Part 4 out of 5
Fred tossed about, oppressed by the close air. But, in the end, even
he fell into a series of fitful dozes. He dreamed the room in which he
was sleeping was suddenly transformed into a huge spider web from
which there was no escape. And he caught glimpses of Storch himself
hanging spider-wise from a gossamer thread, spinning dizzily in
midair... He awoke repeatedly, returning as often to the same dream.
Toward morning he heard a faint stirring about. But he lay huddled in
a pretense of sleep... Finally the door banged and he knew that Storch
had left... He let out a profound sigh and turned his face from the
When Fred Starratt awoke a noonday sun was flooding in at the single
window. Consciousness brought no confusion ... he was beginning to
grow accustomed to sudden shifts in fortune and strange environments
had long since ceased to be a waking novelty. Outside he could hear
the genial noises of a thickly populated lane--shrilly cried bits of
neighborhood gossip bandied from doorstep to doorstep ... the laughter
of children ... the call of a junkman ... even a smothered cackling
from some captive hen fulfilling its joyful function in spite of
restraint. He did not rise at once, but he lay there thinking, trying
to force the realization that he was again in San Francisco... He
wondered dimly at the power of the homing instinct that had driven him
back. It was plain to him now that almost any other environment would
have been materially better. He had had the whole state of California
to choose from, indeed he might have flown even farther afield. But
from the very beginning his feet had turned homeward with uncanny
precision. On those first days and nights when he had lain huddled in
any uncertain shelter that came to hand the one thought that had
goaded him on was the promise of this return.
And those first hours of freedom had been at once the sweetest and the
bitterest. Wet to the skin, starved, furtive, like a lean, dog-harried
coyote he had achieved the mountains and safety more dead than alive.
Looking back, he could see that only the sheerest madness had tempted
him to flight in the first place. Without an ounce of provisions,
without blankets, at the start lacking even a hat, he had defied the
elements and won. God was indeed tender with all fools and madmen!
He knew now that under ordinary circumstances he must have perished in
the mountain passes. But the weather had been warm there all during
December and more rain than snow had fallen, keeping the beaten paths
reasonably open... He had thought always of these snow-pent places as
quite devoid of any life at the winter season, and he was amazed to
find how many human beings burrowed in and hibernated during the
storm-bound months. Elsewhere, the skulking traveler received a chary
welcome, but in the silent fastness of the hills latchstring and
hearthstone and tobacco store were for genial sharing. In almost any
one of these log shelters that he chanced upon he might have settled
himself in content and found an indefinite welcome, but the urge to be
up and on sent him forward to the next rude threshold. Thus mountain
cabin succeeded mountain cabin until, presently, one day Fred Starratt
found himself swinging down to the plains again--to the broad-bosomed
valleys lying parched and expectant under the cruel spell of drought.
Now people regarded him suspiciously, dogs snapped at his heels, and
farmers' women thrust him doles of food through half-opened kitchen
doors. Here and there he picked up a stray job or two. But he was
plainly inefficient for most tasks assigned him... In the small towns
there were not enough jobs to go round ... young men were returning
from overseas and dislodging the incompetents who had achieved
prosperity because of the labor shortage. The inland cities were in
the grip of strikes ... there were plenty of jobs, but few with the
temerity to attempt to fill them. And, besides, what had Fred Starratt
to offer in the way either of skill or brawn?... He grew to know the
meaning of impotence. No, he was a creature of the paved streets, and
to the paved streets he returned as swiftly as his feet and his
indifferent fortune could carry him. Besides, he had grown hungry for
familiar sights and faces, and perhaps, down deep, curiosity had been
the mainspring of his return. Even bitter ties have a pull that cannot
always be denied. At Fairview the presence of Monet had held him
almost a willing captive. There was something about the flame burning
in that almost frail body that had lighted even the ugliness of
Fairview with a strange beauty. He could not think of him as dead.
That last moment had been too tinged with the haunting poetry of life.
How often he had reconstructed that scene--the gray, sullen rain
pattering on the spent leaves, the quick-rushing sound of a body in
flight, the sudden leap of a soul toward greater freedom! And then the
vision of the churning pool below closing in triumphantly as it might
have done upon some reclaimed pagan creature that had tasted the
bitter wine of exile and returned in leaping joy to its chosen
element! It was not the shock and sadness of death that had sent Fred
Starratt for a moment stark mad into the storm and freedom, but rather
an ecstasy of loneliness ... a yearning to match daring with daring.
And now he was home again, in his own gray-green city, lying beneath
tattered quilts in a hovel, with the selfsame February sun that had
once pricked him to a spiritual adventure flooding in upon him! He
rose and threw open the door. The soft noontide air floated in,
displacing the fetid atmosphere. He looked about the room searchingly.
In the daylight it seemed even more unkempt, but less forbidding. A
two-burner kerosene stove stood upon an empty box just under the
window. On another upturned box at its side lay a few odds and ends of
cooking utensils, shriveling bits of food, a plate or two. He found a
loaf of dry bread and cut a slice from it. This, together with a glass
of water, completed his breakfast.
He tried to brush his weather-beaten clothes into decency with a stump
of a whisk broom and to wipe the dust of the highroad from his almost
spent shoes. But, somehow, these feeble attempts at gentility seemed
to increase his forlorn appearance.
He went over and straightened out the bedcoverings. At least he would
leave the couch in some semblance of order. What did Storch expect him
to do? Come back again for shelter? He had no plans, but as he went
out, banging the door, he felt no wish to return.
His first thought now was to see Ginger. He went to the Turk Street
address. He found a huge frame mansion of the 'eighties converted into
cheap lodgings. The landlady, wearing large jet and gold ornaments,
eyed him suspiciously. Miss Molineaux no longer lived there. Her
present address? She had left none. Thus dismissed, he turned his
steps toward the Hilmers'.
He had expected to come upon the vision of his wife wheeling Mrs.
Hilmer up and down the sidewalk, and yet, when these expectations were
realized, he experienced a shock. There she was, Helen Starratt, in a
black dress and a black hat, pacing with drab patience the full length
of the block and back again. He could not get a good view of her face
because her hat shaded her eyes. Mrs. Hilmer's figure, equally
indistinct, was a shapeless mass of humanity. A child, coming out of a
nearby house with a pair of roller skates in her hand, stood off and
answered his questions, at first reluctantly, but finally with the
importance of encouraged childhood... Who was the lady in the wheeled
chair? Mrs. Hilmer. And the other one in black? Her name was Starratt.
No, she didn't know her very well. But people said she was very sad.
She dressed in black and looked unhappy. Why? Because her husband was
dead. No, there was no mistake--she had heard her mother say so many
times--Mrs. Starratt's husband was dead, quite dead!...
He turned back toward town. _Dead, quite dead_! Well, the child had
reckoned better than she knew!
He retraced his steps slowly, resting upon many hospitable doorsteps
that afternoon. The noise of the city confused him, the stone
pavements hurt his ankles, he was hungry and faint. He did not know
what to do or where to go. Only one shelter lay open to him. Should he
go back to Storch?
Finally, toward five o'clock, he found himself standing upon the
corner of California and Montgomery streets, watching the tide of
office workers flooding homeward. A truant animation was flaming them
briefly. Familiar face after familiar face passed, lighted with the
joy of sudden release from servitude. Fred Starratt was curiously
unmoved. He had fancied that he would feel a great yearning toward all
this well-ordered sanity. He had fancied that he would be overwhelmed
with memories, with regrets, with futile tears. But he knew now that
even if it were possible to re-enter the world in which he had once
moved he would refuse scornfully. Was it always so with those who
achieved death? Ah yes, death was the great progression, one never
re-entered the circle of life one quitted. Dead, quite dead! Or, as
Storch put it, "A field freshly broken to the plow!" A field awaiting
the eternal upspringing and the inevitable harvest... And so on, again
and again, to the end of time!
He came out of his musings with a renewed sense of faintness and the
realization that the street was rapidly being emptied of its throng. A
few stragglers hurried toward the ferry. He roused himself. A
green-gold light was enlivening the west and giving a ghostly
unreality to the street lamps twinkling in a premature blossoming.
He was turning to go when he saw a familiar figure coming up the
street. He looked twice to assure himself that he was not mistaken. It
He stood a moment longer, roused to indifferent curiosity, but, as
Brauer brushed close, a sudden malevolent hatred shook him. He squared
himself and said in a hoarse tone:
"I'm starving... I want money ... to eat!" Brauer turned a face of
amazed and insolent incredulity toward Fred.
"Well, you won't get it from me!" he flung back.
Fred Starratt grasped Brauer's puny wrist in a ferocious grip.
"Oh yes, I will... Do you know who I am?"
"You? ... No... Let me go; you're hurting me!"
"Look at me closely!"
"I tell you I don't know you. Are you crazy?"
"Perhaps... I've been in an insane asylum... Now do you know who I
Brauer fell back. "No," he breathed: "it can't be possible! Fred
Starratt is dead."
Fred began to laugh. "You're right. But I want something to eat just
the same. You're going to take me into Hjul's ... and buy me a meal.
... And after I've eaten perhaps you'll hear how I died and who killed
He could feel Brauer trembling in his grasp. A rising cruelty
overwhelmed him. He flung Brauer from him with a gesture of contempt.
"Are we going to eat?" he asked, coldly.
"Yes ... whatever you say."
Fred nodded and together the two drifted down Montgomery Street.
Sitting over a generous platter of pot roast and spaghetti at Hjul's,
with Brauer's pallid face staring up at him, Fred Starratt had the
realization that there was at least one mouselike human to whom he
could play the role of cat.
Brauer did not need to be prodded to speech. He told everything with
the eagerness of a child caught in a fault and seeking to curry the
favor of his questioner. He and Kendricks were placing all the Hilmer
insurance. Yes, they were rebating--that went without saying. And what
else lay at the bottom of Hilmer's generosity? Fred Starratt put the
question insinuatingly. Ah yes, the little matter of standing by when
Starratt had been sent to Fairview. No, Hilmer had made no demand, but
he had advised Brauer to be firm--through his lawyer, of course ... a
hint, nothing more--that some sort of example should be made of men
Yes, that was just as it had happened.
"And you knew where they were sending me?" Fred was moved to demand,
"Well ... yes... But Hilmer's lawyer put it so convincingly...
Everything was to be for the best."
"Including your share in the Hilmer business?"
Brauer had the grace to wince. "Well, there was nothing said
"And what did you figure was Hilmer's reason for ... well, wanting me
to summer at Fairview?"
Brauer toyed with a spoon. "There could only be one reason."
"Don't be afraid. You mean that my wife..."
"Yes ... just that!"
Fred Starratt had a sense that he should have been stirred to anger,
but instead a great pity swept him, pity for a human being who could
sell another so shamelessly and not have the grace to deny it. Yes, he
realized now that there were times when a lie was the most
self-respecting and admirable thing in the world.
"It appears that I am dead also. I saw my wife to-day mourning for me
in the most respectable of weeds."
"Your hat, you see--it was found in the water ... not far from the
dead body of your friend... Naturally..."
"Yes, naturally, the wish was father to the thought. Just so!"
And with that Fred Starratt laughed so unpleasantly that Brauer
shivered and his face reddened.
By this time Fred Starratt had finished eating. Brauer paid the check
and the two departed. At the first street corner Brauer attempted to
slip a five-dollar bill into Starratt's hand. He refused scornfully.
"Money? I don't want your money. There is only one thing that will buy
my good will--_your silence_. Do you understand what I mean? ... I'm
not the same man you tricked last July. Then I thought I had
everything to lose. Now I know that no one ever loses anything... You
don't understand me, do you? ... Oh, well, it doesn't matter."
Brauer's frightened lips scarcely moved as he asked:
"Where are you staying?"
"Anywhere I can find a shelter... Last night I spent with an
anarchist... I think he'd blow up almost anyone for just the sheer joy
Brauer shuddered. "Where will you spend to-night?"
"I think I'll go back to the same place... This morning I was
undecided. But I've heard a lot of things since then... I'm taking an
interest in life again... By the way, the man I'm staying with knows
Hilmer... And I don't think he likes him, either... I'll give you one
tip, Brauer. Never get an anarchist sore at you... _They_ haven't
anything to lose, either."
He had never seen such pallor as that which shook the color from
Brauer's face. He decided not to torment him further.
He had established a sense of the unfathomable for the present and
future terror of his trembling little ex-partner. His revenge, so far
as Brauer was concerned, was complete. He had not the slightest wish
to see Brauer again.
He let his hands close once more tightly about Brauer's puny wrists.
"Remember ... you have not seen me. Do you understand?"
"Not a living soul ... you are not to even suggest that ... otherwise
... well, I am living with an anarchist, and a word to the wise ..."
He turned abruptly and left his companion standing on the street
corner, staring vacantly after him.
Instinctively his footsteps found their way to Storch's shack. A light
was glimmering inside. Fred beat upon the door. It swung open quickly,
revealing Storch's greenish teeth bared in a wide smile of
"Come in ... come in!" Storch cried out gayly. "Have a good day?"
"Excellent!" Fred snapped back, venomously. "I learned, among other
things, that I am legally dead."
Storch rubbed his hands together in satisfaction. "A clean slate! Do
you realize how wonderful it is, my man, to start fresh?"
Fred threw himself into a chair. He felt tired. Sharp, darting pains
were stabbing his eyes. "I think I'm going to be ill!" he said, with
Storch lighted the oil stove. "Crawl into bed and I'll get you
something hot to drink!"
Storch's tone was kind to a point of softness, and yet, later, when he
bent over the couch with a steaming glass in his hand Fred experienced
a sharp revulsion.
"I dreamed all last night," Fred said, almost defiantly, "that this
room was a cobweb and that you were a huge spider, dangling on a
"And you were the fly, I suppose," Storch replied, sneeringly.
The next instant he had touched Fred's forehead gently, almost
tenderly, but his eyes glittered beneath their shaggy brows with an
insane ferocity... Fred took the glass. He was too ill to care much
one way or the other.
Next morning Fred Starratt knew that he was too ill to rise. Then
everything became hazy. He had moments of consciousness when he sensed
Storch's figure moving in a sort of mist, flashing a green smile
through the gloom. He saw other figures, too---Helen Starratt, swathed
in clinging black; Hilmer, displaying his mangled thumb; Monet with
eyes of gentle reproach; and Ginger, very vague and very wistful.
There were times when the room seemed crowded with strange people who
came and went and gesticulated, people gathering close to the dim lamp
which Storch lighted at nightfall.
The visions of Monet were a curious mixture of shadow and reality.
Sometimes he seemed very elusive, but, again, his face would grow
clear to the point of dazzling brightness. At such moments Fred would
screen his eyes and turn away, only in the end to catch a melting
glimpse of Monet fading gradually with a gesture of resignation and
regret. But slowly the outlines of Monet grew less and less tangible
and the personality of Storch more and more shot through with
warm-breathed vitality, and the strange company that gathered at dusk
about the lamp became living things instead of shadows. Yet it took
him some time to realize that these nightly gatherings at Storch's
were composed of real flesh and blood.
At first he was content to lie in a drowse and listen to the
incoherent babblings of these nocturnal visitors, but, as he grew
stronger, detached bits of conversation began to impress themselves
upon him. These people had each some pet grievance and it remained for
Storch to pick upon the strings of their discontents with unerring
accuracy. At about eight o'clock every night the first stragglers
would drift in, reinforced by a steady stream, until midnight saw a
room stuffed with sweating humanity releasing their emotions in a
biting flood of protests. They protested at everything under the
sun--at custom, at order, at work, at play, at love, at life itself.
And Storch, for the most part silent, would sit with folded arms,
puffing at his pipe, a suggestion of genial malice on his face,
throwing out a phrase here and there that set the pack about him
leaping like hungry dogs to the lure of food. In confused moments Fred
Starratt fell to wondering whether he really had escaped from
Fairview, whether the forms about him were not the same motley
assembly that used to gather in the open and exchange whines. The
wails now seemed keyed to howls of defiance, but the source was
essentially the same.
Fred wondered how he lived through these dreadful evenings with the
air thick to choking. Indeed, he used to wonder what had saved him
from death at any stage of the game. Storch had permitted him the use
of a maggoty couch, had shared scraps of indifferent food at irregular
intervals, and set a cracked pitcher of water within reach. But beyond
that, he had been ignored. The nightly assembly did not even cast
their glances his way.
During the day Fred was left alone for the most part, and he felt a
certain luxury in this personal solitude after the months at Fairview
with its unescapable human contacts. He would lie there, his ears
still ringing with the echoes from the nightly gathering of
malcontents, trying to reconstruct his own quarrel with life. He had a
feeling that he would remain a silent onlooker only until Storch
decreed otherwise. If he stayed long enough the night would come when
Storch would call upon him for a testimonial of hatred. He knew that
deep down somewhere within him rancors were stirring to sinister life.
He had experienced the first glimmerings of cruelty in that moment
when he had felt Brauer tremble under his grasp. What would have been
his reaction to physical fear on Helen Starratt's part? Suppose on
that afternoon when he had watched her wheeling Mrs. Hilmer up and
down with deceitful patience he had gone over and struck her the blow
which was primitively her portion? Would the sight of her whimpering
fear have stirred him to further elemental cruelties? Would he have
ended by killing her? ... Physically weak as he was, he could still
feel the thrill of cruelty that had shaken him at the realization of
Brauer's dismay. As a child, when a truant gust of deviltry had swept
him, he had felt the same satisfaction in pummeling a comrade who
backed away from friendly cuffs turned instantly to blows of malice.
Even now he had occasionally a desire to seek out Brauer again and
worry him further. He was fearing indifference. What if, after all
that he had suffered at the hands of others, he should find himself in
the pale clutch of an impotent indifference? He felt a certain shame
back of the possibility, and at such moments the words of Storch used
to ring in his ears:
"Wounds heal so quickly ... so disgustingly quickly!"
And again, watching Storch at night, touching the quivering cords
which might otherwise have rusted in inactive silence, he remembered
further the introduction to this contemptuous phrase:
"I like to get my recruits when they're bleeding raw. I like them when
the salt of truth can sting deep..."
How Storch lived Fred could only guess. But he managed always to
jingle a silver coin or two and keep a crust of bread in the house.
His fare was frugal to the point of being ascetic. Once or twice, as
if moved by Fred's physical weakness, he brought some scraps of beef
home and brewed a few cups of steaming bouillon, and again, one Sunday
morning he went out and bought a half dozen eggs which he converted
into an impossibly tough omelet. But for the most part he lived on
coffee and fresh French bread and cheese. It was on this incredible
fare that Fred Starratt won back his strength. His exhaustion was an
exhaustion of the spirit, and food seemed to have little part in
either his disorder or his recovery.
Whatever Storch's specific grievance with life, he never voiced it and
in this he won Fred's admiration. He liked to jangle the discordant
passions of others, but his own he muffled into complete silence. He
had worked at almost every known calling. It seemed that he came and
disappeared always as suddenly and in his wake a furrow of men
harrowed to supreme unrest yielded up a harvest sown of dragon's
teeth. He was an idea made flesh, patient, relentless, almost
intangible. He flashed upon new horizons like a cloud from the south
and he vanished as completely once he had revived hatred with his
insinuating showers. He was, as he had said on that first meeting with
Fred, a fanatic, a high priest. He called many, but he chose few.
One night after the others had left Fred said to him:
"Do you realize what you are doing? ... You are working up these men
to a frenzy. Some morning we shall wake to find murder done."
"How quickly you are learning," Storch answered, flinging his coat
"Are you fair?" Fred went on, passionately. "If you have your
convictions, why not risk your own hide to prove them? Why make
cats'-paws of the others?"
Storch took out his pipe and lighted it deliberately. "Prospective
martyrs are as plentiful as fish in a net," he answered. "Of what good
is the sea's yield without fishermen? ... I sacrifice myself and who
takes my place? Will you?"
Fred turned on him suddenly. "You are not training me to be your
successor, I hope," he said, with a slight sneer. "Because I lie here
without protest is no reason that I approve. Indeed, I wonder
sometimes if I do quite right to permit all this... There are
authorities, you know."
Storch looked at him steadily. "The door is open, my friend."
Fred gave a little gesture of resignation.
"You know perfectly well that I'm not built to betray the man who
gives me shelter."
"Oh, I'm not sheltering you for love!"
"You have some purpose, of course. I understand that. But you're
"Well, I'll risk it... I know well enough you're not a man easily won
to an abstract hatred... But a personal hatred very often serves as
good a turn... Everything is grist to my mill."
"A personal hatred?" echoed Fred.
Storch blew out the light.
"You're duller than I thought," he called through the gloom.
Fred turned his face away and tried to sleep.
The next day he decided to crawl out of bed and begin to win back his
strength. He couldn't lie there forever sharing Storch's roof and
crust. But the effort left him exhausted and he was soon glad to fling
himself back upon the couch.
Each succeeding day he felt a little stronger, until the time came
when he was able to drag himself to the open door and sit in the
sunshine. He had never thought much about sunshine in the old days. A
fine day had been something to be remarked, but scarcely hoarded. With
the steam radiator working, it had not mattered so much whether the
sun shone or not... He remembered the first time that a real sense of
the sun's beauty had struck him--on that morning which now seemed so
remote--when he had risen weakly from his cot at the detention
hospital and made ready for exile at Fairview. Less than a year ago!
How many things had assumed new values since then! Now, he could
exploit every sunbeam to its minutest warmth, he could wring
sustenance from a handful of crumbs, he knew what a cup of cold water
meant. He was on speaking terms with hunger, he had been comrade to
madness, he had looked upon sudden death, he was an outcast and, in a
sense, a criminal. He felt that he could almost say with Hilmer:
"I know all the dirty, rotten things of life by direct contact."
All but murder--yet it had brushed close to him. Even now he could
evoke the choking rage that had engulfed him on that night of his
arrest when his defenseless cheek had reddened to the blow of
humiliation. This had been, however, a flash of passion. But once,
meeting a man who blocked his path in the first upper reaches of the
hills, beyond Fairview, he had felt the even more primitive itch of
self-preservation urging him to the ultimate crime. Would he end by
going a step farther and planning the destruction of life in cold
It was curious how constant association with a sensational idea dulled
the edge of its novelty. The first time he had heard deliberate and
passionless murder all but plotted in Storch's huddled room he had
felt a quick heartbeat of instinctive protest. Had he been stronger at
that moment he would have leaped to his feet in opposition. But the
moment passed and when he heard the subject broached again he listened
curiously. Finally he ceased to feel the slightest tremor of revolt.
Was indifference always the first step toward surrender?
Finally Fred grew strong enough to desert his couch at evening. Up to
this point he had been ignored by the nightly visitors, but now they
made a place for him in the circle about the sputtering lamp. It
seemed, also, that, with his active presence, the talk began to assume
general point and direction. Storch had been giving them plenty of
tether, but now he was beginning to pull up sharply, putting their
windy theories to the test. They were for clearing the ground, were
they? Well, so far so good. But generalities led nowhere. Why not
something specific? Wasn't the time ripe for action--thousands of men,
walking the streets, locked out because they dared to demand a decent
and even break? And this in the face of all the altruistic
rumble-bumble which war had evoked? He played this theme over and over
again, and finally one night with an almost casual air he said:
"Take the shipyards, for instance ... forty-odd thousand men locked
out while the owners lay plans to shackle them further. Now is the
chance. Quit talking and get busy!"
It ended in a list being made of the chief offenders--owners,
managers, irascible foremen. Fred Starratt listened like a man in a
dream. When Hilmer was named he found himself shivering. These people
were plotting murder now--cool, calm, passionless murder! There was
something fascinating in the very nonchalance of it.
Storch's eyes glittered more and more savagely. He drew up plans,
arranged incredible details, delivered specific offenders into the
hands of certain of his henchmen.
"You are responsible for this man, now," he used to fling at the
chosen one. "How or where or when does not interest me--but get him,
you understand, _get him_!"
One night a member said, significantly:
"Everybody's been picked but Hilmer... What's the matter, Storch, are
you saving that plum for yourself?"
Storch rubbed his hands together, flashing a look at Fred.
"No... There's an option on Hilmer!" he cried, gleefully.
Fred tried to ignore the implication, but all night the suggestion
burned itself into his brain. So some one was to get Hilmer, after
all! Well, why not? Hilmer liked men with guts enough to fight--rabbit
drives were not to his taste... Among all the names brought up and
discussed at these sinister gatherings about Storch's round table
Hilmer's stood out as the ultimate prize. No one spoke a good word for
him and yet Fred had to admit that the revilings were flavored with a
certain grudging respect. He was an open and consistent tyrant, at any
An option on Hilmer! What a trick Storch had for illuminating phrases!
... And his divinations were uncanny. Why should he assume that Hilmer
was in any way bound up in Fred Starratt's life?
The next morning Fred decided to chance a walk in the open. He had a
vague wish to try his wings again, now that he had grown stronger. The
situation reminded him remotely of Fairview on those first days when
Monet and he had attempted to harden their muscles against the day of
escape. But this time he was struggling to free himself from a
personality, from an idea. He must leave Storch and his motley brood
as soon as possible; somehow the acid of their ruthless philosophy was
eating away the remnants of any inner beauty which had been left him.
At first he had been all revolt, but now there were swift moments in
which he asked himself what quarrel he could have with any blows
struck at authority. What had established order done for him? Acted as
a screen for villainy and inconstancy for the most part.
He turned all this over in his mind as he slunk furtively along the
water front, trying vaguely to shape a plan of action. He felt himself
to be a very unusual and almost terrible figure, and yet no one paid
any heed to him. His beard had lost its sunburned character and grown
jet black, his face, and particularly his hands, were pale to
transparence, his eyes burned too brightly in their sunken sockets. He
was not even a ghost of his former self, but rather a sinister
reincarnation. He felt that he was even more forbidding than on that
night when he had sent Brauer shivering from his presence. He doubted
whether Brauer would recognize him again, so subtle and marked was the
change. He hardly recognized himself, and the transformation was not
solely a matter of physical degeneration. No, there was something
indefinable in the quality of his decline.
He fluttered about the town, at first aimlessly, like a defenseless
fledgling thrust before its time from the nest. He was weak and
tremulous and utterly miserable. Yet he felt compelled to go forward.
He must escape from Storch! _He must_!
The docks, usually full of bustle, were silent and almost deserted.
Fred questioned a man loafing upon a pile of lumber. It appeared that
a strike of stevedores was the cause of this outward sign of
inactivity. Boats were being loaded quietly, but the process was
furtive and sullen. Occasionally, out of the wide expanse of brooding
indolence a knot of men would gather flockwise, and melt as quickly.
There was an ominous quality in the swiftness with which these
cloudlike groups congealed and disintegrated. The sinister blight of
repression was over everything--repressed desires, repressed joys,
repressed hatreds. It was almost as sad as the noonday silence of
Fred slunk along in deep dejection. He wanted the color and life and
bustle of accomplishment. A slight activity before one of the docks
beguiled him from his depression. A passenger steamer was preparing
for its appointed flight south and a knot of blue-coated policemen
maintained a safe path from curb to dock entrance. Here was a touch of
liveliness and gayety--the released laughter of people bent on a
holiday, hopeful farewells called out heartily, taxicabs dashing up
with exaggerated haste. He was warming himself at the flame of this
genial pageant, when an opulent machine came rolling up to the curb. A
sudden surge of arrivals had pressed into service every available
porter, and the alighting occupants, a man and a woman, stood waiting
for some one to help them with their luggage. Fred stared with
impersonal curiosity. Then, as instinctively, he fell back. The man
was Axel Hilmer and the woman was Helen Starratt! His shrinking
movement must have singled him out for attention, because a policeman
began to hustle him on, and the next instant he was conscious that
Hilmer was calling in his voice of assured authority:
"Here, there, don't send that man away! I need some one to help me
with these grips. This lady has got to catch the boat!"
The officer touched his hat respectfully and Fred felt himself gently
impelled toward Helen Starratt. He did not have time to protest nor
shape any plan of action. Instead, he answered Hilmer's imperious
pantomime by grasping a suitcase in one hand and a valise in the other
and staggering after them toward the waiting vessel.
They had arrived not a moment too soon; already the steamer was
preparing to cast off. In the confusion which followed, Fred had very
little sense of what was happening. He knew that a porter had relieved
him of his burden and that Helen Starratt had pressed a silver coin
into his hand. There was a scramble up the gangplank, a warning
whistle, a chorus of farewell, and then silence... He had a
realization that he had all but fainted--he looked up to find Hilmer
at his side.
"What's the matter?" Hilmer was asking, brusquely. "Are you sick?"
He roused himself with a mighty effort.
"You look half starved, too... Why don't you go to work? Or are you
one of those damned strikers?"
"No," he heard himself answer. "I'm just a man who's ... who's up
Hilmer took out a card and scribbled on it.
"Here, look up my superintendent at the yard to-morrow. He'll give you
a job. There's plenty of work for those who want it. But don't lose
that card ... otherwise they won't let you see him."
Fred took the proffered pasteboard and as he did so his fingers closed
over Hilmer's mangled thumb. He could feel himself trembling from head
to foot... He waited until Hilmer was gone. Then he crawled slowly in
the direction of the street again. Midway he felt some force impelling
him to a backward glance. He turned about--a green smile betrayed
Storch's sinister presence; Fred felt him swing close and whisper,
"That was your wife, wasn't it?"
"How do you know?"
"Never mind. Answer me--it was your wife?"
"How much did she give you?"
Fred looked down at the coin in his hand.
"Fifty cents ... for carrying two grips a hundred yards... Well, she
must have money... And she's taking a little trip south--for her
health, I suppose!... I wonder when friend Hilmer will follow?"
Fred tried to draw away, but Storch's insinuating clutch was too firm.
"Let me go!" he half begged and half commanded. "What business is all
this of yours?... Who has told you all this about me?"
Storch continued to hang upon Fred's arm. "You told me yourself."
"I told you? When?"
"You were delirious for a good week... Don't you suppose you babbled
"How much do you know?"
"Nearly everything, _Fred Starratt_! Nearly everything."
"Even my name!"
"Yes, even that."
Fred stood still for a moment and he closed both his eyes.
"Let's go home!" he said, hopelessly.
He heard Storch's malevolent chuckle answering him.
When they arrived at Storch's shack Fred was exhausted. He threw
himself at once upon the couch, drawing the tattered quilts over his
head, and thus he lay all night in a semistupor. He heard the nightly
gathering drift in, and there were times when its babble reached him
in vague faraway echoes. He sensed its departure, too, and the fact
that Storch was flinging himself upon the pile of rags which served as
his bed. His sleep was broken by a harried idea that he was attempting
to catch a steamer which forever eluded him, trotting aimlessly up and
down a gangplank which led nowhere, picking up a litter that spilled
continually from a suitcase in his hand. It was not a dreaming state,
but the projection of the main events of the preceding day distorted
Toward morning he fell into a heavy sleep. He did not hear Storch
leave. He woke at intervals during the day and relapsed into delicious
dozes. It was evening when he finally roused himself. He rose. He felt
extraordinarily refreshed, stronger, in fact, than he had been for
weeks. Storch came in shortly after. He had his inevitable loaf of
crisp French bread and a slice of cheese and in his hip pocket he had
smuggled a pint bottle of thin red wine.
Fred laid the table with the simple utensils that such a meal required
and the two sat down. Storch poured out two glasses of wine.
"I have had great fun to-day!" Storch said, gulping his claret with a
flourish. "They're on my track again. You should have seen how easily
I gave them the slip! As a matter of fact there is nothing duller than
a detective. He usually has learned every formula laid down for the
conduct of criminals and if you don't run true to form he gets sore."
"You mean you're being watched--shadowed?"
"What do you intend to do?"
Storch shrugged. "Being arrested and jailed is losing its novelty.
I'll stick around awhile longer until a pet job or two is
accomplished... I'm particularly anxious to see Hilmer winged...
What's your plan?"
"Plan?... I have no plan. I can't imagine what you're talking about. I
know one thing, though ... I'm going to leave this place at once."
Storch smiled evilly. "Going to start plunging on that capital your
wife threw your way yesterday?... Well, well, you've got more
initiative than I thought... But, one piece of advice, my friend--the
easiest way to walk into a trap is to suddenly try to change your
habits ... to rush headlong in an opposite direction. You'd better
stay here awhile and bluff it out. They'd gobble you in one mouthful."
Fred made no reply. Indeed, the meal was finished in silence.
Presently Storch's disciples began to drift in. The meeting lasted
almost until midnight. They were all at fever heat, strung tensely by
Storch's unerring pressure. At the last moment the man who had
previously put the question concerning Hilmer prodded Storch again.
Storch fixed Fred suddenly with a gaze that pierced him through. A
silence fell upon the room. Fred could feel every eye turned his way.
He rose with a curious fluttering movement of escape.
"There's one man in this room who has earned the honor of getting
Hilmer, if any man has," Storch said, finally, in an extraordinarily
cool and biting voice. "Losing a wife isn't of any great moment ...
but to be laughed at--that's another matter."
The silence continued. Fred Starratt sat down again... Shortly after
this the gathering broke up. Storch went to sleep immediately. Fred
blew out the light. But he did not throw himself upon his couch this
time. Instead he opened the door softly and crept out.
A bright moon was riding high in the sky. He went swiftly down the
lane and stood for a moment upon the edge of the cliff which plunged
down toward the docks. The city seemed like a frozen bit of
loveliness, waiting to be melted to fluid beauty by the fires of
morning. He must leave Storch at once, forever! He turned for a
backward glimpse of the house that had sheltered and almost entrapped
him. A figure darted in front of the lone street lamp and retreated
instantly. _Shadowed!_ Storch was right!
Suddenly Fred began to whistle--gayly, loudly, with unquestionable
defiance. Then slowly, very slowly, he went back into the house and
closed the door... Storch was snoring contentedly.
The next afternoon Fred Starratt took the fifty-cent piece that he had
earned as flunky to his wife and spent every penny of it in a cheap
barber shop on the Embarcadero. He emerged with an indifferently
trimmed beard and his hair clipped into a semblance of neatness. He
felt better, in spite of his tattered suit and gaping footgear.
Hilmer's card was still in his pocket.
His plans were hazy, nebulous, in fact. He was not quite sure as to
his next move. It seemed useless to attempt to flee from Storch's
shelter. He had no money and scarcely strength enough to tackle any
job that would be open to him. Even if he elected to become a strike
breaker he would have to qualify at least with brawn. The prospect of
snaring a berth from Hilmer had a certain fascination. It would be
interesting to stare defiantly at his enemy at close range, to speak
with him again man to man, to lure him into further bravados. And
then, if Storch's plans for Hilmer had any merits... He stopped short,
a bit frightened at the realization that the idea had presented itself
to him with such directness... He had a sudden yearning to talk to
some human being who would understand. If he could only see Ginger!
He had a feeling that somehow she must have experienced every
exaltation and every degradation in the calendar. Tenderness and
passion and the gift of murder itself were ever the mixed language of
the street. He remembered the gesture he first had made to her almost
timid advances toward helping him. He had been outwardly polite, but
inwardly how scornful of her suggestions! And once he even had
hesitated to let her carry a message to his wife! Now he was ready to
stand or fall upon the bitter fruits of her experience. He felt,
curiously, on common ground with her. And yet there were certain
intangibilities he had never attempted to make positive. Somehow the
mere fact of her existence had enveloped him like warm currents of air
which he could feel, but not visualize. But at this moment he felt the
need of a contact more personal. Suddenly, out of a clear sky, it came
to him that Mrs. Hilmer could tell him something of Ginger's
whereabouts. Mrs. Hilmer? Well, why not? The more he thought the idea
over the more it appealed to him. He ended by turning his steps in the
direction of the Hilmer home.
The maid who opened the door eyed him with more curiosity than
caution, and her protests that Mrs. Hilmer could see no one seemed
rather tentative and perfunctory. Fred had a curious feeling that she
was demanding a more or less conventional excuse for admitting him,
and in the end he flung out as a chance:
"Tell Mrs. Hilmer I have a message from Sylvia Molineaux."
The girl's pale-blue eyes sparkled with a curious glint of humor, and
without further protest she went away, and came back as swiftly with
an invitation for him to step inside. There was something
inexplainable about this maid who veiled her eagerness to admit him
with such transparencies. Even a fool would scarcely have left so
forbidding a character to dawdle about the living room while she went
to fetch her mistress.
He had expected to find this room changed, and yet he was not prepared
for quite the quality of familiarity which it possessed. Most of the
old Hilmer knickknacks had been swept aside, their places taken by
bits that had once enlivened the Starratt household. Here was a silver
vase that he had bought Helen for an anniversary present, and there a
Whistler etching that had been their wedding portion. His easy-chair
was in a corner, and Helen's music rack filled with all the things she
used to play for his delight. And on the mantel, in a silver frame,
his picture, with a little bowl of fading flowers before it... He went
over and picked it up. Instinctively he glanced in the mirror just in
front of him... _Dead ... quite dead!_ No wonder his wife put flowers
before this photographic shrine... For a moment he had a swooning hope
that he had misjudged her ... that he had misread everybody ... that
they had done everything for him that they thought was best. But he
emerged from this brief deception with a shuddering laugh... He would
not have cared so much if his wife had swept him from her life
completely ... but to trample on him and still use his shadow as a
screen--this was too much! What really pallid creatures these women of
convention were! How little they were prepared to risk anything! He
could almost hear the comments that Helen inspired:
"Poor Helen Starratt! She has had an awful time!... I don't know what
she would have done without the Hilmers... She's so devoted to Mrs.
Hilmer... I do think it's lovely that they can be together."
He felt that he could have admired a Helen Starratt with the courage
of her primitive instincts. As it was, he was ashamed to own that he
experienced even rancor at her pretenses.
He heard the sound of a wheeled chair coming toward the living room
and he made a pretense of staring aimlessly into the street. Presently
a sepulchral voice broke the silence. He turned--Mrs. Hilmer was
leaning forward in her chair, regarding him attentively, while the
maid stood a little to one side. He had expected to come upon a huddle
of blond plumpness, an inanimate mass of forceless flesh robbed of its
bovine suavity by inactivity. What he saw was a body thin to
emaciation and a face drawn into a tight-lipped discontent. The old
curves of flesh had melted, displaying the heaviness of the framework
which had supported them. The eyes were restless and glittering, the
once-plump hands shrunken into claws.
"You ... you have a message from Sylvia Molineaux?"
She tossed the question toward him with biting directness. Could it be
possible that this was the same woman who had purred so contentedly
over a receipt for corn pudding somewhat over a year ago?
He moved a step nearer. "Yes ... but it is private."
The maid made a slight grimace and put her hand protectingly upon Mrs.
Hilmer's chair. Mrs. Hilmer shifted about impatiently.
"Never mind, Hilda," she snapped out. "I am not afraid."
The maid shrugged and departed.
"I have wanted to see her," Mrs. Hilmer went on, coldly. "But who
could I send? ... Few people understand her life."
"Ah, then you have guessed?"
"Guessed? ... She has told me everything."
A shade of bitter malice crept into her face--the malice of a woman
who has learned truths and is no longer shocked by them. Fred Starratt
put his hat aside and he went up close to her.
"I lied to get in here," he said, quickly. "I am looking for Sylvia
"Why don't you try the streets, then?" she flung out, venomously.
He felt almost as if an insult had been hurled at _him_. He searched
Mrs. Hilmer's face. Something more than physical pain had harrowed the
woman before him to such deliberate mockery.
"You, too!" he cried. "How you must have suffered!"
She gave a little cackling laugh that made him shudder. "What about
yourself?" she queried. "You do not look like a happy man."
"Would you be ... if ... Look at me closely, Mrs. Hilmer! Have you
ever seen me before?"
He bent toward her. She took his face between her two clawlike
fingers. Her eyes were points of greedy flame.
When she finally spoke her voice had almost a pensive quality to it.
"You might have been Fred Starratt, _once_," she said, evenly.
He rose to his feet.
"I knew you were not dead," he heard her saying. "And I don't think
she felt sure, either... Ah, how I have worried her since that day!
Every morning I used to say: 'I dreamed of your husband last night. He
was swimming out of a black pool ... a very black pool.'"
She chuckled at the memory of her sinister banter. So Helen Starratt
did not have everything her own way! There were weapons which even
weakness could flourish.
"Where has she gone?" he asked, suddenly.
"South, for a change... I've worried her sick with my black pool.
Whenever the doorbell would ring I would say as sweetly as I could,
'What if that should be your husband?' I drove her out with just
that... You've come just the right time to help. It couldn't have been
planned any better."
She might have been Storch, masquerading in skirts, as she sat there
casting significantly narrow glances at him. He wondered why he had
come. He felt like a fly struggling from the moist depths of a cream
jug only to be thrust continually back by a ruthless force. Was
everybody bent on plunging him into the ultimate despair? He moved
back with a poignant gesture of escape.
"You mustn't count on me, Mrs. Hilmer!" he cried, desperately. "I'm
nothing but a poor, spent man. I've lost the capacity for revenge."
She smiled maliciously. "You see me here--helpless. And yet, in all
these months I've prayed for only one thing--to have strength enough
one day to rise in this chair and throw myself upon them both... Oh,
but I should like to kill them!... You talk about suffering ... but do
you know what it is to feel the caress of hands that are waiting to
lay hold of everything that was once yours?... I have six months more
to live. The doctor told me yesterday... Six months more, getting
weaker every day, until at last--"
She brought her hands up in a vigorous flourish, which died pitifully.
He felt a contempt for his impotence. He dropped into a seat opposite
"Tell me about it ... all ... from the beginning," he begged.
She opened the floodgates cautiously at first ... going back to the
day when it had come upon her that she was a stranger in her own
house. ... Hilmer's moral lapses had never affronted her. She knew
men--or her father, to be exact, and his father before him. They were
as God made them, no better and no worse. Perhaps she had never
admitted it, but she would no doubt have felt a contempt for a man
without the capacity for truant inconstancies. But she had her place
from which it was inconceivable that she could be dislodged. ... On
that day when she had realized that this position was threatened she
had been put to one of two alternatives--open revolt or deceitful
acceptance. She had chosen the latter. In the end her choice was
justified, for she had begun to undermine Helen Starratt's content
with subtle purring which dripped a steady pool of disquiet.
"She hasn't abandoned herself yet," she said, moving her claws
restlessly. "She's too clever for that... She wants _my_ place.
Hilmer's like all men--he won't have a mistress for a wife... And she
never would be any man's mistress while she saw a chance for the other
thing ... she's too--"
She broke off suddenly, unable to find a word inclusive enough for all
the contempt she wished to crowd into it. He was learning things. She
could have ignored a frank courtesan with disdainful aloofness, but
discreetly veiled wantonness made her articulate. When she mentioned
Ginger her voice took a soft pity, mixed with certain condescension.
She was sympathetic, but there were still many things she could not
"She used to come and pass me every morning," Mrs. Hilmer explained,
"and your wife would look at her from head to foot. One day I said,
'Who is that woman?' ... 'How should I know?' she answered me. And I
knew from her manner that she was lying. The next day I spoke
deliberately. After that it was easy... She is a strange girl. She
would come and read me such beautiful things and then go away to
_that_! ... 'How is it possible for one woman to be so good and so
bad?' I asked her once. And all she said was, 'How would you have
us--all devil or all saint?' ... During all this your wife said
nothing. When she _would_ see Sylvia Molineaux coming down the street
she would wheel my chair into a quiet corner and walk calmly into the
house... One day Sylvia Molineaux spoke of you. She told me the whole
story and in the end she said: 'I don't come here altogether to be
kind to you ... I come here to worry her. You cannot imagine how I
hate her!' The next morning I said to Helen Starratt, 'Did you know
that Sylvia Molineaux was a friend of your husband?' She had to answer
me civilly. There was no other way out. But after that I said,
whenever I could, 'Sylvia Molineaux tells me this,' or, 'Sylvia
Molineaux tells me that.' And I would give her the tattle of
Fairview... I know she could have strangled me, because she smiled too
sweetly. But she made no protest, no comment. She merely walked into
the house whenever Sylvia Molineaux appeared. But it worried her--yes,
almost as much as that black pool from which I had you swimming every
morning... And so it went on until the day after word had come that
you had been drowned. I had not seen Sylvia for some days. She came
down the street at the usual time. Helen was still up in her room ...
the maid had wheeled me out. She said nothing about what had happened.
But she looked very pale as she opened her book to read to me. In the
midst of all this your wife came out and stood for a moment upon the
landing. We looked up. She was in black. I gave one glance at Sylvia.
She closed her book with a bang and suddenly she was on her feet.
'Black! _Black_!' she cried out in a loud voice. 'How _can_ you!' Your
wife grew pale and walked quickly back into the house. Sylvia's face
was dreadful. 'I can't trust myself to come here again!' she said,
turning on me fiercely. 'Fancy, _she_ can wear black. The hussy ...
the...' No, I shall not repeat what else she said... But when she had
finished I caught her hand and I said: 'Come back and kill her! Come
back and kill her, Sylvia Molineaux!' She gave a cry and left me. I
have not seen her since."
He sat staring at the wasted figure before him. Who would have
thought, seeing her in a happier day, that she could quiver with such
red-fanged energy! After all, she was more primitive even than Ginger.
She was like some limpid, prattling stream swollen to sudden fury by a
cloudburst of bitterness.
He was recalled from his scrutiny of the terrible figure before him by
the sound of her voice, this time dropping into a monologue which held
a half-musing quality. Hilmer was puzzling her a bit. She could not
quite understand why a man accustomed to hew his way without restraint
should be possessing his soul in such patience before Helen Starratt's
provocative advances and discreet retreats. Either she was unable or
unwilling to fathom the fascination which a subtle game sometimes held
for a man schooled only in elemental approaches toward his goal. Was
he enthralled or confused or merely curious? And how long would he
continue to give his sufferance scope? How long would he pretend to
play the moth to Helen Starratt's fitful flamings? Mrs. Hilmer,
raising the question, answered it tentatively by a statement that held
a curious mixture of hope and fear.
"Hilmer's going south himself next week... On business, he _says_."
She laughed harshly. "I wonder if they both think me quite a fool! ...
If he succeeds this time she's done for!"
Fred Starratt stirred in his seat.
"Don't deceive yourself," he found himself saying, coldly; "whatever
else my wife is, she's no fool... Remember, she wrote me a letter
every week. She looks over her cards before she plays them...A few
months more or less don't--"
He broke off, suddenly amazed at his cruelty. Mrs. Hilmer's expression
changed from arrested exultation to fretful appeal.
"I have only six months to live," she wailed. "If I could walk just
for a day...an hour...five minutes!"
She covered her face in her hands.
"What do you expect _me_ to do?" he asked, helplessly, with a certain
air of resignation.
She took her fingers from her eyes. A crafty smile illumined her
features. "How should I know? ...What do men do in such cases?...She
will be gone two weeks. I pray God she may never enter this house
again. But that is in your hands."
He felt suddenly cold all over, as if she had delivered an enemy into
his keeping. She still loved Axel Hilmer...loved him to the point of
hatred. What she wished for was his head upon a charger. With other
backgrounds and other circumstances crowding her to fury she would
have danced for her boon like the daughter of Herodias. As it was, she
sat like some pagan goddess, full of sinister silences, impotent, yet
And again Storch's prophetic words swept him:
"Like a field broken to the plow!"
There was a terrible beauty in the phrase. Was sorrow the only
plowshare that turned the quiescent soul to bountiful harvest? Was it
better to reap a whirlwind than to see a shallow yield of unbroken
content wither to its sterile end?
* * * * *
He found Ginger's lodgings that night, in a questionable quarter of
the town, but she did not respond to his knock upon the door.
"Why don't you try the streets, then?" Mrs. Hilmer's sneer recurred
with all its covert bitterness.
The suggestion made him sick. And he had fancied all along that
ugliness had lost the power to move him ... that he was prepared for
the harsh facts of existence!
He waited an hour upon the street corner, and when she came along
finally she was in the company of a man... He grew suddenly cold all
over. When they passed him he could almost hear his teeth chattering.
They disappeared, swallowed up in the sinister light of a beguiling
doorway. He stared for a moment stupidly, then turned and fled,
looking neither to the right nor to the left. He realized now that he
had reached the heights of bitterest ecstasy and the depths of
Storch was alone, bending close to the lamp, reading, when Fred
Starratt broke in upon him. He did not lift his head.
Fred went softly into a corner and sat down... Finally, after a while,
Storch laid his book aside. He gave one searching look at Fred's face.
"Well, have you decided?" he asked, with calm directness.
Fred's hands gave a flourish of resignation. "Yes... I'll do it!" he
answered in a whisper.
Storch picked up his book again and went on reading. Presently he
lifted his eyes from the printed page as he said:
"We won't have any more meetings here... Things are getting a little
too dangerous... How soon will the job be finished?"
Fred rose, shaking himself. "Within two weeks, if it is finished at
He went close to Storch and put a hand upon his shoulder. "You know
every bitter thing ... tell me, why does a man love?"
Storch laughed unpleasantly. "To breed hatred!"
Fred Starratt sat down again with a gesture of despair.
From this moment on Fred Starratt's existence had the elements of a
sleepwalking dream. He felt himself going through motions which he was
powerless to direct. Already Storch and his associates were allowing
him a certain aloofness--letting him set himself apart with the
melancholy arrogance of one who had been chosen for a fanatical
Replying to Storch's question regarding his plans, he said, decidedly:
"I leave all that to you... Give me instructions and I'll act. But I
want to know nothing until the end."
"Within two weeks... Is there a special reason why ..."
"Yes ... a very special reason."
Storch turned away. But the next day he said, "Have you that card that
Hilmer gave you?"
Fred yielded it up.
Storch smiled his wide, green smile. Fred asked no questions, but he
guessed the plans. A spy was to be worked in upon Hilmer.
Every morning now Fred Starratt found a silver dollar upon the
cluttered table at Storch's. He smiled grimly as he pocketed the
money. He was to have not a care in the world. Like a perfect youth of
the ancients marked for a sweet-scented offering to the gods, he was
to go his way in perfect freedom until his appointed time. There was
an element of grotesqueness in it all that dulled the edge of horror
which he should have felt.
Sometimes he would sally forth in a noonday sun, intent on solitude,
but usually he craved life and bustle and the squalor of cluttered
foregrounds. With his daily dole of silver jingling in his pocket he
went from coffeehouse to coffeehouse or drowsed an hour or two in a
crowded square or stood with his foot upon the rail of some
emasculated saloon, listening to the malcontents muttering over their
draughts of watery beer.
"Ah yes," he would hear these last grumble, "the rich can have their
grog... But the poor man--he can get it only when he is dying ...
providing he has the price."
And here would follow the inevitable reply, sharpened by bitter
"But all this is for the poor man's good ... you understand. Men work
better when they do not indulge in follies... They will stop dancing
next. Girls in factories should not come to work all tired out on
Monday morning. They would find it much more restful to spend the time
upon their knees."
It was not what they said, but the tone of it, that made Fred Starratt
shudder. Their laughter was the terrible laughter of sober men without
either the wit or circumstance to escape into a temperate gayety of
spirit. He still sat apart, as he had done at Fairview and again at
Storch's gatherings. He had not been crushed sufficiently, even yet,
to mingle either harsh mirth or scalding tears with theirs. But he was
feeling a passion for ugliness ... he wanted to drain the bitter
circumstance of life to the lees. He was seeking to harden himself to
his task past all hope of reconsideration.
He liked especially to talk to the cripples of industry. Here was a
man who had been blinded by a hot iron bolt flung wide of its mark,
and another with his hand gnawed clean by some gangrenous product of
flesh made raw by the vibrations of a riveting machine. And there were
the men deafened by the incessant pounding of boiler shops, and one
poor, silly, lone creature whose teeth had been slowly eaten away by
the excessive sugar floating in the air of a candy factory. Somehow
this last man was the most pathetic of all. In the final analysis, his
calling seemed so trivial, and he a sacrifice upon the altar of a
petty vanity. Once he met a man weakened into consumption by the
deadly heat of a bakeshop. These men did not whine, but they exhibited
their distortions with the malicious pride of beggars. They demanded
sympathy, and somehow their insistence had a humiliating quality. He
used to wonder, in rare moments of reflection, how long it would take
for all this foul seepage to undermine the foundations of life. Or
would it merely corrode everything it came in contact with, very much
as it had corroded him? Only occasionally did he have an impulse to
escape from the terrible estate to which his rancor had called him. At
such intervals he would turn his feet toward the old quarter of the
town and stand before the garden that had once smiled upon his
mother's wooing, seeking to warm himself once again in the sunlight of
traditions. The fence, that had screened the garden from the nipping
wind which swept in every afternoon from the bay, was rotting to a
sure decline, disclosing great gaps, and the magnolia tree struggling
bravely against odds to its appointed blossoming. But it was growing
blackened and distorted. Some day, he thought, it would wither
utterly... He always turned away from this familiar scene with the
profound melancholy springing from the realization that the past was a
pale corpse lighted by the tapers of feeble memory.
One afternoon, accomplishing again this vain pilgrimage, he found the
tree snapped to an untimely end. It had gone down ingloriously in a
twisting gale that had swept the garden the night before.
In answer to his question, the man intent on clearing away the
"The wind just caught it right... It was dying, anyway."
Fred Starratt retraced his steps. It was as if the old tree had stood
as a symbol of his own life.
He never went back to view the old garden again, but, instead, he
stood at midnight upon the corner past which Ginger walked with such
monotonous and terrible fidelity. He would stand off in the shadows
and see her go by, sometimes alone, but more often in obscene company.
And in those moments he tasted the concentrated bitterness of life.
Was this really a malicious jest or a test of his endurance? To what
black purpose had belated love sprung up in his heart for this woman
of the streets? And to think that once he had fancied that so
withering a passion was as much a matter of good form as of cosmic
urging! There had been conventions in love--and styles and seasons!
One loved purity and youth and freshness. Yes, it had been as easy as
that for him. Just as it had been as easy for him to choose a nice and
pallid calling for expressing his work-day joy. He could have
understood a feeling of sinister passion for Sylvia Molineaux and
likewise he could have indulged it. But the snare was more subtle and
cruel than that. He was fated to feel the awe and mystery and beauty
of a rose-white love which he saw hourly trampled in the grime of the
streets. He had fancied once that love was a matter of give and take
... he knew now that it was essentially an outpouring ... that to love
was sufficient to itself ... that it could be without reward, or wage,
or even hope. He knew now that it could spring up without sowing,
endure without rain, come to its blossoming in utter darkness. And yet
he did not have the courage of these revelations. He felt their
beauty, but it was the beauty of nakedness, and he had no skill to
weave a philosophy with which to clothe them. If it had been possible
a year ago for him to have admitted so cruel a love he knew what he
would have done. He would have waited for her upon this selfsame
street corner and shot her down, turning the weapon upon himself. Yes,
he would have been full of just such empty heroics. Thus would he have
expressed his contempt and scorn of the circumstance which had tricked
him. But now he was beyond so conventional a settlement.
The huddled meetings about Storch's shattered lamp were no more, but
in small groups the scattered malcontents exchanged whispered
confidences in any gathering place they chanced upon. Fred Starratt
listened to the furtive reports of their activities with morbid
interest. But he had to confess that, so far, they were proving empty
windbags. The promised reign of terror seemed still a long way off.
There were moments even when he would speculate whether or not he was
being tricked into unsupported crime. But he raised the question
merely out of curiosity... Word seemed to have been passed that he was
disdainful of all plans for setting the trap which he was to spring.
But one day, coming upon a group unawares in a Greek coffeehouse on
Folsom Street, he caught a whispered reference to Hilmer. Upon the
marble-topped table was spread a newspaper--Hilmer's picture smiled
insolently from the printed page. The gathering broke up in quick
confusion on finding him a silent auditor. When they were gone he
reached for the newspaper. A record-breaking launching was to be
achieved at Hilmer's shipyard within the week. The article ended with
a boastful fling from Hilmer to the effect that his plant was running
to full capacity in spite of strikes and lockouts. Fred threw the
paper to the floor. A chill enveloped him. He had caught only the
merest fragments of conversation which had fallen from the lips of the
group he had surprised, but his intuitions had been sharpened by
months of misfortune. He knew at once what date had been set for the
consummation of Storch's sinister plot. He rose to his feet, shivering
until his teeth chattered. He felt like a man invested with all the
horrid solemnity of the death watch.
That night Storch confirmed Fred's intuitions. He said, pausing a
moment over gulping his inevitable bread and cheese:
"I have planned everything for Saturday."
Fred cut himself a slice of bread. "So I understand," he said, coldly.
"Who told you?"
"Your companions are great gossips ... and I have ears."
The insolence in Fred's tone made Storch knit his brows.
"Well, knowing so much, you must be ready for details now," he flung
Storch lighted his pipe and glowered. "The launching is to take place
at noon. Hilmer has planned to arrive at the yards promptly at eleven
forty-five at the north gate. Everything is ready, down to the last
"Including the bomb?" Fred snapped, suddenly.
"Including the bomb," Storch repeated, malevolently, caressing the
phrase with a note of rare affection. "It is the most skillful
arrangement I have seen in a long time ... in a kodak case. By the way
... are you accurate at heaving things?... You are to stand upon the
roof of a row of one-story stores quite near the entrance and promptly
at the precise minute--"
"Ah, a time bomb!"
"And if Hilmer should be late?"
"He is always on time... And, besides, there is a special reason. He
wants the launching accomplished on the stroke of noon."
"And if he comes too early?"
"Impossible. He went south last week ... you knew that, of course. And
he doesn't get into San Francisco until late that morning. He is to be
met at Third and Townsend streets and go at once to Oakland in his
machine... There will be four in the party ... perhaps six."
Fred Starratt stood up slowly, repressing a desire to leap suddenly to
his feet. He walked up and down the cluttered room twice. Storch
watched him narrowly.
"Six in the party?" Fred echoed. "Any women?"
Storch rubbed his palms together. "There may be two ... providing your
wife comes back with him... Mrs. Hilmer sent for her."
Storch smiled his usual broad smile, exhibiting his green teeth.
"She developed a whim to attend the launching... Naturally she wished
her _dearest_ friend with her."
Fred Starratt sat down. He was trembling inwardly, but he knew
instinctively that he must appear nonchalant and calm. He guessed at
once that it would not do for him to betray the fact that suddenly he
realized how completely he had been snared. Yet his trepidation must
have communicated itself, for Storch leaned forward with the
diabolical air of an inquisitor and said:
"Does it matter in the least whether there is one victim or six?"
Fred managed to reply, coolly, "Not the slightest ... but I have been
thinking in terms of one."
Storch smiled evilly. "That would have been absurd in any case. There
are always a score or so of bystanders who ..."
"Yes, of course, of course. Just so!" Fred interrupted.
Storch laid his pipe aside and drained a half-filled glass of red wine
standing beside his plate.
"I think I've turned a very neat trick," he said, smacking his lips in
satisfaction. "It's almost like a Greek tragedy--Hilmer, his wife, and
yours in one fell swoop, and at your hand. There is an artistic unity
about this affair that has been lacking in some of my other triumphs."
Fred rose again, and this time he turned squarely on Storch as he
"How long have you and Mrs. Hilmer been plotting this together?"
Storch's eyes widened in surprise. "You're getting keener every
moment... Well, you've asked a fair question. I planted that maid in
the house soon after I knew the story."
"After the fever set me to prattling?"
Fred Starratt stood motionless for a moment, but presently he began to
Storch looked annoyed, then rather puzzled. Fred took the hint and
fell silent. For the first time since his escape from Fairview he was
experiencing the joy of alert and sharpened senses. He had ceased to
drift. From this moment on he would be struggling. And a scarcely
repressed joy rose within him.
That night Fred Starratt did not sleep. His mind was too clear, his
senses too alert. He was like a man coming suddenly out of a mist into
the blinding sunshine of some valley sheltered from the sea.
"Does it matter in the least whether there is one victim or six?"
He repeated Storch's question over and over again. Yes, it did
matter--why, he could not have said. But even in a vague way there had
been a certain point in winging Hilmer. Hilmer had grown to be more
and more an impersonal effigy upon which one could spew forth malice
and be forever at peace. He had fancied, too, that Hilmer was his
enemy. Yet, Hilmer had done nothing more than harry him. It was Storch
who had captured him completely.
It was not that Storch was unable to discover a score of men ready and
willing to murder Hilmer, but he was finding an ironic diversion in
shoving a weary soul to the brink. He liked to confirm his faith in
the power of sorrow and misery and bitterness ... he liked to triumph
over that healing curse of indifference which time accomplished with
such subtlety. He took a delight in cutting the heart and soul out of
his victims and reducing them to puppets stuffed with sawdust,
answering the slightest pressure of his hands. How completely Fred
Starratt understood all this now! And in the blinding flash of this
realization he saw also the hidden spring that had answered Storch's
pressure. Storch may have been prodding for rancor, but he really had
touched the mainspring of all false and empty achievement--vanity.
"Losing a wife isn't of such moment ... but to be laughed at--that is
The words with which Storch had held him up to the scorn of the crowd
swept him now with their real significance. He had been afraid to seem
Thus also had Mrs. Hilmer prodded him with her sly "What do men do in
Thus, also, had the terrible realization of his love for Sylvia
Molineaux been turned to false account with a wish to still the
stinging wounds of pride forever.
He had made just such empty gestures when he had battled for an
increase in salary, using Hilmer's weapons instead of his own, and
again when he had committed himself to Fairview with such a theatrical
flourish. He had performed then, he was performing now, with an eye to
his audience. And his audience had done then, and was doing now, what
it always did--treated him with the scorn men feel for any and all who
play down to them.
Already Storch was sneering with the contempt of a man too sure of his
power. He would not have risked the details of his plan otherwise. And
deep down Fred Starratt knew that the first duty to his soul was to be
rid of Storch at any cost--after that, perhaps, it would not matter
whether he had one or six or a hundred victims marked for destruction.
He was afraid of Storch and he had now to prove his courage to
It was at the blackest hour before dawn that this realization grew to
full stature. He raised himself upon his elbow, listening to the heavy
breathing of Storch. He rose cautiously. Now was his chance. He would
escape while his conviction was still glistening with the freshness of
crystallization. Moving with a catlike tread toward the door, he put
his hand upon the knob. It turned noisily. He heard Storch leap to his
feet. He stood quite still until Storch came up to him.
"Go back to bed ... where you belong!" Storch was commanding, coolly,
with a shade of menace in his voice.
He shuffled back to his couch. He was no longer afraid of Storch, but
a certain craftiness suddenly possessed him.
Presently he heard a key turn and he felt himself to be completely in
the hands of his jailer. Yet the locked door became at once the symbol
of both Storch's strength and weakness. Storch was determined to have
either his body or his soul. And, at that moment, Fred Starratt made
Next morning Storch was up early and bustling about with unusual
"Get up!" he cried, gayly, to Fred. "Do you realize this is Friday?...
There are a thousand details to attend to."
Fred pretended to find Storch's manner infectious. He had never seen
anyone so eager, so thrilling with anticipation.
"I've got to buy you a new outfit complete," Storch went on, filling
the coffeepot with water. "And you must be shaved and shorn and made
human-looking again. Rags are well enough to wrap discontent in ...
but one should have a different make-up for achievement... What was
the matter last night?"
"Oh, a bit of panic, I guess," Fred returned, nonchalantly. "But I'm
all right this morning."
Storch rubbed his hands in satisfaction, and he smiled continually.
They went out shortly after nine o'clock and in San Francisco's embryo
ghetto at McAllister and Fillmore streets they bought a decent-looking
misfit suit and a pair of second-hand shoes, to say nothing of a
bargain in shirts. A visit to a neighboring barber followed. Storch
permitted Fred to enter the shop alone, but he stood upon the corner
When the barber finished, Fred was startled. Standing before the
mirror he gazed at his smooth-shaven cheek again and trembled. It was
like a resurrection. Even Storch was startled. Fred caught a
suggestion of doubt in the gaze his jailer threw at him. It was almost
as if Storch said:
"You are not the man I thought you."
After that Fred had a sense that Storch watched him more narrowly.
Impulses toward forcing the issue at once assailed Fred, but he was
too uncertain as to the outcome. He decided that the safest thing was
to wait until the very last moment, trying to prolong the issue until
it would be too late for Storch to lay other plans.
They went back to the shack for a bite of lunch. After they had eaten,
Fred put on his new clothes. He felt now completely cut off from the
cankerous life which had been so deliberately eating its way into his
philosophy. Could it be possible that clothes did in some mysterious
way make the man? Would his unkempt beard and gaping shoes and
tattered clothing have kept him nearer the path of violence?
A little after three o'clock in the afternoon a man came to the door
and handed Storch a carefully wrapped package. They did not exchange a
word. Storch took the package and stowed it away in a corner, covering
it with a ragged quilt.
"That is the bomb!" flashed through Fred's mind.
From that moment on this suggestive corner of the room was filled with
a mysterious fascination. It was like living on the edge of a volcano.
Later in the day he said to Storch:
"Are you sure the maker of that bomb was skillful?"
Storch bared his green teeth.
"One is sure of nothing!" he snapped back.
Fred tried to appear nonchalant. "Aren't you rather bold, having this
thing delivered in broad daylight?"
"What have we to fear?"
"I thought we were being watched."
Storch threw back his head and roared with laughter. "_You_ have been
watched ... if that's what you mean. I never believe in taking any
Fred made no reply. But a certain contempt for Storch that hitherto
had been lacking rose within him. He had always fancied certain
elements of bigness in this man in spite of his fanaticism. Suddenly
he was conscious that his silence had evoked a subtle uneasiness in
Storch. At this moment he laughed heartily himself as he rose from his
seat, slapping Storch violently on the back as he cried:
"Upon my word, Storch, you're a master hand! No matter what happens
now, at least I'll have the satisfaction of knowing that I was
They kept close to the house until nearly midnight. At a few moments
to twelve Storch drew a flask of smuggled brandy from his hip pocket.
"Here, take a good drink!" he said, passing the bottle to Fred.
Fred did as he was bidden. Storch followed suit.
"Would you like a turn in the open?" Storch inquired, not unkindly.
"Yes," Fred assented.
They put on their hats. When they were outside Storch made a little
gesture of surrender. "You lead ... I'll follow," he said,
The night was breathless--still touched with the vagrant warmth of an
opulent April day. The spring of blossoming acacias was over, but an
even fuller harvest of seasonal unfolding was sweeping the town. A
fragrant east wind was flooding in from the blossom-starred valleys,
and vacant lots yielded up a scent of cool, green grass. A
soul-healing quality released itself from the heavily scented
air--hidden and mysterious beauties of both body and spirit that sent
little thrills through Fred Starratt. He had never been wrapped in a
more exquisite melancholy--not even during the rain-raked days at
Fairview. He knew that Storch was by his side, but, for the moment,
this sinister personality seemed to lose its power and he felt Monet
near him. It was as it had been during those days upon Storch's couch
with death beckoning--the nearer he approached the dead line, the more
distinctly he saw Monet. To-night his vision was clouded, but a keener
intuition gave him the sense of Monet's presence. He knew that he was
standing close to another brink.
For a time he surrendered completely to this luxury of feeling, as if
it strengthened him to find stark reality threaded with so much
haunting beauty. But he discovered himself suddenly yearning for the
poetry of life rather than the poetry of death. He wanted to live,
realizing completely that to-morrow might seal everything. He was not
afraid, but he was alive, very much alive--so alive that he found
himself rising triumphant from sorrow and shame and disillusionment.
He came out of his musings with a realization that Storch was
regarding him with that puzzled air which his moods were beginning to
evoke. And almost at the same time he was conscious that their feet
were planted upon that selfsame corner past which Ginger walked at
midnight. He put a hand on Storch's shoulder.
"Let us wait here a few moments," he said. "I am feeling a little
A newsboy bellowing the latest edition of the paper broke an unusual
and almost profound stillness.
"There doesn't seem to be many people about to-night," Fred observed,
Storch sneered. "To-day is Good Friday, I believe... Everyone has
grown suddenly pious."
Fred turned his attention to the windows of a tawdry candy shop,
filled with unhealthy-looking chocolates and chromatic sweets. He was
wondering whether Ginger would pass again to-night. His musings were
answered by the suggestive pressure of Storch's hand on his.
"There's a skirt on the Rialto, anyway," Storch was saying, with
Fred kept his gaze fixed upon the candy-shop window. He was afraid to
look up. Could it be that Ginger was passing before him, perhaps for
the last time? He caught the vague reflection of a feminine form in
the plate-glass window. A surge of relief swept him--at least she was
"She's looking back!" Storch volunteered.
Fred turned. The woman had gained the doorway of the place where she
lodged and she was standing with an air of inconsequence as if she had
nothing of any purpose on her mind except an appreciation of the
night's dark beauty. He looked at her steadily ... It _was_ Ginger!
She continued to stand, immobile, wrapped in the sinister patience of
her calling. Fred could not take his eyes from her.
"She's waiting for you," Storch said.
Fred smiled wanly.
"Do you want to go? ... If you do I'll wait--here!"
Fred tried to conceal his conflicting emotions. He did not want to
betray his surprise at Storch's sudden and irrational indiscretion.
"Well, if you don't mind," he began to flounder, "I'll--"
Storch gave him a contemptuous shove. "Go on ... go on!" he cried,
almost impatiently, and the next moment Fred Starratt found himself at
Ginger's side... For an instant she stood transfixed as she lifted her
eyes to his.
"Don't scream!" he commanded between his locked lips. "I don't want
that man to know that--"
She released her breath sharply. "Shall we go in?" she whispered.
He nodded. Storch was pretending to be otherwise absorbed, but Fred
knew that he had been intent on their pantomime.
Her room was bare, pitifully bare, swept clean of all the tawdry
fripperies that one might expect from such an environment and
circumstance. She motioned him wearily to an uncompromising chair,
standing herself with an air of profound resignation as she leaned
against the cheaply varnished bureau.
"Is this the first time--" she began, and stopped short.
"No ... I've watched you every night for nearly two weeks."
"What was the idea?" she threw out, with an air of banter.
He stood up suddenly. "I wanted to see how much I _could_ stand," he
She closed her eyes for a moment ... her immobility was full of
tremulous fear and hope.
"Ah!" she said, finally. "So you did care, after all!"
"Yes ... when it was too late."
She crossed over to him, putting one wan finger on his trembling lips
in protest. She did not speak, but he read the thrilling simplicity of
her silence completely. "Love is never too late!" was what her
eloquent gesture implied.
He thrust her forward at arm's length, searching her eyes. "You are
right," he said, slowly. "And yet it can be bitter!"
She released herself gently. "You shouldn't have watched me like that
... it wasn't fair."
"I didn't think you would ever know... And that first night I didn't
intend to watch ... not really. After that it got to be habit...
You've no idea the capacity for suffering an unhappy man can acquire."
She took off her hat and flung it on the bed. "What made you follow me
"You came out of a clear sky ... when I needed you most ... as you
have always done... I didn't think I could ever escape that man
waiting for me below--not even for an instant... To-morrow, at this
time, I may be dead ... or worse."
"To-morrow, at noon, I'm scheduled to blow up Axel Hilmer... There
will be five others in the party ... my wife and his among them."
Her body was rigid ... only her lips moved. "You are going to do it?"
She passed a fluttering hand over her forehead. "But you spoke of
He smiled bitterly. "Either I shall be dead--or the man waiting for me
on the street corner... I shall not tell him my decision until the
last moment. I don't want to give him the chance to work in an
understudy or complete the job himself... Will you go to Hilmer
to-morrow and warn him?... He arrives from the south at the Third and
Townsend depot somewhere around eleven o'clock. Advise him to postpone
the launching. And have the approaches to the shipyards combed for
radicals... Let them watch particularly for a man with a kodak on the
roof of the stores opposite the north gate."
She picked up her hat quickly. "I'll go out now and warn the police
... indirectly. I have ways, you know."
He put out a restraining hand. "No ... that's risky. My friend Storch
has spies everywhere. He's giving me a little rope here ... he may be
waiting just to see how foolishly I use it. If you lie low until
to-morrow there will be less of a chance of things going wrong...
Besides, I owe this man something. He's fed and sheltered me. I'm
going to give him an even break. You would do that much, I'm sure."
She threw her arms suddenly about him. "Let me go down to him," she
whispered. "Perhaps I can persuade him. Maybe he'll go away, then, and
leave you in peace."
He stroked her hair. "No, I can't escape him now. Sooner or later he
would get me. You don't understand his power. All my life I've dodged
issues. But now I've run up against a stone wall. Either I scale it or
I break my neck in the attempt."
She shivered as if his touch filled her with an exquisite fear as she
"I'm wondering if you are quite real," she said, wistfully. "Sometimes
I've thought of you as dead, and, again, it didn't seem possible...
Always at night upon the street I've really looked for you. In every
face that stared at me I had a hope that your eyes would answer
mine... I think I've looked for you all my life... It isn't always
necessity that drives a woman to the streets... Sometimes it is the
search for happiness... I suppose you can't understand that..."
"I understand anything you tell me _now_!"
She went over to him again and took his hand. "You _are_ real, aren't
you?... Because I couldn't bear it ... if I were to wake up and find
this all a dream... Nothing else matters ... nothing in my whole life
... but this moment. And when it is over nothing will ever matter ...
He sat there stroking her hand foolishly. There were no words with
which to answer her... Presently she put her lips close to his and he
kissed her, and he knew then that only a woman who had tasted the
bitter wormwood of infamy could put such purity into a kiss. How many
times she must have hungered for this moment! How many times must she
have felt her soul rising to her lips only to find it betrayed!
He loved her for her words and he loved her for her silence. Once he
would have sat waiting passionately for her to defend herself. He
would have been tricked into believing that any course of action
_could_ be justified. But she brought no charges, she placed no blame,
she offered no excuse. "It isn't always necessity that drives a woman
to the streets!" It took a great soul to be that honest. She might
have reproached him, too, for his neglect of her--for his fear to take
his happiness on any terms. But all she had said was, "You shouldn't
have watched me like that ... it wasn't fair."
He rose, finally, shaking himself into the world of reality again.
"I must be going now," he said, quietly. "Storch will begin to be
She picked a gilt hairpin from the floor. "Let me see if I've got
everything straight. To-morrow at eleven o'clock I am to see Hilmer
and tell him to postpone the launching. And to watch at the north gate
for a man with a kodak... And then?"
He reached for his hat. "If you do not hear from me you might come and
look me up. I'll be at Storch cottage on Rincon Hill ... at the foot
of Second Street. Anyone about can tell you which house is his."
Her lips were an ashen gray. "You mean you'll be there ... _dead?_"
"If you are afraid ..."
"_Afraid!_" She drew herself up proudly.
"Well ... there is danger for you, too... I should have thought of
"You do not understand even now." She went and stood close to him. "I
_love_ you ... can't you realize that?"
He felt suddenly abashed, as if he stood convicted of being a cup too
shallow to hold her outpouring.
"Good-by," he whispered.
She closed her eyes, lifting her brow for his waiting kiss. The heavy
perfume of her hair seemed to draw his soul to a prodigal outpouring.
He found her lips again, clasping her close.
"Good-by," he heard her answer.
And at that moment he felt the mysterious Presence that had swept so
close to him on that heartbreaking Christmas Eve at Fairview.
Storch was standing at the lodging-house door when Fred stepped into
"Well, what now?" Storch inquired, with mock politeness.
"Let's go home!" Fred returned, emphatically.
Almost as soon as the phrase had escaped him he had a sense of its
grotesqueness. Home! Yes, he had to admit that he felt a certain
affection for that huddled room which had witnessed so much spiritual
travail. Somehow its dusty rafters seemed saturated with a human
quality, as if they had imprisoned all the perverse longings and
bitter griefs of the company that once sat in the dim lamplight and
chanted their litany of hate. He never really had been a part of this
company ... he never really had been a part of any company. At the
office of Ford, Wetherbee & Co., at Fairview, at Storch's gatherings,
he had mingled with his fellow-men amiably or tolerantly or
contemptuously, as the case might be, but never with sympathy or
understanding. He knew now the reason--he always had judged them, even
to the last moment, using the uncompromising foot rule of prejudice,
inherent or acquired. In the old days he had thought of these
prejudices as standards, mistaking aversions for principles. He had
tricked his loves, his hates, his preferences in a masquerade of
pretenses ... he had labels for everybody and he pigeonholed them with
the utmost promptitude. A man was a murderer or a saint or a
bricklayer, and he was nothing else. But at this moment, standing in
the light-flooded entrance to Ginger's lodgings, waiting for Storch to
lead him back to his figurative cell, he knew that a man could be a
murderer and a saint and a bricklayer and a thousand other things
besides. And if he were to sit again about that round table of
violence and despair he felt that, while he might find much to stir
hatred, he would never again give scope to contempt.
"You want to go home, eh?" Storch was repeating, almost with a note of
obscene mirth. "Well, our walk has been quieting, at all events."
Fred Starratt said nothing. He was not in a mood for talk. But when
they were inside the house again, with the cracked lamp shade spilling
a tempered light about the room, he turned to Storch and said,
"I sha'n't go to sleep to-night, Storch... You throw yourself on the
couch; I've kept you from it long enough."
Storch made a movement toward the door.
"Don't bother to lock it ... I'm not going to run away. I'm not quite
a fool! I know that if I did try anything like that I wouldn't get
farther than the edge of the cliff."
Storch gave him a puzzled glance. Fred could see that he was
uncertain, baffled... But in the end he turned away from the unlocked
door with a shrug.
Fred Starratt smiled with inner satisfaction. He was glad that he had
come back to give Storch that "even break." It was something of an
achievement to have compelled Storch's faith in so slight a thing as a