Collected Stories

Gertrude Atherton
Collected Stories



TABLE OF CONTENTS

Death and the Woman
The Striding-Place
The Sacrificial Altar



DEATH AND THE WOMAN


Her husband was dying, and she was alone with him. Nothing could
exceed the desolation of her surroundings. She and the man who was
going from her were in the third-floor-back of a New York boarding-
house. It was summer, and the other boarders were in the country; all
the servants except the cook had been dismissed, and she, when not
working, slept profoundly on the fifth floor. The landlady also was
out of town on a brief holiday.

The window was open to admit the thick unstirring air; no sound rose
from the row of long narrow yards, nor from the tall deep houses
annexed. The latter deadened the rattle of the streets. At intervals
the distant elevated lumbered protestingly along, its grunts and
screams muffled by the hot suspended ocean.

She sat there plunged in the profoundest grief that can come to the
human soul, for in all other agony hope flickers, however forlornly.
She gazed dully at the unconscious breathing form of the man who had
been friend, and companion, and lover, during five years of youth too
vigorous and hopeful to be warped by uneven fortune. It was wasted by
disease; the face was shrunken; the night--garment hung loosely about
a body which had never been disfigured by flesh, but had been muscular
with exercise and full-blooded with health. She was glad that the body
was changed; glad that its beauty, too, had gone some other--where
than into the coffin. She had loved his hands as apart from himself;
loved their strong warm magnetism. They lay limp and yellow on the
quilt: she knew that they were already cold, and that moisture was
gathering on them. For a moment something convulsed within her. They
had gone too. She repeated the words twice, and, after them,
"forever." And the while the sweetness of their pressure came back to
her.

She leaned suddenly over him. He was in there still, somewhere. Where?
If he had not ceased to breathe, the Ego, the Soul,, the Personality
was still in the sodden clay which had shaped to give it speech. Why
could it not manifest itself to her? Was it still conscious in there,
unable to project itself through the disintegrating matter which was
the only medium its Creator had vouchsafed it? Did it struggle there,
seeing her agony, sharing it, longing for the complete disintegration
which should put an end to its torment? She called his name, she even
shook him slightly, mad to tear the body apart and find her mate, yet
even in that tortured moment realizing that violence would hasten his
going.

The dying man took no notice of her, and she opened his gown and put
her cheek to his heart, calling him again. There had never been more
perfect union; how could the bond still be so strong if he were not at
the other end of it? He was there, her other part; until dead he must
be living. There was no intermediate state. Why should he be as
entombed and unresponding as if the screws were in the lid? But the
faintly beating heart did not quicken beneath her lips. She extended
her arms suddenly, describing eccentric lines, above, about him,
rapidly opening and closing her hands as if to clutch some escaping
object; then sprang to her feet, and went to the window. She feared
insanity. She had asked to be left alone with her dying husband, and
she did not wish to lose her reason and shriek a crowd of people about
her.

The green plots in the yards were not apparent, she noticed. Something
heavy, like a pall, rested upon them. Then she understood that the day
was over and that night was coming.

She returned swiftly to the bedside, wondering if she had remained
away hours or seconds, and if he were dead. His face was still
discernible, and Death had not relaxed it. She laid her own against
it, then withdrew it with shuddering flesh, her teeth smiting each
other as if an icy wind had passed.

She let herself fall back in the chair, clasping her hands against her
heart, watching with expanding eyes the white sculptured face which,
in the glittering dark, was becoming less defined of outline. Did she
light the gas it would draw mosquitoes, and she could not shut from
him the little air he must be mechanically grateful for. And she did
not want to see the opening eye--the falling jaw.

Her vision became so fixed that at length she saw nothing, and closed
her eyes and waited for the moisture to rise and relieve the strain.
When she opened them his face had disappeared; the humid waves above
the house-tops put out even the light of the stars, and night was
come.

Fearfully, she approached her ear to his lips; he still breathed. She
made a motion to kiss him, then threw herself back in a quiver of
agony--they were not the lips she had known, and she would have
nothing less.

His breathing was so faint that in her half-reclining position she
could not hear it, could not be aware of the moment of his death. She
extended her arm resolutely and laid her hand on his heart. Not only
must she feel his going, but, so strong had been the comradeship
between them, it was a matter of loving honor to stand by him to the
last.

She sat there in the hot heavy night, pressing her hand hard against
the ebbing heart of the unseen, and awaited Death. Suddenly an odd
fancy possessed her. Where was Death? Why was he tarrying? Who was
detaining him? From what quarter would he come? He was taking his
leisure, drawing near with footsteps as measured as those of men
keeping time to a funeral march. By a wayward deflection she thought
of the slow music that was always turned on in the theatre when the
heroine was about to appear, or something eventful to happen. She had
always thought that sort of thing ridiculous and inartistic. So had
He.

She drew her brows together angrily, wondering at her levity, and
pressed her relaxed palm against the heart it kept guard over. For a
moment the sweat stood on her face; then the pent-up breath burst from
her lungs. He still lived.

Once more the fancy wantoned above the stunned heart. Death--where was
he? What a curious experience: to be sitting alone in a big house--she
knew that the cook had stolen out--waiting for Death to come and
snatch her husband from her. No; he would not snatch, he would steal
upon his prey as noiselessly as the approach of Sin to Innocence--an
invisible, unfair, sneaking enemy, with whom no man's strength could
grapple. If he would only come like a man, and take his chances like a
man! Women had been known to reach the hearts of giants with the
dagger's point. But he would creep upon her.

She gave an exclamation of horror. Something was creeping over the
window-sill. Her limbs palsied, but she struggled to her feet and
looked back, her eyes dragged about against her own volition. Two
small green stars glared menacingly at her just above the sill; then
the cat possessing them leaped downward, and the stars disappeared.

She realized that she was horribly frightened. "Is it possible?" she
thought. "Am I afraid of Death, and of Death that has not yet come? I
have always been rather a brave woman; He used to call me heroic; but
then with him it was impossible to fear anything. And I begged them to
leave me alone with him as the last of earthly boons. Oh, shame!"

But she was still quaking as she resumed her seat, and laid her hand
again on his heart. She wished that she had asked Mary to sit outside
the door; there was no bell in the room. To call would be worse than
desecrating the house of God, and she would not leave him for one
moment. To return and find him dead--gone alone!

Her knees smote each other. It was idle to deny it; she was in a state
of unreasoning terror. Her eyes rolled apprehensively about; she
wondered if she should see It when It came; wondered how far off It
was now. Not very far; the heart was barely pulsing. She had heard of
the power of the corpse to drive brave men to frenzy, and had
wondered, having no morbid horror of the dead. But this! To wait--and
wait--and wait--perhaps for hours--past the midnight--on to the small
hours--while that awful, determined, leisurely Something stole nearer
and nearer.

She bent to him who had been her protector with a spasm of anger.
Where was the indomitable spirit that had held her all these years
with such strong and loving clasp? How could he leave her? How could
he desert her? Her head fell back and moved restlessly against the
cushion; moaning with the agony of loss, she recalled him as he had
been. Then fear once more took possession of her, and she sat erect,
rigid, breathless, awaiting the approach of Death.

Suddenly, far down in the house, on the first floor, her strained
hearing took note of a sound--a wary, muffled sound, as if some one
were creeping up the stair, fearful of being heard. Slowly! It seemed
to count a hundred between the laying down of each foot. She gave a
hysterical gasp. Where was the slow music?

Her face, her body, were wet--as if a wave of death-sweat had broken
over them. There was a stiff feeling at the roots of her hair; she
wondered if it were really standing erect. But she could not raise her
hand to ascertain. Possibly it was only the coloring matter freezing
and bleaching. Her muscles were flabby, her nerves twitched
helplessly.

She knew that it was Death who was coming to her through the silent
deserted house; knew that it was the sensitive ear of her intelligence
that heard him, not the dull, coarse-grained ear of the body.

He toiled up the stair painfully, as if he were old and tired with
much. work. But how could he afford to loiter, with all the work he
had to do? Every minute, every second, he must be in demand to hook
his cold, hard finger about a soul struggling to escape from its
putrefying tenement. But probably he had his emissaries, his minions:
for only those worthy of the honor did he come in person.

He reached the first landing and crept like a cat down the hall to the
next stair, then crawled slowly up as before. Light as the footfalls
were, they were squarely planted, unfaltering; slow, they never
halted.

Mechanically she pressed her jerking hand closer against the heart;
its beats were almost done. They would finish, she calculated, just as
those footfalls paused beside the bed.

She was no longer a human being; she was an Intelligence and an EAR.
Not a sound came from without, even the Elevated appeared to be
temporarily off duty; but inside the big quiet house that footfall was
waxing louder, louder, until iron feet crashed on iron stairs and echo
thundered.

She had counted the steps--one--two--three--irritated beyond endurance
at the long deliberate pauses between. As they climbed and clanged
with slow precision she continued to count, audibly and with equal
precision, noting their hollow reverberation. How many steps had the
stair? She wished she knew. No need! The colossal trampling announced
the lessening distance in an increasing volume of sound not to be
misunderstood. It turned the curve; it reached the landing; it
advanced--slowly--down the hall; it paused before her door. Then
knuckles of iron shook the frail panels. Her nerveless tongue gave no
invitation. The knocking became more imperious; the very walls
vibrated. The handle turned, swiftly and firmly. With a wild
instinctive movement she flung herself into the arms of her husband.

When Mary opened the door and entered the room she found a dead woman
lying across a dead man.




THE STRIDING-PLACE

Weigall, continental and detached, tired early of grouse shooting. To
stand propped against a sod fence while his host's workmen routed up
the birds with long poles and drove them towards the waiting guns,
made him feel himself a parody on the ancestors who had roamed the
moors and forests of this West Riding of Yorkshire in hot pursuit of
game worth the killing. But when in England in August he always
accepted whatever proffered for the season, and invited his host to
shoot pheasants on his estates in the South. The amusements of life,
he argued, should be accepted with the same philosophy as its ills.

It had been a bad day. A heavy rain had made the moor so spongy that
it fairly sprang beneath the feet. Whether or not the grouse had
haunts of their own, wherein they were immune from rheumatism, the bag
had been small. The women, too, were an unusually dull lot, with the
exception of a new-minded d├ębutante who bothered Weigall at dinner by
demanding the verbal restoration of the vague paintings on the vaulted
roof above them.

But it was no one of these things that sat on Weigall's mind as, when
the other men went up to bed, he let himself out of the castle and
sauntered down to the river. His intimate friend, the companion of his
boyhood, the chum of his college days, his fellow-traveller in many
lands, the man for whom he possessed stronger affection than for all
men, had mysteriously disappeared two days ago, and his track might
have sprung to the upper air for all trace he had left behind him. He
had been a guest on the adjoining estate during the past week,
shooting with the fervor of the true sportsman, making love in the
intervals to Adeline Cavan, and apparently in the best of spirits. As
far as was known there was nothing to lower his mental mercury, for
his rent-roll was a large one, Miss Cavan blushed whenever he looked
at her, and, being one of the best shots in England, he was never
happier than in August. The suicide theory was preposterous, all
agreed, and there was as little reason to believe him murdered.
Nevertheless, he had walked out of March Abbey two nights ago without
hat or overcoat, and had not been seen since.

The country was being patrolled night and day. A hundred keepers and
workmen were beating the woods and poking the bogs on the moors, but
as yet not so much as a handkerchief had been found.

Weigall did not believe for a moment that Wyatt Gifford was dead, and
although it was impossible not to be affected by the general
uneasiness, he was disposed to be more angry than frightened. At
Cambridge Gifford had been an incorrigible practical joker, and by no
means had outgrown the habit; it would be like him to cut across the
country in his evening clothes, board a cattle-train, and amuse
himself touching up the picture of the sensation in West Riding.

However, Weigall's affection for his friend was too deep to companion
with tranquillity in the present state of doubt, and, instead of going
to bed early with the other men, he determined to walk until ready for
sleep. He went down to the river and followed the path through the
woods. There was no moon, but the stars sprinkled their cold light
upon the pretty belt of water flowing placidly past wood and ruin,
between green masses of overhanging rocks or sloping banks tangled
with tree and shrub, leaping occasionally over stones with the harsh
notes of an angry scold, to recover its equanimity the moment the way
was clear again.

It was very dark in the depths where Weigall trod. He smiled as he
recalled a remark of Gifford's: "An English wood is like a good many
other things in life---very promising at a distance, but a hollow
mockery when you get within. You see daylight on both sides, and the
sun freckles the very bracken. Our woods need the night to make them
seem what they ought to be--what they once were, before our ancestors'
descendants demanded so much more money, in these so much more various
days."

Weigall strolled along, smoking, and thinking of his friend, his
pranks--many of which had done more credit to his imagination than
this--and recalling conversations that had lasted the night through.
Just before the end of the London season they had walked the streets
one hot night after a party, discussing the various theories of the
soul's destiny. That afternoon they had met at the coffin of a college
friend whose mind had been a blank for the past three years. Some
months previously they had called at the asylum to see him. His
expression had been senile, his face imprinted with the record of
debauchery. In death the face was placid, intelligent, without ignoble
lineation--the face of the man they had known at college. Weigall and
Gifford had had no time to comment there, and the afternoon and
evening were full; but, coming forth from the house of festivity
together, they had reverted almost at once to the topic.

"I cherish the theory," Gifford had said, "that the soul sometimes
lingers in the body after death. During madness, of course, it is an
impotent prisoner, albeit a conscious one. Fancy its agony, and its
horror! What more natural than that, when the life-spark goes out, the
tortured soul should take possession of the vacant skull and triumph
once more for a few hours while old friends look their last? It has
had time to repent while compelled to crouch and behold the result of
its work, and it has shrived itself into a state of comparative
purity. If I had my way, I should stay inside my bones until the
coffin had gone into its niche, that I might obviate for my poor old
comrade the tragic impersonality of death. And I should like to see
justice done to it, as it were--to see it lowered among its ancestors
with the ceremony and solemnity that are its due. I am afraid that if
I dissevered myself too quickly, I should yield to curiosity and
hasten to investigate the mysteries of space."

"You believe in the soul as an independent entity, then--that it and
the vital principle are not one and the same?"

"Absolutely. The body and soul are twins, life comrades--sometimes
friends, sometimes enemies, but always loyal in the last instance.
Some day, when I am tired of the world, I shall go to India and become
a mahatma, solely for the pleasure of receiving proof during life of
this independent relationship."

"Suppose you were not sealed up properly, and returned after one of
your astral flights to find your earthly part unfit for habitation? It
is an experiment I don't think I should care to try, unless even
juggling with soul and flesh had palled."

"That would not be an uninteresting predicament. I should rather enjoy
experimenting with broken machinery."

The high wild roar of water smote suddenly upon Weigall's ear and
checked his memories. He left the wood and walked out on the huge
slippery stones which nearly close the River Wharfe at this point, and
watched the waters boil down into the narrow pass with their furious
untiring energy. The black quiet of the woods rose high on either
side. The stars seemed colder and whiter just above. On either hand
the perspective of the river might have run into a rayless cavern.
There was no lonelier spot in England, nor one which had the right to
claim so many ghosts, if ghosts there were.

Weigall was not a coward, but he recalled uncomfortably the tales of
those that had been done to death in the Strid.1 Wordsworth's Boy of
Egremond had been disposed of by the practical Whitaker; but countless
others, more venturesome than wise, had gone down into that narrow
boiling course, never to appear in the still pool a few yards beyond.
Below the great rocks which form the walls of the Strid was believed
to be a natural vault, on to whose shelves the dead were drawn. The
spot had an ugly fascination. Weigall stood, visioning skeletons,
uncoffined and green, the home of the eyeless things which had
devoured all that had covered and filled that rattling symbol of man's
mortality; then fell to wondering if any one had attempted to leap the
Strid of late. It was covered with slime; he had never seen it look so
treacherous.

He shuddered and turned away, impelled, despite his manhood, to flee
the spot. As he did so, something tossing in the foam below the fall--
something as white, yet independent of it--caught his eye and arrested
his step. Then he saw that it was describing a contrary motion to the
rushing water--an upward backward motion. Weigall stood rigid,
breathless; he fancied he heard the crackling of his hair. Was that a
hand? It thrust itself still higher above the boiling foam, turned
sidewise, and four frantic fingers were distinctly visible against the
black rock beyond.

Weigall's superstitious terror left him. A man was there, struggling
to free himself from the suction beneath the Strid, swept down,
doubtless, but a moment before his arrival, perhaps as he stood with
his back to the current.

He stepped as close to the edge as he dared. The hand doubled as if in
imprecation, shaking savagely in the face of that force which leaves
its creatures to immutable law; then spread wide again, clutching,
expanding, crying for help as audibly as the human voice.

Weigall dashed to the nearest tree, dragged and twisted off a branch
with his strong arms, and returned as swiftly to the Strid. The hand
was in the same place, still gesticulating as wildly; the body was
undoubtedly caught in the rocks below, perhaps already half-way along
one of those hideous shelves. Weigall let himself down upon a lower
rock, braced his shoulder against the mass beside him, then, leaning
out over the water, thrust the branch into the hand. The fingers
clutched it convulsively. Weigall tugged powerfully, his own feet
dragged perilously near the edge. For a moment he produced no
impression, then an arm shot above the waters.

The blood sprang to Weigall's head; he was choked with the impression
that the Strid had him in her roaring hold, and he saw nothing. Then
the mist cleared. The hand and arm were nearer, although the rest of
the body was still concealed by the foam. Weigall peered out with
distended eyes. The meagre light revealed in the cuffs links of a
peculiar device. The fingers clutching the branch were as familiar.

Weigall forgot the slippery stones, the terrible death if he stepped
too far. He pulled with passionate will and muscle. Memories flung
themselves into the hot light of his brain, trooping rapidly upon each
other's heels, as in the thought of the drowning. Most of the
pleasures of his life, good and bad, were identified in some way with
this friend. Scenes of college days, of travel, where they had
deliberately sought adventure and stood between one another and death
upon more occasions than one, of hours of delightful companionship
among the treasures of art, and others in the pursuit of pleasure,
flashed like the changing particles of a kaleidoscope. Weigall had
loved several women; but he would have flouted in these moments the
thought that he had ever loved any woman as he loved Wyatt Gifford.
There were so many charming women in the world, and in the thirty-two
years of his life he had never known another man to whom he had cared
to give his intimate friendship.

He threw himself on his face. His wrists were cracking, the skin was
torn from his hands. The fingers still gripped the stick. There was
life in them yet.

Suddenly something gave way. The hand swung about, tearing the branch
from Weigall's grasp. The body had been liberated and flung outward,
though still submerged by the foam and spray.

Weigall scrambled to his feet and sprang along the rocks, knowing that
the danger from suction was over and that Gifford must be carried
straight to the quiet pool. Gifford was a fish in the water and could
live under it longer than most men. If he survived this, it would not
be the first time that his pluck and science had saved him from
drowning.

Weigall reached the pool. A man in his evening clothes floated on it,
his face turned towards a projecting rock over which his arm had
fallen, upholding the body. The hand that had held the branch hung
limply over the rock, its white reflection visible in the black water.
Weigall plunged into the shallow pool, lifted Gifford in his arms and
returned to the bank. He laid the body down and threw off his coat
that he might be the freer to practise the methods of resuscitation.
He was glad of the moment's respite. The valiant life in the man might
have been exhausted in that last struggle. He had not dared to look at
his face, to put his ear to the heart. The hesitation lasted but a
moment. There was no time to lose.

He turned to his prostrate friend. As he did so, something strange and
disagreeable smote his senses. For a half-moment he did not appreciate
its nature. Then his teeth cracked together, his feet, his
outstretched arms pointed towards the woods. But he sprang to the side
of the man and bent down and peered into his face. There was no face.

"This striding place is called the 'Strid,'
A name which it took of yore;
A thousand years hath it borne the name,
And it shall a thousand more."




THE SACRIFICIAL ALTAR

LOUIS BAC drifted like a gray shadow through the gray streets of San
Francisco. Even the French colony, one of the most homogeneous units
of the city, knew little more of him than the community at large. He
was the son of one famous restaurateur and the grandson of another; he
had been sent to a Lycee in Paris at the age of twelve, graduated from
the University of Paris at twenty-two, and returned to San Francisco
upon the death of his father a year later. The French colony were
surprised that he did not go back to Paris after selling the
restaurant--his energetic mother had pre-deceased her husband--but
buried himself in the old Bac home behind the eucalyptus-trees on the
steepest hillside of the city; otherwise his return and himself
attracted no attention whatever until he flung his hat into the
international arena.

Both his father, Henri Bac II., and his shrewd mother, Antoinette, had
been agreed upon giving their studious ascetic little son a true
American's chance to rise in the world, and, acting on the advice of
their chief patron and the leader of the French colony, M. Cesar
Dupont, who offered his escort, had sent the boy to the College Louis
le Grand. They never saw their only child again; but although Louis
had been reticent of speech, he proved a very prodigal with his pen.
As the years passed it became evident--the entire French colony read
these letters--that his goal was belles-lettres and that he was
practising on his family. Finally, after many mutations his style
became so formal and precise that M. Dupont became alarmed and, during
his next visit to Paris, invited the young man to breakfast.

Louis by this time was eighteen, of medium height, as thin as all
overworked, underfed, underoxygenated Lycee boys, with large gray eyes
that were rarely raised, a long pale face, a long thin nose, a small
thin-lipped mouth. The brow was abnormally large, the rest of the head
rather small. It was not an attractive personality, M. Dupont
reflected--he had not seen Louis for several years--but the boy
carried something uncommon in his head-piece, or he, Cesar Dupont,
fashionable merchant and bon viveur, had studied the craniums of a
thousand San Francisco geniuses in vain.

He had taken his guest to the Restaurant de la Tour d'Argent, and
while the duck's frame was being crushed he asked, abruptly:

"Have you given a thought to your future career, Louis? Of course you
know you will not be obliged to drudge, but to be a professor of
French literature is not without its eclat, and, I fancy, more in your
line than commerce."

Louis's lip curled. "I have no more intention of being a professor
than of being a merchant," he said in his cold, precise voice. "I
shall write."

"Ah!" M. Dupont drew a sigh of relief. He had feared the boy would be
forbiddingly reticent. "I hoped as much from your letters. Your
refinement of mind and style are remarkable for a man of your years.
Shall you write plays?"

A faint color had invaded the youth's cheeks under this considered
flattery, and when he lifted his deeply set gray eyes to M. Dupont's
it was almost with the frankness of man to man. But he was intensely
shy, and although more at his ease with this handsome, genial patron
of his family, he made his confidences without warmth.

"No. I shall write the novel. The dramatic form does not appeal to
me."

"Ah! Yes. I am not surprised. Your style is certainly more narrative--
descriptive. But to be a novelist, my son, you must have seen a great
deal of life. You must know the great world--unless--perhaps--you
contemplate writing romance?"

Again the delicate lip opposite curled, and Louis almost choked over
his morsel of duck. "Romance? No, Monsieur. I am a realist by
temperament and mental habit. Nor do I need the great world. Only one
thing interests me--crime."

"Crime? Mon Dieu!" The amiable merchant almost choked in his turn,
although he savored his duck more slowly than his Lycee guest. "Crime!
But you are too young, my son, to be interested in anything so grim.
Life is to enjoy. And how can you enjoy with your mind like a morgue?"

"We are not all made to enjoy in the same fashion. I enjoy intensely
reading through old volumes of criminal records and trials--my master
in psychology has kindly arranged that I shall have access to them.
And I read with the greatest interest the details of current
criminology. I shall never care for society, for I am too timid and
dislike women. But I love the lonely grandeur of nature, and music,
and great books and pictures. Have no fear, Monsieur, my mind is not
polluted. It is purely scientific, this interest; the psychology of
crime happens to appeal to my peculiar gifts."

"But--that is it--your gifts are literary--but yes! I do not like the
idea of wasting them on that lamentable subdivision of human society
which one ignores save when held up by a footpad. With but few
exceptions it has appealed only to the inferior order of writing
talent. Even in France the masters do not condescend. With them crime
is an incident, not a motif."

"Has it occurred to you, Monsieur, that without the pioneers--"

"Oh yes, perhaps--but you--"

"I am young and unknown? Of what author has that not at least once
been said? I purpose to write novels--not mere stories--in which
character and life shall be revealed in the light of the boldest and
the subtlest crimes--murder preferably--and executed in a form and
style above cavil--I hope! Oh, I hope! Moreover, I shall write my
books in two languages--I have taken special courses in English. In
that, too, I shall be unique."

"Be careful of that style of yours, my son. It is growing a little too
academic, and I, a Frenchman, say that! It would do for the essay, and
win the praise of the expiring generation of critics, and the younger
but non-creative formalists, but I infer you wish to be read by the
public. You would also make money as well as achieve fame. Is it not?"

"Quite so. My father wishes that I live until I am thirty in
California and vote--I, mon Dieu! But I shall follow his wishes. Then
I shall buy a chateau here in France, for our chateaux are
incomparable in beauty. Fame, but yes. It would make my nostrils
quiver. But all that is as nothing to the joy of writing. Then my soul
almost sings. I am almost happy, but not quite."

He paused and his brow darkened. He raised his eyes and stared past
his anxious host, far into some invisible plane of tormentingly
elusive dreams. M. Dupont wisely remained silent, and Louis resumed,
abruptly: "When I shall write as spontaneously as the spring bubbles
or the ice melts, when my brain hardly knows what my pen is doing,
when I experience that terrific uprush that would drown the more
conscious parts of the intellect were it not for the perfect mastery
of technique--that is it, monsieur! I am still an infant with my
tools. Do not permit my style to cause you anxiety. It is merely in
one stage of experiment. I shall not write a line for publication
until I am four-and-twenty. I shall send forth my first professional
novel on the third of October--my birthday--1900. Meanwhile, I enter
the university this year, and take the course in literature. At
twenty-two I shall graduate and take my Ph.D. Then I shall serve for a
year as a reporter on a London newspaper. So shall I obtain perfect
freedom with the English language and that first-hand contact with
life which I realize is of a certain necessity. But after that no more
of the world. I hate it--realities. I wish to live in my mind, my
imagination; to spend every hour when I do not exercise for my nerves
or sleep to refresh my faculty, in writing, writing--that one day
shall be creating."

Louis carried out his programme to the letter, and published, in
1900--some five years before the terrific episode which it is my
melancholy privilege to chronicle--the first of those novels of crime
that commanded the sedate attention of the intellectual world.
Entombed as it were in the old house under the creaking eucalyptus-
trees, with a padlock on his gate, he had rewritten it six times from
the original draft--which, according to his method, contained nothing
but the stark outline of the plot, every detail of which was thought
out during long hours of exterior immobility. Three successive sets of
servants, mistaking this accomplishment in petrifaction for a form of
insanity which might at any moment express itself in violence, left
abruptly. Finally, old Madame Dupont established in the kitchen wing
an elderly Frenchman and his wife who had once presided over a hotel
for artists, and thereafter Louis had peace and enforced nutrition.

It was during the long months of re-writing, of developing his
characters by a subtle secondary method of his own, of profound
analysis, and a phrasing which drew heavily on the adjectival
vocabulary of the critics later on, that he really enjoyed himself.
The last revision was devoted exclusively to the study and improvement
of every sentence in the long book; and indeed there is no doubt that
these months, from skeleton to trousseau, were, with one tremendous
exception, the happiest period of this unhappy creator's life.

This book in its cold intellectual remoteness appealed as little to
Louis when he read it in print as it did to the public, and he set
himself grimly to work to pour red blood into the veins of his
characters and give his next book the rhythm of life as well as of
style. Once more he was hailed by the intellectuals, but fell short of
popular recognition, which, belonging himself to the intellectual
democracy, he estimated far above the few who win their little fame by
writing about the creators in art, or even above the artist himself.
He was determined to enthrall, to create the perfect illusion. He
scorned to be a cult, and when he saw himself alluded to as a "high-
brow-lit" he wept. But above all he passionately wished for that
intoxication in creation in which consciousness of self was
obliterated, the power, as he expressed it, to write one book charged
with the magnetism of a burning soul. He always felt, despite his love
of his work, as cold and deliberate as a mathematician. And yet he
spun his complicated plots with the utmost facility. There was no more
doubt of his talent, in the minds of those who wrote essays of him in
the reviews, than of his psychological insight and his impeccable
style.

Poor Louis! Spurred on by his anxious and experienced friend, M. Cesar
Dupont, he made a meticulous attempt to adore a little French
milliner; but the young artist, who would have been a monk in the
Middle Ages and left to his monastery a precious heritage of
illuminated manuscripts, returned within the month to his art (with
abject apologies), set his teeth, and dissected the whole affair for
his next book; presenting Celeste, the pivot of a demoniacal crime, in
all the phases, common or uncommon, to a woman of her type. This
novel, which he estimated as his worst, achieved to his disgust a
certain measure of popularity, and the reporters hammered at his gate.
San Francisco, which after its first mild interest, had forgotten him,
awoke to a sense of its own importance, and besieged M. Dupont, whose
acquaintance extended far beyond the French colony, for introductions.
But Louis would have none of them. He went on writing his novels,
taking his walks at midnight, never leaving the house otherwise unless
to visit a bookstore or sit in the back of a box at the play, and
literally knew no one in the city of his birth but old Madame Dupont,
her son, and his two old servants, Philippe and Seraphine. It was
after his seventh novel, when he felt himself growing stale, taking
less pleasure in the mere act of writing, and losing his hold on his
good friends, the intellectuals, that he took his trouble, as was his
habit, to M. Cesar.

They dined in the old Dupont mansion on Nob Hill, built, like the
humbler home of the Bacs, in the city's youth, and alone, as Madame
was in bed with an influenza. M. Cesar as a rule entertained at his
club, and had a luxurious suite for bachelor purposes in a select
apartment-like house kept by a compatriot, but, like a dutiful son, he
made a pretense of sharing his mother's evening meal at six o'clock,
no matter where he might be dining at eight.

For an hour after dinner Louis paced up and down the library and
unburdened himself while M. Cesar smoked in the depths of a chair.
This confidence, which included rage at his own limitations, disgust
with the critics who encouraged such miserable failures as he, and
invective against fate for planting the fiction imp in what should
have been a purely scientific mind and then withholding the power to
electrify his talent with genius, was made about every seven months,
and M. Cesar always listened with deep concern and sympathy. He loved
Louis, who was sweet of nature and the most inoffensive of egoists,
but was beginning to regard him as hopeless. To-night, however, he was
admitting a ray of hope.

"Celeste was a failure," he said, abruptly. "It is no use for you to
try that sort of thing again. But live you must. I have given up a
dinner at the club to a distinguished guest from abroad to tell you
that I insist you give yourself one more chance."

"What is that?" Louis was alert and suspicious at once.

"Do you remember Berthe?"

"Berthe--your niece at Neuilly?"

"Ah--you do, although you would go to my brother's house so seldom."

"He had grown daughters of whom I was afraid, for their cruel
instincts were excited by my shyness. But Berthe was a little thing
then, very pretty, very sympathetic. I romped with her in the garden
sometimes."

"Just so. Berthe is now twenty, very handsome, very vivacious--a great
admirer of M. Louis Bac, celebrated novelist."

The young Frenchman stared at the elderly Frenchman. "Do you wish that
I should marry her?"

"For your sake. For hers--to marry a genius whose vampire mistress is
his art--ah, well, it is the fate of woman to be sacrificed when they
do not sacrifice us. And Berthe's would be no mean destiny. I feel
convinced that she alone could make you fall madly in love--"

"I shall never see her again. I have lost my old longing for Paris.
What difference where a failure exists and plods? Besides, I dreamed
once of returning to Paris a master, not a mere formalist who had won
the approval of antiquarians."

"You shall meet her here."

"Here?"

"She arrives to-morrow."

"You have planned this, then, deliberately?"

"It is only a dream promising to come true. Not until now has my
brother relented and given his consent to Berthe's taking the long
journey. But friends were coming It is fate, my son. Try to fall in
love with her--but madly! I, who have loved many times, assure you
that the intoxication which tempts lesser men to rhyme should
stimulate your great gift to its final expression."

"But marry!" Louis was quite cold. "A wife in my house! Oh no, M.
Cesar; I should hate it and her."

"Not if you loved her. And Berthe has subtlety and variety."

"And is far too good for me. I should make a detestable husband."

"Let her make the husband."

Once more Louis turned cold. "You desire that I shall meet her, talk
to her, cultivate her? Oh, God!"

"I mean that you shall go to my tailor to-morrow. My mother will
introduce Berthe to the Colony on Friday night. Its most distinguished
members will be present--bankers, journalists, merchants, professional
men of all sorts; young people will come in for a dance after the
dinner of twenty-four. You may run away from the dance, but at the
dinner you will sit beside Berthe."

This time Louis was petrified. "But no! No!"

M. Cesar rose and laid his hand solemnly on his young friend's
shoulder. "For your art, my son, for your divine gift. For both you
would lay down your life. Is it not? Another year of this unnatural
existence and you will go sterile. And what substitute for you in the
long years ahead? Your mind needs a powerful stimulant and at once.
The cup approaches your lip. Will you drink or will you turn it upside
down?"

"I'll drink if I can," said Louis, through his set teeth, "for what
you say is true. But I'd rather drink hemlock."

Louis sat at his bedroom window, for the moon was high and the night
was clear. The city that so often was shrouded to its cobblestones in
fog, its muffled ghostly silence broken only by his creaking
eucalyptus-trees, lay below him in all its bleak gray outlines. But he
was not looking at the city, although sensible for the first time of
the vast composite presence under the ugly roofs; nor even at the
high-flung beauty of Twin Peaks; he stared instead at the cross on
Calvary, that gaunt hill that rises above the cemeteries of Lone
Mountain. The cross stood out black and austere save when a fog wraith
from the sea drifted across it. The emblem of the cross was in tune
with his mood to-night, for he felt neither romantic nor imaginative,
but pervaded with fear and melancholy. The faith in which he had been
bred as a child had long since passed, and to him the cross was merely
the symbol of crucifixion.

His eye dropped from the cross to the dark mass of the Catholic
cemetery where his parents slept. If his writing faculty should desert
him, as M. Cesar had ruthlessly predicted, no power in either world
should condemn him to life. He would go out to Lone Mountain, shut
himself in the family vault, lie down on the stones, and either drink
poison or cut his wrists. This morbid vision had appealed to him
before, but never so insidiously as to-night: never before had his
spirits remained so persistently at zero as during the past week;
never before had their melancholy been darkened by fear, rent by
panic.

In spite of his shyness and dislike of women, not only had he nerved
himself to the ordeal of meeting Berthe Dupont, but worked himself up
to a real desire to fall in love with her, to experience that
tremendous emotion from inception to crescendo and liberate the deep
creative torrents of his genius. Not for a moment did he hope that she
would marry him. On the contrary, what he particularly desired was
that she should play with him, enthrall him, transform him into a
sentimental ass and a caldron of passion, then flout him, condemn him
to the fiendish tortures of the unsatisfied lover.

Six months at his desk of carefully nursed passion and torments, and
then, immortal fame!

Louis, who was very honest and as little conceited as an author may
be, had for some time believed, with his critics and M. Cesar, that he
would come into the full fruition of his gifts only after some great,
possibly terrific, adventure of the soul had banished forever that
curious lethargy that possessed the unexplored tracts of his genius.

Therefore had poor Louis gone to the tailor of his inexorable mentor,
and crawled up the hill on Friday night, his heart hammering, his
knees trembling, but his teeth set and his whole being a desperate
hope. He was willing to go to the stake. Through his consciousness the
outlines of another plot, subtle, intricate, vital, hinting at
characters who were personalities, but uncommonly misty and slow to
cohere, were wandering. Ordinarily his plots were as sharply outlined
as a winter tree against a frosty sky. But now! He must tear up his
soul by the roots and fill his veins with fire or this new conception
would dribble forth in an image so commonplace that he would take it
out to Lone Mountain and immure it with himself.

The Dupont house was perched high above the cut that had made a rough
hillside into a bland street for the wealthy. The last automobile was
rolling away as Louis reached the long flight of covered outer stairs
that led up from the street to the house. He walked even more slowly
up that tunnel on end, hoping the company would be in the dining-room
when he arrived and he could slink into his seat unnoticed.

The old butler, Jean-Marie, almost shoved him into the drawing-room,
and for a moment his terrors retreated before a wave of artistic
pleasure never before experienced in the house of Dupont. The heavy
old mahogany furniture, the bow-windows, even the clumsy old
candelabra were completely obliterated by a thousand American Beauty
roses. It was a bower of surpassing richness and distinction for a
group of women as handsome and exquisitely dressed as Louis had ever
seen in the foyer of the opera-house in Paris.

The moment old Madame Dupont, magnificent in brocade and a new wig,
espied him, she led the way to the dining-room, before M. Cesar could
introduce him to the eager Colony. This relieved Louis almost to the
pitch of elation, and he even exchanged a few words with his partner
after they were seated at the long table--covered with Madame's
historic silver and crystal--the while he covertly examined the young
lady on his left. Mademoiselle Berthe had been taken in by the host
and was chatting animatedly with M. Jules Constant, a young banker,
who sat opposite.

Louis observed with delight that she was more than pretty, and
realized that M. Cesar had with purpose restrained his enthusiasm.
Certainly it gave Louis a distinct throb of satisfaction to discover
for himself that the young girl was beautiful and of no common type.
She might be as practical as most Frenchwomen, but she looked
romantic, passionate, mysterious. The heavy lids of her large brown
eyes gave them depths and smoldering fires. Her soft brown hair, dark
but full of light, was dressed close to her small proud head. She had
a haughty little nose and a red babyish mouth filled with bright, even
teeth. Her complexion was olive and claret; her tall form round,
flexible, carried with pride and grace. The contrasts in that
seductive face were affecting her inflammable vis-a-vis profoundly.

It was only when dinner was half over that Louis realized with a shock
which turned him as pale as his rival, M. Constant, that he felt
neither jealousy nor any other of the master passions. He had talked
alternately with Mademoiselle Berthe and the shy damsel on his right,
and he found the one as interesting as the other. He appreciated that
the young lady destined for him was intelligent, and emanated a warm
magnetism; moreover, she had both coquetry and indubitable sincerity.
Every man at the table was craning his neck, and M. Constant looked
ready to fight twelve duels.

And he, Louis Bac, felt nothing!...

Staring at Calvary, his mind drifted over the events of the past week.
He had seen Mademoiselle Berthe every day. On two separate occasions
he had talked with her alone in the Dupont library. He had liked and
admired her increasingly. He found her full of surprises, subtleties;
it seemed to him that just such a young woman had been roaming the dim
corridors of his brain, impatiently awaiting his call; and as a wife
she would be incomparable.

But he did not want a wife. He wanted a grande passion. And he
developed not a symptom. He felt not the least desire to impropriate
her. Of course there was but one explanation. He was incapable of
those profound and racking passions experienced once at least by
ordinary men. He was nothing but an intellect with a rotten spot where
fiction generated instead of those abnormal impulses that made of men
so inflicted social outlaws. Otherwise, he should be quite mad over
Berthe Dupont. Her beauty and charm were attracting attention far
beyond the French colony. It was Berthe for him or no one. And alas!
it was to be neither Berthe nor any one...

The moon flooded the sleeping city as the clocks struck one. Out of
that vast composite below, its imagination liberated in dreams, a
daring idea sprang, flew upward, darted into Louis's relaxed brain.
Its point wedged, quivered like an arrow. Louis himself quivered, but
with fright. Of love and woman he had no personal knowledge save for
his brief and shallow episode with Celeste, but of both he had the
accumulated knowledge of the masters and the insight of genius.

It was night--a beautiful, romantic night. Berthe was beautiful,
seductive at all times; what must she not be in the abandon of sleep?
If he could steal to her chamber, gaze upon her unconscious
loveliness, was it not categorical that he should be overwhelmed like
any ordinary man? To defy her scorn for a few poignant moments, then
rush forth repulsed and quite mad, to weep upon his floor until dawn!
He stared at the boards of his ascetic chamber with fascinated
eyes;...to writhe there, to beat the floor with his fists, to weep
like a good Frenchman... And he knew that she had gone to bed early
to-night, worn out with much gaiety.

He ran lightly down the stairs and let himself out of the house as
silently, although his servants slept far in the rear. Even at the top
of the hill not a policeman nor a chance pedestrian was in sight. San
Francisco, he knew, had a roaring night life, but at this hour the
domestic quarters were as silent as a necropolis.

Nor did he meet any one as he walked rapidly along Taylor Street past
the dwellings of the rich to the old-fashioned row of houses perched
high above the "cut." As he was within a foot of the Dupont mansion he
heard a taxicab in his wake, and darted within the sheltering walls of
the covered stair. The cab came to a halt before the house opposite; a
man with a black bag jumped out, and was immediately admitted.

A doctor, of course; but Louis, to his surprise, discovered that he
was experiencing something like a thrill. If seen, he certainly would
be handed over to the police. It was, therefore, a moment of real
danger, and he almost laughed aloud as he discovered himself enjoying
it. Many times he had described, with the most searching analysis,
that sensation of fear during moments of imminent detection--even that
subtle thrill along the nerves--but he was in search of an emotion
that should shake his passions loose, and he ran lightly up the
stairs, dismissing even the agreeable idea that he was also to
experience the sensation of being his own housebreaker, so to speak.
When he reached the upper terrace he took off his shoes and carried
them to a little pagoda behind the house; it was possible that he
would have to make a hasty exit by way of Jones Street. Before leaving
his shelter he looked out warily; but the neighboring houses were
black, and behind the windows of the Dupont library was a row of tall
eucalyptus-trees planted as a windbreak. It was by one of the library
windows that Louis purposed to enter, for he knew that its catch was
broken; Jean-Marie's memory was old and intermittent.

He raised the window without difficulty and stepped into the room. It
was impenetrably dark and full of furniture. On a pedestal was a vase
that had belonged to Napoleon, wired and fastened down as an assurance
against earthquake. But Louis knew every detail of that room; he crept
down its length without encountering a chair, and opened the door.

In the hall a dim light burned. He listened intently, still with a
humorous sense that he felt as like a burglar as any he had ever
created. But he experienced no impulse to steal and complete the chain
of his sensations. His brain, which registered impressions
automatically, was quite normal.

He stole up the stair. Not a step creaked. The upper hall also was
dimly lit. He knew that Madame had given the jeune fille the room next
to hers, but the connecting door was sure to be closed, for the old
lady was a light sleeper and minimized disturbance.

There lay the danger. If Madame heard the slightest sound she would
ring the bell connecting with the servants' rooms in the mansard. He
tiptoed to her door. She was snoring gently. He walked as softly to a
door some ten feet down the hall and turned the knob. It yielded, and
he entered the room where Berthe Dupont slept. The young lady was
friendly to modern hygiene and the window stood wide open. The radiant
moonlight streamed in. Louis, his heart thumping, but his head cool
and his hands quiet, walked over to the bed. Berthe lay with her arms
tossed outward, her head thrown back, as if consciously drawing
attention to the classic outlines under the firm flesh. Her
magnificent dark hair streamed over the pillow.

It should have been an entrancing picture, but for some reason it was
not. In a moment Louis, with his inexorable eye for detail, realized
the peccancy. The young lady's classic face was slightly swollen from
sleep, and pallid; her lips were puffed, and blew out, albeit
noiselessly, as the regular breath exhaled.

Nevertheless, it was Berthe, and she slept. This was her bedroom, her
maiden bower, inviolate by man. She was at his mercy. Why, then, did
he not feel that intoxication of the senses, that unreckoning fury of
the male, that would have favored any young blood of the French
colony? He did not. He merely gazed resentfully at that diminished
beauty. His artistic soul curled up. Far from feeling the sensations
of the inexorable lover, his mind turned black with anger both at her
and at himself. He hated her unreasonably for disappointing him, for
failing to melt the ice in his blood. Well, he had seen the last of
her. To-morrow he would shut himself up once more and by a supreme
effort of will compel his brain to yield up its skulking treasures.

He turned to leave the room, then shrugged his shoulders and
approached the bed, this time more stealthily. Why not give her a
fright? That would be something to the credit side of this fiasco,
which, he reflected with disgust, involved an insult to the best of
his friends. He would make her believe she was being murdered, then
get out while she was still too terrified and breathless to cry for
help.

His first idea was to press his hands about her throat and choke her
gently, not even enough to leave a mark, but quite sufficient to make
her kick and writhe with terror. But in that case she would see him--
he had not even worn his hat. He picked up a pillow she had tossed to
the floor and pressed it against her face. She made a sudden downward
movement, gurgling. He pressed more firmly, his eye measuring the
distance to the door. But the gurgle affected him oddly. He desired to
stop it.

Suddenly he knew that she was awake. She not only attempted to leap
upward, but her strong hands clutched the pillow frantically. He had
not thought of her arms, of those strong, shapely hands he had
admired. With a quick catlike leap he was on her chest, his knees hard
against her lungs; he caught her hands in one of his, pressing his
other arm along that portion of the pillow that covered her nose and
mouth. The blood was running swiftly through his veins. His head was
light and full of pleasant noises. Suddenly he realized that the
tense, strong young body of the girl was relaxing, and he felt a joy
so fierce, so profound, so complete, that he could have shouted aloud
a welcome to his liberated soul and passions as they tore through
those ice barriers at last and found their transports in this sublime
act of taking life.

For Louis had forgotten his original intention merely to terrify. The
literary cultures in his brain had suddenly become personal and
imperative. He was as ruthless as man ever is when supreme desire and
opportunity coincide, whether the lust be for woman or the enemy on
the battle-field. He meant to kill Berthe Dupont and gratify the
clamoring male within him to the full. This was his moment. He was no
assassin by natural inclination, and but for this providential set of
conditions would have gone to his grave a little bourgeois, a literary
machine with as frail a hold on his talents as a singer on a voice
that had never been placed.

The body lay limp and flabby at last. He was about to remove the
pillow, but his artistic soul uncurled itself and made indignant
protest. He lifted the clammy hand and felt the pulse. It was still.
So was the heart to which he laid his ear briefly.

Although there was still that ecstatic riot in his veins, his brain
was by no means confused, and prompted his subsequent acts as
coherently as if he were at his desk, pen in hand. He listened at
Madame's door. She still slept rhythmically. He opened the drawers of
the bureau and chiffonnier and strewed the contents about the room. In
a compartment of the desk he found a loose pile of gold and notes. He
pocketed the gold, leaving the drawer open. He found Berthe's jewel-
box in another drawer, wrenched a few diamonds from their setting and
threw a brooch out of the window.

As he was about to leave he felt a sudden and different impulse toward
Madame's door. But he was above all things an artist. Why repeat a
great experience with possibly failing ardors? And in satiety lay the
terrible danger of finding himself at his desk driving a pen heavy
with reaction that should be tipped with fire.

He returned through the silent house and out of it as noiselessly as
he had come. In the pagoda he tied his shoes properly lest the
dragging laces impede his progress or attract attention.

HE GAZED RESENTFULLY AT THAT DIMINISHED BEAUTY

And then he heard some one coming stealthily up the stair from the
street. A policeman, of course! In an instant he had darted through
the tradesman's entrance in the back fence, down a narrow alley, and
was peering out into Jones Street. It was deserted.

The fog had rushed in from the Pacific. He encountered no one on his
return home. The windows of his own house were still black. He
stealthily replaced the chain insisted upon by his servants, then lit
the gas in his library and almost flew to his desk. Eight hours later
he was still there, and his old servants, weeping and shaking, gave up
trying to make him listen. During the next three months, indeed, he
might have been isolated on the highest peak of the Sierras.

Louis, after the twenty-four hours of deep recuperative sleep that
always followed the finish of a book, awoke to a familiar chorus: the
creaking of his eucalyptus-trees, the fog-horn of Sausalito, the
measured drip of the fog on his old-fashioned window-panes. But he
returned to his personal life with something more than the usual
reaction after a long period in the world of imagination; his
depression was so great that the divine happiness of the past five
months was blotted from his memory.

Then, not slowly, but with frightful abruptness, he understood. It was
not that he had forgotten the act of smothering Berthe Dupont while
writing under its inspiration, but that realities, himself, were for
the time non-existent. Now, in the deep depression of his nerve
centers following that long orgy of creation, he felt as if he were
falling down through an abyss of horror without hope and without end.
And while he experienced no regret for his act, since it had given the
world a masterpiece, nor any that he never should see the beautiful
girl again, he was filled with an emotional pity for her that
surprised himself. But then he was an artist, and he owed her so much!

A moment later and he nearly shrieked aloud. There was a heavy tread
on the stair. It was portentously slow and deliberate... Why had he
not been suspected before this?...Had M. Cesar used his
influence?...He, too, was an artist in his way... He cowered under the
bedclothes... The door opened. He heard the rattle of dishes.
Seraphine never allowed him to sleep more than twenty-four hours
without nourishment.

As he sat up in bed he smiled wanly upon his devoted servitor and
smoothed his hair. "Good morning, ma vieille. Or is it afternoon? It
is good to return to that rational condition which enables me to
appreciate your excellent cooking."

Seraphine's gnarled old face grinned. "Ah, Monsieur, it is good to see
you no worse. But you are very pale and thin, alas! Although how,
then, in the name of all the saints, should you not be?"

Louis poured out the coffee with a steady hand. "Don't run away," he
commanded. "Tell me the news. How is M. Cesar? And Madame Dupont? And
the charming Mademoiselle Berthe? Name of a name! but I have not
remembered their existence since the day I began my book."

"Oh, Monsieur! But O God!" She was about to squeeze a tear from her
aged ducts and rock her body, when the gossip in her lively old mind
gave a sniff of disdain and quenched the attempt at retrospective
grief. "I--I--stupid old woman that I am--I had forgotten that you
knew nothing--"

"Knew nothing?" Louis set down his cup. "Nothing has happened to M.
Cesar? Tell me at once!"

"Oh, not M. Cesar, grace a Dieu! But Mademoiselle! Oh, Monsieur!
Quelle horreur!"

"Did she die, that charming young lady? She seemed a marvel of
health." Louis loosened the soft collar of his night-gown, but his
tones merely betrayed a proper concern.

"Dieu! Dieu! If that were all! She was assassinated, that beautiful
young girl, just from Paris, and of an innocence, an excellence, a
respectability! And by a miserable villain who had seen her take money
from the bank that day and got in by the window that old fool of a
Jean-Marie had dared to neglect. And with a pillow!" The voluble
details convinced Louis that suspicion had not brushed him in passing.

"And the assassin?" he demanded when Seraphine paused for breath.
"Whom do they suspect?"

"Suspect? But they caught him red-handed, the foul fiend. For that we
thank the good God."

"Caught him! Do you mean as he was in the act of smothering poor
Mademoiselle Berthe?"

"But no, Monsieur. He already had made his way down the stairs and out
of the house, enfin! But a policeman was in the garden waiting for
him. He had been told by some one who had seen the wretch sneak up the
covered way. But not too soon, alas! The assassin denied all, of a
certainty. He vowed he had been so terrified at the sight of the young
lady murdered in her bed that he ran away at once. But, oh! of a great
certainty, no one believed him. No, not one!"

"But it well could have been. Remember that I have written stories to
prove the criminal folly of condemning on circumstantial evidence
alone."

"Ah, yes, Monsieur, that is all very well in stories. But you see this
was life, and the man was caught by a real policeman."

"When is the man to be tried?"

"Tried? The man has been tried and hanged, Monsieur."

"What!"

"But yes, Monsieur. Sometimes a murderer is hanged in San Francisco,
and this was a miserable, a tramp, with no money or friends to make
delay--grace a Dieu! But you are white as death, Monsieur. Who am I to
tell you this horrible story when you have just come back from the
dead, as it were--"

"It is true that I am overcome. But arrange my bath. I will dress and
go to M. Cesar. Oh, my God!"

"But yes, Monsieur."

For a few moments Louis hoped he was dead, that his ice-cold body was
yielding up his agonized spirit. He made a desperate effort to rouse
the sleeping artist and summon him to the rescue, but without avail;
the man was left alone to face the fact that he was a murderer who had
taken not one life, but two. And of the two he regretted the
friendless burglar the more poignantly.

The fundamental moral questions had never held debate in his highly
specialized brain. He had been brought up respectably and had led so
impersonal a life that he had obeyed the laws of society
automatically. But in this hour of awful revelation, while the artist
in him slept the sleep of the dead, he was merely the son of a long
line of excellent bourgeois ancestors and could have spat upon himself
as a pariah dog.

But in time he got up, bathed, dressed. He even paid his customary
visit to the barber. Then he turned his steps toward M. Cesar.

Madame Dupont had gone to Santa Barbara to recuperate after the severe
shock to her nerves. M. Cesar, unless dining out, would be at his
club. It was eight o'clock.

"Mr. Dupont," he was told, was in the dining-room. Louis gave orders
not to disturb him, and was shown into the library. A bright fire
burned. He was very cold. He sank limply into a deep chair beside it
and dropped his chin on his chest. His mind was too dull for thought,
but fully made up.

He was roused by a firm grip on his shoulder, and started up to meet
his old friend's tired but kindly eyes.

"But how is this?" cried M. Dupont, in genuine surprise. "It cannot be
that you have finished the great work in three months? I did not
expect to see you for another two. But of a certainty you write with
more and more facility--"

"I wish to see you alone. I have something horrible to say."

"Come up-stairs. My chambers are being done over and I am staying
here." M. Dupont, who had given the young author a keen, appraising
glance, spoke soothingly and drew a trembling arm through his own.
"Mon Dieu, Louis, but you are thin! How long do you fancy you can keep
this up? I feared for your gifts. Now I fear for something more
precious still. You look on the verge of collapse."

"It does not matter. Take me quickly to your room."

M. Dupont, who never hurried, and always carried his portly form with
a certain stateliness, led Louis out of the library and up one flight
of the broad staircase to his temporary quarters. Already, Louis
automatically noted, his club bedroom had the intimate and sybaritic
look of his famous apartment. He had brought to it silver and crystal
for his bureau and little buffet, framed photographs of beautiful
women, a Meissonier, and several easy-chairs.

He pushed Louis into the deepest of the chairs, poured out a stiff
whisky-and-soda, and stood over his guest until the glass was empty.
Then he lighted his second after-dinner cigar and settled himself with
the first sensation of anticipatory humor he had felt for many weeks.
Louis always interested him and not infrequently amused him, with no
effort on the part of that most unhumorous mind.

Louis lay back in his chair for a moment, responding to the glow of
the spirits. He was still very cold.

"Now, my son, what is it? You may or may not have heard of the
terrible tragedy that has devastated my home, but that can wait--"

"Oh no, Monsieur, it is not to wait! It is of that I have come to
speak."

"But, of course, old Seraphine would have told you the moment you
would listen. It is like you to come at once, although God knows I
should have been grateful for your sympathy during that terrible
time--"

"Oh, Monsieur! I cannot stand it!" Louis sprang to his feet and strode
about the room. "It is something more awful still that I have come to
tell you. How am I to do it? You, who have always been so kind! My
only friend! My God, what a return! But of that I never thought. I was
obsessed. It was an inhibition."

"Dear Louis! Come to the point. Are you quoting from your new book--"

"M. Cesar, you do not know what you are dodging! I will try to put my
confession in a few words. It was I--I--Louis Bac, who--who--killed
Mademoiselle Berthe. There! It is said!"

"My poor boy!" M. Dupont rose and poured out another whiskey-and-soda.
"Drink this and I will put you to bed in a room close by--drunk, hein!
for the first time in your life."

But Louis shook his head. Then he turned upon his friend eyes so
beseeching and so abject that the ready tears rose to the eyes of the
elderly Frenchman.

"When did Seraphine tell you this dreadful thing?"

"An hour or two ago."

"Just after you had awakened from your long sleep?"

Louis nodded.

"No wonder your insatiable faculty immediately began on another! God
knows it is not a subject for jest, but I cannot lose you, too. You
will go to bed now--"

"Oh, Monsieur, you must believe me! I tell you I smothered
Mademoiselle Berthe with a pillow--"

"Tut! tut! That was all in the papers. I can see old Seraphine's
ghoulish delight in recreating that grisly scene. And she told you, of
course, that the drawers were open, the contents strewn about--"

"No; or if she did I have forgotten. God! how the moonlight streamed
in!"

He flung off M. Cesar's hand, and almost ran about the room while his
uneasy host felt of his biceps.

"Will you not believe me?" shrieked Louis.

"Perhaps, dear boy, when you have slept on it--"

"Oh, don't talk as if you thought me insane. If you refuse to believe
me I shall go from here and give myself up. I intend to do that
anyhow, but I wished to confess to you first. That was your right."

"Do you know what would happen if you went to a police station and
denounced yourself? You would first be laughed at and then, if you
persisted, sent to a lunatic asylum. It is well you came to me first.
Why, the murderer has been hanged. The state would refuse to reopen
the case--"

"Surely not!"

"Surely yes."

"Then it is between you and me?"

"And a doctor if you do not go to bed at once."

"Oh, but you must believe in me!" Another memory flashed into his
stimulated mind, and he confronted M. Cesar with an air of triumph.
"The man denied it, did he not? He said he went into the house to
steal and found Berthe murdered, and fled. Is it not so?"

"Naturally."

"Now attend. How do you account for the fact that they found nothing
on him--neither the missing gold nor the diamonds wrenched from the
bracelet?"

"He had an accomplice, of course. He stood under the window while the
man, after he murdered Berthe, dropped the loot out of the window. A
brooch was found on the grass. The rear gate was open."

"Ah no, Monsieur. I flung that brooch out of the window. I have that
gold, those diamonds in my desk at home. Come with me."

For a moment M. Cesar turned gray and the shoulders that had supported
a musket so gallantly in 1870 sagged as if old age had suddenly made
its perch there. But he shook himself angrily erect. Did he not know
Louis and his delusions? Was the poor boy ever actually on the mortal
plane? Had not he himself, twice summoned by Seraphine, poured
scalding coffee down his throat? Undoubtedly he had loved Berthe and
been inspired at last, for during the first hours of his own grief and
horror he had dared to intrude upon the high priest at his altar, and
met the unseeing eyes of a genius in ecstasy. No wonder he was nearly
mad with grief now.

There was nothing but to humor him. Once more he took his arm, and led
him out into the street. Slowly the two men climbed the hills through
the fog, for one, though gallant, was no longer young, and the other,
although tragically young, was very weak. When they reached the foot
of the steep incline which led up to the old Bac mansion M. Dupont
cunningly would have passed on, but Louis swung about peremptorily,
and the philosophical old boulevardier, who cared for no further
argument or confiscation of his precious evening hours, shrugged his
shoulders and followed his erratic young friend up and into the house.

The economical Seraphine never left a light burning in the hall. Louis
struck a match and led the way into the old double parlors he used as
his study, and lit a gas-jet. M. Cesar sat down on one of the
horsehair chairs and opened his cigar-case.

"Mon Dieu!" he cried. "What a way to live in this amiable world.
Fireless, dank, chairs stuffed with rocks. No wonder you look as if
you had been in cold-storage."

"Oh, do not trouble yourself to light a cigar, Monsieur. It will go
out, I assure you."

He pulled open a drawer of his desk and pointed to a pile of loose
gold and half a dozen diamonds of fair size.

"My God!"

M. Cesar experienced an awful feeling of disintegration. The cigar
fell from his relaxed hand and he sagged as far back in the chair as
its uncompromising back would permit. He stared at the contents of the
drawer throughout a long moment while he shivered with the impression
that the waters of death were rising in that bleak and horribly silent
room. But at the end of those sixty indelible seconds he sat very
erect and the angry color rushed to his face.

"No!" he exclaimed. "That is not evidence. I am quite unconvinced. I
have not the least idea how much gold Berthe had in her desk, and one
gold-piece is like another. I am a judge of diamonds, for I, alas!
have bought many; but diamonds of the same size and water are as hard
to identify. Those, no doubt, were your mother's."

"My mother had no diamonds. And what do you suppose I do with diamonds
in my desk?"

"Properties, no doubt. How do I know that you have not in another
drawer burglars' kits and tools, and all the other instruments of
destruction with which your characters celebrate themselves? Those
diamonds were larger than any poor Berthe possessed."

"They may have looked small in the heavy art nouveau setting. I
noticed the bracelet the night of the dinner."

"I never saw it until I saw it in ruins. Let me see those stones."
Louis gathered them up and poured them into M. Cesar's steady hand.
The old Frenchman felt of them, held them up to the light, flung them
back contemptuously into the drawer. "Paste! I thought as much. For
why should you buy real diamonds? As for Berthe--what few stones the
poor child had were genuine. She could neither afford stones of that
size nor would she condescend to wear paste."

"Do you mean to say you will not believe me?" Louis looked sharply at
M. Cesar.

It was quite natural that this amiable gentleman should not choose to
believe he had blindly nourished a viper. And not, perhaps, motivated
by pride and affection alone. He was kind and charitable and a keen
man of business, but pleasure was his god. No man had extracted more
juice from the sweet apple of life than he, tasted less of its ashes.
It was quite in keeping that he should refuse to have his pleasant
pastures sown with horrors a second time.

M. Dupont rose. "I shall send you a sleeping-powder from the
chemist's. To-morrow you will take the eleven-thirty train for Santa
Barbara, spend a month in my mother's charming home at Montecito, and
forget that you are a poor genius subject to plots at the wrong time.
That, or a sanatorium. Do you comprehend, my friend?"

Louis turned away with a hopeless gesture. "Oh, very well. Have your
own way."

"And you will be ready when I call for you at ten minutes past
eleven?"

"If I am awake."

"I shall go out the back way and tell Seraphine to awaken you. Now I
must leave you, as I have kept a very charming person waiting too long
already."

"Good night, Monsieur. I can tell Seraphine myself."

"Very well. I trust you to do so." Louis accompanied his guest with
extreme courtesy to the door. On the threshold M. Cesar paused and
looked back into the dark house with a shudder. "Ciel, but it is a
tomb! I cannot take you with me this evening, but you can go to the
club and sleep there."

"Many thanks, Monsieur, but this house is not a tomb to me. It is my
home."

"True. A thousand pardons. Au revoir, mon fils."

It was two o'clock in the morning when Louis laid down his pen. He had
confessed in minute detail to the killing of Berthe Dupont, entering
into an elaborate and brilliant analysis of the primary causes, the
successive phases of a more extended psychological process than he had
realized at the time, the final impulse, and, as far as possible, the
pathological condition of his brain during the act and the minor acts
that followed. He added that while he found it impossible to feel
remorse in the common sense, as through this abominable crime he had
achieved the passionate ambition and desire of his life and a period
of indescribable joy, he felt that as a member of society, however
indifferent, it was now his duty to make atonement. As M. Dupont had
convinced him that his story would not be believed, that, in fact, the
authorities would incarcerate him in a lunatic asylum if he persisted
in declaring his guilt, he had determined to act for himself.

He made his confession, he further added, not to clear the name of the
poor derelict who had paid the penalty for a crime of which he was
innocent, but in the interest of science, which would welcome this
voluntary revelation of creative psychology. He believed that other
serious writers of fiction, those illustrious men who had written to
him with a spontaneous sense of brotherhood, would understand and
exonerate. He had cast his soul and his body on the altar of art, and
no man had ever done more.

He had written the confession in French and English. He addressed one
manuscript to the leading morning newspaper of San Francisco, the
other to the literary critic of a great journal in Paris. Then he took
a large key from a drawer of his desk and left the house. He dropped
the two packages in a mail-box at the foot of the hill, and waited
long and wearily for a car. They were infrequent at this hour, but he
felt too tired to walk to the outskirts of the city. The night was
chill and the fog was dense, but when the car finally came along he
took a seat on the front of the dummy, for he dreaded the lights
within, of meeting some one, perhaps, who would recognize and speak to
him.

When he reached the end of the line he was shivering, and
involuntarily he pulled his coat-collar about his ears and thrust his
hands into his pockets as he walked rapidly up the hill to the
Catholic cemetery.

He knew all the cemeteries on Lone Mountain well, for he often walked
there, reading the names on the shafts and mausoleums and
reconstructing the history of early San Francisco, of which the dust
below had been so fiery an impulse. Henri Bac I. had built a mausoleum
here, too, for he felt that as a pioneer he should have a permanent
resting-place among the dead who had made history. He had, indeed,
been a member of the two great Vigilance Committees, had played his
part on more than one occasion as an active citizen who could do
somewhat more for the swaddling city than teach its adventurous
spirits how to distinguish between stomach and palate.

Louis, who had always been a dutiful son, had come out here every
Sunday in all weathers and placed a wreath on the little altar in the
dim interior of the vault, knelt automatically for a moment beneath
the shelves behind which his parents were sealed.

He unlocked the heavy door; then, as it swung slowly inward, he turned
and glanced down over the sleeping city he had loved in his own
impersonal fashion. The fog moved like the tides of the sea whose boom
came faintly to him. Here and there a shaft from an arc-light shone
faintly through, but for the most part San Francisco was the black
depths of a ghostly inland sea.

Above him the night was clear. The cross on Calvary stood out like
ebony against the glittering sky, a gay and spangled sky as if all the
great planets and all the little courtesan stars up there were ready
for a night of carnival and laughing at gloomy old Earth.

For a moment Louis hesitated. He was a Catholic by training, and to
certain crimes the Church is merciless. But he reasoned that he no
more had the right to call himself a Catholic than to persist as a
mortal. He went into the vault and swung the heavy door behind him. It
clanged faintly, but there was no one to hear.