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I am a young physician of limited practice and great ambition. At the time of the incidents I am about to relate, my office was in a respectable house in Twenty-fourth Street, New York City, and was shared, greatly to my own pleasure and convenience, by a clever young German whose acquaintance I had made in the hospital, and to whom I had become, in the one short year in which we had practised together, most unreasonably attached. I say unreasonably, because it was a liking for which I could not account even to myself, as he was neither especially prepossessing in appearance nor gifted with any too great amiability of character. He was, however, a brilliant theorist and an unquestionably trustworthy practitioner, and for these reasons probably I entertained for him a profound respect, and as I have already said a hearty and spontaneous affection.
As our specialties were the same, and as, moreover, they were of a nature which did not call for night-work, we usually spent the evening together. But once I failed to join him at the office, and it is of this night I have to tell.
I had been over to Orange, for my heart was sore over the quarrel I had had with Dora, and I was resolved to make one final effort towards reconciliation. But alas for my hopes, she was not at home; and, what was worse, I soon learned that she was going to sail the next morning for Europe. This news, coming as it did without warning, affected me seriously, for I knew if she escaped from my influence at this time, I should certainly lose her forever; for the gentleman concerning whom we had quarrelled, was a much better match for her than I, and almost equally in love. However, her father, who had always been my friend, did not look upon this same gentleman's advantages with as favorable an eye as she did, and when he heard I was in the house, he came hurrying into my presence, with excitement written in every line of his fine face.
"Ah, Dick, my boy," he exclaimed joyfully, "how opportune this is! I was wishing you would come, for, do you know, Appleby has taken passage on board the same steamer as Dora, and if he and she cross together, they will certainly come to an understanding, and that will not be fair to you, or pleasing to me; and I do not care who knows it!"
I gave him one look and sank, quite overwhelmed, into the seat nearest me. Appleby was the name of my rival, and I quite agreed with her father that the tête-à-têtes afforded by an ocean voyage would surely put an end to the hopes which I had so long and secretly cherished.
"Does she know he is going? Did she encourage him?" I stammered.
But the old man answered genially: "Oh, she knows, but I cannot say anything positive about her having encouraged him. The fact is, Dick, she still holds a soft place in her heart for you, and if you were going to be of the party--"
"I think you would come off conqueror yet."
"Then I will be of the party," I cried. "It is only six now, and I can be in New York by seven. That gives me five hours before midnight, time enough in which to arrange my plans, see Richter, and make everything ready for sailing in the morning."
"Dick, you are a trump!" exclaimed the gratified father. "You have a spirit I like, and if Dora does not like it too, then I am mistaken in her good sense. But can you leave your patients?"
"Just now I have but one patient who is in anything like a critical condition," I replied, "and her case Richter understands almost as well as I do myself. I will have to see her this evening of course and explain, but there is time for that if I go now. The steamer sails at nine?"
"Do not tell Dora that I expect to be there; let her be surprised. Dear girl, she is quite well, I hope?"
"Yes, very well; only going over with her aunt to do some shopping. A poor outlook for a struggling physician, you think. Well, I don't know about that; she is just the kind of a girl to go from one extreme to another. If she once loves you she will not care any longer about Paris fashions."
"She shall love me," I cried, and left him in a great hurry, to catch the first train for Hoboken.
It seemed wild, this scheme, but I determined to pursue it. I loved Dora too much to lose her, and if three weeks' absence would procure me the happiness of my life, why should I hesitate to avail myself of the proffered opportunity. I rode on air as the express I had taken shot from station to station, and by the time I had arrived at Christopher Street Ferry my plans were all laid and my time disposed of till midnight.
It was therefore with no laggard step I hurried to my office, nor was it with any ordinary feelings of impatience that I found Richter out; for this was not his usual hour for absenting himself and I had much to tell him and many advices to give. It was the first balk I had received and I was fuming over it, when I saw what looked like a package of books lying on the table before me, and though it was addressed to my partner, I was about to take it up, when I heard my name uttered in a tremulous tone, and turning, saw a man standing in the doorway, who, the moment I met his eye, advanced into the room and said:
"O doctor, I have been waiting for you an hour. Mrs. Warner has been taken very bad, sir, and she prays that you will not delay a moment before coming to her. It is something serious I fear, and she may have died already, for she would have no one else but you, and it is now an hour since I left her."
"And who are you?" I asked, for though I knew Mrs. Warner well--she is the patient to whom I have already referred--I did not know her messenger.
"I am a servant in the house where she was taken ill."
"Then she is not at home?"
"No, sir, she is in Second Avenue."
"I am very sorry," I began, "but I have not the time--"
But he interrupted eagerly: "There is a carriage at the door; we thought you might not have your phaeton ready."
I had noticed the carriage.
"Very well," said I. "I will go, but first let me write a line--"
"O sir," the man broke in pleadingly, "do not wait for anything. She is really very bad, and I heard her calling for you as I ran out of the house."
"She had her voice then?" I ventured, somewhat distrustful of the whole thing and yet not knowing how to refuse the man, especially as it was absolutely necessary for me to see Mrs. Warner that night and get her consent to my departure before I could think of making further plans.
So, leaving word for Richter to be sure and wait for me if he came home before I did, I signified to Mrs. Warner's messenger that I was ready to go with him, and immediately took a seat in the carriage which had been provided for me. The man at once jumped up on the box beside the driver, and before I could close the carriage door we were off, riding rapidly down Seventh Avenue.
As we went the thought came, "What if Mrs. Warner will not let me off!" But I dismissed the fear at once, for this patient of mine is an extremely unselfish woman, and if she were not too ill to grasp the situation, would certainly sympathize with the strait I was in and consent to accept Richter's services in place of my own, especially as she knows and trusts him.
When the carriage stopped it was already dark and I could distinguish little of the house I entered, save that it was large and old and did not look like an establishment where a man servant would be likely to be kept.
"Is Mrs. Warner here?" I asked of the man who was slowly getting down from the box.
"Yes, sir," he answered quickly; and I was about to ring the bell before me, when the door opened and a young German girl, courtesying slightly, welcomed me in, saying:
"Mrs. Warner is up-stairs, sir; in the front room, if you please."
Not doubting her, but greatly astonished at the barren aspect of the place I was in, I stumbled up the faintly lighted stairs before me and entered the great front room. It was empty, but through an open door at the other end I heard a voice saying: "He has come, madam"; and anxious to see my patient, whose presence in this desolate house I found it harder and harder to understand, I stepped into the room where she presumably lay.
Alas! for my temerity in doing so; for no sooner had I crossed the threshold than the door by which I had entered closed with a click unlike any I had ever heard before, and when I turned to see what it meant, another click came from the opposite side of the room, and I perceived, with a benumbed sense of wonder, that the one person whose somewhat shadowy figure I had encountered on entering had vanished from the place, and that I was shut up alone in a room without visible means of egress.
This was startling, and hard to believe at first, but after I had tried the door by which I had entered and found it securely locked, and then bounding to the other side of the room, tried the opposite one with the same result, I could not but acknowledge I was caught. What did it mean? Caught, and I was in haste, mad haste. Filling the room with my cries, I shouted for help and a quick release, but my efforts were naturally fruitless, and after exhausting myself in vain I stood still and surveyed, with what equanimity was left me, the appearance of the dreary place in which I had thus suddenly become entrapped.
It was a small square room, and I shall not soon forget with what a foreboding shudder I observed that its four blank walls were literally unbroken by a single window, for this told me that I was in no communication with the street, and that it would be impossible for me to summon help from the outside world. The single gas jet burning in a fixture hanging from the ceiling was the only relief given to the eye in the blank expanse of white wall that surrounded me; while as to furniture, the room could boast of nothing more than an old-fashioned black-walnut table and two chairs, the latter cushioned, but stiff in the back and generally dilapidated in appearance. The only sign of comfort about me was a tray that stood on the table, containing a couple of bottles of wine and two glasses. The bottles were full and the glasses clean, and to add to this appearance of hospitality a box of cigars rested invitingly near, which I could not fail to perceive, even at the first glance, were of the very best brand.
Astonished at these tokens of consideration for my welfare, and confounded by the prospect which they offered of a lengthy stay in this place, I gave another great shout; but to no better purpose than before. Not a voice answered, and not a stir was heard in the house. But there came from without the faint sound of suddenly moving wheels, as if the carriage which I had left standing before the door had slowly rolled away. If this were so, then was I indeed a prisoner, while the moments so necessary to my plans, and perhaps to the securing of my whole future happiness, were flying by like the wind. As I realized this, and my own utter helplessness, I fell into one of the chairs before me in a state of perfect despair. Not that any fears for my life were disturbing me, though one in my situation might well question if he would ever again breathe the open air from which he had been so ingeniously lured. I did not in that first moment of utter downheartedness so much as inquire the reason for the trick which had been played upon me. No, my heart was full of Dora, and I was asking myself if I were destined to lose her after all, and that through no lack of effort on my part, but just because a party of thieves or blackmailers had thought fit to play a game with my liberty.
It could not be; there must be some mistake about it; it was some great joke, or I was the victim of a dream, or suffering from some hideous nightmare. Why, only a half hour before I was in my own office, among my own familiar belongings, and now--But, alas, it was no delusion. Only four blank, whitewashed walls met my inquiring eyes, and though I knocked and knocked again upon the two doors which guarded me on either side, hollow echoes continued to be the only answer I received.
Had the carriage then taken away the two persons I had seen in this house, and was I indeed alone in its great emptiness? The thought made me desperate, but notwithstanding this I was resolved to continue my efforts, for I might be mistaken; there might yet be some being left who would yield to my entreaties if they were backed by something substantial.
Taking out my watch, I laid it on the table; it was just a quarter to eight. Then I emptied my trousers pockets of whatever money they held, and when all was heaped up before me, I could count but twelve dollars, which, together with my studs and a seal ring which I wore, seemed a paltry pittance with which to barter for the liberty of which I had been robbed. But it was all I had with me, and I was willing to part with it at once if only some one would unlock the door and let me go. But how to make known my wishes even if there was any one to listen to them? I had already called in vain, and there was no bell--yes, there was; why had I not seen it before? There was a bell and I sprang to ring it. But just as my hand fell on the cord, I heard a gentle voice behind my back saying in good English, but with a strong foreign accent:
"Put up your money, Mr. Atwater; we do not want your money, only your society. Allow me to beg you to replace both watch and money."
Wheeling about in my double surprise at the presence of this intruder and his unexpected acquaintance with my name, I encountered the smiling glance of a middle-aged man of genteel appearance and courteous manners. He was bowing almost to the ground, and was, as I instantly detected, of German birth and education, a gentleman, and not the blackleg I had every reason to expect to see.
"You have made a slight mistake," he was saying; "it is your society, only your society, that we want."
Astonished at his appearance, and exceedingly irritated by his words, I stepped back as he offered me my watch, and bluntly cried:
"If it is my society only that you want, you have certainly taken very strange means to procure it. A thief could have set no neater trap, and if it is money you want, state your sum and let me go, for my time is valuable and my society likely to be unpleasant."
He gave a shrug with his shoulders that in no wise interfered with his set smile.
"You choose to be facetious," he observed. "I have already remarked that we have no use for your money. Will you sit down? Here is some excellent wine, and if this brand of cigars does not suit you, I will send for another."
"Send for the devil!" I cried, greatly exasperated. "What do you mean by keeping me in this place against my will? Open that door and let me out, or--"
I was ready to spring and he saw it. Smiling more atrociously than ever, he slipped behind the table, and before I could reach him, had quietly drawn a pistol, which he cocked before my eyes.
"You are excited," he remarked, with a suavity that nearly drove me mad. "Now excitement is no aid to good company, and I am determined that none but good company shall be in this room to-night. So if you will be kind enough to calm yourself, Mr. Atwater, you and I may yet enjoy ourselves, but if not--" the action he made was significant, and I felt the cold sweat break out on my forehead through all the heat of my indignation.
But I did not mean to show him that he had intimidated me.
"Excuse me," said I, "and put down your pistol. Though you are making me lose irredeemable time, I will try and control myself enough to give you an opportunity for explaining yourself. Why have you entrapped me into this place?"
"I have already told you," said he, gently laying the pistol before him, but within easy reach of his hand.
"But that is preposterous," I began, fast losing my self-control again. "You do not know me, and if you did--"
"Pardon me, you see I know your name."
Yes, that was true, and the fact set me thinking. How did he know my name? I did not know him, nor did I know this house, or any reason for which I could have been beguiled into it. Was I the victim of a conspiracy, or was the man mad? Looking at him very earnestly, I declared:
"My name is Atwater, and so far you are right, but in learning that much about me you must also have learned that I am neither rich nor influential, nor of any special value to a blackmailer. Why choose me out then for--your society? Why not choose some one who can--talk?"
"I find your conversation very interesting."
Baffled, exasperated almost beyond the power to restrain myself, I shook my fist in his face, notwithstanding I saw his hand fly to his pistol.
"Let me go!" I shrieked. "Let me go out of this place. I have business, I tell you, important business which means everything to me, and which, if I do not attend to it to-night, will be lost to me for ever. Let me go, and I will so far reward you that I will speak to no one of what has taken place here to-night, but go my ways, forgetful of you, forgetful of this house, forgetful of all connected with it."
"You are very good," was his quiet reply, "but this wine has to be drunk." And he calmly poured out a glass, while I drew back in despair. "You do not drink wine?" he queried, holding up the glass he had filled between himself and the light. "It is a pity, for it is of most rare vintage. But perhaps you smoke?"
Sick and disgusted, I found a chair, and sat down in it. If the man were crazy, there was certainly method in his madness. Besides, he had not a crazy eye; there was calm calculation in it and not a little good-nature. Did he simply want to detain me, and if so, did he have a motive it would pay me to fathom before I exerted myself further to insure my release? Answering the wave he made me with his hand by reaching out for the bottle and filling myself a glass, I forced myself to speak more affably as I remarked:
"If the wine must be drunk, we had better be about it, as you cannot mean to detain me more than an hour, whatever reason you may have for wishing my society."
He looked at me inquiringly before answering, then tossing off his glass, he remarked:
"I am sorry, but in an hour a man can scarcely make the acquaintance of another man's exterior."
"Then you mean--"
"To know you thoroughly, if you will be so good; I may never have the opportunity again."
He must be mad; nothing else but mania could account for such words and such actions; and yet, if mad, why was he allowed to enter my presence? The man who brought me here, the woman who received me at the door, had not been mad.
"And I must stay here--" I began.
"Till I am quite satisfied. I am afraid that will take till morning."
I gave a cry of despair, and then in my utter desperation spoke up to him as I would to a man of feeling:
"You don't know what you are doing; you don't know what I shall suffer by any such cruel detention. This night is not like other nights to me. This is a special night in my life, and I need it, I need it, I tell you, to spend as I will. The woman I love"--it seemed horrible to speak of her in this place, but I was wild at my helplessness, and madly hoped I might awake some answering chord in a breast which could not be void of all feeling or he would not have that benevolent look in his eye--"the woman I love," I repeated, "sails for Europe to-morrow. We have quarrelled, but she still cares for me, and if I can sail on the same steamer, we will yet make up and be happy."
"At what time does this steamer start?"
"At nine in the morning."
"Well, you shall leave this house at eight. If you go directly to the steamer you will be in time."
"But--but," I panted, "I have made no arrangements. I shall have to go to my lodgings, write letters, get money. I ought to be there at this moment. Have you no mercy on a man who never did you wrong, and only asks to quit you and forget the precious hour you have made him lose?"
"I am sorry," he said, "it is certainly quite unfortunate, but the door will not be opened before eight. There is really no one in the house to unlock it."
"And do you mean to say," I cried aghast, "that you could not open that door if you would, that you are locked in here as well as I, and that I must remain here till morning, no matter how I feel or you feel?"
"Will you not take a cigar?" he asked.
Then I began to see how useless it was to struggle, and visions of Dora leaning on the steamer rail with that serpent whispering soft entreaties in her ear came rushing before me, till I could have wept in my jealous chagrin.
"It is cruel, base, devilish," I began. "If you had the excuse of wanting money, and took this method of wringing my all from me, I could have patience, but to entrap and keep me here for nothing, when my whole future happiness is trembling in the balance, is the work of a fiend and--" I made a sudden pause, for a strange idea had struck me.
What if this man, these men and this woman, were in league with him whose rivalry I feared, and whom I had intended to supplant on the morrow. It was a wild surmise, but was it any wilder than to believe I was held here for a mere whim, a freak, a joke, as this bowing, smiling man before me would have me believe?
Rising in fresh excitement, I struck my hand on the table. "You want to keep me from going on the steamer," I cried. "That other wretch who loves her has paid you--"
But that other wretch could not know that I was meditating any such unusual scheme, as following him without a full day's warning. I thought of this even before I had finished my sentence, and did not need the blank astonishment in the face of the man before me to convince me that I had given utterance to a foolish accusation. "It would have been some sort of a motive for your actions," I humbly added, as I sank back from my hostile attitude; "now you have none."
I thought he bestowed upon me a look of quiet pity, but if so he soon hid it with his uplifted glass.
"Forget the girl," said he; "I know of a dozen just as pretty."
I was too indignant to answer.
"Women are the bane of life," he now sententiously exclaimed. "They are ever intruding themselves between a man and his comfort, as for instance just now between yourself and this good wine."
I caught up the bottle in sheer desperation.
"Don't talk of them," I cried, "and I will try and drink. I almost wish there was poison in the glass. My death here might bring punishment upon you."
He shook his head, totally unmoved by my passion.
"We deal punishment, not receive it. It would not worry me in the least to leave you lying here upon the floor."
I did not believe this, but I did not stop to weigh the question then; I was too much struck by a word he had used.
"Deal punishment?" I repeated. "Are you punishing me? Is that why I am here?"
He laughed and held out his glass to mine.
"You enjoy being sarcastic," he observed. "Well, it gives a spice to conversation, I own. Talk is apt to be dull without it."
For reply I struck the glass from his hand; it fell and shivered, and he looked for the moment really distressed.
"I had rather you had struck me," he remarked, "for I have an answer for an injury like that; but for a broken glass--" He sighed and looked dolefully at the pieces on the floor.
Mortified and somewhat ashamed, I put down my own glass.
"You should not have exasperated me," I cried, and walked away beyond temptation, to the other side of the room.
His spirits had received a dampener, but in a few minutes he seized upon a cigar and began smoking; as the wreaths curled over his head he began to talk, and this time it was on subjects totally foreign to myself and even to himself. It was good talk; that I recognized, though I hardly listened to what he said. I was asking myself what time it had now got to be, and what was the meaning of my incarceration, till my brain became weary and I could scarcely distinguish the topic he discussed. But he kept on for all my seeming, and indeed real, indifference, kept on hour after hour in a monologue he endeavored to make interesting, and which probably would have been so if the time and occasion had been fit for my enjoying it. As it was, I had no ear for his choicest phrases, his subtlest criticisms, or his most philosophic disquisitions. I was wrapped up in self and my cruel disappointment, and when in a certain access of frenzy I leaped to my feet and took a look at the watch still lying on the table, and saw it was four o'clock in the morning, I gave a bound of final despair, and throwing myself on the floor, gave myself up to the heavy sleep that mercifully came to relieve me.
I was roused by feeling a touch on my breast. Clapping my hand to the spot where I had felt the intruding hand, I discovered that my watch had been returned to my pocket. Drawing it out I first looked at it and then cast my eyes quickly about the room. There was no one with me, and the doors stood open between me and the hall. It was eight o'clock, as my watch had just told me.
That I rushed from the house and took the shortest road to the steamer, goes without saying. I could not cross the ocean with Dora, but I might yet see her and tell her how near I came to giving her my company on that long voyage which now would only serve to further the ends of my rival. But when, after torturing delays on cars and ferry-boats, and incredible efforts to pierce a throng that was equally determined not to be pierced, I at last reached the wharf, it was to behold her, just as I had fancied in my wildest moments, leaning on a rail of the ship and listening, while she abstractedly waved her hand to some friends below, to the words of the man who had never looked so handsome to me or so odious as at this moment of his unconscious triumph. Her father was near her, and from his eager attitude and rapidly wandering gaze I saw that he was watching for me. At last he spied me struggling aboard, and immediately his face lighted up in a way which made me wish he had not thought it necessary to wait for my anticipated meeting with his daughter.
"Ah, Dick, you are late," he began, effusively, as I put foot on deck.
But I waved him back and went at once to Dora.
"Forgive me, pardon me," I incoherently said, as her sweet eyes rose in startled pleasure to mine. "I would have brought you flowers, but I meant to sail with you, Dora, I tried to--but wretches, villains, prevented it and--and--"
"Oh, it does not matter," she said, and then blushed, probably because the words sounded unkind, "I mean--"
But she could not say what she meant, for just then the bell rang for all visitors to leave, and her father came forward, evidently thinking all was right between us, smiled benignantly in her face, gave her a kiss and me a wink and disappeared in the crowd that was now rapidly going ashore.
I felt that I must follow, but I gave her one look and one squeeze of the hand, and then as I saw her glances wander to his face, I groaned in spirit, stammered some words of choking sorrow and was gone, before her embarrassment would let her speak words, which I knew would only add to my grief and make this hasty parting unendurable.
The look of amazement and chagrin with which her father met my reappearance on the dock can easily be imagined.
"Why, Dick," he exclaimed, "aren't you going after all? I thought I could rely on you. Where's your pluck, lad? Scared off by a frown? I wouldn't have believed it, Dick. What if she does frown to-day; she will smile to-morrow."
I shook my head; I could not tell him just then that it was not through any lack of pluck on my part that I had failed him.
When I left the dock I went straight to a restaurant, for I was faint as well as miserable. But my cup of coffee choked me and the rolls and eggs were more than I could face. Rising impatiently, I went out. Was any one more wretched than I that morning and could any one nourish a more bitter grievance? As I strode towards my lodgings I chewed the cud of my disappointment till my wrongs loomed up like mountains and I was seized by a spirit of revenge. Should I let such an interference as I had received go unpunished? No, if the wretch who had detained me was not used to punishment he should receive a specimen of it now and from a man who was no longer a prisoner, and who once aroused did not easily forego his purposes. Turning aside from my former destination, I went immediately to a police-station and when I had entered my complaint was astonished to see that all the officials had grouped about me and were listening to my words with the most startled interest.
"Was the man who came for you a German?" one asked.
I said "Yes."
"And the man who stood guardian over you and entertained you with wine and cigars, was not he a German too?"
I nodded acquiescence and they at once began to whisper together; then one of them advanced to me and said:
"You have not been home, I understand; you had better come."
Astonished by his manner I endeavored to inquire what he meant, but he drew me away, and not till we were within a stone's throw of my office did he say, "You must prepare yourself for a shock. The impertinences you suffered from last night were unpleasant no doubt, but if you had been allowed to return home, you might not now be deploring them in comparative peace and safety."
"What do you mean?"
"That your partner was not as fortunate as yourself. Look up at the house; what do you see there?"
A crowd was what I saw first, but he made me look higher, and then I perceived that the windows of my room, of our room, were shattered and blackened and that part of the casement of one had been blown out.
"A fire!" I shrieked. "Poor Richter was smoking--"
"No, he was not smoking. He had no time for a smoke. An infernal machine burst in that room last night and your friend was its wretched victim."
I never knew why my friend's life was made a sacrifice to the revenge of his fellow-countrymen. Though we had been intimate in the year we had been together, he had never talked to me of his country and I had never seen him in company with one of his own nation. But that he was the victim of some political revenge was apparent, for though it proved impossible to find the man who had detained me, the house was found and ransacked, and amongst other secret things was discovered the model of the machine which had been introduced into our room, and which had proved so fatal to the man it was addressed to. Why men who were so relentless in their purposes towards him should have taken such pains to keep me from sharing his fate, is one of those anomalies in human nature which now and then awake our astonishment. If I had not lost Dora through my detention at their hands I should look back upon that evening with sensations of thankfulness. As it is, I sometimes question if it would not have been better if they had let me take my chances.
* * * * * * *
Have I lost Dora? From a letter I received to-day I begin to think not.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
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