Part 1 out of 5
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[Illustration: Sparks fell upon the shoulders of two white-robed
figures (_page_ 9)]
THE GLOVED HAND
_A DETECTIVE STORY_
BY BURTON E. STEVENSON
Author of "The Holladay Case," "The Marathon Mystery," "The Mystery of
the Boule Cabinet," etc.
_WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY THOMAS FOGARTY_
This story was published in _The Popular Magazine_ under the title of
"The Mind Master."
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
The Marathon Mystery
The Holladay Case
That Affair at Elizabeth
Affairs of State
At Odds with the Regent
Cadets of Gascony
The Path of Honor
A Soldier of Virginia
The Quest for the Rose of Sharon
The Girl with the Blue Sailor
The Mystery of the Boule Cabinet
The Gloved Hand
I THE FALLING STAR
II A STRANGE NEIGHBOUR
III THE DRAMA IN THE GARDEN
IV ENTER FREDDIE SWAIN
V A CALL FOR HELP
VI THE SCREAM IN THE NIGHT
VII THE TRAGEDY
VIII A FRESH ENIGMA
IX FIRST STEPS
X THE WHITE PRIEST OF SIVA
XI SWAIN'S STORY
XII GUESSES AT THE RIDDLE
XIII FRANCISCO SILVA
XIV THE FINGER-PRINTS
XV THE CHAIN TIGHTENS
XVI MISS VAUGHAN'S STORY
XVII THE VERDICT
XVIII BUILDING A THEORY
XIX THE YOGI CONQUERS
XXI THE VISION IN THE CRYSTAL
XXII THE SUMMONS
XXIII DEADLY PERIL
XXV THE BLOOD-STAINED GLOVE
XXVI THE MYSTERY CLEARS
XXVII THE END OF THE CASE
SPARKS FELL UPON THE SHOULDERS OF THE TWO WHITE FIGURES (page 9)
"I'M LAWYER ENOUGH TO KNOW," HE SAID, "THAT A QUESTION LIKE THAT IS
"OH, MASTER RECEIVE ME!"
"I KNEW THAT I WAS LOST"
THE FALLING STAR
I was genuinely tired when I got back to the office, that Wednesday
afternoon, for it had been a trying day--the last of the series of
trying days which had marked the progress of the Minturn case; and my
feeling of depression was increased by the fact that our victory had
not been nearly so complete as I had hoped it would be. Besides, there
was the heat; always, during the past ten days, there had been the
heat, unprecedented for June, with the thermometer climbing higher and
higher and breaking a new record every day.
As I threw off coat and hat and dropped into the chair before my desk,
I could see the heat-waves quivering up past the open windows from the
fiery street below. I turned away and closed my eyes, and tried to
evoke a vision of white surf falling upon the beach, of tall trees
swaying in the breeze, of a brook dropping gently between green banks.
"Fountains that frisk and sprinkle
The moss they overspill;
Pools that the breezes crinkle,"...
and then I stopped, for the door had opened. I unclosed my eyes to
see the office-boy gazing at me in astonishment. He was a well-trained
boy, and recovered himself in an instant.
"Your mail, sir," he said, laid it at my elbow, and went out.
I turned to the letters with an interest the reverse of lively. The
words of Henley's ballade were still running through my head--
"Vale-lily and periwinkle;
Wet stone-crop on the sill;
The look of leaves a-twinkle
Again I stopped, for again the door opened, and again the office-boy
"Mr. Godfrey, sir," he said, and close upon the words, Jim Godfrey
entered, looking as fresh and cool and invigorating as the fountains
and brooks and pools I had been thinking of.
"How do you do it, Godfrey?" I asked, as he sat down.
"Keep so fit."
"By getting a good sleep every night. Do you?"
I groaned as I thought of the inferno I called my bedroom.
"I haven't really slept for a week," I said.
"Well, you're going to sleep to-night. That's the reason I'm here. I
saw you in court this afternoon--one glance was enough."
"Yes," I assented; "one glance would be. But what's the proposition?"
"I'm staying at a little place I've leased for the summer up on the
far edge of the Bronx. I'm going to take you up with me to-night and
I'm going to keep you there till Monday. That will give you five
nights' sleep and four days' rest. Don't you think you deserve it?"
"Yes," I agreed with conviction, "I do;" and I cast my mind rapidly
over the affairs of the office. With the Minturn case ended, there was
really no reason why I should not take a few days off.
"You'll come, then?" said Godfrey, who had been following my thoughts.
"Don't be afraid," he added, seeing that I still hesitated. "You won't
find it dull."
I looked at him, for he was smiling slightly and his eyes were very
"No," he said, "for I've discovered certain phenomena in the
neighbourhood which I think will interest you."
When Godfrey spoke in that tone, he could mean only one thing, and my
last vestige of hesitation vanished.
"All right," I said; "I'll come."
"Good. I'll call for you at the Marathon about ten-thirty. That's the
earliest I can get away," and in another moment he was gone.
So was my fatigue, and I turned with a zest to my letters and to the
arrangements necessary for a three days' absence. Then I went up to my
rooms, put a few things into a suit-case, got into fresh clothes,
mounted to the Astor roof-garden for dinner, and a little after ten
was back again at the Marathon. I had Higgins bring my luggage down,
and sat down in the entrance-porch to wait for Godfrey.
Just across the street gleamed the lights of the police-station where
he and I had had more than one adventure. For Godfrey was the
principal police reporter of the _Record_; it was to him that journal
owed those brilliant and glowing columns in which the latest mystery
was described and dissected in a way which was a joy alike to the
intellect and to the artistic instinct. For the editorial policy of
the _Record_, for its attitude toward politics, Wall Street, the
trusts, "society," I had only aversion and disgust; but whenever the
town was shaken with a great criminal mystery, I never missed an
Godfrey and I had been thrown together first in the Holladay case,
and that was the beginning of a friendship which had strengthened with
the years. Then came his brilliant work in solving the Marathon
mystery, in which I had also become involved. I had appealed to him
for help in connection with that affair at Elizabeth; and he had
cleared up the remarkable circumstances surrounding the death of my
friend, Philip Vantine, in the affair of the Boule cabinet. So I had
come to turn to him instinctively whenever I found myself confronting
one of those intricate problems which every lawyer has sometimes to
Reciprocally, Godfrey sometimes sought my assistance; but, of course,
it was only with a very few of his cases that I had any personal
connection. The others I had to be content to follow, as the general
public did, in the columns of the Record, certain that it would be the
first to reach the goal. Godfrey had a peculiar advantage over the
other police reporters in that he had himself, years before, been a
member of the detective force, and had very carefully fostered and
extended the friendships made at that time. He was looked on rather as
an insider, and he was always scrupulously careful to give the members
of the force every bit of credit they deserved--sometimes considerably
more than they deserved.
In consequence, he had the entree at times when other reporters were
It was nearly eleven o'clock before Godfrey arrived that evening, but
I was neither surprised nor impatient. I knew how many and unexpected
were the demands upon his time; and I always found a lively interest
in watching the comings and goings at the station across the
way--where, alas, the entrances far exceeded the exits! But finally, a
car swung in from the Avenue at a speed that drew my eyes, and I saw
that Godfrey was driving it.
"Jump in," he said, pushing out his clutch and pausing at the curb;
and as I grabbed my suit-case and sprang to the seat beside him, he
let the clutch in again and we were off. "No time to lose," he added,
as he changed into high, and turned up Seventh Avenue.
At the park, he turned westward to the Circle, and then northward
again out Amsterdam Avenue. There was little traffic, and we were soon
skimming along at a speed which made me watch the cross-streets
fearfully. In a few minutes we were across the Harlem and running
northward along the uninteresting streets beyond. At this moment, it
occurred to me that Godfrey was behaving singularly as though he were
hastening to keep an appointment; but I judged it best not to
distract his attention from the street before us, and restrained the
question which rose to my lips.
At last, the built-up portion of the town was left behind; we passed
little houses in little yards, then meadows and gardens and strips of
woodland, with a house only here and there. We were no longer on a
paved street, but on a macadam road--a road apparently little used,
for our lamps, sending long streamers of light ahead of us, disclosed
far empty stretches, without vehicle of any kind. There was no moon,
and the stars were half-obscured by a haze of cloud, while along the
horizon to the west, I caught the occasional glow of distant
And then the sky was suddenly blotted out, and I saw that we were
running along an avenue of lofty trees. The road at the left was
bordered by a high stone wall, evidently the boundary of an important
estate. We were soon past this, and I felt the speed of the car
"Hold tight!" said Godfrey, turned sharply through an open gateway,
and brought the car to a stop. Then, snatching out his watch, he
leaned forward and held it in the glare of the side-lamp. "Five
minutes to twelve," he said. "We can just make it. Come on, Lester."
He sprang from the car, and I followed, realising that this was no
time for questions.
"This way," he said, and held out a hand to me, or I should have lost
him in the darkness. We were in a grove of lofty trees, and at the
foot of one of these, Godfrey paused. "Up with, you," he added; "and
don't lose any time," and he placed my hand upon the rung of a ladder.
Too amazed to open my lips, I obeyed. The ladder was a long one, and,
as I went up and up, I could feel Godfrey mounting after me. I am not
expert at climbing ladders, even by daylight, and my progress was not
rapid enough to suit my companion, for he kept urging me on. But at
last, with a breath of relief, I felt that I had reached the top.
"What now?" I asked.
"Do you see that big straight limb running out to your right?"
"Yes," I said, for my eyes were growing accustomed to the darkness.
"Sit down on it, and hold on to the ladder."
I did so somewhat gingerly, and in a minute Godfrey was beside me.
"Now," he said, in a voice low and tense with excitement, "look out,
straight ahead. And remember to hold on to the ladder."
I could see the hazy mist of the open sky, and from the fitful light
along the horizon, I knew that we were looking toward the west. Below
me was a mass of confused shadows, which I took for clumps of
Then I felt Godfrey's hand close upon my arm.
"Look!" he said.
For an instant, I saw nothing; then my eyes caught what seemed to be a
new star in the heavens; a star bright, sharp, steel blue--
"Why, it's moving!" I cried.
He answered with a pressure of the fingers.
The star was indeed moving; not rising, not drifting with the breeze,
but descending, descending slowly, slowly.... I watched it with parted
lips, leaning forward, my eyes straining at that falling light.
"Falling" is not the word; nor is "drifting." It did not fall and it
did not drift. It deliberately descended, in a straight line, at a
regular speed, calmly and evenly, as though animated by some definite
purpose. Lower and lower it sank; then it seemed to pause, to hover in
the air, and the next instant it burst into a shower of sparks and
And those sparks fell upon the shoulders of two white-robed figures,
standing apparently in space, their arms rigidly extended, their faces
raised toward the heavens.
A STRANGE NEIGHBOUR
Mechanically I followed Godfrey down the ladder, and, guided by the
flaring lights, made my way back to the car. I climbed silently into
my seat, while Godfrey started the motor. Then we rolled slowly up the
driveway, and stopped before the door of a house standing deep among
"Wait for me here a minute," Godfrey said, and, when I had got out,
handed me my suit-case, and then drove the car on past the house, no
doubt to its garage.
He was soon back, opened the house-door, switched on the lights, and
waved me in.
"Here we are," he said. "I'll show you your room," and he led the way
up the stairs, opening a door in the hall at the top. "This is it," he
added, and switched on the lights here also. "The bath-room is right
at the end of the hall. Wash up, if you need to, and then come down,
and we will have a good-night smoke."
It was a pleasant room, with the simplest of furniture. The
night-breeze ruffled the curtains at the windows, and filled the room
with the cool odour of the woods--how different it was from the odour
of dirty asphalt! But I was in no mood to linger there--I wanted an
explanation of that strange light and of those two white-robed
figures. So I paused only to open my grip, change into a
lounging-coat, and brush off the dust of the journey. Then I hastened
Godfrey met me at the stair-foot, and led the way into what was
evidently a lounging-room. A tray containing some cold meat, bread and
butter, cheese, and a few other things, stood on a side-table, and to
this Godfrey added two bottles of Bass.
"No doubt you're hungry after the ride," he said. "I know I am," and
he opened the bottles. "Help yourself," and he proceeded to make
himself a sandwich. "You see, I live the simple life out here. I've
got an old couple to look after the place--Mr. and Mrs. Hargis. Mrs.
Hargis is an excellent cook--but to ask her to stay awake till
midnight would be fiendish cruelty. So she leaves me a lunch in the
ice-box, and goes quietly off to bed. I'll give you some berries for
breakfast such as you don't often get in New York--and the cream--wait
till you try it! Have a cigar?"
"No," I said, sitting down very content with the world, "I've got my
pipe," and I proceeded to fill up.
Godfrey took down his own pipe from the mantelshelf and sat down
opposite me. A moment later, two puffs of smoke circled toward the
"Now," I said, looking at him, "go ahead and tell me about it."
Godfrey watched a smoke-ring whirl and break before he answered.
"About ten days ago," he began, "just at midnight, I happened to
glance out of my bedroom window, as I was turning in, and caught a
glimpse of a queer light apparently sinking into the tree-tops. I
thought nothing of it; but two nights later, at exactly the same time,
I saw it again. I watched for it the next night, and again saw
it--just for an instant, you understand, as it formed high in the air
and started downward. The next night I was up a tree and saw more of
it; but it was not until night before last that I found the place from
which the whole spectacle could be seen. The trees are pretty thick
all around here, and I doubt if there is any other place from which
those two figures would be visible."
"Then there _were_ two figures!" I said, for I had begun to think that
my eyes had deceived me.
"There certainly were."
"Standing in space?"
"Oh, no; standing on a very substantial roof."
"But what is it all about?" I questioned. "Why should that light
descend every midnight? What _is_ the light, anyway?"
"That's what I've brought you out here to find out. You've got four
clear days ahead of you--and I'll be at your disposal from midnight
on, if you happen to need me."
"But you must have some sort of idea about it," I persisted. "At least
you know whose roof those figures were standing on."
"Yes, I know that. The roof belongs to a man named Worthington
Vaughan. Ever hear of him?"
I shook my head.
"Neither had I," said Godfrey, "up to the time I took this place. Even
yet, I don't know very much. He's the last of an old family, who made
their money in real estate, and are supposed to have kept most of it.
He's a widower with one daughter. His wife died about ten years ago,
and since then he has been a sort of recluse, and has the reputation
of being queer. He has been abroad a good deal, and it is only during
the last year that he has lived continuously at this place next door,
which is called Elmhurst. That's about all I've been able to find out.
He certainly lives a retired life, for his place has a twelve-foot
wall around it, and no visitors need apply."
"How do you know?"
"I tried to make a neighbourly call yesterday, and wasn't admitted.
Mr. Vaughan was engaged. Getting ready for his regular midnight
I took a meditative puff or two.
"_Is_ it hocus-pocus, Godfrey?" I asked, at last. "If it is, it's a
mighty artistic piece of work."
"And if it isn't hocus-pocus, what is it?" Godfrey retorted. "A
I confess I had no answer ready. Ideas which seem reasonable enough
when put dimly to oneself, become absurd sometimes when definitely
clothed with words.
"There are just two possibilities," Godfrey went on. "Either it's
hocus-pocus, or it isn't. If it is, it is done for some purpose. Two
men don't go out on a roof every night at midnight and fire off a
Roman candle and wave their arms around, just for the fun of the
"It wasn't a Roman candle," I pointed out. "A Roman candle is visible
when it's going up, and bursts and vanishes at the top of its flight.
That light didn't behave that way at all. It formed high in the air,
remained there stationary for a moment, gradually grew brighter, and
then started to descend. It didn't fall, it came down slowly, and at
an even rate of speed. And it didn't drift away before the breeze, as
it would have done if it had been merely floating in the air. It
descended in a straight line. It gave me the impression of moving as
though a will actuated it--as though it had a distinct purpose. There
was something uncanny about it!"
Godfrey nodded thoughtful agreement.
"I have felt that," he said, "and I admit that the behaviour of the
light is extraordinary. But that doesn't prove it supernatural. I
don't believe in the supernatural. Especially I don't believe that any
two mortals could arrange with the heavenly powers to make a
demonstration like that every night at midnight for their benefit.
That's _too_ absurd!"
"It is absurd," I assented, "and yet it isn't much more absurd than to
suppose that two men would go out on the roof every night to watch a
Roman candle, as you call it, come down. Unless, of course, they're
"No," said Godfrey, "I don't believe they're lunatics--at least, not
both of them. I have a sort of theory about it; but it's a pretty thin
one, and I want you to do a little investigating on your own account
before I tell you what it is. It's time we went to bed. Don't get up
in the morning till you're ready to. Probably I'll not see you till
night; I have some work to do that will take me off early. But Mrs.
Hargis will make you comfortable, and I'll be back in time to join you
in another look at the Roman candle!"
He uttered the last words jestingly, but I could see that the jest was
a surface one, and that, at heart, he was deeply serious. Evidently,
the strange star had impressed him even more than it had me--though
perhaps in a different manner.
I found that it had impressed me deeply enough, for I dreamed about it
that night--dreamed, and woke, only to fall asleep and dream and wake
again. I do not remember that I saw any more in the dream than I had
seen with my waking eyes, but each time I awoke trembling with
apprehension and bathed in perspiration. As I lay there the second
time, staring up into the darkness and telling myself I was a fool,
there came a sudden rush of wind among the trees outside; then a vivid
flash of lightning and an instant rending crash of thunder, and then a
steady downpour of rain. I could guess how the gasping city welcomed
it, and I lay for a long time listening to it, as it dripped from the
leaves and beat against the house. A delightful coolness filled the
room, an odour fresh and clean; and when, at last, with nerves
quieted, I fell asleep again, it was not to awaken until the sun was
bright against my curtains.
THE DRAMA IN THE GARDEN
I glanced at my watch, as soon as I was out of bed, and saw that it
was after ten o'clock. All the sleep I had lost during the hot nights
of the previous week had been crowded into the last nine hours; I felt
like a new man, and when, half an hour later, I ran downstairs, it was
with such an appetite for breakfast as I had not known for a long
There was no one in the hall, and I stepped out through the open door
to the porch beyond, and stood looking about me. The house was built
in the midst of a grove of beautiful old trees, some distance back
from the road, of which I could catch only a glimpse. It was a small
house, a story and a half in height, evidently designed only as a
"Good morning, sir," said a voice behind me, and I turned to find a
pleasant-faced, grey-haired woman standing in the doorway.
"Good morning," I responded. "I suppose you are Mrs. Hargis?"
"Yes, sir; and your breakfast's ready."
"Has Mr. Godfrey gone?"
"Yes, sir; he left about an hour ago. He was afraid his machine would
"It didn't," I said, as I followed her back along the hall. "Nothing
short of an earthquake would have wakened me. Ah, this is fine!"
She had shown me into a pleasant room, where a little table was set
near an open window. It made quite a picture, with its white cloth and
shining dishes and plate of yellow butter, and bowl of crimson
berries, and--but I didn't linger to admire it. I don't know when I
have enjoyed breakfast so much. Mrs. Hargis, after bringing in the
eggs and bacon and setting a little pot of steaming coffee at my
elbow, sensibly left me alone to the enjoyment of it. Ever since that
morning, I have realised that, to start the day exactly right, a man
should breakfast by himself, amid just such surroundings, leisurely
and without distraction. A copy of the morning's _Record_ was lying on
the table, but I did not even open it. I did not care what had
happened in the world the day before!
At last, ineffably content, I stepped out upon the driveway at the
side of the house, and strolled away among the trees. At the end of a
few minutes, I came to the high stone wall which bounded the estate
of the mysterious Worthington Vaughan, and suddenly the wish came to
me to see what lay behind it. Without much difficulty, I found the
tree with the ladder against it, which we had mounted the night
before. It was a long ladder, even in the daytime, but at last I
reached the top, and settled myself on the limb against which it
rested. Assuring myself that the leaves hid me from any chance
observer, I looked down into the grounds beyond the wall.
There was not much to see. The grounds were extensive and had
evidently been laid out with care, but there was an air of neglect
about them, as though the attention they received was careless and
inadequate. The shrubbery was too dense, grass was invading the walks,
here and there a tree showed a dead limb or a broken one. Near the
house was a wide lawn, designed, perhaps, as a tennis-court or
croquet-ground, with rustic seats under the trees at the edge.
About the house itself was a screen of magnificent elms, which
doubtless gave the place its name, and which shut the house in
completely. All I could see of it was one corner of the roof. This,
however, stood out clear against the sky, and it was here, evidently,
that the mysterious midnight figures had been stationed. As I looked
at it, I realised the truth of Godfrey's remark that probably from no
other point of vantage but just this would they be visible.
It did not take me many minutes to exhaust the interest of this empty
prospect, more especially since my perch was anything but comfortable,
and I was just about to descend, when two white-robed figures appeared
at the edge of the open space near the house and walked slowly across
it. I settled back into my place with a tightening of interest which
made me forget its discomfort, for that these were the two
star-worshippers I did not doubt.
The distance was so great that their faces were the merest blurs; but
I could see that one leaned heavily upon the arm of the other, as
much, or so it seemed to me, for moral as for physical support. I
could see, too, that the hair of the feebler man was white, while that
of his companion was jet black. The younger man's face appeared so
dark that I suspected he wore a beard, and his figure was erect and
vigorous, in the prime of life, virile and full of power.
He certainly dominated the older man. I watched them attentively, as
they paced back and forth, and the dependence of the one upon the
other was very manifest. Both heads were bent as though in earnest
talk, and for perhaps half an hour they walked slowly up and down.
Then, at a sign of fatigue from the older figure, the other led him
to a garden-bench, where both sat down.
The elder man, I told myself, was no doubt Worthington Vaughan. Small
wonder he was considered queer if he dressed habitually in a white
robe and worshipped the stars at midnight! There was something monkish
about the habits which he and his companion wore, and the thought
flashed into my mind that perhaps they were members of some religious
order, or some Oriental cult or priesthood. And both of them, I added
to myself, must be a little mad!
As I watched, the discussion gradually grew more animated, and the
younger man, springing to his feet, paced excitedly up and down,
touching his forehead with his fingers from time to time, and raising
his hands to heaven, as though calling it as a witness to his words.
At last the other made a sign of assent, got to his feet, bent his
head reverently as to a spiritual superior and walked slowly away
toward the house. The younger man stood gazing after him until he
passed from sight, then resumed his rapid pacing up and down,
evidently deeply moved.
At last from the direction of the house came the flutter of a white
robe. For a moment, I thought it was the old man returning; then as it
emerged fully from among the trees, I saw that it was a woman--a
young woman, I guessed, from her slimness, and from the mass of dark
hair which framed her face. And then I remembered that Godfrey had
told me that Worthington Vaughan had a daughter.
The man was at her side in an instant, held out his hand, and said
something, which caused her to shrink away. She half-turned, as though
to flee, but the other laid his hand upon her arm, speaking earnestly,
and, after a moment, she permitted him to lead her to a seat. He
remained standing before her, sometimes raising his hands to heaven,
sometimes pointing toward the house, sometimes bending close above
her, and from time to time making that peculiar gesture of touching
his fingers to his forehead, whose meaning I could not guess. But I
could guess at the torrent of passionate words which poured from his
lips, and at the eager light which was in his eyes!
The woman sat quite still, with bowed head, listening, but making no
sign either of consent or refusal. Gradually, the man grew more
confident, and at last stooped to take her hand, but she drew it
quickly away, and, raising her head, said something slowly and with
emphasis. He shook his head savagely, then, after a rapid turn up and
down, seemed to agree, bowed low to her, and went rapidly away toward
the house. The woman sat for some time where he had left her, her face
in her hands; then, with a gesture of weariness and discouragement,
crossed the lawn and disappeared among the trees.
For a long time I sat there motionless, my eyes on the spot where she
had disappeared, trying to understand. What was the meaning of the
scene? What was it the younger man had urged so passionately upon her,
but at which she had rebelled? What was it for which he had pled so
earnestly? The obvious answer was that he pled for her love, that he
had urged her to become his wife; but the answer did not satisfy me.
His attitude had been passionate enough, but it had scarcely been
lover-like. It had more of admonition, of warning, even of threat,
than of entreaty in it. It was not the attitude of a lover to his
mistress, but of a master to his pupil.
And what had been the answer, wrung from her finally by his
insistence--the answer to which he had at first violently dissented,
and then reluctantly agreed?
No doubt, if these people had been garbed in the clothes of every day,
I should have felt at the outset that all this was none of my
business, and have crept down the ladder and gone away. But their
strange dress gave to the scene an air at once unreal and theatrical,
and not for an instant had I felt myself an intruder. It was as though
I were looking at the rehearsal of a drama designed for the public
gaze and enacted upon a stage; or, more properly, a pantomime, dim and
figurative, but most impressive. Might it not, indeed, be a rehearsal
of some sort--private theatricals--make-believe? But that scene at
midnight--that could not be make-believe! No, nor was this scene in
the garden. It was in earnest--in deadliest earnest; there was about
it something sinister and threatening; and it was the realisation of
this--the realisation that there was something here not right,
something demanding scrutiny--which kept me chained to my
uncomfortable perch, minute after minute.
But nothing further happened, and I realised, at last, that if I was
to escape an agonising cramp in the leg, I must get down. I put my
feet on the ladder, and then paused for a last look about the grounds.
My eye was caught by a flutter of white among the trees. Someone was
walking along one of the paths; in a moment, straining forward, I saw
it was the woman, and that she was approaching the wall.
And then, as she came nearer, I saw that she was not a woman at all,
but a girl--a girl of eighteen or twenty, to whom the flowing robes
gave, at a distance, the effect of age. I caught only a glimpse of
her face before it was hidden by a clump of shrubbery, but that
glimpse told me that it was a face to set the pulses leaping. I
strained still farther forward, waiting until she should come into
Along the path she came, with the sunlight about her, kissing her
hair, her lips, her cheeks--and the next instant her eyes were staring
upwards into mine.
I could not move. I could only stare down at her. I saw the hot colour
sweep across her face; I saw her hand go to her bosom; I saw her turn
to flee. Then, to my amazement, she stopped, as though arrested by a
sudden thought, turned toward me again, and raised her eyes
deliberately to mine.
For fully a minute she stood there, her gaze searching and intent, as
though she would read my soul; then her face hardened with sudden
resolution. Again she put her hand to her bosom, turned hastily toward
the wall, and disappeared behind it.
The next instant, something white came flying over it, and fell on the
grass beneath my tree. Staring down at it, I saw it was a letter.
ENTER FREDDIE SWAIN
I fell, rather than climbed, down the ladder, snatched the white
missile from the grass, and saw that it was, indeed, a sealed and
addressed envelope. I had somehow expected that address to include
either Godfrey's name or mine; but it did neither. The envelope bore
Mr. Frederic Swain,
1010 Fifth Avenue,
New York City.
If not at this address,
please try the Calumet Club.
I sat down on the lowest rung of the ladder, whistling softly to
myself. For Freddie Swain's address was no longer 1010 Fifth Avenue,
nor was he to be found in the luxurious rooms of the Calumet Club. In
fact, it was nearly a year since he had entered either place. For some
eight hours of every week-day, he laboured in the law offices of Royce
& Lester; he slept in a little room on the top floor of the Marathon;
three hours of every evening, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays
excepted, were spent at the law school of the University of New York;
and the remaining hours of the twenty-four in haunts much less
conspicuous and expensive than the Calumet Club.
For Freddie Swain had taken one of these toboggan slides down the hill
of fortune which sometimes happen to the most deserving. His father,
old General Orlando Swain, had, all his life, put up a pompous front
and was supposed to have inherited a fortune from somewhere; but, when
he died, this edifice was found to be all facade and no foundation,
and Freddie inherited nothing but debts. He had been expensively
educated for a career as an Ornament of Society, but he found that
career cut short, for Society suddenly ceased to find him ornamental.
I suppose there were too many marriageable daughters about!
I am bound to say that he took the blow well. Instead of attempting to
cling to the skirts of Society as a vendor of champagne or an
organiser of fetes champetres, he--to use his own words--decided to
cut the whole show.
Our firm had been named as the administrators of the Swain estate, and
when the storm was over and we were sitting among the ruins, Freddie
expressed the intention of going to work.
"What will you do?" Mr. Royce inquired. "Ever had any training in
"No, only in spending it," retorted Freddie, easily. "But I can
learn. I was thinking of studying law. That's a good trade, isn't it?"
"Splendid!" assented Mr. Royce, warmly. "And there are always so many
openings. You see, nobody studies law--lawyers are as scarce as hen's
"Just the same, I think I'll have a try at it," said Freddie,
sturdily. "There's always room at the top, you know," he added, with a
grin. "I can go to the night-school at the University, and I ought to
be able to earn enough to live on, as a clerk or something. I know how
to read and write."
"That will help, of course," agreed Mr. Royce. "But I'm afraid that,
right at first, anyway, you can scarcely hope to live in the style to
which you have been accustomed."
Freddie turned on him with fire in his eyes.
"Look here," he said, "suppose you give me a job. I'll do my work and
earn my wages--try me and see."
There was something in his face that touched me, and I glanced at Mr.
Royce. I saw that his gruffness was merely a mantle to cloak his real
feelings; and the result was that Freddie Swain was set to work as a
copying-clerk at a salary of fifteen dollars a week. He applied
himself to his work with an energy that surprised me, and I learned
that he was taking the night-course at the University, as he had
planned. Finally, one night, I met him as I was turning in to my rooms
at the Marathon, and found that he had rented a cubby-hole on the top
floor of the building. After that, I saw him occasionally, and when
six months had passed, was forced to acknowledge that he was
thoroughly in earnest. I happened to remark to Mr. Royce one day that
Swain seemed to be making good.
"Yes," my partner agreed; "I didn't think he had it in him. He had a
rude awakening from his dream of affluence, and it seems to have done
But, somehow, I had fancied that it was from more than a dream of
affluence he had been awakened; and now, as I sat staring at this
letter, I began to understand dimly what the other dream had been.
The first thing was to get the letter into his hands, for I was
certain that it was a cry for help. I glanced at my watch and saw that
it was nearly half past twelve. Swain, I knew, would be at lunch, and
was not due at the office until one o'clock. Slipping the letter into
my pocket, I turned back to the house, and found Mrs. Hargis standing
on the front porch.
"I declare, I thought you was lost, Mr. Lester," she said. "I was
just going to send William to look for you. Ain't you 'most starved?"
"Scarcely starved, Mrs. Hargis," I said, "but with a very creditable
appetite, when you consider that I ate breakfast only two hours ago."
"Well, come right in," she said. "Your lunch is ready."
"I suppose there's a telephone somewhere about?" I asked, as I
followed her through the hall.
"Yes, sir, in here," and she opened the door into a little room fitted
up as a study. "It's here Mr. Godfrey works sometimes."
"Thank you," I said, "I've got to call up the office. I won't be but a
I found Godfrey's number stamped on the cover of the telephone book,
and then called the office. As I had guessed, Swain was not yet back
from lunch, and I left word for him to call me as soon as he came in.
Then I made my way to the dining-room, where Mrs. Hargis was awaiting
"How does one get out here from New York, Mrs. Hargis?" I asked, as I
sat down. "That is, if one doesn't happen to own a motor car?"
"Why, very easily, sir. Take the Third Avenue elevated to the end of
the line, and then the trolley. It runs along Dryden Road, just two
"Where does one get off?"
"At Prospect Street, sir."
"And what is this place called?"
"This is the old Bennett place, sir."
"Thank you. And let me tell you, Mrs. Hargis," I added, "that I have
never tasted a better salad."
Her kindly old face flushed with pleasure.
"It's nice of you to say that, sir," she said. "We have our own
garden, and William takes a great pride in it."
"I must go and see it," I said. "I've always fancied I'd like to
potter around in a garden. I must see if Mr. Godfrey won't let me in
"He spends an hour in it every morning. Sometimes he can hardly tear
himself away. I certainly do like Mr. Godfrey."
"So do I," I agreed heartily. "He's a splendid fellow--one of the
nicest, squarest men I ever met--and a friend worth having."
"He's all of that, sir," she agreed, and stood for a moment, clasping
and unclasping her hands nervously, as though there was something else
she wished to say. But she evidently thought better of it. "There's
the bell, sir," she added. "Please ring if there's anything else you
want," and she left me to myself.
I had pushed back my chair and was filling my pipe when the telephone
rang. It was Swain.
"Swain," I said, "this is Mr. Lester. I'm at a place up here in the
Bronx, and I want you to come up right away."
"Very good, sir," said Swain. "How do I get there?"
"Take the Third Avenue elevated to the end of the line, and then the
trolley which runs along Dryden Road. Get off at Prospect Street, walk
two blocks west and ask for the old Bennett place. I'll have an eye
out for you."
"All right, sir," said Swain, again. "Do you want me to bring some
papers, or anything?"
"No; just come as quickly as you can," I answered, and hung up.
I figured that, even at the best, it would take Swain an hour and a
half to make the journey, and I strolled out under the trees again.
Then the thought came to me that I might as well make a little
exploration of the neighbourhood, and I sauntered out to the road.
Along it for some distance ran the high wall which bounded Elmhurst,
and I saw that the wall had been further fortified by ugly pieces of
broken glass set in cement along its top.
I could see a break in the wall, about midway of its length, and,
walking past, discovered that this was where the gates were set--heavy
gates of wrought iron, very tall, and surmounted by sharp spikes. The
whole length of the wall was, I judged, considerably over a city
block, but there was no other opening in it.
At the farther end, it was bounded by a crossroad, and, turning along
this, I found that the wall extended nearly the same distance in this
direction. There was an opening about midway--a small opening, closed
by a heavy, iron-banded door--the servants' entrance, I told myself.
The grounds of a row of houses facing the road beyond ran up to the
wall at the back, and I could not follow it without attracting notice,
but I could see that there was no break in it. I was almost certain
that the wall which closed the estate on Godfrey's side was also
unbroken. There were, then, only the two entrances.
I walked back again to the front, and paused for a glance through the
gates. But there was nothing to be seen. The driveway parted and
curved away out of sight in either direction, and a dense mass of
shrubbery opposite the gate shut off any view of the grounds. Even of
the house, there was nothing to be seen except the chimneys and one
gable. Evidently, Mr. Vaughan was fond of privacy, and had spared no
pains to secure it.
Opposite the Vaughan place, a strip of woodland ran back from the
road. It was dense with undergrowth, and, I reflected, would form an
admirable hiding-place. The road itself seemed little travelled, and I
judged that the main artery of traffic was the road along which the
trolley ran, two blocks away.
I returned to my starting point, and assured myself that the wall on
that side was indeed without a break. Some vines had started up it
here and there, but, for the most part, it loomed grey and bleak,
crowned along its whole length by that threatening line of broken
glass. I judged it to be twelve feet high, so that, even without the
glass, it would be impossible for anyone to get over it without
assistance. As I stood there looking at it, resenting the threat of
that broken glass, and pondering the infirmity of character which such
a threat revealed, it suddenly struck me that the upper part of the
wall differed slightly from the lower part. It was a little lighter in
colour, a little newer in appearance; and, examining the wall more
closely, I discovered that originally it had been only eight or nine
feet high, and that the upper part had been added at a later date--and
last of all, of course, the broken glass!
As I turned back, at last, toward the house, I saw someone coming up
the drive. In a moment, I recognised Swain, and quickened my steps.
"You made good time," I said.
"Yes, sir; I was fortunate in catching an express and not having to
wait for the trolley."
"We'd better go into the house," I added. "I have a message for you--a
He glanced at me quickly, but followed silently, as I led the way into
Godfrey's study and carefully closed the door.
"Sit down," I said, and I sat down myself and looked at him.
I had always thought Swain a handsome, thoroughbred-looking fellow;
and I saw that, in the past few months, he had grown more
thoroughbred-looking than ever. His face was thinner than when he had
first gone to work for us, there was a new line between his eyebrows,
and the set of his lips told of battles fought and won. A year ago, it
had seemed natural to call him Freddie, but no one would think of
doing so now. His father's creditors had not attempted to take from
him his wardrobe--a costly and extensive one--so that he was dressed
as carefully, if not quite as fashionably, as ever, in a way that
suggested a young millionaire, rather than a fifteen-dollar-a-week
clerk. At this moment, his face was clouded, and he drummed the arm of
his chair with nervous fingers. Then he shifted uneasily under my
gaze, which was, perhaps, more earnest than I realised.
"You said you had a message for me, sir," he reminded me.
"Yes," I said. "Have you ever been out this way before?"
"Yes, I have been out this way a number of times."
"You know this place, then?"
"I have heard it mentioned, but I have never been here before."
"Do you know whose place that is next door to us?"
"Yes," and his voice sank to a lower key. "It belongs to Worthington
"And you know him?"
"At one time, I knew him quite well, sir," and his voice was still
"No doubt," I went on, more and more interested, "you also knew his
very fascinating daughter."
A wave of colour crimsoned his face.
"Why are you asking me these questions, Mr. Lester?" he demanded.
"Because," I said, "the message I have is from that young lady, and
is for a man named Frederic Swain."
He was on his feet, staring at me, and all the blood was gone from his
"A message!" he cried. "From her! From Marjorie! What is it, Mr.
Lester? For God's sake...."
"Here it is," I said, and handed him the letter.
He seized it, took one look at the address, then turned away to the
window and ripped the envelope open. He unfolded the sheet of paper it
contained, and as his eyes ran along it, his face grew whiter still.
At last he raised his eyes and stared at me with the look of a man who
felt the world tottering about him.
A CALL FOR HELP
"For heaven's sake, Swain," I said, "sit down and pull yourself
But he did not seem to hear me. Instead he read the letter through
again, then he turned toward me.
"How did you get this, Mr. Lester?" he asked.
"I found it lying under the trees. It had been thrown over the wall."
"But how did you know it was thrown over by Miss Vaughan?"
"That was an easy guess," I said, sparring feebly. "Who else would
attempt to conduct a surreptitious correspondence with a handsome
But he did not smile; the look of intensity in his eyes deepened.
"Come, Mr. Lester," he protested, "don't play with me. I have a right
to know the truth."
"What right?" I queried.
He paused an instant, as though nerving himself to speak, as though
asking himself how much he should tell me. Then he came toward me
"Miss Vaughan and I are engaged to be married," he said. "Some persons
may tell you that the engagement has been broken off; more than once,
I have offered to release her, but she refuses to be released. We love
The word "love" is a difficult one for us Anglo-Saxons to pronounce;
the voice in which Swain uttered it brought me to my feet, with
"If there's anything I can do for you, my boy," I said, "tell me."
"Thank you, Mr. Lester," and he returned my clasp. "You have done a
great deal already in giving me this letter so promptly. The only
other thing you can do is to permit me to stay here until to-night."
"Miss Vaughan asks me to meet her to-night."
"In her father's grounds?"
"Unknown to him?"
"He is not friendly to you?"
I had a little struggle with myself.
"See here, Swain," I said, "sit down and let us talk this thing over
calmly. Before I promise anything, I should like to know more of the
story. From the glimpse I caught of Miss Vaughan, I could see that she
is very beautiful, and she also seemed to me to be very young."
"She is nineteen," said Swain.
"Her father is wealthy, I suppose?"
"And her mother is dead?"
"Well," I began, and hesitated, fearing to wound him.
"I know what you are thinking," Swain burst in, "and I do not blame
you. You are thinking that she is a young, beautiful and wealthy girl,
while I am a poverty-stricken nonentity, without any profession, and
able to earn just enough to live on--perhaps I couldn't do even that,
if I had to buy my clothes! You are thinking that her father is right
to separate us, and that she ought to be protected from me. Isn't that
"Yes," I admitted, "something like that."
"And I answer, Mr. Lester, by saying that all that is true, that I am
not worthy of her, and that nobody knows it better than I do. There
are thousands of men who could offer her far more than I can, and who
would be eager to offer it. But when I asked her to marry me, I
thought myself the son of a wealthy man. When I found myself a
pauper, I wrote at once to release her. She replied that when she
wished her release, she would ask for it; that it wasn't my money she
was in love with. Then I came out here and had a talk with her father.
He was kind enough, but pointed out that the affair could not go
further until I had established myself. I agreed, of course; I agreed,
too, when he suggested that it would only be fair to her to leave her
free--not to see her or write to her, or try to influence her in any
way. I wanted to be fair to her. Since then, I have not seen her, nor
heard from her. But her father's feelings have changed toward me."
"In what way?"
"I thought he might be interested to know what I was doing, and two or
three months ago, I called and asked to see him. Instead of seeing me,
he sent word by a black-faced fellow in a white robe that neither he
nor his daughter wished to see me again."
His face was red with the remembered humiliation.
"I wrote to Miss Vaughan once, after that," he added, "but my letter
was not answered."
"Evidently she didn't get your letter."
"Why do you think so?"
"If she had got it, she would have known that you were no longer at
1010 Fifth Avenue. Her father, no doubt, kept it from her."
He flushed still more deeply, and started to say something, but I held
"He was justified in keeping it," I said. "You had promised not to
write to her. And I don't see that you have given me any reason why I
should assist you against him."
"I haven't," Swain admitted more calmly, "and under ordinary
circumstances, my self-respect would compel me to keep away. I am not
a fortune-hunter. But I can't keep away; I can't stand on my dignity.
When she calls for aid, I _must_ go to her, not for my own sake but
for hers, because she needs to be protected from her father far more
than from me."
"What do you mean by that?" I demanded.
"Mr. Lester," he said, leaning forward in his chair and speaking in a
lowered voice and with great earnestness, "her father is mad--I am
sure of it. No one but a madman would live and dress as he does; no
one but a madman would devote his whole time to the study of the
supernatural; no one but a madman would believe in the supernatural as
But I shook my head.
"I'm afraid that won't do, Swain. A good many fairly sane people
believe in the supernatural and devote themselves to its study--there
is William James, for instance."
"But William James doesn't dress in flowing robes, and worship the
sun, and live with a Hindu mystic."
"No," I smiled, "he doesn't do that," and I thought again of the
mysterious light and of the two white-clad figures. "Does he live with
a Hindu mystic?"
"Yes," said Swain, bitterly. "An adept, or whatever they call it. He's
the fellow who kicked me out."
"Does he speak English?"
"Better than I do. He seems a finely-educated man."
"Is he a lunatic, too?"
"I don't know," he said, finally. "I only saw him once, and I was
certainly impressed--I wasn't one, two, three with him. I suppose
mysticism comes more or less natural to a Hindu; but I'm convinced
that Mr. Vaughan has softening of the brain."
"How old is he?"
"Has he always been queer?"
"He has always been interested in telepathy and mental suggestion,
and all that sort of thing. But before his wife's death, he was fairly
normal. It was her death that started him on this supernatural
business. He hasn't thought of anything else since."
"Are there any relatives who could be asked to interfere?"
"None that I know of."
I thought over what he had told me.
"Well," I said at last, "I can see no harm in your meeting Miss
Vaughan and finding out what the condition of affairs really is. If
her father is really mad, he may be a good deal worse now than he was
when you saw him last. It would, of course, be possible to have his
sanity tested--but his daughter would scarcely wish to do that."
"No, of course not," Swain agreed.
"Her letter tells you nothing?"
"Nothing except that she is in great trouble, and wishes to see me at
"You are to go to the house?"
"No; there is an arbour in one corner of the grounds. She says that
she will be there at eleven-thirty every night for three nights. After
that, she says it will be no use for me to come--that it will be too
"What does she mean by 'too late'?"
"I have no idea," he answered, and turned to another anxious perusal
of the letter.
I turned the situation over in my mind. Evidently Miss Vaughan
believed that she had grave cause for alarm, and yet it was quite
possible she might be mistaken. She was being urged to consent to
something against her will, but perhaps it was for her own good. In
any event, I had seen no indication that her consent was being sought
by violence. There must be no interference on our part until we were
surer of our ground.
"Well, Swain," I said, at last, "I will help you on one condition."
"What is that?"
"You will meet Miss Vaughan to-night and hear her story, but you will
take no action until you and I have talked the matter over. She,
herself, says that she has three days," I went on, as he started to
protest, "so there is no necessity for leaping in the dark. And I
would point out to you that she is not yet of age, but is still under
her father's control."
"She is nineteen," he protested.
"In this state, the legal age for women, as for men, is twenty-one.
The law requires a very serious reason for interfering between a child
and its father. Moreover," I added, "she must not be compromised. If
you persuade her to accompany you to-night, where would you take her?
In no case, will I be a party to an elopement--I will do all I can to
He took a short turn up and down the room, his hands clenched behind
"Mr. Lester," he said, at last, stopping before me, "I want you to
believe that I have not even thought of an elopement--that would be
too base, too unfair to her. But I see that you are right. She must
not be compromised."
"And you promise to ask my advice?"
"Suppose I make such a promise, what then?"
"If you make such a promise, and I agree with you as to the necessity
for Miss Vaughan to leave her father, I think I can arrange for her to
stay with Mr. and Mrs. Royce for a time. There she will be safe.
Should legal proceedings become necessary, our firm will help you. I
want to help you, Swain," I added, warmly, "but I must be convinced
that you deserve help. That's reasonable, isn't it?"
"Yes," he agreed, and held out his hand. "And I promise."
"Good. And now for the arrangements."
Two twelve-foot ladders were necessary, one for either side of the
wall; but, beyond a short step-ladder, the place possessed none except
the long one by which Godfrey and I had mounted into the tree. Swain
suggested that this might do for one, but I felt that it would better
stay where it was, and sent Hargis over to Yonkers to buy two new
ones, instructing him to bring them back with him.
Then Swain and I reconnoitred the wall, and chose for the crossing a
spot where the glass escarpment seemed a little less formidable than
"You can step from one ladder to the other," I pointed out, "without
touching the top of the wall. A mere touch would be dangerous in the
He nodded his agreement, and finally we went back to the house.
Getting there, we found suddenly that we had nothing more to say.
Swain was soon deep in his own thoughts; and, I must confess, that,
after the first excitement, I began to find the affair a little
wearying. Another man's love-affair is usually wearying; and, besides
that, the glimpse which I had caught of Marjorie Vaughan made me think
that she was worthy of a bigger fish than Swain would ever be. He was
right in saying that there were thousands of men who had more to give
her, and who would be eager to give.
I examined Swain, as he sat there staring at nothing, with eyes not
wholly friendly. He was handsome enough, but in a stereotyped way. And
he was only an insignificant clerk, with small prospect of ever being
anything much better, for he had started the battle of life too late.
Honest, of course, honourable, clean-hearted, but commonplace, with a
depth of soul easily fathomed. I know now that I was unjust to Swain,
but, at the moment, my scrutiny of him left me strangely depressed.
A rattle of wheels on the drive brought us both out of our thoughts.
It was Hargis returning with the ladders. I had him hang them up
against the shed where he kept his gardening implements, for I did not
wish him to suspect the invasion we had planned; then, just to kill
time and get away from Swain, I spent an hour with Hargis in his
garden; and finally came the summons to dinner. An hour later, as we
sat on the front porch smoking, and still finding little or nothing to
say, Mrs. Hargis came out to bid us good-night.
"Mr. Swain can use the bedroom next to yours, Mr. Lester," she said.
"Perhaps he won't stay all night," I said. "If he does, I'll show him
the way to it. And thank you very much, Mrs. Hargis."
"Is there anything else I can do, sir?"
"No, thank you."
"Mr. Godfrey will be here a little before midnight--at least, that's
his usual time."
"We'll wait up for him," I said. "Good night, Mrs. Hargis."
"Good night, sir," and she went back into the house.
I have never passed through a longer or more trying hour than the next
one was, and I could tell by the way Swain twitched about in his chair
that he felt the tedium as much as I. Once or twice I tried to start a
conversation, but it soon trickled dry; and we ended by smoking away
moodily and staring out into the darkness.
At last Swain sprang to his feet.
"I can't stand this any longer," he said. "I'm going over the wall."
I struck a match and looked at my watch.
"It isn't eleven o'clock yet," I warned him.
"I don't care. Perhaps she'll be ahead of time. Anyway, I might as
well wait there as here."
"Come on, then," I agreed, for I felt myself that another such hour
would be unendurable.
Together we made our way back to the shed and took down the ladders. A
moment later, we were at the wall. Swain placed his ladder against it,
and mounted quickly to the top. As he paused there, I handed him up
the other one. He caught it from my hands, lifted it over the wall,
and lowered it carefully on the other side. As he did so, I heard him
give a muffled exclamation of mingled pain and annoyance, and knew
that he had cut himself.
"Not bad, is it?" I asked.
"No; only a scratch on the wrist," he answered shortly, and the next
instant he had swung himself over the wall and disappeared.
THE SCREAM IN THE NIGHT
For some moments, I stood staring up into the darkness, half-expecting
that shadowy figure to reappear, descend the ladder, and rejoin me.
Then I shook myself together. The fact that our plot was really
moving, that Swain was in the enemy's country, so to speak, gave the
affair a finality which it had lacked before. It was too late now to
hesitate or turn back; we must press forward. I felt as though, after
a long period of uncertainty, war had been declared and the advance
definitely begun. So it was with a certain sense of relief that I
turned away, walked slowly back to the house, and sat down again upon
the porch to wait.
Now waiting is seldom a pleasant or an easy thing, and I found it that
night most unpleasant and uneasy. For, before long, doubts began to
crowd upon me--doubts of the wisdom of the course I had subscribed to.
It would have been wiser, I told myself, if it had been I, and not
Swain, who had gone to the rendezvous; wiser still, perhaps, to have
sought an interview openly, and to have made sure of the facts before
seeming to encourage what might easily prove to be a girl's more or
less romantic illusions. A midnight interview savoured too much of
melodrama to appeal to a middle-aged lawyer like myself, however great
its appeal might be to youthful lovers. At any rate, I would be
certain that the need was very great before I consented to meddle
Somewhat comforted by this resolution and by the thought that no real
harm had as yet been done, I struck a match and looked at my watch. It
was half-past eleven. Well, whatever the story was, Swain was hearing
it now, and I should hear it before long. And then I caught the hum of
an approaching car, and was momentarily blinded by the glare of
"Hello, Lester," called Godfrey's voice, "I'll be back in a minute,"
and he ran the car on toward the rear of the house.
I stood up with a gasp of thankfulness. Here was someone to confide in
and advise with. The stretch of lonely waiting was at an end; it had
been a trying evening!
I think the warmth of my greeting surprised Godfrey, for he looked at
"Sit down, Godfrey," I said. "I've got something to tell you."
"What, discoveries already?" he laughed, but he drew a chair close to
mine and sat down. "Well, what are they?"
I began at the beginning and related the day's adventures. He listened
without comment, but I could see how his interest grew.
"So young Swain is over in those grounds now," he said thoughtfully,
when I had finished.
"Yes; he's been there three-quarters of an hour."
"Why do you suppose Miss Vaughan named so late an hour?"
"I don't know. Perhaps because she was afraid of being discovered
earlier than that--or perhaps merely because she's just a romantic
Godfrey sat with his head bent in thought for a moment.
"I have it!" he said. "At eleven-thirty every night her father and the
adept go up to the roof, to remain there till midnight. That is the
one time of the whole day when she is absolutely sure to be alone.
Come along, Lester!"
He was on his feet now, and his voice was quivering with excitement.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"Up the ladder. It's nearly twelve. If the star falls as usual, we'll
know that everything is all right. If it doesn't ..."
He did not finish, but hurried away among the trees. In a moment we
were at the ladder; in another moment we were high among the leaves,
straining our eyes through the darkness.
"I'm going to look at my watch," said Godfrey, in a low voice. "Lean
back and screen me."
I heard the flash of the match and saw a little glare of light against
the nearest leaves. Then Godfrey's voice spoke again.
"It's three minutes of twelve," he said.
There was a tension in his voice which sent a shiver through me,
though I understood but dimly what it was he feared. The stars were
shining brightly, and once I fancied that I saw the strange star
appear among them; but when I closed my eyes for an instant and looked
again, it was gone. Slow minute followed minute, and the hand with
which I clutched the ladder began to tremble. The sight of that
mysterious light had shaken me the night before, but not half so
deeply as its absence shook me now. At last the suspense grew
"It must be long past midnight," I whispered.
"It is," agreed Godfrey gravely; "we may as well go down."
He paused an instant longer to stare out into the darkness, then
descended quickly. I followed, and found him waiting, a dark shadow.
He put his hand on my arm, and stood a moment, as though in
indecision. For myself, I felt as though an intolerable burden had
been laid upon my shoulders.
"Well," I asked, at last, "what now?"
"We must see if Swain has returned," he answered. "If he has, all
right. If he hasn't, we'll have to go and look for him."
"What is it you fear, Godfrey?" I demanded. "Do you think Swain's in
"I don't know what I fear; but there's something wrong over there.
This is the first night for a week that that light hasn't appeared."
"Still," I pointed out, "that may have nothing to do with Swain."
"No; but it's a coincidence that he should be in the grounds--and I'm
always afraid of coincidences. Let us see if he is back," and he
turned toward the house.
But I held his arm.
"If he's back," I said, "he'll have taken the ladders down from the
"That's true," and together we made our way forward among the trees.
Then we reached the wall, and there was the dim white line of the
ladder leaning against it. Without a word, Godfrey mounted it, stood
an instant at the top, and then came down again.
"The other ladder is still there," he said, and took off his cap and
rubbed his head perplexedly. I could not see his face, but I could
guess how tense it was. I had been with him in many trying situations,
but only once before had I seen him use that gesture!
"It won't do to alarm the house," he said, at last. "Do you know where
he was to meet Miss Vaughan?"
"At an arbour in one corner of the grounds," I answered.
"Then we'll start from there and take a quiet look for him. Wait here
for me a minute."
He melted into the darkness, and I stood holding on to the ladder as
though in danger of falling, and staring at the top of the wall, where
I had last seen Swain. An hour and a half had passed since then....
A touch on the arm brought me around with a start.
"Here, put this pistol in your pocket," said Godfrey's voice, and I
felt the weapon pressed into my hand. "And here's an electric torch.
Do you feel the button?"
"Yes," I said, and pressed it. A ray of light shot toward the wall,
but I released the button instantly.
"You'd better keep it in your hand," he added, "ready for action. No
telling what we'll run across. And now come ahead."
He put his foot on the ladder, but I stopped him.
"Look here, Godfrey," I said, "do you realise that what we're about to
do is pretty serious? Swain might have a legal excuse, since the
daughter of the house invited him to a meeting; but if we go over the
wall, we're trespassers pure and simple. Anybody who runs across us in
the darkness has the right to shoot us down without asking any
questions--and we'd have no legal right to shoot back!"
I could hear Godfrey chuckling, and I felt my cheeks redden.
"You remind me of Tartarin," he said; "the adventurer-Tartarin urging
you on, the lawyer-Tartarin holding you back. My advice is to shake
the lawyer, Lester. He's out of his element here to-night. But if he's
too strong for you, why, stay here," and he started up the ladder.
Burning with vexation, I started after him, but suddenly he stopped.
"Listen!" he whispered.
I heard something rattle against the other side of the wall; then a
dark figure appeared on the coping.
I felt Godfrey press me back, and descended cautiously. A moment
later, something slid down the wall, and I knew that the person at the
top had lifted the other ladder over. Then the figure descended, and
then a distorted face stared into the circle of Godfrey's torch.
For a breath, I did not recognise it; then I saw that it was Swain's.
I shall never forget the shock it gave me, with its starting eyes and
working mouth and smear of blood across the forehead. Godfrey, I knew,
was also startled, for the light flashed out for an instant, and then
flashed on again.
"What is it, Swain?" I cried, and seized him by the arm; but he shook
me off roughly.
"Stand back!" he cried, hoarsely. "Who is it? What do you want?"
"It's Lester," I said, and Godfrey flashed his torch into my face,
then back to Swain's.
"But you're not alone."
"No; this is Mr. Godfrey."
"Whose house we're staying at," I explained.
"Ah!" said Swain, and put one hand to his head and leaned heavily
against the ladder.
"I think we'd better go to the house," Godfrey suggested, soothingly.
"We all need a bracer. Then we can talk. Don't you think so, Mr.
Swain nodded vacantly, but I could see that he had not understood.
His face was still working and he seemed to be in pain.
"I want to wash," he said, thickly. "I cut my wrist on that damned
glass, and I'm blood all over, and my head's wrong, somehow." His
voice trailed off into an unintelligible mumble, but he held one hand
up into the circle of light, and I saw that his cuff was soaked with
blood and his hand streaked with it.
"Come along, then," said Godfrey peremptorily. "You're right--that cut
must be attended to," and he started toward the house.
"Wait!" Swain called after him, with unexpected vigour. "We must take
down the ladders. We mustn't leave them here."
"If they're found, they'll suspect--they'll know ..." He stopped,
stammering, and again his voice trailed away into a mumble, as though
beyond his control.
Godfrey looked at him for a moment, and I could guess at the surprise
and suspicion in his eyes. I myself was ill at ease, for there was
something in Swain's face--a sort of vacant horror and dumb
shrinking--that filled me with a vague repulsion. And then to see his
jaw working, as he tried to form articulate words and could not, sent
a shiver over my scalp.
"Very well," Godfrey agreed, at last. "We'll take the ladders, since
you think it so important. You take that one, Lester, and I'll take
I stooped to raise the ladder to my shoulder, when suddenly, cutting
the darkness like a knife, came a scream so piercing, so vibrant with
fear, that I stood there crouching, every muscle rigid. Again the
scream came, more poignant, more terrible, wrung from a woman's throat
by the last extremity of horror; and then a silence sickening and
awful. What was happening in that silence?
I stood erect, gaping, suffocated, rising as from a long submersion.
Godfrey's finger had slipped from the button of his torch, and we were
in darkness; but suddenly a dim figure hurled itself past us, up the
With a low cry, Godfrey snatched at it, but his hand clutched only the
empty air. The next instant, the figure poised itself on the coping of
the wall and then plunged forward out of sight. I heard the crash of
breaking branches, a scramble, a patter of feet, and all was still.
"It's Swain!" said Godfrey, hoarsely; "and that's a twelve-foot drop!
Why, the man's mad! Hand me that ladder, Lester!" he added, for he
was already at the top of the wall.
I lifted it, as I had done once before that night, and saw Godfrey
slide it over the wall.
"Come on!" he said. "We must save him if we can!" and he, too,
The next instant, I was scrambling desperately after him. The
lawyer-Tartarin had vanished!
The wall was masked on the other side by a dense growth of shrubbery,
and struggling through this, I found myself on the gravelled path
where I had seen Marjorie Vaughan. Before me, along this path, sped a
shadow which I knew to be Godfrey, and I followed at top speed. At the
end of a moment, I caught a flash of light among the trees, and knew
that we were nearing the house; but I saw no sign of Swain.
We came to the stretch of open lawn, crossed it, and, guided by the
light, found ourselves at the end of a short avenue of trees. At the
other end, a stream of light poured from an open door, and against
that light a running figure was silhouetted. Even as I saw it, it
bounded through the open door and vanished.
"It's Swain!" gasped Godfrey; and then we, too, were at that open
For an instant, I thought the room was empty. Then, from behind the
table in the centre, a demoniac, blood-stained figure rose into view,
holding in its arms a white-robed woman. With a sort of nervous shock,
I saw that the man was Swain, and the woman Marjorie Vaughan. A
thrill of fear ran through me as I saw how her head fell backwards
against his shoulder, how her arms hung limp....
Without so much as a glance in our direction, he laid her gently on a
couch, fell to his knees beside it, and began to chafe her wrists.
It was Godfrey who mastered himself first, and who stepped forward to
"Is she dead?" he asked.
Swain shook his head impatiently, without looking up.
"How is she hurt?" Godfrey persisted, bending closer above the
Swain shot him one red glance.
"She's not hurt!" he said, hoarsely. "She has fainted--that's all. Go
But Godfrey did not go away. After one burning look at Swain's
lowering face, he bent again above the still figure on the couch, and
touched his fingers to the temples. What he saw or felt seemed to
reassure him, for his voice was more composed when he spoke again.
"I think you're right, Swain," he said. "But we'd better call
"Call away!" snarled Swain.
"You mean there's no one here? Surely, her father ..."
He stopped, for at the words Swain had burst into a hoarse laugh.
"Her father!" he cried. "Oh, yes; he's here! Call him! He's over
He made a wild gesture toward a high-backed easy-chair beside the
table, his eyes gleaming with an almost fiendish excitement; then the
gleam faded, and he turned back to the girl.
Godfrey cast one astonished glance at him and strode to the chair. I
saw his face quiver with sudden horror, I saw him catch at the table
for support, and for an instant he stood staring down. Then he turned
stiffly toward me and motioned me to approach.
In the chair a man sat huddled forward--a grey-haired man, clad in a
white robe. His hands were gripping the chair-arms as though in agony.
His head hung down almost upon his knees.
Silently Godfrey reached down and raised the head. And a cry of horror
burst from both of us.
The face was purple with congested blood, the tongue swollen and
horribly protruding, the eyes suffused and starting from their
sockets. And then, at a motion from Godfrey's finger, I saw that about
the neck a cord was tightly knotted. The man had been strangled.
Godfrey, after a breathless moment in which he made sure that the man
was quite dead, let the head fall forward again. It turned me sick to
see how low it sagged, how limp it hung. And I saw that the collar of
the white robe was spotted with blood.
I do not know what was in Godfrey's mind, but, by a common impulse, we
turned and looked at Swain. He was still on his knees beside the
couch. Apparently he had forgotten our presence.
"It's plain enough," said Godfrey, his voice thick with emotion. "She
came in and found the body. No wonder she screamed like that! But
where are the servants? Where is everybody?"
The same thought was in my own mind. The utter silence of the house,
the fact that no one came, added, somehow, to the horror of the
moment. Those wild screams must have echoed from cellar to garret--and
yet no one came!
Godfrey made a rapid scrutiny of the room, which was evidently the
library, with a double door opening upon the grounds and another
opposite opening into the hall. On the wall beside the inner door, he
found an electric button, and he pushed it for some moments, but there
was no response. If it rang a bell, the bell was so far away that we
could not hear it.
A heavy curtain hung across the doorway. Godfrey pulled it aside and
peered into the hall beyond. The hall was dark and silent. With face
decidedly grim, he took his torch from one pocket and his pistol from
"Come along, Lester," he said. "We've got to look into this. Have your
torch ready--and your pistol. God knows what further horrors this
He pulled back the curtain, so that the hall was lighted to some
extent from the open doorway, and then passed through, I after him.
The hall was a broad one, running right through the centre of the
house from front to rear. Godfrey proceeded cautiously and yet rapidly
the whole length of it, flashing his torch into every room. They were
all luxuriously furnished, but were empty of human occupants. From the
kitchen, which closed the hall at the rear, a flight of stone steps
led down into the basement, and Godfrey descended these with a
steadiness I could not but admire. We found ourselves in a square,
stone-flagged room, evidently used as a laundry. Two doors opened out
of it, but both were secured with heavy padlocks.
"Store-rooms or wine-cellars, perhaps," Godfrey ventured, mounted the
stairs again to the kitchen, and returned to the room whence we had
Everything there was as we had left it. The dead man sat huddled
forward in his chair; Swain was still on his knees beside the couch;
the girl had not stirred. Godfrey went to the side of the couch, and,
disregarding Swain's fierce glance, again placed his fingers lightly
on the girl's left temple. Then he came back to me.
"If she doesn't revive pretty soon," he said, "we'll have to try
heroic measures. But there must be somebody in the house. Let's look
He led the way up the broad stairs, which rose midway of the hall,
sending a long ray of light ahead of him. I followed in no very happy
frame of mind, for I confess that this midnight exploration of an
unknown house, with a murdered man for its only occupant, was getting
on my nerves. But Godfrey proceeded calmly and systematically.
The hall above corresponded to that below, with two doors on each
side, opening into bedroom suites. The first was probably that of the
master of the house. It consisted of bedroom, bath and dressing-room,
but there was no one there. The next was evidently Miss Vaughan's. It
also had a bath and a daintily-furnished boudoir; but these, too, were
Then, as we opened the door across the hall, a strange odour saluted
us--an odour suggestive somehow of the East--which, in the first
moment, caught the breath from the throat, and in the second seemed to
muffle and retard the beating of the heart.
A flash of Godfrey's torch showed that we were in a little entry,
closed at the farther end by a heavy drapery. Godfrey strode forward
and swept the drapery aside. The rush of perfume was over-powering,
and through the opening came a soft glow of light.
It was a moment before I got my breath; then a mist seemed to fall
from before my eyes and a strange sense of exaltation and well-being
stole through me. I saw Godfrey standing motionless, transfixed, with
one hand holding back the drapery, and his torch hanging unused in the
other, and I crept forward and peered over his shoulder at the
strangest scene I have ever gazed upon.
Just in front of us, poised in the air some three feet from the floor,
hung a sphere of crystal, glowing with a soft radiance which seemed to
wax and wane, to quiver almost to darkness and then to burn more
clearly. It was like a dreamer's pulse, fluttering, pausing, leaping,
in accord with his vision. And as I gazed at the sphere, I fancied I
could see within it strange, elusive shapes, which changed and merged
and faded from moment to moment, and yet grew always clearer and more
suggestive. I bent forward, straining my eyes to see them better, to
fathom their meaning ...
Godfrey, turning to speak to me, saw my attitude and shook me roughly
by the arm.
"Don't do that, Lester!" he growled in my ear. "Take your eyes off
I tried to move my eyes, but could not, until Godfrey pulled me around
to face him. I stood blinking at him stupidly.
"I was nearly gone, myself, before I realised the danger," he said. "A
sphere like that can hypnotise a man more quickly than anything else
on earth, especially when his resistance is lessened, as it is by this
"It was rather pleasant," I said. "I should like to try it some time."
"Well, you can't try it now. You've got something else to do. Besides,
it has two victims already."
"Look carefully, but keep your eyes off the sphere," he said, and
swung me around toward the room again.
The room was shrouded in impenetrable darkness, except for the faint
and quivering radiance which the sphere emitted, and as I plunged my
eyes into its depths in an effort to see what lay there, it seemed to
me that I had never seen blackness so black. As I stared into it,
with straining eyes, a vague form grew dimly visible beside the
glowing sphere; and then I recoiled a little, for suddenly it took
shape and I saw it was a man.
I had a queer fancy, as I stood there, that it was really a picture
into which I was gazing--one of Rembrandt's--for, gradually, one
detail after another emerged from the darkness, vague shadows took on
shape and meaning, but farther back there was always more shadow, and
farther back still more ...
The man was sitting cross-legged on a low divan, his hands crossed in
front of him and hanging limply between his knees. His clothing I
could see but vaguely, for it was merged into the darkness about him,
but his hands stood out white against it. He was staring straight at
the crystal, with unwavering and unwinking gaze, and sat as motionless
as though carved in stone. The glow from the sphere picked out his
profile with a line of light--I could see the high forehead, the
strong, curved nose, the full lips shaded by a faint moustache, and
the long chin, only partially concealed by a close-clipped beard. It
was a wonderful and compelling face, especially as I then saw it, and
I gazed at it for a long moment.
"It's the adept, I suppose," said Godfrey, no longer taking care to
lower his voice.
It sounded unnaturally loud in the absolute stillness of the room,
and I looked at the adept quickly, but he had not moved.
"Can't he hear you?" I asked.
"No--he couldn't hear a clap of thunder. That is, unless he's faking."
I looked again at the impassive figure.
"He's not faking," I said.
"I don't know," and Godfrey shook his head sceptically. "It looks like
the real thing--but these fellows are mighty clever. Do you see the
other victim? There's no fake about it!"
"I see no one else," I said, after a vain scrutiny.
"Look carefully on the other side of the sphere. Don't you see
My eyes were smarting under the strain, and for a moment longer I saw
nothing; then a strange, grey shape detached itself from the
blackness. It was an ugly and repulsive shape, slender below, but
swelling hideously at the top, and as I stared at it, it seemed to me
that it returned my stare with malignant eyes screened by a pair of
white-rimmed glasses. Then, with a sensation of dizziness, I saw that
the shape was swaying gently back and forth, in a sort of rhythm. And
then, quite suddenly, I saw what it was, and a chill of horror
quivered up my back.
It was a cobra.
To and fro it swung, to and fro, its staring eyes fixed upon the
sphere, its spectacled hood hideously distended.
The very soul within me trembled as I gazed at those unwinking eyes.
What did they see in the sphere? What was passing in that inscrutable
brain? Could it, too, reconstruct the past, read the mysteries of the
Some awful power, greater than my will, seemed stretching its
tentacles from the darkness: I felt them dragging at me, certain,
remorseless, growing stronger and stronger ...
With something very like a shriek of terror, I tore myself away, out