Triumph, by Samuel Hopkins Adams

From A Bench in Our Square

  The months go by—bleak March and May-day heat—
  Harvest is over—winter well-nigh done—
  And still I say, "To-morrow we shall meet."

MAY PROBYN

The Little Red Doctor sat on the far end of my bench. Snow fringed the bristling curve of his mustache. He shivered.

"Dominie," said he, "it's a wild day."

I assented.

"Dominie," said the Little Red Doctor, "it is no kind of a day for an old man to be sitting on a bench."

I dissented.

"Dominie," persisted the Little Red Doctor, "you can't deny that you're old."

"Whose fault is that but yours?" I retorted.

"Don't try to flatter me," said the Little Red Doctor. "You'd have licked my old friend, Death, in that bout you had with him, without any help of mine. And, anyway, you were already old, then. You're a tough old bird, Dominie. Otherwise you wouldn't be sitting here in a March blizzard staring at the Worth mansion and wondering what really happened there three years ago."

"Your old friend, Death, beat you that time," said I maliciously.

The Little Red Doctor chose to ignore my taunt. "Look your fill,
Dominie," he advised. "You won't have much more chance."

"Why?" I asked, startled.

"The wreckers begin on it next month. Also a nice, new building is going up next door to it on that little, secret, walled jungle that Ely Crouch used to misname his garden. I'm glad of it, too. I don't like anachronisms."

"I'm an anachronism," I returned. "You'll be one pretty soon. Our Square is one solid anachronism."

"It won't be much longer. The tide is undermining us. Other houses will go as the Worth place is going. You'll miss it, Dominie. You love houses as if they were people."

It is true. To me houses are the only fabrications of man's hands that are personalities. Enterprise builds the factory, Greed the tenement, but Love alone builds the house, and by Love alone is it maintained against the city's relentless encroachments. Once hallowed by habitation, what warm and vivid influences impregnate it! Ambition, pride, hope, joys happily shared; suffering, sorrow, and loss bravely endured—the walls outlive them all, gathering with age, from grief and joy alike, kind memories and stanch traditions. Yes, I love the old houses. Yet I should not be sorry to see the Worth mansion razed. It has outlived all the lives that once cherished it and become a dead, unhuman thing.

That solid square of brown, gray-trimmed stone had grown old honorably with the honorable generations of the Worths. Then it had died. In one smiting stroke of tragedy the life had gone out of it. Now it stood staring bleakly out from its corner with filmed eyes, across the busy square. Passing its closed gates daily, I was always sensible of a qualm of the spirit, a daunting prescience that the stilled mansion still harbored the ghost of an unlaid secret.

The Little Red Doctor broke in upon my reverie.

"Yes; you're old, Dominie. But you're not wise. You're very foolish.
Foolish and obstinate."

Knowing well what he meant, I nevertheless pampered him by asking: "Why am I foolish and obstinate?"

"Because you refuse to believe that Ned Worth murdered Ely Crouch. Don't you?"

"I do."

"Then why did Ned commit suicide?"

"I don't know."

"How do you explain away his written confession?"

"I don't. I only know that it was not in Ned Worth's character willfully to kill an old man. You were his friend; you ought to know it as well as I do."

"Ah, that's different," said the Little Red Doctor, giving me one of his queer looks. "Yes; you're a pig-headed old man, Dominie."

"I'm a believer in character."

"I don't know of any other man equally pig-headed, except possibly one.
He's old, too."

"Gale Sheldon," said I, naming the gentle, withered librarian of a branch library a few blocks to the westward, the only other resident of Our Square who had unfailingly supported me in my loyalty to the memory of the last of the Worths.

"Yes. He's waiting for us now in his rooms. Will you come?"

Perceiving that there was something back of this—there usually is, in the Little Red Doctor's maneuvers—I rose and we set out. As we passed the Worth house it seemed grimmer and bleaker than ever before. There was something savage and desperate in its desolation. The cold curse of abandonment lay upon it. At the turn of the corner the Little Red Doctor said abruptly.

"She's dead."

"Who?" I demanded.

"The girl. The woman in the case."

"In the Ely Crouch case? A woman? There was never any woman hinted at."

"No. And there never would have been as long as she was alive. Now—Well, I'll leave Sheldon to explain her. He loved her, too, in his way."

In Gale Sheldon's big, still room, crowded with the friendly ghosts of mighty books, a clear fire was burning. One shaded lamp at the desk was turned on, for though it was afternoon the blizzard cast a gloom like dusk. The Little Red Doctor retired to a far corner where he was all but merged in the shadows.

"Have you seen this?" Sheldon asked me, pointing to the table.

Thereon was spread strange literature for the scholarly taste of our local book-worm, a section from the most sensational of New York's Sunday newspapers. From the front page, surrounded by a barbarous conglomeration of headlines and uproarious type, there smiled happily forth a face of such appealing loveliness as no journalistic vulgarity could taint or profane. I recognized it at once, as any one must have done who had ever seen the unforgettable original. It was Virginia Kingsley, who, two years before, had been Sheldon's assistant. The picture was labeled, "Death Ends Wanderlust of Mysterious Heiress," and the article was couched in a like style of curiosity-piquing sensationalism. Stripped of its fulsome verbiage, it told of the girl's recent death in Italy, after traveling about Europe with an invalid sister; during which progress, the article gloated, she was "vainly wooed by the Old World's proudest nobility for her beauty and wealth," the latter having been unexpectedly left her by an aged relative. Her inexorable refusals were set down, by the romantic journalist, as due to some secret and prior attachment. (He termed it an "affair de court"!)

Out of the welter of words there stood forth one sentence to tempt the imagination: "She met death as a tryst." For that brief flash the reporter had been lifted out of his bathos and tawdriness into a clearer element. One could well believe that she had "met death as a tryst." For if ever I have beheld unfaltering hope and unflagging courage glorified and spiritualized into unearthly beauty, it was there in that pictured face, fixed by the imperishable magic of the camera.

"No; I hadn't seen it," I said after reading. "Is it true?"

"In part." Then, after a pause, "You knew her, didn't you, Dominie?"

"Only by sight. She had special charge of the poetry alcove, hadn't she?"

"Yes. She belonged there of right. She was the soul and fragrance of all that the singers of springtime and youth have sung." He sighed, shaking his grizzled head mournfully. "'And all that glory now lies dimmed in death.' It doesn't seem believable."

He rose and went to the window. Through the whorls of snow could be vaguely seen the outlines of the Worth house, looming on its corner. He stared at it musing.

"I've often wondered if she cared for him," he murmured.

"For him? For Worth!" I exclaimed in amazement. "Were they friends?"

"Hardly more than acquaintances, I thought. But she left very strangely the day of his death and never came back."

From the physician's corner there came an indeterminate grunt.

"If that is a request for further information, Doctor, I can say that on the few occasions when they met here in the library, it was only in the line of her duties. He was interested in the twentieth-century poets. But even that interest died out. It was months before the—the tragedy that he stopped coming to the Library."

"It was months before the tragedy that he stopped going anywhere, wasn't it?" I asked.

"Yes. Nobody understood it; least of all, his friends. I even heard it hinted that he was suffering from some malady of the brain." He turned inquiringly to the far, dim corner.

Out of it the Little Red Doctor barked: "Death had him by the throat."

"Death? In what form?"

"Slow, sure fingers, shutting off his breath. Do you need further details or will the dry, scientific term, epithelioma, be enough?" The voice came grim out of the gloom. No answer being returned, it continued: "I've had easier jobs than telling Ned Worth. It was hopeless from the first. My old friend, Death, had too long a start on me."

"Was it something that affected his mind?"

"No. His mind was perfectly clear. Vividly clear. May I take my last verdict, when it comes, with a spirit as clear and as noble."

Silence fell, and in the stillness we heard the Little Red Doctor communing with memories. Now and then came a muttered word. "Suicide!" in a snarl of scornful rejection. "Fool-made definitions!" Presently, "Story for a romancer, not a physician." He seemed to be canvassing an inadequacy in himself with dissatisfaction. Then, more clearly: "Love from the first. At a glance, perhaps. The contagion of flame for powder. But in that abyss together they saw each other's soul."

"The Little Red Doctor is turning poet," said Sheldon to me in an incredulous whisper.

There was the snap and crackle of a match from the shadowed corner. The keen, gnarled young face sprang from the darkness, vivid and softened with a strange triumph, then receded behind an imperfect circle, clouded the next instant by a nimbus of smoke. The Little Red Doctor spoke.

Ned Worth was my friend as well as my patient. No need to tell you men, who knew him, why I was fond of him. I don't suppose any one ever came in contact with that fantastic and smiling humanity of his without loving him for it. "Immortal hilarity!" The phrase might have been coined for him.

It wasn't as physician that I went home with Ned, after pronouncing sentence upon him, but as friend. I didn't want him to be alone that first night. Yet I dare say that any one, seeing the two of us, would have thought me the one who had heard his life-limit defined. He was as steady as a rock.

"No danger of my being a miser of life," he said. "You've given me leave to spend freely what's left of it." Well, he spent. Freely and splendidly!

The spacious old library on the second floor—you know it, Dominie, smelt of disuse, as we entered, Ned's servant bringing up the rear with a handbag. Dust had settled down like an army of occupation over everything. The furniture was shrouded in denim. The tall clock in the corner stood voiceless. Three months of desertion will change any house into a tomb. And the Worth mansion was never too cheerful, anyway. Since the others of the family died, Ned hadn't stayed there long enough at a time to humanize it.

Ned's man set down the grip, unstrapped it, took his orders for some late purchases, and left to execute them. I went over to open the two deep-set windows on the farther side of the room. It was a still, close October night, and the late scent of warmed-over earth came up to me out of Ely Crouch's garden next door. From where I stood in the broad embrasure of the south window, I was concealed from the room. But I could see everything through a tiny gap in the hangings. Ned sat at his desk sorting some papers. A sort of stern intentness had settled upon his face, without marring its curious faun-like beauty. I carry the picture in my mind.

"What's become of you, Chris?" he demanded presently. I came out into the main part of the room. "Oh, there you are! You'll look after a few little matters for me, won't you?" He indicated a sheaf of papers.

"You needn't be in such a hurry," said I with illogical resentment. "It isn't going to be to-morrow or next week."

"Isn't it?" Something in his tone made me look at him sharply. "Six months or three months or to-morrow," he added, more lightly; "what does it matter as long as it's sure! You know, what I appreciate is that you gave me the truth straight."

"It's a luxury few of my patients get. Their constitutions won't stand it."

"It's a compliment to my nerve. Strangely enough I don't feel nervous about it."

"I do. Damnably! About something, anyway. There's something wrong with this room, Ned. What is it?"

"Don't you know?" he laughed. "It's the sepulchral silence of Old Grandfather Clock, over there. You're looking right at him and wondering subconsciously why he doesn't make a noise like Time."

"That's easily remedied." Consulting my watch I set and wound the ancient timepiece. Its comfortable iteration made the place at once more livable. Immediately it struck the hour.

"Ten o'clock," I said, and parted the draperies at the lower window to look out again. "Ten o'clock of a still, cloudy night and—and the devil is on a prowl in his garden."

"Meaning my highly respected neighbor and ornament to the local bar, the
Honorable Ely Crouch?"

"Exactly. Preceded by a familiar spirit in animal form."

"Oh, that's his pet ferret and boon companion."

"Not his only companion. There's some one with him," I said. "A woman."

"I don't admire her taste in romance," said Ned.

"Nor her discretion. You know what they say: 'A dollar or a woman never safe alone with Ely Crouch.'"

"My dollars certainly weren't," observed Ned.

"How did he ever defend your suit for an accounting?" I asked.

"Heedlessness on my side, a crooked judge on his. Stop spying on my neighbor's flirtations and look here."

I turned and got a shock. The handbag lay open on the desk, surrounded by a respectable-sized fortune in bank-notes.

"Pretty much all that the Honorable Ely has left me," he added.

"Is it enough to go on with, Ned?" I asked.

He smiled at me. "Plenty for my time. You forget."

For the moment I had forgotten. "But what on earth are you going to do with all that ready cash?"

"Carry out a brilliant idea. I conceived it after you had handed down your verdict. Went around to the bank and quietly drew out the lot. I've planned a wild and original orgy. A riot of dissipation in giving. Think of the fun one can have with that much tangible money. Already to-day I've struck one man dumb and reduced another to mental decay, by the simple medium of a thousand-dollar bill. Miracles! Declare a vacation, Chris, and come with me on my secret and jubilant bat, and we'll work wonders."

"And after?" I asked.

"Oh, after! Well, there'll be no further reason for the 'permanent possibility of sensation' on my part. That's your precious science's best definition of life, I believe. It doesn't appeal to one as alluring when the sensation promises to become—well, increasingly unpleasant."

There was no mistaking his meaning. "I can't have that, my son," I protested.

"No? That's a purely professional prejudice of yours. Look at it from my point of view. Am I to wait to be strangled by invisible hands, rather than make an easy and graceful exit? Suicide! The word has no meaning for a man in my condition. If you'll tell me there's a chance, one mere, remote human chance—" He paused, turning to me with what was almost appeal in his glance. How I longed to lie to him! But Ned Worth was the kind that you can't lie to. I looked at him standing there so strong and fine, with all the mirthful zest of living in his veins, sentenced beyond hope, and I thought of those terrible lines of another man under doom:

  "I never saw a man who looked
  So wistfully at the day."

We medical men learn to throw a protective film over our feelings, like the veil over the eagle's eye. We have to. But I give you my word, I could not trust my voice to answer him.

"You see," he said; "you can't." His hand fell on my arm. "I'm sorry, Chris," he said in that winning voice of his; "I shouldn't plague you for something that you can't give me."

"I can tell you this, anyway," said I: "that it's something less than courage to give up until the time comes. You didn't give your life. You haven't the right to take it; anyway, not until its last usefulness is over."

He made a movement of impatience.

"Oh, I'm not asking you to endure torture. I'd release you myself from that, if it comes to it, in spite of man-made laws. But how can you tell that being alive instead of dead next week or next month may not make an eternal difference to some other life? Your part isn't played out yet. Who are you to say how much good you may yet do before the curtain is rung down?"

"Or how much evil! Well, as a suitable finish, suppose I go down into that garden and kill Ely Crouch," he suggested, smiling. "That would be a beneficial enough act to entitle me to a prompt and peaceful death, wouldn't it?"

"Theoretically sound, but unfortunately impracticable," I answered, relieved at his change of tone.

"I suppose it is." He looked at me, still smiling, but intent. "Chris, what do you believe comes after?"

"Justice."

"A hard word for cowards. What do I believe, I wonder? At any rate, in being sport enough to play the game through. You're right, old hard-shell. I'll stick it out. It will only mean spending this"—he swept the money back into its repository—"a little more slowly."

"I was sure I could count on you," I said. "Now I can give you the talisman." I set on the desk before him a small pasteboard box. "Pay strict attention. You see that label? That's to remind you. One tablet if you can't sleep."

"I couldn't last night."

"Two if the pain becomes more than you can stand."

He nodded.

"But three at one time and you'll sleep so sound that nothing will ever awaken you."

"Good old Chris!" Opening the box, he fingered the pellets curiously. "A blessed thing, your science! Three and the sure sleep."

"On trust, Ned."

"On honor," he agreed. "Then I mustn't expunge old Crouch? It's a disappointment," he added gayly.

He pushed the box away from him and crossed over to the upper window.
His voice came to me from behind the enshrouding curtains.

"Our friend has finished his promenade. The air is the sweeter for it.
I'll stay here and breathe it."

"Good!" said I. "I've five minutes of telephoning to do. Then I'll be back."

Nobody can ever tell me again that there's an instinct which feels the presence of persons unseen. On my way to the door I passed within arm's-length of a creature tense and pulsating with the most desperate emotions. I could have stretched out a hand and touched her as she crouched, hidden in the embrasure of the lower window. It would seem as if the whole atmosphere of the room must have been surcharged with the terrific passion of her newborn and dreadful hopes. And I felt—nothing. No sense, as I brushed by, of the tragic and concentrated force of will which nerved and restrained her. I went on, and out unconscious. Afterward she was unable to tell me how long she had been there. It must have been for some minutes, for what roused her from her stupor of terror was the word "Suicide." It was like an echo, a mockery to her, at first; and then, as she listened with passionate attention to what followed, my instructions about the poison took on the voice of a ministering providence. The draperies had shut off the view of Ned, nor had she recognized his voice, already altered by the encroachments of the disease. But she heard him walk to the upper window, and saw me pass on my way to the telephone, and knew that the moment had come. From what she told me later, and from that to which I was a mazed witness on my return, I piece together the events which so swiftly followed.

A wind had risen outside or Ned might have heard the footsteps sooner. As it was, when he stepped out from behind the draperies of the upper window those of the lower window were still waving, but the swift figure had almost reached the desk. The face was turned from him. Even in that moment of astonishment he noticed that she carried her left arm close to her body, with a curious awkwardness.

"Hello!" he challenged.

She cried out sharply, and covered the remaining distance with a rush. Her hand fell upon the box of pellets. She turned, clutching that little box of desperate hopes to her bosom.

"Good God! Virginia!" he exclaimed. "Miss Kingsley!"

"Mr. Worth! Was it you I heard? Why—how are you here?"

"This is my house."

"I didn't know." Keeping her eyes fixed upon him like a watchful animal, she slowly backed to interpose the table between herself and a possible interference. Her arm, still stiffly pressed to her side, impeded her fumbling efforts to open the box. Presently, however, the cover yielded.

He measured the chances of intervention, and abandoned the hope. His brain hummed with a thousand conjectures, a thousand questions centering upon her obvious and preposterous purpose. Suddenly, as her fingers trembled among the tablets, his thoughts steadied and his stratagem was formed.

"What do you want with my tonic?" he asked coolly.

"Tonic? I—I thought—"

"You thought it was the poison. Well, you've got the wrong box. The poison box is in the drawer."

"In the drawer," she repeated. She spoke in the mechanical voice of one desperately intent upon holding the mind to some vital project. Her nerveless hands fumbled at the side of the desk.

He crossed quickly, caught up the box which she had just relinquished, and dropped it into his pocket.

"Oh!" she moaned, and stared at him with stricken and accusing eyes.
"Then it was the poison!"

"Yes."

"Give it back to me!" she implored, like a bereft child. "Oh, give it to me!"

"Why do you want to kill yourself?"

She looked at him in dumb despair.

"How did you get here?" he demanded.

"Your fire escape."

"And to that from the garden wall, I suppose? So you were Ely Crouch's companion," he cried with a changed voice.

"Don't," she shuddered, throwing her right arm over her face.

"I beg your pardon," he said gently. "Take a swallow of this water.
What's the matter with your arm? Are you hurt?"

"No." Her eyes would not meet his. They were fixed obstinately upon the pocket into which he had dropped the poison.

"It's incredible!" he burst out. "You with your youth and loveliness! With everything that makes life sweet for yourself and others. What madness—" He broke off and his voice softened into persuasion. "We were almost friends, once. Can't I—won't you let me help? Don't you think you can trust me?"

She raised her eyes to his, and he read in them hopeless terror. "Yes, I could trust you. But there is only one help for me now. And you've taken it from me."

"Who can tell? You've been badly frightened," he said in as soothing a tone as he could command. "Try to believe that no harm can come to you here, and that I—I would give the blood of my heart to save you from harm or danger. You said you could trust me. What was your errand with Ely Crouch?"

"Money."

"Money!" he repeated, drawing back.

"It was our own; my sister's and mine. Mr. Crouch had it. He had managed our affairs since my father's death. I could never get an accounting from him. To-day the doctor told me that Alice must go away at once for an operation. And to-day Mr. Crouch made this appointment for to-night."

"Didn't you know his reputation? Weren't you afraid?"

"I didn't think of fear. When I told him how matters stood, he offered me money, but—but—Oh, I can't tell you!"

"No need," he said quickly. "I know what he is. I was joking when I spoke of killing him, a little while ago. By God, I wish I had killed him! It isn't too late now."

"It is too late."

Her eyes, dilated, were fixed upon his.

"Why? How—too late?" he stammered.

"I killed him."

"You! You—killed—Ely—Crouch?"

"He had a cane," she said, in a hurried, flat, half-whisper. "When he caught at me, I tried to get it to defend myself. The handle pulled out. There was a dagger on it. He came at me again. I didn't realize what I was doing. All I could see was that hateful face drawing nearer. Then it changed and he seemed to dissolve into a hideous heap. I didn't mean to kill him." Her voice rose in the struggle against hysteria. "God knows, I didn't mean to kill him."

"Hush!"

His hands fell on her shoulders and held her against the onset. Energy and resolution quickened in his eyes. "Who knows of your being in the garden?"

"No one."

"Any one see you climb the wall and come here?"

"No."

"Or know that you had an appointment with him?"

"No."

"Will you do exactly as I tell you?"

"What is the use?" she said dully.

"I'm going to get you out of here."

"I should have to face it later. I couldn't face it—the horror and shame of it. I'd rather die a thousand times." She lifted her arms, the coat opened, and the cane-handled blade dropped to the floor, and rolled. She shuddered away from it. "I kept that for myself, but I couldn't do it. It's got his blood on it. When I heard the doctor speak of the poison, it seemed like a miracle of Providence sent to guide me. Oh, give it to me! Is it"—she faltered—"is it quick?"

"Steady!" Stooping he picked up the weapon. "It needn't come to that, if you can play your part. Have you got the courage to walk out of this house and go home to safety? Absolute safety!"

She searched his face in bewilderment. "I—don't know."

"If I give you my word of honor that it depends only on yourself?"

"How?"

"Pull yourself together. Go downstairs quietly. Turn to your left.
You'll see a door. It opens on the street. Walk out with your head up,
and go home. You're as safe as though you'd never seen Ely Crouch.
There's no clue to you."

"No clue! Look down the fire escape!"

He crossed the room at a bound. Beneath him, its evil snout pointed upwards, sat the dead man's familiar spirit.

"Good God! The ferret!"

"It's been sitting there, watching, watching, watching."

"The more reason for haste. Pull yourself together. Forward, march!" he cried, pressing his will upon her.

"But you? When they come what will you say to them?"

"I'll fix up something." He drew back from the window, lowering his voice. "Men in the garden. A policeman."

"They've found him!" She fell into Ned's chair, dropping her head in her hands. For an instant he studied her. Then he took his great and tender resolution. His hand fell warm and firm on her shoulder.

"Listen; suppose they suspect some one else?"

"Who?"

"Me."

"You? Why should they?"

"Circumstances. The place. The weapon here in my possession. My known trouble with Ely Crouch. Don't you see how it all fits in?"

She recovered from the stupor of surprise into which his suggestion had plunged her. "Are you mad? Do you think that I'd let you sacrifice yourself? What am I to you that you should do this for me?"

"The woman I love," he said quietly. "I have loved you from the first day that I saw you."

It was at this moment that I returned and halted at the door, an unwilling witness to the rest, only half understanding, not daring to move. I saw the splendid color mount and glorify her beauty. I saw her hands go out to him half in appeal, half in rejection.

"Oh, it's madness!" she cried. "It's your life you're offering me."

"What else should I offer you—you who have given life its real meaning for me?"

He caught her hands in his and held them. He caught her eyes in his and held them. Then he began speaking, evenly, soothingly, persuasively, binding her to his will.

"What does my life amount to? Think how little it means. A few more weeks of waiting. Then the suffering: then the release. You heard Dr. Smith. You know. You understand. Didn't you understand?"

"Yes," she breathed.

"Then you must see what a splendid way out this is for me. No more waiting. No pain. Death never came to any one so kindly before. It's my chance, if only you'll make it worth while. Will you?" he pleaded.

"Oh, the wonder of it!" she whispered, gazing on him with parted lips. But he did not understand, yet. He pressed what he thought to be his advantage.

"Here," he cried, suddenly dropping her hands and catching up the bills from the valise. "Here's safety. Here's life. For you and your sister, both. You spoke of Providence a moment ago. Here's Providence for you! Quick! Take it."

"What is it?" she asked, drawing away as he sought to thrust the money into her hands.

"Twenty thousand dollars. More. It doesn't matter. It's life for both of you. Have you the right to refuse it? Take it and go."

She let the bank-notes fall from her hands unnoticed.

"Do you think I would leave you now?" she cried in a voice of thrilled music. "Even if they weren't sure to trace me, as they would be."

This last she uttered as an unimportant matter dismissed with indifference.

"There will be nothing to trace. My confession will cover the ground."

"Confession? To what?"

"To the murder of Ely Crouch."

Some sort of sound I was conscious of making. I suppose I gasped. But they were too engrossed to hear.

"You would do even that? But the penalty—the shame—"

"What do they matter to a dying man?" he retorted impatiently.

She had fallen back from him, in the shock of his suggestion, but now she came forward again slowly, her glorious eyes fixed on his. So they stood face to face, soul to soul, deep answering unto deep, and, as I sit here speaking, I saw the wonder and the miracle flower in her face. When she spoke again, her words seemed the inevitable expression of that which had passed silently between them.

"Do you love me?"

"Before God I do," he answered.

"Take me away! There's time yet. I'll go with you anywhere, anywhere! I'm all yours. I've loved you from the first, I think, as you have loved me. All I ask is to live for you, and when you die, to die with you."

Fire flashed from his face at the call. He took a step toward her. A shout, half-muffled, sounded from outside the window. Instantly the light and passion died in his eyes. I have never seen a face at once so stern and so gentle as his was when he caught the outreaching hands in his own.

"You forget that they must find one of us, or it's all no use. Listen carefully, dear one. If you truly love me, you must do as I bid you. Give me my chance of fooling fate; of making my death worth while. It won't be hard." He took the little box from his pocket. "It will be very easy."

"Give it to me, too," she pleaded like a child. "Ah, Ned, we can't part now! Both of us together."

He shook his head, smiling. The man's face was as beautiful as a god's at that moment or an angel's. "You must go back to your sister," he said simply. "You haven't the right to die."

He turned to the table, drew a sheet of paper to him and wrote four words. You all know what they were; his confession. Then his hand went up, a swift movement, and a moment later he was setting back the glass of water upon the desk whence he had taken it.

"Love and glory of my life, will you go?" he said.

"Yes," she whispered.

Not until then did the paralysis, which had gripped me when I saw Ned turn the pellets into his hand, relax. I ran forward. The girl cried out. Ned met me with his hand against my breast.

"How much have you heard?" he said quickly.

"Enough."

"Then you'll understand." His faith was more irresistible than a thousand arguments. "Take her home, Chris."

I held out my hand. "Come," I said.

She turned and faced him. "Must I? Alone?" What a depth of desolation in that word!

"There is no other way, dearest one."

"Good-bye, then, until we meet," she said in the passionate music of her voice. "Every beat of my heart will bring me nearer to you. There will be no other life for me. Soon or late I'll come to you. You believe it. Say you believe it!"

"I believe it." He bent and kissed her lips. Then his form slackened away from the arms that clasped it, and sank into the chair. A policeman's whistle shrilled outside the window. The faintest flicker of a smile passed over the face of the sleeper.

I took her away, still with that unearthly ecstasy on her face.

* * * * *

The glow of the narrator's cigar waxed, a pin-point of light in a world of dimness and mystery. Subdued breathing made our silence rhythmic. When I found my voice, it was hardly more than a whisper.

"Good God! What a tragedy!"

"Tragedy? You think it so?" The Little Red Doctor's gnarled face gleamed strangely behind the tiny radiance. "Dominie, you have a queer notion of this life and little faith in the next."

"'She met death as a tryst,'" murmured the old librarian. "And he! 'Trailing clouds of glory!' The triumph of that victory over fate! One would like to have seen the meeting between them, after the waiting."

The Little Red Doctor rose. "When some brutal and needless tragedy of the sort that we medical men witness so often shakes my faith in my kind, I turn to think of those two in the splendor of their last meeting on earth, the man with the courage to face death, the woman with the courage to face life."

He strode over to the table and lifted the newspaper, which had slipped to the floor unnoticed. The girlish face turned toward us its irresistible appeal, yearning out from amidst the lurid indignities of print.

"You heard from her afterward?" I asked.

"Often. The sister died and left her nothing to live for but her promise. Always in her letters sounded the note of courage and of waiting. It was in the last word I had from her—received since her death—set to the song of some poet, I don't know who. You ought to know, Mr. Sheldon."

His deep voice rose to the rhythm.

  "Ah, long-delayed to-morrow! Hearts that beat
  Measure the length of every moment gone.
  Ever the suns rise tardily or fleet
  And light the letters on a churchyard stone.—
  And still I say, 'To-morrow we shall meet!'"

"May Probyn," the librarian identified. "Too few people know her. A wonderful poem!"

Silence fell again, folding us and our thoughts in its kindly refuge. Rising, I crossed to the window and drew the curtain aside. A surging wind had swept the sky clear, all but one bank of low-lurking, western cloud shot through with naming crimson. In that luminous setting the ancient house across Our Square, grim and bleak no longer to my eyes, gleamed, through eyes again come to life, with an inconceivable glory. Behind me in the shadow, the measured voice of the witness to life and death repeated once more the message of imperishable hope:

"And still I say, 'To-morrow we shall meet.'"