She had confronted him with a splendid Amazonian spirit of war and a declaration of strength which he could never break, and the cause for which she had stood was the cause of a cramped standard which he repudiated. Now she no longer seemed a militant incarnation, but a woman, softly vibrant: a woman whom he loved and who was helpless.
He added shortly:
"You win, Conscience. I can't accept what you can't freely give."
"Stuart—" she exclaimed, and this time the ring of revived hope thrilled in her voice, but he lifted a hand, very wearily to stop her.
"I've complained that when the crisis comes we react to the undertow. If you are the exponent of your code, that code is good enough for me. I bow to a thing bigger than myself.... Your God shall be mine, too ... to-morrow I leave, and I won't come back."
"Now, Stuart, my love," she declared, "you can say it truly: 'The idols are broken in the Temple of Baal.'"
But the renewed life of her voice faltered with the sudden realization of the other thing: of the bleakness of her future when he had gone, and suddenly she broke out in undisguised terror.
"But even until you go, Stuart ... even until to-morrow, protect me against myself, because ... I am totally helpless, and I love you rather madly."
Instinctively her arms came out and her eyes burst once more into the fires of passion, but she made an effort and drew back, and as she did so the stress of the fight prevailed and, had he not caught her, she would have fallen. She had fainted.
Farquaharson picked her up in his arms, and, distrusting himself to remain there, started to the house, carrying her like a sleeping child.
The sight of the man going up the path with the woman in his arms was the only portion of the entire interview which Eben Tollman saw, but it served his imagination adequately as an index to the rest. He had, after a long wait on the terrace, followed them to the pines, but had not announced himself. His arrival had been too tardy to give him a view of their first—and only—embrace, and his distance had been too great to let him hear any of their words. When, after a circuitous return, he reached the terrace, his wife was sitting, pale, but with recovered consciousness, in a chair, and he himself went direct to his study.
It was a sleepless night for every one in the house of Eben Tollman. Conscience still felt that her long fight had ended in a total defeat and that she had been saved from worse than defeat only because her victor had risen to her plea for magnanimity. Now she lay staring at the ceiling with eyes that burned in their sockets. Self-pity warred with self-accusation.
She could not forget that moment of ecstasy in her lover's arms nor banish her wish for its repetition. With him the home of her dreams might have been a reality where men and women who made splendid successes and splendid failures came and talked of their deeds and their frustrations, and where children who were the children of love raised rose-bud lips to be kissed.
Ahead lay an indefinite future, of Stygian murk, peopled with melancholy shades.
Stuart himself did not attempt to sleep. He sat in a chair at his window and stared out. Once or twice he lighted a pipe, only to let it die to ashes between his teeth. He must not tarry here, beyond to-morrow. He had taken either a high and chivalrous ground or a sentimentally weak one. In either case it was an attitude to which he stood pledged, and one to which Conscience attached the importance of salvation. How long could he hold it?
But of the three minds prickled with insomniac activity, the operations of the elderly husband's were the strangest and most weirdly interesting. They had thrown off the halter of sanity and ranged into the imaginative unrestraint of fantastic deviltry.
Sitting alone in the study, Eben sipped brandy and indulged his abnormality. For him, weaving certainties out of the tenuous threads of hallucination, there developed the spaciousness and might of epic tragedies.
The brandy itself was a symptom of his quiet madness. Until recently he would as readily have fondled a viper as toyed with a bottle.
Now he had formed the habit of lifting a secret glass, as a rite and a toast to the portrait of the ancestor, with whose spirit he seemed to commune.
The things that had festered in the unclean soreness of his brain had tinctured every thought with their poison of monomania, leaving him without a suspicion of his own miserable deceit. He believed that he held the imperative commission of the Deity to act as a vicegerent and an avenger. God had designated him as a prosecutor, and to-night he was summing up the case against the transgressors.
"A sinful and an adulterous generation!" he breathed with curling lips.
Item by item he went over the evidence, and it fitted and jibed in every detail. From the first interrupted assignation at Providence to this evening when he had seen, silhouetted against a starry sky, the man carrying close to his breast the wife of another, no link failed to join into a perfect chain of guilt.
But above all he must remain just—as just as the Divinity whose commission he served. This essence of absolute and impersonal righteousness demanded an overt act of unquestionable guilt. "So saith the Lord."
When that deciding proof was established there should fall upon the sinning pair the wrath of an outraged heaven, and he, Eben Tollman, in whom every feeling of the heart had turned to the gall of hatred, would hurl the bolt.
But when he appeared at the breakfast table the next morning he brought the only untroubled face to be seen there.
"I am going to New York this afternoon," announced Stuart somewhat bluntly, and Eben looked quickly up, frankly surprised.
"Running down for a day or two? You'll be back, of course?" he inquired, and the guest shook his head.
"No. I sha'n't be back at all."
"But your Broadway opening doesn't take place until October? Didn't you tell us that?"
"Perhaps. I'm not going on that account."
"Then why not finish out your vacation?"
"I have finished it."
The host looked at his guest and read in his eyes a defiant dislike and a repressed ferocity, but he chose to ignore it. The long-fostered urbanity of his make-believe must last a little longer. But at that moment Stuart's eyes met those of Conscience and he acknowledged a sense of chagrin.
After all, he was leaving to-day and whatever his feelings, he had so far been outwardly the beneficiary of Tollman's hospitality. Nothing was to be gained, except a sort of churlish satisfaction, by assuming at the eleventh hour a blunt and open hostility of manner.
"I'm sorry," suggested Tollman evenly. "I had hoped that we might have you with us longer. You have brought a certain animation to the uneventfulness of our life here."
Stuart changed his manner with an effort.
"Thank you," he replied. "But I've already over-stayed the time I had allowed myself for a vacation. There are many neglected things to be taken up and finished."
"You hadn't spoken of leaving us before." The regret in Tollman's voice was sincere, because it was the regret of a trapper who sees game slipping away from the snare, and it made him perhaps a shade over insistent. "Do you really regard it as so important?"
For just an instant a gleam of anger showed in the visitor's eyes under this questioning, and his glance, leveled straight at his host, was that of a man who would prefer open combat to veiled hostility.
"Not only important," he corrected, "but vital."
"Of course, in that event," murmured Mr. Tollman, "there is nothing more to say."
But an hour later as Conscience and Farquaharson sat on the terrace, somewhat silent and constrained, Eben joined them with a deeply troubled face.
"I've just come from the telephone," he announced with the air of a man in quandary. "It was an imperative call from Boston—and it puts me in a most awkward position."
Farquaharson, sitting with the drawn brow of preoccupation, simulated for his host's assertion no interest and offered no response, but Conscience asked, "What is it, Eben?"
"It's a business matter but one that involves a duty to my associates. I don't see how I can ignore it or decline to go."
"But why shouldn't you go?" inquired his wife, and immediately Eben replied.
"Ordinarily I should, but Stuart says he must leave for New York to-day and there are no servants on the place. You can't stay here absolutely alone."
"I shall be all right," she declared, but her husband raised his hands in a gesture of reasonable protest.
"I couldn't think of it," he insisted. "Why, it's a half-mile to the nearest house. It wouldn't do."
Then with an urgency of manner he turned to Farquaharson.
"Stuart, I dislike greatly to ask you to change your plans—but you realize the situation. Can't you put off leaving until to-morrow?"
The younger man turned slowly and his gaze was disconcertingly piercing, as he asked, "Don't you regard that as a somewhat unconventional suggestion—leaving Conscience here with no one but me? What of Dame Grundy?"
Eben only laughed and arched his brows in amusement.
"Why, my dear boy, you're a member of the family, aren't you? Such a question is the height of absurdity."
"Your faith is touching," retorted the visitor dryly, then he added: "I'm sorry, but I must go this afternoon."
Before him rose the true proportions of the ordeal to which his host so casually invited him, and from facing them he flinched with the honesty of genuine apprehension.
After last night each hour spent here meant trusting under fire a resolution attained only in a moment of something like exaltation. Such an experiment seemed the rashness of sheer irresponsibility, and to underestimate its danger was only recklessness.
Then he saw Conscience's eyes fixed musingly upon him and in them brooded a confidence which he could not analyze or comprehend.
"I wouldn't urge it," went on Eben persistently, "if there were any other solution—but there doesn't seem to be. So in spite of your objections I believe you'll do as I ask, Stuart, even at the cost of some inconvenience to yourself. In a way you can't refuse, my boy, because until this morning you gave us no warning of this sudden flight."
And with a complacency which the younger man found as galling as an insult, the host turned and went into the house with an air of one who takes for granted compliance with his expressed wish.
Indeed, his line of reasoning admitted no doubt or shadow of doubt. He had construed Stuart's first refusal as a mere trick of intrigue, cloaking under the appearance of protest a situation eagerly welcomed. Refuse an uninterrupted opportunity to take to his embraces the woman he adored with a guilty passion! Eben laughed to himself at the thought. Does a hungry lion scorn striking down its prey? Does a thief repudiate an unwatched treasury?
But when he had gone, Stuart turned indignantly to Conscience.
"You see, don't you, that it's impossible?"
"Why?" she asked, and in his bewilderment he found himself answering excitedly:
"Why? Do you mean that, after last night, you would trust yourself here ... with me ... and no one else? Didn't we both admit that it was too much for us—unless we separated?"
"After last night," she responded, and the fearlessness of her voice utterly confounded him, "I would trust myself with you anywhere."
"God in Heaven!" he burst out. "Don't you realize that all strength is relative? Don't you know that any boiler ever made will explode if you give it enough pressure?"
"It's not a test I welcome either," she declared seriously. "But I do believe in you now—and there's another side to it." After a moment's hesitation she went on slowly: "After going through last night—and after trying to face the future ... there's comfort in feeling that he trusts me like that. I don't deserve it, but I'd like to ... and when he comes back to-morrow, if there's one day more of fight left in you, Stuart dear—I can."
His expression changed and he said dubiously: "It's going to be hard."
"Yes, but how can we tell him that?"
He nodded acknowledgment of the point. "There is something in being trusted," he told her resolutely. "If you can feel secure with me one day more—I'll go through with it."
So Eben had his way and put his own damaging construction on the result.
"Good!" he announced when the visitor finally acceded; "I felt sure you wouldn't leave me in the lurch. I'll drive the buggy to the train and leave it at the livery stable until I get back—since we have no chauffeur."
When Tollman had gone Stuart came to Conscience on the terrace. "You'll be all right here for a while, won't you?" he asked. "I think I'll go for a tramp."
She said nothing, but her eyes were questioning, and the man answered their interrogation almost gruffly.
"We've got to walk close to the edge," he said with the quiet of restrained passion. "You trust me, you say, and even before you said it I read it in your eyes. I want that same trust to be in them to-morrow.... I don't know how you feel, but I'm like the reforming drunkard—tortured by his thirst." He paused, then added, "I think it's just as well to walk off my restiveness if I can."
It was five o'clock when he returned, hot and weary from fast tramping in the blistering heat, but when he presented himself, as dusty as a miller to Conscience, who received him among the flowers of her garden, the woman recognized, from his face and the smile of self-victory in his eyes, that he had come back a dependable ally and not a dangerous enemy. In his voice as he hailed her was the old ring of comradeship—and it was almost cheerful. "Hurry into your bathing suit," he invited tersely. "The water is bluer than water ever was before."
Her eyes met his dubiously. She had not, like himself, burned out her wretchedness of spirit in muscular fatigue.
"I feel rather tired, Stuart," she demurred. But he answered decisively, "That's exactly why you need a plunge. You'll go in the tired housekeeper and come out Aphrodite rising from the foam."
"To-morrow perhaps—" she began, but he shook his head.
"If I'm any judge of weather the furies are brewing something in the line of a tempest. To-morrow will probably be a day of storm."
Under his forced lightness of speech, she realized the tenderness of solicitude—and acquiesced, because he wished it.
From her window as she changed into bathing things she saw the cove, blue as the Bay of Naples. After to-morrow, she thought, she would hate that cove. After to-morrow she must begin making her life over, and it would be like poverty's task of turning thread-bare seams.
In a little while Stuart, waiting for her in the hall below, heard, as he had heard on the day of his arrival, a laugh at the stairhead and looked up to see her there, standing once more in the attitude of one about to dive.
Her bare arms were raised and her dark hair fell heavily about her face, for she had not yet gathered and bound it under her bathing cap.
Through the emptiness of after years, he knew that picture would haunt him with the ache of inexpressible allurement, but now he forced a laugh and, stretching up his own arms, said challengingly, "Jump; I'll catch you."
Each detail of that swimming excursion was a reminder; an emphasis of thought upon these little things which association had made unaccountably dear, and which must be relinquished, yet the physical stimulus of the cooling water and the rhythmic companionship of the long swim across the cove and back had their effect, too, and were healing.
As he followed her up the twisting path ... between pine and bayberry ... for the last time ... the sun shone on her until she sparkled as if the clinging silk of her dripping bathing dress were sea weed, and in his heart he cursed Eben Tollman.
When they sat alone at table, where shams refuse to survive, a silence of constraint fell upon them and each fresh effort at talk broke down in pitiful failure.
Later as the last plate was stored in the cupboard and Farquaharson hung his dish towel on its rack, he said whimsically, "And to-morrow your butler leaves your service. Are you going to give him references?"
With a sudden break in her voice she wheeled on him.
"Please, Stuart," she begged, "don't try to make jokes about it. It's ghastly."
Early in the evening Farquaharson's prophecy fulfilled itself and the storm broke with a premature ferocity of shrieking winds, and endless play of lightning and torrents of rain. Against the French windows of the living-room, where they sat, came a pelting like shot against the glass.
"Conscience," said Stuart gravely, when the talk had for a time run in uneven fits and starts, "I know your views by now, and you know mine. But I want you to realize this: it's not your cause that I obey or love—it's you."
He paused for a moment, then went on: "You told me last night that you were helpless. I want you to recognize that you have been splendidly victorious—all through: because you are splendid yourself. It's a victory that's costing us all the happiness out of life, perhaps, but it oughtn't to leave you any room for self-reproach. You stood a long siege and it was left for me to make the hardest and most cruel onslaught of all on your overtaxed courage. I am sorry—and I capitulate—and I love you."
The clock in the hall struck nine and Conscience rose from her chair. Her eyes filled with uncontrollable tears and her lips trembled at their corners. The man bent forward, but, catching himself, he drew back and waited.
"Stuart, Stuart," she told him, "it's all so bleak—ahead! There are things that I must say to you, too, but I can't say them now. We can't sit here talking like this. It's like talking over the body of our dead happiness."
"I know," he replied in a strained voice. "It's just like that."
"I'm going to my room," she declared. "Perhaps I can write it all more easily than I can say it. Do you mind?"
"No." He shook his head. "I think it's better—but you must sleep to-night. Have you anything to take?"
"I have trional—but maybe I won't need it."
He closed the windows and shot the bolt of the front door; then, at the head of the stairs, they both paused.
"I would like to kiss you good-night," he said with a queer smile, "but—"
"But what?" she asked, and with their eyes meeting in full honesty he answered: "But—I don't dare."
Conscience's own room was at the front and right of the house, overlooking the cove and the road. Stuart's was at the back and left, separated by the length of the hall and by several rooms now empty.
For a long while after she had switched on her lights the woman sat in an attitude of limp and tearless distress. She could not yet attack the task of that letter which was to explain so much.
But finally she made a beginning.
"Dearest," she wrote, "(because it would only be dishonest to call you anything else), I am trying to write the things I couldn't say to you. You know and I know that if we acknowledged loving each other, when I have no right to love you, at least it has been a love that has been innocent in everything except its existence. When we look back on it, and try, as we must, to forget it, there will be no ghosts of guilty remembrance to haunt us. We loved each other in childhood, almost, and we loved each other until we let a misunderstanding separate us. I'm afraid, dear, I shall always love you, and yet I shall be more proud than ashamed when I look back on this time here together. Perhaps I should be ashamed of loving you at all, while I am the wife of a man who is good and who trusts me. But I am proud that you proved big enough to help me when I needed you. I shall be proud that when I was too weak to fight for myself you fought for me. I am proud that there was never a moment which Eben might not have seen, or one which he would have resented.
"I am trying to think, and when one reaches the point of utter honesty with oneself, one sees things more clearly. I told you that I thought Eben himself had come to believe this marriage a failure. But now I see why more clearly.
"It was my fault. I have been absolutely true to him in act, but perhaps, if I had let myself, I could after all have been true in a larger sense: in the sense of a better understanding. Perhaps I can still—and I mean to try.
"I know that you distrust him, but since last night I have been thinking of his great generosity, and of what unfaltering trust he has had in me. A trust like that ought to have brought him an allegiance not only of form but of the heart itself.
"Had he been a mean or suspicious man there were many circumstantial things that might have aroused his jealousy, but he has always been above jealousy.
"We know that there has been no taint of guilt—that our love has been, by ordinary standards, entirely innocent. But to him it has all been giving—and receiving nothing.
"From first to last he has trusted me. Leaving me here with you is a final demonstration of that trust—and he loves me.
"I am writing about Eben because I want you, who are at heart so just, to be fair in your thought of him. In our decision to separate for all time—"
There the pen faltered and Conscience had to rest for a moment.
"—you would not think the more of me, if you did not believe that I meant to carry the effort through to the end. I am going to begin over with what you call the hopeless experiment—and even now I think I have a chance ... a fighting chance of winning. If I have, I owe it to you."
In Boston Eben would have been safely housed against the storm, but Eben was not in Boston. He had driven to the village and put his horse and buggy in the livery stable. At the station he had bought a ticket for Boston, but when the express made its first stop he had dropped off to buy a paper and had intentionally allowed his train to go on without him.
To several acquaintances whom he met he confided the circumstance of his clumsy mistake, and one of them remembered in the light of after events that though he spoke with his ordinary reserve of manner his eyes had held a "queer glitter." Tollman told these persons that he would take the later train to his destination, but what he actually did was to board the afternoon local going in the direction of his home. As chance ordained, he paid his fare to a new conductor, who did not know him, and sat in the day coach unaccosted and unrecognized.
He did not remain on the local until it reached his own town of Tanner, but dropped off at West Tanner, one station short of the full distance, from which point he had a walk of four miles by a road sandy and little frequented, to his own house.
Even now Eben did not hurry, but when he had left the limits of the village he walked slowly and even paused occasionally to rest and reflect, consulting his watch on these halts as though his object was not so much the saving of time, as its killing.
In short, the Eben Tollman of this evening was not the same man that he had ever been before. To a superficial eye he was, as usual, sedately quiet, yet there was a new quality in his mood. This was the sort of quiet that might brood at the bottom of an ocean whose surface is being lashed into the destructive turmoil of tempest. Only since Eben Tollman was a madman—not a noisy and raving maniac but a homicidally dangerous and crafty one—his situation was inverted. It was the surface that was calm with him and the deeps that were frenzied.
To be sure, all these seeming vicissitudes of his journey were parts of a plan symmetrically ordered from the crazed compulsion of suspicion and jealousy and now ripe for its fruition, which was to be murder.
Of course the motive which actuated him, locked in its logic-proof compartment, would not have been, by him, called murder but obedience to a divine mandate. None-the-less it contemplated human sacrifice.
Just as the storm broke with its cannonading of winds and its fulmination of lightning he stopped at the edge of a small lake where an ice-house, now exhausted of supply, had been left accommodatingly unlocked.
He felt no hesitancy to taking refuge there because the place belonged to him. Quite recently he had foreclosed, the mortgage which gave him title to the small farm upon which it stood.
Eben's plan contemplated neither a premature nor an over-tardy arrival at his own house. The two malefactors who were, he felt absolutely certain, using his roof for their lustful assignation, had the night before them. They would avail themselves of it with that sybarite deliberateness which had characterized their epicurean guile and deceit from the beginning.
He consulted his watch. He judged that a quarter after nine, or perhaps nine-thirty, would be about the psychological time for his entry upon the scene, with his contribution of an unforeseen climax to the drama.
It was not yet seven, and it would be as well to wait here while the storm, which made the old ice-house tremble about his head, rode out its initial fury.
His judgment proved good for before it was necessary to start, the main violence of wind and rain had abated into gusts and desultory showers. Along the way he encountered evidences of its force, in fallen branches and broken trees; and in one place, as he crossed a road, he ran into a hanging strand of telephone wire pulled down by broken timber.
As he drew near his own house his wrath mounted to the cold and inflexible bitterness of arctic destruction, but his mind seemed to clarify into a preternatural alertness such as the absinthe-drinker fancies gives a razor edge to his thought functions. Like the keenness of absinthe it was hallucination. The tremendous thrill of a madness that had been cumulative through months and had finally reached the fulfillment of action, was vitalizing him.
When the walls of his house bulked at last before his eyes, he paused and began to take an accounting. One detail somewhat dismayed him. The entire lower floor was dark, and since it was yet early he had not expected that to be the case. The sudden fear attacked him that he was too late.
He made a complete and careful circuit of the grounds, noting with the fancied shrewdness of his mood every circumstance upon which a meaning might be placed.
The blankness of the first floor was merely indicative—but when he noted also the dark sash of Farquaharson's window indicativeness assumed a more sinister emphasis. It was reasonable to infer that unlighted rooms were unoccupied rooms and conversely, it was ominously significant that the wide window of his wife's bedroom gave the single frame of illumination that broke the darkness of the four walls.
For a better survey, he retreated to a bit of high ground at the right of the house which afforded a narrow glimpse into Conscience's room, though at an unsatisfactory range.
From this natural watch-tower he could make out the seated figure of his wife at her desk and from time co time she turned her head, as one might, who speaks to, or listens to, a companion within the same walls, though out of sight of a man who commands a circumscribed field of vision. Shortly he left that position and lurked for a time among the flowers and shrubbery that lined the stone wall of the yard.
From here he saw Conscience move into the zone of light framed by the window. Her hair had been loosened from its coils and fell in a heavy cascade of darkness over shoulders that were bare.
She seemed to wear a dainty negligee of ribboned silk, and as he watched she began slowly braiding her hair into two dusky ropes. After a little time she disappeared again from view.
The lunatic, now thoroughly frenzied, and imbued with the phantasy of suspicion, went back again to the higher ground and, after a time, saw her open the door of her room and disappear into the hall. That hall was the road that led to Stuart Farquaharson's room—and perdition!
Once more he, too, went to the rear of the house. There lay the best chance of viewing the next and most ominous scene of this drama of infamy and unfaithfulness.
But the hall at that angle was dark and told him nothing. Something else however told him everything—at least he so believed. The window of Stuart Farquaharson's room was no longer black but a frame of light.
Eben stood for a space with breath that came in hurried and panting excitement while the madness mounted in his veins and burned fiercely in his eyes.
Then, against the illuminated background he saw Stuart, the man whom God meant him to kill.
He was wrapped in a bathrobe and was calmly raising a match to his pipe-bowl.
The averted face was looking, Eben bitterly told himself, at the door which he could not see; was watching it open to admit Conscience Tollman.
Now was the appointed time! Now were the judgments loosened! Hastening his steps into an awkward trot, Tollman went around to the front door, his fingers trembling so that he had to stop and make an effort at calming himself before he could manage the key in the lock.
When at last it was fitted and stealthily turned with an attempt at noiselessness, the door refused to yield. That, he told himself furiously, he might have expected. For all their seeming sense of security they had reenforced it by shooting the bolt on the inside so that no one could enter without sending an alarm ahead of his coming. It was only one proof more of guilty concealment within. But it was far past time for needing such corroboration. He had seen enough and the problem raised by the present discovery was quite another. He went about the place trying side doors and windows, but everywhere his house was closed against him—and that meant a complete revision of plan, and the relinquishment of the tremendous force of climax to be gained by slipping in unannounced and holding over confounded evil-doers the irrefutable proof of demonstration.
He must knock on his door, and give them time to slip back into their disguise of hypocrisy. It meant that, in the principal feature, his whole carefully laid plan had failed, but at least now he knew the truth and was ready to let the avenging bolt fall. They would meet him with smiles of innocence: they with sinful kisses yet warm on their lips. They, fresh from their interrupted love, would talk casually. Very well, for a little while yet he could smile and be casual, too, meeting their guile with counter dissembling—until he was ready.
* * * * *
If Stuart Farquaharson had been sitting most of that evening in a darkened room, it was because his misery was so great that the light seemed to make clearer the wretchedness of his future. For a time he had tried to read; even to write, but that was before Eben had come. In all those efforts he had failed and now for more than an hour he had been gazing dejectedly out of the window, listening to the wind as it buffeted itself out and died in an exhausted moaning among the pines. He had heard the wailing of the harbor sirens but his eyes had been unseeing—at least unrecognizing.
And Conscience had been writing the letter which she meant to leave under the door of Stuart's room. He would find it there in the morning, and when he said good-by, he would understand the things which she had left unsaid before they parted in the hall.
She had gone and left the letter at the door: had even listened there a moment, unknown to the room's occupant, and it was that crossing of her threshold which her husband saw.
Then Stuart had switched on his light, and thrown off his clothes. If he seemed calm as he lighted his pipe, it was a calm of spent emotion, and not the complacency of a man who awaits a tryst.
Through the stillness of the house the hammering of the brass knocker sounded loudly. Stuart Farquaharson in his room and Conscience in hers, both heard it, with a sense of astonishment. The man opened his door and hurried to the stairhead, where he found Conscience, arrived in advance of him.
But as he had crossed his threshold Farquaharson had seen an envelope lying in the light that flooded through, and he recognized Conscience's hand in the address as he picked it up. Remembering what she had said about writing to him he was not surprised, and wishing to save the missive until he should be alone again, he thrust it into the pocket of his bath robe.
"I wonder who it can be—on such a night?" murmured the woman, and the man suggested:
"Perhaps you had better let me investigate. I imagine some motorist has come to grief in the storm."
When he threw open the door, Eben Tollman stepped in.
The elder man stood for a moment glancing from his guest to his wife, and in that instant of scrutiny whatever of the inquisitorial might have lurked in his eyes left them for a bland suavity. Conscience had hastened forward and her lips were smiling. Farquaharson's eyes dared to meet his own with a level straightforwardness.
But Tollman read into both the smile and the straight-gazing eyes a hypocrisy which superlatively embittered the blood in his veins.
Conscience was standing before him with the exquisite clarity of her complexion unclouded; with the dark pools of her eyes unvexed by the weight of hideous perfidy that should be stifling her heart.
This capping off of infamy with an angelic pretext of innocence was the supreme insult not only to Eben Tollman, outraged husband and man, but to the Righteousness he served, the Righteousness which he now seemed to hear calling trumpet-tongued for the reprisal which was at hand.
"What in the world has happened to you?" he heard his wife exclaiming in an astonished voice, and he laughed as he responded:
"I came back. Haven't you a kiss for me, my dear?" Then when she raised her lips to his an inner voice, which spoke only madness, whispered viciously, "The Judas woman! The unspeakable infamy!"
He explained that he had missed his train, and that when he telephoned to Boston, he learned that the matter could after all be deferred. A man from Chicago had also failed to arrive.
"But the train has been in for hours," Farquaharson reminded him with a puzzled tinge in his voice. "It can't have taken you this long to drive from Tanner."
"No, I didn't drive. The idea struck me of getting off at West Tanner and walking over. The old mare went lame and I didn't want to give her any more work to-night.... Then the storm broke and I took refuge in an empty ice-house."
Conscience said suddenly: "But, Eben, you are soaked—and if you've been wandering about like that, you can't have had any supper."
"No," he shook his head. "I haven't and I'm starving."
Including them both, he suggested with a frank seeming of pleasure. "However, I'm glad to be back. Did I wake you both up? You seem to have made a short evening of it."
"I haven't been asleep," answered Stuart, and Conscience added: "Nor I."
"I noticed," went on the husband evenly, "that the lower floor was dark, as I came up ... your window, too, Stuart, when I first saw it."
"You must have come very slowly," replied the younger man with a calmness that struck the other as the acme of effrontery. "My light has been burning for ten minutes ... but I don't make out how you saw my window if you came from the front of the house."
Eben winced a little, but his smile only became more urbane.
"Quite true, my boy. You see I tried my latch key first, and finding the house dark, I sought to avoid disturbing the sleepers. I went to the back door and the side door. Finally I knocked. Since neither of you was asleep it's all right."
"Perhaps after being in the fog so long," Conscience suggested, "a little brandy might be advisable," but Eben Tollman laughed.
"My dear, for some unaccountable reason, I feel as if I'd been away from home as long as Enoch Arden—and I'm much happier to be back. I am in the mood for celebration. There's a bottle of old Madeira in the pantry. I don't think a little of it will harm any of us ... and I'm going to dissipate even farther. I'm going to smoke a cigar." Smoking a cigar was with Eben a rite which occurred with the frequency of a Christmas or a Thanksgiving dinner.
Something youthful had come into his manner, and Farquaharson, in spite of his misery, laughed.
"I'm afraid I'm hardly dressed for a party," he demurred, but Eben answered in a tone of aggrieved hospitality.
"My dear fellow, you are much more fully dressed than when you go bathing; both of you—and how can I celebrate alone?" So Stuart smilingly asserted:
"All right. We'll have a toast in your excellent Madeira to the return of Enoch Arden."
Possibly his voice held a meaning less light than his words. Perhaps he was thinking of it as a toast to his own departure into exile, but to Eben it had the ring of a sneer, as though the words "too late" had been added.
Conscience disappeared to return shortly with a tray containing cold meat and bread, and to her husband she said: "Eben, I can't find the famous Madeira. Where is it?"
He rose, and announced that he would bring it at once, disappearing beyond the swinging door of the pantry.
While he was absent, Conscience turned to the man in the bath robe. A smile half of amusement and half of self-accusation tilted the corners of her lips.
"You see," she said thoughtfully, "I've just let myself think of him as elderly until, to me, he's become elderly. Yet to-night he's younger than either of us, isn't he?"
"To-night neither one of us is very young, dear," he replied with a wry smile.
In the pantry Eben Tollman poured three glasses of Madeira, and placed them on a tray carefully noting their relative positions. With fingers that trembled violently for a moment Eben grew as abruptly steady; he drew from his waistcoat pocket a small envelope such as druggists use, and into two of the glasses he divided its supply of small tablets.
"Ebbett said they were tasteless and readily soluble," he reminded himself. "And that the amount should be enough for a dog or a man."
Then he patted his breast pocket, where lay an envelope yellowed with age, bearing the legend "S. F. & C. W."
Of that he meant also to make use later.
The living-room held a glow of mellow light, but as Eben returned with the three brimming glasses, Conscience touched a button which darkened the wall sconces and left only the large lamp on the table, where she had placed her tray.
"Inasmuch as two members of this party are more or less gauzily appareled," she suggested, "it doesn't seem to be necessary to make an illumination of it."
Tollman, with a seeming of absent-mindedness set down his light burden on a small side table, somewhat remote, but it was with no want of certainty that he marked the relative positions of its contents. One glass was alone at the edge of the silver platter. Two others were closer together at the center.
Now he came over, empty-handed, and as he regarded the larger tray of food, he rubbed his palms appreciatively with a convincing relish.
"You have prepared a feast for the traveler on very short notice," he smilingly attested while inwardly and more grimly he added in apposition—"'a table in the presence of mine enemies!'"
His wife modestly disclaimed credit. "You are easy to please, Eben. There's only beef sandwiches and fruit and a little cake. Would you like me to make you some coffee?"
Eben raised his hand with a gesture of refusal. "No, indeed, I am more than satisfied—unless you want it yourself."
But she shook her head, "It would keep me awake. I haven't been sleeping well of late." This announcement of insomnia—twin sister to a troubled conscience, he thought—was a somewhat bold skirting of admission, but his words were reassuring.
"The Madeira is well timed then. A glass before bedtime should be soothing." Still standing, he bit into one of the beef sandwiches, and observed with an approach to the whimsy of gayety: "I've never been quite clear in my own mind as to what was meant by the stalled ox of scriptural fame and I've always subscribed to the text 'better a dinner of herbs where love is'—but I'm bound to say, it's very gratifying to have the stalled ox and the love as well."
For Farquaharson his air of celebration held an irony which accentuated his own exclusion and made participation difficult. He was the exile at the feast.
Eben who, alone of the three, had not seated himself wandered about with the restless volubility of a peripatetic philosopher, though his humor was genial beyond its custom. At last with the air of one too engaged with his own conversation to heed details of courtesy he took up his glass and sipped from it thoughtfully.
"Even if this is my own wine," he commented, "I can't withhold commendation. I sometimes think that only the very abstemious man can truly appreciate a good vintage. For him it is an undulled pleasure of the palate."
Stuart Farquaharson at last found it possible to laugh.
"I for one can't dispute the statement," he confessed. "I haven't tasted it yet—though I understood that both Conscience and I were invited."
"A thousand pardons!" exclaimed the host, shamefacedly. "I am a poor sort of Ganymede—drinking alone and leaving my guests unserved!"
He set down his own glass, and with tardy solicitude proffered to them the remaining two.
"Here's to the homecoming," he proposed with a jauntiness which sat upon him like foreign raiment as he took up his own wine again and Stuart, with a dolorous smile, suggested: "Why not include me in the toast, Eben? The arrival—and the departure."
"Ah," demurred the elder man easily. "But that's not to be celebrated, my boy. For us that is a misfortune."
The two men emptied and put down their glasses—and lighted cigars while Conscience sat thoughtfully, making slower work of her Madeira.
"And now shall we have a little music?" inquired the husband, while the younger man's face darkened, and Conscience said rather hastily:
"Not this evening, please, Eben. We've rather overworked the phonograph of late."
"Not even 'The Beautiful Night of Love'?" The inquiry held an insistent shade of regret.
But Eben, as his glance went shiftily to the face of the clock, was as steady and as cool as one may become under the temporary keying of a repressed and brain-wrecking excitement. To this inflexible composure he must hold until a certain moment arrived, and he must time himself to its coming with a perfection of nicety.
"At last, Eben," Farquaharson testified when a brief silence had fallen on the trio, "I am ready to praise your wine. I feel the glow in my veins and the glow is insidiously grateful."
"I was just thinking so, too," agreed Conscience. "It takes only a taste to go to my head." She was still holding between her fingers the stem of a glass half-full. "I was very tired and already I feel wonderfully restored."
Indeed the shadow had left her eyes and in them was a quiet glow as she smiled upon her husband whose nerves were as tautly strung as those of a sprinter crouched upon his mark and straining to be away at the pistol's crack. "The traitoress has the infamy to smile at me—whom she has betrayed," was the thought in his heart. "It will soon be time!"
These final minutes of necessary waiting and dissembling were the most unendurable of all—this damming back of a madman's thirst for vengeance. Ebbett had said that there is a prefatory period of excitation followed shortly by languor. They must realize their fate, otherwise punishment would be empty, but when he should launch his bolt, the power of the drug must have laid upon them both the beginnings of helplessness: the weight of its inertia. Now he said, acknowledging the praise of his wine:
"The glow comes first, and then the sedative influence—like the touch of velvet."
"You are almost poetic to-night, Eben," smiled Conscience, and he laughed. But abruptly he shivered, and became prosaic again.
"It seems chilly to me here—Perhaps I've taken cold. The day was hot enough, heaven knows, but the night has turned raw—Do you mind if I light the fire?"
Receiving permission, Eben turned his back and stooped to touch a match to the logs on the hearth. In a moment the flames were leaping and the man who had straightened up stood for a brief space watching them spread and broaden.
It was while he was so engaged that Conscience raised her hand and held out her glass, still not quite emptied, for Stuart to set down. She did so silently and the man rose from his chair and took it from her, but in the simple operation their fingers met and a sudden surging of emotions came to each in the moment of contact.
Without a word, save as his lips formed mutely the two syllables—"To you"—Stuart lifted the glass toward her and then drained it.
Then as he replaced it together with his own on the table Eben Tollman turned, and noted, with satisfaction, the emptiness of the miniature goblets.
The light of animation had died slowly from the dark eyes of the woman, until to the watching husband they seemed inky pools of languor. The leaping flames held her attention and her lips were parted in an inscrutable half-smile. Already her thoughts were becoming pleasantly languid, dwelling on such inconsequential things as how blue the water had been—and that after all to-morrow does not come—until to-morrow.
Shadows leaped and danced fantastically against the color of the crackling logs and in her hair shimmered a glow that ranged between the glint of darkened mahogany and jet. It was of this that Stuart thought, as, for a half hour, they listened to Tollman's talk, content with brief replies or none at all. Some magic had lulled him, too, into a quietened mood from which had been smoothed the saw-edged raggedness of despair. With a vague wonderment he recognized this metamorphosis. No such soothing potency lay in any wine ever pressed from the grapes of Funchal; but it was inexplicably pleasant, and surrender grew beyond any power of its questioning or combatting. Gradually, agreeably the two of them were sinking below the surface of consciousness. Soon they would be submerged.
Then in a moment of partial realization, Conscience said: "I think I had better go upstairs. I was almost napping in my chair." But she made no actual effort to move and her husband raised a smiling demurrer to the suggestion.
"It would be a pity to go just now. The fire has only begun to be cheerful and as for myself I am still chilly."
It was unaccountably pleasant there, with this strange, almost magical blurring of realities into a velvety ease ... with visions of blue water and contented thoughts hovering near in a waking and seductive sort of sleep.
A long silence fell upon the three—realized by only one.
The point where they drifted into the nebulous territory of dreams was undefined. The actual was dropping away into an impalpable mistiness as the earth drops from under a rising aeroplane.
Both Conscience and Stuart sought futilely to rouse themselves because the dream had now ceased to be pleasant, and yet it was only an ugly picture projected against a beautiful background deepening into a purple velvet stupor.
They knew the picture itself was not real because, in it, Eben's usually calm face was distorted into a demoniac frenzy and his voice quavered and ranted into a high-pitched incoherence.
The dream in spite of its fantastic wildness must have held some attribute of the comic for they smiled as if in confidential understanding. Eben seemed to be waving before their eyes an envelope and to be talking about intercepted letters which was all absurdly, impalpably funny.
There was also some grotesque eloquence about the vengeance of a Most High God, visited upon adulterers.
But the voice dropped sometimes to an inaudible pitch and rose sometimes like a scream because it came from an incalculable distance and the figure, distorted with meaningless gyrations of gesture, appeared and disappeared like a shade in a farce.
Eben Tollman stood declaiming on his hearth with his clenched hands stretched high above his head while his victims drowsed peacefully.
Mania raced and burned through him as a current travels through wire. The dam of repression which had only collected and stored up the elements of flood had burst into torrents and chaos. The wreck of his brain swirled furiously in a single whirlpool of idea, the monomania that he was called to be God's avenger.
But he had lost his audience and his victims had escaped him. Upon the lips of the two unspeakable malefactors dwelt a smile of obtuse tranquillity.
He raised his eyes, as if to heaven, and his voice in fulminating anathema.
"'Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication and going after strange flesh ... are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.... Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh ... despise dominion and speak evil of dignities.'"
The madman paused, but only for a moment, then again he thundered out his rabid and distorted prayer. "'Their throat is an open sepulcher: they flatter with their tongue.... Destroy them, O God: let them perish through their own imaginations.'"...
When Tollman's delirium had burned him into a temporary exhaustion he collapsed into a chair and at his feet, forgotten now, fell the envelope which he had flaunted vainly before the eyes of the transgressors. They had escaped, not scourged or harrowed according to their deserts, but smiling like sleepy children, through the door of unconsciousness and oblivion. Gropingly his fingers went again into his pocket and came out holding the envelope out of which he had taken the death tablets. They, too, had betrayed him. Instead of torture they had brought the peace of Nirvana.
From the limp fingers of the demented creature who sat gazing at his two victims, the envelope fluttered down. Except for the mad embers of the eyes, one might have said that the room held three dead bodies.
At least he had sent them on to a judgment from which they could not escape with iniquitous smiles.
Then a sudden doubt assailed him. Were they, after all, dead?
He came to his foot, moving with the spasmodic jerkiness of his condition, but with all the augmented strength of a madman's power.
To his crazed investigation their wrists betrayed no pulse and their lips, no breath. Then they were dead!
With an inarticulate exclamation, like the oath of a man devoid of speech, he ripped the sheer and ribboned silk from his wife's breast, as savagely as though he were tearing the flesh itself, and laid his hand upon the bared bosom. There, too, was the unfluttering stillness of a lifeless heart.
Then straightening up, he gazed down on her, loathing all the beauty which had once allured him and which now dedicated itself, in death, to the benediction of a smile turned toward her lover.
Already mad, his lunacy became a perversion of deviltry. He lifted the unstirring body and posed it in a relaxed attitude of ease upon the broad couch that stood at one side of the hearth. Back of the bared shoulders, he heaped cushions, so that she seemed the voluptuous figure of a woman who abandons herself to as irresponsible a gratification of sense as a purring tigress. The fire, playing on the ivory of her cheeks and the bosom more softly white than the checks, seemed to awaken a ghost of flickering mockery about her smiling lips.
Then, drawing upon his unwonted strength of the hour, Eben Tollman moved the other figure until what had been Stuart Farquaharson sat beside what had been Conscience Tollman in lover-like proximity.
As he staged this ghastly pantomime, he gloated wildly. That was the scene which a bolted door had prevented him from surprising! That was the inexpressible and iniquitous devotion which they had hidden in innocent smiles! Their eyes were closed, but each face was turned toward the other, and in death the woman's seemed to take on a deeper tenderness.
Tollman lifted one of her arms, from which the drapery fell back, and laid it across the shoulder of the man at her side, and about him the world rocked in the quake of mania.
He stood off and contemplated them from a greater distance—and having, in his madman's saturnalia, burned out even the augmented forces of his fever, a feeling of weakness overcame him. Then it was that his eyes caught the corner of an envelope protruding from the pocket of Stuart Farquaharson's bath robe. Hurriedly he tore it out and ripped off the end. It was in Conscience's hand—doubtless another proof of iniquity.
But as he read, the fires of his brain were swept back, under the quenching force of undeniable conviction. This letter had not been meant for his eyes. It could hold no motive of deceiving him.
Only treatment in confinement could ever again set up the fallen and shattered sanity of this man, but like rents in a curtain there came to him flashes of the rational. They came fitfully under the tremendously sobering effect of what he read. What Stuart Farquaharson had never read.
"It was my fault.... I have been absolutely true to him in act ... but perhaps ... I could ... have been true in a larger sense. I have been thinking of his great generosity and of what unfaltering trust he has in me ... he has always been above jealousy. We know that there has been no taint of guilt. Even now I think I have a fighting chance of winning. If I have I owe it to you...." These words spelled out a document which could not be doubted, which even the perversion of a jealousy gone mad could no longer doubt.
He, Eben Tollman, the righteous, had built the whole horrible structure of abomination—out of jealous fabrications! He had made the hideous mistake and capped it with murder!
A nausea of brain and soul swept him. Then again the half-sane interval darkened luridly into hallucination, but now it was a new hallucination.
The figure of the woman on the couch seemed to move. Instead of the filmy draperies torn by his own hand, she wore the habiliments of poverty and looked at him out of a face of plebeian prettiness; a face of dimly confused features. The apparition rose and stood waveringly upright. "You murdered me, too!" it said in a voice of vague simplicity. Eben Tollman tried to scream and could not.
He covered his eyes with his palms, but failed to shut out the image because it lay deeper than the retina's curtain.
"I'm one of the others you murdered," went on the voice. "I'm Minnie Ray."
Tollman straightened suddenly up. The vagary had passed—but on the couch the two immovable figures remained.
Tollman had never been a handsome man, but his face and carriage had held a certain stiff semblance of dignity. Now his cheeks flamed with the temperature which must, without the immediate administration of a powerful sedative, burn out his life with its crisping and charring virulence. His eyes were no longer human, but transformed into that kinship with those of wild beasts or red embers that comes with acute mania.
As the shadows wavered in the room which he had made a place of murder, there rose out of them taunting, accusing figures. He seemed to see Hagan, the detective, grotesquely converted into an executioner clad in red and Sam Haymond launching against him the anathema of the Church. There were shapes of strange things neither human, animal nor reptile—but wholly monstrous—emerging greedily from filthy lairs and creeping toward him with sinuous movements through a sea of slime.
For the furies that haunted Orestes, because of his classic crime, had come back to pursue Eben Tollman.
He laughed as maniacs laugh and screamed as maniacs scream, until the strange medley of insensate sounds went rocketing and skittering through the house and came back in echo, as the retort of the furies.
One human sense was left: the sense of flight: the impulse to leave the place where Death held dominion and Death's avengers came in unclean and rapacious hordes.
Turning, he fled with a speed born of his dementia, hurling himself through the door with a crash of shattered glass and a trail of incoherent ravings.
Without sense of direction or objective he raced here and there, doubling like a frightened rabbit, taking no account of paths or obstructions, seeing nothing but hordes of pursuing furies urged on by a parson and a hangman who led the chase.
The storm had begun anew, and out here in the darkness the cannonading of thunder and wind swelled the chorus of pursuit. When the refugee fell, he clawed and bit at the vines which had tripped him, in a fancied battle of Laocooen, until at last he saw the coolness of water ahead of him, and, dashing down the slope, hurled himself, shrieking, into its stillness.
There his outcry ended. His spread fingers clutched at a liquid emptiness and his fevered eyes showed once or twice briefly—and were quenched.
The logs on the hearth leaped and crackled, spurting tongues of blue flame, and after they had roared up to their fullest they slowly subsided, until the shadows about the walls spread and encroached from their corners toward the center of the room. The polish of furniture and the bright angles of silver and bric-a-brac stood out with diminishing high-lights. Hour by hour and minute by minute the faces of two unmoving figures seated on a low and heavily cushioned couch grew less clear and merged into the growing darkness.
Then the logs glowed only as embers against their bed of white ashes and the table lamp burned on in single steadfastness.
Silence held the place, abandoned now by the furies, to the smile on two unstirring faces. The gray of the east had begun to brighten into the rose that comes ahead of the sun, when slowly, as if struggling under a weight of pyramids the heavy lids of one of the faces fluttered. They fluttered with no recognition as yet of the difference between death and life, realizing only the burden of an immeasurable inertia.
Almost imperceptibly the currents of submerged vitality began to steal back into the veins of Conscience Tollman.
For ages she seemed struggling through the heavy shades of coma, and even after she was able to see her surroundings, it was without a realization of their significance.
She sat studying with an impersonal gaze the quiet figure at her side, looking even at her own hand resting upon its shoulder with the same absence of interest that she might have felt for another hand and another shoulder.
But about the time that the sun came over the eastern skyline, dissipating the mistiness of dawn into the birth of a new day, she crossed the line between the palpable and impalpable, and her brain began to awaken to the need of battle with this lethargy.
The unmoving figure at her side was no longer simply an object upon which her eyes dwelt without recognition, but the man she loved and was sending away, and the hand which rested on his shoulder must no longer lie there idle.
Then with all its complicated features of phenomena, the bewilderment of the situation burst on her, and she struggled to her feet, reeling under the assaults of dizziness and weakness and wonderment.
How had they come to be sitting there in that unaccountable fashion together and alone, while the first brightness of morning stole in at the French windows and the lamp burned on with its sickly mingling of day and night and the fresh breeze swept in through a broken and flapping door?
Where was Eben?
Conscience raised her voice—still weak from the drug—and called wildly, but there was little sound and no answer. Undefined but strong, the realization struck in upon her that tragedy in some monstrous shape had entered the place and left its impress.
She stood, still groping with amazement, and her hands rose with a fumbling uncertainty until the touch of their fingers fell upon the bosom from which the drapery had been torn, and instinctively gathered it again over her breast and throat.
But whatever the riddle might portend it could await construction. One primary fact proclaimed itself in terms so clear and unmistakable that all else was lost.
Stuart seemed lifeless. She herself had the feeling of one who had been tangled in the fringes of death: who had struggled out of the meshes of a fatal web.
He had saved her, when she was too weak to fight—it all seemed very long ago.... She loved him.... She must save him now.
She knelt at his side, chafing his wrists and trying his heart with ear and touch—her eyes wide with almost hopeless forebodings.
At last she rose and pressed her hands tight to her throbbing temples.
"Thank God," she whispered, for a faint flutter of life had rewarded her investigation. In a bewildered voice she murmured: "I must think. I must remember! We were all sitting here—we were talking."
Again she called, feebly at first, then with a growing strength, for her husband, and when no answer came except the echo of her own voice, she left the room and went gropingly, supporting herself against furniture and wall, to the telephone—but the telephone, too, was dead. The storm had done that.
Confused now with a torrent of alarms and a sense of futility, she came back to the man whose life seemed so tenuously suspended, having no plan beyond a Valkyrie passion of resolution to bring him back from the border of death by the sheer force of invincible will. She succeeded, after many attempts, in shifting him from his sitting posture to a greater ease. Between his still lips she forced brandy.
After ages of suspense and vigil, with his head on her lap and her fingers wildly working at his wrists, she vacillated terribly between the hope that life was returning and the fear that it was waning. After other ages she saw his lids flicker almost imperceptibly and then, when anxiety had taken a heavy toll, his eyes looked up in uncomprehending life. Conscience bent her face close to his and there was breath on his lips and nostrils. Eben had been a Machiavelli in spirit only. In effect he had bungled.
* * * * *
Mystery still hung over the house of Eben Tollman an hour or two later, but the two figures that had sat with the quietness of unaccomplished death were again sensate and restored to full consciousness.
Conscience had been able to go to her own room, and Stuart, now dressed, came slowly and as yet somewhat haltingly down the stairs, holding carefully to the rail. He was setting out to search for Eben Tollman, and to call in medical help. But in the hall he paused, and then, turning on impulse, went slowly into the living-room.
There he stood looking about as a man who has dropped from his own planet to one wholly unfamiliar may seek to take his bearings.
His eyes fell as he paused on two patches of white which showed against the dark richness of the rugs and laboriously he picked them up. One was a yellow envelope inscribed "S. F. & C. W."
As a sudden blow may bring back a lost identity to the victim of amnesia the discovery electrified the man and he straightened into an abrupt erectness. His features lost their sleep-walking indefiniteness and his jaw stiffened.
As the significance of his discovery dawned on him, a pallor quite separate from that of his condition came over his face and a murder light broke in his eyes. He would go on with his search for Eben, but when he found him now—! He wheeled suddenly and began looking at the table, and across the confused screen of his brain flashed a complete picture and an understanding.
Then he studied the other and smaller envelope—and recognized it as the one which Dr. Ebbett had given Eben Tollman when they talked of a merciful release for the dog that had outlived his enjoyment of life.
"I don't believe I'll ever find him—alive," he said very slowly, under his breath; "I think I understand."
Then after a moment of grave reflection he added:
"I don't see why she need know it all," and he dropped the two letters and the small envelope upon the dead logs and touched a match to their edges. Then he carried three wine glasses out to the pantry, and carefully washed them, pouring again a few drops of clear wine, like residue, into their bottoms. "Coroners are inquisitive," he told himself musingly.
After that he opened the door and went out into the morning, which, succeeding the storm, was a morning of sunlight.