THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT
Frederik came impatiently up the home
walk. The old house was bathed in moonlight;
the walk itself leading up to it was sweet with the
scent of wet flowers. The whole place carried
a peaceful air, as if a blessing rested upon it.
But Frederik heeded nothing saw none of
the beauty and mystery. His mind was filled with
quite different things.
He had waited for hours at the hotel,
expecting Hicks or his lawyer. When no one arrived
at the hour agreed upon, Frederik felt a bit uneasy,
but he tried to persuade himself that Hicks had merely
missed the train and would come on the next one.
With growing apprehension he waited, smoking innumerable
cigarettes while the evening wore on, till finally
the last train had come and gone. There was nothing
to do but go back to the house, and face the other
matter. And he dreaded it! Oh, how he dreaded
He could not bear the thought of Kathrien’s
eyes that had first doubted, then accused, then condemned
him. All the while he had waited at the hotel,
he had remembered those eyes. If he had not loved
her sincerely the situation would have been comparatively
easy for him; he could simply have cleared out spent
the rest of his days in Europe, if necessary, so that
he might never see or hear of any one connected with
Grimm Manor again in all his life.
But Kathrien! Who could have
been near her and ever forget her? The
turn of her head, the absolute sweetness of her the
sunshine she radiated, made it utterly impossible
for one to think of forgetting of living
all one’s long life without her. Frederik
threw away his cigarette and lighted another as he
stood outside the windows of the house and looked
Oom Peter was there how
could he go in then? Common sense told him that
he had been smoking too much and his nerves had gone
bad that he had become an old woman with
his fears and tremblings; yet he knew Oom
Peter was there Well (he shrugged his shoulders),
about all the harm that could be done had been
done, and he had the money now, anyway, so he might
as well go in and find out the present state of affairs.
There might be, there ought to be, some word from
Hicks by this time. With tight-shut lips, he
walked quickly up the “stoop” steps and
into the house.
As he came into the living-room he
glanced at the doctor, who, with bulky form crouched
over the little table, was still busily writing and
Frederik half-unconsciously looked
toward Kathrien’s room, then removed his silk
hat with its mourning band, and his black gloves, and
laid them with his cane on the hall table.
Then he turned toward Dr. McPherson.
he said shortly. “Any of them come to their
There was a defiant ring in the last
sentence, though he knew in his heart that his cause
The doctor looked up long enough to say:
“Oh, Frederik, you’re
back again, are you?” then went on with his
Frederik glanced furtively around
the shadowy room, and then lighted some candles in
an effort to make the place more cheerful. Suddenly
his eye was riveted on the telegram resting conspicuously
on his uncle’s desk. On the very spot,
so it happened, where he had burned Anne Marie’s
letter. He put down his cigarette quickly.
“Is that telegram for me?” he asked in
an eager tone.
“Yes,” snorted Dr. McPherson.
Frederik said. “It will explain perhaps
why I I’ve been kept waiting at the
hotel I had an appointment to meet a man
who wanted to buy this business.”
“Ha!” The doctor grunted indignantly.
Frederik cleared his throat.
“I may as well tell you I’m
thinking of selling out root and branch.”
At this amazing news the doctor got
up slowly, and turning his bushy head toward Frederik,
fixed his keen eyes upon him. He was all attention
Then with a sheepish laugh Frederik abruptly changed
“You’ll think it strange,”
he said, “but I simply cannot make up my mind
to go near the old desk of my uncle’s peculiar,
yes isn’t it?”
He smiled rather a sickly smile at the doctor, and
“I’ve got a perfect Ha!
Ha! terror of the thing!”
His laughter was quite mirthless and
his fear made him a pitiable object.
The doctor, not trying to hide his
contempt for him, went to the desk, took the telegram,
and threw it in Frederik’s direction, not even
troubling to aim accurately.
It hit the floor about two feet away
from the younger man’s trimly shod feet, and
he quickly reached over sideways and seized it.
He tore it open. Then, as his eyes took in the
message it contained, he drew a long breath.
He sat down mechanically, looking straight ahead of
“Billy Hicks,” he said
slowly in a dazed voice, “Billy Hicks, the man
I was to sell out to, is de I knew it This
afternoon when he phoned something told
me but I wouldn’t believe it.”
Slowly he put the telegram in its
envelope, and then put the envelope into his pocket;
but the dazed look never left his eyes, and his face
was grey white.
“Doctor,” he said, turning
his eyes at last, “as sure as you live, somebody
else is doing my thinking for me in this house.”
Dr. McPherson’s heavy eyebrows
met in an earnest frown as he studied Frederik.
“What?” he queried.
“To-night here in
this room,” Frederik went on in a voice full
of awe, “I thought I saw my uncle there ”
He pointed toward the desk with a little shudder.
“Eh?” said the doctor,
with popping eyes, coming a step nearer. “You
really mean that you thought you saw Peter Grimm?”
“And just before I I
saw him I I had the
strangest impulse to go to the foot of the stairs
and call Kitty give her the house and
run run get out.”
“Oh!” cried the doctor
sarcastically. “A good impulse. I see!
Some one else must have been thinking for you certainly.”
“When I wouldn’t do it,”
the scared voice went on, “I thought he gave
me a terrible look.” He covered his eyes
with his hand. “A terrible look.”
“Your uncle?” demanded Dr. McPherson.
“Yes,” breathed Frederik.
“Och! God! I won’t forget that
look!” he cried excitedly, uncovering his eyes
again. “And as I started from the room he
blotted out I mean I saw him blot out Then
I left the photograph on the desk, and ”
“Ah!” exclaimed the doctor
triumphantly. “That’s how Willem came
by it. Had you never had this impulse before to
give up Kathrien to let her have the cottage?”
“Not much I
hadn’t!” said Frederik decidedly, walking
back and forth a moment.
Then, looking toward the desk, he
reached out his hand until it touched the back of
a chair beside it, and, giving the chair a quick pull
out of what was evidently to him a danger zone, he
“I told you some one else was
thinking for me,” he said. “I
don’t want to give her up. I love her.”
(His eyes went dark.) “But if she’s going
to turn against me for well, I’m not
going to sit here and cry about it. But
I’ll tell you one thing: from this time
I propose to think for myself. I’ve done
with this house,” he cried, getting up.
“I’d like to sell it along with the rest
and let a stranger” he flung the chair
recklessly against the desk “raze
it to the ground.
“When I walk out of here to-night she can have
He looked thoughtfully at the desk a moment.
“Oh, I wouldn’t sleep here I
give her the house because well, I ”
“You want to be on the safe
side in case he was there!” scoffed Dr.
Frederik dropped his voice almost
to a whisper, and there was perplexity in it as well
“How do you account for it anyway, Doctor?”
Instead of answering, the doctor asked another question.
“Frederik,” he said, “when did you
see Anne Marie last?”
“Now,” said Frederik disagreeably, “I’m
not answering questions.”
“I think it only fair to tell
you,” said Dr. McPherson, “that it won’t
matter a damn whether you answer me or not. Don’t
fret yourself that I’m not going to find her.
This has come home to me. I’m off to the
city to-morrow. I’ll have the truth from
her; if I have to call in the police to trace her.”
Frederik looked drearily at the doctor,
then took up his gloves and began to put them on.
After a pause he said dully, mechanically:
“Oh, I saw her about three years ago.”
“Never since?” probed the doctor.
“What occurred the last time you saw her?”
“Oh,” said Frederik lifelessly.
“What always occurs when a young man
realises that he has his life before him and
that he must be respected, must think of his future?”
“A scene took place, eh?”
“Yes,” Frederik agreed laconically.
“Was Willem present?” went on the interrogation.
“Yes, she held him in her arms.”
“And then what happened?” the
Frederik dropped his eyes.
“Oh,” he said, “then I left the
He found his hat and cane as he spoke,
and walked slowly toward the door.
“Then it’s all true,”
cried Dr. McPherson in wonderment, staring abstractedly
at the floor. He raised his head suddenly and
looked with stern eyes at Frederik.
“What are you going to do for Willem?”
“Well,” temporised that
noble soul, “I’m a rich man now and
if I recognise him there might be trouble.
His mother’s gone to the dogs anyway ”
He left the speech unfinished and
turned his head away uncomfortably. He could
not say such things and meet the doctor’s scorching
“You damned young scoundrel!”
bellowed McPherson in wrath. “Oh, what an
act of charity if the good Lord took Willem! And
I say it with all my heart. Out of all you have not
a crumb for ”
“I want you to know that I’ve
sweated for that money,” Frederik turned on
the doctor long enough to say. “I’ve
sweated for it, and I’m going to keep it!”
“You what?” howled Dr. McPherson
“Yes,” Frederik cried
in the greatest excitement, all his calmness forsaking
him utterly. “I’ve sweated for it!
I went to jail for it. Every day I have been
in this house has been spent in prison. I’ve
been doing time. Do you think it didn’t
get on my nerves? What haven’t I had to
do! I’ve gone to bed at nine o’clock
and lain there thinking how New York was just waking
up at that time, and how miserably I was out of it
all. Lord! I’ve got up at cock-crow
to be in time for grace at the breakfast table.
Why, didn’t I take a Sunday-school class to please
“Lord! Didn’t I hand
out the infernal cornucopias at the Church’s
silly old Christmas tree,” he went on quickly,
“while he played Santa Claus? What more
can a fellow do to earn his money? Don’t
you call that sweating? No, sir! I’ve
danced like a damned hand-organ monkey for the pennies
he left me, and I had to grin and touch my hat and
make believe I liked it. Now I’m going
to spend every cent for my own personal pleasure.”
Once more Frederik started to go.
“Will rich men never learn wisdom?”
soliloquised Dr. McPherson as he began to prepare
some medicine for Willem.
“No, they won’t,”
Frederik flung back over his shoulder. “But
in every fourth generation there comes along a wise
fellow a spender. Well, I’m
the spender here.”
He pulled out another cigarette, lighted
it, and put on his hat.
“Shame on you!” cried
the doctor indignantly. “Your breed ought
to be exterminated!”
“Oh, no,” Frederik declared.
“We’re as necessary as you are. We’re
the real wealth distributors. I wish you good-night,
And he was gone.
Disgust was still written all over
the doctor’s face as he measured the medicine
carefully and emptied it into a glass of water.
He picked up the candelabrum in his other hand, and
was just starting toward the stairs and Willem’s
room when Kathrien came in.
“Kathrien!” he cried in
a ringing voice. “Burn up your wedding dress!
We’ve made no mistake. I can tell you that!”
A moment more and he climbed the stairs
and had disappeared into Willem’s room, leaving
Kathrien motionless, her face lighted with happy serenity.
Then she went softly to Oom Peter’s worn old
desk chair, and, standing behind it, put her arms
around its sides lovingly, almost protectingly quite
as if its former owner were sitting there and could
feel her gentle caress.
“Oom Peter,” she whispered
tenderly, and her dreamy eyes grew dreamier, “Oom
Peter I know I am doing what you would have