax, I cannot explain. I only know that I
finally found myself sitting with my knees under the table with the long
thin legs of the Judge, and a set of chessmen, carved exquisitely from
amber and ivory, on the board before me, and that when the old man was
called to the telephone and announced on his return that he must go out
to the bedside of a friend, I was overjoyed that I might have some rare
moments in conversation with Julianna.

I observed, however, that this prospect did not please Judge Colfax as
much as it did me; there was an awkward moment in which he looked from
one to the other of us with the same expression as he had worn when he
had observed my interest in his daughter in our first meeting. Then, as
on the former occasion, his optimistic good-nature seemed to rise again
above whatever apprehensions he may have had. He smiled until all the
multitude of wrinkles about his eyes were showing.

"Estabrook," said he, "we have bad luck, eh? But I can offer a worthy
substitute. Unless you find that you must go, you may discover my
daughter to be as worthy an opponent as the Sheik of Baalbec."

Of course I recognized the significance of the words, "unless you find
that you must go," and my first instinct was to offer some lame excuse
and take my departure. Immediately I turned toward Julianna, but she,
instead of coming forward in the manner of one ready to say good-night,
idly turned the pages of a book on the old table, and then, walking
across the room, stood near the chessboard with the pink glow of the
droplight upon her face, and looked up at me, saying as plainly as
words, "Stay."

From the ordinary woman this would not have affected my intentions; it
would have been nothing. From her it was a piece of daring. From her it
seemed a sacrifice of dignity for my sake. I met her glance, and then
turned politely toward the Judge, who stood in the wide door, his tall
hat resting under his arm and his searching eyes looking out from under
the bushy brows.

"Thank you for the suggestion," I said.

"I will be out late," he answered, his deep rumbling voice directed at
me. "Good-night."

"Good-night, sir," I said cheerfully.

Then for the first time I was alone with Julianna, and she was directing
at me, as I stood before her, one of those perplexed little
smiles--those rare perplexed smiles which indicate, perhaps, that for
the first time in a woman's life she does not understand her inner self,
and yet is sure that some joyful thing hangs where she can reach it if
she will. It is the last smile drawn from childhood.

"Shall we play?" she said.

"No," said I.

"I am glad."

"Then you do not like the game?"

"Yes, when I play it with father, because it interests him. And he
prefers to play with me because he says that I am youth."

"His youth, too," I suggested.

She nodded seriously. "Yes, I think so," she said. "We see so many old
people, and balls attract me very little. Our companionship is very
close even for father and daughter. I surprise myself by talking so to
you, but that is it--and we have established a little kingdom of our
own--a walled kingdom which no one else can enter or destroy."

Upon hearing these words, pronounced with that soft ring of
determination which gave her the one touch of imperiousness she
possessed, my heart fell. It was as if she had warned me that she had
dedicated herself to him.

And then suddenly the fact that she had so spoken to me, who had known
her so short a time and said nothing but commonplaces to her, seemed to
take on new significance. I thought it plain that she was erecting a
defense against her own self and was admitting, by her denial, that her
fortresses were for the first time in danger. She had had her choice in
conversation and she had chosen to speak not of general matters, but of
herself. She had done so with charming awkwardness, and I felt as if the
world of all my happiness were resting on the bare chessboard between
the round and healthy forearms that leaned there, and between her
graceful hands, whose intrinsic beauty was not marred by any ring.

"One might well envy the Judge," said I.

She looked up at me quickly.

"Will you close those long windows for me?" she asked, after a moment,
pointing toward the back of the room. "At the front of the house we are
level with the street; at the rear, however, the old walled garden is
almost another story below us. It is damp, I think, even after a spring
day as tender and sunny as this has been."

I hastened to do her bidding.

"There is a tangle of old-fashioned flowers in our little city
inclosure," she called after me. "The Judge likes it that way--as mother
used to like it. There is a balcony with an old wistaria vine just
outside the window."

"And the moon," said I under my breath.

The pranks that fate plays--or whatever one chooses to call the strange
domination of our chance happenings--are wonderful and at times seem
malicious. I am certain that it brought me onto the iron-railed balcony
just beyond the French windows at the beat of that second.

The old garden, though small and flanked by the ugly backs of city
houses, seemed to hold within its brick inclosure a world full of white
liquid moonlight. Shrubs, however, which had grown in disorder under the
walls, threw dark and steady shadows across the patches of lesser
vegetation. The tops of early blossoms and nodding grasses showed beyond
these spaces of blackness. Suddenly, as I looked down, I heard a click
like that of a gate-latch, and a second later I saw, projecting from one
of the fantastic patterns of shade, a round disk of shining surface.

There are moments when the sight is puzzled to determine the character
of such an object. I could not make out the nature of this bobbing,
moving circle that followed along the irregular line of wall shrubbery.
Then, when it was nearer, I saw in a flash that it was the top of a silk
hat. I could see, too, the stooping shoulders of the man who wore it, I
could see that he was proceeding cautiously as if he feared to attract
attention, and at last, when he paused beneath the balcony, I could see
a face with an anxious expression that turned upward toward me. I drew
back behind the thick-leaved vine; for the man was Judge Colfax.

Of all persons he was the last to act as if he sought concealment in
what he did, the last to be guilty or wear the appearance of guilt. Had
he been a stranger, I might have assumed that he had come to make a call
below stairs, but the fact that it was my host, a judge of probate, with
a reputation for lifelong honor and refinement, filled me with the
keenest curiosity. I gripped the old iron railing with my hands and
leaned over.

The Judge waited for a moment before a door opened slowly somewhere
beneath the balcony and a stream of artificial light escaped through the
crack and for a brief second lay like a piece of yellow ribbon across
the grass. Then he was joined by some one whose voice I recognized as
that of Margaret Murchie.

"I came back," I heard him whisper, "because I saw that you had
something to say to me. Julie is observant. I couldn't speak to you in
the hall, Margaret. What is the matter? What did you indicate by the
signs?"

"It's him, sir," she answered. "This thing we have feared has come."

"You cannot mean it!" he exclaimed.

"How could we expect different, sir? The heart of her is like that of
other healthy young girls. I could tell by the look on her face, sir.
The like of it has never been there before. 'T is given to some one to
have his way with her, Judge. I think it's him."

They were talking of me!

"He would have to be told," said the old man. I could see the top of the
silk hat shaking. "And she would have to be told!"

"It is awful, sir!" she answered, wringing her hands. "But I'd never
spoil it that way for anything."

"You forget the other!" he said sternly.

"Lost," she argued. "The time has gone by. It was not a human, sir. I
could never mention her name--beautiful thing she is!--with that other."

"I know--I know," whispered the old man distractedly.

"Well, then, let things run their course. God will not let harm come of
it."

"Blood," said he.

For a moment there was no sound. The one word seemed to have decided all
questions and to have called for silence.

"In case of my death--" the Judge began after a while.

Margaret Murchie uttered a little cry.

"I have left a paper where she will find it," he finished. "I can do
nothing more now. Perhaps--perhaps it will not be a crisis, after all.
I think if I had the chance again, I would send him to his doom."

With these words he raised his clenched fist and walked rapidly across
the grass to the arched exit leading to the alley. The click of the
latch told me that he had gone.

You may imagine my state of mind. As I endeavored in those seconds to
wrest some meaning from the tangle of words I had overheard, my thoughts
were tumbling over each other so fast that I had forgotten the doubtful
part I had played as an eavesdropper. I had heard a reference made to me
as one who had brought some new complication into the affairs of that
household which heretofore I had regarded as the most spotless and quiet
in the city, but which now I found had some dark and mysterious menace
hanging over its peace. Was I the one, after all, to whom they had
referred? They had spoken of some one else and whispered strange
phrases. It was all a blank puzzle to me.

Perhaps under different circumstances my caution and dislike of all that
is unusual or doubtful would have led me away from the house, planning
never to return. But there is in me a certain loyalty. I do not quickly
cast my lot or my reputation with that of another; when, however, I have
done so, I do not quickly withdraw. Extraordinary as it may seem, I
felt myself already bound to Julianna. Perhaps I already loved her
desperately.

Whatever may have been the case, when I turned back into the room I
looked into her gaze with an expression of solemnity which my emotions
intended as an outward sign of my continued devotion.

I must have presented then a ridiculous, sentimental appearance. She
laughed the moment she saw me.

"You like our balcony," she said. And then, as if she had discovered the
cause of my seriousness, she added, "also our spring moonlight."

I nodded.

"It is an unusual spot for the middle of a metropolis," she went on. "It
is filled with a tangle from which years ago I used to imagine fairies
and gnomes and Arabian marauders might step at any moment."

"Tell me more," said I.

"There was a little basin and fountain there when I was a child. But
when it did not flow, yellow slime collected at the bottom, and when the
water was turned on and trickled from one basin to another, it gave
forth a mournful sound that made one think of deserted villages, and
moss growing on gravestones, and courtyards where there were moonlight
murders."

"You have a keen imagination."

"The keenest!" she exclaimed. "Why not? It has grown up with me. And the
only trouble is that it causes me the greatest restlessness. My fate is
like all others. I am exactly what I would not be. Sometimes I long to
enjoy all the wildest of respectable adventures."

"I should think you would keep that a secret from the Judge. He, above
all, is a man of settled habits. His greatest genius has been to make
romance out of the commonplace sequences of life."

She sprang up and walked to the mantel.

"That is true," she said. "I never show that side of me to him. He would
not know what strange spirit moved me. I inherited none of it from him
or my mother. I never show that side to anybody."

"Except to me," I said mischievously.

"Except to you," she affirmed without a smile. "But sometimes I feel
like a wolf in lamb skin."

"At those times I take a brisk walk," I said.

"I do, too. I walk around the Monument nearly every afternoon at five,
with father's dog. Usually at that hour he is at the club."

"Shall I recognize you then by a shaggy, Scotch hound?" I asked.

"By all means," she said, laughing wholesomely. "I suppose in the novels
they would call that a secret meeting."

In spite of the light manner in which she had spoken, she had lowered
her voice a little when she heard a step in the hall. Margaret entered,
as I have seen her so many, many times since, to collect the little
coffee-cups.

The old servant, I felt without seeing, did not take her eyes away from
me while she was in the room; so conscious was I of being the subject of
her observation that I could find but few words to carry on the
conversation. The very effect--that of an intimate dialogue
interrupted--was produced in spite of my desire to avoid it, and when
she left, Julianna had changed her mood. Finding, perhaps, that I was
content to listen, she employed a delicate piece of strategy to place me
in her father's lounging-chair where I could watch her as she leaned
back among the pillows, and in a voice, more soothing than any I had
ever heard, described to me in quaint phrases the character of six
imaginary persons who might among themselves make up a world, with all
the traits of personality which we find in our own. From this piquant
attempt, she emerged to plunge into a light discussion of heredity.

"I can see a trace of the Judge in your belief," said I.

She admitted that he had been her teacher, that they often discussed
such things. It needed no denial from Julianna, however, to know that
her convictions about the power of inherited tendencies had come from
her own thought. Her mind, unlike her manner, had little submissiveness,
and, furthermore, she recited several cases from her own shrewd
observation.

Can I attribute my entranced interest on that occasion to her
brilliance? To this day I do not know. I would have been content to sit
there without my pipe, without a cigarette, listening merely to the
brook-like flow of her voice and looking at the play of expression upon
her beautiful, sensitive face.

I could feel, I thought, the warmth of her hand still lingering in my
own after I had gone down the steps, and I turned my face into the night
breeze on the avenue, glad to be alive, conscious of my health, my
strength, my youth and my courage, oblivious to the traditions of the
Estabrooks and intoxicated with a longing for her personality the moment
I had left it.

Not before the next morning did the haunting thought of something queer
and strange lurking behind the Colfax home rise to cause me doubt.

"It is nonsense," I thought. "Chance events, chance words, and my own
suspicious mind have united to produce an unreality. The Judge,
naturally enough, is jealous of such a daughter. Who would not be under
the same circumstances? An old man would be beastly lonely in that
comfortable but ancient house, even if they had removed the garden
fountain with its mournful trickle. The world has no such picturesque
and abnormal situations as those which have come into my mind. And
Julianna has all that any one could ask. Above all the vital fact is
that she is no other than she!"

Perhaps for the sake of good taste I waited two days in painful
restraint before I left my office to walk around the Monument at five;
certainly my delay was not because I could pretend to foresee that a
ghastly mystery was waiting to seize me and drag me in with its unseen
tentacles.



                               CHAPTER II

                         A PLEDGE TO THE JUDGE


There is a peculiar honesty about true affection for woman. It is for
the flirtations, the light and frivolous intimacies that a man smooths
his hair, picks out his scarf, and purchases a new stick. Somehow it
seems to me that a gentleman of natural high honor will always present
his average self to the one woman. That he should be attentive is
natural, that he should be affected is repellent to my notions. Perhaps
it was for this reason that without preparation I closed my desk and
walked up to meet Julianna, as I would have walked home to my own
bachelor quarters.

She was waiting for me!

"I have been expecting you," said she, with her hand upon the dog's
grizzled head, and in that frank and simple statement there was more
charm than in all the false feminine reserve in the universe.

"I did not come before," I told her, "because I felt that you might
believe me presuming too much."

"Why?" said she in the manner of a child.

I could not answer. I merely gazed at her. She was half leaning, half
sitting on the retaining wall of the park, and her skin, which was
flecked with the shadows of new maple leaves above her, was lighted not
only by the yellow rays of the afternoon sun, but also with the bright
colors which her brisk walk had brought to the soft surface. I assure
you, she made a pretty picture.

"I would have been glad to see you yesterday," she said slowly, marking
with the toe of one shoe upon the gravel. "You have been one of my
father's younger friends a long time."

"There is nothing the matter!" I cried.

"I can't tell," she said. "He is old, you know, and I can explain it in
no other way."

"He is not ill?"

"No. But if, for instance, his physician had told him he had not long to
live, and he felt something give way within him--that might cause it."

I suppressed the anxious note in my voice as I said, "Cause what? You
have not said, Miss Colfax."

She laughed. "That is true. I haven't, have I?" Serious again, she went
on. "He seems worried. Something seems to follow him about--some
thought, some apprehension, some worry."

"It is a new difficulty somewhere that has come up in the trial of a
case."

She shook her head.

"Let us walk," she said. "No, it is not that--nothing ordinary. A word
from me and he would explain. But this time when I ask, he merely smiles
and says, 'Nothing, Julie, nothing.'"

"Can it be that I am the cause?" I said before I could stop myself. "Has
he found out that we--"

"I told him," she said, "that we--"

She stopped there, too, and looked at me.

"No," she went on. "It is something else. He went out for a stroll night
before last. Usually he is gone a half-hour at least. But this time he
had hardly had time to go down the steps before I heard his key in the
door again and the feet of 'Laddie' on the hall floor. I ran out to ask
if he had forgotten anything, and it was a dreadful shock to me."

"Tell me," said I, touching her fingers with my own.

"In the first place, the dog was acting as I have never seen him act
before. I noticed that, the first thing. He was cowering and slinking
along as if he feared the most terrible punishment. But that was
nothing. It was father who made me draw back. Even in the dim light I
could see that he was white--oh, so white! I thought he had been taken
ill suddenly and was weak. And yet one hand was clutching his big cane
and the muscles and veins stood out on the back as if he were raising
the stick to defend himself."

"He was ill!" I cried.

"Yes, I think that must have been it. He was ill. And since then he has
brooded so--particularly when he does not know I am watching him.
Margaret has noticed it, too. She has spoken to him as I did and he has
laughed her fear away, I suppose."

"Perhaps, after all, it is nothing--just as he says," I suggested,
turning toward her as we walked.

"Perhaps not," she said. "I am sure you are a good and cheerful friend
to say so. Nevertheless, I have been worried and restless and this
afternoon I long for amusement. Can't we do something queer and
extraordinary--go somewhere--do something?"

I thought her requirement a difficult one to fill at five o'clock in the
afternoon, walking through the old, dull, and worn-out part of the city,
where we found we had arrived without purpose in our journey. More than
that, I am naturally of conservative tastes; the bizarre, the bohemian,
and the unconventional forms of amusement have never beckoned to me. I
am not an adventurer by choice.

"We have less than an hour before us," I said to her. "And I am at a
loss to suggest--"

There I hesitated. A thought had come to me. I saw her eyes dance with
expectancy--with that expression of eagerness that lights the faces of
those to whom the world, with all its goodness and badness, beauty and
ugliness, tranquillity and turbulence, is still unexplored.

"The Sheik of Baalbec!" I exclaimed.

"The Sheik of Baalbec!" she repeated. "I have heard so much of him, but
have never seen him. That is just the thing!"

"You shall try your skill with him," I said. "You shall meet him face to
face, look into his evil glassy eyes, watch his brown fingers move on
mechanical levers, see his lungs and heart of geared wheels and little
pulleys and--"

"And what?" she cried.

"Battle with him--wit against wit--skill against skill--and win!"

"You seem to bear the Sheik a grudge," she said, and as we went up the
steps of the old Natural History Building, where romping children of the
tenements scattered banana peels and papers, she repeated the remark.

"I've taken a dislike to the automaton," I said. "It is an uncanny
creature. It gives me the impression of an evil soul attached to a lot
of metallic gears. Personally I should be glad to have the opportunity
of tearing it to pieces and seeing it scattered on the ground--a heap of
red cotton rags, hair stuffing, and broken levers."

My earnestness, however, only caused her to tilt her rounded chin in
air and laugh as only she can laugh. Having persuaded the girl at the
ticket office that the dog with us would do no harm, we had already
entered and were passing through the exhibit of figures.

"Possibly you feel the same way toward this waxy Bismarck who looks so
much more like a brewer than a general," said she, "or toward this
Catherine of Russia who, I understand, was not a very refined queen, and
who here shows it by wearing a ruff that should have gone to the laundry
a year ago or more."

"No," I replied. "If they let me alone, it matters not to me when they
are melted down for candles. My enemy is the fellow in the corner there
with the group of country persons around him. Perhaps we shall not have
a chance to play a game with him this afternoon."

Fortunately, however, just as we came up toward the gloomy corner, there
was a shout of bantering laughter from those whom, offhand, I should
have called Aunt Lou, Cousin Becky, Brother Bob, and Milly Snagg, and we
saw that the automaton had just dispatched his opponent--the fifth
member of the party, a well-bronzed countryman, with a shaved neck and
prominent ears. The mechanical eye had drawn down its brown lid in a
hideous wink, much to the discomfiture of the champion of some rural
village.

For the second time I deposited the coin in the slot, whereupon
Julianna, with great delight, watched the opening of the front of the
box, the exposure of the internals of the figure, and the jerky motions
of the Sheik as he extended his mechanical arm over his lifeless legs to
make the first move.

"I like him," she said, and stepped forward toward the chessboard.

Thereupon a strange thing happened. Some part of the contrivance gave
forth a sound as if a wheel had been torn from its socket; a whirring
sound continued for a moment, then finally the air was filled with a
ghastly shriek.

I defy any man to say whether that shriek came from the rasp of an
unoiled metal bearing or from a human throat. That it proceeded from the
automaton there was no question.

It was followed by a stillness not only of the automaton itself, but
also of ourselves.

"Look at his head!" roared the countryman, who had, with his party,
lingered to see more of the marvelous creature. He pointed to the
figure, and when my eyes followed his gesture, I saw that the Sheik's
head had fallen backward like a thing with its throat cut. As I stared,
there came a slight noise from the box and out of the slot my coin flew
back as if it bore the message that there was no more playing that
afternoon.

"Well," said I to Julianna, "apparently the show is over."

She did not answer. I put the coin in my pocket.

"It is too bad," I said. "The Sheik has broken something important in
his cosmos."

Again she failed to reply, and I looked up. She was staring, I thought,
at the floor.

"What is the matter?" I asked.

"Look at the dog!" she whispered.

He was cringing, cowering, with closed eyes, flattened to the ground,
and sniffing softly, in an agony of terror!

It was dreadful to see so noble a beast in such a state, and probably
more shocking to Julianna who had affection for him than to me.

"I cannot understand Laddie's acting that way," she said in a vexed
tone. "He has done it twice now in the last two days. What can have
happened to him?"

"He is very old, isn't he?" I inquired.

"Yes," she said, and a little coquettish smile flitted across her face.
"He is older than I am. Come, Laddie. Come here, sir. What's the matter,
old pal?"

"Age," said I. "There has never been a dog grow old in our family that
he didn't sooner or later develop a kind of second puppyhood. I have
seen them do all manner of inexplicable things, and one old, toothless,
wire-haired terrier used to snap at his shadow on the wall."

"I should hate to have him die," said Julianna when we were on the
street again. She put her arm about his shaggy neck and I wished that I
were he.

At her door I took off my glove. It was done unconsciously, but she saw
it--she took off one of hers. Then she laughed and put her hand in mine.

After that walk I became the victim of all the mental follies which
descend upon a man so thoroughly in love. My work suffered. I found
myself at one moment reading down a page of digests of cases prepared
for me by my assistants; in the next, I would be sitting again in Judge
Colfax's easy-chair, and before me I could see Julianna's smiling lips,
reflecting the lamplight upon their moist surfaces. In her name I would
drive myself to my task again, and then, without knowing when the
transition occurred, I would be standing on a gravel path dappled with
sunlight and the dancing shadows of maple leaves, and she would be
standing before me again with the breeze moving brown-and-gold strands
of hair at the edge of her firm white neck.

It is doubtful whether I thought of Judge Colfax, or chess, or the
strange meeting in the garden, or the Sheik at all. I wondered about
nothing save the question of how soon I could say to Julianna what lay
in my heart to say to her. Therefore it was necessary for me to review
in my mind many things when, upon waking a morning or two afterward, I
found, among the letters which my man had brought to the chair beside my
bed, a note from the girl herself.

I did not know at first that it was from her: I had never seen her
writing before. I remember that I said, "Who can this be?" and that I
studied the outside for several moments before I opened the envelope.

"My father," it said, "has not been very well, I think. I wish that you
could make a point of calling on him at the court-house some afternoon
this week. I want to know if the change in him rests partly in my own
imagination. You could determine this at once. I would be so grateful.
J. COLFAX.--P.S. Why not induce him to ask you to dinner. His indiscreet
daughter would be delighted. J. C."

This was the sort of note that she would write: it was not hysterical,
and yet it conveyed to me the urgency of her request; it was not
frivolous, and yet in its postscript it was boldly mischievous. It
accomplished the result she wished. She had wanted me to make up my mind
that I would see the Judge before night and to see her as soon as
possible. I determined to do both.

All day long it rained, drawing a wet shroud of gloom over the
pavements, the granite walls of the buildings, and the adamant
perspective of the streets. Standing in my office window, I could see
the flow of black umbrellas moving up and down town, like two torpid
snakes. But though I am ordinarily sensitive to the effect of a long
drizzle, it failed on that day to depress me. Life had freshened. There
was romance in it, possibilities, dreams. Instead of complaining to
myself that the sky had lowered until its opaque rotunda seemed to touch
the tops of the higher buildings, I rejoiced as I went uptown and looked
out the cab window at each open square, that the cold spring downpour
had freshened all the vegetation and brightened these city fresh-air
spaces as if by magic. When I found myself in the Judge's study, my mood
could not have been more cheerful.

I had expected to find him in the despondency which Julianna had
described to me; instead, when I had a chance to study his expression
before he knew I was there, I came to the conclusion that his thoughts,
whatever they might be, were pleasant thoughts and not the anxious
thoughts of one who is harassed by secret apprehensions.

He was a fine picture of a man, sitting there above his old desk, his
long hands spread out upon an open book, the lines in his shaven face
expressing a life of faithful service, gentleness, humor, and
self-control, his blue eyes as bright as those of a youth, looking out
at some picture which his imagination was painting on the opposite wall
of the room. I stood watching him a moment before I stirred.

"Ha!" he exclaimed as soon as I had made my presence known. "Estabrook,
you are the very man I wanted to see!"

"I had imagined it," I answered. "What more?"

He blinked his eyes. "Wait a moment, you rascal," he said, brushing the
sleeves of his black coat. "Take a cigar, sit down a moment. Let me
collect my thoughts. I must say I hesitate to launch too quickly a
subject with which I have not dealt for a good many years and one, if I
remember rightly, I treated with considerable awkwardness on the former
occasion."

"When was that, sir?" I asked.

"When I courted my wife," he said solemnly, looking for a moment at the
floor.

"Perhaps, if I am not mistaken, you would have come to me, by and by,"
he went on with the wrinkles gathering at the corners of his eyes.
"Perhaps it is better for me to speak with you now anyhow. I am well
along in years. My physician tells me that my cardiac valve--or whatever
the blame thing is--is weak."

"He told you recently!" I exclaimed.

"Bless you, no. More than two years ago. I haven't been near him since,
except to taste of some old madeira he keeps on his sideboard. No. I
can't quite explain why I am anxious to speak of this matter so soon, so
hastily. I only want to ask one or two impertinent questions which you
will forgive in a man who has grown, as to certain matters, as fussy as
an old maid--or a mother."

"Why, I will answer gladly enough," I said awkwardly. I thought I knew
what was on his mind; my tongue grew large in my mouth.

He was pacing up and down the room then, but finally he stopped and
laughed and grew solemn again.

"Darn it, my boy," he said. "I know you. I like you. I just wanted to
know if you had ever been engaged--in the broad sense--engaged to a
woman--with promises to fulfill. I just wanted to ask."

"No," said I.

"There!" said he. "I knew it all the time."

"Was there another question?" I asked.

"Why, yes," he said. "Why, yes. I believe I did have another. Now, what
was it? I had another question. It was awkward, too, if I remember. I
had another."

We both laughed then.

"Yet it seems so strange for me to ask these questions now, doesn't
it?" he went on, fingering the pages of a book on the desk. "It is so
early and a good deal more natural for you to speak to me than for me to
speak to you. But, good God! there is a reason if you only knew--a
reason. Let us say, for instance, that I might not be here then."

"Ask it, sir," I said.

"Why, I was only going to say that, in case you should succeed,--I doubt
if you do succeed,--but in case you should succeed in causing her to
love you, there would be no withdrawal on your part. Little Julie--my
little daughter! Neither of you has known what it means yet. And,
Estabrook, when she does, it must not go wrong. I know her well. She
will never love but one man. He must not withdraw when he has won her!"

I started to speak angrily.

"Wait!" he cried, with his hands clenched. "He must not be shaken from
her by anything--anything for which she is not to blame herself--no
matter how strange or terrible--anything. Nothing will come. I know it.
But that must be promised me--to stand by her, no matter what misfortune
might descend upon her."

"What could?" I asked in a trembling voice.

"Nothing," the Judge said. "It is not in God's character to allow such
a thing. When you love her, Estabrook, my boy, you will not ask me that
question in answer to mine."

"No," I said at once. "There need be no doubts between us, sir. It is
not necessary for either of us to answer."

His whole countenance lit up as if my words had fed his soul. I should
be sorry to have wiped from my memory the impression of that old man's
look, as, without taking his eyes from my face, he reached for his hat.

Yet, to-night, when I, for perhaps the last time, realize again the
presence of some infernal, undefined evil, I wonder that I should have
been so great a fool and so willingly have neglected even the prudence
of a lover. I wonder that I made so blind a bargain. I wonder that I did
not ask him, before it was too late, what his conversation with Margaret
Murchie in the garden had meant and what secret it was that lurked like
a clawed creature of the night, ready to eat away, bit by bit, the
happiness of an innocent man.



                              CHAPTER III

                             THE TORN SCRAP


When I left Judge Colfax that day, the only questions in my mind
concerned Julianna. To her I had said nothing in so many words of my
love, and yet I knew that if the Judge had read my growing sentiment
surely, she must have seen it even more clearly. I tried to interpret
her friendly, playful, girlish acceptance of my affection as an
indication that she, too, felt an increasing fondness for me--a fondness
which went beyond that given to a trustworthy friend. But I could not
forget that her father, when he had so strangely anticipated my request
for his consent, had described her as one whose yielding would be sudden
and complete--one to whom love would come in sweeping torrent of
emotion--one with whom love would thereafter stay eternally. If this
were true, she did not love me yet, I reflected. And with a falling of
hope, I remembered that the Judge had expressed, for what reason I did
not know, his own doubt of my ability to win her.

These were thoughts well adapted to hasten my lovemaking. I made a
point of walking to the Monument the next afternoon. I did not meet her
there, or on the way along the edge of the park, and I found myself
suddenly haunted by the hitherto unconsidered possibility that, as
summer was coming on, I might expect at any day that she would leave the
city to visit friends or go with the Judge to some resort.

It rained again the following day, and though the downpour ceased in the
late afternoon, great gray banks of clouds hung threateningly above the
city. Nevertheless, tormented with the notion that we might at any time
be separated for several weeks, I went again to the Monument to seek
her.

She was there. Nor did she seem at all surprised that I had come.

"I am full of energy to-day," she said, smiling a welcome. "Let us take
a long walk together."

"Good!" said I. "I will tell you about your father. As you know, I
called on him Thursday afternoon."

But from the Judge she quickly turned the subject to discussion that was
wholly impersonal, and it was the same on the following Monday when I
saw her again. Had it not been for the expression in her eyes with which
she greeted me, listened when I talked to her and bade me good-bye when I
left her, these would have been depressing meetings for me, because I
thought that I could clearly see that she was holding me at arm's
length with that natural art of a good, true woman,--an art which needs
no practice.

Imagine, then, my surprise, on this second occasion, when we had reached
her door, when she had asked me to have tea and I had been forced to
plead a previous engagement, when she stood there before me smiling,
rosy, the form itself of health, beauty, and vivacity, and when her
glance was raised to meet mine, I suddenly saw her smile fade and I
thought her eyes were filling with tears.

She laughed, however,--a little choking laugh,--and looking down so that
I could not see her face, she said, "I have liked these walks and chats
with you better than any I have ever had." And so she bade me
good-night.

Only when I had gone from her did I recall that she had spoken as if our
companionship was not to continue, as if, for some cause unknown to me,
there was to be an end of our intimacy. The thought made me stop
stock-still upon the pavement.

"And yet," thought I, "might it not be--that she meant only to show that
she is willing to continue our relationship--perhaps forever?"

Loving her as much as I did and wanting her--and no other on the breadth
of the green earth--for my wife, this uncertainty was a torment which I
could not stand. I remembered she had told me that the Judge walked each
evening after his dinner, and I am ashamed to confess that the next
evening dark found me waiting on their street corner, like a scullery
maid's beau, until I saw his stoop-shouldered figure come down the steps
with the lank, grizzled "Laddie" behind, and heard the beat of his
grapevine stick recede down the avenue.

Margaret Murchie let me in. Had I been a wolf she could not have glared
at me more; it was evident that her shrewd old eyes, whatever hidden
knowledge lay behind them, regarded me as a brigand, as a menace, as
some one who had come to take a precious treasure of art from the
drawing-room or the household goddess from the front hall. And as I sat
in the study once more, on the comfortable easy-chair of the Judge, with
the empty feeling in my stomach telling me that my nerves were on edge,
as they used to be when I rowed on our crew and sat listening for the
gun, I was sure that after announcing me she lingered beyond the
curtains, covertly watching me.

Julianna did not keep me waiting long, and as she came through the door
into the light, I could not help but notice the poise and grace which
comes from inherited refinement and health, and is only imitated badly
by self-consciousness and the pose of the actress.

"I'm so sorry you did not come a moment earlier," she said. "Father
would have been in. Now, you and I--"

She seated herself in her place on the old-fashioned mahogany sofa.

"Do you mind?" I asked.

"No, I'm glad!" she said, and wriggled like a pleased child, yet so
slightly that no one could have accused her of it.

"Do you like me?" said I, after a moment.

Her eyes opened very wide and looked into mine seriously--half amused,
half frightened. At last she nodded in a matter-of-fact way; it was only
because I could see her hands pressed against the arm of the couch until
they were white and little blue veins had begun to show that I knew she
was capable of the stoicism of an Indian, and that her nod was not
matter-of-fact, after all.

As I have told you, I am not of an habitually romantic temperament. I
was well aware of my unfitness to deal with a girl who, herself, had
never known the processes of lovers, but the belief that she was trying
to restrain her true feelings toward me ran through my brain like an
intoxicating liquor. I would have taken the breadth of her shoulders in
the crook of my arm, and pressed my face into the rich mass of her hair,
and kissed her upon her white forehead, had I not suddenly recalled
that never had I even phrased to her a sentence explaining my feeling
toward her.

"Of course I do," she said at that moment. I remember how cool the words
sounded.

I remember, indeed, every word of that evening, every detail of that
room, every play of expression about her mouth, and I cannot go on
without speaking of these things. They meant so much to me and have
meant so much ever since!

At last, then, I told her.

"Julianna--" said I. "I have never called you by that name before. I
have not seen you long. But I must disregard all facts of that kind.
They may be important to some men and women. They are not of consequence
to me. I have loved you from the first."

She gave a little cry, but whether it was of joy or surprise I cannot
say. I only know that when I leaned forward and took one of her hands in
my own, she left it there as if it belonged to me of right, and with my
finger tips upon her soft wrist I could feel the beating of her heart.

"I don't want to love any one else," I whispered desperately. "I want
you. I want you to love me. I want you to let me take you."

I thought when I had said this and pressed my lips to the back of her
hand and looked up at her again that her face was illuminated with
wonder, joy, and supreme gladness, and that her eyes were filled with
light reflected from some bright revelation. What, then, was my
astonishment to observe that, as I looked, the color seemed to fade from
her skin, her parted lips slowly compressed themselves, her eyelids fell
like those of one who suffered pain or shuts out some repulsive sight!
It may have been my imagination; but I was sure I felt her hand turn
cold in mine and draw away as if to escape a menace. Her body stiffened
as if preparing for effort or defense and she arose from her seat and
stood before me.

So little did I understand the significance of her actions that I
neither moved nor spoke.

She came toward me then and placed the tips of her fingers upon my
shoulder affectionately, I can say--as she might have touched her
father, and as if she meant to cause some unsaid thing to flow through
the contact into my body.

"Please do not get up," she said softly. "Do not follow me."

There was strength in that command.

She walked toward the long windows at the back of the room, the windows
which overlooked the garden, and pulling them open, stepped out onto the
balcony. The vine there being in bloom, her figure was framed with the
soft purple of the flowers, which, lit by the light from within and
pendant against the black background of night, might well have been
blossoms embroidered on Japanese black satin. With my head swimming, I
watched the movement of her bare shoulders, from which her modest scarf
had half fallen, until she turned to enter again.

"I shall not tell you that I am sorry that you have spoken as you have,"
she said, spacing her words so evenly that it gave the impression at
first that she was repeating memorized sentences. "But I am young and no
one else has ever done so. Perhaps I should have interrupted you and
told you that my duty is toward my father, and that I am not sure of
myself now, and that I am not ready to give myself to any other life. If
this is true, it can profit neither of us to talk of love."

"Neither of us!" Again it seemed to me that she had disclosed herself. I
stood before her and in a voice that shook with eagerness, I said, "You
love me. At least you love me a little?"

She drew back.

"You do!" I cried under my breath. "I know it! You do!"

She raised her hands as if to keep me from her, and still retreated
toward the hearth.

"You love me!" I said. The sound of my own voice was raising a madness
within me. "Say it!" I cried. "Say it!"

She turned quickly away from me.

"You love me."

"No," she said. "I do not--love--you!"

I think for a second neither of us stirred; for a second, too, I could
see that her body had relaxed as mine had relaxed. Then I felt the sting
of wrecked pride--the pride from which I suppose I never shall escape. I
can remember that I drew a long breath, made a low bow, which, though
not so intended, must have been both insulting and absurd, and walked
through the curtains into the hall. I looked back once and that fleeting
glance showed me only a beautiful girl who stood very stiffly, like a
soldier saluting, but who, unlike a soldier, stood with closed eyes and
with her long lashes showing against a pale and delicate skin.

How miserable I was in the following hours, I cannot well describe.
After I had returned to my own apartments I sat in my study without
desire for sleep, staring with burning eyes at the silk curtains
fluttering in the June night wind, until they seemed to be ghosts
dancing on my window sills, and my straining ears listened to the hourly
booming of the clock on the Fidelity Tower, until it sounded like the
cruel voice of Time itself. Long after the rosy dawn I got up, drank
some water, lit a strong cigar, and prepared to dress myself for the
day's work. I can well remember my determination never again to expose
my feelings toward any living soul and my constantly repeated assertion
to myself that I had been hasty and indiscreet, that I did not in truth
any longer love Julianna and had been punished for a breach of that
reserve and caution which had been a virtuous characteristic of my
ancestors.

With my teeth shut together, with a frenzy to accomplish much work,
without a breakfast, and with sharp and perhaps ill-tempered commands to
my assistants, I spent the morning in the preparation of cases for which
trials were pending. By noon the heat of the day had become intense, the
sides of the battalions of towering buildings across the narrow street
seemed to become radiators for the viciousness of the summer sun, the
voices of newsboys, the murmur of the lunch-hour crowd twanged a man's
nerves, and I noticed for the first time the devilish song of the
electric fan on my wall. As you have foreseen, I felt suddenly the
wilting of my will. Tired, hungry, sleepless, I slipped down into my
chair, and there seemed no happiness left in a world which did not
include the girl I had left the night before.

I seized my hat and, clapping it on my head, I stopped only to sweep the
papers into the desk drawers and hurried toward the elevator.

"There's somebody on the 'phone for you, Mr. Estabrook," said the
switchboard girl. "They're very anxious to talk."

"Tell 'em I've gone home for the day," I called back to her and then
went down and out of the building to the sunbaked street.

I knew that I should put food in my stomach, so I ate a lunch somewhere.
I knew I should rest, but the thought of returning to my bachelor rooms
suggested only a violent mental review of the events through which I had
been. I was tempted to go to the Monument, but flung the idea aside as a
piece of sentimental madness. Accordingly I walked toward the river
front with its uninteresting and sordid warehouses, saloons and boxes,
bales and crates of the wholesale produce commissioners. On that long,
cobblestoned thoroughfare, with its drays and commercial riffraff, its
lounging stevedores, its refuse barrels, its gutter children and its
heat, I went forward mile after mile, without much thought of where I
went or why I chose such surroundings for my way, unless it was that the
breeze from the water was welcome to me.

The late afternoon found me on an uptown pier, watching the return of an
excursion steamer, proud with flags and alive with children, girls with
sunburned faces and young men with handkerchiefs tucked around their
collars and carrying souvenir canes. They disembarked down a narrow
gangplank, like ants crawling along a straw. I reflected that all were,
like myself, with their individual comedies and tragedies, the
representatives of the countless, forgotten, and ever reproducing
millions of human gnats that through unthinkable periods of time come
and go. I had seen none of them before. I would see none of them again.
Instead of being a depressing notion, I found this a cheerful idea; I
welcomed the evidence of my own insignificance. I laughed. I even
determined to amuse myself. If nothing better offered, I made up my mind
I would visit the Sheik of Baalbec, and, by pitting my skill against
his, prove that I could exclude, when I wished, the haunting thoughts to
which my mind had been a prey.

"The Sheik, then," said I, after a block or two. "It was he who ushered
me into this affair. It shall be he who may say an end to it."

In the light of what followed, this sentence, murmured half aloud as I
walked, has many times caused me to wonder at the prophetic voice with
which we sometimes carelessly address ourselves.

I found the museum, except for the red-nosed attendant and the pale pink
girl in the ticket window, deserted. The accursed automaton, I feared,
would be closed for business, and therefore it was with satisfaction
that I noticed that the coin slot was open, and that, having dropped in
my tribute to genius, chess, and machinery, I heard the squeak of the
moving mechanism and the brown, jointed fingers of the figure scraping
across the board.

I cannot believe that the Sheik was playing his best game. At the end of
a half-hour, when the machinery stopped to notify me that another coin
was due, I had a decided advantage in position. Before another fifteen
minutes, during which we both played rapidly, had gone, the issue was no
longer in doubt and I stopped.

"Ha!" said I, aloud. "You will not wink at me this time. Is there any
other game you can play better than you play this?"

The automaton was silent.

I cannot say what impelled me to suggest it, but I drew a piece of paper
and a pencil out of my pocket and said, "Can you write?"

The door in the chest of the Sheik flew open then for a moment as if to
expose his heart to me. Though I had put no coin into the machine, I saw
the levers and gears start to move again, the door of that pulmonary
cavity was closed and the brown fingers jerked their way forward.

"Not only can write, but is anxious to do so," I remarked, as I extended
the pencil and laid the paper on the chessboard.

For a second or two I waited, as the hand of the mechanical creature
wrote a few words: I remember that during those seconds I heard a clock
somewhere striking six. I did not make any attempt to see beforehand
what he had chosen to inscribe, for I assumed that it would be some
empty answer to my bantering remarks. At last the pencil dropped upon
the board and rolled under one of the cross-legged creature's red
Turkish slippers, the whirr of the mechanism stopped abruptly, and I
picked up the writing.

Having read the scrawl once I believed myself out of my wits. I could
not credit my eyes. I could not gather my reason. I was breathless,
transfixed!

I looked up at the face of the Sheik and found that, in place of the
malicious wink with which he proclaimed himself a victor in a game of
draughts, his glass eyes, with their whites in sharp contrast to his
swarthy wax skin, were both wide open and set in a glare of such
ferocity and malign hatred that they seemed to flash the fire of life
and lighten the gloom of the corner with rays of evil.

I laughed. I forced myself to laugh, but it was with no mirth, and then,
hesitating for a moment and seized by the temptation to tear the
automaton to shreds, to discover what was within its exterior, I turned,
crunched the paper in my closed fist, and almost ran out through the
lines of wax figures--the Garibaldis, the Jenny Linds, the Louis
Napoleons, and the Von Moltkes--into the sunlight.

No man can blame me for my excitement or even my terror, for the Sheik
had written, "You are in danger! Withdraw before it is too late, and
never see the old man or child of his again!"

Had the time been the Middle Ages, or the place a strange quarter of the
Orient, I might not have been so shocked at the knowledge which a tawdry
machine, or the mountebank behind it, seemed to have of the affairs of
persons against whom no charge of contact with the lower strata of life
could be brought. But in our civilization, where nothing but the
commonplace is to be expected, I was wholly unnerved.

"Come," said I to myself, having walked to the far side of the open
square, "sit on this bench, unfold the paper, and use your intelligence
to overcome the hysteria which last night's experience and this odd
affair of the Sheik have aroused. Be sensible. This message is a matter
to be explained, just as all things are to be explained by any one who
is not the victim of superstitious fear."

This determination immediately cleared my reason. After all, there was
nothing to solve.

"Whoever controls the mechanism has seen me with the Judge," said I,
"and doubtless has heard him mention his daughter, and perhaps has
observed the effect of her name on me. Furthermore, he, or, as the Judge
said, the man or woman behind the Sheik, has even seen me with Julianna
and might well have drawn conclusions. The message was written in ill
temper or as a piece of malicious mischief. And there's an end to it!"

Whereupon I tore the scrap across the middle and, dropping it in the
grass, I started toward my home.

The picture of that writing, however, was too clearly photographed upon
my vision; it continually wrote itself on the walls of buildings, upon
the pavement or across the sky. And as it did, little by little, it
began to dawn upon me that the handwriting with which it had been
executed I had seen before.

When at last, from the back of my mind, I recalled the occasion, I
astonished those persons who were walking near me by stopping in the
middle of the sidewalk as if stricken and uttering a sharp exclamation.
My hand sought the contents of my inside coat pocket; among the papers
there I found the note which Julianna, wishing me to see her father, had
written me, and with trembling fingers I spread the sheet before me.

One look was all that was necessary, for it sent me hurrying back the
way I had come; it was enough to cause me to kneel down on the grass in
the gathering gloom that was filling the old square. Where I had sat a
half-hour before, I now searched frantically for bits of torn paper.

I found both pieces at last, placed them side by side and compared them
with the note in my hand. I have already told you that Julianna wrote a
hand distinguished from others by subtle peculiarities. The message from
the Sheik was written as she would write!

To believe, as I found I must believe, that she, with or without the
knowledge of the Judge, would so far forget the obligations of her place
in society as to operate a vulgar puppet in public, no matter how much
it might interest or amuse her, was another shock to me. I am free to
confess that, in spite of all my former assertions to myself that I had
not loved her as much as I had supposed, this new development was the
first that began to make me believe I had been blinded by mere
infatuation.

"You have been moving in the dark," I told myself. "You have stifled
your senses from a whole set of facts which tend to show that some
unwholesome thing is sleeping on the threshold of the Colfax home.
Perhaps, after all, Julianna and the Sheik of Baalbec are right. It has
come out for the best."

And yet, hardly had I so thought than a strange sense of loneliness
came over me, the dingy buildings about the square seemed like so many
squatting personalities, depressed and brooding, and out of that gloomy
picture came the image of Julianna, so fresh, so smiling, and so fair
that for a moment I almost forgot that it was a creation of my fancy. It
brought back to me my love for her. I remembered my promise to the
Judge. I recalled her tenderness and purity, which I had felt so
strongly that I had expected to see it about her like an effulgence. I
cursed myself for doubting her. I looked upon the evidence of the scrap
of paper in my hand as a piece of testimony brought against an innocent
person. Not only with the instinct of a lover, but that of a lawyer as
well, I determined to defend her from my own accusations.

I had not been without the necessity, once or twice in my practice, of
calling upon experts in handwriting; now I remembered that one of them,
a clever fellow named Jarvis, lived in an apartment not far from mine.
It was the dinner hour. I believed I should find him and I was right.

"I have come on a peculiar errand," I explained to him as he appeared in
his library, napkin in hand, "and if you are not through dinner, I will
wait."

"No, no," said he, with easy falsehood. "I had just finished. How can I
help you, Mr. Estabrook?"

"I wish your opinion on two pieces of handwriting," I answered. "It is
unnecessary for me to tell you where I got them, you understand. The
question at issue is, did one person write both, and if not, is one of
them an imitation of the other?"

He flourished a powerful reading-glass in the professional manner those
fellows use and gave the two specimens a cursory examination.

"The problem should not be difficult," he said, "since both were written
hastily. In the case of the pencil, it is clear from the manner in which
the fine fibres of the paper are brushed forward like grass leaning in
the wind. In the case of the ink, the wet pen has gone back to cross a t
or complete an imperfectly formed letter before the earlier strokes had
time to dry."

"That would preclude imitation?" I asked.

"Why, yes. Offhand, I should say so--unless the one who made the attempt
had practiced for years, or has the skill of imitation developed beyond
that of any professional forger. But give me a moment, please."

I waited, tapping with my fingers on the chair arm.

He straightened up at last, with a sigh, then looked at me with his
eyebrows drawn and a look of perplexity on his thin, cadaverous face.

"It's very odd," said he.

"What's very odd?"

"Well, Mr. Estabrook, these pieces were not written several years
apart--at different periods of life, were they?"

"Why, no," said I.

"They are not the work of one person, then," he said, with firm
conviction. "I would stake my reputation on that."

"Then one is an attempt to imitate the other?" I said, stifling a glad
exclamation.

"That's the rub," said he. "And, to be frank, I might spend a month
without being able to say which was the imitated and which the
imitating. I would almost think you had stumbled on two specimens which,
merely by coincidence, bore a wonderful resemblance to each other. It
lies between that and the cleverest, most practiced forgery I have ever
seen."

You may be sure that his decision gave me a sense of triumph; without
speculating as to the truth, it was enough for me to know that Julianna
had not, as I had at first suspected, been a party to this vulgar and
melodramatic flourish. I berated myself for having entertained any doubt
and now felt anew, and with aggravation, my affection for her. This
outcome of my adventure with the Sheik, in fact, restored my spirit,
made me forget my pride, and, as you will see, was enough to put me in
condition to receive that which was about to befall me.



                               CHAPTER IV

                                THE FACE


My thoughts as I entered the portico of that building where I had my
apartments were not only of Julianna, but were also in those channels
where I have no doubt your own opinion of my narrative must run. I
freely admit, as I then was forced to admit, that my lovemaking had been
attended with many bizarre and abnormal happenings; yet at the time I
sneered at the questions which rose in my own mind and bravely asserted
to myself that the chances of winning Julianna were not wholly lost.

In the lower hall of the building in which I had quarters there were
stationed until six at night a telephone operator and a doorman. Perhaps
you have noticed that I tell you these matters in considerable detail,
and I will continue to do this, because my natural dread of disclosing
the intimate affairs of my life has kept me heretofore from sharing my
story with any one, and now that I have lifted the cover and drawn the
veil of my experience, I can only find justification, in so narrating
the sequence of extraordinary events, by observing the strictest
adherence to detail and accuracy in the hope that perhaps you, by the
virtue of a fresh and unprejudiced viewpoint, may be able to unravel
some of the tangle in which I am, even now, enmeshed.

As I have said, at six the telephone girl at the switchboard and the
doorman, for some reason which I could never understand, were replaced
by an old negro who served as both, and who was the most garrulous,
indiscreet individual I have ever seen.

As if to affirm these characteristics he spoke to me the moment I had
entered, in a voice which seemed to be adapted to a general address to
the three or four other bachelors who were waiting in the frescoed
vestibule for a conveyance.

"Yaas, sah, Mr. Estabrook, sah. De dohman lef' a message, sah. Der has
been a lady waitin' foh you, sah, mos' all de ahfternoon. She comin'
back, she say--dis evenin'. She sutt'nly act very queer, sah."

"All right," I snapped. "It's one of my clients."

"Um-um," he said, shaking his head. "I spec she ain't, Mr. Estabrook,
sah. She mos' likely has pussonal business, sah!"

The others--Folsom the broker, and Madison, and Ingle the architect--had
evidently dined well, preparing for a musical comedy, and they snickered
without shame.

"Let my man know when she comes," said I, and without smiling hurried
into the elevator.

I had no belief that the woman, whoever she might be, would come back
after dark to call upon me. With my conflicting thoughts about Julianna,
I forgot the incident. It was therefore with some surprise that I heard
Saito, my Jap, arouse me from my sleepy reverie, to which exhaustion had
reduced my mind, to tell me that a lady was waiting in the reception
room downstairs.

You may understand the conservative nature of my life and habits more
thoroughly when I tell you that the mere idea that a woman had dared to
ask for me at my apartment in the evening caused me the greatest
anxiety. As if to prove what dependence we can put upon our intuitions,
I felt, on my way down, most strongly, that an evil event was about to
take place.

Nothing could, I think, better illustrate the nonsense of attaching
importance to these fore-warnings than to tell you that the woman who
waited for me was Julianna herself!

My first instinct, before I had been seen by her, was to hurry her out
of the garish little reception room, where, through the door which
opened into the hallway, she might well have been seen by anybody; it
was only when she greeted me and turned her face toward the tiled floor,
and I saw that her shoulders drooped and that her hands hung down at
her side, and that she stood like a guilty, punished, and remorseful
child, that my wish to protect her was displaced by a mad desire to take
her in my arms and comfort her.

"Julianna!" I cried. "What has happened? Is it the Judge? Tell me! Why
did you come?"

She shook her head and lowered it still more, until the sweeping curve
of her bare neck, from the fine hair behind her ears to the back of the
lace collar of her waist, was visible.

I cannot say what gave me the courage, but I bent over her and kissed
her there, softly.

She looked up then without the slightest indication of either surprise
or reproach.

"I liked that," she whispered. "I didn't know how I was going to tell
you, but now I can."

"Tell me what?" said I, in a choking voice.

"I love you," she said. "I could not let you go. I thought last night
that I could carry it through. I thought my duty was to stay with
father. But it isn't!"

"And you came _here_ to tell me!" I gasped.

"Why not?" she said, with a catch in her voice. "I was afraid I would
never see you again and I love you."

When I think of all the sham there is among women, I treasure the memory
of that simple little explanation. It was delivered as a full answer to
all the conventionalities from here back to the time of the Serpent. It
was spoken in a low but confident voice, with her hands upon her breast
as if to calm the emotions within, and was directed toward me with the
first frank exposure of her eyes which were still wet with tears.

"I have been miserable!" she said. "A woman is meant for some man, after
all. And if she resists, she is resisting God! It all has been shown to
me so clearly. And I knew that you were the one. There's nothing else
that makes any difference, and it sweeps you off your feet, so it must
be nature, because it gave me the courage to telephone you and then try
to find you and come here and wait and come again, and only nature can
make any one go against all her habits and education. And I believe I'll
call you Jerry, if you still--"

"Good God! Love you?" said I. "Forever!"

"Always?"

"Forever."

She gave her burning hands to mine, and oblivious of the old negro,
whose eyes were upon us, we stood there, looking at each other in awe,
very much frightened and very much, for that moment,--and I sometimes
wonder if not in truth,--the centre of the universe.

"You belong to me, Jerry?" she said tearfully. "Now?"

"Yes," said I.

"Then I must go back quickly," she explained, after a moment. "I do not
want father to know yet. I want to prepare the way. I don't want you to
speak with him for a week. I will tell him then. Perhaps you think it is
strange. But Friday, when he knows, you may come."

She had a carriage waiting for her, and I walked with her to its door.

"I want to kiss you, Julianna," I whispered.

She looked up to see whether the driver could observe us. He could not.
And then the mischief-loving quality of womankind appeared in her. She
gave forth a glad little laugh.

"On Friday," she said.

The door slammed, and I thought, as I caught a last glance at her then,
that she was a luminous being of dreams, lighting the dark recess of a
common cab.

This impression recurred so often in those following days that at times
there rose the uncanny suspicion that the woman who had visited me had
not been one of reality, of flesh and blood, and beating heart and
sweet, warm breath. Her smile, her voice, her personality had not seemed
a part of real life, but almost the manifestations of a spirit which,
timidly and with the hope of some reincarnation in life, had come to
claim my vows. I believed that I knew well enough why Julianna, if it
were she, had planned to avoid a sudden disclosure of our betrothal to
the Judge, but, none the less, I fretted at the sluggishness of time,
which, like a country horse, will not go faster for the wishing or the
beating.

I wished, too, that she had said she would meet me in her afternoon
walks to the Monument and wondered that, if she loved me, she was able
to forbid herself a meeting, even though she had felt that good sense
demanded a period of reflection and a readjustment of view, so that when
we did see each other again, it would be with firmer minds and steadier
hearts. I would have gladly foregone all this value of reserve and
restraint for one look at her face, one touch of her sleeve, one word
from her tender, curving lips.

And yet I was happy in those days--so painfully happy that I heard
voices telling me that such happiness does not last, that ecstasies are
tricks of fate by which man's joy is fattened for slaughter, that from
some ambush a horrible thing was peering.

Strangely enough, these fears were connected in no way with the warnings
which I had had from my eavesdropping or even from the definite threat
which had come out of my grotesque experience with the Sheik of Baalbec.
The piece of writing, which had begun, "You are in danger," I had
dropped into a file of papers, and though I suppose it is somewhere
among them now, I have never yielded to the temptation to look at it
again. I may have thought of it merely to add to the opinion of Jarvis
that the writing was not Julianna's, the apparently indisputable fact
that, at the moment the warning had been written, Julianna was, by the
word of the apartment house doorman, waiting for me in the little
reception room. Furthermore, with my success in winning her, with the
intoxication of it, I began to look upon the strange and unexplained
matters which had so perplexed me as trivial illusions beneath the
consideration of good sense. However much you may be surprised at my
willful blindness, your wonder cannot equal that which I myself feel
to-night.

And now, when I am about to tell you of that memorable Friday, I must
impress upon you that no detail of it is distorted in my memory, that so
clear and vivid were the impressions upon my senses that, were I to live
to the age of pyramids, I could recall every slight sequence with
accuracy. I say this because you are a physician and as such, no
doubt,--and it is no different in the case of us lawyers,--have learned
the absurd fallibility of ordinary human testimony, not excluding that
which proceeds from the highest and most honorable type of our
civilization.

The day, as I was about to tell you, had been saved from the heat of
the season by a breeze which blew from the water and once or twice even
reached the velocity of a storm wind. A hundred times I had looked out
my office window and a hundred times I had seen that not one speck of
cloud showed in the sky. Yet all day long, while I tried to work, only
to find myself all on edge with expectancy, I could hear the flap and
rustle of the American flag on the Custom-House roof, which was
straining at its cords and lashing itself into a frenzy like a wild
creature in chains.

I am not sure that a dry storm of this kind is not freighted with some
nerve-twanging quality. I have often noticed on such days a universal
irritability on the part of mankind, and I have been informed by those
who have traveled much that often a nervous wind of this kind, in
countries where such things happen, precedes some disaster such as
volcanic eruptions, avalanches, earthquakes, and tidal waves.

My own nervousness, however, took the form of impatience. I was absurdly
eager to go at once to Julianna, and the fact that the hour for dinner
had finally arrived, and that the remaining time was short, only served
to increase my impatience the more. I could not assign any cause for
this other than my wish to see Julianna, for now I knew in my mind and
heart, by reason and by instinct, that the Judge had been right, that
once having given her love she had given all, and, with that noble and
perhaps pathetic trait of fine women, would never change.

At last I found myself at her door, at last she herself had opened it,
and was smiling at me--as beautiful, more beautiful, than I had ever
seen her. I remember that, with an innocent and spontaneous outburst of
affection, she caught my hand in hers and tucked it under her soft round
arm in playful symbolism of capture.

"You must not say a word to me," she said. "I have never been so happy!
But he is in there. He wants to see you alone and you must hurry."

"Hurry?" I protested.

"I don't know why," she said, with a nervous little laugh. "I suppose
it's because I want you to talk to him and come to me as quickly as you
can."

Then, with a gentle pressure from behind, she pushed me through the
curtains into the familiar study and I heard her feet scampering up the
soft carpet on the broad, black-walnut stairs.

The Judge was sitting in his easy-chair beside the table. A book was
open on his knees, a long-stemmed pipe was on the chair arm, and the
gray and grizzled old dog lay, with head on paws, at his feet. Above him
a huge wreath of thin smoke hung in the air. Had I been a painter, I
should have wished to lay that picture upon canvas, because seldom
could one see expressed so completely the evening of an honest day and
of an honorable life, the tranquillity of home, the comfort of
meditation, the affection for faithful dog, old volume, and seasoned
pipe.

As he looked up at me, however, it suddenly seemed to me that he had
grown old; behind his smile of warm greeting I fancied I could observe a
haunted look, the ghostly flickering forth of some unwelcome thought
held in the subconsciousness.

"Why, Estabrook!" he cried, when he had seen me. "Bless my soul, I
didn't know you would be so prompt. I have understood that young men
approached these interviews with reluctance."

"You forget, sir," I answered, knowing that he would have a jest at my
expense, "that we made the arrangement in advance."

"We did! We did! That's a fact. But I had no idea that you would be
successful, at least so soon, and if I may say it--so--so--precipitously."

"I plead the spirit of the age," said I.

"It's a spirit common to all ages, I take it," he answered, with a quirk
of his judicial mouth. "Do I understand that you and my daughter have
first become engaged and now wish my permission to see enough of each
other to become acquainted?"

Perhaps he hit a centre ring with this thrust, for I could only stammer
forth an awkward statement about being very sure of my feelings.

"They all are sure!" he said, with a good-natured cynicism. Then he
smiled again and pointed toward the ceiling with a long forefinger.
"Perhaps you may be pleased to know that she is very sure," he
whispered.

I sat down.

"Yes," said he solemnly. "You are to be envied. I believe her love--as I
have seen it grow in these weeks--is the sweetest thing that ever flowed
from a human soul."

"You knew that she at first sent me away in the name of her duty to
you?" said I.

He looked up at me, shut his book, patted the dog, and laid the pipe on
the table.

"No," said he, with a break in his voice. "But I shall not quickly
forget that you have been fair enough to her and to me to tell me that."

"May I have her?" I asked.

"Yes," said he. "Of course you may."

I hesitated a moment. Then I laughed. "She told me when you had said
that to go to her."

I rose.

"Wait," said he. "That is not all. Before God, I wish it were."

I had not been watching his expression, but now, when I looked up at
him, I saw that the gray look which I had fancied I had seen under his
smile had now come out upon his face.

"Estabrook," he said, leaning forward toward me with his lips
compressed, "sometime, perhaps years from now, perhaps never, but, if
you choose, to-night--you may know what a problem I have had to solve,
and what it will cost me to say to you that which I am going to say."

He had lowered his voice as if he wished to be sure that no one could
overhear him, and now, when he stopped, he stood with his head turned as
if listening to be sure that no one was in the hallway. No sounds came,
however, except those of the dog, who whined softly in his dreams, and
the complaint of the dry wind, which, instead of diminishing with night,
had perhaps increased its intensity, and the rattle of the long French
windows through which I could see the gnarled old wistaria vine clinging
desperately to the iron balcony, its leaves tossing about as if in
agony.

"I have sat on the bench for many years, trying with my imperfect
intelligence to adjust the misshapen affairs of men and women," the
Judge went on. "Never have I been forced to deal with so terrible a
question as lies before me now--to-night."

For a long time, then, he was silent. Finally I spoke.

"Judge," said I, "how can I help?"

"I am afraid," he said slowly, and apparently avoiding my gaze,--"I am
afraid that I must call upon you in a manner which will severely weigh
upon you. Estabrook," he put his hand upon my shoulder. "I've done my
best. Do you hear? I've done my best."

"I will never doubt it," I assured him. "Nor do you need to doubt me."

He looked at me steadily for a second; then he went to a drawer and,
opening it, took out a packet of folded papers. It was evident that he
had placed it there so that he could reach it easily.

I suppose that the gravity of his bearing, the trembling of his hands,
in which these papers rustled, and the anxious expression with which he
gazed at me, as if I were to decide some question of life or death,
infected me with his unrest. I got up, paced back and forth, and finally
sat down again facing his empty easy-chair, with my back to the long
windows.

The Judge watched every movement I made, his eyes staring out at me from
under the brush of their brows. At last, when I had seated myself, he
came and sat in front of me, laid the papers on his knees and smoothed
them with the palm of his shaking hand.

"My boy," he said, "I wrote these papers, not for you, but for my
Julianna. Never has a man had a task so calculated to break his heart.
She was not to read my message to her unless death came and took me, for
while I lived, I felt that I might spare her. See! Her name is written
across this outside page."

I could find no words to fill the pauses which he seemed obliged to
make, for, as you may well believe, I felt the presence of a crisis in
my affairs--in the affairs of all of us.

"But, my boy," he went on, "what these pages contain is now for you, if
you so decide."

"Decide?" I managed to say. "What must I decide?"

"I will tell you if God gives me the strength to do it," he said. "It is
about Julianna. It is written here. I have sealed it as you see."

"Something about her?" I cried.

He bent his head as if I had struck him from above.

"You may break the seal if you must. I have fought many battles to bring
myself to tell you that you may read what is there."

I reached for the package.

"Wait," said he. "The contents of this document need never be given to
her if she becomes your wife. Nor is it necessary for you to read what
is there set forth if you only will choose not to do so. These are
strange words between men in these modern times, Estabrook. But I have
guarded my honor carefully all my life. And now, though the temptation
has been almost more than I could stand, as you may believe some
day,--or perhaps know in the next five minutes, which are walking toward
us out of eternity,--yet I have determined that you should know
everything if you chose."

"I do choose," I said firmly.

He shrunk back as if I had struck at him again.

"Think!" he begged. "No good can come of your knowledge. It cannot avert
harm if harm must come. And more--be cool in your judgment, or you may
ruin all of us."

"But, Judge Colfax," I cried out, "your proposal of choice is empty. One
cannot reject or accept the unknown."

"It must be so," said he. "There is an astounding fact about Julianna
which you do not know. About that fact I have written this message, so
that when I had gone she might be prepared in case the worst--in case
the worst--the improbable--the unexpected, the unthinkable--should
come."

I caught the arms of the chair in the grip of my two hands and tried to
think, but I could find no reason for my remaining, perhaps for a
lifetime, in ignorance of some unseen menace to the woman I loved. I
think that I was about to tell him that nothing could change my feelings
for Julianna, or shake my faith in her, that it was right that I should
become her defender, and that I, therefore, must know what hung so
threateningly over her. Words were on my tongue, when suddenly the Judge
bent his great frame forward and was in another second half kneeling on
the floor in front of me, his hands clutching my coat. His face then was
the color of concrete, and the dignity which he had worn so long had
slipped from him as an unloosened garment falls.

"For her sake!" he whispered. "For her sake, don't go further. Let the
thing be unspoken. My boy, don't dig up that which is all but buried
forever. Listen to me, Estabrook. You trust me. And I, tell you that if
I were in your place, knowing what I know--"

"Enough," I said, awed by his pleading. "Do you tell me that it is best
for her and for me to make her my wife in ignorance of this thing?"

"God help me," he said, falling back into his chair.

He seemed to be thinking desperately, as if some voice had told him that
only a moment was left for thought. At last he threw his long arms
outward.

"Yes," said he. "I tell you that it is better for you and for her to
know nothing."

"That is sufficient," I said. "I ask no more."

He shut his eyes as one would receive the relief of an opiate after
long agony of the body and for some moments he remained so, his hands,
from which the packet of papers had fallen, relaxed upon his knees. The
starched white shirt he wore crackled absurdly with each long inhalation
of breath.

In those moments a tumult of thoughts went tumbling through my brain,
and as the seconds passed, I almost felt that it was the wind that
howled outside which was blowing these thoughts over each other, as it
would blow dry autumn leaves.

At last the dog rose, stretched himself, and, as if restless, sought
here and there a new place to lie, and the sound of his claws upon the
polished floor recalled the Judge from his almost unconscious reverie.
He half opened his eyes and once or twice moved his thin lips. At last
he spoke and into those commonplace words he put all the meaning which
hours of ranting would have made less plain.

"I am grateful," he said.

When I looked up at him after lowering my head in acknowledgment of his
thanks, I saw again that wonderful smile of benevolence, which, given to
me once before in his office, I believe could only have been bestowed by
one who had had a lifelong practice in love of humanity. Indeed, he only
directed it at me for a moment, and then turned his face a little aside
toward the back of the room, as if he wished to send that expression
through the walls and spread over the whole world its beaming radiance.

You may, then, well imagine my surprise when, without a word or a motion
of any other part of his body, I saw that smile fade from his face. It
disappeared as if a blast of the night wind, entering the room, had
dried it, crumbled it, and blown it away. In its place I now saw the
terrible, eye-widened, and fixed stare which we recognize as the facial
sign of some abject, unreasoning terror, or of death, after the clutch
of some fatal agony.

"Judge Colfax!" I exclaimed.

I waited. I thought I saw his head move a little as if he had heard me,
but with that motion there came a click, the sound of teeth coming
together.

"You are ill," I said, half rising from my chair.

His lips moved, but the stare in his eyes remained the same.

"It has come," he said in his throat.

I jumped toward him. He did not stir.

"Judge!" I cried.

He did not answer. I waited, bending over him, not daring to guess what
had befallen him, holding my breath. Then, cautiously, I moved my
fingers before his eyes: they did not wink. I placed my hand over his
heart.... It was as still as a rundown clock. The room itself was still.
The wind had paused a moment as if for this.... The Judge was dead. And
yet because he still sat there, his gray head resting on the cushions,
and because he stared so fixedly before him, I could not grasp the fact
of death. I had never met it face to face before. I could not honor its
credentials.

For a moment I stood in front of the old man, with the single thought
that our extraordinary interview had been too much for him: it never
occurred to me to go for assistance any more than it occurred to me that
death, unlike sleep, was a permanent thing, from which the Judge would
never come back again. I simply stood there, awed by the presence of
death, yet crediting death with none of death's attributes.

And as I stood, my attention became more and more fixed upon the Judge's
stare. It did not seem to be a vacant gaze; on the contrary, it seemed
to contain something. It seemed not only fixed; it seemed fixed on some
object. It looked past me, behind me, and there, with all its terror and
all its intelligence, it rested, motionless. It seemed to refute the
notion that dead men cannot see; it seemed to affirm that dead men's
eyes are not dead. Into that terrible stare I looked, fascinated, awed,
hushed, motionless. Then, suddenly, I heard the dog.

[Illustration: LISTEN TO ME, ESTABROOK!]

The great Scotch hound had been snarling. He had growled, for I
remembered it as a fact brought out of the background of my
consciousness. And when I tore my eyes away from the Judge's stare, I
saw that the dog was staring, too,--was staring, was drawing back his
black lips, exposing his yellow teeth. Every hair on his back was erect,
his nostrils were distended as if he were relying upon his sense of
smell to determine the nature of what he saw. Could there be any doubt
that he, living, and his master, dead, still saw something--something
which, because it was behind me, I could not see?

At first I did not dare to look. I felt some dreadful presence behind
me--a presence upon which the lifeless man and the cringing, snarling
beast had set their eyes, a presence which had wiped the smile from the
Judge's face and tightened every nerve and sinew in the dog's lean body.
I could hear the wind, and, in its lapses, the rumble of the city, I
could smell the warm aroma of the Judge's pipe, I could feel my senses
grow keener as I gathered my courage to look over my shoulder.

When at last, after that dragging moment's reluctance, I did so, I
believed that I had looked for no purpose. The room behind me was empty.
My nervous eyes searched the rectangular space, swept over the chairs,
the tea-table covered with its display of rare china, the blue-and-gold
Japanese floor vase, the brasses on the cases of books, the dark walls,
the pictures, the gloomy corners filled with the mist of shadows, the
rugs, the cornice, the draperies.

Then suddenly I saw!

Outside the long French windows, framed in the uncertain outlines of the
old ornate balcony rail and the tossing leaves and branches of the vine,
there appeared, as if it had come floating out of the liquid blackness
of the night, detached from all else, a face.

No sooner had my glance fallen upon this peering countenance than I
thought I saw a startled opening of its lips; it withdrew and was gone.
I had merely caught a glance at it, yet of this I am sure--the face was
white with the pallor of things that grow in a cellar, it was weak with
the terrible drooping, hopeless weakness of endless self-indulgence; it
was a brutal face, and yet wore the expression of timid, anxious,
pathetic inquiry. It was a face that had come to ask a question. And
though, because only the pale skin had reflected the light from within,
I had not seen what might have appeared above or below, and though I may
have been wrong, I received the impression that it was the countenance
of an old woman.

Of course the moment I discovered this apparition, upon which the wild
stare of the Judge in life and in death had rested, I ran forward. I
thought as I did so that I heard the scrape of clothing on the iron
balcony rail and the thud of a heavy object dropping on the grass below.
Flinging open the glass doors, through which a torrent of wind poured
into the room, and leaning out under the twisted branches of the vine, I
tried in vain to penetrate the wall of blackness before me, and force my
sight through it and down into the old garden, from which there arose
only the rushing sound of the dry wind in the shrubbery. All the
universe seemed made of black and hissing chaos. Out of it came blasts
that combed through my disheveled hair and drove fine dust into my eyes.
But of the messenger of death, who had peered in the window for a
moment, and then withdrawn, nothing could be seen.

I turned back, feeling suddenly, for the first time, the emptiness of
body which occurs, perhaps in sympathy with the emptiness of death, and
as I turned, I found myself in the position of the thing that had looked
in at us. The stare of the Judge was still fixed upon that spot, so that
for a moment I received the impression that he was gazing at me. The dog
still whined softly, cowering close to the floor.

I went to the middle of the room: I stood there gathering my wits. I
heard a clock strike somewhere in the kitchen region below, from outside
the window came the rattle of some conveyance, louder, louder, softer,
softer. A passing boy whistled; I heard Julianna's step above me; I
heard the dog licking his paws unconcernedly; I heard the curtains flap
in the wind that filled the room; and finally its ironical little scream
as it lifted from the desk the last opinion the Judge ever wrote and
scattered the loose sheets all over the room. It brought in the dank
smell of the garden.

"I must tell her," I said aloud, and the old dog, senses dulled by age,
wagged his tail. "I must tell her," I repeated, and toiled up the soft,
carpeted stairs.

She was waiting for me in her own room, standing under the soft light
from a hanging, well-shaded, electric lamp. I see her there, clearly,
with the smile fading from her face as she read my own. Indeed, it was
not necessary for me to speak; before I had gathered courage to do so, I
saw her bosom swell with a long breath. She inhaled it jerkily, as one
who is suddenly shocked with a deluge of icy water. I saw the color fade
as the smile had faded before it, and when I had nodded to indicate that
she had guessed the truth, stepped forward, fearing that she would sway
off her feet.

"No, Jerry," she said, with her hands held tight at her sides. "I am
all right. I had expected this some day soon. It is hard to believe, but
has not come without warning. His heart--his great, loving
heart--had--worn out. I do not want you to come with me. I am going
down--alone."

I moved my dry tongue in my mouth: a word of the strange circumstance of
his death was there. But her courage--her steady body, her squared
shoulders, her firm mouth, her eyes which showed her agony, but no sign
of weakness, and her soft voice as she said, "Wait for me
here"--restrained me. I pressed her fingers to my lips and as I saw her
go out, I felt that perhaps never would the opportunity to tell the
story I have told to-night come again.



                               CHAPTER V

                                AT DAWN


I think it must have been nearly a half-hour--though the minutes were
themselves hours--before I, waiting in the upper hall beside the window,
through which the arc lights from the street threw jumping white patches
on the ceiling, heard the sound of the old dog's claws on the floor
below and her little catches of breath as she came up.

At the top she buried her face for a moment on my shoulder.

"I love you more than ever," she whispered. "I want you to stay.--Call
Margaret and do what you can. I will come to you by and by."

With these words she pressed my forearm in the grip of her strong
fingers and, entering her own room, shut the door.

I found, when I did mechanically as she had bade me do, that Margaret,
with the instinct of an old servant, which is sometimes as keen as that
of an animal, had already sensed the presence of some crisis and prowled
about in her soft-footed way until she had discovered the truth. She was
lying at the bottom of the stairs, her face buried in her hands and her
broad back rising and falling with slow and silent tides of grief.
Julianna and her father were together the old woman's life. One half had
gone.

"Come, Margaret," said I softly.

"Very well, sir," she answered after a minute, and rising, straightened
her cap, preparing for duty like a broken-hearted soldier. And so she
went on in that next hour or two, telephoning, directing, arranging and
doing with me all those necessary things. In spite of her labors she
seemed always to be at my elbow, a ceaseless little whimpering in her
throat. Her spectacles were befogged with the mist from her old blue
eyes, which, like the color of old china, had faded with wetting and
drying in years of family use, but she did not again give up to her
grief.

Therefore, when at last we looked at each other in the hall in one of
those moments when, at the end of a task, a mental inventory is taken to
be sure that all is done, I was surprised to see her expression change
suddenly, to hear a cry of dismay escape her, and to observe her trundle
herself toward the library door in grotesque haste.

When, following her, I went into the room, I found her thick fingers
pulling open drawer after drawer of the desk, and turning over the
papers they contained.

"It was here, Mr. Estabrook. Oh, my God! Mr. Estabrook, I saw him put
it here!" she cried.

"What?" I asked, with a glimmer of memory.

"The papers. They was marked for her, but she mustn't ever have 'em! I'd
rather they should pluck me from my bones, sir! And I saw him put 'em
here!"

"He took them out again," I cried, touched by her contagious fear. "He
died with them on the floor beside him. I know what you mean. The blue
seal."

"Yes, the blue seal!" she cried in recognition, and stumbling across the
room she fell upon her knees, reaching under the old easy-chair and the
desk, patting over the rug with her hand, turning up its corners,
searching with her face bent down, like a devotee of some strange sect,
muttering to herself.

"She must never see," she exclaimed monotonously. "Poor child, she must
never see. It is worse than death--a hundred times. Oh, what has he done
with that terrible package!"

Suddenly, throwing herself upward and backward, until the upper half of
her body was erect, and with a small object held up to my astonished
eyes between her forefinger and thumb, she uttered a cry of despair and
rage. She had found a piece of the sealing wax with which the packet,
once offered to my eyes, had been fastened!

"It's too late," she wailed miserably. "Do you see that? The girl has
read it. She would not let me in her room. It's too late!"

There was no keeping back the question.

"What was in it?" I cried. "What was written there?"

I saw her old mouth shut as if she meant to show me that I need expect
no disclosure from her.

"I don't know, Mr. Estabrook," said she.

In her eyes, perhaps distorted by the strong lenses of her glasses, I
saw the challenge of stubbornness. I felt myself growing wild with a
desire to break through the unwholesome mystery which had entangled me,
and overcome by any means the silence of this woman. She had arisen. She
was within my reach. And I believe that I put my hands upon her,
catching her two round and fleshy shoulders under my curved palms,
shaking her to and fro with the excess of my excitement. In that moment
before I spoke to her, she looked up at me, surprise and terror written
on her face.

"Tell me!" I roared. "You know this horrible, hidden thing. Confound
you, tell me!"

Her expression changed. I saw surprise become craftiness and fear,
distrust. I saw in her eyes the beginning of that hate which I believe
has never, since that irresponsible moment, diminished.

"You had best leave go of me, Mr. Estabrook," she said calmly. "You
would not act so if the old Judge was alive and here. Nor his daughter,
sir!"

The rebuke, you may believe, was enough.

"I'm sorry," I said.

The old woman, however, wrung her hands and looked toward the room above
as if to indicate to me that nothing was important but the fact that
Julianna had possession of the Judge's _post-mortem_ message.

"Let her tell you if she will," she cried. Then covering her face with
her fat hands, as if to hide some terrible picture of the imagination,
she stumbled forward out of the library.

I have often wondered since, as I wonder to-night, when those spectres
have arisen again, what that old servant meant. At the time it never
occurred to me that but one thing could happen. I had the utmost
confidence in Julianna, and indeed, without thinking much of my own
troubles, I passed that long vigil in the library only with regret that
I could not wrest away from the true and noble woman who had promised to
be my wife, all the terrible grief which, alone in the chamber above,
she must have been suffering. For the first time, I think, in all my
life, which, by training and inherited instincts, had been devoted, I
might say, to the welfare of the Estabrook name and of myself, I felt my
mind--and even my body--filled with a strange and passionate desire to
be the instrument of good, not for myself, but in the name of others and
perhaps in the name of God. My eyes filled with tears, springing not so
much from grief as from belief in myself, not so much from weakness as
from strength. I called upon an unknown force that I felt to be near me
and directing me.

"Save her from misfortune," I said aloud in that silent room. "Protect
her. Comfort her."

The old dog, as if he now understood, raised his head and licked my
hand. I realized then that the wind had died down, and, looking up, I
saw that the balcony and garden were lit by the pale rays of the morning
moon, that the stars shone clearly again through the still air, and that
the odor of flowers, nodding below the window, perfumed the Judge's
study. The pipe, with ashes tumbling out upon the table, by curious
chance had not been moved from the place where he had laid it down.

It seemed to me that I had dreamed restlessly, that the old man had not
left the room, and then, when this fancy had gone, I almost believed
that he had come back as he used to do when he, in his absent-minded
way, had left something behind. With my heart full of him, I got up and
reaching for the pipe I dropped it into my own pocket.

At last the oil in the lamp had been consumed. The burner flickered,
gurgled several times, snapped, and went out; but the failure of this
light served to show that morning was near at hand. The rectangular
squares of the window panes now appeared luminous with the first gray
flow of the east. It seemed to me that the time had come when Julianna
should no longer be alone with her own thoughts; with soft steps I
climbed the stairs and softly I turned the knob of her closed door. If
it had been locked, it was so no longer; it yielded to my gentle,
cautious pressure. The crack widened. Then, for a moment, unseen and
unheard, I stood on the threshold looking in.

She was no longer dressed as I had seen her, for now she was clad in the
soft drapery of some delicate Oriental silk, which, if she had been
standing, would have fallen from the points of her shoulders in
voluminous folds to the floor. She had unloosened her hair; it had
fallen in a torrent of brown and golden light. I could not see her face.

Her back was turned toward me, for she was sitting on the floor facing
the hearth in the middle of the frame of old lavender-and-gold tiles
which marked the fireplace. Her hands were pressed to her temples as if
her head no longer could be relied upon to retain its contents, her
fingers moved this way and that through the hair above her ears, and,
in strange contrast with the glimmer of early day beyond the white
curtains, an uncanny flickering light burned on the hearth, painting the
delicate pallor of her shoulders, neck, ears, and hands with an outline
of fire. It was a picture to give the impression of a beautiful
sorceress crouching to perform some unholy rite.

"Julianna!" I exclaimed softly.

She turned about as one caught red-handed in guilt, and in doing so,
moved far enough to one side to expose the last remnants of written
sheets of paper, which flames were rapidly consuming. A moment more and
these were crisp ashes which whirled about the hearth with a soft rustle
before they fell into heaps of sooty fragments. Whatever the Judge had
written with infinite pain had now been destroyed. And as I looked into
her eyes, I saw, too, that infinite pain had attended their destruction.
Her expression had in it horror, shame, apprehension, and excruciating
grief: never had I believed that a face, naturally so innocent and so
happy, could have been so distorted with mature and terrible emotions as
hers had become in the hours that had passed.

"Julie! my Julie!" I cried.

For answer her fingers reached out toward me in mute appeal, her body
followed, and, crawling to my feet, she clutched the air as if trying to
reach my hands with her own, and then fell forward, flat upon the
floor, unconscious. If in that moment she appeared a groveling thing, it
was only for a moment. Before I could stoop to raise her, she had
regained her senses with two or three sharp inhalations and a fluttering
of her eyelids, had thrust my hands from her and struggled to her feet.

"Go!" she whispered, retreating. "It is unthinkable! Go! Never come near
me!"

"No--no--no!" I said. "Julianna, tell me! What has happened? It is not
you who speaks!"

"No," she answered. "It is not I."

"I say it is not you who say these things," I repeated. "Who, then?"

"My father. It is his voice. It is his message. And what he has been, I
am. There is no other way."

I moved toward her.

"Tell me this terrible menace behind us--this thing that threatens
us--that works its evil upon us. I will not believe that any fault of it
is yours."

"It is mine because it is his," she said, with a return of her
wonderful self-control. "But no one shall ever hear of it from
me--no--Jerry--not--even you."

"He offered to show me that message," I said. "I refused to see."

Another little cry issued from her compressed lips.

"You were willing not to know?"

"Yes."

She went into a corner; without taking her eyes away from mine, she
wrung her hands, again and again.

"Why did I ever see you?" she whispered. "Why did I ever love you? Oh,
go, while I am strong! Go, while I know that you must never ask for me
again! Go, before I bargain with my conscience."

"You cannot send me away," I said. A thousand hidden horrors would not
have daunted me then. "Will you treat my love for you so? Has your own
gone so quickly?"

She shuddered then as if cold steel had been run through her body.

"I am lost," cried she. "I am lost. I cannot do more. Promise by your
love of me,--by your love of God,--never to ask me of those things now
ashes on the hearth--never to so much as speak of them to me--till
eternity."

"What then?--I promise," I said.

"Then I will as solemnly swear to be as good and faithful, as true and
ever-loving wife as God will let me be," she said softly; "and may He
forgive me for what I do, because I love you."

She held out her arms to me, begging to be taken into mine, and when I
had touched her she fell back, with her limp body in the curve of my
elbow, and, looking up at me, offered her parted lips to the first kiss
I had ever given her.



                               CHAPTER VI

                        THE MOVING FIGURE AGAIN


Such was a betrothal, sir, so extraordinary that had my natural
repulsion for the unusual permitted me to have told it before, it would
have been with belief that others would think me a man deluded by his
own fancies. And yet these are facts I have told you--cold and bare and
sufficient to have proved to me that the adventure and romance mourned
for by some men are not dead, but, were it only known, still flourish,
concealed in the hearts and experience of such matter-of-fact persons as
myself.

Our marriage, too, was not of the conventional sort. It took place a
fortnight later without any of the celebration usual in such cases. The
death of the Judge, the fact that Julianna had no other immediate
relatives to act as her protectors, and that my own father, whose
affection for me has always been of a rather cold and undemonstrative
type, approved not only of my choice of a wife, but also of my plan for
an immediate marriage, argued against delay. Furthermore, Julianna
herself, with a sad but charming little smile, again and again assured
herself in my presence that she knew her own heart and that for her
part there was no need to prolong a period of preparation.

Often, in those days, she spoke to me of her father, with the deepest
affection, not as if he were dead, but rather as if his spirit still
remained in the old house. She had one of those rare minds that reject
the disagreeable superstitious affectations concerning death and that
overcome hysterical grief. To be sure, for hours at a time she would
suffer an extraordinary melancholy, and then, in my agony of curiosity,
I believed that the spectre which had first appeared before her, the
night of the Judge's death, was whispering to her again. True, however,
to my solemn oath, which I have always kept, I asked her nothing, and
she always emerged from these periods of meditation into moods of gayety
and affection which were more charming than I can describe.

She would romp, mind and body, in all the freshness of youth, with the
most entrancing grace of movement and with her natural brilliant play of
thought.

"I belong to you!" she would exclaim, retreating before my advance.
"Come--take me!"

Then, after I had captured her and she had looked up at me, wrinkling
her nose playfully, she would suddenly grow serious, and from her
smiling eyes tears of happiness would start, and then, for an hour
afterward, she would go singing snatches of song through the house. So
that more than once I saw Margaret Murchie stop her household task to
listen, shut her old eyes and say, "Thank God for his care of her."

It need not surprise you that I tell you of her, for, as you may
understand when I have told you all, I am now facing circumstances
which, for some reason, have caused me to fall in love with her with a
strange, new, and even deeper desire, and which raise the necessity for
me to save her from some unrevealed menace and win her a second time.

The extraordinary fact in the light of this new situation is that our
married life has been, until a year ago, as peaceful as could be.
Whatever I might have suffered at first from the fact that I had been
forbidden to know or ask of the past, these stings soon lost their power
to disturb me. I was glad to forget them because I so hated all things
which might tend to disturb the well-ordered life with which well-bred
families retain their respectable position.

We found our tastes adapted to a common enjoyment of outdoor and
intellectual pleasures, and we spent many hours each week, when alone,
in reading the books which pleased us and in playing duets, in which I,
being an indifferent player of the piano, contrasted my cold technique
with the warmth and expression of her performances upon the 'cello.
Indeed, we showed ourselves in these duets as in our companionship, for
though I loved her, I believe I may have fallen short in those
attentions, those little demonstrations and caresses, upon which some
women seem to be nourished. As for her, she remained unchanged by
marriage or time. By her humor, her tender sympathy, her refreshing,
unaffected ways, she won a large and devoted circle of acquaintance,
composed of both women and men. If any of the former, however, desired
intimacy, they always found a gentle resistance; if the latter, they
were made to see that a fortress had been erected on the borderland.

Until a year ago we were very happy, I think. To be sure, as time passed
without the coming of any child, Julianna suffered that peculiar grief
which, whatever may be its severity, is like no other. The desire for
children was not only in her heart and mind: it was also a keen,
instinctive yearning. Quietly, and without inflicting upon me any of her
distress over unfulfilled hopes of the past, she persisted in the belief
that the gift she most desired would not be withheld from her forever.
Other than this no cloud seemed to be creeping up our sky, and, indeed,
it was only little by little that I realized that some peculiar change
had taken place.

I may say to you, I think, that this strange influence came even more
than a year ago. I have tried in my own mind to establish a connection
between its beginning and an accident which happened at that time.

We had gone for a week-end visit to the Tencorts' farm in the Sweetbriar
Hills, and much against my wishes, expressed, however, sleepily,
Julianna had gone out at sunrise, chosen a rangy mare, saddled the
creature herself, for the grooms were not up, and had ridden off across
the wet fields, alone. Breakfast had already been announced when we
heard the hoofs of the animal and caught glimpses of the horse's yellow
neck and Julianna's plaid jacket, bobbing toward us under the arching
trees.

"Your lady is hardly what one might call a gentle rider," said Jack
Tencort. "As for me, I'm glad to see the mare in a foam for once, but I
would not be pleased to have my own wife--Hello, she is using her right
hand."

I, too, could see that Julianna's left arm was hanging by her side, and
as she pulled up the panting mare below the porch, I noticed that her
lips were white.

"I'm sorry to have forced your animal," she said, "but I was in a hurry
to get back. Jerry! Please hurry. Help me off."

"What's the matter?" cried our host behind me.

"To tell the truth," she said. "I have had my arm broken."

"Thrown?" cried Tencort, looking for signs of mud or dust on her
costume.

Julianna smiled gamely.

"That is a matter wholly between myself and the mare," she answered.

You know, of course, that in spite of her unconcerned answers the thing
was serious. The great trouble, I have always thought, was that no good
surgeon was within reaching distance; the country doctor who set the
bones failed to discover the presence of some splinters at the elbow,
which the injury had thrust up into and displaced some of the nerves and
sinew there.

When we had come back home and Nederlinck, the surgeon, had discovered
how the healing process had gone on, he told me that for many weeks my
wife would have to suffer great pain from the readjustment of the
irritated nerves. For two months he did what little he could and then
left the rest to time.

Julianna suffered silently. She complained little, but I could see a
marked change in her. She became restless. I have seen her pace up and
down a room for hours, like a captured animal longing for the jungle,
and remain at the dinner-table, after the time had come to go to our
library for coffee, with her great round eyes staring before her until
some one spoke to her. Her vigor disappeared. The moods which had
followed the reading of the _post-mortem_ message from the Judge
returned; her little exhibits of affection and, I think, even her
innocence of personality disappeared. The spectre, whatever it was,
seemed present once more. At times I believed I saw in her beautiful
face a look of guilt, of fear--the look of a soul in a panic. She became
suspicious of her friends and withdrew from them more and more, at times
with such awkward haste that it seemed as if she believed they were
about to observe some fact which she must, at any cost, hide. Little by
little, too, I believed that I detected signs that she was drawing away
from me.

For some reason I have always dated the beginning of this change to that
morning when Julianna went off to ride alone. Yet, if I wanted to be
sure of bringing back to her face an old trace of her mischievous smile,
it was only necessary for me to question her about the cause of her
accident.

"I have promised the horse never to tell," she would say, putting her
finger to her red lips. And I have never been able to decide whether she
was concealing, playfully, some little folly or awkwardness of her own,
or, behind her light manner, some more serious experience.

In any case, it was plain that some accursed thing had come between us.
I found after some months that I must face this as a fact. We said
little to each other from morning till night. When evening had come I
did not go home, as I always had, with a little thrill of the old
expectation which had never seemed to wear out. Instead I had a
subconscious reluctance to enter a relation in which each day sympathy
and understanding grew less and less. I began to suffer from a desire to
demand from her a complete disclosure of all that had been hidden from
me, and this temptation to break my solemn promise grew when, asking her
on several occasions as to where she had been at this or that hour, I
found that she was evading my questions.

At last it became evident enough that I had not been deceived in my
increasing suspicions that something was wrong. One evening she burst
into tears as she stood before my chair, and then falling on her knees,
caught up my hands in her own and pressed them to her neck, cheeks, and
forehead.

"Whatever happens, you will love me?" she cried out desperately. "Say
you will! Say you will!"

"You know that," I said.

Perhaps I had answered as badly as I could, for it seemed to cause her
the greatest pain.

"I wish you had not said so," she exclaimed, with a wild look in her
eyes. "It is your goodness that hurts. Don't you see what comfort it
must be to a woman to have her husband cruel to her--beat her--abuse
her!"

I drew back from my wife, astounded.

"Stop!" I said, with the first show of stern authority I had ever made
since I had known her. "It's time for you who dare to speak like
that--to tell--"

"No! No!" she cried. "For God's sake, don't forget your promise. If you
do we are lost--I am lost."

She sprang up and away from me, and with her bare arms crossed over her
face and her hands over her ears to shut out all sounds, she ran from
the room.

This, sir, was seven weeks ago, and for many days following she would
sit and look at me constantly, until, feeling her eyes, I would raise my
own to find her face drawn as by a weary period of sleeplessness. At
these moments it seemed to me that she was trying to make me understand,
just as a faithful dog tries at times to communicate his thoughts by the
expectancy, the love, or the pleading shining from his eyes. How much
would I now give had I been able to do it!

Within the space of a week she brought to me the suggestion and the
plan, which I, being driven to desperation by the impending wreck of
our happiness, was mad enough to accept without foreseeing the
punishment I would have to suffer through giving for the second time a
solemn word of honor.

I think on that morning Julianna was more like her old self than she had
been for weeks. Her apartments, though separate from my own, are entered
from mine by a narrow door. I had prepared for breakfast,--which we do
not have served in our rooms according to the degenerate modern
custom,--and then had gone to find her, with the thought in my mind
that, whatever she suffered or feared, it was my duty to help her as
best I might. I had promised myself to be cheerful, yielding, and as
entertaining as possible.

She was sitting on the side of her bed when I came in. The whiteness of
the linen and the pale blue of her morning gown served to bring out the
delicate color of her skin. I was so delighted with this indication of
renewed health that I opened my mouth to express my admiration.

She was quicker than I.

"You find me attractive this morning," she said with a sad little smile.
"I am glad. I wish that I might be attractive to you forever and
ever.--I mean my shoulders, my arms, my hands--free from wrinkles or fat
or dryness."

"I'd love you now if you were to assume the shape of a Chinese dragon,"
I said seriously, "--or the Sheik of Baalbec."

The truth was that I had almost forgotten this latter creature, the
automaton. Apparently she had, too, for at first a puzzled look came to
her eyes, then she smiled up at me with a bit of her own individual
coquetry.

"You are making love this morning?" she said in a gay voice. Yet it
seemed to me that in it was a trace of eagerness, shrewdly directed
toward a concealed purpose.

"I am going to ask you to go away, Jerry," she went on timidly, but
still smiling.

"Go away? When? For what purpose?" I exclaimed.

"Just go away for me--for my sake," she answered, straightening her
body, raising her head, and looking squarely at me with some of her old
strength. "You can go to live in a hotel. You can explain that you are
forced to do so for some business reason. You can say that I have gone
away."

She must have seen the flush of my anger, for she raised her hand.

"Don't!" she pleaded. "I know very well how unreasonable I may seem. But
if I have earned any gratitude or respect or love from you, just give me
what I ask now and give it to me blindly--without question."

Her eyes held my own as she said these words and I knew she had cast
her spell over me.

"What do you propose to do for these three weeks?" I asked roughly.

"I shall stay in this house," she answered, spacing her words. "Margaret
will stay, too. The rest of the servants I shall send away. But of this
I want to be sure--you must not come to find me for three weeks. God
only knows what would happen if you did."

"You are insane!" I cried out, with my hand gripping her round wrist.
"It's that which has hung over us."

She shook her head.

"Worse," said she.

Then, as if to assure me that she had not lost her reason, she recalled
the months which had just gone and described, as I could not, the change
in our home, our life, ourselves.

"It is for you!" she broke out finally, as if she were no longer able to
be calm. "For you and for our future I am begging you to do what I ask."

"Tell me this," said I, stirred by seeing her tremble so violently. "Has
something come to you out of the past?"

"Yes," she said, reaching behind her for the wall. "Ask nothing more. It
has come out of the old, old past. For the love of all that is good,
promise to do as I say."

"And then?" said I.

"Come back to me. I shall be here--then."

I bowed my head.

"On your word of honor," she commanded.

"On my word of honor," said I, and turned away.

I had scarcely done so, however, before I felt her arms about me, the
impact and the clinging of her body. Close to me, plucking at my
fingers, my sleeves, my wrist, her body shaking with her sobs, she
covered me with caresses like those given at some parting for eternity.

"You--are not--in danger of death!" I exclaimed, holding her away from
me at arm's length.

"No, I cannot believe that," she said quietly. "Such as I am, I shall be
when you come back."

With these words she pushed me gently from the room; I found myself
looking into the broad white panel of a closed door. I stood there a
moment, dazed, then going to my chamber, I, with my own hands, packed a
large kit bag, preparing to do as she had asked. It was only after I had
reflected on my promise that I went again to speak with her. I knocked.
There was no answer. I tried the latch. The door was locked.

Without eating my breakfast and with a strange conflict between my trust
in my wife and the memory of my experiences since I had known her, I
left the house and have not passed its threshold, though it is two weeks
to-morrow morning since I left it.

Do you wonder, sir, that I have suffered all the torments which anxiety
can devise or imagination, with its swift picture-film, may unroll
before one's eyes? I have stifled as best I could these uncertain
terrors. By day, when I have plunged into my work at the office, at
times I have been able to shut my mind to the everlasting rehearsal
around and around, over and over again, of the facts which I have told
you to-night; but when night has come, I am the prey of my own thoughts.
For six days, in spite of my exaggerated fear of scandal, I have prowled
like a ghost before my own house, lurking behind trees, watching my own
door like a ten-dollar-a-day detective. Dodging the policeman who would
know me, I have kept my eyes for hours on the dim light that sometimes
burns in my wife's room, and when I have seen the shadow of some one
passing and repassing behind the drawn shade, I have felt my heart in my
throat, and have scarcely been able to restrain myself from calling out
into the night air, "Julianna! Julianna!"

Finally, I must tell you one thing more. I had believed that perhaps the
crisis which had come to her had done so independently of any
personality but mine or hers. I was wrong. To-night, unable to remain
inactive any longer, and by the accumulation of restraint made
desperate, I rung up my house on the telephone. No answer was returned.
The feeling that my wife, in danger, was calling upon me, swept over me
until, had I been open to such beliefs, I would have felt sure that
across the affection and sympathy between us, as across wires, the
message came.

I walked hastily from the hotel into the park, taking the path which I
had used in the pleasant June days when I had met her at the Monument.
You know the kind of night it has been. Therefore when I reached the
border of trees opposite my house, I hardly thought it necessary to seek
the screen of the shrubbery; the arc lights were throwing the dancing
shadows of tree limbs across the pavement, the rush of the wind drowned
the noise of footsteps, and the street was deserted, I thought, except
for the clouds of whirling dust that passed downtown like so many huge
and ghostly pedestrians. I saw that a dim light shone through her blinds
and that the house was the picture of peace, suggesting that the walls
contained comfort, happiness, and the quiet of a peaceful family. So the
fronts of houses lie to us!

At the very moment that this thought came, I saw from my position under
the shadow of a spreading oak, which has not yet dropped its leaves,
that I was not the only person who was observing the light behind the
blinds. A figure was standing not more than a hundred feet away from me,
peering out from beyond one of the light poles. It wore a vizored cap, I
thought, and its head rolled this way and that on top of its spare,
bent, and agile body. Now and then, however, it ceased this grotesque
movement to gaze up at the window. One would have said that this
creature was less a man than an ape.

I am not a coward. "Here," thought I, "is a tangible factor. My word of
honor to Julianna is not broken if I seize this customer, whatever he
may be, and make him explain the part he is acting." I stepped forward
immediately, but he saw me before I had made two steps. From my bearing
and the place where I had concealed myself, he knew at once, I suppose,
that I had been watching him, for, turning with a swift motion, he
plunged into the shrubs and evergreens behind him. That the thing was as
frightened as a rabbit, there can be no doubt; the single little cry it
gave forth was not a scream. You would have called it a squeal! In a
jiffy I was after him, tearing through the branches among which, with a
sinuous twisting of his body, he had just slid; a moment later I reached
the open lawn again. The man had vanished.

I knew well enough that he was hiding, probably flattened on the
ground, among the evergreens. At another time, on a quiet evening,
listening for his movements or even his breathing, might have told me
where he lay, but now the wind and the rattle of dead leaves made it
necessary for me to use my eyes in my search. Therefore I went back
through the bushes, kicking at dark shadows with my foot, my heart
thumping with the excitement of the hunt.

As I reached the street again, I looked up toward my house, and there,
at the front door, I saw a crack widen and a black figure of a man come
out and down the steps. It crossed the street, and when it had gone into
the park, I followed it. You know what happened; this second man was
you.

And now I ask you, Doctor, man to man--For God's sake, tell me what you
know!



                                BOOK III

                         THE DOCTOR'S LIMOUSINE


                                CHAPTER I

                         A SHADOW ON THE CURTAIN


Such was Jermyn Estabrook's story. I have tried, in repeating it, not
only to include all the details given by this desperate young man, but
to suggest also the coldness and accuracy of his speech. Why? Because
the very manner of narration is indicative of the man's character. He
belongs to the dry, dessicated, and abominably respectable class of our
society. Pah! I have no patience with them. They live apart, believing
themselves rarities; the world is content to let them do it, because
theirs is a segregation of stupidity. And Estabrook, though he had fine
qualities, belonged to them.

Nothing could have indicated this more clearly than the emphasis he put
on his fear of scandal, the smug way he spoke of his word of honor, and
the self-conscious blush that came into his handsome face when he
mentioned the name of Estabrook. Why, even the menace to his beautiful
Julianna was not quite sufficient to cause this egotist to forget his
duties toward himself! So if he had not acted with such nobility of
spirit during the remainder of our adventures begun that night, I could
not sit here now and write that I learned to be very fond of him.

At any rate, Estabrook asked me what I knew and I told him all that I
have written--about Virginia, that she seemed to feel the existence of
something the other side of her bedroom wall, about MacMechem's notes on
the case, the game of life and death I was playing, my conversation with
the old servant, and for full measure, I told him where I had learned to
place a blow behind a gentleman's ear. It is necessary to deal with men
as excited as Estabrook without showing the nervousness that one may
feel one's self.

When I had finished, he jumped up from his chair, and, clasping his
hands behind his back, in the manner of lawyers, he walked twice across
the room.

"Why, don't you see?" he cried. "All that you have told me simply adds
mystery to mystery, apprehension to apprehension, fear to fear. And it
strikes me that, though my own experience has been bizarre enough, your
observations and that of this other doctor who is dead are even more
fantastic. What do you hope to accomplish by telling me this gruesome,
unnatural state of affairs?"

"I hope to make you act," I said, putting a chair in his path. "We are
sensible men. There are, no doubt, explanations for all occurrences.
Our limited mental equipment may not find them at once. But the first
thing to recognize is the one important fact; neither of us doubts that
your wife is in some grave danger. Personally I believe that if you are
not mentally deranged, she is! In any case, it's your duty to go to your
house. Force an entrance if necessary. It cannot be done too soon!"

Estabrook clenched his hands as he heard me, but after a moment he began
to shake his head doggedly.

"Can't you see that it would mean publicity?" he asked.

"Better than losing her," I argued, feeling certain that he would yield.

He did, in fact, cry aloud, but nevertheless he shook his head.

"Impossible," he groaned. "I've given her my solemn promise!"

I suppose I've a reputation for being short of speech, often frank, and
sometimes profane. I then allowed myself in my rage to be all three. It
was to no purpose. Estabrook would not consent to tearing the cover from
his affairs in any way which would cost him the breach of his confounded
words of honor.

"You are a madman!" I exclaimed in my vexation. "The death of your wife
may be entered against you. What folly!"

"Doctor," he answered quietly, "I want your help and not abuse. Your
storming will not accomplish anything. You are the only living soul to
whom I have confessed the presence of a skeleton in my married life, and
I want you to help me. I have been told repeatedly that you are a man of
courage, steadiness of nerve, scientific eminence, and high ability."

I could not disagree with him.

"The next thing, then, is Margaret Murchie, the servant," I said.

"What of her?"

"She knows something," said I. "You have heard how she talked to me, how
she tried to conceal her excitement, how she treated me as a spy, how
guilty she seemed, and you have indicated that you, as well as I,
believe that she knows what is at the bottom of this."

"Yes, yes," cried Estabrook. "I am sure that she knows. But what
then--what then? What can we do?"

"My dear fellow," I said, "why 'we'?"

He threw up his hands and sprang out of his chair again.

"I beg your pardon," he answered with a look of chagrin. "I've been
under a strain, I suppose, and I forgot that you have nothing at stake."

"Not so fast, Estabrook," I said. "Take another nip of the brandy. I
prescribe it for you. And not so fast. I have a good deal at stake."

"What?"

"My case," I said.

He looked at me with admiration.

"Furthermore," I went on, "I feel a certain brotherhood with you, young
man. You are the first person with whom I've rolled on the sod for many
years. I have punched you in the neck. You are now my patient and my
guest. You have confided in me. You have made an unconscious appeal to
me for help. Above all, I am one of those old fogies you have mentioned,
who secretly mourn the dying-out of romance. Here!--a glass!--to
adventure!"

Estabrook smiled sourly, but he drank.

"Thank you," he said. "I appreciate your spirit and, permit me to say,
also your attempt to make me treat this terrible affair in a spirit of
sport. But old Margaret is the superlative of stubbornness. We cannot
expect to go to her to obtain information. I have lived in the house
with her for more than six years. Can I say whether she is a saint or a
crafty villainess? No. I know no more now than when I shook her in my
anger on the evening the Judge died. She has never addressed me of her
own will since. She will give up nothing to me. You have tried her
already."

"I am less conservative in my ideas," I answered. "Since we are in this
field of turbulence and mystery, let us be turbulent and mysterious. All
that you say is true. Therefore, we must force the truth from Margaret
Murchie."

"You mean to induce her--" he began.

"Stuff!" said I. "The thing I mean is assault and battery. The thing I
mean is kidnapping. You may believe in clapping your hand over her mouth
and struggling with her, while we take her out. Personally I prefer a
cone containing the fumes of a liquid called cataleptol, fortunately
well known in my profession, while still a stranger to criminals."

But the careful Estabrook shook his head.

"You are not serious?" said he doubtfully. "Do you plan for me to take
part in this?"

"There must be two," I said. "And once we have the lady in this room, I
will be willing to guarantee that she will tell all she knows. I cannot
ask my chauffeur to go with me, for I trust him about as implicitly as I
trust a rattlesnake. Which makes me think--can you run a car?"

Estabrook was weakening. He nodded. I looked at my watch and found that
it was after eleven. I drew the curtain and saw that sheets of rain were
still being blown slantwise across the foggy radiance of the arc lights.
There is a trace of the criminal in me. Perhaps all men feel it at
times. Just then, observing the wildness of the storm, I felt the joy
of a midnight misdoing, even more than my desire to find the answer to
MacMechem's question.

"I shall be glad to know how you propose to gain a second admittance,"
said Estabrook, when, after tripping over the wet cobblestones and
bending our shoulders to the drive of the cold rain, we had groped
through the black alley to the dimly lit garage. "I'll also be glad to
know why you suppose you can draw a statement from the old woman."

"My dear fellow," said I, "there is the cause of many of your troubles!
You are always wanting to see your way to the end. And the way there
often must be cut through a trackless waste of events that haven't
happened."

"In light of my experience it seems to me that your statement is
unreasonable," he muttered peevishly; "but since you are satisfied, I
will be, too. If I understand your plan, however, while you sit dry and
comfortable within this machine, I am to ride outside, wet to the
marrow."

At this remark the sleepy garage attendant rubbed his eyes, filling them
with the sting of gasoline, swore, and forgot to submit my new chauffeur
to the inspection of his first surprise. He drew back the door and we
trundled out into the water-swept thoroughfare.

The rain, which had begun with a thin drive, had now settled into one
of those sod-soaking, autumn downpours, commonly called an equinoctial
storm. Estabrook was showing the effect of his nervous strain
by driving the machine through it with a recklessness of which
I disapproved, not only because we had twice skidded like a
curling-stone from one side of the asphalt to the other, but also
because I did not wish undue attention attracted to our course. The
windows in front of me and to the right and left were covered with
streaks of water and fogged with the smoke of my cigarettes which, in
my pleasurable excitement, I smoked one after the other; therefore
everything outside--the spots of light which lengthened into streaks,
the shadows, the other vehicles, the glaring fronts of theatres in
Federal Circle--formed a ribbon of smutched panorama, the running of
which obliterated vertical lines and made all the world horizontal. At
each crossing we jumped, landing again to scoot forward to the next,
where, through the opening of side streets, came the faint sound of
whistles in the harbor; and still, Estabrook,--confound him!--to my
cautions bellowed through the speaking-tube, paid no attention.

With shocking suddenness it occurred to me, for the first time,
seriously, that I had no assurance that this man who drove me was not a
maniac!

I reviewed the meeting with him, the tale he had unfolded, his
distraught actions. I am fairly familiar with psychopathic symptoms and
my summary of all that I had observed in him indicated clearly enough
that he was as sane as any one of us. But for the first time in my life
I realized the feeling of uncertainty about a physician's diagnosis
which a patient must endure. A doctor delivers his opinion as a matter
of self-assertion; the layman receives it as a matter of
self-preservation. Riding in that flying car, I found myself in both
positions. As a physician I was wholly satisfied with my conclusion; as
a man I found myself still in doubt and picturing to myself a wild
ten-minute ride, which I had no power to prevent, ending in a chaos of
broken glass, twisted metal, clothing, blood, and flaming gasoline.

"MacMechem met violent death the moment he became curious as to the
other side of the blue wall," I thought, with a twinge of the
superstitious fear which touches prowlers as well as presidents,
professors as well as paupers.

We were whirling around a corner then, and through the glass and over
Estabrook's broad shoulders, I believed I saw again the treetops of the
park.

"At least he knows where he lives," said I to myself as we drew up to
the curb.

"Good!" I whispered to him, when I had stepped out into the swash of
the rain. "Frankly, I hardly enjoyed it. You drive like a demonstrator."

"I'm a ruin of nerves," he answered, shivering. "I'm afraid I'm a poor
assistant for you, anyway. What do you want me to do?"

"Just climb inside there where it is warmer," I said, clapping him on
the shoulder. "I'll be back in a minute."

"Back in a minute?" he repeated as if dazed.

"From the Marburys', if you don't mind," I explained.

He leaned back against the cushions, disregarding the fact that with
every nervous movement water ran from him as from a squeezed sponge.
"Oh, I forgot your patient," said he, with a twitching mouth. "But, for
God's sake, don't keep me waiting long!"

I shook my head in answer; then ran, rather than walked, up the
Marburys' steps; indeed, that night taught me how active a corpulent old
codger can be if the need comes.

Miss Peters evidently had been at the window in her night vigil,
watching the storm; she opened the door.

"Well?" said I.

"The tide has turned."

Under the hall light I looked up at her stony, expressionless face. The
Sphinx itself was never more noncommittal.

"What do you mean?"

"I supposed you knew," she whispered. "I supposed that was why you came
back to-night so late."

I exclaimed in a hoarse and savage whisper. I was furious. This time I
had fought with disease not only, as in a common struggle, with
carnivorous Death, but as a hardened sinner whose heart has suddenly
opened to a child.

"Virginia is dead!" I said, glaring at her.

She never changed the coldness of her tone.

"No," she said. "She is going to get well."

"Confound it!" I growled, under my breath. "How do you know?"

"The blue wall," she answered with a sneer.

"Bah!" said I, starting up the stairs. "We shall see."

As I pushed open the door, I observed that the nurse had procured a red
silk shade to screen the single electric lamp on the table. The yellow
rays were changed to a pink, reflected on the wall, sending their rosy
lights into the depths of that bottomless blue; the breaking of a clear
day after a spring rain has no softer mingling of colors. For a moment I
looked at the chart, then with new hope turned toward Virginia herself.

Either the new tints diffused by the lamp deceived the eye, or the
little girl's pale skin had in fact been warmed by a new response from
the springs of life. She was sleeping quietly, her innocent face turned
a little toward me and in the faint, illusive smile at her mouth, and in
the relaxation of her beautiful hands, I read the confirmation of Miss
Peters's prophecy. I, too, believed just then that Virginia would not
die, and that, as so rarely happens in this disease, her recovery would
be complete.

"It is a wild night," said the bony nurse when I had tiptoed out of the
room.

She seemed to be wishing to draw from me an opinion on the extraordinary
rally the child had made. That was her way; she always invited
discussion of a subject by comments about something wholly irrelevant.

"We shall see," I answered again. "A relapse might be fatal.
To-morrow--we shall see."

"It is raining hard," she said as she turned the latch for me.

"Yes," said I, "and the treatment till then must be the same. Who
knows--"

"Who knows?" she repeated.

A blast of wind and water and the closing of the door seemed to deny an
answer. I found myself on the steps again, looking into the staring eyes
of my car, and, with a sharp jump of my thoughts, wondering how we were
to accomplish the work we had come to do. I descended, however, and
when I had reached the door of my limousine, I saw Estabrook's drawn
face pressed close to the glass. It was the sight of him that gave me an
idea; it was his first words that, for a moment, drove it from my mind.

"Look! Look!" he said to me. "Look at her window!"

I had merely noticed that a new, bright light shone there; now, in a
quick glance over my shoulder, I saw a shadow on the curtain--the shadow
of a figure standing with its arms extended above a head, thrown back as
if in agony.

"Is it your wife?" I asked in a hoarse whisper.

He took my wrist in the grip of his cold hand. "My God, Doctor, I don't
know," he said. "It looks--its motions, its attitudes, its posture!--it
looks like the thing I saw outside the Judge's window!"



                               CHAPTER II

                                MARGARET


Well, now,--his words made me shudder! I confess it with some
reluctance. Of course a doctor comes in contact with enough real
horrors. They become ordinary. It is those undefined, doubtful things
which run fear through the veins like a drug. Nevertheless I caught
myself in time to conceal my nervousness.

"Here, here, Estabrook!" I said in a sharp, businesslike tone. "We
didn't come to watch drawn curtains. The question is, did you bring your
keys?"

Without asking me questions, he handed them over.

"Now, understand me," I said, for I could see that in truth he was in no
condition to offer much assistance. "My advice is for you to take these
keys and walk into your own house."

"I can't do that," he said irritably. "I've told you I can't do it--and
why I can't."

"Then understand me further," I said when a shriek of wind had gone off
down the avenue. "I have debated this question and decided that we must
not disturb your wife. She has warned against that, and perhaps it is
better to assume she is not insane and take her warning."

"Yes, yes," he cried. "That is right."

"I shall not parley with Margaret Murchie," I went on. "Move a little! I
have something I want to reach under the seat. There!--I shall not ask
her to come. She will have no choice. It will all be over before she has
time to cry out. And you must be ready to help me carry her into this
car."

"The law--" he began.

"Oh, I know that," said I. "But it is a choice of doing this, or
nothing. Any other course either makes you break your confounded,
nonsensical word of honor, or else raises a noise that will bring the
reporters around like so many vultures. It is your affair, after all.
Shall I stop here?"

Again, as I spoke, I felt the pleasurable thrill of adventure which I
had supposed had gone with my youth.

"You want me to wait here till you signal?" he asked.

"Yes."

"As you say!" he agreed. "The old servant knows. She must tell. I can't
stand it any longer. She must be made to tell."

I nodded. He indicated the proper key with a touch of his forefinger.
Whereupon, crossing the sidewalk again and ascending the Estabrooks'
steps with as much unconcern as if they had been my own, I fitted the
key softly and turned the lock.

The very instant that I tried to open the heavy door, however, I knew
that a watcher who had been observing our movements through the silk
curtains was behind it. I felt a resisting pressure. I heard a stifled
scream. It was no moment for indecision. With an unbelievable rapidity
of thought, I estimated the chances of the unseen person being armed,
the hazard of his giving vent to an uproar which would bring the
neighborhood about our ears. Then I threw my body against the door with
all the force I could muster. It yielded suddenly; with a crash it flew
back against the tiled wall. I was precipitated forward and a second
later found myself in the ridiculous performance of rolling around on
the floor with what felt to me like a fat wash, consigned to a laundry.
It was, however, a bundle from which choking imprecations and grunts
exploded, and which for a turn or two was enlivened with upheavals of
some strength. Well enough to laugh now, but at that moment, you may be
sure, I was searching with my free hand for the person's mouth.

I had meant to be gentle: if I clapped my hand over the source of the
little cries and protests, when I had found it, with something more than
decision, you must blame the circumstances. I had expected to surprise
old Margaret from behind and give her such a whiff of cataleptol that
she would have suffered no inconvenience. Unfortunately I had not at
first known that it was she whom I had encountered, and now there were
obvious difficulties in the way of my applying my saturated gauze to her
nose.

"Be still!" I commanded, trying to uncork my vial, with a single hand.
"Be still. No harm will come to you."

Her reply was a well-placed thrust of her two old knees which nearly
sent me through the glass. It placed me in a position, however, where I
could, with a push of my foot, close the door and shut us into the
vestibule, so that her clamor, which had broken forth again, might be
muffled.

Furthermore, I now had my chance to unloose my anæsthetic. I can hear
the squeak of that fat cork now; I can recall the pleasure of smelling
those dizzy fumes as I thrust the gauze into her face. Time after time
she succeeded in thrusting it aside with her clawing hands; time after
time I succeeded in jamming it back again against her nose. The scene is
not one I recall with pride, but my brief excuse must be that I do not
like to have my undertakings fail. The delicacies of the best of us,
moreover, depart at critical junctures.

However that may be, the important point is that finally I felt her
struggles subside. Her hands no longer acted with intelligence; they
moved about wildly in front of her face, as if to push away a tangle of
cobwebs. Her head rolled to and fro; the gurglings, sputters,
half-uttered cries of rage, ceased.

"Breathe again!" said I, with the habitual phrase of the surgeon
administering an anæsthetic. "Breathe away--breathe away--Ah,
now!--breathe--breathe--breathe!"

And at last she was still. I threw the gauze into the corner. I got up
panting, for I am not built for exercise, and, panting still, I peeped
out through the silk curtains to be sure that in our little adventure we
had attracted no attention.

The wind-driven rain still swept down the streets under the iridescent
glows of the arc lights, my car still stood like a forlorn, forgotten
thing in the gutter. In one direction the wet perspective of the avenue
appeared as empty as a street scene on a drop curtain. But when I turned
my eyes the other way my heart gave quick response. Just beyond the iron
fence stood a patrolman.

He had stopped and seemed to be looking directly at the door behind
which I stood. I could see his two bare hands on the iron railing. They
were very conspicuous against the rubber coat--wet, black, and
shiny--which covered his burly figure, and he used them to sway himself
softly backward and forward. It seemed to me that he was debating how to
act, and I believe that I learned then, peeping through the glass, to
what extent guilt and the desire for secrecy will sharpen the
imagination.

I say this, because, almost at the moment that I felt sure he had taken
a step forward toward me, I saw that not his face but his back was
turned toward me, that his hands were behind him and that he had leaned
for a moment on the rail, perhaps to look at the physician's green cross
on my lights. A second later he ducked his helmet into the driving rain
and, walking on, turned into the shadows of the cross-street.

I knew then I had no time to lose. I had been delayed; Margaret Murchie
might regain her senses. And yet, when I had signaled to Estabrook, when
he, without a word, had come, and when I felt the excitement most
keenly, I found myself impressed not with the necessities of the moment,
but rather with the extraordinary grotesqueness of the situation.

"Take her about the knees," said I, and then touched his elbow.
"Estabrook," I added, "this--mind you--happens in a twentieth-century
metropolis."

He did not answer, because the old servant, dashed in her upturned face
by a stream of water running from the coping, moved her arms feebly and
uttered a groan.

"Quick!" said I. "Drop her and crank up the car. I'll do the rest."

He obeyed.

I dragged the burdensome weight of my victim, if you will so call her,
and thrust it into the interior of the vehicle. Estabrook was already on
the chauffeur's seat; as quickly as I tell it, the car had begun to pick
up speed over the wet and slippery street. We flashed by a light or two
and I saw that Margaret Murchie's eyes had lost their stare of
unconsciousness.

"Margaret," said I, "you are all right. Be sensible. There is Mr.
Estabrook in front."

She shook herself convulsively as if to throw off the remnants of the
anæsthetic. Then she caught my sleeve.

"Oh, it's terrible," she cried. "Ye have taken me away from Julie! Bring
me back to her, do you hear? You and Mr. Estabrook--What do ye want of
me?"

"Quiet!" I said. "We want you to tell all you know."

"You want me to tell it? After all these years? And it's no fault of
mine or hers!"

Suddenly she became excited again.

"Take me back!" she screamed. "You don't know what you do! Take me back
to my Julie! She may need me sore enough!"

"Have sense," I said close to her ear. "We are going to the bottom of
this. You must tell everything--everything from beginning to end."

She was silent for several seconds while we sped out toward the North
Side.

"It's awful," she said finally. "And it has gone far enough. It's been
more than I can bear. It's time for me to tell! If you, whoever you are,
and Mr. Estabrook will hear, you shall have it all--the living truth of
it--the bottom of what I know."

"Good!" said I. "And now we'll go to my house."

"No, no," she exclaimed. "There is no need for that. I would not be from
the girl while these awful minutes is going by. Who can say what would
happen? Oh, no, sir. Take your cab back to our door, and then--sitting
on this seat--with my eye on that terrible house--and less need of any
of us to worry--I can tell ye all from the first to the last."

In her voice was that sincerity of emotion which invites confidence.

"Very well," I said. "That is agreed."

And then, picking up the speaking-tube, I told the wretched man at the
wheel. He swung us around; we turned back, and in five minutes more
drew up again, according to my direction, not by the Estabrooks' door,
but under the spreading limbs of the oak across from the Marburys'
ornate residence.

"Take some of this, my boy," I said as he crawled, wet and trembling,
into the interior. "It will be good for you, and for you, Margaret,
too!"

"Oh, Mr. Estabrook!" she exclaimed when she had swallowed the stimulant,
"I lied to you. I once lied to you very sore, as you shall see."

"Enough--enough!" he cried. "What of her--my wife? She is still alive?"

"Have no fear," replied the old woman. "It's not death that's with us,
I'm believing."

The poor fellow wrung his hands.

"But, by the Saints, what I'll tell you now is true," she said, putting
her hands first on his knees and then on mine. "Look! The light is
shining on my face and you can read it if you like. Sure, I'm praying
that you may use the knowledge to save us all."

"Go on," said the young man hoarsely.

And thereupon, in an awkward, jerking manner, which I can only hope to
suggest in the repetition, she told a tale of strange mingling of good
and evil. This was her story....



                                 BOOK IV

                      A PUPIL OF THE GREAT WELSTOKE


                                CHAPTER I

                             LES TROIS FOLIES


I was born on the Isle of Wight. My father was a seafaring man. He owned
his own vessel--a brigantine as sailed from the Thames to British South
Africa and sometimes around the Hope to Madagascar.

Where he met my mother I never knew. He was Scotch and she was an Irish
beauty, I can tell you. Looking back on it now, I believe she was of
rich and proud people and that they had cast her off for her folly in
marrying a man that was rough of cheek and speech, for all his ready
good heart. She was as delicate and high-strung and timid, as he was
brown, big, and fearless as to anything, be it man or typhoon. And yet
it was she who could stick to one purpose as if the character of a
bulldog was behind the slender, girlish face of her, while he was always
making for this and that end, charging at life with head down, like a
bull.

I can see the two of them now, walking together arm in arm, when he'd
come back out of the sea; I can see them strolling off down along the
old hedges of the garden, or sitting beneath the thatched roof of our
cottage which had stood the wind sweeping off the Channel for more time
than any one at Bolanbywick could remember. She looked like a child
beside him, for his shoulders would measure three of the width of hers.
It was from him I have my frame that once called to the eyes of men to
see the figure that it held, though I say it myself. But from her I got
many a trait that fitted me badly, because craftiness and stubbornness
and a weakness for sentiment and the like of that, had best be in a body
small enough to tame them.

The two of them loved each other completely, each in their way, but it
was well that they had no other children. It was well, perhaps, that
when I was seventeen I had grown strong and quick as a hound. My mother
went with him then for her first voyage since her honeymoon, and it was
the last ever seen of her or him, or the only property we owned, which
was the vessel and a cargo of cotton ducks and sheetings for
speculation, bound to the Gold Coast. Sometimes the sea opens its mouth
like that, and the jaws close again.

There was no more education for me! My father's sister was a
boarding-house keeper in London. I was staying with her then, and when
the lawyer found there was no insurance, life, ship, or cargo, she was
for setting me to work the next morning. Poor woman, she had slaved her
life against dust in halls and cockroaches and couples who wanted rooms
without references and the heart had gone from her, and when she died
she left the best of two thousand pound to a clairvoyant and
card-reader, who had robbed her week after week for ten years and more.

I took a place as companion to an old lady, going to Odymi in Hungary.
It was there one of the doctors, who had seen my two bare forearms,
spoke of my strength and told me that I could make good money as a
rubber in the baths, and I was glad of the change from the old woman. I
was proud and short of tongue and patience with her, and we were always
snarling at each other. But time wears those edges off people, I can
tell you!

It was there, at the baths, I fell in with the woman who called herself
Madame Welstoke. She was an evil woman, and of the worst of such,
because she was one who never seemed bad at first, and then, little by
little, as she showed herself, you could get used to her deviltry and
for each step you could find an apology or excuse, until at last the
thing she had done yesterday seemed all right to-day and you were ready
for some new invention of hers to-morrow.

Mainly she treated diseases by the laying on of hands, and the best that
could be said of her as to that was she preyed on the rich and would
take no patients she thought were short of at least fifty pounds to
spend for her mumbo-jumbo and gimcracks. She would talk in a very smooth
voice to those she got in her web--about the flow of vital energy and
the power of positive and negative currents over the valves of the heart
and circulation of the blood. She would roll up her eyes and complain of
how the treatments, which consisted of laying her fingers on a person's
temples and wrists, exhausted her, and at first I thought she really
meant it, and when her good, old motherly face was turned away, many was
the time I laughed. And finally, when I began to see that most of her
patients improved and some were cured, I stopped laughing, for there was
the evidence before my eyes and no denying it.

Whether or no she had power to heal, I would have stayed with her. Her
influence was like slow rot and the germ of it was deep-seated before
you could even see that it was time to resist it. I was acting as her
maid in private at first, and before other people, wherever we
went,--Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Monte Carlo, and lots of places I have
forgotten,--I was supposed to be her daughter who had joined her from
New York. And it was all one to me, for I was drawing a fine pay and
living very rich and I could see that the name and game of Mrs.
Welstoke spelled prosperity.

All this, of course, was before I even saw the Judge, but I was getting
my training, and learning how easy money could be made to come through a
little fol-de-rol here and a bit of blackmail there, and introducing one
class of society to another in the next place. It was easy to salve my
conscience, because the old adventuress was curing many a poor sleepless
or rheumatic creature who could spend money like dirt to get the result,
and besides, she took an interest in me enough to make me wonder why,
and she was always keeping her eyes open like a pilot to see that I
didn't meet any man who might be after me. To tell the truth, she talked
so much of the villainy of males and the horrors of marriage that
finally I believed what she said and turned my young face away from all
men, just as if good, timid, and bad were run out of the same mould.

We were in Paris when she showed her hand, and, strange enough, she
chose to do it one afternoon when we were driving in the Bois with a
thousand fine gowns and faces to distract the attention.

"The trouble, Margaret," says she, "is that our reputation runs on ahead
of us. Here in Paris it is the same as at Vienna and Rome--we have much
more than we can attend to. I can't put my hands on two fools at once,
and I am always pained because I am American by birth, as I never yet
told you before, and I hate to see five dollars slip by, as we say over
there."

"It's too bad," I answers, "for there is no way to help it."

"Indeed!" she says. "I'm not so sure. I haven't made you my daughter for
nothing. And I'm thinking of having you treat those who I can't."

"Me!" I cries, very surprised. "You know well enough that I have no
power."

At this she leaned back on the cushions and nearly put her broadness on
Midget, her toy lap-dog, sitting beside her. But she threw her head back
and laughed her own natural laugh, as coarse as a fishmonger's and
different from the ripples she could give when anybody was around.

"Power?" says she. "Child alive! I have no power, you simple girl. When
I put my fingers on their silly heads, my hands might as well be resting
on a sawdust pincushion in the Sahara Desert."

"But the cures?" says I, looking to see if the _cocher_ could overhear
us.

That question brought the laugh away from her, and for a minute she
looked serious.

"Many a time, when I go to sleep of nights, I think of that myself," she
says, patting my hand.

"I actually know no more of the reason for those cures than you.
Nevertheless I know surely enough it's not me that cures them. No. I
think it's their own wills. A bit of claptrap fools them into exerting
their own minds on their bodies, and by the same token the fear of
weakness will make the weakness itself. So the world rolls around, my
dear."

It was those words of hers I have never forgotten. I've never forgotten,
for one reason, because, when I began to play for patients and worked
over them with the talk and flap-dash and monkey-shine, and got them to
pay their money freely, then half the time they would improve and say
they felt the flow of vitality, and some of them went away well and
sound as biscuits, when, before they had come to us, they had had
doctors and drugs and baths and changes of climate for nothing. I even
knew some who would swear that Welstoke's daughter had more power of
healing than the great Welstoke herself, and among them, too, was rich
and terribly cultured people, who would come with veils in closed
carriages and would be afraid their husbands would find out, and then,
if they didn't pay the bill rendered, all that was necessary was to
threaten suit to have them go into a panic and rush the money to us in a
hurry. It is wonderful how easy a person drops into new views of what is
fair and right when their surroundings change, and something else is
wonderful--the fact that I, who sit here with the two of you now, a
broken old housemaid, once had gowns as fashionable as any on the
Continent, and that without a penny of inheritance or a single love
affair.

"All is well with us," Welstoke used to say, "and all will be well if
you have the sense to keep out of a match with some lying-tongued
creature who, on his side, will believe nothing you say, and will cast
sheeps' eyes at every plump blonde from Benares to Buffalo. Besides
which, my dear, there never was one of them that didn't snore. Remember
that and you are safe."

Indeed, I thought I was safe, as she called it. I believed that the
affectionate natures of my father and of my mother had offset each other
in me, for three years went by and never a thought did I give to love of
man. And when it came, there was a flit of it like the shadow of a
flying bird that comes and goes on the wall and is none the less hard to
forget. It is so with all, I'm thinking, high and low, rich and poor; we
see these shadows of what might be, and whist! they are gone again, as
if to say we'd live again in another world and there is plenty of time
in other lives than ours--time for the right head to lean on the
shoulder that was meant for it and this hand to touch that!

Be that as it may, the thing happened the winter we were at Venice.
Madame Welstoke was in her heyday then, with plenty of money to give
dinners for the little crowd that was made up out of dark-brown
society--the old men who'd tell of nearly reaching greatness and the
like of that, with champagne running from the corners of their eyes and
their voices cracking with all the bad-spent years. And there were fat,
jeweled women, too, hanging on alimony or adventure, and middle-aged men
from this country, who had left New York or Philadelphia for one reason
or another of their own, and talked about rates of interest and whistled
tunes that were popular in the United States in the seventies, and had a
word or two for my shoulders.

"Be careful how you talk too much," old Welstoke would say. "It's a very
fair presentment you make with a bit of rouge, and a hairdresser, and
keeping your big hands under the table as much as possible. Whatever you
do, listen, and be on your guard, if the conversation runs to letters or
music. One way to be educated is to be silent!"

Perhaps she laid it on so heavy about my lack of "finish," as she called
it, that when my one moment came to speak and say in my plain way a word
or two, it gagged me in my throat and would not slide out.

In those days a French Jew, named Vorpin, had a place just off the
Grand Canal, called "Trois Folies," and by waiting till mid-evening for
dinner, we could find the café well-nigh empty. The truth was I went
there often alone when a fit of depression was on me, and it was no
wonder these fits came. A week of idleness, taken by a person who comes
from my class, and should be working eight and ten hours a day, is a
misfortune often longed for and seldom recognized when it has come.

Little did I think that evening, of which you will hear, that what
happened there was to have its hold on Julianna Colfax, who had not then
been thought of as coming into the terrible clutches of that which has
followed us like a skulk o' night.

The café was long, and longer yet with its gilt mirrors on the white
walls and its row of empty gilded chairs, and I found a table in the
corner. Perhaps a man and woman or two was there, either too late or too
early for the gayeties that went on. I have forgotten. I only know that
the sound of lapping water came in through the lattice beside my table
and a breeze, too, that cooled my bare neck and would not cool my head,
which was full of thoughts of my days in the old garden in the Isle of
Wight and my mother's song and the colored crayon of my father, looking
very stern, and hanging over the green old china vases on the mantel.

I believe the first thing that made me look up was a crash of glass, of
crockery, the exclamation of the waiters, and running feet.

"So here is where they boast of excitement?" roared a thick voice. "And
yet a man must make it himself."

The waiters had surrounded him, whoever he was, and I could not see him
then.

"Bah!" he cried, beginning to laugh like a stevedore. "I'm an American.
Monte Carlo and all that! I'll pay, you frog-catchers! Take that! Ask
the proprietor if that will cover the damage!"

A great explosion of squeaky French followed, a word or two of Italian.
The waiters parted and this American stepped out. I had expected to see
him taller, but his power was in the weight of his shoulders, the easy
swing of his drunken progress down the aisle. The devil-may-care was in
him--in his handsome, laughing, wild eyes--the look of a child mad with
the promise of a world of pleasures.

"Pay?" he roared again. "I pay as I go! Live? I live as I like! Out of
the way, dishes! You are here to-day; on the ashheap to-morrow! So with
all of us."

With that he pulled off another tablecloth, sending the glassware
rolling into splinters.

"Come! Collect!" he said, holding a fistful of notes in the air. "How
much? How much? Quickly! I see mirrors down beyond! You lie, you
mirrors! I'm walking straight! You lie!"

There was no stopping him. With a heavy crooked cane in his strong hand
and the perspiration running from his handsome face, he staggered toward
the spot where I was sitting. And yet, though he had raised his stick to
strike the chandelier above the next table and had let out a yelp of
childish delight before he saw me, I had felt no fear of him.

I can tell you, the effect of the meeting of our eyes was astonishing.
I'm thinking there wasn't a muscle in his body that did not pull at him
to straighten him up, to take off his hat, to bend him a little
backward, as if he had thrust his face among thistles.

As I sat there, looking at those brown eyes of his and listening to his
frightened, heavy breathing, I knew well enough I had come to a place
where my road of life split and ran in two directions. There are things
we know, not by thought or reason or culture, but by the instincts, I'm
thinking, that Heaven has put into us along with the rest of the
animals. And he knew it, too, perhaps, for he saw me leaning forward on
my elbows and a little white and scared of something that can't be put
into words at all, and it sobered him, I can tell you.

"What are _you_ doing here?" he said, as though he had known me these
six thousand years.

Silly fool that I was, the color came rushing up into my face and I
feared to speak. Believe it or not as you like, I could see Welstoke's
thin lips saying, "Though your nose and your eyes is very refined, it's
your manner of speech as discloses you, my poor dear," and I was silent
as a stone, for I thought him a fine gentleman.

"Do _you_ disapprove of me?" says he.

I smiled, I suppose, but my lips only moved. And a look of pain came
into his face.

"Somewhere else--some other time," he rather whispered. "God knows how.
But you will remember Monty Cranch. It's not soon you'll be forgetting
him, girl."

With that he turned and walked out of the place as straight as an arrow,
and his words were true--as true as death. And though it was all many
years ago, I can tell you, it seems to me now that I can hear the water
lapping in the canal outside the lattice and see the wind nodding the
flowers on the table that were mocking me--a nosegay one minute, and the
next a bouquet for a tomb of something gone and buried. Nor from then to
now have I opened these lips to tell living soul of that meeting.

Life kept on as it had been going, with many things sliding in and out,
but they have nothing to do with what is hanging over us now. Welstoke
and I finally came to America, however, and then luck began to turn.
There is a great joke behind the scenes of the little dramas of each of
us, and the old lady, who had laid her hand on many a twisted wrist or
swollen elbow, began with a joint in her thumb and in six months' time
was a hundred shapes with the rheumatism. She was all out of scandals
and blackmail then, and lay in bed with her own self coming out, in evil
curses for pain and her losses on 'Change, and slow horses, and she who
had claptrapped thousands was caught herself by a slick brown man who
called himself a Hindoo Yogi and treated her by burning cheap incense in
a brass bowl, and a book of prayer that he called the "Word of
Harmonious Equilibrium."

"You are all I have now," she would say to me after the cupboard was
bare. "Whatever you do, don't get married, my child. These men are all
alike. Some of them begin to get knock-kneed as soon as you marry them,
and others have great fat middles. You have your choice in these
offenses to good taste."

The old fox was wasting breath, though, for I had less notions for men
than ever before. I had only to shut my eyes to see one, and though time
had slid by fast enough, I could only see him as he was, standing half
frightened before me in the Trois Folies. He never seemed to change. I
thought he'd always be the same.

Besides, I was loyal to old Welstoke, if I do say it. I tried hard at
first to keep our patients coming, but it would not go when the Madame
herself was out of the business. I never understood how to hold the
confidence of people, and then the only thing left to us was a
complexion mask that the old lady had invented. It was a failure, at
first, but after I had walked my feet off introducing it, we got a bare
living from it, and I thought it would stand between me and starvation
when Welstoke had gone.

Finally that day came, too, with the undertaker creeping around in his
black, sneaking way, and I found when it was all over that she had
secretly incorporated a face-bleach company and sold all she owned to
it, complexion mask and all, and lost the whole of what she got on that
year's Derby. I've understood from the boarding-house keeper that the
last words she said, was, "Now I'm really plucked!" And that was the end
of her.



                               CHAPTER II

                         THE HOUSE ON THE RIVER


There are times like that, when one's spirit is sick, sore, and lame, as
if it was a body, and it goes looking for a place to lie down where
nobody will disturb it, and it can feel its dizzy self going into a long
sleep. I'll never forget how sick my soul was then--sick of all the
false ways and selfishness and all the old scenes, and all big cities
and the flow of faces on the streets and the memory of our elegant
apartments in Paris, with their pale brocades at the windows and on the
furniture, and sick of the sordid surroundings in the cheap New York
boarding-house where the rheumatism had finally reached Welstoke's
heart, and the paper was peeling off the walls. I had always swallowed
the airs and graces of society people very hard, and many was the time
I'd wish to drop back among people like my father's family, who didn't
mind the smell of cooking and could get a night's sleep by laying a head
on a pillow and weren't bothered by frills. So, though it was plain
enough that nothing was left for me but to come down in the world, I was
not sorry, after all. I could see in the mirror that the easy life I
had led at first, and the worry and labor of foot that had come suddenly
on top of it, had made me fat of body and yet drawn and old of face. My
youth had gone, along with Madame Welstoke, and I had little regret for
it or for her.

Business was dreadfully poor then, and for the life of me I could not
get a hold on anything in the way of hotel housekeeper, or millinery, or
doctor's office-maid. For every position that offered, which was few,
there was a mob of women with their smirks and smiles and references in
white envelopes that they were trying to keep clean as the days went by.
Of course, I had no references at all, and small good would it do for me
to tell of my past experience. Besides, as I've often thought since, the
way I wore my hair and colored my cheeks, from the habits Welstoke had
taught me, was overdone, as all women get to overdoing the thing sooner
or later, and more particularly when they think their good looks is
threatened by the bleaching and yellowing and drying-up of the wrong
side of thirty-five. It's not a thing to help much in applying for work.
Anyway, the short of it was that after six weeks I had no job, for all
my walks in the heat to save carfare.

You have never felt the panic that comes when it seems as if Fate was
chewing away the strands of the rope that holds you to self-preservation;
it is a terrible thing and soon takes out of you all fancy notions. It
grabbed me by the neck and bent my pride and sent me off praying to
find a place through an employment agency. Cooking, washing and
ironing was good enough for me the minute I found my last dollar
staring up at me from the palm of this right hand. The fall had begun
to come on, and, believe it or not, as you like, I dreamed and dreamed
and dreamed of walking the streets at night, through the driving snow
of winter and down to the wharves and the river, with its cakes of ice
and its welcome. And when the first day I had gone to sit in the
intelligence room and a lady--she seemed like a blurred picture to me
and her questions were far away like the rumble of a train at
night--had hired me, I took my alligator bag that was left out of
the wreck of old elegance, and I stood up and tried to follow her
like a dog till she stopped me.

It was only when I'd met her later and was on the train bound for a
little town up the state, that I turned my eyes, kind of cautious, to
see who it was had hired me. You could not call her pretty, by any
means. She was tall and thin, and there was a prominent bone sticking
out at the back of her neck. Her shoulders sloped, too, and looked as if
they had been bent forward on purpose to squeeze her lungs together. Her
skin was a bit too yellow and her teeth too large and her lips too
shapeless. But the steel of people has nothing to do with the scabbard,
I'm thinking. Bodies are many a time disguises, and there was only one
place where that woman's self peeped through like a flower through the
dead coals on an ashheap. It was her eyes.

I never have seen the beat of her eyes for loveliness. No, I never have
seen two of them--gray they were--that could toss a God's blessing to
you so easy. They gave the lie to her cold lips and made you forget the
looks of her, because you knew she'd been made to wear ugliness to test
the sweetness of her soul.

I saw 'em when, from all the falseness and worry, all the paint and
powder and the mockery of big cities and the jest of money and all the
worry and bitterness of the end of my adventures, I felt the relief of
being nobody again and going in a home, whose ever it might be, and
being where there was trees and hard work and fewer human faces
streaming along and looking into yours, only to forget you forever. For
the first time since the day I believed I'd never meet Monty Cranch
again, my sight was all fogged with tears.

Probably she saw me. And if you'd know the kind of woman she was, I'll
tell you that the first I knew, her thin fingers was on my big hands,
and I looked up and there were those two eyes. The train was thumping
along through the meadows, but I heard her say, "There, there," very
soft and she never asked me one word about my past either then or ever
after. That was her kind of charity, and may God rest her soul!

Oh, when I look back on that day, I wonder how evil thoughts ever came
into my mind and how I could ever wish harm to the white house under the
big elms in the centre of the town, where among the business blocks it
stood very stubborn, and I wonder how I ever plotted wrong for her or
him that was her husband and met us that day at the iron gate.

We saw him reading a paper on the wide porch--a young man then, with a
big frame and a habit of looking out very solemn from under his eyebrows
and over big tortoise-shell glasses. But he had boyish, joking ways of
speech, as you know. He came down the walk between the plats of grass
that looked like two peaceful, green rugs spread in the midst of all the
noise and bustle of the town, and his long hands pulled up the latch and
he smiled at the woman as if he loved her. And she said to me in a very
proud and dignified way, "Judge Colfax, my husband."

That was the first time I ever set eyes on him, and in a quarter of a
century, beginning as he was then, a judge of county court, and ending,
as well you know, I never could see a change in his way of looking at
life. Civilization moves here and there and along with it ways and
means and customs and fashions and the looks of the buildings and the
furniture, but there is a saying of the Judge that comes back to me now.
"The way of vice, virtue, passions, and instincts of men is universal
and everlasting," he'd say, and as for himself, his eyes were watching
it all from too high a place for him to be jumping this way and that,
like one of the sheep running with the flock.

It showed on the inside of the house then, as it did the day he died in
this city. The look of it was the same then, with most everything that
was in it used for comfort and not for show, though in those first days
there was no end of ornaments, that was kept for memory's sake--a piece
of coral as big as your head brought back by Mrs. Colfax's father, who
had been a minister or something to Brazil, and spears from the South
Sea Islands, and two big blue biscuitware jars from China that had been
a wedding present to the Judge's mother from an importer of tea, who had
courted her and been rejected, and documents in frames which I can't
remember, except a commission in the army signed by a man named James
Madison, and a college degree, and a letter written by Jonathan Edwards
to a man dying of consumption. They were hard to keep clean, but I liked
those things because they reminded a body of the fact that days had gone
by when other people was living with their ambitions and loves, and
snoring at night, and pain in their wisdom teeth, and all forgotten now!

Anyway, you'd never know they had wealth, they lived so simply, and Mrs.
Colfax had even done much of her own housework. I was hired because a
baby was coming, and you can believe it was a happy house in those days,
with its peace and the sprinklers spraying water on the lawn in the last
hot days of the autumn, and the leaves rustling outside the kitchen
window, and the wife singing in her room upstairs, and the Judge looking
at her as she sat across the table at breakfast, with his eyes wide
open, because, whatever anybody else might think, he believed her the
most beautiful looking woman in the world.

I was happy, too, speaking generally. The only trouble was the training
that Madame Welstoke had given me. After a body has learned a little of
being shrewd like a snake, a cat, or a weasel, and looking on anybody as
fair game for blackmail or threats or health cures, it is very hard to
shut the cover down on them and never employ those methods any more. I
liked the Judge and I might say I loved his wife, but there was still
something in me that kept me watching for secrets or skeletons in the
closet, and little did I know then how my chance would come.

The baby was born in January,--a daughter--and as beautiful a little
creature as you would want to see, with red-brown hair and a pink mouth
hard to beat. Of course I've seen parents fond enough of children, but
never any so fond of one that their mouths were hushed as they looked at
her. The truth was that, as for Mrs. Colfax, she was so bound up in the
child that she suffered.

"Margaret," she said to me many a time, "a mother's heart has strange
instincts and, I fear, true ones. There is something that tells me that
little Julianna will never live."

"Hush, the nonsense!" I answered her, laughing at her white, frightened
face. "Trouble enough you'll have with her teething without borrowing
more from such things as Death! Look out the window, ma'am, at the snow
that covers everything, and be thankful that we are not having a green
winter."

"Something will happen," she said. And I believe it was her worry and
nervousness that kept her from getting her strength back and wore her
thinner and thinner. She would sit in her window that looked down the
slope to the river, with Julianna in her lap, and gaze out at the
melting snow, or, later, at the first peep of green in the meadows
between the two factories up and down the valley, and at those times I
would notice how tired and patient her face looked, though it would all
spring up into smiles when she heard the voice of the Judge, who had
come in the front door.

Then finally there came a night I remember well. It was about the full
moon in the early days of April, but a wind had come up with a lot of
clouds blowing across the sky. Maybe it was at ten o'clock--just after I
had gone to bed, anyway, and had got to sleep--when I heard the
screams--terrible, terrible screams. And I thought they were the screams
of a woman.

I jumped up, threw open my window, and tried to look through the night
toward the river. I could hear something splash once or twice in the
water, and then all was still--still as the grave.

You know how a body feels waked out of a sleep like that. Though it was
a warm breeze that blew and though I've never been timid, I was shaking
like a sheet of paper. It was a minute or two before I could get it out
of my mind that some one had been cut from ear to ear. Then I remembered
that they had told me that rowdy parties were often boating on the water
above the first dam, as the weather grew warmer, and when I listened and
heard no sound of any one else in the house stirring, I began to think
that my half-sleepy ears had exaggerated the sounds. And then, just as I
was about to close the window, a cloud rolled off the moon, and for a
second or two there was a great bath of light on the slope, and back of
the stable, among the old gnarled apple trees. There were a lot of queer
looking shadows among these trees, too, but none so queer as one.

This one shadow was different, for it was not still like the others, but
went stopping and starting and scuttling like a crab over the
grass--sometimes upright like a man and sometimes on all fours like a
beast. At last it stood up and ran from tree to tree in a swaying,
moving zigzag. I could see then that it was a man, but for the life of
me I could not remember where I'd seen his like. Then another cloud slid
over the moon and the night was as dark as velvet again.

You may be sure I passed a restless night. Perhaps the Judge saw it, for
when he came in from his regular early morning walk the next day,
looking very grave and solemn and troubled, he stared at me a minute
before he spoke.

"Margaret," said he, "you look overworked."

"Oh, no, sir," I said, half ashamed to tell of my fright.

"I'm glad to hear you say so," he answered. "I was about to ask you
whether you could add to your duties by taking full charge of Julianna."

"The baby!" said I. "Has anything happened to Mrs. Colfax?"

"No," he said, a bit excited, "but I'm going to send her away to-day. I
trust it will be soon enough. The doctor has been advising it this long
time. Mrs. Colfax is on the edge of nervous prostration, and the baby
should be taken from her now and put in your care while she is gone."

I think I must have shrunk back from him. I remembered the screams. I
could hear them again in my ears--terrible, terrible screams--at the
river.

"While she is gone!" I whispered.

"Yes," said he. "What ails you? You have heard the plan before."

"But the haste, sir," I said. "What is this dreadful hurry about?"

"Not so loud," said he. "You will hear the news soon enough. I may as
well tell you. But it must be kept from her at any cost until she is
away. A dreadful thing has happened--happened in the night,--not two
hundred yards from this house. A woman has been murdered."

"A woman!" I said. "Who?"

"Her name was Mary Chalmers," he said. "She was an actress. She and her
husband and their baby had come up from New York. She was found this
daybreak at the dam by one of the factory watchmen. There was an
overturned boat. The baby had been left asleep in the boarding-house
where they were staying, and the husband had been heard to say that he
would take her rowing on the river. He had been drinking. He was caught
trying to catch the early morning train, and was still so befuddled that
he could only say over and over again that he had no memory of where he
had been. He says he is not guilty and has sent for a lawyer. The
coroner has gone to the dam. That is the story and my wife must be
prevented from suspecting any of it. The man will probably be held. It
looks badly for him, and the case, if tried, will come before me. My
wife must be kept away until it is all over; she must not suffer the
morbid worry."

"Did any one hear screams on the river last night?" I asked, biting my
finger.

"Several heard them," he said, nodding.

I felt a great relief from that answer, for I had a dread of being
called as a witness and then and there I made up my mind that, come what
might, I would tell nothing. "What one sees to-morrow, and what one
didn't see yesterday, makes the road easy," Madame Welstoke had been
used to say, and I recalled her words and thought highly of their
wisdom. And yet I have many the time, wondered whether, if I had told of
the creature I had seen, scuttling like a crab over the grass in the
orchard, I might not have prevented the grisly prank that Fate has
played.

That afternoon my mistress, in spite of her gentle protests, was taken
to the train by the Judge and Doctor Turpin, who I've always remembered
as an old fool, trying to wipe the prickly heat off his forehead with a
red-bordered silk handkerchief. One of the neighbors, clinking with jet
beads till she sounded like a pitcher of ice water coming down the hall,
went on the journey to the mountain sanitarium with Mrs. Colfax, as a
sort of companion, and when all the fuss of the departure and the slam
of the old cab doors and the neighing of the livery-stable hearse horses
was over, I was left alone with the baby Julianna and the Judge.

The child was laying on its fat little naked back, kicking its feet at
me, when the father came upstairs.

"Please, sir," said I, "what is the news?"

"The inquest says drowning or blows on the head administered by a party
or parties unknown," he answered gravely. "John Chalmers, the husband,
acts like a heeled snake--violent and sinuous by turns. His lawyer has
waived all preliminary proceedings and, as luck will have it, we have a
clear docket to go to trial with a jury."

By afternoon the town was filled with reporters who had come up on the
midday train. From the back windows you could see them walking along the
banks of the river and talking with a man in a red shirt. And later I
learned he was the one who had gone out in a rowboat and found the poor
woman's silly hat, that, with its wet yellow roses and lavender veil,
had floated around amongst a clump of rushes. With night the city papers
came, full of accounts of the actress and how she had played in
melodramas, until finally she had played her farewell in a tragedy of
real life. One said her husband was going to prove an _alibi_; another
said he had no memory whatever of where he had been or what he had done
that evening; and still another paper said the woman had been seen to
quarrel with him and join a mysterious stranger, who was described as
being a hunchback of terrible ugliness. All three of those I saw said
the mystery might never be solved, but that new developments were
expected every minute by both the state police and the chief of the
local department.

"Margaret," said the Judge that evening at supper, as I was waiting on
him, "you must not be talking of this murder with any one. Remember that
you are employed in my home. Furthermore, I have old-fashioned notions,
and so, from now on, I have stopped the 'Morning Chronicle' from coming
to the house and I don't want any newspapers brought in until the trial
is over."

"And when will that be?" I asked.

"Soon, I hope," he answered. "The district attorney, I understand, has
conferred with the police again this afternoon, and believes he has
enough evidence to hang Chalmers and that no more can be gathered. For
some reason the defense is equally satisfied. Do you understand now?"

"Yes, sir," I said. "There won't be much delay."

"Not much delay," he repeated over after me, and his voice shook as I
never heard it shake before that minute.

"The beast!" I said.

"Hush," said he. "He must be found guilty first. But if he is--"

He stopped there, but I saw the light in his eyes and his long,
tight-clenched fingers turning white under the pressure, and I knew, if
he passed sentence on John Chalmers, what it would be.

That was the last word I ever heard from him before the trial was over,
and I had to be running over to the neighbors for all the news I got. A
reporter came to ask me one day if I had seen a strange man loafing in
the meadows the evening the thing happened. He was a red-haired,
freckled young man who kept pushing his hat, first to one side of his
head and then the other, and talking first to one side and then the
other of a pencil held in his teeth, so I could hardly hear a word he
said. But he told me that, following the case from the beginning, he
had been the one who had discovered that two weeks before the murder the
man had insured his wife's life in his own favor and that before he had
met and married her he had had a different name,--Mortimer Cross,--and
been a runner for a hotel in Bermuda, and lost the place because, in a
fit of anger, he had tried to knife a porter.

"The police haven't half covered this case," he said, with his green
eyes snapping. "I've got more evidence for my paper than they can get
for the State's case. I haven't slept four hours in forty-eight."

"Young man," said I, "how much do you get a week?"

He grinned.

"Twenty dollars," he said.

"You work like that for twenty dollars?" I asked.

"For twenty dollars!" said he. "What's the twenty dollars?"

"Well, then--" said I.

"It's the game!" he said. "But you don't understand."

"Don't I, though!" said I. And for days the old desire for adventure,
for all the crooked ways, came back to me and made me as restless as a
volcanic island, as Madame Welstoke used to say.

It was then I used to begin to hate the baby at times. I could have
loved one of my own, and the feeling that this one belonged to some one
else, and that I probably never would have the touch of hands that
belonged to me, haunted me like a gray worm crawling through my head.
Many a time as I would be dipping little Julianna into her bath, these
thoughts would come to my wicked mind, and, drying her, I'd dust the
powder over the pink body till the room looked like a flour-mill. I
wished the trial would hurry to come and go, so Mrs. Colfax, who was
writing such pathetic, patient letters about her baby, could return, and
I laid many a curse on the fat doctor for making so much fuss about her
nervous condition and for sending her away.

I could not go to the court and I had to pick up what I could of the
trial, as it went on, from gossip and reading of papers in my own room
after I had gone to bed. Sometimes I'd wheel Julianna down the street to
the court-house, and then I'd see men with fingers raised as if they
were all barristers, or imitating barristers, standing on the
court-house steps and whispering and talking and laughing, and the
sheriff, with a blue coat and mixed trousers and gray side whiskers,
sitting on a campstool under the big elm tree, like a man at an old
soldiers' home, and factory-girl witnesses, giggling as they went up and
disappeared into the dark corridors, and the drone of voices coming out
of the open windows, and perhaps the jury walking in pairs and acting
very important, with a deputy sheriff taking them over to the Lenox Café
for their lunch. The murder mystery had brought up a lot of curious
people from the city, and I remember one--a woman with folds of skin
under her chin and plenty of diamond rings--who wiped her eyes,
pretending there were tears in them.

"Where is the court-house?" she said to me, just as if she could not see
it. "_I_ was the woman's most _intimate_ friend _once_."

That was the way with most everybody. They did not like the thought of
the poor dead woman or the horror of it, but only the thought of being
important and knowing something about it that the next one did not know.
One girl in the town--a daughter of the biggest grocer and quite a
belle--could imitate the screams she had heard and did it over and over,
because she was begged by her girl friends, and so she was something of
a heroine and thought for still another reason to be a good person to
know.

The Judge was made of different stuff, I can tell you. We did not have
many criminal trials in our family, so to speak, and I think it must
have eaten well into his heart, for he was very silent and grave at
meals and never laughed, except when he came up to play with the baby
and ride the little thing, with its lolling head and big eyes, on his
knee.

It took over a week to finish the trial after they had begun it. They
had wanted to trace John Chalmers's history, but he would tell nothing
of it himself, and his past was a mystery, and there was a feeling among
those who discussed the case that this would be against him. In fact,
every one said he was surely guilty. He had misused his wife's life; he
was a drunkard and subject to fits of violence; he had asked his wife to
go rowing on the river at a season when it was still cold; she had
screamed; he was a good swimmer; there were signs of blows on her head;
he had rescued himself, but not her, and he had tried to run away from
the town without reporting her death. To be sure, he had been able to
show that he had been drinking, and evidence was brought to prove that
he had lost consciousness after getting out of the water, and that when
he had awakened he had asked a sleepy milkman where the police station
was and had been directed to the depot by mistake. According to his own
story, the boat had tipped over when the moon was behind a cloud and he
had lost all trace of his wife after her first struggle in the water.
But people laughed at this story, and as for myself, I wondered who was
the creature I had seen in the orchard, mixed up with the queer shadows
and running from tree to tree like a frightened ape. Little knowing what
was to happen, I wondered whether I should ever see John Chalmers, the
accused man, before the law had made way with him.

I never doubted that the law would hesitate, till the day the Judge came
home to dinner at six in the evening and told me that the case had been
in the jury's hands for three hours already. How well I remember the
long rays of the sun slanting over the slope, the songs of the wild
birds that had sneaked into the trees along the green back yards of our
dusty street, and how it came to me then that the world was too
beautiful to be befouled by the hates of little men, whose appetites
were no more important than the appetites of the caterpillars eating the
green foliage. But I could see the hates of men reflected in the Judge's
face.

"Surely they would not let him go, sir?" said I.

He only shook his head, and later he went out without once asking for
the baby, and I knew when I heard the gate slam that things had not gone
well at the court-house.

At eight o'clock that night I was on the porch when a man came tearing
up to the fence, almost fell off a bicycle, vaulted the rail, and came
running over the grass.

"Got a telephone?" he said.

"Yes," said I, with the answer frightened out of me.

"Gimme a match," said he. "I've gotter have a cigarette. Hold on, I got
one."

He lit it. In the flare I saw it was the red-haired, freckled reporter
and his green eyes was all alive again.

Before I could stop him, he had pushed his way ahead of me into the
Judge's study and was at the instrument.

"A line!" he gasped. "I want New York."

He was snapping at his cigarette like a wild thing, and, along with his
perspiration, ashes and sparks were dropping on the rug.

"Excuse me," he said. "I lost my prey!"

"What!" said I.

"Acquittal," said he. "The Judge was too damned conscientious in his
charge to the jury.--Come on, there, New York! Confound you, come on!
I've got to relay a message through to my paper."

"Acquittal?" I asked, trembling like a horse.

"Acquittal," he roared into the instrument. "This is Roddy. Five hours
out. Interview with Dugan, juryman, local plumber. Says strict charge of
judge did it. Prisoner gone down to River Flats with counsel. Drinking
with Fred Magurk in kitchen barroom. Refuses to talk. Rest of story
already gone by telegraph."

He turned around then and grinned as if it hurt him--as if he was
trying to hide some pain. I had lit the lamp and you cannot begin to
know how funny his white face looked under his bright red hair.

"Can I get a drink of water?" he said, choking, and then over he went
face foremost into the morris chair.

I ran into the kitchen and what with the water splashing in the sink, I
did not hear the Judge come in, and the first I knew about his being
there was when I went back into the library. There he stood, with his
tortoise-shell glasses in his long fingers, looking down at Mr. Roddy,
sitting weak and blinking in his chair.

"Sorry, Judge, to faint away like a queen dowager in your library," said
the reporter, with his everlasting American good nature. "But I came in
to use the first telephone I could find. I was a little tired. My name's
Roddy."

"Mr. Roddy," said Judge Colfax, holding out his hand, "I know of you
very well and of your work on this case."

"Too bad!" said Roddy,--"the outcome?"

"I express no opinion," the Judge answered in a weary voice.

"The prisoner lost no time in finding liquor again," said the other. "He
went to a bar before he went to his baby."

This reached the Judge. His eyes snapped. There was a low growling in
his throat.

"Margaret," said he to me, "bring this gentleman some brandy. You will
rest here a while, Mr. Roddy. I suppose you will not leave until the
eleven-thirty train."

"Thank you. I'm played out," said the reporter. "I thank you."

And so it was that, with many a queer thought in my head, I sat in the
kitchen rocker, listening to the mumble of their voices and waiting up
to see if they should want me for anything. And so it was, too, that at
last I found myself nodding with sleep, and started to go upstairs to
bed.

Call me superstitious if you like, but I know well enough that some of
us humans can feel the whisper of evil and terror before it reaches us.
It spoke to me on those dark back stairs with the moonlight shining on
the wall at the top, and I was brought up sharp and wide awake, when the
air rang with it as if it was a bell.

"You're half asleep, you old fool," I said, feeling the sweat start out
on my forehead, and I repeated it to myself when I was in my room and
turning down the bedclothes.



                              CHAPTER III

                           A VISITOR AT NIGHT


A nice breeze was blowing in from the meadows, cooling the hot night,
and finally, when I was laughing at my nervousness, I went to the window
and leaned on the sill. It was a very peaceful scene, I can tell you,
with that long stretch of grass and daisies and the water, and the
light, carried through the factory yard up the river, bobbing along as
the watchman passed one window after another. All but the apple trees!
They seemed as horrible as ever, and a dozen times I thought I saw men
without heads, or with long arms like apes, creeping and skulking from
one shadow to another. At last I felt my eyes sore with staring at them,
and I turned away.

Just then I heard the knocking at the back door. It was soft and careful
at first and then a little louder.

"Some one from up the street to ask me questions," said I, feeling my
way down the stairs, but then I caught the sound of something that I
thought was the mewing of a cat. If I had had any sense I would have
called to the Judge before I slid the bolt and opened the door.

The thing I saw was a little bundle of white clothing. At first it
looked so white it seemed to give off a light and I thought it was
hanging in the air. Then I saw two hands were holding it, and that it
was a child.

"I want to see the Judge," said a thick, evil voice. "I've got a joke
for him--the best joke he ever had played on him."

"And who are you?" I asked.

"Oh, he'll see me all well enough," said the man, with a heave of his
shoulders. "I'm John Chalmers!"

I could not speak. I stepped back and he came in. He must have heard the
voices in the study. But I can hardly say what happened. I only know
that I found myself standing behind him and that I saw him put the baby
into a chair and heard him cough.

The two men--the Judge and Mr. Roddy--looked up, and I never saw two
such faces.

"Stare!" said the terrible creature. "Well you may! Go ahead and stare,
for all the good it will do you. I know you both. Both of you wanted me
hung, didn't you? You're clever men--you two. But I'm cleverer than you.
The joke is on you."

"You came in?" asked the Judge in a whisper, as if he didn't believe his
eyes.

"Yes, and I'd have come in the front door if the people, with their
butterplate eyes, weren't watching me wherever I go. Oh, don't think I'm
crazy with drink. No! I'm clever."

The Judge and Mr. Roddy had stood up and the Judge could not seem to
find a word to say, but Mr. Roddy clenched his freckled fists.

"What yer want?" he said.

"I came to tell you," said Chalmers, "that the joke is on you. I didn't
expect the pleasure of seeing you, Roddy, my fine penny-a-liner. But
you're in this, too. The joke is on you. I've been acquitted."

"What of it?" the Judge said.

"I can't be tried twice for the same crime, can I? Didn't my lawyer tell
me? I guess I know my rights. Ho, ho, the joke is on you, Judge. I saw
your eyes looking at me for a week. I knew you would like to see me hung
and Roddy there,--he nearly got me. But I'm safe now--safe as you are."

The reporter laughed a little--a strange laugh.

"You killed her, after all?" he asked.

"Yes," answered the other in a husky and cheerful voice. "I did. That's
where the joke is on you. I did the trick! Me! And what have you two got
to say? Who takes the bacon--me or you?"

"You don't know what you say," the Judge cried.

"Yes, I do," roared the man. "I tell you I did the trick and got tried
once, and I'm free forever. There isn't anybody can touch me. I tell you
the joke is on you, because I did it."

I could see Mr. Roddy's green eyes grow narrow then. He turned to the
Judge.

"Is that so?" he asked. "He can't be arrested again?"

The Judge shook his head. I can see this minute how his face looked.

"Well," said Mr. Roddy, with a long sigh, "I'm beat! I've seen a lot of
criminals in my day. Some were very clever. The joke is on me, Chalmers,
for I'm obliged to say that you are the cleverest, slickest person I've
ever seen, and you beat me! I've a lot of respect for you, Chalmers.
Here's my fist--shake!"

The other walked to meet him and they clasped hands in the middle of the
room. It was only for a second; for as quick as a flash, Mr. Roddy
seemed to stiffen every muscle in his body. He pulled the other man
toward him with one arm and shot out his other fist. It made a dull
sound like a blow struck on a pan of dough. And the wretched murderer
slumped down onto the floor like a sack of bran, rolled over on his
back, and was still.

"There!" said Mr. Roddy, with his cheerful smile.

The Judge had jumped forward, too, with a shout.

"Just a minute, Judge," said the reporter. "Let me explain. You remember
that I found out that two years ago our clever friend was at Bridgeport.
That summer a girl was found in the park there--murdered. I was on the
case. They never found out who did it. Have we or have we not just heard
the confession of the man who killed her?"

"You mean to testify that this brute confessed to that other murder?"
asked the Judge, choking out the words. "You mean to hang this man for a
crime he never committed?"

"Why not?" asked Mr. Roddy. "It's between us and it can be done. It's
justice, isn't it?"

"My God!" said the Judge. He began to bite his knuckles as if he was
tempted sorely enough.

What made me step over to look at the unconscious man's face? I do not
know, unless it was the design of Fate. White it was--white and terrible
and stamped with evil and dissipation and fearful dreams. But there was
a smile on it as if the blow had been a caress, and that smile was still
the smile of a child who sees before it all the endless pleasures of
self-indulgence.

I felt the years slide back, I saw the mask of evil and folly torn away.
I was sitting again in a beautiful gown in the Trois Folies in Venice,
the wind was blowing the flowers on my table, the water in the canal
sounded through the lattice, a man was tearing tablecloths from their
places, dishes crashed, and then I saw the fellow's smile fly and his
face turn sober, and I heard his voice say, "What are _you_ doing here?"
as if he had known me for centuries. Because I knew then, in one look,
that John Chalmers and Monty Cranch were one. I had met him for the
second time--a wreck of a man--a murderer. But the mystery of a woman's
heart--!

"Well," I heard Mr. Roddy say, "are we going to hang him?"

"No," I cried, like a wild thing. "No, Judge. No! No! No!"

"And why not?" he asked, glaring at me.

"It's against your oath, sir," I said, like one inspired. "And it's
against honor to hang a creature with lies."

The Judge thought a long time, struggling with himself, until his face
was all drawn, but at last he touched the red-haired reporter on the
elbow.

"She is right," said he. "The incident is closed."

Something in his low voice was so ringing that for a moment none of us
spoke, and I could hear the drawn curtains at the window going
flap-flap-flap in the breeze.

At last the reporter looked at his watch. "Well, Judge," he said, with
his freckled smile, "I'm sorry you can't see it my way."

"You want to catch your train," the master replied quietly. "It's all
right. I have a revolver here in the drawer."

"Probably I'm the one he'll want to see, anyway," Mr. Roddy said in his
cool, joking way. "Quite a little drama? Good-night, sir."

"Good-night," said the Judge, without taking his eyes from the man on
the floor. "Good-night, Mr. Roddy."

I can remember how the door closed and how we heard the reporter's
footsteps go down the walk. Then came the click of the gate and after a
minute the toot of the train coming from far away and then the silence
of the night. Then out of the silence came the sound of Monty Cranch's
breathing, and then the curtains flapped again. But still the Judge
stood over the other man, thinking and thinking.

Finally I could not stand it any longer; I had to say something.
Anything would do. I pointed to the baby, sound asleep as a little
kitten in the chair.

"Have you seen her?" I asked.

"What!" he answered. "How did she come there? You brought her down?"

"That isn't Julianna," said I. "It's his!"

"His baby!" the Judge cried. "That man's baby!"

I nodded without speaking, for then, just as if Monty had heard his
name spoken, he rolled over onto his elbow and sat up. First he looked
at the Judge and then I saw that his eyes were turning toward me. I felt
my spine alive with a thousand needle pricks.

"Will he know me?" thought I.

He looked at me with the same surprised look--the same old look I
thought, but he only rubbed his neck with one hand and crept up and sat
in the big chair, and tried to look up into the Judge's face. He tried
to meet the eyes of the master. They were fixed on him. He could not
seem to meet the gaze. And there were the two men--one a wreck and a
murderer, the other made out of the finest steel. One bowed his head
with its mat of hair, the other looked down on him, pouring something on
him out of his soul.

"Well, I'm sober now," said Cranch, after a long time. "I know what
you're thinking. I know it all. I know it all."

"You are not human," whispered the Judge.

Can you say that certain words call up magic? I do not know. But those
words worked a miracle. In a second, like something bursting out of its
shell, the Monty Cranch I had treasured in my heart tossed off the
murderer, the drunkard, the worthless wretch who had been throttling him
and holding him locked up somewhere in that worn and tired body, and
came up to the surface like a drowning man struggling for life.

"Human?" he said in a clearing voice. "Human? Am I human? My God! that
is the curse of all of us--we're human. To be human is to be a man. To
be human is to be born. To be human is to have the blood and bone and
brain that you didn't make or choose. To be human is to be the son of
another without choice. To be human is to be the yesterday of your blood
and marked with a hundred yesterdays of others' evil."

He jumped up. The whites of his eyes were bloodshot.

"Am I responsible for what I am?" he roared. "Are any of us?"

The Judge looked frightened, I thought.

"Blood is blood," cried Monty, with the veins standing out on his
forehead. "That's why I brought the baby here. I wanted to kill her.
Blood is blood. There's mine in that chair--and it is me, and I am my
father and he was his father, and there's no escape, do you hear? I
wanted to kill her because I loved her, loved her, loved her!"

He fell back in the chair and covered his face with his hand and wept
like a child.

I looked at the Judge and I could have believed he was a bronze statue.
He never moved an eyelash. I could not see him breathe. He seemed a
metal figure and he frightened me and the child frightened me, because
it slept through it all so calm, so innocent--a little quiet thing.

"Well, Chalmers," said the Judge at last, "what do you mean to do?
You're going away. Are you going to leave your daughter here?"

Monty's head was bowed over so his face did not show, but I saw him
shiver just as if the Judge's words had blown across him with a draft as
cold as ice.

"I'm going to Idaho," he said. "I'm going away to-night. I've got to
leave the baby. You know that. Put it in an institution and don't let
the people know who its father was. Some day my blood will speak to it,
Judge, but half my trouble was knowing what I was."

"By inheritance," said the Judge.

"By inheritance," said Monty.

"You love this little daughter?" the Judge whispered.

Monty just shivered again and bowed his head. It was hard to believe he
was a murderer. Everything seemed like a dream, with Monty's chest
heaving and falling like the pulse of a body's own heart.

"You never want her to know of you--anything about you?" asked the
Judge.

"No," choked Monty. "Never!"

"Every man has good in him," said the Judge slowly. "You had better
go--now!"

Without a word, then, Monty got up and went. He did not rush off like
the reporter. He stopped and touched the baby's dirty little dress with
the tips of his fingers. And then he went, and the front door closed
slowly and creaked, and the screen door closed slowly and creaked, and
his shoes came down slowly on the walk and creaked, and the iron
gate-latch creaked. I went to the window and looked out one side of the
flapping curtain, and I saw Monty Cranch move along the fence and raise
his arms and stop and move again. In the moonlight, with its queer
shadows, he still looked like half man and half ape, scuttling away to
some place where everything is lost in nothing.

"We can't do anything more to-night," said the Judge, touching my
shoulder. "Take the child upstairs."

"Yes, sir," said I.

"Stop!" he said huskily. "Let me look at her. What is in that body? What
is in that soul? What is it marked with? What a mystery!"

"It is, indeed," I answered.

"They look so much alike when they come into the world," he said,
talking to himself. "So much alike! I thought it was Julianna."

"And yet--" I said.

He wiped his tortoise-shell glasses as he looked at me and nodded.

"I shall not go to bed now," said he. "I shall stay down here. Give the
child clean clothing. And then to-morrow--"

I felt the warmth of the little body in the curve of my arm and whether
for its own sake or its father's, I do not know, but my heart was big
for it. In spite of my feeling and the water in my eyes, I shut my
teeth.

"To-morrow," I said.

How little we knew.

How little I knew, for after I had washed the child, laid it in the big
vacant bed, and blown out the candle, I remember I stood there in the
dark beside little Julianna's crib with my thoughts not on the child at
all. It was the ghost of Monty Cranch that walked this way and that in
front of me, sometimes looking into my eyes and saying, "What are _you_
doing here?" and other times running up through the meadow away from his
crime and again standing before a great shining Person and saying, "What
I am, I was born; what I am, I must be."

I went downstairs once that night and peeked in through the curtains.
The Judge was at his desk with his hands folded in his lap and his eyes
looking out from under his heavy eyebrows, as if he had the puzzle of
the world in front of him and was almost afraid. I thought of how tired
he must be and of what a day it had been for all of us.

At last a board squeaked on the stairs, reminding me of the late hour
and my aching body and burning eyes. So I went up to bed and tossed
about until I fell asleep.

I know I could not have slept very soundly. Little matters stick in the
memory if they are connected with such affairs. And so I remember half
waking to hear the slam of a blind and the howl of a wind that had
sprung up. Things were rattling everywhere with every gust of it--the
curtains, the papers on my bureau, the leaves on the trees outside, and
I pulled the sheet over my head and thought of how my father and mother
had gone down at sea, and fell into dreams of oceans of melted lead
hissing and steaming and red.

I think it was the shout of some man that woke me, but that is neither
here nor there. The house was afire! Yellow, dancing light and smoke
poured under the door like something turned out of a pail. With every
puff of the wind the trees in the orchard were all lit up and the flames
yelled as if they were a thousand men far away and shouting together.
Between the gusts you could hear the gentle snap and crackle and the
splitting of sap in wood and a body's own coughing when it tried to
breathe in the solid mass of smoke. There were shouts of people outside,
too, and the squeaking and scampering of rats through the walls. Out of
my window I could see one great cloud of red sparks. They had burst out
after a heat explosion and I heard the rattle and tinkle of a broken
window above the roar of the fire.

Of this terrible element I always had an unreasoning terror. Many a
sleepless night I spent when I was with Madame Welstoke, and all because
our rooms might happen to be high up in the hotel where we had put up.
You can believe that I forgot all and everything when I opened my door
and found that the little flames were already licking the wall on the
front stairs and smoke was rolling in great biscuit-shaped clouds
through the leaping pink light. I could not have told where I was,
whether in our house or city or another. And I only knew that I could
hear the voice of my old mistress saying, "Remember, if we do have
trouble, to cover your face with a wet towel and keep close to the
floor." It was senseless advice, because the fire, that must have
started in the Judge's study, kept blowing out into the hall through the
doorway, and then disappearing again like a waving silk flag. I opened
my mouth and screamed until my lungs were as flat as empty sacks.

I might have known that the Judge, if he were still in the library, was
not alive, and I might have noticed, as I went through his sleeping-room
to climb out on the roof of the front porch, that he had not been to bed
at all. But it was all a blank to me. I did not remember that there was
a Judge. Fire and its licking tongue was after me and I threw myself off
the hot tin roof and landed among the hydrangea bushes below. In a
second more I felt the cool grass of the lawn under my running feet, and
the first time that I felt my reasoning power come to me I found myself
wondering how I had stopped to button a skirt and throw a shawl around
my shoulders.

There were half a dozen men. Where they had come from I do not know.
They were rushing here and there across the lawn and vaulting the fence.
They did not seem to notice me at all. I heard one of them shout, "The
fire alarm won't work! You can't save the house!" Everything seemed
confused. Other people were coming down the street, running and
shouting, sparks burst out somewhere and whirled around and around in a
cloud, as if they were going up into the black sky on a spiral
staircase. The walls of the grocery and the Fidelity Building and the
Danforths' residence across the street were all lit up with the red
light, and a dash of flames, coming out our library window, shriveled up
a shrub that grew there as if it was made of dry tissue paper.

"How did it start?" yelled a man, shaking me.

I only opened my mouth and looked at him. He was the grocer. I had
ordered things from him every morning.

"Well, who was in the house?" he said.

"The Judge," I said.

"The Judge is in the house!" he began to roar. "The Judge is in the
house!"

It sounded exactly like the telephone when it says, "The line is busy,
please ring off," and it seemed to make the people run together in
little clusters and point and move across the lawn to where the sparks
were showering down, and then back, like a dog that wants to get a
chop-bone out of a hot grate.

Suddenly every one seemed to turn toward me, and in a minute all those
faces, pink and shiny, were around me.

"She got out!" they screamed and shouted. "Where's the Judge? Any one
else?"

"The Judge and the baby!" I cried and sat down on the grass.

"No!" shouted the depot master. "The Judge is all right. I just met him
walking over the bridge after the freight had gone through. It wasn't
twenty minutes ago. But you can't save a thing--not a stick of
furniture. The whole thing is gone from front to back on the ground
floor already!"

"Here's the Judge now! That's him running with the straw hat in his
hand," a woman shrieked, and ran out toward him with her hair flying
behind. I could see his tall figure, with its long legs, come hurdling
across the street. I could see his white face with the jaw square and
the lips pressed tight together.

"You!" he said, bending down. "Yes! Where's Julianna? Where's my baby?"

My head seemed to twist around like the clouds of pink smoke and the
whirl of hot air that tossed the hanging boughs of the trees. The
crackle and roar of the fire seemed to be going on in my skull. But I
managed to throw my head back and my hands out to show they were empty.

"God!" he cried.

The world went all black for me then, but I heard voices.

"Stop, Judge! Don't go! You'd never get out."

"Let go of me!"

"He's going into a furnace! Somebody stop him!"

"Look! Look! You'll never see _him_ again."

I opened my eyes. Judge Colfax's long lean body, with its sloping
shoulders, was in the doorway, as black as a tree against a sunset. I
saw him duck his head down as if he meant to plough a path through the
fire, and then a fat roll of smoke shut off all view of him.

"They're both gone--him and the baby!" roared the depot master. "Lost!
Both lost!"

The woman with the flying hair heard this and ran off again, screaming.
I listened to the piercing voice of her and the roar and the clanging of
bells. Horses came running up behind me, with heavy thuds of hoofs, and
voices in chorus went up with every leap of the fire. It was like a
delirium with the fever; and the grass, under my hands where I sat, felt
moist and cool.

Then all of a sudden the shouting and noise all seemed to stop at once,
so there was nothing but the snapping and crackle and hiss of the
flames, and a voice of a little boy cried out:--

"The Judge is climbing down the porch! He's got something in his arms!"

"It's the baby!" yelled the depot master, throwing his hat on the
ground. "He's saved the baby!"

I began to cry again, and wondered why the people did not cheer. There
was only a sort of mumble of little shouts and cries and oaths, and the
people fell to one side and the other, as the Judge came toward me.

"Come, Margaret," he said.

I looked up and saw he was all blackened with smoke and soot, except
where the sweat had run down in white streaks. His face was close to
mine.

"Come! Do you hear?" he said. "I don't believe she's hurt, but we must
see. We'll go across to the Danforths'. There is nothing to do here.
I've got Julianna!"

Just as if the fire was answering him, there came a great ripping and
roaring, as if something had given away and collapsed. A tower of flames
shot up out of the roof--a sort of bud of flame that opened into a great
flower with petals. It was horrible to see the shingles curl and fall in
a blazing stream down onto the ground, as if they were drops of hot
metal.

It stupefied me, perhaps; I cannot remember how we went to the
neighbor's house or who welcomed us or how we got into the room on the
second floor, with a candle burning on the bureau. I noticed how small
and ridiculous the flame was and laughed. Indeed, I think when I
laughed, I woke up--really woke from my sleep for the first time.

"I went for a walk," the Judge was saying. "I had a headache. I couldn't
sleep. I moved the lamp onto the card table. The curtain must have blown
into it. We must thank God. We were lucky, very lucky!"

He was pacing up and down there like a caged animal.

"I'm thankful Eleanor, my wife, wasn't at home," he went on, talking
very fast. "She has always been so delicate--had so much sorrow--so
much trouble. A shock would kill her--a shock like that. My God, we were
lucky!"

I got up and pushed the tangled hair back from my face.

"It's all right," he went on with a thick tongue. "Julianna is all
right--the little rascal is smoky, but all right. Blow the candle out.
It is getting light outside. It's dawn."

The child on the bed kicked its pink feet out from under its long
dresses and gave one of those gurgles to show it was awake. The sound
made me scream. I had just awakened from my stupidity.

"The other child!" I cried.

"The other!" he said. "What other?"

"The one he left," I whispered. "I had forgotten her."

"My God! so had I. I had only one thought," he cried out. "Only one
thought! And now Chalmers's wish has been granted. His--has--gone."

He sat down in a wicker rocking-chair and wiped his forehead with the
back of his hand.

"I never thought," he said again. "I didn't see it anywhere. I didn't
look for it. I found Julianna in the middle of the bed."

"Bed!"

[Illustration: IT MUST BE JULIANNA]

That was the only word I had. The light of sunrise had come. The
shouts in the street were far away.

"Why, yes," the Judge said. "I--did--I found--"

He stopped, he walked over to the infant and swept it into his arms. He
took it to the window and held it up to the light as a person looks at a
piece of dressgoods.

"Why, it must be Julianna," he whispered.

Then I heard noises in the back of his throat; he could not catch his
breath at first, and when he did, he gave a low groan that seemed to
have no end. The baby stared up at him and laughed. It was Monty
Cranch's child.



                               CHAPTER IV

                       A SUPPRESSION OF THE TRUTH


It was I who took it out of his arms and I who watched him go to the bed
and fall across it face downwards, and hide his eyes like a man who
cannot stand to see the light of day. If Fate ever played a fiendish
trick and punished a square and upright man, it had done it then! I did
not dare to speak to him. I did not dare to move. I laid the happy,
gurgling baby in my lap and sat there till I felt that every joint in my
body had grown tight in its socket.

Once they rapped on the door. The Judge did not move, so I opened it a
crack and motioned them away, and sat down again, watching the light
turn from pink to the glare of full day, and then a path of warm summer
sunlight stretch out across the rug and climb down the wall till it fell
onto a basin of water sitting on the floor, and the reflection jumped up
to dance its jigs on the ceiling.

I heard the Judge move often enough, but I did not know he was on his
feet until I looked up at last, and there he was standing in front of
me, with his wild eyes staring down at the child.

He pointed at the little thing with his long forefinger.

"Julianna," said he.

"You are mad, sir," I cried.

"No," said he. "My wife! It must be done to save her happiness. Yes! To
save her life."

"To save her?" I repeated after him.

"Yes, a lie," he whispered bitterly. "She has not seen the baby for
weeks and weeks."

"She could never know," I cried, understanding what he meant. "That is
true, sir. No one could ever tell. The two of them were not different
anyway. But you--! You could never forget."

"I know," said he. "Yet it is my happiness against hers, and I have made
up my mind. No living soul can ever learn of this. I am safe there.
Chalmers will never come back. Nor could he ever know if he did. And
so--"

"But the blood," I said, trembling with the thought. "What of that?"

"God help us!" he answered, beating his knuckles on his jaws. "How can I
say? But, come what may, I have decided! That child is now Julianna!
Give her to me!"

He took the infant in his arms again, pressing it close to him, as if it
were a nettle which must be grasped with full courage to avoid the
pricks of its thousand barbs.

"What are you?" he whispered to the new Julianna. "What will you be?
What is your birthright?"

Well I remember his words, spoken in that half-broken voice; they asked
questions which have not been answered yet, I tell you! And yet little
attention I paid to them at the moment, for the mischief Welstoke had
taught me crept around me again. I could not look at the Judge with his
youth dropped off him, his voice and face ten years older and his eyes
grown more tender by the grief and love and sacrifice of an hour,
without turning away from him. Why? Because a voice from the grave was
whispering to me as cool as wet lettuce, to prove that the good or bad
of a soul does not end with death.

"Didn't I tell you that skeletons hang in all closets?" it said. "Now,
after this night, the Judge, to use a good old phrase, is quite in your
power. Bide your time, my dear. We women will come into our own again."

"Excuse me, sir," I said, aloud. "There was a locket on the child's
neck. Wouldn't it be well to remove it? It is marked with a name that
must be forgotten."

He looked at me gratefully as he fumbled at the trinket with his long,
smoke-blackened fingers, while I trembled with my desire to have it safe
in my own hands. It was the one thing left to prove the truth. I
believe my arms were stretched out for it, when there came a knock on
the door.

"You want some breakfast," said a voice. "You poor tired people!"

The Judge, jumping up, placed the little chain and locket on the window
sill. I saw it slide down the incline; the screen was up far enough to
let it through. It was gone! He gave an exclamation, but the next moment
the door had opened and the Danforth family were crowding in.

"Well, Colfax," said the old lawyer, "you're a lucky man. Everybody safe
and sound and a very ugly old colonial house burned flat to the ground,
with plenty of insurance. Now that you have the new appointment and are
going to leave town, it makes a very convenient sale for you."

"Hush!" said his daughter. "The hot coffee is more important. You had
better bring the baby down with you. We have sent for milk and
nursing-bottles. There, John, that is the baby. You've never seen it.
Wasn't I right? Isn't it pretty?"

"My God!" cried the Judge.

"What!" said they.

"I must be tired," he answered. "It has been a strain. It was nothing."

We went out onto the porch for a moment when we were below, and stood
out of sight behind the vines. The street was still crowded with
curious people, and there was a great black hole with the elm trees,
scorched brown, drooping over it--a hole filled with the ashes that were
all that was left of the home. Men were playing a hose into it and every
time they moved the stream, here or there, a great hiss and cloud of
vapor came up. Some one had hung the Judge's straw hat on a lilac bush
and there it advertised itself. But the Judge drew himself up and
stiffened his body and set his teeth, as he looked at that scene, and I
knew then he would not break down again, but would play the game he had
begun to the end.

Indeed, I felt his fingers at my sleeve.

"I shall slip away to get the locket," he whispered. "Do you understand?
Just a moment. Tell them I will be right back."

He went around the house and I into the hall.

"Judge Colfax will return in a minute," I explained.

"Of course!" said Miss Danforth. "We will wait for him."

The minutes passed. He did not come back.

"Where did you say he went?" asked the old barrister--or lawyer, as you
call them.

I shook my head and turned the baby onto my other arm. In a second more
I heard his voice on the porch.

"Margaret!" he called.

I went out to him.

His face showed his nervousness again. His fingers trembled as he took
the baby from me.

"Go! Look!" he whispered. "I cannot find it!"

This was my chance! I went. The grass below the window had grown long
and was matted down; people on the street were watching me and I did not
dare to drop on my knees for fear some well-meaning and unwelcome
assistance might come for the search. Nevertheless I pushed my toes, I
thought, over every inch of the ground below the window. I doubled and
redoubled the space. At last the Danforths' cook raised the screen.

"What are ye doing?" said she. "Come in. The baby's food is here
already."

What could I say? How could I avoid going? There was no way. But the
Judge had not found the locket. Nor had I.

But the Judge had other worries, I'm telling you. He feared the news of
the fire would reach his wife in some wrong way and he telegraphed her.
She answered by saying she was leaving for home. Brave woman that she
was! The telegram said, "It is worth the fire to feel the leap of the
heart when I know that you all were saved for me."

"Will she ever know?" he whispered, staring down at the laughing baby,
with its little pink, curved mouth. "Will she ever know? I did this for
her. God, tell me if I was right!"

"Be easy, sir," I said to him. "Have no fear. There is no one in the
world but you and me can tell the story of last night. After these weeks
and weeks your wife has been away, there is nobody but me or you who can
say this child is not--"

"Julianna," he choked.

"Yes, sir," said I.

I was right. What it cost the Judge's soul I do not know. But that the
lie he acted in the name of love was not discovered by the thin woman
and wife, whose only beauty was in the light of her eyes, I know very
well. The years that she lived--it was after we all came to this city,
when the Judge took his new office--were happy enough years for her.
Rare enough is the brand of devotion he gave to her; rare enough was the
beauty and sweetness of the girl that grew up calling her "Mother."

In all that time never a word did he say to me of what only he and I
knew, and I have often thought of what faith he must have had in human
goodness--what full, unchanging, constant, noble faith--to trust a
servant the way he seemed to trust me by his silence. I have believed
ever since that no man or animal can long be mean of soul under the
terrible presence of kindness and confidence. For all the trickery that
the inherited character of my mother and that Madame Welstoke had poured
into my nature was driven bit by bit out of my heart by the trust the
Judge put in me, and his looking upon me as a good and honest woman.
Long before my love for Julianna had grown strong, I knew that I never
could bring myself to use my knowledge of the Judge's secret to wring
money from him, or in fact for any other purpose than to feel sorrow for
what his fear of the future must have made him suffer.

I knew well enough how the blood of the daughter preyed upon his mind.
There is no child that, sooner or later and more than once, does not
come to a time of badness and stubbornness and mischief, and when those
times came to Julianna, the Judge would watch her as if he expected to
see her turn into a snake like magic in a fairy story. More than that,
for days he would be odd and silent, and when he thought no one was
looking at him, he would sit with his face in his hands, thinking and
brooding and afraid.

I found out, too, that he had tried to trace the father, John Chalmers,
back to the days when he wore his own name, and it may have been that
then he would have strived to go back to Monty's father and grandfather,
and so on, as far as he could go. I knew about it because one day I was
looking through his desk drawers--prying has always been a failing with
me!--and I found a letter from Mr. Roddy, the newspaper reporter, who I
had almost forgotten. Mr. Roddy said that he never had been able to find
anything of the murderer's history before the time he was employed in
Bermuda, and I know my heart jumped with pleasure, for I could not see
what good it would do for the Judge to know; and I felt, for some
reason, that the name of Cranch was one that both he and I would not
have smudged with the owner's misdeeds and folly. You may say that it
was strange that pictures of love--the love which came and went like the
shadow of a flying bird, flitting across a wall--should have still been
locked up in an old woman's heart. But they were there to be called
back, as they are now, with all their colors as clear and bright as the
pictures of Julianna's future that the Judge used to see pass before the
eyes of his fear.

At first I used to think that the master was principally in terror
because of the chance that some strange trick of fate would show his
wife the truth. The older and more beautiful and the more lovable and
affectionate the little daughter grew, and the weaker and whiter the
poor deceived woman, the worse the calamity would have been. Perhaps I
thought this was the Judge's fear, because of its being my own. I was
always feeling that the blow was about to fall, and I prayed that Mrs.
Colfax would no longer be living when it came.

But at last she was gone. She died when Julianna was eleven, and had
long braids of hair that would have been the envy of the mermaids, and
eyes that had begun to grow deep like pools of cool water, and a figure
that had begun to be something better than the stalkiness of a child.
Mrs. Colfax died with a little flickering smile one day, and the Judge
put his arms around her and then fell on his knees. She looked thin and
worn, but very happy.

"Sleep," he whispered to her.

And then he opened the door and called Julianna.

"You must not be afraid, dear," he said to her. "Death is here, but
Death is not terrible. See! She has smiled. We can tell that she knew
that we would see her again in a little while, can't we?"

"Why, yes," said Julianna. "For she never thought first of herself, but
of us."

Then the Judge put out his arms and held the girl close to him, so that
I knew a fresh love for her had come into his heart. Perhaps on account
of it he had more fear than ever. One day he brought home a book in a
green cover; I read the words on the back--"Some Aspects of Heredity."
Nor was that book the last of its kind he bought or sat reading till
late at night, with his pipe held in the crook of his long fingers and
his forehead drawn down into a scowl. I could tell he was wondering
about the mystery of that which goes creeping down from mother or father
to son and daughter, and on and on, like a starving mongrel dog that
slinks along after a person, dropping in the grass when a person speaks
cross to it, running away when a person turns and chases it, and then,
when it has been forgotten, a person looks around and there it is again,
skulking close behind. "And then," as Madame Welstoke used to say,
folding her hands, "if you call it 'Heredity,' it knows its name and
wags its tail!"

One would have said that the Judge always expected that some creature
like that would crawl up behind the girl. I used to imagine, when
Julianna came into the room, that he looked over her shoulder or behind
her, as if he expected to see it there with its grinning face. And,
moreover, I've seen him look at the soft, fine skin of her round
forearms, or the little curls of hair at the back of her neck, or the
lids of her eyes, when they were moist in summer, or the half moons on
the nails of her fingers, as if he might be able to see there some sign
of her birth or the first bruises made by this thing called "Heredity,"
that would say, if it could talk, "Come. Don't you feel the thrill of
my touch? You belong not to yourself, my dear, but to me."

I knew. And as the girl came into womanhood, and he saw, perhaps, that I
was watching her, too, I think he longed for sympathy and wanted the
relief of speech. Finally he spoke. It was late one night and he had his
hand on the stair rail, when he heard me locking the window in the hall.
He turned quickly.

"Margaret," he whispered.

"Yes, sir," I answered.

"Thank God, she is a woman and not a man," he said, out of a clear sky;
"for a woman is better protected against herself."

For a moment he seemed to be thinking; then he looked at the floor.

"Does Julianna ever take a glass of sherry or claret when I am not at
dinner?" he asked. "I thought it had gone quickly."

"Why, no!" I replied.

He nodded the way he did when he was satisfied--the way a toyshop
animal's head nods--less and less until it stops.

"I'm sorry I asked," he said. "Good-night."

What he had said was enough to show me that his imagination had been
sharpened and sharpened and sharpened. Perhaps you know how it is when
some one does not come back until late at night, and how, when you are
waiting, listening to the ticking of the clock, or the sounds of
footsteps or cab horses in the street, coming nearer and nearer and then
going farther and farther away, you can imagine all kinds of things like
highway robbery and accidents and hospitals, and the telephone seems
ready to jump at you with a piece of bad, bad news. So it was with him,
except that he did not see pictures of what had happened, but pictures
of what might come. I knew that he feared the character that might crop
out of the good and beautiful girl, and I thought sometimes, too, that
he still had fits of believing, though the past was buried under the
years, that sometime the ugly ghost of the truth would come rapping on
the window pane in the dead o' night.

Perhaps I can say, in spite of the fact that we never knew of a
certainty, that it did. We had cause to know that, barring the Judge and
me and Monty Cranch, wherever he might have been, a new and strange and
evil thing showed itself as the fourth possessor of our secret.

Julianna, in that year, had begun going to a new school--fashionable,
you might call it, and many is the time I have smiled, remembering how
it came about. The woman with the old-fashioned cameo brooch, who kept
it, did everything to invite the Judge to send his daughter there,
except to ask him outright, and afterward I heard she had rejoiced to
have the one she called "the best-born girl in all the city" at her
school, which she boasted, in the presence of her servants, was not made
like the others, with representatives of ten Eastern good families as
social bait for a hundred daughters, of Western quick millionaires.

I mention this because it was the beginning of times when Julianna was
being asked to other girls' houses and for nice harmless larks at fine
people's country-places, when vacations came. On one of these times when
she was away, a voice came whispering to us out of the past!

It was the Christmas season, bitter cold, and before I went to bed I
could hear the wind snapping the icicles off the edge of the library
balcony and sending them, like bits of broken goblets onto bricks and
crusted snow below. I could see the flash of them, too, as they went by
the light from the frosted windows in the kitchen basement, but nothing
else showed outside in the old walled garden, for it was as black as a
pocket.

Not later than ten I crawled up the stairs and stood for a minute in the
dining-room. I heard the scratch of the Judge's pen and knew he was hard
at work, and I remember, when I looked through the curtains, how I
thought of how old the Judge looked, with his hair already turning from
gray to white, and of how the youth of all of us hangs for a moment on
the edge and then slides away without any warning or place where a body
can put a finger and say, "It went at that moment." Perhaps I would have
stood there longer, but the Judge looked up and smiled, dry enough.

"You may think I am working," he said. "But I'm mostly engaged just now,
Margaret, exerting will power to overcome a foolish fancy."

"What is that, sir?" I asked.

"That somebody is watching me," he said. "I've turned around a dozen
times and left this seat twice already. It's an uncomfortable feeling,
but I've made up my mind not to look again."

"Not to look?" I cried.

"No. There's nothing there."

"Where?" I said.

"Below--in the garden or on the balcony," he answered; "somewhere
outside the window."

"Bless us, I'll look," I whispered, walking toward the back of the room.

It might have been my fancy or my own reflection, but whatever it was, I
thought I saw a dark and muffled thing move outside. It forced a scream
from me, and that one little cry was enough to bring the Judge up out of
his chair, knowing well enough without words that I had seen something.

"That's enough!" he said, his long legs striding toward the French
windows. "Stand back, Margaret. We'll look into this."

He tore the glass doors open, the bitter cold wind flickered the lamp,
and by some sensible instinct I pulled the cord of the oil burner. I
knew that as he stood on the balcony, looking, he could see nothing with
a light behind him. Furthermore, I did not move, because I knew that he
was listening, too. Both of us heard the scrape of something on the icy
garden walk, the moment the lights went out. Immediately after it the
Judge called to me.

"Look!" he said. "Isn't something moving there along the shrubs?"

"Yes," I whispered. "It's near the ground. It crawls."

"What do you want?" called the Judge to the moving thing. Then, although
he had no revolver at hand, he said, "Answer, or I'll shoot."

The only reply to this was the sound of breathing and one little cough
that sounded human. The Judge reached behind him with one long arm,
feeling around the little table by the window for some object. At last
his fingers closed on it and I knew he had the little bronze elephant
that now stands on the mantel, where Mrs. Estabrook turns it so it will
not show that it has lost its tail.

"We are a pair of old fools," said the Judge, as if he was not sure. "It
probably is a cat."

With these words he poised the bronze that was solid and must have
weighed two pounds, and hurled it into the garden. There was a sound of
striking flesh that a body can tell from all others. I heard it! And
then, quicker than I tell it, the sharp clear air was filled with a cry
which died away, as if it had flown up to the milky, starry sky and left
us listening to strange, inhuman groans coming up from the garden.

"My God!" cried the Judge. "I did not mean to hit it! It wasn't a cat!
It is something else."

"The kitchen!" I cried, and without stopping to close the doors against
the nipping cold, I led the way down the back stairs.

"No time for caution," he said. "Unbolt this door. See, it is writhing
there on the snow! It is a child!"

I believed at first that he was right. As we ran forward it seemed to be
a naked, half-starved child of six or seven years, wallowing in the snow
in some terrible agony. My heart jumped against my ribs as I saw it. I
stopped in my tracks and let the Judge go on alone.

In a second his voice rose in a tone that braced me like a glass of
brandy.

"See!" he cried. "Thank Heaven! It is only a poor, cringing dog--a
shaggy hound. Here, you poor beast. Did I hurt you? Come, Laddie, come,
boy!"

"Laddie" he had called him, and it was the same "Laddie" that lived
with us so long.

"Margaret!" cried the Judge, as he pulled the dirty creature into the
kitchen. "A light! The thing is half-starved. Bring some food upstairs
to the library."

The hound was licking his hand and cowering as if accustomed to abuse,
and from that night it was nearly six months before the old fellow got
his flesh and healthy coat of hair and his spirit back again. That
night, having eaten, it looked about the room, found the Judge, went to
him, and, laying his head in his lap, looked up at him out of his two
sorrowful eyes. I knew then, by the smile of the Judge's mouth and the
way he put on his tortoise-shell glasses, that "Laddie" would never be
sent away. Just then, though, the master, after he had looked at the dog
a minute, sprang up suddenly and stood staring at me with his mouth
twitching.

"What is it, sir?" I asked.

"The dog!" he said.

"Yes, sir," I said. "The dog--"

"The gate swings shut with a spring!" he said. "Some human being must
have opened the gate."

It was true! We looked at each other, and then the Judge laughed.

"Oh, well," said he carelessly, "if they want the dog they must come
and claim him with proceedings at law. Make a bed for him in the back
hall."

On my part, however, I was not satisfied so easily and many more
peaceful moments I would have had if I had never pried further as I did.
After all, I only asked one question and that early the next morning. In
the house next to ours a brick ell was built way out to the alleyway
along half the yard. The kitchen windows looked out on the passage.
There was a maid in that house,--a second girl, as they call them in
this country,--and I knew she was a great person for staying up late,
telling her own fortune with cards or reading a dream-book. She was
hanging clothes in the early sun, with her red hair bobbing up and down
above the sheets and napkins, when I stood on a chair and looked over
the wall.

"Busy early?" I said. "But I saw your light late last night. Did you by
any chance see anybody come in through our gate?"

"Only you," the stupid thing said. "At first I thought it was some other
woman, because, begging your pardon, you looked thin. But it was after
nine and I knew you'd not be having callers that late."

My tongue grew so dry it was hard to move it from the roof of my mouth,
and before I could put in a word she threw a handful of clothespins
into the basket and looked up again.

"When did you get a dog?" she asked. "I saw you had one with you."

"Dog!" I cried. "Oh, yes, the dog. That's the Judge's new dog."

I jumped down off the chair and looked up at the windows to be sure the
Judge was not looking at me.

"A woman!" I whispered.

With a hundred thoughts I went across the garden, looking in the snow
for a person's tracks. It had grown warmer, however. Water was dripping
from the roof, and if there had been any story in the snow, it had
thawed away. I walked along with my head down, thinking and wondering
whether I would tell the Judge. Mrs. Welstoke used to say, "Silence, my
dear, is the result of thinking. You might not suppose so, perhaps, but
why tell anything without a reason? People find out the good or bad news
soon enough without your help. If it's good, their appetite is the
sharper for it, and if it's bad, they have had just so much longer in
peace." I thought of these words and wondered, too, what use it would be
to worry the master. If evil was to come, it would come. And then, at
that moment, my eye lit on something that shone in a hollow of the snow.

"A piece of jewelry!" I said to myself, stooping for it. My fingers
never reached it in that attempt; instinct made them draw back as if the
object had been of red-hot metal. But it was not of red-hot metal. It
was of gold. It was a locket. It was the very locket and chain that had
been taken from the neck of Monty Cranch's baby!

"So!" I cried, starting back as if it had been a tarantula; "so it is
you! Found at last!"



                               CHAPTER V

                        AGAIN THE MOVING FIGURE


When it was in my fingers, I looked all about in a guilty way to see if
any one had seen me pick it up, and then, with the metal icy cold in my
hand, my head swam. I knew the meaning of my find. The thing had not
come out of its hiding to spring upon us of its own accord. Human hands
had preserved it, and human feet had brought it into the garden in the
dead of a winter night, and human fright had been the cause of leaving
it behind.

I had searched once for this trinket, with a plan to use it as a weapon
of evil, and now it was mine. It was mine, and yet all my love for the
Judge and Julianna, for whom I would have given my life, made me look
upon it as if it were a snake. My first thought was its destruction. I
wanted to throw it in the furnace. I longed to have an anvil and hammer,
so that I could beat it into a pulp of gold. I wished a crack in the
earth might open miles deep so I could drop it in.

I went into the kitchen where the cook was busy with her pastry, and up
to my own room. It was there I began to think sensibly. I believed that
whoever might want to come now and say, "I know. That is a murderer's
child," no longer would have the proof. I believed that Julianna was
safe again. So long as I had the locket and Monty Cranch was lost in the
depths of time and perhaps dead, no real harm, I thought, could come to
her. Often enough I had remembered the moment when Mr. Roddy had begged
the Judge to condemn Monty to death by an accusation of a crime he never
committed, and how I had said, perhaps, the words that prevented the
master from agreeing to the devilish plot. I had often wondered if I had
not been the cause of all the Judge's troubles by my speaking then. This
thought, for the moment, prevented me from hurrying downstairs in time
to catch the Judge before he went out. I could hear him hunting around
the corners for his grapevine stick, humming a tune.

"What good, after all, to tell?" said I to myself. "Just as he kept a
secret for the happiness of his wife, I will keep one for the sake of
his peace of mind."

I heard the front door close and knew that he had gone.

"If I took the locket to him," I thought, "what would he believe? Only
that I had had it in my possession all these years. After all, I am only
a servant. He would be suspicious. He would believe I had invented the
story of finding it in the yard. It would spoil all his trust in me and
that would break my heart."

So my thoughts went around and a week passed, in which there was not a
night that I did not sit in my bedroom window, looking out at the cold
garden and the black alley, expecting to see some one lurking there. A
hundred times I took the locket out of its hiding-place and wondered
what to do, and at last it came to me that the first question the Judge
would ask was why I had not told him at once. That was enough to clinch
the matter; until to-night the secret has been my own and you can blame
me or not, as you see fit.

It was painful enough for me--a lonely old maid--with nothing but
memories of a wasted girlhood and no one to help me see the right of
things. Many is the night I have wet my pillow with tears, being afraid
that I had always played the wrong part and would finally be the cause
of the ruin of those I had grown to love.

Of all those bad moments, none was more bitter than that when the Judge
told me that the day would come when Julianna must know the truth. To
this day I remember the study as it was then. Workmen had been
redecorating the walls, and all the furniture was moved into the centre
of the room, strips of paper were gathered into a tangled pile on the
floor, and in the middle of the confusion, the Judge was sitting in his
easy-chair, with his eyes looking a thousand miles away, and his lips
moving just enough to keep his old pipe alight. He looked up as I drew
the curtains.

"Don't light the lamp yet," he said. "You are a woman and I want to talk
to you."

"It's about Julianna," said I.

"Yes," said he, "about her. She is eighteen. Her birthday is scarcely a
week away. I suppose she will fall in love sometime?"

"Of course," I answered. "Women are not cast in her mould to be old
maids."

"Isn't it funny?" he said. "I just began to think of it yesterday. I
never realized. I thought we had at least ten years more before there
would be any chance. They are women before one can turn around! It is
surprising."

"It's terrible," I added.

"Yes," said he, "it's terrible! Because if any man won her, then I would
have to tell--"

He stopped there and shut his two fists.

"Tell the truth!" I exclaimed.

"Yes," said he. "I'd have to tell him. Could I let him be cheated?"

"Cheated!" I cried. "No man is good enough for her, that's what I
think!"

"I said cheated!" he answered roughly, as if he was trying to harden his
own feelings. "He would be putting dependence upon her inherited
characteristics, wouldn't he? And then, if anything ever cropped out in
her, if he didn't know, how could he understand her or forgive her or
help her?"

"Judge," said I, "you spoke of my being a woman. Well, sir, I am an
ignorant woman, but I know well enough that there are some things that
you and I had best leave alone--some things that God will take care of
by Himself."

At that his face screwed up in pain.

"Honor is honor!" he said, jumping up. "Truth is truth! And heredity is
heredity!"

He seized his hat and went into the hall and down the front steps and
off along the pavement with his long strides, like a man followed by a
fiend.

It was the last word he ever spoke on the subject until Mr. Estabrook
came into our life. Then I saw from the first how things were going.
When I caught the look on the girl's face as she watched the first man
in whom she had taken that special interest, and when I saw him--begging
your pardon--staring at her as if she were not real, I knew, with a sick
feeling in my heart and throat, that the day would come when he would
take her away from us.

It was like a panic to me. I could not stand it and I called the Judge.
I wanted to speak with him. I nodded and beckoned to him and tried to
show him what was going on, for though a mother has the eyes of a hawk,
a father is often blind. And I thought that night he was going out
without my having a chance to say a word. I went down to the kitchen and
then to the dark laundry, out of sight of the cook. I threw my apron
over my head and cried like an old fool from fright. It was in the midst
of it that I heard the gate-latch.

"The woman again!" I said to myself. "The strange woman! She feels
there's something wrong, too. She's come back!"

I could hear my own heart thumping as I stared out into the dark, wiping
my eyes to get the fog out of them. Minutes went by before I saw that it
was the Judge. He had come back to hear what I had to say, and I think
when I told him that he was as upset as I had been. Well I remember how
his voice trembled as he told me how he had written the paper telling
the whole secret, except for my knowing about it, to Julianna, in case
he should die, and how, then and there, I made up my mind that if God
would let me I would keep the girl from ever reading it. And to this day
she does not know that I loved her that much. What made me fail to do
this is something you are aware of already, just as you know all the
story of the marriage and a time of happiness before this new and
dreadful, dreadful thing, whatever it is, came to us.

Well enough for you, Mr. Estabrook, to notice the change in your wife.
It is well enough for you to wonder what has come to her and why she has
driven you out of your own house. But do not forget that I held her as a
baby in my arms and saw her grow into a woman, as free from guilt or
blame as any that ever lived. It may all be a mystery to you, sir. I
tell you it is all a hundred times more a mystery to me who know no more
of it than you, though in these terrible days I have been alone with
her, locked into a deserted house, with every other servant sent away
and the quiet of the grave over everything.

"Is it some of Monty Cranch's wild blood?" I have asked, and with that
question no end of others.

I asked them when her arm had been hurt, and was getting well in those
days when she seemed to be in a dream, with her silent thoughts and her
frightened face. For hours she would sit in the window at night, looking
out into the park, as you know, and daytimes, when you were away, many
is the time I have found her on her bed, shaking with her misery and
tears.

I asked those questions, too, when one night--a month ago--she came into
my bedroom, walking like a ghost in her bare feet.

"Margaret," she whispered, trembling, "I can't wake Mr. Estabrook. I
haven't the courage to. I want you to come to the front windows."

"Yes," said I. "What is the matter?"

"Oh, I don't know!" she cried. "Come. Come. He is there again!"

I had crept through the cold hall with her, and we kneeled down together
under the ledge. Moonlight was on the street. The shadows of the trees
moved back and forth slowly.

"Look! Now! Behind that post over the way!" she said, pinching my arm.
"Do you see him?"

"See who?" I gasped. "What is it? I see nothing."

"He stretched his hands out!" she cried. "He isn't real! You see
nothing?"

"Nothing," said I.

"I was afraid so!" she cried, and broke away from me and shut the door
of her own room in my face. Nor have I ever since been able to get a
word from her concerning that night.

It was about the same time I discovered that, though she almost never
left the house, she was telephoning for messenger boys when she thought
I was out of hearing. It set my curiosity on edge, I tell you. I began
to watch. And then I discovered she was sending out little envelopes and
getting little envelopes in return. All my old training with Mrs.
Welstoke came back to me; I made up my mind to be as sly as a weasel.
Finally my chance came.

I had been out to do some shopping and walked home across the park. Just
as I came within sight of the house, I saw a messenger boy come down our
steps. I ran as fast as my old limbs would carry me, until I caught up
with him.

"Little boy!" I said.

He looked around, half frightened and half impudent.

"There's been a mistake!" I told him. "Where did the lady tell you to
take the message."

"Why, to the man with the gold teeth," said he.

"There's a mistake in it," said I. "Give me the envelope."

He looked at me suspiciously.

"Not on yer life," he said. "You'll get me in trouble. I won't open it
for anybody."

"But there's money in it," I said.

"No, there ain't," he answered, feeling of the envelope. "I guess I can
tell!"

"Hold it up to the light, then," said I, for the sun was shining very
bright. "We'll see who is right."

He did this, and the writing was as plain as if written on the outside.
It was her own hand, too, though it was not signed.

"She must have some more," it said.

"Where does the man with the gold teeth live?" I asked, trying to smile
and look careless.

"I shan't say!" said the boy. "There is some funny business here. Let go
of me!"

He twisted himself away and ran off, looking over his shoulder to see if
I was following him.

I went back to the house then, and it was when I was in my room that I
heard the telephone bell and Mrs. Estabrook's soft voice talking very
low. I crept out and hung over the stair rail trying to listen. Any one
could tell in a second that the poor girl was in fright.

"Who was it?" she asked. "Did they learn anything from the boy? How long
ago?"

There was a pause.

"Can't you see how terrible it would be if any one knew about her?" she
said. "Do you believe she is being watched? You do! Detectives! I can't
talk any more--good-bye!"

That was what she said and for a week afterward she was walking through
the house, up and down each room, like a creature in a cage, listening
for every sound and nursing her head with her hands as if she were
afraid it would burst. She would sit down in a chair and then jump up
again, as if the place she had chosen to rest was red-hot. Every moment
she was with her husband she seemed to be holding herself in check, as
if he might read some terrible thing in her eyes. Then, all of a sudden,
she would get some message from outside and she would be peaceful again
and sigh and fold her beautiful hands.

You can see well enough that I was ready for something queer. But when
it came, it was so unaccountable that I could scarcely believe I wasn't
living in a dream. It was late one afternoon when I came down from my
room and found her talking through the crack of the front door to
somebody outside in the vestibule. I could hear the whisper of voices
and I thought the other person was a man. I can be sly when I want to,
so I did not go forward at all, but crept back and along the upper hall
to the window. After a minute or two I heard the door close and somebody
going down the steps. I had raised the screen already so that I could
lean out to see who it was.

For some reason I felt I should know the person. I had a horrid feeling
that it was somebody I had seen before. The name of Monty Cranch was
almost ready on my lips in spite of my old idea, which had never left
me, that I had seen him--at least in this world--for the last time.
Therefore it was almost a surprise to me to find that the man was as far
different from her father as butter from barley. Whoever the man might
be, he was tall and thin and had a white, disagreeable skin and a
nervous way of looking to right and left, holding his chin in his hands.
I never got a good look at his face. But once he turned up his head,
perhaps to look at the house. He had gold teeth--a whole front row of
them! This, perhaps, was the man the messenger boy had described--the
man to whom Mrs. Estabrook was addressing secret communications.
Certainly it was no one I had ever seen, and certainly, too, there was
something in that fleeting glance at the lower part of his face which
made me have no wish to see his ugly countenance again.

His visit, at any rate, set me to thinking more than ever, and that
night as I walked about the dining-room, serving the courses in place of
the maid who was away, I think I felt for the first time a doubt about
my mistress. She had always seemed to me like a creature of heaven, and
as I stood back of her chair, looking down upon those beautiful
shoulders and white arms and head of soft and shining hair, it was hard
to believe she was in some conspiracy of which she had kept her husband
in ignorance with the slyness of a snake. I felt sorry for him. So at
the moment of my first doubt of her, I found that pity--begging your
pardon!--had at last made me ready to forget that I had never liked him
or his cold ways, and ready to forgive the once he laid violent hands on
me. My mistress had not chosen to tell me anything and had acted toward
me as suspicious as if she had believed me capable of meaning evil to
her. She had turned my questions aside and reminded me of my place. I
suppose it was only human nature for me to lose sympathy with her and
begin to have it with the man who sat across the table from her, all in
the dark about the curious and perhaps terrible affairs that were
hanging over his home and always kind and patient and, I may
say,--begging your pardon!--innocent, too! It was during that meal that
I made up my mind to tell him all I knew. It seemed to me the best and
safest course; I would have taken it if he had stayed another day in the
house.

His going was a mystery to me. I only knew that Mrs. Estabrook said that
she had asked him to go and that he had gone. The front door had hardly
closed behind him that morning before she unlocked her room and called
to me to come to her. I shall never lose the picture of her face as I
saw it then. She was sitting in that big wing-chair which is covered
with the figured cretonne and her face was as white as a newly ironed
napkin. It was so white that it did not seem real, but more like the
face of some vision that comes and sits for a minute and fades away
before a little draft of air. Her hands were on the chair arms just
like the hands of those Egyptian kings, carved out of alabaster, that
you see in museums. She might have been one of those queens of great
empires in the old times. She might have heard the roar of battle and
seen the retreat of her army from the windows of the palace and had
plunged a thin little dagger into her breast so that she would not be
captured alive. It cut me to the heart to see how beautiful she was--and
how terrible!

"Margaret," she said to me, spacing off her words. "Margaret."

"Little girl!" I cried out, forgetting the passage of all the years. And
I fell on my knees beside her.

"Sh! Sh!" she said. "I need your help. It is a desperate matter. You
must be calm."

"And what shall I do?" I asked.

"This--as I tell you," she answered, her eyes fixed on mine. "Send every
one else out of the house--only before they go, I want everything taken
out of this room of mine--all the furniture, all the rugs, all the
pictures. I want the blinds drawn everywhere, the doors bolted. For
three weeks I want no person to come across the threshold. I want you to
stay that long indoors--in this house. Mr. Estabrook will not come back
during that time, and to all others I want you to say that he is away
and that I am away, too,--or ill,--or anything that will seem best to
you. I never want you to come near my locked door unless I call for
you."

"But, Mrs. Estabrook!" I cried, my lips all of a tremble.

"Wait," she said. There was a look in her eyes that seemed to go into me
like a knife. "Come to my door every morning. Bring a glass of milk.
Knock. If I do not answer, have the door broken down! That is all; do
you hear?"

"Mercy on us!" I cried. "Tell me what this means. Are you mad?"

She put her soft hand on my cheek for a second.

"No," said she, with a voice growing as hard as the rattling of wire
nails. "Do as I say. Do it for the sake of the lives of all of us!"

I believed then that she was sane. There was something in her eyes, as I
have said, that would have tamed a tiger. I got up. I did everything she
had asked. The furnishings were all moved out of her room until it
looked as bare as a place to rent in December. There was nothing on the
floor but a mattress and a chair, which were left by her directions. I
sent the servants away with instructions to come back after three weeks'
time. At last, when all was done and I was alone, walking through the
house like a sour-faced ghost, I climbed the stairs to her door. It was
locked! I have not caught sight of her face since!

I cannot tell any one what I have been through in these days of waiting.
I only know it has been like a terrible dream--like those dreams that
make the perspiration come out on the forehead with the struggle to wake
or cry out or toss the smothering thing from off a body's lungs and
heart. And till now, in spite of all, I have been faithful enough to my
trust.

I have turned away all the visitors that came. I have gone each morning
to my mistress's door for orders that were spoken through the panels. I
have walked up and down the silent rooms below, day after day, or sat in
the library trying to read and listening to the tread of some one in
that awful room above, with every hour dragging as if the hands of the
clock on the mantel were slipping back almost as fast as they moved
forward. Then the steps would stop and the clock would go on with its
everlasting ticking. And if I listened hard, I could hear the big clock
in the hall take up the tune like a duet. Then the one in the front room
above would join in, then the one in the kitchen, until there was such a
clamor of ticking that it would drive a body to distraction with a sound
like a hundred typewriters all going at once.

I have heard voices, too. Voices seemed to be whispering in the hall as
if some one were welcoming people at a funeral, voices seemed to be
chatting in the basement, and again there would be a murmur like a
rabble of voices all talking together in a room far away. Often it was
more than a fancy, I can tell you. I heard real voices in the room of my
mistress.

I began to have the idea that it was not my mistress's voice alone.
There seemed to be another in argument with her. There seemed to be a
strange voice speaking in an undertone--a voice I thought I never had
heard before. I crept up along the hall and listened. Everything was
still. But in spite of all, I began to feel that there was more than one
person on the other side of those thick white panels. I knew it was
folly to suppose such a thing, but I began to have the idea that
another--a woman or a talkative child--was with her behind the locked
door.

Once this impossible idea took hold of me, I did all I could to get a
peep within the room. I had been bringing the meals, that were not
enough to keep a kitten alive, to the crack she would open to take them
in. Believe me, that the very first time I tried to poke my head around
where I could see, that practice stopped, and my mistress, in a dull and
heavy voice, told me to leave everything on the floor and go away. It
seemed that she had grown suspicious. It seemed that she had something
to conceal. I brooded over the strangeness of it all until I began to
wonder how this other person, whatever or whoever it might be, had ever
entered the house. I even began to wonder whether creatures could be
drawn from the air and put into the form of flesh and blood.

Finally came my chance to look. Three days ago, at about eleven o'clock
in the morning, I heard the lock of her door slide over and a moment
later she called to me. It was long after I had done her errand and had
gone away that I began to be haunted by the thought that there had been
no sound of the lock turning again. I heard the voices. I thought of the
possibility that I might now softly open the door.

"A look! A look!" I heard my own tongue saying, as I tiptoed up the
stairs and as I twisted the door knob by little turns, each one no more
than the width of a hair.

I had been right about the lock. I discovered it at last when the door
yielded. I looked in through a narrow crack. On the far side of the
bare, dim room was my mistress on her knees, her clasped hands resting
on the floor in front of her. She had not heard me and she seemed to be
writhing as if in pain. Her skin was as pale as death. The whole picture
gave a body the feeling that she had been thrown forward by some strong
hand. I felt sure at that moment that I had not been mistaken--that
some other person was there. I almost believed I saw its shadow falling
across the floor. But after I had looked from one end to the other of
the chamber, I knew at last that no one else was there.

If I had dared to speak I would have done so, but I felt that a word
would be like dynamite, and would tear the silent house into a pile of
smoking bricks and plaster. I felt sure it would act like an earthquake,
toppling the house over into the street. I felt that a word would be
like the roaring voice of some strange god that would send everything
off in thin vapor. I felt I must shut the door, and I went away
remembering the words of my Julianna, "If I do not answer some morning
when you knock, have the door broken in!" and my heart jumped again with
new fear. It was the fear of some other person who seemed to be in the
house, unseen and hidden from my eyes. For in spite of my peep into the
room, I felt that it was still there.

And now you have heard all! I have told everything--all that I
know--things that many a time I have sworn to myself to take through my
lonesome life unspoken to the grave.



                                 BOOK V

                      THE MAN WITH THE WHITE TEETH


                                CHAPTER I

                             BLADES OF GRASS


When Margaret Murchie, sitting in the interior of the limousine, with
the arc light playing through the thousand raindrops on the window pane
spotting a face lined with the strength of a stolid old maid, had
finished her narrative, there was no sound but that of the storm
mourning down the avenue. Estabrook sat with his forehead in his hands.
I had had enough experience in my practice with those who are struggling
to overcome a great shock, not to speak until some word from him had
disclosed the effect that Margaret's story had produced. His face was
hidden, but his fingers moved on his temples as if he were grinding some
substance there into powder. When at last he raised his head, his
expression astounded me. It had, I thought, softened rather than
hardened. A little patient smile almost concealed the fear that looked
out of his eyes.

"The daughter of a murderer?" he asked, touching my knee.

What could I say?

"She must be in some distress, Doctor?" he whispered.

I nodded.

It was then that the true Estabrook went tearing up through the crust of
custom, manners, traditions, egotism, smugness, and self-love. From the
depths of his personality, the man for whom I have since that moment had
a deep regard, then called his soul and it came. He leaned forward and
looked through the misty glass in the door, across the wind-swept
street, at the dripping front of his home, at the dim light that burned
there.

"God, sir!" he said, turning on me with his teeth set like those of a
fighting animal. "What's all this to me? I love her! She's mine! She's
the most beautiful--the best woman in all the world!"

Margaret Murchie shivered.

After a moment Estabrook's hands were both clutching my sleeve.

"You'll stand by now?" he said, looking up into my face. "I can't ask
any one else. You can see that. You'll help? What shall we do?"

"Depend on me," I answered him. "We must be careful. Wait! Just let me
review these facts. The first move must be for us to send Margaret back
into the house. Do you suppose your wife knows she is out of it?"

"I don't believe so," said he. "I watched the window all the time we
were taking Margaret into this limousine. The curtains never moved."

"Good!" I cried. "Now, Miss Murchie, listen to what I say. How often
does your mistress call you during the day?"

"Every three or four hours, I think, sir."

"Very well. Take this umbrella and go back. Use Mr. Estabrook's key.
Enter as quietly as possible. Say nothing to any one. If your mistress
should allow more than five hours to go by without calling you, go to
her door and knock. If there is no answer, telephone my office. You
mustn't allow a second of delay. It will mean danger."

Estabrook listened to these instructions with staring eyes.

"You know something!" he cried. "Tell me!"

I shook my head, opened the door, and the old servant, getting out, went
waddling off across the street, her dress flapping in the wet wind.

"Come, Mr. Chauffeur!" I said to him. "You are to spend the night with
me. To-morrow--"

"To-morrow?"

"Exactly," said I brusquely.

"And what then?"

"To-morrow I shall search for truth lying hidden among blades of grass!"
said I. "In the mean time all the sleep I can pile into you may count
more than you know!"

I had spoken with a note of authority because each moment I feared that
he would become stubborn. I feared that, taking offense at my theories,
he would reject my services and plunge into some folly at the moment
when a most delicate balance between good and evil, life and death,
safety and danger, might be overthrown on the side of terrible calamity.
I was thankful when he once more showed himself tractable by climbing on
the driver's seat and turning our course homeward. It was the small
hours of morning that found me under the lamp in my study, giving the
distracted young man a narcotic. When his head was nodding, he struggled
once to open his eyes.

"I don't understand--anything--blades of grass--or anything," he
asserted sleepily, as I closed his door.

Exhaustion had brought its childlike petulance, but I knew that
drowsiness would do its work, and that he was now safely stowed away for
at least ten hours. He would not interfere with my plans before noon.

For a few moments that night I sat on the edge of my own bed.

"What if I am right?" I whispered to myself. "What a drama! What a peep
into the unexplored corners of our souls!"

I went to the window. An early milk cart clattered along the
thoroughfare with a figure nodding on its seat. When the mud-spattered
white horse had reached a circle of light shed from the lamp on the
street corner, the figure arose and, looking up at the stars in the
rifts of the sky, pulled off and folded a rubber coat. The storm had
blown away.

"He does a simple little act," I said to myself as I watched the figure
seat itself again. "His thoughts may be as simple. But the consequences
of either! Who can say? Life itself is all on one side of a blue wall!"

                 *       *       *       *       *

Physicians, however, make good detectives. I mention this not to point
out my own case particularly, but merely to call your attention to the
fact that a good surgeon or practitioner has a training in those
qualities of mind which produce a great solver of mysteries. A good
physician must develop the powers of observation. In any physical
disorder, knowing the cause, he must forecast the effect, or with the
evidences of some effect before him, he must deduce the cause. Above all
he must keep his mind from jumping at false conclusions, even though
these conclusions are in line with all his former experiences.
Physicians learn these principles by their mistakes in following clues.
A good diagnostician has in him the material for an immortal police
inspector. I speak modestly, and yet I must say that the next morning
proved that I was not mistaken in these theories.

Before nine o'clock I had arrived at the Marburys'. The banker himself
opened the door.

"Doctor!" he cried, his face drawn out of its mask of eternal shrewdness
and suspicion by a beaming smile, "what can I say? How can we ever show
our gratitude?"

"Not so fast!" I reproved him. "There is danger in too much optimism.
The disease is treacherous."

"But Miss Peters, the nurse--she sees it, too! There can be no doubt.
Our little Virginia is saved! You have done it!"

I shook my head.

"Not I."

"Not you? Who, then?"

"Marbury," said I, "I am just beginning to learn that there are other
contagions than those of the body. Can we be sure, my good sir, that
fear is not a disease? Do we know that love is not an infection? Can the
criminal's gloves, saturated with his personality, be safe for the hands
of an honest man? Don't we weaken by rubbing elbows with the weak? Are
there not contagious germs of thought?"

He raised his eyebrows. Finance he knew well. Otherwise he was a stupid
man.

"I do not believe I follow you," he said nervously. "I was speaking of
Virginia. She is so much better!"

I bowed to him politely, and, instead of entering the open door,
descended the steps.

"You're not coming in?" he exclaimed.

"Not yet," said I. "To tell you the truth, I am looking in that grass
plot next door for something dropped there. I see that no one has
disturbed the grass. It has not even been cut. Hello! What's this?"

I had reached down, picked up a metal cylinder and showed it to him.

"It looks like a rifle cartridge--one of those murderous steel-nosed
bullet affairs," said he.

"Something even more dangerous!" said I, thrusting it into my pocket.
"Much more dangerous! Possibly you will believe that I am
ungracious--rather odd as it were--not to mention its name."

He shook his head. The mask of the polite student of percents had
returned; he became formally polite.

"Not at all," he answered, adjusting his black tie. "I had rather hoped
you would stay to see my daughter."

"Another crisis prevents," I said, bowing at the door of my car. But the
banker had turned his back.

"Where now, sir?" asked my chauffeur.

"The old Museum of Natural History."

"All cobblestones in those streets, sir," he said as we leaped forward
again.

This was true. We fairly jounced our way to the old brownstone
structure, which sat with such pathetic dignity on the square of
discouraged grass, frowning at the surrounding tenements. The sign
advertising the waxworks and "Collection of Criminology" still hung at
the door of the lower floor.

"Tell me," said I to the freckled girl who sold admissions, "is the Man
with the Rolling Eye still here?"

She put down her embroidery and removed a long end of red silk thread
which she had been carrying on the tip of her tongue.

"I should certainly say not!" she answered. "He's all wore out. They
couldn't repair him any more."

"The machine or the man?"

"Both," said she. "But they weren't much of an attraction. Of course
there wasn't supposed to be any man--only the machine--the automaticon
they called it. But it didn't make enough money the last year or two to
pay the repairs. The old man that run it was a swell chessplayer. The
old man got sick and the machine got broken. Both were about at the end
of the rope. So he went away three weeks ago and the machine is stored
in the cellar now."

"Where did you say the old man lived?" I asked.

"I didn't say. But I'll write it down for you. It's a scene-painting
loft over by the river."

She scribbled on a slip of paper, "J. Lecompte, 5 East India Place."

"Thank you," I said.

"Um-m. You can't fool me," said she. "You're in the show business!"

This was a thrust of her curiosity, but I merely bowed and left her.

"Go home as quickly as you can," I whispered to the chauffeur. "Give Mr.
Estabrook, my guest, this slip of paper. Tell him to lose no time. Tell
him to bring the revolver he will find in the top drawer of my desk!
Don't wait for me. I'll walk."

The man gazed at me stupidly a moment before he started the machine.

"He believes I am crazy," I said to myself as I saw him turn the corner.
"Whether or not he is right, the interview will be at least
interesting."

You will agree with me that these words forecasted accurately.



                               CHAPTER II

                         IN THE PAINTED GARDEN


East India Place is not a well-known thoroughfare. In fact, it is a
court, hidden between truck stables and concealed also by the boxes and
bales of commission merchants. Even on a sunshiny day the dank bottom of
this court is dark and smells as if it were under rather than on the
earth. A warehouse occupies one side, the other presents several
doorways, which might once have been the entrances to sailors' lodgings,
but which now are plastered with the rude signs of junk dealers. The
numbers on these houses were all even--2-4-8-10--which left me the
conclusion that Number 5 must be the warehouse and that the
scene-painting loft must be on the top floor of the grimy building.
Indeed, I could see that a skylight had been superimposed on the roof
and my eye caught the sign at the entrance, "The Mohave Scenic Studios."
I began the ascent of boxed wooden stairways, musty with the odors of
ships' cargoes. At the top a sign confronted me, "No Admittance Except
on Business. This means You"; but beneath it in red, white, and blue
paint, was the message, "Used for Storage. New Studio at 43 Barkiston
Avenue."

I knocked. There was no answer. I tried the stump of a knob; the door
yielded. I found myself in a large room with rolls and rolls of canvas
in piles and huge scenic back drops pendant from the high ceiling. A
skylight above, with rotting curtains drawn across the square panes,
threw a strange green glare over everything. A peculiar aromatic odor,
such as is sometimes wafted over the footlights into the audience, gave
the deserted place a theatrical flavor which was heightened by the
presence of gilded papier-maché statuettes and a huge representation of
the god Buddha leaning against the bare brick wall. A spider had spun a
web above one of this god's bare shoulders; it glinted in a chance ray
of direct sunlight which had entered through a tear in the curtain
overhead. Above me a staging held a kitchen chair, some fire pails, and
several pots whose sides were smirched with the colors they contained.
The only sign of human life was the faint warm odor of pipe smoke.
Knowing, then, that some one beside myself was in the loft, I proceeded
gingerly between two vast canvases which hung side by side, preparing
myself on my soft-footed way down this aisle to see the man I sought as I
emerged from the other end. I imagined I heard a nervous, suppressed
cough, indicating that the other already knew of my invasion of his
strange abode.

This was not the fact. For a moment, looking from the opening, I had
ample opportunity, without being seen, to observe all that spread itself
before me. A painted drop hung against the wall, upon which, in delicate
colors of Italian blue and rich green, was stretched a vast, imposing,
and beautiful view of the Gardens of Versailles, with a wealth of
flowers in full bloom extending along the velvet greensward into the
depth of the landscape, where, white and regal, walls and pillars rose
toward the clear sky of spring. A modern grotesque had invaded this
regal scene and forbidden ground, and had placed his cot, disordered
with newspapers and ragged red blankets, so boldly in the foreground
that at first sight the impropriety of his presence was shocking. I
could see that the man sat upon his cot cross-legged; his back,
pitifully thin under a spare white shirt, was turned toward me. With one
sinewy, aged hand he fondled the wisps of faded hair upon his head; with
the other he moved small objects over a flat board. He was a lonely
monarch upon a throne of squalor; he was playing a solitary game of
chess!

"The Sheik of Baalbec!" I whispered to myself.

The creature stopped, looked up at the skylight and its green curtains
and drew a miserable sigh from the depths of his lungs. It was such a
sigh that I could not restrain a shudder.

"Julianna," said I.

He drew his head down between his shoulders like a frightened turtle and
held himself stiffly as one who has been doused with a pail of ice
water. For several moments he did not move; when at last he turned
around, his expression was patient rather than vicious, sad rather than
terror-stricken.

"What do you want?" he said, and held his mouth open so that he, too,
seemed like an automaton, the springs of which had failed.

The pause gave me the opportunity to observe that he was not the man
with the gold fillings. Indeed, the only part of him which seemed well
preserved--which, as it were, he had saved from the wreck--was a row of
white, even teeth!

"What do you want?" he repeated. "I have never seen you before. I know
no reason for your speaking a word to me."

"Your daughter--" I began.

"I have no daughter," he cried, his eyes blazing with sudden passion.
"Who are you? I tell you that you are talking nonsense. I have no
daughter!"

"Fine words," I said threateningly; "fine words. But this is no time for
them. She is in vital danger--"

"Danger!" he screamed, clawing at the red blankets. "My God! Has it
come? What form? Quick, I say! What form?"

"It is because you can shed light upon it that I have come," said I. "We
know little. She has sent her husband away--"

"Damn him!" he choked.

"She has locked herself in her room. She has been so for three weeks.
The maid--"

"Margaret Murchie," he whispered. "She believes that I am dead?"

I nodded.

"I know nothing," he said. "The girl is not of me or mine."

"Come, come," said I. "It is time for disclosure."

He arose, searched under the corner of the mattress a moment, and then,
with a quick, panther-like movement, sprang upon the bed again, holding
a revolver in his two claws.

"I have no idea of what you mean," he cried. "I will not be questioned.
If I shoot, it is self-defense. You understand that. Nor will any one be
the wiser. She is not my daughter. I know nothing of her."

"You know everything," I cried, as anger made me reckless. "It will not
pay you to flourish that weapon. Listen!"

"Some one else coming!" he whispered.

"Yes," I shouted. "You have seen him before. It is young Estabrook."

The wizened creature immediately hid the revolver under the folds of the
blanket and began to play nervously with the chessmen. Both of us
waited, listening to the approach of the footsteps which came so
cautiously behind the pendant canvas.

To see at last that I was right, that the newcomer was Estabrook, was a
relief.

"Well," said the young man, appearing suddenly around the corner. "I
came. I thought I heard your voice, Doctor. You were talking?"

I pointed.

The worn, colorless face of the other man gazed up at us pathetically;
his body had relaxed into the hollows of his disordered cot. Against the
scene of regal gardens which was luminous as if the painted sky itself
bathed all in the soft light of a spring evening, the man and his face
were ridiculous and incongruous. His presence in that half-real setting
seemed a satire upon the beauties achieved by man and God.

"Who?" asked Estabrook involuntarily.

"The Sheik of Baalbec," I said.

The man looked up at me again.

"Mortimer Cranch," said I.

He fell forward on his face. It was several moments before any of us
moved. Cranch spoke first. He had arisen, and now stood with his sad
eyes fixed upon Estabrook, and I noticed for the first time that his
mouth and lips showed suffering and, perhaps, strength.

"It is this, above all things, I hoped would never come," said he. "You
have resurrected me from the dead. I was buried. You have dug me up.
Whatever good you may get from this strange meeting, make the most of
it. If it will help to guard against the danger spoken of by this man
you address as Doctor, I will be satisfied."

"You dog!" cried Estabrook, hot with emotions of violence. "It is you
who were responsible for the death of Judge Colfax."

The other held out his knotted hands toward me.

"The whole story!" he cried. "Not a part. You must know the whole
story."

"Briefly," I commanded.

He nodded, and began to pace the foreground of the Gardens of
Versailles, back and forth like a tethered beast in a park. His voice
was dispassionate. The narrative proceeded in a monotone. But if fiends
could conceive a tale more dark, they would whisper it among themselves.

For this, told in the somewhat quaint narrative of a former generation,
was his story.



                                BOOK VI

                        A PUPPET OF THE PASSIONS


                                CHAPTER I

                            THE VANISHED DREAM


There is only one person now in this world who could have told you my
name. I have been sure that she has long believed me to be dead. That
person is Margaret Murchie, and it is only too plain that she has told
you all that she knows of me. Parts of my life she does not know. My
testimony as to these is now given against my prayers, for I have prayed
that I never would have to uncover my heart to any living man.

My first two recollections are of my birthplace and of my mother. A
lifetime has passed, yet I remember both as plainly as if they were
before me now. I was heir to a fine old colonial estate which, because
of diminishing fortunes and increasing troubles extending over two
generations, had been allowed to run down. My great-great-grandfather,
whose portrait hung in the old parlor between two mirrors that extended
solemnly from floor to ceiling, had been a sea-captain and shipowner,
and, it is said, a privateer as well. Whatever strange doings he had
seen, one thing is certain; he returned after one mysterious voyage with
great wealth, a sword-wound through his middle, ruined health, and a
desire for respectability, social position, and a reputation for piety.
It had been he who had built the immense house which, in my childhood,
was shaded by huge gnarled trees, under which crops of beautiful but
poisonous toadstools were almost eternally sprouting.

If the great house was like a tomb, my mother was like a flower in it. I
recall the sweetness of her timid personality, the half-frightened eyes
which looked at me sometimes from the peculiar solitude of her mind, and
the faint perfume of her dress when, as a child, I would rest my head in
her lap and beg her to tell me of my father's brave and good life.

If I grew up somewhat headstrong and self-confident, it was in part due
to a faith in my inheritance. The delicate and refined lips of my
mother, upon which prayers were followed by lies and lies by prayers,
taught me an almost indescribable belief in my own strength. The fruit
forbidden by moral law to the ordinary man seemed to belong of right to
me. No sensation, no indulgence, no excess seemed to threaten me. I knew
my mother's philosophy of pleasure was different from mine, and,
reaching an early maturity, I concealed from her the experiments I made
in tasting daintily and rather proudly of life's pleasures. Before my
boyhood had gone, my natural cleverness and my selection of friends had
introduced me to many follies, each of which I regarded as a taste of
life which in no way meant a weakness. Weakness I was sure was not the
legacy of character which I possessed, and I failed to notice that I no
longer sipped of the various poisons which the world may offer, but
feverishly drank long drafts.

The awakening came in extraordinary form. I had not had my eighteenth
birthday when, upon a beautiful moonlit night in spring, a man and a
woman, more sober and much older than I, drove me out to my gate, begged
me to say less of the nobility of the horse which they had whipped into
a froth of perspiration, and left me to make my way alone along the long
path of huge flagstones to the house.

A light burned in the hall. I stood there looking for a long time in the
mirror of the old mahogany hatrack, with a growing conviction that my
reflected image looked extraordinarily like some one I had seen before.
I finally recognized myself as being an exact counterpart of my
great-great-grandfather's portrait. This did not shock me, though the
idea was a new one. I remember I laughed and brushed some white powder
from my sleeve. The powder did not come off readily; it was with some
thought of finding a brush that I gave my serious attention to the
handles of one of the little drawers. My awkward movement resulted in
pulling it completely out. Chance brought to light at that moment an
object long hidden behind the drawer itself. The thing fell to the
floor; I stooped dizzily to pick it up. It was an old glove!

It was an old glove, musty with age and yet still filled with the
individuality of the man who had worn it and still creased in the
distinctive lines of his hand. As I held it, I imagined that it was
still warm from the contact of living flesh, that it still carried faint
whiffs of its owner's personality as if he had a moment before drawn it
from his fingers. What maudlin folly seized me, I cannot say. I remember
that I exclaimed to myself affectionately, as one might who, like
Narcissus, worshiped his own image in a pool. I pressed the glove to my
face, delighting in its imagined likeness to myself. I gave it, in my
intoxicated fancy, the attributes of a living being. To me it seemed
alive with vital warmth. It had long lain a corpse. My touch had
thrilled it as its contact now thrilled me.

With it, pressing it against my cheek, I turned toward the portière of
the library, and as chance would have it, making a misstep when my head
was swimming, I went plunging forward into the folds of this curtain.
Because of this I found myself sitting flat upon the hardwood floor,
gibbering like an idiot at the dim light which showed the bookcases
which extended around the room from floor to ceiling.

At last, out of the haze of my befuddled mind, I saw my mother. She did
not speak; she did not cry. She had come down the stairs, and now her
face shone out of the clouds of other objects, quiet, set, as immovable
and as white as a death mask. She came near me and, taking the glove
from my hand, examined it in the manner of a prospective purchaser.

The next morning, in the midst of a horror of brilliant sunlight, she
told me the truth about my father. He had not been brave. He had not
been good.

"The glove was his," she said in her dead, cold voice. "Are you not
afraid?"

"Of what?" I asked.

"Of yourself," she whispered.

"Yes," said I. "Mortally!"

I had believed in my strength. Now a few hours had taught me the terrors
of self-fear. The ghastly story of inheritance of wild passions from
grandfather to grandfather, from father to son, pressed on my brain like
a leaden disk thrust into my skull. I had first learned the joy of
experiment with my strength; I was now to learn the pains of the ghosts
which always seemed to be mocking the assertions of my will. A line of
them, fathers and sons, pointed fingers at me and laughed. "You are
doomed," said they in matter-of-fact voices. I spent my days between
determination to indulge myself, for the very purpose of testing my
power in self-control, and the sickening relaxation of moral force that
occurs from the mere deprivation of all hope of victory in the battle.
The excuses of intemperance were never so clever as those I devised for
my own satisfaction; the bald truth, that I had taught my body
enjoyments which would never be shaken off before old age or infirmity
had placed them out of my reach, was never better known than to me.

Fortunately my mother died before the outbreak of my barbarous nature
had broken down the pride which caused me to conceal my true self from
the daylit world. I sold the home and cursed its dank old trees and
toadstools and silent, gloomy chambers the day I signed the deed. I went
to city after city, leaving each as it threatened me with ennui or with
retribution. Money went scattering hither and thither, spent madly,
given, stolen, borrowed, with no regret but that the piper might some
day, when the pay was no longer forthcoming, refuse to play.

Perhaps all would have been different had I not been pursued by a
fiendish fortune at games of chance. As if Fate meant that my ruin
should be complete, she saw to it that I was provided with funds for
the journey. I have seen my last penny hang on the turn of a card, and
come screaming back to me with a small fortune in its wake. Everywhere,
misconstruing the results, men whispered of my luck. It was only once
that the truth was told: at Monte Carlo a pair of red-painted,
consumptive lips pouted at me with terrible coquetry over the table.
"Pah!" said they. "The Devil takes us all on application. It is only
very few he _chooses_! Monsieur has won again!"

She was right, but there is an end to all things and the end of all my
ruinous luck came at Venice. It came with Margaret Murchie; it came, I
believe, at the very instant that I saw her sitting in a café there--saw
her sitting alone, golden from head to foot, golden of hair, golden of
skin, golden rays shining from her eyes, showers of gold in the motions
of her body--a living creature of gold, shining as a great mass of it,
warm and bright and untarnished as a coin fresh from the pressure of the
dies. I took her with me to Tuscany--stole her from an old vixen of a
fortune-teller. Ah, I see she did not tell you all!--Never mind. There
was no disgrace for her--she might well have told everything! She needed
no blush for the story. It was the only pretty thing in my life.

The trees of that country grow at the edges of green meadows, tall and
stately as the trees of Lorrain's brush. Sheep, with soft-sounding
bells, feed along the rich rolls of the land. Birds sing in the thicket
at daybreak. The hills are alive with springs of matchless clearness.
Butterflies hover over hedges and dart into half-concealed gardens.

For a month we played there like children. Her ignorance was charming.
Her mind was like a fresh canvas; I could paint whatever I chose upon
it, and loving her, I painted none but beautiful pictures, pictures of
the divine things that were still left in the violated mortal sanctuary
of the soul of Mortimer Cranch.

What did I accomplish by spreading all the fruits of my education and my
familiarity with refinement before her? What did I accomplish by my
mastery of mind? I accomplished my undoing! You need not ask how. I will
tell you. I made this healthy, glowing Irish lass believe in the beauty
of character which I insisted she possessed. I made her believe that she
was a noble creature and that she was capable of fine womanly
unselfishness. It was like the influence of the hypnotist. My own
fanciful conception of her, at first described merely to awake in her
the pleasures of admiration, became, when repeated, convincing to
myself. I began to feel sure that she had the rare qualities which I had
ascribed to her. I found myself desperately in love with her--not only
intoxicated by the beauty of her body and the sound of her laugh, but by
real or imagined beauty of character as well. This acted upon her
powerfully. She, too, began to believe. Her capacity for goodness
expanded. A sadness came over her.

"Why are you so thoughtful?" I said to her one midday as we sat together
on a ledge overlooking the peaceful valley.

"Don't ask," she said bitterly, looking at the ground.

Curiosity then drove me mad. For two days I persecuted her with cruel
questions. I believed that some regret for a secret in her past was
troubling her. At last she told me. I believe she told me truly. She
said that she knew that a girl without education and refinement could
have no hope of being taken through life by me. She spoke simply of the
unhappiness it would bring me if I were tied to her.

"Tell me that you love me!" I cried.

She shook her head.

"I am not your equal," she said. "You have been the one who has made me
good, if I am good at all. Didn't you say that I would be capable of any
sacrifice for love?"

"Why, yes," I said.

"Hush," she whispered and laid her hand on mine.

The next day she had disappeared. No one knew when or how or where she
had gone. She had vanished. She left no word. Her room was empty. And
there on the tiled floor, in the sunlight, was the rosette from a
woman's slipper. It spoke of haste, of farewell; it was enough to
convince me that Margaret was not a creature of my imagination. But the
little tawdry decoration, and the faint aroma of her individual
fragrance which still clung to it, was all that was left of her and my
selfish dreams.

I traveled all the capitals in search of her or of Mrs. Welstoke, to no
purpose. My resources dwindled. The wheel and the cards mocked my
attempts to repair my state. Fortune had dangled salvation in front of
me, had snatched it away, and now laughed at my attempts to put myself
in funds. I was shut off from a search for my happiness. When I had
played to gain money for my damnation, as if with the assistance of the
Evil One, I had won; now that I sought regeneration, a malicious fiend
conducted the game and ruined me.

I remember of thinking how I had begun life with full assurance of my
power over all the world and, above all, over myself. I was sitting on a
chair on the pavement in front of a miserable little café at Brest,
looking down at my worn-out shoes.

"Well," said I, aloud, "some absinthe--a day of forgetfulness--and
then--I will begin life anew."

It was the same old tricky promise--the present lying to the future and
making everything seem right.

I clapped my hands. A slovenly girl served me, standing with her fat red
hands pressed on her hips as I gazed down into the glass.

"Drink," said she. She was a cockney, after all.

"Must I?" I asked.

She nodded solemnly. And so I drank.



                               CHAPTER II

                               MARY VANCE


Eight days later I was taken on board a sailing-vessel, and when we were
out at sea and my nerves had steadied, I was forced by a villainous
captain to the work of a common sailor. From that experience as a
laborer I never recovered. My mind learned the comfort of association
with other minds which conceived only the most elementary thoughts. The
savage vulgarity of stevedores, strike-breakers, ships' waiters, circus
crews, and soldiers had a charm to me of which I had never before
dreamed. I entered the brotherhood of those at life's bottom and found
that again I was looked upon as a man superior to my associates and
perhaps more fortunate. Even though I exhibited a brutality equal to
any, I was regarded as a person of undoubted cleverness. If the great or
showy classes of mankind would no longer flatter my vanity, the vicious
and uncivilized classes would still perform that office. Fate threw me
among them, so that nothing should be left undone to cajole me toward
the last point of degradation.

I kept no track of those years, nor understood why Mary Vance ever
married me, nor why she was willing to be so patient, so loyal, so
tender, and so kind. I had come from above and was going down. She had
come from the dregs; she was going up. We met on the way. I married her,
not because I loved her, but because she loved me and I could not
understand it. She was a lonely, tired little gutter-snipe, who had gone
on the stage, had had no success whatever, and whose pale red hair was
always stringing down around her neck and eyes; but even then I could
not see why she picked me out for her devotion. She was like a dog in
her faithfulness. I can see her now as she was one night, snarling and
showing her teeth, keeping the police from taking me to a patrol box. I
can see her cooking steak over a gas jet. She thought my name was John
Chalmers. I learned to love her at last. I learned to love her, and
because of it I learned to hate myself. She deserved so much and had so
little from me beside my temper, my wildness, and abuse.

When we were at our wits' end for pennies to buy food, the little girl
came. The only thing we had not pawned was a gold locket that had never
been off her neck because it was wished on by her mother and had always
kept her from harm, as she said. She took it off and put it on the
baby's neck and tears came to my eyes--the first in thirty-five years.

"We will call her Mary," I said, choking with happiness.

Four hours later I was on a wharf, crawling around on my hands and knees
in the madness of alcohol, with a New York policeman and a gang of
longshoremen roaring with laughter at my predicament. It was on that
occasion that, as my brain cleared, I saw what I had done. I had sworn a
thousand times never to do it. And now it had come about. I had become
responsible for another living human thing with the blood of my veins
coursing in its own! I had committed the crime of all crimes!

To describe the horror of this thought is impossible. It never left me.
I began to devise a means to undo this dreadful work of mine. I prayed
for days--savagely and breaking out into curses--that the little
laughing, mocking thing should die.

"She has your eyes," said Mary, looking up at me with a smile on her
gaunt, starved face.

I rushed from the dirty lodgings like a man with a fiend in pursuit; the
words followed me. I roared out in my pain.

"I will do it!" I said over and over again. "I will kill the child. I
will kill it."

I believed I was right. I believed the best of me and not the worst of
me had spoken. I believed I must atone for my crime by another. I
believed I should begin to prepare the way.

"Suppose she should die," I said to my wife.

"Then grief would kill me, too," she said.

I could not stand the look on her face.

"This is the only happiness I ever had," she said, pressing the little
body close to her.

I believed then that I could never do what I had planned. I knew I could
never take Mary's happiness away. I felt myself caught like a rat in a
trap. The blood of my fathers was going on in a new house of flesh and
bone! I had done the great crime! And there was no help for it!

We move, however, like puppets of the show. Just see!

Within a month the doctor at the clinic had said that my wife was
incurable with consumption.

"The worst trouble with it all," said he, "is that she will suffer
without hope and for no purpose."

"Death would be good luck?" said I.

"The kindest thing of all," he answered, killing a fly on the window
ledge, as if to demonstrate it.

I was trembling all over with wild nerves, a wild brain-madness. I shut
my eyes craftily as I went down the steps.

"She may go first," I whispered to myself. "I will kill her in the name
of God. And then the other and the Devil is cheated!"

Was I a madman? I cannot say! I had sense enough to prepare myself by
days of drinking, during which I deliberately and cruelly beat whatever
tenderness remained in me into insensibility. I suffered no doubts,
however, for I was sure that I had planned a crime which, unlike all my
others, was founded on unselfishness. I believed I had dedicated myself
at last to a supreme test of goodness and love.

The question of what would become of me after I had done this terrible
thing never entered my mind. My desire was to place Mary where she need
suffer no more, where she would be free from hardships and labors, from
lingering disease and slow death, and from my ungoverned brutalities.
Above all, however, I wanted to accomplish the second murder--made
possible to me by the first. A monomania possessed me. I wanted to put
an end forever to my strain of blood before it was too late--before it
had escaped me through the body of my little daughter.

My zeal, I suppose, was like that of a religious fanatic; but it did not
blind me to the horror of my undertaking. I cried out aloud at the
picture of the sad, reproachful eyes of my poor wife, fixed upon me as
they might be when the film of death passed over them. I knew that I
must do the thing in a way which would prevent her sensing my purpose,
even in the last flicker of time in which her understanding remained.

I can't go on!... Wait!...

Well, it was over. I fled. Dripping, I rushed from the river bank. I had
planned to go back after the baby. I forgot it entirely. The meadows
became alive with shapes and faces. I swear to you that I believed a
terrible green glow hung over the hole in the black water behind me. I
thought this water had opened to receive her. I had not seen it close
again. There was a hole there! She lay in the bottom of it, screaming
terrible screams. The grass of the slope was filled with creatures who
had seen all. The moon rose up the sky with astounding rapidity. Its
rays dropped like showers of arrows. Every sparkling drop of dew became
an eye that watched me as I fled. I sought dark shadows; the moon
snatched them away from me. I ran over the soft carpet of new
vegetation; it seemed to echo with the sounds of a man in wooden shoes,
fleeing over a tiled floor. I fell over in a faint. I regained
consciousness with indescribable agonies.

Then and then only did I remember the flask in my pocket. I drank. The
stimulant, contrary to my expectation, flew into my brain like fire. I
was crazy for more of this relief. I had believed it would sharpen my
wits for further action; I found it made me disregard the existence of a
world. And instead of suffering fear or regret, I was mad with joy. I
drained the flask, hummed a tune, grew foolish in my mutterings to my
own ears, and at last, glad of the warmth of the spring night, welcomed
sleep as a luxury never before enjoyed by mortal man in all of history.

It is unnecessary to tell you of my awakening. Though no one was about,
the air seemed to ring with the news of a floating body. I had slept,
but that wonderful sleep had robbed me of all possibility of defending
myself. Believing this, I tried to escape the town. The sun was worse
than the moon. It poked fun at me. From the moment I awoke to look into
the face of this mocking sun, I knew that my capture could not be
prevented. The very fact that I myself believed so thoroughly that I
could not escape, determined the outcome. To feel the hand of the law on
my shoulder was a blessed relief. It seemed to save me so much useless
thought and unavailing effort. It was as welcome as death must be to a
pain-racked incurable. This touch of the hand of the law is a blessed
thing; it is as comforting as the touch of a mother's hand. So lovely
did it seem that it put me into a mind when, for a little kindly
encouragement, I would have said, "You have opened your doors to welcome
me in. God bless you for your insight. I am the man!"

I do not know why I shook my head at my accusers with stupid
complacency. My denial of guilt seemed to me a trivial lie. I had become
a man of wood. I went through my trial like a carven image. I seemed to
myself to be a puppet, a jointed figure, a manikin. In a dull, insensate
way I had learned to hate the Judge as a superior being who showed
loathing for me on his face. The jury foreman and all the rest there in
the court-room day after day were as little to me as a lot of
mountebanks on a stage. Yet it was the foreman, with his red, bursting
face and thin, yellow hair and fat hand stuck in his trousers' pocket,
who awakened me from this strange and comfortable coma of the trial.
"Because of reasonable doubt," he said, with his unconscious humor, "we
find the prisoner"--here he paused and shifted his feet like a schoolboy
who has forgotten his piece--"we find him not guilty."

Not guilty! I was free! It crashed in upon my senses. Suddenly there
came back to me the existence of my little daughter--the existence of my
blood--the fact that I had pledged myself to another crime in the name
of humanity--that its execution awaited me. Damn them! They had gone
wrong. They had thrown me back on the world. They had denied me the
comfort of the law--that thing which had touched me on the throat with
its firm hands and had promised me oblivion. They had left me staring at
the terrible mind-picture of a little child asleep in its crib with the
thing that was me lurking in its heart, in its lungs, in the cells of
its brain.

"I did it," I whispered to my lawyer.

"You spoke too late," he said, gathering up his papers. "You have been
tried. And for that crime you can never be tried again! Come with me. I
have a carriage outside. Where are you going?"

"For alcohol!" I said, gritting my teeth.

"That is a matter of indifference to me," he replied, sniffing with a
miserable form of contempt. "Our relationship is over anyhow!"

His eyes were upon me with the same expression as the others. They
looked at me everywhere. Youthful eyes ran along beside the carriage; a
hundred pairs watched me after I had alighted and the vehicle had gone.
The darkness came on as a kind thing which threw a merciful blanket over
me. I thanked the night. I was grateful for the world's vicious classes,
so used to violence that they did not stare at me. I thanked the good
old rough crowd, the fist-pounding, the hard-talking, hoarse-voiced
loafers whose leers showed envy of my notoriety. And all the time I
thought of my child, of the blood of my fathers which, against all my
vows, had escaped again, and with the stimulant whirling in my head, I
determined to go back to the other end of town, to the house where I
knew this menace to the world lay smiling in its crib.

Yet when I had carried out all but the last chapter of my plans, when
I, like a thief, had slipped off into the night with my little daughter
in my arms, I found that I held her tight against my aching heart. At
last I knew fear--no longer the fear that I would not carry out my aim,
but fear that I would.

Again, out of the grass and down from the apple trees, drops of dew
glinted through the darkness like a thousand human eyes. Then suddenly
they all vanished, and as I walked along in the shadows I believed that
some one trod behind. I heard soft footsteps in the grass. I thought I
felt human breath upon my neck. Some one came behind me and yet I did
not dare to look, for I knew if I turned I would see the pale, thin face
of Mary, with her wistful eyes.

She was there--

I say, visible or not, she was there. I knew then, as if I had heard her
command, that I must go up the slope to the Judge's house and knock upon
the door. As I walked, she walked with me, watching me as I held the
sleeping baby in my arms, fearing perhaps that in my drunken course I
would fall.

And then--after I had been knocked senseless by the reporter's fist and
at last regained consciousness--then, after all the years, at that
terrible moment, a self-confessed murderer, a half-witted, half-sodden,
disheveled, driven, half-wild creature, what prank did Fate play? Who
stood there, gazing at me with full recognition in her eyes and begging
for my life? You know the story already. It was Margaret, the woman of a
thousand dreams,--the woman I had lost.



                              CHAPTER III

                               THE GHOST


You know, too, of that night. But this you do not know--that a mile out
of the village I sat on a boulder in a hillside pasture and watched the
flames of a terrible fire, without any knowledge of what house was
burning, and that it was not until a man came along the road long after
daybreak, with a shovel over his shoulder, that I had the energy to
stir.

He saw me as I got up; he waved his hand.

"Bad fire," he shouted, not recognizing me.

"Whose house?" I asked.

"Judge Colfax."

My heart came gurgling up into my throat.

"Anybody lost in it?" I asked, trembling.

"No," said he. "Everybody got out. The servant got out and the Judge
saved his baby and there wasn't anybody else in it. Those three. That
was all."

His words stunned me at first. I said them over and over after he had
gone, because I could not seem to believe their meaning. Those three!
That was all! What I could not do by my will, another Will had done. The
Great Hand had swept away my fears! Above my grief I felt the presence
of one marvelous fact. The inheritance I had allowed to escape me had
been ended again! Once more my body was the only body in all the world
containing the terrible ingredients of my strain of blood. I raised my
face toward the blue of heaven and gave vent to a long cry of
triumphant, hysterical, passionate exultation.

I became possessed of the desire to make sure, to ask again, to hear
once more the phrase, "Those three. That was all," and then turn my back
on the town forever. With this idea I walked swiftly into the village,
choosing a back street until I had reached a point opposite the smoking
ruins of the Judge's house. The crowd was still buzzing back and forth
along the fence and gathered about the old-fashioned fire engine that
was still spitting sparks and pumping water. I slipped into the back
yard of the house just across the street, half afraid to show myself,
half mad to ask some one the question I had asked the man with the
shovel.

Then, suddenly, as I stood hesitating, I heard Margaret Murchie's voice
in the window above me--I recognized it instantly.

"There is some one at the door, Judge. The secret is safe with me," she
whispered.

At the same moment something fell at my feet. It was the tiny locket my
child had worn on its little neck from the day the mother had fastened
it there. What secret had Margaret meant? The locket was the answer! I
had been a plaything of some unknown, malicious fiend again. The rescued
baby was not the Judge's baby. That was the secret! The child I heard
crying there was mine!

I felt like a creature in a haunted place, pursued by devils, mocked by
strange voices in the air, deceived by the senses, tricked by
unrealities, persecuted by memories, the victim of fear, falsities, and
impotent rage. I rushed away from the spot, walked many miles, and at
last, coming to the railroad again, I took a train and for weeks,
without money, rode westward on freight trains. I dropped out of sight.
I lost my name. I even lost much of my flesh. I was as thoroughly dead
as a living man could be. The world had buried me.

Almost immediately the body and its organs, which had borne up with such
infernal endurance for the express purpose of making the ruin of my soul
complete, gave way. Suddenly my stomach, as if possessing a malicious
intelligence of its own, refused the stimulant with which I had helped
to accomplish my slide to the bottom of life and with which I had
expected to be able to dull the mental and physical pains of my final
accounting. My mind now found itself picturing with feverish desire all
the old pleasures. At the same moment my flesh and bones forbade me to
enjoy them. My body had caught my mind like a rat in a trap!

Day followed day, week, week, and year, year. It was a weary monotony of
manual labor, poverty, restless travel, on foot, and hopeless attempts
to recover my birthright--the privileges of excess--which had gone from
me forever. Cities and their bright lights laughed at me.

I suffered the tortures of insomnia, the pains of violent rheumatism,
the dreadful imprisonment of a partial paralysis. I was in and out of
hospitals. I spent months on my back, entertained only by my lurid
memories. My mind became starved for new material on which to work. It
was at that period that I first learned to obscure the awful presence of
my own personality by flinging my thoughts into the problems of chess.

I recalled often enough the fact that somewhere I had a daughter. No
night passed that I did not go to sleep wondering where she might be. I
realized that she was growing up somewhere. I realized, too, that a
child of fancy was growing up in my mind. I could see her in her crib, a
laughing baby uttering meaningless sounds, clasping a flower in her fat
little fist. I could see her in short skirts, trying to walk upstairs,
clinging to the banister. I could hear her first words. I saw her
learning to read. Little by little her hair grew. It reached a length
which made a braid necessary. At times I saw her laugh,--this child of
the imagination,--and once, left alone at dusk, she had wept over some
cross word that had been spoken to her. I could see her tears glisten on
her cheeks in the fading light.

"Little girl!" I cried aloud. "Come to me! It's I! Little girl!"

The sound of my own voice startled me. I found myself sitting in the
Denver railroad station with my hands clasped around my thin knees.

No man's own blood ever haunted him more than mine. I had not seen the
child, yet I loved her. She had no knowledge of my existence, yet she
seemed to call to me. I suffered a dreadful thought--the fear that I
should die before I saw her and feasted my eyes upon my own. I struggled
to keep myself from going to seek her. I felt as one who, being dead,
impotently desires to return to the world and touch the hands of the
living. Year after year the desire grew strong to rise from my grave and
call out that she was mine.

At last I yielded to my temptation--fool that I was! I came eastward. I
made cautious inquiry. I arrived in this city where I had heard the
Judge had gone. The mere fact of proximity to her made me tremble as I
alighted from the train. I had expected difficulties in finding her. But
when I telephoned to the name I had found in the book and heard a voice
say that the Judge had just gone out with his daughter, I felt that I
was in a dream. A strange faintness came over me. The glass door of the
booth reflected my image--the face of a frightened old man. It was
remarkable that I did not fall forward sprawling, unconscious.

Before seeking a lodging I sat for hours in a park. Young girls passed,
fresh, beautiful, laughing, going home from school.

"Can that be she?" I asked a dozen times, looking after one of those
chosen from among the others. "What can she be like? What would she say
to me?"

Suddenly I realized again that I did not exist, that she could not know
that I had ever existed, that whatever pain it might cost me, she must
never know. If I saw her, it must be as a ghost peeping through a
crevice in the wall. These were my thoughts as I sat on the park bench
hour after hour until a little outcast pup--a thin, bony creature,
kicked and beaten, came slinking out of the gathering dusk and licked my
hand. It was the first love I had felt in years. My whole being screamed
for it. I caught up the pariah and warmed its shivering body in my
arms. This was the dog that, two years later, I lost along with the
locket in the Judge's old garden where I had gone indiscreetly, praying
that I might get a peep in the window and see my own girl--so wonderful,
so beautiful, so good--reading by the lamp.

You need not think I had not seen her before. If I spent my working
hours manipulating the automaton at the old museum, all my leisure I
spent in seeking a glimpse of my own daughter. The very sight of her was
nourishment to my starving heart. Many is the time I have hobbled along
far behind her as she walked on the city pavements. Months on end I
strolled by the house at night to throw an unseen caress up at a lighted
window. I have seen a doctor's carriage at that door with my heart in my
mouth. I have seen admiration, given by a glance from a girl friend,
with a father's pride so great and real that it took strength of mind to
restrain myself from stopping the nearest passer-by and saying, "Look!
She is mine!"

Again the malicious fortune into which I was born was making game of me;
it had made my daughter more than a mere girl, whom I was forbidden to
claim. It had made her the loveliest creature in the world! I cried out
against it all. I knew that if I would, I could claim her. She was mine.
I had the right of a father. She was still a child. I loved her. I
wanted to have the world know that whatever else I had done and whatever
doubts I had once felt about the blood that was in my veins and hers,
now I was sure that I could claim a great achievement and hold aloft the
gift to mankind of this blooming flower.

I remembered then, however, what I had been. I saw in the bit of mirror
in my squalid lodgings a countenance stained with the indelible ink of
vice and moulded beyond repair by excesses and the sufferings of shame.
Could I present this horror to my daughter? Could I destroy her by
claiming her? Could I blight her life by thrusting my love for her
beyond the secret recesses of my own heart?

"No!" I whispered. And I prayed for strength.

Above all, I knew that except for regaining, by reading books, the
refinement of my youth, I was not changed. I knew I was not, and never
should be free from the old vicious fiends within myself. I could not,
had I come to her with health, prosperity, and a good name, have offered
her safety from my brutal nature. I had even abused the dog which had
been my only companion and the one living thing that had love for me in
its heart. I can see its eyes upon me now, with their reproach, and, I
imagine, with their distrust. I had cowed its spirit with my passions of
rage, my kicks and my curses, for each of which I had felt a torment of
regret and with each of which came a hundred vain vows to myself never
to let my nature get the best of me again. I had grown old, but I could
not trust myself more than before. I even feared that some day I might
reveal voluntarily my existence to my daughter, so that a final and
terrible, unspeakable culminating evil deed should mark the end of my
career. I feared this even more than another narrow escape from
accidental disclosure, such as I had had in my first attempt to enter
the old garden on that winter night I remember so well.

At these times I have kept away for weeks and weeks, mad for want of the
sight of her. I had been forbidden liquor by wrecked organs, but now the
sound of her voice at a distance, the sight of her perfect skin was like
a draft of wine to me. Crazed with the lack of it, I always at last gave
up my struggle, and with my heart filled with the tormented affections
of a father, I went back to my watching and waiting, to my interest in
her school, her clothes, her young friends, her health, her afternoon
walks. I watched Margaret Murchie, too, with strange memories that
caught me by the throat. And ever and ever I watched the Judge. Unseen,
unknown, careful never to show myself often in the neighborhood for fear
of attracting attention, as sly as a fox, suffering like a thing in an
inferno, and no more than a lonesome ghost, I tried to determine if the
Judge were acting my part as he should--he who had taken what was mine
by the gift of God.

Chance, as you now know, threw him into a place where he was no longer a
stranger to me. He became a visitor to the "Man with the Rolling Eye,"
though I believe he used to call my automaton "The Sheik of Baalbec." It
was my delight to beat him in a battle of skill and at the same time,
from my peephole, scan his face to read his character.

At last one day he brought this young man, Estabrook.

What awakened all my sense of danger then, I cannot explain. I only know
that as this young man walked toward the machine, I realized a truth
that had never so presented itself before. My daughter was no longer a
girl! She was now a woman! Some man would come for her. And I believe I
would have been filled with hatred and fear, no matter what man he had
been.

That night I tossed upon my bed, feverish with new thoughts. I realized
that soon there would be a turn in the road of my own child's destiny. I
realized with agony which I cannot describe that I could use no guiding
hand. I hungered for the responsibility of a father. I cried out aloud
that now, in this choosing of men, I should have a word. I writhed as I
had often writhed, because, loving her too much, I was forbidden to
perform the offices of my affection. The tears that had come before now
came again, and I wept for hours, as I had wept on other occasions.

I began a new and indiscreet observation. I found that this young man
was a real menace. I followed him as he walked with her, liking him no
better when I saw a look in my daughter's eyes that never had been there
before. I would have interfered with his lovemaking, had I been able.

"God," I whispered, "I am only a ghost!"

Then chance gave me, I thought, an opportunity to strike at his courage.
He is here. He can tell you of the message the automaton scrawled for
him on a bit of paper. But he cannot tell the anxious hours, the frantic
hours, a tormented outcast spent before that message was written,
lurking in front of the Judge's house, watching with eyes red with
sleeplessness for every little sign of what was going on. Nor can he
tell you of the terror that came into a lonely creature's soul the night
the Judge came down his front steps and met a shadow of the past, face
to face. It is only I who may describe the horror of that meeting. The
recognition of my identity by a dog who whined and cowered, and then by
a man, whose breath gurgled in his throat and whose skin turned white,
are things that no man knows but me.

I can see the Judge's face now. It looked upon me with the same accusing
expression that I knew so well, and I slunk away believing that the
worst had at last come. He had seen behind the mask of my years, my
physical decline and my suffering. In one glance, before he turned
dizzily back toward the house, he had taken my secret away from me. He
knew me!

The madness of desperation came over me then. It was that which caused
me to write the message through the hand of my automaton; it was that
which led me to conceive the folly that, being known by the Judge to be
living, I might, in the name of my love for my daughter, tell him out of
my own mouth that I would never molest them.

I had stood all that man could bear. For the second time in my
desperation, I entered the garden. I climbed the balcony. The Judge was
there. Estabrook was there. They both saw me. I fled with their staring
eyes pursuing me.

What more can I tell?

You have heard.

I am a miserable man.



                                BOOK VII

                            THE PANELED DOOR


                                CHAPTER I

                           THE SCRATCHING SOUND


Estabrook listened to the story of Mortimer Cranch, sometimes staring
into the wizened face of the speaker, sometimes gazing into the depths
of the painted Gardens of Versailles. When at last, in a hollow voice
which reverberated through the scene loft, Cranch had ended, the younger
man jumped forward with his eyes blazing, his hands clenched, his
nostrils distended.

"What is wrong with my wife now?" he roared. "You know. Tell me or I'll
tear you to pieces!"

There was a moment in which the place was as still as a tomb. I myself
drew no breath, but watched the half-bald head of the criminal shake
sadly.

Then suddenly he looked up. With one claw-like finger, he pointed at
Estabrook. Hate and distrust were in his eyes.

"You know!" he piped in a thin but terrible voice. There was no doubting
the sincerity of his accusation.

"I know?" cried Estabrook, falling back. "I know?"

"It began when you left the house!" cried Cranch. "I've always watched
on and off since you married her. I'm her father. I've loved her as no
one knows. It was my right to watch. I've been nearly mad with worry.
What have you done to her? You have dug me out of the grave, I tell you.
Now we're face to face. What have you done with my girl?"

The lonely, ruined man had thrown his arms forward. He wore dignity. For
a passing second he became a figure to inspire awe; for a moment he
seemed the incarnation of a great self-sacrifice. And in that pause he
saw that Estabrook's expression had suddenly filled with sympathy, as if
in a flash a warmer circulation of blood stirred in his veins; as if,
suddenly, his sight had been cleared so that he could picture all the
suffering which Cranch had been forced to keep locked up within himself,
through dragging years. He reached for the extended, bare, and bony
wrist of the older man and grasped its cords in his strong fingers.

"Come," said he softly, "there is no time for us who have loved her so
much, each in his own way, to misunderstand."

Cranch did not answer. He did not move a muscle. But his eyes filled
with the thin tears of aged persons.

"And now, Doctor," said Estabrook, wheeling toward me, "we must find
out if Margaret has sent us word."

He plucked my sleeve; he started toward the stairs. He turned his back
on the Gardens of Versailles and the vagrant who kneeled beside the cot
in the foreground, with his face buried in the red blankets.

It was the hoarse call of this ghost of a man that stopped us.

"Estabrook!" he said.

"Yes."

"We may never meet again."

The younger man went back and without speaking, clasped the other's
hand.

"You will tell one person--just one--about me?" asked Cranch.

"Julianna!" Estabrook exclaimed with horror.

The other shook his head patiently from side to side.

"I meant Margaret Murchie," he whispered.

Then, feeling the wistful gaze of his worn and watery eyes upon our
backs, we left the Mohave Scenic Studio forever. A run across town in my
car brought us again to my door. My scrawny busybody of a maid opened it
before I had opportunity to even draw forth my key.

"Four or five telephone calls," she said with her impudent importance,
"but only one is pressing."

"One?" cried I, "who from?"

"Somebody I don't know, Doctor. Margaret Somebody. She left a message.
She wouldn't say no more than just one word."

"What was that word?" cried Estabrook at my shoulder.

"Danger."

I suppose that both of us felt the shock and then the tingle of
excitement in the meaning of that phrase, interpreted in the light of
our understanding.

"Doctor!" the young man shouted.

"Yes, Estabrook," said I; "keep your nerve. I think I have the key to
this problem in my possession. I have not yet explained. I did not want
to do so unless it was necessary. But if I am right you must not weaken.
You must be ready to throw your whole strength into loyalty and
affection for your wife and courage to protect her at any cost!"

"I'm ready!" he cried. "I feel that I must win her all over again. She
is as fresh and new and beautiful to me as the day I first saw her. And
I love her now as never before!"

"Jump into the car, then!" I commanded, and turning to my chauffeur,
whispered, "To the Marburys'. Where we were this morning. And
what--we--want--is--speed!"

He nodded, but I have no doubt that Estabrook and I both cursed him for
his caution as he slowed down at the crossings, and finally, when, to
conform to the traffic regulation, he circled in front of the banker's
house.

This time neither of us looked up at either residence, but ran forward
toward the Estabrooks' door. I pressed the bell centred in the Chinese
bronze.

Suddenly, however, the unfortunate husband grasped the arm of my coat.

"My promise!" he exclaimed.

"You mean to keep it at any cost?"

"Yes," said he. "I trusted her judgment and her loyalty, and gave her my
word."

"Pah!" I exploded angrily. His literal sense of honor, his narrow
conscience which led him into inexpediency, seemed to me a part of a
feminine rather than of a masculine nature, and more ridiculous than
high-minded.

"Well, wait here, then," I snapped back at him as Margaret Murchie
opened the door. "If necessary I will call you."

The old servant said nothing until we were in the hall, but her face was
white with fear. I read on it the word she had transmitted to us by
telephone. And whether or not it was my imagination, I felt the presence
of a crisis and a forewarning that the inexplicable events which I had
observed were now to come to some explosive end.

Margaret's first words, said to me with her two large hands raised as
if to ward off a menace, were not reassuring.

"The scratching noise!" she cried. "The soft scratching noise!"

I turned her toward me by grasping her shoulder.

"No hysteria," I said firmly. "Every second may count. Tell me quickly
what has happened."

"Yes, sir," she said, bracing herself. "I've done as you told me--very
faithful. I went this morning to get my orders from her. I don't say the
voice that answered me weren't hers."

"Well, would you say it was?" I asked savagely.

"I think I would, sir," she replied. "It was strange and changed and
soft. I could hardly hear it. She said she didn't require anything. So I
came away."

"And then--?"

"And then I did as you told me. I went to her door often enough and
listened. You told me not to call to her unless there wasn't any sound.
But there was a sound--a dreadful sound after a body had listened to it
a bit."

"A sound?"

"Yes, a scratching sound. Sometimes it would stop and then it would go
on again. And all the time it seemed to me more than ever that she
wasn't alone in that room."

"Wasn't alone! What made you think so?" I exclaimed.

"I couldn't just say," answered Margaret. "I've never been able to say.
It's just a feeling--a strange and terrible feeling, sir, that somebody
else is there. But the scratching sound I heard with my two ears. And
you never heard so worrying a sound before!"

"It has stopped?" I said.

"Yes, it has stopped. It stopped just before I telephoned. I thought I
heard something touch the door and I went up and listened. I couldn't
hear anything. I knocked. I got no answer. I remembered your orders. I
wasn't sure whether I could hear breathing or not inside, but I didn't
dare to wait. I called your office, sir. And I thank God you're here!"

"And you didn't break open the door? You didn't even try the knob?"

She looked at me dumbly. Her mouth twitched with her terror.

"I didn't dare. I've had courage for everything in this world, sir," she
said. "But I didn't dare to open that door! I'm glad somebody else has
come into this dreadful house!"

"Which is the room?" I asked.

"Come with me," she replied, beginning her climb of the broad stairs.

Her feet made no noise on the soft carpeting; nor did mine. The whole
house, indeed, seemed stuffy with motionless air, as if not even sound
vibrations had disturbed the deathlike fixity of that interior. As we
turned at the top toward the paneled white door, which I knew as by
instinct was the one we sought, for the first time I became conscious of
the faint ticking of a clock somewhere on the floor above us.

"I've forgot to wind the rest," whispered the old servant, as if she had
divined my thought. "They were driving me mad."

I nodded to show her that now I, too, was beginning to feel the effect
of the strange state of affairs which I had first sensed from the other
side of the blue wall.

"Leave me here," I said to her softly. "Go down to Mr. Estabrook. He is
in the vestibule. He has a message for you from long ago."

I may have spoken significantly; she may have been at that moment
peculiarly sharp to read the meanings behind plain sentences. Whatever
the case, her face lit up with joy--the characteristic, joyful
expression that never comes to the faces of men and few times to the
face of a woman. For a moment youth seemed to return to her. The last
traces of the limber strength of body, gone with her girlhood, came
back. She wore no longer, at that second, the mien of a nun of household
service. She was transfigured.

"It's Monty Cranch!" she cried under her breath. "He isn't dead! I knew
he wasn't. I knew it always."

"Go now," I said. "Mr. Estabrook has something of a story to tell you."

She left me then, standing alone before that white expanse of door. I
was literally and figuratively on the threshold of poor MacMechem's
mystery, knowing well that the solution of it would explain the strange
influence that had registered its effects upon my patient, little
Virginia Marbury.

I listened with my ear pressed softly against the door. No other sign of
life came to me than that of soft breathing. Indeed, even then I had to
admit to myself that I might have imagined the sound. I stood back, as
one does in such circumstances, half afraid to act--half afraid that to
touch the knob or assault the closed and silent room would be to bring
the sky crashing down to earth, turn loose a pestilence, set a demon
free, or expose some sight grisly enough to turn the observer to stone.
I found myself sensing the presence of a person or persons behind the
opaque panels; my eyes were trying, as eyes will, to look through the
painted wooden barrier.

My glance wandered to the top of the door, back again to the middle,
downward toward the bottom. The house was so still, now that Margaret
had stepped out of it into the vestibule, that the ears imagined that
they heard the beating of great velvety black wings. The gloom of the
drawn blinds produced strange shadows, in which the eyes endeavored to
find lurking, unseen things that watched the conduct and the destinies
of men. But my eyes and ears returned again each time to their vain
attention to the entrance of that room, as if the stillness and the
gloom bade me listen and look, while I stood there hesitant.

At last the reason for my hesitancy, the reason for my reluctance, the
reason for my staring, suddenly appeared as if some fate had directed my
observation. A corner of an envelope was protruding from beneath the
door!

I felt as I pulled the envelope through that the next moment might bring
a piteous outcry from within, as if I had drawn upon the vital nerves of
an organism. Yet none came; I found myself erect once more with the
envelope in my hand, reading the writing on its face. It was scrawled in
a trembling hand.

"Margaret," it said, "send for my husband. Give him this envelope
without opening it yourself. Give it to him before he comes to this
door."

"Poor woman!" I said with a sudden awakening of sympathy. "Poor, poor
woman!"

With my whispered words repeating themselves in my mind, I retraced my
way along the hall, down the stairs.

I opened the front door quietly. My first glance showed me the
countenance of the old servant; it was lighted by the words which the
young man was saying to her.

"Estabrook," said I.

He jumped like a wounded man.

"She is not dead?" he groaned.

"No," said I; "not dead. Come in. She has sent for you."

"Sent for me!" he cried, trying to dash by me.

"Wait," I commanded. "Before you go, come into this reception room. This
message is for you."

He took the envelope, almost crunching it in his nervous fingers.

"Remember what I told you," I cautioned him.

"Told me?"

"Yes. To be strong," said I. "To be loyal."

He nodded, then ran his finger under the flap. There were several sheets
of thin paper folded within.

"Her writing!" he exclaimed. "But so strange--so steady--so much like
her writing when I first knew her. Why, Doctor, it is her old
self--it's Julianna."

"Sit down," I suggested.

He spread the papers on his knee.

As he read on, I saw the color leave his skin, I saw his hands draw the
sheets so taut that there was danger of their parting under the strain.
I heard the catch in each breath he took. As he read, I looked away,
observing the refined elegance of the room in which we were sitting and
even noting the bronze elephant on the mantel which I remembered was the
very one which Judge Colfax had thrown at the dog "Laddie." It was not
until he had reached forward and touched my sleeve that I knew he had
finished.

I looked up then. He had buried his head in the curve of his arm. His
body seemed to stiffen and relax alternately as if unable to contain
some great grief or some great joy which accumulated and burst forth,
only to accumulate again.

I heard him whisper, "Julianna."

I saw his hand extending the paper toward me with the evident meaning
that I should read it.

I took it from him.

I have that very paper now. It reads as follows.



                               BOOK VIII

                         FROM THE WOMAN'S HAND


                               CHAPTER I

                         THE VOICE OF THE BLOOD


I am a miserable woman.

Before I ask you to return to me, I am determined that you shall know
the truth. I beg you to read this and consider well what I am and what I
have done before you undertake life with me or again bring your love
into my keeping. This I ask for your sake and for my own; for yours,
because I grant that you have been deceived and owe me nothing; for my
own, because I believe that I have borne all that I can, and to have you
come back to me without knowing all, and without still loving me as you
used to love me, would break my heart.

I must not write you with emotion; I must stifle my desire to cry out
for your sympathy. I shall write without even the tenderness of a woman.

I am the daughter of a murderer.

In my veins is an inheritance of unspeakable, viciousness.

Before the death of him who I had believed all my life was my own
father, I was wholly in ignorance of my own nature. I believed that I
took from two noble parents the full assurance that I would be exempt
from weakness, that I, with brain cells formed like theirs, would
possess forever their tenderness, their geniality, and their strength of
will.

You know well how strong a faith I had in the power of inherited
character. To it I attributed all that was good in me. I realize now how
cruel is this doctrine of heredity; I have spent my strength and given
my soul in a battle to prove that I was wrong, that it is not a true
doctrine and that God and the human will can laugh in its face.

Without knowing my experience, however, you cannot know to what extent I
have been successful. I must tell the story of the tempests which have
swayed my mind, of the contests between good and evil, of the narrow
gate where my will has made its last defense against the onslaught of
terror and destruction.

To my task!

You remember the paper that I burned at dawn which my foster father had
dropped from his fingers, stiffening in death. It was his last message
to me, written in infinite pain and in an agony of doubt, intended to
warn me of the truth that I was not by inheritance strong, but weak, not
good, but bad. It told me that I was not the daughter of my mother,
whose gentle goodness seemed to fill the old home like a lingering
aroma, nor of him who was so strong and so respected of all men, but the
daughter of a pitiable woman of the tenements who had passed her days in
singing and dancing for pennies thrown at her, and of a man who, having
descended from a long line of exquisite savagery, self-indulgence, and
weakness, had been driven by his inheritance through all excesses and
finally to the murder of his wife and the wish to strangle me in my
crib.

Can you conceive the effect of this truth upon my mind?

At first I was merely frozen with terror. I did not fully grasp the
significance of these lines of writing in which he who loved me so well
had endeavored to soften for me his warning against the latent horrors
that had been locked up within me. At first I did not realize that the
same night which marked his death had marked also the death of my old
self.

Indeed, my first thought was of you. The message had said plainly that I
might consider myself the sole possessor of my secret. I was certain
that you did not know. I felt the desire to prevent you from ever
knowing; I felt the wildness of a tigress at the thought that any one
might take my secret from me. Between your hearing the truth about me
and my giving you up forever, I had no hesitancy of choice. You must
never know, I told myself. Though you were all that was left in my
life, I might send you away, but to tell you the truth about myself
would be, I believed, to end your love for me which was all that was
left to the comfort of my heart. And at that idea I screamed aloud in
agony.

I still possessed my conscience; I promised myself over and over again
in those hours that I would not deceive you. I did not think for a
moment then of asking you to take me with the understanding that you
knew there was some terrible thing about me which you were forbidden to
know. If in those moments, then, when you came to my room at dawn, I
made that bargain with you, so that I might feel your arms about me, and
know that I was not to lose you, it was the act of a woman who had just
lost her girlhood and whose life had been torn to shreds.

I made a terrible mistake. I know it now. The fact that you have
refrained so honorably from asking me the forbidden question and also
the fact of your keeping your promise to stay away during these last
days, though you were in ignorance of my motives in asking it, has shown
me that I might well have disclosed all to you. Without meaning to do
so, I have tested not only your honor but something more. I have proved
to myself that, behind your undemonstrative exterior which I have
sometimes felt was cold, you have that love and tenderness of spirit
which is capable of faith and loyalty and the warmth of which endures
the better because covered. I should have told you because the secret
has mocked me and because nothing can last between man and woman without
truth.

I should have told you, moreover, because you might have prevented the
terrible result of my knowledge of what I am in bone, blood, fibre, and
brain.

That knowledge began its corrupting influence at once; it accumulated
force as time went on. The irresistible pull of that knowledge has
brought me to the point where I know not whether it is heredity, or the
knowledge of it, which presses upon me--which has driven me like a
slave. At times I feel certain that the last message of Judge Colfax,
rather than the danger of which it intended to warn me, has been my
menace.

At first I recalled the fact of my birth and inheritance with resentment
and courage.

"I am myself," I have exclaimed. "I alone am responsible for my life, my
thoughts, my actions. They shall be according to my will to make them."

Then the haunting doubt would oppose itself to my claim. It spoke to me
like a person.

"No," it said. "You are not yourself. You are the victim of fixed laws.
The zebra is striped rather than spotted because its forebears wore
stripes. So with you. You are half murderess and half gutter-snipe. You
are woven according to the pattern. You are moulded according to the
mould. You are a prisoner of heredity. Deceive yourself if you will for
a time, but sooner or later you, like those from whom you came and of
whom you are a part, will be the plaything of self-indulgence and
weakness and passion. Fate has made your image that you see in the
mirror, refined and comely so that you may see the better the work of
heredity when it asserts itself."

This voice was ever at my ear. It became a personal voice. I thought at
first that it was the voice of some other being. At last I came by slow
changes to the belief that it was not a voice outside of me. It was my
Self that spoke. It was the heritage of evil within me. The thing that
whispered to me with its condemning voice, frightening away my courage
and sapping my strength of will, was my own blood!

I began to watch for the outcropping of evil in my conduct--for the
moment when the force of heredity within me would make itself known to
you and to the world. No morning dawned that I did not ask myself if
night would fall without some opening of the gates of my character
behind which so much that was evil, I believed, was clamoring to escape.
I lived in two lives. In one I was your wife and the girl you had
known, who now existed like an automaton, going senselessly through the
acts of day to day existence. In the other I was a condemned victim,
waiting in apprehension for the call of terrible and evil authority.

It was an accident which, at last, made real my fancies.

You remember that I was thrown from a horse. You remember that for days
a torn nerve in my elbow gave me excruciating pain. You remember that,
having regained my senses after the setting of the bone, I would not
allow the doctor to give me any narcotic. You remember my protests
against that form of relief.

I was afraid. I trembled not only with pain. I trembled with terror.

I believed I was on the threshold of danger. I felt the impending of
ruin. Though I had never experienced the sensation of an opiate I even
found my body already crying for its comfort. I found myself struggling
hour after hour with a desire to try myself. I alternated between a
belief that I was strong enough for the test and the instinct that told
me the blood in my veins was waiting like a wild animal to pounce upon a
first form of self-indulgence.

At last I yielded.

"There is no harm in the proper use of this," said the doctor, seeing
my expression,--"by a woman of your type."

I laughed in his face.

I hardly recognized the sound of this laugh; it was not my own. It was
the laugh of a new personality. It was care-free and desperate at one
time.

"There is no need of your suffering so terribly after each adjustment I
make of these cords," said the doctor a few days later, sympathetically.

"But I suffer so at night," said I.

"I will leave you something," said he. "Do not use it oftener than
necessary."

Why should I tell you the imperceptible steps by which, partly because I
believed myself destined to become a victim, I fell an abject slave to
this drug? I need only say that while my arm was still suffering from
its injury I gave myself false promises from time to time. "When the
pain is gone," I said a thousand times, "there will be no need of this
comforter."

When I was obliged to admit that I suffered no more, it was a shock to
find myself secretly procuring the opiate in order to continue its use
undiscovered.

"This will be the last time," I often said.

Then something laughed within me.

It was my blood laughing. It was my blood mocking me.

I began to experience a cycle of terrible emotions which consumed my
days. They began with shame, with injured pride, and terrible grief.
They then passed first to vain resolves, then to fear of myself,
followed by the feeling that what must be is inevitable and that
struggle to escape from the weakness given me by birth was hopeless.
This belief led me over and over again to surrender, but with surrender
came the fear of exposure of my new secret.

As long as I dared I used a prescription which the doctor had given me.
I made guilty trips to the drug store where I had been from the first. I
began to feel that strangers who had followed me into the store by
chance were there by design to spy upon me. My own furtive glances were
enough to excite suspicion. My more frequent purchases were enough to
confirm them. At last one day I read in the eyes of the clerk who waited
on me the question which must have been in his mind. I seized my package
and rushed out onto the street, knowing that I would never dare return.

I went then from one place to another in shrinking fear of detection. In
each one my experience was repeated until I believe I began to wear the
air of a hunted creature.

So suspicious were my actions that at last a drug clerk shook my little
worn-out slip of paper against the glass perfume case and scowled at
me.

"The last half of the doctor's name is torn off," he said insolently.
"Where did you get this?"

I could not speak.

"I'm sorry," he snarled. "We don't sell that under these circumstances.
Where do you live, madam?"

I hurried out into the street.

There I noticed that a tall young man, who had been staring at me, with
a row of gold teeth accenting a diabolical smile, had followed me from
the store. After I had walked half a block to find my carriage, he spoke
to me.

"I can sell you something just as good," he whispered by my side. "I do
a little quiet business in it. It's not for yourself, is it?"

"No," I said, trembling from head to foot. "It is for an unfortunate
woman, whose name must not be disclosed."

"Call her She," he suggested with a leer. "Here is an address. Send a
messenger boy whenever you like. Every one thinks I am a perfume
manufacturer."

This was the opening of greater comfort to me; my terror of detection
was lessened. As time passed I found that my moral sense was being
dulled, little by little. I was fulfilling my destiny. I was living
according to my arrangement of brain cells. In spite of his warning--or
perhaps solely because of it--the fears of my foster father were
realized. I was I!

Four weeks ago came a new thing. It burst like dynamite. It gripped my
heart. It felt along the chords of my womanhood. I could not escape its
presence. It cried to me in the darkness. It walked beside me in the
sunlight.



                               CHAPTER II

                             THIS NEW THING


It has been hard for me to tell coldly of my first weakness; it will be
harder still for me to write of what has followed, without letting
escape on this page the emotions which are in my heart. This new thing
awakened me with a start from my slumber of indifference and my
philosophy of defeat.

With a sudden return of my old self I began to have my first doubts
about the powers of heredity. I began to wonder if fear of myself,
inspired by knowledge of whence I came, rather than any true inherited
traits, had not been my undoing. I found that I had not changed so much,
after all. The goodness in me had not gone. I saw in my mirror the
Julianna you had known and loved. I felt new faith.

I felt new faith in the goodness of the plan under which men and women
live and strive. I had always believed in a Divine Spirit if for no
other reason than that I and all living things through all time had
sensed somewhere beyond their full understanding the existence of a
dynamic of creation and order. I believed, if you wish me to phrase it
so, in God. It seemed to me in my new awakening that no human creature
could be made by such a Spirit the plaything of so cruel a thing as
all-powerful heredity.

"He must give us all a chance," I cried with tears on my cheeks. "It
must be true that I can save myself by fight. It cannot be that I will
be deprived of the opportunity of putting an end to this evil descent.
My father sought to strangle me because he believed he would appear in
my blood. Now it is I, who, finding him there, must strangle him!" And
I, in my agony, fell upon my knees and prayed.

You were asleep when, in my bare feet, forgetful of the cold, I stood
hour after hour at the window of my room, listening to your breathing.
In those hours, little by little I realized that it was not escape from
a single weakness or indulgence which I must seek, but that I must
reëstablish mastery over myself. I knew that no help from without would
accomplish this mastery. I made up my mind to fight single-handed, and
to stake myself and if necessary, my life, in a battle to place again my
will upon its throne.

Accordingly I took, as I supposed, my last dose of opiate and under its
influence, which gave me strength, I pleaded with you to leave me alone
in this house for three weeks. You yielded. I then ordered all
furnishings out of my chamber, and all the servants except Margaret out
of the house, to the end that no sight or sound should draw my attention
or my thoughts from my purpose.

I had a plentiful supply of my drug. You will doubtless want to know
what I did with it. I took it with me into my retreat.

My first day I suffered the deprivation but little; it was on the second
that I moved my mattress where I could concentrate all my attention on a
single wall of the four. On the third day I began to lose track of time.
I had feared much, but not the degree of suffering which the pains of
denial now piled upon me in an accumulating load.

Often I fell forward prostrate on the floor, squirming in my agony of
body and mind, while within me a battle went raging on between the
spirit and the flesh. My eyes would search for the packet of drugs lying
on the floor within my reach and rest upon the sight of it, staring as
mad persons must stare. It was my will that held my hand.

Can you imagine the eternal vacillation of such a contest? Then you will
know that desire fighting against reason now drove my will back step by
step until it was tottering on the brink of chaos, and again, in a
triumph of resistance, my determination swept everything before it until
I longed to rise, to throw my arms upward, fingers extended, and cry
aloud my victory.

On the other hand, a thousand moments came when, ready to yield to my
temptation, I have dropped on my knees on the boards and, with my eyes
fixed upon that wall, have prayed like mad, hour after hour, my lips
parched and blood running from my bare knees.

Voices whispered to me that I was a fanatic, pinning my faith to
superstition and the practices of savagery. I whispered back to them
that they should see me victorious at last.

"How long will you fight?" said they mockingly.

"Till desire is gone and the will has nothing to fight for," I answered
them.

"You are insane," they said, speaking like so many devils.

"We shall know better at the end," I replied softly.

These dialogues, the torture of which no one can know, went on
eternally. They were arguments, I knew, between my ingenious mind and
the will which was trying to reclaim its mastery of my thought.

Night and day became all one to me. I lost count of the hours, then of
the days. I became filled with the fear that three weeks would go by,
that you would return too soon, that interruption would come before my
fight had been determined one way or the other. This terror was enough
to weaken me. I felt it many times and on each occasion drew so near the
bare wall that I could throw my weight against it and lose all external
thoughts by staring at the blank surface, with all but one purpose
banished from my mind.

I have eaten merely to live, slept only to repair my strength. Each
morsel of food has added to my bodily anguish, each falling asleep has
meant a horrible awakening to new, exquisite torture of the body. My
hands have become black by resting on the bare boards, my nails torn by
scratching over the covering of my mattress. My hair is matted. My
throat, dry with prayers, is almost voiceless, my lips are cracked like
old leather.

I do not tell you these things to gain your sympathy, but so that, if
you should want to come back to me, you will not be shocked to find me
horrible.

I must go on.

Five days ago my craving began to yield. The blessedness of the relief
is beyond description. Little by little the resistance to my will
weakened. Little by little my will gained mastery. It seemed a youthful
giant, learning its power. It seemed to fill the room, to seek to reach
beyond and find new labors for its strength. I felt the moment approach
when I, no longer a slave of myself, could indeed rise from thanks to
God and feel my triumph sure.

I dared three days ago to touch my drugs, to take them in my hand, to
mock them.

Yesterday I got up. I began to write this message.

I could hear martial music as I wrote and the tramp of a million feet.
It was the army of men and women who have fought against evil and
won,--they who have been masters of themselves. As they passed, they
cheered me, each one; they waved their hats and hands!

And afterward there came a little child and smiled and stretched his
arms out to me. He was glad.

For he is to be my own.



                                 BOOK IX

                             BEHIND THE WALL


                                CHAPTER I

                          AN ANSWER TO MACMECHEM


Such was the message Julianna had sent her husband. I read it and,
without speaking, I arose and touched Estabrook on his shoulder.

"Doctor," said he pathetically.

"Come," said I.

We went up to her door. It was not locked; it opened. She was there.

She was there with a smile of greeting--a beautiful woman, pale with her
suffering, pale as the flower of a night-blooming cactus, but warm with
the vitality given to women who love. The pink light of dusk was on her
calm face.

She was leaning back against the wall. Her great eyes fixed themselves
upon Estabrook without seeing me at all. She did not speak. She seemed
in doubt.

Estabrook hesitated a moment with his hand reaching behind him for my
sleeve. He pulled at it twice, without turning.

"Is she safe?" he whispered hoarsely.

"Yes, in every way. The Lord wouldn't allow the contrary to happen,"
said I. "If she should need me later, call me. I shall be downstairs."

I stepped back then as softly as a cat. I shut the door after me with
the greatest pains. In the reception room below I looked about for the
letter I had laid on my chair. It was gone!

I called Margaret softly. I searched cautiously through the halls,
whispering her name. She was nowhere. At last I brushed against a
hanging which, being withdrawn, disclosed the message itself on the
floor. Its sheets were crumpled together, so that it was evident that
some one else had read it. I suppose that the old servant had done so.
If her curiosity was pardonable, so was my theft. I folded the paper and
thrust it in my pocket as I sat down to wait.

The minutes went by and many of them had gone before I heard some one in
the back part of the house, descending the stairs. The breath of this
person was labored like the breath of one who carries a heavy handbag. A
little later I heard a door creak and a latch click below. Then all was
still.

The house was terribly still. The stillness beat as before, like a thing
with feathery wings. The distant clock tick came and went between these
flurries of silence. I looked at my watch. An hour had gone. It was
growing dark. My patient chauffeur had lit his lights. Passers-by came
and went, in and out of their white glare. I had smoked two cigars.

[Illustration: SHE DID NOT SPEAK. SHE SEEMED IN DOUBT]

Finally a pair of feet ran up the front steps. The bell rang. There
was no movement in the house. It rang again. The feet on the steps
stamped impatiently. Again the bell buzzed. The sound came from some
unexplored region of the house, but the little thing made a shocking
hubbub in that desert of silence.

After this last vehement assault by the newcomer I heard a door open
above. A man, burning one match after another to light his way, came
down the stairs. When he had reached the bottom, I saw that it was
Estabrook. His face was illuminated by the little flame, but a
hundredfold more by an expression of happiness, the equal of which I
have never seen.

"Great Scott, Doctor," he cried in sincere surprise. "I forgot you were
here!"

"Come! Come!" said I. "Some one is wearing his thumb off on that bell."

As he swung the door back, obeying me like a man in a dream, a voice
outside mumbled indistinctly.

"Yes," said Estabrook, "I am he."

Then closing the door he came into the room, fumbling along the wall for
the electric switch. The flood of light disclosed him trying to tear
open an envelope.

As he read the contents, his face grew black as if with rage, then it
brightened again. He uttered an exclamation of pleasure.

"Thank God!" he cried. "Here! Read this. It's from Margaret Murchie."

I took the paper.

"You will never see me again," it said. "I have gone to Monty Cranch.
You won't ever see either of us again. He is going with me. We plan to
finish life, what is left of it, together. We will never turn up again.
You better not worry.

"I have caused enough trouble already," it went on in its rough scrawl.
"I have been wicked enough and had to pay dear for my lies. Julianna is
not the daughter of Monty Cranch. That is the truth. She is the daughter
of the Judge, so help me. Mrs. Welstoke is to blame for that first lie.
I stole the locket from the Cranch baby's neck and after the fire I saw
a chance to get the Judge in my power. I snapped the locket on and I
fooled him otherwise. God knows I suffered enough for it afterward when
I got to love him and Julianna. I never attempted any blackmail. But I
did not dare to tell the truth. It was the only home I had and I was
afraid. I have done the best I could. You will never see me again. Monty
knows now she is not his. I have money saved. We won't come back."

"Well," said Estabrook, when I had tossed it on the table, "I am dumb. I
am the happiest man alive. The Estabrooks, when you come right down to
it quickly, would have been sorry if--"

"Pardon me, sir," I said. "I will call later. You do not need me now and
I will step into the Marburys'."

"But, Doctor!" cried the young man.

I shook my head.

"My dear fellow," said I solemnly, "I cannot bear to hear you talk about
the respectable Estabrooks!"

Our hands met, however, and, I believe, with a warmth that meant more
than many words.

As I went up the Marburys' steps a minute later, I looked up. A light
was burning in Mrs. Estabrook's room. I saw the shadows of a man and a
woman pass the curtain together.

This pretty picture was in my mind as I entered little Virginia's room,
where Miss Peters met me with a smile--the first human smile I had ever
seen on her metallic face.

For many minutes I sat on the edge of the bed, looking down at the child
that I had grown to love, as a foolish old doctor sometimes will. Then I
bent and kissed her cool, white forehead.

"She is out of danger," said I softly.

"Oh, yes," said Miss Peters. "She will get well. You have saved her."

She moved her angular shoulders as she adjusted her belt, she strode
noiselessly across the room and moved the shade on the lamp. The light
now shone so that the blue wall, with its ethereal depths, had turned
rosy as with the light of dawn.

"Suppose, Miss Peters--" said I, after staring at it a moment, "suppose
that you were called upon for one guess about this wall and its effect
upon this child."

She wheeled about and stared at me.

"I've thought of that," she said.

"What's behind that wall?" she mused as if to herself. "As between
something and somebody, it is not a thing, but a person. A person has
been there--perhaps some one overcoming evil or winning some victory
over disease."

"Well," said I, seeing that she was hesitating, "go on."

"I can't exactly go on," she said. "I don't want you to take me for a
fool. Only, don't you suppose that you and I, ourselves, must throw out
some influence that is not seen with the eyes or heard with the ears?
Don't we affect every one near us with our good and evil? Don't we
affect the people who live above and below in apartments, or to the
right and left in houses? Doesn't strength or weakness come through wood
and iron and stone? Didn't it come through this wall, Doctor?"

"My dear Miss Peters," said I, shrugging my shoulders, "how can I say?
I can only tell you that you have just finished the longest, the most
human, and, on the whole, in the best sense, the most scientific
observation I have ever known you to make."



                               CHAPTER II

                              "WHY CARE?"


There is the tale, all told. Many may want to ask me my theories. I have
none. My story, except as to form, is like the data I keep in every case
which comes before my notice--it is a somewhat incomplete and
matter-of-fact section out of human life. Like poor MacMechem I try to
keep my mind open. I simply offer a narrative of the sequence of events.

One thing only troubles me. Did Margaret Murchie lie when she said Mrs.
Estabrook was the daughter of Cranch? or when she said that she was the
daughter of Judge Colfax? And to this question many will say, "Why
care?" Others will decide--each for himself.

                                THE END



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