THE STRANGE ADVENTURE of the THUMB-TAP CLUE
A nf It a r n t “ / A1 Pm trip 11 • 1 p "Ihr / hi ml n f I*p r)1 ptr
I WAS being followed. Of that there was no longer a shadow of doubt. Move by move and turn by turn, for even longer than I had been openly aware of it, some one had been quietly shadowing me.
Now, if one thing more than another stirs the blood of the man who has occasion to walk by night, it is the discovery that his steps are being dogged.
The thought of being watched, of having a possible enemy behind one, wakens a thrill that is ancestral.
So, instead of continuing my busily aimless circuit about that high-spiked iron fence which incloses Gramercy Park,
I shot off at a tangent, continuing from its north-west corner in a straight line toward Fourth Avenue and Broadway.
I had thought myself alone in that midnight abode of quietness. Only the dread of a second sleepless night had kept me there, goading me on in my febrile revolutions until weariness should send me stumbling off my circuit like a six-day rider off his wheel.
Once I was in the house shadows where Twenty-first Street again begins I swung about and waited. I stood there, in a sort of quiet belligerency, watching the figure of the man who had been dogging my steps. I saw him turn southward in the square, as though my flight were a matter of indifference to him. Yet the sudden relieving thought that his movements might have been as aimless as my own was swallowed up by a second and more interesting discovery.
It was the discovery that the man whom I had accepted as following me was in turn being followed by yet another man.
I waited until this strange pair had made a full circuit of the iron-fenced inclosure. Then I turned back into the square, walking southward until I came opposite my own house door. The second man must have seen me as I did so. Apparently suspicious of possible espionage, he loitered with assumed carelessness at the Park’s southern corner. The first man, the slighter and
younger-looking figure of the two, kept on his unheeding way, as though he were the ghostlike competitor in some endless nightmare of a Marathon. A/JY contemplation of him was interrupted by the advent of a fourth figure, a figure which seemed to bring something sane and reassuring to a situation that was momentarily growing more ridiculous. For the newcomer was McCooey, the patrolman. He swung around to me without speaking, like a ferry swinging into its slip. Then he stood looking impassively up at the impassive November stars. “Yuh’re out late,” he finally commented, with that careless ponderosity which is the step-child of unquestioned authority'. “McCooey,” I said, “there’s a night prowler going around this park of yours. He’s doing it for about the one hundred and tenth time. And I wish you’d find out what in heaven he means by it.” “Been disturbin’ yuh?” casually asked the law incarnate. Yet he put the question as an indulgent physician might to a patient. McCooey was of that
type which it is both a joy' and a temptation to mystify. “He’s assaulted my curiosity',” I solemnly complained. “D’ yuh mean he’s been interferin’ wid yuh?” demanded my literal friend. “I mean he’s invaded my peace of mind.” “Then I’ll see what he’s afther,” was the other’s answer. And a moment later he was swinging negligently out across the pavement at a line which would converge with the path of the nervously pacing stranger. 1 could see the two round the corner almost together. I could see McCooey draw nearer and nearer. I could even see that he had turned and spoken to the night walker as they went down the square together past the lights of the Play'ers. 1 could see that this night walker showed neither resentment nor alarm at being so accosted. And I could also see that the meeting of the two was a source of much mystification to the third man, the man who still kept a discreet watch from the street corner on my right.
McCooey swung hack to where 1 stood. He swung back resent fully, like a retriever who had been sent on a blind trail. "What’s he after, anyway?” I irritably inquired. “He says he’s afther sleep!” “After what?” 1 demanded. McCooey blinked up at a sky suddenly' reddened by an East River gas flare. Then he took a deep and disinterested breath. “He says he’s afther sleep,” repeated the patrolman. “Unless he gets her, says he, he’s goin’ to walk into the East River.” “What's the matter with the man, anyway?” I asked, for ;hat confession had brought the pacing stranger into something very close and kindred to me. “’Tis nothin’ much,” was the big man’s answer. “Like as r.ot he’s been overeatin’ and havin’ a bad night or two.” And with that my friend the patrolman, turning on his heel, pursued his way through the quiet canyons of the streets where a thousand happy sleepers knew nothing of his coming, saw nothing of his going. I stood there, looking after him as he went. Then I crossed to the north-west corner of the iron-fenced inclosure and waited for that youth whom the arm of -wakefulness was swinging about like a stone in a sling. I deliberately blocked his way as he tried to edge irritably about me. “Pardon me,” I began. He looked up, like a somnambulist suddenly awakened. “Pardon me, but I think I ought to warn you that you are being followed.” “Am I?” “Yes; and I think you ought to know it.” “Oh, 1 know it,” was his apathetic response. “I’m even beginning to get used to it.” 'E stepped back and leaned against the iron fence. His face, under the street lamps, was a very' unhappylooking one. It carried a woebe-gone impassivity, the impas-
sivity which implied he was so submerged in misery that no further blow could be of consequence to him. And yet, beyond the fixed pallor of that face there was something appealing, some trace of finer things, some touch which told me that he and the nocturnal underworld had nothing in common. “But are >'ou getting used to the other thing?” I asked. “What other thing?” was his slow inquiry. I could see the twin fires of some dull fever burning in the depths of his cavernous eyes. “Going without sleep,” I answered. For the second time he stared at me. "But I’m going to sleep,” he answered. “I’ve got to!” "We all have to.” I platitudinously remarked. “But there are times when we all don’t.” He laughed a curious little mirthless laugh. “Are you ever troubled that way?” he asked. We stood there facing each other, like two kindred ghosts communing amid the quietness of a catacomb. Then I laughed, not so bitterly, I hope, as he had done.
“I’ve walked this square,” I told him, “a thousand "times to your one.”
“I’ve been doing it here for the last three hours,” he quietly confessed.
“And it’s done you up,” I rejoiced. “And what we both need is a quiet smoke and an hour or two with our feet up on something.”
“That’s very good of you,” he had the grace to admit, as his gaze followed mine toward the house door. “But there are a number of things I’ve got to think out.”
He was a decent sort. There was no doubt of that. But it was equally plain that he was in a bad way about something or other.
“Let’s think it out together!” I had the boldness to suggest.
TTE laughed mirthlessly, though he was already moving southward along the square with me as he began to speak again.
“There is something I’ve got to think out alone,” he told me. He spoke, this time, without resentment, and I was glad of it. That unhappy-eyed youth had in some way got a grip, if not on my affection, at least'on my interest. And in our infirmity we had a bond of sympathy. We were like two refugees pursued by the same bloodhounds and seeking the same trails of escape. I felt that I was violating no principle of reticence in taking him by the arm.
“But why can’t you slip in to my digs,” I suggested, “for a smoke and a drop of Bristol Milk?”
I was actually wheedling and coaxing him as a stubborn child is coaxed.
“Milk!” he murmured. “I never drink milk.”
“But, my dear man, Bristol Milk isn’t the kind that comes from cows. It’s seventy-year old sherry that’s been sent on a sea-voyage to Australia and back. It’s something that’s oil to the throat and music to the senses!”
He looked at me as though the whole width of a Hudson River flowed between us.
“That sounds appealing,” he acknowledged. “But I’m in a mess that even Bristol Milk won’t wash me out of.”
“Well, if it’s that bad, it’s worth forgetting for an hour or two!” I announced. He laughed again, relaxingly. I took a firmer and more fraternal grip on his arm.
And side by side we went up the steps and through the door into the quietness of that sober-fronted house which I still called by the empty name of home.
In five minutes I had a hickory log ablaze in the fireplace, the library chairs drawn up, and Criswell, my captive, with his hat and coat off. At his side stood a plate of biscuits and a glass of Bristol Milk. But he seemed to find more consolation in sitting back and peering at the play of the flames. His face was a very tired one.
The skin was clammy and dead-looking; and yet from the depths of that fatigue flared the familiar ironic white lights of wakefulness. I think I knew about how he felt.
We sat there without speaking, yet not unconscious of a silent communion of thought. I knew, however, that Bristol Milk was not in the habit of leaving a man long tonguetied. So I turned to refill his glass. I had noticed that his hands were shaky, just as I had noticed the tell-tale twitch to one of his eyelids.
But when his uncontrolled fingers accidentally knocked the glass from the edge of the table it gave me a bit of a «tart.
He sat there looking studiously down at the scattered pieces of crystal.
“It’s hell!” he suddenly burst out..
“What is?” I inquired.
“Being in this sort of shape!” was his vehement response. I did not permit myself to look at him. Sympathy was not the sort of thing he needed. Seventy-year old sherry, I felt, was more to the purpose.
“Especially when we haven’t any excuse for it,” I lazily commented, passing him a second glass, filling it, and turning to watch the fire.
“Warming stuff, that Bristol Milk,” he said with a catch of the breath that was too short to be called a sigh. Then, laughing and wiping the sweat from his forehead, he went on with an incoherence that approached that of childhood.
“I’ve got an excuse.”
I waited for a moment or two.
“What is it?”
“That man you saw trailing me around the square, for one thing.”
“Even that isn’t altogether an excuse,” I maintained.
“But it’s what he stands for,” protested my visitor. . He sat staring into the fire for a minute or two. I sat beside him, again "conscious of some inarticulate and evasive companionship.
“How did it begin?” I finally asked.
He took a deep breath. Then he closed his eyes. And when he spoke he did so without opening them.
“I don’t think I could explain,” was his listless answer.
“Make a try at it,” I urged. “Let’s ventilate the thing, canalize it. Let’s throw a little light and order into it.”
T T E moved his head up and down, slowly, as though he had some vague comprehension of the pysehology of confession, some knowledge of the advantages of “exteriorating” secret offences. Then he sat very still and tense.
“But there’s no way of ventilating this. There’s no way of knocking a window in it. It’s—it’s only a blank wall.”
“Why a blank wall?” I inquired.
He turned and looked past me, with unseeing eyes.
“Because I can’t remember ’’ he said in a voice which made it seem that he was speaking more to himself than to me. He looked about him, with a helplessness that was pitiful. “I can’t remember!” he repeated, with the forlornness of a frightened child.
“That’s exactly what I wanted to get at,” I cried, with a pretense at confident and careless intimacy. “So let’s clear away in front of the blank wall. Let’s at least try a kick or two at it.”
“It’s no use,” he complained.
“Well, let’s try,” I persisted, with forced cheerfulness. “Let’s get at the beginning of things.”
“How far back do you want me to go?” he finally asked. He spoke with the weary listlessness of a patient confronted by an unwelcome practitioner.
“Let’s begin right at the first,” I blithely suggested. He sat looking at his shaking fingers for a moment or two.
“There’s really nothing much to begin at,” he tried to explain. “These things don’t seem to begin in a minute, or an hour, or a day.”
“Of course not,” I assented as I waited for him to
“The thing I noticed at the time, about the only thing I even thought of, was that my memory seemed to have a blind spot—a blind spot the same as an eye has.”
“111?” I asked. “Or overworking?”
“I guess I’d been pounding away pretty hal'd, I know I had. You see, I wanted to make good in that office. So I must have been biting off more than I could chew.” “What office?” I asked as he came to a stop. He looked up at me with a stare of dazed perplexity.
“Didn’t I tell you that?” he asked, massaging his frontal bone with the ends of his unsteady fingers. “Why, I mean John Lockwood’s office.”
“John Lockwood?” I repeated, with a sudden tightening of the nerves. “Do you mean the railway-investment man, the man w'ho made so many millions up along the North-west coast?”
rPHE youth in the chair nodded. And I made an *effort to control my feelings, for John Lockwood,
I knew' only too well, was the father of Mary Lockwood. He too had exploited the Fi'ozen North, but had exploited it in a manner very different to mine.
“Go on,” I said, after quite a long pause.
“Lockwood brought me dow’n from the Canadian Noi'thern offices in Winnipeg. He said he’d give me a chance in the East—the chance of my life.”
“What, were you in his office?”
“I suppose you’d call it private secretary. But I don’t think he knew what I w'as himself.”
“And he let you overwork yourself?”
“No, I can’t say that. It wasn’t his fault. You see, his wox'k this summer kept him out at the Coast a good deal of the time. He had an English mining engineer named Carlton looking over some British Columbia interests.”
“And you carried on the office work w'hile Lockwood was out West?”
“I did what I could to keep my end of the thing going. But, you see, it was all so new' to me. I hadn’t got deep enough into the work to ox'ganize it the way I w'anted to. There were a lot of little things that couldn’t be organized.”
“Well, this man Carlton, for instance, had Lockwood’s office look after his English mail. It had to be sent on from whatever point he reported from.” “Well?”
“When Lockwood was away from the office he deputized me to look after this mail, sign for the registered letters, re-direct telegrams, see that everything went through to the right point. It was quite a heavy mail. Carlton, I guess, was a man of importance, and beside that he was investing for friends at home. Looking after it, of course, was simple enough, but—”
“Wait!” I interrupted. “Has this mail anything to do with our blank wall?”
He looked at me MS though he had seen me for the first time, ns though nil that, while he had been merely thinking aloud.
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Continued from page 23
“Why that is the blank wall,” he cried.
“How?” I demanded.
“Four weeks ago Lockwood came back from the West. On the same day a registered letter came to the office for young Carlton. That letter held twelve Bank of England notes for a hundred pounds each. About six thousand dollars altogether.”
“Where did it come from?”
“From Montreal, from Carlton’s own father. He wanted the money forwarded to his son: The older man was
on his way back to England. The younger Carlton was looking up certain land his father wanted to invest in. Young Carlton’s movements were rather uncertain, so his father made sure by sending the letter to our office—bo Lockwood’s office.”
“And you were still acting as poste restante for the Carlton out in British Columbia?”
“Yes, we’d been receiving and forwarding his mail.”
“We also received this registered letter from Montreal. That’s where the blank wall comes in.”
“We’ve no record of that letter ever going out of our office.”
He looked at me as though he expected me to be more electrified than I found it possible to be.
“Lost, stolen, or strayed?” I asked.
“That’s what I’d give my eye-teeth to know,” he solemnly asserted.
“But where do you come in?”
His answer we given without a shade of emotion.
“I signed for the letter.”
“Then you remember that much?”
“No, I don’t remember it. But when they began to investigate through the post office, I knew my own signature when I saw it.”
“With no chance of mistake or forgery?”
“It was my own signature.”
“And you don’t even remember getting the letter?”
“I’ve gone back over that day with draghooks. I’ve thought over it all night at a stretch, but I can’t get one clear idea of what I did.”
The force of the situation was at last coming home to me.
“And they’re holding you responsible for the disappearance of that letter?” “Good God. I’m holding myself responsible for it. It’s been hanging over me for nearly a month. And I can’t stand much more of it!”
“Then let’s go back to possibilities. Have you ever checked them over?” “I’ve gone over ’em like a scrutineer over a voter’s list. I’ve tested ’em all, one by one ; but they all end up at the blank wall.”
“Well, before we go back to these possibilities again, how about the personal equation? Have you any feeling, any emotional bias, any one inclination about the thing, no matter how ridiculous it may seem?”
HE closed his eyes, and appeared to be deep in thought.
“I’ve always felt one thing,” he confessed, “I’ve always felt—mind you, I only say felt—that when I signed for that Carlton letter, I carried it into Lockwood’s own room with his own personal mail, and either gave it to him or left it on his desk.”
“What makes you feel that?”
“In the first place, I must have known he’d seen Carlton recently, and had a clearer idea of his address, at the time, than I had. In the second place, being registered, it must have impressed me as being comparatively important.
“And Lockwood himself?”
“He says I’m mistaken. He holds I never gave him the letter, or he would have remembered it.”
“And circumstances seem to back him up in this?”
“Everything backs him up,” was the answer.
“Then let’s go back to the possibilities. How about theft? Are you sure everyone in the office was reliable?”
“Everyone but we/” was his bitter retort.
“Then how about its being actually lost inside those four walls?”
“That’s scarcely possible. I’ve gone through every nook and drawer and file. I’ve gone over the place with a finetooth comb, time and time again. I’ve even gone over my own flat, every pocket and every corner of every room.” “Then you have a home?” I asked. Again there was the telltale neurasthenic delay before his answer came.
“I was married the same week the letter was lost,” was his response.
“And your wife hasn’t been able to help you remember?”
“She didn’t know of it until a week ago. Then she saw I couldn’t sleep, and I kept forgetting things, trifling little things that showed I wasn’t co-ordinating properly—such as letting a letter go out unsigned or getting muddled on the safe combination or not remembering whether I’d eaten or not. She said she thought I was in for typhoid or something like that. She went right down to Loekw'ood and practically accused him of making me overwork. Lockwood had to tell her what had happened. I suppose it was the way it was thrown at her, all in a heap! She went home to her own people that afternoon, without seeing me. I thought it over, and decided there was no use doing anything until—until the mess was cleared up some wray or other.”
I did not speak for several seconds. The case was not as simple as it had seemed.
“And Lockwood, how does he feel about it?” .
“The way any man’d feel!” The acidulated smile that wrinkled his face was significant. “He’s having me shadowed!”
“But he does nothing!” >
“He keeps giving me more time.”
“Well, doesn’t that imply he still somehow believes in you?”
“He doesn’t believe in me,” was the slow response.
“Then why doesn’t he do something? Why-doesn’t he act?”
'■pHERE was a moment’s silence. “Because he promised his daughter to give me another week.”
Still again I experienced that odd tightening of the nerves. And I had to take a grip on myself, before I could continue.
“You mean Mary Lockwood personally interested herself in your case?” “Yes.”
That would be like Mary Lockwood, I remembered. She would always want to be something more than just. She would want to be merciful with others. 7 was the only one guilty of an offence which could not be overlooked!
“But why Mary Lockwood?” I asked, for something to say.
“She seemed to think I ought to be given a chance.” Griswell spoke with listless heaviness, as though Mary Lockwood’s pity, as though anyone’s pity, were a thing of repugnance to him.
“A matter of thumbs down,” I murmured. He looked at me blankly; the idiom had not rebebed his intelligence.
I, crossed to the table and poured him : out another glass of Bristol Milk.,
“You say you did things to show you ¡ weren’t co-ordinating properly,” I went on. “Now, going back to possibilities, mightn’t there have been a touch of aphasia? Mightn't you have done some-
thing: with that letter and had no memory of what it was?”
“It’s not aphasia—it never was that,” calmly retorted the unhappy-eyed young man. “You couldn’t dignify it with a name like that. And it never amounted to anything serious. I carried on all my office work without a hitch, without one mistake. But, as I told you before, I was working: under pressure, and I hadn’t been sleeping well. I did the bigger things without a mistake, but I often found I was doing them automatically.”
“Then let’s go back once more to those possibilities. Could the letter have been misdirected, absentmindedly? Could it have gone to one of Carlton’s addresses?”
“Every address has been canvassed. The thing’s been verified through the local post office, and through the Montreal office. That part of it’s as clear as daylight. A letter came to this office of Lockwood’s addressed to Carlton. It held six thousand dollars in cash. I received it and signed for it. The man to whom it was addressed never received it. Neither the money nor the letter was ever seen again. And the last record of it ends with me. Is it any wonder they’ve got that gum-shoe man trailing me about every move I make?”
“Wait,” I cried, still conjecturing along the field of possibilities. “Why mightn’t that letter have come in a second envelope which you removed after its receipt? Why mightn’t it have come addressed to Lockwood or the firm?”
“The post office l’ecords show differently. It came to Carlton. I signed for it as an agent of Carlton’s. Oh, there’s no use going over all that old ground. I’ve been over it until I thought I was going crazy. I’ve raked and dug through it, these past three weeks, and nothing’s come of it. Nothing can come of it, until Lockwood gets tired of waiting for me to prove what I can't prove!” “But, out of all the affair as it happened, out of that whole day when the letter came, isn’t there one shred or tatter of memory on which you can try to hang something? Isn’t there one thing, no matter how small or how rnisty, from which you can begin?”
“Not one rational thing! I’ve tried to build a bridge out into that empty space—that day always seems like empty space to me—I’ve tried to build it out like a cantilever, but I can’t bolt two ideas together. I’ve tried to picture it; I’ve tried to visualize it; I’ve tried to imagine it as I must have lived it. But all I’ve left is the fool idea of a man hitting his thumb.”
“What do you mean by that?” I demanded, sitting up with a jolt.
“I keep seeing somebody, somebody sitting in front of me, holding a letter m his right hand and tapping the thumb of his left hand with it as he talked.”
“But who is it? Or who was it?” “I’ve tried to imagine it was Lockwood.”
“Why, you’ve something right there!” I exultantly cried out. “That’s valuable. It’s something definite, something concrete, something personal. Let’s begin cn that.”
“It's no use,” remarked my companion. His voice, as he spoke, was one of weary unconcern. “I thought the way you do, at first. I felt sure it would lead to something. I kept watching Lockwood, trying to catch him at the trick.” “And?” I prompted.
“I had no chance of making sure. So I went up to his home, and asked for Miss Lockwood herself. I tried to explain how much the whole thing meant to me. I asked her if she’d ever noticed her father in the act of tapping his thumbs.”
“And had she?”
“She was very patient. She thought it over, and tried to remember, but she decided that I was mistaken. His own daughter, she explained, would have noticed any such mannerism as that. In fact, she ventured to mention the matter to her father. And when John Lockwood found I’d been up to his house, that way, he—well, he rather lost his temper about it all. He accused me of trying to play on his daughter’s sympathy, of trying to hide behind a petticoat. Miss Lockwood herself came
and saw me again, though, and was fine enough to say that she still believed in me, that she still had faith in me. She said I could always count on her help. But everything she did only seemed to push me further hack into the dark, the dark that’s worse than hell to me!”
He leaned forward in the chair, covering his face with his unsteady hands. I had no help to give him.
OUT as I sat there staring at him I began to see what he had gone through. Yet more disturbing than the consciousness of this was the thought of what it would eventually lead to, of what it was already leading to, in that broken wreck of a walking ghost, in that terror-hounded neurasthenic who had found a hole in his memory and had kept, exploring it, feeling about it as one’s tongue tip keeps fathoming the hole of a lost tooth.
“I went to a doctor, after she left me,” the man in the chair was saying through his gaunt fingers as as their tips pressed against his eye sockets. “He told me I had to sleep. He gave me trional and bromides and things, but I didn’t seem able to assimilate them. Then he told me it was all in my own mind, that I only had to let myself relax. He told me to lie with my hands down at my side, and sigh, to sigh just once. I lay all night as though I was in a coffin waiting for that sigh, fighting for it, praying for it. But it didn’t come.”
“Of course it didn’t,” I told him, for I knew the feeling. “It never does, that way. You ought to have taken a couple of weeks in the Maine woods, or tried fishing up in Temagami, or gone off pounding a golf ball fifteen miles a day.”
Then I stopped and looked at him. for some subsidiary part of my brain must have been working even while I was talking.
“By heaven, I believe that girl was mistaken !”
“Mistaken?” he asked.
“Yes, I don’t believe any girl really knows her father’s little tricks. I’d like to wager that Lockwood has the habit of tapping his thumb nail, sometimes, with what he may be holding in his other hand!”
My dispirited friend looked up at me, a little disturbed by the vehemence of my outburst.
“But what’s that, to me now? What good does it do me, even though he does tap his thumb?”
“Can’t you see that this is exploration work, like digging up a lost city? Can’t you see that we’ve got to get down to at least one stone, and follow where that first sign leads?”
I did my best to infect him with some trace of my sudden enthusiasm. I wanted to emotionalize him out of that dead flat monotone of indifference. I jumped to my feet and brought a declamative hand down on the corner of my library table.
“I tell you it does you a lot of good. It’s your life-buoy. It’s the thing that’s got to keep you afloat until your feet are on the solid ground again.”
“I tried to feel that way about it once,” was his listless response. “But it doesn’t lead to anything. It only makes me decide I dreamed the whole thing.”
I stared at him as he leaned wearily back in the heavy chair.
“Look here,” I said. “I know you’re pretty well done up. I know you’i'e sick and tired of the whole hopeless situation, that you’ve given up trying to think about it. But I want you to act this thing out for me to-night. I want to try to dramatize that situation down in Lockwood’s office when you signed for the Carlton letter. I want you to do everything you can to visualize that moment. I want you to get that cantilever bridge stuck out across the gulf, across the gulf from each side, until they touch the middle and give us a chance to bolt ’em together.”
I PU SHED back the chairs, cleared the space on the reading table, swung the youth about so that he faced this table, and then took one of my own let-
ters from the heavy brass stand beside him. My one object now was to make him “go Berserk.”
“This is your room,” I told him. “And this is your desk. Remember, you’re in your own office, hard at work. Be so good, please, as to keep busy."
I crossed the room to the door as I spoke, intent on my impersonation. But 1 could hear him as he laughed his indulgent and mirthless laugh.
“Now, I’m bringing you this mail matter. And here 1 have a registered letter addressed to one Carlton. You see it, there? This letter? It’s for Carlton, remember. I want you to take it. And sign for it, here. Yes„ write down your name—actually write it. Now take the letter. And nowthink, man, think. What do you doafter that? What is the next thing? What do you feel is the right thing? The only thing?”
He looked up at me, wonderingly. Then he looked about the room. Then he slowly shook his head from side to side. I had not succeeded in communicating to him any jot of my mental energy.
“I can’t do it,” he said, “I can’t remember. It doesn’t seem to suggest a. th ing.”
“But think, man, think!” I cried out at him. “Use your imagination! Get into the part! Act it! The thing’s there in your head, I tell you. It’s shut up somewhere there, only you haven’t hit the right combination to throw the door open. You can’t do a thing in this life, you’ve never lived an active moment of this life, without a record of it beingleft there. It may be buried, it may be buried so deep you’ll die without digging it up, but it’s there, I tell you, if jou only go after it!”
“If 1 was only sure it was there,” hesitated the man at the table. “If 1 cniv knew just what direction to go! But this doesn’t mean anything; it uoesn’t get me anywhere.”
“You’re not in the part,” I cried, with, what was almost an ecstacy of impatience. “What you’ve got to do is to live over that day. If you can’t do that you’ve got to live over at least onepart of it. No; don’t think this is all foolishness. It’s only going back to a very old law of association. I’m only trying to do something to bring up sight, touch, sound. We both know those are things that act quickest in reviving memory. Can’t you see—out of similar conditions I want to catch at something that will suggest the similar action! There’s no need telling you that my mind and your mind each has a permanent disposition to do again what it has once done under the same circumstances. There’s no use delvinginto psychology. It’s all such ordinary everyday common sense.”
He sat looking at me a little blankly as I pounded this out at him. His pallid face, twitching in the light from the fire, was studious, but only passively so. The infection of my rhapsodic effort had not reached him. I knew that, even before he spoke.
“I can see what you’re aiming at,” he explained. “But no matter how hard I think, I can’t get beyond the blank wall. I’m still in this library of yours. And this is still a table and nothing like Lockwood’s office desk.’
“And that makes it seem rather silly to you?”
“Yes, it does seem silly,” he acknowledged.
Then a sudden idea fell like a hailstone out of the heavens themselves.
“I know what’s the matter,” I cried. “I know why you're not acting out the part. It’s because you’re not on the right stage. You know it’s an ernpty rehearsal—you haven’t been able to let yourself go!”
“I’m sorry,” he said, with the contrition of a child, and with his repeated hand gesture of helplessness.
I swung about on him, scarcely hearing the words he was uttering.
“We’ve got to get into that office,” I declared. “We’ve got to get into Lockwood’s own office.”
He shook his head, without looking up at me.
“I’ve been over that office, every nook and cranny of it !’’ he reiterated.
“But what I want to know is, can we get into it?”
“At this time of night?” he asked, apparently a little frightened at the mere idea of it.
“Yes, now.” I declared.
“I’d rather not,” he finally averred. ; “But you still carry those office-keys, | don’t you?” I asked.
“Yes; I still have my keys. But it wouldn’t look right, the way things are.
It would be only too easy for them to misinterpret a midnight visit of mine to those offices. And they’re watching me, every move I make.”
“Then let them know you’re going to j make the move,” I maintained. “And then we’ll slip down in my car, with no chance of being followed.”
He seemed to be turning the matter over in his mind. Then he looked up, as though a sudden light had clarified ¡ the whole situation.
“You know Mary Lockwood, don’t | you?” he demanded.
“Y-yes,” I hesitatingly admitted.
“Then wouldn’t it be easier for you to j call her up on the telephone and exj plain just what you propose doing?”
IT was my turn to sit in a brown study.
It would be no easy matter, I remembered, to make clear to this stranger my reasons for not caring to converse with Mary Lockwood. I also rememj bered that the situation confronting me ; was something which should transcend j mere personal issues. And I was in a j quandary, until I thought of the everj dependable Benson.
“I’ll have my man call up the Lock! wood house,” I explained as I rose to my feet. “ and announce that we’re making an informal visit to those offices.”
“But what’s that visit for?”
“For the purpose of finding out if ..John Lockwood really taps his thumbs or not!”
The gray-faced youth stared at me. “But what good will that do?” he demanded.
“Why, it’ll give us the right stagej setting, the right ‘props’—something j to reach out and to grope along. It’ll j mean the same to your imagination as j a brick wall to a bit of ivy.” And I stopped and turned to give my instructions to Benson. i
“Oh, it’s no earthly use!” repeated the man who couldn’t remember, in his flat and atonic voice. But instead of answering or arguing with him I put I his hat in his hand and held the portiere, waiting for him to pass through.
I have often thought that if the decorous and somewhat ponderous figure of Mr. John Lockwood had invaded his own offices on that particular night, he would have been persuaded of the fact that he was confronting two madmen.
For, once we had gained access to those offices and once we had locked the door behind us, I began over again what I had so inadequately attempted in my own library. •
DURING the earlier part of my effort to Belascoize a slumbering mental idea into some approximation to life, I tried to remember my surroundings and the fact that the hour was the unseemly one of almost two o’clock in the morning. But as I seated Criswell at his own office desk and did my utmost to galvanize his tired brain into some semblance of the role I had laid out for it, I think he rather lost track of time and place. At the end of ten minutes my face was moist with sweat, and a wave of utter exhaustion swept through me as I saw that, after all my struggle, nothing in that minutely enacted little drama had struck a responsive chord in either his imagination or his memory.
“You don’t get anything?” I asked as I dropped back into a chair at the end of my pantomime. No stage manager, trying to project his personality into an unresponding actor, could have struggled more passionately, more persuasively, more solicitously. But it had been fruitless.
“No, I can’t get anything!” said the white-faced Criswell. And I could see that he had honestly tried, that he had strained his very soul, striving to reach
up to the light that was denied him. But the matter was not one of mere volition. It was beyond his power. It depended on something external, on something as much outside his conscious control as though it were an angel that must come and touch him on the brow. It was simply that the door of Memory remained locked and barred. We had not hit upon the right combination. But I did not give up.
“Now we’re going in to try Lockwood’s own office,” I told him, with a peremptoriness which made him draw away from me.
“I—I don’t think I can go through it again,” he faltered. And I could see the lines of mental fatigue deep on his ashen face.
Yet I proffered him no sympathy; 1 allowed him no escape from those four imprisoning walls. I had already stirred the pool too deeply. I knew' that a relapse into the old impassive hopelessness would now be doubly perilous.
[LOOKED about the room. Three sides of it were lined with hook shelves and every shelf was filled with hundreds of books, thousands of them altogether, from dull and uninterestinglooking treatises on railway building and mining engineering to even more dull-looking consular reports and textbooks, on matters of finance. The fourth side of the room held two windows. Between these windows, some six feet from the wall, stood Lockwood’s rosewood desk. It was a handsome desk, heavily carved, yet like the rest of the furniture, the acme of simplicity. History, I knew, had been made over that oblong of rosewood. It had been and would again be an arena of Napoleonic contention. Yet it stood before me as bare and bald as a prize fighters’ platform.
I sat down in the carved swivel chair beside the desk, drew my chair closer to the rosewood, and looked up at Criswell, who, I believe, would have turned and bolted, had he been given the chance. He was, I fancy, even beginning to have suspicions as to my sanity. But in that T saw no objection. It was.
I felt, rather an advantage. It would serve to key his nerves up to a still higher pitch—for I still hoped against hope that I might lash him into some form of mental calenture which would drive him into taking the high jump, which would in some way make him clear the blind wall.
“Now, I’m Lockwood, remember,” I cried, fixing my eye on him, “and you’re Criswell, my private secretary. Have you got that plain?”
He did not answer me. He was, apparently, looking weakly about for a place to sit down.
“Have you got that plain?” I repeated, this time in a voice that was almost thunderous.
“Yes,” he finally said. “I understand.”
“Then go back into your room there. From that room I want you to bring me a letter. Not any old letter, but one particular letter. I want you to bring me the Carlton registered letter which you signed for. I want you to see it, and feel it. and bring it here.”
1 THREW all the authority of my being into that command. I bad to justify both my course and my intelligence. I had to get my man over the high jump, or crawl away humiliated and defeated.
I stared at the man, for he was not moving. I tried to cow him into obedience by the very anger of my look. But it didn’t seem to succeed.
“Don’t you understand?” I cried. “1 want you to bring that registered letter in to me, here, now!”
He looked at me a little blankly. Then he passed his hand over his moist forehead.
“But we tried that before.” he faltermgly complained. “We tried that, and it wouldn’t work. I brought the letter in the first time, and you weren’t here.’
I sat up as though I had been shot. I could feel a tingle of something go up and down my backbone. -lfe God, I thought, the man’s actually Stumbling
on something. The darkness was delivering itself of an idea.
“Yes, we tried that before,” I wheedled. “And what happened?”
“Vou weren’t here.” he repeated, in tones of such languid detachment that one might have thought of him as under the influence of a hynotist.
“But I’m here now, so bring me the letter !”
I tried to speak quietly, but I noticed that my voice shook with suppressed excitement. Whether or not the contagion of my hysteria went out to him I cannot say. But he suddenly walked cut of the room, with the utmost solemr i ty.
The moment I was alone I did a thing that was both ridiculous and audacious. Jerking open Lockwood’s private drawer, I caught up a Perfecto from a cigar box I found there. This Perfecto Í impertinently and promptly lighted, puffing its aroma about, for it had suddenly come home to me how powerful an aid to memory certain odors may be, how, for instance, the more smell of a Noah’s Ark will carry a man forty years hack to a childhood Christmas.
I SAT there busily and abstractedly smoking as Criswell came into the room and quietly stepped up to my desk. In his hand he carried a letter. He was solemn enough about it, only his eyes,
I noticed, were as empty as though he were giving an exhibition of sleep walking. He reminded me of a hungry actor trying to look happy over a pa p ie rm a ch e tu r ke y.
“Here’s a letter for Carlton, sir,” he said to me. “Had I better send it on, or will you look after it?”
I pretended to be preoccupied. Lockwood, I felt, would have been that way, if the scene had indeed ever occurred. Lockwood’s own mind must have been busy, otherwise he would have carried away some definite memory of what had happened.
I looked up, quickly and irritably. I took the letter from Criswell's hand, glanced at it, and began absently tapping my left thumb tip with it as I peered at the secretarial figure before me.
Criswell’s facè went blank as he saw the movement. It was now not even somnambulistic in intelligence. It maddened me to think he was going to fail me at such a critical moment.
“What are you breaking down for?”
I cried. “Why don’t you go on?”
He was silent, looking ahead of him. “I—I see blue ” he finally said, as though to himself. His face was clammy with sweat.
“What sort of blue?” I prompted. “Blue cloth? Blue sky? Blue ink? Blue what?”
“It’s blue.” he repeated, ignoring my interruption. And all his soul seemed writhing and twisting in some terrible travail of mental childbirth.
“I see blue. And you’re making it white. You’re covering it up. You’re
turning over white—white-white!
Oh. what in God’s name is it?”
My spine was again tingling with a thousand electric needles as I watched him. He turned to me with a gesture of piteous appeal.
“What was it?” he implored. “Can’t you help me get it—get it before it goes! What was it?”
“It was blue, blue and white,” I told him, and as I said it I realized what madhouse jargon it would have sounded to any outsider.
HE sank into a chair, and let his head fall forward on his hands. He did not speak for several seconds.
“And thei-e are two hills covered with snow,” he slowly intoned.
My heart sank a little as I heard him. T knew T had overtaxed his strength He was wandering off again into irrelevancies. He had missed the high jump.
“That’s all right, old man,” I tried to console him. “There’s no use overdoing this. You sit there for a while and calm down.”
As I sank into a chair on the other s;de of the desk, defeated, staring wearily about that book-lined room that was
housing so indeterminate a tragedy, the door on my left was thrown open. Through it stepped a woman in an ivory-tinted dinner gown over which was thrown a cloth-of-gold cloak.
I sat there blinking up at her, for it was Mary Lockwood herself. It was not so much her sudden appearance as the words she spoke to the huddled figure on the other side of the desk that startled me.
“You were right,” she said, with a self-obliterating intensity of purpose. “Father taps his thumbs. I saw him do it an hour ago!”
I sat staring at her as she stood in the centre of the room, a tower of ivory and gold against the dull and mottled •colors of the book-lined wall. I waited for her to speak. Then out of the mottled colors that confronted my eye, out of the faded yellows and rusty browns, the greens and reds of vellum, and the .gilt of countless titles, my gaze rested on a nearby oblong of blue.
I looked at it without quite seeing it. Then it came capriciously home to me that blue had been the color that Criswell had mentioned.
But blue was only blue, I vacuously told myself as I got up and crossed the room. Then I saw the white streak of the top of the book, and for no adequate reason my heart suddenly leaped up into my throat.
I SNATCHED at that thing of blue and white, like a man overboard snatching at a lifeline. I jerked it from its resting place and crossed to the desk top with it.
On its blue title page I read: “Re-
port of the Commissioner of the North West Mounted Police, 1898.”
The volume, I could see at a glance, was a Canadian Government Blue Book. It was a volume which I myself had exploited, in my own time, and for ir.y own ends. But these ends, I remembered as I took up the book and shook it, belonged now to a world that seemed very foolish and very far away. Then, having shaken the volume as a terrier shakes a mat, I turned it over and looked through it. This I did with a slowly sinking heart.
It held nothing of significance. Yet I took it up and shook it and ruffled through its leaves once more, to make sure. Then between what I saw to be the eighteenth and nineteenth page of that section which bore the title “The Report of Inspector Moodie,” I came upon a photographic insert, a tintblock photo-engraving. It carried the inscription : “The Summit of Laurier Pass Looking Westward.” What made me suddenly stop breathing was the fact that this photograph showed two hills covered with snow.
“Criswell!” I called out. so sharply that it must have sounded like a scream to the bewildered woman in the cloth-ofgold cloak.
“Yes,” he answered in his far-away voice.
“Was John Lockwood ever interested in Nox-thern British Columbia? Did he happen to have any claims or interests or plans that would make him look up trails in a Police Patrol report?” “I don’t know,” was the wearily indifferent answer.
“Think, man!” I called out at him. “Think l”
“I can’t think,” he complained. “Wouldn’t he have to look up roads to a new mining camp in that district?” I persisted.
“Yes, I think he did,” was the slow
response. Then the speaker looked ; up at me. His stupor was almost that of intoxication. His wandering eye peered unsteadily down at the Blue Book as I once more ruffled through ! its pages, from back to front. I saw his wavering glance grow steady, his j whole face change. I put the book down on the desk-top, with the pictu re of Laurier Pass uppermost under the flat white light.
I saw the man’s eyes gradually dilate, ! and his body rise, as though some unseen hydraulic machinery were slowly and evenly elevating it.
“Why, there’s the blue! There’s the white!” he gasped.
“Go on!” I cried. “Go on!”
“And those are the two hills covex-ed with snow! That’s it! I see it! I see it, now! That’s the book John Lockwood was going thx-ough ivhen 1 handed him the letter!
“What letter?” I insisted.
“Carlton’s letter?” he proclaimed.
“Then where is it?” I asked, sick at heart. I looked fi-onx Crisweil to the girl in the gold cloak as she crossed the room to the bookshelf and stooped over the space from which I liad so feverishly snatched the Blue Book. I saw her brush the dust fx'om her finger tips, stoop lower, and again reach in between the shelves. Then I looked back at Criswell, for I could hear his voice rise almost to a scream.
“I remember! I see it now! And he’s got to remember ! He’s got to remember!”
I shook my head, hopelessly, as he flung himself down in the chair, sobbing out that foolish cry, over and over again.
“Yes, he’s got to remember,” I could hear Mary Lockwood say as she turned and faced us.
“But what will make him?” I asked, as her studiously impersonal gaze met mine.
“This will,” she announced as she held out her hand. I saw then, for the first time, that in this hand she was holding a heavily inscribed and Rstamped envelope.
“What’s that?” demanded Criswell, staring hard.
“It’s your lost letter,” quickly replied Mary Lockwood. “How it fell out, I don’t know. But I do know, now, that father shut this letter up in that book. And the Lockwoods, I’m afraid,” she continued with an odd little quaver in her voice, “will have a very, very great deal to ask your forgiveness for. I’m sorry, Mr. Criswell, terribly sorry this ever happened. But I’m glad, terribly glad, that, it has turned out the way it did.”
There was a moment of quite unbroken silence. Then young Criswell turned to me.
“It’s you I’ve got to thank for all this,” he finally blurted out, with moist yet happy eyes, as he did his best to wring my hand off. “It’s you who’ve— who’ve reinstated me!”
We were standing there in a sort of triangle, very awkward and ill-at-ease, until I found the courage to break that silence.
“But I don’t seem to have been able to reinstate myself, Criswell,” I said as I turned and met Mary Lockwood’s level gaze. She looked at me out of those intrepid and unequivocating eyes of hers, for a full half minute. Then she turned slowly away. She didn’t speak. But there was something that looked strangely like unhappiness iix her face as she groped towards the door, which Criswell, I noticed, opened for her.