The Cupola

As the taxi woggled downhill, Jumbo’s words pushed past the busy
clicking of the meter into Sally’s weary brain. Once inside her
consciousness, they rolled around like brightly colored Christmas tree
balls, and butted into each other and crashed. Far down beneath the
shattering concussions her mind began reverberating:

“Think it over, think it over, think it over.”

Twice she decided to go to Bucks and then she knew it would be hopeless.
They couldn’t help if a big story broke. They didn’t make the news. They
… they were like buzzards … and she must do something to keep them
… from….

Murdering patients…. Oh God! Oh God! … No! … They are wrong!

She pushed her curly bright hair back from her sweating forehead, and at
_The Call_ building gave the driver the dollar, and slipped unnoticed
into a crowded elevator and out again in the main hallway of the sixth
floor.

This wouldn’t do. Somebody might come along.

She leaned against the wall for a moment, then decided to walk up to the
seventh floor. There was a vacant suite of offices on the corner;
perhaps if she went where there was plenty of room her brain would get
… wider….

Half way up the marble stairs began rising and hitting her in the face,
and then slipping back so that she couldn’t quite reach them when she
stepped. She slumped and rested.

If Cub’s arms were only around her now. How many murders had there been?
Four! Jumbo had said four, and the last a nurse. The night he brought
the last cigarettes. She hadn’t seen him since the morning after … the
nurse…. Not since Dr. Bear began dying … but she knew! She knew!

Oh God! God! It wasn’t Cub! It wasn’t! A murderer couldn’t kiss you so
that your soul ran up and spread out flat under his lips…. A murderer
couldn’t look at you so that you said you were sorry, even when you
tried not to be…. A murderer’s hair wouldn’t fold into little waves
where it spread under the curve at the back of his neck.

But how could you tell a paper that? How could you make a city editor
understand … when you had no proof … that a man was innocent and
framed?

There must be some way! You had to think clearly to see it, and the
place to think was upstairs with the whole world spread out below in
orderly rows and streets. Just as the sun spread over the city, and
strengthened it, so control made it possible…. Two hours! Less than
that now….

She clenched her fists tightly and rose with studied steadiness.
Necessity cleared the brain. Working in a newspaper office taught that
the best ideas came under pressure. She had gone out on enough murder
stories to know the person who worked his brain … could beat anything
… even newspaper reporters and … police.

By the time Sally reached the door of the vacant suite, the seams of her
stockings were straightened and her reddening eyes carefully and
painstakingly dry. There was an air of jauntiness about her small
figure.

She had a head and was going to use it!

Her violet eyes had changed to the deep purple and iridescent white of
orchids. She closed the door and stood against it. Then her irises
focused.

A stooped, intent figure was silhouetted between the rows of windows and
the long city vistas below. For a second her artistic sense forebade
speech.

Like an apple tree, gnarled and buffeted by too much winter, the thin
shoulders, flat chest, beak nose, and long hands ribboned with purple
veins, strained after the peering eyes which were hidden by a pair of
binoculars. The dirty white hair drawn into a tightly furled knot, on
the upper front of the head, helped Sally recognize the
next-to-the-oldest-employe of _The Morning Call_. She momentarily forgot
Cub Sterling.

“Emma! What are you doing?”

Emma wheeled around, and the binoculars fell from her hands. Sally moved
with extended palms to catch them.

“Oh, it’s you!” Emma’s voice was pleased and birdlike. “They don’t drop,
Miss Ferguson. Mr. Bucks told me you was on vacation. Did you have a
nice time, dearie?” She reached toward the long leather thong which held
the binoculars around her scrawny neck and then embarrassment replaced
pleasure.

“What _are_ you doing?”

“Well, I tell you, dearie. Whin I can’t git inta th’ offices on six
ri-away, I jes’ comes here for a little while and takes in the city …
kinda. It helps a lot, sometimes, for bein’ lonesum, Miss Ferguson.”

The news-story instinct welled up. Sally eased down into a window sill.
Perhaps, if you shifted the mind completely….

“Where did you get them?”

“Well, dearie, it’s like this: My boy … you know … what was killed
at the Argonah, had ’em.” Emma’s lower jaw dropped. “His buddy … my
boy had got ’em off’n a dead German General, and you kno’ what fine
things Germans makes … well, his buddy took ’em off’n my boy’s body
after … and brought ’em back to me. And, Miss Ferguson, he seys whin
he give ’em to me, he seys, ‘These is t’gif ye a chancst t’see life.’

“Ain’t that sweet, dearie? And they’se bin the greates’ consterashun thu
m’sorrow. Whin I gits t’thinkin’ ’bout my boy and wishin’ f’
gran’chillrin … you kno’ … I jes’ comes up here and takes in a few
lifes.”

A swell newspaper story! “Vicarious living,” Sally muttered.

Emma, heard it and protested:

“No mam! Nuthin’ like that! I never looks beyond Second Street, Miss
Ferguson. Two blocks this side of Beeker Street is an awful nice
I-talyan neighb-hood. It’s sweet t’see th’women nursin’ babies on
do’steps. That’s helped me an awful lot … sometimes….

“Wouldn’t you like to take a look, dearie?”

Emma removed the thong from her neck with the care a concert master
saves for his violin. Her face had now a deep, sweet warmth. Miss
Ferguson had given her five dollars at Easter and at Christmas and this
was a chancst….

Sally saw the look and rose. The folds of her blue crepe dress molded
the curve of her slender thighs as she lifted the thong carefully over
her head, adroitly around her white cowl collar, and walked toward the
window.

Emma stood proudly by and suggested:

“If you look tword the sout’wes’ down by Sears, Roebuck, you kin’ jes’
catch a piece of the bridge ’roun’ th’corner buildin’. It’s awful prutty
at sunset.”

Sally, who was something of a football fan, realized these were
eight-power Zeiss binoculars. They brought the city out with startling
clearness. She looked for the University, and on out toward Sears,
Roebuck and across the river. Then she began picking out the Italian
district near Becker Street and the Speakeasy just around the corner
near Pershing Road.

“They’re wond-er-ful, Emma!”

“Ain’t they gran’?”

Suddenly she remembered about Cub, and trained the glasses upon the
Elijah Wilson four blocks uphill. Cub was over there … somewhere….
Cub was….

She began going over the building carefully. How pink the bricks were in
the afternoon sun! The trees up Wilson Boulevard looked so green and
feathery! How….

Her eyes found the cupola upon the top of the Administration Building.
She had always wanted to see what was in that cupola! She unscrewed the
lenses to their full power. They came into focus. One of the grimy
windows was open. How lucky! She trained them into it.

Scissored against the far white wall was Cub Sterling sitting at a small
table. His hand held a hypodermic syringe. He was laughing….

God Almighty!

Sally staggered as if she had been struck. Emma, supporting her,
soothed:

“I orta told you, dearie. If you looks too much you gits dizzy.”

“Emma,” her tone was parched and pleading, “look through these at the
cupola of the Elijah Wilson Hospital and tell me what you see.”

The old woman took the binoculars, readjusted them … it seemed to
Sally that she used a thousand years … and said:

“Shucks, honey, I don’t see nuthin’ but a curly-headed man settin’ at a
little table writin’ in a book…. H’m … he’s awful nice lookin’!,
too….”

Sally snatched the glasses and spread her feet to prop herself while she
projected them. Her eyes, as she stiffly moved the dials, were filmy,
but within seconds she had the lenses magnifying the cupola and as a man
might repeat by rote what he knew by heart, she forced her
horror-stricken eyes to focus again.

What they saw was Cub Sterling sitting at the same small table, a pen in
his hand, writing swiftly and absorbedly in a small book. Behind him was
the same big red splotch … as if a bucket of blood had been thrown
against the wall … the same … small medicine case between two of the
sooty windows.

But before him, upon the table, was the hypodermic syringe. Her eyes
kept coming back to it over, over and over, as the eyes of a bird
fascinated come back to a snake. And upon his face, as he wrote, was the
awful look which she had never seen there, until he held that syringe up
and laughed.

As she gazed, like an echo in the distance, little things about him
began to be unfamiliar. There wasn’t so much distance under his ear and
collar, where she had buried her nose. And his hair wasn’t that long …
not nearly…. He had just had his hair cut … Tuesday….

Maybe that was somebody else…. Maybe….

The glasses began slipping from her hands and while they fell, with the
rapidity of a panic-stricken brain, she decided.

If it was Cub and she telephoned him and told him she needed him
terribly and to come right away and he came, then it wasn’t Cub. And if
he didn’t come, but stayed right there in that chair all the time….

Well, you had to know … sometime….

“Emma,” her voice was crisp and had lost its note of friendly equality,
“put those binoculars to your eyes and watch that man in the top of the
hospital till I come back…. Don’t take your eyes off of him _for one
second_. It’s … it’s … whether I’m ever happy depends on his sitting
in that chair till I come back.”

The bent old woman took the glasses, tremblingly, and Sally was halfway
down the hall of the seventh floor before the cupola was in focus again.

As she ran she debated whether to take a chance and call from the
newspaper office. The open door of a suite of legal offices flashed by.
She wheeled and entered. None of the stenographers was in the outer
office.

Steadying herself against a typewriter desk she snatched up the
telephone:

“Wilson 2000. Hurry, please!”

She had called it two weeks ago for a news story!

In response to the hospital operator’s, “Lijah-Wilsin,” she said:

“Dr. Ethridge Sterling, Junior.”

The voice died away and then came back:

“Dr. Sterling’s ’phone doesn’t answer.”

“Call him on the loud speaker, please. It’s terribly important.”

She could hear the weary, raucous rasping, which was penetrating every
corridor of the whole hospital:

“Docterr Ste-earling. Doct-terr Eth-err-ridge Ste-earling-Junyior….”

Every day of the month on the calendar tacked to the far wall hit her in
the face … Monday, the ninth … Monday, the sixteenth … before she
heard Cub’s:

“Dr. Ethridge Sterling, speaking.”

“Cub … can you come to room 708 in _The Call_ building, right
away…?”

“What? … Salscie…? Where are you? How did you…?”

A terrible calm invaded her.

“It’s me, Cub! I walked out of the hospital. I had to…! Something
awful…!”

“What?” the rising concern of his voice seemed to be put on, and then
his, “I can’t leave Father. He’s….”

She braced herself for a final effort and begged:

“I know. But I’m in _terrible_ … I need you, darling!”

“But, Salscie….”

“Room 708, Cub! …”

She threw the telephone from her and reeled into the hall and toward the
vacant suite. Her eyes were right! Cub was not coming. Cub was …
was….

With a listlessness which portrayed great physical effort, she pushed
the door open and looked toward the stooped back of Emma; then she
swayed steadily toward a low Window sill and sat down. Her eyes were the
color of clouds before a thunder storm and she leaned her head against
the casing.

Then with that funny clearness which is always part of terror, she began
to count the carpet tacks on both sides of two planks in the floor. One,
two … his voice was foggy and distant … six, seven, eight … he was
irritated…. “I can’t come. I can’t come!”… Cub Sterling was a
murderer … a maniac….

As the thought began forming in her mind she revolted, and the revolt
brought energy. Within half a minute after entering the room, she was at
Emma’s side, begging:

“He didn’t move, did he? He didn’t move, Emma?”

“Not as I seen, but twicest I sneezed and los’ him, Miss Ferguson. But
whin I got him back in, agin, he was settin’ jes th’ same and writin’
away … liken he is….”

Sally grabbed the binoculars and twisted them painstakingly as she
placed the strap over her head. If he hadn’t moved, then perhaps … but
he might have heard the loud Speaker and gone to a ’phone while Emma was
sneezing … would the loud speaker penetrate into that cupola…?

When she focused the figure again she began scrutinizing it. He had
turned. Only his back and high shoulder … but the distance from his
ear to his collar wasn’t wasn’t….

Nobody but Cub had shoulders like that! Nobody except Cub sat that
way….

There was only one Cub Sterling in the world and in spite of every
little thing which wasn’t right this was he. And if he sat in that chair
another ten minutes she would never walk and talk again … and if he
didn’t sit there but came to her….

She staggered back at that thought and Emma ran to her.

“Don’t git yourself so excited, dearie. What’s that big-headed man to
you? He ain’t nuthin’ but a doctor’s helper, doin’ his regular….”

Sally kept the glasses carefully focused and said, quite calmly:

“Did you ever seen him before, Emma?”

“Not as I kin recklek. But thin I ain’t no jedge. I ain’t no crazier
’bout lookin’ at hossbittles thin I is ’bout bein’ in thim, Miss
Ferguson. I tell you lots of my frin’s done gone up to thet hossbittle
and ain’t never bin heard frum since. Ef a body’s goin’ to die, he’s
goin’ die, hossbittle or no hossbittle, I says. Look at my boy en the
Argonah! I recklek whin he got hurt in a football scrimpage, over at
Western High and they tried to take him to….”

Her chatter, like water in a distant bathtub during a bad dream,
splashed past Sally’s brain. Then it ceased to register, for the man at
the table had risen and was opening a drawer in the medicine cabinet.

And hope sprang suddenly high in Sally’s heart. His shoulders squared
and were flat! Cub stooped….

But the shape of the head and the way the hair curled at the back of the
neck sickened her, horribly. It was only when he reached in a hip pocket
and drew out a handkerchief … Cub carried his in his white coat breast
pocket….

Then he reached back toward the table for the hypodermic syringe, and
held it up to the light again…. And his left shoulder rose … and
Sally Ferguson’s eyes floated hopelessly, the stiff tensity of her body
began to relax … she staggered forward….

Coming up the hall was the sound of running feet and they sounded like
the feet of running men….

The door swung open. The note of relief in Cub Sterling’s voice as he
said “Salscie!” stiffened her relaxing muscles and gave her the power to
turn.

Matthew Higgins had come out of the Administration Building as the long,
lank body of Cub Sterling shot into a taxi at the stand.

Higgins had jumped another cab.

Sally Ferguson turned and swayed toward Sterling as Matthew Higgins
stepped inside the door and it was he who caught the incredulity, the
anguish, the blind hope of her voice.

“Cub! Are you _really_ Cub?”

As Sterling reached her his voice was stern.

“What is it? You _must_ tell me,” his eyes cut into her clouding ones
and Matthew Higgins stepped alongside and said curtly:

“Poison her too?”

Sally Ferguson’s lids began lowering and she gasped, holding up the
glasses with her ebbing strength:

“Look, Cub! The cu-po-la!”

The words faded with her closing eyes, and the final horror in them made
Cub Sterling lay her head against his chest, place his long arms under
her breasts and raise the binoculars, which were still suspended around
her neck.

“Lan’ sakes. It’s only a man. Jes, a doctor’s helper. And I seys….”
Emma had found her voice at last, but Cub Sterling cut in:

“God Almighty! Look! And tell me what you….”

His words were directed toward Emma.

Matthew Higgins took the glasses from Cub’s hands and Sally’s neck
before Cub said, “Tell me….” The expression on his face had convinced
Higgins that he saw … something … vile.




A silence, like the high hysteria after a buoy-bell, spread over the
waiting doctor. His eyes, livid with fear, turned upon the florid, gray
figure of Matthew Higgins. And it was Higgins’ voice that brought Sally
Ferguson out of her purple palaces. Its steadiness was more hysterical
than any word that had been uttered.

“A man with his head turned away from me … sitting at a small table
writing in a book, his left shoulder is … he is reaching for a
hypodermic syringe and holding it up and…. The murderer! … The
murderer! The crazy doctor! The other Cub Sterling!”

The glasses hit the floor with a thud and Matthew Higgins started down
the hallway before Cub Sterling and Sally Ferguson turned around. He
must reach Snod … reach Snod. In the same legal offices from which
Sally had telephoned he grabbed the receiver and ordered:

“Elijah Wilson Hospital, immediately!”

“Number? Number? Number?”

“Give it to me. I don’t know it.”

Sally reached the doorway and sighed:

“Wilson 2000.”

When the connection was through Higgins rasped:

“Dr. Henry MacArthur.”

The nasal whine of the placid operator came back:

“Dr. MacArthur’s ’phone doesn’t answer.”

“Then give me Ward B, Medicine Clinic.”

“We never connect ‘outside’ with the wards.”

“To hell with you!” Higgins threw the ’phone from him and followed the
running figure of Cub Sterling toward the elevator shaft. Sally Ferguson
eased in as the door slipped to, and said to the operator:

“Will, non-stop one. For God’s sake, quick!”

Higgins’ head cleared. “Who is he?” Cub nodded vacantly.

As they ran from the building Cub Sterling jumped in beside the driver
of a cruising taxi and ordered:

“Elijah Wilson. To hell with traffic lights! Five dollars if you do it
in two minutes!”

Matt Higgins pulled Sally Ferguson into the back seat and slammed the
door.

They began their wild, uphill snaking in and out.

Matt Higgins said:

“If we are not there in seconds, that devil will be…. Who is it,
Sterling?”

Cub took his panic-stricken eyes from the approaching hospital and said:

“I don’t know, Mr. Immer….”

“Higgins. Hired by Dr. MacArthur to … a New York dick, doc.”

Sally’s “Oh” was spontaneous.

Higgins turned and smiled.

“But it took a lady…!”

The cab drew up at the hospital. Cub Sterling was out and up the steps
before the driver applied the brakes. Matt Higgins tossed him the money
and he and Sally caught Cub before he was halfway up the main staircase
in the Administration Building. They reached the second floor and ran
around the octagonal railing, through which Sally caught a glimpse of
the statue of Elijah Wilson, far below, and on to the third floor. There
Cub turned, wild eyed.

“Damn it!”

“Which way?” Higgins demanded.

“I don’t know…. I’ve never been….”

Higgins began systematically opening doors and looking for an outlet.
Little streams of late afternoon sun filtered through the cracks. The
hospital was deathly still. All of the people off duty were preparing to
go to Rose Standish’s funeral.

Sally’s hands continued wringing themselves, and she begged:

“Cub, isn’t there some way … another stairs, Cub?”

He swirled without a word and ran down to the second floor again.
Higgins and Sally followed, hopefully.

Another stairs … behind the pharmacy … where Rose Standish had
kissed his interne … perhaps that went up as well as down….

They reached the door that opened onto the enclosed stairway. Cub pulled
the knob savagely. The door flew open. He peered into the darkness.
Matthew Higgins thick body brushed him aside. The detective pushed onto
the narrow landing and struck a match. Caticornered from the stairway
that led down to the pharmacy, a rusty door-knob caught the reflection.

“Locked!” his discovery was like a curse.

Sally stood in the doorway that led to the second floor and moaned.
Fatigue. Blinding fatigue was beginning to….

Cub Sterling moved over to Higgins’ side and said “Let’s bust it!”

They propped their feet upon the opposite wall and laid their shoulders
against the flimsy panels. The match was out and the veins in their
necks began choking them.

Far down below Sally heard the clanking bell of an approaching
ambulance; it hid the scrunching of the wood from her ears.

She stepped onto the landing and tried to see. Before her eyes were
accustomed to the dark, the heavy breathing of the two men seeped into
her like a narcotic. She lay weakly against the wall.

The breathing had ceased for half a second before she opened her eyes.
Through the final screech of the bulging door she heard Higgins’ voice.

“Footprints!”

He and Cub were through the hole and halfway up the narrow, winding
stairway. She could see Higgins’ match ahead as she scrambled through
the jagged panelling.

The steps were high and horrible. She lost all light when Higgins
rounded the turn. When she staggered up, again, Higgins had his hand
upon a knob and was ordering, in the heavy darkness:

“Stand over there, Sterling!” and then, “It opens out and is….”

He turned the knob, and a rush of yellow sunlight filled the twisting
stairs. They pushed on into it. The last three steps extended past the
cupola door and into the octagonal room.

Higgins, Cub and Sally stood upon these steps and looked.

Their gray, brown and violet eyes mirrored beside the white medicine
case, a raised glass in hand, the counterpart of Cub Sterling … gone
insane.

The late afternoon sun played upon the bushy hair, upon the similar, yet
dissimilar faces. It caught each feature, as it catches mountain crags
and emphasized it. The same white coat, the same carriage, but not the
same eyes.

It was the eyes which froze all three spectators into a paralyzed
horror. They were the color of Cub Sterling’s, except that they centered
upon his own eyes with a blistering, venomous, consuming hate, and that
hate was confirmed in the crooked, violent twist of the almost rigid
lips.

The lips opened, the man gave his left shoulder the hysterical twist and
drained the glass, but even with his head thrown back, his eyes bored
into and scorched the brain of Cub Sterling, and held Matthew Higgins
inert with horror.

It was Sally’s, “Peaches! I smell peaches!” that brushed past their
fear.

“Cyanide!”

As Cub barked the word, the tall man stiffened gauntly, his eyes still
intent upon Sterling’s; then his body, like a palm tree in a hurricane,
cracked suddenly forward.

The medicine cabinet was within ten feet of the steps upon which
Higgins, Cub and Sally stood, and the man fell so that his head just
brushed the railing. His hands automatically spread through the railing
and caught Sterling’s knee.

The fall threw his hair forward and Matthew Higgins snapped:

“Who is he?”

Cub’s eyes began disentangling themselves from the glassy vileness of
the dead man’s stare. Matthew Higgins reached down and savagely yanked
at the stiffening hands around Cub’s knees.

Sterling, his own hands gripping the railing for support, endeavored
vainly to make his reeling mind bring his tortured eyes into focus.

Matthew Higgins threw the dead man’s hand heavily back upon the floor;
the body rolled half over.

Higgins rasped:

“Doctor who?”

Cub’s brain snapped. His eyes focused.

“God! Baldy! It’s Baldy!”

He lay upon the railing and carefully repeated in a dead monotone:

“Baldy Rath … bone … Baldy….”

“Who’s he?”

The sentence did not cut through and Higgins bellowed into Cub’s ear:

“Doctor Rathbone … who’s he?”

It reached. Cub stood straight and clipped:

“Baldy Rathbone. Not doctor. Chief pharmacist of the Elijah Wilson. But
why in God’s name! Baldy Rathbone!”

The incredulity returned. He looked again at the inert body with its
eerie features.

Higgins nodded slowly….

The long hair had flopped so that the wide part again led to the shiny
spot….

“The book!”

When the sentence finally reached Sally’s lips, it whipped both Sterling
and Higgins into action. They ran across the room and the sun took their
gray and brown heads and played upon them. Through the cob-webbed
windows it shone with prismatic beauty onto the now expressionless face
of the dead man.

A terrible desire to get away from that hideous beauty gave Sally the
will to mount the remaining steps and run to the table and to Cub.

Through the single open window, the late spring breeze played gently. It
brought a hush to the horror-stricken air and a single fly entered, flew
directly to the dead man’s face and began walking upon his crooked lips,
up his relaxed cheek and around his glassy eyes.

Matthew Higgins held, in his blunt hairy hand, a small stiff-backed
notebook, such as the Elijah Wilson used for ward-addresses. The back
was checkered and the pages ruled. It was open at a half-written page.
The ink was still wet and the small, finely formed script stood out
heavily.

Cub read over his shoulder:

“Cupola…. May 19th, 3:55 P. M. I have just failed to administer to
the patient in Bed 11, Ward B, Medicine Clinic, a hypodermic of
coniine. She opened her eyes suddenly and recognized me as … Cub
Sterling! Nothing could be more fortunate.

“Beforehand I presented to Bessie Ellis my usual token. I was followed
by an orderly whom I suspect as a detective. I got away … but at
last … at last … my brother may be arrested…. It has worked,
perfectly!”

“My God! Lil!” Higgins said savagely as he dropped the book onto the
plain deal table.

Nobody paid him any attention.

Cub Sterling said, “‘My brother?’”

And Sally Ferguson picked up the book and began reading aloud from the
first page. Her voice was thin and pointed and she read:

“In 1883 there came to Heidelberg as a medical student a young
American named Ethridge Sterling. He had studied at the Hotel Dieu and
in New York. He lived at the Eagle Inn and attended lectures in
surgery under Klotz.

“As a chambermaid at the Eagle Inn, there was a young Bavarian girl,
Gretchen Seinrich. She was fair to gaze upon and full of country
spirits.”

Cub Sterling had sat down, his head buried in his cupped hands. Matthew
Higgins rested against a corner of the table. He was suddenly old. Lil
Parkins … for many years….

They both listened, vacant of expression, and at the same time horrified
with interest, to Sally’s voice:

“From the spring of 1883 to the fall of 1884 young Sterling prevailed
upon Gretchen Seinrich to live with him and she did so. I like to
believe they were in love. I know she always was in love with him.

“In October 1884, Sterling was suddenly called back to New York by the
unexpected death of his father. He promised to write. He never did so.
He promised to send his address. He did not do so.

“The last night he spent in Heidelberg he spent with her. While she
was still asleep he arose and wrote the note containing all of the
above promises, and before she woke he had packed and gone….

“And I was conceived….

“She returned to Bavaria and went to work as a seamstress. After my
birth, my mother determined to come to America and find my father …
and so she went to work at a more profitable profession … the
oldest.”

The utter and terrible stillness of Cub Sterling was more frightful than
any words would have been.

“Go on!” Matthew Higgins was relentless and Sally continued.

“It took three years to earn enough money to come to America and then
it took years of blind wandering to reach this hospital and….

“When she reached it, her great love had grown, through endless pain
and privation, to a great bitterness. She determined to reveal the
Great Dr. Sterling and ruin him, and by mistake when she asked to see
him, she was taken, instead, to his father-in-law, Dr. Jemison, and it
was through the door of Dr. Jemison’s office that she saw Ethridge
Sterling standing with his arm around Dr. Jemison’s daughter.

“She had a heart attack. Dr. Jemison pronounced her dead, and she was
carted back through the dispensary door and handed over to a German
Society for burial. The president of the society was Otto Weber. He
burned her papers and I, then nine, was put into an orphan asylum.

“My father was already famous. He was Otto’s best customer. But what
we learn in the first eight years of our lives … if it is bitter …
we never forget….

“At the asylum we had candy at Christmas and mush for breakfast, and
the Elijah Wilson operated upon us, free, when necessary. I remember
quite vividly when I was operated upon. Double hernia, and endless
pain, and a dispensary consultation. Dr. Sterling was designated to do
the operation.

“Upon the day slated, his son was born and my case was turned over to
an assistant resident. A man killed in the War….”

“Fegus,” Cub’s voice was low.

“The doctor had never done the operation before. I was his first …
the incisions were too deep.

“I lost my mother before I really knew her and my manhood before it
began….

“I lost both of them because my father was Dr. Ethridge Sterling, of
the famous hands.

“At sixteen, when the boys in the orphanage discovered my inabilities,
I determined to ruin my father … and began studying pharmacy with an
idea of becoming connected, eventually, with his hospital.

“The orphanage farmed me out to a pharmacist. Otto Weber had become a
political influence. I went to him and worked upon his sentiment. It
was he, and the excellency of my work … and why not? I am the son of
Dr. Sterling … that persuaded the Attorney-General to recommend me
to Dr. Barton and Dr. MacArthur as assistant pharmacist.

“I passed my state boards brilliantly. I entered the pharmacy of the
Elijah Wilson, the same year that Cub Sterling entered medical school.

“He spent ten years studying the science of medicine. I spent those
ten years perfecting myself in the science of murder. At first I
intended murdering the patients of my father, slowly, occasionally,
over a period of years. Then I perceived if I waited until Wilkins
died, became promoted as Chief Pharmacist and murdered my brother’s
patients, I would doubly ruin my father….

“Then the gods smiled…! Through the losing of my top hair, I,
unconsciously, grew a nickname. For five years now, I have catered to
that nickname. I shaved my center part to accentuate my bald spot. I
pomaded my long front hair, which naturally is curly as my brother’s,
to slick behind my ears … to change my forehead line.

“There is not a famous doctor around this hospital who would not
testify as to my baldness….

“Around a hospital where so many people are constantly passing at
stated intervals to stated places, the eyes of even a good observer
become dulled into ‘seeing,’ when a person resembling a familiar
doctor passes at an unexpected time, that doctor!

“It is upon that knowledge, a sudden assumption of my brother’s queer
angularity, and the combing of my recently washed hair to cover my
bald spot, that I have built my resemblance … not upon the
features….

“Some day I shall be caught. When I am caught my father will be caught
also.”

“Is that all?” Higgins was still relentless….

Cub Sterling’s head jerked up from his folded arms and he said:

“God! It’s enough!”

Sally Ferguson’s voice out into him:

“There is a diary of the murders, too.”

Both men rose and came to her side. Their movement disturbed the fly and
he began circling around the dead man’s head.

Sally’s voice drowned out his buzzing.

“Cupola, Friday, May 13th … 1:00 A.M. I have just committed my first
murder upon the patient in Bed 11, Ward B. I know I have just
completed it, because I filled, myself, the prescription to which I
added Datura stramonium. The medicine was to be administered at
midnight. The dose should, with the heavy bromide I included, have
acted in an hour. It is unexpected and therefore not likely to cause
an autopsy.

“The patient is one of my father’s and also under the care of my
brother.

“And she is now dead.”

“Cupola, Sunday, May 15th … 1:00 A.M. The murder of the second
patient in Bed 11, Ward B, is now completed. I tripled the
prescription dose of Digitalis. It was to be administered at 12 M.

“She is a patient of my brother and observed by my father. Though
autopsy is performed the condition of the organs will be such as not
to suggest chemical analysis. Therefore I am protected.

“So far suspicion is not aroused, but patience is not a virtue in
which I have been lacking. It takes time to make a reputation and time
… to … my candle is almost gone….”

“Cupola, Tuesday, May 17th … 1:15 A. M. I have just returned from
Ward B where by the use of coniine administered with a hypodermic
syringe, I have murdered the patient in Bed 11. My first traceable
murder. Peters and Paton nearly caught me. If murdering ugly women is
so much pleasure; a pretty woman…. Tonight I began an intriguing
custom. I left upon the crib of Bessie Ellis a Ma-ma doll.

“Miss Kerr was on the ward at the time. She is stealing morphia again.
So … even should she have recognized me, she will deny all
knowledge. Most fortunate!

“The staff meeting yesterday, at which my brother escaped all censure,
forces me into action. This autopsy will reveal murder and begin, I
hope, the suspicion. My plan is working splendidly! But why not?
Fifteen years’ patient study are behind it. I am tired and it is
late…. Seeing Peters and Paton was luck….”

“My eyes … I can’t….” Sally wailed.

Matthew Higgins took the book from her hands; the fading light was
eerie. Cub Sterling put his arms around the girl and drew her into his
lap. She began to shiver and Higgins read:

“Cupola, Wednesday, May 18th … 1:30 A.M. The Gods are on my side. I
have just murdered Rose Standish. She was a pretty woman, and my
father had ordered a sleeping potion … then he came by and asked me
privately to make it bread pills. I did … plus an African sleeping
drug. Ah! the murder drugs are so fascinating and Heddis searched for
the obvious potions, only.

“Ah, luck! Ah, irony! Bear Sterling helping his illegitimate son to
ruin his legitimate one.

“Rose Standish was asleep by midnight. The student nurse nearly caught
me. It was exciting! She will testify against my brother.

“Yesterday I was called before the staff to check drugs after Heddis
settled upon coniine. It is all so damnably easy. Of course no house
sold the supply. I made it from the hemlock I gathered in the
mountains of Pennsylvania when I was east on vacation. I had thought
so long about what to use. Something which we did not keep in the
pharmacy. I used to think something untraceable … and then when I
met Heddis I saw he would discover….

“Then coniine came to me. Out of a volume of Plato I found in a
pullman seat in the Broad Street Station coniine came to me. Coniine,
such a word! Coniine!

“The suspicion is growing. My brother and my father are panicky.

“I put another doll upon Bessie’s crib. I passed no one in the
corridor. Rose Standish was a pretty woman….”

“Crazy. Dead crazy!”

Higgins’ nerves were jumpy too.

“Anything else?” Cub’s voice had become relentless, now.

“Yes?”

“Cupola, Wednesday, May 18th, Noon. My father has pneumonia and will
die without the knowledge of my brother’s ruination unless I act
quickly.

“There must be a daylight murder within the next twenty-four hours. If
there is no patient in Bed 11, then upon the patient in a
corresponding bed upon another floor.

“Before he dies, my brother must be under arrest….

“It will take careful planning to execute a daylight murder … but
years of careful planning prepare one….”

“God! It makes me sick to read it! Lil Parkins, the best woman….”

“A detective you put in the bed…?”

Higgins nodded flatly, and turned the pages. At the back of the book was
written, upon the stiff cover:

_Murder Chart_:

May 13th, 1:00 A. M.—goitre—E.S. & E.S. Jr.—Datura stramonium
May 15th, 1:00 A. M.—heart—E.S. & E.S. Jr.—overdose Digitalis
May 17th, 1:15 A. M.—operative E.S. obs. S. Jr.—Coniine
May 18th, 1:30 A. M.—nurse—E.S. Jr. obs. E.S.—Coniine
May 19th, 3:40 P. M.—heart—House & E.S. Jr.—failed to murder but
ruined E.S. Jr.

The sunset breeze wound in the window and loosened the bands of Higgins’
heated brain, and the hysterical tears of Sally Ferguson. She buried her
head in Cub’s shoulder and sobbed horribly.

Her sobs were long and rending and they forced Matthew Higgins into
instant action. He struck a match, tore the pages from the front of the
blank book and put them over the match.

The yellow-red flames ran up the crinkling paper as Cub Sterling’s legs
began untangling themselves and he threw Sally aside.

“Aw, what’s the use?” Higgins’ gray eyes shot into Cub. “He’s dead and
your father’s dying. The body and the murder chart’s all we need.”

The contact with Cub had revived Sally’s fight.

“How can we stop _The Call_?”

Higgins snapped around.

“Who owns it?”

Cub was half across the room toward Sally. He swerved.

“Barton told me half an hour ago that the Attorney-General had just
bought it…. Now I see….” His voice shattered.

Sally ran toward him. Higgins pushed a chair under his bending legs.

The fly rose from the dead man’s face and slipped with the curling smoke
out of the open window toward the distant river.