The Mystery of Evelin Delorme: A Hypnotic Story
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She did not take her eyes from the portrait; she had gone very close to it and as she turned upon him to reply there was a mingled look of terror and ferocity in her face.
"No, it is quite evident that you did not expect me, and that you were too much absorbed to remember or care when my sitting was due. And now you will please to answer my question. Who is that woman?"
What would he not have given, at that moment, to have had courage to say, "She is to be my wife;" but the magnificent fury of the woman before him, and the recollection of the shameful words of love he had spoken to her, overwhelmed him.
"She is a – a Miss Delorme, I believe; a sitter of mine," he managed to say at last.
"You believe! You lie! You know who she is, and you love her! You love that nun-faced baby! I heard your words. You believe – you" —
"Don't speak to me, you traitor! 'Your precious darling.' Oh, I could kill her! I will kill her!"
He could not understand this wild fury, that seemed to be half inspired by a sort of terror. She had turned to the portrait again and was examining it, oblivious, for the moment, to all else. Then suddenly she turned upon him again with blazing eyes.
"I will kill her!" she hissed. "I could kill her with that," and she pointed to the jeweled stiletto on the wall.
She was so magnificent in her rage that he could not help admiring her through it all. The love for him which had aroused this tempest was so fierce that he felt his savage blood beginning to throb with an answering glow. He felt that once more he was about to be a traitor to all that was good within him. The ground was slipping from under his feet. The glamour of her voluptuous beauty was ruling his brain like the fumes of liquor. His eyes, too, were beginning to shine fiercely, but not with anger.
"Evelin," he said, "listen. You know I love you and have from the first. She is nothing to me. The words that you overheard were addressed only to the picture. It is my masterpiece. I was not thinking of the original." And down in his heart the small voice was whispering, "Coward – traitor – fool!"
But the hot blood of passion was sweeping through his veins, and he heeded it not. He put out his hand and laid it upon her arm.
"Don't touch me!" she said, angrily, but the expression in her eyes softened. He saw his advantage and followed it up.
"Evelin," he said, huskily, "I love you – I love you!" Again he laid his hand upon her and this time she allowed it to remain. They were standing near the curtained arch of the adjoining room. He parted back the heavy draperies, and gently drew her within.
The savage blood was rioting fiercely within him. He caught both her hands in his and drew her to his embrace. She hid her face upon his shoulder, and would not let him touch her lips. Other than this she made no further resistance. Half dragging, and half carrying her he approached a large divan that stood in a little alcove on the opposite side of the room.Suddenly he took her bodily in his arms and they sank down upon it together. For a second, only; then, with a quick powerful effort she threw him backward and sprang to her feet, staring about her with a wild, startled look in her eyes.
Goetze, wholly at a loss to account for the suddenness and fierceness of the resistance, was for a moment stunned. As he recovered himself and made a movement toward her, she gave him one quick, piteous look – a look that recalled to him suddenly and strangely the beautiful, innocent girl whom he had wronged and forgotten – the face of Eva Delorme– then, as if seized with sudden panic she sped from the room, out through the dim studio and into the dusky hall-way beyond.
He heard the opening and closing of the outside door, and knew that she was gone. Then the tide of reaction swept over him. The glamour of conquest had passed, and there remained only the shame, the treachery and the remorse.
With a curse of anguish he flung himself down upon the floor, and lay groveling with his face in the dust. The moments flew by unheeded. An hour passed. The electric lamps were turned on, and a white ray of light shot in through the half-curtained window. The little clock on the mantel chimed the hour.
The sound roused him. Starting to his feet he gazed stupidly about him for a moment as if undecided what to do, then seizing his hat from the wall rack he hurried out through the studio and the dark hall-way without pausing to remove his working jacket, or to lock the door. Out into the street where people were hurrying home, chattering and laughing, and glancing only for a second at the figure in the velvet studio coat and broad hat, wondering a little at the dark, intense face that flashed so swiftly past them toward the glare and confusion of the business center.
He did not know where he was going. He did not care. He was trying to get away from himself. He walked faster and faster; twice he started to run.
He was drawing nearer to the bustle of the city. Small shops were scattered along between the rows of brick dwellings, and at one corner the light of a saloon flared out upon the pavement. Entering, he called for brandy. The bar-keeper stared at him and set out a bottle and a glass. Twice he filled it to the brim and drank it off with hardly a pause between. Then, throwing down a silver dollar, he hastened out without waiting for change.
The shops were getting thicker and larger. Dwelling-houses were fewer and more old fashioned. Here and there newsboys were crying the evening papers. Street-cars, filled with lights and faces, rolled swiftly by him and in front of him, jangling their bells. The buzz and whirl of the city was around him. He was drawing near to its great, throbbing heart.
Splendid shop windows threw a flood of light upon the pavement, making it like day. The shouts of the newsboys and street venders, the jangling of the car-bells, the rushing cabs and carriages, the hurrying crowds, the brilliant lights, the liquor in his brain, all whirled together and sent the blood racing through his arteries, tingling to the surface now and again in burning waves of misery and shame.
People paused for a moment to look at the strange figure, and hurried on. Everybody was hurrying – hurrying somewhere. He, too, was hurrying, as one pursued by furies; but where?
Suddenly, in front of an illuminated window, he paused; why, he did not know. There was nothing there to attract him. It was a place where they sold shoes. Numberless shoes were arranged for display, and in the midst of them a little white lamp-globe revolving by clock-work with two words painted on it in black letters:
He read the words over and over as the little globe came round, and round, and round. "Gentlemen's shoes – Gentlemen's shoes – Gentlemen's shoes." The thing fascinated him. It was such a funny little globe. It reminded him of a merry-go-round he had once ridden on as a child. He wondered how many times a day it spelled out the words, and if it kept on going, there in the dark, after the place was closed. Then he hurried on, but the little white globe and its black, flying letters were still before him. They had impressed their image upon his brain. More than once he repeated the words aloud. They seemed to have blended themselves into his whirling senses and become a monotonous undertone.
"Gentlemen's shoes – Gentlemen's shoes – Gentlemen's shoes."
Here and there he stopped at a saloon and drank. He drank deeply and the liquor was strong.
The lights were beginning to grow fewer. He had turned in his walk, and was leaving the whirl and glare behind him. He did not know what direction he had taken. He only knew that he was going, going, going, in a mad effort to get away from himself.
The people that passed him he did not see. He saw only the white face of Eva Delorme, and that piteous look in the eyes of the other, that had, in one instant, revived within him, and with ten-fold vigor, all the strange, torturing suspicions he had once felt regarding these two mysterious lives. The faces that turned to look at him, he did not notice; he saw only these two, and mingled with them, and whirling round, and round, and round, the little white globe with its black letters, "Gentlemen's shoes – Gentlemen's shoes – Gentlemen's shoes."
After a long time he noticed that he was passing a small suburban railway station. There was a bustle of preparation as though a train was expected to arrive. He crossed the shining steel tracks and entered. A number of people were inside, chattering, laughing and waiting. Waiting to go somewhere. Everybody was going somewhere – everybody but him. Suddenly a group in one corner attracted him as had the lighted window and the revolving globe.
A hatchet-faced woman, wearing a faded straw hat of antique pattern, a cloak to match, and a soiled and largely plaided dress, was vainly endeavoring to still the cries of a miserable babe swaddled in an assortment of dirty garments.
Two children, of ages evidently beginning at prompt and regular intervals from the one in her arms, extended from her at right-angles on the bench, their legs straddled about with a childish disregard of modesty. They were asleep – at least one of them was, and the other was equally silent.
By and by, the woman arose and walked the floor with the babe. At this, the child who was not asleep arose also and stared at its mother with wide, round eyes. Then, as she approached it and turned in her march, it began to follow her, keeping close behind and in step.
The other slept on unconsciously. The lamps flared and flickered; the babe, partially soothed, sobbed and moaned, and the squalid pair marched on.
Begotten in bliss – brought forth in suffering – retired in privation.
Suddenly there is a prolonged, shrill shriek in the night, a trampling of many feet, a shouting of discordant voices, and the midnight train is snorting at the platform.
Hastily the mother gathers up the sleeping child, and bidding the other cling close to her skirts, hurries out into the night, past the fiery-eyed Polyphemus, on toward the coaches behind.
The people that are going somewhere jostle against her in their haste to get into the coaches and secure seats. Mechanically the artist follows. Everybody is going somewhere; he will go, too.
The monster ahead begins to puff and grunt, and the bell that is fastened to its back, to ring wildly.
The men who are loading baggage shout and swear and hurl coarse jokes at each other, and the midnight train begins to move. The bell still clangs frantically, the demon puffs and grunts faster and faster, and the light from its one fearful eye penetrates farther and farther into the darkness ahead.
Faster, and faster, and faster – the sound of the wheels falling into a regular measure, until it has become a weird, rhythmical monotone.
"Gentlemen's shoes – Gentlemen's shoes – Gentlemen's shoes."
Then there is a momentary flare of light, a final, blood-curdling scream, and the one-eyed demon – the faded and soiled woman – the sobbing baby – the sleeping child – the marching child with the big, round eyes – the people who are going somewhere, and the artist who is going nowhere, are on their way.
He has taken a seat facing the faded woman, and is unconsciously studying her face. She is still hushing the babe to rest. On one side the sleeper is huddled up against her. On the other, next to the window and resting upon its knees, the child with the big, round eyes stares out into the darkness.
The coach is warm. The heat and the strong liquor are beginning to tell on him. The face before him begins to mingle with all sorts of impossible fancies. The roar of the flying train is in his ears, but it seems the roar of some mighty sea that is about to overwhelm him. The conductor, coming through, shakes his arm to rouse him.
"Oh, yes!" – he forgot. He thrusts a bill into the conductor's hand. "Keep the change, I will ride it out."
The drowsiness is again stealing upon him. He still sees the wretched face before him and is studying it; but always between them are those other faces – the face of Eva Delorme and of Evelin March – and the piteous, frightened look that rests now upon one, now upon the other, – and now the two are melting – melting into one, like the blending outlines of a dissolving view – and both fade out into the little white globe with its whirling black words, that the hum of the train flying through the night keeps repeating over, and over, and over, – "Gentlemen's shoes – Gentlemen's shoes – Gentlemen's shoes."
The sky was beginning to get gray with morning when the night express, more than a hundred and fifty miles from its starting point, rushed into a little station and halted a moment for water, panting and fretting to be on its way. A figure stepped from it to the platform, staggering a little as from the motion of the train. It was a young man. His eyes were bloodshot, his face stained with the grime of travel. His soft felt hat and his short, velvet coat were covered with cinders and dust. One would hardly have recognized the artist, Julian Goetze.
The station agent stood a few feet away with a lantern. He looked up somewhat astonished as this odd figure approached him. "Some drunken showman," he thought.
The man came closer, as if to speak to him.
"How far back to Saint Louis?" he asked, anxiously.
"One hundred and fifty-three miles."
"When can I get a train?"
"At eleven-thirty, if it's on time."
"Is it usually on time?"
"Hardly ever; four hours late yesterday."
"Good God! Is there no other train?"
"There's a cattle train lying up there on the switch now. Pulls out soon as this one leaves."
"And what time will that reach Saint Louis?"
"No telling, depends upon what luck it has; possibly by four or five o'clock."
The artist did not wait to hear more. Anything was better than remaining here on an uncertainty. He sped away up the track to where lay the long line of waiting cars.
He had been awakened by the stopping of the train, and a realization of affairs had flashed over him like lightning. He was far away from Saint Louis, and at six o'clock that night he had an appointment with Eva Delorme.
The effects of his self-abasement and the strong liquor had worn away. The fever and the delirium of last night were as a bad dream. He would hasten back to Eva. He had sinned – fallen almost to the lowest depth – but it was over now. He would see Evelin March no more. If Eva accepted him they would go away at once. Oh, if kind Providence would but help him to reach the appointment in time!
The conductor whom he asked, noting his anxiety, assured him that it was quite probable they would reach the city by five o'clock.
It was growing light rather slowly. The sky was overcast with clouds, and the air had the feeling of a storm. It seemed to Julian that the train crept along like a farm wagon. For a long time he looked out at the gray monotonous landscape, then he lay down on the cushioned benches of the caboose and tried to sleep. Now and then he would doze a little, but his mind was too full of anxiety and impatience to obtain rest. Terrifying dreams forced themselves upon him, and he awoke often, sick and frightened.
And so through that dreary autumn day the heavy train rumbled along across the wide stretch of country that divided him from that which fate was at that moment busily preparing – an experience as strange, as weird, as terribly fantastic as was ever accorded to human being before.
The little Swiss cottage of Julian Goetze was very silent that day. All through the forenoon no one entered, although the street door was unlocked and the studio door was open. As the afternoon wore away, the clouds and smoke that hung heavily over the city seemed to settle lower and lower, until within the narrow hall-way it was almost dark.
Just after the clock on the mantel of the inner room had chimed three, a cloaked figure passed through the hall and entered the studio. It was Evelin March. Her eye fell upon the portrait of Eva Delorme still resting upon the easel, and she glanced about hastily for the artist. He was not there. For some reason she did not remove her wrap, but stood still, listening. A wagon rattled by outside, but within all was silent.
"Paul!" she called, softly.
There was no reply.
"He has stepped out for a moment," she thought; "he will be back presently."
She approached the face on the easel, cautiously, as though it were alive.
"I wonder who she is," she muttered; "I have seen her somewhere before – or I have dreamed it. He said it was his masterpiece. I hate her!"
She seated herself before the picture, studying it silently. Little by little a fear invaded her bosom – a strange fear, such as she had never known before. A fear of this portrait, of the lonely room, of the weapons upon the wall. It seemed to her that something horrible was about to happen.
She started up and began to pace up and down the room to drive away this feeling. Why did the artist not come? She parted back the draperies and looked into the room beyond. He could not have gone far; his coat was hanging upon the rack, and his velvet studio jacket was gone. Entering, she approached the coat and put her hand against it in a sort of caress.
How she loved him! She seemed to have forgotten or forgiven the offered insult of yesterday. Turning back the garment she touched her lips to the silk lining where it had covered his heart. As she did so she noticed the tinted edge of a narrow envelope in the inner pocket. In an instant she was seized with a passion of curiosity. All her jealousy and suspicions of the sweet-faced girl in gray came rushing back. She listened at the curtained arch for a moment, but there was no sound of approaching footsteps; then, her eyes flashing, and her cheeks flaming guiltily, she snatched the delicate missive from its concealment, and with trembling hands tore it from its covering. In another instant her suspicions were verified. The woman reading seemed suddenly to have become deranged.
"Coward! – liar! – cur!" she screamed.
She tore the letter in halves, crumpled it in her hands, and flung it upon the floor. Then suddenly becoming calm she gathered up the pieces hastily and concealed them in her bosom. A look of peculiar cunning had come into her eyes.
"So he is going to meet her," she muttered, savagely; "but they will not meet alone. I, too, will go to No. 74 West L – Street, east side." Then she hesitated. "Perhaps I would not be admitted," she thought.
Plans for overcoming this obstacle flashed through her brain like lightning. She seized upon what appeared to her the most feasible.
"If I will counterfeit her," she said, feverishly; "I will disguise myself."
She hurried back into the studio and stood for a moment before the easel. Yes, yes; she could do it. Her figure was much the same, dress gray and plain, hair low upon the forehead – a veil would make it complete.
"Oh," she muttered, "how I hate your baby face! Look! I will kill you, you fool – you fool!"
Again that sickening, fascinating terror of this unknown woman came upon her. Hastily turning from the portrait she listened a second for the artist's step. As she did so her eye caught the weapons on the wall. Without a moment's hesitation she plucked the jewel-hilted stiletto from its place, and concealing it beneath her cloak hurried from the house.
An hour later the artist burst into the studio. His bloodshot eyes, and face blackened with travel, made him almost unrecognizable. Hurrying through to his room beyond he glanced eagerly at the clock. It was on the stroke of five.
"Just time to make myself presentable and reach the place by six," he thought.
Then, turning, he surveyed himself in a mirror.
"Good heavens, what a spectacle I am! People must have thought I was a maniac – and they were not far from wrong – but I am all right now. I am going to Eva and confess my villainy, and ask her forgiveness. I will swear my faith to her. She will forgive me – she must forgive me. And as for Evelin, all is over with her after what passed last night. Last night! was it only last night? It seemed an age."
He made a quick motion as if to drive away an unpleasant memory, then throwing off his outer garments he opened the door of a little dressing-room.
"I will bathe, and confess, and be born again," he said, with a little laugh.
Twenty minutes afterward he emerged a new man in reality – as far as outward appearances were concerned. Cleanly shaven and scrupulously attired, no one would have recognized in him the dusty, wild-looking figure of an hour before. He glanced at the clock.
"Yes – I have plenty of time," he thought. "No. 74 West L – Street, east side; I will look at her letter again to make sure. Bless her sweet face! I can hardly wait until I see it again. If she only is not ill, but – good God, it is gone!"
He had looked in the breast pocket of his street coat, that still hung on the rack; it was empty. He stood holding the coat, with a puzzled expression on his face, trying to think.
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