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Title: Carter, and Other People
Author: Marquis, Don
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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CARTER, AND OTHER PEOPLE

By Don Marquis

D. Appleton and Co.

1921



FOREWORD

|I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness to the editors of several
magazines for permission to reprint the following stories in book form.
“Carter” was originally published in _Harpers Monthly Magazine_ under
the title “The Mulatto.”

“Death and Old Man Murtrie” was printed in The New _Republic_; others
were first brought out in _Everybody’s Magazine, Short Stories, Putnam’s
Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post_. “The Penitent” was originally
printed in _The Pictorial Review_, with the title “The Healer and
the Penitent.” The plot of this story is taken from two poems, one by
Browning and one by Owen Meredith. Happening to read these two poems,
one after the other, I was struck by the fact that Owen Meredith had
unwittingly written what was in effect a continuation of a situation
invented by Browning; the plot of the one poem, telescoped into the plot
of the other, made in effect a complete short story. I pasted the two
situations together, so to speak, inventing an ending of my own, and had
a short story which neither Browning nor Owen Meredith could claim as
his-and which I scarcely have the nerve to claim as mine. And yet this
story, taken piecemeal from the two poets, gave me more trouble than
anything else I ever tried to write; it was all there, apparently; but
to transpose the story into a modern American setting was a difficult
job. It is my only essay in conscious plagiarism-I hate to call it
plagiarism, but what else could one call it?--and I give you my word
that it is easier to invent than to plagiarize.

The one-act play, “Words and Thoughts,” was written ten years ago-in
1911-and has been offered to every theatrical manager in America, and
refused by them all. I still believe in it as a thing that could be
acted with effect, and I am determined to get it read, even if I
cannot get it produced. The fact that it has been going the rounds of
theatrical managers for ten years is no indication that it has ever been
read.

Don Marquis

New York



I.-Carter

|Carter was not exactly a negro, but he was a “nigger.” Seven drops of
his blood out of every eight were Caucasian. The eighth, being African,
classified him. The white part of him despised and pitied the black
part. The black part hated the white part. Consequently, wherever Carter
went he carried his own hell along inside of him.

Carter began to learn that he was a nigger very early in life. Nigger
children are not left long in doubt anywhere, and especially in the
South. Carter first saw the light--and the shadows--of day in Atlanta.
The color line itself, about which one hears so much talk, seemed to run
along one end of the alley in which he was born. It was an alley with a
gutter and a great deal of mud in it. At the corner, where it gave into
a little narrow street not much better than an alley itself, the mud was
the thickest, deepest, and best adapted to sculptural purposes. But in
the little street lived a number of white families. They were most
of them mill hands, and a numerous spawn of skinny children, little
“crackers,” with faces white and sad even from babyhood, disputed the
mud with the nigger children. Nigger babies of five, four, three, and
even two, understood quite well that this most desirable mud, even
though it was in the nigger alley, was claimed by the white babies as
_their_ mud. It was in every way a more attractive sort of mud than
any in the little street proper; and juvenile race riots were of almost
hourly occurrence--skirmishes in which the very dogs took part. For the
dogs grasped the situation as clearly as did the children; a “nigger”
 dog, even though he may have started in life as a white man’s dog, soon
gets a certain look about him.

So there was no chance for Carter to escape the knowledge that he was
a nigger. But it was with a thrill that he perceived in his youthful
excursions from the home alley, that he was sometimes mistaken for a
white child. He was so white in color that one could not tell he was a
nigger at a casual glance.

As he grew up, he made another discovery that elated and embittered him
still more. He found out who his father was--or rather, who his father
had been, since he never saw that gentleman. The white blood in Carter’s
veins was no common ichor. Because white people seldom speak of these
things it does not follow that they are not known pretty generally among
the negroes. They are, in fact, discussed.

Carter went to school; he made the further discovery that he had
brains--“white man’s brains” is the way he put it to himself. Given the
opportunity, he told himself, he could go as far as the average white
man--perhaps further than the average. The white man’s standard, nigger
though he was, was still the standard by which he must measure himself.
But the opportunity! Even as the youth prepared himself for it he
perceived, hopelessly, that it would be denied him.

As he matured he began to feel a strange, secret pride in that
white family whose blood he shared. He familiarized himself with its
genealogy. There is many a courtier who cannot trace his ancestry as
far back as Carter could. One of his forebears had signed Magna Charta;
several had fought in the Revolutionary War. There had been a United
States Senator in the family, and a Confederate General. At times,
feeling the vigorous impulse of hereditary instinct and ambitions,
Carter looked upon himself as all white man, but never for long, nor to
any purpose. The consciousness of his negro blood pulled him down again.

But, as he grew up, he ceased to herd with black negroes; he scorned
them. He crept about the world cursing it and himself--an unfortunate
and bitter creature that had no place; unfortunate and bitter, cursed
with an intellect, denied that mitigation that might have come with a
full share of the negro jovialty of disposition, forever unreconciled.

There was one member of that white family from which he drew so much of
his blood whom Carter particularly admired. Willoughby Howard was about
Carter’s own age, and he was Carter’s half-brother. Howard did not
distinguish Carter from any other mulatto; probably did not know of his
existence. But as Howard reached manhood, and, through virtue of his
wealth and standing and parts, began to attain an excellent place in
the world, his rise was watched by Carter with a strange intensity of
emotion. Carter in some occult way identified himself with the career of
Willoughby Howard--sometimes he almost worshiped Willoughby Howard,
and then he hated him; he envied him and raged over him with the same
breath.

But mostly, as the isolation of his own condition, ate into his soul,
he raged over himself; he pitied himself; he hated himself. Out of the
turmoil of his spirit arose the one despairing cry, Oh, to be white,
white, _white!_

Many a night he lay awake until daybreak, measuring the slow minutes
with the ceaseless iteration of that useless prayer: Only to be white! O
God, for _one little year of being white!_

Fruitless hours of prayers and curses!

Carter went North. He went to New York. But the North, which affects to
promise so much to the negro, in a large, loose, general way, does not
perform in the same degree. There was only one thing which Carter would
have thanked any one for performing; it was the one thing that could
never be performed--he wanted to be made white. Sometimes, indeed, from
the depths of his despair, he cried out that he wanted to be altogether
black; but in his soul he did not really want that.

Nevertheless, at several different periods he yielded to temptation
and “went over to the whites.” In the South he could not have done
this without discovery, in spite of the color of his skin. But in the
Northern cities, with their enormous numbers of aliens, all more or less
strange to the American eye, Carter found no great difficulty in passing
as white. He “looked a little foreign” to the casual glance; that was
all.

But if there was no great difficulty in it, there was no great
satisfaction in it, either. In fact, it only made him the more bitter.
Others might think him a white man, but he knew that he was a nigger.

The incident which sent him back South, resolved to be a nigger, and to
live and die among the niggers, might not have affected another in his
condition just as it did Carter. But to him it showed conclusively that
his destiny was not a matter of environment so much as a question of
himself.

He fell in love. The girl was a waitress in a cheap restaurant near the
barber shop where Carter worked. She was herself a product of the
East Side, struggling upward from the slums; partly Italian, with some
Oriental strain in her that had given the least perceptible obliqueness
to her eyes--one of those rare hybrid products which give the thinker
pause and make him wonder what the word “American” will signify a
century from now; a creature with very red lips and very black eyebrows;
she seemed to know more than she really did; she had a kind of naïve
charm, a sort of allurement, without actual beauty; and her name had
been Anglicized into Mary.

And she loved Carter. This being, doomed from the cradle to despair, had
his moment of romance. But even in his intoxication there was no hope;
his elation was embittered and perplexed. He was tempted not to tell the
girl that he was a nigger. But if he married her, and did not tell her,
perhaps the first child would tell her. It might look more of a nigger
than he did.

But if he told her, would she marry a nigger? He decided he would tell
her. Perhaps his conscience had less to do with this decision than the
fatalism of his temperament.

So he made his revelation one Sunday evening, as they walked along the
boardwalk from Coney Island to Brighton. To him, it was a tremendous
moment. For days he had been revolving in his mind the phrases he
would use; he had been rehearsing his plea; in his imagination he saw
something spectacular, something histrionic, in his confession.

“Mary,” he said, as they sat down on a bench on the beach, “there is
something I think I ought to tell you before we get married.”

The girl turned toward him her big, sleepy, dark eyes, which always
seemed to see and understand so much more than they really did, and
looked away again.

“I ought to tell you,” he said--and as he said it, staring out to sea,
he was so imposed upon by the importance of the moment to himself that
he almost felt as if the sea listened and the waves paused--“I ought to
tell you that I have negro blood in my veins.”

She was silent. There was a moment before he dared look at her; he could
not bear to read his doom in her eyes. But finally he did muster up
courage enough to turn his head.

The girl was placidly chewing gum and gazing at an excursion vessel that
was making a landing at one of the piers.

He thought she had not heard. “Mary,” he repeated, “I have negro blood
in my veins.”

“Uh-huh,” said she. “I gotcha the first time, Steve! Say, I wonder if we
couldn’t take the boat back to town? Huh? Whatcha say?”

He looked at her almost incredulous. She had understood, and yet she
had not shrunk away from him! He examined her with a new interest; his
personal drama, in which she, perforce, must share, seemed to have made
no impression upon her whatsoever.

“Do you mean,” he said, hesitatingly, “that it will--that it won’t make
any difference to you? That you can marry me, that you _will_ marry me,
in spite of--of--in spite of what I am?”

“Gee! but ain’t you the solemn one!” said the girl, taking hold of her
gum and “stringing” it out from her lips. “Whatcha s’pose I care for a
little thing like that?”

He had looked for a sort of dramatic “situation”; and, behold, there was
none! There was none simply because the girl had no vantage point from
which to look at his life and hers. He had negro blood in his veins--and
she simply did not care one way or the other!

He felt no elation, no exultation; he believed that she _should_ have
cared; whether her love was great enough to pardon that in him or not,
she should have felt it as a thing that _needed_ pardon.

As he stared at the girl, and she continued to chew her gum, he swiftly
and subtly revised his estimate of her; and in his new appraisement
there was more than a tinge of disgust. And for a moment he became
altogether a white man in his judgment of the thing that was happening;
he looked at the situation as a patrician of the South might have looked
at it; the seven eighths of his blood which was white spoke:

“By God!” he said, suddenly leaping to his feet and flinging aside the
startled hand which the girl put out toward him, “I can’t have anything
to do with a woman who’d marry a nigger!”

So Carter went back to Atlanta. And, curiously enough, he stepped from
the train almost into the midst of a strange and terrible conflict of
which the struggle in his individual breast was, in a sense, the type
and the symbol.

It was a Saturday night in September, an evening on which there began
a memorable and sanguinary massacre of negroes; an event which has been
variously explained and analyzed, but of which, perhaps, the underlying
causes will never be completely understood.

There was riot in the streets, a whirlwind of passion which lashed the
town and lifted up the trivial souls of men and spun them round and
round, and passed and left the stains of blood behind. White men were
making innocent negroes suffer for the brutal crimes of guilty negroes.
It had been a hot summer; scarcely a day had passed during July and
August without bringing to the newspapers from somewhere in Georgia
a report of a negro assault upon some white woman. A blind,
undiscriminating anger against the whole negro race had been growing and
growing. And when, on that Saturday afternoon, the newspapers reported
four more crimes, in rapid succession, all in or near Atlanta, the
cumulative rage burst into a storm.

There was no danger for Carter in the streets; more than a hasty glance
was necessary to spy out his negro taint. He stood in a doorway, in the
heart of the business district of the town, and watched the wild work
that went on in a large, irregular plaza, where five streets come
together and all the car lines in the place converge. From this roughly
triangular plaza leads Decatur Street, at one time notorious throughout
the South for its negro dives and gambling-dens.

Now and then Carter could hear the crack of a pistol, close at hand
or far away; and again some fleeing negro would start from a place of
temporary concealment, at the approach of a mob that beat its way along
a street, and make a wild dash for safety, as a rabbit startled from the
sedge-grass scurries to the brush. There was not one mob, but several;
the different bands united, split up, and reunited, as the shifting
winds of madness blew. The plaza, with arc lights all about it, was
the brilliantly illuminated stage on which more than one scene of that
disgusting melodrama was played out; from some dim hell of gloom and
clamor to the north or east would rush a shouting group that whirled
and swayed beneath the lights, dancing like flecks of soot in their
brightness, to disappear in the gloom again, shouting, cursing, and
gesticulating, down one of the thoroughfares to the west or south. And
to Carter, in whose heart there waxed a fearful turmoil of emotions,
even as the two races clashed along the echoing streets, there was a
strange element of unreality about it all; or, rather, the night was
dreadful with that superior reality which makes so much more vivid than
waking life the intense experience of dreams. Carter thrilled; he shook;
he was torn with terror and pity and horror and hatred.

No white man felt all that Carter felt that night; nor yet any negro.
For he was both, and he was neither; and he beheld that conflict which
was forever active in his own nature dramatized by fate and staged with
a thousand actors in the lighted proscenium at his feet.

This thought struck Carter himself, and he turned toward another man who
had paused in the doorway, with no clear intention, but perhaps with the
vague impulse of addressing him, as a point of solid contact and relief
from the sense of hurrying nightmare that possessed both the streets and
his own spirit.

Startled, he saw that the other man was Willoughby Howard. Carter
hesitated, and then advanced a step. But whatever he had to say was
interrupted by a crowd that swept past them from Decatur Street in
pursuit of a panting negro. The fleeing colored man was struck a dozen
times; he fell at the street corner near them, and the mob surged
on again into the darkness beyond, already in full chase of another
quarry--all but one man, who left the mob and ran back as if to assure
himself that the prostrate negro was really dead.

This was a short man, a very short man, a dwarf with a big head too
heavy for him, and little bandy legs--legs so inadequate that he wabbled
like an overfed poodle when he ran. Carter had seen him twice before
that night, dodging in and out among the feet of the rioters like an
excited cur, stumbling, falling, trodden upon; a being with bloodshot
eyes and matted hair, hoarse voice and menacing fist, drunken and
staggering with blood lust; the very Gnome of Riot himself come up from
some foul cave and howling in the streets. “Kill them! Kill them!”
 he would cry, and then shake with cackling laughter. But he was only
valiant when there was; no danger. As he approached the negro who lay
upon the ground, and bent over him, Willoughby Howard stepped down
from the doorway and aimed a blow at the creature with a cane. The blow
missed, but the dwarf ran shrieking down Decatur Street.

Howard bent over the negro. The negro stirred; he was not dead. Howard
turned toward Carter and said:

“He’s alive! Help me get him out of the street.”

Together they lifted the wounded man, moving him toward the curbstone.
He groaned and twisted, and they laid him down. Howard poured whisky
into him from a pocket flask, and a little later he managed to struggle
to a sitting posture on the curb, looking up at them with dazed eyes and
a bloody face.

Howard took his slow gaze from the negro and covered his face with his
hands.

Carter watched him.

Of all men in the world this was the one whom Carter most honored and
most loved--honored and loved, while he envied; he was the only man,
perhaps, that could have touched Carter through his crust of bitterness.
Carter listened with strained attention for what Howard would say, as if
with some premonition that the words would be the cue for the most vital
action of his life.

“My God! My God!” said Willoughby Howard, “will this thing never stop?”
 And then he straightened himself and turned toward the shadow into which
Carter had retired, and there was the glow and glory of a large idea on
his face; the thought of a line of men never lacking, when once aroused,
in the courage to do and die for a principle or a human need. “There is
one way,” he cried, stretching out his hands impulsively to Carter, and
not knowing to whom or to what manner of man he spoke--“there is one way
to make them pause and think! If two of us white men of the better class
offer our lives for these poor devils--die in their defense!--the mob
will halt; the crowd will think; we can end it! Will you do it, with me?
Will you do it?”

Two of us white men of the better class! Willoughby Howard had taken him
for a white man!

It was like an accolade. A light blazed through the haunted caverns of
his soul; he swelled with a vast exultation.

Willoughby Howard had taken him for a white man! Then, by God, he would
be one! Since he was nothing in this life, he could at least die--and in
his death he would be a white man! Nay, more:--he would die shoulder to
shoulder with one of that family whose blood he shared. He would show
that he, too, could shed that blood for an idea or a principle! For
humanity! At the thought he could feel it singing in his veins. Oh, to
be white, white, white! The dreams and the despairs of all his miserable
and hampered life passed before him in a whirl, and now the cry was
answered!

“Yes,” he said, lifting his head, and rising at that instant into a
larger thing than he had ever been, “I will stand by you. I will die
with you.” And under his breath he added--“my brother.”

They had not long to wait. In the confused horror of that night things
happened quickly. Even as Carter spoke the wounded negro struggled to
his feet with a scarce articulate cry of alarm, for around the corner
swept a mob, and the dwarf with matted hair was in the lead. He had come
back with help to make sure of his job.

With the negro cowering behind them, the white man and the mulatto
stepped forth to face the mob. Their attitude made their intention
obvious.

“Don’t be a damned fool, Willoughby Howard,” said a voice from the
crowd, “or you may get hurt yourself.” And with the words there was a
rush, and the three were in the midst of the clamoring madness, the mob
dragging the negro from his two defenders.

“Be careful--don’t hurt Willoughby Howard!” said the same voice again.
Willoughby turned, and, recognizing the speaker as an acquaintance, with
a sudden access of scorn and fury and disgust, struck him across the
mouth. The next moment his arms were pinioned, and he was lifted and
flung away from the negro he had been fighting to protect by half a
dozen men.

“You fools! You fools!” he raged, struggling toward the center of
the crowd again, “you’re killing a white man there. An innocent white
man------ Do you stop at nothing? You’re killing a _white man_, I say!”

“White man?” said the person whom he had struck, and who appeared to
bear him little resentment for the blow. “Who’s a white man? Not Jerry
Carter here! He wasn’t any white man. I’ve known him since he was a
kid--he was just one of those yaller niggers.”

And Carter heard it as he died.



II--Old Man Murtrie

|Old Man Murtrie never got any fresh air at all, except on Sundays on
his way to and from church. He lived, slept, cooked and ate back of the
prescription case in his little dismal drug store in one of the most
depressing quarters of Brooklyn. The store was dimly lighted by gas and
it was always damp and suggested a tomb. Drifting feebly about in the
pale and cold and faintly greenish radiance reflected from bottles and
show cases, Old Man Murtrie with his bloodless face and dead white hair
and wisps of whisker was like a ghost that has not managed to get free
from the neighborhood of a sepulcher where its body lies disintegrating.

People said that Old Man Murtrie was nearly a hundred years old,
but this was not true; he was only getting along towards ninety. The
neighborhood, however, seemed a little impatient with him for not dying.
Some persons suggested that perhaps he really had been dead for a long
time, and did not know it. If so, they thought, it might be kind to tell
him about it.

But Old Man Murtrie was not dead, any more than he was alive. And Death
himself, who has his moments of impatience, began to get worried about
Old Man Murtrie. It was time, Death thought, that he was dead, since he
looked so dead; and Death had said so, both to God and to the Devil.

“But I don’t want to garner him, naturally,” Death would say, “till
I know which one of you is to have him. He’s got to go somewhere, you
know.”

God and Death and the Devil used to sit on the prescription counter in
a row, now and then, and watch Old Man Murtrie as he slept in his humble
little cot back there, and discuss him.

God would look at Old Man Murtrie’s pale little Adam’s Apple sticking up
in the faint gaslight, and moving as he snored--moving feebly, for even
his snores were feeble--and say, with a certain distaste:

“I don’t want him. He can’t get into Heaven.”

And the Devil would look at his large, weak, characterless nose;--a
nose so big that it might have suggested force on any one but Old Man
Murtrie--and think what a sham it was, and how effectually all its
contemptible effort to be a real nose was exposed in Old Man Murtrie’s
sleep. And the Devil would say:

“I don’t want him. He can’t get into Hell.”

And then Death would say, querulously: “But he can’t go on living
forever. My reputation is suffering.”

“You should take him,” the Devil would say to God. “He goes to church
on Sunday, and he is the most meek and pious and humble and prayerful
person in all Brooklyn, and perhaps in all the world.”

“But he takes drugs,” God would say. “You should take him, because he is
a drug fiend.”

“He takes drugs,” the Devil would admit, “but that doesn’t make him a
_fiend_. You have to do something besides take drugs to be a fiend. You
will permit me to have my own notions, I am sure, on what constitutes a
fiend.”

“You ought to forgive him the drugs for the sake of his piety,” the
Devil would say. “And taking drugs is his only vice. He doesn’t drink,
or smoke tobacco, or use profane language, or gamble. And he doesn’t run
after women.”

“You ought to forgive him the piety for the sake of the drugs,” God
would tell the Devil.

“I never saw such a pair as you two,” Death would say querulously.
“Quibble, quibble, quibble!--while Old Man Murtrie goes on and on
living! He’s lived so long that he is affecting death rates and
insurance tables, all by himself, and you know what that does to my
reputation.”

And Death would stoop over and run his finger caressingly across Old Man
Murtrie’s throat, as the Old Man slept. Whereupon Old Man Murtrie would
roll over on his back and moan in his sleep and gurgle.

“He has wanted to be a cheat all his life,” God would say to the Devil.
“He has always had the impulse to give short weight and substitute
inferior drugs in his prescriptions and overcharge children who were
sent on errands to his store. If that isn’t sin I don’t know what sin
is. You should take him.”

“I admit he has had those impulses,” the Devil would say to God. “But
he has never yielded to them. In my opinion having those impulses and
conquering them makes him a great deal more virtuous than if he’d never
had ‘em. No one who is as virtuous as all that can get into Hell.”

“I never saw such a pair,” Death would grumble. “Can’t you agree with
each other about anything?”

“He didn’t abstain from his vices because of any courage,” God would
say. “He abstained simply because he was afraid. It wasn’t virtue in
him; it was cowardice.”

“The fear of the Lord,” murmured the Devil, dreamily, “is the beginning
of all wisdom.”

“But not necessarily the end of it,” God would remark.

“Argue, argue, argue,” Death would say, “and here’s Old Man Murtrie
still alive! I’m criticized about the way I do my work, but no one has
any idea of the vacillation and inefficiency I have to contend with! I
never saw such a pair as you two to vacillate!”

Sometimes Old Man Murtrie would wake up and turn over on his couch and
see God and Death and the Devil sitting in a row on the prescription
counter, looking at him. But he always persuaded himself that it was
a sort of dream, induced by the “medicine” he took; and he would take
another dose of his “medicine” and go back to sleep again. He never
spoke to them when he waked, but just lay on his cot and stared at them;
and if they spoke to him he would pretend to himself that they had not
spoken. For it was absurd to think that God and Death and the Devil
could really be sitting there, in the dim greenish gaslight, among all
the faintly radiant bottles, talking to each other and looking at him;
and so Old Man Murtrie would not believe it.

When he first began taking his “medicine” Old Man Murtrie took it in the
form of a certain patent preparation which was full of opium. He wanted
the opium more and more after he started, but he pretended to himself
that he did not know there was much opium in that medicine. Then, when a
federal law banished that kind of medicine from the markets, he took to
making it for his own use. He would not take opium outright, for that
would be to acknowledge to himself that he was an opium eater; he
thought eating opium was a sin, and he thought of himself as sinless.
But to make the medicine with the exact formula that its manufacturers
had used, before they had been compelled to shut up shop, and use it,
did not seem to him to be the same thing at all as being an opium eater.
And yet, after the law was passed, abolishing the medicine, he would not
sell to any one else what he made for himself; his conscience would not
allow him to do so. Therefore, he must have known that he was eating
opium at the same time he tried to fool himself about it.

God and the Devil used to discuss the ethics of this attitude towards
the “medicine,” and Old Man Murtrie would sometimes pretend to be asleep
and would listen to them.

“He knows it is opium all right,” God would say. “He is just lying to
himself about it. He ought to go to Hell. No one that lies to himself
that way can get into Heaven.”

“He’s pretending for the sake of society in general and for the sake of
religion,” the Devil would say. “If he admitted to himself that it was
opium and if he let the world know that he took opium, it might bring
discredit on the church that he loves so well. He might become a
stumbling block to others who are seeking salvation, and who seek it
through the church. He is willing to sacrifice himself so as not to
hamper others in their religious life. For my part, I think it is highly
honorable of him, and highly virtuous. No person as moral as that in his
instincts can get into Hell.”

“Talk, talk, talk!” Death would say. “The trouble with you two is that
neither one of you wants Old Man Murtrie around where you will have to
look at him through all eternity, and each of you is trying to put it on
moral grounds.”

And Old Man Murtrie kept on living and praying and being pious and
wanting to be bad and not daring to and taking his medicine and being
generally as ineffectual in the world either for good or evil as a
butterfly in a hurricane.

But things took a turn. There was a faded-looking blonde woman with
stringy hair by the name of Mable who assisted Old Man Murtrie in the
store, keeping his books and waiting on customers, and so forth. She was
unmarried, and one day she announced to him that she was going to have a
child.

Old Man Murtrie had often looked at her with a recollection, a dim and
faint remembrance, of the lusts of his youth and of his middle age.
In his youth and middle age he had lusted after many women, but he had
never let any of them know it, because he was afraid, and he had called
his fears virtue, and had really believed that he was virtuous.

“Whom do you suspect?” asked Old Man Murtrie, leering at Mable like a
wraith blown down the ages from the dead adulteries of ruined Babylon.

“Who?” cried Mable, an unlessoned person, but with a cruel, instinctive
humor. “Who but you!”

She had expected Old Man Murtrie to be outraged at her ridiculous joke,
and, because she was unhappy herself, had anticipated enjoying his
astounded protests. But it was she who was astounded. Old Man Murtrie’s
face was blank and his eyes were big for a moment, and then he chuckled;
a queer little cackling chuckle. And when she went out he opened the
door for her and cocked his head and cackled again.

It gave Mable an idea. She reflected that he took so much opium that he
might possibly be led to believe the incredible, and she might get some
money out of him. So the next evening she brought her mother and her
brother to the store and accused him.

Old Man Murtrie chuckled and... _and admitted it!_ Whether he believed
that it could be true or not, Mable and her people were unable to
determine. But they made the tactical error of giving him his choice
between marriage and money, and he chose matrimony.

And then Old Man Murtrie was suddenly seized with a mania for
confession. God and Death and the Devil used to listen to him nights,
and they wondered over him, and began to change their minds about him, a
little. He confessed to the officials of his church. He confessed to all
the people whom he knew. He insisted on making a confession, a public
confession, in the church itself and asking for the prayers of the
preacher and congregation for his sin, and telling them that he was
going to atone by matrimony, and asking for a blessing on the wedding.

And one night, full of opium, while he-was babbling about it in his
sleep, God and Death and the Devil sat on the prescription counter again
and looked at him and listened to his ravings and speculated.

“I’m going to have him,” said the Devil. “Any one who displays such
conspicuous bad taste that he goes around confessing that he has ruined
a woman ought to go to Hell.”

“You don’t want him for that reason,” said God. “And you know you don’t.
You want him because you admire the idea of adultery, and think that now
he is worthy of a place in Hell. You are rather entertained by Old Man
Murtrie, and want him around now.”

“Well,” said the Devil, “suppose I admit that is true! Have you any
counter claim?”

“Yes,” said God. “I am going to take Old Man Murtrie into Heaven. He
knows he is not the father of the child that is going to be born, but he
has deliberately assumed the responsibility lest it be born fatherless,
and I think that is a noble act.”

“Rubbish!” said the Devil. “That isn’t the reason you want him. You want
him because of the paternal instinct he displays. It flatters you!”

“Well,” said God, “why not? The paternal instinct is another name for
the great creative force of the universe. I have been known by many
names in many countries... they called me Osiris, the All-Father, in
Egypt, and they called me Jehovah in Palestine, and they called me
Zeus and Brahm... but always they recognized me as the Father. And this
instinct for fatherliness appeals to me. Old Man Murtrie shall come to
Heaven.”

“Such a pair as you two,” said Death, gloomily, “I never did see!
Discuss and discuss, but never get anywhere! And all the time Old Man
Murtrie goes on living.”

And then Death added:

“Why not settle this matter once and for all, right now? Why not wake
Old Man Murtrie up and let him decide?”

“Decide?” asked the Devil.

“Yes,--whether he wants to go to Hell or to Heaven.”

“I imagine,” said God, “that if we do that there can be no question as
to which place he would rather go to.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said the Devil. “Some people come to Hell quite
willingly. I’ve been to Heaven myself, you know, and I can quite
understand why. Are you afraid to have Old Man Murtrie make the choice?”

“Wake him up, Death, wake him up,” said God. “It’s unusual to allow
people to know that they are making their own decision--though all of
them, in a sense, do make it--but wake him up, Death, and we’ll see.”

So Death prodded Old Man Murtrie in the ribs, and they asked him. For a
long time he thought it was only opium, but when he finally understood
that it was really God and Death and the Devil who were there, and that
it was really they who had often been there before, he was very much
frightened. He was so frightened he couldn’t choose.

“I’ll leave it to you, I’ll leave it to you,” said Old Man Murtrie. “Who
am I that I should set myself up to decide?”

“Well,” said God, getting a little angry, perhaps, “if you don’t want to
go to Heaven, Murtrie, you don’t have to. But you’ve been, praying to go
to Heaven, and all that sort of thing, for seventy or eighty years, and
I naturally thought you were in earnest. But I’m through with you... you
can go to Hell.”

“Oh! Oh! Oh!” moaned Old Man Murtrie.

“No,” said the Devil, “I’ve changed my mind, too. My distaste for
Murtrie has returned to me. I don’t want him around. I won’t have him in
Hell.”

“See here, now!” cried Death. “You two are starting it all over again.
I won’t have it, so I won’t! You aren’t fair to Murtrie, and you aren’t
fair to me! This matter has got to be settled, and settled to-night!”

“Well, then,” said God, “settle it. I’ve ceased to care one way or
another.”

“I will not,” said Death, “I know my job, and I stick to my job. One of
you two has got to settle it.”

“Toss a coin,” suggested the Devil, indifferently.

Death looked around for one.

“There’s a qu-qu-quarter in m-m-my t-t-trousers’ p-p-pocket,” stammered
Old Man Murtrie, and then stuck his head under the bedclothes and
shivered as if he had the ague.

Death picked up Murtrie’s poor little weazened trousers from the floor
at the foot of the cot, where they lay sprawled untidily, and shook them
till the quarter dropped out.

He picked it up.

“Heads, he goes to Heaven. Tails, he goes to Hell,” said Death, and
tossed the coin to the ceiling. Murtrie heard it hit the ceiling, and
started. He heard it hit the floor, and bounce, and jingle and spin and
roll and come to rest. And he thrust his head deeper under the covers
and lay there quaking. He did not dare look.

“Look at it, Murtrie,” said Death.

“Oh! Oh! Oh!” groaned Murtrie, shaking the cot.

But Death reached over and caught him by the neck and turned his face so
that he could not help seeing. And Old Man Murtrie looked and saw that
the coin had fallen with the side up that sent him to----

But, really, why should I tell you? Go and worry about your own soul,
and let Old Man Murtrie’s alone.



III.--Never Say Die

|There seemed nothing left but suicide.

But how? In what manner? By what method? Mr. Gooley lay on his bed and
thought--or tried to think. The pain in his head, which had been there
ever since the day after he had last eaten, prevented easy and coherent
thought.

It had been three days ago that the pain left his stomach and went into
his head. Hunger had become a cerebral thing, he told himself. His body
had felt hunger so long that it refused to feel it any longer; it had
shifted the burden to his brain.

“It has passed the buck to my mind, my stomach has,” murmured Mr. Gooley
feebly. And the mind, less by the process of coherent and connected
thought than by a sudden impulsive pounce, had grasped the idea of
suicide.

“Not with a knife,” considered Mr. Gooley. He had no knife. He had no
money to buy a knife. He had no strength to go down the three flights
of stairs in the cheap Brooklyn lodging house where he lay, and borrow a
knife from the landlady who came and went vaguely in the nether regions,
dim and damp and dismal.

“Not with a knife,” repeated Mr. Gooley. And a large cockroach, which
had been crawling along the footpiece of the old-fashioned wooden bed,
stopped crawling at the words as if it understood, and turned about and
looked at him.

Mr. Gooley wondered painfully, for it was a pain even to wonder about
anything, why this cockroach should remind him of somebody who was
somehow connected with a knife, and not unpleasantly connected with a
knife. The cockroach stood up on the hindmost pair of his six legs, and
seemed to put his head on one side and motion with his front legs at Mr.
Gooley.

“I get you,” said Mr. Gooley, conscious that his mind was wandering from
the point, and willing to let it wander. “I know who you are! You were
Old Man Archibald Hammil, the hardware merchant back in Mapletown, where
I was a kid, before you dried up and turned into a cockroach.” And Mr.
Gooley wept a few weak tears. For old Archibald Hammil, the village
hardware merchant, had sold him the first knife he had ever owned.
His father had taken him into Hammil’s store to buy it on his seventh
birthday, for a present, and it had had a buckhorn handle and two
blades. Again he saw Old Man Hammil in his dingy brown clothes, looking
at him, with his head on one side, as this cockroach was doing. Again
he felt his father pat him on the head, and heard him say always to
remember to whittle _away_ from himself, never _toward_ himself. And he
saw himself, shy and flushed and eager, a freckle-faced boy as good and
as bad as most boys, looking up at his father and wriggling and wanting
to thank him, and not knowing how. That was nearly forty years ago--and
here he was, a failure and starving and------

_Why_ had he wanted a knife? Yes, he remembered now! To kill himself
with.

“It’s none of your damned business, Old Man Hammil,” he said to the
cockroach, which was crawling back and forth on the footboard, and
pausing every now and then to look at him with disapproval.

Old Man Hammil had had ropes in his store, too, and guns and pistols,
he remembered. He hadn’t thought of Old Man Hammi’s store in many years;
but now he saw it, and the village street outside it, and the place
where the stores left off on the street and the residences began, and
berry bushes, and orchards, and clover in the grass--the random bloom,
the little creek that bounded the town, and beyond the creek the open
country with its waving fields of oats and rye and com. His head hurt
him worse. He would go right back into Old Man Hammil’s store and get a
rope or a gun and end that pain.

But _that_ was foolish, too. There wasn’t any store. There was only Old
Man Hammil here, shrunk to the size of a cockroach, in his rusty brown
suit, looking at him from the footboard of the bed and telling him in
pantomime not to kill himself.

“I will too!” cried Mr. Gooley to Old Man Hammil. And he repeated, “It’s
none of _your_ damned business!”

But how? Not with a knife. He had none. Not with a gun. He had none. Not
with a rope. He had none. He thought of his suspenders. But they would
never hold him.

“Too weak, even for me,” muttered Mr. Gooley. “I have shrunk so I
don’t weigh much more than Old Man Hammil there, but even at that those
suspenders would never do the business.”

How did people kill themselves? He must squeeze his head till the pain
let up a little, so he could think. Poison! That was it--yes, poison!
And then he cackled out a small, dry, throaty laugh, his Adam’s apple
fluttering in his weazened throat under his sandy beard. Poison! He
_hadn’t_ any poison. He hadn’t any money with which to buy poison.

And then began a long, broken and miserable debate within himself. If he
had money enough with which to buy poison, would he go and buy poison?
Or go and buy a bowl of soup? It was some moments before Mr. Gooley
decided.

“I’d be game,” he said. “I’d buy the soup. I’d give myself that one more
chance. I must remember while I’m killing myself, that I’m not killing
myself because I _want_ to. I’m just doing it because I’ve _got_ to. I’m
not romantic. I’m just all in. It’s the end; that’s all.”

Old Man Hammil, on the footboard of the bed, permitted himself a series
of gestures which Mr. Gooley construed as applause of this resolution.
They angered Mr. Gooley, those gestures.

“You shut up!” he told the cockroach, although that insect had not
spoken, but only made signs. “This is none of your damned business, Old
Man Hammil!”

Old Man Hammil, he remembered, had always been a meddlesome old
party--one of the village gossips, in fact. And that set him to thinking
of Mapletown again.

The mill pond near the schoolhouse would soon be freezing over, and
the boys would be skating on it--it was getting into December. And they
would be going into Old Man Hammil’s store for skates and straps and
heel plates and files. And he remembered his first pair of skates, and
how his father had taught him the proper way to keep them sharp with a
file. He and the old dad had always been pretty good pals, and----

Good God! Why _should_ he be coming back to that? And to Old Man
Hammil’s store? It was that confounded cockroach there, reminding him of
Old Man Hammil, that had done it. He wanted to die decently and quietly,
and as quickly as might be, without thinking of all these things.
He didn’t want to lie there and die of starvation, he wanted to kill
himself and be done with it without further misery--and it was a part
of the ridiculous futility of his life, his baffled and broken and
insignificant life, that he couldn’t even kill himself competently--that
he lay there suffering and ineffectual and full of self-pity, a prey to
memories and harassing visions of the past, all mingled with youth and
innocence and love, without the means of a quick escape. It was that
damned cockroach, looking like Old Man Hammil, the village hardware
merchant, that had brought back the village and his youth to him, and
all those intolerable recollections.

He took his dirty pillow and feebly menaced the cockroach. Feeble as the
gesture was, the insect took alarm. It disappeared from the footboard
of the bed. A minute later, however, he saw it climbing the wall. It
reached the ceiling, and crawled to the center of the room. Mr. Goo-ley
watched it. He felt as if he, too, could crawl along the ceiling. He had
the crazy notion of trying. After all, he told himself light-headedly,
Old Cockroach Hammil up there on the ceiling had been friendly--the only
friendly thing, human or otherwise, that had made overtures to him in
many, many months. And he had scared Cockroach Hammil away! He shed some
more maudlin tears.

What was the thing doing now? He watched as the insect climbed on to
the gas pipe that came down from the ceiling. It descended the rod and
perched itself on the gas jet. From this point of vantage it began once
more to regard Mr. Gooley with a singular intentness.

Ah! Gas! That was it! What a fool he had been not to think of it sooner!
That was the way people killed themselves! Gas!

Mr. Gooley got himself weakly out of bed. He would get the thing over as
quickly as possible now. It would be damnably unpleasant before he lost
consciousness, no doubt, and painful. But likely not more unpleasant and
painful than his present state. And he simply could not bear any more of
those recollections, any more visions.

He turned his back on the cockroach, which was watching him from the
gas jet, and went methodically to work. The window rattled; between the
upper and lower sashes there was a crevice a quarter of an inch wide. He
plugged it with paper. There was a break in the wall of his closet; the
plaster had fallen away, and a chink allowed the cockroaches from his
room easy access to the closet of the adjoining room. He plugged that
also, and was about to turn his attention to the keyhole, when there
came a knock on his door.

Mr. Gooley’s first thought was: “What can any one want with a dead man?”
 For he looked upon himself as already dead. There came a second knock,
more peremptory than the first, and he said mechanically, “Come in!” It
would have to be postponed a few minutes, that was all.

The door opened, and in walked his landlady. She was a tall and bulky
and worried-looking woman, who wore a faded blond wig that was always
askew, and Mr. Gooley was afraid of her. Her wig was more askew than
usual when she entered, and he gathered from this that she was angry
about something--why the devil must she intrude her trivial mundane
anger upon himself, a doomed man? It was not seemly.

“Mr. Gooley,” she began severely, without preamble, “I have always
looked on you as a gentleman.”

“Yes?” he murmured dully.

“But you ain’t,” she continued. “You ain’t no better than a cheat.”

He shrugged his shoulders patiently. He supposed that she was right
about it. He owed her three weeks’ room rent, and he was going to die
and beat her out of it. But he couldn’t help it.

“It ain’t the room rent,” she went on, as if vaguely cognizant of the
general trend of his thoughts. “It ain’t the room rent alone. You either
pay me that or you don’t pay me that, and if you don’t, out you go. But
while you are here, you must conduct yourself as a gentleman should!”

“Well,” murmured Mr. Gooley, “haven’t I?”

And the cockroach, perched on the gas jet above the landlady’s head, and
apparently listening to this conversation, moved several of his legs, as
if in surprise.

“You have not!” said the landlady, straightening her wig.

“What have I done, Mrs. Hinkley?” asked Mr. Gooley humbly. And Old
Cockroach Hammil from his perch also made signs of inquiry.

“What have you done! What have you done!” cried Mrs. Hinkley. “As if the
man didn’t know what he had done I You’ve been stealin’ my gas, that’s
what you have been doin’--stealin’, I say, and there’s no other word for
it!”

Mr. Gooley started guiltily. He had not been stealing her gas, but it
came over him with a shock for the first time that that was what he
had, in effect, been planning to do. The cockroach, as if it also felt
convicted of sin, gave the gas jet a glance of horror and moved up the
rod to the ceiling, where it continued to listen.

“Stealin’!” repeated Mrs. Hinkley. “That’s what it is, nothin’ else
but stealin’. You don’t ever stop to think when you use one of them gas
plates to cook in your room, Mr. Gooley--which it is expressly forbid
and agreed on that no cooking shall be done in these rooms when they’re
rented to you--that it’s my gas you’re using, and that I have to pay for
it, and that it’s just as much stealin’ as if you was to put your hand
into my pocket-book and take my money!”

“Cooking? Gas plate?” muttered Mr. Gooley. “Don’t say you ain’t got
one!” cried Mrs. Hinkley. “You all got ‘em! Every last one of you! Don’t
you try to come none of your sweet innocence dodges over me. I know
you, and the whole tribe of you! I ain’t kept lodgers for thirty years
without knowing the kind of people they be! ‘Gas plate! Gas plate!’ says
you, as innocent as if you didn’t know what a gas plate was! You got it
hid here somewheres, and I ain’t going to stir from this room until I
get my hands on it and squash it under my feet! Come across with it, Mr.
Gooley, come across with it!”

“But I _haven’t_ one,” said Mr. Gooley, very ill and very weary. “You
can look, if you want to.”

And he lay back upon the bed. The cockroach slyly withdrew himself from
the ceiling, came down the wall, and crawled to the foot of the bed
again. If Mrs. Hinkley noticed him, she said nothing; perhaps it was not
a part of her professional policy to draw attention to cockroaches on
the premises. She stood and regarded Mr. Gooley for some moments, while
he turned his head away from her in apathy. Her first anger seemed to
have spent itself. But finally, with a new resolution, she said: “And
look I will! You got one, or else that blondined party in the next room
has lied.”

She went into the closet and he heard her opening his trunk. She pulled
it into the bedroom and examined the interior. It didn’t take long. She
dived under the bed and drew out his battered suitcase, so dilapidated
that he had not been able to get a quarter for it at the pawnshop, but
no more dilapidated than his trunk.

She seemed struck, for the first time since her entrance, with the utter
bareness of the room. Outside of the bed, one chair, the bureau, and
Mr. Cooley’s broken shoes at the foot of the bed, there was absolutely
nothing in it.

She sat down in the chair beside the bed. “Mr. Gooley,” she said, “you
_ain’t_ got any gas plate.”

“No,” he said.

“Mr. Gooley,” she said, “you got _nothing at all._

“No,” he said, “nothing.”

“You had a passel of books and an overcoat five or six weeks ago,” she
said, “when you come here. It was seein’ them books, and knowing what
you was four or five years ago, when you lived here once before, that
made me sure you was a gentleman.”

Mr. Gooley made no reply. The cockroach on the foot of the bed also
seemed to be listening to see if Mrs. Hinkley had anything more to say,
and suspending judgment.

“Mr. Gooley,” said the landlady, “I beg your pardon. You was lied on by
one that has a gas plate herself, and when I taxed her with it, and took
it away from her, and got rid of her, she had the impudence to say she
thought it was _allowed_, and that everybody done it, and named you as
one that did.”

Mrs. Hinkley paused, but neither Mr. Gooley nor the cockroach had
anything to contribute to the conversation.

“Gas,” continued Mrs. Hinkley, “is gas. And gas costs money. I hadn’t
orter jumped on you the way I did, Mr. Gooley, but gas plates has got
to be what you might call corns on my brain, Mr. Gooley. They’re my
sensitive spot, Mr. Gooley. If I was to tell you the half of what I have
had to suffer from gas plates during the last thirty years, Mr. Gooley,
you wouldn’t believe it! There’s them that will cheat you one way and
there’s them that will cheat you another, but the best of them will
cheat you with gas plates, Mr. Gooley. With the exception of yourself,
Mr. Gooley, I ain’t had a lodger in thirty years that wouldn’t rob me
on the gas. Some don’t think it’s stealin’, Mr. Gooley, when they steal
gas. And some of ‘em don’t care if it is. But there ain’t none of ‘em
ever thinks what a _landlady_ goes through with, year in and year out.”

She paused for a moment, and then, overcome with self-pity, she began to
sniffle.

“And my rent’s been raised on me again, Mr. Gooley! And I’m a month
behind! And if I ain’t come across with the two months, the old month
and the new, by day after to-morrow, out I goes; and it means the
poorhouse as fur as I can see, because I don’t know anything else but
keeping lodgers, and I got no place to go!”

She gathered her apron up and wiped her eyes and nose with it. The
cockroach on the footboard wiped his front set of feet across his face
sympathetically.

“I got it all ready but fifteen dollars,” continued Mrs. Hinkley, “and
then in comes the gas bill this morning with _arrears_ onto it. It is
them _arrears_, Mr. Gooley, that always knocks me out! If it wasn’t for
them arrears, I could get along. And now I got to pay out part of the
rent money onto the gas bill, with them arrears on it, or the gas will
be shut off this afternoon.”

The pain in Mr. Gooley’s head was getting worse. He wished she would go.
He hated hearing her troubles. But she continued:

“It’s the way them arrears come onto the bill, Mr. Gooley, that has got
me sore. About a week before you come here again to live, Mr. Gooley,
there was a fellow stole fifteen dollars worth of my gas all at once. He
went and killed himself, Mr. Gooley, and he used my gas to do it with.
It leaked out of two jets for forty-eight hours up on the top floor,
before the door was busted in and the body was found, and it came
to fifteen dollars, and all on account of that man’s cussedness, Mr.
Gooley, I will likely get turned out into the street, and me sixty years
old and no place to turn.”

Mr. Gooley sat up in bed feebly and looked at her. She _was_ in real
trouble--in about as much trouble as he was. The cockroach walked
meditatively up and down the footboard, as if thinking it over very
seriously.

Mrs. Hinkley finally rose.

“Mr. Gooley,” she said, regarding him sharply, “you look kind o’ done
up!”

“Uh-huh,” said Mr. Gooley.

She lingered in the room for a few seconds more, irresolutely, and then
departed.

Mr. Gooley thought. Gas was barred to him now. He couldn’t bring himself
to do it with gas. There was still a chance that the old woman might
get hold of the gas money and the rent money, too, and go on for a few
years, but if he selfishly stole twelve or fifteen dollars’ worth of gas
from her this afternoon it might be just the thing that would plunge her
into immediate destitution. At any rate, it was, as she had said, like
stealing money from her pocketbook. He thought of what her life as a
rooming-house keeper must have been, and pitied her. He had known many
rooming houses. The down-and-outers know how to gauge the reality and
poignancy of the troubles of the down-and-out. No, he simply could not
do it with gas.

He must think of some other method. He was on the fourth floor. He might
throw himself out of the window onto the brick walk at the back of the
building, and die. He shuddered as he thought of it. To jump from a
twentieth story, or from the top of the Woolworth Tower, to a certain
death is one thing. To contemplate a fall of three or four stories that
may maim you without killing you, is another.

Nevertheless, he would do it. He pulled the paper out of the crevice
between the window sashes, opened the window and looked down. He saw the
back stoop and there was a dirty mop beside it; there was an ash can,
and there were two garbage cans there. And there was a starved cat that
sat and looked up at him. He had a tremor and drew back and covered his
face with his hands as he thought of that cat--that knowing cat, that
loathsome, that obscene cat.

He sat down on the edge of the bed to collect his strength and summon
his resolution. The cockroach had crawled to the head of the bed and
seemed to wish to partake of his thoughts.

“Damn you, Old Archibald Hammil!” he cried. And he scooped the cockroach
into his hand with a sudden sweep and flung it out of the window. The
insect fell without perceptible discomfort, and at once began to climb
up the outside wall again, making for the window.

The door opened and Mrs. Hinkley entered, her face cleft with a grin,
and a tray in her hands.

“Mr. Gooley,” she said, setting it on the wash-stand, “I’ll bet you
ain’t had nothing to eat today!”

On the tray was a bowl of soup, a half loaf of bread with a long keen
bread knife, a pat of butter, a boiled egg and a cup of coffee.

“No, nor yesterday, either,” said Mr. Gooley, and he looked at the soup
and at the long keen bread knife.

“Here’s something else I want to show you, Mr. Gooley,” said the
landlady, dodging out of the door and back in again instantly. She bore
in her hands this time a surprising length of flexible gas tubing, and a
small nickel-plated pearl-handled revolver.

“You see that there gas tubing?” she said.

“That is what that blondined party in the next room had on to her gas
plate--the nerve of her! Strung from the gas jet clear across the room
to the window sill. And when I throwed her out, Mr. Gooley, she wouldn’t
pay her rent, and I took this here revolver to part pay it. What kind of
a woman is it, Mr. Gooley, that has a revolver in her room, and a loaded
one, too?”

Just then the doorbell rang in the dim lower regions, and she left the
room to answer it.

And Mr. Gooley sat and looked at the knife, with which he might so
easily stab himself, and at the gas cord, with which he might so easily
hang himself, and at the loaded revolver, with which he might so easily
shoot himself.

He looked also at the bowl of soup.

He had the strength to reflect--a meal is a meal. But _after_ that meal,
what? Penniless, broken in health, friendless, a failure--why prolong it
for another twenty-four hours? A meal would prolong it, but that was
all a meal _would_ do--and after that would come the suffering and the
despair and the end to be faced all over again.

Was he man enough to take the pistol and do it now?

Or did true manhood lie the other way? Was he man enough to drink the
soup, and dare to live and hope?

Just then the cockroach, which had climbed into the window and upon the
washstand, made for the bowl of soup.

“Here!” cried Mr. Gooley, grabbing the bowl in both hands, “Old Man
Hammil! Get away from that soup!”

And the bowl being in his hands, he drank.

“What do you mean by Old Man Hammil?”

It was Mrs. Hinkley who spoke. She stood again in the doorway, with a
letter in her hands and a look of wonder on her face.

Mr. Gooley set down the soup bowl. By an effort of the will he had
only drunk half the liquid. He had heard somewhere that those who are
suffering from starvation had better go slow at first when they get hold
of food again. And he already felt better, warmed and resurrected, from
the first gulp.

“What,” demanded the landlady, “do you mean by yelling out about Old Man
Hammil?”

“Why,” said Mr. Gooley, feeling foolish, and looking it, “I was talking
to that cockroach there. He looks sort of like some one I knew when I
was a kid, by the name of Hammil--Archibald Hammil.”

“_Where_ was you a kid?” asked Mrs. Hinkley.

“In a place called Mapletown--Mapletown, Illinois,” said Mr. Gooley.
“There’s where I knew Old Man Hammil.”

“Well,” said the landlady, “when you go back there you won’t see him.
He’s dead. He died a week ago. This letter tells it. I was his niece.
And the old man went and left me his hardware store. I never expected
it. But all his kids is dead--it seems he outlived ‘em all, and he was
nearly ninety when he passed away.”

“Well,” said Mr. Gooley, “I don’t remember you.”

“You wouldn’t,” said the landlady. “You must have been in short pants
when I ran away from home and married the hardware drummer. But I’ll bet
you the old-timers in that burg still remembers it against me!”

“The kids will be coming into that store about now to get their skates
sharpened,” said Mr. Gooley, looking at the boiled egg.

“Uh-huh!” said Mrs. Hinkley. “Don’t you want to go back home and help
sharpen ‘em? I’m goin’ back and run that there store, and I’ll need a
clerk, I suppose.”

“Uh-huh,” said Mr. Gooley, breaking the eggshell.

The cockroach, busy with a crumb on the floor, waved his three starboard
legs genially at Mr. Gooley and Mrs. Hinkley--as if, in fact, he were
winking with his feet.



IV.--McDermott

|McDermott had gone over with a cargo of mules. The animals were
disembarked at a Channel port, received by officers of that grand
organization which guesses right so frequently, the Quartermaster Corps,
and started in a southerly direction, in carload lots, toward the Toul
sector of the Western Front. McDermott went with one of the carloads
in an unofficial capacity. He had no business in the war zone. But the
Quartermaster Corps, or that part of it in charge of his particular car,
was in no mood to be harsh toward any one who seemed to understand the
wants and humors of mules and who was willing to associate with them.
And so, with his blue overalls and his red beard, McDermott went along.

“I’ll have a look at the war,” said McDermott, “and if I like it, I’ll
jine it.”

“And if you don’t like it,” said the teamster to whom he confided his
intention, “I reckon you’ll stop it?”

“I dunno,” replied McDermott, “as I would be justified in stoppin’ a
good war. The McDermotts has niver been great hands f’r stoppin’ wars.
The McDermotts is always more like to be startin’ wars.”

McDermott got a look at the war sooner than any one, including the high
command of the Entente Allies, would have thought likely--or, rather,
the war got a look at McDermott. The carload of mules, separated from
its right and proper train, got too far eastward at just the time
the Germans got too far westward. It was in April, 1918, that, having
entered Hazebrouck from the north, McDermott and his mules left it
again, bound eastward. They passed through a turmoil of guns and
lorries, Scotchmen and ambulances, Englishmen, tanks and ammunition
wagons, Irishmen, colonials and field kitchens, all moving slowly
eastward, and came to a halt at a little village where they should not
have been at all, halfway between the northern rim of the forest of
Nieppe and Bailleul.

The mules did not stay there long.

“I’ll stretch me legs a bit,” said McDermott, climbing off the car
and strolling toward a Grande Place surrounded by sixteenth-century
architecture. And just then something passed over the Renaissance roofs
with the scream of one of Dante’s devils, struck McDermott’s car of
mules with a great noise and a burst of flame, and straightway created a
situation in which there was neither car nor mules.

For a minute it seemed to McDermott that possibly there was no
McDermott, either. When McDermott regained consciousness of McDermott,
he was sitting on the ground, and he sat there and felt of himself for
many seconds before he spoke or rose. Great guns he had been hearing for
hours, and a rattle and roll of small-arms fire had been getting nearer
all that day; but it seemed to McDermott that there was something quite
vicious and personal about the big shell that had separated him forever
from his mules. Not that he had loved the mules, but he loved McDermott.

“Mules,” said he, still sitting on the ground, but trying to get his
philosophy of life on to its legs again, “is here wan minute an’ gawn
the nixt. Mules is fickle an’ untrustworthy animals. Here was thim
mules, wigglin’ their long ears and arsk-in’ f’r Gawd’s sake c’u’d they
have a dhrink of wather, an’ promisin’ a lifelong friendship--but where
is thim mules now?”

He scratched his red head as he spoke, feeling-of an old scar under the
thick thatch of hair. The wound had been made some years previously
with a bung starter, and whenever McDermott was agitated he caressed it
tenderly.

He got up, turned about and regarded the extraordinary Grande Place.
There had once been several pretty little shops about it, he could see,
with pleasant courtyards, where the April sun was trying to bring green
things into life again, but now some of these were in newly made and
smoking ruins. The shell that had stricken McDermott’s mules from the
roster of existence had not been the only one to fall into the village
recently.

But it was neither old ruins nor new ruins that interested McDermott
chiefly. It was the humanity that flowed through the Grande Place in a
feeble trickle westward, and the humanity that stayed there.

Women and old men went by with household treasures slung in bundles or
pushed before them in carts and perambulators, and they were wearing
their best clothes, as if they were going to some village fête, instead
of into desolation and homelessness; the children whom they carried, or
who straggled after them, were also in their holiday best. Here was an
ancient peasant with a coop of skinny chickens on a barrow; there was a
girl in a silk gown carrying something in a bed quilt; yonder was a boy
of twelve on a bicycle, and two things were tied to the handlebars--a
loaf of bread and a soldier’s bayonet. Perhaps it had been his father’s
bayonet. Quietly they went westward; their lips were dumb and their
faces showed their souls were dumb, too. A long time they had heard the
battle growling to the eastward; and now the war was upon them. It was
upon them, indeed; for as McDermott gazed, another shell struck full
upon a bell-shaped tower that stood at the north side of the Grande
Place and it leaped up in flames and fell in dust and ruin, all gone but
one irregular point of masonry that still stuck out like a snaggle tooth
from a trampled skull.

These were the ones that were going, and almost the last of the
dreary pageant disappeared as McDermott watched. But those who stayed
astonished him even more by their strange actions and uncouth postures.

“Don’t tell me,” mumbled McDermott, rubbing his scar, “that all thim
sojers is aslape!”

But asleep they were. To the east and to the north the world was one rip
and rat-a-tat of rifle and machine-gun fire--how near, McDermott could
not guess--and over the village whined and droned the shells, of
great or lesser caliber; here was one gate to a hell of noise, and the
buildings stirred and the budding vines in the courtyards moved and
the dust itself was agitated with the breath and blast of far and near
concussions; but yet the big open Place itself was held in the grip of a
grotesque and incredible slumber.

Sprawled in the gutters, collapsed across the doorsills, leaning against
the walls, slept that portion of the British army; slept strangely,
without snoring. In the middle of the Grande Place there was a young
lieutenant bending forward across the wreck of a motor car; he had tried
to pluck forth a basket from the tonneau and sleep had touched him with
his fingers on the handle. And from the eastern fringes of the village
there entered the square, as actors enter upon a stage, a group of
a dozen men, with their arms linked together, swaying and dazed and
stumbling. At first McDermott thought that wounded were being helped
from the field. But these men were not wounded; they were walking in
their sleep, and the group fell apart, as McDermott looked at them, and
sank severally to the cobblestones. Scotchmen, Canadians, English, torn
and battered remnants of many different commands, they had striven with
their guns and bodies for more than a week to dam the vast, rising wave
of the German attack--day melting into night and night burning into day
again, till there was no such thing as time to them any longer; there
were but two things in the world, battle and weariness, weariness and
battle.

McDermott moved across the square unchallenged. He had eaten and slept
but little for two days himself, and he made instinctively for the open
door of an empty inn, to search for food. In the doorway he stumbled
across a lad who roused and spoke to him.

“Jack,” said the boy, looking at him with red eyes out of an old, worn
face, “have you got the makin’s?”

He was in a ragged and muddied Canadian uniform, but McDermott guessed
that he was an American.

“I have that,” said McDermott, producing papers and tobacco. But the boy
had lapsed into slumber again. McDermott rolled the cigarette for him,
placed it between his lips, waked him and lighted it for him.

The boy took a puff or two, and then said dreamily: “And what the hell
are you doin’ here with them blue overalls on?”

“I come to look at the war,” said McDermott.

The soldier glanced around the Grande Place, and a gleam of deviltry
flashed through his utter exhaustion. “So you come to see the war, huh?
Well, don’t you wake it now. It’s restin’. But if you’ll take a chair
and set down, I’ll have it--called--for--you--in--in--in ‘n ‘our--or
so------”

His voice tailed off into sleep once more; he mangled the cigarette, the
tobacco mingling with the scraggly beard about his drawn mouth; his head
fell forward upon his chest. McDermott stepped past him into the Hôtel
Faucon, as the inn had called itself. He found no food, but he found
liquor there.

“Frinch booze,” said McDermott, getting the cork out of a bottle of
brandy and sniffing it; “but booze is booze!”

And more booze is more booze, especially upon an empty stomach. It was
after the fourth drink that McDermott pulled his chair up to one of the
open windows of the inn and sat down, with the brandy beside him.

“I’m neglictin’ that war I come all this way to see,” said McDermott.

The Grande Place, still shaken by the tremendous and unceasing
pulsations of battle, far and near, was beginning to wake up. A fresh,
or, at least, a fresher, battalion was arriving over the spur line of
railroad along which McDermott’s mules had been so mistakenly shunted,
and was moving eastward through the town to the firing line. The men
whom McDermott had seen asleep were rising at the word of command;
taking their weapons, falling in, and staggering back to the
interminable battle once more.

“I dunno,” mused McDermott, as the tired men straggled past, “whether I
want to be afther j’inin’ that war or not. It makes all thim lads that
slapey! I dunno phwat the devil it is, the Frinch booze bein’ so close
to me, inside, or that war so close to me, outside, but I’m gittin’
slapey m’silf.”

It was, likely, the brandy. There had not been a great deal of French
brandy in McDermott’s previous experience, and he did not stint himself.
It was somewhere between the ninth and the fifteenth swallows of it that
McDermott remarked to himself, rubbing the scar on his head:

“I w’u’d jine that war now, if I c’u’d be sure which way it had wint!”

And then he slid gently out of his chair and went to sleep on the floor
just inside the open window of the Hôtel Fauçon.

The war crept closer and took another look at McDermott. As the warm
golden afternoon waned, the British troops, fighting like fiends for
every inch of ground, exacting a ghastly toll of lives from the Germans,
were forced back into the eastern outskirts of the town. There, with
rifle and machine gun, from walls, trees, courtyards, roofs and ruins,
they held the advancing Germans for an hour. But they were pushed back
again, doggedly establishing themselves in the houses of the Grande
Place. Neither British nor Germans were dropping shells into that
village now, each side fearful of damaging its own men.

A British subaltern with a machine gun and two private soldiers entered
the inn and were setting the gun up at McDermott’s window when a
German bullet struck the officer and he fell dead across the slumbering
McDermott. Nevertheless, the gun was manned and fought for half an hour
above McDermott, who stirred now and then, but did not waken. Just at
dusk an Irish battalion struck the Germans on the right flank of their
assaulting force, a half mile to the north of the village, rolled them
back temporarily, and cleared the village of them. This counter attack
took the firing line a good thousand yards eastward once more.

McDermott roused, crawled from beneath the body of the British officer,
and viewed it with surprise. “That war has been here ag’in an’ me
aslape,” said McDermott. “I might jine that war if I c’u’d ketch up wid
it--but ‘tis here, ‘tis there, ‘tis gawn ag’in! An’ how c’u’d I jine it
wid no weapons, not even a good thick club to m’ hands?”

He foraged and found a piece of sausage that he had overlooked in his
former search, ate it greedily and then stood in the doorway, listening
to the sound of the firing. It was getting dark and northward toward
Messines and Wytschaete and southward for more miles than he could guess
the lightning of big guns flickered along the sky.

“Anny way I w’u’d go,” mused McDermott, “I w’u’d run into that war if I
was thryin’ to dodge ut. And anny wray I w’u’d go, I w’u’d miss that war
if I was thryin’ to come up wid ut. An’ till I make up me mind which wan
I want to do, here will I sthay.”

He opened another bottle of brandy, and drank and cogitated. Whether it
was the cogitation or the drinks or the effect of the racket of war, his
head began to ache dully. When McDermott’s scar ached, it was his custom
to take another drink. After a while there came a stage at which, if it
still ached, he at least ceased to feel it aching any more.

“The hotel here,” he remarked, “is filled wid hospitality and midical
tratement, and where bet-ther c’u’d I be?”

And presently, once more, a deep sleep overtook him. A deeper, more
profound sleep, indeed, than his former one. And this time the war came
still nearer to McDermott.

The British were driven back again and again occupied the town, the
Germans in close pursuit. From house to house and from wall to wall
the struggle went on, with grenade, rifle and bayonet. A German, with
a Scotchman’s steel in his chest, fell screaming, back through the open
window, and his blood as he died soaked McDermott’s feet. But McDermott
slept. Full night came, thick and cloudy, and both sides sent up
floating flares. The square was strewn with the bodies of the dead and
the bodies of the maimed in increasing numbers; the wounded groaned and
whimpered in the shadows of the trampled Place, crawling, if they still
could crawl, to whatever bit of broken wall seemed to offer momentary
shelter and praying for the stretcher bearers to be speedy. But still
McDermott slept.

At ten o’clock that night two Englishmen once more brought a machine gun
into the Hôtel Fauçon; they worked the weapon for twenty minutes from
the window within ten feet of which McDermott now lay with his brandy
bottle beside him. Once McDermott stirred; he sat up sleepily on the
floor and murmured: “An’ where is that war now? Begad, an’ I don’t
belave there is anny war!”

And he rolled over and went to sleep again. The men with the machine gun
did not notice him; they were too busy. A moment later one of them sank
with a bullet through his heart. His comrade lasted a little longer, and
then he, too, went down, a wound in his lungs. It took him some weary
minutes to choke and bleed to death, there in that dark place, upon the
floor, among the dead men and McDermott’s brandy bottles and the heap
of ammunition he had brought with him. Hist struggle did not wake
McDermott.

By midnight the British had been driven back until they held the houses
at the west end of the town and the end of the spur railroad that came
eastward from Hazebrouck. The Germans were in the eastern part of the
village, and between was a “no man’s land,” of which the Grande Place
was a part. What was left of the Hôtel Faucon, with the sleeping
McDermott in it, was toward the middle of the south side of the square.
In the streets to the north and south of the Place patrols still clashed
with grenade and bayonet and rifle, but the Germans attempted no further
advance in any force after midnight. No doubt they were bringing up more
men; no doubt, with the first morning light, they would move forward a
regiment or two, possibly even a division, against the British who
still clung stubbornly to the western side of the town. All the way from
Wytschaete south to Givenchy the battle-line was broken up into many
little bitter struggles of this sort, the British at every point facing
great odds.

When dawn came, there came with it a mist. And three men of a German
patrol, creeping from house to house and ruin to ruin along the south
side of that part of “no man’s land” which was the Grande Place, entered
the open door of the Hôtel Fauçon.

One of them stepped upon McDermott’s stomach, where he lay sleeping and
dreaming of the war he had come to look at.

McDermott, when he had been drinking, was often cross. And especially
was he cross if, when sleeping off his liquor, some one purposely or
inadvertently interfered with his rightful and legitimate rest. When
this coarse and heavy-footed intruder set his boot, albeit unwittingly,
upon McDermott’s stomach, McDermott sat up with a bellow of rage,
instinctively and instantaneously grabbed the leg attached to the boot,
rose as burning rocks rise from a volcano, with the leg in his hands,
upset the man attached to the leg, and jumped with two large feet
accurately upon the back of that person’s neck. Whereupon the Boche went
to Valhalla. McDermott, though nearer fifty than forty years old, was a
barroom fighter of wonderful speed and technique, and this instinctive
and spontaneous maneuver was all one motion, just as it is all one
motion when a cat in a cellar leaps over a sack of potatoes, lands upon
a rat, and sinks her teeth into a vital spot. The second German and
the third German hung back an instant toward the door, and then came
on toward the moving shadow in the midst of shadows. For their own good
they should have come on without hanging back that second; but perhaps
their training, otherwise so efficient, did not include barroom tactics.
Their hesitation gave McDermott just the time he needed, for when he
faced them he had the first German’s gun in his hands.

“No war,” said McDermott, “can come into me slapin’ chamber and stand on
me stomach like that, and expict me to take it peaceful!”

With the words he fired the first German’s rifle into the second
German. The third German, to the rear of the second one, fired his gun
simultaneously, but perhaps he was a hit flurried, for he also fired
directly into the second German, and there was nothing the second German
could do but die; which he did at once. McDermott leaped at the third
German with his rifle clubbed just as the man pressed the trigger again.
The bullet struck McDermott’s rifle, splintered the butt of it and
knocked it from his hands; but a second later McDermott’s hands were on
the barrel of the German’s gun and the two of them were struggling for
it.

There is one defect in the German military system, observers say: the
drill masters do not teach their men independent thinking; perhaps the
drill-masters do not have the most promising material to work upon.
At any rate, it occurred to McDermott to kick the third German in the
stomach while the third German was still thinking of nothing else than
trying to depress the gun to shoot or bayonet McDermott. Thought and
kick were as well coordinated as if they had proceeded from one of
McDermott’s late mules.

The Boche went to the floor of the Hôtel Faucon with a groan. “Gott!” he
said.

“A stomach f’r a stomach,” said Mc-Dermott, standing over him with the
rifle. “Git up!”

The German painfully arose.

“Ye are me prisoner,” said McDermott, “an’ the furst wan I iver took.
Hould up y’r hands! Hould thim up, I say! Not over y’r stomach, man, but
over y’r head!”

The Boche complied hurriedly.

“I see ye understhand United States,” said McDermott. “I was afraid ye
might not, an’ I w’u’d have to shoot ye.”

“_Kamerad!_” exclaimed the man.

“Ye are no comrade av mine,” said McDermott, peering at the man’s face
through the eery halflight of early morning, “an’ comrade av mine ye
niver was! I know ye well! Ye are Goostave Schmidt b’ name, an’ wanst ye
tinded bar in a dive down b’ the Brooklyn wather front!”

The man stared at McDermott in silence for a long minute, and then
recollection slowly came to him.

“MagDermodd!” he said. “Batrick MagDermodd!”

“The same,” said McDermott.

“_Gott sei dank!_” said the German. “I haf fallen into der hands of
a friend.” And with the beginning of a smile he started to lower his
hands.

“Put thim up!” cried McDermott. “Don’t desave y’silf! Ye are no fri’nd
av mine!”

The smile faded, and something like a look of panic took its place on
the German’s face.

“Th’ last time I saw ye, ye was in bad company, f’r ye was alone,” said
McDermott. “An’ I come over here lookin’ f’r ye, an’ I find ye in bad
company ag’in!”

“Looking?” said the German with quite sincere perplexity. “You gome here
_looking_ for me?”

The wonder on the man’s face at this unpremeditated jest of his having
crossed the Atlantic especially to look for Gustave Schmidt titillated
McDermott’s whole being. But he did not laugh, and he let the German
wonder. “And phwy sh’u’d I not?” he said.

The German thought intensely for a while. “Why _should_ you gome all der
vay agross der Adlandic looking for _me?_” he said finally.

“Ye have a short mimory,” said McDermott. “Ye do not recollict the time
ye hit me on the head wid a bung starter whin I was too soused to defind
m’silf? The scar is there yet, bad luck to ye!”

“But dot was nudding,” said the German. “Dot bung-starder business was
all a bart of der day’s vork.”

“But ye cript up behint me,” said McDermott; “an’ me soused!”

“But dot was der bractical vay to do it,” said the German. “Dot was
nuddings at all, dot bung-starder business. I haf forgodden it long
ago!”

“The McDermotts remimber thim compliments longer,” said McDermott. “An’
b’ rights I sh’u’d give ye wan good clout wid this gun and be done wid
ye. But I’m thinkin’ I may be usin’ ye otherwise.”

“You gome all der vay agross der Adlandic yoost because I hit you on der
head mit a bung starder?” persisted the German, still wondering. “Dot,
MagDermodd, I cannot belief--_Nein!_”

“And ye tore up y’r citizenship papers and come all the way across
the Atlantic just to jine this gang av murtherin’ child-killers,” said
McDermott. “That I c’n belave! Yis!”

“But I haf not dorn up my American cidizen papers--_Nein!_” exclaimed
the German, earnestly. “Dose I haf kept. I gome across to fight for mein
Faderland--dot vas orders. _Ja!_ But mein American cidizenship papers I
haf kept, and ven der war is ofer I shall go back to Brooklyn and once
more an American citizen be, undill der next war. _Ja!_ You haf not
understood, but dot is der vay of it. _Ja!_”

“Goostave,” said McDermott, “ye have too many countries workin’ f’r ye.
But y’r takin’ ordhers from m’silf now--do ye get that? C’n ye play that
musical insthrumint there by the window?”

“_Ja!_” said Gustave. “Dot gun I can vork. Dot is der Lewis machine gun.
Id is not so good a gun as our machine gun, for our machine gun haf been
a colossal sugcess, but id is a goot gun.”

“Ye been fightin’ f’r the Kaiser f’r three or four years, Goostave,”
 said McDermott, menacing him with his rifle, “but this mornin’ I’ll be
afther seein’ that ye do a bit av work f’r thim citizenship papers, an’,
later, ye can go to hell, if ye like, an’ naturalize y’rsilf in still a
third country. Ye will shoot Germans wid that gun till I get the hang
av the mechanism m’silf. And thin I will shoot Germans wid that gun. But
furst, ye will give me that fancy tin soup-bowl ye’re wearin’.”

Gustave handed over his helmet. McDermott put it on his red head.

“I’ve been thinkin’,” said McDermott, “will I jine this war, or will I
not jine it. An’ the only way ye c’n tell do ye like a thing or do ye
not is to thry it wance. Wid y’r assistance, Goostave, I’ll thry it this
mornin’, if anny more av it comes my way.”

More of it was coming his way. The Germans, tired of trifling with the
small British force which held the village, had brought up the better
part of a division during the night and were marshaling the troops for
their favorite feat of arms, an overwhelming frontal attack _en masse_.
The British had likewise received reinforcements, drawing from the north
and from the south every man the hard-pressed lines could spare. But
they were not many, perhaps some three thousand men in all, to resist
the massed assault, with the railroad for its objective, which would
surely come with dawn. If troops were needed in the village they were
no less needed on the lines that flanked it. The little town, which
had been the scene of so much desperate skirmishing the day before and
during the first half of the night, was now about to become the ground
of something like a battle.

“There’s a French division on the way,” said the British colonel in
command in the village to one of his captains. “If we can only hold them
for an hour----”

He did not finish the sentence. As he spoke the German bombardment,
precedent to the infantry attack, began to comb the western fringes
of the town and the railroad line behind, searching for the
hurriedly-digged and shallow trenches, the improvised dugouts, the
shell holes, the cellars and the embankments where the British lay. The
British guns to the rear of the village made answer, and the uproar tore
the mists of dawn to tatters. A shell fell short, into the middle of the
Grande Place, and McDermott saw the broken motor car against which the
sleeping lieutenant had leaned the day before vanish into nothingness;
and then a house directly opposite the Hôtel Fauçon jumped into flame
and was no more. Looking out across the back of the stooping Gustave at
the window, McDermott muttered, “I dunno as I w’u’d want to jine that
war.” And then he bellowed in Gustave Schmidt’s ear: “Cut loose! Cut
loose wid y’rgun! Cut loose!”

“I vill not!” shrieked Gustave. “Mein Gott! Dat is mein own regiment!”

“Ye lie!” shouted McDermott. “Ye will!” He thrust a bit of bayonet into
the fleshiest part of the German’s back.

“I vill! I vill!” cried Gustave.

“Ye will that,” said McDermott, “an’ the less damned nonsinse I hear
from ye about y’r own rigimint the betther f’r ye! Ye’re undher me
own ordhers till I c’n make up me mind about this war.” The mists were
rising. In the clearing daylight at the eastern end of the square, as if
other clouds were moving forward with a solid front, appeared the first
gray wave of the German infantry. Close packed, shoulder to shoulder,
three deep, they came, almost filling the space from side to side of the
Grande Place, moving across that open stretch against the British fire
with a certain heavy-footed and heavy-brained contempt of everything
before them. Ten steps, and the British machine guns and rifles caught
them. The first wave, or half of it, went down in a long writhing
windrow, across the east end of the square, and in the instant that he
saw it squirm and toss before the trampling second wave swept over it
and through it, the twisting gray-clad figures on the stones reminded
McDermott of the heaps of heaving worms he used to see at the bottom of
his bait-can when he went fishing as a boy.

“Hold that nozzle lower, Goostave!” he yelled to his captive. “Spray
thim! Spray thim! Ye’re shootin’ over their heads, ye lumberin’
Dutchman, ye!”

“_Gott!_” cried Gustave, as another jab of the bayonet urged him to his
uncongenial task.

And then McDermott made one of the few errors of his military career.
Whether it was the French brandy he had drunk to excess the night
before, or whether it was the old bung-starter wound on his head, which
always throbbed and jumped when he became excited, his judgment deserted
him for an instant. For one instant he forgot that there must be no
instants free from the immediate occupation of guiding and directing
Gustave.

“Let me see if I can’t work that gun m’self,” he cried.

As he relaxed his vigilance, pushing the German to one side, the Boche
suddenly struck him upon the jaw. McDermott reeled and dropped his
rifle; before he could recover himself, the German had it. The weapon
swung upward in the air and--just then a shell burst outside the open
window of the Hôtel Fauçon.

Both men were flung from their feet by the concussion. For a moment
everything was blank to McDermott. And then, stretching out his hand to
rise, his fingers encountered something smooth and hard upon the floor.
Automatically his grasp closed over it and he rose. At the same instant
the German struggled to his feet, one hand behind his back, and the
other extended, as if in entreaty.

“_Kamerad_,” he whined, and even as he whined he lurched nearer and
flung at McDermott a jagged, broken bottle. McDermott ducked, and
the dagger-like glass splintered on his helmet. And then McDermott
struck--once. Once was enough. The Boche sank to the floor without a
groan, lifeless. McDermott looked at him, and then, for the first time,
looked at what he held in his own hand, the weighty thing which he had
wielded so instinctively and with such ferocity. It was the bung starter
of the Hôtel Fauçon.

“Goostave niver knowed what hit him,” said McDermott. And if there had
been any one to hear, in all that din, a note of regret that Gustave
never knew might have been remarked in his voice.

McDermott turned his attention to the machine gun, which, with its
tripod, had been knocked to the floor. He squatted, with his head below
the level of the window sill, and looked it over.

“‘Tis not broken,” he decided, after some moments of examination. “Did
Goostave do it so? Or did he do it so?” He removed his helmet and rubbed
the scar under his red hair reflectively. “If I was to make up me mind
to jine that war,” mused McDermott, “this same w’u’d be a handy thing to
take wid me. It w’u’d that! Now, did that Goostave that used to be here
pull this pretty little thingumajig so? Or did he pull it so? Ihaveut!
He pulled it so! And thim ca’tridges, now--do they feed in so? Or do
they feed in so? ‘T w’u’d be a handy thing, now, f’r a man that had anny
intintions av jinin’ the war to know about all thim things!”

And, patiently, McDermott studied the mechanism, while the red sunlight
turned to yellow in the Grande Place outside, and the budding green
vines withered along the broken walls, and the stones ran blood, and the
Hôtel Fauçon began to fall to pieces about his ears. McDermott did not
hurry; he felt that there was no need to hurry; he had not yet made up
his mind whether he intended to participate in this war. By the time he
had learned how to work that machine gun, and had used it on the Germans
for a while, he thought, he might be vouchsafed some light on that
particular subject. It was one of McDermott’s fixed beliefs that he
was an extremely cautious sort of man, though many of his acquaintances
thought of him differently, and he told himself that he must not get too
far into this war until he was sure that it was going to be congenial.
So far, it promised well.

And also, McDermott, as he puzzled over the machine gun, was not quite
the normal McDermott. He was, rather, a supernormal McDermott. He had
been awakened rudely from an alcoholic slumber and he had been rather
busy ever since; so many things had taken place in his immediate
neighborhood, and were still taking place, that he was not quite sure
of their reality. As he sat on the floor and studied the weapon, he was
actually, from moment to moment, more than half convinced that he was
dreaming--he might awaken and find that that war had eluded him again.
Perhaps he is scarcely to be chided for being in what is sometimes known
as a state of mind.

And while McDermott was looking at the machine gun, the British
commander prayed, as a greater British commander before him had prayed
one time, for assistance, only this one did not pray for night or
Blucher as Wellington had done. Night was many hours beyond all
hope and would probably bring its own hell when it came, and as for
Prussians, there were too many Prussians now. His men would hold on;
they had been holding on for epic days and unbelievable nights, and they
would still hold while there was breath in their bodies, and when their
bodies were breathless they would hold one minute more. But--God! For
Foch’s _poilus!_ There is a moment which is the ultimate moment; the
spirit can drag the body until--until spirit and body are wrenched into
two things. No longer. His men could die in their tracks; they were
dying where they stood and crouched and lay, by dozens and by scores and
by heroic hundreds--but when they were dead, who would bar the way to
Hazebrouck, and beyond Hazebrouck, to the channel ports?

That way was all but open now, if the enemy but realized it. Any moment
they might discover it. A half-mile to the south of the village the line
was so thinly held that one strong, quick thrust must make a gap. Let
the enemy but fling a third of the troops he was pounding to pieces in
the bloody streets of the town, in the torn fields that flanked it, and
in the shambles of the Grande Place that was the center of this action,
at that weak spot, and all was over. But with a fury mechanical,
insensate, the Germans still came on in direct frontal attacks.

The British had slain and slain and slain, firing into the gray masses
until the water boiled in the jackets of the machine guns. Five attacks
had broken down in the Grande Place itself--and now a sixth was forming.
Should he still hold fast, the colonel asked himself, or should he
retire, saving what machine guns he might, and flinging a desperate
detachment southward in the attempt to make a stronger right flank? But
to do that might be the very move that would awaken the Germans to their
opportunity there. So long as they pounded, pounded at his center, he
would take a toll of them, at least--but the moment was coming--

“I have ut!” cried McDermott, and mounted his gun at the window.

“It is time to retire,” said the British colonel, and was about to give
the order.

“Right in their bloody backs,” said McDermott to himself.

And so it was. For the sixth advance of the German masses had carried
them well into the Grande Place. McDermott, crouched at his window, cut
loose with his gun at pointblank range as the first wave, five men deep,
passed by him, splashing along the thick ranks from behind as one might
sweep a garden hose down a row of vegetables. Taken thus in the rear,
ambushed, with no knowledge of the strength of the attacking force
behind them, the German shock troops swayed and staggered, faced about
and fell and broke. For right into the milling herd of them, and
into the second advancing wave, the British poured their bullets. The
colonel, who had been about to order a retreat, ordered a charge,
and before the stampeded remnant of the first two waves could recover
themselves the British were on them with grenades and bayonets, flinging
them back into the third wave, just advancing to their support, in a
bleeding huddle of defeat.

McDermott saw the beginning of that charge, and with his bung starter in
his hand he rushed from the door to join it. But he did not see the
end of it, nor did he see the _poilus_, as they came slouching into the
village five minutes later to give the repulse weight and confirmation,
redolent of onions and strange stews, but with their bayonets--those
bayonets that are part of the men who wield them, living things,
instinct with the beautiful, straight, keen soul of France herself.

McDermott did not see them, for some more of the Hôtel Fauçon had fallen
on him, crushing one of his ankles and giving him a clout on the head.

“Whoever it was turned loose that machine gun from the inn window, did
the trick,” said the colonel, later. “It’s hardly too much to say that
he blocked the way to Hazebrouck--for the time, at least, if one man can
be said to have done such a thing--what’s that?”

“That” was McDermott, who was being carried forth, unconscious, to an
ambulance. It was his blue overalls that had occasioned the colonel’s
surprise. He was neither French nor British nor German; palpably he was
a civilian, and a civilian who had no business there. And in his hand he
clasped a bung starter. His fingers were closed over it so tightly that
in the base hospital later they found difficulty in taking it away from
him.

Owing, no doubt, to the blow on his head, McDermott was unable to recall
clearly anything that had taken place from the moment he had first
fallen asleep under the influence of French brandy until he awakened in
the hospital nearly four weeks later. During this period there had been
several intervals of more open-eyed dreaming, succeeded by lapses into
profound stupor; but even in these open-eyed intervals, McDermott
had not been himself. It was during one of these intervals that a
representative of the French Government bestowed the Croix de Guerre
upon McDermott, for it had been learned that he was the man behind the
machine gun that had turned the tide of combat.

McDermott, his eyes open, but his mind in too much of a daze even to
wonder what the ceremony was about, sat in a wheel chair, and in company
with half a dozen other men selected for decoration, listened to a brief
oration in very good French, which he could not have understood had he
been normal. In answer he muttered in a low tone, rubbing his broken and
bandaged head: “I think maybe I will jine that war, afther all!”

The French officer assumed that McDermott had spoken some sort of
compliment to France and kissed McDermott on both cheeks, in front
of the hospital staff, several American reporters, and as much of the
French army as qould be spared to do honor to the occasion. The _Croix
de Guerre_ made no impression upon McDermott, but the kiss briefly
arrested his wandering consciousness, and he cried out, starting up in
his chair and menacing the officer: “Where is me bung starter?” Then he
fainted.

A good many thousands of people in France and England and America
learned from the newspapers the story of the nondescript in the blue
overalls, who had behaved so gallantly at the crucial moment of a
crucial fight. But McDermott never did. He seldom read newspapers. No
one had been able to learn his name, so the reporters had given him a
name. They called him “Dennis.” And it was “Dennis” who got the fame and
glory. McDermott would not have identified himself with Dennis had he
seen the newspapers. When he awakened from his long, broken stupor, with
its intervals of dazed halfconsciousness, the first thing he did was to
steal away from that hospital; he left without having heard of Dennis or
of the decoration of Dennis.

There was one thing that he had experienced that did live hazily and
confusedly in his memory, however, although he could not fix it in its
relationship to any other thing. And that was the fact that he had met
Gustave Schmidt. Three or four months after he slipped away from the
hospital--a period of unchronicled wanderings, during which he had tried
unsuccessfully to enlist several times--he limped into a saloon on the
Brooklyn water front and asked Tim O’Toole, the proprietor, for his
usual. He had just got back to Brooklyn, and he carried his earthly
possessions in a bundle wrapped in brown paper.

“I hear Yordy Crowley isn’t givin’ his racket this year,” said
McDermott, laying his bundle on the bar and pouring out his drink.

“He is not,” said Tim. “He is in France helpin’ out thim English.”

“Yordy will make a good sojer,” said McDermott. “He is a good man of his
fists.”

“The Irish is all good sojers,” said Mr. O’Toole, sententiously. “There
was that man Dinnis, now, that was in all av the papers.”

“I did not hear av him,” said McDermott. “An’ phwat did he do?”

“He licked th’ entire German army wan morn-in’,” said O’Toole, “an’
saved England, an’ the Quane of France kissed him for it. ‘Twas in all
the papers. Or, maybe,” said Mr. O’Toole, “it was the King av Belg’um
kissed him for ut. Anny-way wan of thim foreign powers kissed him wid
the whole world lookin’ on.”

“An’ phwat did this Dinnis do thin?” asked McDermott.

“He attimpted to assault the person that kissed him,” said O’Toole.
“Maybe ‘twas the King av Italy. ‘Twas in all the papers at th’ time.
Some wan told me ye were in France y’rsilf, Paddy.”

“I was that,” said McDermott. “I wint wid mules.”

“Did ye see annything av the war?”

“I did not,” said McDermott. “Divil a bit of ut, barrin’ a lot o’
racket an’ a big roarin’ divil av a stame-boiler thing that come bustin’
through th’ air an’ took away the mules that was me passport. But I come
near seein’ some av ut, wan time.”

“An’ how was it that ye come near it, an’ missed it?” inquired Tim.

“I wint to slape,” said McDermott. “The war was slapin’, an’ I laid
m’silf down b’ the side av ut an’ took a nap, too. Later, I woke up in
the hospital, some wan havin’ stipped on me whilst I was slapin’, or
somethin’. They was afther keep-in’ me in th’ hospital indefinite, an’
I slipped away wan mornin’, dodgin’ the orderlies an’ nurses, or I might
have been there yet eatin’ jelly an’ gettin’ me face washed f’r me. An’
afther I got back here I thried to jine that war, but th’ Amurrican Army
w’u’d not have me.”

“And phwy not?”

“Because av me fut.”

“And how did ye hurt y’r fut?”

“Divil a bit do I know how,” said McDermott. “I’m tellin’ ye ‘twas done
whilst I was aslape. I remimber gettin’ soused in wan av thim Frinch
barrooms, an’ I w’u’d think it was a mule stipped on me fut whin I was
slapin’ off me souse, excipt that thim mules was gone before I got me
souse.”

“An’ ye saw naught av the war?” Tim was distinctly disappointed.

“But little of ut, but little of ut,” said McDermott. “But, Timmy,--wan
thing I did whilst I was in France.”

“An’ phwat was that?”

“I avened up an ould grudge,” said McDermott. He put away a second
drink, rolling it over his tongue with satisfaction. “Do ye mind that
Goostave Schmidt that used to kape bar acrost the strate? Ye do! Do ye
mind th’ time he hit me wid th’ bung starter? Ye do!”

“Phwat thin?”

“Well, thin,” said McDermott, “I met up wid him ag’in in wan av thim
Frinch barrooms. I do not remimber phwat he said to me nor phwat I said
to him, for I was soused, Timmy. But wan word led to another, an’ I give
him as good as he sint, an’ ‘twas wid a bung starter, too. I brung it
back wid me as a sooveneer av me travels in France.”

And, undoing his brown paper bundle, McDermott fished forth from among
his change of socks and shirts and underwear the bung starter of the
Hôtel Fauçon and laid it upon the bar for his friend’s inspection.
Something else in the bundle caught O’Toole’s eye.

“An’ phwat is that thing ye have there?” asked Tim.

“Divil a bit do I know phwat,” said McDermott, picking the article up
and tossing it carelessly upon the bar. “‘Twas layin’ by me cot in
the hospital, along wid m’ bung starter an’ me clothes whin I come to
m’silf, an’ whin I made me sneak from that place I brung it along.”

It was the _Croix de Guerre_.



V.--Looney the Mutt

|Looney had but one object in life, one thought, one conscious motive
of existence--to find Slim again. After he found Slim, things would be
different, things would be better, somehow. Just how, Looney did not
know.

Looney did not know much, anyhow. Likely he would never have known much,
in the most favorable circumstances. And the circumstances under which
he had passed his life were scarcely conducive to mental growth. He
could remember, vaguely, that he had not always been called Looney
Hogan. There had been a time when he was called Kid Hogan. Something had
happened inside his head one day, and then there had come a period of
which he remembered nothing at all; after that, when he could remember
again, he was not Kid any more, but Looney. Perhaps some one had hit him
on the head. People were always hitting him, before he knew Slim. And
now that Slim was gone, people were always hitting him again. When he
was with Slim, Slim had not let people hit him--often. So he must find
Slim again; Slim, who was the only God he had ever known.

In the course of time he became known, in his own queer world, from
Baltimore to Seattle, from Los Angeles to Boston, as Slim’s Lost
Mutt, or as Looney the Mutt. Looney did not resent being called a
dog, particularly, but he never called himself “The Mutt”; he stuck to
“Looney”; Slim had called him Looney, and Looney must, therefore, be
right.

The humors of Looney’s world are not, uniformly, kindly humors. Giving
Looney the Mutt a “bum steer” as to Slim’s whereabouts was considered a
legitimate jest.

“Youse ain’t seen Slim Matchett anywheres?” he would ask of hobo or
wobbly, working stiff or yeggman, his faded pale-blue eyes peering from
his weather-worn face with the same anxious intensity, the same eager
hope, as if he had not asked the question ten thousand times before.

And the other wanderer, if he were one that knew of Looney the Mutt and
Looney’s quest would answer, like as not:

“Slimmy de Match? Uh-huh! I seen Slim last mont’ in Chi. He’s lookin’
fer youse, Looney.” One day the Burlington Crip, who lacked a hand, and
who looked so mean that it was of common report that he had got sore at
himself and bitten it off, varied the reply a bit by saying:

“I seen Slim las’ week, an’ he says: ‘Where t’ hell’s dat kid o’ mine?
Youse ain’t seen nuttin’ o’ dat kid o’ mine, has you, Crip? Dat kid o’
mine give me de slip, Crip. He lammistered, and I ain’t seen him since.
If youse gets yer lamps on dat kid o’ mine, Crip, give him a wallop on
his mush fer me, an’ tell him to come an’ find me an’ I’m gonna give him
another one.’”

Looney stared and wondered and grieved. It hurt him especially that Slim
should think that he, Looney, had run away from Slim; he agonized anew
that he could not tell Slim at once that such was not the truth. And he
wondered and grieved at the change that must have taken place in Slim,
who now promised him “a wallop on the mush.” For Slim had never struck
him. It was Slim who had always kept other people from striking him.
It was Slim who had, upon occasion, struck other people to protect
him--once, in a hangout among the lakeside sand dunes south of Chicago,
Slim had knifed a man who had, by way of jovial byplay to enliven a dull
afternoon, flung Looney into the fire.

It never occurred to Looney to doubt, entirely, these bearers of
misinformation. He was hunting Slim, and of course, he thought, Slim
was hunting Looney. His nature was all credulity. Such mind as the boy
possessed--he was somewhere in his twenties, but had the physique of
a boy--was saturated with belief in Slim, with faith in Slim, and he
thought that all the world must admire Slim. He did not see why any one
should tell lies that might increase Slim’s difficulties, or his own.

There was a big red star he used to look at nights, when he slept in the
open, and because it seemed to him bigger and better and more splendid
than any of the other stars he took to calling it Slim’s star. It was a
cocky, confident-looking star; it looked as if it would know how to take
care of itself, and Slim had been like that. It looked good-natured,
too, and Slim had been that way. When Looney had rustled the scoffin’s
for Slim, Slim had always let him have some of the best chow--or almost
always. And he used to talk to that star about Slim when he was alone.
It seemed sympathetic. And although he believed the hoboes were telling
him the truth when they said that they had seen Slim, it was apparent
even to his intelligence that they had no real sympathy with his quest.

Once he did find a certain sympathy, if no great understanding. He
worked a week, one Spring, for a farmer in Indiana. The farmer wished
to keep him, for that Summer at least, for Looney was docile, willing
enough, and had a natural, unconscious tact with the work-horses. Looney
was never afraid of animals, and they were never afraid of him. Dogs
took to him, and the instant liking of dogs had often stood him in good
stead in his profession.

“Why won’t you stay?” asked the farmer.

“Slim’s lookin’ fer me, somewheres,” said Looney. And he told the farmer
about Slim. The farmer, having perceived Looney’s mental twilight, and
feeling kindly toward the creature, advanced an argument that he thought
might hold him.

“Slim is just as likely to find you if you stay in one place, as if you
go travelin’ all over the country,” he said.

“Huh-uh,” said Looney. “He ain’t, Mister. It’s this way, Mister: every
time I stop long any-, wheres, Slim, he passes me by.”

And then he continued, after a pause: “Slim, he was always good to me,
Mister. I kinda want to be the one that finds Slim, instead of just
stayin’ still an’ waitin’ to be found.”

They were standing in the dusk by the barn, and the early stars were
out. Looney told him about Slim’s star.

“I want to be the guy that does the findin’,” went on Looney presently,
“because I was the guy that done the losin’. One night they was five or
six of us layin’ under a lot of railroad ties we had propped up against
a fence to keep the weather off, an’ we figgered on hoppin’ a train fer
Chi that night. Well, the train comes along, but I’m asleep. See? The
rest of t’ gang gits into an empty in de dark, an’ I don’t wake up. I
s’pose Slim he t’inks I’m wit’ t’ gang, but I don’t wake up under them
ties till mornin’. I went to Chi soon’s I could, but I ain’t never
glommed him since, Mister. I didn’t find him dere. An’ dat’s t’ way I
lost Slim, Mister.”

“Maybe,” suggested the farmer, “he is dead.”

“Nit,” said Looney. “He ain’t dead. If Slim was croaked or anything, I’d
be wised up to it. Look at that there star. Dat is Slim’s star, like I
told youse. If Slim had been bumped off, or anything, Mister, that star
wouldn’t be shinin’ that way, Mister.”

And he went back to his own world--his world--which was a succession of
freight and cattle cars, ruinous sheds and shelters in dubious suburbs
near to railroad sidings, police stations, workhouses, jails, city
missions, transient hangouts in bedraggled clumps of wood, improvised
shacks, shared with others of his kind in vacant lots in sooty
industrial towns, chance bivouacs amidst lumber piles and under dripping
water tanks, lucky infrequent lodgings in slum hotels that used to
charge fifteen cents for a bed and now charge a quarter, golden moments
in vile barrooms and blind tigers, occasional orgies in quarries or
gravel pits or abandoned tin-roofed tool houses, uneasy, loiterings
and interrupted slumbers in urban parks and the squares or outskirts of
villages. Sometimes he worked, as he had with the Indiana farmer, with
the wheat harvesters of the Northwest, or the snow shovelers of the
metropoli, or the fruit gatherers of California; but more often he
loafed, and rustled grub and small coin from the charitably disposed.

It all seemed the natural way of life to Looney. He could not remember
anything else. He viewed the people of the world who did not live so,
and whom he saw to be the majority, as strange, unaccountable beings
whom he could never hope to understand; he vaguely perceived that they
were stronger than he and his ever-hiking clan, and he knew that they
might do unpleasant things to him with their laws and their courts
and their strength, but he bore them no rancor, unlike many of his
associates.

He had no theories about work or idleness; he accepted either as it
came; he had little conscious thought about anything, except finding
Slim again. And one thing worried him: Slim, who was supposed to be
looking for Looney, even as Looney was looking for Slim, left no mark.
He was forever looking for it, searching for the traces of Slim’s
knife--a name, a date, a destination, a message bidding Looney to follow
or to wait--on freight sheds and water tanks, and known and charted
telegraph poles and the tool houses of construction gangs. But Slim,
always just ahead of him, as he thought, continually returning and
passing him, ever receding in the distance, left no mark, no wanderer’s
pateran, behind. Looney left his own marks everywhere, but, strangely
enough, it seemed that Slim never saw them. Looney remembered that one
time when he and Slim were together Slim had wished to meet and confer
with the Burlington Crip, and had left word to that effect, penciled and
carved and sown by the speech of the mouth, from the Barbary Coast to
the Erie Basin. And the Burlington Crip, with his snaggle teeth and his
stump where a hand had been, had joined them on the Brooklyn waterfront
within two months. It had been simple, and Looney wondered why Slim
omitted this easy method of communication. Perhaps Slim was using it and
Looney was not finding the marks. He knew himself for stupid, and set
his failure down to that, never to neglect on Slim’s part. For Slim was
Slim, and Slim could do no wrong.

His habit of searching for some scratched or written word of Slim’s
became known to his whole section of the underworld, and furnished
material for an elaboration of the standing jest at his expense. When
ennui descended upon some chance gathering in one of the transient
hangouts--caravanserai as familiar to the loose-foot, casual guests,
from coast to coast, as was ever the Blackstone in Chicago or the
Biltmore in New York to those who read this simple history--it was
customary for some wag to say:

“Looney, I seen a mark that looked like Slim’s mark on a shed down in
Alexandria, Virginny, right by where the Long Bridge starts over to
Washington.”

And it might be that Looney would start at once, without a word, for
Alexandria. Therein lay the cream of this subtle witticism, for its
perpetrators--in Looney’s swift departures.

Or it might be that Looney would sit and ponder, his washed-out eyes
interrogating the speaker in a puzzled fashion, but never doubting. And
then the jester would say, perhaps: “Why don’t you get a move onto you,
Looney? You’re gonna miss Slim again.”

And Looney would answer, perchance: “Slim, he ain’t there now. The’ was
one of them wobblies’ bump-off men sayin’ he seen Slim in Tacoma two
weeks ago, an’ Slim was headin’ this way. I’m gonna wait fer him a while
longer.”

But he never waited long. He could never make himself. As he had told
the Indiana farmer, he was afraid to wait long. It was the Burlington
Crip who had made him afraid to do that. The Crip had told him one time:
“Looney, Slim went through here last night, while youse was asleep over
on that lumber pile. I forgets youse is lookin’ fer him or I’d a tipped
him off youse was here.”

Slim had been within a hundred yards of him, and he had been asleep and
had never known! What would Slim think, if he knew that? So thereafter
he was continually tortured by the fancy that Slim might be passing
him in the night; or that Slim, while he himself was riding the rods
underneath a railway car, might be on the blind baggage of that very
train, and would hop off first and be missed again. From day to day he
became more muddled and perplexed trying to decide whether it would be
better to choose this route or that, whether it would be better to stop
here a week, or go yonder with all possible speed. And from month to
month he developed more and more the questing, peering, wavering manner
of the lost dog that seeks its master.

Looney was always welcome In the hang-outs of the wandering underworld.
Not only was he a source of diversion, a convenient butt, but few could
rustle grub so successfully. His meager frame and his wistfulness, his
evident feebleness of intellect, drew alms from the solvent population,
and Looney faithfully brought his takings to the hangouts and was
dispatched again for more. Servant and butt he was to such lords as the
Burlington Crip and the English Basher. But he did not mind so long as
he was not physically maltreated--as he often was. The occasional
crimes of his associates, the occasional connection of some of them with
industrial warfare here and there, Looney sometimes participated in; but
he never understood. If he were told to do so and so, for the most part
he did it. If he were asked to do too much, or was beaten up for his
stupidity, and he was always stupid, he quietly slunk away at his first
opportunity.

The English Basher was a red-faced savage with fists as hard and rough
as tarred rope; and he conceived the idea that Looney should be his kid,
and wait upon him, even as he had been Slim’s kid. Looney, afraid of the
man, for a time seemed to acquiesce. But the Basher had reckoned without
Looney’s faculty for blundering.

He dispatched Looney one day, ostensibly to bum a handout, but in
reality to get the lay of a certain house in a suburb near Cincinnati,
which the Basher meditated cracking the next convenient night. Looney
returned with the food but without the information. He had been willing
enough, for he admired yeggmen and all their ways and works, and was
withheld by no moral considerations from anything he was asked to do;
but he had bungled. He had been in the kitchen, he had eaten his own
scoffin’s there, he had talked with the cook for twenty minutes, he had
even brought up from the cellar a scuttle of coal for the kitchen range
to save the cook’s back, but he actually knew less about that house, its
plan, its fastenings, its doors and basement windows than the Basher had
been able to gather with a single stroke of the eye as he loitered down
the street.

“Cripes! Whadje chin about with the kitchen mechanic all dat time, you?”
 demanded the Basher.

“She was stringin’ me along,” said Looney humbly, “an’ I spilled to her
about me an’ Slim.”

“Slim! ------ -------- yer, I’ve a mind t’ croak yer!” cried the Basher.

And he nearly did it, knocking the boy down repeatedly, till finally
Looney lay still upon the ground.

“‘S’elp me,” said the Basher, “I’ve a mind to give yer m’ boots! You
get up an’ beat it! An’ if I ever gets my lamps onto you again I _will_
croak you, by Gawd, an’ no mistake!”

Looney staggered to his feet and hobbled to a safe distance. And then,
spitting out a broken tooth, he dared to mutter: “If Slimmy was here,
he’d see de color o’ youse insides, Slimmy would. Slimmy, he knifed a
yegg oncet wot done less’n dat t’me!”

It was only a week or two after he left the Basher that Looney’s faith
in Slim’s star was tested again. Half a dozen of the brotherhood were
gathered about a fire in a gravel pit in northern Illinois, swapping
yarns and experiences and making merry. It was a tremendous fire, and
lighted up the hollow as if it were the entrance to Gehenna, flinging
the grotesque shadows of the men against the overhanging embankments,
and causing the inhabitants of a village a mile or so away to wonder
what farmer’s haystack was aflame. The tramps were wasting five times
the wood they needed, after their fashion. They had eaten to repletion,
and they were wasting the left-over food from their evening gorge; they
had booze; they were smoking; they felt, for the hour, at peace with the
world.

“Wot ever _did_ become of dat Slim?” asked the Burlington Crip, who
happened to be of the party, looking speculatively at Looney. Even the
sinister Crip, for the nonce, was not toting with him his usual mordant
grouch.

Looney was tending the fire, while he listened to tales of the spacious
days of the great Johnny Yegg himself, and other Titans of the road who
have now assumed the state of legendary heroes; and he was, as usual,
saying nothing.

“Slim? Slimmy t’ Match wot Looney here’s been tailin’ after fer so
long?” said the San Diego Kid. “Slim, he was bumped off in Paterson
t’ree or four years ago.”

“He wasn’t neither,” spoke up Looney. “Tex, here, seen him in Chi last
mont’.”

And, indeed, Tex had told Looney so. But now, thus directly appealed
to, Tex answered nothing. And for the first time Looney began to get
the vague suspicion that these, his friends, might have trifled with him
before. Certainly they were serious now. He looked around the sprawled
circle and sensed that their manner was somehow different from the
attitude with which they had usually discussed his quest for Slim.

“Bumped off?” said Tex. “How?”

“A wobbly done it,” said the San Diego Kid. “Slim, he was scabbin’.
Strike-breakin’. And they was some wobblies there helpin’ on the strike.
See? An’ this wobbly bumps Slim off.”

“He didn’t neither,” said Looney again.

“T’ hell he didn’t? He said he did,” said the San Diego Kid pacifically.
“Is a guy gonna say he’s bumped off a guy unless he’s bumped him off?”

Looney, somewhat shaken, withdrew from the group to seek comfort from
the constellations; and particularly from that big, red star, the
apparent king of stars, which he had come to think of as Slim’s star,
and vaguely, as Slim’s mascot. It was brighter and redder than ever
that night, Looney thought, and sitting on a discarded railroad tie and
staring at the planet, Looney gradually recovered his faith.

“He ain’t neither been bumped off, Slim ain’t,” he muttered, “an’ I’m
gonna find him yet.”

And Slim had not been bumped off, however sincere the San Diego Kid may
have been in his belief.

It was some months later that Looney did find him in a little city in
Pennsylvania--or found some one that looked like him.

Looney had dropped from a freight train early in the morning, had
rustled himself some grub, had eaten two good meals and had part of a
day’s sleep, and now, just as dark was coming on, and the street lamps
were being lighted, was loafing aimlessly on the platform of the railway
depot. He purposed to take a train south that night, when it became so
dark that he could crawl into an empty in the yards without too much
danger of being seen and he was merely putting in the time until full
night came on.

While he was standing idly so, an automobile drew up beside the station
platform and an elegantly dressed and slender man of about thirty got
out. He assisted from the car a woman and a small child, and they made
toward the door of the waiting room.

“Slim!” cried Looney, rushing forward.

For this was Slim--it must be Slim--it was Slimmy the Match in every
feature--and yet, the car!--the clothes--the woman--the baby--the
prosperity----- _Was_ it Slim?

“Slim!” cried Looney again, his heart leaping in his meager body. “It’s
me, Slim! It’s Looney! I’ve got youse again, Slim! Gawd! I’ve found
yuh!”

The woman hastily snatched the child up into her arms, with a suppressed
scream, and recoiled.

The man made no sound, but he, too, drew back a step, not seeming to see
Looney’s outstretched hand.

But he did see it--he saw more than that. He saw, as if they were
flashed before him at lightning speed upon a cinema screen, a dozen
scenes of a wild and reckless and indigent youth that he had thought was
dead forever; he saw these roughneck years suddenly leap alive and
stalk toward him again, toward him and his; he saw his later years of
industry, his hard-won success, his position so strenuously battled for,
his respectability that was become so dear to him, all his house of
life so laboriously builded, crumbling before the touch of this torn and
grotesque outcast that confronted and claimed him, this wavering,
dusty lunatic whom he dimly remembered. If his wife knew--if her people
knew--if the business men of this town were to know----

He shuddered and turned sick, and then with a sudden recovery he took
his child from its mother and guided her before him into the waiting
room.

Looney watched them enter, in silence. He stood dazed for a moment,
and then he slowly turned and walked down the railroad track beyond the
limits of the town. There, upon a spot of turf beside the right of
way, he threw himself upon his face and sobbed and moaned, as a
broken-hearted child sobs, as a dog moans upon its master’s grave.

But after a while he looked up. Slim’s star was looking down at him, red
and confident and heartening as ever. He gazed at it a long time, and
then an idea took form in his ruined brain and he said aloud:

“Now, dat wasn’t _really_ Slim! I been lookin’ fer Slim so long I t’ink
I see Slim where he ain’t! Dat was jus’ some guy wot looks like Slimmy.
Slimmy, he wouldn’t never of gone back on an old pal like dat!”

The rumble of an approaching train caught his ears. He got to his feet
and prepared to board it.

“Slim, he’s waitin’ fer me somewheres,” he told the star. “I may be
kinda looney about some t’ings, but I knows Slim, an’ dey ain’t no
yellow streak nowheres in Slim!”

And with unshaken loyalty Looney the Mutt boarded the train and set off
upon his endless quest anew.



VI--Kale

|See that old fellow there?” asked Ed the waiter. “Well, his fad is
money.”

The old fellow indicated--he must have been nearly eighty--sat eating
corned beef and cabbage in a little booth in a certain delightful,
greasy old chophouse in downtown New York. It was nearly time to close
the chophouse for that day for it was almost eleven o’clock at night; it
was nearly time to close the chophouse forever, for it was the middle of
June, 1919. In a couple of weeks the wartime prohibition act would be in
force, and Ed and I had been discussing what effect it would have upon
our respective lives.

There was no one else in the place at the time except the cashier and
the old man whose fad was money, and so Ed had condescended toward me,
as a faithful customer, and was sitting down to have a drink with me.

“His fad is money?” I questioned, glancing at the old gentleman, who
seemed to be nothing extraordinary as regards face or manner or attire.
He had a long, bony New Englandish head and a short, white, well-trimmed
beard; he was finishing his nowise delicate food with gusto. “I should
say,” I added, “that his fad was corned beef and cabbage.”

“That’s one of his fads,” admitted Ed the waiter, “and I don’t know but
that it’s as strong in him as his money fad. At any rate, I’ve never
seen him without one or the other was near him, and both in large
quantities.”

We had been conversing in a mumble, so that our voices should not carry
to the old gentleman. And now Ed dropped his voice still lower and
whispered:

“That’s Old Man Singleton.”

I looked at him with a renewed interest. Every one knew who Old Man
Singleton was, and many persons liked to guess how much he was worth.
Ostensibly he had retired, leaving to his two sons the management of the
Singleton banking business, with its many ramifications; but actually
he kept his interest in the concern and was reputed to be coaching his
grandsons in the ways of the world, and especially that part of the
world known as “The Street.”

Starting out as a New England villager who hated poverty because his
family had always known it, he had come to New York as a lad of twenty,
with red knitted mittens on his osseous hands, and he had at once
removed the mittens and put the hands to work gathering money; it was
rumored that the hands had never turned loose any of the garnered coin;
it was even said by some persons that he still had the same pair of
mittens.

The details of his rise I cannot give; he had achieved his ambition
to be one of the very rich men of America because the ambition was so
strong within him.

“Of course his fad is money,” I muttered to Ed the waiter. “Everybody
knows that Old Man Singleton’s fad is money.”

Ed was about to reply, when Mr. Singleton looked up and motioned for his
check. Ed brought it, and gave the old gentleman his hat and his stick
and his change.

“I hope everything was all right,” Mr. Singleton said Ed, palpably
bidding for recognition and a tip.

“Eh? said Singleton, looking blankly at Ed You know me, hey? I don’t
recall you. Yes, everything was all right, thank you.” He gave the
waiter a dime and passed out, after another blank, fumbling look at Ed,
and a shake of his head. There was something feeble and wandering in the
old fellow’s manner; his memory was going; it was obvious that before
long the rest of him would follow his memory. He shouldn’t be allowed to
go around this way alone at night,” murmured Ed, watching the door
through which he had made his exit. “But I suppose he’s as bull-headed
as ever about doing what he pleases, even if his legs are shaky.”

“He didn’t know you,” I hinted, for I wished to learn all that Ed knew
about Old Man Singleton.

Ed is a person who has been in the world nearly fifty years; he has had
some very unusual acquaintances and experiences. It is never safe to
predict just what Ed will know and what he will not know. One afternoon,
after I had known Ed for about a year, I was attempting to argue some
scientific point with a friend who was lunching with me, and Ed, who was
waiting on us and listening, remarked: “I beg your pardon, sir, but it
wasn’t in _The Descent of Man_ that Darwin said that; it was in _The
Origin of Species_.”

And yet, if you deduce from that remark that Ed knows a great deal about
modern science, you will be mistaken; as likely as not he could quote
pages of Marcus Aurelius to you, and at the same time he might pronounce
“Euripides” as if the last two syllables were one, riming with “hides”;
his reading, like his life, has been elective.

“He doesn’t recall you,” I repeated.

“And that’s ingratitude,” said Ed, “if he only knew it. I saved the old
man’s life once.”

And Ed limped over to the table and resumed his seat opposite me. He
has a bullet under one kneecap, and at times it makes him very lame. He
would never tell me how it came there; to this day I do not know.

“From what did you save his life?” I asked. “From a man,” said Ed
moodily. “From a man who had a notion to bean him one night. And to this
day I ask myself: ‘Did I do right, or did I do wrong?’”

“Tell me about it,” I insisted,

“Drink up,” said Ed, manipulating the Scotch bottle and the siphon of
seltzer. “This is one of the last highballs you’ll ever have, unless
you sneak around and take it on the sly. I don’t know that I should have
another one myself; it settles in this damned knee of mine if I get a
little too much.”

“Tell me when, where and how you knew Old Man Singleton,” I demanded
again.

“This knee of mine,” went on Ed, disregarding me, “is a hell of a
handicap. We were talking about prohibition--what’s prohibition going to
do to me? Hey? It puts me out of a job in a barroom like this the first
thing. And what else can I do? With this game leg, you can see me going
on the stage as a Russian dancer, can’t you? Or digging trenches to lay
gas pipes in, or carrying a Hod? Huh? And I can’t even get a job in a
swell restaurant uptown; they don’t want any gamelegged waiters sticking
around, falling over the chairs. This was about the only kind of a joint
and the only kind of a job I was fit for, this chop-house thing down
here, and it’s going to close in two weeks. What then? Be somebody’s
housemaid? I can’t see it. I don’t wish anybody any bad luck, but I
hope the guy that put over this prohibition thing gets stiff in all his
joints and lives forever.”

I sympathized and waited, and finally he began. “Old Man Singleton’s
fad,” said Ed, “as I re marked before, is money. And as you remarked,
another of his fads is corned beef and cabbage--especially cabbage. He
will eat corned beef with his cabbage, and like it; or he will eat pork
with his cabbage, and like it; or he will eat cabbage without either; it
is the cabbage he likes--or kale. In fact, you could reduce his two fads
to one, and say what he likes is kale--kale in the slang sense of money,
and kale that is cabbage. And all his life he has been stuffing himself
with kale.

“His fad is kale that he can see and feel and handle and show and carry
about with him. Not merely money in the bank and stocks and bonds and
property and real estate, but actual cash. He likes to carry it with
him, and he does carry it with him. I guess he likes the feel of it in
his billfolder, and the thought that he has got it on him--on him, the
poor boy that came out of New England with the red knitted mittens on
that everybody has heard so much about. I can understand the way
he feels about it; with a folder full of thousand-dollar and
ten-thousand-dollar bills he feels safe, somehow; feels like he’ll never
have to go back to that little New England town and saw cordwood and
shovel snow again.

“He’s got it on him now, that folder, and I’ll bet you on it. That’s
what I meant when I said it wasn’t safe for him to be trotting about
this way after night. For if I know it, it stands to reason others know
it, too.

“What you want to know is, how I know it. Well, I was not always what I
am now. Once I was quite a bird and wore dress suits and went to the
Metropolitan Opera and listened to Caruso as he jumped his voice from
peak to peak. Yes, sir, I know every darned acoustic in that place! They
weren’t my dress suits that I wore, but they fit me. Once I moved in the
circles of the idle rich, though they didn’t know it, and helped ‘em
spend the unearned increment they wrung from the toil of the downtrodden
laboring man.

“Once, to come down to brass tacks, I was a butler’s companion. It is
an office you won’t find listed in the social directory, but it existed,
for me at least. The butler in the case was a good friend of mine by the
name of Larry Hodgkins, and being part Irish, he was an ideal English
butler. Larry and his mother were in the employ of the Hergsheimers, a
wealthy Jewish family--you know who they are if you read the financial
pages or the Sunday supplements. Mrs. Hodgkins was the housekeeper and
Larry was the butler, and when the Hergsheimers were traveling Larry and
his mother stayed in the New York house as caretakers and kept things
shipshape. And let me give you a tip, by the way: if you ever take a
notion to quit the writing game and go into domestic service, plant
yourself with a rich Hebrew family. They want things done right,
but they are the most liberal people on earth, especially to Gentile
servants.

“This Hergsheimer was Jacob Hergsheimer, and he was in right socially in
New York, as well as financially; he had put himself across into the
big time socially because, if you ask me, he belonged there; all the
Hergsheimers didn’t get across, but this one did. His New York house is
uptown, between the sixties and the eighties, east of the Park, and
he wants it kept so he can drop into it with his family and a flock of
servants at any hour of the day or night, from any part of the earth,
without a minute’s notice, and give a dinner party at once, if he feels
like it, and he frequently feels like it.

“It was Mrs. Hodgkins’s and Larry’s job to keep the fire from going
out in the boilers, so to speak, and a head of steam on, so that the
domestic ship could sail in any direction on receipt of orders by wire,
wireless or telephone. They were permanent there, but Jake Hergsheimer
and his family, as far as I could make out, never got more than an
average of about three months’ use a year out of that mansion.

“This time I am speaking of was nearly ten years ago. I was a waiter in
an uptown restaurant, and both my legs were good then; Larry and I
were old pals. The Jake Hergsheimers were sailing around the world in a
yacht, and would be at it for about a year, as far as Larry knew, and
he asked me up to live with him. I accepted; and believe me, the eight
months I put in as Jake Hergsheimer’s guest were _some_ eight months.
Not that Jake knew about it; but if he had known it, he wouldn’t have
cared. This Jake was a real human being.

“And his clothes fit me; just as if I had been measured for them. He had
what you might call an automatic tailor, Jake did. Every six weeks, rain
or shine, that tailor delivered a new suit of clothes to the Hergsheimer
house, and he sent in his bill once a year, so Larry the butler told me.
Some people go away and forget to stop the milk; and when Jake sailed
for the other side of the world he forgot to tell anybody to stop the
tailor. Larry didn’t feel as if it were any part of his duty to stop
him; for Larry liked that tailor. He made Larry’s clothes, too.

“And I didn’t see where it was up to me to protest. As I said, Jake’s
garments might have been made for me. In fact, a great many of them
_were_ made for me. There were at least fifteen suits of clothes that
had never been worn in that house, made to my measure and Jake’s, when
I became butler’s companion in the establishment, and they kept right
on coming. Also, there was a standing order for orchestra seats at the
Metropolitan. Jake had a box every second Thursday, or something like
that, but when he really wanted to hear the music and see the show he
usually sat in the orchestra. Not only did his business suits fit me,
but his dress clothes fit me, too.

“I used to go often, with a lady’s maid that had the same access to
clothing as I did. She was part of a caretaking staff also. Being a
writing person, you have, of course, only viewed New York’s society and
near-society from the outside, and no doubt you have been intimidated by
the haughty manners of the servants. Well, when you get close to swells
and really know them personally, you will find they are human, too.

“A butler on duty is a swelled-up proposition, because he has to be that
way. But take him as you find him among his peers, and he quits acting
like the Duke of Westminster Abbey, and is real sociable. This Larry
person, for instance, could distend himself like a poisoned pup and
make a timid millionaire feel like the sleeves of his undershirt must be
showing below his cuffs; but in our little select circle Larry was the
life of the party.

“Being, as I said before, an outsider, you likely don’t realize how
many of those big swell millionaires’ cribs uptown are in the hands of
caretakers like Larry and his mother and me the best part of the year.
Well, they are; and there’s a social life goes on in them that don’t
ever get into the papers. The parties we had that year in Jake’s house
would have done Jake himself good, if Jake could have got an invitation
to them. But Jake was absent, though his cellar and his grocers were
at our service; and he never questioned a bill, Larry said. There were
twelve or fifteen hand-picked servants in our little social circle that
year, and before I left there I could begin to understand how these
débutantes feel at the end of the season--sort of tired and bored and
willing to relax and go in for work and rest and athletics for a change.

“I had only been butler’s companion for a few weeks when Old Man
Singleton dropped in one evening--yes, sir, Old Lemuel Singleton
himself. He came to see the butler’s mother, Mrs. Hodgkins. He had known
her a good many years before, when he was wearing those red mittens and
sawing wood up in that New England town and she was somebody’s Irish
cook. And he had run across her again, after he became a millionaire,
down here in New York City. He was tickled to see her, and he didn’t
care a darn if she was Jake Hergsheimer’s housekeeper. She could cook
cabbage and kale better than any one else in the world, and he used to
come and sit with her, and talk about that little old town up there, and
indulge in his favorite dissipation.

“Old Man Singleton has had what you call the social entrée in New York
for a good many years; for so long that some of his children, and
all his grandchildren, were born with it. But he never took it very
seriously himself. He has been an in-and-outer, you might say. If he saw
Mrs. Hodgkins around Jake’s house, he would call her Mary and ask her
how folks were up home in front of Jake and his wife and a whole bunch
of guests, just as soon as not.

“And his sons and his daughters and his grandchildren never could get
him out of those ways; he always was bull-headed about doing what he
pleased, so Mrs. Hodgkins told me, and he always will be. And the old
lady liked to see him and chin with him and cook for him; and believe
me, she was some cook when she set herself to it. Not merely kale, but
everything. She didn’t cook for the Hergsheimers--they had a chef for
that--but they missed it by not having her. Victuals was old Mary’s
middle name, and she could rustle up some of the best grub you ever
threw your lip over.

“At first, Old Man Singleton and Mrs. Hodgkins didn’t mix much with
us younger folks when we pulled a party. It wasn’t that we were too
aristocratic for them, for off duty, as I said before, butlers and other
swells can be as easy and jolly as common people. But they seemed too
antiquated, if you get me; they were living too much in the past.

“And then, one night, I discovered what Old Man Singleton’s fad
was--kale. Money. Big money. Big money on his person. It was this way:
Larry and I wanted to go downtown and have a little fun, but neither
of us had any cash in hand. Larry had a check for one hundred and fifty
dollars which Jake Hergsheimer had sent him, but all the tradesmen we
knew were closed at that hour, and there wasn’t any way to cash it,
unless Old Man Singleton could.

“‘Mr. Singleton,’ says Larry to the old man, who was sitting down to a
mess of pork and kale with Mrs. Hodgkins, ‘maybe you can cash this for
me.’ And he handed him the check.

“The old man stopped eating and put his glasses on and pulled a
billfolder out of his pocket, with a kind of pleased smile on his face.

“‘Let me see,’ he says, taking out the bills, and running them over with
his fingers; ‘let me see.’

“I nearly dropped dead. There wasn’t a bill in there of lower
denomination than one thousand dollars; and most of them were
ten-thousand-dol-lar bills.

“‘No, Larry,’ says the old man, ‘I’m afraid I can’t, afraid I
can’t--haven’t got the change.’

“And while we stood there and looked, he smoothed and patted those
bills, and folded and refolded them, and then put them back into his
pocket, and patted the pocket.

“‘Mary,’ he says to the old woman with a grin, ‘that’s quite a lot of
money for little Lem Singleton to be carrying around in his pocket,
isn’t it?’ “‘It is that, Lemuel,’ said the old lady, ‘and I should think
you’d be afraid of leaving it out of the bank.’

“‘Well, Mary,’ says the old man, ‘I kind o’ like to have it around me
all the time--uh--huh! a little bit where I can put my hands on it, all
the time. I used to carry gold; but I gave that up; it’s too heavy, for
what it’s worth. But I like it, Mary; I used to look at that gold and
say to myself, “Well, there’s one thing you got, Lem Singleton, they
never thought you’d get when you left home! And they aren’t going to
take it away from you, either!” It was a long time before I could make
paper seem as real to me as gold. But it does now.’

“And what does the old bird do but take it out of his pocket again and
crinkle it through his fingers and smooth it out again and pet it and do
everything but kiss it. Larry and I stood looking at him with our eyes
sticking out, and he looked at us and laughed. It came to me all of a
sudden that he liked to come where we servants were because he could
pull that kind of thing in front of us, but that he was sort of lost
among the swell-society bunch because he didn’t dare pull it there and
didn’t feel so rich among them.

“‘My God, Larry,’ I said, when we were outside the house, ‘did you
notice how much kale the old man had there?’

“‘Uh-huh,’ said Larry. ‘Mother always cooks a lot for him.’

“‘Wake up, Stupid,’ I said. ‘I don’t mean cabbage. I mean money. There
must have been nearly two hundred thousand dollars in that roll!’

“‘He always has around one hundred thousand dollars on him, at least,’
says Larry. ‘And I’ve seen him flash as high as a quarter of a million.’

“‘Well,’ I says, ‘something ought to be done about it.’

“‘What do you mean, Ed?’ says he.

“‘Oh, nothing,’ I said.

“We walked over to get the L train downtown, saying nothing, and then
finally Larry remarked: “‘Electricity is a great thing, Ed.’

“‘I never said it wasn’t,’ says I.

“‘It’s a great thing,’ says Larry, ‘but when you sit on it, sit on
it right. For instance, I’d a darned sight rather sit in one of these
electric trains than in that electric chair up at Sing Sing.’

“‘Who said anything about an electric chair?’ I asked him.

“‘Nobody said anything,’ says Larry, ‘but you’re thinking so darned loud
I can get you.’

“‘Piffle, peanuts and petrification,’ I said. ‘Take care of your own
thoughts, and I’ll skim the fat off of mine myself.’

“Well, as I said, after that we got better acquainted, the old man and
I. I paid more attention to him. He interested me more. I’ve always
been interested in science of all kinds, and the year I spent in Jake
Hergsheimer’s house I cut the leaves of a lot of books in his library
and gave them the once over. I was always interested in psychology, even
before the word got to be a headliner in the Sunday supplements, and I
took a good deal of pleasure that winter trying to get inside of Old
Man Singleton’s mind. I must say, I never got very far in, at that. My
general conclusion at the end is what it was at the beginning--his fad
is kale.

“And he loved to show it, you could see that. Not that he pulled it
every time he happened to be at one of our parties. Often he would drop
in that winter from some swell social event at one of the big houses
uptown, where he had been a guest, and eat some of old Mary’s chow, and
never intimate by word or look that he had all that kale on him. And
then again he’d come among us, diked out in the soup and fish, and flash
the roll, for no other reason that I know except he enjoyed seeing us
get the blind staggers, which we always did. And then he’d fuss with it
and pet it and go into a dream over it, and wake up again and grin and
talk about life with old Mary. And they agreed about life; you never
heard two more moral persons exchange views. It was sometimes as good as
a Sunday-school to listen to them for half an hour.

“One night, when they had been gassing for a while, they sort of got my
goat, and I said to him:

“‘Mr. Singleton, does it ever strike you as a little peculiar that you
should have so much money and so many other people, such as myself, none
at all?’

“‘No, Ed,’ he says. ‘No, it doesn’t. That’s the Lord’s way, Ed! Money is
given as a sacred trust by the Lord to them that are best fitted to have
and to hold.’

“‘Meaning,’ I asked him, ‘that if you were ever to let loose of any of
it, it might work harm in the world?’

“He chewed over that for quite a while, as if he saw something personal
in it, and he gave me a ten-dollar bill for a Christmas present. He
isn’t as stingy as some people say he is; he just looks so stingy that
if he was the most liberal man on earth he would get the reputation of
being stingy.

“The lady’s maid that I used to go to the opera with quit me a little
while after Christmas. She and I were walking around the promenade
between the acts one night at the Metropolitan and Larry was with
us, when a fellow stopped Larry and spoke to him. I could see the guy
looking at the girl and me as he and Larry talked. Later, Larry told me
that it was one of Jake Hergsheimer’s friends, and he had been a little
bit surprised to see Larry at the opera all diked out, and he had wanted
to know who the girl was.

“Well, anyhow, she never went to the opera with me after that; but a few
weeks later I saw her at a cabaret with Jake’s friend. It was a grief to
me; but I got into some real trouble, or let it get into me, about
the same time, and that helped take the sting off. I had once been
married--but there’s no use going into all that. Anyhow, when the
marriage kind o’ wore off, my own folks took my wife’s side of the case
and she went to live with them. My old dad was sick, and they needed
money, and my wife wrote to me that she was willing to let bygones be
bygones and accept some money from me, and that my parents felt the same
way, and there was a kid, too, that my folks were bringing up.

“Well, I was desperate for some way to get hold of some cash and send
to them. In the end, I took one of Jake Hergsheimer’s silver vases and
hocked it and sent the money, and got it out of hock two or three months
later; but in the meantime there was a spell when I was so hard pressed
it looked to me like I would actually have to do something dishonest to
get that money.

“One night, before Jake Hergsheimer came to my rescue and lent me that
silver vase, if you want to call it that, I was sitting alone in the
house thinking what a failure in life I was, and how rotten it was to
have a wife and kid and parents all set against me, and drinking some of
Jake’s good booze, and getting more and more low in my mind, when there
came a ring at the front doorbell. The butler was out, and old Mary was
asleep way up in the top of the house, at the back, and wouldn’t hear.

“‘I’ll bet,’ I said to myself, ‘that’s Old Man Singleton nosing around
for his cabbage.’ And I made up my mind I wouldn’t let him in--he could
ring till he froze to death on the front steps, and I wouldn’t. It was
a blustery, snowy January night, with new snow over the old ice
underneath, and I says to myself, ‘It’s a wonder the old coot don’t slip
down and bust some of those big New England bones of his. And I wouldn’t
care much if he did.’

“But he kept on ringing, and finally I thought I’d better go and let him
in. I didn’t have any ulterior notions when I went up the stairs from
the servants’ dining room and made for the front door. But the minute I
clapped eyes on him I thought of all that kale in his pocket.

“I opened the front door, but outside of that was an iron grille. It had
a number of fastenings, but the final one was a short, heavy iron bar
that lay in two sockets, one on each side of the opening.

“I lifted the bar and swung the grille open.

“‘Ha! Hum!’ said he, and sneezed. ‘It’s you, Ed, is it?’

“And, snuffing and sneezing, he passed in front of me.

“And as he passed by me that bar said something to my hand. And the hand
raised up. It wasn’t any of my doings, it was all the hand and the bar.
It raised up, that bar did, right behind the old man’s head. He stopped
just outside the front door and flapped his big bony feet on a rug
that was there, to get the snow off his shoes, and while he flapped and
sneezed that bar was right over the old man’s brain-box.

“‘Well,’ I said to myself, ‘here is your chance to be an honest man and
a prosperous man, reunited with your wife and your kid and your folks
at home, and not have to borrow anything from Jake Hergsheimer’s
collection--just one little tap on the old man’s head, and down he goes,
and he’s got anywhere from one hundred thousand to two hundred and fifty
thousand dollars in his clothes.’

“‘Yes,’ said myself to me, ‘one little tap, and maybe you kill him. What
then? The electric chair, huh?’

“‘Hell!’ I said to myself. ‘Take a chance! The old man has so much money
that what he has in his pocket means nothing to him one way or another.
Larry’s gone till morning, and the old woman won’t wake for a long time.
It means a little bit of a headache for Old Lemuel here, and it means
your chance to lead an honest life hereafter and be a useful citizen and
take care of those you have been neglecting.’

“‘Yes,’ said myself to me, ‘it’s more moral to do it, and make your life
over, but you never have been one for morality in the past. Besides,
you’d kill him.’

“And I might have killed him, boss. I wasn’t sure of it then, but I’ve
been sure of it since then. I was that strung up that I would have hit
too hard.

“And yet, I might _not_ have done so! I might have hit him just enough
to put him out and make my get-away, and I might have led an honest life
since then.

“But at the moment I couldn’t do it. I saw, all of a sudden, something
funny. I saw the old man stamping his feet and getting the snow off, and
I thought of him as a dead man, and I says to myself: ‘How damned funny
for a dead man to stamp the snow off his feet!’ And I laughed.

“‘Heh? Heh? What did you say, Ed?’ says the old man, and turns around.

“I dropped the iron bar to my side, and that dead man came up out of the
grave.

“‘Nothing, Mr. Singleton,’ I said. ‘I was just going to say, go on in,
and I’ll get a brush and clean the snow off of you.’

“I said I saved his life from a man one time. Well, I was the man I
saved his life from.

“He went on in, and I barred the grille and locked the door, and we went
on down to the dining room. I was shaking, and still I wasn’t easy in my
mind. I told him there wasn’t anybody home but me, and he said he’d take
a drop of Jake’s brandy. And while I was opening a bottle of it for him,
what does he do but pull out that billfolder.

“‘For God’s sake, Mr. Singleton,’ I said, turning weak and sitting down
in a chair all of a sudden, ‘put that money up.’

“He sat there and sipped his brandy and talked, but I didn’t hear what
he was saying. I just looked at him, and kept saying to myself, should I
have done it? Or should I have let him go by?

“Boss, that was nearly ten years ago, and I’ve been asking myself that
question from time to time ever since. Should I have done it? Was it
moral to refuse that chance to make my life over again? You know me,
kid. You know some of me, at least. You know I don’t hold much by
morals. If I was to tell you how I got that bullet under my kneecap,
you’d know me better than _you_ do. If I had hit him just right and made
my get-away, I would have led a different life.

“And I wouldn’t now be ‘waiting for my death sentence. For that’s
practically what this prohibition thing means to me. I can’t work at
anything but this. And this is through with. And I’m through with. I’m a
bum from now on. There’s no use kidding myself; I’m a bum.

“And yet, often, I’m glad I didn’t do it.”

Ed brooded in silence for a while.

And then I said, “It’s strange he didn’t know you.”

“It’s been ten years,” said Ed, “and you saw that the old man’s got
to the doddering stage. He likely wouldn’t know his own children if he
didn’t see them every day or two.”

“I suppose,” I said, “that the old man feels he is ending his days in a
very satisfactory manner--the national prohibition thing triumphant, and
all that.”

“How do you mean?” asked Ed.

“Don’t you know?” I said. “Why, Old Man Singleton, it is said, helped
to finance the fight, and used his money and his influence on other big
money all over the country in getting next to doubtful politicians and
putting the thing through the state legislatures. I don’t mean there
was anything crooked about it anywhere, but he was one of the bunch that
represented organized power, and put the stunt across while the liquor
interests were still saying national prohibition could never come.”

“The hell he did!” said Ed. “I didn’t know he was mixed up with it. I
never saw him take a drink, now that I remember, except the brandy on
the night I saved his life.”

“Old Man Singleton,” I said, “is credited with having had more to do
with it than any other one person, by those who are on the inside.”

“The old coot!” said Ed. And then added wryly: “I hope he gets as stiff
in his knee joint as I am and lives forever! He’s made a bum of me!”

It was three or four weeks after my talk with Ed that I read in the
papers of a peculiar accident of which Old Man Singleton had been the
victim. A head of cabbage, he said, had fallen out of a tree and hit him
on his own head one evening as he was walking alone in Central Park. He
had been dazed by the blow for a moment; and when he regained his feet
a considerable sum of money which he had been carrying was gone. He was
sure that he had been struck by a head of cabbage, for a head of cabbage
lay on the pathway near him when he was helped to his feet. He did not
pretend to be able to say how a head of cabbage could have gotten into
one of the park trees.

The police discredited his story, pointing out that likely the old
man, who was near-sighted, had blundered against a tree in the dusk and
struck his head. The head of cabbage, they told the reporters, could
have had nothing to do with it; it could not have come into contact with
his head at all, unless, indeed, some one had put it into a sack and
swung it on him like a bludgeon; and this, the police said, was too
absurd to be considered. For why should a crook use a head of cabbage,
when the same results might have been attained with the more usual
blackjack, stick or fist?

Old Man Singleton was not badly hurt; and as regarded the loss of the
money, he never said, nor did his family ever say, just how large the
sum was. Mr. Singleton had the vague impression that after the cabbage
fell out of the tree and hit him he had been helped to his feet by a man
who limped and who said to him: “Kale is given to them that can best use
it, to have and to hold.”

He did not accuse this person, who disappeared before he was thoroughly
himself again, of having found the money which had evidently dropped
from his pocket when the cabbage fell from the tree and hit him, but
he was suspicious, and he thought the police were taking the matter too
lightly; he criticized the police in an interview given to the papers.
The police pointed out the irrelevance of the alleged words of the
alleged person who limped, and intimated that Mr. Singleton was
irrational and should be kept at home evenings; as far as they were
concerned, the incident was closed.

But I got another slant at it, as Ed might have said. Last winter I was
talking at my club with a friend just back from Cuba, where the rum is
red and joy is unconfined.

“I met a friend of yours,” he said, “by the name of Ed down there, who
is running a barroom and seems to be quite a sport in his way. Sent his
regards to you. Must have made it pay--seems to have all kinds of money.
Named his barroom ‘The Second Thought.’ Asked him why. He said nobody
knew but himself, and he was keeping it a secret--though you might
guess. Wants you to come down. Sent you a message. Let’s see: what was
it? Oh, yes! Cryptic! Very cryptic! Wrote it down--here it is: ‘_Kale!
Kale! The gang’s all here_.’ Make anything out of it? I can’t.”

I could, though I didn’t tell him what. But I shall not visit Ed in
Cuba; I consider him an immoral person.



VII--Bubbles


I

|Tommy Hawkins was not so sober that you could tell it on him. Certainly
his friend Jack Dobson, calling on him one dreary winter evening--an
evening of that winter before John Barleycorn cried maudlin tears into
his glass and kissed America good-by--would never have guessed it from
Tommy’s occupation. Presenting himself at Tommy’s door and finding it
unlocked, Jack had gone on in. A languid splashing guided him to the
bathroom. In the tub sat Tommy with the water up to his shoulders,
blowing soap bubbles.

“You darned old fool!” said Jack. “Aren’t you ever going to grow up,
Tommy?”

“Nope,” said Tommy placidly. “What for?” Sitting on a chair close by
the bathtub was a shallow silver dish with a cake of soap and some
reddish-colored suds in it. Tommy had bought the dish to give some one
for a wedding present, and then had forgotten to send it.

“What makes the suds red?” asked Jack.

“I poured a lot of that nose-and-throat spray stuff into it,” explained
Tommy. “It makes them prettier. Look!”

As a pipe he was using a piece of hollow brass curtain rod six or eight
inches long and of about the diameter of a fat lead pencil. He soused
this thing in the reddish suds and manufactured a bubble with elaborate
care. With a graceful gesture of his wet arm he gently waved the rod
until the bubble detached itself. It floated in the air for a moment,
and the thin, reddish integument caught the light from the electric
globe and gave forth a brief answering flash as of fire. Then the bubble
suddenly and whimsically dashed itself against the wall and was no more,
leaving a faint, damp, reddish trace upon the white plaster.

“Air current caught it,” elucidated Tommy with the air of a circus
proprietor showing off pet elephants. In his most facetious moments
Tommy was wont to hide his childish soul beneath an exterior of serious
dignity. “This old dump is full of air currents. They come in round
the windows, come in round the doors, come right in through the
walls. Damned annoying, too, for a scientist making experiments with
bubbles--starts a bubble and never knows which way it’s going to jump.
I’m gonna complain to the management of this hotel.”

“You’re going to come out of that bathtub and get into your duds,” said
Jack. “That water’s getting cool now, and between cold water and air
currents you’ll have pneumonia the first thing you know--you poor silly
fish, you.”

“Speaking of fish,” said Tommy elliptically, “there’s a bottle of
cocktails on the mantel in the room there. Forgot it for a moment. Don’t
want to be inhospitable, but don’t drink all of it.”

“It’s all gone,” said Dobson a moment later.

“So?” said Tommy in surprise. “That’s the way with cocktails. Here
one minute and gone the next--like bubbles. Bubbles! Life’s like that,
Jack!” He made another bubble with great solemnity, watched it float and
dart and burst. “Pouf!” he said. “Bubbles! Bubbles! Life’s like that!”

“You’re an original philosopher, you are,” said Jack, seizing him by the
shoulders. “You’re about as original as a valentine. Douse yourself
with cold water and rub yourself down and dress. Come out of it, kid, or
you’ll be sick.”

“If I get sick,” said Tommy, obeying, nevertheless, “I won’t have to go
to work to-morrow.”

“Why aren’t you working to-day?” asked his friend, working on him with a
coarse towel.

“Day off,” said Tommy.

“Day off!” rejoined Dobson. “Since when has the _Morning Despatch_
been giving two days off a week to its reporters? You had your day off
Tuesday, and this is Thursday.”

“Is it?” said Tommy. “I always get Tuesday and Thursday mixed. Both
begin with a T. Hey, Jack, how’s that? Both begin with a T! End with a
tea party! Good line, hey, Jack? Tuesday and Thursday both begin with
a T and end with a tea party. I’m gonna write a play round that, Jack.
Broadway success! Letters a foot high! Royalties for both of us! I won’t
forget you, Jack! You suggested the idea for the plot, Jack. Drag you
out in front of the curtain with me when I make my speech. ‘Author!
Author!’ yells the crowd. ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ says I, ‘here is the
obscure and humble person who set in motion the train of thought that
led to my writing this masterpiece. Such as he is, I introduce him to
you.’”

“Shut up!” said Jack, and continued to lacerate Tommy’s hide with the
rough towel. “Hold still! Now go and get into your clothes.” And as
Tommy began to dress he regarded that person darkly. “You’re a brilliant
wag, you are! It’s a shame the way the copy readers down on the
_Despatch_ keep your best things out of print, you splattering
supermudhen of journalism, you! You’ll wake up some morning without any
more job than a kaiser.” And as Tommy threaded himself into the mystic
maze of his garments Mr. Dobson continued to look at him and mutter
disgustedly, “Bubbles!”

Not that he was afraid that Tommy would actually lose his job. If it had
been possible for Tommy to lose his job that must have happened years
before. But Tommy wrote a certain joyous type of story better than any
other person in New York, and his facetiousness got him out of as many
scrapes as it got him into. He was thirty years old. At ninety he would
still be experimenting with the visible world in a spirit of random
eagerness, joshing everything in it, including himself. He looked
exactly like the young gentleman pictured in a widely disseminated
collar advertisement. He enjoyed looking that way, and occasionally he
enjoyed talking as if he were exactly that kind of person. He loved to
turn his ironic levity against the character he seemed to be, much as
the mad wags who grace the column of F. P. A. delight in getting their
sayings across accompanied by a gentle satirical fillip at all mad
waggery.

“Speaking of bubbles,” he suddenly chuckled as he carefully adjusted his
tie in the collar that looked exactly like the one in the advertisement,
“there’s an old party in the next room that takes ‘em more seriously
than you do, Jack.”

The old downtown hotel in which Tommy lived had once been a known and
noted hostelry, and persons from Plumville, Pennsylvania, Griffin,
Georgia, and Galva, Illinois, still stopped there when in New York,
because their fathers and mothers had stopped there on their wedding
journeys perhaps. It was not such a very long way from the Eden Musee,
when there was an Eden Musee. Tommy’s room had once formed part of a
suite. The bathroom which adjoined it had belonged jointly to another
room in the suite. But now these two rooms were always let separately.
Still, however, the bathroom was a joint affair. When Tommy wished to
bathe he must first insure privacy by hooking on the inside the door
that led into the bathroom from the chamber beyond.

“Old party in the next room?” questioned Jack.

“Uh-huh,” said Tommy, who had benefited by his cold sluicing and his
rubdown. “I gave him a few bubbles for his very own--through the keyhole
into his room, you know. Poked that brass rod through and blew the
bubble in his room. Detached it with a little jerk and let it float.
Seemed more sociable, you know, to let him in on the fun. Never be
stingy with your pleasures, Jack. Shows a mean spirit--a mean soul. Why
not cheer the old party up with soap bubbles? Cost little, bubbles
do. More than likely he’s a stranger in New York. Unfriendly city, he
thinks. Big city. Nobody thinks of him. Nobody cares for him. Away from
home. Winter day. Melancholy. Well, I say, give him a bubble now and
then. Shows some one is thinking of him. Shows the world isn’t so
thoughtless and gloomy after all. Neighborly sort of thing to do, Jack.
Makes him think of his youth--home--mother’s knee--all that kind of
thing, Jack. Cheers him up. Sat in the tub there and got to thinking
of him. Almost cried, Jack, when I thought how lonely the old man must
be--got one of these old man’s voices. Whiskers. Whiskers deduced from
the voice. So I climbed out of the tub every ten or fifteen minutes all
afternoon and gave the old man a bubble. Rain outside--fog, sleet. Dark
indoors. Old man sits and thinks nobody loves him. Along comes a bubble.
Old man gets happy. Laughs. Remembers his infancy. Skies clear. You
think I’m a selfish person, Jack? I’m not. I’m a Samaritan. Where will
we eat?”

“You are a darned fool,” said Jack. “You say he took them seriously?
What do you mean? Did he like ‘em?”

“Couldn’t quite make out,” said Tommy. “But they moved him. Gasped every
now and then. Think he prayed. Emotion, Jack. Probably made him think
of boyhood’s happy days down on the farm. Heard him talking to himself.
Think he cried. Went to bed anyhow with his clothes on and pulled the
covers over his head. Looked through the keyhole and saw that. Gray
whiskers sticking up, and that’s all. Deduced the whiskers from the
voice, Jack. Let’s give the old party a couple more bubbles and then go
eat. It’s been an hour since he’s had one. Thinks I’m forgetting him, no
doubt.”

So they gave the old man a couple of bubbles, poking the brass rod
through the keyhole of the door.

The result was startling and unexpected. First there came a gasp from
the other room, a sort of whistling release of the breath, and an
instant later a high, whining, nasal voice.

“Oh, God! God! Again! You meant it, then, God! You meant it!”

The two young men started back and looked at each other in wonderment.
There was such a quivering agony, such an utter groveling terror in this
voice from the room beyond that they were daunted.

“What’s eating him?” asked Dobson, instinctively dropping his tones to a
whisper.

“I don’t know,” said Tommy, temporarily subdued. “Sounds like that last
one shell-shocked him when it exploded, doesn’t it?”

But Tommy was subdued only for a moment.

As they went out into the corridor he giggled and remarked, “Told you he
took ‘em seriously, Jack.”



II

“Seriously” was a word scarcely strong enough for the way in which the
old party in the room beyond had taken it, though he had not, in fact,
seen the bubble. He had only seen a puff of smoke coming apparently from
nowhere, originating in the air itself, as it seemed to him, manifesting
itself, materializing itself out of nothing, and floating in front of
the one eye which was peeping fearfully out of the huddled bedclothing
which he had drawn over himself. He had lain quaking on the bed, waiting
for this puff of smoke for an hour or more, hoping against hope that it
would not come, praying and muttering, knotting his bony hands in the
whiskers that Tommy had seen sticking up from the coverings, twisting
convulsively.

Tommy had whimsically filled the bubble, as he blew it, with smoke
from his cigarette. He had in like manner, throughout the afternoon and
early-evening, filled all the bubbles that he had given the old man
with cigarette or pipe smoke. The old party had not been bowled over
by anything in Tommy’s tobacco. He had not noticed that the smoke was
tobacco smoke, for he had been smoking a pipe himself the greater part
of the day, and had not aired out the room. It was neither bubbles nor
tobacco that had flicked a raw spot on his soul. It was smoke.



III

Bubbles! They seemed to be in Tommy’s brain. Perhaps it was the
association of ideas that made him think of champagne. At any rate he
declared that he must have some, and vetoed his friend’s suggestion that
they dine--as they frequently did--at one of the little Italian table
d’hote places in Greenwich Village.

“You’re a bubble and I’m a bubble and the world is a bubble,” Tommy
was saying a little later as he watched the gas stirring in his golden
drink.

They had gone to the genial old Brevoort, which was--but why tell
persons who missed the Brevoort in its mellower days what they missed,
and why cause anguished yearnings in the bosoms of those who knew it
well?

“Tommy,” said his friend, “don’t, if you love me, hand out any more of
your jejune poeticism or musical-comedy philosophy. I’ll agree with you
that the world is a bubble for the sake of argument, if you’ll change
the record. I want to eat, and nothing interferes with my pleasure in
a meal so much as this line of pseudocerebration that you seem to have
adopted lately.”

“Bubbles seem trivial things, Jack,” went on Tommy, altogether
unperturbed. “But I have a theory that there aren’t any trivial things.
I like to think of the world balancing itself on a trivial thing. Look
at the Kaiser, for instance. A madman. Well, let’s say there’s been a
blood clot in his brain for years--a little trivial thing the size of a
pin point, Jack. It hooks up with the wrong brain cell; it gets into
the wrong channel, and--pouf! The world goes to war. A thousand million
people are affected by it--by that one little clot of blood no bigger
than a pin point that gets into the wrong channel. An atom! A planet
balanced on an atom! A star pivoting on a molecule!”

“Have some soup,” said his friend.

“Bubbles! Bubbles and butterflies!” continued Tommy. “Some day, Jack,
I’m going to write a play in which a butterfly’s wing brushes over an
empire.”

“No, you’re not,” said Jack. “You’re just going to talk about it and
think you’re writing it and peddle the idea round to everybody you know,
and then finally some wise guy is going to grab it off and really write
it. You’ve been going to write a play ever since I knew you.”

“Yes, I am; I’m really going to write that play.”

“Well, Tommy,” said Jack, looking round the chattering dining room,
“this is a hell of a place to do it in!”

“Meaning, of course,” said Tommy serenely, “that it takes more than a
butterfly to write a play about a butterfly.”

“You get me,” said his friend. And then after a pause he went on with
sincerity in his manner: “You know I think you could write the play,
Tommy. But unless you get to work on some of your ideas pretty soon, and
buckle down to them in earnest, other people will continue to write your
plays--and you will continue to josh them and yourself, and your friends
will continue to think that you could write better plays if you would
only do it. People aren’t going to take you seriously, Tommy, till you
begin to take yourself a little seriously. Why, you poor, futile, silly,
misguided, dear old mutt, you! You don’t even have sense enough--you
don’t have the moral continuity, if you follow me--to stay sore at a man
that does you dirt! Now, do you?”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” said Tommy a little more seriously.

“Well now, do you?” persisted his friend. “I don’t say it’s good
Christian doctrine not to forgive people. It isn’t. But I’ve seen people
put things across on you, Tommy, and seen you laugh it off and let ‘em
be friends with you again inside of six weeks. I couldn’t do it, and
nine-tenths of the fellows we know couldn’t do it; and in the way you
do it it shouldn’t be done. You should at least remember, even if you do
forgive; remember well enough not to get bit by the same dog again. With
you, old kid, it’s all a part of your being a butterfly and a bubble.
It’s no particular virtue in you. I wouldn’t talk to you like a Dutch
uncle if I didn’t think you had it in you to make good. But you’ve got
to be prodded.”

“There’s one fellow that did me dirt,” said Tommy musingly, “that I’ve
never taken to my bosom again.”

“What did you do to him?” asked his friend. “Beat him to death with
a butterfly’s wing, Tommy, or blow him out of existence with a soap
bubble?”

“I’ve never done anything to him,” said Tommy soberly. “And I don’t
think I ever would do anything to him. I just remember, that’s all. If
he ever gets his come-uppance, as they say in the rural districts, it
won’t be through any act of mine. Let life take revenge for me. I never
will.”

“I suppose you’re right,” said Dobson. “But who was this guy? And what
did he do to you?”



IV

“He was--and is--my uncle,” said Tommy, “and he did about everything
to me. Listen! You think I do nothing but flitter, flutter, frivol and
flivver! And you may be right, and maybe I never will do anything else.
Maybe I never will be anything but a kid.

“I was young when I was born. No, that’s not one of my silly lines,
Jack. I mean it seriously. I was young when I was born. I was born with
a jolly disposition. But this uncle of mine took it out of me. I’ll say
he did! The reason I’m such a kid now, Jack, is because I had to grow up
when I was about five years old, and I stayed grown up until I was
seventeen or eighteen. I never had a chance to be a boy. If I showed any
desire to be it was knocked out of me on the spot. And if I live two
hundred years, and stay nineteen years old all that time, Jack, I won’t
any more than make up for the childhood I missed--that was stolen from
me. Frivol? I could frivol a thousand years and not dull my appetite. I
want froth, Jack: froth and bubbles!

“This old uncle of mine--he wasn’t so old in years when I first knew
him, but in his soul he was as old as the overseers who whipped the
slaves that built Cheops’ pyramid, and as sandy and as flinty--hated me
as soon as he saw me. He hated me before he saw me. He would have hated
me if he had never seen me, because I was young and happy and careless.

“I was that, when I went to live with him--young and happy and careless.
I was five years old. He was my father’s brother, Uncle Ezra was, and he
beat my father out of money in his dirty, underhanded way. Oh, nothing
illegal! At least, I suppose not. Uncle Ezra was too cautious to do
anything that might be found out on him. There was nothing that my
mother could prove, at any rate, and my father had been careless and had
trusted him. When my father died my mother was ill. He gave us a home,
Uncle Ezra did. She had to live somewhere; she had to have a roof over
her head and attention of some sort. She had no near relations, and I
had to be looked after.

“So she and I went into his house to live. It was to be temporary. We
were to move as soon as she got better. But she did not live long. I
don’t remember her definitely as she was before we went to live with
Uncle Ezra. I can only see her as she lay on a bed in a dark room before
she died. It was a large wooden bed, with wooden slats and a straw
mattress. I can see myself sitting on a chair by the head of the bed and
talking to her. My feet did not reach to the floor by any means; they
only reached to the chair rungs. I can’t remember what she said or what
I said. All I remember of her is that she had very bright eyes and that
her arms were thin. I remember her arms, but not her face, except the
eyes. I suppose she used to reach her arms out to me. I think she
must have been jolly at one time, too. There is a vague feeling, a
remembrance, that before we went to Uncle Ezra’s she was jolly, and
that she and I laughed and played together in some place where there was
red-clover bloom.

“One day when I was siting on the chair, the door opened and Uncle Ezra
came in. There was some man with him that was, I suppose, a doctor.
I can recall Uncle Ezra’s false grin and the way he put his hand on my
head--to impress the doctor, I suppose--and the way I pulled away from
him. For I felt that he disliked me, and I feared and hated him.

“Yes, Uncle Ezra gave us a home. I don’t know how much you know about
the rural districts, Jack. But when an Uncle Ezra in a country town
gives some one a home he acquires merit. This was a little town in
Pennsylvania that Pm talking about, and Uncle Ezra was a prominent
citizen--deacon in the church and all that sort of thing. Truly rural
drama stuff, Jack, but I can’t help that--it’s true. Uncle Ezra had a
reputation for being stingy and mean. Giving us a home was a good card
for him to play. My mother had a little money, and he stole that, too,
when she died.

“I suppose he stole it legally. I don’t know. It wasn’t much. No one had
any particular interest in looking out for me, and nobody would want to
start anything in opposition to Uncle Ezra in that town if it could be
helped anyhow. He didn’t have the whole village and the whole of the
farming country round about sewed up, all by himself, but he was one
of the little group that did. There’s a gang like that in every country
town, I imagine. He was one of four or five big ducks in that little
puddle--lent money, took mortgages and all that kind of thing you read
about. I don’t know how much he is worth now, counting what he has
been stealing all his life. But it can’t be a staggering sum. He’s too
cowardly to plunge or take a long chance. He steals and saves and grinds
in a little way. He is too mean and small and blind and limited in his
intelligence to be a big, really successful crook, such as you will find
in New York City.

“When my mother died, of course, I stayed with Uncle Ezra. I suppose
everybody said how good it was of him to keep me, and that it showed a
soft and kindly spot in his nature after all, and that he couldn’t be so
hard as he had the name of being. But I don’t see what else could have
been done with me, unless he had taken me out and dropped me in the mill
pond like a blind cat. Sometimes I used to wish he had done that.

“It isn’t hard to put a five-year-old kid in the wrong, so as to make it
appear--even to the child himself--that he is bad and disobedient. Uncle
Ezra began that way with me. I’m not going into details. This isn’t a
howl; it’s merely an explanation. But he persecuted me in every way. He
put me to work before I should have known what work was--work too hard
for me. He deviled me and he beat me, he clothed me like a beggar and he
fed me like a dog, he robbed me of childhood and of boyhood. I won’t go
over the whole thing.

“I never had decent shoes, or a hat that wasn’t a rag, and I never went
to kid parties or anything, or even owned so much as an air rifle of my
own. The only pair of skates I ever had, Jack, I made for myself out of
two old files, with the help of the village blacksmith--and I got licked
for that. Uncle Ezra said I had stolen the files and the straps. They
belonged to him.

“But there’s one thing I remember with more of anger than any other. He
used to make me kneel down and pray every night before I went to bed,
in his presence; and sometimes he would pray with me. He was a deacon in
the church. There are plenty of them on the square--likely most of them
are. But this one was the kind you used to see in the old-fashioned
melodramas. Truly rural stuff, Jack. He used to be quite a shark at
prayer himself, Uncle Ezra did. I can remember how he looked when he
prayed, with his eyes shut and his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down and
the sound whining through his nose.

“The only person that was ever human to me was a woman I called Aunt
Lizzie. I don’t know really what relation she wras to me; a distant
cousin of Uncle Ezra’s, I think. She was half blind and she was deaf,
and he bullied her and made her do all the housework. She was bent
nearly double with drudgery. He had given her a home, too. She didn’t
dare be very good to me. He might find it out, and then we both would
catch it. She baked me some apple dumplings once on one of my birthdays.
I was nine years old. And he said she had stolen the apples and flour
from him; that he had not ordered her to make any apple dumplings,
and it was theft; and he made me pray for her, and made her pray for
herself, and he prayed for both of us in family prayers every day for a
week.

“I was nearly eighteen when I ran away. I might have done it sooner, but
I was small for my age, and I was cowed. I didn’t dare to call my soul
my own, and I had a reputation for being queer, too. For I used to grin
and laugh at things no one else thought were funny--when Uncle Ezra
wasn’t round. I suppose people in that town thought it was odd that I
could laugh at all. No one could understand how I had a laugh left in
me. But when I was alone I used to laugh. I used to laugh at myself
sometimes because I was so little and so queer. When I was seventeen I
wasn’t much bigger than a thirteen-year-old kid should be. I packed a
lot of growing into the years between seventeen and twenty-one.

“When I ran away Aunt Lizzie gave me eighty-seven cents, all in nickels
and pennies, and there were two or three of those old-fashioned two-cent
pieces in it, too, that she had had for God knows how long. It was
all she had. I don’t suppose he ever paid her anything at all, and the
wonder was she had that much. I told her that when I got out into the
world and made good I would come and get her, but she shivered all over
with fright at the idea of daring to leave. I have sent her things from
time to time in the last ten years--money, and dresses I have bought
for her, and little things I thought she would like. But I don’t know
whether he let her have them or not I never got any letter from her at
all. I don’t even know whether she can write, to tell the truth, and she
wouldn’t dare get one of the neighbors to write for her. But if I ever
make any real money, Jack, I am going to go and get her, whether she
dares to come away or not.

“Well, when I left, the thing I wanted to do was go to school. Uncle
Ezra hadn’t given me time to go to school much. But I tramped to a
town where there was a little fresh-water college that had its own prep
school attached, and I did the whole seven years of prep school and
college in five years. You see, I had a lot of bounce in me. The minute
I got away from Uncle Ezra the whole world brightened up for me. The
clouds rolled by and life looked like one grand long joke, and I turned
into a kid. I romped through that prep school and that college, and made
my own living while I was doing it, and laughed all the time and loved
the world and everything in it, and it came as easy to me as water comes
to a duck. I came on down here to New York and was lucky enough to get a
chance as a reporter, and I’ve been romping ever since.

“I don’t want to do anything but romp. Of course, I want to write some
good stuff some day, but I want to keep romping while I write it, and I
want it to be stuff that has a romp in it, too. You say I romp so much
I’m never serious. Well, I do have some serious moments, too. I have
a dream that keeps coming to me. I dream that I’m back in that little
town, and that I’m Uncle Ezra’s slave again, and that I can’t get away.

“Sometimes the dream takes the form of Uncle Ezra coming here to New
York to get me, and I know that I’ve got to go back with him to that
place, and I wake up sweating and crying like an eight-year-old kid. If
he ever really came it would put a crimp into me, Jack.

“You say I’m a butterfly. And I say, yes, Jack, thank God I am! I used
to be a grubworm, and now I’m a butterfly, praise heaven!

“Well, that’s the guy I hold the grudge against, and that’s why I’m fool
enough to rush into every pleasure I can find. I don’t know that I’ll
ever change. And as for the man, I don’t ever want to see him. I don’t
know that I’d ever do anything to him if I did--beat him to death with
a butterfly’s wing, or blow him up with a soap bubble, as you suggested.
Let him alone. He’ll punish himself. He is punished by being what he is.
I wouldn’t put a breath into the scale one way or the other--not even a
puff of cigarette smoke.”

He blew a breath of cigarette smoke luxuriously out of his nose as he
finished, and then he remarked, “Let’s go somewhere and dance.”

“Nazimova is doing Ibsen uptown,” suggested Jack, “and I have a couple
of tickets. Let’s go and see Ibsen lb a little.”

“Nope,” said Tommy. “Ibsen’s got too much sense. I want something silly.
Me for a cabaret, or some kind of a hop garden.”



V

But sometimes in this ironical world it happens that we have already
beaten a man to death with a butterfly’s wing, slain him with a bubble,
sent him whirling into the hereafter on a puff of smoke, even as we are
saying that such a thing is foreign to our thoughts.

The old party in the room next to Tommy’s at the hotel had arrived the
day before, with an umbrella, a straw suitcase and a worried eye on
either side his long, white, chalkish, pitted nose. He seemed chilly
in spite of his large plum-colored overcoat, of a cut that has survived
only in the rural districts. He wore a salient, assertive beard, that
had once been sandy and was now almost white, but it was the only
assertive thing about him. His manner was far from aggressive.

An hour after he had been shown to his room he appeared at the desk
again and inquired timidly of the clerk, “There’s a fire near here?”

“Little blaze in the next block. Doesn’t amount to anything,” said the
clerk.

“I heard the--the engines,” said the guest apologetically.

“Doesn’t amount to anything,” said the clerk again. And then, “Nervous
about fire?”

The old party seemed startled.

“Who? Me? Why should I be nervous about fire? No! No! No!” He beat a
sudden retreat. “I was just asking--just asking,” he threw back over his
shoulder.

“Old duck’s scared of fire and ashamed to own it,” mused the clerk,
watching him out of the lobby.

The old party went back to his room, and there one of the first
things he saw was a copy of the Bible lying on the bureau. There is an
organization which professes for its object the placing of a Bible in
every hotel room in the land. The old party had his own Bible with him.
As if reminded of it by the one on the bureau, he took it out of
his suitcase and sat down and began to turn the leaves like a person
familiar with the book--and like a person in need of comfort, as indeed
he was.

There was a text in Matthew that he sought--where was it? Somewhere in
the first part of Matthew’s gospel--ah, here it is: The twelfth chapter
and the thirty-first verse:

“All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men....”

There is a terrible reservation in the same verse. He kept his eyes from
it, and read the first part over and over, forming the syllables with
his lips, but not speaking aloud.

“All manner of sin--all manner of sin-------”

And then, as if no longer able to avoid it, he yielded his consciousness
to the latter clause of the verse:

“But the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto
men.”

What was blasphemy against the Holy Ghost? Could what he had done be
construed as that? Probably if one lied to God in his prayers, that was
blasphemy against the Holy Ghost--one form of it. And had he been lying
to God these last two weeks when he had said over and over again in his
prayers that it was all a mistake? It hadn’t been all a mistake, but the
worst part of it had been a mistake.

He went out for his dinner that evening, but he was in again before ten
o’clock. He could not have slept well. At two o’clock in the morning he
appeared in front of the desk.

He had heard fire engines again.

“See here,” said the night clerk, appraising him, as the day clerk had
done, as a rube who had been seldom to the city and was nervous about
fire, “you don’t need to be worried. If anything should happen near here
we’d get all the guests out in a jiffy.”

The old party returned to his room. He was up early the next morning and
down to breakfast before the dining room was open.

He did not look as if he had had much rest. The morning hours he devoted
to reading his Bible in his room. Perhaps he found comfort in it. At
noon he seemed a bit more cheerful. He asked the clerk the way to the
Eden Musee, and was surprised to learn that that place of amusement had
been closed for a year or two. The clerk recommended a moving-picture
house round the corner. But it had begun to rain and snow and sleet
all together; the sky was dark and the wind was rising; the old party
elected not to go out after all.

He went back to his room once more, and his black fear and melancholy
descended upon him again, and the old debate began to weave through his
brain anew. For two weeks he had been fleeing from the debate and from
himself. He had come to New York to get away from it, but it was no
good. Just when he had made up his mind that God had forgiven him, and
was experiencing a momentary respite, some new doubt would assail him
and the agony would begin again.

The old debate--he had burned the store, with the living quarters over
it, to get the insurance money, after having removed a part of the
insured goods, but he did not regard that as an overwhelming sin. It
wasn’t right, of course, in one way. And yet in another way it was
merely sharp business practice, so he told himself. For a year before
that, when one of his buildings had burned through accident, he had been
forced to accept from the same insurance company less than was actually
due him as a matter of equity. Therefore, to make money out of that
company by a shrewd trick was in a way merely to get back his own again.
It wasn’t the sort of thing that a deacon in the church would care to
have found out on him, of course. It was wrong in a sense. But it was
the wrong that it had led to that worried him.

It was the old woman’s death that worried him. He hadn’t meant to burn
her to death, God knows! He hadn’t known she was in the building.

He had sent her on a week’s visit to another town, to see a surprised
cousin of his own, and it had been distinctly understood that she was
not to return until Saturday. But some time on Friday evening she must
have crept back home and gone to bed in her room. He had not known she
was there.

“I didn’t know! I didn’t know!”

There were times when he gibbered the words to himself by the hour.

It was at midnight that he had set fire to the place. The old woman was
deaf. Even when the flames began to crackle she could not have heard
them. She had had no more chance than a rat in a trap. The old fool! It
was her own fault! Why had she not obeyed him? Why had she come creeping
back, like a deaf old half-blind tabby cat, to die in the flames? It
was her own fault! When he thought of the way she had returned to kill
herself there were moments when he cursed and hated her.

But had she killed herself? Back and forth swung the inner argument. At
times he saw clearly enough that this incident joined on without a break
to the texture of his whole miserable life; when he recognized that,
though it might be an accident in a strictly literal sense that the old
woman was dead, yet it was the sort of accident for which his previous
existence had been a preparation. Even while he fiercely denied
his guilt, or talked of it in a seizure of whining prayer that was
essentially a lying denial, he knew that guilt there was.

Would he be forgiven? There were comforting passages in the Bible. He
switched on the rather insufficient electric light, which was all the
old hotel provided, for the day was too dark to read without that help,
and turned the pages of the New Testament through and through again.

At three o’clock in the afternoon he was sitting on the edge of his bed,
with the book open in front of him and his head bowed, almost dozing.
His pipe, with which he had filled the room with the fumes of tobacco,
had fallen to the floor. Perhaps it was weariness, but for a brief
period his sharper sense of fear had been somewhat stilled again. Maybe
it was going to be like this--a gradual easing off of the strain in
answer to his prayers. He had asked God for an answer as to whether
he should be forgiven, and God was answering in this way, so he told
himself. God was going to let him get some sleep, and maybe when he woke
everything would be all right again--bearable at least.

So he mused, half asleep.

And then all at once he sprang wide awake again, and his terror wakened
with him. For suddenly in front of his half-shut eyes, coming from
nowhere in particular, there passed a puff of smoke!

What could it mean? He had asked God for an answer. He had been lulled
for a moment almost into something like peace, and--now--this puff of
smoke! Was it a sign? Was it God’s answer?

He sat up on the edge of the bed, rigid, in a cold, still agony of
superstitious fright. He dared not move or turn his head. He was afraid
that he would see--something--if he looked behind him. He was afraid
that he would in another moment hear something--a voice!

He closed his eyes. He prayed. He prayed aloud. His eyes once closed,
he scarcely dared open them again. After seme minutes he began to tell
himself that perhaps he had been mistaken; perhaps he had not seen smoke
at all. Perhaps even if he had seen smoke it was due to some explicable
cause, and not meant for him.

He greatly dared. He opened his eyes. And drifting lazily above the
white pillow at the head of the bed was another puff of smoke.

He rocked back and forth upon the bed, with his arms up as if to shield
his head from a physical blow, and then he passed in a moment from the
quakings of fear to a kind of still certainty of doom. God was angry at
him. God was telling him so. God would send the devil for him. There
was no further doubt. He would go to hell--to hell! To burn forever!
Forever--even as the old woman had burned for a quarter of an hour. He
began to search through the pages of the Bible again, not for words of
comfort this time, but in a morbid ecstasy of despair, for phrases about
hell, for verses that mentioned fire and flames.

He did not need the concordance. He knew his Bible well, and his fear
helped him. Consciousness and subconsciousness joined to guide his
fingers and eyes in the quest.

“Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming,” he
read in Isaiah, and he took it to himself.

“Yea, I will gather you, and blow upon you in the fire of my wrath, and
ye shall be melted in the midst thereof,” he read in Ezekiel.

He had a literal imagination, and he had a literal belief, and at every
repetition of the word “fire” the flesh cringed and crawled on his
bones. God! To burn! How it must hurt!

“And the God that answereth by fire, let Him be God,” met his eyes in
the first book of Kings.

And it all meant him. Now and then over his shoulder would float another
little puff of smoke; and once, lifting his head suddenly from poring
over the book, he thought he saw something that moved and glinted like a
traveling spark, and was gone.

He began to feel himself in hell already. This was the foretaste, that
was all. Would he begin to burn even before he died? Did this smoke
presage something of that kind? Would flames physically seize upon him,
and would he burn, even as the old woman had burned?

Suddenly in his hysteria there came a revulsion--a revolt. Having
reached the nethermost depths of despair, he began to move upward a
little. His soul stirred and took a step and tried to climb. He began to
pray once more. After all, the Good Book did promise mercy! He began to
dare to pray again. And he prayed in a whisper that now and then broke
into a whine--a strange prayer, characteristic of the man.

“Oh, God,” he cried, “you promise forgiveness in that book there, and
I’m gonna hold you to it! I’m gonna hold you to it! It’s down there in
black and white, your own words, God, and I’m gonna hold you to it! It’s
a contract, God, and you ain’t the kind of a man, God, to go back on a
contract that’s down in black and white!”

Thus he prayed, with a naïve, unconscious blasphemy. And after long
minutes of this sort of thing his soul dared take another step. A
faint, far glimmering of hope came to him where he groveled. For he was
groveling on the bed now, with the covers pulled up to his head and his
hand upon the open Bible. He found the courage to peer from beneath the
covers at intervals as he prayed and muttered, and minutes passed with
no more smoke. Had the smoke ceased? The sound of his own murmuring
voice began to reassure him. The smoke had certainly ceased! It had been
twenty minutes since he had seen it--half an hour!

What could it mean? That God was hearkening to his prayer?

An hour went by, and still there was no more sign of smoke. He prayed
feverishly, he gabbled, as if by the rapidity of his utterance and the
repeated strokes of his words he were beating back and holding at bay
the smoke that was God’s warning and the symbol of his displeasure. And
the smoke had ceased to come! He was to be forgiven! He was winning! His
prayers were winning for him! At least God was listening!

Yes, that must be it. God was listening now. The smoke had come as a
warning; and he had, upon receiving this warning, repented. God had not
meant, after all, that he was doomed irrevocably. God had meant that,
to be forgiven, his repentance must be genuine, must be thorough--and
it was thorough now. Now it was genuine! And the smoke had ceased! The
smoke had been a sign, and he had heeded the sign, and now if he kept up
his prayers and lived a good life in the future he was to be forgiven.
He would not have to burn in hell after all.

The minutes passed, and he prayed steadily, and every minute that went
by and brought no further sign of the smoke built up in him a little
more hope, another grain of confidence.

An hour and a quarter, and he almost dared be sure that he was
forgiven--but he was not quite sure. If he could only be quite sure! He
wallowed on the bed, and his hand turned idly the pages of the Bible,
lying outside on the coverlet.

More than an hour had gone by. Could he accept it as an indication that
God had indeed heard him? He shifted himself upon the bed, and stared
up at the ceiling through a chink in the covers as if through and beyond
the ceiling he were interrogating heaven.

And lying so, there came a damp touch upon his hand, soft and chill and
silent, as if it were delicately and ironically brushed by the kiss of
Death. A sudden agony numbed his hand and arm. With the compulsion of
hysteria, not to be resisted, his head lifted and he sat up and looked.
Over the Bible and his hand that lay upon the open page there floated
again a puff of smoke, and faintly staining his Angers and the paper
itself was something moist and red. It stained his Angers and it marked
with red for his straining sight this passage of Isaiah:

“The earth also shall disclose her blood.”

It was then he cried out, “Oh, God! God! Again! You meant it, then, God!
You meant it.”

It was nearly midnight when Tommy and his friend Dobson returned to the
hotel. “Your paper’s been trying to get you for an hour, Mr. Hawkins,”
 said the night clerk when they came in. “Story right in the next room to
yours. Old party in there hanged himself.”

“So?” said Tommy. “Ungrateful old guy, he is! I put in the afternoon
trying to cheer him up a little.”

“Did you know him?” asked the clerk.

“Nope,” said Tommy, moving toward the elevator.

But a few moments later, confronted with the grotesque spectacle in the
room upstairs, he said, “Yes--I--I know him. Jack! Jack! Get me out of
here, Jack! It’s Uncle Ezra, Jack! He’s--he’s come for me!”

As has been remarked before, sometimes even a bubble may be a mordant
weapon.



VIII.--The Chances of the Street


|Merriwether Buck had lost all his money. Also his sisters’, and his
cousins’, and his aunts’.

“At two o’clock sharp I will shoot myself,” said Merriwether Buck.

He caressed a ten-shot automatic pistol in the right-hand pocket of his
coat as he loitered up Broadway. He was light-headed. He had had nothing
to eat for forty-eight hours.

“How I hate you!” said Merriwether Buck, comprehensively to the city in
general. “If nine pistol shots would blot you out, I’d do it!”

Very melodramatic language, this, for a well-brought-up young man; and
thus indicating that he was light-headed, indeed. And as for the city,
it continued to roar and rattle and honk and rumble and squeak and bawl
and shuffle and thunder and grate in the same old way--supreme in its
confidence that nine pistol shots could not, by any possibility, blot
it out. That is one of the most disconcerting things about a city; you
become enraged at it, and the city doesn’t even know it. Unless you
happen to be Nero it is very difficult to blot them out satisfactorily.

It was one o’clock. Merriwether Buck crossed the street at Herald Square
and went over and stood in front of the big newspaper office. A portly
young fellow with leaden eyes came out of the building and stood
meditatively on the curb with his hands in the pockets of clothing that
clamored shrilly of expense.

“Excuse me,” said Merriwether Buck, approaching him, “but are you, by
any chance, a reporter?”

“Uh,” grunted the young man, frigidly affirmative.

“I can put you in the way of a good story,” said Merriwether Buck,
obeying an impulse: We may live anonymously but most of us like to feel
that it will make a little stir when we die.

“Huh,” remarked the reporter.

“At two o’clock,” persisted Merriwether Buck, “I am going to shoot
myself.”

The reporter looked bored; his specialty was politics.

“Are you anybody in particular?” he asked, discouragingly.

“No,” confessed Merriwether Buck. It didn’t seem to be worth while to
mention that he was one of the Bucks of Bucktown, Merriwether County,
Georgia.

“I thought,” said the reporter, with an air of rebuke, “that you said it
was a _good_ story.”

“I am, at least, a human being,” said Merriwether Buck, on the
defensive.

“They’re cheap, hereabout,” returned the other, in the manner of a
person who has estimated a good many assorted lots.

“You are callous,” said Merriwether Buck. “Callous to the soul! What are
you, but--but--Why, you are New York incarnate! That is what you are!
And I think I will shoot you first!”

“I don’t want to be a spoil sport,” said the reporter, “but I’m afraid I
can’t allow it. I have a rather important assignment.”

Merriwether played with the little automatic pistol in his pocket. It
was not any regard for the consequences that deterred him from shooting
the portly young man. But in his somewhat dizzy brain a fancy was taking
shape; a whim worked in him. He drew his hand empty from the pocket, and
that reporter came up out of the grave.

“I am hungry,” said Merriwether Buck, in obedience to the whim.

“Now that you remind me of it,” said the other, his lack-luster
eyes lighting up a little, “so am I!” And he crossed the street and
disappeared through the swinging doors of a café.

Callous, leaden-eyed young man! epitome of this hard town! So cried the
spirit of Merriwether Buck; and then he spoke aloud, formulating his
idea:

“New York, you are on trial. You are in the balances. I give you an
hour. If I’m asked to lunch by two o’clock, all right. If not, I will
kill myself, first carefully shooting down the most prosperous citizens,
and as many of ‘em as I can reach. New York, it’s up to you!”

The idea of playing it out that way tickled him to the heart; he had
always loved games of chance. One man or woman out of all the prosperous
thousands in the streets might save another prosperous half-dozen;
might save as many as he could otherwise reach with nine shots from his
pistol, for he would reserve the tenth for himself. Otherwise, there
should be a sacrifice; he would offer up a blood atonement for the pagan
city’s selfishness. Giddy and feverish, and drunk with the sense of his
power to slay, he beheld himself as a kind of grotesque priest--and he
threw back his head and laughed at the maniac conceit.

A woman who was passing turned at the sound, and their eyes met. She
smiled. Merriwether Buck was good to look at. So was she. She was of
that type of which men are certain at once, without quite knowing why;
while women are often puzzled, saying to themselves: “After all, it may
be only her rings.”

“Pardon me,” said Merriwether Buck, overtaking her, “but you and I are
to lunch together, aren’t we?”

“I like your nerve!” said she. And she laughed. It was evident that she
did like it. “Where?” she asked briefly, falling into step beside him.

“Wherever you like,” said Merriwether. “I leave that to you, as I’m
depending on you to pay the check.”

She began a doubtful laugh, and then, seeing that it wasn’t a joke,
repeated:

“I like your nerve!” And it was now evident that she didn’t like it.

“See here,” he said, speaking rapidly, “my clothes look all right yet,
but I’m broke. I’m hungry. I haven’t had anything to eat since day
before yesterday. I’m not kidding you; it’s true. You looked like a good
fellow to me, and I took a chance. Hunger” (as he spoke it he seemed to
remember having heard the remark before), “hunger makes one a judge of
faces; I gambled on yours.”

She wasn’t complimented; she regarded him with a manner in which scorn
and incredulity were blended; Merriwether Buck perceived that, for some
reason or other, she was insulted.

“Don’t,” she said, “don’t pull any of that sentimental stuff on me. I
thought you was a gentleman!”

And she turned away from him. He took a step in pursuit and started to
renew his plea; for he was determined to play his game square and give
the directing deities of the city a fair chance to soften whatsoever
random heart they would.

“Beat it!” she shrilled, “beat it, you cheap grafter, or I’ll call a
cop!”

And Merriwether beat it; nor’ by nor’west he beat it, as the street
beats it; as the tides beat. The clock on the Times building marked 1.20
as he paused by the subway station there. In forty minutes--just the
time it takes to hook your wife’s dress or put a girdle round the
world--Merri-wether Buck would be beating it toward eternity, shooing
before him a flock of astonished ghosts of his own making. Twenty
minutes had gone by and whatever gods they be that rule New York had
made no sign; perhaps said gods were out at lunch or gone to Coney
Island. Twice twenty minutes more, and----

But no. It is all over now. It must be. There emerges from the subway
station one who is unmistakably a preacher. The creases of his face
attest a smiling habit; no doubt long years of doing good have given it
that stamp; the puffs of white hair above the temples add distinction to
benignity.

“I beg your pardon,” said Merriwether Buck, “but are you a minister?”

“Eh?” said the reverend gentleman, adjusting a pair of gold-rimmed
eyeglasses. “Yes,” he said pleasantly, “I am,” and he removed the
glasses and put them back on once again, as he spoke. Somehow, the way
he did it was a benediction.

“I am hungry,” said Merriwether.

“Dear me!” said the reverend gentleman. “I shouldn’t have thought it.”

“Will you ask me to lunch?”

“Eh?” It was an embarrassing question; but the gentleman was all
good nature. His air indicated that he did not intend to let his
own embarrassment embarrass Merriwether too much. “My dear man, you
know--really----” He placed a shapely hand upon Merriwether’s shoulder,
rallyingly, almost affectionately, and completed the sentence with a
laugh.

“It’s charity I’m asking for,” said Merriwether.

“Oh!” For some reason he seemed vastly relieved. “Have you been--but,
dear me, are you sure you aren’t joking?”

“Yes; sure.”

“And have you--ahem!--have you sought aid from any institution; any
charitable organization, you know?”

“But no,” said Merriwether, who had instinctively eliminated charitable
organizations, free lunches and police stations from the terms of his
wager, “I thought----”

“My, my, my,” hummed the reverend gentleman, interrupting him. He
produced his card case and took a card therefrom. “I am going,” he said,
writing on the card with a pencil, “to give you my card to the secretary
of the Combined Charities. Excellent system they have there. You’ll be
investigated, you know,” he said brightly, as if that were an especial
boon he was conferring, “your record looked into--character and
antecedents and all that sort of thing!”

“And fed?” asked Merriwether.

“Oh, indeed!” And he handed over the card as if he were giving
Merriwether the keys to the city--but not too gross and material a city
either; Merriwether felt almost as if he were being baptized.

“But,” said Merriwether Buck, “I wanted _you_ to feed me!”

“Oh, my dear man!” smiled the minister, “I _am_ doing it, you know. I’m
a subscriber--do _all_ my charitable work this way. Saves time. Well,
good-by.” And he nodded cheerily.

“But,” said Merriwether Buck, “aren’t you interested in me personally?
Don’t you want to hear my story?”

“Story? Story?” hummed the other. “Indeed, but they’ll learn your story
there! They have the most excellent system there; card system; cases
and case numbers, you know--Stories, bless you! Hundreds and hundreds of
stories! Big file cases! You’ll be number so-and-so. Really,” he said,
with a beaming enthusiasm, “they have a _wonderful_ system. Well,
good-by!” There was a touch of finality in his pleasant tone, but
Merriwether caught him by the sleeve.

“See here,” he said, “haven’t you even got any _curiosity_ about
me? Don’t you even want to know why I’m hungry? Can’t you find time
_yourself_ to listen to the tale?”

“Time,” said the reverend gentleman, “_time_ is just what I feel the
lack of--feel it sadly, at moments like these, sadly.” He sighed, but it
was an optimistic, good-humored sort of sigh. “But I tell you what you
do.” He drew forth another card and scribbled on it. “If you want to
tell me your story so very badly--(dear me, what remarkable situations
the clerical life lets one in for!)--so _very_ badly, take this card
to my study about 3.30. You’ll find my stenographer there and you can
dictate it to her; she’ll type it out. Yes, indeed, she’ll type it out!
Well, _good_-by!”

And with a bright backward nod he was off.

It was 1.25. There were thirty-five minutes more of life. Merriwether
Buck gave the reverend gentleman’s cards to a seedy individual who
begged from him, with the injunction to go and get himself charitably
Bertilloned like a gentleman and stop whining, and turned eastward on
Forty-second Street. If you have but thirty-five minutes of life, why
not spend them on Fifth Avenue, where sightly things abound?--indeed
if you happen to be a homicidal maniac of some hours standing, like
Merriwether Buck, Fifth Avenue should be good hunting ground; the very
place to mark the fat and greasy citizens of your sacrifice.

Time, the only patrician, will not step lively for the pert subway
guards of human need, nor yet slacken pace for any bawling traffic cop
of man’s desire; he comes of an old family too proud to rush, too proud
to wait; a fine old fellow with a sense of his own value. Time walked
with Merriwether Buck as he loitered up Fifth Avenue, for the old
gentleman loves to assist personally at these little comedies,
sometimes; with Death a hang-dog third. Not even a fly-cop took note of
the trio, although several, if they robbed a jewelry store or anything
like that, would tell the reporters later that they had noticed
something suspicious at the time. And the patron deities of New York
City might have been over in Hoboken playing pinochle for all the heed
_they_ took.

Which brings us to Sixty-fifth Street and 1.58 o’clock and the presence
of the great man, all at once.

When Merriwether Buck first saw him, Meriwether Buck gasped. He couldn’t
believe it. And, indeed, it was a thing that might not happen again this
year or next year or in five years--J. Dupont Evans, minus bulwark or
attendant, even minus his habitual grouch, walking leisurely toward him
like any approachable and common mortal. Merriwether Buck might well be
incredulous. But it was he; the presentment of that remarkable face has
been printed a hundred thousand times; it is as well known to the world
at large as Uncle Pete Watson’s cork leg is on the streets of Prairie
Centre, Ill.; it is unmistakable.

To have J. Dupont Evans at the point of a pistol might almost intoxicate
some sane and well-fed men, and Merriwether Buck was neither. J. Dupont
Evans--the wealth of Croesus would be just one cracked white chip in the
game he plays. But at this moment his power and his importance had been
extraordinarily multiplied by circumstances. The chances of the street
had tumbled down a half dozen banks--(well did Merriwether Buck know
that, since it had ruined him)--and financial panic was in the air;
an epochal and staggering disaster threatened; and at this juncture a
president in no wise humble had publicly confessed his own impotence and
put it up to J. Dupont Evans to avert, to save, to reassure.

Merriwether Buck had not dreamed of this; in the crook of his trigger
finger lay, not merely the life of a man, but the immediate destiny of a
nation.

He grasped the pistol in his pocket, and aimed it through the cloth.

“Do you know what time it is?” he asked J. Dupont Evans, politely
enough.

It was only a second before the man answered. But in that second
Merriwether Buck, crazily exalted, and avid of the sensation he was
about to create, had a swift vision. He saw bank after bank come
crashing down; great railroad systems ruined; factories closed and
markets stagnant; mines shut and crops ungathered in the fields; ships
idle at the wharves; pandemonium and ruin everywhere.

“Huh?” said J. Dupont Evans, gruffly, removing an unlighted cigar from
his mouth. He looked at Merriwether Buck suspiciously, and made as if to
move on. But he thought better of it the next instant, evidently, for
he pulled out a plain silver watch and said grudgingly: “Two minutes
of two.” And then, in a tone less unpleasant, he asked: “Have you got a
match, young man?”

Merriwether fumbled in his vest pocket. In a minute and a half he would
perfunctorily ask this man for lunch, and then he would kill him. But he
would give him a match first--for Merriwether Buck was a well-brought-up
young man. As he fumbled he picked out the exact spot on the other’s
waistcoat where he would plant the bullet. But the idea of a man on the
edge of the grave lighting a cigar tickled him so that he laughed aloud
as he held out the matches.

“What can I do with these?” snorted J. Dupont Evans. “They are the sort
that light only on their own box.” From his glance one might have gained
the impression that he thought Merriwether Buck a fool.

“Great principle that,” said Merriwether Buck, cackling with hysteria.
It was so funny that a dead man should want to smoke a cigar! He would
let him play he was alive for fifty seconds longer.

“Principle?” said Evans. “Principle? What Principle?”

“Well,” said Merriwether, with the random argumentativeness of insanity,
“it _is_ a great principle. Apply that principle to some high explosive,
for instance, and you have no more battleship flare-backs--no premature
mine blasts----”

“Say,” the other suddenly interrupted, “are you an inventor?”

“Yes,” lied Merriwether Buck, glibly, although he had never given five
seconds’ thought to the subject of high explosives in his life. “That’s
how I know. I’ve invented an explosive more powerful than dynamite. But
it won’t explode by contact with fire, like powder. Won’t explode with a
jar, like dynamite. Won’t freeze, like dynamite. Only one way to explode
it--you’ve got to bring it into contact with a certain other chemical
the same as scratching one of these matches on its own box.”

“The deuce, young man!” said the other. “There’s a fortune in it! Is it
on the market at all?”

“No,” said Merriwether Buck, raising his pistol hand slightly and
thrusting it a bit forward, under the mask of his coat pocket, “no money
to start it going.”

“Hum,” mused the other. “I tell you what you do, young man. You come
along to lunch with me and we’ll talk the thing over--money and all.”

And the directing deities of New York struck twice on all the city
clocks, and striking, winked.



IX.--The Professor’s Awakening

|How I ever come to hit such a swell-looking house for a handout I never
knew. Not that there was anything so gaudy about it, neither, as far as
putting up a bluff at being a millionaire’s mansion went, which I found
out afterwards it was, or pretty near that at any rate. But it was just
about the biggest house in that Illinois town, and it’s mostly that kind
o’ place with them naked iron heathens in the front yard and a brick
stable behind that it ain’t no use to go up against unless you’re
looking for a lemon. If you need real food and need it sudden and ain’t
prospecting around town for no other kind of an opening you better make
for the nearest public works like a canal being dug, or a railroad gang.
Hit the little tin dinner buckets, men that does the unskilled labor
on jobs like that, except Swedes and Dagos, knowing what it is to be
up against it themselves now and then and not inclined to ask no fool
questions.

Well, I went around to the back door, and Biddy Malone she lets me in. I
found out that was her name afterwards, but as soon as I seen her face
I guessed if her name wasn’t Bridget it was Nora. It’s all in the
first look they give you after they open the door. If that look’s right
they’re coming across and you’ll get some kind of a surprise for your
digestive ornaments and you don’t need to make no fool breaks about
sawing wood neither. I makes my little talk and Biddy she says come in;
and into the kitchen I went.

“It’s Minnesota you’re working towards,” says Biddy, pouring me out a
cup of coffee.

She was thinking of the wheat harvest where there’s thousands makes for
every fall. But not for me, I never did like to work for none of them
Scandiluvian Swedes and Norwegians that gets into the field before
daylight and stays at it so long the hired men got to milk the cows by
moonlight. They got no sense of proportion, them Gusses and Oles ain’t.

“I been across the river into I’way,” I says, “working at my trade, and
I’m going back to Chicago to work at it some more.”

“And what may your trade be?” says Biddy, sizing me up careful. I seen I
made a hit somehow or she wouldn’t of asked me in the first place was
I going to the wheat harvest, but would of just supposed I was a hobo,
which I ain’t. I got a lot of trades when I want to use one, and as a
regular thing I rather work at one of them for a while, too, but can’t
stand it very long on account of not feeling right to stay in one place
too long, especially in the summer. When I seen I made a hit with Biddy
I thinks I’ll hand her a good one she never heard tell of before.

“I’m an agnostic by trade,” I says. I spotted that one in a Carnegie
library one time and that was the first chance I ever had to spring it.

“I see,” says Biddy. And she opened her eyes and mouth to once. I seen
she didn’t see, but I didn’t help her none. She would of rather killed
herself than let on she didn’t see. Most of the Irish is like that
whether they is kitchen mechanics or what. After a while she says,
pouring me out some more coffee and handing me a little glass jar full
of watermelon rinds boiled in with molasses and things, she says:

“And ain’t that the dangerous thing to work at, though!”

“It is,” I says, and says nothing further.

She sets down and folds her arms like she was thinking about it,
watching my hands all the time as if she was looking for scars where
something slipped when I done that agnostic work. Finally she says with
a sigh:

“Sure, and it’s dangerous! Me brother Patrick was kilt at it in the old
country. He was the most vinturesome lad of thim all!”

She was putting up a stiff front, and for a minute I don’t know whether
she’s stringing me or I’m stringing her. The Irish is like that. So
being through eating I says:

“Did it fly up and hit him?”

She looks at me scornful and tosses her chin up and says:

“No. He fell off of it. And I’m thinking you don’t know what one of them
is, after!”

“What is it, then?” says I.

“Then you _don’t_ know,” says she; and the next thing I knew I’d been
eased out the back door and she was grinning at me through the crack of
it with superiousness all over her face.

So I was walking slow around towards the front thinking to myself how
the Irish was a great people; and shall I go to Chicago and maybe get a
job sailing on the lakes till navigation closes, or shall I go back to
Omaha and work in the railroad yards again, which I don’t like much, or
shall I go on down to Saint Looey just to see what’s doing. And then I
thinks: “Billy, you was a fool to let that circus walk off and leave
you asleep with nothing over you but a barb wire fence this morning, and
what are you going to do now? First thing you know you’ll be a regular
hobo, which some folks can’t distinguish you ain’t now.” And then I
thinks I’ll go down to the river and take a swim and lazy around in the
grass a while and think things over and maybe something will happen.
Anyways, you can always join the army. And just when I was thinking that
I got by one of them naked stone heathens that was squirting water out
of a sea shell and a guy comes down the front steps on the jump and nabs
me by the coat collar. I seen he was a doctor or else a piano tuner by
the satchel he dropped when he grabbed me.

“Did you come out of this house?” he says.

“I did,” I says, wondering what next.

“Back in you goes,” he says, marching me towards the front steps.
“They’ve got smallpox in there.”

I liked to a-jumped loose when he said that, but he twisted my coat
collar and dug his thumbs into my neck and I seen they wasn’t no use
pulling back. If a guy that’s knocking around mixes up with one of the
solid citizens the magistrate’s going to give him the worst of it on
principle. I ain’t no hobo and never was, and never traveled much with
none of them professional bums, but there has been times I had hard work
making some people believe it. I seen I couldn’t jerk away and I seen I
couldn’t fight and so I went along. He rung the door bell, and I says:

“Smallpox ain’t no inducement to me, doc.”

“No?” says he. And the door opened, and in we went. The girl that opened
it, she drew back when she seen me.

“Tell Professor Booth that Dr. Wilkins wants to see him,” says the doc,
not letting loose of me.

And we stood there saying nothing till the per-fessor come in, which he
did slow and absent-minded. When he seen me he stopped and took off a
pair of thick glasses that was split in two like a mended show case, so
he could see me better, and he says:

“What is that you have there, Dr. Wilkins?”

“A guest for you,” says Dr. Wilkins, grinning all over himself. “I
caught him leaving the house, and you being under quarantine and me
being secretary to the board of health, I’ll have to ask you to keep him
here until we can get Miss Margery on her feet again,” he says. Or they
was words to that effect, as the lawyers asks you.

“Dear me,” says Perfessor Booth, kind o’ helplesslike.

And he put his glasses on and took them off again, and come up close and
looked at me like I was one of them amphimissourian specimens in a free
museum. “Dear me,” he says, looking worrieder and worrieder all the
time. And then he went to the foot of the stairs and pipes out in a
voice that was so flat-chested and bleached-out it would a-looked just
like him if you could a-saw it--“Estelle,” he says, “O Estelle!”

I thinks the perfessor is one of them folks that can maybe do a lot
of high-class thinking, but has got to have some one tell ‘em what the
answer is. But I doped him out wrong as I seen later on.

Estelle, she come down stairs looking like she was the perfessor’s big
brother. I found out later she was his old maid sister. She wasn’t no
spring chicken, Estelle wasn’t, and they was a continuous grin on her
face. I figgered it must of froze there years and years ago. They was
a kid about ten or eleven years old come along down with her, that had
hair down to its shoulders and didn’t look like it knowed whether it was
a girl or a boy. Miss Estelle, she looks me over in a way that makes me
shiver, while the doctor and the per-fessor jaws about whose fault it is
the smallpox sign ain’t been hung out. And when she was done listening
she says to the perfessor: “You had better go back to your laboratory.”
 And the perfessor he went along out, and the doctor with him.

“What are you going to do with him, Aunt Estelle?” the kid asks her.

“What would _you_ suggest, William Dear?” asks his aunt. I ain’t feeling
very comfortable, and I was getting all ready just to natcherally bolt
out the front door now the doctor was gone. Then I thinks it mightn’t be
no bad place to stay in fur a couple o’ days, even risking the smallpox.
Fur I had ricolected I couldn’t ketch it nohow, having been vaccinated
a few months before in Terry Hutt by compulsory medical advice, me being
temporary engaged in repair work on the city pavements through a mistake
in the police court.

William Dear looks at me when his aunt put it up to him just as solemn
as if it was the day of judgment and his job was separating the fatted
calves from the goats and the prodigals, and he says:

“Don’t you think, Aunt Estelle, we better cut his hair and bathe him and
get him some clothes the first thing?”

“William is my friend,” thinks I, and I seen right off he was one of
them serious kids that you can’t tell what is going on inside their
heads.

So she calls James, which was the butler, and James he buttled me into a
bathroom the like of which I never see before; and he buttled me into a
suit of somebody’s clothes and into a room at the top of the house next
to his’n, and then he come back and buttled a razor and a comb and brush
at me; him being the most mournful-looking fat man I ever seen, and he
informs me that me not being respectable I will eat alone in the kitchen
after the servants is done. People has made them errors about me before.
And I looks around the room and I thinks to myself that this is all
right so far as it has went. But is these four walls, disregarding
the rest of the house, to be my home, and them only? Not, thinks I, if
little Billy knows it. It was not me that invited myself to become the
guest of this family; and if I got to be a guest I be damned if I don’t
be one according to Hoyle’s rules of etiquette or I’ll quit the job.
Will I stay in this one room? Not me. Suppose the perfessor takes it
next? And then William Dear? And suppose when William Dear gets through
with it he gives it to Aunt Estelle? Am I to waste the golden hours
when, maybe, my country needs me, just for accommodation? But I thinks
it’s all right for a day or two and then I’ll leave my regrets and go on
down to Saint Looey or somewheres. And then James he buttles back into
the room like a funeral procession and says the perfessor says he wants
to see me in the laboratory.

That was a big room and the darndest looking room I ever see, and it
smelt strong enough to chase a Hungarian pig sticker out of a Chicago
slaughter house. It smelt like a drug store had died of old age and got
buried in a glue factory. I never seen so much scientific effusions and
the things to hold ‘em in mixed up in one place before. They must of
been several brands of science being mixed up there all to once. They
was dinky little stoves, they was glass jars of all shapes and sizes
labeled with Dago names standing around on shelves like in one of them
Dutch delicatessen stores; they was straight glass tubes and they was
glass tubes that had the spinal contortions; they was bones and they
was whole skeletons, and they was things that looked like whisky stills;
they was a bookcase full of bugs and butterflies against one wall; they
was chunks of things that might have been human for all I know floating
around in vats like pickled pork in a barrel; they was beer schooners
with twisted spouts to them; they was microscopes and telescopes and
twenty-seven shapes and sizes of knives; they was crates of stuff that
was unpacked and crates that wasn’t; and they was tables with things
just piled and spilled over ‘em, every which way, and the looks of
everything was dirty on account of the perfessor not allowing any one in
there but himself and Miss Estelle and William. And whether you knowed
anything about them different brands of science or not you could see the
perfessor was one of them nuts that’s always starting to do things and
then leaving them go and starting something else. It looked as if the
operating room of an emergency hospital and a blacksmith shop and a
people’s free museum and a side show full of freaks, snakes and oneeyed
calves had all gone out and got drunk together, all four of them, and
wandered into a cremation plant to sleep off that souse; and when they
woke up they couldn’t tell which was which nor nothing else except
they had a bad taste in their mouth and was sentenced to stay there
unseparated and unhappy and unsociable in each other’s company for
evermore. And every time you turned around you stepped on something new,
and if you saw a rat or a lizard or a spider you better let him alone
for how was you going to tell he was dead or alive till he crawled up
you?

The perfessor, he was setting over by a window, and he pushed out
another chair for me and he says sit down.

“You are a gentleman of leisure?” he says, with a grin; or words to that
effect.

“I work at that sometimes,” I told him, “although it ain’t rightly my
trade.”

“Biddy Malone says you’re an agnostic,” he says, looking at me close.
It won’t do, I thinks, to spring none of them agnostic gags on him, so I
says nothing.

“I’m one myself,” he says.

“Regular,” I asks him, “or just occasional?” He kind o’ grins again, and
I thinks: “Billy, you’re making a hit somehow.”

Then he says, like he was apologizing to someone about something: “Being
interested in sociology and the lower classes in general, I sent for you
to get some first-hand observations on your train of mind,” he says. Or
it was words like them. “I’m a sociologist,” he says.

I seen I made a hit before and I thinks I’ll push my luck, so I swells
up and says:

“I’m a kind of sociologist myself.”

“Hum,” he says, thoughtful-like. “Indeed? And your itinerant mode of
subsistence is persecuted in pursuit of your desire to study knowledge
of the human specimen and to observe wisdom as to the ways they live
in the underworld,” he says. Or it was words to that effect. I wish I’d
a-had him wrote them words down. Then I’d a-had ‘em just right now. I
seen a bunch of good words help a man out of a hole before this. Words
has always been more or less my admiration; you can never tell what one
of them long gazaboos is going to do till you spring it on somebody. So
I says:

“That’s me, perfessor. I likes to float around and see what’s doing.”

Then he tells me that sociology was how the criminal classes and the
lower classes in general was regarded by the scientific classes, only
it’s a difficult brand of science to get next to, he says, on account
of the lower classes like me being mostly broke out with environment he
says, unbeknownst even to theirselves. He’s not what you would call a
practicing sociologist all the time, being afraid, I suppose, he would
catch it if he got too close to it; he’s just one of the boys that
writes about it, so as both the lower classes and the scientific classes
won’t make no bad breaks, he says.

But what he wants of me just now ain’t got nothing to do with that, he
says. He’s been making experiments with all kinds of canned victuals,
that is put up with acid that eats holes in your stomach, he says, and
so long as I’m going to be a guest he’s going to mix some of them acids
in my chuck and weigh me after each meal. He says I’ll start slow and
easy and there won’t be nothing dangerous about it. He’s been practicing
on William Dear and Miss Estelle, which I suppose it was the acids got
into her smile, but he’s going to give them a rest, them being naturally
delicate. I ain’t got no kick, I thinks, and I’m going to leave this
place in a day or two anyhow. Besides, I always was intrusted in
scientific things and games of chance of all kinds.

But I didn’t leave in a few days, and the first thing I knew I’d been
there a week. I had pretty much the run of the house, and I eat my meals
with Biddy Malone, the only uncomfortable feature of being a guest being
that Miss Estelle, soon as she found out I was an agnostic (whatever
brand of science that is, which I never found out to this day, just
having come across the word accidental), she begun to take charge of my
religion and intellectuals and things like that. She used to try to cure
the perfessor, too, but she had to give it up for a bad job, Biddy says.

Biddy, she says Mrs. Booth’s been over to her mother’s while this
smallpox has been going on; which I hadn’t knowed they was a Mrs. Booth
before. And Biddy, she says if she was Mrs. Booth she’d stay there, too.
They’s been a lot of talk, anyhow, Biddy says, about Mrs. Booth and some
musician fellow around town. But Biddy she likes Mrs. Booth, and even if
it was so who could blame her?

Things ain’t right around that house since Miss Estelle’s been there,
which the perfessor’s science, though worrying to the nerves, ain’t cut
much ice till about four years ago when Miss Estelle come.

But Mrs. Booth she’s getting where she can’t stand it much longer, Biddy
says. I didn’t blame her none for feeling sore about things.

You can’t expect a woman that’s pretty and knows it, and ain’t more’n
thirty-two or three years old, and don’t look it, to be interested in
mummies and pickled snakes and the preservation of the criminal classes
and chemical profusions, not _all_ the time. And maybe when she’d ask
the perfessor if he wasn’t going to take her to the opera he’d ask her
did she know them Germans had invented a newfangled disease or that it
was a mistake about them Austrians hiding their heads in the sand when
they are scared, which any fool that’s ever seen ‘em working around a
coal mine ought to of knowed. It wouldn’t a-been so bad if the perfessor
had just picked out one brand of science and stuck to it. She could
a-got used to any one kind and knowed what to expect. But maybe this
week the perfessor’s bug would be ornithography, and he’d be chasing
sparrows all over the front lawn; and next week it would be geneology
and he’d be trying to grow bananas on a potato vine. Then, he’d get
worried about the nigger problem in the south, and settle it all
up scientific and explain how ethnology done the whole damn thing,
lynchings and all, and it never could be straightened out till it was
done scientific. Every new gag that come out the perfessor took up with
it, Biddy says; one time he’d be fussing around with gastronomy through
a telescope and the next he’d be putting astrology into William’s
breakfast food.

They was a row on all the time about the kids, which they hadn’t been
till Miss Estelle come. Mrs. Booth she said they could kill their own
selves if they wanted to, but she had more right than anybody to say
what went into William’s digestive ornaments, and she didn’t want him
brought up scientific nohow, but just human. He was always making notes
on William, which was how William come to take so little interest in
life after a while. But Miss Estelle, she egged him on. She seen he
didn’t have no sense about his money, which had been left to him when
he was a sure enough perfessor in a college before he quit and went nuts
and everything begun to go wrong between him and Mrs. Booth, so Miss
Estelle she took to running his money herself; but she seen likewise
that when it come to writing articles about William’s insides and
intellectuals the perfessor he was a genius. Well, maybe he was; but
Biddy wouldn’t let him try none of them laboratory gags on her though
she just as soon be hypnotized and telepathed as not just to humor him.
Miss Estelle, she eat what the perfessor give her, and after a while
she says she’ll take charge of the children’s education herself, their
mother being a frivolous young thing, and it was too bad, she says, a
genius like him couldn’t a-mar-ried a noble woman who would a-understood
his great work for humanity and sympathized with it. So while the
perfessor filled William and Miss Margery up on new discovered food and
weighed ‘em and probed ‘em and sterilized ‘em and did everything else
but put ‘em in glass bottles, Miss Estelle she laid out courses of
reading matter for them and tended to their religion and intellectuals
and things like that. I reckon they never was two kids more completely
educated, inside and out. It hadn’t worked much on Miss Margery yet, her
being younger than William. But William took it hard and serious, being
more like his father’s family, and it made bumps all over his head. I
reckon by the time William was ten years old he knew more than a whole
high school, and every time that boy cut his finger he just naturally
bled science. But somehow he wasn’t very chipper, and whenever the
perfessor would notice that he and Miss Estelle would change treatment.
But Biddy liked William just the same, they hadn’t spoiled his
disposition none; and she said he seen a lot of things his aunt never
would a-seen, William did. One day when I first was a guest I says to
his aunt, I says:

“Miss Booth, William looks kind o’ pale to me like he was getting too
much bringin’ up to the square inch.”

She acted like she didn’t care for no outsiders butting in, but I
seen she’d noticed it, too, and she liked William, too, in a kind of
scientific sort of a way, and she says in a minute:

“What do you suggest?”

“Why,” says I, “what a kid like that needs is to roll around and play in
the dirt now and then, and yell and holler.”

She went away like she was kind o’ mad about it; but about an hour later
the perfessor sent word for me to come down to the labaratory, and Miss
Estelle was there.

“We have decided that there is something in what you say,” says the
perfessor. “Even the crudest and most untrained intellectuals has now
and then a bright hunch from which us men of special knowledge may take
a suggestion,” he says, or words to that effect. And they was a whole
lot more, and they was more scientific than that. I didn’t know I’d done
nothing important like that, but when he told me all about it in science
talk I seen I made a ten strike, though I should of thought anyone could
of saw all William needed was just to be allowed to be a little more
human.

But what do you think--I never was so jarred in my life as I was the
next day. I seen Miss Estelle spreading an oilcloth on the floor, and
then the butler come in and poured a lot of nice, clean, sterilized dirt
on to it. And then she sent for William.

“William Dear,” she says, “we have decided that what you need is more
recreation mixed in along with your intellectuals. You ought to romp and
play in the dirt, close to the soil and nature, as is right for a youth
of your age. For an hour each day right after you study your biology and
before you take up your Euclid you will romp and play in this dirt like
a child of nature, and frolic. You may now begin to frolic, William, and
James will gather up the dirt again for to-morrow’s frolic.” Or it was
words to that effect.

But William didn’t frolic none. He seen things they didn’t. He just
looked at that dirt, and he come the nearest to smiling I ever seen
William come; and then he come the nearest to getting mad I ever seen
William come. And then he says very serious:

“Aunt Estelle,” he says, “I shall _not_ frolic. I have come to that
place in my discretions where my intellectuals got to work some for
theirselves. It is them intellectuals which you have trained that
refuses to be made ridiculous one hour each day between the biology
lesson and the Euclid lesson with sand.” Those was not William’s exact
words, which he always had down as slick as his pa, but they was what he
meant. William was a serious kid, but he seen things his aunt never had
no idea of. And he never did frolic, neither, and all that nice clean
dirt had to be throwed out by the stable amongst the unscientific dirt
again.

That was before Biddy Malone told me about why it was that the perfessor
and his wife didn’t get along well, and as I was saying I didn’t
blame her none, Miss Estelle having finally beat her out about her own
children, too; and she feeling she didn’t scarcely own ‘em no more, and
they hardly daring to kiss their own mamma with Miss Estelle in the room
because of germs, so Biddy says. Biddy, she says the perfessor is all
right, he’s just a fool and don’t mean no harm by his scientific gags,
but Miss Estelle she’s a she-devil and takes that way to make herself
the boss of that house. If she wasn’t there Mrs. Booth would have been
boss and never let the perfessor know it and things wouldn’t a-been so
bad. Which shows that so long as every house got to have a boss it ain’t
so much difference if it’s a him or her so long as it ain’t a relation.

The perfessor always eats his dinner in one of them coats with the
open-face vest to it, and one night I thinks I will, too. When you is in
Rome you does like the Dagos does, I thinks.

So I sends for James along before dinner time and I says: “Where is my
dinky clothes to eat dinner in?” I says.

James he says I’m to continue to eat dinner by myself. Which is all
right, I tells him, but I’ll do it in style or I’ll quit the job. So he
goes and asks Miss Estelle, and she comes in with that lemon grin on,
but looking, too, like I done something to please her.

“Is it true,” she says, “that already the effects of a refined
environment has overcome defections in early training and a misfortune
in ancestral hereditary?” she says. Or they was words to that effect.

“It is true,” I says. And the perfessor’s being too small she made James
give me his’n. But when I seen all that shirt front it made me feel
kind of uncomfortable, too. So I takes them off again and puts on my old
striped sweater and puts on the vest and coat over that, and the effect
of them red stripes running crossways is something gorgeous with one of
them open-face vests over it.

So after I eat I don’t want to go to bed and I gets a box of the
perfessor’s cigars and goes into the library and thinks I’ll see if he’s
got anything fit to read. I dig around for a while among them shelves,
and most everything is one brand of science or other, but finally I got
hold of a little book that was real interesting. That was the damndest
book! It was all in rhyme, with the explanations of the rhyme printed in
real talk down the sides so as you could tell where you was at and what
it was about. It’s about an Ancient Mariner. The nut that wrote it he’s
never been sailing none, I bet; but he can make you feel like you been
going against the hop in one of them Chink joints. Of course, there
ain’t nothing real literary about it like one of them Marie Corelli
stories I read once and it ain’t got the excitement of a good Bill Hart
movie or a Nick Carter story, but I got real interested in it. The I-man
of that story he was a Jonah to the whole ship. He seen an albatross
circling around, and he up with his air gun and give him his’n. It
wasn’t for nothing to eat, but just to be a-shooting. And from that on
everybody gets as sick of living as a bunch of Chicago factory hands
when another savings bank busts, and they all falls down and curses him.
And the snakes wiggles all over the top of the water like I seen ‘em one
time when they cleaned out a reservoir where one of them prairie towns
gets its drinking water from. And the Ancient Mariner he tries to die
and can’t make it; and their ghosts is whizzing all around that ship and
they go by him in the moonlight like a puff of steam goes by you on a
frosty morning out of an engine-room manhole. And there’s a moral to
that story, too. I bet the fellow that doped that out had been on an
awful bat. I like to of talked with that nut. They was a fellow named
Looney Hogan use to have them phoney hunches, and he use to tell me what
he saw after he had ‘em. Looney was awful good company and I use to like
to hear him tell what he seen and what he thinks he seen, but he walked
off of a grain barge up to Duluth when he was asleep one night and he
never did wake up.

Sitting there thinking of the awful remarkable things that is, and the
ones that isn’t, and the ones that maybe is and maybe isn’t, and the
nuts that is phoney about some things and not about others, and how two
guys can look at the same thing and when you ask them about it both has
seen different things, I must a-went to sleep. And I must a-slept a long
time there, and pretty soon in my sleep I heard two voices and then I
wakes up sudden and still hears them, low and quicklike, in the room
that opens right off from the library with a pair of them sliding doors
like is on to a boxcar. One was a woman’s voice, and not Miss Estelle’s,
and she says like she was choked up:

“But I _must_ see them before we go, Henry.”

And the other was a man’s voice, and it wasn’t no one around our house.

“But, my God!” he says, “suppose you catch it yourself, Jane!”

I set up straight then, and I would of give a good deal to see through
that door, because Jane was the perfessor’s wife’s first name.

“You mean suppose _you_ get it,” she says. I like to of seen the look
she must of give him to fit in with the way she says that _you_. He
didn’t say nothing, the man didn’t; and then her voice softens down
some, and she says, low and slow: “Henry, wouldn’t you love me if I
_did_ get it? Suppose it marked and pitted me all up?”

“Oh, of course,” he says, “of course I would. Nothing can change the way
I feel. _You_ know that.” He said it quick enough, all right, just the
way they do in a show, but it sounded _too much_ like it does on the
stage to of suited me if _I’d_ been her. I seen folks overdo them little
talks before this.

I listens some more, and then I see how it is. This is that musician
feller Biddy Malone’s been talking about. Jane’s going to run off with
him all right, but she’s got to kiss the kids first. Women is like that.
They may hate the kids’ pa all right, but they’s dad-burned few of ‘em
don’t like the kids. I thinks to myself: “It must be late. I bet they
was already started, or ready to start, and she made him bring her here
first so’s she could sneak in and see the kids. She just simply couldn’t
get by. But she’s taking a fool risk, too. Fur how’s she going to see
Margery with that nurse coming and going and hanging around all night?
And even if she tries just to see William Dear it’s a ten to one shot
he’ll wake up and she’ll be ketched at it.”

And then I thinks, suppose she _is_ ketched at it? What of it? Ain’t a
woman got a right to come into her own house with her own door key,
even if they is a quarantine on to it, and see her kids? And if she is
ketched seeing them, how would anyone know she was going to run off? And
ain’t she got a right to have a friend of hern and her husband’s bring
her over from her mother’s house, even if it is a little late?

Then I seen she wasn’t taking no great risks neither, and I thinks mebby
I better go and tell that perfessor what is going on, fur he has treated
me purty white. And then I thinks: “I’ll be gosh-derned if I meddle.
So fur as I can see that there perfessor ain’t getting fur from what’s
coming to him, nohow. And as fur _her_, you got to let some people find
out what they want fur theirselves. Anyhow, where do _I_ come in at?”

But I want to get a look at her and Henry, anyhow. So I eases off my
shoes, careful-like, and I eases acrost the floor to them sliding doors,
and I puts my eye down to the little crack. The talk is going backward
and forward between them two, him wanting her to come away quick, and
her undecided whether to risk seeing the kids. And all the time she’s
kind o’ hoping mebby she will be ketched if she tries to see the kids,
and she’s begging off fur more time ginerally.

Well, sir, I didn’t blame that musician feller none when I seen her. She
was a peach.

And I couldn’t blame her so much, either, when I thought of Miss Estelle
and all them scientifics of the perfessor’s strung out fur years and
years world without end.

Yet, when I seen the man, I sort o’ wished she wouldn’t. I seen right
off that Henry wouldn’t do. It takes a man with a lot of gumption to
keep a woman feeling good and not sorry fur doing it when he’s married
to her. But it takes a man with twicet as much to make her feel right
when they ain’t married. This feller wears one of them little, brown,
pointed beards fur to hide where his chin ain’t. And his eyes is too
much like a woman’s. Which is the kind that gets the biggest piece of
pie at the lunch counter and fergits to thank the girl as cuts it big.
She was setting in front of a table, twisting her fingers together, and
he was walking up and down. I seen he was mad and trying not to show it,
and I seen he was scared of the smallpox and trying not to show that,
too. And just about that time something happened that kind o’ jolted me.

They was one of them big chairs in the room where they was that has got
a high back and spins around on itself. It was right acrost from me, on
the other side of the room, and it was facing the front window, which
was a bow window. And that there chair begins to turn, slow and easy.
First I thought she wasn’t turning. Then I seen she was. But Jane and
Henry didn’t. They was all took up with each other in the middle of the
room, with their back to it.

Henry is a-begging of Jane, and she turns a little more, that chair
does. Will she squeak, I wonders?

“Don’t you be a fool, Jane,” says the Henry feller.

Around she comes three hull inches, that there chair, and nary a squeak.

“A fool?” asks Jane, and laughs. “And I’m not a fool to think of going
with you at all, then?”

That chair, she moved six inches more and I seen the calf of a leg and
part of a crumpled-up coat tail.

“But I _am_ going with you, Henry,” says Jane. And she gets up just like
she is going to put her arms around him.

But Jane don’t. Fur that chair swings clear around and there sets the
perfessor. He’s all hunched up and caved in and he’s rubbing his eyes
like he’s just woke up recent, and he’s got a grin on to his face that
makes him look like his sister Estelle looks all the time.

“Excuse me,” says the perfessor.

They both swings around and faces him. I can hear my heart bumping. Jane
never says a word. The man with the brown beard never says a word. But
if they felt like me they both felt like laying right down there and
having a fit. They looks at him and he just sets there and grins at
them.

But after a while Jane, she says:

“Well, now you _know!_ What are you going to do about it?”

Henry, he starts to say something, too. But----

“Don’t start anything,” says the perfessor to him. “_You_ aren’t going
to do anything.” Or they was words to that effect.

“Professor Booth,” he says, seeing he has got to say something or else
Jane will think the worse of him, “I am----”

“Shut up,” says the perfessor, real quiet. “I’ll tend to you in a minute
or two. _You_ don’t count for much. This thing is mostly between me and
my wife.”

When he talks so decided I thinks mebby that perfessor has got something
into him beside science after all. Jane, she looks kind o’ surprised
herself. But she says nothing, except:

“What are you going to do, Frederick?” And she laughs one of them mean
kind of laughs, and looks at Henry like she wanted him to spunk up a
little more, and says: “What _can_ you do, Frederick?”

Frederick, he says, not excited a bit:

“There’s quite a number of things I _could_ do that would look bad when
they got into the newspapers. But it’s none of them, unless one of you
forces it on to me.” Then he says:

“You _did_ want to see the children, Jane?”

She nodded.

“Jane,” he says, “can’t you see I’m the better man?”

The perfessor, he was woke up after all them years of scientifics, and
he didn’t want to see her go. “Look at him,” he says, pointing to the
feller with the brown beard, “he’s scared stiff right now.”

Which I would of been scared myself if I’d a-been ketched that-a-way
like Henry was, and the perfessor’s voice sounding like you was chopping
ice every time he spoke. I seen the perfessor didn’t want to have no
blood on the carpet without he had to have it, but I seen he was making
up his mind about something, too. Jane, she says:

“_You_ a better man? _You?_ You think you’ve been a model husband just
because you’ve never beaten me, don’t you?”

“No,” says the perfessor, “I’ve been a blamed fool all right. I’ve been
a worse fool, maybe, than if I _had_ beaten you.” Then he turns to Henry
and he says:

“Duels are out of fashion, aren’t they? And a plain killing looks bad in
the papers, doesn’t it? Well, you just wait for me.” With which he gets
up and trots out, and I heard him running down stairs to his labertory.

Henry, he’d ruther go now. He don’t want to wait. But with Jane
a-looking at him he’s shamed not to wait. It’s his place to make some
kind of a strong action now to show Jane he is a great man. But he don’t
do it. And Jane is too much of a thoroughbred to show him she expects
it. And me, I’m getting the fidgets and wondering to myself, “What is
that there perfessor up to now? Whatever it is, it ain’t like no one
else. He is looney, that perfessor is. And she is kind o’ looney, too. I
wonder if they is anyone that ain’t looney sometimes? I been around the
country a good ‘eal, too, and seen and hearn of some awful remarkable
things, and I never seen no one that wasn’t more or less looney when
the _search us the femm_ comes into the case. Which is a Dago word I got
out’n a newspaper and it means: Who was the dead gent’s lady friend?’
And we all set and sweat and got the fidgets waiting fur that perfessor
to come back.

“Which he done with that Sister Estelle grin on to his face and a pill
box in his hand. They was two pills in the box. He says, placid and
chilly: “Yes, sir, duels are out of fashion. This is the age of science.
All the same, the one that gets her has got to fight for her. If she
isn’t worth fighting for, she isn’t worth having. Here are two pills. I
made ‘em myself. One has enough poison in it to kill a regiment when it
gets to working well--which it does fifteen minutes after it is taken.
The other one has got nothing harmful in it. If you get the poison one,
I keep her. If I get it, you can have her. Only I hope you will wait
long enough after I’m dead so there won’t be any scandal around town.”

Henry, he never said a word. He opened his mouth, but nothing come of
it. When he done that I thought I hearn his tongue scrape agin his cheek
on the inside like a piece of sandpaper. He was scared, Henry was.

“But _you_ know which is which,” Jane sings out. “The thing’s not fair!”

“That is the reason my dear Jane is going to shuffle these pills around
each other herself,” says the perfessor, “and then pick out one for him
and one for me. _You_ don’t know which is which, Jane. And as he is the
favorite, he is going to get the first chance. If he gets the one I want
him to get, he will have just fifteen minutes to live after taking it.
In that fifteen minutes he will please to walk so far from my house that
he won’t die near it and make a scandal. I won’t have a scandal without
I have to. Everything is going to be nice and quiet and respectable. The
effect of the poison is similar to heart failure. No one can tell the
difference on the corpse. There’s going to be no blood anywhere. I will
be found dead in my house in the morning with heart failure, or else he
will be picked up dead in the street, far enough away so as to make no
talk.” Or they was words to that effect.

He is rubbing it in considerable, I thinks, that perfessor is. I wonder
if I better jump in and stop the hull thing. Then I thinks: “No, it’s
between them three.” Beside, I want to see which one is going to get
that there loaded pill. I always been intrusted in games of chance of
all kinds, and when I seen the perfessor was such a sport, I’m sorry I
been misjudging him all this time.

Jane, she looks at the box, and she breathes hard and quick.

“I won’t touch ‘em,” she says. “I refuse to be a party to any murder of
that kind.”

“Huh? You do?” says the perfessor. “But the time when you might have
refused has gone by. You have made yourself a party to it already.
You’re really the _main_ party to it.

“But do as you like,” he goes on. “I’m giving him more chance than I
ought to with those pills. I might shoot him, and I would, and then face
the music, if it wasn’t for mixing the children up in the scandal, Jane.
If you want to see him get a fair chance, Jane, you’ve got to hand out
these pills, one to him and then one to me. _You_ must kill one or the
other of us, or else _I’ll_ kill _him_ the other way. And _you_ had
better pick one out for him, because _I_ know which is which. Or else
let him pick one out for himself,” he says.

Henry, he wasn’t saying nothing. I thought he had fainted. But he
hadn’t. I seen him licking his lips. I bet Henry’s mouth was all dry
inside.

Jane, she took the box and she went round in front of Henry and she
looked at him hard. She looked at him like she was thinking: “Fur God’s
sake, spunk up some, and take one if it _does_ kill you!” Then she says
out loud: “Henry, if you die I will die, too!”

And Henry, he took one. His hand shook, but he took it out’n the box. If
she had of looked like that at me mebby I would of took one myself. Fur
Jane, she was a peach, she was. But I don’t know whether I would of or
not. When she makes that brag about dying, I looked at the perfessor.
What she said never fazed him. And I thinks agin: “Mebby I better jump
in now and stop this thing.” And then I thinks agin: “No, it is between
them three and Providence.” Beside, I’m anxious to see who is going
to get that pill with the science in it. I gets to feeling just like
Providence hisself was in that there room picking out them pills with
his own hands. And I was anxious to see what Providence’s ideas of right
and wrong was like. So fur as I could see they was all three in the
wrong, but if I had of been in there running them pills in Providence’s
place I would of let them all off kind o’ easy.

Henry, he ain’t eat his pill yet. He is just looking at it and shaking.

The perfessor reaches for his watch, and don’t find none. Then he
reaches over and takes Henry’s watch, and opens it, and lays it on the
table. “A quarter past one,” he says. “Mr. Murray, are you going to make
me shoot you after all? I didn’t want any blood nor any scandal,” he
says. “It’s up to you,” he says, “whether you want to take that pill and
get your even chance, or whether you want to get shot. The shooting way
is sure, but looks bad in the papers. The pill way don’t implicate any
one,” he says. “Which?” And he pulls a gun.

Henry he looks at the gun.

Then he looks at the pill.

Then he swallows the pill.

The perfessor puts his’n into his mouth. But he don’t swallow it. He
looks at the watch, and he looks at Henry. “Sixteen minutes past one,”
 he says. “_Mr. Murray will be dead at exactly fourteen minutes to two_.
I got the harmless one. I can tell by the taste of the chemicals.”

And he put the pieces out into his hand to show that he chewed his’n
up, not being willing to wait fifteen minutes for a verdict from his
digestive ornaments. Then he put ‘em back into his mouth and chewed ‘em
and swallowed ‘em down like it was coughdrops.

Henry has got sweat breaking out all over his face, and he tries to make
fur the door, but he falls down on to a sofa.

“This is murder,” he says, weaklike. And he tries to get up agin, but
this time he falls to the floor in a dead faint.

“It’s a dern short fifteen minutes,” I thinks to myself. “That perfessor
must of put more science into Henry’s pill than he thought he did fur it
to of knocked him out this quick. It ain’t skeercly three minutes.”

When Henry falls the woman staggers and tries to throw herself on top
of him. The corners of her mouth was all drawed down, and her eyes was
turned up. But she don’t yell none. She can’t. She tries, but she just
gurgles in her throat. The perfessor won’t let her fall acrost Henry. He
ketches her. “Sit up, Jane,” he says, with that Estelle look on to his
face, “and let us have a talk.”

She looks at him with no more sense in her face than a piece of putty
has got. But she can’t look away from him.

And I’m kind o’ paralyzed, too. If that feller laying on the floor
had only jest kicked oncet, or grunted, or done something, I could of
loosened up and yelled, and I would of. I just _needed_ to fetch a yell.
But Henry ain’t more’n dropped down there till I’m feeling just like
he’d _always_ been there, and I’d _always_ been staring into that room,
and the last word anyone spoke was said hundreds and hundreds of years
ago.

“You’re a murderer,” says Jane in a whisper, looking at the perfessor in
that stare-eyed way. “You’re a _murderer,_” she says, saying it like she
was trying to make herself feel sure he really was one.

“Murder!” says the perfessor. “Did you think I was going to run any
chances for a pup like him? He’s scared, that’s all. He’s just fainted
through fright. He’s a coward. Those pills were both just bread and
sugar. He’ll be all right in a minute or two. I’ve just been showing
you that the fellow hasn’t got nerve enough nor brains enough for a fine
woman like you, Jane,” he says.

Then Jane begins to sob and laugh, both to oncet, kind o’ wildlike, her
voice clucking like a hen does, and she says:

“It’s worse then, it’s worse! It’s worse for me than if it were a
murder! Some farces can be more tragic than any tragedy ever was,” she
says. Or they was words to that effect.

And if Henry had of been really dead she couldn’t of took it no harder
than she begun to take it now when she saw he was alive, but just wasn’t
no good. But I seen she was taking on fur herself now more’n fur Henry.
Women is made unlike most other animals in many ways. When they is
foolish about a man they can stand to have that man killed a good ‘eal
better than to have him showed up ridiculous right in front of them.
They will still be crazy about the man that’s killed, but they don’t
never forgive the lobster. I seen that work out before this. You can be
most any thing else and get away with it, but if you’re a lobster it’s
all off even if you can’t help being a lobster. And when the perfessor
kicks Henry in the ribs and he comes to and sneaks out, Jane she never
even looks at him.

“Jane,” says the perfessor, when she quiets down some, “you got a lot to
forgive me. But do you s’pose I learned enough sense so we can make a go
of it if we start over again?”

But Jane never said nothing.

“Jane,” he says, “Estelle is going back to New England to stay there for
good.”

She begins to take a little interest then. “Did Estelle tell you so?”
 she says.

“No,” says the perfessor, “Estelle don’t know it yet. But she is. I’m
going to tell her in the mornin’.”

But she still hates him. She’s making herself. She wouldn’t of been a
female woman if she’d of been coaxed that easy. Pretty soon she says,
“I’m going upstairs and go to bed. I’m tired.” And she went out looking
like the perfessor was a perfect stranger.

After she left the perfessor set there quite a while and he was looking
tired out, too; and there wasn’t no mistake about me. I was asleep all
through my legs, and I kept a wondering to myself, suppose them pills
had one of them been loaded sure enough, which one would of got it? And
when the perfessor leaves I says to myself, I reckon I better light a
rag. So I goes to the front window and opens it easy; but I thinks
about Henry’s watch on the table, every one else having forgot it, and I
thinks I better hunt him up and give it to him.

And then I thinks why should I give him pain, for that watch will always
remind him of an unpleasant time he once had.

And if it hadn’t been for me sitting in that window looking at that
watch I wouldn’t a-been writing this, for I wouldn’t of been in jail
now.

I tried to explain my intentions was all right, but the police says
it ain’t natural to be seen coming out of a front window at two in the
morning in a striped sweater and a dinky dinner suit with a gold watch
in your hand; if you are hunting the owner you are doing it peculiar.

One of them reporters he says to me to write the truth about how I got
into jail; nobody else never done it and stuck to facts. But this is
the truth so help me; it was all on account of that watch, which my
intentions with regard to was perfectly honorable, and all that goes
before leads up to that watch. There wasn’t no larceny about it; it was
just another mistake on the part of the police. If I’d of been stealing
wouldn’t I stole the silverware a week before that?

The more I travel around the more dumb people I see that can’t
understand how an honest and upright citizen can get into circumstantial
evidence and still be a honest and upright citizen.



X.--The Penitent


|You, who are not married,” said the penitent, “cannot know--can never
realize----”

He hesitated, his glance wandering over the evidences of luxury, the
hints of Oriental artistry, the esthetic effectiveness of Dr. Eustace
Beaulieu’s studio.

“Proceed,” said Dr. Beaulieu, suavely. “What I may know is not the
important thing. You do not address yourself to me, but through me
to that principle of Harmony in the Cosmos which is Spirit--Ultimate
Spirit--which we call God. All that I can do is assist you to get into
Accord with the Infinite again, help you to vibrate in unison with the
Cosmic All.”

“You are right; I do not look to you,” said the penitent, “for ease of
mind or spirit.” And a fleeting half-smile showed in his eyes, as if
some ulterior thought gave a certain gusto to the manner in which he
stressed the pronoun _you_. But the rest of his scarred and twisted
face was expressionless, beneath the thick mask of a heavy gray-streaked
beard that grew almost to his eyes.

     * Author’s Note: “The Penitent” was suggested by two poems,
     “A Forgiveness,” by Browning, and “The Portrait,” by Owen
     Meredith.

Dr. Eustace Beaulieu was the leader--nay, the founder--of one of the
many, many cults that have sprung up in New York City and elsewhere in
America during the past three or four decades. An extraordinary number
of idle, well-to-do women gathered at his studio two or three times a
week, and listened to his expositions of ethics _de luxe_, served with
just the proper dash of Oriental mysticism and European pseudoscience.
He was forty, he was handsome, with magnetic brown eyes and the long
sensitive fingers of a musician; he was eloquent, he was persuasive, he
was prosperous.

When he talked of the Zend-Avesta, when he spoke of the Vedantic
writings, when he touched upon the Shinto worship of the Nipponese, when
he descanted upon the likeness of the Christian teachings to the tenets
of Buddhism, when he revealed the secrets of the Yogi philosophy, when
he hinted his knowledge of the priestly craft of older Egypt and of
later Eleusis, his feminine followers thrilled in their seats as a
garden of flowers that is breathed upon by a Summer wind--they vibrated
to his words and his manner and his restrained fervor with a faint
rustling of silken garments and a delicate fragrance of perfume.

Men were not, as a rule, so enthusiastic concerning Dr. Eustace Beaulieu
and his cult; there were few of them at his lectures, there were few of
them enrolled in the classes where he inducted his followers into the
more subtle phases of ethics, where he led them to the higher planes
of occultism, for a monetary consideration; few of them submitted
themselves to him for the psychic healing that was one of his major
claims to fame. And this scarred and bearded stranger, who limped, was
one of the very few men who had ever intimated a desire to bare his soul
to Dr. Beaulieu, to tell his story and receive spiritual ministration,
in the manner of the confessional. These confessionals, after the public
lectures, had been recently introduced by Dr. Beaulieu, and they were
giving him, he felt, a firmer grip upon his flock--his disciples, he did
not hesitate to call them.

“I repeat,” said the penitent--if he was a repentant man, indeed--“no
bachelor can know what love really is. He cannot conceive of what the
daily habit of association with a woman who seems made for him, and for
him alone, may mean to a man. My love for my wife was almost worship.
She was my wife indeed, I told myself, and she it was for whom I worked.

“For I did work, worked well and unselfishly. Every man must have
some work. Some do it from necessity, but I did it because I loved
the work--and the woman--and thus I gained a double reward. I was a
politician, and something more. I think I may say that I was a patriot,
too. The inheritor of wealth and position, I undertook to clear the city
in which I lived, and which my forefathers had helped to build, of
the ring of grafters who were making the name of the town a byword
throughout the nation. The details of that long and hard strife are not
pertinent. I fought with something more than boldness and determination;
I fought with a joy in every struggle, because I fought for something
more than the world knew. The world could not see that my inspiration
was in my home; that in the hours of battle my blood sang joyously with
the thought of--her! Was it any wonder that I worked well?

“One day, as I sat in my office downtown, the thought of her drew me so
strongly that I determined to surprise her by coming home unexpectedly
early. It was summer, and we were living in our country home, an
old-fashioned stone residence a couple of miles from the outskirts of
the city. The house was situated at the edge of a park that was, indeed,
almost virgin forest, for the whole estate had been in my family for
nearly a hundred years.

“I determined to surprise my wife, and at the same time to take the rare
relaxation of a suburban walk. I was soon outside the city limits, and
through the zone where vacant lots broaden into fields; and then I left
the road, cutting across the fields and finally plunging into the woods
on my own place. Thus it was that I approached the house from the rear
and came suddenly out of the timber into my own orchard. I seldom walked
from town, and it was a good long hour before my usual time of arrival,
although in that sheltered and woody place the dusk was already
gathering in.

“As I entered the orchard a man made a hurried exit from a vine-wreathed
pergola where my wife often sat to read, cast one look at me, cleared
the orchard fence, and made off through the woods, disappearing at once
among the boles of the trees.

“He had not turned his full face toward me at any time, but had shielded
it with an upflung arm; from the moment he broke cover until his
disappearance there had passed less time than it takes to tell it, and I
was scarcely to be blamed if I was left guessing as to his identity, for
the moment. For the moment, I say.

“There had been so much fright in his manner that I stood and looked
after him. The thought came to me that perhaps here was a man who had
had an affair with one of my servants. I turned toward the pergola and
met--my wife!

“She was a beautiful woman, always more beautiful in her moments of
excitement. She confronted me now with a manner which I could not help
but admire. I trusted her so that she might readily have passed off a
much more anomalous situation with an easy explanation. But in her face
I read a deliberate wish to make me feel the truth.

“I looked at her long, and she returned the gaze unflinchingly. And
I recognized her look for what it was. She had cast off the chains of
deceit. Her glance was a sword of hatred, and the first open thrust of
the blade was an intense pleasure to her. We both knew all without a
word.

“I might have killed her then. But I did not. I turned and walked toward
the house; she followed me, and I opened the door; she preceded me
inside. She paused again, as if gathering all her forces for a struggle;
but I passed her in silence, and went upstairs to my own room.

“And then began a strange period in my life. Shortly after this episode
came a partial triumph of the reform element in my city; the grafters
were ousted, and I found myself with more than a local reputation, and
thrust into an office. My life was now even more of a public matter than
before. We entertained largely. We were always in the public eye. Before
our guests and in public we were always all that should be. But when
the occasion was past, we would drop the mask, turn from each other with
dumb faces, and go each our severed ways.

“For a year this sort of life kept up. I still worked; but now I worked
to forget. When I allowed myself to think of her at all, it was always
as of some one who was dead. Or so I told myself, over and over again,
until I believed it.

“One day there was a close election. I was the successful candidate. I
was to go to Congress. All evening and far into the night my wife and
I played our parts well. But when the last congratulation had been
received, and the last speech made, and the last friend had gone, and
we were alone with each other once more, she turned to me with a look
something like the one she had met me with on that summer evening a year
before.

“‘I want to speak with you,’ she said.

“‘Yes?’

“They were the first words we had exchanged in that year, when not
compelled by the necessities.

“‘What do you wish to speak about?’ I asked her.

“‘You know,’ she said, briefly. And I did know. There was little use
trying to deny it.

“‘Why have you asked me no questions?’ she said.

“I would have made another attempt to pass the situation over without
going into it, but I saw that that would be impossible. She had reached
the place where she must speak. I read all this in her face. And looking
at her closely with the first candid glance I had given her in that
year, I saw that she had changed greatly, but she was still beautiful.

“‘I did not choose to open the subject with you,’ I said; ‘I thought
that you would explain when you could stand it no longer. Evidently that
time has come. You were to me like a dead person. If the dead have any
messages for me, they must bring them to me unsolicited. It was not my
place to hunt among the tombs.’

“‘No,’ she said, ‘let us be honest, since it is the last talk we may
ever have together. Let us be frank with each other, and with ourselves.
I was not like a dead person to you. The dead are dead, and I am not.
You asked me no questions because you disdained me so. You despised
me so--and it was sweet to you to make me feel the full weight of your
scorn through this silence. It was better than killing me. Is that not
the real reason?’

“‘Yes,’ I admitted, ‘that is it. That is the truth.’ “‘Listen,’ she
said, ‘it would surprise you--would it not--to learn that I still love
you--that I have loved you all along--that you are the only man I have
ever really loved--that I love you now? All that is incredible to you,
is it not?’

“‘Yes,’ I said, ‘it is. You must pardon me, but--it is incredible to
me.’

“‘Well, it is true,’ she said, and paused a moment. ‘And I can tell you
why it is true, and why--why--the--the other was true, too. You--you
do not understand women,’ she said. ‘Sometimes I think if you were a
smaller man, in some ways, you would understand them better. Sometimes
I think that you are too--too big, somehow--ever to make a woman happy.
Not too self-centered; you are not consciously selfish; you never mean
to be. But you give, give, give the riches of your nature to people--to
the world at large--instead of to those who should share them.

“‘Oh, I know--the fault is all mine! Another kind of woman--the right
kind for you--the kind you thought I was--would not have asked for all
that was a necessity for me; would have been big enough to have done
without it; would have lost herself in your love for all humanity. That
is the kind of woman you thought I was. And I tried to be. But I wasn’t.
I wasn’t that big.

“‘I did sympathize with your work; I could understand it; I loved to
hear you tell about it. But I loved it because it was you that told
me about it. You didn’t see that! You thought I was a goddess. It was
enough for your nature to worship me; to set me upon a pedestal and to
call me your inspiration; oh, you treated me well--you were faithful
to me--you were generous! But you neglected me in a way that men do not
understand; that some men will never understand. While you were giving
your days and your nights, and every fiber of your brain and body, to
what you called the cause of the people, you more and more forgot you
had a wife. Again and again and again I tried to win you back to
what you were when I married you--to the time when your cause was not
all--but you wouldn’t see; I couldn’t make you feel.

“‘Then I thought I would show you that other men were not such fools as
to overlook what was wasted on you. But you never noticed; you trusted
me too much; you were too much engrossed. And then I began to hate you.
I loved you more than I ever did before, and at the same time I hated
you. Can you understand that? Do you see how women can hate and love at
the same time? Well, they can.

“‘At last--for I was a fool--I took a lover!”

“‘What was his name?’ I broke in.

“‘His name?’ she cried; ‘that does not matter! What matter if there was
one of them, or two of them. That is nothing!--the name is nothing--they
were nothing--nothing but tools; the symbols of my rage, of my hatred
for you; whether I loved or hated you, you were all--always.’

“‘They were merely convenient clubs with which to murder my honor in the
dark--is that it?’ I said.

“‘Yes,’ she said, ‘that is it, if you choose to put it so.’ And she
spoke with a humility foreign to her nature.

“‘And what now?’ I asked.

“‘Now,’ she said, ‘now that I have spoken; now that I have told you
everything; now that I have told you that I have gone on loving you more
and more and more--now--I am going to die.’

“‘You have not asked me to forgive you,’ I said.

“‘No,’ she replied. ‘For what is forgiveness? I do not know exactly what
that word means. It is supposed to wipe out something that has happened,
is it not?--to make things the same as they were before! But it does not
do that. That which has happened, has happened; and you and I know it.’

“‘You had better live,’ I said; ‘I no longer consider you worthless. I
feel that you are worthy of my anger now.’

“Her face cleared almost into something like joy.

“‘I have told the truth, and I raise myself from the depths of your
scorn to the place where you can feel a hot rage against me?’ she asked.

“‘Yes,’ I said. And the light on her face was like that of which some
women are capable when they are told that they are beloved.

“‘And if I die?’ she asked.

“‘Who knows but that you might climb by it?’ I said. ‘Who knows but what
your death might turn my anger to love again?’ And with that I turned
and left her there.

“That night I sat all night in my study, and in the morning they brought
me the news that she was dead. She must have used some poison. What, I
do not know; and the physicians called it heart-failure. But what is the
matter, Doctor?”

“Nothing, nothing!” said Dr. Beaulieu. And he motioned for the narrator
to proceed. But there were beads of perspiration upon the healer’s
forehead, and a pallor overspread his face.

“I had condemned her to death,” the penitent went on, “and she had been
her own executioner. She had loved me; she had sinned against me;
but she had always loved me; she had hated the flesh that sinned, and
scorned it as much as I; her life was intolerable and she had been her
own executioner.

“The revulsion of feeling came. I loved her again; now that I had lost
her. All that day I shut myself up, seeing no one; refusing to look
at the dozens of telegrams that came pouring in from friends and
acquaintances, thinking--thinking--thinking----

“Night came again; and with it the word that the best friend I had was
in the house; a friend of my college days, who had stood shoulder to
shoulder with me in many a fight, then and since. He had come to be
under the same roof with me in the hour of my bitterest bereavement,
was the word he sent--how bitter now, he did not know. But
he did not intrude upon the privacy of my grief. And I sat
thinking--thinking--thinking--

“Suddenly the idea came to me that I would go upstairs to the chamber
where she was, and look at her once more. Quietly I stole up the stairs,
and through the hushed, dim house, on into the gloomy room, lighted only
by the candles at the head and foot of the curtained couch on which she
lay.

“In the room beyond, the watchers sat. I stole softly across the floor
so as not to attract their attention; there was no one in the room
with the body. I approached the couch, and with my hand put by the
curtain----

“Then I dropped it suddenly. I remembered a locket which she had
formerly worn that had always had my picture in it, in the early days
of our married life; a locket that had never left her neck, waking or
sleeping. And I wondered----

“I wondered something about women which no one has ever been able to
tell me; not even a woman. I wondered if any light o’ love had ever been
able to make her feel anything like _real_ love, after all! I wondered
if she had ever hugged the thought of her sin to her bosom, even as
she had at first hugged the thought of our real love--hers and mine. I
wondered if she had ever carried about with her a sentimental reminder
of her lover, of any lover, as she had once done of her husband--and how
long ago! I wondered how important a thing it had seemed to her, after
all! She had reconciled herself to herself, with her death, and made
me love her again. And I wondered to how great an extent she had
ever fooled a lover into thinking she loved him! There are depths and
contradictions and cross-currents in the souls of women that even women
do not know, far less men--I wondered whose picture was in that locket!

“I thrust my hand through the curtains of the bed again, and then jumped
back.

“I had felt something warm there.

“Did she live, after all?

“At the same instant I heard a movement on the other side of the bed. I
went around.

“My best friend was removing his hand from the curtains on the other
side, and in his hand was the locket. It was his hand that I had felt.

“We stared at each other. I spoke first, and in a whisper, so that the
others in the next room, who had come to watch, should not hear.

“‘I came for that,’ I said.

“‘The locket? So did I,” he said. And then added quite simply, ‘My
picture is in it.’

“‘You lie!’ I whispered, shaken by a wind of fury. And yet I knew that
perhaps he did not lie, that what he said might well be true. Perhaps
that was the cause of my fury.

“His face was lined with a grief and weariness terrible to behold. To
look at him you would have thought that there was nothing else in the
world for him except grief. It was a great grief that made him careless
of everything else.

“‘It is my picture,’ he said. ‘She loved me.’

“‘I say that you lie,’ I repeated. ‘She may have played with you--but
she never loved any one but me--in her heart she never did!’

“‘You!’ And because he whispered, hissing out the words, they seemed to
gain in intensity of scorn. ‘You! She hated you! You who neglected her,
you with your damned eternal politics, you who could never understand
her--love? You who could never give her the things a woman needs and
must have--the warmth--the color--the romance--the poetry of life!
You!--with your cold-blooded humanitarianism! I tell you, she loved
_me!_ Why should I hesitate to avow it to you? It is the sweetest
thing on earth to me, that she loved me! She turned from you to me
because----’

“‘Don’t go into all that,’ I said. ‘I heard all about that last
night--from her! Open the locket, and let us see whose face is there!’

“He opened it, and dropped the locket. He reeled against the wall, with
his hands over his face, as if he had been struck a physical blow.

“I picked the toy up and looked at it.

“The face in the locket was neither his face nor mine. It was the face
of--of the man who ran from the pergola and vaulted over the orchard
wall into the woods that summer night a year earlier; the man whom I had
not, for the moment, recognized.

“We stood there, this man who had been my best friend and I, with the
locket between us, and I debated whether to strike him down----”

The narrator paused. And then he said, fixing Dr. Beaulieu with an
intent gaze:

“Should I have struck him down? You, who are a teacher of ethics,
who set yourself up to be, after a fashion, a preacher, a priest, a
spiritual director, tell me, would I have been justified if I had killed
him?”

Dr. Beaulieu seemed to shrink, seemed to contract and grow smaller,
physically, under the other man’s look. He opened his mouth as if to
articulate, but for a second or two no word came. And then, regaining
something of his usual poise, he said, although his voice was a bit
husky:

“No! It is for the Creator of life to take life, and no other. Hatred
and strife are disharmony, and bring their own punishment by throwing
the soul out of unity with the spirit of love which rules the universe.”

It sounded stereotyped and emotionless, even in Dr. Beaulieu’s own ears,
as he said it; there was a mocking gleam in the eyes of the other man
that spoke of a far more vital and genuine emotion. Dr. Beaulieu licked
his lips and there came a knot in his forehead; beads of perspiration
stood out upon his brow.

“You were right,” said Dr. Beaulieu, “in not striking him down. You were
right in sparing him.”

The bearded man laughed. “I did not say that I spared him,” he said.

Dr. Beaulieu looked a question; a question that, perhaps, he dared
not utter; or at least that he did not care to utter. He had dropped
completely his rôle of spiritual counselor; he regarded his visitor with
an emotion that might have been horror and might have been terror,
or might have been a mixture of the two. The visitor replied to the
unspoken interrogation in the healer’s manner.

“I did not strike him down. Neither did I spare him. I waited and I--I
used him. I know how to wait; I am of the nature that can wait. It was
years before fate drew all things together for my purpose, and gave him
into my hands--fate, assisted by myself.

“I waited, and I used him. The details are not pertinent for it is not
his story that I am telling. I piloted him to the brink of destruction,
and then--then, I saved him.”

“You saved him?” Dr. Beaulieu was puzzled; but his fear, if fear it was,
had not abated. There was a frank menace, now, in his visitor’s air. And
the healer seemed to be struggling, as he listened to the tale, to force
some reluctant brain-cell to unlock and give its stored memories to his
conscious mind.

“I saved him. I saved him to be my creature. I broke him, and I saved
him. I made him my slave, my dog, my--my anything I choose to have him.
I have work for him to do.”

Again the man paused, looking about the rich profusion of Dr. Beaulieu’s
studio. There was a table in the room which contained a number of curios
from Eastern lands. The visitor suddenly rose from his chair and picked
from among them a thin, keen-bladed dagger. It was a beautiful weapon,
of some Oriental make; beautiful in its lines; beautiful with the sullen
fire of many jewels blazing in its hilt--an evil levin that got into the
mind and led the thoughts astray even as the dainty deadliness of
the whole tool seduced the hand to grasp and strike. As his visitor,
strangely breaking the flow of his narrative, examined and handled the
thing, Dr. Beaulieu shuddered.

“The man is as much my tool,” said the visitor slowly, “as this dagger
would be your tool, Dr. Beaulieu, if you chose to thrust it into my
breast--or into your own.”

He laid the dagger down on the table, and resumed his seat. Dr. Beaulieu
said nothing, but he found it difficult to withdraw his eyes from his
visitor’s steady stare. Slumped and sagged within his chair, he said
nothing. Presently the visitor went on.

“I had a fancy, Dr. Beaulieu; I had a fancy! It suited me to make my
revenge a less obvious thing than striking down the old friend who had
betrayed my love and confidence, a less obvious thing than striking down
the other man--the man whose face was in the locket.”

As he spoke he took from his pocket a locket. He opened it, and gazed
upon the face. The healer half rose from his chair, and then sank back,
with a hoarse, inarticulate murmur. His face had turned livid, and he
trembled in every limb. It was evident that the missing scene which he
had sought before had suddenly been flashed upon the cinema screen of
his recollection. He remembered, now----

“It was my fancy, Dr. Beaulieu, to make one of them take revenge upon
the other, that I might thus be revenged upon them both.”

He suddenly rose, and forced the locket into the healer’s nerveless
grasp.

“That face--look at it!” he cried, towering over the collapsed figure
before him.

Compelled by a will stronger than his own, Dr. Beaulieu looked. It
was the counterfeit presentment of himself within. It fell from his
trembling fingers and rolled upon the floor. The cultist buried his face
in his hands.

The other man stepped back and regarded him sardonically for a moment or
two.

“I should not wonder,” he said, “if the man who used to be my best
friend would pay you a visit before long--perhaps in an hour, perhaps in
a week, perhaps in a month.”

He picked up the dagger again, and toyed with it.

“This thing,” he said, impersonally, trying the point upon his finger,
“is sharp. It would give a quick death, a sure death, an almost painless
death, if one used it against another man--or against one’s self.”

And without another word he turned and left the room.

Dr. Beaulieu sat and listened to his retreating footsteps. And, long
after they had ceased to sound, Dr. Beaulieu still sat and listened.
Perhaps he was listening for some one to come, now that the bearded
man had left. He sat and listened, and presently he reached over to the
table and picked up the dagger that the visitor had laid down with its
handle toward him. He pressed its point against his finger, as the other
man had done. It was sharp. It would give, as the fellow had said, “a
quick death, a sure death, an almost painless death.”

And as he whispered these words he was still
listening--listening--waiting for some one to come----



XI.--The Locked Box



I

|It was a small, oblong affair, not more than three inches wide or deep,
by twice that much in length, made of some dark, hard wood; brass bound
and with brass lock and brass hinges; altogether such a box as a woman
might choose to keep about her room for any one of a half dozen possible
uses.

Clarke did not remember that he had ever seen it prior to his
unexpectedly early return from a western trip of a month’s duration.
He thought he would give his wife a pleasant surprise, so he did not
telephone the news of his arrival to the house, but went home and
entered her room unannounced. As he came in his wife hastily slipped
something into the box, locked it, and put it into one of the drawers
of her desk. Then she came to meet him, and he would not have thought
of the matter at all had it not been for just the slightest trace of
confusion in her manner.

She was glad to see him. She always was after his absences, but it
seemed to him that she was exceptionally so this time. She had never
been a demonstrative woman; but it seemed to Clarke that she came nearer
that description on the occasion of this home-coming than ever before.
They had a deal to say to each other, and it was not until after dinner
that the picture of his wife hurriedly disposing of the box crossed
Clarke’s consciousness again. Even then he mentioned it casually because
they were talked out of more important topics rather than because of any
very sharp curiosity. He asked her what it was; what was in it.

“Oh, nothing!--nothing of any importance--nothing at all,” she said;
and moved over to the piano and began one of his favorite airs. And he
forgot the box again in an instant. She had always been able to make
Clarke forget things, when she wanted to. But the next day it suddenly
came to him, out of that nowhere-in-particular from which thoughts come
to mortals, that she had been almost as much confused at his sudden
question as she had at his previous sudden entrance.

Clarke was not a suspicious person; not even a very curious one, as a
rule. But it was so evident to him that there was something in that
box which his wife did not wish him to see that he could not help but
wonder. Always frank with her, and always accustomed to an equal
candor on her part, it occurred to him that he would ask her again, in
something more than a casual way, and that she would certainly tell him,
at the same time clearing up her former hesitation. But no!--why should
he ask her? That would be to make something out of nothing; this was a
trifle, and not worth thinking about. But he continued thinking about
it, nevertheless....

Ah, he had it! What a chump he had been, not to guess it sooner! His
birthday was only ten days off, and his wife had been planning to
surprise him with a remembrance of some sort. Of course! That accounted
for the whole thing.

With this idea in his head, he said nothing more about the box, but
waited. And when dinner was over and they sat before the fire together,
on the evening of the anniversary, he still forbore to mention it,
expecting every moment that the next she would present him with the
token. But as the evening wore away, with no sign on her part, he
finally broke an interval of silence with the remark:

“Well, dear, don’t keep me guessing any longer! Bring it to me!”

“Guessing? Bring you--what?” And he could see that she was genuinely
puzzled.

“Why, my birthday present.”

“Why, my dear boy! And did you expect one? And I had forgotten!
Positively forgotten--it _is_ your birthday, isn’t it, Dickie! If I had
only known you _wanted_ one--------” And she came up and kissed him,
with something like contrition, although his birthday had never been one
of the sentimental anniversaries which she felt bound to observe with
gifts.

“Don’t feel bad about it--I don’t care, you know--really,” he said.
“Only, I thought you had something of the sort in that brass-bound
box--that was the only reason I mentioned it.”

“Brass-bound box--why, no, I--I forgot it. I’m ashamed of myself, but I
forgot the date entirely!”

But she volunteered no explanation of what the box contained, although
the opportunity was so good a one.

And Clarke wondered more than ever.

What could it be? The letters of some former sweetheart? Well, all girls
had sweethearts before they married, he supposed; at least all men did.
He had had several himself. There was nothing in that. And he would not
make an ass of himself by saying any more about it.

Only... he could not remember any old sweethearts that he wouldn’t have
told Agnes all about, if she had asked him. He had no secrets from her.
But she had a secret from him... innocent enough, of course. But still,
a secret. There was none of those old sweethearts of his whose letters
he cared to keep after five years of marriage. And there was no... But,
steady! Where were his reflections leading him? Into something very like
suspicion? Positively, yes; to the verge of it. Until Agnes got ready to
tell him all about it, he would forget that damned box!

And if she never got ready, why, that was all right, too. She was his
wife, and he loved her... and that settled it.

Perhaps that should have settled it, but it did not. Certain
healthy-looking, fleshy specimens of humanity are said to succumb the
quickest to pneumonia, and it may be that the most ingenuous natures
suffer the most intensely with suspicion, when once thoroughly
inoculated.



II

|Clarke fought against it, cursing his own baseness. But the very effort
necessary to the fight showed him the persistence of the thing itself.
He loved his wife, and trusted her, he told himself over and over again,
and in all their relations hitherto there had never been the slightest
deviation from mutual confidence and understanding. What did he suspect?
He could not have told himself. He went over their life together in his
mind. In the five years of their married life, he could not have helped
but notice that men were attracted to her. Of course they were. That was
natural. She was a charming woman. He quite approved of it; it reflected
credit upon him, in a way. He was not a Bluebeard of a husband, to lock
a wife up and deny her the society proper to her years. And her
very catholicity of taste, the perfect frankness of her enjoyment of
masculine attention, had but served to make his confidence all the more
complete. True, he had never thought she loved him as much as he loved
her... but now that he came to think of it, was there not a warmer
quality to her affection since his return from this last trip west? Was
there not a kind of thoughtfulness, was there not a watchful increase in
attentiveness, that he had always missed before? Was she not making love
to him every day now; just as he had always made love to her before?
Were not the parts which they had played for the five years of their
married life suddenly reversed? They were! Indeed they were! And what
did that mean? What did that portend? Did the brass-bound box have aught
to do with that? What was the explanation of this change?

The subtle imp of suspicion turned this matter of the exchanged rôles
into capital. Clarke, still ashamed of himself for doing it, began
covertly to watch his wife; to set traps of various kinds for her. He
said nothing more about the box, but within six months after the first
day upon which he had seen it, it became the constant companion of his
thoughts.

_What_ did he suspect? Not even now could he have said. He suspected
nothing definite; vaguely, he suspected anything and everything. If
his wife noticed his changed manner towards her, she made no sign.
If anything, her efforts to please him, her attentiveness, her
thoughtfulness in small things, increased.



III

|There came a day when he could stand this self-torture no longer,
he thought. He came home from his office--Clarke was a partner in a
prosperous real-estate concern--at an hour when he thought his wife not
yet returned from an afternoon of call making, determined to end the
matter once for all.

He went to her room, found the key to her desk, and opened the drawer.
He found the box, but It was locked, and he began rummaging through the
drawers, and among the papers and letters therein, for the key.

Perhaps she carried it with her. Very well, then, he would break it
open! With the thing in his hand he began to look around for something
with which to force the fastenings, and was about deciding that he would
take it down to the basement, and use the hatchet, when he heard a step.
He turned, just as his wife entered the room.

Her glance traveled from the box in his hand to the ransacked desk, and
rested there inquiringly for a moment. Strangely enough, in view of the
fact that he felt himself an injured husband and well within his rights,
it was Clarke who became confused, apologetic, and evasive under her
gaze. He essayed a clumsy lie:

“Agnes,” he began, indicating the desk, “I--I got a bill to-day from
Meigs and Horner, for those furs, you know--I was sure that the
account had been settled--that you had paid them, and had shown me the
receipt--that you had paid them from your allowance, you know--and I
thought I would come home and look up the receipt.”

It was very lame; and very lamely done, at that, as he felt even while
he was doing it. But it gave him an opportunity of setting the box down
on the desk almost in a casual manner, as if he had picked it up quite
casually, while he began to tumble the papers again with his hands.

“The receipt is here,” she said; and got it for him.

The box lay between them, but they did not look at it, nor at each
other, and they both trembled with agitation.

Each knew that the thoughts of the other were on nothing except that
little locked receptacle of wood and brass, yet neither one referred
to it; and for a full half minute they stood with averted faces, and
fumbling hands, and played out the deception.

Finally she looked full at him, and drew a long breath, as if the
story were coming now; and there was in her manner a quality of
softness--almost of sentimentality, Clarke felt. She was getting ready
to try and melt him into a kind of sympathy for her frailty, was she!
Well, that would not work with him! And with the receipted bill waving
in his hand, he made it the text of a lecture on extravagance, into
which he plunged with vehemence.

Why did he not let her speak? He would not admit the real reason to
himself, just then. But in his heart he was afraid to have her go on.
Afraid, either way it turned. If she were innocent of any wrong, he
would have made an ass of himself--and much worse than an ass. If she
were guilty, she might melt him into a weak forgiveness in spite of
her guilt! No, she must not speak... not now! If she were innocent, how
could he confess his suspicions to her and acknowledge his baseness? And
besides... women were so damned clever... whatever was in that box, she
might fool him about it, somehow!

And then, “Good God!” he thought, “I have got to the place where I hug
my suspicion to me as a dearer thing than my love, have I? Have I got so
low as that?”

While these thoughts raced and rioted through his mind, his lips
were feverishly pouring out torrents in denunciation of feminine
extravagance. Even as he spoke he felt the black injustice of his
speech, for he had always encouraged his wife, rather than otherwise, in
the expenditure of money; his income was a good one; and the very furs
which formed the text of his harangue he had helped her select and even
urged upon her.

It was their first quarrel, if that can be called a quarrel which has
only one side to it. For she listened in silence, with white lips
and hurt eyes, and a face that was soon set into a semblance of hard
indifference. He stormed out of the room, ashamed of himself, and
feeling that he had disgraced the name of civilization.



IV

|Ashamed of himself, indeed; but before the angel of contrition could
take full possession of his nature, the devil of suspicion, the imp of
the box, regained its place.

For why had she not answered him? She knew he cared nothing about the
trivial bill, the matter of the furs, he told himself. Why had she not
insisted on a hearing, and told him about the box? She knew as well as
he that that was what he had broken into her desk to get!

Justice whispered that she had been about to speak, and that he had
denied her the chance. But the imp of the box said that an honest woman
would have _demanded_ the chance--would have persisted until she got it!
And thus, his very shame, and anger at himself, were cunningly turned
and twisted by the genius of the brass-bound box into a confirmation of
his suspicions.

V

|Suspicions? Nay, convictions! Beliefs. Certainties!

They were certainties, now! Certainties to Clarke’s mind, at least. For
in a month after this episode he had become a silent monomaniac on the
subject of the brass-bound box. He felt shame no longer. She was guilty.
Of just what, he did not know. But guilty. Guilty as Hell itself, he
told himself, rhetorically, in one of the dumb rages which now became so
frequent with him.

_Guilty--guilty--guilty_--the clock on the mantelpiece ticked off many
dragging hours of intolerable minutes to that tune, while Clarke lay
awake and listened. _Guilty--guilty--guilty_--repeat any word often
enough, and it will hypnotize you. _Guilty--guilty--guilty_--so he and
the clock would talk to each other, back and forth, the whole night
through. If any suggestions of his former, more normal habits of thought
came to him now it was they that were laughed out of court; it was they
that were flung away and scorned as traitors.

She was guilty. But he would be crafty! He would be cunning. He would
make no mistake. He would allow her no subterfuge. He would give her no
chance to snare him back into a condition of half belief. There should
be no juggling explanations. They were clever as the devil, women were!
But this one should have no chance to fool him again. She had fooled him
too long already.

And she kept trying to fool him. Shortly after his outburst over the
furs, she began again a series of timid advances which would have struck
him as pathetic had he not known that her whole nature was corroded and
corrupted with deceit, with abominable deceit. She was trying to make
him believe that she did not know why he was angry and estranged, was
she? He would show her! He hated her now, with that restless, burning
intensity of hatred known only to him who has injured another. A hatred
that consumed his own vitality, and made him sick in soul and body. The
little sleep he got was passed in uneasy dreams of his revenge; and his
waking hours were devoted to plots and plans of the form which it should
take. Oh, but she had been cunning to fool him for so long; but she
should see! She should see! When the time for action came, she should
see!



VI

|Something, one tense and feverish midnight, when he lay in his bed
snarling and brooding and chuckling--a kind of snapping sense in some
remote interior chamber of his brain, followed by a nervous shock that
made him sit upright--warned him that the time for action was at hand.
What is it that makes sinners, at provincial revival meetings, suddenly
aware that the hours of dalliance are past and the great instant that
shall send them to “the mourners’ bench” is at hand? Somehow, they seem
to know! And, somehow, Clarke felt an occult touch and knew that his
time for action had arrived.

He did not care what came afterwards. Any jury in the world, so he told
himself, ought to acquit him of his deed, when they once knew his story;
when they once looked at the damning evidence of her guilt which she
had hidden away for so long in the brass-bound box. But if they did not
acquit him, that was all right, too. His work in the world would have
been done; he would have punished a guilty woman. He would have shown
that all men are not fools.

But he did not spend a great deal of thought on how other people would
regard what he was about to do. As he crept down the hall with the knife
in his hand, his chief sensation was a premonitory itch, a salty tang
of pleasure in the doing of the deed itself. When hatred comes in where
love has gone out, there may be a kind of voluptuary delight in the act
of murder.

Very carefully he opened the door of her room. And then he smiled to
himself, and entered noisily; for what was the need of being careful
about waking up a woman who was already dead? He did not care whether he
killed her in her sleep or not;--indeed, if she wakened and begged for
her life, he thought it might add a certain zest to the business. He
should enjoy hearing her plead. He would not mind prolonging things.

But things were not prolonged. His hand and the muscles of his forearm
had tensed so often with the thought, with the idea, that the first blow
went home. She never waked.



VII

|He got the box, and opened it.

Inside was a long envelope, and written on that were the words:

“To be opened by my husband only after my death.”

That time had come!

Within the envelope was a letter. It was dated on the day of his return
from his western trip, a few months before. He read:

“Dick, I love you!

“Does it seem strange to you that I should write it down?

“Listen, Dickie dear--I _had_ to write it! I couldn’t tell you when I
was alive--but I just had to tell you, too. And now that I am dead, what
I say will come to you with all of its sweetness increased; and all
of its bitterness left out! It will, now that I am dead--or if you die
first, you will never see this. This is from beyond the grave to you,
Dickie dear, to make all your life good to you afterwards!

“Now, listen, dear, and don’t be hard on me.

“When I married you, Dickie, I _didn’t_ love you! You were wild about
me. But I only _liked_ you very much. It wasn’t really love. It wasn’t
what you _deserved_. But I was only a girl, and you were the first man,
and I didn’t know things; I didn’t know what I _should have_ felt.

“Later, when I realized how very much you cared, I was ashamed of
myself. I grew to see that I had done wrong in marrying you. Wrong to
both of us. For no woman should marry a man she doesn’t love. And I was
ashamed, and worried about it. You were so good to me! So sweet--and you
never suspected that I didn’t care like I should. And because you were
so good and sweet to me, I felt _worse_. And I made up my mind you
should _never_ know! That I would be everything to you any woman could
be. I tried to be a good wife. Wasn’t I, Dickie, even then?

“But I prayed and prayed and prayed. ‘O God,’ I used to say, ‘let me
love him like he loves me!’ It was five years, Dickie, and I _liked_ you
more, and _admired_ you more, and saw more in you that was worth while,
every week; but still, no miracle happened.

“And then one morning _a miracle did happen!_

“It was when you were on that trip West. I had gone to bed thinking how
kind and dear you were. I missed you, Dickie dear, and _needed_ you. And
when I woke up, there was a change over the world. I felt so different,
somehow. It had come! Wasn’t it wonderful, Dickie?--it had come! And I
sang all that day for joy. I could hardly wait for you to come home so
that I could tell you. I loved you, loved you, loved you, Dickie, _as
you deserved!_ My prayers had been answered, somehow--or maybe it was
what any woman would do just living near you and being with you.

“And then I saw _I couldn’t tell you, after all!_

“For if I told you I loved you now, that would be to tell you that for
five years _I hadn’t loved you_, Dickie!

“And how would _that_ make you feel? Wouldn’t that have been like a
knife, Dickie?

“Oh, I wanted you to know! _How_ I wanted you to know! But, you see, I
couldn’t tell you, could I, dear, without telling the other, too? I just
_had_ to save you from that! And I just had to make you feel it, somehow
or other. And I _will_ make you feel it, Dickie!

“But I can’t tell you. Who knows what ideas you might get into your head
about those five years, if I told you now? Men are so queer, and they
can be so stupid sometimes! And I can’t bear to think of losing one
smallest bit of your love... not now! It would _kill_ me!

“But I want you to know, sometime. And so I’m writing you--it’s my first
love letter--the first real one, Dickie. If _you_ die first, I’ll tell
you in Heaven. And if _I_ die first, you’ll understand!

“Agnes.”



XII.--Behind the Curtain

|It was as dark as the belly of the fish that swallowed Jonah. A
drizzling rain blanketed the earth in chill discomfort. As I splashed
and struggled along the country road, now in the beaten path, and now
among the wet weeds by its side, I had never more heartily yearned
for the dullness and comforts of respectability. Here was I with more
talents in my quiver, it pleased me to think, than nine out of ten of
the burghers I had left sleeping snug and smug in the town a few miles
behind; with as much real love of humanity as the next man, too; and yet
shivering and cursing my way into another situation that might well mean
my death. And all for what? For fame or riches? No, for little more than
a mere existence, albeit free from responsibility. Indeed, I was all but
ready to become an honest man then and there, to turn back and give
up the night’s adventure, had but my imagination furnished me with the
picture of some occupation whereby I might gain the same leisure and
independence as by what your precisians call thieving.

With the thought I stumbled off the road again, and into a narrow gully
that splashed me to the knees with muddy water. Out of that, I walked
plump into a hedge, and when I sought to turn from it at right angles, I
found myself still following its line. This circumstance showed me that
I was come unaware upon the sharp turn of the road which marked the
whereabouts of the house that was my object. Following the hedge, I
found the entrance to the graveled driveway within a hundred yards of
my last misstep, and entered the grounds. I groped about me for a space,
not daring to show a light, until presently a blacker bulk, lifting
itself out of the night’s comprehensive blackness, indicated the
house itself, to my left and a bit in front of me. I left the moist
gravel--for there is nothing to be gained on an expedition of this
sort by advertising the size and shape of your boots to a morbidly
inquisitive public--and reached the shelter of the veranda by walking
across the lawn.

There, being out of eyeshot from the upper windows, I risked a gleam
from my pocket lantern, one of those little electric affairs that are
occasionally useful to others than night watchmen. Two long French
windows gave on the veranda; and, as I knew, both of them opened from
the reception hall. A bit of a way with the women is not amiss in my
profession; and the little grayeyed Irish maid, who had told me three
weeks before of old man Rolfe’s stinginess and brutality towards the
young wife whom he had cooped up here for the past four years, had also
given me, bit by bit, other information more valuable than she could
guess. So, thanks to the maid, I was aware that the safe where the Rolfe
jewels were kept--and often a substantial bit of money as well--was
situated in the library; which was just beyond the hall and connected
with it by a flight of four or five steps. This safe was my objective
point.

The wooden window shutters were but the work of a moment; and the window
fastenings themselves of only a few minutes more. (I flatter myself that
I have a very coaxing way with window fasteners.) The safe itself would
give me the devil’s own trouble, I knew. It was really a job for two
men, and I ached all over to be at it, to be safely through with it, and
away, a good hour before sunrise.

The window opened noiselessly enough, and I stepped within and set my
little satchel full of necessary tools upon the floor. But the damp
weather had swelled the woodwork, and as I closed the window again,
though I pushed it ever so gently, it gave forth a noise something
between a grunt and a squeak.

And as pat as the report of a pistol to the pressure of the trigger came
the answer--a sound of a quickly-caught breath from the warm dimness of
the room. I made no motion; though the blood drummed desperately through
my brain and my scalp tingled with apprehension and excitement.

For ten, for twenty, for thirty seconds I stood so; and then the silence
was broken by the unmistakable rustle of a woman’s skirts. The sound
came softly towards me through the darkness. It was my turn to let loose
my held breath with a gasp, and in another moment I should have been
through the window and running for it; when a woman’s whisper halted me.

“Is that you, Charles? And why did you not rap upon the shutter?”

So some one called Charles was expected? Then, ticked off my thoughts
almost automatically, the lady somewhere near me in the dark might have
her own reasons for not caring to alarm the house just then! The thought
steadied me to action.

“Shh,” I whispered, feeling behind me for the window, and gradually
opening it again. “S-h-h! No, it is not Charles”--and I put one foot
backward across the sill. “It is not Charles, but Charles has sent me to
say----”

Click!--went something by the window, and the room was flooded with
sudden brilliance from a dozen electric globes. And again, click!--and
I looked with blinking eyes at the muzzle of a cocked pistol held by the
most beautiful, the most be-jeweled, the most determined-looking young
woman it has ever been my lot to meet.

“Who are you?” she asked in a voice that was at once hoarse and sweet.
“Who are you? And what do you want? And where is Charles?”

As I stood there dripping moisture upon the oiled floor, with my hands
in the air--they had gone up quite involuntarily--I must have been the
very picture of idiocy and discomfiture. I wondered if Charles, whoever
the devil Charles might be, was always welcomed with a cocked pistol.
Probably not; but, I wondered, how did she happen to have a pistol with
her? I wondered why neck, breast, hair, arms, and hands should be ablaze
with the diamonds that accentuated her lithe and vivid loveliness. I
wondered why, now that she saw I was not Charles, she did not alarm the
house. I wondered everything; but nothing to the point. And as I stood
wondering she repeated:

“Who are you? And what do you want?”

“Madame,” I stammered, my jarred brain fastening upon the sentence she
had interrupted, “Charles sent me to--to say to you----”

“Charles who?” she asked. And as tense as was her face, a gleam of
merriment shot through her eyes. “Charles who?” she repeated.

Charles was not one of the points upon which the Irish maid had given me
information.

The lady with the pistol considered for a moment. “You are not very
clever, are you?” she said.

“If you will pardon me,” I said, “I think I had better be going. I seem
to have mistaken the house.”

“You at least seem to have mistaken the proper manner in which to enter
it,” she returned.

“Why, as to the mode of entrance,” I said, “I might plead that the
mistake appears to have been less in that than in the person who
employed it.”

I could not resist the retort. A dull red crept slowly up her neck and
face; a pallid, olive-tinted face, beautiful in itself, beautiful for
its oval contour and broad brow, and frame of black hair; beautiful in
itself, and yet dominated and outdone by the lustrous, restless beauty
of the dark eyes wherewith she held me more surely captive than by
virtue of the pistol.

“You will come in,” she said, “and sit there.” She indicated a seat
beside a central table. “But first you will kindly let me have whatever
weapons you may possess.” She took my revolver, examined it, and put her
own in the breast of her gown. “Now you may put your hands down,” she
said, “your arms must ache by now. Sit down.”

I sat. She stood and looked at me for a moment.

“I am wondering what you are going to do with me,” I ventured.

In all of her quick actions, and in the tones of her voice, there was
evident a most unnatural sort of strain. She may well have been excited;
that was only to be expected in the circumstances. But the repressed
excitement in this woman’s manner was not that of a woman who is forcing
herself to keep her courage up; not that of a woman who would like to
scream; but a steadier nervous energy which seemed to burn in her like a
fire, to escape from her finger tips, and almost to crackle in her
hair; an intensity that was vibrant. I marveled. Most women would have
screamed at the advent of a man in the dead of night; screamed and
fainted. Or the ones who would not, and who were armed as she, would
ordinarily have been inclined to shoot, and at once; or immediately to
have given the alarm. She had done none of these things. She had merely
taken me captive. She had set me down in a chair at the center of the
room. She had not roused the house. And now she stood looking at me with
a trace of abstraction in her manner; looking at me, for the moment,
less as if I were a human being than as if I were a factor in some
mathematical problem which it was the immediate task of that active,
high-keyed brain of hers to solve. And there was a measure of irony in
her glance, as if she alone tasted and enjoyed some ulterior jest.

“I am wondering,” I repeated, “what you are going to do with me.”

She sat down at the opposite side of the table before she replied.

“I believe,” she said slowly, “that I have nearly made up my mind what
to do with you.”

“Well?” I asked.

But she said nothing, and continued to say nothing. I looked at her and
her diamonds--the diamonds I had come after!--and wondered again why she
was wearing them; wondered why she had tricked herself out as for
some grand entertainment. And as the ignominious result of my night’s
expedition pressed more sharply against my pride I could have strangled
her through sheer disappointment and mortification. The pistol she held
was the answer to that impulse. But what was the answer to her hesitancy
in alarming the house? Why did she not give me up and be done with me?

At the farther end of the room was a long red curtain, which covered the
entrance to a sitting-room or parlor, as I guessed; and by the side
of the curtain hung an old-fashioned bell cord, also of red, which
I supposed to communicate with the servants’ quarters. It were easy
enough, now that she had taken the whip hand of me so cleverly, to pull
that rope, to set the bell jangling, to rouse the house. Why did she not
do so?

Was she a mad woman? There was that in her inexplicable conduct, and in
her highly-wrought, yet governed, mood, as she sat in brooding silence
across the table from me, to make the theory plausible. Brooding she
was, and studying me, I thought; yet watchful, too. For at any least
motion of mine her hand tightened slightly upon the pistol. We sat
thus while the slow seconds lengthened into intolerable minutes; and I
steamed with sweat, and fidgeted. Nor was I set more at my ease by her
long searching glances. In fact, my overthrow had been so instant and
so complete that my scattered wits had never drawn themselves together
again; I continued as one in a haze; as a person half under the power
of the hypnotist; as a mouse must feel after the first blow of the cat’s
paw. And yet one idea began to loom clearly out of that haze and possess
me--the idea that she desired the alarm to be given as little as I did
myself.

But there was no light in that. It was easy to understand why she
did not wish the house aroused while she still believed me to be
Charles--whoever Charles might be. But now?--it was too much for me.
I could not find a justification in reason for my belief; and yet the
conviction grew.

She broke the silence with a question that might have been put with full
knowledge of my thought.

“You are still wondering why I do not give you up?” she said.

I nodded. She leaned towards me across the table, and if ever the demons
of mockery danced through a woman’s eyes it was then; and her lips
parted in a kind of silent laughter.

She touched the diamonds about her throat.

“It was these you came after?”

I nodded again. Evidently speech was of no avail with this lady. She
asked questions at her will, and reserved the right of answering none.

“Tell me,” she said, “Why are you a thief? Why do you steal?”

“‘Convey, the wise it call,’” I quoted. “Accident, or fate, or destiny,
I suppose,” I went on, wondering more than ever at the question, but
with a fluttering hope. Perhaps the lady (in spite of Charles--such
things have been!) was an amateur sociologist, a crank reformer, or
something of that sort. There had been no mockery in her tone when
she asked the question; instead, I thought, a kind of pity. “Fate,
or destiny,” I went on, “or what you please, ‘There is a destiny that
shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will,’” I quoted again, in my
best actor manner.

“Why,” she said, “you are a man with some air of better things about
you. You quote Shakespeare as if he were an old friend. And yet, you are
a thief! Tell me,” she continued, “tell me--I dare say there were many
struggles against that destiny?” There was a note almost of eagerness
in her voice, as if she were a leniently-inclined judge who would fain
search out and put in the mouth of a condemned man some plausible plea
for the exercise of clemency. “Come--were there not?--I dare say there
were--circumstances of uncommon bitterness that forced you to become
what I see you? And even now you hate the thing you are?”

“Why, as to that,” I said, possessed of the sudden whim to be honest
with myself for once, “I am afraid that I can complain of no bitterer
usage at the hands of the world than can the majority of those who reap
where they have not sowed. When I think of it all, I am used to putting
it to myself that my life is devoted to a kind of private warfare
against the unjust conditions of a hypocritical social order.”

“Warfare!” she flouted, hard and brilliant as one of her own diamonds
again. “And you could justify it, too, could you not?”

And then she asked me: “Have you ever killed a man?”

“Why, no,” said I, “but I have tried to.”

“He lived?--and you were sorry that he lived?”

“No,” I said, quite out of my depths in all this moral quibbling, “I was
glad he lived.”

“And yet you hated him?”

“I would have taken his life in a rage,” I said. “He had wronged me as
greatly as one man can wrong another.”

“And yet you were glad he lived? My dear thief----”

“Higgins is the name,” said I. “You may call me Higgins.”

“My dear Higgins,” she went on, “you are inconsistent. You attempt to
slay a man in what I should judge to have been a not ignoble passion.
It may have been an anger that did you credit. And yet you are not
bold enough to face the thought of killing him. You are glib with
justifications of your thievery; and perhaps that is also because you
are too much of a coward to look steadily at it. You creep along a mean
and despicable path in life, contentedly, it seems to me, with a dead
soul. You are what you are because there is nothing positive in you for
either good or evil. You are negative; you were better dead. Yes, better
dead!”

Why should I have felt as if she were seeking self-justification in
advance for some death she planned for me? Certainly, my life, or death,
was not hers to give or take; she might give me up, and probably would.
But just as certainly she had made me feel, as she passed her judgment
upon me, that she was likely to turn executioner as well as judge. My
doubts as to her sanity returned.

“Still,” I said, for the sake of saying something, “if I killed a man, I
should not like to think about it, even if he deserved death.”

“Even if he deserved death?” she repeated, and sprang up, as if the
phrase had touched her. “You make yourself the judge, you do, of when
a man ‘deserves’ to lose his wealth. Come, what is your idea of when he
deserves to die?”

Up and down the room she swept; yet still watchful. And the emotion
which she had so long suppressed burst out into a poisonous lovely bloom
that suffused her being with an awful beauty.

“When does he deserve to die?” she repeated. “Listen to me. I knew
a woman once--no matter where--no matter when--who was sold--sold! I
say--by the sordid devil she called her father, to the veriest beast
that ever trod this earth. Her beauty--for she had beauty--her wit--for
wit she had--became this husband’s chattels before she turned her
twentieth year. She would never have loved him, but she would have been
faithful to him--she was faithful to him, in fact, in spite of all his
drunkenness and bestiality--and abuse! It was not neglect alone that she
had to complain of--she had never looked for understanding or sympathy.
But she had not looked for abuse. Abuse, I say, and worse than abuse.
Before she had been married a year she knew what it was, not only to
feel the weight of a heavy hand and to hide the bruises from her maid,
but to see other women brought into her very house. Pah!--hate? She
hated him? Hate is not the word. She became a live coal. But she never
cried out; she found strength to smile at him even when he beat her; she
was proud enough for that. It pleased him, in his hellish humor, and
because she was made to shine, to cage her in a country house, and there
to taunt her that although she was sold to him she got little of what
money may buy. And still she smiled at him, and still her hatred grew
through all the weeks and months until it filled her whole being. And
then--love came. For God has ordained that love may enter even Hell.
Love, I say; and she loved this lover of hers with a passion that was
measured only by the degree in which she hated her husband. And she
would have left with him; but on the very night they would have flown
together her lord and master-----”

She said the words with an indescribable spluttering sneer, sidewise
from her mouth. It is so a lioness may snarl and spit before she leaps.

“Her--lord and master--found it out, and waited up to catch them; and
coming upon her alone, taunted her. Taunted her, and struck her----”

“Look!” she cried, and tore the diamonds from her breast, and rent the
laces, and wrenched the fastenings apart. A new red weal that seemed to
throb and pulse with her respiration stood out from the whiteness of her
bosom.

“Tell me,” she whispered hoarsely, “would it have been murder if she had
killed that man? Which were the more courageous thing--to kill him, or
to step back into her living hell? If she had killed him, would she have
regretted it?”

I know not what I might have answered; but at that instant three raps
sounded distinctly upon the window-shutter. I leaped to my feet. Then
Charles had come!

An instant she stood as if stricken to a statue in mid-rage.

And then she cried out, and there was a furious triumph in her voice--a
kind of joy that matched itself to, and blended with, the fierce and
reckless beauty of her shaken jewels, possessed her.

“Charles,” she cried, “come in! Come in!”

Slowly the window opened and a man entered. He drew back in amaze at the
sight of me, and turned to her with an air that was all one question.

“I thought you would never come,” she said.

He was a big blond man, and as he turned from the one to the other of
us, with his helpless, inquiring face, and eyes that blinked from the
outer darkness, he looked oddly like a sleepy schoolboy who has been
awakened from an afternoon nap by the teacher’s ruler.

“Katherine,” he finally stammered, “what is this? Who is this man?” He
passed his hand across his forehead as one may do who doubts whether or
not he dreams; and walked towards the table.

“Charles,” she said, “I have shot the old man.” I have seen a beef
stricken on the head with a mallet look at its executioner with big eyes
for an instant before the quivering in its limbs set in and it sank to
the ground. So this Charles looked with wide, stupid eyes, and shivered,
and dropped the great bulk of him into a chair. His head sank upon his
hand. But finally he looked up, and spoke in a confused voice, as if
through a mist. “Good God, Katherine, what do you mean?”

“I mean,” she said, framing the words slowly, as one speaks a lesson to
a child, “I mean that I have killed the old man.”

And moving swiftly across the room she flung back the heavy red curtain
at the end of it; and I saw the answer to my many questionings.

The body lay upon its back, with one arm bent, the hand across the
chest, and the fingers spread wide. The face was that of a man of sixty
or thereabouts, but, indeed, so deeply lined and wrinkled and pouched
with evil living that the age even in life must have been hard to
determine. Blood was coagulating about a bullet wound in the temple,
and there were powder burns on the forehead. The shot had been fired at
close range, evidently from the weapon with which I had been confronted
on my entrance; and the sound had been so muffled in the curtain that it
was little wonder that the servants in the rooms above, and across the
house, had not heard it. He had a monstrous nose, that man upon the
floor, and it must have been a red nose in life; but now it was of a
bluish-white color, like the skin of an old and scrawny fowl. That, and
the thin, drawn-up legs, and the big flabby paunch of the thing, robbed
the sight, for me, of all the solemnity which (we are taught) exudes
from the presence of death. It made me sick; and yet I cackled with
sheer hysteria, too; or rather my strained nerves jarred and laughed, if
not myself. It was too damned grotesque.

Herself, she did not look at it. She looked at the man called Charles;
and he, with a shudder, lifted his slow gaze from the thing behind the
curtain to her face.

She was the first to speak, and the terrible joy with which she had bade
Charles to enter still dominated her accents.

“Don’t you understand, Charles? This man,” and she indicated me with the
pistol, “this man takes the blame of this. He is a thief. He came just
after--just afterwards. And I held him for your coming. Don’t you see?
Don’t you see? His presence clears us of this deed!”

“_Us?_” queried Charles.

“Not _us?_” she asked.

“My God, Katherine,” he burst forth, “why did you do this thing? And
you would heap murder on murder! Why, why, why did you do it? Why splash
this blood upon our love? A useless thing to do! We might have--we might
have------”

He broke down and sobbed. And then: “God knows the old man never did me
any harm,” he said. “And she’d accuse the thief, too!” he cried a moment
later, with a kind of wondering horror.

“Listen, Charles,” she said, and moved towards him; and yet with a
sidelong glance she still took heed of me. “Listen, and understand
me. We must act quickly--but after it happened it was necessary that I
should see you before we could act. This man came to rob; here is his
pistol, and in that satchel by the window are his tools, no doubt. He
may tell what wild tale he will; but who will believe him? You go as you
came; I give him up--and we--we wait awhile, and then the rest of life
is ours.”

I suppose that it is given to few men to hear their death plotted in
their presence. But I had come to the pass by this time where it struck
me as an impersonal thing. I listened; but somehow the full sense of
what she said, as affecting me, did not then impinge upon my brain with
waking force. I stood as if in a trance; I stood and looked on at those
two contending personalities, that were concerned just now with the
question of my life or death, as if I were a spectator in a theater--as
if it were someone else of whom they spoke.

“Go,” she cried to Charles again, “and I will give him up.”

“Katherine,” he said, “and you would do this thing?”

“Why?” she retorted, “what is this man’s life beside mine? His soul is
dead! I tell you, Charles, that I have come through Hell alive to gain
one ray of happiness! But go!--and leave the rest to me.”

And she grasped the bell cord and pulled it. Pulled it again and again.
The sound wandered crazily through what remote corridors I know not.

She made a step towards him. He leaped to his feet with an oath, with
loathing in his eyes, shrank back from her, and held out a hand as if to
ward off some unclean thing.

Bewilderment lined her face. She groped to understand. And then, as the
full significance of his gesture came home to her, she winced and swayed
as if from a blow; and the pistol dropped from her loosened grasp to the
floor.

“You--you abandon me?” she said slowly. “You desert me, then? Love,
Love, think how I have loved you that I did this thing! And is what I
have suffered--what I have done--still to purchase--nothing?”

She pleaded for my death; but I hope that I shall never again see on any
human face the look of despair that was on hers. I pitied her!

Heavy feet on the stairway woke me from my trance. Unregarded of them
both I grasped my pistol from the floor and sprang for the window. A
door opened somewhere above, and a voice asked:

“You rang, Ma’am?”

From without the window I looked back into the room. She stood with
outstretched hands--hands that reached upward from the pit of torment,
my fancy told me--and pleaded for a little love. “In all this world is
there no little ray of love for me?”--it was so my imagination rather
than my hearing translated the slight movement of her lips. And while
she and the man called Charles stood thus at gaze with one another, the
servant spoke again from the stairway.

“You rang?” he asked.

She slowly straightened. She steadied herself. And with her eyes still
fixed upon those of Charles she cried:

“Yes, yes, I rang, Jones! Your master is--dead. Your master’s murdered!
And there, there,” and she stabbed an accusing finger at her erstwhile
lover, “there is the man who murdered him!”

And then I turned from the window and ran from that house; and as I ran
I saw the Dawn, like a wild, fair woman, walk up the eastern sky with
blood-stained feet.



XIII.--Words and Thoughts

[A Play in One Act]

Characters:

Cousin Fanny Hemlock

John Speaker

Mary Speaker

John Thinker

Mary Thinker

Maid

Period, the present. Place, any American city.

The Scene _represents two drawing rooms, exact duplicates, furnished
alike to the smallest detail. Either room might be the reflection of the
other in a mirror. Each occupies half of the stage. The division line
between them is indicated, towards the hack of the stage, by two pianos,
which sit hack to back at the center of the hack drop. This division
is carried by the pianos a quarter or a third of the way towards the
footlights. The division is further suggested, towards the front of the
stage, hy a couple of settees or couches, which also sit back to back._

John Speaker and Mary Speaker _remain all the time in the room at the
right of the stage. They are not aware of_ John Thinker _and_ Mary
Thinker, _who are, throughout the play, in the room at the left. The_
Thinkers, _however, are aware of the_ Speakers.

_In make-up, looks, dress, etc., the two_Johns _are precisely alike.
The same is true of_ Mary Speaker and Mary Thinker. _The_ Johns _are
conventional-looking, prosperous Americans of from 38 to 40 years of
age. The two_ Marys _are a few years younger._

Cousin Fanny Hemlock _is a dried-up, querulous old woman of seventy._

_The Curtain, on rising, discovers the two_ Johns _and the two_ Marys.
_It is between 7 and 8 in the evening; they are all in evening dress,
and are preparing to go out, putting on their gloves, etc., etc._

John Speaker [_Picking up over coat._]

Are you ready, Mary dear?

Mary Speaker [_Holding out a gloved hand._]

Quite, John dear. Button this for me, won’t you, love?

John Speaker [_Busy with glove._]

It’s been nearly a year, hasn’t it, since we’ve been out together of
an evening? I’m afraid Cousin Fanny is terribly trying on you at times,
Mary.

Mary Speaker

You know, John, I don’t consider her a trial. I _love_ Cousin Fanny.

John Thinker

[_Busy with Mary Thinker’s glove._]

The old cat’s letting us off to-night, for a wonder, Mary. She’s a
horrible affliction!

Mary Thinker [_Passionately._]

Affliction is no word. She makes my life a living hell! I hate her!

John Speaker

[_Helping Mary Speaker on with coat, which action is simultaneously
imitated hy John and Mary Thinker._]

Well, we must bear with her gently, Mary. I am afraid poor Cousin Fanny
will not be with us many more years.

John Thinker [_To Mary Thinker._]

One comfort is she’ll die before long!

Mary Speaker [_To John Speaker._]

Oh, John, you don’t think Cousin Fanny’s going to die, do you?

Mary Thinker [_To John Thinker._]

Don’t fool yourself about her dying soon, John. There’s no such luck!

[_Enter Maid through door in right back to John and Mary Speaker,
who look up. John and Mary Thinker also notice entrance of Maid and
listen._]

Maid

[_To Mary Speaker._]

Miss Hemlock sent me to inquire whether you were going out to-night.

Mary Thinker [_To John Thinker, quickly._]

The old cat’s up to something!

Mary Speaker [_To Maid_.]

Yes. We were just starting. Does Miss Hemlock want anything? I will go
to her if she wishes to speak with me.

Maid

She said, in case you were going out, that I was to tell you _not_ to do
so.

Mary Speaker

_Not_ to do so?

Maid

Yes, ma’am; that’s what she said. She said in case you were getting
ready to go out, you were to change your plans and stop at home.

John Speaker [_To Maid._]

Not to do so? But, surely, there must be some mistake!

[_Maid shakes her head slowly, deliberately, looking fixedly at John
Speaker; and while she is doing so John Thinker says to Mary Thinker_:]

John Thinker

Some malicious idea is working in her head tonight!

Maid

[_To John Speaker._]

No, sir, no mistake. She said very plainly and distinctly that you were
not to go out tonight.

[_Maid bows and exits._]

John Speaker

Cousin Fanny is not so well to-night, I’m afraid, dear, or she would
certainly have put her request in some other way.

Mary Speaker

If I didn’t love Cousin Fanny, John, I would be tempted to believe that
she deliberately tries at times to annoy us.

John Speaker

Cousin Fanny is old, and we must remember that she is very fond of us.
We will have to bear with her.

[_John Speaker takes his top coat and his wife’s coat> and lays them on
a chair, while John Thinker, who has been frowning and brooding, flings
himself into chair and says to Mary Thinker_:]

John Thinker

For cold-blooded, devilish nerve in a man’s own house, Cousin Fanny
certainly takes the cake, Mary!

Mary Thinker

She gets more spiteful every day. She knows her power, and the more
childish she gets the more delight she takes in playing tyrant.

John Thinker

Cheer up, it isn’t forever! If she doesn’t change her will before she
dies, it means fifteen thousand dollars a year. That’s worth a little
trouble!

Mary Thinker

You’re away at your office all day. I’m here at home with her. It is I
who catch all the trouble!

John Thinker

Well, after all, she’s more nearly related to you, Mary, than she is to
me.

Mary Thinker

She’s my mother’s third cousin, if you call _that_ near!

John Thinker

Well, then, she’s my father’s fifth cousin, if you call _that_ near!

Mary Speaker

What were you thinking of, John, dear?

John Speaker

Nothing... nothing, Mary... except that

Cousin Fanny is a poor, lonely old soul, after all.

Mary Speaker

Poor, lonely old woman, indeed--it’s odd, isn’t it, that she is related
to both you and me, John?

John Speaker

She’s closer to you than to me, Mary.

Mary Speaker

You couldn’t call a fourth or fifth cousin very near, John.

John Speaker

It almost seems as if you were trying to deny the blood tie, Mary!

Mary Speaker

No, John, dear, blood is thicker than water.

John Speaker Thicker than water!

John Thinker

Relations are the most unpleasant persons on earth. I hate cousins.

Mary Thinker

Especially cousins who are also cousins-in-law! John Speaker

But even if she were only _my_ relation, Mary, and not related to _you_
at all, I know enough of your sweet nature to know that she would always
be welcome in our home in spite of her little idiosyncrasies.

[_Enter Cousin Fanny, to John and Mary Speaker, through door right hack.
She coughs as she steps forward, leaning on a cane, and puts her hand to
her chest, stop-ping. Then as she comes forward, she stumbles. John and
Mary Speaker leap forward, put their arms behind her, and, supporting
and leading her, conduct her tenderly down stage to chair at center of
room they are in. John and Mary Thinker, near together at table in their
room, lean forward eagerly and watch this entrance, and when the old
woman stumbles, John Thinker says to Mary Thinker, nudging her:_]

John Thinker

You see?

Mary Thinker

See what?

John Thinker

She totters!

Mary Thinker

She stumbled.

John Thinker

She’s getting weaker.

[_Mary Speaker tenderly kisses Cousin Fanny, as Mary Thinker says_:]

Mary Thinker

Weaker! She’ll live to be a hundred and ten!

John Thinker

Not she!

Mary Thinker

The mean kind always do!

John Speaker

[_Tenderly, to Cousin Fanny, arranging cushion behind her._]

Can’t I get you a wrap, Cousin Fanny?

Mary Speaker

Don’t you feel a draught, Cousin Fanny?

Mary Thinker

[_Bitterly, frowning at other group_.]

No draught will ever harm her!

Cousin Fanny

[_To John Speaker, sneeringly; petulantly._] You’re mighty anxious
about a _wrap_, John! But you were thinking of going out and leaving me
practically alone in the house.

John Speaker [_Deprecatingly._ ]

But, Cousin Fanny----

Cousin Fanny [_Interrupting_.]

Don’t deny it! Don’t take the trouble to deny it! Don’t lie about it!
You can’t lie to me! Don’t I see your evening clothes? And Mary, too!
Both of you were going out--_both_ of you!

Mary Speaker

Cousin Fanny, we gave it up when we learned that you wanted us to stop
at home with you. Didn’t we, John?

Cousin Fanny

[_Querulously, childishly, shrilly._]

Don’t deny it, Mary, don’t deny it! Don’t excuse yourself! I can see you
were going out! I can see your evening clothes!

Mary Speaker

We’ll go and change to something else, won’t we, John?

[_She is going, as she speaks, but Cousin Fanny cries out_:]

Cousin Fanny

Stop!

[_Mary Speaker stops, and Cousin Fanny continues_:]

Don’t take them off. I don’t want you to take them off. What do you want
to take them off for? Are they too good for _me_ to see? Are they too
grand for me to look at? Ain’t I as good as any one you’d find if you
went out? Heh?

Mary Speaker

Cousin Fanny, I didn’t mean that. I meant----

Cousin Fanny [_Interrupting._]

I know what you meant! Don’t tell me what you meant, Mary. You meant to
slip out and leave me here alone, both of you. It’s lucky I caught you
in time. It’s lucky I have money! It’s lucky I don’t have to put up with
the treatment most old folks get. I’d starve, if I were poor! I’d die of
hunger and neglect!

[_She begins to cry, and Mary Speaker says_:]

Mary Speaker No, no, no, Cousin Fanny!

[_Mary Speaker soothes her, in pantomime, and pets her, trying to take
her hands away from her face, Cousin Fanny resisting, like a spoiled and
spiteful child. John Speaker, behind Cousin Fanny and his wife, walks
up and down, with his eyes on them, running his hand nervously and
excitedly through his hair. While this pantomime goes on, John and Mary
Thinker are watching and saying _:]

John Thinker

This is to be one of Cousin Fanny’s pleasant evenings!

Mary Thinker

This happens a dozen times a day.

John Thinker She’s not really crying.

Mary Thinker

Pretence! She works it up to be unpleasant.

John Thinker The old she-devil!

John Speaker

[_Taking Cousin Fanny’s hand._]

You know, Cousin Fanny, that we try to do our duty by you.

Cousin Fanny [_Flinging his hand off._]

You try to do your duty by my money! I know!

I see! You talk of love and duty, but it’s my money you want! But I may
fool you--I may fool you yet. It’s not too late to change my will. It’s
not too late to leave it all to charity!

[_She speaks these lines with a cunning leer, and John Thinker, nudging
Mary Thinker and pointing to her, says:_]

John Thinker The old cat is capable of it, too!

John Speaker [_To Cousin Fanny_.]

If you should leave your money to charity, Cousin Fanny, you would find
it made no difference with us. You know blood is thicker than water,
Cousin Fanny!

Cousin Fanny [_Shrewdly, maliciously_.]

So is sticky flypaper!

John Speaker

Come, come, you don’t doubt the genuineness of our affection, do you,
Cousin Fanny? You’ve known me from my boyhood, Cousin Fanny, and you’ve
lived with us for ten years. You ought to know us by this time! You
ought to know us in ten years!

Mary Thinker Ten years of torture!

John Thinker It can’t last much longer!

John Speaker

[_Who has taken her hand again, and has been patting it as a
continuation of his last speech, and looking at her fondly_.]

You trust us, don’t you, Cousin Fanny? You really are sure of our
affection, aren’t you?

Cousin Fanny

[_To John Speaker. She shows that she really is willing to be convinced;
she searches their faces wistfully; she is pathetically eager._ ]

John, John, you really _do_ care for me, don’t you? [_She takes a hand
of each._]

It isn’t _all_ on account of my money, is it? If you knew I hadn’t a
cent, you’d still be good to me, wouldn’t you?

John Speaker and Mary Speaker [_Together._]

Yes, yes, Cousin Fanny!

Cousin Fanny

If I lost it all; if I told you I’d lost it all, you’d be just the same,
wouldn’t you?

[_John Speaker and Mary Speaker exchange glances over her head, and John
Speaker drops her hand, while John Thinker grabs Mary Thinker excitedly
by the arm and says quickly_:]

John Thinker

My God, you don’t suppose she’s really _lost_ it, do you?

Mary Thinker

No! This is just one of her cunning spells now. She can be as crafty as
a witch.

Cousin Fanny

If I hadn’t a cent you’d still care for me, wouldn’t you, Mary?

Mary Speaker

Why, Cousin Fanny, you know I would!

Cousin Fanny

But I’m hard on you at times. I’m unjust. I don’t mean to be spiteful,
but I _am_ spiteful. When we get old we get suspicious of people. We get
suspicious of everybody. And suspicion makes us spiteful and unjust. I
know I’m not easy to live with, Mary.

Mary Speaker [_Kissing Cousin Fanny._]

You get such strange notions, Cousin Fanny!

John Thinker

And such true ones, Cousin Fanny!

Cousin Fanny

Tell me the truth, Mary. You find me a trial, Mary. You and John find me
a trial!

Mary Speaker and John Speaker [_Together._ ]

Never, Cousin Fanny!

Mary Thinker and John Thinker [_Together._ ]

Always, Cousin Fanny!

Cousin Fanny And that is the truth?

John Speaker, John Thinker, Mary Speaker and Mary Thinker [_All
together._ ]

And that is the truth, Cousin Fanny!

Cousin Fanny

You don’t know how suspicious one gets!

Mary Speaker [_Petting her_.]

But suspicion never stays long in your good heart, Cousin Fanny. There’s
no room for it there, I know. But don’t you think you’d better go to bed
now? Let me call the maid.

Cousin Fanny

[_Rousing up in chair; suspicion and meanness all awake again_.]

To bed? Why to bed? Why do you want to pack me off to bed? I know! I
know why! You want me to go to bed so you two can talk about me. So you
can talk me over! So you can speculate on how long I will live. I know
you! I know what you talk about when I’m not around! I know what you’ve
been waiting and hoping for the last ten years!

[_Begins to cry._]

Well, you won’t have long to wait now. The time’s almost come! I feel
it’s almost here. You’ll get the money soon enough!

Mary Speaker [_Soothing her_.]

There, there, Cousin Fanny, don’t go on like this!

You know it isn’t true--you know you’ll live ten years yet!

[_John Speaker runs his hands through his hair and looks silently at
Mary Speaker, and John Thinker, with the same gesture, says to Mary
Thinker_:]

John Thinker

If I thought she’d live ten years yet----!

[_Pauses._]

Mary Thinker

Well, if you thought she’d live ten years yet----?

John Thinker [_With a gesture of de pair._ ]

My God--ten years like the last ten years! Ten years! Talk about earning
money! If it hasn’t been earned ten times over!

Mary Thinker

[_Fiercely._]

You see it mornings and evenings. I have it all day long, and every
day. I’ve had it for ten years. I go nowhere, I see no one. I have no
pleasures. I have no friends; I’ve lost my friends. I’m losing my youth.
I’m losing my looks. I’m losing my very soul. I’m shedding my life’s
blood drop by drop to keep that querulous fool alive--just merely alive!
I’m tired of it! I’m sick of it! I’m desperate! I’m dying from her, I
tell you!

Mary Speaker

[_Still soothing Cousin Fanny, but speaking with one hand nervously
clutching her own head as she does so_.]

Come, come, Cousin Fanny--you’d better go to bed now!

Cousin Fanny

I won’t go to bed yet! I want my medicine. It’s time for my medicine
now. I won’t go to bed till I’ve had my sleeping tablets.

John Speaker

Where are they, Cousin Fanny?

Cousin Fanny

On top of the bookcase there. The small phial. [_John Speaker goes to
the bookcase and begins to rummage for phial, while John Thinker says,
meditatively_:]

John Thinker

I suppose if one ever gave her the wrong medicine by mistake it would be
called by some ugly name!

Mary Thinker

People like her never get the wrong medicine given to them, and never
take it by mistake themselves.

John Speaker [_Finding bottle; examining it_.]

See here, Cousin Fanny, didn’t you have one of these about an hour ago?
Didn’t I see you take one of them right after dinner?

Cousin Fanny [_Peevishly._]

I don’t know. I don’t remember. I want one now, anyhow. My nerves are on
the jump. You have got all my nerves on the jump. I’ll take one, and nap
here in the chair.

John Speaker [_To Mary Speaker_.]

She took one about an hour ago. I don’t think it’s quite right to let
her have another so soon. They have a powerful depressing effect on the
heart.

Mary Speaker Let me see which ones they are.

[_John Speaker holds the bottle out towards Mary Speaker, in front of
Cousin Fanny. Cousin Fanny snatches it with a sudden motion, and laughs
childishly. John Speaker and Mary Speaker look at each other inquiringly
over her head._]

John Speaker

She really shouldn’t have another one now, I’m afraid, dear. It might be
pretty serious. [_To Cousin Fanny_.]

You _did_ take one right after dinner, didn’t you, Cousin Fanny?

Cousin Fanny

[_Hugging bottle to her very excitedly_.]

No! No! I tell you I didn’t! I _will_ take one! You don’t want me to get
to sleep! You don’t want me to get any rest! You want me to die!

John Thinker I _know_ that she _did_ have one.

Mary Speaker [_To John Speaker_.]

What can you do, dear?

John Speaker

[_Taking hold of Cousin Fanny’s hands, and trying to take phial
gently_.]

See here, Cousin Fanny, you must be reasonable... you mustn’t be
stubborn about this. You can’t have another tablet now. It’s dangerous.
It might even kill you!

John Thinker

It _would_ kill her as certainly as she sits there. John Speaker

Come, come, Cousin Fanny... it might be dangerous.

Mary Speaker

John, don’t struggle with her! Don’t you know if you struggle with her
it is likely to prove fatal? The doctor says the _least_ strain will
prove fatal.

Cousin Fanny [_Whimpering and struggling._]

Let me have it! Let me alone! Let go of my hands! You want to kill me!
You want me to die so you can get my money!

John Speaker [_Releasing her._]

No! No! No! Cousin Fanny... Come, be reasonable!

[_He reaches for her hands again, and she grabs his hand and bites it.
He draws back and says_:]

Damn!

[_Nurses his hand._]

Mary Speaker

Did she bite you?

John Speaker

Yes.

[_Nurses his hand, and Mary Speaker examines it, while Cousin Fanny
pulls cork from phial with teeth, and John Thinker says_:]

John Thinker

The old viper has teeth yet!

Mary Thinker

She is a cat... she is a she-devil... she is a witch... she has a bad
heart....

John Speaker

[_To Mary Speaker, pointing to Cousin Fanny, who is shaking tablet out
of bottle; she drops one and gropes for it, and shakes another more
carefully, with air of childish triumph._]

Mary, what _can_ I do? She _will_ have it! And if I struggle with her
it will kill her! She is too weak to struggle! It will kill her to
struggle! And if I let her take the tablet it may do her harm!

Mary Speaker

Perhaps the tablet won’t do her any harm, John.

John Thinker

It will kill her as surely as she sits there. I know it will and _you_
know it will.

John Speaker

Maybe it won’t hurt her, Mary... but we can never tell.... I’m afraid...
I’m afraid it really _might_ harm her....

Cousin Fanny [_Putting tablet into her mouth_.]

There! I’m going to sleep, now.... I’m going to sleep in spite of you.
You hate me--both of you hate me--but you can’t prevent me going to
sleep!

Mary Speaker

She’s taken it, John. Do you suppose she really _did_ have one before?

John Speaker [To Cousin Fanny.]

Cousin Fanny, you _didn’t_ have one before, did you?

Cousin Fanny

[_She has closed her eyes; she opens them and rocks back and forth,
laughing foolishly_.]

Yes!

John Speaker

[_Taking out handkerchief; mopping fore-head_.]

I don’t believe she did. She says she did, but she doesn’t know.

Cousin Fanny [_Rocking and laughing sillily._]

Yes, I did! You know I did!

John Speaker

She doesn’t know.... She doesn’t know whether she did or not.... She
hasn’t really been right in her mind for a long time. I don’t think she
had one before.

[_As he speaks Cousin Fanny ceases rocking and leans hack in her chair,
closing her eyes. From this time on the two Johns and the two Marys
stare at her intently, never taking their eyes off of her while they
speak._]

John Thinker

She _did_ have one before.

Mary Thinker

I _know_ she did.

John Thinker

Will she die? Will I see her die? I should hate to see her die!

John Speaker

She _would_ have that tablet... she WOULD have it. If I had taken it
away from her by force it would have killed her; the struggle would have
killed her.

John Thinker

Will I see her die? Will she die?

John Speaker

I let her have it to save her life... it was to save her life that I
quit struggling with her.

John Thinker

If she dies... but _will_ she die?

Mary Thinker

She will die!

Cousin Fanny

[_Rousing from her lethargy slightly; open-ing her eyes._]

John... Mary.... You really love me, don’t you? Don’t you? You really...
really...

[_Sinks back, with head slightly on one side and eyes closed again; does
not move after this._]

Mary Speaker

[_They all speak with lowered voices now._] She is asleep. She really
needed the tablet. It was a mercy she got it. She was nervous and
overwrought, and it has put her to sleep.

John Speaker

Yes, it was a mercy she got it. She was nervous and overwrought, and it
has put her to sleep.

... And you know, Mary, she _would_ have t... if I had _struggled_ with
her, she would have _died!_ A struggle would have killed her.

John Thinker

And now she will die because there was no struggle.

Mary Thinker

She will die.

John Speaker

Is she breathing quite naturally, Mary?

Mary Speaker Quite. Quite naturally.

Mary Thinker _Death_ is quite natural.

John Thinker And she is dying.

John Speaker

Well, if she had struggled and died... if she had died through any fault
of mine... I would always have reproached myself....

Mary Speaker

You have nothing to reproach yourself for. You need never reproach
yourself with regard to her....

John Thinker

She was old. She was very old. She will be better dead.

Mary Thinker She is not quite dead.

John Speaker

I don’t like the way she is breathing.... She is scarcely breathing....
She doesn’t seem to be breathing at all!

Mary Speaker Old people breathe very quietly.

Mary Thinker Old people die very quietly.

John Thinker And she is dying.

Mary Thinker

She is dead!

John Thinker

Mary... Mary... is she breathing at all? Mary Speaker

Call the maid.... Send for the doctor.... Call the maid!

John Thinker It is too late for any doctor.

Mary Thinker

Too late!

John Speaker

Mary, Mary.... My God... she can’t be _dead!_

Mary Speaker [_Bending above her._]

John, dear... try to bear it bravely... but... but I’m afraid she is....
Poor Cousin Fanny has left us!

John Speaker

[_Rapidly_.]

Poor Cousin Fanny.... Poor Cousin Fanny.... Poor Cousin Fanny....

John Thinker

Fifteen thousand a year... fifteen thousand a year.... Why do I think of
that?... But I can’t help it.... I can’t help thinking of it....

Mary Speaker I’ll go get the maid.

[_Going_.]

John Speaker

Stop.... Wait, Mary.... Don’t call her yet... get her presently.... I
don’t want to be alone just now.... I’m in a kind of fog....

[_Lights go out as he says this; he continues in the darkness._]

I’m all in the dark.

[_Lights on again_.]

[_In the interim, which is very short, Cousin Fanny has gone over to the
room on the left in which are John and Mary Thinker, and sits in chair
corresponding to one which she has just left._]

[_She is silent and motionless, but her head is lifted; her eyes are
open; she is alive again. When lights go on again, John and Mary Speaker
still stand before chair she has left as if she were in it; it is
apparent that they believe themselves to be still looking at the old
woman._]

Mary Speaker

Nonsense... all in the dark?... What do you mean by all in the dark?

John Speaker

Nothing... nothing now. It has passed....

[Pointing to chair where Cousin Fanny was.] She died with a smile on her
face!

John Thinker

But she isn’t there.... Cousin Fanny isn’t there.

... She’s here.... She’s over here with us... over here with _us_!

Mary Thinker

Here with us... over here, forever, now.

Mary Speaker

[_Holding John Speaker’s hand and gazing at vacant chair_.]

How beautiful she looks! She is at rest, now! She is better off so.
Better dead. She is better at peace!

John Thinker

[_Violently; starting towards other room_.]

My God. I’m going to stop it... stop it... stop that lying... stop it
at any cost.... I’m going to stop that pretending... that damned
pretending....

Mary Thinker

[_Quickly getting in front of him; holding him back._]

What are you going to do?

John Thinker

Stop it, I tell you.... Tell the truth... stop that pretense....

[_Moves towards the other room. As he does so, Mary Speaker and John
Speaker, for the first time become aware of John and Mary Thinker, and
shrink back in terror and alarm, clinging together, confused, convicted,
abject, retreating, powerless; Cousin Fanny leaps in front of John
Thinker at same instant, and bars him back, saying:_]

Cousin Fanny

Stop!

John Thinker

Why? I _will_ stop this pretense... Why not?

Cousin Fanny

[_All four of the others lean forward and hang eagerly upon her words_.]

You must not. It can’t be done. It is the foundation upon which your
society rests. It is necessary..._ over there!_

CURTAIN





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