In the Role of God
The story of an amazing revenge sought by a man who almost forgot Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord’
THERE was something horribly sinister about those iron faces that grinned from the middle of the great high gates—something diabolical and triumphant in their expression. Inside these gates lived the man who had brought complete ruin and disaster to the three partners who now stood hesitating outside, afraid to enter.
The last mysterious blow had fallen that morning and had left them stultified and inarticulate. Recovering one by one, they had given tongue to a terror-stricken mixture of blasphemy and prayer. They had asked themselves over and over again for hours, in that inner office of theirs, why this man Pigott, whom they had never seen, should have gone out of his way to torture them, undermine their honest plans and bring them at last to despair and bankruptcy.
They had gone back over every day of that year of struggle, during which they had endeavored to wriggle away from the ever-tightening grip of the unseen hand which had crushed them individually and jointly. What had they ever done to this man to make him dog and haunt them? They had never met Pigott, any of them. They knew of him only as the man of apparently unlimited wealth who had bought and renovated the old historical house on the outskirts of the town, holding himself aloof persistently from all local affairs. The name awoke no memories. It failed utterly to ring a bell which reverberated back to those early years during which, working even then in partnership, they had managed to hang on to life by the skin of their teeth.
After hours of discussion and many flaring wrangles, they had decided to beard Pigott in his den and demand to know the reasons of his persecution.
The watery' sun was setting. Its pale golden light was withdrawing from the earth, through which Spring was thrusting her green head. The silence was broken only by the wash of the sea and the raucous cries of a company of crows that zigzagged above the high chimneys of the old house on the cliffs.
TZjTNALLY, Horace Fidge broke the spell. This small,
wiry, sparrow-like man, with a tip-tilted precocious nose, twinkling little eyes, a thick-lipped mouth ever ready to widen into laughter, was scared out of his characteristic bounce. His hat remained cocked over his water-sprite ears, and a violet handkerchief flapped from the breast pocket of his check suit, but he was no longer the justly indignant man of half an hour before who had thumped the table in their real estate offices and demanded justice; no longer the jocular, indulgent person who was eagerly welcomed to the house of his adoring wife and six children. He was, and he took no pains to hide the fact, frightened.
“Claude,” he said, “I can’t do it. I can’t, I tell yer. The idea of goin’ through these gates and facin’ that man gives me goose-flesh. It’s like being dead and waiting yer turn before the judgment seat. I’ve never gone back on you two fellers before but you must let me outer this.”
And then Burke spoke, the man who had started a poetry magazine at Dublin University in a brilliant and promising youth—Ormund Burke with the leonine head, the untrimmed beard, the finely cut ncse, the sensitive youth and those disconcerting eyes that appeared ever to be turned inwards in self-examination and distrust.
“I feel like that, too, Claude,” he said. “I don’t think anything can be served by going up that long avenue and throwing ourselves on the mercy of this man. We’re beaten and broke. Let’s say mafisch and go and drown ourselves . . . Besides, Pigott married my girl. If I find myself under his roof, I might-—well, I might do anything.”
The senior partner and dominating personality of the real estate firm of Sillery, Fidge and Burke stood irresol-
ute, gazing with narrowed eyes at the house. About him there were the earmarks of aristocracy, the straight back and the graceful bearing of one who had been drilled in early life and worn uniform. A man of the greyhound type—tall, slight and thoroughbred. His clothes were Conduit Street, and he wore a stringless monocle that might have been born in his eye. His clean-shaven attractive face had the fresh complexion of a country girl, but there were as many lines about his eyes as there are at a railway terminus. He spoke, after a moment of deep thought, with a curious mellifluousness over a note of authority: “I’m sorry, but now' that we’re here I must ask ypu to go through wdth this unpleasant business. Y e’ve taken all day to decide this step and if we turn back now we shall succumb to the sort of weakness w'hich all three of us have struggled to evade. Then, too, I may as well confess to an overwhelming curiosity to discover what precisely is the reason for our having been fastened upon by this particular man and pinned by him on cards like three queer specimens of bug life.” He pushed open one of the gates and entered.
Fidge darted forward and hung on to his arm. "Don’t go in,” he cried out, his cockney twang emphasized by his fright and emotion. “There’s something damned suspicious about it all.”
“I’m going in,” said Sillery, “and you're coming with me, both of you. I am the head of this firm and my decisions hold good . . . Pigott-—who on earth is this man?”
He led the way into the long avenue of oaks and beeches, walking with that springy movement of his that wms so w'ell known to the fellow members of the clubs to which he had once belonged in St. James Street, followed, as he had ahvays been, by the poet and the cockney. More than ever at that moment, they recognized his leadership, his physical and mental superiority.
Straight ahead stood that melancholy Tudor house with its broken roof line, dignified terraces and innumer-
able windows. It might have been a catacomb of dead memories peopled at night with the shades of history whose red-heeled shoes awoke the echoes of its loneliness.
Claude Sillery mounted the steps and rang the bell. “Pigott, Pigott,” he repeated. “There was a Pigott in my regiment, I remember, but he was killed in India. Besides, I never did anything to him. He liked me.”
An old man stood before them, respectable and discreet, and if possible a little surprised. So few visitors ever presented themselves at his master’s house.
“Messrs. Sillery, Fidge and Burke to see Mr. Pigott, if it is entirely to his convenience.” The voice was bland and steady. “Kindly offer our apologies for having omitted to make an appointment, but the matter is important.”
“If you will please enter, gentlemen.”
They were shown at once into a hall so large, lofty and silent that it might have been converted from a cathedral. Away up, almost out of sight, huge beams had ripened to the color of a crow’s back. Walls of stone, discolored in places, from which shrines might have been removed, gave out a sort of chill; filled with stained glass out of which the riper colors had faded, the windows towered up into the shadows. The floor was flagged with great squares of uneven stone. Several great canvases had been placed in what appeared to be a haphazard manner as though to get them out of the way. Others stood against the walls forlorn and forgotten, as though their owner had suddenly lost interest in them .The only rug to be seen lay in front of the fireplace—an amazing piece of carved woodwork which looked like the entrance to a subterranean passage. The hearth was cheerless and without any signs of fire.
To the three astonished men the whole place emanated a lack of homesense that was uncanny. It seemed to them that the unknown Pigott was more like a lodger in someone else’s house than the proud possessor of a historical place known to everybody. And yet everywhere there were signs of wealth. The pictures were old masters. The one enormous tapestry was Flemish and made Claude Sillery’s mouth water. He was a connoisseur of these things. There were no evidences of disrepair anywhere to be seen, but the shadowy places high up among those rafters might have been filled with bats and owls.
There was not a single chair in sight and so the three men stood, as though they were under the roof of a deserted railway station.
The waning light trickled through the windows and away up behind the gallery there was the faint yellow gleam of a lamp. With some excitement a servant came out of a distant door and ran up the polished stairs, and a man whom they recognized as the local doctor followed him up carrying a small bag, and disappeared. Several times during what appeared to be a strange disconsolate hour the old butler peeped round a door and eyed them for a moment irresolutely. But nothing happened.
He came to them with no message either that they were to be seen or not. So they remained standing exactly where they had placed themselves, close together, like forgotten sheep. From time to time they spoke in undertones as though they were in a church and shifted from foot to foot. And all the while their eyes roved as though trying to find something which might give them a clue to the character of the man who had so completely undermined their hopes.
To Burke odd thoughts came like pigeons, and winged about his brain. It was true that this man Pigott had stolen the girl whom he had hoped to marry and who was the one love of his life, but somehow he got from this old hall a sense of suffering, of despondency which stirred him against his will to pity.
'T'O SILLERY, accustomed in ^ the good days of his youth to the historical houses of his country, a sense of criticism rose as he looked about. He told himself that the pictures were wrongly placed, that that gorgeous piece of tapestry was wasted without light. In his mind’s eye he could
see that hall covered with huge rugs, warmed by a pile of logs and made human and livable."The one thing that came to him was that the house was wasted on Pigott, who obviously did not appreciate its beauty and its possibilities. And he began to see Pigott as a hard-faced business man, a plebeian figure, a man as common in mind as he was in body, rapacious, cruel and grasping, ambitious eventually to hold office in that seacoast town which he himself and his two partners had been working to develop into a summer resort. He felt contemptuous and critical.
At last the old butler approached them, walking in a gingerly way as if afraid to awake the echoes, and wearing an expression of deep anxiety. “Will you kindly follow me, gentlemen,” he said.
The commonplace words fell upon the three men startlingly. They had almost given up hope of ever being asked to move from where they stood. Yet they were reluctant to follow that old man into the interstices of the gloomy place.
The door which the butler opened led into an unlighted passage, stone lined and stone flagged, smelling like a cellar. It gave way finally to a flight of stairs. Opening another door, the butler stood back and ushered the three partners into a room that should have been a library. Less lofty than the hall and twenty times as small, it was still large and impressive. Enormous shelves lined the walls, but every shelf was bookless. Piles of volumes, dulled with dust, made an uneven mountain in the center of the room, like bricks. A collection of pictures with their faces to the wall remained where they had been placed by the men who had moved them in. Busts of Shakespeare and Milton and Goldsmith stood on the floor, regarding each other with hollow eyes. Only one end of the room showed any signs of occupation, and here, round a large flat topped desk, were several chairs. No fire gleamed on the hearth and no lamp gave forth cheerfulness. The dying light fell through several narrow windows with leaded panes.
Once more the old man spoke. “Kindly be seated, gentlemen,” he said, and bowed and left.
“My God,” said Fidge, bursting out, “I can’t stand
much more of this. If ’e’s going to see us, why the ’ell doesn’t ’e? ’Ave we got to stand about on one leg for the remainder of our lives, or what’s the giddy idea? I’m cold one minute and ’ot at another. I shall go off with a bang in a second.”
In utter silence they sat in stony impatience each one trying to formulate a scheme of words which might move the unknown Pigott to mercy. The room grew darker and darker. Nothing could be heard, except the twittering of sparrows on the awakening trees in the gardens without. And at the moment when these men could hardly see their own faces something stirred. A door opened. There were slow heavy steps and the noise of a chair drawn out and drawn in again.
"pIDGE almost screamed, and it must be confessed that even the sophisticated heart of Claude Sillery turned over. With dramatic suddenness the lamp was switched on, and there, with the light falling full upon his face, sat a man who was neither the grotesque monster of Fidge’s untrained imagination nor the embodiment of Sillery’s preconceived idea but, in several ways the realization of Burke’s unwilling sympathy ... A -well-balanced frame, square of shoulder, fined into a striking thinness as though by years of mental pain; a high cold forehead, an eagle nose, thin compressed lips, a chin as strong as iron, dark beetling brows over eyes which had looked into hell —Pigott.
With the sort of laugh which might have come from the mouth of one of those sinister iron masks on the gates, Pigott spoke. “You have come at last,” he said.
Fidge was surprised into a quick, unguarded question. “At last? What the devil do you mean?”
It was exactly what both of the others would have said if they had not been accustomed to hold themselves under control. Had they been expected then—and if so -why? “Draw closer to my desk, Sillery and you, Fidge. Burke, let me see your face.”
The orders were obeyed. They were irresistible. Looking slowly from one of his reluctant visitors to the other Pigott met their awed examination without a flicker. A slow, exultant smile ran all along his mouth.
“Am I to believe that you have forgotten me, Claude Sillery?” he asked.
The ex-soldier and confirmed sybarite, who, even at that moment, managed to remain in an attitude of perfect grace, nodded. “I’m extremely sorry,” he replied, with his inevitable courtesy, “but I don’t think that I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting you before.”
“You, Horace Fidge?”
“No, I don’t know' yer. I swear I don’t. What if I ever did? What’s that got to do with it? We never did you no ’arm, none of us.”
Pigott directed his attention to the poet. “And you, Burke? Look closely.” He tilted the shade so that the whole strength of the lamp was focused upon his face.
Burke bent forward and looked wnth intense concentration. “I never knew you,” he said, finally. “I’ve never seen you before, and I hope to God I shall never see you again.”
Pigott’s smile broadened. "Then you must be somewhat surprised,” he said, “at my knowing you each by your name, and at my having taken sufficient interest in your schemes to make it necessary for you to come here to-night. I have a better memory than you have. In fact, I knowmore about you than you know about yourselves. Since I’ve been here, in what you seem to think is your own particular town, I’ve added piece after piece to the pictures that I had of you until your portraits have become perfect.”
“Well, what's the idea?” asked Fidge, irritated out of all control and yet stirred to an even deeper superstitious fear.
“I’ll tel! you that later.” replied Pigott. “To begin, I want to satisfy your curiosity as to my knowledge of you, and in finishing to tell you w'hy I have taken into my control your every move
Continued on page 38
In the Role of God
Continued from page 7
I'll begin with Sillery, the perfect gentleman. Etiquette demands that.”
HIS thin, nervous hand was stretched out on the table and he raised his long index finger and kept it levelled at the senior partner, who achieved a sort of smile.
“The first time that you developed any signs of criminality was around your sixteenth birthday. Young as you were, you owed money to a bookmaker who was dunning you, and you were afraid that your father, the excellent Vicar of Little Wimble, might discover you were gambling. You were on a holiday from Harrow. There was a garden party, and your mother, a good beautiful , woman, was entertaining her guests on the lawn of that beautiful old rectory. You chose a moment when no one was about and stole up stairs to your mother’s ! bedroom. You went to her dressing table, you broke open a small leather jewel case and you removed from it a dismond ring which she had inherited and seldom wore. This you hid in your bedroom until the following morning, when you went to London, sold it to a receiver of stolen goods and with the proceeds settled your debt of honour and stood yourself an extremely excellent luncheon at the Black Bull in Piccadilly—all alone. Do you remember?” He paused^for an answer.
But no answer came. With his long legs stuck out in front of him and his thumbs thrust into the slits of his waistcoat Claude Sillery sat holding his breath.
“I see that you do,” said Pigott. “That was your first easy step in procuring something for nothing, in getting money without working for it, a system which you brought to perfection before you had left the tender years of your youth. You remember also, without doubt, the fake roulette table which you ran at Sandhurst and which enabled you to keep two polo ponies before you were twenty-one, to the astonishment of those people who were aware of the fact that as vicar of a village church, your father’s I income was small.”
Sillery looped one long leg over the other and all the color went out of his i face. Even his lips were white. But I he said nothing.
With untranslatable satisfaction Pigott watched the effect of each of his points. He had waited patiently for this hour of triumph. “Through the instrumentality of your uncle who liked you for your charm of manner and your excellence as a shot, you were commissioned into the Twenty-First Lancers and given an allowance which would enable you to live like an officer and a gentleman. Instead of which, owing a large sum of ' money you began to cheat at cards under the tuition of a prestidigitator whose name I think, was Manini.”
“No,” said Sillery, “Romani.”
Pigott bowed with sarcastic politeness. “Romani—I thank you,” he said. “You were an apt pupil and you managed for two years to clean out your fellow officers. You might still have been do| ing so had not your fondness for chamI pagne made you a little careless. You j were cashiered from the British army three weeks after your twenty-second birthday. This public disgrace broke I your father’s heart. He was never the same man again. It was a good thing, wasn’t it, that your mother had not lived to read that entry in the Army Gazette?”
Sillery nodded and put his hand over I his mouth. It trembled violently.
“And then,” said Pigott, “you became associated with one of your loyal part¡ ners and soon after with the other.” He turned to Fidge, who cringed beneath his pointing finger. “Horace Fidge of
Islington—turf and commission agent, race tout and welcher—it is your turn.”
A SORT of scream rang through the
* room. “You leave me alone, see! Go on now. You leave me alone. I’m an honest man, I am, with a wife and family to support.”
“A good little wife and a large and affectionate family,” said Pigott. I have seen them all. It was natural that you should join Sillery as one of his partners. You knew him well and respected him as one who had always paid you his racing debts. You were a butcher’s boy. You might have joined your employer and ultimately seen your name over his shop. Instead of which you had a fondness for horses and made a book for other butcher boys early in your teens. You did well at the game didn’t you?”
“Yes, I did, and why not? You leave me alone, see.” He looked like a man with ague.
Pigott smiled “Why have you come here, if I have to leave you alone?” Yours is a very interesting history, Fidge. You were somewhere about seventeen, a jocular little person with a round and open face, a very ready smile and a gift for repartee when you helped yourself to your master’s till and started in the silver ring at Epsom race course. Horace Fidge, ‘Young Horace, Everybody’s friend.’ Two to one, bar one. Six to one on the field....You did very well that Derby day according to rumor.”
“ ’Ad all the luck,” bluffed Fidge. “Cleaned up fine. What’s the idea?”
“And took twenty pounds from Mr. Claude Sillery who had broken bounds from Harrow. You did so well, I remember, that shortly afterwards you were able to open a small office in Cockspur Street. Later on you became ambitious —so ambitious that you were not content merely to accept bets but you made them. This was most unwise, and caused you to sink from the ranks of legitimate bookmakers back to the silver market and later out on to the course itself. Finally your racing days ended in a long run from Windsor to the railway station where you were caught, treated as a welcher should always be treated and left for dead behind a coal shed. They were very rough with you that day, Fidge, were they not?”
“The blighters broke me nose,” said Fidge ruefully, “and me collar bone and a couple of ribs.”
“So I gathered,” said Pigott, in his even, cold voice. “The day you left the hospital with the few shillings in your pocket, which your indignant pursuers had overlooked, you walked to London, and in a Hammersmith coffee stall you came face to face with a gentleman whose clothes were shabby, but still good, and who was enjoying a penny egg and a cup of twopenny coffee. You didn’t call him Claudie then, did you?”
Without waiting for an answer Pigott turned to Burke.
“You, too,” he said, “drifted to London Cut off by the old judge, your father, for having covered his name with disgrace, you had earned some sort of living by holding horses’ heads and picking hops, working barges on the canals and towing pleasure parties up and down the Thames—a strange series of occupations for a poet. You had escaped from criminal prosecution for having been caught stealing money from the clothing of your friends in the gymnasiums of your college in Dublin University,and had left Ireland with a grudge against the world. You were born to be a schoolmaster and but for the kink in your nature which put your hands into other people’s pockets you might have been a brilliant and distinguished leader
of the younger v generation. Nature plays curious tricks upon us all and fate seems to have an infallible way of bringing lame dogs together. It was therefore not an odd thing, Burke, when you come to consider it, that the men who laid on to your ragged clothing just as you were about to dive from the Thames embankment into the cold waters beneath should have been Sillery and Fidge.”
BURKE heaved a great sigh. “I would to God that they had let me do it,” he said.
“That would have prevented me from enjoying your presence here to-night,” said Pigott. “Sillery, Fidge and Burke —-then began that partnership which has existed for fifteen years but which will be dissolved to-morrow.”
The eyes of the three men met pitifully and then returned to the exultant face of their relentless biographer.
“I don’t know how you managed to raise the capital with which to start that successful and ingenous fake agency of yours. It does not matter now. You three invented that system of obtaining money under false pretences which afterwards became so popular. You inserted advertisements in all the country papers claiming that you could find employment for young people of both sexes who had no previous training. You charged an initial fee, enticed them to London, and obtained other small sums of money from them before sending them back to their homes to live on empty promises. The business increased so rapidly and was so successful that you were able to indulge in your racing hobbies on a small scale and leave your office to be run by a manager. Of these you had several, but they were rapidly discharged because you were afraid they might discover the fraudulence of your scheme and make themselves nasty. One fine morning, drawn by one of your enticing advertisements, a lad entered your office who had so trustworthy a face, whose eyes were so honest and optimistic that you all three saw in him at once the perfect decoy. His name, if you remember, was North—George North.”
He paused, looked from one face to another and watched each man suddenly narrow his eyes and shift uneasily in his chair.
“This simpleton, just out of school, was the only son of a little lady who had been left a widow early in life and who, with a small income on which to manage, had stinted herself to give her boy as good an education as her provincial town could offer. At the age of eighteen young North determined to become a wage earner.
“With the blessings of his mother and with his gratitude for her exquisite love making a little flame in his soul, the boy hurried to London. He entered your office. So earnest was he to do his duty by the firm that, much to your amusement, he actually succeeded in finding employment for many of the young applicants. Bit by bit you left him the entire running of your office, drew good profits and went racing.
“When the police finally discovered your methods, George North was the one who was arrested because everything had been done in his name. Getting wind of the raid at the psychological moment you ran to earth and became so far as the police were concerned, figments of that lad’s criminal imagination. He was charged, tried and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment with hard labor. During the trial, which I learned later you witnessed from the back of the court, the little lady who had come to see her son honorably discharged fell on her face when the judge pronounced sentence and died of heart failure at the shock.”
PIGOTT paused again and but for the slightest movement of his hand upon the desk showed no emotion.
From one of the three partners came a deep and involuntary groan. The sight of that slight figure on the floor of the court and the sound of her dying cry had followed these men into their dreams.
“Have you ever seen George North again?” asked Pigott.
And there was a moment of the sort of silence that only comes with death and sleep.
All three men shook their heads.
“But I have,” said Pigott. “I saw him on the morning of his release from prison. I saw him come out into a world that he now hated, among people who seemed to him all to be cheats, liars and thieves— a disillusioned, bitter and revengeful man, no longer to be recognized as the round-faced lad who had made your business so successful. I went with him through the streets of London in his instant search to find the three men who had put him into Hell—“Vengeance is mine!” he said as he went; “Vengeance is mine!” And I knew that deep down in his soul was the one all-consuming ambition to bring three men cringing and blubbering to his feet, and then to break them across his knee like old dry sticks.
“Without faith in God or man, without the faintest interest in anything that was good or simple in life and with the one word ‘revenge’ stamped upon his brain, George North came back to freedom not four years older but forty years. Every moment of his incarceration had left its distinct line upon his face and all the nightmares of every celled-in night were congealed into a great lump round his heart.
“I was with him during those first days when he staggered blindly about the streets. For a year, earning his living as a tramp, he searched everywhere without success for Sillery, Fidge and Burke. I saw him at that great moment when he opened one of the papers that he was selling and came upon a lawyer’s advertisement which asked that George North, son of Martha and Benjamin North of Totnes in Devonshire, would call at No. 11 Lincoln’s Inn Fieldsjto learn something to his advantage.’
“I was present at the interview with the aged solicitor whose advertisment it appeared, had been running almost exactly for one year. It developed that a distant relative of his father had died in South Africa and had left to George North a fortune large enough to enable him to follow up and crush to powder, never mind how successful they might have become, the men called Sillery, Fidge and Burke who had turned him into a blasphemer-—a fortune large enough to make him, so far as these three scoundrels were concerned, as powerful as God.”
TT WAS Sillery who found his voice A and with beads of perspiration on his forehead sprang to his feet.
“My God,” he cried out. “Now I begin to see the reason of this persecution, this deadly and persistent torture that you have put us to. You are George North’s agent. You have come down here to break us. Now I know why I was requested to resign from the Union Club here, why all the men who liked me and knew me to be honest gradually dropped away-—how it was that the old damnable story of my having been cashiered broke out after all these years. Almost every hour has had its surprises and shocks. But I tell you this—which you seem to have forgotten. Ever since that awful moment when George North’s mother died I have gone straight. I have been dead honest. We never meant that George should go to prison, Pigott. We never meant to kill his mother. It was an accident and we hadn’t the pluck or the strength of will to stand up and tell the truth, But isn’t there any such thing as mercy in this world, or forgiveness for men who have reformed? If there isn’t, then God is a myth and Hell is on this earth.”
His voice broke and his mouth~did strange things as he turned away and went into the shadow of the room.
Pigott watched him go with a gleam of such exquisite triumph in his eyes that it knocked Fidge, who was itching to speak, back into his chair. But only for the moment.
“You're acting for North,” he said.
I “I’ve always had a feeling somewhere in my bones that ’e would try and get ’is I own back and ’e ’as the right. But not in this way.... Guvnor, you know everything, that’s certain, but ain’t you goin’ ter give us no credit for wot we’ve done since we’ve been goin’ straight and for what we meant to do with this place? We’ve spent years living with the lights turned down while we’ve been collecting the money bit by bit for this ’ere improvement scheme. We’ve gradually got to know all the little tradespeople, the doctor and the vet, the lawyer and even the parson and we’ve formed a syndicate in which they ’ave put all their savings, every single shillin’ of ’em, because they trusted us and they believed in our scheme to put this place on the map.
His voice broke but when he went on again anger took possession of him, “I wouldn’t ’ave cared so much for being ruined and smashed up but, by God, I do care for the feelings of them as trusted us and put their money be’ind us!”
He stood for a moment eye to eye with the implacable Pigott. Then, like Claude Sillery, he turned, withered by the malicious smile, and slunk into the shadow of the room.
Unmoved by this outburst, and with the appearance of a stone oven in which a fire burned red within, Pigott waited for the poet to speak—the poet with the kink.
“You took my girl,” said Burke at last. “It’s legitimate business for you to come here with all North’s money and dish our plans. I’ve nothing to say against that—but you took my girl, and I’m damned certain from the look in your eyes that you didn’t take her because she meant anything to you but because she meant everything to me. She’s the only girl I ever loved. That’s the only thing that I can see in all this. I’ve died before and I can die again. But.... you took my girl.... You must be very fond of North to have thought out such a diabolical revenge as that.”
PIGOTT burst into a laugh that rang and reverberated about the room— the mirthless laugh of a disembodied spirit.
But as he said, “Come here, you ! three,” and indicated the place where he wished his victims to stand, the door opened and the butler came forward noiselessly, but with an anxious face. “What do you want?”
“Will you please go up-stairs at once.
“Your wife ...”
“My—wife?” It seemed to have been on his tongue to say “my what,” and send the old servant away. But he rose impatiently, pushed his chair back, said, “Wait here,” strode over to the door and passed into the passage.
The interruption was not, after all, unwelcome, he found. Like a cat playing with a mouse, and who, just before dealing its death blow, withdraws for a moment and pretends that its trembling victim is nowhere in the scheme of things, Pigott enjoyed the sport of leaving those three men who were so entirely at his mercy. He went up-stairs, glowing with the epitome of satisfaction.
But he was obliged to swerve sharply into another line of thought when presently he found himself standing in the one ' human room that his house contained— a dimly-lit, warmly-furnished room, feminine in all its appointments, like a little garden in the corner of the hard city.
' He caught sight of the hospital nurse flitting noiselessly about, of the doctor
who had followed the three partners into his house; and then, his eyes falling on the bed, he saw there the sweet languid figure of Burke’s girl. He caught her large eyes looking at him with an appeal that startled him into the realization of the fact—never before brought completely home to him during his search and scheme of punishment—that he held in the hollow of his hand a woman’s life and happiness. He went forward slowly, with his hands out, feeling his way like a man who suddenly meets the light at the end of a tunnel. And when he stood at the side of the bed and felt a little hand creep into his own and saw a tiny form sleeping on the shoulder of his wife, the veneer of iron in which he had encased his heart cracked in a thousand places. He went down on his knees and looked from the tender eyes of his wife to those of his new-born son, and all the wonder and simplicity and .the sweetness of life emerged from the jungle of ugly thoughts which had choked his brain.
He had taken this girl away from Burke merely because Burke was one of his enemies. He had put her into his house as his wife and treated her almost as he had treated his pictures and his tapestries. But now the sight of this young thing humanized him and brought him to his knees. In spite of his indifference she had completed the beauty of marriage and, to his amazement, given him the greatest token of love. And as he knelt in humbleness and contrition all his hardness broke and the barrier that he had erected against the flow of his tears gave way utterly.
“Oh my dear,” he said, “what have you done for me? I have not deserved this of you.”
“But I love you,” she whispered. “I
have always loved you, and I have prayed that this would do for me what I have never been able to let you see.” And as he bent down and kissed her the man in him came back and his terrible desire to usurp the power of God, a punishing God, a hard and implacable God, a God which is not God, died in his heart.
SILLERY, Fidge and Burke heard the door open again, and involuntarily gathered together like sheep. Pigott took his place again at the flat-topped desk and tilted the light on to his face.
“You said that you had never seen me before? Think again.” And he watched each of those men bend forward and stare at him once more. The face had softened, the mouth relaxed and there was something in the eyes that startled them into hopefulness.
“I omitted to tell you,” he went on, “that when George North came into his fortune it was on condition that he took the name of his benefactor. That name was Pigott.”
Fidge staggered back. “My God,” he said. “Then you... ”
“I am George North. I am the man you used in your fraudulent schemes. I am the man who has dogged you. I am the man who has undermined the only honest work that you have ever done. . . .You three owe your honesty to the death of a woman. You owe your renewal of life to the birth of a child. Go back and carry on your work. I will help you as well as I have punished you. Vengeance is God’s and His alone.” There was a moment of amazing silence. Then Pigott rose to his feet, crossed the room, opened the door and stood back. And three inarticulate men passed him slowly one by one.