The Golden Slipper: And Other Problems for Violet Strange

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Author: Anna Katharine Green

V

There are some events which impress the human mind so deeply that their memory mingles with all after-experiences. Though Violet had made it a rule to forget as soon as possible the tragic episodes incident to the strange career upon which she had so mysteriously embarked, there was destined to be one scene, if not more, which she has never been able to dismiss at will.

This was the sight which met her eyes from the bow of the small boat in which Dr. Zabriskie and his wife were rowed over to Jersey on the afternoon which saw the end of this most sombre drama.

Though it was by no means late in the day, the sun was already sinking, and the bright red glare which filled the west and shone full upon the faces of the half dozen people before her added much to the tragic nature of the scene, though she was far from comprehending its full significance.

The doctor sat with his wife in the stern and it was upon their faces Violet’s glance was fixed. The glare shone luridly on his sightless eyeballs, and as she noticed his unwinking lids, she realized as never before what it was to be blind in the midst of sunshine. His wife’s eyes, on the contrary, were lowered, but there was a look of hopeless misery in her colourless face which made her appearance infinitely pathetic, and Violet felt confident that if he could only have seen her, he would not have maintained the cold and unresponsive manner which chilled the words on his poor wife’s lips and made all advance on her part impossible.

On the seat in front of them sat an inspector and from some quarter, possibly from under the inspector’s coat, there came the monotonous ticking of the small clock, which was to serve as a target for the blind man’s aim.

This ticking was all Violet heard, though the river was alive with traffic and large and small boats were steaming by them on every side. And I am sure it was all that Mrs. Zabriskie heard also, as with hand pressed to her heart, and eyes fixed on the opposite shore, she waited for the event which was to determine whether the man she loved was a criminal or only a being afflicted of God and worthy of her unceasing care and devotion.

As the sun cast its last scarlet gleam over the water, the boat grounded, and Violet was enabled to have one passing word with Mrs. Zabriskie. She hardly knew what she said but the look she received in return was like that of a frightened child.

But there was always to be seen in Mrs. Zabriskie’s countenance this characteristic blending of the severe and the childlike, and beyond an added pang of pity for this beautiful but afflicted woman, Violet let the moment pass without giving it the weight it perhaps demanded.

"The doctor and his wife had a long talk last night," was whispered in her ear as she wound her way with the rest into the heart of the woods. With a start she turned and perceived her employer following close behind her. He had come by another boat.

"But it did not seem to heal whatever breach lies between them," he proceeded. Then, in a quick, anxious tone, he whispered: "Whatever happens, do not lift your veil. I thought I saw a reporter skulking in the rear."

"I will be careful," Violet assured him, and could say no more, as they had already reached the ground which had been selected for this trial at arms, and the various members of the party were being placed in their several positions.

The doctor, to whom light and darkness were alike, stood with his face towards the western glow, and at his side were grouped the inspector and the two physicians. On the arm of one of the latter hung Dr. Zabriskie’s overcoat, which he had taken off as soon as he reached the field.

Mrs. Zabriskie stood at the other end of the opening near a tall stump, upon which it had been decided that the clock should be placed when the moment came for the doctor to show his skill. She had been accorded the privilege of setting the clock on this stump, and Violet saw it shining in her hand as she paused for a moment to glance back at the circle of gentlemen who were awaiting her movements. The hands of the clock stood at five minutes to five, though Violet scarcely noted it at the time, for Mrs. Zabriskie was passing her and had stopped to say:

"If he is not himself, he cannot be trusted. Watch him carefully and see that he does no mischief to himself or others. Ask one of the inspectors to stand at his right hand, and stop him if he does not handle his pistol properly."

Violet promised, and she passed on, setting the clock upon the stump and immediately drawing back to a suitable distance at the right, where she stood, wrapped in her long dark cloak. Her face shone ghastly white, even in its environment of snow-covered boughs, and noting this, Violet wished the minutes fewer between the present moment and the hour of five, at which time he was to draw the trigger.

"Dr. Zabriskie," quoth the inspector, "we have endeavoured to make this trial a perfectly fair one. You are to have a shot at a small clock which has been placed within a suitable distance, and which you are expected to hit, guided only by the sound which it will make in striking the hour of five. Are you satisfied with the arrangement?"

"Perfectly. Where is my wife?"

"On the other side of the field some ten paces from the stump upon which the clock is fixed." He bowed, and his face showed satisfaction.

"May I expect the clock to strike soon?"

"In less than five minutes," was the answer.

"Then let me have the pistol; I wish to become acquainted with its size and weight."

We glanced at each other, then across at her.

She made a gesture; it was one of acquiescence.

Immediately the inspector placed the weapon in the blind man’s hand. It was at once apparent that he understood the instrument, and Violet’s hopes which had been strong up to this moment, sank at his air of confidence.

"Thank God I am blind this hour and cannot see her," fell from his lips, then, before the echo of these words had died away, he raised his voice and observed calmly enough, considering that he was about to prove himself a criminal in order to save himself from being thought a madman:

"Let no one move. I must have my ears free for catching the first stroke of the clock." And he raised the pistol before him.

There was a moment of torturing suspense and deep, unbroken silence. Violet’s eyes were on him so she did not watch the clock, but she was suddenly moved by some irresistible impulse to note how Mrs. Zabriskie was bearing herself at this critical moment, and casting a hurried glance in her direction she perceived her tall figure swaying from side to side, as if under an intolerable strain of feeling. Her eyes were on the clock, the hands of which seemed to creep with snail-like pace along the dial, when unexpectedly, and a full minute before the minute hand had reached the stroke of five, Violet caught a movement on her part, saw the flash of something round and white show for an instant against the darkness of her cloak, and was about to shriek warning to the doctor, when the shrill, quick stroke of a clock rang out on the frosty air, followed by the ping and flash of a pistol.

A sound of shattered glass, followed by a suppressed cry, told the bystanders that the bullet had struck the mark, but before any one could move, or they could rid their eyes of the smoke which the wind had blown into their faces, there came another sound which made their hair stand on end and sent the blood back in terror to their hearts. Another clock was striking, which they now perceived was still standing upright on the stump where Mrs. Zabriskie had placed it.

Whence came the clock, then, which had struck before the time and been shattered for its pains? One quick look told them. On the ground, ten paces to the right, lay Zulma Zabriskie, a broken clock at her side, and in her breast a bullet which was fast sapping the life from her sweet eyes.

They had to tell him, there was such pleading in her looks; and never will any of the hearers forget the scream which rang from his lips as he realized the truth. Breaking from their midst, he rushed forward, and fell at her feet as if guided by some supernatural instinct.

"Zulma," he shrieked, "what is this? Were not my hands dyed deep enough in blood that you should make me answerable for your life also?"

Her eyes were closed but she opened them. Looking long and steadily at his agonized face, she faltered forth:

"It is not you who have killed me; it is your crime. Had you been innocent of Mr. Hasbrouck’s death your bullet would never have found my heart. Did you think I could survive the proof that you had killed that good man?"

"I did it unwittingly. I—"

"Hush!" she commanded, with an awful look, which happily he could not see. "I had another motive. I wished to prove to you, even at the cost of my life, that I loved you, had always loved you, and not—"

It was now his turn to silence her. His hand crept to her lips, and his despairing face turned itself blindly towards those about them.

"Go!" he cried; "leave us! Let me take a last farewell of my dying wife, without listeners or spectators."

Consulting the eye of her employer who stood close beside her, and seeing no hope in it, Violet fell slowly back. The others, followed, and the doctor was left alone with his wife. From the distant position they took, they saw her arms creep round his neck, saw her head fall confidingly on his breast, then silence settled upon them, and upon all nature, the gathering twilight deepening, till the last glow disappeared from the heavens above and from the circle of leafless trees which enclosed this tragedy from the outside world.

But at last there came a stir, and Dr. Zabriskie, rising up before them with the dead body of his wife held closely to his breast, confronted them with a countenance so rapturous that he looked like a man transfigured.

"I will carry her to the boat," said he. "Not another hand shall touch her. She was my true wife, my true wife!" And he towered into an attitude of such dignity and passion that for a moment he took on heroic proportions and they forgot that he had just proved himself to have committed a cold-blooded and ghastly crime.

The stars were shining when the party again took their seats in the boat; and if the scene of their crossing to Jersey was impressive, what shall be said of the return?

The doctor, as before, sat in the stern, an awesome figure, upon which the moon shone with a white radiance that seemed to lift his face out of the surrounding darkness and set it like an image of frozen horror before their eyes. Against his breast he held the form of his dead wife, and now and then Violet saw him stoop as if he were listening for some token of life from her set lips. Then he would lift himself again with hopelessness stamped upon his features, only to lean forward in renewed hope that was again destined to disappointment.

Violet had been so overcome by this tragic end to all her hopes, that her employer had been allowed to enter the boat with her. Seated at her side in the seat directly in front of the doctor, he watched with her these simple tokens of a breaking heart, saying nothing till they reached midstream, when true to his instincts for all his awe and compassion, he suddenly bent towards him and said:

"Dr. Zabriskie, the mystery of your crime is no longer a mystery to me. Listen and see if I do not understand your temptation, and how you, a conscientious and God-fearing man, came to slay your innocent neighbour.

"A friend of yours, or so he called himself, had for a long time filled your ears with tales tending to make you suspicious of your wife and jealous of a certain man whom I will not name. You knew that your friend had a grudge against this man, and so for many months turned a deaf ear to his insinuations. But finally some change which you detected in your wife’s bearing or conversation roused your own suspicions, and you began to doubt her truth and to curse your blind-ness, which in a measure rendered you helpless. The jealous fever grew and had risen to a high point when one night—a memorable night—this friend met you just as you were leaving town, and with cruel craft whispered in your ear that the man you hated was even then with your wife and that if you would return at once to your home you would find him in her company.

"The demon that lurks at the heart of all men, good or bad, thereupon took complete possession, of you, and you answered this false friend by saying that you would not return without a pistol. Whereupon he offered to take you to his house and give you his. You consented, and getting rid of your servant by sending him to Poughkeepsie with your excuses, you entered your friend’s automobile.

"You say you bought the pistol, and perhaps you did, but, however that may be, you left his house with it in your pocket, and declining companionship, walked home, arriving at the Colonnade a little before midnight.

"Ordinarily you have no difficulty in recognizing your own doorstep. But, being in a heated frame of mind, you walked faster than usual and so passed your own house and stopped at that of Mr. Hasbrouck, one door beyond. As the entrances of these houses are all alike, there was but one way by which you could have made yourself sure that you had reached your own dwelling, and that was by feeling for the doctor’s sign at the side of the door. But you never thought of that. Absorbed in dreams of vengeance, your sole impulse was to enter by the quickest means possible. Taking out your night key, you thrust it into the lock. It fitted, but it took strength to turn it, so much strength that the key was twisted and bent by the effort. But this incident, which would have attracted your attention at another time, was lost upon you at this moment. An entrance had been effected, and you were in too excited a frame of mind to notice at what cost, or to detect the small differences apparent in the atmosphere and furnishings of the two houses, trifles which would have arrested your attention under other circumstances, and made you pause before the upper floor had been reached.

"It was while going up the stairs that you took out your pistol, so that by the time you arrived at the front room door you held it already drawn and cocked in your hand. For, being blind, you feared escape on the part of your victim, and so waited for nothing but the sound of a man’s voice before firing. When, therefore, the unfortunate Mr. Hasbrouck, roused by this sudden intrusion, advanced with an exclamation of astonishment, you pulled the trigger, and killed him on the spot. It must have been immediately upon his fall that you recognized from some word he uttered, or from some contact you may have had with your surroundings, that you were in the wrong house and had killed the wrong man; for you cried out, in evident remorse, ’God! what have I done!’ and fled without approaching your victim.

"Descending the stairs, you rushed from the house, closing the front door behind you and regaining your own without being seen. But here you found yourself baffled in your attempted escape, by two things. First, by the pistol you still held in your hand, and secondly, by the fact that the key upon which you depended for entering your own door was so twisted out of shape that you knew it would be useless for you to attempt to use it. What did you do in this emergency? You have already told us, though the story seemed so improbable at the time, you found nobody to believe it but myself. The pistol you flung far away from you down the pavement, from which, by one of those rare chances which sometimes happen in this world, it was presently picked up by some late passer-by of more or less doubtful character. The door offered less of an obstacle than you had anticipated; for when you turned again you found it, if I am not greatly mistaken, ajar, left so, as we have reason to believe, by one who had gone out of it but a few minutes before in a state which left him but little master of his actions. It was this fact which provided you with an answer when you were asked how you succeeded in getting into Mr. Hasbrouck’s house after the family had retired for the night.

"Astonished at the coincidence, but hailing with gladness the deliverance which it offered, you went in and ascended at once into your wife’s presence; and it was from her lips, and not from those of Mrs. Hasbrouck, that the cry arose which startled the neighbourhood and prepared men’s minds for the tragic words which were shouted a moment later from the next house.

"But she who uttered the scream knew of no tragedy save that which was taking place in her own breast. She had just repulsed a dastardly suitor, and seeing you enter so unexpectedly in a state of unaccountable horror and agitation, was naturally stricken with dismay, and thought she saw your ghost, or what was worse, a possible avenger; while you, having failed to kill the man you sought, and having killed a man you esteemed, let no surprise on her part lure you into any dangerous selfbetrayal. You strove instead to soothe her, and even attempted to explain the excitement under which you laboured, by an account of your narrow escape at the station, till the sudden alarm from next door distracted her attention, and sent both your thoughts and hers in a different direction. Not till conscience had fully awakened and the horror of your act had had time to tell upon your sensitive nature, did you breathe forth those vague confessions, which, not being supported by the only explanations which would have made them credible, led her, as well as the police, to consider you affected in your mind. Your pride as a man and your consideration for her as a woman kept you silent, but did not keep the worm from preying upon your heart.

"Am I not correct in my surmises, Dr. Zabriskie, and is not this the true explanation of your crime?"

With a strange look, he lifted up his face.

"Hush!" said he; "you will waken her. See how peacefully she sleeps! I should not like to have her wakened now, she is so tired, and I—I have not watched over her as I should."

Appalled at his gesture, his look, his tone, Violet drew back, and for a few minutes no sound was to be heard but the steady dipdip of the oars and the lap-lap of the waters against the boat. Then there came a quick uprising, the swaying before her of something dark and tall and threatening, and before she could speak or move, or even stretch forth her hands to stay him, the seat before her was empty and darkness had filled the place where but an instant previous he had sat, a fearsome figure, erect and rigid as a sphinx.

What little moonlight there was, only served to show a few rising bubbles, marking the spot where the unfortunate man had sunk with his much-loved burden. As the widening circles fled farther and farther out, the tide drifted the boat away, and the spot was lost which had seen the termination of one of earth’s saddest tragedies.

END OF PROBLEM VII

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Chicago: Anna Katharine Green, "V," The Golden Slipper: And Other Problems for Violet Strange, ed. Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926 in The Golden Slipper: And Other Problems for Violet Strange (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1913), Original Sources, accessed January 20, 2020, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4SFV5MECMN7MKMK.

MLA: Green, Anna Katharine. "V." The Golden Slipper: And Other Problems for Violet Strange, edited by Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926, in The Golden Slipper: And Other Problems for Violet Strange, Vol. 22, New York, Doubleday, Page & Company, 1913, Original Sources. 20 Jan. 2020. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4SFV5MECMN7MKMK.

Harvard: Green, AK, 'V' in The Golden Slipper: And Other Problems for Violet Strange, ed. . cited in 1913, The Golden Slipper: And Other Problems for Violet Strange, Doubleday, Page & Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 20 January 2020, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4SFV5MECMN7MKMK.