S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

The Guillotine club, and other stories online

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The admiral, as he said later, was left
stranded on the engrossing silence of Mrs.
Welles s appetite. Mrs. Woodburn for a brief
moment sat still, and then, a little bewildered,
listened or tried to listen to the admiral. Pres-



ently she overheard the German say something,
and while the Frenchman turned to Mrs.
Welles and the admiral, Miss Smith, in easy
German, talked with the enchanted engineer

It was quite too much for Mrs. Woodburn.
"A pencil, James," to the butler, and on the
back of a menu-card she wrote: "I knew
something would happen. It is bewilder
ing! She is talking French and German.
H. W."

"Take this to Mr. Woodburn," she said.
The card came back.

"Send her down here. I will swop off Miss
Van Seckel. My congratulations. H. W."

The wife tore up the card, threw it under the
table, and, resolute to bear this calamity with
Christian patience, set herself to the task she
liked when at ease, the kindly manoeuvres of a
clever hostess intent on seeing to it that no one
should have a dull hour. The mid-table
guests were out of reach. Mrs. Newton, a
middle-aged dame, was left to herself quite too
long by the men beside her. It could not be



helped. The gaiety at the farther end of the
table was growing, as the hostess thought,
quite beyond the tranquil tone of a formal din
ner. Her husband was evidently in one of his
moods of reckless, social enjoyment of which
she mildly disapproved. Neither the German
officer nor the attache concerned themselves
with any neighbor but Miss Smith, who took
no wine, as Mrs. Woodburn noticed, but smil
ing, at ease, and low-voiced, kept up a polyglot
exchange of what seemed to keep her dinner
comrades in a condition of mirthful glee.

The admiral, accustomed to being consid
ered, thought the woman on his left hopelessly
dull, and calmly gave himself up to a good din
ner, after remarking that Germany and France
were contending for Alsace and Lorraine.
Mrs. Welles said, "Yes, quite so/ and retired
into the seclusion of her mind to think it over.
Now and then the hostess spoke across the
corner of the table, making constantly defeated
attempts to secure the attention of the diplomat
to the woman between him and the admiral.
The attache, understanding her, did his re-



sponsive best to interfere with Mrs. Welles s
earnest interest in the menu, but between the
double difficulty of his own maimed English
and the lady s halting French, he soon gave up
and waited his chance to renew his gay chat
with Miss Smith. The whole thing had got
out of hand, and in despair Mrs. Woodburn
turned to talk missions to her clerical friend,
who preferred any other subject, and soon be
gan to ask embarrassing questions about the
young woman who was so very handsome.
There was relief and fear in Mrs. Woodburn s
mind when, earlier than her husband liked, she
rose to leave the men to their wine. As she
passed him, she said, laughing:

"Now, Harry, small cigars/ and then in a
half -whisper : "Do come soon! What shall I
do with her 1"

As the women went up-stairs, Miss Van
Seckel in an aside said to her hostess : "Who
is that fresh young beauty, Helen ? Your hus
band was provokingly mysterious about her.
He made us all curious."

"Did he, indeed? So like him. There is


not the least mystery/ replied Mrs. Woodburn.
"She happened to be here for a day, and saved
us from thirteen at table."

"How fortunate! So Mr. Woodburn told
us. It would not have mattered, he said, be
cause he was twins/

"How confusing!" said Mrs. Welles, over
hearing them.

Miss Smith had so managed as to fall in at
the end of the women guests, and, entering last,
went quietly across the drawing-room. Mrs.
Woodburn, feeling pity for what she still felt
ought to be the embarrassment of a peculiar
position, took her hand and saying:

"This way, Miss Smith/ led her to the sofa,
where Miss Van Seckel sat in the glory of an
expanse of sallow neck and many diamonds.

"Pray be careful!" murmured her hostess,
the next moment vexed at herself as the girl,
with a little hauteur in her voice, asked, "May
I know why?"

"Our young friend, Miss Smith, Miss Van
Seckel," said Mrs. Woodburn. Distinctly
angry, and also aware of having made a blun-



der, she turned away, leaving her guest to the
inquisition which she would gladly have had
her escape, but which she knew to be soon or
late unavoidable. Miss Van Seckel was rich,
positive, accustomed to deference, and made
curious by Mr. Woodburn s vague replies.

"Sit nearer," she said. "I am a little less
able to hear than I used to be. The young
people nowadays speak so indistinctly. You
are here only for a day, I am told."

"Yes, only for a day."

"And where do you live, my dear?"

"Ah, Miss Van Seckel, not everybody lives.
I exist." The girl laughed gaily. Miss Van
Seckel felt that she was being disrespectfully
trifled with.

"But you do not answer me. I am inter

"And I. It is a question in geography, and
I was never good at that. Just now I have
been back in Germany and Paris. I found my
two dinner companions most agreeable."

"You certainly seemed to be gay."

"Oh, not noisy, surely not noisy. Count von


Kelser was telling me what the old Empress
said about closing the gambling-rooms at
Baden. It was really a very clever story.
You have been at Baden?"

"Yes," said Miss Van Seckel, feeling that
her investigation had not prospered.

"Then I will tell you in German; it is really
so pretty in German. I suppose you have
gambled at Baden every one did."

"I do not gamble, and I do not speak Ger

"Oh, but in Dutch. I can manage it in
Dutch. I have an idea that all you old Knick
erbocker people speak Dutch."

"Then you are mistaken." Miss Van Seckel
felt that Miss Smith was amusing herself, and
could it be at her expense? She lifted her
glasses, and, looking at the young lady, said,
"You seem to have been much abroad."

"Oh, never so much as now. Do tell me
who all these nice people are. You see, I am
quite an ingenue from the country, and if you
would really be so good. Ah, I shall lose my
chance !" she said, rising to greet a noble-look-



ing, elderly lady, approaching with their host
and the bishop, who said :

"I take the liberty of a house friend to pre
sent myself. I am Mrs. Grey; come and talk
to me. We leave you the bishop, Miss Van
Seckel. He has deserted the men."

Relieved to escape, Miss Smith sat down
with Mrs. Grey.

"You are the blessed fourteenth who saved
us all. Shall you be here long?"

"No; I am here only for a day."

"What a pity ! Young, lovely, pardon me,
my dear, I am not a man, you would enjoy
New York. No?" Mrs. Grey detected a
strange note in the pleasant young voice, and
then heard with surprise:

"Could not I slip out unnoticed?"

"Are you ill, child?"

"Oh, worse. I must go."

"Keep quiet a little. I will talk," and she
talked on until presently there were fresh
groupings, and the girl, having lost her chance
of escape, rallying, took a share in the light,
after-dinner chat, aided by the clever hostess



and the sympathetic, slightly puzzled elder
lady. Then presently the men came in, and the
admiral took his seat by the strange guest and
fell into talk about the Mediterranean ports,
with which she seemed to be well acquainted.

"What a fascinating young woman! he
said to his host as he moved and gave place to
a younger man. "What charm, what distinc

"Yes, quite remarkable. What is it, my
dear?" This to his wife, as she turned to
speak to him.

"Count von Kelser will sing for us if some
one will accompany him ; but I can find no one."
To her amazement, Miss Smith said:

"Perhaps I may be able."

"What next?" thought Mrs. Woodburn, as
the girl, asking a question or two in quickly
spoken German, sat down at the piano and
swept the keys with a practised hand. The
count sang fairly well two German songs, and
then said:

"You sing I am sure you sing."

"Yes, with Mrs. Woodburn s permission,"


said the girl. "Have you heard any of the
modern Greek love-songs? They are rather

"No," said Woodburn, while his wife stood
by in speechless astonishment, and a rare
soprano rang through the room.

"Please, another!" said the bishop, and she
broke into a soft Italian lullaby. Then rising
and gathering up her gloves and fan, which
she had laid on the side of the piano, she

"You must excuse me, Mrs. Woodburn, if
I run away early." Then in a whispered aside,
she added, "I must see you just a moment be
fore I go." As she spoke, a number of young
men and girls and an older matron came in,
merry and talking.

"You promised us a little dance, Aunt
Helen," said one of them; "and we left the
opera early to come here."

"Ah, now !" said the German officer, "we are
promised to dance. Is it not so, Madam?"
And to Miss Smith, "You will do me the


Hoping that her amazing guest would now
relieve her by leaving, as she had promised,
Mrs. Woodburn, having secured a good-
natured dame to play, turned again to speak
to Miss Smith. The young woman hesitated
a moment, and then with a look of elation said,
"With pleasure, mein Herr."

In a moment she was moving in the waltz
with the officer, the light of wild enjoyment in
her eyes and something, as Woodburn thought,
of reckless abandonment to the intoxication of
rhythmic movement with a master of the joy
ous art. It was impossible for any one to fail
to note the grace of the two tall figures which
shared equally the pleasure, and conveyed the
impression of some quality of motion which
set them apart from the other dancers among
whom they moved.

"Ah!" she exclaimed of a sudden, "pray
stop !" for in a quick reverse movement one of
Miss Woodburn s slippers, far too large for
the dancer s foot, flew off. Two young men
ran to pick it up, but the old admiral was
quicker, and, slipper in hand, bowed as the



young woman sank on the nearest chair. He
said merrily:

"May I have the honor?"

"It is I who am honored/ said Miss Smith.

"I regret," he said, smiling, "that I am too
old for the fairy prince, Miss Cinderella."

"Fairy princes are of no age," she returned,

"One more turn, Fraulein," said her part
ner, and for another minute or two of intense
enjoyment she moved in the dance. Then at
last, flushed and thrilling with a long-absent
joy, as he released her she said to the diplomat,
pleading for his turn :

"No, I shall dance no more; I must go."

"But later, presently, again," said Von Kel-

"No not again ; never !"

"Ah, Fraulein, that is a long day."

"Yes, a long day."

Many eyes followed her as she crossed the
room to Mrs. Woodburn.

"Now I am going."

"Certainly, my dear, if you must." And



aside: "The maid will be up-stairs. I I
thank you. We are both obliged greatly

"I shall wait to see you before I leave. Yes,
I I must wait up-stairs."

With a courteous word or two to those who
thanked her for the unusual pleasure of her
song, she cast a look over the dancers and the
well-dressed groups and with filling eyes left
the room, murmuring as she went: "Cinder
ella! Cinderella! Ah, why did I do it! But
the joy of it the joy !"



WHILE she was changing her dress, and
in the hands of a wondering maid,
there were those below stairs who were equally
curious, and to whom the hostess was making a
series of explanations which did more credit to
her ingenuity than to her strict regard for
truth. The new-comer had created an amount
of admiration for which her hosts had been
quite unprepared. What they expected was to
see an obviously good-looking and clever ste
nographer avoid notice, make social blunders,
and be glad to escape early from a society into
which her inclination to oblige her employers
had led her. To explain to their friends would
have been easy.

They would be praised for their ingenuity,
and when she had gone, would confess with
laughter who was the shy, unnoticeable girl;
but here on their hands was a quite different



business. They were glad when the last of
their too curious guests had left. Woodburn
had felt it well to say to some friends:

"Yes, a pleasant little escape; so fortunate
to have had her. I am sorry to say that she
leaves to-morrow." He was aware that now
the presence of Miss Smith in his office might
require a quite different explanation; but the
future concerned him very little when, the last
guest having gone, he sat down in his library
to smoke a contentful cigar. While he re
flected with wonder, curiosity, and amusement
upon the very dramatic outcome of the effort
to secure the life-saving guest, Mrs. Wood-
burn was on her way up-stairs. For her there
was wonder and embarrassment, but certainly
nothing amusing, in the social comedy. She
was a woman whose inexactness in statement
had won her an undeserved reputation of being
untruthful, whereas she was keenly sensitive
as concerned departure from verity. Now
she had to her discredit a dozen fibs and, oh,
to the bishop, one or two full-blown lies.

Her mood was one of anger with every body


concerned in this unpleasant experience.
Above all, what business had this girl to pass
as a stenographer and blossom so inconceivably
into an accomplished woman? Whatever had
been her unreasonable moods, as she went
slowly up-stairs, they gave place to a sense of
deepest pity as she entered her daughter s

Miss Smith, alone and dressed for the street,
sat at the fire, sobbing like a child.

"Oh, my dear," cried Mrs. Woodburn, "what
is the matter? Was it too much for you?
We were we are so much obliged are you
not well? Stay here and go quietly to bed."

The girl did not look up, and merely shook a
hand in air, a wild gesture of negation.

Her trouble was the more distressing to the
kindly matron because she could not explain
it. She drew a chair to the fire, and, as she
sat down, captured a reluctant hand.

"I shall insist on your staying here. Let
me send the carriage away "

"No, no!" She made a movement as if to



"But do listen, my good child !"

"I am not good, and I am not a child."
Here she turned, facing Mrs. Woodburn. "I
waited only because I did not choose to leave
you without saying that we shall never meet
again. You must thank Mr. Woodburn for his
constant courtesy in the office."

"But, my dear, can we not help you? What
is the matter ? Why do you go ?"

"Because I have again been with people of
my own caste, and and I have no right no

"But what is there surely I "

"Oh, no, no! I will not be questioned. It
is over. I shall see it no more. Let me go."

She would say nothing further, but went
down the stairs silent, unyielding. At the
door Mrs. Woodburn said:

"If we can in any way "

"No. Never, never !" She passed out and
into the carriage and disappeared.

When Helen Woodburn returned to her hus
band, and, much distressed, related this inter
view, he said:



"It is very sad. She is still so young and so
beautiful ; what possible explanation can there

"I might, as a woman, guess."

"And I, as a man. Poor child! She will
disappear utterly."

On inquiry at her lodging-house next day,
this proved to be the case.




A TOO frank cousin of mine once said of
me that I was a rolling stone, with the
usual result. I replied to this admonitory
tribute that I had at least become polished in
rolling, and left him to make his own infer
ence. That I have rolled much is true. A
part of my rolling, however, has not been of
my own will, but the result of circumstance.

The death of my mother and sister within
the same year left me with a very modest in
come; indeed, too little for a man who, after
two years, had become sure that success in the
practice of medicine was for him unattainable.
In fact, I liked the study of medicine, but did
not like the ordinary practice of it. Having
failed of success as a general practitioner of
medicine, I gave it up to become an ill-paid



assistant in a hospital for the insane. After
three years, a fortunate chance enabled me to
become resident physician to the Central Peni
tentiary. Here at last I had work to my lik
ing. The study of the criminal nature deeply
interested me, and for two years I was busy
and happy. I wrote at this time several
papers on the bodily and mental peculiarities
of the inmates under my care. One of these
contributions is still quoted as authoritative.

The life in a jail is sure in the end to sadden
the kindly and to bring to the most hopefully
optimistic a sense of failure.

This, my third venture, ended in deepening
disgust, and I began to lose interest in the
work. I had, in fact, one unusual quality I
knew in general when I had failed, and also
why. Beyond this, I possessed a still more
uncommon talent, which for a time I culti
vated, and which was destined to play a part
in my life and that of others. I was called a
mind-reader. I never so labeled an undoubted
power, but others thus described it. For some
years at times I amused myself when travel-



ing by the use of this faculty ; but at last I gave
up doing so because it demanded too intense
attention, and because I felt that to pry un
asked into the thoughts of another was hardly

When one day I was waiting in the outer of
fice of that cousin who had said I was a rolling
stone, I saw two men talking on the pavement,
and set myself to ascertain what they were
engaged upon. It was for me the idle play
of a leisure moment ; but when my cousin came
in, I said: "Mr. E will offer you 51 dol
lars for X Y stock. Ask him 52 : he will take
it." When I explained to him how I knew
this, he said it would not be honest, and
whether he acted in accordance with his state
ment, I do not know. I went away thinking
over the ethics of the stock market. I have
always declined the attribution of mystery to
the power I was believed to possess and laugh
ingly refused to be investigated by psychical
scientists, who had heard wild accounts of my

At this time, being melancholy and restless,


I went one day into the park for one of the
long, solitary cycle-rides which were almost
my only diversion. While I was spinning
along, deep in thought, a runaway hack flew
by. I put on all possible speed, and came up
to it just as a park guard caught the horses
and for a moment turned them aside. The
carriage struck a tree, and upset with a crash
of broken glass. The horses broke loose and
ran, while, the park guard aiding, we got out
of the wreck a lean, little old gentleman, much
bruised, and with his face badly cut by glass.

For a moment he lay dazed, and then sit
ting up, said, "I want my hat." It was found.
Then he stood up. "I want a doctor."

"I am one," I said. I tied a handkerchief
over his cut forehead, and, aided by the guard,
put him in a cab which chanced to be at hand.
I got in after him. The guard stood by ex
pectant. Then the old gentleman took out a
well-filled wallet, and selecting a quarter of a
dollar, presented it to the guard, who threw it
into the cab with an accompaniment of vigor
ous English, which I thought well deserved.



My companion said: "Drive on. I ought
to report that man for insolence." With this
he picked up the money and put it in his pocket.
"Girard Hotel," he said, "and tell him to

As we drove away, I said, "You are not
much injured."

"Oh, it s the shock. I have a bad heart,
and I am old I mean, I am not young."

A queer figure he seemed to me. He was
short, singularly thin, and as red as if rouged.

"Pay the cabman, doctor," he ordered me.

I did, but I never again saw the money.

I soon found that my patient was nervous
and alarmed. He insisted upon my remain
ing all night, and as he had a very feeble circu
lation and a diseased heart, it was as well to
oblige him. He would have no consultation,
as it was too expensive, and he was satisfied
with me. Neither did he want any one of his
family sent for; and so I fought it out alone.

As he grew better, he talked to me of my
own life with a degree of freedom and interest
which I could not then comprehend, and which


I did not relish. For some reason he took to
me, one of those fancies to which the neurotic
are subject, and after two weeks of grave ill
ness told me that I was the only doctor who
had ever understood his constitution.

When about to leave, he said: "We must
now settle our accounts. There were sixty-
three visits at one dollar each/ He had noted
them daily, even to the length of my stays.

"One dollar! Three/ I said; "and the
nights I spent it comes to "

"Don t mention it. Good heavens!" he ex
claimed. "It is enormous. I can not bear
shock. I have a proposal to make. You tell
me you are tired of your present life, and you
are a lover of books. If I secure for you a
place in the Brookmead library at twelve hun
dred dollars a year, will you accept that in
payment of the large sum you propose to ex
act? I shall expect you to take care of me."
My first reflection was that he meant to get
away without any kind of payment, but I soon
saw that the offer was honest. I was of
course rather astounded at the scheme of mak-



ing the library pay his debt, but the new life
thus opened to me was entirely to my taste.

I said: "Frankly speaking, sir, is that pos

"Yes. I am a benefactor I mean, I am
regarded as a future benefactor of the library."
He chuckled. "They will do as I say, and
then, when I want you, I can always get you."

I said I would think it over, but had no idea
it would come to anything. I had heard of
the library as important. After some thought
I said I would take the place. After he had
gone, a week later, to my surprise, I got the
offer, and promptly accepted. It turned out
to be the beginning of a freshly happy and, as
it proved, a somewhat eventful life. I had
rolled into a place that suited me.

On my arrival I was able to satisfy Mr.
Quarton, the librarian, in regard to my
scholarship. As concerned my technical ca
pacity as a librarian, that, he said, was of
course hopeless. In time I might learn, oh,
something, but unless a man had two genera
tions of librarians back of him, it was of no


use to pretend to achieve greatness. I see him
now, with his big, inherited horn spectacles,
his long gray hair, and a book under each

I had two rooms assigned to me, with a
bath-room, as I was, to my pleasure, to live
in the building. My duties included general
oversight, selection of such scientific books as
were needed, and a variety of lesser matters.

The day after my arrival I saw my patient,
Mr. White, come out of the librarian s room
and enter the office assigned to me. "Glad to
see you here, doctor," he said. "I am going
to the club, No. 20 West street. Come in at
seven and dine with me. Quiet place. No

I said I would come.

"You won t get much to eat," said Quarton.
"No one ever dines with him more than once.
He wants to consult you ; but he won t ask you
to come to his house. He might have to pay."

"Then he is a miser, I suppose."

"Miser! Superlative degree, miserrimus!"


said Quarton, who hated him. "You ll see.
By and by he will make you believe he has re
membered you in his will."

This was a long speech for Mr. Quarton,
whose name much amused me. "Never," said
one of the assistants "never ask what his
Christian, or heathen, name is. No man
knows it. He signs D. Quarton."

I went that evening to the Midway Club,
which proved to be comfortable, and not too

On my way, I reflected upon Mr. White as
a curious variety of the genus man. During
my life in the penitentiary, where, alas! few
were penitent, I formed a habit of making
notes of the appearance and mental and moral
characteristics of criminals, and this habit
proved so interesting that I extended it to the
officers, and others of the few whom I met out

Of course Mr. Reuben White had his place.

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Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellThe Guillotine club, and other stories → online text (page 5 of 10)