The Early Short Fiction of Edith Wharton Part One
Part 2 out of 3
had a liver. Take my advice and be cheerful. You'll make
yourself happier and others too.' And all he had to do was to
write a cheque, and send the poor girl off for a holiday!
"The hardest part of it was that the money half-belonged to us
already. The old skin-flint only had it for life, in trust for
us and the others. But his life was a good deal sounder than
mine or Kate's--and one could picture him taking extra care of it
for the joke of keeping us waiting. I always felt that the sight
of our hungry eyes was a tonic to him.
"Well, I tried to see if I couldn't reach him through his vanity.
I flattered him, feigned a passionate interest in his melons.
And he was taken in, and used to discourse on them by the hour.
On fine days he was driven to the green-houses in his pony-chair,
and waddled through them, prodding and leering at the fruit, like
a fat Turk in his seraglio. When he bragged to me of the expense
of growing them I was reminded of a hideous old Lothario bragging
of what his pleasures cost. And the resemblance was completed by
the fact that he couldn't eat as much as a mouthful of his
melons--had lived for years on buttermilk and toast. 'But, after
all, it's my only hobby--why shouldn't I indulge it?' he said
sentimentally. As if I'd ever been able to indulge any of mine!
On the keep of those melons Kate and I could have lived like
gods. . .
"One day toward the end of the summer, when Kate was too unwell
to drag herself up to the big house, she asked me to go and spend
the afternoon with cousin Joseph. It was a lovely soft September
afternoon--a day to lie under a Roman stone-pine, with one's eyes
on the sky, and let the cosmic harmonies rush through one.
Perhaps the vision was suggested by the fact that, as I entered
cousin Joseph's hideous black walnut library, I passed one of the
under-gardeners, a handsome full-throated Italian, who dashed out
in such a hurry that he nearly knocked me down. I remember
thinking it queer that the fellow, whom I had often seen about
the melon-houses, did not bow to me, or even seem to see me.
"Cousin Joseph sat in his usual seat, behind the darkened
windows, his fat hands folded on his protuberant waistcoat, the
last number of the Churchman at his elbow, and near it, on a huge
dish, a fat melon--the fattest melon I'd ever seen. As I looked
at it I pictured the ecstasy of contemplation from which I must
have roused him, and congratulated myself on finding him in such
a mood, since I had made up my mind to ask him a favour. Then I
noticed that his face, instead of looking as calm as an egg-
shell, was distorted and whimpering--and without stopping to
greet me he pointed passionately to the melon.
"'Look at it, look at it--did you ever see such a beauty? Such
firmness--roundness--such delicious smoothness to the touch?' It
was as if he had said 'she' instead of 'it,' and when he put out
his senile hand and touched the melon I positively had to look
the other way.
"Then he told me what had happened. The Italian under-gardener,
who had been specially recommended for the melon-houses--though
it was against my cousin's principles to employ a Papist--had
been assigned to the care of the monster: for it had revealed
itself, early in its existence, as destined to become a monster,
to surpass its plumpest, pulpiest sisters, carry off prizes at
agricultural shows, and be photographed and celebrated in every
gardening paper in the land. The Italian had done well--seemed
to have a sense of responsibility. And that very morning he had
been ordered to pick the melon, which was to be shown next day at
the county fair, and to bring it in for Mr. Lenman to gaze on its
blonde virginity. But in picking it, what had the damned
scoundrelly Jesuit done but drop it--drop it crash on the sharp
spout of a watering-pot, so that it received a deep gash in its
firm pale rotundity, and was henceforth but a bruised, ruined,
"The old man's rage was fearful in its impotence--he shook,
spluttered and strangled with it. He had just had the Italian up
and had sacked him on the spot, without wages or character--had
threatened to have him arrested if he was ever caught prowling
about Wrenfield. 'By God, and I'll do it--I'll write to
Washington--I'll have the pauper scoundrel deported! I'll show
him what money can do!' As likely as not there was some
murderous Black-hand business under it--it would be found that
the fellow was a member of a 'gang.' Those Italians would murder
you for a quarter. He meant to have the police look into it. . .
And then he grew frightened at his own excitement. 'But I must
calm myself,' he said. He took his temperature, rang for his
drops, and turned to the Churchman. He had been reading an
article on Nestorianism when the melon was brought in. He asked
me to go on with it, and I read to him for an hour, in the dim
close room, with a fat fly buzzing stealthily about the fallen
"All the while one phrase of the old man's buzzed in my brain
like the fly about the melon. 'I'LL SHOW HIM WHAT MONEY CAN DO!'
Good heaven! If I could but show the old man! If I could make
him see his power of giving happiness as a new outlet for his
monstrous egotism! I tried to tell him something about my
situation and Kate's--spoke of my ill-health, my unsuccessful
drudgery, my longing to write, to make myself a name--I stammered
out an entreaty for a loan. 'I can guarantee to repay you, sir--
I've a half-written play as security. . .'
"I shall never forget his glassy stare. His face had grown as
smooth as an egg-shell again--his eyes peered over his fat cheeks
like sentinels over a slippery rampart.
"'A half-written play--a play of YOURS as security?' He looked
at me almost fearfully, as if detecting the first symptoms of
insanity. 'Do you understand anything of business?' he enquired
mildly. I laughed and answered: 'No, not much.'
"He leaned back with closed lids. 'All this excitement has been
too much for me,' he said. 'If you'll excuse me, I'll prepare
for my nap.' And I stumbled out of the room, blindly, like the
Granice moved away from the mantel-piece, and walked across to
the tray set out with decanters and soda-water. He poured
himself a tall glass of soda-water, emptied it, and glanced at
Ascham's dead cigar.
"Better light another," he suggested.
The lawyer shook his head, and Granice went on with his tale. He
told of his mounting obsession--how the murderous impulse had
waked in him on the instant of his cousin's refusal, and he had
muttered to himself: "By God, if you won't, I'll make you." He
spoke more tranquilly as the narrative proceeded, as though his
rage had died down once the resolve to act on it was taken. He
applied his whole mind to the question of how the old man was to
be "disposed of." Suddenly he remembered the outcry: "Those
Italians will murder you for a quarter!" But no definite project
presented itself: he simply waited for an inspiration.
Granice and his sister moved to town a day or two after the
incident of the melon. But the cousins, who had returned, kept
them informed of the old man's condition. One day, about three
weeks later, Granice, on getting home, found Kate excited over a
report from Wrenfield. The Italian had been there again--had
somehow slipped into the house, made his way up to the library,
and "used threatening language." The house-keeper found cousin
Joseph gasping, the whites of his eyes showing "something awful."
The doctor was sent for, and the attack warded off; and the
police had ordered the Italian from the neighbourhood.
But cousin Joseph, thereafter, languished, had "nerves," and lost
his taste for toast and butter-milk. The doctor called in a
colleague, and the consultation amused and excited the old man--
he became once more an important figure. The medical men
reassured the family--too completely!--and to the patient they
recommended a more varied diet: advised him to take whatever
"tempted him." And so one day, tremulously, prayerfully, he
decided on a tiny bit of melon. It was brought up with ceremony,
and consumed in the presence of the house-keeper and a hovering
cousin; and twenty minutes later he was dead. . .
"But you remember the circumstances," Granice went on; "how
suspicion turned at once on the Italian? In spite of the hint
the police had given him he had been seen hanging about the house
since 'the scene.' It was said that he had tender relations with
the kitchen-maid, and the rest seemed easy to explain. But when
they looked round to ask him for the explanation he was gone--
gone clean out of sight. He had been 'warned' to leave
Wrenfield, and he had taken the warning so to heart that no one
ever laid eyes on him again."
Granice paused. He had dropped into a chair opposite the
lawyer's, and he sat for a moment, his head thrown back, looking
about the familiar room. Everything in it had grown grimacing
and alien, and each strange insistent object seemed craning
forward from its place to hear him.
"It was I who put the stuff in the melon," he said. "And I don't
want you to think I'm sorry for it. This isn't 'remorse,'
understand. I'm glad the old skin-flint is dead--I'm glad the
others have their money. But mine's no use to me any more. My
sister married miserably, and died. And I've never had what I
Ascham continued to stare; then he said: "What on earth was your
"Why, to GET what I wanted--what I fancied was in reach! I
wanted change, rest, LIFE, for both of us--wanted, above all, for
myself, the chance to write! I travelled, got back my health,
and came home to tie myself up to my work. And I've slaved at it
steadily for ten years without reward--without the most distant
hope of success! Nobody will look at my stuff. And now I'm
fifty, and I'm beaten, and I know it." His chin dropped forward
on his breast. "I want to chuck the whole business," he ended.
It was after midnight when Ascham left.
His hand on Granice's shoulder, as he turned to go--"District
Attorney be hanged; see a doctor, see a doctor!" he had cried;
and so, with an exaggerated laugh, had pulled on his coat and
Granice turned back into the library. It had never occurred to
him that Ascham would not believe his story. For three hours he
had explained, elucidated, patiently and painfully gone over
every detail--but without once breaking down the iron incredulity
of the lawyer's eye.
At first Ascham had feigned to be convinced--but that, as Granice
now perceived, was simply to get him to expose himself, to entrap
him into contradictions. And when the attempt failed, when
Granice triumphantly met and refuted each disconcerting question,
the lawyer dropped the mask suddenly, and said with a good-
humoured laugh: "By Jove, Granice you'll write a successful play
yet. The way you've worked this all out is a marvel."
Granice swung about furiously--that last sneer about the play
inflamed him. Was all the world in a conspiracy to deride his
"I did it, I did it," he muttered sullenly, his rage spending
itself against the impenetrable surface of the other's mockery;
and Ascham answered with a smile: "Ever read any of those books
on hallucination? I've got a fairly good medico-legal library.
I could send you one or two if you like. . ."
Left alone, Granice cowered down in the chair before his writing-
table. He understood that Ascham thought him off his head.
"Good God--what if they all think me crazy?"
The horror of it broke out over him in a cold sweat--he sat there
and shook, his eyes hidden in his icy hands. But gradually, as
he began to rehearse his story for the thousandth time, he saw
again how incontrovertible it was, and felt sure that any
criminal lawyer would believe him.
"That's the trouble--Ascham's not a criminal lawyer. And then
he's a friend. What a fool I was to talk to a friend! Even if
he did believe me, he'd never let me see it--his instinct would
be to cover the whole thing up. . . But in that case--if he DID
believe me--he might think it a kindness to get me shut up in an
asylum. . ." Granice began to tremble again. "Good heaven! If
he should bring in an expert--one of those damned alienists!
Ascham and Pettilow can do anything--their word always goes. If
Ascham drops a hint that I'd better be shut up, I'll be in a
strait-jacket by to-morrow! And he'd do it from the kindest
motives--be quite right to do it if he thinks I'm a murderer!"
The vision froze him to his chair. He pressed his fists to his
bursting temples and tried to think. For the first time he hoped
that Ascham had not believed his story.
"But he did--he did! I can see it now--I noticed what a queer
eye he cocked at me. Good God, what shall I do--what shall I
He started up and looked at the clock. Half-past one. What if
Ascham should think the case urgent, rout out an alienist, and
come back with him? Granice jumped to his feet, and his sudden
gesture brushed the morning paper from the table. Mechanically
he stooped to pick it up, and the movement started a new train of
He sat down again, and reached for the telephone book in the rack
by his chair.
"Give me three-o-ten . . . yes."
The new idea in his mind had revived his flagging energy. He
would act--act at once. It was only by thus planning ahead,
committing himself to some unavoidable line of conduct, that he
could pull himself through the meaningless days. Each time he
reached a fresh decision it was like coming out of a foggy
weltering sea into a calm harbour with lights. One of the
queerest phases of his long agony was the intense relief produced
by these momentary lulls.
"That the office of the Investigator? Yes? Give me Mr. Denver,
please. . . Hallo, Denver. . . Yes, Hubert Granice. . . . Just
caught you? Going straight home? Can I come and see you . . .
yes, now . . . have a talk? It's rather urgent . . . yes, might
give you some first-rate 'copy.' . . . All right!" He hung up
the receiver with a laugh. It had been a happy thought to call
up the editor of the Investigator--Robert Denver was the very man
he needed. . .
Granice put out the lights in the library--it was odd how the
automatic gestures persisted!--went into the hall, put on his hat
and overcoat, and let himself out of the flat. In the hall, a
sleepy elevator boy blinked at him and then dropped his head on
his folded arms. Granice passed out into the street. At the
corner of Fifth Avenue he hailed a crawling cab, and called out
an up-town address. The long thoroughfare stretched before him,
dim and deserted, like an ancient avenue of tombs. But from
Denver's house a friendly beam fell on the pavement; and as
Granice sprang from his cab the editor's electric turned the
The two men grasped hands, and Denver, feeling for his latch-key,
ushered Granice into the brightly-lit hall.
"Disturb me? Not a bit. You might have, at ten to-morrow
morning . . . but this is my liveliest hour . . . you know my
habits of old."
Granice had known Robert Denver for fifteen years--watched his
rise through all the stages of journalism to the Olympian
pinnacle of the Investigator's editorial office. In the thick-
set man with grizzling hair there were few traces left of the
hungry-eyed young reporter who, on his way home in the small
hours, used to "bob in" on Granice, while the latter sat grinding
at his plays. Denver had to pass Granice's flat on the way to
his own, and it became a habit, if he saw a light in the window,
and Granice's shadow against the blind, to go in, smoke a pipe,
and discuss the universe.
"Well--this is like old times--a good old habit reversed." The
editor smote his visitor genially on the shoulder. "Reminds me
of the nights when I used to rout you out. . . How's the play,
by the way? There IS a play, I suppose? It's as safe to ask you
that as to say to some men: 'How's the baby?'"
Denver laughed good-naturedly, and Granice thought how thick and
heavy he had grown. It was evident, even to Granice's tortured
nerves, that the words had not been uttered in malice--and the
fact gave him a new measure of his insignificance. Denver did
not even know that he had been a failure! The fact hurt more
than Ascham's irony.
"Come in--come in." The editor led the way into a small cheerful
room, where there were cigars and decanters. He pushed an arm-
chair toward his visitor, and dropped into another with a
"Now, then--help yourself. And let's hear all about it."
He beamed at Granice over his pipe-bowl, and the latter, lighting
his cigar, said to himself: "Success makes men comfortable, but
it makes them stupid."
Then he turned, and began: "Denver, I want to tell you--"
The clock ticked rhythmically on the mantel-piece. The little
room was gradually filled with drifting blue layers of smoke, and
through them the editor's face came and went like the moon
through a moving sky. Once the hour struck--then the rhythmical
ticking began again. The atmosphere grew denser and heavier, and
beads of perspiration began to roll from Granice's forehead.
"Do you mind if I open the window?"
"No. It IS stuffy in here. Wait--I'll do it myself." Denver
pushed down the upper sash, and returned to his chair. "Well--go
on," he said, filling another pipe. His composure exasperated
"There's no use in my going on if you don't believe me."
The editor remained unmoved. "Who says I don't believe you? And
how can I tell till you've finished?"
Granice went on, ashamed of his outburst. "It was simple enough,
as you'll see. From the day the old man said to me, 'Those
Italians would murder you for a quarter,' I dropped everything
and just worked at my scheme. It struck me at once that I must
find a way of getting to Wrenfield and back in a night--and that
led to the idea of a motor. A motor--that never occurred to you?
You wonder where I got the money, I suppose. Well, I had a
thousand or so put by, and I nosed around till I found what I
wanted--a second-hand racer. I knew how to drive a car, and I
tried the thing and found it was all right. Times were bad, and
I bought it for my price, and stored it away. Where? Why, in
one of those no-questions-asked garages where they keep motors
that are not for family use. I had a lively cousin who had put
me up to that dodge, and I looked about till I found a queer hole
where they took in my car like a baby in a foundling asylum. . .
Then I practiced running to Wrenfield and back in a night. I
knew the way pretty well, for I'd done it often with the same
lively cousin--and in the small hours, too. The distance is over
ninety miles, and on the third trial I did it under two hours.
But my arms were so lame that I could hardly get dressed the next
morning. . .
"Well, then came the report about the Italian's threats, and I
saw I must act at once. . . I meant to break into the old man's
room, shoot him, and get away again. It was a big risk, but I
thought I could manage it. Then we heard that he was ill--that
there'd been a consultation. Perhaps the fates were going to do
it for me! Good Lord, if that could only be! . . ."
Granice stopped and wiped his forehead: the open window did not
seem to have cooled the room.
"Then came word that he was better; and the day after, when I
came up from my office, I found Kate laughing over the news that
he was to try a bit of melon. The house-keeper had just
telephoned her--all Wrenfield was in a flutter. The doctor
himself had picked out the melon, one of the little French ones
that are hardly bigger than a large tomato--and the patient was
to eat it at his breakfast the next morning.
"In a flash I saw my chance. It was a bare chance, no more. But
I knew the ways of the house--I was sure the melon would be
brought in over night and put in the pantry ice-box. If there
were only one melon in the ice-box I could be fairly sure it was
the one I wanted. Melons didn't lie around loose in that house--
every one was known, numbered, catalogued. The old man was beset
by the dread that the servants would eat them, and he took a
hundred mean precautions to prevent it. Yes, I felt pretty sure
of my melon . . . and poisoning was much safer than shooting. It
would have been the devil and all to get into the old man's
bedroom without his rousing the house; but I ought to be able to
break into the pantry without much trouble.
"It was a cloudy night, too--everything served me. I dined
quietly, and sat down at my desk. Kate had one of her usual
headaches, and went to bed early. As soon as she was gone I
slipped out. I had got together a sort of disguise--red beard
and queer-looking ulster. I shoved them into a bag, and went
round to the garage. There was no one there but a half-drunken
machinist whom I'd never seen before. That served me, too. They
were always changing machinists, and this new fellow didn't even
bother to ask if the car belonged to me. It was a very easy-
going place. . .
"Well, I jumped in, ran up Broadway, and let the car go as soon
as I was out of Harlem. Dark as it was, I could trust myself to
strike a sharp pace. In the shadow of a wood I stopped a second
and got into the beard and ulster. Then away again--it was just
eleven-thirty when I got to Wrenfield.
"I left the car in a dark lane behind the Lenman place, and
slipped through the kitchen-garden. The melon-houses winked at
me through the dark--I remember thinking that they knew what I
wanted to know. . . . By the stable a dog came out growling--but
he nosed me out, jumped on me, and went back. . . The house was
as dark as the grave. I knew everybody went to bed by ten. But
there might be a prowling servant--the kitchen-maid might have
come down to let in her Italian. I had to risk that, of course.
I crept around by the back door and hid in the shrubbery. Then I
listened. It was all as silent as death. I crossed over to the
house, pried open the pantry window and climbed in. I had a
little electric lamp in my pocket, and shielding it with my cap I
groped my way to the ice-box, opened it--and there was the little
French melon . . . only one.
"I stopped to listen--I was quite cool. Then I pulled out my
bottle of stuff and my syringe, and gave each section of the
melon a hypodermic. It was all done inside of three minutes--at
ten minutes to twelve I was back in the car. I got out of the
lane as quietly as I could, struck a back road that skirted the
village, and let the car out as soon as I was beyond the last
houses. I only stopped once on the way in, to drop the beard and
ulster into a pond. I had a big stone ready to weight them with
and they went down plump, like a dead body--and at two o'clock I
was back at my desk."
Granice stopped speaking and looked across the smoke-fumes at his
listener; but Denver's face remained inscrutable.
At length he said: "Why did you want to tell me this?"
The question startled Granice. He was about to explain, as he
had explained to Ascham; but suddenly it occurred to him that if
his motive had not seemed convincing to the lawyer it would carry
much less weight with Denver. Both were successful men, and
success does not understand the subtle agony of failure. Granice
cast about for another reason.
"Why, I--the thing haunts me . . . remorse, I suppose you'd call
it. . ."
Denver struck the ashes from his empty pipe.
"Remorse? Bosh!" he said energetically.
Granice's heart sank. "You don't believe in--REMORSE?"
"Not an atom: in the man of action. The mere fact of your
talking of remorse proves to me that you're not the man to have
planned and put through such a job."
Granice groaned. "Well--I lied to you about remorse. I've never
Denver's lips tightened sceptically about his freshly-filled
pipe. "What was your motive, then? You must have had one."
"I'll tell you--" And Granice began again to rehearse the story
of his failure, of his loathing for life. "Don't say you don't
believe me this time . . . that this isn't a real reason!" he
stammered out piteously as he ended.
Denver meditated. "No, I won't say that. I've seen too many
queer things. There's always a reason for wanting to get out of
life--the wonder is that we find so many for staying in!"
Granice's heart grew light. "Then you DO believe me?" he
"Believe that you're sick of the job? Yes. And that you haven't
the nerve to pull the trigger? Oh, yes--that's easy enough, too.
But all that doesn't make you a murderer--though I don't say it
proves you could never have been one."
"I HAVE been one, Denver--I swear to you."
"Perhaps." He meditated. "Just tell me one or two things."
"Oh, go ahead. You won't stump me!" Granice heard himself say
with a laugh.
"Well--how did you make all those trial trips without exciting
your sister's curiosity? I knew your night habits pretty well at
that time, remember. You were very seldom out late. Didn't the
change in your ways surprise her?"
"No; because she was away at the time. She went to pay several
visits in the country soon after we came back from Wrenfield, and
was only in town for a night or two before--before I did the job."
"And that night she went to bed early with a headache?"
"Yes--blinding. She didn't know anything when she had that kind.
And her room was at the back of the flat."
Denver again meditated. "And when you got back--she didn't hear
you? You got in without her knowing it?"
"Yes. I went straight to my work--took it up at the word where
I'd left off--WHY, DENVER, DON'T YOU REMEMBER?" Granice suddenly,
"Yes; how you found me--when you looked in that morning, between
two and three . . . your usual hour . . .?"
"Yes," the editor nodded.
Granice gave a short laugh. "In my old coat--with my pipe:
looked as if I'd been working all night, didn't I? Well, I
hadn't been in my chair ten minutes!"
Denver uncrossed his legs and then crossed them again. "I didn't
know whether YOU remembered that."
"My coming in that particular night--or morning."
Granice swung round in his chair. "Why, man alive! That's why
I'm here now. Because it was you who spoke for me at the
inquest, when they looked round to see what all the old man's
heirs had been doing that night--you who testified to having
dropped in and found me at my desk as usual. . . . I thought
THAT would appeal to your journalistic sense if nothing else
Denver smiled. "Oh, my journalistic sense is still susceptible
enough--and the idea's picturesque, I grant you: asking the man
who proved your alibi to establish your guilt."
"That's it--that's it!" Granice's laugh had a ring of triumph.
"Well, but how about the other chap's testimony--I mean that
young doctor: what was his name? Ned Ranney. Don't you remember
my testifying that I'd met him at the elevated station, and told
him I was on my way to smoke a pipe with you, and his saying:
'All right; you'll find him in. I passed the house two hours
ago, and saw his shadow against the blind, as usual.' And the
lady with the toothache in the flat across the way: she
corroborated his statement, you remember."
"Yes; I remember."
"Simple enough. Before starting I rigged up a kind of mannikin
with old coats and a cushion--something to cast a shadow on the
blind. All you fellows were used to seeing my shadow there in
the small hours--I counted on that, and knew you'd take any vague
outline as mine."
"Simple enough, as you say. But the woman with the toothache saw
the shadow move--you remember she said she saw you sink forward,
as if you'd fallen asleep."
"Yes; and she was right. It DID move. I suppose some extra-
heavy dray must have jolted by the flimsy building--at any rate,
something gave my mannikin a jar, and when I came back he had
sunk forward, half over the table."
There was a long silence between the two men. Granice, with a
throbbing heart, watched Denver refill his pipe. The editor, at
any rate, did not sneer and flout him. After all, journalism
gave a deeper insight than the law into the fantastic
possibilities of life, prepared one better to allow for the
incalculableness of human impulses.
"Well?" Granice faltered out.
Denver stood up with a shrug. "Look here, man--what's wrong with
you? Make a clean breast of it! Nerves gone to smash? I'd like
to take you to see a chap I know--an ex-prize-fighter--who's a
wonder at pulling fellows in your state out of their hole--"
"Oh, oh--" Granice broke in. He stood up also, and the two men
eyed each other. "You don't believe me, then?"
"This yarn--how can I? There wasn't a flaw in your alibi."
"But haven't I filled it full of them now?"
Denver shook his head. "I might think so if I hadn't happened to
know that you WANTED to. There's the hitch, don't you see?"
Granice groaned. "No, I didn't. You mean my wanting to be found
"Of course! If somebody else had accused you, the story might
have been worth looking into. As it is, a child could have
invented it. It doesn't do much credit to your ingenuity."
Granice turned sullenly toward the door. What was the use of
arguing? But on the threshold a sudden impulse drew him back.
"Look here, Denver--I daresay you're right. But will you do just
one thing to prove it? Put my statement in the Investigator,
just as I've made it. Ridicule it as much as you like. Only
give the other fellows a chance at it--men who don't know
anything about me. Set them talking and looking about. I don't
care a damn whether YOU believe me--what I want is to convince
the Grand Jury! I oughtn't to have come to a man who knows me--
your cursed incredulity is infectious. I don't put my case well,
because I know in advance it's discredited, and I almost end by
not believing it myself. That's why I can't convince YOU. It's
a vicious circle." He laid a hand on Denver's arm. "Send a
stenographer, and put my statement in the paper.
But Denver did not warm to the idea. "My dear fellow, you seem
to forget that all the evidence was pretty thoroughly sifted at
the time, every possible clue followed up. The public would have
been ready enough then to believe that you murdered old Lenman--
you or anybody else. All they wanted was a murderer--the most
improbable would have served. But your alibi was too
confoundedly complete. And nothing you've told me has shaken
it." Denver laid his cool hand over the other's burning fingers.
"Look here, old fellow, go home and work up a better case--then
come in and submit it to the Investigator."
The perspiration was rolling off Granice's forehead. Every few
minutes he had to draw out his handkerchief and wipe the moisture
from his haggard face.
For an hour and a half he had been talking steadily, putting his
case to the District Attorney. Luckily he had a speaking
acquaintance with Allonby, and had obtained, without much
difficulty, a private audience on the very day after his talk
with Robert Denver. In the interval between he had hurried home,
got out of his evening clothes, and gone forth again at once into
the dreary dawn. His fear of Ascham and the alienist made it
impossible for him to remain in his rooms. And it seemed to him
that the only way of averting that hideous peril was by
establishing, in some sane impartial mind, the proof of his
guilt. Even if he had not been so incurably sick of life, the
electric chair seemed now the only alternative to the strait-
As he paused to wipe his forehead he saw the District Attorney
glance at his watch. The gesture was significant, and Granice
lifted an appealing hand. "I don't expect you to believe me now--
but can't you put me under arrest, and have the thing looked into?"
Allonby smiled faintly under his heavy grayish moustache. He had
a ruddy face, full and jovial, in which his keen professional
eyes seemed to keep watch over impulses not strictly
"Well, I don't know that we need lock you up just yet. But of
course I'm bound to look into your statement--"
Granice rose with an exquisite sense of relief. Surely Allonby
wouldn't have said that if he hadn't believed him!
"That's all right. Then I needn't detain you. I can be found at
any time at my apartment." He gave the address.
The District Attorney smiled again, more openly. "What do you
say to leaving it for an hour or two this evening? I'm giving a
little supper at Rector's--quiet, little affair, you understand:
just Miss Melrose--I think you know her--and a friend or two; and
if you'll join us. . ."
Granice stumbled out of the office without knowing what reply he
He waited for four days--four days of concentrated horror.
During the first twenty-four hours the fear of Ascham's alienist
dogged him; and as that subsided, it was replaced by the
exasperating sense that his avowal had made no impression on the
District Attorney. Evidently, if he had been going to look into
the case, Allonby would have been heard from before now. . . .
And that mocking invitation to supper showed clearly enough how
little the story had impressed him!
Granice was overcome by the futility of any farther attempt to
inculpate himself. He was chained to life--a "prisoner of
consciousness." Where was it he had read the phrase? Well, he
was learning what it meant. In the glaring night-hours, when his
brain seemed ablaze, he was visited by a sense of his fixed
identity, of his irreducible, inexpugnable SELFNESS, keener, more
insidious, more unescapable, than any sensation he had ever
known. He had not guessed that the mind was capable of such
intricacies of self-realization, of penetrating so deep into its
own dark windings. Often he woke from his brief snatches of
sleep with the feeling that something material was clinging to
him, was on his hands and face, and in his throat--and as his
brain cleared he understood that it was the sense of his own
loathed personality that stuck to him like some thick viscous
Then, in the first morning hours, he would rise and look out of
his window at the awakening activities of the street--at the
street-cleaners, the ash-cart drivers, and the other dingy
workers flitting hurriedly by through the sallow winter light.
Oh, to be one of them--any of them--to take his chance in any of
their skins! They were the toilers--the men whose lot was
pitied--the victims wept over and ranted about by altruists and
economists; and how gladly he would have taken up the load of any
one of them, if only he might have shaken off his own! But, no--
the iron circle of consciousness held them too: each one was
hand-cuffed to his own hideous ego. Why wish to be any one man
rather than another? The only absolute good was not to be . . .
And Flint, coming in to draw his bath, would ask if he preferred
his eggs scrambled or poached that morning?
On the fifth day he wrote a long urgent letter to Allonby; and
for the succeeding two days he had the occupation of waiting for
an answer. He hardly stirred from his rooms, in his fear of
missing the letter by a moment; but would the District Attorney
write, or send a representative: a policeman, a "secret agent,"
or some other mysterious emissary of the law?
On the third morning Flint, stepping softly--as if, confound it!
his master were ill--entered the library where Granice sat behind
an unread newspaper, and proferred a card on a tray.
Granice read the name--J. B. Hewson--and underneath, in pencil,
"From the District Attorney's office." He started up with a
thumping heart, and signed an assent to the servant.
Mr. Hewson was a slight sallow nondescript man of about fifty--
the kind of man of whom one is sure to see a specimen in any
crowd. "Just the type of the successful detective," Granice
reflected as he shook hands with his visitor.
And it was in that character that Mr. Hewson briefly introduced
himself. He had been sent by the District Attorney to have "a
quiet talk" with Mr. Granice--to ask him to repeat the statement
he had made about the Lenman murder.
His manner was so quiet, so reasonable and receptive, that
Granice's self-confidence returned. Here was a sensible man--a
man who knew his business--it would be easy enough to make HIM
see through that ridiculous alibi! Granice offered Mr. Hewson a
cigar, and lighting one himself--to prove his coolness--began
again to tell his story.
He was conscious, as he proceeded, of telling it better than ever
before. Practice helped, no doubt; and his listener's detached,
impartial attitude helped still more. He could see that Hewson,
at least, had not decided in advance to disbelieve him, and the
sense of being trusted made him more lucid and more consecutive.
Yes, this time his words would certainly carry conviction. . .
Despairingly, Granice gazed up and down the shabby street.
Beside him stood a young man with bright prominent eyes, a smooth
but not too smoothly-shaven face, and an Irish smile. The young
man's nimble glance followed Granice's.
"Sure of the number, are you?" he asked briskly.
"Oh, yes--it was 104."
"Well, then, the new building has swallowed it up--that's
He tilted his head back and surveyed the half-finished front of a
brick and limestone flat-house that reared its flimsy elegance
above a row of tottering tenements and stables.
"Dead sure?" he repeated.
"Yes," said Granice, discouraged. "And even if I hadn't been, I
know the garage was just opposite Leffler's over there." He
pointed across the street to a tumble-down stable with a blotched
sign on which the words "Livery and Boarding" were still faintly
The young man dashed across to the opposite pavement. "Well,
that's something--may get a clue there. Leffler's--same name
there, anyhow. You remember that name?"
Granice had felt a return of confidence since he had enlisted the
interest of the Explorer's "smartest" reporter. If there were
moments when he hardly believed his own story, there were others
when it seemed impossible that every one should not believe it;
and young Peter McCarren, peering, listening, questioning,
jotting down notes, inspired him with an exquisite sense of
security. McCarren had fastened on the case at once, "like a
leech," as he phrased it--jumped at it, thrilled to it, and
settled down to "draw the last drop of fact from it, and had not
let go till he had." No one else had treated Granice in that
way--even Allonby's detective had not taken a single note. And
though a week had elapsed since the visit of that authorized
official, nothing had been heard from the District Attorney's
office: Allonby had apparently dropped the matter again. But
McCarren wasn't going to drop it--not he! He positively hung on
Granice's footsteps. They had spent the greater part of the
previous day together, and now they were off again, running down
But at Leffler's they got none, after all. Leffler's was no
longer a stable. It was condemned to demolition, and in the
respite between sentence and execution it had become a vague
place of storage, a hospital for broken-down carriages and carts,
presided over by a blear-eyed old woman who knew nothing of
Flood's garage across the way--did not even remember what had
stood there before the new flat-house began to rise.
"Well--we may run Leffler down somewhere; I've seen harder jobs
done," said McCarren, cheerfully noting down the name.
As they walked back toward Sixth Avenue he added, in a less
sanguine tone: "I'd undertake now to put the thing through if you
could only put me on the track of that cyanide."
Granice's heart sank. Yes--there was the weak spot; he had felt
it from the first! But he still hoped to convince McCarren that
his case was strong enough without it; and he urged the reporter
to come back to his rooms and sum up the facts with him again.
"Sorry, Mr. Granice, but I'm due at the office now. Besides,
it'd be no use till I get some fresh stuff to work on. Suppose I
call you up tomorrow or next day?"
He plunged into a trolley and left Granice gazing desolately
Two days later he reappeared at the apartment, a shade less
jaunty in demeanor.
"Well, Mr. Granice, the stars in their courses are against you,
as the bard says. Can't get a trace of Flood, or of Leffler
either. And you say you bought the motor through Flood, and sold
it through him, too?"
"Yes," said Granice wearily.
"Who bought it, do you know?"
Granice wrinkled his brows. "Why, Flood--yes, Flood himself. I
sold it back to him three months later."
"Flood? The devil! And I've ransacked the town for Flood. That
kind of business disappears as if the earth had swallowed it."
Granice, discouraged, kept silence.
"That brings us back to the poison," McCarren continued, his
note-book out. "Just go over that again, will you?"
And Granice went over it again. It had all been so simple at the
time--and he had been so clever in covering up his traces! As
soon as he decided on poison he looked about for an acquaintance
who manufactured chemicals; and there was Jim Dawes, a Harvard
classmate, in the dyeing business--just the man. But at the last
moment it occurred to him that suspicion might turn toward so
obvious an opportunity, and he decided on a more tortuous course.
Another friend, Carrick Venn, a student of medicine whom
irremediable ill-health had kept from the practice of his
profession, amused his leisure with experiments in physics, for
the exercise of which he had set up a simple laboratory. Granice
had the habit of dropping in to smoke a cigar with him on Sunday
afternoons, and the friends generally sat in Venn's work-shop, at
the back of the old family house in Stuyvesant Square. Off this
work-shop was the cupboard of supplies, with its row of deadly
bottles. Carrick Venn was an original, a man of restless curious
tastes, and his place, on a Sunday, was often full of visitors: a
cheerful crowd of journalists, scribblers, painters,
experimenters in divers forms of expression. Coming and going
among so many, it was easy enough to pass unperceived; and one
afternoon Granice, arriving before Venn had returned home, found
himself alone in the work-shop, and quickly slipping into the
cupboard, transferred the drug to his pocket.
But that had happened ten years ago; and Venn, poor fellow, was
long since dead of his dragging ailment. His old father was
dead, too, the house in Stuyvesant Square had been turned into a
boarding-house, and the shifting life of New York had passed its
rapid sponge over every trace of their obscure little history.
Even the optimistic McCarren seemed to acknowledge the
hopelessness of seeking for proof in that direction.
"And there's the third door slammed in our faces." He shut his
note-book, and throwing back his head, rested his bright
inquisitive eyes on Granice's furrowed face.
"Look here, Mr. Granice--you see the weak spot, don't you?"
The other made a despairing motion. "I see so many!"
"Yes: but the one that weakens all the others. Why the deuce do
you want this thing known? Why do you want to put your head into
Granice looked at him hopelessly, trying to take the measure of
his quick light irreverent mind. No one so full of a cheerful
animal life would believe in the craving for death as a
sufficient motive; and Granice racked his brain for one more
convincing. But suddenly he saw the reporter's face soften, and
melt to a naive sentimentalism.
"Mr. Granice--has the memory of it always haunted you?"
Granice stared a moment, and then leapt at the opening. "That's
it--the memory of it . . . always . . ."
McCarren nodded vehemently. "Dogged your steps, eh? Wouldn't
let you sleep? The time came when you HAD to make a clean breast
"I had to. Can't you understand?"
The reporter struck his fist on the table. "God, sir! I don't
suppose there's a human being with a drop of warm blood in him
that can't picture the deadly horrors of remorse--"
The Celtic imagination was aflame, and Granice mutely thanked him
for the word. What neither Ascham nor Denver would accept as a
conceivable motive the Irish reporter seized on as the most
adequate; and, as he said, once one could find a convincing
motive, the difficulties of the case became so many incentives to
"Remorse--REMORSE," he repeated, rolling the word under his
tongue with an accent that was a clue to the psychology of the
popular drama; and Granice, perversely, said to himself: "If I
could only have struck that note I should have been running in
six theatres at once."
He saw that from that moment McCarren's professional zeal would
be fanned by emotional curiosity; and he profited by the fact to
propose that they should dine together, and go on afterward to
some music-hall or theatre. It was becoming necessary to Granice
to feel himself an object of pre-occupation, to find himself in
another mind. He took a kind of gray penumbral pleasure in
riveting McCarren's attention on his case; and to feign the
grimaces of moral anguish became a passionately engrossing game.
He had not entered a theatre for months; but he sat out the
meaningless performance in rigid tolerance, sustained by the
sense of the reporter's observation.
Between the acts, McCarren amused him with anecdotes about the
audience: he knew every one by sight, and could lift the curtain
from every physiognomy. Granice listened indulgently. He had
lost all interest in his kind, but he knew that he was himself
the real centre of McCarren's attention, and that every word the
latter spoke had an indirect bearing on his own problem.
"See that fellow over there--the little dried-up man in the third
row, pulling his moustache? HIS memoirs would be worth
publishing," McCarren said suddenly in the last entr'acte.
Granice, following his glance, recognized the detective from
Allonby's office. For a moment he had the thrilling sense that
he was being shadowed.
"Caesar, if HE could talk--!" McCarren continued. "Know who he
is, of course? Dr. John B. Stell, the biggest alienist in the
Granice, with a start, bent again between the heads in front of
him. "THAT man--the fourth from the aisle? You're mistaken.
That's not Dr. Stell."
McCarren laughed. "Well, I guess I've been in court enough to
know Stell when I see him. He testifies in nearly all the big
cases where they plead insanity."
A cold shiver ran down Granice's spine, but he repeated
obstinately: "That's not Dr. Stell."
"Not Stell? Why, man, I KNOW him. Look--here he comes. If it
isn't Stell, he won't speak to me."
The little dried-up man was moving slowly up the aisle. As he
neared McCarren he made a slight gesture of recognition.
"How'do, Doctor Stell? Pretty slim show, ain't it?" the reporter
cheerfully flung out at him. And Mr. J. B. Hewson, with a nod of
amicable assent, passed on.
Granice sat benumbed. He knew he had not been mistaken--the man
who had just passed was the same man whom Allonby had sent to see
him: a physician disguised as a detective. Allonby, then, had
thought him insane, like the others--had regarded his confession
as the maundering of a maniac. The discovery froze Granice with
horror--he seemed to see the mad-house gaping for him.
"Isn't there a man a good deal like him--a detective named J. B.
But he knew in advance what McCarren's answer would be. "Hewson?
J. B. Hewson? Never heard of him. But that was J. B. Stell fast
enough--I guess he can be trusted to know himself, and you saw he
answered to his name."
Some days passed before Granice could obtain a word with the
District Attorney: he began to think that Allonby avoided him.
But when they were face to face Allonby's jovial countenance
showed no sign of embarrassment. He waved his visitor to a
chair, and leaned across his desk with the encouraging smile of a
Granice broke out at once: "That detective you sent me the other
Allonby raised a deprecating hand.
"--I know: it was Stell the alienist. Why did you do that,
The other's face did not lose its composure. "Because I looked
up your story first--and there's nothing in it."
"Nothing in it?" Granice furiously interposed.
"Absolutely nothing. If there is, why the deuce don't you bring
me proofs? I know you've been talking to Peter Ascham, and to
Denver, and to that little ferret McCarren of the Explorer. Have
any of them been able to make out a case for you? No. Well,
what am I to do?"
Granice's lips began to tremble. "Why did you play me that
"About Stell? I had to, my dear fellow: it's part of my
business. Stell IS a detective, if you come to that--every
The trembling of Granice's lips increased, communicating itself
in a long quiver to his facial muscles. He forced a laugh
through his dry throat. "Well--and what did he detect?"
"In you? Oh, he thinks it's overwork--overwork and too much
smoking. If you look in on him some day at his office he'll show
you the record of hundreds of cases like yours, and advise you
what treatment to follow. It's one of the commonest forms of
hallucination. Have a cigar, all the same."
"But, Allonby, I killed that man!"
The District Attorney's large hand, outstretched on his desk, had
an almost imperceptible gesture, and a moment later, as if an
answer to the call of an electric bell, a clerk looked in from
the outer office.
"Sorry, my dear fellow--lot of people waiting. Drop in on Stell
some morning," Allonby said, shaking hands.
McCarren had to own himself beaten: there was absolutely no flaw
in the alibi. And since his duty to his journal obviously
forbade his wasting time on insoluble mysteries, he ceased to
frequent Granice, who dropped back into a deeper isolation. For
a day or two after his visit to Allonby he continued to live in
dread of Dr. Stell. Why might not Allonby have deceived him as
to the alienist's diagnosis? What if he were really being
shadowed, not by a police agent but by a mad-doctor? To have the
truth out, he suddenly determined to call on Dr. Stell.
The physician received him kindly, and reverted without
embarrassment to the conditions of their previous meeting. "We
have to do that occasionally, Mr. Granice; it's one of our
methods. And you had given Allonby a fright."
Granice was silent. He would have liked to reaffirm his guilt,
to produce the fresh arguments which had occurred to him since
his last talk with the physician; but he feared his eagerness
might be taken for a symptom of derangement, and he affected to
smile away Dr. Stell's allusion.
"You think, then, it's a case of brain-fag--nothing more?"
"Nothing more. And I should advise you to knock off tobacco.
You smoke a good deal, don't you?"
He developed his treatment, recommending massage, gymnastics,
travel, or any form of diversion that did not--that in short--
Granice interrupted him impatiently. "Oh, I loathe all that--and
I'm sick of travelling."
"H'm. Then some larger interest--politics, reform, philanthropy?
Something to take you out of yourself."
"Yes. I understand," said Granice wearily.
"Above all, don't lose heart. I see hundreds of cases like
yours," the doctor added cheerfully from the threshold.
On the doorstep Granice stood still and laughed. Hundreds of
cases like his--the case of a man who had committed a murder, who
confessed his guilt, and whom no one would believe! Why, there
had never been a case like it in the world. What a good figure
Stell would have made in a play: the great alienist who couldn't
read a man's mind any better than that!
Granice saw huge comic opportunities in the type.
But as he walked away, his fears dispelled, the sense of
listlessness returned on him. For the first time since his
avowal to Peter Ascham he found himself without an occupation,
and understood that he had been carried through the past weeks
only by the necessity of constant action. Now his life had once
more become a stagnant backwater, and as he stood on the street
corner watching the tides of traffic sweep by, he asked himself
despairingly how much longer he could endure to float about in
the sluggish circle of his consciousness.
The thought of self-destruction recurred to him; but again his
flesh recoiled. He yearned for death from other hands, but he
could never take it from his own. And, aside from his
insuperable physical reluctance, another motive restrained him.
He was possessed by the dogged desire to establish the truth of
his story. He refused to be swept aside as an irresponsible
dreamer--even if he had to kill himself in the end, he would not
do so before proving to society that he had deserved death from it.
He began to write long letters to the papers; but after the first
had been published and commented on, public curiosity was quelled
by a brief statement from the District Attorney's office, and the
rest of his communications remained unprinted. Ascham came to
see him, and begged him to travel. Robert Denver dropped in, and
tried to joke him out of his delusion; till Granice, mistrustful
of their motives, began to dread the reappearance of Dr. Stell,
and set a guard on his lips. But the words he kept back
engendered others and still others in his brain. His inner self
became a humming factory of arguments, and he spent long hours
reciting and writing down elaborate statements of his crime,
which he constantly retouched and developed. Then gradually his
activity languished under the lack of an audience, the sense of
being buried beneath deepening drifts of indifference. In a
passion of resentment he swore that he would prove himself a
murderer, even if he had to commit another crime to do it; and
for a sleepless night or two the thought flamed red on his
darkness. But daylight dispelled it. The determining impulse
was lacking and he hated too promiscuously to choose his victim. . .
So he was thrown back on the unavailing struggle to impose
the truth of his story. As fast as one channel closed on him he
tried to pierce another through the sliding sands of incredulity.
But every issue seemed blocked, and the whole human race leagued
together to cheat one man of the right to die.
Thus viewed, the situation became so monstrous that he lost his
last shred of self-restraint in contemplating it. What if he
were really the victim of some mocking experiment, the centre of
a ring of holiday-makers jeering at a poor creature in its blind
dashes against the solid walls of consciousness? But, no--men
were not so uniformly cruel: there were flaws in the close
surface of their indifference, cracks of weakness and pity here
and there. . .
Granice began to think that his mistake lay in having appealed to
persons more or less familiar with his past, and to whom the
visible conformities of his life seemed a final disproof of its
one fierce secret deviation. The general tendency was to take
for the whole of life the slit seen between the blinders of
habit: and in his walk down that narrow vista Granice cut a
correct enough figure. To a vision free to follow his whole
orbit his story would be more intelligible: it would be easier to
convince a chance idler in the street than the trained
intelligence hampered by a sense of his antecedents. This idea
shot up in him with the tropic luxuriance of each new seed of
thought, and he began to walk the streets, and to frequent out-
of-the-way chop-houses and bars in his search for the impartial
stranger to whom he should disclose himself.
At first every face looked encouragement; but at the crucial
moment he always held back. So much was at stake, and it was so
essential that his first choice should be decisive. He dreaded
stupidity, timidity, intolerance. The imaginative eye, the
furrowed brow, were what he sought. He must reveal himself only
to a heart versed in the tortuous motions of the human will; and
he began to hate the dull benevolence of the average face. Once
or twice, obscurely, allusively, he made a beginning--once
sitting down at a man's side in a basement chop-house, another
day approaching a lounger on an east-side wharf. But in both
cases the premonition of failure checked him on the brink of
avowal. His dread of being taken for a man in the clutch of a
fixed idea gave him an unnatural keenness in reading the
expression of his interlocutors, and he had provided himself in
advance with a series of verbal alternatives, trap-doors of
evasion from the first dart of ridicule or suspicion.
He passed the greater part of the day in the streets, coming home
at irregular hours, dreading the silence and orderliness of his
apartment, and the critical scrutiny of Flint. His real life was
spent in a world so remote from this familiar setting that he
sometimes had the mysterious sense of a living metempsychosis, a
furtive passage from one identity to another--yet the other as
One humiliation he was spared: the desire to live never revived
in him. Not for a moment was he tempted to a shabby pact with
existing conditions. He wanted to die, wanted it with the fixed
unwavering desire which alone attains its end. And still the end
eluded him! It would not always, of course--he had full faith in
the dark star of his destiny. And he could prove it best by
repeating his story, persistently and indefatigably, pouring it
into indifferent ears, hammering it into dull brains, till at
last it kindled a spark, and some one of the careless millions
paused, listened, believed. . .
It was a mild March day, and he had been loitering on the west-
side docks, looking at faces. He was becoming an expert in
physiognomies: his eagerness no longer made rash darts and
awkward recoils. He knew now the face he needed, as clearly as
if it had come to him in a vision; and not till he found it would
he speak. As he walked eastward through the shabby reeking
streets he had a premonition that he should find it that morning.
Perhaps it was the promise of spring in the air--certainly he
felt calmer than for many days. . .
He turned into Washington Square, struck across it obliquely, and
walked up University Place. Its heterogeneous passers always
allured him--they were less hurried than in Broadway, less
enclosed and classified than in Fifth Avenue. He walked slowly,
watching for his face.
At Union Square he felt a sudden relapse into discouragement,
like a votary who has watched too long for a sign from the altar.
Perhaps, after all, he should never find his face. . . The air
was languid, and he felt tired. He walked between the bald
grass-plots and the twisted trees, making for an empty seat.
Presently he passed a bench on which a girl sat alone, and
something as definite as the twitch of a cord made him stop
before her. He had never dreamed of telling his story to a girl,
had hardly looked at the women's faces as they passed. His case
was man's work: how could a woman help him? But this girl's face
was extraordinary--quiet and wide as a clear evening sky. It
suggested a hundred images of space, distance, mystery, like
ships he had seen, as a boy, quietly berthed by a familiar wharf,
but with the breath of far seas and strange harbours in their
shrouds. . . Certainly this girl would understand. He went up
to her quietly, lifting his hat, observing the forms--wishing her
to see at once that he was "a gentleman."
"I am a stranger to you," he began, sitting down beside her, "but
your face is so extremely intelligent that I feel. . . I feel it
is the face I've waited for . . . looked for everywhere; and I
want to tell you--"
The girl's eyes widened: she rose to her feet. She was escaping
In his dismay he ran a few steps after her, and caught her
roughly by the arm.
"Here--wait--listen! Oh, don't scream, you fool!" he shouted
He felt a hand on his own arm; turned and confronted a policeman.
Instantly he understood that he was being arrested, and something
hard within him was loosened and ran to tears.
"Ah, you know--you KNOW I'm guilty!"
He was conscious that a crowd was forming, and that the girl's
frightened face had disappeared. But what did he care about her
face? It was the policeman who had really understood him. He
turned and followed, the crowd at his heels. . .
In the charming place in which he found himself there were so
many sympathetic faces that he felt more than ever convinced of
the certainty of making himself heard.
It was a bad blow, at first, to find that he had not been
arrested for murder; but Ascham, who had come to him at once,
explained that he needed rest, and the time to "review" his
statements; it appeared that reiteration had made them a little
confused and contradictory. To this end he had willingly
acquiesced in his removal to a large quiet establishment, with an
open space and trees about it, where he had found a number of
intelligent companions, some, like himself, engaged in preparing
or reviewing statements of their cases, and others ready to lend
an interested ear to his own recital.
For a time he was content to let himself go on the tranquil
current of this existence; but although his auditors gave him for
the most part an encouraging attention, which, in some, went the
length of really brilliant and helpful suggestion, he gradually
felt a recurrence of his old doubts. Either his hearers were not
sincere, or else they had less power to aid him than they
boasted. His interminable conferences resulted in nothing, and
as the benefit of the long rest made itself felt, it produced an
increased mental lucidity which rendered inaction more and more
unbearable. At length he discovered that on certain days
visitors from the outer world were admitted to his retreat; and
he wrote out long and logically constructed relations of his
crime, and furtively slipped them into the hands of these
messengers of hope.
This occupation gave him a fresh lease of patience, and he now
lived only to watch for the visitors' days, and scan the faces
that swept by him like stars seen and lost in the rifts of a
Mostly, these faces were strange and less intelligent than those
of his companions. But they represented his last means of access
to the world, a kind of subterranean channel on which he could
set his "statements" afloat, like paper boats which the
mysterious current might sweep out into the open seas of life.
One day, however, his attention was arrested by a familiar
contour, a pair of bright prominent eyes, and a chin
insufficiently shaved. He sprang up and stood in the path of
The journalist looked at him doubtfully, then held out his hand
with a startled deprecating, "WHY--?"
"You didn't know me? I'm so changed?" Granice faltered, feeling
the rebound of the other's wonder.
"Why, no; but you're looking quieter--smoothed out," McCarren
"Yes: that's what I'm here for--to rest. And I've taken the
opportunity to write out a clearer statement--"
Granice's hand shook so that he could hardly draw the folded
paper from his pocket. As he did so he noticed that the reporter
was accompanied by a tall man with grave compassionate eyes. It
came to Granice in a wild thrill of conviction that this was the
face he had waited for. . .
"Perhaps your friend--he IS your friend?--would glance over it--
or I could put the case in a few words if you have time?"
Granice's voice shook like his hand. If this chance escaped him
he felt that his last hope was gone. McCarren and the stranger
looked at each other, and the former glanced at his watch.
"I'm sorry we can't stay and talk it over now, Mr. Granice; but
my friend has an engagement, and we're rather pressed--"
Granice continued to proffer the paper. "I'm sorry--I think I
could have explained. But you'll take this, at any rate?"
The stranger looked at him gently. "Certainly--I'll take it."
He had his hand out. "Good-bye."
"Good-bye," Granice echoed.
He stood watching the two men move away from him through the long
light hall; and as he watched them a tear ran down his face. But
as soon as they were out of sight he turned and walked hastily
toward his room, beginning to hope again, already planning a new
Outside the building the two men stood still, and the
journalist's companion looked up curiously at the long monotonous
rows of barred windows.
"So that was Granice?"
"Yes--that was Granice, poor devil," said McCarren.
"Strange case! I suppose there's never been one just like it?
He's still absolutely convinced that he committed that murder?"
The stranger reflected. "And there was no conceivable ground for
the idea? No one could make out how it started? A quiet
conventional sort of fellow like that--where do you suppose he
got such a delusion? Did you ever get the least clue to it?"
McCarren stood still, his hands in his pockets, his head cocked
up in contemplation of the barred windows. Then he turned his
bright hard gaze on his companion.
"That was the queer part of it. I've never spoken of it--but I
DID get a clue."
"By Jove! That's interesting. What was it?"
McCarren formed his red lips into a whistle. "Why--that it
wasn't a delusion."
He produced his effect--the other turned on him with a pallid
"He murdered the man all right. I tumbled on the truth by the
merest accident, when I'd pretty nearly chucked the whole job."
"He murdered him--murdered his cousin?"
"Sure as you live. Only don't split on me. It's about the
queerest business I ever ran into. . . DO ABOUT IT? Why, what
was I to do? I couldn't hang the poor devil, could I? Lord, but
I was glad when they collared him, and had him stowed away safe
The tall man listened with a grave face, grasping Granice's
statement in his hand.
"Here--take this; it makes me sick," he said abruptly, thrusting
the paper at the reporter; and the two men turned and walked in
silence to the gates.
as first published in
Harper's Monthly, December 1903
It was on an impulse hardly needing the arguments he found
himself advancing in its favor, that Thursdale, on his way to the
club, turned as usual into Mrs. Vervain's street.
The "as usual" was his own qualification of the act; a convenient
way of bridging the interval--in days and other sequences--that
lay between this visit and the last. It was characteristic of
him that he instinctively excluded his call two days earlier,
with Ruth Gaynor, from the list of his visits to Mrs. Vervain:
the special conditions attending it had made it no more like a
visit to Mrs. Vervain than an engraved dinner invitation is like
a personal letter. Yet it was to talk over his call with Miss
Gaynor that he was now returning to the scene of that episode;
and it was because Mrs. Vervain could be trusted to handle the
talking over as skilfully as the interview itself that, at her
corner, he had felt the dilettante's irresistible craving to take
a last look at a work of art that was passing out of his
On the whole, he knew no one better fitted to deal with the
unexpected than Mrs. Vervain. She excelled in the rare art of
taking things for granted, and Thursdale felt a pardonable pride
in the thought that she owed her excellence to his training.
Early in his career Thursdale had made the mistake, at the outset
of his acquaintance with a lady, of telling her that he loved her
and exacting the same avowal in return. The latter part of that
episode had been like the long walk back from a picnic, when one
has to carry all the crockery one has finished using: it was the
last time Thursdale ever allowed himself to be encumbered with
the debris of a feast. He thus incidentally learned that the
privilege of loving her is one of the least favors that a
charming woman can accord; and in seeking to avoid the pitfalls
of sentiment he had developed a science of evasion in which the
woman of the moment became a mere implement of the game. He owed
a great deal of delicate enjoyment to the cultivation of this
art. The perils from which it had been his refuge became naively
harmless: was it possible that he who now took his easy way along
the levels had once preferred to gasp on the raw heights of
emotion? Youth is a high-colored season; but he had the
satisfaction of feeling that he had entered earlier than most
into that chiar'oscuro of sensation where every half-tone has its
As a promoter of this pleasure no one he had known was comparable
to Mrs. Vervain. He had taught a good many women not to betray
their feelings, but he had never before had such fine material to
work in. She had been surprisingly crude when he first knew her;
capable of making the most awkward inferences, of plunging
through thin ice, of recklessly undressing her emotions; but she
had acquired, under the discipline of his reticences and
evasions, a skill almost equal to his own, and perhaps more
remarkable in that it involved keeping time with any tune he
played and reading at sight some uncommonly difficult passages.
It had taken Thursdale seven years to form this fine talent; but
the result justified the effort. At the crucial moment she had
been perfect: her way of greeting Miss Gaynor had made him regret
that he had announced his engagement by letter. It was an
evasion that confessed a difficulty; a deviation implying an
obstacle, where, by common consent, it was agreed to see none; it
betrayed, in short, a lack of confidence in the completeness of
his method. It had been his pride never to put himself in a
position which had to be quitted, as it were, by the back door;
but here, as he perceived, the main portals would have opened for
him of their own accord. All this, and much more, he read in the
finished naturalness with which Mrs. Vervain had met Miss Gaynor.
He had never seen a better piece of work: there was no over-
eagerness, no suspicious warmth, above all (and this gave her art
the grace of a natural quality) there were none of those damnable
implications whereby a woman, in welcoming her friend's
betrothed, may keep him on pins and needles while she laps the
lady in complacency. So masterly a performance, indeed, hardly
needed the offset of Miss Gaynor's door-step words--"To be so
kind to me, how she must have liked you!"--though he caught
himself wishing it lay within the bounds of fitness to transmit
them, as a final tribute, to the one woman he knew who was
unfailingly certain to enjoy a good thing. It was perhaps the
one drawback to his new situation that it might develop good
things which it would be impossible to hand on to Margaret
The fact that he had made the mistake of underrating his friend's
powers, the consciousness that his writing must have betrayed his
distrust of her efficiency, seemed an added reason for turning
down her street instead of going on to the club. He would show
her that he knew how to value her; he would ask her to achieve
with him a feat infinitely rarer and more delicate than the one
he had appeared to avoid. Incidentally, he would also dispose of
the interval of time before dinner: ever since he had seen Miss
Gaynor off, an hour earlier, on her return journey to Buffalo, he
had been wondering how he should put in the rest of the
afternoon. It was absurd, how he missed the girl. . . . Yes,
that was it; the desire to talk about her was, after all, at the
bottom of his impulse to call on Mrs. Vervain! It was absurd, if
you like--but it was delightfully rejuvenating. He could recall
the time when he had been afraid of being obvious: now he felt
that this return to the primitive emotions might be as
restorative as a holiday in the Canadian woods. And it was
precisely by the girl's candor, her directness, her lack of
complications, that he was taken. The sense that she might say
something rash at any moment was positively exhilarating: if she
had thrown her arms about him at the station he would not have
given a thought to his crumpled dignity. It surprised Thursdale
to find what freshness of heart he brought to the adventure; and
though his sense of irony prevented his ascribing his intactness
to any conscious purpose, he could but rejoice in the fact that
his sentimental economies had left him such a large surplus to
Mrs. Vervain was at home--as usual. When one visits the cemetery
one expects to find the angel on the tombstone, and it struck
Thursdale as another proof of his friend's good taste that she
had been in no undue haste to change her habits. The whole house
appeared to count on his coming; the footman took his hat and
overcoat as naturally as though there had been no lapse in his
visits; and the drawing-room at once enveloped him in that
atmosphere of tacit intelligence which Mrs. Vervain imparted to
her very furniture.
It was a surprise that, in this general harmony of circumstances,
Mrs. Vervain should herself sound the first false note.
"You?" she exclaimed; and the book she held slipped from her
It was crude, certainly; unless it were a touch of the finest
art. The difficulty of classifying it disturbed Thursdale's
"Why not?" he said, restoring the book. "Isn't it my hour?" And
as she made no answer, he added gently, "Unless it's some one
She laid the book aside and sank back into her chair. "Mine,
merely," she said.
"I hope that doesn't mean that you're unwilling to share it?"
"With you? By no means. You're welcome to my last crust."
He looked at her reproachfully. "Do you call this the last?"
She smiled as he dropped into the seat across the hearth. "It's
a way of giving it more flavor!"
He returned the smile. "A visit to you doesn't need such
She took this with just the right measure of retrospective
"Ah, but I want to put into this one a very special taste," she
Her smile was so confident, so reassuring, that it lulled him
into the imprudence of saying, "Why should you want it to be
different from what was always so perfectly right?"
She hesitated. "Doesn't the fact that it's the last constitute a
"The last--my last visit to you?"
"Oh, metaphorically, I mean--there's a break in the continuity."
Decidedly, she was pressing too hard: unlearning his arts
"I don't recognize it," he said. "Unless you make me--" he
added, with a note that slightly stirred her attitude of languid
She turned to him with grave eyes. "You recognize no difference
"None--except an added link in the chain."
"An added link?"
"In having one more thing to like you for--your letting Miss
Gaynor see why I had already so many." He flattered himself that
this turn had taken the least hint of fatuity from the phrase.
Mrs. Vervain sank into her former easy pose. "Was it that you
came for?" she asked, almost gaily.
"If it is necessary to have a reason--that was one."
"To talk to me about Miss Gaynor?"
"To tell you how she talks about you."
"That will be very interesting--especially if you have seen her
since her second visit to me."
"Her second visit?" Thursdale pushed his chair back with a start
and moved to another. "She came to see you again?"
"This morning, yes--by appointment."
He continued to look at her blankly. "You sent for her?"
"I didn't have to--she wrote and asked me last night. But no
doubt you have seen her since."
Thursdale sat silent. He was trying to separate his words from
his thoughts, but they still clung together inextricably. "I saw
her off just now at the station."
"And she didn't tell you that she had been here again?"
"There was hardly time, I suppose--there were people about--" he
"Ah, she'll write, then."
He regained his composure. "Of course she'll write: very often,
I hope. You know I'm absurdly in love," he cried audaciously.
She tilted her head back, looking up at him as he leaned against
the chimney-piece. He had leaned there so often that the
attitude touched a pulse which set up a throbbing in her throat.
"Oh, my poor Thursdale!" she murmured.
"I suppose it's rather ridiculous," he owned; and as she remained
silent, he added, with a sudden break--"Or have you another
reason for pitying me?"
Her answer was another question. "Have you been back to your
rooms since you left her?"
"Since I left her at the station? I came straight here."
"Ah, yes--you COULD: there was no reason--" Her words passed
into a silent musing.
Thursdale moved nervously nearer. "You said you had something to
"Perhaps I had better let her do so. There may be a letter at
"A letter? What do you mean? A letter from HER? What has
His paleness shook her, and she raised a hand of reassurance.
"Nothing has happened--perhaps that is just the worst of it. You
always HATED, you know," she added incoherently, "to have things
happen: you never would let them."
"Well, that was what she came here for: I supposed you had
guessed. To know if anything had happened."
"Had happened?" He gazed at her slowly. "Between you and me?"
he said with a rush of light.
The words were so much cruder than any that had ever passed
between them that the color rose to her face; but she held his
"You know girls are not quite as unsophisticated as they used to
be. Are you surprised that such an idea should occur to her?"
His own color answered hers: it was the only reply that came to
Mrs. Vervain went on, smoothly: "I supposed it might have struck
you that there were times when we presented that appearance."
He made an impatient gesture. "A man's past is his own!"
"Perhaps--it certainly never belongs to the woman who has shared
it. But one learns such truths only by experience; and Miss
Gaynor is naturally inexperienced."
"Of course--but--supposing her act a natural one--" he floundered
lamentably among his innuendoes--"I still don't see--how there
"Anything to take hold of? There wasn't--"
"Well, then--?" escaped him, in crude satisfaction; but as she
did not complete the sentence he went on with a faltering laugh:
"She can hardly object to the existence of a mere friendship
"But she does," said Mrs. Vervain.
Thursdale stood perplexed. He had seen, on the previous day, no
trace of jealousy or resentment in his betrothed: he could still
hear the candid ring of the girl's praise of Mrs. Vervain. If
she were such an abyss of insincerity as to dissemble distrust
under such frankness, she must at least be more subtle than to
bring her doubts to her rival for solution. The situation seemed
one through which one could no longer move in a penumbra, and he
let in a burst of light with the direct query: "Won't you explain
what you mean?"
Mrs. Vervain sat silent, not provokingly, as though to prolong
his distress, but as if, in the attenuated phraseology he had
taught her, it was difficult to find words robust enough to meet
his challenge. It was the first time he had ever asked her to
explain anything; and she had lived so long in dread of offering
elucidations which were not wanted, that she seemed unable to
produce one on the spot.
At last she said slowly: "She came to find out if you were really
Thursdale colored again. "Free?" he stammered, with a sense of
physical disgust at contact with such crassness.
"Yes--if I had quite done with you." She smiled in recovered
security. "It seems she likes clear outlines; she has a passion
"Yes--well?" he said, wincing at the echo of his own subtlety.
"Well--and when I told her that you had never belonged to me, she
wanted me to define MY status--to know exactly where I had stood
Thursdale sat gazing at her intently; his hand was not yet on the
clue. "And even when you had told her that--"
"Even when I had told her that I had HAD no status--that I had
never stood anywhere, in any sense she meant," said Mrs. Vervain,
slowly--"even then she wasn't satisfied, it seems."
He uttered an uneasy exclamation. "She didn't believe you, you
"I mean that she DID believe me: too thoroughly."
"Well, then--in God's name, what did she want?"
"Something more--those were the words she used."
"Something more? Between--between you and me? Is it a
conundrum?" He laughed awkwardly.
"Girls are not what they were in my day; they are no longer
forbidden to contemplate the relation of the sexes."
"So it seems!" he commented. "But since, in this case, there
wasn't any--" he broke off, catching the dawn of a revelation in
"That's just it. The unpardonable offence has been--in our not
He flung himself down despairingly. "I give it up!--What did you
tell her?" he burst out with sudden crudeness.
"The exact truth. If I had only known," she broke off with a
beseeching tenderness, "won't you believe that I would still have
lied for you?"
"Lied for me? Why on earth should you have lied for either of
"To save you--to hide you from her to the last! As I've hidden
you from myself all these years!" She stood up with a sudden
tragic import in her movement. "You believe me capable of that,
don't you? If I had only guessed--but I have never known a girl
like her; she had the truth out of me with a spring."
"The truth that you and I had never--"
"Had never--never in all these years! Oh, she knew why--she
measured us both in a flash. She didn't suspect me of having
haggled with you--her words pelted me like hail. 'He just took
what he wanted--sifted and sorted you to suit his taste. Burnt
out the gold and left a heap of cinders. And you let him--you
let yourself be cut in bits'--she mixed her metaphors a little--
'be cut in bits, and used or discarded, while all the while every
drop of blood in you belonged to him! But he's Shylock--and you
have bled to death of the pound of flesh he has cut out of you.'
But she despises me the most, you know--far the most--" Mrs.
The words fell strangely on the scented stillness of the room:
they seemed out of harmony with its setting of afternoon
intimacy, the kind of intimacy on which at any moment, a visitor
might intrude without perceptibly lowering the atmosphere. It
was as though a grand opera-singer had strained the acoustics of
a private music-room.
Thursdale stood up, facing his hostess. Half the room was
between them, but they seemed to stare close at each other now
that the veils of reticence and ambiguity had fallen.
His first words were characteristic. "She DOES despise me,
then?" he exclaimed.
"She thinks the pound of flesh you took was a little too near the
He was excessively pale. "Please tell me exactly what she said
"She did not speak much of you: she is proud. But I gather that
while she understands love or indifference, her eyes have never
been opened to the many intermediate shades of feeling. At any
rate, she expressed an unwillingness to be taken with
reservations--she thinks you would have loved her better if you
had loved some one else first. The point of view is original--
she insists on a man with a past!"
"Oh, a past--if she's serious--I could rake up a past!" he said
with a laugh.
"So I suggested: but she has her eyes on his particular portion
of it. She insists on making it a test case. She wanted to know
what you had done to me; and before I could guess her drift I
blundered into telling her."
Thursdale drew a difficult breath. "I never supposed--your
revenge is complete," he said slowly.
He heard a little gasp in her throat. "My revenge? When I sent
for you to warn you--to save you from being surprised as I was
"You're very good--but it's rather late to talk of saving me."
He held out his hand in the mechanical gesture of leave-taking.
"How you must care!--for I never saw you so dull," was her
answer. "Don't you see that it's not too late for me to help
you?" And as he continued to stare, she brought out sublimely:
"Take the rest--in imagination! Let it at least be of that much
use to you. Tell her I lied to her--she's too ready to believe
it! And so, after all, in a sense, I sha'n't have been wasted."
His stare hung on her, widening to a kind of wonder. She gave
the look back brightly, unblushingly, as though the expedient
were too simple to need oblique approaches. It was extraordinary
how a few words had swept them from an atmosphere of the most
complex dissimulations to this contact of naked souls.
It was not in Thursdale to expand with the pressure of fate; but
something in him cracked with it, and the rift let in new light.
He went up to his friend and took her hand.
"You would do it--you would do it!"
She looked at him, smiling, but her hand shook.
"Good-by," he said, kissing it.
"Good-by? You are going--?"
"To get my letter."
"Your letter? The letter won't matter, if you will only do what
He returned her gaze. "I might, I suppose, without being out of
character. Only, don't you see that if your plan helped me it
could only harm her?"
"To sacrifice you wouldn't make me different. I shall go on
being what I have always been--sifting and sorting, as she calls
it. Do you want my punishment to fall on HER?"
She looked at him long and deeply. "Ah, if I had to choose
"You would let her take her chance? But I can't, you see.
I must take my punishment alone."
She drew her hand away, sighing. "Oh, there will be no
punishment for either of you."
"For either of us? There will be the reading of her letter for me."
She shook her head with a slight laugh. "There will be no
Thursdale faced about from the threshold with fresh life in his
look. "No letter? You don't mean--"
"I mean that she's been with you since I saw her--she's seen you
and heard your voice. If there IS a letter, she has recalled it--
from the first station, by telegraph."
He turned back to the door, forcing an answer to her smile. "But
in the mean while I shall have read it," he said.
The door closed on him, and she hid her eyes from the dreadful
emptiness of the room.
THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD HAND
as first published in
Atlantic Monthly, August 1904
"Above all," the letter ended, "don't leave Siena without seeing
Doctor Lombard's Leonardo. Lombard is a queer old Englishman, a
mystic or a madman (if the two are not synonymous), and a devout
student of the Italian Renaissance. He has lived for years in
Italy, exploring its remotest corners, and has lately picked up
an undoubted Leonardo, which came to light in a farmhouse near
Bergamo. It is believed to be one of the missing pictures
mentioned by Vasari, and is at any rate, according to the most
competent authorities, a genuine and almost untouched example of
the best period.
"Lombard is a queer stick, and jealous of showing his treasures;
but we struck up a friendship when I was working on the Sodomas
in Siena three years ago, and if you will give him the enclosed
line you may get a peep at the Leonardo. Probably not more than
a peep, though, for I hear he refuses to have it reproduced. I
want badly to use it in my monograph on the Windsor drawings, so
please see what you can do for me, and if you can't persuade him
to let you take a photograph or make a sketch, at least jot down
a detailed description of the picture and get from him all the
facts you can. I hear that the French and Italian governments
have offered him a large advance on his purchase, but that he
refuses to sell at any price, though he certainly can't afford
such luxuries; in fact, I don't see where he got enough money to
buy the picture. He lives in the Via Papa Giulio."
Wyant sat at the table d'hote of his hotel, re-reading his
friend's letter over a late luncheon. He had been five days in
Siena without having found time to call on Doctor Lombard; not
from any indifference to the opportunity presented, but because
it was his first visit to the strange red city and he was still
under the spell of its more conspicuous wonders--the brick
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