Unjudged by Will Lillibridge
The source of this manuscript lies in tragedy. My possession of it
is purely adventitious. That I have had it long you may know, for it
came to me at an inland prairie town, far removed from water or
mountain, while for ten years or more my name, above the big-lettered
dentist sign, has stood here on my office window in this city by the
lake. I have waited, hoping some one would come as claimant; but my
hair is turning white and I can wait no longer. As now I write of the
past, the time of the manuscript's coming stands clear amid a host of
hazy, half-forgotten things.
It was after regular hours, of the day I write, that a man came
hurriedly into my office, complaining of a fiercely aching tooth.
Against my advice he insisted on an immediate extraction, and the use
of an anæsthetic. I telephoned for a physician, and while awaiting his
coming my patient placed in my keeping an expansible leather-covered
book of a large pocket size.
Should anything go wrong, he said, there are instructions
The request is common from those unused to an operation, and I
accepted without other comment than to assure him he need fear no
Upon arriving, the physician made the customary examination and
proceeded to administer chloroform. The patient was visibly excited,
but neither of us attached any importance to that under the
circumstances. Almost before the effect of the anæsthetic was
noticeable, however, there began a series of violent muscular spasms
and contractions. The inhaler was removed and all restoratives known to
the profession used, but without avail. He died in a few moments, and
without regaining consciousness. The symptoms were suspicious, entirely
foreign to any caused by the anæsthetic, and at the inquest the cause
came to light. In the man's stomach was a large quantity of strychnine.
That he knew something of medicine is certain, for the action of the
alkaloid varies little, and he had the timing to a nicety.
The man was, I should judge, thirty years of age, smooth of face and
slightly built. Nerve was in every line of face and body. He was
faultlessly dressed and perfectly groomed. He wore no jewelry, not even
a watch; but within the pocket of his vest was found a small jewel-case
containing two beautiful white diamonds, each of more than a carat
weight. One was unset, the other mounted in a lady's ring. There was
money in plenty upon his person, but not an article that would give the
slightest clue to his identity.
One peculiar thing about him I noticed, and could not account for:
upon the palm of each hand was a row of irregular abrasions, but
slightly healed, and which looked as though made by some dull
The book with which he entrusted me had begun as a journal, but with
the passage of events it had outgrown its original plan. Being
expansible, fresh sheets had been added as it grew, and at the back of
the book, on one of these blanks, had been hastily scratched, in
pencil, the message of which he spoke:
You will find sufficient money in my pockets to cover all expenses.
Do not take my trinkets, please! Associations make them dear to me. Any
attempt to discover my friends will be useless.
Notwithstanding the last sentence the body was embalmed and the
death advertised; but no response came, and after three days the body
and the tokens he loved were quietly buried here in the city.
Meantime I had read the book, beginning from a sense of duty that
grew into a passing interest, and ended by making me unaware of both
time and place. I give you the journal as it stands, word for word and
date for date. Would that I could show you the handwriting in the
original as well. No printed page can tell the story of mood as can the
lines of this journal. There were moments of passion when words slurred
and overtook each other, as thought moved more rapidly than the
characters which recorded; and again, periods of uncertainty when the
hand tarried and busied itself with forming meaningless figures, while
the conscious mind roamed far away.
* * * * *
March 17. Why do I begin a journal now, a thing I have never
done before? Had another asked the question, I could have turned it off
with a laugh, but with myself it will not do. I must answer it, and
honestly. Know then, my ego who catechises, I have things to tell,
feelings to describe that are new to me and which I cannot tell to
another. The excuse sounds childish; but listen: I speak it softly: I
love, and he who loves is ever as a child. I smile at myself for making
the admission. I, a man whose hair is thinning and silvering, who has
written of love all his life, and laughed at it. Oh, it's humorous,
deliciously humorous. To think that I have become, in reality, the fool
I pictured others in fancy!
April 2. Gods, she was beautiful to-night!the way she came
to meet me: the long skirt that hung so gracefully, and that fluffy,
white, sleeveless thing that fitted her so perfectly and showed her
white arms and the curves of her throat. I forgot to rise, and I fear I
stared at her. I can yet see the smile that crept through the long
lashes as she looked at me, and as I stumbled an apology she was
smiling all the time. How I came away I swear I don't know. Instinct, I
suppose; for now at last I have an incentive. I must work mightily, and
earn a namefor her.
April 4. He says it is a strong plot and that he will help
me. That means the book will succeed. I wonder how a man feels who can
do things, not merely dream them. I expected he would laugh when I told
him the plot, especially when I told whom the woman was; but he didn't
say a word. He thinks, as I do, that it would be better to leave the
story's connection with her a surprise until the book is published. He
is coming up here to work to-morrow. Keep a plot warm, he says:
especially one with a love in it. He looked at me out of the corner
of his eye as he spoke, so peculiarly I hardly knew whether he was
laughing at me or not. I suppose, just now, my state of mind is rather
obvious and amusing.
May 3. As I expected, the reaction is on. What a price we
have to pay for our happy moments in this world! I'm tired to-night and
a little discouraged, for I worked hard all day, and did not accomplish
much. Lack of inspiration, he said. The heroine is becoming a trifle
dim. Hadn't you better go and enthuse a little to-night?
I was not in a mood to be chaffed; I told him shortly: No, you had
better go yourself.
He smiled and thanked me. With your permission, he said, I will.
Nature certainly has been kind to him, for he is handsome and
fascinating beyond any man I ever knew. I wanted to use him in the
story, but he positively refused. He said that I would do better. So we
finally compromised on a combination. The man has his hair and my
eyes, his nose and my mouth. Over the chin we each smiled a little
grimly, for it is stubbornsquare, and fits us both. After all, it is
not a bad ensemble. The character has his weak points, but, all
in all, he is not bad to look upon.
June 10. We went driving this evening, she and I, far out
into the country, going and coming slowly. The night was perfect, with
a full moon and a soft south wind. Nature's music makers were all busy.
On the high places, the crickets sang loudly their lonesome song to the
night, while from the distant river and lowlands there came the
uncertain minor of countless frogs in chorus.
For two hours I tasted happiness, divine happiness, happiness so
complete that I forgot time.
I have known many beautiful women, women splendid as animals are
splendid, but never before one whose intense womanliness made me forget
that she was beautiful. I can't explain; it is too subtle and holy a
thing. I sat by her side, so near that we touched, and worshipped as I
never worshipped at church. If but for this night alone, my life is
worth the living.
June 12. It seems peculiar that he should be working with me
at this story; strange that he should care to know me at all. Perhaps I
stand a little in awe of the successful man; I think we all do. At
least, he is the example par excellence. I have seen him go into
a room filled with total strangers, and though he never spoke a word,
have heard the question all about,Who is he? Years ago, when he as
well as I was an unknown writer, we each submitted a story to the same
editor, by the same mail. Both were returned. I can still see the
expression on his face as he opened his envelope, and thrust the
manuscript into his pocket. He did not say a word, but his manner of
donning his top-coat and hat, and the crash of the front door behind
him betrayed his disappointment. His work was afterwards published at
his own risk. The ink on my story is fading, but I have it still.
July 2. She is going to the coast for the season, and I
called to-night to say au revoir. I could see her only a few
minutes as her carriage was already waiting; something, I believe, in
honor of her last night in town. She was in evening dress, and
beautifulI cannot describe. Think of the most beautiful woman you
have ever known, and thenbut it is useless, for you have not known
I was intoxicated; happy as a boy; happy as a god. I filled the few
moments I had, full to overflowing. I told her what every man tells
some woman some time in his life. For once I felt the power of a
master, and I spoke well.
She did not answer; I asked her not to. I could not tell her all,
and I would have no reply before. Her face was turned from me as I
spoke, but her ears turned pink and her breath came quickly. I looked
at her and the magnitude of my presumption held me dumb; yet a warm
happy glow was upon me, and the tapping of feet on the pavement below
sounded as sweetest music.
As I watched her she turned, her eyes glistening and her throat all
a-tremble. She held out her hand to say good-bye. I took it in mine;
and at the touch my resolution and all other things of earth were
forgotten, and I did that which I had come hoping to do. Gently, I
slipped a ring with a single setting over her finger, then bending low,
I touched the hand with my lipswhitest, softest, dearest hand in
God's world. Then I heard her breath break in a sob, and felt upon my
hair the falling of a tear.
August 5. I am homesick to-night and tired. It is ten-thirty,
and, I have just gotten dinner. I forgot all about it before. The story
is moving swiftly. It is nearly finished now, moreover it is good; I
know it. I sent a big roll of manuscript to him to-day. He is at the
coast, and polishes the rough draft as fast as I send it in. He tells
me he has secured a publisher, and that the book will be out in a few
months. I can hardly wait to finish, for then I, too, can leave town. I
will not go before; I have work to do, and can do it better here. He
tells me he has seen her several times. God! a man who writes novels
and can mention her incidentally, as though speaking of a dinner-party!
August 30. I finished to-day and expressed him the last scrap
of copy. I wanted to sing, I was so happy. Then I bethought me, it is
her birthday. I went down town and picked out a stone that pleased me.
Their messenger will deliver it, and she can choose her own setting.
How I'd like to carry it myself, but I have a little more work to do
before I go. Only two more days, and then
I have been counting the time since she left: almost two months; it
seems incredible when I think of it.
How I have worked! Next time I write, my journal confessor, I will
have something to tell: I will have seen hershe who wears my ring....
Ah! here comes my man for orders. A few of my bachelor friends help me
celebrate here to-night. I have not told them it is the last time.
September 5. Let me think; I am confused. This hotel is vile,
abominable, but there is no other. That cursed odor of stale tobacco,
and of cookery!
The landlord says they were here yesterday and went West. It's easy
to trace themeverybody notices. A tall man, dark, with a firm jaw;
the most beautiful woman they have ever seenthey all say the same. My
God! and I'm hung up here, inactive a whole day! But I'll find them,
they can't escape; and then they'll laugh at me, probably.
What can I do? I don't know. I can't think. I must find them first
... that cursed odor again!
Oh, what a child, a worse than fool I have been! To sit there in
town pouring the best work of my life into his hands! I must have that
book, I will have it. To think how I trusted herwaited until my hair
began to turnfor this!
But I must stop. This is useless, it's madness.
September 9. It is a beautiful night. I have just come in
from a long walk, how long I don't know. I went to the suburbs and
through the parks, watching the young people sitting, two and two, in
the shadow. I smiled at the sight, for in fancy I could hear what they
were saying. Then I wandered over to the lakefront and stood a long
time, with the waves lapping musically against the rocks below, and the
moonlight glistening on a million reflectors. The great stretch of
water in front, and the great city behind me sang low in concord, while
the stars looked down smiling at the refrain. Be calm, little mortal,
be calm, they said; calm, tiny mortal, calm, repeated endlessly,
until the mood took hold of me, and in sympathy I smiled in return.
Was it yesterday? It seems a month since I found them. Was it I who
was so hot and angry? I hold up my hand; it is as steady as my mother's
when, years ago, as a boy, she laid it on my forehead with her
good-night. The murmur of this big hotel speaks soothingly, like the
voice of an old friend. The purr of the elevator is a voice I know. It
all seems incredible. To-day is so commonplace and real, and yesterday
so remote and fantastic.
He was lounging in the lobby, a hand in either pocket, when I
touched him on the shoulder. He turned, but neither hands nor face
failed him by a motion.
I presume you would prefer to talk in private? I said, Will you
come to my room?
A smile formed slowly over his lips.
I don't wish to deprive my He paused, and his eyes met
mine,my wife of a pleasant chat with an old friend. I would suggest
that you come with us to our suite.
I nodded. In silence we went up the elevator; in equal silence, he
leading, we passed along the corridor over carpets that gave out no
She was standing by the window when we entered. Her profile stood
out clear in the shaded room, and in spite of myself a great
heart-throb passed over me. She did not move at first, but at last
turning she saw him and me. Then I could see her tremble; she started
quickly to leave, but he barred the way. The smile was still upon his
Pardon me, my dear, he protested, but certainly you recognize an
She grew white to the lips, and her eyes blazed. Her hands pressed
together so tightly that the fingers became blue at the nails. She
looked at him; such scorn I had never seen before. Before it, the smile
slowly left his face.
Were you the fraction of a man, she voiced slowly, icily, you
would have stopped short ofthis.
She made a motion of her hand, so slight one could scarce see it,
and without a word he stepped aside. She turned toward me and,
instinctively, I bent in courtesy, my eyes on the floor and a great
tumult in my heart. She hesitated at passing me; without looking up I
knew it; then, slowly, moved away down the corridor.
I advanced inside, closing the door behind me and snapping the lock.
Neither of us said a word; no word was needed. The fighting-blood of
each was up, and on each the square jaw that marked us both was set
hard. I stepped up within a yard of him and looked him square in the
eye. I pray God I may never be so angry again.
What explanation have you to offer? I asked.
His eye never wavered, though the blood left his face and lip; even
then I admired his nerve. When he spoke his voice was even and natural.
Nothing, he sneered. You have lost; that's all.
Quick as thought, I threw back the taunt.
Lost the woman, yes, thank God; the book, never. I came for that,
not for her. I demand that you turn over the copy.
Again the cool smile and the steady voice.
You're a trifle late. I haven't a sheet; it is all gone.
You lie! I flung the hot words fair in his teeth.
A smile, mocking, maddening, formed upon his face.
I told you before you had lost. The book is copyrighteda pause,
while the smile broadenedcopyrighted in my name, and sold.
The instinct of battle, primitive, uncontrollable, came over me and
the room turned dark. I fought it, until my hands grew greasy from the
wounds where the nails bit my palms, then I lost control; of what
follows all is confused.
I dimly see myself leaping at him like a wild animal; I feel the
tightening of the big neck muscles as my fingers closed on his throat;
I feel a soft breath of night air as we neared the open window; then in
my hands a sudden lightness, and in my ears a cry of terror.
I awoke at a pounding on the door. It seemed hours later, though it
must have been but seconds. I aroseand was alone. The window was wide
open; in the street below, a crowd was gathering on the run, while a
policeman's shrill whistle rang out on the night. A hundred faces were
turned toward me as I looked down and I dimly wondered thereat.
The knocking on the door became more insistent. I turned the lock,
slowly, and a woman rushed into the room. Something about her seemed
familiar to me. I passed my hand over my foreheadbut it was useless.
I bowed low and started to walk out, but she seized me by the arm,
calling my name, pleadingly. Her soft brown hair was all loose and
hanging, and her big eyes swimming; her whole body trembled so that she
could scarcely speak.
The grip of the white hand on my arm tightened.
Oh! You must not go, she cried; you cannot.
I tried gently to shake her off, but she clung more closely than
You must let me explain, she wailed. I call God to witness, I was
not to blame. She drew a case from the bosom of her dress.
Here are those stones; I never wore them. I wanted to, God knows,
but I couldn't. Take them, I beg of you. She thrust the case into my
pocket. He made me take them, you understand; made me do everything
from the first. I loved him once, long ago, and since then I couldn't
get away. I can't explain. She was pleading as I never heard woman
plead before. Forgive metell me you forgive mespeak to me. The
grip on my arm loosened and her voice dropped.
Oh! God, to have brought this on you when I loved you!
The words sounded in my ears, but made no impression. It all seemed
very, very strange. Why should she say such things to me? She must be
mistakenmust take me for another.
I broke away from her grasp, and groped staggeringly toward the
door. A weariness intense was upon me and I wanted to be home alone. As
I moved away, I heard behind me a swift step as though she would
follow, and my name called softly, then another movement, away.
Mechanically I turned at the sound, and saw her profile standing
clear in the open window-frame. Realization came to me with a mighty
rush, and with a cry that was a great sob I sprang toward her.
Suddenly the window became clear again, and through the blackness
that formed about me I dimly heard a great wail of horror arise from
the street below.
* * * * *
There was no other entry save the hasty scrawl in pencil.