S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

The Guillotine club, and other stories online

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He was now becoming a fascinating study.
A miser, literally wretched? not at all.



He had the positive joy of acquiring and the
negative joy of not expending. I was to see
and know more of him.

Mr. White s welcome was most cordial.
He had a well-contrived manner of expressing
his pleasure upon meeting you. It cost him
nothing, but somewhat failed by reason of lack
of variety.

As a contribution to my knowledge of the
man, the dinner was notable. As to food, we
had soup, one portion, divided; then four mut
ton chops and potatoes. I received one chop
and he two. He was long in chewing his
food, having a theory that the more you masti
cated, the less food you needed.

He talked much and talked well, really a
cultivated man. I was thinking that I should
like to get at the basal motives of the hoarding
instinct, if it be, as in some animals, instinctive,
when I saw him glance about the room to see
if he were observed. Apparently satisfied,
and without in the least concerning himself
about me, he rose, went out, and returning
with paper from the club writing-table,




wrapped up the remaining chop, tied it in his
handkerchief, and put it in his pocket.

"And now," he said, "do you drink coffee at
night?" I did . When taking his cup, he se
cured four lumps of sugar, and added these to
his store. I was hungry, but delighted with
what I saw.

I was all this while regaled at times with his
symptoms, until I said a physical examination
would be required and must be made while he
was in bed. I discovered very soon that my
salary was meant to cover all the medical care
Mr. White might need. The skill and deli
cacy with which this was conveyed to me was
most interesting, and as he gave me but little
trouble, I calmly accepted the situation, and,
as it proved, was most fortunate in having
done so.

He proposed that evening to put me up at
the club for membership, and as I could now
afford it, I was pleased. My notes of him that
night were: "Lover of books; greed for ac
cumulation of money; infinite cunning in this



My life at the library soon satisfied me.
The work was easy, my time much my own.
As I have said, I had had no opportunities for
acquiring friends or even acquaintances to my
taste, but here every week there came to the
library a great many persons in all ranks of
life. It became my duty to know some of
these people, especially the scholars, and gen
erally to aid any one in pursuit of knowledge
or entertainment.

Thus it was that while I was interested in
the books, I was even more so in those who
read them ; for much as books have been to me
in my life, people are still more entertaining;
and whether as comrades or counselors,
whether evil or good, have for the reader of
men advantages not possessed by books.

Mr. White was in the library every day,
and, as one of the governing board from
whom much was expected, he was treated with
far too great consideration.

About the fourth month of my residence, a
curious incident gave me a notable influence
over this man and his increased respect.



Mr. Daingerfield, one of our managers, a
man of large inherited fortune, was the rich
man of the city. He was also the permanent
president of the hospital board, and able to
indulge the luxury of giving way to a quick
temper. When I instantly resented an im
pertinent criticism, he complained to the di
rectors of the library; but as Mr. White was
expected to leave money to both hospital and
library, his intervention saved me.

One day in April I was talking to a young
woman, Miss Musgrave, about a book, when
I saw Mr. Daingerfield pass by.

Miss Musgrave said : "Did you ever see so
bald a man! It looks so nice and smooth.
One would like to pat it." I looked, and there
was the face, full-bearded, even to the heavy
eyebrows, snow white, with, around the bald
head, a tonsure of bright red hair. "Really
an exotic, that crop!" said my companion,

Mr. Daingerfield came upon Mr. White near
my office, and White began to talk. They
were facing us, but out of earshot. Presently



excusing myself, and with too little thought of
my action, I went up to them and said : "I can
give you what you want, Mr. White. The
average cost of hospital patients per day is
from $1.50 to $1.60. Children cost more."
I went on to convey in full the required infor
mation, and then retired to my office.

Presently came Mr. White. "Doctor Al
ston," he said, "did you hear what I asked Mr.

"No, I did not."

"Then how did you know?"

Meaning to amuse myself, I said, "Did you
ever hear of mind-reading?"

"Mind-reading! Good heavens, sir, it is
most amazing !"

"Yes," I laughed. "I have been accused of
it before ; once by Mr. Stevens, the cataloguer.
He did not like it."

"Nor do I, sir. I want you to promise
never to try it with me."

"Oh, I can readily promise that, Mr. White.
It is rarely that I use this faculty. It requires
intense concentration of attention."

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"I am relieved, sir." He was queerly un
easy. "It is a perilous faculty, Doctor Alston.
Imagine such a power to become general!
What a state of things there would be ! Aw
ful, sir! awful !" That, indeed, was my own
opinion, and I have often since then amused
myself with reflections upon the social and
commercial consequences of such generalized
universal insight.

Henceforth Mr. White treated me with in
creased respect, and at times regarded me with
ill-concealed suspicion. Somehow the story
got out and created interest, which I did not
add to by any further use of my peculiar en
dowment, nor did I attempt to explain it when
Mr. White reopened the subject.

As time ran on, I made the acquaintance of
a man who attracted me as no one else did.
He was George Fernwood, an army officer, a
captain of engineers, engaged upon some de
fense work in the harbor. I sometimes class
ify people as books. Fernwood was one of
those human volumes which, admirably edited
by events, are full of such contrasts as make



unusual appeal to the student of character.
In my note-book he is thus described :

George Fernwood, five feet, ten -inches ; neatly made,
a certain harmony in his build. Regular features,
bronzed by exposure. General expression gentle and,
as I read it, something of a look of appeal. Mouth
the most eloquent feature. Lip lines classic.

Career Success as engineer, medal of honor for
gallant action in Indian battle. So set .down in the
army list.

Studies primary, scientific ; secondary, history, es
pecially of the mystics; rarely fiction.

Character Courage, physical, perfect; courage,
moral, unknown.

Mind of high order, investigative. Imagination of
sympathetic type, not productive.

Manners, courteous ; a gentleman, a man to trust.

This was my record after several months of
increasing intimacy during which I discov
ered that after a time the rate of acquaintance
with him had limitations such as in my experi
ence are often found in the finer natures. A
word is needed to fill the descriptive gap be
tween "acquaintance" and "friend." He evi
dently liked me, but my sly gifts of self-revela-



tion were not returned in kind. About this
there was something not unpleasingly woman
like, and thus for a long time we drew no
closer until certain events took place which
materially affected his life and mine. In
chemistry it sometimes happens that two sub
stances which decline to unite are of a sudden
brought to do so owing to the added presence
of a third quite neutral body. In life a similar
thing happens; a word, a thought, another s
act, some trifle, abruptly alters the inter-rela
tion of two people.

It so chanced with us. There are friends
whom we acquire through the unthinking in
timacies of childhood or owing to business or
family relations. There are others whom, if
we are wise in the art of life, we deliberately
woo or win for some good reason. Of late,
being now at ease, I had begun to cultivate
the art of friendly capture, but, as concerned
the Captain, I was for a time unsuccessful.
We dined together at the club now and then,
or, what I liked better, we spent an evening
in my modest apartments. Here we talked of



Indian war, of books and politics; but of his
family, his more intimate life, and his opinions
on religion, I learned nothing. Nevertheless,
I felt rather than knew that we were slowly
drawing together.



ONE evening, I asked him to my rooms,
meeting him down-stairs. We walked
through the vast book-lined reading-hall, now
silent and dark except for the oblongs of moon
light cast across the floor.

I paused midway and said: "Isn t there
something solemn and ghostly in this great
columbarium of dead thought?"

"I feel it now, but I hardly think that I
should have had the idea without your help
ing. I suppose that an immense number of
these volumes will be, are, indeed, for scores
of years as unread by man as are the present
thoughts of the dead, if the dead still think."

"But they do speak here, and a great library
should give at any cost the rare book some
scholar asks for and must have. You of all
men, who want the rarer books, must know



"Yes," he returned as we entered my room,
and I turned on and lighted the gas "yes, I
suppose that I illustrated the rare need last
week when I asked for the four volumes of
that fine mystic, Robert Fludd. The old fel
low who found these for me said that in twenty
years he had never known them to be asked
for. That he could be so sure, struck me as
interesting. And he knew, too, the number
and place of the book."

"That form of memory is not very rare in
old librarians. I, of course, do not possess it.
Did Fludd amuse you?"

"Yes. I wanted to see what he says on the
pulse. You may think that odd. His astrol
ogy was also of interest. I had a pleasant
morning over his doctrine of nativities."

Then I cast a cunning fly. I said: "Rare
as Fludd is, a woman asked for it yesterday.
She usually waits until she can get me to sup
ply her wants. I set Master Fludd before her,
but she soon returned it, remarking that she
had not known it was in Latin."

"Curious that," said Fernwood.


I thought I might venture further, and as
I stood by the fire filling my pipe, I said: "As
a coincidence it is even more than curious ; for
twice, just after you have asked for some rare
book, Miss Musgrave has inquired for it.
Last month it was Lea on Trial by Ordeal/
That did seem rather a queer choice for a
young woman."

"Yes, rather," he returned; "quite unusual."

I began to understand, but as he thus
quickly turned the talk aside, I did not gain
much beyond a pleasant suspicion of there be
ing some close relation between the two read
ers. I knew little of the social life of the great
city, and my own acquaintances were chiefly
such as I met at the club, which was a some
what informal organization where one was not
denied by cold usage the privilege of address
ing a stranger. A day or two later I chanced
to sit at luncheon next to a cheerful old man,
who in twenty-five minutes asked me a dozen

Mr. Burke was a bachelor without other
business than that of a collector and freight-


carrier of harmless gossip, and was the much-
used friend of a dozen women. In these
gentle pursuits he exhibited the proverbial in
dustry of the bee. In the absence of a handy
year-book of genealogy, his accurate knowl
edge of the limited social groups of long-seated
American families was usually to be trusted,
and his amiable reticence a not unpleasing
trait, although at times he could be mildly ma

"Good wine that, Dr. Alston. By the way,
your people must be South Carolinians."

"Yes," I said, "my father was; but he settled
in Pennsylvania."

"Good breed, sir. Know Mrs. Merton?
I disturbed her, I fear Colonial Dame: told
her some of their genealogies were more
genial than logical. Good that, wasn t it?"
I laughed assent.

"One of them oh, no names one of them
asked me about her right to belong to that
queer society. Told her that her great grand
father in 1713 married his deceased wife s




sister. Know the English law? Make your

I did. Then I said, "Do you know Miss
Musgrave?" I was after information.

"Know her? Of course; niece of Mrs.
Merton, charming girl. Father old friend of
mine dead. Got a fair fortune; not much.
Engaged to army officer. Good fellow; damn
poor match. Know her?"

I said, "Yes, slightly." There was no need
to pump. The flow was easy, ample. Did I
know that army man, name of Fernwood?

I said, "Yes," and thought the woman for

He did not agree with me. "That man has
no common sense." Had I never heard about

I said no, which seemed to please my

He said: "Tell you about it. Has an
uncle, old skinflint, about eighty years old,
Reuben White. He offered your Captain to
leave him all his fortune if he would give up
the army and live with him."



"And," I asked, "give up the woman?"

"No; but marry and live with him. The
Captain won t do it. Now that does seem
silly. Don t you think so?"

"No. She would starve, and Mr. White
may live for years and make a dozen wills."
But beyond that I said I had no material for

"Well, it J s simple. The old man tells every
one about it. He has never given away a dol
lar, says he can t, and is so pleased with his
generous post-mortem intentions that well,
he told me all about it at a board meeting last
week. The Captain was to leave the army
and to live with him and take care of his estate
till he dies. Then he was to get it all; the
Captain to marry or not, as he pleased.
Would n t you accept?"

I said: "No. He asks a man already dis
tinguished to give up all his reasonable ambi
tions, and, if he married, to submit his wife to
the certainty of a miser s whims and mean
ness. I am sure that Captain Fernwood will



not do it; besides, White promises the library
and the hospital. .You can t trust him."

"Well, Fernwood won t, and the old man is
furious. Three days ago I witnessed the will
he made. He informed us with pride that he
had drawn the will himself. In fact, he had
studied law when young. He told his nephew
in my presence that he had left him ten thou
sand dollars. Oh, by the way, he had old
Quarton there as a witness. It seems he
thought he had to sign his name in full.
Asked me if he must. Of course I said yes.
Lord! he hated it; but he signed at last, Duo
decimo Quarton. That, he explained, was be
cause he was such a little baby. Lord, I was
sorry for him. You see, his father was a
librarian. Oh, about the will. He tells
everybody that a large part goes to the Cen
tral Hospital and that he has remembered
other charities. This was all in Mr. White s
bedroom. The Captain locked the will in the
desk, and gave the key to his uncle, but said,
Better put it in the trust company s safe.



Then the Captain took away some bills and
checks to pay them. He did not seem angry.
That old fellow uses him, I can assure you.
What a fool !"

"No," I said, "he had made his choice/

"But think of it a million or two! I can
admire such virtue; I could not imitate it."

He went out to radiate news elsewhere,
murmuring, "Extraordinary, most extraordi

A day or two later the Captain came to my
room in the evening, and for the first time
without an invitation. I was pleased with this
sign of desire for my company, and as usual
we fell into talk which took wide ranges of
interest. At last he asked me where he could
find the singular Chinese doctrines of the
pulse, explaining, what I had not as yet heard,
that while in Philadelphia on duty he had at
tended medical lectures, a dangerous study for
a sensible layman. I referred him to Sir John
Floyer s "Pulse Watch," and then said, "By
the way, you spent some time over Fludd s



"Yes, I did."

"Well, as I mentioned, Miss Musgrave asked
for it later."

"Yes; rather peculiar for a woman, wasn t

"Rather. I do not fancy she enjoyed it.
The queerest thing is that, since she returned
it a month ago, it was asked for by a stranger,
and has disappeared. That is, one of the
volumes the one which contains illustra
tions. This is a not uncommon form of theft,
and of late we have suffered several such

"What can you what do you do?"

"I was asked to take up the whole matter.
I employed a clever detective. He failed me
entirely, but my luck did not. I saw in the
Review of Psychology/ published in Chi
cago, an essay on mystics in which Fludd was
quoted and the edition given. I wrote to the
author who courteously returned our missing
volume, which he had bought from a scamp
of a dealer in this city. I set my detective on
the track and he will be here shortly with two



other of our missing books. The thief was
easily traced, and is now awaiting trial. I
should think this tale of a book s adventures
would amuse you."

Then the talk wandered on to other matters,
and quite late he went away.

Two days after this talk, Miss Musgrave
came for a book. After getting it, she said:
"A friend of mine told me of your loss of that
curious book by Fludd. Have you ever heard
of it again ?"

"Yes," I said. She had evidently heard
from her lover of our talk, for she remarked:
"If I were a clever writer, I should write the
adventures of a book how it helped this one
or hurt that one/

"What a clever idea!" I returned.

"Well," she said, "if ever I am in trouble or
have lost anything, I shall come to you for ad
vice. I think you were ingenious. Mr.
Stevens says you are a mind-reader."

"Does he? Every one is more or less that,
Miss Musgrave. Shall I try to read your

I 7 6


"Oh, no; please don t," and she went away

FERNWOOD S visits became frequent and the
more I saw of him the better did I like him.
At last, one evening, after a long talk and just
before he left he said: "I regret that I shall
very soon be ordered away and lose both the
library and your company in some bookless
Western post. However, that is my life, and
I cannot complain, or would not except that "

As he paused, I said, smiling: "Except for
Miss Musgrave." I liked the man, and was
curiously pleased when he said: "Then you
knew." There was no reason why I should
not have known at any time in the last more
intimate months unless for the almost feminine
reserve with which he guarded his increas
ingly close relations with me and others.

I said in reply that Mr. Burke had told me.

"Yes, all of Miss Musgrave s friends know
of it. If you talked with Burke," and he
smiled, "I suppose there is very little you do
not know either about her or me."



I laughed. "Nothing that I did not like.
Nothing that is not common property."

"Yes, the old fellow is generous in the dif
fusion of what were perhaps better left untold.
But I must go. I shall miss you much. I am
engaged to Miss Musgrave, and I hope soon
to be married." Then, with some hesitation,
he added: "Did Mr. Burke speak of my

"He did; and let me say, as you open the
subject, that I think you are right. It is in
some sense a sacrifice."

"Oh, no. I could not take my wife to live
with my uncle. How could I? I will not
give up my profession. Miss Musgrave
agrees with me. It is in no sense a sacrifice.
But now I must go. Good night !"

"And so," said I to myself, "I have made
my capture, and the man is worth the trouble."
And now I was to lose this friend.

At the time of which I write I had been
thrown very little with women, but since then,
considering the question of the values of
friendships, I conclude that the best friends


are women in middle age. The range of their
values is other than that of men, but there are
many things of which one may talk to them
and which with men one approaches in a spirit
of reserve. Indeed, as I have elsewhere said,
women are the natural confessors of men.

The sudden frank opening to me of Fern-
wood s heart was a disclosure of the feminine
traits of a brave and reticent man. It was, in
a way, a compliment, and gratified me, as all
such conquests do, and the more so because in
the solitude that any great city is for a new
comer I had no one else who held to me the
relation of friend. I sat with my pipe, and
wondered what manner of woman was Miss
Musgrave. I had, in my brief official ac
quaintance, found her an interesting, well-bred
person, evidently of a social class which had
had the advantages of generations of ease and
training. With this I dismissed her and her
lover, and turned to some deferred library
work, little dreaming of the extent to which I
was about to be involved in their lives.

About this time I was sent to a remote city


to attend an important sale of books. I was
kept busy for four days, and as I rarely do
more than glance at the papers, I chanced not
to observe the paragraphs which might have
prepared me for the disaster of which I learned
upon my return.

I arrived at the library about nine in the
evening. The janitor said : "There is a lady
waiting to see you, sir. She is in your room.
She has been there an hour. As she often
comes to get books, and I have seen you talk
ing to her, I let her into your study. Have
you heard the awful news of Mr. White s

"No, I have not. I am very sorry." Then
in haste I went up-stairs, with an inexplicable
presentiment of calamity.

When I entered the room, a maid was seated
near the door. Her mistress, Miss Musgrave,
rose and came forward to meet me, saying:

"It seemed to me as if you would never
come. Can you give me a half-hour? I
we are in great trouble, and Captain Fernwood
has asked me to see you." Then as I said,



"Of course," she asked the maid to wait for
her down-stairs. When alone, I said, "What
is the trouble?"

"You have not heard?"

"No. I have been away. Tell me, is he

"Yes, and worse, and we were so happy.
It seems incredible that you have never heard.
It is too awful," she exclaimed.

It seemed to me natural that she should at
once inform me, but there was a half-evident
desire to put it off. Indeed, for a moment she
was silent, as if gathering resolution. I
waited and then said :

"Now, Miss Musgrave, tell me quietly and
fully what is the matter, and let me say that I
am entirely at your disposal."

"He said so. He has no other friends here,
no family oh, I said once I should come to
you if ever I needed help !"

"You say he has no friends. His uncle, I
hear, is dead."

"Good heavens, yes murdered!"

"Stop," I said. "I know nothing. To help


you, I must have a clear, definite statement."

"Yes, I know. I see."

She sat up and said simply: "This is all we
really know. On Monday last, George spent
an hour with me. Then he went, as he gen
erally did at least every other night, to see his
uncle. That was about nine. He had col
lected some money for him that day. He put
it in his uncle s desk, noticed his will lying in
it, locked the desk, and put the key in his
uncle s waistcoat, which hung on a chair.
He said, You should put your will, sir, in the
safe at the Union Trust Company. Oh, I
can t go on! You must see Captain Fern-
wood at once, please. I want you to see
George. He is in a dreadful state. You will
see him, won t you at once, to-night?"

I said, "Yes, of course. Let me walk home
with you."

"No. I have a carriage. 1 will leave you
at George s."

As we drove along, neither spoke. What
she could not or would not speak of I too easily



comprehended. There was the common and
often terrible situation of the man who is
known to have been last with the murdered
and who cannot prove an alibi.



NO study of character prepared me for the
effect on Fernwood. Under this terror,
the woman was of a sudden strong, resolute,
combative. Under it, the man who was a
proverb in his corps for cool courage was
broken, nerveless, and timid.

Indeed, what I saw as I entered his room

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Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellThe Guillotine club, and other stories → online text (page 6 of 10)