Strange scene indeed! Strange antithesis to that other night when these four were gathered in that crime-reeked, sordid room at the Roost—where Pale Face Harry, gaunt, emaciated, coughed, and, trembling, plunged a morphine needle in his arm; where the Flopper, a wretched tatterdemalion from the gutter, licked greedy lips and gloated in his rascality; where Helena, flushed-faced, inhaled her interminable cigarettes and dangled her legs from the table edge; where Madison, suave, flippant, so certain of his own infallibility, glorying in his crooked masterpiece, laid the tribute to genius at his own feet!

Strange scene! Strange antithesis indeed! It was quiet here—very still—only the distant, muffled boom of the pounding surf. And the shrine-room, for the first time since its creation, was locked against the night. It lay now in shadow from the single lamp upon the table—and the light, where it fell in a shortened circle, for the lamp itself had a little green paper shade, was soft, subdued and mellow.

Where he had been wont to sit in the days gone by, the Patriarch sat now in his armchair by the empty fireplace—in the shadow—his head turned in his strange, listening, attentive way toward the table—toward the four who were grouped around it. There had been no one to stay with him in his own room, and so Helena had brought him there—to play his silent part.

At the table, Pale Face Harry, bronzed and rugged, clear-eyed, a robust figure from his clean living, his months of the out-of-doors, traced the grain of the wood on the table mechanically with his finger nail, his face sober, perplexed; while the Flopper, clear-eyed too, his face almost a handsome one in its bright alertness, now that it had rounded out and the hard, premature lines were gone, mirrored Pale Face Harry's perturbed expression, his eyes fixed anxiously on Madison opposite him; and Helena, sitting beside Madison, was very quiet, her forehead wrinkled and pursed up into little furrows, the brown eyes with a hint of dismay and consternation lurking in their depths, one hand stretched out to lay quite unconsciously on Madison's sleeve—and from the sleeve to steal occasionally into Madison's hand.

Madison, his lips tight, pushed back his chair suddenly—they had been sitting there an hour.

"You were right, Helena," he said, with a nervous laugh. "The more you try to figure it out the worse it gets."

"Aw, say, Doc," pleaded the Flopper desperately, "don't youse give it up—youse have got de head—youse ain't never left us in a hole yet."

Madison looked at him, and smiled mirthlessly.

"My head!" he exclaimed bitterly. "I got you into this, all of you—but it will take more than my head to get you out. If I could stand for it myself, I'd do it—but I can't without dragging you in too—we're too intimately mixed up. If I said it was a deal of mine—they'd ask where Helena came from—they'd ask where you came from, Flopper. We're beaten—beaten every way we turn. The game has got us—we haven't a move. We played it to the limit, the slickest swindle that was ever worked, and it worked till there's more money than I've tried to count. And then it changed us from thieves, from—from anything you like—and now that we want to quit, now that we want a chance to make good, it's got us in its grip and we can't get away." He flirted a bead of moisture from his forehead. "My God, I don't know what to do!" he muttered hoarsely. "It was easy enough to talk about stopping this thing, about returning the money—but I can't see the way out."

No one answered him—all were silent—as silent as the mute and venerable figure that sat, listening attentively it seemed, in the armchair by the fireplace.

Madison turned abruptly after a moment to Pale Face Harry.

"You, Harry," he said, laying a hand on the other's shoulder, "you're the only one of the four that can walk out of it—you don't show in the center of the stage—you go. You said the old folks would cry over you—twenty years is a long time to stay away from the old folks—I—I never knew mine. You go on back to the little farm out there in the West where you said you'd like to go, and—and give the old people a hand for the years they've got left."

Pale Face Harry shook his head.

"God knows I'd like to," he said, choking a little; "that's what I counted on. God knows I'd like to go out there and lead a decent life—but I don't go that way—I don't crawl out and leave you—what's coming to you is coming to me."

"That won't help us any, Harry," said Madison softly, and his hand tightened in an eloquent pressure on Pale Face Harry's shoulder. "You go—and God bless you!"

Again Pale Face Harry shook his head.

"No," he said. "I stick. If the game's got you, it's got me too—to the limit. There's no use talking about that."

The Flopper licked his lips miserably.

"Swipe me!" he mumbled. "Hell wasn't never like dis! Me an' Mamie we've got it fixed, an' her old man says he'll take me inter de store. Say, Doc, say—ain't dere a chanst ter live straight now we wants ter?"

But Madison did not hear the Flopper save in a vague, inconsequential way—he was looking at Helena. She had drooped forward a little over the table, her chin in her hands, her lips quivering—and a white misery in her face seemed to bring a chill, a numbness to his heart. His Hands clenched, and he began to pace up and down the room.

How buoyantly he had tackled the problem—buoyant in his own emancipation, buoyant in his love, in the future full of dreams, full of inspiration, full of the new life that Helena and he would live together! How confidently he had settled himself to undo in a moment the work of months, to outline a mere matter of detail, with never a thought that he was face to face with a problem that he could never solve—that brought him to the realization that the game, not he, was the master still, iron-handed, implacable—that though the mental chains were loosed it was but as if, in ironic justice, in grim punishment, only that he might look, clear-visioned, upon the ignominy of the physical shackles he himself had forged and fashioned so readily, whose breaking now was beyond his strength.

He had done his work well! In the first few moments, an hour ago, when he had begun to consider the problem, as seeming difficulties arose, he had turned coolly from one alternative to another. And then slowly a sickening sense of the truth had begun to dawn upon him—and like a man lost in a great forest, peril around him, he had plunged then desperately in this direction and in that, as a glimmering point of light here or there had seemed to promise an avenue of escape—only to find it vanish at almost the first step, the way closed as by some invisible, remorseless power. No, not invisible—it seemed to take the form of the Patriarch—for at every turn the majestic figure stood and would not let him pass.

Madison's face was gray now as he walked up and down the room—there was his own revulsion, his abhorrence at the part he had played, a frantic, honorable eagerness to be rid of it; there were these others too who looked to him, the Flopper and Pale Face Harry; and there was—Helena! He did not dare to look at the misery in her face again—he was unmanned enough now.

And then Helena spoke.

"It—it seems," she said, in a low broken way, "as if—as if God did not want to pardon us—as if our repentance had come too late, and that there was no Eleventh Hour for us." Then, in passionate pleading, facing Madison: "God cannot mean that—it is we who cannot see. There is some way out—there must be—there must be."

"It begins and ends with the Patriarch," said Madison monotonously. "We can't sacrifice him—can we! What's the use of going over it again? It all comes back to the same point—the Patriarch."

"Yes, yes; I know, I know," she said piteously. "But think, Doc—think! See now, we just send back all the money and jewels—we know to whom they belong."

"Well, what reason do we give?" Madison said heavily. "The Patriarch is alive and well. The immediate corollary is that from the moment we do that, to-morrow morning for instance, every gift, every offering here is suddenly refused. What reason do we give? If it were only the donors who were to be considered it might be done. It's human nature that ninety-nine out of every hundred of them"—his voice rose a little bitterly—"would probably be only too glad to get their money back—and the mere statement that you, as the Patriarch's grand-niece, his only relative, on mature thought did not consider the project as planned advisable might suffice. But this thing goes beyond that, beyond even the remaining few who are earnestly interested and would cause us trouble—it is world-wide in its publicity! Every newspaper in the land would snatch at it for a headline, and ask—why? And they would not be content with simply asking why—this thing is too big for that—too much before the people's eyes—too good 'copy.' They'd start in to find out—and the result is inevitable. Our safety so far has lain in the fact that there has been no suspicion aroused; but snooping around a bank vault at midnight with a mask on and a bull's-eye lantern fades to a whisper as a suspicion-arouser compared with anybody willingly coughing up a bunch of money once they've got their claws on it—and a yellow journal, let alone an army corps of them, on the scent of a possible sensation has all the detective bureaus in the country pinned to the ropes—they'd have us uncovered quicker than I like to think about it—and that means—"

He stopped, and with a hurried motion, carried his hands across his eyes—Helena, pure as one of God's own angels now, to come to that, to come to—

It was the Flopper who completed the sentence.

"Ten spaces up de river," said the Flopper, and shivered, and his tongue sought his lips; "or mabbe—mabbe twenty."

Pale Face Harry stirred uneasily.

"There's the other way," he said without looking up, his eyes on his finger nail that traced the grain of the wood again. "Get the money and the sparklers all done up and addressed to the ones they came from, send 'em off in a bunch to Thornton—and we fly the coop before he gets them, disappear, fade away—and take our chances of getting caught."

"An' den it's all off wid me an' Mamie"—the Flopper's face grew hard. "Nix on dat! Dat don't go!"

"We cannot do that, Harry," said Helena, in a tired voice. "There is—the Patriarch."

"Yes," said Madison, beginning his stride up and down the room again. "After all, whether we could give back the money without being caught, or whether we couldn't, is not the vital thing; there is—the Patriarch."

Helena's eyes were on the silent figure in the shadows by the fireplace.

"If—if it were not for him," she said, "I think that perhaps—perhaps I might be brave enough to confess it all, and—and not try to escape from the punishment that I deserve. But he would know—he cannot see, nor hear, nor speak, but he would know—as he seems so strangely, so wonderfully, so supernaturally to know and understand everything. And, oh, he means so much to me, to us all, for it is he, more than any one else, who has saved us from—from what we were. And he loves us. It would shatter his faith, ruin all that his life has meant to him, and—and we cannot bring him grief and sorrow like that. Oh, what can we do! What can we do! We cannot stop—and we cannot go on! We cannot stay here even if we returned the money successfully, and we cannot stay here if we kept it as it is; for things would still have to go on as they are, even if we didn't mean to steal any more, no matter what we might say or do, for it's beyond our control now, and to stay means that we should still have to live and lead our double lives, still have to practise hypocrisy and deceit, and—and I cannot—we cannot do that any more. And the only way to get away from it all is to run away—and we can't do that, either! There is—the Patriarch. We cannot leave him—to break his heart—with none he loves to care for him. We can't do that. He is a very old, old man, and—and I think he has been happy with us, and—and we must make him happy always as long as he lives. We cannot go away and leave him. We can't do that." Then, in a heartbroken, despairing cry: "We can't do—anything!"

No one answered her. She had begged Madison to go over it all again—and she had summed it up herself. There was—the Patriarch.

There was utter silence in the room now, save only for that low, solemn boom of distant surf—for Madison had stopped his nervous pacing up and down, and stood now by the Patriarch's armchair gazing into the fireplace.

The minutes passed, and the silence in that dim, shadowed room grew tense—and tenser still—until the very shadows themselves, as the lamp flickered now and then, seemed to creep and shift and readjust themselves in stealth. No sound—no movement—utter stillness—only, from without, the mourning of the surf, like a dirge now.

And then, with a sudden sob, Helena flung out her arms across the table toward the Patriarch.

"Oh, if he could only speak!" she cried pitifully. "If he could only speak—he would show us the way out."

The words seemed to come to Madison as an added pang. He turned his eyes instinctively from the fireplace to the Patriarch beside him—and then, a moment, as a man stricken, he stood there—and then reaching quickly for the lamp from the table he held it up, and leaned forward toward the figure in the chair.

Helena, startled at the act, rose almost unconsciously to her feet, her hands holding tightly to the table edge—looking at Madison, looking at the silent form where Pale Face Harry, where the Flopper looked.

"What is it?" she asked tensely, under her breath.

Madison's lips moved—silently. His face was white, ashen—there was no color in it. Then his lips moved once more.

"The way out," he said; and again, in a low, awed way: "The way out. We can make restitution now—we can give it all back—he has shown us the way out."

Helena's lips were quivering, tears were dimming the brown eyes, trembling on the lashes, as she stepped now to Madison's side.

"It is God who has shown us the way out," she whispered brokenly—and dropping down before the chair, her little form shaken with sobs, she hid her face on the Patriarch's knees.

And serene and peaceful as a child in sleep, a smile like a benediction on the saintly face, the Patriarch sat in his armchair by the fireplace where he had been wont to sit in years gone by—and so he had passed on.

The Patriarch was dead.

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