From a Bench in Our Square
Samuel Hopkins Adams
Part 4 out of 4
"Annie oombrella for mend? Annie oombrella?" Thereby the little Swiss
became known as, and ever will be called locally, "Annie Oombrella."
Like most close-knit, centripetal communities, we have a fatal penchant
for nicknames in Our Square.
She would look up and smile wanly, and shake her head. Where, indeed,
should the like of her get an umbrella to be mended!
Then would he say--I shall not attempt to torture the good English
alphabet into a reproduction of his singular phonetics: "It makes fine
to-day, it do!"
And she would reply "Yes, a fine day"; and look as if the sun were a
little warmer upon her pale skin because of Plooie's greeting, as,
perhaps, indeed, it was.
After that he would nod solemnly, or, if feeling especially loquacious,
venture some prophecy concerning the morrow, before resuming his
unproductive rounds and his lugubrious yawp. One day he discovered that
she spoke French. From that time the relationship advanced rapidly. On
Christmas he gave her a pair of red woolen gloves. On New Year's he took
her walking among the tombstones in God's Acre, which is a serious and
sentimental, not to say determinative, social step. Twice in the
following week he carried her bucket from house to house. And in the
glowing dusk of a crisp winter afternoon they sat together hand in hand,
on a bench back of my habitual seat, and looked in each other's eyes,
and spoke, infrequently, in their own language, forgetful of the rest of
the world, including myself, who was, perhaps, supposed not to
understand. But even without hearing their words, I could have guessed.
It was very simple and direct, and rather touching. Plooie said:
"If one marries themselves?"
And she replied: "I believe it well."
They kissed solemnly, and their faces, in the gleam of the electric
light which at that moment spluttered into ill-timed and tactless
activity, were transfigured so that I marveled at the dim splendor
But the Bonnie Lassie was scandalized. On general principles she
mistrusts that any marriage is really made in heaven unless she acts as
earthly agent of it. What had those two poverty-stricken little
creatures to marry on? She put the question rhetorically to Our Square
in general and to the two people most concerned in particular. Courts of
law might have rejected their replies as irrelevant. Humanly, however,
they were convincing enough.
Said Plooie: "Who will have a care of that little one if I have not?"
Said Annie Oombrella: "He is so lonely!"
So those two unfortunates united their misfortunes, and lo! happiness
came of it. Luckily that is all that did come of it. What disposition
the pair would have made of children, had any arrived, it is difficult
to conjecture. Only by miraculous compression of ribs, handles, and
fabrics was space contrived in the basement cubbyhole for Annie
Oombrella to squeeze in. However, she set up housekeeping cheerily as a
bird, with an odd lot of pots and pans which Schepstein had picked up at
an auction and resold to them at not more than two hundred per cent
profit, plus a kerosene stove, the magnificent wedding gift of the
Bonnie Lassie and her husband, Cyrus the Gaunt. Twice a week they had
meat. They were rising in the social scale.
Habitude is the real secret of tolerance. As we became accustomed to
Plooie, Our Square ceased to resent his invincible outlandishness; we
endured him with equanimity, although it would be exaggeration to say
that we accepted him, and we certainly did not patronize him
professionally. Nevertheless, in a minor degree, he nourished. Annie
Oombrella must have lavished care upon him. His pinched-in shoulders
broadened perceptibly. His gait, still a halting shuffle, grew
noticeably brisker. There was even a heartier note in his lamentable
"Parapluie-ee-ee-ee-ees a raccommoder!"
As for Annie Oombrella, having some one to look after quite transformed
her. She grew plump and chirpy, and bustling as a blithe little sparrow,
though perhaps duck would be a happier comparison, for she was dabbling
and splashing in water all the day long, making the stairs and porches
of her curatorship fairly glisten with cleanliness. Her rates went up to
twenty cents an hour. There were rumors that she had started a savings
account. Life stretched out before the little couple, smooth and
peaceful and sunny with companionship.
Then came the war.
The calamitous quality of a great world tragedy is that it brings to so
many helpless little folk bitter and ignoble tragedies of shame and
humiliation and misunderstanding. With a few racial exceptions, Our
Square was vehemently pro-Ally. In spirit we fought with valiant France
and prayed for heroic Belgium. What a Godspeed we gave to the few sons
of Gaul who, in those early days, left us to fight the good fight! How
sourly we looked upon Plooie continuing his peaceful rounds. Whence
arose the rumor, I cannot say, but it was noised about just at that time
of wrath and tension that Plooie was born in Liege. Liege, that city of
fire and slaughter and heroism, upon which the eyes and hopes of the
world were turned in wonder and admiration. Somebody had seen the entry
on the marriage register! The Bonnie Lassie told me of it, pausing at my
bench with a little furrow between her bright eyes.
"Dominie, you know Emile Garin pretty well?"
"Not at all," I replied, failing to identify the rickety Plooie by his
"Of course you do! Never a morning but he stops at your bench and asks
if you have an umbrella to mend."
"I never have. What of him?"
"Have you any influence with him?"
"Not compared with yours."
The Bonnie Lassie made a little gesture of despair. "I can't find him.
And Annie Oombrella won't tell me where he is. She only cries."
"That's bad. You think he--he is--"
"Why don't you say it outright, Dominie? _You_ think he's hiding."
"Really!" I expostulated. "You come to me with accusations against the
poor fellow and then undertake to make me responsible for them."
"I don't believe it's true at all," averred the Bonnie Lassie loyally.
"I don't believe Plooie is a coward. There's some reason why he doesn't
go over and help! I want to know what it is."
Perceiving that I was expected to provide excuses for the erring one, I
did my best. "Over age," I suggested.
"He's only thirty-two."
"Bless me! He looks sixty. Well--physical infirmity."
"He can carry a load all day."
"He won't leave Annie Oombrella, then. Or perhaps she won't let him."
"When I asked her, she cried harder than ever and said that her mother
was French and she would go and fight herself, if they'd have her."
"Then I give it up. What does your Olympian wisdom make of it?"
"I don't know. But I'm afraid the Garins are going to have trouble."
Within a few days Plooie reappeared and his strident falsetto appeal for
trade rang shrill in the space of Our Square. Trouble developed at once.
Small boys booed at him, called him "yellow," and advised him to go
carefully, there was a German behind the next tree. Henri Dumain, our
little old French David who fought the tragic duel of tooth and claw
with his German Jonathan in Thornsen's Elite Restaurant, stung him with
that most insulting word in any known tongue--"Lache!"--and threatened
him with uplifted cane; and poor Plooie slunk away. But I think it was
the fact that he who stayed at home when others went forward had set a
picture of Albert of Belgium in the window of his cubbyhole that most
exasperated us against him. Tactless, to say the least! His call grew
quavery and furtive. Annie Oombrella ceased to sing at work. Matters
looked ill for the Garins.
The evil came to a head the week after David and Jonathan broke off all
relations. Perhaps that tragedy of shattered friendship (afterward
rejoined through the agency of the great peacemaker, Death) had got on
our nerves. Ordinarily, had Plooie chased a small boy who had tipped a
barrel down his basement steps, nothing would have come of it. But the
chase took him into the midst of a group of the younger and more
boisterous element, returning from a business meeting of the Gentlemen's
Sons of Avenue B, and before he could turn, they had surrounded him.
"Here's our little 'ee-ro!" "Looka the Frenchy that won't fight!"
"Safety first, hey, Plooie?" "Charge umbrellas--backward, march!"
Plooie did his best to break for a run through, which was the worst
thing he could have tried. They collared him. By that contact he became
their captive, their prey. What to do with him? To loose a prisoner,
once in the hand, is an unthinkable anti-climax. Somebody developed an
inspirational thought: "Ride him on a rail!"
Near by, a house front under repair supplied a scantling. Plooie was
hustled upon it. He fell off. They jammed him back again. He clung,
wide-eyed, white-faced, and silent. The mob, for it was that now, bore
him with jeers and jokes and ribaldry along the edge of the park.
When they came within my ken he was riding high, and the mob was being
augmented momentarily from every quarter. I looked about for Terry the
Cop. But Terry was elsewhere. It is not beyond the bounds of reasonable
probability that he had absented himself on purpose. "God hates a
coward" is a tenet of Terry's creed. I confess to a certain sympathy
with it myself. After all, a harsh lesson might not be amiss for Plooie,
the recusant. Composing my soul to a non-intervention policy, I leaned
back on my bench, when a pitiful sight ruined my neutrality.
Along the outer edge of the compact mob trotted little Annie Oombrella.
From time to time she dashed herself blindly against that human wall,
which repulsed her not too roughly and with indulgent laughter. Their
concern was not with her. It was with the coward; their prisoner,
delivered by fate to the stern decrees of mob justice. I could hear his
voice now, calling out to her in their own language across the
"Do not have fear, my little one. They do me no harm. Go you home,
little cat. Soon I come also. Do not fear."
From his forehead ran a little stream of blood. But there was that in
his face which told me that if he was fearful it was only for her. His
voice, steady and piercing, overrode the clamor of the crowd. I began to
entertain doubts as to his essential cowardice.
Annie Oombrella, dumb with misery and terror, only dashed herself the
more hopelessly against the barrier of bodies.
Even the delight of rail-riding a victim becomes monotonous in time. The
many-headed sought further measures of correction and reprobation.
"Le's tar-and-feather him."
"Where'll we gettum?"
"Satkins's kosher shop on the Av'noo."
"Where's yer tar?"
This was a poser; Satkins was saved from a raid. A more practical
expedient now evolved from the collective brain.
"Duck'm in the fountain!"
"_Drown_ him in the fountain!" amended an enthusiast.
Whooping with delight, the mob turned toward the gate. This was becoming
dangerous. That there was no real intent to drown the unfortunate
umbrella-mender I was well satisfied. But mob intent is subject to mob
impulse. If they once got him into the water, the temptation of the
playful to push his head under just once more might be too strong.
Plainly the time was ripe for intervention.
Owing to some enthusiastically concerted but ill-directed engineering,
the scantling with its human burden had jammed crosswise of the posts.
Now, if ever, was the opportunity for eloquence of dissuasion.
For the heroic role of Horatius at the Bridge I am ill-fitted both by
temperament and the fullness of years. Nevertheless, I advanced into the
imminent deadly breach and raised the appeal to reason.
The result was unsatisfactory. Some hooted. Others laughed.
"Never mind the Dominie," yelled Inky Mike, laying hold of the rail by
an end and hauling it around. "He don't mean nothin'."
Old bones are no match for young barbarism. The rush through the gate
brushed me aside like a feather. I saw the tragi-comic parade go by, as
I leaned against a supporting tree: the advance guard of clamorous
urchins, the rail-bearers, the white-faced figure of Plooie, jolted
aloft, bleeding but calm, self-forgetful, and still calling out
reassurances to his wife; the jostling rabble, and upon the edge of it a
frantic woman, clawing, sobbing, imploring. On they swept. I listened
for the splash.
It did not come.
A lion had risen in the path. To be more accurate, a lioness. To my
unsuccessful role of Horatius, a Horatia better fitted for the fray had
succeeded, in the austere and superb person of Madame Rachel Pinckney
Pemberton Tallafferr, aforetime of the sovereign State of Virginia.
Where all my eloquence had failed, she checked that joyously
anticipative rabble by the simple query, set in the chillest and most
peremptory of aristocratic tones, as to what they were doing.
I like to think--the Bonnie Lassie says that I am flattering myself
thereby--that it was the momentary halt caused by my abortive effort to
hold the gate, which gave time for a greater than my humble self to
Madame Tallafferr, in the glory of black silk, the Pinckney lace, the
Pemberton diamond, and accompanied by that fat relic of slavery, Black
Sally, had been taking the air genteelly on a bench when the disturbance
grated upon her sensitive ear.
"What is that rabble about, Sally?" she inquired.
The aged negress reconnoitered. "Reckon dey's ridin' a gentmun on a
rail," she reported.
"A _gentleman_, Sally? Impossible. No gentleman would endure such an
affront. Look again."
"Yessum. It's dat po' white trash dey call Plooie. Mainded yo' umbrella
"My umbrella-mender!" (The mere fact that the victim had once tinkered
for her a decrepit parasol entitled him in her feudal mind to the high
protection of the Tallafferr tradition.) "Tell them to desist at once."
Apologetically but shrewdly Sally opined that the neighborhood of the
advancing mob was "no place foh a niggah."
With perfect faith in the powers of her superior she added: "You desist
Sally's confidence in her mistress was equaled or perhaps even excelled
by her mistress's confidence in herself.
Leaning upon her cane and attended by the faithful though terrified
servitor, Madame Tallafferr rustled forward. She took her stand upon the
brink of the fountain in almost the exact spot where she had disarmed
MacLachan, the tailor, drunk, songful, and suicidal, two years before.
Since that feat an almost mythologic awe had attached itself to
She waited, small and thin, hawk-eyed, imperious, and tempered like
steel. The ring of tempered steel, too, was in her voice when, at the
proper moment, she raised it.
"What are you doing?"
The clamor of the mob died down. The sight of Horatia (I beg her pardon
humbly, Madame Tallafferr) in the path smote them with misgivings. As in
Macaulay's immortal, if somewhat jingly epic, "those behind cried
'Forward' and those before cried 'Back'!" That single hale and fiery old
lady held them. No more could those two hundred ruffians have defied the
challenge of her contemptuous eyes than they could have advanced into
the flaming doors of a furnace.
A cautious voice from the rear inquired: "Who's the dame?"
"She's a witch," conjectured some one.
"It's the Duchess," said another, giving her the local title of
"It's the lady that shot the tailor," proclaimed an awe-stricken
bystander. (Legend takes strange twists in Our Square as elsewhere.)
Some outlander, ignorant of our traditions, prescribed in a
"T'row 'er in the drink."
"Who spoke?" said Madame Tallafferr, crisp and clear.
Silence. Then the sound of objurgations as the advocate frantically
resisted well-meant efforts to thrust him into undesirable prominence.
Finally a miniature eruption outward from the mob's edge, followed by a
glimpse of a shadowy figure departing at full speed. The Duchess leveled
a bony finger at Inky Mike, the nearest figure personally known to her,
who began a series of contortions suggestive of a desire to crawl into
his own pocket.
"Michael," said the Duchess.
"Yessum," said Inky Mike, whose name happens to be Moe Sapperstein.
"What are you doing to that unfortunate person?"
"J-j-just a little j-j-joke," replied the other in what was doubtless
intended for a light-hearted and care-free tone.
"Let him down." Inky Mike hesitated. "At once!" snapped the Duchess and
stamped her foot.
"Yessum," said Inky Mike meekly.
Loosing his hold on the scantling, he retreated upon the feet of those
behind. They let go also. Plooie slid forward to the ground. Madame
Tallafferr's bony finger (backed by the sparkle of an authoritative
diamond) swept slowly around a half-circle, with very much the easy and
significant motion of a machine gun and something of the effect. A
subtle suggestion of limpness manifested itself in the mass before her.
Addressing them, she raised her voice not a whit. She had no need to.
"Go about your business," she said. "Rabble!" she added in precisely the
tone which one might expect of a well-bred but particularly
The mob wilted to a purposeless and abashed crowd. The crowd
disintegrated into individuals. The individuals asked themselves what
they were doing there, and, finding no sufficient answer, slunk away.
Plooie was triumphantly escorted by Madame Tallafferr and Black Sally,
and (less triumphantly) by my limping self, to the nearest haven, which
chanced to be the Bonnie Lassie's house. Annie Oombrella pattered along
beside him, fumbling his hand and trying not to cry.
But when the Bonnie Lassie saw the melancholy wreck, _she_ cried, as
much from fury as from pity, and said that men were brutes and bullies
and cowards and imbeciles--and why hadn't her Cyrus been at home to stop
it? Whereto Madame Tallafferr complacently responded that Mr. Cyrus
Staten had not been needed: the _canaille_ would always respect a proper
show of authority from its superiors; and so went home, rustling and
After all, Plooie was not much hurt. Perhaps more frightened than
anything else. Panic was, in fact, the reason generally ascribed in Our
Square for his quiet departure, with his Annie, of course, on the
following Sunday. Only the Bonnie Lassie dissented. But as the Bonnie
Lassie reasons with her heart instead of her head, we accept her
theories with habitual and smiling indulgence rather than respect--until
the facts bear them out. She had, it appeared, called on the Plooies to
inquire as to their proposed course, and had rather more than hinted
that if the head of the house wished to respond to his country's call,
Our Square would look after Annie Oombrella. To this he returned only a
stubborn and somber silence. The Bonnie Lassie said afterward that he
seemed ashamed. She added that he had left good-bye for me and hoped the
Dominie would not think too hard of him. Recalling that I had rather
markedly failed to acknowledge his salute on the morning before his
departure, I felt a qualm of misgiving. After all, judging your
neighbor's soul is a kittle business. There is such an insufficiency
So Schepstein lost a renter. The basement cubbyhole remained vacant,
with only the picture of Albert of the Kingdom of Sorrows in the window
as a memento. Nothing further was seen or heard of Plooie. But
Schepstein, wandering far afield in search of tenement sales a full year
after, encountered Annie Oombrella washing down the steps of an office
far over in Lewis Street, nearly to the river. All the plumpness which
she had taken on in the happy days was gone. She looked wistful
Schepstein, doing the polite (which, as he accurately states, costs
nothing and might get you something some time), asked after Plooie.
Where was he? Annie Oombrella shook her head.
"Left you, has he?" asked Schepstein, astonished at this evidence of
"Yes," said Annie Oombrella. But there was a ring in her voice that
Schepstein failed to understand. It sounded almost like defiance. Her
eyes were deep-hollowed and sorrowful, but they met his as squarely as
they could, considering their cast. Schepstein was quite shocked to
observe that there was no shame in them. I suppose the shock temporarily
unbalanced his principles, for, having caught sight of one of her shoes,
he offered to lend her three dollars, indefinitely and without interest,
on her bare note-of-hand. (When he saw the other shoe, he made it five.)
She looked at the money anxiously, but shook her head.
"Well, if you ever need a home, the basement's vacant and there ain't a
better basement in Our Square."
Annie Oombrella began to cry quietly, and Schepstein went on about his
Through the ensuing years many women cried quietly or vehemently,
according to their natures, and many men went away from places that had
known them, to be no more known of those places; and the little Kingdom
of Sorrows, shattered, blood-soaked, and unconquerable, stood fast, a
bulwark between the ravager of the world and his victory until there
sped across the death-haunted seas the army that was to turn the scales.
Our Square gave to that sacrifice what it can never recover: witness the
simple memorials in Our Square.
Many people see ghosts; Our Square is well haunted, as befits its
ancient and diminished glories. Few hear ghosts. This is as it ought to
be. In their very nature, ghosts should be seen, not heard. Yet, in the
year of grace, 1919, under a blazing September sun, with a cicada,
vagrant from heaven knows whence, frying his sizzling sausages in our
lilac bush, and other equally insistent sounds of reality filling the
air, my ears were smitten with a voice from the realm of wraiths.
"Parapluie-ee-ee-ee-ees," it cried on a faint and cluttering note.
"Parapluie-ee-ee-ee-ees a raccommoder."
Over in the far corner of the park an apparition moved into my visual
range. It looked like Plooie. It moved like Plooie. It was loaded like
Plooie. It opened a mouth like Plooie's and emitted again the familiar
though diminished falsetto shriek. No doubt of it now; it _was_ Plooie.
He had come back to us who never thought to see him again, who never
wished to see him again, still unpurged of his stigma.
As he passed me, I acknowledged his greeting, somewhat stiffly, I fear,
and walked over to Schepstein's. There in the basement, amid the
familiar wreckage as of a thousand umbrellas, sat little Annie.
"Bonjour, Dominie," said she wistfully.
"Good-morning, Annie. So you are back."
"Yes, Dominie. Is there need that one wash the step at your house?"
"There is need that one explain one's self. What have you been doing
these three years?"
"I work. I work hard."
"And your husband? What has he been doing?" I asked sternly.
Annie Oombrella's soft face drooped. "Soyez gentil, Dominie," she
implored. "Be a kind, good man and ask him not. That make him so
"He doesn't look well, Annie."
"He have been ver' seeck. Now we come home he is already weller."
"But do you think it is wise for you to come back here?" I demanded,
feeling brutal as I put the question. Annie Oombrella's reply did not
make me feel any less so. She sent a quivering look around that
unspeakably messy, choked-up little hole in the wall that was home to
Plooie and her.
"We have loved each other so much here," said she.
Our Square is too poor to be enduringly uncharitable, either in deed or
thought. War's resentments died out quickly in us. No longer was Plooie
in danger of mob violence. By common consent we let him alone; he made
his rounds unmolested, but also unpatronized. But for Annie Oombrella's
prodigies of industry with pail and brush, the little couple in
Schepstein's basement would have fared ill.
Annie earned for both. In the process, happiness came back to her face.
To the fat Rosser twin accrues the credit of a pleasurable discovery
about Plooie. This was that, if you sneaked softly up behind him and
shouted: "Hey, Plooie! What was _you_ doing in the war?" his jaw would
drop and his whole rackety body begin to quiver, and he would heave his
burden to his shoulder and break into a spavined gallop, muttering and
sobbing like one demented. As the juvenile sense of humor is highly
developed in Our Square, Plooie got a good deal of exercise, first
Eventually he foiled them by coming out only in school hours. This
didn't help his trade. But then his trade had dwindled to the vanishing
point anyway. Even Madame Tallafferr had dropped him. She preferred not
to deal with a poltroon, as she put it.
On the day of the great exodus, Plooie put in some extra hours. He was
in no danger from his youthful persecutors, because they had all gone up
to line Fifth Avenue and help cheer the visiting King of the Belgians.
So had such of the rest of Our Square as were not at work. The place was
practically deserted. Nevertheless, Plooie prowled about, uttering his
cracked and lugubrious cry in the forlorn hope of picking up a parapluie
to raccommode. I was one of the few left to hear him, because Mendel,
the jeweler, had most inconsiderately gone to view royalty, leaving my
unrepaired glasses locked in his shop; otherwise I, too, would have been
on the Fifth Avenue curb shouting with the best of them. Do not
misinterpret me. For the divinity that doth hedge a king I care as
little as one should whose forbears fought in the Revolution. But for
the divinity of high courage and devotion that certifies to the image of
God within man, I should have been proud to take off my old but still
glossy silk hat to Albert of the Belgians. So I was rather cross, and it
was well for my equanimity that the Bonnie Lassie, who had remained at
home for reasons which are peculiarly her own affair and that of Cyrus
the Gaunt, should have come over to my favorite bench to cheer me up.
Said the Bonnie Lassie:
"I wonder why Plooie didn't go to see his king."
"Sense of shame," I suggested acidly.
"Yes?" said the Bonnie Lassie in a tone which I mistrusted.
"It is no use," I assured her, "for you to favor me with that pitying
and contemptuous smile of yours, for I can't see it. Mendel has my
nearer range of vision locked in his shop."
"I was just thinking," said the Bonnie Lassie in ruminant accents, "how
nice it must be to look back on a long life of unspotted correctness
with not an item in it to be ashamed of. It gives one such a comfortable
basis for sitting in judgment."
"Her lips drip honey," I observed, "and the poison of asps is under her
"Your quotations are fatally mixed," retorted my companion.
From across the park sounded Plooie's patient falsetto:
"Parapluie-ee-ee-ee-ees! Annie Oombrella for mend? Parapluie-ee-ee-" The
call broke off in a kind of choke.
"What's happened to Plooie?" I asked. "The youngsters can't have got
back from the parade already, have they?"
"A very tall man has stopped him," said the Bonnie Lassie. "Plooie has
dropped his kit.... He's trying to salute.... It must be one of the
Belgian officers.... Oh, Dominie!"
"Well, what?" I demanded impatiently and cursed the recreant Mendel in
"It can't be ... you don't think they can be arresting poor Plooie at
this late day for evading service?"
"Serve him right if they did," said I.
"I believe they are. The big man has taken him by the arm and is leading
him along. Poor Plooie! He's all wilted down. It's a shame!" cried the
Bonnie Lassie, beginning to flame. "It ought not to be allowed."
"Probably they're taking him away. Do you see an official-looking
automobile anywhere about?"
"There's a strange car over on the Avenue. Oh, dear! Poor Annie
Oombrella! But--but they're not going there. They're going into
I could feel the Bonnie Lassie fidgeting on the bench. For a moment I
endured it. Then I said:
"Well, Lassie, why don't you?"
"Why don't I what?"
"Take your usual constitutional, over by the railings. Opposite
"That isn't my usual constitutional, and you know it, Dominie," said the
Bonnie Lassie with dignity.
"Isn't it? Well, curiosity killed a cat, you know."
"How shamelessly you garble! It was--"
"Never mind; the quotation is erroneous, anyway. It should be:
_suppressed_ curiosity killed a cat."
The Bonnie Lassie sniffed.
"Rather than be dislodged from my precarious perch on this bench," I
pursued, "through the trembling imparted to it by your clinging to the
back to restrain yourself from going to see what is up, I should almost
prefer that you would go--and peek."
"Dominie," said the Bonnie Lassie, "you are a despicable old man....
I'll be back in a minute."
"Don't stay long," I pleaded. "Pity the blind."
Her golden laughter floated back to me. But there was no mirth in her
voice when she returned.
"It's so dark in there I can hardly see. But the big man is sitting on a
pile of ribs talking to Plooie, and Annie Oombrella's face is all
swollen with crying. I saw it in the window for a minute."
Pro and con we argued what the probable event might be and how we could
best meet it. So intent upon our discussion did we become that we did
not note the approach of a stranger until he was within a few paces of
the bench. With my crippled vision I apprehended him only as very tall
and straight and wearing a loose cape. The effect upon the Bonnie Lassie
of his approach was surprising. I heard her give a little gasp. She got
up from the bench. Her hand fell upon my shoulder. It was trembling.
Where, I wondered, had those two met and in what circumstances, that the
mere sight of the stranger caused such emotion in the unusually
self-controlled wife of Cyrus Staten. The man spoke quickly in a deep
and curiously melancholy voice:
"Madame perhaps does me the honor to remember me?"
"I--I--I--" began the Bonnie Lassie.
"The Comte de Tournon. At Trouville we met, was it not? Several years
"Y-yes. Certainly. At Trouville."
(Now I happen to know that the Bonnie Lassie has never been at
Trouville, which did not assuage my suspicions.)
"You are friends of my--countryman, Emile Garin, are you not?" he
pursued in his phraseology of extreme precision, with only the faint
echo of an accent.
"Who?" I said. "Oh, Plooie, you mean. Friends? Well, acquaintances would
be more accurate."
"He tells me that you, Monsieur, befriended him when he had great need
of friends. And you, Madame, always. So I have come to thank you."
"You are interested in Plooie?" I asked.
"Plooie?" he repeated doubtfully. I explained to him and he laughed
gently. "Profoundly interested," he said. "I have here one of his finest
umbrellas which his good wife presented to me. There was also a lady of
whom he speaks, a _grande dame_, of very great authority." For all the
sadness of the deep voice, I felt that his eyes were twinkling.
"Madame Tallafferr," supplied the Bonnie Lassie. "She is away on a
"I should like to have met that queller of mobs. She ought to be
"Knighthood would add nothing to her status," said I, dryly. "She is a
Pinckney and a Pemberton besides being a Tallafferr, with two _f_s, two
_l_s, and two _r_s."
"Doubtless. I do not comprehend the details of your American orders of
merit," said the big sad-voiced man courteously. "But I should have been
proud to meet her."
"May I tell her that?" asked the Bonnie Lassie eagerly.
"By all means--when I am gone." Again I felt the smile that must be in
the eyes. "But there were others here, not so friendly to the little
Garin. That is true, is it not?"
"Yes," said the Bonnie Lassie.
"There is at least a strong suspicion that he is not a deserving case,"
I pointed out defensively.
"Then it is only because he does not explain himself well," returned the
"He does not explain himself at all," I corrected. "Nor does Annie
"Ah? That will clarify itself, perhaps, in time. If you will bear with
me, I should like to tell you a little story to be passed on to those
who are not his friends. Will you not be seated, Madame?"
The Bonnie Lassie resumed her place on the bench. Standing before us,
the big man began to speak. Many times since have I wished that I might
have taken down what he said verbatim; so gracious it was, so simple, so
straightly the expression of a great and generous personality.
"Emile Garin," he said, "was a son of Belgium. He was poor and his
people were little folk of nothing-at-all. Moreover, they were dead. So
he came to your great country to make his living. When our enemies
invaded my country and the call went out to all sons of Belgium, the
little Garin was ashamed because he knew that he was physically unfit
for military service. But he tried. He tried everywhere. In the mornings
they must sweep him away from our Consul-General's doorsteps here
because otherwise he would not--You spoke, Monsieur?"
"Nothing. I only said, 'God forgive us!'"
"Amen," said the narrator gravely. "Everywhere they rejected him as
unfit. So he became morbid. He hid himself away. Is it not so?"
"That is why they left Our Square so mysteriously," confirmed the Bonnie
"After that he hung about the docks. He saw his chance and crawled into
the hold of a vessel as a stowaway. He starved. It did not matter. He
was kicked. It did not matter. He was arrested. It did not matter.
Nothing mattered except that he should reach Belgium. And he did reach
my country at the darkest hour, the time when Belgium needed every man,
no matter who he was. But he could not be a soldier, the little Garin,
because he was unable to march. He had weak legs."
At this point the eternal feminine asserted itself in the Bonnie Lassie.
"I _told_ you there was something," she murmured triumphantly.
"Hush!" said I.
"I am glad to find that he had one true defender here," pursued the
biographer of Plooie. "Though he could not fight in the ranks there was
use for him. There was use for all true sons of Belgium in those black
days. He was made driver of a--a charette; I do not know if you have
them in your great city?" He paused, and I guessed that the rumble of
heavy wheels on the asphalt, heard near by, had come opportunely. "Ah,
yes; there is one."
"A dump-cart," supplied the Bonnie Lassie.
"Merci, Madame. A dump-cart. It is perhaps not an evidently glorious
thing to drive a dump-cart for one's country--unless one makes it so.
But it was the best the little Garin could do. His legs were what you
call quaint--I have already told you. He was faithful and hard-working.
They helped build roads near the front, the little Garin and his
"Not precisely safety-first," whispered the Bonnie Lassie to me,
"You are interrupting the story," said I with dignity.
"One day he was driving a load of mud through a village street. Here on
this side is a hospital. There on that side is another hospital. Down
the middle of the road walks an idiot of a sergeant carrying a new type
of grenade with which we were experimenting. One moves a little
lever--so. One counts; one, two, three, four, five. One throws the
grenade, and at the count of ten, all about it is destroyed, for it is
of terrible power. The idiot sergeant sets down the grenade in the
middle of the road between the two hospitals full of the helplessly
wounded. For what? Perhaps to sneeze. Perhaps to light a cigarette.
Heaven only knows, for the sergeant has the luck to be killed next day
by a German shell, before he can be court-martialed. As he sets down the
grenade, the little lever is moved. The sergeant loses his head. He
runs, shouting to everybody to run also.
"But the hospitals, they cannot run. And the wounded, they cannot run.
They can only be still and wait. In the nearest hospital there is a
visitor. A great lady. A great and greatly loved lady." The sad voice
deepened and softened.
"I know," whispered the Bonnie Lassie; "I can guess."
"Yes. But the little Garin, approaching on his big dump-cart, does not
know. He knows the danger, for he hears the shouts and sees the people
escaping. He sees the grenade, too. A man running past him shouts, 'Turn
your cart, you fool, and save yourself.' Oh, yes; he can save himself.
That is easy. But what of the people in the hospitals? Who can save
them? The little Garin thinks hard and swiftly. He drives his big
dump-cart over the grenade. He pulls the lever which dumps the mud. The
mud buries the grenade; much mud, very soft and heavy. The grenade
"One mule blows through one hospital, one through another. Everything
near is covered with mud. The great lady is thrown to the floor, but she
is not hurt. She rises and attends the injured and calms the terrified.
The hospitals are saved. It is a glorious thing to have driven a
dump-cart for one's country--so."
"But what became of our Plooie?" besought the Bonnie Lassie.
The big man spread his arms in a wide, Gallic gesture. "They looked for
him everywhere. No sign. But by and by some one saw a quite large piece
of mud on the hospital roof begin to wriggle. The little Garin was that
large piece of mud. They brought him down and put him in the hospital
which he had saved. For a long time he had shell-shock. Even now he
cannot speak of the war without his nerves being affected. When he got
out of hospital, he did not seem to know who he was. Or perhaps he did
not care. Shell-shock is a strange thing. He went away, and his records
were lost in the general confusion. Afterward we sought for him. The
great lady wished very much to see him. But we could find nothing except
that he had come back to this country. Official inquiry was made here
and he was traced to Our Square. So I came to see him. Because he cannot
speak for himself and will not allow his wife to tell his story--it is
part of the shell-shock which will wear off in time--I came to speak
"Does your--do you do this sort of thing often?" asked the Bonnie Lassie
with a queer sort of resonance in her voice.
The big man answered, in a tone which suggested that he was smiling:
"One cannot visit all the brave men who suffered for Belgium. But there
is a special reason here, the matter of the great and greatly loved lady
whom the little Garin saved."
"I see," said the Bonnie Lassie softly.
After the big man had made his adieux, we sat silent for some minutes.
Presently she spoke; there was wonder and something else in her voice.
"Plooie!" she said, and that was all.
"You are crying," I said.
"I'm not," she retorted indignantly. "But you ought to be. For your
"If we all bewept our injustices," said I oracularly, "Noah would have
to come back and build a new ark for a bigger flood than his."
"What do you think of him?" said the Bonnie Lassie.
"As a weather-prophet, he was unequaled. As an expert animal-breeder,
his selections were at times ill-advised."
"Don't be tiresome, Dominie. You know that I'm not interested in Noah."
"As to our romantic visitant," I said, "I think that Cyrus the Gaunt
would better be watchful. I've never known anyone else except Cyrus to
produce such an emotional effect upon you."
"Don't be school-girlish!" admonished the Bonnie Lassie severely. "Poor
old Dominie! He doesn't know what's going on under his very nose. Where
are your eyes?"
"In Mendel's top drawer, I suppose.... The question is how are we going
to make it up to Plooie?"
"I don't think you need worry about that," returned the Bonnie Lassie
Nor was there any occasion for worry. Two days later there occurred an
irruption of dismaying young men with casual squares of paper in their
pockets, upon which they scratched brief notes. They were, I was
subsequently given to understand, the pick and flower of the city's
reportorial genius. (I could imagine the ghost of Inky Mike with his
important notebook and high-poised pencil, regarding with wonder and
disdain their quiet and unimpressive methods.) A freshly painted sign
across the front of Plooie's basement, was the magnet that drew them:
Emile Garin & Wife
Umbrella Mender & Porch Cleanser
The King of the Belgians
(By Royal Warranty)
No; Plooie and Annie Oombrella need no help from the humble now. Their
well-deserved fortune is made.
The months go by--bleak March and May-day heat--
Harvest is over--winter well-nigh done--
And still I say, "To-morrow we shall meet."
The Little Red Doctor sat on the far end of my bench. Snow fringed the
bristling curve of his mustache. He shivered.
"Dominie," said he, "it's a wild day."
"Dominie," said the Little Red Doctor, "it is no kind of a day for an
old man to be sitting on a bench."
"Dominie," persisted the Little Red Doctor, "you can't deny that you're
"Whose fault is that but yours?" I retorted.
"Don't try to flatter me," said the Little Red Doctor. "You'd have
licked my old friend, Death, in that bout you had with him, without any
help of mine. And, anyway, you were already old, then. You're a tough
old bird, Dominie. Otherwise you wouldn't be sitting here in a March
blizzard staring at the Worth mansion and wondering what really happened
there three years ago."
"Your old friend, Death, beat you that time," said I maliciously.
The Little Red Doctor chose to ignore my taunt. "Look your fill,
Dominie," he advised. "You won't have much more chance."
"Why?" I asked, startled.
"The wreckers begin on it next month. Also a nice, new building is going
up next door to it on that little, secret, walled jungle that Ely Crouch
used to misname his garden. I'm glad of it, too. I don't like
"I'm an anachronism," I returned. "You'll be one pretty soon. Our Square
is one solid anachronism."
"It won't be much longer. The tide is undermining us. Other houses will
go as the Worth place is going. You'll miss it, Dominie. You love houses
as if they were people."
It is true. To me houses are the only fabrications of man's hands that
are personalities. Enterprise builds the factory, Greed the tenement,
but Love alone builds the house, and by Love alone is it maintained
against the city's relentless encroachments. Once hallowed by
habitation, what warm and vivid influences impregnate it! Ambition,
pride, hope, joys happily shared; suffering, sorrow, and loss bravely
endured--the walls outlive them all, gathering with age, from grief and
joy alike, kind memories and stanch traditions. Yes, I love the old
houses. Yet I should not be sorry to see the Worth mansion razed. It has
outlived all the lives that once cherished it and become a dead,
That solid square of brown, gray-trimmed stone had grown old honorably
with the honorable generations of the Worths. Then it had died. In one
smiting stroke of tragedy the life had gone out of it. Now it stood
staring bleakly out from its corner with filmed eyes, across the busy
square. Passing its closed gates daily, I was always sensible of a qualm
of the spirit, a daunting prescience that the stilled mansion still
harbored the ghost of an unlaid secret.
The Little Red Doctor broke in upon my reverie.
"Yes; you're old, Dominie. But you're not wise. You're very foolish.
Foolish and obstinate."
Knowing well what he meant, I nevertheless pampered him by asking: "Why
am I foolish and obstinate?"
"Because you refuse to believe that Ned Worth murdered Ely Crouch. Don't
"Then why did Ned commit suicide?"
"I don't know."
"How do you explain away his written confession?"
"I don't. I only know that it was not in Ned Worth's character willfully
to kill an old man. You were his friend; you ought to know it as well
as I do."
"Ah, that's different," said the Little Red Doctor, giving me one of his
queer looks. "Yes; you're a pig-headed old man, Dominie."
"I'm a believer in character."
"I don't know of any other man equally pig-headed, except possibly one.
He's old, too."
"Gale Sheldon," said I, naming the gentle, withered librarian of a
branch library a few blocks to the westward, the only other resident of
Our Square who had unfailingly supported me in my loyalty to the memory
of the last of the Worths.
"Yes. He's waiting for us now in his rooms. Will you come?"
Perceiving that there was something back of this--there usually is, in
the Little Red Doctor's maneuvers--I rose and we set out. As we passed
the Worth house it seemed grimmer and bleaker than ever before. There
was something savage and desperate in its desolation. The cold curse of
abandonment lay upon it. At the turn of the corner the Little Red Doctor
"Who?" I demanded.
"The girl. The woman in the case."
"In the Ely Crouch case? A woman? There was never any woman hinted at."
"No. And there never would have been as long as she was alive.
Now--Well, I'll leave Sheldon to explain her. He loved her, too, in
In Gale Sheldon's big, still room, crowded with the friendly ghosts of
mighty books, a clear fire was burning. One shaded lamp at the desk was
turned on, for though it was afternoon the blizzard cast a gloom like
dusk. The Little Red Doctor retired to a far corner where he was all but
merged in the shadows.
"Have you seen this?" Sheldon asked me, pointing to the table.
Thereon was spread strange literature for the scholarly taste of our
local book-worm, a section from the most sensational of New York's
Sunday newspapers. From the front page, surrounded by a barbarous
conglomeration of headlines and uproarious type, there smiled happily
forth a face of such appealing loveliness as no journalistic vulgarity
could taint or profane. I recognized it at once, as any one must have
done who had ever seen the unforgettable original. It was Virginia
Kingsley, who, two years before, had been Sheldon's assistant. The
picture was labeled, "Death Ends Wanderlust of Mysterious Heiress," and
the article was couched in a like style of curiosity-piquing
sensationalism. Stripped of its fulsome verbiage, it told of the girl's
recent death in Italy, after traveling about Europe with an invalid
sister; during which progress, the article gloated, she was "vainly
wooed by the Old World's proudest nobility for her beauty and wealth,"
the latter having been unexpectedly left her by an aged relative. Her
inexorable refusals were set down, by the romantic journalist, as due to
some secret and prior attachment. (He termed it an "affair de court"!)
Out of the welter of words there stood forth one sentence to tempt the
imagination: "She met death as a tryst." For that brief flash the
reporter had been lifted out of his bathos and tawdriness into a clearer
element. One could well believe that she had "met death as a tryst." For
if ever I have beheld unfaltering hope and unflagging courage glorified
and spiritualized into unearthly beauty, it was there in that pictured
face, fixed by the imperishable magic of the camera.
"No; I hadn't seen it," I said after reading. "Is it true?"
"In part." Then, after a pause, "You knew her, didn't you, Dominie?"
"Only by sight. She had special charge of the poetry alcove, hadn't
"Yes. She belonged there of right. She was the soul and fragrance of all
that the singers of springtime and youth have sung." He sighed, shaking
his grizzled head mournfully. "'And all that glory now lies dimmed in
death.' It doesn't seem believable."
He rose and went to the window. Through the whorls of snow could be
vaguely seen the outlines of the Worth house, looming on its corner. He
stared at it musing.
"I've often wondered if she cared for him," he murmured.
"For him? For Worth!" I exclaimed in amazement. "Were they friends?"
"Hardly more than acquaintances, I thought. But she left very strangely
the day of his death and never came back."
From the physician's corner there came an indeterminate grunt.
"If that is a request for further information, Doctor, I can say that on
the few occasions when they met here in the library, it was only in the
line of her duties. He was interested in the twentieth-century poets.
But even that interest died out. It was months before the--the tragedy
that he stopped coming to the Library."
"It was months before the tragedy that he stopped going anywhere, wasn't
it?" I asked.
"Yes. Nobody understood it; least of all, his friends. I even heard it
hinted that he was suffering from some malady of the brain." He turned
inquiringly to the far, dim corner.
Out of it the Little Red Doctor barked: "Death had him by the throat."
"Death? In what form?"
"Slow, sure fingers, shutting off his breath. Do you need further
details or will the dry, scientific term, epithelioma, be enough?" The
voice came grim out of the gloom. No answer being returned, it
continued: "I've had easier jobs than telling Ned Worth. It was hopeless
from the first. My old friend, Death, had too long a start on me."
"Was it something that affected his mind?"
"No. His mind was perfectly clear. Vividly clear. May I take my last
verdict, when it comes, with a spirit as clear and as noble."
Silence fell, and in the stillness we heard the Little Red Doctor
communing with memories. Now and then came a muttered word. "Suicide!"
in a snarl of scornful rejection. "Fool-made definitions!" Presently,
"Story for a romancer, not a physician." He seemed to be canvassing an
inadequacy in himself with dissatisfaction. Then, more clearly: "Love
from the first. At a glance, perhaps. The contagion of flame for powder.
But in that abyss together they saw each other's soul."
"The Little Red Doctor is turning poet," said Sheldon to me in an
There was the snap and crackle of a match from the shadowed corner. The
keen, gnarled young face sprang from the darkness, vivid and softened
with a strange triumph, then receded behind an imperfect circle, clouded
the next instant by a nimbus of smoke. The Little Red Doctor spoke.
Ned Worth was my friend as well as my patient. No need to tell you men,
who knew him, why I was fond of him. I don't suppose any one ever came
in contact with that fantastic and smiling humanity of his without
loving him for it. "Immortal hilarity!" The phrase might have been
coined for him.
It wasn't as physician that I went home with Ned, after pronouncing
sentence upon him, but as friend. I didn't want him to be alone that
first night. Yet I dare say that any one, seeing the two of us, would
have thought me the one who had heard his life-limit defined. He was as
steady as a rock.
"No danger of my being a miser of life," he said. "You've given me leave
to spend freely what's left of it." Well, he spent. Freely and
The spacious old library on the second floor--you know it, Dominie,
smelt of disuse, as we entered, Ned's servant bringing up the rear with
a handbag. Dust had settled down like an army of occupation over
everything. The furniture was shrouded in denim. The tall clock in the
corner stood voiceless. Three months of desertion will change any house
into a tomb. And the Worth mansion was never too cheerful, anyway. Since
the others of the family died, Ned hadn't stayed there long enough at a
time to humanize it.
Ned's man set down the grip, unstrapped it, took his orders for some
late purchases, and left to execute them. I went over to open the two
deep-set windows on the farther side of the room. It was a still, close
October night, and the late scent of warmed-over earth came up to me out
of Ely Crouch's garden next door. From where I stood in the broad
embrasure of the south window, I was concealed from the room. But I
could see everything through a tiny gap in the hangings. Ned sat at his
desk sorting some papers. A sort of stern intentness had settled upon
his face, without marring its curious faun-like beauty. I carry the
picture in my mind.
"What's become of you, Chris?" he demanded presently. I came out into
the main part of the room. "Oh, there you are! You'll look after a few
little matters for me, won't you?" He indicated a sheaf of papers.
"You needn't be in such a hurry," said I with illogical resentment. "It
isn't going to be to-morrow or next week."
"Isn't it?" Something in his tone made me look at him sharply. "Six
months or three months or to-morrow," he added, more lightly; "what does
it matter as long as it's sure! You know, what I appreciate is that you
gave me the truth straight."
"It's a luxury few of my patients get. Their constitutions won't stand
"It's a compliment to my nerve. Strangely enough I don't feel nervous
"I do. Damnably! About something, anyway. There's something wrong with
this room, Ned. What is it?"
"Don't you know?" he laughed. "It's the sepulchral silence of Old
Grandfather Clock, over there. You're looking right at him and wondering
subconsciously why he doesn't make a noise like Time."
"That's easily remedied." Consulting my watch I set and wound the
ancient timepiece. Its comfortable iteration made the place at once more
livable. Immediately it struck the hour.
"Ten o'clock," I said, and parted the draperies at the lower window to
look out again. "Ten o'clock of a still, cloudy night and--and the devil
is on a prowl in his garden."
"Meaning my highly respected neighbor and ornament to the local bar, the
Honorable Ely Crouch?"
"Exactly. Preceded by a familiar spirit in animal form."
"Oh, that's his pet ferret and boon companion."
"Not his only companion. There's some one with him," I said. "A woman."
"I don't admire her taste in romance," said Ned.
"Nor her discretion. You know what they say: 'A dollar or a woman never
safe alone with Ely Crouch.'"
"My dollars certainly weren't," observed Ned.
"How did he ever defend your suit for an accounting?" I asked.
"Heedlessness on my side, a crooked judge on his. Stop spying on my
neighbor's flirtations and look here."
I turned and got a shock. The handbag lay open on the desk, surrounded
by a respectable-sized fortune in bank-notes.
"Pretty much all that the Honorable Ely has left me," he added.
"Is it enough to go on with, Ned?" I asked.
He smiled at me. "Plenty for my time. You forget."
For the moment I had forgotten. "But what on earth are you going to do
with all that ready cash?"
"Carry out a brilliant idea. I conceived it after you had handed down
your verdict. Went around to the bank and quietly drew out the lot. I've
planned a wild and original orgy. A riot of dissipation in giving. Think
of the fun one can have with that much tangible money. Already to-day
I've struck one man dumb and reduced another to mental decay, by the
simple medium of a thousand-dollar bill. Miracles! Declare a vacation,
Chris, and come with me on my secret and jubilant bat, and we'll
"And after?" I asked.
"Oh, after! Well, there'll be no further reason for the 'permanent
possibility of sensation' on my part. That's your precious science's
best definition of life, I believe. It doesn't appeal to one as alluring
when the sensation promises to become--well, increasingly unpleasant."
There was no mistaking his meaning. "I can't have that, my son," I
"No? That's a purely professional prejudice of yours. Look at it from my
point of view. Am I to wait to be strangled by invisible hands, rather
than make an easy and graceful exit? Suicide! The word has no meaning
for a man in my condition. If you'll tell me there's a chance, one mere,
remote human chance--" He paused, turning to me with what was almost
appeal in his glance. How I longed to lie to him! But Ned Worth was the
kind that you can't lie to. I looked at him standing there so strong and
fine, with all the mirthful zest of living in his veins, sentenced
beyond hope, and I thought of those terrible lines of another man
"I never saw a man who looked
So wistfully at the day."
We medical men learn to throw a protective film over our feelings, like
the veil over the eagle's eye. We have to. But I give you my word, I
could not trust my voice to answer him.
"You see," he said; "you can't." His hand fell on my arm. "I'm sorry,
Chris," he said in that winning voice of his; "I shouldn't plague you
for something that you can't give me."
"I can tell you this, anyway," said I: "that it's something less than
courage to give up until the time comes. You didn't give your life. You
haven't the right to take it; anyway, not until its last usefulness
He made a movement of impatience.
"Oh, I'm not asking you to endure torture. I'd release you myself from
that, if it comes to it, in spite of man-made laws. But how can you tell
that being alive instead of dead next week or next month may not make an
eternal difference to some other life? Your part isn't played out yet.
Who are you to say how much good you may yet do before the curtain is
"Or how much evil! Well, as a suitable finish, suppose I go down into
that garden and kill Ely Crouch," he suggested, smiling. "That would be
a beneficial enough act to entitle me to a prompt and peaceful death,
"Theoretically sound, but unfortunately impracticable," I answered,
relieved at his change of tone.
"I suppose it is." He looked at me, still smiling, but intent. "Chris,
what do you believe comes after?"
"A hard word for cowards. What do I believe, I wonder? At any rate, in
being sport enough to play the game through. You're right, old
hard-shell. I'll stick it out. It will only mean spending _this_"--he
swept the money back into its repository--"a little more slowly."
"I was sure I could count on you," I said. "Now I can give you the
talisman." I set on the desk before him a small pasteboard box. "Pay
strict attention. You see that label? That's to remind you. One tablet
if you can't sleep."
"I couldn't last night."
"Two if the pain becomes more than you can stand."
"But three at one time and you'll sleep so sound that nothing will ever
"Good old Chris!" Opening the box, he fingered the pellets curiously. "A
blessed thing, your science! Three and the sure sleep."
"On trust, Ned."
"On honor," he agreed. "Then I mustn't expunge old Crouch? It's a
disappointment," he added gayly.
He pushed the box away from him and crossed over to the upper window.
His voice came to me from behind the enshrouding curtains.
"Our friend has finished his promenade. The air is the sweeter for it.
I'll stay here and breathe it."
"Good!" said I. "I've five minutes of telephoning to do. Then I'll be
Nobody can ever tell me again that there's an instinct which feels the
presence of persons unseen. On my way to the door I passed within
arm's-length of a creature tense and pulsating with the most desperate
emotions. I could have stretched out a hand and touched her as she
crouched, hidden in the embrasure of the lower window. It would seem as
if the whole atmosphere of the room must have been surcharged with the
terrific passion of her newborn and dreadful hopes. And I felt--nothing.
No sense, as I brushed by, of the tragic and concentrated force of will
which nerved and restrained her. I went on, and out unconscious.
Afterward she was unable to tell me how long she had been there. It must
have been for some minutes, for what roused her from her stupor of
terror was the word "Suicide." It was like an echo, a mockery to her, at
first; and then, as she listened with passionate attention to what
followed, my instructions about the poison took on the voice of a
ministering providence. The draperies had shut off the view of Ned, nor
had she recognized his voice, already altered by the encroachments of
the disease. But she heard him walk to the upper window, and saw me pass
on my way to the telephone, and knew that the moment had come. From what
she told me later, and from that to which I was a mazed witness on my
return, I piece together the events which so swiftly followed.
A wind had risen outside or Ned might have heard the footsteps sooner.
As it was, when he stepped out from behind the draperies of the upper
window those of the lower window were still waving, but the swift figure
had almost reached the desk. The face was turned from him. Even in that
moment of astonishment he noticed that she carried her left arm close to
her body, with a curious awkwardness.
"Hello!" he challenged.
She cried out sharply, and covered the remaining distance with a rush.
Her hand fell upon the box of pellets. She turned, clutching that little
box of desperate hopes to her bosom.
"Good God! Virginia!" he exclaimed. "Miss Kingsley!"
"Mr. Worth! Was it you I heard? Why--how are you here?"
"This is my house."
"I didn't know." Keeping her eyes fixed upon him like a watchful animal,
she slowly backed to interpose the table between herself and a possible
interference. Her arm, still stiffly pressed to her side, impeded her
fumbling efforts to open the box. Presently, however, the cover yielded.
He measured the chances of intervention, and abandoned the hope. His
brain hummed with a thousand conjectures, a thousand questions centering
upon her obvious and preposterous purpose. Suddenly, as her fingers
trembled among the tablets, his thoughts steadied and his stratagem
"What do you want with my tonic?" he asked coolly.
"Tonic? I--I thought--"
"You thought it was the poison. Well, you've got the wrong box. The
poison box is in the drawer."
"In the drawer," she repeated. She spoke in the mechanical voice of one
desperately intent upon holding the mind to some vital project. Her
nerveless hands fumbled at the side of the desk.
He crossed quickly, caught up the box which she had just relinquished,
and dropped it into his pocket.
"Oh!" she moaned, and stared at him with stricken and accusing eyes.
"Then it _was_ the poison!"
"Give it back to me!" she implored, like a bereft child. "Oh, give it to
"Why do you want to kill yourself?"
She looked at him in dumb despair.
"How did you get here?" he demanded.
"Your fire escape."
"And to that from the garden wall, I suppose? So _you_ were Ely Crouch's
companion," he cried with a changed voice.
"Don't," she shuddered, throwing her right arm over her face.
"I beg your pardon," he said gently. "Take a swallow of this water.
What's the matter with your arm? Are you hurt?"
"No." Her eyes would not meet his. They were fixed obstinately upon the
pocket into which he had dropped the poison.
"It's incredible!" he burst out. "You with your youth and loveliness!
With everything that makes life sweet for yourself and others. What
madness--" He broke off and his voice softened into persuasion. "We were
almost friends, once. Can't I--won't you let me help? Don't you think
you can trust me?"
She raised her eyes to his, and he read in them hopeless terror. "Yes, I
could trust you. But there is only one help for me now. And you've taken
it from me."
"Who can tell? You've been badly frightened," he said in as soothing a
tone as he could command. "Try to believe that no harm can come to you
here, and that I--I would give the blood of my heart to save you from
harm or danger. You said you could trust me. What was your errand with
"Money!" he repeated, drawing back.
"It was our own; my sister's and mine. Mr. Crouch had it. He had managed
our affairs since my father's death. I could never get an accounting
from him. To-day the doctor told me that Alice must go away at once for
an operation. And to-day Mr. Crouch made this appointment for to-night."
"Didn't you know his reputation? Weren't you afraid?"
"I didn't think of fear. When I told him how matters stood, he offered
me money, but--but--Oh, I can't tell you!"
"No need," he said quickly. "I know what he is. I was joking when I
spoke of killing him, a little while ago. By God, I wish I had killed
him! It isn't too late now."
"It _is_ too late."
Her eyes, dilated, were fixed upon his.
"Why? How--too late?" he stammered.
"I killed him."
"He had a cane," she said, in a hurried, flat, half-whisper. "When he
caught at me, I tried to get it to defend myself. The handle pulled out.
There was a dagger on it. He came at me again. I didn't realize what I
was doing. All I could see was that hateful face drawing nearer. Then it
changed and he seemed to dissolve into a hideous heap. I didn't mean to
kill him." Her voice rose in the struggle against hysteria. "God knows,
I didn't mean to kill him."
His hands fell on her shoulders and held her against the onset. Energy
and resolution quickened in his eyes. "Who knows of your being in
"Any one see you climb the wall and come here?"
"Or know that you had an appointment with him?"
"Will you do exactly as I tell you?"
"What is the use?" she said dully.
"I'm going to get you out of here."
"I should have to face it later. I couldn't face it--the horror and
shame of it. I'd rather die a thousand times." She lifted her arms, the
coat opened, and the cane-handled blade dropped to the floor, and
rolled. She shuddered away from it. "I kept that for myself, but I
couldn't do it. It's got his blood on it. When I heard the doctor speak
of the poison, it seemed like a miracle of Providence sent to guide me.
Oh, give it to me! Is it"--she faltered--"is it quick?"
"Steady!" Stooping he picked up the weapon. "It needn't come to that, if
you can play your part. Have you got the courage to walk out of this
house and go home to safety? Absolute safety!"
She searched his face in bewilderment. "I--don't know."
"If I give you my word of honor that it depends only on yourself?"
"Pull yourself together. Go downstairs quietly. Turn to your left.
You'll see a door. It opens on the street. Walk out with your head up,
and go home. You're as safe as though you'd never seen Ely Crouch.
There's no clue to you."
"No clue! Look down the fire escape!"
He crossed the room at a bound. Beneath him, its evil snout pointed
upwards, sat the dead man's familiar spirit.
"Good God! The ferret!"
"It's been sitting there, watching, watching, watching."
"The more reason for haste. Pull yourself together. Forward, _march_!"
he cried, pressing his will upon her.
"But you? When they come what will you say to them?"
"I'll fix up something." He drew back from the window, lowering his
voice. "Men in the garden. A policeman."
"They've found him!" She fell into Ned's chair, dropping her head in her
hands. For an instant he studied her. Then he took his great and tender
resolution. His hand fell warm and firm on her shoulder.
"Listen; suppose they suspect some one else?"
"You? Why should they?"
"Circumstances. The place. The weapon here in my possession. My known
trouble with Ely Crouch. Don't you see how it all fits in?"
She recovered from the stupor of surprise into which his suggestion had
plunged her. "Are you mad? Do you think that I'd let you sacrifice
yourself? What am I to you that you should do this for me?"
"The woman I love," he said quietly. "I have loved you from the first
day that I saw you."
It was at this moment that I returned and halted at the door, an
unwilling witness to the rest, only half understanding, not daring to
move. I saw the splendid color mount and glorify her beauty. I saw her
hands go out to him half in appeal, half in rejection.
"Oh, it's madness!" she cried. "It's your life you're offering me."
"What else should I offer you--you who have given life its real meaning
He caught her hands in his and held them. He caught her eyes in his and
held them. Then he began speaking, evenly, soothingly, persuasively,
binding her to his will.
"What does my life amount to? Think how little it means. A few more
weeks of waiting. Then the suffering: then the release. You heard Dr.
Smith. You know. You understand. Didn't you understand?"
"Yes," she breathed.
"Then you must see what a splendid way out this is for me. No more
waiting. No pain. Death never came to any one so kindly before. It's my
chance, if only you'll make it worth while. Will you?" he pleaded.
"Oh, the wonder of it!" she whispered, gazing on him with parted lips.
But he did not understand, yet. He pressed what he thought to be his
"Here," he cried, suddenly dropping her hands and catching up the bills
from the valise. "Here's safety. Here's life. For you and your sister,
both. You spoke of Providence a moment ago. Here's Providence for you!
Quick! Take it."
"What is it?" she asked, drawing away as he sought to thrust the money
into her hands.
"Twenty thousand dollars. More. It doesn't matter. It's life for both of
you. Have you the right to refuse it? Take it and go."
She let the bank-notes fall from her hands unnoticed.
"Do you think I would leave you _now_?" she cried in a voice of thrilled
music. "Even if they weren't sure to trace me, as they would be."
This last she uttered as an unimportant matter dismissed with
"There will be nothing to trace. My confession will cover the ground."
"Confession? To what?"
"To the murder of Ely Crouch."
Some sort of sound I was conscious of making. I suppose I gasped. But
they were too engrossed to hear.
"You would do even that? But the penalty--the shame--"
"What do they matter to a dying man?" he retorted impatiently.
She had fallen back from him, in the shock of his suggestion, but now
she came forward again slowly, her glorious eyes fixed on his. So they
stood face to face, soul to soul, deep answering unto deep, and, as I
sit here speaking, I saw the wonder and the miracle flower in her face.
When she spoke again, her words seemed the inevitable expression of that
which had passed silently between them.
"Do you love me?"
"Before God I do," he answered.
"Take me away! There's time yet. I'll go with you anywhere, anywhere!
I'm all yours. I've loved you from the first, I think, as you have loved
me. All I ask is to live for you, and when you die, to die with you."
Fire flashed from his face at the call. He took a step toward her. A
shout, half-muffled, sounded from outside the window. Instantly the
light and passion died in his eyes. I have never seen a face at once so
stern and so gentle as his was when he caught the outreaching hands
in his own.
"You forget that they must find one of us, or it's all no use. Listen
carefully, dear one. If you truly love me, you must do as I bid you.
Give me my chance of fooling fate; of making my death worth while. It
won't be hard." He took the little box from his pocket. "It will be
"Give it to me, too," she pleaded like a child. "Ah, Ned, we can't part
now! Both of us together."
He shook his head, smiling. The man's face was as beautiful as a god's
at that moment or an angel's. "You must go back to your sister," he said
simply. "You haven't the right to die."
He turned to the table, drew a sheet of paper to him and wrote four
words. You all know what they were; his confession. Then his hand went
up, a swift movement, and a moment later he was setting back the glass
of water upon the desk whence he had taken it.
"Love and glory of my life, will you go?" he said.
"Yes," she whispered.
Not until then did the paralysis, which had gripped me when I saw Ned
turn the pellets into his hand, relax. I ran forward. The girl cried
out. Ned met me with his hand against my breast.
"How much have you heard?" he said quickly.
"Then you'll understand." His faith was more irresistible than a
thousand arguments. "Take her home, Chris."
I held out my hand. "Come," I said.
She turned and faced him. "Must I? Alone?" What a depth of desolation in
"There is no other way, dearest one."
"Good-bye, then, until we meet," she said in the passionate music of her
voice. "Every beat of my heart will bring me nearer to you. There will
be no other life for me. Soon or late I'll come to you. You believe it.
Say you believe it!"
"I believe it." He bent and kissed her lips. Then his form slackened
away from the arms that clasped it, and sank into the chair. A
policeman's whistle shrilled outside the window. The faintest flicker of
a smile passed over the face of the sleeper.
I took her away, still with that unearthly ecstasy on her face.
* * * * *
The glow of the narrator's cigar waxed, a pin-point of light in a world
of dimness and mystery. Subdued breathing made our silence rhythmic.
When I found my voice, it was hardly more than a whisper.
"Good God! What a tragedy!"
"Tragedy? You think it so?" The Little Red Doctor's gnarled face gleamed
strangely behind the tiny radiance. "Dominie, you have a queer notion of
this life and little faith in the next."
"'She met death as a tryst,'" murmured the old librarian. "And he!
'Trailing clouds of glory!' The triumph of that victory over fate! One
would like to have seen the meeting between them, after the waiting."
The Little Red Doctor rose. "When some brutal and needless tragedy of
the sort that we medical men witness so often shakes my faith in my
kind, I turn to think of those two in the splendor of their last meeting
on earth, the man with the courage to face death, the woman with the
courage to face life."
He strode over to the table and lifted the newspaper, which had slipped
to the floor unnoticed. The girlish face turned toward us its
irresistible appeal, yearning out from amidst the lurid indignities
"You heard from her afterward?" I asked.
"Often. The sister died and left her nothing to live for but her
promise. Always in her letters sounded the note of courage and of
waiting. It was in the last word I had from her--received since her
death--set to the song of some poet, I don't know who. You ought to
know, Mr. Sheldon."
His deep voice rose to the rhythm.
"Ah, long-delayed to-morrow! Hearts that beat
Measure the length of every moment gone.
Ever the suns rise tardily or fleet
And light the letters on a churchyard stone.--
And still I say, 'To-morrow we shall meet!'"
"May Probyn," the librarian identified. "Too few people know her. A
Silence fell again, folding us and our thoughts in its kindly refuge.
Rising, I crossed to the window and drew the curtain aside. A surging
wind had swept the sky clear, all but one bank of low-lurking, western
cloud shot through with naming crimson. In that luminous setting the
ancient house across Our Square, grim and bleak no longer to my eyes,
gleamed, through eyes again come to life, with an inconceivable glory.
Behind me in the shadow, the measured voice of the witness to life and
death repeated once more the message of imperishable hope:
"And still I say, 'To-morrow we shall meet.'"
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