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Title: Mrs. Balfame - A Novel
Author: Atherton, Gertrude Franklin Horn, 1857-1948
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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MRS. BALFAME

A Novel

by

GERTRUDE ATHERTON



[Illustration: Logo]

New York
Frederick A. Stokes Company
Publishers

Copyright, 1916, by
Gertrude Atherton

All rights reserved, including that of translation into
foreign languages

Fourth Printing



     _And woman, yea, woman, shall be terrible in story;
       The tales too, meseemeth, shall be other than of yore.
     For a fear there is that cometh out of woman and a glory,
       And the hard hating voices shall encompass her no more._
                                                 --_The Medea._



MRS. BALFAME



CHAPTER I


Mrs. Balfame had made up her mind to commit murder.

As she stared down at the rapt faces of the fifty-odd members of the
Friday Club, upturned to the distinguished speaker from New York, whom
she, as President, had introduced in those few words she so well knew
how to choose, it occurred to her with a faint shock that this momentous
resolution had been growing in her essentially refined and amiable mind
for months, possibly for years; for she was not an impetuous woman.

While smiling and applauding, patting her large strong hands, freshly
gloved in virgin white, at precisely the right moment, as the sound and
escharotic speaker laid down the Woman's Law, she permitted herself to
wonder if the idea had not burrowed in her subconscious mind--that
mental antiquity shop of which she had lately read so much, that she
might expound it to the progressive ladies of the Friday Club--for at
least half the twenty-two years of her married life.

It was only last night that awakening suddenly she had realised with no
further skirmishes and retreats of conscience or principle how she
hated the heavy mass of flesh sleeping heavily beside her.

For at least eight years, ever since their fortunes had improved and she
had found leisure for the novels and plays of authors well-read in life,
she had longed for a room, a separate personal existence, of her own.
She was no dreamer, but this exclusive and ladylike apartment often had
floated before her mental vision, chastely papered and furnished in a
cold pale blue (she had an uneasy instinct that pink and lavender were
immoral); and by day it should look like a boudoir. She was too wise to
make a verbal assault upon this or any foreign word, for she found the
stage, her only guide, strangely casual or contradictory in these minor
details; but although her little world found no trouble in discovering
what Mrs. Balfame increasingly knew, what she did not know they
suspected so little that they never even discussed her limitations.
Handicapped by circumstances early and late she might be, but she had
managed to insinuate the belief that she was the superior in all things
of the women around her, their born and natural leader.

Mrs. Balfame had never given expression to this desire for a delitescent
bedroom, being a woman who thought silently, spoke guardedly, and, both
patient and philosophical, rarely permitted what she called her
imagination to wander, or bitterness to enter her soul.

The Balfames were by no means well enough off, even now, to refurnish
the old bedrooms long since denuded by a too economical parent after his
children had married and moved away, but a few mornings since she had
remarked casually that as the springs of the conjugal bed were sagging
she thought she should send it to the auction room and buy two single
beds. Last night, lying there in the dark, she had clenched her hands
and held her breath as she recalled David Balfame's purple flush, the
deliberate manner in which he had set down his thick coffee cup and
scrubbed his bristling moustache, then rolled up the stained napkin and
pushed it into the ring before replying.

His first vocative expressed all, but he was a politician and used to
elaborating his mental processes for the benefit of befuddled
intellects. "You'll have them springs mended," he informed his wife, who
was smiling brilliantly and sweetly across the debris of ham and eggs,
salt mackerel, coffee and hot breads--"that is, if they need it, which I
haven't noticed, and I'm some heavier than you. But you'll introduce no
more of your damned new-fangled notions into this house. It was good
enough for my parents, and it's good enough for us. We lived for fifteen
years without art lampshades that hurt my eyes, and rugs that trip me
up; and these last eight or nine years, since you've been runnin' a club
when you ain't runnin' to New York, I've had too many cold suppers to
suit me; I've paid bills for 'teas' to that Club and I've put out money
for fine clothes for you that I could spend a long sight better at
election time. But I've stood all that, for I guess I'm as good a
husband as any in God's own country; I like to see you well dressed, for
you're still a looker--and it's good business, anyhow; and I've never
grudged you a hired girl. But there's a limit to every man's patience. I
draw the line at two beds. That's all there is to it."

He had made a part of his speech standing, that being his accustomed
position when laying down the law, and he now left the room with the
heavy country slouch his wife had never been able to reform. He had no
authority in walk or bearing, being a man more obstinate than strong,
more cunning than firm.

She was thankful that he did not bestow upon her the usual marital kiss;
the smell of coffee on his moustache had sickened her faintly ever since
she had ceased to love him.

Or begun to hate him? She had wondered, as she lay there inhaling deeply
to draw the blood from her head, if she ever had loved him. When a man
and a maid are young! He had been a tall slim youth, with red cheeks and
bright eyes, the "catch" of the village; his habits were commendable and
he would inherit his father's store, his only brother having died a year
earlier and his sisters married and moved West. She was pretty,
empty-headed, as ill-educated as all girls of her class, but she kept
her father's house neatly, she was noted even at sixteen for her pies,
and at twenty for the dexterity and taste with which she made her own
clothes out of practically nothing. She was by no means the ordinary
fool of her age class and nation. But although she was incapable of
passion, she had a thin sentimental streak, a youthful desire for a
romance, and a cold dislike for an impending stepmother.

David Balfame wooed her over the front gate and won her in the orchard;
and the year was in its springtime. It was all as natural and inevitable
as the measles and whooping-cough through which she nursed him during
the first year of their marriage.

She had been happy with the happiness of youth ignorance and busy hands;
although there had been the common trials and quarrels, they had been
quickly forgotten, for she was a woman of a serene and philosophical
temperament; moreover, no children came, for which she felt a sort of
cold negative gratitude. She liked children, and even attracted them,
but she preferred that other women should bear and rear them.

But all that comparative happiness was before the dawning of ambition
and the heavier trials that preceded it.

A railroad expanded the sleepy village into a lively town of some three
thousand inhabitants, and although that meant wider interests for Mrs.
Balfame, and an occasional trip to New York, the more intimate
connection with a great city nearly wrecked her husband's business. His
father was dead and he had inherited the store which had supplied the
village with general merchandise for a generation. But by the time the
railroad came he had grown lazy and liked to sit on the sidewalk on fine
days, or before the stove in winter, his chair tilted back, talking
politics with other gentlemen of comparative leisure. He was popular,
for he had a bluff and hospitable manner; he was an authority on
politics, and possessed an eloquent if ungrammatical tongue. For a time,
as his business dwindled, he merely blasphemed, but just as he was
beginning to feel really uneasy, a brother-in-law who had been the chum
of his youth arrived from Montana and saved him from extinction and "the
old Balfame place" from mortgage.

Mr. Cummack, the brother-in-law, turned out the loafers, put Dave into
politics, and himself called personally upon every housewife in the
community, agreeing to keep the best of all she needed, but none of
those articles which served as an excuse for a visit to New York or
tempted her to delightful hours with the mail-order catalogue.

Mrs. Balfame detested this bustling common efficient brother-in-law,
although at the end of two years, the twelfth of her married life, she
was keeping a maid-of-all-work and manicuring her nails. She treated him
with an unswerving sweetness, a natural quality which later developed
into the full flower of graciousness, and even gave him a temperate
measure of gratitude. She was a just woman; and it was not long after
his advent that she began to realise the ambition latent in her strong
character and to enter upon a well defined plan for social leadership.

She found it all astonishingly easy. Of course she never had met,
probably never would meet, the really wealthy families that owned large
estates in the county and haughtily entertained one another when not
entertaining equally exclusive New Yorkers. But Mrs. Balfame did not
waste time in envy of these people; there were old families in her own
and neighbouring villages, proud of their three or four generations on
the same farm, well-to-do but easy-going, democratic and, when not so
old as to be "moss-backs," hospitable to new notions. Many, indeed, had
built new homes in the expanding village, which bade fair to embrace
choice bits of the farms.

Mrs. Balfame always had dominated these life-long neighbours and
associates, and the gradual newcomers were quick to recognise her power
and her superior mind; to realise that not to know Mrs. Balfame was to
be a commuter and no more. Everything helped her. Even the substantial
house, inherited from her father-in-law, and still surrounded by four
acres of land, stood at the head of the original street of the village,
a long wide street so thickly planted with maples as old as the farms
that from spring until Christmas the soft leafy boughs interlaced
overhead. She had a subtle but iron will, and a quite commonplace
personality disguised by the cold, sweet, stately and gracious manner so
much admired by women; and she was quite unhampered by the least of that
originality or waywardness which antagonises the orthodox. Moreover, she
dressed her tall slender figure with unerring taste. Of course she was
obliged to wear her smart tailored suits for two years, but they always
looked new and were worn with an air that quite doubled their not
insignificant price. By women she was thought very beautiful, but men,
for the most part, passed her by.

For eight years now, Mrs. Balfame had been the acknowledged leader of
Elsinore. It was she who had founded the Friday Club, at first for
general cultivation of mind, of late to study the obsessing subject of
Woman. She cared not a straw for the privilege of voting; in fact, she
thought it would be an extremely unladylike thing to do; but a leader
must always be at the head of the procession, while discriminating
betwixt fad and fashion.

It was she who had established a connection with a respectable club in
New York; it was she who had inveigled the substantial well-dressed and
radical personage on the rostrum beside her to come over and homilise
upon the subject of "The European War _vs._ Woman."

The visitor had proved to her own satisfaction and that of the major
part of her audience that the bomb which had precipitated the war had
been made in Germany. She was proceeding complacently, despite the
hisses of several members with German forbears, and the President had
just exchanged a glance of amusement with a moderate neutral, who
believed that Russia's desire to thaw out her icy feet in warm water was
at the bottom of the mischief, when--spurred perhaps by a biting
allusion to the atrocities engaging the press at the moment--the idea of
murder took definite form in that clear unvisionary brain so justly
admired by the ladies of Elsinore.

Mrs. Balfame's pure profile, the purer for the still smooth contours and
white skin of the face itself, the stately setting of the head, was
turned toward the audience below the platform, and one admiring young
member, who attended an art class in New York, was sketching it as a
study in St. Cecelia's, when those six letters of fire rose smoking from
the battle fields of Europe and took Mrs. Balfame's consciousness by
assault: six dark and murky letters, but with no vagueness of outline.

The first faint shock of surprise over, as well as the few moments of
retrospect, she asked herself calmly: "Why not?" Over there men were
being torn and shot to pieces by wholesale, joking across the trenches
in their intervals of rest, to kill again when the signal was given with
as little compunction as she herself had often aimed at a target, or
wrung the neck of a chicken that had fed from her hand. And these were
men, the makers of law, the self-elected rulers of the world.

Mrs. Balfame had respected men mightily in her youth. Even now, although
she both despised and hated her husband, she responded femininely to a
fine specimen of manhood with good manners and something to talk about
save politics and business. But these were few and infrequent in Brabant
County. The only man she had met for years who interested her in the
least was Dwight Rush, also a scion of one of the old farm families.

Rush had been educated in the law at a northwestern university, but
after a few years of practice in Wisconsin had accepted an offer to
enter the most respectable law firm in his native township. He had been
employed several times by David Balfame, who had brought him home
informally to supper perhaps once a fortnight during the last six
months. But, although Mrs. Balfame frankly enjoyed his society and his
evident admiration for a beauty she knew had little attraction for his
sex, she had all a conventional woman's dislike for irregularities,
however innocent; and she had snubbed Mr. Rush's desire to "drop in of
an afternoon."

He barely flitted through her mind when she asked herself what did man's
civilisation amount to, anyway, and why should women respect it? And,
compared with the stupendous slaughter in Europe, a slaughter that would
seem to be one of the periodicities of the world, since it is the
composite expression of the individual male's desire to fight somebody
just so often--what, in comparison with such a monstrous crime, would be
the offence of making way with one obnoxious husband?

Something over two years ago--when liquor began to put a fiery edge upon
Mr. Balfame's temper--Mrs. Balfame had considered the question of
divorce; but after several weeks of cool calculation and the exercise
of her foresight upon the inevitable social consequences, she had put
the idea definitely aside. It was incompatible with her plan of life.
Only rich women, or women that were insignificant in great cities, or
who possessed conquering gifts, or who were so advanced as to be
indifferent, could afford the luxury of divorce. Her world was the
eastern division of Brabant County, and while it prided itself upon its
progressiveness, and even--among the younger women--had a gay set, and
although suppressed scandals slid about like slimy monsters in a marsh,
its foundations were inherited from the old Puritan stock, and it fairly
reeked with ancient prejudices.

It was a typical middle-class community with traditions, some of its
blood too old, and made up of common human ingredients in varying
proportions. Mrs. Balfame, enlightened by much reading and many
matinées, applied the word _bourgeois_ to Elsinore with secret scorn,
but with a sigh: conscious that all its prejudices were hers and that
not for an instant could she continue to be its leader were she a
divorced woman.

Mrs. Balfame indulged in no dreams of sudden wealth. Elsinore was her
world, and on the whole she was content, realising that life had not
equipped her to lead the society of New York City. She liked to shop in
Fifth Avenue--long since had she politely forgotten the mobs of
Sixth,--to occupy an orchestra chair with a friend at a matinée, and
take tea or chocolate at the fashionable retreats for such dissipations
before returning to provincial Elsinore. There was a tacit agreement
between herself and her husband that he should dine with his political
friends in a certain restaurant behind a bar in Dobton, the county seat,
on the Wednesday or Thursday evenings when she found it impossible to
return to Elsinore before seven o'clock; an arrangement which he
secretly approved of but invariably entered a protest against by coming
home at two in the morning extremely drunk.

He never attended the theatre with her, his preference being for
vaudeville or a screaming musical comedy, for both of which
abnormalities she had a profound contempt. She saw only the "best plays"
herself, her choice being guided not so much by newspaper approval as by
length of run. It must be confessed that in the eight or nine years of
her comparative emancipation from the grinding duties of the home she
had learned a good deal of life from the plays she saw. On the whole,
however, she preferred sound American drama, particularly when it dealt
with Society; for the advanced (or decadent?) pictures of life as
presented in the imported drama, she had only a mild contempt; her first
curiosity satisfied, she thanked God that she was a plain American.

Such was Mrs. Balfame when she made up her mind to remove David Balfame,
superfluous husband. She was quite content to reign in Elsinore, to live
out her life there, but as a dignified and irreproachable and well-to-do
widow. Divorce being out of the question, there was but one way to get
rid of him: his years were but forty-four, and although he "blew up"
with increasing frequency, to use his own choice vernacular, he was as
healthy as an ox, and the town drunkard was rising eighty.

Mrs. Balfame's friend, Dr. Anna Steuer, was now replying to the lady
from New York. After reminding the Club that the President of the United
States had requested his docile subjects to curb their passions and
flaunt their neutrality, Dr. Steuer proceeded to demolish the
anti-German attitude of the guests by reciting the long list of
industrial, economic and scientific contributions to civilisation which
had distinguished the German Empire since the federation of its states.

Dr. Steuer was of Dutch descent, and her gifts were not forensic, but
the key-note of her character was an intense and passionate loyalty. She
had spent some of the most impressionable years of her life in the
German clinics, and she cherished a romantic affection for a country
whose natural and historic beauties no man will deny. She had
steadfastly refused to read the "other side," pinning her faith to all
that was best in the country of her youthful dreams. In consequence, her
discourse, while informing, was somewhat beside the point; and had it
not been for the deep love borne her by almost every one present, there
would have been a polite but firm demand to give place.

Mrs. Balfame was smiling encouragement when her musings took a sudden
and arbitrary twist. Being a person who never acted on impulse, her
decisions, after due processes of thought, were commonly irrevocable.
The moment she had made up her mind to pass her husband on, she had
committed herself to the act; and, even before Dr. Anna Steuer had
claimed her superficial attention, had already erected the question,
How?

Mrs. Balfame was a woman who rarely bungled anything, and murder, she
well knew, was the last of all acts to bungle, did the perpetrator
desire to enjoy the freedom of his act. Being refined to her marrow, she
shrank from all forms of brutality, and rarely, if ever, read the
details of crime in the newspapers. The sight of blood disgusted her,
although it did not turn her faint. She kept a pistol in her bedroom;
burglars, particularly of late, had entered a large number of houses in
Brabant County; but nothing would have horrified her more than to empty
its contents into the worst of criminals.

Mechanically she had run through the list of all the accepted forms of
removing human impedimenta and rejected them, when Dr. Anna's scientific
mind, playing along the surface of hers, shot in the arrow of suggestion
that she belonged naturally to the type of woman that poisoned if forced
to commit murder. It was bloodless, decent, and required no vulgar
expenditure of energy.

But healthy people, suddenly dead, were excavated and the quarry
submitted to chemical tests; it was then--smiling brilliantly at her
ardent pro-German friend--that Mrs. Balfame recalled a rainy evening
some two years since. She and Dr. Anna had sat over the fire in the old
Steuer cottage, and the doctor, who before the war never had been
interested in anything but her friends, her science, and suffrage, had
discoursed upon certain untraceable poisons, had even risen and taken
down a vial from a secret cupboard above the mantel. During the same
conversation, which naturally drifted to crime, Dr. Anna had discoursed
upon the idiocy of doctors who poisoned with morphia, strychnine, or
prussic acid, when not only were these organic poisons known to all
scientific members of the profession, but they could easily remove the
barrier to their complete happiness with cholera, smallpox, or typhus
germs, sealed within the noncommittal capsule.

Mrs. Balfame shuddered at the mere thought of any of these dreadful
diseases, having no desire to witness human sufferings, or to run the
risk of infection, but as she stared at Dr. Anna to-day, she made up her
mind to procure that vial of furtive poison.

So sudden was this resolution and so grim its portent that it was
accompanied by unusual physical phenomena: she brought her sound white
teeth together and thrust out her strong chin; her eyes became fixed in
a hard stare and the muscles of her face seemed to menace her soft white
skin.

Alys Crumley, the young woman who had been sketching Mrs. Balfame
instead of listening to the discussion, caught her breath and dropped
her pencil. For the moment the pretty, ultra-refined, elegant leader of
Elsinore society looked not like St. Cecelia but like Medea. Always
determined, resolute, smilingly dominant, never before had she betrayed
the secret possibilities of her nature.

Miss Crumley cast a glance of startled apprehension about her, but the
debate was just finished, every one was commenting upon the splendid
self-control of the high participants, and repeating the New Yorker's
last phrase: that not civilisation but man was a failure. A moment later
Mrs. Balfame advanced to the edge of the platform, and, with her
inimitable graciousness, invited the members of the Club to come forward
and meet the distinguished guest. Little Miss Alys Crumley, watching
her, listening to her pleasant shallow voice, her amused quiet laugh,
came to the conclusion that the fearsome expression she had seen on her
model's face had been a mere effect of light.



CHAPTER II


The meeting of the Friday Club had been held in the Auditorium, a hall
which accommodated moving pictures, an occasional vaudeville
performance, political orators, and subscription balls of more than one
social stratum. It was particularly adapted to the growing needs of the
Friday Club, as it impressed visitors favorably, and there was a small
room in the rear where tea could be served.

It was a crisp autumn evening when the President and her committee sped
the parting guest of this fateful day and walked briskly homeward,
either to cook supper themselves or to prod the languid "hired girl."
Starting in groups, they parted at successive corners, and finally Mrs.
Balfame and Dr. Anna were alone in the old street. The doctor's offices
were in Main Street under the Auditorium, between the Elsinore Bank and
the Emporium drug store, but she too had inherited a cottage in what was
now known as Elsinore Avenue, and almost at the opposite end from the
"Old Balfame Place."

"Come in," she said hospitably, as she opened a gate set superfluously
into the low boxwood hedge. "You can 'phone to the Elks' and tell Dave
to try the new hotel. It's ages since I've seen you."

"I will!" Mrs. Balfame's prompt reply was accompanied by what was known
in Elsinore as her inscrutable smile. "It is kind of you," she added
politely, for even with old friends she never forgot her manners. "I
long for a cup of your tea--if you will make it yourself. I really could
eat nothing after those sandwiches."

"I'll make it myself, all right. First because it wouldn't be fit to
drink if I didn't, and second because it's Cassie's night out."

She took the key from beneath the door-mat, and pressed an electric
button in the hall and another in a comfortable untidy sitting-room. In
her parents' day the sitting-room had been the front parlour, with an
atmosphere as rigid as the horsehair furniture, but in this era of more
elastic morals it was full of shabby comfortable furniture, a davenport
was close to the radiator, the desk and tables were littered with
magazines, medical reviews, and text books.

"How warm and delicious," said Mrs. Balfame brightly, removing her hat
and wraps and laying them smoothly on a chair. "I'll telephone and then
close my eyes and think of nothing until tea is ready--I know you won't
have me in the kitchen. What a blessed relief it will be to hear you
sing in your funny old voice after that woman's strident tones."

She made short work of telephoning. Mr. Balfame, having "just stepped
across the street," she merely left a message for him. Dr. Anna, out in
the kitchen, lighted the gas stove, rattled the aluminum ware, and sang
in a booming contralto.

Mrs. Balfame went through no stage formalities; she neither tiptoed to
the door nor listened intently. From the telephone, which was on the
desk, she walked over to the strongest looking chair, carried it to the
discarded fireplace, mounted and peered into the little cupboard the
canny doctor had had built into the old chimney after the furnace was
installed. There Dr. Anna kept her experimental drugs, her mother's seed
pearls and diamond brooch, and a roll of what she called emergency
bills.

The vial was almost in the middle of a row of bottles. Mrs. Balfame
recognised it at once. She secreted it in the little bag that still hung
on her arm, replaced it with another small bottle that had stood nearer
the end of the row, closed the door and restored the chair to its proper
place. Could anything be more simple?

She was too careful of her best tailored suit to lie down, but she
arranged herself comfortably in a corner of the davenport and closed her
eyes. Soothed by the warmth of the room and the organ tones in the
kitchen she drifted into a happy state of somnolence, from which she was
aroused by the entrance of her hostess with a tray. She sprang up
guiltily.

"I had no intention of falling asleep--I meant to set the table at
least--"

"Those cat naps are what has kept you young and beautiful, while the
rest of us have traded complexions for hides."

Mrs. Balfame gracefully insisted upon clearing and laying a corner of
the table, and the two friends sat down and chatted gaily over their tea
and toast and preserves. Dr. Anna's face--a square face with a snub nose
and kindly twinkling eyes--beamed as her friend complimented her upon
the erudition she had displayed in her reply to the Club guest and added
wistfully:

"I feel as if I didn't know a thing about this war. Everybody
contradicts everybody else, and sometimes they contradict themselves.
I'm going over to-morrow" ("going over" meant New York in the Elsinore
tongue) "and get all the books that have been printed on the subject,
and read up. I do feel so ignorant."

"That's a large order. When you've dug through them you'll know less
than you could get from the headlines of the 'anti' evening papers. I'll
hunt up a list that was given me by a patient who claims to be neutral,
if you really want it, and leave it at your house in the morning. It's
at the office."

"Oh, please do!" Mrs. Balfame leaned eagerly across the table. "You
know, it is my turn to read a paper Friday week, and literally I can
think of nothing else except this terrible but most interesting war. Of
course, I must display some real knowledge and not deal merely in
adjectives and generalities. I'll read night and day--I suppose I can
get all those books from two or three New York libraries?"

"Enid Balfame, you are a wonder! When you buckle down to a thing! Who
but you would take hold of a subject like that with the idea of
mastering it in two weeks--Oh, bother!"

The telephone was ringing. Dr. Anna tilted back her chair and lifted the
receiver from the desk to her ear. She put it down almost immediately.
"Hurry call," she said briefly, an intense professional concentration
banishing the pleasant relaxation of a moment before. "Baby. Sorry.
Leave the key under the door mat. Don't hurry." She was putting on her
wraps in the hall as she called back her last words. The front door
banged simultaneously.

Mrs. Balfame piled the dishes on the tray, carried them out into the
kitchen, washed and put them away. She was a very methodical woman and
exquisitely neat. Although she no longer did her own kitchen work, it
would have distressed her to leave her friend's little home at "sixes
and sevens"; the soiled dishes would have haunted her all night, or at
least until she fell asleep.

After she had also arranged the publications on the sitting-room table
in neat rows she put on her coat and hat, turned off all the lights,
secreted the key as requested and walked briskly down the path. There
was a street lamp directly in front of the gate. Its light fell on the
face of a man emerging from the heavy shadow of the maple trees that
bordered the avenue. She recognised her husband's lawyer, Dwight Rush.

"What luck!" he exclaimed boyishly. "Now I shall talk to you for at
least five minutes--ten, if you will walk slowly! What are you doing out
so late alone?"

Mrs. Balfame glanced apprehensively up and down the street. All the
windows were alight, but it was too late in the season for loitering on
verandas; even if they met any one, recognition would hardly be possible
unless the encounter took place under a street lamp. Moreover, she was
one of those women who while rarely terrified when alone became
intensely feminine when a man appeared with his archaic right to shield
and protect. She smiled graciously.

"You may see me to my gate," she said.

"I should think I might! A pistol at my head wouldn't keep me from
walking these few blessed minutes with you. Seriously, it's not safe for
you to be out alone like this. There were three burglaries last week,
and you are just the woman to have her bag snatched."

She drew closer to him, a faint accent of alarm in her voice.

"I never thought of that. But Anna was called off in a hurry. I am so
glad you happened along. Although," primly, "it wouldn't do, you know,
for a woman of my age and position to be seen walking alone with a young
man at night."

"What nonsense! You are like Cæsar's wife, I guess. Anything you did in
this town would seem about right. You've got them all hypnotised,
including myself. It's the ambition of my life to know you better," he
added in a more serious tone. "Why won't you let me call?"

"It wouldn't do. If I have a nice position it's because I've always been
so particular. If I let young men call on me, people would say that I
was no better than that fast bunch that tangoes every night and goes to
road houses and things." Her voice trailed off vaguely; she really knew
very little of the doings of "gay sets," although much in the abstract
of a too temperamental world.

She made up her mind to dispose of this misguided young man once for
all. She knew that she looked quite ten years younger than her age, and
she was well aware that although man's passion might be business his
pastime was the hunt.

"I am thankful that I have no grown daughter to keep from running with
that bunch," she said playfully. "Of course I might have. I am quite old
enough."

He laughed outright. Then he said the old thing which is ever new to
the woman, and with a perceptible softening in his hard energetic voice:
"I wonder if you really are as conventional--conventionised--as you
perhaps think you are? You always give me the impression of being two
women, one fast asleep deep down somewhere, the other not even
suspecting her existence."

"How pretty!" She smiled with pleasure, and she felt a faint stirring of
coquetry, as if the ghost of her youth were rising--that far-off period
when she put on her best ribbons and made her best pies to allure the
marriageable swains of Elsinore. But she recalled herself quickly and
frowned. "You must not say such things to me," she said coldly.

"But I shall, and I will add that I wish you were a widow, or had never
been married. I should propose to you this minute."

"That is equivalent to saying that you wish my husband were dead. And he
is your friend, too!"

"Your husband is not my friend; he is my employer--upon occasion. At the
moment I did not remember who was your husband. Let it go at that."

"Very well."

It was evident that he belonged to the type that found its amusement in
making love to married women; but--they were within the rays of a lamp,
and sauntering--she looked up at this pleasant exponent indulgently. She
was quite safe, and it was by no means detestable at the age of
forty-two to be coveted by the cleverest young man in Brabant County.

The smile left her lips and she experienced a faint vibration of the
nerves as she met the unsmiling eyes bent close above her own.

Rush was almost drab in colour, but the bones of his face were large
and his eyes were deeply set and well apart, intensely blue and
brilliant. It was one of those narrow rigid faces the exigencies of his
century and country have bred, the jaw long and almost as salient as
that of a consumptive, the brow bold, the mouth hard set, the cheeks
lean and cut with deep lines, the whole effect not only keen and clever
but stronger than any man has consistently been since the world began.
The curious contradiction about this type of American face is that it
almost invariably looks younger than the years that have contributed to
the modelling of it; such men, particularly if smoothly shaven as they
usually are, look thirty at forty; even at fifty, if they retain their
hair, appear but little older. When Rush's mouth was relaxed it could
smile charmingly, and the eyes fill with playfulness and vivacity, just
as his strident American voice could move a jury to tears by the tears
that were in it.

At this moment all the intensity of which his striking features were
capable was concentrated in his eyes.

"I'm not going to make love to you as matters stand," he said, his voice
dry with emotion. "But I want you to divorce Dave Balfame and marry me.
Sooner or later you will be driven to it--"

"Never! I'll never be a divorced woman. Never! Never!"

His steady gaze wavered and he sighed. "You said that as if you meant
it. You think you are intellectual, and you haven't outgrown one of the
prejudices of your Puritan grandmothers--who behaved themselves because
women were scarce and even better treated than they are now, and because
they would have been too mean to spend money on a divorce suit if
divorces had come into fashion elsewhere."

"You are far from complimentary!" Mrs. Balfame raised her head stiffly,
not a little indignant at this natural display of sheer masculinity. She
would have withdrawn her arm and hastened her steps but he held her
back.

"I don't mean to be uncomplimentary. Only, you ought to be so much more
advanced than you are. I repeat, I shall not make downright love to you,
for I intend to marry you one of these days. But I shall say what I
choose. How much longer do you think you can go on living like
this?--with a man you must despise and from whom you must suffer
indignities--and in this hole--"

"You live here--"

"I came back here because I had a good offer and I like the East better
than the West, but I have no intention of staying here. I have reason to
believe that I shall get into a New York firm next spring; and once
started on that race-course I purpose to come in a winner."

"And you would saddle yourself with a wife many years your senior?" she
asked wonderingly.

But she thrilled again, and unconsciously moderated her gait still
further; they were but a few steps from her home.

"I am thirty-four. I am sorry that I have impressed you as looking too
young to be taken seriously, but you will admit that if a man doesn't
know his own mind when he is verging toward middle age, he never will.
But if I were only twenty-five, it would make no difference. I would
marry you like a shot. I never have given a thought to marrying before.
Girls don't interest me. They show their hand too plainly. I've always
had a sort of ideal and you fill it."

It was characteristic of Mrs. Balfame's well-ordered mind that her
intention to murder her husband did not intrude itself into this unique
and provocative hour. She had never indulged in a passing desire to
marry again, and hers was not the order of mind that somersaults. But
she was willing to "let herself go," for the sake of the experience; for
the first time in her twenty odd years of married life to loiter in a
leafy shadowy street with a man who loved her and made no secret of it.

"I wonder?" She stared up at him, curiosity in her eyes.

"Wonder what?"

"If it _is_ love?"

He laughed unmusically. "I am not surprised that you ask that
question--you, who know no more of love than if you had been a castaway
on a desert island since the age of ten. Never mind. I've planted a
seed. It will sprout. Think and think again. You owe me that much--and
yourself. I know that six months hence you will have divorced Dave
Balfame, and that you will marry me as soon as the law allows."

"Never! Never!" She was laughing now, but with all the gay coquetry of
youth, not merely the eidola of her own.

They had arrived at the gate of the Balfame Place, which faced the
avenue and a large street lamp. She put the gate between them with a
quicker movement than she commonly indulged in and held out her hand.

"No more nonsense! If I were young and free--who knows?
But--but--forty-two!" She choked but brought it out. "Now go home and
think over all the nice girls you know and select one quickly. I will
make the wedding cake."

"Did you suppose I didn't know your age? This is Elsinore, and its
inhabitants are five thousand. When you and I were born--of respectably
eminent parentage--all Brabant County numbered few more."

He made no attempt to open the gate, but he raised her hand to his lips.
Even in that rare moment he was conscious of a regret that it was such a
large hand, and his head jerked abruptly as he flung out the recreant
thought.

"I never shall change," he said. "And you are to think and think. Now
go. I'll watch until you are indoors."

"Good night." She ran up the path, wondering if her tall slight figure
looked as willowy as it felt. The mirror had often surprised her with
the information that she looked quite different from the image in her
mind. She also wondered, with some humour, why no one ever had
discovered her apparently obvious charms before.

When she was in her bedroom and electricity replaced the mellow rays of
street lamps shining through soft and whispering leaves, Mrs. Balfame
forgot Dwight Rush and all men save her husband.

She took the vial from her bag and stared at it. In a moment a frown
drew her serene brows together, her sweet, shallow, large grey eyes, so
consistently admired by her own sex at least, darkened with displeasure.
She was a bungler after all. How was the stuff to be administered? She
racked her memory, but the casual explanation of Dr. Anna, uttered at
least two years ago, had left not an echo. A drop in his eggs or coffee
might be too little; more, and he might detect the foreign quantity.

She removed the cork and sniffed. It was odourless, but was it
tasteless?

Obviously there was no immediate way of ascertaining save by experiment
on Mr. Balfame. And even if it were tasteless, it might cook his blood,
congest his face, burst his veins--she recalled snatches of Dr. Anna's
dissertations upon "interesting cases." On the other hand, one drop
might make him violently ill; the suspicions of any doctor might be
aroused.

She must walk warily. Murder was one of the fine arts. Those that
cultivated it and failed followed the victim or spent the rest of their
lives within prison walls. Thousands, it was estimated, walked the earth
unsuspected, unapprehensive, serene and content--contemptuous of
failures and bunglers, as are the masters in any art. Mrs. Balfame was
proudly aware that her rôle in life was success.

There was nothing to do but wait. She must have another cosy evening
with her scientific friend and draw her on to talk of the poison. Ah!
that made another precaution imperative.

She went to the cupboard in the bathroom, rinsed a small bottle,
transferred the precious colorless fluid, refilled the vial with water
and returned it to her bag. To-morrow or next day she would slip into
Dr. Anna's house and restore it to its hiding place. The poison she
secreted on the top shelf of the bathroom cupboard.

Reluctantly, for she was a prompt and methodical woman, she resigned
herself to the prospect of David Balfame's prolonged sojourn upon the
planet he had graced so ill. She went to bed, shrinking into the farther
corner, but falling asleep almost immediately. Then, her hands having
faltered, Fate borrowed the shuttle.



CHAPTER III


A fortnight passed before Mrs. Balfame found the opportunity for a chat
with Dr. Anna.

On Saturday afternoons it was the pleasant custom of the flower of
Elsinore to repair to the Country Club, a building of the bungalow type,
with wide verandas, a large central hall, several smaller rooms for
those that preferred cards to dancing, a secluded bar, a tennis
court--flooded in winter for skating--and a golf links. It was
charmingly situated about four miles from the town, with the woods
behind and a glimpse of the grey Atlantic from the higher knolls.

The young unmarried set that danced at the Club or in the larger of the
home parlours every night would have monopolised the central hall of the
bungalow on Saturdays as well had it not been for the sweet but firm
resistance of Mrs. Balfame. Lacking in a proper sex vanity she might be,
but she was far too proud and just to permit her own generation to be
obliterated by mere youth. Having no children of her own, it shocked her
fine sense of the fitness of things to watch the subservience of parents
and the selfishness of offspring. One of the most notable results of her
quiet determination was that she and her friends enjoyed every privilege
of the Country Club when the mood was on them, and that a goodly number
of the men of their own generation did not confine their attentions
exclusively to the bar, but came out and danced with their neighbours'
wives. The young people sniffed, but as Mrs. Balfame had founded the
Country Club, and they were all helpless under her inflexible will and
skilful manipulation, they never dreamed of rebellion.

During the fortnight Mrs. Balfame had cunningly replaced the vial, the
indifferent Cassie leaving the sitting-room at her disposal while she
wrote a note reminding Dr. Anna of the promised list of war books,
adding playfully that she had no time to waste in a busy doctor's
waiting-room. In truth Dr. Anna was a difficult person to see at this
time. There was an epidemic of typhoid in the county, and much illness
among children.

However, on the third Saturday after the interrupted supper, as Mrs.
Balfame was motoring out to the Club with her friend, Mrs. Battle, wife
of the President of the Bank of Elsinore, she saw Dr. Anna driving her
little runabout down a branching road. With a graceful excuse she
deserted her hostess, sprang into the humbler machine, and gaily ordered
her friend to turn and drive to the Club.

"You take a rest this afternoon," she said peremptorily. "Otherwise you
will be a wreck when your patients need you most. You look just about
fagged out. And I want a little of your society. I've been thinking of
taking to a sick bed to get it."

Dr. Anna looked at her brilliant friend with an expression of dumb
gratitude and adoration. She was worth one hundred per cent. more than
this companion of her forty years, but she never would know it. She
regarded Enid Balfame as one of the superwomen of Earth, astray in the
little world of Elsinore. Even when Mrs. Balfame had done her own work
she had managed to look rare and lovely. Her hair was neatly arranged
for the day before descent to the lower regions, and her pretty print
frock was half covered by a white apron as immaculate as her round
uncovered arms.

And since the leader of Elsinore had "learned things" she was of an
elegance whose differences from those of women born to grace a loftier
sphere were merely subtle. Her fine brown hair, waved in New York, and
coiled on the nape of her long neck, displayed her profile to the best
possible advantage; like all women's women she set great store by her
profile. Whenever possible it was framed in a large hat with a rolling
brim and drooping feathers. Her severely tailored frocks made her look
aloof and stately on the streets (and in the trains between Elsinore and
New York); and her trim white shirt waists and duck skirts, or "one
piece suits" for colder weather, gave her a sweet feminine appeal in the
house. At evening entertainments she invariably wore black, cut chastely
about the neck and draped with a floating scarf.

Poor Dr. Anna, uncompromisingly plain from youth, worshipped beauty;
moreover, a certain mental pressure of which she was quite unaware
caused her to find in Enid Balfame her highest ideal of womanhood. She
herself was never trim; she was always in a hurry; and the repose and
serenity the calm and sweet dignity of this gifted being both fascinated
and rested her. That Mrs. Balfame took all her female adorers had to
offer and gave nothing but enhanced her worth. She knew the priceless
value of the pedestal, and although her wonderful smile descended at
discreet intervals her substantial feet did not.

Dr. Anna, who had never been sought by men and had seen too many of
them sick in bed to have a romantic illusion left, gave to this friend
of her lifetime, whom the years touched only to improve--and who never
was ill--the dog-like fidelity and love that a certain type of man
offers at the shrine of the unattainable woman. Mrs. Balfame was
sometimes amused, always complacent; but it must be conceded that she
took no advantage of the blind devotion of either Dr. Anna or her
numerous other admirers. She was far too proud to "use" people.

Mrs. Balfame seldom discussed her domestic trials even with Dr. Anna,
but this most intimate of her friends guessed that her life with her
husband was rapidly growing unendurable. She was, naturally, the family
doctor; she had nursed David Balfame through several gastric attacks,
whose cause was not far to seek.

But despite much that was highly artificial in her personality, Enid
Balfame was elementally what would be called, in the vernacular of the
day, a regular female; for a fortnight she had longed to talk about
Dwight Rush. This was the time to gratify an innocent desire while
watching sharply for an opportunity to play for higher stakes.

"Anna!" she said abruptly, as they sped along the fine road, "women like
and admire me so much, and I am passably good looking--young looking,
too--what do you suppose is the reason men don't fall in love with me?
Dave says that half the men in town are mixed up with those telephone
and telegraph girls, and they are pretty in the commonest kind of way--"

"Enid Balfame!" Dr. Anna struggled to recover her scandalised breath.
"You! Do you put yourself in the class with those trollops? What's got
into you? Men are men. Naturally they let your sort alone."

"But I have heard more than whispers about two or three of our good
friends--women of our age, not giddy young fools--and in our own set.
Why do Mary Frew and Lottie Gifning go over to New York so often? Dave
says it isn't only that women from these dull little towns go over to
New York to meet their lovers, but that some of them are the up-town
wives of millionaires, or the day-time wives of all sorts of men with
money enough to run two establishments. It is a hideous world and I
never ask for particulars, but the fact remains that Lottie and Mary and
a few others have as many partners among the young men at the dances as
the girls do; and I can recall hints they have thrown out that they
could go farther if they chose."

"This is a busy country," remarked Dr. Anna drily. "Men don't waste time
chasing the prettiest of women when convinced there is nothing in it--to
borrow the classic form. Young chaps, urged on by natural law to find
their mate, will pursue the indifferent girl, but men looking for a
little play after business hours will not. Why, you--you look as cold
and chaste as Cæsar's wife. They couldn't waste five minutes on you."

"That's what he said--that I was like Cæsar's wife--"

"Enid!" Dr. Anna stopped the little machine and turned upon her friend,
her weary face compact and stern. "Enid Balfame! Have you been letting a
man make love to you?"

"Well, I guess not." Mrs. Balfame tossed her head and bridled. "But the
other night, when I left your house, Mr. Rush was passing and saw me
home. He nearly took my breath away by asking me to get a divorce and
marry him, but he respected me too much to make love to me."

"I should hope so. The young fool!" But Dr. Anna was unspeakably
relieved. She had turned faint at the thought that her idol might be as
many other women whose secrets she alone knew. "What did you say to
him?" she asked curiously, driving very slowly.

"Why, that I would not be a divorced woman for anything in the world."

"You're not the least bit in love with him?" asked Dr. Anna jealously.

Mrs. Balfame gave her silvery shallow care-free laugh. It might have
come from any of the machines passing, laden with young girls. "Well, I
guess not! That sort of foolishness never did interest me. I guess my
vanity was tickled, but vanity isn't love--by a long sight."

Dr. Anna looked at the pure cold profile, the wide cool grey eyes, and
laughed. "He did have courage, poor devil! It must have been--no, there
was no moonlight. Must have been the suggestion of that old Lovers'
Lane, Elsinore Avenue. But if you wanted men to make love to you, my
dear, you could have them by the dozen. Nothing easier--for pretty women
of any age who want to be made love to. As for Rush--" She hesitated,
then added generously, "he has a future, I think, and could take you
somewhere else."

"I should be like a fish out of water anywhere but in Elsinore. I have
no delusions. Forty-two is not young--that is to say, it is long past
the adaptable age, unless a woman has spent her life on the move and
filling it with variety. I love Elsinore as a cat loves its hearth-rug.
And I can get to New York in an hour. I think this would be the ideal
life with about two thousand dollars more a year, and--and--"

"Dave Balfame somewhere else! Pity Sam Cummack didn't turn him into a
travelling salesman instead of planting him here."

"He's never been interested in anything in his life but politics. But I
don't really bother about him," she added lightly. "I have him well
trained. After all, he never comes home to lunch, he interferes with me
very little, he goes to the Elks every night soon after dinner, and he
falls asleep the minute he gets into bed. Why, he doesn't even snore.
And he carries his liquor pretty well. I guess you can't expect much
more than that after twenty-two years of matrimony. I notice that if it
isn't one thing it's another."

"Good Lord! Well, I wish he'd break his neck."

"Oh, Anna!"

"Well, of course I didn't mean it. But I see so many good people die--so
many lovely children--I'm sort of callous, I guess. I make no bones of
wishing that he'd died of typhoid fever last week, instead of poor Joe
Morton, who had a wife and two children to support, and was the salt of
the earth--"

"You might give Dave a few germs in a capsule!" Mrs. Balfame interrupted
in her lightest tones, although she turned her face away. "Or that
untraceable poison you once showed me. A bottle of that would finish
him!"

"A drop and none the wiser." Dr. Anna's contralto tones were gloomy and
morose. "Unfortunately, I am not scientific enough for cold-blooded
murder. I'm a silly old Utopian who wishes that a plague would come and
sweep all the undesirables from the earth and let us start fair with our
modern wisdom. Then I suppose we'd bore one another to death until
original sin cropped out again. Better speed up, I guess. I've a full
evening ahead of me."



CHAPTER IV


The "smart set" of Elsinore was composed of the twelve women that could
afford to lose most at bridge. Mrs. Balfame, who could ill afford to
lose anything, but who was both a scientific and a lucky player,
insisted upon moderate stakes. The other members of this inner exclusive
circle were the wives of two bankers, three contractors, two prosperous
merchants, one judge, one doctor, and two commuters who made their
incomes in New York and slept in Elsinore. These ladies made it a point
of honor to dine at seven, dress smartly and appropriately for all
occasions, attend everything worth while to which they could obtain
entrance in New York, pay an occasional visit to Europe, read the new
novels and attend the symphony concerts. It is superfluous to add that
the very foundation of the superior social status of each was a large
house of the affluent type peculiar to the prosperous annexes of old
communities, half brick and half wood, shallow, characterless,
impersonal; and a fine car with a limousine top. The house stood in the
midst of a lawn sloping to the street, unconfined by even the box hedge
and undivided from the neighbouring grounds. The garage, little less
pretentious than the mansion, also faced the street, for all to see.
There was hardly a horse left in Elsinore; taxi cabs awaited the
traveller at the station, and people that could not afford handsome cars
purchased and enjoyed the inexpensive runabout.

Mrs. Balfame had segregated her smart set for strategic reasons, but
that did not mean that both she and they were not kindness itself to the
less favoured. Obviously, an imposing party cannot be given by twelve
families alone, especially when almost half their number are childless.
On all state occasions the list of invited numbered several hundred, in
that town of some five thousand inhabitants.

It said much for the innate nobility of these wealthier dames of
Elsinore, who read the New York society papers quite as attentively as
they did the war news, that they submitted without a struggle to the
dominance of a woman who never had possessed a car and whose husband's
income was so often diverted from its natural course; but Mrs. Balfame
not only outclassed them in inflexibility of purpose, but her family was
as old as Brabant County; the Dawbarns had never been in what might be
called the cavalry regiment, consisting of those few chosen ones living
in old colonial houses set in large estates and with both roots and
branches in the city of New York; but no one disputed their right to be
called Captains of the infantry. And Mrs. Balfame, sole survivor in the
direct line, had two wealthy cousins in Brooklyn.

Once in a while Dr. Anna, a privileged character, and born at least in
Brabant County, took a hand at bridge, but she was a poor player, and,
upon the rare occasions when she found time to spend a Saturday
afternoon at the Country Club, preferred to rest in a deep chair and
watch the young folks flirt and dance until the informal supper was
ready. Never had she tripped a step, but she loved youth, and it gave
her an acute old maid's delight to observe the children grow up;
snub-nosed, freckled-faced awkward school girls develop at a flying leap
into slim American prettiness, enhanced with every late exaggeration of
style. She also approved heartily, on hygienic grounds, of the friends
of her own generation dancing, even in public, if their partners were
not too young and their forms too cumbersome.

Mrs. Balfame and Dr. Anna arrived at the Club shortly after four
o'clock. Young people swarmed everywhere, within and without; perhaps
twenty older matrons were sitting on the veranda knitting those
indeterminate toilette accessories for the Belgians which always seemed
to be about to halt at precisely the same stage of progress.

Mrs. Balfame, who had set the fashion, had not brought her needles
to-day. She went directly to the card room; but her partner for the
tournament not having arrived, she entertained her impatient friends
with a recent domestic episode.

"I have a German servant, you know," she said, removing her wraps and
taking her seat at the table. "A good creature and a hard worker, but
leaden-footed and dull beyond belief. Still, I suppose even the dullest
peasant has spite in her make-up. I have been reading tomes of books on
the war, as you learned from painful experience yesterday; most of them,
as it happened--a good joke on Anna that, as she gave me the list--quite
antagonistic to Germany. One day when Frieda should have been dusting I
caught her scowling over the chapter heads of one of them. Of course she
reads English--she has been here several years. Day before yesterday,
when I was knitting, she asked me whom I was knitting for, and I told
her--for the Belgians, of course. She asked me in a sort of growl why I
didn't knit for the homeless in East Prussia--it seems that is where she
comes from and she has been having letters full of horrors. I seldom
bandy words with a servant, for you can't permit the slightest
familiarity in this country if you want to get any work out of them. But
as she scowled as if she would like to explode a shrapnel under me, and
as she is the third I have had in the last five months, I said
soothingly that the newspaper correspondents had neglected the eastern
theatre of war, but had harrowed our feelings so about the Belgians that
we felt compelled to do what we could for them. Then I asked her--I was
really curious--if she had no sympathy for those thousands of afflicted
women and children, merely because they were the victims of the Germans.
She has a big soft face with thick lips, little eyes, and a rudimentary
nose; generally as expressionless as such a face is bound to be. But
when I asked her this question it suddenly seemed to turn to wood--not
actively cruel; it merely expressed the negation of all human sympathy.
She turned without a word and slumped--pardon the expression--out of the
room. But the breakfast was burned this morning--I had to cook another
for poor David--and I know she did it on purpose. I am afraid I shall
have to let her go."

"I would," said Mrs. Battle, wisely. "She is probably a spy and quite
clever."

"Yes, but such a worker!" Mrs. Balfame sighed reminiscently. "And when
you have but one servant--"

The tardy partner bustled in and the game began.



CHAPTER V


It was about six o'clock when Mrs. Balfame, steadily losing, contrary to
all precedent, her mind concentrated, her features, like those of the
rest of the players, as hard as the stone faces dug out of Egypt, her
breath escaping in hissing jets, became vaguely conscious of a
disturbance in the outer room. The young people were dancing, as was
usual in the hour before supper, but the piano and fiddles appeared to
be playing against the ribald interruptions of a man's voice. It was
some time before the narrow flow of thought in Mrs. Balfame's brain was
deflected by the powerful outer current, but suddenly she became aware
that her partners were holding their cards suspended, and that their
ears were cocked toward the door. Then she recognised her husband's
voice.

For a moment she lost her breath and her blood ran chill. She had been
apprehensive for some time of a scene in public, but she had assumed
that it would occur in a friend's house of an evening; he attended her
nowhere else. The Club he had deserted long since; it was much too slow
for a man of his increasing proclivities, especially in a county
liberally provided with saloons and road houses.

During the last month she had become sensible of a new hostility in his
attitude toward her; it was as if he had suddenly penetrated her hidden
aversion and all his masculine vanity had risen in revolt. Being a
woman of an almost excessive tact, she had sprayed this vanity for
twenty-two years with the delicately scented waters of flattery, but the
springs had gone suddenly dry on that morning when she had uttered her
simple and natural desire to bring the conjugal sleeping accommodations
up to date.

And now he had come out here to disgrace her, she immediately concluded,
to make her a figure of fun, to destroy her social leadership. This
might also involve him in a loss, but when a man is both drunk and angry
his foresight grows dim and revenge is sweet.

Only last night there had been an intensely disagreeable scene in
private; that is to say, she had been dignified and slightly
contemptuous, while he had shouted that her knitting got on his nerves,
and the sight of all those books on the war made him sick. When the
whole business of the country was held up by this accursed war, a man
would like to forget it when at home. And every man had the same story,
by God; his wife was knitting when she ought to be darning stockings;
trying to be intellectual by concerning herself with a subject that
concerned men alone. Mr. Balfame had always resented the Woman's Club,
and all talk of votes for a sex that would put him and his kind out of
business. Their intelligent interest in the war was a grievous personal
indignity.

Being a woman of clear thought and firm purpose, and of a really high
order of moral courage, Mrs. Balfame was daunted for a moment only. She
laid down her cards, opened the door and entered the main room of the
club-house. There she saw, at the head of the room, a group of men
surrounding her husband; with one exception, almost as excited as he.
The exception was Dwight Rush who had a hand on one of Balfame's
shoulders and appeared to be addressing him in a low tone. Little Maude
Battle ran forward and grasped her arm.

"Oh, dear Mrs. Balfame," she gasped, "do take him home. He is
so--so--queer. He snatched three girls away from their partners, and the
boys are so mad. And his language--oh, it was something awful."

The women and girls were huddled in groups, all but Alys Crumley, who,
Mrs. Balfame vaguely realised, was sketching. Their eyes were fixed on
the group at the head of the room, where Rush was now trying to edge the
burly swaying figure toward the door.

Mrs. Balfame walked directly up to her flushed and infuriated spouse.

"You are not well, David," she said peremptorily. "In all the years of
our married life never have you acted like this. I am sure that you are
getting typhoid fever--"

"To hell with typhoid fever!" shouted Mr. Balfame. "I'm drunk, that's
what. And I'll be drunker when they let me into the bar. You get out of
this."

Mrs. Balfame turned to Dr. Anna, who had marched up the room beside her.
"I am sure it is fever," she said with decision, and the loyal Anna
nodded sagely. "You know that liquor never affects him. We must get him
home."

"Huh!" jeered Balfame, "you two get me home! I'm not so drunk I can't
see the joke of that. The matter with you is you think I'm disgracin'
you, and you want to go on bein' the high cock-alorum of this bunch.
Well, I'm sick of it, and I'm sick of bein' told to eat out when you're
at matinées or that damned Woman's Club. Home's the place for women.
Knittin's all right." He laughed uproariously. "But stay at home by the
fire and knit your husband's socks. Smoke a pipe too, if you like it.
That's what my granny did. The whole lot of you women haven't got one
good man's brain between you, and yet you'd talk the head off the
President of the United States--"

He was about to launch upon his opinion of Elsinore society when a
staccato cough interrupted the flow. Mrs. Balfame turned away with a
gesture of superb disdain, although her face was livid.

"The sex jealousy we have so often discussed!" Her clear tones from the
first had carried all over the room. "He must be taken home." She looked
at Dwight Rush and said graciously: "I am sure he will go with you. And
he will apologise to the Club when he is himself again. I shall go back
to our game."

She held her head very high as she swept down the long room, but her jaw
was set, her nostrils distended, a narrow strip of eye was fixed and
glaring.

An unforeseen situation had blown to flame such fires of anger as
existed in her depths, and she was unable to extinguish them as quickly
as she would have wished. To the intense surprise of the bridge women
who had followed her out of the card-room and in again, she sank into a
chair and burst into tears. But she managed to cry quietly into her
handkerchief, and in a few moments had her voice under control.

"He has disgraced me!" she exclaimed bitterly. "I must resign from the
Club."

"Well, I guess not." The ladies had crowded about her sympathetically.
"We'll all stand up for you," cried Mrs. Battle. "The men will give him
a good talking-to, and he'll write an apology to the Club and that will
end it."

These friends, old and more recent, were embarrassed in their genuine
sympathy, for no one had ever seen Mrs. Balfame in tears before. Vaguely
they regretted that, extreme as was the provocation, she should have
descended to the level of mere womanhood. It was as if they were present
at the opening of a new chapter in the life of Mrs. Balfame of Elsinore;
as, in truth, they were.

Mrs. Balfame blew her nose. "Pardon me," she said. "I never believed I
should break down like this--but--but--" once more she set her teeth and
her eyes flashed. "I have a violent headache. I must go home. I cannot
finish the game."

"I'll take you home," Dr. Anna spoke. "Oh, that beast!"

The other women kissed Mrs. Balfame, straightened her hat, and escorted
her out to the runabout which Dr. Anna brought to the rear entrance of
the clubhouse. She smiled wearily at the group, touching her brow with a
finger. As soon as the little car had left the grounds and was beyond
the reach of peering eyes, she made no further attempt at self-control,
but poured forth her inmost soul to the one person she had ever fully
trusted. She told the doctor all the secret horror of her life, her
hatred and loathing of David Balfame; everything, in short, but her
determination to kill him, which in the novel excitement that had
invaded her nervous system, she forgot.

Dr. Anna, who had heard many such confessions, but who obstinately had
hoped that her friend's case was not as bad as it appeared
superficially, was glad that she was not driving a horse; humane as she
was, she should have forgotten herself and lashed him to relieve her own
feelings.

"You must get a divorce," she said through her teeth. "You really must.
I saw Rush looking at you. There is no mistaking that expression in a
man's eyes. You must--you must divorce that brute."

"I'll not!" Mrs. Balfame's composure returned abruptly. "And please
forget that I gave way like this and--and said things." She wondered
what she really had said. "I know I need not ask you never to mention
it. But divorce! Oh, no. If I continue to live with him they'll be sorry
for me and stand by me, but if I divorced him--well, I'd just be one
more divorced woman and nothing more. Elsinore isn't Newport. Moreover,
they'd feel I'd no further need of their sympathy. In time they'd let me
pretty well alone."

"I don't think much of your arguments," said Dr. Anna. "You could marry
Rush and go to New York."

"But you know I mean what I say. And don't worry, Anna dear." She bent
over the astonished doctor and gave her a warm kiss. "And as I'm not
demonstrative, you know I mean that too. You are not to worry about me.
I've got the excuse I needed, and I'm going to buy some things at second
hand and refurnish one of the old bedrooms and live in it. He can't say
a word after this, and he'll be humble enough, for the men will make him
apologise to the Club. I'll threaten him with divorce, and that alone
will make him behave himself, for it would cost him a good deal more to
pay me alimony than to keep the old house going--"

"That isn't an argument that will have much effect on a man, usually in
liquor. But women are queer cattle. Divorce is a great and beneficent
institution, and here you elect to go on living under the same roof with
a brute--Oh, well, it's your own funeral. Here we are. I've got to speed
up and practise medicine. Am expecting a call from out at Houston's any
minute. Baby. Good night."



CHAPTER VI


Mrs. Balfame let herself into the dark house. Saturday was Frieda's
night out.

Contrary to her economical habit, she lighted up the lower floor
recklessly, and opened the windows; she felt an overwhelming desire for
light and air. But as she wished to think and plan with her accustomed
clarity she went at once to the pantry in search of food; the blood was
still in her head.

The morrow would be Sunday, and the Saturday luncheon was always
composed of the remains of the Friday dinner. On Saturday she dined at
the Country Club. Therefore Mrs. Balfame found nothing with which to
accomplish her deliberate scientific purpose but dry bread and a box of
sardines. She was opening this delectable when the front door bell rang.

Her set face relaxed into a frown, but she went briskly to the door. The
poison might be transpirable after all, and her alibi must be perfect;
she had changed her mind about going to bed with a headache, and at ten
o'clock, when she knew that several of her childless friends would be at
home, she purposed to call them up and thank them sweetly and
cheerfully.

When she saw Dwight Rush on the stoop, however, she almost closed the
door in his scowling face.

"Let me in!" he commanded.

"No!" She spoke with sweet severity. "I shall not. After such a scene? I
must be more careful than ever. Go right away. I, at least, shall
continue to be above reproach."

"Oh!" He swallowed the natural expression of masculine irritation. "If
you won't let me in I'll say what I've got to say right here. Will you
divorce that brute and marry me? I can get you a divorce on half a dozen
grounds."

"I'll have no divorce, now or ever." Mrs. Balfame of Elsinore spoke with
haughty finality. "I abominate the word." Then she added graciously:
"But don't think I am unappreciative of your kindness. Now you must go
away. The Gifnings live on the corner, and they always come home early."

"A good many have left, including Balfame. He spoilt the evening." Rush
stared at her and ground his teeth. "By God! I wish the old duelling
days were back again. I'd call him out. If you say the word I'll pick a
quarrel with him anyhow. He carries a gun, and there isn't a jury in
Brabant County that wouldn't acquit me on the plea of self-defence. My
conscience would trouble me no more than if I had shot a mad dog."

Mrs. Balfame gave a little gasp, which he mistook for horror. But
temptation had assailed her. Why not? Her own opportunity might be long
in coming. It would be like Dave Balfame to go away and stay for a
month. But the temptation passed swiftly. Human nature is too complex
for any mere mortal to reduce to the rule of three. While she could
dispose of her husband without a qualm, her conscience revolted from
turning an upright citizen like Dwight Rush into a murderer.

She closed the door abruptly, knowing that no mere verbal refusal to
accept such an offer would be adequate, and he went slowly down the
steps. But in a moment he ran back and a few feet down the veranda,
thrusting his head through one of the open windows.

"Just one minute!"

She was passing the parlour door and paused.

"Promise me that if you are in trouble you will send for me. For no one
else; no other man, that is, but me. You owe me that much."

"Yes, I promise." She spoke more softly and smiled.

"And close these windows. It is not safe to leave veranda windows open
at this hour."

"I intended to close them before going up stairs. But--perhaps you will
understand--the house when I came in seemed to reek with tobacco and
liquor--with him!"

His reply was inarticulate, but he pulled down the windows violently,
and she locked them, smiling once more before she turned out the light.

She returned to the dining-room, thinking upon food with distaste, but
determined to eat until her head felt normal. She had no intention of
speaking to her husband should he return, for she purposed to sleep on a
sofa in the sewing-room and lock the door, but tones and brain must be
lightly poised when she telephoned to her friends.

The telephone bell rang. Once more she frowned, but answered the summons
as promptly as she had opened the front door. To her amazement she heard
her husband's voice.

"Say," it said thickly, "I'm sorry. Promise not to take another drink
for a month. Sorry, too, I've got to go to the house for a few minutes.
Didn't intend to go home to-night--thought I'd give you time to get over
bein' as mad as I guess you've got a right to be. But I got to go to
Albany--politics--got to go to-night--must go home and get my grip.
You--you--wouldn't pack it, would you? Then I needn't stay so long. Only
got to sort some papers myself."

Mrs. Balfame replied in the old wifely tones that so often had caused
him to grit his teeth: "I never hold a man in your condition responsible
for anything. Of course I'll pack your suitcase. What is more, I'll have
a glass of lemonade ready, with aromatic spirits of ammonia in it. You
must sober up before you start on a journey."

"That's the ticket. You're a corker! Put in a bromide, too. I'm at
Sam's, and I guess I'll walk over--need the air. You just go on bein'
sweet and I'll bring you something pretty from Albany."

"I want one of those new chiffon-velvet bags, and you will please get it
in New York," she said practically. "I'll write an exact description of
it and put it in the suitcase."

"All right. Go ahead." His accents breathed profound relief, and
although her brain was working at lightning speed, and her eyes were but
a pale bar of light, she curled her lip scornfully at the childishness
of man, as she hung up the receiver.

She made the glass of lemonade, added the usual allowance of aromatic
spirits of ammonia and bromide--a bottle of each was kept in the
sideboard ready for instant use--then ran upstairs and returned with the
colourless liquid she had purloined from Dr. Anna's cupboard.

Her scientific friend had remarked that one drop would suffice, but
being a mere female herself she doubled the dose to make sure; and then
set the glass conspicuously in the middle of the table. The half opened
can of sardines and the plate of bread were quite forgotten, and once
more she ran upstairs, this time to pack his useless clothes.

She performed this wifely office with efficiency, forgetting nothing,
not even the hair tonic he was administering to a spreading bald spot, a
bottle of digestive tablets, a pair of the brown kid gloves he affected
when dressed up, and a volume of detective fiction. Then she wrote a
minute description of the newest fashion in hand bags and pinned it to
his dinner jacket. The suitcase was an alibi in itself.

When she had packed it and strapped it and carried it down to the
dining-room, returned to her room and locked the door, she realised that
she had prolonged these commonplace duties in behalf of her nerves.
Those well-disciplined rebels of the human system were by no means
driven to cover, and this annoyed her excessively.

She had no fear of not rising to precisely the proper pitch when she
heard her husband fall dead in the dining-room, for she always had risen
automatically to every occasion for which she was in any measure
prepared, and to many that had caught her unaware. It was the ordeal of
waiting for the climax that made her nerves jeer at her will, and she
found that a series of pictures was marching monotonously through her
mind, again, and again, and yet again: with that interior vision she saw
her husband walk unsteadily up the street, swing open the gate, slam it
defiantly, insert his latch-key; she saw his eye drawn to the light in
the dining-room at the end of the dark hall, saw him drink the lemonade,
drop to the floor with a fall that shook the house; she saw herself
running down, calling out his name, shattering the glass on the floor,
then running distractedly across the street to the Gifnings'--and again
and still again.

She had been pacing the room. It occurred to her that she could vary the
monotony by watching for him, and she put out her light and drew aside
the sash curtain. In a moment she caught her breath.

Her room was on a corner of the house and commanded not only the front
walk leading down to Elsinore Avenue, but the grounds on the left. In
these grounds was a large grove of ancient maples, where, dressed in
white, she passed many pleasant hours in summer with a book or her
friends. The trees, with their low thick branches still laden with
leaves, cast a heavy shade, but her gaze, moving unconsciously from the
empty street, suddenly saw a black and moving shadow in that black and
almost solid mass of shadows.

She watched intently. A figure undoubtedly was moving from tree to tree,
as if selecting a point of vantage, or restless from one of several
conceivable causes.

Could it be her husband, summoning his courage to enter and face her?
She had known him in that mood. But she dismissed the suggestion. He had
inferred from her voice that she was both weary and placated, and he was
far more likely to come swaggering down the avenue singing one of his
favourite tunes; he fancied his voice.

Frieda never returned before midnight, and then, although she entered
by the rear hall door and stole quietly up the back stairs, she would be
quite without shame if confronted.

Therefore, it must be a burglar.

There could not have been a more welcome distraction. Mrs. Balfame was
cool and alert at once. As an antidote to rebellious nerves awaiting the
consummation of an unlawful act, a burglar may be recommended to the
most amateurish assassin.

Mrs. Balfame put on her heavy automobile coat, wrapped her head and face
in a dark veil, transferred her pistol from the table drawer to a
pocket, and went softly down the stairs. She left the house by the
kitchen door, and, after edging round the corner stood still until her
eyes grew accustomed to the dark. Then, once, more, she saw that moving
shadow.

She dared not risk crossing the lawn directly from the house to the
grove, but made a long détour at the back, keeping on the grass,
however, that her footsteps should make no noise.

A moment or two and she was within the grove. She saw the shadow detach
itself again, but it was impossible to determine its size or sex,
although she inferred from its hard laboured breathing that the
potential thief was a man.

He appeared to be making craftily for the house, no doubt with the
intention of opening one of the lower windows; and she stalked him with
a newly awakened instinct, her nostrils expanding. The original resolve
to kill her husband had induced no excitement at all; even Dwight Rush's
love-making had thrilled her but faintly; but this adventure in the
night, stalking a house-breaker, presently to confront him with the
command to raise his hands, cast a momentary light upon the emotional
moments experienced by the highly organised.

Suddenly she heard her husband's voice. He was approaching Elsinore
Avenue from one of the nearby streets, and he was singing, with
physiological interruptions, "Tipperary," a song he had cultivated of
late to annoy his political rival, an American of German birth and
terrific German sympathies. He was walking quickly, as top-heavy men
sometimes will.

She drew back and crouched. To make her presence known would be to turn
over the burglar to her husband and detain the essential victim from the
dining-room table.

She saw the shadow dodge behind a tree. Balfame appeared almost abruptly
in the light shed by the street lamp in front of his gate; and then it
seemed to her that she had held her breath for a lifetime before her
ears were stunned by a sharp report, her eyes blinked at a spurt of
fire, before she heard David Balfame give a curious sound, half moan,
half hiccough, saw him clutch at the gate, then sink to the ground.

She was hardly conscious of running, far more conscious that some one
else was running--through the orchard and toward the back fence.

Hours later, it seemed to her, she was in the kitchen closing the door
behind her. Something curious had happened in her brain, so trained to
orderly routine that it seldom prompted an erratic course.

She should have run at once to her husband, and here she was inside the
house, and once more listening intently. It was the fancied sound that
swung her consciousness back to its balance. She went to the front of
the back stairs and called sharply:

"Frieda!"

There was no answer.

"Frieda," she called again. "Did you hear anything? I thought I heard
some one trying to open the back door."

Again there was no answer.

Then, her lip curling at the idea of Frieda's return on Saturday night
at eight o'clock, she went rapidly into the dining-room, carried the
glass containing the lemonade into the kitchen, rinsed it thoroughly,
and put it away.

It was not until she reached her room that it occurred to her that she
should have ascertained whether or not the key was on the inside of the
rear hall door.

But this was merely a flitting thought; there were loud and excited
voices down by the gate. In an instant she had hung up her automobile
cloak and veil, changed her dress for a wrapper, let down her hair and
thrown open the window.

"What is the matter?" Her tone was peremptory but apprehensive.

"Matter enough!" John Gifning's voice was rough and broken. "Don't come
out here. Mean to say you didn't hear a shot?"

Two or three men were running about nearer the house. One paused under
her window, and looked up, waving his hand vaguely.

"Shot? Shot? I heard--so many tires explode--What do you mean? What is
it?--Who--"

"Here's the coroner!" cried one of the group at the gate.

"Coroner?"

She ran down stairs, threw open the front door and went as swiftly
toward the gate, her hair streaming behind her.

"Who is it?" she demanded.

"Now--now." Mr. Gifning intercepted her and clasped her shoulder firmly.
"You don't want to go down there--and don't take on--"

She drew herself up haughtily. "I am not an hysterical woman. Who has
been shot down at my gate?"

"Well," blurted out Gifning. "I guess you'll have to know. It's poor old
Dave."

Mrs. Balfame drew herself still higher and stood quite rigid for a
moment; then the coroner, one of her husband's friends, came up the path
and said in a low tone to Gifning, "Take her upstairs. We're goin' to
bring him in. He's gone, for a fact."

Mr. Gifning pushed her gently along the path, as the others lifted the
limp body and tramped slowly behind. "You go up and have a good cry," he
said. "I'll 'phone for the Cummacks. I guess it was bound to come.
There's been hot times in Dobton lately--"

"Do you mean that he was deliberately murdered?"

"Looks like it, seeing that he didn't do it himself. The damned hound
was skulking in the grove. Of course he's made off, but we'll get him
all right."

Mrs. Balfame walked slowly up the stair, her head bowed, while the heavy
inert mass so lately abhorrent to his wife and several politicians was
laid on the sofa in the parlour whose evolutions had annoyed him.

Mr. Gifning telephoned to the dead man's brother-in-law, then for the
police and the undertaker.

Mrs. Balfame sat down and awaited the inevitable bombardment of her
privacy by her more intimate friends. Already shriller voices were
mingling with the heavier tones down on the lawn and out in the avenue.
The news seemed to have been flashed from one end of Elsinore to the
other.



CHAPTER VII


Mrs. Balfame sat with Mrs. Battle, Mrs. Gifning, Mrs. Frew, her
sister-in-law, Mrs. Cummack, and several of her other friends in her
quiet bed-chamber. It was an hour after the death of David Balfame and
she had, for the seventh time, told the story of packing her husband's
suit case, carrying it down stairs, returning to her room to undress,
hearing the commotion down by the gate. Yes, she had heard a report, but
Elsinore Avenue--automobiles--exploding tires--naturally, it had meant
nothing to her at the moment. No, he did not cry out--or if he did--her
window was closed; it was the side window she left open at night.

She had accepted a bottle of smelling salts from Mrs. Battle, but sat
quite erect, looking stunned and frozen. Her voice was expressionless,
wearily reiterating a few facts to gratify the curiosity of these
well-meaning friends, as wearily listening to Lottie Gifning's
reiteration of her own story: As the night was warmer than usual she and
her husband and the two friends that had motored in with them had sat on
the porch for awhile; they had heard "Dave" come singing down Dawbarn
Street; two or three minutes later the shot. Of course the men ran over
at once, but for at least ten minutes she was too frightened to move.
One of the men ran for the coroner; if "poor Dave" wasn't dead they
wanted to take him at once where he would be comfortable.

Mrs. Balfame's demeanour was all these solicitous friends could have
wished; although they enjoyed tears and emotional scenes as much as any
women, they were gratified to be reassured that their Mrs. Balfame was
not as other women; they still regretted her breakdown at the Club,
although resentfully conscious of loving her the more. And if they
wanted tears, here was Polly Cummack shedding them in abundance for the
brother she now reproached herself for having utterly despised.

Below there was a subdued hum of voices, within and without. The police
had come tearing up in an automobile and ordered the amateur detectives
out of the grounds; their angry voices had been heard demanding how the
qualified fools expected the original footsteps to be detected after
such a piece of idiocy.

Mrs. Balfame had shaken her head sadly. "They'll find nothing," she
said. "If only I had known, I could have called down to them to keep out
of the yard."

"Now, who do you suppose that is?" Mrs. Battle, who was short and stout
and corseted to her knees, toddled over to the window and leaned out as
two automobiles raced each other down the avenue. They stopped at the
gate, and in a moment Mrs. Battle announced: "The New York newspaper
men!"

"Already?" Mrs. Balfame glanced at the clock and stifled a yawn. "Why,
it's hardly an hour--"

"Oh, a year or so from now they'll be coming over in bi-planes. Well, if
our poor old boobs of police don't unearth the murderer, they will. They
are the prize sleuths. They'll find a scent, or spin one out of their
brains as a spider spins his web out of his little tummy--"

Mrs. Cummack interrupted: "Sam is sure it is Old Dutch. He's gone with
the constable to Dobton."

Dobton, the county seat, and the centre of the political activities of
East Brabant, intimately connected with the various "towns" by trolley
and telephone, embraced the domicile of Mr. Konrad Kraus, amiably known
as "Old Dutch." His home was in the rear of his flourishing saloon,
which was the headquarters of the county Republicans. David Balfame had
patronised--rumour said financed--the saloon of an American sired by
Erin.

Another automobile dashed up. "Sam, I think; yes, it is," cried Mrs.
Battle.

A few moments later Mr. Cummack appeared upon the threshold.

"Nothin' doin'," he said gruffly. "Old Dutch's got a perfect alibi. Been
behind the bar since six o'clock. It's up to us now to find out if he
hired a gunman; and we're on the trail of others too. Poor Dave had his
enemies all right."

He paused and looked tentatively at his weary but heroic sister-in-law.
His own face was haggard, and the walrus moustache he had brought out of
the North-west was covered not only with dust but with little moist
islands made by furtive tears. With that exquisite sympathy and
comprehension that men have for the failings of other men, which far
surpasseth that of woman, he had loved his imperfect friend, but he had
a profound admiration for his sister-in-law, whom he neither loved nor
pretended to understand. He knew her surfaces, however, as well as any
one, and would have been deeply disappointed if she had carried herself
in this trying hour contrary to her usual high standard of conduct. Enid
Balfame, indeed, was almost a legend in Elsinore, and into this legend
she could retire as into a fortress, practically impregnable.

"Say, Enid," he said hesitatingly. "These reporters--the New York
chaps--the local men wouldn't dare ask--want an interview. What do you
say?"

Mrs. Balfame merely turned her haughty head and regarded him with icy
disdain. "Are they crazy? Or you?"

"Well, not the way they look at it. You see, it's up to them to fill a
column or two every morning, and there's nothing touches a new crime
with a mystery. So far, they haven't got much out of this but the bare
fact that poor Dave was shot down at his own gate, presumably by some
one hid in the grove. An interview with the bereaved widow would make
what they call a corking story."

"Tell them to go away at once." She leaned back against her chair and
closed her eyes. Mrs. Gifning flew to hold the salts to her nose.

"Better see them," persisted Mr. Cummack. "They'll haunt the house till
you do. They're crazy about this case--hasn't been a decent murder for
months, nothin' much doin' in any line, and everybody sick of the war.
The Germans take a trench in the morning papers and lose it in the
evening--"

"Sam Cummack! How dare you joke at a time like this?" His wife ran
forward and attempted to push him out of the room, and the other ladies
had risen and faced him with manifest indignation.

Suddenly Mrs. Cummack put her arms about him and patted the top of his
head. He had burst into tears and was rubbing his eyes on his sleeve.
"Poor old Dave!" he sobbed. "I'm all in. But I'll find that low-down cur
who killed him, cut him off in his prime, if it takes the last cent I've
got."

Mrs. Balfame rose and crossed to his side. She put her hand on his
shoulder. "I never should have suspected that you had such depth of
feeling, Sam," she said softly, "I am sure that the cowardly murderer
will be caught and that yours will be the glory. Send those
inconsiderate reporters away."

Mr. Cummack shook his head. "As well talk of calling off the police.
They'll be round here day and night till the man is in Dobton
jail--longer, for they know the public will want an interview with the
widow. Better see them, Enid."

"I shall not." Mrs. Balfame put her hand to her head and reeled. "Oh, I
am so tired! So tired! What a day. Oh, how I wish Anna were here."

Three of the women caught her and led her to her chair. "Anna!" she
reiterated. "I must have something to make me sleep--"

"I'll call her up!" volunteered Mrs. Gifning. "I do hope she is at
home--"

"She was to go out to the Houston farm," interrupted Mrs. Cummack. "She
stopped at our house on the way out--Sammy has bronchitis--"; and Mrs.
Gifning, who was as nervous as the widow should have been, ran down to
the telephone, elated at being the one chosen to horrify poor Dr. Anna
while engaged in the everlasting battle for life.

"I'll stay with Enid till Anna comes," volunteered Mrs. Cummack. "I
guess she'd better be quiet. One of you might make coffee for those that
are going to sit up--"

"Frieda's doin' that," said Mr. Cummack. "They're all in the
dining-room--"

Mrs. Balfame had left the shelter of Mrs. Cummack's arm and was sitting
very straight. "Frieda? This is her night out--"

"She was in bed with a toothache, but I routed her out. Well, I'll put
the men off till to-morrow, but better make up your mind to see them
then."

He left the room and when Mrs. Balfame was alone with her sister-in-law,
whom she had never admitted to the sacred inner circle, but who was a
kind forgiving soul, she smiled affectionately. "Don't be afraid that I
shall break down," she said. "But those women had got on my nerves. It
is too kind of you to have dismissed them, and to stay with me yourself
till Anna comes. It has all been so terrible--and coming so soon after
what happened at the Club. Thank heaven I did not permit myself to speak
severely to him, and even when he telephoned for his suit case I was not
cross--I never would hold a man who had been drinking to strict
account--"

"Don't you worry your head. He was my brother, but I guess I know what a
trial he must have been. And if he hadn't been my brother I guess I'd
say we wouldn't have blamed you much if you had given him a dose of lead
yourself--"

Mrs. Balfame raised her amazed eyes. But in a moment the weary ghost of
a smile flitted over her firm mouth, and she asked almost lightly: "Do
you then believe in removing offensive husbands?"

"Well--of course I'd never have that much courage myself if Sam wasn't
any better than he should be--he's pretty decent as men go--but I know a
few husbands right here in Elsinore--well, if their wives gave them
prussic acid or hot lead they wouldn't lose _my_ friendship, and I guess
any jury would let them off."

"I guess you're right." Mrs. Balfame was beginning to undress. "I think
I'll get into bed--But it requires a lot of nerve. And the risk is
pretty great, you know. Anna once told me of an untraceable and
tasteless poison she had--"

"Oh, Lord!" Mrs. Cummack may have been too hopelessly without style and
ambition to be one of the arc lights of the Elsinore smart set, but she
possessed a sense of humour, and for the moment forgot the abrupt taking
off of her brother. "Don't let that get round. The poison wouldn't be
safe for an hour--nor a few husbands. I think I'll warn Anna anyhow--I'm
not sure I can keep it."

The door opened softly and Mrs. Gifning's fluffy blonde head appeared.
"I couldn't get Anna herself," she whispered. "The baby hasn't come. But
Mr. Houston said he'd tell her as soon as it was over, and let her go.
He was terribly shocked, and sent you his love."

"Thanks, dear," murmured Mrs. Balfame. "I'll try and sleep awhile, and
Polly has promised to sit with me till Anna comes. Good-night."



CHAPTER VIII


There was a thin cry of life in the nursery of the Houston farm house.
The mother slept and the new born was in competent hands. Mr. Houston, a
farmer more prosperous and enterprising than his somewhat weedy
appearance prefigured, beckoned Dr. Anna into the dining-room, where a
sleepy but interested "hired girl" had brought hot coffee and
sandwiches.

The battle had lasted little over three hours, but every moment had been
fraught with anxiety for the doctor and the husband. Mrs. Houston's
heart had revealed an unsuspected weakness and the baby had not only
neglected to head itself towards the gates of life as all proper little
marathons should, but had exhibited a state of suspended animation for
at least twenty minutes after its arrival at the goal.

Dr. Anna dropped into a chair beside the table and covered her face with
her hand.

"I'm all in, I guess," she murmured, and the farmer put down the coffee
pot and ran for the demijohn.

"You drink this," he said peremptorily. His own hand was shaking, but he
made no verbal attempt to release his strangled emotions until both he
and the doctor had drunk of coffee as well as whiskey. Then, when half
way through a thick sandwich made of slabs of bread and beef, he began
to thank the doctor incoherently.

"You are just it," he sputtered. "Just about it. And your poor back
must be broke. You doctors do beat me, particularly you women doctors.
I'll never say nothin' against women doctors again, though I'll tell you
now that although poor little Aggie was dead set on you, I opposed it
for awhile--"

Dr. Anna was sitting up and smiling. She waved his apologies and
protestations aside. "I can't think what came over me to collapse like
that. Once or twice lately I have thought I might be getting something.
I'll have my blood taken to-morrow. Now, I'll go home and get to bed
quick, although that coffee has made me feel as fine as a fiddle."

"Well, I needed it too, and for more reasons than you. Say--" Mr.
Houston had risen and was pulling nervously at his short and bosky
beard. "I got a 'phone from Mrs. Gifning a while ago. You're wanted at
the Balfames--bad."

Dr. Anna sprang to her feet, her full cheeks pale again. "Enid! What has
happened to her?"

"Oh, she's all right, I guess. It's Dave--"

"Oh, another gastric attack?"

"Worse and more of it. He was shot--two or three hours ago, I guess. I
didn't ask the time--was in too big a hurry to get back to Aggie--at his
own gate, though, I think she said."

"Who did it?"

"Nobody knows."

"Dead?"

"No one'll ever be deader."

"H'm!" The color had come back to Dr. Anna's tired face and she shrugged
her shoulders. "I'm no hypocrite, and I guess you're not either."

"I'm no more a hypocrite than I am a Democrat. His yellow streak was
gettin' wider every year. It's good riddance. Still I wish he'd died in
his bed. I don't like the idea of a fellow citizen, good or bad, bein'
shot down like that. It's against law and order, and if the murderer's
caught and I'm drawn on the jury, and it's proved he done it, I'll vote
for conviction."

"Quite right," said Dr. Anna briskly, as she went out into the hall and
put on her hat. "I suppose it's Mrs. Balfame who wants me?"

"Yes, that's it. I remember. But you ought to go home and get sleep.
There's enough women to sit up with her. The hull town likely."

"But I know she wants me." Dr. Anna's face glowed softly. "I'll sleep
there all right--on a sofa beside her bed--if she wants me to stay on."

"Well, look out for yourself," he growled. "If you don't think about
yourself a little more you'll soon have no show to think so much about
other people. I'm goin' for the car."

A few moments later he had brought the little runabout to the door,
lighted the lamps, and given the doctor a hard grip of the hand.

She returned the pressure in kind. "Now don't worry, Mr. Houston. She's
all right, and that nurse is first rate. Don't talk to her. Aggie, I
mean. See you to-morrow about ten."

She drove rapidly out of the gate and into the road. There was a full
moon shining and the drive was but ten miles between the farm and
Elsinore. Her face was tired and grim. She had been in daily contact
with typhoid fever in the poor and dirty quarter of the town. In her
arduous life she had often experienced healthy fatigue, but nothing
like this. Could she be coming down?

She swung her thoughts to Enid Balfame, and forgot herself. Free at
last, and while still young and lovely! Would she marry Dwight Rush? He
had leaped into her mind simultaneously with the announcement of
Balfame's death. But was he good enough for Enid? Was any man? Why, now
that she was a real widow and in no need of a protector, should she
marry at all? At any rate she could afford to wait. There were greater
prizes to be captured by a beautiful and still girlish woman.

She was glad for the first time that Enid had never had a child, for
there was a virgin and mystic appeal in the woman that had escaped the
common lot. Spinsters lost it, curiously enough, but a chaste and lovely
matron, who had ignored the book of experience so liberally offered her,
and with eyes as unalloyed as a girl's (save when flashing with
intellectual fires)--what more distracting anomaly could the world
offer? Only Mrs. Balfame's indifference had kept the men away--Dr. Anna
was convinced of that. Her future was in her own hands.

Dr. Anna's mind wandered to the scene of the murder. It was not
difficult to construct, even from the meager details, and she shuddered.
Murder! What a hideous word it was! Horrid that it should even brush the
name of an exquisite creature like Enid Balfame. Would that Dave Balfame
could have fallen of apoplexy while disgracing himself at the Club! But
Anna frowned and shook the picture out of her mind. Doctors are too long
trained in death to be haunted by its phantoms in any form.

A sharp turn and the road ran beside a salt marsh, a solemn grey
expanse that lost itself far away in the grey of the sea. Suddenly Dr.
Anna became aware of a man walking rapidly down the road toward her. He
carried his hat in his hand as if his head were hot on this cool autumn
night. There was no fear of man in Dr. Anna, even on lonely country
roads; nevertheless she had no mind to be detained, and was about to
increase her speed, when her curiosity was excited by something
pleasantly familiar in the tall loose figure, the almost stiffly upright
head. A moment later and the bright moonlight revealed the white face of
Dwight Rush.

She brought the car to an abrupt halt as he too paused and nodded
recognition.

"What's the matter?" she asked sharply. "You looked as if you were
walking to beat time itself--as if you saw a ghost to boot--"

"Plenty of ghosts in my head. It aches like the dickens--"

"Were you there when it happened?"

"When what happened?"

"What? You pretend you don't know--when all Elsinore must have known it
within five minutes--"

"I don't know what you are talking about. I followed you in from the
Club and then took the train for Brooklyn, where I had to see a man.
When I got back to Elsinore--off the train--my head ached so I knew I
couldn't sleep--so I started out to walk it off--been walking for about
two hours."

"Dave Balfame was shot down at his own gate three or four hours ago."

"Good God! Who did it? Is he dead?"

"He's dead, and that's about all I can tell you. Houston went to the
'phone but he was in such a state of mind about his wife that he didn't
stay for particulars. Enid wanted me--it was Lottie Gifning that
'phoned. I gathered, however, that they haven't caught the murderer
yet."

"Jove!" Rush was shaking. "I feel as if I'd been hit in the pit of the
stomach. And I'm not one to go to pieces, either. But I've a good enough
reason."

Dr. Anna continued to stare at him. He met her gaze and wonder grew in
his. Then the blood rushed into his face and he threw back his head.
"What do you mean? That I did it?"

"No--I don't see you committing murder--"

"Not in that damned skulking way--"

"Exactly. But you kind of suggest that you might know something about
it. You might have been in the grove, or some other part of the
grounds--with some idea of protecting Enid--"

"Why should you think that?"

"She told me--I didn't think it a bad idea myself--that you asked her to
divorce Dave and marry you. But she said she wouldn't and I guess she
meant it. Now, get in," she added briskly. "I'll drive you home and
never say I met you. Met anybody else?"

"No one."

"Unless they get the right man at once, everybody who was known to have
any reason to wish Dave Balfame out of the way will come under
suspicion. For all you know, somebody may have guessed your secret; I
saw it in your eyes at the clubhouse when you were trying to get Dave
out of the room for her sake; but of course I was 'on.' Those New York
newspaper men, however--watch out for them. They'll fine-tooth-comb the
county for the man in the case."

Rush had disposed his long legs in the little machine and it was once
more running swiftly on the smooth road. "My brain is still too hot to
theorise," he said. "May I smoke? What is your opinion?"

"He had many political enemies; besides, these last two years he's been
growing more and more unbearable, so I guess he had more than one in his
own party. But it isn't unlikely that some girl did it. For some reason
the trollops liked him, and I've met him several times of late driving
with a red-headed minx that looks as if she could shoot on sight."

"I don't mind telling you that I saw Mrs. Balfame a few minutes after
you left her. I was boiling. Instead of piloting Balfame out to Sam's
car I wished that I had run him behind the clubhouse and horsewhipped
him. We are too civilised these days. I merely went to his house and
asked his wife if she would divorce the brute and marry me. Two
centuries ago--maybe one--I'd have picked her up and flung her on my
horse and galloped off to the woods. We haven't improved; we've merely
substituted the long-winded and indirect method and called it
civilisation."

"Just so. Did she let you in?"

"Not she. You might know that without asking. Nor was she any nearer
divorce than before. When I offered to pick a quarrel with him, she
merely slammed the door in my face. But I went to the window and made
her promise that if she were ever in trouble I should be the first
person she would send for--"

"But you weren't!" Dr. Anna's voice rang with jealous triumph. "I was
the first. But never mind me. I've adored her for forty years, and you
haven't known her as many weeks. Tell me, you didn't conceal yourself
anywhere in the grounds to watch over her? She must have been all alone.
Every servant in town takes Saturday night out."

"I inferred that Sam would keep him at his house all night. Besides, I
knew she had a pistol. Balfame told me the day he bought her one in New
York; when those burglaries began."

"Well, don't tell any one that you offered to dispose of her husband--a
few moments before he was killed! It might make unnecessary trouble for
a rising young lawyer."

"I am quite able to do my own thinking and take care of myself," he said
haughtily, stung by her tone. "If you choose to think me guilty, do so.
And let me tell you that if I had done it I shouldn't put my head in the
ash barrel."

"No, but you might do your best to avoid the chair. Small blame to you.
Well, as I said, you're safe as far as I am concerned. I wouldn't send a
dog to the chair. That is--" she looked at him threateningly, "if you
really do love Enid and want to marry her."

"Love her? I'd marry her if she had done it herself and I'd caught her
red-handed."

"That's the real thing, I guess." She patted his hand approvingly. "I'll
do what I can to help you. She's not a bit in love with you yet, but
that's because she's the purest creature on earth and never would let
herself even dream of a man she couldn't marry. She's one of the last
grand representatives of the old Puritan stock--and when you see as much
mean and secret infidelity, dose as many morbid hysterical women, as I
do--Oh, Lord! No wonder I see Enid Balfame shining with cold radiance in
the high heavens. I may idealise her a bit, but I don't care. It would
be a sad old world if you couldn't exalt at least one human above the
muck-ruck. Well, she likes you, and you have interested her. Just be on
hand when she wants you, needs you. When this excitement is over and she
is tired of female gabble, she'll turn to you naturally, if you manage
her properly and don't butt in too soon. Quiet persistence and tact;
that's your game. I'll put in a good word."

"By George, you are a good fellow!" He leaned over and kissed her
impulsively. As Dr. Anna felt the pressure of those warm firm lips on
her faded cheek, she astonished herself and him by bursting into tears.
In an instant, however, she dashed them away and gave an odd gurgling
laugh.

"Don't mind a silly old maid--who loves Enid Balfame more than life, I
guess. And I'm a country doctor, Dwight, who's had a hard night bringing
one more unfortunate female into the world. I feel better since I
cried--first time since you boys used to tease me at school because I
had cheeks like red pippins--you don't remember me over at school in
your village. Renselaerville. I lived there for a spell, and I remember
you. But this isn't the time for reminiscences. Where do you live? We'll
be in the outskirts in three minutes."

"I have rooms at The Brabant."

"Any night clerk?"

"No; it's an apartment house."

"Good. We're somewhere in the small hours all right."

She drove swiftly through the sleeping town, slowing down on the corner
of Main Street and Atlantic Avenue. Rush sprang out with a word of
thanks and walked up the avenue to The Brabant. The trees here were
neither old nor close, for this was the quarter of the wealthy newcomers
and of the older residents that had prospered and rebuilt. But not a
soul was abroad, and he let himself into the bachelor apartment house
and mounted the two flights to his rooms unseen.



CHAPTER IX


As Rush closed his own door behind him, his troubled spirit shifted its
load. Indubitably, if Dr. Anna had not met him he should have walked
until exhausted, and then boarded a train somewhere down the line and
arrived in Elsinore dishevelled, haggard, altogether an object of
suspicion. None knew better than he that in a small community the
lightning of suspicion plays incessantly, throwing the faces of innocent
and guilty alike into distorted relief. And he had half expected to find
a newspaper man awaiting him in the hall below.

Before turning on his lights he felt his way to the windows and drew the
curtains close. For all he knew there might be a detective or a reporter
sitting on the opposite fence. His legal mind, deeply versed in criminal
law, fully appreciated his danger and warned him to arm at every point.

The district attorney, one of Balfame's men, clever, ambitious, but too
ill-educated to hope to graduate from Brabant County, or even, political
influence lacking, to climb into the first rank at home, hated the
brilliant newcomer who had beaten him twice during his brief term of
office. That Rush "hailed" originally from the county only added to the
grievance. If Brabant wasn't good enough for him in the first place, why
hadn't he stayed where he was wanted?

But Rush dismissed him from his mind as he remembered uneasily that
Alys Crumley had been sketching out there at the Club while he had been
wrestling with David Balfame. He knew her ambition to get a position on
a New York newspaper as a sketch artist; but the possibility that she
might have guessed the secret of his interest in putting an end to the
scene, or intended to sell her drawing to one of the reporters, would
have given him little uneasiness had the artist not been a young woman
upon whom he had ceased to call some two months since.

He had met Alys Crumley about eighteen months after he had returned to
Brabant County and some three months after he had moved from Dobton to
Elsinore, and at once had been attracted by her bright ambitious mind,
combined with a real personality and an appearance both smart and
artistic.

Miss Crumley prided herself upon being unique in Elsinore, at least, and
although her thick well-groomed hair was dressed with classic severity,
and she wore soft gowns of an indescribable cut in the house, and at the
evening parties of her friends, she was far too astute to depart from
the fashion of the moment in the crucial test of street dress and hat.
In Park Row during her brief sojourn in the newspaper world, she had
commanded attention among the critical press women as a girl who knew
how to dress smartly and yet add that personal touch which, when
attempted by those lacking genius in dress, ruins the effect of the most
extravagant tailor. Miss Crumley by no means patronised these autocrats
of Fifth Avenue; she bought her tailored suits at the ready-made
establishments, but like many another American girl, she knew how to
buy, and above all, how to wear her clothes.

She had taught for several years after graduating from the High School;
then, her nerves rebelling, had abandoned this most monotonous of
careers for newspaper work. To reporting her physique had not proved
equal, and although she would have made an admirable fashion editor
these enviable positions were adequately filled. On the advice of the
star reporter of her paper, Mr. James Broderick, who, with other
newspaper men had been entertained occasionally at tea of a Sunday
afternoon in her charming little home in Elsinore, she had developed her
talent for drawing during the past year; Mr. Broderick promising to
"find her a job" as staff artist when she had improved her technique.

Then Dwight Rush appeared.

Miss Crumley lived with her mother in the family cottage next door to
Dr. Anna's in Elsinore Avenue. Mrs. Crumley, who was the relict of a
G. A. R. had eked out her pension during the schooldays of her daughter
with fine sewing, finding most of her patrons among the newcomers. She
also had cooked for the Woman's Exchange of Brooklyn, besides catering
for public dinners and evening parties. For several years she enjoyed a
complete rest; therefore, when Alys retired temporarily from the office
of provider in order to study art, Mrs. Crumley willingly re-entered the
industrial field. As both the practical mother and the clever daughter
were amiable women it was a harmonious little household that Dwight Rush
found himself drifting toward intimacy with soon after he met the young
lady at a clubhouse dance.

The living-room--Alys long since had abolished the word parlour from her
vocabulary--was furnished in various shades of green as harmonious as
the family temper; there was a low bookcase filled with fashionable
literature, English and American; the magazines and reviews on the table
were almost blatantly "highbrow," and the cool green walls were further
embellished with a few delicate water colours conceived in the back-yard
atelier by an individual mind if executed by a still somewhat halting
brush.

For four months Rush had been a constant visitor at the cottage. Miss
Crumley, who was as progressively modern as an automobile factory, was
full of enthusiasm at the moment for the cult of sexless friendship
between a man and a maid. She had considered James Broderick at one time
as a likely partner for a philosophic romance (the adjective Platonic
was out of date; moreover, it implied that the cult was not as modern as
its devotees would wish it to appear); but the brilliant (and handsome)
young reporter not only was very busy but of a mercurial and uncertain
temperament. Nor did he appear to be a youth of lofty ideals; from
certain remarks, uttered casually, to make matters worse, Alys was
forced to conclude that he despised the man who "wasted his time" only
less than he despised the "chaser." If pretty, interesting, and
unnotional girls came his way and liked him enough, that was "all to the
good"; a busy newspaper man at the beck and call of a city editor had no
time for studying over the map of a girl's soul, the lord knew; but if a
girl wasn't a "dead game sport," then the sooner a man left the field to
some one with more time, or a yearning for matrimony, the better. These
remarks had been deliberately thrown out by the canny Mr. Broderick, who
liked "the kid" and didn't want her to "get in wrong" (particularly
with himself as he enjoyed both her society and the artistic
living-room--and Mrs. Crumley's confections) but who saw straight
through Alys' shifting modernities to the makings of a fine primitive
female.

But Rush was no student in sex psychology. He took Miss Crumley on her
face value; delighted in finding a comfortable friend of the counter
sex, and was more than amenable to her desire to cultivate in him a
taste for modern literature; since his graduation he had hardly opened
anything but law books, legal reviews, and the daily newspaper. She read
aloud admirably--particularly plays--and he liked to listen; and as she
convinced him that he was missing a good part of life, it was not long
before he was buying for leisurely midnight consumption such work of the
fashionable writers as was stimulating and intellectual, and at the same
time sincere.

She also took him over to several symphony concerts, and often played
classic selections to him in the twilight. He had no objection to music,
as it either spurred his mind into fresh activity upon problems
besetting it, or soothed him into slumber. He loved the little room with
the soft green shadows; it reminded him of the woods, of which he still
was passionately fond; and he found it both homelike and safe. Other
houses in Elsinore, larger and more luxurious, were homelike enough, but
too often were graced by marriageable daughters, who "showed their
hand." Rush was as little vain and conceited as a man may be, but he was
well aware that eligible men in Elsinore were few, and that everybody
must know that his intake, already large, must increase with the years.

But--as the wise Mr. Broderick would have predicted had he not been
interested elsewhere during this period--the tension grew too strong for
Alys Crumley. Nervous and high-strung, with her reservoir of human
emotions undepleted by even a hard flirtation since her early youth,
idealistic, romantic, and imaginative, she began to realise that with
each long uninterrupted evening--Mrs. Crumley was the most tactful of
parents--she was growing more femininely sensitive to this man's
magnetism and charm, to his quick responsive mind, to the mobility under
the surface of his lean hard face, to the suggestion of indomitable
strength which was the chief characteristic of the new American race of
men.

It was not long before she was exaggerating every attractive attribute
he possessed until he no longer seemed what he was, a fine specimen of
his type, but a glorified superbeing and the one desirable man on earth.
Her sense of superiority over this "rather crude Western specimen who
knew nothing but his job," and to whom she could teach so much, had
protected her for a time, held her femaleness and imagination in
abeyance, but insensibly his sheer masculinity swamped her, left her
without a rock but pride to cling to.

It was then that she showed her hand.

For a time after her discovery she was merely furious with herself; she
was twenty-six and no weakling, neither sentiment nor passion should
master her. But this phase was brief. Infatuation is not cast out either
by reason or pride, and very soon her mind opened to the insidious
whisper: "Why not?" What was the career of staff artist, full of
liberty, excitement, and good fellowship as it might be, to marriage
with an ambitious man capable of inspiring the wildest love? Sooner or
later had she not intended to make just such a marriage?

From this inception her deductions followed in logical feminine
sequence. If she loved him with a completeness which was both preadamic
and neoteric, it was of course because he was consumed with a similar
passion; in other words he was her mate. He might be too comfortable and
content to have realised it so far, but only one awakening was possible,
and hers was the entrancing part to reveal him to himself.

She knew that while by no means a beauty, she was as far from
commonplace in colouring at least as in style. Her eyes were an odd
opaque olive, their tint so pronounced that it seemed to invade the pale
ivory of her skin and the smooth masses of her hair. It was a far more
subtle face than American women as a rule possess, and the eyes in spite
of a curious inscrutability that might mean anything were capable of a
play of lights directed from a battery more archaic than modern; and
late one evening after she had read him an impassioned drama (ancient)
and there was a dusky rose in either cheek, she turned them on.

Rush immediately took fright. She had not roused a responsive spark of
passion in him. Moreover, he was now haunted continually by the image of
a sweet, remote, and (to him) far more mysterious woman, whom he
worshipped as the ideal of all womanhood.

There was none of the old time American suavity about Rush. He was
abrupt, forthright, and impatient. But he was kind and innately
chivalrous. He "let Miss Crumley down" as gently as he could; but he
let her down. No doubt of that. In less than a week she faced the
bewildering fact that a man could strike loose a woman's emotional
torrents while his own depths awaited the magical touch of another. It
was incredible, preposterous.

For a time Alys, in the privacy of her atelier, raged like a fury. She
cursed Rush, particularly when engaged in a violent struggle with the
pride which alone held her from grovelling at his feet.

She was further incensed that he had revealed her to herself as a mere
morbid unsatisfied girl, whose quarter of a century should be crowned by
a little family of three; and at last she doubted if she had ever loved
him at all. That she had been a mere female principle unable to escape
its impersonal destiny disgusted her with life, but it served to restore
her balance and philosophy.

Being a girl of brains and character she emerged from the encounter with
pride still crested in the eyes of the man; and if his image was too
deeply stamped into her imagination to prevent a recurrence of wild
desire whenever she was so imprudent as to let her mind wander, she
remembered that all great physical upheavals are followed by many minor
shocks, and waited with what patience she could command for full
delivery.

Of the sanguinary condition of the battle ground in his young friend's
soul Rush had a mere glimpse before she took heed and dissembled. He
assumed that she either had fallen in love with him after the fashion of
girls when they saw too much of a man, or that she was eager to marry
and improve her condition. He reproached himself for thoughtlessness,
renounced the long evenings in the pretty room with a sigh, and in his
bachelor quarters read the books of her choice. He had a very kindly
feeling for her, for he knew that he owed her a debt; if he had not met
the other woman--who could tell? Moreover, as he conceived it to be his
duty to shield her from spiteful comment, he danced with her in public
and joined her on the street whenever they met.

But if he knew nothing of the intricate and interminable ramifications
of sex psychology, the infinite variety of moods peculiar to a woman in
love, he was well enough aware that love is easily turned to hate,
particularly when vanity has been deeply wounded; and although he had
conceived a high esteem for Alys Crumley's character during the weeks of
their intimacy, he knew that men had been mistaken in their estimate of
women before this, and that if she discovered that he loved another
woman she might be capable of taking the basest revenge.

It was possible that she was the noblest of her sex, and he hoped she
was, but as he considered her that night, he realised that it behooved
him to walk warily nevertheless. By the time he could marry Enid
Balfame, or even betray his desire to marry her, this crime would have
passed into county history. Of the real danger he never thought.

The vision evoked of Alys Crumley was accompanied by that of her home,
and he looked round his stark bachelor quarters with a sigh.

The untidy sitting-room was crowded with law books and legal reviews;
the maid had given it up in despair long since, and only swept out the
ashes daily and dusted once a week.

In the small bedroom was an iron bed like a soldier's; neckties hung
from the chandelier; on the bureau and table beside the bed were more
books, several by the young British authors of the moment for whom Miss
Crumley had communicated some of her rather perfunctory enthusiasm.

He flung his clothes all over the room as he undressed. He hated
bachelor quarters. Six months hence he would be the master of a home as
exquisite as the woman he loved. Balfame! The man was dead, but as Rush
thought of him his face turned almost black and his hands tingled and
clenched. It would be long before he could hear that name mentioned
without a hot uprush of hatred and loathing. But it subsided and he took
a bath and "turned in."



CHAPTER X


As Rush walked to the Elks' Club for breakfast a few hours later he felt
that suspicion was in the very air of Elsinore, the very leaves of the
quiet Sunday streets rustled with it. Even on Atlantic Avenue there were
knots of men discussing the murder, and in Main Street every man that
passed received a hard stare.

Rush was thankful to observe that all looked as if they had gone to bed
late and slept little, and when he met Sam Cummack on the steps of the
clubhouse he realised the advantages of the habit of careful grooming to
which the deceased's brother-in-law was quite indifferent.

"Oh, Dwight!" groaned Cummack, seizing his hand. "Where were you last
night? I'd have liked to have you round."

"I was in Brooklyn and got back late. What's your opinion?"

"I've had a dozen but they don't seem to hold water. I guess it was a
gunman, imported direct--though perhaps I'm just hoping it wasn't one of
them trollops did it--for the sake of the family as well as poor Dave's
name. I don't want a scandal like that. Murder's bad enough, the Lord
knows."

"What sort of footsteps in the grounds?"

"Every kind we've got in Elsinore, I guess. About forty people were
runnin' round the yard before the police came. Funny that Gifning didn't
think of that. But he says the breath was knocked out of him. Jimminy! I
never knew anything to upset the town like this before--the county, you
might say. The telephone's been buzzin' till the girls have threatened
to strike. An operator fainted this morning--wonder if Dave knew her?"

"Well, I am rather surprised to learn that Balfame was so popular--"

"'Tain't that only--though Dave still had lots of friends in spite of
that ugly temper he was growin'; but we've all got enemies--every last
one of us--and to be shot down at his own gate like that--Gee, it has
given every man in town the creeps. We must get the man quick and make
an example of him. I hope I'm drawn."

"I hope he doesn't ask me to defend him. How is Mrs. Balfame bearing
up?"

"Fine. She's as cool as they make 'em. I'd hate to be married to one of
them cucumbers myself, but they're damned convenient in times of
trouble. Maybe she cared a lot for Dave; who knows? At any rate we must
make people think she did. I don't want suspicion pointing to her."

"What! It is incredible that you should think of such a thing." Rush,
always pale, had turned as white as chalk. "You can't mean that people
are saying--"

"Not yet. But we've got to be prepared for anything, especially with
these New York newspapermen on the trail. Unless we catch the murderer
damned quick, every last one of us that was close to Dave that can't
prove an alibi will be suspected. Why, I walked with him for two blocks
after he left my house--thought he might not be able to make it alone,
and he wouldn't go in the car; then, I didn't go straight home, either.
I went to my office to straighten out something--Oh, Lord! don't let's
talk of it; I must have been there alone, not a soul to see me, when he
was shot. It gives me the horrors to think of it--"

"Nonsense! It was well known that you were his best friend. No one would
think of you."

"They might! They might!"

"Well--about Mrs. Balfame?"

"Oh, she's got the best alibi ever. She'd packed his suitcase and
carried it downstairs, and even written a note describing some bag or
other she wanted and pinned it to his coat. I was there when the police
examined it. They're not saying who they're suspectin', but they're
doin' a heap of thinkin'. Fact remains that she was alone in the front
of the house--that mutt of a hired girl she's got was way up in the back
part groanin' with a toothache when I routed her out. If she wasn't such
a fright that Dave wouldn't have looked at her--Well, the police know
that Dave wasn't what you might call a model husband; but Enid, so far
as we all know, never rowed him. That's the most tryin' sort, though,
and generally conceals the most hate. But she had her clubs and all the
rest of it. Maybe she didn't care. I'm only wonderin' what Phipps
thinks. That's the reason I want her to see the newspapermen. She might
throw them off the scent at least. Of course, they'd rather she'd done
it than any one--"

"You won't even hint to her that she may be suspected?" interrupted
Rush, sharply.

"Oh, Lord, no. I'd never dare. Just persuade her somehow. Guess Anna or
Polly can manage it."

Rush turned and walked down the steps. "I'll go to the Elsinore to
breakfast. The reporters are likely to show up there. I know Jim
Broderick. We must be on the job all the time."



CHAPTER XI


To Dr. Anna alone Mrs. Balfame told the story of the night, although,
implicit as was her trust, with certain reservations. She omitted the
detail of the poisoned lemonade, but otherwise unburdened herself with
freedom and relief.

"Before I knew where I was," she concluded, "there was the kitchen door
closed behind me. I can't understand why I lost my presence of mind. I
could easily have run through the back door and out the front, and
reached him about the time Gifning did."

Dr. Anna was drinking strong coffee. It was eight o'clock, and she had
gone downstairs and made breakfast for her friend and herself, Frieda
having retired to her room and bolted the door. The doctor had heard the
whole story as soon as she arrived, but after an interval of sleep had
asked for it again.

"I think it's better as it is," she said thoughtfully. "No one could
have seen you. The moon rose late; the night at that time must have been
pitch dark. The trees alone would have shielded you, even had any one
been watching. Suspicion never would fall on you anyhow; you are too far
above it, and Dave had been insulting people right and left the last
year. But you want to avoid blackmail. The only thing that disturbs me
is that that girl may have been on the back stairs when you came in.
I'll come in for lunch and talk to her then. You keep to your room.
Rest, and sleep if you can. I don't fancy you'll have early visitors.
Everybody'll sleep late. I wish I could!"

"Will you stop in and see Dr. Lequeur about yourself--"

"If I can find a minute. Don't worry about me. I'm tough, and the Lord
knows I ought to be immune."

But she found no time to see a doctor in her own behalf and returned to
the Balfame house between twelve and one. Reporters were sitting on the
box hedge and on the doorstep. She evaded them good-naturedly, but it
was some time before she was admitted by the rebellious Frieda, who had
been summoned to the front door some sixteen times during the forenoon.

When Dr. Anna finally found herself in the dark hall she saw that
Frieda's face was swollen and tied up in a towel. The spectacle gave the
doctor an instant opportunity.

"The worst infliction on earth, bar none!" she announced, following the
maid into the kitchen. "Let me take a look at it? How long have you had
it?"

"Two days," replied Frieda sullenly, unamenable to sympathy which
offered no immediate surcease of pain.

"Abscess?"

"Don't know."

Frieda's mental processes were slow. Before she could follow the
doctor's the bandage was ripped off and a sharp eye was examining the
inflamed interior of her cavernous mouth. A moment later Dr. Anna had
opened her doctor's bag and was anointing the surroundings of the
tortured tooth with a brown liquid.

"That won't cure it," she said, "but no dentist could do more until the
swelling is reduced. And it will save you a preliminary bill. Keep this.
As soon as you feel you can stand it, go to Dr. Meyers, Main Street.
Tell him I sent you. But why didn't you tell Mrs. Balfame last night?
Why endure pain? Kind mistresses always keep such alleviatives in the
house, and Mrs. Balfame is not the sort to mind being roused in the
middle of the night if some one were suffering."

The pain had subsided under treatment, and Frieda was restored to such
civility as she knew. "It only got bad when I am dancing to the hall,
and I ran home. I had some drops in my room."

"Oh, I see. Did they stop the pain?"

"Nix. Ache like before, but I lie down and perhaps can sleep if those
men have not make me come downstairs to make the coffee. All night I am
up." And she glowered with self-pity.

"But when you found that your drops were no good, why didn't you run at
once to Mrs. Balfame? You were braver than I should have been. It was
about eight o'clock, was it not, when Mr. Balfame was shot? Mrs. Balfame
was probably awake when you came in, even if she had gone to bed. Or
perhaps you didn't know that she came home early?"

"On Saturday nights she come home after I do. How I am to know she is
here?"

"But you might have gone to her medicine closet--in her bathroom."

"When you have the pain like hot iron you think of all the good things
for it the next day." Frieda relapsed into sullen silence; Dr. Anna
hastily disposed of the lunch prepared for her and went upstairs.

Mrs. Balfame was lying on the sofa. She had not dressed, but looked as
trim as usual in a blue and white bathrobe; never having been a woman to
"let herself go," she did not possess a wrapper. Her long hair hung in
two loose braids, and she looked very pale and lovely.

"Put Frieda out of your head," said Dr. Anna hurriedly; familiar voices
ascended from the path below. "She heard nothing. You don't when you
have a jumping toothache."

"Thank heaven!"

A soft knock announced several of her friends. They were dressed for
motoring; this being Sunday, not even death must interfere with the
cross-country refreshment of the Elsinore husband. They kissed Mrs.
Balfame and congratulated her upon her appearance and her nerves.

"But one thing must be settled right here," announced Mrs. Gifning, "and
that is the question of your mourning. I'll go over on the eight-ten in
the morning and see to it. But you never wear ready-made things and it
would be a pity to waste money that way. Are you going to wear a veil at
the inquest?"

"Of course I am. Do you suppose I shall submit to being stared at by a
curious mob and snapshotted by reporters?"

"That's just what I thought. I'll bring back a smart hat and a long
crêpe veil with me, and order your widow's outfit from one of the big
shops; they'll have it over in time for the funeral. And you can wear
your tailor suit to the inquest; it will be half covered by the veil."

"What a good idea!" said Mrs. Balfame gratefully. "You are too kind."

"Kind? Nothing! I just love to shop for other people. How lucky that
you hadn't bought your new winter suit. It might have been blue."

"It was to have been blue." There was a note of regret in Mrs. Balfame's
voice. "Don't forget to buy me two black chiffon blouses. One very
simple for every day; the other, really good. And something white for
the neck. Of course I wouldn't wear it on the street; but in the
house--black is too trying!"

"Rather. Trust me. Have you black gloves--undressed kid, I mean? You
don't want to look like an undertaker." Mrs. Balfame nodded. "That's
all, I think. Send me a line if you think of something else. I must run
and take Giffy for his ride. He's all broken up, poor darling. Wasn't he
just splendid last night?" She blew a kiss along the widow's forehead
and ran out with a light step that caused her more substantial friends
to sigh with envy. She, too, was in the manoeuvring forties, but she had
gone into training at thirty.

"I guess we'd all better go." Mrs. Battle, with a sudden dexterous heave
of her armoured bulk, was out of the chair and on her feet. "Now, try to
sleep, dearie. You are just the bravest thing! But to-morrow will be
trying. Sam Cummack says the coroner won't hold the inquest before
afternoon, but if they do and your veil isn't here, I've got one of Ma's
packed away in camphor that I'll get out for you. I'll get it out
to-night and have it airing--we won't take any chances; and you sha'n't
be annoyed by the vulgar curious."

"Oh, thank you! But that is not the only ordeal. It's even more trying
to stay in the house all these days--in this room! If I could walk in
the grounds. But I suppose those reporters are everywhere."

"They are swarming, simply swarming. And the avenue is so packed with
automobiles you can't navigate. People have come from all over the
country--some from New York and Brooklyn."

Mrs. Balfame curled her lip with disgust. Morbid curiosity, like other
vulgarities, was incomprehensible to her. Death, no matter how desired
or how accomplished, should inspire hush and respect, not provide
excitement for a Sunday afternoon.

"Let us hope they will find the wretch to-day," she said impatiently.
"That will end it, for, of course, it is the element of mystery that has
made the case so notorious. Is there no clue?"

"Not the ghost of one." Mrs. Cummack, too, was adjusting her automobile
veil. "Sam's on the job,--I'm only taking him out for an hour or two;
and so, of course, are the police--hot. But he's covered his tracks so
far."

"If it is a he," whispered Mrs. Battle to Mrs. Frew, as they stole
softly down the stairs. "What about that red-head, or that telephone
girl who fainted? They say she had to go home--"

"Can you imagine caring enough for Dave Balfame--Let's get out of this,
for heaven's sake, or I'll faint right here."

The atmosphere was as depressing as the dark interior of the house, for
it was heavy laden with the scent of flowers and death. The parlour
doors, behind which lay David Balfame, embalmed and serene in his
casket, were closed, but hushed whisperings came forth like the rustling
of funeral wreaths disturbed by the vapours of decay. The devoted
friends of the widow burst out into the sunshine almost with a cry of
relief.

Here all was as animated as a county fair. The grounds were void, save
by patrolling police, but the avenue and adjoining streets were packed
with every type of car from limousine to farmer's runabout, and many
more people were afoot, staring at the house, venturing as near the
hedge as they dared, to inspect the grove. They asked questions,
answered them, offered theories, all in a breath, and without the
slightest respect for any opinion save their own. A few children,
sucking peppermint sticks, sat on the hedge.

"Did you ever?" murmured Mrs. Frew to Mrs. Battle. "_Did_ you ever?" She
shuddered with refined disgust, but felt thrilled to her marrow. "Just
Enid's luck!" was her auxiliary but silent reflection.



CHAPTER XII


At the inquest on the following day, Mrs. Balfame, circumvested in
crêpe, sat between Mr. and Mrs. Cummack, gracefully erect, and without
even a nervous flutter of the hands.

When called upon to testify, she told in a clear low voice the meagre
story already known to her friends and by this time the common property
of Elsinore and all that read the newspapers of the State.

The coroner released her as quickly as possible, and called her servant
to the stand. Although the swelling in Frieda's face had subsided
somewhat under Dr. Anna's repeated ministrations, the tooth still
throbbed; and she also was released after announcing resentfully that
she'd seen "notings," heard "notings," and "didn't know notings" about
the murder except having to get up and make coffee when she was like to
die with the ache in her tooth.

There was no one else to testify, except Cummack, who gave the hour,
about a quarter or ten minutes to eight, when the deceased had left his
house, and Mr. Gifning and his two guests, who testified to hearing the
sound of Balfame's voice raised in song, followed a moment later by the
report of a pistol. They also described minutely the position of the
body when found. Indubitably the shot had been fired from the grove.

The staff artists were forced to be content with a black sketch of a
very long widow, who held her head high and emanated an air of chill
repose. One reporter, camera set, forced his way to her side as she was
about to enter Mrs. Battle's limousine and begged her plaintively to
raise her veil; but he might as well as have addressed a somnambulist;
Mrs. Balfame did not even snub him.

"Why should they want a picture of me?" she asked Mrs. Battle,
wonderingly. "It's poor Dave that is dead. Whoever heard of me outside
of Elsinore?"

"I guess you haven't amused yourself reading the papers. You've been
written up as a beauty and the intellectual and social leader of
Elsinore. Some distinction, that! The public is mighty interested in you
all over the State and will be for several days yet, no doubt. Then
we'll find the man and they'll forget all about the whole affair until
the trial comes up."

Mrs. Balfame, clad in full weeds, more dignified, stately and
unapproachable than ever, ran the gauntlet of staring eyes at the church
funeral, apparently unconscious of the immense crowd of women that had
driven over from every township in Brabant County. That the women did
not approve of her haughty head and tearless eyes, brilliant even behind
the heavy crêpe, would have concerned her little if she had known it.
Her mind was concentrated upon the future moment when this series of
hideous ordeals would be over and she could re-enter the decent
seclusion of private life.

Mrs. Balfame may have had her faults, but a vulgar complaisance to
publicity was not among them.

She had also made up her mind sternly not to feel happy, not to rejoice
in her freedom, not to make a plan for the future until her husband was
in his grave. But all during that long service, while the new parson
discoursed unctuously upon the virtues and eminence of the slain, she
had the sensation of holding her breath.

It was four days from the night of the murder before she consented to
see the reporters. Meanwhile every suspected person had proved an alibi,
including the red-haired Miss Foxie Bell, and the indignant and highly
respectable Miss Mamie Russ, who officiated at the telephone. She had
known the deceased, yes, and once or twice she had driven out to one of
the roadhouses with him, where a number of her friends were indulging in
a quiet Sunday afternoon tango, but she had merely looked upon him as a
kind fatherly sort of person; and at the hour of his death she was
asleep, as her landlady could testify.

Old Dutch had indignantly repudiated the charge of employing gunmen, and
had even attended the funeral and shed tears. Whatever the faults of the
deceased, they were not of a nature to antagonise permanently the erring
members of his own sex. Moreover, he had been an able politician,
respected of his enemies, and was now glorified by his cowardly and
untimely taking off.

The local police had an uneasy suspicion that the assassin was one of
their "pals"--in that small and democratic community, where every man
was an Elk from the banker to the undertaker. They were quite ready to
drop the case, loudly ascribing the deed to an ordinary housebreaker, or
to some unknown enemy from out the impenetrable rabbit warrens of New
York City.

The newspaper men were chagrined and desperate. The Balfame Case had
proved uncommonly magnetic to the New York public. They had done their
best to create this interest, and now were on their mettle to "make
good." But they were beginning to wish they had waited for at least a
lantern's ray at the end of the dark perspective before exciting the
public with descriptions of the winding picturesque old street of the
ancient village of Elsinore; the stately old-time residence at its head
which had housed (in more or less discomfort) three generations of
Balfames, the sinister grove of trees that had sheltered the dastardly
assassin, the prominence and political importance of David Balfame who
had inherited this ancestral estate, and played among those trees in
childhood; his unsuspecting and vocal return at an early hour to be shot
down at his own gate.

All this appealed acutely to a public which makes the fortune of the
sentimental play, the "crook" play, and the "play with a punch and a
mystery." Here was the real thing, as rural as the childhood of many of
the Greater New York public--weary of black-hand murders and anarchist
bombs--with a mystery as deep as any ever invented by their favourite
authors, and in no remote district but at their very gates.

If anything more were necessary to rivet their interest, there was the
handsome and elegant (if provincial) Mrs. Balfame, as austere as a Roman
matron, as chaste as Diana, as decently invisible in public during this
harrowing ordeal as imported crêpe could make her. The men reporters had
dismissed the widow with a paragraph of personal description, but the
newspaper women had filled half a page in each of the evening journals.

The press had given the public at least two columns a day of the Balfame
murder; there had been a biography of every suspect in turn, and there
had been the thrilling episode of the bloodhounds turned loose upon that
trampled enclosure. But no road led anywhere, and the public, baffled
for the moment, but still hopeful, demanded an interview with the
interesting widow.

Of course, her alibi was perfect, but all felt sure that she "knew
something about it." Her unhappy married life was now common property,
and if it only could be proved that she had had a lover--but the
newspapers as has been said were discouraging upon this point. Mrs.
Balfame (quoting the young men this time), while amiable and kind to
all, was cold and indifferent. Men were afraid of her. The New York
detectives had "fine-tooth-combed" Brabant County and reported
disgustedly to their chief that she was "just one of those club women;
no use for men at all."

The reporters, however, had made up their minds to fix the crime, if
possible, upon her. They would have compromised upon the young servant,
but Frieda, especially with her face framed in a towel stained brown,
and her eyes swollen above the wrenching agonies of an ulcerated tooth,
was hopeless material. Moreover, they were convinced, after thorough
investigation, that the deceased's gallantries, while sufficiently
catholic, had not run to serving maids, and that of late particularly he
had loudly hated all things German.

Regarding Mrs. Balfame they held their judgment in reserve until they
met and talked with her; but Broderick had extracted the miserable
details of her life from his friend, Alys Crumley, as well as a lively
description of the scene at the Country Club; they believed they could
bring to light enough to base a sensational trial upon, whatever the
verdict of the jury.

It must not be inferred for a moment that these brilliant and
industrious young men were bloodthirsty. They knew that if Mrs. Balfame
had committed the crime and could be induced to make a defiant
confession, it was more than probable that she would go scot free; that
in no case was there more than a bare possibility of a woman of her age,
position and appearance being sent to the chair. But it is these alert,
resourceful, ruthless young men who make the newspapers we read with
such interest twice a day; it is they who write the columns of "news"
that we skip if dull (with a mental reservation to change our
newspaper), or devour without a thought of the tireless individual
activities that re-supply us daily with our strongest impersonal
interests. Sometimes a trifle more sparkle or vitality, or a deeper
note, will wring from us that facile comment, "How well written!"
without a pause to reflect that mere good writing never made a
newspaper, or to hazard a guess that behind the column that thrilled us
were hours, perhaps weeks, of incessant unravelling of clues, of
following a scent in the dark, with death at every turn. It is the
business of reporters to furnish news of vital interest to a pampered
public, and as so large a part of it is furnished to them by the
weaknesses and misdeeds of mankind, what wonder that the reporters grow
cynical and make no bones about providing clues that will lead, at the
least, to many columns charged with suspense and sensational human
interest!

These young men knew the moment the Balfame case "broke" that it was big
with possibilities; they scented a mystery that would be cleared by the
arrest of no local politician; and they knew the interlocking social
relationships of these loyal old communities. It was "up to them" to
solve the mystery, and by a process of elimination, spurred by their own
desire to give the public the best the market afforded, they arrived at
Mrs. Balfame.

Within forty-eight hours they were hot on her trail. Among other things,
they discovered that she was an expert shot at a target; but did she
keep a pistol in the house? She had used one, kept for target purpose,
out at the Country Club, and it was impossible to verify the rumor that
in common with many another, she had one in the house as a protection
against burglars and tramps.

At their instigation, Phipps, the local chief of police, had reluctantly
consented to interrogate her on this point (a mere matter of form, he
assured her), and she had replied blandly that she never had possessed a
pistol. The chief apologised and withdrew. He was of a respectable
Brabant family himself, and was horrified that a member of the good old
order should even be brushed by the wing of suspicion. Being a quiet
family man and a Republican to boot, he had never approved of Dave
Balfame, and had only refrained from arresting him upon more than one
occasion--notably a week or two since when he had publicly blacked the
eye of Miss Billy Gump--out of deference to the good name of Elsinore;
and after all, they were both Elks and had spun many a yarn in the
comfortable clubrooms. Inheritance, circumstances, and a fine common
contempt for the inferior brands of whiskey, had made them "stand in
together, whatever happened." The chief had no love for Mrs. Balfame,
for she had frozen him too often, but she was the pride of Elsinore and
he was alert to defend her.

It had never occurred to Mrs. Balfame that she would incur even a
passing suspicion, and she had left the pistol in the pocket of her
automobile coat. Immediately after the visit of the chief of police she
took the pistol into the sewing-room, locked the door, covered the
keyhole, and buried the weapon in the depths of an old sofa. As her
large strong fingers had mended furniture many times, no one would
suspect that this ancient piece (dating back to the first Balfame) had
been tampered with. She performed the operation with haughty reluctance,
but the instinct of self-preservation abides in the proudest souls, and
Mrs. Balfame had the wit to realise that it was by far the better part
of valour.

The shooting occurred on Saturday night. By Wednesday all the horrors of
the criminal episode were over and she felt as young as she looked, and
at liberty to begin life again, a free and happy woman. Her mourning was
perfect.

She made up her mind to see the newspaper men and have done with it.
They had haunted the grounds--no patrols could keep them out--sat on the
doorstep, forced their way into the kitchen, and rung the front
door-bell so frequently that hourly she expected the scowling Frieda to
give notice. Mr. Cummack told her repeatedly that she might as well give
in first as last and she finally agreed with him.

It was five o'clock in the afternoon when they were admitted to the
spacious old-fashioned parlour with its incongruous modern notes.

Like many women, Mrs. Balfame had an admirable taste in dress, so long
as she marched with the conventions, but neither the imagination nor the
training to create the notable room. Long since she had banished the old
"body brussels" carpet and substituted rugs subdued in colour if
commonplace in design. The plush "set" had not gone to the auction room,
however, but had been reupholstered with a serviceable "tapestry
covering." A what-not still stood in one corner, and both centre-table
and mantel were covered with marble, although the wax works that once
embellished them were now in the garret. The wall paper, which had been
put on the year before, was a neutral pale brown. Nevertheless, it was a
homelike room, for there were two rocking-chairs and three easy chairs;
and on a small side-table was Mrs. Balfame's workbasket. On the marble
centre-table was a most artistic lamp. The curtains matched the
furniture.

There were ten reporters from New York, two from Brooklyn, three from
Brabant County, and four correspondents. Word had been passed during the
morning that Mrs. Balfame would see the newspaper men, and they were
there in force; those that were not "on the job all the time" having
loyally been notified by those that were. But they had stolen a march on
the women. Not a "sob-sister" was in that intent file, led by James
Broderick of _The New York Morning News_, that entered the Balfame house
and parlour on Wednesday at five o'clock.

Frieda had announced that her mistress would be "down soon," and Mr.
Broderick immediately drew the curtains back from the four long windows,
and placed a comfortable chair for Mrs. Balfame in a position where she
would face both the light and her visitors. It was not the first stage
that the astute Mr. Broderick had set; and whenever he was on a case he
fell naturally into the position of leader; not only had he the most
alert and driving, the most resourceful and penetrative mind, but his
good looks and suave manner inspired confidence in the victim, and led
him insensibly into damaging admissions. He was a tall slim young man, a
graduate of Princeton, not yet thirty, with a regular face and warm
colouring, and an expression so pleasant that the keenness of his eyes
passed unnoted. In general equipment and dress he was typical of his
kind, unless they took to drink and grew slovenly; but his more emphatic
endowment enabled him to take the lead among a class of men whom he
respected too thoroughly to antagonise with arrogance.

"Late--to make an impression!" he growled, but young Ryder Bruce of the
evening edition of his paper nudged him. Mrs. Balfame was on the
staircase opposite the parlour doors.

The young men stood up and watched her as she slowly descended, her
black dress clinging to her tall rather rigid figure, her head high, her
profile as calm as marble, her eye as devoid of expression as if
awaiting the click of the camera.

The reporters were prejudiced on the spot, so impatient are newspaper
men of any sort of pose or attempt to impress them. As she entered the
room she greeted them pleasantly, looking straight at them with her
large cold eyes, and allowed herself to be conducted to a chair by the
polite Mr. Broderick.

She knew that in her high unrelieved black she looked older than common,
but this was a deliberately calculated effect. She was not as adroit as
she would have been after recurrent experiences with the press, but
instinct warned her to look the dignified middle-aged widow, quite above
the coquetry of the bare throat of fashion, or of tempering her weeds
with soft white lawn.

As Mr. Broderick made a little speech of gratitude for her gracious
reception of the press, she appraised her guests. The greater number
were well-groomed, well-dressed, well-bred in effect, very sure of
themselves; altogether a striking contrast to the local reporters that
had come in on their heels.

She answered Mr. Broderick diffidently: "I have never been interviewed.
I am afraid you will hardly find--what do you call it?--a story?--in
me."

"We don't wish to be too personal," he said gently, "but the public is
tremendously interested in this case, and more particularly in you. It
isn't always that it takes an interest in the wife of a murdered
man--but--well, you see, you are such a personality in this community.
We really must have an interesting interview." He smiled at her with a
charming expression of masculine indulgence that made her own eyes
soften. "You see--don't you--we hate to intrude--but--we understand that
you had a serious quarrel with your husband on the last day of his life.
Would you mind telling us what you did after leaving the Country Club?"

She gave him a frozen stare, but recalled Mr. Cummack's warning not to
take offence--"for remember that these men have their living to get, and
if they fall down on their job they don't get it. Blame their paper, not
them."

"That is a surprising question," she said sweetly. "Do you expect me to
answer it?"

"Why not? Of course you read the newspapers. You know we have told the
public of the scene at the clubhouse already--and with no detriment to
you! It was a very dramatic scene, and every moment that you passed from
that time until Mr. Balfame fell at his gate will be of the most
absorbing interest to the public. In fact, they will eat it up."

Mrs. Balfame shrugged her shoulders. "As a matter of fact I have not
read a newspaper since the--" She set her lips and her eyes grew
hard--"the crime. I know you have written a great deal about it, but it
hasn't interested me. Well--Dr. Anna Steuer drove me home, and shortly
after I went up to my room--"

"Pardon me; let us take things in their turn. You took a box of sardines
and some bread from the pantry, did you not?"

"I did." Mrs. Balfame's tones were both puzzled and bored.

"And then you were interrupted." As she raised her eyebrows, he
continued. "The appearance of the sardine can indicated that."

She gave him a brilliant smile, her substitute for the average woman's
merry laugh. "You are teaching me how they write those intricate
detective tales my husband was so fond of. It is true that I was
interrupted, but it is equally true that I should probably have left the
can as you found it in any case, for I soon realised that I was not
hungry. I had had sandwiches at the club, and although I always think it
best to eat something before retiring, I was hardly hungry enough for
sardines--"

"You ate sandwiches at the club? I have been out there once or twice
and never saw--I was under the impression that during the afternoon the
young people danced and the matrons played bridge before an early
dinner."

"Did you?" Mrs. Balfame's eyes and tones abashed even Mr. Broderick, and
he tacked hastily: "Oh, well, that is immaterial, as the lawyers say.
And of course you ladies may have sandwiches served in the bridge rooms.
May I ask what interrupted you?"

"My husband telephoned from Mr. Cummack's house that he was obliged to
go to Albany at once and asked me to pack his suitcase."

"Yes, we have seen the suitcase. You suggested, did you not--over the
telephone--making him a glass of lemonade with aromatic and bromide in
it?"

Mrs. Balfame experienced an obscure thrill of alarm, but her haughty
stare betrayed nothing. One of the reporters whose "job" it was to watch
her hands, noted that they curved rigidly. "And may I ask how you found
_that_ out? Really, I think I feel even more curiosity than you do."

"He told it to Cummack and the other men present as a good joke, adding
that you knew your business."

"I did. The matter had passed entirely out of my mind. More momentous
things have happened since! Well--I made the glass of lemonade and left
it on the dining-room table; then I went upstairs and packed his
suitcase--"

"One moment. What became of that glass of lemonade? No one remembers
having seen it, although I have made very particular inquiries."

Mrs. Balfame by this time was quite cold, but her brain was working
almost as quickly as Mr. Broderick's. She uncurved her fingers and
smiled. But her keen brain-sword had one edge only; the other was dull
with inexperience. She knew nothing of the vast practice of newspaper
men in detecting the lie.

"Oh--I drank it myself." She had drawn her brows for a moment as if in
an effort of memory. "When I heard the noise outside--when I heard them
say 'coroner'--and realised that something dreadful had happened, I ran
downstairs. Then I suddenly felt faint and remembered the lemonade with
the aromatic spirits of ammonia and bromide in it. I ran into the
dining-room and drank it--fortunately!"

"And what became of the glass?"

"Oh!" Mrs. Balfame was now righteously indignant. "How do I know? Or any
one else? Frieda, soon after, began to make coffee by the quart--and I
don't doubt whisky was brought round from the Elks. Who could have
noticed a glass more or less?"

"Frieda swears she never saw it."

"She has the worst memory of any servant I ever had, and that is saying
a good deal."

Mr. Broderick regarded her with admiration. He distrusted her more every
moment, but he had realised at once that he had no ordinary woman to
deal with, and he rejoiced in the clash of wits.

The other young men were sitting forward, almost breathless, and Mrs.
Balfame was now fully alive to the danger of her position. But all
sensation of fear had left her. All the iron in her nature fused in the
crucible of those terrible moments and came forth finely tempered steel.

"Anything more?"

"Oh--ah--yes. Would you mind telling us what you did after you had
packed the suitcase and brought it downstairs?"

"I went up to my room and began to undress for bed."

"But that must have been quite fifteen minutes before Mr. Balfame's
return. He walked from Cummack's house, which is about a mile from here.
It was noticed that you merely had taken your dress off. Would you not
have had time to get into bed?"

"If I were a man. But I had my hair to brush--with fifty strokes; and--a
little nightly massage, if you will have it. Besides, I had intended to
go down and lock the front door after my husband had left."

"Ah!" The admiration of the young men mounted higher. They disliked her
coldly, if only for that lack of sex-magnetism, which men, particularly
young men, naïve in their extensive surface psychology, take as a
personal affront. They did not believe a word she said, and they did not
give her and her possible fate a throb of sympathy, but they generously
pronounced her "a wonder."

Mr. Broderick took a chance shot. "And did you not during that time look
out of the window--toward the grove?"

Mrs. Balfame hesitated the fraction of a minute, then wisely returned to
her know-nothing policy. "Why should I? Certainly not. I heard no sound
out there. I am not in the habit of examining the grounds from my window
at night. It is enough to go through the lower rooms before I lock up."

"But your window was dark when the men ran over from Gifning's after
hearing the shot. They remember that. Do you brush your hair--and--and
massage in the dark?"

Mrs. Balfame sat back in her chair with the resigned air of the victim
who expects an interview with inquisitive newspaper men to last all
night. "No. But I sometimes sit in the dark. I told you that I intended
to sit up--partly dressed--until my husband had gone. I did not feel
like reading, and my eyes were tired. As you know so much, you may have
guessed that I cried a little after that trying afternoon. I do not
often cry, and my eyes stung."

"But you had forgiven your husband?"

"I had forgiven him many times before. I infer that you know that also."

"Mrs. Balfame, is it not true that about two years ago you contemplated
obtaining a divorce?"

This time her eyes flashed with anger. "I see that my kind friends have
been gossiping. You would seem to have interviewed everybody in town."

"Pretty nearly. But you don't seem to realise that Elsinore--Brabant
County, for that matter--has talked of nothing else but this case for
the last four days."

"I did think of a divorce for a short time, but I never mentioned it to
him, and as soon as I thought it all out I dismissed the idea. In the
first place, divorce is against the principles of the school in which I
was brought up, and in the second Mr. Balfame was a good husband in his
way. Every woman has some sort of a heavy cross to bear, and I guess
mine was lighter than most. The trouble is, we American women expect
too much. I dismissed the subject so completely from my mind that I had
practically forgotten it."

"Ah--yes--we thought you might have seen some one lurking in the grove
and gone down to investigate." This was another chance shot. He was
hoping for a "lead."

Mrs. Balfame thought him inspired.

For the moment the cold brilliant eyes of the woman and the keen
contracted eyes of the reporter met and clashed. Then Mrs. Balfame
displayed her teeth in her sweet and charming smile. "What a truly
masculine inference. You don't know me. If I had seen anything I should
have flown to the telephone and called the police."

"You look indomitable," murmured Mr. Broderick. "But will you tell us
how it happened that you did not hear the shot? The men down at
Gifning's did."

"They were standing on the porch, and I think now that I did hear the
shot. But my windows were closed. I hear tires burst constantly. And
that was Saturday night. The machines turn off just below our gate into
Dawbarn Street, especially if they are bound for Beryl Myrtle's road
house."

"True." Broderick leaned forward, staring at the carpet. He permitted
the silence to last quite a minute. Even Mrs. Balfame, who had
congratulated herself that the inquisition must be nearly over, stirred
uneasily, so sinister was that silence.

The other men knew the Broderick method too well to spoil one of his
designs; they sat in expectant stillness and turned upon Mrs. Balfame a
battery of eyes.

Suddenly Broderick raised his head and his sharp boring gaze darted into
hers. "I had not fully intended to tell you of a discovery made by one
of us yesterday. We have told no one as yet--waiting for just the right
moment to publish it. But I think I'll tell you. There is evidence that
two revolvers were fired that night. One killed David Balfame, and a
bullet from the other penetrated the tree before the house and slightly
to the right of where he must have stood for a moment. Bruce here
dug it out. Now, not only did the men at Gifning's not hear two
shots--indicating that they were fired simultaneously--but one bullet
came from a .38 and the other from a .41."

Mrs. Balfame stood up. "Really, gentlemen, I did not consent to see you
in order to help you solve riddles. But possibly you know better than I
that gunmen generally travel in pairs. I am convinced that my husband--"
(they applauded her for not saying "my poor husband") "was killed by one
of those creatures, hired by his political enemies. Unless I can tell
you something more of interest--if, indeed, you have found anything to
interest the great New York public in this interview--I will ask you to
excuse me."

The young men were politely on their feet. "And you have no pistol--nor
ever had?"

She laughed outright. "Are you trying to fasten the crime on me?"

"Oh, no, indeed. Only, in a case like this, one leaves no stone
unturned--I hope you do not think we are rude."

"I only just realise that quite the most polite young men I have ever
met have been hoping to make me incriminate myself. If I had not been so
dense I should have dismissed you long since. Good night."

And, once more looking human in her just indignation, she lifted her
proud head and swept out of the room.

The young men left the house and adjourned to a private room in the rear
of their favourite saloon. For twenty minutes they rehearsed the
interview carefully, those that had taken notes correcting any lapses of
memory on the part of those that had elected to watch as well as listen.

Broderick and many of the men were firmly of the opinion that Mrs.
Balfame had committed the crime; others believed that she was shielding
some one else; the less experienced were equally positive that no guilty
woman taken off her guard repeatedly, as she had been, could "put it
over" like that. She had "talked and acted like an innocent woman."

"She acted, all right," said Broderick. "I for one am convinced that she
did it. But whether she did or didn't, she's got to be indicted and
tried. This case, boys, is too big to throw away--too damned big; and
she's already a personality to the public. She's the only one we have
the ghost of a chance with; the only one whose arrest and trial would
keep the interest going--"

"But say!" It was the youngest reporter that interrupted. "I call it
lowdown to fasten a crime on a possibly innocent woman--a lady--keep her
in jail for months; try her for murder! Why, even if she were acquitted,
she would carry the stigma through life."

"Don't get sentimental, sonny," said Broderick patiently. "Sentiment is
to the vanquished in this game. When you've been it as long as the rest
of us you'll know that in nine cases out of ten the real solution of
any mystery is the simplest. Balfame drank. He had a violent temper when
drunk. He was a dog at best. She must have hated him. Look at her. We
have reason to believe that she did hate him and that her friends knew
it. She thought of divorce two years ago. Gave it up because she was
afraid of losing her leadership in this provincial hole. Look at her.
She is as proud as Lucifer. And as hard as nails. There had been an ugly
scene at the club that afternoon. He mortified her publicly. She was so
overcome she had to leave. I've a hunch she poisoned that lemonade and
got it out of the way in time. She's the sort that would think of nearly
everything. Not quite, of course. Otherwise she would never have
invented on the spur of the moment that story about drinking it herself;
she'd have had the assumption on tap that one of the neighbours had
drunk it. That complication, however, is yet to prove. It merely points
a finger at her--straight; what we've got to prove and prove quick is
that she was out of doors when that shot was fired--"

"Would you like to see her in the chair?" gasped young Loring.

"Good Lord, no. Not the least danger. Women of that sort don't go to the
chair. If she even got a term, I'd head a petition to let her out, for
she's a dead game sport, and I'm only after good front page stuff." He
turned to Ryder Bruce of the evening edition of his newspaper. "You make
love to that German hired girl. She hates us all, for we represent the
real American press--that hasn't a hyphen in it. I sensed that. And I
don't believe she's all the fool she looks. I believe she can tell
something--few servants that can't--and that she only pretended at the
inquest that she knew nothing because she was nearly dead with pain and
wanted it over. Well, she had the tooth out this morning, and at least
she isn't quite as hideous as she was; so go to it, old boy. Get 'round
her and do it quick. Use money if necessary. There's not a day to lose.
Find out what she wants most--probably it's to send her sweetheart at
the front something more substantial than mitts and bands. Got me?"

"I get you," said young Bruce gloomily. "You've picked me out because
I'm blond and round faced and can pass myself off as a German. I wish
I'd been born an Italian. Nice job, making love to _that_. But I'll do
it."

"Good boy. Well, s'long. I'm off on a trail of my own. I'll report
later. May be nothing in it."



CHAPTER XIII


Broderick walked slowly toward Elsinore Avenue, sounding his memory for
certain fugitive impressions, his active mind at the same time casting
about for the current which would connect them.

He looked at his watch. He was to dine with the Crumleys at seven and it
lacked but ten minutes of the hour; nevertheless he walked more slowly
still, his eyes staring at the ground, his brow channeled.

On Sunday afternoon he had spent two hours with Alys Crumley. At first
she had been reluctant to talk of any but the salient phases of the
murder, but being appealed to as a "good old pal" and reminded that real
newspaper people stood together, she finally had described the scene at
the Country Club on the afternoon preceding Balfame's death, and shown
him the drawing she had had the superior presence of mind to make.
Broderick had examined every detail of that rapid but demonstrative
sketch: the burly form at the head of the room, his condition indicated
by an angle of the shoulders and a deft exaggeration of feature which
recalled the facile art of the cartoonist; the strained forms of the men
surrounding him; Mrs. Balfame heading down the room, her face set and
terrible; the groups of women and girls in attitudes expressive of alarm
or disgust.

But when he made as if to put the sketch in his pocket she had snatched
it from him, and he merely had shrugged his shoulders, confident that
he could induce her to give it up should he really need it.

He had questioned her regarding the scene until its outlines were as
firm in his mind as in her own. But there had been something else--some
impression, not obviously linked with the case: It was for that
impression that he sounded his admirable memory; and in a moment he
found it and stopped with a smothered exclamation.

He had complimented her on the excellent likeness of Dwight Rush, whom
he knew and liked, and remarked quite naturally that he might have sat
for her a number of times. The dusky pink had mounted to her hair, but
she had replied carelessly that Rush was "a common enough type."

Possibly Broderick would have forgotten the blush had it not have been
for the swift change of expression in her eyes: a certain fear followed
by a concentrated renitence; and at the same moment he had remembered
that he had met Rush once or twice at the Crumleys' during the summer
and thought him quite the favoured guest.

Driven only by a mild personal curiosity, he had asked her how she liked
Rush and if she saw much of him; he recalled that she had answered with
an elaboration of indifference that she hadn't seen him for ages and
took no interest in him whatever.

Then Broderick had drawn her on to talk of Mrs. Balfame. Yes, in common
with all Elsinore that counted, she admired Mrs. Balfame, although she
believed that no one really knew her, that she unconsciously lived among
the surfaces of her nature. Her face as she marched down the clubroom
that day, and its curious sudden transformation on that other day at
the Friday Club when her thoughts so plainly had drifted far from the
platitudinous speakers, indicated to Miss Crumley's temperamental mind
"depths and possibly tragic possibilities."

It was patent to Mr. Broderick's own mind that her suspicions had not
lighted for a moment on the dead man's widow, but it also transpired in
the course of the conversation that the young artist who had so "loved
to sketch" the Star of Elsinore had suffered a long drop in personal
enthusiasm. Pressed astutely, she had remarked that she guessed she was
as broad-minded as anybody, especially since her year on the New York
press, but she did not approve of married women claiming a right to
share in the Great Game designed by Nature for the young of both sexes.

Then the story came out: Miss Crumley, afflicted with a headache
something over a fortnight since, and enjoying the cool night air just
behind her front gate, had seen Mrs. Balfame come out of Dr. Steuer's
garden next door and meet Dwight Rush face to face. He had begged to be
allowed to see her home.

Mrs. Balfame had lovely manners, she couldn't help being sweet unless
she disliked a person, and no woman will elect to walk up a long dark
avenue alone if a man offer to escort her.

Alys would have thought nothing of it--merely assumed that Rush, being a
comparative newcomer, had caught at the chance to make a favourable
impression on the leader of Elsinore society--(no, he was no snob, but
that idea just came to her), if they had not crawled, yes, _crawled_ all
the way up the avenue.

Both were vigorous people with long legs; they could have covered the
distance to the Balfame place in three minutes. They had been more than
ten, and as they passed under the successive lamp posts she had noted
the man's bent head, the woman's tilted back--as she gazed up into his
eyes, no doubt.

"In this town," Miss Crumley had announced, "a woman is fast or she
isn't. You know just where you are. There's a class that's sly about it,
but somehow you get 'on' in time. Mrs. Balfame has stood for the highest
and best. Mind you, I'm not saying that she ever saw Rush alone again,
or cared a snap of her finger for him--or he for her. No doubt she felt,
when the rare chance offered of taking a little flyer, that it was too
good to miss. But she shouldn't have done it; that's the point. I don't
like my idols to have feet of clay."

Broderick had felt both sympathetic and amused. He knew that Alys
Crumley was not only sweet of temper and frank, if not candid, but that
in spite of all her desperate modernism she cherished high ideals of
conduct; and here she was turning loose the cat that skulks somewhere in
every commonplace female's nature.

But the whole conversation had left his mind promptly. He had attached
no significance whatever to a ten minutes' walk between a polite man and
a woman returning alone from a friend's house on a dark night.

Now every word of the conversation came back to him. Rush, he gathered,
had gone to the Crumley house several times a week for a while, and
then, for reasons known only to himself and Alys, had ceased his visits
abruptly. Had she fallen in love with him? Or was it only her vanity
that was wounded? And if Rush had dropped a girl as pretty and bright
and winning as Alys Crumley--who improved upon acquaintance,
moreover--what was the reason? Why had he not fallen in love with her?
Had he loved some one else?

Broderick swung his mind to the morning following the murder, when he
had met Rush in the hall of the Elsinore Hotel. The lawyer professed
himself as delighted to "run up against him" and invited him to
breakfast. All this had been natural enough, and it was equally natural
that the conversation should have but one theme.

Once more Broderick sought a fugitive impression and found it. Rush, who
was a master of words when verbal exactness was imperative, had created
an impression in his companion's mind of the impeccability of the
murdered man's widow.

Broderick had wondered once or twice since whence came that mental
picture of Mrs. Balfame that rose clear-cut in his memory, in spite of
his deliberate conviction of her guilt. Other people had raved about her
and made no impression upon the young reporter's selective and somewhat
cynical mind; but Rush had almost accomplished his purpose!

Why had he sought to accomplish it?

Broderick had known Rush in and out of court for nearly two years.
Whenever he had been on an assignment in that part of Brabant County he
had made a point of seeking him out, and even of spending an evening
with him if he could afford the time. He liked the unique blend of East
and West in the man; to Broderick's keen appraising mind Rush reflected
the very best of the two great rival bisections of the nation. He liked
the mixture of frankness and subtlety, of simple unquestioning
patriotism--of assumption that no country but the United States of
America mattered in the very least--and the intense concentrated
individualism. Of hard-headed American determination to "get there" at
any honourable cost, of jealously hidden romanticism.

Broderick was almost at the Crumley gate. He halted for a moment under
the dark maples and glanced up the long shadowy avenue, his own narrower
and still more jealously guarded "romantic streak" appreciating the
possibilities on a dusky evening with a girl whose face floated for a
moment before him. But he banished her promptly, searching his memory
for some salient trait in Rush that he instinctively knew would
establish the current he desired.

He found it after a moment of intense concentration. Rush was the sort
of man that loves not woman but a woman. His very friendship for Alys
Crumley was evidence that he cared nothing for girls as girls. Only the
exceptional drew him, and mere youth left him unmoved.

Knowing Rush as he did, he felt his way rapidly toward the facts. Alys,
woman-like, had succumbed to propinquity, and betrayed herself; Rush,
finding his mere masculine loneliness misinterpreted, and being
honourable to boot, had promptly withdrawn.

But why? Alys would have made him a delightful and useful wife. She was
one of those too clever girls whom celibacy made neurotic and uncertain,
but out of whom matrimony and maternity knocked all the nonsense at once
and finally. She would make a splendid woman.

He should have thought her just the girl to allure Rush, whom he also
knew to be fastidious and to set a high value on the good old Brabant
blood. Moreover, it was time that Rush would be wanting the permanent
companionship of a woman, a bright, progressive, but feminine woman. He
had observed certain signs.

Alys, apparently, had not measured up to Rush's secret ideal of the
wholly desirable woman, nor appealed to that throbbing vein of
romanticism which he had striven to bury beneath the dusty tomes of the
law. What sort of woman, then, could satisfy all he desired? And had he
found her?

Broderick recalled a certain knightly exaltation in Rush's blue eyes
which had come and gone as they discussed Mrs. Balfame, although not a
word of the adroit concept he had built remained in the reporter's
memory. But those eyes came back to Broderick there in the dark--the
eyes of a man young and ardent like himself--he almost fancied he had
seen the woman's image in them.

He revived his impression of Mrs. Balfame, seen for the first time
to-day, and contemplated it impersonally: A beautiful, a fascinating
woman--to a man of Rush's limited experience and idealism; fastidious,
proud, gracious, supremely poised.

Nor did she look a day over thirty, although she must be a good bit
more--he recalled the obituaries of the dead man: they had alluded to
his marital accomplishment as covering a term of some twenty years.
Perhaps she was his second wife--but no--nor did it matter. Rush was
just the sort of chap to fall in love with a woman older than himself,
if she were still young in appearance and as chastely lovely, as
unapproachable, as Mrs. Balfame. He would idealise her very years,
contrast them with that vague suggestion of virginity that Broderick
recalled, of deep untroubled tides.

All romantic men believe in women's unfathomed depths when in love,
reflected the star reporter cynically, and Mrs. Balfame was just the
sort to go until forty before having the smashing love affair of her
life; and to inspire a similar passion in a hard-working idealist like
Dwight Rush.

Mrs. Balfame and Dwight Rush! Broderick, who now stood quite still, a
few paces from the Crumley gate, whistled.

Could Rush have fired that shot? Broderick recalled that the lawyer had
mentioned having spent Saturday evening in Brooklyn--on business.

Broderick shook his head vigorously. So far as he was concerned, Rush
never should be asked to produce his alibi. He did not believe that Rush
had done it, did not propose to harbour the suggestion for a moment.
Rush was not the man to commit a cowardly murder, not even for a woman.
If he had wanted to kill the man he would have involved himself in an
election row, forced the bully to draw his gun, and then got in his own
fire double quick. Standards were standards.

Broderick was more convinced than ever that Mrs. Balfame had committed
the deed, and he had established the current. His work was "cut out" for
the evening; and without further delay he presented himself at the Widow
Crumley's door.



CHAPTER XIV


Supper was over and Broderick and Miss Crumley sat in the back yard
studio; Mrs. Crumley had company of her own, and as Alys decried the
vulgarity of the legendary American daughter's attitude to the
poor-spirited American mother, she invariably retired to the background
whenever it would enhance Mrs. Crumley's self-respect to occupy not only
the foreground but (if her daughter had an interesting visitor) the
entire stage. Alys, since her humiliating failure with Dwight Rush,
clung the more passionately to her rules of conduct. They were not red
with the blood of life, but at least they served as an anchored buoy.

The atelier was hung with olive green burlap and covered with an
artistic litter of sketches. Broderick, before settling himself into a
comfortable chair by the stove, examined the more recent and encouraged
her with a few words of discriminating praise.

"Keep it up, Alicia. The _News_ for you next month if you are ready for
a job. You've improved marvellously in figures, which was where you were
weak. Miss Loys, our fashion artist, is marrying next month. You might
as well begin with that. You'll be on the paper and can jump into
something better when it offers."

Alys nodded emphatically. "Give me work, and as soon as possible. I
don't care much what it is. But I want work and plenty of it. It isn't
only that I want to use my energies, but I've spent all I can afford on
lessons and the rest of it."

"I'll see to it. Your sort doesn't go begging."

Broderick clipped his cigar and watched her thin profile for a moment
without speaking.

He noticed for the first time that she had lost the little flesh that
formerly had covered her small bones, and that the pink stained the pale
ivory of her cheeks only when conversation excited her. But if anything
she was prettier--no, more attractive--than ever, for there was more
depth in her face, which in spite of its subtle suggestions, had seemed
to his critical masculine taste to be too eager, too prone to pour out
her personality without reserve when the brain lighted up. Now there was
a slight droop of the eyelids which might mean fatigue, but gave length
and mystery to the strange olive eyes. Her pink mouth, with its short
upper lip, was too small for his taste, but the modelling of her
features in general seemed to him more cleanly defined, and the sweep of
jaw, almost as keen as a blade, must have delighted her own artist soul.
She was rather diminutive (to her sorrow), but the long lines she
cultivated in her house gowns made her figure very alluring, and the
limp and awkward grace of fashion singularly became her. She wore
to-night a "butterfly" gown of georgette (finding, as ever, admirable
effects in cotton since she could not afford the costly fabrics), the
colour of the American beauty rose, and a narrow band of olive velvet
around her thin ivory-white neck. For the moment of her absorption, as
she stared into the coals, her attitude would have been one of complete
repose had it not been for her restless hands. Broderick noticed, too,
that there were darkened hollows under her eyes. "Poor kid," he thought.
"She's been through it, all right, and put up a stiff fight. But what a
pity."

As he struck a match she rose, and, opening a drawer in the table, took
out a box of Russian cigarettes. "I keep these here," she announced,
"because I don't want to shock mother; and I seldom indulge these days
in expensive habits. But I shall celebrate and smoke all evening. It is
jolly to have you like this again, Jimmy. I heard you were engaged. Is
it true? You would seem to have deserted every one else."

Mr. Broderick coloured and looked as sheepish as a highly sophisticated
star reporter may. "Well, not quite," he admitted. "It's been heavy
running, and I don't have all the time there is on my hands. But--I
hope--well, I think now it'll be pretty plain sailing--"

"Good, Jimmy, good!"

For a moment he, too, gazed into the coals, his eyes softening; then
once more he banished the dainty image evoked; no nonsense for him in
Elsinore, with the Balfame tangle to unravel to the glory of the New
York _News_.

"Alys," he said, stretching out his long legs and looking innocent and
comfortable, "I want to have a confidential talk with you about Mrs.
Balfame." He paused and then looked her straight in the eyes as he
launched his bolt. "I have come to the conclusion that she shot him--"

"Jim Broderick!" Alys sprang to her feet, her eyes wide and full of
angry light. "Oh, you newspaper men!--How utterly abominable!"

"Why? Sit down, my dear. Somebody did it--not? as our friends the
Germans say. And undoubtedly that some one is the person most interested
in getting him out of the way."

"But not Mrs. Balfame! Why--I've been brought up on Mrs. Balfame. I'd as
soon suspect my own mother."

"No, my friend, you would not. Mrs. Crumley is adorable in her own way,
but she is frankly and comfortably in her fifties. She is not a
beautiful woman who looks fully ten years younger than she has any right
to look. See?"

"Oh--but--"

"Think it over. You said the other day that you believed Mrs. Balfame to
have unplumbed depths, or something equally popular with your sex. And
you were horrified at her singular facial transformations no less than
twice within a fortnight. Certainly the picture you drew of her stalking
down the Country Club room was that of a woman in a mood for anything--"

"Of a lovely well-bred woman outraged by the conduct of a drunken brute
of a husband. But do you imagine that any woman goes through life
without being turned into a fury now and then by her husband?"

"No doubt. But, you see, the death of the brute occurred so soon after
the transformation scene enacted behind the expressive face of the lady
you have immortalised on paper--and no new-made devil is so complete as
that which rises out of the debris of an angel. When your placid
sternly-controlled women do explode, they may patch themselves together
as swiftly as a cyclone passes, but one of the sinister faces of their
hidden collection has been flashed momentarily before the public eye--"

"Oh! Oh!"

"I have tracked down every suspect, several upon whom no suspicion has
alighted--as yet. To my mind there are only two people to whom the crime
could be brought home."

"Who is the other?"

"Dwight Rush."

This time Alys did not sit up with flaming eyes. To the astute gaze of
the reporter she took herself visibly in hand. But she bit through the
long tube between her lips. "What makes you think that?" she asked, as
she tossed the bits into the fire and lighted another cigarette. "You
roam too far afield for me."

"He is in love with her."

"With whom?"

"The lady who was so opportunely, if somewhat sensationally, made a
widow last Saturday night."

"He is not! Why--how absurd you are to-night, Jim. She is a thousand
years older than he."

"How old is she--"

"Forty-two. Mother sent her a birthday cake last month."

"Rush is thirty-four. Who cares for eight years on the wrong side these
days? She looks younger than he does, to say nothing of her own
inconsiderable age; and when a woman is as lovely as Mrs. Balfame, as
interesting as she must be with that astute mind, that subtle suggestion
of mystery--"

"You are mad, simply mad. In the first place, he has had no chance to
find out whether she is interesting or not--if he had, all Elsinore
would have rung with it. And--ah--"

"What?"

"Nothing."

"Come out with it. It's up to you to prove him innocent if you can."

"He was in Brooklyn that evening. I met him at the Cummacks' the next
day, and heard him say so."

"Yes, that is what he is at pains to tell every one. Perhaps he can
prove it, perhaps not. But that's not what was in your mind."

"I was afraid of being misunderstood. But it is all right, for of course
he can prove that he was in Brooklyn. I happen to know that he went to
the Balfame house on his way back from the club Saturday evening, and
only stayed a few minutes. I left the club just after Mrs. Balfame did,
as I had been out there all afternoon and had promised mother to help
her during the evening. I came in on the trolley and got off at the
corner of Balfame and Dawbarn Streets, to finish an argument I was
having with Harriet Bell over the possibility of Mrs. Balfame losing her
social power through the scene out at the club--few of the members would
care to go through such a scene a second time. Moreover, some of these
newer rich women resent her supremacy and would like to force her to
take a back seat.

"I only talked for a few minutes after I got off the car and then walked
quickly over to the avenue. Just as I turned the corner I saw Dwight
Rush slam the Balfame gate and almost run up the walk. He seemed in a
tearing hurry about something. I was standing on our porch only a few
minutes later when he strode past--no doubt hoping to catch the
seven-ten for Brooklyn. Now!"

"Nobody would be happier than I to prove a first-class alibi for Rush--"

"Who else suspects him?"

"No one; and so far as I am concerned no one shall. If you want the
whole truth, what I'm as intent on just now as big news itself is
complete exoneration for my friend. But if he didn't do it, she did. And
if he butted in upon her at a time like that it was because he was
beside himself--no doubt he asked her to elope with him--get a
divorce--"

"What utter nonsense!"

"Perhaps. But if she saw her chance, I'm thinking she wouldn't have
hesitated a minute to put a bullet in Balfame. People don't turn as sick
at the mere thought of committing murder, when there's a good chance of
putting it over, as you may imagine. Most of us experience the impulse
some time or other. Cowardice or circumstances safeguard us. She did it,
take my word for it. She deliberately poisoned a glass of lemonade
first, for Balfame to drink when he came home on his way to take the
train for Albany. Then, something or other interfering--what, I can only
guess at as yet--she found her chance to shoot, and shot."

"Why, if all that were true, she would be a fiend."

"Not necessarily. Merely a highly exasperated woman. One, moreover, who
had locked herself up too long. Marital squabbles are safety valves, and
I understand she let him do the rowing. But I don't care about her
impulses. The act is enough for me. Psychology later, when I write a
page of Sunday stuff. But you can see for yourself that if she isn't
indicted, and pretty quick, Dwight Rush will be?"

"But no one else suspects him."

"Not yet. But the whole town thinks of nothing else. And as they've
about given up all hope of the political crowd, as well as gunmen and
tango girls, they'll veer presently toward the truth. But before they
settle down on their idol's lofty head, they'll root about for some man
who might easily be in love with her--although hopelessly, as a matter
of course. Then they'll recall a thousand trifles that no doubt you too
recall without effort."

"It's true she turned to him out there, ignoring men she had known for
years--she saw him at the house that night, if only for a few
moments--Oh, it's too horrible! Mrs. Balfame. An Elsinore lady! And she
has been so good to us all these hard years, helped us over and over
again. Oh, I don't mind telling you, Jim, that I was a little bit
jealous of her--I rather liked Rush--he was interesting and a nice male
creature, and I was so lonely--and he stopped coming so suddenly--and
then seeing him so delighted to meet her that night--and both of them
dragging up the avenue as if each moment were a jewel--I've always
thought it hateful for married women to try to cut girls out--it's so
unnatural--but I can't hear her accused of murder--to go--Oh, it's too
awful to talk about!"

"She'd get off. Don't let that worry you. Innocent or guilty. There's no
other way of saving Rush. Be more jealous, if that will help matters.
He'll marry her the moment he decently can."

"I don't believe he cares a bit for her. And I don't believe she will
marry him or any one."

"Oh, yes, she will. He's the sort to get what he wants--and, take it
from me, he is mad about her. And she's at the age to be carried off her
feet by an ardent determined lover. Make no mistake about that. Besides,
her's is a name that she'll want to drop as soon as possible."

"Jim Broderick, you know that you are deliberately playing on my female
nature, on all the baseness you feel sure is in it. I'd always thought
you rather subtle, diplomatic. I don't thank you for the compliment of
frankness."

"My dear girl, it is a compliment--my utter lack of diplomacy with you.
I want to pull this big thing off for my paper, for your paper. And I
want to save the friend of both of us. I have merely tried to prove to
you that Mrs. Balfame is a mere human being, not a goddess, and deserves
to pay some of the penalty of her crime, at least. Certainly, she isn't
worth the sacrifice of Dwight Rush--"

"But if he can prove his alibi--"

"Suppose he couldn't. It was Saturday night. What more likely than that
he failed to find the man he wanted? I have a dark suspicion that he
never went near Brooklyn that night, was in no mood to think of
business; although I don't for a moment believe he was near the Balfame
place, or knows who did it--unless Mrs. Balfame has confessed to him.
She is a very clever woman, not likely to linger on smugly in any fool's
paradise. She must know that suspicion will work round to her, and
knowing his infatuation, no doubt has consulted him."

Broderick really thought nothing of the sort, but calculated his words;
and they produced their effect. The blood rose to the girl's hair, then
ebbed, leaving her ghastly. "He would hate her then," she whispered.

"Not Rush. Another man, perhaps; but not only do things go too deep with
a man like that for anything but time to cure, but he's chock full of
romantic chivalry. And he's madly in love, remember; by that I mean in
the first flush. He'd look upon her as a martyr, and immediately set to
work to ward suspicion from her; if an alibi could not be proved for him
he'd take the crime on his own shoulders, if the worst came to worst."

"Oh! Are men really so Quixotic in these days?"

"Haven't changed fundamentally since they evolved from protoplasm."

"But why should all that chivalry--that magnificent passion--the first
love of a man like that--be called out by a woman of Mrs. Balfame's age?
Why, it's some girl's right! I don't say mine. Don't think I'm a dog in
the manger. I'm trying not to be. But the world is full of girls--not
foolish young things only good enough for boys, but girls in their
twenties, bright, companionable, helpful, real mates for men--Why, it is
unnatural, damnable!"

"Yes, it is," said Broderick sympathetically. "But if human nature
weren't a tangled wire fence electrified full of contradictions, life
wouldn't be interesting at all. Perhaps it's a mere case of affinity,
destiny--don't ever betray me. But there it is. As well try to explain
the abrupt taking off of useful men in their prime, of lovely children,
of needed mothers, of aged women who have lived exemplary lives, mainly
for others, spending their last years with the horrors of cancer. Don't
try to explain human passion. And she _is_ beautiful, and fresher to
look at than girls of eighteen that tango day and night. But he must be
saved from her as well as from arrest. Will you help me?"

"What do you want me to do?"

"Get further evidence about Mrs. Balfame."

"I cannot, and would not if I could. Do you think I would be the means
of fastening the crime of murder on any woman?"

"You would if you were a hardened--and good--newspaper woman."

"Well, I'm not. And I won't. Do your own sleuthing."

"More than I are on the job, but I want your help. I don't say you can
pick up fragments of her dress in the grove, or that you can--or
would--worm yourself into her confidence and extract a confession. But
you can set your wits to work and think up ways to put me on the track
of more evidence than I've got now. Can you think of anything off-hand?"

"No."

"Ah? What does that intonation mean?"

"Your ears are off the key."

"Not mine. Tell me at once--No,"--He rose and took up his hat--"never
mind now. Think it over. You will tell me in a day or two. Just remember
while watching all my little seeds sprout that you can help me save a
fine fellow and put my heel on a snake--a murderess! Paugh! There's
nothing so obscene. Good night."

She did not rise as he let himself out, but sat beside her cold stove
thinking and crying until her mother called her to come in and go to
bed.



CHAPTER XV


Mrs. Balfame, after she dismissed the newspaper men, went up to her
bedroom and sat very still for a long while. She was apprehensive rather
than frightened, but she felt very sober.

She had accepted the assurance of the chief of the local police that his
inquiry regarding the pistol was a mere matter of routine, and had
merely obeyed a normal instinct in concealing it. But she knew the
intense interest of her community in the untimely and mysterious exit of
one of its most notorious members, an interest raised to the superlative
degree by the attentions of the metropolitan press; and she knew also
that when a community is excited suspicions are rapidly translated into
proofs, and every clue feeds the appetite for a victim.

The European war was a dazzling example on the grand scale of the
complete breakdown of intellect before the primitive passions of hatred,
greed, envy, and the recurrent desire of man to kill, combined with that
monstrous dilation of the ego which consoles him with a childish belief
in his own impeccability.

The newspapers of course pandered to the taste of their patrons for
morbid vicarious excitement; she had glanced contemptuously at the
headlines of her own "Case," and had accepted her temporary notoriety as
a matter of course, schooled herself to patience; the ordeal was
scarifying but of necessity brief.

But these young men. They had insinuated--what had they not insinuated?
Either they had extraordinary powers of divination, or they were a
highly specialised branch of the detective force. They had asked
questions and forced answers from her that made her start and shiver in
the retrospect.

Was it possible they believed she had murdered David Balfame, or were
they merely seeking material for a few more columns before the case died
a natural death? She had never been interviewed before, save once
superficially as President of the Friday Club, but she knew one or two
of the county editors, and Alys Crumley had sometimes amused her with
stories of her experiences as a New York reporter.

These young men, so well-groomed, so urbane, so charming even, all of
them no doubt generously equipped to love and marry and protect with
their lives the girl of their choice, were they too but the soldiers of
an everlasting battlefield, often at bay and desperate in the trenches?
No matter how good their work, how great their "killing," the struggle
must be renewed daily to maintain their own footing, to advance, or at
least to uphold, the power of their little autocracy. To them journalism
was the most important thing in the world, and mere persons like
herself, suddenly lifted from obscurity to the brassy peaks of notoriety
were so much material for first page columns of the newspapers they
served with all the loyalty of those deluded soldiers on the European
battlefields. She understood them with an abrupt and complete clarity,
but she hated them. They might like and even admire her, but they would
show her no mercy if they discovered that she had been in the yard that
night. She felt as if a pack of wolves were at her heels.

But finally her brow relaxed. She shrugged her shoulders and began to
unbutton the dense black gown that had expressed the mood the world
demands of a four-days' widow. Let them suspect, divine what they chose.
Not a soul on earth but Anna Steuer knew that she had been out that
night after her return home. Even had those lynx-eyed young men sat on
the box hedge they could not have seen her, for the avenue was well
lighted, and the grove, the entire yard in fact, had been as black as a
mine. Even the person skulking among those trees could not have guessed
who she was.

For a moment she had been tempted to tell them a little; that she had
looked out and seen a moving shadow in the grove. But she had remembered
in time that they would ask why she had reserved this testimony at the
coroner's inquest. Her rôle was to know nothing. Indubitably the shot
had been fired from the trees; nobody questioned that; why involve
herself? They would discharge still another set of questions at her,
among others why she had not telephoned for the police.

As she hung up her gown she recognised the heavy footfalls of her maid
of all work, and when Frieda knocked, bade her enter, employing those
cool impersonal tones so resented by the European servant after a brief
sojourn on the dedicated American soil.

As the girl closed the door behind her without speaking, Mrs. Balfame
turned sharply. She felt at a disadvantage. As her figure was reasonably
slim, she wore a cheap corset which she washed once a month in the bath
tub with her nailbrush; and her linen, although fresh, as ever, was of
stout longcloth, and unrelieved by the coquetry of ribbons. She wore a
serviceable tight petticoat of black jersey, beyond which her well-shod
feet seemed to loom larger than her head. She was vaguely grateful that
she had not been caught by Alys Crumley, so fond of sketching her, and
was about to order Frieda to untie her tongue and be gone, when she
noticed that the girl's face was no longer bound, and asked kindly:

"Has the toothache gone? I hope you do not suffer any longer."

Frieda lifted her small and crafty eyes and shot a suspicious glance at
the mistress who had been so indifferent to what she believed to be the
worst of all pains.

"It's out."

"Too bad you didn't have it out at once." Mrs. Balfame hastily encased
herself in her bath robe and sat down. "I'll take my dinner
upstairs--why--what is it?"

"I want to go home."

"Home?"

"To Germany."

"But, of course you can't. There are a lot of German reservists in the
country who would like to go home and fight, but they can't get past the
British."

"Some have. I could."

"How? That is quite interesting."

"I not tell. But I want to go."

"Then go, by all means. But please wait a day or two until I get another
girl."

"Plenty girls out of job. I want to go to-morrow."

"Oh, very well. But you can't expect a full month's wages, as it is you
that is serving notice, not I."

"I do not want a full month wage. I want five hundert dollar."

Mrs. Balfame turned her amazed eyes upon the girl. Her first thought was
that the creature had been driven insane by her letters from home, and
wondered if she could overcome her if attacked. Then as she met those
small, sharp, crafty eyes, set high in the big stolid face like little
deadly guns in a fort, her heart missed a beat. But her own gaze, large
and cold, did not waver, and she said satirically:

"Well, I am sure I hope you will get it."

"I get it--from you."

Mrs. Balfame lifted her shoulders. "What next? I have contributed what
little I can afford to the war funds. I am sorry, but I cannot
accommodate you."

"You give me five hundert dollar," reiterated the thick even voice, "or
I tell the police you come in the back door two minutes after Mr.
Balfame he was kilt at the front gate."

Obvious danger once more turned Mrs. Balfame into pure steel. "Oh, no;
you will tell them nothing of the sort, for it is not true. I thought I
heard some one on the back stairs when I went down to the kitchen. As
you know I always drink a glass of filtered water before going to bed. I
had forgotten the episode utterly, but I remember now, I heard a noise
outside, even imagined that some one turned the knob of the door, and
called up to ask you if you also had heard. I did not know that anything
had happened out in front until I returned to my room."

"I see you come in the kitchen door." But the voice was not quite so
even, the shifty glance wavered. Frieda felt suddenly the European
peasant in the presence of the superior by divine right. Mrs. Balfame
followed up her advantage.

"You are lying--for purposes of blackmail. You did not see me come in
the door, because I had not been outside of it. I do not even remember
opening it to listen, although I may have done so. You saw nothing and
cannot blackmail me. Nor would any one believe your word against mine."

"I hear you come in just after me--"

"Heard? Just now you said you saw."

"Ach--"

Mrs. Balfame had an inspiration. "My God!" she exclaimed, springing to
her feet, "the murderer took refuge in the house, was hidden in the
cellar or attic all night, all the next day! He may be here yet! You may
be feeding him!"

She advanced upon the staring girl whose mouth stood open. "Of course.
Of course. You are a friend of Old Dutch. It was one of his gunmen who
did it, and you are his accomplice. Or perhaps you killed him yourself.
Perhaps he treated you as he treated so many girls, and you killed him
and are trying to blackmail me for money to get out of the country."

"It is a lie!" Frieda's voice was strangled with outraged virtue. "My
man, he fight for the fatherland. Old Dutch, he will not hurt a fly. I
would not have touch your pig of a husband. You know that, for you hate
him yourself. I have see in the eye, in the hand. I know notings of who
kill him, but--no, I have not see you come in the kitchen door, but I
hear some one come in, the door shut, you call out in so strange
voice--I believe before that you have kill him--now--now I do not
know--"

"It would be wise to know nothing,"--Mrs. Balfame's voice was charged
with meaning--"unless you wish to be arrested as the criminal, or as an
accomplice--after confessing that you entered the house within a moment
or two of the shooting. Who is to say exactly when you did come in?
Well, better keep your mouth shut. It is wise for innocent people to
know as little about a crime as possible. Why did you testify before the
coroner's jury that your tooth ached so you heard nothing? Why didn't
you tell your story then?"

"I was frightened, and my tooth--I can tink of notings else."

"And now you think it quite safe to blackmail me?"

"I want to go back to Germany--to my man--and I hate this country what
hates Germany."

"This country is neutral," said Mrs. Balfame severely. "It regards all
the belligerents as barbarians tarred with the same brush. You Germans
are so excitable that you imagine we hate when we merely don't care."
This was intended to be soothing, but Frieda's brow darkened and she
thrust out her pugnacious lips.

"Germany, she is the greatest country in the whole world," she
announced. "All the world--it muss know that."

"How familiar that sounds! Just a slight variation on the old American
brag that is quite a relief." Mrs. Balfame spoke as lightly as if she
merely had let down the bars of her dignity out of sympathy with a
lacerated Teuton. "Well, go back to your Germany, Frieda, if you can
get there, but don't try to blackmail me again. I have no five hundred
dollars to give you if I would. If you choose, you may stay your month
out, and spend your evenings taking up a collection among your German
friends. You are excused."

She had achieved her purpose. The girl's practical mind was puzzled by
the simple explanation of her mistress' presence in the kitchen, deeply
impressed by the contemptuous refusal to be blackmailed. Her shoulders
drooped and she slunk out of the room.

For a moment Mrs. Balfame clung, reeling, to the back of a chair. Then
she went downstairs and telephoned to Dwight Rush.



CHAPTER XVI


The young lawyer was to call at eight o'clock. Mrs. Balfame put on her
best black blouse in his honour; it was cut low about the throat and
softened with a rolling collar of hemstitched white lawn. This was as
far in the art of sex allurement as she was prepared to go; the bare
idea of a negligée of white lace and silk, warmed by rose-colored
shades, would have filled her with cold disgust. She was not a religious
woman, but she had her standards.

At a quarter of eight she made a careful inspection of the lower rooms;
sleuths, professional and amateur, would not hesitate to sneak into her
house and listen at keyholes. She inferred that the house was under
surveillance, for she had looked from her window several times and seen
the same man sauntering up and down that end of the avenue. No doubt
some one watched the back doors also.

Convinced that her home was still sacrosanct, she placed two chairs at a
point in the parlour farthest from the doors leading into the hall, and
into a room beyond which Mr. Balfame had used as an office. The doors,
of course, would be open throughout the interview. No one should be able
to say that she had shut herself up with a young man; on the other hand,
it was the duty of the deceased husband's lawyer to call on the widow.
Even if those young devils discovered that she had telephoned for him,
what more regular than that she should wish to consult her lawyer after
such insinuations?

Rush arrived as the town clock struck eight. Frieda, who answered the
door in her own good time, surveyed him suspiciously through a narrow
aperture to which she applied one eye.

"What you want?" she growled. "Mrs. Balfame she have seen all the
reporters already yet."

"Let the gentleman in," called Mrs. Balfame from the parlour. "This is a
friend of my late husband."

Rush was permitted to enter. He was a full minute disposing of his hat
and overcoat in the hall, while Frieda dragged her heelless slippers
back to the kitchen and slammed the door. His own step was not brisk as
he left the hall for the parlour, and his face, always colourless,
looked thin and haggard. Mrs. Balfame, as she rose and gave him her
hand, asked solicitously:

"Are you under the weather? How seedy you look. I wondered why you had
not called--"

"A touch of the grippe. Felt all in for a day or two, but am all right
now. And although I have been very anxious to see you, I had made up my
mind not to call unless you sent for me."

"Well, I sent for you professionally," she retorted coolly. "You don't
suppose I took your love making seriously."

He flushed dully, after the manner of men with thick fair skins, and his
hard blue eyes lost their fire as he stared at her. It was
incomprehensible that she could misunderstand him.

"It was serious enough to me. I merely stayed away, because, having
spoken as I did, I--well, I cannot very well explain. You will remember
that I made you promise to send for me if you were in trouble--"

"I remembered!" She felt his rebuke obscurely. "It never occurred to me
to send for any one else."

"Thank you for that."

"Did you mean anything but politeness when you said that you had been
anxious to see me?"

He hesitated, but he had already made up his mind that the time had come
to put her on her guard. Besides, he inferred that she had begun herself
to appreciate her danger.

"You have read the newspapers. You saw the reporters this afternoon. Of
course you must have guessed that they hope for a sensational trial with
you as the heroine."

"How can men--_men_--be such heartless brutes?"

"Ask the public. Even that element that believes itself to be select and
would not touch a yellow paper devours a really interesting crime in
high life. Never mind that now. Let us get down to brass tacks. They
want to fix the crime on you. How are they going to manage it? That is
the question for us. Tell me exactly what they said, what they made you
say."

Mrs. Balfame gave him so circumstantial an account of the interview that
he looked at her in admiration, although his rigid American face, that
looked so strong, turned paler still.

"What a splendid witness you would make!" He stared at the carpet for a
moment, then flashed his eyes upward much as Broderick had done. "Tell
me," he said softly, "is there anything you withheld from them? You know
how safe you are with me. But I must be in a position to advise you what
to say and to leave unsaid--if the worst comes."

"You mean if I am arrested?" She had a moment of complete naturalness,
and stared at him wildly. He leaned forward and patted her hand.

"Anything is possible in a case like this. But you have nothing to fear.
Now, will you tell me--"

"Do you think I did it?"

"I know that you did not. But I think you know something about it."

"It would cast no light on the mystery. He was shot from that grove on a
pitch dark night, and that is all there is to it."

"Let me be the judge of that."

"Very well. I had put out my light--upstairs--and, as I was nervous, I
looked out of the window to see if Dave was coming. I so longed to have
him come--and go! Then I happened to glance in the direction of the
grove, and I saw some one sneaking about there--"

"Yes!" He half rose, his eyes expanding, his nostrils dilating. "Go on.
Go on."

"I told you I was nervous--wrought up from that dreadful scene at the
club. I just felt like an adventure! I slipped down stairs and out of
the house by the kitchen door--Frieda takes the key of the back hall
door on Saturday nights--thinking I would watch the burglar; of course
that was what I thought he must be; and I knew that Dave would be along
in a minute--"

"How long was this after he telephoned? It would take him some time to
walk from Cummack's; and he didn't leave at once--"

"Oh, quite a while after. I was sure then that he would be along in a
minute or two. Well--it may seem incredible to you, but I really felt
as if excitement of that dangerous sort would be a relief."

"I understand perfectly." Rush spoke with the fatuousness of man who
believes that love and complete comprehension of the object beloved are
natural corollaries. "But--but that is not the sort of story that goes
down with a jury of small farmers and trades-people. They don't know
much about your sort of nerves. But go on."

"Well, I managed to get into the grove without being either seen or
heard by that man. I am sure of that. He moved round a good deal, and I
thought he was feeling about for some point from which he could make a
dart for the house. Then I heard Dave in Dawbarn Street, singing. Then I
saw him under the lamp-post. After that it all happened so quickly I can
hardly recall it clearly enough to describe. The man near me crouched. I
can't tell you what I thought then--if I knew he was going to shoot--or
why I didn't cry out. Almost before I had time to think at all, he
fired, and Dave went down."

"But what about that other bullet? Are you sure there was no one else in
the grove?"

"There may have been a dozen. I heard some one running afterwards; there
may have been more than one."

"Did you have a pistol?" He spoke very softly. "Don't be afraid to tell
me. It might easily have gone off accidentally--or something deeper than
your consciousness may have telegraphed an imperious message to your
hand."

But Mrs. Balfame, like all artificial people, was intensely secretive,
and only delivered herself of the unvarnished truth when it served her
purpose best. She gave a little feminine shudder. "I never kept a pistol
in the house. If I had, it would have been empty--just something to
flourish at a burglar."

"Ah--yes. I was going to say that I was glad of that, but I don't know
that it matters. If you had taken a revolver out that night, loaded or
otherwise, and confessed to it, you hardly could have escaped arrest by
this time, even if it were a .38. And if you confessed to going out into
the dark to stalk a man without one--that would make your adventure look
foolhardy and purposeless--"

It was evident that he was thinking aloud. She interrupted him sharply:

"But you believe me?"

"I believe every word you say. The more differently you act from other
women, the more natural you seem to me. But I think you were dead right
in suppressing the episode. It leads nowhere and would incriminate you."

"It may come out yet. That is why I sent for you, not because I was
afraid of those reporters. Frieda was on the backstairs that night when
I came in. I thought I heard a sound and called out. I told Anna that
night and she questioned Frieda indirectly and was satisfied that she
had heard nothing, for although she had come home early with a
toothache, she was suffering so intensely that she wouldn't have heard
if the shot had been fired under her window. So I dismissed such
misgivings as I had from my mind. But just after those reporters left
she came up to my room and told me that she saw me come in, and tried to
blackmail me for five hundred dollars. I soon made her admit that she
had not seen me; but she heard me, no doubt of that. I explained
logically why I was there--after a drink of water, and that I called out
to her because I thought I heard some one try the door--but if those
reporters get hold of her--"

His face looked very grim. "That is bad, bad. By the way, why didn't you
run to Balfame? That would seem the natural thing--"

"I was suddenly horribly afraid. I think I knew he was dead and I didn't
want to go near _that_. I ran like a dog back to its kennel."

"It was a feminine enough thing to do." For the first time he smiled,
and his voice, which had insensibly grown inquisitorial, softened once
more. "It was a dreadful position to find oneself in and no mistake.
Your instinct was right. If you had been found bending over him--still,
as you had no weapon--"

"I think on the whole it would have been better to have gone to him. Of
course that is what I should have done if I had loved him. As it was, I
ran as far from him as I could get--"

"Well, don't let us waste time discussing the ought to have beens.
Unless some one can prove that you were out that night, the whole
incident must be suppressed. If you are arrested on any trumped up
charge--and the district attorney is keener than the reporters--you must
stick to your story. By the way, why didn't you tell the reporters that
Frieda was in the house about the time the shot was fired?"

"I had forgotten. The house has been full of people; the neighbourhood
has lived here; I have noticed her no more than if she were as wooden as
she looks."

"Do you think she did it?"

"I wish I could. But she would not have had time to get into the house
before I did. And the footsteps were running toward the lane at the back
of the grounds."

"She is one of the swiftest dancers down in that hall where she goes
with her crowd every Saturday night. I have been doing a little
sleuthing on my own account, but I can't connect her up with Balfame."

"He wouldn't have looked at her."

"You never can tell. A man will often look quite hard at whatever
happens to be handy. But she doesn't appear to have any sweetheart,
although she's been in the country for four years. She is intimate in
the home of Old Dutch and goes about with young Conrad, but he is
engaged to some one else. All the boys like to dance with her. She left
the hall suddenly and ran home--ostensibly wild with a toothache. If she
hid in the grove to kill Balfame she could have got into the house
before you did. What was she doing on the stair, anyway?"

"I didn't ask her."

"She may have been too out of breath to answer you. Or too wary. Those
other footsteps--they may have been those of an accomplice; the man who
fired the other pistol."

"But I would have seen her running ahead of me."

"Not necessarily. It was very dark. Your mind was stunned. You may have
hesitated longer than you know before making for the house. One is
liable to powerful inhibitions in great crises. Where is the girl? I
think I'll have her in."

He walked the floor nervously while Mrs. Balfame went out to the
kitchen. Frieda was sitting by the stove knitting. Commanded to come to
the parlour, her little eyes almost closed, but she followed Mrs.
Balfame and confronted Rush, who stood in the middle of the room looking
tall and formidable.

"I am Mrs. Balfame's lawyer," he said without preamble. "She sent for me
because you tried to blackmail her. What were you doing on the stairs
when you heard Mrs. Balfame in the kitchen? You left the dance hall
sometime before eight, and that could not have been more than five
minutes past."

Frieda pressed her big lips together in a hard line.

"Oh, you won't speak. Well, if you don't explain to me, you will to the
Grand Jury to-morrow. Or I shall get out a warrant to-night for your
arrest as the murderer of David Balfame."

"Gott!" The girl's face was almost purple. She raised her knitting
needles with a threatening gesture that was almost dramatic. "I did not
do it. She has done it."

"What were you doing on the stairs?"

"I would heat water for my tooth."

"Cold water is the thing for an ulcerated tooth."

"I never have the toothache like that already. I am in my room many
minutes before I think I go down. Then, when I am on the stairs I hear
Mrs. Balfame come in."

"She has explained what you heard."

"No, she have not. I think so when we have talked this evening, but not
now. She is--was, I mean, all out of her breath."

"I was terrified." Mrs. Balfame retorted so promptly that Rush flashed
her a glance of admiration. Here was a woman who could take care of
herself on the witness stand. "First I thought I heard some one trying
to get into the door, and then some one sneaking up the stairs."

"Oh--yes." Frieda's tones expressed no conviction. "The educated lady
can think very quick. But I say that she have come in by the door, the
kitchen door. Always I take the key to the hall door. She know that, and
as she not know that I am in, she go out by the kitchen door. Always in
the daytime when she goes to the yard she go by the hall door."

"What a pity you did not slam the door when you came in. It would have
been quite natural as you were in such agony." Rush spoke sarcastically,
but he was deeply perturbed. It was impossible to tell whether the girl
was telling the truth or a carefully rehearsed story.

"Of course you know that if you tell that story to the police you will
get yourself into serious trouble."

"I get her into trouble."

"Mrs. Balfame is above suspicion. It is not my business to warn you, or
to defeat the ends of the law, of which apparently you know nothing--"

"I know someting. Last night I have tell Herr Kraus; and he say that
since I have told the coroner I know notings, much better I touch the
lady for five hundert and go home."

"O-h-h! That is the advice Old Dutch gave you! Splendid! I think the
best thing I can do is to have you arrested bright and early to-morrow
morning. Mrs. Balfame is cleared already. You may go."

She stared at him for a moment out of eyes that spat fire like two
little guns in the top of a fort; then she swung herself about and
retreated to the kitchen.

"That ought to make her disappear to-night. Her friends will hide her.
The mere fact of her disappearance will convince the police, as well as
the reporters, that she is guilty. You are all right." He spoke
boyishly, and his face, no longer rigid, was full of light.

"But if she is innocent?"

"No harm done. She'll be smuggled out of the country and suspicion
permanently diverted from you. That is all I care about." He caught her
hands impulsively in his. "I am glad, so glad! Oh!--It is too soon now,
but wait--" He was out of the house before she grasped the fact that he
had arrested himself on the brim of another declaration.

Mrs. Balfame went up to bed, serene once more in the belief that her
future was her own, unclouded, full of attractive possibilities for a
woman of her position and intellectual attainments.

She made up her mind to take a really deep course of reading, so that
the most spiteful should not call her superficial; moreover, she had
been conscious more than once of certain mental dissatisfactions, of
uneasy vacancies in a mind sufficiently awake to begin to realise the
cheapness of its furnishings. Perhaps she would take a course in history
at Columbia, another in psychology.

As she put herself into a sturdy cotton night-gown and then brushed back
her hair from a rather large forehead before braiding it severely for
the night, she realised dimly that that way happiness might lie, that
the pleasures of the intellectual life might be very great indeed. She
wished regretfully that she could have been brilliantly educated in her
youth. In that case she would not have married a man who would incite
any spirited woman to seek the summary release, but would be to-day the
wife of a judge, perhaps--some fine fellow who had showed the early
promise that Dwight Rush must have done. If she could attract one man
like that, at the age of forty-two, she could have had a dozen in her
train when young if she had had the sense to appreciate them.

But she was philosophical, and it was not her way to quarrel very deeply
with herself or with life. Her long braids were as evenly plaited as
ever.

She sank into sleep, thinking of the disagreeable necessity of making
the kitchen fire in the morning and cooking her own breakfast. Frieda of
course would be gone.



CHAPTER XVII


The next morning, when Mrs. Balfame, running lightly down the back
stairs, entered the kitchen half an hour earlier than her usual
appearance in the dining-room, the front of her housefrock covered with
a large apron and her sleeves pinned to the elbow, she beheld Frieda
slicing potatoes.

"Why!" The exclamation was impetuous, but her quick mind adapted itself.
"I woke up early and thought I would come down and help," she continued
evenly. "You have had so much to do of late."

Frieda was regarding her with intense suspicion. "Never you have done
that before," she growled. "You will see if I have the dishes by the
dinner washed."

"Nonsense. And everything is so different these days. I am hungry, too.
I thought it would be nice to hurry breakfast."

"Breakfast always is by eight. You have told me that when I come. I get
up by half past six. First I air the house, and sweep the hall. Then I
make the fire and put the water to boil. Then I peel the potatoes. Then
I make the biscuit. Then I boil the eggs. Then I make the coffee--"

"I know. You are marvellously systematic. But I thought you might make
the coffee at once."

"Always the coffee come last." Frieda resumed her task.

"But I don't eat potatoes for breakfast."

"I eat the potatoes. When they fry in the pan, then I put the biscuit in
the oven. Then I boil the eggs and then I make the coffee. Breakfast is
by eight o'clock."

Mrs. Balfame, with a good-humoured laugh, turned to leave the kitchen.
But her mind, alert with apprehension, cast up a memory, vague but far
from soothing. "By the way, I seem to remember that I woke up suddenly
in the night and heard voices down here. Did you have visitors?"

Frieda flushed the deep and angry red of her infrequent moments of
embarrassment. "I have not visitors in the night." She turned on the
water tap, which made noise enough to discourage further attempts at
conversation; and Mrs. Balfame, to distract her mind, dusted the
parlour. She dared not go out into the yard and walk off her
restlessness, for there were now two sentinels preserving what they
believed to be a casual attitude before her gate. She would have given
much to know whether those men were watching her movements or those of
her servant.

Immediately after breakfast, the systematic Frieda was persuaded to go
to the railway station and buy the New York papers when the train came
in. Frieda might be a finished product of the greatest machine shop the
world has ever known, but she was young and she liked the bustle of life
at the station, and the long walk down Main Street, so different from
the aristocratic repose of Elsinore Avenue. Mrs. Balfame, watching
behind the curtain, saw that one of the sentinels followed her. The
other continued to lean against the lamp-post whittling a stick. Both
she and Frieda were watched!

But the disquiet induced by the not unnatural surveillance of premises
identified with a recent crime was soon forgotten in the superior powers
of the New York press to excite both disquiet and indignation.

She had missed a photograph of herself while dusting the parlour and had
forgiven the loyal thief as it was a remarkably pretty picture and
portrayed a woman sweet, fashionable, and lofty. To her horror the
picture which graced the first page of the great dailies was that of a
hard defiant female, quite certain, without a line of letter press, to
prejudice a public anxious to believe the worst.

Tears of outraged vanity blurred her vision for a few moments before the
full menace of that silent witness took possession of her. She knew that
most people deteriorated under the mysterious but always fatal encounter
of their photographs with the "staff artist," but she felt all the
sensations of the outraged novice.

A moment after she had dashed her tears away she turned pale; and when
she finished reading the interviews the beautiful whiteness of her skin
was disfigured by a greenish pallor.

The interviews were written with a devilish cunning that protected the
newspapers from danger of libel suit but subtly gave the public to
understand that its appetite for a towering figure in the Balfame case
was about to be gratified.

There was no doubt that two shots had been fired from the grove
simultaneously, and from revolvers of different calibre (picture of tree
and gate).

Was one of them--the smaller--fired by a woman? And if so, by what
woman?

Not one of the females whose names had been linked at one time or
another with the versatile Mr. Balfame but had proved her alibi, and so
far as was known--although of course some one as yet unsuspected may
have climbed the back fence and hid in the grove--the only two women on
the premises were the widow and her extraordinarily plain servant.

Balfame was shot with a .41 revolver. In one of the newspapers it was
casually and not too politely remarked that Mrs. Balfame had larger
hands and feet than one would expect from her general elegance of figure
and aristocratic features, and in the same rambling sentence (this was
written by the deeply calculating Mr. Broderick) the public was informed
that certain footprints might have been those of a large woman or of a
medium sized man. In the next paragraph but one Mrs. Balfame's stately
height was again commented upon, but as the public had already been
informed that she was an expert at target practice, reiteration of this
fact was astutely avoided.

A great deal was said here and there of her composure, her large
studiously expressionless grey eyes, her nimble mind that so often
routed her inquisitors, but was allied to a temperament of ice and a
manifest power of cool and deliberate calculation.

The dullest reader was quickened into the belief that he was the real
detective and that his unerring sense had carried him straight to the
woman who had hated the murdered man and had quarrelled with him in
public a few hours before his death.

The episode of Mrs. Balfame's offer to make her husband a glass of
doctored lemonade and the disappearance of both beverage and glass was
not mentioned; presumably these bright young men did not believe in
digressions or in rousing a curiosity they might not be able to appease.
The interview concluded with a maddening hint at immediate developments.

Mrs. Balfame let the papers drop to the floor one by one; when she had
finished the last she drew her breath painfully for several moments. The
room turned black, and it was cut by rows of bared and menacing teeth,
infinitely multiplied.

But she was not the woman to give way to fear for long, or even to
bewilderment. There could be no real danger, and all that should concern
her was the outrageous, the intolerably vulgar publicity. A woman whose
good taste was both natural and cultivated, she felt this ruthless
tossing of her sacred person into the public maw much as the more
refined octoroons may have felt when they stood on the auction block in
the good old days down South. She shuddered and gritted her teeth; she
wished that she were a hysterical woman that she might find relief in
shrieking at the top of her voice and smashing the furniture.

Why, oh why, could not David Balfame have been permitted by the fate
which had decreed his end on that particular night to enter the house
and drink the lemonade; to die decently, painlessly, bloodlessly (she
shrank aside when compelled to pass those blood stains on the brick
path), as any man might die when his overtaxed heart simply stopped? She
would have run down the moment she heard the fall, she would have
managed to get the glass out of the way if Frieda had condescended to
visit the scene, which was quite unlikely. She would have run over to
Doctor Lequer, who lived next door to the Gifnings, and he would have
sent for the coroner. Both inevitably would have pronounced the death
due to heart failure. It was fate that had bungled, not she.

She mused, however, that she should have had a duplicate glass of
lemonade to leave half consumed on the table, as it would be recalled
that he had expected to imbibe a soothing draught immediately upon his
return; and adjacent liquids invariably induce suspicion in cases of
sudden death. But that did not matter now.

She set her wits to work upon the identity of her companion in the
grove. Was it Frieda? Or an accomplice of the girl, who was already in
the house or on the alert to direct him out by the rear pathway? But why
Frieda? She knew the raging hate that had filled her husband since the
declaration of war, and she knew that his rivals in politics hated him
with increasing virulency; as they were beginning to hate everybody that
presumed to question the right and might of Germany.

But she was a woman just and sensible. Nor for a moment could she
visualise Old Dutch or any of his tribe shooting David Balfame because
he cursed the Kaiser and sang Tipperary. The supposition was too shallow
to be entertained.

The person in the grove had been either a bitter political rival too
intimate with the local police to be in danger of arrest, or some woman
who for a time may have believed herself to be his wife in the larger
village of New York.

She could have sworn that that stealthy figure so close to her was a
man, but women's skirts were very narrow and silent these days, and
after all she herself was as tall as the average man.

Before noon the house was filled with sympathising and indignant
friends. Cummack came up town to assure her that it was a shame; and he
would ask Rush if those New York papers couldn't be had up for libel.
He'd take the eleven-thirty for Dobton and consult with him.

The ladies were knitting, no one more impersonally than Mrs. Balfame,
although she was wondering if these kind friends expected to stay to
lunch, when an automobile drove honking up to the door, and Mrs. Battle
teetered over to the window.

"For the land's sake," she exclaimed. "If it isn't the deputy sheriff
from Dobton. Now, what do you suppose?"

Mrs. Balfame stood up suddenly, and the other women sat with their
needles suspended as if suddenly overcome by a noxious gas, with the
exception of Mrs. Cummack, who ran over to her sister-in-law and put her
plump arm about that easily compassed waist. Mrs. Balfame drew away
haughtily.

"I am not frightened," she said in her sweet cool voice. "I am prepared
for anything after those newspapers--that is all."

The bell pealed, and Mrs. Gifning, too curious to wait upon the
hand-maiden, ran out and opened the front door. She returned a moment
later with her little blue eyes snapping with excitement.

"What do you think?" she gasped. "It is Frieda they want. She is being
subpoenaed to Dobton to testify before the Grand Jury. The deputy
sheriff is going to take her with him."

Mrs. Balfame returned to her chair with such composure that no one
suspected the sudden weakening of her knees. Instantly she realised the
meaning of the voices she had heard in the night. Frieda had been
"interviewed," either by the press or the police, and induced, probably
bribed, to talk. No wonder she had not run away.

But she too resumed her knitting.



CHAPTER XVIII


Young Bruce had had no appetite for his part in the Balfame drama. He
had presented himself at the back door, however, at eight o'clock on the
night of the interview with the heroine, assuming that Frieda would be
moving at her usual snail's pace from the day of work toward the evening
of leisure. She slammed the door in his face.

When he persisted, thrusting his cherubic countenance through the
window, she threatened him with the hose. Neither failure daunted him,
and he was convinced that she knew more of the case than she was willing
to admit; but it was obvious that he was not the man to appeal to the
fragment of heart she had brought from East Prussia. The mere fact that
he looked rather German and yet was straight American--employed,
moreover, by a newspaper that made no secret of its hostility to her
country--satisfied him that he would not be permitted to approach her
closely enough to attempt any form of persuasion. He drew the long
breath of deliverance as he reached this conclusion; the bare idea that
he might have to bestow a kiss upon Frieda in the heroic pursuit of duty
had induced a sensation of nausea. He was an extremely fastidious young
man. But even as he accepted defeat with mingled relief and chagrin, the
brilliant alternative occurred to him.

He had ascertained that Frieda was intimate in the home of Conrad
Kraus, otherwise "Old Dutch," of Dobton, the County seat. Conrad, Jr.,
treated her as a brother should, and it was his habit to escort her home
from the popular dance-hall of Elsinore on Saturday nights. Bruce had no
difficulty in learning that the young German-American had been dancing
with his favourite partner when her dead nerve seemed to threaten
explosion and had fraternally run home with her. The energetic reporter
did not wait upon the next trolley for Dobton, but hired an automobile
and descended in front of Old Dutch's saloon fifteen minutes later.

Young Kraus was busy; and Bruce, after ordering beer and cheese and
taking it to an occupied table, drew the information from a neighbour
that Conrad, Jr., would be on duty behind the bar until midnight. It was
the habit of Papa Kraus to retire promptly on the stroke of nine and
take his entire family, save Conrad, with him. The eldest of the united
family continued to assuage the thirst of the neighbourhood until twelve
o'clock, when he shut up the front of the house and went to bed in the
rear as quickly as possible; he must rise betimes and clerk in the
leading grocery-store of the town. He was only twenty-two, but thrifty
and hard-working and anxious to marry.

Bruce caught the next train for New York, had a brief talk with his city
editor, and returned to Dobton a few moments before the closing hour of
the saloon. He hung about the bar until the opportunity came to speak to
Conrad unheard.

"I want a word with you as soon as you have shut up," he said without
preamble.

The young German scowled at the reporter. Although a native son of
Dobton, he resented the attitude of the American press as deeply as his
irascible old father, and he still more deeply resented the suspicion
that had hovered for a moment over the house of Kraus.

"Don't get mad till you hear what I've got to say," whispered Bruce.
"There may be a cool five hundred in it for you."

Conrad glanced at the clock. It was five minutes to twelve. He stood as
immobile as his duties would permit until the stroke of midnight, when
he turned out the last reluctant patron, locked the door and followed
the reporter down the still-illuminated street to a dark avenue in the
residence quarter. Then the two fell into step.

"Now, what is it?" growled Conrad, who did not like to have his habits
disturbed. "I get up--"

"That's all right. I won't keep you fifteen minutes. I want you to tell
me all you know about the night of the Balfame murder."

He had taken the young German's arm and felt it stiffen. "I know
nothing," was the reply.

"Oh, yes, you do. You took Frieda home and got there some little time
before the shooting. You went in the side entrance to the back yard, but
you could see the grove all right."

"It was a black-dark night. I could see nothing in the grove."

"Ah! You saw something else! You have been afraid to speak out, as there
had been talk of your father having employed gun-men--"

"Such lies!" shrieked young Kraus.

"Of course! I know that. So does the press. That was a wild dream of
the police. But all the same you thought it wouldn't be a bad idea to
keep clear of the whole business. That is true. Don't attempt to deny
it. You saw something that would put the law on the right track. Now,
what was it? There are five hundred dollars waiting for you if you will
tell the truth. I don't want anything but the truth, mind you. I don't
represent a paper that pays for lies, so your honour is quite safe. So
also are you."

Conrad ruminated for a few moments. He was literal and honest and wanted
to be quite positive that he was not asked to do something which would
make him feel uncomfortable while investing those desirable five hundred
dollars in West Elsinore town lots, and could reassure himself that the
truth was always right whether commercially valuable or not. He balanced
the pro's and con's so long that Bruce was about to break out
impatiently just as he made up his mind.

"Yes, I saw something. But I wished to say nothing. They might say that
I was in it, or that I lied to protect Frieda--"

"That's all right. There was no possible connection between her and
Balfame--"

Conrad went on exactly as if the reporter had not interrupted. "I had
seen Frieda through the back door. She was crying with the toothache,
and I heard her run upstairs. I thought I would wait a few moments. The
drops she said she had might not cure her, and she might want me to go
to a dentist's house with her. She had gone in the back-hall door.
Suddenly I saw the kitchen door open, and as I was starting forward, I
saw that it was not Frieda who came out. It was Mrs. Balfame. She closed
the door behind her, and then crept past me to the back of the kitchen
yard. I watched her and saw her turn suddenly and walk toward the grove.
She did not make a particle of noise--"

"How do you know it was not Frieda?"

"Frieda is five-feet-three, and this was a tall woman, taller than I,
and I am five-eight. I have seen Mrs. Balfame many times, and though I
couldn't see her face,--she had a dark veil or scarf round it,--I knew
her height and walk. Of course I watched to see what she was up to. A
few moments later I heard Balfame turn in from Dawbarn Street, singing,
like the fool he was, 'Tipperary,' and then I heard a shot. I guessed
that Balfame had got what was coming to him, and I didn't wait to see. I
tiptoed for a minute or two and then ran through the next four places at
the back, and then out toward Balfame Street, for the trolley. But
Frieda heard Mrs. Balfame when she came in. She was all out of breath,
and, when she heard a sound on the stairs, called out before she
thought, I guess, and asked Frieda if she had heard anything. But Frieda
is very cautious. She had heard the shot, but she froze stiff against
the wall when she heard Mrs. Balfame's voice, and said nothing. We told
her afterwards that she had better keep quiet for the present."

"And you think Mrs. Balfame did it?"

"Who else? I shall not be so sorry if she goes to the chair, for a woman
should always be punished the limit for killing a man, even such a man
as Balfame."

"No fear of that, but we'll have a dandy case. You tell that story to
the Grand Jury to-morrow, and you get your five hundred before night.
Now you must come and get me a word with Frieda. She won't look at me,
and of course she is in bed anyhow. But I must tell her there are a
couple of hundred in this for her if she comes through--"

"But she'll be arrested for perjury. She testified at the coroner's
inquest that she knew nothing."

"An abscessed tooth will explain her reticence on any other subject."

"Perhaps I should tell you that she came to see us to-night--last night
it is now, not?--and told my papa that Lawyer Rush had frightened her,
told her that she might be accused of the killing, that she had better
get out. But Papa advised her to go home and fear nothing, where there
was nothing to fear. He knew that if she ran away, he would be suspected
again, the girl being intimate in the family; and of course the police
would be hot on her trail at once. So, like the good sensible girl she
is, she took the advice and went home."

"All right. Come along. I'm not on the morning paper, but I promised the
story to the boys if I could get it in time."

He hired another automobile, and they left it at the corner of Dawbarn
and Orchard Streets, entering the Balfame place by the tradesmen's gate
on the left, and creeping to the rear of the house. The lane behind the
four acres of the little estate was full of ruts and too far away from
the house for adventuring on a dark night. They had been halted by the
detective on watch, but when their errand was hastily explained, he
joined forces with them and even climbed a lean-to in the endeavour to
rouse Miss Appel from her young and virtuous slumbers. Their combined
efforts covered three hours; and that explains why the tremendous
news-story appeared in the early edition of the afternoon papers instead
of whetting several million morning appetites.

The interview with Frieda, who became very wide awake when the unseemly
intrusion was elucidated by the trustworthy Conrad, and bargained for
five hundred dollars, explains why Mrs. Balfame spent Thursday night in
the County Jail behind Dobton Courthouse.



CHAPTER XIX


When the Dobton sheriff and his deputies came to arrest Mrs. Balfame,
the wife of their old comrade in arms, all they were able to tell her
was that the District Attorney had applied for the warrant immediately
after the testimony before the Grand Jury of Frieda Appel and of the
Krauses, father and son. What that testimony had been they could not
have told her if they would, but that it had been strong and
corroborative enough to insure her indictment by the Grand Jury was as
manifest as it was ominous.

They arrived just as Mrs. Balfame was about to leave the house to lunch
with Mrs. Cummack; Frieda had left long before it was time to prepare
the midday meal. Mr. Cramb, the sheriff, shut the door behind him and in
the faces of the indignant women reporters, who, less ruthless but
equally loyal to their journals, wanted a "human interest" story for the
stimulated public. Mrs. Balfame and her friends retreated before the
posse into the parlour. Mrs. Battle wept loudly; Alys Crumley, who had
come in with her mother a few moments since, fell suddenly on a chair in
the corner and pressed her hands against her mouth, her horrified eyes
staring at Mrs. Balfame. The other women shed tears as the equally
doleful sheriff explained his errand and read the warrant. Mrs. Balfame
alone was calm. She exerted herself supremely and sent so peremptory a
message along her quaking nerves that it benumbed them for the moment.
She had only a faint sense of drama, but a very keen one of her own
peculiar position in her little world, and she knew that in this grisly
crisis of her destiny she was expected to behave as a brave and
dignified woman should--a woman of whom her friends could continue to
exult as head and shoulders above the common mass. She rose to the
occasion.

"Don't you worry--just!" said Mr. Cramb, patting her shoulder, although
he never had had the temerity to offer her his hand before, and had
often "pitied Dave." "They lied, them Duytchers, for some reason or
other, but they can't really have nothin' on you, and we'll find out
what they're up to, double quick."

"I do not worry," said Mrs. Balfame coldly, "--although quite naturally
I object to the humiliation of arrest, and of spending even a night in
jail. Exactly what is the charge against me?"

The sheriff crumpled his features and cleared his throat. "Well, it's
murder, I guess. It's an ugly word, but words don't mean nothin' when
there's nothin' in them."

"In the first degree?" shrieked Mrs. Gifning.

Cramb nodded.

"And it don't admit of bail?" Mrs. Frew's eyes rolled wildly.

"Nothin' doin'."

Mrs. Balfame rose hurriedly. There was a horrid possibility of contagion
in this room surcharged with emotion. She kissed each of her friends in
turn. "It will be all right, of course," she reminded them gently. "Only
men could be taken in by such a plot, and of course there are a lot of
Germans on the Grand Jury--there are so many in this county. I shall
have an excellent lawyer, Dave's friend, Mr. Rush. And I am sure that I
shall be quite comfortable in the County Jail--it is so nice and new."
But she shuddered at the vision, in spite of her fine self-control.

"You'll be treated like a queen," interposed the sheriff hastily. He was
proud of her, and immensely relieved that he was not to escort an
hysterical prisoner five miles to the County Seat. "You'll have the
Warden's own suite, and I guess you'll be able to see your friends right
along. Guess we'd better be gettin' on."

As Mrs. Balfame was leaving the room, her eyes met the horrified and
puzzled gaze of Alys Crumley, and one of those obscure instincts that
dart out of the subconscious mind like memories of old experiences
released under high mental pressure, made her put out her hand
impulsively and draw the girl to her.

"I can always be sure of your trust," she whispered. "Won't you come up
and help me pack?"

Alys followed unresisting: the blow had been so sudden; she had believed
so little in the power of the law to touch a woman like Mrs. Balfame,
and even less that she committed the crime; for the moment she forgot
her jealous hostility, remembered only that the best friend of her
mother and of her own childhood was in dire straits.

Mrs. Cummack had run up ahead and was carrying two suitcases from the
large closet to the bed as they entered. Her face was burning and
tear-stained, but she was one of those highly efficient women of the
home that rise automatically to every emergency and act while others
consider. "Glad you've come too," she said to Alys. "Open those drawers
in the bureau, and I'll pick out what's needed. Of course the ridiculous
charge will be dismissed in a day or two--but still! Well, if they're
all idiots down there at Dobton, we can come over here and pack a trunk
later. To take it now would be nonsense, and Sam'll move heaven and
earth to get them to accept bail. You just put on your best black, Enid,
and wear your veil so they can't snapshot you."

While she was gasping on, Mrs. Balfame, whose brain had never worked
more clearly, went into the bathroom and emptied the contents of an
innocent looking medicine bottle into the drain of the wash-stand. She
feared young Broderick more than she feared the district attorney, who,
after all, had been her husband's friend--had, in fact, eaten all of his
political crumbs out of that lavish but discriminating hand. She
recalled that she had always been gracious to him (at her husband's
request, for she regarded him as a mere worm) when he had dined at her
table, and felt sure that he would favour her secretly, whatever his
obvious duty. Moreover, he was of those that spat at the very mention of
the powerful Kraus, and would gladly, especially since the outbreak of
the war, have run him out of the community.

Mrs. Balfame, being a brilliant exponent of that type which enjoys the
unwavering admiration and loyalty of its own sex, had a corresponding
belief in her friends, and rarely if ever had used the word _cat_
denotatively. She called out the best in women as they of a certainty
called out the best in her. Therefore, it did not occur to her either to
close the bathroom door or to glance behind her. Alys Crumley, standing
before the bureau and happening to look into the mirror, saw her empty
and rinse the bottle. The suspicions of Broderick regarding the glass of
lemonade flashed into the young artist's mind; and from that moment she
believed in the guilt of Mrs. Balfame.

Although her hands were shaking Alys lifted from the lavender-scented
drawers the severely chaste underwear of the leader of Elsinore society,
and as soon as the suitcases were packed, she made haste to adjust Mrs.
Balfame's veil and pin it so firmly that no more kisses could be
exchanged. Of her ultimate purpose Alys had not the ghost of an idea,
but kiss a woman whom she believed to be guilty of murder and whom she
might possibly be driven to betray, she would not. Suddenly grown as
secretive as if she had a crime of her own to conceal, she even walked
out to the car with Mrs. Balfame and helped to drive away the crowding
newspaper women, several of whom she recognised. They in turn bore her
off, determined to get some sort of a story for the issues of the
morrow.



CHAPTER XX


Mrs. Balfame was whirled to Dobton in ten minutes--herself, she fancied,
the very centre of a whirlwind. The automobile was pursued by three cars
containing members of the press, which shot past just before they
reached Dobton Courthouse, that the occupants might leap out and fix
their cameras. Other men and women of the press stood before the locked
gate of the jail yard, several holding cameras. But once more the
reading public was forced to be content with an appetising news-story
illustrated by a tall black mummy.

Mrs. Balfame walked past them holding her clenched hands under her veil,
but to all appearance composed and indifferent. The sob-sisters were
enthusiastic, and the men admired and disliked her more than ever. Your
true woman always weeps when in trouble, just as she blushes and
trembles when a man selects her to be his comforter through life.

The Warden and his wife, who but a few weeks since had moved into their
new quarters, had moved out again without a murmur and with an
unaccustomed thrill. What a blessed prospect after screaming drunks,
drug-fiends and tame commercial sinners!

The doors clanged shut; Mrs. Balfame mounted the stairs hastily, and was
still composed enough to exclaim with pleasure and to thank the Warden's
wife, Mrs. Larks, when she saw that flowers were on the table and even
on the window-sills.

"I guess you'll stand it all right," said Mrs. Larks proudly. "Just make
yourself at home and I'll have your lunch up in a jiffy."

Mrs. Cummack and Mrs. Gifning had come in the car with Mrs. Balfame, and
Cummack and several other men of standing arrived almost immediately to
assure her, with pale disturbed faces, that they were doing their best
to get her out on bail. While she was trying to eat her lunch, the
telephone bell rang, and her set face became more animated as she
recognised Rush's strong confident voice. He had read the news in the
early edition of the afternoon papers, in New York, telephoned to Dobton
and found that his immediate fear was realised and that she was in the
County Jail. He commanded her to keep up her spirits and promised to be
with her at four o'clock.

Then she begged her friends to go and let her rest and sleep if
possible; they knew just how serious that consultation with her lawyer
must be. When she was alone, however, she picked up the telephone, which
stood on a side table, and called up the office of Dr. Anna Steuer. Ever
since her arrest she had been dully conscious of her need of this oldest
and truest of her friends. It came to her with something of a shock as
she sat waiting for Central to connect, that she had leaned upon this
strong and unpretentious woman far more than her calm self-satisfied
mind had ever admitted.

Dr. Anna's assistant answered the call, and when she heard Mrs.
Balfame's voice broke down and wept loudly.

"Oh, do be quiet," said Mrs. Balfame impatiently. "I am in no danger
whatever. Connect me with the Doctor."

"Oh, it ain't only that. Poor--poor Doctor! She's been all in for days,
and this morning she just collapsed, and I sent for Dr. Lequeur, and he
pronounced it typhoid and sent for the ambulance and had her taken out
to Brabant Hospital. The last thing she said--whispered--was to be sure
not to bother you, that you would hear it soon enough--"

Mrs. Balfame hung up the receiver, which had almost fallen from her
shaking hand. She turned cold with terror. Anna ill! And when she most
wanted her! A little window in her brain opened reluctantly, and
superstition crept in. Beyond that open window she seemed to hear the
surge of a furious and irresistible tide. Had it been waiting all these
years to overleap the barriers about her well ordered life and sweep her
into chaos? She frowned and put her thoughts more colloquially. Had her
luck changed? Was Fate against her? When she thought of Dwight Rush, it
was only to shrink again. If anything happened to him--and why not? Men
were killed every day by automobiles, and he had an absentminded way of
walking--

She sprang to her feet and paced up and down the two rooms of the suite,
determined upon composure, and angry with herself. She recovered her
mental balance (so rarely disturbed by imaginative flights), but her
spirits were at zero; and she was sitting with her elbows on her knees,
her hands pressed to her face when Rush entered promptly at four
o'clock. He was startled at the face she lifted. It looked older but
indefinably more attractive. Her inviolable serenity had irritated even
him at times, although she was his innocent ideal of a great lady.

The Warden, who had unlocked the door, left them alone, and Rush sat
down and took both her hands in his warm reassuring grasp.

"You are not to be the least bit frightened," he said. "The great thing
for you to remember is that your husband's political crowd rules, and
simply laughs at your arrest. They are more positive than ever that some
political enemy did it. Balfame's temper was growing shorter and
shorter, and he had many enemies, even in his own party. But the crowd
will pull every wire to get you off, and they can pull wires, all
right--"

"But on what evidence am I arrested? What did those abominable people
say to the Grand Jury? Am I never to know?"

"Well, rather. It's all in the afternoon papers, for one of the
reporters got the evidence before the Grand Jury did."

He had taken off his overcoat, and he crossed the room and took from a
pocket a copy of _The Evening News_. She glanced over it with her lips
drawn back from her teeth. It contained not only the story the
enterprising Mr. Bruce had managed to obtain from Frieda and Conrad Jr.,
but a corroboration of the maid's assertion that, warned by the family
friend and lawyer, Mr. Dwight Rush, to disappear, she had gone to Papa
Kraus for advice. Not a word, however, of blackmail.

"So the public believes already that I am a murderess! No doubt I should
be convinced as readily myself. It is all so adroit!" Mrs. Balfame
spoke quietly but with intense bitterness. "I suppose I must be
tried--more and still more publicity. No one will ever forget it. Do you
suppose it is true young Kraus saw me that night?"

"God knows!"

He got up again and moved nervously about the room. "I wish I could be
sure. That is the point to which I must give the deepest
consideration--whether you are to admit or not that you went out. The
Grand Jury and Gore believe it. Young Kraus has a very good name. Frieda
has always been well behaved. There are six Germans on the Grand Jury,
moreover. We must see that none get on the trial jury. Gore wants to
believe--"

"But he was a friend of Dave's."

"Exactly. He is making much of that point. Affects to be filled with
righteous wrath because you killed his dear old friend. Trust a district
attorney. All they care for is to win out, and he has his spurs to win,
in the bargain. I met him a few moments ago; he was about equally full
of gin fizzes and the 'indisputable fact' that you are the only person
in sight with a motive. Oh, don't! Don't!"

Mrs. Balfame had broken down. She flung her arms over the table and her
head upon them. More than once in her life she had shed tears both
diplomatic and spontaneous, but for the first time since she was a child
she sobbed heavily. She felt forlorn, deserted, in awful straits.

"Anna is ill," she articulated. "Anna! My one real friend--the only one
that has meant anything to me. Life has gone pretty well with me. Now
everything is changed. I know that terrible things are about to happen
to me."

"Not while I am alive. I heard of Dr. Anna's illness on my way to New
York. Lequeur was on the train. You--you must let me take her place. I
am devoted to you heart and soul. You surely know that."

"But you are not a woman. It's a woman friend I want now, a strong one
like Anna. Those other women--oh, yes, they're devoted to me--have been,
but they've suddenly ceased to count, somehow. Besides, they'll soon
believe me guilty. I hate them all. Only Anna would have understood--and
believed."

Rush had been administering awkward little pats to the soft masses of
her hair. Suddenly he realised that his faith in her complete innocence
was by no means as stable as it had been; she had confessed to him that
she had been in the grove that night stalking the intruder. How absurd
to believe that she had gone out unarmed. He had read the circumstantial
details of the reporter's interviews with Frieda and young Kraus. While
the writers were careful not to make the downright assertion that Mrs.
Balfame had fired the fatal shot, the public saw her in the act of
levelling one of the pistols--so mighty is the power of the trained and
ruthless pen.

As he stood looking down upon his unexpected surrender to emotional
excitement, he asked himself deliberately: What more natural, if she had
a pistol in her hand and that low-lived creature presented himself
abruptly and alone, than that it should go off of its own accord, so to
speak, whether hers had been the bullet to penetrate that loathsome
target or not? If so, what had she done with the pistol?

He sat down and laid his hand firmly on her arm.

"There is something I must tell you. It is something Frieda forgot to
tell the reporter, but she gave it to the Grand Jury. With the help of a
couple of extra gin fizzes, I extracted it from Gore. It is this: she
told the Grand Jury that several times when she did her weekly cleaning
upstairs she saw a pistol in the drawer of a table beside your bed.
Will--won't you tell me?"

He felt the arm in his clasp grow rigid, but Mrs. Balfame answered
without a trace of her recent agitation: "I told you before that I never
had a pistol. It would be like her to be spying about among my things,
but I wonder she would admit it."

"She is delighted with her new importance, and, I fancy, has been bribed
to tell all she knows."

"In that case she wouldn't mind telling more. And no doubt she will
think of other sensational items before the trial. She will have
awakened in the night after the crime and heard me drop the pistol
between the walls, or she will have seen me loading it on the afternoon
of the shooting."

"Yes, there is no knowing when those low-grade imaginations, once
started, will stop. Memory ceases to function in brains of that sort,
and its place is taken by a confused jumble of induced or auto
suggestions, which are carefully straightened out by the practised
lawyer in rehearsals. But I almost wish that you had taken a pistol out
that night and would tell me where to find it. I'd lose it somewhere out
in the marsh."

"I had no pistol." Not yet could she take him into her confidence to
that extent, although she knew that he was about to stake his
professional reputation on her acquittal.

He dismissed the subject abruptly. "By the way, I gave the story of
Frieda's attempt to blackmail you to Broderick and two other men just
before I left town--laying emphasis on the fact that you always drank a
glass of filtered water before going to bed. They made a wry face over
that, but it is news and they must publish it. There are many things in
your favour--particularly Frieda's assertion before the coroner that she
knew nothing of the case. She is a confessed perjurer. Also, why didn't
she answer when you called up to her, if she was on the back stairs?
There are things that satisfy a grand jury that will not go down with a
trial jury. Now you must, you must trust me."

She looked up at him dully. But in a moment her eyes warmed and she
smiled faintly. All the female in her responded to the traditional
strength and power of the male. She also knew the sensitiveness of man's
vanity and the danger either of starving it or dealing it a sudden blow.
She sometimes felt sorry for men. It was their self-appointed task to
run the planet, and they must be reminded just so often how wonderful
they were, lest they lose courage; one of the several obliging
weaknesses of which women rarely scrupled to take advantage.

As she put out her hand and took his, she looked very feminine and
sweet. Her face was flushed and tears had softened her large blue-grey
eyes that could look so virginal and cold.

"I know you will get me off. Don't imagine for a moment I doubt that; it
is a sustaining faith that will carry me through the trial itself. But
it is this terrible ordeal in prison that I dread--and the publicity--my
good name dragged in the dust."

"You can change that name for mine the day you are acquitted."

It suddenly occurred to her that this might be a very sensible thing to
do, and simultaneously she appreciated the fact that he possessed what
was called charm and magnetism. Moreover, the complete devotion of even
a passably attractive member of the over-sex in alarming predicaments
was a very precious thing. Possibly for the first time in her life she
experienced a sensation of gratitude, and she smiled at him so radiantly
that he caught his breath.

"No one but you could have consoled me for the loss of Anna, but you are
not to say one word of that sort to me until I am out of this dreadful
place. I couldn't stand the contrast! Will you promise?"

"Very well."

"Now will you really do something for me--get me a sleeping powder from
the druggist? To-morrow I shall be myself again, but I _must_ sleep
to-night."

"I'll get it." His voice was matter of fact, for love made certain of
his instincts keen if it blunted others. "That is, if you will promise
to go to bed early and see none of these reporters, men or women. They
are camped all over the Courthouse yard."

She gave an exclamation of disgust. "I'll never see another newspaper
person as long as I live. They are responsible for this, and I hate
them."

"Good! You shall have the powder in ten minutes. Oh, by the way, will
you give me a written permit to pass the night in your house? I want to
go through your husband's papers and see if I can find any clue to
unknown enemies. He may have received threatening letters. I can obtain
the official permission without any difficulty."

She wrote the permit unsuspiciously. At nine o'clock that night he let
himself into the Balfame house determined to find the pistol before
morning. He knew the police would get round to the inevitable search
some time on the following day.



CHAPTER XXI


Alys Crumley entertained four of the newspaper women at a picnic lunch
in her studio. She was grateful for the distraction from her own
thoughts and diverted by their theories. None had seen Mrs. Balfame save
through the medium of the staff artist, and they were inclined to accept
the primâ facie evidence of her guilt. When Alys fetched a photograph
from the house, however, they immediately reversed their opinion, for
the pictured face was that of a lovely cold and well-bred woman without
a trace of hardness or predisposition to crime. They fell in love with
it and vowed to defend her to the best of their ability, Miss Crumley
promising to exert her influence with the accused to obtain an interview
for the new devotees.

Before wrapping the photograph for its inevitable journey to New York,
Alys gave it a moment of study herself, wondering if she may not have
misinterpreted what she saw that morning. No one had worshipped at that
shrine more devoutly than she, even during these later years of
metropolitan concordance.

"What is your theory?" asked Miss Austin of _The Evening News_. "They
say that a lot of those men at the Elks know, but never will come
through. Do you think it was any of those girls? It might have been some
woman he knew in New York who followed him here for the first time--who
would not have been recognised if seen, and got away in a waiting
automobile."

"As likely as not," said Miss Crumley indifferently. "I have heard so
many theories advanced and rejected that I am almost as confused as the
police. Jim Broderick says that the simplest explanation is generally
the correct one, but while he believes Mrs. Balfame to be the natural
solution, I happen to know her better than he does, and a good deal more
of this community. Three or four men and one or two women would be still
simpler explanations. Possibly--" She turned cold and almost lost her
breath, but the impulse to put a maddening possibility into verbal form
was irresistible. "Perhaps some man that is in love with Mrs. Balfame
did it." And then she hated herself, for she felt as if she had thrown
Dwight Rush to the lions.

"But who? Who?" the girls were demanding, more excited over this
picturesque solution than they had been since "the story broke." Even
Miss Austin, who disdained to write "sob stuff" and was a graduate of
the Columbia School of Journalism, was almost on her feet, while Miss
Lauretta Lea, who wept vicariously for fifty thousand women three times
a week, shrieked without shame.

"Oh, fine!" "How truly enchanting!" "Dear Miss Crumley--Alys--who, who
is the man?"

"Oh, as to that, I've not an idea. Mrs. Balfame always has rather
disdained men, and even if she were susceptible is far too
straight-laced to permit any man to pay her compromising attentions, or
to meet him secretly. But of course she is very pretty, still young to
look at, so there is the possibility--"

"But just run over all the marriageable men in the community--"

"Oh, he might be married, you know." Alys struggled to keep the alarm
out of her voice.

"But in that case there would still be the wife to dispose of, and now,
at least, he'd never dare kill her, or even divorce her. No, I don't
hold to that theory. It's more like the reckless act of the unchastened
bachelor still young enough for illusions. You must have a theory, Alys.
Stand and deliver." Miss Austin spoke with quick insistence. She had
detected her hostess' suppressed excitement and was convinced that the
hint had not been thrown out at random. She also had been conscious of
an indefinable change in her old associate, and now she noticed it in
detail. She might be too self-respecting to dip her pen in bathos, but
she was nevertheless young, and her imagination began playing about
possibilities like lightning over a wire fence.

The heat which confused Alys Crumley's brain was expressed by a dull
glow in her strange olive-colored eyes, but she made a desperate effort
to look impersonal and rather bored.

"No, I have no theory: certainly it could not be any of the men
hereabouts. Mrs. Balfame has known all of them from infancy up. Perhaps
she met some one in New York; I don't know that she ever went to any of
the tea-tango places--she doesn't dance; but she might have gone with
Mrs. Gifning or Mrs. Frew, and just met some one that fell in love with
her--Oh, you mustn't take a mere idea of mine too seriously."

"Hm!" said Miss Austin. "It doesn't sound plausible. A man she met now
and then at a tea-room! She's not the sort to drive men to distraction
in the casual meeting--not the type. And I can't see the men that
frequent afternoon tea-rooms working themselves up to the point of
murder. No, if there is a man in the case, he is here; if not in
Elsinore, then in the county; and it is some man who has known her long
enough and seen her often enough to descend from mere admiration for her
rather chilling type of beauty into the most desperate desire for
possession--"

Alys burst into a ringing peal of laughter. "Really, Sarah, I wonder you
are not already famous as a fiction-story writer. How much longer do you
propose to stick to prosaic journalism?"

"I've had two stories accepted by leading magazines this month, I'd have
you know; but your memory is short if you think journalism prosaic. It
germinates pretty nearly all the fiction microbes that later ravage the
popular magazines. That was what was the matter with the old
magazines--no modern symptoms, let alone fevers--only antidotes that
somehow didn't work. But if you won't tell, Alys, I'll find out for
myself. If I don't find out, Jim Broderick will, and I'd give my eyes to
get ahead of him. But we've got to catch our train, girls."

They took the short cut through the hall of the dwelling, and as they
passed the open door of the living-room, Miss Lauretta Lea exclaimed
with pleasure at its conceit of a cool green wood. Alys could do no less
than invite them in. While the three other reporters were walking about
observing the charming room in detail and envying its owner, Miss Sarah
Austin walked directly over to a framed photograph of Dwight Rush that
stood on a side-table. He had given it to Mrs. Crumley; and Alys, who
spared her mother all unnecessary anxiety, had not yet conceived a
logical excuse for its removal.

"Whom have we here?" demanded the searching young realist. "Don't tell
me, Alys, that here is the secret of your desertion of the New York
press. I'd forgive you, though, for he is precisely the type I most
admire. The modern Samson before Delilah cuts off what little hair his
barber leaves. But the same old Samson looking round for the same old
Delilah--"

"Really, Sarah, are you insinuating that I am a Delilah? That is too
much!" Alys put her arm round Miss Austin's waist and smiled teasingly.
"No wonder your newspaper stories are so bitingly realistic; the
restraints you force upon your imagination must put it quite out of
commission for the time being. That is Mr. Dwight Rush, quite a well
known lawyer in Brabant already, although he has only been here about
two years."

"I thought you said all your young men had grown up in the community."

"I had quite forgotten him."

"Ha! Is he married?"

"Oh, no. And he was born and brought up over in Rennselaerville, by the
way, but went West to some college or university and practised out there
for several years."

"How old is he?"

"Oh, about thirty-three or thirty-four."

"Must have been away a good many years. Would return quite fresh--must
have had a lot made over him here--looks clever and built for
success--that concentrated driving type that always gets there--"

"He goes very little into society and no one possibly could lionise
him."

"Is he interesting to talk to or just another specialist?"

"That's about it. But he was more a friend of mother's than mine. That
is her picture."

"Oh! He likes older women, then? Looks as if he might. Never would take
the trouble, that type, to adapt himself to girls, try to understand
them. Could it be--Alys, you must know if he knows Mrs. Balfame!"

Alys was cold again but laid violent hands on her nerves. "No better
than he knew any one else, if as well, for Mrs. Balfame never talked to
the younger men. She doesn't attract them, anyhow. Do you realise, dear,
that you are asking if Mr. Rush committed murder?"

"With that jaw and those nostrils, he could--oh, rather! And it is one
of those cast-iron, passionate faces; when those men do let go--"

"Oh, really!" Alys dropped her arm, and her subtle face expressed
disdain. "Mr. Rush is quite too steel clad to be carried away even if he
were capable of committing a low and cowardly murder. He happens to be a
gentleman and about as astute and poised as they are made. Do please
send your romantic imagination off on another flight."

"Not I. I'm going to account for every moment he spent that night."

"Would you like to see Mr. Rush go to the chair?" asked Miss Crumley
sternly.

"Oh, good Lord no." Miss Austin turned pale. "I don't believe in capital
punishment, anyhow. No, I'll not tell a thing if I find him out. But
how interesting to know! I'd write a corking story--fiction--about it.
Those deep glimpses into life--into those terrible abysses of the human
heart--no writer can become great without them."

"Well, don't waste your time trying to find the criminal in this
excellent citizen. You might set some of the newspaper men on his trail
and blacken his name while you discovered nothing. Better get on the
track of the potential woman in New York."

"Not half so interesting. Just one of those apartment-house
misalliances. No, I'm out for Mr. Rush, and when I have the proof, I'll
extract a confession; but I'll dig a little grave in my brain and bury
his secret--then when it has ripened, exhume and toss it into that
crucible through which facts pass and come out--fiction. Get me, dear?"

"You talk like a literary ghoul. But I know you don't mean a word of it.
Good-bye, girls. Do drop in whenever you are over on the case." She
kissed them all, and Miss Lauretta Lea exclaimed innocently:

"You've lost that lovely dusky colour you had awhile ago, dear. You look
more like old ivory than ever--old ivory and olive. I wonder all the
artists don't paint you. I suppose every young man in Elsinore is in
love with you. Marry, my dear, marry. I've been in this game twelve
years. Show me a willing would-be husband and I'd take him so quick he'd
never know what struck him. Give my hopes of being a man in the next
incarnation for ten babies to weep over when they had croup or got lost
in the woods of New York City. Hate sob stuff. Cut it out, kid, before
you begin it."

She talked all the way to the gate and for several yards down the
avenue, waving a final farewell with a somewhat tragic smile.

"Why doesn't that girl marry?" she asked as they walked rapidly to the
station. "Still fresh, if she is twenty-six. I'm only thirty-four and I
look like a hag beside her."

"Maybe she can't get the man she wants," replied the potential novelist,
who was thinking deeply.



CHAPTER XXII


Alys borrowed a horse and cart from her cousin Mr. Phipps, Chief of
Police in Elsinore, who kept a livery stable, and took the shortest cut
into the country. She wanted to think out many things and think them out
alone. She drove rapidly until she came within sight and sound of the
sea. Then she let the lines lie loosely on the back of her old friend
Colonel Roosevelt, who had been named in his fiery colt-hood, but in
these days, save under compulsion, was as slow as American law. He
ambled along, and Alys, in the booming stillness and the fresh salt air,
felt the humid waves roll out of her brain. She saw clearly, but she was
aghast and depressed.

Presented by nature with an odd and arresting exterior, in color and
feature as well as in subtlety of expression, sketched and flattered by
such artists as she met, she had, ever since old enough for
introspection, striven for uncommon personal developments that should
justify her obverse and set her still farther apart from mere woman. If
not born with an intense aversion from the commonplace (and it is safe
to say that no one is), she had conceived it early enough to train a
rarely plastic mind to striking viewpoints, while a natural tact saved
her from isolation. If she had been as original as she thought herself,
she would have antagonised many people.

Assuredly a certain nobility of nature and a revulsion from all that
was base were innate; although, soon learning of the many pitfalls
yawning for humanity, she had assiduously cultivated these her higher
inclinations, an enterprise measurably assisted by the equable temper,
the feminine charm, the bright intelligence and the quick sympathies
that made her many friends. Moreover, her freedom from the usual
yearnings of her sex in the matter of riches and subservience to the
race, which wreck the lives of so many women, and her love of the arts
and delight in her own little talent, all served to deponderate the
burden of life.

She had liked many men as friends, and was proud of the fact that only
the more intelligent were attracted to her, but she had arrived at the
age of twenty-six without even imagining herself seriously in love, so
intense was her idealism. This was another of her deliberate
cultivations, for here also was she resolute that as nature had done so
much for her, marking her as a girl apart, so should she insist upon
having an uncommon mate. It was to this end even more than for the
barren satisfaction of pleasing Mother Nature that she had tilled the
garden of her mind with both science and imagination. When she loved, it
should be like a woman, of course; she had no delusions about making
over human nature to suit passing fashions in woman; but while she never
ignored the vital passions that formed the basis of her unique
personality and strong will, she was determined that they should be
quickened only by a man who would make equal demands upon all that was
fine in her character and aspiring in her mind.

The awful collapse of this cherished structure, her spiritual house,
under her hopeless and violent passion for Dwight Rush had almost
demoralised her. After she had won herself to reason once more, she
still had sat, stunned, among the ruins. It was true that Rush was all
that she had demanded of man and that he emanated a promise of happiness
along strictly modern lines--which was all she asked, being no romantic
fool; but not only had she loved him unasked, sacrificing the first and
perhaps the dearest of her dreams, to be wooed and awakened and
surprised, but, accepting the inevitable (the man being overburdened,
like most busy young Americans, and unselfconscious), she deliberately
had set herself to awaken _him_--and for nought. For worse than nought:
he had instantly taken fright and withdrawn.

Of the terrific upheaval of that time, like some graveyard of the sea
flung putrid and phosphorescent to the surface by submarine vulcanism,
she had ceased to think as soon as her will was reinstated in command.
Immediately she had striven to rebuild her house lest she be swamped in
mere femaleness, so permanently demoralised that life would be quite
unendurable. She had cultivated the heights too long. She might tumble
off occasionally, but in no other atmosphere could she breathe deeply
and realise herself, find any measure of content. It had occurred to her
that if she had been born in the gutter and grown to adolescence with no
ennobling influence, she would have developed into a notable force for
evil. At all events, she liked to think so; many women of stainless
lives do.

She guessed this, having a saving sense of humour, but did not expand
upon it, not being inclined to humour at the moment. Accompanying her
resolution to be finer and better than ever, to fortify herself against
life with some degree of satisfaction in herself, was the hope of
complete deliverance from what she called the Dwight Rush Idea. In due
course she had conquered the obsession, for pride and self-disgust
served her like first-aid surgeons on the battlefield; and although she
felt amputated and scarred, she had lost her sense of humiliation. But
her heart still accelerated its beats when she met Rush, and no will is
strong enough to prevent the recurrence of the mental image; only time
can dim it. But it was not until Broderick had left her alone in her
studio with the poisons of fear and jealousy implanted that she had
admitted she still loved him, probably must continue to love him for
years to come.

In that hour she had hated Mrs. Balfame, although she neither believed
her guilty nor was tempted to the dastardly course of helping to force
the appearance of guilt upon her. And for a time that night she had
hoped she hated Dwight Rush also, so utterly disgusted and indignant was
she that he could prefer a faded woman of forty-odd to a unique and
beautiful girl like herself.

But once more Miss Crumley's sense of proportion enforced itself, and
she reflected sternly that men had fallen in love with women older than
themselves since the world began, and that some of those
transcendent--and lasting--passions had made history. She was no green
village girl to be astounded at the least common phase of the sexual
adventure. It was then she had given way to tears, for although she
might be intelligent enough to admit this most unpardonable of nature's
informalities, she could regret it with bitterness and despair.

Later had come her fear for Rush's safety. Not for a moment did she
suspect him of the crime, but if accused of it during the process of
elimination, there was the appalling doubt that he could prove an alibi.
As likely as not he had missed his man in Brooklyn--she knew that he had
expected to dine and spend the evening at the Country Club--or had not
gone there; knowing Balfame's ugly temper when drunk, what more natural
than that he should hide in the grounds to be near at hand in case the
man were disposed to wreak vengeance on his wife for his own
humiliation. It was Alys's theory that the murder was political.

Until to-day! From the moment that she saw Mrs. Balfame empty and rinse
the vial, she was convinced that Broderick was right in his deductions
and that for some reason the terrible woman had changed her mind and
used the revolver. It was a stupider act than she would have expected of
Mrs. Balfame, for Dave was a man whose sudden death would excite little
suspicion, nor would Mrs. Balfame be the woman to use a common poison.
Her intimacy with Dr. Anna would put her on the track of one of those
organic potions that were too subtle for chemical analysis. She had
heard doctors talk of them herself.

Then abruptly she recalled the sinister change in Mrs. Balfame's smiling
countenance on that day she sketched her at the Friday Club; her mind
opened and closed on the conviction that in that moment Mrs. Balfame had
conceived the purpose of murder.

But why the change of method? She dismissed the riddle. It was not for
her to unravel. Nor did she care. The fact was enough. This good friend
of her family was an abominable creature from whom in even mental
contact she shuddered away with a spasm of spiritual nausea.

But that was not her own problem. No doubt Mrs. Balfame would be
acquitted; Alys hoped so, at all events, for she wanted no such a stain
on Elsinore, where, she thanked God, she lived, although she sought
knowledge and income in the City of New York. For the same reason, she
had no desire that the guilty woman should pay her debt by even a brief
term in Auburn; but all that was beside the point. What Alys felt she
would give her soul to ravish from this thrice accursed woman, so
formidable in her peril, were the services of Dwight Rush. If he were
Mrs. Balfame's chief counsel he would see her constantly, and alone--for
hours on end, perhaps, for he must consult with her, rehearse her,
instruct her, keep up her spirits, console her. This might not be the
whole duty of counsel, but in the circumstances no doubt she had
underestimated, if anything. And even if he believed her guilty, he
might in that intimacy love her the more; not only would he pity her
profoundly and see himself her natural protector, but he would be heart
and soul in the great case, and it would not be long before the case and
the woman were one.

If, however, Rush could be made to believe now that the woman was a
murderess, would he not decline to take the case? He was hardly the man
to defend man or woman whom from the outset he knew to be guilty,
although when immersed in the case he would keep on, whatever the
revelations. Alys believed that it was possible for her to convince him.
She could inform him of the needle-witted Mr. Broderick's suspicions and
of her own confirmations; and she could tell him of her certain
knowledge that Mrs. Balfame had a revolver; she had seen it eight months
ago, when Balfame brought it home from New York and told his wife to
discharge it in the air if, when alone, she heard a man breaking in.

It had signified little to her at the moment that Mrs. Balfame had
denied to police and reporters that she possessed a revolver, for it
might by chance be a .41, and it was not to be expected that even an
innocent woman would challenge public doubt and possible arrest. But her
denial and probable concealment of the weapon were significant to Alys
now. She remembered that Dr. Anna had spent the early hours of Sunday
alone with Mrs. Balfame. No doubt the wicked woman had found both relief
and counsel in confessing to a friend like Anna Steuer, a creature so
strong and staunch that the secret would be as safe as in her own guilty
soul. Anna, of course, had taken the pistol and dropped it in the marsh
when she visited Farmer Houston's wife later in the day. If she could
but get Dr. Anna to speak.

Alys raised her eyes under their bent and frowning brows and looked up
to where the Brabant Hospital stood on rising ground beside the sea. She
gave a gasp as she found herself turning the horse's head in that
direction. What did she intend to do? Denounce Mrs. Balfame to Dwight
Rush? She fancied she heard an inner crash. Could she do this and escape
final demoralisation? Heretofore she had at least committed no act
involving moral degradation; her upheavals had affected herself alone
and were her inviolate secret; but if she made a last desperate throw to
win Dwight Rush by first filling him with loathing of her rival, she
would be committed to a course of conduct from which there would be no
escape for months, perhaps years to come. For if she won him,--toward
which end she must plan with every female art she knew,--she never could
ease her soul with confession. Her only chance of keeping a man like
that, after the first effulgence had merged into the healthy
temperateness of practical married life, was to avoid the major
disillusions.

And if she by her own deliberate act went to pieces morally, could she
play up? Should she even want to play up? Could one deliberately knock
the foundations from under one's cherished spiritual structure, reared
with infinite pains upon natural inclinations, and continue to be even a
pale reflection of one's higher self? She might, after the first
excitement of striving to achieve her immediate object was over, hate
herself too deeply to love or even to live.

She drew her brows more closely and expelled her breath through her
teeth. For the moment, at least, she felt all female, ready to defy the
future and her own soul to obtain possession of her mate. That he was
her mate she obstinately believed, temporarily deflected from his
natural progress toward herself by one of those powerful delusions that
afflict every man in the course of his life. And if she did not open his
eyes at once, the temporary deflection would merge into the straight
course toward marriage with a she-demon....

She drove into the hospital yard, threw the reins over Colonel
Roosevelt's back and asked for the superintendent, Mrs. Dissosway, who
happened to be her aunt.



CHAPTER XXIII


An hour later, Alys was driving through Elsinore, her mind a trifle less
personal, as it dwelt upon her brief interview with the superintendent
of the hospital. Mrs. Dissosway, who was devoted to her niece and
believed her to be as exceptional as Miss Crumley in her most aspiring
moments could have wished, had confided that she was sure poor dear Anna
knew something about that awful crime, for in her delirious moments she
kept uttering Enid Balfame's name in very odd tones indeed. She had
assured and reassured the patient that there was no clue to the
murderer; and if she kept on and asked to see Mrs. Balfame,--which,
significantly, she had not done,--they of course would tell her that the
friend who should have hastened to her bedside had suffered a nervous
breakdown or sprained her ankle. It was a blessing that she was in no
condition to testify against her idol, for it would kill her, just as it
might be fatal now if she knew that Enid was in the County Jail.

After some delicate insistence, Mrs. Dissosway had admitted that Dr.
Anna must convince any one who listened attentively to her mutterings
that her belief in her friend's guilt was positive, whether she had
exact knowledge or not.

"'Oh, Enid! Oh, _Enid_!' she kept repeating in such a tone of anguish
and reproach, and then muttered: 'Poor child! What a life!' She also
once said something about a pistol in a tone of dismay, but the other
words I couldn't make out.

"The nurses on her case," Mrs. Dissosway had concluded, "will pay no
attention. They are too accustomed to fever patients to listen to
ravings, and the two she will have are from other parts of the State,
anyhow. They never heard of Mrs. Balfame before. But I have been in and
out all day, and I know she is worrying in her poor hot mind both over
her friend's crime and her danger--"

"Then you believe Mrs. Balfame did it?" Miss Crumley had interrupted.

"Yes, I do--now, anyhow; and I never was daffy about her. She barely
remembers I am alive, living out here for the last fifteen years as I
have done, and I am your mother's sister. I don't call her a snob; it's
just that she don't seem to take any interest in people that ain't in
her own set. But the Lord knows I'd never tell on her if I had the proof
in my hand, for I don't want any of our grand old families disgraced,
and she's been good to your mother. No, she can go free, and welcome,
but I wish poor Anna could have been spared the knowledge of her crime,
for it's going to be all the harder to nurse her well, and she has a bad
case. If she has to go, she shall go in peace. I'll see to that. But
when Enid Balfame is out, I'll take good care to let her know that she
has another crime to carry on her conscience--if she's got one."

Alys had not asked to see the patient, knowing that it would be useless,
but Mrs. Dissosway had walked out to the cart with her, and pointing to
a window on the first floor of the wing devoted to paying patients,
remarked: "That's where she is, poor dear." Alys had wondered if she
should fall low enough before this accursed case were finished to
describe the position of that room to Broderick and insinuate what he
might find there if he chose to hide in the little balcony and enter the
room when the night nurse had gone out for the midnight supper. He was
quite capable of it.

But not if she could win Rush from the case, nor unless, Mrs. Balfame
discharged, he were arrested and committed for the crime. She wished now
that he had been arrested instead of Mrs. Balfame, for then she could
have saved him from both punishment and the other woman without this
awful sense of sliding slowly down-hill to choke in a poisonous slime.
She might have been obliged to exercise a certain amount of sophistry
even then, but she could have stood it.

She was driving slowly down Atlantic Avenue when she heard her name
called in accents of mystery and excitement. Her modest rig was passing
the imposing mansion of Elisha Battle, bank president, and like all the
newer homes of Elsinore the grounds were unconfined and the shallow lawn
ended at the pavement. From one of the drawing-room windows Lottie
Gifning slanted, and as she met Miss Crumley's eye, she beckoned
peremptorily. The desire for solitude was still strong upon Alys, but as
she had no excuse to advance, she wound the lines round the whip and
went slowly up the brick walk.

Mrs. Gifning opened the front door and swept her into the drawing-room,
where six or seven other women with tense excited faces sat on the
expensive furniture. Mrs. Battle, herself upholstered in shining
black-and-white satin, and further clad in invisible armour, occupied a
stately and upright chair. This throne had been made to order;
consequently her small feet in their high-heeled pumps touched the
floor. The large room, upon which much money had been spent, was not
tasteless; it merely had no individuality whatever. Like many another in
Elsinore, it set Miss Crumley's teeth on edge, but compensated her
to-day as ever by inspiring her with a sense of remote superiority.

"Dear Alys--so glad to see you!" Mrs. Battle did not rise. She was fond
of Alys, but thought her of no consequence whatever. "Lottie saw you and
called you in as you have always been such a friend of poor dear Enid's,
and you know those horrid reporters, and we want to impress upon you the
necessity of putting them off the track. We are talking the whole
dreadful business over and trying to decide what to do."

"Do?" Alys, more interested, disposed her limber uncorseted young figure
into a low chair and for a moment diverted envious attention from the
momentous subject in hand. "What can we do? Has bail been accepted?"

"No, nor likely to be. Isn't it too awful?"

"Yes, it's awful." Alys stared at the floor, but although her words
might have been uttered by any of the ladies present, her tone was
almost conventional. No one noticed this defection, however, and Mrs.
Battle--after Mrs. Gifning had tiptoed to all the doors, opened them
suddenly and closed them again,--proceeded in so low a tone that there
was an immediate hitching of chairs over the Persian rug:

"What we were debating when you came in, Alys, was whether--oh, it's too
awful!--she did it or not. Did she or didn't she? She has a perfectly
beautiful character--but the provocation! Few women have been tried
more severely. And we all know what human nature is under the influence
of sudden tremendous passion." Mrs. Battle, who never had been ruffled
by any sort of passion, leaned against the high back of her chair, and
elevated her eyebrows and one corner of her mouth.

"Could such a crime have been unpremeditated?" asked Alys. "You forget
that whoever did it was waiting in the grove for Balfame to come home
from Sam's, and evidently timed to shoot as he reached the gate."

"Passion, my dear child," said Mrs. Bascom, wife of the Justice for
Brabant, speaking softly and with some diffidence, for she disliked the
word, "can endure for quite a while once the blood is up and pounding in
the head. It would take a good deal to work up dear Enid, but when a
woman like that does rise to the pitch under many and abominable
provocations, well, I guess she could stay at that pitch a good bit
longer than all of us put together. I've thought of nothing else for
three days and nights,--the Judge won't discuss it with me,--and I feel
convinced that she did it."

"So have and so am I," contributed Mrs. Battle, sepulchrally.

"I'm afraid she did!" Mrs. Gifning heaved an abysmal sigh. "I suspected
it when I consulted her about her mourning. She was much too cool. A
woman who could think of two kinds of blouses she wanted the very
morning after the tragedy, and he not out of the house, must have been
exercising a suspicious restraint or else have reverted to the
cold-bloodedness with which she planned the deed."

"Dear Lottie, you are so psychological," murmured Mrs. Frew admiringly;
but Mrs. Battle interrupted sharply:

"I maintain that she did it in a moment of overwhelming passion. She
would be inexcusable if she had done it in cold blood."

"Well, of course I didn't mean that!" said Mrs. Gifning with asperity.
"I guess I'm as fond of Enid Balfame as anybody in this room, and I
guess I know what she must have gone through. What I really meant was
that she has more courage than most folks."

"Oh, that indeed!" exclaimed Mrs. Lequer, who was quite happy with her
husband, the fashionable doctor of Brabant. "Matrimony is a terrible
trial at best, and it's a wonder more women don't--well, it's too
horrible to say. But I'm afraid--well, you know."

There was no dissenting voice. Alys raised her eyes and glanced about
the room. Mrs. Cummack was not present. No doubt she had been carefully
omitted from the conference. So had four members of the inner twelve who
were comparative newcomers in Elsinore. All of these women had known
Enid Balfame from childhood, consistently admired her; when she was in a
position to make her social ambitions felt, had quite naturally fallen
into line.

"Isn't it rather a hasty conclusion?" Alys asked. "There are a good many
others who might have done it, you know."

"Everybody suspected has one grand alibi." Mrs. Gifning's sigh was
rather hypocritical this time. "We'd be only too glad to think there was
any one else likely to be arrested. No hope! No hope!"

"I suppose"--Miss Crumley's tones were tentative, although the
irresistible words almost cost her her breath--"that there was no man in
love with Mrs. Balfame?"

"Alys Crumley!" All the women had shrieked the name, and Mrs. Battle
swung herself to her pointed toes. "I'm most mad enough to put you right
out. The idea of insinuating--"

"Dear me, Mrs. Battle, it never occurred to me that it was worse for a
married woman to have a man in love with her than to commit murder. I
did not insinuate or even imagine she cared for any man, or even
encouraged one. But such things have happened."

"Not to her. And while I could forgive her for shooting a perfectly
loathsome husband under the influence of sudden passion, I'd never
forgive her--Enid Balfame!--if she had stooped to anything so paltry and
common and _sinful_ as philandering; for believe me, a man doesn't
commit murder for a woman's sake unless he is reasonably certain that he
will have his due rewards. That is life. And how _can_ he be certain, if
there has been no philandering. No!" Mrs. Battle was once more
magisterial in her chair, and in command of her best Friday Club
vocabulary. "But there is this much to be said: Enid did not necessarily
shoot to kill,--merely to wound perhaps,--for nothing would have
punished Dave Balfame more than a month or two in bed on gruel and
custard. Or maybe she just didn't know what she was doing--just fired to
relieve her feelings. I am sure it would have relieved mine after that
scene at the Club."

"Oh--I apologise. Let us assume then that Mrs. Balfame did it. How do
you propose to act in the matter? Of course you will not accuse her,
but shall you cut her?"

"Neither the one nor the other!" Mrs. Battle brought her plump little
hands down on the arms of the chair with a muffled but emphatic smack.
"Never outside of this room shall we breathe our convictions, or our
certain knowledge that she kept a revolver in her room--may I not speak
for all?" There was a hissing murmur caused by the letter _s_. "And it
will be no negative defence, either. We'll stand by her publicly, visit
her constantly, keep up her spirits, never give her a hint of our
suspicions, and attend the trial in a body. Our attitude cannot fail to
impress the world. We are the representative women of Elsinore; we have
known her all our lives; it is our duty to flaunt our faith in the eyes
of the public. The moral effect will be enormous--also on the jury."

"It is very splendid of you." Alys sighed. Their motives were mixed, of
course, poor dears; brains were not their strong point, and they were
all feeling young again with their sense of participation in the great
local drama, but there was no questioning their loyalty, even that of
Mrs. Battle, who would inherit the reins of leadership were Mrs. Balfame
forced to retire. Alys wished she could be swept along with them, but
her indorsement of their programme was from the head alone.

"What do the men think?" she asked.

"I guess they don't know what to think," said Mrs. Battle complacently.
"They're not as clever as we are, and besides, they never could
understand that type of woman. Whatever they think, though,--that is to
say, if they do suspect her,--they'll never let on. They weren't any too
fond of Dave these last years, and they're no more anxious than we are
to have Elsinore disgraced--especially with all those lots on the edge
of the West End unsold. They're hoping for a boom every minute. The
trial will be bad enough. And those terrible reporters! They've been
here a dozen times."

"That reminds me," interrupted Alys. "I promised four of the best of the
women reporters I would try to get them an interview with Mrs. Balfame.
Do you think you could manage it? She might not listen to me.
And--and--if she is a murderess, I don't think I can see her just yet."

"Youth is so hard!" Mrs. Battle sighed. "But I suppose it is as well
that you, an unmarried young woman, and with your way to make, should
keep in the background. But why should she see those women? Answer me
that. It would be more dignified for her to ignore the press hereafter."

"Perhaps. But they are predisposed in her favour, being women, and would
write her up in such a way as to make friends for her among the public.
It is important, if she is to be tried for her life, that she should not
be thought a monster, that she should make all the friends possible. The
jury might convict her, and it would then be necessary, appeals also
failing, to get up a petition."

"You always did have brains, Alys!" It was Mrs. Frew who expressed
herself with emphasis. "I'll persuade her myself. Don't you really think
it would be wise, Letitia?"

"I guess you're both right." Mrs. Battle stood up. "Now let's go out
and have tea. I ordered it for five-thirty. New York's got nothing on
us."

But Alys, protesting that her mother was old-fashioned and still
prepared supper for half past six, excused herself and left the house.
She found that Colonel Roosevelt had gone home and was not sorry to
cover the half-mile to her own, briskly, on foot. What course she
eventually should take was still unformulated, but she was glad that she
had not parted with any of her deeper knowledge to those kindly women
who, perhaps, would have found it the straw too many. Let Enid Balfame
keep her friends if she could. Let her have the whole State on her side
if she could, so long as she lost Dwight Rush!



CHAPTER XXIV


The police, nettled by the sensational coup of the press, made a real
effort to discover the identity of the man or woman who had fired the
second pistol. For a time they devoted their efforts to implicating
Frieda and young Kraus, but the pair emerged triumphantly from a
grilling almost as severe as the third degree; furthermore, there was an
absolute lack of motive. Conrad had never evinced the least interest in
politics; and that Old Dutch should have commissioned the son of whom he
was so proud to commit murder when gun-men could be hired for
twenty-five dollars apiece was unthinkable to any one familiar with the
thoroughly decent home life of the family of Kraus.

Old Dutch's establishment was more of a beer garden than a common
saloon, and responsible for a very small proportion of the inebriety of
the County Seat. He and his sons drank their beer at the family board,
but nothing whatever behind the bar. As for Conrad, Jr., industrious,
ambitious, persistent, but without a spark of initiative, obstinate and
quick-tempered but amiable and rather dull, his tastes and domestic
ideals as cautious as his expenditures, it was as easy to trump up a
charge of murder against him because he happened to have seen Mrs.
Balfame leave her house by the kitchen door a few moments before he
heard the shot that killed her husband, as it was to fasten the crime
upon the unlovely Frieda because she ran home untimely with a toothache.

Frieda confessed imperturbably to her attempt to blackmail Mrs. Balfame,
adding (in free translation) that while she had no desire to see her
arrested and punished, she saw no reason why she should not turn the
situation to her own advantage. When Papa Kraus was asked if he had
counselled the girl to demand five hundred dollars as the price of her
silence, he repudiated the charge with indignation, but admitted that he
did remark in the course of conversation that no doubt a woman who had
killed her husband would be pleased to rid herself of a witness on such
easy terms, and that it was Frieda's pious intention--and his own--that
the blood-money should justify itself in the coffers of the German Red
Cross.

All this was very reprehensible, of course; but an imperfect sense of
the minor social and legal immoralities was no argument that such
blundering tactics were the natural corollary of a specific murder. To
be sure, there were those that asserted with firm lips and pragmatical
eyes that "anybody who will blackmail will do anything," but the police
were accustomed to this line of ratiocination from the layman and knew
better.

Their efforts in every direction were equally futile. Behind the Balfame
Place was a lane; Elsinore Avenue was practically the eastern boundary
of the town, which had grown to the south and west. There were two or
three lowly dwellers in this lane, and in due course the memory of one
old man was refreshed, and he guessed he remembered hearing somebody
crank up a machine that night, but at what time he couldn't say. It was
after seven-thirty, anyhow, for he turned in about then, and he had
heard the noise just before dropping off. That might have been any time
up to eight or nine, he couldn't say, as he slept with his windows shut
and couldn't hear the town clock. His cottage was directly across from a
point where the second assailant, running out of the grove and grounds,
would have climbed the fence to the lane if he had kept in a reasonably
straight line. But there had been heavy rains between the night of the
shooting and the awakening of the old man's memory, and not a track nor
a footstep was visible.

The police also searched the Balfame house from top to bottom for the
pistol the prisoner indubitably had carried from the house to the grove;
nor did they neglect the garden, yard and orchard, or any of the old
wells in the neighbourhood. They even dragged a pond. Their zeal was but
a further waste of time. It was then they concluded that Mrs. Balfame
had gone out deliberately to meet a confederate and that he had carried
off both pistols. But who was the confederate and how did he know at
what hour Balfame would reach his front gate? It was as easily
ascertained that Mrs. Balfame had telephoned no message--from her own
house--that night as that she had received one from her husband which
would give her just the opportunity she wanted. But how had she advised
the other guilty one? The poor police felt as if they were lashed to a
hoop driven up and down hill by a mischievous little girl. All the men
who had been at Cummack's when Balfame called up his wife had left the
house before he did, and proved their alibis. Even Cummack, who had
"sweat blood" during the elimination process, had finally discovered
that the janitor of his office-building had seen him go in and come out
on that fatal night. Did Mrs. Balfame go forth some time after Dr. Anna
brought her home from the Country Club, find her partner in crime and
secrete him in the grove? If so, why did she not remain in the grove
with him instead of returning to the house to leave it again by the
devious route that delivered her almost into the arms of young Kraus?
Above all, who was the man?

It was at this point that the police gave up, although they still
maintained a pretence of activity. Not so the press. Almost daily there
were interviews with public men, authors, dramatists, detectives,
headed: "Did Mrs. Balfame Do It?" "What Did She Do With the Pistol?"
"Was She Perchance Ambidexterous? Could She Have Fired Both Pistols at
Once?" "Will She Be Acquitted?" "Was It a German Plot?" "If Guilty,
Would She Be Wise to Confess And Plead Brain Storm?" The interviews and
symposiums that illuminated the Sunday issues were conducted by men, but
the evening papers had at least one interview or symposium a week on the
subject between a sister reporter and some woman of local or national
fame. Nothing could have been more intellectual than the questions asked
save, possibly, the answers given.

Upon the subject of the defendant's guilt public opinion fluctuated, and
was not infrequently influenced by news from the seat of war: when it
looked as if the Germans were primed for a smashing victory, the
doubting centred firmly upon the family of Kraus and Miss Frieda Appel;
but when once more convinced that the Germans were fighting the long and
losing game, the hyphenated were banished in favour of that far more
interesting suspect, Mrs. Balfame. Certainly there was nothing more
amusing than trying and condemning a prisoner long before she had time
to reach judge and jury, and tearing her to shreds psychologically. In
Spain the people high and low still have the bull-fight; other countries
have the prize-ring, these being the sole objective outlets in times of
peace for that lust of blood and prey which held the spectators in a
Roman arena spellbound when youths and maidens were flung to the lions.
But in the vast majority of Earth's peoples this ancestral craving is
forced by Civilisation to gratify itself imaginatively, and it is this
cormorant in the human mind that the press feeds conscientiously and
often.

In Elsinore the subject raged day and night, and the opinion of the man
in the street may be summed up in the words of one of them to Mr. James
Broderick of the _New York News_:

"Brain storm, nothin'. She ain't that sort. She done it and done it as
deliberately as hell. I ain't sayin' that she didn't have some excuse,
for I despised Dave Balfame, and I guess most of us would let her off if
we served on the jury, if only because we don't want this county
disgraced, especially Elsinore. But that ain't got nothin' to do with
it. And there's an awful lot of men who think more of their consciences
than they do even of Brabant, let alone of Elsinore, where like as not
all of 'em won't have been born--the jurors, I mean. I'm just
wonderin'!"

Mr. Broderick met Mrs. Phipps one afternoon at Alys Crumley's. She was
not a member of the inner twelve, but a staunch admirer of Mrs. Balfame,
although by no means sure of her innocence.

"Maybe she did," she admitted, "since you are not interviewing me for
print. But it's yet to be proved, and if she does get off, I don't fancy
she'll lose many of her friends--she wouldn't anyhow, but then if she
went up, they'd have so much further to call! As for wars," she
continued with apparent irrelevance, "there's this much to be said: a
lot of good men may get killed, but when you think of the thousands of
detestable, tyrannical, stingy, boresome husbands--well, it is to be
imagined that a few widows will manage to bear up. If women all over the
world refuse to come forward in one grand concerted peace movement,
perhaps we can guess the reason why."

None of these seditious arguments reached Mrs. Balfame's ears, but as
her friends' protestations waxed, she inferred that their doubts kept
pace with those of the public. But she was more deeply touched at this
unshaken loyalty than she once would have believed possible. She had
assumed they would drop off, as soon as the novelty of the affair had
worn thin; but not a day passed without a visit from one of them, or
offerings of flowers, fruit, books and bonbons. She knew that whatever
their private beliefs, the best return she could make for their
passionate loyalty was to maintain the calm and lofty attitude of a Mary
Stuart or Marie Antoinette awaiting decapitation. She shed not a tear in
their presence. Nor did she utter a protest. If she looked tired and
worn, what more natural in an active woman suddenly deprived of physical
exercise (save in the jail yard at night), of sunlight, of freedom--to
say nothing of mortification: she, Mrs. Balfame of Elsinore, shut up in
a common jail on the vulgar charge of murder?

But in spite of the amiable devotion of her friends and their
assurances that no jury alive would convict her, and in spite of her
complete faith in Dwight Rush, the prospect of several months in jail
was almost insupportable to Mrs. Balfame, and haunted by horrid fears.
She made up her mind again and again not to read the newspapers, and she
read them morning and night. She knew what this terrible interest in her
meant. Not a talesman in the length and breadth of Brabant County who
could swear truthfully that he had formed no opinion on the case. Other
murder cases had been tossed aside after a few days' tepid sensation,
unnoticed thereafter save perfunctorily. It was her unhappy fate to
prove an irresistible magnet to that monster the Public and its keeper
the Press. Her hatred of both took form at times in a manner that
surprised herself. She sprang out of bed at night muttering curses and
pulling at her long braids of hair to relieve the congestion in her
brain. She tore up the newspapers and stamped on them. She beat the bars
before her windows and shook them, the while aware that if the doors of
the jail were left open and the guards slept, she would do nothing so
foolish as to attempt an escape.

Sometimes she wondered, dull with reaction or quick with fear, if she
were losing her reason; or if she was, after all, a mere female whose
starved nerves were springing up in every part of her like poisonous
weeds after a long drought. Well, if that were the case, her admiring
friends should never be the wiser.

But there were other moods. As time wore on, she grew to be humbly
grateful to these friends, a phenomenon more puzzling than her attacks
of furious rebellion. Even Sam Cummack, possibly the only person who
had sincerely loved the dead man and still stricken and indignant, but
carefully manipulated by his wife, maintained a loud faith in her, and
announced his intention to spend his last penny in bringing the real
culprit to justice. Left to himself, he would in time no doubt have
shared the opinion of the community, but his wife was a member of the
grand army of diplomatists of the home. She was by no means sure of her
sister-in-law's innocence, but she was determined that the family
scandal should go no further than a trial, if Mr. Cummack's considerable
influence on his fellow citizens could prevent it; and long practice
upon the non-complex instrument in Mr. Cummack's head enabled her to
strike whatever notes her will dictated. Mr. Cummack believed; and he
not only convinced many of his wavering friends, but talked "both ways"
to notable politicians in the late Mr. Balfame's party. Most of these
gentlemen were convinced that "Mrs. B. done it," and were inclined to
throw the weight of their influence against her if only to divert
suspicion from themselves, several having experienced acute discomfort;
but they agreed to "fix the jury" if Mr. Cummack and several other
eminent citizens whom they inferred were "with him" would "come through
in good shape." There the matter rested for the present.

Above all was Mrs. Balfame deeply, almost--but not quite--humbly
grateful to Dwight Rush. Her interviews with him so far had been brief;
later he would have to coach her, but at present his time was taken up
with a thousand other aspects of the case, which promised to be a cause
celèbre. He made love to her no more, but not for an instant did she
doubt his intense personal devotion. He had, after consultation with
two eminent criminal lawyers whom he could trust, decided that she
should deny in toto the Kraus-Appel testimony, and stick to her original
story. After all, it was her word, the word of a lady of established
position in her community and of stainless character, against that of a
surly German servant and her friends, all of them seething with hatred
for those that were openly opposed to the cause of the Fatherland. He
knew that he could make them ridiculous on the witness stand and was
determined to secure a wholly American jury.

It was some three weeks after Mrs. Balfame's arrest that another blow
fell. Dr. Anna's Cassie suddenly remembered that a fortnight or so
before the murder Mrs. Balfame had called at the cottage one morning and
asked permission to go into the living-room and write a note to the
doctor. A moment or two after she had shut herself in, Cassie had gone
out to the porch with her broom, and as she wore felt slippers and the
front door stood open, she had made no noise. It was quite by accident
that she had glanced through the window, and there she had seen Mrs.
Balfame standing on a chair before a little cupboard in the chimney
placing a bottle carefully between two other bottles. She had fully
intended to tell her mistress of this strange performance, but as the
doctor those days came home for but a few hours' sleep and too tired to
be spoken to, not even taking her meals there, Cassie had postponed her
little sensation and finally forgotten it.

When she did recall the incident under the pressure of the general
obsession, she told it to a friend, who told it to another, who again
imparted it, so that in due course it reached the ears of the alert Mr.
Broderick. It was then he informed the public of the lost glass of
lemonade and all the incidents pertaining thereto that had come to his
knowledge. Mrs. Balfame's slightly "absurd explanation" was emphasised.

Once more the police were "on the job." The restored bottle was analysed
and, ominously, found to contain plain water. Every bottle in the house
of Mrs. Balfame was carried to the chemist. Mrs. Balfame laughed grimly
at these sturdy efforts, but she knew that the story diminished her
chance of acquittal. The public now condemned her almost to a man. The
evidence would not be allowed in court,--Rush would see to that,--but
every juror would have read it and formed his own opinion. Somewhat to
her surprise Rush asked her for no explanation of this episode, and she
thought it best not to volunteer one. To her other friends she dismissed
the whole thing casually as a lie, no doubt inspired.

As the skies grew blacker, however, her courage mounted higher. Knitting
calmed her nerves, and she had many long and lonely hours for
meditation. Her friends kept her supplied with all the new novels, but
her mind was more inclined to the war books, which she read seriously
for the first time. On the whole, however, she preferred to knit for the
wretched victims, and to think.

No one can suffer such a sudden and extreme change in his daily habits
as a long sojourn in jail on the charge of murder without forming a new
and possibly an astonished acquaintance with his inner self, and without
undergoing what, superficially, appear to be strange changes, but are
merely developments along new-laid tracks in sections of the brain
hitherto regarded as waste lands.

Mrs. Balfame of Brabant County Jail was surprised to discover that she
looked back upon Mrs. Balfame of Elsinore as a person of small aims, and
rather too smugly bourgeoise. The world of Elsinore!

And all those artificial interests and occupations! How bored she really
must have been, playing with subjects that either should have interested
her profoundly or not at all. And for what purpose? Merely to keep a
step ahead of other women of greater wealth or possible ambitions. Her
astonishment at not finding herself all-sufficient, as well as her new
sense of gratitude, bred humility which in turn shed a warm rain upon a
frozen and discouraged sense of humour. While giving her friends all
credit for their noble loyalty, she was quite aware that they were
enjoying themselves solemnly and that no small proportion of their
loyalty was inspired by gratitude. She recalled their composite
expression in the hour of her arrest. They had fancied themselves deeply
agitated, but as a matter of fact they were dilated with pride.

Why had she cared so much to lead these women in all things, to be Mrs.
Balfame of Elsinore? To return to such an existence was unthinkable.

In spite of the fact that her own tragedy dwarfed somewhat her interest
in the great war, she saw life in something like its true proportions;
she knew that if acquitted she would be capable for the first time of a
broad impersonal outlook and of really developing her intellect. With
more than a remnant of the cold-blooded and inexorable will which had
condemned David Balfame to death by the medium of Dr. Anna's secret
poison, she seriously considered taking advantage of young Rush's
infatuation, changing her notorious name for his and receiving the
protection that her awakened femininity craved. At other times she was
equally convinced that she would marry no man again. She could live in
Europe on her small income, travel, improve her mind. Europe would be
vastly interesting after the war, if one avoided beggars and impromptu
graveyards.

But although she was deeply interested in herself, and gratified that
she possessed real courage, and that it had come through the fire
tempered and hardened, there were moments, particularly in the night,
and if the profound stillness were rent with the shrieks of drunken
maniacs, when she was terribly frightened; and in spite of the American
tradition which has set at liberty so many guilty women, she would stare
at the awful vision of the electric chair and herself strapped in it.



CHAPTER XXV


Rush wheeled and looked sharply behind him. For several weeks he had
experienced the recurrent sensation of being followed, but until
to-night he had been too absorbed to give a vague suspicion definite
form. He stood still, and was immediately aware that somebody else had
halted, after withdrawing into the shade of one of the trees that lined
Atlantic Avenue. He approached this figure swiftly, but almost at his
first step it detached itself and strolled forward. Rush saw that it was
a woman, and then recognised Miss Sarah Austin of the _New York Evening
News_. He recalled that she had approached him several times with the
request for an interview with Mrs. Balfame; and that she had taxed his
politeness by trying to draw him into a discussion of the case.

"Oh, good evening," he said grimly. "I turned back because it occurred
to me that I was being followed."

"I was following you," Miss Austin retorted coolly. "I saw you turn into
the Avenue two blocks up, and tried to overtake you--I don't like to be
out so late alone, especially in this haunted village. The knowledge
that everybody in it is thinking of that murder nearly all the time has
a curious psychological effect. Won't you walk as far as Alys Crumley's
with me?"

"Certainly!" Rush, wondering if all women were liars, fell into step.

"I've been given a roving commission in the Balfame case," continued
Miss Austin in her impersonal businesslike manner, which, combined with
her youth and good looks, had surprised guarded facts from men as wary
as Rush. "Not to hunt for additional evidence, of course, but stuff for
good stories. I've had a number of dandy interviews with prominent
Elsinore women, as you may have seen if you condescend to glance at the
Woman's Page. Isn't it wonderful how they stand by her?"

"Why not? They believe her to be innocent, as of course she is."

"How automatically you said that! I wonder if you really believe
it--unless, of course, you know who did do it. But in that case you
would produce the real culprit. What a tangle it is! A lawyer has to
believe in his client's innocence, I suppose, unless he's quite an
uncommon jury actor. I don't know what to believe, myself. But of one
thing I am convinced: Alys Crumley knows something--something positive."

Rush, who had paid little attention to her chatter, which he rightly
assumed to be a mere verbal process of "leading up," turned to her
sharply.

"What do you mean by that?"

"That she knows something. She's over on the _News_ now, understudying
the fashion editor before taking charge, and we lunch together nearly
every day. She's so changed from what she was a year ago, when she was
the life of the crowd--so naïve in her eagerness to become a real
metropolitan, and yet so quick and keen she had us all on our mettle.
Great girl, Alys! At first, when I met her here again, I attributed the
change to the same old reason--a man. I still believe she has had some
heart-racking experience, but there's something else--I didn't notice it
so much that first day--but since--well, she's carrying a mental burden
of some sort. Alys has a damask cheek, as you may have noticed, but
nowadays there's a worm in the bud. And those olive eyes of hers have a
way of leaving you suddenly and travelling a thousand miles with an
expression that isn't just blank. They will look as grimly determined as
if she were about to turn her conscience loose, and in a moment this
will relax into an expression of curious irresolution--for her: Alys
always knows pretty well what she wants. So, as this mystery must be in
her consciousness pretty well all the time, when she is at home, at
least, I feel sure she knows something but is of two minds about telling
it to the police."

"Have you any object in telling me this? I thought you modern women who
have deserted the mere home for the working world of men prided
yourselves upon a new code of loyalty to one another."

"That's a nasty one! I'm not disloyal to Alys. Others have noticed that
there's something big and grim on her mind, as well as I. Jim Broderick
is always after her to open up. I have a very distinct reason for
telling you. In fact, I have tried to get a word with you for some
time."

"Have you been following me? Were--were--you in Brooklyn yesterday?"

"Yes, to both questions." Her voice shook, but her eyes challenged him
imperiously; they were under the bright lights of Main Street. "I'll
tell you what I believe Alys knows: that you killed David Balfame; and
she can't make up her mind to betray you even to liberate an innocent
woman."

He was taken unawares, but she could detect no relaxation in his strong
face; on the contrary, it set more grimly.

"And what are you up to?" he asked.

"To find the proof for myself, and get ahead of Jim Broderick."

"I know of no one so convinced of Mrs. Balfame's guilt as Broderick."

"That's all right, but a man with as keen a scent as that is likely to
find the real trail any minute."

"And you believe I did it?"

"I think there are reasons for believing it."

"I won't ask you for them. It doesn't matter, particularly. What
interests me is to know whether you believe that if I had committed the
crime of murder I would let a woman suffer in my stead."

Miss Austin cerebrated.

"No," she admitted unwillingly, "you don't strike one as that sort. But
then you might argue that she is reasonably sure of acquittal and you
would have scant hope of escaping the chair."

Rush laughed aloud. It was a harsh sound, but there was no nervousness
in it, and he continued to look interrogatively at Miss Austin. He had
barely noticed her before, but he observed that she was a handsome girl
with a clean-cut honest face, a bright detecting eye, and the slim
well-set-up figure of an athletic boy. Her peculiar type of good looks
was displayed to its best advantage by the smartly tailored suit.

"You hardly look the sort to run a man down," he murmured, and this time
he smiled.

"One gets mighty keen on the chase in this business." They turned into
the deep shade of Elsinore Avenue, and she stood still and lowered her
voice. "If you would tell me," she said, "I'd swear never to betray
you."

"Then why ask me to confess?"

"Oh--it sounds rather banal--but I want to write fiction, big fiction,
and I want to come up against the big tragedies and secrets of the human
soul. If you would tell me the whole story, exactly how you have felt at
every stage and phase before and since, I feel almost sure that I could
write as big a book as Dostoiewsky's "Crime and Punishment"--not half so
long, of course. If we learn from other nations, we can teach them a
thing or two in return. You may ask what you are to expect in return for
a dangerous confidence. I not only never would betray you, but I'd make
it my study to divert suspicion from pointing your way. I could do it,
too. You are safe as far as Alys is concerned. The secret is oppressing
her terribly, and she's driven by the fear that her conscience will
suddenly revolt and force her to speak out--particularly if Mrs. Balfame
broke down in jail, to say nothing of a possible conviction--not that I
believe anything short of conviction would open her lips. You are the
last person on earth she would hand over to the law; it seems odd to me
you can't realise that for yourself."

"Realise what?"

"Oh, I've no patience with men! I never did share the platitudinous
belief in propinquity. Why, Alys has turned half the heads in Park Row.
Even the austere city editor is beginning to hover. How any man could
pass a live wire like Alys Crumley by--and distractingly pretty--for a
woman old enough to be her mother!"

He caught his breath.

"What do you mean by that?"

"Mrs. Balfame."

"And yet you accuse me of letting her lie in prison bearing the burden
of my crime?"

"As the only way to possess her ultimately."

"And how many, may I ask, are saying that I am in love with my client?"

"Not a soul--save, possibly, Alys to herself. She doesn't seem to have
much enthusiasm for the Star of Elsinore. Provincial people are too
funny for words. Maybe we New Yorkers are also provincial in our
tendency to forget there is any other America. I intend to cultivate the
open mind; a writer must, I think. So you see just how in earnest I am.
Don't you believe you could trust me? All the world knows that a
newspaper person is the safest depository on earth for a secret."

"Oh, I have the most touching confidence in your honour, and the most
profound admiration for your candour, and the deepest sympathy for
ambitions so natural to one afflicted with genius. I am only wondering
whether if I gave you the information you seem to need you would permit
Mrs. Balfame to remain in jail and stand trial for her life."

"You are not to laugh at me! Yes, I should. Because I know that she has
ninety-nine chances out of a hundred to get off, and that if she were
condemned you would come forward at once and tell the truth."

"And you really believe I did it?" His hands were in his pockets, and he
was balancing himself on his heels. There was certainly nothing tense
about his tall loose figure, but the light of the street lamp, filtered
through a low branch, threw shadows on his face that made it look pallid
and as darkly hollowed as the face of an elderly actress in a moving
picture. To Miss Sarah Austin he looked like a guilty man engaged in the
honourable art of bluffing, but her mounting irritation precluded pity.

"Yes, Mr. Rush, I do. It is to my mind the one logical explanation--"

"You mean the logical fictional--"

"I'm no writer of detective stories--"

"Just like a novel then?"

"Ah! That I admit. The great novel is a logical transcript of life. The
incidents rise out of the characters, react upon them, are as inevitable
as the personal endowments, peculiarities, and contradictions.
Understand your characters, and you can't go wrong."

"You are the cleverest young woman I ever met. For that reason I feel
convinced you need no such adventitious aid as confession from a
murderer. You will work it out--your premises being dead right--far
better by yourself. It's the contradictions you mentioned I am thinking
of, both in life and character."

"You are laughing at me. It's no laughing matter!"

"By God, it isn't. But you couldn't expect me to plump out a confession
like that without taking a night to think it over."

"If you don't tell me, I warn you I'll find out for myself. And then
I'll give it to my newspaper. To begin with, I'll find out if you really
did see any one in Brooklyn that Saturday night. I'll discover the name
of everybody you know in Brooklyn."

"That's a large order. I fear the case will be over."

"I'll set the whole swarm on the case. But if you will tell me the
truth, you will be quite safe."

"The cause of literature might influence me were it not that I fear to
be thought a coward--by my fair blackmailer."

"Oh! How dare you? Why, I don't want your secret to use against you. I
thought I explained--how dare you!"

"I humbly beg pardon. Perhaps as it is such a new and flattering
variety, it deserves a new name. I suppose the legal mind becomes
hopelessly automatic in its deductions--"

"Oh, good night!"

They were at the Crumley gate. Rush opened it and passed in behind her.
"I think I too will call on Miss Crumley," he said. "I have been too
busy to call on any one for weeks, but to-night I must take a rest, and
I can imagine no rest so complete as an evening in Miss Crumley's
studio. I see a light in there--let us go round and not disturb Mrs.
Crumley."



CHAPTER XXVI


Miss Austin remained but a few moments in the studio. She was
embarrassed and angry, and Rush was not the sole object of her wrath:
she anathematised herself not only for permitting her literary
enthusiasm to carry her to the point of attempting coercion and running
the risk of being called bad names by an expert in crime, but for
speaking out impulsively in the first place and throwing her cards on
the table. It had been her intention to cultivate the wretch's
acquaintance and lead him on with excessive subtlety; but he had proved
impervious to her maidenly hints that she would like to know him better;
equally so to her boyish invitation to come over some evening and meet a
number of the newspaper girls who were all fighting for his client.
Fifteen minutes alone with him in the quiet streets of Elsinore at night
was an opportunity that might never come again, and she had surrendered
to impulse.

She was now more deeply convinced than ever that he had killed David
Balfame, but although she had no intention of denouncing him even if she
found her proofs in the course of persistent sleuthing, she thought it
wise to "keep him guessing," as the uneasiness of mind caused by this
constant pressure from without might eventually drive him to her for
counsel and aid. Like all healthy young American writers of fiction, she
was an incurable optimist, and as yet untempered in the least by the
practical experiences of a New York reporter.

After a few moments' desultory conversation, she announced that she
"must run," and as Alys opened the door, Miss Austin turned to the
lawyer, who had risen and stood by the stove.

"Good night, Mr. Rush," she said sweetly. "So glad you are defending
poor Mrs. Balfame, but you know I never did believe she did it, and I
have good reason to hope that we shall all know the truth in about a
fortnight."

Rush bowed politely, as she did not offer her hand. "You would save me
much trouble and Mrs. Balfame much expense. I wish you all good luck."

Her brows met and her dark grey eyes turned black, but she swung on her
heel and marched out with her head in the air. Rush remained behind, as
it was evident the two girls wanted a last mysterious word together.

Alys returned in a few moments, and with a swift step. Her face was
radiant. She too held her head high, but as if she lifted her face to
drink in some magic elixir of the night. This was the first time she had
seen Rush since he had immersed himself in the case, and now he had come
to her unasked, and as naturally as in the old days when weary with work
and the sordid revelations of the courts. Her mercurial spirits, which
had hung low in the scale for weeks, had gone up with a rush that filled
her with a reckless unreasoning happiness. Perhaps intimacy with Mrs.
Balfame had disillusioned him in little ways. Perhaps he had discovered
the truth for himself and despised her for a cold-blooded liar where he
might have forgiven her honest admission of the actual crime. It would
be just like his exaggerated idealism. There never was any love that
could not be killed by transgression of some pet prejudice, some
violation of secret fastidiousness. At all events, he was here and with
every appearance of spending a long evening. What did the rest matter?

He was still standing as she entered, staring at a water colour of a bit
of the woods west of Elsinore. The trees were stately and old, the
shadows green and shot with the gold of some stray beam of the sun
dancing down through that heavy canopy with Puckish triumph. A rocky
brook crossed the glade, and behind was a subtle suggestion of the
uninterrupted forest, deserted and absolutely still. Rush had recognised
the spot.

"My village, Rennselaerville, is on the other side," he said, turning a
boyish face to Alys. "I have been fourteen again for a few moments. Last
summer I only got a day off now and again to loaf in those woods. I wish
I had been with you when you painted this."

She unhooked the picture and handed it to him. "Please let me give it to
you. I'd like so much if you would hang it in one of your rooms,--say
behind your desk,--so that when you are tired or puzzled you can wheel
about and lose yourself for a moment. I am sure it wouldn't be a bad
substitute for the real thing."

She spoke with a shy eagerness and an entire absence of coquetry. He put
out both hands for the picture.

"I should think it wouldn't. It is just like you to think of it. Indeed
I will accept it." And he remembered how many cases he had forgotten
under her kindly tact, both in this cool green studio and that other
room of woodland shades in the cottage. He was wondering if he had not
been a conceited ass and misconstrued an increasing warmth of friendship
in this fine impulsive creature, when he remembered Miss Austin's
insinuations and sat down abruptly, recalled to the object of his visit.

Alys had invited him to smoke but had not produced her box of Russian
cigarettes. Miss Austin, who was determined to keep her nerves in order
and her efficiency at high-water mark, did not smoke, and Rush had his
prejudices. While he puffed away at his cigar and stretched his long
legs out to the fire, she leaned back against a mass of pillows on the
divan and congratulated herself that she had put on a charming
primrose-yellow gown in honour of her Aunt Dissosway and two other
guests entertained by her mother at supper. It was rhythmical in its
harmony with the olives of the room and of her own rare colouring.

Rush, who had been studying his picture, looked up and smiled at the
other picture on the divan. In the soft lamplight Alys' smooth dark hair
looked as olive as her eyes, and there was a faint stain of pink on the
ivory of her cheeks. Beneath the lace that covered her slender bust was
a delicate note of ribbons and fine lawn, and the little feet in pointed
bronze slippers showed through transparent stockings. More by instinct
than calculated effect Alys on such occasions managed to create an aura
of fastidious and dainty femininity while stopping short of invitation.

Rush scowled as his mind leaped to the substantial and sensibly clad
feet of his beautiful client, and to a pile of stout unribboned
underwear that had been brought into the jail sitting-room one day when
he awaited her tardy appearance. For the first time he wondered if such
things really counted in human happiness--not so much, perhaps, for the
artistic delight in them that a plain man like himself might be able to
feel as for all that they stood: the elusive but auspicious signal.

He shook himself angrily and sat up.

"Your young friend thinks I murdered Balfame," he announced.

Alys started under this frontal attack, but smiled ironically. "I knew
she had conceived some such nonsensical theory, mainly because she
wanted to have it so. Sarah intends to be a novelist."

"So she did me the honour to confide. She even promised me all the
immunity that lay within her jurisdiction if I would reward her with a
full confession."

"Really, she is too absurd. Don't let it worry you. You have nothing to
fear."

"I'm not so sure."

Alys sat up as rigidly as if armoured like Mrs. Battle. "What do you
mean?" she breathed.

"Miss Austin has arrived at the conclusion that I am in love with Mrs.
Balfame. She is an outsider with no data whatever to work on; it is
reasonable to suppose that sooner or later our good fellow citizens will
work round to the same theory."

"That is just the one theory they never will conceive or accept. They
know better. That sort of thing never was in Mrs. Balfame's line. The
women know that if she doesn't exactly hate men, she has a quiet but
profound contempt for them. I wish you could have seen them--her
particular crowd--at Mrs. Battle's the day of the arrest. Just to draw
them out, I suggested that some man who was in love with her might have
fired the shot. They nearly annihilated me. Mrs. Balfame, guilty of the
crime of murder or not, is fairly screwed on her pedestal so far as the
women are concerned. As for the men, such a theory will never occur to
them for the simple reason that not one has ever been attracted by her;
she's the very last woman they would expect any man to commit murder
for."

Rush, wondering if these observations were dictated by venom or a mere
regard for facts, shot a veiled glance at the divan; Miss Crumley's soft
carefully de-Americanised voice had not sharpened, but her face was very
mobile for all its reserve. She was looking almost aggressively
impersonal and had sunk back against the high pillows in a limp indolent
line. Facts, of course!

"It is very like a political campaign," said he. "Nobody is quite sane
in this town just now, and the wildest conclusions are bound to be
jumped at. It is not only embryo novelists that have romantic
imaginations. Just reflect that I am Mrs. Balfame's counsel, that I am
still a young man and unmarried, and that she is a beautiful woman and
looks many years younger than her age. There you are."

Alys made an abrupt change of position which in one less graceful would
have suggested a wriggle. However, her voice remained impersonal. "But
this community, including her friends, believe that she did it. They
want her to get off, but they have settled the question in their own
minds and are not looking around for any one else."

"Cummack and several of the other men are, besides Balfame's old
political pals--and his enemies, for that matter. Old Dutch, who is far
shrewder than his son, is by no means certain of Mrs. Balfame's guilt
and has put a detective on the job--against her acquittal, having no
desire to see suspicion pointing at his house again. He is just the old
sentimentalist to settle on me."

He saw the pink fade out of her cheeks, leaving her face like cold
ivory, but she answered steadily: "You have your alibi. You went to
Brooklyn that evening to keep an appointment."

"I don't mind telling you that although I went to Brooklyn that night I
did not see the man I was after. I went on the spur of the moment, more
because I wanted to get out of Elsinore than anything else; I didn't
have time to telephone before catching the train, but when I left it in
Brooklyn, I telephoned and found that he had gone to New York. I gave no
name; it was a matter of no importance. Then as there was no one else I
cared to talk to I took the next train back, and as my head ached and I
felt as nervous as a cat--from overwork and other things--tramped for
hours until I met Dr. Anna out by the marsh and she drove me in--"

"Dr. Anna?"

"Yes, and I have reason to believe she thinks I shot Balfame, but she
would never denounce any one if she could help it."

"Oh, you are all wrong. She believes--like everybody else--that Mrs.
Balfame did it. My Aunt Dissosway is superintendent out there and has
been listening to her delirious mutterings; she's never mentioned you. I
drove out there for the second time on Sunday. I haven't told Mother,
as she is one of the few that believe Mrs. Balfame innocent--but when
Dr. Anna is coherent at all, that is the impression my aunt
gets--but--Oh--of course she's only guessing like everybody else. She
couldn't know--she was out at the Houston farm--"

Rush was sitting up very straight.

"Has any one been permitted to see her?"

"Of course not."

"Not that it would matter. Delirious people all have insane fancies. But
I don't believe she had any such idea before she came down, and besides
it is not true. Mrs. Balfame is innocent."

"Of course as her lawyer you must persuade yourself that she is."

"If I had not believed in her, I would not have taken the case, great as
my desire would be to help her. I am no good at pleading against my
convictions; I'd fail with the jury. If I had believed her guilty, I
should have got her the best counsel possible and helped him all I
could."

Alys had a curious sense of physical paralysis, or of spiritual
dissociation from her body, she made no attempt to decide which; but
that the cause was an intense nervous excitement she was well aware. As
she stared at him with dilated eyes, he was suddenly convinced that Miss
Austin was right in assuming that Alys had some secret and important
knowledge bearing upon the crime. Was her reticence due to the common
Elsinore loyalty? If so, why her reserve with him who would have parted
with his life rather than with any facts that still further would
incriminate Mrs. Balfame.

Then in a flash he understood, for his keen faculties were on edge,
concentrated to one point, and as sensitive as magnets. He recalled his
high estimate of this girl during the weeks of their intimacy, and the
instinctive doubts that had assailed him in his rooms on the night of
the murder. And as he realised the fierce battle that was raging in that
passionate but disciplined soul, he knew that she loved him, and he
scorned himself for attributing her former tentative advances to
calculation or that compound of nerves and imagination which so many
women call love. She had given him her heart, and it had betrayed her.
But while the knowledge gave him an unexpected thrill, he ruthlessly
determined to try and to test her to the utmost.

He stood up and walked about the room for a moment, and then halted
directly in front of her.

"Do you know anything?" he asked abruptly.

"About what? Do you think I suspect you?"

"No, I don't. I mean Mrs. Balfame."

"I told you we all believe she did it. We can't help ourselves."

"I don't understand the attitude of any of you women who were her
friends, her intimates. You--they, rather--have let her lead this
community for years, believed her to be little short of perfection. And
now with one accord they accept her guilt as a matter of course."

"I think they came to with a sort of shock and realised they never had
understood her at all. She had them hypnotised. I think she's one of
those Occidentals with terrible latent powers for whom new laws will
have to be made when they awake to consciousness of them and begin to
develop them with the power and skill of the Orientals--"

"Beg pardon, but let's keep to the present."

"Well, I mean it rather excites them to be able to believe, not so much
that she did it, as that she was capable of it, that while uniformly
sweet and serene, she had those terrible secreted depths. She reminds
one of Lucrezia Borgia, or Catherine de Medici--"

"Why poisoners? You don't mean to say they take any stock in that story
of the poisoned lemonade?"

And before Alys could collect her startled faculties she had stammered:
"Oh, of course, not. They laugh at that. Balfame was shot--what's the
use of--the water in the vial no doubt was put there to rinse it, and
Dr. Anna absently put it back in place. I merely mentioned the names of
the first wicked women that occurred to me. Somehow Mrs. Balfame
suggests that historic tribe to our friends. No doubt this crime in
their midst has irritated what little imagination they have."

Her chest was rising under quick heartbeats, stirring the soft nest of
ribbon and lawn under the lace of her gown, a part of the picture that
he did not appreciate until later; at the moment he was observing her
dilated eyes, the strained muscles of her nostrils and mouth. He found
himself interested in feminine psychology for the first time in his
life; and as he hated a liar above all transgressors, he wondered why he
inconsistently delighted in not being able to comprehend this complex
little creature, and at the same time hoped, his own breathing almost as
irregular as hers, that she would continue to lie. But he pushed on. He
had a dim sense that far more tremendous issues were at stake than
further proof of his client's guilt, and deep in his soul was an ache to
feel reassured that staggering old ideals might yet be reinforced with
vitality.

"Have you told Jim Broderick that Dr. Anna accuses Mrs. Balfame?"

"Of course not. He would be climbing the porch the first dark night."

"Have you been tempted to tell him?"

She shrank farther back and looked up at him under lowered lids.
"Tempted? What--why should I? Well, I haven't told him, or any one. That
is all that matters."

"Exactly. I only meant, of course, that I have a reprehensible masculine
disbelief in the ability of a woman to keep a secret. I might have known
you would be the exception, as you are to so many rules. And I mean
that. But Broderick is an old friend of yours and preternaturally keen
on the case."

"Oh!"

"You haven't told me why you in particular believe so firmly in my
client's guilt. You are the last person to be influenced by either the
ravings of a typhoid patient--hallucinations, generally--or any of the
sentimental and romantic theories of these half-baked women that spend
their leisure taking on flesh, playing bridge, and running over to New
York. If you believe Mrs. Balfame is guilty you must have some fairly
good reason--perhaps proof."

She could not guess that he was trying her; she imagined his insistence
due to apprehension, a desire to know the worst. The hour she had
dreaded and desired had come--and she had almost let its opportunities
escape! These last weeks in New York filled with work and novel
distraction had repoised her, unconsciously. She had begun to doubt,
some time since, if she would be able to violate her old standards when
the test came; but not for a moment had she ceased with all the
concentrated forces of her being to long for his desertion of Mrs.
Balfame. And if she had rejoiced sometimes that she was incapable of a
demoralising act, she had at others been equally disgusted with her
failure in inexorable purpose. She told herself that the big brains were
ruthless, able to hold down and out of sight one side of the character
they governed while giving the hidden forces for evil full play; never
in wantonness, of course, but in sternly calculated necessity. She had a
suspicion that this was just the form of greatness Mrs. Balfame
possessed, and it increased her disesteem of self and inspired her with
a second form of jealousy.

The bitter tides were welling to the surface once more. She asked
abruptly: "Is Sarah Austin's theory true? Are you in love with Mrs.
Balfame?"

"What has that to do with it?"

"It has its bearings."

"I don't think I should be expected to answer that question. I can say
this, however: that as long as she is my client and in jail, I shall
have no time to think of personal matters--of love, above all. My job is
to get her off, and it occupies about sixteen hours out of the
twenty-four. I oughtn't to be here, but relief--distraction--is
imperative, now and again--"

"It would be too delightful if you would come here when you wanted
both." Her tones were polite without being eager, but she found it
impossible to smile.

"Yes, I will; but I shall ignore the subject we are discussing--rest
doesn't lie precisely that way! For that reason we'll finish up now. Why
do you believe Mrs. Balfame guilty?"

"If I could prove to you that she was, would you throw over the case?"

He hesitated and regarded her fixedly for a moment through narrowed
lids. "Yes," he said finally. "I would get one of the men whose firm I
expect to join the first of the year to take the case."

She sat erect once more and twisted her hands together, but tried to
smile impersonally as she returned his gaze. "Would you then have time
to love her?"

Again he hesitated, although he was beginning to hate himself; he felt
as if he had some beautiful wild thing of his woods in a trap, but an
imperious inner necessity urged him on. "Probably not. Now will you tell
me?"

"Now?"

She slipped to the floor and confronted him, holding her small head very
high. No doubt the upward movement was unconscious in its expression,
but he thought her very lovely and proud as she stood there, and for the
first time he took note of the subtlety in that delicate mobile face.

"I really know nothing," she said lightly. "It is just this: if you or
any other innocent person were in danger, I should feel called upon to
unravel certain clues. Naturally I should make no move otherwise. Mrs.
Balfame is an old friend of ours--and then--well, our local pride may be
absurd, but there it is. We must watch Jim Broderick. He has discovered
the intimacy between Dr. Anna and Mrs. Balfame, and also--what all know
here--that they were alone together during those last morning hours
following the murder. I'll warn my aunt. He really couldn't get at
her--not now, at all events; what he is after, of course, is not so much
corroboration, but a new and sensational story to keep the case going.
And, of course, as it was the press that ran Mrs. Balfame to earth, a
statement from a woman of Dr. Anna's standing justifying it would be an
immense triumph."

She had moved over to a table against the farther wall, and she struck a
match and applied it to the wick of an alcohol lamp. "I am going to make
you a cup of tea. It will rest without overstimulating you, and you must
go right from here to bed. I'm sorry Mother doesn't keep whisky in the
house--"

"I don't drink when I'm on a case. That's one advantage I generally have
over the other side. It will be delightful to drink tea with you once
more, although I'm free to say that outside of this house I never drank
a cup of tea in my life."

The atmosphere was as agreeably light as if ponderable clouds had
suddenly rolled out of the room. Two young people drew up to a smaller
table and drank several cups of tea that had stood three minutes,
nibbled excellent biscuit, and talked about the War.



CHAPTER XXVII


Three days before the date set for the opening of the trial, Mrs.
Balfame deferred to the advice of her counsel and friends and received
the women reporters--not only the four depending upon Miss Crumley, but
a representative of every Woman's Page in New York and Brooklyn.

They presented themselves in a body at three o'clock in the afternoon
and were conducted upstairs by the fluttered Mrs. Larks, who had
anticipated them with all the chairs in the jail. They crowded into the
little sitting-room, and were given time to dispose themselves before
the door leading into the bedroom opened and Mrs. Balfame entered.

She bowed composedly and, with a slight diffident smile, walked to the
chair reserved for her. Her weeds were relieved by white crêpe at the
neck and wrists, but to two of the newspaper women who had interviewed
her a year since as the founder of the Friday and the Country clubs, she
had lost her haunting air of girlhood; there was not a line in her
beautiful skin nor a gleam of silver in her abundant brown hair, but she
had suddenly entered upon the full maturity of her years, and what she
may have lost in charm they decided she had gained in subtle force. The
other women agreed that she looked as cold and chaste as Diana, quite
incapable of any of those mortal passions that drive fallible Earthians
into crime.

It was an ordeal, and she drew a long breath.

"You--you wish to interview me?"

Miss Sarah Austin, whose brilliant parts were generally recognised and
whose creative fervour was suspected by few, had been elected to the
office of spokeswoman and replied promptly:

"Indeed we do, Mrs. Balfame, and before asking you any of the tiresome
questions without which there could be no interview, we should be glad
to know if you read the woman's pages in our newspapers and realise that
we are all friends and shout our belief in your innocence from the
housetops?"

"Yes, oh yes," murmured Mrs. Balfame stiffly, but with a more
spontaneous smile. "That is the reason I finally consented to see you. I
do not like being interviewed. But you have been very kind, and I am
grateful."

There was a deep murmur, and after Miss Austin had thanked her prettily
for her appreciation of their modest efforts, she continued in a brisk
and businesslike manner: "Now, Mrs. Balfame, what we should like is your
story. We have been warned by Mr. Rush that we cannot ask you whom you
suspect, much less the reasons upon which you found your
suspicions--ah!"

Her final vocative was expressed in an angry gurgle. Rush had entered.
He was so close to panic at the prospect of facing a roomful of women
unsupported by a single male that his face was almost terrifying in its
strength, but it had suddenly occurred to him that although these girls
had agreed to write their interviews at the Dobton Inn and submit them
to his censorship, it was possible one or more would slip over to New
York, bent upon sheer sensationalism.

"You must excuse me," he said with a valiant assault upon the lighter
mood, "but my client is in the witness box, you see, and must be
protected by counsel."

Miss Austin swung about and faced him with a faint satiric smile. "Oh,
very well," she said. "You may stay; but I for one shall not adjust my
hat."

It is a curious fact that newspaper women are seldom, if ever, of the
masculine type; their sheer femininity, indeed, is almost as invariable
as their air of physical weariness. Not one of the little company
laughed with a more than perfunctory appreciation of their captain's
wit, and several stared at Rush, fascinated by his harsh masculinity,
the peculiar atmosphere of tense-alertness in which he seemed to have
his being, the magnetism which was more an emanation from an almost
perpetual concentration of his mental forces than from any of the
lighter physical attributes. He folded his arms and leaned against the
door, and it is only fair to the cause of woman to state that hardly one
of these, whose ages ranged from twenty to thirty-six, was unwomanly
enough, despite the fact that she earned her bread in daily competition
with man, to give Mrs. Balfame her whole attention thereafter. While
keeping their business heads, they uncovered a corner of their hearts to
the sun, and quickened, however faintly, in its glow.

"Now," Miss Austin resumed, "we will, counsel permitting, ask you to
give us your story of that night. As you have been misquoted and there
has been so much speculative stuff published about you, there surely can
be no objection to that." And she squared her shoulders upon Mr. Rush.

Mrs. Balfame looked at her counsel with a gracious deference, and he
nodded.

"No harm in that," he said curtly. "Tell them practically the story you
would tell if you took the stand. There's only one story to tell, and it
is as well the public should bear it in mind while reading the reports
of the witnesses for the prosecution."

"That means he's rehearsed her," whispered Miss Lauretta Lea, who had
reported many trials, to Miss Tracy, who was a novice. "But that's all
right."

"Well, I suppose I should begin with the scene at the Club--that is to
say, I do not care to speak of it in detail,--quite aside from a natural
regard for good taste,--but it seems to have been given a unique
importance."

"Just so," said Miss Austin encouragingly. "Do let us have your version.
The public simply longs for it."

"Well--I should tell you first that, although my husband was sometimes
irritable, he really was a good husband and we never had any vulgar
quarrels. It was only when he was not quite himself that he sometimes
said more than he meant, and he never quite forgot himself as he did
that day out at the Country Club.

"I was playing bridge in one of the smaller rooms when I heard his voice
pitched in a very excited key. I knew that something unusual had
occurred, and went out into the large central room at once. There I saw
him at the upper end of the room surrounded by several of the men, who
were apparently trying to induce him to leave. He was shouting and
saying such extraordinary things that my first impression was that he
was ill or had lost his mind.

"I reasoned with him, and as it did no good and as I was deeply hurt
and mortified, I left him to the men and returned to the bridge-room.
There, in spite of the kindness of my friends, I found I was too
overcome to play, and Dr. Anna Steuer offered to drive me home. That is
all, as far as the scene at the clubhouse is concerned, except that I
cannot sufficiently emphasise that he never had acted in a similar
manner before. If he had, I should not have continued to live with
him--not that I should have obtained a divorce, for I do not approve of
the institution; but I should have moved out. I have a little money of
my own, left me by my father."

"Ah--yes. Thanks. And after you were in your own house? Do you mind? Of
course, we have read the story you told the men, but we should like our
own story. Perhaps you may have thought of some other points since."

"Yes, there are one or two. I had entirely forgotten in the agitation of
that time that I went below, after packing my husband's suitcase, to get
a drink of filtered water and thought I heard some one try the kitchen
door. I also thought I heard some one upstairs, and called the name of
my maid. Of course, a good deal will be made of this omission, but
considering the terrible circumstances and the fact that I never had
been interviewed before, I do not find it in the least remarkable.

"But, of course, you want me to begin at the beginning." And in her
pleasant shallow voice, she told the story she had immediately concocted
for her friends.

As Miss Austin asked a few questions in the endeavour to inject some
essence of personality into the bald story, Rush permitted the
sensation of dismay with which he had listened to take implacable form.
He never had heard a less convincing story on the witness stand. Mrs.
Balfame had talked glibly, far too glibly. It was evident to the least
initiated that she had been rehearsed. Was her mind really as colourless
as her voice? Had she no sense of drama? He had hoped that the
excitement of this interview, coming after weeks of supreme monotony,
would kindle her to animation and a natural enrichment of vocabulary;
and, witnessing its effect upon these friendly women, she would be
encouraged to simulate both on the witness-stand. It was a pity, he
reflected bitterly, that a woman who could lie to her counsel with such
a fine front of innocence could not "put over" the large dramatic lie
that would help him so materially in his difficult task.

Miss Austin, despairing of colour, made a shift with psychology. "Would
you mind telling us, Mrs. Balfame, if you feel a very great dread of the
trial? We realise that it must loom a terrible ordeal."

"Oh, of course, the mere thought of all that publicity horrifies me
whenever I permit myself to think of it, but it has to be, and that is
the end of it, since the real culprit will not come forward. But I feel
confident I shall not break down under the strain. I might have done so
if the trial had followed immediately upon my arrest, but all these
weeks in jail have prepared me for anything."

"But you are not terrified--of--of the outcome? We know and rejoice that
the chances are all in your favour, but men are so queer."

"I am not in the least terrified. It is impossible to convict an
innocent woman in this country; and then"--inclining her head graciously
to the watchful Rush,--"I have the first criminal lawyer in Brabant
County to defend me. It is a detestable thought,--to be stared at in the
courtroom as if I were an object in a museum,--but I shall keep thinking
that in a few days at most it will be over and that I shall then return
to the private life I love."

"Yes. And would you mind telling us something of your plans? Shall you
continue to live in Elsinore?"

"I shall go far away, to Europe, if possible. I suppose I shall return
in time. Of course" (in hasty afterthought) "I should not be contented
for very long without my friends; they have grown to be doubly
valuable--and valued--during this long term of incarceration. But I must
travel for a while."

"That is quite natural. How normal you are, dear Mrs. Balfame!" It was
Miss Lauretta Lea who spoke up with enthusiasm. "You are just a sweet,
serene, normal woman who couldn't commit a violent act if you tried. Be
sure the public shall see you as you are. I don't wonder your friends
adore you. Don't mind being stared at. The more people that see you, the
more friends you will have."

Her eyes moved to Rush, and she was rewarded by a smile that expressed
relief. She was a very experienced reporter and knew exactly how he
felt.

"And believe me," she said as they trooped down the stairs, having
passed before the Balfame throne and received a limp handshake of
dismissal, "that poor man's worried half to death. He'll get about as
much help from her on the stand as he would from a tired codfish. But
she really is a divinely sweet woman and lovely to look at, and so I'll
sob over her for all I'm worth and seclude from the cynical and the
sentimental that she has distilled crystal in her veins."

"Did you ever know such a perfectly rotten interview!" Miss Austin was
scowling fiercely. "The men did a thousand times better because they
took her by surprise, but even they cursed her. I figure out she has
made up her Friday Club mind to look the marble goddess minus every
female instinct, including a natural desire to shoot a brute of a
husband. But I wish she had brain enough to put it over with some pep.
She was afraid to be dramatic,--or couldn't be,--and so she was trying
to be literary--"

"I don't agree with you!" And arguing and scolding, they wended their
disapproving way over to the Dobton Inn and sat them down at tables to
make the most of their bare material.

"No censorship needed here," growled Miss Austin. "She froze my very
imagination."



CHAPTER XXVIII


Rush walked up and down the room for a few moments in silence. Mrs.
Balfame sat back and folded her hands. She was haunted by a vague sense
of inefficiency, of having not quite risen to the occasion, but she felt
there could be no doubt that she not only had impressed the reporters as
an innocent woman but as a perfect lady. The rest didn't matter.

"Are you really not a bit nervous?" demanded Rush, swinging on his heel
and confronting her.

"I will not permit myself to be. And except that I hate publicity, I
really do not dread the trial. It means the beginning of the end of this
detestable prison life. I want to be out and free. A week in a courtroom
is not too heavy a price to pay."

"Have you ever been to a murder trial?"

"Of course not. Such a thing would never have occurred to me."

Rush sighed. She had no imagination. But as her counsel he reminded
himself that he should be grateful for the lack; he wanted no scenes,
either in the courtroom or here in the imminent hours. But he would have
welcomed a little more feminine shrinking, appeal to his superior
strength. Even when he had worshipped her from afar, she had never moved
him so powerfully as on the day of her arrest when she had flung herself
over the table in an abandonment to despair as complete as the most
exacting male could wish. That incident had long since taken on the
shifting outlines of a dream. If she had felt any tremors since then
she had concealed them from him.

"Tell me," he asked almost wistfully, "are you not terribly frightened
at times? You are alone here so much. And it has been an experience to
try even a strong man's nerves."

"Women nowadays really have better nerves than men. We not only lead a
far fuller and more varied life than our predecessors, but you men work
at such a terrific strain that it is a wonder you retain any control of
your nerves at all. I will admit that I did have attacks of fear at
first. It was all so strange and odd. But I got over them. You can get
used to anything, I guess. And I have a strong will. I just made myself
think about something else. This war has been a godsend. Have you
noticed my new maps? I've really read about twenty war books, besides
all the editorials, and they have given me a distaste for lighter
reading, and really developed my--my--intellect. That seems such a big
word. And then I've knitted dozens of things for the children and
soldiers, and felt as if I were of some use for the first time in my
life."

She glanced at him shyly, as he stared through the bars of one of the
windows. The suppressions of a lifetime made it impossible to betray any
depth of feeling save under terrible stress. She was ashamed of her
breakdown before him on the day of her arrest, but she was conscious of
the wish that she were able to infuse her cool even tones with warmth,
to make them tremulous at the right moment; but if she attempted to
betray something of her newer self even in her eyes, self-consciousness
overcame her and she dropped the lids almost in a panic.

She wondered if love broke down those cliffs of ice that seemed to
encompass a new-born soul. Or was it merely that the other members of
her personal company, mature, jealous, self-sufficient, resented the
intrusion of this shrinking alien? They had got on quite well without
it; they felt no yearning for possible complications, readjustments.
With all their quiet force they discouraged the stranger. Before any of
the supreme experiences, including love, they might be routed, the new
force might spring up in an instant like a flower from the magic soils
of India--but not while the conventions bulwarked them. Their sum was
Mrs. Balfame of Elsinore, and not for a moment did they permit
themselves to forget it.

Moreover, it was quite true that she had conquered her first
apprehensions and welcomed the trial as the initial step toward freedom.
Her poise had always been remarkable, the result in part of a
self-centred life and a will driven relentlessly in a narrow groove.
More than ever was she determined to sit through those long days in the
courtroom with the cold aloofness of the unfortunate women of history.
The very ascents she had made of secret and solitary heights alone would
have restored her poise, for she felt on far more friendly terms with
herself than when living with a wretch she loathed, and dreaming of no
higher altitudes then complete success in Elsinore. But she wished for
the first time that she were a younger woman, or had made those ascents
many years ago; she would have liked to reveal herself spontaneously to
this interesting young man who was so deeply in love with her.

Suddenly she wondered if he were as ardently in love with her as in
that brief period when they had talked of themselves. Not loving him in
return, she had been content with lip-service, the sure knowledge that
all his fine abilities were at work upon the obstacles to her freedom;
and she would have been deeply annoyed if he had broken the pact made on
the day of her arrest and reiterated his devotion and his hopes.

But significant happenings--omissions--a certain flatness.... She turned
her head sharply and looked at him. He was still staring moodily through
the bars.

If far too diffident to show the best that was in her, she found it
comparatively simple to practice the feminine art of angling, albeit
with a somewhat heavy hand.

She asked softly: "Don't you think I did the wise thing to tell them I
intended to travel as soon as I was acquitted? It surely would be in
better taste than to settle down here--in that house!"

"Did you mean it? The intention would make a good impression on the
public, certainly."

"Why, of course I meant it. I am not a good hand at saying things merely
for effect."

"Where shall you go? Europe is rather impossible."

"Oh, not altogether. There is always Italy. And there is no danger from
Zeppelins in the interior of Great Britain. And there is Spain--"

"I think Europe a very good place for women to keep away from until the
war is over. Any of the nations may become involved at any
minute--ourselves, for that matter. Better follow the advice of
advertisers and see America first."

"Yes, I could visit the Expositions in California, and camp for a while
in Glacier Park, and there are the Yellowstone and Grand Cañon--but all
that would only consume a few months--and then there is this winter to
think of. What I feel I should do is to stay away for a year, at
least--"

"You could live very pleasantly in Southern California."

"I should be very conspicuous in those small fashionable settlements.
The case has been telegraphed all over the country, and I have seen
dreadful pictures of myself in several Western papers."

"Well, you might live quietly in New York until the war is over. There
is no better place to hide--if you avoid the restaurants and theatres.
And after all, even a _cause célèbre_ is quickly forgotten if there is
no aftermath. But I certainly advise against even sailing for Europe
until peace is declared. There is always the danger of mines and too
enthusiastic submarines."

She turned quite cold and stared at her hands. They were well-shaped but
large, and they looked like blocks of white marble on her black gown. He
was still at the window, and his tone was listless. She had a curious
sense of panic in the region of her heart. But instantly she curled her
lip with defiant scorn. Was she the woman to fancy herself in love with
a man the moment she seemed to be in danger of losing him? Besides, no
doubt, the poor man was tired, and too absorbed in the case to have any
room in him for the moods of the lover. Only a foolish impulsive woman
would in conditions like the present try to rouse a dormant passion.
When she was free, and he as well, his heart would automatically take
precedence once more and he would plead ardently for the privilege of
marrying her. That was quite in order.

She rose briskly. "Let me show you this map," she said. "It is the very
latest--Letitia Battle brought it to me two days ago. And do smoke."

"Thanks, but I must go over and watch those girls. Yes, it is a fine
map. This war certainly is a godsend! Good luck. Keep up those splendid
spirits. You're all right."



CHAPTER XXIX


"Oyez, oyez, oyez! The Supreme Court of the State of New York County of
Brabant trial term is now in session all people having business with
this court may draw near and give their attention _and they shall be
heard_."

The court crier delivered his morning oration in one breathless
sentence, the last five words of which only have ever been captured by
mortal ears. The roll of the jury was called. The first witness stood on
the step of the witness-stand and swore by the everlasting God that the
testimony he would give in the trial of the People of the State of New
York against the defendant would be the truth, the whole truth and
nothing but the truth, and then he seated himself in the chair. The
trial of Mrs. Balfame began.

It had taken three days to select a jury. If Rush was determined to keep
out Germans, Mr. Gore, the district attorney, was equally reluctant to
admit to the box any man whom he suspected of being under commands from
his wife to get on that jury and acquit Mrs. Balfame, if he had to
imperil his immortal soul. He also harboured suspicions of felonious
activities on the part of Mr. Sam Cummack and certain other patriotic
citizens less devoted to the cause of justice than to Elsinore. In
consequence the questions were not only uncommonly searching, but both
the district attorney and the defendant's counsel exhausted their
peremptory challenges.

The talesmen that had crowded the courtroom beyond the railing were for
the most part farmers and tradesmen, but there were not a few "prominent
residents," including rooted Brabantites and busy commuters. The last
answered without hesitation that they had followed the case closely from
the first and formed an unalterable opinion; then, dismissed, rushed off
and caught a late train for New York. Those of Mrs. Balfame's own class
would have been passed cheerfully by Mr. Rush, but in spite of their
careless avowals that they had been too busy to follow the case, or had
found it impossible to reach any conclusion, they were peremptorily
challenged by the district attorney. They, too, went to New York, not on
business, and returned to their hearthstones as late as possible.

Finally a jury of almost excessively "plain men" were chosen after long
and weary hours of wrangling. They were all married; their ages ranged
from forty-five to fifty; not one looked as if he had an illusion left
in regard to the sex that had shared his burdens for a quarter of a
century, or, German or no German, he had any leniency in him for a woman
who had presumed to abbreviate the career of a man. But at least they
were real Americans, with reputations for straight dealing, and good
old-fashioned ideals of justice, irrespective of sex. Rush doubted if
any of them could be "fixed" by Mr. Cummack or the able politicians
whose services he had bespoken, although the sternest visages often hid
unsuspected weak spots; but after all his best chance was with honest
men whose soft spots were of another sort.

So naïve had been the eagerness of the German-American talesmen to get
on the jury that Rush had had little difficulty in demonstrating their
unfitness for duty. These were too thrifty to go to New York and stood
in no fear of their wives, but they avoided the _gemütlich_ resort of
Old Dutch until the trial was over.

Throughout this ordeal Mrs. Balfame sat immovable, impassive, her face a
white bas-relief against the heavy black crêpe of her veil, which hung
like a black panel between her profile and the western light. Her chair
was at the foot of the long table which stood beneath the two tiers of
the jury-box and was reserved for counsel, the district attorney, the
assistants and clerks. Her calm grey eyes looked straight ahead,
interested apparently in nothing but the empty witness-stand, on the
right of the jury and the left of the judge. She knew that the
reporters, and the few outsiders that had managed to crowd in with the
talesmen, scarcely took their eyes from her face, and that the staff
artists were sketching her. All her complacency had fled before certain
phases of this preliminary ordeal for which no one had thought to
prepare her. The constant reiteration of that question of horrid
significance: "Have you any objection to capital punishment as practised
in this State?" struck at the roots of her courage, enhanced her prison
pallor; and that immovable battery of eyes, hostile, or coldly
observant, critical, appraising, made her long to grind her teeth, to
rise in her chair and tell those men and women, insolent in their
freedom, what she thought of their vulgar insensibility. But not for
nothing had she schooled herself, and not for a moment did her nerves
really threaten revolt. She had taken her second sleeping powder on the
night preceding the opening of the trial, but on the third morning she
awakened with the momentary wish that she had preserved Dr. Anna's
poison, or could summon death in any form rather than go over to that
courthouse and be tried for her life. For the first time she understood
the full significance of her condition.

But Mrs. Battle, Mrs. Cummack and Mrs. Gifning, when they bustled in to
"buck her up," congratulated her upon "not having a nerve in her body";
and although she had felt she must surely faint at the end of the
underground tunnel between the jail and the rear of the courthouse, she
had walked into that room of dread import upstairs with her head erect,
her eyes level, and her hands steady. She may have built a fool's
paradise for herself, assisted by her well-meaning friends, during the
past ten weeks, and dwelt in it smugly; but as it fell about her ears
she stood erect with a real courage that strengthened her soul for any
further shocks and surprises this terrible immediate future of hers
might hold.

On the first day, although she never glanced at a talesman, she had
listened eagerly to every question, every answer, every challenge. As
the third day wore on, she felt only weariness of mind, and gratitude
that she had a strong back. She was determined to sit erect and immobile
if the trial lasted a month. And not only was her personal pride
involved. Circumstances had delivered her to the public eye, therefore
should it receive an indelible impression of a worthy representative of
the middle-class American of the smaller town, so little unlike the
women of the wealthier class, and capable of gracing any position to
which fate might call her--a type the United States of America alone has
bred; also of a woman whose courage and dignity had never been surpassed
by any man brought to the bar of justice on the awful charge of murder.

She knew that this attitude, as well as her statuesque appearance, would
antagonise the men reporters but enchant her loyal friends, the women.
Her estimate was very shrewd. The poor sob sisters, squeezed in wherever
they could find a vacant chair, or even a half of one (all the tables
being reserved for the men), surrendered in a body to her cold beauty,
her superb indifference, soul and pen. A unanimous verdict of guilty
brought in by that gum-chewing small-headed jury merely would petrify
these women's belief in her innocence. She was vicarious romance; for
women that write too much have little time to live and no impulse to
murder any one in the world but the city editor.

On the morning of the fourth day, the space between the enclosure and
the walls of the courtroom was filled with spectators from all over the
county, many of them personal friends of Mrs. Balfame; but New York City
would not become vitally interested until the business of examining the
minor witnesses was concluded. Behind and at the left of Mrs. Balfame
were the members of her intimate circle. Occasionally they whispered to
her, and she smiled so sweetly and with such serene composure that even
the men reporters admitted she looked younger and more feminine--and
more handsome--than on that day of the interview which had proved her
undoing.

"But she did it all right," they assured one another. They must believe
in her guilt or suffer twinges in that highly civilised and possibly
artificial section of the brain tabulated as conscience. Their fixed
theory was that she had mixed the poison for Balfame and then, being in
a highly nervous state, and apprehensive that he would capriciously
refuse to drink it, had snatched her pistol as she heard his voice in
the distance, dashed downstairs and out into the grove, and fired with
her established accuracy.

She had had plenty of time between the crime and her arrest to pass the
pistol to one of her friends, or even to slip out at night and drop it
in the marsh.

As to the shot that had missed Balfame and entered the tree: it was
either by one of those coincidences more frequent in fact than in
fiction that another enemy of Balfame's had been lurking in the grove,
intent upon murder; or the bullet hole was older than they had inferred.
The idea of a lover they scoffed at openly. And it was one of the
established facts, as they reminded their sisters of the press, that the
worst women in history had looked like angels, statues or babies; they
had also possessed powerful sex magnetism, and this the handsome
defendant wholly lacked.

The theory of the women reporters was far simpler. She hadn't done it
and that was the end of it.

The judge, a tall imposing man with inherited features and accumulated
flesh, very stately and remote in his flowing silk gown, looked
unspeakably bored for three days, but was visibly hopeful as he swept up
to his seat on the rostrum on Thursday morning. As the justice for
Brabant, Mr. Bascom, had not been on speaking terms with the deceased,
and as his wife was one of the defendant's closest friends, an eminent
Supreme Court justice from one of the large neighbouring cities had been
assigned to the case.

The reporters of the evening newspapers, were packed closely about a
long table parallel with the one just below the jury-box, and behind
were four or five smaller tables dedicated to the morning stars. A large
number of favoured spectators had found seats within the railings, but a
passage was kept open for the boys who came up at regular intervals to
get copy from the "evening table" for the telegraph operator below
stairs.

Broderick's seat beneath the rostrum commanded both the witness-box and
Mrs. Balfame. He had used his influence to have Alys Crumley assigned to
the position of artist for the Woman's Page of the _News_, and she and
Sarah Austin shared a chair.

The trial began. Dr. Lequer established the fact of the death, described
the course of the bullet, demonstrating that it had been fired by some
one concealed in the grove. A surveyor followed and exhibited to the
jury a map of the house and grounds. Three of the younger members of the
Country Club, Mr. John Bradshaw Battle, cashier of the Elsinore Bank;
Mr. Lemuel Cummack, son of Elsinore's esteemed citizen, Mr. Sam Cummack;
and Mr. Leonard Corfine, a commuter, had been subpoenaed after a
matching of wits. Overawed by the solemnity of the oath, they gave a
circumstantial account of the quarrel which had preceded the murder but
a few hours--all, in spite of constant interruptions from the
defendant's counsel, conveying the impression, however unwillingly, that
Mrs. Balfame had been livid with wrath and the man who had been her
husband insufferable. It was a master-stroke of the district attorney
to open his case with the damaging testimony of two members of the loyal
Elsinore families. As for Mr. Corfine, although born and brought up
without the pale, he had been graciously received upon electing to build
his nest in Elsinore and his young wife was one of Mrs. Balfame's
meekest admirers.

Mr. Broderick muttered, "H'm! H'm!" and Mr. Bruce squirmed round from
the "evening table" and jerked his eyebrows at his senior. "Bad! Bad!"
muttered Mr. Broderick's neighbour. "But watch her nerve. Can you beat
it? She hasn't batted an eyelash."

Two former servants that had preceded Frieda in the Balfame menage
testified that the household consisted of three people only, the master
and mistress and the one in help. A gardener came three times a week in
the morning. No, none of the old spare rooms was now furnished, and the
Balfames never had had visitors overnight.

The prosecution rested, and Mr. Rush approached the bar according to
usage and asked that the case be dismissed. The judge ruled that it
should proceed; and immediately after the noon recess the first witness
for the defence was called. This was Mr. Cummack, and he testified
vigorously to the harmonious relations of the deceased and his amiable
wife; that Mrs. Balfame--who was always pale--had treated the episode
out at the Club in the casual manner observed by all seasoned and
intelligent wives, the conversation over the telephone in his house
proving that the domestic heavens were swept clean of storm-clouds; and
that the deceased had departed for his home quite happy and singing at
the top of his lungs. He had often remarked jocularly (his was a cheery
and jocular temperament) that he expected to die with his boots on,
especially since he had taken to bawling Tipperary in the face of
American Germany.

It is not to be imagined that Mr. Cummack was able to deliver himself of
this valuable testimony without frequent and indignant interruptions
from the district attorney, whose "irrelevant, incompetent and
immaterial" rang through the courtroom like the chorus of a Gilbert and
Sullivan opera. Mr. Gore, a wasp of a man with snapping black eyes and a
rasping voice emitted through his higher nasal passages, succeeded in
having much of this testimony stricken out, but not before the wily Mr.
Rush, who stood on tiptoe, as alert and nervous as a race horse at the
grandstand, had by his adroit swift questions fairly flung it into the
jury-box. It was of the utmost importance with an obstinate provincial
jury to establish at once a favourable general impression of the
prisoner.

When, in the theatre, a trial scene is depicted, it is necessary to
interpose dramatic episodes, but no one misses these adventitious
incidents in a real trial for murder, so dramatic is the bare fact that
a human being is battling for his life. When the prisoner at the bar is
a woman reasonably young and good looking, the interest is so intense
and complete that the sudden intrusion of one of the incidents which
have become the staples of the theatre, such as the real culprit rushing
into the courtroom and confessing himself, a suicide in the witness-box,
or dramatic conduct on the part of the defendant, would be resented by
the spectators, as an anti-climax. Real drama is too logical and grimly
progressive to tolerate the extrinsic.

The three other men who had been at Mr. Cummack's house that night were
called, and corroborated his story. They all wore an expression of
gentle amusement as if the bare idea of the stately and elegant Mrs.
Balfame descending to play even a passive rôle in a domestic row was as
unthinkable as that any woman could find aught in David Balfame to rouse
her to ire.

"By Jove!" whispered Mr. Broderick to Mr. Wagstaff of the _Morning
Flag_, "just figure to yourself what the line would be if she had been
caught red-handed and was putting up a defence of temporary insanity
caused by the well-known proclivities of that beast. A good subject for
a cartoon would be Dave Balfame in heaven with a tin halo on,
whitewashing Mrs. B., weeds and all. The human mind is nothing but a
sewer."

The afternoon session was also enlivened by the testimony of several of
the ladies who had been members of the bridge party on the day of Mr.
Balfame's unseemly conduct at the Club. They testified that although
Mrs. Balfame naturally dissolved upon her return to the card-room, there
had been nothing whatever in her demeanour to suggest seething passion.
Mrs. Battle, who was an imposing figure in the witness chair, her
greater bulk being above the waist, tossed her head and asseverated with
refined emphasis that Mrs. Balfame was one of those rare and exquisite
beings that are temperamentally incapable of passion of any sort. Her
immediate return to her home was prompted more by delicacy than even by
pain. Miss Crumley's pencil faltered as she listened. She could not
give a jeering public even a faithful outline of a woman as devoted to
the sacred cause of friendship and Elsinore as Mrs. Battle.

The testimony of none of these ladies was more emphatic than that of
Mrs. Bascom, wife of the supplanted justice, and she added unexpectedly
that she had been so upset herself that she too had left the clubhouse
immediately, and, her swift car passing Dr. Anna Steuer's little
runabout, she had seen Mrs. Balfame chatting pleasantly and without a
trace of recent emotion.

Mrs. Balfame almost relaxed the set curves of her mouth at this
surprising statement. She recalled that a car had passed and that she
had wondered at the time if any one had noticed her extreme agitation.
She kept her muscles in order, but unconsciously her eyes followed Mrs.
Bascom, as she left the witness-chair, with an expression of puzzled
gratitude.

The District Attorney turned to the reporters with a short sardonic
laugh, and Mr. Broderick shook his head as he murmured to Mr. Wagstaff:

"Can you beat that? And yet they say women don't stand by one another."

"Good for the whole game, I guess," replied the young _Flag_ star, who
was enamoured of a very pretty suffragette.

The Judge rose, and the afternoon session was over. The great case of
The People vs. Mrs. Balfame rested until the following morning.



CHAPTER XXX


Mrs. Balfame walked back through the now familiar tunnel more hopeful
and elated than any one in the courtroom would have inferred from her
chiselled manner.

"I almost feel that I have the courage to look at the sketches of myself
in the papers," she said lightly to Rush, who escorted her. "I haven't
dared open a paper since Monday morning."

"Better not." Rush also was in high spirits. "Keep your mental mercury
as high as possible. It doesn't matter, anyhow. You'll be clear in less
than a week. The impression all those splendid friends of yours created
knocked the prosecution silly."

"I have not once glanced at the jury," said Mrs. Balfame proudly, "and I
never shall. All I was conscious of was that they were chewing gum, and
that the man above me snorts constantly."

"That's Houston. He's likely to be predisposed in your favour on account
of your intimacy with Dr. Anna. And he's a just man, of some
intelligence. I fancy none of them is in the mood to be too hard on any
one, for they are having a fine vacation in the Paradise City Hotel.
Each has a big room with a soft bed and rich and delicate food three
times a day. If they don't get indigestion they will be inclined to
mercy on general principles. I engineered the housing of them. Gore was
all for putting them up at the Dobton Inn, where they would have grown
as vicious as starved dogs. I won my point by reminding him that certain
men of that sort try to get on a jury for the sake of having a rest and
a soft time, and if they aren't coddled, they are equal to falling ill
and forcing the court to begin the trial over again. You're all right."

They were in the jail sitting-room, and she stood with her head thrown
back and her eyes shining. The moment they had entered she had removed
her heavy hat and veil and run her hands through her crushed hair. Rush,
who was very nervous and excited, made a swift motion forward as if to
seize her hands. But it was only later, when alone, that she realised
that possibly she had brushed aside an opportunity to rekindle a flame
which she alternately feared and doubted was burning low; she was not
thinking of him and exclaimed happily:

"It is quite a wonderful sensation to feel that you have made friends
like that. My! how they did lie! And so convincingly! For a moment I was
quite the outsider and deeply impressed with the weakness of the case
against the accused. Here they come. I feel as if I never really loved
them before." And she ran to the door to admit the elated trio who that
day had made their noblest sacrifice to the cause of friendship. Mrs.
Balfame kissed them and embraced them, and dried their excited tears,
while Rush, his contemptible part in the day's drama forgotten, slunk
down the stairs and out of the jail.

He met Alys Crumley as she was about to board the trolley for Elsinore,
and she stepped back and congratulated him warmly.

"Your brain worked like blades of chain lightning," she said with real
enthusiasm. "I know you have only begun, but I can well imagine--wasn't
Mrs. Balfame delighted?"

"With her friends' testimony," he replied gloomily. "I don't seem to
come in."

There are some impulses, born of sudden opportunity, too strong for
mortal powers of resistance. "Come home to supper," said Miss Crumley,
with the same spontaneous warmth. "You look so tired, and Mother
promised me Maryland chicken and waffles. Besides, I want to show you my
drawings. I am so proud of being a staff artist."

"I'll come," said Rush promptly.



CHAPTER XXXI


The following day was also taken by the examination of witnesses for the
defence. Dr. Lequer, who had been called in occasionally by the Balfames
when Dr. Anna was unavailable, and who was also an old friend of the
family, asserted that so far as he knew there never had been a quarrel
between husband and wife. Mrs. Balfame, in fact, was unique in his
experience, inasmuch as she never looked depressed nor shed tears.

He was followed by a woman who had been general housemaid in the Balfame
home for three years. She had left it to reward the devotion of a
plumber, and between her and Frieda there had been a long line of the
usual incompetents. Mrs. Figg testified with an enthusiasm which
triumphed over nerves and grammar that although she guessed Mr. Balfame
was about like other husbands, especially at breakfast, Mrs. Balfame was
too easy-going to mind. She'd never seen her mad. Yes, she was an
exacting mistress, all right, terrible particular, and she never sat
with the hired girl in the kitchen and gossiped, and you couldn't take a
liberty with her like you could with some; but that was just her way,
naturally proud and silent-like. She was terrible economical but a kind
mistress, as she didn't scold and follow up, once she was sure the girl
would suit, and not a bit mean about evenings and afternoons off. She
did up her own room and dusted the downstairs rooms, except for the
weekly cleaning. No, she never'd seen no pistol. It wasn't her way to
look in bureau drawers. No, she'd never seen or heard any jealousy,
tempers, and so forth, and had always taken it for granted that Mrs.
Balfame wasn't on to Mr. Balfame's doings--or if she was, she didn't
care. There was lots like that.

The district attorney snarled and trumpeted throughout this placid
recital, but Mrs. Figg took no notice of him whatever. She had been
thoroughly drilled, and looked straight into the sparkling blue eyes of
Mr. Rush as if hypnotised.

Other minor witnesses consumed the afternoon, and once more Mrs. Balfame
returned to the jail with glowing eyes. The women reporters were elated.
The men made no comment as they filed out of the courtroom, but their
whole bearing expressed a lofty and quiet scorn.

"It's fine! fine!" exclaimed Cummack, sitting down beside Rush at the
table below the empty jury-box. "But I do wish Dr. Anna was available.
She stands head and shoulders above every one else in the estimation of
these jurymen; she doctored the children and confined the wives of
pretty near all of them. There's no stone she wouldn't leave unturned."

"She's pretty bad, isn't she?" asked Rush. "Would there be any chance at
all of getting a deposition--in case things went wrong?"

"Things ain't goin' wrong; but as for Anna, she's out of it, and
everything else, I guess. I was out to the hospital yesterday, for I've
had her in mind; but although she was better for a time, she's worse
again. But say--what do you think I discovered? Those damned newspaper
men have been hangin' round out there. That young devil Broderick--"

Rush was sitting up very straight, his eyes glittering. "But he surely
hasn't been able to see her? I don't believe any sort of graft would get
by Mrs. Dissosway--"

"You bet he hasn't been able to see Anna, and just now they're not
leaving her for a moment alone, like they did at first. But Broderick
seems to have the idea wedged in his brain that Mrs. Balfame confessed
to Anna and that poor old Doc lost the pistol somewhere out in the
marsh--"

Rush made an exclamation of disgust. "I can't understand Broderick. He's
got his trial all right, and it isn't like him to hound a woman--"

"I said as much to him, and though he wouldn't talk much, I just
gathered from something he let fall that he was afraid if the crime
wasn't well fixed onto Enid some innocent person he thought a lot more
of might come under suspicion. Can you guess who he had in mind?"

Rush pushed back his chair and sprang to his feet. "Good Lord, no. One
case at a time is all my brain is equal to." He was almost out of the
empty courtroom when Cummack caught him firmly by the shoulder.

"Say, Dwight," he said with evident embarrassment, "hold on a minute.
I've just got to tell you that somehow or other I sensed _you_ when
Broderick was trying to put me off. There are a good many things;
they've been comin' back--"

Rush turned the hard glittering blue of his eyes full upon Mr. Cummack,
whose shrewd but kindly gaze faltered for a moment. "Do you believe I
did it?" demanded Rush.

"Well, no, not exactly--that is, I'd know that if you had done it, it
would have been because you'd got the idea into your head that Enid was
having an awful row to hoe, or because he'd attacked her that night. It
wouldn't have been for no mean personal reason, and no one knows better
than I that the blood goes to the head terrible easy at your age and
when a beautiful woman is in question. If I'd guessed it before, I'm
free to say I'd have rushed your arrest in order to spare Enid, if for
no other reason. But as it's gone so far and she's sure to get off,--and
you wouldn't stand much show,--the matter had best stay where it is;
particularly--well, I may as well tell you Enid sort of confided to
Polly that you had offered to cover her name with yours as soon as she
got out; and if you've been in love with her all this time, as I guess
you have been--well, Dave can't be brought back. And--well, I've lived
out West and it isn't so uncommon there for a man to shoot on sight when
he's mad about a woman and a few other things at the same time. Dave was
my friend, but I guess I understand."

Rush had withdrawn stiffly from the friendly hand laid on his shoulder.
"I have asked Mrs. Balfame to marry me," he said. "But she has by no
means consented."

"But she means to. Don't let it worry you. Women are queer cattle. Nail
her the next time she's in the melting mood. She gets 'em oftener than
she ever did before, and I guess you see her alone often enough."

"Oh, yes, I've seen her alone nearly every day for ten weeks."

Cummack narrowed his eyes, and his face, generally relaxed and amiable,
grew stern and menacing. "You don't love her!" he exclaimed. "You don't!
Like many another damned fool, you've compromised your very life for a
woman, only to be disenchanted by seeing too much of her. But by God
you've got to marry her--"

They were standing at the head of the winding stair in the rotunda, and
several of the reporters were still in front of the telephone booth
below.

"Hush!" said the lawyer peremptorily. "I mean to marry Mrs. Balfame if
she accepts the proposal I made to her the day she was arrested. I have
said nothing to warrant your jumping to the conclusion that I no longer
wish to marry her. But by God! if you ever dare to threaten me again--"
And he raised his fist so menacingly, his set face was so tense and
white, his eyes bore such a painful resemblance to hot coals, that
Cummack retreated hastily.

"All right! All right!" he called up from the first turning. "Don't
fancy I think I could. And what's passed between us is sacred. S'long."



CHAPTER XXXII


On the morrow the first witness called by the prosecution in rebuttal
was old Kraus, and now it was Mr. Rush's turn to shout "Immaterial,
Irrelevant and Incompetent," so that it was well-nigh impossible for the
jury to do more than guess what the choleric person with a strong German
accent was talking about. The district attorney fought valiantly to draw
forth the story of Frieda's nocturnal visit to the Kraus home in search
of advice after hearing Mrs. Balfame enter the kitchen from the yard,
but his efforts ended in a shouting contest between the prosecution and
the defence, both deserting their positions before the jury-box and
wrangling before the Judge like two angry school-boys. Alys Crumley
longed to laugh aloud, but not so the Judge. He asked them curtly how he
was to know what was their point of dispute if they both talked at once.
He then commanded Mr. Rush to state in as few words as possible what he
was objecting to; and when the counsel for the defence had stated his
purely legal reasons for blocking this purely hearsay testimony, the
Judge abruptly threw Mr. Kraus out of court. Rush, flushed and
triumphant, returned to his chair below the jury-box, and Mr. Gore
sulkily called the name of Miss Frieda Appel.

There was no question of poor Frieda's making a good personal impression
upon spectators or jury, no matter how worthy her motives. She had saved
almost every penny of her wages since coming to America; it had been
her lover's intention to emigrate to Brabant County as soon as his term
of service was over, and her housewifely intention to greet him with a
furnished cottage. Since the war began, she had sent all her savings to
East Prussia lest her people starve.

Dress in any circumstances would never tempt her. Economy was her
religion, and she cherished no illusions about her face and form. To-day
she wore a skirt of an old voluminous cut and a jacket with high
puckered sleeves. The colour had once been brown. Her coarse blonde hair
met her eyebrows in a thick bang, and its high knob was surmounted by a
sailor hat a size too small. Her thick-set body was uncorseted, and her
indeterminate features were lost in the width and flatness of her face.
Only the little eyes beneath the heavy thatch of hair alternately glowed
dully and spat fire.

The Judge sternly suppressed the titter that ran over the court-room as
this caricature mounted the witness-stand, and the district attorney, in
spite of frequent interruptions, elicited a remarkably clear and
coherent statement. The Judge sustained him, for here was a real
witness, and Miss Appel not only had been as thoroughly rehearsed as
Mrs. Figg, but she had a neat precise little mind set with rows of
pigeonholes that ejected their contents in routine when her coach
pressed the cognate button.

She had come home abruptly from the dance-hall as she had an
insupportable toothache--had run all the way, as she had some
toothache-drops in her room. She was in such agony she hardly had
noticed that her friend Conrad Kraus was behind her. When she reached
her room she had applied the drops, and to her horror they made the pain
worse. After walking the floor for perhaps ten minutes--she didn't know
or care whether it was ten or fifteen minutes--she was just starting to
go down-stairs and heat some water for her bag when she heard the
kitchen door open and shut. She held her breath and did not answer when
Mrs. Balfame called, as she feared she was wanted and was determined to
do nothing for anybody while her tooth ached like that.

Mrs. Balfame's voice had sounded quite breathless, as if she had been
running. In a moment Frieda heard her go into the dining-room then back
to the kitchen, and turn on the tap,--not the filter, which made no
noise,--and then she heard one glass clink against another on the pantry
shelf. After that, Mrs. Balfame went upstairs from the front hall and
the witness returned to her room and threw herself on the bed, where she
remained until Mr. Cummack came and asked her to go downstairs and make
coffee. By this time her tooth ached so she didn't care what she did.

Cross-questioned, she admitted that Mrs. Balfame was in the habit of
drinking a glass of filtered water the last thing at night. No, she had
not heard her go out, but only come in. But why, if Mrs. Balfame saw
nothing outside to frighten her, or if she hadn't been out, was she so
short of breath? As may be imagined, mere speculation on Miss Appel's
part was cut short by Mr. Rush, who interrupted her constantly. Yes, she
had heard what she now knew had been a shot but she had paid no
attention. Who would, with a red-hot iron forcing one's tooth down
through one's jaw?

Even the scornful questions of counsel which forced her to admit that
she had lied to the coroner neither perturbed her nor made any
impression on jury, press, or spectators. Every one present had suffered
from toothache, and two farmers in the box showed their tusks in an
appreciative grin when she replied tartly that she didn't know or care
anything that day but tooth, tooth, tooth. It was manifest that she was
far too conservative to have had it out at once, to say nothing of the
cost.

The only question she was not prepared for was the abrupt challenge of
Mr. Rush as to how she could prove that young Kraus had followed her if
she had neither seen nor spoken to him during that short run from Main
Street. But although she was visibly perturbed at being confronted with
a set of words to which no neat little pigeon-hole responded, it was so
evident she was firmly convinced her friend had accompanied her, that
for Rush to make too much of his solitary point would prejudice his
case, and he let her go.

Conrad Jr. followed, and his story was equally straightforward. He also
made a good impression. True, he had a very small closely cropped head,
with eyes too small and ears too large, but he held himself with
arrogance, and he was well dressed in a new grey suit and pink shirt.
Born in the United States, it was manifest that he was proud not only of
being an American citizen but of the country's choicest vintage. He had
been sent to the public school until he was sixteen, had studied
conscientiously, and his grammar was quite as good as that of the
District Attorney, who in emotional moments confused his negatives. But,
even Rush, whose advantages had been as superior as his natural
equipment, became a good nasal American when excited, opened into
vowels, and freely translated _you_ into _yer_. It is these persistent
characteristics, so racy of the soil, which cheer us when apprehending
that our original Americanism may in time be obliterated by the foreign
influx.

No, said young Kraus, he had no sentimental interest in Frieda. (He
smiled.) And he was engaged to a young lady to whom he had been
attentive for three years. But he felt like a brother to Frieda; she had
come to his father's house direct from Germany, their families having
been friends for generations. It was not only his duty but his pleasure
to dance with her, she being "the best of the bunch down at the hall."

As he was dancing with her when her toothache became unendurable, it was
natural that he should see her home; in fact, he always saw her home
when it was convenient. Of course if he had to catch the last trolley
for Dobton in a hurry, that was another matter.

When she had entered the house, he had waited, thinking she might want
some other drops or possibly a dentist. Once when he had had a
toothache, he had been obliged to go to a dentist's house at night. His
papa had sent him, and naturally he thought of it as a possibility in
Frieda's case.

Then the kitchen door opened and a woman came out.

At this point the interest in the court-room became intense. Even the
blasé young reporters sat forward, their pencils poised. The Judge
wheeled his chair to the right and stared down fixedly at the back of
young Kraus' head. The district attorney balanced himself on his heels,
his thumbs hooked in the sleeves of his vest, and Rush stood with his
back curved as if to spring down the witness' throat with a wild yell
of "Immaterial, irrelevant and incompetent." Only Mrs. Balfame sat like
a statue that had neither eyes to see nor ears to hear.

Yes, Mr. Kraus recognised Mrs. Balfame's figure and walk. She was one in
a thousand for looks, and taller than many men. She had on a long dark
ulster and a black scarf round her head. The kitchen light was behind
her--

Here there was another furious contest between the chief counsel and the
district attorney, but the Judge ordered the young man (who had consumed
a toothpick imperturbably) to proceed with his story. Mrs. Balfame had
slipped round the corner of the house, listened intently, walked for a
minute toward the back of the grounds,--he could just see the moving
shadow in the darkness,--turned abruptly and entered the grove.
Naturally interested, he waited to see what she was up to; and
then--possibly three or four minutes later--he heard Balfame singing
"Tipperary," and a moment or two after that the shot,--one shot, not
two; he took no stock in the theory that there had been two
shots,--followed by loud voices from the other side of the avenue.

Then he "beat it," that being his natural instinct at the moment. His
papa had taught him to be cautious and to keep clear of other people's
fights. He had never been close up against a crime, and he hoped he
never should be. He walked through the adjoining grounds at the back and
then into Balfame Street and took the next trolley home. He didn't feel
like dancing after what he guessed had happened.

No, he had heard no sound of running footsteps, but he stood for a
moment near the back fence of the Lequer place; there were people in the
library until some man ran in calling for the doctor to come at
once--and he did see a car leave the lane behind the Balfame place. He
had thought nothing of it, however, as automobiles were everywhere all
the time. No, he hadn't tried to see whether the car was driven by a man
or woman or how many occupants it had. Not only was the night very dark
(as far as he remembered, the car had no lamps), but his one idea was to
get out of the neighbourhood.

Rush put him through a grilling cross-examination, and although he could
not shake his testimony, he made use of all his practised arts to
exhibit the youth as a sorry coward who ran away when he heard a
revolver-shot instead of rushing with the common instinct of American
manhood to ascertain if it were the woman herself who had been the
victim. How much had he been paid to give this testimony withheld at the
coroner's inquest? Young Kraus' ruddy hues had deepened to purple some
time since, and he shouted back that he had come forward only when that
woman's lying friends were trying to fasten the crime upon his innocent
papa. Here he was sternly admonished by the Judge to confine his answers
to "Yes" and "No" unless he could control his temper. Rush forced him to
reiterate that he had not had a glimpse of Mrs. Balfame's face that
night, that he never had spoken to her at any time; and the lawyer
remarked crushingly that the young man's brain must have been in a
hopelessly confused state if he saw a car leave the lane so soon after
the shooting--a car, moreover, without lights--and failed to connect
this phenomenon with the immediately previous sound of a pistol-shot.
It was evident that his brain moved so slowly that it had taken him
almost a week to put a good story together.

Young Kraus left the stand with his inborn sense of superiority over
mere Americans severely shaken, but although his small angry eyes
encountered more than one sneer, and many of those hostile spectators
looked as if they would laugh outright were it not for their awe of the
Judge, he had injured Mrs. Balfame far more than himself. Few believed
him to be lying or that he had seen a vision, not a real woman, leave
the Balfame house by the kitchen door. He was known to have been as
sober as usual on the night of the dance, and as the evidence against
his father had been regarded as fantastic from the first, there was no
conceivable cause for him to lie.

Mr. Gifning, Mr. Battle and Mr. Carden, who were the first to reach
Balfame, after he fell, were forced by the district attorney to give
damning evidence against Mrs. Balfame. Her room was in the front of the
house; if in it, she could have heard the shot as plainly as they on Mr.
Gifning's veranda. But she did not come downstairs or manifest herself
in any way until they had had time to summon the coroner (who to be sure
lived round the corner) and Dr. Lequeur. It must have been quite six
minutes before she opened her window and demanded the reason for the
disturbance at her gate. At least, it had seemed that long. No, they
never confused a revolver-shot with a bursting tire. They had when cars
first came into use, but they had learned to differentiate long since.

When Mr. Rush asked them sarcastically why one at least of the party had
not searched the grove and attempted to capture the murderer, they
replied they had by no means been sure that the shot had come from the
grove. It might have come from anywhere. It was only after the doctor's
examination that the direction of the bullet had been agreed upon. Later
they did search the grove with a dark-lantern brought from Mrs.
Gifning's house; in fact, they searched every inch of the grounds, and
their only reward was abuse from the police.

These three witnesses, examined after the noon recess, occupied very
little time. It was at ten minutes to four that the district attorney
electrified every one in the courtroom by calling to the stand a man
whose name up to that moment had not been mentioned in the case. The
reporters looked deeply annoyed; even Mrs. Balfame raised her head a
trifle higher as if listening; Rush's pale face was paler, the lines in
it seemed deeper, as he sprang to his feet, alert at once, his nostrils
expanding. The district attorney balanced himself on his heels, his
thumbs in his waistcoat armholes, a grin of triumph on his sharp little
face.

The name called was James Mott, and it was borne by a highly reputable
drummer who had made sales for many years to houses carrying general
merchandise, including that of Balfame & Cummack. Mr. Mott was as well
known in Brabant County as any of its inhabitants; in fact, he was
engaged to an estimable young lady of Elsinore, and hence, so it soon
transpired, had happened to be in town on the fatal night. For once the
acumen of the district attorney had proved more penetrating than that of
the brilliant counsel for the defence.

Mr. Mott took the stand. He was a clean-shaven upstanding American with
the keen eye and grim mouth of the travelling salesman who knows that he
must do or die. He looked as honest as urbane, and for the first time
Mrs. Balfame's heart sank; and her hands, so the women reporters noted
for the benefit of the public, clenched for a full minute.

Although Rush stood with his head stretched forward, he thought it wise
to let the man tell his story in his own way. Interruptions would have
been of little avail; the Judge would sustain the district attorney if
it were patent the witness were telling the truth; and as he was
completely in the dark himself it were better to wait until he got a
promising lead. He knew that no man's brain could work more quickly than
his.

Mr. Mott being solemnly sworn, deposed that on the night of the shooting
he had been taking supper with his friend Miss Lacke, who lived at
Number 3 Dawbarn Street, just round the corner from Elsinore Avenue. He
left her house at a little before eight, as he was obliged to catch the
eight-ten for New York. As he closed the gate behind him, he saw David
Balfame walk unsteadily past, shouting "Tipperary"; and being a friend
of many years' standing, had concluded to follow and see Balfame safely
inside the house. He would lose but a minute or two, and it seemed to
him a decent act, for it was possible the man might fall and hurt
himself before he reached his home. Mott was so close behind him that he
must have just escaped the shot or shots himself, and although he jumped
backward he saw distinctly somebody run out of the grove and toward the
back of the house. Whether it was a man or a woman he had no idea, but
the figure was tall--yes far taller than either young Kraus or Frieda.
Then, he said, he doubled on his tracks and got back into Dawbarn Street
as quickly as he could. He blushed as he admitted this, but added that
he knew from the shouts on Gifning's veranda that men were hastening to
Balfame's aid, and he had to catch the eight-ten or lose his night train
to the West and a big piece of business. Moreover, he didn't like the
idea of giving testimony against anybody; he abhorred the institution of
capital punishment. For the same reason he did not come forward until
the District Attorney ferreted him out, as he was afraid the running
figure might have been Mrs. Balfame and she was the last person he
wished to harm, innocent or guilty.

No one could doubt that he told the truth and hated to tell it. Nor
could any one jump to the conclusion that he was the assassin; he had as
little motive for killing Balfame as any of the other men of Brabant
County with whom he had been for years on the same cordial terms.

All that Rush could do was to make him admit that perhaps he was
naturally confused by the flash, the report almost in his ear, the man
sinking at his feet, and only fancied he saw a running form; the
delusion would be natural in the circumstances, particularly as his
thoughts seemed to have been concentrated upon getting out of the way.
Mr. Mott admitted almost too eagerly that this might be true, but added
that when the district attorney, who was a cousin of Miss Lacke, as well
as an old friend of his own, had squeezed the story out of him bit by
bit (the form of extraction was supplied by Mr. Rush), that had been his
impression; he seemed to have that tall running figure imprinted upon
his retina, as it were. Of course it might be just imagination. He
wished to God he could swear it was. When asked sharply if even one of
his parents was German, he recovered his poise and replied haughtily
that he was straight American and as pro-Allies as the best man in the
country. He had never entered Old Dutch's beer garden; his choice was a
hotel bar, anyhow; he avoided saloons.

Rush had a diabolical power of making a witness look ridiculous, but the
American mind is essentially a just mind, normally unemotional, and a
very magnet for facts. As the Judge adjourned the court until Monday the
sob-sisters trailed out dejectedly, after a vain endeavour to get close
to Mrs. Balfame; the young men sauntered forth with their heads in the
air, and Rush's lips were so closely pressed together that his face
looked pure granite. As a matter of fact, his heart felt like water.

Mrs. Balfame, who had not permitted herself to show a flicker of
interest while Mott was on the stand, rose as the Judge left the room.
She smiled upon each of her friends separately and kissed the prominent
ladies of Elsinore who had sat beside her throughout that trying day.

"Please don't come over to the jail," she said. "I know you are worn
out, and I have a bad headache. I must lie down. But do please come
to-morrow. You are all too good. Thank you so much."

Then with a faint smile and a light step she followed the sheriff
through the long tunnel, a horrible vision dancing before her eyes.



CHAPTER XXXIII


When Rush arrived at the sitting-room of the jail's private suite he
found Mrs. Balfame, not in tears as he had nervously anticipated, but
distraught, pacing the room, her hands in her disordered hair.

"I am done for! done for!" she cried as Rush hastily closed the door.
"It would have been better if I had told the truth in the
beginning--that I _had_ gone out that night. It was not such a bad
excuse,--that I thought I saw a burglar down there,--and it was God's
truth. Or I could have said I was walking about the grounds because I
had a headache--"

"It never would have gone down. If I could have discovered who the other
person in the grove was--found him and his forty-one-calibre revolver,
well and good. Failing that, our line of defence is the best possible. I
will admit, though," he too was pacing the room,--"it looks bad to-day,
pretty bad. There isn't the ghost of a chance to prove Mott was the man.
Gore has the time to the minute he left Susie Lacke's; you must have
gone out some time before--"

"Oh, he didn't do it. I've not thought it for a moment. No such luck. It
was some enemy who went straight to New York--in that car. But
I--I--Auburn--the electric chair--they all believed--Oh, my God! God!"

She had tossed her arms above her head then flung herself down before
the table, her face upon them, rocking her body back and forth. Her
voice was deep with horror and despair, her abandonment far more
complete than on the day of her arrest; and wrought up himself, Rush was
stirred with the echo of all he had felt that day. In the semi-intimacy
of these past ten weeks, when he had talked with her for hours at a
time, she had disillusioned him in many ways, bored him, forced him to
admit that her lovely shell concealed an uninteresting mind, and that
the only depths in her personality that he was permitted to glimpse were
such as to make him shrink, by no means to excite that fascination even
in repulsion peculiar to the faults of a more passionate nature. He
still thought her the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, however,
and if it was beauty which now left him cold, his admiration of her had
been renewed these last three days when her manner and appearance in
court had been beyond all praise. He had excoriated himself for his
fickleness, his contemptible failure as a lover; and the more he hated
himself the more grimly determined he was to behave precisely as if he
still loved and revered her as he had when ready to sacrifice life
itself for her sake. He was in such an _impasse_ that he cared little
what became of himself.

He leaned over the table and pressed his hands hard on her arms.

"Listen!" he said peremptorily. "You never will go to Auburn. You will
leave this jail not later than the middle of next week, a free woman. If
I cannot get you off by my address to the jury,--and it will be the
supreme effort of my life,--I'll take the stand and swear that I
committed the murder myself."

"What?" She lifted her head and stared up at him. His face was set, but
his eyes glowed like blue coals.

"Yes. I can put it over, all right. You remember I went to your house
from the Club that day. Nobody saw me go; no one saw me leave. From the
moment I left you, until the following morning, no one--no one that I
know of--saw me that night, except Dr. Anna. We met out on the road
leading to Houston's farm, and she drove me in. She believes I did it.
So does Cummack, and if necessary he will manage to get an affidavit
from her--"

Mrs. Balfame had sprung to her feet. "Did you do it? Did you?"

"Aha! I can make even you believe it. No, I did not, but I couldn't
prove an alibi if my life depended upon it. I can make the Judge and the
jury believe--"

"And do you think I would permit--"

"They will believe me. And Dr. Anna--who would doubt her testimony that
my appearance and conduct were highly suspicious that night on the marsh
road? And what could you disprove? There was a man in that grove, was
there not?"

"Yes, but not you; I don't know why, but I could swear to that. I
shall--if you do anything so mad--tell the whole truth about myself."

"What good would that do? Balfame was killed with a forty-one revolver.
Yours was a thirty-eight."

"How do you know that?"

"I found it the night I spent in your house--the night of your arrest. I
knew that you never would have gone out to head off a burglar without a
revolver--any more than the jury would have believed it. I found the
pistol. Never mind the long and many details of the search. It is in my
safe. I kept it on the off chance that it might be necessary to produce
it after all."

"But I fired at him. I hardly knew that I was firing, until I felt the
revolver in my hand go off. Perhaps it was a suggestion from that tense
figure so close to me, intent upon murder. Perhaps I merely felt I
must--must--I have never been able to analyse what I did feel in those
terrible seconds. It doesn't matter. I did. And you? You know I fired
with intent to kill. Did you guess at once?"

"Oh, yes. But it doesn't matter. You were not yourself, of course. You
had what is called an inhibition--as maddened people have when fighting
their way out of a burning theatre. I only wish you had told me. I--that
is to say, it is never fair to keep your counsel in the dark."

"You mean you wish I had not lied!" She caught him up with swift
intuition. "Well, to-day I would not, but then--well, I was full of
pettiness, it seems to me now. But although I am far even yet from being
a fine woman,--I know that!--I am not a poor enough creature to let you
die for me. Oh, you are far too good for me. I never dreamed that a man
would go as far as that for a woman in these days. I thought it was only
in books--"

"The veriest trash is inspired by the actual occurrences of life--which
is pretty much the same in books as out. And I guess men haven't changed
much since the world began, so far as making fools of themselves about a
woman is concerned."

As she stood with one hand pressed hard against the table she was far
more deeply moved than a few moments since by fear, although outwardly
calm. She had climbed far out of her old self within these prison walls,
but she saw steeper heights before her, and she welcomed them.

"Then," she said deliberately, "I must cure you. Before I went out, I
had prepared that glass of lemonade and put poison in it. I had planned
for several weeks to kill him when a favourable opportunity arrived. I
had stolen a secret poison from Anna--out of that chimney cupboard
Cassie described. You see that I am a potential murderer,--and a
cold-blooded one,--even if by a curious irony of fate some one else
committed the deed. Now do you think I am worth giving up your life
for--going to the electric chair--"

"Suppose we postpone further argument until the necessity arises--if it
ever does. I fully expect you to be triumphantly acquitted. Tell me"--he
looked at her curiously, for he divined something of her inner
revolutions and hated himself the more that he was interested only as
every good lawyer must be in human nature,--"could you do that in cold
blood again?"

"No--not that way--never. I might let a pistol go off under the same
provocation--that is bad enough."

"Oh, no. Remove the restraints of a lifetime--or perhaps it is merely a
matter of vibration and striking the right key."

"And do you mean that--you still want to marry me?"

"Yes," he answered steadily. "Certainly I do."

"Ah!" Once more she wondered if he still loved her. But she had been too
sure of him and of herself to harbour doubt for more than a passing
moment. She had come to the conclusion that he had merely taken her at
her word, and she knew the specialising instinct of the busy American.
She had, indeed, wondered if it were not the strongest instinct he
possessed. And in spite of her new humility, she had suffered no loss of
confidence in herself as a woman. She vaguely felt that she had lost
something of this man's esteem, but trusted to time and her own charm to
dim the impression. For she had made up her mind to marry him. Not only
would it be the wisest possible move after acquittal,--a decent time
after,--but during sleepless hours she had come to the conclusion that
she loved this brilliant knightly young man as deeply as it was in her
power to love any one. And after this terrible experience and the many
changes it had wrought within her, she wanted to be happy.

He had taken up his hat. She crossed the room swiftly and laid her hand
on his arm. "I could not stand one word of love-making in jail," she
said, smiling up at him graciously, although her eyes were serious. "But
it is only fair to tell you now that if I am acquitted I will marry
you."

And stabbed with a pang of bitter regret that he felt not the least
impulse to scout her authority and seize her in his arms, he bent over
her hand and kissed it with cold lips, but with an air of complete
gallantry.

"Thank you," he said, and went out.



CHAPTER XXXIV


Rush slept until two o'clock the next day, after a night passed at the
Paradise City Hotel in consultation with two of his future partners;
they had spent Saturday in the courtroom at Dobton. He had also
discovered that the jury enjoyed themselves in the winter garden after
dinner, and by no means in close formation. Although nominally under
guard, it would have been a simple matter to pass a note to any one of
them. Two, he further discovered, had been allowed to telephone and to
enter the booth alone. He had been told nothing further of the intention
of Cummack and other friends of his client to "fix" the jury--had,
indeed, discouraged such confidences promptly; but he saw that if the
enemy desired to employ the methods of corruption they need be no more
intricate than those of the men that had so much more to lose if
detected.

The night had been devoted to discussion of the case; he even enjoyed a
friendly hour with the district attorney, who notably relaxed on
Saturdays after five o'clock; and when Rush awoke on the following
afternoon he immediately resolved to dismiss the whole affair from his
own mind until Monday morning. He would go into the woods and think his
own thoughts. They would be dreary thoughts and imbued no doubt with
cynicism, himself the target; and they had passed that problematical
stage in which the mind, no matter how harrowed, sips lingeringly at the
varied banquet of the ego; in fact, Rush's personal problems were almost
invariably settled in his subconsciousness, and rose automatically to
confront the reasoning faculties without an instant's warning. He was
too impatient for self-analysis; and he was the sum of his acts and of
the clear mental processes of his conscious life.

The bright winter sun struck down through the close tree-tops and upon
the brilliant surfaces of a recent fall of snow. The ground was hard and
white; the branches of the trees were heavy laden. Not a sound broke the
winter stillness but his footsteps on the winter snow. He had put on a
heavy white sweater and cap, as he intended to walk for hours, and his
nervous hands were in his pockets. He believed he should have the woods
to himself, for in winter it was the Country Club and the roadhouses
that were patronised on Sundays; and the trolley-car which passed the
wood on the line about a quarter of a mile away had, save for himself,
been empty.

His face remained grim and set until he was deep in the woods, and then
it relaxed to a wave of fury and disgust, finally settled into an
expression of profound despair. He was but thirty-two, and the prizes of
life were for such as he, and a week later he would either be in Sing
Sing or bound without hope to a woman for whom his brief sentimentalised
passion was dust.

It was not execution he feared, for any clever lawyer could persuade a
jury into a certain degree of leniency, but long years in prison for the
sake of a dead ideal. In spite of his hard common sense and severely
practical life he would almost have welcomed the exaltation of soul
which must accompany a great sacrifice impelled by perfect love. But to
turn one's back on life for ever and walk deliberately into a dungeon,
change one's name for a number and become a thing, for the sake of
barren honour, to drag out his years with a dead soul, to despise
himself for a fool, too old and too tired to console himself with a
memory of a duty well done,--he felt such a sudden disgust for life and
for that ill-regulated product, human nature, that he struck a heavy
blow at a tree and brought a shower of snow about his head.

If he could but have continued to love the woman and accept the grim and
bitter fate with joy in his soul! And if only that were the worst! If he
could turn his back on life with no regret save for its lost
opportunities for power and fame.

He paused in his rapid irregular walk and pushed his cap up from his
ear. He half swung on his heel; then, his face settling into its
familiar lines, he walked slowly toward a faint crackling that had
arrested his attention.

He came presently upon the glade Alys Crumley had painted in its summer
mood; the little picture hung facing his bed. The scene was white
to-day; all the lovely shades of green and gold had been rubbed out and
replaced with the bright sparkle of snow, and the brook was frozen. But
although Rush loved the winter woods and responded to their white appeal
as keenly as to their yearly renewal of verdant youth and gorgeous
maturity, they left him quite unmoved at this moment. Alys Crumley, as
he had half expected, stood in the little dell.

Her face was more like old ivory than ever against the dazzling
whiteness of the snow and under her low fur turban. It looked both
pinched and nervous, but she kept her hands in her muff. Nor did Rush
remove his from his pockets, although his determination not to betray
himself was subconscious. At the moment, his mind, conquering a tendency
to race, informed itself merely that even in heavy winter clothes, with
but a deep pink rose in her stole for colour, she managed to look dainty
and alluring. It recalled visions of her on summer nights clad in the
soft transparencies of lawn, with ribbons somewhere that always brought
out the strange olive tints of her eyes and hair....

"I followed you," she said.

"Did you?"

"When I saw you pass in the trolley, I guessed. The Gifnings had invited
me to go out to the Club with them. I asked them to put me down at a
path near here."

He made no reply but continued to stare at her, recalling other
pictures,--in the studio, in the green living-room,--marvelling at her
endless variety, and not only of effect. Yet she was always the same,
surcharged with the magnetism of youth and young womanhood.

"I--that is--I had made up my mind I must have a talk with you about
certain things. You said you might go out to the Club to-day for an hour
or two of hand-ball, and I had hoped to induce you to come home with me
for supper. But Jack Battle told me that you had telephoned off--and
when I saw you in the trolley, and caught a glimpse of your face, I
guessed--"

"Yes?"

"You make it rather hard."

"What does it all matter? You are here, and I am glad that you are."

"Are you? But you intended to avoid me to-day!"

"I never intended to see you alone again if I could help it."

"I guessed that too. I met Polly Cummack this morning, and she told me
she spent last evening at the jail and Mrs. Balfame confided to her that
she had just definitely promised to marry you ... that you had proposed
to her on the day of her arrest, and although you had faithfully obeyed
her orders and not alluded to the subject since, she had thought it only
kind to put you out of suspense yesterday. She naïvely added that the
subject had not interested her when you first brought it up; but that
you had been so wonderful and devoted since.... She means to settle
quietly in New York, instead of travelling, so that she can be quite
near you, and she will marry you as soon as the case has been forgotten
by the public. Of course, Polly could not keep anything so interesting,
and no doubt it is all over town by now."

Alys spoke steadily, with a faint ironic inflection, and she held her
head very high. But her face grew more pinched, and the delicate pink of
her lips faded.

"Yes?" He had turned as white as chalk, but there was neither dismay nor
sarcasm in the hard stare of his eyes. His lips were folded so closely
that the word barely escaped.

"I am going to say everything I have to say, if you never speak to me
again. I feel as if I were standing on the point of a high rock and
every side led sheer down into an abyss. It doesn't matter in the least
down which side I fall. There is a certain satisfaction in that. But you
shall listen."

"There is nothing you cannot say to me."

"And you'll not run away."

"Oh, no, I'll not run away! I shall never see you again if I can help
it, but now that you are here I shall look at you and listen to the
sound of your voice."

"And to what I have to say. You hate Mrs. Balfame. You are bored to
death with her. You are appalled. You have found her out for what she
is. You are going to marry her out of pity and because you are too
honourable to desert a woman who will always be under a cloud, even if
you had it in you to break your word; and because you have a twisted
romantic notion about being true to an old if mistaken ideal--one of a
set that has flourished like hardy old-fashioned annuals under the dry
soil of hustle and ambition and devotion to your profession. You had
fallen in love--or thought you had, which amounts to the same thing for
the moment--after so many years of dry spiritual celibacy, and it had
been a wonderful revelation--and an inner revolution that made you
immensely interested in yourself for the first time. You were exalted;
you lived for several months at a pitch above the normal, automatically
registering other impressions but only half cognisant of them. And
now--you feel that to the love born in delusion and slain by truth you
owe the greatest sacrifice a man can make."

He had stared at the ground during the first part of her speech, and
then raised his eyes sharply, his glance changing to amazement and a
flush mounting to his hair.

"Oh!" he exclaimed. But he would make no other answer, and once more he
dropped his glance to the snow.

"Are you going to marry her?"

"If she is acquitted."

"And if not?" Her voice broke out of its even register.

He made an abrupt movement, and she cried out:

"I know! I know! Polly told me--Sam tells her everything. He suspects
you. He knows that Broderick does. But you don't intend to wait for his
denunciation. Mrs. Balfame told that to Polly too. You intend to say you
did it. She said she wouldn't let you--oh, wouldn't she!--but you had
told her that you would make up a plausible story and stick to it. And I
know that you can't prove an alibi. Tell me,"--she came closer and her
voice was almost threatening,--"do you really intend to take that crime
on your shoulders if she is convicted."

"Yes."

"Oh! Oh! Men will be sentimental fools until--well, so long as they are
born of fools and women. We are made all wrong!" She threw her muff on
the ground and beat her hands together. Her eyes were blazing. There was
a curious red glow in their olive depths. "Well, listen to me: You are
not going to do this thing, although I really believe you'd like to do
it as a sort of penance. She could not prevent such a monstrous
sacrifice if she would, but I can. Just bear that in mind. If you come
forward with any such insane proposition, I will make a fool of you
before all the world. If Mrs. Balfame is acquitted, well and good; but
if she is not, then I'll betray a confidence and run the risk of
killing some one myself--but I'll get the truth. Just remember that, and
keep off the witness-stand."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that I know where to get the truth."

"You mean that Dr. Anna thinks Mrs. Balfame did it--that Mrs. Balfame
confessed to her and that you can make the poor woman betray her friend
while she is still too weak to resist. Well, you are all wrong. I know
that Mrs. Balfame did not kill Balfame. If you want the reason for my
knowledge,--and I know I can trust you,--Mrs. Balfame was out that
night, and she did take a revolver and fire it. I found it in the house
on the night following her arrest. It was a thirty-eight. There was one
bullet missing. It was found in the tree. Balfame was killed by a
forty-one. She did not go out to shoot Balfame, but because she thought
she saw a burglar in the grove. Her revolver went off accidentally--and
she is the best shot out at the Club. But you will readily understand my
reasons for suppressing these facts."

Alys had turned her profile and was staring at a tree whose limbs
creaked now and again with their weight of snow, sending down a powdery
shower. Her thick short lashes were almost together before a gleaming
line of olive.

"Oh! Who was her confederate?"

"She hasn't the least idea as to the identity of the person beside her.
It was dark, and she was too much excited. Naturally, she would be very
glad to know."

"Well, suppose we dismiss that part of it. We should never get anywhere.
Only--don't take the stand and make a dramatic confession."

"Dramatic?" Once more the red tide rose. His blue eyes snapped.

"Melodramatic would perhaps be the better word. Sarah and I are hot on
the trail of the right word. But tell me honestly--shouldn't you feel
rather a fool? It is such a very theatric--stagey--thing to do."

"Oh!" He wheeled about and kicked a fallen log. "Do you suppose I have
given a thought to that aspect of it?"

"No, more is the pity, but as you have a good sense of humour, I rather
wonder at it. However--these are not the only things I followed you into
the woods to say."

"You had it in your mind, then, to find out if what Mrs. Balfame told
Mrs. Cummack was true--that I purposed to free her one way or another?"

"Yes. I merely waited for the lead. I told you in the beginning that I
did not care what I might confess to, or how angry I made you. What does
it matter?"

"You cannot make me angry, although there are some things I cannot
discuss with you."

"Of course not. Let us ignore Possible Sacrifice Number Two, and assume
that Mrs. Balfame is acquitted,--which no doubt will be the case; few
are worrying; and further assume that you will marry her; that she will
marry you is the way she put it, not being an artist in words. Once more
we will dismiss both subjects. Yes?"

She was stooping to recover her muff, and he noticed that her hands were
shaking and that the dusky pink was in her cheeks for the first time.

"I am only too ready. But--there is little else for us to talk about!"

"Yes, there is! When people are on their deathbeds they can afford to
be truthful, and you have dug your grave and mine."

She was erect once more and she looked at him steadily, although her
breath was short and her cheeks blazing.

"What do you mean by that?" His eyes no longer looked like blue steel.
They were flashing, and a curious wave of mobility passed over his face.

"I mean that you love me now. I think you always loved me--when we spent
so many hours together in perfect companionship--when you found so much
in me that responded to so many of your own needs. But for the time
being this was only a surface impression. It was unable to strike down
to--to your soul, because between your outer and inner vision was the
delusion. You had cherished some sort of ideal since boyhood, and when
for the first time in your busy life you met a woman who seemed to
materialise it--you never once had a half-hour's conversation with
her!--you automatically rose to the opportunity to discharge a youthful
obligation. Isn't that true?"

He would not answer, and she continued:

"You passed me over because you had to be rid of the delusion first, bag
and baggage. There is only one way to get rid of an old delusion like
that, and unconsciously you took it! The pity of it is, in our case,
that you compromised yourself so promptly, instead of waiting--well, for
ten weeks!"

"I had already asked Mrs. Balfame to get a divorce and marry me."

"Oh! That night you walked home with her from Dr. Anna's cottage?"

"You saw us? Yes, that was the time."

"The first time you had ever talked alone with her? I know that you
dined there often, but didn't Dave usually do the talking?"

"Yes."

"And Mrs. Balfame smiled like St. Cecilia and attended to your wants."

"Oh!"

"It was like you to think you couldn't go back on even an Elsinore
Avenue flirtation. But once more--it is a terrible pity that you did not
delay your formal offer for ten weeks. Then you would have buried the
last and the supreme folly of your youth--with a sigh perhaps, but you
would have buried it. Isn't that true?"

"It is true that something incredibly youthful seems to have persisted
in me beyond its proper limits, and then to have died abruptly. God
knows I have no youth in me to-day."

"That may well be, but it need not have been. Youth does not die with
the earlier illusions. If all had gone well, you would have been reborn
into a saner and more conscious youth. Tell me--" Her voice trembled,
but she moved forward resolutely and laid her muff against his chest; he
could feel the working of her hands, and eyes and cheeks betrayed the
excitement that pride still suppressed. "Tell me,--if you had waited, if
you could have decently buried that old illusion and forgotten--and--and
married me,--should you have felt very old?"

"I should have felt immortal."

He caught her hands from her muff and flung them about his neck and
lifted her from the ground and kissed her as if they both stood on the
pinnacle and had but a moment before plunging down to mortal death.

When he released her a trifle, his face was illuminated. It no longer
looked preternaturally strong; neither did it look as young as she had
seen it look in moments of mental relaxation.

"Ah!" she whispered. "This is the fusing, not when that old illusion
died."

The deep flush ebbed out of his face, leaving it grey, but he did not
relax the hard pressure of his arms. "Of what use," he asked bitterly,
"when we have only to-day?"

"It is something to realise all of oneself if only for an hour. And you
have given me my supreme hour. That was my right, for I went down into
such depths as you have no knowledge of; and if I struggled out of them
alone, and always in terror of surrender and demoralisation at the last
moment, I have my claim on your help now, for the future is something I
have never dared to face. I guessed before Polly told me--oh, I guessed!
I knew you so well. In dreams, perhaps,--who knows?--our minds may have
become one. When I came up out of--got past the worst, it seemed to me
that I came into an extraordinary understanding of you. I can bear
anything now. In a way, you will always be mine. The life of the
imagination must have its satisfactions. There are worse things than
living alone."

She drew down his head, but this time she put her lips to his ear.

"Now I am going to tell you a terrible secret," she said.



CHAPTER XXXV


There had been a crowd on the day of Frieda's and young Kraus'
testimony, but on Monday morning there was a mob. The road as well as
the open space before the Courthouse was as solid a mass of automobiles
as the police would permit, and within, even the wide staircase was
packed with people, many from New York City, waving cards and demanding
entrance to the Court-room, or at least the freedom to breathe.

The sheriff and his assistants, soon after the doors were opened,
succeeded in forming a lane, and dragged the women reporters to the
upper landing. They found the young men at their tables, cool,
imperturbable, having entered through the library at the back of the
Court-room. All doors were closed before ten o'clock, and the crowd
without, save only the few that were fortunate enough to have come early
and obtain a vantage point against the glass, gradually dwindled away,
to renew the assault after luncheon. It was not only the brilliant
winter day that had enticed the curious over from New York, but the
rumour that Mrs. Balfame would take the stand.

The morning droned along peacefully. Cummack and several others,
including Mr. Mott, were recalled and questioned further. Rush made no
interruptions whatever. The Judge yawned behind his hand. The women
reporters whispered to one another that Mrs. Balfame looked lovelier
than ever--only different, somehow. Even Mr. Broderick looked at her
uneasily once or twice and confided to Mr. Wagstaff that he believed she
and Rush had something up their sleeves; she no longer looked like a
marble effigy of herself, but like a woman who was sure of getting what
she wanted--much too sure. Her cheeks were almost pink. That was as
close as he could get to the upheavals and revolutions that had taken
place in Mrs. Balfame of Elsinore; and their causes.

Immediately after luncheon, Rush showed the jury Defendant's Exhibit A:
the suitcase that Mrs. Balfame had packed for her husband after his
telephone message from the house of Mr. Cummack. He demonstrated that it
must have been packed by a firm hand guided by a clear head, a head as
far as possible from that cyclonic condition technically known as
"brainstorm." When he read them the explicit directions Mrs. Balfame had
written for the velvet handbag her generous husband had offered to bring
from Albany, the jury craned its neck and puckered its brows. This
suitcase had been examined on the night of the crime by police and
reporters, the cynical men of the press characterising it later as a
grand piece of bluff. But it looked very convincing in a court-room, and
its innocent appeal was thrown into high relief by the indisputable fact
that the murder had been committed at least half an hour later.

On the other hand, there was reason to believe that Mrs. Balfame had
deliberately planned the shooting and in that case it was quite natural
for her to prepare something in the nature of an alibi--that is, if a
woman, and an amateur in crime, could exercise so much foresight. The
jury looked at the defendant out of the corner of its eye. Well, she, at
least, looked cool enough for anything.

Then came the great moment for which the spectators had braved
discomfort, indignities, and even hunger. The counsel for the defence
asked Mrs. Balfame to take the stand.

Everybody in the court-room save the Judge, the jury, and the cool young
reporters half rose as she walked rapidly behind the jury-box, mounted
the stand, took the oath, bowed to the Court and arranged herself, with
her usual dignified aloofness, in the witness-chair. She felt but a
slight quiver of the nerves, no apprehension whatever. She knew her
story too well to be disconcerted even by the sudden wasp-like assaults
of the district attorney, and she was sensible of the moral support of
practically all the women in the room.

Rush asked her to tell her story in her own way to the jury, and for a
time the district attorney permitted her to talk without interruption.
Rush had warned her after the interview with the women reporters against
delivering herself with too tripping a tongue, and his assistant had
spent several hours with her in rehearsal of certain improvements upon a
too perfect style. In consequence, she told a clear coherent story, in
the simplest manner possible, with little dramatic breaks or hesitations
now and again, but with nothing stronger than a quaver in her sweet
shallow voice. When she had reached the episode of the filter and had
explained to the inquisitive district attorney why she had made no
mention at the coroner's inquest of the somewhat complicated episode of
which it was the pivot, so to speak, she gave the same credible
explanation the newspaper women had already offered to the public; and
then, quite unexpectedly, she related the story of Frieda's attempt to
blackmail her, and her indignant refusal to give the creature a dollar.
Mr. Gore shouted in vain. The Judge ordered him to keep quiet and
permitted the defendant to tell the story in her own way.

Mrs. Balfame apologised to the jury for relating this incident out of
order, and then went on with her quiet plausible story. Her reason for
not running out at once was simplicity itself. She must have been in the
kitchen when the shot was fired; she had not made a point of regulating
her movements by the clock as some of the witnesses for the prosecution
appeared to have done, so that she was quite unable to give the jury
positive information upon the subject of the exact number of minutes she
had remained in the kitchen. She had washed and put away the glass, of
course; she was a very methodical woman. Then she had gone upstairs,
leisurely, and it was not until she was in her bedroom that she became
aware of some sort of excitement out in the Avenue. Even that conveyed
nothing to her, for it was Saturday night--she curled her fastidious
lip. But when she heard voices directly under her window, inside the
grounds, she threw it open at once and asked what had happened. Then of
course she ran downstairs and out to her husband. That was all.

Even the district attorney was not able to interject a hint of the
lemonade story, and so, naturally, she ignored it.

"Gemima!" whispered Mr. Broderick to his neighbour, "but she is a
wonder! I never heard it better done, and I've seen some of the boss
liars on the stand. She looks like an angel on toast, a poor, sweet,
patient, martyr angel. But I'll bet five dollars to a nickel that she
was just about three degrees too plausible for that jury. If she didn't
do it, who did? That's what they'll ask. And who else wanted him out of
the way? Have you given any thought to that proposition?" His voice was
almost as steady as his keen grey eyes, and he looked straight into the
wise and weary orbs of a brilliant but too inabstinent member of the
crack reporter regiment who had been missing for several days. The man
raised his sagging shoulders and dropped them listlessly. Then his heavy
eyes were invaded by a sudden gleam.

"Say," he whispered, "that Rush is a good-looking chap--and she--I don't
like those ice-boxes myself, but some men do. It's crossed my mind more
than once to-day that he's got something on his--what's the matter?"

"For God's sake, hush!" Broderick's low voice was savage, his face
white. "They're always likely to say that about a young lawyer when his
client is handsome enough and their imaginations are excited by a
mysterious murder case. He's a friend of mine, and I don't want him to
get into trouble. He might not be able to prove an alibi. But I know he
didn't do it because I happen to know that he is in love with another
woman. I was in the same trolley with them yesterday when they came back
from the woods. There was no mistaking how the land lay."

"Oh! Just so!" The other man's eyes were glittering. He looked like a
hunter glancing down his gun-barrel. "I see he _is_ a friend of yours
and you've got his defence pat--well, I'm not going to bother my poor
head until Mrs. B. is acquitted or convicted. Ta! Ta!" And he slid
gently to the floor, laid his head against the infuriated Broderick's
knee and went to sleep.

"I say," whispered Wagstaff, "she almost involved young Kraus, all
right. He's never been quite so close to the bull's-eye before. The very
fact that she didn't trump up a yarn--or Rush wouldn't let her--that she
saw him when she opened the door, or that he had turned the handle, is
one for her and one on him."

The Judge, who had taken a few moments' rest, re-entered, and
conversation ceased. Conrad and Frieda were called in rebuttal, and
encouraged to fix the time of Mrs. Balfame's departure and return as
accurately as might be. Frieda asserted that Mrs. Balfame, after closing
the outer door, had not remained below-stairs for more than three
minutes, and Conrad declared that her exit must have been made three or
four before Mr. Mott left Miss Lacke's. Of course--with quiet scorn--he
had not looked at his watch. How could he in the dark? As he did not
smoke he had no matches in his pocket.

That closed the day's session. The jury filed out, and no man could read
aught in their weather-beaten faces save the conviction that the
Paradise City Hotel was a haven of delights after a long day in the box,
and they were quite equal to the feat of enjoying the dinner served
there, with minds barren of the grim purpose behind this luxurious week.



CHAPTER XXXVI


It was nearly six o'clock. The court-room with its round white ceiling
looked like a crypt in the soft glow of the artificial light, and the
Judge, in his black silk gown, with his handsome patrician face,
clean-cut but rather soft and flushed with good living, might have been
an abbot seated aloft in judgment upon a recalcitrant nun. Mrs. Balfame
in her crêpe completed the delusion--if the imaginative spectator
glanced no further. The district attorney, who was summing up, looked
more like a wasp than ever as he darted back and forth in front of the
jury-box, shouting and shaking his fists. Occasionally he would hook his
fingers in his waistcoat, balance himself on his heels and with a mere
moderation of his rasping tones, demonstrate a contemptuous faith in the
strength of his case.

It is to be admitted that his arguments and expositions, his
denunciations and satirical refutations, were quite as convincing as
those of the counsel for the defence had been, such being the elasticity
of the law and of the legal mind; but although an able and powerful
speaker, he lacked the personal charm and magnetism, the almost tragical
enthusiasm and conviction, alternating with cold deliberate logic, that
had thrilled all present to the roots of their beings during the long
hours of the morning. Rush, whether he lost or won, had made his
reputation as one of the greatest pleaders ever heard at the bar of New
York State. He had finished at a quarter to one. Immediately after the
opening of the afternoon session Gore had darted into the breach,
speaking with a dramatic rapidity for four hours. He sat down at six
o'clock; and Mrs. Balfame felt as if turning to stone while the Judge,
standing, charged the jury and expounded the law covering the three
degrees of murder: first, second, manslaughter. It was their privilege
to convict the prisoner at the bar of any of these, unless convinced of
her innocence.

He dwelt at length upon the degree called manslaughter, as if the idea
had occurred to him that Mrs. Balfame, justly indignant, had run out
when she heard her husband's voice raised in song, and had fired from
the grove by way of administering a rebuke to an erring and
inconsiderate man. The second bullet had been made much of by Rush, as
indicating that two people, possibly gun-men, had shot at once, but the
district attorney held no such theory and had ignored the bullet found
in the tree. It was apparent, however, that the Judge had given to this
second bullet a certain amount of judicial consideration.

The jury filed out, not to their luxurious quarters in the Paradise City
Hotel, a mile away, but to a stark and ugly room in the Court-house
where they must remain in acute discomfort until they arrived at a
verdict. The Judge had his dinner brought to him in a private room
adjoining theirs, and even the reporters and spectators snatched a hasty
meal at the Dobton hostelry, so sure were they all that the jury would
return within the hour. Mrs. Balfame did not take off her hat with its
heavy veil, but sat in her quarters at the jail with several of her
friends, outwardly calm, but with her mind on the rack and unable to
share the dinner sent over from the Inn by Mr. Cummack for herself and
her guests.

The hours passed, however, and the jury did not return. Once the head of
the foreman emerged, and the sheriff, misunderstanding his surly demand
for a pitcher of ice water, rushed over for Mrs. Balfame, the Judge was
summoned, and the reporters, men and women, raced one another up the
Court-house stairs. Mrs. Balfame, schooled to the awful ordeal of
hearing herself pronounced a murderess in one form or other, but bidden
by her friends to augur an acquittal from a mere three hours'
deliberation, walked in with her usual quiet remoteness and took her
seat. She was sent back at once.

Rush paced the road in front of the Court-house. He had little hope. He
had studied their faces day by day and believed that several, at least,
were persuaded of Mrs. Balfame's guilt. Mrs. Battle, Mrs. Gifning and
Mrs. Cummack sat with Mrs. Balfame, who found the effort to maintain the
high equilibrium demanded by her admiring friends as rasping an ordeal
to her nerves as waiting for that final summons whose menace grew with
every hour the jury wrangled. Finally she took off her hat and suggested
that they knit, and the needles clicked through the desultory
conversation until, after midnight, they all attempted to sleep.

The Judge extended himself on a sofa in the private room devoted to his
use; he dared not leave the Courthouse. He told the district attorney
(who told it to the sheriff, who told it to the reporters) that the jury
quarrelled so persistently and so violently that he found it impossible
to sleep, and that the language they used was appalling.

Midnight came and passed. The sob-sisters, worn out, went home. Miss
Sarah Austin and Miss Alys Crumley had not returned to the Court-house
after dinner. The sheriff appeared at the entrance of the courtroom and
announced that the last trolley would leave for Elsinore and
neighbouring towns within five minutes. Most of the spectators filed
sleepily out. A few of Mrs. Balfame's less intimate but equally devoted
friends remained in their seats near her empty chair, and shortly after
midnight the warden's wife brought them over hot coffee and sandwiches.

The reporters, having long since consumed all the chocolate and peanuts
on sale below, strolled back and forth between the Court-house and the
bar of the Dobton Inn. They were bored and indignant and sought the only
consolation available. They returned periodically to the court-room,
growing, as the hours passed, more formal, polite, silent. One lost his
way in the jury-box and was steered by a court official to the
sympathetic haven of his brothers.

The room itself, its floor littered with tinfoil, peanut-shells, and
newspapers, its tables and chairs out of place, looked like a Coney
Island excursion boat. Finally two reporters laid their heads down on a
table and went to sleep, but the rest continued to address one another
at long intervals, in distant tones, obeying the laws of etiquette, but
with a secret and scornful reluctance.

Broderick, who was reasonably sober, had wandered in and out many times.
Occasionally he walked the road with Rush, and more than once he had
endeavoured to get Miss Crumley on the telephone. He had even
telephoned to the hospital to ascertain if she were there. A week ago
only he had accidentally discovered that Dr. Anna had been summoned by
Mrs. Balfame shortly after the murder and had passed many hours alone
with her; "it being the deuce and all to extract any information from
that closed corporation of Mrs. Balfame's friends." Broderick had
surprised it out of a group at the Elks' Club in the course of
conversation and then had set his phenomenal memory to work, with the
result that he was convinced Alys Crumley held the key to the whole
situation. He had gone to her house and pleaded with her to take him out
to the hospital and obtain a statement from the sick woman before it was
too late, representing in powerful and picturesque language the awful
peril of Rush.

"I've reason to know," he had concluded, "that Cummack and two or three
others have their suspicions, and there isn't a question that if the
jury brings in a verdict of guilty in any degree--and they're a
pigheaded lot--Rush will be arrested at once. These devoted friends of
Mrs. Balfame have accumulated enough evidence to begin on. He may have
gone to Brooklyn that night, but he was seen to get off the train at
Elsinore about a quarter of an hour before the shooting. They've been
doing a lot of quiet sleuthing, but if Mrs. Balfame is acquitted they'll
let him off. They don't want any more scandal, and they like him,
anyhow. But I have a hunch she won't be acquitted; and then, innocent or
guilty, there'd be no saving him. So for heaven's sake, stir yourself."

But Alys had replied: "I have besought my aunt, and she will not permit
Dr. Anna to be disturbed. She says her only chance for life is a
tranquil mind, and that the shock of hearing that Enid Balfame was on
trial for murder would kill her--let alone asking her to do her best to
send her to the chair. I've done _my_ best, but it seems hopeless."

This conversation had taken place on Thursday. To-day was Tuesday. They
were very reticent at the hospital, but he had reason to believe that
Dr. Anna had taken a turn for the worse. Could Alys Crumley be out
there, and could she have taken that minx Sarah Austin with her? It
would be just like a girl to go back on a good pal like himself and hand
a signal triumph over to another girl, who would get out of the game the
minute some fellow with money enough offered to marry her. He ground his
teeth.

He was standing near the doors of the court-room and staring at the
clock whose hands pointed to a quarter to one. Suddenly he heard his
name called from below. He sauntered out and leaned over the balustrade.
A weary page was ascending when he caught sight of the star reporter.

"Brabant Hospital wants you on the 'phone," he announced, with supreme
indifference.

Broderick leaped down the winding stair and into the booth. It seemed to
him that his very ears were quivering as he listened to Alys Crumley's
faint agitated voice. "Come out quickly and bring a stenographer," it
said. "And suppose you ask Mr. Rush to come too. Just tell the
sheriff--to--to postpone things a bit if the jury should be ready to
come in before you return. Hurry, Jim, hurry."



CHAPTER XXXVII


It was two o'clock and ten minutes. The eleven remaining spectators, one
of them a woman in evening dress, were sound asleep. The sheriff was
pacing up and down with his hands behind his back, his perturbed glance
ranging between the clock and the door leading into the jury-room.
Occasionally he slipped on a bit of the debris and kicked it aside. The
reporters slumbered at their tables or stared moodily ahead. One gnawed
his pencil; another tore leaves of copy paper into morsels and
laboriously built something that looked like a child's house of blocks.
Outside it was deathly still. The snow was falling softly. It was too
early for a cock-crow. Occasionally some one snored. The footfalls of
the sheriff made no noise.

Suddenly every reporter present sat up with the scent of blood in his
nostrils. Their ears twitched. The fumes blew out of their highly
organised brains like mist before a bracing wind. An automobile was
dashing down the road, its horn shrieking a series of brief peremptory
notes, which sounded like "Wait! Wait! Wait!"

It came to an abrupt halt before the Court-house door, and almost
simultaneously Wagstaff, who had wandered forth once more, ran up the
stairs and into the court-room.

"There's something in the wind, boys," he cried, smoothing his hair and
steering carefully for his chair. "Rush, Broderick, three other men,
Sarah Austin and Alys Crumley, were in that car. They've all gone
straight to the Judge. Something big is going to break, as sure as
death."

The sheriff retired hastily to the region behind the court-room.

The young men adjusted their chairs, arranged their copy-paper neatly,
and sharpened their pencils. Mrs. Balfame's friends went forward to the
door behind the jury-box which led to the tunnel. Even the sleepy
spectators sat up nervously.

Ten minutes passed. Then the sheriff, his face now stolid and important,
bustled in and across to the jury-room, opened the door and summoned the
occupants. In every stage of dishabille they filed sullenly in; the
sheriff went through the tunnel for Mrs. Balfame.

The Judge, without his gown and his hair ruffled, was in his seat when
the prisoner entered. She came hurriedly, her great repose broken, her
face grey. Rush, who had entered behind the Judge, met her and
whispered:

"You are free. But you will need all your self-control. Don't let them
have a story in the morning papers of a breakdown at the last moment."

Mrs. Battle, Mrs. Gifning and Mrs. Cummack, who were far more excited
than she, took heart at his words, patted their dishevelled hair and
motioned to their husbands, summoned from the Dobton Inn, to draw
closer. Whatever the issue, they felt the need of masculine support,
albeit they scowled at the obvious form that masculine needs had taken.

Mrs. Balfame had looked dully at Rush as he spoke. Between fatigue and
the nervous strain of maintaining the superwoman pitch for the benefit
of her friends, her mind was confused. She could only mutter, "I'll try.
Is--is--it really--all right?"

"You'll be free and for ever exonerated in half an hour."

Mrs. Balfame sank back in her chair, thinking that half an hour was a
long time, a terribly long time. How long did it usually take a jury to
pronounce a prisoner not guilty?

Sitting before the table in front of her were two men whom she vaguely
recognised. Behind them was the man she hated most now that her husband
was dead, the reporter Broderick. And beside him were Alys Crumley and
Miss Austin. What did it all mean? She drew a sigh. It didn't matter
much. She was so tired, so tired. When it was over she would sleep for a
week and see no one--not even Dwight Rush.

The district attorney was on his feet, his face as black as if in the
first stages of a poisonous fever. Neither he nor any one in the
court-room threw Mrs. Balfame a glance. All eyes were on the Judge, who
rose and made a short address to the jury.

"New evidence has just been brought to the notice of the court," he
said. "It is of sufficient importance to warrant its immediate
consideration, and the case is therefore reopened for this purpose. It
is for you, however, to pass upon its worth. Mr. Rush will take the
stand."

"May it please your honour," shrieked Mr. Gore, "I protest that this
case has already been submitted to the jury, and that it is altogether
out of order to reopen it."

"That is a matter within the discretion of the court," replied the
Judge sharply; he had slept but fitfully and was not in his accustomed
mood of remote judicial calm. "Mr. Rush will take the stand and proceed
without interruption."

Rush ascended to the witness-box and was sworn. Mrs. Balfame half rose,
dropped back into her chair with another sigh. There could be but one
explanation of this strange procedure. Rush had discovered that the jury
was hostile and was about to incriminate himself. She could do nothing.
She had brought up the subject only yesterday, and he had replied curtly
that he had taken the pistol from his safe and hidden it elsewhere. And
she was too tired to feel that anything mattered much but the prospect
of a week's rest. Later she could exonerate him in one way or another.

The newspaper men were as sober and alert as if the hour were ten in the
morning. With their abnormal news-sense they anticipated a complete
surprise. To do them justice, they were quite indifferent to the
possibility of Mrs. Balfame's release. If it were news, Big News, that
was all that mattered.

As Rush took the witness-chair, the lines in his pallid face looked as
if cut to the bone, but he addressed the jury in strong clear tones. He
told them that two days since he had been informed by Miss Alys Crumley
that Dr. Anna Steuer had positive knowledge bearing upon the crime for
which Mrs. Balfame had been unjustly arrested and thrust into jail, but
that they were afraid to tell her of her friend's tragic situation lest
it shatter her slender hold on life. She was very ill again after a
relapse, although quite conscious, and their only hope was in perfect
peace of mind.

If she recovered, Mrs. Dissosway, in whom alone she had confided, had
felt sure she would give the testimony which must set Mrs. Balfame at
liberty if the jury convicted her. On the other hand, Mrs. Dissosway had
promised her niece that if the doctors agreed that Dr. Steuer's death
was but a matter of hours and there was a real danger of Mrs. Balfame's
conviction, she would tell the dying woman the truth and take the
consequences.

Shortly after the case had gone to the jury, Miss Crumley and Miss Sarah
Austin had gone out to the hospital, satisfied that Dr. Anna had but a
few hours to live. But it was not until Miss Crumley had persuaded her
relative that the delayed verdict of the jury meant conviction for Mrs.
Balfame that the superintendent, who was a lifelong friend of Dr. Anna
Steuer, had given Miss Crumley permission to send for a stenographer and
the witnesses she desired. Miss Crumley had therefore telephoned at once
to Mr. Broderick, as she knew he would be sure to be in or near the
courtroom, and asked him to bring the witness and a stenographer.

They had reached the hospital in fifteen minutes. Dr. MacDougal had met
them at the door of Dr. Steuer's room and informed them that the news of
her friend's predicament had been broken to the patient, after
administering stimulants, and that she had consented immediately to make
a statement.

"It took her some time to make this statement," continued Mr. Rush. "She
was very weak, and stimulants had to be given repeatedly. But in due
course it was completed, signed, and witnessed by Mr. Broderick and the
two physicians present. I shall read it to you with the permission of
the court."

He then read them the ante-mortem statement of Dr. Anna Steuer:

"I shot David Balfame.

"I make this statement at once lest I prove to be unable to add the
explanation of my motives, and I herewith sign it."

Signed and witnessed.

The statement continued:

"I had known for a long time that my beloved friend's life with this
wretch was insupportable, but although I urged her repeatedly to divorce
him and she refused, it never entered my head to kill him nor any one
else. I had spent my life trying to heal, and to give comfort where my
patient's sufferings were of the mind as well as of the body. I had
carried Balfame through several gastric attacks, caused by his
disreputable life, with as much professional enthusiasm as if he had
been the best of husbands. To have removed him during one of these would
have been a simple matter.

"But that day out at the Country Club when he insulted the loveliest and
most nearly perfect being on this earth, with the deliberate intent to
ruin her position--the little all she had in the world that
mattered--something snapped in my head. I almost struck him then and
there. And when, during the ride home, Enid for the first time told me
the hideous details of her life with that man all the blood in my body
seemed to surge up and through my brain. He deserved death, and only
death could free her. But how could this be accomplished? Too proud and
too obdurate in her principles for the divorce-court, she was also too
gentle and good and fastidious, in spite of her remarkable will, to
strike him down herself.

"While waiting for a summons to the Houston farm, I paid several calls,
and the last was at the Cummacks', one of the children being ill. As I
came downstairs from the nursery I heard the conversation at the
telephone--Balfame's drunken compliment to his wife. He said he would
walk home. It was then that the definite impulse came to me, and I acted
without an instant's hesitation. I always carried a revolver, for I was
forced to take many long and lonely rides in my country practice. I
drove straight to the lane behind the Balfame place, left the car, put
out the lights, and climbed the back fence. It was very dark, but I had
been familiar with the grounds all my life and I had no difficulty in
finding the grove. I waited, moving about restlessly, for I wanted to
have it over and go out to the Houston farm.

"He came after what had seemed to be hours of waiting, singing at the
top of his voice. Mr. Rush tells me there is talk of two pistols having
been fired that night, and that a bullet from a thirty-eight-calibre
pistol entered a tree just to the left of the gate. I heard no one else
in the grove. My revolver was a forty-one and can be found in the drawer
of my desk at home. I fired at Balfame the moment he reached the gate. I
vaguely remember seeing another figure almost beside him, but as Balfame
fell I ran for the lane and my car. I had no intention of giving myself
up. I knew that the crime would be laid to political enemies, who, no
doubt, could produce alibis. This proved to be the case, and when I
broke down and was carried to the hospital it was with the assurance of
public belief in gun-men as the perpetrators of the crime. That Enid
Balfame, that serene and splendid woman, whose life has been a miracle
of good taste and high sense of duty, would be accused never crossed my
mind.

"No, it is impossible for me to say with truth that I repent. I might
have, once. But these last six months! Millions of men in the greatest
civilisations of earth are killing one another daily for no reason
whatever save that man, who seeks to direct the destinies of the world,
is a complete and pitiful failure. Why, pray, should a woman repent
having broken one of his laws and removed one of the most worthless and
abominable of his sex, who had made the life of a beloved friend past
enduring? Moreover, I have saved hundreds of lives at the risk of my
own. I die in peace.

"This statement is made with full knowledge of impending death and
without hope of recovery."

"This ante-mortem statement," concluded Mr. Rush, "was taken down in
longhand by the stenographer who sits below, and signed by Anna Steuer,
M.D., of Elsinore, Brabant County, State of New York. It was witnessed
by Drs. MacDougal and Meyers, who accompanied me from the hospital to
the Court-house. Mr. Broderick of the _New York News_, as I mentioned
before, also heard the confession and affixed his signature."

He handed the sheets to the jury and stepped down. For a moment there
was no sound but the scratching of pencils on the opposite side of the
room and the faint rustle of paper in the jury-box. Mrs. Balfame had
drawn her veil across her face and sat huddled in her chair.

The two doctors and Broderick took the stand briefly, the former
testifying that Dr. Steuer had been of clear and sound mind when she
made and signed her statement. Then the district attorney stood up, and
in lifeless tones--Dr. Anna had been his family's most cherished
friend--asked if there was any prospect of the self-confessed criminal
being examined further. Rush went over to Mrs. Balfame and pressed his
hand hard upon her shoulder.

"May it please your honour," he said, "Dr. Anna Steuer expired before we
left the hospital."

Again there was a furious scratching of pens. Not a reporter glanced at
Mrs. Balfame. They had forgotten her existence. The Judge asked the jury
if they wished to retire once more for deliberation. The foreman faced
about. The other eleven shook their heads with decision.

The Judge dismissed them and congratulated the defendant, who had risen
and stood clutching the back of her chair. The reporters raced one
another down the stairs to the telegraph-offices and telephone-booths.

It was physically impossible for Mrs. Balfame to faint, or to lose
self-control for more than a moment at a time. She drew away from the
friends that crowded about her, one or two of the women hysterical.

"I shall ask Mr. Rush to take me over to the jail for a few moments,"
she said in her clear cold voice. "I must put a few things together, and
I wish to have a few words alone with Mr. Rush." She turned to the dazed
Mr. Cummack. "Take Polly home," she said peremptorily. "Mr. Rush will
drive me over later."

"All right, Enid." He tucked Mrs. Cummack under his arm. "Your room's
been ready for a week."

As Rush was about to follow his client he turned abruptly and exchanged
a long look with Alys Crumley. Both faces were pallid and drawn with
fatigue but their eyes for that swift moment blazed with resentment and
despair.



CHAPTER XXXVIII


When Rush and Mrs. Balfame reached the jail sitting-room she
mechanically removed her heavy hat and veil and sank into a chair.

"Is it true that Anna is dead?"

Her voice was as toneless as the district attorney's had been.

"Yes--and we can only be grateful."

"And she did that for me--for _me_. How strange! How very, very
strange!"

"It has been done before in the history of the world." Rush too was very
tired.

"But a woman--"

"I fancy you were the romance of poor Anna's life. She indulged in no
dreams of the usual sort, with her plain face and squat figure. No doubt
she had centred all her romantic yearnings and all her maternal cravings
on you. She thought you perfect--unequalled--"

"I! I!"

She sprang to her feet and thrust her head forward, her eyes coming to
life with resentment and wonder.

"What--_what_ am I that two people--two people like you and Anna
Steuer--should be ready to die for me? Why, I have never thought of a
mortal being but myself! Anna must have been born with dotage in her
brain. She knew me all my life. She saw me organise charities, give to
the poor what I could afford, find work for the deserving now and
again, and she heard me read absurd compositions before the Friday Club
upon the duty of Women to Society; but she must have known that all were
mere details in my scheme of life and that I was the most selfish
creature that ever breathed."

Rush shrugged his shoulders, although he was watching her with a
quickened interest. "Why try to analyse? The gift to inspire
devotion--fascination--is as determinate as the gift to write a poem or
compose a symphony. It has existed in some of the worst men and women
that have ever lived. You are not that--not by a long sight--"

"Oh, no! I am not one of the worst women that have ever lived. Do you
know what I am, how I see myself to-night? I am merely a commonplace
woman everlastingly anxious to do the 'right thing.' That is the
beginning and the end of me, with the exception of a brief aberration--a
release under stress of those anti-social instincts that are deep in
every mortal and exhibited by every child that ever lived. Oh, I am one
of civilisation's proudest products, for I never had the slightest
difficulty with those inherited impulses before. Nor will they ever rise
again. I've even 'improved' during my long hours of solitude in this
room, but it's all of a piece. I've not changed. We none of us do that.
I shall live and die a commonplace woman trying to do the 'right
thing.'"

"Oh--let us go now. You must rest. You are very tired."

"I was. But it has passed. The shock of Anna's statement and death
brought me up standing. I shall sail for Europe to-morrow, if there is a
boat. It was Anna's constant regret that she could not go to the
battlefields and nurse, but she would not leave those that depended upon
her here. In some small measure I can take her place. They give a first
course in London I am told. And I am strong, very strong."

She paused abruptly and moved forward and took his hand.

"Good night and good-bye," she said. "I shall sleep here to-night. And
please understand that you are free."

"What do you mean?" Rush's face set like a mask, but the colour mounted.
The grip of his hand was merely nervous, and when she withdrew hers his
unconsciously went to his hip and steadied itself.

"I mean that so far as lies in my power I shall harm no one again as
long as I live. Moreover, I have seen how it was with you for some time,
although I would not admit it, for I intended to marry you. Perhaps I
should have done so if it had not been for Anna. It took that to lift me
quite out of myself and enable me to see myself and all things relating
to me in their true proportions--for once. It is my moment--If I am ever
to have one. You no longer love me, and if you did I should not marry
you. I say nothing of the injustice to yourself--I could not take the
risk of disillusioning you." She laughed a little nervously. "I fancy I
have done that already. But it does not matter. Go and marry some girl
near your own age who will be a companion, not an ideal with heart and
brain as well as feet of clay."

"You are excited," said Rush brusquely, although his heart was
hammering, and singing youth poured through his veins. "I shall leave
you now--"

"You will say good-bye to me now, and that is the last word. I'll
telephone my plans to Cummack in the morning. There is no reason for us
to meet again. To me you will always be a very wonderful and beautiful
memory, for it is something--be sure I appreciate just what it does
mean--to have embodied a romantic illusion if only for an hour. Now
good-bye once more; and find your real happiness as quickly as you can."

She had opened the door. She pushed him gently out into the corridor,
closed the door and locked it. Mrs. Balfame was alone with the crushing
burden of her soul.





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