The Sleep Walker
Being a relation of the divers strange adventures whic h befell one Parley Kempton when the latter, sorely troubled with sleeplessness, ventured forth at midnight along the highways and byways of Manhattan.
Author of "The Prairie Wife," "The Hand of Peril," "The Door of Dread," • "The Silver Poppy."
Episode I. — The Strange Case of the Lion Who Couldn't Roar
TO begin with, I am a Canadian by birth, and thirty-three years old. For nine of those years I have lived in New York. And by my friends in that city I am regarded as a successful author.
There was a time when I even regarded myself in much the same light. But that period is past. I now have to face the fact that I am a failure. For when a man is no longer able to write he naturally can no longer be reckoned as an author.
I have made the name of Parley Kempton too well known, I think, to explain that practically all of my stories have been written about Alaska. Just why I resorted to that far-off country for my settings is still more or less a mystery to me. Perhaps it was merely because of its far-offness. Perhaps it was because the editors remembered that I came from the land of the beaver and sagely concluded that a Canadian would be most at home in writing about the Frozen North. At any rate, when I romanced about the Yukon and its ice-bound trails they bought my stories, and asked for more.
And I gave them more. I gave them blood-red fiction about gun-men and claim-jumpers and Siwash queens and salmon-fisheries. I gave them super-men of iron, fighting against cold and hunger, and snarling, always snarling, at their foes. I gave them oratorical young engineers with clear-cut features and sinews of steel, battling against the forces of hyperborean evil. I gave them fistfights that caused my books to be discreetly shut out of school libraries, yet brought in telegrams from motion-picture directors for first rights. I gave them enough gun-play to shoot Chilcoot Pass into the middle of the Pacific, and was publicly denominated as the apostle of the Eye-Socket School, and during the three-hundred-night run of my melodrama, “The Pole Raiders,” even beheld on the Broadway sign-boards an extraordinarily stalwart picture of myself in a rakish Stetson and a flannel shirt very much open at the throat, with a cow-hide holster depending from my Herculean waist-line anda very dreadful-looking sixshooter protruding from the open top of that belted holster. My publishers spoke of me for business reasons as the Interpreter of the Great North-West. And I exploited that territory with the industry of a badger. In my own way I mined Alaska. And it brought me in a very respectable amount of pay-dirt.
But I knew nothing about Alaska. I had never even seen the country. I “crammed up” on it, of course, the same as we used to cram up for a third-form
EDITOR’S NOTE. —Several years ago Arthur Stringer undertook to write a series of mystery stories for an American magazine. These stories were to carry the title of “The Adventures of an Insomniac.” Rut the series had been barely started when the magazine in question passed out of existence, and the Stevensonian adventures of Stringer’s night-prowling hero came to an abrupt end. A t the suggestion of MACLEAN'S MAGAZINE, however, this famous Canadian author has revived his romantic hero, and has woven about him a new series of happenings, a sort of newer “Arabian Nights,” and has cast the same into a novel of mystery and adventure, which, under the title of “The Sleep Walker,” will run in MACLEAN’S for one year, beginning with the present issue. It will consist of twelve stories, each complete in itself but co-related and gradually working to a logical conclusion.
examination in Latin grammar. I perused the atlases and sent for Governmental reports, and pored over the R. N.W. M. P. blue books, and gleaned a hundred or so French-Canadian half-breed names from a telephone directory of the City of Montreal. But I knew no more about Alaska than a Fiji Islander knows about the New York Stock Exchange. And that was why I could romanee so freely, so magnificently, about it!
I was equally prodigal of blood, I suppose, because I had never seen the real thing flow—except in the case of my little niece, when her tonsils had been removed and a very soft-spoken nurse had helped me out of the surgery and given me a drink of ice-water, after telling me it would be best to keep my head as low as possible until I was feeling better. As for fire-arms, I abhorred them. I never shot off an air-rifle without first shutting my eyes. I never picked up a duck-gun without a wince of aversion. So I was able to do wonderful things with fire-arms, on paper. And with the Frozen Yukon and fire-arms combined I was able to work miracles. I gave a whole continent gooseflesh so many times a season. And the
continent seemed to enjoy it, for those airy essays in iron and gore were always paid for, and paid for at higher and higher rates.
THILE this was taking place, something even more important was taking place, something which finally brought me in touch with Mary Lockwood herself. It was accident more than anything else, I think, that first launched me in what is so indefinitely and often so disparagingly known as society. Society, as a rule, admits only the lions of my calling across its sacred portals. And even these lions, I found, were accepted under protest or under the wTing of some commendable effort for charity, and having roared their little hour, were let pass quietly out to oblivion again. But I had been lucky enough to bring letters to the Peytons and to the Gruger-Philmores. and these old families, I will be honest enough to confess, had been foolish enough to like me.
So from the first I did my best to live up to those earlier affiliations. I found myself passed on from one mysteriously barricaded seclusion to the other. The teahour visit merged into the formal dinner, and the formal dinner into the even more formal box at the Horse-Show, and then a call to fill up a niche at the Metropolitan on a Caruso night, or a vacancy for an Assembly Dance at Sherry’s, or a week at Tuxedo, in winter, when the skating was good.
I worked hard to keep up my end of the game. But I was an impostor, of course, all along the line. I soon saw that I had to prove more than acceptable; I had also to prove dependable. That I was a writer meant nothing whatever to those people. They had scant patience with the longhaired genius type. That went down only with musicians. So I soon learned to keep my bangs clipped, my trousers creased, and my necktie inside my coat-lapels. I also learned to use my wits, and how to key my talk up to dowager or down to debutante, and how to be passably amusing even before the champagne course had arrived. I made it a point to remember engagements and anniversaries, and more than once sent flowers and Milliards’ which I went hungry to pay for. Even my pourboires to butlers and footmen and maids stood a matter, in those earlier days for much secret and sedulous consideration.
But, as I have said, I tried to keep up my end. I liked those large and orderly
houses. I liked the quiet-mannered people who lived in them. I liked looking at life with their hill-top unconcern for trivialities. I grew rather contemptuous of my humbler fellow-workers who haunted the “neighborhood” theatres and the red-inkeries of Greenwich Village, and orated socialism and blank-verse poems to garret audiences, and wore window-curtain cravats and celluloid blinkers with big round lenses, and went in joyous and caramel-eating groups to the “rush” seats at Rigoletto. I was accepted, as I have already tried to explain, as an impecunious but dependable young bachelor.
And I suppose I could have kept on that role, year after year, until I developed into a foppish and somewhat threadbare old beau. But about this time I was giving North America its first spasms of goose-flesh with my demi-god type of Gibsonian engineer who fought the villain until his flannel shirt was in rags and then shook his fist in Nature’s face when she dogged him with the Eternal Cold. And there was money in writing for fiat-dwellers about that Eternal Cold, and about battling claw to claw and fang to fang, and about eye-sockets without any eyes in them. My income gathered like a snow-ball. And as it gathered I began to feel that I ought to have an establishment — not a backroom studio in Washington Square, nor a garret in the Village of the Free Versers, nor a mere apartment in the West Sixties, nor even a duplex overlooking Central Park South. I wanted to be something more than a number. I wanted a house, a house of my own, and a cat-footed butler to put a hickory-log on the fire, and a full set of Sèvres on my mahogany sideboard, and something to stretch a strip of red carpet across when the landaulets and the limousines rolled up to my door.
COI took a nine-year lease of the Whighams’ house in Gramercy Square. It was old fashioned and sedate and unpretentious to the passing eye, but beneath that somewhat sombre shell nestled an amazingly rich kernel of luxuriousness. It was unbelievably comfortable, and it was not what the climber clutches for. The cost of even a nine-year claim on it rather took my breath away, but the thought of Alaska always served to stiffen up my courage.
It was necessary to think a good deal about Alaska in those days, for after I had acquired my house I also had to acquire a man to run it, and then a couple of other people to help the man who helped me, and then a town car to take me back and forth from it, and then a chauffeur to take care of the car, and then the service-clothes for the chauffeur, and the thousand and one unlooked for things, in short, which confront the pinfeather householder and keep him from feeling too much a lord of creation.
Yet in Benson, my butler, I undoubtedly found a gem of the first water. He moved about as silent as a panther, yet as watchful as an eagle. He could be ubiquitious and self-obliterating at one and
the same time. He was meekness incarnate, and yet he could coerce me into a predetermined line of conduct as inexorably as steel rails lead a street car along its predestined line of traffic. He was, ih fact, much more than a butler. He was a valet and a chef de cuisine and a lordhigh-chamberlain and a purchasing-agent and a body-guard and à benignant-eyed old god-father all in one. The man babied me. I could see that all along. But I was already an overworked and slightly neurasthenic specimen, even in those days, and I was glad enough to have that masked and silent efficiency always at my elbow. There were times, too, when his activities merged into those of a trained nurse, for when I smoked too much he hid away my cigars, and when I worked too hard he impersonally remembered what morning horse-back riding in the park had done for a former master of his. And when I drifted into the use
of chloral hydrate, to make me sleep, that dangerous little bottle had the habit of disappearing, mysteriously and inexplicably disappearing, from its allotted place in my bathroom cabinet.
THERE was just one thing in which Benson disappointed me. That was in his stubborn and unreasonable aversion to Latreille, my French chauffeur. For Latreille was as efficient, in his way, as Benson himself. He understood his car, he understood the traffic rules, and he understood what I wanted of him. Latreille was, after a manner of speaking, a find of my own. Dining one night at the Peytons I had met the Commissioner of Police, who had given me a card to stroll through headquarters and inspect the machinery of the law. I had happened on Latreille as he was being measured and “mugged” in the Identification Bureau, with those odd-looking Bertillon
forceps taking his cranial measurements. The intelligence of the man interested me; the inalienable look of respectability in his face convinced me, as a student of human nature, that he was not meant for any such fate or any such environment. And when I looked into his case I found that instinct had not been amiss. The unfortunate fellow had been “framed” for a car theft of which he was entirely innocent. He explained all this to me, in fact, with tears in his eyes. And circumstances, when I looked into them, bore out his statements. So I visited the Commissioner, and was passed on to the Probation Officers, from whom I caromed off to the Assistant District Attorney, who in turn delegated me to another official, who was cynical enough to suggest that the prisoner might possibly be released if I was willing to go to the extent of bonding him. This I very promptly did, for I
was now determined to see poor Latreille once more a free man.
Latreille showed his appreciation of my efforts by saving me seven hundred dollars when I bought my town car — though candor compels me to admit that I later discovered it to be a used car rehabilitated, and not a product fresh from the factory as I had anticipated. But Latreille was proud of that car, and nroud of his position, and I was proud of having a French chauffeur, though my ardour was dampened a little, later on. when I discovered that Latreille, instead of hailing from the Bois de Boulogne and the Avenue de la Paix, originated in the slightly less splendid suburbs of Three Rivers, up on the St. Lawrence.
BUT my interest in Latreille about this time became quite subsidiary, for something much more important than cars happened to me. I fell in love. I fell
in love with Mary Lockwood, headover-heels in love with a girl who could have thrown a town car into the Hudson every other week and never have missed it. She was beautiful; she was wonderful; but she was dishearteningly wealthy. With all those odious riches of hers, however, she was a terribly honest and above-board girl, a healthy-bodied, clear-eyed, practical-minded, normal-living New York girl who in her twenty-two active years of existence had seen enough of the world to know what was veneer and what was solid, and had seen enough of men to demand mental camaraderie and not “squaw-talk” from them.
I first saw her at the Volpi sale in the American Art Galleries, where we chanced to bid against each other for an old Italian tablecover, a sixteenth century blue velvet embroidered with gold galloon. Mary bid me down, of course. I lost my table-cover, and with it I lost my heart. When I met her at the Obden-Belponts, a week later, she confessed that I’d rather been on her conscience. She generously offered to hand over that oblong of old velvet if I were still grieving over its loss. But I told her that all I asked for was a chance to see it occasionallv. And occasionally I went to see it. I also saw its owner, who became more wonderful to me, week by week. Tijen I lost my head over her. That apheresis was so complete that I told Mary what had happened, and asked her to marry
Mary was very practical about it all. She said she liked me, liked me a lot. But there were other things to be considered. We would have to wait. I had my work to do—and she wanted it to be big work, gloriously big work. She wouldn’t even consent to a formal engagement. But we had an “understanding.” I was sent back to my work, drunk with the memory of her surrendering lips warm on mine, of her wistfully entreating eyes searching my face for something which she seemed unable to find there.
That work of mine which I went back to, however, seemed something very flat and meagre and trivial. And this, I realized, was a condition which would never do. The pot had to be kept boiling, and boiling now more briskly than ever. I had lapsed into more or less luxurious ways of living; I had formed expensive tastes, and had developed a fondness for antiques and Chinese bronzes and those objects of art which are never found on the bargain-counter. I had outgrown the Spartan ways of my youth when I could lunch contentedly at Childs’ and sleep soundly on a studio-couch in a top-floor room. And more and more that rapacious ogre known as social obligation had forged his links and fetters about my movements. More than ever, I saw, I had my end to keep up. What should have been a recreation had become almost a treadmill. I was a pretender, and had my pretence to sustain. I couldn’t afford to be “dropped.” I had my frontiers to protect, and my powers to placate. I couldn’t ask Mary to throw herself away on a nobody. So instead of trying to keep up one
end, I tried to keep up two. I continued to bob about the fringes of the Four Hundred. And I continued to cling hungrily to Mary’s hint about doing work, gloriously big work.
But gloriously big work, I discovered, was usually done by lonely men, men living simply and quietly, and dwelling aloof from the frivolous side-issues of life, divorced from the distractions of a city which seemed organized for only the idler and the lotus-eater. And I could see that the pay-dirt coming out of Alaska was running thinner and thinner.
IT was to remedy this, I suppose, that I dined with my old friend Pip Connors, just back to civilization after fourteen long years up in the Yukon. That dinner of ours together was memorable. It was one of the milestones of my life. I wanted to furbish up my information on that remote corner of the world, which, in a way I had pre-empted as my own. I wanted fresh information, first-hand data, renewed inspiration. And I was glad to feel Pip’s horny hand close fraternally about mine.
“Parley,” he said, staring at me with open admiration, “you’re a wonder.”
I liked Pip’s praise, even though I stood a little at a loss to discern its inspiration.
“You mean—this?” I asked, with a casual hand-wave about that Gramercy Square abode of mine.
“No, sir,” was Pip’s prompt retort. “I mean those stories of yours. I’ve read
I blushed at this, blushed openly. For such commendation from a man who knew life as it was, who knew life in the raw, was as honey to my ears.
“Do you mean to say you could get them up there?" I asked, more for something to dissemble my embarrassment than to acquire actual information.
“Yes,” acknowledged Pip with a rather foolish-sounding laugh, “they come through the mails about the same as they’d come through the mails down here. And folks even read them, now and then, when the gun-smoke blows out of the valley!”
“Then what struck you as wonderful about them?” I inquired, a little at sea as to his line of thought.
“It’s not them that’s wonderful, Parley. It’s you. I said you were a wonder. And you are.”
“And why am I a wonder?” I asked, with the drip of the honey no longer embarrassing my modesty.
“Parley, you’re a wonder to get away with it!" was Pip’s solemnly intoned reply.
“To get away with it?” I repeated. “Yes; to make it go down! To get ’em trussed and gagged and hog-tied! To make ’em come and eat out of your hand and then holler for more! For I’ve been up there in the British Yukon for fourteen nice comfortable years, Parley, and I’ve kind ’o got to know the country. I know how folks live up there, and what the laws are. And it may strike you as queer, friend-author, but folks up in that district are uncommonly like folks down here in the States. And in the Klondike and this same British Yukon there is a Firearms Act which makes it against the law for any civilian to tote a gun. And that law is sure carried out. Fact is, there’s no need for a gun. And even if you did smuggle one in, the Mounted Police would darned soon take it away from you !”
I sat staring at him.
“But all those motion-pictures,” I gasped. “And all those novels about-”
“That’s why I say you’re a wonder,” broke in the genial-eyed Pip. “You can fool all the people all the time! You’ve done it. And you keep on doing it. You can put ’em to sleep and take it out of their pants’-pocket before they know they’ve gone bye-bye. Why, you’ve even got ’em tranced off in the matter of everyday school geography. You’ve had some of those hero-guys o’ yours mush seven or eight hundred miles, and on a birchbark toboggan, between dinner and supper. And if that ain’t genius, I ain’t ever seen it bound up in a reading-book!”
That dinner was a mile-stone in my life, all right, but not after the manner I had expected. For as I sat there in a cold sweat of apprehension crowned with shame, Pip Connors told me many things about Alaska and the Klondike. He told me many things that were new to me, dishearteningly, discouragingly, devitalizingly new to me. Without knowing it, he poignarded me, knifed me through and through. Without dreaming what he was doing he eviscerated me. He left me a hollow and empty mask as an author. He left me a homeless exile, with the iron gates of fact swung sternly shut on what had been a fairy land of romance, a Promised Land of untrammelled and carefree imaginings.
That was my first sleepless night.
I SAID nothing to Pip. I said nothing to anyone. I held that vulture of shame close in my arms and felt its unclean beak awling into my vitals. I tried to go back to my work, next day, to lose myself in creation. But it was like seeking consolation beside a corpse. For me, Alaska was killed, killed for ever. And blight had fallen on more than my work. It had crept over my very world, the world which only the labor of my pen could keep orderly and organized. The city in which I had seemed to sit a conqueror suddenly lay about me a flat and monotonous tableland of ennui, as empty and stale as a circus-lot after the last canvas-wagon had rumbled away.
I have no intention of making this recountal the confessions of a neurasthenic. Nothing is farther from my aims than the inditing of a second “City of Dreadful Night.” But I began to worry. And later on I began to magnify my troubles. I even stuck to New York that summer, for the simple reason that I couldn’t afford to go away. And it was an unspeakably hot summer. I did my best to work, sitting for hours at a time staring at a blank sheet of paper, set out like tangle-foot to catch a passing idea. But not an idea alighted on that square of spotless white. When I tried new fields, knowing Alaska was dead, the editors solemnly shook their heads and announced that this new offering of mine didn’t seem to have the snap and go of my older manner. Then panic overtook me, and after yet another white night I went straight to Sanson, the nerve specialist, and told him I was going crazy.
He laughed at me. Then he off-handedly tapped me over and tried my reflexes and took my blood pressure and even more diffidently asked me a question or two. He ended up by announcing that I was as sound as a dollar, whatever that may have meant, and suggested as an afterthought that I drop tobacco and go in more for golf.
That buoyed me up for a week or two. But Mary, when she came in to town radiant and cool for three days’ shopping, seemed to detect in me a change which first surprised and then troubled her. I was bitterly conscious of being a dis-
appointment to somebody who expected great things of me. And to escape that double-edged sword of mortification I once again tried to bury myself in my work. But I just as well might have tried to bury myself in a butter-dish, for there was no effort and no activity there to envelop me. I was coerced into idleness without ever having acquired the art of doing nothing. For life with me had been a good deal like boiling rice: it had to be kept galloping to save it from going mushy. Yet now the fire itself seemed out. And. that prompted me to sit and listen to my works, as the French idiom expresses it, which is never a profitable calling for a naturally nervous man.
The lee and the long of it was, as the Irish say, that I went back to Doctor Sanson and demanded something, in the name of God, that would give me a good night’s sleep. He was less jocular, this time. He told me to forget my troubles and go fishing for a couple of weeks.
I did go fishing, but I fished for ideas. And I got scarcely a strike. To leave the city was now more than ever out of the question. So for recreation I had Latreille take me out in the car, when a feverish thirst for speed, which I found it hard to account for, drove me into daily violation of the traffic laws. Twice, in fact, I was fined for this, with a curtly warning talk from the presiding magistrate on the second occasion, since the offence, in this case, was complicated by collision with an empty baby-carriage. Latreille, about this time, seemed uncannily conscious of my condition. More and more he seemed to rasp me on the raw, until irritation deepened into positive dislike for the man.
WHEN Mary came back to the city for a few days, before going to the Virginia hills for the autumn, I looked so wretched and felt so wretched that I decided not to see her. I was taking veronal now to make me sleep, and with cooler weather I looked for better rest and a return to work. But my hopes were ill-founded. I came to dread the night, and the night’s ever-recurring battle for sleep. I lost my perspective on things. And then came the crowning catastrophe, the catastrophe which turned me into a sort of twentieth-century Macbeth.
The details of that catastrophe were ludicrous enough, and it had no definite and clear-cut outcome, but its effect on my over-tensioned nerves was sufficiently calamitous. It occurred, oddly enough, on Ilallow-E’en night, when the world is supposed to be given over to festivity. Latreille had motored me out to a small dinner-dance at Washburn’s, on Long Island, but I had left early in the evening, perversely depressed by a hilarity in which I had not the heart to join. Twice, on the way back to the city, I had called out to Latreille for more speed. We had just taken a turn in the outskirts of Brooklyn when my swinging headlights disclosed the figure of a man, an unstable and wavering man, obviously drunk, totter and fall directly in front of my car.
1 heard the squeal of the brakes and the high-pitched shouts from a crowd of youths along the sidewalk. But it was too late. I could feel the impact as we struck. I could feel the sickening thud and jolt as the wheels pounded over that fallen body'.
I stood up, without quite knowing what I was doing, and screamed like a woman. Then I dropped weakly back in my seat. I think I was sobbing. I scarcely noticed that Latreille had failed to stop the car.
Continued on page 93
Continued from page 20
He spoke to me twice, in fact, before I ■ knew it,
t “Shall we go on, sir?” he asked, glancing back at me over his shoulder.
E“Go on!" I shouted, knowing well enough by this time what I said, surrendering merely to that blind and cowardly panic for self-preservation which marks man at his lowest.
We thumped and swerved and speeded away on the wings of cowardice. I sat there gasping and clutching my moist fingers together, as I’ve seen hysterical women do, calling on Latreille for speed, and still more speed.
“I don’t know where he took me. Rut I became conscious of the consoling blackness of the night about me. And I thanked God, as Cain must have done, when he found himself alone with his shame.
“Latreille,” I said, breathing brokenly as we slowed up, “did we—did we kill him?”
My chauffeur turned in his seat and studied my face. Then he looked carefully back, to make sure we were not being followed.
“This is a heavy car, sir,” he finally admitted. He said it coolly, and almost impersonally. But the words fell like a sledge-hammer on my heart.
“But we couldn’t have killed a man,” I clamored inanely, weakly, as we came to a dead stop at the roadside.
“Forty-two hundred pounds—and he got both wheels,” calmly protested my enemy, for I felt now that he was in some way my enemy.
“What are you going to do?” I gasped, for I noticed that he was getting down from his seat.
“Hadn’t I better get the blood off the running-gear, before we turn back into town?”
“Blood?” I quavered as I clutched at the robe-rail in front of me. And that one word brought the horror of the thing home to me in all its ghastliness. I could see axles and running-board and brakebar dripping with red, festooned with shreds of flesh, maculated with blackening gore. And I covered my face with my hands, and groaned aloud in my misery of soul.
T> UT Latreille did not wait for me. He lifted the seat-cushion, took rubbingcloths from the tool-box, and crawled out of sight beneath the car. I could feel the occasional tremors that went through the framework as he busied himself at that grisly task. I could hear his grunt of satisfaction when he had finished. And I watched him with stricken eyes as he stepped through the vague darkness and tossed his tell-tale cloths far over the roadside fence.
“It’s all right,” he companionably announced as he stepped back into the car. But there was a new note in the man’s demeanor, a note which even through that black fog of terror reached me and awakened my resentment. We were partners in crime. We were fellow-actors in a drama of indescribable cowardice. And I was in the man’s power to the end of time.
The outcome of that catastrophe, as I have already said, was indefinite, torturingly indefinite. I was too shaken and sick to ferret out its consequences. I left that to Latreille, who seemed to un-
derstand well enough what 1 expected of him.
That first night wore by, and nothing came of it all. The morning dragged away, and my fellow-criminal seemingly encountered nothing worthy of rehearsal to me. Then still another night came and went. I went through the published hospital reports, and the police records, with my heart in my mouth. But I could unearth no official account of the tragedy. I even encountered my good friend Patrolman McCooey, apparently by accident, and held him up on his beat about Gramercy Park, to make casual inquiries as to street accidents, and if such tilings were increasing of late. But nothing of moment, apparently, had come to McC.ooey’s ears. And I stood watching him as he flat-footed his way placidly on from my house-front, with one of my best cigars tucked under his tunic, wondering what the world would say if it knew Parley Kempton, the intrepid creator of sinewy supermen who snarl and fight and shake iron fists in the teeth of Extremity, had run like a rabbit from a human being he had bowled over and killed?
I still hoped against hope, however, trying to tell myself that it is no easy thing to knock the life out of a man, passionately upbraiding myself for not doing what I should have done to succor the injured, then sinkingly remembering what Latreille had mentioned about the weight of my car. Yet it wasn’t until the next night as I ventured out to step into that odiously ponderous engine of destruction that uncertainty solidified into fact.
“You got him,” announced my chauffeur out of one side of his mouth, so that Benson, who stood on the house steps, might not overhear those fateful words.
“Got him?” I echoed, vaguely, resenting the man’s use of that personal pronoun singular.
“Killed!” was Latreillè’s monosyllabic explanation. And my heart stopped beating.
“How do you know that?” I demanded in whispering horror. For I understood enough of the law of the land to know that a speeder who flees from the victim of his carelessness is technically guilty of manslaughter.
“A man 1 know, named Crotty, helped carry the body back to his house. Crotty’s just told me about it.”
My face must have frightened Latreille, for he covered his movement of catching hold of my arm by ceremoniously opening the car door for me.
“Sit tight, man !” he ordered in his curt and conspiratorial undertone. “Sit tight —for it’s all that’s left to do!”
T SAT tight. It was all there was to do.
I endured Latreille’s accession of selfimportance without comment. There promptly grew up between us a tacit understanding of silence. Yet I had reason to feel that this silence wasn’t always as profound as it seemed. For at the end of my third day of self-torturing solitude I went to my club to dine. I went with set teeth. I went in the hope of ridding my system of self-fear, very much as an alcoholic goes to a Turkish bath. I went to mix once more with my fellows, to prove that I stood on common ground with them.
But the mixing was not a success. I stepped across that familiar portal in quavering dread of hostility. And l| found what I was looking for. I detected* myself being eyed coldly by men who had once posed as my friends. I dined alone,' oppressed by the discovery that I was being deliberately avoided by the felloiy-i
members of what should have been an organized companionability. Then I took a grip on myself, and forlornly argued that it was all mere imagination, the vaporings of a morbid and chlorotic mind. Yet the next moment a counter-shock confronted me. For as I stared desolately out of that club window I caught sight of Latreille himself. He stood there at the curb, talking confidentially to three other chauffeurs clustered about him between their cars. Nothing, I suddenly remembered, could keep the man from gossiping. And a word dropped in one servant’s ear would soon pass on to another. And that other would carry the whisper still wider, until it spread like an infection from below stairs to above stairs, and from private homes to the very house-tops. And already I was a marked man, a pariah, an outcast with no friendly wilderness to swallow me up.
I slunk home that night with a plumbOob of lead swinging under my ribs where my heart should have been. I tried to sleep and could not sleep. So I took a double dose of chloral hydrate and was rewarded with a few hours of nightmare wherein I was a twentieth century Attila driving a racing car over an endless avenue of denuded infants. It was all so horrible that it left me limp and quailing before the lash of daylight. Then, out of a blank desolation that became more and more unendurable, I clutched feverishly at the thought of Mary Lockwood and the autumn-tinted hills of Virginia. I felt the need of getting away from that city of lost sleep. I felt the need of “exteriorating" what was corroding my inmost soul. I was seized with a sudden and febrile ache for companionship. So I sent a forty-word wire to the only woman in the world I could look to in my extremity. And the next morning brought me a reply.
It merely said: “Don’t come."
The bottom seemed to fall out of the world with that curt message, and I groped forlornly, frantically, for something stable to sustain me. But there was nothing. Bad news, I bitterly reminded myself, had the habit of travelling fast. Mary knew. The endless chain had widened, like a wireless wave. It had rolled on like war-gas until it had blighted even the slopes beyond the Potomac. For Mary
It was two days later that a note, in her picket fence script that was as sharppointed as arrow-heads, followed after the telegram.
“There are certain things,” wrote Mary, “which I can scarcely talk about on paper. At least not as I should prefer talking about them. But these things must necessarily make a change in your life and in mine. I don’t want to seem harsh, Parley, but we can’t go on as we have been doing. We’ll have to get used to the idea of trudging along in single harness. And I think you will understand why. I’m not exacting explanations, remember. I’m merely requesting an armistice. If you intend to let me, I still want to be your friend, and I trust no perceptible gulfs will yawn between us when we chance to dine at the same table or step through the same cotillon. But I must bow to those newer circumstances which seem to have confronted you even before they presented themselves to me. So when I say good-bye, it is more to the past, I think, than to you.”
That was the first night, I remember, when sleeping powders proved of no earthly use to me. And this would not he an honest record of events if I neglect-
ed to state that the next day I shut myself in my study and drank much more Pommery and Greno than was good for me. I got drunk, in fact, blindly, stupidly, senselessly drunk. But it seemed to drape a veil between me and the past. It made a bonfire of my body to burn up the
debris of my mind. And when poor old patient-eyed Benson mixed me a bromide and put me to bed I felt like a patient coming out of ether after a major operation. I was tired and I wanted to lie there and rest for a long time.
To be continued.