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Ghosts I have Met and Some Others

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Keeper of the Seven Keys
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« Reply #120 on: November 03, 2009, 02:28:14 am »

"And not yourself?" queried the attorney.

"Well, I don't see what that has to do with it," returned Parton.
"As to the locality there is no question. He was there. We saw him,
and others saw him, and we have taken the trouble to come down here
to state the fact, and have brought with us the call-boy from the
hotel, who can support our testimony if it is not regarded as
sufficient. I advise you, however, as attorney for Barker, not to
inquire too deeply into that matter, because I am convinced that if
he isn't guilty of this crime--as of course he is not--he hasn't the
cleanest record in the world. He has bad written on every line of
his face, and there were one or two things connected with our
meeting with him that mightn't be to his taste to have mentioned in
court."

"I don't need advice, thank you," said the attorney, dryly. "I wish
simply to establish the fact of his presence at Keswick at the hour
of 5 P.M. on Tuesday, August 16th. That was the hour at which the
murder is supposed--in fact, is proved--to have been committed. At
5.30, according to witnesses, my client was seen in the
neighborhood, faint with loss of blood from a knife-wound in the
shoulder. Barker has the knife-wound, but he might have a dozen of
them and be acquitted if he wasn't in Frewenton on the day in
question."

"You may rely upon us to prove that," said I. "We will swear to it.
We can produce tangible objects presented to us on that afternoon by
Barker--"

"I can't produce mine," said Parton. "I threw it into the lake."

"Well, I can produce the stone he gave me," said I, "and I'll do it
if you wish."

"That will be sufficient, I think," returned the attorney. "Barker
spoke especially about that stone, for it was a half of an odd
souvenir of the East, where he was born, and he fortunately has the
other half. The two will fit together at the point where the break
was made, and our case will be complete."

The attorney then left us. The following day we appeared at the
preliminary examination, which proved to be the whole examination as
well, since, despite the damning circumstantial evidence against
Barker, evidence which shook my belief almost in the veracity of my
own eyes, our plain statements, substantiated by the evidence of the
call-boy and the two halves of the oriental pebble, one in my
possession and the other in Barker's, brought about the discharge of
the prisoner from custody; and the "Frewenton Atrocity" became one
of many horrible murders, the mystery of which time alone, if
anything, could unravel.

After Barker was released he came to me and thanked me most
effusively for the service rendered him, and in many ways made
himself agreeable during the balance of our stay in London. Parton,
however, would have nothing to do with him, and to me most of his
attentions were paid. He always had a singularly uneasy way about
him, as though he were afraid of some impending trouble, and finally
after a day spent with him slumming about London--and a more perfect
slummer no one ever saw, for he was apparently familiar with every
one of the worst and lowest resorts in all of London as well as on
intimate terms with leaders in the criminal world--I put a few
questions to him impertinently pertinent to himself. He was
surprisingly frank in his answers. I was quite prepared for a more
or less indignant refusal when I asked him to account for his
intimacy with these dregs of civilization.

"It's a long story," he said, "but I'll tell it to you. Let us run
in here and have a chop, and I'll give you some account of myself
over a mug of ale."

We entered one of the numerous small eating-houses that make London
a delight to the lover of the chop in the fulness of its glory. When
we were seated and the luncheon ordered Barker began.

"I have led a very unhappy life. I was born in India thirty-nine
years ago, and while my every act has been as open and as free of
wrong as are those of an infant, I have constantly been beset by
such untoward affairs as this in which you have rendered such
inestimable service. At the age of five, in Calcutta, I was in peril
of my liberty on the score of depravity, although I never committed
any act that could in any sense be called depraved. The main cause
of my trouble at that time was a small girl of ten whose sight was
partially destroyed by the fiendish act of some one who, according
to her statement, wantonly hurled a piece of broken glass into one
of her eyes. The girl said it was I who did it, although at the time
it was done, according to my mother's testimony, I was playing in
her room and in her plain view. That alone would not have been a
very serious matter for me, because the injured child might have
been herself responsible for her injury, but in a childish spirit of
fear, afraid to say so, and, not realizing the enormity of the
charge, have laid it at the door of any one of her playmates she saw
fit. She stuck to her story, however, and there were many who
believed that she spoke the truth and that my mother, in an endeavor
to keep me out of trouble, had stated what was not true."

"But you were innocent, of course?" I said.

"I am sorry you think it necessary to ask that," he replied, his
pallid face flushing with a not unnatural indignation; "and I
decline to answer it," he added. "I have made a practice of late,
when I am in trouble or in any way under suspicion, to let others do
my pleading and prove my innocence. But you didn't mean to be like
your friend Parton, I know, and I cannot be angry with a man who has
done so much for me as you have--so let it pass. I was saying that
standing alone the accusation of that young girl would not have been
serious in its effects in view of my mother's testimony, had not a
seeming corroboration come three days later, when another child was
reported to have been pushed over an embankment and maimed for life
by no less a person than my poor innocent self. This time I was
again, on my mother's testimony, at her side; but there were
witnesses of the crime, and they every one of them swore to my
guilt, and as a consequence we found it advisable to leave the home
that had been ours since my birth, and to come to England. My father
had contemplated returning to his own country for some time, and the
reputation that I had managed unwittingly to build up for myself in
Calcutta was of a sort that made it easier for him to make up his
mind. He at first swore that he would ferret out the mystery in the
matter, and would go through Calcutta with a drag-net if necessary
to find the possible other boy who so resembled me that his
outrageous acts were put upon my shoulders; but people had be-gun to
make up their minds that there was not only something wrong about
me, but that my mother knew it and had tried to get me out of my
scrapes by lying--so there was nothing for us to do but leave."

"And you never solved the mystery?" I queried.

"Well, not exactly," returned Barker, gazing abstractedly before
him. "Not exactly; but I have a theory, based upon the bitterest
kind of experience, that I know what the trouble is."

"You have a double?" I asked.

"You are a good guesser," he replied; "and of all unhanged criminals
he is the very worst."

There was a strange smile on his lips as Carleton Barker said this.
His tone was almost that of one who was boasting--in fact, so
strongly was I impressed with his appearance of conceit when he
estimated the character of his double, that I felt bold enough to
say:

"You seem to be a little proud of it, in spite of all."

Barker laughed.

"I can't help it, though he has kept me on tenter-hooks for a
lifetime," he said. "We all feel a certain amount of pride in the
success of those to whom we are related, either by family ties or
other shackles like those with which I am bound to my murderous
_alter ego_. I knew an Englishman once who was so impressed with the
notion that he resembled the great Napoleon that he conceived the
most ardent hatred for his own country for having sent the
illustrious Frenchman to St. Helena. The same influence--a very
subtle one--I feel. Here is a man who has maimed and robbed and
murdered for years, and has never yet been apprehended. In his
chosen calling he has been successful, and though I have been put to
my trumps many a time to save my neck from the retribution that
should have been his, I can't help admiring the fellow, though I'd
kill him if he stood before me!"

"And are you making any effort to find him?"

"I am, of course," said Barker; "that has been my life-work. I am
fortunately possessed of means enough to live on, so that I can
devote all my time to unravelling the mystery. It is for this reason
that I have acquainted myself with the element of London with which,
as you have noticed, I am very familiar. The life these criminals
are leading is quite as revolting to me as it is to you, and the
scenes you and I have witnessed together are no more unpleasant to
you than they are to me; but what can I do? The man lives and must
be run down. He is in England, I am certain. This latest diversion
of his has convinced me of that."

"Well," said I, rising, "you certainly have my sympathy, Mr. Barker,
and I hope your efforts will meet with success. I trust you will
have the pleasure of seeing the other gentleman hanged."

"Thank you," he said, with a queer look in his eyes, which, as I
thought it over afterwards, did not seem to be quite as appropriate
to his expression of gratitude as it might have been.
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« Reply #121 on: November 03, 2009, 02:28:30 am »

III


When Barker and I parted that day it was for a longer period than
either of us dreamed, for upon my arrival at my lodgings I found
there a cable message from New York, calling me back to my labors.
Three days later I sailed for home, and five years elapsed before I
was so fortunate as to renew my acquaintance with foreign climes.
Occasionally through these years Parton and I discussed Barker, and
at no time did my companion show anything but an increased animosity
towards our strange Keswick acquaintance. The mention of his name
was sufficient to drive Parton from the height of exuberance to a
state of abject depression.

"I shall not feel easy while that man lives," he said. "I think he
is a minion of Satan. There is nothing earthly about him."

"Nonsense," said I. "Just because a man has a bad face is no reason
for supposing him a villain or a supernatural creature."

"No," Parton answered; "but when a man's veins hold blood that
saturates and leaves no stain, what are we to think?"

I confessed that this was a point beyond me, and, by mutual consent,
we dropped the subject.

One night Parton came to my rooms white as a sheet, and so agitated
that for a few minutes he could not speak. He dropped, shaking like
a leaf, into my reading-chair and buried his face in his hands. His
attitude was that of one frightened to the very core of his being.
When I questioned him first he did not respond. He simply groaned. I
resumed my reading for a few moments, and then looking up observed
that Parton had recovered somewhat and was now gazing abstractedly
into the fire.

"Well," I said, "feeling better?"

"Yes," he answered, slowly. "But it was a shock."

"What was?" I asked. "You've told me nothing as yet."

"I've seen Barker."

"No!" I cried. "Where?"

"In a back alley down-town, where I had to go on a hospital call.
There was a row in a gambling-hell in Hester Street. Two men were
cut and I had to go with the ambulance. Both men will probably die,
and no one can find any trace of the murderer; but I know who he is.
He was Carleton Barker and no one else. I passed him in the alley on
the way in, and I saw him in the crowd when I came out."

"Was he alone in the alley?" I asked. Parton groaned again.

"That's the worst of it," said he. "He was not alone. He was with
Carleton Barker."

"You speak in riddles," said I.

"I saw in riddles," said Parton; "for as truly as I sit here there
were two of them, and they stood side by side as I passed through,
alike as two peas, and crime written on the pallid face of each."

"Did Barker recognize you?"

"I think so, for as I passed he gasped--both of them gasped, and as
I stopped to speak to the one I had first recognized he had vanished
as completely as though he had never been, and as I turned to
address the other he was shambling off into the darkness as fast as
his legs could carry him."

I was stunned. Barker had been mysterious enough in London. In New
York with his double, and again connected with an atrocity, he
became even more so, and I began to feel somewhat towards him as had
Parton from the first. The papers next morning were not very
explicit on the subject of the Hester Street trouble, but they
confirmed Parton's suspicions in his and my own mind as to whom the
assassins were. The accounts published simply stated that the
wounded men, one of whom had died in the night and the other of whom
would doubtless not live through the day, had been set upon and
stabbed by two unknown Englishmen who had charged them with cheating
at cards; that the assailants had disappeared, and that the police
had no clew as to their whereabouts.

Time passed and nothing further came to light concerning the
Barkers, and gradually Parton and I came to forget them. The
following summer I went abroad again, and then came the climax to
the Barker episode, as we called it. I can best tell the story of
that climax by printing here a letter written by myself to Parton.
It was penned within an hour of the supreme moment, and while it
evidences my own mental perturbation in its lack of coherence, it is
none the less an absolutely truthful account of what happened. The
letter is as follows:
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« Reply #122 on: November 03, 2009, 02:28:52 am »

"LONDON, July 18, 18--.

"My Dear Parton,--You once said to me that you could not breathe
easily while this world held Carleton Barker living. You may now
draw an easy breath, and many of them, for the Barker episode is
over. Barker is dead, and I flatter myself that I am doing very well
myself to live sanely after the experiences of this morning.

"About a week after my arrival in England a horrible tragedy was
enacted in the Seven Dials district. A woman was the victim, and a
devil in human form the perpetrator of the crime. The poor creature
was literally hacked to pieces in a manner suggesting the hand of
Jack the Ripper, but in this instance the murderer, unlike Jack, was
caught red-handed, and turned out to be no less a person than
Carleton Barker. He was tried and convicted, and sentenced to be
hanged at twelve o'clock to-day.

"When I heard of Barker's trouble I went, as a matter of curiosity
solely, to the trial, and discovered in the dock the man you and I
had encountered at Keswick. That is to say, he resembled our friend
in every possible respect. If he were not Barker he was the most
perfect imitation of Barker conceivable. Not a feature of our Barker
but was reproduced in this one, even to the name. But he failed to
recognize me. He saw me, I know, because I felt his eyes upon me,
but in trying to return his gaze I quailed utterly before him. I
could not look him in the eye without a feeling of the most deadly
horror, but I did see enough of him to note that he regarded me only
as one of a thousand spectators who had flocked into the court-room
during the progress of the trial. If it were our Barker who sat
there his dissemblance was remarkable. So coldly did he look at me
that I began to doubt if he really were the man we had met; but the
events of this morning have changed my mind utterly on that point.
He was the one we had met, and I am now convinced that his story to
me of his double was purely fictitious, and that from beginning to
end there has been but one Barker.

"The trial was a speedy one. There was nothing to be said in behalf
of the prisoner, and within five days of his arraignment he was
convicted and sentenced to the extreme penalty--that of hanging--and
noon to-day was the hour appointed for the execution. I was to have
gone to Richmond to-day by coach, but since Barker's trial I have
been in a measure depressed. I have grown to dislike the man as
thoroughly as did you, and yet I was very much affected by the
thought that he was finally to meet death upon the scaffold. I could
not bring myself to participate in any pleasures on the day of his
execution, and in consequence I gave up my Richmond journey and
remained all morning in my lodgings trying to read. It was a
miserable effort. I could not concentrate my mind upon my book--no
book could have held the slightest part of my attention at that
time. My thoughts were all for Carleton Barker, and I doubt if, when
the clock hands pointed to half after eleven, Barker himself was
more apprehensive over what was to come than I. I found myself
holding my watch in my hand, gazing at the dial and counting the
seconds which must intervene before the last dreadful scene of a
life of crime. I would rise from my chair and pace my room nervously
for a few minutes; then I would throw myself into my chair again and
stare at my watch. This went on nearly all the morning--in fact,
until ten minutes before twelve, when there came a slight knock at
my door. I put aside my nervousness as well as I could, and, walking
to the door, opened it.

"I wonder that I have nerve to write of it, Parton, but there upon
the threshold, clad in the deepest black, his face pallid as the
head of death itself and his hands shaking like those of a palsied
man, stood no less a person than Carleton Barker!

"I staggered back in amazement and he followed me, closing the door
and locking it behind him.

"'What would you do?' I cried, regarding his act with alarm, for,
candidly, I was almost abject with fear.

"'Nothing--to you!' he said. 'You have been as far as you could be
my friend. The other, your companion of Keswick'--meaning you, of
course--'was my enemy.'

"I was glad you were not with us, my dear Parton. I should have
trembled for your safety.

"'How have you managed to escape?' I asked.

"'I have not escaped,' returned Barker. 'But I soon shall be free
from my accursed double.'

"Here he gave an unearthly laugh and pointed to the clock.

"'Ha, ha!' he cried. 'Five minutes more--five minutes more and I
shall be free.'

"'Then the man in the dock was not you?' I asked.

"'The man in the dock,' he answered, slowly, 'is even now mounting
the gallows, whilst I stand here.'

"He trembled a little as he spoke, and lurched forward like a
drunken man; but he soon recovered himself, grasping the back of my
chair convulsively with his long white fingers.

"'In two minutes more,' he whispered, 'the rope will be adjusted
about his neck; the black cap is even now being drawn over his
cursed features, and--'

"Here he shrieked with laughter, and, rushing to the window, thrust
his head out and literally sucked the air into his lungs, as a man
with a parched throat would have drank water. Then he turned and,
tottering back to my side, hoarsely demanded some brandy.

"It was fortunately at hand, and precisely as the big bells in
Westminster began to sound the hour of noon, he caught up the goblet
and held it aloft.

"'To him!' he cried.

"And then, Parton, standing before me in my lodgings, as truly as I
write, he remained fixed and rigid until the twelfth stroke of the
bells sounded, when he literally faded from my sight, and the
goblet, falling to the floor, was shattered into countless atoms!"

THE END




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« Reply #123 on: November 03, 2009, 02:29:16 am »

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