Part 4 out of 4
considered this man her husband's enemy had been a lying no. To
her, for some cause as yet unexplained, the secretary was a
dangerous ally to the man she loved; an ally so near and so
dangerous that the mere rumor of his death was capable of lifting
her from the depths of despondency into a state of abnormal
exhilaration and hope. Now why? What reason had she for this
belief, and how was it in my power to solve the mystery which I
felt to be at the bottom of all the rest?
But one means suggested itself. I was now assured that Mrs.
Packard would never take me into her actual confidence, any more
than she had taken her husband. What I learned must be in spite of
her precautions. The cipher of which I had several specimens
might, if properly read, give me the clue I sought. I had a free
hour before me. Why not employ it in an endeavor to pick out the
meaning of those odd Hebraic characters? I had in a way received
her sanction to do so-if I could; and if I should succeed, what
shadows might it not clear from the path of the good man whose
interests it was my chief duty to consult?
Ciphers have always possessed a fascination for me. This one, from
the variety of its symbols, offered a study of unusual interest.
Collecting the stray specimens which I had picked up, I sat down in
my cozy little room and laid them all out before me, with the
[transcriber's note: the symbols cannot be converted to ASCII so I
have shown them as follows:]
 is a Square
[-] is sides and bottom of a square,
C is top, bottom and left side of a square,
L is left side and bottom of a square,,
V is two lines forming a V shape
. appearing before a symbol should be inside the symbol
) appearing before a symbol means the mirror image of that symbol
^ appearing before a symbol means the inverted symbol
? is a curve inside the symbol
all other preceding symbols are my best approximation for shapes
shown inside that symbol.
; is used to separate each symbol
1. ; V; ; .>; V; [-]; <;
2. ; V; ; .>; V; [-]; <; L; ).L; <; )7; .7;
3. ; V; ; .>; V; [-]; <; ).L; .C;; .L; >; ,C; ; .<; ^[-];
4. ; V; ; .>; V; [-]; <; <; L; >; ^V; L; V; ; )L; ^V; [-];
; V; ).C; ^[-]; >; )C; ),C; V; <; C; ^V; ^[-]; .>; [-]; <;
5. *>; ; V; ; *V; ; ~7; )C; .>; ^[o]; )L; ^V; ; Lo; ^V; )C;
)7*; V; )C?; L; )L; 7; .>; .^[-]; )L; >; <; :[-], [-]; Lo; .<; ?[-
]; )7; [-]; )C; ; .C; [-]; *7; L; .7; ^V; )o7; *>; C; ^V; .C; .<;
[-]; ; 7; .C; )L; :7; [-]; )*L; C; ^V; .L; .>; ^[%]; C; 7; *L; 7;
):L; )7; ^.V; ; [-]; .L;[-]
No.1: My copy of the characters, as I remember seeing them on the
envelope which Mrs. Packard had offered to Mr. Steele and afterward
thrown into the fire.
Nos.2,3 and 4: The discarded scraps I had taken from the waste-
basket in her room.
No. 5: The lengthy communication in another hand, which Mrs.
Packard had found pinned on the baby's cloak, and at my
intercession had handed over to me.
A goodly array, if the latter was a specimen of the same cipher as
the first, a fact which its general appearance seemed to establish,
notwithstanding the few added complexities observable in it, and
one which a remembrance of her extreme agitation on opening it
would have settled in my mind, even if these complexities had been
greater and the differences even more pronounced than they were.
Lines entirely unsuggestive of meaning to her might have aroused
her wonder and possibly her anger, but not her fear; and the
emotion which I chiefly observed in her at that moment had been
So! out of these one hundred and fifty characters, many of them
mere repetitions, it remained for me to discover a key whereby
their meaning might be rendered intelligible.
To begin, then, what peculiarities were first observable in them?
First: The symbols followed one after the other without breaks,
whether the communication was limited to one word or to many.
Second: Nos.2,3 and 4 started with the identical characters which
made up No. 1.
Third: While certain lines in Nos.2,3 and 4 were heavier than
others, no such distinction was observable in the characters
forming No. 1.
Fourth: This distinction was even more marked in the longer
specimen written by another hand, viz.: No.5.
Fifth: This distinction, which we will call shading, occurred
intermittently, sometimes in two consecutive characters, but never
Sixth: This shading was to be seen now on one limb of the character
it apparently emphasized and now on another.
Seventh: In the three specimens of the seven similar characters
commencing Nos.2,3 and 4, the exact part shaded was not always the
same as for instance, it was the left arm of the second character
in No. 2 which showed the heavy line, while the shading was on the
right-hand arm of the corresponding character in No.3.
Eighth: These variations of emphasis in No.4 coincided sometimes
with those seen in No.2 and again with those in No.3.
Ninth: Each one of these specimens, saving the first, ended in a
Tenth: While some of the characters were squares or parts of a
square, others were in the shape of a Y turned now this way and now
Eleventh: These characters were varied by the introduction of dots,
and, in some cases, by the insertion of minute sketches of animals,
birds, arrows, signs of the zodiac, etc., with here and there one
of a humorous, possibly sarcastic, nature.
Twelfth: Dots and dots only were to be found in the specimen
emanating from Mrs. Packard's hand; birds, arrows, skipping boys
and hanging men, etc., being confined to No. 5, the product of
another brain and hand, at present unknown.
Now what conclusions could I draw from these I shall give them to
you as they came to me that night. Others with wits superior to my
own may draw additional and more suggestive ones:
First: Division into words was not considered necessary or was made
in some other way than by breaks.
Second: The fact of the shading being omitted from No. 1 meant
nothing--that specimen being my own memory of lines, the shading or
non-shading of which would hardly have attracted my attention.
Third: The similarity observable in the seven opening characters of
the first four specimens being taken as a proof of their standing
for the same word or phrase, it was safe to consider this word or
phrase as a complete one to which she had tried to fit others, and
always to her dissatisfaction, till she had finally rejected all
but the simple one with which she had started.
Fourth: No.1, short as it was, was, therefore, a communication in
Fifth: The shading of a character was in some way essential to its
proper understanding, but not the exact place where that shading
Sixth: The dots were necessarily modifications, but not their shape
Seventh: This shading might indicate the end of a word.
Eighth: If so, the shading of two contiguous characters would show
the first one to be a word of one letter. There are but two words
in the English language of one letter--a and i--and in the
specimens before me but one character, that of , which shows
shading, next to another shaded character.
Ninth:  was therefore a or i
A decided start.
All this, of course, was simply preliminary.
The real task still lay before me. It was to solve the meaning of
those first seven characters, which, if my theory were correct, was
a communication in itself, and one of such importance that, once
mastered, it would give the key to the whole situation.
; V; ; .>; V; [-]; <;
or with the shading (same in bold - transcriber)
; V; ; .>; V; [-]; <;
You have all read The Gold Bug, and know something of the method by
which a solution is obtained by that simplest of all ciphers, where
a fixed character takes the place of each letter in the alphabet.
Let us see if it applies to this one.
There are twenty-six letters in the English alphabet. Are there
twenty-six or nearly twenty-six different characters, in the one
hundred and one I find inscribed on the various slips spread out
No, there are but fourteen. A check to begin with.
But wait; the dots make a difference. Let us increase the list by
assuming that angles or squares thus marked are different letters
from those of the same shape in which no dots or sketches occur,
and we bring the list up to twenty. That is better.
The dotted or otherwise marked squares or angles are separate
Now, which one of these appears most frequently? The square, which
we have already decided must be either a or i. In the one short
word or phrase we are at present considering, it occurs twice. Now
supposing that this square stands for a, which according to Poe's
theory it should, a coming before s in the frequency in which it
occurs in ordinary English sentences, how would the phrase look
(still according to Poe) with dashes taking the place of the
remaining unknown letters?
A-a ---- if the whole is a single word.
A- a- -- if the whole is a phrase. That it was a phrase I was
convinced, possibly because one clings to so neat a theory as the
one which makes the shading, so marked a feature in all the
specimens before us, the sign of division into words. Let us take
these seven characters as a phrase then and not as a word. What
The dashes following the two a's stand for letters, each of which
should make a word when joined to a. What are these letters? Run
over the alphabet and see. The only letters making sense when
joined with a are h, m, n, s, t or x. Discarding the first and the
last, we have these four words, am, an, as, at. Is it possible to
start any intelligible phrase with any two of these arranged in any
conceivable way? No. Then  can not stand for a. Let us see if
it does for i. The words of two letters headed by i we find to be
if, in, is and it. A more promising collection than the first.
One could easily start a phrase with any of these, even with any
two of them such as If it, Is in, Is it, It is.  is then the
symbol of i, and some one of the above named combinations forms the
beginning of the short phrase ending with a word of three letters
symbolized by V [-] .<
If my reasoning is correct up to this point, it should not be hard
First, one of these three symbols, the V, is a repetition of one of
those we have already shown to be s, t, f, or n. Of the remaining
two, [-] <, one must be a vowel, that is, it must be either u, e,
o, u, or y; i being already determined upon. Now how many [-]'s
and <'s do we find in the collection before us? Ten or more of the
first, and six, or about six, of the latter. Recalling the table
made out by Poe--a table I once learned as a necessary part of my
schooling as a cipher interpreter--I ran over it thus: e is the one
letter most in use in English. Afterward the succession runs thus
a, o, i d, h, n, r, etc. There being then ten [-]'s to six <'s [-]
must be a vowel, and in all probability the vowel e, as no other
character in the whole collection, save the plentiful squares, is
repeated so often.
I am a patient woman usually, but I was nervous that night, and,
perhaps, too deeply interested in the outcome to do myself justice.
I could think of no word with a for one of its three letters which
would make sense when added on to It is, Is it, I f it, Is in.
Conscious of no mistake, yet always alive to the possibility of
one, I dropped the isolated scrap I was working upon and took up
the longer and fuller ones, and with them a fresh line of
reasoning. If my argument so far had been trustworthy, I should
find, in these other specimens, a double [-][-] standing for the
double e so frequently found in English. Did I find such? No.
Another shock to my theory.
Should I, then, give it up? Not while another means of verification
remained. The word the should occur more than once in a collection
of words as long as the one before me. If U is really e, I should
find it at the end of the supposed thes. Do I so find it? There are
several words scattered through the whole, of only three letters.
Are any of them terminated by U? Not one. My theory is false, then,
and I must begin all over.
Discarding every previous conclusion save this, that the shading of
a line designated the termination of a word, I hunted first for the
thes. Making a list of the words containing only three letters, I
was confronted by the following:
V [-] <
)L )C C
< L >
^V L V
< C ^V
.> .[-]) )L
.V ).C L.
.< .[-] )7
^V C 7
)L .L >
No two alike. Astonishing! Thirty-two words of English and only
one the in the whole? Could it be that the cipher was in a foreign
language? The preponderance of i's so out of proportion to the
other vowels had already given me this fear, but the lack of thes
seemed positively to indicate it. Yet I must dig deeper before
Th is a combination of letters which Poe says occurs so often in
our language that they can easily be picked out in a cipher of this
length. How many times can a conjunction of two similar characters
be found in the lines before us. .> .[-] occurs three times, which
is often enough, perhaps, to establish the fact that they stand for
th. Do I find them joined with a third character in the list of
possible thes? Yes. .> [-] which would seem to fix both the th and
But I have grown wary and must make myself sure. Do I find a word
in which this combination of. > .[-] occurs twice, as sometimes
happens with the th we are considering? No, but I find two other
instances in which like contiguous symbols do appear twice in one
word; the .< .[-] in No.3 and the .V .)C in No.4--a discovery the
most embarrassing of all, since in both cases the symbols which
begin the word are reversed at its end, as witness: .V .)C - - - )C
.V -- .< .[-] - - - .[-] .<. For, if .V )C stands for th, and the
whole word showed in letters th- - -ht, which to any eye suggests
the word thought, what does .< .[-] stand for, concerning which the
same conditions are observable?
I could not answer. I had run on a snag.
Rules which applied to one part of the cipher failed in another.
Could it be that a key was necessary to its proper solution? I
began to think so, and, moreover, that Mrs. Packard had made use of
some such help as I watched her puzzling in the window over these
symbols. I recalled her movements, the length of time which
elapsed before the cry of miserable understanding escaped her lips,
the fact that her dress was torn apart at the throat when she came
out, and decided that she had not only drawn some paper from her
bosom helpful to the elucidation of these symbols, but that this
paper was the one which had been the object of her frantic search
the night I watched her shadow on the wall.
So convinced was I by these thoughts that any further attempt to
solve the cryptogram without such aid as I have mentioned would end
by leaving me where I was at present,--that is, in the fog,--that
I allowed the lateness of the hour to influence me; and, putting
aside my papers, I went to bed. If I had sat over them another
hour, should I have been more fortunate? Make the attempt yourself
"Where is my wife?"
"Sleeping, sir, after a day of exhausting emotion."
"She didn't wire me?"
"Perhaps she wasn't able?"
"She was not, Mayor Packard."
"I must see her. I came as soon as I could. Left Warner to fill
my place on the platform, and it is the night of nights, too. Why,
what's the matter?"
He had caught me staring over his shoulder at the form drawn up in
"Nothing; I thought you had come alone."
"No, Mr. Steele is with me. He joined me at noon, just after I had
telegraphed home. He has come back to finish the work I assigned
him. He has at last discovered--or thinks he has--the real author
of those libels. You have something special to say to me?" he
whispered, as I followed him upstairs.
"Yes, and I think, if I were you, that I should say nothing to Mrs.
Packard about Mr. Steele's having returned." And I rapidly
detailed the occurrence of the afternoon, ending with Mrs.
Packard's explanation to her servants.
The mayor showed impatience. "Oh, I can not bother with such
nonsense as that," he declared; "the situation is too serious."
I thought so, too, when in another moment his wife's door opened
and she stepped out upon the landing to meet him. Her eyes fell on
Mr. Steele, standing at the foot of the stairs, before they
encountered her husband; and though she uttered no cry and hardly
paused in her approach toward the mayor, I saw the heart within her
die as suddenly, and surely as the flame goes out in a gust of
"You!" There was hysteria in the cry. Pray God that the wild note
in it was not that of incipient insanity! "How good of you to give
up making your great speech to-night, just to see how I have borne
this last outrage! You do see, don't you?" Here she drew her form
to its full height. "My husband believes in me, and it gives me
courage to face the whole world. Ah! is that Mr. Steele I see
below there? Pardon me, Mr. Steele, if I show surprise. We heard
a false report of your illness this afternoon. Henry, hadn't Mr.
Steele better come up-stairs? I presume you are here to talk over
this last dreadful paragraph with me."
"It is not necessary for Mr. Steele to join us if you do not wish
him to," I heard the mayor whisper in his wife's ear.
"Oh, I do not mind," she returned with an indifference whose
reality I probably gauged more accurately than he did.
"That is good." And he called Mr. Steele up. "You see she is
reasonable enough," he muttered in my ear as he motioned me to
follow them into the up-stairs sitting-room to which she had led
the way. "The more heads the better in a discussion of this kind,"
was the excuse he gave his wife and Mr. Steele as he ushered me in.
As neither answered, I considered my presence accepted and sat down
in as remote a corner as offered. Verily the fates were active in
Mayor Packard was about to close the door, when Mrs. Packard
suddenly leaped by him with the cry:
"There's the baby! She must have heard your voice." And rushing
into the hall she came back with the child whom she immediately
placed in its father's arms. Then she slowly seated herself. Not
until she had done so did she turn to Mr. Steele.
"Sit," said she, with a look and gesture her husband would have
marveled at had he not been momentarily occupied with the prattling
The secretary bowed and complied. Surely men of such great
personal attractions are few. Instantly the light, shaded though
it seemingly was in all directions, settled on his face, making
him, to my astonished gaze, the leading personality in the group.
Was this on account of the distinction inherent in extreme beauty
or because of a new and I dominating expression which had
insensibly crept into his features?
The mayor, and the mayor only, seemed oblivious to the fact.
Glancing up from the child, he opened the conference by saying:
"Tell Mrs. Packard, Steele, what you have just told me."
With a quiet shifting of his figure which brought him into a better
line with the woman he was asked to address, the secretary opened
his lips to reply when she, starting, reached out one hand and drew
toward herself the little innocent figure of her child, which she
at once placed between herself and him. Seeing this, I recalled
the scraps of cipher left in my room above and wished I had
succeeded in determining their meaning, if only to understand the
present enigmatical situation.
Meanwhile Mr. Steele was saying in the mellow tone of a man
accustomed to tune his voice to suit all occasions: "Mrs. Packard
will excuse me if I seem abrupt. In obedience to commands laid
upon me by his Honor, I spent both Tuesday and Wednesday in
inquiries as to the origin of the offensive paragraph which
appeared in Monday's issue of the Leader. Names were given me, but
too many of them. It took me two days to sift these down to one,
and when I had succeeded in doing this, it was only to find that
the man I sought was ninety miles away. Madam, I journeyed those
ninety miles to learn that meanwhile he had returned to this city.
While I was covering those miles for the second time, to-day's
paragraph appeared. I hastened to accuse its author of libel, but
the result was hardly what I expected. Perhaps you know what he
"No," she harshly returned, "I do not." And with the instinctive
gesture of one awaiting attack she raised her now sleepy and
nodding child in front of her laboring breast, with a look in her
eyes which I see yet.
"He said--pardon me, your Honor, pardon me, Madam--that I was at
liberty to point out what was false in it."
With a leap she was on her feet, towering above us all in her
indignation and overpowering revolt against the man who was the
conscious instrument of this insult. The child, loosened so
suddenly from her arms, tottered and would have fallen, had not Mr.
Steele leaned forward and drawn the little one across to himself.
Mr. Packard, who, we must remember, had been more or less prepared
for what his secretary had to say, cast a glance at his wife,
teeming with varied emotions.
"And what did you reply to that?" were the words she hurled at the
"Nothing," was his grave reply. "I did not know myself what was
false in it."
With sudden faltering, Mrs. Packard reseated herself, while the
mayor, outraged by what was evidently a very unexpected answer,
leaned forward in great anger, crying:
"That was not the account you gave me of this wretched interview.
Explain yourself, Mr. Steele. Don't you see that your silence at
such a moment, to say, nothing of the attitude you at present
assume, is an insult to Mrs. Packard?"
The smile he met in reply was deprecatory, enough; so were the
words his outburst had called forth.
"I did not mean, and do not mean to insult Mrs. Packard. I am
merely showing you how hampered a man is, whatever his feelings,
when it comes to a question of facts known only to a lady with whom
he has not exchanged fifty words since he came into her house. If
Mrs. Packard will be good enough to inform me just how much and how
little is true in the paragraph we are considering, I shall see
this rascally reporter again and give him a better answer."
Mayor Packard looked unappeased. This was not the way to soothe a
woman whom he believed to be greatly maligned. With an exclamation
indicative of his feelings, he was about to address some hasty
words to the composed, almost smiling, man who confronted him, when
Mrs. Packard herself spoke with unexpected self-control, if not
"You are a very honest man, Mr. Steele. I commend the nicety of
your scruples and am quite ready to trust myself to them. I own to
no blot, in my past or present life, calling for public
arraignment. If my statement of the fact is not enough, I here
swear on the head of my child--"
"No, no," he quickly interpolated, "don't frighten the baby.
Swearing is not necessary; I am bound to believe your word, Mrs.
Packard." And lifting a sheet of paper from a pile lying on the
table before him, he took a pencil from his pocket and began making
lines to amuse the child dancing on his knee.
Mrs. Packard's eyes opened in wonder mingled with some emotion
deeper than distaste, but she said nothing, only watched in a
fascinated way his moving fingers. The mayor, mollified possibly by
his secretary's last words, sank back again in his chair with the
"You have heard Mrs. Packard's distinct denial. You are
consequently armed for battle. See that you fight well. It is all
a part of the scheme to break me up. One more paragraph of that
kind and I shall be a wreck, even if my campaign is not."
"There will not be any more."
"Ah! you can assure me of that?"
"What are you playing there" It was Mrs. Packard who spoke. She
was pointing at the scribble he was making on the paper.
"Tit-tat-to," he smiled, "to amuse the baby."
Did she hate to see him so occupied, or was her own restlessness of
a nature demanding a like outlet? Tearing her eyes away from him
and the child, she looked about her in a wild way, till she came
upon a box of matches standing on the large center-table around
which they were all grouped. Taking some in her hand, she
commenced to lay them out on the table before her, possibly in an
attempt to attract the baby's attention to herself. Puerile
business, but it struck me forcibly, possibly from the effect it
appeared to have upon the mayor. Looking from one to the other in
an astonishment which was not without its hint of some new and
overmastering feeling on his own part, he remarked:
"Isn't it time for the baby to go to bed? Surely, our talk is too
serious to be interrupted by games to please a child."
Without a word Mr. Steele rose and put the protesting child in the
mother's arms. She, rising, carried it to the door, and, coming
slowly back, reseated herself before the table and began to push
the matches about again with fingers that trembled beyond her
control. The mayor proceeded as if no time had elapsed since his
"You had some words then with this Brainard--I think you called him
Brainard--exacted some promise from him?"
"Yes, your Honor," was the only reply.
Did not Mrs. Packard speak, too? We all seemed to think so, for we
turned toward her; but she gave no evidence of having said
anything, though an increased nervousness was visible in her
fingers as she pushed the matches about.
"I thought I was warranted in doing so much," continued Mr. Steele.
"I could not buy the man with money, so I used threats."
"Right! anything to squelch him," exclaimed the mayor, but not with
the vigor I expected from him. Some doubt, some dread--caught
perhaps from his wife's attitude or expression--seemed to interpose
between his indignation and the object of it. "You are our good
friend, Steele, in spite of the shock you gave us a moment ago."
As no answer was made to this beyond a smile too subtle and too
fine to be understood by his openhearted chief, the mayor proceeded
"Then that matter is at an end. I pray that it may have done us no
real harm. I do not think it has. People resent attacks on women,
especially, on one whose reputation has never known a shadow, as
girl, wife, or mother."
"Yes," came in slow assent from the lips which had just smiled, and
he glanced at Mrs. Packard whose own lips seemed suddenly to become
dry, for I saw her try to moisten them as her right hand groped
about for something on the tabletop and finally settled on a small
paper-weight which she set down amongst her matches. Was it then
or afterward that I began to have my first real doubt whether some
shadow had not fallen across her apparently unsullied life?
"Yes, you are right," repeated Mr. Steele more energetically.
"People do resent such insinuations against a woman, though I
remember one case where the opposite effect was produced. It was
when Collins ran for supervisor in Cleveland. He was a good fellow
himself, and he had a wife who was all that was beautiful and
charming, but who had once risked her reputation in an act which
did call for public arraignment. Unfortunately, there was a man
who knew of this act and he published it right and left and--"
"Olympia!" Mayor Packard was on his feet, pointing in sudden fury
and suspicion at the table where the matches lay about in odd and,
as I now saw, seemingly set figures. "You are doing something
besides playing with those matches. I know Mr. Steele's famous
cipher; he showed it to me a week ago; and so, evidently, do you,
in spite of the fact that you have had barely fifty words with him
since he came to the house. Let me read--ah!--give over that piece
of paper you have there, Steele, if you would not have me think you
as great a dastard as we know that Brainard to be!"
And while his wife drooped before his eyes and a cynical smile
crept about the secretary's fine mouth, he caught up the sheet on
which Steele had been playing tit-tat-to with the child, and
glanced from the table to it and back again to the table on which
the matches lay in the following device, the paper-weight answering
for the dot:
7; L; .)7; [-]; ^V
"M," suddenly left the mayor's writhing lips; then slowly, letter
by letter, "E-R-C-Y. Mercy!" he vociferated. "Why does my wife
appeal for mercy to you--a stranger--and in your own cipher!
Miserable woman! What secret's here? Either you are--"
"Hush! some one's at the door!" admonished the secretary.
Mr. Packard turned quickly, and, smoothing his face rapidly, as
such men must, started for the door. Mrs. Packard, flinging her
whole soul into a look, met the secretary's eyes for a moment and
then let her head sink forward on her hands above those telltale
matches, from whose arrangement she had reaped despair in place of
Mr. Steele smiled again, his fine, false smile, but after her head
had fallen; not before. Indeed, he had vouchsafed no reply to her
eloquent look. It was as if it had met marble till her eyes were
But Nixon was in the open doorway and Nixon was speaking:
"A telegram, your Honor."
The old man spoke briskly, even a little crisply perhaps he always
did when he addressed the mayor. But his eyes roamed eagerly and
changed to a burning, red color when they fell upon the dejected
figure of his mistress. I fancied that, had he dared, he would
have leaped into the room and taken his own part--and who could
rightly gage what that was?--in the scene which may have been far
more comprehensive to him than to me. But he did not flare, and my
eyes passed from him to the mayor.
"From Haines," that gentleman announced, forgetting the suggestive
discovery he had just made in the great and absorbing interest of
his compaign. "'Speech good--great applause becoming thunderous at
flash of your picture. All right so far if--'" he read out,
ceasing abruptly at the "if" which, as I afterward understood,
really ended the message. "No answer," he explained to Nixon as he
hurriedly, dismissed him. "That 'if' concerns you," he now
declared, coming back to his wife and to his troubles at the same
instant. "Explain the mystery which seems likely to undo me. Why
do you sit there bowed under my, accusations? Why should Henry
Packard's wife cry for mercy, to any man? Because those damnable
accusations are true? Because you have a secret in your past and
this man knows it?"
Slowly she rose, slowly she met his eyes, and even he started back
at her pallor and the drawn misery in her face. But she did not
speak. Instead of that she simply reached out and laid her hand on
Mr. Steele's arm, drooping almost to the ground as she did so.
"Mercy!" she suddenly wailed, but this time to the man who had so
relentlessly accused her. The effect was appalling. The mayor
reeled, then sprang forward with his hand outstretched for his
secretary's throat. But his words were for his wife. "What does
this mean? Why do you take your stand by the side of another man
than myself? What have I done or what have you done that I should
live to face such an abomination as this?"
It was Steele who answered, with a lift of his head as full of
assertion as it was of triumph.
"You? nothing; she? everything. You do not know this woman,
Mayor Packard; for instance, you do not know her name."
"Not know her name? My wife's?"
"Not in the least. This lady's name is Brainard. So is mine.
Though she has lived with you several years in ignorance of my
continued existence, no doubt, she is my wife and not yours. We
were married in Boone, Minnesota, six years ago."
THE WIFE 'S TALE
Ten minutes later this woman was pleading her cause. She had left
the side of the man who had just assumed the greatest of all rights
over her and was standing in a frenzy of appeal before him she
loved so deeply and yet had apparently wronged.
Mayor Packard was sitting with his head in his hands in the chair
into which he had dropped when the blow fell which laid waste his
home, his life, the future of his child and possibly the career
which was as much, perhaps more, to him than all these. He had not
uttered a word since that dreadful moment. To all appearance her
moans of contrition fell upon deaf ears, and she had reached the
crisis of her misery without knowing the extent of the condemnation
hidden in his persistent silence. Collapse seemed inevitable, but
I did not know the woman or the really wonderful grip she held on
herself. Seeing that he was moved by nothing she had said, she
suddenly paused, and presently I heard her observe in quite a
"There is one thing you must know--which I thought you would know
without my telling you. I have never lived with this man, and I
believe him dead when I gave my hand to you."
The mayor's fingers twitched. She had touched him at last.
"Speak! tell me," he murmured hoarsely. "I do not want to do you
"I shall have to begin far, far back; tell about my early life and
all its temptations," she faltered, "or you will never understand."
Sensible at this point of the extreme impropriety, of my presence,
I rose, with an apology, to leave. But she shook her head quickly,
determinedly, saying that as I had heard so much I must hear more.
Then she went on with her story.
"I have committed a great fault," said she, "but one not so deep or
inexcusable as now appears, whatever that man may say," she added
with a slow turn toward the silent secretary.
Did she expect to provoke a reply from the man who, after the first
triumphant assertion of his claim, had held himself as removed from
her and as unresponsive to her anguish as had he whom she directly
addressed? If so, she must have found her disappointment bitter,
for he did not respond with so much as a look. He may have smiled,
but if so, it was not a helpful smile; for she turned away with a
shudder and henceforth faced and addressed the mayor only.
"My mother married against the wishes of all her family and they
never forgave her. My father died early--he had never got on in
the world--and before I was fifteen I became the sole support of my
invalid mother as well as of myself. We lived in Boone, Minnesota.
"You can imagine what sort of support it was, as I had no special
talent, no training and only the opportunity given by a crude
western, town of two or three hundred inhabitants. I washed dishes
in the hotel kitchen--I who had a millionaire uncle in Detroit and
had been fed on tales of wealth and culture by a mother who
remembered her own youth and was too ignorant of my real nature to
see the harm she was doing. I washed dishes and ate my own heart
out in shame and longing--bitter shame and frenzied longing, which
you must rate at their full force if you would know my story and
how I became linked to this man.
"I was sixteen when we first met. He was not then what he is now,
but he was handsome enough to create an excitement in town and to
lift the girl he singled out into an enviable prominence.
Unfortunately, I was that girl. I say unfortunately, because his
good looks failed to arouse in me more than a passing admiration;
and in accepting his attentions, I consulted my necessities and
pride rather than the instincts of my better nature. When he asked
me to marry him I recoiled. I did not know why then, nor did I
know why later; but know why now. However, I let this premonition
pass and engaged myself to him, and the one happy moment I knew was
when I told my mother what I had done, and saw her joy and heard
the hope with which she impulsively cried: 'It is something I can
write your uncle. Who knows? Perhaps he may forgive me my
marriage when he hears that my child is going to do so well!' Poor
mother! she had felt the glamour of my lover's good looks and
cleverness much more than I had. She saw from indications to which
I was blind that I was going to marry a man of mark, and was much
more interested in the possible reply she might receive to the
letter with which she had broken the silence of years between
herself and her family than in the marriage itself.
"But days passed, a week, and no answer came. My uncle--the only
relative remaining in which we could hope to awaken any interest,
or rather, the only one whose interest would be worth awakening, he
being a millionaire and unmarried--declined, it appeared, any
communication with one so entirely removed from his sympathies; and
the disappointment of it broke my mother's heart. Before my
wedding-day came she was lying in the bare cemetery I had passed so
often with a cold dread in my young and bounding heart.
"With her loss the one true and unselfish bond which held me to my
lover was severed, and, unknown to him--(perhaps he hears it now
for the first time)--I had many hours of secret hesitation which
might have ended in a positive refusal to marry him if I had not
been afraid of his anger and the consequences of an open break.
With all his protestations of affection and the very ardent love he
made me, he had not succeeded in rousing my affections, but he had
my fears. I knew that to tell him to his face I would not marry
him would mean death to him and possibly to myself. Such
intuition, young as I was, did I have of his character, though I
comprehended so little the real range of his mind and the
unswerving trend of his ambitious nature.
"So my, wedding-day came and we were united. in the very hotel
where I had so long served in a menial capacity. The social
distinctions in such a place being small and my birth and breeding
really placing me on a par with my employer and his family, I was
given the parlor for this celebration and never, never, shall I
forget its mean and bare look, even to my untutored eyes; or how
lonely those far hills looked, through the small-paned window I
faced; or what a shadow seemed to fall across them as the parson
uttered those fateful words, so terrible to one whose heart is not
in them: What God bath joined together let no man put asunder.
Death and not life awaited me on that bleak hillside, or so I
thought, though the bridegroom at my side was the handsomest man I
had ever seen and had rather exceeded than failed in his devotion
to me as a lover.
"The ceremony over, I went up-stairs to make my final preparations
for departure. No bridesmaids or real friends had lent joy to the
occasion; and when I closed that parlor door upon my bridegroom and
the two or three neighbors and boon companions with whom he was
making merry, I found myself alone with my dead heart and a most
unwelcome future. I remember, as the lock clicked and the rude
hall, ruder even than the wretched half-furnished room I had just
left, opened before me, a sensation of terror at leaving even this
homely refuge and a half-formed wish that I was going back to my
dish-washing in the kitchen. It was therefore with a shock, which
makes my brain reel yet, that I saw, lying on a little table which
I had to pass, a letter directed to myself, bearing the postmark,
Detroit. What might there not be in it? What? What?
"Gasping as much with fear as delight, I caught up the letter, and,
rushing with it to my room, locked myself in and tore open the
envelope. A single sheet fell out; it was signed with the name I
had heard whispered in my ear from early childhood, and always in
connection with riches and splendor and pleasures,--it was rapture
to dream of. This was an agitation in itself, but the words the
words! I have never told them to mortal being, but I must tell
them now; I remember them as I remember the look of my child's face
when she was first put in my arms, the child--"
She had underrated her strength. She broke into a storm of weeping
which shook to the very soul one of the two men who listened to
her, though he made no move to comfort her or allay it. The
alienation thus expressed produced its effect, and, stricken deeper
than the fount of tears, she suddenly choked back every sob and
took up the thread of her narrative with the calmness born of
"These were the words, these and no others:
"'If my niece will break all ties and come to me completely
unhampered, she may hope to find a permanent home in my house and
a close hold upon my affections.
IRA T. HOUGHTALING.'
"Unhampered! with the marriage-vow scarcely cold on my lips!
Without tie! and a husband waiting below to take me to his home on
the hillside--a hillside so bare and bleak that the sight of it has
sent a shudder to my heart as the wedding ring touched my finger.
The irony of the situation was more than I could endure, and alone,
with my eyes fixed on the comfortless heavens, showing gray and
cold through the narrow panes of my windows, I sank to the floor
"When I came to myself I was still alone, and the twilight a little
more pronounced than when my misery had turned it to blackest
midnight. Rising, I read that letter again, and, plainly as the
acknowledgment betrays the selfishness lying at the basis of my
character, the temptation which thereupon seized me had never an
instant of relenting or one conscientious scruple to combat it. I
simply, at that stage in my life and experience, could not do
otherwise than I did. Saying to myself that vows, as empty of
heart as mine, were void before God and man, I sat down and wrote
a few words to the man whose step on the stair I dreaded above
everything else in the world; and, leaving the note on the table,
unlocked my door and looked out. The hall connecting with my room
was empty, but not so the lower one. There I could hear voices and
laughter, Mr. Brainard's loud above all the rest,--a fatal sound to
me, cutting off all escape in that direction. But another way
offered and that one near at hand. Communicating with the very
hall in which I stood was an outside staircase running down to the
road--a means of entering and leaving a house which I never see now
wherever I may encounter it, without a gush of inward shame and
terror, so instinctive and so sharp that I have never been able to
hide it from any one whose eye might chance to be upon me at the
moment. But that night I was conscious of no shame, barely of any
terror, only of the necessity for haste. The train on which I was
determined to fly was due in a little less than an hour at a
station two miles down the road.
"That I should be followed farther than the turbulent stream which
crossed the road only a quarter of a mile from the hotel, I did not
fear. For in the hurried note I had left behind me, I had bidden
them to look for me there, saying that I had been precipitate in
marrying one I did not really love, and, overcome by a sense of my
mistake, I was resolved on death.
"A lie! but what was a lie to me then, who saw in my life with this
man an amelioration of my present state, but an amelioration only,
while in the prospects held out to me by my uncle I foresaw not
only release from a hated union, but every delight which my soul
had craved since my mother could talk to me of wealth and splendor.
"Behold me, then, stealing down the side of the house in a darkness
which during the last few minutes had become impenetrable. A
shadow, where all was shadowy, I made for the woods and succeeded
in reaching their shelter just as there rose in the distance behind
me that most terrible of all sounds to a woman's ear, a man's loud
cry of anguish and rage."
She was not looking at that man now, but I was. As these words
left her lips, Mr. Steele's hand crept up and closed over his
heart, though his face was like that of a marble image set in
immovable lines. I feared him, I admired him, and found myself
still looking at him as she went gaspingly on:
"Reckless of the dangers of the road, fearing nothing but what
pressed upon me from behind, I flew straight for the stream, on
whose verge I meant then to stop, and, having by some marvel of
good luck or Providence reached it without a mishap, I tore the
cloak from my shoulders, and, affixing one end to the broken edge
of the bridge, flung the other into the water. Then with one loud
ear-piercing shriek thrown back on the wind--see! I tell all--I
leave out nothing--I fled away in the direction of the station.
"For some reason I had great confidence in the success of this
feint and soon was conscious of but one fear, and that was being
recognized by the station-master, who knew my face and figure even
if he did not know my new city-made dress. So when I had made sure
by the clock visible from the end window that I was in ample time
for the expected train, I decided to remain in the dark at the end
of the platform till the cars were about starting, and then to jump
on and buy my ticket from the conductor.
"But I never expected such an interminable wait. Minute after
minute went by without a hint of preparation for the advancing
train. The hour for leaving arrived, passed, and not a man had
shown himself on the platform. Had a change been made in the
time-table? If so, what a prospect lay before me! Autumn nights
are chill in Minnesota, and, my cloak having been sacrificed, I
found poor protection in my neat but far from warm serge dress.
However, I did not fully realize my position till another passenger
arrived late and panting, and I heard some one shout out to him
from the open door that an accident had occurred below and that it
would be five hours at least before the train would come through.
"Five hours! and no shelter in sight save the impossible one of the
station itself. How could I pass away that time! How endure the
cold and fatigue? By pacing to and fro in the road? I tried it,
resolutely tried it, for an hour, then a new terror, a new
suspense, gripped me, and I discovered that I could never live
through the hours; never, in fact, take the train when it came
without knowing what had happened in Boone and whether the feint on
which I relied had achieved its purpose. There was time to steal
back, time to see and hear what would satisfy me of my own safety;
and then to have some purpose in my movement! How much better than
this miserable pacing back and forth just to start the stagnating
blood and make the lagging moments endurable!
"So I turned again toward Boone. I was not in the mood to fear
darkness or any encounter save one, and experienced hesitation only
when I found myself reapproaching the bridge. Shadows which had
protected me until now failed me there, and it was with caution I
finally advanced and emerged upon the open spot where the road
crossed the river. But even this was not needed. In the wide
stretch before me cut by the inky stream, I saw no signs of life,
and it was not till I was on the bridge itself that I discerned in
the black hollows below the glint of a lantern, lighting up the
bending fortes of two or three men who were dragging at something
which heaved under their hands with the pull of the stream.
"It was a sight which has never left me, but one which gave wings
to my feet that night and sent me flying on till a fork in the road
brought me to a standstill. To the left lay the hotel. I could
see its windows glimmering with faint lights, while, away to the
right, there broke upon me from the hillside a solitary sparkle;
but this sparkle came from the house where, but for the letter
hidden in my heart, I should be sitting at this moment before my
"What moved me? God knows. It may have been duty; it may have
been curiosity; it may have been only dread to know the worst and
know it at once; but seeing that single gleam I began to move
toward it, and, before I was aware, I had reached the house, edged
up to its unshaded window and taken a frightened look within.
"I was prepared and yet unprepared for what I saw. Within,
standing alone, with garments dripping, gazing in frenzy at a slip
of paper which clung wet about his hand, stood my husband. My
words to him! I could see it in his eyes and the desperation which
lit up all his features.
"Drawing back in terror from the road, I watched him fling that
letter of from his fingers as he would a biting snake, and,
striding to a cupboard high up on the wall, take down something I
could not see and did not guess at till the sharp sound of a
pistol-shot cleft my car, and I beheld him fall face downward on
the carpet of fresh autumn leaves with which he had hidden the bare
floor in expectation of his bride.
"The shriek which involuntarily went up from my lips must have rung
far and wide, but only the groaning of the night-wind answered me.
Driven by my fears to do something to save him if he was not yet
dead, I tried the door, but it was locked; so was the window. Yet
I might have battered my way in at that moment had I not heard two
men coming down the road, one of whom was shouting to the other: 'I
did not like his face. I shan't sleep till I've seen him again.'
"Somewhat relieved, I drew back from the road, but did not quit the
spot till those men, seeing through the window what had happened,
worked their way in and lifted him up in their arms. The look with
which they let him fall back again was eloquent, and convinced me
that it was death I saw. I started again upon my shuddering flight
from Boone, secure in the belief that while my future would surely
hold remorse for me, it would nevermore burden me with a hindrance
in the shape of an unloved husband,"
THE SINS OF THE FATHERS
The suspense which had held us tense and speechless was for the
moment relieved and Mr. Steele allowed himself the following
"My hand trembled and the bullet, penetrated an inch too high."
Then he relapsed again into silence.
Mrs. Packard shuddered and went on:
"It may seem incredible to you, it seems incredible now to myself,
but I completed my journey, entered my uncle's house, was made
welcome there and started upon my new life without letting my eyes
fall for one instant on the columns of a newspaper. I did not dare to
see what they contained. That short but bitter episode of my
sixteenth year was a nightmare of horror, to be buried with my old
name and all that could interfere with the delights of the cultured
existence which my uncle's means and affection opened before me. Two
years and I hardly remembered; three years and it came to me only in
dreams; four and even dreams failed to suggest it; the present, the
glorious present was all. I had met you, Henry, and we had loved and
"Did any doubts come to disturb my joy? Very few. I had never
received a word from Minnesota. I was as dead to every one there
as they all were to me. I believed myself free and that the only
wrong I did was in not taking you into my confidence. But this,
the very nature of my secret forbade. How could I tell you what
would inevitably alienate your affections? That act of my early
girlhood by which I had gained an undeserved freedom had been too
base; sooner than let you know this blot on my life, I was content
to risk the possibility--the inconceivable possibility--of Mr.
Brainard's having survived the attack he had made upon his own
life. Can you understand such temerity? I can not, now that I see
its results before me.
"So the die was cast and I became a wife instead of the mere shadow
of one. You were prosperous, and not a sorrow came to disturb my
sense of complete security till that day two weeks ago, when,
looking up in my own library, I saw, gleaming between me and the
evening lamp, a face, which, different as it was in many respects,
tore my dead past out of the grave and sent my thoughts reeling
back to a lonely road on a black hillside with a lighted window in
view, and behind that window the outstretched form of a man with
his head among leaves not redder than his blood.
"I have said to you, I have said to others, that a specter rose
upon me that day in the library. It was such to me,--an apparition
and nothing else. Perhaps he meant to impress himself as such, for
I had heard no footfall and only looked up because of the
constraining force of the look which awaited me. I knew afterward
that it was a man whom I had seen, a man whom you yourself had
introduced into the house; but at the instant I thought it a
phantom of my forgotten past sent to shock and destroy me; and,
struck speechless with the horror of it, I lost that opportunity
of mutual explanation which might have saved me an unnecessary and
cruel experience. For this man, who recognized me more surely than
I did him, who perhaps knew who I was before he ever entered my
house, has sported for two weeks with my fears and hopes as a
tiger with his prey. Maintaining his attitude of stranger--you
have been witness to his manner in my presence--he led me slowly
but surely to believe myself deceived by an extraordinary
resemblance; a resemblance, moreover, which did not hold at all
times, and which frequently vanished altogether, as I recalled
the straight-featured but often uncouth aspect of the man who had
awakened the admiration of Boone. Memory had been awakened
and my sleep filled with dreams, but the unendurable had been
spared me and I was thanking God with my whole heart, when suddenly
one night, when an evening spent with friends in the old way had
made me feel safe, my love safe, my husband and my child safe,
there came to my ears from below the sound of a laugh, loud, coarse
and deriding,--such a laugh as could spring from no member of my
own household, such a laugh as I heard but once before and that in
the by-gone years when some one asked Mr. Brainard if he meant to
live always in Boone. The shock was terrible, and when I learned
that the secretary, and the secretary only, was below, I knew who
that secretary was and yielded to the blow.
"Yet hope dies hard with the happy. I knew, but it was not enough
to know,--I must be sure. There was a way--it came to me with my
first fluttering breath as I recovered from my faint. In those old
days when I was thrown much with this man, he had shown me a
curious cipher and taught me how to use it. It was original with
himself, he said, and some day we might be glad of a method of
communication which would render our correspondence inviolable. I
could not see why he considered this likely ever to be desirable,
but I took the description of it which he gave me and promised that
I would never let it leave my person. I even allowed him to solder
about my neck the chain which held the locket in which he had
placed it. Consequently I had it with me when I fled from Boone,
and for the first few weeks after arriving at my uncle's house in
Detroit. Then, wishing to banish every reminder of days I was so
anxious to forget, I broke that chain, destroyed the locket and hid
away from every one's sight the now useless and despised cipher.
Why I retained the cipher I can not explain. Now, that cipher must
prove my salvation. If I could find it again I was sure that the
shock of receiving from my hand certain words written in the
symbols he had himself taught me would call from him, an
involuntary revelation. I should know what I had to fear. But so
many changes had taken place and so long a time elapsed since I hid
this slip of paper away that I was not even sure I still retained
it; but after spending a good share of the night in searching for
it, I finally came across it in one of my old trunks.
"The next morning I made my test. Perhaps, Henry, you remember my
handing Mr. Steele an empty envelope to mail which he returned with
an air of surprise so natural and seemingly unfeigned that he again
forced me to believe that he was the stranger he appeared. Though
he must have recognized at a glance for he was an adept in this
cipher once--the seven simple symbols in which I had expressed the
great cry of my soul 'Is it you?' he acted the innocent secretary
so perfectly that all my old hopes returned and I experienced one
hour of perfect joy. Then came another reaction. Letty brought in
the baby with a paper pinned to her coat. She declared to us that
a woman had been the instrument of this outrage, though the marks
inside, suggesting the cipher but with characteristic variations
bespeaking malice, could only have been made by one hand.
"How I managed to maintain sufficient hold upon my mind to drag the
key from my breast and by its means to pick out the meaning of the
first three words--words which once read suggested all the rest--I
can not now imagine. Death was in my heart and the misery of it
all more than human strength could bear; yet I compared paper with
paper carefully, intelligently, till these words from the prayer-
book with all their threatening meaning to me and mine started into
life before me: 'Visiting the sins--' Henry, you know the words
'Visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the
third and fourth generation.' Upon the children! Henry, he meant
Laura! our little Laura! I had wakened vengeance in a fiend. The
man who had calmly smiled in my face as he handed me back that
empty envelope inscribed with the wild appeal, 'Is it you?' was the
man I had once driven to the verge of the grave and who had come
back now to destroy us all.
"Yet, such is the reaching out of the drowning for straws, I did
not utterly despair till Nixon brought me from this man's
lodging-house, where I had sent him, a specimen of his handwriting.
"Nixon is the only confidant I have had. Nixon knew me as a girl
when he worked in my uncle's home, and has always had the most
unbounded, I may say jealous, affection for me. To him I had dared
impart that I did not trust your new secretary; that he looked like
a man I once knew who was a determined opponent of the party now
trying to elect you; that a specimen of his writing would make me
quite sure, and begged him to get it. I thought he might pick up
such in the little office below, but he was never able to do so--Mr.
Steele has taken care not to leave a line written in this house--but
he did find a few lines signed with his name in his own room at the
boarding-house, and these he showed me before he told me the result
of his errand. They settled all doubts. What is to be my fate?
Surely this man has no real claim on me, after all these years,
when I thought myself your true and honest wife. He may ruin your
campaign, defeat your hopes, overwhelm me with calumny and a loss
of repute, but surely, surely he can not separate us. The law will
not uphold him in that; will it, Henry? Say that it will not,
say--oh, say that--it--will not--do--that, or we shall live to
curse the day, not when we were born; but when our little innocent
child came to us !"
THE FINGER ON THE WALL
At this appeal the mayor rose and faced his secretary and the
spectacle was afforded me of seeing two strong men drawn up in
conflict over a woman both had cherished above all else. And it
was characteristic of the forceful men, as well as the extreme
nature of the conflict, that both were quiet in manner and
speech--perhaps the mayor the more so, as he began the struggle
"Is what Mrs. Packard says of your playing with her fears during
these two weeks true, Mr. Steele?"
Without a droop of his eye, or a tremor in his voice, the answer
came short, sharp and emphatic:
"Then, you are a villain! and I shall not feel myself called upon
to show you any consideration beyond what justice demands. Have
you any plea to urge beyond the natural one of her seemingly
unprovoked desertion of you? Has not my wife--" the nobility with
which he emphasized those two words made my heart swell--"spoken
Ah! then the mask of disdainful serenity with which the other had
hitherto veiled the burning anguish of his soul fell in one burst
of irresistible passion.
"True! yes, it is true. But what does that truth involve for me?
Not two weeks, but seven years of torture, five of them devoted to
grief for her, loss, and two to rage and bitter revulsion against
her whole sex when I found her alive, and myself the despised
victim of her deception."
"She wronged you--she acknowledges that--but it was the wrong of an
unthinking child--not of a realizing woman. Would you, a realizing
man, tear her now from home, from her child, from her place in the
community and my heart--make her despicable as well as unhappy,
just to feed your revenge?"
"Yes, I would do that."
"Jeopardize interests you have so often professed in my hearing to
be far above personal consideration--the success of your party, the
triumph of your political principles?"
"My political principles!" Oh, the irony of his voice, the triumph
in his laugh! "And what do you know of them? What I have said.
Mayor Packard, your education as a politician has yet to be
completed before you will be fit for the governorship of a state.
I am an adept at the glorification of the party, of the man that it
suits my present exigencies to promote, but it is a faculty which
should have made you pause before you trusted me with the
furtherance and final success of a campaign which may outlast those
exigencies. I have not always been of your party; I am not so now
The mayor, outraged in every sentiment of honor as well as in the
most cherished feelings of his heart, lowered upon his unmoved
secretary with a wrath which would have borne down any other man
"Do you mean to say, you, that your work is a traitor's work? That
the glorification you speak of is false? That you may talk in my
favor, but that when you come to the issue, you will vote according
to your heart; that is, for Stanton?"
"I have succeeded in making myself intelligible."
The mayor flushed; indignation gave him vehemence.
"Then," he cried, "I take back the word by which I qualified you a
moment ago. You are not a villain, you are a dastard."
Mr. Steele bowed in a way which turned the opprobrium into a
"I have suffered so many wrongs at your hands that I can not wonder
at suffering this one more."
Then slowly and with a short look at her: "The woman who has
queened it so long in C--- society can not wish to undergo the
charge of bigamy?"
"You will bring such a charge?"
"Certainly, if she does not voluntarily quit her false position,
and, accepting the protection of the man whose name is really hers,
go from this house at once."
At this alternative, uttered with icy deliberation, Mrs. Packard
recoiled with a sharp cry; but the mayor thrust a sudden sarcastic
query at his opponent:
"Which name? Steele or Brainard? You acknowledged both."
"My real name is Brainard; therefore, it is also hers. But I shall
be content if she will take my present one of Steele. More than
that, I shall be content if she will honestly accept from my hands
a place of refuge where I swear she shall remain unmolested by me
till this matter can be legally settled. I do not wish to make
myself hateful to her, for I anticipate the day when she will be my
wife in heart as she is now in law."
The word rang out in true womanly revolt. "I will die before that
day ever comes to separate me from the man I love and the child who
calls me mother. You may force me from this house, you may plunge
me into poverty, into contumely, but you shall never make me look
upon myself as other than the wife of this good man, whom I have
wronged but will never disgrace."
"Madam," declared the inflexible secretary with a derisive
appreciation which bowed her once proud head upon her shamed
breast, "you are all I thought you when I took you from Crabbe's
back-pantry in Boone to make you the honor and glory of a life
which I knew then, as well as I do now, would not long run in
It was a sarcasm calculated to madden the proud man who, only a few
minutes before, had designated the object of it by the sacred name
of wife. But beyond a hasty glance at the woman it had bowed
almost to the ground, the mayor gave no evidence of feeling either
its force or assumption. Other thoughts were in his mind than
those roused by jealous anger. "How old were you then?" he demanded
with alarming incongruity. The secretary started. He answered,
however, calmly enough:
"I? Seven years ago I was twenty-five. I am thirty-two now."
"So I have heard you say. A man of twenty-five is old enough to
have made a record, Mr. Steele--" The mayor's tone hardened, so
did his manner; and I saw why he had been such a power in the
courts before he took up politics and an office. "Mr. Steele, I do
not mean you to disturb my house or to rob me of my wife. What was
your life before you met Olympia Brewster?"
A pause, the slightest in the world,--but the keen eye of the
astute lawyer noted it, and his tone grew in severity and
assurance. "You have known for two years that this woman whom you
called yours was within your reach, if not under your very eye, and
you forbore to claim her. Has this delay had anything to do with
the record of those years to which I have just alluded?"
Had the random shot told? The secretary's eye did not falter, nor
his figure lose an inch of its height, yet the impression made by
his look and attitude were not the same; the fire had gone out of
them; a blight had struck his soul--the flush of his triumph was
Mayor Packard was merciless.
"Only two considerations could hold back a man like you from urging
a claim he regarded as a sacred right; the fact of a former
marriage or the remembrance of a forfeited citizenship--pardon me,
we can not mince matters in a strait like this--which would
delegalize whatever contract you may have entered into."
Still the secretary's eye did not swerve, though he involuntarily
stretched forth his hand toward the table as if afraid of betraying
a tremor in his rigidly drawn-up figure.
"Was there the impediment of a former marriage?"
No answer from the sternly set lips.
"Or was it that you once served a term--a very short term, cut
short by a successful attempt at escape in a Minnesota prison?"
"Insults!" broke from those set lips and nothing more.
"Mr. Steele, I practised law in that state for a period of three
years. All the records of the office and of the prison register
are open to me. Over which of them should I waste my time?"
Then the tiger broke loose in the man who from the aggressor had
become the attacked, and he cried:
"I shall never answer; the devil has whispered his own suggestions
in your ear; the devil and nothing else."
But the mayor, satisfied that he made his point, smiled calmly,
"No, not the devil, but yourself. You, even the you of seven years
back, would not have lived in any country town if necessity, or let
us say, safety, had not demanded it. You, with your looks and your
ambitions,--to marry at twenty-five a girl from the kitchen! any
girl, even if she had the making of an Olympia Packard, if you did
not know that it was in your power to shake her off when you got
ready to assert yourself, or better prospects offered? The cipher
and the desirability you expressed of a means of communication
unreadable save by you two,--all this was enough to start the
suspicion; your own manner has done the rest. Mr. Steele, you are
both a villain and a Bastard, and have no right in law to this
woman. Contradict me if you dare."
"I dare, but will not," was the violent reply. "I shall not give
you even that satisfaction. This woman who has gone through the
ceremony of marriage with both of us shall never know to which of
us she is the legal wife. Perhaps it is as good a revenge as the
other. It certainly will interfere as much with her peace."
"Oh, oh, not that! I can not bear that!" leaped in anguish from
her lips. "I am a pure woman, let no such torture be inflicted
upon me. Speak! tell the truth as you are the son of a woman you
would have us believe honest."
A smile then, cold but alive with gloating triumph, altered the
straight line of his lips for an instant as he advanced toward the
door. "A woman over the possession of whom it is an honor to
quarrel!" were his words as he passed the mayor with a bow.
I looked to see the mayor spring and grasp him, by the throat, but
that was left for another hand. As the secretary bent to touch the
door it suddenly flew violently open and Nixon, quivering in every
limb and with his face afire, sprang in and seized upon the other
with a violence of passion which would have been deadly had there
been any strength behind it.
It was but child's play for so strong a man as Mr. Steele to shake
off so futile a grasp, and he did so with a rasping laugh. But the
next moment he was tottering, blanched and helpless, and while
struggling to right himself and escape, yielded more and more to a
sudden weakness sapping his life-vigor, till he fell prone and
apparently lifeless on the lounge toward which, with a final
effort, he had thrown himself.
"Good! Good!" rang thrilling through the room, as the old man
reeled back from the wall against which he had been cast. "God has
finished what these old arms had only strength enough to begin. He
is dead this time, and it's a mercy! Thank God, Miss Olympia!
thank God as I do now on my knees!" But here catching the mayor's
eye, he faltered to his feet again, saying humbly as he crept away:
"I couldn't help it, your Honor. I shouldn't have been listening
at the door; but I have loved Miss Olympia, as we used to call her,
more than anything in the world ever since she came to make my old
master's house a place of sunshine, and all I'm sorry for is that
God had to do the finishing which twenty years ago I could have
"BITTER AS THE GRAVE"
But Nixon was wrong. Mr. Steele did not die--not this time. Cared
for by the physician who had been hastily summoned, he slowly but
surely revived and by midnight was able to leave the house. As he
passed the mayor on his way out, I heard Mr. Packard say:
"I shall leave the house myself in a few minutes. I do not mean
that your disaffection shall ruin my campaign any more than I mean
to leave a stone unturned to substantiate my accusation that you
had no right to marry and possess legal claims over the woman whose
happiness you have endeavored to wreck. If you are wise you will
put no further hindrance in my way."
I heard no answer, for at that instant a figure appeared in the
open door which distracted all our attention. Miss Thankful, never
an early sleeper and much given, as we know, to looking out of her
window, had evidently caught the note of disaster from the coming
and going of the doctor. She had run in from next door and now
stood panting in the open doorway face to face with Mr. Steele,
with her two hands held out, in one of which, remarkable as it
seems to relate, I saw the package of bonds which I had been
fortunate enough to find for her.
The meeting seemed to paralyze both; her face which had been full
of tremulous feeling blanched and hardened, while he, stopped in
some speech or final effort he was about to make, yielded to the
natural brutality which underlay his polished exterior, and, in an
access of rage which almost laid him prostrate again, lifted his
arm and struck her out of his path. As she reeled to one side the
bonds flew from her hand and lay at his feet; but he saw nothing;
he was already half-way down the walk and in another moment the
bang of his carriage door announced his departure.
The old lady, muttering words I could not hear, stared mute and
stricken at the bonds which the mayor had hastened to lift and
place in her hands.
Pitying her and anxious to relieve him from the embarrassment of
her presence when his own mind and heart were full of misery, I
rushed down to her side and endeavored to lead her away. She
yielded patiently enough to my efforts, but, as she turned away,
she cast one look at the mayor and with the tears rolling down her
long and hollow cheeks murmured in horror and amaze:
"He struck me!"
The flash in Mayor Packard's eye showed sympathy, but the demands
of the moment were too great for him to give to those pathetic
words the full significance which I suddenly suspected them to
hold. As I led her tottering figure down the step and turned
toward her door I said gently:
"Who was the man? Who was it that struck you?"
She answered quickly and with broken-hearted emphasis "My nephew!
my sister's son, and I had come to give him all our money. We
have waited three days for him to come to us. We thought he would
when he knew the bonds had been found, but he never came near,
never gave us a chance to enrich him; and when I heard he was ill
and saw the carriage which had come to take him away, we could not
stand it another minute and so I ran out and--and he struck me!
looked in my face and struck me!"
I folded her in my arms, there and then at the foot of her own
doorstep, and when I felt her heart beating on mine, I whispered:
"Bless God for it! He has a hard and cruel heart, and would make
no good use of this money. Live to spend it as your brother
desired, to make over the old house and reinstate the old name. He
would not have wished it wasted on one who must have done you cruel
wrong, since he has lived so many days beside you without showing
his interest in you or even acknowledging your relationship."
"There were reasons," she protested, gently withdrawing herself,
but holding me for a minute to her side. "He has had great
fortune--is a man of importance now--we did not wish to interfere
with his career. It was only after the money was found that we
felt he should come. We should not have asked him to take back his
old name, we should simply have given him what he thought best to
take and been so happy and proud to see him. He is so handsome and
fortunate that we should not have begrudged it, if he had taken it
all. But he struck me! he struck me! He will never get a dollar
Relieved, for the natural good sense of the woman was reasserting
itself, I gave her hands a squeeze and quickly ran back to where
the mayor was holding the door for me.
"She is all right now," I remarked, as I slid by him upstairs; and
that was all I said. The rest must wait a more auspicious moment--
the moment when he really would have time to take up the gage which
Mr. Steele had thrown down to him in his final words.
I was not a witness to the parting interview between Mayor Packard
and his wife; I had stolen into the nursery, for a look at the
little one. I found her sleeping sweetly, with one chubby hand
under her rounded cheek. Thus had she lain and thus had she slept
during all those dreadful minutes, when her future hung, trembling
in the balance.
A CHILD'S PLAYTHINGS
I was too much overwhelmed by all these events to close my eyes
that night. The revelation of Mr. Steele's further duplicity,
coming so immediately upon the first, roused fresh surmises and
awakened thoughts which soon set my wits working in a direction as
new as it was unexpected. I had believed my work over in this
house, but as I recalled all the occurrences of the evening and
turned the situation, as it now confronted me, over and over in my
mind, I felt that it had just begun. There must be something in
this latest development to help us in the struggle which lay before
us. The rage which sprang up in him as he confronted his old aunt
at this moment of his triumphant revenge argued a weakness in his
armor which it might yet be my part to discover and reveal. I knew
Mrs. Packard well enough to realize that the serenity into which
she had fallen was a fictitious serenity, and must remain so as
long as any doubt remained of the legality of the tie uniting her
to this handsome fiend. Were the means suggested by the mayor of
promising enough character to accomplish the looked-for end?
I remembered the man's eyes as the mayor let fall his word of
powerful threat, and doubted it. Once, recovered from the
indisposition which now weakened him, he would find means to thwart
any attempts made by Mayor Packard to undermine the position he had
taken as the legal husband of Olympia--sufficiently so, at least,
to hinder happiness between the pair whose wedded life he not only
envied but was determined to break up, unless some flaw in his past
could be discovered through Miss Quinlan--the aunt whose goodness
he had slighted and who now seemed to be in a frame of mind to help
our cause if its pitiful aspects were once presented to her. I
resolved to present the case without delay. Morning came at last,
and I refreshed myself as well as I could, and, after a short visit
to Mrs. Packard's bedside during which my purpose grew with every
moment I gazed down on her brave but pitiful face, put on my hat
and jacket and went next door.
I found the two old ladies seated in their state apartment making
calculations. At sight of my, face they both rose and the "O my
dear" from Miss Charity and the "God bless you, child," from Miss
Thankful showed that both hearts were yet warm. Gradually I
introduced the topic of their nephew; gradually I approached the
vital question of the disgrace.
The result upset all my growing hopes. He had never told them just
what the disgrace was. They, really knew nothing about his life
after his early boyhood. He had come home that one time when
fortune so suddenly smiled upon them and they thought then that he
would tell them something; but the disappointment which had
followed effectually closed his lips, and he went away after a few
days of fruitless search, not to approach them again till just
before he took up the position of secretary to their great
neighbor. Then he paid them one short and peremptory visit, during
which he was able to impress upon them his importance, his reasons
for changing his name, which they could not now remember, and the
great necessity which this made for them not to come near him as
their nephew. They had tried to do what he asked, but it had been
hard. "Charity," Miss Thankful proceeded to bewail with a
forgetfulness of her own share in the matter, "had not been able to
keep her eyes long off the house which held, as she supposed, our
double treasure." So this was all! Nothing to aid me; nothing to
aid Mayor Packard. Rising in my disappointment, I prepared to
leave. I had sufficient self-control and I hope good feeling not
to add to their distress at this time by any unnecessary
revelations of a past they were ignorant of, or the part this
unhappy nephew of theirs had played and still promised to play in
the lives of their immediate neighbors.
Miss Thankful squeezed my hand and Miss Charity gave me a kiss;
then as she saw her sister looking aside, whispered in my ear "I
want to show you something, all of Johnnie's little toys and the
keepsakes he sent us when he was a good boy and loved his aunts.
You will not think so badly of him then."
I let Miss Charity lead me away. A drawer held all these
treasures. I looked and felt to a degree the pathos of the scene;
but did not give special attention to what she thrust under my eyes
till she gave me a little old letter to read, soiled and torn with
the handling of many years and signed John Silverthorn Brainard.
Then something in me woke and I stared at this signature, growing
more and more excited as I realized that this was not the first
time I had seen it, that somewhere and in circumstances which
brought a nameless thrill I had looked upon it before and that--it
was not one remembrance but many which came to me. What the spoken
name had not recalled came at the sight of this written one. Bess!
there was her long and continued watch over the house once entered
by her on any and every pretext, but now shunned by her with a
secret terror which could not disguise her longing and its secret
attraction; her certificate of marriage; the name on this
certificate--the very one I was now staring at--John Silverthorn
Brainard! Had I struck an invaluable clue? Had I, through the
weakness and doting fondness of this poor woman, come upon the one
link which would yet lead us to identify this hollow-hearted, false
and most vindictive man of great affairs with the wandering and
worthless husband of the nondescript Bess, whose hand I had touched
and whose errand I had done, little realizing its purport or the
influence it would have upon our lives? I dared not believe myself
so fortunate; it was much too like a fairy dream for me to rely on
it for a moment; yet the possibility was enough to rouse me to
renewed effort. After we had returned to Miss Thankful's side, I
asked her, with an apology for my inexhaustible curiosity, if she
still felt afraid of the thread and needle woman across the way.
The answer was a little sharp.
"It is Charity who is afraid of her," said she. She had evidently
forgotten her own extravagant words to me on this subject.
"Charity is timid; she thinks because this woman once hung over our
brother, night and day, that she knew about this money and had
persuaded herself that she has some right to it. Charity is
sometimes mistaken, but she has some reason, if it is inadequate,
for this notion of hers. That woman, since her dismissal after my
brother's death, has never really quit this neighborhood. She
worked next door in any capacity she could, whenever any of the
tenants would take her; and when they would not, sewed or served in
the houses near by till finally she set up a shop directly opposite
its very door. But she'll never get these bonds; we shall pay her
what is her due, but she'll never get any more."
"That would make her out a thief," I cried, "or--" but I thought
better of uttering what was in my mind. Instead I asked how they
first came to hear of her.
Miss Charity showed some flustration at this and cast her sister an
appealing look; but Miss Thankful, eying her with some severity,
answered me with becoming candor:
"She was a lodger in this house. We kept a few lodgers in those
days--be still, Charity! Just thank God those days are over."
"A lodger?" I repeated. "Did she ever tell you where she came
"Yes, she mentioned the place,--it was some town farther west.
That was when we were in such trouble about our brother and how we
should care for him. She could nurse him, she said, and indeed
seemed very eager to do so, and we were glad to let her,--very
glad, till my brother showed such fear of her and of what she might
do if she once got hold of his wallet."
"You possibly did her injustice," I said. "A sick man's fancies
are not always to be relied on. What did your nephew think of her?
Did he share your distrust of her?"
"John? Oh, yes, I believe so. Why do we always come back to the
subject of John? I want to forget him; I mean to forget him; I
mean that Charity shall forget him."
"Let us begin then from this moment," I smiled; then quickly: "You
knew that Bess was a married woman."
"No, we knew nothing about her."
"Not even the name she went by?"
"Oh, that was Brown."
"Brown," I muttered, turning for a second time to go. "You must
think me inquisitive, but if I had not been," I added with a merry
laugh, "I should never have found your bonds for you." Pressing
both their hands in mine I ran hastily out of the room.
At once I crossed the street to Bess' little shop.
"Bess, why are you so white? What has happened to you in the last
twenty-four hours? Have you heard from him?"
"No, no; I'm all right." But her eyes, hunted and wandering,
belied her words.
I drew her hands down into mine across the table lying between us.
"I want to help you," I whispered; "I think I can. Something has
happened which gives me great hope; only do me a favor first; show
me, as you promised, the papers which I dug out for you."
A smile, more bitter than any tear, made her face look very hard
for an instant, then she quietly led the way into the small room at
the back. When we were quite alone, she faced me again and putting
her hand to her breast took out the much creased, much crumpled bit
of paper which was her only link to youth, to her life, and to her
"This is all that will interest you," said she, her eyes brimming
in spite of herself. "It is my marriage certificate. The one
thing that proves me an honest woman and the equal of--" she
paused, biting back her words and saying instead--"of any one I
see. My husband was a gentleman."
It was with trembling hands I unfolded the worn sheet. Somehow the
tragedy of the lives my own had touched so nearly for the last few
days had become an essential part of me.
"John Silverthorn Brainard," I read, the name identical with the
one I had just seen as the early signature of the man who claimed
a husband's rights over Mrs. Packard. The date with what anxiety
I looked at it!--preceded by two years that of the time he united
himself to Olympia Brewster. No proof of the utter falsity of his
dishonorable claim could be more complete. As I folded up the
paper and handed it back, Bess noted the change which had come to
me. Panting with excitement she cried:
"You look happy, happy! You know something you have not told me.
What? what? I'm suffocating, mad to know; speak--speak--"
"Your husband is a man not unknown to any of us. You have seen him
constantly. He is--"
"Yes, yes; did he tell you himself? Has he done me so much
justice? Oh, say that his heart has softened at last; that he is
ready to recognize me; that I have not got to find those bonds--but
you do not know about the bonds--nobody does. I shouldn't have
spoken; he would be angry if he knew. Angry? and I have suffered
so much from his anger! He is not a gentle man."
How differently she said this from the gentleman of a few minutes
"But he doesn't know that I am here," she burst out in another
instant, as I hunted for some word to say. "He would kill me if he
did; he once swore that he would kill me if I ever approached him
or put in any claim to him till he was ready to own me for his wife
and give me the place that is due me. Don't tell me that I have
betrayed myself, I've been so careful; kept myself so entirely out
of his eyes, even last night when I saw the doctor go in and felt
that it was for him, and pictured him to myself as dying without a
word from me or a look to help me bear the pain. He was ill,
wasn't he?--but he got better. I saw him come out, very feeble and
uncertain. Not like himself, not like the strong and too, too
handsome man who has wrung my heart in his hand of steel,--wrung it
and thrown it away."
Sobs shook her and she stopped from lack of power to utter either
her terror or her grief. But she looked the questions she could no
longer put, and compassionating her misery, I gently said:
"Your love has been fixed upon a very unstable heart; but you have
rights which must yet insure you his support. There is some one
who will protect these rights and protect you in your efforts to
"His aunt," she put in, shaking her head. "She can do nothing,
unless--" Her excitement became abnormal. "Have they found the
money?" she shrieked; "have they--have they found the money?"
I could not deceive her; she had seen it in my, eye.
"And they will--"
"Hardly," I whispered. "He has displeased them; they can not be
generous to him now."
Her hopes sank as if the very basis of her life had been taken
"It was my only hope," she murmured. "With that money in my hand--
some, any of it, I could have dared his frown and won in a little
while his good will, but now--I can only anticipate rebuff. There
is nothing for me to hope for now. I must continue to be Bess, the
thread and needle woman."
"I did not say that the one to reinstate you was Miss Quinlan."
"Who then? who then?"
And then I had to tell her.
We all know the results of the election by which Governor Packard
holds his seat, but few persons outside of those mentioned in this
history know why the event of his homecoming from a trip he made to
Minnesota brought a brighter and more lasting light into his wife's
eyes than the news of his astonishing political triumph.
He had substantiated facts by which Mr. Steele's claims upon Mrs
Packard were annulled and Bess restored to her rights, if not to
her false husband's heart and affections. There are times, though,
when I do not even despair of the latter; constant illness is
producing a perceptible change in the man, and it seemed to me,
from what Mrs. John Brainard told me one day after she had been
able, through the kindness of the Misses Quinlan, to place the
amount of one of the bonds in his hands, that his eyes were
beginning to learn their true lesson and that he would yet find
charm in his long neglected wife. It was not to be wondered at, for
with hope and the advantages of dress with which the Misses Quinlan
now took pleasure in supplying her, she was gradually becoming an
unusually fine woman.
I remained with Mrs. Packard till they left town for the capital;
remained to enjoy to the full the joy of these reunited hearts, and
to receive the substantial reward which they insisted on bestowing
upon me. One of the tasks with which I whiled away the many hours
in which I found myself alone was the understanding and proper
mastery of the cipher which had played such a part in the evolution
of the life-drama enacted before my eyes.
It was very simple. With the following diagram as a key and a
single hint as to its management, you will at once comprehend its
AB | CD | EF \ST/
GH | IJ | KL /\
MN | OP | QR
The dot designated that the letter used was the second in the
The hint to which I allude is this. With every, other word the
paper is turned in the hands toward the left. This alters the
shape and direction of the angle or part of square symbolizing the
several letters, and creates the confusion which interfered with my
solution of its mysteries the night I subjected it, with such
unsatisfactory, results, to the tests which had elucidated the
cryptogram in The Gold Bug.