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The Blue Wall - A Story of Strangeness and Struggle
by Richard Washburn Child
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I began a new and indiscreet observation. I found that this young man was a real menace. I followed him as he walked with her, liking him no better when I saw a look in my daughter's eyes that never had been there before. I would have interfered with his lovemaking, had I been able.

"God," I whispered, "I am only a ghost!"

Then chance gave me, I thought, an opportunity to strike at his courage. He is here. He can tell you of the message the automaton scrawled for him on a bit of paper. But he cannot tell the anxious hours, the frantic hours, a tormented outcast spent before that message was written, lurking in front of the Judge's house, watching with eyes red with sleeplessness for every little sign of what was going on. Nor can he tell you of the terror that came into a lonely creature's soul the night the Judge came down his front steps and met a shadow of the past, face to face. It is only I who may describe the horror of that meeting. The recognition of my identity by a dog who whined and cowered, and then by a man, whose breath gurgled in his throat and whose skin turned white, are things that no man knows but me.

I can see the Judge's face now. It looked upon me with the same accusing expression that I knew so well, and I slunk away believing that the worst had at last come. He had seen behind the mask of my years, my physical decline and my suffering. In one glance, before he turned dizzily back toward the house, he had taken my secret away from me. He knew me!

The madness of desperation came over me then. It was that which caused me to write the message through the hand of my automaton; it was that which led me to conceive the folly that, being known by the Judge to be living, I might, in the name of my love for my daughter, tell him out of my own mouth that I would never molest them.

I had stood all that man could bear. For the second time in my desperation, I entered the garden. I climbed the balcony. The Judge was there. Estabrook was there. They both saw me. I fled with their staring eyes pursuing me.

What more can I tell?

You have heard.

I am a miserable man.



BOOK VII

THE PANELED DOOR

CHAPTER I

THE SCRATCHING SOUND

Estabrook listened to the story of Mortimer Cranch, sometimes staring into the wizened face of the speaker, sometimes gazing into the depths of the painted Gardens of Versailles. When at last, in a hollow voice which reverberated through the scene loft, Cranch had ended, the younger man jumped forward with his eyes blazing, his hands clenched, his nostrils distended.

"What is wrong with my wife now?" he roared. "You know. Tell me or I'll tear you to pieces!"

There was a moment in which the place was as still as a tomb. I myself drew no breath, but watched the half-bald head of the criminal shake sadly.

Then suddenly he looked up. With one claw-like finger, he pointed at Estabrook. Hate and distrust were in his eyes.

"You know!" he piped in a thin but terrible voice. There was no doubting the sincerity of his accusation.

"I know?" cried Estabrook, falling back. "I know?"

"It began when you left the house!" cried Cranch. "I've always watched on and off since you married her. I'm her father. I've loved her as no one knows. It was my right to watch. I've been nearly mad with worry. What have you done to her? You have dug me out of the grave, I tell you. Now we're face to face. What have you done with my girl?"

The lonely, ruined man had thrown his arms forward. He wore dignity. For a passing second he became a figure to inspire awe; for a moment he seemed the incarnation of a great self-sacrifice. And in that pause he saw that Estabrook's expression had suddenly filled with sympathy, as if in a flash a warmer circulation of blood stirred in his veins; as if, suddenly, his sight had been cleared so that he could picture all the suffering which Cranch had been forced to keep locked up within himself, through dragging years. He reached for the extended, bare, and bony wrist of the older man and grasped its cords in his strong fingers.

"Come," said he softly, "there is no time for us who have loved her so much, each in his own way, to misunderstand."

Cranch did not answer. He did not move a muscle. But his eyes filled with the thin tears of aged persons.

"And now, Doctor," said Estabrook, wheeling toward me, "we must find out if Margaret has sent us word."

He plucked my sleeve; he started toward the stairs. He turned his back on the Gardens of Versailles and the vagrant who kneeled beside the cot in the foreground, with his face buried in the red blankets.

It was the hoarse call of this ghost of a man that stopped us.

"Estabrook!" he said.

"Yes."

"We may never meet again."

The younger man went back and without speaking, clasped the other's hand.

"You will tell one person—just one—about me?" asked Cranch.

"Julianna!" Estabrook exclaimed with horror.

The other shook his head patiently from side to side.

"I meant Margaret Murchie," he whispered.

Then, feeling the wistful gaze of his worn and watery eyes upon our backs, we left the Mohave Scenic Studio forever. A run across town in my car brought us again to my door. My scrawny busybody of a maid opened it before I had opportunity to even draw forth my key.

"Four or five telephone calls," she said with her impudent importance, "but only one is pressing."

"One?" cried I, "who from?"

"Somebody I don't know, Doctor. Margaret Somebody. She left a message. She wouldn't say no more than just one word."

"What was that word?" cried Estabrook at my shoulder.

"Danger."

I suppose that both of us felt the shock and then the tingle of excitement in the meaning of that phrase, interpreted in the light of our understanding.

"Doctor!" the young man shouted.

"Yes, Estabrook," said I; "keep your nerve. I think I have the key to this problem in my possession. I have not yet explained. I did not want to do so unless it was necessary. But if I am right you must not weaken. You must be ready to throw your whole strength into loyalty and affection for your wife and courage to protect her at any cost!"

"I'm ready!" he cried. "I feel that I must win her all over again. She is as fresh and new and beautiful to me as the day I first saw her. And I love her now as never before!"

"Jump into the car, then!" I commanded, and turning to my chauffeur, whispered, "To the Marburys'. Where we were this morning. And what—we—want—is—speed!"

He nodded, but I have no doubt that Estabrook and I both cursed him for his caution as he slowed down at the crossings, and finally, when, to conform to the traffic regulation, he circled in front of the banker's house.

This time neither of us looked up at either residence, but ran forward toward the Estabrooks' door. I pressed the bell centred in the Chinese bronze.

Suddenly, however, the unfortunate husband grasped the arm of my coat.

"My promise!" he exclaimed.

"You mean to keep it at any cost?"

"Yes," said he. "I trusted her judgment and her loyalty, and gave her my word."

"Pah!" I exploded angrily. His literal sense of honor, his narrow conscience which led him into inexpediency, seemed to me a part of a feminine rather than of a masculine nature, and more ridiculous than high-minded.

"Well, wait here, then," I snapped back at him as Margaret Murchie opened the door. "If necessary I will call you."

The old servant said nothing until we were in the hall, but her face was white with fear. I read on it the word she had transmitted to us by telephone. And whether or not it was my imagination, I felt the presence of a crisis and a forewarning that the inexplicable events which I had observed were now to come to some explosive end.

Margaret's first words, said to me with her two large hands raised as if to ward off a menace, were not reassuring.

"The scratching noise!" she cried. "The soft scratching noise!"

I turned her toward me by grasping her shoulder.

"No hysteria," I said firmly. "Every second may count. Tell me quickly what has happened."

"Yes, sir," she said, bracing herself. "I've done as you told me—very faithful. I went this morning to get my orders from her. I don't say the voice that answered me weren't hers."

"Well, would you say it was?" I asked savagely.

"I think I would, sir," she replied. "It was strange and changed and soft. I could hardly hear it. She said she didn't require anything. So I came away."

"And then—?"

"And then I did as you told me. I went to her door often enough and listened. You told me not to call to her unless there wasn't any sound. But there was a sound—a dreadful sound after a body had listened to it a bit."

"A sound?"

"Yes, a scratching sound. Sometimes it would stop and then it would go on again. And all the time it seemed to me more than ever that she wasn't alone in that room."

"Wasn't alone! What made you think so?" I exclaimed.

"I couldn't just say," answered Margaret. "I've never been able to say. It's just a feeling—a strange and terrible feeling, sir, that somebody else is there. But the scratching sound I heard with my two ears. And you never heard so worrying a sound before!"

"It has stopped?" I said.

"Yes, it has stopped. It stopped just before I telephoned. I thought I heard something touch the door and I went up and listened. I couldn't hear anything. I knocked. I got no answer. I remembered your orders. I wasn't sure whether I could hear breathing or not inside, but I didn't dare to wait. I called your office, sir. And I thank God you're here!"

"And you didn't break open the door? You didn't even try the knob?"

She looked at me dumbly. Her mouth twitched with her terror.

"I didn't dare. I've had courage for everything in this world, sir," she said. "But I didn't dare to open that door! I'm glad somebody else has come into this dreadful house!"

"Which is the room?" I asked.

"Come with me," she replied, beginning her climb of the broad stairs.

Her feet made no noise on the soft carpeting; nor did mine. The whole house, indeed, seemed stuffy with motionless air, as if not even sound vibrations had disturbed the deathlike fixity of that interior. As we turned at the top toward the paneled white door, which I knew as by instinct was the one we sought, for the first time I became conscious of the faint ticking of a clock somewhere on the floor above us.

"I've forgot to wind the rest," whispered the old servant, as if she had divined my thought. "They were driving me mad."

I nodded to show her that now I, too, was beginning to feel the effect of the strange state of affairs which I had first sensed from the other side of the blue wall.

"Leave me here," I said to her softly. "Go down to Mr. Estabrook. He is in the vestibule. He has a message for you from long ago."

I may have spoken significantly; she may have been at that moment peculiarly sharp to read the meanings behind plain sentences. Whatever the case, her face lit up with joy—the characteristic, joyful expression that never comes to the faces of men and few times to the face of a woman. For a moment youth seemed to return to her. The last traces of the limber strength of body, gone with her girlhood, came back. She wore no longer, at that second, the mien of a nun of household service. She was transfigured.

"It's Monty Cranch!" she cried under her breath. "He isn't dead! I knew he wasn't. I knew it always."

"Go now," I said. "Mr. Estabrook has something of a story to tell you."

She left me then, standing alone before that white expanse of door. I was literally and figuratively on the threshold of poor MacMechem's mystery, knowing well that the solution of it would explain the strange influence that had registered its effects upon my patient, little Virginia Marbury.

I listened with my ear pressed softly against the door. No other sign of life came to me than that of soft breathing. Indeed, even then I had to admit to myself that I might have imagined the sound. I stood back, as one does in such circumstances, half afraid to act—half afraid that to touch the knob or assault the closed and silent room would be to bring the sky crashing down to earth, turn loose a pestilence, set a demon free, or expose some sight grisly enough to turn the observer to stone. I found myself sensing the presence of a person or persons behind the opaque panels; my eyes were trying, as eyes will, to look through the painted wooden barrier.

My glance wandered to the top of the door, back again to the middle, downward toward the bottom. The house was so still, now that Margaret had stepped out of it into the vestibule, that the ears imagined that they heard the beating of great velvety black wings. The gloom of the drawn blinds produced strange shadows, in which the eyes endeavored to find lurking, unseen things that watched the conduct and the destinies of men. But my eyes and ears returned again each time to their vain attention to the entrance of that room, as if the stillness and the gloom bade me listen and look, while I stood there hesitant.

At last the reason for my hesitancy, the reason for my reluctance, the reason for my staring, suddenly appeared as if some fate had directed my observation. A corner of an envelope was protruding from beneath the door!

I felt as I pulled the envelope through that the next moment might bring a piteous outcry from within, as if I had drawn upon the vital nerves of an organism. Yet none came; I found myself erect once more with the envelope in my hand, reading the writing on its face. It was scrawled in a trembling hand.

"Margaret," it said, "send for my husband. Give him this envelope without opening it yourself. Give it to him before he comes to this door."

"Poor woman!" I said with a sudden awakening of sympathy. "Poor, poor woman!"

With my whispered words repeating themselves in my mind, I retraced my way along the hall, down the stairs.

I opened the front door quietly. My first glance showed me the countenance of the old servant; it was lighted by the words which the young man was saying to her.

"Estabrook," said I.

He jumped like a wounded man.

"She is not dead?" he groaned.

"No," said I; "not dead. Come in. She has sent for you."

"Sent for me!" he cried, trying to dash by me.

"Wait," I commanded. "Before you go, come into this reception room. This message is for you."

He took the envelope, almost crunching it in his nervous fingers.

"Remember what I told you," I cautioned him.

"Told me?"

"Yes. To be strong," said I. "To be loyal."

He nodded, then ran his finger under the flap. There were several sheets of thin paper folded within.

"Her writing!" he exclaimed. "But so strange—so steady—so much like her writing when I first knew her. Why, Doctor, it is her old self—it's Julianna."

"Sit down," I suggested.

He spread the papers on his knee.

As he read on, I saw the color leave his skin, I saw his hands draw the sheets so taut that there was danger of their parting under the strain. I heard the catch in each breath he took. As he read, I looked away, observing the refined elegance of the room in which we were sitting and even noting the bronze elephant on the mantel which I remembered was the very one which Judge Colfax had thrown at the dog "Laddie." It was not until he had reached forward and touched my sleeve that I knew he had finished.

I looked up then. He had buried his head in the curve of his arm. His body seemed to stiffen and relax alternately as if unable to contain some great grief or some great joy which accumulated and burst forth, only to accumulate again.

I heard him whisper, "Julianna."

I saw his hand extending the paper toward me with the evident meaning that I should read it.

I took it from him.

I have that very paper now. It reads as follows.



BOOK VIII

FROM THE WOMAN'S HAND

CHAPTER I

THE VOICE OF THE BLOOD

I am a miserable woman.

Before I ask you to return to me, I am determined that you shall know the truth. I beg you to read this and consider well what I am and what I have done before you undertake life with me or again bring your love into my keeping. This I ask for your sake and for my own; for yours, because I grant that you have been deceived and owe me nothing; for my own, because I believe that I have borne all that I can, and to have you come back to me without knowing all, and without still loving me as you used to love me, would break my heart.

I must not write you with emotion; I must stifle my desire to cry out for your sympathy. I shall write without even the tenderness of a woman.

I am the daughter of a murderer.

In my veins is an inheritance of unspeakable, viciousness.

Before the death of him who I had believed all my life was my own father, I was wholly in ignorance of my own nature. I believed that I took from two noble parents the full assurance that I would be exempt from weakness, that I, with brain cells formed like theirs, would possess forever their tenderness, their geniality, and their strength of will.

You know well how strong a faith I had in the power of inherited character. To it I attributed all that was good in me. I realize now how cruel is this doctrine of heredity; I have spent my strength and given my soul in a battle to prove that I was wrong, that it is not a true doctrine and that God and the human will can laugh in its face.

Without knowing my experience, however, you cannot know to what extent I have been successful. I must tell the story of the tempests which have swayed my mind, of the contests between good and evil, of the narrow gate where my will has made its last defense against the onslaught of terror and destruction.

To my task!

You remember the paper that I burned at dawn which my foster father had dropped from his fingers, stiffening in death. It was his last message to me, written in infinite pain and in an agony of doubt, intended to warn me of the truth that I was not by inheritance strong, but weak, not good, but bad. It told me that I was not the daughter of my mother, whose gentle goodness seemed to fill the old home like a lingering aroma, nor of him who was so strong and so respected of all men, but the daughter of a pitiable woman of the tenements who had passed her days in singing and dancing for pennies thrown at her, and of a man who, having descended from a long line of exquisite savagery, self-indulgence, and weakness, had been driven by his inheritance through all excesses and finally to the murder of his wife and the wish to strangle me in my crib.

Can you conceive the effect of this truth upon my mind?

At first I was merely frozen with terror. I did not fully grasp the significance of these lines of writing in which he who loved me so well had endeavored to soften for me his warning against the latent horrors that had been locked up within me. At first I did not realize that the same night which marked his death had marked also the death of my old self.

Indeed, my first thought was of you. The message had said plainly that I might consider myself the sole possessor of my secret. I was certain that you did not know. I felt the desire to prevent you from ever knowing; I felt the wildness of a tigress at the thought that any one might take my secret from me. Between your hearing the truth about me and my giving you up forever, I had no hesitancy of choice. You must never know, I told myself. Though you were all that was left in my life, I might send you away, but to tell you the truth about myself would be, I believed, to end your love for me which was all that was left to the comfort of my heart. And at that idea I screamed aloud in agony.

I still possessed my conscience; I promised myself over and over again in those hours that I would not deceive you. I did not think for a moment then of asking you to take me with the understanding that you knew there was some terrible thing about me which you were forbidden to know. If in those moments, then, when you came to my room at dawn, I made that bargain with you, so that I might feel your arms about me, and know that I was not to lose you, it was the act of a woman who had just lost her girlhood and whose life had been torn to shreds.

I made a terrible mistake. I know it now. The fact that you have refrained so honorably from asking me the forbidden question and also the fact of your keeping your promise to stay away during these last days, though you were in ignorance of my motives in asking it, has shown me that I might well have disclosed all to you. Without meaning to do so, I have tested not only your honor but something more. I have proved to myself that, behind your undemonstrative exterior which I have sometimes felt was cold, you have that love and tenderness of spirit which is capable of faith and loyalty and the warmth of which endures the better because covered. I should have told you because the secret has mocked me and because nothing can last between man and woman without truth.

I should have told you, moreover, because you might have prevented the terrible result of my knowledge of what I am in bone, blood, fibre, and brain.

That knowledge began its corrupting influence at once; it accumulated force as time went on. The irresistible pull of that knowledge has brought me to the point where I know not whether it is heredity, or the knowledge of it, which presses upon me—which has driven me like a slave. At times I feel certain that the last message of Judge Colfax, rather than the danger of which it intended to warn me, has been my menace.

At first I recalled the fact of my birth and inheritance with resentment and courage.

"I am myself," I have exclaimed. "I alone am responsible for my life, my thoughts, my actions. They shall be according to my will to make them."

Then the haunting doubt would oppose itself to my claim. It spoke to me like a person.

"No," it said. "You are not yourself. You are the victim of fixed laws. The zebra is striped rather than spotted because its forebears wore stripes. So with you. You are half murderess and half gutter-snipe. You are woven according to the pattern. You are moulded according to the mould. You are a prisoner of heredity. Deceive yourself if you will for a time, but sooner or later you, like those from whom you came and of whom you are a part, will be the plaything of self-indulgence and weakness and passion. Fate has made your image that you see in the mirror, refined and comely so that you may see the better the work of heredity when it asserts itself."

This voice was ever at my ear. It became a personal voice. I thought at first that it was the voice of some other being. At last I came by slow changes to the belief that it was not a voice outside of me. It was my Self that spoke. It was the heritage of evil within me. The thing that whispered to me with its condemning voice, frightening away my courage and sapping my strength of will, was my own blood!

I began to watch for the outcropping of evil in my conduct—for the moment when the force of heredity within me would make itself known to you and to the world. No morning dawned that I did not ask myself if night would fall without some opening of the gates of my character behind which so much that was evil, I believed, was clamoring to escape. I lived in two lives. In one I was your wife and the girl you had known, who now existed like an automaton, going senselessly through the acts of day to day existence. In the other I was a condemned victim, waiting in apprehension for the call of terrible and evil authority.

It was an accident which, at last, made real my fancies.

You remember that I was thrown from a horse. You remember that for days a torn nerve in my elbow gave me excruciating pain. You remember that, having regained my senses after the setting of the bone, I would not allow the doctor to give me any narcotic. You remember my protests against that form of relief.

I was afraid. I trembled not only with pain. I trembled with terror.

I believed I was on the threshold of danger. I felt the impending of ruin. Though I had never experienced the sensation of an opiate I even found my body already crying for its comfort. I found myself struggling hour after hour with a desire to try myself. I alternated between a belief that I was strong enough for the test and the instinct that told me the blood in my veins was waiting like a wild animal to pounce upon a first form of self-indulgence.

At last I yielded.

"There is no harm in the proper use of this," said the doctor, seeing my expression,—"by a woman of your type."

I laughed in his face.

I hardly recognized the sound of this laugh; it was not my own. It was the laugh of a new personality. It was care-free and desperate at one time.

"There is no need of your suffering so terribly after each adjustment I make of these cords," said the doctor a few days later, sympathetically.

"But I suffer so at night," said I.

"I will leave you something," said he. "Do not use it oftener than necessary."

Why should I tell you the imperceptible steps by which, partly because I believed myself destined to become a victim, I fell an abject slave to this drug? I need only say that while my arm was still suffering from its injury I gave myself false promises from time to time. "When the pain is gone," I said a thousand times, "there will be no need of this comforter."

When I was obliged to admit that I suffered no more, it was a shock to find myself secretly procuring the opiate in order to continue its use undiscovered.

"This will be the last time," I often said.

Then something laughed within me.

It was my blood laughing. It was my blood mocking me.

I began to experience a cycle of terrible emotions which consumed my days. They began with shame, with injured pride, and terrible grief. They then passed first to vain resolves, then to fear of myself, followed by the feeling that what must be is inevitable and that struggle to escape from the weakness given me by birth was hopeless. This belief led me over and over again to surrender, but with surrender came the fear of exposure of my new secret.

As long as I dared I used a prescription which the doctor had given me. I made guilty trips to the drug store where I had been from the first. I began to feel that strangers who had followed me into the store by chance were there by design to spy upon me. My own furtive glances were enough to excite suspicion. My more frequent purchases were enough to confirm them. At last one day I read in the eyes of the clerk who waited on me the question which must have been in his mind. I seized my package and rushed out onto the street, knowing that I would never dare return.

I went then from one place to another in shrinking fear of detection. In each one my experience was repeated until I believe I began to wear the air of a hunted creature.

So suspicious were my actions that at last a drug clerk shook my little worn-out slip of paper against the glass perfume case and scowled at me.

"The last half of the doctor's name is torn off," he said insolently. "Where did you get this?"

I could not speak.

"I'm sorry," he snarled. "We don't sell that under these circumstances. Where do you live, madam?"

I hurried out into the street.

There I noticed that a tall young man, who had been staring at me, with a row of gold teeth accenting a diabolical smile, had followed me from the store. After I had walked half a block to find my carriage, he spoke to me.

"I can sell you something just as good," he whispered by my side. "I do a little quiet business in it. It's not for yourself, is it?"

"No," I said, trembling from head to foot. "It is for an unfortunate woman, whose name must not be disclosed."

"Call her She," he suggested with a leer. "Here is an address. Send a messenger boy whenever you like. Every one thinks I am a perfume manufacturer."

This was the opening of greater comfort to me; my terror of detection was lessened. As time passed I found that my moral sense was being dulled, little by little. I was fulfilling my destiny. I was living according to my arrangement of brain cells. In spite of his warning—or perhaps solely because of it—the fears of my foster father were realized. I was I!

Four weeks ago came a new thing. It burst like dynamite. It gripped my heart. It felt along the chords of my womanhood. I could not escape its presence. It cried to me in the darkness. It walked beside me in the sunlight.



CHAPTER II

THIS NEW THING

It has been hard for me to tell coldly of my first weakness; it will be harder still for me to write of what has followed, without letting escape on this page the emotions which are in my heart. This new thing awakened me with a start from my slumber of indifference and my philosophy of defeat.

With a sudden return of my old self I began to have my first doubts about the powers of heredity. I began to wonder if fear of myself, inspired by knowledge of whence I came, rather than any true inherited traits, had not been my undoing. I found that I had not changed so much, after all. The goodness in me had not gone. I saw in my mirror the Julianna you had known and loved. I felt new faith.

I felt new faith in the goodness of the plan under which men and women live and strive. I had always believed in a Divine Spirit if for no other reason than that I and all living things through all time had sensed somewhere beyond their full understanding the existence of a dynamic of creation and order. I believed, if you wish me to phrase it so, in God. It seemed to me in my new awakening that no human creature could be made by such a Spirit the plaything of so cruel a thing as all-powerful heredity.

"He must give us all a chance," I cried with tears on my cheeks. "It must be true that I can save myself by fight. It cannot be that I will be deprived of the opportunity of putting an end to this evil descent. My father sought to strangle me because he believed he would appear in my blood. Now it is I, who, finding him there, must strangle him!" And I, in my agony, fell upon my knees and prayed.

You were asleep when, in my bare feet, forgetful of the cold, I stood hour after hour at the window of my room, listening to your breathing. In those hours, little by little I realized that it was not escape from a single weakness or indulgence which I must seek, but that I must reestablish mastery over myself. I knew that no help from without would accomplish this mastery. I made up my mind to fight single-handed, and to stake myself and if necessary, my life, in a battle to place again my will upon its throne.

Accordingly I took, as I supposed, my last dose of opiate and under its influence, which gave me strength, I pleaded with you to leave me alone in this house for three weeks. You yielded. I then ordered all furnishings out of my chamber, and all the servants except Margaret out of the house, to the end that no sight or sound should draw my attention or my thoughts from my purpose.

I had a plentiful supply of my drug. You will doubtless want to know what I did with it. I took it with me into my retreat.

My first day I suffered the deprivation but little; it was on the second that I moved my mattress where I could concentrate all my attention on a single wall of the four. On the third day I began to lose track of time. I had feared much, but not the degree of suffering which the pains of denial now piled upon me in an accumulating load.

Often I fell forward prostrate on the floor, squirming in my agony of body and mind, while within me a battle went raging on between the spirit and the flesh. My eyes would search for the packet of drugs lying on the floor within my reach and rest upon the sight of it, staring as mad persons must stare. It was my will that held my hand.

Can you imagine the eternal vacillation of such a contest? Then you will know that desire fighting against reason now drove my will back step by step until it was tottering on the brink of chaos, and again, in a triumph of resistance, my determination swept everything before it until I longed to rise, to throw my arms upward, fingers extended, and cry aloud my victory.

On the other hand, a thousand moments came when, ready to yield to my temptation, I have dropped on my knees on the boards and, with my eyes fixed upon that wall, have prayed like mad, hour after hour, my lips parched and blood running from my bare knees.

Voices whispered to me that I was a fanatic, pinning my faith to superstition and the practices of savagery. I whispered back to them that they should see me victorious at last.

"How long will you fight?" said they mockingly.

"Till desire is gone and the will has nothing to fight for," I answered them.

"You are insane," they said, speaking like so many devils.

"We shall know better at the end," I replied softly.

These dialogues, the torture of which no one can know, went on eternally. They were arguments, I knew, between my ingenious mind and the will which was trying to reclaim its mastery of my thought.

Night and day became all one to me. I lost count of the hours, then of the days. I became filled with the fear that three weeks would go by, that you would return too soon, that interruption would come before my fight had been determined one way or the other. This terror was enough to weaken me. I felt it many times and on each occasion drew so near the bare wall that I could throw my weight against it and lose all external thoughts by staring at the blank surface, with all but one purpose banished from my mind.

I have eaten merely to live, slept only to repair my strength. Each morsel of food has added to my bodily anguish, each falling asleep has meant a horrible awakening to new, exquisite torture of the body. My hands have become black by resting on the bare boards, my nails torn by scratching over the covering of my mattress. My hair is matted. My throat, dry with prayers, is almost voiceless, my lips are cracked like old leather.

I do not tell you these things to gain your sympathy, but so that, if you should want to come back to me, you will not be shocked to find me horrible.

I must go on.

Five days ago my craving began to yield. The blessedness of the relief is beyond description. Little by little the resistance to my will weakened. Little by little my will gained mastery. It seemed a youthful giant, learning its power. It seemed to fill the room, to seek to reach beyond and find new labors for its strength. I felt the moment approach when I, no longer a slave of myself, could indeed rise from thanks to God and feel my triumph sure.

I dared three days ago to touch my drugs, to take them in my hand, to mock them.

Yesterday I got up. I began to write this message.

I could hear martial music as I wrote and the tramp of a million feet. It was the army of men and women who have fought against evil and won,—they who have been masters of themselves. As they passed, they cheered me, each one; they waved their hats and hands!

And afterward there came a little child and smiled and stretched his arms out to me. He was glad.

For he is to be my own.



BOOK IX

BEHIND THE WALL

CHAPTER I

AN ANSWER TO MACMECHEM

Such was the message Julianna had sent her husband. I read it and, without speaking, I arose and touched Estabrook on his shoulder.

"Doctor," said he pathetically.

"Come," said I.

We went up to her door. It was not locked; it opened. She was there.

She was there with a smile of greeting—a beautiful woman, pale with her suffering, pale as the flower of a night-blooming cactus, but warm with the vitality given to women who love. The pink light of dusk was on her calm face.

She was leaning back against the wall. Her great eyes fixed themselves upon Estabrook without seeing me at all. She did not speak. She seemed in doubt.

Estabrook hesitated a moment with his hand reaching behind him for my sleeve. He pulled at it twice, without turning.

"Is she safe?" he whispered hoarsely.

"Yes, in every way. The Lord wouldn't allow the contrary to happen," said I. "If she should need me later, call me. I shall be downstairs."

I stepped back then as softly as a cat. I shut the door after me with the greatest pains. In the reception room below I looked about for the letter I had laid on my chair. It was gone!

I called Margaret softly. I searched cautiously through the halls, whispering her name. She was nowhere. At last I brushed against a hanging which, being withdrawn, disclosed the message itself on the floor. Its sheets were crumpled together, so that it was evident that some one else had read it. I suppose that the old servant had done so. If her curiosity was pardonable, so was my theft. I folded the paper and thrust it in my pocket as I sat down to wait.

The minutes went by and many of them had gone before I heard some one in the back part of the house, descending the stairs. The breath of this person was labored like the breath of one who carries a heavy handbag. A little later I heard a door creak and a latch click below. Then all was still.

The house was terribly still. The stillness beat as before, like a thing with feathery wings. The distant clock tick came and went between these flurries of silence. I looked at my watch. An hour had gone. It was growing dark. My patient chauffeur had lit his lights. Passers-by came and went, in and out of their white glare. I had smoked two cigars.



Finally a pair of feet ran up the front steps. The bell rang. There was no movement in the house. It rang again. The feet on the steps stamped impatiently. Again the bell buzzed. The sound came from some unexplored region of the house, but the little thing made a shocking hubbub in that desert of silence.

After this last vehement assault by the newcomer I heard a door open above. A man, burning one match after another to light his way, came down the stairs. When he had reached the bottom, I saw that it was Estabrook. His face was illuminated by the little flame, but a hundredfold more by an expression of happiness, the equal of which I have never seen.

"Great Scott, Doctor," he cried in sincere surprise. "I forgot you were here!"

"Come! Come!" said I. "Some one is wearing his thumb off on that bell."

As he swung the door back, obeying me like a man in a dream, a voice outside mumbled indistinctly.

"Yes," said Estabrook, "I am he."

Then closing the door he came into the room, fumbling along the wall for the electric switch. The flood of light disclosed him trying to tear open an envelope.

As he read the contents, his face grew black as if with rage, then it brightened again. He uttered an exclamation of pleasure.

"Thank God!" he cried. "Here! Read this. It's from Margaret Murchie."

I took the paper.

"You will never see me again," it said. "I have gone to Monty Cranch. You won't ever see either of us again. He is going with me. We plan to finish life, what is left of it, together. We will never turn up again. You better not worry.

"I have caused enough trouble already," it went on in its rough scrawl. "I have been wicked enough and had to pay dear for my lies. Julianna is not the daughter of Monty Cranch. That is the truth. She is the daughter of the Judge, so help me. Mrs. Welstoke is to blame for that first lie. I stole the locket from the Cranch baby's neck and after the fire I saw a chance to get the Judge in my power. I snapped the locket on and I fooled him otherwise. God knows I suffered enough for it afterward when I got to love him and Julianna. I never attempted any blackmail. But I did not dare to tell the truth. It was the only home I had and I was afraid. I have done the best I could. You will never see me again. Monty knows now she is not his. I have money saved. We won't come back."

"Well," said Estabrook, when I had tossed it on the table, "I am dumb. I am the happiest man alive. The Estabrooks, when you come right down to it quickly, would have been sorry if—"

"Pardon me, sir," I said. "I will call later. You do not need me now and I will step into the Marburys'."

"But, Doctor!" cried the young man.

I shook my head.

"My dear fellow," said I solemnly, "I cannot bear to hear you talk about the respectable Estabrooks!"

Our hands met, however, and, I believe, with a warmth that meant more than many words.

As I went up the Marburys' steps a minute later, I looked up. A light was burning in Mrs. Estabrook's room. I saw the shadows of a man and a woman pass the curtain together.

This pretty picture was in my mind as I entered little Virginia's room, where Miss Peters met me with a smile—the first human smile I had ever seen on her metallic face.

For many minutes I sat on the edge of the bed, looking down at the child that I had grown to love, as a foolish old doctor sometimes will. Then I bent and kissed her cool, white forehead.

"She is out of danger," said I softly.

"Oh, yes," said Miss Peters. "She will get well. You have saved her."

She moved her angular shoulders as she adjusted her belt, she strode noiselessly across the room and moved the shade on the lamp. The light now shone so that the blue wall, with its ethereal depths, had turned rosy as with the light of dawn.

"Suppose, Miss Peters—" said I, after staring at it a moment, "suppose that you were called upon for one guess about this wall and its effect upon this child."

She wheeled about and stared at me.

"I've thought of that," she said.

"What's behind that wall?" she mused as if to herself. "As between something and somebody, it is not a thing, but a person. A person has been there—perhaps some one overcoming evil or winning some victory over disease."

"Well," said I, seeing that she was hesitating, "go on."

"I can't exactly go on," she said. "I don't want you to take me for a fool. Only, don't you suppose that you and I, ourselves, must throw out some influence that is not seen with the eyes or heard with the ears? Don't we affect every one near us with our good and evil? Don't we affect the people who live above and below in apartments, or to the right and left in houses? Doesn't strength or weakness come through wood and iron and stone? Didn't it come through this wall, Doctor?"

"My dear Miss Peters," said I, shrugging my shoulders, "how can I say? I can only tell you that you have just finished the longest, the most human, and, on the whole, in the best sense, the most scientific observation I have ever known you to make."



CHAPTER II

"WHY CARE?"

There is the tale, all told. Many may want to ask me my theories. I have none. My story, except as to form, is like the data I keep in every case which comes before my notice—it is a somewhat incomplete and matter-of-fact section out of human life. Like poor MacMechem I try to keep my mind open. I simply offer a narrative of the sequence of events.

One thing only troubles me. Did Margaret Murchie lie when she said Mrs. Estabrook was the daughter of Cranch? or when she said that she was the daughter of Judge Colfax? And to this question many will say, "Why care?" Others will decide—each for himself.

THE END



* * * * * *

TITLES SELECTED FROM GROSSET & DUNLAP'S LIST

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THE SIEGE OF THE SEVEN SUITORS. By Meredith Nicholson. Illustrated by C. Coles Phillips and Reginald Birch.

Seven suitors vie with each other for the love of a beautiful girl, and she subjects them to a test that is full of mystery, magic and sheer amusement.

THE MAGNET. By Henry C. Rowland. Illustrated by Clarence F. Underwood.

The story of a remarkable courtship involving three pretty girls on a yacht, a poet-lover in pursuit, and a mix-up in the names of the girls.

THE TURN OF THE ROAD. By Eugenia Brooks Frothingham.

A beautiful young opera singer chooses professional success instead of love, but comes to a place in life where the call of the heart is stronger than worldly success.

SCOTTIE AND HIS LADY. By Margaret Morse. Illustrated by Harold M. Brett.

A young girl whose affections have been blighted is presented with a Scotch Collie to divert her mind, and the roving adventures of her pet lead the young mistress into another romance.

SHEILA VEDDER. By Amelia E. Barr. Frontispiece by Harrison Fisher.

A very beautiful romance of the Shetland Islands, with a handsome, strong-willed hero and a lovely girl of Gaelic blood as heroine. A sequel to "Jan Vedder's Wife."

JOHN WARD, PREACHER. By Margaret Deland.

The first big success of this much loved American novelist. It is a powerful portrayal of a young clergyman's attempt to win his beautiful wife to his own narrow creed.

THE TRAIL OF NINETY-EIGHT. By Robert W. Service. Illustrated by Maynard Dixon.

One of the best stories of "Vagabondia" ever written, and one of the most accurate and picturesque of the stampede of gold seekers to the Yukon. The love story embedded in the narrative is strikingly original.

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THE NOVELS OF CLARA LOUISE BURNHAM

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JEWEL: A Chapter in Her Life. Illustrated by Maude and Genevieve Cowles.

A sweet, dainty story, breathing the doctrine of love and patience and sweet nature and cheerfulness.

JEWEL'S STORY BOOK. Illustrated by Albert Schmitt.

A sequel to "Jewel" and equally enjoyable.

CLEVER BETSY. Illustrated by Rose O'Neill.

The "Clever Betsy" was a boat—named for the unyielding spinster whom the captain hoped to marry. Through the two Betsys a clever group of people are introduced to the reader.

SWEET CLOVER: A Romance of the White City.

A story of Chicago at the time of the World's Fair. A sweet human story that touches the heart.

THE OPENED SHUTTERS. Frontispiece by Harrison Fisher.

A summer haunt on an island in Casco Bay is the background for this romance. A beautiful woman, at discord with life, is brought to realize, by her new friends, that she may open the shutters of her soul to the blessed sunlight of joy by casting aside vanity and self love. A delicately humorous work with a lofty motive underlying it all.

THE RIGHT PRINCESS.

An amusing story, opening at a fashionable Long Island resort, where a stately Englishwoman employs a forcible New England housekeeper to serve in her interesting home. How types so widely apart react on each other's lives, all to ultimate good, makes a story both humorous and rich in sentiment.

THE LEAVEN OF LOVE. Frontispiece by Harrison Fisher.

At a Southern California resort a world-weary woman, young and beautiful but disillusioned, meets a girl who has learned the art of living—of tasting life in all its richness, opulence and joy. The story hinges upon the change wrought in the soul of the blase woman by this glimpse into a cheery life.

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KATE DOUGLAS WIGGIN'S STORIES OF PURE DELIGHT

Full of originality and humor, kindliness and cheer

THE OLD PEABODY PEW. Large Octavo. Decorative text pages, printed in two colors. Illustrations by Alice Barber Stephens.

One of the prettiest romances that has ever come from this author's pen is made to bloom on Christmas Eve in the sweet freshness of an old New England meeting house.

PENELOPE'S PROGRESS. Attractive cover design in colors.

Scotland is the background for the merry doings of three very clever and original American girls. Their adventures in adjusting themselves to the Scot and his land are full of humor.

PENELOPE'S IRISH EXPERIENCES. Uniform in style with "Penelope's Progress."

The trio of clever girls who rambled over Scotland cross the border to the Emerald Isle, and again they sharpen their wits against new conditions, and revel in the land of laughter and wit.

REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM.

One of the most beautiful studies of childhood—Rebecca's artistic, unusual and quaintly charming qualities stand put midst a circle of austere New Englanders. The stage version is making a phenomenal dramatic record.

NEW CHRONICLES OF REBECCA. With illustrations by F. C. Yohn.

Some more quaintly amusing chronicles that carry Rebecca through various stages to her eighteenth birthday.

ROSE O' THE RIVER. With illustrations by George Wright.

The simple story of Rose, a country girl and Stephen a sturdy young farmer. The girl's fancy for a city man interrupts their love and merges the story into an emotional strain where the reader follows the events with rapt attention.

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STORIES OF WESTERN LIFE

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RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE, By Zane Grey. Illustrated by Douglas Duer.

In this picturesque romance of Utah of some forty years ago, we are permitted to see the unscrupulous methods employed by the invisible hand of the Mormon Church to break the will of those refusing to conform to its rule.

FRIAR TUCK, By Robert Alexander Wason. Illustrated by Stanley L. Wood.

Happy Hawkins tells us, in his humorous way, how Friar Tuck lived among the Cowboys, how he adjusted their quarrels and love affairs and how he fought with them and for them when occasion required.

THE SKY PILOT, By Ralph Connor. Illustrated by Louis Rhead.

There is no novel, dealing with the rough existence of cowboys, so charming in the telling, abounding as it does with the freshest and the truest pathos.

THE EMIGRANT TRAIL, By Geraldine Bonner. Colored frontispiece by John Rae.

The book relates the adventures of a party on its overland pilgrimage, and the birth and growth of the absorbing love of two strong men for a charming heroine.

THE BOSS OF WIND RIVER, By A. M. Chisholm. Illustrated by Frank Tenney Johnson.

This is a strong, virile novel with the lumber industry for its central theme and a love story full of interest as a sort of subplot.

A PRAIRIE COURTSHIP, By Harold Bindloss.

A story of Canadian prairies in which the hero is stirred, through the influence of his love for a woman, to settle down to the heroic business of pioneer farming.

JOYCE OF THE NORTH WOODS, By Harriet T. Comstock. Illustrated by John Cassel.

A story of the deep woods that shows the power of love at work among its primitive dwellers. It is a tensely moving study of the human heart and its aspirations that unfolds itself through thrilling situations and dramatic developments.

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JOHN FOX, JR'S.

STORIES OF THE KENTUCKY MOUNTAINS

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THE TRAIL OF THE LONESOME PINE. Illustrated by F. C. Yohn.

The "lonesome pine" from which the story takes its name was a tall tree that stood in solitary splendor on a mountain top. The fame of the pine lured a young engineer through Kentucky to catch the trail, and when he finally climbed to its shelter he found not only the pine but the foot-prints of a girl. And the girl proved to be lovely, piquant, and the trail of these girlish foot-prints led the young engineer a madder chase than "the trail of the lonesome pine."

THE LITTLE SHEPHERD OF KINGDOM COME Illustrated by F. C. Yohn.

This is a story of Kentucky, in a settlement known as "Kingdom Come." It is a life rude, semi-barbarous; but natural and honest, from which often springs the flower of civilization.

"Chad," the "little shepherd" did not know who he was nor whence he came—he had just wandered from door to door since early childhood, seeking shelter with kindly mountaineers who gladly fathered and mothered this waif about whom there was such a mystery—a charming waif, by the way, who could play the banjo better that anyone else in the mountains.

A KNIGHT OF THE CUMBERLAND. Illustrated by F. C. Yohn.

The scenes are laid along the waters of the Cumberland, the lair of moonshiner and feudsman. The knight is a moonshiner's son, and the heroine a beautiful girl perversely christened "The Blight." Two impetuous young Southerners fall under the spell of "The Blight's" charms and she learns what a large part jealousy and pistols have in the love making of the mountaineers.

Included in this volume is "Hell fer-Sartain" and other stories, some of Mr. Fox's most entertaining Cumberland valley narratives.

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GROSSET & DUNLAP'S DRAMATIZED NOVELS

THE KIND THAT ARE MAKING THEATRICAL HISTORY

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WITHIN THE LAW. By Bayard Veiller & Marvin Dana. Illustrated by Wm. Charles Cooke.

This is a novelization of the immensely successful play which ran for two years in New York and Chicago.

The plot of this powerful novel is of a young woman's revenge directed against her employer who allowed her to be sent to prison for three years on a charge of theft, of which she was innocent.

WHAT HAPPENED TO MARY. By Robert Carlton Brown. Illustrated with scenes from the play.

This is a narrative of a young and innocent country girl who is suddenly thrown into the very heart of New York, "the land of her dreams," where she is exposed to all sorts of temptations and dangers.

The story of Mary is being told in moving pictures and played in theatres all over the world.

THE RETURN OF PETER GRIMM. By David Belasco. Illustrated by John Rae.

This is a novelization of the popular play in which David Warfield, as Old Peter Grimm, scored such a remarkable success.

The story is spectacular and extremely pathetic but withal, powerful, both as a book and as a play.

THE GARDEN OF ALLAH. By Robert Hichens.

This novel is an intense, glowing epic of the great desert, sunlit, barbaric, with its marvelous atmosphere of vastness and loneliness.

It is a book of rapturous beauty, vivid in word painting. The play has been staged with magnificent cast and gorgeous properties.

BEN HUR. A Tale of the Christ. By General Lew Wallace.

The whole world has placed this famous Religious-Historical Romance on a height of pre-eminence which no other novel of its time has reached. The clashing of rivalry and the deepest human passions, the perfect reproduction of brilliant Roman life, and the tense, fierce atmosphere of the arena have kept their deep fascination. A tremendous dramatic success.

BOUGHT AND PAID FOR. By George Broadhurst and Arthur Hornblow. Illustrated with scenes from the play.

A stupendous arraignment of modern marriage which has created an interest on the stage that is almost unparalleled. The scenes are laid in New York, and deal with conditions among both the rich and poor.

The interest of the story turns on the day-by-day developments which show the young wife the price she has paid.

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THE END

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