The Sleuth of St. James Street
Melville Davisson Post
Part 5 out of 6
She very nearly laughed. "This is New York," she said, "not
Arizona. And besides there was no express-car. This thing was
done by somebody who wanted the effect of a wreck, and nothing
else, and it was done by some one who knew about railroads.
"Now, what class of persons who know about railroads could be
moved by that motive?"
She was driving straight now at the boy I stood to cover. At
another step she would name the class. Discharged workmen would
know about railroads; they would be interested to show how less
efficient the road was without them; and a desperate one might
plan such a wreck as a demonstration. If so, he would wish only
the effect of the wreck, and not loss of life. Marion was going
dead ahead on the right line, in another moment she would
remember the man we passed, and the "black band" letters. I made
a final desperate effort to divert her.
"Come along!" I called, "the first thing to do now is to talk
with Clinton Howard. The nearest telephone will be at Crewe's
house on the hill."
And it won.
"Lisa!" she cried, "you're right I We must tell him at once."
We hurried down the track to the motor-car. I had gained a
little time. But how could I keep my promise. And the next
moment the problem became more difficult. The track boss came up
with a short iron bar that his men had found in the weeds along
the right of way.
"There's the claw-bar, that the devil done it with," he said.
"You can tell it's just been handled by the way the rust's rubbed
It was conclusive evidence. Everybody could see how the
workman's hands, as he labored with the claw-bar to draw the
spikes, had cleaned off the rust.
I hurried the motor away. We raced up the long winding road to
Crewe's country-house, sitting like a feudal castle on the
summit. And I wondered, at every moment, how I could keep my
promise. The boy was a criminal, deserving to be hanged, no
doubt, but the naked mother's heart that had dabbed against my
fingers overwhelmed me.
Almost in a flash, I thought, we were in the grounds and before
Crewe's house. Then I noticed lights and a confusion of voices.
No one came to meet us. And we got out of the motor and went in
through the open door. We found a group of excited servants. An
old butler began to stammer to Marion.
"It was his heart, Miss . . . the doctor warned the attendants.
But he got away to-night. It was overexertion, Miss. He fell
just now as the attendants brought him in." And he flung open
the library door.
On a leather couch illumined by the brilliant light, Crewe lay;
his massive relentless face with the great bowed nose, like the
iron cast of what Marion had called a Nietzsche creature,
motionless in death; his arms straight beside him with the great
gloved hands open.
And all at once, at the sight, with a heavenly inspiration, I
kept my promise.
"Look!" I cried. "Oh, everybody, how the palms of his gloves are
covered with rust!"
XIII. The Pumpkin Coach
The story of the American Ambassadress was not the only one
related on this night.
Sir Henry Marquis himself added another, in support of the
contention of his guest . . . and from her own country.
The lawyer walked about the room. The restraint which he had
assumed was now quite abandoned.
"That's all there is to it," he said. "I'm not trying this case
for amusement. You have the money to pay me and you must bring
it up here now, tonight."
The woman sat in a chair beyond the table. She was young, but
she looked worn and faded. Misery and the long strain of the
trial had worn her out. Her hands moved nervously in the frayed
"But we haven't any more money," she said. "The hundred dollars
I paid you in the beginning is all we have."
The man laughed without disturbing the muscles of his face. "You
can take your choice," he said. "Either bring the money up here
now, to-night, or I withdraw from the case when court opens in
"But where am I to get any more money?" the woman said.
The lawyer was a big man. His hair, black and thin, was brushed
close to his head as though wet with oil; his nose was thick and
flattened at the base. The office contained only a table, some
chairs and a file for legal papers. Night was beginning to
descend. Lights were appearing in the city. The two persons had
come in from the Criminal Court after the session for the day had
The woman seemed bewildered. She looked at the man with the
curious expression of a child that does not comprehend and is
afraid to ask for an explanation.
"If we had any more money," she said, "I would bring it to you,
but the hundred dollars was all we had."
Then she began to explain, reiterating minute details. When the
tragedy occurred and her husband was arrested by the police they
had a small sum painfully saved up. It was now wholly gone.
Like persons in profound misery, she repeated. The man halted
the recital with a brutal gesture.
"I'll not discuss it," he said. "You can bring the money in here
before the court convenes in the morning, or I withdraw from the
He went over to the file, took out a packet of legal papers and
threw them on the table.
"All right, my lady!" he said, "perhaps you think your husband
can get along without a lawyer. Perhaps you think the devil will
save him, or heaven, or Cinderella in a pumpkin coach!" There
was biting irony in the bitter words.
A sudden comprehension began to appear in the woman's face. She
realized now what the man was driving at. The expression in her
face deepened into a sort of wonder, a sort of horror.
"You think he's guilty!" she said. "You think we got the money
and we're trying to keep it, to hide it."
The lawyer turned about, put both hands on the table and leaned
across it. He looked the woman in the face.
"Never mind what I believe; you heard what I said!"
For a moment the woman did not move. Then she got up slowly and
went out. In the street she seemed lost. She remained for some
time before the entrance of the building. Night had now arrived.
Crowds of people were passing, intent on their affairs,
unconcerned. No one seemed to see the figure motionless in the
shadow of the great doorway.
Presently the woman began to walk along the street in the crowd
without giving any attention to the people about her or to the
direction she was taking. She was in that state of mental coma
which attends persons in despair. She neither felt nor
appreciated anything and she continued to walk in the direction
in which the crowd was moving.
Some block in the traffic checked the crowd and the woman
stopped. The block cleared and the human tide drifted on, but
the woman remained. The crowd edged her over to the wall and she
stood there before the shutter of a shop-window. After a time
the crowd passed, thinned and disappeared, but the woman remained
as though thrown out there by the human eddy.
The woman remained for a long time unmoving against the shutter
of the shop-window. Finally she was awakened into life by a
voice speaking to her. It was a soft, foreign voice that lisped
the liquid accents of the occasional English words:
"Ma pauvre femme!" it said; "come with me. Vous etes malade!"
The woman followed mechanically in a sort of wonder. The person
who had spoken to her was young and beautifully dressed in furs
that covered her to her feet. She had gotten down from a
motorcar that stood beside the curb-one of those modern vehicles,
fitted with splendid trappings.
Beyond the shop-window was a great caf‚. The girl entered and
the woman followed. The attendants came forward to welcome the
splendid visitor as one whose arrival at this precise hour of the
evening had become a sort of custom. She gave some directions in
a language which the woman did not understand, and they were
seated at a table.
The waiters brought a silver dish filled with a clear, steaming
soup and served it. The girl threw back her fur coat and the
dazed woman realized how beautiful she was. Her hair was yellow
like ripe corn and there were masses of it banked and clustered
about her head; her eyes were blue, and her voice, soft and
alluring, was like a friendly arm put around the heart.
The miserable woman was so confused by this transformation - by
the sudden swing of the door in the wall that had admitted her
into this new, unfamiliar world - that she was never afterward
able to remember precisely by what introductory words her story
was drawn out. She found herself taken up, comforted and made to
Her husband had been a butler in the service of a Mr. Marsh, an
eccentric man who lived in one of the old downtown houses of the
city. He was a retired banker with no family. The man lived
alone. He permitted no servants in the house except the butler.
Meals were sent in on order from a neighboring hotel and served
by the butler as the man directed. He received few visitors in
the house and no tradespeople were permitted to come in. There
seemed no reason for this seclusion except the eccentricities of
the man that had grown more pronounced with advancing years.
It was the custom of the butler to leave the house at eight
o'clock in the evening and return in the morning at seven. On
the morning of the third of February, when the butler entered the
house, as he was accustomed to do at eight o'clock in the
morning, he found his master dead.
The woman continued with her narrative, speaking slowly. Every
detail was vividly impressed upon her memory and she gave it
There was a narrow passage or hall, not more than three feet in
width, leading from the butler's pantry into a little
dining-room. This dining-room the old man had fitted up as a
sort of library. It was farther than any other room from the
noises of the city. His library table was placed with one end
against the left wall of the room and he sat with his back toward
the passage into the butler's pantry. On the morning of the
third of February he was found dead in his chair. He had been
stabbed in the back, on the left side, where the neck joins to
the shoulder. A carving-knife had been used and a single blow
had accomplished the murder.
It was known that on the evening before the old banker had taken
from a safety-deposit vault the sum of $20,000, which it was his
intention to invest in some securities. This money, in bills of
very large denominations, was in the top drawer on the right side
of the desk. The dead man had apparently not been touched after
the crime, but the drawer had been pried open and the money
taken. An ice-pick from the butler's pantry had been used to
force it. The assassin had left no marks, finger-prints or
tell-tale stains. The victim had been instantly killed with the
blow of the knife which lay on the floor beside him.
The butler had been arrested, charged with the crime, and his
trial was now going on in the Criminal Court. Circumstantial
evidence was strong against him. The woman spoke as though she
echoed the current comment of the courtroom without realizing how
it affected her. She had done what she could. She had employed
an attorney at the recommendation of a person who had come to
interview her. She did not know who the person was nor why she
should have employed this attorney at his suggestion, except that
some one must be had to defend her husband, and uncertain what to
do, she had gone to the first name suggested.
The girl listened, putting now and then a query. She spoke
slowly, careful to use only English words. And while the woman
talked she made a little drawing on the blank back of a menu
card. Now she began to question the woman minutely about the
details of the room and the position of the furniture where the
tragedy had occurred, the desk, the attitude of the dead man, the
location of the wound, and exact distances. And as the woman
repeated the evidence of the police officers and the experts, the
girl filled out her drawing with nice mathematical exactness like
one accustomed to such a labor.
This was the whole story, and now the woman added the final
interview with the attorney. She made a sort of hopeless
"Nobody believes us," she said. "My husband did not kill him.
He was at home with me. He knew nothing about it until he found
his master dead at the table in the morning. But there is only
our word against all the lawyers and detectives and experts that
Mr. Thompson has brought against us."
"Who is Mr. Thompson?" said the girl. She was deep in a study of
her little drawing.
"He's Mr. Marsh's nephew, Mr. Percy Thompson."
The girl, absorbed in the study of her drawing, now put an
"Has your husband lost an arm?"
"No," she said, "he never had any sort of accident."
A great light came into the girl's face. "Then I believe you,"
she said. "I believe every word . . . . I think your husband is
The girl was aglow with an enthusiastic purpose. It was all
there in her fine, expressive face.
"Now," she said, "tell me about this nephew, this Mr. Percy
Thompson. Could we by any chance see him?"
"It won't do any good to see him," replied the woman. "He is
determined to convict my husband. Nothing can change him."
The girl went on without paying any attention to the comment.
"Where does he live - you must have heard?"
"He lives at the Markheim Hotel," she said.
"The Markheim Hotel," repeated the girl. "Where is it?"
The woman gave the street and number. The girl rose. "That's on
my way; we'll stop."
The two-went out of the caf‚ to the motor. The whole thing,
incredible at any other hour, seemed to the woman like events
happening in a dream or in some topsy-turvy country which she had
She sat back in the tonneau of the motor, huddled into the
corner, a rug around her shoulders. The flashing lights seemed
those of some distant, unknown city, as though she were
transported into the scene of an Arabian tale.
The motor stopped before a little shabby hotel in a neighboring
cross-street, and the footman, in livery beside the driver, got
down at a direction of the girl and went up the steps. In a few
moments a man came out and descended to the motor standing by the
curb. He was about middle age. He looked as though Nature had
intended him, in the beginning, for a person of some distinction,
but he had the dissipated face of one at middle age who had
devoted his years to a life of pleasure. There were hard lines
about his mouth and a purple network of veins showing about the
base of his nose.
As he approached the girl, leaning out of the open window of the
tonneau, dropped her glove as by inadvertence. The man stooped,
recovered it and returned it to her. The girl started with a
perceptible gesture. Then she cried out in her charming voice
"Merci, monsieur. I stopped a moment to thank you for the
flowers you sent me last night. It was lovely of you!" and she
indicated the bunch of roses pinned to her corsage.
The man seemed astonished. For a moment he hesitated as though
about to make some explanation, but the girl went on without
regarding his visible embarrassment.
"You shall not escape with a denial," she said. "There was no
card and you did not do me the honor to wait at the door, but I
know you sent them - an usher saw you; you shall not escape my
appreciation. You did send them?" she said.
The man laughed. "Sure," he said, "if you insist." He was
willing to profit by this unexpected error, and the girl went on:
"I have worn the roses to-day," she said, "for you. Will you
wear one of them to-morrow for me.
She detached a bud and leaned out of the door of the motor. She
pinned the bud to the lapel of the man's coat. She did it
slowly, deliberately, like one who makes the touch of the fingers
do the service of a caress.
Then she spoke to the driver and the motor went on, leaving the
amazed man on the curb before the shabby Markheim Hotel with the
rosebud pinned to his coat - astonished at the incredible fortune
of this favor from an inaccessible idol about whom the city
The woman accepted the enigma of this interview as she had
accepted the wonder of the girl's sudden appearance and the
other, incidents of this extraordinary night. She did not
undertake to imagine what the drawing on the menu meant, the
words about the one-armed man, the glove dropped for Thompson to
pick up, the rose pinned on his coat; it was all of a piece with
the mystery that she had stumbled into.
When the motor stopped and she was taken through a little door by
an attendant into a theater box, she accepted that as another of
these things into which she could not inquire; things that
happened to her outside of her volition and directed by
authorities which she could not control.
The staging of the opera refined and extended the illusion that
she had been transported out of the world by some occult agency.
The wonderful creature that had taken her up out of her abandoned
misery before the sordid shop-shutter appeared now in a fairy
costume glittering with jewels. And the gnomes, the monsters and
goblins appearing about her were all fabulous creatures, as the
girl herself seemed a fabulous creature.
She sighed like one who must awaken from the splendor of a dream
to realities of which the sleeper is vaguely conscious. Only the
girl's voice seemed real. It seemed some great, heavenly reality
like the sunlight or the sweep of the sea. It filled the packed
places of the theater. She sang and one believed again in the
benevolence of heaven; in immortal love. To the distressed woman
effacing herself in the corner of the empty box it was all a sort
of inconceivable witch-work.
And it was witch-work, as potent if not as amply fitted with
dramatic properties as the witchwork of ancient legend.
The daughter of an obscure juge d'instruction of the Canton of
Vaud, singing in a Swiss meadow, had been taken up by a wealthy
American, traveling in Switzerland on an April morning-old,
enervated with the sun of the Riviera, and displeased with life.
And this rich old woman, her rheumatic fingers loaded with
jewels, had transformed the daughter of the juge d'instruction of
the Canton of Vaud into a singing wonder that made every human
creature see again the dreams of his youth before him leading
into the Elysian Fields.
And to the girl herself this transformation also seemed the
wonder of witch-work. Her early life lay so far below in a world
remote and detached; a little house in a village of the Canton of
Vaud with the genteel poverty that attended the slender salary of
a juge d'instruction, and the weight of duties that accumulated
on her shoulders. Her father's life was given over to the labors
of criminal investigation, but it was a field that returned
nothing in the way of material gain. Honorable mention, a medal,
the distinction of having his reports copied into the official
archives, were the fruits of the man's life. She remembered the
minutely exhaustive details of those reports which she used to
copy painfully at night by the light of a candle. The old man,
absorbed by his deductions, with his trained habits of
observation and his prodigious memory, never seemed to realize
the drudgery imposed upon the girl by his endless dictation.
"To-morrow," the heavenly creature had said softly, like a
caress, in the woman's ear when an attendant had taken her
through the little door into the empty box. But the to-morrow
broke with every illusion vanished.
The woman sat beside her husband in the dismal court-room when
the court convened. The judge, old and tired, was on the bench.
A sulphurous, depressing fog entered from the city. The
court-room smelled of a cleaner's mop. The jury entered; and a
few spectators, who looked as though they might have spent the
night on the benches of the park out, side, drifted in. The
attorneys and the officials of the court were present and the
Every detail of the departed, evening was, to the woman, a mirage
except the brutal threat of the attorney, uttered before she had
gone down into the street. This threat, with that power of
reality which evil things seem always to possess, now
materialized. After the court had opened, but before the trial
could proceed, the attorney for the defendant rose and addressed
He spoke for some moments, handling his innuendoes with skill.
His intent was to withdraw from the case. He realized that this
was an unusual procedure and that the course must be justified
upon a high ethical plane. He was a person of acumen and of no
inconsiderable skill and he succeeded. Without making any direct
charge, and disclaiming any intent to prejudice the prisoner and
his defense, or to deprive him of any safeguard of the law, he
was able to convey the impression that he had been misled in
undertaking the defense of the case; that his confidence in the
innocence of the accused had been removed by unquestionable
evidence which he had been led to believe did not exist.
He made this explanation with profound regret. But he felt that,
having been induced to undertake the defense by representations
not justified in fact, and by an impression of the nature of the
case which developments in the court-room had not confirmed, he
had the right to step aside out of an equivocal position. He
wished to do this without injury to the prisoner and while there
was yet an opportunity for him to obtain other counsel. The
whole tenor of the speech was the right to be relieved from the
obligation of an error; an error that had involved him
unwittingly by reason of assurances which the developments of the
case had now set aside. And through it all there was the
manifest wish to do the prisoner no vestige of injury.
After this speech of his attorney the conviction of the man was
inevitable. He sat stooped over, his back bent, his head down,
his thin hands aimlessly in his lap like one who has come to the
end of all things; like one who no longer makes any effort
against a destiny determined on his ruin.
The thing had the overpowering vitality which evil things seem
always to possess, and the woman felt helpless against it; so
utterly, so completely helpless that it was useless to protest by
any word or gesture. She could have gotten up and explained the
true motive behind this man's speech; she could have repeated the
dialogue in his office; she could have asserted his unspeakable
treachery; but she saw with an unerring instinct that against the
skill of the man her effort would be wholly useless. With his
resources and his dominating cunning he would not only make her
words appear obviously false, but he would make them fasten upon
her a malicious intent to injure the man who had undertaken her
husband's defense; and somehow he would be able, she felt, to
divert the obliquity and cause it to react upon herself.
This was all clear to her, and like some little trapped creature
of the wood that finds escape closed on every side and no longer
makes any effort, she remained motionless.
The judge was an honorable man, concerned to accomplish justice
and not always misled by an obvious intent. The proceeding did
not please him, but he knew that no benefit, rather a continued
injury, would result to the prisoner by forcing the attorney to
go on with a case which it was evident that he no longer cared to
make any effort to support. He permitted the man to withdraw.
Then he spoke to the prisoner
"Have you any other counsel?" he asked.
The prisoner did not look up. He replied in a low, almost
"No, Your Honor," he said.
"Then I shall appoint some one to go on with the case," and he
looked up over the docket before him and out at the few attorneys
sitting within the rail.
It was at this moment that the woman, crying silently, without a
sound and without moving in her chair, heard behind her the voice
which she had heard the evening before, when, as now, at the
bottom of the pit, she stood before the shutter of the
"Will it be necessary, monsieur le judge?"
It was the same wonderful, moving, heavenly voice. Every sound
in the court-room suddenly ceased. All eyes were lifted. And
Thompson, sitting beside the district-attorney, saw, standing
before the rail in the court-room, the splendid, alluring
creature that had called him out of the sordid lobby of the Hotel
Markheim and entranced him with an evidence of her favor.
Unconsciously he put up his hand to feel for the bud in the lapel
of his coat. It had remained there - not, as it happened, from
her wish, but because he dare not lay the coat aside.
In the interval of intense interest arising at the withdrawal of
the attorney from the case the girl had come in unnoticed. She
might have appeared out of the floor. Her voice was the first
indication of her presence.
The judge turned swiftly. "What do you mean?" he said.
"I mean, monsieur," she answered, "that if a man is innocent of a
crime, he cannot require a lawyer to defend him."
The judge was astonished, but he was an old man and had seen many
strange events happen along the way of a criminal trial.
"But why do you say this man is innocent," he said.
"I will show you, monsieur," and she came around the railing into
the pit of the, court before his bench. She carried in her hand
the menu upon which, at the table in the caf‚ the night before,
she had made a drawing of the scene of the homicide.
The extraordinary event had happened so swiftly that the attorney
for the prosecution had not been able to interpose an objection.
Now the nephew of the dead man spoke hurriedly, in whispers, and
the attorney arose.
"I object to this irregular proceeding," he said. "If this
person is a witness, let her be sworn in the usual manner and let
her take her place in the witness-chair where she may be examined
by the attorney whom the court may see fit to appoint for the
It was evident that Mr. Thompson, urging the prosecutor, was
alarmed. The folds of his obese neck lying above the collar of
his coat took on a deeper color, and his mouth visibly sagged as
with some unexpected emotion. He felt that he was becoming
entangled in some vast, invisible net spread about him by this
girl who had appeared as if by magic before the Hotel Markheim.
The judge looked down at the attorney. "I will have the witness
sworn," he said, "but I shall not at present appoint anybody to
conduct an examination. When a prisoner before me has no
counsel, I sometimes look after his case myself."
He spoke to the girl. "Will you hold up your hand?" he said.
"Why, yes, monsieur," she said, "if you will also ask Mr.
Thompson to hold up his hand."
"Do you wish him sworn as a witness?" said the judge.
The girl hesitated. "Yes, monsieur," she said, "if that is the
way to have him hold up his hand."
Again Thompson was disturbed. Again he spoke to the prosecutor
and again that attorney objected.
"We have not asked to have Mr. Thompson testify in this case," he
said. "It is true Mr. Thompson is concerned about the result of
this trial. He is the nephew of the decedent and his heir. It
is only natural that he should properly concern himself to see
that the assassin is brought to justice."
He spoke to the girl. "Do you wish to make Mr. Thompson your
witness?" he said.
And again she replied with the hesitating formula:
"Why, yes, monsieur, if that is the way to cause him to hold up
The judge turned to the clerk. "Will you administer the oath to
these two persons?" he said.
Thompson rose. His face was disconcerted and slack. He
hesitated, but the prosecutor spoke to him. Then he faced the
judge and put up his hand. Immediately the girl cried out
"Look, monsieur," she said. "It is his left hand he is holding
Immediately Thompson raised the other hand. "I beg your pardon,
Your Honor," he muttered. "I am left-handed; I sometimes make
And again the girl cried out: "You see . . . you notice it . . .
it is true, then . . . he is left-handed."
"I see he is left-handed," said the judge, "but what has that to
do with the case?"
"Oh, monsieur," she said, "it has everything to do with it. I
will show you."
She moved up on the step before the judge's bench and laid the
menu before-him. The attorney for the prosecution also arose.
He wished to prevent this proceeding, to object to it, but he
feared to disturb the judge and he remained silent.
"Monsieur," she said, "I have made a little drawing . . . I know
how such things are done . . . . My father was juge
d'instruction of the Canton of Vaud. He always made little
drawings of places where crimes were committed. . . . Here you
will see, and she put her finger on the card, "the narrow passage
leading from the butler's pantry into the dining-room used for a
library. You will notice, monsieur, that the writing-table stood
with one end against the wall, the left wall of the room, as one
enters from the butler's pantry. It is a queer table. One side
of it has a row of drawers coming to the floor and the other side
is open so one may sit with one's knees under it. On the night
of the tragedy this table was sitting at right angles to the left
wall, that is to say, monsieur, with this end open for the
writer's knees close up against the left wall of the room. That
meant, monsieur, that on this night Mr. Marsh was sitting at the
table with his back to the passage from the butler's pantry,
close up against the left wall of the room.
"Therefore, monsieur," the girl went on, "the man who
assassinated Mr. Marsh entered from the butler's pantry. He
slipped into the room along the left wall close up behind his
victim . . . . Did it not occur so."
This was the evidence of the police officials and the experts.
It was clear from the position of the desk in the room and from
the details of the evidence.
"And, monsieur," she said, "will you tell me, is it true that the
stab wound which killed Mr. Marsh was in the shoulder on the side
next to the wall?"
"Yes," said the judge, "that is true."
The prosecutor, urged by Thompson, now made a verbal objection.
The case was practically completed. The incident going on in the
court-room followed no definite legal procedure and could not be
permitted to proceed. The judge stopped him.
"Sit down," he said. He did not offer any explanation or
comment. He merely silenced the man and returned to the girl
standing eagerly on the step before the bench.
"The wound was in the base of the man's neck at the top of the
left shoulder on the side next to the wall," he said. "But what
has this fact to do with the case?"
"Oh, monsieur," she cried, "it has everything to do with it. If
the assassin who slipped along the wall had carried the knife in
his right hand, the wound would have been on the right side of
the dead man's neck. But if, monsieur, the assassin carried the
knife in his left hand, then the wound would be where it is, on
the left side. That made me believe, at first, that the assassin
had only one arm - had lost his right arm - and must use the
other; then, a little later, I understood . . . . Oh, monsieur,
don't you understand; don't you see that the assassin who stabbed
Mr. Marsh was left-handed?"
In a moment it was all clear to everybody. Only a left-handed
man could have committed the crime, for only a left-handed man
standing close against the left side of a room above one sitting
at a desk against that wall could have struck straight down into
the left shoulder of the murdered man. A right-handed assassin
would have struck straight down into the right shoulder, he would
not have risked a doubtful blow, delivered awkwardly across his
body, into the left shoulder of his victim.
The girl indicated Thompson with her hand. "He did it; he's
left-handed. I found out by dropping my glove."
Panic enveloped the cornered man. He began to shake as with an
ague. Sweat like a thin oil spread over his debauched face and
the folds of his obese neck. With his fatal left hand he began
to finger the lapel of his coat where the faded rosebud hung
pinned into the buttonhole. And the girl's voice broke the
profound silence of the court-room.
"He has the money, too," she said. "I felt a bulky packet when I
gave him the flower out of my bouquet last night."
The big, thin-haired lawyer, leaving the courtroom after his
withdrawal from the case, stopped at a window arrested by the
amazing scene: The police taking the stolen money out of
Thompson's pocket; the woman in the girl's arms, and the
transfigured prisoner standing up as in the presence of a
heavenly angel. This before him . . . and the splendid motor
below under the sweep of the window, waiting before the
courthouse door, brought back the memory of his biting, sarcastic
". . . or Cinderella in a pumpkin coach!"
And there occurred to him a doubt of the exclusive dominance of
life by the gods he served.
XIV. The Yellow Flower
The girl sat in a great chair before the fire, huddled, staring
into the glow of the smoldering logs.
Her dark hair clouded her face. The evening gown was twisted and
crumpled about her. There was no ornament on her; her arms, her
shoulders, the exquisite column of her throat were bare.
She sat with her eyes wide, unmoving, in a profound reflection.
The library was softly lighted; richly furnished, a little beyond
the permission of good taste. On a table at the girl's elbow
were two objects; a ruby necklace, and a dried flower. The
flower, fragile with age, seemed a sort of scrub poppy of a
delicate yellow; the flower of some dwarfed bush, prickly like a
The necklace made a great heap of jewels on the buhl top of the
table, above the intricate arabesque of silver and
It was nearly midnight. Outside, the dull rumble of London
seemed a sound, continuous, unvarying, as though it were the
distant roar of a world turning in some stellar space.
It was a great old house in Park Lane, heavy and of that gloomy
architecture with which the feeling of the English people, at an
earlier time, had been so strangely in accord. It stood before
St. James's Park oppressive and monumental, and now in the midst
of yellow fog its heavy front was like a mausoleum.
But within, the house had been treated to a modern re-casting,
not entirely independent of the vanity of wealth.
After the dinner at the Ritz, the girl felt that she could not go
on; and Lady Mary's party, on its way to the dancing, put her
down at the door. She gave the excuse of a crippling headache.
But it was a deeper, more profound aching that disturbed her.
She was before the tragic hour, appearing in the lives of many
women, when suddenly, as by the opening of a door, one realizes
the irrevocable aspect of a marriage of which the details are
beginning to be arranged. That hour in which a woman must
consider, finally, the clipping of all threads, except the single
one that shall cord her to a mate for life.
Until to-night, in spite of preparations on the way, the girl had
not felt this marriage as inevitable. Her aunt had pressed for
it, subtly, invisibly, as an older woman is able to do.
Her situation was always, clearly before her. She was alone in
the world; with very little, almost nothing. The estate her
father inherited he had finally spent in making great
explorations. There was no unknown taste of the world that he
had not undertaken to enter. The final driblets of his fortune
had gone into his last adventure in the Great Gobi Desert from
which he had never returned.
The girl had been taken by this aunt in London, incredibly rich,
but on the fringes of the fashionable society of England, which
she longed to enter. Even to the young girl, her aunt's plan was
visible. With a great settlement, such as this ambitious woman
could manage, the girl could be a duchess.
The marriage to Lord Eckhart in the diplomatic service, who would
one day be a peer of England, had been a lure dangled
unavailingly before her, until that night, when, on his return
from India, he had carried her off her feet with his amazing
incredible sacrifice. It was the immense idealism, the immense
romance of it that had swept her into this irrevocable thing.
She got up now, swiftly, as though she would again realize how
the thing had happened and stooped over the table above the heap
of jewels. They were great pigeon-blood rubies, twenty-seven of
them, fastened together with ancient crude gold work. She lifted
the long necklace until it hung with the last jewel on the table.
The thing was a treasure, an immense, incredible treasure. And
it was for this - for the privilege of putting this into her
hands, that the man had sold everything he had in England - and
endured what the gossips said - endured it during the five years
in India - kept silent and was now silent. She remembered every
detail the rumor of a wild life, a dissolute reckless life, the
gradual, piece by piece sale of everything that could be turned
into money. London could not think of a ne'er-do-well to equal
him in the memory of its oldest gossips - and all the time with
every penny, he was putting together this immense treasure - for
her. A dreamer writing a romance might imagine a thing like
this, but had it any equal in the realities of life?
She looked down at the chain of great jewels, and the fragment of
prickly shrub with its poppy-shaped yellow flower. They were
symbols, each, of an immense idealism, an immense conception of
sacrifice that lifted the actors in their dramas into gigantic
figures illumined with the halos of romance.
Until to-night it had been this ideal figure of Lord Eckhart that
the girl considered in this marriage. And to-night, suddenly,
the actual physical man had replaced it. And, alarmed, she had
drawn back. Perhaps it was the Teutonic blood in him - a
grandmother of a German house. And, yet, who could say, perhaps
this piece of consuming idealism was from that ancient extinct
Germany of Beethoven.
But the man and the ideal seemed distinct things having no
relation. She drew back from the one, and she stood on tip-toe,
with arms extended longingly toward the other.
What should she do?
Had the example of her father thrown on Lord Eckhart a golden
shadow? She moved the bit of flower, gently as in a caress. He
had given up the income of a leading profession and gone to his
death. His fortune and his life had gone in the same high
careless manner for the thing he sought. For the treasure that
he believed lay in the Gobi Desert - not for himself, but for
every man to be born into the world. He was the great dreamer,
the great idealist, a vague shining figure before the girl like
the cloud in the Hebraic Myth.
The girl stood up and linked her fingers together behind her
back. If her father were only here - for an hour, for a moment!
Or if, in the world beyond sight and hearing, he could somehow
get a message to her!
At this moment a bell, somewhere in the deeps of the house,
jangled, and she heard the old butler moving through the hall to
the door. The other servants had been dismissed for the night,
and her aunt on the preliminaries of this marriage was in Paris.
A moment later the butler appeared with a card on his tray. It
was a card newly engraved in some English shop and bore the name
"Dr. Tsan-Sgam." The girl stood for a moment puzzled at the
queer name, and then the memory of the strange outlandish human
creatures, from the ends of the world, who used sometimes to
visit her father, in the old time, returned, and with it there
came a sudden upward sweep of the heart - was there an answer to
her longing, somehow, incredibly on the way!
She gave a direction for the visitor to be brought in. He was a
big old man. His body looked long and muscular like that of some
type of Englishmen, but his head and his features were Mongolian.
He was entirely bald, as bald as the palm of a hand, as though
bald from his mother he had so remained to this incredible age.
And age was the impression that he profoundly presented. But it
was age that a tough vitality in the man resisted; as though the
assault of time wore it down slowly and with almost an
imperceptible detritus. The great naked head and the wide
Mongolian face were unshrunken; they presented, rather, the
aspect of some old child. "He was dressed with extreme care, in
the very best evening clothes that one could buy in a London
He bowed, oddly, with a slow doubling of the body, and when he
spoke the girl felt that he was translating his words through
more than one language; as though one were to put one's sentences
into French or Italian and from that, as a sort of intermediary,
into English - as though the way were long, and unfamiliar from
the medium in which the man thought to the one in which he was
undertaking to express it. But at the end of this involved
mental process his English sentences appeared correctly, and with
an accurate selection in the words.
"You must pardon the hour, Miss Carstair," he said, in his slow,
precise articulation, "but I am required to see you and it is the
only time I have."
Then his eyes caught the necklace on the table, and advancing
with two steps he stooped over it.
For a moment everything else seemed removed, from about the man.
His angular body, in its unfamiliar dress, was doubled like a
finger; his great head with its wide Mongolian face was close
down over the buhl top of the table and his finger moved the heap
The girl had a sudden inspiration.
"Lord Eckhart got these jewels from you?"
The man paused, he seemed to be moving the girl's words backward
through the intervening languages.
Then he replied.
"Yes," he said, "from us."
The girl's inspiration was now illumined by a further light.
"And you have not been paid for them?"
The man stood up now. And again this involved process of moving
the words back through various translations was visible - and the
"Yes - " he said, "we have been paid."
Then he added, in explanation of his act.
"These rubies have no equal in the world - and the gold-work
attaching them together is extremely old. I am always curious to
He looked down at the girl, at the necklace, at the space about
them, as though he were deeply, profoundly puzzled.
"We had a fear," he said, " - it was wrong!"
Then he put his hand swiftly into the bosom pocket of his evening
coat, took out a thin packet wrapped in a piece of vellum and
handed it to the girl.
"It became necessary to treat with the English Government about
the removal of records from Lhassa and I was sent - I was
directed to get this packet to you from London. To-night, at
dinner with Sir Henry Marquis in St. James's Square, I learned
that you were here. I had then only this hour to come, as my
boat leaves in the morning." He spoke with the extreme care of
one putting together a delicate mosaic.
The girl stood staring at the thin packet. A single thought
alone consumed her.
"It is a message from - my - father."
She spoke almost in a whisper.
The big Oriental replied immediately.
"No," he said, "your father is beyond sight and hearing."
The girl had no hope; only the will to hope. The reply was
confirmation of what she already knew. She removed the thin
vellum wrapper from the packet. Within she found a drawing on a
plate of ivory. It represented a shaft of some white stone
standing on the slight elevation of what seemed to be a barren
plateau. And below on the plate, in fine English characters like
an engraving, was the legend, "Erected to the memory of Major
Judson Carstair by the monastery at the Head."
The man added a word of explanation.
"The Brotherhood thought that you would wish to know that your
father's body had been recovered, and that it had received
Christian burial, as nearly as we were able to interpret the
forms. The stone is a sort of granite."
The girl wished to ask a thousand questions: How did her father
meet his death, and where? What did they know? What had they
recovered with his body?
The girl spoke impulsively, her words crowding one another. And
the Oriental seemed able only to disengage the last query from
"Unfortunately," he said, "some band of the desert people had
passed before our expedition arrived, nothing was recovered but
the body. It was not mutilated."
They had been standing. The girl now indicated the big library
chair in which she had been huddled and got another for herself.
Then she wished to know what they had learned about her father's
The Oriental sat down. He sat awkwardly, his big body, in a kind
of squat posture, the broad Mongolian face emerging, as in a sort
of deformity, from the collar of his evening coat. Then he began
to speak, with that conscious effect of bringing his words
through various mediums from a distance.
"We endeavored to discourage Major Carstair from undertaking this
adventure. We were greatly concerned about his safety. The
sunken plateau of the Gobi Desert, north of the Shan States, is
exceedingly dangerous for an European, not so much on account of
murderous attacks from the desert people, for this peril we could
prevent; but there is a chill in this sunken plain after sunset
that the native people only can resist. No white man has ever
crossed the low land of the Gobi."
"And there is in fact no reason why any one should wish to cross
it. It is absolutely barren. We pointed out all this very
carefully to Major Carstair when we learned what he had in plan,
for as I have said his welfare was very pressingly on our
conscience. We were profoundly puzzled about what he was seeking
in the Gobi. He was not, evidently, intending to plot the region
or to survey any route, or to acquire any scientific data. His
equipment lacked all the implements for such work. It was a long
time before we understood the impulse that was moving Major
Carstair to enter this waste region of the Gobi to the north."
The man stopped, and sat for some moments quite motionless.
"Your father," he went on, "was a distinguished man in one of the
departments of human endeavor which the East has always
neglected; and in it he had what seemed to us incredible skill -
with ease he was able to do things which we considered
impossible. And for this reason the impulse taking him into the
Gobi seemed entirely incredible to us; it seemed entirely
inconsistent with this special ability which we knew the man to
possess; and for a long time we rejected it, believing ourselves
to be somehow misled."
The girl sat straight and silent, in her chair near the brass
fender to the right of the buhl table; the drawing, showing the
white granite shaft, held idly in her fingers; the illuminated
vellum wrapper fallen to the floor.
The man continued speaking slowly.
"When, finally, it was borne in upon us that Major Carstair was
seeking a treasure somewhere on the barren plateau of the Gobi,
we took every measure, consistent with a proper courtesy, to show
him how fantastic this notion was. We had, in fact, to exercise
a certain care lest the very absurdity of the conception appear
too conspicuously in our discourse."
He looked across the table at the girl.
The man's great bald head seemed to sink a little into his,
shoulders, as in some relaxation.
"We brought out our maps of the region and showed him the old
routes and trails veining the whole of it. We explained the
topography of this desert plateau; the exact physical character
of its relief. There was hardly a square mile of it that we did
not know in some degree, and of which we did not possess some
fairly accurate data. It was entirely inconceivable that any
object of value could exist in this region without our knowledge
The man was speaking like one engaged in some extremely delicate
mechanical affair, requiring an accurracy almost painful in its
"Then, profoundly puzzled, we endeavored to discover what data
Major Carstair possessed that could in any way encourage him in
this fantastic idea. It was a difficult thing to do, for we held
him in the highest esteem and, outside of this bizarre notion, we
had before us, beyond any question, the evidence of his especial
knowledge; and, as I have said, his, to us, incredible skill."
He paused, as though the careful structure of the long sentence
had fatigued him.
"Major Carstair's explanations were always in the imagery of
romance. He sought `a treasure - a treasure that would destroy a
Kingdom.' And his indicatory data seemed to be the dried blossom
of our desert poppy."
Again the Oriental paused. He put up his hand and passed his
fingers over his face. The gaunt hand contrasted with the full
"I confess that we did not know what to do. We realized that we
had to deal with a nature possessing in one direction the exact
accurate knowledge of a man of science, and in another the wonder
extravagances of a child. The Dalai Lama was not yet able to be
consulted, and it seemed to us a better plan to say no more about
the impossible treasure, and address our endeavors to the
practical side of Major Carstair's intelligence instead. We now
pointed out the physical dangers of the region. The deadly chill
in it coming on at sunset could not fail to inflame the lungs of
a European, accustomed to an equable temperature, fever would
follow; and within a few days the unfortunate victim would find
his whole breathing space fatally congested."
The man removed his hand. The care in his articulation was
"Major Carstair was not turned aside by these facts, and we
permitted him to go on."
Again he paused as though troubled by a memory.
"In this course," he continued, "the Dalai Lama considered us to
have acted at the extreme of folly. But it is to be remembered,
in our behalf, that somewhat of the wonder at Major Carstair's
knowledge of Western science dealing with the human body was on
us, and we felt that perhaps the climatic peril of the Gobi might
present no difficult problem to him.
"We were fatally misled."
Then he added.
"We were careful to direct him along the highest route of the
plateau, and to have his expedition followed. But chance
intervened. Major Carstair turned out of the route and our
patrol went on, supposing him to be ahead on the course which we
had indicated to him. When the error was at last discovered, our
patrol was entering the Sirke range. No one could say at what
point on the route Major Carstair had turned out, and our search
of the vast waste of the Gobi desert began. The high wind on the
plateau removes every trace of human travel. The whole of the
region from the Sirke, south, had to be gone over. It took a
The man stopped like one who has finished a story. The girl had
not moved; her face was strained and white. The fog outside had
thickened; the sounds of the city seemed distant. The girl had
listened without a word, without a gesture. Now she spoke.
"But why were you so concerned about my father?"
The big Oriental turned about in the chair. He looked steadily
at the girl, he seemed to be treating the query to his involved
method of translation; and Miss Carstair felt that the man,
because of this tedious mental process, might have difficulty to
understand precisely what she meant.
What he wished to say, he could control and, therefore, could
accurately present - but what was said to him began in the
"What Major Carstair did," he said, "it has not been made clear
"No," she replied, "I do not understand."
The man seemed puzzled.
"You have not understood!"
He repeated the sentence; his face reflective, his great bare
head settling into the collar of his evening coat as though the
man's neck were removed.
He remained for a moment thus puzzled and reflective. Then he
began to speak as one would set in motion some delicate involved
machinery running away into the hidden spaces of a workshop.
"The Dalai Lama had fallen - he was alone in the Image Room. His
head striking the sharp edge of a table was cut. He had lost a
great deal of blood when we found him and was close to death.
Major Carstair was at this time approaching the monastery from
the south; his description sent to us from Lhassa contained the
statement that he was an American surgeon. We sent at once
asking him to visit the Dalai Lama, for the skill of Western
people in this department of human knowledge is known to us."
The Oriental went on, slowly, with extreme care.
"Major Carstair did not at once impress us. `What this man
needs,' he said, `is blood.' That was clear to everybody. One
of our, how shall I say it in your language, Cardinals, replied
with some bitterness, that the Dalai Lama could hardly be
imagined to lack anything else. Major Carstair paid no attention
to the irony. `This man must have a supply of blood,' he added.
The Cardinal, very old, and given to imagery in his discourse
answered, that blood could be poured out but it could not be
gathered up . . . and that man could spill it but only God could
"We interrupted then, for Major Carstair was our guest and
entitled to every courtesy, and inquired how it would be possible
to restore blood to the Dalai Lama; it was not conceivable that
the lost blood could be gathered up.
"He explained then that he would transfer it from the veins of a
healthy man into the unconscious body."
The Oriental hesitated; then he went on.
"The thing seemed to us fantastic. But our text treating the
life of the Dalai Lama admits of no doubt upon one point - `no
measure presenting itself in extremity can be withheld.' He was
in clear extremity and this measure, even though of foreign
origin, had presented itself, and we felt after a brief
reflection that we were bound to permit it."
"The result was a miracle to us. In a short time the Dalai Lama
had recovered. But in the meantime Major Carstair had gone on
into the Gobi seeking the fantastic treasure."
The girl turned toward the man, a wide-eyed, eager, lighted face.
"Do you realize," she said, "the sort of treasure that my father
sacrificed his life to search for?"
The Oriental spoke slowly.
"It was to destroy a Kingdom," he said.
"To destroy the Kingdom of Pain!" She replied, "My father was
seeking an anesthetic more powerful than the derivatives of
domestic opium. He searched the world for it. In the little,
wild desert flower lay, he thought, the essence of this treasure.
And he would seek it at any cost. Fortune was nothing; life was
nothing. Is it any wonder that you could not stop him? A
flaming sword moving at the entrance to the Gobi could not have
barred him out!"
The big Oriental made a vague gesture as of one removing
something clinging to his face.
"Wherefore this blindness?" he said.
The girl had turned away in an effort to control the emotion that
possessed her. But the task was greater than her strength; when
she came back to the table tears welled up in her eyes and
trickled down her face. Emotion seemed now to overcome her.
"If my father were only here," her voice was broken, "if he were
The big Oriental moved his whole body, as by one motion, toward
her. The house was very still; there was only the faint
crackling of the logs on the fire.
"We had a fear," he said. "It remains!"
The girl went over and stood before the fire, her foot on the
brass fender, her fingers linked behind her back. For sometime
she was silent. Finally she spoke, without turning her head, in
a low voice.
"You know Lord Eckhart?"
A strange expression passed over the Oriental's face.
"Yes, when Lhassa was entered, the Head moved north to our
monastery on the edge of the Gobi - the English sovereignty
extends to the Kahn line. Lord Eckhart was the political agent
of the English government in the province nearest to us."
When the girl got up, the Oriental also rose. He stood
awkwardly, his body stooped; his hand as for support resting on
the corner of the table. The girl spoke again, in the same
posture. Her face toward the fire.
"How do you feel about Lord Eckhart?"
"Feel!" The man repeated the word.
He hesitated a little.
"We trusted Lord Eckhart. We have found all English honorable."
"Lord Eckhart is partly German," the girl went on.
The man's voice in reply was like a foot-note to a discourse.
"Ah!" He drawled the expletive as though it were some Oriental
The girl continued. "You have perhaps heard that a marriage is
arranged between us."
Her voice was steady, low, without emotion.
For a long time there was utter silence in the room.
Then, finally, when the Oriental spoke his voice had changed. It
was gentle, and packed with sympathy. It was like a voice within
the gate of a confessional.
"Do you love him?" it said.
"I do not know."
The vast sympathy in the voice continued. "You do not know? - it
is impossible! Love is or it is not. It is the longing of
elements torn asunder, at the beginning of things, to be
The girl turned swiftly, her body erect, her face lifted.
"But this great act," she cried. "My father, I, all of our
blood, are moved by romance - by the romance of sacrifice. Look
how my father died seeking an antidote for the pain of the world.
How shall I meet this sacrifice of Lord Eckhart?"
Something strange began to dawn in the wide Mongolian face.
The girl came over swiftly to the table. She scattered the mass
of jewels with a swift gesture.
"Did he not give everything he possessed, everything piece by
piece, for this?"
She took the necklace up and twisted it around her fingers. Her
hands appeared to be a mass of rubies.
A great light came into the Oriental's face.
"The necklace," he said, "is a present to you from the Dalai
Lama. It was entrusted to Lord Eckhart to deliver."
XV. Satire of the Sea
"What was the mystery about St. Alban?" I asked.
The Baronet did not at once reply. He looked out over the
English country through the ancient oak-trees, above the sweep of
meadow across the dark, creeping river, to the white shaft rising
beyond the wooded hills into the sky.
The war was over. I was a guest of Sir Henry Marquis for a
week-end at his country-house. The man fascinated me. He seemed
a sort of bottomless Stygian vat of mysteries. He had been the
secret hand of England for many years in India. Then he was made
a Baronet and put at the head of England's Secret Service at
A servant brought out the tea and we were alone on the grass
terrace before the great oak-trees. He remained for some moments
in reflection, then he replied:
"Do you mean the mystery of his death?"
"Was there any other mystery?" I said.
He looked at me narrowly across the table.
"There was hardly any mystery about his death," he said. "The
man shot himself with an old dueling pistol that hung above the
mantel in his library. The family, when they found him, put the
pistol back on the nail and fitted the affair with the stock
properties of a mysterious assassin.
"The explanation was at once accepted. The man's life, in the
public mind, called for an end like that. St. Alban after his
career, should by every canon of the tragic muse, go that way."
He made a careless gesture with his fingers.
"I saw the disturbed dust on the wall where the pistol had been
moved, the bits of split cap under the hammer, and the powder
marks on the muzzle.
"But I let the thing go. It seemed in keeping with the destiny
of the man. And it completed the sardonic picture. It was all
fated, as the Gaelic people say . . . . I saw no reason to
"Then there was some other mystery?" I ventured.
He nodded his big head slowly.
"There is an ancient belief," he said, "that the hunted thing
always turns on us. Well, if there was ever a man in this world
on whom the hunted thing awfully turned, it was St. Alban."
He put out his hand.
"Look at the shaft yonder," he said, "lifted to his memory,
towering over the whole of this English country, and cut on its
base with his services to England and the brave words he said on
that fatal morning on the Channel boat. Every schoolboy knows
"`Don't threaten, fire if you like!'
"First-class words for the English people to remember. No
bravado, just the thing any decent chap would say. But the words
are persistent. They remain in the memory. And it was a
thrilling scene they fitted into. One must never forge that: The
little hospital transport lying in the Channel in a choppy sea
that ran streaks of foam; the grim turret and the long whaleback
of a Uboat in the foam scruff; and the sun lying on the scrubbed
deck of the jumping transport.
"Everybody was crowded about. St. Alban was in the center of the
human pack, in a pace or two of clear deck, his injured arm in a
sling; his split sleeve open around it; his shoulders thrown
back; his head lifted; and before him, the Hun commander with his
big automatic pistol.
"It's a wonderful, spirited picture, and it thrilled England. It
was in accord with her legends. England has little favor of
either the gods of the hills or the gods of the valleys. But
always, in all her wars, the gods of the seas back her."
The big Baronet paused and poured out a cup of tea. He tasted it
and set it down on the table.
"That's a fine monument," he said, indicating the white shaft
that shot up into the cloudless evening sky. "The road makes a
sharp turn by it. You have got to slow up, no matter how you
travel. The road rises there. It's built that way; to make the
passer go slow enough to read the legends on the base of the
monument. It's a clever piece of business. Everybody is bound
to give his tribute of attention to the conspicuous memorial.
"There are two faces to the monument that you must look at if you
go that road. One recounts the man's services to England, and
the other face bears his memorable words
"`Don't threaten, fire if you like!'"
The Baronet fingered the handle of his teacup.
"The words are precisely suited to the English people," he said.
"No heroics, no pretension, that's the whole spirit of England.
It's the English policy in a line: We don't threaten, and we
don't wish to be threatened by another. Let them fire if they
like, - that's all in the game. But don't swing a gun on us with
a threat. St. Alban was lucky to say it. He got the reserve,
the restraint, the commonplace understatement that England
affects, into the sentence. It was a piece of good fortune to
catch the thing like that.
"The monument is tremendous. One can't avoid it. It's always
before the eye here, like the White Horse of Alfred on the chalk
hill in Berkshire. All the roads pass it through this
countryside. But every mortal thing that travels, motor and
cart, must slow up around the monument."
He stopped for a moment and looked at the white needle shimmering
in the evening sun.
"But St. Alban's greatest monument," he said, "was the lucky
sentence. It stuck in the English memory and it will never go
out of it. One wouldn't give a half-penny for a monument if one
could get a phrase fastened in a people's memory like that."
Sir Henry moved in his chair.
"I often wonder," he said, "whether the thing was an inspiration
of St. Alban's that morning on the deck of the hospital
transport, or had he thought about it at some other time? Was
the sentence stored in the man's memory, or did it come with the
first gleam of returning consciousness from a soul laid open by
disaster? I think racial words, simple and unpretentious, may
lies in any man close to the bone like that to be rived out with
a mortal hurt. That's what keeps me wondering about the words he
used. And he did use them.
"I don't doubt that a lot of our hero stuff has been edited after
the fact. But this sentence wasn't edited. That's what he said,
precisely. A hundred wounded soldiers on the hospital transport
heard it. They were crowding round him. And they told the story
when they got ashore. The story varied in trifling details as
one would expect among so many witnesses to a tragic event like
that. But it didn't vary about what the man said when the Hun
commander was swinging his automatic pistol on him.
"There was no opportunity to edit a brave sentence to fit the
affair. St. Alban said it. And he didn't think it up as he
climbed out of the cabin of the transport. If he had been in a
condition to think, he had enough of the devil's business to
think about just then; a brave sentence would hardly have
concerned him, as I said awhile ago.
"Besides, we have his word that, after what happened in the
cabin, everything else that occurred that morning on the
transport was a blank to the man; was walled off from his
consciousness, and these words were the first impulse of one
returning to a realization of events."
Sir Henry Marquis reflected.
"I think they were," he continued. "They have the mark of
spontaneity; of the first disgust of one grasping the fact that
he was being threatened."
The Baronet paused.
"The event had a great effect on England," he said. "And it
helped to restore our shattered respect for a desperate enemy.
The Hun commander didn't sink the transport, and he didn't shoot
St. Alban. It's true there was a sort of gentleman's agreement
among the enemies that hospital transports should not be sunk.
"But anything was likely to happen just then. The Hun had failed
to subjugate the world, and he was a barbarous, mad creature.
England believed that something noble in St. Alban worked the
"`You're a brave man!'
"Some persons on the transport testified to such a comment from
the submarine commander. At any rate, he went back to his U-boat
and the undersea.
That's the last they saw of him. The transport came on into
"England thought the affair was one of the adventures of the sea.
A chance thing, that happened by accident. But there was one man
in England who knew better."
"You?" I said.
The Baronet shrugged his shoulders.
"St. Alban," he answered.
He got up and began to walk about the terrace. I sat with the
cup of tea cooling before me. The big man walked slowly with his
fingers linked behind him. Finally he stopped. His voice was
deep and reflective.
"`Man is altogether the sport of fortune!' . . . I read that in
Herodotus, in a form at Rugby. I never thought about it again.
But it's God's truth. St. Alban was at Rugby. I often wonder if
he remembered it. My word, he lived to verify it! Herodotus
couldn't cite a case to equal him. And the old Greek wasn't
hemmed in by the truth. I maintain that the man's case has no
"To have all the painstaking labor of years negatived by one
enveloping, vicious misfortune; to be beaten out of life by it,
and at the same time to gain that monument out yonder and one's
niche as hero by the grim device of an enemy's satire; by the
acting of a scene that one would never have taken part in if one
had realized it, is beyond any complication of tragedy known to
"Look at the three strange phases of it: To be a mediocre
Englishman with no special talent; to die in horrible despair;
and to leave behind a glorious legend. And for all these three
things to contradict one another in the same life is unequaled in
the legends of any people."
The Baronet went on in a deep level voice.
"There wag a vicious vitality behind the whole desperate
business. Every visible impression of the thing was wrong.
Every conception of it held today by the English people is wrong!
"The German submarine didn't overhaul the hospital transport in
the Channel by accident. The Hun commander didn't fail to sink
the transport out of any humane motives. He didn't fail to shoot
St. Alban because he was moved by the heroism of the man. It was
all grim calculation!
"He thought it was safe to let St. Alban go ahead. And he would
have been right if St. Alban had been the great egotist that he
"The commander of that submarine was Plutonburg of Prussia. He
was the right-hand man of old Von Tirpitz. He was the one man in
the German navy who never ceased to urge its Admiralty to sink
everything. He loathed every fiber of the English people. We
had all sorts of testimony to that. The trawlers and freightboat
captains brought it in. He staged his piracies to a theatrical
frightfulness. `Old England!' he would say, when he climbed up
out of the sea onto the deck of a British ship and looked about
him at the sailors, `Old, is right, old and rotten!' Then he
would smite his big chest and quote the diatribes of Treitschke.
`But in a world that the Prussian inhabits a nation, old and
rotten, may endure for a time, but it shall not endure forever!'
"Plutonburg didn't let St. Alban and the transport go ahead out
of the promptings of a noble nature. He did it because he hated
England, and he wanted St. Alban to live on in the hell he had
trapped him into. He counted on his keeping silent. But the Hun
made a mistake.
"St. Alban didn't measure up to the standard of Prussian egoism
by which Plutonburg estimated him."
Sir Henry continued in the same even voice. The levels of
emotion in his narrative did not move him.
"Did you ever see the picture of Plutonburg, in Munich? He had a
face like Chemosh. And he dressed the part. Other under-boat
commanders wore the conventional naval cap, but Plutonburg always
wore a steel helmet with a corrugated earpiece. Some artist
under the frightfulness dogma must have designed it for him. It
framed his face down to the jaw. The face looked like it was set
in iron, and it was a thick-lidded, heavy, menacing face; the
sort of face that a broad-line cartoonist gives to a threatening
war-joss. At any rate, that's how the picture presents him. One
thinks of Attila under his ox head. You can hardly imagine
anything human in it, except a cruel satanic humor.
"He must have looked like Beelzebub that morning, on the
transport, when he let St. Alban go on."
The Baronet looked down at me.
"Now, that's the truth about the fine conduct of Plutonburg that
England applauded as an act of chivalry. It was a piece of
sheer, hellish malignity, if there ever was an instance."
Sir Henry took a turn across the terrace, for a moment silent.
Then he went on:
"And in fact, everything in the heroic event on the deck of the
transport was a pretense. The Hun didn't intend to shoot St.
Alban. As I have said, Plutonburg had him in just the sort of
hell he wanted him in, and he didn't propose to let him out with
a bullet. And St. Alban ought to have known it, unless, as he
afterwards said, the whole thing from the first awful moment in
the cabin was simply walled out of his consciousness, until he
began dimly to realize up there in the sun, in the crowd, that he
was being threatened and blurted out his words from a sort of
Again he paused.
"Plutonburg was right about having St. Alban in the crater of the
pit. But he was wrong to measure him by his Prussian standard.
St. Alban came on to London. He got the heads of the War Office
together and told them. I was there. It was the devil's own
muddle of a contrast. Outside, London was ringing with the man's
striking act of personal heroism. And inside of the Foreign
Office three or, four amazed persons were listening to the bitter
The Baronet spread out his hands with a sudden gesture.
"I shall always remember the man's strange, livid face; his
fingers that jumped about the cuff of his coat sleeve; and his
Sir Henry went over and sat down at the table. For a good while
he was silent. The sun filtering through the limbs of the great
oak-trees made mottled spots on his face. He seemed to turn away
from the thing he had been concerned with, and to see something
else, something wholly apart and at a distance from St. Alban's
"You must have wondered like everybody else," he said, "why the
Allied drive on the Somme accomplished so little at first. Both
England and France had made elaborate preparations for it over a
long period of time. Every detail had been carefully, worked
out. Every move had been estimated with; mathematical exactness.
"The French divisions had been equipped and strategically
grouped. England had put a million of fresh troops into France.
And the line of the drive had been mapped. The advance, when it
was opened on the first day of July, ought to have gone forward
irresistibly from cog to cog like a wheel of a machine on the
indentations of a track. But the thing didn't happen that way.
The drive sagged and stuck."
The big Englishman pressed the table with his clinched hand.
"My word!" he said, "is it any wonder that the devil, Plutonburg,
grinned when he put up his automatic pistol? Why shoot the
Englishman? He would do it himself soon enough. He was right
about that. If he had only been right about his measure of St.
Alban, the drive on the Somme would have been a ghastly
catastrophe for the Allied armies."
I hesitated to interrupt Sir Henry. But he had got my interest
desperately worked up about what seemed to me great unjointed
segments of this affair, that one couldn't understand till they
were put together. I ventured a query.
"How did St. Alban come to be on the hospital transport?" I said.
"Was he in the English army in France?"
"Oh, no," he said. "When the war opened St. Alban was in the
Home Office, and, he set out to make England spy-proof. He
organized the Confidential Department, and he went to work to
take every precaution. He wasn't a great man in any direction,
but he was a careful, thorough man. And with tireless,
never-ceasing, persistent effort, he very nearly swept England
clean of German espionage."
Sir Henry spoke with vigor and decision.
"Now, that's what St. Alban did in England - not because he was a
man of any marked ability, but because he was a persistent person
dominated by a single consuming idea. He started out to rid
England of every form of espionage. And when he had accomplished
that, as the cases of Ernest, Lody, and Schultz eloquently
attest, he determined to see that every move of the English
expeditionary force on the Continent should be guarded from
Sir Henry paused and poured out a cup of tea. He tasted it. It
was cold, and he put the cup down on the table.
"That's how St. Alban came to be in France," he said. "The great
drive on the Somme had been planned at a meeting of military
leaders in Paris. The French were confident that they could keep
their plans secret from German espionage. They admitted frankly
that signals were wirelessed out of France. But they had taken
such precautions that only the briefest signals could go out.
"The Government radio stations were always alert. And they at
once negatived any unauthorized wireless so that German spies
could only snap out a signal or two at any time. They could do
"They had a wireless apparatus inside a factory chimney at
Auteuil. It wasn't located until the war was nearly over.
"The French didn't undertake to say that they could make their
country spy-proof. They knew that there were German agents in
France that nobody could tell from innocent French people. But
they did undertake to say that nothing could be carried over into
the German lines. And they justified that promise. They did see
that nothing was carried out of France." The Baronet looked at
me across the table.
"Now, that's what took St. Alban across the Channel," he said.
"The English authorities wanted to be certain that there was no
German espionage. And there was no man in England able to be
certain of that except St. Alban. He went over to make sure. If
the plans for the Somme drive should get out of France, they
should not get out through any English avenue."
The Baronet paused.
"St. Alban went about the thing in his thorough, persistent
manner. He didn't trust to subordinates. He went himself.
That's what took him out on the English line. And that's how he
came to be wounded in the elbow.
"It wasn't very much of a wound - a piece of shrapnel nearly
spent when it hit him. But the French hospital service was very
much concerned. It gave him every attention.
"The man came into Paris when he had finished. The French
authorities put him up at the Hotel Meurice. You know the Hotel
Meurice. It's on the Rue de la Rivoli. It looks out over the
garden of the Tuileries. St. Alban was satisfied with the
condition of affairs in France, and he was anxious to go back to
London. Arrangements had been made for him to go on the hospital
"He was in his room at the Meurice waiting for the train to
Calais. He was, in fact, fatigued with the attention the French
authorities had given him. Everything that one could think of
had been anticipated, he said. He thought there could be nothing
more. Then there was a timid knock, and a nurse came in to say
that she had been sent to see that the dressing on his arm was
all right. He said that he had found it easier to submit to the
French attentions than to undertake to explain that he didn't
"He was busy with some final orders, so he put out his arm and
allowed the nurse to take the pins out of the split sleeve and
adjust the dressing. She put on some bandages, made a little
timid curtsey and went out.
"St. Alban didn't think of it again until the German Uboat
stopped the transport the next morning in the Channel. He wasn't
disturbed when the submarine commander came into his cabin. He
knew enough not to carry any papers about with him. But
Plutonburg didn't bother himself about luggage. He'd had his
signal from the factory chimney at Auteuil. He stood there
grinning in the cabin before St. Alban; that Satanic, Chemosh
grin that the artist got in the Munich picture.
"`I used to be something of a surgeon,' he said, `Doctor Ulrich
von Plutonburg, if you will remember. I'll take a look at your
"tit, Alban said he thought the man might be moved by some humane
consideration, so he put out his arm.
"Plutonburg took the pins out of the sleeve and removed the
bandage that the nurse had put on in the Hotel Meurice. Then he
held it up. The long, cotton bandage was lined with glazed
cambric, and on it, in minute detail, was the exact position of
all the Allied forces along the whole front in the region of the
Somme, precisely as they had been massed for the drive on July
I cried out in astonishment. "So that's what you meant," I said,
"by the trailed thing turning on him!"
"Precisely," replied the Baronet. "The very thing that St. Alban
labored to prevent another from doing, he did awfully himself!"
The big Englishman's fingers drummed on the table.
"It was a great moment for Plutonburg," he said. "No living man
but that Prussian could have put the Satanic humor into the rest
of the affair."
He paused as under the pressure of the memory.
"St. Alban always maintained that from the moment he saw the long
map on the bandage everything blurred around him, and began to
clear only when he spoke on the deck. He used to curse this
blur. It made him a national figure and immortal, but it
prevented him, he said, from striking the Prussian in the face."
XVI. The House by the Loch
There was a snapping fire in the chimney. I was cold through and
I was glad to stand close beside it on the stone hearth. My
greatcoat had kept out the rain, but it had not kept out the
chill of the West Highland night. I shivered before the fire, my
hands held out to the flame.
It was a long, low room. There was an ancient guncase on one
side, but the racks were empty except for a service pistol
hanging by its trigger-guard from the hook. There were some
shelves of books on the other side. But the conspicuous thing in
the room was an image of Buddha in a glass box on the
It was about four inches high, cast in silver and, I thought, of
I had to wait for my uncle to come in. But I had enough to think
about. Every event connected with this visit seemed to touch on
some mystery. There was his strange letter to me in reply to my
note that I was in England and coming up to Scotland. Surely no
man ever wrote a queerer letter to a nephew coming on a visit to
It dwelt on the length of the journey and the remoteness of the
place. I was to be discouraged in every sentence. I was to
carry his affectionate regards to the family in America and say
that he was in health.
It stood out plainly that I was not wanted.
This was strange in itself, but it was not the strangest thing
about this letter. The strangest thing was a word written in a
shaky cramped hand on the back of the sheet: the letters huddled
I would have believed my uncle justified in his note. It was a
long journey. I had great difficulty to find anyone to take me
out from the railway station. There were idle men enough, but
they shook their heads when I named the house. Finally, for a
double wage, I got an old gillie with a cart to bring me as far
on the way as the highroad ran. But he would not turn into the
unkept road that led over the moor to the house. I could neither
bribe nor persuade him. There was no alternative but to set out
through the mist with my bag on my shoulder.
Night was coming on. The moor was a vast wilderness of gorse.
The house loomed at the foot of it and beyond the loch that made
a sort of estuary for the open sea. Nor was this the only thing.
I got the impression as I tramped along that I was not alone on
the moor. I don't know out of what evidences the impression was
built up. I felt that someone was in the gorse beyond the road.
The house was closed up like a sleeping eye when I got before it.
It was a big, old, rambling stone house with a tangle of vines
half torn away by the winds: I hammered on the door and finally
an aged man-servant holding a candle high above his head let me
This was the manner of my coming to Saint Conan's Landing.
I had some supper of cold meat brought in by this aged servant.
He was a shrunken derelict of a human figure. He was disturbed
at my arrival and ill at ease. But I thought there was relief
and welcome in his expression. The master would be in directly;
he would light a fire in the drawing-room and prepare a
bedchamber for me.
One would hardly find outside of England such faithful creatures
clinging to the fortunes of descending men. He was at the end of
life and in some fearful perplexity, but one felt there was
something stanch and sound in him.
I had no doubt that there, under my eye, was the hand that had
added the cramped word to my uncle's letter.
I stood now before the fire in the long, low room. The flames
and a tall candle at either end of the mantelpiece lit it up. I
was looking at the Buddha in the glass box. I could not imagine
a thing more out of note. Surely of all corners of the world
this wild moor of the West Highlands was the least suited to an
Oriental cult. The elements seemed under no control of Nature.
The land was windswept, and the sea came crying into the loch.
I suppose it was the mood of my queer experiences that set me at
One would expect to find some evidences of India in my uncle's
house. He had been a long time in Asia, on the fringes of the
English service. Toward the end he had been the Resident at the
court of an obscure Rajah in one of the Northwest Provinces. It
was on the edge of the Empire where it touches the little-known
Mongolian states south of the Gobi.
The Home Office was only intermittently in touch with him. But
something, never explained, finally drew its attention and he was
put out of India. No one knew anything about it; "permitted to
retire," was the text of the brief official notice.
And he had retired to the most remote place he could find in the
British islands. There was no other house on that corner of the
coast. The man was as alone as he would have been in the Gobi.
If he had planned to be alone one would have believed he had
succeeded in that intention. And yet from the moment I got down
from the gillie's cart I seemed drawn under a persisting
surveillance. I felt now that some one was looking at me. I
turned quickly. There was a door at the end of the room opening
onto a bit of garden facing the sea. A man stood, now, just
inside this door, his hand on the latch. His head and shoulders
were stooped as though he had been there some moments, as though
he had let himself noiselessly in, and remained there watching me
before the fire.
But if so, he was prepared against my turning. He snapped the
latch and came down the room to where I stood.
He was a big stoop-shouldered Englishman with a pale, pasty face
beginning to sag at the jowls. There was a queer immobility
about the features as though the man were always in some fear.
His eyes were a pale tallow color and seemed too small for their
immense sockets. One could see that the man had been a
gentleman. I write it in the past, because at the moment I felt
it as in the past. I felt that something had dispossessed him.
"This will be Robin," he said. "My dear fellow, it was fine of
you to travel all this way to see me."
He had a nervous cold hand with hardly any pressure in the grasp
of it. His thin black hair was brushed across the top of his
bald head, and the distended, apprehensive expression on his face
did not change.
He made me sit down by the fire and asked me about the family in
America. But there was, I thought, no real interest in this
interrogation until he came to a reflective comment.
"I should like to go to America," he said; "there must be great
wastes of country where one would be out of the world."
The sincerity of this expression stood out in the trivial talk.
It indicated something that disturbed the man. He was as
isolated as he could get in England, but that was not enough.
He sat for a moment silent, the fingers of his nervous hand
moving on his knee. When he glanced up, with a sudden jerk of
his head, he caught me looking at the little image of Buddha in
its glass box on the mantelpiece.
Was this longing for solitude the influence of this mysterious
Remote, lonely isolation was a cult of Buddha. The devotees of
that cult sought the waste places of the earth for their
meditations. To be out of the world, in its physical contact,
was a prime postulate in the practice of this creed.
"Ah, Robin," he cried, as though he were in a jovial mood and
careless of the subject, "do you have a hobby?"
I answered that I had not felt the need of one. The inquiry was
a surprise and I could think of nothing better to reply with.
"Then, my boy," he went on, "what will you do when you are old?
One must have something to occupy the mind."
He got up and turned the glass box a little on the mantelpiece.
"This is a very rare image," he said; "one does not find this
image anywhere in India. It came from Tibet. The expression and
the pose of the figure differ from the conventional Buddha. You
might not see that, but to any one familiar with this religion
these differences are marked. This is a monastery image, and you
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