THE BRONZE HAND
By Anna Katharine Green
(Mrs. Charles Rohlfs)
Copyright, 1897, by Anna Katharine Green
I. THE FASCINATING UNKNOWN.
II. THE QUAKER-LIKE GIRL, and OTHERS
V. DOCTOR MERRIAM.
VI. THE BOX AGAIN.
I. THE FASCINATING UNKNOWN.
HER room was on the ground floor of the house we mutually inhabited, and
mine directly above it, so that my opportunities for seeing her were
limited to short glimpses of her auburn head as she leaned out of the
window to close her shutters at night or open them in the morning. Yet our
chance encounter in the hall or on the walk in front, had made so deep an
impression upon my sensibilities that I was never without the vision of
her pale face set off by the aureole of reddish brown hair, which, since
my first meeting with her, had become for me the symbol of everything
beautiful, incomprehensible and strange.
For my fellow-lodger was a mystery.
I am a busy man now, but just at the time of which I speak, I had leisure
I was sharing with many others the unrest of the perilous days subsequent
to the raid of John Brown at Harper's Ferry. Abraham Lincoln had been
elected President. Baltimore, where the incidents I am relating
transpired, had become the headquarters of men who secretly leagued
themselves in antagonism to the North. Men and women who felt that their
Northern brethren had grievously wronged them planned to undermine the
stability of the government. The schemes at this time were gigantic in
their conception and far-reaching in their scope and endless
Naturally under these conditions, a consciousness of ever-present danger
haunted every thinking mind. The candor of the outspoken was regarded with
doubt, and the reticence of the more cautious, with distrust. It was a
trying time for sensitive, impressionable natures with nothing to do.
Perhaps all this may account for the persistency with which I sat in my
open window. I was thus sitting one night—a memorable one to me—when
I heard a sharp exclamation from below, in a voice I had long listened
Any utterance from those lips would have attracted my attention; but,
filled as this was with marked, if not extraordinary, emotion, I could not
fail to be roused to a corresponding degree of curiosity and interest.
Thrusting out my head, I cast a rapid glance downward. A shutter swinging
in the wind, and the escaping figure of a man hurrying round the corner of
the street, were all that rewarded my scrutiny; though, from the stream of
light issuing from the casement beneath, I perceived that her window, like
my own, was wide open.
As I continued to watch this light, I saw her thrust out her head with an
eagerness indicative of great excitement. Peering to right and left, she
murmured some suppressed words mixed with gasps of such strong feeling
that I involuntarily called out:
"Excuse me, madam, have you been frightened in any way by the man I saw
running away from here a moment ago?"
She gave a great start and glanced up. I see her face yet—beautiful,
wonderful; so beautiful and so wonderful I have never been able to forget
it. Meeting my eye, she faltered out:
"Did you see a man running away from here? Oh, sir, if I might have a word
I came near leaping directly to the pavement in my ardor and anxiety to
oblige her, but, remembering before it was too late that she was neither a
Juliet nor I a Romeo, I merely answered that I would be with her in a
moment and betook myself below by the less direct but safer means of the
It was a short one and I was but a moment in descending, but that moment
was long enough for my heart to acquire a most uncomfortable throb, and it
was with anything but an air of quiet self-possession that I approached
the threshold I had never before dared to cross even in fancy.
The door was open and I caught one glimpse of her figure before she was
aware of my presence. She was contemplating her right hand with a look of
terror, which, added to her striking personality, made her seem at the
instant a creature of alarming characteristics fully as capable of
awakening awe as devotion.
I may have given some token of the agitation her appearance awakened, for
she turned towards me with sudden vehemence.
"Oh!" she cried, with a welcoming gesture; "you are the gentleman from
up-stairs who saw a man running away from here a moment ago. Would you
know that man if you saw him again?"
"I am afraid not," I replied. "He was only a flying figure in my eyes."
"Oh!" she moaned, bringing her hands together in dismay. But, immediately
straightening herself, she met my regard with one as direct as my own. "I
need a friend," she said, "and I am surrounded by strangers."
I made a move towards her; I did not feel myself a stranger. But how was I
to make her realize the fact?
"If there is anything I can do," I suggested.
Her steady regard became searching.
"I have noticed you before to-night," she declared, with a directness
devoid of every vestige of coquetry. "You seem to have qualities that may
be trusted. But the man capable of helping me needs the strongest motives
that influence humanity: courage, devotion, discretion, and a total
forgetfulness of self. Such qualifications cannot be looked for in a
As if with these words she dismissed me from her thoughts, she turned her
back upon me. Then, as if recollecting the courtesy due even to strangers,
she cast me an apologetic glance over her shoulder and hurriedly added:
"I am bewildered by my loss. Leave me to the torment of my thoughts. You
can do nothing for me."
Had there been the least evidence of falsity in her tone or the slightest
striving after effect in her look or bearing, I would have taken her at
her word and left her then and there. But the candor of the woman and the
reality of her emotion were not to be questioned, and moved by an impulse
as irresistible as it was foolhardy, I cried with the impetuosity of my
"I am ready to risk my life for you. Why, I do not know and do not care to
ask. I only know you could have found no other man so willing to do your
A smile, in which surprise was tempered by a feeling almost tender,
crossed her lips and immediately vanished. She shook her head as if in
deprecation of the passion my words evinced, and was about to dismiss me,
when she suddenly changed her mind and seized upon the aid I had offered,
with a fervor that roused my sense of chivalry and deepened what might
have been but a passing fancy into an active and all-engrossing passion.
"I can read faces," said she, "and I have read yours. You will do for me
what I cannot do for myself, but——Have you a mother living?"
I answered no; that I was very nearly without relatives or ties.
"I am glad," she said, half to herself. Then with a last searching look,
"Have you not even a sweetheart?"
I must have reddened painfully, for she drew back with a hesitating and
troubled air; but the vigorous protest I hastened to make seemed to
reassure her, for the next word she uttered was one of confidence.
"I have lost a ring." She spoke in a low but hurried tone. "It was
snatched from my finger as I reached out my hand to close my shutters.
Some one must have been lying in wait; some one who knows my habits and
the hour at which I close my window for the night. The loss I have
sustained is greater than you can conceive. It means more, much more, than
appears. To the man who will bring me back that ring direct from the hand
that stole it, I would devote the gratitude of a lifetime. Are you willing
to make the endeavor? It is a task I cannot give to the police."
This request, so different from any I had expected, checked my enthusiasm
in proportion as it awoke a senseless jealousy.
"Yet it seems directly in their line," I suggested, seeing nothing but
humiliation before me if I attempted the recovery of a simple love-token.
"I know that it must seem so to you," she admitted, reading my thoughts
and answering them with skilful indirectness. "But what policeman would
undertake a difficult and minute search for an article whose intrinsic
value would not reach five dollars?"
"Then it is only a memento," I stammered, with very evident feeling.
"Only a memento," she repeated; "but not of love. Worthless as it is in
itself, it would buy everything I possess, and almost my soul to-night. I
can explain no further. Will you attempt its recovery?"
Restored to myself by her frank admission that it was no lover's keepsake
I was urged to recapture and return, I allowed the powerful individuality
of this woman to have its full effect upon me. Taking in with one glance
her beauty, the impassioned fervor of her nature, and the subtle charm of
a spirit she now allowed to work its full spell upon me, I threw every
practical consideration to the winds, and impetuously replied:
"I will endeavor to regain this ring for you. Tell me where to go, and
whom to attack, and if human wit and strength can compass it, you shall
have the jewel back before morn-ing.
"Oh!" she protested, "I see that you anticipate a task of small
difficulty. You cannot recover this particular ring so easily as that. In
the first place, I do not in the least know who took it; I only know its
destination. Alas! if it is allowed to reach that destination, I am bereft
"No love token," I murmured, "and yet your whole peace depends on its
"More than my peace," she answered; and with a quick movement she closed
the door which I had left open behind me. As its sharp bang rang through
the room, I realized into what a pitfall I had stumbled. Only a political
intrigue of the most desperate character could account for the words I had
heard and the actions to which I had been a witness. But I was in no mood
to recoil even from such dangers as these, and so my look showed her as
she leaned toward me with the words:
"Listen! I am burdened with a secret. I am in this house, in this city,
for a purpose. The secret is not my own and I cannot part with it; neither
is my purpose communicable. You therefore will be obliged to deal with the
greatest dangers blindfold. One encouragement only I can give you. You
will work for good ends. You are pitted against wrong, not right, and if
you succumb, it will be in a cause you yourself would call noble. Do I
make myself understood, Mr.—Mr. ———"
"Abbott," I put in, with a bow.
She took the bow for an affirmative, as indeed I meant she should. "You do
not recoil," she murmured, "not even when I say that you must take no
third party into your confidence, no matter to what extremity you are
"I would not be the man I think I am, if I recoiled," I said, smiling.
She waved her hand with almost a stern air.
"Swear!" she commanded; "swear that, from the moment you leave this door
till you return to it, you will breathe no word concerning me, your
errand, or even the oath I am now exacting from you."
"Ah!" thought I to myself, "this is serious." But I took the oath under
the spell of the most forceful personality I had ever met, and did not
"Now let us waste no more time," said she.
"In the large building on ——— Street there is an office
with the name of Dr. Merriam on the door. See! I have written it on this
card, so that there may be no mistake about it. That office is open to
patients from ten in the morning until twelve at noon. During these hours
any one can enter there; but to awaken no distrust, he should have some
ailment. Have you not some slight disorder concerning which you might
consult a physician?"
"I doubt it," said I; "but I might manufacture one."
"That would not do with Dr. Merriam. He is a skilful man; he would see
through any imposture."
"I have a sick friend," I ruminated. "And by the way, his case is obscure
and curious. I could interest any doctor in it in five minutes."
"That is good; consult him in regard to your friend; meantime—while
you are waiting for the interview, I mean—take notice of a large box
you will find placed on a side-table. Do not seem to fix your attention on
it, but never let it be really out of your sight from the moment the door
is unlocked at ten till you are forced by the doctor's importunity to
leave the room at twelve. If you are alone there for one minute (and you
will be allowed to remain there alone if you show no haste to consult the
doctor) unlock that box—here is the key—and look carefully
inside. No one will interfere and no one will criticize you; there is more
than one person who has access to that box."
"But—" I put in.
"You will discover there," she whispered, "a hand of bronze lying on an
enamelled cushion. On the fingers of this hand there should be, and
doubtless are, rings of forged steel of peculiar workmanship. If there
is one on the middle finger, my cause is lost, and I can only await
the end." Her cheek paled. "But if there is not, you may be sure
that an attempt will be made by some one to-morrow—I do not know
whom—to put one there before the office closes at noon. The ring
will be mine—the one stolen from my hand just now—and it will
be your business to prevent the box being opened for this purpose, by any
means short of public interference involving arrest and investigation; for
this, too, would be fatal. The delay of a day may be of incalculable
service to me. It would give me time to think, if not to act. Does the
undertaking seem a hopeless one? Am I asking too much of your
"It does not seem a hopeful one," I admitted; "but I am willing to
undertake the adventure. What are its dangers? And why, if I see the ring
on the finger you speak of, cannot I take it off and bring it back to
"Because," said she, answering the last question first, "the ring becomes
a part of the mechanism the moment it is thrust over the last joint. You
could not draw it off. As for the dangers I allude to, they are of a
hidden character, and part of the secret I mentioned. If, however, you
exercise your wit, your courage, and a proper amount of strategy, you may
escape. Interference must be proved against you. That rule, at
least, has been held inviolate."
Aghast at the mysterious perils she thus indicated in the path toward
which she was urging me, I for one instant felt an impulse to retreat. But
adventure of any kind has its allurements for an unoccupied youth of
twenty-one, and when seasoned, as this was, by a romantic, if
unreasonable, passion, proved altogether too irresistible for me to give
it up. Laughing outright in my endeavor to throw off the surplus of my
excitement, I drew myself up and uttered some fiery phrase of courage,
which I doubt if she even heard. Then I said some word about the doctor,
which she at once caught up.
"The doctor," said she, "may know, and may not know, the mysteries of that
box. I would advise you to treat him solely as a doctor. He who uses the
key you now hold in your hand cannot be too wary; by which I mean too
careful or too silent. Oh, that I dared to go there myself! But my
agitation would betray me. Besides, my person is known, or this ring would
never have been taken from me.
"I will be your deputy," I assured her. "Have you any further
"No," said she; "instructions are useless in an affair of this kind. Your
actions must be determined by the exigencies of the moment. Meantime, my
every thought will be yours. Good-night, sir; pray God, it may not be
"One moment," I said, as I arose to go. "Have you any objection to telling
me your name?"
"I am Miss Calhoun," she said, with a graceful bow.
This was the beginning of my formidable adventure with the bronze hand.
II. THE QUAKER-LIKE GIRL, THE PALE GIRL, AND THE MAN WITH A BRISTLING MUSTACHE.
THE building mentioned by my new-found friend was well known to me. It was
one of the kind in which every other office is unoccupied the year round.
Such tenants as gave it the little air of usefulness it possessed were of
the bad-pay kind. They gave little concern to their own affairs and less
to those of their neighbors. The public avoided the building, and the
tenants did nothing to encourage a change. In a populous city, on the
corner made by frequented streets, it stood as much alone and neglected as
if it were a ruin. Old or young eyes may have looked through its begrimed
windows into the busy thoroughfare beneath, but none in the street ever
honored the old place with a glance or thought. No one even wasted
contempt upon its smoky walls, and few disturbed the accumulated dust upon
the stairs or in the dimly-lighted hallways.
Had a place been sought for wherein the utmost secrecy might be observed,
surely this was that place. As I neared the door upon which I read the
doctor's name, I found myself treading on tip-toe, so impressed had I
become by a sense of caution, if not of dread.
I had made every effort to be on hand at precisely ten o'clock, and felt
so sure that I had been the first to arrive that I reached out to the
door-knob with every expectation of entering, unseen by any one, and
possibly unheard. To my dismay, the first twist I gave it resulted in a
rusty shriek that set my teeth on edge, and echoed down the gloomy hall.
With my flesh creeping, I opened the door and passed into the doctor's
It was far from being empty. Seated in chairs ranged along two sides of
the room, I saw a dozen or more persons, male and female. All wore the
preoccupied air that patients are apt to assume while awaiting their turn
to be called by the doctor. One amongst the number made an effort at
indifference by drawing out and pushing back a nail in the flooring with
the sole of her pretty shoe. It may have been intended for coquetry, and
at another time might have bewitched me; now it seemed strangely out of
place. The man who was to all appearance counting the flies in the web of
an industrious spider was more in keeping with the place, my feelings, and
the atmosphere of despondency that the room gave out.
As I had no doubt that the ring I was seeking was in the possession of
some one of these persons, I gave each as minute an examination as was
possible under the circumstances. Only two amongst them appeared open to
suspicion. Of these, one was a young man whose naturally fine features
would have prepossessed him in my favor had it not been for the peculiar
alertness of his bright blue eye, which flashed incessantly in every
direction till each and all of us seemed to partake of his restlessness
and anxiety. Why was he not depressed? The other was the girl, or, rather,
the young lady to whose pretty foot I have referred. If she was at all
conspicuous, it was owing to the contrast between her beautiful face and
the Quaker-like simplicity of her dress. She was restless also; her foot
had ceased its action, but her hand moved constantly. Now it clutched its
fellow in her lap, and now it ran in an oft-repeated action, seemingly
beyond her control, up and down and round and round a plain but expensive
leather bag she wore at her side. "She carries the ring," thought I,
sitting down in the chair next her.
Meantime, I had not been oblivious of the box. It stood upon a
plain oak table directly opposite the door by which I had come in. It was
about a foot square, and was the only object in the room at all
ornamental. Indeed, there was but little else for the eye to rest on,
consequently most of us looked that way, though I noticed that but few
seemed to take any real interest in that or anything else within sight.
This was encouraging, and I was on the point of transferring my entire
attention to the two persons I have named, when one of them, the nearest,
rose hurriedly and went out.
This was an unexpected move on her part, and I did not know what to make
of it. Had I annoyed her by my scrutiny, or had she divined my errand? In
my doubt, I consulted the face of the man I secretly thought to be her
accomplice. It was non-committal, and, in my doubt as to the meaning of
all this, I allowed myself to become interested in a pale young woman who
had been sitting on the other side of the lady who had just left. She was
evidently a patient who stood in great need of assistance. Her head hung
feebly forward, and her whole figure looked ready to drop. Yet when a
minute later the door of the inner office opened, and the doctor appeared
on the sill in an expectant attitude, she made no attempt to rise, but
pushed forward another woman who seemed less indisposed than herself. I
had to compel myself to think of all I saw as being real and within my
Surprised by this action on the part of one so ill, I watched the pale
girl for an instant, and almost forgot my mission in the compassion
aroused by her sickly appearance. But soon that mission and my motive for
being in this place were somewhat vividly recalled to me by an unexpected
action on this very young woman's part. With the sudden movement of an
acutely suffering person, she bounded from her seat and crossed the floor
to where the box stood, gasping for breath, and almost falling against the
table when she reached it.
A grunt from the good-looking young man followed; but neither he nor the
middle-aged female with a pitiful skin disease, who had been sitting near
her, offered to go to her assistance, though the latter looked as if she
would like to. I was the only one to rise. The truth is, I could see no
one touch the box without having something more than my curiosity
awakened. Approaching her respectfully, and with as complete a
dissimulation of my real feelings as possible, I ventured to say:
"You are very ill, miss. Shall I summon the doctor?"
She was clutching the side of the table for support, and her head,
drooping helplessly over the box, was swaying from side to side as she
rocked to and fro in her pain.
"Thank you!" she gasped, without turning, "I will wait. I would rather
At that moment the doctor's door opened again.
"There he is now," said I.
"I will wait," she insisted. "Let the others take their turn."
Satisfied now that something besides pain caused her interest in the box,
I drew back, asking myself whether she had been in possession of the ring
from the beginning, or whether it had been passed to her by her restless
neighbor. Meanwhile, another patient had disappeared into the adjoining
A few minutes passed. The man with the restless eye began to fidget. Could
it be that she was simply guarding the box, and that he was the one who
wished to open it? As the doubt struck me, I surveyed her more
attentively. She was certainly doing something besides supporting herself
with that sly right hand of hers. Yes, that was a click I heard. She was
fitting a key into the lock. Startled, but determined not to betray
myself, I assumed an air of great patience, and, taking a memorandum book
from my pocket, began to write in it. Meantime, the doctor had disposed of
his second patient and had beckoned to a third. To my astonishment, my
friend with the nervous manner responded, thus acquitting himself in my
eyes from any interest in the box.
The interview he had with the doctor lasted some time; meantime, the young
woman in the window remained more or less motionless. When the fourth
person left the room, she turned and cast a quick glance at myself and the
other person present.
I knew what it meant. She was anxious tobe left alone in order to lift
that mysterious lid. She was no more ill than I was.
There was even a dash of color in her cheeks, and the trembling she
indulged in was caused by great excitement and suspense, and not by pain.
Compassion at once gave way to anger, and I inwardly resolved not to spare
her if we came into conflict over the box.
My companion was an old and non-observant man, who had come in after the
rest of us. When the doctor again appeared, I motioned to this old man to
follow him, which he very gladly did, leaving me alone with the pale girl.
At once I got up, showing my fatigue and slightly yawning.
"This is very tedious," I muttered aloud, and stepped idly towards the
door leading into the hall.
The girl at the box could not restrain her impatience. She cast me another
short glance. I affected not to see it; took out my watch, consulted it,
put it back quickly and slipped out into the hall. As I closed the door
behind me, I heard a slight creak. Instantly I was back again, and with so
sudden a movement that I surprised her, with her face bent over the open
"Oh, my poor young lady," I exclaimed, springing towards her with every
appearance of great concern. "You do not look able to stand. Lean on me if
you feel faint, and I will help you to a seat."
She turned upon me in a fury, but, meeting my eye, assumed an air of
composure, which did not impose upon me in the least, or prevent me from
pressing close to her side and taking one look into the box, which she had
evidently not had sufficient self-possession to close.
The sight which met my eye was not unexpected, yet was no less interesting
on that account. A hand—the hand—curiously made of
bronze, and of exquisite proportions, lay on its enamelled cushion, with
rings on all of its fingers save one. That one I was delighted to see was
the middle one, proof positive that the mischief contemplated by Miss
Calhoun had not yet been accomplished.
Restored to complete self-possession by this discovery, I examined the box
and its contents with an air of polite curiosity. I surprised myself by my
self-possession and bonhomie.
"What an odd thing to find in a physician's office!" I exclaimed.
"Beautiful, is it not? An unusual work of art; but there is nothing in it
to alarm you. You shouldn't allow yourself to be frightened at such a
thing as that." And with a quick action, she was wholly powerless to
prevent, I shut down the lid, which closed with a snap.
Startled and greatly discomposed, she drew back, hastily thrusting her
hand behind her.
"You are very officious," she began, but, seeing nothing but good nature
in the smile with which I regarded her, she faltered irresolutely, and
finally took refuge again in her former trick of invalidism. Breaking out
into low moanings, she fell back upon the nearest chair, from which she
immediately started again with the quick cry, "Oh, how I suffer! I am not
well enough to be out alone." And turning with a celerity that belied her
words, she fled into the hall, shutting the door violently behind her.
Astonished at the completeness of my victory, I spent the first moments of
triumph in trying to lift the lid of the box. But it was securely locked.
I was just debating whether I could now venture to return to my seat, when
the hall door reopened and a gentleman entered.
He was short, sturdy and had a bristling black mustache. I needed to look
at him but once to be certain he was interested both in the box and me,
and, while I gave no evidence of my discovery, I prepared myself for an
adventure of a much more serious nature than that which had just occupied
Modeling my behavior upon that of the young girl whose place I had
usurped, I placed my elbow on the box and looked out of the window. As I
did so I heard a shuffling in the adjoining room, and knew that in another
moment the doctor would again appear at the door to announce that he was
ready for another patient. How could I evade the summons? The man behind
me was a determined one. He was there for the purpose of opening the box,
and would not be likely to leave the room while I remained in it. How,
then, could I comply with the requirements of the situation and yet
prevent this new-comer from lifting the lid in my absence? I knew of but
one way—a way which had suggested itself to me during the long
watches of the previous night, and which I had come prepared to carry out.
Taking advantage of my proximity to the box, I inserted in the keyhole a
small morsel of wax which for some minutes past I had been warming in my
hand. This done, I laid my hat down on the lid, noting with great
exactness as I did so just where its rim lay in reference to the various
squares and scrolls with which the top was ornamented. By this means I
felt that I might know if the hat were moved in my absence. The doctor
having showed himself by this time, I followed him into his office with a
calmness born of the most complete confidence in the strategy I had
Dr. Merriam, whom I have purposely refrained from describing until now,
was a tall, well-made man, with a bald head and a pleasant eye, but
careless in his attire and bearing. As I met that eye and responded to his
good-natured greeting, I inwardly decided that his interest in the box was
much less than his guardianship of it would seem to betoken. And when I
addressed him and entered upon the subject of my friend's complaint, I
soon saw by the depth of his professional interest that whatever
connection he might have with the box, neither that nor any other topic
whatever could for a moment vie with his delight in a new and strange case
like that of my poor friend. I consequently entered into the medical
details demanded of me with a free mind and succeeded in getting some very
valuable advice, for which I was of course truly grateful.
As soon as this was accomplished I took my leave, but not by the usual
door of egress. Saying that I had left my hat in the ante-room, I bowed my
acknowledgments to the doctor and returned the way I came. But not without
meeting with a surprise. There was still but one person in the room with
the box, but that person was not the man with the bristling mustache and
determined eye whom I had expected to find there. It was the pretty,
Quaker-like girl who had formerly aroused my suspicions; and though she
sat far from the box, a moment's glance at her flushed face and trembling
hands assured me she had but that moment left it.
Going at once to the box, I saw that my hat had been moved. But more
significant still was the hairpin lying on the floor at my feet, with a
morsel of wax sticking to one of its points. This was conclusive. The man
had discovered why his key would not work, and had called to his aid the
young lady, who had evidently been waiting in the hall outside.
She had tried to pick out the wax—a task in which I had happily
Proud of the success of my device, and satisfied that the danger was over
for that day (it being well on to twelve o'clock), I said a few words more
to the doctor, who had followed me into the room, and then prepared to
take my departure. But the young lady was more agile than I. Saying
something about a very pressing engagement which would not allow her to
consult the doctor that day, she hurried ahead of me and ran quickly down
the long hall. The doctor looked astonished, but dismissed the matter with
a shrug; while, with the greatest desire to follow her, I stood hesitating
on the threshold, when my eye fell on a small object lying under the chair
on which she had been sitting. It was the little leathern bag I had seen
hanging at her side.
Catching it up, I explained that I would run after the young lady and
restore it; and glad of an excuse which would enable me to follow her
through the streets without risking the suspicion of impropriety, I
hastened down the stairs and happily succeeded in reaching the pavement
before her skirts whisked round the corner. I was therefore but a few
paces behind her, which distance I took good care to preserve.
My motive in following this young girl was not so much to restore her
property, as to see where her engagement was taking her. I felt confident
that none of the three persons who had shown interest in the box was the
prime mover in an affair so important; and it was necessary above all
things to find out who the prime mover was. So I followed the girl.
She led me into a doubtful quarter of the town. As the crowd between us
diminished and we reached a point where we were the only pedestrians on
the block we were then traversing, I grew anxious lest she should turn and
see me before arriving at her destination. But she evidently was without
suspicion, for she passed without any hesitation up a certain stoop in the
middle of this long block and entered an open door on which a brass plate
was to be seen, inscribed with this one word in large black letters:
This was odd; and as I had no inclination to encounter any "madame"
without some hint as to her character and business, I looked about me for
some one able and willing to give me the necessary information. An
upholsterer's shop in an opposite basement seemed to offer me the
opportunity I wanted. Crossing the street, I saluted the honest-looking
man I met in the doorway, and pointing out madame's house, asked what was
done over there.
He answered with a smile.
"Go and see," he said; "the door's open. Oh, they don't charge anything,"
he made haste to protest, misunderstanding, no doubt, my air of
hesitation. "I was in there once myself. They all sit round and she talks;
that is, if she feels like it. It is all nonsense, you know, sir; no good
"But is there any harm?" I asked. "Is the place reputable and safe?"
"Oh, safe enough; I never heard of anything going wrong there. Why, ladies
go there; real ladies; veiled, of course. I have seen two carriages at a
time standing in front of that door. Fools, to be sure, sir; but honest
enough, I suppose."
I needed no further encouragement. Recrossing the street, I entered the
house which stood so invitingly open, and found myself almost immediately
in a large hall, from which I was ushered by a silent negress into a long
room with so dim and mysterious an interior that I felt like a man
suddenly transported from the bustle of the out-door world into the mystic
recesses of some Eastern temple.
The causes of this effect were simple, A dim light suggesting worship; the
faint scent of slowly burning incense; women and men sitting on low
benches about the walls. In the center, on a kind of raised dais, backed
by a drapery of black velvet, a woman was seated, in the semblance of a
Hindoo god, so nearly did her heavy, compactly crouched figure, wound
about with Eastern stuffs and glistening with gold, recall the images we
are accustomed to associate with the worship of Vishnu. Her face, too, so
far as it was visible in the subdued light, had the unresponsiveness of
carven wood, and if not exactly hideous of feature, had in it a strange
and haunting quality calculated to impress a sensitive mind with a sense
of implacable fate. Cruel, hard, passionless, and yet threatening to a
degree, must this countenance have seemed to those who willingly subjected
themselves to its baneful influence.
I was determined not to be one of these, and yet I had not regarded her
for two minutes before I found myself forgetting the real purpose of my
visit, and taking a seat with the rest, in anticipation of something for
which as yet I had no name, even in my own mind.
How long I sat there motionless I do not know. A spell was on me—a
spell from which I suddenly roused with a start. Why or through what means
I do not know. Nobody else had moved. Fearing a relapse into this
trance-like state, I made a persistent effort to be freed from its
dangers. Happily the full signification of my errand there burst upon me.
Finding myself really awake, I ventured to peer about, expecting to see
the more willing devotees affected as I had been. I encountered a flash
from the eyes of the young lady whose bag I held in my hand. She was under
no spell. She had not only seen but recognized me.
I held the bag towards her. She gave a furtive glance in the direction of
Madame—a glance not free from fear—then clutched the bag.
Before releasing my hold upon it I ventured upon a word of explanation. I
got no further, for at this moment a voice was heard.
By the effect it had upon the expectant ones, I knew it could have
emanated only from the idol-like being who had filled the place with her
At first the voice sounded like a distant call, musically sweet and low;
the kind of note that we can imagine the Indian snake-charmers to use when
the cobra raises its winged head in obedience to the pipe's resistless
charm. Every ear was strained to hear; mine with the rest. So much
preparation, so much faith must result in something. What was it to be?
The incoherent sounds became more and more distinct, and, finally, took on
the articulate form of words. The quiet was deathly. Every one was
prepared to interpret her utterances into personal significance. The dread
and trouble of the times filling all minds, men wished to be forehanded
with the decrees of Providence. Into this brooding silence the low,
vibrating tones of this mysterious voice entered, and this is what we
"Doom! doom! For him—the one—the betrayer—the passing
bell is tolling. Hear it, ye weak ones and grow strong. Hear it, ye mighty
and tremble. Not alone for him will it ring. For ye! for ye! if the decree
of the linked rings goes forth—-"
Here there was a perceptible quiver of the drapery back of the dais.
Others may not have noted it; I did. When, therefore, a very white hand
came slowly from between its folds and placed its fingers upon the right
temple of Madame, I was not much startled. What did startle me was the
fact let out before that admonishing hand touched her, that this being—I
can hardly call her woman—seemingly so far removed from the
political agitations of the day, was, in very deed, either consciously or
unconsciously—I could not decide which—intimately connected
with the conspiracy I was at that very moment striving to defeat. How
intimately? Was she the prime mover I was seeking, or simply an instrument
under the control of another, and yet stronger, personality imaged in the
owner of that white hand?
There was no means of determining at that moment. Meanwhile, the fingers
had left the temple of Madame. The hand was slowly withdrawn. Sleep
apparently fell again upon the dreamer, but only long enough for her to
bring forth the words:
"I have said."
The silence that followed, gave me time to think. It was necessary. She
had bidden the mighty tremble and had pronounced death to one—the
betrayer. Was this senseless drivel, prophetic sight, or threatened
murder? I inclined to consider it the last, and this was why: For some
weeks now, murder, or, at least, sudden death, had been rampant in the
country. My flesh crept as I remembered the many mysterious deaths
reported within the month from St. Louis, Boston, New Orleans, New York
and even here in Baltimore. Like a flash it came across me that every name
was identified, more or less closely, with the political affairs of the
time. Coupling my knowledge with what I conjectured, was it strange I saw
a confirmation of the worst fears expressed by Miss Calhoun in the
half-completed sentences of this seeming clairvoyant?
So occupied had I been with my own thoughts that I feared I might have
done something to call an undesirable attention to myself. Glancing
furtively to one side, I heard, in the opposite direction, these words:
"She has never failed. What she has said will come to pass. Some one of
note will die."
These gloomy words were the first to break the ominous silence. Turning to
face the speaker, I encountered the cold eye of a man with a retreating
chin, a receding forehead, and a mouth large and cruel enough to stamp him
as one of those perverted natures who, to the unscrupulous, are usefully
Here, then, was a being who not only knew the meaning of the fateful words
we had heard, but, to my mind, could be relied upon to make them a verity.
It was a relief to me to turn my gaze from his repellant features to the
fixed countenance of Madame. She had not stirred; but either the room had
grown lighter or my eyes had become more accustomed to the darkness, for I
certainly saw a change in her look. Her eyelids were now raised, and her
eyes were bent directly upon me. This was uncomfortable, especially as
there was malevolence in her glance, or so I thought, and, far from being
pleased with my position, I began to wish that I had never allowed myself
to enter the place. Under the influence of this feeling I let my eyes drop
from the woman's countenance to her hands, which were folded, as I have
said, in a fixed position across her breast. The result was an increase of
my mental disturbance. They were brown, shining hands, laden with rings,
and, in the added light, under which I saw them, bore a strange
resemblance to the bronze hand I had just left in Dr. Merriam's office.
I had never considered myself a weak man, but, from that instant, I began
to have a crawling fear of this woman—a fear that was in nowise
lessened by the very evident agitation visible in the girl, who had been
for me the connecting link between that object of mystery and this.
Unendurable quiet was upon us all again. It was aggravated by awe—an
awe to which I was determined not to succumb, notwithstanding the secret
uneasiness under which I was laboring. So I let my eyes continue to roam,
till they fell upon the one thing moving in the room. This was a man's
foot, which I now saw projecting from behind the drapery through which I
had seen the white hand glide. It was swinging up and down in an impatient
way, so out of keeping with the emotions perceptible on this side of the
drapery that I felt forced to ask myself what sort of person this could be
who thus kept watch and ward with such very commonplace impatience over a
creature who was able to hold every other person in her presence under a
spell. The drapery did not give up its secrets, and again I yielded to the
fascinations of Madame's face.
There was a change in it; the eyes no longer looked my way, but into
space, which seemed to hold for them some terrible and heart-rend-ing
vision. The lips, which had been closed, were now parted, and from them
issued a breath which soon formed itself into words.
"'Vengeance is mine! I will repay,' saith the Lord." What passionate
utterance was this? The voice that had been musical now rang with jangling
discord. The swinging of the foot behind the drapery ceased. Madame spoke
"Through pain, sorrow, blood and death shall victory come. Life for life,
pang for pang, scorn for scorn!"
The swinging foot disappeared, and the small white hand passed quickly
through the curtain and rested again upon the forehead of Madame. But
without a calming effect this time. On the contrary, it seemed to urge and
incite her, for she broke into a new strain, speaking rapidly, wildly, as
if she lived in what she saw, or, what was doubtless truer, had lived in
it and was but recalling her own past in one of those terrible hours of
memory that recur on the border-land of dreams.
"I see a child, a girl. She is young; she is beautiful. Men love her, many
men, but she loves only one. He is of the North; she is of the South. He
is icy like his clime; she is fiery like her skies. The fire cannot warm
the ice. It is the ice puts out the fire! Woe! woe!"
The left hand came from the drapery; found its way to the left temple of
the woman. But it, too, was ineffectual. Hurriedly, madly, the words went
on, tripping each other up in their haste and passion. The voice now
became hoarse with rage.
"The girl is now a woman. A child is given her. The man demands the child.
She will not give it up. He curses it; he curses her, but she is firm and
holds it to her breast till her arms are blackened by the blows he deals
her. Then he curses her country, the land that gave her a heart;
and, hearing this, she rises up and curses him and his with an oath the
Lord will hear and answer from His judgment throne. For the child was
slain between them and its pitiful, small body blocks the passage of
Mercy between his and hers forever. Woe! woe!"
As suddenly as the vehement change had come upon her, she had become calm
again. The eyes retained their stony stare, but a cold and cruel smile
formed about her lips, as if, with the utterance of that last word, she
saw a futurity of blood and carnage satisfying her ferocious soul.
It was revolting, horrible; but no one else seemed to feel it as I did. To
most it was a short glimpse into a suffering soul. To me it was the
revelation of causes which had led, and would lead yet, to miseries for
which she had no pity, and which I felt myself too weak to avert.
That it was not intended that the devotees of Madame should have heard
these ravings was evident; for at this juncture the owner of the two white
hands that had failed to control the spirit of Madame came out from behind
the drapery of the dais. He proved to be none other than the man with the
bristling mustache whose plans I had disarranged at the doctor's office by
plugging the keyhole of the box with wax.
This was enough. "Chicanery!" was my inmost thought as I noted his cool
and calculating eye. "But very dangerous chicanery," I added. Was the ring
upon whose immediate capture I now saw that a life, if not lives,
depended, in his possession, or in that of Madame, or in that of the
Quaker-like girl sitting a few seats from me? How impossible to tell, and
yet how imperative to know! As I was debating how this could be brought
about, I watched the man.
Self-control was a habit with him, but I saw the nervous clutch of his
delicate hand. This did not indicate complete mastery of himself at that
moment. He spoke with care, but as if he were in haste to deliver himself
of the few necessary words of dismissal, without betraying his lack of
"Madame will awake presently; she will be heard no more to-day. Those who
wish to kiss her robes may pass in front of her; but she is still too far
away from earth to hear your voices or to answer any questions. You will
therefore preserve silence."
So! so! more chicanery. Or was it strategy, pure and simple? Was there at
the bottom of his words the wish to see me nearer or was he just playing
with the credulity of such believers as the man next me, for instance? I
did not stop to determine. My anxiety to see Madame, without the illusion
of even the short distance between us, induced me to join the file of the
faithful who were slowly approaching the seated woman. I would not kiss
her robes, but I would look into her eyes and make sure that she was as
far away from us all as she was said to be.
But as I drew nearer to her I forgot all about her eyes in the interest
awakened by her hands. And when it came my turn to pause before her, it
was upon the middle finger of her right hand my eyes were fixed. For there
I saw THE RING; the veritable ring of my fair neighbor, if the description
given by her was correct.
To see it there was to have it; or so I vowed in my surprise and
self-confidence. Putting on an air of great dignity, I bowed to the woman
and passed on, resolving upon the course I would pursue, which must
necessarily be daring in order to succeed. At the door I paused till all
who followed me had passed out; then I turned back, and once again faced
She was alone. Her watchful guardian had left her side, and to all
appearances the room. The opportunity surpassed my expectations, and with
a step full of nerve I pushed forward and took my stand again directly in
front of her. She gave no token of seeing me; but I did not hesitate on
that account. Exerting all my will power, I first subjected her to a long
and masterful look, and then I spoke, directly and to the point, like one
who felt himself her superior,
"Madame," said I, "the man you wish for is here. Give me the ring, and
trust no more to weak or false emissaries."
The start with which she came to life, or to the evidence of life, was
surprising. Lifting her great lids, she returned my gaze with one equally
searching and powerful, and seeing with what disdain I sustained it,
allowed an almost imperceptible tremor to pass across her face, which up
to now had not displayed the shadow even of an emotion.
"You!" she murmured, in a dove-like tone of voice; "who are you that I
should trust you more than the others?"
"I am he you expect," said I, venturing more as I felt her impassibility
giving way before me. "Have you had no premonition of my coming? Did you
not know that he who controls would be in your presence to-day?"
She trembled, and her fingers almost unclasped from her arms.
"I have had dreams," she murmured, "but I have been bidden to beware of
dreams. If you are the person you claim to be, you will have some token
which will absolve me from the charge of credulity. What is your token?"
Though doubtful, I dared not hesitate. "This," I said, taking from my
pocket the key which had been given me by my fair neighbor.
She moved, she touched it with a finger; then she eyed me again.
"Others have keys," said she, "but they fail in the opening. How are you
better than they?"
"You know," I declared—"you know that I can do what others have
failed in. Give me the ring."
The force, the assurance with which I uttered this command moved her in
spite of herself. She trembled, gave me one final, searching look, and
slowly began to pull the ring from off her finger. It was in her hand, and
half way to mine, when a third voice came to break the spell.
"Madame, Madame," it said; "be careful. This is the man who clogged the
lock, and hindered my endeavors in your behalf in the doctor's office."
Her hand which was so near mine drew back; but I was too quick and too
determined for her. I snatched the ring before she could replace it on her
own hand, and, holding it firmly, faced the intruder with an air of very
"Attempt no argument with me. It was because I saw your weakness and
vulgar self-confidence that I interfered in a matter only to be undertaken
by one upon whom all can rely. Now that I have the ring, the end is near.
Madame, be wiser in the choice of your confidants, To-morrow this ring
will be in its proper place."
Bowing as I had done before, I advanced to the door. They had made no
effort to regain the ring, and I felt that my rashness had stood me in
good stead. But as, with a secret elation I was just capable of keeping
within bounds, I put my foot across the threshold, I heard behind me a
laugh so triumphant and mocking that I felt struck with consternation;
and, glancing down into my hand, I saw that I held, not the peculiar steel
circlet destined for the piece of mechanism in the doctor's office, but an
ordinary ring of gold.
She had offered me the wrong ring, and I had taken it, thus proving
the falsity of my pretensions.
There was nothing left for me but to acknowledge defeat by an ignominious
I HASTENED at once home, and knocked at Miss Calhoun's door. While waiting
for a response, the mockery of my return without the token I had
undertaken to restore to her, impressed itself upon me in full force. It
seemed to me that in that instant my face must have taken on a haggard
look. I could not summon up the necessary will to make it otherwise. Any
effort in that direction would have made my failure at cheerfulness
The door opened. There she stood. Whatever expectancy of success she may
have had fled at once. Our eyes met and her countenance changed. My face
must have told the whole story, for she exclaimed:
"You have failed!"
I was obliged to acknowledge it in a whisper, but hastened to assure her
that the ring had not yet been placed upon the bronze hand, and was not
likely to be till the lock had been cleaned, out. This interested her, and
called out a hurried but complete recital of my adventure. She hung upon
it breathlessly, and when I reached the point where Madame and her
prophetic voice entered the tale, she showed so much excitement that any
doubts I may have cherished as to the importance of the communication
Madame had made us vanished in a cold horror I with difficulty hid from my
companion. But the end agitated her more than the beginning, and when she
heard that I had taken upon myself a direct connection with this
mysterious matter, she grew so pale that I felt forced to inquire if the
folly I had committed was likely to result badly, at which she shuddered
"You have brought death upon yourself. I see nothing but destruction
before us both. This woman—this horrible woman—has seen your
face, and, if she is what you describe, she will never forget it. The man,
who is her guardian or agent, no doubt, must have tracked you, and finding
you here with me, from whose hand he himself may have torn the ring last
night, will record it as treason against a cause which punishes all
treason with death.
"Pshaw!" I ejaculated, with a jocular effort at indifference, which I
acknowledge I did not feel. "You seem to forget the law. We live in the
city of Baltimore. Charlatans such as I have just left behind me do not
make away with good citizens with impunity. We have only to seek the
protection of the police."
She met my looks with a slowly increasing intentness, which stilled this
protest on my lips.
"I am under no oath," she ruminated. "I can tell this man what I will. Mr.
Abbott, there has been formed in this city an organization against which
the police are powerless. I am an involuntary member of it, and I know its
power. It has constrained me and it has constrained others, and no one who
has opposed it once has lived to do so twice. Yet it has no recognized
head (though there is a chief to whom we may address ourselves), and it
has no oaths of secrecy. All is left to the discretion of its members, and
to their fears. The object of this society is the breaking of the
power of the North, and the means by which it works is death. I
joined it under a stress of feeling I called patriotism, and I believed
myself right till the sword was directed against my own breast. Then I
quailed; then I began to ask by what right we poor mortals constitute
ourselves into instruments of destruction to our kind, and having once
stopped to question, I saw the whole matter in such a different light that
I knowingly put a stumbling-block in the path of so-called avenging
justice, and thus courted the doom that at any moment may fall upon my
head." And she actually looked up, as if expecting to see it fall then and
there. "This Madame," she went on in breathless haste, "is doubtless one
of the members. How so grotesque and yet redoubtable an individuality
should have become identified with a cause demanding the coolest judgment
as well as the most acute political acumen, I cannot stop to conjecture.
But that she is a member of our organization, and an important one, too,
her prophecies, which have so strangely become facts, are sufficient
proof, even had you not seen my ring on her finger. Perhaps, incredible as
it may appear, she is the chief. If so—But I do not make
myself intelligible," she continued, meeting my eyes. "I will be more
explicit. One peculiar feature of this organization is the complete
ignorance which we all have concerning our fellow-members. We can reveal
nothing, for we know nothing. I know that I am allied to a cause which has
for its end the destruction of all who oppose the supremacy of the South,
but I cannot give you the name of another person attached to this
organization, though I feel the pressure of their combined power upon
every act of my life. You may be a member without my knowing it—a
secret and fearful thought, which forms one of the greatest safeguards to
the institution, though it has failed in this instance, owing"—here
her voice fell—"to my devotion to the man I love. What?"—(I
had not spoken; my heart was dying within me, but I had given no evidence
of a wish to interrupt her; she, however, feared a check, and rushed
vehemently on.) "I shall have to tell you more. When, through pamphlets
and unsigned letters—dangerous communications, which have long since
become ashes—I was drawn into this society (and only those of the
most radical and impressionable natures are approached) a ring and a key
were sent me with this injunction: 'When the man or woman whose name will
be forwarded to you in an otherwise empty envelope, shall have, in your
honest judgment, proved himself or herself sufficiently dangerous to the
cause we love, to merit removal, you are to place this ring on the middle
finger of the bronze hand locked up in the box openly displayed in the
office of a Dr. Merriam on ——— Street. With the pressure
of the whole five rings on the fingers of this piece of mechanism, the
guardian of our rights will be notified by a bell, that a victim awaits
justice, and the end to be accomplished will be begun. As there are five
fingers, and each one of these must feel the pressure of its own ring
before connection can be made between this hand and the bell mentioned, no
injustice can be done and no really innocent person destroyed. For, when
five totally disconnected persons devoted to the cause agree that a
certain individual is worthy of death, mistake is impossible. You are now
one of the five. Use the key and the ring according to your conscience.'
This was well, if I had been allowed to follow my conscience; but when,
six weeks ago, they sent me the name of a man of lofty character and
unquestioned loyalty, I recoiled, scarcely believing my eyes. Yet, fearing
that my own judgment was warped, or that some hidden hypocrisy was latent
in a man thus given over to our attention, I made it my business to learn
this man's inner life. I found it so beautiful——" She choked,
turned away for a moment, controlled herself, and went on rapidly and with
increased earnestness: "I learned to love this man, and as I learned to
love him I grew more and more satisfied of the dangerous character of the
organization I was pledged to. But I had one comfort. He could not be
doomed without my ring, and that was safe on my finger. Safe! You know how
safe it was. The monster whom you have just seen, and who may have been
the person to subject this noble man to suspicion, must have discovered my
love and the safeguard it offered to this man. The ring, as you know, was
stolen, and as you have failed to recover it, and I to get any reply from
the chief to whom I forwarded my protest, to-morrow will without doubt see
it placed upon the finger of the bronze hand. The result you know.
Fantastic as this may strike you, it is the dreadful truth."
Love, had I ever felt this holy passion for her, had no longer a place in
my breast; but awe, terror and commiseration for her, for him, and also
perhaps for myself, were still active passions within me, and at this
decided statement of the case, I laughed in the excitement of the moment,
and the relief I felt at knowing just what there was to dread in the
"Absurd!" I cried. "With Madame's address in my mind and the Baltimore
police at my command, this man is as safe from assault as you or I are.
Give me five minutes' talk with Chief——"
Her hand on my arm stopped me; the look in her eye made me dumb.
"What could you do without me?" she said; "and my evidence you
cannot have. For what would give it weight can never pass my lips. The
lives that have fallen with my connivance stand between me and confession.
I do not wish to subject myself to the law."
This placed her in another light before me, and I started back.
"You have——" I stammered.
"Placed that ring three times on the hand in Dr. Merriam's office."
"And each time?"
"A man somewhere in this nation has died suddenly. I do not know by what
means or by whose hand, but he died."
This beautiful creature guilty of—— I tried not to show my
"It is, then, a question of choice between you and him?" said I. "Either
you or he must perish. Both cannot be saved."
She recoiled, turning very pale, and for several minutes stood surveying
me with a fixed gaze as if overcome by an idea which threw so immense a
responsibility upon her. As she stood thus, I seemed not only to look into
her nature, but her life. I saw the fanaticism that that had once held
every good impulse in check, the mistaken devotion, the unreasoning
hatred, and, underneath all, a spirit of truth and rectitude which
brightened and brightened as I watched her, till it dominated every evil
passion and made her next words come easily, and with a natural burst of
conviction which showed the innate generosity of her soul.
"You have shown me my duty, sir. There can be no question as to where the
choice should fall, I am not worth one hair of his noble head. Save him,
sir; I will help you by every means in my power."
Seizing the opportunity she thus gave me, I asked her the name of the man
who was threatened.
In a low voice she told me.
I was astonished; dumfounded.
"Shameful!" I cried. "What motive, what reason can they have for
"He is under suspicion—that is enough."
"Great heaven!" I exclaimed. "Have we reached such a pass as that?"
"Don't," she uttered, hoarsely; "don't reason; don't talk; act."
"I will," I cried, and rushed from the room.
She fell back in a chair, almost fainting. I saw her lying quiet, inert
and helpless as I rushed by her door on my way to the street, but I did
not stop to aid her. I knew she would not suffer it.
The police are practical, and my tale was an odd one. I found it hard,
therefore, to impress them with its importance, especially as in trying to
save Miss Calhoun I was necessarily more or less incoherent. I did
succeed, however, in awakening interest at last, and, a man being assigned
me, I led the way to Madame's door. But here a surprise awaited me. The
doorplate, which had so attracted my attention, was gone, and in a few
minutes we found that she had departed also, leaving no trace behind her.
This looked ominous, and with little delay we hastened to the office of
Dr. Merriam. Knocking at the usual door brought no response, but when we
tried the further one, by which his patients usually passed out, we found
ourselves confronted by the gentleman we sought.
His face was calm and smiling, and though he made haste to tell us that we
had come out of hours, he politely asked us in and inquired what he could
do for us.
Not understanding how he could have forgotten me so soon, I looked at him
inquiringly, at which his face lighted up, and he apologetically said:
"I remember you now. You were here this morning consulting me about a
friend who is afflicted with a peculiar complaint. Have you anything
further to state or ask in regard to it. I have just five minutes to
"Hear this gentleman first," said I, pointing to the officer who
The doctor calmly bowed, and waited with the greatest self-possession for
him to state his case.
The officer did so abruptly.
"There is a box in your ante-room which I feel it my duty to examine. I am
Detective Hopkins, of the city police."
The doctor, with a gentleness which seemed native rather than assumed,
"I am very sorry, but you are an hour too late." And, throwing open the
door of communication between the two rooms, he pointed to the table.
The box was gone!
V. DOCTOR MERRIAM.
This second disappointment was more than I could endure. Turning upon the
doctor with undisguised passion, I hotly asked:
"Who has taken it? Describe the person at once. Tell what you know about
the box, I did not finish the threat; but my looks must have been very
fierce, for he edged off a bit, and cast a curious glance at the officer
before he answered:
"You have, then, no ailing friend? Well, well; I expended some very good
advice upon you. But you paid me, and so we are even."
"The box!" I urged; "the box! Don't waste words, for a man's life is at
His surprise was marvelously assumed or very real.
"You are talking somewhat wildly, are you not?" he ventured, with a bland
air. "A man's life? I cannot believe that."
"But you don't answer me," I urged.
He smiled; he evidently thought me out of my mind.
"That's true; but there is so little I can tell you. I do not know what
was in the box about which you express so much concern, and I do not know
the names of its owners. It was brought here some six months ago and
placed in the spot where you saw it this morning, upon conditions that
were satisfactory to me, and not at all troublesome to my patients, whose
convenience I was bound to consult. It has remained there till to-day,
Here the officer interrupted him.
"What were these conditions? The matter calls for frankness."
"The conditions," repeated the doctor, in no wise abashed, "were these:
That it should occupy the large table in the window as long as they saw
fit. That, though placed in my room, it should be regarded as the property
of the society which owned it, and, consequently, free to the inspection
of its members but to no one else. That I should know these members by
their ability to open the box, and that so long as these persons confined
their visits to my usual hours for patients, they were to be subject to no
one's curiosity, nor allowed to suffer from any one's interference. In
return for these slight concessions, I was to receive five dollars for
every day I allowed it to stay here, payment to be made by mail."
"Good business! And you cannot tell the names of the persons with whom you
entered into this contract?"
"No; the one who came to me first and saw to the placing of the box and
all that, was a short, sturdy fellow, with a common face but very
brilliant eye; he it was who made the conditions; but the man who came to
get it, and who paid me twenty dollars for opening my office door at an
unusual hour, was a more gentlemanly man, with a thick, brown mustache and
resolute look. He was accompanied——"
"Why do you stop?"
The doctor smiled.
"I was wondering," said he, "if I should say he was accompanied, or that
he accompanied, a woman, of such enormous size that the doorway hardly
received her. I thought she was a patient at first, for, large as she is,
she was brought into my room in a chair, which it took four men to carry.
But she only came about the box."
"Madame!" I muttered; and being made still more eager by this discovery of
her direct participation in its carrying off, I asked if she touched the
box or whether it was taken away unopened.
The doctor's answer put an end to every remaining hope I may have
"She not only touched but opened it. I saw the lid rise and heard a whirr.
What is the matter, sir?"
"Nothing," I made haste to say—"that is, nothing I can communicate
just now. This woman must be followed," I signified to the officer, and
was about to rush from the room when my eye fell on the table where the
"See!" said I, pointing to a fine wire protruding from a small hole in the
center of its upper surface; "this box had connection with some point
outside of this room."
The doctor's face flushed, and for the first time he looked a trifle
"So I perceive now," said he, "The workman who put up this box
evidently took liberties in my absence. For that I was not paid."
"This wire leads where?" asked the officer.
"Rip up the floor and see. I know no other way to find out."
"But that would take time, and we have not a minute to lose," said I, and
was disappearing for the second time when I again stopped. "Doctor," said
I, "when you consented to harbor this box under such peculiar conditions
and allowed yourself to receive such good pay for a service involving so
little inconvenience to yourself, you must have had some idea of the uses
to which so mysterious an article would be put. What did you suppose them
"To tell you the truth, I thought it was some new-fangled lottery scheme,
and I have still to learn that I was mistaken."
I gave him a look, but did not stop to undeceive him.
VI. THE BOX AGAIN.
But one resource was left: to warn Mr.
S——— of his peril. This was not so easy a task as might
appear. To make my story believed, I should be obliged to compromise Miss
Calhoun, and Mr. S———'s well-known chivalry, as far as
women are concerned, would make the communication difficult on my part, if
not absolutely impossible. I, however, determined to attempt it, though I
could not but wish I were an older man, with public repute to back me.
Though there was but little in Mr. S———'s public life
which I did not know, I had little or no knowledge of his domestic
relations beyond the fact that he was a widower with one child. I did not
even know where he lived. But inquiry at police headquarters soon settled
that, and in half an hour after leaving the doctor's office I was at his
It was a large, old-fashioned dwelling, of comfortable aspect; too
comfortable, I thought, for the shadow of doom, which, in my eyes, overlay
its cheerful front, wide-open doors and windows. How should I tell my
story here! What credence could I expect for a tale so gruesome, within
walls warmed by so much sunshine and joy. None, possibly; but my story
must be told for all that.
Ringing the bell hurriedly, I asked for Mr. S———. He was
out of town. This was my first check. When would he be home? The answer
gave me some hope, though it seemed to increase my difficulties. He would
be in the city by eight, as he had invited a large number of guests to his
house for the evening. Beyond this, I could learn nothing.
Returning immediately to Miss Calhoun, I told her what had occurred, and
tried to impress upon her the necessity I felt of seeing Mr. S———
that night. She surveyed me like a woman in a dream. Twice did I have to
repeat my words before she seemed to take them in; then she turned
hurriedly, and going to a little desk standing in one corner of the room,
drew out a missive, which she brought me. It was an invitation to this
very reception which she had received a week before.
"I will get you one," she whispered. "But don't speak to him, don't tell
him without giving me some warning. I will not be far from you. I think I
will have strength for this final hour."
"God grant that your sacrifice may bear fruit," I said, and left her.
To enter, on such an errand as mine, a brilliantly illuminated house
odoriferous with flowers and palpitating with life and music, would be
hard for any man. It was hard for me. But in the excitement of the
occasion, aggravated as it was by a presage of danger not only to myself
but to the woman I had come so near loving, I experienced a calmness, such
as is felt in the presence of all mortal conflicts. I made sure that this
was reflected in my face before leaving the dressing-room, and satisfied
that I would not draw the attention of others by too much or too little
color, I descended to the drawing-room and into the presence of my admired
I had expected to confront a handsome man, but not of the exact type that
he presented. There was a melancholy in his expression I had not foreseen,
mingled with an attraction from which I could not escape after my first
hurried glimpse of his features across the wide room. No other man in the
room had it to so great a degree, nor was there any other who made so
determined an effort to throw off care and be simply the agreeable
companion. Could it be that any other warning had forestalled mine, or was
this his habitual manner and expression? Finding no answer to this
question, I limited myself to the duty of the hour, and advancing as
rapidly as possible through the ever-increasing throng, waited for the
chance to speak to him for one minute alone. Meantime, I satisfied myself
that the two detectives sent from police headquarters were on hand. I
recognized them among a group of people at the door.
Whether intentionally or not, Mr. S ——— had taken up his
stand before the conservatory, and as in my endeavors to reach him I
approached within sight of this place, I perceived the face of Miss
Calhoun shining from amid its greenery, and at once remembered the promise
I had made her. She was looking for me, and, meeting my eyes, made me an
imperceptible gesture, to which I felt bound to respond.
Slipping from the group with which I was advancing, I stole around to a
side door towards which she had pointed, and in another moment found
myself at her side. She was clothed in velvet, which gave to her cheek and
brow the colorlessness of marble.
"He is not as ignorant of his position as we thought," said she. "I have
been watching him for an hour. He is in anticipation of something. This
will make our task easier."
"You have said nothing," I suggested.
"No, no; how could I?"
"Perhaps the detectives I saw there have told him."
"Perhaps; but they cannot know the whole."
"No, or our words would be unnecessary."
"Mr. Abbott," said she, with feverish volubility, "do not try to tell him
yet; wait for a few minutes till I have gained a little self-possession, a
little command over myself; but no—that may be to risk his life—do
not wait a moment—go now, go now, only——" She started,
stumbled and fell back into a low seat under a spreading palm. "He is
coming here. Do not leave me, Mr. Abbott; step back there behind those
plants. I cannot trust myself to face him all alone."
I did as she bade me. Mr. S——, with a smile on his face—the
first I had seen there—came in and walked with a quick step and a
resolved air up to Miss Calhoun, who endeavored to rise to meet him. But
she was unable, which involuntary sign of confusion seemed to please him.
"Irene," said he, in a tone that made me start and wish I had not been so
amenable to her wishes, "I thought I saw you glide in here, and my guests
being now all arrived, I have ventured to steal away for a moment, just to
satisfy the craving which has been torturing me for the last hour. Irene,
you are pale; you tremble like an aspen. Have I frightened you by my words—too
abrupt, perhaps, considering the reserve that has always been between us
until now. Didn't you know that I loved you? that for the last month—ever
since I have known you, indeed—I have had but the one wish, to make
you my wife?"
"Good God!" I saw the words on her lips rather than heard them. She seemed
to be illumined and overwhelmed at once. "Mr. S———,"
said she, trying to be brave, trying to address him with some sort of
"I did not expect—I had no right to expect this honor from you. I am
not worthy—I have no right to hear such words from your lips.
Besides——" She could go no further; perhaps he did not let
"Not worthy—you!" There was infinite sadness in his tone. "What do
you think I am, then? It is because you are so worthy, so much better than
I am or can ever be, that I want you for my wife. I long for the
companionship of a pure mind, a pure hand——"
"Mr. S———" (she had risen, and the resolve in her face
made her beauty shine out transcendently), "I have not the pure mind, the
pure hand you ascribe to me. I have meddled with matters few women could
even conceive of. I am a member—a repentant member, to be sure—of
an organization which slights the decrees of God and places the aims of a
few selfish souls above the rights of man, and——"
He had stooped and was kissing her hand.
"You need not go on," he whispered; "I quite understand. But you will be
Aghast, white as the driven snow, she watched him with dilating eyes that
slowly filled with a great horror.
"Understand!—you understand! Oh, what does that mean? Why
should you understand?"
"Because"—his voice sunk to a whisper, but I heard it, as I would
have recognized his thought had he not spoken at that moment—"because
I am the chief of the organization you mention. Irene, now you have my
I do not think she uttered a sound, but I heard the dying cry of her soul
in her very silence. He may have heard it, too, for his look showed sudden
and unfathomable pity.
"This is a blow to you," he said. "I do not wonder; there is
something hateful in the fact; latterly I have begun to realize it. That
is why I have allowed myself to love. I wanted some relief from my
thoughts. Alas! I did not know that a full knowledge of your noble soul
would only emphasize them. But this is no talk for a ballroom. Cheer up,
"Wait!" She had found strength to lay her hand on his arm. "Did you know
that a man was condemned to-day?"
His face took on a shade of gloom.
"Yes," he bowed, casting an anxious look towards the room from which came
the mingled sounds of dance and merriment. "The bell which announces the
fact rang during my absence. I did not know there was a name before the
She crouched, covering her face with her hands. I think she was afraid her
emotion would escape her in a cry. But in an instant they had dropped
again, and she was panting in his ear:
"You are the chief and are not acquainted with these matters of life and
death? Traitors are these men and women to you—traitors! jealous of
your influence and your power!"
He looked amazed; he measured the distance between himself and the door
and turned to ask her what she meant, but she did not give him the
"Do you know," she asked, "the name of the person for whom the bell rang
He shook his head. "I am expecting a messenger with it any moment," said
he, looking towards the rear of the conservatory. "Is it any one who is
The gasp she gave might have been heard in the other room. Language and
motion seemed both to fail her, and I thought I should have to go to her
rescue. But before I could move, I heard the click of a latch at the rear
of the conservatory, and saw, peering through the flowers and plants, the
wicked face of the man with the receding forehead whom I had seen at
madame's, and in his arms he held THE BOX.
It was a shock which sent me further into concealment. Mr. S——,
on the contrary, looked relieved. Exclaiming, "Ah, he has come!" he went
to the door leading into the drawing-room, locked it, took out the key and
returned to meet the stealthy, advancing figure.
The latter presented a picture of malignant joy, horrible to contemplate.
The lips of his large mouth were compressed and bloodless. He came on with
the quiet certainty and deadly ease of a slimy thing sure of its prey.
As I noted him I felt that not only Mr. S——'s life but my own
was not worth a moment's purchase. But I uttered no cry and scarcely
breathed. Miss Calhoun, on the contrary, gave vent to a long, shivering
sigh. The man bowed as he heard it, but with looks directed solely to Mr.
"I was told," said he, "to deliver this box to you wherever and with
whomsoever I should find you. In it you will find the name."
Mr. S—— gazed in haughty astonishment, first at the box and
then at the man.
"This is irregular," said he. "Why was I not made acquainted with the fact
that a name was up for consideration, and why have you removed the box
from its place and broken the connection which was made with so much
As he said this he looked up through the glass of the conservatory to a
high building I could see towering at the end of the garden. It was the
building in which I had first seen that box, and I now understood how this
connection had been made.
Mr. S——'s movement had been involuntary.
Dropping his eyes, he finished by saying, with an almost imperceptible
bow, "You may speak before this lady; she is the holder of a key."
"The connection was broken because suspicion was aroused; to your other
question you will find an answer in the box. Shall I open it for you?"
Mr. S———, with a stern frown, shook his head, and
produced a key from his pocket. "Do you understand all this?" he suddenly
asked Miss Calhoun.
For reply, she pointed to the box.
"Open!" her beseeching looks seemed to say.
Mr. S—— turned the key and threw up the lid. "Look under the
hand," suggested the man.
Mr. S—— leaned over the box, which had been laid on a small
table, discovered a paper somewhere in its depth, and drew it out. It was
no whiter than his face when he did so.
"How many have subscribed to this?" he asked.
"You will observe that there are five rings on the hand," responded the
Miss Calhoun started, opened her lips, but paused as she saw Mr. S——
unfold the paper.
"The name of the latest traitor," murmured the man, with a look of
ferocity the like of which I had never seen on any human face before.
It was not observed by either of the actors in the tragedy before me. Mr.
S—— was gazing with a wild incredulity at the note he had
unfolded; she was gazing at him. From the room beyond rose and swelled the
sweet strains of the waltz.
Suddenly a low, crackling sound was heard.
It came from the paper which Mr. S—— had crumpled in his hand.
"So the society has decreed my death," he said, meeting the man's
steel-cold eye for the first time. "Now I know how the men whose doom
preceded mine have felt in a presence that leaves no hope to mortal man.
But you shall not be my executioner. I will meet my fate at
less noxious hands than yours." And, leaning forward, he whispered a few
seemingly significant words into the messenger's ear. The man, grievously
disappointed, hung his head, and with a sidelong look, the venom of which
made us all shudder, he hesitated to go.
"To-night?" he said.
"To-night," Mr. S—— repeated, and pointed towards the door by
which he had entered. Then, as the man still hesitated, he took him by the
arm and resolutely led him through the conservatory, crying in his ear,
"Go. I am still the chief."
The man bowed, and slipped slowly out into the night.
A burst of music, laughter, voices, joy, rose in the drawing-room. Mr. S——
and Irene Calhoun stood looking at each other.
"You must go home," were the first words he uttered. Then, in a
half-reproachful, half-pitiful tone, as if on the verge of tears, he
added: "Was I so bad a chief that even you thought me a hindrance to the
advancement of the society and the cause to which we are pledged?"
It was the one thing he could say capable of rousing her.
"Oh!" she cried, "it is all a mistake, all a cheat. Did you not get the
letter I sent to my chief this morning, written in the usual style and
directed in the usual way?"
"No," he answered.
"Then there is worse treason than yours among the five. I wrote to say
that my ring had been stolen; that I did not subscribe to the condemnation
of the man under suspicion, and that, if it was made, it would be through
fraud. That was before I knew that the suspected one and the man I
addressed were one and the same. Now——"
"You have but to accuse the woman called Madame. The man you have just
sent away would forgive you his disappointment if you gave him the supreme
satisfaction of carrying doom to the still more formidable being who
prophesies death to those for whom she has already prepared a violent
But her passion had found vent and she was not to be stilled. Telling him
the whole story of the last twenty-four hours, she waited for the look of
comfort she evidently expected. But it did not come. His first words
"Madame is inexorable," said he; "but Madame is but one of five. There are
three others—true men, sound men, thinking men. If they deem me
unworthy—and I have shown signs of faltering of late—Madame's
animosity or your loving weakness must not stand in the way of their
decree. It shall never be said I sanctioned the doom of other men and
shrank from my own. I would be unworthy of your love if I did, and your
love is everything to me now." She had not expected this; she had not at
all reckoned upon the stern quality in this man, forgetting that without
it he could never have held his pitiless position.
"But it is not regular; it is not according to precedent. Five rings are
required, and only four were fairly placed. As an honest man, you ought to
hesitate at injustice, and injustice you will show if you allow them to
triumph through their own deceit."
But even this failed to move him.
"I see five rings," said he, "and I see another thing. Never will I be
permitted to live even if I am coward enough to take advantage of the
loophole of escape you offer me. A man who is once seen to tremble loses
the confidence of such men as call me chief. I would die suddenly,
horribly and perhaps when less prepared for it than now. And you, my
darling, my imperial one! you would not escape. Besides, you have
forgotten the young man who, with such unselfishness, has lent himself to
your schemes in my favor. What could save him if I disappointed the
malignancy of Madame. No; I have destroyed others, and must submit to the
penalty incurred by murder. Kiss me, Irene, and go. I command it as your
With a low moan she gave up the struggle. Lifting her forehead to his
embrace, she bestowed upon him a look of indescribable despair, then
tottered to the door leading into the garden. As it closed upon her
departing figure, he uttered a deep sigh, in which he seemed to give up
life and the world. Then he raised his head, and in an instant was in the
midst of a throng of beautiful women and dashing men, with a smile on his
lips and a jest on his tongue.
I made my escape unnoticed. The next morning I was in Philadelphia. There
I read the following lines in the leading daily:
"Baltimore, Md.—An unexpected tragedy occurred here last evening.
Mr. S——, the well-known financier and politician, died at his
supper-table, while drinking the health of a hundred assembled guests. He
is considered to be a great loss to the Southern cause. The city is filled
And further down, in an obscure corner, this short line:
"Baltimore, Md.—A beautiful young woman, known by the name of Irene
Calhoun, was found dead in her bed this morning, from the effects of
poison administered by herself. No cause is ascribed for the act."