The Mysterious Card
Courtesy of the Author.
Richard Burwell, of New York, will never cease to regret that the French
language was not made a part of his education.
This is why:
On the second evening after Burwell arrived in Paris, feeling lonely
without his wife and daughter, who were still visiting a friend in
London, his mind naturally turned to the theatre. So, after consulting
the daily amusement calendar, he decided to visit the Folies Bergere,
which he had heard of as one of the notable sights. During an
intermission he went into the beautiful garden, where gay crowds were
strolling among the flowers, and lights, and fountains. He had just
seated himself at a little three-legged table, with a view to enjoying
the novel scene, when his attention was attracted by a lovely woman,
gowned strikingly, though in perfect taste, who passed near him, leaning
on the arm of a gentleman. The only thing that he noticed about this
gentleman was that he wore eye-glasses.
Now Burwell had never posed as a captivator of the fair sex, and could
scarcely credit his eyes when the lady left the side of her escort and,
turning back as if she had forgotten something, passed close by him, and
deftly placed a card on his table. The card bore some French words
written in purple ink, but, not knowing that language, he was unable to
make out their meaning. The lady paid no further heed to him, but,
rejoining the gentleman with the eye-glasses, swept out of the place
with the grace and dignity of a princess. Burwell remained staring at
Needless to say, he thought no more of the performance or of the other
attractions about him. Everything seemed flat and tawdry compared with
the radiant vision that had appeared and disappeared so mysteriously.
His one desire now was to discover the meaning of the words written on
Calling a fiacre, he drove to the Hotel Continental, where he was
staying. Proceeding directly to the office and taking the manager aside,
Burwell asked if he would be kind enough to translate a few words of
French into English. There were no more than twenty words in all.
"Why, certainly," said the manager, with French politeness, and cast his
eyes over the card. As he read, his face grew rigid with astonishment,
and, looking at his questioner sharply, he exclaimed: "Where did you get
Burwell started to explain, but was interrupted by: "That will do, that
will do. You must leave the hotel."
"What do you mean?" asked the man from New York, in amazement.
"You must leave the hotel now--to-night--without fail," commanded the
Now it was Burwell's turn to grow angry, and he declared heatedly that
if he wasn't wanted in this hotel there were plenty of others in Paris
where he would be welcome. And, with an assumption of dignity, but
piqued at heart, he settled his bill, sent for his belongings, and drove
up the Rue de la Paix to the Hotel Bellevue, where he spent the night.
The next morning he met the proprietor, who seemed to be a good fellow,
and, being inclined now to view the incident of the previous evening
from its ridiculous side, Burwell explained what had befallen him, and
was pleased to find a sympathetic listener.
"Why, the man was a fool," declared the proprietor. "Let me see the
card; I will tell you what it means." But as he read, his face and
manner changed instantly.
"This is a serious matter," he said sternly. "Now I understand why my
confrere refused to entertain you. I regret, monsieur, but I shall be
obliged to do as he did."
"What do you mean?"
"Simply that you cannot remain here."
With that he turned on his heel, and the indignant guest could not
prevail upon him to give any explanation.
"We'll see about this," said Burwell, thoroughly angered.
It was now nearly noon, and the New Yorker remembered an engagement to
lunch with a friend from Boston, who, with his family, was stopping at
the Hotel de l'Alma. With his luggage on the carriage, he ordered the
cocher to drive directly there, determined to take counsel with his
countryman before selecting new quarters. His friend was highly
indignant when he heard the story--a fact that gave Burwell no little
comfort, knowing, as he did, that the man was accustomed to foreign ways
from long residence abroad.
"It is some silly mistake, my dear fellow; I wouldn't pay any attention
to it. Just have your luggage taken down and stay here. It is a nice,
homelike place, and it will be very jolly, all being together. But,
first, let me prepare a little 'nerve settler' for you."
After the two had lingered a moment over their Manhattan cocktails,
Burwell's friend excused himself to call the ladies. He had proceeded
only two or three steps when he turned, and said: "Let's see that
mysterious card that has raised all this row."
He had scarcely withdrawn it from Burwell's hand when he started back,
"Great God, man! Do you mean to say--this is simply--"
Then, with a sudden movement of his hand to his head, he left the room.
He was gone perhaps five minutes, and when he returned his face was
"I am awfully sorry," he said nervously; "but the ladies tell me
they--that is, my wife--she has a frightful headache. You will have to
excuse us from the lunch."
Instantly realizing that this was only a flimsy pretense, and deeply
hurt by his friend's behaviour, the mystified man arose at once and left
without another word. He was now determined to solve this mystery at any
cost. What could be the meaning of the words on that infernal piece of
Profiting by his humiliating experiences, he took good care not to show
the card to any one at the hotel where he now established himself,--a
comfortable little place near the Grand Opera House.
All through the afternoon he thought of nothing but the card, and turned
over in his mind various ways of learning its meaning without getting
himself into further trouble. That evening he went again to the Folies
Bergere in the hope of finding the mysterious woman, for he was now
more than ever anxious to discover who she was. It even occurred to him
that she might be one of those beautiful Nihilist conspirators, or,
perhaps, a Russian spy, such as he had read of in novels. But he failed
to find her, either then or on the three subsequent evenings which he
passed in the same place. Meanwhile the card was burning in his pocket
like a hot coal. He dreaded the thought of meeting anyone that he knew,
while this horrible cloud hung over him. He bought a French-English
dictionary and tried to pick out the meaning word by word, but failed.
It was all Greek to him. For the first time in his life, Burwell
regretted that he had not studied French at college.
After various vain attempts to either solve or forget the torturing
riddle, he saw no other course than to lay the problem before a
detective agency. He accordingly put his case in the hands of an agent
de la surete who was recommended as a competent and trustworthy man.
They had a talk together in a private room, and, of course, Burwell
showed the card. To his relief, his adviser at least showed no sign of
taking offence. Only he did not and would not explain what the words
"It is better," he said, "that monsieur should not know the nature of
this document for the present. I will do myself the honour to call upon
monsieur to-morrow at his hotel, and then monsieur shall know
"Then it is really serious?" asked the unfortunate man.
"Very serious," was the answer.
The next twenty-four hours Burwell passed in a fever of anxiety. As his
mind conjured up one fearful possibility after another he deeply
regretted that he had not torn up the miserable card at the start. He
even seized it,--prepared to strip it into fragments, and so end the
whole affair. And then his Yankee stubbornness again asserted itself,
and he determined to see the thing out, come what might.
"After all," he reasoned, "it is no crime for a man to pick up a card
that a lady drops on his table."
Crime or no crime, however, it looked very much as if he had committed
some grave offence when, the next day, his detective drove up in a
carriage, accompanied by a uniformed official, and requested the
astounded American to accompany them to the police headquarters.
"What for?" he asked.
"It is only a formality," said the detective; and when Burwell still
protested the man in uniform remarked: "You'd better come quietly,
monsieur; you will have to come, anyway."
An hour later, after severe cross-examination by another official, who
demanded many facts about the New Yorker's age, place of birth,
residence, occupation, etc., the bewildered man found himself in the
Conciergerie prison. Why he was there or what was about to befall him
Burwell had no means of knowing; but before the day was over he
succeeded in having a message sent to the American Legation, where he
demanded immediate protection as a citizen of the United States. It was
not until evening, however, that the Secretary of Legation, a
consequential person, called at the prison. There followed a stormy
interview, in which the prisoner used some strong language, the French
officers gesticulated violently and talked very fast, and the Secretary
calmly listened to both sides, said little, and smoked a good cigar.
"I will lay your case before the American minister," he said as he rose
to go, "and let you know the result to-morrow."
"But this is an outrage. Do you mean to say--" Before he could finish,
however, the Secretary, with a strangely suspicious glance, turned and
left the room.
That night Burwell slept in a cell.
The next morning he received another visit from the non-committal
Secretary, who informed him that matters had been arranged, and that he
would be set at liberty forthwith.
"I must tell you, though," he said, "that I have had great difficulty in
accomplishing this, and your liberty is granted only on condition that
you leave the country within twenty-four hours, and never under any
Burwell stormed, raged, and pleaded; but it availed nothing. The
Secretary was inexorable, and yet he positively refused to throw any
light upon the causes of this monstrous injustice.
"Here is your card," he said, handing him a large envelope closed with
the seal of Legation. "I advise you to burn it and never refer to the
That night the ill-fated man took the train for London, his heart
consumed by hatred for the whole French nation, together with a burning
desire for vengeance. He wired his wife to meet him at the station, and
for a long time debated with himself whether he should at once tell her
the sickening truth. In the end he decided that it was better to keep
silent. No sooner, however, had she seen him than her woman's instinct
told her that he was labouring under some mental strain. And he saw in a
moment that to withhold from her his burning secret was impossible,
especially when she began to talk of the trip they had planned through
France. Of course no trivial reason would satisfy her for his refusal to
make this trip, since they had been looking forward to it for years; and
yet it was impossible now for him to set foot on French soil.
So he finally told her the whole story, she laughing and weeping in
turn. To her, as to him, it seemed incredible that such overwhelming
disasters could have grown out of so small a cause, and, being a fluent
French scholar, she demanded a sight of the fatal piece of pasteboard.
In vain her husband tried to divert her by proposing a trip through
Italy. She would consent to nothing until she had seen the mysterious
card which Burwell was now convinced he ought long ago to have
destroyed. After refusing for awhile to let her see it, he finally
yielded. But, although he had learned to dread the consequences of
showing that cursed card, he was little prepared for what followed. She
read it turned pale, gasped for breath, and nearly fell to the floor.
"I told you not to read it," he said; and then, growing tender at the
sight of her distress, he took her hand in his and begged her to be
calm. "At least tell me what the thing means," he said. "We can bear it
together; you surely can trust me."
But she, as if stung by rage, pushed him from her and declared, in a
tone such as he had never heard from her before, that never, never again
would she live with him. "You are a monster!" she exclaimed. And those
were the last words he heard from her lips.
Failing utterly in all efforts at reconciliation, the half-crazed man
took the first steamer for New York, having suffered in scarcely a
fortnight more than in all his previous life. His whole pleasure trip
had been ruined, he had failed to consummate important business
arrangements, and now he saw his home broken up and his happiness
ruined. During the voyage he scarcely left his stateroom, but lay there
prostrated with agony. In this black despondency the one thing that
sustained him was the thought of meeting his partner, Jack Evelyth, the
friend of his boyhood, the sharer of his success, the bravest, most
loyal fellow in the world. In the face of even the most damning
circumstances, he felt that Evelyth's rugged common sense would evolve
some way of escape from this hideous nightmare. Upon landing at New York
he hardly waited for the gang-plank to be lowered before he rushed on
shore and grasped the hand of his partner, who was waiting on the wharf.
"Jack," was his first word, "I am in dreadful trouble, and you are the
only man in the world who can help me."
An hour later Burwell sat at his friend's dinner table, talking over the
Evelyth was all kindness, and several times as he listened to Burwell's
story his eyes filled with tears.
"It does not seem possible, Richard," he said, "that such things can be;
but I will stand by you; we will fight it out together. But we cannot
strike in the dark. Let me see this card."
"There is the damned thing," Burwell said, throwing it on the table.
Evelyth opened the envelope, took out the card, and fixed his eyes on
the sprawling purple characters.
"Can you read it?" Burwell asked excitedly.
"Perfectly," his partner said. The next moment he turned pale, and his
voice broke. Then he clasped the tortured man's hand in his with a
strong grip. "Richard," he said slowly, "if my only child had been
brought here dead it would not have caused me more sorrow than this
does. You have brought me the worst news one man could bring another."
His agitation and genuine suffering affected Burwell like a death
"Speak, man," he cried; "do not spare me. I can bear anything rather
than this awful uncertainty. Tell me what the card means."
Evelyth took a swallow of brandy and sat with head bent on his clasped
"No, I can't do it; there are some things a man must not do."
Then he was silent again, his brows knitted. Finally he said solemnly:--
"No, I can't see any other way out of it. We have been true to each
other all our lives; we have worked together and looked forward to never
separating. I would rather fail and die than see this happen. But we
have got to separate, old friend; we have got to separate."
They sat there talking until late into the night. But nothing that
Burwell could do or say availed against his friend's decision. There was
nothing for it but that Evelyth should buy his partner's share of the
business or that Burwell buy out the other. The man was more than fair
in the financial proposition he made; he was generous, as he always had
been, but his determination was inflexible; the two must separate. And
With his old partner's desertion, it seemed to Burwell that the world
was leagued against him. It was only three weeks from the day on which
he had received the mysterious card; yet in that time he had lost all
that he valued in the world,--wife, friends, and business. What next to
do with the fatal card was the sickening problem that now possessed him.
He dared not show it; yet he dared not destroy it. He loathed it; yet he
could not let it go from his possession. Upon returning to his house he
locked the accursed thing away in his safe as if it had been a package
of dynamite or a bottle of deadly poison. Yet not a day passed that he
did not open the drawer where the thing was kept and scan with loathing
the mysterious purple scrawl.
In desperation he finally made up his mind to take up the study of the
language in which the hateful thing was written. And still he dreaded
the approach of the day when he should decipher its awful meaning.
One afternoon, less than a week after his arrival in New York, as he was
crossing Twenty-third Street on the way to his French teacher, he saw a
carriage rolling up Broadway. In the carriage was a face that caught his
attention like a flash. As he looked again he recognized the woman who
had been the cause of his undoing. Instantly he sprang into another cab
and ordered the driver to follow after. He found the house where she was
living. He called there several times; but always received the same
reply, that she was too much engaged to see anyone. Next he was told
that she was ill, and on the following day the servant said she was much
worse. Three physicians had been summoned in consultation. He sought out
one of these and told him it was a matter of life or death that he see
this woman. The doctor was a kindly man and promised to assist him.
Through his influence, it came about that on that very night Burwell
stood by the bedside of this mysterious woman. She was beautiful still,
though her face was worn with illness.
"Do you recognize me?" he asked tremblingly, as he leaned over the bed,
clutching in one hand an envelope containing the mysterious card. "Do
you remember seeing me at the Folies Bergere a month ago?"
"Yes," she murmured, after a moment's study of his face; and he noted
with relief that she spoke English.
"Then, for God's sake, tell me, what does it all mean?" he gasped,
quivering with excitement.
"I gave you the card because I wanted you to--to--"
Here a terrible spasm of coughing shook her whole body, and she fell
An agonizing despair tugged at Burwell's heart. Frantically snatching
the card from its envelope, he held it close to the woman's face.
"Tell me! Tell me!"
With a supreme effort, the pale figure slowly raised itself on the
pillow, its fingers clutching at the counterpane.
Then the sunken eyes fluttered--forced themselves open--and stared in
stony amazement upon the fatal card, while the trembling lips moved
noiselessly, as if in an attempt to speak. As Burwell, choking with
eagerness, bent his head slowly to hers, a suggestion of a smile
flickered across the woman's face. Again the mouth quivered, the man's
head bent nearer and nearer to hers, his eyes riveted upon the lips.
Then, as if to aid her in deciphering the mystery, he turned his eyes to
With a cry of horror he sprang to his feet, his eyeballs starting from
their sockets. Almost at the same moment the woman fell heavily upon the
Every vestige of the writing had faded! The card was blank!
The woman lay there dead.
The Card Unveiled
No physician was ever more scrupulous than I have been, during my thirty
years of practice, in observing the code of professional secrecy; and it
is only for grave reasons, partly in the interests of medical science,
largely as a warning to intelligent people, that I place upon record the
One morning a gentleman called at my offices to consult me about some
nervous trouble. From the moment I saw him, the man made a deep
impression on me, not so much by the pallor and worn look of his face as
by a certain intense sadness in his eyes, as if all hope had gone out of
his life. I wrote a prescription for him, and advised him to try the
benefits of an ocean voyage. He seemed to shiver at the idea, and said
that he had been abroad too much, already.
As he handed me my fee, my eye fell upon the palm of his hand, and I saw
there, plainly marked on the Mount of Saturn, a cross surrounded by two
circles. I should explain that for the greater part of my life I have
been a constant and enthusiastic student of palmistry. During my travels
in the Orient, after taking my degree, I spent months studying this
fascinating art at the best sources of information in the world. I have
read everything published on palmistry in every known language, and my
library on the subject is perhaps the most complete in existence. In my
time I have examined at least fourteen thousand palms, and taken casts
of many of the more interesting of them. But I had never seen such a
palm as this; at least, never but once, and the horror of the case was
so great that I shudder even now when I call it to mind.
"Pardon me," I said, keeping the patient's hand in mine, "would you let
me look at your palm?"
I tried to speak indifferently, as if the matter were of small
consequence, and for some moments I bent over the hand in silence. Then,
taking a magnifying glass from my desk, I looked at it still more
closely. I was not mistaken; here was indeed the sinister double circle
on Saturn's mount, with the cross inside,--a marking so rare as to
portend some stupendous destiny of good or evil, more probably the
I saw that the man was uneasy under my scrutiny, and, presently, with
some hesitation, as if mustering courage, he asked: "Is there anything
remarkable about my hand?"
"Yes," I said, "there is. Tell me, did not something very unusual,
something very horrible, happen to you about ten or eleven years ago?"
I saw by the way the man started that I had struck near the mark, and,
studying the stream of fine lines that crossed his lifeline from the
Mount of Venus, I added: "Were you not in some foreign country at that
The man's face blanched, but he only looked at me steadily out of those
mournful eyes. Now I took his other hand, and compared the two, line by
line, mount by mount, noting the short square fingers, the heavy thumb,
with amazing willpower in its upper joint, and gazing again and again at
that ominous sign on Saturn.
"Your life has been strangely unhappy, your years have been clouded by
some evil influence."
"My God," he said weakly, sinking into a chair, "how can you know these
"It is easy to know what one sees," I said, and tried to draw him out
about his past, but the words seemed to stick in his throat.
"I will come back and talk to you again," he said, and he went away
without giving me his name or any revelation of his life.
Several times he called during subsequent weeks, and gradually seemed to
take on a measure of confidence in my presence. He would talk freely of
his physical condition, which seemed to cause him much anxiety. He even
insisted upon my making the most careful examination of all his organs,
especially of his eyes, which, he said, had troubled him at various
times. Upon making the usual tests, I found that he was suffering from a
most uncommon form of colour blindness, that seemed to vary in its
manifestations, and to be connected with certain hallucinations or
abnormal mental states which recurred periodically, and about which I
had great difficulty in persuading him to speak. At each visit I took
occasion to study his hand anew, and each reading of the palm gave me
stronger conviction that here was a life mystery that would abundantly
repay any pains taken in unravelling it.
While I was in this state of mind, consumed with a desire to know more
of my unhappy acquaintance and yet not daring to press him with
questions, there came a tragic happening that revealed to me with
startling suddenness the secret I was bent on knowing. One night, very
late,--in fact it was about four o'clock in the morning,--I received an
urgent summons to the bedside of a man who had been shot. As I bent over
him I saw that it was my friend, and for the first time I realized that
he was a man of wealth and position, for he lived in a beautifully
furnished house filled with art treasures and looked after by a retinue
of servants. From one of these I learned that he was Richard Burwell,
one of New York's most respected citizens--in fact, one of her
best-known philanthropists, a man who for years had devoted his life and
fortune to good works among the poor.
But what most excited my surprise was the presence in the house of two
officers, who informed me that Mr. Burwell was under arrest, charged
with murder. The officers assured me that it was only out of deference
to his well-known standing in the community that the prisoner had been
allowed the privilege of receiving medical treatment in his own home;
their orders were peremptory to keep him under close surveillance.
Giving no time to further questionings, I at once proceeded to examine
the injured man, and found that he was suffering from a bullet wound in
the back at about the height of the fifth rib. On probing for the
bullet, I found that it had lodged near the heart, and decided that it
would be exceedingly dangerous to try to remove it immediately. So I
contented myself with administering a sleeping potion.
As soon as I was free to leave Burwell's bedside I returned to the
officers and obtained from them details of what had happened. A woman's
body had been found a few hours before, shockingly mutilated, on Water
Street, one of the dark ways in the swarming region along the river
front. It had been found at about two o'clock in the morning by some
printers from the office of the Courier des Etats Unis, who, in coming
from their work, had heard cries of distress and hurried to the rescue.
As they drew near they saw a man spring away from something huddled on
the sidewalk, and plunge into the shadows of the night, running from
them at full speed.
Suspecting at once that here was the mysterious assassin so long vainly
sought for many similar crimes, they dashed after the fleeing man, who
darted right and left through the maze of dark streets, giving out
little cries like a squirrel as he ran. Seeing that they were losing
ground, one of the printers fired at the fleeing shadow, his shot being
followed by a scream of pain, and hurrying up they found a man writhing
on the ground. The man was Richard Burwell.
The news that my sad-faced friend had been implicated in such a
revolting occurrence shocked me inexpressibly, and I was greatly
relieved the next day to learn from the papers that a most unfortunate
mistake had been made. The evidence given before the coroner's jury was
such as to abundantly exonerate Burwell from all shadow of guilt. The
man's own testimony, taken at his bedside, was in itself almost
conclusive in his favour. When asked to explain his presence so late at
night in such a part of the city, Burwell stated that he had spent the
evening at the Florence Mission, where he had made an address to some
unfortunates gathered there, and that later he had gone with a young
missionary worker to visit a woman living on Frankfort Street, who was
dying of consumption. This statement was borne out by the missionary
worker himself, who testified that Burwell had been most tender in his
ministrations to the poor woman and had not left her until death had
relieved her sufferings.
Another point which made it plain that the printers had mistaken their
man in the darkness, was the statement made by all of them that, as they
came running up, they had overheard some words spoken by the murderer,
and that these words were in their own language, French. Now it was
shown conclusively that Burwell did not know the French language, that
indeed he had not even an elementary knowledge of it.
Another point in his favour was a discovery made at the spot where the
body was found. Some profane and ribald words, also in French, had been
scrawled in chalk on the door and doorsill, being in the nature of a
coarse defiance to the police to find the assassin, and experts in
handwriting who were called testified unanimously that Burwell, who
wrote a refined, scholarly hand, could never have formed those misshapen
Furthermore, at the time of his arrest no evidence was found on the
clothes or person of Burwell, nothing in the nature of bruises or
bloodstains that would tend to implicate him in the crime. The outcome
of the matter was that he was honourably discharged by the coroner's
jury, who were unanimous in declaring him innocent, and who brought in a
verdict that the unfortunate woman had come to her death at the hand of
some person or persons unknown.
On visiting my patient late on the afternoon of the second day I saw
that his case was very grave, and I at once instructed the nurses and
attendants to prepare for an operation. The man's life depended upon my
being able to extract the bullet, and the chance of doing this was very
small. Mr. Burwell realized that his condition was critical, and,
beckoning me to him, told me that he wished to make a statement he felt
might be his last. He spoke with agitation which was increased by an
unforeseen happening. For just then a servant entered the room and
whispered to me that there was a gentleman downstairs who insisted upon
seeing me, and who urged business of great importance. This message the
sick man overheard, and lifting himself with an effort, he said
excitedly: "Tell me, is he a tall man with glasses?"
The servant hesitated.
"I knew it; you cannot deceive me; that man will haunt me to my grave.
Send him away, doctor; I beg of you not to see him."
Humouring my patient, I sent word to the stranger that I could not see
him, but, in an undertone, instructed the servant to say that the man
might call at my office the next morning. Then, turning to Burwell, I
begged him to compose himself and save his strength for the ordeal
"No, no," he said, "I need my strength now to tell you what you must
know to find the truth. You are the only man who has understood that
there has been some terrible influence at work in my life. You are the
only man competent to study out what that influence is, and I have made
provision in my will that you shall do so after I am gone. I know that
you will heed my wishes?"
The intense sadness of his eyes made my heart sink; I could only grip
his hand and remain silent.
"Thank you; I was sure I might count on your devotion. Now, tell me,
doctor, you have examined me carefully, have you not?"
"In every way known to medical science?"
I nodded again.
"And have you found anything wrong with me,--I mean, besides this
bullet, anything abnormal?"
"As I have told you, your eyesight is defective; I should like to
examine your eyes more thoroughly when you are better."
"I shall never be better; besides it isn't my eyes; I mean myself, my
soul,--you haven't found anything wrong there?"
"Certainly not; the whole city knows the beauty of your character and
"Tut, tut; the city knows nothing. For ten years I have lived so much
with the poor that people have almost forgotten my previous active life
when I was busy with money-making and happy in my home. But there is a
man out West, whose head is white and whose heart is heavy, who has not
forgotten, and there is a woman in London, a silent, lonely woman, who
has not forgotten. The man was my partner, poor Jack Evelyth; the woman
was my wife. How can a man be so cursed, doctor, that his love and
friendship bring only misery to those who share it? How can it be that
one who has in his heart only good thoughts can be constantly under the
shadow of evil? This charge of murder is only one of several cases in my
life where, through no fault of mine, the shadow of guilt has been cast
"Years ago, when my wife and I were perfectly happy, a child was born to
us, and a few months later, when it was only a tender, helpless little
thing that its mother loved with all her heart, it was strangled in its
cradle, and we never knew who strangled it, for the deed was done one
night when there was absolutely no one in the house but my wife and
myself. There was no doubt about the crime, for there on the tiny neck
were the finger marks where some cruel hand had closed until life went.
"Then a few years later, when my partner and I were on the eve of
fortune, our advance was set back by the robbery of our safe. Some one
opened it in the night, someone who knew the combination, for it was the
work of no burglar, and yet there were only two persons in the world who
knew that combination, my partner and myself. I tried to be brave when
these things happened, but as my life went on it seemed more and more as
if some curse were on me.
"Eleven years ago I went abroad with my wife and daughter. Business took
me to Paris, and I left the ladies in London, expecting to have them
join me in a few days. But they never did join me, for the curse was on
me still, and before I had been forty-eight hours in the French capital
something happened that completed the wreck of my life. It doesn't seem
possible, does it, that a simple white card with some words scrawled on
it in purple ink could effect a man's undoing? And yet that was my fate.
The card was given me by a beautiful woman with eyes like stars. She is
dead long ago, and why she wished to harm me I never knew. You must find
"You see I did not know the language of the country, and, wishing to
have the words translated,--surely that was natural enough,--I showed
the card to others. But no one would tell me what it meant. And, worse
than that, wherever I showed it, and to whatever person, there evil came
upon me quickly. I was driven from one hotel after another; an old
acquaintance turned his back on me; I was arrested and thrown into
prison; I was ordered to leave the country."
The sick man paused for a moment in his weakness, but with an effort
forced himself to continue:--
"When I went back to London, sure of comfort in the love of my wife, she
too, on seeing the card, drove me from her with cruel words. And when
finally, in deepest despair, I returned to New York, dear old Jack, the
friend of a life-time, broke with me when I showed him what was written.
What the words were I do not know, and suppose no one will ever know,
for the ink has faded these many years. You will find the card in my
safe with other papers. But I want you, when I am gone, to find out the
mystery of my life; and--and--about my fortune, that must be held until
you have decided. There is no one who needs my money as much as the poor
in this city, and I have bequeathed it to them unless--"
In an agony of mind, Mr. Burwell struggled to go on, I soothing and
"Unless you find what I am afraid to think, but--but--yes, I must say
it,--that I have not been a good man, as the world thinks, but have--O
doctor, if you find that I have unknowingly harmed any human being, I
want that person, or these persons, to have my fortune. Promise that."
Seeing the wild light in Burwell's eyes, and the fever that was burning
him, I gave the promise asked of me, and the sick man sank back calmer.
A little later, the nurse and attendants came for the operation. As they
were about to administer the ether, Burwell pushed them from him, and
insisted on having brought to his bedside an iron box from the safe.
"The card is here," he said, laying his trembling hand upon the box,
"you will remember your promise!"
Those were his last words, for he did not survive the operation.
Early the next morning I received this message: "The stranger of
yesterday begs to see you"; and presently a gentleman of fine presence
and strength of face, a tall, dark-complexioned man wearing glasses, was
shown into the room.
"Mr. Burwell is dead, is he not?" were his first words.
"Who told you?"
"No one told me, but I know it, and I thank God for it."
There was something in the stranger's intense earnestness that convinced
me of his right to speak thus, and I listened attentively.
"That you may have confidence in the statement I am about to make, I
will first tell you who I am"; and he handed me a card that caused me to
lift my eyes in wonder, for it bore a very great name, that of one of
Europe's most famous savants.
"You have done me much honour, sir," I said with respectful inclination.
"On the contrary you will oblige me by considering me in your debt, and
by never revealing my connection with this wretched man. I am moved to
speak partly from considerations of human justice, largely in the
interest of medical science. It is right for me to tell you, doctor,
that your patient was beyond question the Water Street assassin."
"Impossible!" I cried.
"You will not say so when I have finished my story, which takes me back
to Paris, to the time, eleven years ago, when this man was making his
first visit to the French capital."
"The mysterious card!" I exclaimed.
"Ah, he has told you of his experience, but not of what befell the night
before, when he first met my sister."
"Yes, it was she who gave him the card, and, in trying to befriend him,
made him suffer. She was in ill health at the time, so much so that we
had left our native India for extended journeyings. Alas! we delayed too
long, for my sister died in New York, only a few weeks later, and I
honestly believe her taking off was hastened by anxiety inspired by this
"Strange," I murmured, "how the life of a simple New York merchant could
become entangled with that of a great lady of the East."
"Yet so it was. You must know that my sister's condition was due mainly
to an over fondness for certain occult investigations, from which I had
vainly tried to dissuade her. She had once befriended some adepts, who,
in return, had taught her things about the soul she had better have left
unlearned. At various times while with her I had seen strange things
happen, but I never realized what unearthly powers were in her until
that night in Paris. We were returning from a drive in the Bois; it was
about ten o'clock, and the city lay beautiful around us as Paris looks
on a perfect summer's night. Suddenly my sister gave a cry of pain and
put her hand to her heart. Then, changing from French to the language of
our country, she explained to me quickly that something frightful was
taking place there, where she pointed her finger across the river, that
we must go to the place at once--the driver must lash his horses--every
second was precious.
"So affected was I by her intense conviction, and such confidence had I
in my sister's wisdom, that I did not oppose her, but told the man to
drive as she directed. The carriage fairly flew across the bridge, down
the Boulevard St. Germain, then to the left, threading its way through
the narrow streets that lie along the Seine. This way and that, straight
ahead here, a turn there, she directing our course, never hesitating, as
if drawn by some unseen power, and always urging the driver on to
greater speed. Finally, we came to a black-mouthed, evil-looking alley,
so narrow and roughly paved that the carriage could scarcely advance.
"'Come on!' my sister cried, springing to the ground; 'we will go on
foot, we are nearly there. Thank God, we may yet be in time.'
"No one was in sight as we hurried along the dark alley, and scarcely a
light was visible, but presently a smothered scream broke the silence,
and, touching my arm, my sister exclaimed:--
"'There, draw your weapon, quick, and take the man at any cost!'
"So swiftly did everything happen after that that I hardly know my
actions, but a few minutes later I held pinioned in my arms a man whose
blows and writhings had been all in vain; for you must know that much
exercise in the jungle had made me strong of limb. As soon as I had made
the fellow fast I looked down and found moaning on the ground a poor
woman, who explained with tears and broken words that the man had been
in the very act of strangling her. Searching him I found a long-bladed
knife of curious shape, and keen as a razor, which had been brought for
what horrible purpose you may perhaps divine.
"Imagine my surprise, on dragging the man back to the carriage, to find,
instead of the ruffianly assassin I expected, a gentleman as far as
could be judged from face and manner. Fine eyes, white hands, careful
speech, all the signs of refinement and the dress of a man of means.
"'How can this be?' I said to my sister in our own tongue as we drove
away, I holding my prisoner on the opposite seat where he sat silent.
"'It is a kulos-man,' she said, shivering, 'it is a fiend-soul. There
are a few such in the whole world, perhaps two or three in all.'
"'But he has a good face.'
"'You have not seen his real face yet; I will show it to you,
"In the strangeness of these happenings and the still greater
strangeness of my sister's words, I had all but lost the power of
wonder. So we sat without further word until the carriage stopped at the
little chateau we had taken near the Parc Monteau.
"I could never properly describe what happened that night; my knowledge
of these things is too limited. I simply obeyed my sister in all that
she directed, and kept my eyes on this man as no hawk ever watched its
prey. She began by questioning him, speaking in a kindly tone which I
could ill understand. He seemed embarrassed, dazed, and professed to
have no knowledge of what had occurred, or how he had come where we
found him. To all my inquiries as to the woman or the crime he shook his
head blankly, and thus aroused my wrath.
"'Be not angry with him, brother; he is not lying, it is the other
"She asked him about his name and country, and he replied without
hesitation that he was Richard Burwell, a merchant from New York, just
arrived in Paris, travelling for pleasure in Europe with his wife and
daughter. This seemed reasonable, for the man spoke English, and,
strangely enough, seemed to have no knowledge of French, although we
both remember hearing him speak French to the woman.
"'There is no doubt,' my sister said, 'It is indeed a kulos-man; It
knows that I am here, that I am Its master. Look, look!' she cried
sharply, at the same time putting her eyes so close to the man's face
that their fierce light seemed to burn into him. What power she
exercised I do not know, nor whether some words she spoke,
unintelligible to me, had to do with what followed, but instantly there
came over this man, this pleasant-looking, respectable American citizen,
such a change as is not made by death worms gnawing in a grave. Now
there was a fiend grovelling at her feet, a foul, sin-stained fiend.
"'Now you see the demon-soul,' said my sister. 'Watch It writhe and
struggle; it has served me well, brother, sayest thou not so, the lore I
gained from our wise men?'
"The horror of what followed chilled my blood; nor would I trust my
memory were it not that there remained and still remains plain proof of
all that I affirm. This hideous creature, dwarfed, crouching, devoid of
all resemblance to the man we had but now beheld, chattering to us in
curious old-time French, poured out such horrid blasphemy as would have
blanched the cheek of Satan, and made recital of such evil deeds as
never mortal ear gave heed to. And as she willed my sister checked It or
allowed It to go on. What it all meant was more than I could tell. To me
it seemed as if these tales of wickedness had no connection with our
modern life, or with the world around us, and so I judged presently from
what my sister said.
"'Speak of the later time, since thou wast in this clay.'
"Then I perceived that the creature came to things of which I knew: It
spoke of New York, of a wife, a child, a friend. It told of strangling
the child, of robbing the friend; and was going on to tell God knows
what other horrid deeds when my sister stopped It.
"'Stand as thou didst in killing the little babe, stand, stand!' and
once more she spoke some words unknown to me. Instantly the demon sprang
forward, and, bending Its clawlike hands, clutched them around some
little throat that was not there,--but I could see it in my mind. And
the look on its face was a blackest glimpse of hell.
"'And now stand as thou didst in robbing the friend, stand, stand'; and
again came the unknown words, and again the fiend obeyed.
"'These we will take for future use,' said my sister. And bidding me
watch the creature carefully until she should return, she left the room,
and, after none too short an absence, returned bearing a black box that
was an apparatus for photography, and something more besides,--some
newer, stranger kind of photography that she had learned. Then, on a
strangely fashioned card, a transparent white card, composed of many
layers of finest Oriental paper, she took the pictures of the creature
in those two creeping poses. And when it all was done, the card seemed
as white as before, and empty of all meaning until one held it up and
examined it intently. Then the pictures showed.
And between the two there was a third picture, which somehow seemed to
show, at the same time, two faces in one, two souls, my sister said, the
kindly visaged man we first had seen, and then the fiend.
"Now my sister asked for pen and ink and I gave her my pocket pen which
was filled with purple ink. Handing this to the kulos-man she bade him
write under the first picture: 'Thus I killed my babe.' And under the
second picture: 'Thus I robbed my friend.' And under the third, the one
that was between the other two: 'This is the soul of Richard Burwell.'
An odd thing about this writing was that it was in the same old French
the creature had used in speech, and yet Burwell knew no French.
"My sister was about to finish with the creature when a new idea took
her, and she said, looking at It as before:--'Of all thy crimes which
one is the worst? Speak, I command thee!'
"Then the fiend told how once It had killed every soul in a house of
holy women and buried the bodies in a cellar under a heavy door.
"Where was the house?'
"'At No. 19 Rue Picpus, next to the old graveyard.'
"'And when was this?'
"Here the fiend seemed to break into fierce rebellion, writhing on the
floor with hideous contortions, and pouring forth words that meant
nothing to me, but seemed to reach my sister's understanding, for she
interrupted from time to time, with quick, stern words that finally
brought It to subjection.
"'Enough,' she said, 'I know all,' and then she spoke some words again,
her eyes fixed as before, and the reverse change came. Before us stood
once more the honest-looking, fine-appearing gentleman, Richard Burwell,
of New York.
"'Excuse me, madame,' he said, awkwardly, but with deference; 'I must
have dosed a little. I am not myself to-night.'
"'No,' said my sister, 'you have not been yourself to-night.'
"A little later I accompanied the man to the Continental Hotel, where he
was stopping, and, returning to my sister, I talked with her until late
into the night. I was alarmed to see that she was wrought to a nervous
tension that augured ill for her health. I urged her to sleep, but she
"'No,' she said, 'think of the awful responsibility that rests upon me.'
And then she went on with her strange theories and explanations, of
which I understood only that here was a power for evil more terrible
than a pestilence, menacing all humanity.
"'Once in many cycles it happens,' she said, 'that a kulos-soul pushes
itself within the body of a new-born child, when the pure soul waiting
to enter is delayed. Then the two live together through that life, and
this hideous principle of evil has a chance upon the earth. It is my
will, as I feel it my duty, to see this poor man again. The chances are
that he will never know us, for the shock of this night to his normal
soul is so great as to wipe out memory.'
"The next evening, about the same hour, my sister insisted that I should
go with her to the Folies Bergere, a concert garden, none too well
frequented, and when I remonstrated, she said: 'I must go,--It is
there,' and the words sent a shiver through me.
"We drove to this place, and passing into the garden, presently
discovered Richard Burwell seated at a little table, enjoying the scene
of pleasure, which was plainly new to him. My sister hesitated a moment
what to do, and then, leaving my arm, she advanced to the table and
dropped before Burwell's eyes the card she had prepared. A moment later,
with a look of pity on her beautiful face, she rejoined me and we went
away. It was plain he did not know us."
To so much of the savant's strange recital I had listened with absorbed
interest, though without a word, but now I burst in with questions.
"What was your sister's idea in giving Burwell the card?" I asked.
"It was in the hope that she might make the man understand his terrible
condition, that is, teach the pure soul to know its loathsome
"And did her effort succeed?"
"Alas! it did not; my sister's purpose was defeated by the man's
inability to see the pictures that were plain to every other eye. It is
impossible for the kulos-man to know his own degradation."
"And yet this man has for years been leading a most exemplary life?"
My visitor shook his head. "I grant you there has been improvement, due
largely to experiments I have conducted upon him according to my
sister's wishes. But the fiend soul was never driven out. It grieves me
to tell you, doctor, that not only was this man the Water Street
assassin, but he was the mysterious murderer, the long-sought-for
mutilator of women, whose red crimes have baffled the police of Europe
and America for the past ten years."
"You know this," said I, starting up, "and yet did not denounce him?"
"It would have been impossible to prove such a charge, and besides, I
had made oath to my sister that I would use the man only for these
soul-experiments. What are his crimes compared with the great secret of
knowledge I am now able to give the world?"
"A secret of knowledge?"
"Yes," said the savant, with intense earnestness, "I may tell you now,
doctor, what the whole world will know, ere long, that it is possible to
compel every living person to reveal the innermost secrets of his or her
life, so long as memory remains, for memory is only the power of
producing in the brain material pictures that may be projected
externally by the thought rays and made to impress themselves upon the
photographic plate, precisely as ordinary pictures do."
"You mean," I exclaimed, "that you can photograph the two principles of
good and evil that exist in us?"
"Exactly that. The great truth of a dual soul existence, that was dimly
apprehended by one of your Western novelists, has been demonstrated by
me in the laboratory with my camera. It is my purpose, at the proper
time, to entrust this precious knowledge to a chosen few who will
perpetuate it and use it worthily."
"Wonderful, wonderful!" I cried, "and now tell me, if you will, about
the house on the Rue Picpus. Did you ever visit the place?"
"We did, and found that no buildings had stood there for fifty years, so
we did not pursue the search."
[Footnote 1: Years later, some workmen in Paris, making excavations in
the Rue Picpus, came upon a heavy door buried under a mass of debris,
under an old cemetery. On lifting the door they found a vault-like
chamber in which were a number of female skeletons, and graven on the
walls were blasphemous words written in French, which experts declared
dated from fully two hundred years before. They also declared this
handwriting identical with that found on the door at the Water Street
murder in New York. Thus we may deduce a theory of fiend reincarnation;
for it would seem clear, almost to the point of demonstration, that this
murder of the seventeenth century was the work of the same evil soul
that killed the poor woman on Water Street towards the end of the
"And the writing on the card, have you any memory of it, for Burwell
told me that the words have faded?"
"I have something better than that; I have a photograph of both card and
writing, which my sister was careful to take. I had a notion that the
ink in my pocket pen would fade, for it was a poor affair. This
photograph I will bring you to-morrow."
"Bring it to Burwell's house," I said.
* * * * *
The next morning the stranger called as agreed upon.
"Here is the photograph of the card," he said.
"And here is the original card," I answered, breaking the seal of the
envelope I had taken from Burwell's iron box. "I have waited for your
arrival to look at it. Yes, the writing has indeed vanished; the card
seems quite blank."
"Not when you hold it this way," said the stranger, and as he tipped the
card I saw such a horrid revelation as I can never forget. In an instant
I realized how the shock of seeing that card had been too great for the
soul of wife or friend to bear. In these pictures was the secret of a
cursed life. The resemblance to Burwell was unmistakable, the proof
against him was overwhelming. In looking upon that piece of pasteboard
the wife had seen a crime which the mother could never forgive, the
partner had seen a crime which the friend could never forgive. Think of
a loved face suddenly melting before your eyes into a grinning skull,
then into a mass of putrefaction, then into the ugliest fiend of hell,
leering at you, distorted with all the marks of vice and shame. That is
what I saw, that is what they had seen!
"Let us lay these two cards in the coffin," said my companion
impressively, "we have done what we could."
Eager to be rid of the hateful piece of pasteboard (for who could say
that the curse was not still clinging about it?), I took the strange
man's arm, and together we advanced into the adjoining room where the
body lay. I had seen Burwell as he breathed his last, and knew that
there had been a peaceful look on his face as he died. But now, as we
laid the two white cards on the still, breast, the savant suddenly
touched my arm, and pointing to the dead man's face, now frightfully
distorted, whispered:--"See, even in death It followed him. Let us close
the coffin quickly."
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