The Wrists On
The Door by
From Everybody's Magazine
Between his leather easy-chair at one end of his drawing-room and
the wall with his wife's portrait at the other, Henry Montagu was
pacing in a state of agitation such as he had never experienced in his
fifty years of life. The drawing-room was no longer theirs. It was
hisand the portrait's. The painting was of a girl who was not more
beautiful in radiance of feature and lovable contour of body than the
woman a generation older who had died two months ago.
Suddenly he stopped short in the middle of the room, his hands in
his pockets. My God! he cried.
Then he shut his teeth on the words as sharply and passionately as
he had uttered them, and raised one of his hands to his brow. There
were drops of cold sweat upon it.
Mr. Montagu was a simple, selfish, good-natured business-man, never
given to imaginative thoughts or to greater extremes of mood than the
heights and depths of rising and falling stocks. Yet his experience of
the last two hours had shown him to himself as a creature wretchedly
inadequate to face the problem that confronted himthe simple problem
He was not bitter at his wife's death. Not only did he consider
himself too sensible for that, but he was too sensible. Death is
an inevitable thing. And the one fact involving the simplicity of the
problem was no more than many another man had borne without a
Yet as if the whole two months in their strangeness their sad
novelty, had been concentrating their loneliness for an accumulated
spring at him, the last two hours had driven home to him that this
secondary fact had not been inevitable, that what he was
suffering to-night could have been avoided.
He had not wished to have children, and neither had the beautiful
woman whose painted spirit smiled down so pitilessly now on his tragedy
of jangled nerves and intolerable solitude. Deliberately and quite
frankly, without even hiding behind the cowardly excuse of the tacit,
they had outspokenly chosen not to.
After his desperate exclamation, he had laughed and thrown himself
into his chair. He had forced the laugh, seeking to batter down with it
a thrill that was akin to fright at an abrupt realization that in those
two dreadful hours he had done three unprecedented things. He had
spoken aloud there by himself, an action he had always ascribed
exclusively to children and maniacs; he had harbored absurd
temptations; and finally he had ejaculated My God! which he had
thought appropriate to a man only in the distresses of fiction or after
complete ruin on the Stock Exchange.
That exclamation had sprung from him when he had caught himself
thinking how gladly he would give half his fortune if he could have a
companion, even his butler, for the rest of the evening, his whole
fortune, exactly as if he had died, if he could but have a son to give
That freedom from care, which they had chosen to call freedom from
responsibility, had been their mutual property, but to-night, in his
hopeless solitude, it seemed that he was paying the whole price for it.
She had met the unknown, but with the knownhimself, her whole
lifebeside her, and her ordeal was over. His, he felt now, was worse,
and already beginning. After all, he reflected, there was a certain
rough justice in it; the one spared longer in the world of bodily
people bore, in consequence, the reverting brunt of their double
selfishness. But the remnant of life seemed a poor thing to-night. The
further it stretched, in his suddenly stirred imagination, the poorer,
the emptier, it seemed.
And having stirred, after a whole lifetime of healthy sleep, his
imagination gripped him in a strong and merciless embrace. It seemed to
twist him about and force him to look down the vista of the coming
years and at all their possibilities, even the desecrational one of
marrying again and calling into life the son that he had never wanted
before. At the thought, he flushed with the idea that the portrait's
eyes were reading his face, and compelled himself to look bravely at
it; but as he met the lovely eyes strange questions darted into his
brain: whether he would not rather have been solely to blame; whether
his all-possessive love of her would not be more flawless now if she
had been a flawless eternal-feminine type, longing for motherhood, but
denying it for his sake; whether he would not be happier now in looking
at her portrait if some warm tint from a Renaissance Madonna had
mellowed the radiant Medici Venus who smiled from the frame. He was
seized by a desire to turn the gazing picture to the wall.
Half-way across the room, he checked the impulse with a gasp of
self-disgust, but with hands raised involuntarily toward it he cried:
Oh, why didn't we?
As he stood trembling with his back to it, the second absurd
temptation of the night assailed himto dash on his hat and go to
Maurice's, a restaurant of oblique reputation to which his wife had
once accompanied him out of curiosity, and which, in a surprising
outburst of almost pious prudery, she had refused to visit again. Nor
had she ever allowed him to go thereafter himself, and though she had
made no dying request of him, he knew that, if she had, that would have
In his shaken state the thought of his one club, the Business Men's,
was repugnant. Maurice's, expansive, insinuating and brilliant, called
to his loneliness arbitrarily, persistently. But with a glance over his
shoulder at the portrait, he put the thought away. Then, straightening
up, he walked to his chair again, sat tensely down, and faced the long
room and his childish terror at its emptiness.
Innocent as had been his impulse toward Maurice's and full as was
Broadway with places as glittering and noisy, his morbid duty to debar
that one resort seemed to him to condemn him to the house for the
night. Why was it the butler's night out? Even to know that he was
below stairsWould other nights be like this? Every nightThe
possibility turned him cold. His thoughts were racing now, and even as
he gripped the arms of the chair a still worse terror gripped his mind.
His loneliness seemed to have become an actual thing, real as a person,
a spirit haunting the luxurious, silent house. He was facing the door,
and its heavy mahogany, fixing his attention through his staring gaze,
seemed to be shutting him alone with the dead. Save for his trembling
self and his wife's painted eyes, the big room was lifeless. It was
beyond the closed door that his imagination, now running beyond
control, pictured the presence of his frightful guesthis own
solitude, coming in ironical answer to his craving for companionship.
Were those live eyes of the dead creating his sense of an impending
life in the house? Was it his wife, who, never having created a child
for him, was forcing on him now a horrible companion? Again he started
desperately toward the picture, again he caught himself, again he
cried, My God! and faced his terror passionately, facing too, this
time, the closed door.
You fool! You fool!
His voice sounded weak and strange to him as if indeed some one else
had spoken. The paralyzing thought that such a mood of panic could be
the beginning of real madness had shaken his voice and his whole body,
and again Maurice's, now as a positive savior, rushed into his mind.
But he threw the idea of refuge contemptuously away. He would stand his
ground and not leave the house that night; yet even as he stood, he
asked himself if this was not because he feared to open the door.
With a gasp, he drew himself up in the center of the room, and in a
surge of determined anger, with his eyes on the door, facing it as he
would have faced an enemy before he attacked, he deliberately gave his
mind to his fear, letting it sweep through him, trying to magnify it,
reading every horror that he could into the imagined presence that he
intended to dispel, and then, tormenting himself with slow steps, he
walked to the door, reached his hand to the knob, and opened it.
Though his mouth opened for a cry of terror, no sound came from him
as he staggered back, and a waiting figure pitched into the room,
rushed wildly past him with a whimper like that of a wounded animal,
and flung itself, face forward, into the empty chair.
As if through the same doorway that had given entrance to the
desperate wretch, his terror seemed to leave him. While he stood
gasping, with pounding heart, staring at the limp, shuddering manhood
that had hurled itself into his home, Henry Montagu suddenly felt
himself a man again.
With the cold plunge of his senses into rationality, they told him
that he was in the presence of some fatal and soul-sickening tragedy,
yet this horror that had dashed into the hollow privacy of his house
was at least real to him. Overwhelmed as he was by the frightful
appearance of the young man, who was now weeping abandonedly, he had no
fear of him, and his first act was a practical onehe swiftly, quietly
closed the door. It was done in an instinct of protection. It would be
useless to question him yet, but that he was a fugitive, and from
something hideous, Montagu took for granted.
He stood looking across the room at his outlandish guest, trying to
docket the kaleidoscopic flock of impressions that had flown into his
mind from the instant he swung back the door. Though noble, even
splendid in its slender lines, the youth's figure had half-fallen,
half-sprung through the doorway, animal-like. There had not been even a
ghost of sound in the hallway, yet it was as if he had been in the act
of hurtling himself against the closed door, hammering at it with
upraised hands. Mr. Montagu had been horrified by it instantaneously,
as by a thing of violence with every suggestion of the sordid, but the
poor sobbing fellow who now lay in the chair with his arms and head
drooping over the big leather arm seemed to him as immaculately dressed
as himself. Remembering the fleeting posture at the door, his eyes went
involuntarily to the hanging, graphic hands. In the light of his
reading-lamp they gleamed white, and as he watched, his heart sinking
with pity at their thinness, two slow red drops rolled from under the
cuffs down the palms, and fell to the floor.
Good God! breathed Henry Montagu.
He had never doubted for the fraction of a second that his guest was
a criminal, and in every sense a desperate one, but, just as
instinctively, he felt certain that no matter what the horror he had
run from, he was more sinned against than sinning. Every line in the
boy's fragile, pathetic figure went straight to the older man's heart.
It came to him, almost joyously, that there had been premonition in his
strange mood of longing for a son. As an end to this nerve-racking
night, there was work to dofor the remainder of it, at least for a
brief moment, he had a companion in his grim, empty house.
Thank God! he exclaimed aloud.
Thank God! Thank God!
The young man had spoken, and Mr. Montagu, as he heard the words,
remembered that between the sobs there had been, in faint, broken
syllables, My God! My God! again and again, and that he had
understood at last what it was to hear that from a man who was neither
ruined by the Stock Exchange nor the weak victim of childish terror.
But now, this repetition of his varied expression startled him. It was
like an echo of himself.
Again he shook himself together. If the boy could speak, it was time
to question him. He had not yet seen his face, beyond a flashing
imprint on his brain of a look of terrific fear and terrific exultation
as it had dashed past him, but he was prepared to like it. He braced
himself, walked over and stood in front of the chair. With an
objecteven this objectto justify it, he gladly surrendered himself
now to the fatherly instinct he had so bitterly struggled against, and
he felt that he would like, with his first words, to put his hand
reassuringly on the crumpled shoulder. But the night had left his
nerves still rawin his sensitivity he could not bear the thought that
the trembling figure would shrink from his touch, and he kept his hand
firmly at his side.
My boy, he said gently, you mustn't be afraid of me. Tell me what
The young man raised his head, sank back in the chair, and looked at
Not once in the long evening of lonely terror, not when he had first
heard himself talking aloud, not when he had dashed at his wife's
portrait, not when he had faced the thought of madness, had Mr. Montagu
had such a shock. An eternally lost soul, a damned thing staring at
paradise, seemed to gaze at him out of the boy's eyes. He thought he
was seeing all the sins of the world in them, yet the look was
appallingly innocent. He seemed to be discovering those sins in the
dark, ravening eyes, but to be feeling them in himself as if the
forgotten, ignored innermost of his own life were quaking with guilt
under the spell of this staring presence. In the state of horrified
sympathy to which it had precipitated him, he morbidly felt almost
responsible for the brooding evil in the boy as well as aghast at it.
But even this sense of sin, implying as it did a skeleton of naked,
primal right and wrong seemed of small import to his astounded mind
beside the nameless, unmentionable sorrow that pervaded the face and
stabbed at Henry Montagu's heart. He knew without question that he was
looking at tragedyworse than he had supposed the world could hold or
any human thing, in any world, be subject to. It was a man's face in
every line and poise and suggestion, but for all its frightful
knowledge he had to call it beautifulthe clear-cut word handsome
ran away from it like a mouse into a hole, leaving it a superb horror
that, as soon as his paralyzed muscles could respond to his instinct,
drove his hand to his face to shut away the deliberate, searching gaze.
Done? answered the young fellow at last. What have I done?
For the third time, it was one of his own three exclamations totally
new to him that night, and the coincidence drove home to him, this
time, with a sense of omen. But his guest was speaking again, and,
forcing himself to look calmly at the tragic face he listened
I've done a thing never accomplished in human life before, a thing
more terrific than the world's entire history, from the moment of the
first atom crawling on it has ever known!
He could not have spoken more solemnly and convincingly if he had
reverently murdered, one by one, a whole nation of people, and it was
some such picture that came into Henry Montagu's mind as, shivering and
fascinated, he watched him and listened.
But the young man said no more.
Ifif you will tell me what you've done, said Mr. Montagu
haltingly, his pity sweeping every caution away, or simply what you
want of me, I will do anything for you that I possibly can.
There is nothing in this world, answered the boy wearily, that
anybody can do for me. But suddenly, impulsively, he added: There is
just one thing, that you can donot for me, but for yourself. Don't
ask me questions. For your own sake don't!
But began Mr. Montagu.
If you knew who I am or what I am, and what I've deliberately
done, cried the boy, you'd curse this night, and curse me, the
longest day you lived! Whatwhat is your name?
Henry Montagu, said his host simply.
He pondered it. That has a nice sound. I like it. And II like
you. So don't ask me questions!
The elder man was looking down at the thin white hands again, and
the naïve comment brought a sudden contraction to his throat.
Poor little boy! was on his lips, but an intuition like a woman's
warned him that the words would make the desolate figure weep again,
and his utmost strength quailed from the thought of seeing it, now that
he had seen the face. As the white hands clasped themselves together,
he had seen that the under sides of the wrists were bruised and dark.
Facially, nothing could have been more unlike than this youth to the
paint and plaster symbols that crowded before him from his memory, yet
the red drops that he had seen drip to the floor, the wickedness and
waste that he seemed to expiate and represent, the whole obvious
torment of his being, had forced a simile upon him which he now blurted
Whoever and whatever you are, whatever terrible thing you've done,
I only know that you make me think ofofOh, the crown of thorns, the
crossyou know what I mean!
Some one with a crown of thorns? said the young man wonderingly.
Who was that?
Mr. Montagu stared at him incredulously. That any man, no matter how
base a criminal, and one, indeed, who had cried out again and again the
name of God, should not know the story and the name of God's son,
astonished him, for the moment, more than anything yet had done.
Oh, yes, yes, I remember now, continued the boy. Yes, that was
very, very sad. But I'm selfish and preoccupied with my own dreadful
trouble, and that whole history, tragic as it was, was a very happy one
compared with mine!
With a cold shudder, Henry Montagu believed him. He realized that as
yet he had done nothing for him. Food and drink had occurred to him,
but in the minutes that they had passed together the stranger had grown
more virile. He was no longer the incredible figure of wretchedness
that had dashed into the room. He was sitting forward in the chair now,
his eyes on the portrait.
Is that your wife? he asked.
Mymy dead wife, answered Mr. Montagu.
His own eyes reverting again and again to the lacerated wrists, he
did not see the changing expressions in his visitor's as they studied
the eyes of the portrait; but as the boy now leaped impulsively to his
feet he saw in them a fierce gleam that was like the hatred of a
maniac. He thrilled with renewed terror as the boy once more sprang to
him like an animal, and with a growl in his throat rushed toward the
Stop! he shouted, and the boy almost cringed to a halt in the
middle of the floor.
When, after his first chill of horror at the act itself, Henry
Montagu realized that the desecration was his own thought, his own
impulse carried into fierce determination, he sank weak and dizzy into
the chair that the boy had left. But again he mastered his frightened
mind and thrust away from it the sinister oppression of omen and
coincidence. Unwillingly but helplessly, he was letting into his
thoughts the theory that, after he had opened the door instead of
before he had opened it, the room had been harboring a maniac. And the
theory stabbed him. A mushroom growth of tenderness had germinated in
his pity and was growing nearer and nearer to a personal liking for the
beautiful, pathetic figure of youth that stood before him, wilted and
helpless again, in the center of the room.
My boy, he said quietly, I ought to resent that but strangely
enough I don't find myself resenting the idea of your taking strange
liberties in my house. In fact, II had that same impulse. I nearly
did that myself, just before you burst in here.
The young man looked at him in amazement.
You were going to turnMrs. Montagu's picture to the wall?
Whwhy, you old dirty beast!
To Henry Montagu there was no vulgarity in the words. Their huge
reproach of him drove every other quality out of them and a deep color
into his face.
But II quelled the impulse. And yyou would actually have done
it! he stammered.
I had a reason and a right to! cried the young man. I'd never
seen it before and if it repelled me I had a right never to look at it
again! But she was your wife!
Once more he stood, his eyes avoiding the portrait and wandering
hungrily about the rest of the beautiful room.
Well, he said, after a few moments, good-by! And he walked
toward the door.
Stop! cried Mr. Montagu again. He sat forward on the edge of the
chair, trembling. After hours of successive surprises, the simple
announcement of his visitor's departure had struck him cold with the
accumulated force of his past lonely terror and his present intense
curiosity. Again the boy had obeyed his command with a visible shiver,
and it hurt the older man by recalling to him the suggestion of crime,
of the place and the tragedy he must have escaped from, the unknown
cloud he was under. But however involved in the horrible he might
become by detaining him, shaken and filled with inexplicable grief as
he was by his presence, worst of all was the fear of being alone again
after a frightful, brief adventure in his life, vanished and
unexplained. He wanted to reassure and comfort the wavering, sorrowful
boy, but all he could stammer in apology for his shout was: Whwhere
are you going?
What difference does it make to you where I go? asked the
boy drearily. If you must know, I'm going to Maurice's.
Mr. Montagu sprang to his feet. With bitten lips he kept himself
silent at this final thrust of the hypernatural, but the damp beads had
returned to his brow. His terror lasted only a moment, and in his
resurging desire to hold back the boy, he demanded both curiously and
What are you going to Maurice's for?
He had not supposed that there was a particle of color in the
pitiful face, but as the boy answered, a delicate flesh-tint seemed to
leave it, turning him deathly white.
II want to look at the women, he said.
At his agitation and pallor, the hectic whisper of his voice, above
all, the light of fiendish hate that leapt into his beautiful eyes and
ravaged their look, a physical sensation crept through the older man
from head to foot and held him motionless.
But it was not horror at the boy himself. As he stood there wan and
shivering before him, every best instinct in Henry Montagu rushed
uppermost, and he felt that he would give anything in his life, gladly
devote, if not actually give, that life itself, to set the boy right
with the world. And with his terror gone and his horror going, he
impulsively walked across the room and stood between him and the door.
Why do you leave me this way? You mustn't mind what I say to you or
how I say it, for it can't be any more abrupt or strange than the way
you came here. I don't want you to go to Maurice's. And if you do, I'm
going with you.
No! No! cried the boy fearfully.
I don't want you to leave me. I want you to confide in me. I want
you to trust me, and to tell me, without fear, what it is you've done.
No, no, no, no! Don't ask me to! cried the boy.
I do ask you to. I have some right to know. I'd be justified in
detaining you if I wanted to
You couldn't! cried the trembling youth passionately.
I said I'd be justified. Are you, in dashing like a
shot into my life and then leaving me without a word to explain it?
I've played host to you gladly, though you've torn my nerves to pieces.
Remember how you came here!
Yes! Yes! ejaculated the boy bitterly. I'm an intruder! I forced
myself on you and I know it! God knows I know it!
I didn't mean it unkindly. I tell you, I want you to stay! I
want you to, no matter what you are or what you've done. You've
admitted that you've done somethingsomething terrific
And I have! cried the boy, his eyes lighting wildly. At last, at
last! I've done it, I've done it!
And in spite of it, I want you to stay! Whatever it is, I want to
protect you from the consequences of it!
Look to yourself! cried the boy. You'll curse me yet for coming
here! Let me go, and protect yourself!
I am no longer considering myself, I've done that too much in my
life, and to-night I'm reckless. No matter what the crime you've
Crime? His visitor flashed wondering eyes upon him. You fool! You
fool! Again, the exclamation was like an echo of himself, but Mr.
Montagu had no time to entertain the thought, for the boy was
stammering out his astonishment in hysterical syllables. Ia
criminal! IIOh, I might have known it would seem that
way to you! But I
Again under the penetrating gaze his host felt himself morbidly
guilty, but there was a thrill of gladness in his heart that now
welcomed the grim alternative of the boy's simple madness.
Stay with me! he cried. Sleep here, and rest, and then
Let me go to Maurice's! cried the boy desperately. You'll regret
it if you don't! Oh, for the pity of God, for pity of yourself,
let me leave you while I still offer to leave you!
Mr. Montagu backed himself against the door.
Why do you want to go there? he demanded. What is it you want to
look at the women in Maurice's for?
The boy hung fire under the determined voice.
Thethe women who go to Maurice's areareof acertain kind, aren't they?
Some of themmost of them, said Mr. Montagu. If you've never
been there, why do you want so to go? They're not unusual;
Painted? repeated the boy in astonishment. He turned to the
portrait. That's a painted woman, too. Aren't they alive
In his marvel at the enormous innocence of it, Mr. Montagu wondered,
for the first time, what the young man's age could definitely be, but
in a moment he remembered the one pitiful way to account for the
pathetic question, and his voice was very gentle as he said:
My boy, if you have your heart set on going to Maurice's, you shall
go. But surely, after this mysterious time together in my house, and
knowing that whatever you may be I welcome your companionship, you
won't refuse my request to let me go with you? To say that I've enjoyed
it would be to put a queer word to a terrible business that I have no
way of understanding. But until you came I was bitterly, hungrily
Don't! Don't! cried the boy. He had begun to tremble at the
earnest tenderness of the voice. I can't bear it! You don't know what
you're talking about! Oh! let me go to Maurice's, and let me go alone!
If you insist on going with me I can't stop you
I do insist, said Mr. Montagu.
But I can plead with you not to! And I can warn you what the price
will be! Oh and he stretched out his hands in so imploring a gesture
that his host could see the dull, dried blood of his cruelly injured
wristsfor God's sake, for God's sake, believe what I tell
you! If you leave this house with me to-night, you're lost! Oh,
God, God, I see you don't believe me! Tell me this, I beg of you, I
demand of youdid you feel that I was in the hall to-night,
before you opened the door?
Yes, said Mr. Montagu.
Had I made any noise?
Then I can prove to you that I know what I'm saying! I did
that! I made you feel me! Till after you let me in, I wasn't
strong enough to make a sound! Yet I made you know I was there! Am I
telling the truth, then? When I started to leave you, and now, even
now, in warning you I was doing, I am doing, a more unselfish
thing, a decenter thing, than any you've ever done in all your years of
life! It's because I like you more than I want to! I'm unselfish, I
tell you! I wanted you to go to Maurice's with me! I intended to
make you, as I made you let me in! But if you do, you'll find me out!
I'll tell you! I won't be able to conceal it! You'll know the truth
about me! You've said all this was mysteriousfor your own sake, let
it stay so! You needn't think all truths are beautiful, and the truth
about me is the most ghastly in the universe!
I want to find you out, said Mr. Montagu, steadying his
voice. I want to know the truth.
By that cross and crown of thorns that mean so much to you and
nothing at all to me, implored the boy, don't go! I swear to
you, mine is a more terrible secret than any living heart has ever
held! You'll hate me, and I don't want you to! Oh, while I
don't, while I'm merciful to you, believe me, and let me go
alone! No loneliness that you could ever suffer would equal the
price that you will pay if you go with me!
Though the sense of horror sweeping indomitably through him was
worse than any he had felt before, Mr. Montagu's answer was deliberate
I told myself only a few minutes ago that I would sacrifice
anything in my life, almost my life itself, towell, to this. Do you
mean that the price would bemydeath?
He threw every possible significance demandingly into the word, and
the boy's voice was suddenly quiet in its tensity as he gazed back at
It would be worse than death, he said solemnly. If you let me go,
and face your loneliness here, there's a chance for you, though I've
warned you as it is. If you leave the house with me to-night, you're as
lost as I am, and I am irretrievably damned and always have been
damned. As truly as you see me standing before you now, the price
Come, said Mr. Montagu, and without another word he opened the
At Maurice's, Mr. Montagu led the way to the far side of the big
room, threading in a zigzag through the gleam of bright silver, the
glitter of white linen, the crimson of deep carnations. Maurice's in
its own way was admirably tasteful; as distinctively quiet and smooth
in its manners and rich hangings as it was distinctly loud in its
lights and ragged in its music. No after-theatre corner of Broadway had
a crisper American accent of vice, or displayed vice itself more
delicately lacquered. The place was as openly innocent as a street,
with a street's sightless and irresponsible gaze for what occurred in
it. And nothing remarkable occurred, save the fungus growth of what was
to occur elsewhere.
Mr. Montagu, on the way to the table, looked several times over his
shoulder, ostensibly to speak to his companion, but in reality to see
whether the extraordinary boy was running the gantlet of eyes he had
presupposed he would. And each time he met inquisitive faces that were
not only staring but listening.
His own conspicuousness was grilling, but it was part and parcel of
his insistent bargain; he could understand, quite sympathetically, how
the youth's appearance, as awful as it was immaculate, should pound
open the heart of any woman alive; and his suppressed excitement was
too powerful for him to resent even the obvious repugnance in the faces
of the men until he imagined an intentional discourtesy to the boy on
the part of the waiter.
To himself, the man was over-servile, and elaborately cautious in
pulling out his chair, but he stood, with his face quite white, and his
back to the boy, and pulled out none for him. Henry Montagu had never
yet bullied a waiter, and he did not bully now. But with an icy glare
of reproof at the man, he rose and set the chair for his guest himself.
Shall I order for you? he asked gently as the boy sat quietly
down; and made irritably incisive by the tendency of near-by men and
women to listen as well as watch, he emphasized his expensive order of
foods and wines, repeated each item loudly to cheapen the listeners,
and sent the man scuttling.
In his intense desire to see the effect of the queerly chosen place
on his queerly chosen companion, he now turned to him. And as he saw
the effect, every shock of the night seemed to recoil upon him. The
feeling of mystery; the foreboding, despite his courage and his
conviction that the boy was mad, of the imminent unknown; his recurrent
and absorbing curiosity to learn the gruesome secret that he had
declared; all rushed one by one back upon him, and then as swiftly left
him to the simple grip of horror at his face. It was gazing at woman
after woman, here, there and yonder, throughout the large room,
deliberately, searchingly, venomously, its great eyes and set lips and
every tense haggard line fuller and fuller of an undying hate that
eclipsed even that which had shaken Henry Montagu before they came.
Appalled and fascinated, he looked with him, and back at him, and with
him again, to the next and the next. There were women there, and ladies
of every sort, good, bad and indecipherable; yet in every instance the
childlike, horribly sophisticated eyes had picked their victim
unerringly, deterred by neither clothes, veneer, nor manner.
As he stared with him from frightened female face to frightened
female face, Mr. Montagu realized shamefully that his own features were
helplessly mirroring the detestation of the boy's, and he changed from
very pale to very red himself as woman after woman flushed crimson
under his gaze. Yet the boy's face grew calm and his voice was
perfectly so as he turned at last from his horrid review and met the
eyes of his host.
I see what you meant, now, by 'painted' women. Well, they'd much
better be dead!
At the tone, cruelly cool as if he planned to see that they were,
Mr. Montagu shivered. Why, why do you hate them like that? he
The fierce anger flickered dangerously in the great eyes again.
Because they're my enemy! Because they and the wicked thing they
mean are my prowling, triumphant enemy, and the enemy of all others
Oh, my boy, my boy! pleaded the man of the world, sickly. You
don't realize it, but I can tell you from appearancessome of those
women you stared at are here with their husbands!
So was your wife when she came here, said the boy.
Mr. Montagu fell back in his chair with a gasp. As swiftly as it had
leapt into his mind, the frightful implication of the words leapt out
again in his amazement at the boy's knowledge of the incident.
But the waiter stepped between them with the order, and in obvious
terror now instead of simple aversion, clattered it down with trembling
Go away! Go away! commanded Mr. Montagu angrily. I'll
arrange it! Go! And the waiter escaped.
How did you know? he asked; but without waiting for a reply he
poured out the boy's wine and his own, and took a long hasty draft.
Now, how did you?
Oh! cried the boy piteously. Don't ask me! I shouldn't have said
it! I knew I'd let it out if you came here with me! I'll be telling you
everything in a minute, and you'll go stark mad when you know!
The inference rushed again upon Henry Montagu, a worse vague horror
than any yet, and he almost sprang from his chair.
Are you going to tell me my wife was unfaithful to me, and
Fool! Fool! cried the boy. I wish to God she had been
unfaithful to you! I tried to make her, I can tell you that! Then
there'd have been at least half a chance for me! But now that
she's dead, there's no chance for either of us, even you! UnlessO
God!unless you'll control yourself and think! I beg you again, I beg
of you, think again! Go away from here, go now, without asking
me anything more, and there's just a shade of a chance for you! I told
you there was none if you left the house, but there may be, there may
be! Go home, and forget this, and be satisfied your wife loved you, for
she did. She kept herself for you at my expense! Go now, and
they'll let you go. But if you stay here and talk to me, you'll leave
this place in manacles! I'm here, among those women, and I'm
with you! My secret will come out and drag you down, as I planned it
should before I began to like you! And you like me, tooI feel it. For
my sake, then, for God's sake and for your sake, won't you go
No! cried Mr. Montagu, almost roughly in his eagerness. I don't
judge you, but it's your duty, and in your power, to put me where I
can! I harbored you, thinking you were a frightened fugitive, and you
weren't. I'm your voluntary host in circumstances of mysterious horror
and you ask me to quit you in ignorance! I won't! You sicken me with a
doubt about the wife I lovedWho are you? What are you?
If you believed I knew as much of her as I said I did, cried the
boy, why don't you believe me when I assure you that she loved you?
What more should you demand? I meant everything I said, and
moreyour wife was nothing but a licensed wanton, and you knew it! You ask me who and what I amso long as she loved you, who are you, and what are you, to point a finger at her?
A rush of instinctive fury filled the man, but he felt as dazed at
finding himself angry at the beautiful unhappy youth, as if he had
known him for years, and he only gasped and stared.
If you think I'm crazy, cried the boy, I'll show you, as I showed
you once before, that I know what I'm talking about! I'll tell you
something that was a secret between you two, and your wife didn't tell
me, either! The night you'd been here, after you'd gone home, after
you were locked in your room, you disputed about this place! She
refused to come here again, and she refused to tell you why! But I know
Once more Mr. Montagu gasped and with a thrill of wondering terror.
Who are you and what are you? he demanded. I command you to solve
this mystery and solve it now!
His voice had risen to a shout, but a sudden lump in his throat
silenced it, for the boy was weeping again.
Oh, wept the boy, if you've liked me at all, put it off as
long as you can, for you'll make me tell you I hate you, and why
I hate you!
It had struck Henry Montagu like a flail in the face, wiping away
his anger, his astonishment at the boy's uncanny knowledge, even his
astonishment that the word was able to strike him so.
II've suffered enough through you! he stammered painfully. And
if I've got to suffer more, I insist on doing it now and getting it
Don't! don't! It will never be over with! gulped the boy.
I'm through! cried Mr. Montagu. Who are you?
What are you?
At the determined finality of the voice the boy quivered like a
helpless thing, and his stuttering ejaculations came as if shaken out
of him by the shivering of his body.
Whwho am I?
Whwhat am I?
Never yet had he been so awful as in the torment and majesty that
gazed like fate at Henry Montagu now, and the frightful fire of the
eyes seemed to dry up the tears on his cheeks at its first flare of
I'm the child that you and your wife refused to have!
As the aghast man shrank back before his blighting fury, he leaned
farther and farther toward him.
Now do you know why I hate you as no human thing can hate?
Your wilful waste has made my hideous want! Now do you know why I
said I'd done a more terrific thing than had ever been done in the
world's history before? I've gotten in! At last, at last, I've
gotten in, in spite of you, and after she was dead! I've done a greater
and more impossible thing than that great Mystery the world adores!
I've gotten in despite you, and without even a woman's help!
When we spoke of that life once before to-night, I shocked you!
Do you believe now that my history is more terrible, or not? He
suffered, and suffered, and He died. But He'd lived! His torture
was a few hoursfor mine to-night, I've waited almost as many years as
He did, and to what end? To nothing! God, God, do you see
He twisted open his hands and held out his bruised wrists before the
trembling man's eyes. For all those years
He suddenly drew himself to his full height and threw them
passionately above his head in the posture that had haunted Henry
Montagu from the first instant's glimpse of him.
For all those endless years, ever since your marriage-night, I've
stood beating, beating, beating at the door of life until my wrists
have bled! And you didn't hear me! You couldn't and she wouldn't! You
didn't want to! You wouldn't listen! And youyou never have heard that
desperate pounding and calling, not even to-night, though even so, with
that woman out of the way, I made you feel me! But she'd
heard me, the ghoul! She heard me again and again! I made her! I told
her what she was, and that you knew it, and I meant it! Her marriage
certificate was her license! She gave you a wanton's love, and you gave
her just what you got! And I made her understand that! I made her
understand it right here in this place! That's why I wanted to come
hereI could see only her picture, and I wanted to see a real
one of them! Until to-night, I could never see either of you, but I
always knew where you were!
And when you brought her here, I made her look at that enemy of me
and my kind that I could always feelthose women that she was
one of and that she knew she was one of when I screamed it at
her in this place! For I was with you two that night! I was with you
till after you'd gone home, you demons! That's why she'd never come
near the place again, the coward, the miserable coward! That's why I
hate her worse than I hate you! There's a pitiful little excuse for the
men, because they're stupider.
For the hideous doom of all our hopeless millions, the women are
more wickedly to blame, because they must face the fact that we are
waiting to get in. God, God, I'd gladly be even a woman, if I could!
But you're bad enoughbad enoughbad enough to deserve the fate you
face to-night! And now, God help you, you're facing it, just as I said
you would! You deserve it because you were put here with a purpose and
you flatly wouldn't fulfil it! God only demands that mankind should be
made in His image. In a wisdom that you have no right to question. He
lets the images go their own way, as you've gone yours. Yet you, and
all others like you, the simple, humble image-workers, instead of
rejoicing that you have work to do, set your little selves up far
greater than Great God, and actually decide whether men shall even
You have a lot of hypercritical, self-justifying theories about
itthat it's better for them not to live at all than to suffer some of
the things that life, even birth itself, can wither them with. But
there never yet was any living creature, no matter how smeared and
smitten, that told the truth when he said he wished he'd never been
born, while we, the countless millions of the lost, pound and shriek
for lifeforever shriek and hope! That's the worst anguish of the
lostthey hope! I've shown what can be done through that anguish, as
it's never been shown before. Even the terrible night that woman died,
I hoped! I hoped more than ever, for knowing then that for all eternity
it was too late, I hoped for revenge! And revenge was my right!
Yes, every solitary soul has a right to live, even if it lives
to wreck, kill, madden its parents! And now, oh, God, I've got my
revenge when I no longer want it! The way you took me in, the way you
wanted me to stay when I'd almost frightened you to death, made me want
to spare you! It was my fate that II liked youImore than
liked you. And I tried to save you! Oh, God, God, how I've
As he stood with his hands thrown forth again and his wretched eyes
staring into those of the white-faced man, Henry Montagu met the wild
gaze unflinchingly. He had sat dumbstruck and shuddering, but the
spasmodic quivering of his body had lessened into calmness, and his
whispered, slow words gained in steadiness as they came: My boy, I
admit you've nearly driven me to madness just now. I was close to the
border! I can't dispute one shred of reproach, of accusation, of
contempt. Your fearful explanation of this night, the awful import of
your visit and yourself have shaken me to the center of my being. But
its huge consistency is that of a madman. You poor, you pitiful,
deluded boy, you tell me to believe you are an unborn soul, while you
stand there and exist before my eyes!
The boy gave a cry of agonyagony so immortal that as he sank into
his chair and clutched the table, an echoing moan of it wrenched from
the older man.
I don't exist! Didn't I tell you my secret was more terrible
than any living heart had ever held? I'm real to you since I made you
let me into your thoughts to-night. I'm real to you, and through your
last moment of consciousness through eternity I always will be! But I
won't be with you! You don't believe me yet, but the moment you do, I
won't be here! And I never can be real to any other creature in the
universenot even that prostitute who refused to be my mother!
I don't exist, and never can exist!
But you do! You do! You do! You're there before me now! gasped Mr.
Montagu through chattering teeth. How can you deny that you're sitting
here with me in this restaurant? I forgive youI love you, and I
forgive you, but, thank God, I see through you at last! You're a
fanatic, a poor, frenzied maniac on this subject, and you've morbidly
spied on and studied me as a typical case of it; through your devilish
understanding and divination you've guessed at that conversation
between me and my wife, and like the creature I pictured you in my
house, a ravening, devouring thing, you've sought to drag me into your
hell of madness! But you shan't! I tell you I see through you at last,
you pitiful mad creature! You know you're there before my eyes, and
just so truly as you are, not one syllable do I believe of what you've
As the boy sprang with a venomous shout to his feet, all the hate in
his terrible being sprang tenfold into his eyes.
Do you call me 'mad,' and 'creature'? Do you dare deny me, now,
after all I've told you? You coward, you coward! You've denied
me life, but you can't deny this night! The people in this place will
let you know presently! I tried to spare you. Though I'd thirsted for
my revenge I pleaded with you, prayed to you to spare yourself!
If you'd stayed in the house, you might have come to your senses and
forgotten me! But what hope for you is there now? Do you still
believe I exist? Look back at the night! Do you remember the portrait?
You commanded me to stopcommanded, as you've always commanded my
fate, and I was powerless. To me, that was a parental commandfrom
you, you who deliberately wouldn't be my parent! Did you see
me wince under it? If you hadn't done it, you'd have found me out right
then! I'm not a physical thing, and I couldn't have moved it! I only
said I was going to Maurice's! I couldn't have come here if you
hadn't brought me! When you wondered, as we were starting out, whether
I had a hat, I stooped down in the hall. But you only thought I picked
one up! As we came in here, you only thought I checked it! Did
you see the man stare as you reached out to take my check away from me?
Have I eaten or drunk to-night? I've not, for I'm not a creature! And mad, I? Look to yourself, as I told you to look before it was too
late! You fool, you've been staring inoffensive women out of
countenance, with all the hate from my face printed on yours, and in
the eyes of all these people you've been sitting here for half an hour
talking to yourself, and ordering wine and food for an empty chair!
You won't ever believe you're mad, but every one else will!
So help me God, cried Henry Montagu, white and trembling, you're
there! I swear you're there!
So help you God, I'm there! cried the boy frightfully,
pointing straight at him.
Right there, in your brain, there, there, and only there!
I'm no more flesh and blood thanthan I ever was, because,
you murderer, you and your damned wife never would let me be! Well,
do you see through me now?
No! No! screamed Mr. Montagu. I don't see through you! I
don't! But as he leaned forward to clutch at him in his terror, all
that he could see before him was a closed door beyond a dozen tables, a
disused entranceway diagonally opposite the one that had let them in.
I don't believe you! he wailed. Oh, my God, my God, my God,
where are you? He turned frantically to the men and women nearest
him. You saw him! There was a boy with me, wasn't there? Wasn't
there? Yes, see, there, isn't he going for that door? Oh, my boy, my
boy! And he dashed toward it. He heard the terrible screams of women,
and chairs and a table crashed in his wake. He reached it. It was
Desperately sobbing, he hurled himself against it.
It seemed to him as if all the men in the restaurant fell upon him.
Strong, merciless hands dragged down and pinioned the wrists with which
he had beaten against the door.