The Sleuth of St. James Street
Melville Davisson Post
Part 2 out of 6
of any important evidential sign. He at once ceased to hurry.
He pulled up; looked over the cut-under and the horse, and began
to saunter about.
This careless manner was difficult for me at such a time. But
for his assurance that Madame Barras, was uninjured it would have
been impossible. I had a blind confidence in the man although
his expressions were so absurdly in conflict.
I started to go on toward the village, but as he did not follow I
turned back. Marquis was sitting on the flat stones with a
cigarette in his fingers:
"Good heavens, man," I cried, "you're not stopping to smoke a
"Not this cigarette, at any rate," he replied. "Madame Barras
has already smoked it. . . . I can, perhaps, find you the burnt
He got the electric-flash out of his pocket, and stooped over.
Immediately he made an exclamation of surprise.
I leaned down beside him.
There was a little heap of charred paper on the brown bed of
pine-needles. Marquis was about to take up this charred paper
when his eye caught something thrust in between the two stones.
It was a handful of torn bits of paper.
Marquis got them out and laid them on the top of the flat stones
under his light.
"Ah," he said, "Madame Barras, while she smoked, got rid of some
"The package of gold certificates!" I cried. "She has burned
"No," he replied, "Madame Barras has favored your Treasury in her
destructive process. These are five-pound notes, of the Bank of
I was astonished and I expressed it.
"But why should Madame Barras destroy notes of the Bank of
"I imagine," he answered, "that they were some which she had, by
chance, failed to give you for exchange."
"But why should she destroy them?" I went on.
"I conclude," he drawled, "that she was not wholly certain that
she would escape."
"Escape!" I cried. "You have been assuring me all along that
Madame Barras is making no effort to escape."
"Oh, no," he replied, "she is making every effort."
I was annoyed and puzzled.
"What is it," I said, "precisely, that Madame Barras did here;
can you tell me in plain words?"
"Surely," he replied, "she sat here while something was decided,
and while she sat here she smoked the cigarette, and while she
smoked the cigarette, she destroyed the money. But," he added,
"before she had quite finished, a decision was made and she
hastily thrust the remaining bits of the torn notes into the
crevice between these stones."
"What decision?" I said.
Marquis gathered up the bits of torn paper and put them into his
pocket with the switched-off flash.
"I wish I knew that," he said.
"Which path they have taken," he replied; "there seem to be two
branching from this point, but they pass over a bed of
pine-needles and that retains no impression . . . . Where do
these paths lead?"
I did not know that any paths came into the road at this point.
But the island is veined over with old paths. The lead of paths
here, however, was fairly evident.
"They must come out somewhere on the sea," I said.
"Right," he cried. "Take either, and let's be off. . . Madame's
cigarette was not quite cold when I picked it up."
I was right about the direction of the paths but, as it happened,
the one Marquis took was nearly double the distance of the other
to the sea; and I have wondered always, if it was chance that
selected the one taken by the assailants of the cut-under as it
was chance that selected the one taken by us.
Marquis was instantly gone, and I hurried along the path, running
nearly due east. There was light enough entering from the
brilliant moon through the tree-tops to make out the abandoned
And as I hurried, Marquis' contradicting expressions seemed to
adjust themselves into a sort of order, and all at once I
understood what had happened. The Brazilian adventurer had not
taker the loss of his wife and the fortune in English pounds
sterling, lying down. He had followed to recover them.
I now saw clearly the reason for everything that had happened:
the attack on the driver, and my guest's concern to get rid of
the English money which she discovered remaining in her
possession; this man would have no knowledge of her gold
certificates but he would be searching for his English pounds.
And if she came clear of any trace of these five-pound notes, she
might disclaim all knowledge of them and perhaps send him
elsewhere on his search, since it was always the money and not
the woman that he sought.
This explanation was hardly realized before it was confirmed.
I came out abruptly onto a slope of bracken, and before me at a
few paces on the path were Madame Barras and two men; one at some
distance in advance of her, disappearing at the moment behind a
spur of the slope that hid us from the sea, and I got no
conception of him; but the creature at her heels was a huge
foreign beast of a man, in the dress of a common sailor.
What happened was over in a moment.
I was nearly on the man when I turned out of the wood, and with a
shout to Madame Barras I struck at him with the heavy
walking-stick. But the creature was not to be taken unaware; he
darted to one side, wrenched the stick out of my hand, and dashed
its heavy-weighted head into my face. I went down in the
bracken, but I carried with me into unconsciousness a vision of
Madame Barras that no shadow of the lengthening years can blur.
She had swung round sharply at the attack behind her, and she
stood bare-haired and bare-shouldered, knee-deep in the golden
bracken, with the glory of the moon on her; her arms hanging, her
lips parted, her great eyes wide with terror - as lovely in her
desperate extremity as a dream, as, a painted picture. I don't
know how long I was down there, but when I finally got up, and,
following along the path behind the spur of rock, came out onto
the open sea, I found Sir Henry Marquis. He was standing with
his hands in the pockets of his loose tweed coat, and he was
"The ferry and the mainland are patroled . . . I didn't think of
their having an ocean-going yacht . . . ."
A gleam of light was disappearing into the open sea.
He put his hand into his pocket and took out the scraps of torn
"These notes," he said, "like the ones which you hold in your
bank-vault, were never issued by the Bank of England."
I stammered some incoherent sentence; and the great chief of the
Criminal Investigation Department of Scotland Yard turned toward
"Do you know who that woman is?"
"Surely," I cried, "she went to school with my sister at Miss
Page's; she came to visit Mrs. Jordan. . . ."
He looked at me steadily.
"She got the data about your sister out of the Back Bay
biographies and she used the accident of Mrs. Jordan's death to
get in with it . . . the rest was all fiction."
"Madame Barras?" I stuttered. "You mead Madame Barras?"
"Madame the Devil," he said. "That's Sunny Suzanne. Used to be
in the Hungarian Follies until the Soviet government of Austria
picked her up to place the imitation English money that its
presses were striking off in Vienna."
IV. The Cambered Foot
I shall not pretend that I knew the man in America or that he was
a friend of my family or that some one had written to me about
him. The plain truth is that I never laid eyes on him until Sir
Henry Marquis pointed him out to me the day after I went down
from here to London. It was in Piccadilly Circus.
"There's your American," said Sir Henry.
The girl paused for a few moments. There was profound silence.
"And that isn't all of it. Nobody presented him to me. I
deliberately picked him up!"
Three persons were in the drawing-room. An old woman with high
cheekbones, a bowed nose and a firm, thin-lipped mouth was the
central figure. She sat very straight in her chair, her head up
and her hands in her lap. An aged man, in the khaki uniform of a
major of yeomanry, stood at a window looking out, his hands
behind his back, his chin lifted as though he were endeavoring to
see something far away over the English country - something
beyond the little groups of Highland cattle and the great oak
Beside the old woman, on a dark wood frame, there was a fire
screen made of the pennant of a Highland regiment. Beyond her
was a table with a glass top. Under this cover, in a sort of
drawer lined with purple velvet, there were medals, trophies and
decorations visible below the sheet of glass. And on the table,
in a heavy metal frame, was the portrait of a young man in the
uniform of a captain of Highland infantry.
The girl who had been speaking sat in a big armchair by this
table. One knew instantly that she was an American. The liberty
of manner, the independence of expression, could not be mistaken
in a country of established forms. She had abundant brown hair
skillfully arranged under a smart French hat. Her eyes were
blue; not the blue of any painted color; it was the blue of
remote spaces in the tropic sky.
The old woman spoke without looking at the girl.
"Then," she said, "it's all quite as" - she hesitated for a word
- "extraordinary as we have been led to believe."
There was the slow accent of Southern blood in the girl's voice
as she went on.
"Lady Mary," she said, "it's all far more extraordinary than you
have been led to believe - than any one could ever have led you
to believe. I deliberately picked the man up. I waited for him
outside the Savoy, and pretended to be uncertain about an
address. He volunteered to take me in his motor and I went with
him. I told him I was alone in London, at the Ritz. It was
Blackwell's bank I pretended to be looking for. Then we had
The girl paused.
Presently she continued: "That's how it began: You're mistaken to
imagine that Sir Henry Marquis presented me to this American. It
was the other way about; I presented Sir Henry. I had the run of
the Ritz," she went on. "We all do if we scatter money. Sir
Henry came in to tea the next afternoon. That's how he met Mr.
Meadows. And that's the only place he ever did meet him. Mr.
Meadows came every day, and Sir Henry formed the habit of
dropping in. We got to be a very friendly party."
The motionless old woman, a figure in plaster until now, kneaded
her fingers as under some moving pressure. "At this time," she
said, "you were engaged to Tony and expected to be his wife!"
The girl's voice did not change. It was slow and even. "Yes,"
"Tony, of course, knew nothing about this?"
"He knows nothing whatever about it unless you have written him."
Again the old woman moved slightly. "I have waited," she said,
"for the benefit of your explanation. It seems as - as bad as I
"Lady Mary," said the girl in her slow voice, "it's worse than
you feared. I don't undertake to smooth it over. Everything
that you have heard is quite true. I did go out with the man in
his motor, in the evening. Sometimes it was quite dark before we
returned. Mr. Meadows preferred to drive at night because he was
not accustomed to the English rule of taking the left on the
road, when one always takes the right in America. He was afraid
he couldn't remember the rule, so it was safer at night and there
was less traffic.
"I shall not try to make the thing appear better than it was. We
sometimes took long runs. Mr. Meadows liked the high roads along
the east coast, where one got a view of the sea and the cold salt
air. We ran prodigious distances. He had the finest motor in
England, the very latest American model. I didn't think so much
about night coming on, the lights on the car were so wonderful.
Mr. Meadows was an amazing driver. We made express-train time.
The roads were usually clear at night and the motor was a perfect
wonder. The only trouble we ever had was with the lights.
Sometimes one, of them would go out. I think it was bad wiring.
But there was always the sweep of the sea under the stars to look
at while Mr. Meadows got the thing adjusted."
This long, detailed, shameless speech affected the aged soldier
at the window. It seemed to him immodest bravado. And he
suffered in his heart, as a man old and full of memories can
suffer for the damaged honor of a son he loves.
Continuing, the girl said: "Of course it isn't true that we spent
the nights touring the east coast of England in a racer. It was
dark sometimes when we got in - occasionally after trouble with
the lights - quite dark. We did go thundering distances."
"With this person, alone?" The old woman spoke slowly, like one
delicately probing at a wound.
"Yes," the girl admitted. "You see, the car was a roadster; only
two could go; and, besides, there was no one else. Mr. Meadows
said he was alone in London, and of course I was alone. When Sir
Henry asked me to go down from here I went straight off to the
The old woman made a slight, shivering gesture. "You should have
gone to my sister in Grosvenor Square. Monte would have put you
up - and looked after you."
"The Ritz put me up very well," the girl continued. "And I am
accustomed to looking after myself. Sir Henry thought it was
quite all right."
The old woman spoke suddenly with energy and directness. "I
don't understand Henry in the least," she said. "I was quite
willing for you to go to London when he asked me for permission.
But I thought he would take you to Monte's, and certainly I had
the right to believe that he would not have lent himself to - to
"He seemed to be very nice about it," the girl went on. "He came
in to tea with us - Mr. Meadows and me - almost every evening.
And he always had something amusing to relate, some blunder of
Scotland Yard or some ripping mystery. I think he found it
immense fun to be Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department.
I loved the talk: Mr. Meadows was always interested and Sir Henry
likes people to be interested."
The old woman continued to regard the girl as one hesitatingly
touches an exquisite creature frightfully mangled.
"This person - was he a gentleman?" she inquired. The girl
answered immediately. "I thought about that a good deal," she
said. "He had perfect manners, quite Continental manners; but,
as you say over here, Americans are so imitative one never can
tell. He was not young - near fifty, I would say; very well
dressed. He was from St. Paul; a London agent for some flouring
mills in the Northwest. I don't know precisely. He explained it
all to Sir Henry. I think he would have been glad of a little
influence - some way to meet the purchasing agents for the
government. He seemed to have the American notion that he could
come to London and go ahead without knowing anybody. Anyway, he
was immensely interesting - and he had a ripping motor."
The old man at the window did not move. He remained looking out
over the English country with his big, veined hands clasped
behind his back. He had left this interview to Lady Mary, as he
had left most of the crucial affairs of life to her dominant
nature. But the thing touched him far deeper than it touched the
aged dowager. He had a man's faith in the fidelity of a loved
He knew how his son, somewhere in France, trusted this girl,
believed in her, as long ago in a like youth he had believed in
another. He knew also how the charm of the girl was in the young
soldier's blood, and how potent were these inscrutable mysteries.
Every man who loved a woman wished to believe that she came to
him out of the garden of a convent - out of a roc's egg, like the
princess in the Arabian story.
All these things he had experienced in himself, in a shattered
romance, in a disillusioned youth, when he was young like the lad
somewhere in France. Lady Mary would see only broken
conventions; but he saw immortal things, infinitely beyond
conventions, awfully broken. He did not move. He remained like
a painted picture.
The girl went on in her soft, slow voice. "You would have
disliked Mr. Meadows, Lady Mary," she said. "You would dislike
any American who came without letters and could not be precisely
placed." The girl's voice grew suddenly firmer. "I don't mean
to make it appear better," she said. "The worst would be nearer
the truth. He was just an unknown American bagman, with a motor
car, and a lot of time on his hands - and I picked him up. But
Sir Henry Marquis took a fancy to him."
"I cannot understand Henry," the old woman repeated. "It's
"It doesn't seem extraordinary to me," said the girl. "Mr.
Meadows was immensely clever, and Sir Henry was like a man with a
new toy. The Home Secretary had just put him in as Chief of the
Criminal Investigation Department. He was full of a lot of new
ideas - dactyloscopic bureaus, photographie mitrique, and
scientific methods of crime detection. He talked about it all
the time. I didn't understand half the talk. But Mr. Meadows
was very clever. Sir Henry said he was a charming person.
Anybody who could discuss the whorls of the Galton finger-print
tests was just then a charming person to Sir Henry."
The girl paused a moment, then she went on
"I suppose things had gone so for about a fortnight when your
sister, Lady Monteith, wrote that she had seen Sir Henry with us
- Mr. Meadows and me - in the motor. I have to shatter a
pleasant fancy about that chaperonage! That was the only time
Sir Henry was ever with us.
"It came about like this: It was Thursday morning about nine
o'clock, I think, when Sir Henry, popped in at the Ritz. He was
full of some amazing mystery that had turned up at Benton Court,
a country house belonging to the Duke of Dorset, up the Thames
beyond Richmond. He wanted to go there at once. He was fuming
because an under secretary had his motor, and he couldn't catch
up with him.
"I told him he could have `our' motor. He laughed. And I
telephoned Mr. Meadows to come over and take him up. Sir Henry
asked me to go along. So that's how Lady Monteith happened to
see the three of us crowded into the seat of the big roadster."
The girl went on in her deliberate, even voice
"Sir Henry was boiling full of the mystery. He got us all
excited by the time we arrived at Benton Court. I think Mr.
Meadows was as keen about the thing as Sir Henry. They were both
immensely worked up. It was an amazing thing!"
"You see, Benton Court is a little house of the Georgian period.
It has been closed up for ages, and now, all at once, the most
mysterious things began to happen in it
"A local inspector, a very reliable man named Millson, passing
that way on his bicycle, saw a man lying on the doorstep. He
also saw some one running away. It was early in the morning,
just before daybreak.
"Millson saw only the man's back, but he could distinguish the
color of his clothes. He was wearing a blue coat and
reddish-brown trousers. Millson said he could hardly make out
the blue coat in the darkness, but he could distinctly see the
reddish brown color of the man's trousers. He was very positive
about this. Mr. Meadows and Sir Henry pressed him pretty hard,
but he was firm about it. He could make out that the coat was
blue, and he could see very distinctly that the trousers were
"But the extraordinary thing came a little later. Millson
hurried to a telephone to get Scotland Yard, then he returned to
Benton Court; but when he got back the dead man had disappeared.
"He insists that he was not away beyond five minutes, but within
that time the dead man had vanished. Millson could find no trace
of him. That's the mystery that sent us tearing up there with
Mr. Meadows and Sir Henry transformed into eager sleuths.
"We found the approaches to the house under a patrol from
Scotland Yard. But nobody had gone in. The inspector was
waiting for Sir Henry."
The old man stood like an image, and the aged woman sat in her
chair like a figure in basalt.
But the girl ran on with a sort of eager unconcern: "Sir Henry
and Mr. Meadows kook the whole thing in charge. The door had
been broken open. They examined the marks about the fractures
very carefully; then they went inside. There were some naked
footprints. They were small, as of a little, cramped foot, and
they seemed to be tracked in blood on the hard oak floor. There
was a wax candle partly burned on the table. And that's all
"There were some tracks in the dust of the floor, but they were
not very clearly outlined, and Sir Henry thought nothing could be
made of them.
"It was awfully exciting. I went about behind the two men. Sir
Henry talked all the time. Mr. Meadows was quite as much
interested, but he didn't say anything. He seemed to say less as
the thing went on.
"They went over everything - the ground outside and every inch of
the house. Then they put everybody out and sat down by a table
in the room where the footprints were.
"Sir Henry had been awfully careful. He had a big lens with
which to examine the marks of the bloody footprints. He was like
a man on the trail of a buried treasure. He shouted over
everything, thrust his glass into Mr. Meadows' hand and bade him
verify what he had seen. His ardor was infectious. I caught it
"Mr. Meadows, in his quiet manner, was just as much concerned in
unraveling the thing as Sir Henry. I never had so wild a time in
all my life. Finally, when Sir Henry put everybody else out and
closed the door, and the three of us sat down at the table to try
to untangle the thing, I very nearly screamed with excitement.
Mr. Meadows sat with his arms folded, not saying a word; but Sir
Henry went ahead with his explanation."
The girl looked like a vivid portrait, the soft colors of her
gown and all the cool, vivid extravagancies of youth
distinguished in her. Her words indicated fervor and excited
energy; but they were not evidenced in her face or manner. She
was cool and lovely. One would have thought that she recounted
the inanities of a curate's tea party.
The aged man, in the khaki uniform of a major of yeomanry,
remained in his position at the window. The old woman sat with
her implacable face, unchanging like a thing insensible and
This unsympathetic aspect about the girl did not seem to disturb
her. She went on:
"The thing was thrilling. It was better than any theater - the
three of us at the old mahogany table in the room, and the
Scotland Yard patrol outside.
"Sir Henry was bubbling over with his theory. `I read this
riddle like a printed page,' he said. `It will be the work of a
little band of expert cracksmen that the Continent has kindly
sent us. We have had some samples of their work in Brompton
Road. They are professional crooks of a high order - very clever
at breaking in a door, and, like all the criminal groups that we
get without an invitation from over the Channel, these crooks
have absolutely no regard for human life.'
"That's the way Sir Henry led off with his explanation. Of
course he had all that Scotland Yard knew about criminal groups
to start him right. It was a good deal to have the identity of
the criminal agents selected out; but I didn't see how he was
going to manage to explain the mystery from the evidence. I was
wild to hear him. Mr. Meadows was quite as interested, I
thought, although he didn't say a word.
"Sir Henry nodded, as though he took the American's confirmation
as a thing that followed. `We are at the scene,' he said, `of
one of the most treacherous acts of all criminal drama. I mean
the "doing in," as our criminals call it, of the unprofessional
accomplice. It's a regulation piece of business with the
hard-and-fast criminal organizations of the Continent, like the
Nervi of Marseilles, or the Lecca of Paris.
"`They take in a house servant, a shopkeeper's watchman, or a
bank guard to help them in some big haul. Then they lure him
into some abandoned house, under a pretense of dividing up the
booty, and there put him out of the way. That's what's happened
here. It's a common plan with these criminal groups, and clever
of them. The picked-up accomplice would be sure to let the thing
out. For safety the professionals must "do him in" at once,
straight away after the big job, as a part of what the barrister
chaps call the res gestae.'
"Sir Henry went on nodding at us and drumming the palm of his
hand on the edge of the table.
"`This thing happens all the time,' he said, `all about, where
professional criminals are at work. It accounts for a lot of
mysteries that the police cannot make head or tail of, like this
one, for example. Without our knowledge of this sinister custom,
one could not begin or end with an affair like this.
"`But it's simple when one has the cue - it's immensely simple.
We know exactly what happened and the sort of crooks that were
about the business. The barefoot prints show the Continental
group. That's the trick of Southern Europe to go in barefoot
behind a man to kill him.'
"Sir Henry jarred the whole table with his big hand. The surface
of the table was covered with powdered chalk that the baronet had
dusted over it in the hope of developing criminal finger prints.
Now under the drumming of his palm the particles of white dust
whirled like microscopic elfin dancers.
"`The thing's clear as daylight,' he went on: `One of the
professional group brought the accomplice down here to divide the
booty. He broke the door in. They sat down here at this table
with the lighted candle as you see it. And while the stuff was
being sorted out, another of the band slipped in behind the man
and killed him.
"`They started to carry the body out. Millson chanced by. They
got in a funk and rushed the thing. Of course they had a motor
down the road, and equally of course it was no trick to whisk the
body out of the neighborhood.'
"Sir Henry got half up on his feet with his energy in the
solution of the thing. He thrust his spread-out fingers down.
on the table like a man, by that gesture, pressing in an
inevitable, conclusive summing up."
The girl paused. "It was splendid, I thought. I applauded like
an entranced pit!
"But Mr. Meadows didn't say a word. He took up the big glass we
had used about the inspection of the place, and passed it over
the prints Sir Henry was unconsciously making in the dust on the
polished surface of the table. Then he put the glass down and
looked the excited baronet calmly in the face.
"`There,' cried Sir Henry, `the thing's no mystery.'
"For the first time Mr. Meadows opened his mouth. `It's the
profoundest mystery I ever heard of,' he said.
"Sir Henry was astonished. He sat down and looked across the
table at the man. He wasn't able to speak for a moment, then he
got it out: `Why exactly do you say that?'
"Mr. Meadows put his elbows on the table. He twiddled the big
reading glass in his fingers. His face got firm and decided.
"`To begin with,' he said, `the door to this house was never
broken by a professional cracksman. It's the work of a bungling
amateur. A professional never undertakes to break a door at the
lock. Naturally that's the firmest place about a door. The
implement he intends to use as a lever on the door he puts in at
the top or bottom. By that means he has half of the door as a
lever against the resistance of the lock. Besides, a
professional of any criminal group is a skilled workman. He
doesn't waste effort. He doesn't fracture a door around the
lock. This door's all mangled, splintered and broken around the
"He stopped and looked about the room, and out through the window
at the Scotland Yard patrol. The features of his face were
contracted with the problem. One could imagine one saw the man's
mind laboring at the mystery. `And that's not all,' he said.
`Your man Millson is not telling the truth. He didn't see a dead
body lying on the steps of this house; and he didn't see a man
"Sir Henry broke in at that. `Impossible,' he said; 'Millson's a
first-class inspector, absolutely reliable. Why do you say that
he didn't see the dead man on the steps or the assassin running
"Mr. Meadows answered in the same even voice. `Because there was
never any dead man here,' he said, `for anybody to see. And
because Millson's 'description of the man he saw is
scientifically an impossible feat of vision.'
"Impossible?' cried Sir Henry.
"`Quite impossible,' Mr. Meadows insisted. 'Millson tells us
that the man he saw running away in the night wore a blue coat
and reddish-brown trousers. He says he was barely able to
distinguish the blue coat, but that he could see the
reddish-brown trousers very clearly. Now, as a matter of fact,
it has been very accurately determined that red is the hardest
color to distinguish at night, and blue the very easiest. A blue
coat would be clearly visible long after reddish-brown trousers
had become indistinguishable in the darkness.'
"Sir Henry's under jaw sagged a little. `Why, yes,' he said,
`that's true; that's precisely true. Gross, at the University of
Gratz, determined that by experiment in 1912. I never thought
"`There are some other things here that you have not, perhaps,
precisely thought about,' Mr. Meadows went on.
"`For example, the things that happened in this room did not
happen in the night. They happened in the day.'
"He pointed to the half-burned wax candle on the table. `There's
a headless joiner's nail driven into the table,' he said, `and
this candle is set down over the nail. That means that the
person who placed it there wished it to remain there - to remain
there firmly. He didn't put it down there for the brief
requirements of a passing tragedy, he put it there to remain;
that's one thing.
"`Another thing is that this candle thus firmly fastened on the
table was never alight there. If it had ever been burning in its
position on the table, some of the drops of melted wax would have
fallen about it.
"`You will observe that, while the candle is firmly fixed, it
does not set straight; it is inclined at least ten degrees out of
perpendicular. In that position it couldn't have burned for a
moment without dripping melted wax on the table. And there's
none on the table; there has never been any on it. Your glass
shows not the slightest evidence of a wax stain.' He added:
`Therefore the candle is a blind; false evidence to give us the
impression of a night affair.'
"Sir Henry's jaw sagged; now his mouth gaped. `True,' he said.
`True, true.' He seemed to get some relief to his damaged
deductions out of the repeated word.
"The irony in Mr. Meadows' voice increased a little. `Nor is
that all,' he said. `The smear on the floor, and the stains in
which the naked foot tracked, are not human blood. They're not
any sort of blood. It was clearly evident when you had your lens
over them. They show no coagulated fiber. They show only the
evidences of dye - weak dye - watered red ink, I'd say.'
"I thought Sir Henry was going to crumple up in his chair. He
seemed to get loose and baggy in some extraordinary fashion, and
his gaping jaw worked. `But the footprints,' he said, `the naked
footprints?' His voice was a sort of stutter-the sort of shaken
stutter of a man who has come a' tumbling cropper.
"The American actually laughed: he laughed as we sometimes laugh
at a mental defective.
"`They're not footprints!' he said. `Nobody ever had a foot
cambered like that, or with a heel like it, or with toes like it.
Somebody made those prints with his hand - the edge of his palm
for the heel and the balls of his fingers for the toes. The
wide, unstained distances between these heelprints and the prints
of the ball of the toes show the impossible arch.'
"Sir Henry was like a man gone to pieces. `But who - who made
them?' he faltered.
"The American leaned forward and put the big glass over the
prints that Sir Henry had made with his fingers in the white dust
on the mahogany table. `I think you know the answer to your
question,' he said. `The whorls of these prints are identical
with those of the toe tracks.'
"Then he laid the glass carefully down, sat back in his chair,
folded his arms and looked at Sir Henry.
"`Now,' he said, `will you kindly tell me why you have gone to
the trouble of manufacturing all these false evidences of a
The girl paused. There was intense silence in the drawing-room.
The aged man at the window had turned and was looking at her.
The face of the old woman seemed vague and uncertain.
The girl smiled.
"Then," she said, "the real, amazing miracle happened. Sir Henry
got on his feet, his big body tense, his face like iron, his
"`I went to that trouble,' he said, `because I wished to
demonstrate - I wished to demonstrate beyond the possibility of
any error - that Mr. Arthur Meadows, the pretended American from
St. Paul, was in fact the celebrated criminologist, Karl Holweg
Leibnich, of Bonn, giving us the favor of his learned presence
while he signaled the German submarines off the east coast roads
with his high-powered motor lights.'"
Now there was utter silence in the drawing-room but for the low
of the Highland cattle and the singing of the birds outside
For the first time there came a little tremor in the girl's
"When Sir Henry doubted this American and asked me to go down and
make sure before he set a trap for him, I thought - I thought, if
Tony could risk his life for England, I could do that much."
At this moment a maid appeared in the doorway, the trim,
immaculate, typical English maid. "Tea is served, my lady," she
The tall, fine old man crossed the room and offered his arm to
the girl with the exquisite, gracious manner with which once upon
a time he had offered it to a girlish queen at Windsor.
The ancient woman rose as if she would go out before them. Then
suddenly, at the door, she stepped aside for the girl to pass,
making the long, stooping, backward curtsy of the passed
"After you, my dear," she said, "always!"
V. The Man in the Green Hat
"Alas, monsieur, in spite of our fine courtesies, the conception
of justice by one race must always seem outlandish to another!"
It was on the terrace of Sir Henry Marquis' villa at Cannes. The
members of the little party were in conversation over their
tobacco - the Englishman, with his brier-root pipe; the American
Justice, with a Havana cigar; and the aged Italian, with his
cigarette. The last was speaking.
He was a very old man, but he gave one the impression of
incredible, preposterous age. He was bald; he had neither
eyebrows nor eyelashes. A wiry mustache, yellow with nicotine,
alone remained. Great wrinkles lay below the eyes and along the
jaw, under a skin stretched like parchment over the bony
protuberances of the face.
These things established the aspect of old age; but it was the
man's expression and manner that gave one the sense of
incalculable antiquity. The eyes seemed to look out from a
window, where the man behind them had sat watching the human race
from the beginning. And his manners had the completion of one
whose experience of life is comprehensive and finished.
"It seems strange to you, monsieur" - he was addressing, in
French, the American Justice - "that we should put our prisoners
into an iron cage, as beasts are exhibited in a circus. You are
shocked at that. It strikes you as the crudity of a race not
"You inquire about it with perfect courtesy; but, monsieur, you
inquire as one inquires about a custom that his sense of justice
"Your pardon, monsieur; but there are some conceptions of justice
in the law of your admirable country that seem equally strange to
The men about the Count on the exquisite terrace, looking down
over Cannes into the arc of the sea, felt that the great age of
this man gave him a right of frankness, a privilege of direct
expression, they could not resent. Somehow, at the extremity of
life, he seemed beyond pretenses; and he had the right to omit
the digressions by which younger men are accustomed to approach
"What is this strange thing in our law, Count?" said the
The old man made a vague gesture, as one who puts away art
inquiry until the answer appears.
"Many years ago," he continued, "I read a story about the red
Indians by your author, Cooper. It was named `The Oak Openings,'
and was included, I think, in a volume entitled Stories of the
Prairie. I believe I have the names quite right, since the
author impressed me as an inferior comer with an abundance of
gold about him. In the story Corporal Flint was captured by the
Indians under the leadership of Bough of Oak, a cruel and
"This hideous beast determined to put his prisoner to the torture
of the saplings, a barbarity rivaling the crucifixion of the
Romans. Two small trees standing near each other were selected,
the tops lopped off and the branches removed; they were bent and
the tops were lashed together. One of the victim's wrists was
bound to the top of each of the young trees; then the saplings
were released and the victim, his arms wrenched and dislocated,
hung suspended in excruciating agony, like a man nailed to a
"It was fearful torture. The strain on the limbs was hideous,
yet the victim might live for days. Nothing short of crucifixion
- that beauty of the Roman law-ever equaled it."
He paused and flicked the ashes from his cigarette.
"Corporal Flint, who seemed to have a knowledge of the Indian
character, had endeavored so to anger the Indians by taunt and
invective that some brave would put an arrow into his heart, or
dash his brains out with a stone ax.
"In this he failed. Bough of Oak controlled his braves and
Corporal Flint was lashed to the saplings. But, as the trees
sprang apart, wrenching the man's arms out of their sockets, a
friendly Indian, Pigeonwing, concealed in a neighboring thicket,
unable to rescue his friend and wishing to save him from the long
hours of awful torture, shot Corporal Flint through the forehead.
"Now," continued the Count, "if there was no question about these
facts, and Bough of Oak stood for trial before any civilized
tribunal on this earth, do you think the laws of any country
would acquit him of the murder of Corporal Flint?"
The whole company laughed.
"I am entirely serious," continued the Count. "What do you
think? There are three great nations represented here."
"The exigencies of war," said Sir Henry Marquis, "might
differentiate a barbarity from a crime."
"But let us assume," replied the Count, "that no state of war
existed; that it was a time of peace; that Corporal Flint was
innocent of wrong; and that Bough of Oak was acting entirely from
a depraved instinct bent on murder. In other words, suppose this
thing had occurred yesterday in one of the Middle States of the
The American felt that this question was directed primarily to
himself. He put down his cigar and indicated the Englishman by a
"Your great jurist, Sir James Stephen," he began, "constantly
reminds us that the criminal law is a machine so rough and
dangerous that we can use it only with every safety device
"And so, Count," he continued, to the Italian, "the
administration of the criminal law in our country may seem to you
subject to delays and indirections that are not justified. These
abuses could be generally corrected by an intelligent presiding
judge; but, in part, they are incidental to a fair and full
investigation of the charge against the prisoner. I think,
however, that our conception of justice does not differ from that
of other nations."
The old Count shrugged his shoulders at the digression.
"I beg your pardon," he said. "I do not refer to the mere
administration of the criminal law in your country; though,
monsieur, we have been interested in observing its peculiarities
in such notable examples as the Thaw trials in New York, and the
Anarchist cases in Chicago some years ago. I believe the judge
in the latter trial gave about one hundred instructions on the
subject of reasonable doubt - quite intelligible, I dare say, to
an American jury; but, I must confess, somewhat beyond me in
their metaphysical refinements.
"I should understand reasonable doubt if I were uninstructed, but
I do not think I could explain it. I should be, concerning it,
somewhat as Saint Augustine was with a certain doctrine of the
Church when he said: `I do not know if you ask me; but if you do
not ask me I know very well.' "
He paused and blew a tiny ring or smoke out over the terrace
toward the sea.
"There was a certain poetic justice finally in that case," he
"The prisoners were properly convicted of the Haymarket murders,"
said the American Justice.
"Ah, no doubt," returned the Count; "but I was not thinking of
that. Following a custom of your courts, I believe, the judge at
the end of the trial put the formal inquiry as to whether the
prisoners had anything to say. Whereupon they rose and addressed
him for six days!"
"After that, monsieur, I am glad to add, they were all very
"But, monsieur, permit me to return to my question: Do you think
any intelligent tribunal on this earth would acquit Bough of Oak
of the murder of Corporal Flint under the conditions I have
"No," said the American. "It would be a cold-blooded murder; and
in the end the creature would be executed."
The old Count turned suddenly in his chair.
"Yes," he said, "in a Continental court, it is certain; but in
America, monsieur, under your admirable law, founded on the
common law of England?"
"I am sure we should hang him," replied the American.
"Monsieur," cried the old Count, "you have me profoundly
It seemed to the little group on the terrace that they, and not
the Count, were indicated by that remark. He had stated a case
about which there could be no two opinions under any civilized
conception of justice. Sir Henry Marquis had pointed out the
only element - a state of war - which could distinguish the case
from plain premeditated murder in its highest degree. They
looked to him for an explanation; but it did not immediately
The Count noticed it and offered a word of apology.
"Presently - presently," he said. "We have these two words in
Italian - sparate! and aspetate! Monsieur."
He turned to the American:
"You do not know our language, I believe. Suppose I should
suddenly call out one of these words and afterward it should
prove that a life hung on your being able to say which word it
was I uttered. Do you think, monsieur, you could be certain?
"No, monsieur; and so courts are wise to require a full
explanation of every extraordinary fact. George Goykovich, an
Austrian, having no knowledge of the Italian language, swore in
the court of an American state that he heard a prisoner use the
Italian word sparate! and that he could not be mistaken.
"I would not believe him, monsieur, on that statement; but he
explained that he was a coal miner, that the mines were worked by
Italians, and that this word was called out when the coal was
about to be shot down with powder.
"Ah, monsieur, the explanation is complete. George Goykovich
must know this word; it was a danger signal. I would believe now
his extraordinary statement."
The Count stopped a moment and lighted another cigarette.
"Pardon me if I seem to proceed obliquely. The incident is
related to the case I approach; and it makes clear, monsieur, why
the courts of France, for example, permit every variety of
explanation in a criminal trial, while your country and the great
English nation limit explanations.
"You do not permit hearsay evidence to save a man's life; with a
fine distinction you permit it to save only his character!"
"The rule," replied the American justice, "everywhere among
English-speaking people is that the best evidence of which the
subject is capable shall be produced. We permit a witness to
testify only to what he actually knows. That is the rule. It is
true there are exceptions to it. In some instances he may
testify as to what he has heard."
"Ah, yes," replied the Count; "you will not permit such evidence
to take away a man's horse, but you will permit it to take away a
woman's reputation! I shall never be able to understand these
delicate refinements of the English law!"
"But, Count," suggested Sir Henry Marquis, "reputation is
precisely that what the neighborhood says about one."
"Pardon, monsieur," returned the Count. "I do not criticize your
customs. They are doubtless excellent in every variety of way.
I deplore only my inability to comprehend them. For example,
monsieur, why should you hold a citizen responsible in all other
cases only for what he does, but in the case of his own character
turn about and try him for what people say he does?
"Thus, monsieur, as I understand it, the men of an English
village could not take away my pig by merely proving that
everybody said it was stolen; but they could brand me as a liar
by merely proving what the villagers said! It seems incredible
that men should put such value on a pig."
Sir Henry Marquis laughed.
"It is not entirely a question of values, Count."
"I beg you to pardon me, monsieur," the Italian went on.
"Doubtless, on this subject I do nothing more than reveal an
intelligence lamentably inefficient; but I had the idea that
English people were accustomed to regard property of greater
importance than life."
"I have never heard," replied the Englishman, smiling, "that our
courts gave more attention to pigs than to murder."
"Why, yes, monsieur," said the Count - "that is precisely what
they have been accustomed to do. It is only, I believe, within
recent years that one convicted of murder in England could take
an appeal to a higher court; though a controversy over pigs - or,
at any rate, the pasture on which they gathered acorns - could
always be carried up."
The great age of the Count - he seemed to be the representative
in the world of some vanished empire - gave his irony a certain
indirection. Everybody laughed. And he added: "Even your word
`murder,' I believe, was originally the name of a fine imposed by
the Danes on a village unless it could be proved that the person
found dead was an Englishman!
"I wonder when, precisely, the world began to regard it as a
crime to kill an Englishman?"
The parchment on the bones of his face wrinkled into a sort of
smile. His greatest friend on the Riviera was this pipe-smoking
Then suddenly, with a nimble gesture that one would not believe
possible in the aged, he stripped back his sleeve and exhibited a
long, curiously twisted scar, as though a bullet had plowed along
"Alas, monsieur," he said, "I myself live in the most primitive
condition of society! I pay a tribute for life . . . . Ah! no,
monsieur; it is not to the Camorra that I pay. It is quite
unromantic. I think my secretary carries it in his books as a
pension to an indigent relative."
He turned to the American
"Believe me, monsieur, my estates in Salerno are not what they
were; the olive trees are old and all drains on my income are a
burden - even this gratuity. I thought I should be rid of it;
but, alas, the extraordinary conception of justice in your
He broke the cigarette in his fingers, and flung the pieces over
"In the great range of mountains," he began, "slashing across the
American states and beautifully named the Alleghanies, there is a
vast measure of coal beds. It is thither that the emigrants from
Southern Europe journey. They mine out the coal, sometimes
descending into the earth through pits, or what in your language
are called shafts, and sometimes following the stratum of the
coal bed into the hill.
"This underworld, monsieur - this, sunless world, built
underneath the mountains, is a section of Europe slipped under
the American Republic. The language spoken there is not English.
The men laboring in those buried communities cry out sparate when
they are about to shoot down the coal with powder. It is Italy
under there. There is a river called the Monongahela in those
mountains. It is an Indian name."
"And so, monsieur, what happened along it doubtless reminded me
of Cooper's story - Bough of Oak and the case of Corporal Flint."
He took another cigarette out of a box on the table, but he did
not light it.
"In one of the little mining villages along this river with the
enchanting name there was a man physically like the people of the
Iliad; and with that, monsieur, he had a certain cast of mind not
unHellenic. He was tall, weighed two hundred and forty pounds,
lean as a gladiator, and in the vigor of golden youth.
"There were no wars to journey after and no adventures; but there
was danger and adventure here. This land was full of cockle,
winnowed out of Italy, Austria and the whole south of Europe. It
took courage and the iron hand of the state to keep the peace.
Here was a life of danger; and this Ionian - big, powerful,
muscled like the heroes of the Circus Maximus - entered this
"Monsieur, I have said his mind was Hellenic, like his big,
wonderful body. Mark you how of heroic antiquity it was! It was
his boast, among the perils that constantly beset him, that no
criminal should ever take his life; that, if ever he should
receive a mortal wound from the hand of the assassins about him,
he would not wait to die in agony by it. He himself would sever
the damaged thread of life and go out like a man!
"Observe, monsieur, how like the great heroes of legend - like
the wounded Saul when he ordered his armor-bearer to kill him;
like Brutus when he fell on his sword!"
He looked intently at the American.
"Doubtless, monsieur," he went on, "those near this man along the
Monongahela did not appreciate his attitude of grandeur; but to
us, in the distance, it seemed great and noble."
He looked out over the Mediterranean, where the great adventurers
who cherished these lofty pagan ideals once beat along in the
morning of the world.
"On an afternoon of summer," he continued like one who begins a
saga, "this man, alone and fearless, followed a violator of the
law and arrested him in a house of the village. As he led the
man away he noticed that an Italian followed. He was a little
degenerate, wearing a green hat, and bearing now one name and now
another. They traversed the village toward, the municipal
prison; and this creature, featured like a Parisian Apache,
"As they went along, two Austrians seated on the porch of a house
heard the little man speak to the prisoner. He used the word
sparate. They did not know what he meant, for he spoke in
Italian; but they recognized the word, for it was the word used
in the mines before the coal was shot down. The prisoner made
his reply in Italian, which the Austrians did not understand.
"It seemed that this man who had made the arrest did not know
Italian, for he stopped and asked the one behind him whether the
prisoner was his brother. The man replied in the negative."
The Count paused, as though for an explanation. "What the Apache
said was: `Shall I shoot him here or wait until we reach the
ravine?' And the prisoner replied: `Wait until we come to the
"They went on. Presently they reached a sort of hollow, where
the reeds grew along the road densely and to the height of a
man's head. Here the Italian Apache, the degenerate with the
green hat, following some three steps behind, suddenly drew a
revolver from his pocket and shot the man twice in the back. It
was a weapon carrying a lead bullet as large as the tip of one's
little finger. The officer fell. The Apache and the prisoner
"The wounded man got up. He spread out his arms; and he shouted,
with a great voice, like the heroes of the Iliad. The two wounds
were mortal; they were hideous, ghastly wounds, ripping up the
vital organs in the man's body and severing the great arteries.
The splendid pagan knew he had received his death wounds; and,
true to his atavistic ideal, the ideal of the Greek, the Hebrew
and the Roman, the ideal of the great pagan world to which he in
spirit belonged, and of which the poets sing, he put his own
weapon to his head and blew his brains out."
The old Count, his chin up, his withered, yellow face vitalized,
lifted his hands like one before something elevated and noble.
After some moments had passed he continued
"On the following day the assassin was captured in a neighboring
village. Feeling ran so high that it was with difficulty that
the officers of the law saved him from being lynched. He was
taken about from one prison to another. Finally he was put on
trial for murder.
"There was never a clearer case before any tribunal in this
"Many witnesses identified the assassin - not merely
English-speaking men, who might have been mistaken or prejudiced,
but Austrians, Poles, Italians - the men of the mines who knew
him; who had heard him cry out the fatal Italian word; who saw
him following in the road behind his victim on that Sunday
afternoon of summer; who knew his many names and every feature of
his cruel, degenerate face. There was no doubt anywhere in the
trial. Learned surgeons showed that the two wounds in the dead
man's back from the big-calibered weapon were deadly, fatal
wounds that no man could have survived.
"There was nothing incomplete in that trial.
"Everything was so certain that the assassin did not even
undertake to contradict; not one statement, not one word of the
evidence against him did he deny. It was a plain case of
willful, deliberate and premeditated murder. The judge presiding
at the trial instructed the jury that a man is presumed to intend
that which he does; that whoever kills a human being with malice
aforethought is guilty of murder; that murder which is
perpetrated by any kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated
killing is murder in the first degree. The jury found the
assassin guilty and the judge sentenced him to be hanged."
The Count paused and looked at his companions about him on the
"Messieurs," he said, "do you think that conviction was just?"
There was a common assent. Some one said: "It was a cruel murder
if ever there was one." And another: "It was wholly just; the
creature deserved to hang."
The old Count bowed, putting out his hands.
"And so I hoped he would."
"What happened?" said the American.
The Count regarded him with a queer, ironical smile.
"Unlike the great British people, monsieur," he replied, "your
courts have never given the pig, or the pasture on which he
gathers his acorns, a consideration above the human family. The
case was taken to your Court of Appeals of that province."
He stopped and lighted his cigarette deliberately, with a match
scratched slowly on the table.
"Monsieur," he said, "I do not criticize your elevated court. It
is composed of learned men - wise and patriotic, I have no doubt.
They cannot make the laws, monsieur; they cannot coin a
conception of justice for your people. They must enforce the
precise rules of law that the conception of justice in your
country has established.
"Nevertheless, monsieur" - and his thin yellow lips curled - "for
the sake of my depleted revenues I could have wished that the
decision of this court had been other than it was."
"And what did it decide?" asked the American.
"It decided, monsieur," replied the Count, "that my estates in
Salerno must continue to be charged with the gratuity to the
"That is to say, monsieur, it decided, because the great pagan
did not wait to die in agony, did not wait for the mortal wounds
inflicted by the would-be assassin to kill him, that interesting
person - the man in the green hat - was not guilty of murder in
the first degree and could not be hanged!"
Note - See State versus Angelina; 80 Southeastern Reporter, 141:
"The intervening responsible agent who wrongfully accelerates
death is guilty of the murder, and not the one who inflicted the
first injury, though in itself mortal."
VI. The Wrong Sign
It was an ancient diary in a faded leather cover. The writing
was fine and delicate, and the ink yellow with age. Sir Henry
Marquis turned the pages slowly and with care for the paper was
We had dined early at the Ritz and come in later to his great
home in St. James's Square.
He wished to show me this old diary that had come to him from a
branch of his mother's family in Virginia - a branch that had
gone out with a King's grant when Virginia was a crown colony.
The collateral ancestor, Pendleton, had been a justice of the
peace in Virginia, and a spinster daughter had written down some
of the strange cases with which her father had been concerned.
Sir Henry Marquis believed that these cases in their tragic
details, and their inspirational, deductive handling, equaled any
of our modern time. The great library overlooking St. James'
Square, was curtained off from London. Sir Henry read by the
fire; and I listened, returned, as by some recession of time to
the Virginia of a vanished decade. The narrative of the diary
My father used to say that the Justice of God was sometimes swift
and terrible. He said we thought of it usually as remote and
deliberate, a sort of calm adjustment in some supernatural Court
of Equity. But this idea was far from the truth. He had seen
the justice of God move on the heels of a man with appalling
swiftness; with a crushing force and directness that simply
staggered the human mind. I know the case he thought about.
Two men sat over a table when my father entered. One of them got
up. He was a strange human creature, when you stood and looked
calmly at him. You thought the Artificer had designed him for a
priest of the church. He had the massive features and the fringe
of hair around his bald head like a tonsure. At first, to your
eye, it was the vestments of the church, he lacked; then you saw
that the lack was something fundamental; something organic in the
nature of the man. And as he held and stimulated your attention
you got a fearful idea, that the purpose for which this human
creature was shaped had been somehow artfully reversed!
He was big boned and tall when he stood up.
"Pendleton," he said, "I would have come to you, but for my
And he indicated the elegant young man at the table.
"But I did not send you word to ride a dozen miles through the
hills on any trivial business, or out of courtesy to me. It is a
matter of some import, so I will pay ten eagles."
My father looked steadily at the man.
"I am not for hire," he said.
My father was a justice of the peace in Virginia, under the
English system, by the theory of which the most substantial men
in a county undertook to keep the peace for the welfare of the
State. Like Washington in the service of the Colonial army, he
took no pay.
The big man laughed.
"We are most of us for purchase, and all of us for hire," he
said. "I will make it twenty!"
The young man at the table now interrupted. He was elegant in
the costume of the time, in imported linen and cloth from an
English loom. His hair was thick and black; his eyebrows
straight, his body and his face rich in the blood and the
vitalities of youth. But sensuality was on him like a shadow.
The man was given over to a life of pleasure.
"Mr. Pendleton," he said, with a patronizing pedantic air, "the
commonwealth is interested to see that litigation does not arise;
and to that end, I hope you will not refuse us the benefit of
your experience. We are about to draw up a deed of sale running
into a considerable sum, and we would have it court proof."
He made a graceful gesture with his jeweled hand.
"I would be secure in my purchase, and Zindorf in his eagles, and
you, Sir, in the knowledge that the State will not be vexed by
any suit between us. Every contract, I believe, upon some theory
of the law, is a triangular affair with the State a party. Let
us say then, that you represent Virginia!"
"In the service of the commonwealth," replied my father coldly,
"I am always to be commanded."
The man flicked a bit of dust from his immaculate coat sleeve.
"It will be a conference of high powers. I shall represent Eros;
Mr. Pendleton, Virginia; and Zindorf" and he laughed - "his
And to the eye the three men fitted to their legend. The
Hellenic God of pleasure in his sacred groves might have chosen
for his disciple one from Athens with a face and figure like this
youth. My father bore the severities of the law upon him. And I
have written how strange a creature the third party to this
He now answered with an oath.
"You have a very pretty wit, Mr. Lucian Morrow," he said. "I add
to my price a dozen eagles for it."
The young man shrugged his shoulders in his English coat.
"Smart money, eh, Zindorf . . . Well, it does not make me smart.
It only makes me remember that Count Augsburg educated you in
Bavaria for the Church and you fled away from it to be a slave
trader in Virginia."
He got on his feet, and my father saw that the man was in liquor.
He was not drunken, but the effect was on him with its daring and
It was an April morning, bright with sun. The world was white
with apple blossoms, the soft air entered through the great open
windows. And my father thought that the liquor in the man had
come with him out of a night of bargaining or revel.
Morrow put his hands on the table and looked at Zindorf ; then,
suddenly, the laughter in his face gave way to the comprehension
of a swift, striking idea.
"Why, man," he cried, "it's the devil's truth! Everything about
you is a negation! You ought to be a priest by all the lines and
features of you; but you're not. . . Scorch me, but you're not!"
His voice went up on the final word as though to convey some
impressive, sinister discovery.
It was true in every aspect of the man. The very clothes he
wore, somber, wool-threaded homespun, crudely patched, reminded
one of the coarse fabrics that monks affect for their abasement.
But one saw, when one remembered the characteristic of the man,
that they represented here only an extremity of avarice.
Zindorf looked coldly at his guest.
"Mr. Lucian Morrow," he said, "you will go on, and my price will
But the young blood, on his feet, was not brought up by the
monetary threat. He looked about the room, at the ceiling, the
thick walls. And, like a man who by a sudden recollection
confounds his adversary with an overlooked illustrative fact, he
suddenly cried out
"By the soul of Satan, you're housed to suit! Send me to the
pit! It's the very place for you! Eh! Zindorf, do you know who
built the house you live in?"
"I do not, Mr. Lucian Morrow," said the man. "Who built it?"
One could see that he wished to divert the discourses of his
guest. He failed.
"God built it!" cried Morrow.
He put out his hands as though to include the hose.
"Pendleton," he said, "you will remember. The people built these
walls for a church. It burned, but the stone walls could not
burn; they remained overgrown with creeper. Then, finally, old
Wellington Monroe built a house into the walls for the young wife
he was about to marry, but he went to the coffin instead of the
bride-bed, and the house stood empty. It fell into the courts
with the whole of Monroe's tangled business and finally Zindorf
gets it at a sheriff's sale."
The big man now confronted the young blood with decision.
"Mr. Lucian Morrow," he said, "if you are finished with your fool
talk, I will bid you good. morning. I have decided not to sell
The face of Morrow changed. His voice wheedled in an anxious
"Not sell her, Zindorf!" he echoed. "Why man, you have promised
her to me all along. You always said I should have her in spite
of your cursed partner Ordez. You said you'd get her some day
and sell her to me. Now, curse it, Zindorf, I want her . . .
I've got the money: ten thousand dollars. It's a big lot of
money. But I've got it. I've got it in gold."
He went on:
"Besides, Zindorf, you can have the money, it'll mean more to
you. But it's the girl I want."
He stood up and in his anxiety the effect of the liquor faded
"I've waited on your promise, Zindorf. You said that some day,
when Ordez was hard-pressed he would sell her for money, even if
she was his natural daughter. You were right; you knew Ordez.
You have got an assignment of all the slaves in possession, in
the partnership, and Ordez has cleared out of the country. I
know what you paid for his half-interest in this business, it's
set out in the assignment. It was three thousand dollars.
"Think of it, man, three thousand dollars to Ordez for a
wholesale, omnibus assignment of everything. An elastic legal
note of an assignment that you can stretch to include this girl
along with the half-dozen other slaves that you have on hand
here; and I offer you ten thousand dollars for the girl alone!"
One could see how the repetition of the sum in gold affected
He had the love of money in that dominating control that the
Apostle spoke of. But the elegant young man was moved by a lure
no less potent. And his anxiety, for the time, suppressed the
evidences of liquor.
"I'll take the risk on the title, Zindorf. You and Ordez were
partners in this traffic. Ordez gives you a general assignment
of all slaves on hand for three thousand dollars and lights out
of the country. He leaves his daughter here among the others.
And this general assignment can be construed to include her. Her
mother was a slave and that brings her within the law. We know
precisely who her mother was, and all about it. You looked it up
and my lawyer, Mr. Cable, looked it up. Her mother was the
octoroon woman, Suzanne, owned by old Judge Marquette in New
"There may have been some sort of church marriage, but there's no
legal record, Cable says.
"The woman belonged to Marquette, and under the law the girl is a
slave. You got a paper title out of Marquette's executors,
privily, years ago. Now you have this indefinite assignment by
Ordez. He's gone to the Spanish Islands, or the devil, or both.
And if Mr. Pendleton can draw a deed of sale that will stand in
the courts between us, I'll take the risk on the validity of my
"The law's sound on slaves, Judge Madison has a dozen himself,
not all black either; not three-eighths black!" and he laughed.
Then he turned to my father.
"Mr. Pendleton," he said, "I persuaded Zindorf to send for you to
draw up this deed of sale. I have no confidence in the little
practicing tricksters at the county seat. They take a fee and,
with premeditation, write a word or phrase into the contract that
leaves it open for a suit at law."
He made a courteous bow, accompanied by a dancing master's
"I do not offend you with the offer of a fee, but I present my
gratitude for the conspicuous courtesy, and I indicate the
service to the commonwealth of legal papers in form and court
proof. May I hope, Sir, that you will not deny us the benefit of
your highly distinguished service."
My father very slowly looked about him in calm reflection.
He had ridden ten miles through the hills on this April morning,
at Zindorf's message sent the night before. The clay of the
roads was still damp and plastic from the recent rain. There
were flecks of mud on him and the splashing of the streams.
He was a big, dominating man, in the hardened strength and
experience of middle life. He had come, as he believed, upon
some service of the state. And here was a thing for the little
dexterities of a lawyer's clerk. Everybody in Virginia, who knew
my father, can realize how he was apt to meet the vague message
of Zindorf that got him in this house, and the patronizing
courtesies of Mr. Lucian Morrow.
He was direct and virile, and while he feared God, like the great
figures in the Pentateuch, as though he were a judge of Israel
enforcing his decrees with the weapon of iron, I cannot write
here, that at any period of his life, or for any concern or
reason, he very greatly regarded man.
He went over to the window and looked out at the hills and the
road that he had traveled.
The mid-morning sun was on the fields and groves like a
benediction. The soft vitalizing air entered and took up the
stench of liquor, the ash of tobacco and the imported perfumes
affected by Mr. Lucian Morrow.
The windows in the room were long, gothic like a church, and
turning on a pivot. They ran into the ceiling that Monroe had
built across the gutted walls. The house stood on the crown of a
hill, in a cluster of oak trees. Below was the abandoned
graveyard, the fence about it rotted down; the stone slabs
overgrown with moss. The four roads running into the hills
joined and crossed below this oak grove that the early people had
selected for a house of God.
My father looked out on these roads and far back on the one that
he had traveled.
There was no sound in the world, except the faint tolling of a
bell in a distant wood on the road. It was far off on the way to
my father's house, and the vague sound was to be heard only when
a breath of wind carried from that way.
My father gathered his big chin, flat like a plowshare, into the
trough of his bronze hand. He stood for some moments in
reflection, then he turned to Mr. Lucian Morrow.
"I think you are right," he said. "I think this is a triangular
affair with the state a party. I am in the service of the state.
Will you kindly put the table by this window."
They thought he wished the air, and would thus escape the
closeness of the room. And while my father stood aside, Zindorf
and his guest carried the flat writing table to the window and
placed a chair.
My father sat down behind the table by the great open window, and
looked at Zindorf.
The man moved and acted like a monk. He had the figure and the
tonsured head. His coarse, patched clothes cut like the homely
garments of the simple people of the day, were not wholly out of
keeping to the part. The idea was visualized about him; the
simplicity and the poverty of the great monastic orders in their
vast, noble humility. All striking and real until one saw his
My father used to say that the great orders of God were correct
in this humility; for in its vast, comprehensive action, the
justice of God moved in a great plain, where every indicatory
event was precisely equal; a straw was a weaver's beam.
God hailed men to ruin in his court, not with spectacular
devices, but by means of some homely, common thing, as though to
abase and overcome our pride.
My father moved the sheets of foolscap, and tested the point of
the quill pen like one who considers with deliberation. He
dipped the point into the inkpot and slowly wrote a dozen formal
Then he stopped and put down the pen.
"The contests of the courts," he said, "are usually on the
question of identity. I ought to see this slave for a correct
The two men seemed for a moment uncertain what to do.
Then Zindorf addressed my father.
"Pendleton," he said, "the fortunes of life change, and the ideas
suited to one status are ridiculous in another. Ordez was a
fool. He made believe to this girl a future that he never
intended, and she is under the glamor of these fancies."
He stood in the posture of a monk, and he spoke each word with a
"It is a very delicate affair, to bring this girl out of the
extravagances with which Ordez filled her idle head, and not be
brutal in it. We must conduct the thing with tact, and we will
ask you, Pendleton, to observe the courtesies of our pretension."
When he had finished, he flung a door open and went down a
stairway. For a time my father heard his footsteps, echoing,
like those of a priest in the under chambers of a chapel. Then
he ascended, and my father was astonished.
He came with a young girl on his arm, as in the ceremony of
marriage sometimes the priest emerges with the bride. The girl
was young and of a Spanish beauty. She was all in white with
blossoms in her hair. And she was radiant, my father said, as in
the glory of some happy contemplation. There was no slave like
this on the block in Virginia. Young girls like this, my father
had seen in Havana in the houses of Spanish Grandees.
"This is Mr. Pendleton, our neighbor," Zindorf said. "He comes
to offer you his felicitations."
The girl made a little formal curtsy.
"When my father returns," she said in a queer, liquid accent, "he
will thank you, Meester Pendleton; just now he is on a journey."
And she gave her hand to Lucian Morrow to kiss, like a lady of
the time. Then Zindorf, mincing his big step, led her out.
And my father stood behind the table in the enclosure of the
window, with his arms folded, and his chin lifted above his great
black stock. I know how my father looked, for I have seen him
stand like that before moving factors in great events, when he
intended, at a certain cue, to enter.
He said that it was at this point that Mr. Lucian Morrow's early
comment on Zindorf seemed, all at once, to discover the nature of
this whole affair. He said that suddenly, with a range of vision
like the great figures in the Pentateuch, he saw how things right
and true would work out backward into abominations, if, by any
chance, the virtue of God in events were displaced!
Zindorf returned, and as he stepped through the door, closing it
behind him, the far-off tolling of the bell, faint, eerie,
carried by a stronger breath of April air, entered through the
window. My father extended his arm toward the distant wood.
"Zindorf," he said, "do you mark the sign?" The man listened.
"What sign?" he said.
"The sign of death!" replied my father.
The man made a deprecating gesture with his hands, "I do not
believe in signs," he said.
My father replied like one corrected by a memory.
"Why, yes," he said, "that is true. I should have remembered
that. You do not believe in signs, Zindorf, since you abandoned
the sign of the cross, and set these coarse patches on your knees
to remind you not to bend them in the sign of submission to the
King of Kings."
The intent in the mended clothing was the economy of avarice, but
my father turned it to his use.
The man's face clouded with anger.
"What I believe," he said, "is neither the concern of you nor
He paused with an oath.
"Whatever you may believe, Zindorf," replied my father, "the
sound of that bell is unquestionably a sign of death." He
pointed toward the distant wood. "In the edge of the forest
yonder is the ancient church that the people built to replace the
burned one here. It has been long abandoned, but in its
graveyard lie a few old families. And now and then, when an old
man dies, they bring him back to put him with his fathers. This
morning, as I came along, they were digging the grave for old
Adam Duncan, and the bell tolls for him. So you see," and he
looked Zindorf in the face, "a belief in signs is justified."
Again the big man made his gesture as of one putting something of
no importance out of the way.
"Believe what you like," he said, "I am not concerned with
"Why, yes, Zindorf," replied my father, "of all men you are the
very one most concerned about them. You must be careful not to
use the wrong ones."
It was a moment of peculiar tension.
The room was flooded with sun. The tiny creatures of the air
droned outside. Everywhere was peace and the gentle benevolence
of peace. But within this room, split off from the great chamber
of a church, events covert and sinister seemed preparing to
My father, big and dominant, was behind the table, his great
shoulders blotting out the window;
Mr. Lucian Morrow sat doubled in a chair, and Zindorf stood with
the closed door behind him.
"You see, Zindorf," he said, "each master has his set of signs.
Most of us have learned the signs of one master only. But you
have learned the signs of both. And you must be careful not to
bring the signs of your first master into the service of your
The big man did not move, he stood with the door closed behind
him, and studied my father's face like one who feels the presence
of a danger that he cannot locate.
"What do you mean?" he said.
"I mean," replied my father, "I mean, Zindorf, that each master
has a certain intent in events, and this intent is indicated by
his set of signs. Now the great purpose of these two masters, we
believe, in all the moving of events, is directly opposed. Thus,
when we use a sign of one of these masters, we express by the
symbol of it the hope that events will take the direction of his
"Don't you see then . . . don't you see, that we dare not use the
signs of one in the service of the other?"
"Pendleton," said the man, "I do not understand you."
He spoke slowly and precisely, like one moving with an excess of
My father went on, his voice strong and level, his eyes on
"The thing is a great mystery," he said. "It is not clear to any
of us in its causes or its relations. But old legends and old
beliefs, running down from the very morning of the world, tell us
- warn us, Zindorf - that the signs of each of these masters are
abhorrent to the other. Neither will tolerate the use of his
adversary's sign. Moreover, Zindorf, there is a double peril in
And his voice rose.
"There is the peril that the new master will abandon the
blunderer for the insult, and there is the peril that the old one
will destroy him for the sacrilege!"
At this moment the door behind Zindorf opened, and the young girl
entered. She was excited and her eyes danced.
"Oh!" she said, "people are coming on every road!"
She looked, my father said, like a painted picture, her dark
Castilian beauty illumined by the pleasure in her interpretation
of events. She thought the countryside assembled after the
manner of my father to express its felicitations.
Zindorf crossed in great strides to the window: Mr. Lucian
Morrow, sober and overwhelmed by the mystery of events about him,
got unsteadily on his feet, holding with both hands to the oak
back of a chair.
My father said that the tragedy of the thing was on him, and he
acted under the pressure of it.
"My child," he said, "you are to go to the house of your
grandfather in Havana. If Mr. Lucian Morrow wishes to renew his
suit for your hand in marriage, he will do it there. Go now and
make your preparations for the journey."
The girl cried out in pleasure at the words.
"My grandfather is a great person in New Spain. I have always
longed to see him . . . father promised . . . and now I am to go
. . . when do we set out, Meester Pendleton?"
"At once," replied my father, "to-day." Then he crossed the room
and opened the door for her to go out. He held the latch until
the girl was down the stairway. Then he closed the door.
The big man, falsely in his aspect, like a monk, looking out at
the far-off figures on the distant roads, now turned about.
"A clever ruse, Pendleton," he said, "We can send her now, on
this pretended journey, to Morrow's house, after the sale."
My father went over and sat down at the table. He took a faded
silk envelope out of his, coat, and laid it down before him.
Then he answered Zindorf.
"There will be no sale," he said.
Mr. Lucian Morrow interrupted.
"And why no sale, Sir?"
"Because there is no slave to sell," replied my father. "This
girl is not the daughter of the octoroon woman, Suzanne."
Zindorf's big jaws tightened.
"How did you know that?" he said.
My father answered with deliberation.
"I would have known it," he said, from the wording of the paper
you exhibit from Marquette's executors. It is merely a release
of any claim or color of title; the sort of legal paper one
executes when one gives up a right or claim that one has no faith
in. Marquette's executors were the ablest lawyers in New
Orleans. They were not the men to sign away valuable property in
a conveyance like that; that they did sign such a paper is
conclusive evidence to me that they had nothing - and knew they
had nothing - to release by it." He paused.
"I know it also," he said, "because I have before me here the
girl's certificate of birth and Ordez's certificate of marriage."
He opened the silk envelope and took out some faded papers. He
unfolded them and spread them out under his hand.
"I think Ordez feared for his child," he said, "and stored these
papers against the day of danger to her, because they are copies
taken from the records in Havana."
He looked up at the astonished Morrow.
"Ordez married the daughter of Pedro de Hernando. I find, by a
note to these papers, that she is dead. I conclude that this
great Spanish family objected to the adventurer, and he fled with
his infant daughter to New Orleans." he paused.
"The intrigue with the octoroon woman, Suzanne, came after that."
Then he added:
"You must renew your negotiations, Sir, in, a somewhat different
manner before a Spanish Grandee in Havana!"
Mr. Lucian Morrow did not reply. He stood in a sort of wonder.
But Zindorf, his face like iron, addressed my father:
"Where did you get these papers, Pendleton?" he said.
"I got them from Ordez," replied my father.
"When did you see Ordez?"
"I saw him to-day," replied my father.
Zindorf did not move, but his big jaw worked and a faint spray of
moisture came out on his face. Then, finally, with no change or
quaver in his voice, he put his query.
"Where is Ordez?"
"Where?" echoed my father, and he rose. "Why, Zindorf, he is on
his way here." And he extended his arm toward the open window.
The big man lifted his head and looked out at the men and horses
now clearly visible on the distant road.
"Who are these people," he said, "and why do they come?" He
spoke as though he addressed some present but invisible
My father answered him
"They are the people of Virginia," he said, "and they come,
Zindorf, in the purpose of events that you have turned terribly
The man was in some desperate perplexity, but he had steel nerves
and the devil's courage.
He looked my father calmly in the face.
"What does all this mean?" he said.
"It means, Zindorf," cried my father, "it means that the very
things, the very particular things, that you ought to have used
for the glory of God, God has used for your damnation!"
And again, in the clear April air, there entered through the open
window the faint tolling of a bell.
"Listen, Zindorf! I will tell you. In the old abandoned church
yonder, when they came to toll the bell for Duncan, the rope fell
to pieces; I came along then, and Jacob Lance climbed into the
steeple to toll the bell by hand. At the first crash of sound a
wolf ran out of a thicket in the ravine below him, and fled away
toward the mountains. Lance, from his elevated point, could see
the wolf's muzzle was bloody. That would mean, that a lost horse
had been killed or an estray steer. He called down and we went
in to see what thing this scavenger had got hold of."
"In the cut of an abandoned road we found the body of Ordez
riddled with buckshot, and his pockets rifled. But sewed up in
his coat was the silk envelope with these papers. I took
possession of them as a Justice of the Peace, ordered the body
sent on here, and the people to assemble."
He extended his arm toward the faint, quivering, distant sound.
"Listen, Zindorf," he cried; "the bell began to toll for Duncan,
but it tolls now for the murderer of Ordez. It tolls to raise
the country against the assassin!"
The false monk had the courage of his master. He stood out and
faced my father.
"But can you find him, Pendleton," he said. And his harsh voice
was firm. "You find Ordez dead; well, some assassin shot him and
carried his body into the cut of the abandoned road. But who was
that assassin? Is Virginia scant of murderers? Do you know the
My father answered in his great dominating voice
"God knows him, Zindorf, and I know him! . . . The man who
murdered Ordez made a fatal blunder . . . He used a sign of God
in the service of the devil and he is ruined!"
The big man stepped slowly backward into the room, while my
father's voice, filling the big empty spaces of the house,
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