Read FROM THE WOMAN'S HAND: CHAPTER I of The Blue Wall A Story of Strangeness and Struggle , free online book, by Richard Washburn Child, on


I am a miserable woman.

Before I ask you to return to me, I am determined that you shall know the truth. I beg you to read this and consider well what I am and what I have done before you undertake life with me or again bring your love into my keeping. This I ask for your sake and for my own; for yours, because I grant that you have been deceived and owe me nothing; for my own, because I believe that I have borne all that I can, and to have you come back to me without knowing all, and without still loving me as you used to love me, would break my heart.

I must not write you with emotion; I must stifle my desire to cry out for your sympathy. I shall write without even the tenderness of a woman.

I am the daughter of a murderer.

In my veins is an inheritance of unspeakable, viciousness.

Before the death of him who I had believed all my life was my own father, I was wholly in ignorance of my own nature. I believed that I took from two noble parents the full assurance that I would be exempt from weakness, that I, with brain cells formed like theirs, would possess forever their tenderness, their geniality, and their strength of will.

You know well how strong a faith I had in the power of inherited character. To it I attributed all that was good in me. I realize now how cruel is this doctrine of heredity; I have spent my strength and given my soul in a battle to prove that I was wrong, that it is not a true doctrine and that God and the human will can laugh in its face.

Without knowing my experience, however, you cannot know to what extent I have been successful. I must tell the story of the tempests which have swayed my mind, of the contests between good and evil, of the narrow gate where my will has made its last defense against the onslaught of terror and destruction.

To my task!

You remember the paper that I burned at dawn which my foster father had dropped from his fingers, stiffening in death. It was his last message to me, written in infinite pain and in an agony of doubt, intended to warn me of the truth that I was not by inheritance strong, but weak, not good, but bad. It told me that I was not the daughter of my mother, whose gentle goodness seemed to fill the old home like a lingering aroma, nor of him who was so strong and so respected of all men, but the daughter of a pitiable woman of the tenements who had passed her days in singing and dancing for pennies thrown at her, and of a man who, having descended from a long line of exquisite savagery, self-indulgence, and weakness, had been driven by his inheritance through all excesses and finally to the murder of his wife and the wish to strangle me in my crib.

Can you conceive the effect of this truth upon my mind?

At first I was merely frozen with terror. I did not fully grasp the significance of these lines of writing in which he who loved me so well had endeavored to soften for me his warning against the latent horrors that had been locked up within me. At first I did not realize that the same night which marked his death had marked also the death of my old self.

Indeed, my first thought was of you. The message had said plainly that I might consider myself the sole possessor of my secret. I was certain that you did not know. I felt the desire to prevent you from ever knowing; I felt the wildness of a tigress at the thought that any one might take my secret from me. Between your hearing the truth about me and my giving you up forever, I had no hesitancy of choice. You must never know, I told myself. Though you were all that was left in my life, I might send you away, but to tell you the truth about myself would be, I believed, to end your love for me which was all that was left to the comfort of my heart. And at that idea I screamed aloud in agony.

I still possessed my conscience; I promised myself over and over again in those hours that I would not deceive you. I did not think for a moment then of asking you to take me with the understanding that you knew there was some terrible thing about me which you were forbidden to know. If in those moments, then, when you came to my room at dawn, I made that bargain with you, so that I might feel your arms about me, and know that I was not to lose you, it was the act of a woman who had just lost her girlhood and whose life had been torn to shreds.

I made a terrible mistake. I know it now. The fact that you have refrained so honorably from asking me the forbidden question and also the fact of your keeping your promise to stay away during these last days, though you were in ignorance of my motives in asking it, has shown me that I might well have disclosed all to you. Without meaning to do so, I have tested not only your honor but something more. I have proved to myself that, behind your undemonstrative exterior which I have sometimes felt was cold, you have that love and tenderness of spirit which is capable of faith and loyalty and the warmth of which endures the better because covered. I should have told you because the secret has mocked me and because nothing can last between man and woman without truth.

I should have told you, moreover, because you might have prevented the terrible result of my knowledge of what I am in bone, blood, fibre, and brain.

That knowledge began its corrupting influence at once; it accumulated force as time went on. The irresistible pull of that knowledge has brought me to the point where I know not whether it is heredity, or the knowledge of it, which presses upon me which has driven me like a slave. At times I feel certain that the last message of Judge Colfax, rather than the danger of which it intended to warn me, has been my menace.

At first I recalled the fact of my birth and inheritance with resentment and courage.

“I am myself,” I have exclaimed. “I alone am responsible for my life, my thoughts, my actions. They shall be according to my will to make them.”

Then the haunting doubt would oppose itself to my claim. It spoke to me like a person.

“No,” it said. “You are not yourself. You are the victim of fixed laws. The zebra is striped rather than spotted because its forebears wore stripes. So with you. You are half murderess and half gutter-snipe. You are woven according to the pattern. You are moulded according to the mould. You are a prisoner of heredity. Deceive yourself if you will for a time, but sooner or later you, like those from whom you came and of whom you are a part, will be the plaything of self-indulgence and weakness and passion. Fate has made your image that you see in the mirror, refined and comely so that you may see the better the work of heredity when it asserts itself.”

This voice was ever at my ear. It became a personal voice. I thought at first that it was the voice of some other being. At last I came by slow changes to the belief that it was not a voice outside of me. It was my Self that spoke. It was the heritage of evil within me. The thing that whispered to me with its condemning voice, frightening away my courage and sapping my strength of will, was my own blood!

I began to watch for the outcropping of evil in my conduct for the moment when the force of heredity within me would make itself known to you and to the world. No morning dawned that I did not ask myself if night would fall without some opening of the gates of my character behind which so much that was evil, I believed, was clamoring to escape. I lived in two lives. In one I was your wife and the girl you had known, who now existed like an automaton, going senselessly through the acts of day to day existence. In the other I was a condemned victim, waiting in apprehension for the call of terrible and evil authority.

It was an accident which, at last, made real my fancies.

You remember that I was thrown from a horse. You remember that for days a torn nerve in my elbow gave me excruciating pain. You remember that, having regained my senses after the setting of the bone, I would not allow the doctor to give me any narcotic. You remember my protests against that form of relief.

I was afraid. I trembled not only with pain. I trembled with terror.

I believed I was on the threshold of danger. I felt the impending of ruin. Though I had never experienced the sensation of an opiate I even found my body already crying for its comfort. I found myself struggling hour after hour with a desire to try myself. I alternated between a belief that I was strong enough for the test and the instinct that told me the blood in my veins was waiting like a wild animal to pounce upon a first form of self-indulgence.

At last I yielded.

“There is no harm in the proper use of this,” said the doctor, seeing my expression, “by a woman of your type.”

I laughed in his face.

I hardly recognized the sound of this laugh; it was not my own. It was the laugh of a new personality. It was care-free and desperate at one time.

“There is no need of your suffering so terribly after each adjustment I make of these cords,” said the doctor a few days later, sympathetically.

“But I suffer so at night,” said I.

“I will leave you something,” said he. “Do not use it oftener than necessary.”

Why should I tell you the imperceptible steps by which, partly because I believed myself destined to become a victim, I fell an abject slave to this drug? I need only say that while my arm was still suffering from its injury I gave myself false promises from time to time. “When the pain is gone,” I said a thousand times, “there will be no need of this comforter.”

When I was obliged to admit that I suffered no more, it was a shock to find myself secretly procuring the opiate in order to continue its use undiscovered.

“This will be the last time,” I often said.

Then something laughed within me.

It was my blood laughing. It was my blood mocking me.

I began to experience a cycle of terrible emotions which consumed my days. They began with shame, with injured pride, and terrible grief. They then passed first to vain resolves, then to fear of myself, followed by the feeling that what must be is inevitable and that struggle to escape from the weakness given me by birth was hopeless. This belief led me over and over again to surrender, but with surrender came the fear of exposure of my new secret.

As long as I dared I used a prescription which the doctor had given me. I made guilty trips to the drug store where I had been from the first. I began to feel that strangers who had followed me into the store by chance were there by design to spy upon me. My own furtive glances were enough to excite suspicion. My more frequent purchases were enough to confirm them. At last one day I read in the eyes of the clerk who waited on me the question which must have been in his mind. I seized my package and rushed out onto the street, knowing that I would never dare return.

I went then from one place to another in shrinking fear of detection. In each one my experience was repeated until I believe I began to wear the air of a hunted creature.

So suspicious were my actions that at last a drug clerk shook my little worn-out slip of paper against the glass perfume case and scowled at me.

“The last half of the doctor’s name is torn off,” he said insolently. “Where did you get this?”

I could not speak.

“I’m sorry,” he snarled. “We don’t sell that under these circumstances. Where do you live, madam?”

I hurried out into the street.

There I noticed that a tall young man, who had been staring at me, with a row of gold teeth accenting a diabolical smile, had followed me from the store. After I had walked half a block to find my carriage, he spoke to me.

“I can sell you something just as good,” he whispered by my side. “I do a little quiet business in it. It’s not for yourself, is it?”

“No,” I said, trembling from head to foot. “It is for an unfortunate woman, whose name must not be disclosed.”

“Call her She,” he suggested with a leer. “Here is an address. Send a messenger boy whenever you like. Every one thinks I am a perfume manufacturer.”

This was the opening of greater comfort to me; my terror of detection was lessened. As time passed I found that my moral sense was being dulled, little by little. I was fulfilling my destiny. I was living according to my arrangement of brain cells. In spite of his warning or perhaps solely because of it the fears of my foster father were realized. I was I!

Four weeks ago came a new thing. It burst like dynamite. It gripped my heart. It felt along the chords of my womanhood. I could not escape its presence. It cried to me in the darkness. It walked beside me in the sunlight.