Edgar Saltus.

Mr. Incoul's Misadventure





He left the window. The candles had burned down; he found fresh ones and lighted them. As he did so, he caught sight of himself in the glass. His eyes were haggard and rimmed with circles. It was owing to the position of the candles, he thought, and he raised them above his head and looked again. There was something on his forehead just above the temple, and he put the candles down to brush that something away. He looked again, it was still there. He peered into the glass and touched it with his hand. It was nothing, he found, merely a lock of hair that had turned from black to white.

He poured out more absinthe, and put the bottle down empty. Before drinking it he undid the package which he had bought from the chemist. First he took from it a box about three inches long. In it was a toy syringe, and with it two little instruments. One of these he adjusted in the projecting tube, and with his finger felt carefully of the point. It was sharp as a needle, and beneath the point was an orifice like a sharks mouth, in miniature.

Then he took from the package a phial that held a brown liquid, in which he detected a shade like to that of gold. The odor was dull and heavy. He put the phial down and stood for a moment irresolute. He had looked into the past and now he looked into the future. But in its Arcadias he saw nothing, save his own image suspended from a gibbet. He looked again almost wistfully; no, there was nothing. He threw off his coat and rolled up his sleeve. From the phial he filled the syringe, and with the point pricked the bare arm and sent the liquid spurting into the flesh. Three times he did this. He reached for the absinthe and left it untasted.

Into his veins had come an unknown, a delicious languor. He sank into a chair. The walls of the room dissolved into cataracts of light and dazzling steel. The flooring changed to running crimson, and from that to black, and back to red again. From the ceiling came flood after flood of fused, intermingled and oscillating colors. His eyes closed. The light became more intense, and burned luminous through the lids. In his ears filtered a harmony, faint as did it come from afar, and singular as were it won from some new consonance of citherns and clavichords, and suddenly it rose into tumultuous vibrations, striated with series of ascending scales. Then as suddenly ceased, drowned in claps of thunder.

The lights turned purple and glowed less vividly, as though veils were being lowered between him and them. But still the languor continued, sweeter ever and more enveloping, till from very sweetness it was almost pain.

The room grew darker, the colors waned, the lights behind the falling veils sank dim, and dimmer, fading, one by one; a single spark lingered, it wavered a moment, and vanished into night.

CHAPTER XVII.
MAIDAS NUPTIALS

For some time after Lenox had gone there was much excitement at the Capucines. But gradually the excitement wore itself out, as excitement always does.

Baccarat for that night, at least, had lost its allurement. The habitu?s dispersed, some to other clubs, some to their homes, and soon the great rooms were deserted by all, save one deaf man, who, undisturbed by the commotion, had given himself up to the task of memorizing Sarceys feuilleton.

Among the earliest to leave was Mr. Incoul. Come, he said to Blydenburg, you have seen enough for one evening, and Blydenburg got into his coat and followed his companion to the street. They walked some distance before either of them spoke, but when they reached the hotel at which Blydenburg was stopping, that gentleman halted at an adjacent lamp-post.

I must say, Incoul, he began, and I hope you will take it very kindly I must say that I think you might have left that matter for some one else to discover. Why, hang it all! Leigh is a friend of your wifes; you know all his people; to you the money was nothing. Really, Incoul, damn me if I dont think it hard-hearted. I dont care that for what those frog-eaters say; the cards you said were marked, dont weigh with me in the least; no, not an atom; it is my opinion that the young man was just as innocent as a child unborn. No, sir, you cant make me believe that he that he I hate to say the word that he cheated. Why, man alive! I had my eyes on him the whole time. A better-looking fellow never breathed, and he just chucked out the cards one after another without so much as looking at them; it seemed to me that he didnt care a rap whether he won or lost. I put down a louis or two myself, and he never noticed it; he left the whole thing to the croupier, and now that I come to think of it

Yes, I know, Mr. Incoul interrupted. I am sorry myself.

Well then Ill be shot if you look so. Good night to you, and with that Blydenburg stamped up to the hotel, rang the bell, and slammed the door behind him.

Mr. Incoul walked on. The annoyance of his friend affected him like a tonic; he continued his way refreshed. Presently he reached a cab stand. The clock marked 11.50. He had other duties, and he let himself into an Urbaine and told the man to drive to the Parc Monceau. On arriving he tossed a coin to the cabby and entered the house.

In the vestibule a footman started from a nap. Mr. Incoul went up to the floor above and waited, the door ajar. For a little space he heard the man moving about, whispering to a fellow footman. But soon the whispering ceased. Evidently the men had gone. Assured of this, he opened a drawer and took from it a steel instrument, one that in certain respects resembled a key; the haft, however, was unusually large, the end was not blunt but hollow, yet fashioned like a pincer, and the projecting tongue which, in the case of an ordinary key serves to lock and unlock, was absent. This he put in his pocket. He went out in the hall and listened again. The house was very quiet. He made sure that the footmen had really gone, and walking on tip-toe to his wifes door, rapped ever so noiselessly.

Is it you, Harmon? he heard her ask. Had he wished he had no time to answer. A key turned in the lock, the door was opened, and before him Maida stood, smiling a silent welcome to his first visit to her room.

As he entered and closed the door her lips parted; she would have spoken, but something in his face repelled her; the smile fell from her face and the words remained unuttered.

He stood a moment rubbing his hands frigidly, as were he cold, yet the room was not chilly. There was no fire in the grate, but two gas fixtures gave out sufficient heat to warm it unassisted. Then presently he looked at her. She had thrown herself on a lounge near the hearth, and was certainly most fair to see. Her white gown had been replaced by one of looser cut; her neck and arms were no longer bare, but one foot shod in fur that the folds of the skirt left visible was stockingless and the wonder of her hair was unconfined.

He found a chair and seated himself before her. Madam, he said at last, I am here at your request.

The girl started as were she stung.

You were obliging enough this evening to inform me that we had come into our own. What is it? His eyebrows were raised and about his thin lips was just the faintest expression of contempt. What is it into which we have come?

Maida grew whiter than the whitest ermine; she moved her hand as would she answer, but he motioned her to be silent.

I will tell you, he continued in his measured way, and you will pardon me if the telling is long. Before it was my privilege to make your acquaintance I was not, as you know, a bachelor; my wife and he accentuated the possessive pronoun as had he had but one was to me very dear. When I lost her, I thought at first there was nothing left me, but with time I grew to believe that life might still be livable. It is easy for you to understand that in my misfortune I was not dogmatic. I knew that no one is perfect, and I felt that if my wife had seemed perfection to me it was because we understood and loved one another. Then, too, as years passed I found my solitude very tedious. I was, it is true, no longer young, but I was not what the world has agreed to call old; and I thought that among the gracious women whom I knew it might be possible for me to find one who would consent to dispel the solitude, and who might perhaps be able to bring me some semblance of my former happiness. It was under these conditions that I met you. You remember what followed. I saw that you were beautiful, more so, indeed, than my wife, and I imagined that you were honest and self-respecting in fact, a girl destined to become a noble woman. It was then that I ventured to address you. You told me of your poverty; I begged you to share the money which was mine; you told me that you did not love me. I answered that I would wait. I was glad to share the money with you. I was willing to wait. I knew that you would adorn riches; I believed that I could win your love, and I felt that the winning would be pleasant. I even admired you for the agreement which you suggested. I thought it could not come from any one not wholly refined and mistress of herself. In short, believing in your frankness, I offered you what I had to give. In return what did I ask? The opportunity to be with you, the opportunity of winning your affection and therewith a little trust, a little confidence and the proper keeping of my name. Surely I was not extravagant in my demands. And you, for all your frankness, omitted to tell me the one thing essential: you omitted to tell me

Do not say it, the girl wailed; do not say it. The tears were falling, her form was rocked with sobs. She was piteous before him who knew not what pity was.

He had risen and she crouched as though she feared he had risen to strike her.

Of your lover whom I caught to-night cheating at cards.

He had struck her indeed. She looked up through her tears astonished at the novelty of the blow, and yet still she did not seem to understand. She stared at him vacantly as though uncertain of the import of his words.

Of your lover, he repeated; the blackleg.

She rose from her seat. She was trembling from head to foot. To support herself she stretched a hand to the mantel and clutching it, she steadied herself. Then, still looking him in the face, she said huskily, You tell me Lenox Leigh cheated at cards? It is not true!

He is your lover, then! hissed Incoul, and into his green, dilated eyes there came a look of such hideous hate that the girl shrank back.

In her fear she held out her arms as though to shield herself from him, and screamed aloud. You are going to kill me! she cried.

Be quiet, he answered, you will wake the house.

But the order was needless. The girl fell backwards on the lounge. He stood and looked at her without moving. Presently she moaned; her eyes opened and her sobs broke out afresh. And still he gazed as though in the enjoyment of a hope fulfilled.

Now get to your bed, he said, at last.

His eyes searched the room. On a table was a pink box labeled bromide of potassium, and filled with powders wrapped in tin foil. He opened and smelled of one and then opened another and poured the contents of both into a glass which he half filled with water.

Drink it, he said.

She obeyed dumbly. The tears fell into the glass as she drank. But in a little while her sobs came only intermittently. I will sleep now, she murmured, helplessly. I think I will sleep now. Yet still he waited. Her head had fallen far back on the sofa, her hair drooped about her shoulders, her lips were gray.

He took her in his arms and carried her to the bed. One of her furred slippers dropped on the way, the other he took from her. The foot it held hardly filled his palm. He loosened her gown. He would have taken it off but he feared to awake her. Was she really asleep, he wondered. He peered down at her eyelids but they did not move. Surely she slept. A door that led to a dressing-room was open. He closed it. The chair in which he had sat he restored to its original position. Then he turned out the gas. On each of the fixtures his fingers rested the fraction of a minute longer than was necessary. He groped to the door, opened it noiselessly and listened. There was no sound. The house was still as a tomb. He closed the door behind him and drawing the nameless instrument from his pocket he inserted it carefully in the keyhole, gave it a quick turn and went to his room.

CHAPTER XVIII.
MR. INCOUL GOES OVER THE ACCOUNTS

There is a saying to the effect that any one who walks long enough in front of the Grand H?tel will, in the course of time, encounter all his acquaintances, past, present and to be. On the second day after the dinner in the Parc Monceau, Mr. Blydenburg crossed the boulevard. It was an unpleasant afternoon of the kind which is frequent in the early winter: the air was damp and penetrating, and the sky presented that unrelieved and cheerless pallor of which Paris is believed to be the unique possessor. Mr. Blydenburgs spirits were affected; he was ill at ease and inclined to attribute his depression to the rawness of the air and the blanched sky above him. He was to leave Paris on the morrow, and he felt that he would be glad to shake its mud from his feet. He was then on the way to his bankers to close an account, and as he trudged along, with an umbrella under his arm and his trousers turned up, in spite of the prospect of departure he was not in a contented or satisfied frame of mind.

For many hours previous he had cross-questioned himself in regard to Incoul. He knew that in speaking out his mind he had done right, yet he could not help perceiving that right-doing and outspokenness are not always synonymous with the best breeding. Truth certainly is attractive, particularly to him who tells it, but one has to be hospitably inclined to receive it at all times as a welcome guest. Beside, he told himself, Incoul was a man to whom remonstrance was irksome, he chafed at it no matter what its supporting truths might be. Perhaps then it would have been better had he held his tongue. Incoul was his oldest friend, he could not afford to lose him; at his time of life the making of new ones was difficult. And yet did he seek him in a conciliatory mood it would be tantamount to acknowledging that Incoul had been in the right, and the more he thought the matter over the more convinced he became that Incoul was in the wrong. Leigh, he could have sworn, was innocent. The charge that had been brought against him was enough to make a mad dog blush. It was preposterous on the face of it. Then, too, the young man had been given no opportunity to defend himself. The honest-hearted gentleman did not make it plain to his own mind how Leigh could have defended himself even had the opportunity been offered, but he waived objections; his faith was firm. He was enough of a logician to understand that circumstantial evidence, however strong, is not unrebuttable proof, and he assured himself, unless the young man confessed his guilt, that he at least would never believe it.

He was not, therefore, in a contented or satisfied frame of mind; he was irresolute how to act to Incoul; he did not wish to lose an old friend and he was physically unable to be unjust to a new one. After crossing the boulevard he passed the Grand H?tel and just as he left the wide portals behind him he saw Mr. Wainwaring with whom two days before he had dined in the Parc Monceau. He bowed and would have continued his way, but Mr. Wainwaring stopped him.

You have heard, have you not? he asked excitedly, you have heard about Mrs. Incoul?

Heard what?

It appears that on going to bed on Sunday night she turned the gas on instead of turning it off. They smelled the gas in the hall and tried to get into the room, but the door was locked; finally they broke it down. They found her unconscious though still breathing; they worked over her for five hours, but it was no use.

Blydenburg grounded his umbrella on the pavement for support. Good God! he muttered. Good God!

Yes, Mr. Wainwaring continued, it is terrible! A sweeter girl never lived. My daughter knew her intimately; she went there this morning to see her and learned of it at the door. I have just been up there myself. I thought Incoul might see me, but he couldnt. Utterly prostrated I suppose. I can understand that. We all know how devoted he was. He will never get over it never.

Blydenburg still held to his umbrella for support.

I must go there, he said.

Yes, go by all means; he will see you, of course. Poor Incoul! I am heartily sorry for him. After all, wealth is not happiness, is it?

At this platitude Blydenburg would have gone, but Mr. Wainwaring had more news to impart. You know about young Leigh, Mrs. Manhattans brother, dont you? he continued.

Blydenburg looked down at his umbrella in a weary way.

Yes, I was there, he answered, but I dont believe it.

Oh, you mean that affair at the club. Well, it appears that it is true. From what I make out of the papers, he went to his hotel afterwards, and took a dose of morphine. It was his only way out of it. I couldnt bear him, could you?

Blydenburg nodded vacantly. He must have been guilty.

As to that there is no doubt. De la D?che says it is a wonder he was not caught before. Well, good day; tell Incoul how profoundly grieved we all are. Good day.

Presently Blydenburg found himself in a cab. He was a trifle dazed at what he had heard. He was not brilliant; he was very tiresome at times, the sort of a man that likes big words and small dictionaries, yet somehow he was lovable and more human than many far cleverer than he. To his own misfortune he had a heart, and in disasters like these it bled. He would have crossed the Continent to bring a moments pleasure to the girl that had been asphyxiated in her bed, and he would have given his daughter to the man who had been choked down to the grave. Then, too, as nearly as he could see, he had wronged Incoul and Incoul was in great grief. As the Urbaine rolled on, his thoughts did not grow nimbler. In his head was a full, aching sensation; he felt benumbed, and raised the collar of his coat. Soon the cab stopped before the house in the Parc Monceau. He had no little set speech prepared; he wanted merely to take his friend by the hand and let him feel his sympathy unspoken, but when the footman came in answer to his ring, he was told that Mr. Incoul could see no one. He went back to his cab. It had begun to rain, but he did not notice it, and left the window open.

As the cab rolled down the street again, Mr. Incoul, who had been occupied with the morning paper, sent for the courier.

Karl, he said, when the man appeared, I will go over your accounts.

THE END

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