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mannikin a jar, and when I came back he had sunk forward, half over the

There was a long silence between the two men. Granice, with a throbbing
heart, watched Denver refill his pipe. The editor, at any rate, did not
sneer and flout him. After all, journalism gave a deeper insight than
the law into the fantastic possibilities of life, prepared one better to
allow for the incalculableness of human impulses.

"Well?" Granice faltered out.

Denver stood up with a shrug. "Look here, man - what's wrong with you?
Make a clean breast of it! Nerves gone to smash? I'd like to take you
to see a chap I know - an ex-prize-fighter - who's a wonder at pulling
fellows in your state out of their hole - "

"Oh, oh - " Granice broke in. He stood up also, and the two men eyed each
other. "You don't believe me, then?"

"This yarn - how can I? There wasn't a flaw in your alibi."

"But haven't I filled it full of them now?"

Denver shook his head. "I might think so if I hadn't happened to know
that you _wanted_ to. There's the hitch, don't you see?"

Granice groaned. "No, I didn't. You mean my wanting to be found
guilty - ?"

"Of course! If somebody else had accused you, the story might have been
worth looking into. As it is, a child could have invented it. It doesn't
do much credit to your ingenuity."

Granice turned sullenly toward the door. What was the use of arguing?
But on the threshold a sudden impulse drew him back. "Look here,
Denver - I daresay you're right. But will you do just one thing to
prove it? Put my statement in the _Investigator_, just as I've made it.
Ridicule it as much as you like. Only give the other fellows a chance at
it - men who don't know anything about me. Set them talking and looking
about. I don't care a damn whether _you_ believe me - what I want is
to convince the Grand Jury! I oughtn't to have come to a man who knows
me - your cursed incredulity is infectious. I don't put my case well,
because I know in advance it's discredited, and I almost end by not
believing it myself. That's why I can't convince _you_. It's a vicious
circle." He laid a hand on Denver's arm. "Send a stenographer, and put
my statement in the paper."

But Denver did not warm to the idea. "My dear fellow, you seem to forget
that all the evidence was pretty thoroughly sifted at the time, every
possible clue followed up. The public would have been ready enough then
to believe that you murdered old Lenman - you or anybody else. All they
wanted was a murderer - the most improbable would have served. But your
alibi was too confoundedly complete. And nothing you've told me has
shaken it." Denver laid his cool hand over the other's burning fingers.
"Look here, old fellow, go home and work up a better case - then come in
and submit it to the _Investigator_."


THE perspiration was rolling off Granice's forehead. Every few minutes
he had to draw out his handkerchief and wipe the moisture from his
haggard face.

For an hour and a half he had been talking steadily, putting his case
to the District Attorney. Luckily he had a speaking acquaintance with
Allonby, and had obtained, without much difficulty, a private audience
on the very day after his talk with Robert Denver. In the interval
between he had hurried home, got out of his evening clothes, and gone
forth again at once into the dreary dawn. His fear of Ascham and the
alienist made it impossible for him to remain in his rooms. And it
seemed to him that the only way of averting that hideous peril was by
establishing, in some sane impartial mind, the proof of his guilt. Even
if he had not been so incurably sick of life, the electric chair seemed
now the only alternative to the strait-jacket.

As he paused to wipe his forehead he saw the District Attorney glance at
his watch. The gesture was significant, and Granice lifted an appealing
hand. "I don't expect you to believe me now - but can't you put me under
arrest, and have the thing looked into?"

Allonby smiled faintly under his heavy grayish moustache. He had a ruddy
face, full and jovial, in which his keen professional eyes seemed to
keep watch over impulses not strictly professional.

"Well, I don't know that we need lock you up just yet. But of course I'm
bound to look into your statement - "

Granice rose with an exquisite sense of relief. Surely Allonby wouldn't
have said that if he hadn't believed him!

"That's all right. Then I needn't detain you. I can be found at any time
at my apartment." He gave the address.

The District Attorney smiled again, more openly. "What do you say to
leaving it for an hour or two this evening? I'm giving a little supper
at Rector's - quiet, little affair, you understand: just Miss Melrose - I
think you know her - and a friend or two; and if you'll join us..."

Granice stumbled out of the office without knowing what reply he had

He waited for four days - four days of concentrated horror. During the
first twenty-four hours the fear of Ascham's alienist dogged him; and as
that subsided, it was replaced by the exasperating sense that his avowal
had made no impression on the District Attorney. Evidently, if he had
been going to look into the case, Allonby would have been heard from
before now. ... And that mocking invitation to supper showed clearly
enough how little the story had impressed him!

Granice was overcome by the futility of any farther attempt to inculpate
himself. He was chained to life - a "prisoner of consciousness." Where
was it he had read the phrase? Well, he was learning what it meant. In
the glaring night-hours, when his brain seemed ablaze, he was visited
by a sense of his fixed identity, of his irreducible, inexpugnable
_selfness_, keener, more insidious, more unescapable, than any sensation
he had ever known. He had not guessed that the mind was capable of such
intricacies of self-realization, of penetrating so deep into its own
dark windings. Often he woke from his brief snatches of sleep with the
feeling that something material was clinging to him, was on his hands
and face, and in his throat - and as his brain cleared he understood that
it was the sense of his own loathed personality that stuck to him like
some thick viscous substance.

Then, in the first morning hours, he would rise and look out of
his window at the awakening activities of the street - at the
street-cleaners, the ash-cart drivers, and the other dingy workers
flitting hurriedly by through the sallow winter light. Oh, to be one of
them - any of them - to take his chance in any of their skins! They were
the toilers - the men whose lot was pitied - the victims wept over and
ranted about by altruists and economists; and how gladly he would have
taken up the load of any one of them, if only he might have shaken off
his own! But, no - the iron circle of consciousness held them too: each
one was hand-cuffed to his own hideous ego. Why wish to be any one man
rather than another? The only absolute good was not to be ... And Flint,
coming in to draw his bath, would ask if he preferred his eggs scrambled
or poached that morning?

On the fifth day he wrote a long urgent letter to Allonby; and for the
succeeding two days he had the occupation of waiting for an answer. He
hardly stirred from his rooms, in his fear of missing the letter by a
moment; but would the District Attorney write, or send a representative:
a policeman, a "secret agent," or some other mysterious emissary of the

On the third morning Flint, stepping softly - as if, confound it! his
master were ill - entered the library where Granice sat behind an unread
newspaper, and proferred a card on a tray.

Granice read the name - J. B. Hewson - and underneath, in pencil, "From
the District Attorney's office." He started up with a thumping heart,
and signed an assent to the servant.

Mr. Hewson was a slight sallow nondescript man of about fifty - the kind
of man of whom one is sure to see a specimen in any crowd. "Just the
type of the successful detective," Granice reflected as he shook hands
with his visitor.

And it was in that character that Mr. Hewson briefly introduced himself.
He had been sent by the District Attorney to have "a quiet talk" with
Mr. Granice - to ask him to repeat the statement he had made about the
Lenman murder.

His manner was so quiet, so reasonable and receptive, that Granice's
self-confidence returned. Here was a sensible man - a man who knew
his business - it would be easy enough to make _him_ see through that
ridiculous alibi! Granice offered Mr. Hewson a cigar, and lighting one
himself - to prove his coolness - began again to tell his story.

He was conscious, as he proceeded, of telling it better than ever
before. Practice helped, no doubt; and his listener's detached,
impartial attitude helped still more. He could see that Hewson, at
least, had not decided in advance to disbelieve him, and the sense of
being trusted made him more lucid and more consecutive. Yes, this time
his words would certainly carry conviction...


DESPAIRINGLY, Granice gazed up and down the shabby street. Beside him
stood a young man with bright prominent eyes, a smooth but not too
smoothly-shaven face, and an Irish smile. The young man's nimble glance
followed Granice's.

"Sure of the number, are you?" he asked briskly.

"Oh, yes - it was 104."

"Well, then, the new building has swallowed it up - that's certain."

He tilted his head back and surveyed the half-finished front of a brick
and limestone flat-house that reared its flimsy elegance above a row of
tottering tenements and stables.

"Dead sure?" he repeated.

"Yes," said Granice, discouraged. "And even if I hadn't been, I know the
garage was just opposite Leffler's over there." He pointed across the
street to a tumble-down stable with a blotched sign on which the words
"Livery and Boarding" were still faintly discernible.

The young man dashed across to the opposite pavement. "Well, that's
something - may get a clue there. Leffler's - same name there, anyhow. You
remember that name?"

"Yes - distinctly."

Granice had felt a return of confidence since he had enlisted the
interest of the _Explorer's_ "smartest" reporter. If there were moments
when he hardly believed his own story, there were others when it
seemed impossible that every one should not believe it; and young Peter
McCarren, peering, listening, questioning, jotting down notes, inspired
him with an exquisite sense of security. McCarren had fastened on the
case at once, "like a leech," as he phrased it - jumped at it, thrilled
to it, and settled down to "draw the last drop of fact from it, and
had not let go till he had." No one else had treated Granice in that
way - even Allonby's detective had not taken a single note. And though
a week had elapsed since the visit of that authorized official,
nothing had been heard from the District Attorney's office: Allonby had
apparently dropped the matter again. But McCarren wasn't going to drop
it - not he! He positively hung on Granice's footsteps. They had spent
the greater part of the previous day together, and now they were off
again, running down clues.

But at Leffler's they got none, after all. Leffler's was no longer
a stable. It was condemned to demolition, and in the respite between
sentence and execution it had become a vague place of storage, a
hospital for broken-down carriages and carts, presided over by a
blear-eyed old woman who knew nothing of Flood's garage across
the way - did not even remember what had stood there before the new
flat-house began to rise.

"Well - we may run Leffler down somewhere; I've seen harder jobs done,"
said McCarren, cheerfully noting down the name.

As they walked back toward Sixth Avenue he added, in a less sanguine
tone: "I'd undertake now to put the thing through if you could only put
me on the track of that cyanide."

Granice's heart sank. Yes - there was the weak spot; he had felt it from
the first! But he still hoped to convince McCarren that his case was
strong enough without it; and he urged the reporter to come back to his
rooms and sum up the facts with him again.

"Sorry, Mr. Granice, but I'm due at the office now. Besides, it'd be
no use till I get some fresh stuff to work on. Suppose I call you up
tomorrow or next day?"

He plunged into a trolley and left Granice gazing desolately after him.

Two days later he reappeared at the apartment, a shade less jaunty in

"Well, Mr. Granice, the stars in their courses are against you, as the
bard says. Can't get a trace of Flood, or of Leffler either. And you say
you bought the motor through Flood, and sold it through him, too?"

"Yes," said Granice wearily.

"Who bought it, do you know?"

Granice wrinkled his brows. "Why, Flood - yes, Flood himself. I sold it
back to him three months later."

"Flood? The devil! And I've ransacked the town for Flood. That kind of
business disappears as if the earth had swallowed it."

Granice, discouraged, kept silence.

"That brings us back to the poison," McCarren continued, his note-book
out. "Just go over that again, will you?"

And Granice went over it again. It had all been so simple at the
time - and he had been so clever in covering up his traces! As soon as he
decided on poison he looked about for an acquaintance who manufactured
chemicals; and there was Jim Dawes, a Harvard classmate, in the dyeing
business - just the man. But at the last moment it occurred to him that
suspicion might turn toward so obvious an opportunity, and he decided
on a more tortuous course. Another friend, Carrick Venn, a student of
medicine whom irremediable ill-health had kept from the practice of
his profession, amused his leisure with experiments in physics, for the
exercise of which he had set up a simple laboratory. Granice had the
habit of dropping in to smoke a cigar with him on Sunday afternoons, and
the friends generally sat in Venn's work-shop, at the back of the old
family house in Stuyvesant Square. Off this work-shop was the cupboard
of supplies, with its row of deadly bottles. Carrick Venn was an
original, a man of restless curious tastes, and his place, on a Sunday,
was often full of visitors: a cheerful crowd of journalists, scribblers,
painters, experimenters in divers forms of expression. Coming and going
among so many, it was easy enough to pass unperceived; and one afternoon
Granice, arriving before Venn had returned home, found himself alone in
the work-shop, and quickly slipping into the cupboard, transferred the
drug to his pocket.

But that had happened ten years ago; and Venn, poor fellow, was long
since dead of his dragging ailment. His old father was dead, too, the
house in Stuyvesant Square had been turned into a boarding-house, and
the shifting life of New York had passed its rapid sponge over every
trace of their obscure little history. Even the optimistic McCarren
seemed to acknowledge the hopelessness of seeking for proof in that

"And there's the third door slammed in our faces." He shut his
note-book, and throwing back his head, rested his bright inquisitive
eyes on Granice's furrowed face.

"Look here, Mr. Granice - you see the weak spot, don't you?"

The other made a despairing motion. "I see so many!"

"Yes: but the one that weakens all the others. Why the deuce do you want
this thing known? Why do you want to put your head into the noose?"

Granice looked at him hopelessly, trying to take the measure of his
quick light irreverent mind. No one so full of a cheerful animal life
would believe in the craving for death as a sufficient motive; and
Granice racked his brain for one more convincing. But suddenly he saw
the reporter's face soften, and melt to a naive sentimentalism.

"Mr. Granice - has the memory of it always haunted you?"

Granice stared a moment, and then leapt at the opening. "That's it - the
memory of it ... always ..."

McCarren nodded vehemently. "Dogged your steps, eh? Wouldn't let you
sleep? The time came when you _had_ to make a clean breast of it?"

"I had to. Can't you understand?"

The reporter struck his fist on the table. "God, sir! I don't suppose
there's a human being with a drop of warm blood in him that can't
picture the deadly horrors of remorse - "

The Celtic imagination was aflame, and Granice mutely thanked him for
the word. What neither Ascham nor Denver would accept as a conceivable
motive the Irish reporter seized on as the most adequate; and, as he
said, once one could find a convincing motive, the difficulties of the
case became so many incentives to effort.

"Remorse - _remorse_," he repeated, rolling the word under his tongue
with an accent that was a clue to the psychology of the popular drama;
and Granice, perversely, said to himself: "If I could only have struck
that note I should have been running in six theatres at once."

He saw that from that moment McCarren's professional zeal would be
fanned by emotional curiosity; and he profited by the fact to propose
that they should dine together, and go on afterward to some music-hall
or theatre. It was becoming necessary to Granice to feel himself an
object of pre-occupation, to find himself in another mind. He took a
kind of gray penumbral pleasure in riveting McCarren's attention on his
case; and to feign the grimaces of moral anguish became a passionately
engrossing game. He had not entered a theatre for months; but he sat out
the meaningless performance in rigid tolerance, sustained by the sense
of the reporter's observation.

Between the acts, McCarren amused him with anecdotes about the audience:
he knew every one by sight, and could lift the curtain from every
physiognomy. Granice listened indulgently. He had lost all interest in
his kind, but he knew that he was himself the real centre of McCarren's
attention, and that every word the latter spoke had an indirect bearing
on his own problem.

"See that fellow over there - the little dried-up man in the third
row, pulling his moustache? _His_ memoirs would be worth publishing,"
McCarren said suddenly in the last _entr'acte_.

Granice, following his glance, recognized the detective from Allonby's
office. For a moment he had the thrilling sense that he was being

"Caesar, if _he_ could talk - !" McCarren continued. "Know who he is, of
course? Dr. John B. Stell, the biggest alienist in the country - "

Granice, with a start, bent again between the heads in front of him.
"_That_ man - the fourth from the aisle? You're mistaken. That's not Dr.

McCarren laughed. "Well, I guess I've been in court enough to know Stell
when I see him. He testifies in nearly all the big cases where they
plead insanity."

A cold shiver ran down Granice's spine, but he repeated obstinately:
"That's not Dr. Stell."

"Not Stell? Why, man, I _know_ him. Look - here he comes. If it isn't
Stell, he won't speak to me."

The little dried-up man was moving slowly up the aisle. As he neared
McCarren he made a slight gesture of recognition.

"How'do, Doctor Stell? Pretty slim show, ain't it?" the reporter
cheerfully flung out at him. And Mr. J. B. Hewson, with a nod of
amicable assent, passed on.

Granice sat benumbed. He knew he had not been mistaken - the man who
had just passed was the same man whom Allonby had sent to see him:
a physician disguised as a detective. Allonby, then, had thought him
insane, like the others - had regarded his confession as the maundering
of a maniac. The discovery froze Granice with horror - he seemed to see
the mad-house gaping for him.

"Isn't there a man a good deal like him - a detective named J. B.

But he knew in advance what McCarren's answer would be. "Hewson? J.
B. Hewson? Never heard of him. But that was J. B. Stell fast enough - I
guess he can be trusted to know himself, and you saw he answered to his


SOME days passed before Granice could obtain a word with the District
Attorney: he began to think that Allonby avoided him.

But when they were face to face Allonby's jovial countenance showed
no sign of embarrassment. He waved his visitor to a chair, and leaned
across his desk with the encouraging smile of a consulting physician.

Granice broke out at once: "That detective you sent me the other day - "

Allonby raised a deprecating hand.

" - I know: it was Stell the alienist. Why did you do that, Allonby?"

The other's face did not lose its composure. "Because I looked up your
story first - and there's nothing in it."

"Nothing in it?" Granice furiously interposed.

"Absolutely nothing. If there is, why the deuce don't you bring me
proofs? I know you've been talking to Peter Ascham, and to Denver, and
to that little ferret McCarren of the _Explorer_. Have any of them been
able to make out a case for you? No. Well, what am I to do?"

Granice's lips began to tremble. "Why did you play me that trick?"

"About Stell? I had to, my dear fellow: it's part of my business. Stell
_is_ a detective, if you come to that - every doctor is."

The trembling of Granice's lips increased, communicating itself in a
long quiver to his facial muscles. He forced a laugh through his dry
throat. "Well - and what did he detect?"

"In you? Oh, he thinks it's overwork - overwork and too much smoking. If
you look in on him some day at his office he'll show you the record of
hundreds of cases like yours, and advise you what treatment to follow.
It's one of the commonest forms of hallucination. Have a cigar, all the

"But, Allonby, I killed that man!"

The District Attorney's large hand, outstretched on his desk, had an
almost imperceptible gesture, and a moment later, as if an answer to the
call of an electric bell, a clerk looked in from the outer office.

"Sorry, my dear fellow - lot of people waiting. Drop in on Stell some
morning," Allonby said, shaking hands.

McCarren had to own himself beaten: there was absolutely no flaw in the
alibi. And since his duty to his journal obviously forbade his wasting
time on insoluble mysteries, he ceased to frequent Granice, who dropped
back into a deeper isolation. For a day or two after his visit to
Allonby he continued to live in dread of Dr. Stell. Why might not
Allonby have deceived him as to the alienist's diagnosis? What if he
were really being shadowed, not by a police agent but by a mad-doctor?
To have the truth out, he suddenly determined to call on Dr. Stell.

The physician received him kindly, and reverted without embarrassment
to the conditions of their previous meeting. "We have to do that
occasionally, Mr. Granice; it's one of our methods. And you had given
Allonby a fright."

Granice was silent. He would have liked to reaffirm his guilt, to
produce the fresh arguments which had occurred to him since his last
talk with the physician; but he feared his eagerness might be taken
for a symptom of derangement, and he affected to smile away Dr. Stell's

"You think, then, it's a case of brain-fag - nothing more?"

"Nothing more. And I should advise you to knock off tobacco. You smoke a
good deal, don't you?"

He developed his treatment, recommending massage, gymnastics, travel, or
any form of diversion that did not - that in short -

Granice interrupted him impatiently. "Oh, I loathe all that - and I'm
sick of travelling."

"H'm. Then some larger interest - politics, reform, philanthropy?
Something to take you out of yourself."

"Yes. I understand," said Granice wearily.

"Above all, don't lose heart. I see hundreds of cases like yours," the
doctor added cheerfully from the threshold.

On the doorstep Granice stood still and laughed. Hundreds of cases like
his - the case of a man who had committed a murder, who confessed his
guilt, and whom no one would believe! Why, there had never been a case
like it in the world. What a good figure Stell would have made in a
play: the great alienist who couldn't read a man's mind any better than

Granice saw huge comic opportunities in the type.

But as he walked away, his fears dispelled, the sense of listlessness
returned on him. For the first time since his avowal to Peter Ascham
he found himself without an occupation, and understood that he had been
carried through the past weeks only by the necessity of constant action.
Now his life had once more become a stagnant backwater, and as he stood
on the street corner watching the tides of traffic sweep by, he asked
himself despairingly how much longer he could endure to float about in
the sluggish circle of his consciousness.

The thought of self-destruction recurred to him; but again his flesh
recoiled. He yearned for death from other hands, but he could never take

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Online LibraryEdith WhartonTales of Men and Ghosts → online text (page 3 of 22)