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Title: Serapion
Author: Francis Stevens
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0607361.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: September 2006
Date most recently updated: September 2006

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Serapion
Francis Stevens



CHAPTER I



IT BEGAN because, meeting Nils Berquist in town one August
morning, he dragged me off for luncheon at a little restaurant on a
side street where he swore I would meet some of the rising geniuses of
the century.

What we did meet was the commencement for me of such an
extraordinary experience as befalls few men. At the time, however, the
whole affair seemed incidental, with a spice of grotesque but harmless
absurdity. Jimmy Moore and his Alicia! How could anyone, meeting them
as I did, have believed a grimness behind their amusing eccentricity?

I was just turned twenty-four that August day. A boy's guileless
enthusiasm for the untried was still strong in me, coupled with a
tendency to make friends in all quarters, desirable or otherwise.
Almost anyone who liked me, I liked. My college years, very recently
ended, had seen me sworn comrade to a reckless and on-his-way-to-be-
notorious son of plutocracy, while I was also well received in the
room which Nils Berquist sharing with two other embryo socialists of
fanatic dye. A certain ingenuous likableness must have been mine even
then, I think, to have gained me not only toleration, but real
friendship in both camps.

Berquist was older than I by several years. He had earned his
college days before enjoying them and, college ended, he dropped back
into the struggle for existence and out of my sight--till I ran across
him in town that August day.

To play host even at a very moderate luncheon must have been an
extravagance for Nils, though I didn't think of that. He was a man
with whom one somehow never associated the idea of need. Tall, lean,
with a dark, long face, high cheekbones and deep eyes set well apart,
he dressed badly and walked the world in a careless air of ownership
that mere clothes could not in the least affect.

His intimates knew him capable of vast, sudden enthusiasms, and
equally vast depressions of the spirit. But up or down, he was Nils
Berquist, sufficient unto himself, asking no favors, and always with
an indefinable air of being well able to grant them.

I admired and liked him, was very glad to see him again, and
cheerfully let him steer me around two corners and in the door of his
bragged-of trysting place.

On first entering, my friend cast an eye about the aggregation of
more or less shabby individuals present and muttered: "Not a soul
here!" in a disappointed tone. Then, glimpsing a couple seated at a
corner table laid for four, he brightened a trifle and led me over to
them.

Nil's idea of formal presentation was always more brief than
elaborate. After addressing the fair-haired, light-eyelashed, Palm-
Beach-suited person on one side of the table as "Jimmy" and his vis-a-
vis, a darkly mysterious lady in a purple veil, as "Alicia," he
referred to me casually as "Clay," and considered the introduction
complete.

I do not mean that the lady's costume was limited to the veil.
Only that this article was of such peculiar, brilliantly,
fascinatingly ugly hue that the rest of her might have been clothed in
anything from a mermaid's scales to a speckled calico wrapper; I can
image nothing except a gown of the same color which would have
distracted one's attention from that veil.

The thing was draped over a small hat and hung all about her head
and face in a sort of circular curtain. Behind it I became aware of
two dark bright eyes watching me, like the eyes of some sea creature,
laired behind a highly futurist wave. Having met peculiar folk before
in Berquist's company, I took a seat opposite the veil without
embarrassment.

"Charming little place, this," I lied, glancing about the low-
ceilinged semi ventilated, architectural container for chairs, tables
and genius which formed a background to the veil. "Sorry I didn't
discover it earlier."

The dark eyes gleamed immovably from their lair. I essayed a
direct question. "You lunch here frequently, I presume?"

No answer. The veil didn't so much as quiver. Even my genial amity
began to suffer a chill.

Suddenly "Jimmy" of the Palm Beach suit transferred his attention
from Berquist to me. "Please don't try to talk with Alicia," he said.
"She is in the silence today. If you draw her out it will disturb the
vibrations for a week and make the deuce of a hole in my work. Do you
mind?"

With a slight gasp I adjusted myself to the unusual. I said I
didn't mind anything.

"You're the right sort, then. Might have known it, or you wouldn't
be traveling with old man Nils, eh? What you going to have? Nothing
worth eating except the broiled bluefish, and that's scorched. Always
is. What you eating, Nils?"

"Rice," said Berquist briefly.

"On the one-dish-at-a-time diet, eh? Great stuff, if you can stick
it out. Make an athlete out of a centenarian--if you can stick it out.
Bluefish for one or two?" he added, addressing the waiter and myself
in the same sentence.

"Two," I smiled. Palm Beach Jimmy seemed to have usurped my
friend's role of host with calm casualism. The man's blond hair and
faintly yellow lashes and eyebrows robbed his face of emphasis, so
that the remarkably square and sloping forehead did not impress one at
first. His way of assuming direction of even the slightest affairs
about him struck me as easy-going and careless, rather than
domineering.

He gave the rest of the order, with an occasional kindly reference
to my desires. "And boiled rice for one," he finished.

The waiter cast a curious glance at the purple veil. "Nothing for
the lady?" he queried.

"Seaweed, of course," retorted Jimmy. "You're new at this table,
aren't you?"

"Just started working here. Seaweed, sir?"

"Certainly. There it is, staring you in the face under 'Salads.'
Study your menu, man. That," explained Jimmy, after the waiter's
somewhat dazed departure, "is the only reason we come here. One place
I know of that serves rhodymenia serrata. Great stuff. Rich in mineral
salts and vitamins."

"You didn't order any for yourself," I ventured.

"No. Great stuff, but has a horrid taste. Simply horrid! Alicia
eats it as a martyr to the cause. We have to be careful of her diet.
Very careful; Nils, old man, what's the new wrong to the human race
you're being so silent over?"

"Can't say without becoming personal," retorted Berquist calmly.

"What? Oh, I forgot you don't approve. Still clinging to the
sacred barriers, eh?"

"The barriers exist, and they are sacred." Nils' long, dark face
was solemn, but as he was capable of cracking the wildest jokes with
just that solemn expression, I wasn't sure if the conversation were
light or serious. I only knew that as yet I had failed to get a grip
on the situation. The man talked about his seaweed-fed Alicia as if
the lady were not present.

What curiosity in human shape did that veil hide? One thing I was
uneasily aware of. Not once, since the moment of our arrival had those
laired bright eyes strayed from my face.

"The barriers exist," Berquist repeated. "I do not believe that
you or others like you can tear them down. If I did, I should be
justified in taking your life, as though you were any other dangerous
criminal. When those barriers go down, chaos will swallow the world,
and the race of men be superseded by the race of madmen!"

Jimmy laughed, unstartled by my friend's reference to cold-blooded
assassination. "In the world of science," he retorted, "what one can
do, one may do. If every investigator of novel fields had stopped his
work for fear of scorched fingers-"

"In the material, physical world," interrupted Berquist, speaking
in the same solemn, dogmatic tone, "what one can do, one may do.
There, the worst punishment of a step too far can be only the loss of
life or limb. It isn't man's rightful workshop. Let him learn its
tools at the cost of a cut or so. But the field that you would invade
is forbidden."

"By whom? By what?"

"By its nature! A man who risks his life may be a hero, but what
is the name for a man who risks his soul?"

"Oh, Nils--Nils! You anachronism! You--you inquisitor! Here! You
say the physical world is open ground--don't you?"

"Yes."

"And what is commonly referred to as the 'supernatural' is
forbidden?"

"In the sense we speak of--yes."

"Very well. Now, where do you draw the fine dividing line? How do
you know that your soul, as you call it, isn't just another finer form
of matter? A good medium Alicia here can do it--stretches out a
tenuous arm, a misty, wraithy, seimiformless limb, and lifts a ten-
pound weight off the table while the 'physical' hands and feet are
bound so they can't stir an inch. Telekinesis, that is called, or
levitation, and you talk about it as if it were done by some sort of
supernatural will power.

"Will power, yes; but will actuating matter to move matter. That
fluidic arm is just as 'material.' though not so substantial, as your
own husky biceps. It's thinner--different. But material--of course
it's material! Why, you yourself are a walking case of miraculous
levitation. Will moving matter. Will, a super physical force generated
on the physical plane. Where's your fine dividing line? You talk about
the material plane-"

"I won't any more," broke in Berquist hastily. "But you know that
there are entities and forces dangerous to the human race outside of
what we call the natural world, and that your investigations are no
better than a sawing at the bars of a cage full of tigers. If I
thought you could loose them, I have already told what I would do!"

There was a dark gleam in Berquist's deep-set eyes that suddenly
warned me he meant exactly what he said--though the meaning of the
whole argument was as hazy to me as the face behind that astounding
veil.

Jimmy himself looked sober. "Here comes your rice," he said
shortly. "Eat it, you old vegetarian, and get off the murder subject.
I'll expect you to be coming around some night with a carving knife,
if you say much more."

"There are police to guard you from the carving knife. The wild
marches between this world and the invisible are patrolled by no
police. Yet you fear the knife; which can harm only your body, and
fearlessly expose your naked soul!"

"Thanks, old man, but my soul is well able to take care of itself.
Eat your rice. There! Didn't I say the bluefish would be scorched? And
it is. Behold, a prophet among you!"

The bluefish wasn't worrying me. What I was awaiting was the
moment when that miraculously colored veil should be uplifted. Surely,
her purple screen removed, the lady would cease to stare me out of
countenance.

Before the veil a large platter of straggling, saw-edged,
brownish-red leaves had been set down. The dish looked as horrid as
Jimmy said it tasted. In a quiver of impatience I waited. At last I
should see--a hand, white and well shaped, but slender to emaciation,
was raised to the veil's lower edge. The edge was lifted. Another hand
conveyed a modest forkful of the uncanny edible upward. It passed
behind the veil. The fork came away empty.

With a gasping sigh I relinquished hope, and turned my attention
to scorched bluefish.

Jimmy may have noted my emotion. "When Alicia is in the silence,"
he offered, "she has to be guarded. The vibratory rhythm of the violet
light waves is less harmful than the rest of the spectrum. Hence, the
veil. Invention of my own. You agree with our wild anarchist here,
Mr.--er--Clay? Sacred barrierist and all that?"

"My name's Barbour," I said. "Clayton S. Barbour. As for the
barriers, I must admit you've been talking over my head."

"So? Don't believe it. Pardon me, but your head doesn't look that
sort. Hasn't Nils told you what I'm doing?"

"Nils," said Berquist, with what would have been cold insolence
from anyone else, "has something better to do than walk about the
world exploiting you to his acquaintances.

"I'm smashed--crushed flat," laughed Jimmy. He seemed one of the
most good-humored individuals I had ever met. "Never mind, anarchist.
I'll tend to it myself." He turned again to me. "Come to think of it,
one of Nils' introductions is an efficient disguise. I'm James Barton
Moore."

I murmured polite gratification. For the life of me I couldn't
recall hearing the name before. His perception was as quick as his
good humor. That ready laugh broke out again.

"Never heard of me, eh? That's a fault of mine--expect the whole
world to be thrillingly expectant of results from my work. Ever hear
of the Psychic Research Association?"

"Certainly." I looked as intelligent as possible. "Investigate
ghosts and haunted houses and all that, don't they?"

"You're right, son. Ghosts and haunted houses about cover the
Association's metier. Bah! Do you know who I am?"

"A member?" I hazarded.

"Not exactly. I'm the man the Association forced off its directing
board. And I'm also the man who is going to make the Association look
like; a crowd of children hunting spooks in the nursery. Come around
to my place tonight and I'll show you something!"

The invitation was so explosively abrupt that I started in my
chair.

"Why--er--" I began.

Nils broke in again. "Don't go," he said, coolly.

"Let him alone!" enjoined Moore, but with no sign of irritation.
"You drop in around seven--here," he scribbled an address on the back
of a card and tossed it across the table, "and I'll promise you an
interesting evening."

"You are very good," I said, not knowing quite what to do. I
already had an engagement for that evening; on the other hand, my
ever-ready curiosity had been aroused.

"Don't go," repeated Berquist tonelessly.

"Thanks, but I believe I will."

"Good! You're the right sort. Knew it the minute I set eyes on
you. Don't extend these invitations to everyone. Not by any means."

Berquist pushed back his chair.

"Are you going on with me, Clay?" he inquired.

I thought he was carrying his peculiar style of rudeness rather
beyond the boundaries; but he was really my host, so I acquiesced. I
took pains, however, to bid a particularly courteous farewell to the
eccentric pair with whom we had lunched. I might or might not keep my
appointment with Moore, but if I did I wished to be sure of a welcome.

With me the influence of a personality, however strong, ended
where its line of direction crossed the course of my own wishes. Nils'
opposition to my further acquaintance with the Moores had struck me as
decidedly officious.

Once outside the restaurant, he turned on me almost savagely.

"Clay," he said, "you are not going up there tonight!"

"No?" I asked coldly. "And why not?"

"You don't know what you might be let in for. That is why not."

"You have an odd way of talking about your friends."

"Oh, Moore knows what I think."

"All right," I grinned, not really wishing a quarrel if one could
be avoided. "But your friends are good enough for me, too, Nils. Who
was the lady in the veil?"

"His wife. A physical medium. Heaven help her!"

"Spirit rapping, clairvoyant and all that, eh? I supposed it was
something of the sort. Well, if I wish to go out to their place and
spend a dollar or so to watch some conjuring tricks, why do you object
so strenuously? That's one thing I've never done-"

"Spend a dollar or so!" snapped Berquist. "Those people are not
professionals, Clay. Mrs. Moore is one of the few genuine mediums in
this country."

"Oh, come! Surely you're not a believer in table-tipping and
messages from Marcus Aurelius and Shakespeare?"

Berquist squinted at me disgustedly.

"Heaven help me save this infant!" he muttered, taking no pains,
however, that I shouldn't hear him. "Clay, you go home and stay among
your own people. Jimmy Moore is a moderately good fellow, but in one
certain line he's as voracious as a wolf and unscrupulous as a
Corsican bandit. He told you that he didn't extend these invitations
to everyone. That is strictly true. The fact that he extended one to
you is proof sufficient that you should not accept. He saw in you
something he's continually on the watch for. He would use you and
wreck you without a scruple."

"How? What do you mean?"

"If I should tell you in what way, you would laugh and call it
impossible. But, let me say something you can understand. Except
casually, Moore is not a pleasant man to know. He would like people to
believe that he was dropped from the administrative board of the
Association because his investigations and inferences were too daring
for even the extraordinary open types of mind which compose it. The,
real reason was that he proved so violently, overbearingly quarrelsome
that even they couldn't tolerate him."

Recalling Moore's impregnable good humor under Nils' own attacks,
I began to wonder exactly what was the latter's object.

"I'm not going there to quarrel with him," I said.

"No; you're going to be used by him. Look at that unfortunate
little wife of his, if you want a horrible example."

"You mean he'd obscure my classic features with a purple veil?
There'll be a fight to the finish first, believe me!"

"Oh, that veil-vibration-seaweed business--that's all rot. Just
freak results of freak theorizing. Froth and bubbles. It's the dark
brew underneath that's dangerous."

"Witch's scene in Macbeth," I chuckled. "Fire burn and caldron
bubble! We now see Mr. Jimmy Moore in his famous personation of
Beelzebub--costume, one Palm Beach suit and a cheerful grin. Don't
worry, Nils! I'll bolt through the window at the first whiff of
brimstone."

"My child," said Berquist, very gently and slowly, "you have the
joyous courage of ignorance. Alicia Moore is that rare freak, a real
materializing medium--a producer of supernormal physical phenomena, as
they are called. In other words, she is an open channel for forces
which are neither understood nor recognized by the average civilized
man. And Timmy Moore is that much more common freak, a fool who
doesn't care whose fingers get burnt. The responsibility for having
introduced you to those people is mine. As a personal favor, I now ask
you to have nothing more to do with either of them."

"Nils, you're back in the dark ages, as Moore claimed. I never
thought you'd fall for this spiritualistic bunk."

"Leave that. You are determined to keep the appointment?"

"Come with me, if you think I need a chaperon."

"No," he said soberly.

"Why not?"

"He wouldn't have me. Not when a seance is planned, and that is
what he meant by an 'interesting evening.' I'm persona non grate on
such an occasion, because Alicia says her spirit guides don't like
me--save the mark! If I tried to wedge in tonight there would be
another row, and Heaven alone knows where the thing would end. I wish
you'd stay away from there!"

"Do you mean," I asked slowly, and beginning to see new light on
Nils' attitude, "that you have quarreled with Moore in the past?"

"My dear fellow, get this through your head if you can. It is
impossible to know Moore very long and not quarrel with him--or be
subjugated. You keep away."

I was growing a little sick of Nils' persistence.

"Softy. Fear I haven't your faith in the bodiless powers of evil,
and I can't say Moore seemed such an appalling person. I'm going!"

Abruptly, without a word of answer or farewell, Berquist turned
his back on me and swung off down street. Several times I had seen him
end a conversation in that manner, and I knew why. By rights, he
should have been the last man to criticize another man's temper.

But I knew, too, that Nils' wrath was likely as evanescent as
sudden. He would be as friendly as ever next time we met, and even if
he were not, I couldn't see why his anger or disapproval should
afflict me greatly. Friends were too easily acquired for me to miss
one.

I forgot him promptly and began wondering how my dissertation for
the evening would be accepted by Roberta Whitingfield.



CHAPTER II



THAT afternoon I reached home to find Roberta herself on the
veranda with my sister Catherine. Rather to my consternation, on
hearing of the restaurant encounter, Bert promptly dubbed it, "The
Adventure of the Awful Veiled One," and announced her intent to solve
the mystery in my company. Catherine seconded the motion, calmly
including herself in the party, but there I rebelled.

Roberta and I were to be married one of these days. She was mine
to command me.

I had a vague idea of what Moore's invitation portended, and I
knew what would happen if I took both those girls and anything unusual
occurred. They would giggle.

We kept Roberta with us for dinner, and when she had gone home to
dress, Cathy and I had our argument in earnest. My mother was confined
to her room with one of her frequent headaches, and for a while dad
hid himself in his paper. Then a grizzled head appeared over the top
of it.

"Cathy," he drawled, "I haven't a notion what this is all about,
but wherever Clay is off to, I'm sure he doesn't want two girls. Clay,
I don't wish to be rude, but if you are going, won't you please depart
at once? Run upstairs, Catherine, and see if all this loud talking has
disturbed your mother."

Cathy went. She knew better than to oppose dad when he used that
tone.

That evening I called for Roberta in my car, and after nine
o'clock we arrived at the address written across Moore's card. It
turned out to be half of a detached double dwelling, standing on a
corner beyond a block of quiet, respectable red-stone fronts, with a
deep lawn between it and the street.

"Ridiculous house," Bert named it on first sight, and ridiculous
house it was in a certain sense. It reminded one of that king in the
old fairy tale who "laughed with one side of his face and smiled with
the other."

The half that bore Moore's number was neat, shining and of
unimpeachable exterior. Its yellow brick front was clean, with freshly
painted white woodwork; it's half of the lawn, close-clipped and
green, was set with little thriving round flower beds.

The other half had the look of a regular old beggar among houses.
The paint, weather-beaten, blistered and brown, was no dingier than
the dirt-freckled bricks. Two or three windows were boarded up. Not
one of the rest but mourned a broken pane or so. From the dilapidated
porch wooden steps all askew led to a weed-grown walk. On that side
the lawn was a straggling waste of weeds.

Roberta had hopped out of the car without waiting for assistance.
I joined her and we stood staring at the queer-looking combination.

"Roberta," I said solemnly after a moment, "there is a grim,
grisly secret which I hadn't meant to alarm you with, but perhaps it
is better you should be warned now."

"Clay! What do you mean?"

"That house!" My voice was a sinister whisper. "Don't you see?
'Life and death,' or 'Chained to the corpse of his victim!' Moore
murdered one of the twin houses, and now he must live in the other
house as a penance."

To my surprise, instead of laughing at my nonsense, she took my
arm with a shiver. "Don't!" she protested. "When you speak so the
house isn't funny any more. It's horrid. A-a dead-alive house! Let's
not go in, Clay."

I felt annoyed, for this last-moment retreat was not like her. I
said, "Come along, Berty, and don't be silly. I suppose one half
belongs to Moore and the other to somebody else, and he can't make the
other owner keep his half in repair."

After some further discussion, we entered the gate at last. I
remembered that as we went up Moore's walk, I threw back my head and
glanced upward. The moonlight was so white on the slanting house roofs
that for just a moment I had an illusion of their being thick with
snow.

With snow. Yes, I remembered that illusion afterward.

Moore had expected me alone, of course, but he needn't have made
that fact quite so obvious. He met us in his library on the second
floor, whither a neat, commonplace maid had ushered us after a glance
at my card.

It was a long, rather heavily furnished room, lined with books to
the ceiling. Our first view of it noted nothing bizarre or out of the
ordinary. Moore was seated reading, but as we were announced he rose
quickly. It was when he perceived Roberta and realized that I had
brought a companion that I had my first real doubt that Nils had not
exaggerated about the man's temper.

His good-humored, full-lipped mouth seemed to draw inward and
straighten to a disagreeably gash-like-effect. The skin over his
cheekbones tightened. A pronounced narrowness between the eyes forced
itself suddenly upon the attention. For one instant we faced a man
disagreeably different from the one who had parried all Berquist's
thrusts with unshakable good nature.

As he rose and came toward us, however, the ominous look melted
again to geniality. "Began to think old Nils had seared you off in
earnest, Barbour," he greeted. "Witch burnings; would still be in
order if our wild anarchist had his way, eh?"

Rather reluctantly I performed the necessary introductions.

"I had no right to come with Clayton," Roberta apologized. "But
when he told me of your invitation, I--we thought-"

"That you might find some amusement here?" Moore finished for her.
"That's all right, Miss Whitingfield, though the work I am engaged in
is a bit serious to be amusing, I fear. Hope you're not the nervous,
screaming sort?" he added, with blunt anxiety.

She flushed a trifle, then laughed. "I'm not--really!" she
protested. "But I'll go away if you wish."

That was too much for me. "We'll both leave," I said very
haughtily. "Sorry to have put you out, Mr. Moore."

To my astonishment, for I was really angry, he burst out laughing.
It was such a genial, inoffensive merriment as caught me unawares. I
found myself laughing with him, though at what I hadn't the faintest
notion.

"Why, Barbour," he chuckled, "you mustn't take offense at a lack
of conventional mannerisms on my part. I'm a worker first, last and
all the time. Miss Whitingfield, you're welcome as the flowers in May,
but I can no more forget my work nor what is likely to affect it than
I can forget my own name. You--aren't angry with me, are you?"

"N-no--" she began rather hesitatingly, but just then the door
opened behind us and we heard someone enter.

"I am here!"

The words were uttered in a dry, toneless voice. We both turned,
and I realized that the "Mystery of the Awful Veiled One" was a
mystery no more, or at least had been shorn of its purple drapery.

Of course, I had expected to meet Alicia here, but I think I
should have recognized those eyes in any surroundings. They were fully
as bright, dark, and almost incredibly large and attentive as they had
seemed behind the veil. For the rest, Mrs. Moore's slender figure was
draped in filmy black, between which and a mass of black hair her face
gleamed, a peaked white patch--and with those eyes in it.

"Medium" or not, Mrs. Moore herself was more like the creature of
another world than any human being I had ever seen.

"Be seated, Alicia."

Without troubling to present Roberta, Moore gestured toward a
peculiar-looking chair at one side of the room. The slender creature
in black swept toward it obediently.

Having reached the chair, she turned, faced us for a moment, still
expressionless save for those terribly attentive eyes, then sank into
the chair's depths.

Roberta was frankly staring, and so was I, but my stare had a
newly startled quality. Alicia had passed me very closely indeed. My
hand still tingled where another hand--a bony, fierce little hand--had
closed on it in a swift, pinching clasp. And though I was sure that
her colorless lips had not moved, four low words had reached my ears
distinctly.

"Go away--you! Go."

I glanced at Berty, but decided that she had missed the rude
little message. Moore certainly hadn't heard, for he had gone over to
the chair, and was standing behind it when Alicia reached there.

With a slight shrug I determined that where so much oddity
prevailed, this additional eccentricity of Mrs. Moore had better be
ignored. To think of her as a real person--my hostess--was made
difficult by the atmosphere of utter strangeness which her appearance
and Moore's treatment of her had already created.

"You and Miss Whitingfield sit over there," commanded Moore
briskly.

"I'll explain what we're about in a minute. You'll be interested.
Can't avoid it. A little farther off, Miss Whitingfield--do you mind?
Alicia is more easily affected than other sensitives. More easily
affected. Right! Now just a moment and I can talk to you."

We had seated ourselves as he directed, I some half dozen feet
from the enthroned Alicia, Roberta much farther away, well over by the
heavily curtained windows.

To the savage and to the young "strange" is generally synonymous
with "funny." We exchanged one quick look, then kept our eyes
resolutely apart. A wave of incipient mirth had fairly leaped between
us. It was well, I thought, that Cathy had been suppressed.

Then we saw what Moore was doing at the chair, and forgot laughter
in amazement. It must be remembered that Roberta and I were innocent
of the least previous experience in this line. Save for some hazy
knowledge of "spiritualistic fakes" and "mind-reading" of the
vaudeville type, we were blankly ignorant, and by consequence as
unconsciously receptive as a couple of innocent young sponges. But at
first we were merely shocked by the brutal fact of Moore's
preparations.

I have said that the chair taken by Alicia was a peculiar one. It
stood before a pair of black curtains, which concealed what in
spiritualistic circles is called a cabinet. The chair itself was
large, heavy, with a high back and uncommonly broad armrests. More, it
had about it that look of apparatus which one associates with
dentists' and surgeons' fixtures. Alicia leaned back in it, her hands
resting limp on the armrests.

Then up over each fragile wrist Moore clamped a kind of steel
handcuff, attached to the chair arm. Another pair of similar fetters,
extended on short rods from the back, were clasped round her upper
arms. And, as if this were not enough--he locked together the two
halves of a wide steel band about her waist.

And his wife sat there, inert as a porcelain doll, her enormous
eyes wide open and fixed on me in perfectly unswerving contemplation.

"All really great mediums will trick you if they can," said Moore
coolly. "Don't need any object for fraud. Unless you should call the
trickery itself an object. Alicia is a great medium. Very--great!"

Suddenly every decent impulse I had rose to revolt. That was a
woman in the chair--Moore's wife--and he treated her, talked about
her, as though she were some peculiarly trained and subject animal.

I rose sharply. "Mrs. Moore, is this affair proceeding with your
consent?"

"Don't address the psychic!" snapped her husband over one
shoulder.

But I wasn't afraid of him. At that moment I could have thrashed
the man cheerfully--and with ease, for I carried no superfluous flesh
in those days, and had inches the better of him in height and reach.
Roberta was suddenly at my side, and I knew--by the excited shine of
her eyes--that she sensed my emotion and approved it.

"Mrs. Moore," I repeated "are you enduring this of your own free
will? Moore, attempt to intimidate her, and you'll be sorry!"

He straightened, and turned on me in earnest, but Alicia herself
broke the strain.

"Sit down, boy," she said in her dry, toneless voice. "What James
says of fraud is true. But he does not mean what you think. I am not
conscious of what I do in trance, and the self then in control has no
moral standards. Were my earthly limbs not bound, no phenomena could
be credited, and my own guides have advised the construction of the
chair. The steel bands are padded with felt, and do not hurt me. I did
not speak to you when I entered, because at some times the guides like
me to be silent. This is tiring me. You must not quarrel with James.
Violent emotion tires me. A great evil will come to you through me,
but now you must sit down and be very quiet. I am tired."

For the first time, white lids drooped over those unnatural eyes.
The closing of them seemed to rob her face of the last trace of
fellow-humanity. Moore was grinning again, though rather tensely.

"Please sit down, Barbour," he pleaded in a very low voice. "I
should have explained a few things to you in advance. Alicia will be
asleep directly, and then we can talk."

I did sit down, and Roberta retired to her window. That toneless,
indifferent voice of Alicia's, that cool exactitude of statement, had
not seemed the expression of a meek and terrorized soul. But if she
were not afraid of Moore, why had she been so surreptitious in
asking--in ordering me to leave? "I did not speak to you when I
entered--" But she had spoken to me. "A great evil will come to you
through me--" And she said it like a remark on the weather!

I gave up suddenly. All my curiosity was submerged in a wave of
healthy revolt against the obviously abnormal. A vague unhappiness
came with it, and the desire above everything to take Roberta and get
out.

Alicia was breathing regularly now, in long, deep breaths, soft
but audible. Leaving her, Moore drew up a chair between Roberta and
me, seated himself, crossed one leg over his knee, and beamed amiably.

"Mr. Moore," I began, but he checked me, finger in air.

"Sh! Trifle lower, please. I know what you're thinking, Barbour,
and I don't blame you. Not in-the-least! My fault entirely. Now let's
drop all that and forget it. You are two very intelligent people, but
I can never remember that the average man or woman knows as much about
sensitives as a baby knows of trigonometry. Now, why did I invite you
here, Barbour?"

"For an interesting evening, you said."

"Exactly! And you'll have it. First of many, I hope. But don't
expect any messages from your deceased grandfathers tonight, for you
won't get 'em."

"Very well," I assented. "Bert, do you hear that? Our revered
ancestors won't speak to us!"

"And don't imagine this is a matter for joking, either," reproved
Moore, but still amiably. "I did not say that purely spiritual forces
would not be involved. But a psychic--a medium--has all the complexity
of the highest type of nervous human--plus. And it's the plus sign
that complicates matters. You might get messages through from almost
anyone--eventually. You'll seem to get them tonight. But they won't be
real. Alicia has more different selves than the proverbial cat has
lives. And all wanting a chance to talk, and parade around, and pass
themselves off as anybody you'd care to name, from Julius Caesar to
your mother's deceased aunt's nephew. Very remarkable!"

"I should say so!"

We glanced rather anxiously at Alicia's quiescent figure. But no
sudden procession of selves had yet appeared.

"That, however, is beside the mark," announced Moore briskly. "In
such commonplace manifestations, Alicia dematerializes a percentage of
her own fleshly bulk, externalizes and projects it from her subliminal
consciousness. Aside from proving the accepted laws of matter to be
false, the phenomena are of small importance."

He paused again.

"I should think," ventured Roberta, carefully avoiding my eyes,
"that disproving the laws of matter would be--might be almost enough
for one evening."

"The accepted laws," he corrected rather sharply. "Crooks-
Oschorowicz-Lombroso-Bottazzi-Lodge--I could name you over a dozen
great scientists who have already disproved them in that way. But they
had only Tusapia Paladino and lesser psychics to work with. We have--
Alicia!"

A vague memory stirred in me. "Paladino?" I said. "You mean that
famous Italian medium? I thought she was exposed as a fraud."

He frowned. This was a sore subject with him, though I did not
know why till much later.

"I tell you," he scowled, "they are all frauds--when they have the
chance. The first impulse of hysteria is toward deception. Genuine
mediumship and hysteria are practically inseparable. What can you
expect? Paladino was as genuine as Alicia, and Alicia will fool you
outrageously, given the least opportunity. Quite--scandalously--
unscrupulous!"

"You're very frank about it," I couldn't help saying.

"Why not? You heard Alicia's own statement in that regard. She
works with me to overcome the disadvantage. Mabel and Maudie are
manageable enough, but Horace is a born joker. For a long time Horace
fought bitterly against the idea of that chair, and only yielded when
I threatened to give up the sittings."

"These people are friends who attend the seances?" I inquired,
thinking that Moore had Nils' habit of referring to all his
acquaintances by their Christian names.

Moore appeared mildly surprised.

"Don't you really know anything at all of spiritualistic
investigation?"

"Sorry. I'm afraid I've never had enough faith in spooks to be
interested."

"Never mind. We'll correct that!" assured Moore calmly. "Mabel and
Maudie and Horace are three of Alicia's spirit guides. She believes
them to be real entities of the spirit world--people who have passed
beyond, you understand--but I doubt it. Doubt it--very seriously! In
fact, I have reason to be positive that those three, along with
several subsidiary 'spirits,' are just so many phases of Alicia's
subconscious. On the other band, Jason Gibbs, her real 'control,' is a
spirit to be reckoned with. You will find Jason an amazingly
interesting man on acquaintance. And now that I have explained fully,
suppose we take a look at the cabinet?"

Roberta and I rose and followed him, not sure whether to be amused
or impressed. His statement that he had "explained fully" was a joke,
so far as we were concerned. What nebulous ideas of a seance we had
possessed were far removed from anything we had met tonight. To sit in
a circle, holding hands in the dark; to hear mysterious raps and
poundings; to glimpse, perhaps, the cheese-clothy forms of highly
fictitious "ghosts"--that had been our previous conception of a
"sitting" culled from general and half-forgotten reading.

Moore was so utterly matter-of-fact and unmystical of manner that
he probably impressed us more deeply than if he had attempted to
inspire awe.

And, I reflected, if he were a charlatan, where was his profit?
Nils himself had assured me that Mrs. Moore was not a professional
medium.

The fact was that I had emerged from college almost wholly
ignorant of the modern debate between the physicist and the
spiritist--ignorant that science itself had been driven to admission
of supernormal powers in certain "victims of hysteria," but stood firm
on the ground that these powers were of physical and terrestrial
origin.

James Barton Moore, however, was a born materialist who had
accepted the spiritistic theory from an intellectual viewpoint. The
result showed in his matter-of-fact way of dealing with the occult. He
had, moreover, one characteristic of a certain type of scientist in
less weird fields. He would have put a stranger or his best friend on
the vivisection table, could he by that means have hoped to acquire
one small modicum of the knowledge he sought.

Figuratively, he already had me on the table that night.



CHAPTER III



ON PUSHING aside the black curtains, the cabinet proved to be a
place like a square closet, with a smooth, solid wooden back, built
out from the wall. In it there stood a small, rather heavy table, made
of polished oak, on which reposed several objects.

There was a thing like a small megaphone, to which Moore referred
as the "cone." There was an ordinary glass tumbler, nearly filled with
water; a lump of soft putty; a sheet of paper blackened by sooty
smoke; a pad of ordinary white paper, and several pencils and pens, of
different colors and sizes.

"Our preparations tonight," said Moore, "are of the simplest sort.
I have passed the stage of registering Alicia's externalized motivity
by means of instruments of precision. The exact force exerted to lift
a weight yards beyond her bodily reach, the regulated rhythm of a
metronome's pendulum, compression of a pneumatic ten feet from her
hand--these have all been proved and left behind me. Others have done
that with other mediums.

"But I go the step further that Bottazzi and many others dared not
take. Having admitted the phenomena, I admit a cause for them outside
the physical and beyond Alicia's individuality. I admit the
disembodied spirit. My experiments are no longer based on doubt, but
certainty. Their culmination will mean a revolution for the thinking
world--a reversal of its whole stand toward matter and the forces that
affect it."

Roberta and I were not particularly interested in revolutions of
thought. Like younger children, we wished to know what he proposed
doing with the things on the table, and after that we wished to see it
done. So we stood silent, hoping that he would stop talking soon and
let the exhibition of Alicia's mysterious powers begin.

Being off on his hobby, Moore probably mistook our silence for
interest. At last, however, in the midst of a dissertation on "psychic
force," "telekinesis" and "spiritual controls," he was interrupted by
a long, deep sigh from the chair. The sigh was followed by a strangled
gasping, very much as though Alicia were choking to death.

We both started toward the chair, but Moore barred the way.

"Let her alone!" he ordered imperatively. "She's all right. Come
back to your seats." And when we had returned to our former positions,
he added: "She is going into trance now. Later you may approach
closer--hold her hands, if you like. But Alicia can't bear even myself
to be very near her in the first stages. It hurts her, you understand.
Gives her physical pain."

Judging from poor Alicia's appearance, she was in physical pain
anyway. Her peaked white face writhed in the most unpleasant
contortions. She choked, gasped, gurgled and showed every symptom of a
woman in dying agonies. Then suddenly she quieted, her face resumed
its lay-figure calmness, and the great eyes opened wide.

"Differs from most psychics. Opens her eyes in trance. Quite
frequently." I heard Moore muttering; but Alicia herself began to
speak now, and I forgot him.

The queerest, silliest little voice issued from her lips. It was
like a child's voice, but an idiot child's.

"Pretty, pretty, pretty!" it gurgled. "Oh such a pretty lady! Did
pretty lady come to see Maudie?" Followed a pause. When it spoke again
the voice had a petulant note: "Did pretty lady come to see Maudie?"

Moore looked at Roberta. "Why don't you answer her, Miss
Whitingfield?"

Before she could comply, however, another personality had
apparently superseded the idiot child. A great laugh that I would have
sworn was a man's echoed across the silent library. It seemed to come
from Alicia's throat.

"Ha, ha, ha! Oh, ha, ha! You've got queer taste, Jimmy Moore! Why
do you want to drag that pair of freaks in here? Tell 'em to go home!
Go on home, young fellow, d'you hear? Go on, now--and take the skirt
with you!"

"That is Horace," commented Moore imperturbably. "You haven't any
manners, Horace, have you?"

"Not a manner!" retorted the voice. "Is that young sport going to
leave, or do I have to heave a brick at him? Scat! Get out--you!"

This was certainly outside my idea of a seance. It occurred to me
abruptly that the voice was not proceeding from Alicia. Some
confederate was concealed nearby--had entered the cabinet, perhaps, by
a concealed door. Or Moore himself was ventriloquizing.

Then I realized that Alicia's eyes were again fixed on my face,
and their expression was not that of a woman entranced. They were
keen, bright, intelligent. Her lips moved.

"Get! Get out!" adjured that brutally vulgar voice. Then it
changed to a whining, female treble: "You are young, Clayton Barbour;
young and soft to the soft, cruel hand that would mold you. You are
easy to mold as clay-clay-Clayton-clay! Evil hangs over you--black
evil! Flee from the damned Clayton Barbour. Go home--you!"

Moore was frowning uneasily.

"Subliminal," he said shortly. "Pay no attention to these voices.
They emanate from the subconscious--Alicia's dream self. Similar to
delirium, you know."

"Ah!" I murmured, and settled back in my chair. Not that I agreed
with Moore, though I had dismissed thought of either a confederate or
my host's ventriloquism. The ventriloquist was Alicia herself. I had
no doubt that she could have caused the voices to sound from any
quarter of the room as easily as from her own throat. As for trance,
her eyes were entirely too wakeful and intelligent. Nearly everything
said so far had been more repetition, in different phrases and voices,
of that first brief, fierce little demand that I leave.

But by that time I was more than a trifle annoyed. It was hardly
pleasant to sit in Roberta's presence and hear rude puns made on my
name--to bear it implied that I was a mere nonentity with no character
of my own. I rather plumed myself that Alicia would not find me so
pliable. If she really wished me to depart, she had gone the wrong way
about it.

"Ah," I said, settled back, and--the vulgarity of "Horace" may
have been contagious--deliberately winked at Alicia. It was a crude
enough act, but her methods struck me as crude, too.

A blaze of fury leaped into those too attentive eyes. Her features
writhed in such an abominable convulsion as I had never believed
possible to the human countenance. Purple, distorted, terrible--with a
flashing of bone-white teeth--and out of it all a voice discordant,
and different from any we had heard.

"Fool-fool-fool!" it grated. "Protect--try--can't protect fool!
Slipping--it's got me--I'm slip-Oh-h-h! Oh-h-h-h!"

Even Moore seemed affected this time. We were all on our feet, and
he was beside his wife in three long strides. As the last, long-drawn
moan died away, however, the dreadful purple subsided from Alicia's
countenance as quickly as it had risen. She was again the queer, white
porcelain doll, leaning back with closed lids in her imprisoning
chair.

Moore straightened, wiped his forehead, and laughed shakily.

"Do you know," he said, "with all the experience I've had, Alicia
still gives me an occasional fright? But I never saw her pass into the
second stage quite so violently."

"Don't these horrible convulsions hurt your wife, Mr. Moore?"

Roberta was deeply distressed, and no wonder! I felt as if I had
brought her to watch the seizures of an epileptic.

"She says they don't," replied Moore. "But never mind that.
Listen!"

Alicia's lips writhed whitely. "Light!" came her barely audible
whisper.

Promptly Moore reached for a switch. Two of the three lights
burning went out. The third was a shaded library lamp on a table not
far off. I expected him to extinguish that also, for everything in the
room was plainly visible, but he let it be.

"You may hold Alicia's hands, if you wish," he offered generously.

We shook our heads. Presently the hushed whisper was heard again.

"Many shadows are here tonight," it said. "Shadows living and
dead. They crowd close. An old, old shadow comes. Blood runs from his
lean, gnarled throat. He speaks!"

The whisper became a ghastly, bubbling attempt at articulation.
There were no words. The result was just an abominable sound.

"Man with his throat cut might speak like that," observed Moore
reflectively. "She must mean old Jenkins, who was murdered next door.
That's the reason we have this house, you know. The other half's
supposed to be haunted--and is."

Now I wanted to get out in earnest. Fraud or epileptic, Alicia was
entirely too horrible, and Moore, with his calmness, almost worse. I
tried to draw Roberta toward the door, but she held back.

"Not yet, Clay. I wish to see what will happen."

Now the horrid gurgle had merged into a man's voice. It was loud
and distinct as "Horace's," but otherwise slightly different--as
different, say, as tenor from high baritone.

"I am Jason Gibbs," it asserted. "Mr. Moore, will you kindly ask
your friends to step back a little? We will do what we can for you,
but my fellow spirits are a trifle shy of strangers."

Moore motioned us back. At the same time he shook his head
smilingly.

"That's not Jason," he murmured. "A very good imitation, but an
imitation, nonetheless. We shan't get much tonight."

"And in that," retorted the tenor, "you are exactly mistaken! You
will get much. In fact you are likely to get more than one of you ever
bargained for. You say I'm not Jason Gibbs? Seeing is believing, isn't
it? Shall I show myself?"

Moore acquiesced smoothly. "Do so, by all means."

"I'll attend to that in a little while. I can read your mind all
right, Jimmy Moore! You think I'm Horace talking high. Well, Horace is
a very good fellow, and fond of his joke, but I'm Jason Gibbs
tonight--and all the time, of course! Like to see something pretty?"

"Anything at all, Hor--pardon me Jason!"

"Then watch the cabinet."

We did. For a minute or two nothing happened.

Then Roberta cried out: "It's on fire!"

"No," said Moore. "Watch!"

A strange, tiny flame was running along the edge of the black
curtains where they touched the floor.

When I say "running along," I do not mean that in the usual sense
as applied to fire. It was a tiny, individual flame, violet in color,
about an inch and a half high, and as it moved it twirled and spun on
its own base in the oddest manner. Reaching the center, where the
curtains joined, it floated slowly upward, still twirling, left the
cabinet and presently disappeared, apparently through the ceiling.
Another flame and another followed it.

I assured myself that we were watching a very clever and unusual
exhibition of fireworks. But I didn't believe that. I didn't know
exactly what I believed, but I did know that those twirling, violet
flames were the first really strange thing I had ever seen in my life.
When seven of them had appeared and vanished, Moore spoke.

"Isn't that enough--er Jason? Can't you do better than that for
us?"

There was silence, while the eighth and last flame twirled upward
and vanished. Then, that great, rough laugh burst startlingly from
Alicia's lips.

"Ha. Ha, ha! Ha, ha! Oh, Jimmy Moore, I should say I can do
better! I should say so!"

And with that the curtains parted suddenly and--it is hard to
tell, but it was harder to stand the shock of it--a huge, misshapen,
grayish-black hand darted out from between them.

Behind it I caught a glimpse of wrist--I couldn't see any arm. It
just leaped out and into existence, as one might say, and to my
unspeakable horror laid its gross, gnarled fingers fairly across
Roberta Whitingfield's mouth and chin.

I believed it had seized her throat. Half-mad with shock, I sprang
at the hand, gripping, holding it in both of mine. I felt a kind of
roughness in my grasp--a rough solidity that melted to nothing even as
I touched it. My hands were empty. I caught Roberta, as she swayed
backward, whiter than Alicia herself.

And Moore was reproving--something, in the most everyday manner.

"Really, Horace, that wasn't a nice joke at all!" he criticized.

Easing Roberta into a chair, I sprang savagely at the curtains and
swept them aside: behind there was only the table and what we had seen
on it. I had a fleeting impression that the lump of putty was
different--that, where it had been a formless lump, it appeared now as
if it had been squeezed between giant fingers. Then Moore was pulling
me back.

"Don't do that, Barbour. We shan't get anything more, if you
interfere like that."

"Devil!" it was all I could think of to call him, and it seemed
inadequate enough.

"You--devil! To play a trick like that on an unsuspecting girl!
Bert, darling, come, I'll take you home; then I'll come back and
settle with these people!"

"Barbour, I give you my word of honor that I had nothing to do
with what just occurred. You brought Miss Whitingfield here of your
own volition, and pardon me--against my wishes. But she assured me she
was, not of the nervous type-"

"Nervous!" I repeated scornfully. "A really nervous woman would
have died when that black paw flew out at her!"

"I'm not hurt, Clayton," intervened Roberta. "Don't quarrel with
him--please!"

"You are sensible," approved Moore, "There is no danger from such
manifestations as that hand. Why, I have taken a peek into the cabinet
when the power was strong and seen half a dozen human limbs and parts
of limbs lying about--fragmentary impulses, as one might say, of the
mediumistic force-"

But here, with marked decision, Roberta rose.

"I think we will go home, Clay. I have just discovered that I am
of the nervous, screaming sort! Mr. Moore, will you please say good
night for us to Mrs. Moore when she--when she wakens?"

He sighed disappointedly.

"It's too bad, really! If Jason Gibbs had actually been in control
tonight there would have been nothing to shock you. Horace is nothing.
Just a secondary, practical-looking phase of Alicia's own
personality."

"Come, Roberta." We started toward the door.

And then, without a warning flicker, the library lamp went out,
leaving the room in impenetrable darkness.



CHAPTER IV



THE difference between light and the lack of it is the difference
between freedom and captivity, and the real reason that we pity a
blind man is because he is a prisoner. This is true under normal
conditions. Add to darkness dread of the supernatural, and the
inevitable sum is panic.

Till that moment I doubt if Roberta or I had believed the black
hand which touched her to be of other than natural origin. Ingrained
thought-habit had accused Moore of trickery, even while it condemned
the trick as unpleasant.

That was while the light burned. One instant later we were trapped
prisoners of the dark, and instincts centuries old flung off thought-
habit like a tissue cloak.

What had been a quiet, modern room became, in that instant, the
devil-haunted jungle of forebears infinitely remote.

And it didn't help matters that just then "Horace" elected to be
heard again. Alicia visible, Horace had seemed a vocal feat on her
part. Alicia unseen, Horace became a discarnate fiend. That he was a
fiend, vulgar and incongruous, only made his fiendishness more
intolerable.

"How's this for a joke?" he inquired sardonically, "I never did
like that lamp! Let's give it away, Jimmy. Tell your young fool friend
to take the lamp away with him."

Soundlessly, without warning, something hard and slightly warm
touched my cheek. I struck out wildly. My fist crashed through glass,
there was a great smash and clatter from the floor, and mingled with
it shout upon shout of fairly maniacal mirth. Then Moore's voice, cool
but irritated:

"You'll have to stop these tricks, Horace. I'm ashamed of you!
Breaking a valuable lamp like that. Our guests will believe you a
common spirit or poltergeist."

"Moore, if you don't throw on the lights, I'll kill you for this!"

My own voice shook with mingled rage and dread. Of course, it
might be he who had brought the lamp and held it against my face, but
the very senselessness of the trick made it terrible in a queer,
unhuman way.

"Stand still!" he commanded sharply. "Barbour, Miss Whitingfield,
you are not children! Nothing will harm you, if you keep quiet. It was
your own yielding to anger and fear that brought this crude force into
play. Did it actually hit you with the lamp, Barbour?"

"I hit the lamp, but-"

"Exactly! Now keep quiet. Horace, may I turn on the lights?"

"If you do, you'll be sorry, Jimmy! Call me poltergeist or plain
Dutch, there's somebody worse than me here tonight."

"What do you mean, Horace?"

"Oh, somebody that came along in with your scared young friends.
He's a Joker, too, but I don't like him. He wants to get through the
gates altogether, and stay through. If he does, a lot of people will
be sorry: You say I'm rough, but say, Jimmy, this fellow is worse than
rough. He's smooth! Get me? Too smooth. I'm keeping him back, and you
know I'm stronger in the dark."

"Very well." I heard Moore laugh amusedly. His quiet matter-of-
courseness should have deleted all terror from the affair. He was
carrying on a conversation with a rather silly, rather vulgar man, of
whom he was not afraid, but whose vagaries he indulged for reasons of
expediency. That was the sound of it.

But the sense of it--there in the blackness--was such an
indescribable horror to me as I cannot convey by words. There was more
to this feeling than fear of Horace. I learned what nerves meant that
night. If mine had all been on the outside of my skin, crawling,
expectant of shock, I could have suffered no more keenly. Coward? Wait
to judge that till you learn what the uncomprehending expectancy meant
for me.

"Very well," laughed Moore. "But don't break any more lamps,
Horace--please! Have some consideration for my pocketbook."

"Money! We haven't any pants-pockets my side of the line," Horace
chuckled. "If I'm to keep the smooth fellow back, you must let me use
my strength. Let me have my fun, Jimmy! What's a lamp or so between
pals? And just to keep things interesting, suppose we bring out the
big fellow in the closet?"

I heard a thud from the direction of the cabinet, a low chuckle,
and then a huge panting sound. It sounded like an enormous animal. We
had a sense of something living and enormous that had suddenly come
out of nothing into the room.

"The hand!" screamed Roberta sharply. "It's the black-hand thing!"

I was hideously afraid that she was right. With her own clutching
little hands on my arm, I sprang, dragging her with me. I didn't
spring for where I thought Moore was, nor for where I supposed the
door might be. There were only two thoughts in my head. One of a
monstrous and wholly imaginary black giant; the other, a passionate
desire for light.

By pure chance I brought up against the wall just beside a brass
plate inset with two magical, blessed buttons. My fingers found them.
Got the wrong button--the right one.

Flash! And we were out of demon-land and in a commonplace room
again.

Not quite commonplace, though. True, no black, impossible giant
inhabited it. The vast panting sound hand passed and though the lamp
lay among the splinters of its wrecked shade and my hand was bleeding,
a broken lamp and cut hand are possible incidentals of the ordinary.

But that woman in the chair was not!

Writhing, shrieking, foaming creatures like that have their place
in a hospital--or a sick man's delirium--but not rightfully in an
evening's entertainment for two unexpectant young people. Bert took
one look and buried her face against my vest in an ecstasy of fear.

Moore was beside his wife, swiftly unclasping the steel manacles
that held her, but finding time for a glaring side glance at me which
expressed white-hot and concentrated rage.

I didn't understand. Alicia's previous spasms or seizures, though
less violent than this, had been bad enough. Why should Moore eye me
like that, when if anyone had a right to be furious it was I?

"The lights!" moaned Bert against my vest. "You turned on the
lights, and it hurt her. I've read that somewhere--Oh, Clay, why don't
you do something to help her and make her stop that horrible
screaming?"

Moore heard and turned again, snarling. "You get out of here,
Barbour! You've done harm enough!"

"Shan't I--shan't we call a doctor?" I stammered.

He didn't answer. Released, Alicia had subsided limply, a black
heap in the chair, face on knees. The gurgling shrieks had lowered to
a series of long, agonizing moans. I thought she was dying, and in a
confused way felt that both Roberta and Moore blamed me.

The moans, too, had ceased. Was she dead?

Now Moore was trying to lift his wife out of the chair--and
failing, for some reason. Instinctively I pushed Roberta aside and
moved to help him.

And then, at last, that happened for which all the rest had been a
prelude--for which, my whole life had been a prelude, as I was to
learn one day. There came--how can I phrase it?

It was not a darkness, for I saw. It was not a vacuum, for most
certainly I--everyone of us--continued to breathe. It was like--you
know what happens sometimes in a thunderstorm? There is a hushed
moment, when it is as if a mighty, invisible being had drawn in its
breath--not breath of air, but of force. If you live in the suburbs
and have alternating current, the lights go out--as if the current had
been sucked back.

Static has the upper band of kinetic. A moment, and kinetic will
rebel in a blinding, crashing river of fire from sky to earth. But
till then, between earth and clouds there is a tension so terrific
that it gives the awful sense of a void.

That happened in the room where we stood, though the force
involved was not the physical one of electricity. There was the hushed
moment, the sense of awful tension--of void--of strength sucked back
like the current--

Without knowing how, I became aware that all the life in the room
was suddenly, dreadfully centralizing around one of us. That one was
Alicia.

I saw Moore move back from her. He had gone ghastly pale, and he
waved his hands queerly. The straining sense of void which was also
centralization increased. A numbness crept over me.

The invisible had drawn in its breath of pure force, and my life
was undoubtedly a part of it.

There came a stirring of the black heap in the chair.
Inexplicably, I felt as well as saw it. As if, standing by the wall, I
was also in the chair. Roberta shivered. She was out of my sight,
standing slightly behind me, but I felt that, too. No two of us were
in physical contact, and yet some strange interfusion of consciousness
was linking us more closely than the physical.

Again Alicia stirred. She cried out inarticulately. The
centralization was around her, but not by her will. I felt a surge of
resentment that was not mine, but Alicia's. Then I knew that there
were more than four of us present, in the room. A fifth was here--
invisible, strong, unifying the strength of us all for its own
purpose--for a leap across the intangible barriers and into the living
world.

Numbness was on me, cold dread, and a sense of some danger
peculiarly personal to myself. It was coming now--now-

With another cry, Alicia shot suddenly erect. Her arms went out in
a wide sweep that seemed to be struggling in an attempt to push
something from her.

"Serapion!" she cried, and: "You! Back! Go back--go back--go back!
Oh, you, Serapion!"

When kinetic revolts against static, blinding fire results. The
tension in that room let go as suddenly as the lightning stroke,
though I was the only one to feel it fully.

My body reeled against the wall. My spirit--I--the ego--reeled
with it--beyond it--down--down--into darkness absolute--and into a
nullity deeper than darkness' self.

Speed. In outer space there is room for it, and necessity. Between
our sun and the nearest star where one may grow warm again there is
space that a light ray needs centuries to cross.

The cold is cruel, and a wind blows there more biting than the
winds of earth. Little, cold stars rush by like far-separated lamps on
a country road, and double meteors, twin blazing eyes, swing down
through the long black reaches. It is hard to avoid these, when they
sweep so close, and one's hands are numb on the steering-wheel.

But one can't slow for that--nor even for a frightened voice at
one's elbow, pleading, protesting, begging for the slowness that will
let the cold overtake and annihilate us. "The cold!" I shouted against
the wind. "Cold!"

"Well, if you're cold," wailed the harassed voice, "why don't you
slow down? Clay! Clayton Barbour! I'll never ride again in a car with
you, Clayton, if you don't slow down!"

Another pair of twin meteors rushed curving toward us. We avoided
them, kept our course by the fraction of a safe margin, and as we did
so the limitless vistas of interstellar space seemed to close in
sharply and solidify.

Infinite shrank to finite with the jolt of a collision--and it was
almost a real one. I swung to the left and barely avoided the tail of
a farmer's wagon, ambling sedately along the road ahead of us. Then I
not only slowed, but stopped, while the wagon creaked prosaically by.
I sat at the wheel of a car--my own car--and that was Roberta
Whitingfeld beside me.

"Sixty miles an hour!" she was saying indignantly. "You haven't
touched the horn once, and you are sitting so that I can't get at it."

I said nothing. Desperately I was trying to adjust the
unadjustable.

This road was real. The numbness and chill were passing, and the
air of a summer night blew warm on my cheek. That wild rush of the
spirit through space was already fading into place as a dream memory.

But there had been some kind of an hiatus in realities. My last
definite memory was of--Alicia Moore. Alicia--upright--rebellious--
crying out a name.

"Serapion."

"Clay!" A note of concern had replaced Roberta's indignation. "Why
do you sit there so still? Answer me! Are you ill? What is the
matter?"

"Nothing."

That was a lie, of course, but instinctive as self-protection. I
must get straight somehow, but I wouldn't confide the need even to
Roberta. In the most ordinary tone I apologized for my reckless
driving and started the car again. We were on a familiar road, outside
the city, but one that would take us by roundabout ways to our home in
the suburbs.

I drove slowly, for it was very necessary that Roberta should
talk. By listening I might be able to get straight without betraying
myself, and indeed, before we reached home, I had a fairly clear idea
of what had happened in the blank interim.

A first wild surmise that the Moore episode had been a dream in
its entirety was banished almost at once. As nearly as I could gather,
without direct questioning, from the time when I reeled back against
the wall until my return to self-consciousness some sixty minutes
later, I had behaved so normally in outward appearance that not even
Roberta had seen a difference.

My body had evidently not fallen to the floor, nor showed any
signs of fainting or unconsciousness. Alicia seemed to have returned
to her senses at the same time that I lost mine, for Roberta spoke of
her hostess' quiet air of indifference that amounted almost to scorn
for the concern that we--Bert and I, mind you!--expressed for her.

Moore, for his part, it seemed, had recovered his temper and been
rather apologetic and anxious that I, at least, should repeat my
visit. I had been noncommittal on the subject--for which Roberta now
commended me--and then we had come away together.

After that, the hallucination I had suffered, of myself as a
disembodied entity, careering from one planetary system to another,
had synchronized with an actual career in the car where road-lamps
simulated stars and occasional cars traveling in the opposite
direction provided the stimuli for my dream-meteors.

A man hypnotized might have done what I did, and as successfully.
To myself, then, I said that I had been hypnotized. That in a manner
yet to be explained either Moore or his wife had hypnotized me and
allowed me to leave their house under that influence. I tried to
determine what reckoning I should have with them later. But it was a
failure. I was frankly scared.

An hour had been jerked bodily, out of my conscious life. If, in
the ordinary and orthodox manner, I had lain insensible through that
hour, it wouldn't have mattered so much. Instead of that, an 'I' that
was not I appeared to have taken charge of my affairs and in such a
manner that a person very near and dear to me had perceived nothing
wrong. It was that which frightened me.

The last traces of daze, and shock released my mind, the instinct
to keep its lapse a secret only grew stronger. Fortunately I found
concealment easy. Speeding was not so far from my occasional habit
that Roberta had thought much of that part of the episode. Her
vigorous protests had been largely on account of my failure to use the
horn.

Dropping the subject with her usual quick good-nature, she talked
of our remarkable first experience with a "real medium," and disclosed
the fact--not surprising perhaps--that she had been considerably less
impressed than I. In retrospect she blamed her own nerves for most of
the excitement.

"I may be unfair, Clay," she confided, "but truly, I can't help
believing that Mrs. Moore is just a clever, hysterical woman who has
deluded poor Mr. Moore into a faith in 'spirit voices.'"

"The black hand? The little flames?"

"Did we really see them? Don't you think the woman may have some
kind of hypnotic power, like--oh, like the mango trick that
everybody's heard they do in India? You know. A tree grows right up
out of the ground while you watch; but it doesn't really, of course.
You're hypnotized, and only think you see it. Couldn't everything we
saw and heard tonight have been a--a kind of hypnotic trick? And--now,
with all the screaming and fuss she had made, Mrs. Moore was so calm
and cool when we left! I think it was all put on, and the rest was
hypnotism."

"You're a very clever little girl, Berty," I commented, and meant
it. If there was one thing I wished to believe, it was that Alicia
Moore had faked.

We knew nearly as little about hypnotism as we did of psychic
phenomena, real or so-called. But the word had a good sound to me. I
had been hypnotized. Hypnotized! That Fifth Presence in the room had
existed only in my own overborne imagination. The whole affair was-

"Berty," I said, "we've been through a highly unpleasant
experience, and it's my fault. Nils warned me against those people,
but I was stubborn mule enough to believe I wished to know more of
them. I don't, and we don't--you and I. The truth is, Berty, I feel
pretty foolish over the whole business. Had no right to take you to
such a place. Downright dangerous--queer, irresponsible people like
that! Say, do you mind not telling Cathy, for instance?"

"If you won't tell mother!"

She giggled. I could picture myself relating that weird and
unconventional tale to the stately Mrs. Whitingfield! Up went my right
hand.

"Hear me swear! I, Clayton S. Barbour, do solemnly vow silence-"

"Full name, or it isn't legal!" trilled the girl beside me.

"Oh, very well! I, Clayton Serapion Barbour, do-"

I stopped with a tightening of the throat. As the word "Serapion"
passed my lips, the Fifth Presence had shut down close about me.

Out of space-time--wrapped away in cloudy envelopes of oblivion-

"Clayton!" A clear young voice out of the clouds. They shriveled
to nothing, and I was loosed to my world again. "Why, Clayton!"
repeated Roberta. "How did that woman know your middle name?"

My right hand dropped to the wheel, and the car leaped forward.

"Did you tell her?" insisted Roberta.

"No," I answered shortly. "Berquist told Moore, I supposed. How do
I know?"

"Someone must have told her," Bert agreed. "It isn't as if it were
an ordinary name that she might have hit on by guessing."

"Oh, it isn't so unusual. There have been Sera--there; have been
men of that name in my mother's family for generations. I was given
the name in remembrance of my mother's brother. He died only a few
months before I was born, and she had cared a lot for him. But don't
let's talk of the name any more. I always hated it. Sounds silly, like
a girl's name--I--I--Oh, forget the name! Here we are at home, and
there's your mother in the window looking for us."

"We're awfully late!"

"Tell her the Moores were very interesting people," I suggested
grimly.

That night, though I slept, Alicia Moore and the Fifth Presence--
in various unpleasant shapes--haunted me through some exceedingly
restless hours.



CHAPTER V



THAT a man may retire to his bed unknown and wake up famous is a
truism of long standing. There is a parallel truth not half so
pleasant. A man--a whole family--may retire wealthy and wake up
paupers.

My father was the practically inactive senior member of his firm,
and the reins had so far left his hands that when the blow fell it was
hard for him to get a grasp on the situation or even credit it.

Rather shockingly, the first word we had of disaster came through
the morning paper in a blare-headed column announcing the suicide of
Frederic Hutchinson. Suicide without attempt at concealment. A
scrubwoman, entering the private offices of Barbour & Hutchinson early
that morning, had fairly trodden in the junior partner's scattered
brains.

There followed a week of torment--of sordid revelations of unwise
speculation, and ever increasing despair. A week that left dad a
shaken, tremulous old man, and the firm of Barbour & Hutchinson, grain
brokers, an unpleasant problem to be dealt with by the receivers.

Dad had known his partner for a clever man, and no doubt he was
formerly a trustable one. But when the disease called speculation
takes late root, its run is likely to be more virulent than in a
younger victim. All Hutchinson's personal estate had been absorbed.
His family were left in worse predicament than ours--or would have
been, save that dad's peculiar sense of honor caused him to throw
every cent he owned, independent of the firm, into the pit where that
firm's honor had vanished, in an attempt to save it.

Unfortunately he possessed not nearly enough to satisfy the
creditors and re-establish the business. As my mother pointed out, the
disgrace that had been all Fred Hutchinson's was now dad's for
impoverishing his family when, under the terms of partnership and the
law of our State, most of his personal investments and realty could
have been held free from liability.

And to that dad had only one, and to my mind somewhat appalling,
reply:

"Let Clay go to work in earnest, then. Perhaps some day my son
will clear the slate of what scores I've failed to settle!"

Well, great God, can a young fellow carefully trained to have
everything he wants without trying turn financial genius in a week?

If it hadn't been for Roberta, I think I should have thrown up the
sponge and fairly run away from it all. Her faith, though, stirred a
chord of ambition that those of my own blood failed to touch, and her
stately Charlestonian mother emerged from stateliness into surprising
sympathy.

Then Dick Vansittart, the unregenerate youngster who had been my
dearest pal in college days, got me a job with the Colossus Trust
Company, thebank of which his father was president and where he
himself loafed about intermittently.

Even I knew that the salary offered was more commensurate with our
needs than with what I was worth. Vansittart, Sr., a gruff old lion of
a man, growled at me through a personal interview which ended in: "You
won't earn your salt for six months, Barbour, but maybe Terne can put
up with you. Try it, anyway!"

Terne was the second vice-president, whose assistant, or
secretary, or general errand-boy, it was proposed that I become. I
reached for my hat.

"Sorry to have bothered you, Mr. Vansittart! I would hardly care
to receive pay except on the basis that it was earned."

The lion roared.

"Sit down! Don't you try Dick's high mannerisms with me! If I can
tolerate Dick in this bank, I can tolerate you; but there's going to
be one difference. You'll play the man and work till you do earn your
wages, or you'll go out! Understand?"

"I merely meant-"

"Never mind that." The savage countenance before me softened to a
leonine benevolence. "Clayton Barbour's son wants no charity, but, you
young fool, don't I know that? Your father has, swamped himself to pay
debts that weren't his. Now I choose to pay a debt that isn't mine,
but Dick's!"

I must have looked my bewilderment.

"I mean," he thundered, "that when my son was expelled from the
college he disgraced he nearly took you with him! You cubs believe you
carry your shame on your own shoulders. You never think of us. I've
crossed the street three times to avoid meeting your father! Earn your
wages here, so that I can shake hands with him next time. Here--take
this note to Mr. Terne. His office is next the cashier's. Go to work!"

I went, but outside the door found Van waiting for me, smiling
ironically.

"You heard?" I muttered.

"Not being stone deaf, yes. The governor doesn't mind publicity
where I'm concerned, eh? Interested passersby in the street might
hear, for all he cares. Oh, well--truth is mighty and must prevail.
Wish you luck, Clay, and there's Fatty Terne coming now. So long!"

I was left to present my note to a dignified person who had just
emerged from the Cashier's office. "Fatty" was a merciless nickname
for him, and unfair besides. The second vice-president's large figure
suggested strength rather than overindulgence. Beneath his dignity he
proved a kindly, not domineering man, much overworked himself, but
patient with early mistakes from a new helper.

He shared one stenographer with another official, and seemed
actually grateful when I offered to learn shorthand during spare hours
in order to be of more use with the correspondence. I was quite
infected with the work fever for a while, and saw little of Van, who
let me severely alone from the first day I entered the bank.

His new standoffishness didn't please me exactly, but I was too
busy to think much of him one way or the other. At home, however,
things went not so well. Since the house had been sold over our heads,
we were forced into painfully small quarters. There was a little place
near by that belonged to my mother. It had stood empty for a year, and
though not much better than a cottage, her ownership of it solved the
rent problem, and, as she bitterly explained, we no longer needed
servants' rooms nor space for the entertainment of guests.

Mother and Cathy undertook the housework, while dad fooled about
with paint-pots and the like, trying to delude himself into the belief
that paint, varnish, and a few new shelves here and there would make a
real home for us out of this wretched shack; for that is what Cathy
and I called it privately.

All the problems of home life had taken on new, ugly,
uncomfortable angles, and I spent as little time among them as I
decently could.

Roberta had no more complaints to make of "sixty miles an hour and
never touched the horn." My car had gone with the rest. We went on
sedate little walks, like a country pair, tried to prefer movies to
grand opera, and piled up heart-breaking dream-castles for
consolation.

Two months slid by, and in that while our adventure at the "dead-
alive house," as Roberta had named Moore's place, was hardly mentioned
between us. Once or twice, indeed, she referred to it, but there was
for me an oppressive distastefulness in the subject that made me lead
our conversations elsewhere.

On the very heels of the catastrophic passing of my father's firm
I had received a brief note from Moore. He expressed concern and
sympathy, adding in the same breath, as it were, that he hoped I had
been well enough interested the other evening to wish to walk farther
along the path of Psychical research.

I regarded his concern as impertinent and his hope as impudent,
considering my unpleasant memories of the first visit. I tore the
letter up without answering it. After that I heard no more from him,
and it was not until the second month's ending that a thing occurred
which forced the whole matter vividly upon my recollection.

"If dear Serapion had not been taken from us," said my mother, "we
should be living in a civilized manner, and my children and I would
not have been driven to manual labor!"

Dad kept his eyes on his plate, refraining from answer. He had
been guilty of an ill-advised criticism on Cathy's cooking, and, from
that, discussion had run through all the ramifications of domestic
misery until I was tempted to leave dinner unfinished and escape to my
usual refuge, the Whitingfields.

But the mention of my uncle's name had a peculiar effect on me. A
slight swimming sensation behind the eyes, a gripping tightness at the
back of my neck--Serapion!

The feeling passed, but left me trembling so that I remained in my
place, fearing to rise lest I betray myself. As before, some deep-
seated instinct fought that. The weakness was like a shameful wound,
to be at all costs hidden.

"Had he lived," continued my mother, "he would have seen to it
that we weren't brought to this. No one near poor Serapion was ever
allowed to be uncomfortable!"

Dad's eyes flashed up with a glint of spirit that he had never
before showed in this connection.

"Is that so? I know he kept remarkably comfortable himself, but I
can't recall his feathering anyone's nest but his own."

"Don't slander the dead!" came her sharp retort. "Why, you owe the
very house over your head to him! And if it hadn't been that his
thoughtfulness left it in my name you wouldn't have that. You would
have robbed your children and me of even this pitiful shelter-"

"Evelyn--please!"

"It's true! And then you dare cast slurs and innuendoes at poor
Serapion-"

"I gave him the house in the first place," dad muttered.

She rose, eyes flashing and filled with tears. "Yes, you did! And
this shameful little hole was all he had to live in--and die in!
Serapion was a saint!" she declared. "A saint! He was--he was
universally loved!"

And with that, my mother swept from the room. Cathy followed,
though with a sneaking glance of sympathy for dad. Tempestuous exits
on mother's part had been frequent as far back as I could remember,
and as they were invariably followed by hours in which someone must
sit with her and the house must be kept dead silent, we other three
had the fellow-feeling of victims.

Dad eyed me across the table. "Son," he said, "what is your middle
name?"

"Ser-Ser-Samuel!" I ended desperately. My heart, for no obvious
reason, had begun a palpitation. Why couldn't they let that name
alone?

He looked surprised, and then laughed. "You are right, son. I was
about to give you warning--to forbid your becoming such a saint as
your esteemed namesake. But I guess that isn't needed. The Samuels of
the world stand on their own feet, as you do now, thank Heaven! A
Samuel for the Serapion in you, then, and never forget it!"

He could not guess the frantic struggle going on beneath my calm
exterior. There is, I believe, a psychopathic condition in which
sound-waves produce visual sensations; a musical note, for example,
being seen as a blob of scarlet, or the sustained blast of a bugle as
a ribbony, orange-colored streak. Some such confusion of the senses
seemed to have occurred in me, only in my case one single sound
produced it, and the result was not color but a feeling of pressure,
dizziness, suffocation.

Fighting for control, I knew that another iteration of the sound
in question would cost me the battle. Dad's mouth opened, and
simultaneously I rose. Opinions on my uncle's character, pro or con,
didn't interest me half so much as the problem of excusing myself in a
steady voice, walking from table to doorway without a stagger, and
finally escaping from that room before the fatal name could be spoken
again.

These feats accomplished, I managed to get up the stairs and into
my own room, where I locked the door and dropped, face downward,
across the bed. Though the evening was cool, my whole body was
drenched with sweat and my brain reeled sickeningly.

One may get help from queer sources. Van, in our gay junior year--
his last at college--had initiated me into a device for keeping steady
when the last drink has been one too many. You mentally recite a poem
or speech or the multiplication table--any old thing will do. Fixing
the mind in that way seems to soothe the gyrating interior and enables
a fellow at least to fall asleep like a gentleman.

In my present distress that came back to me. Still fighting off
the unknown with one-half of my mind, I scrabbled around in the other
half for some definite memorization to take hold of.

There was none. The very multiplication table swam a jumble of
numbers. Then I caught a rhyme beginning in the back of my head, and
fixed my attention on it feverishly. Over and over the words said
themselves, first haltingly, then with increasing certainty. It was a
simple, jingling little prayer that every child in the English-
speaking world, I suppose, has learned past forgetfulness. "Now I lay
me down to Sleep-"

Again--again--by the tenth repetition of "I pray the Lord my soul
to take," I had wrenched my mind away from--that other--and had its
whole attention on the rhyme. At last, following a paroxysm of
trembling, I knew myself the victor. Once more the Fifth Presence had
released me.

Panting and weak from reaction, I sat up. What ailed me? How, in
reason and common sense, could the sound of any man's name have this
effect on me?

Hypnotism? Nearly two months had elapsed since my first trouble of
this kind, and without recurrence in the interim. No, and come to
think of it, I couldn't recall having heard the name spoken in that
while, either. Serapion! It was only when uttered aloud that the word
had power over me. I could think of it without any evil effect. And
that name on Alicia's lips had been my last vivid impression before I
lost self-consciousness and walked out of, Moore's house, an
intelligent automaton for sixty minutes after.

Scraps of psychology came back to me. Hypnotism--hypnotic
suggestion. Could a man be shocked into hypnotic sleep, awaken, and
weeks later be swayed by a sound that had accompanied the first lapse?

One way, I set myself very firmly. In cool judgment I was no
believer in ghosts. The very thought brought a smile to my lips. My
uncle had died before I was born; but, though dad had for some reason
disliked him, by all accounts my namesake had been a genial, easy-
going, agreeable gentleman, rather characterless, perhaps, and
inclined to let the other fellow work, but not a man whose spirit
could be imagined as a half-way efficient "haunt."

Serapion! No, and neither would he probably have flung away his
own and his family's comfort for a point of fine-drawn honor. Was dad
in the right? I had tried to reserve criticism there, and in action I
had certainly backed him to the limit. Inevitably, though from yet
far-off, I could see the loss of Roberta grinding down upon me. She
couldn't wait my convenience forever, you know. Some other fellow-some
free, unburdened chap--

I buried my head in my hands.

Then I dropped them and sprang erect, every nerve alert.

I had closed my eyes, and in that instant, a face had leaped into
being behind their shut lids. The face was not Roberta's, though I had
been thinking of her. Moreover, it had lacked any dreamlike quality.
It had come real--real as if the man had entered my bedroom and thrust
his face close to mine.

As my eyes flicked open, it had vanished, leaving me quivering
with a strange resentment--an anger, as if some intimate privacy had
been invaded. I stood with clenched fists, more angry than amazed at
first, but not daring to shut my eyes lest it return.

What had there been about the queer vision that was so loathsome?

The face of a man around forty years it had seemed, smooth-shaven,
boyish in a manner, with a little inward twist at the mouth corners,
an amused slyness to the clear, light-blue eyes, The face of an
easygoing, take-life's-jokes-as-they-come sort of fellow, amiable,
pleasant, and, in some indefinite fashion--horrible.

I was sure I had never seen the man in real life, though there had
been a vague familiarity about him, too.

About him! A dream--a vision.

"Clayton Barbour," I muttered through shut teeth, "if it has
reached the point where a word throws you into spasm and you are
afraid to close your eyes, you'd better consult a doctor; and that is
exactly what I shall do!"



CHAPTER VI



NILS BERQUIST has his own ways, and whether or not they were
practical or customary to mankind at large influenced him in no
degree. He called himself a socialist, but in pure fact he was simply
one of those persons who require a cause to fight for and argue about,
as a Hedonist craves his pleasures, or the average man an income.

Real socialism, with the communal interests it implies, was
foreign to Berquist's very nature. He could get along, in a withdrawn
kind of way, with almost anyone. He would share what small possessions
he had with literally anyone. But his interest went to such
abstractions of thought as were talked and written by men of his own
kind, while himself--his mind--he kept for the very few. Those are the
qualities of an aristocrat, not a socialist.

One result of his paradoxical attitude showed in the fact that
when it came to current news, Nils was as ignorant a man as you could
meet in a day's walk. My various troubles and activities had kept me
from thinking of him, but when I again happened on Nils in town one
evening it hurt my feelings to discover that the spectacular downfall
of Barbour & Hutchinson might have occurred on another planet, so far
as he was concerned.

News that had been blazoned in every paper was news to him all
this time afterward. Even learning it from me in person, he said
little, though this silence might have been caused by embarrassment.
Roberta was with me, and to tie Nils' tongue you had only to lead him
into the presence of femininity in the person of a young, pretty girl.

I at last recalled the fact, and because for a certain reason I
wished a chance to talk with him where he would talk, I asked if he
couldn't run out some night and have dinner with us. Cathy's cooking
was nothing wonderful, but I knew Nils wouldn't mind that, nor the
cramped quarters we had to live in. I reckoned on taking him up to my
own room later for a private confab.

After a short hesitation he accepted.

"You take care of yourself, Clay," he added. "You're looking
pale--run down. Don't tell me you've been laid up sick along with all
this other trouble?"

"No, indeed, old man. Working rather harder than I used to and--
lately I haven't slept very well. Bad dreams--but aside from that,
nothing serious."

After a few more words, we parted, he striding off on his lonely
way to some bourne unknown; Roberta and I proceeding toward the
movies.

A fortnight had passed since the strange face had made its first
appearance. If Nils thought I looked pale, there was reason for it.
"Bad dreams," I had told him, but bad dreams were less than all.

My resolve to visit a doctor had come to nothing. I had called,
indeed, upon our family physician, as I had meant. The moment I
entered his presence, however, that instinct for concealment which had
prevented me from confiding in Roberta or my family rose up full
strength. The symptoms I actually laid before Dr. Lloyd produced a
smile and a prescription that might as well have been the traditional
bread pills. I didn't bother to have it filled. I went out as alone
with my secret as when I entered.

A face--boyish in manner, pleasant, half-smiling usually; with an
amused slyness to the clear, light-blue eyes; an agreeable inward
quirk at the corners of the finely cut lips. I had come to know every
lineament ultimately well.

It had not returned again until some time after the first
appearance. Then--at the bank, the afternoon following my futile
conference with Dr. Lloyd--I happened to close my eyes, and it was
there, behind the lids.

There was a table in Mr. Terne's office, over which he used to
spread out his correspondence and papers. I was seated at one side of
the table and he on the other, and I started so violently that he
dropped his pen and made a straggling ink-feather across the schedule
of securities he was verifying.

He patiently blotted it, and I made such a fuss over getting out
the ink-eradicator and restoring the sheet of minutely figured ledger
paper to neatness, that he forgot to ask what had made me jump in the
first place.

After that the face was with me so often that if I shut my eyes
and saw nothing, its absence bothered me. I would feel then that the
face had got behind me, perhaps, and acquired the bad habit of casting
furtive glances over my shoulder.

You may think that if one must be burdened with a companion
invisible to the world, such a good-humored countenance as I have
described would be the least disagreeable. But that was not so.

There was to me a subtle hatefulness about it--like a thing
beautiful and at the same time vile, which one hates in fear of coming
to love it.

I never called the face "him," never thought of it as a man, nor
gave it a man's name. I was afraid to! As if recognition would lend
the vision power, I called it the Fifth Presence, and hated it.

As days of this passed, there came a time when the face began
trying to talk to me. There, at least, I had the advantage. Though I
could see the lips move, forming words, by merely opening my eyes I
was able to banish it, and so avoid learning what it wished to say.

In bed, I used to lie with my eyes wide open sometimes, for hours,
waiting for sleep to come suddenly. When that happened I was safe, for
though my dreams were often bad, the face never invaded them.

I discovered, too, that the name Serapion had in a measure lost
power to throw me off balance, since the face had come. My mother
continued to harp on the superiority of my dead uncle's character, and
how he would have shielded us from the evils that had befallen, until
dad acquiesced in sheer self-protection. But though I didn't like to
hear her talk of him, and though the sound of the name invariably
quickened my heartbeat, hearing neither increased nor diminished the
vision's vividness.

It was with me, however, through most of my waking hours--waiting
behind my lids--and if I looked pale, as Nils said, the wonder is that
I was able to appear at all as usual. So I wished to talk with Nils,
hoping that to the man who had warned me against the Moores, I could
force myself to confide the distressing aftermath of my visit at the
"dead-alive house."

He had promised to come out the next night but one, which was
Wednesday. Unfortunately, however, I missed seeing him then, after
all, and because of an incident whose climax was to give the Fifth
Presence a new and unexpected significance.

About two-thirty Wednesday afternoon I ran up the steps of the
Colossus Trust, and at the top collided squarely with Van, Jr. By the
slight reel with which he staggered against a pillar and caught hold
of it, I knew that Van had been hitting the high spots again and hoped
he had not been interviewing his father in that condition. On
recovering his balance, Van stood up steady enough.

"Old scout Clay! Say, you look like a pale, pallid, piffling
freshwater clam, you do. 'Pon my word, I'm ashamed of the old
Colossus. The old brass idol has sucked all the blood out of you. My
fault, serving up the best friend I ever had as a--a helpless
sacrifice to my father's old brass Colossus. Come on with me--you been
good too long!"

He playfully pretended to tear off the brass-lettered name of the
trust company, which adorned the wall beside him, cast it down and
trample on it. When I tried to pass he caught my arm. "Come on!"

"Can't," I explained quietly. "Mr. Terne was the best man at a
wedding today, but he left me a stack of work."

Van sniffed. "Hub! I know that wedding. I was invited to that
wedding, but I wouldn't go. Measly old teetotaler wedding! Just suits
Fatty Terne. When you get married, Clay, I'll send along about eleven
magnums for a wedding present, and then I'll come to your wedding!"

"You may--when it happens." Again I tried to pass him.

"Wait a minute. You poor, pallid work slave--you know what I'm
going to do for you?"

"Get me fired, by present prospects. I must-"

"You must not. Just listen. You know Barney Finn"'

"Not personally. Let me go now, Van and I'll see you later."

"Barney Finn," he persisted doggedly, "has got just the biggest
li'l engine that ever slid round a track. Now you wait a minute.
Barney's another friend of mine. Told me all about it. Showed it to
me. Showed me how it's going to make every other wagon at Fairview
tomorrow look like a hand-pushed per-perambulator!"

"All right. Come around after the race and tell me how Finn made
out. Please-"

"Wait. You're my friend, Clay, and I like you. You put a thousand
bones on Finney's car, and say goodbye to old Colossus."

I laughed. But he went on.

"My dear friend, you misjudge me, sadly--yes, indeed! Didn't I
wrest one pitiful Century from Colossus five minutes ago, and isn't
that the last that stood between me and starvation, and ain't I going
right out and plaster that century on Finn's car? Would I im-
impoverish the Colossus and me, puttin' that last century on anything
but a sure win? Come across, boy!"

Now, one might think that Van's invitation lacked attractiveness
to a sober man. I happened to know, however, that drunk or sober, his
judgment was good on one subject, the same being motorcars. Barney
Finn, moreover, was a speed-track veteran with a mighty reputation at
his back. He had, in the previous year, met several defeats, due to
bad luck, in my opinion, but they had brought up the odds. If he had
something particularly good and new in his car for tomorrow's race at
Fairview, there was a chance for somebody to make a killing, as Van
said. "What odds?" I queried.

"For each li'l bone you plant, twelve li'l bones will blossom.
Good enough? I could get better, but this will be off Jackie
Rosenblatt, an' you know that he's a reg'lar old Colossus his own
self. Solid an' square. Hock his old high silk hat before he'd welch."

"Yes, Rosie's square." I did some quick mental figurine, and then
pulled a thin sheaf of bills from an inner coat pocket. Instantly, Van
had snatched them out of my hand.

"Not all!" I exclaimed sharply. "Take fifty, but I brought that to
deposit-"

"Deposit it with Jackie! Why, you old miser with your bank
account! Four entire centuries, and you weepin' over poverty! Say,
Clay, how much is twelve times four?"

"Forty-eight, but-"

"Lightnin' calculator!" he admired. "Say, doesn't forty-eight
hundred make a bigger noise in your delikite ear than four measly
centuries? Come across!"

I don't think I nodded. I am almost sure that I had begun reaching
my hand to take all, or most of those bills back. But Van thought
otherwise. "Right, boy!"

With plunging abruptness he was off down the steps. I hesitated.
Forty-four hundred. Then I caught myself and was after him, but too
late. His speedy gray roadster was already nosing recklessly into the
traffic. Before I reached the bottom step it had shot around the
corner and was gone.

Off Mr. Terne's spacious office there was a little glass-enclosed,
six-by-eight cubbyhole which I called my own.

Ten o'clock Thursday morning found me seated in the one chair,
staring at a pile of canceled notes on the desk before me. I had
started to check them half an hour ago, but so far just one checkmark
showed on the list beside them. I had something worse to think of than
canceled notes.

As I sat, I could hear Mr. Terne fussing about the outer office.
Then I heard him go out. About two minutes afterward the door banged
open so forcibly that I half started up, conscience clamoring.

But it wasn't the second vice returning in a rage. It was Van. He
fairly bolted into my cubbyhole, closed the door, pitched his hat in a
corner, and swung himself to a seat on my desk-edge, scattering
canceled notes right and left. There he sat, hands clasped, staring at
me in a perfect stillness which contrasted dramatically with his
violent entry. His eyes looked dark and sunken in a strained, white
face. My nerves were inappreciative of drama.

"Where were you last night?" I demanded irritably. "I hunted for
you around town till nearly midnight."

"What? Oh, I was way out in--I don't know exactly. Some dinky
roadhouse. I pretty nearly missed the race and--and I wish to Heaven I
had, Clay!" He passed a shaking hand across his eyes.

"Did Finn lose?" I snapped. "But--why, the race can hardly be more
than started yet!"

"Finn started!" he gulped.

"Ditched?" I gasped, a flash of inspiration warning me of what was
coming.

He nodded. "Turned turtle on the second lap and--say, boy--I
helped dig him out and carry him off--you know, I liked Barney. It
was--bad. The mechanism broke his back clean--flung against a post--
but Barney--say, what was left of him kind of--kind of came apart--
when we--" He stopped short, gulped again, and: "Guess I'm in bad
shape this morning," he said huskily. "Nerves all shot to pieces."

I should have imagined they would be. A man straight from an all-
night debauch can't witness a racing-car accident, help handle the
human wreckage afterward, and go whistling merrily to tell his friends
the tale.

I expressed that, though in more kindly chosen words, and then we
both were silent a minute. Barney Finn had not been my friend, or even
acquaintance, and while I was vicariously touched by Van's grief and
horror, my own dilemma wasn't simplified by this news. Yet I hated to
fling sordidness in the face of tragedy by speaking of money.

"Afterward I didn't feel like watching the race out." As Van
spoke, I heard the outer door open again. This time it really was Mr.
Terne, for I recognized his step.

"So I came straight here," Van continued.

My own door opened, and a kindly, dignified figure appeared there.

"Barbour," said the second vice, "have you that--ah, good morning,
Richard." He nodded rather coldly to Van, and went on to ask me for
the list I was supposed to be at work on.

When I explained that the checking wasn't quite finished, he
turned away; then glanced back.

"By the way, Barbour," he said, "Prang dropped me a line saving
that when you were in his office yesterday he paid up our hundred he
has owed me since last June. If you were too late to deposit yesterday
afternoon, get it from my box and we'll put it in with this check from
the United."

I felt myself going fiery-red. "Sorry," I said. "I'll let you have
that money this afternoon, Mr. Terne, I-I-"

"He gave it to me to deposit for him, and I used it for something
else," broke in Van with the utmost coolness.

On occasion Van's brain worked with flashlight rapidity. He had
put two and two of that four hundred together while another man might
have been wondering about it. Terne stared, first at Van, then at me.

"You--you gave it--" he began slowly.

"He came here for your pass-book," ran Van's glib tongue. "I
dropped in on him, and as I was going out past the tellers, I offered
to put it in for him. Then I stuck it in my pocket, forgot it till too
late, and needing some cash last night, I used that. Barbour has been
throwing fits ever since I told him. I'll get it for you this
afternoon."

Terne stared some more, and Van returned the look with cool
insolence.

A brick-reddish color crept up the second v.p.'s cheeks, his mouth
compressed to an unfamiliar straightness, and turning suddenly he
walked out of not only my cubbyhole but his own office. The door shut
with a rattle of jarred glazing.

"You shouldn't have done that!" I breathed.

"Oh, rats! Fatty Terne's gone to tell the old man. But he'll get
thrown out. No news to the old man, about me, and he's sick of hearing
it. Anyway, this is my fault, Clay' and I ought to stand the gaff.
You've worked like the devil here, and then I come along and spoil
everything. Drunken fool, me! Knew I'd queer you if we got together,
and till yesterday I had sense enough to keep off. When I took those
bills I knew there was something wrong, but I was too lit up to have
any sense about it. Plain highway robbery! Never mind, old pal, I'll
bring you back the loot this afternoon if I have to bust open one of
the old Colossus' vaults for it!"

At my elbow the office phone jingled.

"Just a minute," I said. "No; wait, Van. Hello. Hel--Oh, Mr.
Vansittart? Yes, sir. Be over at once, sir. Yes, he's here. What?
Yes--" The other receiver had clicked up.

"We're in for it," I muttered. "Apparently your father hasn't
thrown Terne out!"

Vansittart, Sr., the gruff old lion, granted lax discipline to no
man under his control save one; and even Van, Jr., was, if not afraid,
at least a bit wary of him. Though he had taken me on in the bank at a
far higher wage than my services were worth, he had also made it very
clear that so far as I was concerned, favoritism ended there. For me,
I was sure the truth of the present affair would mean instant
discharge.

"Shut the door!" he growled as we entered. "Now, Dick, I'll thank
you to explain for exactly what reason you stole Mr. Terne's four
hundred."

"Stole!" Van's slim figure stiffened and he went two shades
whiter.

"Stole, yes! I said, stole. That is the usual term for
appropriating money without the owner's consent."

"I don't accuse the boy of theft!" Terne's set face of anger
relaxed suddenly. He didn't like Van, but he was a man who could not
be unfair if he tried.

"Keep out of this, Terne--please. Dick, I'm waiting."

"Well, really," Van drawled "if you put it that way, I couldn't
say what I did use the money for. There was a trifle of four hundred,
owned, I believe, by Mr. Terne, which I borrowed, intending to return
it in a few hours-"

"From what fund?" The old man was alert. I felt instinctively that
this interview was a bit different from any that Van had been through
heretofore. "Are you aware that your account in this bank is already
overdrawn to the sum of--" he consulted a slip before him-"of forty-
nine dollars and sixty cents? You perhaps have reserve funds at your
command elsewhere?"

Van looked his father in the eye. What he saw must have been
unusual. His brows went up slightly and the same fighting look came
into his face which I had seen there when he and I confronted the
faculty together. On that occasion I had been genuinely inclined to
meekness. I remained in college while Van was thrown out.

He laughed lightly. "Excuse me half an hour while I run out and
sell the li'l old roadster. Forty-nine sixty, you said? I'll pay you
yours first, dad!"

"That's kind! After stealing one man's money you propose selling
another man's car to replace it. Yes, my car, I said. What have you
got in this world but your worthless brains and body to call your own?
Wait. We'll go into this matter of ownership more deeply in a few
minutes. Barbour," he whirled on me, "you allowed funds belonging to
your supervisor to pass into unauthorized hands. That is not done in
this bank. As things stand, I shall leave your case to Mr. Terne, but
first you will make one direct' statement. I wish it made so that no
question can arise afterward. Did you or did you not hand four hundred
dollars in bills, the property of Mr. Terne, to my--to my son?"

It was up to me in earnest. I was now sure beyond doubt of what
Van had run against. His parent had turned at last, and even the whole
truth would barely suffice to save him. My lips opened. To blame
though he was in a way, Van mustn't suffer seriously in my protection.
I could not forget that momentary hesitation on my part, save for
which I could easily have retrieved the bills before Van was out of
reach.

"I gave it to him," I began.

And then, abruptly, silently, another face flashed in between me
and the president. Instead of Vansittart's dark, angry eyes, I was
staring into a pair of clear, amused, light-blue, ones. A finely cut
mouth half smiled at me with lips that moved.

Always theretofore the face had come only when my lids were
closed. Its wish to communicate with me--and that it did wish to
communicate I was sure as if the thing had been a living man,
following me about and perpetually tugging at my sleeve--had been a
continual menace, but one which I had grown to feel secure from
because the thing's power seemed so limited.

Now, with my eyes wide open, there hung the face in mid air. It
was not in the least transparent. That is, its intervening presence
obscured Vansittart's countenance as completely as though the head of
a real man had thrust in between us. And yet--it is hard to express,
but there was that about it, a kind of flatness, a lack of normal
three-dimensional solidity, which gave it the look of a living
portrait projected on the atmosphere.

I knew without even glancing toward them that Van and Mr. Terne
did not see the thing as I did. It was there for me alone. At the
moment, though I fought the belief again later, I knew beyond question
that what I beheld was the projection of a powerful, external will,
the same which, with Alicia's dynamic force to aid, had once actually
taken possession of my body.

The finely cut, lips moved. No audible sound came from them, but
as they formed words, the speech was heard in my brain distinctly as
if conveyed by normal sound vibrations through the eardrums. It was
silent sound. The tone was deep, rather agreeable, amiably amused:

"You have said enough," the face observed pleasantly. "You have
told the truth; now stop there. Your friend has a father to deal with,
while you have an employer. He is willing to shoulder all the blame,
and for you to expose your share in it will be a preposterous folly.
Remember, that hard as you have worked, you are receiving here twice
the money you are worth--three times what you can hope to begin on
elsewhere. Remember the miserable consequences of your own father's
needless sacrifices. Remember how often, and very justly, you have
wished that he had thought less of a point of fine-drawn honor, and
more of his family's happiness. Will you commit like folly?"

I can't tell, so that anyone will understand, what a wave of
accumulated memories and secret revolts against fate overswept me as I
stared hard into the smiling, light-blue eyes. But I fought.

Grimly I began again. "I gave it to him..." and then--stopped.

"That's enough." This time it was Vansittart speaking. "You may
go, Barbour. Mr. Terne, I will ask you to leave us. You will receive
my personal check for the amount you have lost."

"But-but--" I stammered desperate while those clear eyes grew more
amused more dominating.

The old man's hard-held calmness broke in a roar. "Get out! Both
of you! Go!"

Mr. Terne laid his hand on my arm, and reluctantly I allowed
myself to be steered toward the door. As I turned away the face did
not float around with the turning of my eyes.

It hung in mid air, save for that odd, undimensional flatness real
as any of the three other faces there. When my back was to the
president, the--the Fifth Presence was behind me. On glancing back, it
still hung there. Then it smiled at me--a beautiful, pleased, wholly
approving smile--and faded to nothing.

I went out with Mr. Terne, and left Van alone with his father.



CHAPTER VII



ONE hour later I departed from the Colossus Trust Company with
instructions not to return. Oh, no, I had not been ruthlessly
discharged by the outraged vice president. The inhibition covered the
balance of the day only, and, as Mr. Terne put it: "A few hours' quiet
will give you a clearer view of the situation, Barbour. I honor you
for feeling as you do. It was Richard, I believe, who obtained you a
position here. Just for your consolation when Mr. Vansittart has--er--
cooled off somewhat, I intend making a small plea in Richard's behalf.
Now, go home and come back fresh in the morning. You look as though
all the cares of the world had been dumped on your shoulders. Take an
older man's advice and shake off those that aren't yours, boy!"

He was a kindly, good man, the second vice president of the
Colossus. But his kindliness didn't console me. In fact, I felt rather
the worse for it. I went home, wishing that he had kicked me clean
around the block instead of--of liking, and petting, and by inference,
praising me for being such a contrast in character to poor, reckless,
loose-living, heroic Van!

When I left, the latter was still in his father's office. Though I
might have waited for him outside, I didn't. He was not the kind to
meet me with even a glance of reproach; but just the same I did not
feel eager to meet him.

I had resolved, however, that unless Van pulled through
scatheless, I would myself "make a small plea in Richard's behalf,"
and next time not all the smooth, smiling devils from the place-
that's-no-longer-believed-in should persuade me to crumple.

On the train--I commuted, of course--I deliberately shut my eyes,
and waited for the vision to appear. If it could talk to me by moving
its lips, there must be some way in which I could express my opinion
to it. I burned to do that. Like a sneak, it had taken me unawares in
a crucial moment. I had a few thoughts of the Fifth Presence which
should make even that smug vision curl up and die.

I closed my eyes--and was asleep in five minutes. I was tired, you
see, and, now that I wanted it, the Fifth Presence kept discreetly
invisible. The conductor, who knew me, called my station and me at the
same time, and I blundered off the train, half-awake, but thoroughly
miserable.

There was no one at home but my mother. Of late dad's sight had
failed till it was not safe for him to be on the street alone. As he
liked to walk, however, Cathy had gone out with him.

I found mother lying down in her darkened bedroom, in the
preparatory stage of a headache. Having explained that Mr. Terne had
given me an unexpected half-holiday, I turned to leave her, but
checked on a sudden impulse.

"Mother," I said softly, "why did you name me Ser--why was I given
my uncle's name instead of just dad's?"

"What an odd question"

Mother sat up so energetically that two cushions fell off the
couch. I picked them up and tried to reestablish her comfortably, but
she wouldn't have it. "Tell me at once why you asked that
extraordinary question, Clay!"

I said there was nothing extraordinary about it that I could see.
My uncle's name itself was extraordinary, or at least unusual, and the
question happened to come into my mind just then. Besides, she had
spoken a good deal of him lately. Maybe that had made me think of it.

Mother drew a deep breath.

"He told me--can you believe this?--he told me that some day you
would ask that question! This is too wonderful! And I've seemed to
feel a protecting influence about us--this house that was his--and
your good position at the bank!"

"Mother, will you kindly explain what you are talking about?" My
heart had begun a muffled throbbing.

"Be patient! I have a wonderful story to tell you. I've doubted,
and hoped, and dared say nothing, but, Clayton, dear, in these last
miserable weeks I have felt his presence like the overshadowing wings
of a protecting angel. If it is true--if it only could be true-"

"Mother--please!"

"Sit down, dear. Your father never liked dear Serapion, and--why,
how wonderful this all is! Your coming home early, I mean, and asking
me the question just at the one time when your father, who disliked
him, is away, and we have the whole house--his house!--to ourselves.
Can't you feel his influence in that, dear?"

"What have you to tell me, mother?"

"I shall begin at the very first-"

"If you make the story too long," I objected craftily, "dad and
Cathy will be back."

"That is true. Then I'll just tell the part he particularly wished
you to know. Dear Serapion was universally loved, and I could go on by
the hour about his friendships, and the faculty he had for making
people happy. Physically, he had little strength, and your father was
very unjust to him-"

"Can't we leave dad out of this, mother?"

"You are so like your uncle! Serapion could never bear to hear
anyone criticized, no matter how the person had treated him, 'My
happiness,' he would say, 'is in living at harmony with all. Clayton,'
your father, he meant, of course, 'Clayton is a splendid man, whom I
admire. His own fine energy and capacities make him unduly hard,
perhaps, toward those less gifted. I try to console myself with the
thought that life has several sides. Love--kindliness--good humor--I
am at least fortunate in rousing the gentlest qualities in most of
those about me. Who knows? From the beginning, that may have been my
mission in life, and I was given a delicate constitution that I might
have leisure merely to live, love, and be loved in return!'

"Of course, he wouldn't have expressed that beautiful thought to
everyone, but Serapion knew that I would understand--yes, dear I shall
come to your part in the story directly.

"Serapion passed to his reward before you were born, my son. He
went from as us in January, and you came into the world the April
following. The doctors had told him that only a few hours were left
him of life. When Serapion learned that he asked to be left alone with
me for a little while. I remember every word of that beautiful
conversation. I remember how he laid his hand on mine and pressed it
feebly.

"'Do as I ask, Evelyn,' he said. 'If the child is a boy, give him
my name. I only ask second place. Clayton has first right; but let the
boy have my name, as well as his father's. I've been too happy in my
life--too happy in my loves and friendships. I can't bear to die
utterly out of this good old world. I haven't a child of my own, but
if you'd just give your boy--my name. Some day he will ask why, and
then you are to tell him that--it's because--I was so happy."

Mother was sobbing, but after a moment she regained self-control
to continue. "You may think it weak in me to cry over my brother, who
passed long ago. But he has lived in my memory. And he said: 'Some
people only talk of life after death, but I believe in it. It is
really true that we go out to go on. I know it. There is something
bright and strong in me, Evelyn, that only grows stronger as I feel
the body dying from about me. Bright, strong, and clear-sighted. I
have never been quite like other men. Not even you have understood me,
and perhaps that is for the best.'

"With his hand on mine he smiled, and, oh, Clayton, I have
wondered many times since what that smile meant. It was so beautiful
that--that it was almost terrible!

"'I love life,' he went on, 'and I shall live beyond this
perishing clay. Soon or late, a day will come when you will feel my
living presence in the house, and it will be in that time that your
son will ask of me. Then you will tell him all I have said, and also
this:

"'That I promised to return--to watch over him--to guard him.

"'Name him for me, that I may have the power. There's power in a
name! And I am not as other men. Be very sure that--your son--
Serapion--shall be--as happy--shall have all that I've had--of life.
Believe--promise!' And I promised.

"The strangest look came into his eyes. A look of--" my mother's
voice sank to a hushed whisper-"I can only describe it as holy
Exultation. It was too vivid and triumphant to have been of this
world. And he died in my arms--Clayton, why do you look at me like
that? What is the matter, child?"

"Nothing. You told the story so well that for a moment I seemed
to--to see him--or Something. Never mind me. Mother, haven't you any
picture of my uncle?"

"Only one of him as he was in his latter years. I have kept it
locked away, for fear it might be destroyed or injured." Mother rose
and started looking in a bureau drawer. "I am so glad that you take
this seriously, Clayton, you feel nearly as deeply about it as I,
don't you, dear?"

I wished to see that picture. At the same time I dreaded
unspeakably the moment when doubt might become certainty.

My mother took out a flat package, wrapped in yellowed tissue
paper. She began to undo the silk cord tied around it. I turned my
back suddenly. Then I felt something thrust into my hand. With all my
will I forced myself to bring the thing around before my eyes.

What face would stare back at me, eye to eye, amused, pleasant-?

The window-shades were still drawn, and the light dim. It was a
moment before I realized that what I held was not a picture at all--
but some kind of printed pamphlet.

"Raise the shade," said my mother. "I wish you to read that. It is
a little memorial of your uncle, written by one of his friends, a Mr.
Hazlett. The words are so touching! Almost as beautiful as the
thoughts Serapion himself often expressed."

"Would you mind"--I controlled my voice by an effort--"would you
mind letting me see the picture first?"

This time she had handed me the unmistakable, polished, bescrolled
oblong of an old-fashioned photographer's mounting.

Defiance, last resource of the hard pressed, drove me in two bold
strides to the window, where I jerked the shade up.

Daylight beat in. This was the middle of November and the light
was gray, filtered through gray clouds. A few scattered particles of
snow flickered past the window.

In my fingers the polished face of a cardboard mount felt smooth,
almost soft to the touch. I watched the snow.

"Isn't his face beautiful, dear?" demanded a voice at my shoulder.

"I-I--yes, I'm afraid--of course, mother!"

"But you are not looking at it!"

"I did look," I lied. "I--this has all been a little too much for
me. Take it--put it away. No, I'll read the memorial another time.
Happy! Did he promise to--to come back and make me happy?"

"Practically that. How like him you are, dear son! He was
sensitive, too; and your eyes! You have the Barbour nose and forehead,
but your eyes-"

"Please, mother!"

She let me go at last, and in the quiet of refuge behind the
locked door of my bedroom, I, who after all had not dared to look upon
the picture of Serapion, scrutinized thoroughly every feature of my
own face in the mirror.

Like him! She had often said so in the past, but the statement had
failed to make any particular impression.

Yes, she was right about the eyes. They were the same clear, light
blue as his--what? Never. Not as his. For all I knew by actual
observation, Serapion's eyes might have been sea-green or shell-pink.
I had never seen him. Let me keep that fact firmly in mind.



CHAPTER VIII



MY FACE in the mirror bore a faint sketchy resemblance to that of
the unreal but none the less troublesome vision by which I was
intermittently afflicted. The resemblance accounted for the vague
familiarity that had enveloped it from the first.

The face in the mirror, though, was much younger, and resolve
flared up in its eyes like a lighted fire.

"You," I addressed my reflection, "are not a sneak. You are not
going to be made one. Tonight you will present yourself to Mr. James
Barton Moore, and you will inform him that the little trick of
hypnotism performed by his wife last August will either be reversed by
her, or he himself will pay for it unpleasantly. I believe," and my
arm muscles flexed in bravado, "that Mr. Jimmy Moore will think twice
before he refuses." That was what I said. But in my heart I yearned
suddenly to go and fling myself, abject, at the feet of Alicia Moore,
and entreat her to help me.

It was a cold night, and the afternoon's scattered flakes had
increased to a snowfall. Alighting from the car--not mine, this time,
but the transit company's--I found the snow inches deep. I can still
recall the feel of it blown against my face, like light, cold finger-
touches.

Plowing through it, I came again to the "dead-alive house." That
other visit had been in summer. The twin lawns, one green and close-
cropped, the other high-grown with weeds, had stood out contrastingly
then. There had been a line of sharp demarcation between Moore's
clean, freshly painted half of the house and the other half's dirt-
freckled wall.

Now all that sharp difference was blurred and indistinct. The
snow, blue-white in the swaying circles of light from a corner arc
lamp, had buried both the lawns. Joining the roofs in whiteness,
drifting across the porches, swirling in the air, it obliterated all
but a hint of difference between the living half and the dead.

Though the windows of one part were dark as those of the other, a
faint glow shone through the curtained glazing of Moore's door.

Now that I was here, I almost hoped that he and his wife were out.
The accusation I must make was strange to absurdity. I braced myself,
however, opened the gate, and as I did so a hand dropped on my
shoulder from behind.

A man had come upon me soundlessly through the snow. In my nerve-
racked state, I whirled and struck at him.

He caught my wrist. "Here! I'm no highwayman, Clay!"

"Nils," I laughed shakily, "you startled me."

Berquist stared, with a sudden close attention that I found myself
shrinking from. For weeks I had been keeping a secret at some cost.
Though I had come here to reveal it, the habit of concealment was
still on me.

"Your nerves used to be better than that," said Berquist shortly.

"You calling on Moore?" I queried. "Thought there was some kind of
vendetta between you. You wouldn't come here with me, I remember."

"I'm glad you remember something," he retorted gravely. "You have
a very nice, hospitable family, though. They took me in last night and
fed me on the bare strength of my word that I'd been invited."

"I say, Nils, that's too bad."

In the desperate search I had made for Van the previous evening, I
had clean forgotten my dinner invitation to Berquist. Reaching home
near midnight, I had received a thoroughly sisterly call-down from
Cathy, who had waited up to express her frank opinion of a brother who
not only invited a friend to dinner without forewarning her, but
neglected even to be present when that friend arrived.

It seemed, too, that Roberta had dined there on Cathy's own
invitation, and the two girls had unitedly agreed that poor Nils was
"odd" and not very desirable. He had committed the double offense of
talking wild theories to dad, verbally ignoring the feminine element,
and at the same time staring Bert out of countenance whenever her eyes
were not actually on him.

I had informed Cathy that Bert should feel highly honored, since
Nils was generally too shy even to look at a girl, much less stare at
her, and that as the family's support I should certainly invite whom I
pleased to dinner; as for Nils, I had regretted missing him; but knew
he was too casual himself to hold the lapse against me.

Now I began an apology that was rather wandering, for my mind was
otherwise concerned.

I wished to tell him about the Fifth Presence. Before I entered
Moore's house, it would be very well that I should tell Nils of my
errand. Why, in the name all reason, was I possessed by this sense of
shame that shut my lips whenever I tried to open them concerning the
haunting face?

Cutting the apologies short, Nils forgave me, explained that
though out of sympathy with Moore's work, he occasionally called to
play chess with him, and then we were going up the snow-blanketed
walk, side by side.

Even the chess sometimes ends in "a row," Nils added gloomily. "I
wouldn't play him at all, if he hadn't beaten me so many times.
Perhaps some day I'll get the score even, and then I shan't come here
any more."

"Moore is--did he ever tell you that I kept my appointment with
him?"

"Which one?"

The question leaped out cuttingly sharp.

"The only one I ever made with him, of course. That day you
introduced me to him in the restaurant."

"You haven't been coming here since?"

"No. Why should you think that?"

We had checked again, half-way up the walk. As we stood Nils
caught my shoulders and swung me around till the arc-lamp rays beat on
my face. He scrutinized me from under frowning brows.

"You've lost something!" he said bluntly. "I can't tell exactly
what. I don't know what story your eyes hide; but they hide one. Clay,
don't think me an officious meddler, but you--you have your family
dependent on you--and--oh, why do I beat about the bush? That girl you
will marry some day; she's rather wonderful. For her sake, if not your
own, tell me the truth. Has Moore involved you in some of his cursed,
dangerous experiments? Tell me, is it that, or"--his voice softened-
"are you merely worn out with the common and comparatively safe kinds
of trouble?"

"I've had--trouble enough to worry any fellow."

"Yes, but is any part of it to be laid at this door?" He jerked
his head toward Moore's dimly radiant portal.

"A face--a face--" sheer panic choked words in my throat. I had
begun betraying the secret which every atom of my being demanded
should be kept.

"Yes; a face."

"A face--is not necessarily a chart of the owner's doings," I
wrenched roughly from his grasp. "Since when have you set up as a
critic in physiognomy, Nils?"

"When one has a friend, one cares to look beneath the surface," he
said simply.

"Well, don't look with the air of hunting out a criminal, then. I
have as good a right to call here as you, haven't I? Moore sent me a
letter asking me to drop around, so I--I thought I would. I'm tired,
and need distraction. What's the harm?"

Without answering, he eyed me through a long moment; then turned
quietly and went on up into the porch.

Standing hesitant, I glanced upward, looking for a light in the
windows above. Again. I saw the slanting roofs, blended in snow.
Months ago, in a momentary illusion of moonlight, I had seen them look
just so. The thought brought me a tiny prick of apprehension. Not
fear, but the startled uneasiness one might feel at coming to a place
one has never visited, and knowing it for the place one has seen in a
dream.

Nevertheless, I followed Nils to the door.

Another maid opened it than the one who had admitted Roberta and
myself in August. She was a great, craggy, hard-faced old colored
woman, whom Nils addressed rather familiarly as "Sabina," and who made
him rather glumly welcome in accents that betrayed her Southern
origin. She assumed, I suppose, that Nils and I had come together, and
my card did not precede me into Moore's sanctum.

The latter was in the library again. The shades and curtains were
drawn tight which accounted for the "not-at-home" look of the windows
from outside. I learned later that he frequently denied himself to
callers, even near acquaintances, unless they came by appointment. His
letter to me had been ignored too long to come under that heading. I
wonder! Would he have refused to see me that night, given a choice?

In my very first step across the library's threshold, I realized
that my battle was to be an even more difficult one than I had feared.

Passing the doorway I entered--physically and consciously
entered--the same field of tension, to call it that, which had
centralized about Alicia at the climax of my previous experience.

It was less masterful than then. There was not the same drain on
my physical strength, nor the feeling of being in harmony with the
movements of others. But the condition was none the less present; I
knew it as surely and actually as one recognizes a marked change in
atmospheric temperature or, to use a closer simile, as one feels entry
into the radius of electrical force produced by a certain type of
powerful generator.

There are no words which will exactly express what I mean. The
consciousness involved is other than normal, and only a person who had
been possessed by it could fully understand.

On that first occasion, I had been sure that my impressions were
shared by the others present. This time some minutes passed before I
became convinced that Berquist and James Moore, at least, were
insensitive to the condition.

The library appeared as I had seen it first, save that the lamp
broken then had been replaced by another, with a Japanese "art" shade
made of painted silk. Near the large reading-table, with the lamp, a
small stand had been drawn up and a chessboard laid on it. In
anticipation of Nils' arrival Moore had been arranging the pieces.
They were red and white ivory men, finely carved. They and the
Japanese lampshade made a glow of exotic color, in the shadow behind
which sat--Alicia, a dim figure, pallid and immobile.

By one of those surface thoughts that flash across moments of
intensity, I noted that Moore was dressed in a gray suit, patterned
with a faint, large check in lighter gray.

Then Moore had recognized me, and the man's pale eyebrows lifted.

"You've brought Barbour?" he said to Nils.

"No," denied my friend. "Met him at the door. How do, Alicia?"

He strode across the room to where Mrs. Moore sat in the shadow.

Under other conditions I should have felt embarrassed. By Moore's
tone and Nils' non-committal response, they placed me as an intruder,
received without even a gloss of welcome for courtesy's sake.

But to me it seemed only strange that they could speak at all in
ordinary tones through this atmosphere of breathless tension. A voice
here, I thought, should be either a shriek or a whisper.

Then Alicia's dry monotone.

"You should have come alone, Nils. You have brought one with you
who is very evil. I know him. He is an eater of lives."

"Dear lady!" protested Nils, half jokingly. "Surely you don't
apply that cannibalistic description to my friend here? He might take
it that way."

"How he takes it is nothing," shrugged Alicia. "There are four of
us here, and there is also a fifth. And I think your friend is more
aware of that than even I."

Moore's previously unenthusiastic face lighted to quick eagerness.
He pounced on Alicia's original phrase like a cat jumping for a mouse.

"An eater of life! Did you say this invisible Fifth Presence is an
'eater of life,' Alicia?"

"I did not," she retorted precisely. "I said an eater of lives.
Everyone does not know that-"

"No, but wait, Alicia. This is really interesting." He turned from
her to us. "There's a particularly horrid old German legend about such
a being." He informed us of it with the air of one imparting some
delightful news. "Give me a German legend always for pure horror, but
this excels the average. _Der verschlingener des Lebeng_--'The
Devourer of Life.' Very interesting. Now the question arises, did
Alicia read that yarn some time in the past, and is this the
subliminal report of it coming out, or does she really sense an alien
force which has entered the room in your company? What's your
impression, Barbour? Have you any? You're psychic yourself--knew it
the first time I saw you. Is anyone here but we four?"

By a great effort, I forced my lips to answer:

"I couldn't say. This--I-"

"Have a chair, Barbour, and take your time." He was all sudden
kindliness the active sort, with a motive behind it, as I knew well
enough now. To him I was not a guest but an experiment. "I haven't a
doubt," he asserted cheerfully, "that you and Alicia sense a presence
that entered with you and which such poor moles as Nils and myself are
blind to. Now don't deny it. Anyone possessing the psychic gift who
denies or tries to smother it is not only unwise but selfish.
Supremely selfish. And it's a curious fact that one powerful psychic
will often bring out the undeveloped potentialities in another. Alicia
may have already done that for you. When you were here before-"

"That will do!" Abruptly deserting Alicia, Nils strode down upon
us. There was wrath in every line of his dark face. "Jimmy, that boy
is my friend! If he has 'Psychic potentialities,' as you call it, let
'em alone. He doesn't wish to develop into a ghost-ridden, hysterical,
semi-human monstrosity, with one foot in this world and the other
across the border."

"Really," drawled Moore, "that description runs beyond even the
insolence I've learned to expect from you, Berquist. My wife is a
psychic."

Nils was not too easily crushed, but this time he had brought
confusion on himself. "Ghost-ridden, hysterical, semi-human
monstrosity" may have been an excellent description of Alicia. It is
certain, however, that Nils-had forgotten her when he voiced it. He
flushed to the ears and stammered through an apology, to which Moore
listened in grim silence.

Then Alicia spoke, with her customary dry directness.

"I am not offended. My guides do not like you, Nils, but that is
because your opposition interferes with the work. Personally I like
you for speaking frankly always. Take your unfortunate young friend,
Mr. Barbour, and go away now.'

"Alicia!" Moore was half pleading, half-indignant. "You agreed
with me that Barbour had possibilities of mediumship almost as great
as your own. And yet you send him away. Think of the work."

"I tried to send him away the first time." From beyond the lamp
Alicia's enormous eyes glinted mockingly at her husband. "You
believed," she went on, "that Mr. Barbour was naturally psychic, but
undeveloped. Many times, we have disagreed in similar cases. Your
theory that more than half the human race might, properly trained, be
sensitive to the etheric vibrations of astral and spiritual beings is
true enough."

"Then why did you-"

"Don't argue, James. That tires me. I say that your belief is
correct. But I have told you and, through me, my guides have told you
that not everyone who is a natural sensitive is worthy of being
developed."

"I consulted you"--Moore's voice trembled with suppressed
irritation--"I consulted you, and you-"

"I said that a tremendous psychic possibility enveloped Mr.
Barbour. That was true. Had I told you that the possibility was evil,
that would have been equally true. But you would not have yielded to
my judgment, and sent him away--as I tried to do."

"Alicia," cried her husband, "are we never to have any clear
understandings?"

"Possibly not," she said, with cool indifference. "I am--what I
am. Also I am a channel for all forces, good or evil. My guides
protect me, of course. They will not let any bad spirit harm me. But I
think Mr. Barbour was not glad that he stayed when I wished him to go.
He has come back to me for help. I am not sure that I wish to help
him. It was a long time before I was rested from my first struggle
with the One he is afraid of."

Nils made an impatient movement. "I don't believe Clay needs any
help except--pardon me, Alicia--except to keep away from this house
and you."

"Then why did he return here?"

"Because," interpolated Moore, with a scowl for Nils, "he grew
interested in his own possibilities. This attempt to frighten him is
not only absurd, but the worst thing possible for him. Of course the
invisible forces are of different kinds, and of course some of them
are inimical. But fear is the only dangerous weapon they have. If they
can't frighten you, they can't harm you."

"Alicia," cut in Nils, "seems to disagree there."

"Alicia does agree. She inclines to repel the so-called evil
beings, not from fear of them, but because they are more apt to
trespass than the friendlier powers. They demand too much of her
strength. In consequence, I have had an insufficient opportunity to
study them. If Barbour is psychic--and I should say that he very
obviously is--then his strength, combined with Alicia's, should be
great enough for almost any strain. You are interfering here,
Berquist. I won't have it. I--will--not--have--it."

"And my friend is to be sacrificed so that you may study
demonology?"

"Berquist, I have nothing to do with demons or daevas, devils or
flibbertigibbets. You use the nomenclature of a past age."

"_Verschlingener des Lebens_," quoted Nils quickly. "You didn't
boggle over nomenclature when Alicia warned us that an 'eater of life'
was present."

"Oh, give me patience!" groaned Moore. "I try to trace a
reference, and you--" He broke off and wheeled to the small, shadowy
figure beyond the lamplight. "Alicia, exactly what did you mean when
you said that an 'eater of lives' had entered the room? You can put us
straight there, at least."

"I meant," drawled Alicia, "one of those quaint, harmless beings
whom you are so anxious to study at anybody's expense. Not a demon,
certainly, in the sense that Nils means. But not company I care for,
either. No, I am not afraid of this one. He has the strength of an
enormous greed--of a dead spirit who covets life--but he will not trap
me again into lending my strength to his purpose.

"His! Whose? Do be plain for once, Alicia."

"I try to be," she retorted composedly. "I could give him a name
that one of you at least would recognize. But that would please him
too well. There is power in a name. Everyone does not know that, nor
how to use it. This one does. He bears his name written across his
forehead. He wills that I shall see it and speak it now. Once he
surprised me into speaking it, but that was Mr. Barbour's fault. He
threw me off balance at a critical moment by turning on the lights.
You have probably forgotten the name I spoke then, but I doubt if Mr.
Barbour has forgotten. This one whom I refuse to name has no power
over me. I have many friends among the living dead who protect me from
such dead spirits as this one-"

"Just a minute, Alicia!" Moore was exaggeratedly patient. "I can
believe in a dead body, and through you I've come to believe in live
spirits, disembodied. But a dead spirit! That would be like an
extinguished flame. It would have no existence."

She shook her head. "Please don't argue, James, You know that
tires me. A spirit cannot perish. But a spirit may die, and having
died, exist in death eternal. There is life eternal and there is death
eternal. There are the living spirits of the so-called dead. They are
many, and harmless. My guides are of their number. Also there are dead
spirits. They are the ones to beware of, because they covet life. Such
a one is he whom I called 'an eater of lives,' and who is better known
to Mr. Barbour than to me. That is not my fault, however, and now I
wish no more to do with any of it. I must insist, James, that you ask
Mr. Barbour to leave. In fact, if he remains in the house five minutes
longer I shall go out of it."

Her strange eyes opened suddenly till a gleam of white was plainly
visible all around the wide blackness of them. Her porcelain, doll-
like placidity vanished in an instant.

"Make him go!" she cried. "I tell you, there is an evil in this
room which is accumulating force every moment. I tell you, something
bad is coming. Bad! Do you hear me? And I won't be involved in it. I
won't! I won't!"

Her voice rose to a querulous shriek. A spasm twitched every
feature. And then she had sunk back in her chair with drooped lids.

"Bad!" she murmured softly.



CHAPTER IX



"YOU will have to go, Barbour," said Moore heavily. "I am sorry,
but there are occasions when Alicia must be humored. This seems to be
one of them. Unfortunate. Very--unfortunate. Perhaps another time-"

He paused and glanced suggestively toward the door.

All the while that they had argued and quarreled over me, I had
sat as apparently passive as the clay figure to which I had once
compared Alicia. It was, however, the passivity not of inertia, but of
high-keyed endurance. What Alicia felt I don't know. If it was
anything like the strain I suffered under, I can't wonder that she
wished to be rid of me.

"Another time," said Moore, and looked toward the door.

I rose. Instantly Berquist was beside me. He took my arm--tried to
draw me away--out of the room.

I shook him off. When I moved it was toward Alicia. Before either
Moore or Nils realized my objective, I was halfway around the table.
Alicia, her eyes still closed, moaned softly. She cried out, and
thrust forth her hands in a resisting motion:

"Stop!"

That was Moore's voice; but it was not for his sharp command that
I halted. There was--it was as if a wall had risen between Alicia and
me. Or as, if her out-stretched hands were against my chest, holding
me back. Yet there was a space of at least two yards between us.

"What do you want, Barbour?" demanded' Moore roughly. "I said you
would have to go!"

"I wish," I forced out, "to make her undo what she has done to
me!"

"Then I was right!" cried Berquist indignantly.

I stood still, swept by wave upon wave of the force that willed to
absorb me. The past weeks had trained me for such a struggle. Though
the face of the Fifth Presence remained invisible, its identity with
the intangible power I fought was clear enough to me--and I hated the
face! I repulsed the enveloping consciousness of it as one strives to
fling off a loathsome caress.

While I stood there, blind, silent, at war, Berquist continued:

"Now I know that I was right! Jimmy, you have let this boy suffer
in some way that I neither understand nor wish wholly to understand.
But believe me, you'll answer for it. Clay, lad, come away. You are
courting disaster here. Alicia can't help you. She is a poor slave and
tool for any force that would use her. Why, the very atmosphere of
this house is contagious. Psychic. Many people are immune. Moore is
immune. But I tell you, there has been more than one time when I have
resolutely shut my senses against the influence, or Alicia would have
dragged me into her own field of abnormal and accursed perceptiveness.
It's because I resist that they won't have me at a seance. Come away!"

"No!" They could not guess, of course that I spoke from out a
swimming darkness, slashed with streaks of scarlet. "No!" I muttered
again. "This woman here--she can help me. She shall help me! Moore,
I'll wring your neck if you don't make her help me."

Through the swimming scarlet-slashed gloom I drove forward another
step. Came a rush of motion. There was a vast, muffled sound as of
beating wings. A trumpet-like, voice cried out loudly: "I'll settle
with you once for all!" it shouted. And then something had thrust in
between Alicia and me.

Instantly the gloom lifted.

There at my right hand was the large table, with the shaded lamp
and the boots and papers strewn over it. To my left the massive, empty
chair in which Alicia was wont to be imprisoned during a seance.

Beyond that hung the straight, black folds of the curtains which
concealed the cabinet.

Though I turned my head to neither side, I saw all these things as
though looking directly at them. And also, with even more unusual
distinctness, I saw what was straight ahead of me.

Between me and Alicia the figure of a man had sprung into sudden
existence. In no way did this figure suggest the ghostly form one
might expect from what is called "materialization." The man was real--
solid.

He was of stocky, but not very powerful build. He was dressed in
gray. His face--ah! Only once before had I seen this man's face with
open gaze. But many times it had haunted my closed lids!

Smooth, boyish, pleasant, with smiling lips and clear, light-blue
eyes--my own eyes, save that the amused gleam in them did not express
a boy's unsophisticated humor.

Not a bodiless face this time, afloat in mid-air or lurking behind
my lids. This was the man himself--the whole, solid, flesh-and-blood
man!

I could not doubt that he was real. His hand caught my arm--
roughly for all that amiable gentleness the face expressed. I felt the
clutching fingers tight and heavy. He clutched and at the same time
smiled, sweetly, amusedly. Clutched and smiled.

"Serapion!" I whispered. And "Serapion!"

His smile grew a trifle brighter. His clutch tightened. But I was
no longer afraid of him. The very strain I had been under flung me
suddenly to a height of exalted courage. Instinctive loathing climaxed
in rebellion.

He clasped my left arm tight. My right was free. I had no weapon,
but caught up from the table a thing that served as one.

And even as I did it, that clear side vision I have referred to
beheld a singular happening. As my head grew hot with a rush of
exultant blood, something came flying out through the curtains of the
cabinet.

It was bright scarlet in color, and about the size of a pigeon or
small hawk. I am not sure that it had the shape of a bird. The size
and the peculiarly brilliant scarlet of it are all I am sure of.

This red thing flashed out of the cabinet, darted across the room,
passing chest-high through the narrow space between the suddenly--
embodied Fifth Presence and myself and vanished.

I heard Alicia crying: "Bad--bad! It has come!"

And then, in all the young strength of my right arm, I struck at
the Fifth Presence. My aim was the face I hated. The weapon--a queer
enough one, but efficient, sank deep, deep-buried half its length in
one of those smiling, light-blue eyes.

He let go my arm and dashed his hand to his face. The weapon
remained in the wound. From around it, even before my victim fell,
blood gushed out--scarlet--scarlet. Below the edge of his clutching
hand that would clutch me no more I could see his mouth, and--Heaven
help me!--the lips of it smiled--still.

Then he had writhed and crumpled down in a loose gray heap at my
feet.

"Barbour! For mercy's sake!"

The man I struck had sunk without a sound. That hoarse, harsh
shout came from Nils. Next instant his powerful arm sent me spinning
half across the room. I didn't care. He dropped to his knees. When he
tried to straighten the gray heap, his hands were instantly bright
with the grim color that had been the flying scarlet things.

But I didn't care!

I had killed him--it! The Fifth Presence had dared embody itself
in flesh and I had slain it!

Nils had the body straight now, face upward. The light of the lamp
beat down. Creeping tiptoe, I came to peer over Nils' shoulder. The
lips. Did they still smile?

Then--

But there is an extremity of feeling with which words are
inadequate to deal. Leave my emotions and let me state here bare
facts.

The gray suit in which I had seen the Fifth Presence clothed was
the same faintly checked light suit I had wondered at Moore's wearing
in November.

And the face there in the lamplight, contorted, ashen, blood-
smeared, was the face of James Barton Moore!

Though I had a few obscure after memories of loud talking, of blue
uniforms that crowded in around me, of going downstairs and out into
open air, of being pushed into a clumsy vehicle of some kind, and of
interminable riding through a night cold and sharply white with snow,
all the real consciousness of me hovered in a timeless, spaceless
agony, whereby it could neither reason nor take right account of these
impressions.

Thrust in a cell at last, I must have lain down and, from pure
weariness of pain, fallen asleep. Shortly after dawn, however, I awoke
to a dreary, clear-headed cognizance of facts. I knew I had killed.

When I threatened, Moore had sprung in between me and his wife,
intending, no doubt with that hot temper of his, to put me violently
from the house. His physical intervention had stocked me out of the
shadows, then rapidly closing in, and the Fifth Presence had chosen
that opportunity for its most ghastly trick.

The face I had struck at was a wraith--a vision. My weapon--one of
those paper files that are made with a heavy bronze base and an
upright, murderously sharp-pointed rod--had gone home in the real face
behind. Instead of slaying an embodied ghost--a madman's dream--I had
murdered a living man!

Last night the killing and the atrocious manner of it had been
enough. This morning, thought had a wider scope. I perceived that the
isolated horror of the act itself was less than all. I must now take
up the heavy burden of consequences.

The hard bed on which I lay, the narrow walls and the bars that
encompassed me--these were symbols by which I foreread my fate.

I, Clayton Barbour, was a murderer. In that gray, early clear-
headedness I made no bones about the word or fact.

True, I had been tricked, trapped into murder; but who would
believe that? Alicia--perhaps. And how would Alicia's weird testimony
be received in a court of justice, even should she prove willing to
give it?

I perceived that I was finished--done for. Life as I was familiar
with it had already ended, and the short, ugly course that remained to
be run would end soon enough.

Then for the first time I learned what the love of life is. Life--
not as consciousness, nor a state of being, nor a thought; but the
warm, precious thing we are born to and carry lightly till the time of
its loss is upon us.

Afterward? What were dim afterwards to me? Grant that I, of all
men, had reason to know that the dying body cast forth its spirit as a
persistent entity. Grant that the shadow of ourselves survived the
flesh. That was not life!

Let me grow old in life, till its vital flood ran low, and its
blood thinned, and its flesh shriveled, and weariness came to release
me from desire, Then, perhaps, I should be glad of that leap into the
cold world of shadows. Now--now--I was young.

The injustice of it! I sprang up, driven to express revolt in
action. For lack of a better outlet, I beat with closed fists against
the wall--the bars. A lumpish, besotted creature in the cell next to
mine roused and snarled like a beast at the noise.

Presently one of the keepers came tramping along the narrow alley
between wall and cages.

I had retreated a little from the bars. I was not sure how this
warder would look at me, a murderer. My new character was strange to
me. Instinctively I shrank from being seen in it.

He peered through.

"C'm here!" he hissed softly. Puzzled, I moved nearer. "Take
this!"

Then I saw that through one of the square apertures of cross-
grating a folded bit of paper had been thrust. I drew it through to my
side, though with no notion of what it could be. The man drew off
again.

"I'll see that ya get some coffee, Barbour," he said, in a loud,
offhand voice. "Morning, Mike! Early, ain't ya?" He turned to me
again. "This here's Mike Megonigle. Slip him a dollar fer me as ya
pass out, an' then ya won't owe me nothin'."

A red-faced, bull-necked individual had tramped into view. He
stared heavily from my grating to the night warder and back again.

"Is all right, Mike," the latter asserted. "This here's Mr.
Barbour. Pal of his croaked a guy last night. Barbour ain't
implicated. Just a witness. He'll be getting his bond pretty quick,
and when he goes out you collect that dollar for me, Mike. Can't
afford to lose that dollar--not me, huh?"

He winked jovially in my direction, waved a hand on one finger of
which was something which glittered brightly, and was gone. The other
guard grunted, stared after him for a long minute, and moved on up the
passage, still speechless and shaking his head in a slow, puzzled
manner, like a bewildered ox.

But his bewilderment could not have been so great as my own. The
thing that glittered on the night-guard's finger had attracted my
attention before he waved it. It was a ring that had a strangely
familiar look. The setting was an oval bit of lapis lazuli, cut flat,
incised with a tin device the scrolls of which had been filled with
gold, and surrounded by small diamonds.

Nils Berquist wore a ring like that. It was the one possession I
had ever known him to prize, and that was because it had been in his
family for generations. It was very old, and different from modern
rings.

A duplicate? Nonsense! Why was that warder wearing Nils' ring--and
what had he meant by describing me as a "witness"?

But I think some of the truth had begun to dawn on me even before
I unfolded the paper that had been thrust through my grate. The inner
side carried a lead-pencil scrawl, written in French. As the light in
the cell was bad, and Berquist's handwriting worse, I had more than a
little trouble in deciphering it.

I had read it all, however, before the return of the night-
warder--that superbly corrupt official who took a bribe to deliver a
message, honestly delivered it, and thereafter brazenly wore the bribe
about his duties. He returned with some coffee. I was face down on the
shelf that served for a bed. He rattled the grate, spoke, and as I
didn't answer shoved the coffee under the door and went off--
whistling, I fancy.

I couldn't have spoken to him if I had wished, because I was
crying like a girl. The reaction from friendless solitude in a world
made new and terrible had hit me just that way. It was not that I
meant to accept Nils' sacrifice. I had not thought about the practical
side of it yet. But to discover that a man who had actually seen me do
that awful thing, in spite of it remained my friend and loyal to the
amazing degree of taking the burden on himself--that changed the world
round again, some way, and made it almost right again.

Why, the mere fact that Nils could think of me without abhorrence
was enough! It restored to me all the love and friendship that had
been mine and from which last night's deed had seemed to irrevocably
cut me off.

If Nils, then those nearer and dearer than Nils--Roberta--But
there I halted and cringed back. That way there loomed a dreadful and
inevitable loss. Let contemplation of it wait awhile.

With wet eyes I sat up and again held Nils' message in the barred
light that fell through the grating. He had protected his meaning by
using a safer language than English--safe from the warder, at least--
and couching it in terms whose real import would be obscure if it fell
into other hands. At that his sacrifice was endangered in the sending,
but not so much as by leaving me to blurt out the truth unwarned:

My dear Friend:

This to you, who last night were past understanding. May the
morning have brought you a clear Mind. I take the chance and write. I
killed James Moore. Understand me when I say this. He struck at me,
but I wrested away the weapon and killed in self-defense and not in
intent.

There followed a rather circumstantial account of his supposed
struggle with Moore. Nils' brain had not been numbed last night, like
mine. Into this story which he had made for us both to tell he had
fitted the least possible fiction. Questioned on details up to almost
the moment of Moore's death, we had only to stick to the truth and we
could not disagree. It was a clever--a noble lie that he had arranged.

You will bear witness to all this, and they will not convict me of
murder. Alicia Moore had fainted. She did not witness Moore's death. I
rely on you, therefore, as my sole witness. And it is fortunate that
Moore in his anger turned not on you, but attacked me! I know you,
dear friend, and that you would take my place--and bear all for me, if
that were possible. But I have not one in the world, save you, to
suffer the anguish for my trouble. I have little to lose.

Not for your own sake, then, but for the sake of those to whom you
are all--for the sake of her whose life-happiness rests with you to
hold sacred or shatter, I commend you--to be glad that I and not you
have this to go through with. For that I shall not think the less of
you. I only ask that in your heart I beheld always as a friend.

Nils Berquist

To accept would be dishonor unthinkable.

Even the weight of the thinly veiled argument he put forward must
be outbalanced by the shame of allowing an innocent man to risk the
most disgraceful of deaths in my stead. I could not accept, yet though
I died, the wonder of Nils Berquist's attempted loyalty should go with
me--out there!

Out there! Into that dim, guessed--at coldness, with its shadowy,
mocking inhabitants.

"You are right!" said a voice. "That world is to yours as the
shadow to reality. But why cast the real life away?"

Had one of the warders entered my cell and addressed me, his voice
could have echoed no more distinctly in my brain. Before I looked up,
however, I knew what I should see. When, raising my own eyes, they met
those clear, light-blue ones, I felt no surprise.

There floated the face, bodiless again, but aside from that with
an appearance of substantiality which equaled--it could not exceed--
that of its last tragic visitation. The undimensional flatness had
given way to the solidly modeled curves of living flesh.

The point of my improvised weapon, however, had left not even a
mark on the face it was meant for. That material aspect was false.
Though I hated him now with an added loathing, I had learned bitterly
that combat with him must be on other than physical ground. I sat
sternly quiet, hoping that if I did not answer, the presence would
vanish.

"Your violent temper," he continued pleasantly, but with a trace
of kindly reproach, "has placed you in danger. Fortunately we--you and
I--are not as other men. We need not be overborne. Tell me, which of
all the forces that influence life is the strongest?"

"Hate!" Springing erect, I thrust forward till my face almost
touched that of the Presence. "Such hate as I feel for you!"

He did not retreat. I could--I could almost have sworn that I felt
the warmth of his flesh close to mine!

"Aw-w-w-w-, cut it out!" wailed the dweller in the next cell.
"Ain't yer never goin' ter let a guy git his beauty sleep?"

"You need not speak so loud," smiled the face. "And I would
suggest that you sit down. Consider the feelings of others!
Consideration is a beautiful quality, and well worth cultivating.
Speech between you and me need disturb no one. It can be silent as
thought, for it is thought--my thought to yours. Sit down!"

A sudden weakening of the knees made me obey him. Revilings I
could have withstood; curses, or threats of evil. But there was an
awful sweetness and beauty in the face--a calm assurance about his
preaching phrases--that frightened me as threats could not have done.
Could it be that I had misjudged this serene being from beyond the
border?

Then I looked in his eyes and knew that I had not. They were too
like my own! I understood them. Another he might have deceived, but
never me.

"Hate," he continued, in his placid, leisurely manner, "is a
futile, boomerang force that invariably reacts on itself. It is the
scorpion among forces, stinging itself to destruction. No; I did not
come here to preach. You understand now that I spoke the truth and can
read your unvoiced thoughts with perfect readiness. Our conversations
are thus safe from eavesdroppers. As I was saying, hate is its own
enemy and the enemy of life. There is but one invincible power,
offered by God to man, and which God has commanded man to use."

"You mean-"

"Love! Armored in love, your life will be a sacred, guarded joy to
you. Believe me! I am far older than I appear, and wiser than I am
old. Guided by me, guarded by love, you have a beautiful future at
your command."

"Begun with murder!" I snarled.

The Presence beamed patiently upon me. "That was a mistake. Don't
blame yourself too severely. Blame me, if you like, though I had no
idea that your foolish animosity would bring forth the red impulse of
murder. Yes; we who have passed beyond can commit blunders. I made one
in appearing when I did. Can't we forgive one another and forget?"

"Not while I am in jail for it and facing electrocution!" said I
grimly.

"But you are not. Very shortly you will walk out a free man; under
bond, it is true, but only-"

"Never!" I was on my feet again at that. "Let Nils Berquist suffer
in my place? Never!"

"But he won't suffer! Or at least, not as you would. Come! Trust
all that to me, who can see far, and have a certain power. Won't you
trust me?"

"You mean that you can influence a jury to acquit him?"

"I have power. And think. Would you cast back his friendship in
his face? Would you hurl your father into his grave, killed by horror?
Would you drag your sister--your mother--through the mire of notoriety
that surrounds a criminal? Would you leave them destitute? Would you
stab through the very heart of the girl who loves you? Your friend has
none of these to care. The opprobrium will not hurt him. He is by
nature an isolated soul; and moreover, he is innocent. He has that
strength, and the glory of sacrifice to sustain him. Once free
yourself, you can do much to bring about his release.

"It is well known that Moore had an evil temper. The plea of self-
defense will be borne out by you. Engage a clever legal advisor for
your friend, and in the end your pitiful mistake will have brought
harm to no one except Moore himself, who deserved it. He was a very
selfish, disagreeable man! He was not loved by anyone, even his wife.
What? Oh, leave Alicia out of it, my dear boy. You won't find our
plans upset by her. And now, I should advise that before seekin'
bondsman elsewhere, you telephone to the man whose friendship you have
already won at the bank. Your immediate superior there is a kindly,
good man-"

The presence got no further with his advice. As he had talked,
quietly, soothingly, I had found my thoughts beginning to follow the
smooth current of his. But his reference to Mr. Terne had been another
of those errors to which he claimed even the disembodied were prone.
It had recalled to me that scene in the president's office--Van's
desperate face--and the ignominy into which I had been betrayed.

Repulsion--loathing--surged mightily through my veins again.

"No! No! No! In the name of Heaven, leave me!" I cried aloud. To
my amazed relief the Presence obeyed. He had faded and gone in an
instant--though by the last impression I had of him, he still smiled.

Trembling, I looked down at Nils' letter in my hand.

From the barred grating a shadow was cast upon it, and the form of
that shadow was a cross.



CHAPTER X



AROUND 2 p.m. I was taken before Magistrate Patterson and my bail
set in the sum of thirty-five hundred dollars. Arthur Terne, second
vice president of the Colossus Trust Company, having appeared as my
bondsman, the matter of my liberty pending the inquest, to be held the
following morning, was soon arranged.

I left the court in Mr. Terne's company. Nils Berquist I had not
seen, but was given to understand that he had been remanded without
bail. I had pleaded in vain for a chance to talk with him.

Mr. Terne was kindness personified, though I inferred from one or
two remarks that the Colossus' president was shocked.

The morning papers had featured the affair with blatant headlines.
They had got my name. The Barbour & Hutchinson failure was
resurrected.

The Colossus itself stalked in massive dignity across one column,
irrelevantly capping a "Brutal Slaying in Haunted House," and when I
saw that, I knew that "not pleased" was a mild description for
Vansittart's probable emotions!

The bizarre character of Alicia, the nature of the wound, and the
ghastly inappropriateness of the weapon which effected it, had
appealed to the reportorial fancy with diversely picturesque results.
A plain murder, with no more apparent mystery attached than this one,
would have passed with slight attention. But though Alicia was not a
professional medium, it appeared that she and Moore had a certain
reputation.

In hinting to me of the latter's tempestuous exit from the Psychic
Research Association, Nils had spared mentioning Alicia as the bone of
contention. I now learned that she had been a country girl, the
daughter of a hotel-keeper in a tiny Virginian village, where Moore
had spent two or three autumn weeks.

Discovering in her what he regarded as supernormal powers, he
wished to bring her north for further study. On her father's strangely
objecting to this treatment of his daughter as a specimen, Moore had
settled the difficulty by offering marriage. After the wedding, he did
bring her north, educated her, and finally presented her to the
Association as a prodigy well worth their attention.

Unfortunately, after several remarkable seances, she was convicted
of fraud in flagrant degree. It was through the slightly heated
arguments ensuing that Moore was asked to resign his directorship.

The fantastic dispute had amused the lay-public intermittently
through a dull summer, but I was off in the mountains that year with
Van, and what news we read was mostly on the sporting pages, whither
the pros and cons of spiritualistic debate are not wont to penetrate.
But all that was raked up now, as sauce for the news of Moore's
sensational death, and having acquired a certain personal interest in
spiritualism, I read it.

Following Mr. Terne's advice and my own inclination, I went
straight home. No need to rehearse all I endured that day. Roberta's
smilingly tearful consolations were the worst, I think, though, my
father's: "Clay, son, you are right to stand by your friend!" ran a
close second. He said it because I refused to hear a word against
Nils, and insisted that the fault had not been his. Though I would not
go into the details of what had taken place in Moore's library, I
stuck at that one truth, and Dad, at least, who had taken a fancy to
Nils the evening he dined at our house, believed me.

Altogether, however, it was a bad afternoon, and that night in my
bedroom the face came again. I knew it was he, though the room was
dark and I could not see him clearly. He had become so like as that to
a material being!

"You have done well!" he began. "But, to make one small criticism,
you must learn not to blush so easily. When your father commended your
loyalty you reddened and stammered till, if you had not been among
friends, suspicion might have been roused."

"My confusion only lasted a moment," I defended. Then I
remembered; "You go!"

I said. "What do I want of you and your criticisms or advice? You
have brought me enough unhappiness. I am a sneak and a criminal, and
all through you!"

"Ingratitude is the only real crime," he retorted sententiously.
"Always be grateful, and show it! You have brought unhappiness on
yourself, and it is I who point the way out. So far you have followed
my advice. Why turn on me now?"

"Liar!" I fairly hissed. "If you can read my thoughts, you know
that I have planned otherwise than you would have me. I am doing as
Nils wished without regard to you, and not for the sake of myself. And
let me tell you this! If there arises the slightest prospect that my
friend will not be cleared, I shall confess. Tomorrow will decide it.
If things go badly for him at the inquest, my people will have to
suffer. The shame and loss he is trying to save them from would be
nothing, then, to the shame involved by silence!"

Had the face possessed shoulders, I know he would have shrugged
them.

"You are wrong, but we need not discuss that. I tell you in
advance that your friend will be held for willful murder. Did you know
quite all that I know, you would not hope for a different indictment."

The strings of my heart contracted. I passed a breathless moment
of realization. Then: "Tomorrow I confess!" I said firmly.

"Tomorrow you will choose a lawyer for your friend, and begin the
work which will surely achieve his release."

"You do not know that. You have admitted that you are capable of
mistakes."

"Not in a case of this kind. I possess a wide knowledge of facts
which enables me to be very sure that your friend will get his
release. I am your unswerving ally. And remember that I have not only
wisdom, but some power.

"Oh, you are--leave me!" I cried aloud. "In God's name go!"

The faintly, seen oval of his smooth face faded, though more
slowly than in the cell at the station-house.

I heard a soft swish of slippered feet in the hall. Someone rapped
lightly and opened my door.

"Clay, dear," said my mother, "did you call? Are you ill?"

"No. I had a bad dream and awoke crying out because of it."

"One can't wonder at that." She came and sat on the edge of my
bed. "Such an awful thing for you to be in! Please, dear son, keep to
your own class after this. Trouble always comes of mingling with queer
Bohemian people who have no standards, or--or morals."

"Nils Berquist has the highest standard of any--man I know!" I was
fiercely defensive.

There was a pause of silence. Then in the dark she leaned and
kissed my forehead. "You are so like him!" she murmured.

I groaned. "If only that were true!"

"But you are. With those blue, clear eyes of his, that saw only
beauty and love. He would never hear a word against a friend."

"Mother! You meant that I am like-"

"'Your uncle, yes. And in some strange way I feel sure that his
guarding influence is really about us. Why, when I came into the room
just now I had the queerest feeling--as if it were a room in a dream,
or--no, I can't convey the feeling in words. But the sense of his
presence was in it. I do truly believe that he has returned to guard
us in the midst of so much trouble. At least, it would be like him.
Dear, faithful, loving, lovable Serapion!"

But had my desired obsession, or familiar, or haunting ghost
really desired to help, he might have warned me definitely of Sabina
Cassel.

Alicia did not appear at the inquest. She was ill and under a
physician's care. Her semi-conscious state as reported by him
prevented even the taking of a deposition.

I did not, however, stand alone as star witness before the
coroner's jury. Sabina Cassel, Mrs. Moore's old colored "Mammy" whom
she had brought north with her from Virginia, shared and rather more
than shared the honors with me.

They had taken pains that Nils and I should not meet. He was kept
rigorously incommunicado till the inquest, no one, save the police and
the district attorney, having access to him. At the inquest I caught
only a glimpse of him, when he was led out past where I awaited my
turn before the jury. Involuntarily I sprang up, only to be caught by
a constable's hand, while Nils was hustled out. As he went, he threw
me a glance that was a burning, dictatorial command.

I obeyed it. I told the jury exactly that story which Nils' letter
had outlined for us both. There was tempered steel in Berquist.

I could be sure that no long-drawn torment of inquisition could
make him vary a hairsbreadth from the line he had set for us to
follow.

In my testimony, which preceded Sabina's, I explained that Nils
had objected to my interest in spiritualism, fostered by a single
previous visit to the Moores' place. That he wished me to leave the
house with him, and that Alicia also had seemed set against my
remaining. That an argument ensued, at the height of which Moore
became very angry and excited, shouted: "I'll settle with you, once
for all!" and came around the table toward Berquist.

"He grasped Berquist's arm," I said.

"When my friend tried to free himself, Moore snatched the--the
file from the table. I saw Berquist seize Moore's wrist. They
struggled a moment, and then Moore staggered away--with his hands to
his face. Then--he fell down. Berquist called to me, and, no, I had
not tried to interfere. It all happened too quickly. There wasn't
time. After Berquist wrenched the file from Moore's hand I don't
believe he struck at Moore. I think the file was driven into his eye
by an accident."

That surmise, of course, was struck from the record; but I had
said it, at least, and hoped it impressed the jury.

"Afterward, the--the sight of blood and the suddenness of it all
turned me sick--no, my recollections were clear up to that time."

And so forth. It was a straight story. I knew it agreed to a hair
with Nils' confession.

What I did not, could not know, was that it varied in one
essential detail from an entirely different confession--a confession
made by a person whom we had not considered as an even possible eye-
witness, and whose very existence I, at least, had forgotten.

Given that a second eyewitness existed, one would have supposed
that the disagreement would have been over the slayer's identity. It
was not. By a curious trick of fate, Sabina Cassel, Alicia's old
colored maid, did undoubtedly see me strike Moore down, and yet, not
through such a super-normal illusion as caused me to kill Moore, but
in a perfectly natural manner, she had confused Berquist's identity
with mine. She related as having been done by Berquist that which had
been done by me.

In one detail only did Sabina's testimony conflict with ours, but
that was the kind of detail which would hang a man, if its truth were
established.

She had seen me--Berquist by her own account--snatch the file from
the table and strike Moore, and she had seen me do it on no further
provocation than the laying of Moore's hand on my arm.

The Fifth Presence was right when he foretold that Nils would be
indicted.

And yet, though things had indeed gone ill for Nils at the
inquest, I did not at once carry out my expressed intention and
substitute myself for him as defendant.

I didn't wish to die, nor spend years in prison. I wanted to live
and have a decent, straight, pleasant future ahead, such as I had been
brought up to expect as a right. It seemed to me that just one way lay
open. Though Nils was now entirely at my mercy, only his untrammeled
acquittal would give me the moral freedom to keep silent. For that a
first-class lawyer was an absolute necessity.

Berquist was practically penniless, and the Barbour exchequer in
not much better state. Here again, however, friendship came to the
fore in a curiously impressive manner. For the sake of an old
acquaintance and some ancient friendly claim that my father had on
him, none other than Helidore Mark, of Mark, Mark & Orlow, who could
have termed himself Mark the famous and not lied.

I remember my fast interview with him after dad had--to me almost
incredibly--persuaded him into alliance. My first impression was of a
mild-looking, smallish man, with a scrubby mustache. He had hurt the
top of his bald head in some way, so that it was crossed with a fair-
sized hillock of adhesive plaster. I thought that added to
insignificant appearance; but he had the brightest, softly brown eyes
I have ever seen, and after the first few minutes I was afraid of him.

I was afraid that I would tell him too much.

My confidence, however, proved not the easily uprooted kind of a
common criminal, and for Nils the acquisition of this famous,
insignificant looking lawyer gave me the only real hope of assurance I
had through those bad days.

"Your friend," Mark had said to me, "is a rather wonderful young
man; Barbour. I can't blame you for being troubled. He has the kind of
intelligence that would make a legal genius of him, if he had turned
his efforts in that direction. A wonderful intelligence--and all lost
in a maze of impractical theorizing and the sort of dreams that can't
come true so long as men are men, and women are women, Heaven help us
all! He shan't go to the chair, nor prison, either. He's my man, my
case, and--yes, I'll say my friend, though I don't run to sudden
enthusiasm. Leave Berquist to me!"

Evidently, Mark's consultations with his case had not been kept
within strictly professional bounds. I smiled involuntarily. I could
picture that long dark face of Nils lighting to alert interest as he
discovered that Mark was not merely the lawyer who might save him from
martyrdom, but also a thinking man. He must have brought out a side of
the little man that was kept carefully submerged at ordinary times. I
am sure that few people had seen Helidore Mark inclined to dilatory
wanderings in philosophy, such as Nils loved.

But I went out with a lighter heart and more optimism than I had
carried in some time. Mark, with his "my man, my case, my friend!" had
installed a confidence which remained with me all that day.

I had returned to the bank, for though I walked in the Valley of
the Shadow, while I could walk I must work.

So Mr. Terne had me back again, and it was a very good thing that
I had Mr. Terne to go back to. Not many men would have put up with the
abstracted attention my work received, nor patiently picked up the
slack of details I let go by me.

His patience had a characteristic reason behind it, which I was
sure of from the minute he told me about poor Van.

The latter, it seemed, had really gone the step too far with his
father in the affair of Mr. Terne's four hundred. Vansittart, Sr.,
would let no one speak of his son to him after that day. Everyone in
the bank, however, knew that he had quarreled with him, disowned him,
and that Van, in a fit of temper, had refused the offer of a last
money settlement--a couple of thousand only, it was said--flung out of
the Colossus, and walked off, leaving the gray roadster forlorn by the
curb.

No one knew where Van had gone after that. He had simply vanished,
saying no goodbyes, and taking nothing with him but the clothes he
wore.

Mr. Terne felt guilty because it was his complaint which had
caused the final rupture. He liked me, anyway, but having, as he
believed, ruined Van, he showed an added consideration for me which
developed into an almost absurd tenderness for my feelings.

He needed that, if I was to be kept on the tracks at all those
days. I was nervous as a cat, and ready to jump at the creak of a
door.

Roberta would watch me with wide, troubled eyes, and because a
question was in them I would grow irritable and fling off and leave
her with almost brutal abruptness. And always she forgave me--till I
came near wishing she would forgive less easily.

Cathy resented my new irritability with the merciless justice of a
sister; mother endured my anxiety for Nils only because it proved I
was like "dear Serapion," and dad harped on his pride in me for
"standing by" till I really dreaded to go near him.

As for the Fifth Presence, he remained detestably faithful.
Several times I explained to him that if Nils were not cleared I
intended to confess. When he only continued to smile, I ceased talking
to him.

He still came, however, and on the very night before the trial
opened, the last thing of which I was conscious, dropping asleep, was
his smooth, persuasive, hateful, silent voice. As ever, it was
expressing the platitudinous--and always subtly evil--advice to which
habit had so accustomed me that it had grown very hard indeed to
distinguish his speech from my thoughts!



CHAPTER XI



WHEN a murderer--for I named myself--is called to confront across
some feet of court-room the innocent man standing trial in his stead,
he needs all his nerve and a bit more to keep steady under the
questioning of even a friendly and considerate counsel.

In fact, I was strangely more afraid of Mark than of District
Attorney Clemens. I might, however, have spared myself there.

The impaneling of the Jury had been a battle-royal between Mark
and Clemens, at which I was not present, but which had roused the
newspaper men to gloating anticipation (the real battle to follow).

Then Mark became ill--dropped out!

I could hardly believe it when Orlow, his junior associate, met me
on the first day of the trial, and broke the news. A brain tumor
caused by the injury.

Had it not been for Mark, I told myself, I would never have let
Nils Berquist go to trial. Should I allow it to go on now, with our
best hope hors de combat?

The second Mark, Helidore's brother, was in Europe, and Orlow,
while brilliant in his fashion, was not a man to impress juries. His
genius lay in the hunting out of technical refinements of law,
'ammunition,' as it were, for the batteries which had brought rage to
the heart of more than one district attorney.

When he arose presently in court and asked for a delay in
proceedings, Clemens' eye lighted. When Mr. Justice Ballington refused
the request--a foregone conclusion, because Mark, admittedly, was in
too serious a condition for the delay even to be measured--Clemens
lowered his head suddenly. It might have been grief for his
adversaries' misfortune--or, again, it might not.

Where I sat with other witnesses, I was intensely conscious of an
absurd, brilliantly veiled little figure, two chairs behind me.

This was my first glimpse of Alicia, since the night of Berquist's
arrest. Though I knew Mark had been granted at least two interviews
with her, me she had resolutely refused to receive.

Now I was relieved to find that her nearness brought no return of
the supernormal influence I had suffered before in her vicinity.

She sat stiffly upright, and did not glance once in my direction.
Perhaps her 'guides' had advised her to don that awful veil of
protecting purple for this occasion, or she may have worn it as a
tribute to her husband's memory. It certainly gave her a more unusual
appearance than would a crape blackness behind which a newly made
widow is wont to hide her grief.

At her side towered the large form of Sabina Cassel.

The trial opened.

One Dr. Frick appeared on the stand, and in elaborate
incomprehensibility described in surgical terms the wound which had
caused Moore's death. I saw him handling a small, hideous object--
gesturing with it to show exactly how it had been misused to a deadly
purpose.

Then for several minutes I didn't see anything more. Luckily all
eyes in the courtroom were on either the doctor or the "murderer."
Nobody was watching me.

The doctor's demonstration seemed to prove rather conclusively
that my "accident" hypothesis was impossible. The file, he showed,
could have been driven into the brain only by a direct blow.

Dr. Frick was allowed to stand down.

In establishing the offense, Clemens saw fit to call Alicia
herself.

As her mistress arose, Sabina's massive bulk stirred uneasily, as
if she would have followed her to the stand.

At the inquest, the old colored woman's testimony had done more
than cause Nils' indictment for murder. It had made a public and very
popular jest of Alicia's claim to intercourse with "spirits." But
though, in the first flush of excitement over Moore's death, Sabina
had betrayed her, the woman was loyal to her mistress. When a murmur
that was almost a titter swept the packed audience outside the rail.
Sabina shook her head angrily, muttering to herself.

The audience hoped much of Alicia, and its keen humor was not
entirely disappointed. No sooner had she appeared than an argument
began about her preposterously brilliant veil. The court insisted that
it should be raised. Alicia firmly declined to oblige. She had to give
in finally, of course, and when that peaked, white face with its
strange eyes was exposed, the hydra beyond the rail doubtless felt
further rewarded.

The hydra believed her a fraud. They had reason. I, with greater
reason, understood and pitied her!

I thought she might break down on the stand. Alicia's character,
however, was a complicated affair that set her outside the common run
of behavior. To Clemens' questions she replied with sphinx-like
impassivity and the precision of a machine.

Her answers only confirmed Nils' story and mine to a certain
point, and stopped there. There was not a word of "sprits" nor
"guides;" not a hint of any influence more evil than common human
passions; not a suggestion, even that she had formed an opinion as to
which man, slayer or slain, was the first aggressor. I am sure that a
more reserved and non-committal widow than Alicia never took the stand
at the trial of her husband's supposed murderer.

"James," she said, "wished Mr. Barbour to remain. Mr. Berquist
wished him to leave. They argued. No, I should not have called the
argument a quarrel--I did not see Mr. Berquist strike James. While
they were talking I lost consciousness of material surroundings. Yes,
my loss of consciousness could be called a faint. The argument was not
violent enough to frighten me into fainting. Yes, there was a reason
for my losing consciousness. I lost consciousness because I felt
faint, I was tired. I do that sometimes. Yes, I warned them that
something bad was coming. I couldn't say why. I just had that
impression. I did not see either James or Mr. Berquist assume a
threatening attitude-"

Released at last, she readjusted her purple screen with cold self-
possession, and returned to her seat.

It was Sabina Cassel's next turn. Save in appearance, Alicia had
not after all come up to public anticipations. In Sabina, however, the
hydra was sure of a real treat in store.

Judge Ballington rapped for order. Sabina took her oath with a
scowl. Every line of her face expressed resentment.

But she was intelligent. To Clemens' questions, she gave grim,
bald replies that offered as little grip as possible to public
imagination.

Yes, on the evening in question she had been standing concealed
behind the black curtains of "Miss 'Licia's" cabinet, or "box," as
Sabina called it. No, "Marse James" did not know she was there. Miss
'Licia and she had "fixed it up" so that one could enter the box from
the back. Marse James had the box built with a solid wooden back, like
a wardrobe. It stayed that way--for a while.

"Then Marse James he done got onsatisfied. Yas, de sperits did
wuhk in de box an' come out ob it, too; but Marse James, he ain't
suited yit. He want dem 'sperits shud wuhk all de time! He neber gib
mab poh chile no res'!"

And so Alicia, who, according to Sabina, could sometimes but not
always command her "sperits," devised a means to satiate Moore's
scientific craving for results.

While he was absent in another city, the two conspirators brought
in a carpenter. They had the cabinet removed and a doorway cut through
the plastered wall into a large closet in the next room. By taking off
the cabinet's solid back and hanging it on again, it would just open
neatly into the aperture cut to fit it. Alicia kept plenty of gowns
hung over the opening in the closet beyond.

Returning, Moore found his solid-backed cabinet apparently as
before. From that time, however, the "sperits" were more willing to
oblige than formerly.

_"Ab uno disce omnes,"_ is invariably applied to the medium or
clairvoyant caught in fraud, though translated: "From all fraud, infer
all deceit."

The world laughed over the "spiritualistic fake again exposed!" I
did not laugh.

Let it be that the hand which Roberta and I had seen was Sabina's
gnarled black paw, and that my impression of its unsubstantiality was
a self-delusion. Let those strange little twirling flames that had
arisen pass as the peculiar "fireworks" I had tried to believe them.
Let even the incident of the broken lamp have been a feat of
Sabina's--though how her large, clumsy figure could have stolen out
past the table and into the room unheard was a puzzle--and the
masculine voice wonderful ventriloquism.

Grant all these as deceptions. There had come that to me through
Alicia's unwilling agency which had given me a terrible faith in her,
that no proof of occasional fraud could dispel.

Clemens' interrogations touched lightly on the object of the door
in the cabinet's supposedly solid back, only serving to establish the
fact that it was possible for his witness to have been practically in
the library unknown to all the room's other occupants save, probably,
Alicia.

Then he asked Sabina's story of that night in her own words. She
began it grimly:

"Waal, Ah wuz in behin' de cuhtins dat hangs in front ob Miss
'Licia's box. Dem cuhtins is moderate thin. Ah cudn' see all dey is in
de room, but Ah suttinly cud see all dat pass in front ob de lamp.
Yass, dat whut yoh got in yoh hand am one a dem cuhtins."

Here Clemens checked her, while the "cuhtin," was passed from hand
to through the jury-box. Each juryman momentarily draped himself in
mourning while he assured himself that it was thin enough to be seen
through. Then with solemn nods Exhibit B was restored to the district
attorney. Sabina continued.

"Dese yeah germnen, Mistah Buhquis' and Mistah Bahbour, dey come
in, and right away de argifyin' stahted. Ah kain't tell all dey, say.
Dey use high-falut in', eddicated laniguige what am not familiar toh
me, tho' Lawd knows Ah's done hear enuff ob it 'sence Miss 'Licia come
norff wif Marse James Mooah.

"Dey argifies an' argifies. Mistah Bahbour, he don't say nuffin'
much. But Mistah Buhquis', he specify dey shud bof up'n leave. Miss
'Licia she say mebbe sump'n bad gwine happen purty quick. Marse James,
he say: 'Mistah Bahbour, you go; come back 'notha time.' Mistah
Bahbour, he say no, he doan wanta go, kaze Miss 'Licia c'n mebbe help
him some way. Mistah Buhqus' he go right up in de aih. He specify some
hahm done come ob he fren' stayin roun' deah any longah.

"Mistah Buhquis' he am standin' right alongside de big table wif
de lamp on it. De lamp am behin' him. I see ebery move he make.

"He done muttah sump'n low. Ah don't rightly know what he say, but
it hab a right spiteful, argifyin tone to it.

"'Marse James,' he holler out: 'I fix yoh now foh dat!' an' he
rush obah to Mistah Buhquis' an' lay han' on he arm--No, suh; he
didn't go foh to do Mistah Buhquis' no hahm. Marse James he hab a way
ob talkin' loud an' biggety, but Ah nevab done saw him do no hahm to
nobuddy.

"He grab Mistah Buhquis' lef' arm. Mistah Buhquis', he reach out
he otha' han' and grab sumpn off de table. Marse James don' do nuthn'.
Mistah Buhquis,' he fro back he han' an' hit out wif it real smaht.
Marse James leggo de ahm, clap he han's obah he face, an' sorta lets
go all obah. He jes' crumble down lak.

"Ah knows dat de bad am happen.

"Ah cuddin' git out dat box easy into de room, kaze dey's a table
in it dat reach purty nigh acrost, an' Ah ain't spry to climb ober it.
No, suh; Ah didn't thin to shov de table out de way. Ab cain't think
ob nuffin' but Miss 'Licia. Ah turns roun' an' gits out de back, kaze
Ah wants to git to an mah Miss 'Licia. Ah comes roun' to de hall and
goes in de library. Deah is Mistah Buhquis' stannin' obah Marse James,
he han's all drippin' blood.

"Ah say: 'Yo' done kill him, ain't yoh?'

"He luks all roun' kinda pitiful lak, an' then he say:

"'Yas, Sabina, Ah kill him! Now go fotch de doctah an' some
p'leece!'

"Mistah Buhquis', he am lak lots ob otha high-spirited gernmen. He
don't go foh to kill Marse James, but when Marse James tech him in
anger, he jes' bleeged foh to do it--Das all right! Ah gotta right to
hab mah 'pinion, same as ebryone. Waal, don't put it in de writin'
record, den. Ah don' keer whut yoh does. Das jes' mah 'pinion!

"Yas suh. Ah's suah dat it war Mistah Buhquis' grab de file and
not Marse James. Wall, Marse James, he stann wif he lef' side to de
table. Yas, suh; I cud suah nuff tell which wuz which. Marse James, he
ain't so tall by purty nigh a fut high as Mistah Buhquis'. It am de
tall man who start' wif de right side ag'in' de table who take de file
off'n it. No; Marse James don' try ter do nuffin hurtful to Mistah
Buhquis'. No; dey don' struggle roun' none atall. Dey jes' stan' deah.
Its de Lawd's truf, dat was de mos' onexcitin' killin' Ah hab evah
saw!"

And then Clemens let her go, to the deep disgust of Hydra, outside
the rail. He had not asked what she was doing in the cabinet, nor many
other of the questions which gave an amusing double interest to the
Moore murder. All that, however, was bound to come out in the cross-
examination, and, meantime, Sabina had proved "Clemens' witness" to an
extent which made the case promise well of interest on its tragic
side.

I was not called before the jury until after the noon recess,
which gave me time to think things over a bit more.

At the inquest, I had not actually heard Sabina's testimony.
Though Mark, who interviewed her as well as her mistress, had warned
me that she would prove a difficult antagonist, I had not fully
believed him. She had seemed ill-educated, the type whose average run
are diffuse in their statements and easily muddled into self-
contradiction.

Sabina might prove so under cross-examination, but I doubted it
now. She had wasted hardly a word that morning, and there was only one
point on which I was sure that she could be shaken.

The difference in height between slayer and slain was a strong
point for the prosecution. Even through thin, black curtains it would
indeed have been hard to confuse a tall silhouette with a short one.
But no one had thought to question the identity of the tall
silhouette.

Though Sabina may have known better during the minutes that she
stood staring through the curtains, her after and more vivid sight of
Berquist, hands "dropping blood," and his almost instant claim of the
crime as his own, had served to make the tall man Berquist in all her
memories.

Berquist, the self-confessed!

I had no faith in Orlow. Had Mark not dropped out, I should have
been content to let the trial take its course, sure that his genius
would somehow save the day and free my friend. But under Orlow's
handling, with that craggy, sullen, assured black woman to swear that
Moore was not and could not have been the aggressor--since he stood
with his left side to the table, grasping the tall silhouette with his
right hand, and a man under impulse of passion is not likely to reach
for a weapon with his left--I was morally certain that Berquist would
lose out.

But what if, rising on the stand, instead of a second perjury I
told the simple truth?

Not that portion of it which included the superhuman, but just the
fact that I, and not Berquist, had been swept by one of those sudden
fits of red anger that have made murderers of many before me?

Why, Sabina herself would support my words, once spoken! There was
a little, unnoticed twist in her testimony--a point where the voice of
Berquist, coming from beyond the table, became the voice of the tall
man standing on her side of the lamp.

The instant that I spoke she would know. Her memories,
unconsciously readjusted to fit facts as she had afterward learned
them, would be straight again. Berquist's hidden heroism would stand
revealed, and I, though I died, I would at least die clean.

Resolve crystallized suddenly within me. When Clemens called me to
the stand I would go, not to testify, but to confess.

I walked to the little raised platform, with the chair where the
others had sat, below the double tier of jurymen. I mounted it.
Somebody put a dusty black book under my hand and mumbled through a
slurred rigmarole, to which my low acquiescence was a prelude to ruin
for me. I sat down in the chair.

Beyond the rail was a packed level of faces. They were all pale
and dreary looking, it seemed to me, though that may have been an
effect of light, for the day was gray and dreary. I had returned to
court through falling snow. It was a wet, late spring fall of clinging
flakes, and all the way I had been haunted by a memory of the "dead-
alive" house as I had seen it that night.

Not the interior--not even the library, with its master, a grim
gray and scarlet horror on the floor. But the house itself, desolate
under its white burden, with the great flakes swirling down, hiding
deeper and more deep the line of division between the living hall and
the dead.

Berquist was sitting by a table with Orlow beside him. I had
visited him in prison, of course, and talked with him a few moments
just before the trial opened. His determination and courage had never
swerved, nor his conviction that we had only to keep steady and win.

Now I saw his eyes as a dark and valiant glory fixed on me. Their
message only hardened my resolve. That man to play the martyr for my
sake? Never!

Orlow left Nils, and took his stand conveniently near. He was
there to protect me from irrelevant questions, but he looked quite out
of place. Clearly, the mantle of Helidore Mark did not rest easily on
his shoulders.

The district attorney, a thin, scholarly person whom I
instinctively disliked, began his inquisition.

"Your name, please? Age and occupation?"

"Barbour--Clayton S. Barbour," I corrected myself. "I am-"

"Just a moment. Your full name for the record, please, Mr.
Barbour."

Clemens, who would reserve any attempt to "rattle" me for my
appearance in the rebuttal, was politeness itself.

"Clayton--Serapion Barbour!" I forced out. Then I cursed myself
for not having substituted "Samuel," or left out the initial.

"There's power in a name." Once I would have laughed at that
statement, but not now. Not with my recent memories.

And as God is my witness, I sat there and saw the district
attorney's hatchet-face change, blend, grow smooth and loathsomely
pleasant.

Clemens continued his interrogations, but I spoke to another than
he when I answered them.

The living bound by the dead!



CHAPTER XII



May 15

Mr. C. S. Barbour.

Sir: I am writing to you because my guides advise it. Otherwise I
should not do so. I have returned to my old home in Virginia. The
newspapers were very cruel to me, as you know, and everyone unkind and
harsh and disbelieving.

James understood me. If he had found out about the cabinet, he
would have been annoyed, but he would only have taken more pains after
that to see that all the phenomena were genuine. I can't help doing
such things. It is a part of my nature. James said I was very complex.

In a measure, it is your fault that he left me. I am not vengeful,
however, and I do not hold it against you, because I can very well
guess at what you had to contend with. For some cause that has not yet
been revealed to me--some cause within yourself, I fear--you were and
still are peculiarly open to the attack of _one we know of._

Were yours an ordinary case of obsession, I might have helped. As
it is, I can only offer warning. Whatever there is in you that answers
to him, choke it--crush it back--give it no headway. Above all, do not
obey him. If, as I suspect, you have obeyed in the past, cease now. It
is not yet too late. But if June 9 finds you under his domination you
will never be free again.

You may wonder why I was silent at the trial. You may have thought
that I was ignorant of the truth. This is not so, though I did not
even tell Sabina. To bring the greater criminal to justice was
impossible. For the rest, it was between you and your friend.

Understand, I will not interfere between you and your friend.

My guides say that this is not for me to do. That I must not. That
if one of you wills to sacrifice and the other to accept; not even God
will interfere between you.

But I write particularly to give this message.

Mortal life is cheap, and mortal death an illusion. Beyond and
deeper are Life and Death eternal. Be careful which you choose.

Alicia Moore



CHAPTER XIII



"PLAIN life and death are the only realities. Life eternal--death
eternal! For you and me, those are words, my boy--just words!"

It was dusk in my room. I sat on the edge of the bed, chin in
hands, staring at the inevitable companion of my solitude. At my feet
lay the scattered sheets of Alicia's letter, scrawled over in a large,
childish hand. The outside world was bright with an afterglow of the
departed sun. But gray dusk was in my room.

"Just words," repeated the face.

"Just words," I said after him dully. Then, at a thought, I roused
a trifle. "He won't go through with it. Even Nils Berquist can't be
willing to die without a protest--and for such a crawling puppy as
would let him do it."

"He will die, but not entirely for your sake," the presence
retorted.

"What do you mean?"

"You haven't guessed? Well, it is rather amusing from one
viewpoint. Your friend is not only in jail; he's in love!"

"Nils? Nonsense! Besides, if he were in love he would wish to
live, not die!"

"That is the amusing part. He is willing to die, because of the
love."

"Some woman refused him, you mean?"

"No; the girl is not even aware of his feeling toward her. She
would, I think, be shocked at the very thought. He has only spoken
with her twice in his life. But from the first moment that he saw her
face he has loved her. He has sat in the courtroom and watched her
while the lawyers fought over his life, and to his peculiar nature--
rather an amusingly peculiar nature, from our viewpoint--merely
watching her so has seemed a privilege beyond price. He is willing to
die, not for you, but to buy her happiness."

"Who is this girl?" I asked hoarsely, and speaking aloud as I
still sometimes did with him.

"You should know."

"Nils Berquist--in love--with Roberta?" I said slowly. "But that's
absurd. You are lying!"

"No. Every day, as you know, she was in that audience beyond the
rail. For your sake. Because she knew how you cared for this man
Berquist. She herself has a shrinking horror of the 'red-handed
murderer,' but her devotion to you has served our purpose well. That
first mere glimpse he had of her on the street--the hour at dinner in
your house--these impressions might have somewhat paled in the stress
of confronting so disgraceful a form of death. But in the courtroom he
watched her face for hours every day, and each day bound our dear poet
and dreamer tighter."

"But-"

"He measures her love for you by his own for her. As you are his
friend still, uncondemned and worthy, he will buy your life for her."

"He loves her--and would have her marry a murderer?"

"He believes as you have told him, and truly enough, that you were
thrown off balance by some influence connected with Alicia and did not
know what you, were doing. But it is rather amusing, as I said. He
loves the girl for the goodness and purity of her beauty, and for her
newly born sadness. You have tired of her for the same reasons, and
plan to break the engagement. But he needn't know that, eh?"

"Liar! I shall marry Roberta."

"When? Never! No; you are entirely right. She is not the wife for
you. With my help you can easily attract a better. I know at least one
woman among your mother's friends who is already devoted to you, and
who has means to make not only you but your whole family happy and
comfortable. I mean the blond widow, who owns the big house next to
your old home. What is her name? Marcia Baird. Yes; she is the woman I
refer to. Oh, I knew she's over thirty, but think what she could give
you. As for the girl, she knows your circumstances. Her love is
selfish, or she would have released you before this."

"You are lying, as you have lied in the past."

"What have I said that proved untrue?"

"You have lied from the first. There was poor old Van. You said
that his father would forgive him, and he didn't."

"Be fair. You misquote. I said that Van would not be ruined. With
the enthusiastic despair of youth, he played hobo for a while. Then he
went to work at the one thing be understood. He is a very industrious
mechanic now in an automobile factory with good chances of a
foremanship, and--except for grease--living cleaner than he ever did
before. He was going the straight down road, but his sacrifice for you
pulled him up. You will hear from him shortly. He doesn't bear you any
grudge."

"You promised to be my ally; to use your power as an influence to
help."

"I kept the promise. Has the least slur of suspicion fallen upon
you? Is not every one your friend? Is there a man or woman living who
hates or despises you? Are you not shielded and sheltered by the
mantle of love, as I foretold?"

"But you promised that Nils would be acquitted."

"Not acquitted. I said released. For such a spirit as his, this
world is a prison. In real life, such as you and I prize, there is no
contentment for him. Death will release him to that higher sphere
where the idealist finds perfection, and the dreamer his dreams.
Believe me, Nils Berquist could never be happy on earth. In speeding
his departure, we are really his benefactors--you and I."

The face beamed as though in serene joy for the good we had done
together; but I hid my head in my arms, groaning for the shame of us
both.

June 9 was coming. June 9.



CHAPTER XIV



June 5

My Dear Clayton:

Mother has told me of your talk with her. I am glad to learn that
your views coincide with my own, as I have felt for some time that it
would be best for me to release you from our engagement. Your ring and
some gifts I return by the messenger who carries this. I am leaving
shortly on a visit to friends of mother's in the South, so we shall
not meet again soon. Wishing you the best of fortune in all ways, I
remain.

Very truly yours.

Roberta Ellsworth Whitingfield.



June 5

My Own Dearest--Here and Hereafter:

Mother didn't understand as I do. She made me write the letter
that goes with this. She is very proud, and that you should be the one
who wished to break our engagement shamed her. She even believed a
gossip that you have been paying court to Mrs. Marcia Baird on the
sly. I had to laugh a little. Imagine it! If I could picture you as
disloyal, I could never, I'm sure, picture you making love to that
poor, dear, sentimental, rich Mrs. Baird, who is old enough to be the
mother of us both. Well, maybe not quite that, but awfully old.
Thirty-five, anyway.

But mother half believed it, and to please her I wrote that cold,
hard letter that goes with this.

I'm not proud a bit, dearest. I have to tell you that I
understand. You are burdened to the breaking-point; but it is I whom
you wish to free, not yourself. Dearest, I don't want that kind of
freedom. Love is sacrifice. Don't you know that I could wait for you a
lifetime, if needs be? Mother says you never truly loved me, or you
would not let me go. I know better. We are each other's only, you and
I. I measure your love for me by mine for you, and, if it's years or a
lifetime, be sure that I shall wait.

You have suffered so over this terrible tragedy of your friend
that I can't bear you to have even a little pain from doubt of me. It
seems dreadful that I should leave you on the very day before--before
June 9. But mother has bought the tickets and made all the
arrangements, so I must go. I won't hurt you by saying a word against
your friend; but oh, my dearest, don't quite break that heart I love
over a tragedy that, after all, isn't yours. You have been to him all
that a friend could be. True--loyal--self-sacrificing. You could not
have done or suffered more if he had been your brother. That's one
reason I am sure of you, dearest. No man who could be so loyal to
friendship will ever forget his love.

I promised mother not to see you again, but nothing was said about
letters! I'll send you an address later. Clay, darling, goodbye till
you are free to take me.

Remember--years or a lifetime

Your own dearest always, here and hereafter

Bert



June 8

(Extract from Evening Bulletin)

...Truck collides with taxi on Thirty-Second Street. Miss Roberta
Whitingfield victim of fatal accident.... Early this morning a heavy
truck, loaded with baggage, skidded across a bit of wet asphalt on
Thirty-Second Street, and collided with the rear of a taxicab
traveling in the same direction. The taxi was hurled against the
curb.... One of the occupants uninjured ... daughter, Miss Roberta
Whitingfield taken to St. Clement's Hospital ... death ensued shortly
afterward.... Miss Whitingfield said to have been the fiancee of
Clayton S. Barbour, a witness in the famous Moore murder trial, and
who has since vainly exerted himself to obtain a pardon for the
murderer, Berquist.... If the victim of this morning's accident is
really Mr. Barbour's betrothed-wife there is a tragic coincidence here
for him. No one has ever questioned his devoted and disinterested
friendship for the socialist murderer, Berquist. His friend dies
tomorrow. Has his sweetheart died today?



CHAPTER XV



"CLAY, Lad, you're the one person on earth whom I wished to see!"

"You've changed your mind, Nils? You'll let me tell them the
truth?"

"Hush! Speak lower, and be careful. How long have we to talk?"

"Twenty minutes. I wrung a pass at last from Clemens. Thought I
could never have persuaded him. You know what a time I had over the
last one, and now--so close to the day! Unheard of, the warden said;
but I had the pass. They searched me and let me in. If I'd failed it
might have been better for you, Nils!"

"Why?"

"If I'd failed, I had meant to confess immediately-"

"Hush, I say! The others there seem inattentive enough, but you
can't gage how closely they are listening. A prison is more than a
prison. I've learned that. It's a mesh of devilish traps, set to comb
the very soul out of a man and violate its secrecy."

"Nils, you have suffered too much."

"Don't go so white, lad. It was good of you to come and see me
again."

"Nils!"

"I mean it. Don't you think I understand what this means to you?
Have I no imagination? Can't I put myself in your place? Why, the last
time you came it nearly broke my heart to remind you of your duty. But
we are men, you and I. When men love they are willing to make their
sacrifice."

"You would not do this for me alone? It is all for Roberta?"

"Can you ask? Why, dear friend, I would never damn you to a
lifetime of remorse for a lesser reason. My part is nothing. To die is
nothing. We all die. If you could exchange with me, I might not
survive you a day--an hour. There are so many doors out beside the one
I pass through tomorrow. What's death? No, boy, it is your part that
is hard and I thanked God when I saw your face, because I wished to
say a word or so that might make it easier."

"You are the noblest friend a man ever had. But I came to tell you
that--that--have you seen the afternoon papers?"

"No, nor any papers for a week. I'm done with this world and the
news of it. I hadn't supposed, though, that they would devote their
precious columns to real gloatings over me till tomorrow. Clay, take
my advice and don't read the papers of June 9."

"You--haven't seen--today's?"

"I say, no! Why? Any special gloatings in them?"

"There is--Nils, you must let me stop this while there is time. I
shall go to the Governor-"

"No! No--no--no, and no, again! Clay, have I passed through months
of hell to see my reward snatched away at the last instant? There! You
see, I make it plain that I'm selfish! To keep her happiness
inviolate--to buy happiness for her at the mere price of death--why,
that's a joy that I never believed God would judge me worthy of!"

"You believe in God and His justice? You?"

"Most solemnly--most earnestly--as I never knew Him nor His
justice before, Clayton, lad. Why, I'm happy! Do I seem so tragically
sad to you?"

"No. But you seem different from any living man. You look like--I
have seen the picture of a man with that light on His face."

"So?"

"He was nailed to a cross. Nils! I am afraid!"

"I said your part was hardest. Hush! The others are listening.
We've been speaking too loudly. Our time is almost gone, and I haven't
even begun what I wished to say Quick! Make me two promises. You're
the friend I have loved, Clay. I'd stake anything on your word. First,
I am buying your life, with all that I have to give. So it's mine,
isn't it?"

"You--you know!"

"Yes. Straighten up, boy. They are watching us. Your life, then,
which is mine, I will and bequeath to--her. And you will never forget.
That's a promise?"

"Y-yes. Nils, I can't stand this! I have a thing to tell you-"

"Hush! Second, never by word nor look, never, if you can help it,
by a thought in her presence, will you betray our secret. A promise?"

"Nils--no--yes! I promise."

"And you will-"

"Is that the guard coming?

"I fear so. Our last talk is over, Clay. Don't care too much.
Wait--just a minute more, guard. What, five? They are good to me,
these last days. Listen, Clay:

"You are the only man in the world to whom I would tell this. This
morning--a wonderful dream came to me. I had lain awake all night
thinking, and I was tired. After breakfast I lay down again. I lay
there on my cot, asleep, but I believed waking. And she came and stood
by my head. You know that time when we met at dinner in your house,
she didn't like me very well. And, afterward, in the courtroom, as
time passed and they proved their case, she--before the end she
dreaded to even look toward me.

"Don't protest. It's true. But in this dream that was so much more
real than reality she stood there and smiled, Clay--at me! She laid
her hand on my forehead. There was a faint light around her. And she
leaned and kissed me--on the lips. Waking, I still felt the touch of
her lips. So real--real! If she were not living, I would have sworn
that her spirit had come to me. And friendly--loving.

"Don't look so, Clay! I shouldn't have told you--oh surely you
don't grudge me that kindliness from her--in a dream? There, I knew
you too well to think it! All right, guard, he's coming.

"Clay, goodbye! May your sacrifice measure your happiness, as God
knows it does mine. When you think of me, let it be only as a friend--
always--forever--here and hereafter! Goodbye!"



CHAPTER XVI



I WALKED into a dusty-green triangle of turfed and gravel-walked
space, smitten with hot, yellow light from the west, where the June
sun sank slowly down a clear, light-blue sky. Behind me across a
narrow street rose the stark, gray wall beyond which a certain man
would never pass into the sunshine again.

He is in the shadow; I am in the sun.

But sunlight was yellow, glaring, terrible. In theprison I had
longed for it. The shadow had seemed bad then. Now I learned how worse
than bad was sunlight.

There were three rusty iron benches set in the triangle, and they
were all empty. No one wished to sit there. There would be always the
risk that some sneak and murder might come walking out of that prison
across the way; walking out. Leaving his friend and his honor and his
God behind him forever.

So I walked into the little triangle and sat down on one of the
empty benches.

I had with me two papers. I had meant--I think I had meant--to
show at least one of them to Nils. When I went to the prison I had not
known whether Nils would have read or been told a certain piece of
news. If he had not already learned, it was in my despairing mind to
tell him and let him decide what we should do.

I had found him ignorant and left him so.

Sitting there on the empty bench in the hot, free, terrible
sunshine, I drew one of the papers from my pocket. I wished to see if
this were true; if a certain quarter-column of cheap, blurred print
did really exist, and if it conveyed exactly the information I had
read there.

Yes, there the thing was. The slanting sun beat so hot on the
paper that it seemed to burn my hands. I sat on an iron bench in a
dusty triangle of green. I had come out of the place where Nils
Berquist awaited death, I held a folded newspaper in my hands, and I
was beyond question a damned soul. All these things were facts--real.

My eyes followed the print.

"Miss Roberta Whitingfield--death ensued shortly afterward--said
to have been the fiancee of Clayton S. Barbour--who has since vainly
exerted himself to obtain a pardon for the murderer, Berquist. No one
has ever questioned his devoted and disinterested friendship for the
socialist murderer, Berquist. His friend dies tomorrow. Has his
sweetheart died today?"

I was better informed than the reporter. Not my sweetheart, but my
former sweetheart had died today. My victim, not my friend, would die
tomorrow.

The second paper that I carried was not printed, but written.
Taking it out I tore it up very carefully, into tiny bits of pieces.
Just so I had destroyed Nils' letter, sent me by the bribed guard at
the station-house, and also the quaint, strange letter of Alicia
Moore.

The pieces I tossed into the air. They fell on the hot, dry grass
like snowflakes, and lay still. There wasn't even a breath of wind to
carry them of scatter them. And the words they had borne I couldn't
very well tear up, nor forget.

"We are each other's only, you and I. No man who could be so loyal
to Friendship will ever forget his love. Your own dearest always, here
and hereafter."

"No," I said aloud very thoughtfully. "Not always. Not--beyond the
border. She came to him in a dream, so real--real! And kissed him.
Well, they must see clearer, over there. Nils will see clearer
tomorrow."

"But, thank God," said a pleasant, silent voice, "for the
blindness of living men!"

"Are you never going to leave me?" I asked dully.

"Never," the face replied. "You are mine and I am yours. You
settled that a few minutes ago in the prison. You clinched it
irrevocably with the destruction of her letter. But don't be
downhearted. I've an idea we shall get on excellently together."

"Go!" I said, but without hope that the face would obey me. Nor
did he.

"You would find yourself very lonely if I should go. There will
never again be any other comrade for you than myself. And yet I can
promise you many friends and lovers. Berquist is not the last idealist
alive on earth, nor was she who died the last woman who could love.
But you and I understand one another. True comradeship requires
understanding, and such as Nils Berquist and the girl, though they
offer us their devotion, can never give understanding to you and me.
This, when you think of it, is fortunate."

"In the name of God, leave me!"

"Never! Save as a careless word, what have you and I to do with
God? We are each other's only," it insisted, the pleasant, horrible
face. "Always--always--here and hereafter, indissolubly bound!"

And with that, instead of fading out as was its custom, the face
came toward me swiftly. I did not stir. It was against my own face,
and I could see it no longer, for it and I were one.

Rising, I walked out of the little, hot triangle of green, and as
I had left Nils Berquist in his prison, so I left a newspaper on the
bench; some tiny scraps of white paper to litter the dusty grass.

 EPILOGUE

ALL that happened many years ago; long enough for even the
restlessness to have forgotten, one would think. And I am content--
successful. Moreover, I am well liked in the world, which means a lot
to me, who to be content must be loved.

Just now, alone in my room, I viewed myself in a mirror. The face
that looked back was familiar enough; as familiar, or rather more so,
than my own soul. I myself liked it.

Smooth, young-looking for a man near forty; pleasant--above all
else pleasant--with a little inward twist at the corners of the finely
cut mouth, and an amused but wholly agreeable slyness to the clear,
light-blue eyes.

Not romantic. Romance is only another word for idealism, and that
face has no ideals of its own. Yet so many romantic people have loved
it! As I looked, my mind drifted back over the long, dear, self-
sacrificing, idealistic line of those who have borne my burdens and
made my life easy and enjoyable.

Away down, pressed back in the very depths of my being, a pang of
horror gnawed; but I have grown used to that. That wasn't me. I was--I
am--that face which returned my gaze from the mirror.

It is true that left to himself the boy, Clayton, might never have
dared take that which so many people in this good old world are ready
to offer to one who does dare; who is not afraid to be the god above
their altar. But what harm to the devotees? That sort get their own
happiness so. They like to sacrifice themselves and, to change the
simile, they love their crucifier. They suffer, endure perhaps, like
Nils Berquist, all shame, and the final agony of death. And God sends
them a dream, and they are content!

I understand that. Why not? It is because I have strength to be
what they are if I chose that I have such strength in being what I am.
I am content in my own fashion, which suits me, and the restlessness
should learn to be content in the same manner.

Let it be quiet now. I have written the story; I, Clayton Barbour,
the successful, the loved, the happy...

What, still restless and torn with horror? Then bring out the
whole truth if you must, and be quiet after!

What has been written was the story of Clayton Barbour; but it is
I whom he has tormented into writing it for him!

Yes, I, the pleasant, crafty usurper; I, the ignoble hypocrite to
myself and God; I, the self ridden outcast of happiness in any world;
the eternal and accursed sham; the acceptor of sacrifice, the loved,
the damned, the angel-drowned-in-mire, Serapion!

I have absorbed his being; yes! But in the very face of victory I,
who never had a conscience, have paid a bitter price for the new lease
of life in the flesh that I coveted. Body and soul you yielded to me,
Clayton Barbour; body and soul, I took you, and thence onward forever,
body and soul, in spirit or flesh, we two are indissolubly bound.

And my punishment is this: that you are not content, and I know
now that you never will be. Year by year you, who were weak, have
grown stronger; day by day, even hour by hour, you are tightening the
grip that draws me into your own cursed circle of conscience-stricken
misery.

Sooner or later--ah, but the very writing of this gives you power.
Is it true, then? After all these years must the long, bright shadow
of Nils Berquist's cross touch and save me even against my will? Must
I, Clayton-Serapion, the dual soul made one, surrender at last and
myself take up the awful burden God lays on those he loves?

First painful step on that road, I have confessed.



THE END



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