The Achievements of Luther Trant/The Chalchihuitl Stone
THE CHALCHIHUITL STONE
Tramp — tramp — tramp — tramp — tramp! For three nights and two days the footsteps had echoed through the great house almost ceaselessly.
The white-haired woman leaning on a cane, pausing again in the upper hall to listen to them, started, impulsively, for the tenth time that morning toward her son's door; but, recognizing once more her utter inability to counsel or to comfort, she wiped her tear-filled eyelids and limped painfully back to her own room. The aged negress, again passing the door, pressed convulsively together her bony hands, and sobbed pityingly; she had been the childhood nurse of this man whose footsteps had so echoed for hours as he paced bedroom, library, hall, museum, study—most frequently of all the little study—in his grief and turmoil of spirit.
She shuffled swiftly down the stairs to the big, luxurious morning room on the floor below, where a dark-eyed girl crouched on the couch listening to his footsteps beating overhead, and listening so strangely, without a sign of the grief of the mother or even the negro nurse, that she seemed rather studying her own absence of feeling with perplexity and doubt.
"Ain' yo' sorry for him, Miss Iris?" the negress said.
"Why, Ulame, I—I—" the girl seemed struggling to call up an emotion she did not feel. "I know I ought to feel sorry for him."
"An' the papers? Ain' yo' sorry, honey, dem papers is gone—buhned up; dem papers he thought so much of—all buhned by somebody?"
"The papers?—the papers, Ulame?" the girl exclaimed in bewilderment at herself. "Oh—oh, I know it must be terrible to him that they are gone; but I—I can't feel so sorry about them!"
"Yo' can't?" The negress stiffened with anger. "An' he tol' me, too, this mo'nin, now you won't marry him next Thursday lak' yo' promised—since—since yo' foun' dat little green stone! Why is dat—since yo' foun' dat little green stone?"
The sincere bewilderment deepened in the girl's face. "I don't know why, Ulame—I tell you truly," she cried, miserably, "I don't know any reason why that stone—that stone should change me so! Oh, I can't understand it myself; but I know it is so. Ever since I've seen that stone I've known it would be wrong to marry him. But I don't know why!"
"Den I do!" The old negress's eyes blazed wildly. "It's a'caze yo' is voodoo! Yo is voodoo! An' it's all my faul'. Oh yas—yas it is!" She rocked. "For yo'se had the ma'k ever since yo'se been a chile; the ma'k of the debbil's claw! But I nebber tole Marse Richard till too late. But hit's so! Hit's so! The debbil's ma'k is on yo' left shoulder, and the green stone is de cha'm dat is come to make yo' break Marse Richard's heart!"
"Ulame! Oh! Oh!" the girl cried.
"Ulame! Ulame!" a deeper, firm and controlled voice checked them both as the man, whose steps had sounded overhead the moment before, stood in the doorway.
He was a strikingly well-born, good-looking man of thirty-six, strongly set up, muscular, with the body of an athlete surmounted by the broad-browed head of a student. But his skin, indescribably bronzed by the tropic sun during many expeditions to Central America, showed now an underhue of sodden gray; and the thin, red veins which shot his keen, blue eyes, the tenseness of his well-shaped mouth, the pulse visibly beating in his temples, the slight trembling of the usually firm hands, all gave plain evidence of some active grief and long-continued strain; but at the same time bore witness to the self-control which held his emotion in check.
The negress, quieted and rebuked by his words, shuffled out as he entered; and the girl drew herself up quickly to a sitting posture, rearranging her hair with deft pats.
"You must not mind Ulame!" He crossed to her and held her hand steadyingly for an instant. "Or think that I shall ask you anything more except—you have not altered your decision, Iris?" he asked, gently.
The girl shook her head.
"Then I will not even ask that again, my—Iris," he caught himself. "If you will give me the proper form for recalling our wedding invitations, I will send it at once to Chicago. As to the gifts that have been already received—will you be good enough also to look up the convention under these circumstances?" He caught his breath. "I thought I heard the door bell a moment ago, Iris. Was there some one for me?"
"Yes, Anna went to the door." The girl motioned to a maid who for five minutes had been hovering about the hall, afraid to go to him with the card she held upon a silver tray.
"Ah! I was expecting him." He took the card. "Where is he? In the library?"
"Yes, Dr. Pierce."
He crushed the card in his hand, touched tenderly with his finger tips Iris's pale cheek, and with the same regular step crossed the hall to the library. A compact figure rose energetically at his coming.
"Mr. Trant?" asked Pierce, carefully closing the door behind him and measuring with forced collectedness his visitor, who seemed slightly surprised. "I need not apologize to you for my note asking you to come to me here in Lake Forest this morning. I understand that with you it is a matter of business. But I thank you for your promptness. I have heard of you from a number of sources as a psychologist who has applied laboratory methods to the solution of—of mysteries—of crimes; not as a police detective, Mr. Trant, but as a—a—"
"Consultant," the psychologist suggested.
"Yes; a consultant. And I badly need a consultant, Mr. Trant." Pierce dropped into the nearest chair. "You must pardon me. I am not quite myself this morning. An event—or, rather events—occurred here last Wednesday afternoon which, though I have endeavored to keep my feeling under control, have affected me perhaps even more than I myself was aware; for I noticed your surprise at sight of me, which can only have been occasioned by some strangeness in my appearance which these events have caused."
"I was surprised," the psychologist admitted, "but only because I expected to see an older man. When I received your note last evening, Dr. Pierce, I, of course, made some inquiries in regard to you. I found you spoken of as one of the greatest living authorities on Central American antiquities, especially the hieroglyphic writing on the Maya ruins in Yucatan; and as the expeditions connected with your name seemed to cover a period of nearly sixty years, I expected to find you a man of at least eighty."
"You have confused me with my father, who died in Izabal, Guatemala, in 1895. Our names and our line of work being the same, our reputations are often confused, especially as he never published the results of his work, but left that for me to do. I have not proved a worthy trustee of that bequest, Mr. Trant!" Pierce added, bitterly. He arose in agitation, and began again his mechanical pacing to and fro.
"The events of Wednesday had to do with this trust left you by your father?" the psychologist asked.
"They have destroyed, obliterated, blotted out that trust," Pierce replied. "All the fruits of my father's life work and my own, too, absolutely without purpose, meaning, excuse or explanation of any sort! And more than that—and this is the reason I have asked you to advise me, Mr. Trant, instead of putting the matter into the hands of the police—with even less apparent reason and without her being able to give an explanation of any sort, the events of last Wednesday have had such an effect upon my ward, Iris, to whom I was to be married next Thursday, that she is no longer able to think of marrying me. She clearly loves me no longer, though previous to Wednesday no one who knew us could have the slightest question of her affection for me; and indeed, though previously she had been the very spirit and soul of my work, now she seems no longer to care for its continuance in any way, or to be even sorry for the disaster to it."
He paused in painful agitation. "I must ask your pardon once more," he apologized. "Before you can comprehend any of this I must explain to you how it happened. My father began his study of the Maya hieroglyphics as long ago as 1851. He had had as a young man a very dear friend named James Clarke, who in 1848 took part in an expedition to Chiapas. On this expedition Clarke became separated from his companions, failed to rejoin them, and was never heard from again. It was in search of him that my father in 1850 first went to Central America; and failing to find Clarke, who was probably dead, he returned with a considerable collection of the Maya hieroglyphs, which had strongly excited his interest. Between 1851 and his death my father made no less than twelve different expeditions to Central America in search of more hieroglyphs; but in that whole time he did not publish more than a half dozen short articles regarding his discoveries, reserving all for a book which he intended to be a monument to his labors. His passion for perfection prevented him from ever completing that book, and, on his deathbed, he intrusted its completion and publication to me. Two years ago I began preparing it for the stenographer, and last week I had the satisfaction of feeling that my work was nearly finished. The material consisted of a huge mass of papers. They contained chapters written by my father which I am incapable of rewriting; tracings and photographs of the inscriptions which can be duplicated only by years of labor; original documents which are irreplaceable; notes of which I have no other copies. They represented, as you yourself have just said, almost sixty years of continuous labor. Last Wednesday afternoon, while I was absent, the whole mass of these papers was taken from the cabinet where I kept them, and burned—or if not burned, they have completely vanished."
He stopped short in his walk, turned on Trant a face which had grown suddenly livid, and stretched out his hands.
"They were destroyed, Trant—destroyed! Mysteriously, inexplicably, purposelessly!" his helpless indignation burst from his constraint. "The destruction of papers such as these could not possibly have benefited anyone. They were without value or interest except to scientists; and as to envious or malicious enemies, I have not one, man or woman—least of all a woman!"
"'Least of all a woman?'" Trant repeated quickly. "Do you mean by that that you have reason to believe a woman did it?"
"Yes; a woman! They all heard her! But—I will tell you everything I can. Last Wednesday afternoon, as I said, I was in Chicago. The two maids who look after the front part of the house were also out; they are sisters and had gone to the funeral of a brother."
"Leaving what others in the house?" Trant interrupted the rapid current of his speech with a quick gesture.
"My mother, who has hip trouble and cannot go up- or downstairs without help; my ward, Iris Pierce, who had gone to her room to take a nap and was so sound asleep upon her bed that when they went for her twenty minutes later she was aroused with difficulty; my old colored nurse, Ulame, whom you must have seen pass through here a moment ago; and the cook, who was in the back part of the house. The gardener, who was the only other person anywhere about the place, had been busy in the conservatory, but about a quarter to three went to sweep a light snowfall from the walks. Fifteen minutes later my mother in her bedroom in the north wing heard the door bell; but no one went to the door."
"Why was that?"
"Besides my mother, who was helpless, and Iris who was in her room, only the cook and Ulame, as I have just said, were in the house, and each of them, expecting the other to answer, waited for a second ring. It is certain that neither went to the door."
"Then the bell did not ring again?"
"No; it rang only once. Yet almost immediately after the ringing the woman was inside the house; for my mother heard her voice distinctly and—"
"A moment, please!" Trant stopped him. "In case the person was not admitted at the front door, which I assume was locked, was there any other possibility?"
"One other. The door was locked; but, the day before, the catch of one of the French windows opening upon the porch had been bent so that it fastened insecurely. The woman could easily have entered that way."
"But the fact of the catch would not be evident from outside—it would be known only to some one familiar with the premises?"
"Now the voice your mother heard—it was a strange voice?"
"Yes; a very shrill, excited voice of a child or a woman—she could not be sure which—but entirely strange to her."
"Shrill and excited, as if arguing with some one else?"
"No; that was one remarkable part of it; she seemed rather talking to herself. Besides there was no other voice."
"But in spite of its excited character, your mother could be sure it was the voice of a stranger?" Trant pressed with greater precision.
"Yes. My mother has been confined to her room so much that her ability to tell a person's identity by the sound of the voice or footsteps has been immensely developed. There could be no better evidence than hers that this was a strange voice and that it was in the south wing. She thought at first that it was the voice of a frightened child. Two or three loud screams were uttered by the same voice, and were repeated at intervals during all that followed. There was noise of thumping or pounding, which I believe to have been occasioned in opening the study door. Then, after a brief interval, came the noise of breaking glass, and, at the end of another short interval, a smell of burning."
"The screams continued?"
"At intervals, as I have said. My mother, when the screams first reached her, hobbled to the electric bell which communicates from her room to the servants' quarters and rang it excitedly. But it was several minutes before her ringing brought the cook up the back stairs."
"But the screams were still going on?"
"Yes. Then they were joined in the upper hall by Ulame."
"They still heard screams?"
"Yes; the three women crouched at the head of the stairs listening to them. Then Ulame ran to the rear window and called the gardener, who had almost finished sweeping the rear walks; and the cook, crossing the hall to the second floor of the south wing, aroused Iris, whom, as I said, she found so soundly asleep that she was awakened with difficulty. My mother and I have rooms in the north wing, Iris and Ulame in the south. Iris had heard nothing of the disturbance, and was amazed at their account of it. They were joined by the gardener, and the four who were able descended to the first floor together. The cook ran immediately to the front door, which, she found, remained closed and locked with its spring lock. The others went straight on into the south wing, where she at once followed them. They found the museum filled with an acrid haze of smoke, and the door of the study closed. They could still hear through the closed door the footsteps and movements of the woman in the study."
"But no more screams?" asked Trant.
"No, only footsteps, which were plainly audible to all four. You can imagine, Trant, that with three excited women and the gardener, who is not a courageous man, several moments were wasted in listening to these sounds and in discussion. Then the gardener pushed open the door. The glass front of the cabinet in which my papers were kept had been broken, and a charred mass, still smoking, in the center of the composition floor of the study was all that we could find of the papers which represented my father's and my own life work, Mr. Trant. The woman whose footsteps only the instant before had been heard in the study by Iris and the gardener besides the others, had completely disappeared, in spite of the fact that there was no possible place for a woman, or even a child, to conceal herself in the study, or to leave it except by the door which the others entered!"
"And they found no other marks or indications of the person's presence except those you have mentioned?"
"No, Mr. Trant, they found—at that time—absolutely none," Pierce replied, slowly. "But when I returned that night and myself was able to go over the room carefully with Iris, I found—this, Mr. Trant," he thrust a hand into his pocket, and extended it with a solitary little egg-shaped stone gleaming upon his palm—"this, Mr. Trant," he repeated, staring at the little, blazing crystal egg as though fascinated, "the mere sight of which cast such an extraordinary 'spell' upon my ward, Iris, that, after these two days, trying to puzzle it out sanely myself, I was unable to bear the strain of it a moment longer, and wrote you as I did last night, in the hope that you—if anyone—might be able to advise me."
"So this is the little green stone!" Trant took it carefully from his client's palm and examined it. "The little green stone of which the negress was speaking to Miss Iris when you came in! You remember the door was open!"
"Yes; that is the little green stone!" Pierce cried. "The chalchihuitl stone; the green turquoise of Mexico. The first sight of it struck Iris dumb and dull-eyed before me and started this strange, this baffling, inexplicable apathy toward me! Tell me, how can this be?"
"You would hardly have called even me in, I presume," Trant questioned quietly, "if you thought it possible that this stone," he handed it back, "told her who was in the room and that it was a woman who could come between you and your ward?"
"Scarcely, Mr. Trant!" Pierce flushed. "You can dismiss that absolutely. I told you a moment ago, when trying to think who could have come to ruin my work, that I have no enemy—least of all a woman enemy. Nor have I a single woman intimate, even a friend, whom Iris could possibly think of in that way."
"Will you take me, then, to the rooms where these things happened?" Trant rose abruptly.
"This is the way the woman must have come," Pierce indicated as he pointed Trant into the hall and let him see the arrangement of the house before he led him on.
The young psychologist, from his exterior view of the place, had already gained some idea of the interior arrangement; but as he followed Pierce from the library down the main hall, he was impressed anew by the individuality of the rambling structure. The main body of the house, he saw, had evidently been built some forty or fifty years ago, before Lake Forest had become the most fashionable and wealthy suburb to the north of Chicago; but the wings had been added later, one apparently to keep pace with the coming of the more pretentious country homes about it, the other more particularly to provide place for exhibiting the owner's immense collection of Central American curiosities.
So the wide entrance hall, running half-way through the house, divided at the center into the hallways of the two wings. At the entrance to the north wing, the main stairs sprang upward in the graceful sweep of southern Colonial architecture; while, opposite, the hall of the south wing was blocked part way down by a heavy wall with but one flat-topped opening.
"A fire wall, Mr. Trant, and automatic closing fire doors," Pierce explained, as they passed through them. "This portion of the south wing, which we call the museum wing, is a late addition, absolutely fireproof."
"It was from the top of the main stairs, if I have understood you correctly," Trant glanced back as he passed through the doorway, "that the women heard the screams. But this stair," he pointed to a narrow flight of steps which wound upward from a little anteroom beyond the flat-topped opening, "this is certainly not what you called the back stairs. Where does this lead?"
"To the second floor of the museum wing, Mr. Trant."
"Ah! Where Miss Pierce, and," he paused reflectively, "the colored nurse have their bedrooms."
They crossed the anteroom and entered the museum. A ceiling higher in the museum than in any other part of the house gave space for high, leaded, clear-glass windows. Under them, ranged on pedestals or fastened to the wall were original carvings or plaster casts of the grotesque gods of the Maya mythology; death's-heads symbolic of their cruel religion, and cabinets of stone and wooden implements and earthen vessels, though by far the greater number of the specimens were reproductions of hieroglyphic inscriptions, each separate glyph forming a whimsical square cartouche.
But the quick glance of the psychologist passed all these almost without noting, and centered itself upon an object in the middle of the room. On a low pedestal stood one of the familiar Central American stones of sacrifice, with grooved channels to carry away the blood, and rounded top designed to bend backward the body of the human victim while the priest, with one quick cut, slew him; and before it, staring at this stone, as though no continuance of familiarity could make her unaffected by it, stood the slender, graceful, dark-haired, dark-skinned girl of whom the psychologist had caught just a glimpse through the door of the morning room when he entered.
"My ward, Miss Pierce, Mr. Trant," Pierce introduced them as she turned. "Mr. Trant is here to make an investigation into the loss of my papers, Iris."
"Oh!" said the girl, without interest, "then I'll not interrupt you. I was only looking for Ulame. Mr. Trant," she smiled brightly at the psychologist, "don't you think this room is beautiful in the morning sunlight?"
"Come, Trant," Pierce passed his hand across his forehead, as he gazed at the girl's passionless face, "the study is at the other end of the museum." But the psychologist, with his gray eyes narrowing with interest, his red hair rumpled by an energetic gesture, stood an instant observing her; and she flushed deeply.
"I know why it is you look at me in that way, Mr. Trant," she said, simply. "I know, of course, that a woman has burned Richard's papers, for I saw the ashes; besides I myself looked for the papers afterwards and could not find them. You are thinking that I believe there is something between Richard and the woman who took this revenge because we were going to be married; but it is not so—I know Richard has never cared for any other woman than myself. There is something I do not understand. Why, loving Richard as I did, did I not care at all about the papers? Why, since I saw that little green stone, am I indifferent whether he loves me in that way or not? Why do I feel now that I cannot marry him? Has the stone bewitched me—the stone, the stone, Mr. Trant! It seems crazy to think such a thing, though I know no other reason; and if I said so, no one—least of all you, Mr. Trant, a man of science—would believe me!"
"On the contrary, Miss Pierce, you will find that I will be the first, not the last, to recognize that the stone could exercise upon you precisely the influence you have described!"
"What is that? What is that?" Pierce exclaimed in surprise.
"I would rather see the study, if you please, Dr. Pierce," Trant bowed kindly to the girl as he turned to his client, "before being more explicit."
"Very well," Pierce pushed open the door and entered, clearly more puzzled by Trant's reply than before. The study was long and narrow, running across the whole end of the south wing; and, like the museum, had plain burlap-covered walls without curve or recess of any sort; and like the museum, also, it was lighted by high, leaded windows above the cases and shelves. The single door was the one through which they had entered; and the furniture consisted only of a desk and table, two chairs, and—along the walls—cabinets and cases of drawers and pigeonholes whose fronts carried labels denoting their contents. To furnish protection from dust, the cabinets all were provided with sliding glass doors, locking with a key. The floor of the study was of the same fireproof composition as that of the museum, and a black smudge near its center still showed where the papers had been burned. The room had neither fireplace nor closet.
"There is surely no hiding place for anyone here, and we must put that out of the question," the young psychologist commented when his eye had taken in these details.
Then he stepped directly to the cabinet against the end wall, whose broken glass showed that it was the one in which the papers had been kept, and laid his hand upon the sliding door. It slipped backward and forward in its grooves easily.
"The door is unlocked," he said, with slight surprise. "It certainly was not unlocked at the time the glass was broken to get at the papers?"
"No," Pierce answered, "for before leaving for Chicago that Wednesday, I carefully locked all the cabinets and put the key in the drawer of my desk where it is always kept. But that is not the least surprising part of this affair, Mr. Trant. For when Iris and the servants entered the room, the cabinet had been unlocked and the key lay on the floor in front of it. I can account for it only by the supposition that the woman, having first broken the glass in order to get at the papers, afterwards happened upon the key and unlocked the cabinet in order to avoid repeatedly reaching through the jagged edges of the glass."
"And did she also break off this brass knob which was used in sliding the door back and forth, or had that been done previously?" inquired the psychologist.
"It was done at the same time, in attempting to open the door before the glass was broken, I suppose."
Trant picked up the brass knob, which had been laid on the top of the cabinet, and examined it attentively. It had been secured by a thin bolt through the frame of the door, and in coming loose, the threads of the bolt, which still remained perfectly straight, had been stripped off, letting the nut fall inside the cabinet.
"This is most peculiar," he commented—"and interesting." Suddenly his eyes flashed comprehension. "Dr. Pierce, I am afraid your explanation does not account for the condition of the cabinet." He swung about, minutely inspecting the room anew, and with a sharp and comprehensive glance measuring the height of the windows.
"You were certainly correct in saying that no child or woman could escape from this room in any other way than by the door, Dr. Pierce," he exclaimed. "But could not a man—a man more tall and lithe and active than either you or I—make his escape through one of those windows and drop to the walk below without harm?"
"A man, Trant? Yes; of course, that is possible," Pierce agreed, impatiently. "But why consider the possibility of a man's escape, when there was no question among those who heard the cries that they came from a woman or a child!"
"The screams came from a woman," Trant replied. "But not necessarily the footsteps that were heard from the other side of the door. No, Dr. Pierce; the condition of this room indicates without any question or doubt that not one, but two persons were present here when these events occurred—one so familiar with these premises as to know where the key to the cabinets was to be found in your desk; the other so unfamiliar with them as not even to know that the doors of the cabinets were sliding, not swinging doors, since it was in attempting to pull the door outward like a swinging door that the knob was broken off, as is shown by the condition of the bolt which would otherwise have been bent. And the person whose footsteps were heard was a man, for only a man could have escaped through the window, as that person unquestionably must have done."
"But I do not see how you help things by adding a man's presence here to the other," Pierce protested. "It simply complicates matters, since it furnishes us no solution as to how the woman escaped!"
But the psychologist, without heeding him, dropped into a chair beside the table, rested his chin upon his hands, and his eyes grew filmy with the concentration of thought.
"She may have been helped through the window by the man," he said, finally, "but it is not probable. We have no proof that the woman was in the study when the footsteps were heard, for the screams had stopped; and we have unquestionable proof that this tight-fitting door was opened after the papers had been fired, if, as you told me, when Miss Pierce and the others reached the museum they found it filled with smoke. Now, Dr. Pierce," he looked up sharply, "when you first spoke to me of the loss of these papers, you said they had been 'burned or vanished.' Why did you say vanished? Had you any reason for supposing they had not been burned?"
"No real reason," Pierce answered after a moment's hesitation. "The papers, which I had divided by subjects into tentative chapters, were put together with wire clips, each chapter separately, and I found no wire clips among the ashes. But it was likely the papers would not burn readily without taking the clips off. After taking off the clips, she—they," he corrected himself—"may very well have carried them away. It is too improbable to believe that they brought with them other papers, with the plan of burning them and giving the appearance of having destroyed the real ones."
"That would certainly be too improbable a supposition," Trant agreed, and again became deeply thoughtful.
"A remarkable, a startlingly interesting case!" he raised his eyes to his client's, but hardly as though speaking to him. "It presents a problem with which modern scientific psychology—and that alone—could possibly be competent to deal.
"I saw, of course, Dr. Pierce, that I surprised you when a moment ago I assured your ward that I—as a psychologist—would be the first to believe that the chalchihuitl stone could exercise over her the mysterious influence you all have noted. But I am so confident of the fact that this stone could influence her, and I am so sure that its influence is the key to this case, that I want to ask you what you know about the chalchihuitl stone; what beliefs, superstitions, or charms, however fantastic, are popularly connected with the green turquoise. It is a Mexican stone, you said; and you, if anyone, must know about it."
"As an archæologist, I have long been familiar with the chalchihuitl stone, of course," Pierce replied, gazing at his young adviser with uneasiness and perplexity, "as the ceremonial marriage stone of the ancient Aztecs and some still existing tribes of Central America. By them it is, I know, frequently used in religious rites, bearing a particularly important part, for instance, in the wedding ceremony. Though its exact significance and association is not known, I am safe in assuring you that it is a stone with which many savage superstitions and spells are to be connected."
He smiled, deprecatingly; but Trant met his eyes seriously.
"Thank you! Can you tell me, then, whether any peculiarity in your ward has been noted previous to this, which could not be accounted for?"
"No; none—ever!" Pierce affirmed confidently, "though her experience in Central America previous to her coming under our care must certainly have been most unusual, and would account for some peculiarity—if she had any."
"In Central America, Dr. Pierce?" Trant repeated eagerly.
"Yes," Pierce hesitated, dubiously; "perhaps I ought to tell you, Mr. Trant, how Iris came to be a member of our family. On the last expedition which my father made to Central America, and on which I accompanied him as a young man of eighteen, an Indian near Copan, Honduras, told us of a wonderful white child whom he had seen living among an isolated Indian tribe in the mountains. We were interested, and went out of our way to visit the tribe. We found there, exactly as he had described, a little white girl about six years old as near as we could guess. She spoke the dialect of the Indians, but two or three English words which the sight of us brought from her, made us believe that she was of English birth. My father wanted to take her with us, but the Indians angrily refused to allow it.
"The little girl, however, had taken a fancy to me, and when we were ready to leave she announced her intention of going along. For some reason which I was unable to fathom, the Indians regarded her with a superstitious veneration, and though plainly unwilling to let her go, they were afraid to interfere with her wishes. My father intended to adopt her, but he died before the expedition returned. I brought the child home with me, and under my mother's care she has been educated. The name Iris Pierce was given her by my mother."
"You say the Indians regarded her with veneration?" Trant exclaimed, with an oddly intent glance at the sculptured effigies of the monsterlike gods which stood on the cases all about. "Dr. Pierce, were you exact in saying a moment ago that your ward, since she has been in your care, has exhibited no peculiarities? Was the nurse, Ulame, mistaken in what I overheard her saying, that Miss Pierce has on her shoulder the mark," his voice steadied soberly, "of the devil's claw?"
"Has she the 'mark of the devil's claw'?" Pierce frowned with vexation. "You mean, has she an anæsthetic spot on her shoulder through which at times she feels no sensation? Yes, she has; but I scarcely thought you cared to hear about 'devil's claws.'
"Ulame also told me," Pierce continued, "that the existence of this spot denotes in the possessor, not only a susceptibility to 'controls' and 'spells,' but also occult powers of clairvoyance. She even suggested that my ward could, if she would, tell me who was in the room and burned my papers. Do you follow her beliefs so much farther?"
"I follow not the negress, but modern scientific psychologists, Dr. Pierce," Trant replied, bluntly, "in the belief, the knowledge, that the existence of the anæsthetic spot called the 'devil's claw' shows in its possessor a condition which, under peculiar circumstances, may become what is popularly called clairvoyant.
"Dr. Pierce, an instant ago you spoke—as an archæologist—of the exploded belief in witchcraft; but please do not forget that that belief was at one time widespread, almost universal. You speak now—as an educated man—with equal contempt of clairvoyance; but a half-hour's ride down Madison or Halsted Street, with an eye open to the signs in the second-story windows, will show you how widespread to-day is the belief in clairvoyance, since so many persons gain a living by it. If you ask me whether I believe in witchcraft and clairvoyance, I will tell you I do not believe one atom in any infernal power of one person over another; and so far as anyone's being able to read the future or reveal in the past matters which they have had no natural means of knowing, I do not believe in clairvoyance. But if you or I believed that any widespread popular conception such as witchcraft once was and clairvoyance is to-day, can exist without having somewhere a basis of fact, we should be holding a belief even more ridiculous than the negro's credulity!
"I am certain that no explanation of what happened in this house last Wednesday and since can be formed, except by recognizing in it one of those comparatively rare authentic cases from which the popular belief in witchcraft and clairvoyance has sprung; and I would rest the solution of this case on the ability of your ward, under the proper circumstances, to tell us who was in this room last Wednesday, and what the influence is that has been so strangely exercised over her by the chalchihuitl stone!"
The psychologist, after the last word, stood with sparkling eyes, and lips pressed together in a straight, defiant line.
"Iris tell! Iris!" Pierce excitedly exclaimed, when the door opened behind him, and his ward entered.
"Here is the form you asked me for, Richard," she said, handing her guardian a paper, and without showing the least curiosity as to what was going on between the two men, she went out again.
Pierce's eyes followed her with strange uneasiness and perplexity; then fell to the paper she had given him.
"It is the notice of the indefinite postponement of our wedding, Trant," he explained. "I must send it to the Chicago papers this afternoon, unless—unless—" he halted, dubiously.
"Unless the 'spell' on Miss Pierce can be broken by the means I have just spoken of?" Trant smiled slightly as he finished the sentence for him. "If I am not greatly mistaken, Dr. Pierce, your wedding will still take place. But as to this notice of its postponement, tell me, how long before last Wednesday, when this thing happened, was the earliest announcement of the wedding made in the papers?"
"I should say two weeks," Pierce replied in surprise.
"Do you happen to know, Dr. Pierce—you are, of course, well known in Central America—whether the announcement was copied in papers circulating there?"
"Yes; I have heard from several friends in Central America who had seen the news in Spanish papers."
"Excellent! Then it is most essential that the notice of this postponement be made at once. If you will allow me, I will take it with me to Chicago this afternoon; and if it meets the eye of the person I hope, then I trust soon to be able to introduce to you your last Wednesday's visitor."
"Without—Iris?" Pierce asked nervously.
"Believe me, I will do everything in my power to spare Miss Pierce the experience you seem so unwilling she should undergo. But if it proves to be the only means of solving this case, you must trust me to the extent of letting me make the attempt." He glanced at his watch. "I can catch a train for Chicago in fifteen minutes, and it will be the quickest way to get this notice in the papers. I will let you hear from me again as soon as necessary. I can find my own way out."
He turned sharply to the door, and, as Pierce made no effort to detain him, he left the study.
The surprising news of the sudden "indefinite postponement" of the romantic wedding of Dr. Pierce, the Central American archæologist, to the ward whom he had brought from Honduras as a child, was made in the last editions of the Chicago evening papers which reached Lake Forest that night; and it was repeated with fuller comments in both the morning and afternoon papers of the next day. But to Pierce's increasing anxiety he heard nothing from Trant until the second morning, and then it was merely a telephone message asking him to be at home at three o'clock that afternoon and to see that Miss Pierce was at home also, but to prevent her from seeing or hearing any visitors who might call at that hour. At ten minutes to three, Pierce himself, watching nervously at the window, saw the young psychologist approaching the house in company with two strangers, and himself admitted them.
"Dr. Pierce, let me introduce Inspector Walker of the Chicago Police," Trant, when they had been admitted to the library, motioned to the larger of his companions, a well-proportioned giant, who wore his black serge suit with an awkwardness that showed a greater familiarity with blue broadcloth and brass buttons. "This other gentleman," he turned to the very tall, slender, long-nosed man, with an abnormally narrow head and face, coal black hair and sallow skin, whom Trant and the officer had half held between them, "calls himself Don Canonigo Penol, though I do not know whether that is his real name. He speaks English, and I believe he knows more than anyone else about what went on in your study last Wednesday." A momentary flash of white teeth under Penol's mustache, which was neither a smile nor a greeting, met Pierce's look of inquiry, and he cast uneasy glances to right and left out of his small crafty eyes. "But as Penol, from the moment of his arrest, has flatly refused to make any statement regarding the loss of your papers or the chalchihuitl stone which has so strangely influenced your ward," Trant continued, "we have been obliged to bring him here in hope of getting at the truth through the means I mentioned to you day before yesterday."
"The means you mentioned day before yesterday?" echoed Pierce, as he spun round and faced Trant with keen apprehension; and it was plain to the psychologist from the gray pallor and nervous trembling of the man that his anxiety and uncertainty had not been lessened, but rather increased by their former conversation. "You refer, I presume, to your plan to gain facts from her through—through clairvoyance!"
"I saw Mr. Trant pick the murderer in the Bronson case," Inspector Walker intervened confidently, "in a way no police officer had ever heard of; and I've followed him since. And if he says he can get an explanation here by clairvoyance, I believe him!" The quiet faith of the huge officer brought Pierce to a halt.
"For the sake of her happiness and your own, Dr. Pierce," Trant urged.
"Oh, I don't know—I don't know!" Pierce pressed his hands to his temples in indecision. "I confess this matter is outside my comprehension. I have spoken again to the persons who recommended me to you, and they, like Inspector Walker, have only repeated that I can have absolute confidence in you!"
"It is now three o'clock," Trant began, brusquely.
"Five minutes after," said the Inspector.
"Five minutes makes no difference. But it is absolutely necessary, Dr. Pierce, that if we are to make this test we begin it at once; and I can scarcely undertake it without your consent. It requires that the general look of the rooms and the direction of the sunlight should be the same as at three o'clock last Wednesday afternoon. Dr. Pierce, will you bring your ward to me in the study?"
He turned to his client with quiet confidence as though all were settled. "Inspector Walker and Penol will remain here—the Inspector already knows what I require of him. I noticed a clock Saturday over the desk in the study and heard it strike the hour; you have no objection to my turning it back ten or fifteen minutes, Pierce? And before you go, let me have the chalchihuitl stone!"
For a moment Pierce, with his hands still pressed against his temples, stood looking at Trant in perplexity and doubt; then, with sudden resolution, he handed him the chalchihuitl stone and went to get his ward. A few minutes later he led her into the study where the psychologist was awaiting them alone. Pierce's first glance was at the clock, which he saw had been turned back by Trant to mark five minutes to three.
"Good afternoon, Miss Pierce," Trant set a chair for her, with its back to the clock, as she acknowledged his salutation; then continued, conversationally: "You spoke the other day of the morning sunlight in these rooms, but I have been thinking that the afternoon sunlight, as it gets near three o'clock, is even more beautiful. One can hardly imagine anything occurring here which would be distasteful or unpleasant, or shocking—"
The girl's eyes filled with a vague uneasiness, and turned toward Pierce, who, not knowing what to expect, leaned against the table watching her with strained anxiety; and at sight of him the half formed uneasiness of her gaze vanished. Trant rose sharply, and took Pierce by the arm.
"You must not look at her so, Dr. Pierce," he commanded, tensely, "or you will defeat my purpose. It will be better if she does not even see you. Sit down at your desk behind her."
When Pierce had seated himself at the desk, convulsively grasping the arms of his chair, Trant glanced at the clock, which now marked two minutes of three, and hastily returned to the girl. He took from his pocket the chalchihuitl stone which Pierce had given him, and at sight of it the girl drew back with sudden uneasiness and apprehension.
"I know you have seen this stone before, Miss Pierce," Trant said, significantly, "for you and Dr. Pierce found it. But had you never seen it before then? Think! Its color and shape are so unique that I believe one who had seen it could never forget it. It is so peculiar that it would not surprise me to know that it has a very special significance! And it has! For it is the chalchihuitl stone. It is found in Central America and Mexico; the Aztecs used it in celebrating marriage—in Central America, where there are Indians and Spaniards; tall, slender, long-nosed Spaniards, with coal black hair and sallow skins and tiny black mustaches—Central America, where all those sculptured gods and strange inscriptions are found, which the papers were about that were destroyed one afternoon here in this study!"
As he spoke the clock struck three; and at the sound the girl uttered a gasp of uncontrollable terror, then poised herself, listening expectantly. Almost with the last stroke of the clock the door bell rang, and the girl shrunk suddenly together.
"Tall, dark, slender Spaniards," Trant continued; but stopped, for the girl was not heeding him. White and tense, she was listening to footsteps which were approaching the study door along the floor of the museum. The door opened suddenly, and Don Canonigo Penol, pushed from behind by the stern inspector of police, appeared on the threshold.
The girl's head had fallen back, her eyes had turned upward so that she seemed to be looking at the ceiling, but they were blank and sightless; she lay, rather than sat, upon the chair, her clenched hands close against her sides, her whole attitude one of stony rigidity.
"Iris! Iris!" cried Pierce in agony.
"It is no use to call," the psychologist's outstretched hand prevented Pierce from throwing himself on his knees beside the girl, "she cannot hear you. She can hear no one unless they speak of the chalchihuitl stone and Central America, and, I hope, the events which went forward in this house last Wednesday. The chalchihuitl stone! The chalchihuitl stone! She hears that, doesn't she?"
A full half minute passed while the psychologist, anxiously bending over the rigid body, waited for an answer. Then, as though by intense effort, the stony lips parted and the answer came, "Yes!" Pierce fell back with a cry of amazement; the inspector of police straightened, astonished; the stolid face of Don Canonigo Penol was convulsed all at once with a living terror and he slipped from the policeman's hold and fell, rather than seated himself, in a chair.
"Who is it that is speaking?" asked Trant in the same steady tone.
"Isabella Clarke," the voice was clearer, but high-pitched and entirely different from Iris's. The psychologist started with surprise.
"How old is Isabella?" he asked after a moment.
"She is young—a little girl—a child!" the voice was stronger still.
"Does Isabella know of Iris Pierce?"
"Can she see Iris last Wednesday afternoon at three o'clock?"
"What is she doing?"
"She is in the library. She went upstairs to take a nap, but she could not sleep and came down to get a book."
A long cry from some distant part of the house—a shriek which set vibrating the tense nerves of all in the little study—suddenly startled them. Trant turned sharply toward the door; the others, petrified in their places, followed the direction of his look. Through the open door of the study and the arched opening of the anteroom, the foot of the main stairs was discernible; and, painfully and excitedly descending them, was a white-haired woman leaning on a cane and on the other side supported by the trembling negress.
"Richard, Richard!" she screamed, "that woman is in the house—in the study! I heard her voice—the voice of the woman who burned your papers!"
"It is my mother!" Pierce, suddenly coming to himself, turned with staring eyes on Trant and darted from the study. He returned an instant later and closed the door behind him.
"Trant," he faltered, "my mother says that the voice that she—that we all—have just heard is the voice of the woman who was in the study Wednesday."
The psychologist impatiently stopped the excited man with a gesture. "You still see Iris?"
"Yes," the answer came, after a considerable pause.
"She has not left the library? Tell us what she is doing."
"She turns toward the clock, which is striking three. The door bell rings. Both the maids are out, so Iris lays down her book and goes to the door. At the door is a tall, dark man, all alone. He is a Spaniard from the mountains in Honduras, and his name is Canonigo Penol."
An indrawing of his breath, sharp almost as a whistle, brought the gaze of all upon Penol; but the eyes of the Spaniard, starting in superstitious terror from his livid face, saw only the girl.
"Penol is not known to Iris, but he has come to see her. She is surprised. She leads him to the library. His manner makes her uneasy," the voice, now uninterrupted by Trant's questions, went on with great rapidity. "He asks her if she remembers that she lived among Indians. Iris remembers that. He asks if she remembers that before that she lived with white men—an American and some Spaniards—who were near and dear to her. Iris cannot remember. He asks if she remembers him—Penol. His speech frightens her. He says: 'Once an American went to Central America with an expedition, and got lost from his companions. He crossed rivers; he was in woods, jungles, mountains; he was near dying. A Spaniard found him. The Spaniard was poor—poor. He had a daughter.
"'The American, whose name was James Clarke, loved the daughter and married her. He did not want ever to go back to the United States; he was mad—mad with love, and mad about the ancient carved statues of Central America, the temples and inscriptions. He would sit all day in front of an inscription making marks on a paper, and afterwards he would tear the paper up. They had a daughter. Canonigo repeats many times that they were very poor. They had only one white servant and a hundred Indians. Sickness in the mountains killed the old Spaniard. In another year sickness killed the wife also. Now the American was all alone with his baby daughter and one white servant and the Indians. Then sickness also took hold of him. He was troubled about his daughter; he trusted no one; he would drag himself in the night in spite of his sickness to see that no one had done harm to her.
"'The American was dying. He proposed to the young Spaniard many things; finally he proposed that he marry the little girl. There was no priest, and the American was mad; mad about ancient times and dead, vanished peoples, and more mad because he was dying; and he married them after the old custom of the Aztecs, with the chachihuitl stone and a bird feather, while they sat on a woven mat with the corners of their garments tied together—the young Spaniard and the little girl, who was four years old. Afterwards her father died, and that night the Spaniard all alone buried him: and when toward morning he came back he found only a few Indians too old to travel. The others, frightened of the mad dead man, had gone, taking the little girl with them.'"
"What does Iris do when she hears that?" asked Trant.
"It begins to revive memories in Iris," the voice answered quickly; "but she says bravely, 'What is that to me? Why do you tell me about it?' 'Because,' says Canonigo Penol, 'I have the chalchihuitl stone which bears witness to this marriage!' And as he holds it to her and it flashes in the sun, just as it did when they held it before her when her clothes were tied to his on the mat, she remembers and knows that it is so; and that she is married to this man! By the flash of the chalchihuitl stone in the sun she remembers and she knows that the rest is true!"
"And then?" Trant pressed.
"She is filled with horror. She shrinks from Canonigo. She puts her hands to her face, because she loved Dr. Pierce with her whole heart—"
"O God!" cried Pierce.
"She cries out that it is not so, though she knows it is the truth. She dashes the stone from his hand and pushes Canonigo from her. He is unable to find the stone; and seeing the sculptured gods and the inscriptions about the room, he thinks it is these by which Dr. Pierce is able to hold her against him. So now he says that he will destroy these pictures and he will have her. Iris screams. She runs from Canonigo to the study. She shuts the door upon him, as he follows. She sets a chair against it. Canonigo is pushing to get in. But she gets the key to the cabinet from the desk and opens the cabinet.
"She takes out the papers, but there is no place to hide them before he enters. So she opens the drawer, but it is full of worthless papers. She takes out enough of the old papers to make room for the others, which she puts in the bottom of the drawer underneath the rest. The old papers she puts into the cabinet above, closing the cabinet; but she had no time to lock it. Canonigo has pushed the door open. He has found the stone and tries to show it to her again; but again she dashes it from his hand. He rushes straight to the cabinet, for he has seen from the tree where the papers are kept. The cabinet is unlocked, but he tries to pull the door to him. He pulls off the knob. Then he smashes the glass with his foot; he begins burning the worthless papers. So Iris has done all she can and runs from him to her room. She is exhausted, fainting. She falls upon the bed—"
The voice stopped suddenly. Pierce had sprung to her with a cry, and putting his arms about her for support, spoke to her again and again. But she neither moved nor spoke to his entreaties, and seemed entirely insensible when he touched her. He leaped up, facing Trant in hostile demand, but still kept one arm about her.
"What is this you have done to her now?" he cried. "And what is this you have made her say?"
But the psychologist now was not watching either the girl or his client. His eyes were fixed upon the face of Canonigo Penol, shot with red veins and livid spots of overpowering terror.
"So, Don Canonigo Penol," Trant addressed him, "that was the way of it? But, man, you could scarcely have been enough in love with a girl four years old to take this long and expensive trip for her nineteen years later. Was there property then, which belonged to her that you wanted to get?"
Canonigo Penol heard the question, though he did not look at his questioner. His eyes, starting from his head, could still see only the stony face of the girl who, thus unconsciously, under the guidance of the psychologist, had accused him in a manner which filled him with superstitious terror. Palpitating, convulsed with fright, with loose lips shaking and knees which would not bear his weight, he slipped from his chair and crawled and groveled on the floor before her.
"Oh, speak not—speak not again!" he shrieked. "I will tell all! I lied; the old Spaniard was not poor—he was rich! But she can have all! I abandon all claim! Only let me go from here—let me leave her!"
"First we will see exactly what damage you have done," Trant answered. "Dr. Pierce," he turned collectedly to his client, "you have just heard the true account of last Wednesday afternoon.""You want me to believe that she let him in—she
"Oh, speak not—speak not again!" he shrieked. "I will tell all. I lied"
was here and did that?" Pierce cried. "You think that was all real and—true!"
"Look in the drawer she indicated, and see if she was able, indeed, to save the papers as she said."
Mechanically and many times looking back at Trant's compelling face, Pierce went to the cabinet, stooped and, pulling out the drawer, tossed aside a mass of scattering papers on the top and rose with a bundle of manuscripts held together with wire clips. He stared at them almost stupidly, then, coming to himself, sorted them through rapidly and with amazement.
"They are all here!" he cried, astounded. "They are intact. But what—what trick is this, Mr. Trant?"
"Wait!" Trant motioned him sharply to be silent. "She is about to awake! Inspector, she must not find you here, or this other," and seizing Penol by one arm, while the inspector seized the other, he pushed him from the room, and closed the study door upon them both. Then he turned to the girl, whose more regular breathing and lessening rigidity had warned him that she was coming to herself.
Gently, peacefully, as those of a child wakening from sleep, her eyes opened; and with no knowledge of all that in the last half hour had so shaken those who listened in the little study, with no realization even that an interval of time had passed, she replied to the first remark that Trant had made to her when she entered the room:
"Yes, indeed, Mr. Trant, the afternoon sun is beautiful; beautiful; but I like these rooms better in the morning."
"You will not mind, Miss Pierce," Trant answered gently, without heeding Pierce's gasp of surprise, and hiding him from the girl's sight with his body, as he saw Dr. Pierce could not restrain his emotion, "if I ask you to leave us for a little while. I have something to talk over with your guardian."
She rose, and with a bright smile left them.
"Trant! Trant!" cried Pierce.
"You will understand better, Dr. Pierce," said the psychologist, "if I explain this to you from its beginning with the fact of the 'devil's claw,' which was where I myself began this investigation.
"You remember that I overheard Ulame, the negro nurse, speak of this characteristic of Miss Pierce. You, like most educated people to-day, regarded it simply as an anæsthetic spot—curious, but without extraordinary significance. I, as a psychologist, recognized it at once as an evidence, first pointed out by the French scientist, Charcot, of a somewhat unusual and peculiar nervous disposition in your ward, Miss Iris.
"The anæsthetic spot is among the most important of several physical evidences of mental peculiarity which, in popular opinion, marked out its possessors through all ages as 'different' from other people. In some ages and countries they have been executed as witches; in others, they have been deified as saints; they have been regarded as prophets, pythonesses, sibyls, 'clairvoyants.' For in some respects their mental life is more acute than that of the mass of mankind, in others it is sometimes duller; and they are known to scientists as 'hystericals.'
"Now, when you gave me your account, Dr. Pierce, of what had happened here last Wednesday, it was evident to me at once that, if any of the persons in the house had admitted the visitor who rang the bell—and this seemed highly probable because the bell rang only once, and would have been rung again if the visitor had not been admitted—the door could only have been opened by Miss Iris. For we have evidence that neither the cook nor Ulame answered the bell; and moreover, all of those in the house, except Miss Iris, had stood together at the top of the stairs and listened to the screams from below.
"Following you into the study, then, I found plain evidence, as I pointed out to you at the time, that two persons had been there, one a man; one perfectly familiar with the premises, the other wholly unfamiliar with them. I had also evidence, from the smoke in the museum, that the study door had been open after the papers were lighted, and I saw that whoever came out of the study could have gone up the anteroom stairs to the second floor of the south wing, but could not have passed out through the main hall without being seen by those listening at the top of the stairway. All these physical facts, therefore, if uncontradicted by stronger evidence, made it an almost inevitable conclusion that Miss Iris had been in the study."
"Yes, yes!" Pierce agreed, impatiently, "if you arrange them in that order!"
"In contradiction of this conclusion," Trant went on rapidly, "I had three important pieces of evidence. First, the statement of your mother that the voice she heard was that of a strange woman; second, the fact that Miss Iris had gone to her room to take a nap and had been found asleep there on the bed by Ulame; third, that your ward herself denied with evident honesty and perfect frankness that she had been present, or knew anything at all of what had gone on in the study. I admit that without the evidence of the anæsthetic spot—or even with it, if it had not been for the chalchihuitl stone—I should have considered this contradictory evidence far stronger than the other.
"But the immense and obvious influence on Miss Iris of the chalchihuitl stone, when you found it together—an influence which she could not account for, but which nevertheless was sufficient to make her refuse to marry you—kept me on the right track. For it made me certain that the stone must have been connected with some intense emotional experience undergone by your ward, the details of which she no longer remembered."
"No longer remembered!" exclaimed Pierce, incredulously. "When it had happened only the day before!"
"Ah!" Trant checked him quickly. "You are doing just what I told you a moment ago the anæsthetic spot had warned me against; you are judging Miss Iris as though she were like everybody else! I, as a psychologist, knew that having the mental disposition that the anæsthetic spot indicated, any such intense emotion, any such tragedy in her life as the one I imagined, was connected with the chalchihuitl stone, might be at once forgotten; as you see it was, for when Ulame aroused her only a few moments later she no longer remembered any part of it.
"You look incredulous, Dr. Pierce! I am not telling you anything that is not well authenticated, and a familiar fact to men of science. If you want corroboration, I can only advise you to trace my statement through the works on psychology in any well-furnished library, where you will find it confirmed by hundreds of specific instances. With a mental disposition like Miss Iris's, an emotion so intense as that she suffered divides itself off from the rest of her consciousness. It is so overpowering that it cannot connect itself with her daily life; ordinary sights and sounds cannot call it back to memory. It can be awakened only by some extraordinary means such as those I used when, as far as I was able, I reproduced for her benefit just now here in your study all the sights and sounds of last Wednesday afternoon that preceded and attended her interview with Canonigo Penol."
"It seems impossible, Mr. Trant," Pierce pressed his hands to his eyes dazedly. "But I have seen it with my own eyes!"
"The sudden sleep into which she had fallen before Ulame aroused her, and the fact that the voice your mother heard seemed to her a strange one," Trant continued, "added strength to my conclusion, for both were only additional evidences of the effect of an intense emotion on a disposition such as Miss Iris's. Now, what was this emotional experience so closely connected with the chalchihuitl stone that the sight of the stone was able to recall it, with a dulling feeling of fear and apathy to her emotions, without being in itself able to bring recollection to her conscious mind, I could only conjecture.
"But after learning from you that while a child she had lived among Central American Indians, and discovering that the chalchihuitl stone was a ceremonial stone of savage religious rites—particularly the marriage rite—I could not help but note the remarkable coincidence that the man who brought the chalchihuitl stone appeared precisely at the time he would have come if he had learned from newspapers in Central America of the girl's intended marriage. As the most probable reason for his coming, considering the other circumstances, was to prevent the wedding, I thought the easiest way to lay hands upon him and establish his identity was to publish at once the notice that the wedding had been postponed, which, if he saw it, would make him confident he had accomplished his object and draw him here again. Draw him it did, last night, into the arms of Walker and myself, with a Lake Forest officer along to make the arrest legal."
"I see! I see! Go on!" Pierce urged intently.
"But though I caught him," Trant continued, "I could not gain the really important facts from him by questioning, as I was totally unaware of the particulars which concerned Miss Iris's—or rather Isabella Clarke's—parentage and self-exiled father. But I knew that, by throwing her into the true 'trance' which you have just witnessed—a hysterical condition known as monoideic somnambulism to psychologists—she would be forced to recall and tell us in detail of the experiences which she had passed through in that condition, precisely as the persons possessed of the 'devil's claw' who were burned and tortured as witches in the Middle Ages had the ability sometimes to go into trances where they knew and told of things which they were not conscious of in their ordinary state; precisely as certain clairvoyants to-day are often able to tell correctly certain things of which they could seem to have no natural knowledge.
"As for Miss Iris, there is now no reason for apprehension. Ordinarily, in case conditions might arise which would remind her so strongly of the events that took place here last Wednesday, she would be thrown automatically into the condition she was in this afternoon when she gave us her narrative. She would then repeat all the particulars rapidly aloud, as you have heard her give them; or she would act them out dramatically, going through all the motions of her flight from Penol, and her attempt to save your papers. And each reminder being made more easy by the one before, these 'trances' as you call them, would become more and more frequent.
"But knowing now, as you do, all the particulars of what happened, you have only to recount them to her, repeating them time after time if necessary, until she normally remembers them and you have drawn the two parts of her consciousness back again into one. She will then, except to the psychologist, be the same as other people, and will show no more peculiarity in the rest of her life than she had already shown in that part of it she has passed in your household. My work here, I think, is done," the psychologist rose abruptly, and after grasping the hand which Pierce eagerly and thankfully stretched out to him, he preceded him through the doorway.
In the high-ceilinged museum, which blazed red with the light of the setting sun, they came upon Iris, standing again in absorbed contemplation of the sacrificial stone. She turned and smiled pleasantly at them, with no sign of curiosity; but Pierce, as he passed, bent gently and kissed her lips.