How I contemplated and plotted a monstrous crime, with the unwitting cooperation of Gertrude Snyder.
When I considered the matter rationally, it appeared to me that Gertrude Snyder must be essential to any scheme I might form for possessing Amelia Goode. Indeed, she was my only tangible link to the celebrated beauty. Furthermore, I was under no illusions as to the probability of my possessing Miss Goode permanently. —No, it would be a fleeting deed of darkness; and then, if I were successful, I should be to all appearances the same virtuous young man as before. For such a young man, Gertrude would still make a pleasant and perfectly respectable wife.
I was therefore as assiduous in cultivating my courtship of Gertrude as I was in expanding the firm of Bousted & Son, and I flattered myself that I had equal success in both endeavors. Our sales continued to grow week by week, and Gertrude continued to meet me for walks in the park and other innocent pastimes. That is to say, they were innocent in her eyes; but I had a double purpose in each of our meetings. I so contrived these visits with Gertrude that we were likely to catch at least a glimpse of Amelia Goode. I quickly discovered that Miss Goode was almost a slave to habit. If she passed a particular spot in her carriage at seven in the evening on a Tuesday, then she could be relied upon to pass that same spot at seven the next Tuesday as well. West Park was her favorite haunt, and she could be found either strolling or driving there almost every evening. I took great pains to learn the patterns of her drives, for she was often alone then, though sometimes she had a coachman for the victoria.
There were times when it was difficult to conceal my keen interest in Miss Goode’s movements from Gertrude, and I had to employ considerable art.
“Here is Miss Goode again,” Gertrude remarked on one such occasion, as we saw the familiar victoria approaching. “Oh, isn’t she splendid?”
“Why, Gertrude,” I remarked gaily, “if I didn’t know you better, I might almost suppose you were envious!”
“Perhaps not envious,” Gertrude returned as the two perfect black horses came nearer, “but who would not wish——”
Here she stopped for a moment as the carriage passed, exactly on schedule, as regular as the Pennsylvania Railroad. When the noise of hooves and wheels had receded, she resumed, still gazing at the back of the victoria.
“Oh, Newman, shall I ever ride in a carriage of my own?”
I took her hand in mine, and she turned to face me. “Gertrude,” I said, “it will always be my most cherished ambition to see that you have whatever your heart could wish for. If honest labor and intelligent investment can procure it, you shall have it.”
Gertrude blushed prettily. We walked on, and she did not relinquish my hand. At such a moment, with her delicate hand in mine, and her lovely face bathed in a golden evening light, I could almost believe that I could be happy with Gertrude alone, and that it would cost me no sorrow to give up my hopes of possessing Amelia Goode.
We walked in silence for a while; and then Gertrude said, in a low voice, “Perhaps you ought to grow a moustache.”
At the time I had no idea why she had made that suggestion, and I did not respond to it directly. But when I returned to my room that evening, I looked hard in the mirror and decided that Gertrude was right. My face, which I had kept clean-shaven, still had a certain juvenile quality; with a moustache, I might make a more impressive appearance on the world’s stage. I resolved to begin the experiment in the morning. Meanwhile, sleep called me, and I retired with pleasant thoughts of Gertrude that soon gave way to less virtuous thoughts of Amelia Goode.
The next morning was trying, and the morning after even more so. When my sisters discovered that I had left my upper lip unshaved, not through negligence, but with the deliberate intention of growing a moustache, there was no end to their raillery. “Perhaps you ought to try growing some radishes as well,” Viola suggested, which was so preternaturally witty that it caused Camellia to snort like a carthorse.
On the other hand, when I saw Gertrude three days later, she seemed pleased that I had taken her suggestion. “It will suit you, Newman,” she said with one of her enigmatic smiles.
I might as well say here that, although I have known many women in my life, not one of them could out-enigma Gertrude. It was impossible to tell what her smiles meant, and as impossible to tell what her tears meant. She was a cipher to me. It was, however, satisfying to have her approval for the moustache, which in a few more days began to look more like an ornament than like an unfortunate error in grooming.
As I write these words, I have beside me a small leather note-book in which I carefully tabulated the movements of Amelia Goode as I observed them. Each page is headed with the seven days of the week; then, if during that week I happened to see Miss Goode, I noted under the proper day the time, place, and circumstances. If she had been seen in the same place, at the same time, on the same day of a previous week, then I marked the most recent sighting with a star. In this way I learned her habits as well as she knew them herself; and, indeed, it seemed that, the more I observed her, the more regular her habits became. After two months of observation, I was able to predict with almost astronomical accuracy where she would be three evenings out of seven, which was surely all I needed for my wicked purpose.
Although, with the accumulated wisdom of my years, I can see that my scheme was rash, and liable to a thousand mishaps,—yet I still wonder whether a crime of passion had ever been plotted with such scientific rigor before. This note-book of mine gave me great pleasure during those weeks when I was plotting my enormity; it was almost as though, in possessing the knowledge of her habits, I was already in possession of some part of Miss Goode herself. The note-book was kept under my pillow, and the knowledge it contained allowed me to imagine that, in a certain sense, Amelia was my companion through the sweltering nights of July and August, when sleep was impossible until well past midnight, and my loneliness might otherwise have been insufferable. Indeed, it is a truth that I have understood only gradually, that much of the pleasure of a wicked deed lies, not in the commission of it, but in the contemplation of it beforehand.
One incident did occur during this period that complicated my efforts. I was sitting at dinner one evening when Viola, a mean-spirited smile on her face, spoke up:
“Father, were you aware that Galahad has been seeing a lady?” she asked with a voice that dripped sweet venom.
“Really?” my father responded, sounding oafishly pleased.
“Yes, Viola and I saw them in the park,” Camellia offered with the same honeyed poison in her tone. “We saw her only from the back, of course.”
“Which was fortunate for our digestions, I’m sure,” Viola added.
“Yes, do warn us next time you’re seeing her, Galahad,” Camellia said with a labored sneer, “so that we do not see her face by accident and turn to stone.” Though the girls had not seen Gertrude’s face, they knew by deduction from first principles that any girl who associated herself with their brother must be hideous beyond description.
“I suppose she has no more than six or seven fingers on each hand,” Viola remarked after a brief silence.
At this, for some reason, my choler rose to the boiling point at last, and I actually stood up from the table. “By heaven,” I declared, “if you were a man, I’d——”
Here my father actually intervened.
“Now, girls,” he said, “you really mustn’t tease Galahad so. I’m sure he’s done nothing of the sort to you.”
This, I believe, was the only indication he ever gave me in his life that he was aware of my sisters’ mistreatment of me. He was, at least, scrupulously correct in his assertion that I had never been deliberately unkind to them,—not out of any absurd notions of decency, but simply because it was obviously wise policy never to be seen as anything other than the perfectly dutiful son and brother.
“I think it’s splendid if Galahad has a lady friend,” he continued. “First-rate.”
“Yes, perhaps she has a couple of aged uncles for you girls,” I added, and immediately regretted having spoken. But my father, having said all he could say on the subject of family harmony, said nothing more, and refused to believe that he had not restored good feeling to the table.
At any rate, I continued to see Gertrude, and now my father and my sisters were aware of it. Their awareness was rather inconsequential, I suppose, since things continued pretty much as before; but I could have done without my sisters’ relentless teasing, and certainly without my father’s congratulatory wink every time I left the house for an evening stroll with Gertrude.
I have probably never labored harder in my life than I did that summer. My first responsibility, I had decided early on, must be to the firm; and I believe I may say accurately that I discharged that responsibility in such a way that the firm had no cause for complaint. Money was beginning to come in from our canvassing agents; the department-store contracts were gratifyingly profitable; and sales at the store continued to increase. After some weeks of work, I was even able to train Bradley so effectively that he could be left to handle the female patrons by himself. I grant that it might have consumed less time and labor had I trained a Labrador retriever to do the same work; but I had no Labrador retriever, whereas I did have Bradley. The ladies, as I have already mentioned, were fond of him, especially the middle-aged middle-class matrons who made up the bulk of our patronage. But my father took a liking to him as well, so that Bradley took on much of the burden of keeping him entertained during the day. It had never occurred to me how much of my time had been wasted on entertaining my father until the arrival of Bradley relieved me of some of that responsibility.
My work for Bousted & Son in itself was a heavy labor, but I had other labors as well. I had my courtship of Gertrude to cultivate; this was by no means an unwelcome labor, but it did consume two evenings and an afternoon out of the week. Finally, my pursuit of Amelia Goode was by no means the least of my labors.
I have already intimated that I approached the matter scientifically, as it were. As summer wore on toward autumn, and my sister’s wedding preparations grew so fevered that it was advisable for me to be out of the house anyway, I began my campaign in earnest. I took to haunting some of those places where Amelia was known to appear at certain times, especially in the park. The arboretum afforded many opportunities for concealment, so it was natural that I should concentrate my efforts there. Consulting my note-book, I chose an evening when Amelia would be driving past in her carriage (not the victoria, but a wicker ladies’ summer carriage, which she always drove alone); then I simply strolled through the park myself, endeavoring to time my stroll so that I should meet Amelia just as she passed a certain dark thicket that might ultimately suit my purposes.
I must confess that I thought my first reconnaissance a poor piece of work. I arrived several minutes before Amelia passed that point, and was therefore compelled to walk back and forth in a short path; although I did my best to appear as a casual evening stroller, I seemed to attract the attention of a large man with a big stick, who eyed me suspiciously each time I passed. When at last Amelia did ride by, the man and I had to step out of her way, so that we were standing side by side, each fixing a suspicious gaze upon the other. When the carriage had passed, I vacated the area as quickly as I could, and marched back home in a foul temper. But I did not abandon my campaign.
My next expedition was more successful, in that I did not lose my nerve, and must have seemed an ordinary young gentleman out for an evening stroll of no particular consequence. Amelia passed at her scheduled time; there was no one else to see her pass but me, and I was careful not to direct my gaze directly toward her, so that she should not remember or suspect me. I might easily have accosted her at that very instant, had I not promised myself that I should only reconnoiter that evening, and not succumb to the temptation to commit my crime of passion in the heat of the moment. Any crime, to be successful, must be the product of long and careful planning, and this is never more true than with crimes of passion. Invariably the crimes of which one reads in the press, where at least the crime if not the criminal has been detected, are crimes of the moment, insufficiently thought out, and committed under the influence of a passion that clouds the judgment. I confess that I was in many ways unwise in the planning of my outrage, but I did at least possess the wisdom to see that it required planning.
I repeated my expedition the next week, and once or twice a week after that for several more weeks. Darkness fell earlier each week, but (as I had hoped) the fading light did not deter Amelia from riding at her appointed times. It would soon be quite dark when she passed my chosen thicket, which would suit my purposes admirably.
Gertrude accompanied me on some of my expeditions, quite unaware of their true purpose. “Here is Miss Goode again,” she remarked on one occasion when the 7:23 carriage passed, right on schedule. “I wonder that she still drives alone, now that it is dark.”
“Well, the gaslights are bright enough most of the way,” I said. “And would misfortune dare accost a Goode? Surely fate must have favored such an illustrious family.” I did not tell her how much I had been thinking along the same lines as she. Foolish Miss Goode! Did she not know that danger lurked in the darkness? Had she no fear of the shadows? I found myself absently twirling my moustache as I thought about it.
My next reconnaissance expedition (as I had been calling them in my own mind) to West Park went much as before, except for one disturbing observation. As I waited in the darkness for Amelia to pass, I saw once again that large man with the big stick whom I had seen on my earlier reconnaissance. He was standing in the shadows several yards down the drive. In the darkness I could see little of his face, but something in his manner convinced me that he was surveying me with deep suspicion. I stood my ground, deeming it more likely to arouse suspicion if I retreated. The large man stood his ground as well. Amelia passed on schedule; and, when I looked again for the large man, he was gone. I went on my way forming vague suspicions in my mind.
On my next stroll with Gertrude, the large man made another appearance. I did not call Gertrude’s attention to him, and I did my best to make him believe that my own attention was entirely absorbed by Gertrude. I was always careful to be modestly affectionate with Gertrude, and in this case I felt a bit more secure with her by my side as Amelia’s carriage passed. Once again, the large man vanished when the carriage had gone.
He was there again on my next venture, and now I began to entertain the most extravagant suspicions. I very nearly persuaded myself that the large man was some sort of spy in the employ of the Goode family, and that he knew, or at least suspected, my dishonorable intentions. My rational mind told me that my doubts were absurd, but I could not rid myself of the feeling that the large man’s appearances were more than coincidental. He was, at any rate, an inconvenience; he intruded on my privacy. How was I to concentrate on my evil plot if he kept popping up at the most inconvenient times?
He did not appear when I made my next expedition, and I persuaded myself that my suspicions had been groundless; but he was back the night after that, and all my fears returned with him.
In the mean time my sister and Bradley were married. We paid Bradley well enough that they were able to set themselves up in a small apartment on Resaca-street, and I was rid of one pestilential sister. Viola attempted to make herself twice as odious to make up the loss, but she could not completely succeed: there was only one of her, after all. I suppose if a woman were writing this narrative, she would fill it with details of the wedding; I have forgotten them all, except the undeniable gratitude I felt toward Bradley for ridding me of Camellia. If gratitude is a virtue, then I admit my weakness; but my life at home improved considerably with one of my sisters gone, and I resolved that, as soon as my business with Amelia was brought to a successful conclusion, I should rid myself of the other sister as well—either by marriage or by murder, whichever seemed most practicable.
You, my dear hypothetical reader of the future, must be nearly out of patience with me by now. I have been preparing my crime against the beautiful Miss Goode for more than twenty pages in manuscript, and you must be wondering whether I intend to fill the rest of the volume with this pointless dithering. I could do so; I almost have a mind to do it. But I will not. I abridge the last few weeks of my preparations by saying that I continued much as before, gradually closing my grip on Miss Goode until her habits were predictable to me down to the minute. Sometimes I went alone, and sometimes with Gertrude; sometimes I saw the large man with the big stick, and sometimes I did not. I hated that man: he was the one uncertainty in my plan, and nothing at all could be accomplished on a night when he made an appearance. Twice, after I had decided that, at last, the time for action had come, I was forced to abandon my plan when he came into view just after I arrived at my station. My frustration cannot be described to someone who has never been in a similar situation; and it is not necessary to describe it to anyone else.
But at last there came a night when I was determined to act. The sky was cloudy, so that the darkness in my chosen thicket would be complete; Miss Goode was scheduled to pass at 7:23; I knew exactly where I should be and what I should do to accomplish my object.
The day had been unseasonably warm, but now a brisk breeze had picked up; and the air was decidedly cooler, with even a slight chill. I found myself keenly aware of every aspect of my surroundings as I walked into the park. The absurd thought occurred to me that I must be feeling what a condemned man feels on his last walk to the gallows—absurd because, of course, it was Miss Goode who was condemned, not I. Every sound was louder to me; every leaf on the ground had its distinctive crunch; the odors of the mills and the grass mingled and presented themselves to my nostrils; the breeze puffed against my cheek, and I felt every puff distinctly; I heard the sound of hooves on the cobblestones in the distance, and the quiet tapping and shuffling of my own feet on the drive. My every sense was enlivened to a degree I had never felt before and have seldom felt since. It was a delightful sensation; and to my distant readers, if any such there be, I would happily recommend the commission of some enormous crime to stimulate the nerves and encourage the flow of the blood.
When at last I took my position in the little thicket I had chosen as my blind, I had great difficulty in keeping myself still and quiet. Every nerve craved action; every sinew was coiled like a watch-spring. I stood still, absently twirling my moustache, and feeling what the viper must feel before he strikes; and at last, after what seemed to be ages or aeons of waiting, I heard the distinctive sound of Miss Goode’s carriage approaching.
From my blind I could see her as she came down the drive. She was driving alone, as she always did at 7:23 on Wednesdays. It would be only a moment before I should leap into the carriage, take the reins, force the carriage into the dark alcove under the bridge, and——
———But suddenly I saw a large figure bolt from the shadows not more than ten yards from where I stood. The carriage lurched wildly, and there was a muffled scream;—I saw for an instant the outline of a large walking-stick raised against the sky;—and at that moment a blind fury, a rage such as I had never known, overcame me. That man with the big stick was attacking my Amelia! Damn him to hell! After all my months of meticulous preparation, he had the gall to try to steal my prize! Without even thinking I leaped on the carriage as it passed, my arm already swinging, my clenched fist connecting with the jaw of my opponent. He lost his balance and fell to the ground just as the carriage bumped to a stop in the grass, the horse having decided that all this activity behind was excuse enough for slacking off. Amelia was screaming; the man with the big stick was righting himself and starting to run. I leaped out after him and caught him under a gaslight, knocking his legs out from under him and throwing him to the ground. He began to fight back with some vigor. But his only encouragement was self-preservation, whereas I had months of frustration to animate me. Painful blows landed on both sides, but I hardly felt them at the time. I knew only my rage, and I pressed my advantage until my opponent fell back on the drive, striking his head on the pavement. He was still, and a quick look in the gaslight suggested that he had been rendered insensible by the blow.
I stood over him for a moment, until it occurred to me that I should feel a great deal better sitting down; so I gently lowered myself to the grass.
I heard an angel’s voice above me. “Dear sir, you are hurt,” it said, and I felt the softest hand in the world lightly touching my forehead—a touch that, soft and light as it was, still carried unexpected pain with it.
“Not very much,” I answered.
I remember nothing after that until my eyes opened in a palatial chamber I had never seen before. A moment later, the beautiful face of Miss Amelia Goode filled my vision; and for an instant I thought that perhaps I had died, and, in spite of all my evil deeds, a merciful God had admitted me to heaven.