Out of the night, came the woman s voice that awoke in Karnavale a stern resolve to high sacrifice. And, out of the night, came the answer to his dream of the impossible woman.
FRANK R. ADAMS
ONCE in the absent-minded life of Professor Karnavale there had been a woman. He had never forgotten a single thing about her save her name.
He knew that she was a dynamo of lazy energy, that her eyes were sleeping fire, that her hair was fine bronze and that, when she stood, her shoulders would have fitted under his arm. And yet he had never held her in his arms nor touched her crimson lips. There was a subdued barbaric ferocity about her that forbade familiarity unless it crushed her first, and Professor Karnavale had not been the kind of man to conquer a woman and love her afterwards. He had succumbed first and then had feared to lose all by putting his fortunes to the test.
He had met her at a reception or some fool, women’s show at the home of another member of the university faculty. It was the only affair of that kind which he remembered with pleasure.
She was the first woman he had ever encountered who knew anything about his own subject -toxicology. She did not begin to have a working knowledge of poisons, but she knew a few elementary facts and could understand his language. Before he met her, Professor Karnavale had suspected that the only woman who could have carried on a breakfast table conversation with him had perished when Catherine de Medici took an overdose of chloral or something equally powerful, back in the sixteenth century.
She had drawn him out about himself, made him talk. Perhaps that was why he knew so little about her save her haunting desirability. When the afternoon was gone she slipped away with it and he remembered, too late, that he had nothing of her but a compelling desire to see her again.
He was a bashful chap then is now for that matter— and he thought that he would meet her again soon. So he forebore to make inquiries. Instead, he became an assiduous guest at teas, receptions and even dances. But she never crossed his orbit again. Apparently, she had dropped in from some other circle of society and, after one dip, had returned to her own world.
After a time that was eight years back— he gave up— in a way, that is. He still retained a glorious image of her that he held up to compare other women with. To think of her at least once each day was almost a rite; to dream of her at night was a longed-for pleasure because in his dreams she was kind.
npHIRTY-four, single and not bad looking, Karnavale assiduously counteracted his sedentary habits by long walks in the open air and systematized physical exercises which he did not enjoy in the least, although his knowledge of human tissues told him they were good for him.
He had gone to sleep propped up in bed. The light by his bedside was still burning and his book lay on the bed where it had fallen when slumber dragged him down. Now he awoke with an unpleasant start.
Must have been lying in a cramped position, he thought, as rousing consciousness struggled to quiet jarred nerves.
No. There it was. The telephone in the hall gave forth a shrill, jarring cry like a shriek for help.
He jumped out of bed, noting with surprise, as he did so, that his watch on the reading table indicated three o’clock in the morning.
Before he could reach the instrument it shrilled forth again. He put his hand over the bell to stop its hideous clamor.
“Hello,” he answered at length when the ringing had ceased.
A woman’s voice replied and asked if it were Professor Leroy Karnavale talking.
He had time to dwell upon the hushed thrill in the voice while he was admitting his identity. It was not a voice that he recognized— exactly— it belonged to no friend that he knew of and yet it had awakened a responsive chord. She had not spoken loudly but in her tone was subdued emotion. It was a woman of personality w-ho had addressed him and she could make her magnetism felt through the instrument . . .
"I am Professor Karnavale.”
“I saw your light burning,” the voice explained, “and I took the liberty of calling you up.”
"Yes,” he interjected pleasantly. “What can I do for
“I am in trouble,” she went on, “and I know of no one to turn to except yourself. As I understand it, you are a chemist of international reputation and have made a specialty of toxicology. You are familiar with all sorts of poisons and their reactions upon the human system?”
“I am somewhat familiar with the science you mention,” the professor admitted, wondering what under heaven the woman was getting at.
“I’ll have to ask you to listen patiently to a case which I will outline and then ask for your assistance. That is, if you are not sleepy.”
Karnavale’s curiosity was aroused and sleep had fled from him to the four corners of the earth.
“I am listening,” he assured her.
“I want you to put yourself, if possible, in the place of a woman, still young and reputed beautiful, who is married to a horrible old man who has killed her love for him by his cruel and inhuman treatment of her.”
As she spoke Karnavale had a curious sense of slipping under a spell. Her voice clothed her colorless narrative
with passionate reality and he already found himself her partisan. Of course it was her own story she was telling him. Why to him, he could not fathom but he would doubtless understand presently.
“Her husband,” the woman went on, “has accused her, without warrant, of every vile treachery that his mind can conjure up and because he knows that he cannot live much longer, he is doing his best so to blacken her that her punishment will last all of her life, even after he is dead.” “Shame!” murmured Karnavale sympathetically.
The woman paused as if to collect herself from the emotional strain under which she was laboring.
“His story is false,” she went on in passionate denial, “but there is no way of proving it and who will believe her against the word of a dead man? Would you?”
“He has sent for his attorney,” the woman went on, her voice more thrilling as she got into her story, “and he is going to make provision by will for the publication immediately after his death of a statement of his wife’s presumable guilt. Further, he is going to provide for the re-publication of this story, once every year as long as she lives. It is to be done by paid advertisement. All this he has told her in order to see her writhe helplessly and also, as he says, in order that she will not look forward with any pleasure to his death. When he says that he grins fiendishly, and chuckles with a sound like dice rattling in a leather cup.”
Karan vale thought a moment. “I don’t know,” he admitted finally.
“Of course you wouldn’t believe. No one would. I would not, myself.”
“Can’t something be done to stop him now,” suggested the professor, “before he communicates with his attorney? Can’t he be reasoned with?”
“If you knew how, for years, his wife has tried to convince him that he is wrong, you would not suggest such a thing. It is hopeless.”
“You say he is old?”
“Yes, and an invalid. He will scarcely live through the
“Hm.” Karnavale hummed when he was thinking.
“If only something would happen before he makes that
will,” suggested the voice.
“Yes,” admitted Karnavale, scarce noticing what he
“If he should die a little sooner than the doctors expected,” she went on eagerly.
Karnavale recoiled at the suggestion but said nothing. “Don’t draw away like that,” she said interpreting uncannily the action she could not possibly see. “It isn’t so bad as it seems at first. It struck the woman that way at first, too, but for hours she walked the floor listening to the rattling breathing in the next room and she can see no other way. It means so little to him,” she pleaded. “He has lived his life, but she— why, she is almost unbelievably beautiful and young and life has only just begun to promise things to her.”
“You are talking nonsense,” said Karnavale, fearfully fascinated with the proposition she had put up to him. “Your idea is absolute folly.”
“If for no other reason than -that it would result in execution or at least imprisonment for life. Then what use would it be to have youth and beauty and all the promises that life could never fulfil?”
“She might better take a chance of punishment.” urged the woman, “than go forward to a certain living hell if she lets things drift. Besides, there must be some way which would leave no trace. Would it be possible to hypnotize a person and than while under the influence give him a harmless tablet, such as aspirin, and tell him it was a deadly poison? In that event would not the subject suffer the same results as if the poison had been actually administered? And of course there would be no toxicsubstance revealed by a later chemical analysis.”
“Ingenious,” commented Karnavale, “but I doubt if it would work. It might produce convulsions of a similar character but I think it would not—er—bring about the result the lady appears to desire.”
The woman laughed at his circumlocution. Her laugh was not unpleasant—quite the reverse in fact—and Karnavale wondered at himself for being pleased at its lilt. He had heard of women who charmed even while they destroyed, bur his experience had not included one of the type.
"Then how about this plan?” the voice went on. "He is very fond of mushrooms and is very well informed as to the different varieties. He prides himself on being able to name practically all of the edible kinds and boasts that it would be impossible to deceive him with one of the others. Would it be possible to isolate the active principle of the poisonous variety and inject it into one that is apparently harmless?”
"Clever,” ejaculated Professor Karnavale. “I never heard of anything one-half so ingenious.”
“WTiat is the poisonous element of inedible mushrooms?”
The question was shot at him swiftly.
Almost without thinking he replied, "Muscarin, which is a by-product of choline oxidized with dilute nitric acid.” "Wait a minute,” requested the voice. "Until I write that down. Muscarin,” she repeated slowly, "a byproduct of choline oxidized with dilute nitric acid. Thank you.”
"Wait,” exclaimed the professor, beginning to realize what he was doing. “You must promise you will not use that information.”
A slight but musical laugh interrupted him "Pm sorry, but I can’t promise. Good-night!”
"Please, for God’s sake, wait,” cried Karnavale into the mouthpiece of his telephone. “Let me meet you and talk to you face to face about this.”
While he was speaking a click told him that the receiver at the other end had been hung up
A cold perspiration broke out on his forehead. He was in an agony of remorse and indecision. Under the spell of her voice and personality he had given away informa-
tion that might cause the death of a fellow human being. No matter what the woman’s husband had done, he, Leroy Karnavale, had committed a crime in delivering him into the unscrupulous hands of one who sought his life.
In reality, he was an accomplice! Without the knowledge which he had offered, the woman would not have dared to take any step. In point of fact, the professor was the more guilty party of the two.
He must do something to stop it. Frantically he signalled the telephone operator by moving the receiver hook up and down.
After an interminable period a voice answered: “What is it, please?”
“What was the name of that party who just called me up?” he sputtered in his haste. “Give me the telephone number or home address or anything, but be quick.”
“I can’t, sir. We do not keep a check on calls.”
The telephone operator was coldly matter of fact in her reply.
“This is a matter of life and death,” pleaded Karnavale anxiously.
“Sorry, sir, but I haven’t any record,” returned the operator. “The call was from another exchange and I've no way of checking it.”
Karnavale reeled from the instrument. “W’hat have I done? What have I done?” He almost sobbed.
A sudden thought struck him. The woman had said that she had seen the light in his window before calling him. If she could see his window her own must be in sight from his. At three o’clock in the morning there would not be many lights. Any window that showed a gleam would doubtless be hers.
He dashed to his own room and as he entered he turned out the light from the wall switch and jumped to the window.
He was almost too late. Just as he looked out into the
night he saw a light disappear from one of the countless windows of an apartment building in the next block.
By a great mental effort he fixed in his mind the point which he was looking at and, after calculating carefully, he finally decided that it was on the sixth floor and a little to the left of a black spot in the middle of the building which was undoubtedly an entrance court.
These were flimsy data to go on, but better than absolutely nothing. It was hardly enough to warrant him in directing the police to go there but he felt that he must investigate for himself.
He wasn’t sure whether he wanted the police to interfere. The spell of that woman’s voice was upon him yet, and he wanted to save her from the folly which she seemed about to commit. Perhaps he could help her out of her dilemma. Perhaps her contemplated crime could be averted and her soul saved from the smirching horror that would be its aftermath.
Keeping his eyes more or less glued to the spot where he had seen the light disappear, he began to dress hastily and rang a bell which communicated with a Japanese manservant, Frank Iynenaga, who slept in the back room.
Iynenaga came in fully dressed before Karnavale was ready for the street.
“Yesss?” said Iynenaga, entering noiselessly. It was his equivalent for the English butler’s, “Did you ring, sir?”
“I want you to go with me,” ordered Karnavale, opening his desk and taking therefrom a long-unused revolver of formidable size. “Get your hat.”
A minute later Iynenaga joined him at the door, carrying an unusual looking cane.
“What is that?” Karnavale asked as they descended street.
By way of reply Iynenaga took it by both hands and pulled it apart in the middle so that there was revealed in the lower half a glistening blade of slender steel. He shoved it together again and it became a cane once more.
“Ver’ fine,” he said, with a grin. He, too, had come prepared for trouble.
Karnavale led the way to the building in which he had seen the lighted window.
In the entry-wav the colored hall-boy proved an unexpected obstacle.
‘‘Who do you want to see?” he demanded when he was disturbed from the doze into which he had fallen.
“I don’t know the name,” said Karnavale impatiently, “but they live on the sixth floor on that side of the court.” He indicated by gesture where he thought the apartment was.
The hall boy looked suspiciously at his questioners. “I couldn’t let you go up,” he stated definitely.
“An old man and his wife live there. He is quite old and is sick. She is young and very beautiful.”
“There ain’t nobody like that that lives on the sixth floor.”
Karnavale looked around helplessly. “I’ve got to get up there,” he said to no one in particular.
“Yesss,” said the Iynenaga sibilantly, bowing as if he had received an order. “I fix ’em for you.”
With a sudden movement the Jap stepped to the side of the colored hall boy and grabbed his wrist and forearm deftly, and twisted it in such a way that the hoy fell out of his chair and dropped to his knees with an exclamation of pain.
“Hush, nigger,” admonished Iynenaga “You keep ’em quiet like a mouse or I break your arm easy like this.” He put iust enough pressure into his grip to show the boy that he was noc making an idle threat then he turned to his employer. “I take care of him. You go up.”
“Very well,” said Karnavale, taking quite as a matter of course the methods of his high-handed ally. “Listen, Frank, if I don’t come down in fifteen minutes you telephone for the police to come.”
“Yesss,” returned the Iynenaga in the same matter of fact way which the order was given. Karnavale entered the elevator which stood open at the ground floor and, operating it himself, went up to the sixth.
There he got off cautiously and, after taking his bearings, walked to the door behind which he judged the tragedy lay.
He rapped loudly on the panel. It echoed strangely in the silent hall.
He rapped a second time and just as he did so a voice behind the door said, “Is that you, Sammy?”
Karnavale made the instant decision that Sammy was the name of the colored hall boy and he replied: “Yes’m, it’s Sammy.”
The door opened slightly and in the dim light in the hall he saw a woman standing before him, dressed in a silk negligee with her hair becomingly disarranged. When she saw that it was not the boy she started to slam the door in his face, but Karnavale adopted a time worn expedient and hastily stuck out a foot so that the shock of the slamming door was taken up by the sole of his shoe.
“It will be better if you let me in,” he suggested significantly. “It would not be wise to rouse the neighbors.”
He was sure that this was the woman who had spoken to him over the telephone. Her voice when she had answered his summons had identified her and, now that he stood face to face with her, even in that dim light he was positive. The same subtle and compelling charm that he had noticed before now smote him with redoubled vigor.
After a moment’s hesitation, she silently opened the door to its full swing and, turning her back, walked away, leaving him to follow if he chose. Professor Karnavale closed the door behind him and stepped into the small living room.
She stood on the opposite side of a large, flat-topped desk, littered with books and papers.
And her face was the face of her whom he had carried in his heart all these years.
“You,” he said simply, as one who arrives at the goal of a long search.
But what an ironical ending of his quest! He had found her, yes, but she was either a murderess or another man’s wife.
On her desk directly under a shaded student’s lamp lay half a dozen mushrooms.
“I see I was not quick enough in draw ing my shade,” the girl announced with a shrug of her shoulders. “I should have thought of that before I telephoned ”
“You knew who I was when you saw me at your door?”
“Yes.” She smiled.
“How?” he asked suspiciously.
She looked at him quizzically. “Do you think I could have forgotten you? You did not forget me.”
Karnavale thrilled. Did this woman, too, recognize the bond that existed be, tween them?
“I’ve always felt as if I knew you quite well, knew you well enough to call upon you when I needed a friend,” she went on, “and so it didn’t seem so odd to me, when I called up, as it doubtless did to you. When I wanted information on a subject in which you were a specialist, I quite naturally turned to you just as if you were an intimate friend. It was only afterwards that I realized how unusual my actions must appear to you who did not even know that I still existed.”
How very calm she appeared!
She must be a wonderful actress to have her emotions so thoroughly under control, thought Karnavale. He almost feared her at the same time that he felt drawn toward her. She was too frail and too tired looking to handle the problem which life ! had thrust upon her. The natural thing would be to take her in his arms and tell her to let him, her lover, assume all her perplexing responsibilities.
Such a course was illogical, he admitted, and from every reasonable viewpoint he was a fool to fall in love with a woman who could even conceive a plan such as she had outlined, yet he had done so and who was he to gainsay nature?
It seemed foolish to beat about the hush. The hour of the night and the seriousness of the situation seemed to preclude conventional preamble.
“I’ve come,” he said abruptly, “to offer you another solution to your problem.”
“Yes?” she asked inquiringly.
“Suppose,” he outlined briefly, “that you—” he paused and corrected himself, “that the young woman you were telling me about knew that in the world there was someone waiting for her who would believe in her no matter what happened. Then, it would not be necessary to interfere with the husband’s plan for post! humous vengeance. If she had that knowledge, could she not let matters take their ' course and keep her hands unstained?' ¡
She looked at him with a light of interest in her eyes. “That is a way out,” she exclaimed. “I don’t think it is quite as ingenious as the other, but it would work.”
He looked at her in amazement Why should she care whether his solution tc her problem was ingenious or not? Was that the way to receive a veiled proposal of marriage?
She went on as if to herself “I’m sorry I didn’t call on you sooner. Your scheme is good. It would have saved a lot of trouble.”
The girl’s words sent a cold shock through Karnavale’ssystem. Whatdid she mean by wishing she had called on him sooner. Was it too late?
Fascinated by a sudden fear, his glance rested on the mushrooms.
She had spoken over the telephone of hearing her husband’s heavy breathing in the next room. A door at one side of the room stood ajar. Beyond it was a black oblong of darkness. That must be the bedroom.
He held his own breath to listen. There was no sound of any kind, there or anywhere.
Ten seconds of strained listening convinced him that there was nothing alive in the apartment save himself and that pale-faced, large-eyed girl.
And then, in that clean, thin silence came an insistent tap-tap-tap.
She heard it, too.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Someone on the stairs. I wonder why they don’t use the elevator?”
“I came up in it,” he explained briefly, “and left it on this floor.”
“Where was the hall boy?”
“He was busy.”
The tap-tap-tap of feet on the fireproof stone stairway grew nearer, although a trifle slower.
Then, suddenly, Karnavale knew what it was.
Iynenaga, faithful to his instructions, had waited the prescribed length of time and then had called for official help.
For the moment Karnavale cursed his servant’s fidelity. Under the circum stances a blue uniform was the last thing he wished to see. What, if by his coming to her, he had brought to punishment the woman he loved? If he had not interfered, she would have at least had a chance to escape. Now she had none.
How could he undo the harm he had done?
The footsteps were at the door now. Karnavale tapped the pocket of his coat. His revolver was there.
The door opened. It had apparently been left unlocked.
Into the room strode two officers, the colored hall boy and the Japanese servant.
“Hands up!” ordered Karnavale, who, much to his own surprise, found his revolver in his hand pointed at the newcomers.
Fortunately for all concerned, the officers obeyed.
‘‘Don’t shoot,” begged the girl, putting her hand on Karnavale’s arm.
“There’s a dead man in the next room,” said Karnavale to the policeman. “I killed him.”
A slight “Oh!” escaped the lips of the girl at his side.
“I know I haven’t a chance of escaping,” he went on evenly, “but this girl is going to have thirty minutes’ start. So you stand just as you are until I tell you to move.”
Then he spoke to the girl.
“Get ready for the street quickly. Don’t go out in that costume. Take the few things you absolutely need. Leave the building and walk quietly to the nearest taxi stand. Don’t go to the railroad station—it will be watched. Drive for a hundred miles or so before you let the taxi go, or, better yet, change cars every time you get a chance. Here’s about a hundred dollars to help you on your way.” With his left hand he extracted a bill-fold from his pocket.
“Why do you do this?” she demanded, a note of wonder in her voice.
“Because you might be arrested as my accomplice. It’s better for you to leave.”
T mean why do you do this for me?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” he said diffidently, and then went on more certainly. “I don’t suppose it makes any difference now because I will surely never see you again, so I may as well tell you that, the moment I heard your voice over the telephone to-night, it crystalized in me a conviction that I have been telling myself was damn foolishness ever since I first met you, eight years ago. I knew that you were something more to me than any person I had ever seen before. When I i saw you again it only confirmed my first ] impression. In a moment of stress like this I suppose one lives faster than at ordinary times. It did not matter that i you were married to someone else—noththing made any difference. Does that ; explain anything? Now go ”
“Why,” she said softly, “you you felt it, too. I’ve known ever since I ¡ first saw you that in you I would find a sincerer understanding, a truer faith than ; in anyone else in the world. And I’ve been 1 so hurt that you never tried to meet me again. I thought you did not care.”
Karnavale’s muscles twitched as he repressed an impulse to take her in his arms. Instead, he fixed his eyes even more intently on the blue uniforms before him.
“Don’t waste time,” he ordered gently. “You must go. Our love story is ended.”
A pair of arms crept around his neck and pulled him toward her.
“Our love story has only begun," she whispered.
His revolver wavered in his hands.
“Drop that gun!”
He was covered by two quickly produced weapons. Regretfully he allowed his own revolver to fall with a heavy thud to the floor.
“Keep him covered, John,” said one of the bluecoats, “and I’ll search the place.”
The officer who had spoken picked up Karnavale’s revolver and went into the next room.
He returned almost immediately.
"There’s nothing there,” he reported, puzzled.
“Of course not,” said thegirl with a'curious little laugh that had a catch in it.
“Then where’s the body?”
“There isn’t any body and there's been no murder,” she said sweetly.
“Then where is your husband?” demanded Karnavale, taking up the role of cross-questioner.
“I haven't any,” she replied. “I thought you knew my name,” she added with apparent irrelevance.
“Who are you?” he asked puzzled.
“My name is Mary Clarges Franklin.”
“The woman who writes detective stories?”
“And you called me up just to get help on a story plot?”
“Partly.” She gave him an odd glance that he interpreted to his own satisfaction.
“Officer, may I use one of my arms?”
“I guess so,”J[said the policeman, slightly puzzled.
Karnavale took it from its uncomfortable elevated position and gathered the girl closely to him, regardless of the openmouthed interest of their audience.
“Well,” he asked at length after everybody’s curiosity had been satisfied, “which ending are you going to use for your story?” He indicated the litter of manuscript on her desk.
She smiled at him contentedly.
“Oh, I don’t care . . now.”