THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY
AN EPISODE IN THE CAREER OF ROSALIE LE GRANGE, CLAIRVOYANT
By WILL IRWIN
Illustrated by Frederick C. Yohn
I. The Unknown Girl
II. Mr. Norcross Wastes Time
III. The Light
IV. His First Call
V. The Light Wavers
VI. Enter Rosalie Le Grange
VII. Rosalie's First Report
VIII. The Fish Nibbles
XI. Rosalie's Second Report
X. The Streams Converge
XI. Through the Wall-Paper
XII. Annette Lies
XIII. Annette Tells the Truth
XIV. Mainly from the Papers
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Rosalie le Grange
"It wasn't the money; it was the game—"
He had taken an impression of mental power as startling as a sudden blow in the face
"Then it's as good as done"
Norcross's breath came a little faster
"I was looking straight down on the back parlors"
"Stay where you are," he commanded
THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY
THE UNKNOWN GIRL
In a Boston and Albany parlor-car, east bound through the Berkshires, sat a young man respectfully, but intently studying a young woman. Now and then, from the newspapers heaped in mannish confusion about his chair, he selected another sheet. Always, he took advantage of this opportunity to face the chair across the aisle and to sweep a glance over a piquant little profile, intent on a sober-looking book. Again, he would gaze out of the window; and he gazed oftenest when a freight train hid the beauties of outside nature. The dun sides of freight cars make out of a window a passable mirror. Twice, in those dim and confused glimpses, he caught just a flicker of her eye across her book, as though, she, on her part, were studying him.
It was her back hair which had first entangled Dr. Blake's thoughts; it was the graceful nape of her neck which had served to hold them fast. When the hair and the neck below dawned on him, he identified her as that blonde girl whom he had noted at the train gate, waving farewell to some receding friend—and noted with approval. As a traveler on many seas and much land, he knew the lonely longing to address the woman in the next seat. He knew also, as all seasoned travelers in America know, that such desire is sometimes gratified, and without any surrender of decency, in the frank and easy West—but never east of Chicago. This girl, however, exercised somehow, a special pull upon his attention and his imagination. And he found himself playing a game by which he had mitigated many a journey of old. He divided his personality into two parts—man and physician—and tried, by each separate power, to find as much as he could from surface indications about this travel-mate of his.
Mr. Walter Huntington Blake perceived, besides the hair like dripping honey, deep blue eyes—the blue not of a turquoise but of a sapphire—and an oval face a little too narrow in the jaw, so that the chin pointed a delicate Gothic arch. He noted a good forehead, which inclined him to the belief that she "did" something—some subtle addition which he could not formulate confirmed that observation. He saw that her hands were long and tipped with nails no larger than a grain of maize, that when they rested for a moment on her face, in the shifting attitudes of her reading, they fell as gently as flower-stalks swaying together in a breeze. He saw that her shoulders had a slight slope, which combined with hands and eyes to express a being all feminine—the kind made for a lodestone to a man who has known the hard spots of the world, like Mr. Walter Huntington Blake.
"A pippin!" pronounced Mr. Blake, the man.
Dr. Blake, the physician, on the other hand, caught a certain languor in her movements, a physical tenuity which, in a patient, he would have considered diagnostic. So transparent was her skin that when her profile dipped forward across a bar of sunshine the light shone through the bridge of her nose—a little observation charming to Blake, the man, but a guide to Blake, the physician. She had the look, Dr. Blake told himself, which old-fashioned country nurses of the herb-doctor school refer to as "called." He knew that, in about one case out of three, that look does in fact amount to a real "call"—the outward expression of an obscure disease.
"Her heart?" queried Blake, the physician. The transparent, porcelain quality of her skin would indicate that. But he found, as he watched, no nervous twitching, no look as of an incipient sack under her eyes; nor did the transparent quality seem waxy. There was, too, a certain pinkness in the porcelain which showed that her blood ran red and pure.
Then Mr. Blake and Dr. Blake re-fused into one psychology and decided that her appearance of delicacy was subtly psychological. It haunted him with an irritating effect of familiarity—as of a symptom which he ought to recognize. In all ways was it intertwined with the expression of her mouth. She had never smiled enough; therein lay all the trouble. She presented a very pretty problem to his imagination. Here she was, still so very young that little was written on her face, yet the little, something unusual, baffling. The mouth, too tightly set, too drooping—that expressed it all. To educate such a one in the ways of innocent frivolity!
When the porter's "last call for luncheon" brought that flutter of satisfaction by which a bored parlor-car welcomes even such a trivial diversion as food, Dr. Blake waited a fair interval for her toilet preparations, and followed toward the dining-car. He smiled a little at himself as he realized that he was craftily scheming to find a seat, if not opposite her, at least within seeing distance. On a long and lonely day-journey, he told himself, travelers are like invalids—the smallest incident rolls up into a mountain of adventure. Here he was, playing for sight of an interesting girl, as another traveler timed the train-speed by the mile-posts, or counted the telegraph poles along the way.
So he came out suddenly into the Pullman car ahead—and almost stumbled over the nucleus of his meditations. She was half-kneeling beside a seat, clasping in her arms the figure of a little, old woman. He hesitated, stock still. The blonde girl shifted her position as though to take better hold of her burden, and glanced backward with a look of appeal. The doctor came forward on that; and his sight caught the face of the old woman. Her eyes were closed, her head had dropped to one side and lay supine upon the girl's shoulder. It appeared to be a plain case of faint.
"I am a physician," he said simply, "Get the porter, will you?" Without an instant's question or hesitation, the girl permitted him to relieve her, and turned to the front of the car. Other women and one fussy, noisy man were coming up now. Dr. Blake waved them aside. "We need air most of all—open that window, will you?" The girl was back with the porter. "Is the compartment occupied? Then open it. We must put her on her back." The porter fumbled for his keys. Dr. Blake gathered up the little old woman in his arms, and spoke over his shoulder to the blonde girl:
"You will come with us?" She nodded. Somehow, he felt that he would have picked her from the whole car to assist in this emergency. She was like one of those born trained nurses who ask no questions, need no special directions, and are as reliable as one's instruments.
The old woman was stirring by the time he laid her out on the sofa of the compartment. He wet a towel in the pitcher at the washstand, wrung it out, pressed it on her forehead. It needed no more than that to bring her round.
"Only a faint," said Dr. Blake; "the day's hot and she's not accustomed to train travel, I suppose. Is she—does she belong to your party?"
The girl spoke for the first time in his hearing. Even before he seized the meaning of her speech, he noted with a thrill the manner of it. Such a physique as this should go with the high, silvery tone of a flute; so one always imagines it. This girl spoke in the voice of a violin—soft, deep, deliciously resonant. In his mind flashed a picture for which he was a long time accounting—last winter's ballet of the New York Hippodrome. Afterward, he found the key to that train of thought. It, had been a ballet of light, shimmering colors, until suddenly a troop of birds in royal purple had slashed their way down the center of the stage. They brought the same glorified thrill of contrast as this soft but strong contralto voice proceeding from that delicate blondness.
"Oh, no!" she said, "I never saw her before. She was swaying as I came down the aisle, and I caught her. She's—she's awake." The old woman had stirred again.
"Get my bag from seat 12, parlor-car," said Dr. Blake to the porter. "Tell them outside that it is a simple fainting-spell and we shall need no assistance." Now his charity patient had recovered voice; she was moaning and whimpering. The girl, obeying again Dr. Blake's unspoken thought, took a quick step toward the door. He understood without further word from her.
"All right," he said; "she may want to discuss symptoms. You're on the way to the dining-car aren't you? I'll be along in five minutes, and I'll let you know how she is. Tell them outside that it is nothing serious and have the porter stand by—please." That last word of politeness came out on an afterthought—he had been addressing her in the capacity of a trained nurse. He recognized this with confusion, and he apologized by a smile which illuminated his rather heavy, dark face. She answered with the ghost of a smile—it moved her eyes rather than her mouth—and the door closed.
After five minutes of perfunctory examination and courteous attention to symptoms, he tore himself away from his patient upon the pretext that she needed quiet. He wasted three more golden minutes in assuring his fellow passengers that it was nothing. He escaped to the dining car, to find that the delay had favored him. Her honey-colored back hair gleamed from one of the narrow tables to left of the aisle. The unconsidered man opposite her had just laid a bill on the waiter's check, and dipped his hands in the fingerbowl. Dr. Blake invented a short colloquy with the conductor and slipped up just as the waiter returned with the change. He bent over the girl.
"I have to report," said he, "that the patient is doing nicely; doctor and nurse are both discharged!"
She returned a grave smile and answered conventionally, "I am very glad."
At that precise moment, the man across the table, as though recognizing friendship or familiarity between these two, pocketed his change and rose. Feeling that he was doing the thing awkwardly, that he would give a year for a light word to cover up his boldness, Dr. Blake took the seat. He looked slowly up as he settled himself, and he could feel the heat of a blush on his temples. He perceived—and for a moment it did not reassure him—that she on her part neither blushed nor bristled. Her skin kept its transparent whiteness, and her eyes looked into his with intent gravity. Indeed, he felt through her whole attitude the perfect frankness of good breeding—a frankness which discouraged familiarity while accepting with human simplicity an accidental contact of the highway. She was the better gentleman of the two. His renewed confusion set him to talking fast.
"If it weren't that you failed to come in with any superfluous advice, I should say that you had been a nurse—you seem to have the instinct. You take hold, somehow, and make no fuss."
"Why should I?" she asked, "with a doctor at hand? I was thinking all the time how you lean on a doctor. I should never have known what to do. How is she? What was the matter?"
"She's resting. It isn't every elderly lady who can get a compartment from the Pullman Company for the price of a seat. She was put on at Albany by one set of grandchildren and she's to be taken off at Boston by another set. And she's old and her heart's a little sluggish—self-sacrifice goes downward not upward, through the generations, I observe—though I'm a young physician at that!"
Her next words, simply spoken as they were, threw him again into confusion.
"I don't know your name, I think—mine is Annette Markham."
Dr. Blake drew out a card.
"Dr. W.H. Blake, sometime contract surgeon to the Philippine Army of Occupation," he supplemented, "now looking for a practice in these United States!"
"The Philippines—oh, you've been in the East? When we were in the Orient, I used to hear of them ever so dimly—I didn't think we'd all be talking of them so soon—"
"Oh, you've been in the Orient—do you know the China Coast—and Nikko and—"
"No, only India."
"I've never been there—and I've heard it's the kernel of the East," he said with his lips. But his mind was puzzling something out and finding a solution. The accent of that deep, resonant voice was neither Eastern nor Western, Yankee nor Southern—nor yet quite British. It was rather cosmopolitan—he had dimly placed her as a Californienne. Perhaps this fragment explained it. She must be a daughter of the English official class, reared in America. The theory would explain her complexion and her simple, natural balance between frankness and reserve. He formed that conclusion, but, "How do you like America after India?" was all he said.
"How do you like it after the Philippines?" she responded.
"That is a Yankee trick—answering one question with another," he said, still following his line of conjecture; "it was invented by the original Yankee philosopher, a person named Socrates. I like it after everything—I'm an American. I'm one of those rare birds in the Eastern United States, a native of New York City."
"Well, then,"—her manner had, for the first time, the brightness which goes with youth, plus the romantic adventure—"I like it not only after anything but before anything—I'm an American, too."
A sense of irritation rose in him. He had let conjecture grow to conclusion in the most reckless fashion. And why should he care so much that he had risked offending a mere passing acquaintance of the road?
"Somehow, I had taken it for granted—your reference to India I suppose—that you were English."
"Oh, no! Though an English governess made me fond of the English. I'm another of the rare birds. I was hardly out of New York in my life until five years ago, when my aunt took me for a stay of two years in the Orient—in India at least. I've been very happy to be back."
The current of talk drifted then from the coast of confidences to the open sea of general conversation. He pulled himself up once or twice by the reflection that he was talking too much about himself. Once—and he remembered it with blushes afterward—he went so far as to say, "I didn't really need to be a doctor, any more than I needed to go to the Philippines—the family income takes care of that. But a man should do something." Nevertheless, she seemed disposed to encourage him in this course, seemed most to encourage him when he told his stories about the Philippine Army of Occupation.
"Oh, tell me another!" she would cry. And once she said, "If there were a piano here, I venture you'd sing Mandelay." "That would I," he answered with a half sigh. And at last, when he was running down, she said, "Oh, please don't stop! It makes me crazy for the Orient!" "And me!" he confessed. Before luncheon was over, he had dragged out the two or three best stories in his wanderer's pack, and especially that one, which he saved for late firesides and the high moments of anecdotal exchange, about the charge at Caloocon. She drank down these tales of hike and jungle and firing-line like a seminary girl listening to her first grownup caller. For his part, youth and the need of male youth to spread its bright feathers before the female of its species, drove him on to more tales. He contrived his luncheon so that they finished and paid simultaneously—and in the middle of his story about Sergeant Jones, the dynamite and the pack mule. So, when they returned to the parlor-car, nothing was more simple, natural and necessary than that he should drop into the vacant chair beside her, and continue where he left off. He felt, when he had finished, the polite necessity of leading the talk back to her; besides, he had not finished his Study of the Unknown Girl. He returned, then, to the last thread which she had left hanging.
"So you too are glad to be at home!" he said. "I'm so glad that I don't want to lose sight either of a skyscraper or of apple trees for years and years. I can't remember when I've ever wanted to stay in one place before."
She laughed—the first full laugh he had heard from her. It was low and deep and bubbling, like water flowing from a long-necked bottle.
"Just a moment ago, we were confessing that we were crazy for the Orient."
"I'm glad to be caught in an inconsistency!" he answered. "I've been afraid, though, that this desire to roost in one place was a sign of incipient old age."
She looked at him directly, and for a moment her fearless glance played over him, as in alarm.
"Oh, I shouldn't be afraid of that," she said. "I don't know your age, of course, but if it will reassure you any, I'd put it at twenty-eight. And that, according to Peter Ibbertson, is quite the nicest age." Her face, with its unyouthful capacity for sudden seriousness, grew grave. Her deep blue eyes gazed past him out of the window.
"I'm only twenty-four, but I know what it is to think that middle age is near—to dread it—especially when I half suspect I haven't spent the interest on my youth." She stopped.
Dr. Blake held his very breath. His instincts warned him that she faltered at one of those instincts when confidence lies close to the lips. But she did not give it. Instead, she caught herself up with a perfunctory, "I suppose everyone feels that way at times."
Although he wanted that confidence, he was clever enough not to reach for it at this point. Instead, he took a wide detour, and returned slowly, backing and filling to the point. But every time that he approached a closer intimacy, she veered away with an adroitness which was consummate art or consummate innocence. His first impression grew—that she "did" something. She had mentioned "Peter Ibbertson." He spoke, then, of books. She had read much, especially fiction; but she treated books as one who does not write. He talked art. Though she spoke with originality and understanding in response to his second-hand studio chatter, he could see that she neither painted nor associated much with those who did. Besides, her hands had none of the craftswoman's muscle. Of music—beyond ragtime—she knew as little as he. He invaded business—her ignorance was abysmal. The stage—she could count on her fingers the late plays which she had seen.
When the trail had grown almost cold, there happened a little incident which put him on the scent again. He had thought suddenly of his patient in the compartment and made a visit, only to find her asleep. Upon his return he said:
"You behaved like a soldier and a nurse toward her—a girl with such a distinct flair for the game must have had longings to take up nursing—or perhaps you never read 'Sister Dora'?"
"I did read 'Sister Dora,'" she answered, "and I was crazy about it."
"Most girls are—hence the high death rate in hospitals," he interrupted.
"But I gave that up—and a lot of other desires which all girls have—for something else. I had to." Her sapphirine eyes searched the Berkshire hills again, "Something bigger and nobler—something which meant the entire sacrifice of self."
And here the brakeman called "Next station is Berkeley Center." Dr. Blake came to the sudden realization that they had reached his destination. She started, too.
"Why, I get off here!" she exclaimed.
"And so do I!" He almost laughed it out.
"That's a coincidence."
Dr. Blake refrained from calling her attention to the general flutter of the parlor-car and the industry of two porters. This being the high-tide time of the summer migration, and Berkeley Center being the popular resort on that line, nearly everyone was getting off. However as he delivered himself over to the porter, he nodded:
"The climax of a series!"
As they waited, bags in hand, "I am on my way to substitute for a month at the Hill Sanatorium," he said. "The assistant physician is going on a vacation—I suppose the ambulance will be waiting."
"And I am going to the Mountain House—it's a little place and more the house of friends than an inn. If your work permits—"
He interrupted with a boyish laugh.
"Oh, it will!" But he said good-bye at the vestibule with a vague idea that she might have trouble explaining him to any very particular friends. He saw her mount an old-fashioned carry-all, saw her turn to wave a farewell. The carry-all disappeared. He started toward the Hill ambulance, but he was still thinking, "Now what is the thing which a girl like that would consider more self-sacrificing than nursing?"
MR. NORCROSS WASTES TIME
Robert H. Norcross looked up from a sheet of figures, and turned his vision upon the serrated spire of old Trinity Church, far below. Since his eyes began to fail, he had cultivated the salutary habit of resting them every half-hour or so. The action was merely mechanical; his mind still lingered on the gross earnings of the reorganized L.D. and M. railroad. It was a sultry afternoon in early fall. The roar of lower New York came up to him muffled by the haze. The traffic seemed to move more slowly than usual, as though that haze clogged its wheels and congealed its oils. The very tugs and barges, on the river beyond, partook of the season's languor. They crept over the oily waves at a sluggard pace, their smoke-streamers dropping wearily toward the water.
The eyes of Robert H. Norcross swept this vista for the allotted two minutes of rest. Presently—and with the very slightest change of expression—they fixed themselves on a point so far below that he needs must lean forward and rest his arms on the window sill in order to look. He wasted thus a minute; and such a wasting, in the case of Robert H. Norcross, was a considerable matter. The Sunday newspapers—when in doubt—always played the income of Robert H. Norcross by periods of months, weeks, days, hours and minutes. Every minute of his time, their reliable statisticians computed, was worth a trifle less than forty-seven dollars. Regardless of the waste of time, he continued to gaze until the watch on his desk had ticked off five minutes, or two hundred and thirty-five dollars.
The thing which had caught and held his attention was a point in the churchyard of old Trinity near to the south door.
The Street had been remarking, for a year, that Norcross was growing old. The change did not show in his operations. His grip on the market was as firm as ever, his judgment as sure, his imagination as daring, his habit of keeping his own counsel as settled. Within that year, he had consummated the series of operations by which the L.D. and M., final independent road needed by his system, had "come in"; within that year, he had closed the last finger of his grip on a whole principality of our domain. Every laborer in that area would thenceforth do a part of his day's delving, every merchant a part of his day's bargaining, for Robert H. Norcross. Thenceforth—until some other robber baron should wrest it from his hands—Norcross would make laws and unmake legislatures, dictate judgments and overrule appointments—give the high justice while courts and assemblies trifled with the middle and the low. Certainly the history of that year in American finance indicated no flagging in the powers of Robert H. Norcross.
The change which the Street had marked lay in his face—it had taken on the subtle imprint of a first frosty day. He had never looked the power that he was. Short and slight of build, his head was rather small even for his size, and his features were insignificant—all except the mouth, whose wide firmness he covered by a drooping mustache, and the eyes, which betrayed always an inner fire. The trained observer of faces noticed this, however; every curve of his facial muscles, every plane of the inner bone-structure, was set by nature definitely and properly in its place to make a powerful and perfectly cooerdinated whole. In this facial manifestation of mental powers, he was like one of those little athletes who, carrying nothing superfluous, show the power, force and endurance which is in them by no masses of overlying muscles, but only by a masterful symmetry.
Now, in a year, the change had come over his face—the jump as abrupt as that by which a young girl grows up—the transition from middle age to old age. It was not so much that his full, iron-gray hair and mustache had bleached and silvered. It was more that the cheeks were falling from middle-aged masses to old-age creases, more that the skin was drawing up, most that the inner energy which had vitalized his walk and gestures was his no longer.
In the mind, too—though no one perceived that, he least of all—had come a change. Here and there, a cell had disintegrated and collapsed. They were not the cells which vitalized his business sense. They lay deeper down; it was as though their very disuse for thirty years had weakened them. In such a cell his consciousness dwelt while he gazed on Trinity Churchyard, and especially upon that modest shaft of granite, three graves from the south entrance. And the watch on his desk clicked off the valuable seconds, and the electric clock on the wall jumped to mark the passing minutes. "Click-click" from the desk—seventy-eight cents—"Click-click"—one dollar and fifty-seven cents—"Clack" from the wall—forty-seven dollars.
Presently, when watch and clock had chronicled four hundred and seventy dollars of wasted time, he leaned back, looked for a moment on the brazen September heavens above, and sighed. He might then have turned back to his desk and the table of gross earnings, but for his secretary.
"Mr. Bulger outside, sir," said the secretary.
"All right!" responded Mr. Norcross. In him, those two words spoke enthusiasm; usually, a gesture or a nod was enough to bar or admit a visitor to the royal presence. Hard behind the secretary, entered with a bound and a breeze, Mr. Arthur Bulger. He was a tall man about forty-five if you studied him carefully, no more than thirty-five if you studied him casually. Not only his strong shoulders, his firm set on his feet, his well-conditioned skin, showed the ex-athlete who has kept up his athletics into middle age, but also that very breeze and bound of a man whose blood runs quick and orderly through its channels. His face, a little pudgy, took illumination from a pair of lively eyes. He was the jester in the court of King Norcross; one of the half-dozen men whom the bachelor lord of railroads admitted to intimacy. A measured intimacy it was; and it never trenched on business. Bulger, like all the rest, owed half of his position to the fact that he never asked by so much as a hint for tips, never seemed curious about the operations of Norcross. There was the time on Wall Street when Norcross, by a lift of his finger, a deflection of his eye, might have put his cousin and only known relative on the right side of the market. He withheld the sign, and his cousin lost. The survivors in Norcross's circle of friends understood this perfectly; it was why they survived. If they got any financial advantage from the friendship, it was through the advertising it gave. For example, Bulger, a broker of only moderate importance, owed something to the general understanding that he was "thick with the Old Man."
Norcross looked up; his mustache lifted a little, and his eyes lit.
"Drink?" he said. His allowance was two drinks a day; one just before he left the office, the other before dinner.
"Much obliged," responded Bulger, "but you know where I was last night. If I took a drink now, I would emit a pale, blue flame."
Norcross laughed a purring laugh, and touched a bell. The secretary stood in the door; Norcross indicated, by an out-turned hand, the top of his desk. The secretary had hardly disappeared before the office-boy entered with a tray and glasses. Simultaneously a clerk, entering from another door as though by accident, swept up the balance sheets of the L.D. and M. and bore them away. Bulger's glance followed the papers hungrily for a second; then turned back on Norcross, carefully mixing a Scotch highball.
As Norcross finished with the siphon, his eyes wandered downward again.
"Ever been about much down there?" he asked suddenly. Bulger crossed the room and looked down over his shoulder.
"Where?" he asked, "The Street or—"
"Once I sang my little love lays there in the noon hour," answered Bulger. "I was a gallant clerk and hers the fairest fingers that ever caressed a typewriter—" The intent attitude of Norcross, the fact that he neither turned nor smiled, checked Bulger. With the instinct of the courtier, he perceived that the wind lay in another tack. He racked the unused half of his mind for appropriate sentiments.
"Bully old graveyard," he brought out; "lot's of good people buried there."
"Know any of the graves?"
"Only Alexander Hamilton's. Everyone knows that."
"That one—see—that marble shaft—not one of the old ones."
"If you're curious to know," answered Bulger easily, "I'll find out on my way down to-morrow. I suppose if you were to go and look, and the reporters were to see you meditating among the tombs, we'd have a scare head to-morrow and a drop of ten points in the market." Bulger's shift to a slight levity was premeditated; he was taking guard against overplaying his part.
"No, never mind," said Norcross, "it just recalls something." He paused the fraction of a second, and his eye grew dull. "Wonder if they're—anywhere—those people down under the tombstones?"
"I suppose we all believe in immortality."
"Seeing and hearing is believing. I believe what I see. Born that way." Norcross was speaking with a slight, agitated jerk in his voice. He rose now, and paced the floor, throwing out his feet in quick thrusts. "I'm getting along, Bulger, and I'd like to know." More pacing. Coming to the end of his route, he peered shrewdly into the face of the younger man. "Have you read the Psychical Society's report on Mrs. Fife?"
Bulger's mind said, "Good God no!" His lips said, "Only some newspaper stuff about them. Seemed rather remarkable if true. Something in that stuff, I suppose."
"I've read them," resumed Norcross. "Got the full set. We ought to inform ourselves on such things, Bulger. Especially when we get older. That gravestone now. There's one like it—that I know about." Norcross, with another jerky motion, which seemed to propel him against his will, crossed to his desk and touched a bell, bringing his secretary instantly.
"Left hand side of the vault, box marked 'Private 3,'" he said. Then he resumed:
"If they could come back they would come, Bulger. Especially those we loved. Not to let us see them, you understand, but to assure us it is all right—that we'll live again. That's what I want—proof—I can't take it on faith." His voice lowered. "Thirty years!" he whispered. "What's thirty years?"
The secretary knocked, entered, set a small, steel box on the glass top of the desk. Norcross dismissed him with a gesture, drew out his keys, opened the box. It distilled a faint scent of old roses and old papers. Norcross looked within for a moment, as though turning the scent into memories, before he took out a locket. He opened it, hesitated, and then extended it to Bulger. It enclosed an exquisite miniature—a young woman, blonde, pretty in a blue-eyed, innocent way, but characterless, too—a face upon which life had left nothing, so that even the great painter who made the miniature from a photograph had illuminated it only with technical skill.
"Don't tell me what you think of her," Norcross said quietly; "I prefer to keep my own ideas. It was when I was a young freight clerk. She taught school up there. We were—well, the ring's in the box, too. They took it off her finger when they buried her. That's why—" to put the brake on his rapidly running sentiment, he ventured one of his rare pleasantries at this point—"that's why I'm still a stock newspaper feature as one of the great matches for ambitious society girls."
Bulger, listening, was observing also. Within the front cover of the case were two sets of initials in old English letters—"R.H.N." and "H.W." His mind, a little confused by its wanderings in strange fields, tried idly to match "H.W." with names. Suddenly he felt the necessity of expressing sympathy.
"Poor—" he began, but Norcross, by a swift outward gesture of the hand, stopped and saved him.
"Well, I got in after that," Norcross went on, "and I drove 'em! It wasn't the money; it was the game. She'd have had the spending of that. And it isn't just to see her—it's to know if she is still waiting—and if we'll make up for thirty years—out there."
As Bulger handed back the locket, the secretary knocked again. Norcross started; something seemed to snap into place; he was again the silent, guarded baron of the railroads. He dropped the locket into the box, closed it. "The automobile," said his secretary. Norcross nodded, and indicated the box. The secretary bore it away.
"Come up to dinner Tuesday," said Norcross in his normal tone. But his voice quavered a little for a moment as he added:
"You're good at forgetting?"
"Possessor of the best forgettery you ever saw," responded Bulger. Forthwith, they turned to speech of the railroad rate bill.
* * * * *
When, after a mufti dinner at the club, Bulger reached his bachelor apartments, he found a telegram. The envelope bore his office address; by that sign he knew, even before he unfolded the yellow paper, that it was the important telegram from his partner, the crucial telegram, for which he had been waiting these two days. It must have come to the office after he left. He got out the code book from his desk, laid it open beside the sheet, and began to decipher, his face whitening as he went on:
Reports of expert phony. Think Oppendike salted it on him. They will finish this vein in a month. Then the show will bust. Federated Copper Company will not bite and too late now to unload on public. Something must be done. Can't you use your drag with Norcross somehow?
Bulger, twisting the piece of yellow paper, stared out into the street. His "drag with Norcross!" What had that ever brought, what could it ever bring, except advertising and vague standing? Yet Norcross by a word, a wink, could give him information which, rightly used, would cancel all the losses of this unfortunate plunge in the Mongolia Mine. But Norcross would never give that word, that wink; and to fish for it were folly. Norcross never broke the rules of the lone game which he played.
As Bulger stood there, immovable except for the nervous hands which still twisted and worried the telegram, he saw a sign on the building opposite. The first line, bearing the name, doubtless, was illegible; the second, fully legible, lingered for a long time merely in his perceptions before it reached and touched his consciousness.
"CLAIRVOYANT," it read.
He started, leaned on a table as though from weakness, and continued to stare at the sign.
"Who is the cleverest fakir in that business?" he said at length to himself.
And then, after a few intent minutes:
"When he was a freight clerk—thirty years ago—that was at Farnham Mills—'H.W.'—granite shaft—sure it can be done!"
As Dr. Blake tucked his racket under his arm and came down to the net, the breeze caught a corner of her veil and let the sunlight run clear across her face. He realized, in that moment, how the burning interest as a man, which he had developed in these three weeks for Annette Markham, had quite submerged his interest as a physician. For health, this was a different creature from the one whom he had studied in the parlor-car. Her color ran high; the greatest alarmist in the profession would have wasted no thought on her heart valves; the look as of one "called" had passed. Though she still appeared a little grave, it was a healthy, attractive gravity; and take it all in all she had smiled much during three weeks of daily walks and rides and tennis. Indeed, now that he remembered it, her tennis measured the gradual change. She would never be good at tennis; she had no inner strength and no "game sense." But at first she had played in a kind of stupor; again and again she would stand at the backline in a brown study until the passage of the ball woke her with an apologetic start. Now, she frolicked through the game with all vigor, zest and attention, going after every shot, smiling and sparkling over her good plays, prettily put out at her bad ones.
While he helped her on with her sweater—lingering too long over that little service of courtesy—he expressed this.
"Do you know that for physical condition you're no more the same girl whom I first met than—than I am!"
She laughed a little at the comparison. "And you are no more the same man whom I first met—than I am!"
He laughed too at this tribute to his summer coating of bronze over red. "I feel pretty fit," he admitted.
"My summer always has that effect," she went on. "Do you know that for all I've been so much out of the active world"—a shadow fell on her eyes,—"I long for country and farms? How I wish I could live always out-of-doors! The day might come—" the shadow lifted a little—"when I'd retire to a farm for good."
"You've one of those constitutions which require air and light and sunshine," he answered.
"You're quite right. I actually bleach in the shadow—like lettuce. That's why Aunt Paula always sends me away for a month every now and then to the quietest place proper for a well-brought-up young person."
His eyes shadowed as though they had caught that blasting shade in hers. From gossip about the Mountain House, later from her own admission, he knew who "Aunt Paula" was—"a spirit medium, or something," said the gossip; "a great teacher of a new philosophy," said Annette Markham.
Dr. Blake, partly because adventure had kept him over-young, held still his basic, youthful ideas about the proper environment for woman. Whenever the name "Aunt Paula," softened with the accents of affection, proceeded from that low, contralto voice, it hurt the new thing, greater than any conventional idea, which was growing up in him. He even suspected, at such times, what might be the "something nobler than nursing."
A big apple tree shaded the sidelines of the Mountain House tennis court. A bench fringed its trunk. Annette threw herself down, back against the bark. It was late afternoon. The other house-guests droned over bridge on the piazzas or walked in the far woods; they were alone out-of-doors. And Annette, always, until now, so chary of confidences, developed the true patient's weakness and began to talk symptoms.
"It is curious the state I'm in before Aunt Paula sends me away," she said; "I was a nervous child, and though I've outgrown it, I still have attacks of nerve fag or something like it. I can feel them coming on and so can she. You know we've been together so much that it's like—like two bees in adjoining cells. The cell-wall has worn thin; we can almost touch. She knows it often before I do. She makes me go to bed early; often she puts me to sleep holding my hand, as she used to do when I was a little girl. But even sleep doesn't much help. I come out of it with a kind of fright and heaviness. I have little memories of curious dreams and a queer sense, too, that I mustn't remember what I've dreamed. I grow tired and heavy—I can always see it in my face. Then Aunt Paula sends me away, and I become all right again—as I am now."
Blake did not express the impatient thought of his mind. He only said:
"A little sluggishness of the blood and a little congestion of the brain. I had such sleep once after I'd done too much work and fought too much heat in the Cavite Hospital. Only with me it took the form of nightmare—mostly, I was in process of being boloed."
"Yes, perhaps it was that"—her eyes deepened to their most faraway blue—"and perhaps it is something else. I think it may be. Aunt Paula thinks so, too, though she never says it."
What was the something? Did she stand again on the edge of revelation? Events had gone past the time when he could wait patiently for her confidence, could approach it through tact. It was the moment not for snipping but for bold charging. And his blood ran hot.
"This something—won't you tell me what it is? Why are you always so mysterious with me? Why—when I want to know everything about you?" After he had said this, he knew that there was no going backward. Doubts, fears, terrors of conventionalities, awe of his conservative, blood-proud mother in Paris—all flew to the winds.
Perhaps she caught something of this in his face, for she drew away a trifle and said:
"I might have told you long ago, but I wasn't sure of your sympathy."
"I want you to be sure of my sympathy in all things."
"Ah, but your mind is between!" That phrase brought a shock to Dr. Blake. At the only spiritualistic seance he had ever attended, a greasy affair in a hall bedroom, he had heard that very phrase. A picture of this woman, so clean and windblown of mind and soul, caught like a trapped fly in the web of the unclean and corrupt—it was that which quite whirled him off his feet.
"Between our hearts then, between our hearts!" he cried. "Oh, Annette, I love you!" His voice came out of him low and distinct, but all the power in the world vibrated behind it. "I have loved you always. You've been with me everywhere I went, because I was looking for you. I've seen a part of you in the best of every woman"—he pulled himself up, for neither by look nor gesture did she respond—"I've no right to be saying this—"
"If you have not," she answered, and a delicate blush ran over her skin, "no other man has!" She said it simply, but with a curious kind of pride.
He would have taken her hand on this, but the grave, direct gaze of her sapphirine eyes restrained him. It was not the look of a woman who gives herself, but rather that of a woman who grieves for the ungivable.
"Ah," she said, "if anyone's to blame, it is I. I've brought it on myself! I've been weak—weak!"
"No," he said, "I brought it on—God brought it on—but what does that matter?
"It's here. I can no more fight it than I can fight the sea."
Now her head dropped forward and her hands, with that gracefully uncertain motion which was like flower-stalks swayed by a breeze, had covered her face.
"I can't speak if I look at you," she said, "and I must before you go further—I must tell you all about myself so that you will understand."
The confidence, long sought, was coming, he thought; and he thought also how little he cared for it now that he was pursuing a greater thing.
"You know so little about me that I must begin far back—you don't even know about my aunt—"
"I know something—what you've said, what Mrs. Cole at the Mountain House told me. She's Mrs. Paula Markham—" his mind went on, "the great fakir of the spook doctors," but his lips stifled the phrase and said after a pause, "the great medium."
"I don't like to hear her called that," said Annette. "In spite of what I'm going to tell you, I never saw but once the thing they call a medium. That was years ago—but the horrible sacrilege of it has never left me. She had a part of truth, and she was desecrating it by guesses and catch words—selling it for money! Aunt Paula is broader than I. 'It's part of the truth,' she said, 'that woman is desecrating the work, but she's serving in her way.' I suppose so—but since then I've never liked to hear Aunt Paula called a medium."
She paused a second on this.
"If I were only sure of your sympathy!" A note of pleading fluttered in her voice.
"No thought of yours, however I regard it, but is sure of my sympathy—because it's yours," he answered.
As though she had not heard, she went on.
"I was an orphan. I never knew my father and mother. The first things I remember are of the country—perhaps that is why I love the out-of-doors—the sky through my window, filled with huge, puffy, ice-cream clouds, a little new-born pig that somebody put in my bed one morning—daisy-fields like snow—and the darling peep-peep-peep of little bunches of yellow down that I was always trying to catch and never succeeding. I couldn't say chicken. I always said shicken" She paused. With that tenderness which every woman entertains for her own little girlhood, she smiled.
"I've told you of the five white birches. I was looking at them and naming them on my fingers the day that Aunt Paula came. My childhood ended there. I seemed to grow up all at once."
Blake muttered something inarticulate. But at her look of inquiry, he merely said. "Go on!"
"She isn't really my aunt by blood,—Aunt Paula isn't. You understand—my father and her husband were brothers. They all died—everybody died but just Aunt Paula and me. So she took me away with her. And after that it was always the dreadful noise and confusion of New York, with only my one doll—black Dinah—a rag-baby. I thought," she interrupted herself wistfully, "I'd send Dinah to you when I got back to New York. Would you like her?"
"Like her—like her! My—my—" But he swallowed his words. "Go on!" He commanded again.
"Afterwards came London and then India. Such education as I had, I got from governesses. I didn't have very much as girls go in my—in my class. I didn't understand that then, any more than I understand why I wasn't allowed to go to school or to play with other girls. There was a time when I rebelled frightfully at that. I can tell definitely just when it began. We were passing a convent in the Bronx, and it was recess time. The sisters in their starched caps were sewing over by the fence, and the girls were playing—a ring game, 'Go in and out the window'—I can hear it now. I crowded my little face against the pickets to watch, and two little girls who weren't in the game passed close to me. The nearest one—I 'm sure I'd know her now if I saw her grown up. She was of about my own age, very dark, with the silkiest black hair and the longest black eyelashes that I ever saw. She had a dimple at one corner of her mouth. She wore on her arm a little bracelet with a gold heart dangling from it. I wasn't allowed any jewelry; and it came into my mind that I'd like a gold bracelet like that, before it came that I'd like such a friend for my very ownest and dearest. The other girl, a red-haired minx who walked with her arm about my girl's waist—how jealous I was of her! I watched until Aunt Paula dragged me away. As I went, I shouted over my shoulder, 'Hello, little girl!' The little dark girl saw me, and shouted back, 'Hello!' Dear little thing. I hope she's grown up safe and very happy! She'll never know what she meant to me!"
Her lips quivered again. Looking up into her face, Blake wondered for an instant at the sudden softness of her eyes. Then he realized that they were slowly filling with tears. He reached again to seize her hands.
"Oh, no, no—wait!" she said, weakly. After a pause, she resumed:
"That got up rebellion in me. All children have such periods, I've heard. I'm docile enough now. But before I was through with this one, Aunt Paula had to make my destiny clear to me—long before she meant to do so. And I grew to be resigned, and then glad, because it was a greater thing."
Here a rapid, inexplicable change crossed her face. From its firmness of health and strength, it fell toward the look of one "called"—
"I must go back again. Between Aunt Paula and me there was always a great sympathy. It's hard to describe. Often we do not have to speak even of the most important things. When I come to know more about other people, I wondered at first why they needed to do so much talking. Things have happened—things that I would not expect you to believe—"
She had kindled now, and she looked into his eyes like some sybil, divinely unconscious, preaching the unbelievable.
"I knew dimly, as a child knows, and accepts, that Aunt Paula had some wonderful mission and that it had to do with the other world—all you're taught when they teach you to say your prayers. Little by little she made me understand. I grew up before I understood fully. The Guides—Aunt Paula's—I have none as yet—had told her that I was a Light."
He caught at this word, for his lover's impatience was burning and beating within him.
"Light!" he said; "my Light!"
She regarded him gravely, and then, as though his fervor had frightened her, she looked beyond at the apple leaves.
"Don't—you'll know soon why you mustn't. Oh, help me, for I am unhappy!" She controlled a little upward ripple of her throat. "She, the Guides say, is a great Light, but I am to be a greater. They sent her to find me, and they directed her to keep me as she has—away from the world. When she first told me that, I was terrified. She had to sit beside me and hold my hand until I went to sleep. It's wonderful how quickly I do sleep when Aunt Paula's with me—she's the most soothing person in the world. If it weren't for her, I don't know what I'd do when I get into my tired times."
"You're never going to have any more tired times, Light," he said.
She went on inflexibly, but he knew that she had heard:
"There was one thing which I did not understand, and neither perhaps did Aunt Paula. The Guides sometimes seem foolish, but in the end they're always wise; I suppose they waited until the time should come. Though I tried to help it along, though I cried with impatience, I couldn't begin to get voices. I've sat in dark rooms for hours, as Aunt Paula wished me to do. I've felt many true things, but I could never say honestly that I heard anything. But the Guides told Aunt Paula 'wait.' And at last she learned what was the matter.
"I don't know quite how to tell you this next. It came on the way back from India. She had gone there—but perhaps you won't be interested to know why she went. Though I was more than twenty, I'd never had what you might call a flirtation. I'd been kept by the Guides away from men—as I'd once been kept from other children. There was a young Englishman on the steamer. And I liked him."
Blake gave a sudden start, and rose automatically. So this confidence led to another man—that was the obstacle! She seemed to catch his thought.
"Oh, not that!" she cried; "he was only an incident—won't you hear me?" Blake dropped at her feet again.
"But I liked him, though never any more—he was a friend and girls need to play. But he wanted to be more than a friend. Aunt Paula passed us on the deck one evening. After I had gone to bed, she came into my stateroom. When the power is in her, I know it—and I never saw it so strong as that night. It shone out of her. But that wasn't the strange thing. Only twice before, had I heard the voices speak from her mouth—mostly, she used to tell me what they said to her. But it was not Aunt Paula talking then—it was Martha, her first and best control. Shall I tell you all she said?"
Out of the confused impulses running through Dr. Blake, his sense of humor spurted a moment to the fore. He found himself struggling to keep back a smile at the picture of some fat old woman in a dressing gown simulating hysteria that she might ruin a love affair. He was hard put to make his voice sound sincere, as he answered:
"She said: 'Child, you are more influenced by this man than you know. It is not the great love, but it is dangerous. You are to be the great Light only after you have put aside a great earthly love. This vessel from which I am speaking'—she meant Aunt Paula of course—'yielded to an earthly love. That is why she is less than you will be. Would you imperil truth?' It was something like that, only more. Ah, do you see now?"
"I see," said his sense of humor, "that your Aunt Paula is a most unlimited fakir."
"I see," said his voice, "but do you believe it?"
"I've so much cause to believe that I can never tell you all. After Aunt Paula came out of it, I told her what Martha had said. She was dear and sympathetic. She put me to sleep; and when I woke, I was resigned. I did not see him alone again. Now I understand more clearly. When I have had that earthly love and put it aside, when I have proved myself to my Guides—then the voices will come to me. Martha has repeated it to Aunt Paula whenever I have gone away from home. She repeated it before I came up here—"
"They had cause to repeat it," he took her up fiercely; "cause to repeat it!"
"I—I'm afraid so. But how should I know? I looked at you—and it seemed right, everlastingly right, that I should know you. And then I did—so suddenly and easily that it made me shudder afterwards for fear the test had come—the agony which I have been afraid to face. Ah, it's bold saying this!" She drooped forward, and her porcelain skin turned to rose.
Blake sat breathless, dumb. Never had she seemed so far away from him as then; never had she seemed so desirable. He struggled with his voice, but no word came; and it was she who spoke first.
"Now I know—it is the agony!"
At this admission, all the love and all the irritation in him came up together into a force which drove him on. They were alone; none other looked; but had all the world been looking, he might have done what he did. He rose to his feet, he dropped both his hands on her shoulders, he devoured her sapphirine eyes with his eyes, and his voice was steel as he spoke:
"You love me. You have always loved me. In spite of everything, you will marry me! You will say it before you are done with me!"
He stopped suddenly, for her eyelids were drooping. Had he not been a physician, he would have said that she was going to faint. But her color did not change. And suddenly she was speaking in a low tone which mocked his, but with no expression nor intonations:
"I love you. I have always loved you. In spite of everything, I shall marry you."
He dropped his hands from her shoulders with a bewildered impulse to seize her in his arms; then the publicity of the place came to him, and he drew his hands back. On that motion, her eyes opened and she flashed a little away from him.
"What did I say?" she exclaimed; "and why—oh, don't touch me—don't come near—can't you see it makes it harder for me to renounce?"
"But you said—"
"I said before you touched me—ah, don't touch me again—that I should make it hard—the harder I make it, the more I shall grow—but I can't bear so much!" She had risen, was moving away.
"Let's walk," he said shortly; and then, "Even if you put me aside, won't you keep me in your life?"
"The Guides will tell me," she answered simply.
"But I may see you—call on you in the city?"
"Unless the Guides forbid."
They were walking side by side now; they had turned from the sunken arena, which surrounded the tennis court, toward the house. Blake saw that the driver of the Mountain House stage was approaching. He waved a yellow envelope as he came on:
"Been looking for you, Miss Markham. Telegram. Charges paid."
Dr. Blake stepped away as Annette, in the preliminary flutter of fear with which a woman always receives a telegram, tore open the envelope and read the enclosure. Without a word, she handed it over to him. It read:
Take next train home. Advice of Martha. Wire arrival.
"Perhaps the Guides know," she said, smiling but quivering, too. "Perhaps they're going to make it easier for me."
HIS FIRST CALL
Dear Mr. Blake (read the letter): It was nice to get your note and to know that you are back in town so soon. Of course you must come to see me. I want Aunt Paula to know that all the complimentary things I have said about you are true. We are never at home in the conventional sense—but I hope Wednesday evening will do.
He had greeted this little note with all the private follies of lovers. Now for the hundredth time, he studied it for significances, signs, pretty intimacies; and he found positively nothing about it which he did not like. True, he failed to extract any important information from the name of the stationer, which he found under the flap of the envelope; but on the other hand the paper itself distinctly pleased him. It was note-size and of a thick, unfeminine quality. He approved of the writing—small, fine, legible, without trace of seminary affectation. And his spirits actually rose when he observed that it bore no coat-of-arms—not even a monogram.
At last, with more flourishes of folly, he put the note away in his desk and inspected himself in the glass. To the credit of his modesty, he was thinking not of his white tie—fifth that he had ruined in the process of dressing—nor yet of the set of his coat. He was thinking of Mrs. Paula Markham and the impression which these gauds and graces might make upon her.
"What do you suppose she's like?" he asked inaudibly of the correct vision in the glass.
He had exhausted all the possibilities—a fat, pretentious medium whom Annette's mind transformed by the alchemy of old affection into a presentable personage; a masculine and severe old woman with the "spook" look in her eyes; a fluttering, affected precieuse, concealing her quackery by chatter. Gradually as he thought on her, the second of these hypotheses came to govern—he saw her as the severe and masculine type. This being so, what tack should she take?
The correct vision in the glass vouchsafed no answer to this. His mood persisted as his taxicab whirled him into the region which borders the western edge of Central Park. The thing assumed the proportions of a great adventure. No old preparation for battle, no old packings to break into the unknown dark, had ever given him quite such a sense of the high, free airs where romance blows. He was going on a mere conventional call; but he was going also to high and thrilling possibilities.
The house was like a thousand other houses of the prosperous middle class, distinguishable only by minor differences of doors and steps and area rails, from twenty others on the same block. He found himself making mystery even of this. Separate houses in New York require incomes.
"Evidently it pays to deal in spooks," he said to himself.
His first glimpse of the interior, his subsequent study of the drawing-room while the maid carried in his name, made more vivid this impression. The taste of the whole thing was evident; but the apartment had besides a special flavor. He searched for the elements which gave that impression. It was not the old walnut furniture, ample, huge, upholstered in a wine-colored velours which had faded just enough to take off the curse; it was not the three or four passable old paintings. The real cause came first to him upon the contemplation of a wonderful Buddhist priest-robe which adorned the wall just where the drawing-room met the curtains of the little rear alcove-library. The difference lay in the ornaments—Oriental, mostly East Indian and, all his experience told him, got by intimate association with the Orientals. That robe, that hanging lantern, those chased swords, that gem of a carved Buddha—they came not from the seaports nor from the shops for tourists. Whoever collected them knew the East and its peoples by intimate living. They appeared like presents, not purchases—unless they were loot.
And now—his thumping heart flashed the signal—the delicate feminine flutter that meant Annette, was sounding in the hall. And now at the entrance stood Annette in a white dress, her neck showing a faint rim of tan above her girlish decolletage; Annette smiling rather formally as though this conventional passage after their unconventional meeting and acquaintance sat in embarrassment on her spirits; Annette saying in that vibrant boyish contralto which came always as a surprise out of her exquisite whiteness:
"How do you do, Dr. Blake—you are back in the city rather earlier than you expected, aren't you?"
He was conscious of shock, emotional and professional—emotional that they had not taken up their relation exactly where they left it off—professional because of her appearance. Not only was she pale and just a little drawn of facial line, but that indefinable look of one "called" was on her again.
All this he gathered as he made voluble explanation—the attendance at the sanitorium had fallen off with the approach of autumn—they really needed no assistant to the resident physician—he thought it best to hurry his search for an opening in New York before the winter should set in. Then, put at his ease by his own volubility, and remembering that it is a lover's policy to hold the advantage gained at the last battle, he added:
"And of course you may guess another reason."
This she parried with a woman-of-the-world air, quite different from her old childlike frankness.
"The theatrical season, I suppose. It opens earlier every year."
He pursued that line no further. She took up the reins of the conversation and drove it along smooth but barren paths. "It's nice that you could come to-night. Looking for a practice must make so many calls on your time. I shouldn't have been surprised not to see you at all this winter. No one seems able to spare much time for acquaintances in New York."
"Not at all," he said, ruffling a little within, "I shall find plenty of time for my friends this winter." Deliberately he emphasized the word. "I hope nothing has happened to change our—friendship. Or does Berkeley Center seem primitive and far away?"
For the first time that quality which he was calling in his mind her "society shell" seemed to melt away from her. She had kept her eyelids half closed; now they opened full.
"I am living on the memory of it," she said.
Here was his opening. A thousand incoherences rushed to his lips—and stopped there. For another change came over her. Those lids, like curtains drawn by stealth over what must not be revealed, sank half-way over her eyes. An impalpable stiffening ran over her figure. She became as a flower done in glass.
Simultaneously, an uneasiness as definite as a shadow, fell across his spirit. He became conscious of a presence behind him. Involuntarily he turned.
A woman was standing in the doorway leading to the hall.
An instant she looked at Blake and an instant he looked at her. What she gained from her scrutiny showed in no change of expression. What he gained showed only in a quick flutter of the eyelids. He had, in fact, taken an impression of mental power as startling as a sudden blow in the face. She had a magnificent physique, preserved splendidly into the very heart of middle age; yet her foot had made no sound in her approach. Her black velvet draperies trailed heavy on the floor, yet they produced not the ghost of a rustle. Jet-black hair coiled in ropes, yet wisped white above the temples; light gray eyes, full and soft, yet with a steady look of power—all this came in the process of rising, of stepping forward to clasp a warm hand which lingered just long enough, in hearing Annette say in tones suddenly dead of their boyish energy:
"Aunt Paula, let me introduce Dr. Blake." With one ample motion, Mrs. Markham seated herself. She turned her light eyes upon him. He had a subconscious impression of standing before two searchlights.
"My niece has told me much about Dr. Blake," she said in a voice which, like Annette's, showed every intonation of culture; "I can't thank you enough for being kind to my little girl. So good in you to bother about her when"—Aunt Paula gave the effect of faltering, but her smile was peculiarly gracious—"when there were no other men nearer her own age."
Curiously, there floated into Blake's mind the remark which Annette made that first day on the train—"I should think you were about twenty-eight—and that, according to 'Peter Ibbertson,' is about the nicest age." Well, Annette at least regarded him as a contemporary! He found himself laughing with perfect composure—"Yes, that's the trouble with these quiet country towns. There never are any interesting young men."
"True," Mrs. Markham agreed, "although it makes slight difference in Annette's case. She is so little interested in men. It really worries me at times. But it's quite true, is it not so, dear?"
Mrs. Markham had kept her remarkable eyes on Dr. Blake. And Annette, as though the conversation failed to interest her, had fallen into a position of extreme lassitude, her elbow on the table, her cheek resting on her hand.
At her aunt's question, she seemed to rouse herself a little. "What is it that's quite true, Auntie?" she asked.
Mrs. Markham transferred her light-gray gaze to her niece's face. "I was saying," she repeated, speaking distinctly as one does for a child, "that you are very little interested in men."
"It is perfectly true," Annette answered.
Mrs. Markham laughed a purring laugh, strangely at variance with her size and type. "You'll find this an Adam-less Eden, Dr. Blake. I'll have to confess that I too am not especially interested in men."
This thrust did not catch Dr. Blake unawares. He laughed a laugh which rang as true as Mrs. Markham's. He even ventured on a humorous monologue in which he accused his sex of every possible failing, ending with a triumphant eulogy of the other half of creation. But Mrs. Markham, though she listened with outward civility, appeared to take all his jibes seriously—miscomprehended him purposely, he thought.
Whereupon, he turned to the lady's own affairs.
"Miss Markham told me something about your stay in India. I've never been there yet. But of course no seasoned orientalist has any idea of dying without seeing India. I gathered from Miss Markham that you had some unusual experiences."
"It's the dear child's enthusiasm," Mrs. Markham said. And it came to Blake at once that she was a little irritated. "I assure you we did not stir out of the conventional tourist route." Then came a few minutes about the beauties of the Taj by moonlight.
Blake listened politely. "Your loot is all so interesting," he said, when she had finished. "Do tell me how you got it? Have you ever noticed what bully travelers' tales you get out of adventures in bargaining? Or better—looting? Those Johnnies who came out of Pekin—I mean the allied armies—tell some stories that are wonders."
"That is true generally," Mrs. Markham agreed. "But I must confess that I did nothing more wonderful than to walk up to one of the bazaars and buy everything that I wanted."
"That," Dr. Blake said mentally, "is a lie."
Almost as if Annette had heard his thought—were answering it—she spoke for the first time with something of the old resiliency in her tone. "Auntie, do tell Dr. Blake about some of your adventures with those wonderful Yogis, and that fascinating rajah who was so kind to us."
"The Yogis!" commented Dr. Blake to himself; "Ha, ha, and ho, ho! I bet you learned a bag of tricks there, madam."
"Why, Annette, dear." Mrs. Markham laughed her purring laugh—that laugh could grow, Dr. Blake discovered, until it achieved a singularly unpleasant quality. "Your romantic ideas are running away with you. Whenever we arrived anywhere, of course, like anybody else, I called at Government House and the authorities there always put me in the way of seeing whatever sights the neighborhood afforded. I met one rajah in passing and visited one Yogi monastery. Do tell me about the Philippines!" Annette settled back into her appearance of weariness.
Dr. Blake complied.
He had intended to stay an hour at this first formal call. He had hoped to be led on, by gentle feminine wiles, to add another hour. He had even dreamed that Aunt Paula might be so impressed by him as to hold him until midnight. As a matter of fact, he left the house just thirty-five minutes after he entered. Just why he retreated so early in the engagement, he had only the vaguest idea. Even fresh from it as he was, he could not enumerate the small stings, the myriad minor goads, by which it became established in his mind that his call was not a success, that he was boring the two ladies whom he was trying so hard to entertain. At the end, it was a labored dialogue between him and Mrs. Markham. Again and again, he tried to drag Annette into the conversation. She was tongue-tied. The best she did was to give him the impression that, deep down in her tired psychology, she was trying to listen. As for Aunt Paula—if his gaze wandered from her to Annette and then back, he caught her stifling a yawn. Her final shot was to interrupt his best story a hair's breadth ahead of the point. When he said good-night, his manner—he flattered himself—betrayed nothing of his sense of defeat. But no fellow pedestrian, observing the savage vigor of his swift walk homeward, could have held any doubt as to his state of mind.
THE LIGHT WAVERS
As Blake drove the runabout north through the fine autumn morning, he perceived suddenly that his subconscious mind was playing him a trick. He had started out to get light, air, easement of his soul among woods and fields. And now, instead of turning into Central Park at Columbus Circle, he was following Upper Broadway, where, in order to reach the great out-of-doors, he must dodge trucks and cabs between miles of hotels and apartment houses. In fact, he had been manoeuvering, half-unconsciously, so that he might turn into the park at the Eighty-Sixth Street entrance and so pass that most important of all dwellings in Manhattan, the house where Annette Markham lived. Any irritation which he had felt against her, after the unpleasant evening before, was lost in his greater irritation with her aunt. Annette appeared to him, now, as the prize, the reward, of a battle in which Mrs. Paula Markham was his antagonist.
As he turned the corner into her street, ten years rolled away from him; he dreamed the childish, impossible dreams of a very youth. She might be coming down the steps as he passed. Fate might even send a drunkard or an obstreperous cabman for him to thrash in her service. But when he reached the house, nothing happened. The front door remained firmly shut; no open window gave a delicious glimpse of Annette. After his machine had gone ahead to such position that he could no longer scan the house without impolite craning of his neck, he found that his breath was coming fast. Awakened from his dream, a little ashamed of it, he opened the control and shot his machine ahead to the violation of all speed laws. He was crossing Central Park West, and the smooth opening of the park driveway was before him, when he looked up and saw—Annette.
Her honey-colored hair, glistening dull in the autumn sunshine, identified her even before he caught her characteristic walk—graceful and fast enough, but a little languid, too. She was dressed in a plain tailor suit, a turban, low, heavy shoes.
He slowed down the automobile to a crawl, that he might enter the park after her. A boyish embarrassment smote him; if he drove up and spoke to her, it would look premeditated. So he hesitated between two courses, knowing well which he would pursue in the end. As he entered the park, still a dozen yards behind her, he saw that the footpath which she was following branched out from the automobile drive. Within a few paces, she would disappear behind a hydrangea bush. On that perception, he gave all speed to his machine, shot alongside and stopped.
Even before he reached her, she had turned and faced him. He fancied that the smile of recognition on her face had started even before she began to turn; she did not appear surprised, only pleased. Beating around in his mind for a graceful word of introduction, he accomplished an abrupt and ungraceful one.
"Will you ride?" he asked.
"With pleasure," she responded simply, and in one light motion she was in the seat beside him. He turned at low speed north, and as his hands moved over wheels and levers, she was asking:
"How did you happen to be here?"
He put a bold front on it.
"I drove past your home, by instinct, because I was coming north. And I saw you. Which of your spirits"—he was bold enough for the moment to make light of her sacred places—"sent you out-of-doors just before I passed?"
"The spirit of the night before," she answered, passing from smiles to gravity. "That long sleep without rest has been troubling me again. I remembered how exercise set me up in the country, and I started out for a little air. Aunt Paula is out this morning—something about the plumbing. Dear Auntie, how I'd love to take those cares off her shoulders. She'll never let me, though. And next week our housekeeper, whom we've held for two years, is leaving; she must advertise and receive applicants—and likely get the wrong one. So that's another worry for her. I was alone in the house when I awoke, and I could not waste such autumn weather as this!"
He looked at her with anxiety—the physician again.
"I saw trouble in your face last night. It isn't normal that you should be tired out so soon after the perfect condition you achieved at Berkeley Center."
"No, it isn't. I know that perfectly, and I'm resigned to it."
"I won't ask you to let me treat you—but why don't you go to some physician about it? You know how much this case means to me."
For a time she did not reply. She only kept her eyes on the autumn tints of the park, streaking past them like a gaudy Roman scarf.
"No," she said at length, "no physician like you can heal me. Greater physicians, higher ones, for me. And they will not—will not—" She was silent again.
"Are you coming back again to that queer business of which you told me—that day on the tennis court?"
"To just that."
"What can such a thing have to do with your physical condition?"
"You will not laugh?"
"At you and yours and anything which touches you—no. You know I could not laugh now. Little as I respect that obstacle, it is the most serious fact I know."
His eyes were on the steering of the automobile. He could not see that her lips pursed up as though to form certain low and tender words, and that her sapphirine eyes swept him before she controlled herself to go on.
"Aunt Paula says it is part of the struggle. Some people, when the power is coming into them, are violent. Men, she says, have smashed furniture and torn their bodies. I am not strong to do such things, but only weak to endure. And so it takes me as it does.
"Don't you see?" she added, "that if I'm to give up so many powers of my mind, so many needs of my soul, to this thing, I can afford to give up a few powers of my body? Am I to become a Light without sacrificing all? So I keep away from physicians. It is Aunt Paula's wish, and she has always known what is best for me."
The automobile was running at an even fifteen miles an hour down a broad, unobstructed parkway. He could turn his eyes from his business and let his hands guide. So he looked full at her, as he said:
"She may have a hard time keeping you away from this physician!"
That, it seemed, amused her. The strain in her face gave way to a smile.
"For yourself, she likes you, I think," said Annette.
"She has a most apt and happy way of showing it," he responded, his slights rising up in him.
"You mustn't judge her by last night," replied Annette. "Aunt Paula has many manners. I think she assumes that one when she is studying people. Then think of the double reason she has for receiving you coldly—my whole future, as she plans it, hangs on it—and she spoke nicely of you. She likes your eyes and your wit and your manners. But—"
"But I am an undesirable acquaintance for her niece just the same!"
"Have I not said that you are—the obstacle? Haven't her controls told her that? If not, why did she telegraph to me when she did?" Then, as they turned from the park corner and made towards Riverside Drive, something in her changed.
"Must we talk this out whenever we meet? You said once that you would teach me to play. Ah, teach me now! I need it!"
And though he turned and twisted back toward the subject, she was pure girl for the next hour. The river breezes blew sparkle into her eyes; the morning intoxicated her tongue. She chattered of the trees, the water, the children on the benches, the gossiping old women. She made him stop to buy chestnuts of an Italian vendor, she led him toward his tales of the Philippines. He plunged into the Islands like a white Othello, charming a super-white Desdemona. It was his story of the burning of Manila which brought him back to the vexation in his mind.
"That yarn seemed to make a very small hit last night," he said, turning suddenly upon her.
"I didn't like it so much last night," she answered frankly.
"What was the matter?" he asked. "Why were you so far away? Were you afraid of Mrs. Markham? I felt like the young man of a summer flirtation calling in the winter. What was it?"
"I don't know," she answered.
"There wasn't any reason. I liked you last night as I always like you. But we were far away. Shall I tell you how it seemed to me? I was like an actress on the stage, and you like a man in the audience. I was speaking to you—a part. In no way could you answer me. In no way could I answer you directly. We moved near to each other, but in different worlds. It was something like that."
"I suppose"—bitterly—"your Aunt Paula had nothing to do with that?"
"You must like Aunt Paula if you are to like me," she warned. "Yet that may have something to do with it. I am wonderfully influenced by what she thinks—as is right."
"Then it's coming to a fight between me and your Aunt Paula? For I'll do even that."
"Must we go all over it again? Oh like me, like me, and give me a rest from it! I think of nothing but this all day—why do you make it harder? I do not know if I can renounce and still have you in my life. Won't you wait until I know? It will be time enough then!"
"'Renounce,'" he quoted. "Then you know that there is something to renounce—and that means you love me!" So giddy had he become with the surge of his passion that his hands trembled on the steering-wheel. Afraid of losing all muscular control, he brought the automobile to a full stop at the roadside. Her sapphirine eyes were shining, her hands lay inert in her lap, her lips quivered softly.
"Have I ever denied it—can I ever deny it to you?"
The pure accident of location gave him opportunity for what he did next. For they were in one of those country lanes of Upper Manhattan which, though enclosed by the greatest city, seem still a part of remote country. Heavy branches of autumn foliage guarded the road to right and left; from end to end of the passage was neither vehicle nor foot-passenger. One faculty, standing unmoved in the storm of emotions which had overwhelmed him, perceived this.
He reached for the trembling hands which gave themselves to his touch. She swayed against him. Her hands had snatched themselves away now—only to clasp his neck. And now her lips had touched his again and again and somehow between kiss and kiss, she was murmuring, "Oh, I love you—I love you—I love you. I love you so much that life without you is a perfect misery. I love you so much that my work now seems stale and dreary. I love you so much that I don't want ever to go away from you. I want to stay here forever and feel your arms about me, for that is the only way that I shall ever know happiness—or peace. I wake in the morning with your name on my lips. I wander through the day with you. If I try to read, you come between me and the page. If I try to play you come between me and the notes. You are my books. You are my music—my—my—everything. I go to bed early at night often so that I can lie in the dusk and think of you. And oh, the only nights that rest me are those filled with dreams of the poem we would make out of life—if—if—"
Her voice faltered and he felt the exquisite caress of her lips trembling against his cheek. As though she were utterly spent, she ended where she had begun, "I love you—I love—I love you."
He was aware now that another car whirred behind them. He managed—it took all the force in his soul—to put her from him. He turned to see if they had been observed; the passengers in the other car, intent on their own chatter, did not look; only the chauffeur regarded their chassis with a professional eye, as though wondering if they were stalled. When Blake drew a long breath and looked back at Annette, her face was buried in her hands. And now, when he touched her, she drew slowly away.
"Oh, drive on—drive on!" she said.
"Don't speak. I beg you—drive on or I shall die!"
And though the car wavered dangerously under his unsteady touch, he obeyed, managed to gain the highroad without a spill, and to turn north.
She wept silently. When at last she took her hands away and turned her face on him, his lover's observation saw how beautifully she wept. Her eyes were not red, her face was calm. He took heart from her glance, began to babble foolish love words. But she stopped him.
"You are driving away from home," she said. "Drive back, and don't speak yet."
After he had turned, her tears ceased. She dried her eyes. Now she smiled a little, and her voice grew natural.
"I must never be weak again," she said. "But it was sweet. Dear, might I touch your arm? No, you must not stop again. Just my hand on your arm."
"Dearest, why do you ask?" She drew off her glove, and all the way a light, steady pressure made uncertain his wheel-hand. They drove a mile so—two miles—and neither spoke until they came out into inhabited Upper Broadway. At the appearance of crowds, trucks and the perils of the highway, that silver thread of silence broke. She drew her hand away, and took up the last word of ten minutes ago.
"It was sweet—but no more. How long it is since I kissed you! I am glad. I shall pay for it heavily—but I am glad!"
He smiled on her as on a child who speaks foolishness.
"You cannot renounce now!" he said.
"I shall renounce. I have stolen this morning—would you rob me in turn?"
"It will be the first kiss of a million," he said.
"It will be the last forever," she answered. "But remember, if you do not kiss me, no man ever shall."
He busied himself with guiding the automobile; it was no time to hurl out the intense things which he had to say. But when they had entered the smooth park driveway, he came out with it:
"Do you think that I respect that obstacle? Can you think that I believe such moonshine even if you do? And do you suppose that I am going to let Aunt Paula keep you now?"
She touched his arm again; let her hand rest there as before.
"Dear," she said, "I have never thought that you believed. I have felt this always in the bottom of your heart. I only ask you not to spoil this day for me. I have stolen it. Let me enjoy it. I shall not put you out of my life—at least not yet. Later, when we are both calm, we will talk that out. But let it rest now, for I am tired—and happy."
So they drove along, her light hand making warm his arm, and said no word until they came near the Eighty-Sixth Street entrance. He looked at her with a question in his eyes.
"Leave me where you found me," she answered; "I shall go in alone."
"But will you tell your Aunt Paula that you met me?"
"I shall tell her—yes. Not all, perhaps, but that I rode with you. What is the use of concealment? She will know—"
"Dear, do not mock me. They tell her everything she wants to know about me." They had drawn up at the park entrance now; before he could assist, she had jumped down.
"Good-by—I must go quickly—you must come soon—I will write."
He stood beside his car, watching her back. Once she turned and waved to him; when she went on, she walked with a spring, an exultation, as though from new life. He watched until she was only a blue atom among the foot-passengers, until a park policeman thumped him on the shoulder and informed him that this was not an automobile stand.
* * * * *
When Dr. Blake woke next morning, it was with a sense of delicious expectancy. He formulated this as his eyes opened. She had promised to write; the mail, due for distribution in the Club at a quarter past eight, might bring a note from her. He timed his dressing carefully, that he might arrive downstairs neither before nor after the moment of fulfilment or disappointment. He saw, as he crossed the corridor to his mail-box, that the clerk was just dropping a square, white envelope. He peered through the glass before he felt for his keys. It was Annette's hand.
So, glowing, he tore it open, and read:
DEAR MR. BLAKE:
I think it best never to see you again. Aunt Paula approves of this; but it is done entirely of my own accord. My decision will not change. Please do not call at my house, for I shall not see you. Please do not write, for I shall send your letters back unopened. Please do not try to see me outside, for I shall not recognize you. I thank you for your interest in me; and believe me, I remain,
Your sincere friend,
After a dreadful day, he came back to the Club and found a package, addressed in her hand. Out fell a little bundle of rags, topped by a comical black face, and a note. The letter of the morning was in a firm, correct hand. This was a trembling scrawl, blotted with tears. And it read:
Dear, I have something terrible to write you. I must give you up. I cannot go into all the reasons now, and after all that would not help any, for it all comes to this—we must never see each other again. Please do not send me a letter, for though I should cover it with my kisses, in the end I would have to send it back unopened. I send you Black Dinah as I promised. It's all that's left of me now, and I want you to have it. Dearest, dearest, good-by.
ENTER ROSALIE LE GRANGE
"Cut, dearie," said Rosalie Le Grange, trance and test clairvoyant, to Hattie, the landlady's daughter. "Now keep your wish in your mind, remember. That's right; a deep cut for luck. U-um. The nine of hearts is your wish—and right beside it is the ace of hearts. That means your home, dearie—the spirits don't lie, even when they're manifestin' themselves just through cards. They guide your hand when you shuffle and cut. Your wish is about the affections, ain't it, dearie?"
The pretty slattern across the table nodded. She had put down her dust-pan and leaned her broom across her knees when she sat down to receive the only tip which Rosalie Le Grange, in the existing state of her finances, could give.