In Secret

Robert W. Chambers




The hospital called her on the telephone about eight o'clock in the morning: 

"Miss Evelyn Erith, please?" 

"Yes," she said in a tired voice, "who is it?" 

"Is this Miss Erith?" 


"This is the Superintendent's office, Samaritan, Hospital, Miss Dalton speaking." 

The girl's heart contracted with a pang of sheer pain. She closed her eyes and waited. The voice came over the wire again: 

"A wreath of Easter lilies with your card came early--this morning. I'm very sure there is a mistake--" 

"No," she whispered, "the flowers are for a patient who died in the hospital last night--a young man whom I brought there in my car--Kay McKay." 

"I was afraid so--" 


"McKay isn't dead! It's another patient. I was sure somebody here had made a mistake." 

Miss Erith swayed slightly, steadied herself with a desperate effort to comprehend what the voice was telling her. 

"There was a mistake made last night," continued Miss Dalton. "Another patient died--a similar case. When I came on duty a few moments ago I learned what had occurred. The young man in whom you are interested is conscious this morning. Would you care to see him before he is discharged?" 

Miss Erith said, unsteadily, that she would. 

She had recovered her self-command but her knees remained weak and her lips tremulous, and she rested her forehead on both hands which had fallen, tightly clasped, on the table in front of her. After a few moments she felt better and she rang up her D. C., Mr. Vaux, and explained that she expected to be late at the office. After that she got the garage on the wire, ordered her car, and stood by the window watching the heavily falling snow until her butler announced the car's arrival. 

The shock of the message informing her that this man was still alive now rapidly absorbed itself in her reviving excitement at the prospect of an approaching interview with him. Her car ran cautiously along Park Avenue through the driving snow, but the distance was not far and in a few minutes the great red quadrangle of the Samaritan Hospital loomed up on her right. And even before she was ready, before she quite had time to compose her mind in preparation for the questions she had begun to formulate, she was ushered into a private room by a nurse on duty who detained her a moment at the door: 

"The patient is ready to be discharged," she whispered, "but we have detained him at your request. We are so sorry about the mistake." 

"Is he quite conscious?" 

"Entirely. He's somewhat shaken, that is all. Otherwise he shows no ill effects." 

"Does he know how he came here?" 

"Oh, yes. He questioned us this morning and we told him the circumstances." 

"Does he know I have arrived?" 

"Yes, I told him." 

"He did not object to seeing me?" inquired Miss Erith. A slight colour dyed her face. 

"No, he made no objection. In fact, he seemed interested. He expects you. You may go in." 

Miss Erith stepped into the room. Perhaps the patient had heard the low murmur of voices in the corridor, for he lay on his side in bed gazing attentively toward the door. Miss Erith walked straight to the bedside; he looked up at her in silence. 

"I am so glad that you are better," she said with an effort made doubly difficult in the consciousness of the bright blush on her cheeks. Without moving he replied in what must have once been an agreeable voice: "Thank you. I suppose you are Miss Erith." 


"Then--I am very grateful for what you have done." 

"It was so fortunate--" 

"Would you be seated if you please?" 

She took the chair beside his bed. 

"It was nice of you," he said, almost sullenly. "Few women of your sort would bother with a drunken man." 

They both flushed. She said calmly: "It is women of my sort who DO exactly that kind of thing." 

He gave her a dark and sulky look: "Not often," he retorted: "there are few of your sort from Samaria." 

There was a silence, then he went on in a hard voice: 

"I'd been drinking a lot... as usual.... But it isn't an excuse when I say that my beastly condition was not due to a drunken stupor. It just didn't happen to be that time." 

She shivered slightly. "It happened to be due to chloral," he added, reddening painfully again. "I merely wished you to know." 

"Yes, they told me," she murmured. 

After another silence, during which he had been watching her askance, he said: "Did you think I had taken that chloral voluntarily?" 

She made no reply. She sat very still, conscious of vague pain somewhere in her breast, acquiescent in the consciousness, dumb, and now incurious concerning further details of this man's tragedy. 

"Sometimes," he said, "the poor devil who, in chloral, seeks a-refuge from intolerable pain becomes an addict to the drug.... I do not happen to be an addict. I want you to understand that." 

The painful colour came and went in the girl's face; he was now watching her intently. 

"As a matter of fact, but probably of no interest to you," he continued, "I did not voluntarily take that chloral. It was administered to me without my knowledge--when I was more or less stupid with liquor.... It is what is known as knockout drops, and is employed by crooks to stupefy men who are more or less intoxicated so that they may be easily robbed." 

He spoke now so calmly and impersonally that the girl had turned to look at him again as she listened. And now she said: "Were you robbed?" 

"They took my hotel key: nothing else." 

"Was that a serious matter, Mr. McKay?" 

He studied her with narrowing brown eyes. 

"Oh, no," he said. "I had nothing of value in my room at the Astor except a few necessaries in a steamer-trunk.... Thank you so much for all your kindness to me, Miss Erith," he added, as though relieving her of the initiative in terminating the interview. 

As he spoke he caught her eye and divined somehow that she did not mean to go just yet. Instantly he was on his guard, lying there with partly closed lids, awaiting events, though not yet really suspicious. But at her next question he rose abruptly, supported on one elbow, his whole frame tense and alert under the bed-coverings as though gathered for a spring. 

"What did you say?" he demanded. 

"I asked you how long ago you escaped from Holzminden camp?" repeated the girl, very pale. 

"Who told you I had ever been there?--wherever that is!" 

"You were there as a prisoner, were you not, Mr. McKay?" 

"Where is that place?" 

"In Germany on the River Weser. You were detained there under pretence of being an Englishman before we declared war on Germany. After we declared war they held you as a matter of course." 

There was an ugly look in his eyes, now: "You seem to know a great deal about a drunkard you picked up in the snow near the Plaza fountain last night." 

"Please don't speak so bitterly." 

Quite unconsciously her gloved hand crept up on her fur coat until it rested over her heart, pressing slightly against her breast. Neither spoke for a few moments. Then: 

"I do know something about you, Mr. McKay," she said. "Among other things I know that--that if you have become--become intemperate--it is not your fault.... That was vile of them-unutterably wicked-to do what they did to you--" 

"Who are you?" he burst out. "Where have you learned-heard such things? Did I babble all this?" 

"You did not utter a sound!" 

"Then--in God's name--" 

"Oh, yes, yes!" she murmured, "in God's name. That is why you and I are here together--in God's name and by His grace. Do you know He wrought a miracle for you and me--here in New York, in these last hours of this dreadful year that is dying very fast now? 

"Do you know what that miracle is? Yes, it's partly the fact that you did not die last night out there on the street. Thirteen degrees below zero! ... And you did not die.... And the other part of the miracle is that I of all people in the world should have found you!... That is our miracle." 

Somehow he divined that the girl did not mean the mere saving of his life had been part of this miracle. But she had meant that, too, without realising she meant it. 

"Who are you?" he asked very quietly. 

"I'll tell you: I am Evelyn Erith, a volunteer in the C. E. D. Service of the United States." 

He drew a deep breath, sank down on his elbow, and rested his head on the pillow. 

"Still I don't see how you know," he said. "I mean--the beastly details--" 

"I'll tell you some time. I read the history of your case in an intercepted cipher letter. Before the German agent here had received and decoded it he was arrested by an agent of another Service. If there is anything more to be learned from him it will be extracted. 

"But of all men on earth you are the one man I wanted to find. There is the miracle: I found you! Even now I can scarcely force myself to believe it is really you." 

The faintest flicker touched his eyes. 

"What did you want of me?" he inquired. 


"Help? From such a man as I? What sort of help do you expect from a drunkard?" 

"Every sort. All you can give. All you can give." 

He looked at her wearily; his face had become pallid again; the dark hollows of dissipation showed like bruises. 

"I don't understand," he said. "I'm no good, you know that. I'm done in, finished. I couldn't help you with your work if I wanted to. There's nothing left of me. I am not to be depended on." 

And suddenly, in his eyes of a boy, his self-hatred was revealed to her in one savage gleam. 

"No good," he muttered feverishly, "not to be trusted--no will-power left.... It was in me, I suppose, to become the drunkard I am--" 

"You are NOT!" cried the girl fiercely. "Don't say it!" 

"Why not? I am!" 

"You can fight your way free!" His laugh frightened her. 

"Fight? I've done that. They tried to pump me that way, too--tried to break me--break my brain to pieces--by stopping my liquor.... I suppose they thought I might really go insane, as they gave it back after a while--after a few centuries in hell--and tried to make me talk by other methods-- 

"Don't, please." She turned her head swiftly, unable to control her quivering face. 

"Why not?" 

"I can't bear it." 

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to shock you." 

"I know." She sat for a while with head averted; and presently spoke, sitting so: 

"We'll fight it, anyway," she said. 

"What do you mean?" 

"If you'll let me--" 

After a silence she turned and looked at him. He .stammered, very red: 

"I don't quite know why you speak to me so." 

She herself was not entirely clear on that point, either. After all, her business with this man was to use him in the service of her Government." 

"What is THE GREAT SECRET?" she asked calmly. 

After a long while he said, lying there very still: "So you have even heard about that." 

"I have heard about it; that is all." 

"Do you know what it is?" 

"All I know about it is that there is such a thing--something known to certain Germans, and by them spoken of as THE GREAT SECRET. I imagine, of course, that it is some vital military secret which they desire to guard." 

"Is that all you know about it?" 

"No, not all." She looked at him gravely out of very clear, honest eyes: 

"I know, also, that the Berlin Government has ordered its agents to discover your whereabouts, and to'silence' you." 

He gazed at her quite blandly for a moment, then, to her amazement, he laughed--such a clear, untroubled, boyish laugh that her constrained expression softened in sympathy. 

"Do you think that Berlin doesn't mean it?" she asked, brightening a little. 

"Mean it? Oh, I'm jolly sure Berlin means it!" 

"Then why--" 

"Why do I laugh?" 

"Well--yes. Why do you? It does not strike me as very humorous." 

At that he laughed again--laughed so whole-heartedly, so delightfully, that the winning smile curved her own lips once more. 

"Would you tell me why you laugh?" she inquired. 

"I don't know. It seems so funny--those Huns, those Boches, already smeared from hair to feet with blood--pausing in their wholesale butchery to devise a plan to murder ME!" 

His face altered; he raised himself on one elbow: 

"The swine have turned all Europe into a bloody wallow. They're belly-deep in it--Kaiser and knecht! But that's only part of it. They're destroying souls by millions!... Mine is already damned." 

Miss Erith sprang to her feet: "I tell you not to say such a thing!" she cried, exasperated. "You're as young as I am! Besides, souls are not slain by murder. If they perish it's suicide, ALWAYS!" 

She began to pace the white room nervously, flinging open her fur coat as she turned and came straight back to his bed again. Standing there and looking down at him she said: 

"We've got to fight it out. The country needs you. It's your bit and you've got to do it. There's a cure for alcoholism--Dr. Langford's cure. Are you afraid because you think it may hurt?" 

He lay looking up at her with hell's own glimmer in his eyes again: 

"You don't know what you're talking about," he said. "You talk of cures, and I tell you that I'm half dead for a drink right now! And I'm going to get up and dress and get it!" 

The expression of his features and his voice and words appalled her, left her dumb for an instant. Then she said breathlessly: 

"You won't do that!" 

"Yes I will." 


"Why not?" he demanded excitedly. 

"You owe me something." 

"What I said was conventional. I'm NOT grateful to you for saving the sort of life mine is!" 

"I was not thinking of your life." 

After a moment he said more quietly: "I know what you mean.... Yes, I am grateful. Our Government ought to know." 

"Then tell me, now." 

"You know," he said brutally, "I have only your word that you are what you say you are." 

She reddened but replied calmly: "That is true. Let me show you my credentials." 

From her muff she drew a packet, opened it, and laid the contents on the bedspread under his eyes. Then she walked to the window and stood there with her back turned looking out at the falling snow. 

After a few minutes he called her. She went back to the bedside, replaced the packet in her muff, and stood waiting in silence. 

He lay looking up at her very quietly and his bruised young features had lost their hard, sullen expression. 

"I'd better tell you all I know," he said, "because there is really no hope of curing me... you don't understand... my will-power is gone. The trouble is with my mind itself. I don't want to be cured.... I WANT what's killing me. I want it now, always, all the time. So before anything happens to me I'd better tell you what I know so that our Government can make the proper investigation.  Because what I shall tell you is partly a surmise. I leave it to you to judge--to our Government." 

She drew from her muff a little pad and a pencil and seated herself on the chair beside him. 

"I'll speak slowly," he began, but she shook her head, saying that she was an expert stenographer. So he went on: 

"You know my name--Kay McKay. I was born here and educated at Yale. But my father was Scotch and he died in Scotland. My mother had been dead many years. They lived on a property called Isla which belonged to my grandfather. After my father's death my grandfather allowed me an income, and when I had graduated from Yale I continued here taking various post-graduate courses.  inally I went to Cornell and studied agriculture, game breeding and forestry--desiring some day to have a place of my own. 

"In 1914 I went to Germany to study their system of forestry. In July of that year I went to Switzerland and roamed about in the vagabond way I like--once liked." His visage altered and he cast a side glance at the girl beside him, but her eyes were fixed on her pad. 

He drew a deep breath, like a sigh: 

"In that corner of Switzerland which is thrust westward between Germany and France there are a lot of hills and mountains which were unfamiliar to me. The flora resembled that of the Vosges--so did the bird and insect life except on the higher mountains. 

"There is a mountain called Mount Terrible. I camped on it. There was some snow. You know what happens sometimes in summer on the higher peaks. Well, it happened to me--the whole snow field slid when I was part way across it--and I thought it was all off--never dreamed a man could live through that sort of thing--with the sheer gneiss ledges below! 

"It was not a big avalanche--not the terrific thundering sort--rather an easy slipping, I fancy--but it was a devilish thing to lie aboard, and, of course, if there had been precipices where I slid--" He shrugged. 

The girl looked up from her shorthand manuscript; he seemed to be dreamily living over in his mind those moments on Mount Terrible. Presently he smiled slightly: 

"I was horribly scared--smothered, choked, half-senseless.... Part of the snow and a lot of trees and boulders went over the edge of something with a roar like Niagara.... I don't know how long afterward it was when I came to my senses. 

"I was in a very narrow, rocky valley, up to my neck in soft snow, and the sun beating on my face. ... So I crawled out... I wasn't hurt; I was merely lost. 

"It took me a long while to place myself geographically. But finally, by map and compass, I concluded that I was in some one of the innumerable narrow valleys on the northern side of Mount Terrible. Basle seemed to be the nearest proper objective, judging from my map.... Can you form a mental picture of that particular corner of Europe, Miss Erith?" 


"Well, the German frontier did not seem to be very far northward--at least that was my idea. But there was no telling; the place where I landed was a savage and shaggy wilderness of firs and rocks without any sign of habitation or of roads. 

"The things that had been strapped on my back naturally remained with me--map, binoculars, compass, botanising paraphernalia, rations for two days--that sort of thing. So I was not worried. I prowled about, experienced agreeable shivers by looking up at the mountain which had dumped me down into this valley, and finally, after eating, I started northeast by compass. 

"It was a rough scramble. After I had been hiking along for several hours I realised that I was on a shelf high above another valley, and after a long while I came out where I could look down over miles of country. My map indicated that what I beheld must be some part of Alsace. Well, I lay flat on a vast shelf of rock and began to use my field-glasses." 

He was silent so long that Miss Erith finally looked up questioningly. McKay's face had become white and stern, and in his fixed gaze there was something dreadful. 

"Please," she faltered, "go on." 

He looked at her absently; the colour came back to his face; he shrugged his shoulders. 

"Oh, yes. What was I saying? Yes--about that vast ledge up there under the mountains... I stayed there three days. Partly because I couldn't find any way down. There seemed to be none. 

"But I was not bored. Oh, no. Just anxious concerning my situation. Otherwise I had plenty to look at." 

She waited, pencil poised. 

"Plenty to look at," he repeated absently. "Plenty of Huns to gaze at. Huns? They were like ants below me, there. They swarmed under the mountain ledge as far as I could see--thousands of busy Boches--busy as ants. There were narrow-gauge railways, too, apparently running right into the mountain; and a deep broad cleft, deep as another valley, and all crawling with Huns. 

"A tunnel? Nobody alive ever dreamed of such a gigantic tunnel, if it was one!... Well, I was up there three days. It was the first of August--thereabouts--and I'd been afield for weeks. And, of course, I'd heard nothing of war--never dreamed of it. 

"If I had, perhaps what those thousands of Huns were doing along the mountain wall might have been plainer to me. 

"As it was, I couldn't guess. There was no blasting--none that I could hear. But trains were running and some gigantic enterprise was being accomplished--some enterprise that apparently demanded speed and privacy--for not one civilian was to be seen, not one dwelling. But there were endless mazes of fortifications; and I saw guns being moved everywhere. 

"Well, I was becoming hungry up on that fir-clad battlement. I didn't know how to get down into the valley. It began to look as though I'd have to turn back; and that seemed a rather awful prospect. 

"Anyway, what happened, eventually, was this: I started east through the forest along that pathless tableland, and on the afternoon of the next day, tired out and almost starved, I stepped across the Swiss boundary line--a wide, rocky, cleared space crossing a mountain flank like a giant's road. 

"No guards were visible anywhere, no sentry-boxes, but, as I stood hesitating in the middle of the frontier--and just why I hesitated I don't know--I saw half a dozen jagers of a German mounted regiment ride up on the German side of the boundary. 

"For a second the idea occurred to me that they had ridden parallel to the ledge to intercept me; but the idea seemed absurd, granted even that they had seen me upon the ledge from below, which I never dreamed they had. So when they made me friendly gestures to come across the frontier I returned their cheery 'Gruss Gott!' and plodded thankfully across. ... And their leader, leaning from his saddle to take my offered hand, suddenly struck me in the face, and at the same moment a trooper behind me hit me on the head with the butt of a pistol." 

The girl's flying pencil faltered; she lifted her brown eyes, waiting. 

"That's about all," he said--"as far as facts are concerned.... They treated me rather badly.... I faced their firing-squads half-a-dozen times. After that bluff wouldn't work they interned me as an English civilian at Holzminden.... They hid me when, at last, an inspection took place. No chance for me to communicate with our Ambassador or with any of the Commission." 

He turned to her in his boyish, frank way: "But do you know, Miss Erith, it took me quite a while to analyse the affair and to figure out why they arrested me, lied about me, and treated me so hellishly. 

"You see, I was kept in solitary confinement and never had a chance to speak to any of the other civilians interned there at Holzminden. There was no way of suspecting why all this was happening to me except by the attitude of the Huns themselves and their endless questions and threats and cruelties.  They were cruel. They hurt me a lot." 

Miss Erith's eyes suddenly dimmed as she watched him, and she hastily bent her head over the pad. 

"Well," he went on, "the rest, as I say, is pure surmise. This is my conclusion: I think that for the last forty years the Huns have been busy with an astounding military enterprise. Of course, since 1870, the Boche has expected war, and has been feverishly preparing for it. All the world now knows what they have done--not everything that they have done, however. 

"My conclusion is this: that, when Mount Terrible shrugged me off its northern flank, the snow slide carried me to an almost inaccessible spot of which even the Swiss hunters knew nothing. Or, if they did, they considered it impossible to reach from their own territory. 

"From Germany it could be reached, but it was Swiss territory. At any rate I think I am the only civilian who has been there, and who has viewed from there this enormous work in which the Huns are engaged. 

"And I belive that this mysterious, overwhelmingly enormous work is nothing less than the piercing--not of a mountain or a group of mountains--but of that entire part of Switzerland which lies between Germany and France. 

"I believe that a vast military road, deep, deep, under the earth, is being carried by an enormous tunnel from far back on the German side of the frontier, under Mount Terrible, under all the mountains, hills, valleys, forests, rivers--under Switzerland, in fact--into French territory. 

"I believe it has been building since 1871. I believe it is nearly finished, and that it will, on French territory, give egress to a Hun army debouching from Alsace, under Switzerland, into France behind the French lines. That part of the Franco-Swiss frontier is unguarded, unfortified, uninhabited.  From there a Hun army can strike the French trenches from the rear--strike Toul, Nancy, Belfort, Verdun--why, the road is open to Paris that way--open to Calais, to England!" 

"This is frightful!" cried the girl. "If such a dreadful--" 

"Wait! I told you that it is merely a surmise. I don't know. I guess. Why I guess it I have told you.... They were savage with me--those Huns.... They got nothing out of me. I lied steadily, even when drunk. No, they got nothing out of me. I denied I had seen anything. I denied--and truly enough--that anybody had accompanied me. No, they wrenched nothing out of me--not by starving me, not by water torture, not by their firing-squads, not by blows, not even by making of me the drunkard I am." 

The pencil fell from Miss Erith's hand and the hand caught McKay's, held it, crushed it. 

"You're only a boy," she murmured. "I'm not much more than a girl. We've both got years ahead of us--the best of our lives." 

"YOU have." 

"You also! Oh, don't, don't look at me that way. I'll help you. We've got work to do, you and I. Don't you see? Don't you understand? Work to do for our Government! Work to do for America!" 

"It's too late for me to--" 

"No. You've got to live. You've got to find yourself again. This depends on you. Don't you see it does? Don't you see that you have got to go back there and PROVE what you merely suspect?" 

"I simply can't." 

"You shall! I'll make this right with you! I'll stick to you! I'll fight to give you back your will-power--your mind. We'll do this together, for our country. I'll give up everything else to make this fight." 

He began to tremble. 

"I--if I could--" 

"I tell you that you shall! We must do our bit, you and I!" 

"You don't know--you don't know!" he cried in a bitter voice, then fell trembling again with the sweat of agony on his face. 

"No, I don't know," she whispered, clutching his hand to steady him. "But I shall learn." 

"You'll learn that a drunkard is a dirty beast!" he cried. "Do you know what I'd do if anybody tried to keep me from drink? ANYBODY!--even you!" 

"No, I don't know." She shook her head sorrowfully: "A mindless man becomes a demon, I suppose. ... Would you--injure me?" 

He was shaking all over now, and presently he sat up in bed and covered his head with one desperate hand. 

"You poor boy!" she whispered. 

"Keep away from me," he muttered, "I've told you all I know. I'm no further use.... Keep clear of me.... I'm sorry--to be--what I am." 

"When I leave what are you going to do?" she asked gently. 

"Do? I'll dress and go to the nearest bar." 

"Do you need it so much already?" 

He nodded his bowed head covered by the hand that gripped his hair: "Yes, I need it--badly." 

She rose, loosened his clutch on her slender hand, picked up her muff: 

"I'll be waiting for you downstairs," she said simply. 

His face expressed sullen defiance as he passed through the waiting-room. Yet he seemed a little taken aback as well as relieved when Miss Erith did not appear among the considerable number of people waiting there for discharged patients. He walked on, buttoning his fur coat with shaky fingers, passed the doorway and stepped out into the falling snow. At the same moment a chauffeur buried in coon-skins moved forward touching his cap: 

"Miss Erith's car is here, sir; Miss Erith expects you." 

McKay hesitated, scowling now in his perplexity; passed his quivering hand slowly across his face, then turned, and looked at the waiting car drawn up at the gutter. Behind the frosty window Miss Erith gave him a friendly smile. He walked over to the curb, the chauffeur opened the door, and McKay took
off his hat. 

"Don't ask me," he said in a low voice that trembled slightly like a sick man's. 

"I DO ask you." 

"You know what's the matter with me, Miss Erith," he insisted in the same low, unsteady voice. 

"Please," she said: and laid one small gloved hand lightly on his arm. 

So he entered the car; the chauffeur drew the robe over them, and stood awaiting orders. 

"Home," said Miss Erith faintly. 

If McKay was astonished he did not betray it. Neither said anything more for a while. The man rested an elbow on the sill, his troubled, haggard face on his hand; the girl kept her gaze steadily in front of her with a partly resolute, partly scared expression. The car went up Park Avenue and then turned westward. 

When it stopped the girl said: "You will give me a few moments in my library with you, won't you?" 

The visage he turned to her was one of physical anguish. They sat confronting each other in silence for an instant; then he rose with a visible effort and descended, and she followed. 

"Be at the garage at two, Wayland," she said, and ascended the snowy stoop beside McKay. 

The butler admitted them. "Luncheon for two," she said, and mounted the stairs without pausing. 

McKay remained in the hall until he had been separated from hat and coat; then he slowly ascended the stairway. She was waiting on the landing and she took him directly into the library where a wood fire was burning. 

"Just a moment," she said, "to make myself as--as persuasive as I can." 

"You are perfectly equipped, Miss Erith--" 

"Oh, no, I must do better than I have done. This is the great moment of our careers, Mr. McKay." Her smile, brightly forced, left his grim features unresponsive. The undertone in her voice warned him of her determination to have her way. 

He took an involuntary step toward the door like a caged thing that sees a loophole, halted as she barred his way, turned his marred young visage and glared at her. There was something terrible in his intent gaze--a pale flare flickering in his eyes like the uncanny light in the orbs of a cornered beast. 

"You'll wait, won't you?" she asked, secretly frightened now. 

After a long interval, "Yes," his lips motioned. 

"Thank you. Because it is the supreme moment of our lives. It involves life or death.... Be patient with me. Will you?" 

"But you must be brief," he muttered restlessly. "You know what I need. I am sick, I tell you!" 

So she went away--not to arrange her beauty more convincingly, but to fling coat and hat to her maid and drop down on the chair by her desk and take up the telephone: 

"Dr. Langford's Hospital?" 


"Miss Erith wishes to speak to Dr. Langford. ... Is that you, Doctor?... Oh, yes, I'm perfectly well.... Tell me, how soon can you cure a man of--of dipsomania?... Of course.... It was a stupid question. But I'm so worried and unhappy... Yes.... Yes, it's a man I know.... It wasn't his fault, poor fellow. If I can only get him to you and persuade him to tell you the history of his case... I don't know whether he'll go. I'm doing my best. He's here in my library.... Oh, no, he isn't intoxicated now, but he was yesterday. And oh, Doctor! He is so shaky and he seems so ill--I mean in mind and spirit more than in body.... Yes, he says he needs something.... What?... Give him some whisky if he wants it?... Do you mean a highball?... How many?... Oh... Yes... Yes, I understand ... I'll do my very best.... Thank you. ... At three o'clock?... Thank you so much, Doctor Langford. Good-bye!" 

She hung up the receiver, took a look at herself in the dressing-glass, and saw reflected there a yellow-haired hazel-eyed girl who looked a trifle scared. But she forced a smile, made a hasty toilette and rang for the butler, gave her orders, and then walked leisurely into the library. McKay lifted his tragic face from his hands where he stood before the fire, his elbows resting on the mantel. 

"Come," she said in her pretty, resolute way, "you and I are perfectly human. Let's face this thing together and find out what really is in it." 

She took one armchair, he the other, and she noticed that all his frame was quivering now--his hands always in restless, groping movement, as though with palsy. A moment later the butler came with a decanter, ice, mineral water and a tall glass. There was also a box of cigars on the silver tray. 

"You'll fix your own highball," she said carelessly, nodding dismissal to the butler. But she looked only once at McKay, then turned away--pretence of picking up her knitting--so terrible it was to her to see in his eyes the very glimmer of hell itself as he poured out what he "needed." 

Minute after minute she sat there by the fire knitting tranquilly, scarcely ever even lifting her calm young eyes to the man. Twice again he poured out what he "needed" for himself before the agony in his sickened brain and body became endurable--before the tortured nerves had been sufficiently drugged once more and the indescribable torment had subsided. He looked at her once or twice where she sat knitting and apparently quite oblivious to what he had been about, but his glance was no longer furtive; he unconsciously squared his shoulders, and his head straightened up. 

Without lifting her eyes she said: "I thought we'd talk over our plans when you feel better." 

He glanced sideways at the decanter: "I am all right," he said. 

She had not yet lifted her eyes; she continued to knit while speaking: 

"First of all," she said, "I shall place your testimony and my report in the hands of my superior, Mr. Vaux. Does that meet with your approval?" 


She knitted in silence a few moments. He kept his eyes on her. Presently--and still without looking up--she said: "Are you within the draft age?" 

"No. I am thirty-two." 

"Will you volunteer?" 


"Would you tell me why?" 

"Yes, I'll tell you why. I shall not volunteer because of my habits." 

"You mean your temporary infirmity," she said calmly. But her cheeks reddened and she bent lower over her work. A dull colour stained his face, too, but he merely shrugged his comment. 

She said in a low voice: "I want you to volunteer with me for overseas service in the Army Intelligence Department.... You and I, together.... To prove what you have surmised concerning the German operations beyond Mount Terrible.... And first I want you to go with me to Dr. Langford's hospital .... I want you to go this afternoon with me. ... And face the situation. And see it through. And come out cured." She lifted her head and looked at him. "Will you?" And in his altering gaze she saw the flicker of half-senseless anger intensified suddenly to a flare of hatred. 

"Don't ask anything like that of me," he said. She had grown quite white. 

"I do ask it.... Will you?" 

"If I wanted to I couldn't, and I don't want to. I prefer this hell to the other." 

"Won't you make a fight for it?" 

"No!" he said brutally. 

The girl bent her head again over her knitting. But her white fingers remained idle. After a long while, staring at her intently, he saw her lip quiver. 

"Don't do that!" he broke out harshly. "What the devil do you care?" 

Then she lifted her tragic white face. And he had his answer. 

"My God!" he faltered, springing to his feet. "What's the matter with you? Why do you care? You can't care! What is it to you that a drunken beast slinks back into hell again? Do you think you are Samaritan enough to follow him and try to drag him out by the ears?... A man whose very brain is already cracking with it all--a burnt-out thing with neither mind nor manhood left--" 

She got to her feet, trembling and deathly white. 

"I can't let you go," she whispered. 

Exasperation almost strangled him and set afire his unhinged brain. 

"For Christ's sake!" he cried. "What do you care?" 

"I--I care," she stammered--"for Christ's sake ... And yours!" 

Things went dark before her eyes.... She opened them after a while on the sofa where he had carried her. He was standing looking down at her. ... After a long while the ghost of a smile touched her lips. In his haunted gaze there was no response. But he said in an altered, unfamiliar voice: "I'll go if you say so. I'll do all that's in me to do. ... Will you be there--for the first day or two?" 

"Yes.... All day long.... Every day if you want me. Do you?" 

"Yes.... But God knows what I may do to you.... There'll be somebody to--watch me--won't there?... I don't know what may happen to you or to myself.... I'm in a bad way, Miss Erith... I'm in a very bad way." 

"I know," she murmured. 

He said with an almost childish directness: "Do men always live through such cures?... I don't see how I can live through it." 

She rose from the sofa and stood beside him, feeling still dizzy, still tremulous and lacking strength. 

"Let us win through," she said, not looking at him. "I think you will suffer more than I shall. A little more.... Because I had rather feel pain than give it--rather suffer than look on suffering.... It will be very hard for us both, I fear." 

Her butler announced luncheon.  


.. .. ..
.. copyright @ 2003 Miskatonic University Press / Yankee Classic Pictures, Inc. All rights reserved. MU-LBS-0315