Read CHAPTER XII. of The Pace That Kills A Chronicle , free online book, by Edgar Saltus, on ReadCentral.com.

“We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.  The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away:  blessed be the name of the Lord.”

To this, Mistrial, garbed in black, responded discreetly, “Amen.”

He was standing opposite the bier.  At his side was Justine.  Before him Dr. Gonfallon, rector of the Church of Gethsemane, ­of which the deceased had been warden, ­was conducting the funeral rites.  To the left was Thorold.  Throughout the length and breadth of the drawing-room other people stood ­a sprinkling of remote connections, former constituents, members of the bar and of the church, a few politicians; these, together with a handful of the helpless to whom the dead statesman had been trustee, counsellor too, and guide, had assembled there in honor of his memory.  At the door, sharpening a pencil, was a representative of the Associated Press.

For the past few days obituaries of the Hon. Paul Dunellen varied from six inches to a column in length.  One journal alone had been circumspect.  No mention of the deceased had appeared in its issues.  But in politics that journal had differed with him ­a fact which accounted sufficiently for its silence.  In the others, however, through biographies more or less exact, fitting tributes had been paid.  The World gave his picture.

Yet now, as Dr. Gonfallon, in words well calculated to impress, dwelt on the virtues of him that had gone, the tributes of the newspapers seemed perfunctory and trite.  Decorously, as was his custom, he began with a platitude.  Death, that is terrible to the sinner, radiant to the Christian, imposing to all, was here, he declared, but the dusk of a beautiful day which in departing disclosed cohorts of the Eternal beckoning from their glorious realm.  Yet soon he warmed to his work, and eulogies of the deceased fell from him in sonorous periods, round and empty.  He spoke of the nobility of his character, the loyalty he displayed, not to friends alone, but to foes as well.  He spoke of that integrity in every walk of life which had won for him the title of Honest Paul ­a title an emperor might crave and get not.  He spoke too of the wealth he had acquired, and drew a moral from the unostentatiousness of his charities, the simplicity of his ways.  He dwelt at length on the fact that, however multiple the duties of his station had been, his duty to his Maker was ever first.  Then, after a momentary digression, in which he stated how great was the loss of such as he, he alluded to the daughter he had left, to that daughter’s husband, sorely afflicted himself, yet, with a manliness worthy of his historic name, comforting the orphan who needed all his comfort now; and immediately from these things he lured another moral ­an appeal to fortitude and courage; and winding up with the customary exordium, asked of Death where was its sting.

Where was it indeed?  A day or two later Mistrial found time to think of that question and of other matters as well.  It was then six weeks since the birth of the child, and Justine, fairer than ever before, was ministering to it in the adjacent room.  Now and again he caught the shrill vociferation of its vague complaints.  It was a feeble infant, lacking in vitality, distressingly hideous; but it lived, and though it died the next minute, its life had sufficed.

Already the will had been read ­a terse document, and to the point; precisely such an one as you would have expected a jurist to make.  By it the testator devised his property, real and personal, of whatever nature, kind, and description he died seized, to his former partners in trust for the eldest child of his daughter Justine, to its heirs, executors, and assigns forever.  In the event of his daughter’s demise without issue, then over, to Guy Thorold, M.D.

No, the sting concerning which Dr. Gonfallon had inquired was to Mistrial undiscerned.  There was indeed a prick of it in the knowledge that if the old man had lasted much longer it might have been tough work to settle the bills; but that was gone now:  Honest Paul paid all his debts, and he had not shirked at Nature’s due.  He was safely and securely dead, six feet under ground at that, and his millions were absolute in his grandson.  Yes, absolute.  At the thought of it Mistrial laughed.  The goal to which for years he had striven was touched and exceeded.  He had thrown the vitriol, the opopanax was his.

We all of us pretend to forgive, to overlook, to condone, we pretend even to sympathize with, our enemy.  Nay, in refraining from an act that could injure him who has injured us, we are quite apt to consider ourselves the superior of our foe, and not a little inclined to rise to the heights of self-laudatory quotation too.  It is an antique virtue, that of forbearance; it is Biblical, nobly Arthurian, and chivalresque.  But when we smile at an injury, it is for policy’s sake ­because we fear, rarely because we truly forgive, more rarely yet because of indifference.  Our magnanimity is cowardice.  It takes a brave man to wreak a brave revenge.

Mistrial made few pretensions to the virtues which you and I possess.  He was relentless as a Sioux, and he was treacherous as the savage is; he had no taste for fair and open fight.  However his blood had boiled at the tableau of imaginary wrongs, however fitting the opportunity might have been on the afternoon when he met his enemy at the city’s fringe, he had the desire but not the courage to annihilate him there.  But later, when the possibility which he had intercepted came, he feted, he coaxed it; and now that the hour of triumph had rung, his heart was glad.  In the disordered closets of his brain he saw Thorold ravening at the trap into which he had fallen, and into which, in falling, he had lost the wherewithal to call the world his own.  Ten million in exchange for an embrace!  Verily, mused Mistrial, he will account it exceeding dear.  And at the thought of what Thorold’s frenzy must be, at the picture which he drew of him cursing his own imprudence and telling himself again and again, until the repetition turned into mania, that that imprudence could never be undone, he exulted and laughed aloud.

Money, said Vespasian, has no odor.  To our acuter nostrils it has:  so nauseating even can it be, that we would rather be flung in the Potter’s-field than catch the faintest whiff.  But Mistrial, for all the sensitiveness that ancestry is supposed to bring, must have agreed with the Roman.  To him it was the woof of every hope; whatever its provenance, it was an Open Sesame to the paradise of the ideal.  He would have drawn it with his teeth from a dung-heap, only he would have done it at night.

There are men that can steal a fortune, yet can never cheat at cards, and Mistrial was one of their race; he could not openly dishonor himself in petty ways.  Many a scoundrel has a pride of his own.  It is both easy and difficult to compare a bandit to a sneak-thief, Napoleon to Cartouche.  Mistrial had nothing of the Napoleon about him, and he was lacking even in the strength which Cartouche possessed.  But among carpet highwaymen commend me to his peer.

And now, as he thought of the will, Gonfallon’s query recurred to him, and he asked himself where was that sting?  Not in the present, surely ­for that from a bitterness had changed to a delight; and as for the future, each instant of it was sentient with invocations, fulfilled to the tips with the surprises of dream.  The day he had claimed but a share in; the morrow was wholly his.  He could have a dwelling in Mayfair and a marble palace on the Mediterranean Sea.  For a scrap of paper he would never miss there was a haunt of ghosts dozing on the Grand Canal.  In spring, when Paris is at her headiest, there, near that Triumphal Arch which overlooks the Elysian Fields, stood, entre cour et jardin, an hotel which he already viewed as his own.  And when he wearied of the Old World, there was the larger and fuller life of the New.  There was Peru, there was Mexico and Ecuador; and in those Italys of the Occident were girls whose lips said, Drink me; whose eyes were of chrysoberyl and of jade. Ah, oui, les femmes; tant que lé monde tournera il n’y aura que ca. With blithe anticipation he hummed the air and snapped his fingers as Capoul was wont to do.  At last he saw himself the Roland Mistrial that should have been, prodigal of gold, sultanesque of manner, feted, courted, welcomed, past-master in the lore and art of love.

There were worlds still to be conquered; and before his hair grizzled and the furrows came he felt conscious of the possession of a charm that should make those worlds his own.  He had waited indeed; he had toiled and manoeuvred; but now the great clock we call Opportunity had struck.  Let him but ask, and it would be given.  Wishes were spaniels; he had but a finger to raise, and they fawned at his feet.  And then, as those vistas of which we have all caught a glimpse rose in melting splendor and swooned again through sheer excesses of their own delights, suddenly he bethought him of the multiples of one and of two.

Heretofore he had taken it for granted that if Dunellen left the estate to his grandchild the income accruing therefrom would, until the grandchild came of age, pass through his own paternal hands.  And in taking this for granted he had recalled the fable that deals not of the prodigal son, but rather of the prodigal father.  That income should spin.  By a simple mathematical process than with which no one was more familiar, he calculated that, at five per cent, ten million would represent a rent-roll of five hundred thousand per annum.  Of that amount a fraction would suffice to Justine and to her son.  The rest ­well, the rest he knew of what uses he could put it to.

But now, suddenly, with that abruptness with which disaster looms, there came to him a doubt.  He rememorated the provisions of the will, and in them he discerned unprompted some tenet of law or of custom which, during the legal infancy of the child, might inhibit the trustees from paying over any larger amount than was needful for its maintenance and support.  Then at once the fabric of his dreams dissolved.  The vitriol had corroded, but the savor of the opopanax had gone.  For a little while he tormented his mustache and nibbled feverishly at a finger-nail.  To see one’s self the dupe of one’s own devices is never a pleasant sight.  Again he interrogated what smattering of law he possessed; but the closer he looked, the clearer it seemed to be that in its entirety the income of the estate could not pass through his hands.  From five hundred thousand the trustees might in their judgment diminish it to some such pocket-money as ten; they could even reduce it to five; and, barring an action, he might be unable to persuade them that the sum was absurd.  The idea, nude and revolting as Truth ever is, raised him to an unaccustomed height of rage; he would not be balked, he declared to himself; he would have that money or ­

Or what?  The contingency which he then interviewed, one which issued unsummoned from some cavern in his mind, little by little assumed a definite shape.  He needed no knowledge of the law to tell him that he was that brat’s heir.  Did it die at that very moment the estate became absolute in him.  There would be no trustees then to dole the income out.  The ten millions would be his own.  As for the trustees, they could deduct their commission and retire with it to New Jersey ­to hell if it pleased them more.  But the estate would be his.  That there was no gainsaying.  Meanwhile, there was the brat.  He was a feeble child; yet such, Mistrial understood, had Methusaleh been.  He might live forever, or die on the morrow.  And why not that night?

As this query came to him, he eyed its advance.  It was yet some distance away, but as it approached he considered it from every side.  And of sides, parenthetically, it had many.  And still it advanced:  when it started, its movements were so slow they had been hardly perceptible; nevertheless it had made some progress; then surer on its feet it tried to run; it succeeded in the effort; at each step it grew sturdier, swifter in speed; and now that it reached him it was with such a rush that he was overpowered by its force.

He rose from his seat.  For a moment he hesitated.  To his forehead and about his ears a moisture had come.  He drew out a handkerchief; it was of silk, he noticed ­one that he brought from France.  Absently he drew it across his face; its texture had detained his thought.  Then on tip-toe he moved out into the corridor and peered into the room at the end of the hall.

It was dimly lighted, but soon he accustomed himself to the shadows and fumbled them with his eyes.  On the bed Justine lay; sleep had overtaken her; her head was aslant on the pillow, her lips half closed; the fingers of one hand cushioned her neck; the other hand, outstretched, rested on the edge of a cradle.  She had been rocking it, perhaps.  From the floor above sank the sauntering tremolo of a flute, very sweet in the distance, muffled by the ceiling and wholly subdued.  In the street a dray was passing, belated and clamorous on the cobblestones.  But now, as Mistrial ventured in, these things must have lulled Justine into yet deeper sleep; her breath came and went with the semibreves a leaf uses when it whispers to the night; and as he moved nearer and bent over her the whiteness of her breast rose and fell in unison with that breath.  Yes, surely she slept, but it was with that wary sleep that dogs and mothers share.  A movement of that child’s and she might awake, alert at once, her senses wholly recovered, her mind undazed.

Mistrial, assured of her slumber, turned from the bed to the cradle, and for a minute, two perhaps, he stood, the eyebrows raised, the handkerchief pendent in his hand, contemplating the occupant.  And it was this bundle of flesh and blood, this lobster-hued animal, that lacked the intelligence a sightless kitten has, ­it was this that should debar him! Allons donc!

His face had grown livid, and his hand shook just a little; not with fear, however, though if it were it must have been the temerity of his own courage that frightened him.  At the handkerchief which he held he glanced again; one twist of it round that infant’s throat, a minute in which to hold it taut, and it would be back in his pocket, leaving strangulation and death behind, yet not a mark to tell the tale.  One minute only he needed, two at most; he bent nearer, and as he bent he looked over at his wife; but still she slept, her breath coming and going with the same regular cadence as before, the whiteness of her breast still heaving; then very gently, with fingers that were nervously assured, he ran the handkerchief under the infant’s neck:  but however deftly he had done it, the chill of the silk must have troubled the child; its under lip quivered, then both compressed, the flesh about the cheek-bones furrowed, the mouth relaxed, and from it issued the whimper of unconscious plaint.  The call may have stirred the mother in some dream, for a smile hovered in her features; yet immediately her eyes opened, she half rose, her hand fell to her side, and, reaching out, she caught and held the infant to her.

“My darling,” she murmured; and as the child, soothed already, drowsed back again into slumber, she turned to where her husband stood.  “What is it?”

From above, the tremolo of the flute still descended; but the dray long since had passed, and the street now was quiet.

“What is it?” she repeated.  She seemed more surprised than pleased to see him there.

Mistrial, balked in the attempt, had straightened himself; he looked annoyed and restless.

“Nothing,” he answered, and thrust the handkerchief back in his pocket, as a bandit sheathes his dirk.  “Nothing.  I heard that bastard bawling, and I came in to make him stop.”

“Bastard?  Is it in that way you speak of your child?”

As she said this she made no visible movement; yet something in her attitude, the manner in which she held herself, seemed to bid him hold his peace, and this he noticed, and in noticing resented.  “There,” he muttered; “drop the Grand Duchess, will you?  The brat is Thorold’s; you know it, and so do I.”

For a little space she stared as though uncertain she had heard aright, but the speech must have re-echoed in her ears; she had been sitting up, yet now as the echo reached her she drooped on the pillow and let her head fall back.  In her arms the child still drowsed.  And presently a tear rolled down her face, then another.

“Roland Mistrial, you have broken my heart at last.”

That was all; the ultimate words even were scarcely audible; but the tears continued ­the first succeeded by others, unstanched and undetained.  Grief had claimed her as its own.  She made no effort to rebel; she lay as though an agony had come from which no surcease can be.  And as one tear after the other passed down and seared her face there was a silence so deathly, so tangible, and so convincing, that he needed no further sign from her to tell him that the charge was false.  In all his intercourse with her, whatever cause of complaint there had been, never had he seen her weep before; and now at this unawaited evidence of the injustice and ignominy of his reproach he wished she would be defiant again, that he might argue and confute.  But no word came from her ­barely a sob; nothing, in fact, save these tears, which he had never seen before.  And while he stood there, visited by the perplexity of him to whom the unawaited comes, unconsciously he went back to the wooing of her:  he saw her clear eyes lifted in confidence to his own, he heard again the sweet confession of her love, he recalled the marks and tokens of her trust, and when for him she had left her father’s house; he saw her ever, sweet by nature, tender-hearted, striving at each misdeed of his to show him that in her arms there was forgiveness still.  And he recalled too the affronts he had put upon her, the baseness of his calculations, the selfishness of his life; he saw the misery he had inflicted, the affection he had beguiled, the hope he had tricked, and for climax there was this supreme reproach, of which he knew now no woman in all the world was less deserving than was she.  And still the tears unstanched and undetained passed down and seared her cheeks; in the mortal wound he had aimed at her womanhood all else seemingly was forgot.  She did not even move, and lay, her child tight clasped, the image of Maternity inhabited by Regret.

And such regret!  Mistrial, unprompted, could divine it all.  The regret of love misplaced, of illusions spent, the regret of harboring a ruffian and thinking him a knight.  Yes, he could divine it all; and then, as such things can be, he grieved a moment for himself.

But soon the present returned.  Justine still was weeping; he no longer saw her tears, he heard them.  Surely she would forgive again.  It could not be that everything had gone for naught.  He would speak to her, plead if need were, and in the end she would yield.  She must do that, he told himself, and he groped after some falsity that should palliate the offence.  He would tell her that he had been drinking again; he would deny his own words, or, if necessary, he would insist she had not heard them aright.  Indeed, there was nothing that might have weight with her which he was not ready and anxious to affirm.  If she would but begin, if in some splendor of indignation such as he had beheld before she would rise up and upbraid him, his task would be diminished by half.  Anything, indeed, would be better than this, and nothing could be worse; it was not Justine alone that the tears were carrying from him, it was the Dunellen millions as well.  Oh, abysses of the human heart!  As he queried with himself, at the very moment he was experiencing his first remorse, the old self returned, and it was less of the injury he had inflicted that he thought than of the counter-effect that injury might have on him.  In the attempt to throttle the child he had been balked, yet of that attempt he believed Justine to be suspicionless.  Other opportunities he would have in plenty; and even were it otherwise, the child was weakly, and croup might do its work.  With the future for which he had striven, there, in the very palm of his hand, how was it possible that he should have made this misstep?  But he could retrieve it, he told himself; he was a good actor, it was not too late.  For a little while yet he could still support the mask, and, recalling the sentimental reveries of a moment before, the forerunner of a sneer came and loitered beneath the fringes of his mustache.

“Justine!” He moved a step or two to where she lay.  “Justine ­”

His voice was very low and penitent, but at the sound of it she seemed to shrink.  “Could she know?” he wondered.

Then immediately, through the scantness of the apartment, he heard the outer bell resound.  Enervated as he was, the interruption affected him like a barb.  There was some one there whom he could vent his irritation on.  He hurried to the hall, but a servant had preceded him.  The door was open, and on the threshold Thorold stood.

Mistrial nodded ­the nod of one who is about to throw his coat aside and roll his shirt-sleeves up.  “Is it for your bill you come?” he asked.

Thorold hesitated, and his face grew very black.  He affected, however, to ignore the taunt.  He turned to the servant that still was waiting there.  “Is my cousin at home?” he asked.

“She is,” Mistrial announced, “but not to you.”

“In that case,” Thorold answered, “I must speak to someone in her stead.”

Mistrial made a gesture, and the servant withdrew.

“I have to inform my cousin,” Thorold continued, “that Mr. Metuchen came to me this evening and said that when my uncle died he was in debt ­”

“Stuff and nonsense!”

“He asked me to come and acquaint Justine with the facts.  They are here.”  With this Thorold produced a roll of papers.  “Be good enough to explain to her,” he added, “that this is the inventory of the estate.”  And, extending the documents to his host, he turned and disappeared.

In the cataleptic attitude of one standing to be photographed Mistrial listened to the retreating steps; he heard Thorold descend the stairs, cross the vestibule, and pass from the house.  It seemed to him even that he caught the sound of his footfall on the pavement without.  But presently that, too, had gone.  He turned and looked down the hall.  Justine’s door was closed.  Then at once, without seeking a seat, he fumbled through the papers that he held.  The gas-jet above his head fell on the rigid lines.  In the absence of collusion ­and from whence should such a thing come? ­in the absence of that, they were crystal in their clarity.

There were the assets.  Shares in mines that did not exist, bonds of railways that were bankrupt, loans on Western swamps, the house on Madison Avenue, mortgaged to its utmost value, property on the Riverside, ditto.  And so on and so forth till the eye wearied and the heart sickened of the catalogue.  Then came the debit account.  Amounts due to this estate, to that, and to the other, a list of items extending down an entire page of foolscap and extending over onto the next.  There a balance had been struck.  Instead of millions Honest Paul had left dishonor.  Swindled by the living, he had swindled the dead.

“So much for trusting a man that bawls Amen in church,” mused Mistrial.

As yet the completeness and amplitude of the disaster had not reached him.  While he ran the papers over he feigned to himself that it was all some trick of Thorold’s, one that he would presently see through and understand; and even as he grasped the fact that it was not a trick at all, that it was truth duly signed and attested, even then the disaster seemed remote, affecting him only after the manner of that wound which, received in the heat of battle, is unnoticed by the victim until its gravity makes him reel.  Then at once in the distance the future on which he had counted faded and grew blank.  Where it had been brilliant it was obscure, and that obscurity, increasing, walled back the horizon and reached up and extended from earth to sky.  The papers fell from his nerveless hand, fright had visited him, and he wheeled like a rat surprised.  Surely, he reflected, if safety there were or could be, that safety was with Justine.

In a moment he was at her door.  He tried it.  It was locked.  He beat upon it and called aloud, “Justine.”

No answer came.  He bent his head and listened.  Through the woodwork he could hear but the faintest rustle, and he called again, “Justine.”

Then from within came the melody of her voice:  “Who is it?”

“It is I,” he answered, and straightened himself.  It seemed odd to him she did not open the door at once.  “I want a word with you,” he added, after a pause.  But still the door was locked.

“Justine,” he called again, “do you not hear me?  I want to speak to you.”

Then through the slender woodwork at his side a whisper filtered, the dumb voice of one whom madness may have in charge.

“It is not to speak you come, it is to kill.”

“Justine!” he cried.  All the agony of his life he distilled into her name, “Justine!”

“You killed your child before, you shall not kill another now.”