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my cousin's principles to employ a Papist - had been assigned to the care
of the monster: for it had revealed itself, early in its existence, as
destined to become a monster, to surpass its plumpest, pulpiest
sisters, carry off prizes at agricultural shows, and be photographed and
celebrated in every gardening paper in the land. The Italian had done
well - seemed to have a sense of responsibility. And that very morning
he had been ordered to pick the melon, which was to be shown next day at
the county fair, and to bring it in for Mr. Lenman to gaze on its blonde
virginity. But in picking it, what had the damned scoundrelly Jesuit
done but drop it - drop it crash on the sharp spout of a watering-pot,
so that it received a deep gash in its firm pale rotundity, and was
henceforth but a bruised, ruined, fallen melon?

"The old man's rage was fearful in its impotence - he shook, spluttered
and strangled with it. He had just had the Italian up and had sacked
him on the spot, without wages or character - had threatened to have him
arrested if he was ever caught prowling about Wrenfield. 'By God, and
I'll do it - I'll write to Washington - I'll have the pauper scoundrel
deported! I'll show him what money can do!' As likely as not there was
some murderous Black-hand business under it - it would be found that the
fellow was a member of a 'gang.' Those Italians would murder you for a
quarter. He meant to have the police look into it... And then he grew
frightened at his own excitement. 'But I must calm myself,' he said. He
took his temperature, rang for his drops, and turned to the _Churchman_.
He had been reading an article on Nestorianism when the melon was
brought in. He asked me to go on with it, and I read to him for an
hour, in the dim close room, with a fat fly buzzing stealthily about the
fallen melon.

"All the while one phrase of the old man's buzzed in my brain like the
fly about the melon. '_I'll show him what money can do!_' Good heaven!
If _I_ could but show the old man! If I could make him see his power of
giving happiness as a new outlet for his monstrous egotism! I tried
to tell him something about my situation and Kate's - spoke of my
ill-health, my unsuccessful drudgery, my longing to write, to make
myself a name - I stammered out an entreaty for a loan. 'I can guarantee
to repay you, sir - I've a half-written play as security...'

"I shall never forget his glassy stare. His face had grown as smooth as
an egg-shell again - his eyes peered over his fat cheeks like sentinels
over a slippery rampart.

"'A half-written play - a play of _yours_ as security?' He looked at me
almost fearfully, as if detecting the first symptoms of insanity. 'Do
you understand anything of business?' he enquired mildly. I laughed and
answered: 'No, not much.'

"He leaned back with closed lids. 'All this excitement has been too much
for me,' he said. 'If you'll excuse me, I'll prepare for my nap.' And I
stumbled out of the room, blindly, like the Italian."

Granice moved away from the mantel-piece, and walked across to the tray
set out with decanters and soda-water. He poured himself a tall glass of
soda-water, emptied it, and glanced at Ascham's dead cigar.

"Better light another," he suggested.

The lawyer shook his head, and Granice went on with his tale. He told
of his mounting obsession - how the murderous impulse had waked in him on
the instant of his cousin's refusal, and he had muttered to himself:
"By God, if you won't, I'll make you." He spoke more tranquilly as the
narrative proceeded, as though his rage had died down once the resolve
to act on it was taken. He applied his whole mind to the question of how
the old man was to be "disposed of." Suddenly he remembered the outcry:
"Those Italians will murder you for a quarter!" But no definite project
presented itself: he simply waited for an inspiration.

Granice and his sister moved to town a day or two after the incident of
the melon. But the cousins, who had returned, kept them informed of
the old man's condition. One day, about three weeks later, Granice,
on getting home, found Kate excited over a report from Wrenfield. The
Italian had been there again - had somehow slipped into the house,
made his way up to the library, and "used threatening language." The
house-keeper found cousin Joseph gasping, the whites of his eyes showing
"something awful." The doctor was sent for, and the attack warded off;
and the police had ordered the Italian from the neighbourhood.

But cousin Joseph, thereafter, languished, had "nerves," and lost his
taste for toast and butter-milk. The doctor called in a colleague, and
the consultation amused and excited the old man - he became once more
an important figure. The medical men reassured the family - too
completely! - and to the patient they recommended a more varied diet:
advised him to take whatever "tempted him." And so one day, tremulously,
prayerfully, he decided on a tiny bit of melon. It was brought up
with ceremony, and consumed in the presence of the house-keeper and a
hovering cousin; and twenty minutes later he was dead...

"But you remember the circumstances," Granice went on; "how suspicion
turned at once on the Italian? In spite of the hint the police had given
him he had been seen hanging about the house since 'the scene.' It was
said that he had tender relations with the kitchen-maid, and the rest
seemed easy to explain. But when they looked round to ask him for the
explanation he was gone - gone clean out of sight. He had been 'warned'
to leave Wrenfield, and he had taken the warning so to heart that no one
ever laid eyes on him again."

Granice paused. He had dropped into a chair opposite the lawyer's, and
he sat for a moment, his head thrown back, looking about the familiar
room. Everything in it had grown grimacing and alien, and each strange
insistent object seemed craning forward from its place to hear him.

"It was I who put the stuff in the melon," he said. "And I don't want
you to think I'm sorry for it. This isn't 'remorse,' understand. I'm
glad the old skin-flint is dead - I'm glad the others have their money.
But mine's no use to me any more. My sister married miserably, and died.
And I've never had what I wanted."

Ascham continued to stare; then he said: "What on earth was your object,
then?"

"Why, to _get_ what I wanted - what I fancied was in reach! I wanted
change, rest, _life_, for both of us - wanted, above all, for myself, the
chance to write! I travelled, got back my health, and came home to
tie myself up to my work. And I've slaved at it steadily for ten years
without reward - without the most distant hope of success! Nobody will
look at my stuff. And now I'm fifty, and I'm beaten, and I know it."
His chin dropped forward on his breast. "I want to chuck the whole
business," he ended.



III


IT was after midnight when Ascham left.

His hand on Granice's shoulder, as he turned to go - "District Attorney
be hanged; see a doctor, see a doctor!" he had cried; and so, with an
exaggerated laugh, had pulled on his coat and departed.

Granice turned back into the library. It had never occurred to him that
Ascham would not believe his story. For three hours he had explained,
elucidated, patiently and painfully gone over every detail - but without
once breaking down the iron incredulity of the lawyer's eye.

At first Ascham had feigned to be convinced - but that, as Granice now
perceived, was simply to get him to expose himself, to entrap him into
contradictions. And when the attempt failed, when Granice triumphantly
met and refuted each disconcerting question, the lawyer dropped the mask
suddenly, and said with a good-humoured laugh: "By Jove, Granice you'll
write a successful play yet. The way you've worked this all out is a
marvel."

Granice swung about furiously - that last sneer about the play inflamed
him. Was all the world in a conspiracy to deride his failure?

"I did it, I did it," he muttered sullenly, his rage spending itself
against the impenetrable surface of the other's mockery; and Ascham
answered with a smile: "Ever read any of those books on hallucination?
I've got a fairly good medico-legal library. I could send you one or two
if you like..."

Left alone, Granice cowered down in the chair before his writing-table.
He understood that Ascham thought him off his head.

"Good God - what if they all think me crazy?"

The horror of it broke out over him in a cold sweat - he sat there and
shook, his eyes hidden in his icy hands. But gradually, as he began
to rehearse his story for the thousandth time, he saw again how
incontrovertible it was, and felt sure that any criminal lawyer would
believe him.

"That's the trouble - Ascham's not a criminal lawyer. And then he's a
friend. What a fool I was to talk to a friend! Even if he did believe
me, he'd never let me see it - his instinct would be to cover the whole
thing up... But in that case - if he _did_ believe me - he might think it
a kindness to get me shut up in an asylum..." Granice began to tremble
again. "Good heaven! If he should bring in an expert - one of those
damned alienists! Ascham and Pettilow can do anything - their word always
goes. If Ascham drops a hint that I'd better be shut up, I'll be in a
strait-jacket by to-morrow! And he'd do it from the kindest motives - be
quite right to do it if he thinks I'm a murderer!"

The vision froze him to his chair. He pressed his fists to his bursting
temples and tried to think. For the first time he hoped that Ascham had
not believed his story.

"But he did - he did! I can see it now - I noticed what a queer eye he
cocked at me. Good God, what shall I do - what shall I do?"

He started up and looked at the clock. Half-past one. What if Ascham
should think the case urgent, rout out an alienist, and come back with
him? Granice jumped to his feet, and his sudden gesture brushed the
morning paper from the table. Mechanically he stooped to pick it up, and
the movement started a new train of association.

He sat down again, and reached for the telephone book in the rack by his
chair.

"Give me three-o-ten ... yes."

The new idea in his mind had revived his flagging energy. He would
act - act at once. It was only by thus planning ahead, committing himself
to some unavoidable line of conduct, that he could pull himself through
the meaningless days. Each time he reached a fresh decision it was like
coming out of a foggy weltering sea into a calm harbour with lights. One
of the queerest phases of his long agony was the intense relief produced
by these momentary lulls.

"That the office of the _Investigator?_ Yes? Give me Mr. Denver,
please... Hallo, Denver... Yes, Hubert Granice. ... Just caught you?
Going straight home? Can I come and see you ... yes, now ... have a
talk? It's rather urgent ... yes, might give you some first-rate 'copy.'
... All right!" He hung up the receiver with a laugh. It had been a
happy thought to call up the editor of the _Investigator_ - Robert Denver
was the very man he needed...

Granice put out the lights in the library - it was odd how the automatic
gestures persisted! - went into the hall, put on his hat and overcoat,
and let himself out of the flat. In the hall, a sleepy elevator boy
blinked at him and then dropped his head on his folded arms. Granice
passed out into the street. At the corner of Fifth Avenue he hailed a
crawling cab, and called out an up-town address. The long thoroughfare
stretched before him, dim and deserted, like an ancient avenue of tombs.
But from Denver's house a friendly beam fell on the pavement; and as
Granice sprang from his cab the editor's electric turned the corner.

The two men grasped hands, and Denver, feeling for his latch-key,
ushered Granice into the brightly-lit hall.

"Disturb me? Not a bit. You might have, at ten to-morrow morning ... but
this is my liveliest hour ... you know my habits of old."

Granice had known Robert Denver for fifteen years - watched his rise
through all the stages of journalism to the Olympian pinnacle of the
_Investigator's_ editorial office. In the thick-set man with grizzling
hair there were few traces left of the hungry-eyed young reporter who,
on his way home in the small hours, used to "bob in" on Granice, while
the latter sat grinding at his plays. Denver had to pass Granice's flat
on the way to his own, and it became a habit, if he saw a light in the
window, and Granice's shadow against the blind, to go in, smoke a pipe,
and discuss the universe.

"Well - this is like old times - a good old habit reversed." The editor
smote his visitor genially on the shoulder. "Reminds me of the nights
when I used to rout you out... How's the play, by the way? There _is_
a play, I suppose? It's as safe to ask you that as to say to some men:
'How's the baby?'"

Denver laughed good-naturedly, and Granice thought how thick and heavy
he had grown. It was evident, even to Granice's tortured nerves, that
the words had not been uttered in malice - and the fact gave him a new
measure of his insignificance. Denver did not even know that he had been
a failure! The fact hurt more than Ascham's irony.

"Come in - come in." The editor led the way into a small cheerful room,
where there were cigars and decanters. He pushed an arm-chair toward his
visitor, and dropped into another with a comfortable groan.

"Now, then - help yourself. And let's hear all about it."

He beamed at Granice over his pipe-bowl, and the latter, lighting his
cigar, said to himself: "Success makes men comfortable, but it makes
them stupid."

Then he turned, and began: "Denver, I want to tell you - "

The clock ticked rhythmically on the mantel-piece. The room was
gradually filled with drifting blue layers of smoke, and through them
the editor's face came and went like the moon through a moving sky. Once
the hour struck - then the rhythmical ticking began again. The atmosphere
grew denser and heavier, and beads of perspiration began to roll from
Granice's forehead.

"Do you mind if I open the window?"

"No. It _is_ stuffy in here. Wait - I'll do it myself." Denver pushed
down the upper sash, and returned to his chair. "Well - go on," he said,
filling another pipe. His composure exasperated Granice.

"There's no use in my going on if you don't believe me."

The editor remained unmoved. "Who says I don't believe you? And how can
I tell till you've finished?"

Granice went on, ashamed of his outburst. "It was simple enough, as
you'll see. From the day the old man said to me, 'Those Italians would
murder you for a quarter,' I dropped everything and just worked at
my scheme. It struck me at once that I must find a way of getting to
Wrenfield and back in a night - and that led to the idea of a motor. A
motor - that never occurred to you? You wonder where I got the money, I
suppose. Well, I had a thousand or so put by, and I nosed around till I
found what I wanted - a second-hand racer. I knew how to drive a car,
and I tried the thing and found it was all right. Times were bad, and I
bought it for my price, and stored it away. Where? Why, in one of those
no-questions-asked garages where they keep motors that are not for
family use. I had a lively cousin who had put me up to that dodge, and I
looked about till I found a queer hole where they took in my car like a
baby in a foundling asylum... Then I practiced running to Wrenfield and
back in a night. I knew the way pretty well, for I'd done it often with
the same lively cousin - and in the small hours, too. The distance is
over ninety miles, and on the third trial I did it under two hours. But
my arms were so lame that I could hardly get dressed the next morning...

"Well, then came the report about the Italian's threats, and I saw I
must act at once... I meant to break into the old man's room, shoot him,
and get away again. It was a big risk, but I thought I could manage it.
Then we heard that he was ill - that there'd been a consultation. Perhaps
the fates were going to do it for me! Good Lord, if that could only be!..."

Granice stopped and wiped his forehead: the open window did not seem to
have cooled the room.

"Then came word that he was better; and the day after, when I came up
from my office, I found Kate laughing over the news that he was to try
a bit of melon. The house-keeper had just telephoned her - all Wrenfield
was in a flutter. The doctor himself had picked out the melon, one of
the little French ones that are hardly bigger than a large tomato - and
the patient was to eat it at his breakfast the next morning.

"In a flash I saw my chance. It was a bare chance, no more. But I knew
the ways of the house - I was sure the melon would be brought in over
night and put in the pantry ice-box. If there were only one melon in the
ice-box I could be fairly sure it was the one I wanted. Melons
didn't lie around loose in that house - every one was known, numbered,
catalogued. The old man was beset by the dread that the servants would
eat them, and he took a hundred mean precautions to prevent it. Yes,
I felt pretty sure of my melon ... and poisoning was much safer than
shooting. It would have been the devil and all to get into the old man's
bedroom without his rousing the house; but I ought to be able to break
into the pantry without much trouble.

"It was a cloudy night, too - everything served me. I dined quietly, and
sat down at my desk. Kate had one of her usual headaches, and went to
bed early. As soon as she was gone I slipped out. I had got together a
sort of disguise - red beard and queer-looking ulster. I shoved them
into a bag, and went round to the garage. There was no one there but a
half-drunken machinist whom I'd never seen before. That served me, too.
They were always changing machinists, and this new fellow didn't even
bother to ask if the car belonged to me. It was a very easy-going
place...

"Well, I jumped in, ran up Broadway, and let the car go as soon as I was
out of Harlem. Dark as it was, I could trust myself to strike a sharp
pace. In the shadow of a wood I stopped a second and got into the beard
and ulster. Then away again - it was just eleven-thirty when I got to
Wrenfield.

"I left the car in a dark lane behind the Lenman place, and slipped
through the kitchen-garden. The melon-houses winked at me through the
dark - I remember thinking that they knew what I wanted to know. ... By
the stable a dog came out growling - but he nosed me out, jumped on me,
and went back... The house was as dark as the grave. I knew everybody
went to bed by ten. But there might be a prowling servant - the
kitchen-maid might have come down to let in her Italian. I had to
risk that, of course. I crept around by the back door and hid in the
shrubbery. Then I listened. It was all as silent as death. I crossed
over to the house, pried open the pantry window and climbed in. I had a
little electric lamp in my pocket, and shielding it with my cap I groped
my way to the ice-box, opened it - and there was the little French
melon... only one.

"I stopped to listen - I was quite cool. Then I pulled out my bottle of
stuff and my syringe, and gave each section of the melon a hypodermic.
It was all done inside of three minutes - at ten minutes to twelve I was
back in the car. I got out of the lane as quietly as I could, struck a
back road that skirted the village, and let the car out as soon as I was
beyond the last houses. I only stopped once on the way in, to drop the
beard and ulster into a pond. I had a big stone ready to weight them
with and they went down plump, like a dead body - and at two o'clock I
was back at my desk."

Granice stopped speaking and looked across the smoke-fumes at his
listener; but Denver's face remained inscrutable.

At length he said: "Why did you want to tell me this?"

The question startled Granice. He was about to explain, as he had
explained to Ascham; but suddenly it occurred to him that if his motive
had not seemed convincing to the lawyer it would carry much less weight
with Denver. Both were successful men, and success does not understand
the subtle agony of failure. Granice cast about for another reason.

"Why, I - the thing haunts me ... remorse, I suppose you'd call it..."

Denver struck the ashes from his empty pipe.

"Remorse? Bosh!" he said energetically.

Granice's heart sank. "You don't believe in - _remorse?_"

"Not an atom: in the man of action. The mere fact of your talking of
remorse proves to me that you're not the man to have planned and put
through such a job."

Granice groaned. "Well - I lied to you about remorse. I've never felt
any."

Denver's lips tightened sceptically about his freshly-filled pipe. "What
was your motive, then? You must have had one."

"I'll tell you - " And Granice began again to rehearse the story of his
failure, of his loathing for life. "Don't say you don't believe me this
time ... that this isn't a real reason!" he stammered out piteously as
he ended.

Denver meditated. "No, I won't say that. I've seen too many queer
things. There's always a reason for wanting to get out of life - the
wonder is that we find so many for staying in!"

Granice's heart grew light. "Then you _do_ believe me?" he faltered.

"Believe that you're sick of the job? Yes. And that you haven't the
nerve to pull the trigger? Oh, yes - that's easy enough, too. But all
that doesn't make you a murderer - though I don't say it proves you could
never have been one."

"I _have_ been one, Denver - I swear to you."

"Perhaps." He meditated. "Just tell me one or two things."

"Oh, go ahead. You won't stump me!" Granice heard himself say with a
laugh.

"Well - how did you make all those trial trips without exciting your
sister's curiosity? I knew your night habits pretty well at that time,
remember. You were very seldom out late. Didn't the change in your ways
surprise her?"

"No; because she was away at the time. She went to pay several visits in
the country soon after we came back from Wrenfield, and was only in town
for a night or two before - before I did the job."

"And that night she went to bed early with a headache?"

"Yes - blinding. She didn't know anything when she had that kind. And her
room was at the back of the flat."

Denver again meditated. "And when you got back - she didn't hear you? You
got in without her knowing it?"

"Yes. I went straight to my work - took it up at the word where I'd left
off - _why, Denver, don't you remember?_" Granice suddenly, passionately
interjected.

"Remember - ?"

"Yes; how you found me - when you looked in that morning, between two and
three ... your usual hour ...?"

"Yes," the editor nodded.

Granice gave a short laugh. "In my old coat - with my pipe: looked as if
I'd been working all night, didn't I? Well, I hadn't been in my chair
ten minutes!"

Denver uncrossed his legs and then crossed them again. "I didn't know
whether _you_ remembered that."

"What?"

"My coming in that particular night - or morning."

Granice swung round in his chair. "Why, man alive! That's why I'm here
now. Because it was you who spoke for me at the inquest, when they
looked round to see what all the old man's heirs had been doing that
night - you who testified to having dropped in and found me at my desk as
usual. ... I thought _that_ would appeal to your journalistic sense if
nothing else would!"

Denver smiled. "Oh, my journalistic sense is still susceptible
enough - and the idea's picturesque, I grant you: asking the man who
proved your alibi to establish your guilt."

"That's it - that's it!" Granice's laugh had a ring of triumph.

"Well, but how about the other chap's testimony - I mean that young
doctor: what was his name? Ned Ranney. Don't you remember my testifying
that I'd met him at the elevated station, and told him I was on my way
to smoke a pipe with you, and his saying: 'All right; you'll find him
in. I passed the house two hours ago, and saw his shadow against the
blind, as usual.' And the lady with the toothache in the flat across the
way: she corroborated his statement, you remember."

"Yes; I remember."

"Well, then?"

"Simple enough. Before starting I rigged up a kind of mannikin with old
coats and a cushion - something to cast a shadow on the blind. All
you fellows were used to seeing my shadow there in the small hours - I
counted on that, and knew you'd take any vague outline as mine."

"Simple enough, as you say. But the woman with the toothache saw the
shadow move - you remember she said she saw you sink forward, as if you'd
fallen asleep."

"Yes; and she was right. It _did_ move. I suppose some extra-heavy dray
must have jolted by the flimsy building - at any rate, something gave my


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