Author of "Through the Wall", etc.
THE JAMES A. McCANN COMPANY
Copyright 1920 by
THE JAMES A. McCANN COMPANY
All Rights Reserved
Printed in U. S. A.
Whatever the defects or limitations of this story, I can assure my readers that it is largely based on truth. Many of the incidents, including the dual personality phenomena, were suggested by actual happenings known to me. The doctor who accomplishes cures by occult methods is a friend of mine, who lives and practises in New York City. Seraphine, the medium, is also a real person. The episode that is explained by waves of terror passing from one apartment to another and separately affecting three unsuspecting persons is not imaginary, but drawn from an almost identical happening that I, myself, witnessed in Paris, France. And the truth about women that I have tried to tell has been largely obtained from women themselves, women in various walks of life, who have been kind enough to give me most of the opinions and experiences that are contained in Penelope's diary. To them I now gratefully dedicate this book.
I. VOICES 6
II. WHAT PENELOPE COULD NOT TELL THE DOCTOR 18
III. A BOWL OF GOLD FISH 42
IV. FIVE PURPLE MARKS 46
V. WHAT REALLY HAPPENED AT THE STUDIO 53
VI. EARTH-BOUND 62
VII. JEWELS 70
VIII. WHITE SHAPES 80
IX. THE CONFESSIONAL CLUB 90
X. FAUVETTE 103
XI. THE EVIL SPIRIT 111
XII. X K C 115
XIII. TERROR 128
XIV. POSSESSED 142
XV. DR. LEROY 149
XVI. IRRESPONSIBLE HANDS 161
XVII. THE HOUR OF THE DREAM 169
XVIII. PLAYING WITH FIRE 179
XIX. PRIDE 192
XX. THE MIRACLE 199
XXI. THE TRUTH ABOUT WOMEN THAT NOBODY TELLS 210
"Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life."
PROVERBS, Chapter IV, Verse 23.
This story presents the fulfillment of an extraordinary prophecy made one night, suddenly and dramatically, at a gathering of New Yorkers, brought together for hilarious purposes, including a little supper, in the Washington Square apartment of Bobby Vallis—her full name was Roberta. There were soft lights and low divans and the strumming of a painted ukulele that sang its little twisted soul out under the caress of Penelope's white fingers. I can still see the big black opal in its quaint setting that had replaced her wedding ring and the yellow serpent of pliant gold coiled on her thumb with two bright rubies for its eyes. Penelope Wells! How little we realized what sinister forces were playing about her that pleasant evening as we smoked and jested and sipped our glasses, gazing from time to time up the broad vista of Fifth Avenue with its lines of receding lights.
There had been an impromptu session of the Confessional Club during which several men, notably a poet in velveteen jacket, had vouchsafed sentimental or matrimonial revelations in the most approved Greenwich Village style. And the ladies, unabashed, had discussed these things.
But not a word did Penelope Wells speak of her own matrimonial troubles, which were known vaguely to most of us, although we had never met the drunken brute of a husband who had made her life a torment. I can see her now in profile against the open window, her eyes dark with their slumberous fires. I remember the green earrings she wore that night, and how they reached down under her heavy black braids—reached down caressingly over her white neck. She was a strangely, fiercely beautiful creature, made to love and to be loved, fated for tragic happenings. She was twenty-nine.
The discussion waxed warm over the eternal question—how shall a woman satisfy her emotional nature when she has no chance or almost no chance to marry the man she longs to marry?
Roberta Vallis put forth views that would have frozen old-fashioned moralists into speechless disapproval—entire freedom of choice and action for women as well as men, freedom to unite with a mate or separate from a mate—both sexes to have exactly the same responsibilities or lack of responsibilities in these sentimental arrangements.
"No, no! I call that loathsome, abominable," declared Penelope, and the poet adoringly agreed with her, although his practice had been notoriously at variance with these professions.
"Suppose a woman finds herself married to some beast of a man," flashed Roberta, "some worthless drunkard, do you mean to tell me it is her duty to stick to such a husband, and spoil her whole life?"
To which Penelope, hiding her agitation, said: "I—I am not discussing that phase of the question. I mean that if a woman is alone in the world, if she longs for the companionship of a man—the intimate companionship—"
"Ha, ha, ha!" snickered the poet. I can see his close cropped yellow beard and his red face wrinkling in merriment at this supposition.
"I hate your Greenwich Village philosophy," stormed Penelope. "You haven't the courage, the understanding to commit one big splendid sin that even the angels in heaven might approve, but you fritter away your souls and spoil your bodies in cheap little sins that are just—disgusting!"
The poet shrivelled under her scorn.
"But—one splendid sin?" he stammered. "That means a woman must go to her mate, doesn't it?"
"Without marriage? Never! I'll tell you what a woman should do—I'll tell you what I would do, just to prove that I am not conventional, I would act on the principle that there is a sacred right God has given to every woman who is born, a right that not even God Himself can take away from her, I mean the right to—"
A muffled scream interrupted her, a quick catching of the breath by a stout lady, a newcomer, who was seated on a divan, I should have judged this woman to be a rather commonplace person except that her deeply sunken eyes seemed to carry a far away expression as if she saw things that were invisible to others. Now her eyes were fixed on Penelope.
"Oh, the beautiful scarlet light!" she murmured. "There! Don't you see—moving down her arm? And another one—on her shoulder! Scarlet lights! My poor child! My poor child!"
Ordinarily we would have laughed at this, for, of course, we saw no scarlet lights, but somehow now we did not laugh. On the contrary we fell into hushed and wondering attention, and, turning to Roberta, we learned that this was Seraphine, a trance medium who had given seances for years to scientists and occult investigators, and was now assisting Dr. W——, of the American Occult Society.
"A seance! Magnificent! Let us have a seance!" whispered the poet. "Tell us, madam, can you really lift the veil of the future?"
But already Seraphine had settled back on the divan and I saw that her eyes had closed and her breathing was quieter, although her body was shaken from time to time by little tremors as if she were recovering from some great agitation. We watched her wonderingly, and presently she began to speak, at first slowly and painfully, then in her natural tone. Her message was so brief, so startling in its purport that there can be no question of any error in this record.
"Penelope will—cross the ocean," Seraphine began dreamily. "Her husband will die—very soon. There will be war—soon. She will go to the war and will have honors conferred upon her—on the battlefield. She will—she will,"—the medium's face changed startlingly to a mask of anguish and her bosom heaved. "Oh, my poor child! I see you—I see you going down to—to horror—to terror—Ah!"
She cried out in fright and stopped speaking; then, after a moment of dazed effort, she came back to reality and looked at us as before out of her sunken eyes, a plump little kindly faced woman resting against a blue pillow.
* * * * *
Now, whatever one may think of mediums, the facts are that Penelope's husband died suddenly in an automobile accident within a month of this memorable evening. And within two months the great war burst upon the world. And within a year Penelope did cross the ocean as a Red Cross Nurse, and it is a matter of record that she was decorated for valor under fire of the enemy.
This story has to do with the remainder of Seraphine's prophecy.
Penelope moved nervously in her chair, evidently very much troubled about something as she waited in the doctor's office. Her two years in France had added a touch of mystery to her strange beauty. Her eyes were more veiled in their burning, as if she had glimpsed something that had frightened her; yet they were eyes that, even unintentionally, carried a message to men, an alluring, appealing message to men. With her red mouth, her fascinatingly unsymmetrical mouth, and her sinuous body Penelope Wells at thirty-three was the kind of woman men look at twice and remember. She was dressed in black.
When Dr. William Owen entered the front room of his Ninth Street office he greeted her with the rough kindliness that a big man in his profession, a big-hearted man, shows to a young woman whose case interests him and whose personality is attractive.
"I got your note, Mrs. Wells," he began, "and I had a letter about you from my young friend, Captain Herrick. I needn't say that I had already read about your bravery in the newspapers. The whole country has been sounding your praises. When did you get back to New York?"
"About a week ago, doctor. I came on a troop ship with several other nurses. I—I wish I had never come."
There was a note of pathetic, ominous sadness in her voice. Even in his first study of this lovely face, the doctor's experienced eye told him that here was a case of complicated nervous breakdown. He wondered if she could have had a slight touch of shell shock. What a ghastly thing for a high spirited, sensitive young woman to be out on those battle fields in France!
"You mustn't say that, Mrs. Wells. We are all very proud of you. Think of having the croix de guerre pinned on your dress by the commanding general before a whole regiment! Pretty fine for an American woman!"
Penelope Wells sat quite still, playing with the flexible serpent ring on her thumb, and looked at the doctor out of her wonderful deep eyes that seemed to burn with a mysterious fire. Could there be something Oriental about her—or—or Indian, the physician wondered.
"Doctor," she said, in a low tone, "I have come to tell you the truth about myself, and the truth is that I deserve no credit for what I did that day, because I—I did not want to live. I wanted them to kill me, I took every chance so that they would kill me; but God willed it differently, the shells and bullets swept all around me, cut through my dress, through my hair, but did not harm me."
"Tell me a little more about it, just quietly. How did you happen to go out there? Was it because you heard that Captain Herrick was wounded? That's the way the papers cabled the story. Was that true?" Then, seeing her face darken, he added: "Perhaps I ought not to ask that question?"
"Oh, yes, I want you to. I want you to know everything about me—everything. That's why I am here. Captain Herrick says you are a great specialist in nervous troubles, and I have a feeling that unless you can help me nobody can."
"Well, I have helped some people who felt pretty blue about life—perhaps I can help you. Now, then, what is the immediate trouble? Any aches or pains? I must say you seem to be in splendid health," he smiled at her with cheery admiration.
"It isn't my body. I have no physical suffering. I eat well enough, I sleep well, except—my dreams. I have horrible, torturing dreams, doctor. I'm afraid to go to sleep. I have the same dreams over and over again, especially two dreams that haunt me."
"How long have you had these dreams?"
"Ever since I went out that dreadful day from Montidier—when the Germans almost broke through. They told me Captain Herrick was lying there helpless, out beyond our lines. So I went to him. I don't know how I got there, but—I found him. He was wounded in the thigh and a German beast was standing over him when I came up. He was going to run him through with a bayonet. And somehow, I—I don't know how I did it, but I caught up a pistol from a dead soldier and I shot the German."
"Good Lord! You don't say! They didn't have that in the papers! What a woman! No wonder you've had bad dreams!"
Penelope passed a slender hand over her eyes as if to brush away evil memories, then she said wearily: "It isn't that, they are not ordinary dreams."
"Well, what kind of dreams are they? You say there are two dreams?"
"There are two that I have had over and over again, but there are others, all part of a sequence with the same person in them."
The doctor looked at her sharply. "The same person? A person that you recognize?"
"A person you have really seen? A man?"
"Yes, the man I killed."
"I told you he was a beast. I saw that in his face, but I know it now because I dream of things that he did as a conqueror—in the villages."
"I see—brutal things?"
"Worse than that. In one dream I see him—Oh!" she shuddered and the agony in her eyes was more eloquent than words.
"My dear lady, you are naturally wrought up by these dreadful experiences, you need rest, quiet surroundings, good food, a little relaxation——"
"No, no, no," Mrs. Wells interrupted impatiently.
"Don't tell me those old things. I am a trained nurse. I know my case is entirely different."
"How is it different? We all have dreams. I have dreams myself. One night I dreamed that I was dissecting the janitor downstairs; sometimes I wish I had."
Penelope brushed aside this effort at humor. "You haven't dreamed that twenty times with every detail the same, have you? That's how I dream. I see these faces, real faces, again and again. I hear the same cries, the same words, vile words. Oh, I can't tell you how horrible it is!"
"But we are not responsible for our dreams," the doctor insisted.
She shook her head wearily. "That's just the point, it seems to me that I am responsible. I feel as if I enjoy these horrible dreams—while I am dreaming them. When I am awake, the very thought of them makes me shudder, but while I am dreaming I seem to be an entirely different person—a low, vulgar creature proud of the brutal strength and coarseness of her man. I seem to be a part of this human beast! When I wake up I feel as if my soul had been stained, dragged in the mire, almost lost. It seems as if I could never again feel any self-respect. Oh, doctor," Penelope's voice broke and the tears filled her eyes, "you must help me! I cannot bear this torture any longer! What can I do to escape from such a curse?"
Seldom, in his years of practice, had the specialist been so moved by a patient's confession as was Dr. Owen during Penelope's revelation of her suffering. As a kindly human soul he longed to help this agonized mortal; as a scientific expert he was eager to solve the mystery of this nervous disorder. He leaned toward her with a look of compassion.
"Be assured, my dear Mrs. Wells, I shall do everything in my power to help you. And in order to accomplish what we want, I must understand a great many things about your past life." He drew a letter from his pocket. "Let me look over what Captain Herrick wrote me about you. Hm! He refers to your married life?"
The doctor studied the letter in silence. "I see. Your husband died about four years ago?"
"Four years and a half."
"I judge that your married life was not very happy?"
"That is true, it was very unhappy."
"Is there anything in your memory of your husband, any details regarding your married life, that may have a bearing on your present state of mind?"
"I—I think perhaps there is," she answered hesitatingly.
"Is it something of an intimate nature that—er—you find it difficult to tell me about?"
"I will tell you about it, doctor, but, if you don't mind," she made a pathetic little gesture, "I would rather tell you at some other time. It has no bearing upon my immediate trouble, that is, I don't think it has."
"Good. We'll take that up later on. Now I want to ask another question. I understood you to say that when you did that brave act on the battle field you really wanted to—to have the whole thing over with?"
"Yes, I did."
"You did not go out to rescue Captain Herrick simply because you—let us say, cared for him?"
For the first time Penelope's face lighted in an amused smile. "I haven't said that I care for Captain Herrick, have I? I don't mind telling you, though, that I should not have gone into that danger if I had not known that Chris was wounded. I cared for him enough to want to help him."
"But not enough to go on living?"
"No, I did not want to go on living."
He eyed her with the business-like tenderness that an old doctor feels for a beautiful young patient. "Of course, you realize, Mrs. Wells, that it will be impossible for me to help you or relieve your distressing symptoms unless you tell me what is behind them. I must know clearly why it was that you did not wish to go on living."
"I understand, doctor, I am perfectly willing to tell you. It is because I was convinced that my mind was affected."
"Oh!" He smiled at her indulgently. "I can tell you, my dear lady, that I never saw a young woman who, as far as outward appearances go, struck me as being more sane and healthy than yourself. What gives you this idea that your mind is affected? Not those dreams? You are surely too intelligent to give such importance to mere dreams?"
Penelope bit her red lips in perplexed indecision, then she leaned nearer the doctor and spoke in a low tone, glancing nervously over her shoulder. Fear was plainly written on her face.
"No—it's not just the dreams. They are horrible enough, but I have faith that you will help me get rid of them. There's something else, something more serious, more uncanny. It terrifies me. I feel that I'm in the power of some supernatural being who takes a fiendish delight in torturing me. I'm not a coward, Dr. Owen," Penelope lifted her head proudly, "for I truly have no fear of real danger that I can see and face squarely, but the unseen, the unknown——" She broke off suddenly, a strained, listening look on her face. Then she shivered though the glowing fire in the grate was making the room almost uncomfortably warm.
"Do you mind giving me some details?" Dr. Owen spoke in his gentlest manner, for he realized that he must gain her confidence.
Penelope continued with an effort:
"For several months I have heard voices about me, sometimes when no one is present, sometimes in crowds on the street, at church, anywhere. But the voices that I hear are not the voices of real persons."
"What kind of voices are they? Are they loud? Are they distinct? Or are they only vague whispers?"
"They are perfectly distinct voices, just as clear as ordinary voices. And they are voices of different persons. I can tell them apart; but none of them are voices of persons that I have ever seen or known."
"Hm! I suppose you have heard, as a trained nurse, of what we call clairaudient hallucinations?"
"Yes, doctor, and I know that those hallucinations often appear in the early stages of insanity. That is what distresses me."
"How often do you hear these voices—not all the time? Do you hear them in the night?"
"I hear them at any time—day or night. I have tried not to notice them, I pretend that I do not hear them. I do my best to forget them. I have prayed to God that He will make these voices cease troubling me, that He will make them go away; but nothing seems to do any good."
"What kind of things do these voices say? Do they seem to be talking to you directly?"
"Sometimes they do, sometimes they seem to be talking about me, as if two or three persons were discussing me, criticizing me. They say very unkind things. It seems as if they read my thoughts and make mischievous, wicked comments on them. Sometimes they say horrid things, disgusting things. Sometimes they give me orders. I am to do this or that; or I am not to do this or that. Sometimes they say the same word over and over again, many times. It was that way when I went out on the battlefield to help Captain Herrick. As I ran along, stumbling over the dead and wounded, I heard these voices crying out: 'Fool! Fool! Don't do it! You mustn't do it! You're a coward! You know you're a coward! You're going to be killed! You're a little fool to get yourself killed!'"
"And yet you went on? You did not obey these voices?"
"I went on because I was desperate. I tell you I wanted to die. What is the use of living if one is persecuted like this? There is nothing to live for, is there?"
He met her pathetic look with confidence.
"I think there is, Mrs. Wells. There is a lot to live for. Those hallucinations and dreams are not as uncommon as you think. I could give you cases of shell shock patients who have suffered in this way and come back to normal health. You have been through enough, my young friend, to bring about a somewhat hysterical condition that is susceptible of cure, if you will put yourself in favorable conditions. Do you mind if I ask you straight out whether you have any objections to marrying a second time?"
"N—no, that is to say I—er——" The color burned in her cheeks and Owen took note of this under his grizzled brows.
"As an old friend of the family—I mean Herrick's family—may I ask you if you would have any objection to Captain Herrick as a husband—assuming that you are willing to accept any husband?"
"I like Captain Herrick very much, I—I think I care for him more than any man I know, but——"
"Well? If you love Herrick and he loves you——" Owen broke off here with a new thought, "Ah, perhaps that is the trouble, perhaps Captain Herrick has not told you that he loves you? I hope, dear lady, I am not forcing your confidence?"
"No, doctor, I want you to know. Captain Herrick cares for me, he loves me, he has asked me to marry him, but—I have refused him."
"But why—if you love him? Why refuse him?"
"Oh, can't you see? Can't you understand? How could I think of such a thing, knowing, as I do, that something is wrong with my mind? It is quite impossible. Besides, there is another reason."
"Another reason?" he repeated.
"It has to do with my married life. As I said I would rather tell you about that some other time—if you don't mind?"
He saw that she could go no farther.
"Exactly, some other time. Let us say in about two weeks. During that time my prescription for you is a rest down at Atlantic City with long walks and a dip in the pool every morning. Come back then and tell me how you feel, and don't think about those dreams and voices. But think about your past life—about those things that you find it hard to tell me. It may not be necessary to tell me provided you know the truth yourself. Will you promise that?" He smiled at her encouragingly as she nodded. "Good! Now be cheerful. I am not deceiving you, Mrs. Wells, I am too sensible an old timer to do that. I give you my word that these troubles can be easily handled. I really do not consider you in a serious condition. Now then, until two weeks from today. I'll make you a friendly little bet that when I see you again you'll be dreaming about flower gardens and blue skies and pretty sunsets. Good morning."
He watched her closely as she turned with a sad yet hopeful smile to leave the room.
"Thank you very much, doctor. I'll come back two weeks from today."
Then she was gone.
For some minutes Owen sat drumming on his desk, lost in thought. "By George, that's a queer case. Her other reason is the real one. I wonder what it is?"
WHAT PENELOPE COULD NOT TELL THE DOCTOR
(Fragments from Her Diary)
Atlantic City, Tuesday.
I cannot tell what is on my mind, I cannot tell anyone, even a doctor; but I will keep my promise and look into my past life. I will open those precious, tragic, indiscreet little volumes bound in red leather in which I have for years put down my thoughts and intimate experiences. I have always found comfort in my diary.
I am thirty-three years old and for ten years, beginning before I was married, I have kept this record. I wrote of my unhappiness with my husband; I wrote of my lonely widowhood and of my many temptations; I wrote of my illness, my morbid cravings and hallucinations.
There are several of these volumes and I have more than once been on the point of burning them, but somehow I could not. However imperfectly I have expressed myself and however mistaken I may be in my interpretation of life, I have at least not been afraid to speak the truth about myself and about other women I have known, and truth, even the smallest fragment of it, is an infinitely precious thing.
What a story of a woman's struggles and emotions is contained in these pages! I wonder what Dr. Owen would think if he could read them. Heavens! How freely dare I draw upon these intimate chapters of my life? How much must the doctor know in order to help me—to save me?
Shall I reveal myself to him as I really was during those agitated years before my marriage when I faced the struggle of life, the temptations of life—an attractive young woman alone in New York City, earning her own living?
And how shall I tell the truth about my unhappy married life—the torture and degradation of it? The truth about my widowhood—those two gay years before the great disaster came, when, with money enough, I let myself go in selfish pursuit of pleasure—playing with fire?
As I turn over these agitated pages I feel I have tried to be honest. I rebel against hypocrisy, I hate false pretense, often I make myself out worse than I really am.
In one place I find this:
"There is no originality in women. They do what they see others do, they think what they are told to think—like a flock of sheep. Their hair is a joke—absurd frizzles and ear puffs that are always imitated. Their shoes are a tragedy. Their corsets are a crime. But they would die rather than change these ordered abominations. So would I. I flock with the crowd. I hobble my skirts, wear summer furs, powder my nose, wave my hair (permanently or not) according to the commands of fashion, but I hate myself for doing it. I am a woman!"
I am a woman and most women are liars—so are most men—but there is more excuse for women because centuries of oppression have made us afraid to tell the truth. I try to be original by speaking the truth—part of it, at least—in this diary.
On one page I find this:
"The truth is that women love pursuit and are easily reconciled to capture. Why else do they deck themselves out in finery, perfume themselves, bejewel themselves, flaunt their charms (including decollete charms and alluring bathing suit charms) in every possible way? I do this myself—why? I have a supple figure and I dance without corsets, or rather with only a band to hold up my stockings. I wear low cut evening gowns, the most captivating I can afford. I love to flirt. I could not live without admiration, and other women are the same. They all have something that they are vain about—eyes, nose, mouth, voice, teeth, hair, complexion, hands, feet, figure—something that they are vain about. And what is vanity but a consciousness of power to attract men and make other women envious? There are only two efforts that the human race take seriously (after they have fed themselves): the effort of women to attract men, the effort of men to capture women."
* * * * *
In searching back through the years for the cause of this disaster that has brought me to the point where a woman's reason is overthrown, I see that I was always selfish, absorbed in my own problems and vanities, my own disappointments, grievances, emotions. It was what I could get out of life, not what I could give, that concerned me. I was vain of my good looks. I craved admiration.
Once I wrote in my diary:
"I often stand before my mirror at night before I go to bed and admire my own sombre beauty. I let my hair fall in a black cloud over my shoulders, then I braid it slowly with bare arms lifted in graceful poses. I sway my hips like Carmen, I thrust red flowers into my bosom. I move my head languidly, letting my white teeth gleam between red lips. I study my profile with a hand glass, getting the double reflection. I smile and beckon with my eyes. Yes, I am a beautiful woman—primeval, elemental—I was made for love."
Again I wrote, showing that I half understood the perils that beset me:
"Women are moths, they love to play with fire. They are irresistibly driven—like poor little birds that dash themselves against a lighthouse—towards the burning excitements connected with the allurement of men. They live for admiration. The besetting sin of all women is vanity; vanity is a woman's consciousness of her power over men."
"It is almost impossible for a fascinating woman not to flirt a little—sometimes. For example, she passes a man on the street, a distinguished looking man. She does not know him, but their eyes have met in a certain way and she feels that he is attracted by her. She has on a pretty dress with a bunch of violets. She wonders whether this man has turned back to look at her—she is sure he has—she longs to look back. No matter how much culture and breeding she has, she longs to look back!"
No wonder that, with such thoughts and inclinations, I was always more or less under temptation with men, who were drawn to me, I suppose, just as I was drawn to them. And I tried to excuse myself in the old way, as here:
"It is certain that some women have strong emotional desires, whereas other women have none at all or scarcely any. This fact has an evident bearing upon the question of women's morality. Some women must be judged more leniently than others. I have wondered if there are similar differences in men. I doubt it!"
Of course I had agitating experiences with men because I half invited them. It seemed as if I could not help it. As I said to myself, I was a moth, I wanted to play with fire.
On the next page I find this:
"Seraphine disapproves of my attitude towards men. She gave me a great talking to last night and said things I would not take from anyone else. Dear old Seraphine, she is so fine and kind! She says there is nothing in my physical makeup that compels me to be a flirt. I can act more discreetly if I wish to. It is my mental attitude toward romantic things that is wrong. Thousands of women just as pretty as I am never place themselves in situations with men that are almost certain to lead them into temptation. They will not start an emotional episode that may easily, as they know quite well, have a dangerous ending. But I am always ready to start, confident that my self-control will save me from any immediate disaster. And so far it always has."
How earnestly Seraphine sounded her warning. I wrote down her words and promised to heed them: "Remember, dear, that emotional desire deliberately aroused in 'harmless flirtations' and then deliberately repressed is an offense against womanhood, a menace to the health, and a degradation to the soul."
* * * * *
I am horribly sad tonight—lonely—discouraged. The doctor wants to know about my married life, about my husband. Why was I unhappy? Why is any woman unhappy? Because her love is trampled on, degraded—the spiritual part of it unsatisfied. Women are made for love and without love life means nothing to them. Women are naturally finer than men, they aspire more strongly to what is beautiful and spiritual, but their souls can be coarsened, their love can be killed. They can be driven—they have been driven for centuries (through fear of men) into lies and deceits and sensuality or pretence of sensuality.
The great tragedy of the world is sensuality, and it may exist between man and wife just as much as between a man and a paid woman. I don't know whether the Bible condemns sensuality between man and wife, but it ought to. I remember a story by Tolstoy in which the great moralist strips off our mask of hypocrisy and shows the hideous evil that results when a man and a woman degrade the holy sacrament of marriage. That is not love, but a perversion of love. How can God bless a union in which the wife is expected to conduct herself like a wanton or lose her husband? And she loses him anyway, for sensuality in a man inevitably leads him to promiscuousness. I know this to my sorrow!
Perhaps I am morbid. Perhaps I see life too clearly, know it too well. I do not want to be cynical or bitter. Oh, if only those old days of faith and trust could come back to me! When I think of what I was before I married Julian I see that I was almost like a child in my ignorance of the animal side of man's nature....
* * * * *
Dr. Owen thinks my trouble is shell shock, but he is mistaken. I have taken care of too many shell shock cases not to recognize the symptoms. Can I ever forget that darling soldier boy from Maryland who mistook me for his mother? "They're coming! They're coming!" he screamed one night; you could hear him all over the hospital. Then he jumped out of bed like a wild man—it took two orderlies and an engineer to get him back under the covers. I can see his poor wasted face when the little doctor came to give him a hypodermic. There he lay panting, groaning: "Oh those guns! Oh those guns! They break my ears!" Then he sprang up again, his eyes starting out of his head: "Look out, there! On the ammunition cart! Look out, Bill! Oh my God, they've got Bill—my pal! Blown him to hell! Oh, oh, oh!" and he put his head down and sobbed like a woman. That is shell shock. I have nothing like that. I know what I am doing.
* * * * *
There was a storm today with great crashing waves, then everything grew calm under a golden sunset. I take this as a good omen. I feel happier already. The infinite peace of Nature is quieting my soul. I love the sea. I can almost say my prayers to the sea.
* * * * *
The swimming master pays me extravagant compliments every morning when I splash about in the pool. I know my body is beautiful. Thank God, I have never imprisoned it in corsets.
I love the exercises I do in my room every morning. They bring back the play spirit of my childhood. When I get out of bed I slip into a loose garment, then I lie on the floor and stretch my spine along the carpet—it's wonderful how this exhilarates one. After that I take deep breaths at the open window, raising and lowering my arms—up as I draw my breath in, down as I throw it out. Then I lie down again and lift my legs straight up, the right, the left, then both together. I do this twenty times, resting between changes and taking deep breaths.
I sit cross-legged on the floor with my feet on a red and gold cushion and rotate my waist like an oriental dancer. I stand on my head and hands and curve my body to right and left in graceful flexings. I do this no matter how cold it is. I do not feel the cold, for I am all aglow with health and strength. Then, before my bath, I do dumb-bell exercises in front of the mirror.
I remember dining with my husband one night in a pink lace peignoir—we had been married about three years—and during the dessert, I excused myself and went into my bedroom and, posing before a cheval glass, I let the peignoir slip off my shoulders, and stood there like a piece of polished marble, rejoicing in my youth and loveliness!
How I hated my husband that night! He had taught me to drink. He had made me sensual. He had not yet assumed the coarse, red-faced brutish aspect that he wore later, but he had a coarse, red-faced brutish soul. Alas! his body was still fine enough to tempt me. And his mind was devilishly clever enough to captivate my fancy. He took away my faith, even my faith in motherhood. That was why I chiefly hated him.
For three years my husband disgusted me with his unfaithfulness. No woman was too high or too low, too refined or too ignorant, for his passing fancy, if only she had physical attractiveness—just a little physical attractiveness. Anything for variety, shop girl or duchess, kitchen maid or society leader, they were all the same to Julian. He confessed to me that he once made love to a little auburn-haired divorcee while they were in a mourning carriage going to her sister's funeral. Et elle s'est laissee faire!
He was like a hunter following his prey, like an angler fishing, he cared only for the chase, for the capture. That was the man I had married!
What a liar he was! He poisoned my mind with his lies, assuring me that all men were like himself, hypocrites, incapable of being true to one woman. And I believed him. The ghastly part of it is I still believe him. I can't help it. I have suffered too much. I can never have faith in another man, not even in Captain Herrick. That is why I shall never marry again—that is one reason.
* * * * *
A wonderful day! I strolled along the board walk in my new furs, and met a young mother pushing a baby carriage with two splendid baby boys—one of them sucking at his bottle. Such babies! She let me hold the little fellow and I cuddled him close in my arms and felt his soft cheeks and his warm little chubby hands on my face. How I long for a baby of my own! I have thought—hoped—dreamed—
I went to the movies this evening with some friends and laughed so hard that I thought I would break something in my internal machinery.
When I returned to the hotel I found a letter from Captain Herrick—so manly and affectionate. He loves me! And I love him, more than anything in the world. I feel so well today, so glad to be alive that if Chris were here, I think I would promise him whatever he asked. I long to give myself entirely—my beauty, my passion, everything—to this man that I love.
Am I bold and vain to call myself beautiful?
* * * * *
I find myself in my diary siding strongly with women against men in anything that has to do with emotional affairs, although I like men better than women. My tendency is always to blame the man. This is partly because of the hideous wrong that was done me by my husband and partly because I like to believe that, however blame-worthy women are in the sex struggle and, whatever faiblesses they may be guilty of, the fundamental cause of it all must be found in centuries of men's wickedness and oppression.
I have written about this with much feeling. In one place I say:
"Sometimes I feel as if there were a conspiracy of men—all kinds of men, including the most serious and respectable—against the virtue of attractive women. What a downfall of masculine reputations there would be if women should tell a little of what they know about men! Only a little! But women are silent in the main—through loyalty or through fear."
"What happens to an attractive woman who is forced to earn her own living? In the business world? In the artistic world? Anywhere? I do not say that men are a pack of wolves, but—I had such a heartbreaking experience, especially in my brief musical career. I might have had a small part in grand opera at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York City, so one particular musical wolf assured me, if I would show a little sympathy with his desire to assist me in some of the roles—occasional private rehearsals, and so on. Oh, the beast!... He gave the part to another girl (her voice did not compare with mine) who was less particular, and she made her debut the next season. I went to work at Wanamaker's store!"
And still men pursued me.
I find this entry:
"Roberta took me to dinner yesterday at the Lafayette with her friend Mr. G——, a man of sixty, red-faced, fat and prosperous, the breezy Westerner type. He is giving a grand party at Sherry's and wants me to come. I said I was afraid I couldn't, my real reason being that I have no dress that is nice enough. He said nothing at the time, but kept his eyes on me, and this evening, when I got home, there was a perfectly stunning dinner gown—it must have cost $250.—with a note from Mr. G—— begging me to accept it as I would a flower, since it meant absolutely nothing to him.
"How I longed to keep that gown! I think I should have kept it if Seraphine had not happened in.
"'Isn't this lovely?' I said, holding it up. 'Do you think I can accept it?' Then I told her what Mr. G—— had said.
"She looked at me out of her kind, wise eyes.
"'Do you like him?'
"'Is he married or unmarried?'
"'I think he's married.'
"'Is he the man who gave Roberta her sables?'
"'Y-yes,' I admitted.
"She looked at me again.
"'I can't decide for you, Pen; you must settle it with your own conscience; but I am sure of one thing, that, if you accept this dress, you will pay for it, and probably pay much more than it is worth.'
"It ended in my sending the gown back and missing the dinner party, which made Mr. G—— furious, he blamed Roberta for my resistance, and a little later he threw her over. Like most men of that type who promise women wonderful things, he was hard, selfish and exacting—a cold-blooded sensualist. And poor Roberta, indolent and luxurious, was obliged to go back to work—up at seven and on her feet all day for twenty dollars a week. She had been spending twenty dollars a day!
"What is a woman to conclude from all this?" I wrote despairingly. "I know there are decent men in the world; there are employers who would never think of becoming unduly interested in their good-looking women assistants, who would never intimate that they had any claim upon the evenings of pretty stenographers or secretaries; there are lawyers who would never force odious attentions upon an attractive woman whose divorce case they might be handling—'Dear lady, how about a little dinner and a cabaret show tonight?'—There are old friends of the family, serious middle-aged men who would never take advantage of a young woman's weakness or distress; but, oh dear God! there are so many others who have no decency, no heart! A woman is desperate and must confide in someone. She has lost her position and is struggling to find another. She craves innocent pleasure—music, the theatre, the dance. She is so horribly lonely. Help me, counsel me, she pleads to some man whom she trusts—any man, the average man. Does he help her? Yes, on one condition, that she use her power as a woman. Not otherwise. This is a great mystery to women—how men, who are naturally kind, can be so cruel, so persistent, so infernally clever in forcing women to use their power for their own undoing."
* * * * *
Here is an interesting thing that Kendall Brown once said on this subject—I recorded it in my diary along with other sayings of this erratic Greenwich Village poet and philosopher:
"The sex power of women is the most formidable power ever loosed upon earth," he declared one evening. "Thrones totter before it. Captains of industry forget their millions in its presence. Cherchez la femme! This terrible power is possessed by every dark-eyed siren in a Second Avenue boarding house, by every languishing, red-lipped blonde earning eighteen dollars a week in a department store. And she knows it! Others have vast earthly possessions, stores of science, palaces of art, knowledge without end—she has a tresor that makes baubles of these—she is the custodian of life, she has the eternal life power."
How true that is!
Again I wrote:
"It may be argued that women are willing victims of this man conspiracy, I say no! Every woman in her heart longs to love one man, to give herself to one man, to be true to one man. Even the unfortunate in the streets, if she receives just a little kindness, if she has only half a chance and is encouraged to right living by some decent fellow, will go through fire and water to show her gratitude and devotion. But men give women no chance. They pluck the roses in the garden and trample them under foot. Here is the great tragedy of modern life—men wish to change from one woman to another, whereas women do not wish to change. A characteristic sex difference between men and women is that men are naturally promiscuous, but women abhor the thought of promiscuousness."
* * * * *
A wave of repulsion runs over me as I quickly turn the pages of my life with Julian. And then a faint whisper comes to me: "The truth, you have promised to tell it—at least to your own soul."
Slowly I turn back to what I wrote in those unhappy days:
"Why do I live with him? I no longer love him. At times I despise him and his slightest touch makes me shiver with disgust, yet I continue to endure this life—why?
"It is because of the great pity I have for him. He is weak and helpless, almost child-like in his dependence on me. I am the prop which holds up the last shreds of his self-respect. If I left him, he would drift lower and lower, I know it. Sometimes I pass some awful creature staggering along the sidewalks. He is dirty and uncared for. Long matted hair falls across his bleared and sunken eyes. I say to myself: 'But for you, Penelope Wells, that might be Julian.' And this gives me courage to take up my burden once more."
* * * * *
And again I find:
"I am beginning to fear. I have been looking in my mirror and it seems to me that my face is taking on the lines of animalism that I see daily becoming deeper in Julian's face. Must I continue this degradation? If I were helping him to raise himself—but I am not, not really. It's too heavy a weight for me to bear. I am sinking ... sinking to his level. I cannot stand it. It is killing me...."
* * * * *
"I am too heartsick to write....
"I began this a week ago in agony of soul when I tried to set down my feelings about a horrible night with Julian, but I could not. He has been drinking—drinking for weeks—neglecting his business, breaking all his promises to me. What can I do? How can I help him, strengthen him, keep him from doing some irrevocable thing that will utterly destroy our home and make me lose him? In spite of his weakness, his neglect, his faithlessness, I cannot bear the thought of losing him. My pride is involved and—and something else!
"He had not come home for dinner that night and it was ten o'clock when I heard the door slam. Julian came into the living room and as soon as I saw him my heart sank. He dropped into a chair without speaking.
"'Tired, dear?' I said, trying to smile a welcome.
"'Dead beat,' he sighed and stared moodily into the fire.
"I went to him and rested my hand lightly on his head and smoothed back his hair as he liked me to do. He jerked away.
"'Wish you'd let me alone,' he muttered fretfully.
"I drew back, knowing what this irritability meant, and we sat in silence gazing into the glowing ashes. His fingers beat a nervous tattoo against the chair and presently, with some mumbled words, he rose and moved towards the door. Now I knew the fight was on, the fight with the Demon, drink, that was drawing him away from me. I followed him into the hall.
"'Don't go,' I pleaded, but he pushed my hand from the door-knob.
"'I'll be back soon,' he said, reaching for his hat.
"'Wait!' I whispered. Deep within I breathed a prayer: 'Brave heart, have courage; nimble wit, be alert; warm, white body hold him fast.'
"'Come back ... before the fire ... I want to talk to you,' I leaned against him caressingly, but I could feel no response as I nestled closer.
"'Don't you care for me any more?' I questioned tenderly.
"He was still unyielding, his brain was busy with the thought of the brown liquor that his whole system craved. Purposely I drew back my flowing sleeve and placed my warm flesh against his face. He turned to his old seat before the fire.
"'All right, I'll stay for ten minutes ... if what you say is important.'
"When he was once more comfortable, I brought a cushion to his chair and snuggled down at his feet, with my head resting against him. I drew his half reluctant hand around my throat, then I exerted every part of my brain force ... to hold him. Ceaselessly I talked of our old days together—camping trips to the Northern woods of Canada, wonderful weeks of idling down the river in our launch, days of ideal happiness, spent together. I appealed to his love for me, his old love, and the memory of our early married life. He was unresponsive, and I could feel the restlessness of his fingers in my hair.
"Presently he pushed me aside, not ungently this time but, nevertheless, firmly. Once more the struggle began, and now I must rely on the old physical lure to hold him.... Well, I won. I kept him with me but was it worth such a sacrifice? As I think ... I burn with shame."
There are many entries in my diary like this, for my life with Julian was full of scenes when I tried so hard ... so hard ... all in vain!
* * * * *
Here is another picture:
"Last night Julian came home in a hilarious mood. His habitual sullen look had gone and he almost seemed the man who had won me—before I knew him as he really is.
"'Come along, Penny,' he laughed as he caught me in his arms. 'We're going to celebrate. Dress up in that lacy black thing—you are seduction itself in it.'
"His praise made me happy and, responding to his mood, I changed my clothes quickly, and we set forth joyfully in anticipation of a pleasant evening.
"Everything went well through the dinner, although I hesitated when Julian ordered wine; but I was afraid to oppose him or to speak a single jarring word.
"'Drink up, Penny, and have some more. My God, but you are glorious tonight!' he whispered as he leaned across the table.
"I smiled and emptied my glass, and soon I became as reckless and jovial as he. We went from one cabaret to another, laughing at everything. All the world was gay. There was no sorrow anywhere—only one grand celebration. Julian was never so fascinating. I was proud of his good looks, of his wit, of his strength as he lifted me from the taxicab and almost carried me into the house.
"'My darling!' I breathed as my lips brushed his cheek, 'I love you!'
"'You see, Penny, how wonderful everything is when you are reasonable. If you will only drink with me once in a while, I'll never, never leave you.'
"He placed me gently in a chair. Soon the room began to whirl around ... and I knew no more....
"This morning my head ached and a thousand needles were piercing my eyes. I rang for the maid and asked for my husband.
"'He brought you home last night, but he went out again later and he hasn't come back,' she said and her eyes did not meet mine.
"'Was I—was I?' I stammered, shame possessing me.
"'Yes, Mrs. Wells, you were....'
"God! What have I gained? I have degraded myself without doing Julian any good. I have sunk to his level and have not even been able to keep him at my side. I hate him! I hate myself even more!"
* * * * *
I find a pitiful entry that I made only a few months before Julian was killed. In a fit of anger he had left me, accusing me of being a drag on his life, saying that I was to blame for all his follies. He was going to be rid of me now. So he took all the money in the house and went off—I should never see him again. At last I had what I had longed for, my freedom, he had given it to me, flung it in my face. And then—
This is what I wrote six weeks later:
"Well, I'm a failure all right. Never again may I think well of myself or feel that I am entitled to the joys of life. For I'm just a plain moral coward. I couldn't even keep what was forced on me—my liberty.
"Last Wednesday he came back, such a miserable wreck of a man, so utterly broken in every way that it would have moved a heart of stone. Inside of me is a sorrow too deep for expression, but somehow a peace also. Now I am sure that my bondage will never cease. But I couldn't refuse to take Julian back when I saw what a state he was in. His spiritual abasement was such an awful thing that I could not shame him by even letting him know that I understood it."
* * * * *
I walked for hours beside the ocean, watching the waves, the sky, the soaring gulls,—trying to tire myself out, searching into my heart for the truth about my life—about my illness. I cannot find the truth. I have done what Dr. Owen told me to do as well as I can and—I do not see that any good has come of it. I have stirred up ghosts of the past—leering ghosts, and I hate them. I am sick of ignoble memories. I want to close forever the door on those unhappy years. I want to be well, to live a sane life, to have a little pleasure; but....
* * * * *
I am tired of Atlantic City. I am going back to New York tomorrow. No doubt I have benefited by these days of rest and change. My bad dreams are gone and I have only heard the Voices once. Dr. Owen will say that his prescription has been efficacious, but that is not true. I know They are waiting for me in the city, waiting to torture me. Then why do I go back? Because it is my fate. I am driven on by some power beyond my control—driven on!
Penelope will cross the ocean. Her husband will die very soon. There will be war soon. She will go to the war and honors will be conferred upon her on the battlefields. Then she will go down to horror—to terror!
How that prophecy of Seraphine haunts me! All of it has come true except the very last. Horror! Terror! These two are ever before me. These two already encompass me. These two will presently overwhelm me unless—unless—I don't know what.
Seraphine is in New York, I have meant to go to see her, but—I am afraid, I am afraid of what she will tell me!
New York, Saturday.
I must set down here—to ease my tortured brain—some of the things that have happened to me since I last wrote in this book, my confessional.
When I got back to town I found an invitation to go to a Bohemian ball, and I decided to accept. Vive la joie! So I put on a white dress and went with Roberta Vallis and that ridiculous poet Kendall Brown. It was the first time I had danced since my husband died and I enjoyed it.
Such a ball! They called it a Pagan Revel and it was! Egyptian costumes and a Russian orchestra. Some of the Egyptian slave maidens were dressed mostly in brown paint. Kendall says he helped dress them at the Liberal Club. Good heavens! Kendall's pose of lily white virtue amuses me. He went as a cave man with a leopard skin over his shoulders, and I danced with him two or three times. His talk reminds me of Julian. How well I know the methods of these sentimental pirates! What infinite patience and adroitness they use in leading the talk towards dangerous ground! How seriously they begin! With what sincerity and ingenuous frankness they proceed, and all the time they know exactly what they are doing, exactly what effects they are producing in a woman.
Kendall spoke of the modern dance in a detached, intellectual way. He dwelt on one particular development in the fox trot—had I noticed it?—there! that naval officer and the languishing blonde were doing it now—which seemed to him unaesthetic. It might be harmful in some cases, say to a Class A woman. Being curious, I asked what he meant by a "Class A" woman and this gave Kendall his opportunity to discourse on fundamental differences that exist among women, so he declares. I wish I knew if what he says is true. He assures me he has it on the authority of a Chicago specialist, but I never put much dependence on anything that Kendall Brown says. If this is true the whole romantic history of the world will have to be rewritten and the verdicts of numberless juries in murder trials passionels ought to be set aside.
The statement is that physical desire is universal among men, but not among women. One-third of all women, Kendall puts them in Class C, have no such desire; therefore, they deserve no particular credit for remaining virtuous. Another third of all women are in Class B, the normal class, where this desire is or is not present, according to circumstances. The last third of all women make up Class A, and these women, being as strongly tempted as men (or more so), are condemned to the same struggles that men experience, and, if they happen to be beautiful, and without deep spirituality, they are fated to have emotional experiences that may make them great heroines or artists, great adventuresses or outcasts.
I am sure I do not belong in Class C, I hope I belong in Class B, but I am afraid—
* * * * *
I knew They were waiting for me. Last night I heard Them again—after the ball. It was a horrible night! I shall write to Dr. Owen that I must see him at once.
A BOWL OF GOLD FISH
(A letter from Penelope)
New York, February ——.
DEAR DR. OWEN:
Did you think I had vanished from the earth? I know I ought to have reported to you a week ago, but—I fear Penelope Wells is an unreliable person. Forgive me! I am in great distress.
I will say, first, that Atlantic City did me a lot of good. I came back to town happier than I have been for months, in fact I was so encouraged that I decided to amuse myself a little, as you advised. Last night I went to a rather gay ball with some friends, and I was beginning to think myself almost normal, when suddenly—alas!
I had a strange experience this morning that frightens me. I was sitting at my desk writing a note when I glanced towards the window where there is a bowl of gold fish, three beautiful fish and two snails. It amuses me to watch them sometimes. Well, as I looked up, the sunshine was flashing on the little darting creatures and I felt myself drawn to the bowl, and for two or three minutes I stood there staring into it as if I expected to see something. Then, presently I did see something, I saw myself inside the bowl—in a kind of vision. I saw myself just as distinctly as I ever saw anything.
In order that you may understand this, doctor, I must explain that Captain Herrick took me home from the ball. It was two o'clock in the morning when we left the place and it had blown up cold during the rain, so that the streets were a glare of ice and our taxi was skidding horribly. When we got to Twelfth Street and Fifth Avenue there came a frightful explosion; a gas main had taken fire and flames were shooting twenty feet into the air. I was terrified, for it made me think of Paris—the air raids, the night sirens, the long-distance cannon. Captain Herrick saw that I was quite hysterical and said that I mustn't think of going up to Eightieth Street. I must spend the night at his studio in Washington Square, only a few doors away, and he would go to a hotel. I agreed to this, for I was nearly frozen.
When we entered the studio I was surprised to find what a beautiful place it was. It seems that Captain Herrick has rented it from a distinguished artist. There is a great high ceiling and a wonderful fireplace where logs were blazing. I was standing before this fireplace trying to warm myself, when there came a crash overhead, it was only a gas fixture that had fallen, but it seemed to me the whole building was coming down. I almost fainted in terror and Chris caught me in his arms, trying to comfort me. Then, before I realized what he was doing, he had drawn me close to him and kissed me.
This made me very angry. I felt that he had no right to take advantage of my fright in this way and I told him I would not stay in his studio a minute longer. And I did not. I almost ran down the stairs, then out into the street. It was foolish to get so agitated, but I could not help it. I went over to the Brevoort and spent the night there. You will understand in a minute why I am telling you all this, it has to do with the vision that I saw in the bowl of gold fish.
In this vision I saw myself enter Captain Herrick's studio just as I really did—in my white satin dress. Christopher was with me in his uniform. Then I saw myself lying on a divan and—Chris was bending over me, kissing me passionately. He kissed me many times, it seemed as if he would never stop kissing me—in the vision. All this was as clear as a motion picture. The extraordinary part of it is, that I neither resisted him nor responded in any way, I just seemed to be lying there—with my eyes closed—as if I were asleep.
I am very much distressed about this. I know that I did not really lie down on Captain Herrick's divan—I would not have done such a thing for the world. I know Captain Herrick did not really kiss me in that passionate way, as I saw him kiss me in the bowl of gold fish, but I feel that he did. I am afraid that he did. I can't get over the feeling that he did. This sounds like madness, doesn't it? A woman cannot be ardently kissed by a man without knowing it, can she? Perhaps I am mad—perhaps this is the way mad people feel.
Help me, doctor, if you can, and above all please see Captain Herrick—he is an old friend of yours—and find out exactly what I did at his studio. I must know the truth. And I can't ask Chris, can I?
Yours in anguish of soul,
P. S.—Please telephone me as soon as you get this and make an appointment to see me.
FIVE PURPLE MARKS
During his thirty years of medical experience among neurasthenic and hysterical women, Dr. William Owen had never encountered a more puzzling case than the one before him on this brisk winter morning when he set forth to answer the urgent appeal of Penelope Wells. Here was a case fated to be written about in many languages and discussed before learned societies. A Boston psychologist was even to devote a chapter of his great work "Mysteries of the Subconscious Mind" to the hallucinations of Penelope W——. Poor Penelope!
When Dr. Owen entered her attractive sitting room with its prevailing tone of blue, he found his fair patient reclining on a chaise longue, her eyes heavy with anxiety.
"It's good of you to come, doctor. I appreciate it," she gave him her hand gratefully. "I expected to go to your office, but—something else has happened and I am—discouraged." Her arm fell listlessly by her side. "So I telephoned you."
"I am glad to come, you know I take a particular interest in you," he smiled cheerily and drew up a chair. "We must expect these set-backs, but you are improving. You show it in your face. And your letter showed it. I read your letter carefully—studied it and—"
"You haven't seen Captain Herrick?" she asked eagerly.
"Not yet. I have asked him to dine with me this evening."
Penelope sighed wearily and twined her fingers together in nervous agitation.
"It's all so distressing. I can't understand it. Why did I see myself in that bowl of gold fish, so distinctly? Tell me—why?"
"You mustn't take that seriously, Mrs. Wells. These crystal visions are common enough—the books are full of them. It's a phenomenon of self-hypnotism. You are in a broken-down nervous condition after months of excessive strain—that's all, and these hallucinations result, just as colored shapes and patterns appear when you shut your eyes tight and press your fingers against the eye-balls."
This did not satisfy her. "What I want to know is whether there is any possibility that I really did what I saw myself do in that vision? Do you think there is?"
"Certainly not. I believe you did exactly what you tell me you did—you spent a few minutes in Christopher's studio and then came away angry because he kissed you. By the way, I don't see why one kiss from a man who loves you and has asked you to marry him should have offended you so terribly, especially when you admit that you care for him?"
His tone was one of good-humored indulgence for capricious beauty, but Mrs. Wells kept to her seriousness.
"I didn't mean that I was really angry with Captain Herrick. I was angry at myself for the thrill of joy I felt when he kissed me and I was frightened by the wave of emotion that swept over me. I have been frightened all these days—even now!" She covered her eyes with her hand as if shrinking from some painful memory.
"Please don't agitate yourself. You must not get hysterical about this. You must have confidence in me and in your own powers of recuperation. And you must be sure to give me all the facts. Did I understand you to say that something else has happened—since you wrote me?"
"Yes, something quite unbelievable—it happened last night."
"Tell me about it—quietly, just as if you were discussing somebody else."
Penelope smiled wistfully. "How kind and wise you are! I will try to be calm, but—it is hard for me. I had a dream last night, doctor, and this dream is true. I have evidence that it is true. I did something last night without knowing it, and then I dreamed about it."
"You did something without knowing it?"
"Yes, I put on a red dress and a black hat that I have not worn for four years, not since my husband died. For four years I have only worn black or white."
"Do I understand you to say that you put on these things without knowing that you put them on?"
"How do you know you did?"
"My maid told me so. You see my dream was so extraordinarily vivid—I'll give you the details in a minute—that, as soon as I awakened, I rang for Jeanne and questioned her. 'Jeanne,' I said, 'you know the red dress that I have not worn since my husband died?' She looked at me in a queer way and said: 'Madame is laughing at me. Madame knows quite well that she wore the red dress last night.' Then she recalled everything in detail, how I sent her to a particular shelf where this dress was folded away and got her to freshen up a ribbon and press the skirt where it was wrinkled. Jeanne is also positive that I put on my black hat. Then, she says, I went out; I left the house at five minutes to nine and came back about eleven. There is no doubt about it."
"And you remember nothing of all this?"
"Nothing. So—so you see," she faltered, then she leaned impulsively toward the doctor. "As an expert will you please tell me if it is possible for a woman to act like that unless her mind is affected?"
Dr. Owen tried to take this lightly. "I'm a fairly sane citizen myself, but if you asked me which suit I wore yesterday, I couldn't tell you."
"You couldn't suddenly put on red clothes without knowing it, if you had been wearing black clothes for years, could you?" she demanded.
He laughed. "When it comes to clothes I might do anything. I might wear a straw hat in January. But I couldn't go out of the house without knowing it. Do you mean to tell me you don't remember going out of the house last night?"
"I certainly do not. I remember nothing about it. I would have sworn that I went to bed early," she insisted.
"Hm! Have you any idea where you went?"
"Yes—I know where I went, but I only know this from my dream. I know I went to Captain Herrick's studio. You—you can ask him."
"Of course. You haven't asked him yourself—you haven't telephoned, have you?"
"No, no! I would be ashamed to ask him."
The doctor noted her increasing agitation and the flood of color mounting to her cheeks.
"Steady now! Take it easy. Have you any idea what you did at the studio, assuming that you really went there?"
Penelope hesitated, biting her lips. "I know what I saw myself do in the dream. I acted in an impossible way. I—I—here is a little thing—you know I never smoke, but in the dream I did smoke."
"Have you ever smoked?"
"Yes, I did when my husband was living. He taught me. He said I was a better sport when I was smoking a cigarette."
"But you haven't smoked since your husband's death?"
"Not at all. I have not smoked once since he died, not once—until last night."
The man of science eyed her searchingly. "Mrs. Wells, you are not hiding anything from me, are you?"
"No! No! Of course not! Don't frown at me like that—please don't. I am trying my best to tell you the truth. I know these things did not happen, but—"
Here her self-control left her and, with a gesture of despair, Penelope sank forward on a little table beside her chair and sobbed hysterically, her face hidden in her arms.
"There! There!" soothed Dr. Owen. "I was a brute. I have taxed you beyond your strength."
"I can't tell you how grateful I am for your patience and sympathy," murmured Penelope through her tears, and, presently, regaining her composure, she continued her confession.
"I want you to know everything—now. In my dream there was a scene of passion between Captain Herrick and myself. He held me in his arms and kissed me and I—I responded. We both seemed to be swept on by a reckless madness and at one moment Chris seized me roughly with his hand and—of course you think this is all an illusion, but—look here!" She threw open her loose garment and on her beautiful shoulder pointed to five perfectly plain purple marks that might have been made by the fingers of a man's hand.
"Extraordinary!" muttered the doctor. "Let me look at this closer. Have you got such a thing as a magnifying glass? Ah, thank you!"
For some moments he silently studied these strange marks on the fair young bosom, then he said very gravely: "Mrs. Wells, I want to think this over before giving an opinion. And I must have a serious talk with Captain Herrick."
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED AT THE STUDIO
For the purposes of this narrative, which is concerned almost exclusively with the poignant strangeness of a woman's experiences, it is sufficient to say that Captain Christopher Herrick was what is generally known as a fine fellow—handsome, modest, well-to-do, altogether desirable as a lover and a husband. At thirty-five he had made for himself an enviable position as a New York architect, one who was able to strike out boldly in new lines while maintaining a reasonable respect for venerable traditions. He had served gallantly in the war and he was now, for quite understandable reasons, desperately in love with Penelope Wells.
On this particular evening when Christopher had been summoned by his much respected friend, Dr. Owen, to dine and discuss a matter of immediate importance, the young officer had accepted eagerly. For some time he had wanted to talk with the doctor about Penelope's nervous condition. He was drawn to this girl by a force that stirred the depths of his being—he could not live without her; yet his love was clouded by anxiety at her strange behavior.
Christopher's face was troubled. His brain was in a turmoil. The happenings of the last few days bewildered him. Life had seemed so simple, so beautiful, with just their great love for each other to build on; but now.... He was only sure of one thing, that from the moment Penelope Wells had come to him as a ministering angel across the scarred and broken battle field, he had adored her with a love that would endure until the day of his death ... and, he told himself, beyond that!
"Chris, my boy," began Owen in his bluff, cheery way when they had retired to the study for coffee and cigars, "I am in a difficulty, I must ask you some questions that may embarrass you—it's the only way out."
Herrick's clear, honest gaze met the doctor's eyes unflinchingly.
"That's all right, sir. Go ahead. I suppose it's about Mrs. Wells?"
"Yes. I am very much interested in her case, not only on your account, but because she is a wonderful woman. When I write your father I'll tell him he's going to have a daughter-in-law who will make him sit up and take notice. Ha, ha!"
The young man's heavy brows contracted gloomily.
"I wish that were true, sir, but—you know what I told you?"
"About her refusing you? Don't worry over that. Just wait until we get her health built up a little."
"Do you think she will change her mind? Did she say so?" Herrick asked eagerly.
"Pretty nearly that. If she doesn't marry you, she won't marry anyone. The fact is—Mrs. Wells is suffering from a nervous strain, I'm not sure what it is, but there are abnormal symptoms and—I hate to force your confidence, Chris, but, speaking as Mrs. Wells' medical adviser and a mighty good friend of yours, a sort of representative of your father—you know how close your father and I have always been?"
"Yes, sir, I know. I'll do anything you say."
"You want to help this lovely lady? You want to make her happy?"
"That's what I want more than anything in this world," the officer's grey eyes flashed with the spirit of a lover and a soldier.
"Good. Now the way to do it is—you must help her by helping me. I think I understand the situation up to a week ago, but since then—well, it's a little complicated. Mrs. Wells has paid you two visits in the last few days, hasn't she?"
"Yes. Did she tell you?"
"She told me a little. Try some of that port, Chris, and light another cigar," the older man said genially. "We may as well be comfortable. There! Now tell me about Mrs. Wells' first visit—after the dance?"
At this invitation the young officer began quite frankly and with a certain sense of humor to describe the circumstances that led up to the climax, but presently he hesitated, and, observing this, Owen said: "No false delicacy, please. It's extremely important to me as a doctor to know everything that happened. You say Mrs. Wells came in chilled and frightened and—then what?"
"Then I threw a couple of logs on the fire and was just going to get her some brandy against the cold when there came an awful racket overhead, it shook the whole place and Penelope was so startled that—just instinctively I put my arm around her. She clung to me and—I tried to soothe her and before I knew it—I couldn't help it—I kissed her."
The doctor smiled. "If you hadn't kissed her under those circumstances, my boy, I would never have forgiven you. Perhaps she wouldn't either. Well?"
"It's going to be pretty tough, sir, to tell you—some of this," stammered Herrick, frowning at the carpet. "Penelope got awfully angry and said she was going to leave. I apologized and tried to square myself, but she wouldn't have it. She said I had insulted her and she refused to stay in my place another minute. I asked her to wait until I could get a dry coat and umbrella for her and then I would take her wherever she wanted to go. She agreed to wait and I went into the other room."
Christopher paused and drew his chair closer to the doctor.
"Now here is a most extraordinary thing. When I left Penelope she was standing before the fire, furious with me, but when I came back, not two minutes later, she was lying on the divan with her eyes closed, apparently asleep. As I had been out of the room for so short a time, it seemed incredible that she could have really fallen asleep, yet there she was. I looked at her in astonishment. I wondered if she could have fainted, but I saw that her cheeks were flushed, her lips were red and she was breathing regularly. I didn't know what to make of it."
"Well?" questioned the doctor.
Herrick shifted uneasily on his chair. "I haven't had much experience with women, sir, but I know they are complicated creatures, and I couldn't help thinking that Penelope was playing a little joke on me; so I bent over her and, after I had made up my mind that she wasn't ill and wasn't asleep, I—I kissed her again. That's another queer thing. Her lips were warm, her breathing was as soft and regular as a child's, but she never moved nor spoke nor responded in any way. She just lay there and—"
"You thought she was shamming?" suggested Owen.
"That's it, especially as she had been so angry with me just a few minutes before. I couldn't imagine anything else. So—er—"
"Go on," said the older man.
"You know I have always respected women, and this woman was more to me than anything—she's the woman I want for my wife, so you see I would be the last man in the world to show her disrespect, but—" the young fellow flushed—"as I looked at her there on the divan—so beautiful—I longed to hold her in my arms and I said to myself that, even if she was tricking me, it was quite a pleasing trick—if she could stand it, I could—so I—I kissed her some more. I begged her to speak to me, to respond to me, to tell me she returned my love and would be my wife; but she didn't answer, didn't move, or speak, she didn't even open her eyes, and presently I was filled with a horrible sense of shame. I felt like a thief in the night, stealing caresses that were not meant for me or willingly given. I realized that something terrible must have happened to Penelope, although she looked so calm and beautiful.
"And now my only thought was to call for help. I hurried into the next room and tried to get you on the telephone, but they said you were at the hospital and could not be reached for an hour. Then I rushed back to the studio and, as soon as I came in, I could scarcely believe my eyes but there was Penelope standing in front of the fireplace, just as I had left her the first time. She was looking at the blazing logs with a thoughtful expression and when I came close to her, she faced me naturally and pleasantly as if nothing had happened.
"You can imagine my astonishment, I could not speak, but—I was so relieved to find her recovered that I put my arm around her affectionately and just touched my lips to her cheek. Heavens! You should have seen her then. She sprang away from me indignant. How dared I take such a liberty? Had she not reproved me already? It was incredible that a man who professed to care for her, a gentleman, should be so lacking in delicacy. And before I could do anything or explain anything, she had dashed out into the night alone, refusing even to let me walk beside her. Now then," Christopher concluded, "what do you make of that?"
"Strange!" nodded the doctor, "very strange. And in spite of this she came to see you again?"
"Yes, two evenings later, without any warning, she burst into my studio about nine o'clock."
"In a red dress?"
"And a black hat?"
"Good Lord, it's true!" muttered Owen. "Go on, my boy. I want the details. This may be exceedingly important. Go right through the scene from the beginning."
After a moment of perplexed silence, Christopher continued: "When I say she burst in, that about expresses it. She was like a whirlwind, a red, laughing, fascinating whirlwind. I had never seen her half so beautiful—so alluring. I was mad about her and—half afraid of her."
"Hm!" grunted Owen. "What did she do?"
"Do? She did a lot of things. In the first place she apologized for having been so silly the time before—after the ball. She said she was ill then, she didn't want to talk about it. Now she had come to make amends—that was the idea."
"I see. Well?"
"Well, we sat before the fire and she asked me to make her a cocktail. She said she had had the blues and she wanted to be gay. So I mixed some cocktails and she took two, and she certainly was gay. I didn't know Penelope drank cocktails, but of course it was all right—lots of women do. Then she wanted to sit on the divan and she bolstered me up with pillows. She said she liked divans. I hate to tell you all this, sir."
"Go on, Chris."
"Pretty soon she wanted a cigarette and she began to blow smoke in my face, laughing and fooling and—finally she put her lips up so temptingly for another light that I ... I'll never forget how she bent over me and held my face between her two hands and kissed me slowly with a little sideways movement and told me to call her Fauvette—not Penelope. She said she hated the name Penelope. 'Call me Fauvette,' she said. 'I am your Fauvette, all yours.'"
"Extraordinary! This was the woman who had been furious with you only two nights before for daring to kiss her once?"
"Yes, sir. Now she was a siren, a wonderful, lithe creature, clinging to me. I almost lost control of myself. Once I caught her sharply by the shoulder—I tore her dress...."
Christopher stopped as the power of these memories overcame him. He covered his eyes with one hand, while the other clutched the chair arm.
The doctor waited.
"Well, sir," the young man resumed, "I don't know how I came through that night without dishonor, but I did. There was a moment of madness, then suddenly, distinctly, like a gentle bell I heard a voice inside me, a sort of spiritual voice saying two words that changed everything. 'Your wife!' That is what she was to be, my wife! I loved her. I must defend her against herself, against myself. And I did. I got her out of that place—somehow. I got her home—somehow. I have been through several battles, doctor, but this one was the hardest."
Captain Herrick drew a long sigh and sat silent.
"What's the answer, doctor?" he asked presently.
"I don't know, Chris. Upon my soul, I don't know."
(From Penelope's Diary)
Heaven help me! I have heard the words that sound my doom. I saw Dr. Owen this morning. It is all true—my dream, and what I saw myself do in the bowl of goldfish. True! I did those incredible things. I wore my red dress and my black hat. I went to Captain Herrick's studio. I lay down on the divan—everything is true. Oh, God, this is too horrible! How can I ever face Christopher again? I wish I could die!
Dr. Owen questioned me about the name Fauvette—why did I ask Christopher to call me Fauvette? I have no idea. I hate and despise that name. It brings up memories that I wish might be forever blotted out of my mind. That was the name Julian used to call me when he had been drinking. He would pretend that I was another person, Fauvette, and sometimes Fauvette would do things that I refused to do. Fauvette would yield to his over-powering physical charm and would say dreadful things, would enter into his mood and become just the sort of animal creature that he wanted. It was like a madness.
I cried my eyes out last night and lay awake for hours thinking about my unhappy life. All my pride and hopes have come to this—an irresponsible mind. It makes no difference whether the cause is shell shock or something else, the fact remains that my mind does not work properly—I do things without knowing or remembering what I do. I am sure I cannot live long—what have I to live for? I have made a will leaving my little fortune to Chris—he will never know how much I care for him—and my jewelry to Seraphine, except my silly thumb ring, which is for Roberta Vallis. She loves it.
This afternoon They came again. They never were so bad. I was walking down Fifth Avenue and, as I reached the cathedral, I thought I would go in and say my prayers. I love the soft lights and the smell of incense, but just at the door They began insulting me.
"Little fool! Little fool! She is going to say her prayers. Ha, ha!" They laughed.
I knelt down and breathed an old benediction, shutting my ears against the Voices:
"The peace of God which passeth all understanding—"
"Fauvette! Fauvette!" They mocked me.
"Keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God—"
"She's a pretty little devil. I like her mouth."
"And of his son, Jesus Christ our Lord—"
"Red dress! Red dress! Divan! Divan!"
"And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost—"
"She can't remember it. She's thinking of her lover. She wants to kiss her lover." Then They said gross things and I could not go on. I got up from my knees, heartbroken, and came away.
* * * * *
I thought I should never be happy again, but whatever the future holds for me of darkness and sadness, I have had one radiantly happy day. Christopher telephoned this morning and arrived half an hour later with an armful of roses. He took me to luncheon, then for a drive in the Park, then to tea at the Plaza where we danced to delicious music, and finally to dinner and the theater. He would not leave me. And over and over again he asked me to marry him. He will not hear of anything but that I am to be his wife. He loves me, he worships me, he trusts me absolutely. Nothing that has happened makes the slightest difference to him. Dr. Owen is going to cure me in a few weeks, there is no doubt about it, Christopher says, and anyhow, he loves me.