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XL


For months Beverly Carlysle had remained a remote and
semi-mysterious figure. She had been in some hearts and in many
minds, but to most of them she was a name only. She had been the
motive behind events she never heard of, the quiet center in a
tornado of emotions that circled about without touching her.

On the whole she found her life, with the settling down of the
piece to a successful, run, one of prosperous monotony. She had
re-opened and was living in the 56th Street house, keeping a simple
establishment of cook, butler and maid, and in the early fall she
added a town car and a driver. After that she drove out every
afternoon except on matinee days, almost always alone, but sometimes
with a young girl from the company.

She was very lonely. The kaleidoscope that is theatrical New York
had altered since she left it. Only one or two of her former
friends remained, and she found them uninteresting and narrow with
the narrowness of their own absorbing world. She had forgotten that
the theater was like an island, cut off from the rest of the world,
having its own politics, its own society divided by caste, almost
its own religion. Out of its insularity it made occasional
excursions to dinners and week-ends; even into marriage, now and
then with an outlander. But almost always it went back, eager for
its home of dressing-room and footlights, of stage entrances up
dirty alleys, of door-keepers and managers and parts and costumes.

Occasionally she had callers, men she had met or who were brought to
see her. She saw them over a tea-table, judged them remorselessly,
and eliminated gradually all but one or two. She watched her dignity
and her reputation with the care of an ambitious woman trying to live
down the past, and she succeeded measurably well. Now and then a
critic spoke of her as a second Maude Adams, and those notices she
kept and treasured.

But she was always uneasy. Never since the night he had seen Judson
Clark in the theater had they rung up without her brother having
carefully combed the house with his eyes. She knew her limitations;
they would have to ring down if she ever saw him over the footlights.
And the season had brought its incidents, to connect her with the
past. One night Gregory had come back and told her Jean Melis was
in the balcony.

The valet was older and heavier, but he had recognized him.

"Did he see you?" was her first question.

"Yes. What about it? He never saw me but once, and that was
at night and out of doors."

"Sometimes I think I can't stand it, Fred. The eternal suspense,
the waiting for something to happen."

"If anything was going to happen it would have happened months ago.
Bassett has given it up. And Jud's dead. Even Wilkins knows that."

She turned on him angrily.

"You haven't a heart, have you? You're glad he's dead."

"Not at all. As long as he kept under cover he was all right. But
if he is, I don't see why you should fool yourself into thinking
you're sorry. It's the best solution to a number of things."

"What do you suppose brought Jean Melis here?"

"What? To see the best play in New York. Besides, why not allow
the man a healthy curiosity? He was pretty closely connected with
a hectic part of your life, my dear. Now buck up, and for the
Lord's sake forget the Frenchman. He's got nothing."

"He saw me that night, on the stairs. He never took his eyes off
me at the inquest."

She gave, however, an excellent performance that night, and nothing
more was heard of the valet.

There were other alarms, all of them without foundation. She went
on her way, rejected an offer or two of marriage, spent her mornings
in bed and her afternoons driving or in the hands of her hair-dresser
and manicure, cared for the flowers that came in long casket-like
boxes, and began to feel a sense of security again. She did not
intend to marry, or to become interested in any one man.

She had hardly given a thought to Leslie Ward. He had come and
gone, one of that steady procession of men, mostly married, who
battered their heads now and then like night beetles outside a
window, against the hard glass of her ambition. Because her
business was to charm, she had been charming to him. And could not
always remember his name!

As the months went by she began to accept Fred's verdict that
nothing was going to happen. Bassett was back and at work. Either
dead or a fugitive somewhere was Judson Clark, but that thought she
had to keep out of her mind. Sometimes, as the play went on, and
she was able to make her solid investments out of it, she wondered
if her ten years of retirement had been all the price she was to
pay for his ruin; but she put that thought away too, although she
never minimized her responsibility when she faced it.

But her price had been heavy at that. She was childless and alone,
lavishing her aborted maternity on a brother who was living his
prosperous, cheerful and not too moral life at her expense. Fred
was, she knew, slightly drunk with success; he attended to his
minimum of labor with the least possible effort, had an expensive
apartment on the Drive, and neglected her except, when he needed
money. She began to see, as other women had seen before her, that
her success had, by taking away the necessity for initiative, been
extremely bad for him.

That was the situation when, one night late in October, the trap of
Bassett's devising began to close in. It had been raining, but in
spite of that they had sold standing room to the fire limit. Having
got the treasurer's report on the night's business and sent it to
Beverly's dressing-room, Gregory wandered into his small, low-ceiled
office under the balcony staircase, and closing the door sat down.
It was the interval after the second act, and above the hum of
voices outside the sound of the orchestra penetrated faintly.

He was entirely serene. He had a supper engagement after the show,
he had a neat car waiting outside to take him to it, and the night's
business had been extraordinary. He consulted his watch and then
picked up an evening paper. A few moments later he found himself
reading over and over a small notice inserted among the personals.

"Personal: Jean Melis, who was in Norada, Wyoming, during the
early fall of 1911 please communicate with L 22, this office."

The orchestra was still playing outside; the silly, giggling crowds
were moving back to their seats, and somewhere Jean Melis, or the
friends of Jean Melis, who would tell him of it, were reading that
message.

He got his hat and went out, forgetful of the neat car at the curb,
of the supper engagement, of the night's business, and wandered
down the street through the rain. But his first uneasiness passed
quickly. He saw Bassett in the affair, and probably Clark himself,
still living and tardily determined to clear his name. But if the
worst came to the worst, what could they do? They could go only so
far, and then they would have to quit.

It would be better, however, if they did not see Melis. Much
better; there was no use involving a simple situation. And Bev
could be kept out of it altogether, until it was over. Ashamed of
his panic he went back to the theater, got a railway schedule and
looked up trains. He should have done it long before, he recognized,
have gone to Bassett in the spring. But how could he have known
then that Bassett was going to make a life-work of the case?

He had only one uncertainty. Suppose that Bassett had learned about
Clifton Hines?

By the time the curtain rang down on the last act he was his dapper,
debonair self again, made his supper engagement, danced half the
night, and even dozed a little on the way home. But he slept badly
and was up early, struggling with the necessity for keeping Jean
Melis out of the way.

He wondered through what formalities L 22, for instance, would have
to go in order to secure a letter addressed to him? Whether he had
to present a card or whether he walked in demanded his mail and went
away. That thought brought another with it. Wasn't it probable
that Bassett was in New York, and would call for his mail himself?

He determined finally to take the chance, claim to be L 22, and if
Melis had seen the advertisement and replied, get the letter. It
would be easy to square it with the valet, by saying that he had
recognized him in the theater and that Miss Carlysle wished to send
him a box.

He bad small hope of a letter at his first call, unless the Frenchman
had himself seen the notice, but his anxiety drove him early to the
office. There was nothing there, but he learned one thing. He had
to go through with no formalities. The clerk merely looked in a box,
said "Nothing here," and went on about his business. At eleven
o'clock he went back again, and after a careful scrutiny of the
crowd presented himself once more.

"L 22? Here you are."

He had the letter in his hand. He had glanced at it and had thrust
it deep in his pocket, when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He
wheeled and faced Bassett.

"I thought I recognized that back," said the reporter, cheerfully.
"Come over here, old man. I want to talk to you."

But he held to Gregory's shoulder. In a corner Bassett dropped the
friendliness he had assumed for the clerk's benefit, and faced him
with cold anger.

"I'll have that letter now, Gregory," he said. "And I've got a
damned good notion to lodge an information against you."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Forget it. I was behind you when you asked for that letter. Give
it here. I want to show you something."

Suddenly, with the letter in his hand, Bassett laughed and then tore
it open. There was only a sheet of blank paper inside.

"I wasn't sure you'd see it, and I didn't think you'd fall for it
if you did," he observed. "But I was pretty sure you didn't want
me to see Melis. Now I know it."

"Well, I didn't," Gregory said sullenly.

"Just the same, I expect to see him. The day's early yet, and
that's not a common name. But I'll take darned good care you don't
get any more letters from here."

"What do you think Melis can tell you, that you don't know?"

"I'll explain that to you some day," Bassett said cheerfully. "Some
day when you are in a more receptive mood than you are now. The
point at this moment seems to me to be, what does Melis know that
you don't want me to know? I suppose you don't intend to tell me."

"Not here. You may believe it or not, Bassett, but I was going to
your town to-night to see you."

"Well," Bassett said sceptically, "I've got your word for it. And
I've got nothing to do all day but to listen to you."

To his proposition that they go to his hotel Gregory assented
sullenly, and they moved out to find a taxicab. On the pavement,
however, he held back.

"I've got a right to know something," he said, "considering what
he's done to me and mine. Clark's alive, I suppose?"

"He's alive all right."

"Then I'll trade you, Bassett. I'll come over with what I know, if
you'll tell me one thing. What sent him into hiding for ten years,
and makes him turn up now, yelling for help?"

Bassett reflected. The offer of a statement from Gregory was
valuable, but, on the other hand, he was anxious not to influence
his narrative. And Gregory saw his uncertainty. He planted
himself firmly on the pavement.

"How about it?" he demanded.

"I'll tell you this much, Gregory. He never meant to bring the
thing up again. In a way, it's me you're up against. Not Clark.
And you can be pretty sure I know what I'm doing. I've got Clark,
and I've got the report of the coroner's inquest, and I'll get
Mells. I'm going to get to the bottom of this if I have to dig a
hole that buries me."

In a taxicab Gregory sat tense and erect, gnawing at his blond
mustache. After a time he said:

"What are you after, in all this? The story, I suppose. And the
money. I daresay you're not doing it for love."

Bassett surveyed him appraisingly.

"You wouldn't understand my motives if I told you. As a matter of
fact, he doesn't want the money."

Gregory sneered.

"Don't kid yourself," he said. "However, as a matter of fact I
don't think he'll take it. It might cost too much. Where is he?
Shooting pills again?"

"You'll see him in about five minutes."

If the news was a surprise Gregory gave no evidence of it, except
to comment:

"You're a capable person, aren't you? I'll bet you could tune a
piano if you were put to it."

He carried the situation well, the reporter had to admit; the only
evidence he gave of strain was that the hands with which he lighted
a cigarette were unsteady. He surveyed the obscure hotel at which
the cab stopped with a sneering smile, and settled his collar as he
looked it over.

"Not advertising to the world that you're in town, I see."

"We'll do that, just as soon as we're ready. Don't worry."

The laugh he gave at that struck unpleasantly on Bassett's ears.
But inside the building he lost some of his jauntiness. "Queer
place to find Judson Clark," he said once.

And again:

"You'd better watch him when I go in. He may bite me."

To which Bassett grimly returned: "He's probably rather particular
what he bites."

He was uneasily conscious that Gregory, while nervous and tense,
was carrying the situation with a certain assurance. If he was
acting it was very good acting. And that opinion was strengthened
when he threw open the door and Gregory advanced into the room.

"Well, Clark," he said, coolly. "I guess you didn't expect to see
me, did you?"

He made no offer to shake hands as Dick turned from the window, nor
did Dick make any overtures. But there was no enmity at first in
either face; Gregory was easy and assured, Dick grave, and, Bassett
thought, slightly impatient. From that night in his apartment the
reporter had realized that he was constantly fighting a sort of
passive resistance in Dick, a determination not at any cost to
involve Beverly. Behind that, too, he felt that still another
battle was going on, one at which he could only guess, but which
made Dick somber at times and grimly quiet always.

"I meant to look you up," was his reply to Gregory's nonchalant
greeting.

"Well, your friend here did that for you," Gregory said, and smiled
across at Bassett. "He has his own methods, and I'll say they're
effectual."

He took off his overcoat and flung it on the bed, and threw a swift,
appraising glance at Dick. It was on Dick that he was banking, not
on Bassett. He hated and feared Bassett. He hated Dick, but he was
not afraid of him. He lighted a cigarette and faced Dick with a
malicious smile.

"So here we are, again, Jud!" he said. "But with this change, that
now it's you who are the respectable member of the community, and
I'm the - well, we'll call it the butterfly."

There was unmistakable insult in his tone, and Dick caught it.

"Then I take it you're still living off your sister?"

The contempt in Dick's voice whipped the color to Gregory's face
and clenched his fist. But he relaxed in a moment and laughed.

"Don't worry, Bassett," he said, his eyes on Dick. "We haven't any
reason to like each other, but he's bigger than I am. I won't hit
him." Then he hardened his voice. "But I'll remind you, Clark, that
personally I don't give a God-damn whether you swing or not. Also
that I can keep my mouth shut, walk out of here, and have you in
quod in the next hour, if I decide to."

"But you won't," Bassett said smoothly. "You won't, any more than
you did it last spring, when you sent that little letter of yours
to David Livingstone."

"No. You're right. I won't. But if I tell you what I came here
to say, Bassett, get this straight. It's not because I'm afraid of
you, or of him. Donaldson's dead. What value would Melis's
testimony have after ten years, if you put him on the stand? It's
not that. It's because you'll put your blundering foot into it and
ruin Bev's career, unless I tell you the truth."

It was to Bassett then that he told his story, he and Bassett
sitting, Dick standing with his elbow on the mantelpiece, tall and
weary and almost detached.

"I've got to make my own position plain in this," he said. "I
didn't like Clark, and I kept her from marrying him. There was one
time, before she met Lucas, when she almost did it. I was away
when she decided on that fool trip to the Clark ranch. We couldn't
get a New York theater until November, and she had some time, so
they went. I've got her story of what happened there. You can
check it up with what you know."

He turned to Dick for a moment.

"You were drinking pretty hard that night, but you may remember
this: She had quarreled with Lucas at dinner that night and with
you. That's true, isn't it?"

"Yes."

"She went to her room and began to pack her things. Then she
thought it over, and she decided to try to persuade Lucas to go
too. Things had begun all right, but they were getting strained
and unpleasant. She went down the stairs, and Melis saw her, the
valet. The living-room was dark, but there was a light coming
through the billiard room door, and against it she saw the figure
of a man in the doorway. He had his back to her, and he had a
revolver in his hand. She ran across the room when he heard her
and when he turned she saw it was Lucas. Do you remember, Jud,
having a revolver and Lucas taking it from you?"

"No. Donaldson testified I'd had a revolver."

"Well, that's how we figure he'd got the gun. She thought at once
that Lucas and you had quarreled, and that he was going to shoot.
She tried to take it from him, but he was drunk and stubborn. It
went off and killed him."

Bassett leaned forward.

"That's straight, is it?"

"I'm telling you."

"Then why in God's name didn't she say that at the inquest?"

"She was afraid it wouldn't be believed. Look at the facts. She'd
quarreled with Lucas. There had been a notorious situation with
regard to Clark. And remember this. She had done it. I know her
well enough, however, to say that she would have confessed,
eventually, but Clark had beaten it. It was reasonably sure that
he was lost in the blizzard. You've got to allow for that."

Bassett said nothing. After a silence Dick spoke:

"What about the revolver?"

"She had it in her hand. She dropped it and stood still, too
stunned to scream. Lucas, she says, took a step or two forward,
and fell through the doorway. Donaldson came running in, and
you know the rest."

Bassett was the first to break the silence.

"She will be willing to testify to that now, of course?"

"And stand trial?"

"Not necessarily. Clark would be on trial. He's been indicted.
He has to be tried."

"Why does he have to be tried? He's free now. He's been free for
ten years. And I tell you as an honest opinion that the thing
would kill her. Accident and all, she did it. And there would be
some who'd never believe she hadn't tired of Lucas, and wanted the
Clark money."

"That's a chance she'll have to take," Bassett said doggedly. "The
only living witness who could be called would be the valet. And
remember this: for ten years he has believed that she did it. He'll
have built up a story by this time, perhaps unconsciously, that
might damn her."

Dick moved.

"There's only one thing to do. You're right, Gregory. I'll
never expose her to that."

"You're crazy," Bassett said angrily.

"Not at all. I told you I wouldn't hide behind a woman. As a
matter of fact, I've learned what I wanted. Lucas wasn't murdered.
I didn't shoot him. That's what really matters. I'm no worse off
than I was before; considerably better, in fact. And I don't see
what's to be gained by going any further."

In spite of his protests, Bassett was compelled finally to agree.
He was sulky and dispirited. He saw the profound anticlimax to all
his effort of Dick wandering out again, legally dead and legally
guilty, and he swore roundly under his breath.

"All right," he grunted at last. "I guess that's the last word,
Gregory. But you tell her from me that if she doesn't reopen the
matter of her own accord, she'll have a man's life on her
conscience."

"I'll not tell her anything about it. I'm not only her brother;
I'm her manager now. And I'm not kicking any hole in the boat that
floats me."

He was self-confident and slightly insolent; the hands with which
he lighted a fresh cigarette no longer trembled, and the glance
he threw at Dick was triumphant and hostile.

"As a man sows, Clark !" he said. "You sowed hell for a number of
people once."

Bassett had to restrain an impulse to kick him out of the door.
When he had gone Bassett turned to Dick with assumed lightness.

"Well," he said, "here we are, all dressed up and nowhere to go!"

He wandered around the room, restless and disappointed. He knew,
and Dick knew, that they had come to the end of the road, and that
nothing lay beyond. In his own unpleasant way Fred Gregory had
made a case for his sister that tied their hands, and the crux of
the matter had lain in his final gibe: "As a man sows, Clark, so
shall he reap." The moral issue was there.


"I suppose the Hines story goes by the board, eh?" he commented
after a pause.

"Yes. Except that I wish I'd known about him when I could have
done something. He's my half-brother, any way you look at it,
and he had a rotten deal. Sometimes a man sows," he added, with
a wry smile, "and the other fellow reaps."

Bassett went out after that, going to the office on the chance of
a letter from Melis, but there was none. When he came back he
found Dick standing over a partially packed suitcase, and knew that
they had come to the end of the road indeed.

"What's the next step?" he asked bluntly.

"I'll have to leave here. It's too expensive."

"And after that, what?"

"I'll get a job. I suppose a man is as well hidden here as anywhere.
I can grow a beard-that's the usual thing, isn't it?"

Bassett made an impatient gesture, and fell to pacing the floor.
"It's incredible," he said. "It's monstrous. It's a joke. Here
you are, without a thing against you, and hung like Mahomet's
coffin between heaven and earth. It makes me sick."

He went home that night, leaving word to have any letters for L 22
forwarded, but without much hope. His last clutch of Dick's hand
had a sort of desperate finality in it, and he carried with him
most of the way home the tall, worn and rather shabby figure that
saw him off with a smile.

By the next afternoon's mail he received a note from New York, with
a few words of comment penciled on it in Dick's writing. "This
came this evening. I sent back the money. D." The note was from
Gregory and had evidently enclosed a one-hundred dollar bill. It
began without superscription: "Enclosed find a hundred dollars,
as I imagine funds may be short. If I were you I'd get out of here.
There has been considerable excitement, and you know too many people
in this burg."

Bassett sat back in his chair and studied the note.

"Now why the devil did he do that?" he reflected. He sat for some
time, thinking deeply, and he came to one important conclusion.
The story Gregory had told was the one which was absolutely
calculated to shut off all further inquiry. They had had ten years;
ten years to plan, eliminate and construct; ten years to prepare
their defense, in case Clark turned up. Wasn't that why Gregory
had been so assured? But he had not been content to let well enough
alone; he had perhaps overreached himself.

Then what was the answer? She had killed Lucas, but was it an
accident? And there must have been a witness, or they would have
had nothing to fear. He wrote out on a bit of paper three names,
and sat looking at them:

Hattie Thorwald
Jean Melis
Clifton Hines.





The Breaking Point by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Category:
General Fiction

Mystery and detective stories
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