The Vanished Light
A dramatic study of theft and its motives, and the unravelling of the mystery of a great awakening
WHO that wa-s there and had those things happen at his very elbow will ever forget the drama, the miracle in the life of blind Sam Burgess? We who lived through that case, saw it leap up in the torch of Morris, the Yard cop on that night, we who knew the facts as they really were, can never forget those facts.
It could never happen again. The stage is set as that was only once in a thousand years. There have been a hundred tragedies and a hundred comedies played out at the old law school, but there is no other that roots as deeply in the vitals of the things we students lived for.
Morris, who voiced his solemn opinion, said of Sam: "It Is a sinister day when a man who is but that instant touched by God’s mercy, turns his hands to the devil’s own evil.” Eloquent, to say the least, for a Yard cop. But that was always Morris in such moments.
Sam Burgess, over whom all the trouble arose, was about thirty-five years old: older than most of us. Five years before he had suffered a brain injury in a train wreck and it had left him blind. His constant companion, who read his eases to him, led him about and served him in all his needs, was his brother Gregg; a brown-haired, stocky, serious-eyed chap with a fondness for art. Their study—Gregg and Sam shared a suite of three rooms together in the dormitorywas hung with paintings; originals; landscapes, sea scenes and miniatures; exquisite stuff that you would never expect to see in a dormitory; mostly original Bartoldis. Ellery Smith, who knew something about the value of such things, remarked that they must be worth a great deal.
I heard Morris say to Pike, the lean, diminutive janitor of the dormitory: "’Tis refreshing to go up there and see pictures like them. That one of the sea, now; I can almost smell the salt that blows off it.” He paused and lowered his voice. They were under my window and every word carried in. "But to be a blind man and know that such pictures are there”—his gesture would be a shaking of his head.
But Pike, full of worries over an invalided wife and a bad-blooded boy in the reformatory, made a noise unsympathetic with art and went to empty his barrels.
Everybody felt much the same way that Morris did. The two Burgess brothers were well liked throughout the school. Dark Sam, with his slow whimsical smile and his slender, delicate fingers, and his black eyes that looked at you but did not see; that tall, grave form of his, that grace of carriage which few men with sight can show. I have seen him in class, listening intently; now and then raising his hand to voice his opinion; at which time the class would grow uncommonly quiet, for Sam’s opinion was respected.
Beside him Gregg would sit, taking the notes that must do for both; and now and then they would lean toward each other and whisper comment on the lecture. You could see that warm affection bound those two. Sometimes I used to forget the lecture, watching Sam’s clean, fine profile, and wondering what such a man could be if he were not in darkness.
It was their last year. It was mid-May. There never was a pre-examination period that was not sorely trying, and there never will be. But this one was filled with more than the dread of exams. More than ever there was sleeplessness, deadly at such a time; that staring, nocturnal wakefulness into which so many of us were pitched by the pitiful crying of Mrs. Pike, the janitor’s wife, sick and in pain at night in the basement rooms below us; by the ghastly wailing of stark skinny cats which feared neither books nor old shoes. And it was hot, with scarcely enough air to breathe, even if one could have slept. Everybody was on edge. There was a constant accelerando of nervous energy. The culmination of it was that thing that happened to Sam Burgess.
It was a Monday night. At half past ten Ellery and I quit working and went down the street for a bite of food and some hot coffee. On the way back from the Square it came to me that we had neglected to copy the assignment posted on the bulletin board on the upper floor of Old Lecture Hall, so we headed across Maple Street and went over the greensward to the lecture hall.
Halfway across the open stretch Morris was standing. We didn’t see him in the dark until we were almost at his side. He looked at us quickly, nodded, then pointed toward Old Lecture Hall.
"The dean’s office,” said he. “Do you see something there, like the door to the corridor was open and the light coming in? Or is it a reflection on the window? The dean is out of town,” he added.
"That doesn’t look like a reflection,” I said.
“The way to be sure,” Morris muttered, "is to go see.” And he was already hustling off across the soft turf.
' I 'HERE was in the situation a certain welcome change from the routine of books, so Ellery and I followed Morris’ tracks. Old Lecture Hall was a long building with an entrance at either end, one facing north, the other south. The dean’s office was nearer the south entry, and toward that end of the building we ran.
We went up the broad stone steps to the door. This door ordinarily remained unlocked until midnight and the dim yellow lights in the corridors were left burning, for on many nights professors held conferences in their offices there or worked alone until late.
Morris swung open the door. The brown corridor was overcast with shadows and gloom. The lone yellow bulb that gleamed overhead gave barely enough light to show the entire length of the corridor.
The dean’s door was closed but—
“Look!” said Morris. Pointing, he started for the door. "Look !” he repeated. He whipped out his pocket lamp and threw its light on the lock. "A key!” he exclaimed. He tried to remove it. "Stuck!” He gave it a turn and kicked open the door. It banged back against the wall inside. The office was dark except for the diagonal panel of glum light from the corridor. Through the window—flung wide—I could see the lights of the dormitory across the way.
Morris stood there on the threshold and we behind him. Then we heard a slight stir within and Morris’ light whipped into that room.
“Who’s there?” he cried. “Come out. Don’t try any funny business.”
“So it’s that way?” Morris said. "Then I’ll come and get you.”
He stepped in, we at his heels, and he reached with his left hand for the light button on the wall. He fumbled and swore because he couldn’t find it, and the next instant he gave it up in favor of his torchlight.
I shall never forget the scene that sprang up in that roving circle of white light. It was like seeing things in a
nightmare, flung in grotesque tableau against the yellow wall, all elongated and misshapen by the wavering shadows and the faltering light.
Morris gasped, and fell back a step.
I felt Ellery’s hand grip my shoulder tensely. My heart began to pound from the shock of it.
For there against the wall beside the window, facing us, shrinking in retreat, as if to press back into that wall and disappear, was Sam Burgess. Never shall I forget his eyes. For they were not the eyes of a blind man. They stared into the heart of Morris’ light and blinked and squinted as he cowered away from us.
Then Ellery found the wall button, pressed it, and light flooded the room.
Sam was white. He was white as a spectre. He looked as if he had gone suddenly sick. He stared from one to another of us, then about the office. There was no doubt but that he saw. He passed a hand over his eyes and his breath came in a slow hiss.
“You!” said Morris. “No more blind than I am!”
Sam said nothing. He continued to press back against that wall. Then his lips moved and I divined that it was in silent, empty repetition of Morris’ words.
Then Morris pulled himself together.
“But what,” he demanded, “are you doing here?”
Sam shook his head and made a helpless gesture. Morris went quickly to the long table where, spread out in confusion, were long, printed proof sheets.
“The June examination papers,” he said grimly after a brief glance. He turned to Sam.
“Mr. Burgess,” he said, “I don’t know what’s what. I don’t want to know. But I say that it’s a sinister day when a man who is but that instant touched by God’s mercy turns his hands to the devil’s own evil.”
Then he went to the window, from which he turned abruptly to us.
“It was closed when we were out there.” He bent quickly to the outside sill, pouring the light of his lamp on it. “Someone went out of here,” he said, his back to us. “The way the dirt and dust is dragged off here is plain as day.” He peered out into the dark, then faced Sam. “Who was it? Who else was here?”
But Sam made no answer. He just stood and looked at us.
“Very well,” said Morris. “My duty now is to take you into custody. I am going to take you over to your room and ask you to stay there until morning.” He went to the door and, after an impatient struggle, removed the key.
Bewildered, stunned, Sam went with us. No further word was spoken to him. We went upstairs to his room, and now we saw that there was a long cut on the back of his head and the blood was coming freely. Ellery stayed to dress the wound. I started back to the lecture hall for the bulletin-board notice. Downstairs at the south end of the dormitory Morris and I met Pike, skinny, wide-eyed, half sick with his cares, and we could hear the soft whimper of his wife through the open windows level with the ground.
“Pike,” said Morris, “did you notice anybody run across the lot from the lecture hall five or ten minutes ago?”
Pike looked up. He nodded dumbly, then said:
“My wife was asleep. I was sittin’up. All of a sudden someone came a-runnin’ by the windows. It sounded like thunder to her, I guess. It woke her up.”
“Which way did the footsteps go?” Morris asked.
Pike stared dully.
“Around the corner of the dormitory,” he said. “After that, I don’t know.” He looked dazed with worry. “I got to go to the drugstore for some more medicine,” he mumbled, and he turned and shuffled off toward the street.
Morris and I went over to the lecture hall. I took the assignment from the board, and left Morris standing guard before the dean’s office.
rT"'HE next morning the dean had returned and we got an early summons to report to his office. The miracle of Sam Burgess’ sight had got around like wildfire, but nobody knew of the episode in the dean’s office until our interview with the dean was over. Then the disgrace of it became known throughout the school.
The dean was waiting in his office, his face grave and his eyes hard. Sam was already sitting there in a chair near the window and Morris was down at the far end of the long table, pacing back and forth with his hands clasped behind, muttering to himself.
The dean listened first to Morris’ story, then put questions to Ellery and me. At last he turned to Sam Burgess.
“Have you anything to say for yourself, Mr. Burgess?”
Sam’s gaze was on the floor. He looked up. His dark eyes were troubled. The new sight in them was not easy.
“Only this, sir,” he said. “I was mad, I guess. I haven’t been grasping my work this last term. I was
worried about the examinations. I was in my roomalone. I went for a walk—alone. I came up the boardwalk from the dormitory to Maple Street. I started to croas the street when a car brushed me. It spun me around and I fell, struck my head on the curbstone and lay there for a little while, dazed. Then I got up and sat on the curbstone, and gradually I began to see lights. After a little the lights got clearer, and then I began to see objects taking shape in a kind of hazy darkness. Then I could see my hand in front of my face. I was shaking all over. I couldn’t believe what had happened. I got up and began to walk over here toward the lecture hall. I could see the moon. I could see the trees against it. I could see the black shape of the lecture hall.
“Then I remembered what I had heard you say that afternoon. I had been for a walk and I was under your office window out there. The window was open and I heard you say to your secretary: ‘Miss Farren, I’m going out of town on the four o’clock. The printer will bring the examination proofs some time this afternoon. If you are here, put them in the safe. If he’s too late he’ll have to drop them through the slot. They’ll be safe enough. I don’t think anyone will break in.’
“I knew where the janitor’s closet was—out there in the corridor. I went there and found a pocket lamp and a bunch of old keys. I tried the keys on your door until I found one that opened it. I found the examination papers on the floor in a large envelope. Then I sat down at the table and began to read over the papers as best I could by the light of the pocket lamp. I was going to leave them exactly as I found them, so that you wouldn’t suspect that anything had happened. I had barely got started when I heard someone coming. I didn’t have time to get out the window. They found me. That’s all.”
The dean was much disturbed. He cleared his throat and got up, walked the entire length of the office in silence, stared out the window briefly, then sat down again.
“You say you were mad,” he said. “Do you mean you didn’t know what you wore doing? Do you mean that the recovery of your sight or'the blow to your head affected you so that either you did not know what you were doing or did not realize that what you were doing was wrong?”
Sam was looking out the window.
“No, sir,” he said quietly. “I don’t mean either of
those things. I knew what I was doing and I knew that it was wrong. When I say I was mad, I meant that it was a mad thing that I did.”
“Are you telling the truth when you say that you were alone?” the dean asked.
“Yes, sir,” Sam said. "I was alone.”
The dean did not press him any further. He was shrewd enough to know that he wasn’t going to get any more out of Sam.
“I suppose you realize, Mr. Burgess,” he said, “that this means the termination of your legal career?”
“Yes, sir.” Sam got up. “May I go now?”
The dean nodded and Sam went out alone.
“A most unfortunate state of affairs,” the dean said. “That Is all, gentlemen.” And he dismissed us by turning away to his desk and reaching for a heap of letters.
Sam didn’t wait for the faculty vote. He packed up his things that very afternoon and was out of the dormitory by evening.
MET Gregg later and asked about Sam’s sight.
“It was a miracle all right.” He was pale and drawn. “The doctor said that probably nothing but that particular blow could have done it. He said Sam’s sight will be absolutely normal in a few weeks.”
There was much discussion of Sam’s case. The faculty voted him out the next day. That vote meant a great deal more than might seem. It meant that Sam was absolutely done for in respectable legal circles anywhere in the country, for the school had a method of blacklisting with fearful thoroughness. It meant that Sam could never get anywhere in any decent law field, and perhaps in no decent business field of any kind unless he changed his name and kept his past under cover.
Horton Petrie, who was president of the Law Review that year and who had been a good friend of Sam’s, dropped into the room to talk it over with Ellery and me.
“I know Sam Burgess,” he said. “I know him too well not to know that there’ something more to this than we have heard. I can't get that idea out of my head. What do you think?”
“I'd like to know who went over that window sill and ran over here toward the dormitory,” Ellery said.
“I’ve a guess,” said Horton.
“Gregg?” Ellery asked quietly.
“Who else is there that he’d shield at the price of disgrace?”
“It never seemed to me,” I stated, “that Gregg was that kind.”
“Did it ever seem to you that Sam was?” Horton queried sharply.
Ellery got up and worked himself into uneasiness by walking back and forth and frowning hard at the rug.
“There’s something the matter with the whole thing,” he said. “I wish I knew what it is.”
“It’s Gregg,” Horton insisted. “We’ve got to get to him somehow.”
“You think there’s no one else here at school that Sam would shield?” Ellery questioned.
“Outside of his brother, no. I’m as good a friend of Sam’s as there is in school, and yet I feel that he wouldn’t do it for me. Why should he? The penalty is too terrible.” He paused, reflecting. "Have you paid any attention to Gregg since it happened? He’s pretty much agitated. He isn’t himself.”
“Would you be, under the circumstances?” Ellery enquired.
“I mean that, looked at in the light of this fact about an accomplice, his,,actions amount to a reflection of guilt—or guilty .knowledge.”
Horton Petrie had the makings of a great criminal lawyer. Some day he will be one of the best in the country. The rest of that Law Review gang of his were a pretty acute lot, too. Horton, with the consent of the dean, called a special meeting of his board, and they declared themselves a vigilance committee whose aim was to get the whole truth of the affair. And in the meantime we learned that the dean had requested the professors to write new examination papers.
It was nearly twelve on the night that, the vigilantes decided to pay a visit to Gregg Burgess. Gregg was sitting up at his books when they knocked at his door. They came in at his call, eight of them. Some of them said that Gregg turned pale when he saw them.
“Hello,” said Horton Petrie; “mind if we have a look at your little art gallery?”
Gregg jumped up.
“Not at all. I’d be pleased. Do you like modern work? Let me change the light. Here; look at this one. It’s a Bartoldi. See the depth of the waves and the compromise of green and blue. If you stand here you can almost feel the wind coming at you. And here’s a Bartoldi miniature. It’s called An Old Priest. It’s really alive. And this Laughing Child—” He stopped abruptly and turned to face them. He saw then that
they hadn’t come to look at pictures. They were a grimlooking lot when they wanted to be.
“What is it?” Gregg demanded slowly. “What do you want?” He was startled and was trying to compose himself.
“We want to talk with you,” Horton said.
“What do you want?” Gregg repeated. “What are you looking at me like that for?”
“Keep your shirt on,” Horton said, “and I’ll tell you what we want.”
Then Gregg got angry at his manner.
“Well, spit it out,” he said hotly, “and be darned quick about it.” He glared from one to another of the most brilliant legal lights in the school.
“Sit down,” said Horton, not changing his tone, “and keep your shirt on.”
Gregg wet his lips and backed into his chair. “Burgess,” Petrie said, “we aren’t satisfied with the disposition of your brother’s case. We’re inclined to think that there is more to it than he has been willing to admit, and we want to know if you can tell us any more about it.”
Gregg glared back at him.
“What makes you think there’s something more?” he said. “Isn't it bad enough as it is? Why should there be anything more?”
To Horton Petrie that was nothing but evasion. “Suppose you tell us,” he insisted, “where you were that night at the time Sam was in the dean’s office.” Gregg’s lip curled and his back stiffened.
“I’ll tell you nothing of the kind!” he retorted. “I don’t like your accusation. You haven’t any right to ask me questions, and I don’t intend to answer insolent ones. I don’t know what your game is, but you’re not going to play it with me.”
Horton Petrie leaned forward earnestly.
“Listen,” he said. “We’re trying to do what every man in this school should help in doing. We’re trying to get the truth. We may be able to do something for Sam.”
“Do something for Sam,” Gregg echoed bitterly. “You can’t do anything for Sam this way. There’s no use trying.”
“Nevertheless we’re going to try. Do you still refuse to answer my questions?”
“I don’t refuse to answer any reasonable question,” Gregg replied, “but I don’t intend to go on the carpet before you. If you’ll stop acting like a coroner’s jury and tell me what you want to know and why, I’ll answer your questions. If you can’t do that, get out, the whole lot of you.” He stood up.
There was an uneasy murmur among his guests.
“The point is this,” Petrie said. “Someone else was in the dean’s office with Sam. Someone else has at least half the blame coming to him. Whoever he was, he got away through the window.”
“And you think it was I?” Gregg finished, sitting down again.
“We’ve reached no conclusion,” Petrie said. “Will you tell us where you were at that time? It was between a quarter to eleven and eleven.”
Gregg was silent for perhaps ten seconds. He did not look at Horton nor any of the others. Then he said:
“I was taking a walk alone.”
Oliver Murchie, the notes editor, sneered.
“So was I,” he said.
Gregg blanched and sprang to his feet, his neck outthrust, his eyes blazing, his fists clenched fiercely.
“Curse you!” he cried. “Curse the whole gang of you! Get out of here! Get out and don’t come in here again. Get out before I throw you out!”
There wasn’t anything else to do. They went. But at the door Petrie said:
“Sooner or later we’re going to find out the truth, Gregg.”
“I hope you do,” Gregg flung at him. “Good night!”
AT HALF past ten the night after that Ellery and I started for the Square to get our coffee and sandwich. We went out the south-side gate of the quadrangle and along the boardwalk that led up to Maple Street. This was the only direct route from the dormitory to that street. It was the path that we had seen Sam Burgess take countless times, when, either alone or with Gregg, he had wanted to go down to the Square. According to his story to the dean, it was this route that he took just before he was struck by the car on Maple Street.
Where the head of the boardwalk met Maple Street, two dark figures stood under a tree, their shadows cast long and lean by the moon. As we neared one of them raised an arm in greeting.
“Evening, gentlemen.” It was Morris. The other was Badger, another of the cops, whose main beat was over in the Yard.
We returnee their greeting.
“Badger and I,” said Morris, “are handing back and forth the various pieces of scandal at our usual gettogether. Do you have any to offer, gentlemen?”
We stopped. Ellery said:
“Did you say ‘usual get-together’?”
“Sure,” said Morris. “It’s a date. The head of the boardwalk here just after our ten-thirty boxes. A chat breaks up the monotony of a long night. But you don’t need to tell the president. By rights, I suppose it ain’t strictly legal.”
“Sorry if I’m inquisitive, Morris,” Ellery went on, “but were you here the night the dean’s office was entered?”
“Sure,” said Morris without hesitation. “Every night unless it rains. Why?”
“How long were you here that night? Tell me, Morris.”
“Ten-thirty, till I went over to Old Lecture Hall,” said Morris, “where I met you gentlemen.”
“But you didn’t see Sam Burgess come up this boardwalk and get struck by an auto not fifteen feet from you at the curb?”
Morris stared. Badger was visibly uneasy.
“Well, by heaven!” said Morris. Then: “Who says it was here he got hit?”
“Didn’t he tell the dean that he came up the boardwalk from the dormitory to Maple Street and got hit as he attempted to cross? This is the only boardwalk to Maple Street, Morris.”
“Something is rotten,” said Morris, scratching his ear. “You didn’t see anything, did you, Badger?”
“Naw, sir,” said Badger. He looked about as if he felt that he ought to be going.
“What’s it mean, Mr. Smith?” Morris asked.
“It means, I suppose, that there was something wrong with Sam Burgess’ story.”
“You mean, he lied about coming up here; lied about being hit by an auto here?”
“It looks like that. What do you think?”
“So help me, I don’t know what to think. Where did he get hit then? And why should he lie about it?” “I don’t know, but I have an idea. Will you come along to the lecture hall with us?”
“Sure.” Badger edged off, back to the Yard. Morris waved farewell to him and we started for the lecture hall. “You got an idea, eh, Mr. Smith?”
“Yes. I want a look around.”
We crossed the dark greensward and went up the broad stone steps of the lecture hall. In the bleak, ghostly corridor Ellery stopped and looked about.
“This is my idea,” he said. “If Sam Burgess wasn’t injured by striking the curbstone, he was injured by something else that had a solid, sharp edge. Let me have your pocket lamp, Morris.”
He cast the rays of the lamp up and down the corridor, then brought the light to rest on the radiator outside the dean’s door.
“There’s a sharp edge,” he said. “Let’s have a look.” He squatted before the radiator and shone the light on the floor underneath it. “Have a look,” said he.
Morris and I squatted beside him. He blew at the floor, and a small cloud of dust went scurrying out from under the radiator. Then with his handkerchief Ellery slapped away more dust.
“There,” he said. “I’ll wager you a pie that’s blood from Sam Burgess’ head.”
“What!” Morris bent close. So did I. There was a dark, brownish stain on the floor, and Ellery’s forefinger was indicating a discoloration on the radiator. “What’s it mean?” Morris demanded. “What’s the meaning of it, Mr. Smith?”
Ellery rose and turned off the flashlight; and the yellow light overhead quickly camouflaged the stain.
“I’m inclined to think that’s the spot where Sam lay when his sight returned to him. Now, the question is, what happened before and after he fell here?”
“And why didn’t he speak up and tell?” Morris wanted to know.
“Because there’s more to the story than we understand right now, Morris. Something’s still missing.” We started out the door into the warm May night. “Suppose you put your mind to it and let us know if you figure anything out.”
Morris scratched his ear. We went back to Maple Street.
“I’ll let you know if anything comes to me,” Morris promised, and we left him there and went down to the Square.
T IES; white, black, merciful, vicious. If hell is paved with good intentions, the seams are cemented with lies. First the lie about the injury; next, the lie about the door.
A door which, by a lie, should open on touch, is, by the truth of the matter, a locked door. The truth is a simple thing. It fits where it belongs in the mosaic design. The lie does not fit. It is too large or too small. When the pieces are in a jumble the misfit is not apparent. But straighten out the pieces and lay them together—then you see the lie.
Gregg Burgess wanted a notebook. The notebook Continued on page 50
Continued on page 50
Continued from page 10
I was behind a door; the door which should j have opened to the touch, but which was i in truth a locked door.
Gregg came down to our rooms. It was late at night. Ellery and I were hard at work. There were only three days before the first examination.
"The property notebook,” Gregg said. ‘Tm not clear on the last two lectures.”
"Neither am I,” I said. "You’d better see Ellery’s notebook.”
But Ellery’s notebook was not in its place.
"I must have left it in class,” Ellery said.
"I’ll wait till tomorrow,” said Gregg.
"No,” Ellery replied, "I’ll find it tonight. I wouldn’t sleep if I didn’t know where it was. I’ll go down and see if Pike has it. I’m not sure my name was in it.”
Every evening Pike cleaned up the lecture rooms. Articles that he found lying around he put away in his janitor’s closet in Old Lecture Hall and waited until they were called for. Notebooks not bearing the owner’s name he kept in his closet only until the next morning, then delivered them to the professor who gave the course. Had Ellery decided to wait till the next morning we should never have gone to that closet and learned what we did.
"Let’s go for some air," Ellery said. "I’m fed up on books. We can see Pike on the way out.” And the three of us started downstairs together, into the basement by matchlight and along the narrow stone corridor to the door of
Pike’s apartment. As we approached we could hear Mrs. Pike weeping.
"Gives me the shivers,” Gregg said, "every time I hear it. It’s got so I hear it whether I’m asleep or awake.”
The match in my fingers flared and went out, and for half a minute we were in darkness. The sobbing wail of Mrs. Pike came down the corridor to us.
"I don’t care for this place in the dark,” Ellery said. "I can feel the ghosts of flunked men at my elbows.”
I scratched another match and it sputtered up and threw crazy shadows about us as we moved on. At Pike’s door Ellery knocked. The crying from within dwindled quickly, as if smothered in a pillow. There was a shuffling sound and Pike, in a soiled grey bathrobe, with a dirty corncob in his teeth, his face drawn, his eyes tired, opened to us. The light from within fell upon us, and Pike started back a little.
“What,” he said, “what can I do for you?”
"I left a notebook in a lecture room today. If you picked it up, I’d like to get it. Tonight, please, if it’s not too much trouble.”
"No trouble at all,” said Pike in a half mumble. He doffed his bathrobe, put on an old hat and joined us in his shirt sleeves. "I got a couple notebooks in my closet. We’ll see if one of them’s yours.”
He stepped out and closed the door behind him. He had an electric torch and showed the way for us, and as we
left his rooms behind I heard Mrs. Pike begin to cry again.
"Your wife is quite ill,” Ellery said. "Doesn’t she get any better?”
Pike shook his head. I thought I sawtears spring to his eyes as he turned away.
We went across the green and into Old Lecture Hall and down the corridor to the janitor’s closet. Pike produced a ring of keys and stuck one of them into the spring lock, opened the door outward and, placing a shabby toe against it, held it open while he searched within with his pocket lamp. In half a minute he turned about and proffered a large black notebook.
"Is this it, Mr. Smith?” he asked.
But Ellery wasn’t looking at the notebook. He was staring at the top of the door. Ellery is a good lawyer. He sees little things.
“Look!” he said sharply. I looked. He was pointing at a black spring that stretched from the door to a point within the closet—like a taut black snake.
I didn’t get it at once. Then Ellery took hold of Pike’s arm and drew him quickly away from the mouth of the closet. The door slammed with a bang. Ellery seized the knob and wrenched at it. But the door was locked.
Quickly Ellery opened it with Pike’s key.
"And there’s no way to fasten the bolt back,” he said, his nose at the lock. “Have a look.”
He turned on Pike, who shrank fearfully against the wall.
“Pike,” he demanded, “how did Mr. Burgess get into that closet to get a key out of there?”
Pike began to gasp and stammer. There was a suddenly precipitated terror in his wide eyes and he made a sound as if he were choking.
“I don’t know!” he managed at last. “I don’t know!” But it was poor bluffing.
“Oh, yes, you do,” Ellery pressed him. “You’re a rotten liar, Pike. Now, out with it. Unless you’d like a coat of tar and feathers.”
Ellery looked fierce enough to make Pike believe that threat. He would have collapsed had Ellery not caught him by the front of his shirt and propped him up against the wall.
Pike began to weep. He burst into tears of complete misery and moaned about his wife and her illness and money, and the rest of it was incoherent.
“Oh, good heavens!” said Gregg Burgess. “Let’s get out of here. Bring him over to my rooms. I think I see the whole thing now.”
Pike went without a word, snuffling and whining, and badly frightened. He sat in an armchair in Gregg’s room, his little green eyes deep in their red-rimmed sockets, staring at us as if endeavoring fearfully to guess what we were going to do with him.
“Now, out with it,” Ellery said. “No lies.”
AND now at last we had it—without lies. Pike told it in a scared, almost voiceless croak.
He had to have money. A costly operation was necessary for his wife. He had never done a dishonest thing before, never in his life. But he had gone in his desperation. He thought he could sell copies of the examination questions if he could get hold of them. That night he had gone to the dean’s office, entered it with his own key. All would have gone well had his key not stuck in the lock. He couldn’t remove it but he thought to get at the examination papers anyhow, then remove the key afterward. He had found the papers and had spread them out on the table. He was going to copy them by the light of his pocket lamp.
Then Sam Burgess came, heard the sound of a book falling to the floor, dislodged by Pike’s nervous elbow. Sam spoke through the door, knowing that no one should be there and wondering at the noise. Pike did not answer, and Sam’s fingers, feeling in the dark, found the key and opened the door. Pike did not know who it was. In his fear he sprang at Sam, and Sam went stumbling back and fell, striking his head on the radiator. Pike, on top of him, clutched about by Sam’s long arms, couldn’t get away.
“And then—then he lets out a kind of gaspin’, and the next thing he was starin’ at me, with his eyes close to me on the floor. T can see!’ he says. He lets go of me and gets up to his feet and he keeps sayin’ that over and over as he put his hands over his eyes and took them away. T can see!’ he says. T can see!’
“The next minute I heard someone cornin’. We went inside the dean’s office
and closed the door. Mr. Burgess was just standin’ there. Me, I went for the window and I got out and I heard him sayin’ things to himself in the dark, but I couldn’t hear the words.
“That’s all. He never squealed. He never even spoke to me before he went away. And I never spoke to him— because I was afraid. He was very kind. He was—”
Gregg, pacing the floor, stopped and faced Pike.
“That’s enough, Pike,” he said. “I’ve heard all I want to hear. You’d better go. No, we won’t squeal. This is my brother’s affair. If he doesn’t want to tell, no one else is going to. No, don’t thank me. You’d better go.”
Now speechless and only too glad to get away as quickly as possible, Pike was at the door when Gregg spoke again:
“If I were you, I’d go to the college authorities for money for Mrs. Pike’s operation. They’re a pretty humane lot. I think they’ll do something for you.” He paused and beckoned Pike back. “Do you like good pictures, Pike?” he asked. “Take a look at these on the walls around you. They mean a lot more in your life than you know.”
With a bewildered glance at the walls Pike stammered something that I did not catch.
“Good night,” said Gregg. And Pike was gone.
Ellery was looking at Gregg. Gregg nodded. He gestured again to the pictures on the walls.
“Sam’s,” he said. “Every one of them. He used to paint under the name of Bartoldi. Poor old Sam. I thought it was something like this. But he never said a word about Pike, not even to me.”
For a few minutes Ellery and I stood, struck into silence, before Sam’s pictures.
“When he went blind,” Gregg was saying, “he didn’t want people to know about his art. He couldn’t bear sympathy ; not the kind that people would be too ready to give about his career cut short. To those who knew his art, he wanted to be dead rather than blind. It wasn’t difficult to arrange. Only his agents knew who Bartoldi really was. The painting world had never known. Sam was strange. He liked to work unknown, unseen. He didn’t care for personal fame. He had always avoided it, even as a precocious child. So it was easy enough for Bartoldi to die and for Sam to live and no one know the truth. An Italian newspaper printed the story that Bartoldi was lost from his overturned skiff off the coast of Sicily. His agents arranged that. The news went round, and that was the last that the world of art heard about him. That was the way Sam wanted it.”
As Gregg spoke, I stood before the sea scene that Morris loved so well. True, the wind came at you and almost dashed the waves into your face. And the miniature of an old priest. It was done on ivory; as alive as life, the shaggybrowed eyes looking back at me as if asking a question, the old pale lips soft with a grave smile. And the one of the laughing child; a little girl, curly-headed, sweet-lipped, with round blue eyes alert with mischief.
Sam ! He had spent five years in darkness with that gift in him. Now he had come again into his own, and, by the vicious blow of a little sinner desperate in his struggle with life.
“Please,” said Gregg, “not a word to anyone about Pike. This is Sam’s affair.”
We went downstairs, Ellery and I. Law books, their mouths wide, lay on our desks, waiting for us. But there was no working at them. I felt dwarfed and a little unhappy. Dwarfed by Sam’s greatness; glad for him and yet unhappy at the manner of his going.
“Let’s walk down to the river and figure it all out,” Ellery said, closing his books. “If we don’t, I’ll get no sleep tonight.”