She came into his life on an afternoon of golden sunlight. Afterward, looking back across the abyss, the peace of that day returned to the artist in Mr. Ives as a dramatic oversight of the elements, a thing incredible.
Mr. Ives was nothing if he was not an artist. He tried to hide it, for he felt that in Paragon Heights that sort of thing wouldn't do. For the man arrived and successful, yes; but for the struggling neophyte, no. Perhaps he was oversensitive, but sometimes he thought he should die if any one were to find out about that secret room where he kept his clay and his stands, his modeling-tools and the half-finished portraits from memory of his friends. To see him on the street or at a party one would never have taken him for other than the young suburbanite, reading law on the moderate means bequeathed to him (along with the house) by his great-aunt Geraldine White. That was all sham. In the heart of him he was the artist, shrinking from the hard light of a suburban civilization.
And to the artist it seemed in retrospect that the hour of Victoria's coming should have bornes some portent, a dead cloud or a black rain or else the weird, sulphurous light that heralds the hurricane.
But it bore no portent. The westering sun shone blandly on the rich and on the comfortably situated alike. Serenely it shone on the Picture Palace whose recent closing had laid the last straw on the back of the servant problem in Paragon Heights.
And so it shone, with a disarming tranquillity, on Victoria. So Mr. Ives saw her for the first time, silhouetted in the open doorway.
"Yes," he breathed, his mind divided between relief at sight of domestic help after so many dreary weeks and the embarrassing consciousness that there was still clay on his hands and that the door to that vaguely illicit studio behind him had not properly closed. "Yes---yes---I am Mr. Ives. And you---that is, Mrs. Goldfeather at the agency she sent you out?"
"Right, sir," the black woman answered him. "Quite right, sir."
"Good. Come in will you, Sit down."
"Hi thank you, sir."
The voice was rich, reserved, bearing in its shadows a far reed-note of the minor that troubles the African's song. It troubled Mr. Ives, too, although he didn't know it. He watched her moving on soundless feet to do his bidding and sinking into a chair with an ease of carriage unhurried and somehow leonine.
"May I ask your name?"
"Miss Victoria Thwaite, sir."
"Well, Victoria" ---his lips fell into the old, worn, optimistic ritual---"well, I hope you'll like the place. The work isn't heavy. I'm alone, you know; live simply, washing done out. Mrs. Goldfeather saw to your recommendations, I presume?"
"Hi've not been in service before, sir."
"No? Not---will--- Hmmm! A-a-all right!" If there were a little cloud on the horizon, this surely were not the day to look at it. "Hmmm! Well! All right….I'm going out for a short walk. If you'll just make yourself comfortable Victoria. Your room opens off the kitchen. Pleasant room, I think. Not been in service before? Hmmm!"
He found his hat among the magazines on the center-table and was about to go out, when something which had been bothering him in the subconscious came of a sudden to the surface.
"Do you know what?" he mused. "This is the queerest darky I ever saw. She doesn't talk any more like a darky than a---a---" Than a what he couldn't precisely say.
"By the way, Victoria, you don't seem to talk like a---a---a colored---well, like a Southern person."
"As you say, sir. Quite as you say, sir."
"Mr. Ives had a sense that his voice was beginning to snap.
"Why do you say that?" he demanded.
"Hi beg pardon, sir. What, sir?"
"What you just--- Well---why didn't you answer my question?"
Sitting erect in Great-aunt Geraldine's knitting-chair, her ebony fingers touching lightly tip to tip inher lap, and the small, faintly lustrous orbs of her eyes transfixed in vacancy, she awaited what further he had to say with a detachment darksome and almost occult. It made the memory of his own voice sound like the memory of a mosquito complaining in the night.
It was all too abysmally absurd. Of a sudden, Mr. Ives felt himself on the point of screaming. He even felt his lips opening….To his relief, he found that he was telling her he wouldn't be in for dinner.
"This first evening," he heard himself stammering as he made what seemed an escape across the expanse of the floor, "---give you a chance to---and, anyway---nothing much in the house---"
He was out-of-doors at last; clean, healthy sunlight around him.
"Good Heavens!" he breather. He made off, mopping his brow, still with the sense of flight. "Good Heavens!" he continued to repeat.
He had come fairly within the boundaries of Paragon Heights' business district, when revulsion claimed him. The psychologist will say that his subconscious had been at grips with the problem for some minutes past, but superficially it was the green-and-silver sign over the Suprime Lunch Room that brought him up.
"Cheese!" he almost shouted to himself. "Of course!"
Cheese had always been bad for him, especially cooked cheese. The cheese he had had that noon at the Supreme Lunch on his "Italian-style macaroni" had been actually melted. He might have known. He had had nightmares following precisely the same indiscretion. If it had come now to the Horrors in broad daylight it was time he took himself in hand.
Nevertheless, it was a comfort to know from what innocent cause that moment of sinister hallucination had come. He began to be amused, at himself, at his absurd fright, at poor black Victoria, probably at this moment arranging her pathetic treasures on the bureau in the maid's room. As to the accent which had bothered him---well, every one knew that that kind was forever aping its betters, and she had probably served in some exiled English family; had perhaps been discharged for some small inadequacy, even perhaps (and that would explain her lack of credentials) for some minor peculation. Very, very few of them could be altogether trusted.
Mr. Ives sighed. But he would not see the molehill for the mountain. One thing was sure, he had at last a servant in the house. And, after a fashion as old as the race, he wanted to tell some one. He hadn't far to look. This was the hour of the Heights' daily resurrection, the hour of the "Five-fifty-eight" and the "Six-ten" and Dewey Street was full. Taking only a moment to buttonhole John, the ice-boy, and ask as a special favor that he take a piece of ice to the house immediately (because there was a new cook come), he fell in step with the first acquaintance passing.
The banker, Mr. Ironwall, was something more, indeed, than an acquaintance. Mr. Ives hated him in one way more than he hated any one else in the world. And yet he had to call him "uncle," since he had known him from boyhood up.
"Well, Uncle George," he observed, "I don't mind telling you I feel pretty good. Something pretty fine has happened."
"Don't tell me"---the banker lifted his grizzled eyebrows in consternation---"don't tell me you've gone to work, Rob!"
That was the trouble with trying to talk with Mr. Ironwall.
"No," Mr. Ives murmured, biting a bitter lip. "I---I was just going to tell you---I've got a housekeeper."
There it was---that air of taking it for granted that nothing in Mr. Ives's life could possibly be settled, accomplished, permanent. He would say not another word. It was the banker who had to break the silence by and by, in a tone of genial asperity.
"See here, Rob. What are you staring at me for?"
"Staring? I--- Why, I didn't know---I didn't mean---"
Mr. Ives's cheeks grew warm. He was perfectly well aware that he had been staring at the other for minutes past, taking visual stock of the bone-structure of the banker's head, modeling with imaginary clay the eye-sockets and the fine, leonine slope of the brow.
"Well, you were, Rob! Like a cat with a mouse. And what's more, you're getting into a habit of that lately. I don't suppose you realize it, but others do. Just last night I heard Martin saying---"
Mr. Ives found himself at a loss for words. His color deepened. If they talked now, how would they talk if they only knew what the side room in his house contained, what a gallery of all their likenesses in clay and plaster it harbored, likenesses created in secret, through memory, by dint of this same studious staring, and by that alone.
"Even Doctor Failing has noticed it," the banker pursued.
Mr. Ives felt he must say something. This very day he had spent at work on a Failing, a small, half-length Failing in a toga.
"Fiddleticks!" he muttered. "Perfect fiddlesticks!"
For a moment he was afraid he had hurt the other's feelings. They had come by now into the new Esplanade, done broadly in tar and gravel and set with the frail feathers of nursery poplars. It was rather bald as yet, but time would cure that; the best people were buying on the Esplanade; the Ironwalls were at the top of the hill. The sun had gone down, purpling the world with its own shadow and bathing the vacant slope of building-lots in a mystery not its own. When the banker spoke there was a new seriousness in his tone.
"Robert, I never had better friends than your father and mother were. I feel almost as responsible for you as I do for Eleanor."
Mr. Ives was embarrassed.
"Anyway, Robert, I've got to wondering lately---if you were my son, now, I'd think it was time you began to get down to it. You know you can't read law forever. One of these days you'll be growing up.
"Growing up!" That was too much. That was precisely what Mr. Ives had against Mr. Ironwall. "Uncle George, you never seem to realize that I'm a man of thirty! Going on thirty-one!"
"Thirty? Heavens! Why, you ought to have a family….Rob, I can never thank God enough that you and Eleanor were not enough in the same generation at school to be---well---taken that way. You know I like you, Rob, and I see good things in you, but, on my word, if you and Eleanor had ever been hit by that confounded nuisance, love from childhood, and that sort of thing---I give you my word I'd --- Oh! Great Heavens!
It was at such times as these that Mr. Ives felt an almost irresistible desire to grasp Mr. Ironwall by the shoulders and cry in his face: "You fool! You poor, blind, infatuated fool! We did! We have! We are!" It seemed he could throw away all the immunity of secrecy and be glad, if only for a moment the banker could hear the things his daughter and he talked of in the solitude of the porch, or see the pretty, wistful air of furtive proprietorship she had when she came to a rare tea at Mr. Ives's house in Everglade Avenue, and that lovely pout at the "locked room," and all.
It seemed to him he must burst.
"No, no thanks, not to-night," he muttered between locked teeth as, halting before the gates of Ironhurst, the banker spoke of his staying to dinner, now he was there. But almost immediately his determination weakened at the sight of a dim white frock between the farther hedges, and against his will he hoped the banker might persist. "Well---" he shifted, "to tell the truth, Uncle George, there isn't much of anything in the house, after all, but ice. And perhaps it would be better to give the new girl a chance to---to---"
He found himself drifting inward on the banker's arm. After a moment, as they moved alongthe drive, he came to a halt.
"Who," he demanded, "is that?"
"Who? Talking with Eleanor, you mean?" The banker laughed indulgently and dragged him on. "That's nobody but young Kyle, from the bank. We've just given him a little boost, to assistant cashier, you know, and I asked him out int honor…. Good evening, Kyle. Come in the car? Shake hands with Rob Ives, Mr. Kyle."
From the first, Mr. Ives had a queer feeling against young Kyle. He was young, alert, purposeful; he was immaculate, well tailored, well set up. And yet about his whole visible presence there was something---something in his easy magnetism, in his poise, his unquestioned adequacy, that put Mr. Ives vaguely out of countenance.
He wondered it it weren't himself---if it weren't again cheese. Half lost, he was hardly aware of a beloved and bantering voice at his side:
"And this is Miss Eleanor Ironwall. Will Mr. Ives be pleased to shake hands with Miss Ironwall?"
He did so, gravely, still more than a little in the mist.
"Sakes!" she cried. "What have you been doing Rob? Grubbing? Do please, like a good boy, run in and wash your hands for dinner!"
She laughed adorably. Young Kyle laughed with her. Mr. Ives winced. As he obeyed, holding his head high, he wished bitterly that something might happen to young Kyle.
Immured in the glittering company of the washbowl, however, another and more appalling thought was to drive young Kyle for the moment out of Mr. Ives's mind. From the clay on his hands, memory carried him back to the afternoon, and he recollected the door. The same confusion which had led him to forget his hands had made him neglect to lock or even close the studio door.
He tried to look at it philosophically. If Victoria knew---she knew. The horse was stolen; the milk irrevocably spilled. At last, even against his will, some one knew. As he dried his hands, for one moment there ran over him a sense of somehow aweful satisfaction. After all, man lives not by bread alone, but by some meed of admiration and of awe….In the hall he met Doctor Failing. He had know known the doctor was to be there.
"What's up, Ives?" The doctor smoothed his small, well-kept mustache. "Bless my soul! you look like the blushing bridegroom."
"Oh," said Mr. Ives, "nothing. That is, I---I've got a cook."
Nothing was farther from his mind than young Kyle.
By the time dinner was over, however, young Kyle was in his mind again with a vengeance. Not even the glances of reassurance he had had from Eleanor or the covert gestures of boredom had succeeded in resigning himself to her monopolization by young Kyle. That it was monopolization could not be blinked. That it had been in a sense allowed for, even facilitated, began to dawn on him. Nor was his depression lightened when, coming out, all of them, under the stars, young Kyle excused himself and drifted off to where his car stood gazing out, whit-eyed, along the drive. And Eleanor? Eleanor had gone with him, with no more than a fugitive whisper left in Mr. Ives's ear: "Father wants me to. Just a spin---"
He watched her getting into the long, low, grass-green thin, and heard her flickering laughter drowned by the soft crescendo of the engine….And then he became aware of his own voice.
"Yes, thanks; had a fine time, but really I've got to be running. Lots of work to do. Good night, Doctor."
When he had come as far as the road outside the gates he stopped. Standing there in the little glow from the gatelamp, bitterness cleared his eyes, and he seemed to see for the first time all the petty shams of society, the stultifying compromises of the law, the modern ascendancy of acumen over thought, of the acquisitive over the esthetic, of finance over art. Paragon Heights! It came to him with a kind of shudder that it was time for him to break with Paragon Heights and go away and be himself. And Eleanor? Well, if he were not considered good enough for Eleanor---
He held out his heavy hands, palms upward to the sky. He turned red and took them down again at the sound of a voice in the gateway inquiring if he were looking for rain. It was the doctor. If there was any one he didn't want to see just now it was the doctor. He was tired to death of the doctor. Glaring at him so, a suspicion he had harbored for the last three months grew deeper. And that was that the doctor drank; drank, at times, if the truth were known, to excess. Even to-night, he told himself, the doctor wasn't all he should be. There was a light in his eyes….
After all, who knew anything about the doctor? It it weren't that he had married Daisy Grey (beloved of everyone from grammar-school up), a newcomer or the doctor's caliber would never have "got itn" as he had managed to do….
The doctor spoke suddenly, and, yes---thickly:
"What you staring at me for?"
"Staring? Doctor? Why I---nothing was farther---"
With protest still on his lips, Mr. Ives found himself drawing nearer.
"But, frankly, Doctor, isn't there something just a little--- I've noticed it---I wonder if you have? It's about the nose, I think."
All day long he had been at that nose, shifting, amputating, rebuilding, till he thought he should go insane.
"Not, perhaps, so much the nose," he mused, "as the way it sets."
The doctor gave him a long look between the eyes. "Yes, old man, but now what do you say we go somewhere where they have it and get a drink. That'll be nice, eh?"
"I think you, no!"
Making no attempt to hide his disgust, Mr. Ives turned away, leaving the doctor to smooth his soft mustache with a hand that trembled a little in the light thrown from the gate-lamp.
"Poor Daisy!" he said to himself as he strode down throught the spacious emptiness of the night. "And I'll have another try at that nose. It's more the way it sets than anything else."
In Dewey Street he paused to the hail of John, the ice-boy.
"Say, Mr. Ives, where'd you get the tar?"
"Tar?" Mr. Ives's glance went down to his trouser bottoms. "Tar?"
"Up to the house, I mean. Say, I guess I didn't get her goat when I put the ice in. 'Stove-polish gone up any?' says I. Well, say! She never let out a sound. But that look! Say, boy!"
"You ought to be in bed," Mr. Ives advised him, sternly.
"Bed!" John laughed cheerily. "I'll put in a couple hours at the roller-rink yet." And after a moment, with less assurance: "Yeh; what is it? Something about my face you don't like?"
Removing his attention with an effort from the youth's esophagus, Mr. Ives bade him a subdued goodnight and turned away.
"So that's how the Adam's apple goes! I must remember that." He found himself staring in a bitter way at the moon. "If I'm not considered good enough for Eleanor---well---"
The house, when he came to it, was dark---dark as the pit.
"Poor thing!" he mused as he let himself in with a considerate care. "She was probably worn out."
There was no need of a light, getting across the living-room. He knew every chair; his hand wanted no other guide than instinct to find the door to the studio. Touching it, he felt a sensation of relief. Had it been closed, had it been wide open, he would have known the die was cast. Finding it just the three inches ajar he remembered it, he felt all might be well. He began to be sure of it.
"After all," he breathed. "I'm glad."
After all, for all his washbowl philosophizing, it was a comfort to know his bridges had not been burned. After all, there was something fine about this peculiar isolation of his inner life….
Sometimes he liked to stand so in the dark of his studio, surrounded by the shapes he could not see. Near, yet invisible, they seemed to renew in themselves the mystery which long working over them was apt to dissapate a little. Ghosts! The ghosts of his living friends, caught in the master's clay. Ghosts!
The house was still, abnormally still. Deciding he had had enough of this dark communing, he waved a hand overhead for the light. He withdrew it with a start….The bulb in the dark was hot.
That light had been burning, then, within the space of two minutes, three at the most. And since no gleam had shown from the front, it was evident that the door must have been opened (and left a precise three inches ajar) after the light went out.
Well! This was another thing. He could have forgiven a frank and innocent intrusion. But this was quite another thing, quite.
He became aware of two very small streams of perspiration running down behind his ears. Why should he keep on standing there in the darkness, listening? Listening to what? For what? Never in his life had he been so conscious of the death of sound. Through the black chambers of the house his ears strained after the phantom quietude.
"Come, come!" Pawing overhead, he snapped on the light. He walked over and shut the door. Still more nervously he jerked it open again and called out in a high, strident voice: "Victoria! Victoria!"
The voice, rich-toned and admirable in its restraint, crept in from almost anywhere in the shadows beyond the sill.
"You've been in this room, Victoria," he charged, as he faced her in the doorway.
"He have, sir."
Her small, somehow introspective eyes continued to regard him with a self-possession on which he had not counted. It rather threw him off. He found his own eyes shifting.
"See here. What are you going about in your bare feet for?"
"Hi have been accustomed to it, sir."
The dignity of the creature was disconcerting.
"Well---I--- You've been in this room. I don't suppose it could be avoided. You see, I presume, just what it is. And I must tell you that it suits my purposes to---well---to keep it dark."
"Hi can very well understand that, sir."
Mr. Ives shot a quick glance, his ever-sensitive spirit in arms.
"I shall have to ask you," he resumed, sharply---"I shall have to make it a point, in short, that you do not mention it to any one."
"Surely, sir." The eyes dwelt upon him with the strangest understanding. "Hi have been in trouble with the police myself, sir."
He felt himself growing hot all over. He glared. The dark face in the doorway remained inscrutable. Under this insidious, unsmiling mockery he found himself helpless. Morally, he fled the field.
"These," he shifted, weakly, "are a few of the little things I've been doing. Purely from memory, you understand. People I know. That is a self-portraint, not very good. This is John, the ice-boy. That to the left is Mr. Harrison, the Congregational---"
"Hi beg pardon, sir!"
Mr. Ives started. The black woman had come soundlessly and he saw her staring with a curious fixity at something near.
"Did Hi take you, sir, that this was the lad who fetches the ice?"
"Why, y-e-s." His mouth remained slightly ajar. Then, recollecting the ice-boy's self-confessed incivility, he seemed to understand. "And this," he went on, removing a damp cloth from the stand---"this is a half-length of Doctor Failing, not yet finished."
Victoria ame and, folding her arms over her bosum, gave to the piece the full power of her attention. Mr. Ives liked that.
"Tell me, sir, do you hate him, or is it for some one else, sir?"
This time he simply refused to credit the evidence of his ears. Had it been a smart high-school boy, yes; this strange, impenetrable negress, no. She had not said it. He turned his mind away.
"As I was remarking---not quite finished. The nose, now---" His restless fingers were in the clay. "Yes, the nose. I found out to-night." Catching up a tool, he raised a bolder outline in the clay. "There, that will come better." His voice gre lost, cloudy. He worked with a furious, divine precision…."Yes, yes, better. That will do."
He withdrew a nervous stride. And as he viewed the thing complete something cold came down over his soul and he could have wept. That nose, that impossible nose. Before it had looked faintly like the doctor, faintly. Now it looked like no one on earth. It was more than he could bear.
"Well, you be b-l-a-s-t-e-d!" Reaching out, he wrenched off the nose of clay. ANd then, as if he had tasted blood, all the rancor of weeks, mingled with tonight's venom against the doctor himself, carried him beyond the bounds.
"You will, will you!" The voice rasped in his throat. He beat the crumbling ruin with both fists. "Confound you to eternal perdition! Blast you forever! Take that! And that! And that!"
He felt exhausted and strangely satisfied. Resting his weary hands in the cool, muddled clay of Doctor Failing, he began to smile, a broken and vapid smile. And it was this smile that froze on his lips.
"Good Lord in heaven!" he gasped. "What's that?"
From behind him there came a sound, a wail, a beat of rhythmic, incoherent syllables, a chant of barbaric anathema. And along the back of his neck he felt the short hair coming to attention.
Wheeling, he beheld the woman transfigured. He saw her face like the face of some goddess of pagan vengeance carved in basalt, the eyes red-filmed, the lips moving thickly to the measure of the chant.
"Victoria! VICTORIA!" He might have been screeching at a stone.
Seeing one black, knotted fist lifting on high, and moved by an impulse not his own, he lunged forward to catch the descending blow. Glancing on his wrist, it did indeed fail of its mark on the head of John, the ice-boy, but the lad's outstretched arm suffered the spent violence---the left arm, broken clean above the elbow.
For the moment Mr. Ives could not trust himself to speak aloud.
"Merciful Powers! The creature is mad! Maniac! Epileptic!"
With the tigrine noiselessness peculiar to her the woman had regained the doorway. He cleared his throat roughly; he faced her.
"Victoria Thwaite! How just why did you do that?"
"Hi beg pardon, sir. Jolly shabby of me, sir, since the lad was yours to do with." The black head bowed with an arrogant humility, which did not prevent, however, a sidelong gleam of malignance. "At all events, 'twill serve him a lesson. 'Twill teach him better than to play the bounder with the woman Thwait, at all events."
Mr. Ives passed one hand slowly, wearly, over his brow. "You may go now," he sighed. "And breakfast---well---fairly early."
"Quite right, sir. Hi am afraid, sir, asking your pardon---what would you consider early? In my own island, now, we breakfast at half after eleven in the fore---"
"Island? Island? What island?"
"St Stephens, sir."
"And where, for goodness' sake, is St. Stephens?"
"That Hi can't rightly say, sir, saving that it is not a great way from Granada, and from Granada one comes six days on the sea."
"St. Stephens," he mused, when the whisper of her footfalls had died in the kitchenway. The name, and especially the idea of vast, azure ocean distances, intrigued him. Passing into the living-room, he ran a finger over the glossy cliff of the new encyclopedia.
"St. Stephens, eh?" He found "St. Stephens," a number of them, in fact, but this one seemed to do:
A small island in the Caribbean Sea, situated…[and so on]…area, 71 sq. m., pop….[and so on]….British sovereignty since 1795….Famous among the Lesser Antilles as the last stronghold of the Black Art (see Voodooism) brought from Africa by the slave forebears of the present inhabitants, and said to be practised even yet under cover of the almost impenetrable jungles which clothe the volcanic isle. Of late years a determined effort has been made by the British government to stamp out the barbaric belief, church and school attendance have been made compulsory, a large garrison maintained, and the deportation of numerous so-called "witch doctors" and "voodoo women" is serving somewhat to relieve the situation.
Mr. Ives's eyes followed his mind back. "(See Voodooism)"…
Voodooism: a term used broadly to define that portion of the religious beliefs of Central Africa which has to do with witchcraft and black magic; especially with the practice of evil transference. (See Fetishism.)
Mr. Ives saw "Fetishism."
The belief in, and practice of, the transference of an effect from a person to an image of said person. Common in some aspect to all religions from the earliest antiquity to modern times (see Salem Witchcraft). Especially in the river-basins of Central Africa, used to denote practice of inflicting bodily harm on an enemy through the infliction of a like harm on an effigy or image of said enemy, construced of wood, stone, clay, or other workable material. Performed commonly by professional practioners, "voodoo doctors," or "voodoo women," who are said to gain in this manner a not inconceivable power over their fellows. (See Theocratic Government.)
Mr. Ives did not see "Theocratic Government." Replacing the scattered volumes he put out the light and made his way to his bedroom. There, sinking into a chair, he began to laugh. After all the strain he had been through---well---the rich deep, utter funniness of the thing was too much to be put in words. He could only lie there and laugh….He went to sleep that night, as it were, laughing.
At breakfast he felt he could not look at her. Her momentous soundlessness, the consciousness of her eyes dwelling upon him with the darksome light of the secret-sharer---this was more than he could bear. His napkin was at his lips a good half of the time.
At luncheon a curiosity somehow unlooked for in this sphinxlike being found utterance. Her voice, pitched in a veiled key, came from behind him as she changed for the cheese and Bar-le-duc.
"You have had no word, sir?"
"No," he mumbled. "No, no, no. No word."
He couldn't trust himself to ask her what she was talking about.
"If it please you, sir," the rich, cathedral whisper went on, "at what hour is the ice in the habit of coming?"
"Ice? Ohhh!" He dived into his napkin. "Oh, about ---f-f-five."
He tried to work that afternoon, but found it hard to concentrate in the presence of the mutilated remains of Doctor Failing. Or if he kept his eye away from Failing, it was bound to fall on John, the ice-boy, imprecating Heaven with the stump of a devastated left arm. It was in this mood that he heard the voice of Victoria at the door.
That was all she said. But about that single syllable there was something curiously, inexorably authoritative. He followed. Not till he had come, blankly, almost to the kitchen did a sound from beyond make him halt.
"Oh, the ice! I see!" He gave a small, difficult laugh. "Yes, but Victoria, you know. I don't pay. Not by the---the day."
The dark head turned, and for an instant the eyes rested upon him. He followed. He passed through the kitchen, rubbing his hands.
"Ah---well, John, my boy---" He paused and strove to collect himself. "Oh, I---I---I thought it was John. Where's John to-day?"
Ferdinand, John's elder brother, wiped a sleeve over his face. "John's to home," he said. "In bed."
"Yeh. Darn fool's up to the roller-rink last night trying to pull some funny stuff, and it's a ride home on a shutter for John, and a month off work, I guess, with an arm broke."
Mr. Ives, finding his hands at large, stuffed them in his coat. "I---I see. It's too bad it should be his---his---right arm."
"Wrong again. Left. And the poor boob's left-handed."
"I---I---I see! I---I---thank you."
As he made his retreat through the kitchen he was conscious of the presence of the black woman, but he did not pause. Neither did he go to the studio. He went to his bedroom and, sinking down there in the same painted Windsor chair, he began once more to laugh. It was a queer laugh, a vaguely unwholesome laugh."
"Well, I'll be---be---" He laughed again. "Now that sort of a---a coincidence wouldn't happen one in a thousand years. But now that absurd darky will be dead certain--- Oh dear! Ha-ha! That's too good to keep. I must tell some one. Now there's the doctor. Doctor Failing…. But no, no---"
He began to feel a pain in his side, it seemed. He couldn't keep his mind off from the doctor.
"Really, I ought to go and see about that pain." He went and stared out of a window.
"But would he be there? That is, are---are these his office hours"
The thought of going out through the living-room was too appalling. Opening a window quietly, he got over the sill and dropped to the turf beneath. He went out of the yard hurriedly.
He was very much amused at himself, so amused that he grew weak. In the doctor's street, at the doctore's very doorstep, merriment so overcame him that it seemed he simply could not go on.
A maid opened the door to his somewhat staccato summons.
"Sorry, sir, but doctor is not in. Good day."
Mr. Ives thrust a desperate foot in the doorway. "Wait! I must see some one, Some one! Mrs. Failing, then!"
"Sorry, sir, but Mrs. Failing is---indisposed."
Mr. Ives felt that, on his free foot, he was beginning to dance. "I tell you once for all, indisposed or not---"
"I am very sorry indeed, sir---"
But at that moment, under a stronger impulse than the maid's, the door swung wide, disclosing the drawn, white face of Doctor Failing's wife. There was something in her eyes that sent him back a step.
"Daisy!" he breathed.
Her answering voice was steady, colorless:
"I'm strong enough, Robert. For God's sake, Robert, if you have any message, any news, anything, fon't beat about the bush. Tell me!"
Mr. Ives's mouth fell open slowly. "I?" He repeated it in a far, small voice. "I?"
"I ask you, Robert, for pity's sake, please. What's happened to Edward? Your face has told me that you know."
"My f-f-face?" Summoning all his will-power and fastening his eyes on a mosaic camel woven in the hall rug, he set out desperately to mend his fences.
"I don't know what you're talking about, Daisy. I came here about---a---pain. These are the doctor's office hours, aren't they? Well---"
He had to step quickly to catch the swaying figure.
"Oh!" she sobbed into his shoulder. "then it's---maybe it's all--- It might be--- Something may just be---"
He would have liked to run, but he felt that he mustn't run now.
"Daisy, if you would---well---tell me what's---what's wrong?"
"Wrong? Oh, Rob, no! I'm sure it's all right. He'll come presently, or he'll 'phone, and then it'll be all explained, and how we'll laugh! It's all just some awful mistake. He was at the Ironwalls' last night, and I'm sure it must have been like this: he must have been called from there---probably an out-of-town case---traveling---matter of life and death---hurry---no time to 'phone. Yes, he's somewhere, Rob; somewhere! And I know he'd be terribly put out if I got nervous now and went flying off to the police---"
Mr. Ives felt his face blanching another shade.
"P-police? Oh, I--- No---out of the question. The doctor would---"
He thought in an awful way of the police, of detectives, of men in golf-caps with dark-lanterns, of courts and cells.
"No, no, Daisy; he would be angry at that. Men are so queer that way---sensitive you know---the publicity and all. No, never the police, except as a last resort. And even then---"
His brain, becoming enormously active, canvassed the future.
"And even then, Daisy, even if after days---weeks---you've heard nothing---why--- They're such a bungling lot. All they ever do is get everybody's picture in the papers---and generally there's a lot of discussion in the papers---"
She was staring at him now, wide-eyed. He steeled himself to go on.
"And---and folks are always writing in with the craziest theories about the victim's home life, and is past, and all that, and---and sometimes I think it would just be better when anything like this---that is, if anything had happened---sometimes I think the best thing to do for all concerned would be not to do anything.
"Why, Robert I-v-e-s!"
"Yes, but not the police, Daisy. As a friend, as an old friend, as a friend of your husband's, I'll do what I can, myself. Bit if the worst should come to the worst, as a friend, an old friend---"
Mrs. Failing studied him with dilated eyes. "How strangely you talk, Robert Ives! What do you know?"
Mopping his hot face, he backed out of the door and down the steps.
"Nothing!" he cried. "A-a-absolutely nothing!" And he fled.
Again it was sunset, again the hour of the "Five-fifty-eight" and the "Six-ten." As on the evening before, the twilight, blurring reality, bathed the waste of building-lots behind the Esplanade with a mystery not its own, brimming half-excavated cellars with pools of shadow, touching with the wand of dark allurement the open mouths of drains….
It must have been down this slope, across the this still-born-desert, that the doctor had started homeward on the night before. It was somewhere here that he had been making his way, surrounded by the ruin of things which had not been, his eyes perhaps on the sky, when---
When what? What had happened to the doctor? What monstrous, silent, occult catastrophe?
As he passed the open drains, Mr. Ives's gaze, without willing it, strove to probe their gloomy depths. His feet faltered at the brink of a cellar. His eyes, searching down, could make out nothing in the obscurity overlying the floor, unless, perhaps, there might be something in the farthermost corner, something quite shapeless and still….His mind, for all he could do, turned back to the memory of clay, lying shapeless and beaten and damp and gray in his studio at home….He turned and walked away swiftly. He stumbled over loose bricks. Once an abandoned fence-post brought him up with a shudder. He saw a moon, a fat and pallid moon, rising behind the house where Eleanor lived.
Eleanor! He stood still and gazed at the silhouette of Ironhurst, black against the moonrise. Eleanor! A laugh rose to his lips, harsh, sardonic, the laugh of a man he had never known. Eleanor!
The stillness and the dark were broken; he jumped to avoid an onrush. He became aware that he had been standing in the middle of the Esplanade, and that it was a car that had passed, or, rather, had come to a halt to stare him down with one red eye. And then he heard his own name called, and the voice was Eleanor's.
An instinct, dormant in us all, told him to keep up appearances.
"Yes?" He moved forward, staring dubiously at the dim car.
Her tone was one he so used to adore in the days that were gone.
"Robert Ives, what are you doing? Standing in the middle of the road---dreaming. Come here!"
He failed to obey. He had been right. It was not the banker's car.
"Rob, for Heaven's sake, if you haven't anything better to do than moon at the moon, jump in and we'll take you home! That is, if Mr. Kyle doesn't mind---"
"Sure thing!" It was the voice of young Kyle. "Get right in."
"We're just out for a spin, Rob, that's all."
"That's right, Ives. Here, I'll let down the spare seat."
Mr. Ives folded his arms over his breast.
"Don't bother!" he said. "Don't trouble yourselves!"
That was all. Wheeling, he strode away into the night of the desert. How long he roamed there he couldn't say. Now his moon-shadow ran before him, now behind. There was a curious pain in his palms.
"I'll kill him! I'll kill him, kill him, kill him!" Something he had never known before dried his tongue. "I'll kill him!"
Realizing for the first time what he had been saying, he recoiled. "Oh, but no! No, no, no, no! Not that!"
He found himself standing on the buttress of the hill far in the rear of Ironhurst. Before him, beneath him, rendered up as it were to some obscure omnipotence lodged in him, the plain of the world stretched away, gleaming in the mist-pale effulgence of the moon. He stood very straight; into the channels of his lungs poured the night air, cool and sweet, like a sweet poison.
"No, no, not kill him. All the same, I could---he ought to be---"
He was sensible of the terrible gift of decision….His roving eye fell upon a spark creeping microscopic over the plain. That was the headlight of a tramcar on the Fenwich & Northern line, full of Bloomsbury bricklayers ad their wives. An electric car!
From that unsettling symbol of modernity, his mind his eyes to the vast faint yellowness warming the blue of the moon on the farther plain. The city! Full of other electric cars---full of telephones, laboratories, dumbwaiters, peanut-machines, police stations, art lectures, Christian churches, moving-picture shows….
He put a hand to his head, staggered by the twentieth century.
"Heavens! Where have I been? What insane idea have I been---"
Still keeping his hand pressed to his head, he turned away. He walked resolutely down the hill, keeping his eyes away from the pale solicitation of cellars and unfinished drains. A nervous smile played about his lips. He though definitely of little things.
"Tomorrow I shall wear the new shirt with the plain bosom. The hot-water faucet in the bathroom wants a new washer…."
Feeling already stronger, he put his rallying sanity to a test:
"I thought last night all these queer notions of mine might be cheese. But it can't be cheese. And that pain in my side. Really I must see about myself. I must see a---doctor. I shall go tomorrow and see Doctor Failing. By tomorrow he will be home!" He buttoned up his coat and walked more briskly. "And as for Victoria, must as I hate to think of it, Victoria must go. I can't have a crazy person about the house."
Returning home from the extreme west of the Esplanade region, he came naturally by the side way and through the alley. At the alley gate he paused to peer at a shape looming under the chestnut-tree his great-anut Geraldine had planted in the back yard. Being somewhat at a loss, he coughed under shelter of his hand.
"Ah---yes?" he queried. "What is it?"
Receiving for answer only a slow, dark gesture, he became aware that it was Victoria. He had it in mind to take the woman sharply to task on general principles, but in her air he seemed to sense a warning. Opening the gate with an inner protest, he approached her.
"Well," he demanded in a low tone, "what is it now?"
"Hi thought best, sir."
"Thought best, what?"
The glossy head bent slowly and the eyes went to the turf under the tree. In the cloistral gloom, which seemed deepened rather than relieved by the meager infiltration of the moon, he strained his eyes.
"Victoria, what on earth are you doing with the coal-shovel?"
He found his own answer. Upon his honor, it looked like a grave---a small, new-dug grave, with the sod piled neatly beside it.
"The other, sir, Hi have buried over the under the rose-bush."
"The ice-lad's arm, sir."
Mr. Ives was staring at a round thing resting on the grass. That, he discovered, was the top of his modeling-stand. Upon it,just as waning fury had left it, lay the mutilated clay of the doctor.
"Hi thought best, sir, for I am rather more than half certain the house is being watched, sir."
Mr. Ives straightened up. His voice rasped in his throat. "Tommyrot, Victoria! Perfect tommyrot!"
"Hi've no doubt you are right in thinking so, sir."
"Thinking what, may I ask?" He studied her with suspicion.
"Why, sir, that they cannot have found us out so soon. That would be jolly keen of them, sir. It was only that I saw a head peeping over the fence, and the chap had got a golfing-cap on, and he had a way---"
Mr. Ives ran a finger around the inside of his standing collar. "Tommyrot! Perfect and---and---utter---tommyrot!"
"Quite right, sir." Bending, Victoria lifted the table-top nearer the edge of the grave. "Shall Hi, or would you prefer, sir?"
"Fiddlesticks!" Lifting an impulsive foot, he kicked the bothersome stuff off into the hole. "Out of sight, out of mind. Give me the shovel," he said. He knew his face was red. "And now," he said, in a harsh, deliberate voice, when the dark business was done and they had come back to the back steps---"and now you will do me the kindess, Victoria, not to be any longer absolutely absurd."
The strange creature turned to gaze back at the shadowy mound.
"Hit is simply, sir, that Hi have been in trouble before. But Hi can see now it would have been too sporting of them to run us to earth so quickly. Unless---unless you have been talking, sir."
"Talking? I?" With a kind of horror he called back to view that scene in the doctor's hall, on the doctor's steps.
"It was talking had me before, sir. It was a yellow woman by name of the Harris woman, sir. Hi had set boils on the cable agent's wife for this woman, and she talked most indiscreetly, sir."
Anything Mr. Ives could think to say seemed inadequate.
In the gloom Victoria looked tall, immensely tall. Her gaze, abandoning the graves, seemed to search the profile of the fences.
Leaving her there, he went into the house….
By the evening of the second day following Mr. Ives's friends were telling him that he should see a doctor. He did look ill, there was no mistaking the fact. In a sense, given his heredity and his bringing-up, he would have been ashamed had he not looked ill.
"There's no excuse," his neighbor, Mr. Hemenway, told him on the walk the third morning, "in your failing to see a doctor."
"Failing?" he echoed, sharply. "Failing---to see a---doctor? Now, precisely, Mr. Hemenway, what do you mean by that?"
"Why---why---just what I say!"
Mr. Hemenway eyed him with wonder and uneasiness. At lunch he told his wife that he would hardly know young Ives lately.
Eleanor Ironwall remarked the change in him more keenly perhaps than any one else. Relying on a woman's intuition, she was quite sure she know what the matter was. It troubled her conscience, but she didn't see what she could do if young Kyle would keep coming.
As for young Kyle himself, he affected to be amused by Mr. Ives. He mentioned it that third evening as he and Eleanor sat on the steps.
"I suppose," he began, nodding toward a figure standing very erect in the middle distance, gazing down over the plain spread out beneath him like the kingdoms of the world---"I suppose you've known him a long time, Eleanor?"
"Yes," the girl answered, gravely, "a very long time."
"Well, he's probably all right when you get to know him, but a funny thing--- You noticed he came in the car with me to-day. Well, I picked him up, or, rather, he picked me up. Not here---oh no; 'way down the line. I was coming up through Bloomsbury at a good clip and I saw a fellow in the road ahead. I gave him the horn. Nothing stirring. I peeked at the speedometer and I said to myself, 'Good night!" thinking, or course, it was a constable out for game. Nothing of the sort. When I pulled up, here it was this fellow Ives.
"'Good Heaven!' said he. 'Upon my word, it's Mr. Kyle!'
"'The same,' said I, sitting tight and waiting to see.
"'What luck!' said he. 'Happen to be going my way?'
"It would have been all right if he hadn't got off that old one about the world's being a small place, after all, and how this wouldn't have happened once in a lifetime. That got my goat, because I could bet dollars to doughnuts he'd taken the 'Three-fifty' down just on the chance of holding me up for the ride….But what did get my goat was the way he stared at me all the way up from Bloomsbury. I bet his eyes weren't off me three minutes altogether.
"'Think you'll know me when you see me again?' I asked him.
"He just hemmed and hawed. By and by I gave him another.
"'If you were an artist, Ives, why, I'd think you were going to paint a picture of me or something.'
"That got his goat. Honest, I thought he'd jump out of the seat.
"'No!' he yelled. 'No!' Actually yelled, right out---"
Breaking off at a warning "'Shhh!" from the girl, the narrator looked up to see Mr. Ives approaching. "All right," he muttered, "but all the same if he begins staring at me again---"
Mr. Ives did begin to stare at him again. In the gathering shades of night the steadfast regard took on a quality (it seemed to young Kyle) consuming and sinister. He shifted his weight angrily.
"Say! Look here, Ives---"
But Eleanor had come between them.
"Rob! the chrysanthemums are going fast and you haven't seen them at all this year." She slipped an arm in his. "Come!" And in another tone, as they moved off: "Rob, you're not well. Won't you do one thing to please me? Won't you go and see a doctor?"
She was aware that he had halted and was staring at her fixedly. In the open, under the immensity of the evening sky, the event gave to itself a publicity which made it a dozen times more appalling.
"Rob!" she implored. "What is it? Why do you look at me so?"
He spoke in a low, tight-throated voice: "Eleanor, do you or do you not, intend to marry me? I must know."
He advanced the pace she had fallen back. "I must know now, Eleanor. There are reasons."
"But, Rob---I---we've talked it all over, you know---and there's father---"
This strange, transfigured Mr. Ives took hold of her wrist.
"Father? Father? For the little comfort of your father, then, would you send another man's soul---my soul---my immortal soul---"
She dragged at his hand. She stared at him.
"You don't understand," he breathed. "But horrible things! Horrible and awful and unspeakable things!"
"Robert, you're not yourself."
His grip slackened; a shudder of despair seemed to pass over him.
"No, God knows I'm not myself. You're right Eleanor, in not wanting to have anything more to do with me."
"But, Rob! Dear Rob!"
His voice, rising harsh and embittered, drowned her out:
"No, no; take him! Take your Kyle and put and end to all this wretched comedy. Don't you think I've seen from the first---"
Frantically, with an eye on the figure approaching across the grass, she tried to stay his words. But they would not be stayed.
"No, take him, I say. You're free, quite free---quite free---"
The voice of young Kyle was heard. One would know him for the kind that would tolerate no annoyance to ladies.
"Say, what's up? Say look here now, Ives!"
"Eleanor," said Mr. Ives, in a level voice, "good-by!" Turning slowly, he allowed his eyes to rest on young Kyle. "May you be very happy," he said, and bowed. Into his voice had come a something indefinable and new, a ghost of diabolic irony.
He began a deliberate withdrawal. In the gloaming his figure grew moment by moment more remote, chimerical. His gaze to the last remained on young Kyle, and through his musing wound a thread of sardonic reverie:
"The left eye is a shade higher than the right. I must remember."
He turned and walked swiftly. Not even at the gateway, where last his eyes had fallen on the mortal frame of Doctor Failing, did he falter. He refused to think of that, of anything. In the darkroom of his brain he bore the head and shoulders of young Kyle, flawless, photographic. Nothing from without must touch it. Nothing should touch it. The certainty of his power to hold it took on a quality almost of the prophetic….
Passing through the doctor's old street, he brushed off with an impatient hand the housemaid who would have stopped him.
"I can see no one now! No one! I'm not to be bothered!"
"But Mrs. Failing, sir, she says---"
He increased his pace, clinging to the inner vision.
"Please, I beg of you, not now! Later!"
"But, sir, Mr. Ives, just a moment---"
It was abominable of the creature. He heard her voice fainter, farther away: "Mr. Ives, it's something about the---p-o-l-i-c-e---"
It was now, he felt, or never. If he turned if for one moment he allowed himself to hesitate, he was lost. By a last effort of the will he carried through, bringing the precious head and shoulders of young Kyle safely into the haven of Everglade Avenue.
Letting himself into the house and into the studio, he turned on the light.
"Clay!" he murmured. "Clay!"
He had a cracker-box full of it, kept moist by swathing cloths.
"Clay!" His hands tore at the cloths. "Clay!" His fingers, sinking in, clove to the cool stuff, like a man's throat to water after the long desert.
"So!" he breathed, lifting it out in huge, sweet, moist lumps and shaping it roughly on the table-top where he would work. "Yes, so!"
He had no time to-night to put on his working-smock of blue; no time even to remove his coat. As he wrought, surely, swiftly, the flare of the light overhead showed the gray mud creeping higher and higher up the sleeves of his best serge. He neither knew nor cared.
"There! Yes! Ah! Ah, but that's it!"
Perspiration bathed his face and ran down his neck.
"And the right eye is a shade lower than the left. Quite so."
His collar began to wild.
"Capital!" he muttered. "Capital!"
* * *
The next day was Sunday. It was just as well no one saw Mr. Ives that day, shaken as he was by the peculiar exhaustion which follows any wild indulgence in the occult. He remained indoors all day, pacing from room to room, or pausing for minutes at a time to gaze out of a rear window (with a strange lassitude) at the new, faint swelling of the turf under the lilac-bush by the stoop.
It was Victoria who, taking matters into her own hands, had buried there the broken clay of young Kyle, knowing, as the good woman did, that if this be done immediately and under cover of the night, then the earthly envelope of the victim himself, no matter where his strange ruin may have overtaken him, is not likely to be found by any police constable that ever walked the earth.
This, to Victoria, was almost an axiom of her calling. That Mr. Ives affected to be unaware of it puzzled her. That he was a practitioner of standing she could not question; she had known many in the islands, and had heard of other and more epic ones at the lips of her grandmother, who had come from the backlands of the Ivory Coast, but the authority of this cold-country white was beyond anything her experience had yet touched. And this made his incomprehension in minor phases of his profession seem only the more appalling.
As for Mr. Ives himself, now that it was all over, he had the oddest feeling about young Kyle. Young Kyle was not so much forgiven as forgotten. By evening it was almost as if the assistant cashier at Mr. Ironwall's bank had never been. In an imaginative-digestive way, he did not "go so far" as Doctor Failing had. No meat will ever taste so sweet to the tiger as it tasted to the cub.
By noon of the Monday, had it not been for one thing, he would have been quite himself again---not of course, his old self, as at the public schools of Paragon Heights and the house of the immaculate Geraldine White had known him. But to all outward seeming, had it not been for one thing---
The one thing, in short, was the wife (or should we say the widow?) of Doctor Failing. Had Daisy come straight in that afternoon; had she taken him by storm; then he had a feeling he could have faced her---even that he could have faced her down. After all, she was only a woman….It was this growing sense of an assault by irresolution, this half-shrinking beleaguerment of his home, which was too much for him. When he had seen her coming up the walk, faltering at the steps, turning back, retreating almost in headlong panic---when he had seen this for the third time through a crack in a front window-shade, I say, he began to take a really serious view of the matter.
"I wonder---! By Heavens!"
Turning, he found Victoria behind him, a question smoldering in her small, close-set eyes. He had an impulse to tell her all, to blurt out who it was that hovered so before the house, to confess that he had talked, precisely as the woman called the Harris woman, for whom the boils had been set on the cable-agent's wife, had talked---most indiscreetly. He had the impulse, but he mastered it.
"It is nothing," he muttered. "She is nobody, nobody. She'll go away presently." Avoiding the eyes, he turned to roam again.
"But by Heavens!" he considered, with growing conviction. "that's precisely what happened. Daisy has allowed this thing to work on her mind and she's got herself into a stew and gone running to the police--- The police! Yes, that's what the maid said the other night---'Something about the---the---police!"
It must have been the humidity again, for, although the thermometer outside the bedroom window stood at a bare sixty, yet he found himself beginning to perspire freely.
"And now," he broke out, bitterly---"now, to salve her conscience, she feels that she's got to let me know what she's done. And yet---yet she's afraid to face me. A pretty pickle! a pretty pickle!"
He drew himself up a little straighter and folded his arms.
"After all," he announced in a firmer tone, "there is no law in the country to prevent me from destroying a work of art, done by me, still remaining my property, in my possession, and not covered by insurance. Nor is there any law to prevent my burying it in the back yard if I feel like it. Or in the front yard, or the cellar. My position is impregnable."
Mopping his brow, he went on tiptoe to have mone more peep through the curtain crack. Daisy had not gone away. She was there at the very top of the steps; in fact, her eyes fixed with a despairing fascination on the door, her hands pressed to cheeks on which the white of fright did battle with the rose of shame. This time she was coming in.
"My position," Mr. Ives repeated, hoarsely, "is impregnable."
And, turning, he fled. He went by the kitchen way and the secret cemetery of the back yard, speeding light-footed in his red morocco slippers. Red morocco slippers! He became aware that he was hatless, too, that his hair was mussed, and that a man as white as a saint could hardly afford to be seen about town in a long house-gown of horizon blue and old gold. Heavens! Faltering, he groaned yet more deeply at sound of a door-bell creeping out of the house behind him. Come what might, then, he had to go. He laid an impulsive hand on the alley gate. The following instant he withdrew it, as if the gate had been hot, and, with his eyes protruding slightly from their sockets, stared at the man who seemed to have arisen from the ground on the other side.
The man had on a golfing-cap. This fact impressed itself upon Mr. Ives, as also the fact that the man seemed polite---polite enough, at any rate, to shield with one hand a somehow introductory cough.
Mr. Ives found himself unable to speak. Evidently taking silence for affirmation, the man in the cap went on to make himself known.
"My name is Barleyplanter, Mr. E. G. Barleyplanter. I always like everything open and aboveboard, Mr. Ives, and so I'll tell you right off that I'm connected with the Metropolitan District Police, and---" his eyes, from under their somewhat heavy lids, weighed the effect of every falling word---"and I just thought we'd have a little talk. Eh?"
The time had come now when, in simple justice to himself, Mr. Ives had to open his mouth.
"My position," he announced in a strengthless voice, "is impregnable."
"Oh, no doubt, no doubt!" Mr. Barleyplanter rubbed his hands in the jolliest way. "No doubt in the world!" Getting inside the gate, he went on in a loud tone: "Shall we talk here? The neighbors---"
"Oh, no, no---" Mr. Ives had hold of his elbow. "Do come in!"
He had forgotten Mrs. Failing. He was to remember her presently, however. Piloting the police agent through the kitchen and into the living-room, he became aware of her there, a vague, pale silhouette against the dimity curtains of a window. She wheeled with a nervous cry at the sound of their entrance and flung out a hand.
"Robert, who is that?"
"That?" he echoed. It was fortunate, after all, that she had come, for new he could be angry---angry at her who as a girl had been his friend, only as a woman to betray his trust, his advice, and himself. And anger gave him a strength which he could have found, perhaps, in no other quarter. "That?" he echoed, with a poisoned sarcasm. "Now I suppose you haven't the vaguest idea, have you? Allow me, then, to introduce to you Mr. Barleyplanter---of the Metropolitan District Police.
If a word escaped her, it was inaudible; if shame flooded her face, it was hidden by her hands. She actually ran, out of the room and out of the house. Mr. Ives would have run after her, a parting shot trembling undelivered on his lips, but Mr. Barleyplanter had somehow got in his way at the door, where he murmured something about its being very interesting, and all that. He was getting a notebook out of his pocket.
"You know, of course, Mr. Ives, why I am here?"
Mr. Ives took a chair and pressed his temples between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand.
"I know nothing," he said.
Mr. Barleyplanter took a chair, too. He began to slap his thighs by way of good-fellowship. He had dealt with such cases before.
"Come, come; look here, old man, I like you too much to want to see you do yourself harm by playing 'possum. I might as well tell you, straight off---Well, here's the proposition I'll make. If you want to make a clean breast of it and tell us exactly what you know---"
"I know nothing," Mr. Ives stared sullenly at a flower in the rug.
"So! Flatly deny all knowledge, do you? You'll be able, then, no doubt, to explain your actions---"
"You were seen with the man."
"Seen with him? Well, I like that! Can't I be seen with a man without being accused of---of---"
"Of---of whatever I'm accused of….And, besides," he rushed on, letting loose the floodgates of speech, "the man was drunk. I give you my solemn word, Mr. Barleyplanter, the last time I laid eyes on him was at the Ironwalls' gate. It was a dark night, I tell you, and if he started home across-lots, with all those open drains and cellars and everything, why, anything could have happened to him, anything! And he had been drinking---heavily!"
"Drinking?" The other pursed his lips with a trace of impatience. "That's a new point. I didn't know he drank."
"Well, he does--that is, did---does, I mean. Ask his wife!"
"Wife?" Mr. Barleyplanter's impatience grew deeper. How could they expect a man to do the work if they failed to give him the data?
"They never told me he had a wife."
"Why, that---" Mr. Ives waved a wild hand toward the door. "That was his his wife!"
"Oh? So-o-o?" Mr. Barleyplanter pursed his lips still tighter and shot a sidelong glance at Mr. Ives. This did put another face on the matter. "Tell me, has Mrs. Kyle been in the habit---"
"Mrs. Kyle?" Amazement lifted Mr. Ives bodily from his seat.
"Not Kyle!" he shouted. "I thought all the while you were talking about---about---" An eleventh-hour realization that he was getting in deeper than ever sealed his lips. But then he couldn't be quiet. What if the detective insisted upon knowing of whom he had been thinking?
"As to Kyle," he stammered, "Kyle---about Kyle, now---"
"Yes, Mr. Ives; about Kyle?"
"About Kyle---I---I know nothing. Absolutely nothing!"
Mr. Barleyplanter began to lose his air of jollity. He drew his chair closer, placed a finger on Mr. Ives's knee, and eyed him sternly.
"My friend, that won't do. That won't go down. You ought to know by this time that Mr. Ironwall is nobody's fool."
"Ironwall? Mr. Ironwall? What's Mr. Ironwall got to do with this?"
"I've a suspicion you'll know what he's got to do with it before you get through with him….But now, look here; let me help your memory a little bit. What did you do on the day before the night of Kyle's disappearance? I'll tell you. You took the three-fifty train down from Paragon Heights. Why? You didn't go to the city. You got off the train at Bloomsbury. Why? At Bloomsbury you had a meeting with this Kyle. Why? It's an interesting fact that not even your closest friends had the slightest idea you were well acquainted with Kyle. You had pretended, I believe, even to dislike Kyle. If you can explain, then, this prearranged meeting at Bloomsbury---"
Mr. Ives's face was growing moment by moment more purple.
"It was not prearranged! And I can explain nothing!"
"I'm afraid there'll come a time when you find that you can. And you'll also be able to explain just what occurred in the time between four-thirty-five, when you left Bloomsbury in Kyle's car, and five-twenty-five, when you were seen by Mr. Ironwall at his place in Paragon Heights….And, another thing," he added, presently, "and that's why you've been acting so strangely of late."
Mr. Ives turned a gaze of suddenly deepened bitterness. "Did Elean---Did Miss Ironwall tell you that?"
"Miss Ironwall doesn't enter into the question, Mr. Ives. The person we have to deal with in this matter is Miss Ironwall's father."
"Damn her father!"
Mr. Barleyplanter bent over his little book and for a moment nothing was heard in the room but the faint scraping of his pencil. When he got up he took his cap out of his pocket.
"That is all, then, Mr. Ives, that you care to say?"
"I tell you, I've said nothing."
"Very well." At the door Mr. Barleyplanter hesitated. "By the way, I suppose I can count on you to stay here quietly till you're wanted? Otherwise, of course, I shall have to take steps---"
"Oh yes, yes---you can cout on me---quite---" Mr. Ives stared straight ahead of him at a cold space on the wall. "And besides," he added in a weak, thick voice, "my position is impregnable." He remained seated precisely as he was for some time after the door had slammed in the wake of the agent of police.
And then, quite of a sudden, he jumped up. He went in haste to his room, his clothes-closted. He went to the closet in the hall by the bathroom. He got his suit-case, his clean shirts, his night things. He took stock of available moneys. There was six dollars and odd change in his clothes, twenty dollars in a drawer, a fifty-dollar bond certificate of the Fifth, of Victory, Loan tucked under the blotter on the desk. It made a pitiful stake on which to face a new world, and to face it, moreover, a fugitive. But the rest of his moderate possession was in the bank, and the bank was Mr. Ironwall's….He got his hat. He got a light coat.
He took the precaution to peep before he tried the front way, and he was glad of this, for, although he could not be sure, it seemed to his heightened senses that the vague, penumbral shadow of an invisible watcher lay across the strip of door-step he could see…. He tried the back way; tried it at something almost like a rush.
And there again he was brought up short. It was no hidden shadower that halted him this time, but the spectacle of another fugitive in the act of stealing out of the kitchen door. At sight of her it passed quite from his mind, once and for all, that he was a fugitive himself.
She turned with a start. She had had trouble with the police before. Her austere detachment had gone sour; in her eyes, habitually dark with introspection, whiteness made narrow rims; on her tight black head a hat of black straw with a poppy was set awry and in her hands she bore the striped box in which the had had come, a cotton umbrella, and a brown-canvas suit-case exuding the hasty end of things.
She made an effort to straighten her had. "Yes, sir; quite right, sire?" she defied him in a sullen tone.
"You!" was all Mr. Ives said. "Even you!"
He had never touched the depths of bitterness before. The poisoned iron entered his soul. For the first time in his life he understood how a sinking ship must feel when the rats begin to leave.
The rat herself stood erect under her wild burden. "But surely Hi have a right, sir. The lady at the employment place said, sir, if Hi was not satisfied with the position---"
Mr. Ives interrupted her with a sneer. "And while she was telling you all that she didn't drop so much as a hint, I suppose, about a little thing called a 'week's notice'?"
If she answered he did not hear. Bitterness had made way for a stronger wine; the anger of the avenger engulfed him.
"Never mind!" he cried. "Go! Go your way!"
She did not go. Instead of that she turned to search his face with eyes of a curious, submerged alarm.
"And what, sir, might be the meaning of that?"
A note of laughter came out of his throat, high and brittle.
"No! Go! Just go on where you will and leave me here alone---alone with my clay and my memory. I'm anxious to see how far you'll get with that peculiar lower lip of yours and that high cheek-bone sloping down at an angle of about ten degrees into the lower rim of those rather deep, close-set eye-sockets of yours. Yes, go! Ha-ha-ha!"
He reeled a little as he turned away, leaving that awful note of mirth hanging in the air over the colored woman's head.
The die was cast. Definitely he had set his face against the world. Coming to the living-room, he fell to roaming up and down like a panther, his ears attuned to the sounds of a renewed and furious domesticity in the kitchen, the penitential rattling of stove things, the propitiatory banging of pans and kettles, the swish of a frightened broom. That he had done a thing which ten thousand thousand men and women have tried to do and failed was nothing. That, simply, as if it were offhand, he had hit upon the only adequate solution of the servant problem; this fact, stunning as it was, was scarcely more than a straw in the wind of his personal triumph. He roamed in circles. He was drunk with a drunkeness given to few, and the more insidious by ten times, coming, as it did, upon the empty stomach of fright.
"Touch me, will they? Lock me up? I'd like to see them!"
He almost wished Victoria had persisted in going. Gazing at the closed door of his studio, thinking of the clay beyond it, the waiting, hungry clay, he began to think it would have been rather splendid to have had her flee, like a fish at the end of a diabolical line. While he was at the figure he could have put in the bag, and the cotton umbrella, and the straw hat with the poppy, all awry on the clay topknot. That would have been funny; screamingly funny…."
As for that man Barleyplanter, the preposterous upstart---
As for Mr. Ironwall---
Thinking of Mr. Ironwall, an unhealthy pallor crept over his face, and the fingers of the hands clasped behind him knotted a little. What business had Mr. Ironwall meddling in his affairs? Using his name? Bandying it about with the police? As all the indignities he had suffered there piled up in his memory to this culminating indignity his face grew cold and hard.
"Uncle George," he broke out, hoarsely. "Damn you! Damn you, I say, for an overbearing, intolerable, meddlesome---"
"Why, Robert Eggleston Ives!"
It would be false to say that he was not startled by this exclamation coming out of the shadows of the room which he had considered empty save for himself. A week ago he would have turned perfectly crimson at being caught with such and expression on his lips, especially by Eleanor; he would have wished to die, or at least to sink through the floor. But now, save for the first sharp intake of breath, there was no perceptible breach in the wall of his contained and icy anger.
"Eleanor," he demanded in a level tone, "how did you come here?"
"The front door was unlocked. I walked in."
"How long ago?"
"About ten minutes, I should say."
He continued to peer at the wing-chair in the corner and the dim loom of the girl half hidden in its shadows. It was not odd that he had failed to notice her before. Dusk was coming on, and with it the added pall of an autumnal storm. The weather, which had failed so signally in the way of portents on the day of Victoria's arrival, was not to be caught off guard again. It grew wild and dark to the dark wildness of that night which was even now beginning to close down over the life of Robert Ives.
It was curious to think that once this girl could have been in love with the man that he had been.
"Why?" he murmured, by and by. "Why did you come?"
"Because I had to know, Robert. I can't go on in this terrible, terrible cloud, listening to what they say….I want you to tell me, Rob. What has happened to Sterling Kyle?"
"Where is he?"
"Why do you want to know?"
"Because I shall go crazy if I don't know what you know."
Mr. Ives lifted his hands ever so slightly, laughed with a low, sardonic indulgence, and turned away to gaze out of the rear window where leaves were blowing over the softly mounded turf. The moan of the wind came muffled to his ears; his soul drank of the storm; a dark disdain touched the corners of his lips.
"I suppose you'll be asking me next where Doctor Failing is."
"Doctor Failing? I didn't know he was anywhere---in particular. And besides, what's Doctor Failing got to do with Sterling Kyle?"
"Absolutely nothing….Except that they both happen to be gone, and that neither of them will ever be found. That's all."
"How do you know they'll never be found?"
"How do I know?" A burst of unbridled laughter rose to his lips, but he stilled it with a chuckle. "How? Ha-ha-ha!"
There was no word further from the wing-chair, but he heard soft footfalls coming toward him. Her voice sounded behind his shoulder.
"Robert, I don't understand you. I used to know you, and now, somehow, I don't know you any more. I used to---"
"---to love me," he supplied in a steady tone.
There was something in the gasp behind him that aroused a diabolical aggressiveness in his soul. Wheeling, he grasped her wrist.
"Yes, and even now," he cried. "Even now! What if Kyle was in my way! He's no longer in my way! What if another man---"
It was hard to say what was happening, but there was a noise in the kitchen, mingled of ruffled protests, threats, bangings, and tramplings. It was as if a wind blew through the house, a heavy wind of anger that swung back the door ito the living-room with a sound of roaring.
"Is my daughter here?"
In the gloom which had now grown really profound the figure of the banker could be discerned, bent forward and rocking a little on half-crouching limbs. One could see he was not himself.
"Robert, you hound, don't try to hid. Is my daughter here?"
In the tone, even more than in the words, there was a quality of domineering brutality to which the other's venom leaped as a flame to vaporing wax. The devil had him now. He walked slowly half-way across the room and snapped on the overhead lights, flooding the room with a spacious, incandescent glare.
"Your daugher, as you may see, Mr. Ironwall, is here."
"And being here," Mr. Ives went on, ignoring the epithet with easy score---"and being here, what of it?"
The banker's face was growing purpler all the while.
"I'll talk to you, young man, at the proper time….And now, Eleanor---" His eyes, slightly bloodshot, went to the corner where the girl, dazed by the sudden irruption of noise and light, stood with her hands pressed to her whitening cheeks. "Come, Eleanor!"
Seeing that in her bewilderment she had not moved, he repeated it in a shout:
He moved toward her, almost menacingly. But Mr. Ives was in his way.
"Just a moment, if you please. Just a moment!"
This sort of thing, to Mr. Ironwall, was more than incredible; it was impossible. He was the president of a bank.
"And by the way," the other filled up the blank in a voice that was now almost a purr, "by the way, aren't you going to ask me some questions, too? I thought everybody---"
The banker had got his breath back.
"The police," he roared, "are paid to ask questions of your sort. Personally, I don't care to soil my lips with any further words….It's enough, God knows, to realize that I once looked upon you almost in the light of a son---"
"Or perhaps a son---in-law?"
"Why to you ask 'what?' I think you heard."
For a space of seconds, in which Mr. Ives maintained his pose of punctilious, if disdainful, attention, silence lay in the room. And then Eleanor's voice was heard, scarcely more than a whisper husky with imploration.
"Don't father, don't! Can't you see he's sicke? Oh, oh, don't!"
"Please!" Mr. Ives bade her in a sharp aside, without removing his eyes from the anatomy of her father's face. The word served only to draw upon himself the girl's dispairing plea.
"No, Robert, no! Think! Look, Robert! Can't you see he's not himself?"
"I am only waiting for his answer," he said.
Mr. Ironwall broke out in a sudden, loud, thick, furious tone. "My answer is---that!"
Mr. Ives rocked slightly on his feet from the blow of the other's open hand. On his left cheek, white as dough, the pattern of palm and fingers came out in a crimson stain.
"Thank you!" he said.
The man's calm was cataclysmic. Had it not been for that mark on his cheek, only the faint heliotrope of his lips, the scarce-seen dilation of his nostrils, and the extraordinary, studying intensity of the gaze he fastened upon his assailant's head and shoulders would have betrayed the flame that devoured him flesh and bone.
His voice was even lower, softer, than before.
"Thank you." he repeated. "That makes it easier….Now all I ask you to do is this. Remember! Just for an instant, Mr. Ironwall, when you begin to feel the queerness coming on, kindly have the goodness to remember what you have done. It will be too late, of course---but---remember!"
It was evident that the banker, after his act of violence, could not trust himself to deal further with the obviously mad. He averted his eyes, which began to bulge a little, and beckoned his daughter. She went with him, her head drooping.
"Oh, father, father, couldn't you see---Rob, oh, Rob, but couldn't you see that father isn't himself---at all---"
Not once on his way to the door did Mr. Ironwall look back. Not once, with that crimson sign-manual flaming high on his cheek, did Mr. Ives stir from where he stood beneath the hanging lamp, or open his cold lips, or remove his gaze, extraordinarily concentrated, from the back of the banker's head….
He began on the back of the head, holding it still vividly in his mind….Walking into the studio at a deliberate, almost somnolent pace, his chink in his neck, his eyes curiously clouded, he got out his clay from the cracker-box, piled it about the armature on his stand, and began to shape it roughly, from the vivid back toward the front.
It is fair to say that he didn't know what he was doing. For the time being his hands worked mechanically, not mechanically in the way of a drowsy garment-worker or a veteran bricklayer, led by habit, but with the divine, careless, perceptive authority of the subconscious. If he felt anything it was only the clinging, cool caress of the clay, like the devil's kiss on his hand. If he heard anything it was only the rising majesty of the gale, the thick, dark, tragic moan of the night that came to wrap him about, stand his guard and pay him homage---the wind and the dying leaves whispered against the clapboards, or lodged, rustling, in remote, high gutters of the house. If he thought of anything it was of his past life---pityingly of his boyhood, which for some queer reason had been much like the boyhood of other men who had later become engineers, ministers, and furniture dealers. He thought of his young manhood, far off and incredibly commonplace….
He was a little ashamed of it all. His eye, roving over the clay company of his old acquaintances and friends, despised them. Even their huddled shadows, distorted by the angles of the wall on which they fell, were not yet sufficiently distorted to make them seem anything but human vegetables, unmoved, unmoving, unfantastic. They might all be blotted out of the world of genius, and not for so much as an eye-wink of time would there be---
Vast projects of annihilation floated through his brain. Suppose he should take them all in a lump! But no, hardly that! With a small, internal start, he found himself gazing into his own eyes. He had quite forgotten that portrait of himself; the one he had not thought good because it failed, somehow, of being him.
And not he made a bizarre discovery. It was he. Not as he had been then, but as he was now. The creative subconscious in him, working sullenly against his will, had made a prophecy. He had thought the face too hard, too ruthless. It was too hard. He had imagined there was a strange curve in the upper lip. There was.
It was all most fascinating. He moved it nearer to the working light and studied it. He had been trying to mold the likeness of a young man who, when he had ordered a pound of steak cut for him at the butcher's shop, accepted a pound and nine ounces meekly and went away. And his stubborn, visionary hands had wrought the face of a man who could stand unappalled before a world in arms; who, with a sense in him of the myriad-footed law closing in upone him through the night, could yet move forward the ordered processes of vengeance without haste, full of a large, philosophical disdain.
Without haste, yes; but swiftly. For all this while those bond-servants of inspiration, his hands, had never faltered. None by the artist will know the joy of the hour when the thing begins to create itself, when all the worry goes out of the work, when by some obscure miracle it becomes impossible for anything at all to be wrong.
Ironwall? This was Ironwall, never fear. The first ear, emerging scarcely handled from the dead mass, was Ironwall's ear. Young Kyle he had done by a sheer tour de force, in the rage of his heart and the sweat of his brow. With Ironwall it was all different. Ironwall grew to his doom under the caressing fingers of an exquisite hate---even the epicurean fingers. Your epicure know not only what to eat, but he knows how to bide his time till the eating shall fulfil the finest accumulated desire. So it was with the fingers. Touching into life an ear, rounding forth the nose, there would flit across his mind the sudden, starry thought: "This ear now; with one twist of the hand---! Or, "This nose; just a simple, quick jerk now---and how would he feel---how would he look up there in his house on the hill? Mr. G. J. Ironwall, the banker, without any nose, any nose at all?"
"Ah, but no! Wai! Wait a little while! Wait!"
It grew late. His shadow, working, working, sprawled monstrous and fantastic over the shadows of all those unfantastic creatures of unimaginative clay. The room grew close. Beyond the door and across the dark space of the living-room the clock was striking its little bell.
It was midight, and it was as if something mysterious had come to keep tryst with the mysterious hour. Mr. Ives discovered it quite suddenly and with surprise. Stepping back a pace, he perceived that the thing was done. The clay was Ironwall.
"Ironwall!" he cried aloud. His voice shivered. The hour that had come was too sheer, too naked. "Ironwall, look at me! I asked you to remember. Do you remember? Now? Now?"
He felt his hands rising above his head, the fingers knotted into fists, higher, higher. He remembered. Over the whole of him, to the crown of his head, to the crown of his head, to the soles of his feet, to the marrow of his bones, he was conscious now of the burning pain of a vast, ignominious slap. It is curious that the long hours had not dulled it. The psychologist may explain perhaps why seeming to go quite away, it had in reality only laid and grown in abeyance, gathering its poisoned self against that moment---
"Now, Ironwall, damn you! Damn you and ruin you forever and ever. Amen!"
A mist swam before his eyes. He felt the awful, inexorable weight of his descending hands….He tried to stop them. Biting his lip, he tried. Praying, he tried. He tried and tried, and, as if by a miracle, they were stopped, a bare two inches short of their mark. And a groan burst from his throat….
Mr. Ives was not a bad man. Perhaps it will be hard for the reader to believe, but it is a fact that up to this instant he had never actually realized what he was doing. Murder? No! Does any one ever truly and seriously condemn the soul of the Queen of Hearts, waddling about to the tune of that everlasting "Off with his head!" Well, that was precisely the sort of thing. And people like that never have any real, vivid idea of the harm they do. Almost like killing flies….
But now, in that hanging fraction of a second, the light fell, and in the light he saw himself. The murderer! The slinking, secret murderer of Doctor Failing---of Kyle---of---of---
But no, no! Not of Ironwall! As a drowning man will recall the scenes of his past life, small, bright pictures flickered across the retina of his brain. He saw himself astride a fiery steed on the road to Salem, by way of Boston and of Lynn, and the horse was a knee, and in the sky above him hung the kindly face of "Uncle George." He saw "Uncle George" at a grammar-school graduation, sitting in the front row, clapping longer and louder than any one else when Robbie Ives had succeeded finally in getting the remnants of the Light Brigade through that never-to-be-forgotten blunder. He walked arm in arm with "Uncle George" up the elm-shaded way to the old Law School….
"My God!" he whispered. He hid his dilated eyes with his soiled hands. "God in heaven, what have I---what am I---"
All the strength drained out of his limbs. He reeled. He felt himself falling, and to save himself flung out an arm. And this time it did not fail of its mark. It struck. In his ears sounded the crash of an inexorable ruin.
It was fate. He had repented, but repentance had come too late. Given over, wrapped about, dragged along by a dark and hungry destiny, no tiny gesture of his could suffice to halt its majestic progress. The thing was done, hideous, black, irrevocable. Swooning with horror, his eyes still blinded by his hands, he staggered to the door….
In the blackness of the outer rooms (for she never seemed to turn on any lights) the exiled priestess had been moving without sound, or, for minutes at a time, standing erect and motionless in the attitude of a listener.
She knew. Ah, yes, trust the woman Thwaite! She knew what it was that went forward in that closed room. If you ask how, say how the wild goose steers northward in the spring, or the pigeon finds her cote. And knowing, it did strange thing to her; held her with a strange authority. It made her forget the police; it made her forget the menacing tether which held her here when she would have fled. At moments, let us believe, she even forgot quite where she was; this alien and inhospitable cold air was gone, and over her came pouring the warm wind of island jungles, heavy with the heart of hibiscus, wound with the silken whisper of serpents, the far bell-note of a bird, the imponderable kiss of bare soles on the grass….Perhaps she saw them again, the dark, sleek figures of the devotees silhouetted against the farther fire-glow; perhaps in her dreaming ears hung the phantom of a barbaric croon, rising and falling to the beat of goatskin drums and the rattle of gourds.
In the cavern of the living-room her tall form rocked with a scarcely perceptible motion, like an inverted pendulum; from her lips issued a sound. It was not loud, but about it it had this curious quality: it went away from its source without diminishing; it passed into the other chambers and hung there, a slumbrous throb of sound. And all the while the tall, lithe form went on rocking, rocking in the dark.
Not one step did she take in the direction of the closed door. She had committed one breach of professional ethics the first night she was there in a moment of passion; she would not commit another. One does not intrude upon a colleague's practice; and flee his presence as she would have done that afternoon---flee it again as she would at first sign of the waning of his ominous power over her---still, after all, he was her colleague. It was hers, she felt, to play the acolyte, and swaying in the blindness of the antechamber, to keep that somber incantation hanging undiminished through the house.
It was a long time. Ten struck, and eleven. The measured count of midnight lingered in the air….The wall on the studio side was broken by a shaft of light. The door swung back, not as if pulled by a hand, but as if blown by some gust of outer wind in that windless quietude. The croon died on the woman's lips and she stood motionless, studying with a vague uneasiness the silhouette of the master swaying brokenly in the doorway.
"Victoria!" he called in a shattered voice.
He came out as she approached and let himself down in the morris-chair near the door. In the penumbra cast by the inner light his face had the look of ivory. The woman spoke in a whisper, wary of the ears that walls have.
"Shall Hi fetche the shovel, sir?"
"Shov-v-vel? Ohhhhh!" The gasp went down into the bottom of horror. "Oh, but no---no---not that!"
Victoria peered at his working face, her uneasiness increasing with her mystification. She heard him groan.
"What have I done? What have I done? I've killed him; murdered my oldest friend! In cold blood, Victoria! Cold blood!"
"Hi am at a loss, sir," The colored woman, reconnoitering, hesitated. "Might Hi ask, sir, would it be the gentleman---this evening's gentleman, sir---as had the audacity to strike you?"
"Oh, let him strike me again! Only let him slap me again, box my ears, a hundred times, a thousand times---"
Victoria, craning, peered again into the studio.
"But Hi say, sir, surely, sir, there's been some mistake, you know. Now that gentleman---"
A galvanic and impossible hope lifted Mr. Ives from his chair. Brushing the dusky acolyte out of his way, he burst into the studio. His eyes met the cold, calm eyes of Ironwall…There on the untroubled dias of the modeling-stand stood, or sat (or whatever one does with one's bust), the complete banker, the unmarred man of affairs.
It did something incredible to the soul of Mr. Ives.
"Thank God!" he continued to mumble with a husky joy. "Bless you, 'Uncle George,' bless you!" He almost patted the cold head.
"But, who, then---" His eyes, shifting, interrogated the other smashed wooden pedestal and the ruin of clay scattered on the floor. "But who, then---who was it?"
Misgiving cast a shadow over his joy. His oldest friend had been saved, true enough, and thanks be for it. But some one had suffered, all the same. And who? Could it be Mr. Harrison, the Congregational minister? No better man ever walked on earth; and to be struck down so, without warning or reason, in the innocence of his prime---
But no; there was Mr. Harrison in the shadow behind Mr. McLeod, the coal dealer. And so it couldn't be Mr. McLeod, either. Mr. Ives's glance was fairly darting now, canvassing the list of survivors. There was a growing tightness in his lungs. Perspiration started from the pores about his temples and trickled down the sides of his nose….
"Hemenway? No, there's Hemenway. And the Hemenway hired girl."
Victoria's glance had been darting, too; in her, too, misgiving deepened. But in her it was more knowing, coming more directly toward the truth. And in here there was mingled with the horror of discovery the strain almost of a diabolical relief---release. Its echo was in her voice.
"But, sir, and where is that one---you understand me, sir---"
Mr. Ives's brain, leaping to the urge of her voice, touched the truth.
His voice sank to a wandering whisper, "M-e-e-e?"
Yes, he remembered now. Yes, that curiously prophetic portrait of himself; there it had been standing, communing with him at his work.
He seemed to reason, yet he was not reasoning at all. He even laughed. The small, pale, ghastly mummery of mirth went and hung among the shadows of the mocking images….Victoria's eyes dwelt upon him. He had a sense of them far off, analyzing, pathological; he felt them keeping track of his every turn and quiver with a catlike attention, horrible, brilliant, and very hard.
He made an effort and tore himself away. Turning, he walked out unsteadily into the dark living-room. He put a hand to his side.
"It doesn't amount---doesn't mean---anything! It's all a---a kind of joke. The idea of a clay figure having anything under the sun to do with a---a---a person! The idea!"
Behind him he heard the soft-footed following of the watcher. He wheeled on her with a fragile anger.
"Stop hounding me about, will you? You, and all your tomfoolishness. You're nothing but a dull, simple, ignorant woman, and I tell you so to your face."
She remained silent, an inscrutable shadow against the light.
"And I don't feel queer, anyway! There! I hope that's settled once and for all. Not the least queer in the world!"
Both hands were pressed tight to his abdomen; the breath whistled sluggishly in and out of his lungs.
"But it hasn't anything to do with that, though. I---I am an educated man. I---it's just something---any good doctor could tell me in a wink what was wrong---just some little thing---"
He loosened his knees and let himself down in a chair. But in place of easing it, the new posture seemed only to speed the growth of the vast, vivid, localized discomfort within him.
("Just for an instant…when you feel the queerness coming on"), the ironic echo winged across his brain ("it will be too late, of course---but---remember!").
He tried to stifle the groan that would come out of his lips.
Where was Victoria? Where had that limb of the living devil taken herself? The nimbus of light knew her no more; released from bondage by the knowledge that the withering hand itself was withered, the destroyer himself destroyed, she lost no time in slipping back into the sanctuary of her native element, the dark. He felt her everywhere about him, watching him with her black vision, counting off the seconds pulsing in his heart….
Light! He must have light!
He tried to find the wall-switch, but his feet stumbled over the vales and precipices of the rug and his groping hands had lost the instinct of direction….His mind swam blind in a blind sea….Pain became an obsession….He felt himself breaking in two, impossibly, inexorably, in the middle.
He had missed his way. He was no longer in the living-room. He was in the kitchen. His nerveless fingers struck the wal where the switch happened to be; light sprang out around him. His eyes were dazed; they blinked and blinked at the little circle of floor where they chanced to be fastened, and in it lay a shovel---the coal-shovel!
That was too much. Wheeling, he fled---out of the back door, down the back steps, across the hideous, peopled turf of the back yard. He got out of the back gate, he couldn't say how. He ran, where he didn't know; how far, how long he couldn't have told….
About his flight there was a bounding motion; at each step he seemed to leave the dark earth far behind and beneath him. Somewhere in the obscure channels of his consciousness lay the idea that if he could only speed fast enough he could outdistance that doom of pain. He had the illusion once or twice that he had; once for a whole dazzling block on Pleasant Avenue he seemed to have left it hopelessly in the rear, only to find it waiting to pounce upon him under the arc-light at the corner, like the kick of a hundred cannon….
Lights came and went across the disordered firmament. Faces more rarely, faces of brief amazement turning to follow the flight of that kobold creature streaming a blue-and-yellow robe athwart the night. Once there was the face of Mr. Barleyplanter, of the Metropolitan District Police. The eyes were round; the lip hung. But he presently turned to give pursuit, albeit the fact meant nothing in Mr. Ives's life….
In an odd way the storm lost character. Something of dignity went out of it; there came indecision, a changed wind, thunder. Rain fell in large, revolving drops. Lightning ran over the sky.
Mr. Ives was in a really serious condition. He had gone past the possibility of wonder, and so it did not occur to him to be amazed at finding himself in his own alley again, hanging on for what dear life was left him to his own alley gate.
There was lightning. It may have passed in an instant, but to Mr. Ives's untrustworthy brain it seemed to endure for a long, long, white moment. All things were vivid, edged, and hard….He perceived the form of Victoria Thwaite in the middle of the yard. She had on the black hat with the fugitive poppy; the cotton umbrella, open, lay beside her on the grass, as did the brown-canvas suit-case exuding the ends of things. On the other side of her he saw the yellow basket in which clothes-pins were kept. But there were no clothes-pins in it now. It harbored a more ghastly burden---the wreck of Ives.
He watched her because he hadn't the power to get his glazed eyes away. She was so busy, so indefatigably and horridly busy, her lean form swaying with a sickening rhythm over the coal-shovel in her hands!
"Oh, but no! My God, not that! Mr. Ives's lips moved with dry, mute cries. "No, no, no---I tell you no---not in the ground!"
In his heart he knew it was vain. As the blackness swept down again out of the rocking sky, he felt the coming of the end. He tried to keep hold of the gate with his nerveless fingers, but they began to slip. They slipped. He felt himself going down and down….It's queer to feel yourself going down and down…breaking in two in the middle and going down in pieces…into the black, bottomless pool of space.
It couldn't have been quite the end; or else, perhaps, passing over, he still lingered for a while in the borderlands along the river where ghosts are. He had a dim, inchoate sense of being almost aware of Presnces. Shadowy faces passed him by on the primeval tides of space….His sould groped back to the time of his innocence, and, strangely, the wraith of his virgin victim came to bear him company. He couldn't say how he knew that it was Doctor Failing---but it was Doctor Failing. And on the diaphanous face there was a look---
How long he had been wandering this frontier land he did not know. He opened his eyes in heaven. It was almost dark in heaven. Perhaps it wasn't heaven; perhaps it was hell….All his frail sight could give him was the foot-rail of an iron bed and the brief passing of a white-robed being with a spoon. Then it was heaven, after all. He was tired, being new-born, and he closed his eyes and slept.
It was quite bizarre; when he awoke again Eleanor Ironwall was in the room. It was just for the merest instant, and then seeing him in his senses, the figure in white had "shooed" her out….He was still tired and decided, wisely perhaps, not to engage with the Problem….Perhaps she had not been there at all….
He saw her again, though. It was dusk. Eleanor was on her knees beside his bed. She had hold of one of his hands, and the hand was moist with inexplicable tears.
"Oh, Rob, I didn't---neither of us knew---that is I knew you weren't well---but I didn't know how terribly sick you were…."
His eyes rested upon her, inert, detached. The thought which gripped through the remnants of his mind was this: "Sweet, pure, innocent girl; she, of all, should not be touching that hand with hers…."
"And father," she was going on with a kind of penitent rush, "father will never forgive himself! Never! We didn't know till next morning, but when Doctor Failing 'phoned us---"
"Failing?" Mr. Ives found somewhere the strength to get himself up on a startled elbow. "F-f-failing? You mean---D-d-doctor Failing?"
By the blankness in her eyes he knew she did. He relapsed slowly on the pillow. Canvassing the realms of impossibility, he hit upon a wild hypothesis. It must have all been a dream, a prolonged, vivid, and abominable nightmare. He had read stories that ended that way, that being the easiest way. He turned on her an eye of last appeal.
"Not---you didn't say Doctor Failing!"
"You're tired," she murmured. She started to smooth his brown arm with a pitying, gentle hand, and then she withdrew it in guilty haste, for the doctor himself was in the doorway. Mr. Ives received him with dilated eyes. The doctor's own eyes were for the moment fixed upon the girl. She arose and retreated, covered with confusioun.
"But he seemed so---so much better," she stammered.
"Seemed! By Heavens! I wash my hands! Let the man go on and die if you've both made up your minds to it." He turned his attention to the patient, and in a lighter tone:
"Well, so here we are, eh? I suppose, first off, you'll never be content till you see it. They're always that way."
"I've got it in a bottle. I give you my word, Ives, I don't know what you were about, going around with an appendix like that inside you all that while. If I'm any judge you were in a very, very bad condition for a good many days---weeks even---and probably the suppression of it had something to do with the little brain-storm they tell me you pulled off on them. I give you my word, Ives---"
"Doctor!" Mr. Ives felt himself getting farther and farther to sea, and he was not strong. "Doctor, tell me one thing. Were you, or were you not, here in the Heights all the time?"
Color touched the doctor's cheeks, and in the old signal of perturbation his fingers crept to his dark, silken mustache. He glared uncertainly at Eleanor, who had held her hesitant ground in a corner.
"Miss Ironwall, how many times must I---"
If she went out grudgingly, it was yet in haste. He closed the door after her, came to the bedside, and spoke in a lower tone.
"See here, old man, I want to thank you for sticking tight and keeping mum as long as you did, and I suppose a word to the wise is sufficient, eh---for the future, you know. Now I'll tell you how it was. I was just a little---well, 'off,' you understand, that evening at old Ironwall's. He has a good stock. Well, when I left you, I was all set for some more. I found some more, all right, but where I landed up, some queer how or other, was in the 'Cure' at Portgate; and a good job it was for me. Honestly, I believe they fixed me up for good. But the poor little wife. Well, you know! Anyhow, I managed to get word to her the third day, and then after that she was scared pink that you would go and make a mess of things by getting the police on the job. Pink! Honest! I've asked her why she didn't just tell you everything. She says that she was 'embarrassed.' But she did try one evening, and the maid couldn't get you. And the other time she tried you'd actually got a detective to the house. I don't know whether you were going to tell him or not---"
"Oh, Doctor"---Mr. Ives waved a weak hand---"oh, I assure you---"
"Well, anyway, all's well that ends well, and now between the three of us, I suppose, no on need---"
"Oh, I---Doctor---I--- Take my word for it, Doctor!"
Mr. Ives's brain felt its way through cloud-dust. "And Kyle," he implored. "Wh-what happened to Kyle?"
"Oh, Kyle!" The doctor laughed. "I don't know much about it, but I've heard they got Kyle dead---"
"Dead!" The invalid groaned, and the miracle began to fade.
"Yes, dead to rights. Isn't that so, Mr. Ironwall?…Here's Mr. Ironwall, Ives. He can tell you more about it than I can."
The banker was in the doorway, genial enthusiasm in every line of his face.
"Well, I should say. Caught him in a boarding-house in Utica, with the suit-case under his bed and only two out of the hundred and ten thousand gone. Thrifty lad, eh? He approached the sufferer, his expression sobering. "Rob, my boy, believe me when I say I'm glad to see you looking alive. I tell you I'll never forgive myself for acting the way I did. I suppose it's no excuse, but I was upset---terribly upset. I trusted that young fellow---and then to find out he'd been laying the wires all the while to make his getaway the minute I gave him a place where he could get at the funds--- Well, I was upset. I'll confess it; I went wild. I suspected everything, everybody. I know now why you'd been acting queer; you were sick. But the way I was, I jumped on that. And then you wouldn't deny it, you know. Look here, you'll laugh, but I got it into my old foold head that night that you'd received the boodle and had it hidden somewhere in the house. I couldn't sleep. I got the police first thing in the morning and took them down and went through your house from top to bottom---"
"Oh-h-h!" breathed Mr. Ives, with an abrupt recrudescence of shame.
But still another expression had come on the banker's face now---a light of penitential enthusiasm.
"Rob, my boy, I've got to confess another thing, and that is that I've been misjudging you. I used to think you had it in you to do big things in the world, but of late years---of late years---But now! Rob, when I came into that little room and found what you'd been keeping from us all this while---do you know what I did? I sat down and told myself in plain words just what I was. That one of me, Rob---" Something like awe crept into the speaker's eyes. "That one of me, Rob---well---you'll just have to forgive me---us---that is, I---they---the directors, you know---they're having it cast in bronze. I---they wanted it, you know for the---the bank….I'm not much on artists, as a rule, but when it comes to genius---"
"Please, please!" Mr. Ives wagged imploring hands. "Please, Uncle George, don't talk about that!"
"Oh, yes, I will. Do you know what I said to myself? I said to myself, 'That boy there can have anything I've got to give; on my word of honor he can!'"
"Do you mean---"
He got no farther. Eleanor, running the gauntlet of the doctor's eye, had somehow got back into the room, and Eleanor was there on the other side of the bed, squeezing his nerveless hand. He appealed incredulously to her eyes, his own blurred by a mist of rose.
"Victoria has gone," she argued, with an absurd sobriety. "And you'd have to hunt up another housekeeper, anyway!"
"Oh, Eleanor---Eleanor---" Tears of weakness and of joy stood in his eyes.
"And we'll get the nicest little house," she went on, and her whisper was more than ever music, "with the coziest little studio---"
Mr. Ives actually sat right up in bed. He clung to her hands with a strength that made her wince.
"Not a studio. No---no---don't say---studio! An office!" He was a weak man, and all he wanted to do was to forget. "But, Eleanor---Uncle George---Oh, everybody---Eleanor---" His voice had in it the indefinable thread of a wail…."I---I---I want to be a lawyer!"
Isn't that just like life?