From the drawer of his table Jasper Holt took a pane of window
glass. He laid a sheet of paper on the glass and wrote, “Now
is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their
party.” He studied his round business-college script, and
rewrote the sentence in a small finicky hand, that of a studious
old man. Ten times he copied the words in that false pinched
writing. He tore up the paper, burned the fragments in his large
ash tray and washed the delicate ashes down his stationary
washbowl. He replaced the pane of glass in the drawer, tapping it
with satisfaction. A glass underlay does not retain an
Jasper Holt was as nearly respectable as his room, which, with
its frilled chairs and pansy-painted pincushion, was the best in
the aristocratic boarding house of Mrs. Lyons. He was a wiry,
slightly bald, black-haired man of thirty-eight, wearing an easy
gray flannel suit and a white carnation. His hands were peculiarly
compact and nimble. He gave the appearance of being a youngish
lawyer or bond salesman. Actually he was senior paying teller in
the Lumber National Bank in the city of Vernon.
He looked at a thin expensive gold watch. It was six-thirty, on
Wednesday—toward dusk of a tranquil spring day. He picked up
his hooked walking stick and his gray silk gloves and trudged
downstairs. He met his landlady in the lower hall and inclined his
head. She effusively commented on the weather.
“I shall not be there for dinner,” he said
“Very well, Mr. Holt. My, but aren’t you always
going out with your swell friends though! I read in the Herald that
you were going to be a star in another of those society plays in
the Community Theater. I guess you’d be an actor if you
wasn’t a banker, Mr. Holt.”
“No, I’m afraid I haven’t much
temperament.” His voice was cordial, but his smile was a mere
mechanical sidewise twist of the lip muscles. “You’re
the one that’s got the stage presence. Bet you’d be a
regular Ethel Barrymore if you didn’t have to take care of
“My, but you’re such a flatterer!”
He bowed his way out and walked sedately down the street to a
public garage. Nodding to the night attendant, but saying nothing,
he started his roadster and drove out of the garage, away from the
center of Vernon, toward the suburb of Rosebank. He did not go
directly to Rosebank. He went seven blocks out of his way, and
halted on Fandall Avenue—one of those petty main
thoroughfares which, with their motion-picture palaces, their
groceries, laundries, undertakers’ establishments and lunch
rooms, serve as local centers for districts of mean residences. He
got out of the car and pretended to look at the tires, kicking them
to see how much air they had. While he did so he covertly looked up
and down the street. He saw no one whom he knew. He went into the
Parthenon Confectionery Store.
The Parthenon Store makes a specialty of those ingenious candy
boxes that resemble bound books. The back of the box is of
imitation leather, with a stamping simulating the title of a novel.
The edges are apparently the edges of a number of pages. But these
pages are hollowed out, and the inside is to be filled with
Jasper gazed at the collection of book boxes and chose the two
whose titles had the nearest approach to dignity—Sweets to
the Sweet and The Ladies’ Delight. He asked the Greek clerk
to fill these with the less expensive grade of mixed chocolates,
and to wrap them.
From the candy shop he went to the drugstore that carried an
assortment of reprinted novels, and from these picked out two of
the same sentimental type as the titles on the booklike boxes.
These also he had wrapped. He strolled out of the drugstore,
slipped into a lunchroom, got a lettuce sandwich, doughnuts, and a
cup of coffee at the greasy marble counter, took them to a chair
with a table arm in the dim rear of the lunchroom and hastily
devoured them. As he came out and returned to his car he again
glanced along the street.
He fancied that he knew a man who was approaching. He could not
be sure. From the breast up the man seemed familiar, as did the
customers of the bank whom he viewed through the wicket of the
teller’s window. When he saw them in the street he could
never be sure of them. It seemed extraordinary to find that these
persons, who to him were nothing but faces with attached arms that
held out checks and received money, could walk about, had legs and
a gait and a manner of their own.
He walked to the curb and stared up at the cornice of one of the
stores, puckering his lips, giving an impersonation of a man
inspecting a building. With the corner of an eye he followed the
approaching man. The man ducked his head as he neared, and greeted
him, “Hello, Brother Teller.” Jasper seemed startled;
gave the “Oh! Oh, how are you!” of sudden recognition;
and mumbled, “Looking after a little bank
The man passed on.
Jasper got into his car and drove back to the street that would
take him out to the suburb of Rosebank. As he left Fandall Avenue
he peered at his watch. It was five minutes to seven.
At a quarter past seven he passed through the main street of
Rosebank and turned into a lane that was but little changed since
the time when it had been a country road. A few jerry-built villas
of freckled paint did shoulder upon it, but for the most part it
ran through swamps spotted with willow groves, the spongy ground
covered with scatterings of dry leaves and bark. Opening on this
lane was a dim-rutted grassy private road which disappeared into
one of the willow groves.
Jasper sharply swung his car between the crumbly gate posts and
along on the bumpy private road. He made an abrupt turn, came in
sight of an unpainted shed and shot the car into it without cutting
down his speed, so that he almost hit the back of the shed with his
front fenders. He shut off the engine, climbed out quickly and ran
back toward the gate. From the shield of the bank of alder bushes
he peered out. Two clattering women were going down the public
road. They stared in through the gate and half halted.
“That’s where that hermit lives,” said one of
“Oh, you mean the one that’s writing a religious
book, and never comes out till evening? Some kind of a
“Yes, that’s the one. John Holt, I think his name
is. I guess he’s kind of crazy. He lives in the old Beaudette
house. But you can’t see it from here—it’s clear
through the block, on the next street.”
“I heard he was crazy. But I just saw an automobile go in
“Oh, that’s his cousin or brother or
something—lives in the city. They say he’s rich, and
such a nice fellow.”
The two women ambled on, their clatter blurring with distance.
Standing behind the alders Jasper rubbed the palm of one hand with
the fingers of the other. The palm was dry with nervousness. But he
He returned to the shed and entered a brick-paved walk almost a
block long, walled and sheltered by overhanging willows. Once it
had been a pleasant path; carved wooden benches were placed along
it, and it widened to a court with a rock garden, a fountain and a
stone bench. The rock garden had degenerated into a riot of
creepers sprawling over the sharp stones; the paint had peeled from
the fountain, leaving its iron cupids and naiads eaten with rust.
The bricks of the wall were smeared with lichens and moss and were
untidy with windrows of dry leaves and caked earth. Many of the
bricks were broken; the walk was hilly in its unevenness. From
willows and bricks and scuffled earth rose a damp chill. But Jasper
did not seem to note the dampness. He hastened along the walk to
the house—a structure of heavy stone which, for this newish
Midwestern land, was very ancient. It had been built by a French
fur trader in 1839. The Chippewas had scalped a man in its
dooryard. The heavy back door was guarded by an unexpectedly
expensive modern lock. Jasper opened it with a flat key and closed
it behind him. It locked on a spring. He was in a crude kitchen,
the shades of which were drawn. He passed through the kitchen and
dining room into the living room. Dodging chairs and tables in the
darkness as though he was used to them he went to each of the three
windows of the living room and made sure that all the shades were
down before he lighted the student lamp on the game-legged table.
As the glow crept over the drab walls Jasper bobbed his head with
satisfaction. Nothing had been touched since his last visit.
The room was musty with the smell of old green rep upholstery
and leather books. It had not been dusted for months. Dust sheeted
the stiff red velvet chairs, the uncomfortable settee, the chill
white marble fireplace, the immense glass-fronted bookcase that
filled one side of the room.
The atmosphere was unnatural to this capable business man, this
Jasper Holt. But Jasper did not seem oppressed. He briskly removed
the wrappers from the genuine books and from the candy-box
imitations of books. One of the two wrappers he laid on the table
and smoothed out. Upon this he poured the candy from the two boxes.
The other wrapper and the strings he stuffed into the fireplace and
immediately burned. Crossing to the bookcase he unlocked one
section on the bottom shelf. There was a row of rather
cheap-looking novels on this shelf, and of these at least six were
actually such candy boxes as he had purchased that evening.
Only one shelf of the bookcase was given over to anything so
frivolous as novels. The others were filled with black-covered,
speckle-leaved, dismal books of history, theology,
biography—the shabby-genteel sort of books you find on the
fifteen-cent table at a secondhand bookshop. Over these Jasper
pored for a moment as though he was memorizing their titles.
He took down The Life of the Rev. Jeremiah Bodfish and read
aloud: “In those intimate discourses with his family that
followed evening prayers I once heard Brother Bodfish observe that
Philo Judaeus— whose scholarly career always calls to my mind
the adumbrations of Melanchthon upon the essence of
rationalism—was a mere sophist—”
Jasper slammed the book shut, remarking contentedly,
“That’ll do. Philo Judaeus—good name to
He relocked the bookcase and went upstairs. In a small bedroom
at the right of the upper hall an electric light was burning.
Presumably the house had been deserted till Jasper’s
entrance, but a prowler in the yard might have judged from this
ever-burning light that someone was in the residence. The bedroom
was Spartan— an iron bed, one straight chair, a washstand, a
heavy oak bureau. Jasper scrambled to unlock the bottom drawer of
the bureau, yank it open, take out a wrinkled shiny suit of black,
a pair of black shoes, a small black bow tie, a Gladstone collar, a
white shirt with starched bosom, a speckly brown felt hat and a
wig—an expensive and excellent wig with artfully unkempt hair
of a faded brown.
He stripped off his attractive flannel suit, wing collar, blue
tie, custom-made silk shirt and cordovan shoes, and speedily put on
the wig and those gloomy garments. As he donned them the corners of
his mouth began to droop. Leaving the light on and his own clothes
flung on the bed he descended the stairs. He was obviously not the
same Jasper, but less healthy, less practical, less agreeable, and
decidedly more aware of the sorrow and long thoughts of the
dreamer. Indeed it must be understood that now he was not Jasper
Holt, but Jasper’s twin brother, John Holt, hermit and
John Holt, twin brother of Jasper Holt, the bank teller, rubbed
his eyes as though he had for hours been absorbed in study, and
crawled through the living room, through the tiny hall, to the
front door. He opened it, picked up a couple of circulars that the
postman had dropped through the letter slot in the door, went out
and locked the door behind him. He was facing a narrow front yard,
neater than the willow walk at the back, on a suburban street more
populous than the straggly back lane.
A street arc illuminated the yard and showed that a card was
tacked on the door. John touched the card, snapped it with a nail
of his finger to make sure it was securely tacked. In that light he
could not read it, but he knew that it was inscribed in a small
finicky hand: “Agents kindly do not disturb, bell will not be
answered, occupant of the house engaged in literary
John stood on the doorstep until he made out his neighbor on the
right—a large stolid commuter, who was walking before his
house smoking an after-dinner cigar. John poked to the fence and
sniffed at a spray of lilac blossoms till the neighbor called over,
“Yes, it seems to be pleasant.”
John’s voice was like Jasper’s but it was more
guttural, and his speech had less assurance.
“How’s the story going?”
“It is—it is very difficult. So hard to comprehend
all the inner meanings of the prophecies. Well, I must be hastening
to Soul Hope Hall. I trust we shall see you there some Wednesday or
Sunday evening. I bid you good-night, sir.”
John wavered down the street to the drugstore. He purchased a
bottle of ink. In a grocery that kept open evenings he got two
pounds of cornmeal, two pounds of flour, a pound of bacon, a half
pound of butter, six eggs and a can of condensed milk.
“Shall we deliver them?” asked the clerk.
John looked at him sharply. He realized that this was a new man,
who did not know his customs. He said rebukingly: “No, I
always carry my parcels. I am writing a book. I am never to be
He paid for the provisions out of a postal money order for
thirty-five dollars, and received the change. The cashier of the
store was accustomed to cashing these money orders, which were
always sent to John from South Vernon, by one R. J. Smith. John
took the bundle of food and walked out of the store.
“That fellow’s kind of a nut, isn’t he?”
asked the new clerk.
The cashier explained: “Yep. Doesn’t even take fresh
milk—uses condensed for everything! What do you think of
that! And they say he burns up all his garbage—never has
anything in the ashcan except ashes. If you knock at his door, he
never answers it, fellow told me. All the time writing this book of
his. Religious crank, I guess. Has a little income
though—guess his folks were pretty well fixed. Comes out once
in a while in the evening and pokes round town. We used to laugh
about him, but we’ve kind of got used to him. Been here about
a year, I guess it is.”
John was serenely passing down the main street of Rosebank. At
the dingier end of it he turned in at a hallway marked by a lighted
sign announcing in crude house-painter’s letters: “Soul
Hope Fraternity Hall. Experience Meeting. All Welcome.”
It was eight o’clock. The members of the Soul Hope cult
had gathered in their hall above a bakery. Theirs was a tiny,
tight-minded sect. They asserted that they alone obeyed the
scriptural tenets; that they alone were certain to be saved, that
all other denominations were damned by unapostolic luxury, that it
was wicked to have organs or ministers or any meeting places save
plain halls. The members themselves conducted the meetings, one
after another rising to give an interpretation of the scriptures or
to rejoice in gathering with the faithful, while the others
commented with “Hallelujah!” and “Amen, brother,
amen!” They were plainly dressed, not overfed, somewhat
elderly, and a rather happy congregation. The most honored of them
all was John Holt.
John had come to Rosebank only eleven months before. He had
bought the Beaudette house with the library of the recent occupant,
a retired clergyman, and had paid for them in new
one-hundred-dollar bills. Already he had great credit in the Soul
Hope cult. It appeared that he spent almost all his time at home,
praying and reading and writing a book. The Soul Hope Fraternity
were excited about the book. They had begged him to read it to
them. So far he had only read a few pages, consisting mostly of
quotations from ancient treatises on the Prophecies. Nearly every
Sunday and Wednesday evening he appeared at the meeting and in a
halting and scholarly way lectured on the world and the flesh.
Tonight he spoke polysyllabically of the fact that one Philo
Judaeus had been a mere sophist. The cult were none too clear as to
what either a Philo Judaeus or a sophist might be, but with heads
all nodding in a row, they murmured: “You’re right,
John glided into a sad earnest discourse on his worldly brother
Jasper, and informed them of his struggles with Jasper’s itch
for money. By his request the fraternity prayed for Jasper.
The meeting was over at nine. John shook hands all round with
the elders of the congregation, sighing: “Fine meeting
tonight, wasn’t it? Such a free outpouring of the
Spirit!” He welcomed a new member, a servant girl just come
from Seattle. Carrying his groceries and the bottle of ink he poked
down the stairs from the hall at seven minutes after nine.
At sixteen minutes after nine John was stripping off his brown
wig and the funereal clothes in his bedroom. At twenty-eight after,
John Holt had become Jasper Holt, the capable teller of the Lumber
Jasper Holt left the light burning in his brother’s
bedroom. He rushed downstairs, tried the fastening of the front
door, bolted it, made sure that all the windows were fastened,
picked up the bundle of groceries and the pile of candies that he
had removed from the booklike candy boxes, blew out the light in
the living room and ran down the willow walk to his car. He threw
the groceries and candy into it, backed the car out as though he
was accustomed to backing in this bough-scattered yard, and drove
along the lonely road at the rear.
When he was passing a swamp he reached down, picked up the
bundle of candies, and steering with one hand removed the wrapping
paper with the other hand and hurled out the candies. They showered
among the weeds beside the road. The paper which had contained the
candies, and upon which was printed the name of the Parthenon
Confectionery Store, Jasper tucked into his pocket. He took the
groceries item by item from the labeled bag containing them, thrust
that bag also into his pocket, and laid the groceries on the seat
On the way from Rosebank to the center of the city of Vernon, he
again turned off the main avenue and halted at a goat-infested
shack occupied by a crippled Norwegian. He sounded the horn. The
Norwegian’s grandson ran out.
“Here’s a little more grub for you,” bawled
“God bless you, sir. I don’t know what we’d do
if it wasn’t for you!” cried the old Norwegian from the
But Jasper did not wait for gratitude. He merely shouted
“Bring you some more in a couple of days,” as he
At a quarter past ten he drove up to the hall that housed the
latest interest in Vernon society—The Community Theater. The
Boulevard Set, the “best people in town,” belonged to
the Community Theater Association, and the leader of it was the
daughter of the general manager of the railroad. As a well-bred
bachelor Jasper Holt was welcome among them, despite the fact that
no one knew much about him except that he was a good bank teller
and had been born in England. But as an actor he was not merely
welcome: he was the best amateur actor in Vernon. His placid face
could narrow with tragic emotion or puff out with comedy, his
placid manner concealed a dynamo of emotion. Unlike most amateur
actors he did not try to act—he became the thing itself. He
forgot Jasper Holt, and turned into a vagrant or a judge, a Bernard
Shaw thought, a Lord Dunsany symbol, a Noel Coward
The other one-act plays of the next program of the Community
Theater had already been rehearsed. The cast of the play in which
Jasper was to star were all waiting for him. So were the ladies
responsible for the staging. They wanted his advice about the blue
curtain for the stage window, about the baby-spot that was out of
order, about the higher interpretation of the rôle of the page in
the piece—a rôle consisting of only two lines, but to be
played by one of the most popular girls in the younger set. After
the discussions, and a most violent quarrel between two members of
the play-reading committee, the rehearsal was called. Jasper Holt
still wore his flannel suit and a wilting carnation; but he was not
Jasper; he was the Duc de San Saba, a cynical, gracious, gorgeous
old man, easy of gesture, tranquil of voice, shudderingly evil of
“If I could get a few more actors like you!” cried
the professional coach.
The rehearsal was over at half-past eleven. Jasper drove his car
to the public garage in which he kept it, and walked home. There,
he tore up and burned the wrapping paper bearing the name of the
Parthenon Confectionery Store and the labeled bag that had
contained the groceries.
The Community Theater plays were given on the following
Wednesday. Jasper Holt was highly applauded, and at the party at
the Lakeside Country Club, after the play, he danced with the
prettiest girls in town. He hadn’t much to say to them, but
he danced fervently, and about him was a halo of artistic
That night his brother John did not appear at the meeting of the
Soul Hope Fraternity out in Rosebank.
On Monday, five days later, while he was in conference with the
president and the cashier of the Lumber National Bank, Jasper
complained of a headache. The next day he telephoned to the
president that he would not come down to work—he would stay
home and rest his eyes, sleep and get rid of the persistent
headache. That was unfortunate, for that very day his twin brother
John made one of his frequent trips into Vernon and called at the
The president had seen John only once before, and by a
coincidence it had happened on this occasion also Jasper had been
absent—had been out of town. The president invited John into
his private office.
“Your brother is at home; poor fellow has a bad headache.
Hope he gets over it. We think a great deal of him here. You ought
to be proud of him. Will you have a smoke?”
As he spoke the president looked John over. Once or twice when
Jasper and the president had been out at lunch Jasper had spoken of
the remarkable resemblance between himself and his twin brother.
But the president told himself that he didn’t really see much
resemblance. The features of the two were alike, but John’s
expression of chronic spiritual indigestion, his unfriendly manner,
and his hair—unkempt and lifeless brown, where Jasper’s
was sleekly black about a shiny bald spot—made the president
dislike John as much as he liked Jasper.
And now John was replying: “No, I do not smoke. I
can’t understand how a man can soil the temple with drugs. I
suppose I ought to be glad to hear you praise poor Jasper, but I am
more concerned with his lack of respect for the things of the
spirit. He sometimes comes to see me, at Rosebank, and I argue with
him, but somehow I can’t make him see his errors. And his
“We don’t think he’s flippant. We think
he’s a pretty steady worker.”
“But he’s play-acting! And reading love stories!
Well, I try to keep in mind the injunction, ‘Judge not, that
ye be not judged.’ But I am pained to find my own brother
giving up immortal promises for mortal amusements. Well, I’ll
go and call on him. I trust that some day we shall see you at Soul
Hope Hall, in Rosebank. Good day, sir.”
Turning back to his work, the president grumbled: “I am
going to tell Jasper that the best compliment I can hand him is
that he is not like his brother.”
And on the following day, another Wednesday, when Jasper
reappeared at the bank, the president did make this jesting
comparison, and Jasper signed, “Oh, John is really a good
fellow, but he’s always gone in for metaphysics and Oriental
mysticism and Lord knows what all, till he’s kind of lost in
the fog. But he’s a lot better than I am. When I murder my
landlady—or say, when I rob the bank, Chief—you go get
John, and I bet you the best lunch in town that he’ll do his
best to bring me to justice. That’s how square he
“Square, yes—corners just sticking out! Well, when
you do rob us, Jasper, I’ll look up John. But do try to keep
from robbing us as long as you can. I’d hate to have to
associate with a religious detective in a boiled shirt!”
Both men laughed, and Jasper went back to his cage. His head
continued to hurt, he admitted. The president advised him to lay
off for a week. He didn’t want to, he said. With the new
munition industries due to the war in Europe there was much
increase in factory pay rolls, and Jasper took charge of them.
“Better take a week off than get ill,” argued the
president late that afternoon.
Jasper did let himself be persuaded to go away for at least a
week-end. He would run up north, to Wakamin Lake, the coming
Friday, he said; he would get some black-bass fishing, and be back
on Monday or Tuesday. Before he went he would make up the pay rolls
for the Saturday payments and turn them over to the other teller.
The president thanked him for his faithfulness, and as was his not
infrequent custom, invited Jasper to his house for the evening of
the next day—Thursday.
That Wednesday evening Jasper’s brother John appeared at
the Soul Hope meeting in Rosebank. When he had gone home and
magically turned back into Jasper this Jasper did not return the
wig and garments of John to the bureau but packed them in a
suitcase, took the suitcase to his room in Vernon and locked it in
Jasper was amiable at dinner at the president’s house on
Thursday, but he was rather silent, and as his head still throbbed
he left the house early—at nine-thirty. Sedately carrying his
gray silk gloves in one hand and pompously swinging his stick with
the other, he walked from the president’s house on the
fashionable boulevard back to the center of Vernon. He entered the
public garage in which he stored his car. He commented to the night
attendant, “Head aches. Guess I’ll take the ‘bus
out and get some fresh air.”
He drove away at not more than fifteen miles an hour. He headed
south. When he had reached the outskirts of the city he speeded up
to a consistent twenty-five miles an hour. He settled down in his
seat with the unmoving steadiness of the long-distance driver; his
body quiet except for the tiny subtle movements of his foot on the
accelerator, of his hand on the steering wheel—his right hand
across the wheel, holding it at the top, his left elbow resting
easily on the cushioned edge of his seat and his left hand merely
touching the wheel.
He drove down in that southern direction for fifteen
miles—almost to the town of Wanagoochie. Then by a rather
poor side road he turned sharply to the north and west, and making
a huge circle about the city drove toward the town of St. Clair.
The suburb of Rosebank, in which his brother John lived, is also
north of Vernon. These directions were of some importance to him;
Wanagoochie eighteen miles south of the mother city of Vernon;
Rosebank, on the other hand, eight miles north of Vernon, and St.
Clair twenty miles north—about as far north of Vernon as
Wanagoochie is south.
On his way to St. Clair, at a point that was only two miles from
Rosebank, Jasper ran the car off the main road into a grove of oaks
and maples and stopped it on a long-unused woodland road. He
stiffly got out and walked through the woods up a rise of ground to
a cliff overlooking a swampy lake. The gravelly farther bank of the
cliff rose perpendicularly from the edge of the water. In that wan
light distilled by stars and the earth he made out the reedy
expanse of the lake. It was so muddy, so tangled with sedge grass
that it was never used for swimming, and as its inhabitants were
only slimy bullheads few people ever tried to fish there. Jasper
stood reflective. He was remembering the story of the
farmer’s team which had run away, dashed over this cliff and
sunk out of sight in the mud bottom of the lake.
Swishing his stick he outlined an imaginary road from the top of
the cliff back to the sheltered place where his car was standing.
Once he hacked away with a large pocketknife a mass of knotted
hazel bushes which blocked that projected road. When he had traced
the road to his car he smiled. He walked to the edge of the woods
and looked up and down the main highway. A car was approaching. He
waited till it had passed, ran back to his own car, backed it out
on the highway, and went on his northward course toward St. Clair,
driving about thirty miles an hour.
On the edge of St. Clair he halted, took out his kit of tools,
unscrewed a spark plug, and sharply tapping the plug on the engine
block, deliberately cracked the porcelain jacket. He screwed the
plug in again and started the car. It bucked and spit, missing on
one cylinder, with the short-circuited plug.
“I guess there must be something wrong with the
ignition,” he said cheerfully.
He managed to run the car into a garage in St. Clair. There was
no one in the garage save an old negro, the night washer, who was
busy over a limousine with sponge and hose.
“Got a night repair man here?” asked Jasper.
“No, sir; guess you’ll have to leave it till
“Hang it! Something gone wrong with the carburetor or the
ignition. Well, I’ll have to leave it then. Tell
him—Say will you be here in the morning when the repair man
“Well, tell him I must have the car by tomorrow noon. No,
say by tomorrow at nine. Now, don’t forget. This will help
He gave a quarter to the negro, who grinned and shouted:
“Yes, sir; that’ll help my memory a lot!” As he
tied a storage tag on the car the negro inquired:
“Uh—my name? Oh, Hanson. Remember now, ready about
Jasper walked to the railroad station. It was ten minutes of
one. Jasper did not ask the night operator about the next train
into Vernon. Apparently he knew that there was a train stopping
here at St. Clair at one-thirty-seven. He did not sit in the
waiting room but in the darkness outside, on a truck behind the
baggage room. When the train came in he slipped into the last seat
of the last car, and with his soft hat over his eyes either slept
or appeared to sleep. When he reached Vernon he got off and came to
the garage in which he regularly kept his car. He stepped inside.
The night attendant was drowsing in a large wooden chair tilted
back against the wall in the narrow runway which formed the
entrance to the garage.
Jasper jovially shouted to the attendant: “Certainly ran
into some hard luck. Ignition went wrong—I guess it was the
ignition. Had to leave the car down at Wanagoochie.”
“Yuh, hard luck, all right,” assented the
“Yump. So I left it at Wanagoochie,” Jasper
emphasized as he passed on.
He had been inexact in this statement. It was not at
Wanagoochie, which is south, but at St. Clair, which is north, that
he had left his car.
He had returned to his boarding house, slept beautifully, hummed
in his morning shower bath. Yet at breakfast he complained of his
continuous headache, and announced that he was going up north, to
Wakamin, to get some bass fishing and rest his eyes. His landlady
urged him to go.
“Anything I can do to help you get away?” she
“No, thanks. I’m just taking a couple of suitcases,
with some old clothes and some fishing tackle. Fact, I have
’em all packed already. I’ll probably take the noon
train north if I can get away from the bank. Pretty busy now, with
these pay rolls for the factories that have war contracts for the
Allies. What’s it say in the paper this morning?”
Jasper arrived at the bank, carrying the two suitcases and a
neat, polite, rolled silk umbrella, the silver top of which was
engraved with his name. The doorman, who was also the bank guard,
helped him to carry the suitcases inside.
“Careful of that bag. Got my fishing tackle in it,”
said Jasper, to the doorman, apropos of one of the suitcases which
was heavy but apparently not packed full. “Well, I think
I’ll run up to Wakamin today and catch a few bass.”
“Wish I could go along, sir. How is the head this morning?
Does it still ache?” asked the doorman.
“Rather better, but my eyes still feel pretty rocky. Guess
I’ve been using them too much. Say, Connors, I’ll try
to catch the train north at eleven-seven. Better have a taxicab
here for me at eleven. Or no; I’ll let you know a little
before eleven. Try to catch the eleven-seven north, for
“Very well, sir.”
The president, the cashier, the chief clerk—all asked
Jasper how he felt; and to all of them he repeated the statement
that he had been using his eyes too much, and that he would catch a
few bass at Wakamin.
The other paying teller, from his cage next to that of Jasper,
called heartily through the steel netting: “Pretty soft for
some people! You wait! I’m going to have the hay fever this
summer, and I’ll go fishing for a month!”
Jasper placed the two suitcases and the umbrella in his cage,
and leaving the other teller to pay out current money he himself
made up the pay rolls for the next day—Saturday. He casually
went into the vault—a narrow, unimpressive, unaired cell with
a hard linoleum floor, one unshaded electric bulb, and a back wall
composed entirely of steel doors of safes, all painted a sickly
blue, very unimpressive, but guarding several millions of dollars
in cash and securities. The upper doors, hung on large steel arms
and each provided with two dials, could be opened only by two
officers of the bank, each knowing one of the two combinations.
Below these were smaller doors, one of which Jasper could open, as
teller. It was the door of an insignificant steel box, which
contained one hundred and seventeen thousand dollars in bills and
four thousand dollars in gold and silver.
Jasper passed back and forth, carrying bundles of currency. In
his cage he was working less than three feet from the other teller,
who was divided from him only by the bands of the steel
While he worked he exchanged a few words with this other
Once, as he counted out nineteen thousand dollars, he commented:
“Big pay roll for the Henschel Wagon Works this week.
They’re making gun carriages and truck bodies for the Allies,
“Uh-huh!” said the other teller, not much
Mechanically, unobtrusively going about his ordinary routine of
business, Jasper counted out bills to amounts agreeing with the
items on a typed schedule of the pay rolls. Apparently his eyes
never lifted from his counting and from the typed schedule which
lay before him. The bundles of bills he made into packages,
fastening each with a paper band. Each bundle he seemed to drop
into a small black leather bag which he held beside him. But he did
not actually drop the money into these pay-roll bags.
Both the suitcases at his feet were closed and presumably
fastened, but one was not fastened. And though it was heavy it
contained nothing but a lump of pig iron. From time to time
Jasper’s hand, holding a bundle of bills, dropped to his
side. With a slight movement of his foot he opened that suitcase
and the bills slipped from his hand down into it.
The bottom part of the cage was a solid sheet of stamped steel,
and from the front of the bank no one could see this suspicious
gesture. The other teller could have seen it, but Jasper dropped
the bills only when the other teller was busy talking to a customer
or when his back was turned. In order to delay for such a favorable
moment Jasper frequently counted packages of bills twice, rubbing
his eyes as though they hurt him.
After each of these secret disposals of packages of bills Jasper
made much of dropping into the pay-roll bags the rolls of coin for
which the schedule called. It was while he was tossing these
blue-wrapped cylinders of coin into the bags that he would chat
with the other teller. Then he would lock up the bags and gravely
place them at one side.
Jasper was so slow in making up the pay rolls that it was five
minutes of eleven before he finished. He called the doorman to the
cage and suggested, “Better call my taxi now.”
He still had one bag to fill. He could plainly be seen dropping
packages of money into it, while he instructed the assistant
teller: “I’ll stick all the bags in my safe and you can
transfer them to yours. Be sure to lock my safe. Lord, I better
hurry or I’ll miss my train! Be back Tuesday morning, at
latest. So long; take care yourself.”
He hastened to pile the pay-roll bags into his safe in the
vault. The safe was almost filled with them. And except for the
last one not one of the bags contained anything except a few rolls
of coin. Though he had told the other teller to lock his safe, he
himself twirled the combination—which was thoughtless of him,
as the assistant teller would now have to wait and get the
president to unlock it.
He picked up his umbrella and two suitcases, bending over one of
the cases for not more than ten seconds. Waving good-by to the
cashier at his desk down front and hurrying so fast that the
doorman did not have a chance to help him carry the suitcases, he
rushed through the bank, through the door, into the waiting
taxicab, and loudly enough for the doorman to hear he cried to the
driver, “M. & D. Station.”
At the M. & D. R. R. Station, refusing offers of redcaps to
carry his bags, he bought a ticket for Wakamin, which is a
lake-resort town one hundred and forty miles northwest of Vernon,
hence one hundred and twenty beyond St. Clair. He had just time to
get aboard the eleven-seven train. He did not take a chair car, but
sat in a day coach near the rear door. He unscrewed the silver top
of his umbrella, on which was engraved his name, and dropped it
into his pocket.
When the train reached St. Clair, Jasper strolled out to the
vestibule, carrying the suitcases but leaving the topless umbrella
behind. His face was blank, uninterested. As the train started he
dropped down on the station platform and gravely walked away. For a
second the light of adventure crossed his face, and vanished.
At the garage at which he had left his car on the evening before
he asked the foreman: “Did you get my car fixed—Mercury
roadster, ignition on the bum?”
“Nope! Couple of jobs ahead of it. Haven’t had time
to touch it yet. Ought to get at it early this
Jasper curled his tongue round his lips in startled vexation. He
dropped his suitcases on the floor of the garage and stood
thinking, his bent forefinger against his lower lip.
Then: “Well, I guess I can get her to
go—sorry—can’t wait—got to make the next
town,” he grumbled.
“Lot of you traveling salesmen making your territory by
motor now, Mr. Hanson,” said the foreman civilly, glancing at
the storage check on Jasper’s car.
“Yep. I can make a good many more than I could by
He paid for overnight storage without complaining, though since
his car had not been repaired this charge was unjust. In fact, he
was altogether prosaic and inconspicuous. He thrust the suitcases
into the car and drove away, the motor spitting. At another garage
he bought another spark plug and screwed it in. When he went on,
the motor had ceased spitting.
He drove out of St. Clair, back in the direction of
Vernon—and of Rosebank where his brother lived. He ran the
car into that thick grove of oaks and maples only two miles from
Rosebank, where he had paced off an imaginary road to the cliff
overhanging the reedy lake. He parked his car in a grassy space
beside the abandoned woodland road. He laid a light robe over the
suitcases. From beneath the seat he took a can of deviled chicken,
a box of biscuits, a canister of tea, a folding cooking kit and a
spirit lamp. These he spread on the grass—a picnic lunch.
He sat beside that lunch from seven minutes past one in the
afternoon till dark. Once in a while he made a pretense of eating.
He fetched water from the brook, made tea, opened the box of
biscuits and the can of chicken. But mostly he sat still and smoked
cigarette after cigarette.
Once, a Swede, taking this road as a short cut to his truck
farm, passed by and mumbled, “Picnic, eh?”
“Yuh, takin’ the day off,” said Jasper
The man went on without looking back.
At dusk Jasper finished a cigarette down to the tip, crushed out
the light and made the cryptic remark:
“That’s probably Jasper Holt’s last smoke. I
don’t suppose you can smoke, John—damn you!”
He hid the two suitcases in the bushes, piled the remains of the
lunch into the car, took down the top of the car, and crept down to
the main road. No one was in sight. He returned. He snatched a
hammer and a chisel from his tool kit, and with a few savage cracks
he so defaced the number of the car stamped on the engine block
that it could not be made out. He removed the license numbers from
fore and aft, and placed them beside the suitcases. Then, when
there was just enough light to see the bushes as cloudy masses, he
started the car, drove through the woods and up the incline to the
top of the cliff, and halted, leaving the engine running.
Between the car and the edge of the cliff which overhung the
lake there was a space of about one hundred and thirty feet, fairly
level and covered with straggly red clover. Jasper paced off this
distance, returned to the car, took his seat in a nervous,
tentative way and put her into gear, starting on second speed and
slamming her into third. The car bolted toward the edge of the
cliff. He instantly swung out on the running board. Standing there,
headed directly toward the sharp drop over the cliff, steering with
his left hand on the wheel, he shoved the hand throttle
up—up—up with his right. He safely leaped down from the
Of itself, the car rushed forward, roaring. It shot over the
edge of the cliff. It soared twenty feet out into the air, as
though it were a thick-bodied aeroplane. It turned over and over,
with a sickening drop toward the lake. The water splashed up in a
tremendous noisy circle. Then silence. In the twilight the surface
of the lake shone like milk. There was no sign of the car on the
surface. The concentric rings died away. The lake was secret and
sinister and still. “Lord!” ejaculated Jasper, standing
on the cliff; then: “Well, they won’t find that for a
couple of years anyway.”
He turned to the suitcases. Squatting beside them he took from
one the wig and black garments of John Holt. He stripped, put on
the clothes of John, and packed those of Jasper in the bag. With
the cases and the motor-license plates he walked toward Rosebank,
keeping in various groves of maples and willows till he was within
half a mile of the town. He reached the stone house at the end of
the willow walk and sneaked in the back way. He burned Jasper
Holt’s clothes in the grate, melted down the license plates
in the stove, and between two rocks he smashed Jasper’s
expensive watch and fountain pen into an unpleasant mass of junk,
which he dropped into the cistern for rain water. The silver head
of the umbrella he scratched with a chisel till the engraved name
He unlocked a section of the bookcase and taking a number of
packages of bills in denominations of one, five, ten and twenty
dollars from one of the suitcases he packed them into those empty
candy boxes which, on the shelves, looked so much like books. As he
stored them he counted the bills. They came to ninety-seven
thousand five hundred and thirty-five dollars.
The two suitcases were new. There were no distinguishing marks
on them. But taking them out to the kitchen he kicked them, rubbed
them with lumps of blacking, raveled their edges and cut their
sides, till they gave the appearance of having been long and badly
used in traveling. He took them upstairs and tossed them up into
the low attic.
In his bedroom he undressed calmly. Once he laughed: “I
despise those pretentious fools—bank officers and cops.
I’m beyond their fool law. No one can catch me—it would
take me myself to do that!”
He got into bed. With a vexed “Hang it!” he mused,
“I suppose John would pray, no matter how chilly the floor
He got out of bed and from the inscrutable Lord of the Universe
he sought forgiveness—not for Jasper Holt, but for the
denominations who lacked the true faith of Soul Hope
He returned to bed and slept till the middle of the morning,
lying with his arms behind his head, a smile on his face.
Thus did Jasper Holt, without the mysterious pangs of death, yet
cease to exist, and thus did John Holt come into being not merely
as an apparition glimpsed on Sunday and Wednesday evenings but as a
being living twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
The inhabitants of Rosebank were familiar with the occasional
appearances of John Holt, the eccentric recluse, and they merely
snickered about him when on the Saturday evening following the
Friday that has been chronicled he was seen to come out of his gate
and trudge down to a news and stationery shop on Main Street.
He purchased an evening paper and said to the clerk: “You
can have the Morning Herald delivered at my house every
morning—27 Humbert Avenue.”
“Yuh, I know where it is. Thought you had kind of a grouch
on newspapers,” said the clerk pertly.
“Ah, did you indeed? The Herald, every morning, please. I
will pay a month in advance,” was all John Holt said, but he
looked directly at the clerk, and the man cringed.
John attended the meeting of the Soul Hope Fraternity the next
evening—Sunday—but he was not seen on the streets again
for two and a half days.
There was no news of the disappearance of Jasper Holt till the
following Wednesday, when the whole thing came out in a violent,
small-city, front-page story, headed:
SOCIAL FAVORITE—MAKES GET-AWAY
The paper stated that Jasper Holt had been missing for four
days, and that the officers of the bank, after first denying that
there was anything wrong with his accounts, had admitted that he
was short one hundred thousand dollars—two hundred thousand,
said one report. He had purchased a ticket for Wakamin, this state,
on Friday and a trainman, a customer of the bank, had noticed him
on the train, but he had apparently never arrived at Wakamin.
A woman asserted that on Friday afternoon she had seen Holt
driving an automobile between Vernon and St. Clair. This appearance
near St. Clair was supposed to be merely a blind, however. In fact,
our able chief of police had proof that Holt was not headed north,
in the direction of St. Clair, but south, beyond
Wanagoochie—probably for Des Moines or St. Louis. It was
definitely known that on the previous day Holt had left his car at
Wanagoochie, and with their customary thoroughness and promptness
the police were making search at Wanagoochie. The chief had already
communicated with the police in cities to the south, and the
capture of the man could confidently be expected at any moment. As
long as the chief appointed by our popular mayor was in power, it
went ill with those who gave even the appearance of wrongdoing.
When asked his opinion of the theory that the alleged fugitive
had gone north the chief declared that of course Holt had started
in that direction, with the vain hope of throwing pursuers off the
scent, but that he had immediately turned south and picked up his
car. Though he would not say so definitely the chief let it be
known that he was ready to put his hands on the fellow who had
hidden Holt’s car at Wanagoochie.
When asked if he thought Holt was crazy the chief laughed and
said: “Yes, he’s crazy two hundred thousand
dollars’ worth. I’m not making any slams, but
there’s a lot of fellows among our political opponents who
would go a whole lot crazier for a whole lot less!”
The president of the bank, however, was greatly distressed, and
strongly declared his belief that Holt, who was a favorite in the
most sumptuous residences on the Boulevard, besides being well
known in local dramatic circles, and who bore the best of
reputations in the bank, was temporarily out of his mind, as he had
been distressed by pains in the head for some time past. Meantime
the bonding company, which had fully covered the employees of the
bank by a joint bond of two hundred thousand dollars, had its
detectives working with the police on the case.
As soon as he had read the paper John took a trolley into Vernon
and called on the president of the bank. John’s face drooped
with the sorrow of the disgrace. The president received him. John
staggered into the room, groaning: “I have just learned in
the newspaper of the terrible news about my brother. I have
“We hope it’s just a case of aphasia. We’re
sure he’ll turn up all right,” insisted the
“I wish I could believe it. But as I have told you, Jasper
is not a good man. He drinks and smokes and playacts and makes a
god of stylish clothes—”
“Good Lord, that’s no reason for jumping to the
conclusion that he’s an embezzler!”
“I pray you may be right. But meanwhile I wish to give you
any assistance I can. I shall make it my sole duty to see that my
brother is brought to justice if it proves that he is
“Good o’ you,” mumbled the president. Despite
this example of John’s rigid honor he could not get himself
to like the man. John was standing beside him, thrusting his stupid
face into his.
The president pushed his chair a foot farther away and said
disagreeably: “As a matter of fact, we were thinking of
searching your house. If I remember, you live in
“Yes. And of course I shall be glad to have you search
every inch of it. Or anything else I can do. I feel that I share
fully with my twin brother in this unspeakable sin. I’ll turn
over the key of my house to you at once. There is also a shed at
the back where Jasper used to keep his automobile when he came to
see me.” He produced a large, rusty, old-fashioned door key
and held it out, adding: “The address is 27 Humbert Avenue,
“Oh, it won’t be necessary, I guess,” said the
president, somewhat shamed, irritably waving off the key.
“But I just want to help somehow! What can I do? Who
is—in the language of the newspapers—who is the
detective on the case? I’ll give him any
“Tell you what you do: Go see Mr. Scandling, of the
Mercantile Trust and Bonding Company, and tell him all you
“I shall. I take my brother’s crime on my
shoulders—otherwise I’d be committing the sin of Cain.
You are giving me a chance to try to expiate our joint sin, and, as
Brother Jeremiah Bodfish was wont to say, it is a blessing to have
an opportunity to expiate a sin, no matter how painful the
punishment may seem to be to the mere physical being. As I may have
told you I am an accepted member of the Soul Hope Fraternity, and
though we are free from cant and dogma it is our firm
Then for ten dreary minutes John Holt sermonized; quoted
forgotten books and quaint, ungenerous elders; twisted bitter pride
and clumsy mysticism into fanatical spider web. The president was a
churchgoer, an ardent supporter of missionary funds, for forty
years a pew-holder at St. Simeon’s Church, but he was
alternately bored to a chill shiver and roused to wrath against
this self-righteous zealot.
When he had rather rudely got rid of John Holt he complained to
himself: “Curse it, I oughtn’t to, but I must say I
prefer Jasper the sinner to John the saint. Uff! What a smell of
damp cellars the fellow has! He must spend all his time picking
potatoes. Say! By thunder, I remember that Jasper had the infernal
nerve to tell me once that if he ever robbed the bank I was to call
John in. I know why, now! John is the kind of egotistical fool that
would muddle up any kind of a systematic search. Well, Jasper,
sorry, but I’m not going to have anything more to do with
John than I can help!”
John had gone to the Mercantile Trust and Bonding Company, had
called on Mr. Scandling, and was now wearying him by a detailed and
useless account of Jasper’s early years and recent vices. He
was turned over to the detective employed by the bonding company to
find Jasper. The detective was a hard, noisy man, who found John
even more tedious. John insisted on his coming out to examine the
house in Rosebank, and the detective did so—but sketchily,
trying to escape. John spent at least five minutes in showing him
the shed where Jasper had sometimes kept his car.
He also attempted to interest the detective in his precious but
spotty books. He unlocked one section of the case, dragged down a
four-volume set of sermons and started to read them aloud.
The detective interrupted: “Yuh, that’s great stuff,
but I guess we aren’t going to find your brother hiding
behind those books!”
The detective got away as soon as possible, after insistently
explaining to John that if they could use his assistance they would
let him know.
“If I can only expiate—”
“Yuh, sure, that’s all right!” wailed the
detective, fairly running toward the gate.
John made one more visit to Vernon that day. He called on the
chief of city police. He informed the chief that he had taken the
bonding company’s detective through his house, but
wouldn’t the police consent to search it also?
He wanted to expiate—The chief patted John on the back,
advised him not to feel responsible for his brother’s guilt
and begged: “Skip along now—very busy.”
As John walked to the Soul Hope meeting that evening, dozens of
people murmured that it was his brother who had robbed the Lumber
National Bank. His head was bowed with the shame. At the meeting he
took Jasper’s sin upon himself, and prayed that Jasper would
be caught and receive the blessed healing of punishment. The others
begged John not to feel that he was guilty—was he not one of
the Soul Hope brethren who alone in this wicked and perverse
generation were assured of salvation?
On Thursday, on Saturday morning, on Tuesday and on Friday, John
went into the city to call on the president of the bank and the
detective. Twice the president saw him, and was infinitely bored by
his sermons. The third time he sent word that he was out. The
fourth time he saw John, but curtly explained that if John wanted
to help them the best thing he could do was to stay away.
The detective was out all four times.
John smiled meekly and ceased to try to help them. Dust began to
gather on certain candy boxes on the lower shelf of his bookcase,
save for one of them, which he took out now and then. Always after
he had taken it out a man with faded brown hair and a wrinkled
black suit, a man signing himself R. J. Smith, would send a
fair-sized money order from the post office at South Vernon to John
Holt, at Rosebank—as he had been doing for more than six
months. These money orders could not have amounted to more than
twenty-five dollars a week, but that was even more than an ascetic
like John Holt needed. By day John sometimes cashed these at the
Rosebank post office, but usually, as had been his custom, he
cashed them at his favorite grocery when he went out in the
In conversation with the commuter neighbor, who every evening
walked about and smoked an after-dinner cigar in the yard at the
right, John was frank about the whole lamentable business of his
brother’s defalcation. He wondered, he said, if he had not
shut himself up with his studies too much, and neglected his
brother. The neighbor ponderously advised John to get out more.
John let himself be persuaded, at least to the extent of taking a
short walk every afternoon and of letting his literary solitude be
disturbed by the delivery of milk, meat, and groceries. He also
went to the public library, and in the reference room glanced at
books on Central and South America—as though he was planning
to go south some day.
But he continued his religious studies. It may be doubted if
previous to the embezzlement John had worked very consistently on
his book about Revelation. All that the world had ever seen of it
was a jumble of quotations from theological authorities. Presumably
the crime of his brother shocked him into more concentrated study,
more patient writing. For during the year after his brother’s
disappearance—a year in which the bonding company gradually
gave up the search and came to believe that Jasper was
dead—John became fanatically absorbed in somewhat nebulous
work. The days and nights drifted together in meditation in which
he lost sight of realities, and seemed through the clouds of the
flesh to see flashes from the towered cities of the spirit.
It has been asserted that when Jasper Holt acted a rôle he
veritably lived it. No one can ever determine how great an actor
was lost in the smug bank teller. To him were imperial triumphs
denied, yet he was not without material reward. For playing his
most subtle part he received ninety-seven thousand dollars. It may
be that he earned it. Certainly for the risk entailed it was but a
fair payment. Jasper had meddled with the mystery of personality,
and was in peril of losing all consistent purpose, of becoming a
Wandering Jew of the spirit, a strangled body walking.
The sharp-pointed willow leaves had twisted and fallen, after
the dreary rains of October. Bark had peeled from the willow
trunks, leaving gashes of bare wood that was a wet and sickly
yellow. Through the denuded trees bulked the solid stone of John
Holt’s house. The patches of earth were greasy between the
tawny knots of grass stems. The bricks of the walk were always damp
now. The world was hunched up in this pervading chill.
As melancholy as the sick earth seemed the man who in a slaty
twilight paced the willow walk. His step was slack, his lips moved
with the intensity of his meditation. Over his wrinkled black suit
and bleak shirt bosom was a worn overcoat, the velvet collar turned
green. He was considering.
“There’s something to all this. I begin to
see—I don’t know what it is I do see! But there’s
lights—supernatural world that makes food and bed seem
ridiculous. I am—I really am beyond the law! I make my own
law! Why shouldn’t I go beyond the law of vision and see the
secrets of life? But I sinned, and I must repent—some day. I
need not return the money. I see now that it was given me so that I
could lead this life of contemplation. But the ingratitude to the
president, to the people who trusted me! Am I but the most
miserable of sinners, and as the blind? Voices—I hear
conflicting voices—some praising me for my courage, some
He knelt on the slimy black surface of a wooden bench beneath
the willows, and as dusk clothed him round about he prayed. It
seemed to him that he prayed not in words but in vast confusing
dreams— the words of a language larger than human tongues.
When he had exhausted himself he slowly entered the house. He
locked the door. There was nothing definite of which he was afraid,
but he was never comfortable with the door unlocked.
By candle light he prepared his austere supper—dry toast,
an egg, cheap green tea with thin milk. As always—as it had
happened after every meal, now, for eighteen months—he wanted
a cigarette when he had eaten, but did not take one. He paced into
the living room and through the long still hours of the evening he
read an ancient book, all footnotes and cross references, about The
Numerology of the Prophetic Books, and the Number of the Beast. He
tried to make notes for his own book on Revelation—that scant
pile of sheets covered with writing in a small finicky hand.
Thousands of other sheets he had covered; through whole nights he
had written; but always he seemed with tardy pen to be racing after
thoughts that he could never quite catch, and most of what he had
written he had savagely burned.
But some day he would make a masterpiece! He was feeling toward
the greatest discovery that mortal man had encountered. Everything,
he had determined, was a symbol—not just this holy sign and
that, but all physical manifestations. With frightened exultation
he tried his new power of divination. The hanging lamp swung
tinily. He ventured: “If the arc of that moving radiance
touches the edge of the bookcase, then it will be a sign that I am
to go to South America, under an entirely new disguise, and spend
He shuddered. He watched the lamp’s unbearably slow swing.
The moving light almost touched the bookcase. He gasped. Then it
It was a warning; he quaked. Would he never leave this place of
brooding and of fear, which he had thought so clever a refuge? He
suddenly saw it all.
“I ran away and hid in a prison! Man isn’t caught by
justice—he catches himself!”
Again he tried. He speculated as to whether the number of
pencils on the table was greater or less than five. If greater,
then he had sinned; if less, then he was veritably beyond the law.
He began to lift books and papers, looking for pencils. He was
coldly sweating with the suspense of the test.
Suddenly he cried, “Am I going crazy?”
He fled to his prosaic bedroom. He could not sleep. His brain
was smoldering with confused inklings of mystic numbers and hidden
He woke from a half sleep more vision-haunted than any waking
thought, and cried: “I must go back and confess! But I
can’t! I can’t, when I was too clever for them! I
can’t go back and let them win. I won’t let those fools
just sit tight and still catch me!”
It was a year and a half since Jasper had disappeared. Sometimes
it seemed a month and a half; sometimes gray centuries.
John’s will power had been shrouded with curious puttering
studies; long, heavy-breathing sittings with the ouija board on his
lap, midnight hours when he had fancied that tables had tapped and
crackling coals had spoken. Now that the second autumn of his
seclusion was creeping into winter he was conscious that he had not
enough initiative to carry out his plans for going to South
America. The summer before he had boasted to himself that he would
come out of hiding and go South, leaving such a twisty trail as
only he could make. But—oh, it was too much trouble. He
hadn’t the joy in play-acting which had carried his brother
Jasper through his preparations for flight.
He had killed Jasper Holt, and for a miserable little pile of
paper money he had become a moldy recluse!
He hated his loneliness, but still more did he hate his only
companions, the members of the Soul Hope Fraternity—that
pious shrill seamstress, that surly carpenter, that tight-lipped
housekeeper, that old shouting man with the unseemly frieze of
whiskers. They were so unimaginative. Their meetings were all the
same; the same persons rose in the same order and made the same
intimate announcements to the Deity that they alone were his
At first it had been an amusing triumph to be accepted as the
most eloquent among them, but that had become commonplace, and he
resented their daring to be familiar with him, who was, he felt,
the only man of all men living who beyond the illusions of the
world saw the strange beatitude of higher souls.
It was at the end of November, during a Wednesday meeting at
which a red-faced man had for a half hour maintained that he
couldn’t possibly sin, that the cumulative ennui burst in
John Holt’s brain. He sprang up.
He snarled: “You make me sick, all of you! You think
you’re so certain of sanctification that you can’t do
wrong. So did I, once! Now I know that we are all miserable
sinners—really are! You all say you are, but you don’t
believe it. I tell you that you there that have just been
yammering, and you, Brother Judkins, with the long twitching nose,
and I—I—I, most unhappy of men, we must repent,
confess, expiate our sins! And I will confess right now. I
Terrified he darted out of the hall, and hatless, coatless,
tumbled through the main street of Rosebank, nor ceased till he had
locked himself in his house. He was frightened because he had
almost betrayed his secret, yet agonized because he had not gone
on, really confessed, and gained the only peace he could ever know
now— the peace of punishment.
He never returned to Soul Hope Hall. Indeed for a week he did
not leave his house save for midnight prowling in the willow walk.
Quite suddenly he became desperate with the silence. He flung out
of the house, not stopping to lock or even close the front door. He
raced uptown, no topcoat over his rotting garments, only an old
gardener’s cap on his thick brown hair. People stared at him.
He bore it with resigned fury.
He entered a lunch room, hoping to sit inconspicuously and hear
men talking normally about him. The attendant at the counter gaped.
John heard a mutter from the cashier’s desk:
“There’s that crazy hermit!”
All of the half-dozen young men loafing in the place were
looking at him. He was so uncomfortable that he could not eat even
the milk and sandwich he had ordered. He pushed them away and fled,
a failure in the first attempt to dine out that he had made in
eighteen months; a lamentable failure to revive that Jasper Holt
whom he had coldly killed.
He entered a cigar store and bought a box of cigarettes. He took
joy out of throwing away his asceticism. But when, on the street,
he lighted a cigarette it made him so dizzy that he was afraid he
was going to fall. He had to sit down on the curb. People gathered.
He staggered to his feet and up an alley.
For hours he walked, making and discarding the most
contradictory plans—to go to the bank and confess, to spend
the money riotously and never confess.
It was midnight when he returned to his house.
Before it he gasped. The front door was open. He chuckled with
relief as he remembered that he had not closed it. He sauntered in.
He was passing the door of the living room, going directly up to
his bedroom, when his foot struck an object the size of a book, but
hollow sounding. He picked it up. It was one of the booklike candy
boxes. And it was quite empty. Frightened, he listened. There was
no sound. He crept into the living room and lighted the lamp.
The doors of the bookcase had been wrenched open. Every book had
been pulled out on the floor. All of the candy boxes, which that
evening had contained almost ninety-six thousand dollars, were in a
pile, and all of them were empty. He searched for ten minutes, but
the only money he found was one five-dollar bill, which had
fluttered under the table. In his pocket he had one dollar and
sixteen cents. John Holt had six dollars and sixteen cents, no job,
no friends—and no identity.
When the president of the Lumber National Bank was informed that
John Holt was waiting to see him he scowled.
“Lord, I’d forgotten that minor plague! Must be a
year since he’s been here. Oh, let him—No, hanged if I
will! Tell him I’m too busy to see him. That is, unless
he’s got some news about Jasper. Pump him, and find
The president’s secretary sweetly confided to John:
“I’m so sorry, but the president is in conference
just now. What was it you wanted to see him about? Is there any
news about—uh— about your brother?”
“There is not, miss. I am here to see the president on the
business of the Lord.”
“Oh! If that’s all I’m afraid I can’t
“I will wait.”
Wait he did, through all the morning, through the lunch
hour—when the president hastened out past him—then into
the afternoon, till the president was unable to work with the
thought of that scarecrow out there, and sent for him.
“Well, well! What is it this time, John? I’m pretty
busy. No news about Jasper, eh?”
“No news, sir, but—Jasper himself! I am Jasper Holt!
His sin is my sin.”
“Yes, yes, I know all that stuff—twin brothers, twin
souls, share responsibility—”
“You don’t understand. There isn’t any twin
brother. There isn’t any John Holt. I am Jasper. I invented
an imaginary brother, and disguised myself—Why, don’t
you recognize my voice?”
While John leaned over the desk, his two hands upon it, and
smiled wistfully, the president shook his head and soothed:
“No, I’m afraid I don’t. Sounds like good old
religious John to me! Jasper was a cheerful, efficient sort of
crook. Why, his laugh—”
“But I can laugh!” The dreadful croak which John
uttered was the cry of an evil bird of the swamps. The president
shuddered. Under the edge of the desk his fingers crept toward the
buzzer by which he summoned his secretary.
They stopped as John urged: “Look—this
wig—it’s a wig. See, I am Jasper!”
He had snatched off the brown thatch. He stood expectant, a
The president was startled, but he shook his head and
“You poor devil! Wig, all right. But I wouldn’t say
that hair was much like Jasper’s!”
He motioned toward the mirror in the corner of the room.
John wavered to it. And indeed he saw that his hair had turned
from Jasper’s thin sleek blackness to a straggle of damp gray
locks writhing over a yellow skull.
He begged pitifully: “Oh, can’t you see I am Jasper?
I stole ninety-seven thousand dollars from the bank. I want to be
punished! I want to do anything to prove—Why, I’ve been
at your house. Your wife’s name is Evelyn. My salary here
“My dear boy, don’t you suppose that Jasper might
have told you all these interesting facts? I’m afraid the
worry of this has—pardon me if I’m frank, but I’m
afraid it’s turned your head a little, John.”
“There isn’t any John! There isn’t! There
“I’d believe that a little more easily if I
hadn’t met you before Jasper disappeared.”
“Give me a piece of paper. You know my
With clutching claws John seized a sheet of bank stationery and
tried to write in the round script of Jasper. During the past year
and a half he had filled thousands of pages with the small finicky
hand of John. Now, though he tried to prevent it, after he had
traced two or three words in large but shaky letters the writing
became smaller, more pinched, less legible.
Even while John wrote the president looked at the sheet and said
easily: “Afraid it’s no use. That isn’t
Jasper’s fist. See here, I want you to get away from
Rosebank—go to some farm—work outdoors—cut out
this fuming and fussing—get some fresh air in your
lungs.” The president rose and purred: “Now, I’m
afraid I have some work to do.”
He paused, waiting for John to go.
John fiercely crumpled the sheet and hurled it away. Tears were
in his weary eyes.
He wailed: “Is there nothing I can do to prove I am
“Why, certainly! You can produce what’s left of the
John took from his ragged waistcoat pocket a five-dollar bill
and some change. “Here’s all there is. Ninety-six
thousand of it was stolen from my house last night.”
Sorry though he was for the madman, the president could not help
laughing. Then he tried to look sympathetic, and he comforted:
“Well, that’s hard luck, old man. Uh, let’s see.
You might produce some parents or relatives or somebody to prove
that Jasper never did have a twin brother.”
“My parents are dead, and I’ve lost track of their
kin—I was born in England—Father came over when I was
six. There might be some cousins or some old neighbors, but I
don’t know. Probably impossible to find out, in these
wartimes, without going over there.”
“Well, I guess we’ll have to let it go, old
man.” The president was pressing the buzzer for his secretary
and gently bidding her: “Show Mr. Holt out,
From the door John desperately tried to add: “You will
find my car sunk—”
The door had closed behind him. The president had not
The president gave orders that never, for any reason, was John
Holt to be admitted to his office again. He telephoned to the
bonding company that John Holt had now gone crazy; that they would
save trouble by refusing to admit him.
John did not try to see them. He went to the county jail. He
entered the keeper’s office and said quietly: “I have
stolen a lot of money, but I can’t prove it. Will you put me
The keeper shouted: “Get out of here! You hoboes always
spring that when you want a good warm lodging for the winter! Why
the devil don’t you go to work with a shovel in the sand
pits? They’re paying two-seventy-five a day.”
“Yes, sir,” said John timorously. “Where are