MORTON BLAINE returned to New York from his brief vacation to find
a frantic note from John Schuyler, the man nearer to him than any
imploring him to "come at once." The appeal was supplemented
with the usual
intimation that the service was to be rendered to God rather than
The note was twenty-four hours old. Blaine, without changing
clothes, rang for a cab and was driven rapidly up the Avenue.
He was a man of
science, not of enthusiasms, cold, unerring, brilliant; a superb
machine, which never showed a fleck of rust, unremittingly polished,
enlarged with every improvement. But for one man he cherished
sympathy; to that man he hastened on the slightest summons, as
he hastened now.
They had been intimate in boyhood; then in later years through
for each other's high abilities and ambitions.
As the cab rolled over the asphalt of the Avenue, Blaine glanced
idly at the
stream of carriages returning from the Park, lifting his hat to
many of the
languid pretty women. He owed his minor fame to his guardianship
nerves. He could calm hysteria with a pressure of his cool flexible
hand or a
sudden modulation of his harsh voice. And women dreaded his wrath.
those who averred that his eyes could smoke.
He leaned forward and raised his hat with sudden interest. She
who returned his
bow was as cold in her coloring as a winter night, but possessed
a strength of
line and depth of eye which suggested to the analyst her power
to give the world
a shock did Circumstance cease to run abreast of her. She was
indolently in the open carriage, the sun slanting into her luminous
eyes, her face locked for the benefit of the chance observer,
conversed with the faded individual at her side. As her eyes met
those of the
doctor her mouth convulsed suddenly, and a glance of mutual understanding
Then she raised her head with a defiant, almost reckless movement.
Blaine reached his friend's house in a moment. The man who had
summoned him was
walking aimlessly up and down his library. He was unshaven; his
hair and his
clothing were disordered. His face had the modern beauty of strength
intellect and passion and weakness. A flash of relief illuminated
it as Blaine
"She has been terrible!" he said. "Terrible! I
have not had the courage to call
in any one else, and I am worn out. She is asleep now, and I got
out of the room
for half an hour. The nurse is exhausted too. Do stay tonight."
"I will stay. Let us go up-stairs."
As they reached the second landing two handsome children romped
across the hall
and flung themselves upon their father.
"Where have you been?" they demanded. Why do you shut
yourself up on the third
floor with mamma all the time? When will she get well?"
Schuyler kissed them and bade them return to the nursery.
"How long can I keep it from them?" he asked bitterly.
" What an atmosphere for
children--my children!--to grow up in!"
"If you would do as I wish, and send her where she belongs--"
"I shall not. She is my wife. Moreover, concealment would
then be impossible."
They had reached the third floor. He inserted a key in a door,
moment, then said abruptly: " I saw in a paper that she had
returned. Can it be
"I saw her on the Avenue a few moments ago."
Was it the doctor's imagination, or did the goaded man at his
side flash him a
glance of appeal?
They entered a room whose doors and windows were muffled. The
solid, too solid to be moved except by muscular arms. There were
no mirrors nor
breakable articles of any sort.
On the bed lay a woman with ragged hair and sunken yellow face,
but even in her
ruin indefinably elegant. Her parted lips were black and blistered
shapely skinny hands clutched the quilt with the tenacious suggestion
eagle--that long-lived defiant bird. At the bedside sat a vigorous
pallor of fatigue on her face.
The creature on the bed opened her eyes. They had once been what
known as fine eyes; now they looked like blots of ink on parchment.
"Give me a drink," she said feverishly. "Water!
water! water!" She panted, and
her tongue protruded slightly. Her husband turned away, his shoulders
The nurse held a silver goblet to the woman's lips. She drank
scowled up at the doctor.
"You missed it,"she said. "I should be glad, for
I hate you, only you give me
more relief than they. They are afraid. They tried to fool me,
the idiots! But
they didn't try it twice. I bit."
She laughed and threw her arms above her head. The loose sleeves
of her gown
fell back and disclosed arms speckled as if from an explosion
"Just an ordinary morphine fiend," thought the doctor.
"And she is the wife of
An hour after dinner he told the husband and nurse to go to bed.
For a while be
read, the woman sleeping profoundly. The house was absolutely
still, or seemed
to be. Had pandemonium reigned he could hardly have heard an echo
of it from
this isolated room. The window was open, but looked upon roofs
and back yards;
no sound of carriage wheels rose to break the quiet. Despite the
doctor had to strain his ear to catch the irregular breathing
of the sick woman.
He had a singular feeling, although the most unimaginative of
men, that this
third floor, containing only himself and the woman, had been sliced
rest of the house and hung suspended in space, independent of
natural laws. It
was after the book had ceased to interest him that the idea shaped
of another, as yet unacknowledged, skulking in the recesses of
his brain. At
length he laid aside the book, and going to the bed, looked down
upon the woman,
coldly, reflectively--exactly as he had often watched the quivering
animal--dissected alive in the cause of science.
Studying this man's face, it was impossible to imagine it agitated
passion except thirst for knowledge. The skin was as white as
profile was straight and mathematical, the mouth a straight line,
the chin as
square as that of a chiselled Fate. The jaw was prominent, powerful,
The eyes were deeply set and gray as polished steel. The large
luminous, very full--an index to the terrible intellect of the
As he looked down on the woman his thin nostrils twitched once
and his lips
compressed more firmly. Then he smiled. It was an odd, almost
"A physician," he said, half aloud, "has almost
as much power as God. The idea
strikes me that we are the personification of that useful symbol."
He plunged his hands into his pockets, and walked up and down
the long thickly
"These are the facts in the case," he continued. "The
one man I love and
unequivocally respect is tied, hand and foot, to that unsexed
morphine receptacle on the bed. She is hopeless. Every known specific
failed, must fail, for she loves the vice. He has one of the best
brains of this
day prolific in brains; a distressing capacity for affection,
human to the core.
At the age of forty-two, in the maturity of his mental powers,
he carries with
him a constant sickening sense of humiliation; a proud man, he
lives in daily
fear of exposure and shame. At the age of forty-two, in the maturity
manhood, he meets the woman who conquers his heart, his imagination,
his faith by making other women abhorrent to him, who allures
and maddens with
the certainty of her power to make good his ideal of her. He cannot
that animal on the bed is capable of living for twenty years.
"So much for him. A girl of twenty-eight, whose wealth and
brain and beauty, and
that other something that has not yet been analyzed and labelled,
have made her
a social star; who has come to wonder, then to resent, then to
yawn at the
general vanity of life, is suddenly swept out of her calm orbit
by a man's
passion; and, with the swiftness of decision natural to her, goes
to Europe. She
returns in less than three months. For these two people there
is but one sequel.
The second chapter will be written the first time they are alone.
Then they will
go to Europe. What will be the rest of the book?
"First, there will be an ugly and reverberating scandal.
In the course of a year
or two she will compel him to return in the interest of his career.
She will not
be able to remain; so proud a woman could not stand the position.
Again he will
go with her. In a word, my friend's career will be ruined. So
many novelists and
reporters have written the remaining chapters of this sort of
story that it is
hardly worth while for me to go any further.
"So much for them. Let us consider the other victims--the
morphine-mother in an asylum, a father in a strange land with
a woman who is not
his wife, the world cognizant of all the facts of the case. They
grow up at odds
with society. Result, they are morbid, warped, unnormal. In trite
their lives are ruined, as are all lives that have not had a fair
He returned abruptly to the bedside. He laid his finger on the
"No morphine to-night and she dies. A worthless wretch is
sent where she
belongs. Four people are saved."
His breast swelled. His gray eyes seemed literally to send forth
suggested some noiseless deadly weapon of war. He exclaimed aloud:
" My God!
what a power to lie in the hands of one man! I stand here the
arbiter of five
destinies. It is for me to say whether four people shall be happy
saved or ruined. I might say, with Nero, 'I am God!'" He
laughed. "I am famed
for my power to save where others have failed. I am famed in the
for having ruined the business of more undertakers than any physician
of my day.
That has been my r™le, my professional pride. I have never
felt so proud as
The woman, who had been moving restlessly for some time, twitched
uncontrollably. She opened her eyes.
"Give it to me--quick!" she demanded. Her voice, always
querulous, was raucous;
her eyes were wild.
"No," he said, deliberately, "you will have no
more morphine; not a drop."
She stared at him incredulously, then laughed.
"Stop joking," she said, roughly. "Give it to
me quick--quick! I am very weak."
"No," he said.
Then, as he continued to hold her eyes, her own gradually expanded
She raised herself on one arm.
"You mean that?" she asked.
He watched her critically. She would be interesting.
"You are going to cure me with drastic measures, since others
Her face contracted with hatred. She had been a rather clever
woman, and she
believed that he was going to experiment with her. But she had
also been a
strong-willed woman and used to command since babyhood.
"Give me that morphine," she said, imperiously. "If
you don't I'll be dead
He stood imperturbable. She sprang from the bed and flung herself
strong with anger and apprehension.
"Give it to me!" she screamed. "Give it to me!"
And she strove to bite him.
He caught her by the shoulder and held her at arm's-length. She
struggled and cursed. Her oaths might have been learned in the
kicked at him and strove to reach him with her nails, clawing
the air. She
looked like a witch on a broomstick.
"What an exquisite bride she was!" he thought. "And
what columns of rubbish have
been printed about her and her entertainments!"
The woman was shrieking and struggling.
"Give it to me! You brute! You fiend! I always hated you!
Give it to me! I am
dying! I am dying! Help! Help!" But the walls were padded,
and she knew it.
He permitted her to fling herself upon him, easily brushing aside
fingers and snapping teeth. He knew that her agony was frightful.
Her body was a
net-work of hungry nerves. The diseased pulp of her brain had
thought but one. She squirmed like an old autumn leaf about to
fall. Her ugly
face became tragic. The words shot from her dry contracted throat:
"Give me the
morphine! Give me the morphine!"
Suddenly realizing the immutability of the man in whose power
she was, she
sprang from him and ran frantically about the room, uttering harsh
cries. She pulled open the drawers of a chest, rummaging among
contents, gasping, quivering, bounding, as her tortured nerves
she had littered the floor with the contents of the chest she
screaming hopelessly. The doctor shuddered, but he thought of
the four innocent
people in her power and in his.
She fell in a heap on the floor, biting the carpet, striking
out her arms
aimlessly, tearing her nightgown into strips; then lay quivering,
speckled, uncanny thing, who should have been embalmed and placed
Venus of Milo.
She raised herself on her hands and crawled along the carpet,
casually at first,
as a man stricken in the desert may, half-consciously, continue
his search for
water. Then the doctor, intently watching her, saw an expression
of hope leap
into her bulging eyes. She scrambled past him towards the wash-stand.
could define her purpose, she had leaped upon a goblet inadvertently
and had broken it on the marble. He reached her just in time to
save her throat.
Then she looked up at him pitifully. "Give it to me!"
She pressed his knees to her breast. The red burned-out tear-ducts
tortured body stiffened and relaxed.
"Poor wretch!" he thought. "But what is the physical
agony of a night to the
mental anguish of a lifetime?"
"Once! once!" she gasped; "or kill me." Then,
as he stood implacable, "Kill me!
He picked her up, put a fresh night-gown on her, and laid her
on the bed. She
remained as he placed her, too weak to move, her eyes staring
at the ceiling
above the big four-posted bed.
He returned to his chair and looked at his watch. "She may
live two hours," he
thought. "Possibly three. It is only twelve. There is plenty
The room grew as still as the mountain-top whence he had that
day returned. He
attempted to read, but could not. The sense of supreme power filled
He was the gigantic factor in the fates of four.
Then Circumstance, the outwardly wayward, the ruthlessly sequential,
an ugly trick. His eyes, glancing idly about the room, were arrested
by a big
old-fashioned rocking-chair. There was something familiar about
it. Soon he
remembered that it resembled one in which his mother used to sit.
She had been
an invalid, and the most sinless and unworldly woman be had ever
recalled, with a touch of the old impatience, how she had irritated
aspiring, essentially modern mind with her cast-iron precepts
of right and
wrong. Her conscience flagellated her, and she had striven to
develop her son's
to the goodly proportion of her own. As he was naturally a truthful
boy, he resented her homilies mightily. "Conscience,"
he once broke out
impatiently, "has made more women bores, more men failures,
than any ten vices
in the rogues calendar."
She had looked in pale horror, and taken refuge in an axiom:
cowards of us all."
He moved his head with involuntary pride. The greatest achievement
civilization was the triumph of the intellect over inherited impressions.
normal man was conscientious by instinct, however he might outrage
little judge clinging tenaciously to his bench in the victim's
brain. It was
only when the brain grew big with knowledge and the will clasped
it with fingers
of steel that the little judge was throttled, then cast out.
Conscience. What was it like? The doctor had forgotten. He had
never committed a
murder nor a dishonorable act. Had the impulse of either been
in him, his
cleverness would have put it aside with a smile of scorn. He had
to thrust from his path whoever or whatever stood in his way,
and had stridden
on without a backward glance. His profession had involved many
would have made quick havoc of even the ordinary man's conscience.
Conscience. An awkward guest for an unsuspected murderer; for
whose heredity had not been conquered by brain. Fancy being pursued
spectre of the victim!
The woman on the bed gave a start and groan that recalled him
to the case in
hand. He rose and walked quickly to her side. Her eyes were closed,
her face was
black with congested blood. He laid his finger on her pulse. It
"It will not be long now," he thought.
He went toward his chair. He felt a sudden distaste for it, a
desire for motion.
He walked up and down the room rather more rapidly than before.
"If I were an ordinary man," he thought, "I suppose
that tortured creature on
the bed would haunt me to my death. Rot! A murderer I should be
called if the
facts were known, I suppose. Well, she is worse. Did I permit
her to live she
would make the living hell of four people."
The woman gave a sudden awful cry, the cry of a lost soul shot
into the night of
eternity. The stillness had been so absolute, the cry broke that
abruptly and so horridly, that the doctor, strong-brained, strong-nerved
was, gave a violent start, and the sweat started from his body.
"I am a fool," he exclaimed angrily, welcoming the
sound of his voice; "but I
wish to God it were day and there were noises outside."
He strode hurriedly up and down the room, casting furtive glances
at the bed.
The night was quiet again, but still that cry rang through it
and lashed his
brain. He recalled the theory that sound never dies. The waves
of space had
yielded this to him.
"Good God!" he thought. "Am I going to pieces?
If I let this wretch, this
criminal die, I save four people. If I let her live, I ruin their
life of a man of brain and pride and heart; the life of a woman
of beauty and
intellect and honor; the lives of two children of unknown potentialities,
whom the world has now a warm heart. 'The greatest good of the
number'--the principle that governs civil law. Has not even the
individual been sacrificed to it again and again? Does it not
hang the criminal
dangerous to the community? And is that called murder? What am
I at this moment
but law epitomized? Shall I hesitate? My God, am I hesitating?
that? A superfluous instinct transmitted by my ancestors and coddled
woman--is it that which has sprung from its grave, rattling its
'Conscience makes'--oh, shame that I should succumb when so much
stake--that I should hesitate when the welfare of four human beings
the balance! 'Conscience'--that in the moment of my supreme power
He returned to the woman. He reached his finger toward her pulse,
withdrew it and resumed his restless march.
"This is only a nightmare, born of the night and the horrible
To-morrow in the world of men it will be forgotten, and I shall
rejoice. . . .
But there will be recurring hours of stillness, of solitude. Will
repeat itself ? Will that thing on the bed haunt me? Will that
cry shriek in my
ears? Oh, shame on my selfishness! What am I thinking of? To let
degraded wretch exist, that I may live peaceably with my conscience?
To let four
others go to their ruin, that I may escape a few hours of torment?
I--I--should come to this! 'The greatest good of the greatest
greatest'... 'Conscience makes cowards of us all!'"
To his unutterable self-contempt and terror, he found his will
powerless to control the work of the generations that had preceded
him. His iron
jaw worked spasmodically, his gray eyes looked frozen. The marble
pallor of his
face was suffused with a tinge of green.
"I despise myself !" he exclaimed, with fierce emphasis.
"I loathe myself! I
will not yield! 'Conscience'--they shall be saved, and by me.
will maintain my intellectual supremacy--that, if nothing else.
She shall die!"
He halted abruptly. Perhaps she was already dead. Then he could
reach the door
in a bound and run downstairs and out of the house. To be followed
. . .
He ran to the bed. The woman still breathed faintly, her mouth
was twisted into
a sardonic and pertinent expression. His hand sought his pocket
forth a case. He opened it and stared at the hypodermic syringe.
fingers closed about it and moved toward the woman. Then, with
an effort so
violent he fancied he could hear his tense muscles creak, he straightened
himself and turned his back upon the bed. At the same moment he
instrument to the floor and set his heel upon it..