I found out, too, that he had tried to trace the father, John Chalmers, back to the days when he wore his own name, and it may have been that then he would have strived to go back to Monty's father and grandfather, and so on, as far as he could go. I knew about it because one day I was looking through his desk drawers—prying has always been a failing with me!—and I found a letter from Mr. Roddy, the newspaper reporter, who I had almost forgotten. Mr. Roddy said that he never had been able to find anything of the murderer's history before the time he was employed in Bermuda, and I know my heart jumped with pleasure, for I could not see what good it would do for the Judge to know; and I felt, for some reason, that the name of Cranch was one that both he and I would not have smudged with the owner's misdeeds and folly. You may say that it was strange that pictures of love—the love which came and went like the shadow of a flying bird, flitting across a wall—should have still been locked up in an old woman's heart. But they were there to be called back, as they are now, with all their colors as clear and bright as the pictures of Julianna's future that the Judge used to see pass before the eyes of his fear.
At first I used to think that the master was principally in terror because of the chance that some strange trick of fate would show his wife the truth. The older and more beautiful and the more lovable and affectionate the little daughter grew, and the weaker and whiter the poor deceived woman, the worse the calamity would have been. Perhaps I thought this was the Judge's fear, because of its being my own. I was always feeling that the blow was about to fall, and I prayed that Mrs. Colfax would no longer be living when it came.
But at last she was gone. She died when Julianna was eleven, and had long braids of hair that would have been the envy of the mermaids, and eyes that had begun to grow deep like pools of cool water, and a figure that had begun to be something better than the stalkiness of a child. Mrs. Colfax died with a little flickering smile one day, and the Judge put his arms around her and then fell on his knees. She looked thin and worn, but very happy.
"Sleep," he whispered to her.
And then he opened the door and called Julianna.
"You must not be afraid, dear," he said to her. "Death is here, but Death is not terrible. See! She has smiled. We can tell that she knew that we would see her again in a little while, can't we?"
"Why, yes," said Julianna. "For she never thought first of herself, but of us."
Then the Judge put out his arms and held the girl close to him, so that I knew a fresh love for her had come into his heart. Perhaps on account of it he had more fear than ever. One day he brought home a book in a green cover; I read the words on the back—"Some Aspects of Heredity." Nor was that book the last of its kind he bought or sat reading till late at night, with his pipe held in the crook of his long fingers and his forehead drawn down into a scowl. I could tell he was wondering about the mystery of that which goes creeping down from mother or father to son and daughter, and on and on, like a starving mongrel dog that slinks along after a person, dropping in the grass when a person speaks cross to it, running away when a person turns and chases it, and then, when it has been forgotten, a person looks around and there it is again, skulking close behind. "And then," as Madame Welstoke used to say, folding her hands, "if you call it 'Heredity,' it knows its name and wags its tail!"
One would have said that the Judge always expected that some creature like that would crawl up behind the girl. I used to imagine, when Julianna came into the room, that he looked over her shoulder or behind her, as if he expected to see it there with its grinning face. And, moreover, I've seen him look at the soft, fine skin of her round forearms, or the little curls of hair at the back of her neck, or the lids of her eyes, when they were moist in summer, or the half moons on the nails of her fingers, as if he might be able to see there some sign of her birth or the first bruises made by this thing called "Heredity," that would say, if it could talk, "Come. Don't you feel the thrill of my touch? You belong not to yourself, my dear, but to me."
I knew. And as the girl came into womanhood, and he saw, perhaps, that I was watching her, too, I think he longed for sympathy and wanted the relief of speech. Finally he spoke. It was late one night and he had his hand on the stair rail, when he heard me locking the window in the hall. He turned quickly.
"Margaret," he whispered.
"Yes, sir," I answered.
"Thank God, she is a woman and not a man," he said, out of a clear sky; "for a woman is better protected against herself."
For a moment he seemed to be thinking; then he looked at the floor.
"Does Julianna ever take a glass of sherry or claret when I am not at dinner?" he asked. "I thought it had gone quickly."
"Why, no!" I replied.
He nodded the way he did when he was satisfied—the way a toyshop animal's head nods—less and less until it stops.
"I'm sorry I asked," he said. "Good-night."
What he had said was enough to show me that his imagination had been sharpened and sharpened and sharpened. Perhaps you know how it is when some one does not come back until late at night, and how, when you are waiting, listening to the ticking of the clock, or the sounds of footsteps or cab horses in the street, coming nearer and nearer and then going farther and farther away, you can imagine all kinds of things like highway robbery and accidents and hospitals, and the telephone seems ready to jump at you with a piece of bad, bad news. So it was with him, except that he did not see pictures of what had happened, but pictures of what might come. I knew that he feared the character that might crop out of the good and beautiful girl, and I thought sometimes, too, that he still had fits of believing, though the past was buried under the years, that sometime the ugly ghost of the truth would come rapping on the window pane in the dead o' night.
Perhaps I can say, in spite of the fact that we never knew of a certainty, that it did. We had cause to know that, barring the Judge and me and Monty Cranch, wherever he might have been, a new and strange and evil thing showed itself as the fourth possessor of our secret.
Julianna, in that year, had begun going to a new school—fashionable, you might call it, and many is the time I have smiled, remembering how it came about. The woman with the old-fashioned cameo brooch, who kept it, did everything to invite the Judge to send his daughter there, except to ask him outright, and afterward I heard she had rejoiced to have the one she called "the best-born girl in all the city" at her school, which she boasted, in the presence of her servants, was not made like the others, with representatives of ten Eastern good families as social bait for a hundred daughters, of Western quick millionaires.
I mention this because it was the beginning of times when Julianna was being asked to other girls' houses and for nice harmless larks at fine people's country-places, when vacations came. On one of these times when she was away, a voice came whispering to us out of the past!
It was the Christmas season, bitter cold, and before I went to bed I could hear the wind snapping the icicles off the edge of the library balcony and sending them, like bits of broken goblets onto bricks and crusted snow below. I could see the flash of them, too, as they went by the light from the frosted windows in the kitchen basement, but nothing else showed outside in the old walled garden, for it was as black as a pocket.
Not later than ten I crawled up the stairs and stood for a minute in the dining-room. I heard the scratch of the Judge's pen and knew he was hard at work, and I remember, when I looked through the curtains, how I thought of how old the Judge looked, with his hair already turning from gray to white, and of how the youth of all of us hangs for a moment on the edge and then slides away without any warning or place where a body can put a finger and say, "It went at that moment." Perhaps I would have stood there longer, but the Judge looked up and smiled, dry enough.
"You may think I am working," he said. "But I'm mostly engaged just now, Margaret, exerting will power to overcome a foolish fancy."
"What is that, sir?" I asked.
"That somebody is watching me," he said. "I've turned around a dozen times and left this seat twice already. It's an uncomfortable feeling, but I've made up my mind not to look again."
"Not to look?" I cried.
"No. There's nothing there."
"Where?" I said.
"Below—in the garden or on the balcony," he answered; "somewhere outside the window."
"Bless us, I'll look," I whispered, walking toward the back of the room.
It might have been my fancy or my own reflection, but whatever it was, I thought I saw a dark and muffled thing move outside. It forced a scream from me, and that one little cry was enough to bring the Judge up out of his chair, knowing well enough without words that I had seen something.
"That's enough!" he said, his long legs striding toward the French windows. "Stand back, Margaret. We'll look into this."
He tore the glass doors open, the bitter cold wind flickered the lamp, and by some sensible instinct I pulled the cord of the oil burner. I knew that as he stood on the balcony, looking, he could see nothing with a light behind him. Furthermore, I did not move, because I knew that he was listening, too. Both of us heard the scrape of something on the icy garden walk, the moment the lights went out. Immediately after it the Judge called to me.
"Look!" he said. "Isn't something moving there along the shrubs?"
"Yes," I whispered. "It's near the ground. It crawls."
"What do you want?" called the Judge to the moving thing. Then, although he had no revolver at hand, he said, "Answer, or I'll shoot."
The only reply to this was the sound of breathing and one little cough that sounded human. The Judge reached behind him with one long arm, feeling around the little table by the window for some object. At last his fingers closed on it and I knew he had the little bronze elephant that now stands on the mantel, where Mrs. Estabrook turns it so it will not show that it has lost its tail.
"We are a pair of old fools," said the Judge, as if he was not sure. "It probably is a cat."
With these words he poised the bronze that was solid and must have weighed two pounds, and hurled it into the garden. There was a sound of striking flesh that a body can tell from all others. I heard it! And then, quicker than I tell it, the sharp clear air was filled with a cry which died away, as if it had flown up to the milky, starry sky and left us listening to strange, inhuman groans coming up from the garden.
"My God!" cried the Judge. "I did not mean to hit it! It wasn't a cat! It is something else."
"The kitchen!" I cried, and without stopping to close the doors against the nipping cold, I led the way down the back stairs.
"No time for caution," he said. "Unbolt this door. See, it is writhing there on the snow! It is a child!"
I believed at first that he was right. As we ran forward it seemed to be a naked, half-starved child of six or seven years, wallowing in the snow in some terrible agony. My heart jumped against my ribs as I saw it. I stopped in my tracks and let the Judge go on alone.
In a second his voice rose in a tone that braced me like a glass of brandy.
"See!" he cried. "Thank Heaven! It is only a poor, cringing dog—a shaggy hound. Here, you poor beast. Did I hurt you? Come, Laddie, come, boy!"
"Laddie" he had called him, and it was the same "Laddie" that lived with us so long.
"Margaret!" cried the Judge, as he pulled the dirty creature into the kitchen. "A light! The thing is half-starved. Bring some food upstairs to the library."
The hound was licking his hand and cowering as if accustomed to abuse, and from that night it was nearly six months before the old fellow got his flesh and healthy coat of hair and his spirit back again. That night, having eaten, it looked about the room, found the Judge, went to him, and, laying his head in his lap, looked up at him out of his two sorrowful eyes. I knew then, by the smile of the Judge's mouth and the way he put on his tortoise-shell glasses, that "Laddie" would never be sent away. Just then, though, the master, after he had looked at the dog a minute, sprang up suddenly and stood staring at me with his mouth twitching.
"What is it, sir?" I asked.
"The dog!" he said.
"Yes, sir," I said. "The dog—"
"The gate swings shut with a spring!" he said. "Some human being must have opened the gate."
It was true! We looked at each other, and then the Judge laughed.
"Oh, well," said he carelessly, "if they want the dog they must come and claim him with proceedings at law. Make a bed for him in the back hall."
On my part, however, I was not satisfied so easily and many more peaceful moments I would have had if I had never pried further as I did. After all, I only asked one question and that early the next morning. In the house next to ours a brick ell was built way out to the alleyway along half the yard. The kitchen windows looked out on the passage. There was a maid in that house,—a second girl, as they call them in this country,—and I knew she was a great person for staying up late, telling her own fortune with cards or reading a dream-book. She was hanging clothes in the early sun, with her red hair bobbing up and down above the sheets and napkins, when I stood on a chair and looked over the wall.
"Busy early?" I said. "But I saw your light late last night. Did you by any chance see anybody come in through our gate?"
"Only you," the stupid thing said. "At first I thought it was some other woman, because, begging your pardon, you looked thin. But it was after nine and I knew you'd not be having callers that late."
My tongue grew so dry it was hard to move it from the roof of my mouth, and before I could put in a word she threw a handful of clothespins into the basket and looked up again.
"When did you get a dog?" she asked. "I saw you had one with you."
"Dog!" I cried. "Oh, yes, the dog. That's the Judge's new dog."
I jumped down off the chair and looked up at the windows to be sure the Judge was not looking at me.
"A woman!" I whispered.
With a hundred thoughts I went across the garden, looking in the snow for a person's tracks. It had grown warmer, however. Water was dripping from the roof, and if there had been any story in the snow, it had thawed away. I walked along with my head down, thinking and wondering whether I would tell the Judge. Mrs. Welstoke used to say, "Silence, my dear, is the result of thinking. You might not suppose so, perhaps, but why tell anything without a reason? People find out the good or bad news soon enough without your help. If it's good, their appetite is the sharper for it, and if it's bad, they have had just so much longer in peace." I thought of these words and wondered, too, what use it would be to worry the master. If evil was to come, it would come. And then, at that moment, my eye lit on something that shone in a hollow of the snow.
"A piece of jewelry!" I said to myself, stooping for it. My fingers never reached it in that attempt; instinct made them draw back as if the object had been of red-hot metal. But it was not of red-hot metal. It was of gold. It was a locket. It was the very locket and chain that had been taken from the neck of Monty Cranch's baby!
"So!" I cried, starting back as if it had been a tarantula; "so it is you! Found at last!"
AGAIN THE MOVING FIGURE
When it was in my fingers, I looked all about in a guilty way to see if any one had seen me pick it up, and then, with the metal icy cold in my hand, my head swam. I knew the meaning of my find. The thing had not come out of its hiding to spring upon us of its own accord. Human hands had preserved it, and human feet had brought it into the garden in the dead of a winter night, and human fright had been the cause of leaving it behind.
I had searched once for this trinket, with a plan to use it as a weapon of evil, and now it was mine. It was mine, and yet all my love for the Judge and Julianna, for whom I would have given my life, made me look upon it as if it were a snake. My first thought was its destruction. I wanted to throw it in the furnace. I longed to have an anvil and hammer, so that I could beat it into a pulp of gold. I wished a crack in the earth might open miles deep so I could drop it in.
I went into the kitchen where the cook was busy with her pastry, and up to my own room. It was there I began to think sensibly. I believed that whoever might want to come now and say, "I know. That is a murderer's child," no longer would have the proof. I believed that Julianna was safe again. So long as I had the locket and Monty Cranch was lost in the depths of time and perhaps dead, no real harm, I thought, could come to her. Often enough I had remembered the moment when Mr. Roddy had begged the Judge to condemn Monty to death by an accusation of a crime he never committed, and how I had said, perhaps, the words that prevented the master from agreeing to the devilish plot. I had often wondered if I had not been the cause of all the Judge's troubles by my speaking then. This thought, for the moment, prevented me from hurrying downstairs in time to catch the Judge before he went out. I could hear him hunting around the corners for his grapevine stick, humming a tune.
"What good, after all, to tell?" said I to myself. "Just as he kept a secret for the happiness of his wife, I will keep one for the sake of his peace of mind."
I heard the front door close and knew that he had gone.
"If I took the locket to him," I thought, "what would he believe? Only that I had had it in my possession all these years. After all, I am only a servant. He would be suspicious. He would believe I had invented the story of finding it in the yard. It would spoil all his trust in me and that would break my heart."
So my thoughts went around and a week passed, in which there was not a night that I did not sit in my bedroom window, looking out at the cold garden and the black alley, expecting to see some one lurking there. A hundred times I took the locket out of its hiding-place and wondered what to do, and at last it came to me that the first question the Judge would ask was why I had not told him at once. That was enough to clinch the matter; until to-night the secret has been my own and you can blame me or not, as you see fit.
It was painful enough for me—a lonely old maid—with nothing but memories of a wasted girlhood and no one to help me see the right of things. Many is the night I have wet my pillow with tears, being afraid that I had always played the wrong part and would finally be the cause of the ruin of those I had grown to love.
Of all those bad moments, none was more bitter than that when the Judge told me that the day would come when Julianna must know the truth. To this day I remember the study as it was then. Workmen had been redecorating the walls, and all the furniture was moved into the centre of the room, strips of paper were gathered into a tangled pile on the floor, and in the middle of the confusion, the Judge was sitting in his easy-chair, with his eyes looking a thousand miles away, and his lips moving just enough to keep his old pipe alight. He looked up as I drew the curtains.
"Don't light the lamp yet," he said. "You are a woman and I want to talk to you."
"It's about Julianna," said I.
"Yes," said he, "about her. She is eighteen. Her birthday is scarcely a week away. I suppose she will fall in love sometime?"
"Of course," I answered. "Women are not cast in her mould to be old maids."
"Isn't it funny?" he said. "I just began to think of it yesterday. I never realized. I thought we had at least ten years more before there would be any chance. They are women before one can turn around! It is surprising."
"It's terrible," I added.
"Yes," said he, "it's terrible! Because if any man won her, then I would have to tell—"
He stopped there and shut his two fists.
"Tell the truth!" I exclaimed.
"Yes," said he. "I'd have to tell him. Could I let him be cheated?"
"Cheated!" I cried. "No man is good enough for her, that's what I think!"
"I said cheated!" he answered roughly, as if he was trying to harden his own feelings. "He would be putting dependence upon her inherited characteristics, wouldn't he? And then, if anything ever cropped out in her, if he didn't know, how could he understand her or forgive her or help her?"
"Judge," said I, "you spoke of my being a woman. Well, sir, I am an ignorant woman, but I know well enough that there are some things that you and I had best leave alone—some things that God will take care of by Himself."
At that his face screwed up in pain.
"Honor is honor!" he said, jumping up. "Truth is truth! And heredity is heredity!"
He seized his hat and went into the hall and down the front steps and off along the pavement with his long strides, like a man followed by a fiend.
It was the last word he ever spoke on the subject until Mr. Estabrook came into our life. Then I saw from the first how things were going. When I caught the look on the girl's face as she watched the first man in whom she had taken that special interest, and when I saw him—begging your pardon—staring at her as if she were not real, I knew, with a sick feeling in my heart and throat, that the day would come when he would take her away from us.
It was like a panic to me. I could not stand it and I called the Judge. I wanted to speak with him. I nodded and beckoned to him and tried to show him what was going on, for though a mother has the eyes of a hawk, a father is often blind. And I thought that night he was going out without my having a chance to say a word. I went down to the kitchen and then to the dark laundry, out of sight of the cook. I threw my apron over my head and cried like an old fool from fright. It was in the midst of it that I heard the gate-latch.
"The woman again!" I said to myself. "The strange woman! She feels there's something wrong, too. She's come back!"
I could hear my own heart thumping as I stared out into the dark, wiping my eyes to get the fog out of them. Minutes went by before I saw that it was the Judge. He had come back to hear what I had to say, and I think when I told him that he was as upset as I had been. Well I remember how his voice trembled as he told me how he had written the paper telling the whole secret, except for my knowing about it, to Julianna, in case he should die, and how, then and there, I made up my mind that if God would let me I would keep the girl from ever reading it. And to this day she does not know that I loved her that much. What made me fail to do this is something you are aware of already, just as you know all the story of the marriage and a time of happiness before this new and dreadful, dreadful thing, whatever it is, came to us.
Well enough for you, Mr. Estabrook, to notice the change in your wife. It is well enough for you to wonder what has come to her and why she has driven you out of your own house. But do not forget that I held her as a baby in my arms and saw her grow into a woman, as free from guilt or blame as any that ever lived. It may all be a mystery to you, sir. I tell you it is all a hundred times more a mystery to me who know no more of it than you, though in these terrible days I have been alone with her, locked into a deserted house, with every other servant sent away and the quiet of the grave over everything.
"Is it some of Monty Cranch's wild blood?" I have asked, and with that question no end of others.
I asked them when her arm had been hurt, and was getting well in those days when she seemed to be in a dream, with her silent thoughts and her frightened face. For hours she would sit in the window at night, looking out into the park, as you know, and daytimes, when you were away, many is the time I have found her on her bed, shaking with her misery and tears.
I asked those questions, too, when one night—a month ago—she came into my bedroom, walking like a ghost in her bare feet.
"Margaret," she whispered, trembling, "I can't wake Mr. Estabrook. I haven't the courage to. I want you to come to the front windows."
"Yes," said I. "What is the matter?"
"Oh, I don't know!" she cried. "Come. Come. He is there again!"
I had crept through the cold hall with her, and we kneeled down together under the ledge. Moonlight was on the street. The shadows of the trees moved back and forth slowly.
"Look! Now! Behind that post over the way!" she said, pinching my arm. "Do you see him?"
"See who?" I gasped. "What is it? I see nothing."
"He stretched his hands out!" she cried. "He isn't real! You see nothing?"
"Nothing," said I.
"I was afraid so!" she cried, and broke away from me and shut the door of her own room in my face. Nor have I ever since been able to get a word from her concerning that night.
It was about the same time I discovered that, though she almost never left the house, she was telephoning for messenger boys when she thought I was out of hearing. It set my curiosity on edge, I tell you. I began to watch. And then I discovered she was sending out little envelopes and getting little envelopes in return. All my old training with Mrs. Welstoke came back to me; I made up my mind to be as sly as a weasel. Finally my chance came.
I had been out to do some shopping and walked home across the park. Just as I came within sight of the house, I saw a messenger boy come down our steps. I ran as fast as my old limbs would carry me, until I caught up with him.
"Little boy!" I said.
He looked around, half frightened and half impudent.
"There's been a mistake!" I told him. "Where did the lady tell you to take the message."
"Why, to the man with the gold teeth," said he.
"There's a mistake in it," said I. "Give me the envelope."
He looked at me suspiciously.
"Not on yer life," he said. "You'll get me in trouble. I won't open it for anybody."
"But there's money in it," I said.
"No, there ain't," he answered, feeling of the envelope. "I guess I can tell!"
"Hold it up to the light, then," said I, for the sun was shining very bright. "We'll see who is right."
He did this, and the writing was as plain as if written on the outside. It was her own hand, too, though it was not signed.
"She must have some more," it said.
"Where does the man with the gold teeth live?" I asked, trying to smile and look careless.
"I shan't say!" said the boy. "There is some funny business here. Let go of me!"
He twisted himself away and ran off, looking over his shoulder to see if I was following him.
I went back to the house then, and it was when I was in my room that I heard the telephone bell and Mrs. Estabrook's soft voice talking very low. I crept out and hung over the stair rail trying to listen. Any one could tell in a second that the poor girl was in fright.
"Who was it?" she asked. "Did they learn anything from the boy? How long ago?"
There was a pause.
"Can't you see how terrible it would be if any one knew about her?" she said. "Do you believe she is being watched? You do! Detectives! I can't talk any more—good-bye!"
That was what she said and for a week afterward she was walking through the house, up and down each room, like a creature in a cage, listening for every sound and nursing her head with her hands as if she were afraid it would burst. She would sit down in a chair and then jump up again, as if the place she had chosen to rest was red-hot. Every moment she was with her husband she seemed to be holding herself in check, as if he might read some terrible thing in her eyes. Then, all of a sudden, she would get some message from outside and she would be peaceful again and sigh and fold her beautiful hands.
You can see well enough that I was ready for something queer. But when it came, it was so unaccountable that I could scarcely believe I wasn't living in a dream. It was late one afternoon when I came down from my room and found her talking through the crack of the front door to somebody outside in the vestibule. I could hear the whisper of voices and I thought the other person was a man. I can be sly when I want to, so I did not go forward at all, but crept back and along the upper hall to the window. After a minute or two I heard the door close and somebody going down the steps. I had raised the screen already so that I could lean out to see who it was.
For some reason I felt I should know the person. I had a horrid feeling that it was somebody I had seen before. The name of Monty Cranch was almost ready on my lips in spite of my old idea, which had never left me, that I had seen him—at least in this world—for the last time. Therefore it was almost a surprise to me to find that the man was as far different from her father as butter from barley. Whoever the man might be, he was tall and thin and had a white, disagreeable skin and a nervous way of looking to right and left, holding his chin in his hands. I never got a good look at his face. But once he turned up his head, perhaps to look at the house. He had gold teeth—a whole front row of them! This, perhaps, was the man the messenger boy had described—the man to whom Mrs. Estabrook was addressing secret communications. Certainly it was no one I had ever seen, and certainly, too, there was something in that fleeting glance at the lower part of his face which made me have no wish to see his ugly countenance again.
His visit, at any rate, set me to thinking more than ever, and that night as I walked about the dining-room, serving the courses in place of the maid who was away, I think I felt for the first time a doubt about my mistress. She had always seemed to me like a creature of heaven, and as I stood back of her chair, looking down upon those beautiful shoulders and white arms and head of soft and shining hair, it was hard to believe she was in some conspiracy of which she had kept her husband in ignorance with the slyness of a snake. I felt sorry for him. So at the moment of my first doubt of her, I found that pity—begging your pardon!—had at last made me ready to forget that I had never liked him or his cold ways, and ready to forgive the once he laid violent hands on me. My mistress had not chosen to tell me anything and had acted toward me as suspicious as if she had believed me capable of meaning evil to her. She had turned my questions aside and reminded me of my place. I suppose it was only human nature for me to lose sympathy with her and begin to have it with the man who sat across the table from her, all in the dark about the curious and perhaps terrible affairs that were hanging over his home and always kind and patient and, I may say,—begging your pardon!—innocent, too! It was during that meal that I made up my mind to tell him all I knew. It seemed to me the best and safest course; I would have taken it if he had stayed another day in the house.
His going was a mystery to me. I only knew that Mrs. Estabrook said that she had asked him to go and that he had gone. The front door had hardly closed behind him that morning before she unlocked her room and called to me to come to her. I shall never lose the picture of her face as I saw it then. She was sitting in that big wing-chair which is covered with the figured cretonne and her face was as white as a newly ironed napkin. It was so white that it did not seem real, but more like the face of some vision that comes and sits for a minute and fades away before a little draft of air. Her hands were on the chair arms just like the hands of those Egyptian kings, carved out of alabaster, that you see in museums. She might have been one of those queens of great empires in the old times. She might have heard the roar of battle and seen the retreat of her army from the windows of the palace and had plunged a thin little dagger into her breast so that she would not be captured alive. It cut me to the heart to see how beautiful she was—and how terrible!
"Margaret," she said to me, spacing off her words. "Margaret."
"Little girl!" I cried out, forgetting the passage of all the years. And I fell on my knees beside her.
"Sh! Sh!" she said. "I need your help. It is a desperate matter. You must be calm."
"And what shall I do?" I asked.
"This—as I tell you," she answered, her eyes fixed on mine. "Send every one else out of the house—only before they go, I want everything taken out of this room of mine—all the furniture, all the rugs, all the pictures. I want the blinds drawn everywhere, the doors bolted. For three weeks I want no person to come across the threshold. I want you to stay that long indoors—in this house. Mr. Estabrook will not come back during that time, and to all others I want you to say that he is away and that I am away, too,—or ill,—or anything that will seem best to you. I never want you to come near my locked door unless I call for you."
"But, Mrs. Estabrook!" I cried, my lips all of a tremble.
"Wait," she said. There was a look in her eyes that seemed to go into me like a knife. "Come to my door every morning. Bring a glass of milk. Knock. If I do not answer, have the door broken down! That is all; do you hear?"
"Mercy on us!" I cried. "Tell me what this means. Are you mad?"
She put her soft hand on my cheek for a second.
"No," said she, with a voice growing as hard as the rattling of wire nails. "Do as I say. Do it for the sake of the lives of all of us!"
I believed then that she was sane. There was something in her eyes, as I have said, that would have tamed a tiger. I got up. I did everything she had asked. The furnishings were all moved out of her room until it looked as bare as a place to rent in December. There was nothing on the floor but a mattress and a chair, which were left by her directions. I sent the servants away with instructions to come back after three weeks' time. At last, when all was done and I was alone, walking through the house like a sour-faced ghost, I climbed the stairs to her door. It was locked! I have not caught sight of her face since!
I cannot tell any one what I have been through in these days of waiting. I only know it has been like a terrible dream—like those dreams that make the perspiration come out on the forehead with the struggle to wake or cry out or toss the smothering thing from off a body's lungs and heart. And till now, in spite of all, I have been faithful enough to my trust.
I have turned away all the visitors that came. I have gone each morning to my mistress's door for orders that were spoken through the panels. I have walked up and down the silent rooms below, day after day, or sat in the library trying to read and listening to the tread of some one in that awful room above, with every hour dragging as if the hands of the clock on the mantel were slipping back almost as fast as they moved forward. Then the steps would stop and the clock would go on with its everlasting ticking. And if I listened hard, I could hear the big clock in the hall take up the tune like a duet. Then the one in the front room above would join in, then the one in the kitchen, until there was such a clamor of ticking that it would drive a body to distraction with a sound like a hundred typewriters all going at once.
I have heard voices, too. Voices seemed to be whispering in the hall as if some one were welcoming people at a funeral, voices seemed to be chatting in the basement, and again there would be a murmur like a rabble of voices all talking together in a room far away. Often it was more than a fancy, I can tell you. I heard real voices in the room of my mistress.
I began to have the idea that it was not my mistress's voice alone. There seemed to be another in argument with her. There seemed to be a strange voice speaking in an undertone—a voice I thought I never had heard before. I crept up along the hall and listened. Everything was still. But in spite of all, I began to feel that there was more than one person on the other side of those thick white panels. I knew it was folly to suppose such a thing, but I began to have the idea that another—a woman or a talkative child—was with her behind the locked door.
Once this impossible idea took hold of me, I did all I could to get a peep within the room. I had been bringing the meals, that were not enough to keep a kitten alive, to the crack she would open to take them in. Believe me, that the very first time I tried to poke my head around where I could see, that practice stopped, and my mistress, in a dull and heavy voice, told me to leave everything on the floor and go away. It seemed that she had grown suspicious. It seemed that she had something to conceal. I brooded over the strangeness of it all until I began to wonder how this other person, whatever or whoever it might be, had ever entered the house. I even began to wonder whether creatures could be drawn from the air and put into the form of flesh and blood.
Finally came my chance to look. Three days ago, at about eleven o'clock in the morning, I heard the lock of her door slide over and a moment later she called to me. It was long after I had done her errand and had gone away that I began to be haunted by the thought that there had been no sound of the lock turning again. I heard the voices. I thought of the possibility that I might now softly open the door.
"A look! A look!" I heard my own tongue saying, as I tiptoed up the stairs and as I twisted the door knob by little turns, each one no more than the width of a hair.
I had been right about the lock. I discovered it at last when the door yielded. I looked in through a narrow crack. On the far side of the bare, dim room was my mistress on her knees, her clasped hands resting on the floor in front of her. She had not heard me and she seemed to be writhing as if in pain. Her skin was as pale as death. The whole picture gave a body the feeling that she had been thrown forward by some strong hand. I felt sure at that moment that I had not been mistaken—that some other person was there. I almost believed I saw its shadow falling across the floor. But after I had looked from one end to the other of the chamber, I knew at last that no one else was there.
If I had dared to speak I would have done so, but I felt that a word would be like dynamite, and would tear the silent house into a pile of smoking bricks and plaster. I felt sure it would act like an earthquake, toppling the house over into the street. I felt that a word would be like the roaring voice of some strange god that would send everything off in thin vapor. I felt I must shut the door, and I went away remembering the words of my Julianna, "If I do not answer some morning when you knock, have the door broken in!" and my heart jumped again with new fear. It was the fear of some other person who seemed to be in the house, unseen and hidden from my eyes. For in spite of my peep into the room, I felt that it was still there.
And now you have heard all! I have told everything—all that I know—things that many a time I have sworn to myself to take through my lonesome life unspoken to the grave.
THE MAN WITH THE WHITE TEETH
BLADES OF GRASS
When Margaret Murchie, sitting in the interior of the limousine, with the arc light playing through the thousand raindrops on the window pane spotting a face lined with the strength of a stolid old maid, had finished her narrative, there was no sound but that of the storm mourning down the avenue. Estabrook sat with his forehead in his hands. I had had enough experience in my practice with those who are struggling to overcome a great shock, not to speak until some word from him had disclosed the effect that Margaret's story had produced. His face was hidden, but his fingers moved on his temples as if he were grinding some substance there into powder. When at last he raised his head, his expression astounded me. It had, I thought, softened rather than hardened. A little patient smile almost concealed the fear that looked out of his eyes.
"The daughter of a murderer?" he asked, touching my knee.
What could I say?
"She must be in some distress, Doctor?" he whispered.
It was then that the true Estabrook went tearing up through the crust of custom, manners, traditions, egotism, smugness, and self-love. From the depths of his personality, the man for whom I have since that moment had a deep regard, then called his soul and it came. He leaned forward and looked through the misty glass in the door, across the wind-swept street, at the dripping front of his home, at the dim light that burned there.
"God, sir!" he said, turning on me with his teeth set like those of a fighting animal. "What's all this to me? I love her! She's mine! She's the most beautiful—the best woman in all the world!"
Margaret Murchie shivered.
After a moment Estabrook's hands were both clutching my sleeve.
"You'll stand by now?" he said, looking up into my face. "I can't ask any one else. You can see that. You'll help? What shall we do?"
"Depend on me," I answered him. "We must be careful. Wait! Just let me review these facts. The first move must be for us to send Margaret back into the house. Do you suppose your wife knows she is out of it?"
"I don't believe so," said he. "I watched the window all the time we were taking Margaret into this limousine. The curtains never moved."
"Good!" I cried. "Now, Miss Murchie, listen to what I say. How often does your mistress call you during the day?"
"Every three or four hours, I think, sir."
"Very well. Take this umbrella and go back. Use Mr. Estabrook's key. Enter as quietly as possible. Say nothing to any one. If your mistress should allow more than five hours to go by without calling you, go to her door and knock. If there is no answer, telephone my office. You mustn't allow a second of delay. It will mean danger."
Estabrook listened to these instructions with staring eyes.
"You know something!" he cried. "Tell me!"
I shook my head, opened the door, and the old servant, getting out, went waddling off across the street, her dress flapping in the wet wind.
"Come, Mr. Chauffeur!" I said to him. "You are to spend the night with me. To-morrow—"
"Exactly," said I brusquely.
"And what then?"
"To-morrow I shall search for truth lying hidden among blades of grass!" said I. "In the mean time all the sleep I can pile into you may count more than you know!"
I had spoken with a note of authority because each moment I feared that he would become stubborn. I feared that, taking offense at my theories, he would reject my services and plunge into some folly at the moment when a most delicate balance between good and evil, life and death, safety and danger, might be overthrown on the side of terrible calamity. I was thankful when he once more showed himself tractable by climbing on the driver's seat and turning our course homeward. It was the small hours of morning that found me under the lamp in my study, giving the distracted young man a narcotic. When his head was nodding, he struggled once to open his eyes.
"I don't understand—anything—blades of grass—or anything," he asserted sleepily, as I closed his door.
Exhaustion had brought its childlike petulance, but I knew that drowsiness would do its work, and that he was now safely stowed away for at least ten hours. He would not interfere with my plans before noon.
For a few moments that night I sat on the edge of my own bed.
"What if I am right?" I whispered to myself. "What a drama! What a peep into the unexplored corners of our souls!"
I went to the window. An early milk cart clattered along the thoroughfare with a figure nodding on its seat. When the mud-spattered white horse had reached a circle of light shed from the lamp on the street corner, the figure arose and, looking up at the stars in the rifts of the sky, pulled off and folded a rubber coat. The storm had blown away.
"He does a simple little act," I said to myself as I watched the figure seat itself again. "His thoughts may be as simple. But the consequences of either! Who can say? Life itself is all on one side of a blue wall!"
* * * * *
Physicians, however, make good detectives. I mention this not to point out my own case particularly, but merely to call your attention to the fact that a good surgeon or practitioner has a training in those qualities of mind which produce a great solver of mysteries. A good physician must develop the powers of observation. In any physical disorder, knowing the cause, he must forecast the effect, or with the evidences of some effect before him, he must deduce the cause. Above all he must keep his mind from jumping at false conclusions, even though these conclusions are in line with all his former experiences. Physicians learn these principles by their mistakes in following clues. A good diagnostician has in him the material for an immortal police inspector. I speak modestly, and yet I must say that the next morning proved that I was not mistaken in these theories.
Before nine o'clock I had arrived at the Marburys'. The banker himself opened the door.
"Doctor!" he cried, his face drawn out of its mask of eternal shrewdness and suspicion by a beaming smile, "what can I say? How can we ever show our gratitude?"
"Not so fast!" I reproved him. "There is danger in too much optimism. The disease is treacherous."
"But Miss Peters, the nurse—she sees it, too! There can be no doubt. Our little Virginia is saved! You have done it!"
I shook my head.
"Not you? Who, then?"
"Marbury," said I, "I am just beginning to learn that there are other contagions than those of the body. Can we be sure, my good sir, that fear is not a disease? Do we know that love is not an infection? Can the criminal's gloves, saturated with his personality, be safe for the hands of an honest man? Don't we weaken by rubbing elbows with the weak? Are there not contagious germs of thought?"
He raised his eyebrows. Finance he knew well. Otherwise he was a stupid man.
"I do not believe I follow you," he said nervously. "I was speaking of Virginia. She is so much better!"
I bowed to him politely, and, instead of entering the open door, descended the steps.
"You're not coming in?" he exclaimed.
"Not yet," said I. "To tell you the truth, I am looking in that grass plot next door for something dropped there. I see that no one has disturbed the grass. It has not even been cut. Hello! What's this?"
I had reached down, picked up a metal cylinder and showed it to him.
"It looks like a rifle cartridge—one of those murderous steel-nosed bullet affairs," said he.
"Something even more dangerous!" said I, thrusting it into my pocket. "Much more dangerous! Possibly you will believe that I am ungracious—rather odd as it were—not to mention its name."
He shook his head. The mask of the polite student of percents had returned; he became formally polite.
"Not at all," he answered, adjusting his black tie. "I had rather hoped you would stay to see my daughter."
"Another crisis prevents," I said, bowing at the door of my car. But the banker had turned his back.
"Where now, sir?" asked my chauffeur.
"The old Museum of Natural History."
"All cobblestones in those streets, sir," he said as we leaped forward again.
This was true. We fairly jounced our way to the old brownstone structure, which sat with such pathetic dignity on the square of discouraged grass, frowning at the surrounding tenements. The sign advertising the waxworks and "Collection of Criminology" still hung at the door of the lower floor.
"Tell me," said I to the freckled girl who sold admissions, "is the Man with the Rolling Eye still here?"
She put down her embroidery and removed a long end of red silk thread which she had been carrying on the tip of her tongue.
"I should certainly say not!" she answered. "He's all wore out. They couldn't repair him any more."
"The machine or the man?"
"Both," said she. "But they weren't much of an attraction. Of course there wasn't supposed to be any man—only the machine—the automaticon they called it. But it didn't make enough money the last year or two to pay the repairs. The old man that run it was a swell chessplayer. The old man got sick and the machine got broken. Both were about at the end of the rope. So he went away three weeks ago and the machine is stored in the cellar now."
"Where did you say the old man lived?" I asked.
"I didn't say. But I'll write it down for you. It's a scene-painting loft over by the river."
She scribbled on a slip of paper, "J. Lecompte, 5 East India Place."
"Thank you," I said.
"Um-m. You can't fool me," said she. "You're in the show business!"
This was a thrust of her curiosity, but I merely bowed and left her.
"Go home as quickly as you can," I whispered to the chauffeur. "Give Mr. Estabrook, my guest, this slip of paper. Tell him to lose no time. Tell him to bring the revolver he will find in the top drawer of my desk! Don't wait for me. I'll walk."
The man gazed at me stupidly a moment before he started the machine.
"He believes I am crazy," I said to myself as I saw him turn the corner. "Whether or not he is right, the interview will be at least interesting."
You will agree with me that these words forecasted accurately.
IN THE PAINTED GARDEN
East India Place is not a well-known thoroughfare. In fact, it is a court, hidden between truck stables and concealed also by the boxes and bales of commission merchants. Even on a sunshiny day the dank bottom of this court is dark and smells as if it were under rather than on the earth. A warehouse occupies one side, the other presents several doorways, which might once have been the entrances to sailors' lodgings, but which now are plastered with the rude signs of junk dealers. The numbers on these houses were all even—2-4-8-10—which left me the conclusion that Number 5 must be the warehouse and that the scene-painting loft must be on the top floor of the grimy building. Indeed, I could see that a skylight had been superimposed on the roof and my eye caught the sign at the entrance, "The Mohave Scenic Studios." I began the ascent of boxed wooden stairways, musty with the odors of ships' cargoes. At the top a sign confronted me, "No Admittance Except on Business. This means You"; but beneath it in red, white, and blue paint, was the message, "Used for Storage. New Studio at 43 Barkiston Avenue."
I knocked. There was no answer. I tried the stump of a knob; the door yielded. I found myself in a large room with rolls and rolls of canvas in piles and huge scenic back drops pendant from the high ceiling. A skylight above, with rotting curtains drawn across the square panes, threw a strange green glare over everything. A peculiar aromatic odor, such as is sometimes wafted over the footlights into the audience, gave the deserted place a theatrical flavor which was heightened by the presence of gilded papier-mache statuettes and a huge representation of the god Buddha leaning against the bare brick wall. A spider had spun a web above one of this god's bare shoulders; it glinted in a chance ray of direct sunlight which had entered through a tear in the curtain overhead. Above me a staging held a kitchen chair, some fire pails, and several pots whose sides were smirched with the colors they contained. The only sign of human life was the faint warm odor of pipe smoke. Knowing, then, that some one beside myself was in the loft, I proceeded gingerly between two vast canvases which hung side by side, preparing myself on my soft-footed way down this aisle to see the man I sought as I emerged from the other end. I imagined I heard a nervous, suppressed cough, indicating that the other already knew of my invasion of his strange abode.
This was not the fact. For a moment, looking from the opening, I had ample opportunity, without being seen, to observe all that spread itself before me. A painted drop hung against the wall, upon which, in delicate colors of Italian blue and rich green, was stretched a vast, imposing, and beautiful view of the Gardens of Versailles, with a wealth of flowers in full bloom extending along the velvet greensward into the depth of the landscape, where, white and regal, walls and pillars rose toward the clear sky of spring. A modern grotesque had invaded this regal scene and forbidden ground, and had placed his cot, disordered with newspapers and ragged red blankets, so boldly in the foreground that at first sight the impropriety of his presence was shocking. I could see that the man sat upon his cot cross-legged; his back, pitifully thin under a spare white shirt, was turned toward me. With one sinewy, aged hand he fondled the wisps of faded hair upon his head; with the other he moved small objects over a flat board. He was a lonely monarch upon a throne of squalor; he was playing a solitary game of chess!
"The Sheik of Baalbec!" I whispered to myself.
The creature stopped, looked up at the skylight and its green curtains and drew a miserable sigh from the depths of his lungs. It was such a sigh that I could not restrain a shudder.
"Julianna," said I.
He drew his head down between his shoulders like a frightened turtle and held himself stiffly as one who has been doused with a pail of ice water. For several moments he did not move; when at last he turned around, his expression was patient rather than vicious, sad rather than terror-stricken.
"What do you want?" he said, and held his mouth open so that he, too, seemed like an automaton, the springs of which had failed.
The pause gave me the opportunity to observe that he was not the man with the gold fillings. Indeed, the only part of him which seemed well preserved—which, as it were, he had saved from the wreck—was a row of white, even teeth!
"What do you want?" he repeated. "I have never seen you before. I know no reason for your speaking a word to me."
"Your daughter—" I began.
"I have no daughter," he cried, his eyes blazing with sudden passion. "Who are you? I tell you that you are talking nonsense. I have no daughter!"
"Fine words," I said threateningly; "fine words. But this is no time for them. She is in vital danger—"
"Danger!" he screamed, clawing at the red blankets. "My God! Has it come? What form? Quick, I say! What form?"
"It is because you can shed light upon it that I have come," said I. "We know little. She has sent her husband away—"
"Damn him!" he choked.
"She has locked herself in her room. She has been so for three weeks. The maid—"
"Margaret Murchie," he whispered. "She believes that I am dead?"
"I know nothing," he said. "The girl is not of me or mine."
"Come, come," said I. "It is time for disclosure."
He arose, searched under the corner of the mattress a moment, and then, with a quick, panther-like movement, sprang upon the bed again, holding a revolver in his two claws.
"I have no idea of what you mean," he cried. "I will not be questioned. If I shoot, it is self-defense. You understand that. Nor will any one be the wiser. She is not my daughter. I know nothing of her."
"You know everything," I cried, as anger made me reckless. "It will not pay you to flourish that weapon. Listen!"
"Some one else coming!" he whispered.
"Yes," I shouted. "You have seen him before. It is young Estabrook."
The wizened creature immediately hid the revolver under the folds of the blanket and began to play nervously with the chessmen. Both of us waited, listening to the approach of the footsteps which came so cautiously behind the pendant canvas.
To see at last that I was right, that the newcomer was Estabrook, was a relief.
"Well," said the young man, appearing suddenly around the corner. "I came. I thought I heard your voice, Doctor. You were talking?"
The worn, colorless face of the other man gazed up at us pathetically; his body had relaxed into the hollows of his disordered cot. Against the scene of regal gardens which was luminous as if the painted sky itself bathed all in the soft light of a spring evening, the man and his face were ridiculous and incongruous. His presence in that half-real setting seemed a satire upon the beauties achieved by man and God.
"Who?" asked Estabrook involuntarily.
"The Sheik of Baalbec," I said.
The man looked up at me again.
"Mortimer Cranch," said I.
He fell forward on his face. It was several moments before any of us moved. Cranch spoke first. He had arisen, and now stood with his sad eyes fixed upon Estabrook, and I noticed for the first time that his mouth and lips showed suffering and, perhaps, strength.
"It is this, above all things, I hoped would never come," said he. "You have resurrected me from the dead. I was buried. You have dug me up. Whatever good you may get from this strange meeting, make the most of it. If it will help to guard against the danger spoken of by this man you address as Doctor, I will be satisfied."
"You dog!" cried Estabrook, hot with emotions of violence. "It is you who were responsible for the death of Judge Colfax."
The other held out his knotted hands toward me.
"The whole story!" he cried. "Not a part. You must know the whole story."
"Briefly," I commanded.
He nodded, and began to pace the foreground of the Gardens of Versailles, back and forth like a tethered beast in a park. His voice was dispassionate. The narrative proceeded in a monotone. But if fiends could conceive a tale more dark, they would whisper it among themselves.
For this, told in the somewhat quaint narrative of a former generation, was his story.
A PUPPET OF THE PASSIONS
THE VANISHED DREAM
There is only one person now in this world who could have told you my name. I have been sure that she has long believed me to be dead. That person is Margaret Murchie, and it is only too plain that she has told you all that she knows of me. Parts of my life she does not know. My testimony as to these is now given against my prayers, for I have prayed that I never would have to uncover my heart to any living man.
My first two recollections are of my birthplace and of my mother. A lifetime has passed, yet I remember both as plainly as if they were before me now. I was heir to a fine old colonial estate which, because of diminishing fortunes and increasing troubles extending over two generations, had been allowed to run down. My great-great-grandfather, whose portrait hung in the old parlor between two mirrors that extended solemnly from floor to ceiling, had been a sea-captain and shipowner, and, it is said, a privateer as well. Whatever strange doings he had seen, one thing is certain; he returned after one mysterious voyage with great wealth, a sword-wound through his middle, ruined health, and a desire for respectability, social position, and a reputation for piety. It had been he who had built the immense house which, in my childhood, was shaded by huge gnarled trees, under which crops of beautiful but poisonous toadstools were almost eternally sprouting.
If the great house was like a tomb, my mother was like a flower in it. I recall the sweetness of her timid personality, the half-frightened eyes which looked at me sometimes from the peculiar solitude of her mind, and the faint perfume of her dress when, as a child, I would rest my head in her lap and beg her to tell me of my father's brave and good life.
If I grew up somewhat headstrong and self-confident, it was in part due to a faith in my inheritance. The delicate and refined lips of my mother, upon which prayers were followed by lies and lies by prayers, taught me an almost indescribable belief in my own strength. The fruit forbidden by moral law to the ordinary man seemed to belong of right to me. No sensation, no indulgence, no excess seemed to threaten me. I knew my mother's philosophy of pleasure was different from mine, and, reaching an early maturity, I concealed from her the experiments I made in tasting daintily and rather proudly of life's pleasures. Before my boyhood had gone, my natural cleverness and my selection of friends had introduced me to many follies, each of which I regarded as a taste of life which in no way meant a weakness. Weakness I was sure was not the legacy of character which I possessed, and I failed to notice that I no longer sipped of the various poisons which the world may offer, but feverishly drank long drafts.
The awakening came in extraordinary form. I had not had my eighteenth birthday when, upon a beautiful moonlit night in spring, a man and a woman, more sober and much older than I, drove me out to my gate, begged me to say less of the nobility of the horse which they had whipped into a froth of perspiration, and left me to make my way alone along the long path of huge flagstones to the house.
A light burned in the hall. I stood there looking for a long time in the mirror of the old mahogany hatrack, with a growing conviction that my reflected image looked extraordinarily like some one I had seen before. I finally recognized myself as being an exact counterpart of my great-great-grandfather's portrait. This did not shock me, though the idea was a new one. I remember I laughed and brushed some white powder from my sleeve. The powder did not come off readily; it was with some thought of finding a brush that I gave my serious attention to the handles of one of the little drawers. My awkward movement resulted in pulling it completely out. Chance brought to light at that moment an object long hidden behind the drawer itself. The thing fell to the floor; I stooped dizzily to pick it up. It was an old glove!
It was an old glove, musty with age and yet still filled with the individuality of the man who had worn it and still creased in the distinctive lines of his hand. As I held it, I imagined that it was still warm from the contact of living flesh, that it still carried faint whiffs of its owner's personality as if he had a moment before drawn it from his fingers. What maudlin folly seized me, I cannot say. I remember that I exclaimed to myself affectionately, as one might who, like Narcissus, worshiped his own image in a pool. I pressed the glove to my face, delighting in its imagined likeness to myself. I gave it, in my intoxicated fancy, the attributes of a living being. To me it seemed alive with vital warmth. It had long lain a corpse. My touch had thrilled it as its contact now thrilled me.
With it, pressing it against my cheek, I turned toward the portiere of the library, and as chance would have it, making a misstep when my head was swimming, I went plunging forward into the folds of this curtain. Because of this I found myself sitting flat upon the hardwood floor, gibbering like an idiot at the dim light which showed the bookcases which extended around the room from floor to ceiling.
At last, out of the haze of my befuddled mind, I saw my mother. She did not speak; she did not cry. She had come down the stairs, and now her face shone out of the clouds of other objects, quiet, set, as immovable and as white as a death mask. She came near me and, taking the glove from my hand, examined it in the manner of a prospective purchaser.
The next morning, in the midst of a horror of brilliant sunlight, she told me the truth about my father. He had not been brave. He had not been good.
"The glove was his," she said in her dead, cold voice. "Are you not afraid?"
"Of what?" I asked.
"Of yourself," she whispered.
"Yes," said I. "Mortally!"
I had believed in my strength. Now a few hours had taught me the terrors of self-fear. The ghastly story of inheritance of wild passions from grandfather to grandfather, from father to son, pressed on my brain like a leaden disk thrust into my skull. I had first learned the joy of experiment with my strength; I was now to learn the pains of the ghosts which always seemed to be mocking the assertions of my will. A line of them, fathers and sons, pointed fingers at me and laughed. "You are doomed," said they in matter-of-fact voices. I spent my days between determination to indulge myself, for the very purpose of testing my power in self-control, and the sickening relaxation of moral force that occurs from the mere deprivation of all hope of victory in the battle. The excuses of intemperance were never so clever as those I devised for my own satisfaction; the bald truth, that I had taught my body enjoyments which would never be shaken off before old age or infirmity had placed them out of my reach, was never better known than to me.
Fortunately my mother died before the outbreak of my barbarous nature had broken down the pride which caused me to conceal my true self from the daylit world. I sold the home and cursed its dank old trees and toadstools and silent, gloomy chambers the day I signed the deed. I went to city after city, leaving each as it threatened me with ennui or with retribution. Money went scattering hither and thither, spent madly, given, stolen, borrowed, with no regret but that the piper might some day, when the pay was no longer forthcoming, refuse to play.
Perhaps all would have been different had I not been pursued by a fiendish fortune at games of chance. As if Fate meant that my ruin should be complete, she saw to it that I was provided with funds for the journey. I have seen my last penny hang on the turn of a card, and come screaming back to me with a small fortune in its wake. Everywhere, misconstruing the results, men whispered of my luck. It was only once that the truth was told: at Monte Carlo a pair of red-painted, consumptive lips pouted at me with terrible coquetry over the table. "Pah!" said they. "The Devil takes us all on application. It is only very few he chooses! Monsieur has won again!"
She was right, but there is an end to all things and the end of all my ruinous luck came at Venice. It came with Margaret Murchie; it came, I believe, at the very instant that I saw her sitting in a cafe there—saw her sitting alone, golden from head to foot, golden of hair, golden of skin, golden rays shining from her eyes, showers of gold in the motions of her body—a living creature of gold, shining as a great mass of it, warm and bright and untarnished as a coin fresh from the pressure of the dies. I took her with me to Tuscany—stole her from an old vixen of a fortune-teller. Ah, I see she did not tell you all!—Never mind. There was no disgrace for her—she might well have told everything! She needed no blush for the story. It was the only pretty thing in my life.
The trees of that country grow at the edges of green meadows, tall and stately as the trees of Lorrain's brush. Sheep, with soft-sounding bells, feed along the rich rolls of the land. Birds sing in the thicket at daybreak. The hills are alive with springs of matchless clearness. Butterflies hover over hedges and dart into half-concealed gardens.
For a month we played there like children. Her ignorance was charming. Her mind was like a fresh canvas; I could paint whatever I chose upon it, and loving her, I painted none but beautiful pictures, pictures of the divine things that were still left in the violated mortal sanctuary of the soul of Mortimer Cranch.
What did I accomplish by spreading all the fruits of my education and my familiarity with refinement before her? What did I accomplish by my mastery of mind? I accomplished my undoing! You need not ask how. I will tell you. I made this healthy, glowing Irish lass believe in the beauty of character which I insisted she possessed. I made her believe that she was a noble creature and that she was capable of fine womanly unselfishness. It was like the influence of the hypnotist. My own fanciful conception of her, at first described merely to awake in her the pleasures of admiration, became, when repeated, convincing to myself. I began to feel sure that she had the rare qualities which I had ascribed to her. I found myself desperately in love with her—not only intoxicated by the beauty of her body and the sound of her laugh, but by real or imagined beauty of character as well. This acted upon her powerfully. She, too, began to believe. Her capacity for goodness expanded. A sadness came over her.
"Why are you so thoughtful?" I said to her one midday as we sat together on a ledge overlooking the peaceful valley.
"Don't ask," she said bitterly, looking at the ground.
Curiosity then drove me mad. For two days I persecuted her with cruel questions. I believed that some regret for a secret in her past was troubling her. At last she told me. I believe she told me truly. She said that she knew that a girl without education and refinement could have no hope of being taken through life by me. She spoke simply of the unhappiness it would bring me if I were tied to her.
"Tell me that you love me!" I cried.
She shook her head.
"I am not your equal," she said. "You have been the one who has made me good, if I am good at all. Didn't you say that I would be capable of any sacrifice for love?"
"Why, yes," I said.
"Hush," she whispered and laid her hand on mine.
The next day she had disappeared. No one knew when or how or where she had gone. She had vanished. She left no word. Her room was empty. And there on the tiled floor, in the sunlight, was the rosette from a woman's slipper. It spoke of haste, of farewell; it was enough to convince me that Margaret was not a creature of my imagination. But the little tawdry decoration, and the faint aroma of her individual fragrance which still clung to it, was all that was left of her and my selfish dreams.
I traveled all the capitals in search of her or of Mrs. Welstoke, to no purpose. My resources dwindled. The wheel and the cards mocked my attempts to repair my state. Fortune had dangled salvation in front of me, had snatched it away, and now laughed at my attempts to put myself in funds. I was shut off from a search for my happiness. When I had played to gain money for my damnation, as if with the assistance of the Evil One, I had won; now that I sought regeneration, a malicious fiend conducted the game and ruined me.
I remember of thinking how I had begun life with full assurance of my power over all the world and, above all, over myself. I was sitting on a chair on the pavement in front of a miserable little cafe at Brest, looking down at my worn-out shoes.
"Well," said I, aloud, "some absinthe—a day of forgetfulness—and then—I will begin life anew."
It was the same old tricky promise—the present lying to the future and making everything seem right.
I clapped my hands. A slovenly girl served me, standing with her fat red hands pressed on her hips as I gazed down into the glass.
"Drink," said she. She was a cockney, after all.
"Must I?" I asked.
She nodded solemnly. And so I drank.
Eight days later I was taken on board a sailing-vessel, and when we were out at sea and my nerves had steadied, I was forced by a villainous captain to the work of a common sailor. From that experience as a laborer I never recovered. My mind learned the comfort of association with other minds which conceived only the most elementary thoughts. The savage vulgarity of stevedores, strike-breakers, ships' waiters, circus crews, and soldiers had a charm to me of which I had never before dreamed. I entered the brotherhood of those at life's bottom and found that again I was looked upon as a man superior to my associates and perhaps more fortunate. Even though I exhibited a brutality equal to any, I was regarded as a person of undoubted cleverness. If the great or showy classes of mankind would no longer flatter my vanity, the vicious and uncivilized classes would still perform that office. Fate threw me among them, so that nothing should be left undone to cajole me toward the last point of degradation.
I kept no track of those years, nor understood why Mary Vance ever married me, nor why she was willing to be so patient, so loyal, so tender, and so kind. I had come from above and was going down. She had come from the dregs; she was going up. We met on the way. I married her, not because I loved her, but because she loved me and I could not understand it. She was a lonely, tired little gutter-snipe, who had gone on the stage, had had no success whatever, and whose pale red hair was always stringing down around her neck and eyes; but even then I could not see why she picked me out for her devotion. She was like a dog in her faithfulness. I can see her now as she was one night, snarling and showing her teeth, keeping the police from taking me to a patrol box. I can see her cooking steak over a gas jet. She thought my name was John Chalmers. I learned to love her at last. I learned to love her, and because of it I learned to hate myself. She deserved so much and had so little from me beside my temper, my wildness, and abuse.
When we were at our wits' end for pennies to buy food, the little girl came. The only thing we had not pawned was a gold locket that had never been off her neck because it was wished on by her mother and had always kept her from harm, as she said. She took it off and put it on the baby's neck and tears came to my eyes—the first in thirty-five years.
"We will call her Mary," I said, choking with happiness.
Four hours later I was on a wharf, crawling around on my hands and knees in the madness of alcohol, with a New York policeman and a gang of longshoremen roaring with laughter at my predicament. It was on that occasion that, as my brain cleared, I saw what I had done. I had sworn a thousand times never to do it. And now it had come about. I had become responsible for another living human thing with the blood of my veins coursing in its own! I had committed the crime of all crimes!
To describe the horror of this thought is impossible. It never left me. I began to devise a means to undo this dreadful work of mine. I prayed for days—savagely and breaking out into curses—that the little laughing, mocking thing should die.
"She has your eyes," said Mary, looking up at me with a smile on her gaunt, starved face.
I rushed from the dirty lodgings like a man with a fiend in pursuit; the words followed me. I roared out in my pain.
"I will do it!" I said over and over again. "I will kill the child. I will kill it."
I believed I was right. I believed the best of me and not the worst of me had spoken. I believed I must atone for my crime by another. I believed I should begin to prepare the way.
"Suppose she should die," I said to my wife.
"Then grief would kill me, too," she said.
I could not stand the look on her face.
"This is the only happiness I ever had," she said, pressing the little body close to her.
I believed then that I could never do what I had planned. I knew I could never take Mary's happiness away. I felt myself caught like a rat in a trap. The blood of my fathers was going on in a new house of flesh and bone! I had done the great crime! And there was no help for it!
We move, however, like puppets of the show. Just see!
Within a month the doctor at the clinic had said that my wife was incurable with consumption.
"The worst trouble with it all," said he, "is that she will suffer without hope and for no purpose."
"Death would be good luck?" said I.
"The kindest thing of all," he answered, killing a fly on the window ledge, as if to demonstrate it.
I was trembling all over with wild nerves, a wild brain-madness. I shut my eyes craftily as I went down the steps.
"She may go first," I whispered to myself. "I will kill her in the name of God. And then the other and the Devil is cheated!"
Was I a madman? I cannot say! I had sense enough to prepare myself by days of drinking, during which I deliberately and cruelly beat whatever tenderness remained in me into insensibility. I suffered no doubts, however, for I was sure that I had planned a crime which, unlike all my others, was founded on unselfishness. I believed I had dedicated myself at last to a supreme test of goodness and love.
The question of what would become of me after I had done this terrible thing never entered my mind. My desire was to place Mary where she need suffer no more, where she would be free from hardships and labors, from lingering disease and slow death, and from my ungoverned brutalities. Above all, however, I wanted to accomplish the second murder—made possible to me by the first. A monomania possessed me. I wanted to put an end forever to my strain of blood before it was too late—before it had escaped me through the body of my little daughter.
My zeal, I suppose, was like that of a religious fanatic; but it did not blind me to the horror of my undertaking. I cried out aloud at the picture of the sad, reproachful eyes of my poor wife, fixed upon me as they might be when the film of death passed over them. I knew that I must do the thing in a way which would prevent her sensing my purpose, even in the last flicker of time in which her understanding remained.
I can't go on!... Wait!...
Well, it was over. I fled. Dripping, I rushed from the river bank. I had planned to go back after the baby. I forgot it entirely. The meadows became alive with shapes and faces. I swear to you that I believed a terrible green glow hung over the hole in the black water behind me. I thought this water had opened to receive her. I had not seen it close again. There was a hole there! She lay in the bottom of it, screaming terrible screams. The grass of the slope was filled with creatures who had seen all. The moon rose up the sky with astounding rapidity. Its rays dropped like showers of arrows. Every sparkling drop of dew became an eye that watched me as I fled. I sought dark shadows; the moon snatched them away from me. I ran over the soft carpet of new vegetation; it seemed to echo with the sounds of a man in wooden shoes, fleeing over a tiled floor. I fell over in a faint. I regained consciousness with indescribable agonies.
Then and then only did I remember the flask in my pocket. I drank. The stimulant, contrary to my expectation, flew into my brain like fire. I was crazy for more of this relief. I had believed it would sharpen my wits for further action; I found it made me disregard the existence of a world. And instead of suffering fear or regret, I was mad with joy. I drained the flask, hummed a tune, grew foolish in my mutterings to my own ears, and at last, glad of the warmth of the spring night, welcomed sleep as a luxury never before enjoyed by mortal man in all of history.
It is unnecessary to tell you of my awakening. Though no one was about, the air seemed to ring with the news of a floating body. I had slept, but that wonderful sleep had robbed me of all possibility of defending myself. Believing this, I tried to escape the town. The sun was worse than the moon. It poked fun at me. From the moment I awoke to look into the face of this mocking sun, I knew that my capture could not be prevented. The very fact that I myself believed so thoroughly that I could not escape, determined the outcome. To feel the hand of the law on my shoulder was a blessed relief. It seemed to save me so much useless thought and unavailing effort. It was as welcome as death must be to a pain-racked incurable. This touch of the hand of the law is a blessed thing; it is as comforting as the touch of a mother's hand. So lovely did it seem that it put me into a mind when, for a little kindly encouragement, I would have said, "You have opened your doors to welcome me in. God bless you for your insight. I am the man!"
I do not know why I shook my head at my accusers with stupid complacency. My denial of guilt seemed to me a trivial lie. I had become a man of wood. I went through my trial like a carven image. I seemed to myself to be a puppet, a jointed figure, a manikin. In a dull, insensate way I had learned to hate the Judge as a superior being who showed loathing for me on his face. The jury foreman and all the rest there in the court-room day after day were as little to me as a lot of mountebanks on a stage. Yet it was the foreman, with his red, bursting face and thin, yellow hair and fat hand stuck in his trousers' pocket, who awakened me from this strange and comfortable coma of the trial. "Because of reasonable doubt," he said, with his unconscious humor, "we find the prisoner"—here he paused and shifted his feet like a schoolboy who has forgotten his piece—"we find him not guilty."
Not guilty! I was free! It crashed in upon my senses. Suddenly there came back to me the existence of my little daughter—the existence of my blood—the fact that I had pledged myself to another crime in the name of humanity—that its execution awaited me. Damn them! They had gone wrong. They had thrown me back on the world. They had denied me the comfort of the law—that thing which had touched me on the throat with its firm hands and had promised me oblivion. They had left me staring at the terrible mind-picture of a little child asleep in its crib with the thing that was me lurking in its heart, in its lungs, in the cells of its brain.
"I did it," I whispered to my lawyer.
"You spoke too late," he said, gathering up his papers. "You have been tried. And for that crime you can never be tried again! Come with me. I have a carriage outside. Where are you going?"
"For alcohol!" I said, gritting my teeth.
"That is a matter of indifference to me," he replied, sniffing with a miserable form of contempt. "Our relationship is over anyhow!"
His eyes were upon me with the same expression as the others. They looked at me everywhere. Youthful eyes ran along beside the carriage; a hundred pairs watched me after I had alighted and the vehicle had gone. The darkness came on as a kind thing which threw a merciful blanket over me. I thanked the night. I was grateful for the world's vicious classes, so used to violence that they did not stare at me. I thanked the good old rough crowd, the fist-pounding, the hard-talking, hoarse-voiced loafers whose leers showed envy of my notoriety. And all the time I thought of my child, of the blood of my fathers which, against all my vows, had escaped again, and with the stimulant whirling in my head, I determined to go back to the other end of town, to the house where I knew this menace to the world lay smiling in its crib.
Yet when I had carried out all but the last chapter of my plans, when I, like a thief, had slipped off into the night with my little daughter in my arms, I found that I held her tight against my aching heart. At last I knew fear—no longer the fear that I would not carry out my aim, but fear that I would.
Again, out of the grass and down from the apple trees, drops of dew glinted through the darkness like a thousand human eyes. Then suddenly they all vanished, and as I walked along in the shadows I believed that some one trod behind. I heard soft footsteps in the grass. I thought I felt human breath upon my neck. Some one came behind me and yet I did not dare to look, for I knew if I turned I would see the pale, thin face of Mary, with her wistful eyes.
She was there—
I say, visible or not, she was there. I knew then, as if I had heard her command, that I must go up the slope to the Judge's house and knock upon the door. As I walked, she walked with me, watching me as I held the sleeping baby in my arms, fearing perhaps that in my drunken course I would fall.
And then—after I had been knocked senseless by the reporter's fist and at last regained consciousness—then, after all the years, at that terrible moment, a self-confessed murderer, a half-witted, half-sodden, disheveled, driven, half-wild creature, what prank did Fate play? Who stood there, gazing at me with full recognition in her eyes and begging for my life? You know the story already. It was Margaret, the woman of a thousand dreams,—the woman I had lost.
You know, too, of that night. But this you do not know—that a mile out of the village I sat on a boulder in a hillside pasture and watched the flames of a terrible fire, without any knowledge of what house was burning, and that it was not until a man came along the road long after daybreak, with a shovel over his shoulder, that I had the energy to stir.
He saw me as I got up; he waved his hand.
"Bad fire," he shouted, not recognizing me.
"Whose house?" I asked.
My heart came gurgling up into my throat.
"Anybody lost in it?" I asked, trembling.
"No," said he. "Everybody got out. The servant got out and the Judge saved his baby and there wasn't anybody else in it. Those three. That was all."
His words stunned me at first. I said them over and over after he had gone, because I could not seem to believe their meaning. Those three! That was all! What I could not do by my will, another Will had done. The Great Hand had swept away my fears! Above my grief I felt the presence of one marvelous fact. The inheritance I had allowed to escape me had been ended again! Once more my body was the only body in all the world containing the terrible ingredients of my strain of blood. I raised my face toward the blue of heaven and gave vent to a long cry of triumphant, hysterical, passionate exultation.
I became possessed of the desire to make sure, to ask again, to hear once more the phrase, "Those three. That was all," and then turn my back on the town forever. With this idea I walked swiftly into the village, choosing a back street until I had reached a point opposite the smoking ruins of the Judge's house. The crowd was still buzzing back and forth along the fence and gathered about the old-fashioned fire engine that was still spitting sparks and pumping water. I slipped into the back yard of the house just across the street, half afraid to show myself, half mad to ask some one the question I had asked the man with the shovel.
Then, suddenly, as I stood hesitating, I heard Margaret Murchie's voice in the window above me—I recognized it instantly.
"There is some one at the door, Judge. The secret is safe with me," she whispered.
At the same moment something fell at my feet. It was the tiny locket my child had worn on its little neck from the day the mother had fastened it there. What secret had Margaret meant? The locket was the answer! I had been a plaything of some unknown, malicious fiend again. The rescued baby was not the Judge's baby. That was the secret! The child I heard crying there was mine!
I felt like a creature in a haunted place, pursued by devils, mocked by strange voices in the air, deceived by the senses, tricked by unrealities, persecuted by memories, the victim of fear, falsities, and impotent rage. I rushed away from the spot, walked many miles, and at last, coming to the railroad again, I took a train and for weeks, without money, rode westward on freight trains. I dropped out of sight. I lost my name. I even lost much of my flesh. I was as thoroughly dead as a living man could be. The world had buried me.
Almost immediately the body and its organs, which had borne up with such infernal endurance for the express purpose of making the ruin of my soul complete, gave way. Suddenly my stomach, as if possessing a malicious intelligence of its own, refused the stimulant with which I had helped to accomplish my slide to the bottom of life and with which I had expected to be able to dull the mental and physical pains of my final accounting. My mind now found itself picturing with feverish desire all the old pleasures. At the same moment my flesh and bones forbade me to enjoy them. My body had caught my mind like a rat in a trap!
Day followed day, week, week, and year, year. It was a weary monotony of manual labor, poverty, restless travel, on foot, and hopeless attempts to recover my birthright—the privileges of excess—which had gone from me forever. Cities and their bright lights laughed at me.
I suffered the tortures of insomnia, the pains of violent rheumatism, the dreadful imprisonment of a partial paralysis. I was in and out of hospitals. I spent months on my back, entertained only by my lurid memories. My mind became starved for new material on which to work. It was at that period that I first learned to obscure the awful presence of my own personality by flinging my thoughts into the problems of chess.
I recalled often enough the fact that somewhere I had a daughter. No night passed that I did not go to sleep wondering where she might be. I realized that she was growing up somewhere. I realized, too, that a child of fancy was growing up in my mind. I could see her in her crib, a laughing baby uttering meaningless sounds, clasping a flower in her fat little fist. I could see her in short skirts, trying to walk upstairs, clinging to the banister. I could hear her first words. I saw her learning to read. Little by little her hair grew. It reached a length which made a braid necessary. At times I saw her laugh,—this child of the imagination,—and once, left alone at dusk, she had wept over some cross word that had been spoken to her. I could see her tears glisten on her cheeks in the fading light.
"Little girl!" I cried aloud. "Come to me! It's I! Little girl!"
The sound of my own voice startled me. I found myself sitting in the Denver railroad station with my hands clasped around my thin knees.
No man's own blood ever haunted him more than mine. I had not seen the child, yet I loved her. She had no knowledge of my existence, yet she seemed to call to me. I suffered a dreadful thought—the fear that I should die before I saw her and feasted my eyes upon my own. I struggled to keep myself from going to seek her. I felt as one who, being dead, impotently desires to return to the world and touch the hands of the living. Year after year the desire grew strong to rise from my grave and call out that she was mine.
At last I yielded to my temptation—fool that I was! I came eastward. I made cautious inquiry. I arrived in this city where I had heard the Judge had gone. The mere fact of proximity to her made me tremble as I alighted from the train. I had expected difficulties in finding her. But when I telephoned to the name I had found in the book and heard a voice say that the Judge had just gone out with his daughter, I felt that I was in a dream. A strange faintness came over me. The glass door of the booth reflected my image—the face of a frightened old man. It was remarkable that I did not fall forward sprawling, unconscious.
Before seeking a lodging I sat for hours in a park. Young girls passed, fresh, beautiful, laughing, going home from school.
"Can that be she?" I asked a dozen times, looking after one of those chosen from among the others. "What can she be like? What would she say to me?"
Suddenly I realized again that I did not exist, that she could not know that I had ever existed, that whatever pain it might cost me, she must never know. If I saw her, it must be as a ghost peeping through a crevice in the wall. These were my thoughts as I sat on the park bench hour after hour until a little outcast pup—a thin, bony creature, kicked and beaten, came slinking out of the gathering dusk and licked my hand. It was the first love I had felt in years. My whole being screamed for it. I caught up the pariah and warmed its shivering body in my arms. This was the dog that, two years later, I lost along with the locket in the Judge's old garden where I had gone indiscreetly, praying that I might get a peep in the window and see my own girl—so wonderful, so beautiful, so good—reading by the lamp.
You need not think I had not seen her before. If I spent my working hours manipulating the automaton at the old museum, all my leisure I spent in seeking a glimpse of my own daughter. The very sight of her was nourishment to my starving heart. Many is the time I have hobbled along far behind her as she walked on the city pavements. Months on end I strolled by the house at night to throw an unseen caress up at a lighted window. I have seen a doctor's carriage at that door with my heart in my mouth. I have seen admiration, given by a glance from a girl friend, with a father's pride so great and real that it took strength of mind to restrain myself from stopping the nearest passer-by and saying, "Look! She is mine!"
Again the malicious fortune into which I was born was making game of me; it had made my daughter more than a mere girl, whom I was forbidden to claim. It had made her the loveliest creature in the world! I cried out against it all. I knew that if I would, I could claim her. She was mine. I had the right of a father. She was still a child. I loved her. I wanted to have the world know that whatever else I had done and whatever doubts I had once felt about the blood that was in my veins and hers, now I was sure that I could claim a great achievement and hold aloft the gift to mankind of this blooming flower.
I remembered then, however, what I had been. I saw in the bit of mirror in my squalid lodgings a countenance stained with the indelible ink of vice and moulded beyond repair by excesses and the sufferings of shame. Could I present this horror to my daughter? Could I destroy her by claiming her? Could I blight her life by thrusting my love for her beyond the secret recesses of my own heart?
"No!" I whispered. And I prayed for strength.
Above all, I knew that except for regaining, by reading books, the refinement of my youth, I was not changed. I knew I was not, and never should be free from the old vicious fiends within myself. I could not, had I come to her with health, prosperity, and a good name, have offered her safety from my brutal nature. I had even abused the dog which had been my only companion and the one living thing that had love for me in its heart. I can see its eyes upon me now, with their reproach, and, I imagine, with their distrust. I had cowed its spirit with my passions of rage, my kicks and my curses, for each of which I had felt a torment of regret and with each of which came a hundred vain vows to myself never to let my nature get the best of me again. I had grown old, but I could not trust myself more than before. I even feared that some day I might reveal voluntarily my existence to my daughter, so that a final and terrible, unspeakable culminating evil deed should mark the end of my career. I feared this even more than another narrow escape from accidental disclosure, such as I had had in my first attempt to enter the old garden on that winter night I remember so well.
At these times I have kept away for weeks and weeks, mad for want of the sight of her. I had been forbidden liquor by wrecked organs, but now the sound of her voice at a distance, the sight of her perfect skin was like a draft of wine to me. Crazed with the lack of it, I always at last gave up my struggle, and with my heart filled with the tormented affections of a father, I went back to my watching and waiting, to my interest in her school, her clothes, her young friends, her health, her afternoon walks. I watched Margaret Murchie, too, with strange memories that caught me by the throat. And ever and ever I watched the Judge. Unseen, unknown, careful never to show myself often in the neighborhood for fear of attracting attention, as sly as a fox, suffering like a thing in an inferno, and no more than a lonesome ghost, I tried to determine if the Judge were acting my part as he should—he who had taken what was mine by the gift of God.
Chance, as you now know, threw him into a place where he was no longer a stranger to me. He became a visitor to the "Man with the Rolling Eye," though I believe he used to call my automaton "The Sheik of Baalbec." It was my delight to beat him in a battle of skill and at the same time, from my peephole, scan his face to read his character.
At last one day he brought this young man, Estabrook.
What awakened all my sense of danger then, I cannot explain. I only know that as this young man walked toward the machine, I realized a truth that had never so presented itself before. My daughter was no longer a girl! She was now a woman! Some man would come for her. And I believe I would have been filled with hatred and fear, no matter what man he had been.
That night I tossed upon my bed, feverish with new thoughts. I realized that soon there would be a turn in the road of my own child's destiny. I realized with agony which I cannot describe that I could use no guiding hand. I hungered for the responsibility of a father. I cried out aloud that now, in this choosing of men, I should have a word. I writhed as I had often writhed, because, loving her too much, I was forbidden to perform the offices of my affection. The tears that had come before now came again, and I wept for hours, as I had wept on other occasions.