A Difficult Problem





"A LADY to see you, sir."



I looked up and was at once impressed by the grace and beauty of the

person thus introduced to me.



"Is there anything I can do to serve you?" I asked, rising.



She cast me a child-like look full of trust and candor as she seated

herself in the chair I pointed out to her.



"I believe so, I hope so," she earnestly assured me. "I--I am in great

trouble. I have just lost my husband--but it is not that. It is the slip

of paper I found on my dresser, and which--which----"



She was trembling violently and her words were fast becoming incoherent.

I calmed her and asked her to relate her story just as it had happened;

and after a few minutes of silent struggle she succeeded in collecting

herself sufficiently to respond with some degree of connection and

self-possession.



"I have been married six months. My name is Lucy Holmes. For the last

few weeks my husband and myself have been living in an apartment house

on Fifty-ninth Street, and as we had not a care in the world, we were

very happy till Mr. Holmes was called away on business to Philadelphia.

This was two weeks ago. Five days later I received an affectionate

letter from him, in which he promised to come back the next day; and the

news so delighted me that I accepted an invitation to the theater

from some intimate friends of ours. The next morning I naturally felt

fatigued and rose late; but I was very cheerful, for I expected my

husband at noon. And now comes the perplexing mystery. In the course

of dressing myself I stepped to my bureau, and seeing a small

newspaper-slip attached to the cushion by a pin, I drew it off and read

it. It was a death notice, and my hair rose and my limbs failed me as I

took in its fatal and incredible words.



"'Died this day at the Colonnade, James Forsythe De Witt Holmes. New

York papers please copy.'



"James Forsythe De Witt Holmes was my husband, and his last letter,

which was at that very moment lying beside the cushion, had been dated

from the Colonnade. Was I dreaming or under the spell of some frightful

hallucination which led me to misread the name on the slip of paper

before me? I could not determine. My head, throat and chest seemed bound

about with iron, so that I could neither speak nor breathe with freedom,

and, suffering thus, I stood staring at this demoniacal bit of paper

which in an instant had brought the shadow of death upon my happy life.

Nor was I at all relieved when a little later I flew with the notice

into a neighbor's apartment, and praying her to read it for me, found

that my eyes had not deceived me and that the name was indeed my

husband's and the notice one of death.



"Not from my own mind but from hers came the first suggestion of

comfort.



"'It cannot be your husband who is meant,' said she; 'but some one of

the same name. Your husband wrote to you yesterday, and this person must

have been dead at least two days for the printed notice of his decease

to have reached New York. Some one has remarked the striking similarity

of names, and wishing to startle you, cut the slip out and pinned it on

your cushion.'



"I certainly knew of no one inconsiderate enough to do this, but the

explanation was so plausible, I at once embraced it and sobbed aloud in

my relief. But in the midst of my rejoicing I heard the bell ring in my

apartment, and running thither, encountered a telegraph boy holding in

his outstretched hand the yellow envelope which so often bespeaks death

or disaster. The sight took my breath away. Summoning my maid, whom I

saw hastening towards me from an inner room, I begged her to open the

telegram for me. Sir, I saw in her face, before she had read the first

line, a confirmation of my very worst fears. My husband was----"



The young widow, choked with her emotions, paused, recovered herself for

the second time, and then went on.



"I had better show you the telegram." Taking it from her pocket-book,

she held it towards me. I read it at a glance. It was short, simple and

direct.



"Come at once. Your husband found dead in his room this morning. Doctors

say heart disease. Please telegraph."



"You see it says this morning," she explained, placing her delicate

finger on the word she so eagerly quoted. "That means a week ago

Wednesday, the same day on which the printed slip recording his death

was found on my cushion. Do you not see something very strange in this?"



I did; but, before I ventured to express myself on this subject,

I desired her to tell me what she had learned in her visit to

Philadelphia.



Her answer was simple and straightforward.



"But little more than you find in this telegram. He died in his room.

He was found lying on the floor near the bell button, which he had

evidently risen to touch. One hand was clenched on his chest, but his

face wore a peaceful look as if death had come too suddenly to cause him

much suffering. His bed was undisturbed; he had died before retiring,

possibly in the act of packing his trunk, for it was found nearly ready

for the expressman. Indeed, there was every evidence of his intention to

leave on an early morning train. He had even desired to be awakened at

six o'clock; and it was his failure to respond to the summons of the

bell-boy, which led to so early a discovery of his death. He had never

complained of any distress in breathing, and we had always considered

him a perfectly healthy man; but there was no reason for assigning any

other cause than heart-failure to his sudden death, and so the burial

certificate was made out to that effect, and I was allowed to bring

him home and bury him in our vault at Wood-lawn. But--" and here her

earnestness dried up the tears which had been flowing freely during

this recital of her husband's lonely death and sad burial,--"do you not

think an investigation should be made into a death preceded by a

false obituary notice? For I found when I was in Philadelphia that no

paragraph such as I had found pinned to my cushion had been inserted in

any paper there, nor had any other man of the same name ever registered

at the Colonnade, much less died there."



"Have you this notice with you?" I asked.



She immediately produced it, and while I was glancing it over remarked:



"Some persons would give a superstitious explanation to the whole

matter; think I had received a supernatural warning and been satisfied

with what they would call a spiritual manifestation. But I have not a

bit of such folly in my composition. Living hands set up the type and

printed the words which gave me so deathly a shock; and hands, with a

real purpose in them, cut it from the paper and pinned it to my cushion

for me to see when I woke on that fatal morning. But whose hands? That

is what I want you to discover."



I had caught the fever of her suspicions long before this and now felt

justified in showing my interest.



"First, let me ask," said I, "who has access to your rooms besides your

maid?"



"No one; absolutely no one."



"And what of her?"



"She is innocence itself. She is no common housemaid, but a girl my

mother brought up, who for love of me consents to do such work in the

household as my simple needs require."



"I should like to see her."



"There is no objection to your doing so; but you will gain nothing by

it. I have already talked the subject over with her a dozen times and

she is as much puzzled by it as I am myself. She says she cannot see how

any one could have found an entrance to my room during my sleep, as the

doors were all locked. Yet, as she very naturally observes, some one

must have done so, for she was in my bedroom herself just before I

returned from the theater, and can swear, if necessary, that no such

slip of paper was to be seen on my cushion, at that time, for her duties

led her directly to my bureau and kept her there for full five minutes."



"And you believed her?" I suggested.



"Implicitly."



"In what direction, then, do your suspicions turn?"



"Alas! in no direction. That is the trouble. I don't know whom to

mistrust. It was because I was told that you had the credit of seeing

light where others can see nothing but darkness, that I have sought your

aid in this emergency. For the uncertainty surrounding this matter is

killing me and will make my sorrow quite unendurable if I cannot obtain

relief from it."



"I do not wonder," I began, struck by the note of truth in her tones.

"And I shall certainly do what I can for you. But before we go any

further, let us examine this scrap of newspaper and see what we can make

out of it."



I had already noted two or three points in connection with it, to which

I now proceeded to direct her attention.



"Have you compared this notice," I pursued, "with such others as you

find every day in the papers?"



"No," was her eager answer. "Is it not like them all----"



"Read," was my quiet interruption. "'On this day at the Colonnade--'

On what day? The date is usually given in all the bona-fide notices I

have seen."



"Is it?" she asked, her eyes moist with un-shed tears, opening widely in

her astonishment.



"Look in the papers on your return home and see. Then the print. Observe

that the type is identical on both sides of this make-believe clipping,

while in fact there is always a perceptible difference between that used

in the obituary column and that to be found in the columns devoted to

other matter. Notice also," I continued, holding up the scrap of paper

between her and the light, "that the alignment on one side is not

exactly parallel with that on the other; a discrepancy which would not

exist if both sides had been printed on a newspaper press. These facts

lead me to conclude, first, that the effort to match the type exactly

was the mistake of a man who tries to do too much; and secondly, that

one of the sides at least, presumably that containing the obituary

notice, was printed on a hand-press, on the blank side of a piece of

galley proof picked up in some newspaper office."



"Let me see." And stretching out her hand with the utmost eagerness, she

took the slip and turned it over. Instantly a change took place in her

countenance. She sank back in her seat and a blush of manifest confusion

suffused her cheeks. "Oh!" she exclaimed, "what will you think of me! I

brought this scrap of print into the house myself and it was I who

pinned it on the cushion with my own hands! I remember it now. The sight

of those words recalls the whole occurrence."



"Then there is one mystery less for us to solve," I remarked, somewhat

dryly.



"Do you think so," she protested, with a deprecatory look. "For me the

mystery deepens, and becomes every minute more serious. It is true that

I brought this scrap of newspaper into the house, and that it had, then

as now, the notice of my husband's death upon it, but the time of

my bringing it in was Tuesday night, and he was not found dead till

Wednesday morning."



"A discrepancy worth noting," I remarked.



"Involving a mystery of some importance," she concluded.



I agreed to that.



"And since we have discovered how the slip came into your room, we can

now proceed to the clearing up of this mystery," I observed. "You can,

of course, inform me where you procured this clipping which you say you

brought into the house?"



"Yes. You may think it strange, but when I alighted from the carriage

that night, a man on the sidewalk put this tiny scrap of paper into my

hand. It was done so mechanically that it made no more impression on my

mind than the thrusting of an advertisement upon me. Indeed, I supposed

it was an advertisement, and I only wonder that I retained it in my hand

at all. But that I did do so, and that, in a moment of abstraction I

went so far as to pin it to my cushion, is evident from the fact that a

vague memory remains in my mind of having read this recipe which you see

printed on the reverse side of the paper."



"It was the recipe, then, and not the obituary notice which attracted

your attention the night before?"



"Probably, but in pinning it to the cushion, it was the obituary notice

that chanced to come uppermost. Oh, why should I not have remembered

this till now! Can you understand my forgetting a matter of so much

importance?"



"Yes," I allowed, after a momentary consideration of her ingenuous

countenance. "The words you read in the morning were so startling that

they disconnected themselves from those you had carelessly glanced at

the night before."



"That is it," she replied; "and since then I have had eyes for the one

side only. How could I think of the other? But who could have printed

this thing and who was the man who put it into my hand? He looked like a

beggar but--Oh!" she suddenly exclaimed, her cheeks flushing scarlet and

her eyes flashing with a feverish, almost alarming, glitter.



"What is it now?" I asked. "Another recollection?"



"Yes." She spoke so low I could hardly hear her. "He coughed and----"



"And what?" I encouragingly suggested, seeing that she was under some

new and overwhelming emotion.



"That cough had a familiar sound, now that I think of it. It was like

that of a friend who--But no, no; I will not wrong him by any false

surmises. He would stoop to much, but not to that; yet----"



The flush on her cheeks had died away, but the two vivid spots which

remained showed the depth of her excitement.



"Do you think," she suddenly asked, "that a man out of revenge might

plan to frighten me by a false notice of my husband's death, and that

God to punish him, made the notice a prophecy?"



"I think a man influenced by the spirit of revenge might do almost

anything," I answered, purposely ignoring the latter part of her

question.



"But I always considered him a good man. At least I never looked upon

him as a wicked one. Every other beggar we meet has a cough; and yet,"

she added after a moment's pause, "if it was not he who gave me this

mortal shock, who was it? He is the only person in the world I ever

wronged."



"Had you not better tell me his name?" I suggested.



"No, I am in too great doubt. I should hate to do him a second injury."



"You cannot injure him if he is innocent. My methods are very safe."



"If I could forget his cough! but it had that peculiar catch in it that

I remembered so well in the cough of John Graham. I did not pay any

especial heed to it at the time. Old days and old troubles were far

enough from my thoughts; but now that my suspicions are raised, that

low, choking sound comes back to me in a strangely persistent way, and

I seem to see a well-remembered form in the stooping figure of this

beggar. Oh, I hope the good God will forgive me if I attribute to this

disappointed man a wickedness he never com-mitted."



"Who is John Graham?" I urged, "and what was the nature of the wrong you

did him?"



She rose, cast me one appealing glance, and perceiving that I meant to

have her whole story, turned towards the fire and stood warming her feet

before the hearth, with her face turned away from my gaze.



"I was once engaged to marry him," she began. "Not because I loved him,

but because we were very poor--I mean my mother and myself--and he had a

home and seemed both good and generous. The day came when we were to be

married--this was in the West, way out in Kansas--and I was even dressed

for the wedding, when a letter came from my uncle here, a rich uncle,

very rich, who had never had anything to do with my mother since her

marriage, and in it he promised me fortune and everything else desirable

in life if I would come to him, unencumbered by any foolish ties. Think

of it! And I within half an hour of marriage with a man I had never

loved and now suddenly hated. The temptation was overwhelming, and

heartless as my conduct may appear to you, I succumbed to it. Telling my

lover that I had changed my mind, I dismissed the minister when he came,

and announced my intention of proceeding East as soon as possible. Mr.

Graham was simply paralyzed by his disappointment, and during the few

days which intervened before my departure, I was haunted by his face,

which was like that of a man who had died from some overwhelming shock.

But when I was once free of the town, especially after I arrived in New

York, I forgot alike his misery and himself. Everything I saw was so

beautiful! Life was so full of charm, and my uncle so delighted with me

and everything I did! Then there was James Holmes, and after I had

seen him--But I cannot talk of that. We loved each other, and under the

surprise of this new delight how could I be expected to remember the

man I had left behind me in that barren region in which I had spent my

youth? But he did not forget the misery I had caused him. He followed

me to New York: and on the morning I was married found his way into the

house, and mixing with the wedding guests, suddenly appeared before me

just as I was receiving the congratulations of my friends. At sight of

him I experienced all the terror he had calculated upon causing, but

remembering at whose side I stood, I managed to hide my confusion under

an aspect of apparent haughtiness. This irritated John Graham. Flushing

with anger, and ignoring my imploring look, he cried peremptorily,

'Present me to your husband!' and I felt forced to present him. But

his name produced no effect upon Mr. Holmes. I had never told him of my

early experience with this man, and John Graham, perceiving this, cast

me a bitter glance of disdain and passed on, muttering between his

teeth, 'False to me and false to him! Your punishment be upon you!' and

I felt as if I had been cursed."



She stopped here, moved by emotions readily to be understood. Then with

quick impetuosity she caught up the thread of her story and went on.



"That was six months ago; and again I forgot. My mother died and my

husband soon absorbed my every thought. How could I dream that this man,

who was little more than a memory to me and scarcely that, was secretly

planning mischief against me? Yet this scrap about which we have talked

so much may have been the work of his hands; and even my husband's

death----"



She did not finish, but her face, which was turned towards me, spoke

volumes.



"Your husband's death shall be inquired into," I assured her. And she,

exhausted by the excitement of her discoveries, asked that she might be

excused from further discussion of the subject at that time.



As I had no wish, myself, to enter any more-fully into the matter just

then, I readily acceded to her request, and the pretty widow left me.











II.



Obviously the first fact to be settled was whether Mr. Holmes had died

from purely natural causes. I accordingly busied myself the next few

days with this question, and was fortunate enough to so interest the

proper authorities that an order was issued for the exhumation and

examination of the body.



The result was disappointing. No traces of poison were to be, found in

the stomach nor was there to be seen on the body any mark of violence,

with the exception of a minute prick upon one of his thumbs.



This speck was so small that it escaped every eye but my own.



The authorities assuring the widow that the doctor's certificate given

her in Philadelphia was correct, he was again interred. But I was not

satisfied; neither do I think she was. I was confident that his

death was not a natural one, and entered upon one of those secret and

prolonged investigations which have constituted the pleasure of my life

for so many years. First, I visited the Colonnade in Philadelphia, and

being allowed to see the room in which Mr. Holmes died, went through it

carefully. As it had not been used since that time I had some hopes of

coming upon a clue.



But it was a vain hope and the only result of my journey to this place

was the assurance I received that the gentleman had spent the entire

evening preceding his death, in his own room, where he had been brought

several letters and one small package, the latter coming by mail. With

this one point gained--if it was a point--I went back to New York.



Calling on Mrs. Holmes, I asked her if, while her husband was away she

had sent him anything besides letters, and upon her replying to the

contrary, requested to know if in her visit to Philadelphia she had

noted among her husband's effects anything that was new or unfamiliar to

her, "For he received a package while there," I explained, "and though

its contents may have been perfectly harmless, it is just as well for us

to be assured of this, before going any further."



"Oh, you think, then, he was really the victim of some secret violence."



"We have no proof of it," I said. "On the contrary, we are assured that

he died from natural causes. But the incident of the newspaper slip

outweighs, in my mind, the doctor's conclusions, and until the mystery

surrounding that obituary notice has been satisfactorily explained by

its author, I shall hold to the theory that your husband has been made

away with in some strange and seemingly unaccountable manner, which it

is our duty to bring to light."



"You are right! You are right! Oh, John Graham!"



She was so carried away by this plain expression of my belief that she

forgot the question I had put to her.



"You have not told whether or not you found anything among your

husband's effects that can explain this mystery," I suggested.



She at once became attentive.



"Nothing," said she: "his trunks were already packed and his bag nearly

so. There were a few things lying about the room which were put into

the latter, but I saw nothing but what was familiar to me among them;

at least, I think not; perhaps we had better look through his trunk and

see. I have not had the heart to open it since I came back."



As this was exactly what I wished, I said as much, and she led me into a

small room, against the wall of which stood a trunk with a traveling-bag

on top of it. Opening the latter, she spread the contents out on the

trunk.



"I know all these things," she sadly mur-mured, the tears welling in her

eyes.



"This?" I inquired, lifting up a bit of coiled wire with two or three

little rings dangling from it.



"No; why, what is that?"



"It looks like a puzzle of some kind."



"Then it is of no consequence. My husband was forever amusing himself

over some such contrivance. All his friends knew how well he liked these

toys and frequently sent them to him. This one evidently reached him in

Philadelphia."



Meanwhile I was eying the bit of wire curiously. It was undoubtedly a

puzzle, but it had appendages to it that I did not understand.



"It is more than ordinarily complicated," I observed, moving the rings

up and down in a vain endeavor to work them off.



"The better he would like it," said she.



I kept on working with the rings. Suddenly I gave a painful start. A

little prong in the handle of the toy had started out and pricked me.



"You had better not handle it," said I, and laid it down. But the next

minute I took it up again and put it in my pocket. The prick made by

this treacherous bit of mechanism was in or near the same place on my

thumb as the one I had noticed on the hand of the deceased Mr. Holmes.



There was a fire in the room, and before proceeding further, I

cauterized that prick with the end of a red-hot poker. Then I made my

adieux to Mrs. Holmes and went immediately to a chemist friend of mine.



"Test the end of this bit of steel for me," said I. "I have reason to

believe it carries with it a deadly poison."



He took the toy, promised to subject it to every test possible and let

me know the result. Then I went home. I felt ill, or imagined that I

did, which under the circumstances was almost as bad.



Next day, however, I was quite well, with the exception of a certain

inconvenience in my thumb. But not till the following week did I

receive the chemist's report. It overthrew my whole theory. He had found

nothing, and returned me the bit of steel.



But I was not convinced.



"I will hunt up this John Graham," thought I, "and study him."



But this was not so easy a task as it may appear. As Mrs. Holmes

possessed no clue to the whereabouts of her quondam lover, I had nothing

to aid me in my search for him, save her rather vague description of his

personal appearance and the fact that he was constantly interrupted

in speaking by a low, choking cough. However, my natural perseverance

carried me through. After seeing and interviewing a dozen John Grahams

without result, I at last lit upon a man of that name who presented

a figure of such vivid unrest and showed such desperate hatred of his

fellows, that I began to entertain hopes of his being the person I

was in search of. But determined to be sure of this before proceeding

further, I confided my suspicions to Mrs. Holmes, and induced her to

accompany me down to a certain spot on the "Elevated" from which I

had more than once seen this man go by to his usual lounging place in

Printing-house Square.



She showed great courage in doing this, for she had such a dread of him

that she was in a state of nervous excitement from the moment she left

her house, feeling sure that she would attract his attention and thus

risk a disagreeable encounter. But she might have spared herself these

fears. He did not even glance up in passing us, and it was mainly by his

walk she recognized him. But she did recognize him; and this nerved

me at once to set about the formidable task of fixing upon him a crime

which was not even admitted as a fact by the authorities.



He was a man-about-town, living, to all appearance, by his wits. He was

to be seen mostly in the downtown portions of the city, standing for

hours in front of some newspaper office, gnawing at his finger-ends, and

staring at the passers-by with a hungry look that alarmed the timid and

provoked alms from the benevolent. Needless to say that he rejected the

latter expression of sympathy, with angry contempt.



His face was long and pallid, his cheek-bones high and his mouth bitter

and resolute in expression. He wore neither beard nor mustache, but made

up for their lack by an abundance of light brown hair, which hung very

nearly to his shoulders. He stooped in standing, but as soon as he

moved, showed decision and a certain sort of pride which caused him to

hold his head high and his body more than usually erect. With all these

good points his appearance was decidedly sinister, and I did not wonder

that Mrs. Holmes feared him.



My next move was to accost him. Pausing before the doorway in which

he stood, I addressed him some trivial question. He answered me with

sufficient politeness, but with a grudging attention which betrayed the

hold which his own thoughts had upon him. He coughed while speaking

and his eye, which for a moment rested on mine, produced upon me an

impression for which I was hardly prepared, great as was my prejudice

against him. There was such an icy composure in it; the composure of

an envenomed nature conscious of its superiority to all surprise. As I

lingered to study him more closely, the many dangerous qualities of the

man became more and more apparent to me; and convinced that to proceed

further without deep and careful thought, would be to court failure

where triumph would set me up for life, I gave up all present attempt

at enlisting him in conversation, and went my way in an inquiring and

serious mood.



In fact, my position was a peculiar one, and the problem I had set for

myself one of unusual difficulty. Only by means of some extraordinary

device such as is seldom resorted to by the police of this or any other

nation, could I hope to arrive at the secret of this man's conduct,

and triumph in a matter which to all appearance was beyond human

penetration.



But what device? I knew of none, nor through two days and nights of

strenuous thought did I receive the least light on the subject. Indeed,

my mind seemed to grow more and more confused the more I urged it into

action. I failed to get inspiration indoors or out; and feeling

my health suffer from the constant irritation of my recurring

disappointment, I resolved to take a day off and carry myself and my

perplexities into the country.



I did so. Governed by an impulse which I did not then understand, I went

to a small town in New Jersey and entered the first house on which I saw

the sign "Room to Let." The result was most fortunate. No sooner had I

crossed the threshold of the neat and homely apartment thrown open to my

use, than it recalled a room in which I had slept two years before and

in which I had read a little book I was only too glad to remember at

this moment. Indeed, it seemed as if a veritable inspiration had come to

me through this recollection, for though the tale to which I allude was

a simple child's story written for moral purposes, it contained an idea

which promised to be invaluable to me at this juncture. Indeed, by means

of it, I believed myself to have solved the problem that was puzzling

me, and relieved beyond ex-pression, I paid for the night's lodging

I had now determined to forego, and returned immediately to New York,

having spent just fifteen minutes in the town where I had received this

happy inspiration.



My first step on entering the city was to order a dozen steel coils made

similar to the one which I still believed answerable for James Holmes'

death. My next to learn as far as possible all of John Graham's haunts

and habits. At a week's end I had the springs and knew almost as well as

he did himself where he was likely to be found at all times of the day

and night. I immediately acted upon this knowledge. Assuming a slight

disguise, I repeated my former stroll through Printing-house Square,

looking into each doorway as I passed. John Graham was in one of them,

staring in his old way at the passing crowd, but evidently seeing

nothing but the images formed by his own disordered brain. A

manuscript-roll stuck out of his breast-pocket, and from the way his

nervous fingers fumbled with it, I began to understand the restless

glitter of his eyes, which were as full of wretchedness as any eyes I

have ever seen.



Entering the doorway where he stood, I dropped at his feet one of the

small steel coils with which I was provided. He did not see it. Stopping

near him I directed his attention to it by saying:



"Pardon me, but did I not see something drop out of your hand?"



He started, glanced at the seeming inoffensive toy at which I pointed,

and altered so suddenly and so vividly that it became instantly apparent

that the surprise I had planned for him was fully as keen and searching

a one as I had anticipated. Recoiling sharply, he gave me a quick look,

then glanced down again at his feet as if half expecting to find the

object vanished which had startled him. But, perceiving it still

lying there, he crushed it viciously with his heel, and uttering some

incoherent words, dashed impetuously from the building.



Confident that he would regret this hasty impulse and return, I withdrew

a few steps and waited. And sure enough, in less than five minutes he

came slinking back. Picking up the coil with more than one sly look

about, he examined it closely. Suddenly he gave a sharp cry and went

staggering out. Had he discovered that the seeming puzzle possessed the

same invisible spring which had made the one handled by James Holmes so

dangerous?



Certain as to the place he would be found in next, I made a short cut to

an obscure little saloon in Nassau Street, where I took up my stand in

a spot convenient for seeing without being seen. In ten minutes he was

standing at the bar asking for a drink.



"Whiskey!" he cried, "straight."



It was given him; but as he set the empty glass down on the counter, he

saw lying before him another of the steel springs, and was so

confounded by the sight that the proprietor, who had put it there at my

instigation, thrust out his hand toward him as if half afraid he would

fall.



"Where did that--that thing come from?" stammered John Graham,

ignoring the other's gesture and pointing with a trembling hand at the

seemingly insignificant bit of wire between them.



"Didn't it drop from your coat-pocket?" inquired the proprietor. "It

wasn't lying here before you came in."



With a horrible oath the unhappy man turned and fled from the place. I

lost sight of him after that for three hours, then I suddenly came upon

him again. He was walking up town with a set purpose in his face that

made him look more dangerous than ever. Of course I followed him,

expecting him to turn towards Fifty-ninth Street, but at the corner of

Madison Avenue and Forty-seventh Street he changed his mind and dashed

toward Third Avenue. At Park Avenue he faltered and again turned north,

walking for several blocks as if the fiends were behind him. I began to

think that he was but attempting to walk off his excitement, when, at a

sudden rushing sound in the cut beside us, he stopped and trembled. An

express train was shooting by. As it disappeared in the tunnel beyond,

he looked about him with a blanched face and wandering eye; but his

glance did not turn my way, or if it did, he failed to attach any

meaning to my near presence.



He began to move on again and this time towards the bridge spanning

the cut. I followed him very closely. In the center of it he paused and

looked down at the track beneath him. Another train was approaching. As

it came near he trembled from head to foot, and catching at the railing

against which he leaned, was about to make a quick move forward when a

puff of smoke arose from below and sent him staggering backward, gasping

with a terror I could hardly understand till I saw that the smoke had

taken the form of a spiral and was sailing away before him in what to

his disordered imagination must have looked like a gigantic image of

the coil with which twice before on this day he had found himself

confronted.



It may have been chance and it may have been providence; but whichever

it was it saved him. He could not face that semblance of his haunting

thought; and turning away he cowered down on the neighboring curbstone,

where he sat for several minutes, with his head buried in his hands;

when he rose again he was his own daring and sinister self. Knowing that

he was now too much master of his faculties to ignore me any longer,

I walked quickly away and left him. I knew where he would be at six

o'clock and had already engaged a table at the same restaurant. It was

seven, however, before he put in an appearance, and by this time he

was looking more composed. There was a reckless air about him, however,

which was perhaps only noticeable to me; for none of the habitues of

this especial restaurant were entirely without it; wild eyes and unkempt

hair being in the majority.



I let him eat. The dinner he ordered was simple and I had not the heart

to interrupt his enjoyment of it.



But when he had finished; and came to pay, then I allowed the shock to

come. Under the bill which the waiter laid at the side of his plate

was the inevitable steel coil; and it produced even more than its usual

effect. I own I felt sorry for him.



He did not dash from the place, however, as he had from the

liquor-saloon. A spirit of resistance had seized him and he demanded to

know where this object of his fear had come from. No one could tell him

(or would). Whereupon he began to rave and would certainly have done

himself or somebody else an injury if he had not been calmed by a man

almost as wild-looking as himself. Paying his bill, but vowing he would

never enter the place again, he went out, clay-white, but with the

swaggering air of a man who had just asserted himself.



He drooped, however, as soon as he reached the street, and I had no

difficulty in following him to a certain gambling den where he gained

three dollars and lost five. From there he went to his lodgings in West

Tenth Street.



I did not follow him in. He had passed through many deep and wearing

emotions since noon, and I had not the heart to add another to them.



But late the next day I returned to this house and rang the bell. It was

already dusk, but there was light enough for me to notice the unrepaired

condition of the iron railings on either side of the old stone stoop and

to compare this abode of decayed grandeur with the spacious and elegant

apartment in which pretty Mrs. Holmes mourned the loss of her young

husband. Had any such comparison ever been made by the unhappy John

Graham, as he hurried up these decayed steps into the dismal halls

beyond?



In answer to my summons there came to the door a young woman to whom I

had but to intimate my wish to see Mr. Graham for her to let me in with

the short announcement:



"Top floor, back room! Door open, he's out; door shut, he's in."



As an open door meant liberty to enter, I lost no time in following the

direction of her pointing finger, and presently found myself in a low

attic chamber overlooking an acre of roofs. A fire had been lighted in

the open grate, and the flickering red beams danced on ceiling and walls

with a cheeriness greatly in contrast to the nature of the business

which had led me there. As they also served to light the room I

proceeded to make myself at home; and drawing up a chair, sat down at

the fireplace in such a way as to conceal myself from any one entering

the door.



In less than half an hour he came in.



He was in a state of high emotion. His face was flushed and his eyes

burning. Stepping rapidly forward, he flung his hat on the table in the

middle of the room, with a curse that was half cry and half groan. Then

he stood silent and I had an opportunity of noting how haggard he had

grown in the short time which had elapsed since I had seen him last. But

the interval of his inaction was short, and in a moment he flung up

his arms with a loud "Curse her!" that rang through the narrow room and

betrayed the source of his present frenzy. Then he again stood still,

grating his teeth and working his hands in a way terribly suggestive

of the murderer's instinct. But not for long. He saw something that

attracted his attention on the table, a something upon which my eyes

had long before been fixed, and starting forward with a fresh and quite

different display of emotion, he caught up what looked like a roll of

manuscript and began to tear it open.



"Back again! Always back!" wailed from his lips; and he gave the roll a

toss that sent from its midst a small object which he no sooner saw than

he became speechless and reeled back. It was another of the steel coils.



"Good God!" fell at last from his stiff and working lips. "Am I mad or

has the devil joined in the pursuit against me? I cannot eat, I cannot

drink, but this diabolical spring starts up before me. It is here,

there, everywhere. The visible sign of my guilt; the--the----" He had

stumbled back upon my chair, and turning, saw me.



I was on my feet at once, and noting that he was dazed by the shock of

my presence, I slid quietly between him and the door.



The movement roused him. Turning upon me with a sarcastic smile in which

was concentrated the bitterness of years, he briefly said:



"So, I am caught! Well, there has to be an end to men as well as to

things, and I am ready for mine. She turned me away from her door

to-day, and after the hell of that moment I don't much fear any other."



"You had better not talk," I admonished him. "All that falls from you

now will only tell against you on your trial."



He broke into a harsh laugh. "And do you think I care for that? That

having been driven by a woman's perfidy into crime I am going to bridle

my tongue and keep down the words which are my only safeguard from

insanity? No, no; while my miserable breath lasts I will curse her,

and if the halter is to cut short my words, it shall be with her name

blistering my lips."



I attempted to speak, but he would not give me the opportunity. The

passion of weeks had found vent and he rushed on recklessly.



"I went to her house to-day. I wanted to see her in her widow's weeds;

I wanted to see her eyes red with weeping over a grief which owed its

bitterness to me. But she would not grant me an admittance. She had me

thrust from her door, and I shall never know how deeply the iron has

sunk into her soul. But--" and here his face showed a sudden change,

"I shall see her if I am tried for murder. She will be in the

court-room,--on the witness stand----"



"Doubtless," I interjected; but his interruption came quickly and with

vehement passion.



"Then I am ready. Welcome trial, conviction, death, even. To confront

her eye to eye is all I wish. She shall never forget it, never!"



"Then you do not deny----" I began.



"I deny nothing," he returned, and held out his hands with a grim

gesture. "How can I, when there falls from everything I touch, the

devilish thing which took away the life I hated?"



"Have you anything more to say or do before you leave these rooms?" I

asked.



He shook his head, and then, bethinking himself, pointed to the roll of

paper which he had flung on the table.



"Burn that!" he cried.



I took up the roll and looked at it. It was the manuscript of a poem in

blank verse.



"I have been with it into a dozen newspaper and magazine offices," he

explained with great bitterness. "Had I succeeded in getting a publisher

for it I might have forgotten my wrongs and tried to build up a new life

on the ruins of the old. But they would not have it, none of them, so I

say, burn it! that no memory of me may remain in this miserable world."



"Keep to the facts!" I severely retorted. "It was while carrying this

poem from one newspaper to another that you secured that bit of print

upon the blank side of which you yourself printed the obituary notice

with which you savored your revenge upon the woman who had disappointed

you."



"You know that? Then you know where I got the poison with which I tipped

the silly toy with which that weak man fooled away his life?"



"No," said I, "I do not know where you got it. I merely know it was no

common poison bought at a druggist's, or from any ordinary chemist."



"It was woorali; the deadly, secret woorali. I got it from--but that

is another man's secret. You will never hear from me anything that will

compromise a friend. I got it, that is all. One drop, but it killed my

man."



The satisfaction, the delight, which he threw into these words are

beyond description. As they left his lips a jet of flame from the

neglected fire shot up and threw his figure for one instant into bold

relief upon the lowering ceiling; then it died out, and nothing but the

twilight dusk remained in the room and on the countenance of this doomed

and despairing man.





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