Posts filed under “Novels”
I enjoy the fruits of my wickedness, but am confronted with a difficult choice.
It was not paradise, but it was as close to paradise as I had come in my short life. “Oh, dear sir—thank heaven!” Miss Goode exclaimed, looking intently into my eyes. I might have happily gazed into hers forever if I had been offered the opportunity. “You were hurt,” she continued after some time, having evidently decided that I was capable of understanding her now. “We brought you here—I hope you’ll forgive the presumption, but we didn’t know your name, and the alternative was the Sisters of Mercy. I owe you such an incalculable debt that I insisted we must care for you ourselves. Can you speak yet?”
I tried the experiment: “Yack,” I said. I cleared my throat and tried again: “Yes.”
“Forgive my not having introduced myself. My name is Amelia Goode.”
“Galahad Newman Bousted,” I responded, using up most of my breath. If I had not been so breathless, I should certainly have continued, “but I go by Newman Bousted,”—but I did not.
“Galahad!” she repeated. “What a wonderfully apt name! Are you a knight-errant in the service of every lady in dire distress?”
“Am I?” I asked, doubtless looking like a wandering idiot let loose from the asylum.
“You poor man!” Her voice was full of concern and compassion. “My rescue has cost you so dearly!”
Rescue! In my disoriented state, I had not yet put together what had happened to me. I had beaten off another pirate intent on seizing my prize—so much I remembered now. But in Amelia’s eyes I had rescued her from a fate worse than death! The extent of her misapprehension was so great it made my mind whirl. And even as it was whirling, my mind was telling me that here was a turn of events which must redound to my advantage.
“Any man in similar circumstances would have done the same,” I said weakly. In a manner of speaking it was true: any man who had plotted to have his way with a divine beauty, only to see the prize nearly snatched out of his hands at the very last moment, would have attacked the confounded interloper in a blind fury. I know that Miss Goode, however, took another meaning.
“Few would be so bold as to beat off a man twice their size,” Miss Goode replied. “If there is any small way—nay, any great way—I can be of any service to you, I hope you will not hesitate to make me aware of it.”
I began to sit up. “I should hate to put you to any——”
But suddenly sitting up lost its attraction, and my head fell back on the pillow.
“Pray do not exert yourself,” Miss Goode said. “Let me inform your wife that you are here, and then you really must stay with us until you have sufficiently recovered.”
“Oh, I have no wife,” I told her, and I noticed a subtle change in her physiognomy that I interpreted as a favorable omen. Then I thought of my family, and added, “But I do have a father who may be wondering where I am.”
“Tell me where he is, and Sheridan will be dispatched at once to inform him.”
I gave her our address on Beech-street, and with a promise to return shortly she went off to do her dispatching.
Meanwhile, I was left alone with my thoughts, which were beginning to order themselves in a more rational manner. First, I was growing aware of a beating pain in my skull. I cautiously felt my forehead, and discovered that a bandage was wrapped around my head; the pain inclined me to believe that the bandage was the only thing holding my skull together. As long as I was gazing on the divine face of Miss Goode, the pain had not obtruded upon my perception; but now that it had the field to itself, it made the most of its opportunity.
In order to distract myself from the pain, I made a careful examination of the room, which was nearly the size of two of the bed-rooms in our Beech-street house put together. It was furnished in the style of the antebellum age, though with concessions to the more artistic modern taste in its hangings and wallpaper. From the lack of obvious personal belongings I deduced that it must have been a guest-room; doubtless the house that could accommodate such a room as this must have a multitude of guest-rooms. I had begun to speculate on the size of the establishment when the door opened again to admit, not the radiant Miss Goode, but an old man who must, I decided at once, have been her father, old Colonel Goode of the Monongahela Glass fortune.
“Well,” he said with a surprisingly hearty voice for one who looked so fragile, “you’re with us now! You gave us a little fright, my boy, with all that blood. Amelia’s been taking good care of you, has she? Splendid. If there’s anything at all you need, don’t hesitate to ask.”
“Thank you, sir,” I replied weakly. The weakness was not altogether feigned, but I was also beginning to decide on weakness as a matter of policy. It might prolong my stay if I gave the impression that I was too weak to go, and if I had a chance of spending any more time near the divine Miss Goode, I was willing to exaggerate my weakness. I did not yet know what use I might make of this opportunity, but I did know that it was not to be squandered.
Since old Colonel Goode will have something to do with the rest of my story, I suppose I ought to describe him. Of course everyone knows something about Pittsburgh’s first millionaire;—the first of many, and perhaps the most beloved by the ordinary people of Pittsburgh and Allegheny. No scandal has ever sullied his fame, and I could honestly believe that the man’s mind had never formed an impure thought. —But these things will come later. As for what I saw from my bed in the guest-room that night, he was an unusually small man, frail in construction, but quick and lively in his movements, with an admirably straight posture. His face showed no especial intelligence; a wispy beard adorned but did not conceal his chin, and his eyes sparkled under neat brows, but sparkled only with a native vivacity, and not with any unusual perception. He had lost most of the hair on his head, and what remained was snowy white. Not a thing was out of place on him: his collar was exactly right, his jacket exactly symmetrical, his watch-chain draped with apparently unconscious precision. He was the picture of prosperous virtue.
I am sorry to sweep him off the stage so soon after introducing him, but Colonel Goode hurried off to his next duty after only a few more pleasant words of gratitude. He will return more than once in these pages, however; we shall not miss him long.
For a short time I was left alone again, but I had scarcely had time to ponder my stratagem for making use of my presence in the Goode household when Amelia reappeared and drew a side chair up to my bed.
“I have sent Sheridan to your father, Mr. Bousted,” she told me, “and now I shall not leave your side until the danger is past.”
“Dr. Andick was very particular that you should not be moved for at least four hours after you regained consciousness. After that, he said, the danger would be past, and you might be permitted to walk with caution—with caution, he stressed. He thought you should not leave this house until at least to-morrow morning.”
“I do hate to be an invader, Miss Goode.” I did not hate it at all if it brought me so close to this incomparable beauty, but I believed that conventional politeness would conduce to my advantage.
“My champion will never be an invader in this household!” she replied with a radiant smile. O! reader, you may suppose that you have seen a radiant smile;—you may speak of the smiles that adorn the faces of the most celebrated beauties of your own age;—yet you have seen nothing worthy of that description, for you have not seen the smile of Amelia Goode!
For an hour or so more, Miss Goode spoke of inconsequential things—as though any word that dropped from such perfect lips could possibly be inconsequential—and I remember every word. I also remember that even then I felt a vague sense that Miss Goode was leaving something unsaid. I shall not burden you with the rest of the conversation, however; you, dear reader, who are most likely myself at a later age, would probably lose patience with me, though I confess it still gives me considerable pleasure to recall that first evening with Amelia.
It gave me no pleasure at all to have it interrupted by my own father, who burst so suddenly through the door that, had I been a man of weaker constitution, I might well have succumbed to some sort of nervous fit. He was followed closely by my sister Viola, and at only slightly less distance by old Colonel Goode. My father made the most appalling show of concern for my welfare; and Viola attempted, if possible, to outdo him, as if she really did prefer that I should live rather than die.
This ugly display of sentimentality made me wish I could slip back into that unconscious state from which I now regretted awakening—especially when old Colonel Goode very graciously introduced himself to my father, and my father, having ascertained that this was indeed the same Colonel Goode of whom all Pittsburgh and Allegheny spoke in reverent whispers, replied with the most oafish forthrightness, “You know, I’m a businessman myself.”
I must, however, confess that I felt a secret thrill when Amelia immediately asked whether he was the Bousted of Bousted’s Graded Stationery, and my father, in the full flush of his ridiculous paternal pride, told her that it had been entirely my invention. She knew my Graded Stationery—nay more, she used the Grade 8 every day, or so she said. Every day, those impossibly delicate fingers swept over the smooth, perfectly sized surface I myself had specified. It was almost as if she had been touching me for months without my knowing it. What bliss it would have been just to be a single sheet of paper!
I shall not weary myself with recounting every fatuous word that dribbled from my father’s lips. Miss Goode was very gracious to him, telling him that the father of such a son must be something of a hero himself; my father at least had the sense to blush at that remark. My sister Viola was mostly mute, which is certainly the way I prefer her; I believe she was overawed by her surroundings, since she had never before been in a building as large as the Goode house unless it was holding a temperance meeting.
My father and Viola stayed far too long, and my father was far too profuse in his gratitude to the Goodes when Amelia made it clear that she would not allow me to be moved until the morning. At last, however, my father took Viola away with him, and (old Colonel Goode having retired) I was left alone with my nurse.
By this time, but for the roaring pain in my head (which a bit of Colonel Goode’s excellent brandy had blunted somewhat), I had recovered most of my vigor, and I was far from ready to go back to sleep. Miss Goode was also invigorated by the excitement of the evening’s events. She was ready to talk, and I was more than ready to hear her voice. Yet as she spoke of this and that, I was more and more certain that there was something she wished to say beyond the inconsequential trivialities that made up our conversation. I believe that the weather has never been more thoroughly observed, catalogued, and subjected to the minutest analysis than it was during the hour after my father and hers left us alone. But at last we had exhausted even the endless conversational possibilities of temperature and precipitation, and we both fell silent for some time.
“Mr. Bousted,” Miss Goode said at last, “I believe I owe you—a confession is what perhaps I ought to call it. I feel a certain—a certain responsibility for your injuries.”
“Certainly any decent man who happened to see what I saw—an innocent woman assaulted by the basest ruffian—would have reacted the way I did. It was mere chance that I happened to be the one who——”
“But it was not mere chance,” she declared with a sudden rush of feeling. “I was responsible—more responsible than you know. It was not chance that placed you in harm’s way. It was my own—my own folly.”
I made no answer; I simply gazed at her with incomprehension.
“I was imprudent,” she continued. “I exposed myself to more danger than—than a young lady ought to be exposed to.”
“Surely a young lady has a right to take a drive through the park without molestation,” I said. How wonderfully sincere I sounded!
“But it is not prudent for her to drive after dark, except that—except that—Oh, Mr. Bousted, I have been such a fool! I ought to have listened to my father’s gentle admonishments, but I—but I wanted to see you.”
These last few words were spoken so softly that at first I was not at all sure I had heard them correctly. “But, Miss Goode, what could you mean by that? Until to-night——”
“Oh, doubtless you do not remember it, but you have seen me before. We passed in the street and I saw your face. Such a kind face! I remembered your face, though I saw you only a moment. And then I saw you again, and—and then I began to see you walking in the park. So then—and, oh, I know it was unpardonable folly—I came back the next evening at the same time, and you were there again. And I went back again, and again, and I began to discover your habits. You were as regular as clockwork, Mr. Bousted! I began—oh, I am sorry, Mr. Bousted!—I began to keep a note-book, and I recorded the times when I had seen you; and then I would go back at those times to see you again. So, Mr. Bousted, you would not have been exposed to danger had it not been for my folly, and I cannot expiate my sin except—except by asking you to forgive me.”
Twice in my short life up to that moment, the world had turned upside-down: the thing I had always thought was the floor had turned out to be the ceiling. And, marvelous to tell, both times had been in the same night. I had supposed myself to be an abductor, a defiler of innocence, and found myself a hero; I had supposed myself to be the hunter, and had found myself the prey. I am sure that Miss Goode had an unobstructed view of my tonsils as I recovered from the shock of her revelation. For some time, there was silence in the room; then, when she spoke again, she was on the verge of tears.
“Oh, Mr. Bousted, what have I done? I can see that——”
“Nothing could be more flattering”—I hastily interrupted her before she could say anything I might regret—“Nothing could be more flattering, or—or more gratifying, and if I hesitated to forgive you, it was because I could find nothing to forgive. How could any man with blood in his veins be displeased to find—to find that—well, I mean to say, Miss Goode, I am not displeased.”
She smiled slightly, although she would not look at me directly. I had succeeded in putting her a little more at her ease, and now it was time to turn this astonishing development to my advantage. My brain was whirling, and all thoughts of the pain in my head had vanished. Opportunity was here for the grasping.
“Indeed,” I continued, “I do recall having seen you on more than one occasion. You do yourself an injustice if you suppose you could pass by a man with eyes in his head, however briefly, and make no impression upon his memory.”
At this she did turn to face me, and her smile is impressed so deeply on my recollection that I can even now close my eyes and bring up the picture of it like a magic-lantern show.
How I should love to linger over this first encounter,—to savor each subtle change in Amelia’s expression, each musical syllable of her delightful conversation! Yet I could fill a book with this night, and still not be done with it. I must therefore reduce my narration to a brief epitome. I talked with Amelia until two in the morning, at which the striking of a little clock on the mantel reminded us both that it was very late. Bidding me good-night with a fondness that would, to an uninformed observer, have suggested a longer acquaintance, Amelia promised to see me in the morning, and turned down the gas as she left the room. In the darkness I made some attempt to order my thoughts; but sleep overcame me almost immediately, and I slept a sound and blissful sleep until just before eight in the morning.
When I woke, it took me some time to recollect where I was. Not being in the habit of paying overnight visits to millionaires, I had no previous experience of waking in such a luxurious chamber as this one, which bore a very different aspect with the morning sun streaming in through the tall windows. I began to recall the events of the night before, and the sweet face of Amelia Goode rose up in my mind’s eye. But then I was suddenly seized with an irrational terror that I must have been found out: that somehow, as I slept, the true motive for my presence in the park must have become apparent. I tried to use my reason to reassure myself, but my reason was not responding well to my commands. In fact my mind was trying to find its way through a fog of pain, the worst head-ache I had ever suffered. I could only imagine the fury of the Goodes; perhaps even now they had summoned the constabulary, or an angry mob with torches (why they should require torches in bright daylight I cannot say, but in every novel with an angry mob torches were an indispensable part of the equipment). I very nearly leaped straight up from the bed when the door to the hall swung open, and I fully expected to be either taken into custody or beaten to death with sticks.
“Good morning, sir,” said the voice from the doorway. It was not the voice of one who intended to bludgeon me. An older man, impeccably dressed, with another suit of clothing draped over his arm, was observing me benevolently. When he could see that he had my attention, he continued. “Miss Goode hopes you will pardon the liberty, but we have pressed your trousers and coat. There are one or two spots that will require the attention of your tailor, but you should be quite presentable in the mean time.”
“Thank you,” I said a bit uncertainly, as I adjusted my mind to the thought that I was not to be haled away to the gallows.
“If you feel well enough to rise, Miss Goode has held breakfast.”
“I’m certainly well enough to rise,” I said with more good cheer than I felt. No head-ache, however severe, would induce me to miss breakfast with the angel of Allegheny.
“Very good, sir,” the old man replied. He stayed there, almost but not quite smiling, and it gradually became clear to me that he intended to remain while I rose and dressed. And so he did. He was an active participant in the dressing: for the first time since I had learned to dress myself, I allowed myself to be dressed by someone else. This was what it was like to be truly rich: to have someone to attend to one’s most inconsequential needs—not even to have to dress oneself. I was even more certain now that I must have that life for my own.
Breakfast confirmed me in that opinion. The most delightful part was the presence of Amelia, of course, but I was not immune to the other pleasures of a table laden with what I then considered luxurious delicacies. Nor was I dead to the delight of being conveyed back to our little house in a carriage nearly the size of our parlor.
“Such a grand house,” Viola said a little later on, as we sat in the dining-room for luncheon. My father had left Bradley entirely in charge of the store, which was not a comforting thought; but I resolved to put off my worries for the day and enjoy, for once, the favorable attention of my sister, who insisted that she must nurse me until I had recovered.
“Yes,” I agreed, “it is an elegant place.”
“And what an impression you made on Miss Goode!” she continued. “It’s obvious she thinks the world of you.”
“She is merely grateful for what, after all, any gentleman of spirit would have done.” I suppose I hoped she would disagree and insist that I had been heroically brave: by now I had really begun to think of myself as Amelia’s rescuer, rather than the man from whom, but for the timely intervention of fate, she would have prayed to be rescued. But Viola would not give me the satisfaction of contradicting me.
“Oh, she is very grateful,” Viola continued. “The way she looked at you, I should have said she was a good bit more than grateful. Oh, dear, what will your poor Gertrude think?”
I give you my word, dear reader (though you must know by now that my word is worth nothing), that, until that moment, I had not thought of Gertrude since I set out on my fateful expedition the night before. What, indeed, would Gertrude think? And what was I going to do about her?
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.
My thoughts occupied with the beautiful Miss Amelia Goode, I return to the great philosopher for guidance.
I came back home that evening in a very agitated state of mind. I had hidden my agitation from Gertrude well enough; I was fairly certain of that. But I could not hide it from myself. I had set out that evening intending to propose marriage to Gertrude, certain that there was nothing in the world I desired more; the glimpse of that girl in her victoria had reminded me that there was indeed one thing in the world I desired more than Gertrude. But she was wealthy; absurdly rich, I might almost say. The Goode glassmaking fortune was almost legendary. She occupied a sphere as far above me as the stars are above the moon. What was the use of even thinking about her? Gertrude was a fine woman; no one could say that she was not. She had the good sense and even temper that make an excellent wife. No one ought to desire more than Gertrude—and yet I did desire more than Gertrude.
This agitation of mine persisted into the next day, as poor Bradley discovered when he brought me a box of blue pencils after I had asked for a pencil.
“Confound it, Bradley,” I exploded, “will you put your brain to work for once? If I had wanted blue pencils, or red pencils, or green or yellow or lavender pencils, don’t you think I would have specified the color? If a man asks for a pencil, he wants a black pencil, not a whole herd of blue pencils.”
Bradley said nothing; he was simply inert, as if he were a rabbit hoping the hound might not see him if he stood very still.
“Well, take them back!” I shouted at him, after several unproductive seconds of silence between us. Bradley immediately took the pencils gingerly between his fingers, as if the box were a hot coal, and fairly ran into the back room.
Two or three minutes later, I realized that he was not going to come out again with the pencil I wanted. For some reason this particular stupidity annoyed me more than all the rest. I stood up and stormed back to where Bradley was standing like a Greek statue copied by a third-rate student.
“Where in blazes is that pencil?” I demanded in what was evidently the most terrifying tone of voice Bradley had ever heard. He stood straight and immobile, with eyes staring, and lips moving as if to form words that his frozen tongue refused to utter.
“Blast it!” I puffed to no one in particular; and I found my own pencil.
“Don’t you think you were rather short with Mr. Bradley?” my father asked me a little later, when Bradley had stepped out for a moment.
“Yes, I was,” I admitted, attempting an expression of contrition. But I was not contrite. Yes, I was indeed rather short with Bradley, who was doubtless much the better for it. His work improved, at any rate. It was apparent that he was terrified of me, and I suppose not without reason. After a few more days, however, I noticed that he was beginning to pick up some dim notion of how the stock was organized, and could, with some effort, retrieve a box of Esterbrook pens if a lady asked for one.
Over the next few weeks, I gradually learned more about Miss Amelia Goode—not by making inquiries so much as by simply keeping my ears open. It seemed that everyone in Allegheny knew of her, and the only excuse for my ignorance was my recent arrival in the city. For the people of Allegheny, she was not just a beauty; she was the beauty, or rather she was beauty itself. In every city there is one such girl whose physiognomy combines with her fortune to make her a kind of public institution; in Allegheny, that girl was Amelia Goode. Her engagement-book dictated the social calendar of the city: no ball or soiree or afternoon tea could be called “refined” unless she deigned to bless it with her presence.
Miss Goode was always at the center of a swarm of admirers, buzzing about her like bees, and with about the same effect on her perception as the buzzing of a bee or two would have. She treated them all with perfect civility and perfect indifference. She was the Vestal virgin of the social world. In women, she inspired envy and emulation; in men, desire and despair commingled. It was impossible to think of conquering her, as impossible as to think of conquering Beauty itself. She appeared to walk among mortals, but she had her true existence in the lofty realm of the ideals.
This creature’s fortune came from the glass works her ancient father had founded half a century before; for she was the child of his dotage, conceived (I know not how) when he was already entering the hoary winter of life.
These facts I accumulated and stored in my memory over the course of some weeks; I did not at once possess the perfect knowledge I have imparted to you, dear imagined reader of the future. In that time I continued to see Gertrude, but I had not yet proposed marriage to her. I believe I had formed some absurd idea in my mind that marrying Gertrude would prevent me from pursuing Amelia Goode.
It was misery, this obsession with what must be unattainable to one of my station. I will say this much for myself, and you shall decide whether it counts toward the extenuation or the aggravation of my folly: that I never really desired Miss Goode’s money. It was not that I had no desire to be wealthy, but rather that my lust for that perfect beauty was so intense that I simply forgot her wealth; or, rather, it was present to my mind only as a barrier that separated her from me. I am inclined to think it a case of aggravated folly when I look back on it at this remove: for money can buy the satisfaction of almost any lust, whereas lust almost invariably eats up money. To the young man pursuing a life of wickedness, I have this advice to give: always put greed before lust when indulging your petty sins.
I will say in my favor that the firm did not suffer. I was conscientious in my work in the store, and assiduous in discovering new opportunities for sales. It was during this time that I placed our first advertisement in Boli’s, in which I offered attractive terms to canvassing agents in rural areas, where there were no department stores.
“Do you really think that farmers’ wives and such will take an interest in expensive stationery?” my father asked when I announced my intention of taking out the magazine advertisement.
“I am sure of it,” I told him. In fact I was not sure at all, but I was willing to make the attempt. We had, for perhaps the first time in the history of the firm, the luxury of allowing one of my ideas to fail if it were its destiny to do so.
“I think we’d do better to stick with the cities,” my father said, cocking his head to look as if the opinion had cost him a great deal of arduous thinking. “Do people do much social correspondence in the country?”
“Are you going to forbid me to place the advertisement?” I asked directly, and a little testily.
I think he was taken aback by my exhibition of mildly ill temper. “No,” he replied, “no—not forbid it. You certainly have as much right as I to make such a decision.” (Here he admitted for the first time a principle that I had acted upon since the day after he had added the words “& Son” to the front of the store.) “I was merely making a suggestion, but of course if you have your mind made up, you might as well go ahead with it.”
I ought to mention here that my faith in the vanity of rural women was entirely justified, and to this day canvassing agents make up a large fraction of our sales. There is nothing a farm wife desires more than to prove to the world that she is just as good as her cousin in the big city. In the instructions I have written for our agents, I dwell particularly on that vanity, telling them frankly to emphasize what a social embarrassment it is to have one’s writing obviously out of date or incorrect, and that the Bousted System is the surest means of achieving correctness in correspondence. I give them a few cautionary tales to tell of ladies who lost their standing at church or in town because of a single ill-written, scratchy, blotted letter,—a catastrophe which might have been avoided if the letter had been written on stationery properly matched to the writer’s penmanship. I have read an article somewhere attributing a rise in the quality of rural penmanship to the activities of our agents and those of our imitators. —This is, of course, a digression; I mention it to show that I was still productive of new ideas even when I was miserable.
And I was miserable—I repeat it. I was the more so because I could not form in my mind an answer to my misery. Should I forget Gertrude? But Gertrude might almost certainly be my wife, whereas the divine, the inaccessible Miss Goode was as far above me as the celestial regions. I might as well be in love with a statue in the British Museum.
In love! Yes—that was the heart of the matter. I was not really in love with Gertrude, and I was in love with Amelia Goode. —Now, I would not have you suppose that I mean what imbecilic popular novels mean when their imbecilic heroes talk of being “in love.” I should say that I was in love with Miss Goode in the same way that the stallion is in love with the mare; and, as the fence is the greatest frustration in the stallion’s life, so the great obstacle in mine was the insuperable barrier of Miss Goode’s wealth. I had money—more money than my father had ever seen in his life, as he never tired of remarking—but it was a few pennies in comparison with the vast Goode fortune.
This state of things went on for months. From spring into summer I courted Gertrude, without making any definite proposal; and from spring into summer I longed for Amelia, without ever having been so much as introduced to her. I think, sometimes, that I shall always be more susceptible to feminine beauty than other men; when I write that I was miserable on account of having merely seen a celebrated beauty a few times, the thing hardly seems credible. Yet it was so.
I will not say that the misery did me no good. I believe that my consciousness of the vast difference in wealth between the Bousteds and the Goodes made me more assiduous in cultivating the Bousted fortune, small as it was. Still, misery is the thing I most remember from that time;—misery and labor, which alone had the power of alleviating my misery, and of which I did a prodigious amount. I cannot conceive of how I got along without a whole office full of clerks to sort out the correspondence from department stores and canvassing agents; but I did, though at the cost of leaving the work in the store more and more in the hands of my father and Bradley.
Eventually, worn down by my longing for that which it was not possible for me to obtain, I returned to Baucher—not, of course, the book itself, which was probably not to be found in all of Pittsburgh and Allegheny, but to that review of it which had become my holy writ. What, I asked Baucher, would the truly wicked, truly evolved man do in my situation? His answer shone clearly through the reviewer’s scornful irony. The man who is truly wicked lets nothing stand between himself and the object of his desires. The superior man brushes aside, or destroys, whatever would prevent him from reaching his goal. In the case of his relations with the weaker sex, the simple fact of woman’s weakness gives man an immeasurable advantage.
It is true, however, that law and custom give women considerable protection. A rational analysis of the problem reveals that the difficulty would not lie in the indifference or even outright refusal of Miss Goode, which might be overcome by a trifling application of force, but rather in the laws and customs that protected her. If these latter could be rendered inoperative in some way, then I might be able to fulfill my desire.
It is impossible to describe with what vigor this conclusion impressed itself upon me. It was quite likely that I could have what I desired, if only it could be done in such a way that the irrational virtue of the mass of mankind did not stand in my way. But it would require daring and determination. Had I the daring spirit necessary to succeed?
As always, the question was answered as soon as it was posed that way. I must succeed, because I had dared myself to succeed.