The Bolted Door
by Edith Wharton
HUBERT GRANICE, pacing the length of his pleasant lamp-lit library,
paused to compare his watch with the clock on the chimney-piece.
Three minutes to eight.
In exactly three minutes Mr. Peter Ascham, of the eminent legal
firm of Ascham and Pettilow, would have his punctual hand on the
door-bell of the flat. It was a comfort to reflect that Ascham was so
punctual — the suspense was beginning to make his host nervous. And the
sound of the door-bell would be the beginning of the end — after that
there'd be no going back, by God — no going back!
Granice resumed his pacing. Each time he reached the end of the
room opposite the door he caught his reflection in the Florentine
mirror above the fine old walnut credencehe had picked up at Dijon —
saw himself spare, quick-moving, carefully brushed and dressed, but
furrowed, gray about the temples, with a stoop which he corrected by a
spasmodic straightening of the shoulders whenever a glass confronted
him: a tired middle-aged man, baffled, beaten, worn out.
As he summed himself up thus for the third or fourth time the door
opened and he turned with a thrill of relief to greet his guest. But it
was only the man-servant who entered, advancing silently over the mossy
surface of the old Turkey rug.
"Mr. Ascham telephones, sir, to say he's unexpectedly detained and
can't be here till eight-thirty."
Granice made a curt gesture of annoyance. It was becoming harder
and harder for him to control these reflexes. He turned on his heel,
tossing to the servant over his shoulder: "Very good. Put off dinner."
Down his spine he felt the man's injured stare. Mr. Granice had
always been so mild-spoken to his people — no doubt the odd change in
his manner had already been noticed and discussed below stairs. And
very likely they suspected the cause. He stood drumming on the
writing-table till he heard the servant go out; then he threw himself
into a chair, propping his elbows on the table and resting his chin on
his locked hands.
Another half hour alone with it!
He wondered irritably what could have detained his guest. Some
professional matter, no doubt — the punctilious lawyer would have
allowed nothing less to interfere with a dinner engagement, more
especially since Granice, in his note, had said: "I shall want a little
business chat afterward."
But what professional matter could have come up at that
unprofessional hour? Perhaps some other soul in misery had called on
the lawyer; and, after all, Granice's note had given no hint of his own
need! No doubt Ascham thought he merely wanted to make another change
in his will. Since he had come into his little property, ten years
earlier, Granice had been perpetually tinkering with his will.
Suddenly another thought pulled him up, sending a flush to his
sallow temples. He remembered a word he had tossed to the lawyer some
six weeks earlier, at the Century Club. "Yes — my play's as good as
taken. I shall be calling on you soon to go over the contract. Those
theatrical chaps are so slippery — I won't trust anybody but you to tie
the knot for me!" That, of course, was what Ascham would think he was
wanted for. Granice, at the idea, broke into an audible laugh — a queer
stage-laugh, like the cackle of a baffled villain in a melodrama. The
absurdity, the unnaturalness of the sound abashed him, and he
compressed his lips angrily. Would he take to soliloquy next?
He lowered his arms and pulled open the upper drawer of the
writing-table. In the right-hand corner lay a thick manuscript, bound
in paper folders, and tied with a string beneath which a letter had
been slipped. Next to the manuscript was a small revolver. Granice
stared a moment at these oddly associated objects; then he took the
letter from under the string and slowly began to open it. He had known
he should do so from the moment his hand touched the drawer. Whenever
his eye fell on that letter some relentless force compelled him to
It was dated about four weeks back, under the letter-head of "The
Diversity Theatre." "MY DEAR MR. GRANICE:
"I have given the matter my best consideration for the last month,
and it's no use — the play won't do. I have talked it over with Miss
Melrose — and you know there isn't a gamer artist on our stage — and I
regret to tell you she feels just as I do about it. It isn't the poetry
that scares her — or me either. We both want to do all we can to help
along the poetic drama — we believe the public's ready for it, and
we're willing to take a big financial risk in order to be the first to
give them what they want. But we don't believe they could be made to
want this. The fact is, there isn't enough drama in your play to the
allowance of poetry — the thing drags all through. You've got a big
idea, but it's not out of swaddling clothes.
"If this was your first play I'd say: Try again. But it has been
just the same with all the others you've shown me. And you remember the
result of 'The Lee Shore,' where you carried all the expenses of
production yourself, and we couldn't fill the theatre for a week. Yet
'The Lee Shore' was a modern problem play — much easier to swing than
blank verse. It isn't as if you hadn't tried all kinds — "
Granice folded the letter and put it carefully back into the
envelope. Why on earth was he re-reading it, when he knew every phrase
in it by heart, when for a month past he had seen it, night after
night, stand out in letters of flame against the darkness of his
"It has been just the same with all the others you've shown me."
That was the way they dismissed ten years of passionate unremitting
"You remember the result of 'The Lee Shore.'"
Good God — as if he were likely to forget it! He re-lived it all
now in a drowning flash: the persistent rejection of the play, his
sudden resolve to put it on at his own cost, to spend ten thousand
dollars of his inheritance on testing his chance of success — the fever
of preparation, the dry-mouthed agony of the "first night," the flat
fall, the stupid press, his secret rush to Europe to escape the
condolence of his friends!
"It isn't as if you hadn't tried all kinds."
No — he had tried all kinds: comedy, tragedy, prose and verse, the
light curtain-raiser, the short sharp drama, the bourgeois-realistic
and the lyrical-romantic — finally deciding that he would no longer
"prostitute his talent" to win popularity, but would impose on the
public his own theory of art in the form of five acts of blank verse.
Yes, he had offered them everything — and always with the same result.
Ten years of it — ten years of dogged work and unrelieved failure.
The ten years from forty to fifty — the best ten years of his life! And
if one counted the years before, the silent years of dreams,
assimilation, preparation — then call it half a man's life-time: half a
man's life-time thrown away!
And what was he to do with the remaining half? Well, he had settled
that, thank God! He turned and glanced anxiously at the clock. Ten
minutes past eight — only ten minutes had been consumed in that stormy
rush through his whole past! And he must wait another twenty minutes
for Ascham. It was one of the worst symptoms of his case that, in
proportion as he had grown to shrink from human company, he dreaded
more and more to be alone. . . . But why the devil was he waiting for
Ascham? Why didn't he cut the knot himself? Since he was so unutterably
sick of the whole business, why did he have to call in an outsider to
rid him of this nightmare of living?
He opened the drawer again and laid his hand on the revolver. It
was a small slim ivory toy — just the instrument for a tired sufferer
to give himself a "hypodermic" with. Granice raised it slowly in one
hand, while with the other he felt under the thin hair at the back of
his head, between the ear and the nape. He knew just where to place the
muzzle: he had once got a young surgeon to show him. And as he found
the spot, and lifted the revolver to it, the inevitable phenomenon
occurred. The hand that held the weapon began to shake, the tremor
communicated itself to his arm, his heart gave a wild leap which sent
up a wave of deadly nausea to his throat, he smelt the powder, he
sickened at the crash of the bullet through his skull, and a sweat of
fear broke out over his forehead and ran down his quivering face. . .
He laid away the revolver with an oath and, pulling out a
cologne-scented handkerchief, passed it tremulously over his brow and
temples. It was no use — he knew he could never do it in that way. His
attempts at self-destruction were as futile as his snatches at fame! He
couldn't make himself a real life, and he couldn't get rid of the life
he had. And that was why he had sent for Ascham to help him. . .
The lawyer, over the Camembert and Burgundy, began to excuse
himself for his delay.
"I didn't like to say anything while your man was about — but the
fact is, I was sent for on a rather unusual matter — "
"Oh, it's all right," said Granice cheerfully. He was beginning to
feel the usual reaction that food and company produced. It was not any
recovered pleasure in life that he felt, but only a deeper withdrawal
into himself. It was easier to go on automatically with the social
gestures than to uncover to any human eye the abyss within him.
"My dear fellow, it's sacrilege to keep a dinner waiting —
especially the production of an artist like yours." Mr. Ascham sipped
his Burgundy luxuriously. "But the fact is, Mrs. Ashgrove sent for me."
Granice raised his head with a quick movement of surprise. For a
moment he was shaken out of his self-absorption.
Ascham smiled. "I thought you'd be interested; I know your passion
for causes celebres. And this promises to be one. Of course it's out of
our line entirely — we never touch criminal cases. But she wanted to
consult me as a friend. Ashgrove was a distant connection of my wife's.
And, by Jove, it isa queer case!" The servant re-entered, and Ascham
snapped his lips shut.
Would the gentlemen have their coffee in the dining-room?
"No — serve it in the library," said Granice, rising. He led the
way back to the curtained confidential room. He was really curious to
hear what Ascham had to tell him.
While the coffee and cigars were being served he fidgeted about the
library, glancing at his letters — the usual meaningless notes and
bills — and picking up the evening paper. As he unfolded it a headline
caught his eye.
"ROSE MELROSE WANTS TO
"THINKS SHE HAS FOUND HER
He read on with a thumping heart — found the name of a young author
he had barely heard of, saw the title of a play, a "poetic drama,"
dance before his eyes, and dropped the paper, sick, disgusted. It was
true, then — she was"game" — it was not the manner but the matter she
Granice turned to the servant, who seemed to be purposely
lingering. "I shan't need you this evening, Flint. I'll lock up
He fancied the man's acquiescence implied surprise. What was going
on, Flint seemed to wonder, that Mr. Granice should want him out of the
way? Probably he would find a pretext for coming back to see. Granice
suddenly felt himself enveloped in a network of espionage.
As the door closed he threw himself into an armchair and leaned
forward to take a light from Ascham's cigar.
"Tell me about Mrs. Ashgrove," he said, seeming to himself to speak
stiffly, as if his lips were cracked.
"Mrs. Ashgrove? Well, there's not much to tell."
"And you couldn't if there were?" Granice smiled.
"Probably not. As a matter of fact, she wanted my advice about her
choice of counsel. There was nothing especially confidential in our
"And what's your impression, now you've seen her?"
"My impression is, very distinctly, that nothing will ever be
"Ah — ?" Granice murmured, puffing at his cigar.
"I'm more and more convinced that whoever poisoned Ashgrove knew
his business, and will consequently never be found out. That's a
capital cigar you've given me."
"You like it? I get them over from Cuba." Granice examined his own
reflectively. "Then you believe in the theory that the clever criminals
"Of course I do. Look about you — look back for the last dozen
years — none of the big murder problems are ever solved." The lawyer
ruminated behind his blue cloud. "Why, take the instance in your own
family: I'd forgotten I had an illustration at hand! Take old Joseph
Lenman's murder — do you suppose that will ever be explained?"
As the words dropped from Ascham's lips his host looked slowly
about the library, and every object in it stared back at him with a
stale unescapable familiarity. How sick he was of looking at that room!
It was as dull as the face of a wife one has wearied of. He cleared his
throat slowly; then he turned his head to the lawyer and said: "I could
explain the Lenman murder myself."
Ascham's eye kindled: he shared Granice's interest in criminal
"By Jove! You've had a theory all this time? It's odd you never
mentioned it. Go ahead and tell me. There are certain features in the
Lenman case not unlike this Ashgrove affair, and your idea may be a
Granice paused and his eye reverted instinctively to the table
drawer in which the revolver and the manuscript lay side by side. What
if he were to try another appeal to Rose Melrose? Then he looked at the
notes and bills on the table, and the horror of taking up again the
lifeless routine of life — of performing the same automatic gestures
another day — displaced his fleeting vision.
"I haven't a theory. I knowwho murdered Joseph Lenman."
Ascham settled himself comfortably in his chair, prepared for
"You know? Well, who did?" he laughed.
"I did," said Granice, rising.
He stood before Ascham, and the lawyer lay back staring up at him.
Then he broke into another laugh.
"Why, this is glorious! You murdered him, did you? To inherit his
money, I suppose? Better and better! Go on, my boy! Unbosom yourself!
Tell me all about it! Confession is good for the soul."
Granice waited till the lawyer had shaken the last peal of laughter
from his throat; then he repeated doggedly: "I murdered him."
The two men looked at each other for a long moment, and this time
Ascham did not laugh.
"I murdered him — to get his money, as you say."
There was another pause, and Granice, with a vague underlying sense
of amusement, saw his guest's look change from pleasantry to
"What's the joke, my dear fellow? I fail to see."
"It's not a joke. It's the truth. I murdered him." He had spoken
painfully at first, as if there were a knot in his throat; but each
time he repeated the words he found they were easier to say.
Ascham laid down his extinct cigar.
"What's the matter? Aren't you well? What on earth are you driving
"I'm perfectly well. But I murdered my cousin, Joseph Lenman, and I
want it known that I murdered him."
"You want it known?"
"Yes. That's why I sent for you. I'm sick of living, and when I try
to kill myself I funk it." He spoke quite naturally now, as if the knot
in his throat had been untied.
"Good Lord — good Lord," the lawyer gasped.
"But I suppose," Granice continued, "there's no doubt this would be
murder in the first degree? I'm sure of the chair if I own up?"
Ascham drew a long breath; then he said slowly: "Sit down, Granice.
GRANICE told his story simply, connectedly.
He began by a quick survey of his early years — the years of
drudgery and privation. His father, a charming man who could never say
"no," had so signally failed to say it on certain essential occasions
that when he died he left an illegitimate family and a mortgaged
estate. His lawful kin found themselves hanging over a gulf of debt,
and young Granice, to support his mother and sister, had to leave
Harvard and bury himself at eighteen in a broker's office. He loathed
his work, and he was always poor, always worried and in ill-health. A
few years later his mother died, but his sister, an ineffectual
neurasthenic, remained on his hands. His own health gave out, and he
had to go away for six months, and work harder than ever when he came
back. He had no knack for business, no head for figures, no dimmest
insight into the mysteries of commerce. He wanted to travel and write —
those were his inmost longings. And as the years dragged on, and he
neared middle-age without making any more money, or acquiring any
firmer health, a sick despair possessed him. He tried writing, but he
always came home from the office so tired that his brain could not
work. For half the year he did not reach his dim up-town flat till
after dark, and could only "brush up" for dinner, and afterward lie on
the lounge with his pipe, while his sister droned through the evening
paper. Sometimes he spent an evening at the theatre; or he dined out,
or, more rarely, strayed off with an acquaintance or two in quest of
what is known as "pleasure." And in summer, when he and Kate went to
the sea-side for a month, he dozed through the days in utter weariness.
Once he fell in love with a charming girl — but what had he to offer
her, in God's name? She seemed to like him, and in common decency he
had to drop out of the running. Apparently no one replaced him, for she
never married, but grew stoutish, grayish, philanthropic — yet how
sweet she had been when he had first kissed her! One more wasted life,
he reflected. . .
But the stage had always been his master-passion. He would have
sold his soul for the time and freedom to write plays! It was in him —
he could not remember when it had not been his deepest-seated instinct.
As the years passed it became a morbid, a relentless obsession — yet
with every year the material conditions were more and more against it.
He felt himself growing middle-aged, and he watched the reflection of
the process in his sister's wasted face. At eighteen she had been
pretty, and as full of enthusiasm as he. Now she was sour, trivial,
insignificant — she had missed her chance of life. And she had no
resources, poor creature, was fashioned simply for the primitive
functions she had been denied the chance to fulfil! It exasperated him
to think of it — and to reflect that even now a little travel, a little
health, a little money, might transform her, make her young and
desirable. . . The chief fruit of his experience was that there is no
such fixed state as age or youth — there is only health as against
sickness, wealth as against poverty; and age or youth as the outcome of
the lot one draws.
At this point in his narrative Granice stood up, and went to lean
against the mantel-piece, looking down at Ascham, who had not moved
from his seat, or changed his attitude of rigid fascinated attention.
"Then came the summer when we went to Wrenfield to be near old
Lenman — my mother's cousin, as you know. Some of the family always
mounted guard over him — generally a niece or so. But that year they
were all scattered, and one of the nieces offered to lend us her
cottage if we'd relieve her of duty for two months. It was a nuisance
for me, of course, for Wrenfield is two hours from town; but my mother,
who was a slave to family observances, had always been good to the old
man, so it was natural we should be called on — and there was the
saving of rent and the good air for Kate. So we went.
"You never knew Joseph Lenman? Well, picture to yourself an amoeba
or some primitive organism of that sort, under a Titan's microscope. He
was large, undifferentiated, inert — since I could remember him he had
done nothing but take his temperature and read the Churchman. Oh, and
cultivate melons — that was his hobby. Not vulgar, out-of-door melons —
his were grown under glass. He had miles of it at Wrenfield — his big
kitchen-garden was surrounded by blinking battalions of green-houses.
And in nearly all of them melons were grown — early melons and late,
French, English, domestic — dwarf melons and monsters: every shape,
colour and variety. They were petted and nursed like children — a staff
of trained attendants waited on them. I'm not sure they didn't have a
doctor to take their temperature — at any rate the place was full of
thermometers. And they didn't sprawl on the ground like ordinary
melons; they were trained against the glass like nectarines, and each
melon hung in a net which sustained its weight and left it free on all
sides to the sun and air. . .
"It used to strike me sometimes that old Lenman was just like one
of his own melons — the pale-fleshed English kind. His life, apathetic
and motionless, hung in a net of gold, in an equable warm ventilated
atmosphere, high above sordid earthly worries. The cardinal rule of his
existence was not to let himself be 'worried.' . . I remember his
advising me to try it myself, one day when I spoke to him about Kate's
bad health, and her need of a change. 'I never let myself worry,' he
said complacently. 'It's the worst thing for the liver — and you look
to me as if you had a liver. Take my advice and be cheerful. You'll
make yourself happier and others too.' And all he had to do was to
write a cheque, and send the poor girl off for a holiday!
"The hardest part of it was that the money half-belonged to us
already. The old skin-flint only had it for life, in trust for us and
the others. But his life was a good deal sounder than mine or Kate's —
and one could picture him taking extra care of it for the joke of
keeping us waiting. I always felt that the sight of our hungry eyes was
a tonic to him.
"Well, I tried to see if I couldn't reach him through his vanity. I
flattered him, feigned a passionate interest in his melons. And he was
taken in, and used to discourse on them by the hour. On fine days he
was driven to the green-houses in his pony-chair, and waddled through
them, prodding and leering at the fruit, like a fat Turk in his
seraglio. When he bragged to me of the expense of growing them I was
reminded of a hideous old Lothario bragging of what his pleasures cost.
And the resemblance was completed by the fact that he couldn't eat as
much as a mouthful of his melons — had lived for years on buttermilk
and toast. 'But, after all, it's my only hobby — why shouldn't I
indulge it?' he said sentimentally. As if I'd ever been able to indulge
any of mine! On the keep of those melons Kate and I could have lived
like gods. . .
"One day toward the end of the summer, when Kate was too unwell to
drag herself up to the big house, she asked me to go and spend the
afternoon with cousin Joseph. It was a lovely soft September afternoon
— a day to lie under a Roman stone-pine, with one's eyes on the sky,
and let the cosmic harmonies rush through one. Perhaps the vision was
suggested by the fact that, as I entered cousin Joseph's hideous black
walnut library, I passed one of the under-gardeners, a handsome
full-throated Italian, who dashed out in such a hurry that he nearly
knocked me down. I remember thinking it queer that the fellow, whom I
had often seen about the melon-houses, did not bow to me, or even seem
to see me.
"Cousin Joseph sat in his usual seat, behind the darkened windows,
his fat hands folded on his protuberant waistcoat, the last number of
the Churchmanat his elbow, and near it, on a huge dish, a fat melon —
the fattest melon I'd ever seen. As I looked at it I pictured the
ecstasy of contemplation from which I must have roused him, and
congratulated myself on finding him in such a mood, since I had made up
my mind to ask him a favour. Then I noticed that his face, instead of
looking as calm as an egg-shell, was distorted and whimpering — and
without stopping to greet me he pointed passionately to the melon.
"'Look at it, look at it — did you ever see such a beauty? Such
firmness — roundness — such delicious smoothness to the touch?' It was
as if he had said 'she' instead of 'it,' and when he put out his senile
hand and touched the melon I positively had to look the other way.
"Then he told me what had happened. The Italian under-gardener, who
had been specially recommended for the melon-houses — though it was
against my cousin's principles to employ a Papist — had been assigned
to the care of the monster: for it had revealed itself, early in its
existence, as destined to become a monster, to surpass its plumpest,
pulpiest sisters, carry off prizes at agricultural shows, and be
photographed and celebrated in every gardening paper in the land. The
Italian had done well — seemed to have a sense of responsibility. And
that very morning he had been ordered to pick the melon, which was to
be shown next day at the county fair, and to bring it in for Mr. Lenman
to gaze on its blonde virginity. But in picking it, what had the damned
scoundrelly Jesuit done but drop it — drop it crash on the sharp spout
of a watering-pot, so that it received a deep gash in its firm pale
rotundity, and was henceforth but a bruised, ruined, fallen melon?
"The old man's rage was fearful in its impotence — he shook,
spluttered and strangled with it. He had just had the Italian up and
had sacked him on the spot, without wages or character — had threatened
to have him arrested if he was ever caught prowling about Wrenfield.
'By God, and I'll do it — I'll write to Washington — I'll have the
pauper scoundrel deported! I'll show him what money can do!' As likely
as not there was some murderous Black-hand business under it — it would
be found that the fellow was a member of a 'gang.' Those Italians would
murder you for a quarter. He meant to have the police look into it. . .
And then he grew frightened at his own excitement. 'But I must calm
myself,' he said. He took his temperature, rang for his drops, and
turned to the Churchman. He had been reading an article on Nestorianism
when the melon was brought in. He asked me to go on with it, and I read
to him for an hour, in the dim close room, with a fat fly buzzing
stealthily about the fallen melon.
"All the while one phrase of the old man's buzzed in my brain like
the fly about the melon. 'I'll show him what money can do!' Good
heaven! If I could but show the old man! If I could make him see his
power of giving happiness as a new outlet for his monstrous egotism! I
tried to tell him something about my situation and Kate's — spoke of my
ill-health, my unsuccessful drudgery, my longing to write, to make
myself a name — I stammered out an entreaty for a loan. 'I can
guarantee to repay you, sir — I've a half-written play as security. .
"I shall never forget his glassy stare. His face had grown as
smooth as an egg-shell again — his eyes peered over his fat cheeks like
sentinels over a slippery rampart.
"'A half-written play — a play of yoursas security?' He looked at
me almost fearfully, as if detecting the first symptoms of insanity.
'Do you understand anything of business?' he enquired mildly. I laughed
and answered: 'No, not much.'
"He leaned back with closed lids. 'All this excitement has been too
much for me,' he said. 'If you'll excuse me, I'll prepare for my nap.'
And I stumbled out of the room, blindly, like the Italian."
Granice moved away from the mantel-piece, and walked across to the
tray set out with decanters and soda-water. He poured himself a tall
glass of soda-water, emptied it, and glanced at Ascham's dead cigar.
"Better light another," he suggested.
The lawyer shook his head, and Granice went on with his tale. He
told of his mounting obsession — how the murderous impulse had waked in
him on the instant of his cousin's refusal, and he had muttered to
himself: "By God, if you won't, I'll make you." He spoke more
tranquilly as the narrative proceeded, as though his rage had died down
once the resolve to act on it was taken. He applied his whole mind to
the question of how the old man was to be "disposed of." Suddenly he
remembered the outcry: "Those Italians will murder you for a quarter!"
But no definite project presented itself: he simply waited for an
Granice and his sister moved to town a day or two after the
incident of the melon. But the cousins, who had returned, kept them
informed of the old man's condition. One day, about three weeks later,
Granice, on getting home, found Kate excited over a report from
Wrenfield. The Italian had been there again — had somehow slipped into
the house, made his way up to the library, and "used threatening
language." The house-keeper found cousin Joseph gasping, the whites of
his eyes showing "something awful." The doctor was sent for, and the
attack warded off; and the police had ordered the Italian from the
But cousin Joseph, thereafter, languished, had "nerves," and lost
his taste for toast and butter-milk. The doctor called in a colleague,
and the consultation amused and excited the old man — he became once
more an important figure. The medical men reassured the family — too
completely! — and to the patient they recommended a more varied diet:
advised him to take whatever "tempted him." And so one day,
tremulously, prayerfully, he decided on a tiny bit of melon. It was
brought up with ceremony, and consumed in the presence of the
house-keeper and a hovering cousin; and twenty minutes later he was
dead. . .
"But you remember the circumstances," Granice went on; "how
suspicion turned at once on the Italian? In spite of the hint the
police had given him he had been seen hanging about the house since
'the scene.' It was said that he had tender relations with the
kitchen-maid, and the rest seemed easy to explain. But when they looked
round to ask him for the explanation he was gone — gone clean out of
sight. He had been 'warned' to leave Wrenfield, and he had taken the
warning so to heart that no one ever laid eyes on him again."
Granice paused. He had dropped into a chair opposite the lawyer's,
and he sat for a moment, his head thrown back, looking about the
familiar room. Everything in it had grown grimacing and alien, and each
strange insistent object seemed craning forward from its place to hear
"It was I who put the stuff in the melon," he said. "And I don't
want you to think I'm sorry for it. This isn't 'remorse,' understand.
I'm glad the old skin-flint is dead — I'm glad the others have their
money. But mine's no use to me any more. My sister married miserably,
and died. And I've never had what I wanted."
Ascham continued to stare; then he said: "What on earth was your
"Why, to getwhat I wanted — what I fancied was in reach! I wanted
change, rest, life, for both of us — wanted, above all, for myself, the
chance to write! I travelled, got back my health, and came home to tie
myself up to my work. And I've slaved at it steadily for ten years
without reward — without the most distant hope of success! Nobody will
look at my stuff. And now I'm fifty, and I'm beaten, and I know it."
His chin dropped forward on his breast. "I want to chuck the whole
business," he ended.
IT was after midnight when Ascham left.
His hand on Granice's shoulder, as he turned to go — "District
Attorney be hanged; see a doctor, see a doctor!" he had cried; and so,
with an exaggerated laugh, had pulled on his coat and departed.
Granice turned back into the library. It had never occurred to him
that Ascham would not believe his story. For three hours he had
explained, elucidated, patiently and painfully gone over every detail —
but without once breaking down the iron incredulity of the lawyer's
At first Ascham had feigned to be convinced — but that, as Granice
now perceived, was simply to get him to expose himself, to entrap him
into contradictions. And when the attempt failed, when Granice
triumphantly met and refuted each disconcerting question, the lawyer
dropped the mask suddenly, and said with a good-humoured laugh: "By
Jove, Granice you'll write a successful play yet. The way you've worked
this all out is a marvel."
Granice swung about furiously — that last sneer about the play
inflamed him. Was all the world in a conspiracy to deride his failure?
"I did it, I did it," he muttered sullenly, his rage spending
itself against the impenetrable surface of the other's mockery; and
Ascham answered with a smile: "Ever read any of those books on
hallucination? I've got a fairly good medico-legal library. I could
send you one or two if you like. . ."
Left alone, Granice cowered down in the chair before his
writing-table. He understood that Ascham thought him off his head.
"Good God — what if they all think me crazy?"
The horror of it broke out over him in a cold sweat — he sat there
and shook, his eyes hidden in his icy hands. But gradually, as he began
to rehearse his story for the thousandth time, he saw again how
incontrovertible it was, and felt sure that any criminal lawyer would
"That's the trouble — Ascham's not a criminal lawyer. And then he's
a friend. What a fool I was to talk to a friend! Even if he did believe
me, he'd never let me see it — his instinct would be to cover the whole
thing up. . . But in that case — if he did believe me — he might think
it a kindness to get me shut up in an asylum. . ." Granice began to
tremble again. "Good heaven! If he should bring in an expert — one of
those damned alienists! Ascham and Pettilow can do anything — their
word always goes. If Ascham drops a hint that I'd better be shut up,
I'll be in a strait-jacket by to-morrow! And he'd do it from the
kindest motives — be quite right to do it if he thinks I'm a murderer!"
The vision froze him to his chair. He pressed his fists to his
bursting temples and tried to think. For the first time he hoped that
Ascham had not believed his story.
"But he did — he did! I can see it now — I noticed what a queer eye
he cocked at me. Good God, what shall I do — what shall I do?"
He started up and looked at the clock. Half-past one. What if
Ascham should think the case urgent, rout out an alienist, and come
back with him? Granice jumped to his feet, and his sudden gesture
brushed the morning paper from the table. Mechanically he stooped to
pick it up, and the movement started a new train of association.
He sat down again, and reached for the telephone book in the rack
by his chair.
"Give me three-o-ten . . . yes."
The new idea in his mind had revived his flagging energy. He would
act — act at once. It was only by thus planning ahead, committing
himself to some unavoidable line of conduct, that he could pull himself
through the meaningless days. Each time he reached a fresh decision it
was like coming out of a foggy weltering sea into a calm harbour with
lights. One of the queerest phases of his long agony was the intense
relief produced by these momentary lulls.
"That the office of the Investigator? Yes? Give me Mr. Denver,
please. . . Hallo, Denver. . . Yes, Hubert Granice. . . . Just caught
you? Going straight home? Can I come and see you . . . yes, now . . .
have a talk? It's rather urgent . . . yes, might give you some
first-rate 'copy.' . . . All right!" He hung up the receiver with a
laugh. It had been a happy thought to call up the editor of the
Investigator — Robert Denver was the very man he needed. . .
Granice put out the lights in the library — it was odd how the
automatic gestures persisted! — went into the hall, put on his hat and
overcoat, and let himself out of the flat. In the hall, a sleepy
elevator boy blinked at him and then dropped his head on his folded
arms. Granice passed out into the street. At the corner of Fifth Avenue
he hailed a crawling cab, and called out an up-town address. The long
thoroughfare stretched before him, dim and deserted, like an ancient
avenue of tombs. But from Denver's house a friendly beam fell on the
pavement; and as Granice sprang from his cab the editor's electric
turned the corner.
The two men grasped hands, and Denver, feeling for his latch-key,
ushered Granice into the brightly-lit hall.
"Disturb me? Not a bit. You might have, at ten to-morrow morning .
. . but this is my liveliest hour . . . you know my habits of old."
Granice had known Robert Denver for fifteen years — watched his
rise through all the stages of journalism to the Olympian pinnacle of
the Investigator'seditorial office. In the thick-set man with grizzling
hair there were few traces left of the hungry-eyed young reporter who,
on his way home in the small hours, used to "bob in" on Granice, while
the latter sat grinding at his plays. Denver had to pass Granice's flat
on the way to his own, and it became a habit, if he saw a light in the
window, and Granice's shadow against the blind, to go in, smoke a pipe,
and discuss the universe.
"Well — this is like old times — a good old habit reversed." The
editor smote his visitor genially on the shoulder. "Reminds me of the
nights when I used to rout you out. . . How's the play, by the way?
There isa play, I suppose? It's as safe to ask you that as to say to
some men: 'How's the baby?'"
Denver laughed good-naturedly, and Granice thought how thick and
heavy he had grown. It was evident, even to Granice's tortured nerves,
that the words had not been uttered in malice — and the fact gave him a
new measure of his insignificance. Denver did not even know that he had
been a failure! The fact hurt more than Ascham's irony.
"Come in — come in." The editor led the way into a small cheerful
room, where there were cigars and decanters. He pushed an arm-chair
toward his visitor, and dropped into another with a comfortable groan.
"Now, then — help yourself. And let's hear all about it."
He beamed at Granice over his pipe-bowl, and the latter, lighting
his cigar, said to himself: "Success makes men comfortable, but it
makes them stupid."
Then he turned, and began: "Denver, I want to tell you — "
The clock ticked rhythmically on the mantel-piece. The little room
was gradually filled with drifting blue layers of smoke, and through
them the editor's face came and went like the moon through a moving
sky. Once the hour struck — then the rhythmical ticking began again.
The atmosphere grew denser and heavier, and beads of perspiration began
to roll from Granice's forehead.
"Do you mind if I open the window?"
"No. It isstuffy in here. Wait — I'll do it myself." Denver pushed
down the upper sash, and returned to his chair. "Well — go on," he
said, filling another pipe. His composure exasperated Granice.
"There's no use in my going on if you don't believe me."
The editor remained unmoved. "Who says I don't believe you? And how
can I tell till you've finished?"
Granice went on, ashamed of his outburst. "It was simple enough, as
you'll see. From the day the old man said to me, 'Those Italians would
murder you for a quarter,' I dropped everything and just worked at my
scheme. It struck me at once that I must find a way of getting to
Wrenfield and back in a night — and that led to the idea of a motor. A
motor — that never occurred to you? You wonder where I got the money, I
suppose. Well, I had a thousand or so put by, and I nosed around till I
found what I wanted — a second-hand racer. I knew how to drive a car,
and I tried the thing and found it was all right. Times were bad, and I
bought it for my price, and stored it away. Where? Why, in one of those
no-questions-asked garages where they keep motors that are not for
family use. I had a lively cousin who had put me up to that dodge, and
I looked about till I found a queer hole where they took in my car like
a baby in a foundling asylum. . . Then I practiced running to Wrenfield
and back in a night. I knew the way pretty well, for I'd done it often
with the same lively cousin — and in the small hours, too. The distance
is over ninety miles, and on the third trial I did it under two hours.
But my arms were so lame that I could hardly get dressed the next
morning. . .
"Well, then came the report about the Italian's threats, and I saw
I must act at once. . . I meant to break into the old man's room, shoot
him, and get away again. It was a big risk, but I thought I could
manage it. Then we heard that he was ill — that there'd been a
consultation. Perhaps the fates were going to do it for me! Good Lord,
if that could only be! . . ."
Granice stopped and wiped his forehead: the open window did not
seem to have cooled the room.
"Then came word that he was better; and the day after, when I came
up from my office, I found Kate laughing over the news that he was to
try a bit of melon. The house-keeper had just telephoned her — all
Wrenfield was in a flutter. The doctor himself had picked out the
melon, one of the little French ones that are hardly bigger than a
large tomato — and the patient was to eat it at his breakfast the next
"In a flash I saw my chance. It was a bare chance, no more. But I
knew the ways of the house — I was sure the melon would be brought in
over night and put in the pantry ice-box. If there were only one melon
in the ice-box I could be fairly sure it was the one I wanted. Melons
didn't lie around loose in that house — every one was known, numbered,
catalogued. The old man was beset by the dread that the servants would
eat them, and he took a hundred mean precautions to prevent it. Yes, I
felt pretty sure of my melon . . . and poisoning was much safer than
shooting. It would have been the devil and all to get into the old
man's bedroom without his rousing the house; but I ought to be able to
break into the pantry without much trouble.
"It was a cloudy night, too — everything served me. I dined
quietly, and sat down at my desk. Kate had one of her usual headaches,
and went to bed early. As soon as she was gone I slipped out. I had got
together a sort of disguise — red beard and queer-looking ulster. I
shoved them into a bag, and went round to the garage. There was no one
there but a half-drunken machinist whom I'd never seen before. That
served me, too. They were always changing machinists, and this new
fellow didn't even bother to ask if the car belonged to me. It was a
very easy-going place. . .
"Well, I jumped in, ran up Broadway, and let the car go as soon as
I was out of Harlem. Dark as it was, I could trust myself to strike a
sharp pace. In the shadow of a wood I stopped a second and got into the
beard and ulster. Then away again — it was just eleven-thirty when I
got to Wrenfield.
"I left the car in a dark lane behind the Lenman place, and slipped
through the kitchen-garden. The melon-houses winked at me through the
dark — I remember thinking that they knew what I wanted to know. . . .
By the stable a dog came out growling — but he nosed me out, jumped on
me, and went back. . . The house was as dark as the grave. I knew
everybody went to bed by ten. But there might be a prowling servant —
the kitchen-maid might have come down to let in her Italian. I had to
risk that, of course. I crept around by the back door and hid in the
shrubbery. Then I listened. It was all as silent as death. I crossed
over to the house, pried open the pantry window and climbed in. I had a
little electric lamp in my pocket, and shielding it with my cap I
groped my way to the ice-box, opened it — and there was the little
French melon . . . only one.
"I stopped to listen — I was quite cool. Then I pulled out my
bottle of stuff and my syringe, and gave each section of the melon a
hypodermic. It was all done inside of three minutes — at ten minutes to
twelve I was back in the car. I got out of the lane as quietly as I
could, struck a back road that skirted the village, and let the car out
as soon as I was beyond the last houses. I only stopped once on the way
in, to drop the beard and ulster into a pond. I had a big stone ready
to weight them with and they went down plump, like a dead body — and at
two o'clock I was back at my desk."
Granice stopped speaking and looked across the smoke-fumes at his
listener; but Denver's face remained inscrutable.
At length he said: "Why did you want to tell me this?"
The question startled Granice. He was about to explain, as he had
explained to Ascham; but suddenly it occurred to him that if his motive
had not seemed convincing to the lawyer it would carry much less weight
with Denver. Both were successful men, and success does not understand
the subtle agony of failure. Granice cast about for another reason.
"Why, I — the thing haunts me . . . remorse, I suppose you'd call
it. . ."
Denver struck the ashes from his empty pipe.
"Remorse? Bosh!" he said energetically.
Granice's heart sank. "You don't believe in — remorse?"
"Not an atom: in the man of action. The mere fact of your talking
of remorse proves to me that you're not the man to have planned and put
through such a job."
Granice groaned. "Well — I lied to you about remorse. I've never
Denver's lips tightened sceptically about his freshly-filled pipe.
"What was your motive, then? You must have had one."
"I'll tell you — " And Granice began again to rehearse the story of
his failure, of his loathing for life. "Don't say you don't believe me
this time . . . that this isn't a real reason!" he stammered out
piteously as he ended.
Denver meditated. "No, I won't say that. I've seen too many queer
things. There's always a reason for wanting to get out of life — the
wonder is that we find so many for staying in!"
Granice's heart grew light. "Then you dobelieve me?" he faltered.
"Believe that you're sick of the job? Yes. And that you haven't the
nerve to pull the trigger? Oh, yes — that's easy enough, too. But all
that doesn't make you a murderer — though I don't say it proves you
could never have been one."
"I havebeen one, Denver — I swear to you."
"Perhaps." He meditated. "Just tell me one or two things."
"Oh, go ahead. You won't stump me!" Granice heard himself say with
"Well — how did you make all those trial trips without exciting
your sister's curiosity? I knew your night habits pretty well at that
time, remember. You were very seldom out late. Didn't the change in
your ways surprise her?"
"No; because she was away at the time. She went to pay several
visits in the country soon after we came back from Wrenfield, and was
only in town for a night or two before — before I did the job."
"And that night she went to bed early with a headache?"
"Yes — blinding. She didn't know any-thing when she had that kind.
And her room was at the back of the flat."
Denver again meditated. "And when you got back — she didn't hear
you? You got in without her knowing it?"
"Yes. I went straight to my work — took it up at the word where I'd
left off — why, Denver, don't you remember?" Granice suddenly,
"Remember — ?"
"Yes; how you found me — when you looked in that morning, between
two and three . . . your usual hour . . .?"
"Yes," the editor nodded.
Granice gave a short laugh. "In my old coat — with my pipe: looked
as if I'd been working all night, didn't I? Well, I hadn't been in my
chair ten minutes!"
Denver uncrossed his legs and then crossed them again. "I didn't
know whether youremembered that."
"My coming in that particular night — or morning."
Granice swung round in his chair. "Why, man alive! That's why I'm
here now. Because it was you who spoke for me at the inquest, when they
looked round to see what all the old man's heirs had been doing that
night — you who testified to having dropped in and found me at my desk
as usual. . . . I thought thatwould appeal to your journalistic sense
if nothing else would!"
Denver smiled. "Oh, my journalistic sense is still susceptible
enough — and the idea's picturesque, I grant you: asking the man who
proved your alibi to establish your guilt."
"That's it — that's it!" Granice's laugh had a ring of triumph.
"Well, but how about the other chap's testimony — I mean that young
doctor: what was his name? Ned Ranney. Don't you remember my testifying
that I'd met him at the elevated station, and told him I was on my way
to smoke a pipe with you, and his saying: 'All right; you'll find him
in. I passed the house two hours ago, and saw his shadow against the
blind, as usual.' And the lady with the toothache in the flat across
the way: she corroborated his statement, you remember."
"Yes; I remember."
"Simple enough. Before starting I rigged up a kind of mannikin with
old coats and a cushion — something to cast a shadow on the blind. All
you fellows were used to seeing my shadow there in the small hours — I
counted on that, and knew you'd take any vague outline as mine."
"Simple enough, as you say. But the woman with the toothache saw
the shadow move — you remember she said she saw you sink forward, as if
you'd fallen asleep."
"Yes; and she was right. It didmove. I suppose some extra-heavy
dray must have jolted by the flimsy building — at any rate, something
gave my mannikin a jar, and when I came back he had sunk forward, half
over the table."
There was a long silence between the two men. Granice, with a
throbbing heart, watched Denver refill his pipe. The editor, at any
rate, did not sneer and flout him. After all, journalism gave a deeper
insight than the law into the fantastic possibilities of life, prepared
one better to allow for the incalculableness of human impulses.
"Well?" Granice faltered out.
Denver stood up with a shrug. "Look here, man — what's wrong with
you? Make a clean breast of it! Nerves gone to smash? I'd like to take
you to see a chap I know — an ex-prize-fighter — who's a wonder at
pulling fellows in your state out of their hole — "
"Oh, oh — " Granice broke in. He stood up also, and the two men
eyed each other. "You don't believe me, then?"
"This yarn — how can I? There wasn't a flaw in your alibi."
"But haven't I filled it full of them now?"
Denver shook his head. "I might think so if I hadn't happened to
know that you wantedto. There's the hitch, don't you see?"
Granice groaned. "No, I didn't. You mean my wanting to be found
guilty — ?"
"Of course! If somebody else had accused you, the story might have
been worth looking into. As it is, a child could have invented it. It
doesn't do much credit to your ingenuity."
Granice turned sullenly toward the door. What was the use of
arguing? But on the threshold a sudden impulse drew him back. "Look
here, Denver — I daresay you're right. But will you do just one thing
to prove it? Put my statement in the Investigator, just as I've made
it. Ridicule it as much as you like. Only give the other fellows a
chance at it — men who don't know anything about me. Set them talking
and looking about. I don't care a damn whether youbelieve me — what I
want is to convince the Grand Jury! I oughtn't to have come to a man
who knows me — your cursed incredulity is infectious. I don't put my
case well, because I know in advance it's discredited, and I almost end
by not believing it myself. That's why I can't convince you. It's a
vicious circle." He laid a hand on Denver's arm. "Send a stenographer,
and put my statement in the paper.
But Denver did not warm to the idea. "My dear fellow, you seem to
forget that all the evidence was pretty thoroughly sifted at the time,
every possible clue followed up. The public would have been ready
enough then to believe that you murdered old Lenman — you or anybody
else. All they wanted was a murderer — the most improbable would have
served. But your alibi was too confoundedly complete. And nothing
you've told me has shaken it." Denver laid his cool hand over the
other's burning fingers. "Look here, old fellow, go home and work up a
better case — then come in and submit it to the Investigator."
THE perspiration was rolling off Granice's forehead. Every few
minutes he had to draw out his handkerchief and wipe the moisture from
his haggard face.
For an hour and a half he had been talking steadily, putting his
case to the District Attorney. Luckily he had a speaking acquaintance
with Allonby, and had obtained, without much difficulty, a private
audience on the very day after his talk with Robert Denver. In the
interval between he had hurried home, got out of his evening clothes,
and gone forth again at once into the dreary dawn. His fear of Ascham
and the alienist made it impossible for him to remain in his rooms. And
it seemed to him that the only way of averting that hideous peril was
by establishing, in some sane impartial mind, the proof of his guilt.
Even if he had not been so incurably sick of life, the electric chair
seemed now the only alternative to the strait-jacket.
As he paused to wipe his forehead he saw the District Attorney
glance at his watch. The gesture was significant, and Granice lifted an
appealing hand. "I don't expect you to believe me now — but can't you
put me under arrest, and have the thing looked into?"
Allonby smiled faintly under his heavy grayish moustache. He had a
ruddy face, full and jovial, in which his keen professional eyes seemed
to keep watch over impulses not strictly professional.
"Well, I don't know that we need lock you up just yet. But of
course I'm bound to look into your statement — "
Granice rose with an exquisite sense of relief. Surely Allonby
wouldn't have said that if he hadn't believed him!
"That's all right. Then I needn't detain you. I can be found at any
time at my apartment." He gave the address.
The District Attorney smiled again, more openly. "What do you say
to leaving it for an hour or two this evening? I'm giving a little
supper at Rector's — quiet, little affair, you understand: just Miss
Melrose — I think you know her — and a friend or two; and if you'll
join us. . ."
Granice stumbled out of the office without knowing what reply he
He waited for four days — four days of concentrated horror. During
the first twenty-four hours the fear of Ascham's alienist dogged him;
and as that subsided, it was replaced by the exasperating sense that
his avowal had made no impression on the District Attorney. Evidently,
if he had been going to look into the case, Allonby would have been
heard from before now. . . . And that mocking invitation to supper
showed clearly enough how little the story had impressed him!
Granice was overcome by the futility of any farther attempt to
inculpate himself. He was chained to life — a "prisoner of
consciousness." Where was it he had read the phrase? Well, he was
learning what it meant. In the glaring night-hours, when his brain
seemed ablaze, he was visited by a sense of his fixed identity, of his
irreducible, inexpugnable selfness, keener, more insidious, more
unescapable, than any sensation he had ever known. He had not guessed
that the mind was capable of such intricacies of self-realization, of
penetrating so deep into its own dark windings. Often he woke from his
brief snatches of sleep with the feeling that something material was
clinging to him, was on his hands and face, and in his throat — and as
his brain cleared he understood that it was the sense of his own
loathed personality that stuck to him like some thick viscous
Then, in the first morning hours, he would rise and look out of his
window at the awakening activities of the street — at the
street-cleaners, the ash-cart drivers, and the other dingy workers
flitting hurriedly by through the sallow winter light. Oh, to be one of
them — any of them — to take his chance in any of their skins! They
were the toilers — the men whose lot was pitied — the victims wept over
and ranted about by altruists and economists; and how gladly he would
have taken up the load of any one of them, if only he might have shaken
off his own! But, no — the iron circle of consciousness held them too:
each one was hand-cuffed to his own hideous ego. Why wish to be any one
man rather than another? The only absolute good was not to be . . . And
Flint, coming in to draw his bath, would ask if he preferred his eggs
scrambled or poached that morning?
On the fifth day he wrote a long urgent letter to Allonby; and for
the succeeding two days he had the occupation of waiting for an answer.
He hardly stirred from his rooms, in his fear of missing the letter by
a moment; but would the District Attorney write, or send a
representative: a policeman, a "secret agent," or some other mysterious
emissary of the law?
On the third morning Flint, stepping softly — as if, confound it!
his master were ill — entered the library where Granice sat behind an
unread newspaper, and proferred a card on a tray.
Granice read the name — J. B. Hewson — and underneath, in pencil,
"From the District Attorney's office." He started up with a thumping
heart, and signed an assent to the servant.
Mr. Hewson was a slight sallow nondescript man of about fifty — the
kind of man of whom one is sure to see a specimen in any crowd. "Just
the type of the successful detective," Granice reflected as he shook
hands with his visitor.
And it was in that character that Mr. Hewson briefly introduced
himself. He had been sent by the District Attorney to have "a quiet
talk" with Mr. Granice — to ask him to repeat the statement he had made
about the Lenman murder.
His manner was so quiet, so reasonable and receptive, that
Granice's self-confidence returned. Here was a sensible man — a man who
knew his business — it would be easy enough to make himsee through that
ridiculous alibi! Granice offered Mr. Hewson a cigar, and lighting one
himself — to prove his coolness — began again to tell his story.
He was conscious, as he proceeded, of telling it better than ever
before. Practice helped, no doubt; and his listener's detached,
impartial attitude helped still more. He could see that Hewson, at
least, had not decided in advance to disbelieve him, and the sense of
being trusted made him more lucid and more consecutive. Yes, this time
his words would certainly carry conviction. . .
DESPAIRINGLY, Granice gazed up and down the shabby street. Beside
him stood a young man with bright prominent eyes, a smooth but not too
smoothly-shaven face, and an Irish smile. The young man's nimble glance
"Sure of the number, are you?" he asked briskly.
"Oh, yes — it was 104."
"Well, then, the new building has swallowed it up — that's
He tilted his head back and surveyed the half-finished front of a
brick and limestone flat-house that reared its flimsy elegance above a
row of tottering tenements and stables.
"Dead sure?" he repeated.
"Yes," said Granice, discouraged. "And even if I hadn't been, I
know the garage was just opposite Leffler's over there." He pointed
across the street to a tumble-down stable with a blotched sign on which
the words "Livery and Boarding" were still faintly discernible.
The young man dashed across to the opposite pavement. "Well, that's
something — may get a clue there. Leffler's — same name there, anyhow.
You remember that name?"
"Yes — distinctly."
Granice had felt a return of confidence since he had enlisted the
interest of the Explorer's"smartest" reporter. If there were moments
when he hardly believed his own story, there were others when it seemed
impossible that every one should not believe it; and young Peter
McCarren, peering, listening, questioning, jotting down notes, inspired
him with an exquisite sense of security. McCarren had fastened on the
case at once, "like a leech," as he phrased it — jumped at it, thrilled
to it, and settled down to "draw the last drop of fact from it, and had
not let go till he had." No one else had treated Granice in that way —
even Allonby's detective had not taken a single note. And though a week
had elapsed since the visit of that authorized official, nothing had
been heard from the District Attorney's office: Allonby had apparently
dropped the matter again. But McCarren wasn't going to drop it — not
he! He positively hung on Granice's footsteps. They had spent the
greater part of the previous day together, and now they were off again,
running down clues.
But at Leffler's they got none, after all. Leffler's was no longer
a stable. It was condemned to demolition, and in the respite between
sentence and execution it had become a vague place of storage, a
hospital for broken-down carriages and carts, presided over by a
blear-eyed old woman who knew nothing of Flood's garage across the way
— did not even remember what had stood there before the new flat-house
began to rise.
"Well — we may run Leffler down somewhere; I've seen harder jobs
done," said McCarren, cheerfully noting down the name.
As they walked back toward Sixth Avenue he added, in a less
sanguine tone: "I'd undertake now to put the thing through if you could
only put me on the track of that cyanide."
Granice's heart sank. Yes — there was the weak spot; he had felt it
from the first! But he still hoped to convince McCarren that his case
was strong enough without it; and he urged the reporter to come back to
his rooms and sum up the facts with him again.
"Sorry, Mr. Granice, but I'm due at the office now. Besides, it'd
be no use till I get some fresh stuff to work on. Suppose I call you up
tomorrow or next day?"
He plunged into a trolley and left Granice gazing desolately after
Two days later he reappeared at the apartment, a shade less jaunty
"Well, Mr. Granice, the stars in their courses are against you, as
the bard says. Can't get a trace of Flood, or of Leffler either. And
you say you bought the motor through Flood, and sold it through him,
"Yes," said Granice wearily.
"Who bought it, do you know?"
Granice wrinkled his brows. "Why, Flood — yes, Flood himself. I
sold it back to him three months later."
"Flood? The devil! And I've ransacked the town for Flood. That kind
of business disappears as if the earth had swallowed it."
Granice, discouraged, kept silence.
"That brings us back to the poison," McCarren continued, his
note-book out. "Just go over that again, will you?"
And Granice went over it again. It had all been so simple at the
time — and he had been so clever in covering up his traces! As soon as
he decided on poison he looked about for an acquaintance who
manufactured chemicals; and there was Jim Dawes, a Harvard classmate,
in the dyeing business — just the man. But at the last moment it
occurred to him that suspicion might turn toward so obvious an
opportunity, and he decided on a more tortuous course. Another friend,
Carrick Venn, a student of medicine whom irremediable ill-health had
kept from the practice of his profession, amused his leisure with
experiments in physics, for the exercise of which he had set up a
simple laboratory. Granice had the habit of dropping in to smoke a
cigar with him on Sunday afternoons, and the friends generally sat in
Venn's work-shop, at the back of the old family house in Stuyvesant
Square. Off this work-shop was the cupboard of supplies, with its row
of deadly bottles. Carrick Venn was an original, a man of restless
curious tastes, and his place, on a Sunday, was often full of visitors:
a cheerful crowd of journalists, scribblers, painters, experimenters in
divers forms of expression. Coming and going among so many, it was easy
enough to pass unperceived; and one afternoon Granice, arriving before
Venn had returned home, found himself alone in the work-shop, and
quickly slipping into the cupboard, transferred the drug to his pocket.
But that had happened ten years ago; and Venn, poor fellow, was
long since dead of his dragging ailment. His old father was dead, too,
the house in Stuyvesant Square had been turned into a boarding-house,
and the shifting life of New York had passed its rapid sponge over
every trace of their obscure little history. Even the optimistic
McCarren seemed to acknowledge the hopelessness of seeking for proof in
"And there's the third door slammed in our faces." He shut his
note-book, and throwing back his head, rested his bright inquisitive
eyes on Granice's furrowed face.
"Look here, Mr. Granice — you see the weak spot, don't you?"
The other made a despairing motion. "I see so many!"
"Yes: but the one that weakens all the others. Why the deuce do you
want this thing known? Why do you want to put your head into the
Granice looked at him hopelessly, trying to take the measure of his
quick light irreverent mind. No one so full of a cheerful animal life
would believe in the craving for death as a sufficient motive; and
Granice racked his brain for one more convincing. But suddenly he saw
the reporter's face soften, and melt to a naive sentimentalism.
"Mr. Granice — has the memory of it always haunted you?"
Granice stared a moment, and then leapt at the opening. "That's it
— the memory of it . . . always . . ."
McCarren nodded vehemently. "Dogged your steps, eh? Wouldn't let
you sleep? The time came when you hadto make a clean breast of it?"
"I had to. Can't you understand?"
The reporter struck his fist on the table. "God, sir! I don't
suppose there's a human being with a drop of warm blood in him that
can't picture the deadly horrors of remorse — "
The Celtic imagination was aflame, and Granice mutely thanked him
for the word. What neither Ascham nor Denver would accept as a
conceivable motive the Irish reporter seized on as the most adequate;
and, as he said, once one could find a convincing motive, the
difficulties of the case became so many incentives to effort.
"Remorse — remorse," he repeated, rolling the word under his tongue
with an accent that was a clue to the psychology of the popular drama;
and Granice, perversely, said to himself: "If I could only have struck
that note I should have been running in six theatres at once."
He saw that from that moment McCarren's professional zeal would be
fanned by emotional curiosity; and he profited by the fact to propose
that they should dine together, and go on afterward to some music-hall
or theatre. It was becoming necessary to Granice to feel himself an
object of pre-occupation, to find himself in another mind. He took a
kind of gray penumbral pleasure in riveting McCarren's attention on his
case; and to feign the grimaces of moral anguish became a passionately
engrossing game. He had not entered a theatre for months; but he sat
out the meaningless performance in rigid tolerance, sustained by the
sense of the reporter's observation.
Between the acts, McCarren amused him with anecdotes about the
audience: he knew every one by sight, and could lift the curtain from
every physiognomy. Granice listened indulgently. He had lost all
interest in his kind, but he knew that he was himself the real centre
of McCarren's attention, and that every word the latter spoke had an
indirect bearing on his own problem.
"See that fellow over there — the little dried-up man in the third
row, pulling his moustache? Hismemoirs would be worth publishing,"
McCarren said suddenly in the last entr'acte.
Granice, following his glance, recognized the detective from
Allonby's office. For a moment he had the thrilling sense that he was
"Caesar, if hecould talk — !" McCarren continued. "Know who he is,
of course? Dr. John B. Stell, the biggest alienist in the country — "
Granice, with a start, bent again between the heads in front of
him. "Thatman — the fourth from the aisle? You're mistaken. That's not
McCarren laughed. "Well, I guess I've been in court enough to know
Stell when I see him. He testifies in nearly all the big cases where
they plead insanity."
A cold shiver ran down Granice's spine, but he repeated
obstinately: "That's not Dr. Stell."
"Not Stell? Why, man, I knowhim. Look — here he comes. If it isn't
Stell, he won't speak to me."
The little dried-up man was moving slowly up the aisle. As he
neared McCarren he made a slight gesture of recognition.
"How'do, Doctor Stell? Pretty slim show, ain't it?" the reporter
cheerfully flung out at him. And Mr. J. B. Hewson, with a nod of
amicable assent, passed on.
Granice sat benumbed. He knew he had not been mistaken — the man
who had just passed was the same man whom Allonby had sent to see him:
a physician disguised as a detective. Allonby, then, had thought him
insane, like the others — had regarded his confession as the maundering
of a maniac. The discovery froze Granice with horror — he seemed to see
the mad-house gaping for him.
"Isn't there a man a good deal like him — a detective named J. B.
But he knew in advance what McCarren's answer would be. "Hewson? J.
B. Hewson? Never heard of him. But that was J. B. Stell fast enough — I
guess he can be trusted to know himself, and you saw he answered to his
SOME days passed before Granice could obtain a word with the
District Attorney: he began to think that Allonby avoided him.
But when they were face to face Allonby's jovial countenance showed
no sign of embarrassment. He waved his visitor to a chair, and leaned
across his desk with the encouraging smile of a consulting physician.
Granice broke out at once: "That detective you sent me the other
day — "
Allonby raised a deprecating hand.
" — I know: it was Stell the alienist. Why did you do that,
The other's face did not lose its composure. "Because I looked up
your story first — and there's nothing in it."
"Nothing in it?" Granice furiously interposed.
"Absolutely nothing. If there is, why the deuce don't you bring me
proofs? I know you've been talking to Peter Ascham, and to Denver, and
to that little ferret McCarren of the Explorer. Have any of them been
able to make out a case for you? No. Well, what am I to do?"
Granice's lips began to tremble. "Why did you play me that trick?"
"About Stell? I had to, my dear fellow: it's part of my business.
Stell isa detective, if you come to that — every doctor is."
The trembling of Granice's lips increased, communicating itself in
a long quiver to his facial muscles. He forced a laugh through his dry
throat. "Well — and what did he detect?"
"In you? Oh, he thinks it's overwork — overwork and too much
smoking. If you look in on him some day at his office he'll show you
the record of hundreds of cases like yours, and advise you what
treatment to follow. It's one of the commonest forms of hallucination.
Have a cigar, all the same."
"But, Allonby, I killed that man!"
The District Attorney's large hand, outstretched on his desk, had
an almost imperceptible gesture, and a moment later, as if an answer to
the call of an electric bell, a clerk looked in from the outer office.
"Sorry, my dear fellow — lot of people waiting. Drop in on Stell
some morning," Allonby said, shaking hands.
McCarren had to own himself beaten: there was absolutely no flaw in
the alibi. And since his duty to his journal obviously forbade his
wasting time on insoluble mysteries, he ceased to frequent Granice, who
dropped back into a deeper isolation. For a day or two after his visit
to Allonby he continued to live in dread of Dr. Stell. Why might not
Allonby have deceived him as to the alienist's diagnosis? What if he
were really being shadowed, not by a police agent but by a mad-doctor?
To have the truth out, he suddenly determined to call on Dr. Stell.
The physician received him kindly, and reverted without
embarrassment to the conditions of their previous meeting. "We have to
do that occasionally, Mr. Granice; it's one of our methods. And you had
given Allonby a fright."
Granice was silent. He would have liked to reaffirm his guilt, to
produce the fresh arguments which had occurred to him since his last
talk with the physician; but he feared his eagerness might be taken for
a symptom of derangement, and he affected to smile away Dr. Stell's
"You think, then, it's a case of brain-fag — nothing more?"
"Nothing more. And I should advise you to knock off tobacco. You
smoke a good deal, don't you?"
He developed his treatment, recommending massage, gymnastics,
travel, or any form of diversion that did not — that in short —
Granice interrupted him impatiently. "Oh, I loathe all that — and
I'm sick of travelling."
"H'm. Then some larger interest — politics, reform, philanthropy?
Something to take you out of yourself."
"Yes. I understand," said Granice wearily.
"Above all, don't lose heart. I see hundreds of cases like yours,"
the doctor added cheerfully from the threshold.
On the doorstep Granice stood still and laughed. Hundreds of cases
like his — the case of a man who had committed a murder, who confessed
his guilt, and whom no one would believe! Why, there had never been a
case like it in the world. What a good figure Stell would have made in
a play: the great alienist who couldn't read a man's mind any better
Granice saw huge comic opportunities in the type.
But as he walked away, his fears dispelled, the sense of
listlessness returned on him. For the first time since his avowal to
Peter Ascham he found himself without an occupation, and understood
that he had been carried through the past weeks only by the necessity
of constant action. Now his life had once more become a stagnant
backwater, and as he stood on the street corner watching the tides of
traffic sweep by, he asked himself despairingly how much longer he
could endure to float about in the sluggish circle of his
The thought of self-destruction recurred to him; but again his
flesh recoiled. He yearned for death from other hands, but he could
never take it from his own. And, aside from his insuperable physical
reluctance, another motive restrained him. He was possessed by the
dogged desire to establish the truth of his story. He refused to be
swept aside as an irresponsible dreamer — even if he had to kill
himself in the end, he would not do so before proving to society that
he had deserved death from it.
He began to write long letters to the papers; but after the first
had been published and commented on, public curiosity was quelled by a
brief statement from the District Attorney's office, and the rest of
his communications remained unprinted. Ascham came to see him, and
begged him to travel. Robert Denver dropped in, and tried to joke him
out of his delusion; till Granice, mistrustful of their motives, began
to dread the reappearance of Dr. Stell, and set a guard on his lips.
But the words he kept back engendered others and still others in his
brain. His inner self became a humming factory of arguments, and he
spent long hours reciting and writing down elaborate statements of his
crime, which he constantly retouched and developed. Then gradually his
activity languished under the lack of an audience, the sense of being
buried beneath deepening drifts of indifference. In a passion of
resentment he swore that he would prove himself a murderer, even if he
had to commit another crime to do it; and for a sleepless night or two
the thought flamed red on his darkness. But daylight dispelled it. The
determining impulse was lacking and he hated too promiscuously to
choose his victim. . . So he was thrown back on the unavailing struggle
to impose the truth of his story. As fast as one channel closed on him
he tried to pierce another through the sliding sands of incredulity.
But every issue seemed blocked, and the whole human race leagued
together to cheat one man of the right to die.
Thus viewed, the situation became so monstrous that he lost his
last shred of self-restraint in contemplating it. What if he were
really the victim of some mocking experiment, the centre of a ring of
holiday-makers jeering at a poor creature in its blind dashes against
the solid walls of consciousness? But, no — men were not so uniformly
cruel: there were flaws in the close surface of their indifference,
cracks of weakness and pity here and there. . .
Granice began to think that his mistake lay in having appealed to
persons more or less familiar with his past, and to whom the visible
conformities of his life seemed a final disproof of its one fierce
secret deviation. The general tendency was to take for the whole of
life the slit seen between the blinders of habit: and in his walk down
that narrow vista Granice cut a correct enough figure. To a vision free
to follow his whole orbit his story would be more intelligible: it
would be easier to convince a chance idler in the street than the
trained intelligence hampered by a sense of his antecedents. This idea
shot up in him with the tropic luxuriance of each new seed of thought,
and he began to walk the streets, and to frequent out-of-the-way
chop-houses and bars in his search for the impartial stranger to whom
he should disclose himself.
At first every face looked encouragement; but at the crucial moment
he always held back. So much was at stake, and it was so essential that
his first choice should be decisive. He dreaded stupidity, timidity,
intolerance. The imaginative eye, the furrowed brow, were what he
sought. He must reveal himself only to a heart versed in the tortuous
motions of the human will; and he began to hate the dull benevolence of
the average face. Once or twice, obscurely, allusively, he made a
beginning — once sitting down at a man's side in a basement chop-house,
another day approaching a lounger on an east-side wharf. But in both
cases the premonition of failure checked him on the brink of avowal.
His dread of being taken for a man in the clutch of a fixed idea gave
him an unnatural keenness in reading the expression of his
interlocutors, and he had provided himself in advance with a series of
verbal alternatives, trap-doors of evasion from the first dart of
ridicule or suspicion.
He passed the greater part of the day in the streets, coming home
at irregular hours, dreading the silence and orderliness of his
apartment, and the critical scrutiny of Flint. His real life was spent
in a world so remote from this familiar setting that he sometimes had
the mysterious sense of a living metempsychosis, a furtive passage from
one identity to another — yet the other as unescapably himself!
One humiliation he was spared: the desire to live never revived in
him. Not for a moment was he tempted to a shabby pact with existing
conditions. He wanted to die, wanted it with the fixed unwavering
desire which alone attains its end. And still the end eluded him! It
would not always, of course — he had full faith in the dark star of his
destiny. And he could prove it best by repeating his story,
persistently and indefatigably, pouring it into indifferent ears,
hammering it into dull brains, till at last it kindled a spark, and
some one of the careless millions paused, listened, believed. . .
It was a mild March day, and he had been loitering on the west-side
docks, looking at faces. He was becoming an expert in physiognomies:
his eagerness no longer made rash darts and awkward recoils. He knew
now the face he needed, as clearly as if it had come to him in a
vision; and not till he found it would he speak. As he walked eastward
through the shabby reeking streets he had a premonition that he should
find it that morning. Perhaps it was the promise of spring in the air —
certainly he felt calmer than for many days. . .
He turned into Washington Square, struck across it obliquely, and
walked up University Place. Its heterogeneous passers always allured
him — they were less hurried than in Broadway, less enclosed and
classified than in Fifth Avenue. He walked slowly, watching for his
At Union Square he felt a sudden relapse into discouragement, like
a votary who has watched too long for a sign from the altar. Perhaps,
after all, he should never find his face. . . The air was languid, and
he felt tired. He walked between the bald grass-plots and the twisted
trees, making for an empty seat. Presently he passed a bench on which a
girl sat alone, and something as definite as the twitch of a cord made
him stop before her. He had never dreamed of telling his story to a
girl, had hardly looked at the women's faces as they passed. His case
was man's work: how could a woman help him? But this girl's face was
extraordinary — quiet and wide as a clear evening sky. It suggested a
hundred images of space, distance, mystery, like ships he had seen, as
a boy, quietly berthed by a familiar wharf, but with the breath of far
seas and strange harbours in their shrouds. . . Certainly this girl
would understand. He went up to her quietly, lifting his hat, observing
the forms — wishing her to see at once that he was "a gentleman."
"I am a stranger to you," he began, sitting down beside her, "but
your face is so extremely intelligent that I feel. . . I feel it is the
face I've waited for . . . looked for everywhere; and I want to tell
you — "
The girl's eyes widened: she rose to her feet. She was escaping
In his dismay he ran a few steps after her, and caught her roughly
by the arm.
"Here — wait — listen! Oh, don't scream, you fool!" he shouted out.
He felt a hand on his own arm; turned and confronted a policeman.
Instantly he understood that he was being arrested, and something hard
within him was loosened and ran to tears.
"Ah, you know — you knowI'm guilty!"
He was conscious that a crowd was forming, and that the girl's
frightened face had disappeared. But what did he care about her face?
It was the policeman who had really understood him. He turned and
followed, the crowd at his heels. . .
IN the charming place in which he found himself there were so many
sympathetic faces that he felt more than ever convinced of the
certainty of making himself heard.
It was a bad blow, at first, to find that he had not been arrested
for murder; but Ascham, who had come to him at once, explained that he
needed rest, and the time to "review" his statements; it appeared that
reiteration had made them a little confused and contradictory. To this
end he had willingly acquiesced in his removal to a large quiet
establishment, with an open space and trees about it, where he had
found a number of intelligent companions, some, like himself, engaged
in preparing or reviewing statements of their cases, and others ready
to lend an interested ear to his own recital.
For a time he was content to let himself go on the tranquil current
of this existence; but although his auditors gave him for the most part
an encouraging attention, which, in some, went the length of really
brilliant and helpful suggestion, he gradually felt a recurrence of his
old doubts. Either his hearers were not sincere, or else they had less
power to aid him than they boasted. His interminable conferences
resulted in nothing, and as the benefit of the long rest made itself
felt, it produced an increased mental lucidity which rendered inaction
more and more unbearable. At length he discovered that on certain days
visitors from the outer world were admitted to his retreat; and he
wrote out long and logically constructed relations of his crime, and
furtively slipped them into the hands of these messengers of hope.
This occupation gave him a fresh lease of patience, and he now
lived only to watch for the visitors' days, and scan the faces that
swept by him like stars seen and lost in the rifts of a hurrying sky.
Mostly, these faces were strange and less intelligent than those of
his companions. But they represented his last means of access to the
world, a kind of subterranean channel on which he could set his
"statements" afloat, like paper boats which the mysterious current
might sweep out into the open seas of life.
One day, however, his attention was arrested by a familiar contour,
a pair of bright prominent eyes, and a chin insufficiently shaved. He
sprang up and stood in the path of Peter McCarren.
The journalist looked at him doubtfully, then held out his hand
with a startled deprecating, "Why — ?"
"You didn't know me? I'm so changed?" Granice faltered, feeling the
rebound of the other's wonder.
"Why, no; but you're looking quieter — smoothed out," McCarren
"Yes: that's what I'm here for — to rest. And I've taken the
opportunity to write out a clearer statement — "
Granice's hand shook so that he could hardly draw the folded paper
from his pocket. As he did so he noticed that the reporter was
accompanied by a tall man with grave compassionate eyes. It came to
Granice in a wild thrill of conviction that this was the face he had
waited for. . .
"Perhaps your friend — he isyour friend? — would glance over it —
or I could put the case in a few words if you have time?" Granice's
voice shook like his hand. If this chance escaped him he felt that his
last hope was gone. McCarren and the stranger looked at each other, and
the former glanced at his watch.
"I'm sorry we can't stay and talk it over now, Mr. Granice; but my
friend has an engagement, and we're rather pressed — "
Granice continued to proffer the paper. "I'm sorry — I think I
could have explained. But you'll take this, at any rate?"
The stranger looked at him gently. "Certainly — I'll take it." He
had his hand out. "Good-bye."
"Good-bye," Granice echoed.
He stood watching the two men move away from him through the long
light hall; and as he watched them a tear ran down his face. But as
soon as they were out of sight he turned and walked hastily toward his
room, beginning to hope again, already planning a new statement.
Outside the building the two men stood still, and the journalist's
companion looked up curiously at the long monotonous rows of barred
"So that was Granice?"
"Yes — that was Granice, poor devil," said McCarren.
"Strange case! I suppose there's never been one just like it? He's
still absolutely convinced that he committed that murder?"
The stranger reflected. "And there was no conceivable ground for
the idea? No one could make out how it started? A quiet conventional
sort of fellow like that — where do you suppose he got such a delusion?
Did you ever get the least clue to it?"
McCarren stood still, his hands in his pockets, his head cocked up
in contemplation of the barred windows. Then he turned his bright hard
gaze on his companion.
"That was the queer part of it. I've never spoken of it — but I
didget a clue."
"By Jove! That's interesting. What was it?"
McCarren formed his red lips into a whistle. "Why — that it wasn't
He produced his effect — the other turned on him with a pallid
"He murdered the man all right. I tumbled on the truth by the
merest accident, when I'd pretty nearly chucked the whole job."
"He murdered him — murdered his cousin?"
"Sure as you live. Only don't split on me. It's about the queerest
business I ever ran into. . . Do about it? Why, what was I to do? I
couldn't hang the poor devil, could I? Lord, but I was glad when they
collared him, and had him stowed away safe in there!"
The tall man listened with a grave face, grasping Granice's
statement in his hand.
"Here — take this; it makes me sick," he said abruptly, thrusting
the paper at the reporter; and the two men turned and walked in silence
to the gates.