O. Henry Memorial Award Prize Stories of 1920
Part 4 out of 8
were wild rumours afloat of the fortunes that could be made in
rubber and vanilla out in the Papuan "Back Beyond." Harber was only
half inclined to believe them, perhaps; but half persuaded is well
along the way.
He heard his name called, and, turning, he saw a man coming toward
him with the rolling gait of the seaman. As he came closer, Harber
observed the tawny beard, the sea-blue eyes surrounded by the fine
wrinkles of humour, the neat black clothing, the polished boots, and,
above all, the gold earrings that marked the man in his mind as
Farringdon, the sea-captain who had been anxious to meet him.
Harber answered the captain's gleam of teeth with one of his own,
and they turned their backs upon the water and went to Harber's room,
where they could have their fill of talk undisturbed. Harber says
they talked all that afternoon and evening, and well into the next
morning, enthusiastically finding one another the veritable salt of
the earth, honourable, level-headed, congenial, temperamentally
fitted for exactly what they had in mind--partnership.
"How much can you put in?" asked Harber finally.
"Five hundred pounds," said the captain.
"I can match you," said Harber.
"Man, but that's fine!" cried the captain. "I've been looking for
you--you, you know--_just you_--for the last two years! And when
Pierson told me about you ... why, it's luck, I say!"
It was luck for Harber, too. Farringdon, you see, knew precisely
where he wanted to go, and he had his schooner, and he knew that
part of the world, as we say, like a man knows his own buttons.
Harber, then, was to manage the plantation; they were going to set
out rubber, both Para and native, and try hemp and maybe coffee
while they waited for the Haevia and the Ficus to yield. And
Farringdon was ready to put the earnings from his schooner against
Harber's wage as manager. The arrangement, you see, was ideal.
Skip seven years with me, please. Consider the plantation affair
launched, carried, and consummated. Farringdon and Harber have sold
the rubber-trees as they neared bearing, and have sold them well.
They're out of that now. In all likelihood, Harber thinks,
permanently. For that seven years has seen other projects blossom.
Harber, says Farringdon, has "the golden touch." There has been
trading in the islands, and a short and fortunate little campaign on
the stock-market through Sydney brokers, and there has been, more
profitable than anything else, the salvaging of the Brent Interisland
Company's steamer _Pailula_ by Farringdon's schooner, in which
Harber had purchased a half-interest; so the partners are, on the
whole, rather well fixed. Harber might be rated at, perhaps, some
forty thousand pounds, not counting his interest in the schooner.
One of Janet Spencer's argosies, then, its cargo laden, is ready to
set sail for the hills of home. In short, Harber is now in one of
the island ports of call, waiting for the steamer from Fiji. In six
weeks he will be in Tawnleytown if all goes well.
It isn't, and yet it is, the same Harber. He's thirty now, lean and
bronzed and very fit. He can turn a hundred tricks now where then he
could turn one. The tropics have agreed with him. There seems to
have been some subtle affinity between them, and he almost wishes
that he weren't leaving them. He certainly wouldn't be, if it were
not for Janet.
Yes, that slender thread has held him. Through ten years it has kept
him faithful. He has eyed askance, ignored, even rebuffed, women.
The letters, that still come, have turned the trick, perhaps, or
some clinging to a faith that is inherent in him. Or sheer obstinacy?
Forgive the cynicism. A little of each, no doubt. And then he hadn't
often seen the right sort of women. I say that deliberately, because:
The night before the steamer was due there was a ball--yes, poor
island exiles, they called it that!--and Harber, one of some thirty
"Europeans" there, went to it, and on the very eve of safety ...
The glare and the oily smell of the lanterns, the odour of jasmine,
frangipanni, vanilla, and human beings sickeningly mingled in the
heat, the jangling, out-of-tune music, the wearisome island gossip
and chatter, drove him at length out into the night, down a
black-shadowed pathway to the sea. The beach lay before him presently,
gleaming like silver in the soft blue radiance of the jewelled night.
As he stood there, lost in far memories, the mellow, lemon-coloured
lights from the commissioner's residence shone beautifully from the
fronded palms and the faint wave of the waltzes of yesteryear became
poignant and lovely, and the light trade-wind, clean here from the
reek of lamps and clothing and human beings, vaguely tanged with the
sea, blew upon him with a light, insistent pressure. Half dreaming,
he heard the sharp sputter of a launch--bearing belated comers to
the ball, no doubt--but he paid no attention to it. He may have been
on the beach an hour before he turned to ascend to the town.
And just at the top of the slope he came upon a girl.
She hadn't perceived him, and she stood there, slim and graceful,
the moonlight bright upon her rapt face, with her arms outstretched
and her head flung back, in an attitude of utter abandonment. Harber
felt his heart stir swiftly. He knew what she was feeling, as she
looked out over the shimmering half-moon of harbour, across the
moaning white feather of reef, out to the illimitable sea, and drank
in the essence of the beauty of the night. Just so, at first, had it
clutched him with the pain of ecstasy, and he had never forgotten it.
There would be no voicing that feeling; it must ever remain
inarticulate. Nor was the girl trying to voice it. Her exquisite
pantomime alone spelled her delight in it and her surrender to it.
He saw at a glance that he didn't know her. She was "new" to the
islands. Her clothes were evidence enough for that. There was a
certain verve to them that spoke of a more sophisticated land. She
might have been twenty-five though she seemed younger. She was in
filmy white from slipper to throat, and over her slender shoulders
there drifted a gossamer banner of scarf, fluttering in the soft
trade-wind. Harber was very close to see this, and still she hadn't
"Don't let me startle you, please!" he said, as he stepped from the
shadow of the trumpet-flower bush that had hitherto concealed him.
Her arms came down slowly, her chin lowered; her pose, if you will,
melted away. Her voice when she spoke was low and round and thrilled,
and it sent an answering thrill through Harber.
"I'm mad!" she said. "Moon-mad--or tropic-mad. I didn't hear you. I
was worshipping the night!"
"As I have been," said Harber, feeling a sudden pagan kinship with
She smiled, and her smile seemed the most precious thing in the world.
"You, too? But it isn't new to you ... and when the newness is gone
every one--here at least--seems dead to it!"
"Sometimes I think it's always new," replied Harber. "And yet I've
had years of it ... but how did you know?"
"You're Mr. Harber, aren't you?"
"Only that I knew you were here, having heard of you from the
Tretheways, and I'd accounted for every one else. I couldn't stay
inside because it seemed to me that it was wicked when I had come so
far for just this, to be inside stuffily dancing. One can dance all
the rest of one's life in Michigan, you know! So----"
"It's the better place to be--out here," said Harber abruptly.
"Need we go in?"
"I don't know," she said doubtfully. "Maybe you can tell me. You see,
I've promised some dances. What's the usage here? Dare I run away
"Oh, it might prove a three-day scandal if you did," said Harber.
"But I know a bench off to the right, where it isn't likely you'll
be found by any questing partner, and you needn't confess to having
had a companion. Will you come and talk to me?"
"I'm a bird of passage," she answered, smiling, "and I've only to
unfold my wings and fly away from the smoke of scandal. Yes, I'll
come--if you won't talk--too much. You see, after all, I won't
flatter you. It's the night I want, not talk ... the wonderful night!"
But, of course, they did talk. She was an American girl, she told him,
and had studied art a little, but would never be much of a painter.
She had been teaching classes in a city high school in the Middle
West, when suddenly life there seemed to have gone humdrum and stale.
She had a little money saved, not much, but enough if she managed
well, and she'd boldly resigned and determined, once at least before
she was too old, to follow spring around the world. She had almost
given up the idea of painting now, but thought presently she might
go in for writing, where, after all, perhaps, her real talent lay.
She had gotten a letter of introduction in Suva to the Tretheways
and she would be here until the next steamer after the morrow's.
These were the bare facts. Harber gave a good many more than he got,
he told me, upon the theory that nothing so provoked confidence as
giving it. He was a little mad himself that night, he admits, or
else very, very sane. As you will about that. But, from the moment
she began to talk, the thought started running through his head that
there was fate in this meeting.
There was a sort of passionate fineness about her that caught and
answered some instinct in Harber ... and I'm afraid they talked more
warmly than the length of their acquaintance justified, that they
made one another half-promises, not definite, perhaps, but implied;
"I _must_ go in," she said at last, reluctantly.
He knew that she must, and he made no attempt to gainsay her.
"You are going to America," she went on. "If you should----"
And just at that moment, Harber says, anything seemed possible to him,
and he said eagerly: "Yes--if you will--I should like----"
How well they understood one another is evident from that. Neither
had said it definitely, but each knew.
"Have you a piece of paper?" she asked.
Harber produced a pencil, and groped for something to write upon.
All that his pockets yielded was a sealed envelope. He gave it to her.
She looked at it closely, and saw in the brilliant moonshine that it
was sealed and stamped and addressed.
"I'll spoil it for mailing," she said.
"It doesn't matter," Harber told her ineptly. "Or you can write it
lightly, and I'll erase it later."
There was a little silence. Then suddenly she laughed softly, and
there was a tiny catch in the voice. "So that you can forget?" she
said bravely. "No! I'll write it fast and hard ... so that you can ...
never ... forget!"
And she gave him first his pencil and envelope, and afterward her
hand, which Harber held for a moment that seemed like an eternity
and then let go. She went into the house, but Harber didn't follow
her. He went off to his so-called hotel.
In his room, by the light of the kerosene-lamp, he took out the
envelope and reed what she had written. It was:
Vanessa Simola, Claridon, Michigan.
He turned over the envelope and looked at the address on the other
side, in his own handwriting:
Miss Janet Spencer, Tawnleytown....
And the envelope dropped from his nerveless fingers to the table.
Who shall say how love goes or comes? Its ways are a sacred,
insoluble mystery, no less. But it had gone for Harber: and just as
surely, though so suddenly, had it come! Yes, life had bitterly
tricked him at last. She had sent him this girl ... too late! The
letter in the envelope was written to tell Janet Spencer that within
six weeks he would be in Tawnleytown to claim her in marriage.
One must be single-minded like Harber to appreciate his terrible
distress of mind. The facile infidelity of your ordinary mortal
wasn't for Harber. No, he had sterner stuff in him.
Vanessa! The name seemed so beautiful ... like the girl herself,
like the things she had said. It was an Italian name. She had told
him her people had come from Venice, though she was herself
thoroughly a product of America. "So that you can never forget," she
had said. Ah, it was the warm blood of Italy in her veins that had
prompted that An American girl wouldn't have said that!
He slit the envelope, letting the letter fall to the table, and put
it in his pocket.
Yet why should he save it? He could never see her again, he knew.
Vain had been those half-promises, those wholly lies, that his eyes
and lips had given her. For there was Janet, with her prior promises.
Ten years Janet had waited for him ... ten years ... and suddenly,
aghast, he realized how long and how terrible the years are, how they
can efface memories and hopes and desires, and how cruelly they had
dealt with him, though he had not realized it until this moment.
Janet ... why, actually, Janet was a stranger, he didn't know Janet
any more! She was nothing but a frail phantom of recollection: the
years had erased her! But this girl--warm, alluring, immediate....
No--no! It couldn't be.
So much will the force of an idea do for a man, you see. Because, of
course, it could have been. He had only to destroy the letter that
lay there before him, to wait on until the next sailing, to make
continued love to Vanessa, and never to go to Tawnleytown again.
There was little probability that Janet would come here for him. Ten
years and ten thousand miles ... despite all that he had vowed on
Bald Knob that Sunday so long ago, wouldn't you have said that was
Why, so should I! But it wasn't.
For Harber took the letter and put it in a fresh envelope, and in
the morning he went aboard the steamer without seeing the girl again ...
unless that bit of white standing near the top of the slope, as the
ship churned the green harbour water heading out to sea, were she,
But he kept the address she had written.
Why? He never could use it. Well, perhaps he didn't want to forget
too soon, though it hurt him to remember. How many of us, after all,
have some little memory like that, some intimate communion with
romance, which we don't tell, but cling to? And perhaps the memory
is better than the reality would have been. We imagine ... but that
again is cynical. Harber will never be that now. Let me tell you why.
It's because he hadn't been aboard ship on his crossing to Victoria
twenty-four hours before he met Clay Barton.
Barton was rolled up in rugs, lying in a deck-chair, biting his
teeth hard together to keep them from chattering, though the
temperature was in the eighties, and most of the passengers in white.
Barton appeared to be a man of forty, whereas he turned out to be in
his early twenties. He was emaciated to an alarming degree and his
complexion was of the pale, yellow-green that spoke of many
recurrences of malaria. The signs were familiar to Harber.
He sat down beside Barton, and, as the other looked at him half a
dozen times tentatively, he presently spoke to him.
"You've had a bad time of it, haven't you?"
"Terrible," said Barton frankly. "They say I'm convalescent now. I
don't know. Look at me. What would you say?"
Harber shook his head.
Barton laughed bitterly. "Yes, I'm pretty bad," he agreed readily.
And then, as he talked that day and the two following, he told
Harber a good many things.
"I tell you, Harber," he said, "we'll do anything for money. Here I
am--and I knew damned well it was killing me, too. And yet I stuck
it out six months after I'd any earthly business to--just for a few
"Where were you? What were you doing?" asked Harber.
"Trading-post up a river in the Straits Settlements," said Barton.
"A crazy business from the beginning--and yet I made money. Made it
lots faster than I could have back home. Back there you're hedged
about with too many rules. And competition's too keen. You go into
some big corporation office at seventy-five a month, maybe, and
unless you have luck you're years getting near anything worth having.
And you've got to play politics, bootlick your boss--all that. So I
"Went to California first, and got a place in an exporting firm in
San Francisco. They sent me to Sydney and then to Fiji. After I'd
been out for a while and got the hang of things, I cut loose from
"Then I got this last chance, and it looked mighty good--and I
expect I've done for myself by it. Five years or a little better.
That's how long I've lasted. Back home I'd have been good for
thirty-five. A short life and a merry one, they say. Merry. Good God!"
He shook his head ironically.
"The root of all evil," he resumed after a little. "Well, but you've
got to have it--can't get along without it in _this_ world. You've
done well, you say?"
"Well, so should I have, if the cursed fever had let me alone. In
another year or so I'd have been raking in the coin. And now here I
am--busted--done--;--_fini_, as the French say. I burned the candle
at both ends--and got just what was coming to me, I suppose. But how
_could_ I let go, just when everything was coming my way?"
"I know," said Harber. "But unless you can use it----"
"You're right there. Not much in it for me now. Still, the medicos
say a cold winter back home will.... I don't know. Sometimes I don't
think I'll last to....
"Where's the use, you ask, Harber? You ask me right now, and I can't
tell you. But if you'd asked me before I got like this, I could have
told you quick enough. With some men, I suppose, it's just an
acquisitive nature. With me, that didn't cut any figure. With me, it
was a girl. I wanted to make the most I could for her in the
shortest time. A girl ... well...."
Harber nodded. "I understand. I came out for precisely the same
reason myself," he remarked.
"You did?" said Barton, looking at him sadly. "Well, luck was with
you, then. You look so--so damned fit! You can go back to her ...
while I ... ain't it hell? Ain't it?" he demanded fiercely.
"Yes," admitted Harber, "it is. But at the same time, I'm not sure
that anything's ever really lost. If she's worth while----"
Barton made a vehement sign of affirmation.
"Why, she'll be terribly sorry for you, but she won't _care_,"
concluded Harber. "I mean, she'll be waiting for you, and glad to
have you coming home, so glad that...."
"Ah ... yes. That's what ... I haven't mentioned the fever in
writing to her, you see. It will be a shock."
Harber, looking at him, thought that it would, indeed.
"I had a letter from her just before we sailed," went on the other,
more cheerfully. "I'd like awfully, some time, to have you meet her.
She's a wonderful girl--wonderful. She's clever. She's much cleverer
than I am, really ... about most things. When we get to Victoria,
you must let me give you my address."
"Thanks," said Harber. "I'll be glad to have it."
That was the last Harber saw of him for five days. The weather
had turned rough, and he supposed the poor fellow was seasick,
and thought of him sympathetically, but let it rest there. Then,
one evening after dinner, the steward came for him and said that
Mr. Clay Barton wanted to see him. Harber followed to Barton's stateroom,
which the sick man was occupying alone. In the passageway near the
door, he met the ship's doctor.
"Mr. Harber?" said the doctor. "Your friend in there--I'm sorry to
"I suspected as much," said Harber. "He knows it himself, I think."
"Does he?" said the doctor, obviously relieved. "Well, I hope that
he'll live till we get him ashore. There's just a chance, of course,
though his fever is very high now. He's quite lucid just now, and
has been insisting upon seeing you. Later he mayn't be conscious.
Harber nodded. "I'll go in."
Barton lay in his berth, still, terribly thin, and there were two
pink patches of fever burning upon his cheek-bones. He opened his
eyes with an infinite weariness as Harber entered the room, and
achieved a smile.
"Hard luck, old fellow," said Harber, crossing to him. "'Sall
_up_!" said Barton, grinning gamely. "I'm through. Asked 'em to
send you in. Do something for me, Harber--tha's right, ain't
it--Harber's your name?"
"Yes. What is it, Barton?"
Barton closed his eyes, then opened them again.
"Doggone memory--playin' tricks," he apologized faintly. "This,
Harber. Black-leather case inside leather grip there--by the wall.
Money in it--and letters. Everything goes--to the girl. Nobody else.
I know you're straight. Take 'em to her?"
"Yes," said Harber.
"Good," said Barton. "All right, then! Been expecting this. All ready
for it. Name--address--papers--all there. She'll have no
trouble--getting money. Thanks, Harber." And after a pause, he added:
"Better take it now--save trouble, you know."
Harber got the leather case from the grip and took it at once to his
When he returned, Barton seemed for the moment, with the commission
off his mind, a little brighter.
"No end obliged, Harber," he murmured.
"All right," said Harber, "but ought you to talk?"
"Won't matter now," said Barton grimly. "Feel like talking now.
To-morrow may be--too late!" And after another pause, he went on:
"The fine dreams of youth--odd where they end, isn't it?
"This--and me--so different. So different! Failure. She was wise--but
she didn't know everything. The world was too big--too hard for me.
'You can't fail,' she said, '_I won't let you fail_!' But you see----"
Harber's mind, slipping back down the years, with Barton, to his own
parting, stopped with a jerk.
"What!" he exclaimed.
Barton seemed drifting, half conscious, half unconscious of what he
was saying. He did not appear to have heard Harber's exclamation over
the phrase so like that Janet had given him.
"We weren't like the rest," droned Barton. "No--we wanted more out of
life than they did. We couldn't be content--with half a loaf. We
wanted--the bravest adventures--the yellowest gold--the...."
Picture that scene, if you will. What would _you_ have said? Harber
saw leaping up before him, with terrible clarity, as if it were
etched upon his mind, that night in Tawnleytown ten years before. It
was as if Barton, in his semidelirium, were reading the words from
"I won't let you fail! ... half a loaf ... the bravest adventures ...
the yellowest gold." Incredible thing! That Barton and _his_ girl
should have stumbled upon so many of the phrases, the exact phrases!
And suddenly full knowledge blinded Harber.... No! No! He spurned it.
It couldn't be. And yet, he felt that if Barton were to utter one
more phrase of those that Janet had said and, many, many times since,
written to _him_, the impossible, the unbelievable, would be stark,
He put his hand upon Barton's arm and gently pressed it.
"Barton," he said, "tell me--Janet--Tawnleytown?"
Barton stared with glassy, unseeing eyes for a moment; then his
"The bravest adventures--the yellowest gold," he murmured. Then, so
faintly as almost to baffle hearing: "Where--all--our--dreams?
That was all.
Impossible? No, just very, very improbable. But how, by its very
improbability, it does take on the semblance of design! See how by
slender a thread the thing hung, how every corner of the plan fitted.
Just one slip Janet Spencer made; she let her thoughts and her words
slip into a groove; she repeated herself. And how unerringly life
had put her finger upon that clew! So reasoned Harber.
Well, if the indictment were true, there was proof to be had in
Barton's leather case!
Harber, having called the doctor, went to his stateroom.
He opened the leather case. Inside a cover of yellow oiled silk he
found first a certificate of deposit for three thousand pounds, and
beneath it a packet of letters.
He unwrapped them.
And, though somehow he had known it without the proof, at the sight
of them something caught at his heart with a clutch that made it
seem to have stopped beating for a long time. For the sprawling
script upon the letters was almost as familiar to him as his own.
Slowly he reached down and took up the topmost letter, drew the thin
shiny sheets from the envelope, fluttered them, dazed, and stared at
Yours, my dearest lover, JANET.
Just so had she signed _his_ letters. It _was_ Janet Spencer. Two of
her argosies, each one laden with gold for her, had met in their
courses, had sailed for a little together.
The first reasonable thought that came to Harber, when he was
convinced of the authenticity of the miracle, was that he was
free--free to go after the girl he loved, after Vanessa Simola. I
think that if he could have done it, he'd have turned the steamer
back to the Orient in that moment. The thought that the ship was
plunging eastward through a waste of smashing heavy seas was
maddening, no less!
He didn't want to see Janet or Tawnleytown, again. He did have, he
told me, a fleeting desire to know just how many other ships Janet
might have launched, but it wasn't strong enough to take him to see
her. He sent her the papers and letters by registered mail under an
And then he went to Claridon, Michigan, to learn of her people when
Vanessa might be expected home. They told him she was on her way. So,
fearing to miss her if he went seeking, he settled down there and
stayed until she came. It was seven months of waiting he had ... but
it was worth it in the end.
* * * * *
And that was Harber's romance. Just an incredible coincidence, you
say. I know it. I told Harber that. And Mrs. Harber.
And _she_ said nothing at all, but looked at me inscrutably, with a
flicker of scorn in her sea-gray eyes.
Harber smiled lazily and serenely, and leaned back in his chair, and
replied in a superior tone: "My dear Sterne, things that are made in
heaven--like my marriage--don't just happen. Can't you see that your
stand simply brands you an unbeliever?"
And, of course, I _can_ see it. And Harber may be right. I don't know.
Does any one, I wonder?
BY O. F. LEWIS
From _The Red Book_
Professor Horace Irving had taught Latin for nearly forty years at
Huntington College. Then he had come back to Stuyvesant Square, in
New York. Now he lived in a little hall bedroom, four flights up,
overlooking the Square.
Habitually he walked from the Square westward to Fourth Avenue, in
the afternoon, when the weather permitted. He had been born only
three doors from where he now lived. The house of his birth had gone.
It was sixty years since he had been a boy and played in this Square.
Now he would pause at the corner of Fourth Avenue in his walks, and
remember the Goelet's cow and the big garden and the high iron fence
at Nineteenth Street and Broadway. Great buildings now towered there.
South along Fourth Avenue he would walk, a little man, scarcely five
feet four in height, even with the silk hat and the Prince Albert
coat. His white hair grew long over his collar, and people would
notice that almost more than anything else about him. He may have
weighed between ninety and a hundred pounds. The coat was worn and
shiny, but immaculate. The tall hat was of a certain type and year,
but carefully smoothed and still glossy.
He would pause often, between Nineteenth Street and Eighteenth Street,
peopling the skyscrapers with ghosts of a former day, when houses
and green gardens lined the streets. The passers-by watched him
casually, perhaps as much as any one notices any one else in New York.
He was, in the Fourteenth Street district, a rarer specimen than
Hindus or Mexican medicine-men. Through the ten years since he had
come, pensioned, from Huntington College, he had become a walking
landmark in this region.
He always walked down on the east side of the street, crossing at
Fourteenth Street. He was carefully piloted, and saluted, by the
traffic policeman. It was a bad crossing. Below Fourteenth Street
things looked much more as they had looked when he was young.
The bookstores were an unceasing hobby to the old man. The
secondhand dealers never made any objection to his reading books
upon the shelves. His purchases were perhaps two books a week, at
ten or even five cents each. Now and again he would find one of his
own "Irving's Latin Prose Composition" texts in the five-cent pile.
Opening the book, he usually would discover strange pencilled
pictures drawn scrawlingly over many of the pages. His "Latin
Composition" wasn't published after 1882, the year the firm failed.
It might have been different for him, with a different publisher.
Late one afternoon in April, Professor Irving stood in his customary
niche at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street, watching the
traffic from a sheltered spot against the wall of the building. He
was becoming exceedingly anxious about the approaching storm. It had
come up since he left Stuyvesant Square, and he had no umbrella. He
must not get his silk hat wet. His thin overcoat was protecting him
but feebly from the wind, which with the disappearance of the sun
had grown sharp and biting. It was rapidly becoming dark. Lights
were flashing in the windows up and down the Avenue.
The Professor decided to stand in a doorway till the shower had
passed over. The chimes in the Metropolitan Tower struck the first
quarter after four, the sounds welling in gusts to the old man's ears.
A little man came to stand in the doorway beside the Professor. The
latter saw that the little man had a big umbrella. Silk hats were so
fearfully expensive in these days!
The heavy drops beat against the pavement in torrents. The first
flash of lightning of the year was followed by a deep roll of thunder.
"I got to go!" said the little man. "Keep the umbrella! I got
another where I work. I'm only fifty-five. You're older than me, a
lot. You better start home. You'll get soaked, standing here!" And
the little man was gone before the Professor could reply.
"An exceedingly kindly, simple man," thought the old Professor. He
had planned, while standing with his unknown benefactor, that he
would go into some store and wait. But now he would chance it, and
cross the street. He saw a lull in the traffic. He started and was
nearly swept off his feet. He got to the middle of the street. The
umbrella grew unwieldy, swinging this way and that, as if tugged by
unseen hands. It turned inside out. Blaring noises from the passing
cars confused the Professor.
The shaft of the umbrella swung violently around and knocked the
silk hat from Professor Irving's head. His white hair was caught by
the wind. Lashed in another direction, the shaft now struck the
Professor's glasses, and they flew away. Now he could see little or
nothing. He became bewildered.
Great glaring headlights broke upon him, passed him, and then
immediately other glaring lights flared up toward him out of the
sheets of water. He couldn't see because of his lost glasses and
because of the stinging rain. He rushed between two cars. He slipped....
The chimes on the Metropolitan Tower rang out, in wails of wild sound,
the half-hour after four.
* * * * *
The attendance that evening at the annual banquet of the New York
alumni of Huntington College exceeded all previous records. The
drive for two million five hundred thousand dollars was on. It was a
small college, but as Daniel Webster said of Dartmouth, there were
those who loved it.
The east ballroom of the hotel was well filled with diners.
Recollections of college days were shouted across tables and over
intervening aisles. There was a million still to raise: but old
Huntington would put it across! They'd gotten out more of the older
men, the men with money, than had ever been seen before at an alumni
The income on one million would go into better salaries for the
professors and other teachers. They'd been shamefully underpaid--men
who'd been on the faculty twenty to thirty years getting two thousand!
Well, Huntington College had now a new president, one of the boys of
twenty years ago. Yes sir, things were different. It was in the air.
In the midst of the dinner course, the toastmaster rapped loudly
with the gavel for attention. It was hard to obtain quiet.
"Men," said the toastmaster, and there was a curious note in his
voice, "I ask your absolute silence. Middleton, whom you all know is
one of the editorial staff of the _Sphere_, has just come in. He can
stay only a few minutes. He came especially to tell you something."
A man standing behind the toastmaster stepped into the toastmaster's
place. He was in business clothes, a sharp contrast to the rest of
the diners. He was loudly applauded. He raised his right hand and
shook his head.
"Boys," he said, "I've got a tragic piece of news for you--for those
of you who were in college any time up to ten years ago." He paused
and looked the diners over.
"Four fifths of you men who are here to-night knew old Hoddy Irving,
our 'prof' in Latin. He served old Huntington College for forty years,
the longest term any professor ever served. He made no demands--ever.
He took us freshmen under his wing. I used to walk now and then with
him, miles around the college, when it wasn't so built up as it now
is. He loved the fields and the animals and the trees. He taught me
a lot of things besides Latin. Don't you remember the funny little
walk he had, sort of a hop forward? Don't you remember the way he'd
come up to the college dormitories nights, sometimes, from his house
down on the Row, and knock timidly at our doors, and come in and
visit? Don't you remember that we used to clear some of those tables
mighty quickly, of the chips and the bottles?"
There were titters, and some one shouted: "You said it!"
"And then, don't you remember, that some ten years ago they turned
the old man off, with a pension--so-called--of half his salary. But
what was his salary? Two thousand dollars--two thousand dollars at
the end of forty years!! You and I, and old Huntington College,
turned old Hoddy out to pasture, this pasture, on a thousand a year!
And to-night, right now, he's lying in Bellevue, both legs broken,
skull fractured, and not a damn cent in the world except insurance
enough to bury him. And to-morrow he'll be ours to bury, boys--old
A confusion of voices rose in the room, and over them all a
"No!" from some one who seemed to cry out in pain.
"Yes!" said Middleton as the murmurs ceased. "Our old Hoddy, starving,
loaded up with debt, alone, down in a miserable hall bedroom in
Stuyvesant Square. How did I come to know about it? One of our
reporters, who covers Bellevue, dug up the story in his day's work.
They brought in this old, disheveled, unconscious man--and in his
pocket was his name. Kenyon, the reporter, went over to the house on
the Square and found there another old fellow that old Hoddy chummed
some with, and who knew all the circumstances.
"It seems Hoddy had an invalid old sister--and they hadn't any money
except this pension. How the two old souls got along no one will
never know. But she died awhile ago, and that put Hoddy into a lot
more debt. And this miserable little eighty dollars a month has had
to carry him and his debts. And not a whimper that old man utters.
Always kindly, Hoddy was, always telling stories from the forty years
at Huntington--and we fellows here, a lot of us rotten with money,
and not knowing that the old fellow---"
Middleton's voice broke. It was some time before he proceeded.
"This afternoon, at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street,
just as that tornado broke, he tried to cross the street. He got in
a jam of cars, and of course the windshields were all mussed up with
rain, and the chauffeurs couldn't see anything ahead--and they don't
know whose car it was. The police say it was just four thirty-one
when they picked him up.
"Well, that's all, except that--I'm going down to Bellevue, and if
one or two of you want to come--perhaps old Hoddy will know us--even
Middleton had finished. From various parts of the room came the words:
"I'll go! Let me go!" Men were frankly wiping their eyes.
At a distant table arose Martin Delano. He was reputed to be the
wealthiest alumnus of Huntington. He was said to have made almost
fabulous millions during the war. In the Street he was known as
"Merciless Martin." They were planning to strike him this evening
for at least a hundred thousand.
Martin Delano stood holding the edge of the table with one hand, the
other fingering a spoon on the table. He stood there long. Several
times he opened his lips as though to speak. He took out his
handkerchief and wiped his cheeks and forehead. Evidently he was
"Mr. Toastmaster, may I ask the privilege of going down to Bellevue
with Mr. Middleton? I would ask that I be allowed to insist on going
down. I have sinned, grievously sinned, in forgetting old Hoddy. Now,
when it's too late----Thirty years ago, and more, when I was a green,
frightened freshman from Vermont, he took me to his heart. He was
known as the Freshman's Friend. That's what Hoddy always did--take
the green and frightened freshman to his heart. Probably, if he
hadn't done that to me, I'd have gone back home in my lonesomeness.
"Yes, I have sinned--and it might have been so different. I want to
go down there! And I'm coming back here, before you men are through
to-night, and I'll tell you more."
At about half-past ten Martin Delano came back. He walked into the
room just as one of the speakers had finished. The toastmaster
caught his eye and beckoned to him to come to the speaker's table.
Delano stood in front of the crowd. He had walked forward, seeing no
one on his way.
"Hoddy--Hoddy has gone, boys!"
Then quickly, silently, the three hundred men arose and stood. After
a time they heard Delano say: "Sit down, boys."
He waited till they were seated. "There's a lot that I might tell,
men--terrible things--that I won't tell, for it's all over. Just
this--and I suppose you're about through now and breaking up. It was
the poor old Prof. of ours--shattered, deathly white, a lot older.
But will you believe it, the same dear old smile, or almost a smile,
on his face! Unconscious, but babbling. And about what? The
college--Alma Mater! Those were just the words--Alma Mater! The
college that gave him the half pay and forgot him on the very night
when we are trying to raise a miserable two million, that things like
this sha'n't happen again!"
"And boys, when we bent over him and whispered our names, he seemed
after a while to understand that we were there--but in the classroom,
the old Number 3 in Holmes Hall! And fellows, he called on--on me to
Merciless Martin Delano couldn't go on. Finally he spoke.
"And so, Mr. President, I wish, sir, as a slight token of my
appreciation of what that simple great man has done for Huntington
College to give to our Alma Mater--our Alma Mater, sir--the sum of
two hundred and fifty thousand dollars to be used for the erection
of a suitable building, for whatever purpose is most necessary, and
that building to be called after Horace Irving.
"And sir, I also desire to give to the fund for properly providing
for the salaries of our professors and other teachers, the sum of
two hundred and fifty thousand dollars--those men who teach in our
"And I ask one word more: I have arranged that Professor Irving is
to be buried from my house. If you will permit me, I will leave now."
The alumni of Huntington College were silent. There was no sound,
save the occasional pushing of a chair, or the click of a plate or a
glass upon the table, as Martin Delano passed from the room.
It was after one o'clock. Martin Delano was in his library, his arms
flung across the table, his face between them.
In the opaque blur of swirling rain, his car had passed the corner
of Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street at precisely half-past four that
afternoon. He had happened to take out his watch at the moment the
Metropolitan clock struck the second quarter.
He would never know whether it had been his car or another!
BY ALICE DUER MILLER
From _The Saturday Evening Post_
The Chelmsford divorce had been accomplished with the utmost decorum,
not only outwardly in the newspapers, but inwardly among a group of
intimate friends. They were a homogeneous couple--were liked by the
same people, enjoyed the same things, and held many friends in common.
These were able to say with some approach to certainty that everyone
had behaved splendidly, even the infant of twenty-three with whom
Julian had fallen in love.
Of course there will always be the question--and we used to argue it
often in those days--how well a man can behave who, after fifteen
perfectly satisfactory years of married life, admits that he has
fallen in love with another woman. But if you believe in the
clap-of-thunder theory, as I do, why, then, for a man nearing forty,
taken off his feet by a blond-headed girl, Julian, too, behaved
As for Mrs. Julian, there was never any doubt as to her conduct. I
used to think her--and I was not alone in the opinion--the most
perfect combination of gentleness and power, and charity and humour,
that I had ever seen. She was a year or so older than Julian--though
she did not look it--and a good deal wiser, especially in the ways
of the world; and, oddly enough, one of the features that worried us
most in the whole situation was how he was ever going to get on, in
the worldly sense, without her. He was to suffer not only from the
loss of her counsel but from the lack of her indorsement. There are
certain women who are a form of insurance to a man; and Anne gave a
poise and solidity to Julian's presentation of himself which his own
flibbertigibbet manner made particularly necessary.
I think this view of the matter disturbed Anne herself, though she
was too clever to say so; or perhaps too numbed by the utter wreck
of her own life to see as clearly as usual the rocks ahead of Julian.
It was she, I believe, who first mentioned, who first thought of
divorce, and certainly she who arranged the details. Julian, still
in the more ideal stage of his emotion, had hardly wakened to the
fact that his new love was marriageable. But Mrs. Julian, with the
practical eye of her sex, saw in a flash all it might mean to him,
at his age, to begin life again with a young beauty who adored him.
She saw this, at least, as soon as she saw anything; for Julian,
like most of us when the occasion rises, developed a very pretty
power of concealment. He had for a month been seeing Miss Littell
every day before any of us knew that he went to see her at all.
Certainly Anne, unsuspicious by nature, was unprepared for the
It took place in the utterly futile, unnecessary way such
revelations always do take place. The two poor innocent dears had
allowed themselves a single indiscretion; they had gone out together,
a few days before Christmas, to buy some small gifts for each other.
They had had an adventure with a beggar, an old man wise enough to
take advantage of the holiday season, and the no less obvious
holiday in the hearts of this pair. He had forced them to listen to
some quaint variant of the old story, and they had between them
given him all the small change they had left--sixty-seven cents, I
think it was.
That evening at dinner Julian, ever so slightly afraid of the long
pause, had told Anne the story as if it had happened to him alone. A
few days afterward the girl, whom she happened to meet somewhere or
other, displaying perhaps a similar nervousness, told the same story.
Even the number of cents agreed.
I spoke a moment ago of the extraordinary power of concealment which
we all possess; but I should have said the negative power to avoid
exciting suspicion. Before that moment, before the finger points at
us, the fool can deceive the sage; and afterward not even the sage
can deceive the veriest fool.
Julian had no desire to lie to his wife. Indeed, he told me he had
felt from the first that she would be his fittest confidante. He
immediately told her everything--a dream rather than a narrative.
Nowhere did Anne show her magnanimity more than in accepting the
rather extravagant financial arrangements which Julian insisted on
making for her. He was not a rich man, and she the better economist
of the two. We knew she saw that in popular esteem Julian would pay
the price of her pride if she refused, and that in this ticklish
moment of his life the least she could do was to let him have the
full credit for his generosity.
"And after all," as she said to me, "young love can afford to go
without a good many things necessary to old age."
It was the nearest I heard her come to a complaint.
As soon as everything was settled she sailed for Florence, where she
had friends and where, she intimated, she meant to spend most of her
I said good-by to her with real emotion, and the phrase I used as to
my wish to serve her was anything but a convention.
Nor did she take it so.
"Help Julian through this next year," she said. "People will take it
harder than he knows. He'll need you all." And she was kind enough
to add something about my tact. Poor lady! She must have mentally
withdrawn her little compliment before we met many times again.
Perhaps the only fault in Anne's education of her husband had been
her inability to cling. In his new menage this error was rectified,
and the effect on him was conspicuously good; in fact, I think Rose's
confidence in his greatness pulled them through the difficult time.
For there was no denying that it was difficult. Many people looked
coldly on them, and I know there was even some talk of asking him to
resign from the firm of architects of which he was a member. The
other men were all older, and very conservative. Julian represented
to them everything that was modern and dangerous. Granger, the
leading spirit, was in the habit of describing himself as holding
old-fashioned views, by which he meant that he had all the virtues
of the Pilgrim Fathers and none of their defects. I never liked him,
but I could not help respecting him. The worst you could say of him
was that his high standards were always successful.
You felt that so fanatical a sense of duty ought to have required
To such a man Julian's conduct appeared not only immoral but
inadvisable, and unfitting in a young man, especially without
consulting his senior partners.
We used to say among ourselves that Granger's reason for wanting to
get rid of Julian was not any real affection for the dim old moral
code, but rather his acute realization that without Anne his junior
partner was a less valuable asset.
Things were still hanging fire when I paid her the first of my
annual visits. She was dreadfully distressed at my account of the
situation. She had the manner one sometimes sees in dismissed nurses
who meet their former little charges unwashed or uncared for. She
could hardly believe it was no longer her business to put the whole
"Can't she do something for him?" she said. "Make her bring him a
great building. That would save him."
It was this message that I carried home to Rose; at least I suggested
the idea to her as if it were my own. I had my doubts of her being
able to carry it out.
Out of loyalty to Julian, or perhaps I ought to say out of loyalty to
Anne, we had all accepted Rose, but we should soon have loved her in
any case. She was extraordinarily sweet and docile, and gave us,
those at least who were not parents, our first window to the east,
our first link with the next generation, just at the moment when we
were relinquishing the title ourselves. I am afraid that some of the
males among us envied Julian more than perhaps in the old days we
had ever envied him Anne.
But we hardly expected her to further his career as Anne had done,
and yet, oddly enough, that was exactly what she did. Her methods
had all the effectiveness of youth and complete conviction. She
forced Julian on her friends and relations, not so much on his
account as on theirs. She wanted them to be sure of the best. The
result was that orders flowed in. Things took a turn for the better
and continued to improve, as I was able to report to Anne when I
went to see her at Florence or at Paris. She was always well lodged,
well served, and surrounded by the pleasantest people, yet each time
I saw her she had a look exiled and circumscribed, a look I can only
describe as that of a spirit in reduced circumstances.
She was always avid for details of Julian and all that concerned him,
and as times improved I was stupid enough to suppose I pleased her by
giving them from the most favourable angle. It seemed to me quite
obvious, as I saw how utterly she had ruined her own life, that she
ought at least to have the comfort of knowing that she had not
sacrificed it in vain. And so I allowed myself, not an exaggeration
but a candour more unrestrained than would be usual in the
Led on by her burning interest I told her many things I might much
better have kept to myself; not only accounts of his work and his
household and any new friends in our old circle, but we had all been
amazed to see a sense of responsibility develop in Julian in answer
to his new wife's dependence on him. With this had come a certain
thoughtfulness in small attentions, which, I saw too late, Anne must
always have missed in him. She was so much more competent in the
smaller achievements of life than he that it had been wisdom to leave
them to her; and Anne had often traveled alone and attended to the
luggage, when now Rose was personally conducted like a young empress.
The explanation was simple enough: Anne had the ability to do it,
and the other had not. Even if I had stopped to think, I might fairly
have supposed that Anne would find some flattery in the contrast. I
should have been wrong.
Almost the first thing she asked me was whether he came home to
luncheon. In old times, though his house was only a few blocks from
his office, he had always insisted that it took too much time. Anne
had never gained her point with him, though she put some force into
the effort. Now I had to confess he did.
"It's much better for him," she said with pleasure, and quite
deceived me; herself, too, perhaps.
Yet even I, for all my blindness, felt some uneasiness the year
Rose's son was born. I do not think the desire for offspring had
ever taken up a great deal of room in Julian's consciousness, but of
course Anne had wanted children, and I felt very cruel, sitting in
her little apartment in Paris, describing the baby who ought to have
been hers. How different her position would have been now if she had
some thin-legged little girl to educate or some raw-boned boy to
worry over; and there was that overblessed woman at home, necessary
not only to Julian but to Julian's son.
It was this same year, but at a later visit, that I first became
aware of a change in Anne. At first the charm of her surroundings,
her pretty clothes, even to the bright little buckles on her shoes,
blinded me to the fact that she herself was changed. I do not mean
that she was aged. One of the delightful things about her was that
she was obviously going to make an admirable old lady; the delicate
boniness of her face and the clearness of her skin assured that.
This was a change more fundamental. Even in her most distracted days
Anne had always maintained a certain steadiness of head. She had
trodden thorny paths, but she had always known where she was going.
I had seen her eyelids red, but I had never failed to find in the
eyes themselves the promise of a purpose. But now it was gone. I
felt as if I were looking into a little pool which had been troubled
by a stone, and I waiting vainly for the reflection to re-form itself.
So painful was the impression that before I sailed for home I tried
to convey to her the dangers of her mood.
"I think you are advising me to be happy," she said.
"I am advising no such thing," I answered. "I am merely pointing out
that you run the risk of being more unhappy than you are. My
visits--or rather the news I bring you--are too important to you.
You make me feel as if it were the only event of the year--to you
who have always had such an interesting life of your own."
"I have not had a life of my own since I was twenty," she returned.
It was at twenty she had married.
"Then think of Julian," I said, annoyed not only at my own clumsiness
but at the absence of anything of Anne's old heroic spirit.
"For his sake, at least, you must keep your head. Why, my dear woman,
one look at your face, grown as desperate as it sometimes appears now,
would ruin Julian with the whole world. Even I, knowing the whole
story, would find it hard to forgive him if you should fail to
continue to be the splendid triumphant creature whom we know you
were designed to be."
She gave me a long queer look, which meant something tremendous.
Evidently my words had made an impression.
They had, but not just the one I intended.
One of the first people I always saw on returning was Julian. How
often he thought of Anne I do not know, but he spoke of her with the
greatest effort. He invariably took care to assure himself that she
was physically well, but beyond this it would have been a brave
person who dared to go. He did not want to hear the details of her
life and appearance.
It was with some trepidation, therefore, that a few months after
this I came to tell him that Anne was about to return to America.
Why she was coming, or for how long, her letter did not say. I only
knew that the second Saturday in December would see her among us
again. It seemed fair to assume that her stay would not be long.
Julian evidently thought so for he arranged to be in the West for
three or four weeks.
I went to meet her. The day was cold and rainy, and as soon as I saw
her I made up my mind that the crossing had been a bad one, and I
was glad no one else had come to the wharf with me. She was standing
by the rail, wrapped in a voluminous fur coat--the fashions were
slim in the extreme--and her hat was tied on by a blue veil.
I may as well admit that from the moment I heard of her projected
return I feared that her real motive for coming, conscious or
unconscious, was to see Julian again. So when I told her of his
absence I was immensely relieved that she took it as a matter of
"I suppose we might have met," she observed. "As it is, I can go
about without any fear of an awkward encounter." I say I was relieved,
but I was also excessively puzzled. Why had Anne come home?
It was a question I was to hear answered in a variety of ways during
the next few months, by many of Anne's friends and partisans; for,
as I think I have said, Anne had inspired great attachment since her
earliest days. Why had she come home? they exclaimed. Why not, pray?
Had she done anything criminal that she was to be exiled? Did I
think it pleasant to live abroad on a small income? Even if she
could get on without her friends, could they do without her?
The tone of these questions annoyed me not a little when I heard them,
which was not for some time. Soon after Anne's arrival I, too, was
called away, and it was not until February that I returned and was
met by the carefully set piece--Anne the Victim.
With that ill-advised self-confidence of which I have already made
mention, I at once set about demolishing this picture. I told Anne's
friends, who were also mine, that she would thank them very little
for their attitude. I found myself painting her life abroad as a
delirium of intellect and luxury. I even found myself betraying
professional secrets and arguing with total strangers as to the
amount of her income.
Even in Montreal faint echoes of this state of things had reached me,
but not until I went to see Anne on my return did I get any idea of
their cause. She had taken a furnished apartment from a friend, in a
dreary building in one of the West Forties. Only a jutting front of
limestone and an elevator man in uniform saved it, or so it seemed
to me, from being an old-fashioned boarding house. Its windows, small,
as if designed for an African sun, looked northward upon a darkened
street. Anne's apartment was on the second floor, and the
requirements of some caryatids on the outside rendered her
fenestration particularly meager. Her friend, if indeed it were a
friend, had not treated her generously in the matter of furniture.
She had left nothing superfluous but two green glass jugs on the
mantelpiece, and had covered the chairs with a chintz, the
groundwork of which was mustard colour.
Another man who was there when I came in, who evidently had known
Anne in different surroundings, expressed the most hopeful view
possible when he said that doubtless it would all look charming when
she had arranged her own belongings.
Anne made a little gesture. "I haven't any belongings," she said.
I didn't know what she meant, perhaps merely a protest against the
tyranny of things, but I saw the effect her speech produced on her
auditor. Perhaps she saw it too, for presently she added: "Oh, yes!
I have one."
And she went away, and came back carrying a beautiful old silver
loving cup. I knew it well. It came from Julian's forebears. Anne
had always loved it, and I was delighted that she should have it now.
She set it on a table before a mirror, and here it did a double
share to make the room possible.
When we were alone I expressed my opinion of her choice of lodgings.
"This sunless cavern!" I said. "This parlour-car furniture!"
She looked a little hurt. "You don't like it?" she said.
"Do you?" I snapped back.
After a time I had recourse to the old argument that it didn't look
well; that it wasn't fair to Julian. But she had been expecting this.
"My dear Walter," she answered, "you must try to be more consistent.
In Paris you told me that I must cease to regulate my life by Julian.
You were quite right. This place pleases me, and I don't intend to go
to a hotel, which I hate, or to take a house, which is a bother, in
order to soothe Julian's feelings. I have begun to lead my life to
The worst of it was, I could think of no answer.
A few evenings afterward we dined at the same house. Anne arrived
with a scarf on her head, under the escort of a maid. She had come
in a trolley car. Nobody's business but her own, perhaps, if she
would have allowed it to remain so, but when she got up to go, and
other people were talking of their motors' being late, Anne had to
say: "Mine is never late; it goes past the corner every minute."
I could almost hear a sigh, "Poor angel!" go round the room.
The next thing that happened was that Julian sent for me. He was in
what we used to call in the nursery "a state."
"What's this I hear about Anne's being hard up?" he said. "Living in
a nasty flat, and going out to dinner in the cars?" And he wouldn't
listen to an explanation. "She must take more; she must be made to
I had one of my most unfortunate inspirations. I thought I saw an
opportunity for Julian to make an impression.
"I don't think she would listen to me," I said. "Why don't you get
Mr. Granger to speak to her?"
The idea appealed to Julian. He admired Mr. Granger, and remembered
that he and Anne had been friends. Whereas I thought, of course, that
Mr. Granger would thus be made to see that the fault, if there were
a fault, was not of Julian's generosity. Stupidly enough I failed to
see that if Julian's offer was graceful Anne's gesture of refusal
would be upon a splendid scale.
And it must have been very large, indeed, to stir old Granger as it
did. He told me there had been tears in his eyes while she spoke of
her husband's kindness. Kindness! He could not but compare her
surroundings with the little house, all geraniums and muslin curtains,
in which the new Mrs. Chelmsford was lodged. Anne had refused, of
course. In the circumstances she could not accept. She said she had
quite enough for a single woman. The phrase struck Granger as almost
One day I noticed the loving cup--which was always on Anne's table,
which was admired by everyone who came to the apartment, and was
said to recall her, herself, so pure and graceful and perfect--one
day the loving cup was gone.
I was so surprised when my eye fell on its vacant place that I
blurted out: "Goodness, Anne, where's your cup?"
The next moment I could have bitten out my tongue. Anne stood still
in the middle of the room, twisting her hands a little, and
everyone--there were three or four of us there--stopped talking.
"Oh," she said, "oh, Walter, I know you'll scold me for being
officious and wrong-headed, but I have sent the cup back to Julian's
son. I think he ought to have it."
Everyone else thought the deed extremely noble. I took my hat and
went to Rose. Rose was not very enthusiastic. A beautiful letter had
accompanied the cup. We discussed the advisability of sending it back;
but of course that would have done no good. The devilish part of a
favour is that to accept or reject it is often equally incriminating.
Anne held the situation in the hollow of her hand. Besides, as Rose
pointed out, we couldn't very well return it without asking Julian,
and we had both agreed that for the present Julian had better remain
in ignorance of the incident. He would have thought it mean-spirited
to allow any instance of Anne's generosity to remain concealed from
the public. Rose and I were willing to allow it to drop.
I was sorry, therefore, when I found, soon after, not only that
everyone knew of the gift but that phrases of the beautiful letter
itself were current, with marks of authenticity upon them. It was
not hard to trace them to Anne's intimates.
I have no idea to this day whether Anne was deliberately trying to
ruin the man for whom she had sacrificed so much; or whether one of
those large, unconscious, self-indulgent movements of our natures
was carrying her along the line of least resistance. There are some
people, I know, who can behave well only so long as they have the
centre of the stage, and are driven by a necessity almost moral to
regain such a place at any cost, so that they may once again begin
the exercise of their virtues.
Anne's performance was too perfect, I thought, for conscious art,
and she was not a genius. She was that most dangerous of all engines,
a good person behaving wickedly. All her past of high-mindedness and
kindness protected her now like an armour from the smallest suspicion.
All the grandeur of her conduct at the time of the divorce was
remembered as a proof that she at least had a noble soul. Who could
doubt that she wished him well?
If so, she soon appeared to be the only person who did. For, as we
all know, pity is one of the most dangerous passions to unloose. It
demands a victim. We rise to pathos, only over the dead bodies of
our nearest and dearest.
Every phrase, every gesture of Anne's stirred one profoundly, and it
was inevitable, I suppose, that Julian should be selected as the
sacrifice. I noticed that people began to speak of him in the past,
though he was still moving among us--"As Julian used to say."
He and Anne fortunately never met, but she and the new Mrs. Julian
had one encounter in public. If even then Anne would have shown the
slightest venom all might still have been well. But, no, the worn,
elderly woman, face to face with the young beauty who had possessed
herself of everything in the world, showed nothing but a tenderness
so perfect that every heart was wrung. I heard Rose criticized for
not receiving her in the same spirit.
The next day Julian was blackballed at a philanthropic club at which
he had allowed himself to be proposed merely from a sense of civic
Over the incident I know Anne wept. I heard her tears.
"Oh, if I could have spared him that!" she said.
My eyes were cold, but those of Mr. Granger, who came in while her
eyelids were still red, were full of fire.
She spent a week with the Grangers that summer. The whole
family--wife, sons and daughters--had all yielded to the great
It must not be supposed that I had failed to warn Julian. The
supineness of his attitude was one of the most irritating features
of the case. He answered me as if I were violating the dead; asked
me if by any chance I didn't see he deserved all he was getting.
No one was surprised when in the autumn he resigned from his firm.
There had been friction between the partners for some time. Soon
afterward he and Rose sailed for Italy, where they have lived ever
since. He had scarcely any income except that which he made in his
profession; his capital had gone to Anne. He probably thought that
what he had would go further abroad.
I do not know just how Anne took his departure, except that I am
sure she was wonderful about it. I had ceased to see her. She has,
however, any number of new friends, whose fresh interest in her
story keeps it continually alive. She has given up her ugly flat and
taken a nice little house, and in summer I notice she has red
geraniums in the window boxes. I often see a nice little motor
standing before her door--the result doubtless of a year's economy.
Whenever her friends congratulate her on the improvement in her
finances she says she owes it all to me--I am such an excellent man
"I admire Walter so much," I am told she says, "though I'm afraid I
have lost him as a friend. But then, in the last few years I have
lost so much." And she smiles that brave sad smile of hers.
THE FACE IN THE WINDOW
BY WILLIAM DUDLEY PELLEY
From _The Red Book_
At nine o'clock this morning Sheriff Crumpett entered our New England
town post-office for his mail. From his box he extracted his monthly
Grand Army paper and a letter in a long yellow envelope. This
envelope bore the return-stamp of a prominent Boston lumber-company.
The old man crossed the lobby to the writing-shelf under the Western
Union clock, hooked black-rimmed glasses on a big nose and tore a
generous inch from the end of the envelope.
The first inclosure which met his eyes was a check. It was heavy and
pink and crisp, and was attached to the single sheet of letter-paper
with a clip. Impressed into the fabric of the safety-paper were the
indelible figures of a protector: _Not over Five Thousand_ ($5000)
The sheriff read the name of the person to whom it was payable and
gulped. His gnarled old hand trembled with excitement as he glanced
over the clipped letter and then went through it again.
November 10, 1919.
MY DEAR SHERIFF:
Enclosed please find my personal check for five thousand dollars.
It is made out to Mrs. McBride. Never having known the lady
and because you have evidently represented her with the authorities,
I am sending it to you for proper delivery. I feel, from your
enthusiastic account of her recent experience, that it will give
pleasure to present it to her.
Under the circumstances I do not begrudge the money. When first
advised of Ruggam's escape, it was hot-headed impulse which
me to offer a reward so large. The old clan-blood of the Wileys
have made me murder-mad that Ruggam should regain his freedom
after the hellish thing he did to my brother. The newspapers heard
and then I could not retract.
That, however, is a thing of the past. I always did detest a
and if this money is going to a woman to whom it will be manna from
heaven--to use your words--I am satisfied. Convey to her my
congratulations, gratitude and best wishes.
C. V. D. WILEY.
"Good old Chris!" muttered the sheriff. "He's rich because he's white."
He thrust both check and letter back into the long envelope and
headed for the office of our local daily paper at a smart pace.
The earning of five thousand dollars reward-money by Cora McBride
made an epochal news-item, and in that night's paper we headlined it
accordingly--not omitting proper mention of the sheriff and giving
him appropriate credit.
Having so started the announcement permeating through the community,
the old man employed the office phone and called the local
livery-stable. He ordered a rig in which he might drive at once to
the McBride house in the northern part of town.
"But half that money ought to be yourn!" protested the proprietor of
the stable as the sheriff helped him "gear up the horse" a few
"Under the circumstances, Joseph, can you see me takin' it? No; it
ain't in me to horn in for no rake-off on one o' the Lord's miracles."
The old man climbed into the sleigh, took the reins from the
liveryman and started the horse from the livery yard.
Two weeks ago--on Monday, the twenty-seventh of the past October--the
telephone-bell rang sharply in our newspaper-office a few moments
before the paper went to press. Now, the telephone-bell often rings
in our newspaper-office a few moments before going to press. The
confusion on this particular Monday afternoon, however, resulted from
Albany calling on the long-distance. Albany--meaning the nearest
office of the international press-association of which our paper is
a member--called just so, out of a clear sky, on the day McKinley
was assassinated, on the day the _Titanic_ foundered and on the day
Austria declared war on Serbia.
The connection was made, and over the wire came the voice of young
Stewart, crisp as lettuce.
"Special dispatch ... Wyndgate, Vermont, October 27th ... Ready?"
The editor of our paper answered in the affirmative. The rest of us
grouped anxiously around his chair. Stewart proceeded:
"'Hapwell Ruggam, serving a life-sentence for the murder of Deputy
Sheriff Martin Wiley at a Lost Nation kitchen-dance two years ago,
killed Jacob Lambwell, his guard, and escaped from prison at noon
"'Ruggam had been given some repair work to do near the outer
prison-gate. It was opened to admit a tradesman's automobile. As
Guard Lambwell turned to close the gate, Ruggam felled him with his
shovel. He escaped to the adjacent railroad-yards, stole a corduroy
coat and pair of blue overalls hanging in a switchman's shanty and
caught the twelve-forty freight up Green River.'"
Stewart had paused. The editor scribbled frantically. In a few words
aside he explained to us what Stewart was sending. Then he ordered
the latter to proceed.
"'Freight Number Eight was stopped by telegraph near Norwall. The
fugitive, assuming correctly that it was slowing down for search,
was seen by a brakeman fleeing across a pasture between the tracks
and the eastern edge of Haystack Mountain. Several posses have
already started after him, and sheriffs all through northern New
England are being notified.
"'Christopher Wiley, lumber magnate and brother of Ruggam's former
victim, on being told of the escape, has offered a reward of five
thousand dollars for Ruggam's capture, dead or alive. Guard Lambwell
was removed to a hospital, where he died at one-thirty'.... _All
The connection was broken, and the editor removed the headpiece. He
began giving orders. We were twenty minutes behind usual time with
the papers, but we made all the trains.
When the big Duplex was grinding out newsprint with a roar that shook
the building, the boys and girls gathered around to discuss the thing
which had happened.
The Higgins boy, saucer-eyed over the experience of being "on the
inside" during the handling of the first sizable news-story since he
had become our local reporter, voiced the interrogation on the faces
of other office newcomers.
"Ruggam," the editor explained, "is a poor unfortunate who should
have been sent to an asylum instead of the penitentiary. He killed
Mart Wiley, a deputy sheriff, at a Lost Nation kitchen-dance two
"Where's the Lost Nation?"
"It's a term applied to most of the town of Partridgeville in the
northern part of the county--an inaccessible district back in the
mountains peopled with gone-to-seed stock and half-civilized
illiterates who only get into the news when they load up with
squirrel whisky and start a programme of progressive hell. Ruggam
was the local blacksmith."
"What's a kitchen-dance?"
"Ordinarily a kitchen-dance is harmless enough. But the Lost Nation
folks use it as an excuse for a debauch. They gather in some sizable
shack, set the stove out into the yard, soak themselves in aromatic
spirits of deviltry and dance from Saturday night until Monday
"And this Ruggam killed a sheriff at one of them?"
"He got into a brawl with another chap about his wife. Someone
passing saw the fight and sent for an officer. Mart Wiley was deputy,
afraid of neither man, God nor devil. Martin had grown disgusted
over the petty crime at these kitchen-dances and started out to
clean up this one right. Hap Ruggam killed him. He must have had help,
because he first got Mart tied to a tree in the yard. Most of the
crowd was pie-eyed by this time, anyhow, and would fight at the drop
of a hat. After tying him securely, Ruggam caught up a billet of
wood and--and killed him with that."
"Why didn't they electrocute him?" demanded young Higgins.
"Well, the murder wasn't exactly premeditated. Hap wasn't himself;
he was drunk--not even able to run away when Sheriff Crumpett
arrived in the neighbourhood to take him into custody. Then there
was Hap's bringing up. All these made extenuating circumstances."
"There was something about Sheriff Wiley's pompadour," suggested our
little lady proofreader.
"Yes," returned the editor. "Mart had a queer head of hair. It was
dark and stiff, and he brushed it straight back in a pompadour. When
he was angry or excited, it actually rose on his scalp like wire.
Hap's counsel made a great fuss over Mart's pompadour and the part
it sort of played in egging Hap on. The sight of it, stiffening and
rising the way it did maddened Ruggam so that he beat it down
hysterically in retaliation for the many grudges he fancied
he owed the officer. No, it was all right to make the sentence
life-imprisonment, only it should have been an asylum. Hap's not
right. You'd know it without being told. I guess it's his eyes. They
aren't mates. They light up weirdly when he's drunk or excited, and
if you know what's healthy, you get out of the way."
By eight o'clock that evening most of the valley's deer-hunters, all
of the local adventurers who could buy, borrow or beg a rifle, and
the usual quota of high-school sons of thoughtless parents were off
on the man-hunt in the eastern mountains.
Among them was Sheriff Crumpett's party. On reaching the timberline
they separated. It was agreed that if any of them found signs of
Ruggam, the signal for assistance was five shots in quick succession
"and keep shooting at intervals until the rest come up."
We newspaper folk awaited the capture with professional interest and
In the northern part of our town, a mile out on the Wickford road,
is the McBride place. It is a small white house with a red barn in
the rear and a neat rail fence inclosing the whole. Six years ago
Cora McBride was bookkeeper in the local garage. Her maiden name was
Allen. The town called her "Tomboy Allen." She was the only daughter
of old Zeb Allen, for many years our county game-warden. Cora, as we
had always known--and called--her, was a full-blown, red-blooded,
athletic girl who often drove cars for her employer in the days when
steering-wheels manipulated by women were offered as clinching proof
that society was headed for the dogs.
Duncan McBride was chief mechanic in the garage repairshop. He was
an affable, sober, steady chap, popularly known as "Dunk the
Dauntless" because of an uncanny ability to cope successfully with
the ailments of 90 per cent, of the internal-combustion hay-balers
and refractory tin-Lizzies in the county when other mechanics had
given them up in disgust.
When he married his employer's bookkeeper, Cora's folks gave her a
wedding that carried old Zeb within half an hour of insolvency and
ran to four columns in the local daily. Duncan and the Allen girl
motored to Washington in a demonstration-car, and while Dunk was
absent, the yard of the garage resembled the premises about a
junkshop. On their return they bought the Johnson place, and Cora
quickly demonstrated the same furious enthusiasm for homemaking and
motherhood that she had for athletics and carburetors.
Three years passed, and two small boys crept about the yard behind
the white rail fence. Then--when Duncan and his wife were "making a
great go of matrimony" in typical Yankee fashion--came the tragedy
that took all the vim out of Cora, stole the ruddy glow from her
girlish features and made her middle-aged in a twelvemonth. In the
infantile-paralysis epidemic which passed over New England three
years ago the McBrides suffered the supreme sorrow--twice. Those
small boys died within two weeks of each other.
Duncan of course kept on with his work at the garage. He was quieter
and steadier than ever. But when we drove into the place to have a
carburetor adjusted or a rattle tightened, we saw only too plainly
that on his heart was a wound the scars of which would never heal.
As for Cora, she was rarely seen in the village.
Troubles rarely come singly. One afternoon this past August, Duncan
completed repairs on Doc Potter's runabout. Cranking the machine to
run it from the workshop, the "dog" on the safety-clutch failed to
hold. The acceleration of the engine threw the machine into high.
Dunk was pinned in front while the roadster leaped ahead and rammed
the delivery truck of the Red Front Grocery.
Duncan was taken to our memorial hospital with internal injuries and
dislocation of his spine. He remained there many weeks. In fact, he
had been home only a couple of days when the evening stage left in
the McBride letter-box the daily paper containing the story of
Ruggam's "break" and of the reward offered for his capture.
Cora returned to the kitchen after obtaining the paper and sank
wearily into a wooden chair beside the table with the red cloth.
Spreading out the paper, she sought the usual mental distraction in
the three-and four-line bits which make up our local columns.
As the headlines caught her eye, she picked up the paper and entered
the bedroom where Duncan lay. There were telltale traces of tears on
his unshaven face, and an ache in his discouraged heart that would
not be assuaged, for it was becoming rumoured about the village that
Dunk the Dauntless might never operate on the vitals of an ailing
"Dunnie," cried his wife, "Hap Ruggam's escaped!" Sinking down beside
the bedroom lamp, she read him the article aloud.
Her husband's name was mentioned therein; for when the sheriff had
commandeered an automobile from the local garage to convey him and
his posse to Lost Nation and secure Ruggam, Duncan had been called
forth to preside at the steering-wheel. He had thus assisted in the
capture and later had been a witness at the trial.
The reading ended, the man rolled his head.
"If I wasn't held here, I might go!" he said. "I might try for that
five thousand myself!"
Cora was sympathetic enough, of course, but she was fast approaching
the stage where she needed sympathy herself.
"We caught him over on the Purcell farm," mused Duncan. "Something
ailed Ruggam. He was drunk and couldn't run. But that wasn't all. He
had had some kind of crazy-spell during or after the killing and
wasn't quite over it. We tied him and lifted him into the auto. His
face was a sight. His eyes aren't mates, anyhow, and they were wild
and unnatural. He kept shrieking something about a head of
hair--black hair--sticks up like wire. He must have had an awful
impression of Mart's face and that hair of his."
"I remember about Aunt Mary Crumpett's telling me of the trouble her
husband had with his prisoner in the days before the trial," his
wife replied. "He had those crazy-spells often, nights. He kept
yelling that he saw Martin Wiley's head with its peculiar hair, and
his face peering in at him through the cell window. Sometimes he
became so bad that Sheriff Crumpett thought he'd have apoplexy
Finally he had to call Dr. Johnson to attend him."
"Five thousand dollars!" muttered Duncan. "Gawd! I'd hunt the devil
_for nothing_ if I only had a chance of getting out of this bed."
Cora smoothed her husband's rumpled bed, comforted him and laid her
own tired head down beside his hand. When he had dozed off, she
arose and left the room.
In the kitchen she resumed her former place beside the table with
the cheap red cloth; and there, with her face in her hands, she
stared into endless distance.
"Five thousand dollars! Five thousand dollars!" Over and over she
whispered the words, with no one to hear.
The green-birch fire snapped merrily in the range. The draft sang in
the flue. Outside, a soft, feathery snow was falling, for winter
came early in the uplands of Vermont this past year. To Cora McBride,
however, the winter meant only hardship. Within another week she
must go into town and secure work. Not that she minded the labour
nor the trips through the vicious weather! The anguish was leaving
Duncan through those monotonous days before he should be up and
around. Those dreary winter days! What might they not do to
Five thousand dollars! Like many others in the valley that night she
pictured with fluttering heart what it would mean to possess such a
sum of money; but not once in her pitiful flight of fancy did she
disregard the task which must be performed to gain that wealth.
It meant traveling upward in the great snowbound reaches of Vermont
mountain-country and tracking down a murderer who had killed a
second time to gain his freedom and would stop at nothing again.
And yet--_five thousand dollars_!
How much will a person do, how far will a normal human being travel,
to earn five thousand dollars--if the need is sufficiently
As Cora McBride sat there in the homely little farmhouse kitchen and
thought of the debts still existent, contracted to save the already
stricken lives of two little lads forgotten now by all but herself
and Duncan and God, of the chances of losing their home if Duncan
could work no more and pay up the balance of their mortgage, of the
days when Duncan must lie in the south bedroom alone and count the
figures on the wallpaper--as she sat there and contemplated these
things, into Cora McBride's heart crept determination.
At first it was only a faint challenge to her courage. As the
minutes passed, however, her imagination ran riot, with five
thousand dollars to help them in their predicament. The challenge
grew. Multitudes of women down all the years had attempted wilder
ventures for those who were dear to them. Legion in number had been
those who set their hands and hearts to greater tasks, made more
improbable sacrifices, taken greater chances. Multitudes of them, too,
had won--on little else than the courage of ignorance and the
strength of desperation.
She had no fear of the great outdoors, for she had lived close to
the mountains from childhood and much of her old physical resiliency
and youthful daredeviltry remained. And the need was terrible; no
one anywhere in the valley, not even her own people, knew how
Cora McBride, alone by her table in the kitchen, that night made her
She took the kitchen lamp and went upstairs. Lifting the top of a
leather trunk, she found her husband's revolver. With it was a belt
and holster, the former filled with cartridges. In the storeroom
over the back kitchen she unhooked Duncan's mackinaw and found her
own toboggan-cap. From a corner behind some fishing-rods she
salvaged a pair of summer-dried snowshoes; they had facilitated many
a previous hike in the winter woods with her man of a thousand
adventures. She searched until she found the old army-haversack
Duncan used as a game-bag. Its shoulder-straps were broken but a
length of rope sufficed to bind it about her shoulders, after she
had filled it with provisions.
With this equipment she returned below-stairs. She drew on heavy
woollen stockings and buckled on arctics. She entered the cold
pantry and packed the knapsack with what supplies she could find at
the hour. She did not forget a drinking-cup, a hunting-knife or
matches. In her blouse she slipped a household flash-lamp.
Dressed finally for the adventure, from the kitchen she called
softly to her husband. He did not answer. She was overwhelmed by a
desire to go into the south bedroom and kiss him, so much might
happen before she saw him again. But she restrained herself. She
must not waken him.
She blew out the kerosene lamp, gave a last glance about
her familiar kitchen and went out through the shed door, closing it
softly behind her.
It was one of those close, quiet nights when the bark of a distant
dog or whinny of a horse sounds very near at hand. The snow was
An hour later found her far to the eastward, following an old side
road that led up to the Harrison lumber-job. She had meantime paid
Dave Sheldon, a neighbour's boy, encountered by his gate, to stay
with Duncan during her absence which she explained with a white lie.
But her conscience did not bother. Her conscience might be called
upon to smother much more before the adventure was ended.
Off in the depths of the snowing night she strode along, a weird
figure against the eerie whiteness that illumined the winter world.
She felt a strange wild thrill in the infinite out-of-doors. The
woodsman's blood of her father was having its little hour.
And she knew the woods. Intuitively she felt that if Ruggam was on
Haystack Mountain making his way toward Lost Nation, he would strike
for the shacks of the Green Mountain Club or the deserted
logging-camps along the trail, secreting himself in them during his
pauses for rest, for he had no food, and provisions were often left
in these structures by hunters and mountain hikers. Her plan was
simple. She would investigate each group of buildings. She had the
advantage of starting on the northwest side of Haystack. She would
be working toward Ruggam, while the rest of the posses were trailing
Mile after mile she covered. She decided it must be midnight when
she reached the ghostly buildings of the Harrison tract, lying white
and silent under the thickening snow. It was useless to search these
cabins; they were too near civilization. Besides, if Ruggam had left
the freight at Norwall on the eastern side of Haystack at noon, he
had thirty miles to travel before reaching the territory from which
she was starting. So she skirted the abandoned quiet of the clearing,
laid the snowshoes properly down before her and bound the thongs
securely about her ankles.
She had plenty of time to think of Ruggam as she padded along. He
had no snowshoes to aid him, unless he had managed to secure a pair
by burglary, which was improbable. So it was not difficult to
calculate about where she should begin watching for him. She
believed he would keep just off the main trail to avoid detection,
yet take its general direction in order to secure shelter and
possible food from the mountain buildings. When she reached the
country in which she might hope to encounter him, she would zigzag
across that main trail in order to pick up his foot-tracks if he had
passed her undetected. In that event she would turn and follow. She
knew that the snow was falling too heavily to continue in such
volume indefinitely; it would stop as suddenly as it had started.
The hours of the night piled up. The silent, muffling snowfall
continued. And Cora McBride began to sense an alarming weariness. It
finally dawned upon her that her old-time vigour was missing. The
strength of youth was hers no longer. Two experiences of motherhood
and no more exercise than was afforded by the tasks of her household,
had softened her muscles. Their limitations were now disclosed.
The realization of those limitations was accompanied by panic. She
was still many miles even from Blind Brook Cabin, and her limbs were
afire from the unaccustomed effort. This would never do. After
pauses for breath that were coming closer and closer together, she
set her lips each time grimly. "Tomboy Allen" had not counted on
succumbing to physical fatigue before she had climbed as far as
Blind Brook. If she were weakening already, what of those many miles
on the other side?
Tuesday the twenty-eighth of October passed with no tidings of
Ruggam's capture. The Holmes boy was fatally shot by a rattleheaded
searcher near Five-Mile Pond, and distraught parents began to take
thought of their own lads missing from school. Adam MacQuarry broke
his leg near the Hell Hollow schoolhouse and was sent back by
friends on a borrowed bobsled. Several ne'er-do-wells, long on
impulse and short on stickability, drifted back to more comfortable
quarters during the day, contending that if Hap were captured, the
officers would claim the reward anyhow--so what was the use bucking
The snowfall stopped in the early morning. Sunrise disclosed the
world trimmed from horizon to horizon in fairy fluff. Householders
jocosely shoveled their walks; small children resurrected attic sleds;
here and there a farmer appeared on Main Street during the forenoon
in a pung-sleigh or cutter with jingling bells. The sun soared higher,
and the day grew warmer. Eaves began dripping during the noon hour,
to stop when the sun sank about four o'clock behind Bancroft's hill.
After the sunset came a perfect evening. The starlight was magic.
Many people called in at the newspaper-office, after the movies, to
learn if the man hunt had brought results.
Between ten and eleven o'clock the lights on the valley floor
blinked out; the town had gone to bed--that is, the lights blinked
out in all homes excepting those on the eastern outskirts, where
nervous people worried over the possibilities of a hungry, hunted
convict's burglarizing their premises, or drawn-faced mothers lived
mentally through a score of calamities befalling red-blooded sons
who had now been absent twenty-four hours.
Sometime between nine o'clock and midnight--she had no way of
telling accurately--Cora McBride stumbled into the Lyons clearing.
No one would have recognized in the staggering, bedraggled
apparition that emerged from the silhouette of the timber the figure
that had started so confidently from the Harrison tract the previous
For over an hour she had hobbled blindly. It was wholly by accident
that she had stumbled into the clearing. And the capture of Ruggam
had diminished in importance. Warm food, water that would not tear
her raw throat, a place to lie and recoup her strength after the
chilling winter night--these were the only things that counted now.
Though she knew it not, in her eyes burned the faint light of fever.
When a snag caught her snowshoe and tripped her, there was hysteria
in her cry of resentment.
As she moved across from the timber-line her hair was revealed
fallen down; she had lost a glove, and one hand and wrist were
cruelly red where she had plunged them several times into the snow
to save herself from falling upon her face. She made but a few yards
before the icy thong of her right snowshoe snapped. She did not
bother to repair it. Carrying it beneath her arm, she hobbled
brokenly toward the shelter of the buildings.
Her failure at the other cabins, the lack, thus far, of all signs of
the fugitive, the vastness of the hunting-ground magnified by the
loneliness of winter, had convinced her finally that her quest was
futile. It was all a venture of madness. The idea that a woman,
alone and single-handed, with no weapon but a revolver, could track
down and subdue a desperate murderer in winter mountains where
hardly a wild thing stirred, and make him return with her to the
certain penalty--this proved how much mental mischief had again been
caused by the lure of money. The glittering seduction of gold had
deranged her. She realized it now, her mind normal in an exhausted
body. So she gained the walls of the buildings and stumbled around
them, thoughtless of any possible signs of the fugitive.
The stars were out in myriads. The Milky Way was a spectacle to
recall vividly the sentiment of the Nineteenth Psalm. The
log-buildings of the clearing, every tree-trunk and bough in the
woods beyond, the distant skyline of stump and hollow, all stood out
sharply against the peculiar radiance of the snow. The night was as
still as the spaces between the planets.
Like some wild creature of those winter woods the woman clumped and
stumbled around the main shack, seeking the door.
Finding it, she stopped; the snowshoe slipped from beneath her arm;
one numb hand groped for the log door-casing in support; the other
fumbled for the revolver.
Tracks led into that cabin!
A paralysis of fright gripped Cora McBride. Something told her
intuitively that she stood face to face at last with what she had
traveled all this mountain wilderness to find. Yet with sinking
heart it also came to her that if Hap Ruggam had made these tracks
and were still within, she must face him in her exhausted condition
and at once make that tortuous return trip to civilization. There
would be no one to help her.
She realized in that moment that she was facing the primal. And she
was not primal. She was a normal woman, weakened to near-prostration
by the trek of the past twenty-four hours. Was it not better to turn
away while there was time?
She stood debating thus, the eternal silence blanketing forest-world
and clearing. But she was allowed to make no decision.
A living body sprang suddenly upon her. Before she could cry out,
she was borne down precipitously from behind.
She tried to turn the revolver against the Thing upon her, but the
gun was twisted from her raw, red fingers. The snow into which she
had been precipitated blinded her. She smeared an arm across her eyes,
but before clear sight was regained, talon fingers had gripped her
shoulders. She was half lifted, half dragged through the doorway,
and there she was dropped on the plank flooring. Her assailant,
turning, made to close and bar the door.
When she could see clearly, she perceived a weak illumination in the
cabin. On the rough bench-table, shaded by two slabs of bark, burned
the stub of a tallow candle probably left by some hunting-party.
The windows were curtained with rotting blankets. Some rough
furniture lay about; rusted cooking-utensils littered the tables,
and at one end was a sheet-iron stove. The place had been equipped
after a fashion by deer-hunters or mountain hikers, who brought
additional furnishings to the place each year and left mouldy
provisions and unconsumed firewood behind.
The man succeeded finally in closing the door. He turned upon her.
He was short and stocky. The stolen corduroy coat covered
blacksmith's muscles now made doubly powerful by dementia. His hair
was lifeless black and clipped close, prison-fashion. His low
forehead hung over burning, mismated eyes. From her helplessness on
the floor Cora McBride stared up at him.
He came closer.
Back to Full Books