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by an occasional gleam across the dull background of shadows. The seventh glass, however, shone in the lamplight like a huge and baleful eye, winking occasionally with malevolent glee as the rumble of traffic in the street jarred its contents to a momentary activity.
The hot, lifeless atmosphere of the summer night rolled in through the open window, bringing with it suffocating odors of garbage, tarred pavements, and dust. Occasional flashes of lightning irradiated the western sky, turning its opaque surface to a livid green, and giving sure promise of a storm. Paul Remington set his teeth, dropped the unlighted cigarette he held between his fingers, and, rising, went toward the chiffonier.
The single remaining glass stood at the end of the straggling line. He took it in He took it in his hand, and, going to the table, sat down. For a moment he seemed about to drink, but the impulse passed. Placing the glass before him, he sat regarding it fixedly. Under the light of the lamp the mobile liquid quivered and danced as though inspired with life. Every night for six successive nights he had gone through all the agonies of death, only to realize that once again the Fates had stayed their hands. Now no further doubt remained: the seventh glass, glowing before him with almost diabolical intensity, held the destiny for which he had declared himself ready. How like the Fates, he thought, to subject him to this sevenfold agony. He pictured them in his mind, sitting in judgment upon him, thumbs down, implacable, voting him death, yet willing to give it to him only after they had prolonged his sufferings to the very last moment of the last day. No doubt they were grinning with delight at the ironic answer they had accorded his feeble challenge. Well, in a few moments all would be over. He was ready to do his part.
And yet there was no reason for hurry. He had drunk the first glass at ten o'clock of that first night seven days before. Not until ten o'clock would the allotted time expire. He felt for his watch, only to remember that he had long ago pawned it. The cheap alarm-clock on the mantel showed him that it still wanted twenty minutes to ten.
In twenty minutes many things might happen. He would play the game fairly
to the end. The decree against him had not yet been unalterably declared. Anxious as he was to end everything, he felt that he still must not judge the Fates hastily. If they were playing with him, he would show them that he could pay without flinching. There was still time for a telegram, a special-delivery letter, a late caller, bringing him some favorable news. Twenty minutes! They ticked themselves into eternity with intolerable slowness. Presently he rose and, taking the clock from the mantel, placed it on the table beneath the lamp. He staggered with weakness as he returned to his chair and resumed his contemplation of the glass.
Strange figures seemed to move about within its fiery depths. He saw himself struggling endlessly with a grisly gray presence, the demon of failure, strong, cruel, relentless, crushing him down every time he strove to rise and overcome it. Beside him stood the figure of a woman, a young girl, with brown eyes and a pouting red mouth. It was Aline, and she watched the combat with a cynical smile, her white teeth pressed into the scarlet of her under lip.
Other shadowy figures moved here and there, clutching at him with snake-like hands-poverty, disgrace, madness. He shuddered as he strained his eyes into the topaz depths of the glass.
His emotions, as he contemplated drinking it, differed materially from those which had filled him on the occasion of drinking the other six. Then there had existed an element of uncertainty, a chance that the glass he was about to drink might not, after all, contain the fatal dose. Now all such uncertainty had been removed. The remaining glass held the poison which would waft his soul, should he by chance find that he possessed one, gently and not painfully beyond the confines of this life. The twenty minutes, which had by now diminished to seventeen, alone stood between him and the hereafter. He had thrown his challenge to the Fates, and he had lost, unless within those few brief and fleeting moments his judges should relent.
The nickel alarm-clock ticked off the moments with an astonishing amount of noise. The record of their passing grew louder and louder, until it resounded through the room like the pounding of a trip-hammer. Yet despite the clamor with
which they passed, the interval until the hour seemed unbearably long. Remington was anxious to have the whole affair over and done with. Time after time he wiped his sweating forehead and groaned as he watched the minute-hand of the clock creep with maddening slowness toward the hour.
A curious dull feeling came over him. He seemed no longer to belong to the world of material things. Of all its myriad activities, its vast possessions, there remained to him only one thingthe glass of liquor which stood before him, glowing like some splendid and impossible jewel.
Despite his willingness, his almost almost eagerness, to abide by the results of his experiment, Remington still strained his ears, unconsciously perhaps, for some sound that might indicate that even at this eleventh hour his judges had relented. The faint ringing of the door-bell, three flights below, might mean a message from Aline, bidding him continue the fight. He had written to her that morning, sending her a last farewell. There had been no reply.
The door-bell, however, did not ring. The dull silence of the house remained unbroken save by the hum of traffic in the street, the far-off playing of a hurdygurdy, the rattle of an elevated train.
Remington, watching the clock, saw the minute-hand at last reach the vertical position which indicated the hour of ten. At almost the same moment a bell, far off, began to beat its muffled strokes through the hot thickness of the night. He glanced swiftly, but unseeingly, about, laughed a momentary laugh the very bitterness of which stopped him as soon as he heard it, then turned to the table, and drank the seventh glass.
Remington knew very well the symptoms which would follow the drinking of that glass. The sudden rush of blood to his brain, the gradually weakening heart action, the labored respiration-all these he had experienced in his imagination many times since he had first procured the white powder which was to put an end to all his earthly ills. He hurled the empty glass defiantly across the room, and laughed as it fell in a tinkling shower along the wall. Then he sat back, and with frozen lips waited for the end.
He felt distressingly weak from lack of food, and the nervous excitement under which he was laboring caused his heart to pound against the walls of his chest in a manner distinctly alarming. Its rapid beating sent a bewildering rush of blood to his brain, and gave him a peculiar sensation of lightness, so that for a moment he gripped the arms of his chair as though to prevent himself from floating away into space. He fixed his eyes upon the white face of the clock, and watched the almost imperceptible movements of the hands.
The pounding of his heart increased until he could hear it above the noisy ticking of the clock. The two sounds raced along side by side, filling the room with a violent clamor. From time to time they seemed to synchronize; then the beating of his heart, being the more rapid, would draw ahead of the ticking of the clock, leaving him with a jarring and disagreeable sense of discord, of lack of rhythm, which caused him inexpressible pain. He found himself waiting with singular anxiety for the moment when the two beats would again merge into one.
The first tumultuous, response of his heart to the stimulant and the drug now began to disappear, and with it the burning flush which had suffused him. A cold and disagreeable perspiration took its place, accompanied by a feeling of great weakness. The action of his heart became less rapid; this he was able to determine at once by observing the lengthening of the interval required for it to catch up with the ticking of the clock. Soon they were racing along side by side, matching beat for beat; then the heart began, almost imperceptibly at first, to fall into the rear, and once again the unrhythmic beating jarred his tensely drawn nerves.
The effort to concentrate his gaze upon the face of the clock became increasingly painful. Try as he would, he found his eyes wandering about the room. The bed, the chiffonier, the trunk beside the wall seemed to have receded to immense and ghostly distances. Even the lamp, upon which he could most easily fix his gaze, seemed to float away, and at the same time to swell to absurd proportions. For a time it hung in the air before him like a huge grinning moon, then began to move toward the far-off wall, growing larger and larger as it receded. The clock had
vanished. He could no longer perceive it, but from a misty cloud about the table its ominous ticking proclaimed the ebbing moments of his life.
He gasped for air, and found an everincreasing difficulty in breathing. The cloud about the table rose higher and higher, enveloping him in a choking fog, thick, gray, lifeless. With a fierce effort he filled his lungs, and immediately the various objects in the room seemed to rush back to their accustomed places. The bed, the chiffonier, closed in about him, the lamp winged its way back to the table, while from the mists which surrounded it the face of the clock shone imperturbable and bland.
The relief, however, was only momentary. With the increase of his muscular weakness and the greater difficulty he experienced in breathing, the vagueness of things about him returned with even greater force. This time the pieces of furniture vanished entirely, as though the walls of the room had opened and allowed them to be swallowed by the darkness without. The lamp, swollen to impossible size, now occupied the entire side of the room, the cracks in the shade giving to it the appearance of an evil and grinning face.
The ticking of the clock had by this time become a mighty pounding, as of a sledge-hammer on hollow pieces of iron. It drowned completely the faint beating of his heart. Above the tumult which filled the room came a roar as of distant thunder. It seemed to be the face in the lamp, addressing him. "Fate!" it muttered with grinning lips-"Fate! Fate! Fate!" The words died away in a long crackle of laughter. A luminous arm projected itself from the mists about the table, the thumb of its huge, misshapen hand turned downward. Again the sharp, rattling laugh vibrated through the room, accompanied by the thunderous roar of "Fate!"
Remington could endure no more. He knew that the next symptom would be a paralysis of his muscles, followed by the stopping of his rapidly weakening heart. He wanted to die, yet the instinct to live caused him to struggle against death with all his strength. He felt himself unable longer to endure the choking sensation which accompanied his efforts to breathe.
Exerting all his strength, he rose from his chair and staggered toward the window. He must have air-air. If he could only get that, nothing else mattered.
One step he took, two, with trembling muscles and livid face. He could not see the window; his senses no longer performed their functions. Gasping, choking for breath, he stumbled blindly toward the wall.
It appeared an incalculable distance. away. His feet seemed made of stone, requiring an enormous effort to raise them from the floor. A confused rumbling in his brain deafened him. With one hand he reached out, searching for the window.
And then, with a flash of unspeakable brilliance, the lamp whirled itself upon him. For a moment it dazzled his eyes; then it seemed all of a sudden to explode to the accompaniment of cyclopean thunder.
Remington's heart gave a final, despairing beat. He flung his arms outward as all the rigidity which held his body upright passed from it. With a choking cry he fell headlong upon the floor.
The clock continued its monotonous ticking. The lamp glowed faintly from the table. Paul Remington, however, had passed beyond all realization of their pres
It was just seven minutes past ten. Outside, the thunder-storm raged with almost tropical fury.
Half a block in the direction of Broadway a diminutive figure in a dripping, black rubber coat struggled manfully westward against the swirl of the storm. It was a messenger-boy, and beneath his coat he clutched a book containing a yellow envelop. He zigzagged slowly along the slippery pavement in the manner of a vessel tacking against a head wind. From time to time he looked up at the numbers of the houses as he passed.
At last, with a snort of relief, he stopped, and, ascending the crumbling brownstone steps of a house near the end of the block, jerked viciously at the oldfashioned door-bell.
A slender and acute-looking Irish girl answered the summons. The boy fumbled with his book.
"Telegram for Mr. Remington," he announced stolidly. "Sign here." His stubby forefinger indicated wetly a printed line upon the page.
The girl manipulated the bit of pencil which hung from the book by a string, then took the telegram and ascended with increasing slowness to the third-floor hall bedroom. Here she proceeded to knock, at first gently, then with greater and greater asperity. Her efforts, however, were unproductive of any result. She tried the knob, only to find that the door was locked. A feeling of alarm began to creep over her. Soon her staccato assaults upon the door brought forth a shrill chorus of disapproval from the occupants of the adjoining rooms.
Above the excitement thus created she heard the penetrating voice of Mrs. Perry, the landlady, ascending from the ground floor.
"Ellen!" it said warningly, "what are you doing up there?"
"I've got a telegram for Mr. Remington. He won't answer."
Mrs. Perry, grown gray in her profession, scented trouble at once. Only the previous winter a discouraged actor had deprived her of three weeks' board and brought unpleasant notoriety upon the house by turning on the gas.
"Ellen," she commanded come here at once."
"Yes, 'm." The girl descended the stairs and mechanically gave Mrs. Perry the yellow envelop. Equally mechanically the latter took it and tore it open.
"Maybe he 's out," she suggested. "No, 'm, he ain't out. He ain't been He ain't been out since noon. And, besides, his door 's locked on the inside. I tried to look through the keyhole. The key 's in it."
Mrs. Perry mumbled the telegram aloud:
Owe you sincerest apologies. Have just been informed that wallet containing stolen money has been traced to Zimmerman, who has confessed theft. Placed same in your pocket to avoid detection, meaning to claim it from you as soon as you left the bank. Report to me in morning.
A look of grim understanding crossed Mrs. Perry's face. Remington's roomrent was three weeks in arrears, and she had about reached the conclusion that it was likely to remain so. If he had not already done anything desperate, this mes
sage meant that his affairs were on the mend. Of the ironic Fate which had caused the message to be delayed half an hour by the storm and his changed address she realized nothing. Closely followed by the maid, she ascended to Remington's door.
The knocking was repeated, with no better results than before. Mrs. Perry soon desisted. The noise bade fair to rouse the entire house.
"I'm going to break it open," she remarked, placing her strong shoulder against the door. The operation would present no serious difficulties, she very well knew. The locks on the bedroom doors in her house were purposely frail, with an eye to just such contingencies.
In a moment the door had splintered itself softly open, and the two women stood horrified on the threshold. Remington's body lay huddled on the floor beneath the window. Ellen started toward it, but her employer stopped her.
"Don't touch a thing until the police get here," she warned. "Better go for one at once."
The girl had just reached the lower hall when there came a sound of furious ringing at the front door-bell. It vibrated shrilly through the otherwise silent house. What commotion the noise of Ellen's knocking had created had long since subsided with its cause. Mrs. Perry peered downward over the balustrade of the landing as the maid opened the door for the caller.
From the darkness of the vestibule came a sound of excited whispering, followed by a cry as a hurried figure swept into the hall and up the stairs. Ellen followed, murmuring unheeded protests. Simultaneously they faced Mrs. Perry at the door
of the room.
"Where is he?" the new-comer demanded on the crest of a sob. She was a young girl, with red, pouting lips, their redness made the more noticeable by the pallor of her face.
The landlady raised her hand warningly. Such disturbance was not well for the comfort and peace of mind of her
"Who are you?" she demanded. "What do you want?"
"I'm Aline Barnes. I want to see Mr. Remington. I'm afraid, from a let
"He's done it! he 's done it!" she and tears. gasped. "O my God! my God!"
'He must have had it in one of them glasses," Mrs. Perry said, her eyes fixed upon the array on the chiffonier.
Ellen followed her glances. "Mother Mary!" she gasped as she heard the landlady's words. "Mother "Mother Mary!" With bulging eyes she crossed the room.
And then an amazing thing happened. Paul Remington gave a sigh, opened his eyes, and slowly sat up. With incredulous face he gazed at the three women. Aline, kneeling beside him, was the first to recover her voice.
"Paul," she screamed, "what is the matter?"
He looked at her, wondering. "I-I don't know," he gasped. "I-I must have fainted. I can't understand. I took the poison-"
"Was it in wan o' thim ye had it?" cried the maid, relapsing for the moment
"I-I-praise be!-I knocked over three of thim glasses last Tuesday mornin' whin I was dustin' out the room. I-I thought it was just whisky in 'em, so I-I filled 'em up ag'in from the bottle in the closet."
Remington rose unsteadily to his feet. Aline was still clinging with frantic eagerness to his arm. Mrs. Perry thrust the telegram from Mr. Langham into his hand.
"I opened it," was all she said.
He read the telegram through. Then he looked down at Aline. He had taken no poison. The whisky, his weakened condition, his imagination-he had only fainted, after all. A feeling of littleness, of humiliation, came over him. How absurd now seemed his defiance of the Fates. He glanced at Ellen, their unconscious instrument, rocking to and fro in the chair. The challenge he had flung to them they had answered, through her, six days before.
BY DOUGLAS DUER
HILD of those lovers, mortal mirth and woe,
Your heart was breaking then; I know that sound.