THE BLUE WALL
A Story of Strangeness and Struggle
RICHARD WASHBURN CHILD
New York Grosset & Dunlap Publishers
Copyright, 1912, by Richard Washburn Child All Rights Reserved
BOOK I—THE PROBLEM OF MACMECHEM
I. The House Next Door 3
II. A Moving Figure 22
BOOK II—THE AUTOMATIC SHEIK
I. A Woman at Twenty-two 39
II. A Pledge to the Judge 65
III. The Torn Scrap 80
IV. The Face 101
V. At Dawn 126
VI. The Moving Figure again 137
BOOK III—THE DOCTOR'S LIMOUSINE
I. A Shadow on the Curtain 157
II. Margaret 170
BOOK IV—A PUPIL OF THE GREAT WELSTOKE
I. Les Trois Folies 181
II. The House on the River 196
III. A Visitor at Night 219
IV. A Suppression of the Truth 240
V. Again the Moving Figure 261
BOOK V—THE MAN WITH THE WHITE TEETH
I. Blades of Grass 283
II. In the Painted Garden 292
BOOK VI—A PUPPET OF THE PASSIONS
I. The Vanished Dream 301
II. Mary Vance 312
III. The Ghost 323
BOOK VII—THE PANELED DOOR
I. The Scratching Sound 337
BOOK VIII—FROM THE WOMAN'S HAND
I. The Voice of the Blood 351
II. This New Thing 362
BOOK IX—BEHIND THE WALL
I. An Answer to MacMechem 371
II. "Why Care?" 378
A picture there among the law-books Frontispiece
"Listen to me, Estabrook" 120
"It must be Julianna!" 238
She did not speak. She seemed in doubt 372
From drawings by Harold J. Cue.
THE PROBLEM OF MACMECHEM
THE BLUE WALL
THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR
What's behind this wall?
As I write, here in my surgeon's study, I ask myself that question. What's behind it? My neighbors? Then what do I know—really know—of them? After all, this wall which rises beyond my desk, the wall against which my glass case of instruments rests, symbolizes the boundary of knowledge—seemingly an opaque barrier. I am called a man of science, a man with a passion for accuracies. I seek to define a part of the limitless and undefined mysteries of the body. But what is behind the wall? Are we sensitive to it? You smile. Give your attention then to a narrative of facts.
How little we know what influence the other side has upon us or we upon the human beings beyond this boundary. We think it is opaque, impassable. I am writing of the other wall. There was a puzzle! The wall of the Marburys!...
Here I risk my reputation as a scientific observer. But that is all; I offer no conclusions. I set down in cold blood the bare facts. They are fresh enough in my memory. All seasons are swift when a man slips into age and it was only four short years ago that this happened—so marvelous, so suggestive of the things that we may do without knowing—mark me! the things we may accomplish—beyond the wall!
You will see what I mean when I make a record of those strange events. They began when poor MacMechem—an able practitioner he was, too—was thrown from his saddle horse in the park and died in the ambulance before they could get him to the Matthews Hospital. I inherited some of his cases, and Marbury was one of those who begged me to come in at the emergency. It was meningitis and it is out of my line. Perhaps the Marbury wealth influenced me; perhaps it was because the banker—of course I am not using the real names—went down on his knees on this very rug which is under my feet as I write. There is such a thing as a financial face. You see it often enough among those who deal with loans, percents, examiners, and the market. It's the face of terror peering through a heavy mask of smugness, and it was dreadful to see it looking up at me.... I yielded.
The Marburys' house faces the group of trees which shade the very spot where MacMechem's horse went insane. It is one of a block where each residence represents a different architect—a sort of display of individuality and affluence squeezed together like fancy crackers packed in a box. My machine used to wait for me by the hour in front of the pretentious show of flowers, tub-evergreens, glass and bronze vestibules, and the other conventional paraphernalia of our rich city successes.
It was their little girl. She was eight, I think, and her beauty was not of the ordinary kind. Sometimes there rises out of the coarse, undeveloped blood of peasants, or the thin and chilly tissue of families going to seed, some extraordinary example like my little friend Virginia. The spirit that looks out of eyes of profound depth, the length of the black lashes lying upon a cheek of marvelous whiteness, the delicate lines of the little body which delight the true artist, the curve of the sensitive lips, the patient calm of personality suggesting a familiarity with other worlds and with eternity, makes a strong impression upon a medical man or surgeon who deals with the thousands of human bodies, all wearing somewhere the repulsive distortions of civilization. The ordinary personality stripped of the pretense which cannot fool the doctor, appears so hysterical, so distorted by the heats of self-interest, so monkey-like!
Oh, well,—she was extraordinary! I was impressed from the moment when, having reread MacMechem's notes on the case under the lamp, and then having crossed the blue-and-gold room to the other wall, I drew aside the corners of an ice pack and gazed for the first time upon little Virginia.
When I raised my glance I noticed the mother for the first time. I might have stopped then to wonder that this child was her daughter, for the woman was one of those who with a fairly refined skill endeavor to retain the appearance of youth. I knew her history. I knew how her feet had moved—it always seems to me so futilely—through miles and miles and miles of dance on polished floors and her mouth in millions of false smiles. She had been debutante, belle, coquette, old maid. Marbury had married her when wrinkles already were at her chin and her hands had taken on the dried look which no fight against age can truly conceal; then after six years of longing for new hopes in life she had had a single child.
Just as she turned to go out, I saw her eyes upon me, dry, unwinking. But I know the look that means that death is unthinkable, that a woman has concentrated all her love on one being. It is not the appeal of a man or woman—that look. Her eyes were not human. I tell you, they were the praying eyes of a thoroughbred dog!
I knew I must fight with that case—put strength into it—call upon my own vitality....
The bed on which Virginia lay was placed sideways along the wall—as I have said—the Marburys' wall. I drew a chair close to it, and before I looked again at the child I glanced up at the nurse to be sure of her character. Perhaps I should say that I found her to be a thin-lipped person not over thirty, with long, square-tipped fingers, eyes as cold as metal, and colorless skin of that peculiar texture which always denotes to me an unbreakable vitality and endurance, and perhaps a mind of hard sense. Her name was Peters.
MacMechem's notes on the case, which I still held in my hand, set forth the usual symptoms—headache, inequality of the eye pupils, vertigo, convulsions. He had determined that the variety was not the cerebro-spinal or epidemic form. He had tapped the spinal canal with moderate results. According to his observations and those of the nurse there was an intermittent coma. For hours little Virginia would lie unconscious, and restless, suffering failing strength and a slow retraction of the head and neck, or on other occasions she would rest in absolute peace, so that the disease, which depends so much upon strength, would later show improvement. The cause of this case, he believed, was either an abscess of the ear which had not received sufficient treatment—probably owing to the fact that the child, though abnormally sensitive, had always masked her sufferings under her quiet and patience, or a blow on her head not thought of consequence at the time it had happened.
Well, I happened to turn the notes over and, by George!—there was the first signal to me. It was scrawled hastily in the characteristic nervous hand,—a communication from poor Mac, a question but also a sort of command,—like a message from the grave!
These were the words,—"What keeps her alive? What is behind the Marburys' wall?"
They startled me. "Behind the wall?" I said to myself. "Behind the wall? What wall?"
There were the scientific notes he had made! Then at the end a sane and eminent doctor had written shocking gibberish. "What's behind the wall?"
"Come here," I called to that grim machine, the nurse.
She came, looked over my shoulder at my finger pointing at the words, and her face filled with a dreadful expression of apprehension, all the more uncouth because it sat upon a countenance habitually blank. She did not answer. She pointed. I looked up. And then I knew that the wall in question was that blank expanse of pale blue, that noncommittal wall that rose beside the bed, at one moment flat, hard, and impenetrable, at another with the limitless depths and color of a summer sky.
"Turn up that light a little," said I uneasily. "What has this wall to do with us?"
"Nothing," said Miss Peters. "Nothing. I refuse to recognize such a thing."
"Then, what did Dr. MacMechem see?" I asked.
"He saw nothing," she answered. "It is the child who knows that something is beyond that wall. It is her delirium. There is no sense in it. She believes some one is there. She has tried to explain. She puts her hands upon that surface and smiles, or sometimes her face, as she looks, will all screw up in pain. It has a strange effect upon her."
"How?" said I. "You are impressed, too, eh? Well, how does it show? MacMechem was no fool. Speak."
The raw-boned woman shivered a little, I thought. "That's what causes me to wonder, Doctor," she said. "There is an effect upon her. She can foretell the condition of her disease. She seems conscious that her life depends on the welfare of something else or the misfortune and suffering of something else—beyond—that—wall."
"Poppycock!" I growled at her. "It's a pretty pass when sane medical men in their practice begin to fancy—"
"Sh—sh!" she said, interrupting me sharply. "See! Now the child is conscious! Watch!"
I drew back a little from the bedside as Virginia stirred, but I could see the milk-white lids of her eyes—eyes, as I have said, deep and blue and intense like the wall behind her, with their long black lashes. Her slender body shook as if she was undergoing the first rippling torsions of a convulsion. Her face was drawn into such an expression as one might imagine would appear on the face of an angel in agony, and then, gradually, as some renewed circulation relaxed the nerve centres, her breath was expelled with a long patient sigh. And this I noticed,—she did not turn toward us, but with an almost imperceptible twist of her body and the reaching of her little hands she sought the wall.
I confess I half believed that she would float off into the infinite blue of the plaster and be lost in its depths. I found my own eyes following hers. I felt, I think, that I too was conscious of some dreadful or marvelous, horrible or inspiring something behind the partition; but in light of subsequent discoveries my memory may have been distorted. Besides, I have promised none but the cold-blooded facts and I need only assert that the little girl looked, moved her lips, stretched her arms, and then suddenly, as if she had sensed some agony, some fearful turbulence, she cried out softly, her face grew white, her upper lip trembled, she fell back, if one may so speak of an inch of movement, and lay panting on her pillow. The nurse, I think, seized the moment to renew the cold applications. Yet I, who had scoffed, who had sneered at poor MacMechem's perplexity, stood looking at that blank blue wall, expecting to see it become transparent, to see it open and some uncanny thing emerge, holding out to little Virginia a promise of life or a sentence of death.
My first instinct would have endeavored to shake off the question of the other side of that wall. I would, perhaps, if younger, have rejected the whole impression, declared the girl delirious, and would not now be reciting a story, the conclusion of which never fails to catch my breath. But mine is an empirical science. We deal not so much with weights and measures as with illusive inaccuracies. To be exact is to be a failure. To reject the unknown is to remain a poor doctor, indeed. The issue in this case was defined. Either the congestion of the membranes in the spinal cord was producing a persistent hallucination or else there was, in fact, something going on behind that wall. Either an influence was affecting the child from within or an influence was affecting her from without. I was mad to save her. Even a doctor who habitually views patients and data cards with the same impersonal regard may sometimes feel a call to work for love. And I loved that little child. I meant to exhaust the possibilities. As poor MacMechem had asked the question, I asked it.
I touched Virginia's hands with the tips of my fingers. Her eyes turned toward me, and again I was sure that no madness was in them. You, too, would have said that, awakened from the intermittent coma, the little thing, though mute and helpless, was none the less still the mistress of her thoughts.
"You have not asked her?" I inquired of Miss Peters.
The woman, folding her arms, at the same time shook her head solemnly.
"No," she said as if she disapproved.
But I bent over Virginia. "I am the new doctor," I said. "Do you understand?"
She smiled, and, I tell you, no monster could have resisted that tenderness.
"What is there?" I whispered, pointing with my free hand.
Her eyes opened as children's eyes will do in the distress of innocence; her feeble hand moved in mine as a little weak animal might move. Her face refilled with pain.
"Something is there," she whispered.
She shook her head weakly.
The nurse touched my elbow. I thanked her for reminding me of the chances I was taking with the little girl's quiet. I left instructions; then, perhaps not wholly at peace with myself, I crept softly down the stairs. I did not wish an interview with Mrs. Marbury. I did not wish to see that begging look on her face. I would have been glad to have escaped Marbury himself.
He was waiting for me. He waited at the bottom of the steps with that smug financial face of his—a mask through which, in that moment, the warmth of suffering and love seemed struggling to escape. He was plucking, from his thin crop, gray hairs that he could ill afford to lose.
I anticipated his questions.
"It is a matter of conservation of strength," I told him; "a question of mental state, a question of the nervous system. No man can answer now—beforehand."
He drew out his watch and looked at it without knowing what he did or why or observing the hour.
"By the way," said I, "who lives next door—in there?"
"Who?" he answered. "Why, the Estabrooks."
"A large family?"
"Two. Jermyn Estabrook and his wife. They were married six years ago and have lived there ever since. We know them very little. His father has never forgiven my objection to his membership on a certain directorate in 1890. The wife was the daughter of Colfax, the probate judge. They have no children. But perhaps you know as well as I."
"No," said I, studying his face. "I know nothing of them. Are they happy? Is there anything to lead you to believe that some tragedy hangs over them?"
For a moment he looked at me as if he believed me insane; then he laughed nervously.
"Bless me, no," he said. "Imagine a couple very happy together, surrounded by influences the most refined, leading a conservative life well intrenched as to money, the husband a partner and heir-apparent to an important law practice, the wife an attractive young woman who rides well and cares little for excitement. You will have imagined the Estabrooks."
"They and their servants are in the house?"
"Yes. Possibly Jermyn is away just now. I think I heard so. But I do not know."
His words seemed to clear away the chance of any extraordinary abnormal situation beyond the wall.
"What is the mystery?" he asked nervously.
I can hear the querulous tone of his voice now; I can see the tapestry that hangs above the table in their hall.
"Thank you," I said, without answering. And so I left him.
Outside, I stopped a moment to look up at that house next door.
It was October tenth. I remember the date well. The good moon was shining, for it has the decency to bathe with its light these cities we make as well as God's fields. It lit up the front of the residence so that I could see that, perhaps of all in the block, the Estabrooks' was the plainest, the most modest, with its sobriety of architecture and simplicity, and on the whole the most respectable of all. It seemed to insure tranquillity, refinement, and peace to its owner. I tell you that at that moment, with my chauffeur coughing his hints behind me, I felt almost ashamed for the fancies that had led me to find a mystery behind its stones and mortar.
And then, as suddenly as I speak, I realized that a window on the second floor was being opened gently. I saw two hands rest for a moment on the sill, some small object was dropped into the grass below, and my ears were shocked by a low cry of suffering with which few of the millions which I have heard could be compared!
It is always so, I find. We are ever forced by pure reason away from those delicate subconscious whisperings. I had sensed something beyond the wall, and as science, after all, is not so much truth as a search for truth, I would perhaps have done well to have retained an open mind. Instead, I had sneered at the whole idea. And to rebuke me the house, as if it were itself a personality, had for a fleeting second disclosed the presence of some hidden secret. The window was closed, and then I stood upon the deserted thoroughfare, the hum of my fretting limousine behind me, staring up at the moonlit front of the Estabrooks' home. You may be sure that it was with a mind full of speculations that I left the spot, asking myself as MacMechem had asked himself, what was behind the wall, what was the thing which was determining the question of the life or death of so lovable a child as little Virginia Marbury....
It is already raining. As I write again, the slap of it on the window makes one feel the possibilities of loneliness in city life....
It is hard for me to describe what a fascination there is in campaigning against death in those special extraordinary cases where the doctor becomes something more than a man of science and is also a man of affections. It is impossible to describe the irritation of being unable to act in cases like Virginia's—cases where the fight is made between strength of body and mind, on the one hand, and some deep-seated infection, like meningitis, on the other. I was more than anxious for the late afternoon hour when I could again go to the child. Her blue eyes, as deep and mysterious as the sea, called to me, if I may use that word. And there was something else that called to me as well—the blue wall—blank blue wall beyond the bed.
I found Miss Peters there, sitting in the patient's room and the gathering gloom of dusk, her muscular hands flattened upon her knees in the position of a red granite Rameses from the Nile, looking out the window at the waving treetops of the park and the clouds of falling leaves which were being driven by the dismal October wind across the white radiance of the arc lamps. I thought that I detected upon her metallic face a faint gleam of pleasure.
"It has been a good day," she said, without rising and with her characteristic brusqueness. "Mrs. Marbury is glad that you have not suggested a hospital, and desired me to say so." Indicating the bed with its inert little human body she added, "Peaceful."
"The wall?" said I.
She smiled insultingly.
"You are interested?" she asked.
I scowled, I think.
"Oh, well," she said, moving her shoulders, "she has been talking to it,—whatever is behind there,—and, do you know, I believe it has been talking to her!"
With those deliberate movements which characterized, I suppose, the movements of her mind itself, she lit the light; under its yellow rays lay the girl Virginia, her long lashes fringing her translucent eyelids, her delicately turned mouth with lips parted, and an expression of peace about the whole of her body.
"At twelve to-day," said the nurse with her finger on the chart, "she went through apparent distress. Something seemed to give her the greatest anxiety. She even spoke to me twice. She pointed. She said, 'It is bad! It is bad!' with great vehemence. It was like that for more than an hour. Then suddenly she became peaceful. She went to sleep. I have not wakened her since."
Maybe I shuddered. I remember I merely said in answer, "Yes, yes, that's all right!" and bent over the sleeping child. In the next moment I was lost in wonder at the improvement which had taken place in twenty-four hours. The tension and retraction of the neck and head had relaxed, respiration had diminished, the lips were pink and moist, the spasmodic nerve reaction and muscular twitching had almost ceased. I felt that exultation which comes when instinct as much as specific observation assures me that the tide has turned, that the arrow of fate has swung about, and the odds have changed. Strange as it may seem to many persons, these turns are felt by the doctor at times when the patient is wholly unconscious of them, and often enough I have wondered if, after all, this does not show that the crises of life are not determined within ourselves, but by some watching eye and mind and hand outside of us. As I bent over the little Virginia some such reflection was in my mind.
Then you can imagine, perhaps, how startling, how much an answer to my unspoken question, was the sound which at that very moment came from the blue wall beyond the bed!
How can we analyze our sense of hearing? Do you know the sound of your wife's footsteps? When you were young, could you pick out the approach of your father by the sound of his walk? Yes. But can you tell how? Are you able to say what it is that distinguishes it from the sounds a hundred other men would make going by your closed door? No. And neither can I tell you why I recognized this sound.
All that I can say is this,—the wall was opaque, the sound so faint as to be hardly heard, and yet I knew, as well as if the partition had been of plate glass, that the impact was that of a human body!...
There was something in this sound on the wall which drew an involuntary exclamation from me as the jar of forceps draws a tooth. And the sound of my voice, sharp and explosive, woke the child.
She stared up at me with that strange look of infinity—I must so describe it—infinity; then, as if she too had heard, she turned toward the wall.
"What do you see?" I asked near her ear.
She gave me one of her tender smiles and made a little gesture as if to say that she felt her inability to express something.
"It is there?" I asked, indicating the blank wall at last.
Her eyes sought that space of mysterious blue. Then she whispered, "Yes."
I must say that, though I knew no more than I had at first, I derived some satisfaction from the mere fact that for the second time Virginia had confirmed the extraordinary belief or fancy which had possessed prosaic MacMechem, the unimaginative Miss Peters, and, finally, myself. It seemed to justify positive steps in an investigation; after a further examination of the little body on the bed which offered still better evidence of an improvement in the course of the malady, I left the Marburys' door, determined to settle the question once and for all.
A MOVING FIGURE
It may strike you as absurd that I did not accept the possibility that Virginia was suffering from delirium. I confess that, after I had closed the house door behind me, I was for the moment convinced of the connection between congestion at the base of the brain and the abnormal fancy of the child. I had come to the house on foot, no vehicle was waiting for me, and I remember that when I started off I turned in the direction leading away from the Estabrooks' door.
The day had promised a much-needed rain; now the coming night threatened one of those angry tempests of the autumn. It was already dark and the street was deserted as if every one had hurried to find cover. The lighted windows suggested warmth and protection; but outside the dust and flying, rustling leaves, the dancing shadows on the pavements, the wail of the wind, the tossing treetops in the park, the musty odor of the death of the year all bore down upon the spirit and awoke that superstitious uneasiness which we inherit, I suppose, from ancestors who fled the storm to find shelter for their naked bodies in caves and hollow trees.
This wild and funereal scene and the proximity to the spot where poor MacMechem met his end brought him back into my memory, and again I found myself wondering, as he had wondered, and then I remembered the low cry I had heard issue from the window.
One feels at times that determination comes from without. You can almost imagine, then, that some part of your own self which exists outside your body has tapped you on the shoulder, spoken a command, and directed your action. Certainly I cannot remember why I turned around, nor can I recall why I went back toward the Estabrooks'. I do remember that it occurred to me that, if I should see the young lawyer or his wife, all that I asked of them about the other side of the blue wall would probably incline them to the belief that I was as mad as any hare of March. But even that thought did not retard my steps.
If I hesitated at the point where I again reached the Marburys', it was for good cause, for what I saw gave me no little uneasiness. Out of the shadow of the Estabrooks' entrance, where a high iron grilled fence curves toward the steps, there came, as if it were some wild and furtive animal startled from its shelter, a moving figure!...
I endeavor to speak with accuracy.... It was dark. Everything seemed to sway in the galloping wind—the trees, the shrubs, the magnetic arc lights and even the luxurious iron and stone inclosures before the line of houses. Furthermore the dust was blinding. In spite of all this, in spite of the fact that the vision was fleeting, I received the definite impression that this figure sought to escape unseen. It hurried away into the darkness, hugged the shadows, and took up a position in a place that would have been chosen by one who wished to observe secretly what I was about to do.
"Bah!" said I to myself. "Some loiterer. He cannot be connected with the Estabrooks' affairs."
Yet, for some reason, feeling that I was watched, I determined to walk away again, and as I went I looked along the ground in the manner of one who has lost something. The cross-street was near and I turned it. I thought after a moment or two of waiting under the wall of the corner residence that I heard receding footbeats on the pavement; therefore, having allowed a minute or two to pass, I retraced my steps. The figure was no longer anywhere in sight. Holding my hat so that the ugly gusts of cold wind would not blow it away, I walked up the white steps of the Estabrook home and pressed the electric button which projected from a bronze disk. This disk, so the sense of touch indicated, had at one time been one of those Chinese carved metal mirrors and was now set into the stone. I remember how it spoke to me of the extents to which the metropolitan architects and decorators will go to appeal to the whims and pretensions of the rich, who, after all, are out of the same mould as other men so obscure and wretched that the money spent for such a capricious ornament would support a family of them for six months. Perhaps the irony of it is that, no matter how much wealth may protect one from the others, it can never protect one from himself. And then—I pressed the button again.
There were silk curtains within the long heavy glass panels on either side of the door, but had a light been lit within I could have seen it. The whole house, however, was dark, and only by chance did I catch the sly movement of one of the curtains and the glint of an eye, peeping out at me. Whoever its owner might be, he or she had crept across the tiled vestibule silently and was now behind the outer door conducting a covert investigation.
"An odd procedure for a house of a respectable, conservative family," said I to myself, and without hesitating I rang again.
A light in the ceiling of the vestibule glowed forth immediately and I heard the movement of heavy metal locks and latches; the door swung back and I found myself standing before a middle-aged woman dressed in the black-and-white garb of well-trained servants.
This woman had a face that one may find sometimes among veteran nuns—a strong and kindly face, patient and self-subjugated—the face of the convent. But, of course, old family serving-women may have this same expression, for they too are nuns in a sense; in household rites they renounce the world, and if the spirit does not sour, little by little, they take wordless vows and obliterate themselves in service. This woman who stood before me, with skirts and apron blown about her substantial figure by the chill wind that poured into the vestibule, seemed at first to be one of them. It was only when I perceived that her eyes were filled with some guilty fear, and that her hands were half raised as if to ward off some impending danger, that I began to suspect that hers was one of those masks which hypocrisy and deceit grow upon the countenance of evil souls.
"I wish to see Mr. Estabrook," said I.
"He is not at home. He is away."
"She is not well, sir. She cannot see anybody."
These conventional answers seemed to put an end to the interview: if she had not spoken again, with that strange look of apprehension and terror rising to her eyes, I would have bowed and turned away. But her voice trembled as she moved toward me timidly and said, "Will you leave a message? Will you call again? Will you say—will you say—"
Her sentence failed like that. As it did, words sprang to my mouth. I looked at her accusingly.
"Yes," I snapped. "On the second story of the Marburys' house there is, of course, a partition. I called to ask Mrs. Estabrook what was on her side of that wall."
This information acted like dynamite. You would have said that it had blown to pieces some vital organ of the old servant. The color ran out of her face as if her head had lost its connection with her body.
"This is terrible," she choked. "Oh, 'tis awful! Who are you? Who can you be? Somebody has sent you."
She caught the edge of the door and pushed it toward me.
"I know who you are," she exclaimed. "You are somebody that is sent by him!"
With a final shove, then, she closed the crack which had remained, the locks moved again, the light in the vestibule went out, and I was alone on the step.
Such was the success of my first attempt to find an answer to MacMechem's question—to solve the riddle of the blue wall. But I realized, as I stood there, looking up into the gray sky of night with its wind-driven clouds, that the presence of some peculiar form of good or evil was no longer in doubt; that little Virginia, with the sensitive receptiveness of childhood, of suffering, and of her own endearing, unworldly personality, had not been wrong; that MacMechem, like a true physician, had not excluded the unknown and now was vindicated, and that there are sometimes strange affairs that baffle our feeble diagnosis of mankind....
This is merely a recital of the facts. I am not attempting to prove anything. I merely state that, as I descended the Estabrook steps and struck off into the park, the detective instinct which lies in every one of us had wakened in me. It may have been the reason for my turning around, after I had crossed the street, between the whirr and lights of two automobiles, and stood at the opening of one of the paths of the park.
The house I had just left met my scrutiny with a cold, impassive stare of its own—its look might have been the stare of the sphinx or of a good poker player. It gave no sign. My eyes traveled up to the roof, then back again to the ground, and only when my glance dropped did I see for the second time the lurking figure of the man.
"He was watching me from first to last," said I to myself. "He probably saw my little strategy of waiting around the corner."
Indeed, my first impulse was to walk rapidly over the way, head him off, and ask him his business; but I considered it unwise, and plunging into the shadows of the wailing trees, I walked briskly toward the distant lights that marked my district of the city.
You know, perhaps, the feeling that you are being followed. Without recognition of any definite sight or sound, you become more and more conscious of some one skulking in the shadows behind. Finally, you hear, in one of those moments when the wind catches its breath, the breaking of a twig, the disturbance among the dry leaves that have blown in drifts over the path, and you know that some one is there.
I admit freely that I felt I had involved myself in such a manner that some one wished to do me harm. If, on the other hand, he who followed sought to rob me, the situation was as bad. The park was deserted. One does not like to call for help unless certain of danger. And therefore, though I am no longer moulded for speed, I broke into a run.
I had gone but a few paces before the other discovered that I was in flight. I heard the rapid patter of his shoes behind me. In another twenty feet I heard his voice. It was not loud and it was cautious, but it reached my ears with a suggestion of extraordinary savageness.
"Stop!" it called with an oath. "I've got you. Stop!"
It was not a reassuring message, of course. I tried to run faster. A moment of this endeavor only showed me that my pursuer was gaining. I therefore stopped short, stepped into the heavy shadow of an evergreen, and waited for my new friend. Though it was dark I could see him as he came, and I assure you that it surprised me when I noted that the man was well-dressed and bore the appearance of respectability.
Just as he reached the spot in front of me, I saw him hesitate as if he had discovered that I was no longer running along in front of him. I knew that an encounter could not be avoided. Accordingly I sprang forward and drove my fist into his neck. Instantly I found myself grappling with him. I felt the watch in his waistcoat pocket as I pressed my knee into his stomach, and with my face near his I could see by the look in his eyes that my blow had staggered him and put him at a disadvantage. Some years ago I could deliver a heavy punch and the knack had stayed with me. I threw my weight against him once more, bore him down onto the leaves and gravel, and found myself on top.
Both of us were panting; we were breathing into each other's faces when suddenly I saw his eyes open wide as if he had seen a vision.
"I know you now. You are the doctor!" cried he. "Stop! Tell me, for God's sake, what's wrong with my wife!"
"Your wife?" I cried, dumbfounded. "Who are you?"
He struggled to his feet and leered at me. His face twitched with emotion.
"I am Jermyn Estabrook," he gasped.
You may imagine my astonishment when, after struggling with a man who had pursued me through the dark paths of the park like one who sought my life, he whom I had never seen before should now appeal to me as if I could lift him from the depths of some profound despair. He had cried out that I must tell him what was wrong with his wife. I had never so much as set eyes upon her. He had said he was Jermyn Estabrook. And though, with my face close to his, I could see that he was covered with bits of dead leaves and mud and the sweat of his desperate struggle, I felt that he told the truth.
"I have never been to your home but once in my life," I said. "You were watching me on that occasion—to-night. That is plain. I did not go in."
"I have made a mistake," he gasped. "I'm sorry. I have been through torments beyond telling. Something is going on—some ghastly, horrible tragedy within my own walls."
The word caught my ear; I gripped his shoulder.
"Listen, Estabrook," I cried. "It is no time for us to mince matters. I am attending Marbury's little child. It is an odd form of meningitis. I am fighting to save her. Do you understand?"
He shook his head stupidly as if worn dull by mental agony. "What of her?" he asked.
"What of her, eh?" I cried. "I'll tell you! I'll tell you! She is affected—perhaps her life or death depends upon—something—or somebody—that is behind the wall—the blue wall—something in your house next door. Come! Let us go back there. Let us force this thing. It is your home! Enter it!"
"I can't!" he cried, thrusting his fingers upward.
"Can't!" I roared at him.
"No," he said. "Not yet. I have promised her. She has my word."
"But think, man, what may be going on there!" I said.
"I have sworn not to pass the door," he said obstinately. "Heaven knows I am nearly crazy for light upon all this. But I must keep my word!"
As if to lend emphasis to his exclamation, a gust of wind roaring through the trees of the park brought the first deluge of rain—a cold, stinging downpour of the wild autumn night. Estabrook shivered. I could see that he was a man, badly tired, unnerved, and still dizzy from the blow I had given him.
"Follow me," said I roughly. "You need warmth—stimulant. And I want your story, Estabrook."
He looked at me with an empty stare, but at last nodded his assent, and without another word between us, we came to this house and into this very room.
He sat there before the fire—burning then as it is now—and as the warmth penetrated his trembling body, he seemed to regain his self-composure.
I saw then that this young man, well under forty, did not lack distinction of appearance. His head was carried upon his strong neck in the masterful manner of those who have true poise and strength of personality. His hair had turned gray above his ears, and his well-shaven face carried those lines that the grim struggles of our modern civilization gouge into the fullness of youth and health.
"I must tell somebody," he said, while I was observing his features upon which the firelight danced. "I have never dreamed that I would come to such a pass. But you shall hear my love story. You may be able to throw some light upon it. Contrary to the notion of my friends, who consider me incapable of adventure, my experience in the affections is one that offers opportunity for speculation—it would appeal to a great detective!"
I leaned forward quickly. Such a statement from any man might awaken interest, but Estabrook was not any man. He represented the essence of conventional society. He belonged to a family of well-preserved traditions, a family whose reputation for conservative conduct and manners of cold self-restraint was well known in a dozen cities. They were that particular family, of a common enough name, which was known as the Estabrookses Arbutus. Jermyn had had a dozen grandfathers who, from one to another, had handed down the practice of law to him, as if for the Estabrooks it was an heirloom.
"Perhaps I had better tell you from the beginning," said he, drawing the back of his fine hand across his forehead. "For it is strange—strange! And who can say what the ending will be?"
I counseled him to calm himself and asked that he eliminate as much as possible all unnecessary details of his story. I shall repeat, then, as accurately as possible, the story he told me. I will attempt to write it in his own words....
THE AUTOMATIC SHEIK
A WOMAN AT TWENTY-TWO
Some men do not fall in love. I had supposed from the beginning of my interest in such things that I was one of these men. I did not doubt that all of us have an inherent tendency, perhaps based upon our coarser natures, to love this or that woman thrown in our way by a fortunate or unfortunate chance. But the traditions of our family were strong; I had been educated by all those who were near to me in earlier life to look upon marriage, not as a result of natural instinct so much as the result of a careful and diplomatic choice of an alliance. I had been taught—not in so many words, but by the accumulation of impressions received in my home and in my youthful training—that one first scrutinized a woman's inheritance of character, wealth, and position, and as a second step fell in love with her.
This cannot be called snobbishness. It is prudence. And I followed this course until I was nearly thirty years old. If the test of its success lies in the fact that I had never had more than a temporary affection, sometimes stimulated by the curve of a bare shoulder and sometimes by the angle of a bright mind, then it had successfully kept me from the altar.
And yet you shall see that at last I reversed the order of our traditions; you shall see, too, that it resulted in one of the strangest of courtships and a tangle of mystery of which the rest of the world knows nothing, but which you have adequate proof threatens my happiness and the ghastly end of which may now be skulking within the walls of my house.
The wild weather of this night, with the howl of the wind and the rattle of dead leaves driven against the blinds, is in extraordinary contrast to the day of beautiful spring sunlight when I first set eyes upon her who was Julianna Colfax.
It is not necessary to tell you who her father was, because you have probably many times toasted your feet before the grate in the club with him.
He was a master of human interest, as grizzled as that old Scotch hound which became his constant companion after Mrs. Colfax died, and his contact with all those hosts of men and women, for whom he administered justice so faithfully for more than twenty years, had stamped on his shaven face sad but warm and sympathetic lines. All men liked him and those who knew him best loved him heartily. Under his gruffness there was a lot of sentiment and tenderness. After his reserved moments, when he was silent and cold, he would burst forth into indulgences of fine, dry humor, like an effervescent fluid which gains in sparkling vigor by remaining corked awhile. It was commonly said—and often said by Judge Graver, of the Supreme Court—that old Colfax remained in the comparative obscurity of a probate judgeship simply from an innate modesty and a belief that he had found his work in life in which he might best serve humanity without hope of personal power and glory. Gaunt, tall, stoop-shouldered, gray, walking the same path each day,—home, court-house, club, neighbors, home,—with a grapevine stick as thick as a fence-post in his hand—such was her father.
Exactly seven years ago the first of last June, on a spring day when I believe every bird that dared came into the city to make his song heard, I came up from downtown and dropped off a surface car before the gleaming white pillars of the new probate court building. My pocket was stuffed with a lot of documents in that Welson vs. Welson litigation, which I had just succeeded in closing.
Behind those swinging green doors which flank the big bench is the judge's retiring-room; pushing the crack there wider, I was able to peek in, and saw at once that the old atmosphere of Judge Colfax's study had not remained in the old dingy court-house, where the dismantlers' picks were already breaking up the ancient mortar, but had followed the personality of the man into these new pretentious quarters. The retiring-room already gave forth an alluring odor of law books and document files, the floor already had been forced into use to bear up little piles of transcripts of evidence, tin document boxes and piles of books, open at reference pages, occupying obscure corners. The Judge's black silk hat was in its familiar place, resting with the opening upward, on the old black walnut desk which its owner had affectionately brought with him, and which made a strange and cynical contrast with the mahogany woodwork and new rug.
"Come in," he said, and with one of his long-fingered hands he made a gesture toward the opposite side of the room and spoke my name and that of another.
She was there! I had never seen her before. She was there. I had no thought of her ancestry, her wealth, or her position. She was there, and into my throat came something I had never felt before, into my face a suffusion of hot blood, into my lungs a long-held inhalation of breath.
Sometime you may see her. She has changed a little. But then she was twenty-two, and the simplicity of her attire seemed to be at once the propriety of nature and the infinite skill of art. She wore a black gown, without ornamentation, and a black hat of graceful form. Not a harsh or stiff fol-de-rol was about her anywhere. You will pardon me for this detail. But, oh, she was so different from the others. She was a picture there among the law books.
The most attractive thing there can be in a woman is that combination of youth, innocence, glowing health, modesty. The perfect skin, with its grapelike, dusty bloom which shows where the collar droops at the front of the neck, the even lashes, from under which the deep eyes gaze out at you half timidly, the brave, honest uplifting of a rounded chin, the undulations of fine lungs, the almost imperceptible movement of restrained vigor in a poised, delicate, graceful figure, the gentleness and tenderness of a voice which at the same time suggests refinement and decision and strength, the absence of any effort to make an impression, either in manner or dress,—these are rare and beautiful attributes in an age when female children hatch out as artful women without the intervening period of girlhood. After all, the best men of us will not choose one of these modern maidens who imitate the boldness of the character and dress of the adventuress or the stage and opera favorite. It has become a tiresome feature of our modern life with the insidious faculty of corrupting the manners even of families who know better. She was so different! And in that moment I knew her superiority as a woman. I could not speak.
We exchanged no words. Yet as we looked at each other in the manner of children, the Judge, I thought, sensed a significance. When my eye sought his, I found a cloud upon his stern face, but immediately, as if he had tossed a haunting thought aside, he laughed.
"Julianna," said he, "this is the Mr. Estabrook who is as insane as I. That is, he devotes no end of time and energy and seriousness to the game of chess. We have never yet met each other on the field of battle. Some afternoon, here in this room, however—"
She did not allow him to finish; she said hastily that she must witness the contest.
"Then at my home," he said, beaming at me. "To-morrow will you come to dinner?"
I remember that Julianna had raised her eyes, that they were smiling, and that I received the definite, convincing impression that I was looking at a girl who never had given her love away. I tell you that one feels a truth like that by instinct, and that a woman wears not only her spotlessness, but also her purity of thought, like a faint halo. Yet at that moment I knew she was glad that I had accepted the invitation: there was a blushing eagerness in her eyes, upon her lips, in the movement of her graceful hands. For the rest of the morning I was half dizzy with the mad sense of triumph, of conquest—that strange onslaught of the emotions which gives no quarter to the disordered phalanx of reason.
I must admit that when I met Judge Colfax on the court-house steps the next afternoon to walk home with him, I had not given a thought to his daughter's forebears or security of place in the social structure. In fact, the social structure had vanished; an individual had, at least for the time, filled its place.
I even jumped when the first sentence the Judge addressed to me began with her name.
"My daughter plays an excellent game herself," he said, as if in explanation of her interest. "In fact, I may say, with an old man's modesty, that there are only two persons in this city who can win from me consistently. She is one."
"And the other, sir?" I asked as we turned our faces toward the hot stare of the late afternoon sun.
"The other," he said, "is an automaton. I have named it the Sheik of Baalbec. But I believe he calls himself the Player of the Rolling Eye."
It is impossible for me to say why the mere mention of the fanciful name of an automatic chessplayer should have caused me to feel a peculiar uneasiness—the sensation of apprehension. I am not susceptible ordinarily to the so-called warnings of voices from within. And yet I suppose the Judge saw a look of inquiry on my face, for he drew out his large, old-fashioned gold watch, which he carried in his trousers pocket, with his keys.
"We will stop there," said he. "There is time. The automaton has a corner of the lower hallway in the old Natural History Museum. It's not far out of our way, and if you will start with a problem I will give you and play with him, it will afford me an opportunity to measure you before our game this evening."
Such were the circumstances which brought me into a mystery not yet solved, the ending of which I fear to guess. In a modern era, when it is commonly supposed that skeletons no longer hang in closets, that day after day brings commonplace occurrences or, at the best, trivial abnormalities to be explained to-morrow, that romance is dead, it is strange that Fate should have picked me, when, by custom and my own desire, I am aloof from all things turbulent, morbid, and uncanny, to play an unwilling part in so extraordinary a drama, or, possibly, a tragedy.
At any rate, that day found me face to face with the half-human personality which the Judge had named the Sheik of Baalbec, and whose eye has cast an evil cloud upon my life.
Of course I do not know whether you are familiar with the old Natural History Society and its musty exhibit. A controversy about a curator in 1873 had caused the formation of the new American Institution of Biology. A few old men continued thereafter to support the ancient Society by annual subscription, and when they died, one or two of them, acting from stubborn partizanship, left the museum tied up with trusts and legacies, preventing the sale of a valuable city property and yet not furnishing enough to keep the building in repair or dust the case containing "Beavers at Work." Finally the old museum, once the pride of the municipality, had come down to the disgraceful necessity of letting its lower floor to a ten-cent exhibition of respectable waxworks, the principal attraction of which was the automatic chessplayer, which a year before my visit had gained suddenly a reputation for playing at times with the skill of a fiend. I faced the mechanism that afternoon for the first time, little realizing the intimacy, if I may use the word, which was to spring up between it and me.
The representation of a squatting Arab, robed in red Oriental swathes and with a chessboard fastened to its knees, sat cross-legged on a box-like structure. Upon dropping a coin into a slot in the flat top, two folding-doors in front of this box would open for a few moments, showing a glass-covered interior, which, as far as the back of the box, was filled with a tangle of wheels and pulleys, seeming to preclude the possibility that a human being could hide therein. As soon as these doors closed, a flat space in the chest of the Sheik opened, with a faint purr of machinery to expose internal organs of metal levers and gears.
The effect of this last exposure was extraordinary, and in all the time I knew the Sheik, I never got over it. The moment this cavity in his chest opened, he was an impersonal piece of mechanism; the moment it closed, however, the soul, the personality of a living being returned, and it seemed to me that the brown, wax skin of his nodding head, the black hair of his pointed beard, the red of his curved, malicious lips, the whites of his eyes, which showed when he moved with a squeak of unoiled bearings in his neck, and even the jointed fingers of his hand, with which he moved the pawns in short, mechanical jerks about the board, all belonged to a human body, containing an individual intelligence.
This was my feeling as the Judge arranged the chess problem on the board above the gilt-and-red Turkish slippers on the feet of the thing's shapeless cotton-stuffed legs, and briefly described the point to be gained by the Sheik in the series of moves which he was to begin and the success of which I was to combat. The creature made its first move in its deliberate manner and then I stepped forward.
I ask you to believe me that, as I did so, the whirring of wheels within the contrivance stopped, and at that moment I heard a human throat inhale a long breath with a frightened gasp! It was as if the balanced glass eyes of the figure had recognized me or seen in my coming an event long expected.
For a moment I hesitated, then made my move. The figure hesitated, made another. I studied the situation before my second attempt, and then was surprised at the absurd mistakes made by the automaton, who, in his next moves, was playing in slipshod fashion, as if preoccupied. I now had the advantage, and believed that I should win. My triumph was short-lived, however; my opponent awakened to his danger, and yet perhaps my first warning of the final move came when the Judge laughed heartily, clapped me on the shoulder, and pointed toward the board. Another turn made it plain to me. I had lost.
And at the same moment the infernal Sheik lifted his head with the clicking of gears, stared at me, drew down one papier-mache eyelid in a hideous wink and rolled the other glassy eyeball in a complete orbit of the socket, and as soon as this evil, mechanical grimace had been accomplished, the head fell forward, the door in the being's chest opened once more, showing the moving wheels, and again the creature seemed to become soulless.
"He always rolls his eye at you when he wins," explained Judge Colfax as we went out into the sunlit street again, and he patted me on the shoulder in gentle banter.
"I believe I do not like your Sheik machine," said I, laughing nervously. "I felt all the time as if a hidden pair of human eyes were on me—as if there was a personality behind it all."
The Judge chuckled.
"But you forget," said he. "Of course there is a person—some man—or woman. I have often wished to have a look at that person, Estabrook."
As you will see, I have had cause to feel as he did on that memorable night—memorable because I first sat at table with Julianna—with Julianna, whose magnificence was not boldness, whose spirit was not immodesty, and whose gentleness did not rob her of either her beauty or vivacity.
Though it seems to me that to-night, in the depths of anxiety, I find myself in love with a new and deeper feeling, there can be no doubt that, as I looked at her across the table, I thrilled with the thought that she might one day be my wife, and felt that delicious and painful ecstasy when her deep eyes met mine and her lips smiled back at me the encouragement of a modest woman who does not guard too closely her own first interest in an exchange of ardent glances. I had then forgotten most fully the theories of my training.
I remember now that she wore a gown of soft and ample drapery and of a dark green, suggestive of the colors in the shady recesses of a forest. I was charmed by the shape and subtle motions of her white hands, the quality of the affectionate attitude she maintained toward her father, the refinement of her voice when she answered my comments or addressed the old serving-maid.
About this serving-maid I must speak. On that occasion her ample form moved about in the shifting shadows outside the brilliant glow of the flickering candles, like a noiseless ghost, hovering about a feast of the living. But I liked her, because, when she looked toward Julianna, she wore that expression of loyal affection which perhaps one never sees except upon the faces of mothers or old servants. She had been in the Judge's family even at the time of the death of his wife years before, and she had looked as old then as she does when I see her in my own home now. The old woman's name is Margaret Murchie. You will see that she, too, is involved in this affair.
How I noticed her at all that evening, or how I kept up an intelligent conversation with Judge Colfax, I cannot explain. I only know that I finally found myself sitting with my knees under the table with the long thin legs of the Judge, and a set of chessmen, carved exquisitely from amber and ivory, on the board before me, and that when the old man was called to the telephone and announced on his return that he must go out to the bedside of a friend, I was overjoyed that I might have some rare moments in conversation with Julianna.
I observed, however, that this prospect did not please Judge Colfax as much as it did me; there was an awkward moment in which he looked from one to the other of us with the same expression as he had worn when he had observed my interest in his daughter in our first meeting. Then, as on the former occasion, his optimistic good-nature seemed to rise again above whatever apprehensions he may have had. He smiled until all the multitude of wrinkles about his eyes were showing.
"Estabrook," said he, "we have bad luck, eh? But I can offer a worthy substitute. Unless you find that you must go, you may discover my daughter to be as worthy an opponent as the Sheik of Baalbec."
Of course I recognized the significance of the words, "unless you find that you must go," and my first instinct was to offer some lame excuse and take my departure. Immediately I turned toward Julianna, but she, instead of coming forward in the manner of one ready to say good-night, idly turned the pages of a book on the old table, and then, walking across the room, stood near the chessboard with the pink glow of the droplight upon her face, and looked up at me, saying as plainly as words, "Stay."
From the ordinary woman this would not have affected my intentions; it would have been nothing. From her it was a piece of daring. From her it seemed a sacrifice of dignity for my sake. I met her glance, and then turned politely toward the Judge, who stood in the wide door, his tall hat resting under his arm and his searching eyes looking out from under the bushy brows.
"Thank you for the suggestion," I said.
"I will be out late," he answered, his deep rumbling voice directed at me. "Good-night."
"Good-night, sir," I said cheerfully.
Then for the first time I was alone with Julianna, and she was directing at me, as I stood before her, one of those perplexed little smiles—those rare perplexed smiles which indicate, perhaps, that for the first time in a woman's life she does not understand her inner self, and yet is sure that some joyful thing hangs where she can reach it if she will. It is the last smile drawn from childhood.
"Shall we play?" she said.
"No," said I.
"I am glad."
"Then you do not like the game?"
"Yes, when I play it with father, because it interests him. And he prefers to play with me because he says that I am youth."
"His youth, too," I suggested.
She nodded seriously. "Yes, I think so," she said. "We see so many old people, and balls attract me very little. Our companionship is very close even for father and daughter. I surprise myself by talking so to you, but that is it—and we have established a little kingdom of our own—a walled kingdom which no one else can enter or destroy."
Upon hearing these words, pronounced with that soft ring of determination which gave her the one touch of imperiousness she possessed, my heart fell. It was as if she had warned me that she had dedicated herself to him.
And then suddenly the fact that she had so spoken to me, who had known her so short a time and said nothing but commonplaces to her, seemed to take on new significance. I thought it plain that she was erecting a defense against her own self and was admitting, by her denial, that her fortresses were for the first time in danger. She had had her choice in conversation and she had chosen to speak not of general matters, but of herself. She had done so with charming awkwardness, and I felt as if the world of all my happiness were resting on the bare chessboard between the round and healthy forearms that leaned there, and between her graceful hands, whose intrinsic beauty was not marred by any ring.
"One might well envy the Judge," said I.
She looked up at me quickly.
"Will you close those long windows for me?" she asked, after a moment, pointing toward the back of the room. "At the front of the house we are level with the street; at the rear, however, the old walled garden is almost another story below us. It is damp, I think, even after a spring day as tender and sunny as this has been."
I hastened to do her bidding.
"There is a tangle of old-fashioned flowers in our little city inclosure," she called after me. "The Judge likes it that way—as mother used to like it. There is a balcony with an old wistaria vine just outside the window."
"And the moon," said I under my breath.
The pranks that fate plays—or whatever one chooses to call the strange domination of our chance happenings—are wonderful and at times seem malicious. I am certain that it brought me onto the iron-railed balcony just beyond the French windows at the beat of that second.
The old garden, though small and flanked by the ugly backs of city houses, seemed to hold within its brick inclosure a world full of white liquid moonlight. Shrubs, however, which had grown in disorder under the walls, threw dark and steady shadows across the patches of lesser vegetation. The tops of early blossoms and nodding grasses showed beyond these spaces of blackness. Suddenly, as I looked down, I heard a click like that of a gate-latch, and a second later I saw, projecting from one of the fantastic patterns of shade, a round disk of shining surface.
There are moments when the sight is puzzled to determine the character of such an object. I could not make out the nature of this bobbing, moving circle that followed along the irregular line of wall shrubbery. Then, when it was nearer, I saw in a flash that it was the top of a silk hat. I could see, too, the stooping shoulders of the man who wore it, I could see that he was proceeding cautiously as if he feared to attract attention, and at last, when he paused beneath the balcony, I could see a face with an anxious expression that turned upward toward me. I drew back behind the thick-leaved vine; for the man was Judge Colfax.
Of all persons he was the last to act as if he sought concealment in what he did, the last to be guilty or wear the appearance of guilt. Had he been a stranger, I might have assumed that he had come to make a call below stairs, but the fact that it was my host, a judge of probate, with a reputation for lifelong honor and refinement, filled me with the keenest curiosity. I gripped the old iron railing with my hands and leaned over.
The Judge waited for a moment before a door opened slowly somewhere beneath the balcony and a stream of artificial light escaped through the crack and for a brief second lay like a piece of yellow ribbon across the grass. Then he was joined by some one whose voice I recognized as that of Margaret Murchie.
"I came back," I heard him whisper, "because I saw that you had something to say to me. Julie is observant. I couldn't speak to you in the hall, Margaret. What is the matter? What did you indicate by the signs?"
"It's him, sir," she answered. "This thing we have feared has come."
"You cannot mean it!" he exclaimed.
"How could we expect different, sir? The heart of her is like that of other healthy young girls. I could tell by the look on her face, sir. The like of it has never been there before. 'T is given to some one to have his way with her, Judge. I think it's him."
They were talking of me!
"He would have to be told," said the old man. I could see the top of the silk hat shaking. "And she would have to be told!"
"It is awful, sir!" she answered, wringing her hands. "But I'd never spoil it that way for anything."
"You forget the other!" he said sternly.
"Lost," she argued. "The time has gone by. It was not a human, sir. I could never mention her name—beautiful thing she is!—with that other."
"I know—I know," whispered the old man distractedly.
"Well, then, let things run their course. God will not let harm come of it."
"Blood," said he.
For a moment there was no sound. The one word seemed to have decided all questions and to have called for silence.
"In case of my death—" the Judge began after a while.
Margaret Murchie uttered a little cry.
"I have left a paper where she will find it," he finished. "I can do nothing more now. Perhaps—perhaps it will not be a crisis, after all. I think if I had the chance again, I would send him to his doom."
With these words he raised his clenched fist and walked rapidly across the grass to the arched exit leading to the alley. The click of the latch told me that he had gone.
You may imagine my state of mind. As I endeavored in those seconds to wrest some meaning from the tangle of words I had overheard, my thoughts were tumbling over each other so fast that I had forgotten the doubtful part I had played as an eavesdropper. I had heard a reference made to me as one who had brought some new complication into the affairs of that household which heretofore I had regarded as the most spotless and quiet in the city, but which now I found had some dark and mysterious menace hanging over its peace. Was I the one, after all, to whom they had referred? They had spoken of some one else and whispered strange phrases. It was all a blank puzzle to me.
Perhaps under different circumstances my caution and dislike of all that is unusual or doubtful would have led me away from the house, planning never to return. But there is in me a certain loyalty. I do not quickly cast my lot or my reputation with that of another; when, however, I have done so, I do not quickly withdraw. Extraordinary as it may seem, I felt myself already bound to Julianna. Perhaps I already loved her desperately.
Whatever may have been the case, when I turned back into the room I looked into her gaze with an expression of solemnity which my emotions intended as an outward sign of my continued devotion.
I must have presented then a ridiculous, sentimental appearance. She laughed the moment she saw me.
"You like our balcony," she said. And then, as if she had discovered the cause of my seriousness, she added, "also our spring moonlight."
"It is an unusual spot for the middle of a metropolis," she went on. "It is filled with a tangle from which years ago I used to imagine fairies and gnomes and Arabian marauders might step at any moment."
"Tell me more," said I.
"There was a little basin and fountain there when I was a child. But when it did not flow, yellow slime collected at the bottom, and when the water was turned on and trickled from one basin to another, it gave forth a mournful sound that made one think of deserted villages, and moss growing on gravestones, and courtyards where there were moonlight murders."
"You have a keen imagination."
"The keenest!" she exclaimed. "Why not? It has grown up with me. And the only trouble is that it causes me the greatest restlessness. My fate is like all others. I am exactly what I would not be. Sometimes I long to enjoy all the wildest of respectable adventures."
"I should think you would keep that a secret from the Judge. He, above all, is a man of settled habits. His greatest genius has been to make romance out of the commonplace sequences of life."
She sprang up and walked to the mantel.
"That is true," she said. "I never show that side of me to him. He would not know what strange spirit moved me. I inherited none of it from him or my mother. I never show that side to anybody."
"Except to me," I said mischievously.
"Except to you," she affirmed without a smile. "But sometimes I feel like a wolf in lamb skin."
"At those times I take a brisk walk," I said.
"I do, too. I walk around the Monument nearly every afternoon at five, with father's dog. Usually at that hour he is at the club."
"Shall I recognize you then by a shaggy, Scotch hound?" I asked.
"By all means," she said, laughing wholesomely. "I suppose in the novels they would call that a secret meeting."
In spite of the light manner in which she had spoken, she had lowered her voice a little when she heard a step in the hall. Margaret entered, as I have seen her so many, many times since, to collect the little coffee-cups.
The old servant, I felt without seeing, did not take her eyes away from me while she was in the room; so conscious was I of being the subject of her observation that I could find but few words to carry on the conversation. The very effect—that of an intimate dialogue interrupted—was produced in spite of my desire to avoid it, and when she left, Julianna had changed her mood. Finding, perhaps, that I was content to listen, she employed a delicate piece of strategy to place me in her father's lounging-chair where I could watch her as she leaned back among the pillows, and in a voice, more soothing than any I had ever heard, described to me in quaint phrases the character of six imaginary persons who might among themselves make up a world, with all the traits of personality which we find in our own. From this piquant attempt, she emerged to plunge into a light discussion of heredity.
"I can see a trace of the Judge in your belief," said I.
She admitted that he had been her teacher, that they often discussed such things. It needed no denial from Julianna, however, to know that her convictions about the power of inherited tendencies had come from her own thought. Her mind, unlike her manner, had little submissiveness, and, furthermore, she recited several cases from her own shrewd observation.
Can I attribute my entranced interest on that occasion to her brilliance? To this day I do not know. I would have been content to sit there without my pipe, without a cigarette, listening merely to the brook-like flow of her voice and looking at the play of expression upon her beautiful, sensitive face.
I could feel, I thought, the warmth of her hand still lingering in my own after I had gone down the steps, and I turned my face into the night breeze on the avenue, glad to be alive, conscious of my health, my strength, my youth and my courage, oblivious to the traditions of the Estabrooks and intoxicated with a longing for her personality the moment I had left it.
Not before the next morning did the haunting thought of something queer and strange lurking behind the Colfax home rise to cause me doubt.
"It is nonsense," I thought. "Chance events, chance words, and my own suspicious mind have united to produce an unreality. The Judge, naturally enough, is jealous of such a daughter. Who would not be under the same circumstances? An old man would be beastly lonely in that comfortable but ancient house, even if they had removed the garden fountain with its mournful trickle. The world has no such picturesque and abnormal situations as those which have come into my mind. And Julianna has all that any one could ask. Above all the vital fact is that she is no other than she!"
Perhaps for the sake of good taste I waited two days in painful restraint before I left my office to walk around the Monument at five; certainly my delay was not because I could pretend to foresee that a ghastly mystery was waiting to seize me and drag me in with its unseen tentacles.
A PLEDGE TO THE JUDGE
There is a peculiar honesty about true affection for woman. It is for the flirtations, the light and frivolous intimacies that a man smooths his hair, picks out his scarf, and purchases a new stick. Somehow it seems to me that a gentleman of natural high honor will always present his average self to the one woman. That he should be attentive is natural, that he should be affected is repellent to my notions. Perhaps it was for this reason that without preparation I closed my desk and walked up to meet Julianna, as I would have walked home to my own bachelor quarters.
She was waiting for me!
"I have been expecting you," said she, with her hand upon the dog's grizzled head, and in that frank and simple statement there was more charm than in all the false feminine reserve in the universe.
"I did not come before," I told her, "because I felt that you might believe me presuming too much."
"Why?" said she in the manner of a child.
I could not answer. I merely gazed at her. She was half leaning, half sitting on the retaining wall of the park, and her skin, which was flecked with the shadows of new maple leaves above her, was lighted not only by the yellow rays of the afternoon sun, but also with the bright colors which her brisk walk had brought to the soft surface. I assure you, she made a pretty picture.
"I would have been glad to see you yesterday," she said slowly, marking with the toe of one shoe upon the gravel. "You have been one of my father's younger friends a long time."
"There is nothing the matter!" I cried.
"I can't tell," she said. "He is old, you know, and I can explain it in no other way."
"He is not ill?"
"No. But if, for instance, his physician had told him he had not long to live, and he felt something give way within him—that might cause it."
I suppressed the anxious note in my voice as I said, "Cause what? You have not said, Miss Colfax."
She laughed. "That is true. I haven't, have I?" Serious again, she went on. "He seems worried. Something seems to follow him about—some thought, some apprehension, some worry."
"It is a new difficulty somewhere that has come up in the trial of a case."
She shook her head.
"Let us walk," she said. "No, it is not that—nothing ordinary. A word from me and he would explain. But this time when I ask, he merely smiles and says, 'Nothing, Julie, nothing.'"
"Can it be that I am the cause?" I said before I could stop myself. "Has he found out that we—"
"I told him," she said, "that we—"
She stopped there, too, and looked at me.
"No," she went on. "It is something else. He went out for a stroll night before last. Usually he is gone a half-hour at least. But this time he had hardly had time to go down the steps before I heard his key in the door again and the feet of 'Laddie' on the hall floor. I ran out to ask if he had forgotten anything, and it was a dreadful shock to me."
"Tell me," said I, touching her fingers with my own.
"In the first place, the dog was acting as I have never seen him act before. I noticed that, the first thing. He was cowering and slinking along as if he feared the most terrible punishment. But that was nothing. It was father who made me draw back. Even in the dim light I could see that he was white—oh, so white! I thought he had been taken ill suddenly and was weak. And yet one hand was clutching his big cane and the muscles and veins stood out on the back as if he were raising the stick to defend himself."
"He was ill!" I cried.
"Yes, I think that must have been it. He was ill. And since then he has brooded so—particularly when he does not know I am watching him. Margaret has noticed it, too. She has spoken to him as I did and he has laughed her fear away, I suppose."
"Perhaps, after all, it is nothing—just as he says," I suggested, turning toward her as we walked.
"Perhaps not," she said. "I am sure you are a good and cheerful friend to say so. Nevertheless, I have been worried and restless and this afternoon I long for amusement. Can't we do something queer and extraordinary—go somewhere—do something?"
I thought her requirement a difficult one to fill at five o'clock in the afternoon, walking through the old, dull, and worn-out part of the city, where we found we had arrived without purpose in our journey. More than that, I am naturally of conservative tastes; the bizarre, the bohemian, and the unconventional forms of amusement have never beckoned to me. I am not an adventurer by choice.
"We have less than an hour before us," I said to her. "And I am at a loss to suggest—"
There I hesitated. A thought had come to me. I saw her eyes dance with expectancy—with that expression of eagerness that lights the faces of those to whom the world, with all its goodness and badness, beauty and ugliness, tranquillity and turbulence, is still unexplored.
"The Sheik of Baalbec!" I exclaimed.
"The Sheik of Baalbec!" she repeated. "I have heard so much of him, but have never seen him. That is just the thing!"
"You shall try your skill with him," I said. "You shall meet him face to face, look into his evil glassy eyes, watch his brown fingers move on mechanical levers, see his lungs and heart of geared wheels and little pulleys and—"
"And what?" she cried.
"Battle with him—wit against wit—skill against skill—and win!"
"You seem to bear the Sheik a grudge," she said, and as we went up the steps of the old Natural History Building, where romping children of the tenements scattered banana peels and papers, she repeated the remark.
"I've taken a dislike to the automaton," I said. "It is an uncanny creature. It gives me the impression of an evil soul attached to a lot of metallic gears. Personally I should be glad to have the opportunity of tearing it to pieces and seeing it scattered on the ground—a heap of red cotton rags, hair stuffing, and broken levers."
My earnestness, however, only caused her to tilt her rounded chin in air and laugh as only she can laugh. Having persuaded the girl at the ticket office that the dog with us would do no harm, we had already entered and were passing through the exhibit of figures.
"Possibly you feel the same way toward this waxy Bismarck who looks so much more like a brewer than a general," said she, "or toward this Catherine of Russia who, I understand, was not a very refined queen, and who here shows it by wearing a ruff that should have gone to the laundry a year ago or more."
"No," I replied. "If they let me alone, it matters not to me when they are melted down for candles. My enemy is the fellow in the corner there with the group of country persons around him. Perhaps we shall not have a chance to play a game with him this afternoon."
Fortunately, however, just as we came up toward the gloomy corner, there was a shout of bantering laughter from those whom, offhand, I should have called Aunt Lou, Cousin Becky, Brother Bob, and Milly Snagg, and we saw that the automaton had just dispatched his opponent—the fifth member of the party, a well-bronzed countryman, with a shaved neck and prominent ears. The mechanical eye had drawn down its brown lid in a hideous wink, much to the discomfiture of the champion of some rural village.
For the second time I deposited the coin in the slot, whereupon Julianna, with great delight, watched the opening of the front of the box, the exposure of the internals of the figure, and the jerky motions of the Sheik as he extended his mechanical arm over his lifeless legs to make the first move.
"I like him," she said, and stepped forward toward the chessboard.
Thereupon a strange thing happened. Some part of the contrivance gave forth a sound as if a wheel had been torn from its socket; a whirring sound continued for a moment, then finally the air was filled with a ghastly shriek.
I defy any man to say whether that shriek came from the rasp of an unoiled metal bearing or from a human throat. That it proceeded from the automaton there was no question.
It was followed by a stillness not only of the automaton itself, but also of ourselves.
"Look at his head!" roared the countryman, who had, with his party, lingered to see more of the marvelous creature. He pointed to the figure, and when my eyes followed his gesture, I saw that the Sheik's head had fallen backward like a thing with its throat cut. As I stared, there came a slight noise from the box and out of the slot my coin flew back as if it bore the message that there was no more playing that afternoon.
"Well," said I to Julianna, "apparently the show is over."
She did not answer. I put the coin in my pocket.
"It is too bad," I said. "The Sheik has broken something important in his cosmos."
Again she failed to reply, and I looked up. She was staring, I thought, at the floor.
"What is the matter?" I asked.
"Look at the dog!" she whispered.
He was cringing, cowering, with closed eyes, flattened to the ground, and sniffing softly, in an agony of terror!
It was dreadful to see so noble a beast in such a state, and probably more shocking to Julianna who had affection for him than to me.
"I cannot understand Laddie's acting that way," she said in a vexed tone. "He has done it twice now in the last two days. What can have happened to him?"
"He is very old, isn't he?" I inquired.
"Yes," she said, and a little coquettish smile flitted across her face. "He is older than I am. Come, Laddie. Come here, sir. What's the matter, old pal?"
"Age," said I. "There has never been a dog grow old in our family that he didn't sooner or later develop a kind of second puppyhood. I have seen them do all manner of inexplicable things, and one old, toothless, wire-haired terrier used to snap at his shadow on the wall."
"I should hate to have him die," said Julianna when we were on the street again. She put her arm about his shaggy neck and I wished that I were he.
At her door I took off my glove. It was done unconsciously, but she saw it—she took off one of hers. Then she laughed and put her hand in mine.
After that walk I became the victim of all the mental follies which descend upon a man so thoroughly in love. My work suffered. I found myself at one moment reading down a page of digests of cases prepared for me by my assistants; in the next, I would be sitting again in Judge Colfax's easy-chair, and before me I could see Julianna's smiling lips, reflecting the lamplight upon their moist surfaces. In her name I would drive myself to my task again, and then, without knowing when the transition occurred, I would be standing on a gravel path dappled with sunlight and the dancing shadows of maple leaves, and she would be standing before me again with the breeze moving brown-and-gold strands of hair at the edge of her firm white neck.
It is doubtful whether I thought of Judge Colfax, or chess, or the strange meeting in the garden, or the Sheik at all. I wondered about nothing save the question of how soon I could say to Julianna what lay in my heart to say to her. Therefore it was necessary for me to review in my mind many things when, upon waking a morning or two afterward, I found, among the letters which my man had brought to the chair beside my bed, a note from the girl herself.
I did not know at first that it was from her: I had never seen her writing before. I remember that I said, "Who can this be?" and that I studied the outside for several moments before I opened the envelope.
"My father," it said, "has not been very well, I think. I wish that you could make a point of calling on him at the court-house some afternoon this week. I want to know if the change in him rests partly in my own imagination. You could determine this at once. I would be so grateful. J. COLFAX.—P.S. Why not induce him to ask you to dinner. His indiscreet daughter would be delighted. J. C."
This was the sort of note that she would write: it was not hysterical, and yet it conveyed to me the urgency of her request; it was not frivolous, and yet in its postscript it was boldly mischievous. It accomplished the result she wished. She had wanted me to make up my mind that I would see the Judge before night and to see her as soon as possible. I determined to do both.
All day long it rained, drawing a wet shroud of gloom over the pavements, the granite walls of the buildings, and the adamant perspective of the streets. Standing in my office window, I could see the flow of black umbrellas moving up and down town, like two torpid snakes. But though I am ordinarily sensitive to the effect of a long drizzle, it failed on that day to depress me. Life had freshened. There was romance in it, possibilities, dreams. Instead of complaining to myself that the sky had lowered until its opaque rotunda seemed to touch the tops of the higher buildings, I rejoiced as I went uptown and looked out the cab window at each open square, that the cold spring downpour had freshened all the vegetation and brightened these city fresh-air spaces as if by magic. When I found myself in the Judge's study, my mood could not have been more cheerful.
I had expected to find him in the despondency which Julianna had described to me; instead, when I had a chance to study his expression before he knew I was there, I came to the conclusion that his thoughts, whatever they might be, were pleasant thoughts and not the anxious thoughts of one who is harassed by secret apprehensions.
He was a fine picture of a man, sitting there above his old desk, his long hands spread out upon an open book, the lines in his shaven face expressing a life of faithful service, gentleness, humor, and self-control, his blue eyes as bright as those of a youth, looking out at some picture which his imagination was painting on the opposite wall of the room. I stood watching him a moment before I stirred.
"Ha!" he exclaimed as soon as I had made my presence known. "Estabrook, you are the very man I wanted to see!"
"I had imagined it," I answered. "What more?"
He blinked his eyes. "Wait a moment, you rascal," he said, brushing the sleeves of his black coat. "Take a cigar, sit down a moment. Let me collect my thoughts. I must say I hesitate to launch too quickly a subject with which I have not dealt for a good many years and one, if I remember rightly, I treated with considerable awkwardness on the former occasion."
"When was that, sir?" I asked.
"When I courted my wife," he said solemnly, looking for a moment at the floor.
"Perhaps, if I am not mistaken, you would have come to me, by and by," he went on with the wrinkles gathering at the corners of his eyes. "Perhaps it is better for me to speak with you now anyhow. I am well along in years. My physician tells me that my cardiac valve—or whatever the blame thing is—is weak."
"He told you recently!" I exclaimed.
"Bless you, no. More than two years ago. I haven't been near him since, except to taste of some old madeira he keeps on his sideboard. No. I can't quite explain why I am anxious to speak of this matter so soon, so hastily. I only want to ask one or two impertinent questions which you will forgive in a man who has grown, as to certain matters, as fussy as an old maid—or a mother."
"Why, I will answer gladly enough," I said awkwardly. I thought I knew what was on his mind; my tongue grew large in my mouth.
He was pacing up and down the room then, but finally he stopped and laughed and grew solemn again.
"Darn it, my boy," he said. "I know you. I like you. I just wanted to know if you had ever been engaged—in the broad sense—engaged to a woman—with promises to fulfill. I just wanted to ask."
"No," said I.
"There!" said he. "I knew it all the time."
"Was there another question?" I asked.
"Why, yes," he said. "Why, yes. I believe I did have another. Now, what was it? I had another question. It was awkward, too, if I remember. I had another."
We both laughed then.
"Yet it seems so strange for me to ask these questions now, doesn't it?" he went on, fingering the pages of a book on the desk. "It is so early and a good deal more natural for you to speak to me than for me to speak to you. But, good God! there is a reason if you only knew—a reason. Let us say, for instance, that I might not be here then."
"Ask it, sir," I said.
"Why, I was only going to say that, in case you should succeed,—I doubt if you do succeed,—but in case you should succeed in causing her to love you, there would be no withdrawal on your part. Little Julie—my little daughter! Neither of you has known what it means yet. And, Estabrook, when she does, it must not go wrong. I know her well. She will never love but one man. He must not withdraw when he has won her!"
I started to speak angrily.
"Wait!" he cried, with his hands clenched. "He must not be shaken from her by anything—anything for which she is not to blame herself—no matter how strange or terrible—anything. Nothing will come. I know it. But that must be promised me—to stand by her, no matter what misfortune might descend upon her."
"What could?" I asked in a trembling voice.
"Nothing," the Judge said. "It is not in God's character to allow such a thing. When you love her, Estabrook, my boy, you will not ask me that question in answer to mine."
"No," I said at once. "There need be no doubts between us, sir. It is not necessary for either of us to answer."
His whole countenance lit up as if my words had fed his soul. I should be sorry to have wiped from my memory the impression of that old man's look, as, without taking his eyes from my face, he reached for his hat.
Yet, to-night, when I, for perhaps the last time, realize again the presence of some infernal, undefined evil, I wonder that I should have been so great a fool and so willingly have neglected even the prudence of a lover. I wonder that I made so blind a bargain. I wonder that I did not ask him, before it was too late, what his conversation with Margaret Murchie in the garden had meant and what secret it was that lurked like a clawed creature of the night, ready to eat away, bit by bit, the happiness of an innocent man.
THE TORN SCRAP
When I left Judge Colfax that day, the only questions in my mind concerned Julianna. To her I had said nothing in so many words of my love, and yet I knew that if the Judge had read my growing sentiment surely, she must have seen it even more clearly. I tried to interpret her friendly, playful, girlish acceptance of my affection as an indication that she, too, felt an increasing fondness for me—a fondness which went beyond that given to a trustworthy friend. But I could not forget that her father, when he had so strangely anticipated my request for his consent, had described her as one whose yielding would be sudden and complete—one to whom love would come in sweeping torrent of emotion—one with whom love would thereafter stay eternally. If this were true, she did not love me yet, I reflected. And with a falling of hope, I remembered that the Judge had expressed, for what reason I did not know, his own doubt of my ability to win her.
These were thoughts well adapted to hasten my lovemaking. I made a point of walking to the Monument the next afternoon. I did not meet her there, or on the way along the edge of the park, and I found myself suddenly haunted by the hitherto unconsidered possibility that, as summer was coming on, I might expect at any day that she would leave the city to visit friends or go with the Judge to some resort.
It rained again the following day, and though the downpour ceased in the late afternoon, great gray banks of clouds hung threateningly above the city. Nevertheless, tormented with the notion that we might at any time be separated for several weeks, I went again to the Monument to seek her.
She was there. Nor did she seem at all surprised that I had come.
"I am full of energy to-day," she said, smiling a welcome. "Let us take a long walk together."
"Good!" said I. "I will tell you about your father. As you know, I called on him Thursday afternoon."
But from the Judge she quickly turned the subject to discussion that was wholly impersonal, and it was the same on the following Monday when I saw her again. Had it not been for the expression in her eyes with which she greeted me, listened when I talked to her and bade me good-bye when I left her, these would have been depressing meetings for me, because I thought that I could clearly see that she was holding me at arm's length with that natural art of a good, true woman,—an art which needs no practice.
Imagine, then, my surprise, on this second occasion, when we had reached her door, when she had asked me to have tea and I had been forced to plead a previous engagement, when she stood there before me smiling, rosy, the form itself of health, beauty, and vivacity, and when her glance was raised to meet mine, I suddenly saw her smile fade and I thought her eyes were filling with tears.
She laughed, however,—a little choking laugh,—and looking down so that I could not see her face, she said, "I have liked these walks and chats with you better than any I have ever had." And so she bade me good-night.
Only when I had gone from her did I recall that she had spoken as if our companionship was not to continue, as if, for some cause unknown to me, there was to be an end of our intimacy. The thought made me stop stock-still upon the pavement.
"And yet," thought I, "might it not be—that she meant only to show that she is willing to continue our relationship—perhaps forever?"
Loving her as much as I did and wanting her—and no other on the breadth of the green earth—for my wife, this uncertainty was a torment which I could not stand. I remembered she had told me that the Judge walked each evening after his dinner, and I am ashamed to confess that the next evening dark found me waiting on their street corner, like a scullery maid's beau, until I saw his stoop-shouldered figure come down the steps with the lank, grizzled "Laddie" behind, and heard the beat of his grapevine stick recede down the avenue.
Margaret Murchie let me in. Had I been a wolf she could not have glared at me more; it was evident that her shrewd old eyes, whatever hidden knowledge lay behind them, regarded me as a brigand, as a menace, as some one who had come to take a precious treasure of art from the drawing-room or the household goddess from the front hall. And as I sat in the study once more, on the comfortable easy-chair of the Judge, with the empty feeling in my stomach telling me that my nerves were on edge, as they used to be when I rowed on our crew and sat listening for the gun, I was sure that after announcing me she lingered beyond the curtains, covertly watching me.
Julianna did not keep me waiting long, and as she came through the door into the light, I could not help but notice the poise and grace which comes from inherited refinement and health, and is only imitated badly by self-consciousness and the pose of the actress.
"I'm so sorry you did not come a moment earlier," she said. "Father would have been in. Now, you and I—"