The Darrow Enigma

Author: Melvin Linwood Severy

Chapter I

The events of the present are all strung upon the thread of the
past, and in telling over this chronological rosary, it not
infrequently happens that strange, unlike beads follow each other
between our questioning fingers.

It was nearly a week after his letter before Maitland arrived. He sent us no further word, but walked in one evening as we were talking about him. He came upon us so suddenly that we were all taken aback and, for a moment, I felt somewhat alarmed about Gwen. She had started up quickly when the servant had mentioned Maitland’s name and pressed her hand convulsively upon her heart, while her face and neck became of a deep crimson colour. I was saying to myself that this was a common effect of sudden surprise, when I saw her clutch quickly at the back of her chair, as if to steady herself. A moment later she sank into her seat. Her face was now as pale as ashes, and I felt I had good reason to be alarmed. I think she was conscious of my scrutiny, for she turned her face from me and remained motionless. The movement told me she was trying to regain command of her faculties and I forbore to interfere in the struggle, though I watched her with some solicitude.=20 My fears were at once dispelled, however, when Maitland entered, for Gwen was the first to welcome him. She extended her hand with much of her old impulsiveness, saying: "I have so much for which to thank you - " but Maitland interrupted her. "Indeed, I regret to say," he rejoined, "that I have been unable thus far to be of any real service to you. The Ragobah clue was a miserable failure, though we may do ourselves the justice to admit that we had no alternative but to follow it to the end. I confess I have never been more disappointed than in the outcome of this affair.?" "My dear fellow," I said, "we all have much to be thankful for in your safe return, let us not forget that." Maitland laughed: "That reminds me," he said, "of the man who passed the hat at a coloured camp-meeting. When asked how much he had collected, he replied: ’I didn’t get no money, but I’se done got de hat back.’ You’ve got your hat back, and that’s about all. However, with Miss Darrow’s permission, I shall go back to the starting point and begin all over again."

"You are making me your debtor," Gwen replied slowly, "beyond my power ever to repay you."

"It is in the hope that no payment may ever be demanded of you," he rejoined, "that I am busying myself in your affairs." The colour sprang to Gwen’s cheeks, but she only replied by a grateful glance. I knew what was passing through her mind. She was thinking of her promise - of her father’s last words, and of the terrible possibilities thereof from which Maitland was seeking to rescue her. She felt that she could safely owe him any debt of gratitude, however great, while he, on his part, took what I fancied, both then and afterward, were unnecessary pains to assure her that, in the event of his finding the assassin, she need have no fear of his making any claim whatsoever upon her. And so the whole affair was dropped for the time being and the rest of the evening devoted to listening to Maitland’s account of his experiences while abroad.

The next morning I called upon our detective at his laboratory and asked him what he intended to do next. He replied that he had no plans as yet, but that he wished to review with me all the evidence at hand.

"You see," he said, "the thing that renders the solution of this mystery so difficult is the fact that all our clues, while they would be of the utmost service in the conviction of the assassin had we found him, are almost destitute of any value until he has been located. Add to this that we are now unable to find any motive for the crime and you can see how slight are our hopes of success. If ever we chance to find the man, - for I feel that such a consummation would result more from chance than from anything else, - I think we can convict him.

"Here, for example," he said, taking up a small slip of glass which he had cut from the eastern parlour window of the Darrow house, "is something I have never shown either you or Miss Darrow. It is utterly worthless, so far as assisting us to track the assassin is concerned, but, if ever we suspect the right man, the evidence on that glass would probably convict him, though there were ten thousand other suspects."

I took the glass from him and, examining it with the utmost care, I detected a smutch of yellowish paint upon it, nothing more. "For Heaven’s sake, Maitland!" I said in astonishment, "of what possible use can that formless daub of paint be, or is there something else on the glass that has escaped me?" He laughed at my excitement as he replied:

"There is nothing there hut the paint spot. Regarding that, however, you have come to a very natural though erroneous conclusion. It is not formless"; and he passed me a jeweller’s eye-glass to assist me in a closer examination. He was right. The paint lay upon the glass in little irregular furrows which arranged themselves concentrically about a central oval groove somewhat imperfect in shape. "Well," continued. Maitland, as I returned him the magnifying glass, "what do you make of it?" "If you hadn’t already attached so much importance to the thing," I said, "I should pronounce it a daub of paint transferred to the glass by somebody’s thumb, but, as such a thing would be clearly useless, I am at a loss to know what it is."

"Well," he rejoined, "you’ve hit the nail on the head, - that’s just what it is, but you are entirely wrong in your assumption that the thumb-mark can have no value as evidence. Do you not know that there are no two thumbs in the world which are capable of making indistinguishable marks?" I was not aware of this. "How do you know," I asked, "that this mark was made by the assassin? It seems to me there can hardly be a doubt that one of the painters, while priming the sill, accidentally pressed his thumb against the glass. His hands would naturally have been painty, and this impression would as naturally have resulted."

"What you say," replied Maitland, "is very good, so far as it goes. My reasons for believing this thumb-mark was made by the assassin are easily understood. First: there was another impression of a thumb in the moist paint of the sill directly under that upon the glass. Both marks were made by the same thumb and, in the lower one, the microscope revealed minute traces of gravel dust, not elsewhere discernible upon the sill. The thumb carried the dust there, and was the thumb of the hand pressed into the gravel, - the hand of which I have a cast. You see how this shows how the thumb came to have paint upon it when pressed upon the glass. Second: the two men engaged in priming the house, James Cogan and Charles Rice, were the only persons save the assassin known to have been upon that side of the house the day of the murder. "Here," he said, carefully removing two strips of glass from a box, "are the thumb-marks of Cogan and Rice made with the same paint. You see that neither of these men could, by any possibility, have made the mark upon the glass. So there you are. But we are missing the question before us. What line of procedure can you suggest, Doc? I’m all at sea."

"We must find someone," I said, "who could have had a motive. This someone ought to have a particularly good reason for concealing his footprints, and is evidently lame besides. I can’t for the life of me see anything else we have to go by, unless it be the long nail of the little finger, and I don’t see how that is going to help us find the assassin - unless we can find out why it was worn long. If we knew that it might assist us. As I have already suggested, a Chinaman might have a long nail on the little finger, but he would also have the other nails long, wouldn’t he? Furthermore, he might use the boards to conceal the prints of his telltale foot-gear; but why should he not have put on shoes of the ordinary type? If he had time to prepare the boards, - the whole affair shows premeditation,
- clearly he had time to change his boots. The Chinese are usually small, and this might easily account for the smallness of the hand as shown by your cast. These are the pros and cons of the only clue that suggests itself to me. By the way, Maitland, it’s a shame we did not try, before it was too late, to track this fellow down with a dog."

"Ah," he replied, "there is another little thing I have not told you. After you had left the house with Miss Darrow on the night of the murder, and all the servants had retired, I locked the parlour securely and quietly slipped out to look about a bit. As you know, the moon was very bright and any object moderately near was plainly visible. I went around to the eastern side of the house where the prints of the hand and boards were found, and examined them with extreme care. What I particularly wished to learn was the direction taken by the assassin as he left the house and the point at which he had removed the boards from his feet. The imprints of the boards were clearly discernible so far as the loose gravel extended, but beyond that nothing could be discovered. I sat down and pondered over the matter. I had about concluded to drive two nails into the heels of my boots to enable me to distinguish my own footprints from any other trail I might intersect, and then, starting with the house as a centre, to describe an involute about it in the hope of being able to detect some one or more points where my course crossed that of the assassin, when I remembered that my friend Burwell, whose Uncle Tom’s Cabin Combination recently stranded at Brockton was at home. As you are perhaps aware an Uncle Tom Company consists of a ’Legree,’ one or two ’Markses,’ one or two ’Topsies,’ ’Uncle Tom,’ a ’Little Eva,’ who should not be over fifty years old, - or at least should not appear to be, - two bloodhounds, and anybody else that happens to be available. It really doesn’t make the least difference how many or how few people are in the cast. I have heard that an Uncle Tom manager on a Western circuit, most of whose company deserted him because the ’ghost’ never walked, succeeded in cutting and rewriting the piece so as to double ’George Harris’ and ’Legree,’ ’ Marks’ and ’Topsy,’ ’Uncle Tom’ and ’Little Eva.’ As for the rest he had it so arranged that he could himself ’get off the door’ in time to ’do,’ with the aid of the dogs, all the other characters. You see the dogs held the stage while he changed, say, from ’Eliza’ to Eva’s father. ’George Harris’ would look off left second entrance and say that ’Legree’ was after him. Then he would discharge a revolver, rush off right first entrance, where he would pass his weapon to ’Eva’ and ’Uncle Tom,’ and this bisexual individual would discharge it in the wings at the imaginary pursuer, while ’Harris ’ would put on a wire beard, slouch hat, black melodramatic cape, and,=20rushing behind the flat, enter left as ’Legree.’

"The hardest thing to manage was the death of ’Little Eva’ with ’Uncle Tom’ by the bedside, but managerial genius overcame the difficulty after the style of Mantell’s ’Corsican Brothers.’ You see it is all easy enough when you know how. ’Little Eva’ is discovered, sitting up in bed with the curtains drawn back. She says what she has to say to her father and the rest. Then her father has a line in which he informs ’Eva’ that she is tired and had better try to sleep. She says she will try, just to please him, and he gently lowers her back upon the pillows and draws the curtains in front of the bed. But instead of utilising this seclusion for a refreshing sleep ’Eva’ rolls out at the back side of the bed. ’Legree’ snatches off ’Eva’s’ wig and ’Topsy’ deftly removes the white nightdress concealing his - ’Eva’s’ - ’Uncle Tom’ make-up, while the erstwhile little girl hastily blackens his face and hands, puts on a negro wig, and in less than a minute is changed in colour, race, and sex. He ’gets round’ left and enters the sick room as ’Uncle Tom’ with ’Topsy.’ They are both told that ’Little Eva’ is asleep, and ’Topsy’ peeps cautiously between the curtains and remarks that the child’s eyes are open and staring. The father looks in and, overcome by grief, informs the audience that his child is dead. ’Topsy,’ tearful and grief-stricken, ’gets off’ right and washes up to ’do’ ’Little Eva’ climbing the golden stair in the last tableau. Meanwhile ’Uncle Tom,’ in a paroxysm of grief, throws himself upon the bed and holds the stage till he smells the red fire for the vision; then he staggers down stage, strikes an attitude; the others do likewise; picture of ’Little Eva,’ curtain. Talk about doubling ’Marcellus,’ ’Folonius,’ ’Osric,’ and the ’First Grave Digger’! Why, that’s nothing to these ’Uncle Tom’ productions. But hold on, where did I get side-tracked? Oh, yes, the dogs.

"Well, as I was saying, as soon as I thought of Burwell I made up my mind at once to borrow one of his hounds. It was late when I got to his house. When I knocked at the door both Pompey and Caesar began sub-bass solos of growls, and Burwell was awake in a minute. I told him I wanted a dog for private business and took Caesar off with me. He found the trail with no difficulty, and followed it in a bee-line down to the water, where he raised his big muzzle and howled in dismal impotency. The assassin had taken to the water. I took the dog up and down the shore to see if he had returned to land, but all I found of interest was a clump of alders from which a pole had been cut. I knew by the dog’s actions that the assassin had been there, for Caesar immediately took a new trail back to the house. Try as I might I could learn nothing further, and I at once returned the dog. There is no doubt that the murderer made his escape in a boat and took with him the pole he had cut, the boards he had worn, and everything else, I dare say, connected with his crime. One thing seems clear, and that is that we are dealing with no ordinary criminal. I would wager a good deal that this fellow, if ever he is caught, will be found to be a man of brains. I don’t place much confidence in the Chinese theory, Doc, but as I have nothing better to offer, let us go see Miss Darrow. If her father has ever had any dealings with Chinamen, we shall probably deem it wise to look the Orientals up a bit."

We immediately acted upon this suggestion, waiting upon Gwen at my house. She said she and her father had spent a year in San Francisco when she was about seven years of age. While there their household was looked after by two Chinese servants, named Wah Sing and Sam Lee. The latter had been discharged by her father because of his refusal to perform certain minor duties which, through oversight, had not been set down as part of his work when he was engaged. So far as she knew no altercation had taken place and there were no hard feelings on either side. Sam Lee had bade her good-bye and had seemed sorry to leave, notwithstanding which, however, he refused, with true Chinese pertinacity, to assume the new duties. She did not think it likely that either of these Chinamen had been instrumental in her father’s death, yet she agreed with Maitland that it would be a point gained to be assured of this fact. Maitland accordingly determined to depart at once for San Francisco, and the next day he was off.

We received no letters from him during his absence and were, accordingly, unable to tell when he expected to get back. Since his return from India Gwen had given evidence of a reviving interest in life, but now that he was again away, she relapsed into her old listless condition, from which we found it impossible to arouse her. Alice, who did her utmost to please her, was at her wit’s end. She could never tell which of two alternatives Gwen preferred, since that young lady would invariably express herself satisfied with either and did not seem to realise why she should be expected to have any choice in the matter. Alice was quite at a loss to understand this state of affairs, until I told her that Gwen was in a condition of semi-torpor in which even the effort of choice seemed an unwarrantable outlay. She simply did not care what happened. She felt nothing, save a sense of fatigue, and even what she saw was viewed as from afar, - and seemed to her a drama in which she took no other part than that of an idle, tired, and listless spectator. Clearly she was losing her hold on life. I told Alice we must do our utmost to arouse her, to stimulate her will, to awaken her interest, and we tried many things in vain.

Maitland had been gone, I think, about three weeks when my sister and I hit upon a plan which we thought might have the desired effect upon Gwen. Before her father’s death she had been one of the most active members of a Young People’s Club which devoted every Wednesday evening to the study of Shakespeare. She had attended none of its meetings since her bereavement, but Alice and I soon persuaded her to accompany us on the following week and I succeeded, by a little quiet wire-pulling, in getting her appointed to take charge of the following meeting, which was to be devoted to the study of "Antony and Cleopatra." When informed of the task which had been imposed upon her Gwen was for declining the honour at once, and the most Alice and I were able to do was to get her to promise to think it over a day or so before she refused.

The next morning Maitland walked in upon us. He had found both of Mr. Darrow’s former servants and satisfied himself that they were in San Francisco on the night of the murder. So that ended my Chinese clue. While Alice and Gwen were discussing the matter, I took occasion to draw Maitland aside, and told him of Gwen’s appointment to take charge of the Cleopatra night, and how necessary it was to her health that she should be aroused from her torpor. It doesn’t take long for Maitland to see a thing, and before I had whispered a dozen sentences he had completely grasped the situation. He crossed the room, drew a chair up beside Gwen, and sat down. "Miss Darrow," he began, "I am afraid you will have a poor opinion of me as a detective. This is the second time I have failed. I feel that I should remind you again of our compact, at least, that part of it which permits you to dispense with my services whenever you shall see fit to do so, and, at the same time, to relieve you from your obligation to let me order your actions. I tell you frankly it will be necessary for you to discharge me, if you would be rid of me, for, unless you do so, or I find the assassin, I shall never cease my search so long as I have the strength and means to conduct it. What do you say? Have I not proved my uselessness?" This was said in a tentative, half-jesting tone. Gwen answered it very seriously.

"You have done for me," she said, in the deep, vibrating tones of her rich contralto voice, "all that human intelligence could suggest. You have examined the evidence and conducted the whole affair with a thoroughness which I never could have obtained elsewhere. That your search has been unavailing is due, not to any fault of yours, but rather to the consummate skill of the assassin, who, I think, we may conclude, is no ordinary criminal. I do not know much of the abilities of Messrs. Osborne and Allen, but I understand that M. Godin has the reputation of being the cleverest detective in America. I cannot learn that he has made any progress whatsoever in the solution of this terrible mystery. I do not feel, therefore, that you have any right to reproach yourself. Such hope as I have that my father’s murderer may ever be brought to justice rests in your efforts; else I should feel bound to relieve you of a task, which, though self-imposed, is, none the less, onerous and ill-paid. Do not consider me altogether selfish if I ask that you still continue the search, and that I - that I still be held to my covenant. I am aware that I can never fully repay the kindness I am asking of you, but - "

Maitland did not wait for her to finish. "Let us not speak of that," he said. "It is enough to know that you are still satisfied with my, thus far, unsuccessful efforts in your behalf. There is nothing affords me keener pleasure than to struggle with and solve an intricate problem, whether it be in algebra, geometry, or the mathematics of crime; and then - well, even if I succeed, I shall quit the work your debtor."

He had spoken this last impulsively, and when he had finished he remained silent, as if surprised and a bit nettled at his own failure to control himself. Gwen made no reply, not even raising her eyes; but I noticed that her=20fingers at once busied themselves with the entirely uncalled-for labour of readjusting the tidy upon the arm of her chair, and I thought that, if appearances were to be trusted, she was very happy and contented at the change she had made in the bit of lacework beneath her hands. With singular good sense, with which she was always surprising me, Alice now introduced the subject of the Young People’s Club, and mentioned incidentally that Gwen was to have charge of the next meeting. Before Gwen had time to inform Maitland that she intended to decline this honour, he congratulated her upon it, and rendered her withdrawal difficult by saying: "I feel that I should thank you, Miss Darrow, for the faithful way in which you fulfil the spirit of your agreement to permit me to order your actions. I know, if you consulted your own desires, you would probably decline the honour conferred upon you, and that in accepting it, you are influenced by the knowledge that you are pursuing just the course I most wish you to follow. Verily, you make my office of tyrant over you a perfect sinecure. I had expected you to chafe a little under restraint, but, instead, I find you voluntarily yielding to my unexpressed desires."

Gwen made no reply, but we heard no more of her resignation. She applied herself at once to the preparation of her paper upon "Antony and Cleopatra." Maitland, who, like all vigorous, healthy, and informed intellects, was an ardent admirer of Shakespeare, found time to call on Gwen and to discuss the play with her. This seemed to please her very much, and I am sure his interest in the play was abnormal. He confessed to me that every morning, as he awoke, the first thing which flashed into his mind, even before he had full possession of his senses, was these words of Antony:

"I am dying, Egypt, dying."

He professed himself utterly unable to account for this, and asked me what I thought was the cause of it. He furthermore suddenly decided that he would ask Gwen to propose his name for membership at the next meeting of the Young People’s Club. I hastily indorsed this resolution, for I had a vague sort of feeling that it would please Gwen.

The "Antony and Cleopatra" night at length arrived. We all attended the meeting and listened to a very able paper upon the play. One of the most marked traits of Gwen’s character is that whatever she does she does thoroughly, and this was fully exemplified on the night in question. Maitland was very much impressed by some verse Gwen had written for the occasion, and a copy of which he succeeded in procuring from her. I think, from certain remarks he made, that it was the broad and somewhat unfeminine charity expressed in the verse which most astonished and attracted him, but of this, after what I have said, you will, when you have perused it, be as good a judge as I:


In Egypt, where the lotus sips the waters
Of ever-fruitful Nile, and the huge Sphinx
In awful silence, - mystic converse with
The stars, - doth see the pale moon hang her crescent on
The pyramid’s sharp peak, - e’en there, well in
The straits of Time’s perspective,
Went out, by Caesarean gusts from Rome,
The low-burned candle of the Ptolemies:
Went out without a flicker in full glare
Of noon-day glory. When her flame lacked oil
Too proud was Egypt’s queen to be
The snuff of Roman spirits; so she said,
"Good-night," and closed the book of life half read
And little understood; perchance misread
The greater part, - yet, who shall say? Are we
An ermined bench to call her culprit failings up
And make them plead for mercy? Or can we,
Upon whom soon shall fall the awful shadow of
The Judgment Seat, stand in her light and throw
Ourselves that shadow? Rather let fall upon
Her memory the softening gauze of Time,
As mantle of a charity which else
We might not serve. She was a woman,
And as a woman loved! What though the fierce
Simoom blew ever hot within the sail
Of her desire? What if it shifted with
Direction of her breath? Or if the rudder of
Her will did lean as many ways as trampled straws,
And own as little worth? She was a woman still,
And queen. They do best understand themselves
Who trust themselves the least; as they are wisest
Who, for their safety, thank more the open sea
Than pilot will. Oh, Egypt’s self-born Isis!
Ought we to fasten in thy memory the fangs
Of unalloyed distrust? We know how little
Better is History’s page than leaf whereat the ink
Is thrown. Nor yet should we forget how much
The nearer thou than we didst come to
The rough-hewn corner-stone of Time. We know
Thy practised love enfolded Antony;
And that around the heart of Hercules’
Descendant, threading through and through,
Like the red rivers of its life, in tangled mesh
No circumstance could e’er unravel, thou
Didst coil, - the dreamy, dazzling "Serpent of
The Nile!" Thy sins stick jagged out
From history’s page, and bleeding tear
Fair Judgment from thy merits. We perchance
Do wrong thee, Isis; for that coward, History,
Who binds in death his object’s jaw and then
Besmuts her name, hath crossed his focus in
Another age, and paled his spreading figment from
Our sight. Thou art so far back toward
The primal autocrat whose wish, hyena-like,
Was his religion, that, appearing as thou dost
On an horizon new flushed in the first
Uncertain ray of Altruism, thou seem’st
More ghost than human. Yet thou lovest, loving ghost,
And thy fierce parent flame thyself snuffed out
Scarce later than the dark’ning of the fire
Thou gav’st to be eternal vestal of
Thine Antony’s spirit. Thou didst love and die
Of love; let, therefore, no light tongue, brazen
In censure, say that nothing in thy life
Became thee like the leaving it. The cloth
From which humanity is cut is woven of
The warp and woof of circumstance, and all
Are much alike. We spring from out the mantle, Earth,
And hide at last beneath it; in the interim
Our acts are less of us than it. We are
No judge, then, of thy sins, thou ending link
Of Ptolemy’s chain. Forsooth, we are too much
O’erfilled with wondering how like to thee
We all had been, inclipt and dressed in thine
Own age and circumstance.

The exercises of the evening concluded with the reading of the familiar poem, beginning:

"I am dying, Egypt, dying;
Ebbs the crimson life-tide fast."

It was about noon the next day when Maitland called upon me. "See here, Doc," he began at once, "do you believe in coincidences?" I informed him that his question was not altogether easy to understand. "Wait a moment," he said, "while I explain. For at least two years prior to my recent return from California the name ’Cleopatra’ has not entered my mind. You were the first to mention it to me, and from you I learned that Miss Darrow was to have charge of the ’Antony and Cleopatra’ night. That is all natural enough. But why should I, on every morning since you first mentioned the subject to me, awake with Antony’s words upon my lips? Why should every book or paper I pick up contain some reference to Cleopatra? Why, man, if I were superstitious, it would seem positively spookish. I am getting to believe that I shall be confronted either by Cleopatra’s name, or some allusion to her, every time I pick up a book. It’s getting to be decidedly interesting."

"I have had," I replied, "similar, though less remarkable, experiences. It is quite a common occurrence to learn of a thing, say, this morning for the first time in one’s life, and then to find, in the course of the day’s reading, three or four independent references to the same thing. Suppose we step into the library, and pick out a few books haphazard, just to see if we chance upon any reference to Cleopatra."

To this Maitland agreed, and, entering the library, I pushed the Morning Herald across the table to him, saying: "One thing’s as good as another; try that." He started a little, but did not touch the paper. "You will have to find something harder than that," he said, pointing to the outspread paper.

I followed the direction of his finger, and read:

"Boston Theatre. Special engagement of Miss Fanny Davenport.
For one week. Beginning Monday, the 12th of December, Sardou’s

I was indeed surprised, but I said nothing. The next thing I handed him was a copy of Godey’s Magazine, several years old. He opened it carelessly, and in a moment read the following line: "I am dying, sweetheart, dying." "Doesn’t that sound familiar? It reminds me at once of the poetic alarm clock that wakens me every morning, - ’I am dying, Egypt, dying.’ There is no doubt that Higginson’s poem suggested this one. Here is the whole of the thing as it is printed here," he said, and read the following:


I am dreaming, loved one, dreaming
Of the sweet and beauteous past
When the world was as its seeming,
Ere the fatal shaft was cast.

I am sobbing, sad-eyed, sobbing,
At the darkly sullen west,
Of the smile of ignorance robbing
The pale face against the breast.

I am smiling, tear-stained, smiling,
As the sun glints on the crest
Of the troubled wave, beguiling
Shipwrecked Hope to its long rest.

I am parting, broken, parting,
From a soul that I hold dear,
And the music of whose beauty
Fades a dead strain on my ear.

I am dying, sweetheart, dying,
Drips life’s gold through palsied hands, -=20
See; the dead’ning Sun is sighing
His last note in red’ning bands.

So I’m sighing, sinking, sighing,
Flows life’s river to the sea.
Death my throbbing heart is tying
With the strings that ache for thee.

"Yes," I said, when he had finished. "I shall have to admit that immediately suggests Higginson’s poem and Cleopatra’s name. But here, try this," and I threw an old copy of the Atlantic Monthly upon the table. Maitland opened it and laughed. "This may be mere chance, Doc," he said, "but it is remarkable, none the less. See here!" He held the magazine toward me, and I read: "Cleopatra’s Needle. The Historic Significance of Central Park’s New Monument. Some of the Difficulties that Attended its Transportation and Erection. By James Theodore Wright, Ph. D." I was dumfounded. Things were indeed getting interesting.

"Magazines and newspapers," I said, "seem to be altogether too much in your line. We’ll try a book this time. Here," and I pulled the first one that came to hand, "is a copy of Tennyson’s Poems I fancy it will trouble you to find your reference in that." Maitland took it in silence, and, opening it at random, began to read. The result surprised him even more than it did me. He had chanced upon these verses from "A Dream of Fair Women":

"’We drank the Libyan Sun to sleep, and lit
Lamps which outburn’d Canopus. 0 my life
In Egypt! 0 the dalliance and the wit,
The flattery and the strife.

"’And the wild kiss when fresh from war’s alarms,
My Hercules, my Roman Antony,
My mailed Bacchus leapt into my arms,
Contented there to die!

"’And there he died! And when I heard my name
Sigh’d forth with life, I would not brook my fear
Of the other! With a worm I balked his fame.
What else was left? look here!’

"With that she tore her robe apart and half
The polished argent of her breast to sight
Laid bare. Thereto she pointed with a laugh,
Showing the aspic’s bite."

"There is no doubt about that," I said, as he laid the book upon the table. "I want to try this thing once more. Here is Pascal; if you can find any reference to the ’Serpent of the Nile’ in that, you needn’t go any farther, I shall be satisfied," and I passed the book to him. He turned the pages over in silence for half a minute, or so, and then said: "I guess this counts as a failure, - no, though, by Jove! Look here!" His face was of almost deathly pallor, and his finger trembled upon the passage it indicated as he held the book toward me. I glanced with some anxiety from his face to the book, and read, as nearly as I now can remember: "If Cleopatra’s nose had been shorter, the entire face of the world would have been changed."

It was some minutes before Maitland fully regained his composure, and during that time neither of us spoke. "Well, Doc," he said at length, and his manner was decidedly grave, even for him:

"What do you make of it?" I didn’t know what to make of it, and I admitted my ignorance with a frankness at which, considering my profession, I have often since had occasion to marvel. I told him that I could scarcely account for it on the ground of mere coincidence, and I called his attention to that part of "The Mystery of Marie Roget," where Poe figures out the mathematical likelihood of a certain combination of peculiarities of clothing being found to obtain in the case of two young women who were unknown to each other. If the finding of a single reference to Cleopatra had been a thing of so infrequent occurrence as to at once challenge Maitland’s attention, what was to be said when, all of a sudden, her name, or some reference to her, seemed to stare at him from every page he read?

"’There is something in this more than natural,
If philosophy could find it out,’"=20

murmured Maitland, more to himself than to me. "Come, what do you say?" and he turned abruptly to me with one of those searching looks so peculiar to him in moments of excitement. "I see," I replied, "that you are determined I shall give my opinion now and here, without a moment’s reflection. Very well; you have just quoted ’Hamlet’; I will do likewise:

"’There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy I’

"You seem in some strange way to be dominated by the shade of Cleopatra. Now, if I believed in metempsychosis, I should think you were Mark Antony brought down to date. There, with that present sober air of yours, you’d pass anywhere for such an anachronism. But to be serious, and to give you advice which is positively bilious with gravity, I should say, investigate this thing fully; make a study of this ancient charmer. By the way, why not begin by going to see Davenport in Sardou’s ’Cleopatra’? You have never seen her in it, have you?"

In this way. I succeeded in getting him out of his depressed state. We got into an argument concerning the merits of Miss Davenport’s work. I know of nothing Maitland would sooner do than argue, and, if attacked on a subject upon which he feels strongly, he is, for the time being, totally oblivious of everything else. For this reason I trapped him into this argument. I abominate what is now known as "realism" just as much as he does, but you don’t have much of an argument without some apparent difference of opinion, so, for the nonce, I became a realist of whom Zola himself would have been proud. "Why, man," I said, "realism is truth. You certainly can’t have any quarrel with that." I knew this would have the effect of a red rag flaunted in the face of a bull.

"Truth! Bah!" he exclaimed excitedly. "I have no patience with such aesthetic hod-carriers! Truth, indeed! Is there no other truth in art but that coarse verisimilitude, that vulgar trickery, which appeals to the eyes and the ears of the rabble? Are there not psychological truths of immensely greater importance? What sane man imagines for a moment that the pleasure he derives from seeing that greatest of all tragedians, Edwin Booth, in one of Shakespeare’s matchless tragedies, is dependent upon his believing that this or that character is actually killed? Why, even the day of the cranberry-juice dagger is long since passed. When Miss Davenport shrieks in ’Fedora,’ the shriek is literal - ’real,’ you would call it - and you find yourself instinctively saying, ’Don’t! - don’t!’ and wishing you were out of the house. When Mr. Booth, as ’Shylock’ shrieks at ’Tubal’s’ news, the cry is not real, is not literal, but is suggestive, and you see at once the fiendish glee of which it is the expression. The difference between the two is the difference between vocal cords and grey matter."

"But surely," I rejoined, "one doesn’t want untruth; one wants - " but he did not let me finish.

"Always that cry of truth!" he retorted. "Do you not see how absurd it is, as used by your exponents of realism? With a bit of charcoal some Raphael draws a face with five lines, and some photographer snaps a camera at the same face. Which would any sane man choose as the best work of art? The five-line face, of course. Why? Is the work of the camera unreal? Is it not more accurate in drawing, more subtle in gradation than the less mechanical picture? To be sure. What, then, makes the superiority of the few lines of our Raphael? That which makes the superiority of all noble art - its truth,, not on a low, but on a high, plane: its power of interpreting. See!" he said, fairly aglow with excitement. "What does your realist do, even assuming that he has reached that never-to—be-attained perfection which is the lifelong Mecca of his desires? He gives you, by his absolutely realistic goes with you, and interprets its grandeur to you. Stand before his canvas and enjoy it as you would Nature herself if there. Surely, you say, nothing more could be desired, and you clap your hands, and shout, ’Bravo!’ But wait a bit; the other side is yet to be heard from. What does the true artist do for you by his picture of Yosemite Valley? He not only gives you a free conveyance to it, but he goes with you, and interprets its grandeur to you. He translates into the language of your consciousness beauties which, without him, you would entirely miss. It is this very capability of seeing more in Nature than is ever perceived by the common throng that constitutes the especial genius of the artist, and a work that is not aglow with its creator’s personality - personality, mind you, not coarse realism - can never rank as a masterpiece. But, come, this won’t do. Why did you want to get me astride my hobby?"

I thought it advisable to answer this question by asking another, so I said: "But how about Davenport? Will you go?"

"Yes," he replied. "Anything with a Cleopatra to it interests me. I’ll go now and see about the tickets," and he left me.

I have related Maitland’s aesthetic views as expressed to me upon this occasion, not because they have any particular bearing upon the mystery I am narrating, but because they cast a strong side-light upon the young man’s character, and also for the reason that I believe his personality to be sufficiently strong and unique to be of general interest.

We went that same night to see Sardou’s "Cleopatra." I asked Maitland how he liked the piece, and the only reply he vouchsafed was: "I have recently read Shakespeare’s treatment of the same theme."=20


Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

Title: The Darrow Enigma

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: The Darrow Enigma

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Melvin Linwood Severy, "Chapter I," The Darrow Enigma, ed. Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934 and trans. Boswell, Robert Bruce in The Darrow Enigma (New York: A. L. Burt Company, 1916), Original Sources, accessed August 22, 2019,

MLA: Severy, Melvin Linwood. "Chapter I." The Darrow Enigma, edited by Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934, and translated by Boswell, Robert Bruce, in The Darrow Enigma, Vol. 22, New York, A. L. Burt Company, 1916, Original Sources. 22 Aug. 2019.

Harvard: Severy, ML, 'Chapter I' in The Darrow Enigma, ed. and trans. . cited in 1916, The Darrow Enigma, A. L. Burt Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 22 August 2019, from