Some Rather Unknown Poe-Illustrations

Oktober 8, 2017

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Some Rather Unknown Poe-Illustrations

Oktober 8, 2017

Some Rather Unknown Poe-Illustrations

Oktober 8, 2017

Some Rather Unknown Poe-Illustrations

Oktober 8, 2017

Some Rather Unknown Poe-Illustrations

Oktober 8, 2017

Some Rather Unknown Poe-Illustrations

Oktober 8, 2017

Some Rather Unknown Poe-Illustrations

Oktober 8, 2017

Some Rather Unknown Poe-Illustrations

Oktober 8, 2017

Some Rather Unknown Poe-Illustrations

Oktober 8, 2017

L.A.G. Strong: Breakdown

Oktober 8, 2017

 

JUliE HAD planned it all exactly. Muriel was going up to town on the 11:52, and he was supposed to be going with her. They were to be independent of each other till half past four, when he was to meet her for tea at the Chadwickes‘; and they were coming home by the 6:05.

He told Muriel to start for the station ahead of him, as he might be kept late at the office.

It was a necessary part of the plan that he should not arrive on the platform till a minute or so before the train started. He had taken his ticket beforehand, at the office in the town where they knew him well, and where they entered up the number of each ticket in a ledger.

The train was in when he reached the incline leading up to the station, and the big engine, shining in the sunlight, let off important clouds of steam and uttered every now and again a raucous, sustained snort. Maurice pulled his hat over his forehead, took a platform ticket, and hurried through the barrier.

As he expected, Muriel was in the very front of the train. She gave him the inexpressive smile which she kept for public occasions.

„I’ve kept a seat for you,“ she said, with a hint of emphasis in her even tones, suggesting that the keeping had caused some resentment to the other occupants of the compartment.

She would get her own way; but she was perhaps just as glad that he had turned up to prove that she was keeping the seat legitimately.

„Thanks.“ He stood fumbling at the pockets of his overcoat, which was hanging open. Then he looked up at her with a well-feigned dismay.

„Oh Lord, I’ve nothing to read. I must get a magazine. I’ve just time.“

„Maurice — surely? The train’s just off.“

„That’s all right. I’ll get in further down.“

And he ran down the platform without waiting for further argument. General Waiting Room — this would do. He dived in, huddling down into his coat, and a minute later had the satisfaction of seeing the train slide past the yellow windows. Almost at once a little crowded local came bustling in, and it was easy to join the crowd and give up his platform ticket at the barrier; the collector was too busy to do anything but watch the hands that offered him tickets.

That was all right. He had a clear hour now.

He would go back by a different bus route, which landed him half a mile from home, and get into the fiat by the back way. There was a bare chance that someone he knew might see him, but it was very unlikely; and, after all, one had to take some chances. He had lots of , time to dodge back by the most improbable little streets.What was that tag out of „Patience“?— „You can’t love two women at once,“ or something to that effect; to which the fool answered „Can’t you though!“

Maurice’s face twitched. He had had ample opportunity lately to consider that proposition in all its aspects. You might be able to be in love with two women at once, but you couldn’t carry on the business as if each was the only one and cope with a full day’s work as well. Since Merrick had been ill, he’d had more than he could manage at the office. Scarcely time for Muriel, let alone Vera.

Oh, hell, hell, hell! It all ran round in his head like Catherine wheels — great aching circles of fire. He had all he could do not to stand still and stamp on the pavement and cry out in sheer nervous exasperation at the burden of it.

Steady, though! He must keep a clear head for what lay before him.

The problem was going to be solved all right — the Gordian knot cut. He gave a quick little snigger, tucking his chin down inside his coat collar. That was more like it, perhaps.

Something had to be done. To go on as he had been was simply to court a breakdown. And he knew what a nervous breakdown meant. Collapse, mental and physical. He had had as much as he could stand. Just about as much as he could stand.

No one knew him on this bus route. Strange in what narrow channels the streams of a community ran! A small town, fifty miles from London; yet by simply getting into a bus that traveled almost parallel to his own, he was plunged at once into a quite unknown stream people whom he had never seen, and who had never seen him. It was twenty to three when he walked up the back stairs to the flat. He had put on his shoes with the crepe soles. No one heard him, no one saw him. The door opened noiselessly, and he slipped inside. He went into the little sitting room, fit the fire, dragged the sofa forward from the wall, and drew the one curtain that faced a neighboring house. Then he went into the bedroom and returned with an eiderdown and a rug, which he threw over the end of the sofa. Back again to the bedroom, he pulled out the bottom drawer of the wardrobe, groped in the back of it, and took out a long, narrow box.

There was something inside it, wrapped in tissue paper. He felt it to make sure it was there, and put the box on the bed. Lastly, he took out his pocketbook and looked into a pocket in which there were two or three little slips of paper.

Satisfied, he laid it on the bed beside the box.

Now there was nothing to do but wait.

IT WAS JUST seven minutes past three when his strained ears heard a light step, followed by a rattle of the letter box. Instantly he was at the door, and the tall, graceful figure stood silhouetted, smiling, before him. It was a picture he had seen very often in the last six months. The same actions and sensations were precisely repeated: her soft „Hullo, Maurice dear,“ the shutting of the door, the darkness, her cool fragrance as he penned her in against the wall and took her in his arms. Then, with a trembling hand, he opened the sitting room door and she stepped in front of him, taking in everything with a glance, pulling off her fur gloves, making some trivial remark, still smiling.

What was it that made her so damnably attractive? She wasn’t beautiful, with her snub nose and her wide, strong mouth. Her hands and feet were rather large too. Yet she had some indefinable neatness, an elasticity, a buoyance in her step, the carriage of her head, something provocative and yet endearing, which made people call her „little Vera“ — though in fact she stood well above the average height. It was an outside which expressed uncommonly well her -vivid, careless personality.

Her marriage had not been a success, far less of a success than his with Muriel. She admitted that. Yet she made light of it, never complained, appeared philosophically to take it as all in the game. „Oh, I thought that was part of a wife’s job,“ she would say, and smile at him with innocent eyes as he scolded her for not resisting some fresh enormity.

He watched her now as she took off her scarf.

She always stood in front of the fire to do this, and put it with her gloves on the corner of the mantelpiece.

Then he would take her hand and lead her to the sofa, sitting her down beside him. „Well, Uttle Vera.“

„Well?“

„How are you?“

„I’m all right. How are you?“ — all prelude to the first kiss upon her cool, steady lips that always smelled of lavender.

Well — since he could no longer bear the strain of both, it had to be Vera or Muriel.

Vera was an exotic, a temptress; Muriel was his own, his companion, till death them did part. Death?

Good Lord, they were right about hell being here, on earth. Even the good times were paid for by wretched fits of nerves and depression. The notes, the furtive appointments, the necessity of finding out where Muriel was going to be — he wasn’t made for carrying on an intrigue. What seemed to exhilarate some men only tormented him. The sense of treachery . . . absurd, illogical, oh, he knew that. He had reasoned it all out long ago, yet he somehow found it hard to meet Muriel’s eyes.

The affair wasn’t really serious, in the sense that it would have been if Vera and Muriel were rivals. There was no question as to which of the two he chose to live with. In that, the fundamental sense, he was perfectly loyal. Yet, telling himself all this savagely over and over again, he felt guilty, and, latterly, distraught. It had become unbearable — and he would end it to-day. Even with the familiar cool touch of Vera’s lips upon his own, he was resolute.

Gently he loosed himself from her. „Just a minute,“ he whispered, and made a little gesture toward the next room.

She held him with her eyes, looking up into his, strangely earnest.

„Don’t be long,“ she said.

He tried to speak, swallowed angrily, and answered „I won’t“ more loudly than he had intended; then went out and closed the door.

Once in the bedroom, he pulled off his coat and waistcoat, rolled his sleeves up above the elbow, and took from the back of the wardrobe a faded old yellow bathgown, all stained and smeared. He had used it to protect his clothes while making up a troupe for amateur theatricals, and the front of it was a mass of grease paint. No one would be likely to find it, stuffed away in the bottom of the old trunk whence he had that morning taken it out.

He stood for a moment in front of the long glass,looking at himself.

A pale, serious face looked back at him. The brown eyes confessed nothing of their intent. They looked the same as usual. Turning away with a sigh, he picked up the box and the pocketbook. This was a time to act on impulse.

He did not know when the chance would come.

He went back to the living room, softly closing the door behind him. Vera was sitting on the .floor in front of the fire, holding out her hands to it. The red, steady glow fell softly upon her bare arms and shoulders. She did not look up as he came in.

Moving very softly, he came behind her. With demoralizing suddenness, his heart began to beat frantically, like the crying of a bird upon which a cat has pounced.

Steadying himself, he put the pocketbook on the sofa and opened the box.

Vera half turned her head at the rustle of the tissue paper; then she leaned forward and laid it sideways on her knees, with a little contented sound. She was waiting for his arms to steal round her and draw her back to him.

Very quietly he put the box down beside the pocketbook. In his right hand was a long Indian knife with carved blade and handle, and his left hand moved across to join the other upon the long hilt. He took a step forward.

„Mau — rice.“ It was a slow, lazy whisper.

She would rouse and turn round. His chance would be gone.

Fixing his gaze on a point just inside her left shoulder blade, he grasped the knife in both hands, raised it, and literally fell upon her with all his might. The blow came straight down; her body in its doubled-up position resisted the impact, and Maurice fell sprawling to one side. Picking himself up like lightning, he sprang away. The knife had gone in almost up to the hilt.

For a moment she remained doubled forward, her head on her knees.

Then the head craned back; she tried to straighten herself up, stuck — like a hen he had seen, crushed by a car and desperately trying to rise — and fell suddenly sideways. She kicked, thrusting one foot against the stove, but seeming not to feel it; her hands reached out, clutched the sofa, and she began to drag herself up.

Her head was thrown back, the forehead a mask of wrinkles, her eyes staring, fixed on the wall, seemingly quite unconscious of him; and through her open mouth she made a queer indrawn sound, “ Aw-w-aw-aw-aw-w-w-w — “

As he watched, she pulled the top part of her body upright, leaning backward over the knife — farther, farther back — her lips drawn away from the gums; she coughed, and went all limp, rolling over with her face toward him on the carpet.

Her eyebrows rose once or twice as if in surprise. Then her face became sleepy and peaceful as a child’s.

She uttered a little, gentle sigh, and was still.

It was a full minute before he dared to move.

His hands were shaking uncontrollably in reaction from the effort. Holding them out in front of him, he steadied them somewhat by an effort of his will. Then, going as near to the window as he dared, he scanned the front of his bathgown. Not a speck of blood on it! One long streak on his right forearm — that was all.

Get rid of that first.

He went swiftly into the bathroom, and in a few seconds that splash of evidence was gone.

Now then, he must get a move on. Hesitating with his hand on the door, he had the idea that when he went in he might find her sitting in front of the fire, as before. That would be disconcerting. A mistress with nine lives, eh? It was almost a relief to find her lying as he had left her. A dark stain was slowly spreading over the carpet.

He crossed to the sofa, opened the pocketbook, and took out three little slips of thin paper. If they were going to get him, if he had to swing for it, he’d give the public something to talk about. This was to be no commonplace murder. Each of the little slips had typed on it a bizarre and meaningless sentence. „So Time goes by, whitening old city churches,“read one. That would get them guessing. Another was a text from the Epistle to the Romans, about Sodom and Gomorrah.

They might think he was mad, but they would notice them all right. Headlines. . . . He might even get off as a madman.

The slips were typed — not on his own typewriter — not by any means. He had tapped them out under pretense of trying a machine for sale in a stationer’s in the town, while the assistant was getting him a particular size of envelope he knew was kept upstairs. The paper might be identified, though he had kept the type clear of the watermark; but what if it were?

Hundreds of people used it.

Rolling up the slips, he bent over the body, inserted one in each nostril, and the third in the mouth, between the teeth and underlip. That was all. Now to get away.

I2 MINUTES later he was hurrying to the terminus of the bus which had brought him out. By good luck, he had hardly any wait at all.

The winter dusk was already beginning to fall; it was a foggy, dull day.

Seated in the bus, he reviewed his plans.

He had a ticket, which the clerk at the office would swear to giving him, and the number of which was checked up in the ledger. This ticket he was now going to use. The 3:57 would get him up to town too late to join Muriel at the Chadwickes‘, but in plenty of time to meet her on the 6:05 and explain that his businesshad kept him. That business was a weak spot, of course, but he would put in one or two quick calls which would show he had at any rate been in town that afternoon. Muriel would be ready to say he had come up by the ia, and his ticket would be found among the day’s collection at Paddington. (He only hoped they didn’t check them after each train!)

At this end no one knew where Vera had gone. She lived only a few hundred yards away, and she had come straight to the flat, so that her maids would be witness that she had not left home till three. Actually, she was dead within ten minutes of entering the flat, and he was away in less than ten minutes after that.

Flimsy though his alibi might be, this point at least was in his favor. When on earth, his counsel would ask, could he have found time to commit the murder? The 3:57 got to town by a quarter to five. From then on he would contrive to be seen by several people. The prosecution would not have matters all their own way, even if they did run him in.

Unless someone had seen him coming in or going out of the flat, that is to say; and he was pretty sure nobody had.

„Have you ever seen this in your husband’s possession, madam?“ (Holding up the knife.)

„Never,“ Muriel would reply, with perfect truth; for he had bought it in an old curiosity shop in Devonport a long time ago, and it had been stowed away somewhere among his things ever since.

Or perhaps they didn’t examine a wife when her husband was on trial? He couldn’t remember.

When they reached the station, he wrapped a scarf round his mouth and scuffled through the barrier with his head down, enduring as best he might the agonizing minutes before the train arrived. It was not long, but it might have been a whole year of his life. At last the train came. Getting into a carriage crowded with country folk, he at once disappeared behind a newspaper, and, by a queer trick of the mind which was a complete surprise to him, managed to forget what had happened for whole minutes together. He wasn’t well, that’s what was at the back of it all. He wasn’t well; the strain had been taking it out of him frightfully.

The moment the train reached Paddington, he jumped into a taxi and made for an address in Notting Hill, to a friend of his who had a small, one-man office, and who could therefore be relied upon to be in. Dismissing the taxi at the corner of the street, Maurice went quickly along and mounted the rickety stair. „Come in and wait — back in five minutes,“ said a confiding message on a card pinned to the door.

Excellent. He went in and picked up a paper.

It took him two or three minutes to realize that it was the same paper he had been reading in the train.

A reckless plunging on the stair suddenly announced the owner’s return, and a second later he entered, apologetic and breathless.

„Oh, it’s you! I say, I’m awfully sorry. I was kept much longer than I expected. You haven’t been waiting long, I hope?“

Maurice glanced at the clock. „Not long. Only about twenty minutes.“

„I say, I am sorry. I’d no idea they’d—“

„Oh, that’s all right. I’ve nothing particular to do. Fact is,“ he forced a smile, „I was just wondering if I’d drawn another blank.“

„Another?“

„Yes.I went all the way out to see Baines, and he wasn’t in.“ That was good. It had only just come into his head. Baines was out that afternoon; he happened to know, indirectly. He was covering up his tracks in grand style.

„Oh well,“ his host stretched out a cigarette case, „I’m glad you found me, anyway.“

IT HARDLY Seemed worth while making other calls, after that, but he looked in at two places on his way back to the station. Then there seemed to be a queer gap in his memory, for the next thing he knew, he found himself walking up the platform carrying some of Muriel’s parcels, with no clear idea of how he got there.

„Here,“ she said, halting beside a door, „this will do.“

Going back. Home. Up from the station, up the stairs, in the door. . . .

He turned his mind away, rubbed a clear patch on the window, and tried to look out.

The lights of a factory whirled derisively by.

He shuddered and steeled himself to endure the long, barren, eternal journey. Why did people nod their heads in a train, the fools? His head was nodding too, he supposed. How idiotic they must all look — nodding in fatuous rhythmic assent to some unheard proposition; replying in the only way they could devise to the unanswerable question — why did they exist at all? The whole thing was symbolic of humanity answering the major riddles — obstinate, endless assertion instead of reason.

And other questions. Was she dead? Nod — nod — nod. Did they know who had killed her? Nod — nod. Would he be caught? Nod — nod — nod. Would he hang?

The train rushed over the joints of a junction and swung away on a new path in the darkness.

And every nod, every clitter-clock, clitterclock of the wheels, was carrying him so much nearer to — to what had happened.

He turned his mind away resolutely and tried to read the back of the man’s paper opposite. Muriel was in her corner, her eyes closed, one hand delicately against her cheek. She met all the disagreeable things of life like that, gracefully, fastidiously. Her composure was very precious to her. Well, she’d need it soon.

He fell to reviewing all the steps he had taken to build up an alibi. Flimsy enough, they looked — full of great black gaps through which the huge arm of the law could suddenly shoot and grab him. A light shiver ran down his spine. But, so far,he was not so much frightened of the consequences as curious — academically, disinterestedly curious — to see how it would all work out. Would the local police tackle it, or would they call in the Yard at once? Recalling himself with a jolt, he fixed his eyes upon the joggling paper opposite him, and with great concentration read something very silly about an actress who was being sued for breach of contract.

At last, after ages so long that his whole Life and several previous existences seemed to have been spent in the same hideous compartment, the train slowed down, and they stepped out into the chill air of the platform. They took a taxi, because of Muriel’s parcels. In precisely the same way as one turns one’s mind away while the dentist fixes a drill in his machine, Maurice turned his mind to any externals it could seize upon during the journey up.

„Two and six, is it?“ he was repeating presently. „Two and six, eh?“ And he took the money out of his pocket and counted it over twice, with great deliberation, before the action would register in his consciousness at all. „Oh, ah, yes— two and six.“

The man was looking at him. „Well. Here you are. Good night.“

He was walking up the stairs, his arms full of parcels. His heart seemed to be beating distinctly, sharply, rather than fast; and at once he saw a picture of it, as a sort of cylinder with two convex ends, swinging imperatively against the surrounding tissues.

„All right. I have a key.“

Muriel’s manner seemed a bit constrained.

She had looked at him strangely, he thought.

Pooh! All fancy. It shows how one’s conscience can run away with you. Oh my God, here they were, in the dark little hall, only a few yards, only a door away from it! He almost ran down the passage to the bedroom, stumbling in at the door and shedding his parcels on the bed in a heap. He kept his back turned on Muriel, for the lower part of his face seemed to have become all loose and uncontrolled. Muriel put down her bag, took off her hat, leaned forward to scrutinize her face in the dressing table mirror; then went out of the room, without speaking.

Sick and shaking, he caught hold of the bedpost and held on. She went along the passage.

She was outside the living room door. No — she had gone into the bathroom. He brushed his forehead and tried vainly to moisten his lips.

This was awful, awful, awful, his mind kept saying. It — ah. She had come out again.

He heard her turn the handle of the living room door, switch on the light. . . . Shutting his eyes,he nerved himself for her scream.

It did not come. He could hear her moving about in the room. He – she — oh God, this was past all bearing, worse than any outcry.

Something told him that his eyes were staring in his head; he ducked, not daring to look in the glass, and ran out into the passage, falling, lurching, swaying, with hands outstretched against the cold walls; tottered to the open door of light; grasped the doorpost, the knuckles sticking out white from the back of his hand, and, with a rending, terrible effort, pulled himself into the room and looked on the floor in front of the fireplace.

There was no body. Nothing at all.

„Ah —ha — ha-ha!“ A little shrill whimpering laugh sounded in the room, and he realized that it had come from his own throat.

Frantically he raised his eyes. Muriel was staring at him in amazement and distaste.

„Whatever is the matter with you, Maurice!“she exclaimed.

„The matter?“

„Yes.“

She came a step nearer. „You’ve been behaving in the queerest way, all the afternoon,“ She gave a half laugh, looking closely into his eyes. „You haven’t been drinking, have you?“

„Queer? I —why, what’s been the matter with me?“ He got the words out, but all the time his mind was trying to cope with the staggering thing she had just said. All the afternoon. Queer all the afternoon. That’s what she had said.

Muriel laughed again. It was her way of turning aside her irritation. „I don’t know what’s the matter with you,“ she answered.

„All I know is that you’ve been behaving very queerly all the afternoon. They were all wondering what was the matter with you. I could see they were.“

His mouth fell open. „They — who were?“

„Why, at the Chadwickes‘, of course. You wouldn’t say a word to a soul, except once, when you were quite unnecessarily rude to old General McKie.“

„At the Chadwickes‘!“ he shouted. „You don’t know what you’re saying! At the Chadwickes‘?“

“ Why, Maurice, whateveris the matter with you! Of course you were at -— oh, my darling! Maurice! My darhng boy!“

For he had begun to laugh — soundlessly at first, a horrible, silent shaking; and then he was screaming, sobbing, laughing, calling out. . . . how SOON afterward he did not know, he found himself on his knees, holding on tight to her, his head in her lap; and she was stroking his hair, soothing him, comforting him as if he were a tiny child. „There, there, my darling, Maurice my darling, it will be all right. There’s nothing to be frightened of. Nothing. Nothing. There, darling, there.“

And presently he was calmer; quite quiet. He knelt, his arms around her, looking over toward the bookcase with wide eyes, realizing the truth. The breakdown — what he had been afraid of— it had come. This was it; all this.

Everything. He had spent the afternoon unconsciously, an automaton, while his consciousness had been busy . . . here.

The whole story ~ the precautions, the details, the vivid enactment — he could see it all now, the fantastic, pettifogging logic of the disordered mind. And the imagination — what he had done to Vera. Good God, if that was delusion, what was there to hold on to in life?

Steady — that was the way to go off again.

He held on tight to Muriel for a minute; then, calmer, he took another look at the floor, grimacing oddly.

„Do you know,“ he blurted, „I- thought I’d —-“ And then he broke off short. He’d have enough troubles without that. Least said, eh? With gradually narrowing eyes, he listened to all the soothing things Muriel was saying over the top of his head.

She’d been noticing how tired he was getting, how overdone. He needed a change. A nice rest, and a change.

They’d go off together, down to the sea — „That knife,“ he exclaimed suddenly, looking up at her. „I haven’t had that for years. I remember now. I gave it away, years ago.“

„Yes, darling. Of course you did. Don’t worry about it any more,“ and she was on again, haw all he needed was a rest.

Then he realized he needn’t trouble to guard his tongue.

Anything he said she would attribute to his breakdown. Poor little Muriel! She was frightened, badly frightened, and putting a splendidly brave face on it.

He got up and sat beside her on the sofa, putting his arms around her, telling her not to be frightened.