The Bronze Hand





I. THE FASCINATING UNKNOWN.



HER room was on the ground floor of the house we mutually inhabited,

and mine directly above it, so that my opportunities for seeing her were

limited to short glimpses of her auburn head as she leaned out of the

window to close her shutters at night or open them in the morning. Yet

our chance encounter in the hall or on the walk in front, had made so

deep an impression upon my sensibilities that I was never without the

vision of her pale face set off by the aureole of reddish brown hair,

which, since my first meeting with her, had become for me the symbol of

everything beautiful, incomprehensible and strange.



For my fellow-lodger was a mystery.



I am a busy man now, but just at the time of which I speak, I had

leisure in abundance.



I was sharing with many others the unrest of the perilous days

subsequent to the raid of John Brown at Harper's Ferry. Abraham Lincoln

had been elected President. Baltimore, where the incidents I am relating

transpired, had become the headquarters of men who secretly leagued

themselves in antagonism to the North. Men and women who felt that their

Northern brethren had grievously wronged them planned to undermine the

stability of the government. The schemes at this time were gigantic

in their conception and far-reaching in their scope and endless

ramifications.



Naturally under these conditions, a consciousness of ever-present danger

haunted every thinking mind. The candor of the outspoken was regarded

with doubt, and the reticence of the more cautious, with distrust. It

was a trying time for sensitive, impressionable natures with nothing to

do. Perhaps all this may account for the persistency with which I sat

in my open window. I was thus sitting one night--a memorable one to

me--when I heard a sharp exclamation from below, in a voice I had long

listened for.



Any utterance from those lips would have attracted my attention; but,

filled as this was with marked, if not extraordinary, emotion, I

could not fail to be roused to a corresponding degree of curiosity and

interest.



Thrusting out my head, I cast a rapid glance downward. A shutter

swinging in the wind, and the escaping figure of a man hurrying round

the corner of the street, were all that rewarded my scrutiny; though,

from the stream of light issuing from the casement beneath, I perceived

that her window, like my own, was wide open.



As I continued to watch this light, I saw her thrust out her head with

an eagerness indicative of great excitement. Peering to right and left,

she murmured some suppressed words mixed with gasps of such strong

feeling that I involuntarily called out:



"Excuse me, madam, have you been frightened in any way by the man I saw

running away from here a moment ago?"



She gave a great start and glanced up. I see her face yet--beautiful,

wonderful; so beautiful and so wonderful I have never been able to

forget it. Meeting my eye, she faltered out:



"Did you see a man running away from here? Oh, sir, if I might have a

word with you!"



I came near leaping directly to the pavement in my ardor and anxiety to

oblige her, but, remembering before it was too late that she was neither

a Juliet nor I a Romeo, I merely answered that I would be with her in a

moment and betook myself below by the less direct but safer means of the

staircase.



It was a short one and I was but a moment in descending, but that moment

was long enough for my heart to acquire a most uncomfortable throb,

and it was with anything but an air of quiet self-possession that I

approached the threshold I had never before dared to cross even in

fancy.



The door was open and I caught one glimpse of her figure before she was

aware of my presence. She was contemplating her right hand with a look

of terror, which, added to her striking personality, made her seem at

the instant a creature of alarming characteristics fully as capable of

awakening awe as devotion.



I may have given some token of the agitation her appearance awakened,

for she turned towards me with sudden vehemence.



"Oh!" she cried, with a welcoming gesture; "you are the gentleman from

up-stairs who saw a man running away from here a moment ago. Would you

know that man if you saw him again?"



"I am afraid not," I replied. "He was only a flying figure in my eyes."



"Oh!" she moaned, bringing her hands together in dismay. But,

immediately straightening herself, she met my regard with one as

direct as my own. "I need a friend," she said, "and I am surrounded by

strangers."



I made a move towards her; I did not feel myself a stranger. But how was

I to make her realize the fact?



"If there is anything I can do," I suggested.



Her steady regard became searching.



"I have noticed you before to-night," she declared, with a directness

devoid of every vestige of coquetry. "You seem to have qualities that

may be trusted. But the man capable of helping me needs the strongest

motives that influence humanity: courage, devotion, discretion, and a

total forgetfulness of self. Such qualifications cannot be looked for in

a stranger."



As if with these words she dismissed me from her thoughts, she turned

her back upon me. Then, as if recollecting the courtesy due even to

strangers, she cast me an apologetic glance over her shoulder and

hurriedly added:



"I am bewildered by my loss. Leave me to the torment of my thoughts. You

can do nothing for me."



Had there been the least evidence of falsity in her tone or the

slightest striving after effect in her look or bearing, I would have

taken her at her word and left her then and there. But the candor of

the woman and the reality of her emotion were not to be questioned, and

moved by an impulse as irresistible as it was foolhardy, I cried with

the impetuosity of my twenty-one years:



"I am ready to risk my life for you. Why, I do not know and do not care

to ask. I only know you could have found no other man so willing to do

your bidding."



A smile, in which surprise was tempered by a feeling almost tender,

crossed her lips and immediately vanished. She shook her head as if in

deprecation of the passion my words evinced, and was about to dismiss

me, when she suddenly changed her mind and seized upon the aid I had

offered, with a fervor that roused my sense of chivalry and

deepened what might have been but a passing fancy into an active and

all-engrossing passion.



"I can read faces," said she, "and I have read yours. You will do for me

what I cannot do for myself, but----Have you a mother living?"



I answered no; that I was very nearly without relatives or ties.



"I am glad," she said, half to herself. Then with a last searching look,

"Have you not even a sweetheart?"



I must have reddened painfully, for she drew back with a hesitating

and troubled air; but the vigorous protest I hastened to make seemed to

reassure her, for the next word she uttered was one of confidence.



"I have lost a ring." She spoke in a low-but hurried tone. "It was

snatched from my finger as I reached out my hand to close my shutters.

Some one must have been lying in wait; some one who knows my habits

and the hour at which I close my window for the night. The loss I have

sustained is greater than you can conceive. It means more, much more,

than appears. To the man who will bring me back that ring direct from

the hand that stole it, I would devote the gratitude of a lifetime.

Are you willing to make the endeavor? It is a task I cannot give to the

police."



This request, so different from any I had expected, checked my

enthusiasm in proportion as it awoke a senseless jealousy.



"Yet it seems directly in their line," I suggested, seeing nothing

but humiliation before me if I attempted the recovery of a simple

love-token.



"I know that it must seem so to you," she admitted, reading my thoughts

and answering them with skilful indirectness. "But what policeman would

undertake a difficult and minute search for an article whose intrinsic

value would not reach five dollars?"



"Then it is only a memento," I stammered, with very evident feeling.



"Only a memento," she repeated; "but not of love. Worthless as it is in

itself, it would buy everything I possess, and almost my soul to-night.

I can explain no further. Will you attempt its recovery?"



Restored to myself by her frank admission that it was no lover's

keepsake I was urged to recapture and return, I allowed the powerful

individuality of this woman to have its full effect upon me. Taking in

with one glance her beauty, the impassioned fervor of her nature, and

the subtle charm of a spirit she now allowed to work its full spell upon

me, I threw every practical consideration to the winds, and impetuously

replied:



"I will endeavor to regain this ring for you. Tell me where to go, and

whom to attack, and if human wit and strength can compass it, you shall

have the jewel back before morn-ing.



"Oh!" she protested, "I see that you anticipate a task of small

difficulty. You cannot recover this particular ring so easily as that.

In the first place, I do not in the least know who took it; I only know

its destination. Alas! if it is allowed to reach that destination, I am

bereft of hope."



"No love token," I murmured, "and yet your whole peace depends on its

recovery."



"More than my peace," she answered; and with a quick movement she closed

the door which I had left open behind me. As its sharp bang rang

through the room, I realized into what a pitfall I had stumbled. Only a

political intrigue of the most desperate character could account for the

words I had heard and the actions to which I had been a witness. But I

was in no mood to recoil even from such dangers as these, and so my look

showed her as she leaned toward me with the words:



"Listen! I am burdened with a secret. I am in this house, in this city,

for a purpose. The secret is not my own and I cannot part with it;

neither is my purpose communicable. You therefore will be obliged to

deal with the greatest dangers blindfold. One encouragement only I can

give you. You will work for good ends. You are pitted against wrong, not

right, and if you succumb, it will be in a cause you yourself would call

noble. Do I make myself understood, Mr.--Mr. ------"



"Abbott," I put in, with a bow.



She took the bow for an affirmative, as indeed I meant she should. "You

do not recoil," she murmured, "not even when I say that you must take

no third party into your confidence, no matter to what extremity you are

brought."



"I would not be the man I think I am, if I recoiled," I said, smiling.



She waved her hand with almost a stern air.



"Swear!" she commanded; "swear that, from the moment you leave this

door till you return to it, you will breathe no word concerning me, your

errand, or even the oath I am now exacting from you."



"Ah!" thought I to myself, "this is serious." But I took the oath under

the spell of the most forceful personality I had ever met, and did not

regret it--then.



"Now let us waste no more time," said she.



"In the large building on ------ Street there is an office with the name

of Dr. Merriam on the door. See! I have written it on this card, so that

there may be no mistake about it. That office is open to patients from

ten in the morning until twelve at noon. During these hours any one can

enter there; but to awaken no distrust, he should have some ailment.

Have you not some slight disorder concerning which you might consult a

physician?"



"I doubt it," said I; "but I might manufacture one."



"That would not do with Dr. Merriam. He is a skilful man; he would see

through any imposture."



"I have a sick friend," I ruminated. "And by the way, his case is

obscure and curious. I could interest any doctor in it in five minutes."



"That is good; consult him in regard to your friend; meantime--while you

are waiting for the interview, I mean--take notice of a large box you

will find placed on a side-table. Do not seem to fix your attention on

it, but never let it be really out of your sight from the moment the

door is unlocked at ten till you are forced by the doctor's importunity

to leave the room at twelve. If you are alone there for one minute

(and you will be allowed to remain there alone if you show no haste to

consult the doctor) unlock that box--here is the key--and look carefully

inside. No one will interfere and no one will criticize you; there is

more than one person who has access to that box."



"But--" I put in.



"You will discover there," she whispered, "a hand of bronze lying on

an enamelled cushion. On the fingers of this hand there should be, and

doubtless are, rings of forged steel of peculiar workmanship. If there

is one on the middle finger, my cause is lost, and I can only await the

end." Her cheek paled. "But if there is not, you may be sure that an

attempt will be made by some one to-morrow--I do not know whom--to put

one there before the office closes at noon. The ring will be mine--the

one stolen from my hand just now--and it will be your business to

prevent the box being opened for this purpose, by any means short of

public interference involving arrest and investigation; for this, too,

would be fatal. The delay of a day may be of incalculable service to me.

It would give me time to think, if not to act. Does the undertaking seem

a hopeless one? Am I asking too much of your inexperience?"



"It does not seem a hopeful one," I admitted; "but I am willing to

undertake the adventure. What are its dangers? And why, if I see the

ring on the finger you speak of, cannot I take it off and bring it back

to you?"



"Because," said she, answering the last question first, "the ring

becomes a part of the mechanism the moment it is thrust over the last

joint. You could not draw it off. As for the dangers I allude to, they

are of a hidden character, and part of the secret I mentioned. If,

however, you exercise your wit, your courage, and a proper amount of

strategy, you may escape. Interference must be proved against you.

That rule, at least, has been held inviolate."



Aghast at the mysterious perils she thus indicated in the path toward

which she was urging me, I for one instant felt an impulse to retreat.

But adventure of any kind has its allurements for an unoccupied youth

of twenty-one, and when seasoned, as this was, by a romantic, if

unreasonable, passion, proved altogether too irresistible for me to give

it up. Laughing outright in my endeavor to throw off the surplus of my

excitement, I drew myself up and uttered some fiery phrase of courage,

which I doubt if she even heard. Then I said some word about the doctor,

which she at once caught up.



"The doctor," said she, "may know, and may not know, the mysteries of

that box. I would advise you to treat him solely as a doctor. He who

uses the key you now hold in your hand cannot be too wary; by which I

mean too careful or too silent. Oh, that I dared to go there myself! But

my agitation would betray me. Besides, my person is known, or this ring

would never have been taken from me.



"I will be your deputy," I assured her. "Have you any further

instructions?"



"No," said she; "instructions are useless in an affair of this kind.

Your actions must be determined by the exigencies of the moment.

Meantime, my every thought will be yours. Good-night, sir; pray God, it

may not be good-by."



"One moment," I said, as I arose to go. "Have you any objection to

telling me your name?"



"I am Miss Calhoun," she said, with a graceful bow.



This was the beginning of my formidable adventure with the bronze hand.









II. THE QUAKER-LIKE GIRL, THE PALE GIRL, AND THE MAN WITH A BRISTLING

MUSTACHE.



THE building mentioned by my new-found friend was well known to me. It

was one of the kind in which every other office is unoccupied the year

round. Such tenants as gave it the little air of usefulness it possessed

were of the bad-pay kind. They gave little concern to their own affairs

and less to those of their neighbors. The public avoided the building,

and the tenants did nothing to encourage a change. In a populous city,

on the corner made by frequented streets, it stood as much alone and

neglected as if it were a ruin. Old or young eyes may have looked

through its begrimed windows into the busy thoroughfare beneath, but

none in the street ever honored the old place with a glance or thought.

No one even wasted contempt upon its smoky walls, and few disturbed the

accumulated dust upon the stairs or in the dimly-lighted hallways.



Had a place been sought for wherein the utmost secrecy might be

observed, surely this was that place. As I neared the door upon which I

read the doctor's name, I found myself treading on tip-toe, so impressed

had I become by a sense of caution, if not of dread.



I had made every effort to be on hand at precisely ten o'clock, and felt

so sure that I had been the first to arrive that I reached out to the

door-knob with every expectation of entering, unseen by any one, and

possibly unheard. To my dismay, the first twist I gave it resulted in a

rusty shriek that set my teeth on edge, and echoed down the gloomy hall.

With my flesh creeping, I opened the door and passed into the doctor's

outer room.



It was far from being empty. Seated in chairs ranged along two sides of

the room, I saw a dozen or more persons, male and female. All wore the

preoccupied air that patients are apt to assume while awaiting their

turn to be called by the doctor. One amongst the number made an effort

at indifference by drawing out and pushing back a nail in the flooring

with the sole of her pretty shoe. It may have been intended for

coquetry, and at another time might have bewitched me; now it seemed

strangely out of place. The man who was to all appearance counting the

flies in the web of an industrious spider was more in keeping with the

place, my feelings, and the atmosphere of despondency that the room gave

out.



As I had no doubt that the ring I was seeking was in the possession of

some one of these persons, I gave each as minute an examination as was

possible under the circumstances. Only two amongst them appeared open to

suspicion. Of these, one was a young man whose naturally fine features

would have prepossessed him in my favor had it not been for the peculiar

alertness of his bright blue eye, which flashed incessantly in every

direction till each and all of us seemed to partake of his restlessness

and anxiety. Why was he not depressed? The other was the girl, or,

rather, the young lady to whose pretty foot I have referred. If she was

at all conspicuous, it was owing to the contrast between her beautiful

face and the Quaker-like simplicity of her dress. She was restless also;

her foot had ceased its action, but her hand moved constantly. Now

it clutched its fellow in her lap, and now it ran in an oft-repeated

action, seemingly beyond her control, up and down and round and round a

plain but expensive leather bag she wore at her side. "She carries the

ring," thought I, sitting down in the chair next her.



Meantime, I had not been oblivious of the box. It stood upon a plain

oak table directly opposite the door by which I had come in. It

was about a foot square, and was the only object in the room at all

ornamental. Indeed, there was but little else for the eye to rest on,

consequently most of us looked that way, though I noticed that but few

seemed to take any real interest in that or anything else within sight.

This was encouraging, and I was on the point of transferring my entire

attention to the two persons I have named, when one of them, the

nearest, rose hurriedly and went out.



This was an unexpected move on her part, and I did not know what to make

of it. Had I annoyed her by my scrutiny, or had she divined my errand?

In my doubt, I consulted the face of the man I secretly thought to be

her accomplice. It was non-committal, and, in my doubt as to the meaning

of all this, I allowed myself to become interested in a pale young woman

who had been sitting on the other side of the lady who had just left.

She was evidently a patient who stood in great need of assistance. Her



head hung feebly forward, and her whole figure looked ready to drop. Yet

when a minute later the door of the inner office opened, and the doctor

appeared on the sill in an expectant attitude, she made no attempt to

rise, but pushed forward another woman who seemed less indisposed than

herself. I had to compel myself to think of all I saw as being real and

within my experience.



Surprised by this action on the part of one so ill, I watched the pale

girl for an instant, and almost forgot my mission in the compassion

aroused by her sickly appearance. But soon that mission and my motive

for being in this place were somewhat vividly recalled to me by an

unexpected action on this very young woman's part. With the sudden

movement of an acutely suffering person, she bounded from her seat and

crossed the floor to where the box stood, gasping for breath, and almost

falling against the table when she reached it.



A grunt from the good-looking young man followed; but neither he nor

the middle-aged female with a pitiful skin disease, who had been sitting

near her, offered to go to her assistance, though the latter looked as

if she would like to. I was the only one to rise. The truth is, I

could see no one touch the box without having something more than my

curiosity awakened. Approaching her respectfully, and with as complete a

dissimulation of my real feelings as possible, I ventured to say:



"You are very ill, miss. Shall I summon the doctor?"



She was clutching the side of the table for support, and her head,

drooping helplessly over the box, was swaying from side to side as she

rocked to and fro in her pain.



"Thank you!" she gasped, without turning, "I will wait. I would rather

wait."



At that moment the doctor's door opened again.



"There he is now," said I.



"I will wait," she insisted. "Let the others take their turn."



Satisfied now that something besides pain caused her interest in the

box, I drew back, asking myself whether she had been in possession of

the ring from the beginning, or whether it had been passed to her by her

restless neighbor. Meanwhile, another patient had disappeared into the

adjoining room.



A few minutes passed. The man with the restless eye began to fidget.

Could it be that she was simply guarding the box, and that he was the

one who wished to open it? As the doubt struck me, I surveyed her

more attentively. She was certainly doing something besides supporting

herself with that sly right hand of hers. Yes, that was a click I heard.

She was fitting a key into the lock. Startled, but determined not

to betray myself, I assumed an air of great patience, and, taking a

memorandum book from my pocket, began to write in it. Meantime, the

doctor had disposed of his second patient and had beckoned to a third.

To my astonishment, my friend with the nervous manner responded, thus

acquitting himself in my eyes from any interest in the box.



The interview he had with the doctor lasted some time; meantime, the

young woman in the window remained more or less motionless. When the

fourth person left the room, she turned and cast a quick glance at

myself and the other person present.



I knew what it meant. She was anxious tobe left alone in order to lift

that mysterious lid. She was no more ill than I was.



There was even a dash of color in her cheeks, and the trembling she

indulged in was caused by great excitement and suspense, and not by

pain.



Compassion at once gave way to anger, and I inwardly resolved not to

spare her if we came into conflict over the box.



My companion was an old and non-observant man, who had come in after the

rest of us. When the doctor again appeared, I motioned to this old man

to follow him, which he very gladly did, leaving me alone with the pale

girl. At once I got up, showing my fatigue and slightly yawning.



"This is very tedious," I muttered aloud, and stepped idly towards the

door leading into the hall.



The girl at the box could not restrain her impatience. She cast me

another short glance. I affected not to see it; took out my watch,

consulted it, put it back quickly and slipped out into the hall. As I

closed the door behind me, I heard a slight creak. Instantly I was back

again, and with so sudden a movement that I surprised her, with her face

bent over the open box.



"Oh, my poor young lady," I exclaimed, springing towards her with every

appearance of great concern. "You do not look able to stand. Lean on me

if you feel faint, and I will help you to a seat."



She turned upon me in a fury, but, meeting my eye, assumed an air of

composure, which did not impose upon me in the least, or prevent me from

pressing close to her side and taking one look into the box, which she

had evidently not had sufficient self-possession to close.



The sight which met my eye was not unexpected, yet was no less

interesting on that account. A hand--the hand--curiously made of

bronze, and of exquisite proportions, lay on its enamelled cushion, with

rings on all of its fingers save one. That one I was delighted to see

was the middle one, proof positive that the mischief contemplated by

Miss Calhoun had not yet been accomplished.



Restored to complete self-possession by this discovery, I examined the

box and its contents with an air of polite curiosity. I surprised myself

by my self-possession and bonhomie.



"What an odd thing to find in a physician's office!" I exclaimed.

"Beautiful, is it not? An unusual work of art; but there is nothing in

it to alarm you. You shouldn't allow yourself to be frightened at such

a thing as that." And with a quick action, she was wholly powerless to

prevent, I shut down the lid, which closed with a snap.



Startled and greatly discomposed, she drew back, hastily thrusting her

hand behind her.



"You are very officious," she began, but, seeing nothing but good nature

in the smile with which I regarded her, she faltered irresolutely, and

finally took refuge again in her former trick of invalidism. Breaking

out into low moanings, she fell back upon the nearest chair, from which

she immediately started again with the quick cry, "Oh, how I suffer! I

am not well enough to be out alone." And turning with a celerity that

belied her words, she fled into the hall, shutting the door violently

behind her.



Astonished at the completeness of my victory, I spent the first moments

of triumph in trying to lift the lid of the box. But it was securely

locked. I was just debating whether I could now venture to return to my

seat, when the hall door reopened and a gentleman entered.



He was short, sturdy and had a bristling black mustache. I needed to

look at him but once to be certain he was interested both in the box and

me, and, while I gave no evidence of my discovery, I prepared myself

for an adventure of a much more serious nature than that which had just

occupied me.



Modeling my behavior upon that of the young girl whose place I had

usurped, I placed my elbow on the box and looked out of the window. As

I did so I heard a shuffling in the adjoining room, and knew that in

another moment the doctor would again appear at the door to announce

that he was ready for another patient. How could I evade the summons?

The man behind me was a determined one. He was there for the purpose

of opening the box, and would not be likely to leave the room while I

remained in it. How, then, could I comply with the requirements of the

situation and yet prevent this new-comer from lifting the lid in my

absence? I knew of but one way--a way which had suggested itself to

me during the long watches of the previous night, and which I had come

prepared to carry out.



Taking advantage of my proximity to the box, I inserted in the keyhole a

small morsel of wax which for some minutes past I had been warming in

my hand. This done, I laid my hat down on the lid, noting with great

exactness as I did so just where its rim lay in reference to the various

squares and scrolls with which the top was ornamented. By this means I

felt that I might know if the hat were moved in my absence. The doctor

having showed himself by this time, I followed him into his office with

a calmness born of the most complete confidence in the strategy I had

employed.



Dr. Merriam, whom I have purposely refrained from describing until now,

was a tall, well-made man, with a bald head and a pleasant eye, but

careless in his attire and bearing. As I met that eye and responded to

his good-natured greeting, I inwardly decided that his interest in the

box was much less than his guardianship of it would seem to betoken.

And when I addressed him and entered upon the subject of my friend's

complaint, I soon saw by the depth of his professional interest that

whatever connection he might have with the box, neither that nor any

other topic whatever could for a moment vie with his delight in a new

and strange case like that of my poor friend. I consequently entered

into the medical details demanded of me with a free mind and succeeded

in getting some very valuable advice, for which I was of course truly

grateful.



As soon as this was accomplished I took my leave, but not by the usual

door of egress. Saying that I had left my hat in the ante-room, I bowed

my acknowledgments to the doctor and returned the way I came. But not

without meeting with a surprise. There was still but one person in the

room with the box, but that person was not the man with the bristling

mustache and determined eye whom I had expected to find there. It was

the pretty, Quaker-like girl who had formerly aroused my suspicions; and

though she sat far from the box, a moment's glance at her flushed face

and trembling hands assured me she had but that moment left it.



Going at once to the box, I saw that my hat had been moved. But more

significant still was the hairpin lying on the floor at my feet, with

a morsel of wax sticking to one of its points. This was conclusive. The

man had discovered why his key would not work, and had called to his aid

the young lady, who had evidently been waiting in the hall outside.



She had tried to pick out the wax--a task in which I had happily

interrupted her.



Proud of the success of my device, and satisfied that the danger was

over for that day (it being well on to twelve o'clock), I said a few

words more to the doctor, who had followed me into the room, and then

prepared to take my departure. But the young lady was more agile than I.

Saying something about a very pressing engagement which would not allow

her to consult the doctor that day, she hurried ahead of me and ran

quickly down the long hall. The doctor looked astonished, but dismissed

the matter with a shrug; while, with the greatest desire to follow her,

I stood hesitating on the threshold, when my eye fell on a small object

lying under the chair on which she had been sitting. It was the little

leathern bag I had seen hanging at her side.



Catching it up, I explained that I would run after the young lady and

restore it; and glad of an excuse which would enable me to follow her

through the streets without risking the suspicion of impropriety, I

hastened down the stairs and happily succeeded in reaching the pavement

before her skirts whisked round the corner. I was therefore but a few

paces behind her, which distance I took good care to preserve.









III. MADAME.



My motive in following this young girl was not so much to restore

her property, as to see where her engagement was taking her. I felt

confident that none of the three persons who had shown interest in the

box was the prime mover in an affair so important; and it was necessary

above all things to find out who the prime mover was. So I followed the

girl.



She led me into a doubtful quarter of the town. As the crowd between us

diminished and we reached a point where we were the only pedestrians on

the block we were then traversing, I grew anxious lest she should turn

and see me before arriving at her destination. But she evidently was

without suspicion, for she passed without any hesitation up a certain

stoop in the middle of this long block and entered an open door on which

a brass plate was to be seen, inscribed with this one word in large

black letters:



"MADAME."



This was odd; and as I had no inclination to encounter any "madame"

without some hint as to her character and business, I looked about me

for some one able and willing to give me the necessary information.

An upholsterer's shop in an opposite basement seemed to offer me the

opportunity I wanted. Crossing the street, I saluted the honest-looking

man I met in the doorway, and pointing out madame's house, asked what

was done over there.



He answered with a smile.



"Go and see," he said; "the door's open. Oh, they don't charge

anything," he made haste to protest, misunderstanding, no doubt, my air

of hesitation. "I was in there once myself. They all sit round and she

talks; that is, if she feels like it. It is all nonsense, you know, sir;

no good in it."



"But is there any harm?" I asked. "Is the place reputable and safe?"



"Oh, safe enough; I never heard of anything going wrong there. Why,

ladies go there; real ladies; veiled, of course. I have seen two

carriages at a time standing in front of that door. Fools, to be sure,

sir; but honest enough, I suppose."



I needed no further encouragement. Recross-ing the street, I entered

the house which stood so invitingly open, and found myself almost

immediately in a large hall, from which I was ushered by a silent

negress into a long room with so dim and mysterious an interior that

I felt like a man suddenly transported from the bustle of the out-door

world into the mystic recesses of some Eastern temple.



The causes of this effect were simple, A dim light suggesting worship;

the faint scent of slowly burning incense; women and men sitting on low

benches about the walls. In the center, on a kind of raised dais, backed

by a drapery of black velvet, a woman was seated, in the semblance of

a Hindoo god, so nearly did her heavy, compactly crouched figure, wound

about with Eastern stuffs and glistening with gold, recall the images we

are accustomed to associate with the worship of Vishnu. Her face, too,

so far as it was visible in the subdued light, had the unresponsiveness

of carven wood, and if not exactly hideous of feature, had in it a

strange and haunting quality calculated to impress a sensitive mind

with a sense of implacable fate. Cruel, hard, passionless, and yet

threatening to a degree, must this countenance have seemed to those who

willingly subjected themselves to its baneful influence.



I was determined not to be one of these, and yet I had not regarded her

for two minutes before I found myself forgetting the real purpose of my

visit, and taking a seat with the rest, in anticipation of something for

which as yet I had no name, even in my own mind.



How long I sat there motionless I do not know. A spell was on me--a

spell from which I suddenly roused with a start. Why or through what

means I do not know. Nobody else had moved. Fearing a relapse into

this trance-like state, I made a persistent effort to be freed from its

dangers. Happily the full signification of my errand there burst upon

me. Finding myself really awake, I ventured to peer about, expecting to

see the more willing devotees affected as I had been. I encountered a

flash from the eyes of the young lady whose bag I held in my hand. She

was under no spell. She had not only seen but recognized me.



I held the bag towards her. She gave a furtive glance in the direction

of Madame--a glance not free from fear--then clutched the bag. Before

releasing my hold upon it I ventured upon a word of explanation. I got

no further, for at this moment a voice was heard.



By the effect it had upon the expectant ones, I knew it could have

emanated only from the idol-like being who had filled the place with her

awesome personality.



At first the voice sounded like a distant call, musically sweet and low;

the kind of note that we can imagine the Indian snake-charmers to

use when the cobra raises its winged head in obedience to the pipe's

resistless charm. Every ear was strained to hear; mine with the rest. So

much preparation, so much faith must result in something. What was it to

be? The incoherent sounds became more and more distinct, and, finally,

took on the articulate form of words. The quiet was deathly. Every one

was prepared to interpret her utterances into personal significance.

The dread and trouble of the times filling all minds, men wished to be

forehanded with the decrees of Providence. Into this brooding silence

the low, vibrating tones of this mysterious voice entered, and this is

what we heard:



"Doom! doom! For him--the one--the betrayer--the passing bell is

tolling. Hear it, ye weak ones and grow strong. Hear it, ye mighty and

tremble. Not alone for him will it ring. For ye! for ye! if the decree

of the linked rings goes forth---"



Here there was a perceptible quiver of the drapery back of the dais.

Others may not have noted it; I did. When, therefore, a very white hand

came slowly from between its folds and placed its fingers upon the right

temple of Madame, I was not much startled. What did startle me was

the fact let out before that admonishing hand touched her, that this

being--I can hardly call her woman--seemingly so far removed from the

political agitations of the day, was, in very deed, either consciously

or unconsciously--I could not decide which--intimately connected

with the conspiracy I was at that very moment striving to defeat.

How intimately? Was she the prime mover I was seeking, or simply an

instrument under the control of another, and yet stronger, personality

imaged in the owner of that white hand?



There was no means of determining at that moment. Meanwhile, the fingers

had left the temple of Madame. The hand was slowly withdrawn. Sleep

apparently fell again upon the dreamer, but only long enough for her to

bring forth the words:



"I have said."



The silence that followed, gave me time to think. It was necessary.

She had bidden the mighty tremble and had pronounced death to one--the

betrayer. Was this senseless drivel, prophetic sight, or threatened

murder? I inclined to consider it the last, and this was why: For some

weeks now, murder, or, at least, sudden death, had been rampant in

the country. My flesh crept as I remembered the many mysterious deaths

reported within the month from St. Louis, Boston, New Orleans, New York

and even here in Baltimore. Like a flash it came across me that every

name was identified, more or less closely, with the political affairs of

the time. Coupling my knowledge with what I conjectured, was it strange

I saw a confirmation of the worst fears expressed by Miss Calhoun in the

half-completed sentences of this seeming clairvoyant?



So occupied had I been with my own thoughts that I feared I might have

done something to call an undesirable attention to myself. Glancing

furtively to one side, I heard, in the opposite direction, these words:



"She has never failed. What she has said will come to pass. Some one of

note will die."



These gloomy words were the first to break the ominous silence.

Turning to face the speaker, I encountered the cold eye of a man with a

retreating chin, a receding forehead, and a mouth large and cruel enough

to stamp him as one of those perverted natures who, to the unscrupulous,

are usefully insane.



Here, then, was a being who not only knew the meaning of the fateful

words we had heard, but, to my mind, could be relied upon to make them a

verity.



It was a relief to me to turn my gaze from his repellant features to the

fixed countenance of Madame. She had not stirred; but either the room

had grown lighter or my eyes had become more accustomed to the darkness,

for I certainly saw a change in her look. Her eyelids were now raised,

and her eyes were bent directly upon me. This was uncomfortable,

especially as there was malevolence in her glance, or so I thought,

and, far from being pleased with my position, I began to wish that I

had never allowed myself to enter the place. Under the influence of this

feeling I let my eyes drop from the woman's countenance to her hands,

which were folded, as I have said, in a fixed position across her

breast. The result was an increase of my mental disturbance. They were

brown, shining hands, laden with rings, and, in the added light, under

which I saw them, bore a strange resemblance to the bronze hand I had

just left in Dr. Merriam's office.



I had never considered myself a weak man, but, from that instant, I

began to have a crawling fear of this woman--a fear that was in nowise

lessened by the very evident agitation visible in the girl, who had been

for me the connecting link between that object of mystery and this.



Unendurable quiet was upon us all again. It was aggravated by awe--an

awe to which I was determined not to succumb, notwithstanding the secret

uneasiness under which I was laboring. So I let my eyes continue to

roam, till they fell upon the one thing moving in the room. This was a

man's foot, which I now saw projecting from behind the drapery through

which I had seen the white hand glide. It was swinging up and down in an

impatient way, so out of keeping with the emotions perceptible on this

side of the drapery that I felt forced to ask myself what sort of person

this could be who thus kept watch and ward with such very commonplace

impatience over a creature who was able to hold every other person in

her presence under a spell. The drapery did not give up its secrets, and

again I yielded to the fascinations of Madame's face.



There was a change in it; the eyes no longer looked my way, but into

space, which seemed to hold for them some terrible and heart-rend-ing

vision. The lips, which had been closed, were now parted, and from them

issued a breath which soon formed itself into words.



"'Vengeance is mine! I will repay,' saith the Lord." What passionate

utterance was this? The voice that had been musical now rang with

jangling discord. The swinging of the foot behind the drapery ceased.

Madame spoke on:



"Through pain, sorrow, blood and death shall victory come. Life for

life, pang for pang, scorn for scorn!"



The swinging foot disappeared, and the small white hand passed quickly

through the curtain and rested again upon the forehead of Madame. But

without a calming effect this time. On the contrary, it seemed to urge

and incite her, for she broke into a new strain, speaking rapidly,

wildly, as if she lived in what she saw, or, what was doubtless truer,

had lived in it and was but recalling her own past in one of those

terrible hours of memory that recur on the border-land of dreams.



"I see a child, a girl. She is young; she is beautiful. Men love her,

many men, but she loves only one. He is of the North; she is of the

South. He is icy like his clime; she is fiery like her skies. The fire

cannot warm the ice. It is the ice puts out the fire! Woe! woe!"



The left hand came from the drapery; found its way to the left temple

of the woman. But it, too, was ineffectual. Hurriedly, madly, the words

went on, tripping each other up in their haste and passion. The voice

now became hoarse with rage.



"The girl is now a woman. A child is given her. The man demands the

child. She will not give it up. He curses it; he curses her, but she is

firm and holds it to her breast till her arms are blackened by the blows

he deals her. Then he curses her country, the land that gave her a

heart; and, hearing this, she rises up and curses him and his with an

oath the Lord will hear and answer from His judgment throne. For the

child was slain between them and its pitiful, small body blocks the

passage of Mercy between his and hers forever. Woe! woe!"



As suddenly as the vehement change had come upon her, she had become

calm again. The eyes retained their stony stare, but a cold and cruel

smile formed about her lips, as if, with the utterance of that last

word, she saw a futurity of blood and carnage satisfying her ferocious



soul.



It was revolting, horrible; but no one else seemed to feel it as I did.

To most it was a short glimpse into a suffering soul. To me it was the

revelation of causes which had led, and would lead yet, to miseries for

which she had no pity, and which I felt myself too weak to avert.



That it was not intended that the devotees of Madame should have heard

these ravings was evident; for at this juncture the owner of the two

white hands that had failed to control the spirit of Madame came out

from behind the drapery of the dais. He proved to be none other than

the man with the bristling mustache whose plans I had disarranged at the

doctor's office by plugging the keyhole of the box with wax.



This was enough. "Chicanery!" was my inmost thought as I noted his cool

and calculating eye. "But very dangerous chicanery," I added. Was the

ring upon whose immediate capture I now saw that a life, if not lives,

depended, in his possession, or in that of Madame, or in that of the

Quaker-like girl sitting a few seats from me? How impossible to tell,

and yet how imperative to know! As I was debating how this could be

brought about, I watched the man.



Self-control was a habit with him, but I saw the nervous clutch of his

delicate hand. This did not indicate complete mastery of himself at

that moment. He spoke with care, but as if he were in haste to deliver

himself of the few necessary words of dismissal, without betraying his

lack of composure.



"Madame will awake presently; she will be heard no more to-day. Those

who wish to kiss her robes may pass in front of her; but she is still

too far away from earth to hear your voices or to answer any questions.

You will therefore preserve silence."



So! so! more chicanery. Or was it strategy, pure and simple? Was there

at the bottom of his words the wish to see me nearer or was he just

playing with the credulity of such believers as the man next me, for

instance? I did not stop to determine. My anxiety to see Madame, without

the illusion of even the short distance between us, induced me to join

the file of the faithful who were slowly approaching the seated woman.

I would not kiss her robes, but I would look into her eyes and make sure

that she was as far away from us all as she was said to be.



But as I drew nearer to her I forgot all about her eyes in the interest

awakened by her hands. And when it came my turn to pause before her,

it was upon the middle finger of her right hand my eyes were fixed. For

there I saw THE RING; the veritable ring of my fair neighbor, if the

description given by her was correct.



To see it there was to have it; or so I vowed in my surprise and

self-confidence. Putting on an air of great dignity, I bowed to the

woman and passed on, resolving upon the course I would pursue, which

must necessarily be daring in order to succeed. At the door I paused

till all who followed me had passed out; then I turned back, and once

again faced Madame.



She was alone. Her watchful guardian had left her side, and to all

appearances the room. The opportunity surpassed my expectations, and

with a step full of nerve I pushed forward and took my stand again

directly in front of her. She gave no token of seeing me; but I did not

hesitate on that account. Exerting all my will power, I first subjected

her to a long and masterful look, and then I spoke, directly and to the

point, like one who felt himself her superior,



"Madame," said I, "the man you wish for is here. Give me the ring, and

trust no more to weak or false emissaries."



The start with which she came to life, or to the evidence of life,

was surprising. Lifting her great lids, she returned my gaze with one

equally searching and powerful, and seeing with what disdain I sustained

it, allowed an almost imperceptible tremor to pass across her face,

which up to now had not displayed the shadow even of an emotion.



"You!" she murmured, in a dove-like tone of voice; "who are you that I

should trust you more than the others?"



"I am he you expect," said I, venturing more as I felt her impassibility

giving way before me. "Have you had no premonition of my coming? Did you

not know that he who controls would be in your presence to-day?"



She trembled, and her fingers almost unclasped from her arms.



"I have had dreams," she murmured, "but I have been bidden to beware of

dreams. If you are the person you claim to be, you will have some token

which will absolve me from the charge of credulity. What is your token?"



Though doubtful, I dared not hesitate. "This," I said, taking from my

pocket the key which had been given me by my fair neighbor.



She moved, she touched it with a finger; then she eyed me again.



"Others have keys," said she, "but they fail in the opening. How are you

better than they?"



"You know," I declared--"you know that I can do what others have failed

in. Give me the ring."



The force, the assurance with which I uttered this command moved her in

spite of herself. She trembled, gave me one final, searching look, and

slowly began to pull the ring from off her finger. It was in her hand,

and half way to mine, when a third voice came to break the spell.



"Madame, Madame," it said; "be careful. This is the man who clogged the

lock, and hindered my endeavors in your behalf in the doctor's office."



Her hand which was so near mine drew back; but I was too quick and too

determined for her. I snatched the ring before she could replace it on

her own hand, and, holding it firmly, faced the intruder with an air of

very well-assumed disdain.



"Attempt no argument with me. It was because I saw your weakness

and vulgar self-confidence that I interfered in a matter only to be

undertaken by one upon whom all can rely. Now that I have the ring,

the end is near. Madame, be wiser in the choice of your confidants,

To-morrow this ring will be in its proper place."



Bowing as I had done before, I advanced to the door. They had made no

effort to regain the ring, and I felt that my rashness had stood me in

good stead. But as, with a secret elation I was just capable of keeping

within bounds, I put my foot across the threshold, I heard behind me a

laugh so triumphant and mocking that I felt struck with consternation;

and, glancing down into my hand, I saw that I held, not the peculiar

steel circlet destined for the piece of mechanism in the doctor's

office, but an ordinary ring of gold.



She had offered me the wrong ring, and I had taken it, thus proving

the falsity of my pretensions.



There was nothing left for me but to acknowledge defeat by an

ignominious departure.









IV. CHECKMATE.



I HASTENED at once home, and knocked at Miss Calhoun's door. While

waiting for a response, the mockery of my return without the token I had

undertaken to restore to her, impressed itself upon me in full force. It

seemed to me that in that instant my face must have taken on a haggard

look. I could not summon up the necessary will to make it otherwise.

Any effort in that direction would have made my failure at cheerfulness

pitiable.



The door opened. There she stood. Whatever expectancy of success she may

have had fled at once. Our eyes met and her countenance changed. My face

must have told the whole story, for she exclaimed:



"You have failed!"



I was obliged to acknowledge it in a whisper, but hastened to assure her

that the ring had not yet been placed upon the bronze hand, and was not

likely to be till the lock had been cleaned, out. This interested her,

and called out a hurried but complete recital of my adventure. She hung

upon it breathlessly, and when I reached the point where Madame and her

prophetic voice entered the tale, she showed so much excitement that any

doubts I may have cherished as to the importance of the communication

Madame had made us vanished in a cold horror I with difficulty hid from

my companion. But the end agitated her more than the beginning, and when

she heard that I had taken upon myself a direct connection with this

mysterious matter, she grew so pale that I felt forced to inquire if the

folly I had committed was likely to result badly, at which she shuddered

and replied:



"You have brought death upon yourself. I see nothing but destruction

before us both. This woman--this horrible woman--has seen your face,

and, if she is what you describe, she will never forget it. The man, who

is her guardian or agent, no doubt, must have tracked you, and finding

you here with me, from whose hand he himself may have torn the ring

last night, will record it as treason against a cause which punishes all

treason with death.



"Pshaw!" I ejaculated, with a jocular effort at indifference, which I

acknowledge I did not feel. "You seem to forget the law. We live in the

city of Baltimore. Charlatans such as I have just left behind me do not

make away with good citizens with impunity. We have only to seek the

protection of the police."



She met my looks with a slowly increasing intentness, which stilled this

protest on my lips.



"I am under no oath," she ruminated. "I can tell this man what I will.

Mr. Abbott, there has been formed in this city an organization against

which the police are powerless. I am an involuntary member of it, and I

know its power. It has constrained me and it has constrained others, and

no one who has opposed it once has lived to do so twice. Yet it has

no recognized head (though there is a chief to whom we may address

ourselves), and it has no oaths of secrecy. All is left to the

discretion of its members, and to their fears. The object of this

society is the breaking of the power of the North, and the means by

which it works is death. I joined it under a stress of feeling I

called patriotism, and I believed myself right till the sword was

directed against my own breast. Then I quailed; then I began to ask

by what right we poor mortals constitute ourselves into instruments of

destruction to our kind, and having once stopped to question, I saw

the whole matter in such a different light that I knowingly put a

stumbling-block in the path of so-called avenging justice, and thus

courted the doom that at any moment may fall upon my head." And she

actually looked up, as if expecting to see it fall then and there.

"This Madame," she went on in breathless haste, "is doubtless one of the

members. How so grotesque and yet redoubtable an individuality should

have become identified with a cause demanding the coolest judgment as

well as the most acute political acumen, I cannot stop to conjecture.

But that she is a member of our organization, and an important one, too,

her prophecies, which have so strangely become facts, are sufficient

proof, even had you not seen my ring on her finger. Perhaps, incredible

as it may appear, she is the chief. If so--But I do not make myself

intelligible," she continued, meeting my eyes. "I will be more explicit.

One peculiar feature of this organization is the complete ignorance

which we all have concerning our fellow-members. We can reveal nothing,

for we know nothing. I know that I am allied to a cause which has for

its end the destruction of all who oppose the supremacy of the South,

but I cannot give you the name of another person attached to this

organization, though I feel the pressure of their combined power upon

every act of my life. You may be a member without my knowing it--a

secret and fearful thought, which forms one of the greatest safeguards

to the institution, though it has failed in this instance, owing"--here

her voice fell--"to my devotion to the man I love. What?"--(I had not

spoken; my heart was dying within me, but I had given no evidence of

a wish to interrupt her; she, however, feared a check, and rushed

vehemently on.) "I shall have to tell you more. When, through pamphlets

and unsigned letters--dangerous communications, which have long since

become ashes--I was drawn into this society (and only those of the most

radical and impressionable natures are approached) a ring and a key were

sent me with this injunction: 'When the man or woman whose name will

be forwarded to you in an otherwise empty envelope, shall have, in your

honest judgment, proved himself or herself sufficiently dangerous to

the cause we love, to merit removal, you are to place this ring on the

middle finger of the bronze hand locked up in the box openly displayed

in the office of a Dr. Merriam on ------ Street. With the pressure of

the whole five rings on the fingers of this piece of mechanism, the

guardian of our rights will be notified by a bell, that a victim awaits

justice, and the end to be accomplished will be begun. As there are five

fingers, and each one of these must feel the pressure of its own ring

before connection can be made between this hand and the bell mentioned,

no injustice can be done and no really innocent person destroyed. For,

when five totally disconnected persons devoted to the cause agree that

a certain individual is worthy of death, mistake is impossible. You

are now one of the five. Use the key and the ring according to

your conscience.' This was well, if I had been allowed to follow my

conscience; but when, six weeks ago, they sent me the name of a man of

lofty character and unquestioned loyalty, I recoiled, scarcely believing

my eyes. Yet, fearing that my own judgment was warped, or that some

hidden hypocrisy was latent in a man thus given over to our attention,

I made it my business to learn this man's inner life. I found it so

beautiful----" She choked, turned away for a moment, controlled herself,

and went on rapidly and with increased earnestness: "I learned to love

this man, and as I learned to love him I grew more and more satisfied of

the dangerous character of the organization I was pledged to. But I had

one comfort. He could not be doomed without my ring, and that was safe

on my finger. Safe! You know how safe it was. The monster whom you have

just seen, and who may have been the person to subject this noble man to

suspicion, must have discovered my love and the safeguard it offered to

this man. The ring, as you know, was stolen, and as you have failed to

recover it, and I to get any reply from the chief to whom I forwarded my

protest, to-morrow will without doubt see it placed upon the finger of

the bronze hand. The result you know. Fantastic as this may strike you,

it is the dreadful truth."



Love, had I ever felt this holy passion for her, had no longer a place

in my breast; but awe, terror and commiseration for her, for him, and

also perhaps for myself, were still active passions within me, and at

this decided statement of the case, I laughed in the excitement of the

moment, and the relief I felt at knowing just what there was to dread in

the adventure.



"Absurd!" I cried. "With Madame's address in my mind and the Baltimore

police at my command, this man is as safe from assault as you or I are.

Give me five minutes' talk with Chief----"



Her hand on my arm stopped me; the look in her eye made me dumb.



"What could you do without me?" she said; "and my evidence you cannot

have. For what would give it weight can never pass my lips. The lives

that have fallen with my connivance stand between me and confession. I

do not wish to subject myself to the law."



This placed her in another light before me, and I started back.



"You have----" I stammered.



"Placed that ring three times on the hand in Dr. Merriam's office."



"And each time?"



"A man somewhere in this nation has died suddenly. I do not know by what

means or by whose hand, but he died."



This beautiful creature guilty of---- I tried not to show my horror.



"It is, then, a question of choice between you and him?" said I. "Either

you or he must perish. Both cannot be saved."



She recoiled, turning very pale, and for several minutes stood surveying

me with a fixed gaze as if overcome by an idea which threw so immense

a responsibility upon her. As she stood thus, I seemed not only to look

into her nature, but her life. I saw the fanaticism that that had

once held every good impulse in check, the mistaken devotion, the

unreason-ing hatred, and, underneath all, a spirit of truth and

rectitude which brightened and brightened as I watched her, till it

dominated every evil passion and made her next words come easily, and

with a natural burst of conviction which showed the innate generosity of

her soul.



"You have shown me my duty, sir. There can be no question as to where

the choice should fall, I am not worth one hair of his noble head. Save

him, sir; I will help you by every means in my power."



Seizing the opportunity she thus gave me, I asked her the name of the

man who was threatened.



In a low voice she told me.



I was astonished; dumfounded.



"Shameful!" I cried. "What motive, what reason can they have for

denouncing him?"



"He is under suspicion--that is enough."



"Great heaven!" I exclaimed. "Have we reached such a pass as that?"



"Don't," she uttered, hoarsely; "don't reason; don't talk; act."



"I will," I cried, and rushed from the room.



She fell back in a chair, almost fainting. I saw her lying quiet, inert

and helpless as I rushed by her door on my way to the street, but I did

not stop to aid her. I knew she would not suffer it.



The police are practical, and my tale was an odd one. I found it hard,

therefore, to impress them with its importance, especially as in trying

to save Miss Calhoun I was necessarily more or less incoherent. I

did succeed, however, in awakening interest at last, and, a man being

assigned me, I led the way to Madame's door. But here a surprise awaited

me. The doorplate, which had so attracted my attention, was gone, and

in a few minutes we found that she had departed also, leaving no trace

behind her.



This looked ominous, and with little delay we hastened to the office of

Dr. Merriam. Knocking at the usual door brought no response, but when

we tried the further one, by which his patients usually passed out, we

found ourselves confronted by the gentleman we sought.



His face was calm and smiling, and though he made haste to tell us that

we had come out of hours, he politely asked us in and inquired what he

could do for us.



Not understanding how he could have forgotten me so soon, I looked at

him inquiringly, at which his face lighted up, and he apologetically

said:



"I remember you now. You were here this morning consulting me about a

friend who is afflicted with a peculiar complaint. Have you anything

further to state or ask in regard to it. I have just five minutes to

spare."



"Hear this gentleman first," said I, pointing to the officer who

accompanied me.



The doctor calmly bowed, and waited with the greatest self-possession

for him to state his case.



The officer did so abruptly.



"There is a box in your ante-room which I feel it my duty to examine. I

am Detective Hopkins, of the city police."



The doctor, with a gentleness which seemed native rather than assumed,

quietly replied:



"I am very sorry, but you are an hour too late." And, throwing open the

door of communication between the two rooms, he pointed to the table.



The box was gone!











V. DOCTOR MERRIAM.



This second disappointment was more than I could endure. Turning upon

the doctor with undisguised passion, I hotly asked:



"Who has taken it? Describe the person at once. Tell what you know about

the box, I did not finish the threat; but my looks must have been very

fierce, for he edged off a bit, and cast a curious glance at the officer

before he answered:



"You have, then, no ailing friend? Well, well; I expended some very good

advice upon you. But you paid me, and so we are even."



"The box!" I urged; "the box! Don't waste words, for a man's life is at

stake."



His surprise was marvelously assumed or very real.



"You are talking somewhat wildly, are you not?" he ventured, with a

bland air. "A man's life? I cannot believe that."



"But you don't answer me," I urged.



He smiled; he evidently thought me out of my mind.



"That's true; but there is so little I can tell you. I do not know what

was in the box about which you express so much concern, and I do not

know the names of its owners. It was brought here some six months ago

and placed in the spot where you saw it this morning, upon conditions

that were satisfactory to





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