Lawrence Evarts was on his way home from his law-office in Somerset when he caught sight of the inexplicable circle in the snow. The snow was hard and smooth, and the circle immediately arrested his attention. It was just outside the compact snow of the sidewalk, in what would have been the gutter had there been any gutters in Somerset.
Lawrence carried a neatly-folded umbrella. He was exceedingly punctilious in all his personal habits. It had threatened snow earlier in the day, although now the sky was brilliantly clear, and the stars were shining out, one by one, in the ineffable rose, violet and yellow tints of the horizon.
Lawrence poked with the steel point of his umbrella at the circle, and struck something hard. He endeavored to lift whatever it was with the umbrella-point, but was unable to do so. Then, frowning a little, he removed his English glove, plunged his hand into the snow and drew it up again with the jade bracelet. It was beautiful, cabbage-green jade, cut out of the solid stone and very large — a man's bracelet, and rather large for his own hand. Evarts had a small hand.
He stood staring at it. He immediately remembered having seen somewhere, in a Chinese laundry, a Chinaman wearing a bracelet of a similar design. But there was no Chinese laundry in Somerset; he could not remember that there was one in Lloyds, which was the only other village for miles large enough to support a laundry.
Once a Chinaman had penetrated to Somerset, but the hoodlum element, which was large and flourishing, had routed him out. He had disappeared, presumably for more peaceable fields of cleanliness, although there had been dark rumors which had died away, both for lack of substantiation, and of interest in the uncanny heathen — as most of the citizens adjudged him.
Lawrence stood gazing at the thing with wonder; then obeying some unaccountable impulse, he slipped it over his right hand, the one from which he had removed the glove. Immediately the horror was upon him. He realized, although fighting hard against the realization, that there was another hand beside his own in the jade bracelet. He gave his hand a sharp jerk to rid himself of the sensation, but it remained. He could feel the other hand and wrist, although he could see absolutely nothing. Only his sense of touch was reached, and one other, his sense of smell. Overpowering the clear, frosty atmosphere came the strange pungency of opium and sandalwood. But worse than the uncanny assailing of the senses — far worse — was something else. Into his clear Western mind, trained from infancy to logical inferences, Christian belief, and right estimates of things, stole something foreign and antagonistic. Strange memories, strange outlooks, seemed misting over his own familiar ones, as smoke mists a window.
Evarts snatched the bracelet from his wrist and gave it a fling back into the snow. Then something worse happened. He still had the feel of the thing on his wrist, but the pull of the other hand and wrist became stronger, he fairly choked with the opium smoke, and the strange cloud dimmed his own personality with greater force. He drew on his glove, but unmistakably it would not go on over the invisible bracelet.
“What the devil!” Evarts said quite aloud. He could see in the snow the clearly-cut circle where the bracelet had fallen. He withdrew his glove, picked up the thing again, put it on and walked along, shaking the snow from his hand. It was unmistakably better on than off. The strange sensations were not so pronounced. Still, it was bad enough, in all conscience.
Presently, as he walked along, Evarts met a friend, who stared at him after he had said good-evening.
“What is the matter? Are you ill?” he asked, turning back.
“No,” replied Evarts shortly.
“You look like the deuce,” his friend remarked wonderingly. Evarts was conscious that the man stood still a moment staring at him, but he did not turn. He walked on, feeling as if he were in handcuffs with the devil. It became more and more horrible.
When he reached his boarding-house he went straight to his room, and did not go down to dinner. No one came to ask why he did not. He had not any intimates in the house, and, indeed, was one who was apt to keep himself to himself, regulate his own actions and resent questions concerning them.
He turned on his electric light and tried to write a letter. He was able to do that, as far as the mere mechanical action was concerned. The other hand moved in accordance with his. But what he wrote —! Evarts stared incredulously at the end of the first page. What he had written was in a language unfamiliar to him, both in words and characters, and yet the meaning was horribly clear. He could not conceive of the possibility of his writing things of such hideous significance, and, moreover, of a significance hitherto unknown to him.
He tore up the sheet and threw it into the waste-paper basket; then he lit his pipe and tried to smoke, but the scent of opium came in his nostrils instead of tobacco. He flung his pipe aside and took up the evening paper, but to his horror he read in a twofold fashion, as one may see double. There were horrors enough, as usual, but there were horrors besides, which dimmed them.
He tossed the paper to the floor, and sat for a few moments looking about him. He had rather luxurious apartments: a large sitting-room, bedroom and bath; and he had gathered together some choice things in the way of furniture and bric-a-brac. He had rather a leaning to Oriental treasures, and there were some good things in the way of Persian rugs and hangings. Just before his chair was a fine prayer-rug, with its graceful triangle which should point toward the Holy City.
Suddenly he seemed to see, kneeling there, not a Moslem but a small figure in a richly-wrought robe, with a long slimy braid, and before it sat a squat, grinning bronze god. That was too much.
“Good God!” Evarts muttered to himself, and sprang up. He got his coat and hat, put them on hurriedly and rushed out of the room and the house, all the time with that never-ceasing sensation of the other hand and wrist in the jade bracelet. He hurried down the street until he reached the office of a physician, a friend of his, perhaps the closest he had in Somerset. There was a light in the office, and Evarts entered without ceremony.
Dr. Van Brunt was alone. He had just finished his dinner and was having his usual smoke, leaning back luxuriously in a very old Morris chair, well-worn to all the needs of his figure. He was a short man, heavily blond-bearded.
“Thank God, I smell tobacco instead of that cursed other thing!” was Evarts' first salutation. Van Brunt looked at him, then he jumped up with heavy alacrity. “For Heaven's sake, what's to pay, old man?” he said.
“The devil, I rather guess,” answered Evarts, settling himself in a forlorn hunch on the nearest chair.
Dr. Van Brunt remained standing, looking at him with consternation.
“You look like the devil,” he remarked finally.
“I feel like him, I reckon,” responded Evarts gloomily. Now that he was there, he shrank from confidence. He felt a decided tug at his wrist, and hardly seemed to realize himself at all, because of the cloud of another personality before his mental vision.
Dr. Van Brunt stood before him, scowling with perplexity, his fuming pipe in hand. Then he said suddenly: “What in thunder is that thing you've got on your wrist?”
“Some token from hell, I begin to think,” answered Evarts.
“Where did you get it?”
“I found it in the snow near the corner of State Street, and I was fool enough to put the infernal thing on.”
“Why on earth don't you take it off, if it bothers you?”
“I have tried it, and the second state is worse than the first. Look here” —
“What is it?”
“You know I never drink, except an occasional glass of wine at a dinner, and an occasional pint of beer, mostly to keep you company.”
“Of course I do. What —?”
“You know I am not in any sense a drinking man.”
“Of course I know it. Why?”
“Why?” Evarts faced him fiercely. “Why, then, do I see things that nobody, except men who have sold their souls and wits for drink, see?”
“Yes, I do. I must be mad. For God's sake, Van Brunt, tell me if I am mad, and do something for me if you can!”
Van Brunt sat down again in his chair and took a whiff of his pipe, but he did not remove his great blue eyes from Evarts.
“Mad, nothing!” he said. “Don't you suppose I know a maniac when I see him? What on earth are you ranting about, anyway? And what is it about that green thing on your arm, and why don't you take it off?”
“I tell you I am in the innermost circles of hell when it is off!” cried Evarts.
“What made you put the thing on, anyway?”
“I don't know. My evil angel, I reckon.”
Dr. Van Brunt leaned forward and looked closely at the jade bracelet. “It is a fine specimen,” he said. “I have never seen anything like it, except” — he hesitated a moment, and was evidently endeavoring to recall something. “I know where I saw one like it,” he said suddenly. “That poor devil of a Chinaman who started a laundry here five years ago, and was routed out of town, had its facsimile. I remember noticing it one day, just before he was run out. Don't you remember?”
“I don't know what I remember,” replied Evarts. He jerked the bracelet angrily as he spoke, then gave a great start of horror, for the invisible thing which he felt had seemed to come closer at the jerk.
“Why on earth don't you take that thing off?” asked Van Brunt again. He continued to smoke and to watch his friend closely.
“Didn't I tell you it was worse off than on? Then he gets so close, ugh!”
“Don't ask me. How do I know? The devil, I think, or one of his friends.”
“Sit down, Evarts, and have a pipe, and put that nonsense out of your head.”
“Put it out of my head?” repeated Evarts bitterly. Suddenly a thought struck him. “See here; you don't believe that I am talking rationally,” he said.
“I think something has happened to upset you,” replied Van Brunt guardedly.
“I see. Well, try the thing yourself.”
Evarts as he spoke withdrew the bracelet with a jerk. He paled perceptibly as he did so, and set his mouth hard, as if with pain or disgust. He extended the shining green circle toward Van Brunt, who took it, laughing, although there was an anxious gleam in his eyes.
Van Brunt, oddly enough, since he was a large man, had small hands. The bracelet slipped on his wrist as easily as it had done on Evarts'. He sat quite still for a second. He gave one more puff at his pipe, then he laid it on the table. His great blond face changed. He looked at Evarts.
“What is this infernal thing, anyhow?” he said.
“Don't ask me. I am as wise as yourself. But now you know what torment I am in.” Evarts spoke with a feeble triumph.
“You don't mean you feel it without the bracelet?”
Van Brunt took off the bracelet and laid it on the table beside his pipe. His face contracted. “My God!” he ejaculated.
“Now you know.”
“Good Lord! I am remembering devilish things which never happened. I am going backward like a crab.”
“You mean you feel the same thing?”
“As if some infernal thing was handcuffed to you?”
“Well,” said Van Brunt slowly. “I did not think I believed in much of anything, but now I believe in the devil.” He took up the bracelet. Evarts made a sudden gesture of remonstrance. “For the love of God! let me have it on again,” he said hoarsely. “I don't think I can stand this much longer.”
Van Brunt gave the bracelet to Evarts, who slipped it over his hand; immediately an expression of something like relief came over his face.
“You don't feel quite so — with it on?” asked Van Brunt.
“No, but it is bad enough anyway. And you?”
Van Brunt grimaced. “As for me, I am handcuffed to a fiend,” he said.
Evarts sat down, with the bracelet still on his wrist. “Van Brunt, what does it mean?” he asked helplessly.
“Ask me what is on the other side of the moon.”
“You honestly don't know?”
“I can't diagnose the case, or cases, unless you are crazy and the microbe has hit me, too, for I am as crazy as you are.”
Evarts looked down at the shining green circle on his wrist.
“I wish I'd let the thing alone,” said he.
“So do I.”
Suddenly Van Brunt arose. He was a man of a less sensitive nervous organization than the other, and his mouth was set hard, and even his hands clenched, as for a fight. “See here, old fellow,” he said, “we've had enough of this. It is time to put a stop to it. Have you had any dinner?”
“Do you think —?” began Evarts.
“Well, you've got to eat dinner, whether you want to or not. This is nonsense!”
Van Brunt struck the call-bell on his table violently and his man entered. A look of surprise overspread his face as he looked at his master and Evarts, but he said nothing.
“Tell Hannah, if there was any soup left over from dinner to warm it immediately, and send up whatever else was left. Mr. Evarts has not dined. Tell her to be as quick as possible.”
“Yes, sir,” replied the man.
“Get a bottle of that old port, and open it.”
After the man had gone Evarts and Van Brunt sat in a moody silence. Both were pale, and both had expressions of suffering and disgust, as if from the contact of some loathsome thing, but Van Brunt still kept his mouth set hard. He even resumed his pipe.
It was not long before dinner was announced and he sprang to his feet, and laid his hand on Evarts' shoulder. “Now, come, old man,” he said. “When you've got some good roast beef and old port in your stomach the mists will leave your brain.”
“The mists are on your brain, and you have the good roast beef in your stomach,” returned Evarts bitterly, but he arose.
“But I haven't the old port,” said Van Brunt with an attempt at jocularity, as the two men entered the dining-room. Van Brunt kept bachelor's hall, and a neat maid was in attendance. Her master saw her quick glance of amazement at their altered faces.
“You may go, Katie,” said Van Brunt. “Mr. Evarts and I will wait upon ourselves.”
After the maid had left Evarts leaned his elbows on the table and bent his head forward with a despairing gesture. “I can't eat,” he almost moaned.
“You can and will!” replied Van Brunt, and ladled out the smoking soup. Evarts did eat mechanically, and both men drank of the old port. They sat side by side at the table, for the greater convenience of serving.
After Evarts had finished his dinner, and the two men had despatched the wine, they looked at each other. Evarts gave a glance of horror at the green thing on his wrist. “Well?” he said, with a kind of interrogative bitterness.
Van Brunt tried to laugh. “Take that confounded thing off and put it out of your mind,” he said.
“You want to wear it yourself,” Evarts returned almost savagely.
Van Brunt laughed. “No, I don't. I can stand it,” he said, “but I'll be hanged if I believe I could suffer much more in hell. The devilish thing is converting me, paradoxically.”
“What does it mean?” asked Evarts again.
“Don't know. If it keeps up much longer I'll try a narcotic for both of us.”
“Not” — Evarts shuddered.
“No, not opium, if I know myself.”
As he spoke, Van Brunt had his eyes fixed upon a spot directly in front of the fireplace, and Evarts knew that he saw what he himself saw — the horrible, prostrate figure covered with embroideries, and the grinning idol.
“You see?” he gasped.
“Yes, I do see, confound it! I'll do something before long.”
“You feel as if” —
— “there is something between us?”
“Yes. Don't talk about it. I'll do something soon, if it keeps up.”
Evarts made a quick gesture. He grasped the tableknife beside him.
“I'll do something now!” he cried, and made a thrust.
Van Brunt's face whitened. Almost simultaneously he grasped another knife and did the same thing. Then the two men drew long breaths and looked at each other.
“It's gone,” said Evarts, and he almost sobbed.
Van Brunt was still pale, but he recovered his equilibrium more quickly.
“What was it?” gasped Evarts. “Oh! what was it? Am I going mad?”
“Going mad? No.”
“There's a reason why I ask. It concerns someone very dear to me. I have not said much about Agnes Leeds to you; in fact, I have not said much to her; but sometimes I think that she — I have thought that I — when my practice was a little better. Good God! Van Brunt, I am not mad, am I? That would make marriage impossible for us.
“You are no more mad than I am,” said Van Brunt. He gazed at his friend scrutinizingly. “What case have you on hand now?” he asked.
“The Day girl's; the murder case, you know.”
Van Brunt nodded. “Just so. You have had that horrible murder thing on your mind, and — say, old fellow, your collar looks somewhat the worse for wear” —
“Yes, my laundress failed me this week, and I have been so horribly busy today that I have not had time to buy some fresh ones before the stores closed.”
“Just so. And you wished that there was a Chinese laundry here, I'll be bound!”
“I don't know but I did,” admitted Evarts, with a dawning expression of relief. Then his face fell again. “But what of the jade bracelet?” he said. He glanced at his wrist and gave a great start, “Good God! it's gone,” he cried.
“Of course it is gone,” said Van Brunt coolly. “It never was there.”
“But you — saw it?”
“Thought I saw it. My dear fellow, the whole thing is a clear case of hypnotism; something for the Psychical Research. You were all overwrought with your work, nerves in a devil of a state, and you hypnotized yourself, and then — you hypnotized me.”
Evarts sat staring at Van Brunt, with the look of one who is trying to turn a corner of mentality. Then the door was flung open violently, and Van Brunt's man rushed in, pale and breathless.
“Doctor!” he gasped.
“What is it?”
“Oh, Dr. Van Brunt, there's a Chinaman dead right out in front of the office door, and he's got two stabs in his side, and he's got a green bracelet on his wrist!”
Dr. Van Brunt turned ashy white. “Nonsense!” he said.
“It's so, doctor.”
“Well, I'll come,” said Van Brunt in a voice which he kept steady. “You run and get the police, Thomas. Maybe he isn't dead. I'll come.”
“He's stone dead!” said the man in a shocked voice as he hurried out.
“Oh, my God!” said Evarts. “If we — if I — killed him, what about Agnes?”
“I can tell quickly enough which of us killed him,” said Van Brunt rising. Both men hurried out of the room.
There was already a crowd around the ghastly thing, and police uniforms glittered among them. The fact that the dead Chinaman happened to be in front of his office had no significance for anybody present. There was no question of suspicion for either himself or Evarts. Some men held lanterns while Van Brunt examined the dead Chinaman. It was soon done, and the body was carried away in an undertaker's wagon, with the crowd in tow.
Then Van Brunt and Evarts entered the office. Evarts looked at his friend, and he was as white as the dead man himself.
“Well?” he stammered.
Van Brunt laughed, and clasped him on the shoulder. “It's all right, old man,” he said. “My knife did the deed.”
“But” — stammered Evarts, “I was on the heart side.”
“What if you were? Your knife went nowhere near the heart. Mine cut the heart clean. I lunged around to the front of the thing. Don't you remember?”
“Are you sure?”
“I know it. You can rest easy now.”
“But — you?” said Evarts in a voice from which, for very shame, he tried to suppress the joy.
Van Brunt laughed again. “It was a poisonous thing,” he said. “Did you see his face?” he shuddered in spite of himself. “Men kill snakes of a right,” he added.
“But how do you explain —?”
“I don't explain. All you have to consider is that you did not do it; and all I have to consider is that I have set my heel on something which would have bruised it.”
As he spoke he was preparing a powder, which he presently handed to Evarts. “Now, go home, old man,” he said. “Take a warm bath, and this, and go to bed and dream of Agnes Leeds.”
After Evarts was gone Van Brunt stood still for a moment. His face had suddenly turned ghastly, and all the assumed lightness had vanished. He struck the bell and told his man to bring up another bottle of the old port. When it came he poured out a glass for himself and gave one to the man. “You've got a turn, too, Thomas,” he said.
The man, who was shivering from head to foot, looked at his master.
“Did you see its face, sir?” he whispered.
“Better put it out of your mind.”
“He looked like a fiend. I doubt if I can ever stop seeing him,” said the man. Then he swallowed the wine and went out.
Van Brunt settled himself again in his old Morris chair, and lit his pipe. He gave a few whiffs, then stopped and gazed straight ahead of him with horror. The face of the dead Chinaman was vividly before his eyes again.
“Thank God, he does not know he did it!” he whispered, and a good smile came over his great blond face.