The Willow Walk by Sinclair
From the drawer of his table desk Jasper Holt took
a pane of window glass. He laid a sheet of paper
on the glass and wrote, “Now is the time for all good
men to come to the aid of the party.” He studied his
round business-college script, and rewrote the sentence
in a small finicky hand, that of a studious old man. Ten
times he copied the words in that false pinched writing.
He tore up the paper, burned the fragments in his large
ash tray and washed the delicate ashes down his stationary
washbowl. He replaced the pane of glass in the
drawer, tapping it with satisfaction. A glass underlay
does not retain an impression.
Jasper Holt was as nearly respectable as his room,
which, with its frilled chairs and pansy-painted pincushion,
was the best in the aristocratic boarding house
of Mrs. Lyons. He was a wiry, slightly bald, black-haired
man of thirty-eight, wearing an easy gray flannel
suit and a white carnation. His hands were peculiarly
compact and nimble. He gave the appearance of being
a youngish lawyer or bond salesman. Actually he was
senior paying teller in the Lumber National Bank in the
city of Vernon.
He looked at a thin expensive gold watch. It was six-thirty,
on Wednesday—toward dusk of a tranquil spring
day. He picked up his hooked walking stick and his
gray silk gloves and trudged downstairs. He met his
landlady in the lower hall and inclined his head. She
effusively commented on the weather.
“I shall not be here for dinner,” he said amiably.
“Very well, Mr. Holt. My, but aren’t you always
going out with your swell friends, though! I read in the
Herald that you were going to be star in another of
those society plays at the Community Theater. I guess
you’d be an actor if you wasn’t a banker, Mr. Holt.”
“No, I’m afraid I haven’t much temperament.” His
voice was cordial, but his smile was a mere mechanical
sidewise twist of the lip muscles. “You’re the one that’s
got the stage presence. Bet you’d be a regular Ethel
Barrymore if you didn’t have to look out for us.”
“My, but you’re such a flatterer!”
He bowed his way out and walked sedately down the
street to a public garage. Nodding to the night attendant,
but saying nothing, he started his roadster and drove out
of the garage, away from the center of Vernon, toward
the suburb of Rosebank. He did not go directly to Rosebank.
He went seven blocks out of his way, and halted
on Fandall Avenue—one of those petty main thoroughfares
which, with their motion-picture palaces, their
groceries, laundries, undertakers’ establishments and
lunch rooms, serve as local centers for districts of mean
residences. He got out of the car and pretended to look
at the tires, kicking them to see how much air they had.
While he did so he covertly looked up and down the
street. He saw no one whom he knew. He went into the
Parthenon Confectionery Store.
The Parthenon Store makes a specialty of those ingenious
candy boxes that resemble bound books. The
back of the box is of imitation leather, with a stamping
simulating the title of a novel. The edges are apparently
the edges of a number of pages of paper. But
these pages are hollowed out, and the inside is to be
filled with candy.
Jasper gazed at the collection of book boxes and chose
the two whose titles had the nearest approach to dignity—Sweets
to the Sweet and The Ladies’ Delight. He
asked the Greek clerk to fill these with the less expensive
grade of mixed chocolates, and to wrap them.
From the candy shop he went to a drug store that
carried an assortment of reprinted novels, and from these
picked out two of the same sentimental type as the titles
on the booklike boxes. These also he had wrapped. He
strolled out of the drug store, slipped into a lunch room,
got a lettuce sandwich, doughnuts and a cup of coffee at
the greasy marble counter, took them to a chair with a
tablet arm in the dim rear of the lunch room and hastily
devoured them. As he came out and returned to his car
he again glanced along the street.
He fancied that he knew a man who was approaching.
He could not be sure. From the breast up the man
seemed familiar, as did the customers of the bank whom
he viewed through the wicket of the teller’s window.
When he saw them in the street he could never be sure
about them. It seemed extraordinary to find that these
persons, who to him were nothing but faces with attached
arms that held out checks and received money, could
walk about, had legs and a gait and a manner of their
He walked to the curb and stared up at the cornice of
one of the stores, puckering his lips, giving an impersonation
of a man inspecting a building. With the corner of an
eye he followed the approaching man. The man ducked
his head as he neared, and greeted him, “Hello, Brother
Teller.” Jasper seemed startled; gave the “Oh! Oh, how
are you!” of sudden recognition; and mumbled, “Looking
after a little bank property.”
“Always on the job, eh!”
The man passed on.
Jasper got into his car and drove back to the street that
would take him out to the suburb of Rosebank. As he
left Fandall Avenue he peered at his watch. It was five
minutes of seven.
At a quarter past seven he passed through the main
street of Rosebank, and turned into a lane that was but
little changed since the time when it had been a country
road. A few jerry-built villas of freckled paint did
shoulder upon it, but for the most part it ran through
swamps spotted with willow groves, the spongy ground
covered with scatterings of dry leaves and bark. Opening
on this lane was a dim-rutted grassy private road,
which disappeared into one of the willow groves.
Jasper sharply swung his car between the crumbly gate
posts and along the bumpy private road. He made an
abrupt turn, came into sight of an unpainted shed and
shot the car into it without cutting down his speed, so
that he almost hit the back of the shed with his front
fenders. He shut off the engine, climbed out quickly and
ran back toward the gate. From the shield of a bank of
alder bushes he peered out. Two chattering women
were going down the public road. They stared in through
the gate and half halted.
“That’s where that hermit lives,” said one of them.
“Oh, you mean the one that’s writing a religious
book, and never comes out till evening? Some kind of a
“Yes, that’s the one. John Holt, I think his name is.
I guess he’s kind of crazy. He lives in the old Beaudette
house. But you can’t see it from here—it’s clear
through the block, on the next street.”
“I heard he was crazy. But I just saw an automobile
go in here.”
“Oh, that’s his cousin or brother or something—lives
in the city. They say he’s rich, and such a nice fellow.”
The two women ambled on, their chatter blurring with
distance. Standing behind the alders Jasper rubbed the
palm of one hand with the fingers of the other. The
palm was dry with nervousness. But he grinned.
He returned to the shed and entered a brick-paved walk
almost a block long, walled and sheltered by overhanging
willows. Once it had been a pleasant path; carved
wooden benches were placed along it, and it widened to
a court with a rock garden, a fountain and a stone bench.
The rock garden had degenerated into a riot of creepers
sprawling over the sharp stones; the paint had peeled from
the fountain, leaving its iron cupids and naiads eaten
with rust. The bricks of the wall were smeared with
lichens and moss and were untidy with windrows of dry
leaves and cakes of earth. Many of the bricks were
broken; the walk was hilly in its unevenness. From
willows and bricks and scuffled earth rose a damp chill.
But Jasper did not seem to note the dampness. He
hastened along the walk to the house—a structure of
heavy stone which, for this newish Midwestern land, was
very ancient. It had been built by a French fur trader
in 1839. The Chippewas had scalped a man in its very
dooryard. The heavy back door was guarded by an unexpectedly
expensive modern lock. Jasper opened it
with a flat key and closed it behind him. It locked on a
spring. He was in a crude kitchen, the shades of which
were drawn. He passed through the kitchen and dining
room into the living room. Dodging chairs and tables in
the darkness as though he was used to them he went to
each of the three windows of the living room and made
sure that all the shades were down before he lighted the
student’s lamp on the game-legged table. As the glow
crept over the drab walls Jasper bobbed his head with satisfaction.
Nothing had been touched since his last visit.
The room was musty with the smell of old green rep
upholstery and leather books. It had not been dusted for
months. Dust sheeted the stiff red velvet chairs, the uncomfortable
settee, the chill white marble fireplace, the
immense glass-fronted bookcase that filled one side of
The atmosphere was unnatural to this capable business
man, this Jasper Holt. But Jasper did not seem oppressed.
He briskly removed the wrappers from the
genuine books and from the candy-box imitations of
books. One of the two wrappers he laid on the table and
smoothed out. Upon this he poured the candy from the
two boxes. The other wrapper and the strings he stuffed
into the fireplace and immediately burned. Crossing to
the bookcase he unlocked one section and placed both the
real books and the imitation books on the bottom shelf.
There was a row of rather cheap-looking novels on this
shelf, and of these at least six were actually such candy
boxes as he had purchased that evening.
Only one shelf of the bookcase was given over to anything
so frivolous as novels. The others were filled with
black-covered, speckle-leaved, dismal books of history,
theology, biography—the shabby-genteel sort of books
you find on the fifteen-cent shelf at a secondhand bookshop.
Over these Jasper pored for a moment as though
he was memorizing their titles.
He took down “The Life of the Rev. Jeremiah Bodfish”
and read aloud: “In those intimate discourses with
his family that followed evening prayers I once heard
Brother Bodfish observe that Philo Judæus—whose
scholarly career always calls to my mind the adumbrations
of Melanchthon upon the essence of rationalism—was
a mere sophist—”
Jasper slammed the book shut, remarking contentedly,
“That’ll do. Philo Judæus—good name to spring.”
He relocked the bookcase and went upstairs. In a
small bedroom at the right of the upper hall an electric
light was burning. Presumably the house had been
deserted till Jasper’s entrance, but a prowler in the yard
might have judged from this ever-burning light that
some one was in residence. The bedroom was Spartan—an
iron bed, one straight chair, a washstand, a heavy oak
bureau. Jasper scrambled to unlock the lowest drawer of
the bureau, yank it open, take out a wrinkled shiny suit of
black, a pair of black shoes, a small black bow tie, a Gladstone
collar, a white shirt with starched bosom, a speckly
brown felt hat and a wig—an expensive and excellent
wig with artfully unkempt hair of a faded brown.
He stripped off his attractive flannel suit, wing collar,
blue tie, custom-made silk shirt and cordovan shoes, and
speedily put on the wig and those gloomy garments. As
he donned them the corners of his mouth began to droop.
Leaving the light on and his own clothes flung on the bed
he descended the stairs. He was obviously not the same
man who had ascended them. As to features he was like
Jasper, but by nature he was evidently less healthy, less
practical, less agreeable, and decidedly more aware of
the sorrow and long thoughts of the dreamer. Indeed it
must be understood that now he was not Jasper Holt, but
Jasper’s twin brother, John Holt, hermit and religious
John Holt, twin brother of Jasper Holt, the bank teller,
rubbed his eyes as though he had for hours been absorbed
in study, and crawled through the living room, through
the tiny hall, to the front door. He opened it, picked up
a couple of circulars that the postman had dropped
through the letter slot in the door, went out and locked
the door behind him. He was facing a narrow front yard,
neater than the willow walk at the back, on a suburban
street more populous than the straggly back lane.
A street arc illuminated the yard and showed that a
card was tacked on the door. John touched the card,
snapped it with the nail of his little finger, to make certain
that it was securely tacked. In that light he could not
read it, but he knew that it was inscribed in a small finicky
hand: “Agents kindly do not disturb, bell will not be
answered, occupant of house engaged in literary work.”
John stood on the doorstep till he made out his neighbor
on the right—a large stolid commuter, who was walking
before his house smoking an after-dinner cigar.
John poked to the fence and sniffed at a spray of lilac
blossoms till the neighbor called over, “Nice evening.”
“Yes, it seems to be very pleasant.”
John’s voice was like Jasper’s; but it was more guttural,
and his speech had less assurance.
“How’s the book going?”
“It is—it is very—very difficult. So hard to comprehend
all the inner meanings of the prophecies. Well, I
must be hastening to Soul Hope Hall. I trust we shall
see you there some Wednesday or Sunday evening. I
bid you good-night, sir.”
John wavered down the street to a drug store. He
purchased a bottle of ink. In a grocery that kept open
evenings he got two pounds of corn meal, two pounds of
flour, a pound of bacon, a half pound of butter, six eggs
and a can of condensed milk.
“Shall we deliver them?” asked the clerk.
John looked at him sharply. He realized that this was
a new man, who did not know his customs. He said rebukingly:
“No, I always carry my parcels. I am writing
a book. I am never to be disturbed.”
He paid for the provisions out of a postal money order
for thirty-five dollars, and received the change. The
cashier of the store was accustomed to cashing these
money orders, which were always sent to John from South
Vernon, by one R. J. Smith. John took the bundle of
food and walked out of the store.
“That fellow’s kind of a nut, isn’t he?” asked the
The cashier explained: “Yep. Doesn’t even take
fresh milk—uses condensed for everything! What do
you think of that! And they say he burns up all his
garbage—never has anything in the ash can except ashes.
If you knock at his door he never answers it, fellow told
me. All the time writing this book of his. Religious
crank, I guess. Has a little income though—guess his
folks were pretty well fixed. Comes out once in a while
in the evening and pokes round town. We used to laugh
about him, but we’ve kind of got used to him. Been here
about a year, I guess it is.”
John was serenely passing down the main street of
Rosebank. At the dingier end of it he turned in at a
hallway marked by a lighted sign announcing in crude
house-painter’s letters: “Soul Hope Fraternity Hall.
Experience Meeting. All Welcome.”
It was eight o’clock. The members of the Soul Hope
cult had gathered in their hall above a bakery. Theirs
was a tiny, tight-minded sect. They asserted that they
alone obeyed the scriptural tenets; that they alone were
certain to be saved; that all other denominations were
damned by unapostolic luxury; that it was wicked to
have organs or ministers or any meeting places save plain
halls. The members themselves conducted the meetings,
one after another rising to give an interpretation of the
scriptures or to rejoice in gathering with the faithful,
while the others commented “Hallelujah!” and “Amen,
brother, amen!” They were a plainly dressed, not overfed,
rather elderly and rather happy congregation. The
most honored of them all was John Holt.
John had come to Rosebank only six months before.
He had bought the Beaudette house, with the library of
the recent occupant, a retired clergyman, and had paid for
them in new one-hundred-dollar bills. Already he had
gained great credit in the Soul Hope cult. It appeared
that he spent almost all his time at home, praying, reading
and writing a book. The Soul Hope Fraternity were
excited about the book. They had begged him to read it
to them. So far he had read only a few pages, consisting
mostly of quotations from ancient treatises on the prophecies.
Nearly every Sunday and Wednesday evening
he appeared at the meeting and in a halting but scholarly
way lectured on the world and the flesh.
To-night he spoke polysyllabically of the fact that one
Philo Judæus had been a mere sophist. The cult were
none too clear as to what either a Philo Judæus or a
sophist might be, but with heads all nodding in a row,
they murmured: “You’re right, brother! Hallelujah!”
John glided into a sad earnest discourse on his worldly
brother Jasper, and informed them of his struggles with
Jasper’s itch for money. By his request the fraternity
prayed for Jasper.
The meeting was over at nine. John shook hands all
round with the elders of the congregation, sighing:
“Fine meeting to-night, wasn’t it? Such a free outpouring
of the Spirit!” He welcomed a new member,
a servant girl just come from Seattle. Carrying his
groceries and the bottle of ink he poked down the stairs
from the hall at seven minutes after nine.
At sixteen minutes after nine John was stripping off
his brown wig and the funereal clothes in his bedroom.
At twenty-eight after, John Holt had again become Jasper
Holt, the capable teller of the Lumber National Bank.
Jasper Holt left the light burning in his brother’s bedroom.
He rushed downstairs, tried the fastening of the
front door, bolted it, made sure that all the windows
were fastened, picked up the bundle of groceries and the
pile of candies that he had removed from the booklike
candy boxes, blew out the light in the living room and
ran down the willow walk to his car. He threw the
groceries and candy into it, backed the car out as though
he was accustomed to backing in this bough-scattered
yard, and drove off along the lonely road at the rear.
When he was passing a swamp he reached down,
picked up the bundle of candies, and steering with one
hand removed the wrapping paper with the other hand
and hurled out the candies. They showered among the
weeds beside the road. The paper which had contained
the candies, and upon which was printed the name of
the Parthenon Confectionery Store, Jasper tucked into
his pocket. He took the groceries item by item from
the labeled bag containing them, thrust that bag also
into his pocket, and laid the groceries on the seat beside
On the way from Rosebank to the center of the city of
Vernon he again turned off the main avenue, and halted
at a goat-infested shack occupied by a crippled Norwegian.
He sounded the horn. The Norwegian’s grandson
“Here’s a little more grub for you,” bawled Jasper.
“God bless you, sir. I don’t know what we’d do if
it wasn’t for you!” cried the old Norwegian from the
But Jasper did not wait for gratitude. He merely
shouted: “Bring you some more in a couple days,” as he
At a quarter past ten he drove up to the hall that
housed the latest interest of Vernon society—the Community
Theater. The Boulevard Set, the “best people in
town,” belonged to the Community Theater Association,
and the leader of it was the daughter of the general
manager of the railroad. As a well-bred bachelor Jasper
Holt was welcome among them, despite the fact that no
one knew much about him except that he was a good
bank teller and had been born in England. But as an
actor he was not merely welcome: he was the best
amateur actor in Vernon. His placid face could narrow
with tragic emotion or puff out with comedy; his placid
manner concealed a dynamo of emotion. Unlike most
amateur actors he did not try to act—he became the
thing itself. He forgot Jasper Holt, and turned into
a vagrant or a judge, a Bernard Shaw thought, a Lord
Dunsany symbol, a Susan Glaspell radical, a Clyde
The other one-act plays of the next program of the
Community Theater had already been rehearsed. The
cast of the play in which Jasper was to star were all
waiting for him. So were the worried ladies responsible
for the staging. They wanted his advice about the blue
curtain for the stage window, about the baby-spot that
was out of order, about the higher interpretation of the
rôle of the page in the piece—a rôle consisting of only
two lines, but to be played by one of the most popular
girls in the younger set. After the discussions, and a most
violent quarrel between two members of the play-reading
committee, the rehearsal was called. Jasper Holt still
wore his flannel suit and a wilting carnation; but he was
not Jasper; he was the Duc de San Saba, a cynical, gracious,
gorgeous old man, easy of gesture, tranquil of
voice, shudderingly evil of desire.
“If I could get a few more actors like you!” cried the
The rehearsal was over at half past eleven. Jasper
drove his car to the public garage in which he kept it,
and walked home. There, he tore up and burned the
wrapping paper bearing the name of the Parthenon Confectionery
Store and the labeled bag which had contained
The Community Theater plays were given on the
following Wednesday. Jasper Holt was highly applauded,
and at the party at the Lakeside Country Club,
after the play, he danced with the prettiest girls in town.
He hadn’t much to say to them, but he danced fervently,
and about him was a halo of artistic success.
That night his brother John did not appear at the
meeting of the Soul Hope Fraternity out in Rosebank.
On Monday, five days later, while he was in conference
with the president and the cashier of the Lumber National
Bank, Jasper complained of a headache. The next
day he telephoned to the president that he would not come
down to work—he would stay home and rest his eyes,
sleep and get rid of the persistent headache. That was
unfortunate, for that very day his twin brother John made
one of his infrequent trips into Vernon and called at the
The president had seen John only once before, and by a
coincidence it had happened that on this occasion also
Jasper had been absent—had been out of town. The
president invited John into his private office.
“Your brother is at home; poor fellow has a bad headache.
Hope he gets over it. We think a great deal of
him here. You ought to be proud of him. Will you have
As he spoke the president looked John over. Once or
twice when Jasper and the president had been out at
lunch Jasper had spoken of the remarkable resemblance
between himself and his twin brother. But the president
told himself that he didn’t really see much resemblance.
The features of the two were alike, but John’s expression
of chronic spiritual indigestion, his unfriendly manner,
and his hair—unkempt and lifeless brown, where
Jasper’s was sleekly black above a shiny bald spot—made
the president dislike John as much as he liked
And now John was replying: “No, I do not smoke.
I can’t understand how a man can soil this temple with
drugs. I suppose I ought to be glad to hear you praise
poor Jasper, but I am more concerned with his lack of
respect for the things of the spirit. He sometimes comes
to see me, at Rosebank, and I argue with him, but somehow
I can’t make him see his errors. And his flippant
“We don’t think he’s flippant. We think he’s a pretty
“But his play-acting! And reading love stories!
Well, I try to keep in mind the injunction ‘Judge not,
that ye be not judged.’ But I am pained to find my own
brother giving up immortal promises for mortal amusements.
Well, I’ll go and call on him. I trust that some
day we shall see you at Soul Hope Hall, in Rosebank.
Good day, sir.”
Turning back to his work the president grumbled:
“I’m going to tell Jasper that the best compliment I can
hand him is that he is not like his brother.”
And on the following day, another Wednesday, when
Jasper reappeared at the bank, the president did make
this jesting comparison; and Jasper sighed: “Oh, John
is really a good fellow, but he’s always gone in for metaphysics
and Oriental mysticism and Lord knows what
all, till he’s kind of lost in the fog. But he’s a lot better
than I am. When I murder my landlady—or say, when
I rob the bank, chief—you go get John; and I bet you
the best lunch in town that he’ll do his best to bring me
to justice. That’s how blame square he is!”
“Square, yes—corners just sticking out! Well, when
you do rob us, Jasper, I’ll look up John. But do try to
keep from robbing us as long as you can. I’d hate to
have to associate with a religious detective in a boiled
Both men laughed, and Jasper went back to his cage.
His head continued to hurt, he admitted. The president
advised him to lay off for a week. He didn’t want to, he
said. With the new munition industries due to the war
in Europe, there was much increase in factory pay rolls,
and Jasper took charge of them.
“Better take a week off than get ill,” argued the president
late that afternoon.
Jasper did let himself be persuaded to go away for at
least a week-end. He would run up north, to Wakamin
Lake, the coming Friday, he said; he would get some
black-bass fishing, and be back on Monday or Tuesday.
Before he went he would make up the pay rolls for the
Saturday payments and turn them over to the other teller.
The president thanked him for his faithfulness, and as
was his not infrequent custom invited Jasper to his house
for the evening of the next day—Thursday.
That Wednesday evening Jasper’s brother John appeared
at the Soul Hope meeting in Rosebank. When he
had gone home and had magically turned back into Jasper
this Jasper did not return the wig and garments of John
to the bureau but packed them into a suitcase, took the
suitcase to his room in Vernon and locked it in his
Jasper was amiable at dinner at the president’s house
on Thursday, but he was rather silent, and as his head
still throbbed he left the house early—at nine-thirty.
Sedately, carrying his gray silk gloves in one hand and
pompously swinging his stick with the other, he walked
from the president’s house on the fashionable boulevard
back to the center of Vernon. He entered the public
garage in which his car was stored.
He commented to the night attendant: “Head aches.
Guess I’ll take the ’bus out and get some fresh air.”
He drove away at not more than fifteen miles an hour.
He headed south. When he had reached the outskirts of
the city he speeded up to a consistent twenty-five miles an
hour. He settled down in his seat with the unmoving
steadiness of the long-distance driver: his body quiet
except for the tiny subtle movements of his foot on the
accelerator, of his hands on the steering wheel—his right
hand across the wheel, holding it at the top, his left elbow
resting easily on the cushioned edge of his seat and his
left hand merely touching the wheel.
He drove in that southern direction for fifteen miles—almost
to the town of Wanagoochie. Then by a rather
poor side road he turned sharply to the north and west,
and making a huge circle about the city drove toward
the town of St. Clair. The suburb of Rosebank, in which
his brother John lived, is also north of Vernon. These
directions were of some importance to him: Wanagoochie
eighteen miles south of the mother city of Vernon;
Rosebank, on the other hand, north, eight miles
north, of Vernon; and St. Clair twenty miles north—about
as far north of Vernon as Wanagoochie is south.
On his way to St. Clair, at a point that was only two
miles from Rosebank, Jasper ran the car off the main
road into a grove of oaks and maples and stopped it on a
long-unused woodland road. He stiffly got out and
walked through the woods up a rise of ground to a cliff
overlooking a swampy lake. The gravelly farther bank
of the cliff rose perpendicularly from the edge of the
water. In that wan light distilled by stars and the earth
he made out the reedy expanse of the lake. It was so
muddy, so tangled with sedge grass that it was never
used for swimming; and as its only inhabitants were
slimy bullheads few people ever tried to fish there. Jasper
stood reflective. He was remembering the story of the
farmer’s team which had run away, dashed over this cliff
and sunk out of sight in the mud bottom of the lake.
Swishing his stick he outlined an imaginary road from
the top of the cliff back to the sheltered place where his
car was standing. Once he hacked away with a large
pocketknife a mass of knotted hazel bushes which blocked
that projected road. When he had traced the road to his
car he smiled. He walked to the edge of the woods and
looked up and down the main highway. A car was approaching.
He waited till it had passed, ran back to his
own car, backed it out on the highway, and went on his
northward course toward St. Clair, driving about thirty
miles an hour.
On the edge of St. Clair he halted, took out his kit of
tools, unscrewed a spark plug, and sharply tapping the
plug on the engine block, deliberately cracked the porcelain
jacket. He screwed the plug in again and started the
car. It bucked and spit, missing on one cylinder, with
the short-circuited plug.
“I guess there must be something wrong with the
ignition,” he said cheerfully.
He managed to run the car into a garage in St. Clair.
There was no one in the garage save an old negro, the
night washer, who was busy over a limousine, with sponge
“Got a night repair man here?” asked Jasper.
“No, sir; guess you’ll have to leave it till morning.”
“Hang it! Something gone wrong with the carburetor
or the ignition. Well, I’ll have to leave it, then. Tell
him— Say, will you be here in the morning when the
repair man comes on?”
“Well, tell him I must have the car by to-morrow
noon. No, say by to-morrow at nine. Now, don’t forget.
This will help your memory.”
He gave a quarter to the negro, who grinned and
shouted: “Yes, sir; that’ll help my memory a lot!” As
he tied a storage tag on the car the negro inquired:
“Uh—my name? Oh, Hanson. Remember now,
ready about nine to-morrow.”
Jasper walked to the railroad station. It was ten minutes
of one. Jasper did not ask the night operator about
the next train into Vernon. Apparently he knew that
there was a train stopping here at St. Clair at one-thirty-seven.
He did not sit in the waiting room but in the
darkness outside on a truck behind the baggage room.
When the train came in he slipped into the last seat of the
last car, and with his soft hat over his eyes either slept or
appeared to sleep. When he reached Vernon he went off
the direct route from the station to his boarding house,
and came to the garage in which he regularly kept his
car. He stepped inside. The night attendant was drowsing
in a large wooden chair tilted back against the wall in
the narrow runway which formed the entrance to the
Jasper jovially shouted to the attendant: “Certainly
ran into some hard luck. Ignition went wrong—I guess
it was the ignition. Had to leave the car down at Wanagoochie.”
“Yuh, hard luck, all right,” assented the attendant.
“Yump. So I left it at Wanagoochie,” Jasper emphasized
as he passed on.
He had been inexact in this statement. It was not at
Wanagoochie, which is south, but at St. Clair, which is
north, that he had left the car.
He returned to his boarding house, slept beautifully,
hummed in his morning shower bath. Yet at breakfast
he complained to his landlady of his continuous headache,
and announced that he was going to run up north, to
Wakamin, to get some bass fishing and rest his eyes. She
urged him to go.
“Anything I can do to help you get away?” she
“No, thanks. I’m just taking a couple of suitcases,
with some old clothes and some fishing tackle. Fact, I
have ’em all packed already. I’ll probably take the noon
train north if I can get away from the bank. Pretty busy
now, with these pay rolls for the factories that have war
contracts for the Allies. What’s it say in the paper this
Jasper arrived at the bank, carrying the two suitcases
and a neat, polite, rolled silk umbrella, the silver top
of which was engraved with his name. The doorman,
who was also the bank guard, helped him to carry the
“Careful of that bag. Got my fishing tackle in it,”
said Jasper to the doorman, apropos of one of the suitcases,
which was heavy but apparently not packed full.
“Well, I think I’ll run up to Wakamin to-day and catch
a few bass.”
“Wish I could go along, sir. How is the head this
morning? Does it still ache?” asked the doorman.
“Rather better, but my eyes still feel pretty rocky.
Guess I been using ’em too much. Say, Connors, I’ll try
to catch the train north at eleven-seven. Better have a
taxicab here for me at eleven. Or no; I’ll let you know a
little before eleven. Try to catch the eleven-seven north,
“Very well, sir.”
The president, the assistant cashier, the chief clerk—all
asked Jasper how he felt; and to all of them he repeated
the statement that he had been using his eyes too
much, and that he would catch a few bass at Wakamin.
The other paying teller from his cage next to that of
Jasper called heartily through the steel netting: “Pretty
soft for some people! You wait! I’m going to have the
hay fever this summer, and I’ll go fishing for a month!”
Jasper placed the two suitcases and the umbrella in his
cage, and leaving the other teller to pay out current money
he himself made up the pay rolls for the next day—Saturday.
He casually went into the vault—a narrow, unimpressive,
unaired cell, with a hard linoleum floor, one
unshaded electric bulb, and a back wall composed entirely
of steel doors of safes, all painted a sickly blue, very unimpressive,
but guarding several millions of dollars in
cash and securities. The upper doors, hung on large steel
arms and each provided with two dials, could be opened
only by two officers of the bank, each knowing one of the
two combinations. Below these were smaller doors, one
of which Jasper could open, as teller. It was the door of
an insignificant steel box, which contained one hundred
and seventeen thousand dollars in bills and four thousand
dollars in gold and silver.
Jasper passed back and forth, carrying bundles of currency.
In his cage he was working less than three feet
from the other teller, who was divided from him only by
the bands of the steel netting.
While he worked he exchanged a few words with this
Once as he counted out nineteen thousand dollars he
commented: “Big pay roll for the Henschel Wagon
Works this week. They’re making gun carriages and
truck bodies for the Allies, I understand.”
“Uh-huh!” said the other teller, not much interested.
Mechanically, unobtrusively going about his ordinary
routine of business, Jasper counted out bills to amounts
agreeing with the items on a typed schedule of the pay
rolls. Apparently his eyes never lifted from his counting
and from this typed schedule which lay before him. The
bundles of bills he made into packages, fastening each
with a paper band. Each bundle he seemed to drop into
a small black leather bag which he held beside him. But
he did not actually drop the money into these pay-roll
Both the suitcases at his feet were closed, and presumably
fastened; but one was not fastened. And though
it was heavy it contained nothing but a lump of pig iron.
From time to time Jasper’s hand, holding a bundle of
bills, dropped to his side. With a slight movement of
his foot he opened that suitcase, and the bills slipped
from his hand down into it.
The bottom part of his cage was a solid sheet of
stamped steel, and from the front of the bank no one
could see this suspicious gesture. The other teller could
have seen it, but Jasper dropped the bills only when the
other teller was busy talking to a customer or when his
back was turned. In order to delay for such a favorable
moment Jasper frequently counted packages of bills
twice, rubbing his eyes as though they hurt him.
After each of these secret disposals of packages of
bills Jasper made much of dropping into the pay-roll bags
the rolls of coin for which the schedule called. It was
while he was tossing these blue-wrapped cylinders of coin
into the bags that he would chat with the other teller.
Then he would lock up the bags and gravely place them
at one side.
Jasper was so slow in making up the pay rolls that it
was five minutes of eleven before he finished. He called
the doorman to the cage and suggested: “Better call my
He still had one bag to fill. He could plainly be seen
dropping packages of money into it, while he instructed
the assistant teller: “I’ll stick all the bags in my safe,
and you can transfer them to yours. Be sure to lock my
safe. Lord, I better hurry or I’ll miss my train! Be
back Tuesday morning, at latest. So long; take care of
He hastened to pile the pay-roll bags into his safe in
the vault. The safe was almost filled with them. And
except for the last one not one of the bags contained anything
except a few rolls of coin. Though he had told
the other teller to lock his safe he himself twirled the
combination—which was thoughtless of him, as the assistant
teller would now have to wait and get the president
to unlock it.
He picked up his umbrella and the two suitcases—bending
over one of the cases for not more than ten
seconds. Waving good-by to the cashier at his desk
down front and hurrying so fast that the doorman did
not have a chance to help him carry the suitcases he
rushed through the bank, through the door, into the waiting
taxicab, and loudly enough for the doorman to hear
he cried to the driver, “M. & D. Station.”
At the M. & D. R. R. Station, refusing offers of redcaps
to carry his bags, he bought a ticket for Wakamin,
which is a lake-resort town one hundred and forty miles
northwest of Vernon, hence one hundred and twenty beyond
St. Clair. He had just time to get aboard the eleven-seven
train. He did not take a chair car, but sat in a day
coach near the rear door. He unscrewed the silver top
of his umbrella, on which was engraved his name, and
dropped it into his pocket.
When the train reached St. Clair, Jasper strolled out to
the vestibule, carrying the suitcases but leaving the topless
umbrella behind. His face was blank, uninterested.
As the train started he dropped down on the station platform
and gravely walked away. For a second the light
of adventure crossed his face, and vanished.
At the garage at which he had left his car on the evening
before he asked the foreman: “Did you get my car
fixed—Mercury roadster, ignition on the bum?”
“Nope! Couple of jobs ahead of it. Haven’t had
time to touch it yet. Ought to get at it early this afternoon.”
Jasper curled his tongue round his lips in startled
vexation. He dropped his suitcases on the floor of the
garage and stood thinking, his bent forefinger against his
Then: “Well, I guess I can get her to go—sorry—can’t
wait—got to make the next town,” he grumbled.
“Lot of you traveling salesmen making your territory
by motor now, Mr. Hanson,” said the foreman civilly,
glancing at the storage check on Jasper’s car.
“Yep. I can make a good many more than I could by
He paid for overnight storage without complaining,
though since his car had not been repaired this charge
was unjust. In fact he was altogether prosaic and inconspicuous.
He thrust the suitcases into the car and
drove out, the motor spitting. At another garage he
bought a new spark plug and screwed it in. When he
went on, the motor had ceased spitting.
He drove out of St. Clair, back in the direction of Vernon—and
of Rosebank, where his brother lived. He ran
the car into that thick grove of oaks and maples only two
miles from Rosebank where he had paced off an imaginary
road to the cliff overhanging the reedy lake. He
parked the car in a grassy space beside the abandoned
woodland road. He laid a light robe over the suitcases.
From beneath the seat he took a can of deviled chicken,
a box of biscuits, a canister of tea, a folding cooking kit
and a spirit lamp. These he spread on the grass—a
He sat beside that lunch from seven minutes past one in
the afternoon till dark. Once in a while he made a pretense
of eating. He fetched water from a brook, made tea,
opened the box of biscuits and the can of chicken. But
mostly he sat still and smoked cigarette after cigarette.
Once a Swede, taking this road as a short cut to his
truck farm, passed by and mumbled “Picnic, eh?”
“Yuh, takin’ a day off,” said Jasper dully.
The man went on without looking back.
At dusk Jasper finished a cigarette down to the tip,
crushed out the light and made the cryptic remark:
“That’s probably Jasper Holt’s last smoke. I don’t suppose
you can smoke, John—damn you!”
He hid the two suitcases in the bushes, piled the remains
of the lunch into the car, took down the top of the
car and crept down to the main road. No one was in
sight. He returned. He snatched a hammer and a chisel
from his tool kit, and with a few savage cracks he so
defaced the number of the car stamped on the engine
block that it could not be made out. He removed the
license numbers from fore and aft, and placed them beside
the suitcases. Then, when there was just enough light
to see the bushes as cloudy masses, he started the car,
drove through the woods and up the incline to the top
of the cliff, and halted, leaving the engine running.
Between the car and the edge of the cliff which overhung
the lake there was a space of about a hundred and
thirty feet, fairly level and covered with straggly red
clover. Jasper paced off this distance, returned to the
car, took his seat in a nervous, tentative way, and put her
into gear, starting on second speed and slamming her into
third. The car bolted toward the edge of the cliff. He
instantly swung out on the running board. Standing
there, headed directly toward the sharp drop over the cliff,
steering with his left hand on the wheel, he shoved the
hand throttle up—up—up with his right. He safely
leaped down from the running board.
Of itself the car rushed forward, roaring. It shot over
the edge of the cliff. It soared twenty feet out into the
air as though it were a thick-bodied aëroplane. It turned
over and over, with a sickening drop toward the lake.
The water splashed up in a tremendous noisy circle.
Then silence. In the twilight the surface of the lake
shone like milk. There was no sign of the car on the
surface. The concentric rings died away. The lake was
secret and sinister and still. “Lord!” ejaculated Jasper,
standing on the cliff; then: “Well, they won’t find that
for a couple of years anyway.”
He returned to the suitcases. Squatting beside them
he took from one the wig and black garments of John
Holt. He stripped, put on the clothes of John, and packed
those of Jasper in the bag. With the cases and the motor-license
plates he walked toward Rosebank, keeping in
various groves of maples and willows till he was within
half a mile of the town. He reached the stone house at
the end of the willow walk, and sneaked in the back way.
He burned Jasper Holt’s clothes in the grate, melted
down the license plates in the stove, and between two
rocks he smashed Jasper’s expensive watch and fountain
pen into an unpleasant mass of junk, which he dropped
into the cistern for rain water. The silver head of the
umbrella he scratched with a chisel till the engraved name
He unlocked a section of the bookcase and taking a
number of packages of bills in denominations of one,
five, ten and twenty dollars from one of the suitcases he
packed them into those empty candy boxes which, on the
shelves, looked so much like books. As he stored them he
counted the bills. They came to ninety-seven thousand
five hundred and thirty-five dollars.
The two suitcases were new. There were no distinguishing
marks on them. But taking them out to the
kitchen he kicked them, rubbed them with lumps of
blacking, raveled their edges and cut their sides, till they
gave the appearance of having been long and badly used
in traveling. He took them upstairs and tossed them up
into the low attic.
In his bedroom he undressed calmly. Once he laughed:
“I despise those pretentious fools—bank officers and
cops. I’m beyond their fool law. No one can catch me—it
would take me myself to do that!”
He got into bed. With a vexed “Hang it!” he mused:
“I suppose John would pray, no matter how chilly the
He got out of bed and from the inscrutable Lord of the
Universe he sought forgiveness—not for Jasper Holt,
but for the denominations who lacked the true faith of
Soul Hope Fraternity.
He returned to bed and slept till the middle of the
morning, lying with his arms behind his head, a smile
on his face.
Thus did Jasper Holt, without the mysterious pangs of
death, yet cease to exist, and thus did John Holt come
into being not merely as an apparition glimpsed on Sunday
and Wednesday evenings, but as a being living
twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
The inhabitants of Rosebank were familiar with the
occasional appearances of John Holt, the eccentric recluse,
and they merely snickered about him when on the
Saturday evening following the Friday that has been
chronicled he was seen to come out of his gate and trudge
down to a news and stationery shop on Main Street.
He purchased an evening paper and said to the clerk:
“You can have the Morning Herald delivered at my
house every morning—27 Humbert Avenue.”
“Yuh, I know where it is. Thought you had kind of a
grouch on newspapers and all those lowbrow things,”
said the clerk pertly.
“Ah, did you indeed? The Herald, every morning,
please. I will pay a month in advance,” was all John
Holt said, but he looked directly at the clerk, and the man
John attended the meeting of the Soul Hope Fraternity
the next evening—Sunday—but he was not seen on the
streets again for two and a half days.
There was no news of the disappearance of Jasper
Holt till the following Wednesday, when the whole thing
came out in a violent, small-city, front-page story, headed:
Social Favorite—Makes Get-away
The paper stated that Jasper Holt had been missing for
four days, and that the officers of the bank, after first
denying that there was anything wrong with his accounts,
had admitted that he was short one hundred thousand
dollars—two hundred thousand, said one report. He
had purchased a ticket for Wakamin, this state, on Friday,
and a trainman, a customer of the bank, had noticed
him on the train, but he had apparently never arrived
A woman asserted that on Friday afternoon she had
seen Holt driving an automobile between Vernon and St.
Clair. This appearance near St. Clair was supposed to
be merely a blind, however. In fact our able chief of
police had proof that Holt was not headed north, in the
direction of St. Clair, but south, beyond Wanagoochie—probably
for Des Moines or St. Louis. It was definitely
known that on the previous day Holt had left his car at
Wanagoochie, and with their customary thoroughness
and promptness the police were making search at Wanagoochie.
The chief had already communicated with the
police in cities to the south, and the capture of the man
could confidently be expected at any moment. As long
as the chief appointed by our popular mayor was in
power it went ill with those who gave even the appearance
When asked his opinion of the theory that the alleged
fugitive had gone north the chief declared that of course
Holt had started in that direction, with the vain hope of
throwing pursuers off the scent, but that he had immediately
turned south and picked up his car. Though he
would not say so definitely the chief let it be known that
he was ready to put his hands on the fellow who had
hidden Holt’s car at Wanagoochie.
When asked if he thought Holt was crazy the chief
laughed and said: “Yes, he’s crazy two hundred thousand
dollars’ worth. I’m not making any slams, but there’s
a lot of fellows among our gentlemanly political opponents
who would go a whole lot crazier for a whole lot less!”
The president of the bank, however, was greatly distressed,
and strongly declared his belief that Holt, who
was a favorite in the most sumptuous residences on the
Boulevard, besides being well-known in local dramatic
circles, and who bore the best of reputations in the bank,
was temporarily out of his mind, as he had been distressed
by pains in the head for some time past. Meantime
the bonding company, which had fully covered the
employees of the bank by a joint bond of two hundred
thousand dollars, had its detectives working with the
police on the case.
As soon as he had read the paper John took a trolley
into Vernon and called on the president of the bank.
John’s face drooped with the sorrow of the disgrace. The
president received him. John staggered into the room,
groaning: “I have just learned in the newspaper of the
terrible news about my brother. I have come—”
“We hope it’s just a case of aphasia. We’re sure
he’ll turn up all right,” insisted the president.
“I wish I could believe it. But as I have told you,
Jasper is not a good man. He drinks and smokes and
play-acts and makes a god of stylish clothes—”
“Good Lord, that’s no reason for jumping to the conclusion
that he’s an embezzler!”
“I pray you may be right. But meanwhile I wish to
give you any assistance I can. I shall make it my sole
duty to see that my brother is brought to justice if it
proves that he is guilty.”
“Good o’ you,” mumbled the president. Despite this
example of John’s rigid honor he could not get himself
to like the man. John was standing beside him, thrusting
his stupid face into his.
The president pushed his chair a foot farther away and
said disagreeably: “As a matter of fact we were thinking
of searching your house. If I remember, you live in
“Yes. And of course I shall be glad to have you
search every inch of it. Or anything else I can do. I
feel that I share fully with my twin brother in this unspeakable
sin. I’ll turn over the key of my house to you
at once. There is also a shed at the back, where Jasper
used to keep his automobile when he came to see me.”
He produced a large, rusty, old-fashioned door key and
held it out, adding: “The address is 27 Humbert Avenue,
“Oh, it won’t be necessary, I guess,” said the president,
somewhat shamed, irritably waving off the key.
“But I just want to help somehow! What can I do?
Who is—in the language of the newspapers—who is
the detective on the case? I’ll give him any help—”
“Tell you what you do: Go see Mr. Scandling, of the
Mercantile Trust and Bonding Company, and tell him all
“I shall. I take my brother’s crime on my shoulders—otherwise
I’d be committing the sin of Cain. You are
giving me a chance to try to expiate our joint sin, and,
as Brother Jeremiah Bodfish was wont to say, it is a
blessing to have an opportunity to expiate a sin, no matter
how painful the punishment may seem to be to the
mere physical being. As I may have told you I am an
accepted member of the Soul Hope Fraternity, and
though we are free from cant and dogma it is our firm
Then for ten dreary minutes John Holt sermonized;
quoted forgotten books and quaint, ungenerous elders;
twisted bitter pride and clumsy mysticism into a fanatical
spider web. The president was a churchgoer, an ardent
supporter of missionary funds, for forty years a pew-holder
at St. Simeon’s Church, but he was alternately
bored to a chill shiver and roused to wrath against this
When he had rather rudely got rid of John Holt he
complained to himself: “Curse it, I oughtn’t to, but I
must say I prefer Jasper the sinner to John the saint.
Uff! What a smell of damp cellars the fellow has! He
must spend all his time picking potatoes. Say! By thunder,
I remember that Jasper had the infernal nerve to
tell me once that if he ever robbed the bank I was to call
John in. I know why, now! John is the kind of egotistical
fool that would muddle up any kind of a systematic
search. Well, Jasper, sorry, but I’m not going to have
anything more to do with John than I can help!”
John had gone to the Mercantile Trust and Bonding
Company, had called on Mr. Scandling, and was now
wearying him by a detailed and useless account of Jasper’s
early years and recent vices. He was turned over to the
detective employed by the bonding company to find Jasper.
The detective was a hard, noisy man, who found
John even more tedious. John insisted on his coming out
to examine the house in Rosebank, and the detective did
so—but sketchily, trying to escape. John spent at least
five minutes in showing him the shed where Jasper had
sometimes kept his car.
He also attempted to interest the detective in his precious
but spotty books. He unlocked one section of the
case, dragged down a four-volume set of sermons and
started to read them aloud.
The detective interrupted: “Yuh, that’s great stuff,
but I guess we aren’t going to find your brother hiding
behind those books!”
The detective got away as soon as possible, after insistently
explaining to John that if they could use his
assistance they would let him know.
“If I can only expiate—”
“Yuh, sure, that’s all right!” wailed the detective,
fairly running toward the gate.
John made one more visit to Vernon that day. He
called on the chief of city police. He informed the chief
that he had taken the bonding company’s detective through
his house; but wouldn’t the police consent to search it
also? He wanted to expiate— The chief patted John
on the back, advised him not to feel responsible for his
brother’s guilt and begged: “Skip along now—very
As John walked to the Soul Hope meeting that evening
dozens of people murmured that it was his brother who
had robbed the Lumber National Bank. His head was
bowed with the shame. At the meeting he took Jasper’s
sin upon himself, and prayed that Jasper would be caught
and receive the blessed healing of punishment. The
others begged John not to feel that he was guilty—was
he not one of the Soul Hope brethren who alone in this
wicked and perverse generation were assured of salvation?
On Thursday, on Saturday morning, on Tuesday and
on Friday John went into the city to call on the president
of the bank and the detective. Twice the president
saw him, and was infinitely bored by his sermons. The
third time he sent word that he was out. The fourth
time he saw John, but curtly explained that if John
wanted to help them the best thing he could do was to
The detective was “out” all four times.
John smiled meekly and ceased to try to help them.
Dust began to gather on certain candy boxes on the lower
shelf of his bookcase, save for one of them, which he
took out now and then. Always after he had taken it out
a man with faded brown hair and a wrinkled black suit,
signing himself R. J. Smith, would send a fair-sized
money order from the post office at South Vernon to
John Holt, at Rosebank—as he had been doing for more
than six months. These money orders could not have
amounted to more than twenty-five dollars a week, but
that was even more than an ascetic like John Holt needed.
By day John sometimes cashed these at the Rosebank
post office, but usually, as had been his custom, he cashed
them at his favorite grocery when he went out in the
In conversation with the commuter neighbor who every
evening walked about and smoked an after-dinner cigar
in the yard at the right John was frank about the whole
lamentable business of his brother’s defalcation. He
wondered, he said, if he had not shut himself up with his
studies too much, and neglected his brother. The neighbor
ponderously advised John to get out more. John
let himself be persuaded, at least to the extent of taking
a short walk every afternoon and of letting his literary
solitude be disturbed by the delivery of milk, meat and
groceries. He also went to the public library, and in the
reference room glanced at books on Central and South
America—as though he was planning to go south, some
But he continued his religious studies. It may be
doubted if previous to the embezzlement John had worked
very consistently on his book about Revelation. All that
the world had ever seen of it was a jumble of quotations
from theological authorities. Presumably the crime of
his brother shocked him into more concentrated study,
more patient writing. For during the year after his
brother’s disappearance—a year in which the bonding
company gradually gave up the search and came to believe
that Jasper was dead—John became fanatically
absorbed in somewhat nebulous work. The days and
nights drifted together in meditation in which he lost
sight of realities, and seemed through the clouds of the
flesh to see flashes from the towered cities of the spirit.
It has been asserted that when Jasper Holt acted a
rôle he veritably lived it. No one can ever determine
how great an actor was lost in the smug bank teller. To
him were imperial triumphs denied, yet was he not without
material reward. For playing his most subtle part
he received ninety-seven thousand dollars. It may be
that he earned it. Certainly for the risk entailed it was
but a fair payment. Jasper had meddled with the mystery
of personality, and was in peril of losing all consistent
purpose, of becoming a Wandering Jew of the
spirit, a strangled body walking.
The sharp-pointed willow leaves had twisted and fallen,
after the dreary rains of October. Bark had peeled from
the willow trunks, leaving gashes of bare wood that was
a wet and sickly yellow. Through the denuded trees
bulked the solid stone back of John Holt’s house. The
patches of earth were greasy between the tawny knots
of grass stems. The bricks of the walk were always
damp now. The world was hunched up in this pervading
As melancholy as the sick earth seemed the man who
in a slaty twilight paced the willow walk. His step was
slack, his lips moved with the intensity of his meditation.
Over his wrinkled black suit and bleak shirt bosom was
a worn overcoat, the velvet collar turned green. He
“There’s something to all this. I begin to see—I
don’t know what it is I do see! But there’s lights—supernatural
world that makes food and bed seem ridiculous.
I am—I really am beyond the law! I made my
own law! Why shouldn’t I go beyond the law of vision
and see the secrets of life? But I sinned, and I must
repent—some day. I need not return the money. I see
now that it was given me so that I could lead this life of
contemplation. But the ingratitude to the president, to
the people who trusted me! Am I but the most miserable
of sinners, and as the blind? Voices—I hear conflicting
voices—some praising me for my courage, some
He knelt on the slimy black surface of a wooden bench
beneath the willows, and as dusk clothed him round about
he prayed. It seemed to him that he prayed not in words
but in vast confusing dreams—the words of a language
larger than human tongues. When he had exhausted
himself he slowly entered the house. He locked the door.
There was nothing definite of which he was afraid, but
he was never comfortable with the door unlocked.
By candle light he prepared his austere supper—dry
toast, an egg, cheap green tea with thin milk. As always—as
it had happened after every meal, now, for eighteen
months—he wanted a cigarette when he had eaten, but
did not take one. He paced into the living room and
through the long still hours of the evening he read an
ancient book, all footnotes and cross references, about
The Numerology of the Prophetic Books, and the
Number of the Beast. He tried to make notes for his
own book on Revelation—that scant pile of sheets
covered with writing in a small finicky hand. Thousands
of other sheets he had covered; through whole
nights he had written; but always he seemed with tardy
pen to be racing after thoughts that he could never quite
catch, and most of what he had written he had savagely
But some day he would make a masterpiece! He was
feeling toward the greatest discovery that mortal men
had encountered. Everything, he had determined, was
a symbol—not just this holy sign and that, but all
physical manifestations. With frightened exultation he
tried his new power of divination. The hanging lamp
swung tinily. He ventured: “If the arc of that moving
radiance touches the edge of the bookcase, then it will
be a sign that I am to go to South America, under an
entirely new disguise, and spend my money.”
He shuddered. He watched the lamp’s unbearably
slow swing. The moving light almost touched the bookcase.
He gasped. Then it receded.
It was a warning; he quaked. Would he never leave
this place of brooding and of fear—which he had
thought so clever a refuge? He suddenly saw it all.
“I ran away and hid in a prison! Man isn’t caught by
justice—he catches himself!”
Again he tried. He speculated as to whether the number
of pencils on the table was greater or less than five.
If greater, then he had sinned; if less, then he was veritably
beyond the law. He began to lift books and papers,
looking for pencils. He was coldly sweating with the
suspense of the test.
Suddenly he cried “Am I going crazy?”
He fled to his prosaic bedroom. He could not sleep.
His brain was smoldering with confused inklings of
mystic numbers and hidden warnings.
He woke from a half sleep more vision haunted than
any waking thought, and cried: “I must go back and
confess! But I can’t! I can’t, when I was too clever
for them! I can’t go back and let them win. I won’t
let those fools just sit tight and still catch me!”
It was a year and a half since Jasper had disappeared.
Sometimes it seemed a month and a half; sometimes
gray centuries. John’s will power had been shrouded
with curious puttering studies; long heavy-breathing
sittings with the ouija board on his lap, midnight hours
when he had fancied that tables had tapped and crackling
coals had spoken. Now that the second autumn of his
seclusion was creeping into winter he was conscious that
he had not enough initiative to carry out his plans for
going to South America. The summer before he had
boasted to himself that he would come out of hiding and
go south, leaving such a twisty trail as only he could
make. But—oh, it was too much trouble. He hadn’t
the joy in play-acting which had carried his brother
Jasper through his preparations for flight.
He had killed Jasper Holt, and for a miserable little
pile of paper money he had become a moldy recluse!
He hated his loneliness, but still more did he hate his
only companions, the members of the Soul Hope
Fraternity—that pious shrill seamstress, that surly carpenter,
that tight-lipped housekeeper, that old shouting man with
the unseemly frieze of whiskers. They were so unimaginative.
Their meetings were all the same; the same
persons rose in the same order and made the same intimate
announcements to the Deity that they alone were
At first it had been an amusing triumph to be accepted
as the most eloquent among them, but that had become
commonplace, and he resented their daring to be familiar
with him, who was, he felt, the only man of all men living
who beyond the illusions of the world saw the strange
beatitude of higher souls.
It was at the end of November, during a Wednesday
meeting at which a red-faced man had for a half hour
maintained that he couldn’t possibly sin, that the cumulative
ennui burst in John Holt’s brain. He sprang up.
He snarled: “You make me sick, all of you! You
think you’re so certain of sanctification that you can’t
do wrong. So did I, once! Now I know that we are all
miserable sinners—really are! You all say you are,
but you don’t believe it. I tell you that you there, that
have just been yammering, and you, Brother Judkins, with
the long twitching nose, and I—I—I, most unhappy
of men, we must repent, confess, expiate our sins! And
I will confess right now. I st-stole—”
Terrified he darted out of the hall, and hatless, coatless,
tumbled through the main street of Rosebank, nor ceased
till he had locked himself in his house. He was frightened
because he had almost betrayed his secret, yet
agonized because he had not gone on, really confessed,
and gained the only peace he could ever know now—the
peace of punishment.
He never returned to Soul Hope Hall. Indeed for a
week he did not leave his house, save for midnight
prowling in the willow walk. Quite suddenly he became
desperate with the silence. He flung out of the house,
not stopping to lock or even close the front door. He
raced uptown, no topcoat over his rotting garments, only
an old gardener’s cap on his thick brown hair. People
stared at him. He bore it with a resigned fury.
He entered a lunch room, hoping to sit inconspicuously
and hear men talking normally about him. The attendant
at the counter gaped. John heard a mutter from the
cashier’s desk: “There’s that crazy hermit!”
All of the half dozen young men loafing in the place
were looking at him. He was so uncomfortable that he
could not eat even the milk and sandwich he had ordered.
He pushed them away and fled, a failure in the first
attempt to dine out that he had made in eighteen months;
a lamentable failure to revive that Jasper Holt whom he
had coldly killed.
He entered a cigar store and bought a box of cigarettes.
He took joy out of throwing away his asceticism. But
when, on the street, he lighted a cigarette it made him so
dizzy that he was afraid he was going to fall. He had
to sit down on the curb. People gathered. He staggered
to his feet and up an alley.
For hours he walked, making and discarding the most
contradictory plans—to go to the bank and confess; to
spend the money riotously and never confess.
It was midnight when he returned to his house.
Before it he gasped. The front door was open. He
chuckled with relief as he remembered that he had not
closed it. He sauntered in. He was passing the door of
the living room, going directly up to his bedroom, when
his foot struck an object the size of a book, but hollow
sounding. He picked it up. It was one of the booklike
candy boxes. And it was quite empty. Frightened he
listened. There was no sound. He crept into the living
room and lighted the lamp.
The doors of the bookcase had been wrenched open.
Every book had been pulled out on the floor. All of the
candy boxes, which that evening had contained almost
ninety-six thousand dollars, were in a pile; and all of
them were empty. He searched for ten minutes, but the
only money he found was one five-dollar bill, which had
fluttered under the table. In his pocket he had one dollar
and sixteen cents. John Holt had six dollars and sixteen
cents, no job, no friends—and no identity.
When the president of the Lumber National Bank was
informed that John Holt was waiting to see him he
“Lord, I’d forgotten that minor plague! Must be a
year since he’s been here. Oh, let him— No, hanged
if I will! Tell him I’m too busy to see him. That is,
unless he’s got some news about Jasper. Pump him, and
The president’s secretary sweetly confided to John:
“I’m so sorry, but the president is in conference just
now. What was it you wanted to see him about? Is
there any news about—uh—about your brother?”
“There is not, miss. I am here to see the president on
the business of the Lord.”
“Oh! If that’s all I’m afraid I can’t disturb him.”
“I will wait.”
Wait he did, through all the morning, through the
lunch hour—when the president hastened out past him—then
into the afternoon, till the president was unable to
work with the thought of that scarecrow out there, and
sent for him.
“Well, well! What is it this time, John? I’m pretty
busy. No news about Jasper, eh?”
“No news, sir, but—Jasper himself! I am Jasper
Holt! His sin is my sin.”
“Yes, yes, I know all that stuff—twin brothers, twin
souls, share responsibility—”
“You don’t understand. There isn’t any twin brother.
There isn’t any John Holt. I am Jasper. I invented an
imaginary brother, and disguised myself— Why, don’t
you recognize my voice?”
While John leaned over the desk, his two hands upon
it, and smiled wistfully, the president shook his head and
soothed: “No, I’m afraid I don’t. Sounds like good old
religious John to me! Jasper was a cheerful, efficient
sort of crook. Why, his laugh—”
“But I can laugh!” The dreadful croak which John
uttered was the cry of an evil bird of the swamps. The
president shuddered. Under the edge of the desk his
fingers crept toward the buzzer by which he summoned
They stopped as John urged: “Look—this wig—it’s
a wig. See, I am Jasper!”
He had snatched off the brown thatch. He stood expectant,
a little afraid.
The president was startled, but he shook his head and
“You poor devil! Wig, all right. But I wouldn’t
say that hair was much like Jasper’s!”
He motioned toward the mirror in the corner of the
John wavered to it. And indeed he saw that day by
slow day his hair had turned from Jasper’s thin sleek
blackness to a straggle of damp gray locks writhing over
a yellow skull.
He begged pitifully: “Oh, can’t you see I am Jasper?
I stole ninety-seven thousand dollars from the bank. I
want to be punished! I want to do anything to prove— Why,
I’ve been at your house. Your wife’s name is
Evelyn. My salary here was—”
“My dear boy, don’t you suppose that Jasper might
have told you all these interesting facts? I’m afraid the
worry of this has—pardon me if I’m frank, but I’m
afraid it’s turned your head a little, John.”
“There isn’t any John! There isn’t! There isn’t!”
“I’d believe that a little more easily if I hadn’t met
you before Jasper disappeared.”
“Give me a piece of paper. You know my writing—”
With clutching claws John seized a sheet of bank stationery
and tried to write in the round script of Jasper.
During the past year and a half he had filled thousands of
pages with the small finicky hand of John. Now, though
he tried to prevent it, after he had traced two or three
words in large but shaky letters the writing became
smaller, more pinched, less legible.
Even while John wrote the president looked at the
sheet and said easily: “Afraid it’s no use. That isn’t
Jasper’s fist. See here, I want you to get away from
Rosebank—go to some farm—work outdoors—cut
out this fuming and fussing—get some fresh air in your
lungs.” The president rose and purred: “Now, I’m
afraid I have some work to do.”
He paused, waiting for John to go.
John fiercely crumpled the sheet and hurled it away.
Tears were in his weary eyes.
He wailed: “Is there nothing I can do to prove I am
“Why, certainly! You can produce what’s left of the
John took from his ragged waistcoat pocket a five-dollar
bill and some change. “Here’s all there is.
Ninety-six thousand of it was stolen from my house last
Sorry though he was for the madman the president
could not help laughing. Then he tried to look sympathetic,
and he comforted: “Well, that’s hard luck, old
man. Uh, let’s see. You might produce some parents
or relatives or somebody to prove that Jasper never did
have a twin brother.”
“My parents are dead, and I’ve lost track of their
kin—I was born in England—father came over when
I was six. There might be some cousins or some old
neighbors, but I don’t know. Probably impossible to
find out, in these wartimes, without going over there.”
“Well, I guess we’ll have to let it go, old man.” The
president was pressing the buzzer for his secretary and
gently bidding her: “Show Mr. Holt out, please.”
From the door John desperately tried to add: “You
will find my car sunk—”
The door had closed behind him. The president had
The president gave orders that never, for any reason,
was John Holt to be admitted to his office again. He
telephoned to the bonding company that John Holt had
now gone crazy; that they would save trouble by refusing
to admit him.
John did not try to see them. He went to the county
jail. He entered the keeper’s office and said quietly:
“I have stolen a lot of money, but I can’t prove it. Will
you put me in jail?”
The keeper shouted: “Get out of here! You hoboes
always spring that when you want a good warm lodging
for the winter! Why the devil don’t you go to work
with a shovel in the sand pits? They’re paying two-seventy-five
“Yes, sir,” said John timorously. “Where are they?”