The Strange Adventure of the Man From Medicine Hat
Another “Sleep Walker” Story
Author of “The Prairie Wife,” “The Hand of Pearl,” “The Door of Dread” and “The Silver Poppy.”
I SAT in that nocturnal sun-parlor of mine, known to the world as Madison Square, demanding of the quiet night why sleep should be denied me. I sat there, with my gaze fixed idly on a girl in black, who, in turn, stared idly up at Sagittarius.
Then I lost interest in the black-clad and seemingly cataleptic star-gazer. For I was soon busy watching a man in a rather odd-looking velour hat. My eyes followed him from the moment he first turned eastward out of Fifth Avenue. They were still on him as he veered irresolutely southward again into the Square where I sat.
The pure aimlessness of his movements arrested my attention. The figure that drifted listlessly in past the Farragut Statue and wandered on under the park trees in some way reminded me of my own. I, too, knew only too well what it was to circle doggedly and sullenly about like a bell-boy “paging” the corridors of night for that fugitive known as sleep.
So I continued to watch him, quietly and closely. I had lost my interest in the whitefaced girl who sat within twenty paces of me, looking silent and still up at the autumn stars.
It was the man’s figure, thereafter, that challenged my attention, for this man marked the only point of movement in what seemed a city of the dead. It was, I remembered, once more long past midnight, the hour of suspended life in the emptied canyons of the lamp-strung streets when the last taxi had hummed the last reveller home, and the first milk-wagons had not yet rattled up from the East River ferries.
So I sat there listlessly watching the listlessly moving figure with the wide hatrim pulled down over its face. There was something still youthful about the man, for all the despondent droop to the shoulders. I asked myself idly who or what he could be. I wondered if, like myself, he was merely haunted by the curse of wakefulness, if the same bloodhounds of unrest dogged him, too, through the dark hours of the night. I wondered if he, too, was trying to escape from the grinding machinery of thought into some outer passivity.
I saw him thread his indeterminate way along the winding park walks. I saw him glance wearily up at the massive austerity of the Metropolitan Tower, and then turn and gaze at the faded Diana so unconcernedly poised above her stolen Sevillian turrets. I saw him look desolately about the square with its benchrows filled with huddled and motionless sleepers. These sleepers, with their fallen heads and twisted limbs, with their contorted and moveless bodies, made the halflit square as horrible as a battlefield. Clouded by the heavy shadows of the park trees, they seemed like the bodies of dead men, like broken and sodden things over which had ground the wheels of carnage. The only murmur or sound of life was the fountain, with its column of slowly rising and slowly falling water, like the tired pulse-beat of the tired city.
The man in the velour hat seemed to
find something companionable in this movement, for he slowly drew nearer. He came within three benches of where I sat. Then he flung himself down on an empty seat. I could see his white and haggard face as he watched the splashing fountain. I could see his shadowy and unhappy eyes as he pushed back his hat and mopped his moist forehead. Then I saw him suddenly bury his head in his hands and sit there, minute by minute, without moving.
When he made his next movement, it was a startling one. It sent a tingle
of nerves scampering up and down my backbone. For I saw his right hand go down to his pocket, pause there a moment, and then suddenly lift again. As it did so my eye caught the white glimmer of metal. I could see the flash of a revolver as he thrust it up under the hat-brim, and held the nickelled barrel close against his temple, just above the lean jaw bone.
It was so sudden, so unexpected, that I must have closed my eyes in a sort of involuntary wince. The first coherent thought that came to me was that I could never reach him in time. Some soberer second thought was to the eifect that even my interference was useless, that he and his life were his own, that a man once set on self-destruction will not be kept free from it by any outside influence.
Yet even as I looked again at his huddled figure, I heard his little gasp of something that must have been between fear
and defeat. I saw the arm slowly sink to his side. He was looking straight before him, his unseeing eyes wide with terror and indecision.
It was then that I decided to interfere. To do so seemed only my plain and decent duty. Yet I hesitated for a moment, pondering just how to phrase my opening speech to him.
Even as I took a sudden, deeper breath of resolution, and was on the point of crossing to his side, I saw him fling the revolver vehemently from him. It went glimmering and tumbling along the coppery-green grass. It lay there, a point of high light against the darkness of the turf.
Then I looked back to the stranger, and saw his empty hands go up to his face. It was a quiet and yet a track gesture of utter misery. Each palm was pressed in on the corded cheek-bones with the finger-ends hard against the eye balls, as though that futile pressure could crush away all inner and all outer vision.
THEN I turned back towards the fallen revolver. As I did so I noticed a figure in black step quietly out and pick up the firearm. It was the white-faced girl who had sat looking up at the stars. Before I fully realized the meaning of her movement, she slipped the weapon out of sight, and passed silently on down the winding asphalt walk, between the rows of sleepers, towards the east. There was something arresting in the thin young figure, something vaguely purposeful and appealing in the poise of the half-veiled
I vacillated for a moment, undecided as to which to approach.. But a second glance at the man in the velours hat, crouched there in his utter and impassive misery, caused me to cross over to him.
I put a hand on his flaccid shoulder, and shook it. He did not move at first, so I shook him again. Then he directed a slow and resentful glance at me.
“I want to have a talk with you,” I began, puzzled as to how to proceed. He did not answer me.
“I want to help you if I can,” I explained, as I still let my hand rest on his shoulder.
“Oh, go ’way!” he ejaculated, in utter listlessness, shaking my hand from his shoulder.
“No, I won’t!” I quite firmly informed him. He shrank back and moved away. Then he turned on me with a resentment that was volcanic.
“For God’s sake leave me alone!” he
A sleeper or two on near-by benches sat up and stared at us with their drowsily indifferent eyes.
“Then why are you making a fool of yourself like this?” I demanded.
“That’s my own business,” he retorted. “Then you intend to keep it up?” I inquired.
“No, I don’t,” he flung back, “ƒ can’t." “Then will you be so good as to talk to me?” His sullen anger seemed strangely removed from that exaltation which tradition imputes to last moments. It even took an effort to be patient with him.
“No, I won’t,” was his prompt retort. It dampened all the Quixotic fires in my body. Then he rose to his feet and confronted me. “And if you don’t get out of here. I’ll kill you!”
His threat, in some way, struck me as funny. I laughed out loud.
But I did not waste further time on him.
I was already thinking of the other figure, the equally mysterious and more appealing figure in black.
I SWUNG round and strode out through the trees just in time to see that sombre and white-faced young woman cross Madison Avenue, ar.d pass westward between a granite-columned church and the towering obelisk of a more modern god of commerce. I kept my eyes on this street-end as it swallowed her up. Then I passed out through the square and under the clock-dial and into Twentyfourth Street.
By the time I had reached Fourth Avenue I again caught sight of the blackclad figure. It was moving eastward on the south side of the street, as unhurried and impassive as a sleep-walker.
When half-way to Lexington Avenue I saw the woman stop, look slowly round, and then go slowly up the steps of a redbrick house. She did not ring, I could see, but let herself in with a pass-key. Once the door had closed on her, I sauntered towards this house. To go farther at such an hour was out of the question. But I made a careful note of the street number, and also of the fact that a slip of paper pasted on the sandstone door-post announced the fact of “Furnished Rooms.”
I saw, not only that little was to be gained there, but also that I had faced my second disappointment. So I promptly swung back to Madison Square and the fountain where I had left the man in the velours hat. I ran my eye from bench to bench of sleepers, but he was not among them. I went over the park, walk by walk, but my search was unrewarded. Then I circled about into Broadway, widening my radius of inspection. I shuttled back and forth along the side-streets. I veered up and down the neighboring avenues. But it was useless. The man in the velours hat was gone.
Then, to my surprise, as I paced the midnight streets the sense of physical weariness crept over me. I realized that I had walked for miles. I had forgotten my own troubles and that most kindly of all narcotics, utter fatigue, crept through me like a drug.
So I went home and went to bed. And for the first time that week I felt the Angel of Sleep stoop over me of her own free will. For the first time that week there was no need of the bitter lash of chloral hydrate to beat back the bloodhounds of wakefulness. I fell into a sound and unbroken slumber, and when I woke up Benson was waiting to announce that my bath was ready.
Two hours later I was ringing the bell of a certain old-fashioned red-brick apartment house in East Twenty-fourth Street.
I knew little enough about such places, but this was one obviously uninviting, from the rusty hand rail to the unwashed window draperies. Equally unprepossessing was the corpulent and dead-eyed landlady in her faded blue house-wrapper; and equally depressing did I find the slatternly and bare-armed servant who was delegated to lead me up through the musty-smelling halls. The third-floor front, I was informed, was the only room in the house empty, though its rear neighbor, which was a bargain at two dollars and a half a week, was soon to be vacated.
I TOOK the third-floor front, without A so much as one searching look at its hidden beauties. The lady of the faded blue wrapper emitted her first spark of life as I handed over my four dollars. The listless eyes, I could see, were touched with regret at the thought that she had not asked for more. I tried to explain to her, as she exacted a deposit for my. passkey, that I was likely to be irregular in
my hours and perhaps a bit peculiar iir my habits.
These intimations, however, had noponderable effect upon her. She first abashed me by stowing the money away in the depths of her open corsage, and then perplexed me by declaring that all she set out to do, since her legs went back on her, was to keep her first two floors decent. Above that, apparently, deportment could look after itself, the upper regions beyond her ken could be Olympian in their moral laxities.
As I stood there, smiling over this discovery, a figure in black rustled down the narrow stairway and edged past us in thehalf-lit hall. The light fell full on her face as she opened the door to the streetIt outlined her figure, as thin as that of a mediaeval saint from a missal. It was the young woman I had followed from Madison Square.
Of this I was certain—from the moment the light fell on her thin-cheeked face,. where anxiety seemed to have sharpened! the soft oval of the chin into something mask-like in its sharpness. About her, quite beyond the fact that her eyes werethe most unhappy eyes I had ever seen, hung a muffled air of tragedy, the air of' a spirit both bewildered and baffled. But I could see that she was, or that she had! been, a rather beautiful young woman, though st;ll again the slenderness of the figure made me think of a saint from a missal.
I was still thinking of her as I followed', the sullen and slatternly servant up> the dark stairs. Once in my new quarters, I glanced absently about at the sulphuryellow wall paper and the melancholy antiquities that masqueraded as furniture. Then I came back to the issue at hand.
“Who is that young woman in black, who happened to pass us in the hall?” I casually inquired.
“Can that!” was the apathetic and quite enigmatic retort of the bare-armed girl. I turned to inquire the meaning of" this obvious colloquialism.
“Aw, cage the zooin’ bug!” said my newfound cynical young friend. “She aint that kind.”
“What is she?” I asked, as I slipped! a bill into the startled and somewhat incredulous hand of toil. The transformation was immediate.
“She aint nothin’;” was the answer. “She’s just a four-flush, an also-ran!.' And unless she squares wit’ the madams by Sat’rday she’s goin’ to do her washin’ in somebody else’s bath-tub!”
Through this sordid quartz of callousness ran one silver streak of luck. It was; plain that I was to be on the same floor with the girl in black. And that discoveryseemed quite enough.
I waited until the maid was lost in the gloom below stairs and the house wasquiet again. Then I calmly and quietly stepped out into the little hall, pushed! open the door of the rear room, and slipped inside. I experienced, as I did so, a distinct and quite pleasurable quickening of the pulse.
I found myself in a mere cell of a room, with two dormer windows facing a disorderly vista of chimney-pots and brick walls. On the sill of one window stood on almost empty milk-bottle. Beside theother window was a trunk marked with the initials “H. W.” and the almost obliterated words “Medicine Hat.”
About the little room brooded an almost forlorn air of neatness. On one wall was tacked a picture postcard inscribed “In the Devil’s Pool at Banff.”' On another was a ranch scene, an unmounted photograph which showed aí
laughing and clear-browed girl on a white-dappled pinto. On the chintz-covered bureau stood a half-filled carton of soda-biscuits. Besides this, again, lay an empty candy-box. From the mirror of this bureau smiled down a face that was familiar to me. It was a magazineprint of Harriet Walter, the young Broadway star who had reached success with the production of “Broken T i e s,” the same Harriet Walter who had been duly announced to marry Percy Adams, the son of the traction magnate. My own den, I r e m embered, held an autographed copy of the same picture.
Beyond this, however, the room held little of interest and nothing of surprise. Acting on a sudden and a possibly foolish impulse, after one final look at the room and its record of courage ous struggle, I took a banknote from my pocket, folded it, and opened a bureau drawer. Then I dropped the bill into the drawer. Then I stood staring down, with the drawer still open, for before me lay the revolver which the girl had carried away the night before from Madison Square.
Then I went back to my own room and sat down in the brokenarmed rocker, trying in vain to find some key to the mystery. But no light came to me.
I was still puzzling over it when I heard the sound of steps on the uncarpeted stairway. They were very slow and faltering steps. As I stood at the halfopened door listening, I felt sure I heard the sound of something that was half-way between a sob and a gasp. Then came
the steps again, and then the sound of heavy breathing. I heard the rustle of paper as the door of the back room was pushed open, and then the quick slam of the door.
This was followed by a quiet and al-
most inarticulate cry. It was not a call, and it was not a moan. But what startled me into sudden action was the noise that followed. It was a soft-pedalled thud, as though a body had fallen to the floor.
I no longer hesitated. It was clear that something was wrong. I ran to the closed door, knocked on it, and a moment later swung it open.
As I stepped into the room I could see the girl lying there, her upturned face as white as chalk, with bluish-grey shadows about the closed eyes. Beside her orí the floor lay a newspaper, a flaring-headlined afternoon edition.
T STOOD 1 staring stupidly down at the white face for a moment o r two before it came home to me that the girl had merely fallen in a faint. Then,, seeing the slow beat of a pulse in the thin throat, I dropped o n one knee and tore open the neck of her blouse. Then I got water from the stone ware jug on the wash-s tand and sprinkled the placid and colorless brow. I could see, as I lifted her up on the narrow white bed, how bloodless and i 11-nurtured her body was. The girl washalf starved; of that there was no shadow of doubt.
She came to very slowly. As I leaned over her,, waiting f o r the heavylidded eyes to open, I let m y glance wander back to the newspaper on thefloor. I there read that Harriet Walter, the young star of the “Broken Ties” Company, had met with a serious accident. It had occurred while riding down Morningside Avenue in a touring-car driven by Percy A 1 w a r d Adams, the son the the well-known traction magnate. The brake had apparently refused to work on Cathedral Hill, and the car had collided with a pillar of the Elevated Railway at the corner of Onehundred-and-ninth Street. Adams himself had escaped with a somewhat lacerated arm, but Miss Walter’s injurieswere more serious. She had been taken at
once to St. Luke’s Hospital but a few blocks away. She had not, however, regained consciousness, and practically all hope of recovery had been abandoned by the doctors.
I was frenziedly wondering what tie could bind these two strangely diverse young women together when the girl beside me gave signs of returning life. I was still sousing a ridiculous amount of water on her face and neck when eyes suddenly opened. They looked up at me, dazed and wide with wonder.
“What is it?” she asked, gazing about the room. Then she looked back at me
“I think you must have fallen,” I tried to explain. “But it’s--^11 right; you mustn’t worry.”
My feeble effort at reassuring her was not effective. I could see the perplexed movement of her hands, the unuttered inquiry still in her eyes. She lay there, staring at me for a long time.
“You see, I’m your new neighbor,” I told her, “and I heard you from my room.”
She did not speak. But I saw her lips pucker into a little sob that shook her whole body. There seemed something indescribably childlike in the movement. It took a fight to keep up my air of bland optimism.
“And now,” I declared, “I’m going to slip out for a minute and get you a little
SHE made one small hand-gesture of protest, but I ignored it. I dodged in for my hat, descended the stairs to the street, got Benson on the wire; and instructed him to send the motor hamper and two bottles of Burgundy to me at once. Then I called up St. Luke’s Hospital. There, strangely enough, I was refused all information as to Harriet Walter’s condition. It was not even admitted, in fact, that she was at present a patient at that institution.
The girl, when I got back, was sitting in a rocking-chair by the window. She seemed neither relieved nor disturbed by my return. Her eyes were fixed on the blank wall opposite her. Her colorless face showed only too plainly that this shock from which she had suffered had left her indifferent to all other currents of life, as though every further stroke of fate had been rendered insignificant. She did not even turn her eyes when I carried the hamper into the room and opened it. She did not look up as I poured the wine and held a glass of it out for her to drink.
She sipped at it absently, brokenly, reminding me of a bird drinking from a saucer-edge. But I made her take more of it. I persisted, until I could see a faint and shell-like tinge of color creep into her cheeks.
Then she looked at me, for the first time, with comprehending and strangely grateful eyes. She made a move, as though to speak. But as she did so I could see the quick gush of tears that came to her eyes and her gesture of hopelessness as she looked down at the newspaper on the floor.
“Oh, I want to die!” she cried brokenly and w'eakly. “I want to die!”
Her words both startled and perplexed me. Here, within a few hours’ time, I was encountering the second young person who seemed tired of life, who was ready and willing to end it.
“What has happened?” I asked, as I held more of the Burgundy out for her to drink. Then I picked up the afternoon paper with the flaring headlines.
She pointed with an unsteady finger to the paper in my hands.
“Do you know her?” she asked.
“Yes, I happen to know her,” I admitted.
“Have you known her long?” asked the girl.
“Only a couple of years,” I answered. “Since she first went with Frohman.”
'T'HE possible truth flashed over me.
They were sisters. That was the strange tie that bound them together ; one the open and flashing and opulent, and the other the broken and hidden and hopeless.
“Do you know Harriet Walter?” I asked.
She laughed a little, forlornly, bitterly. The wine, I imagined, had rather gone to her head.
“I am Harriet Walter!” was her somewhat startling declaration.
She was still shaken and ill, I could see. I took the Burgundy glass from her hand. I wanted her mind to remain lucid. There was a great deal for me still to fathom.
“And they say she’s going to die?” she half declared, half inquired, as her eyes searched my face.
“But what will it mean to you?” I demanded.
She seemed not to have heard; so I repeated the question.
“It means the end,” she sobbed, “the end of everything!”
“But why?” I insisted.
She covered her face with her hands.
“Oh, I can’t tell you!” she moaned. “I can’t explain.”
“But there must be some definite reason why this young woman’s death should end everything for you.”
The girl looked about her, like a lifeprisoner facing the four blank walls of a cell. Her face was without hope. Nothing but utter misery, utter despair, was written on it.
Then she spoke, not directly to me, but more as though she were speaking to herself.
“When she dies, I die too!’’
T DEMANDED to know what this meant.
I tried to burrow down to the root of the mystery. But my efforts were useless. I could wring nothing more out of the unhappy and tragic-eyed girl. And the one thing she preferred just then, I realized, was solitude. So I withdrew.
The entire situation, however, proved rather too much for me. The more I thought it over the more it began to get on my nerves. So I determined on a prompt right-about-face. I decided to begin at the other end of the line.
My first move was to ’phone for the car. Latreille came promptly enough, but with a look of sophistication about his cynical mouth which I couldn’t help resenting.
“St. Luke’s Hospital,” I told him as I stepped into the car.
At that institution, however, I was again refused all information as to the condition of Harriet Walter. It was not even admitted, when I became more insistent, that any such person was in the hospital.
“But I’m a friend of this young lady’s” I tried to explain. “And I’ve a right to know of her condition.”
The calm-eyed official looked at me quite unmoved.
“This young lady seems to have very many friends. And some of them seem to be very peculiar.”
“What do you mean by that?” I demanded. For answer he pointed to a figure pacing up and down in the open street.
“There’s another of these friends who’ve been insisting on seeing her,” he explained, with a shrug of extenuation.
The uniformed attendant of that carbolised and white-walled temple of pain must have seen my start as I glanced out at the slowly pacing figure. For it was that of a young man wearing a velour hat. It was the youth I had met the night before in Madison Square.
“Do you happen to know that man’s name?” I asked.
“He gave it as Mallory—James Mallory,” was the answer.
I wasted no more time inside those depressing walls. I was glad to get out to the street, to the open air and the crisp afternoon sunlight. I had already decided on my next step.
Y\?HETHER the man in the velour hat ' * recognized me or not, I could not say. If he did so, he gave no sign of it. Yet I could see that he resented my addressing him, although he showed no surprise as I did so by name. It was not until I pointblank asked if he had been inquiring about Harriet Walter that any trace of interest came into his face.
He replied, with considerable ferocity, that he had. One glimpse of the unsteady fingers and twitching eyelids showed me the tension under which he was struggling. I felt genuinely sorry for him.
“I happen to know Miss Walter,” I told him, “and if you’ll be so good as to step in rey car, I can tell you anything you may want to know.”
“Is your name Adams?” the white-faced youth suddenly demanded.
“It is not,” I answered, with considerable alacrity, for his face was not pleasant
to look at.
“Then why can you tell me what I want to know?” he asked, still eyeing me with open hostility. I struggled to keep my temper. It was a case where one could afford to be indulgent.
“If we each have a friend in this lady, it’s not unreasonable that we should be able to be friends ourselves,” I told him. “So let’s clear the cobwebs by a spin down town.”
“Gasoline won’t wash my particular cobweb away,” he retorted. There was something likeable about his audacious young face, even under its cloud of bitterness.
“Then why couldn’t you dine with me, at a very quiet club of mine?” I suggested. “Or, better still, on the verandah of the Clairemont, where we can talk together.”
He hesitated at first, but under my pressure he yielded, and we both got in the car and swung westward, and then up Riverside to the Clairemont. There I secured a corner piazza-table, overlooking the river. And there I exerted a skill of which I had once been proud, in ordering a dinner which I thought might appeal to the poignantly unhappy young man who sat across the table from me. I could see that he was still looking at me, every now and then, with both revolt and sullen bewilderment written on his lean young face. It would be no easy matter, I knew, to win his confidence.
“I suppose you think I’m crazy, like the rest of them?” he suddenly demanded. I noticed that he had already taken his third drink of wine.
“Why should I think that?”
“I’ve had enough to make me crazy!” he ejaculated, with that abject self-pity which marks the last milestone on the avenue of hope.
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Continued from page 32
“Perhaps I could help you,” I suggested. “Or perhaps I could advise you.”
“What good’s advice when you’re up against what I’m up against?” was his embittered retort.
HE was apparently finding relief in the Pommery. I found a compensating relief in merely beholding that look of haunted and abject misery going out of his young eyes.
“Then tell me what the trouble is,” I said.
He still shook his head. Then he suddenly looked up.
“How long have you known Harriet Walter?” he asked.
“From the time,” I told him, after a moment’s thought, “when she first appeared for the Fresh Air Fund at the Plaza. That was about two years ago— when she first went with Frohman.”
“I’ve known her for twenty years!” was the youth’s unexpected exclamation. “We grew up together, out West.” “Where out West?” I asked.
“In Medicine Hat—that’s a Canadian prairie town.”
“But she's younger than you?”
“Only two years. She’s twenty-two; I’m twenty-four. She changed her name from Wilson to Walter when she went on the stage.”
“Then yoû are close friends?” I asked,
for I could see the wine had loosened his reticent young tongue.
“Friends!” he scoffed. “I’m the man she promised to marry!”
Here, I told myself, was a pretty kettle of fish. I knew the man before me was not Adams. Yet it was several weeks now since Harriet Walter’s engagement to young Adams had been officially announced. And there was nothing unstable or predaceous about the Harriet Walter I had known.
“Would you mind telling me just when she promised to marry you?” I asked. “Remember, this is not prying. I’m only trying to get behind that cobweb.”
“She promised me over two years ago,” he answered me, quite openly. “Definitely?” I insisted.
“As definite as pen and ink could make it. Even before she gave in, before she gave the promise, we’d had a sort of understanding. That was before I made my British Columbia strike out West
She’d come East to study for the stage. She always felt she would make a great actress. We all tried to keep her from it, but she said it was her career. She’d been having a hard time of it then, those first six months. So I came through to New York and wanted to take her back, to get her out of all that sort of thing. But she put me off. She wouldn’t give in to being defeated in her work. She gave me her promise, but asked for a year’s time. When that was up, she’d made her hit. Then, of course, she asked for one year more. And in the meantime I made my own hit—in timber limits.” “But hasn’t she justified the time you’ve given her?” I inquired, remembering the sudden fame that had come to her, the name in electrics over the Broadway theatre, the lithographs in the shop windows, the interviews in the Sunday papers.
“Justified?” cried the young man across the table from me. “After*I’d waited two years, after she’d given me her promise, she’s turned round and promised to marry this man Adams!”
“And has she never explained?” “Explained? She won’t even see me. She had me put out of her hotel. She went off to Narragansett. She pretends she doesn’t even know me.”
THIS sounded very unlike the Harriet Walter I had known. There had seemed little that was deliberately venal or treacherous in that artless-eyed young lady’s nature.
“And what did you do?” I asked. “What could I do? I waited and tried again. I felt that if I could only see her face to face she’d be able to explain, to make the whole thing seem less like insanity.”
“And she wouldn’t even see you, meet you?”
“Not once. Something’s set her against me; something’s changed her. She never used to be that sort—never!” “And you insist all this is without rhyme or reason?”
“Without one jot of reason. That’s what made it so hopeless. And last night when I heard of this accident I put my pride in my pocket, and tried still again. It was the same thing over again. They seemed to take me for a crank, a paranoic of some kind, up there at the hospital. And then I gave up. I felt I’d about reached the end of my rope. I thought it all over, quite calmly, and decided to end everything. I walked the streets half the night, then I sat down and decided to blow my brains out. But I couldn’t do it. I was too much of a coward. I hadn’t the courage.”
“That would have been very foolish.” was my inadequate reply, for at a bound my thoughts went back to the night before and the scene in the square.
“Well, what would you have done?” was the prompt and bitter challenge of the unhappy youth facing me.
I thought for a moment before answering him.
“Why,” I temporized, “I’d have tried to get down to the root of the mystery. I’d have made some effort to find out the reason for it; for everything seems to have a reason, you know.”
Again I heard him emit his listless little scoff of misery.
“There’s no reason,” he declared. “There must be,” I maintained.
“Then show me where or what it is,” he challenged.
“I will,” I said, with sudden conviction. ‘“There’s a reason for all this, and I’m going to find it out!”
LJE studied my face with his tired and •I 1 unhappy young eyes as I sat there trying to fit the edges of the two broken stories together. It was not easy; it was like trying to piece together a vase of cloisonne work.
“And how will you find it out?” he was listlessly inquiring. „
Instead of answering him, I looked up, fixed my eyes on him and asked another question.
“Tell me this: if there is a reason, do you still care for her?”
He resented the question, as I was afraid he would.
“What concern is that of yours?”
“If all this thing’s a mistake, it’s going to be sorte concern of yours,” I told him.
He sat there in dead silence for a minute or two.
“I’ve always cared for her,” he said, and I knew what his answer was going to be before he spoke. “But it’s no use. It’s all over. It’s over and done with. There’s not even a mistake about it.”
“There must be. And I’m going to find out where and what it is.”
“And how are you going to find that out?” he reiterated.
“Come along with me” I cried a little presumptuously, a little excitedly, “and by ten o’clock to-night I’ll have your reasons for you!”
My flash-in-the-pan enthusiasm was shorter lived than I had expected. The tingling and wine-like warmth soon disappeared. A reaction set in, once we were out in the cool night air. And in that reaction I began to see difficulties, to marshall doubts and misgivings.
The suspicion crept over me that, after all, I might have been talking to a man with a slightly unbalanced mind. Delusions, such as his, I knew, were not uncommon. There were plenty of amiable cranks who carried about some fixed conviction of their one-time intimate association with the great, the settled belief that they are the oppressed and unrecognized friends of earth’s elect.
Yet this did not altogether fill the bill; it could not explain away everything. There was still the mystery of the girl in the Twenty-fourth Street apartmenthouse. There was still the enigma of two persons claiming to be Harriet Walter.
ON my way down to that roominghouse an idea occurred to me. It prompted me to step in at my club for a minute or two, leaving Mallory in the car. Then I dodged back to the reading room, took down from its shelf a “Who’s Who on the Stage,” and turned up the name of Harriet Walter.
There, to my discomfiture, I read that Harriet Walter’s family name was recorded as “Kellock,” and instead of being a Canadian, and born and brought up in the Western town of Medicine Hat, as young Mallory had claimed, her birthplace was recorded as Lansing, Michigan. She had been educated at the Gilder Seminary in Boston, and had later studied one year at the Wheatley Dramatic School in New York. From there she had gone on the stage, taking small parts, but soon convincing her management that she was capable of better things. In little over a year she had been made a star in the “Broken Ties'’ production.
The St. Luke's officials, after all, had not been so far wrong. The young man in the velours hat was clearly olf his trolley.
It was, however, too late to turn back. And there was still the other end of the mystery to unravel. So I ushered young Mallory up the musty stairs to my thirdfloor room, and seated him with a cigar
and a magazine between those four bald and depressing walls with their sulphurcolored paper. Then I stepped outside, and carefully closed the door after me. Then I crossed the hall to the girl’s room and knocked.
There was no answer, so I opened the door and looked in. The room was empty. A sense of frustration, of defeat, of helplessness swept through me. This was followed by a feeling of alarm, an impression that I might, after all, be too late.
I crossed the room with a sudden premonition of evil. Then I turned on the light, and pulled open the top drawer of the chintz-covered bureau. There lay my banknote. And beside it, I noticed, with a sense of relief, still lay the revolver.
I TOOK the weapon up and looked it over, hesitating whether or not to unload it. I still held it in my hand, staring down at it, when I heard the creak of the door behind me. It was followed by a sudden and quite audible gasp of fright.
It was the owner of the room herself, I saw, the moment I swung around. It was not so much terror in her eyes, by this time, as sheer surprise.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, with a quaver of bewilderment.
“I’ll answer that when you answer a question of mine,” I temporized, as I held the revolver up before her. “Where did you get this?”
She did not speak for a second or two. “Why are you spying on me like this?” she suddenly demanded. She sank into a chair, pulling nervously at her pair of worn gloves.
“You insist on knowing?” I asked.
“I’ve a right to know.”
“Because you are not Harriet Walter,” was the answer I sent bullet-like at her.
She raised her eyes to mine. There was neither anger nor resentment on her face. All I could see was utter weariness, utter tragedy.
“I know,” she said. She spoke very quietly. Something in her voice sent a stab of pity through me.
“I’m only trying to help you,” I told her. “I only want to clear up this maddening muddle.”
“You can’t,” she said very simply. “It’s too late.”
“It’s not too late!” I blindly persisted. “What do you know about it?” was her listless and weary retort.
“I know more about it than you imagine,” was my answer. “I know where this revolver came from, just when and where you picked it up, and just how near you came to using it.”
She covered her face with her hands. Then she dropped them to her side, with a gesture of helplessness.
“Oh, they’ll all know now!” she moaned. “I knew it would come, some day. And I haven’t the strength to face it—I haven’t the strength!”
I felt, in some way, that the moment was a climactic one.
“But how did it begin?” I asked more gently, as I gazed down at the fragile and girlish body huddled together in the chair.
“It began two years ago,” she went on in her tired and throaty monotone. “It began when I saw I was a failure, when I realized that all was useless, that I’d made a mistake.”
“What mistake?*’ I demanded, still in the dark.
“The mistake I wasn’t brave enough to face. I thought it was the life I was made Tor, that they’d never understood at home. .Even he couldn’t understand, I thought.
Then they let me come. I worked, oh, so hard ! And when I left the school all I could get was a place in the chorus. I was ashamed to tell them. I pretended I had a part, a real part. He kept arguing that I ought to give it up. He kept asking me to come back. I wasn’t brave enough to acknowledge defeat. I still thought my chance would come; I kept asking for more time.”
“And then?” I prompted.
“Then I couldn’t even stay at the work I had. It become impossible; I can’t tell you why. Then I did anything, from extra work with moving pictures to reader in the city library classes. But I still kept going to the agencies, to the Broadway offices, trying to get a part. And things dragged on and on. And then I did this, this awful thing.”
“What awful thing?” I asked, trying to bridge the ever-recurring breaks in her thought. But she ignored interruption.
“We’d studied together in the same classes at the Wheatley School. And people had said we looked alike. But she was born for that sort of life, for success. As I went down, step by step, she went up. He wrote me that I must be getting famous, for he’d seen my picture on a magazine cover. It was hers. I pretended it was mine. I pretended I was doing the things she was doing. I let them believe I’d taken a new name, a stage name. I sent them papers that told of her success. I became a cheat, an imposter, a living lie —I became Harriet Walter!”
A T last the light had come. I saw every4 * thing in a flash. I suddenly realized the perplexities and profundities of human life. I felt shaken by a sudden pity for these two bound and unhappy spirits, at that moment so close together, yet groping so foolishly and perversely along their mole-like trails.
I was still thinking of the irony of it all, of the two broken and lonely young lives even at that moment under the same roof, crushed under the weight of their unseeing and uruomj rehending misery, when the girl in the chair began to speak
“It was terrible,” she went on, in her passionate resolve to purge her soul of the whole corroding blight, “i didn’t drea n what it would lead to, what it would cost. I dreaded every advance she made. It wasn’t jea ousy, it was more than that; it
was fear, terror. She seemed to be feeding on me, day by day, month by month. I knew all the time that the higher she got the lower I had to sink. And now, in a different way, she’s taken everything from me. Taken everything, without knowing it!”
“No, you’re wrong there,” I said. “She hasn’t taken everything.”
“What is there left?” was her forlorn query.
“Life—all your real life. This has been a sort of nightmare, but now it’s over. Now you can. go back and begin over
“It’s too late!” She clasped her thin hands hopelessly together. “And there’s no one to go to.”
“There’s Mallory,” I said, waiting for some start as the name fell on her ears. But I saw none.
“No,” she cried, “He’d hate and despise
“But you still care for him?” I demanded.
“I need him,” she sobbingly acknowledged. “Yes—yes, I always cared for him. But he’d never understand. He’d never forgive me. He’s grown away from
“He’s waiting for you,” I said.
I stood looking at the bowed figure for a moment. Then I slipped out of the room.
T STEPPED in through my own door A and closed it after me. Young Mallory, with his watch in his hand, swung about from the window and faced me.
“Well, it’s ten o’clock—and nothing’s settled!"
“It is settled,” was my answer.
I led him across the quiet hall to the half-lit back room.
I saw his startled and groping motion. Then I heard his cry of “Harrie!” and her answering cry of “Jamie!” as the white face, with its hunger and its happiness, looked up into his.
Then I quietly stepped outside and closed the door, leaving them alone. From that moment I was an outsider, an intruder. My part was over and done. But the sight of those two young people, in each other’s arms, made my thoughts turn back to Mary Lockwood and the happiness which had been lost out of my own life. And I didn’t sleep so well that nio'ht as I had hoped to.