The Letter in the Mail by Alfred Plowman
Crook

The Letter in the Mail

by Alfred Plowman

Detective Story Magazine | Jan. 5, 1916 | Vol. 6, No. 1 THE RED FILE | Jun. 18, 2017 | Vol. 4 No. 13 Casefile No: 55ccf75fb3901011515aef17

Confession may be good for the soul but when bank clerk Philip Moore confesses his crime to his boss, will he find redemption or death?

Table of Contents

The Crime

It was Saturday morning, and the hands on the dial of the great clock in the main banking room of the Third National stood at half past eleven.

Before the windows of each of the three paying tellers was a long line of impatient customers, cashiers of commercial firms, paymasters of factories, and the usual miscellany of the weekend. Some had checks in their hands which they fingered nervously; some shifted restlessly from foot to foot; all kept glancing impatiently down the line, half angry when a customer delayed a teller for a moment more than seemed necessary.

The line before the window of teller No. 1 was unusually troublesome. Teller No. I, as the brass sign in the window announced, was Mr. Haskell, a middle-aged man with thinnish light hair on the top of his head, which made his forehead seem very high. He had watery blue eyes, a fair complexion, and when he was nervous or excited the blood would mount from his throat to the high wall of his forehead, seeming to lose itself under the thin strands of his carefully parted hair.

Mr. Haskell was a bachelor, had been with the bank for many years, and was head paying teller. Because the other tellers worked under him, he occupied cage No. 1; and because cage No. I was nearest to the door, Mr. Haskell handled more customers than any of the other tellers.

On this Saturday morning the line before window No. I was so troublesome that even such an experienced teller as Mr. Haskell was to be excused for becoming peevish. The next man in line stepped up and pushed a check under the bars. "Good morning! Five hundred in twenty-dollar gold pieces."

Mr. Haskell grunted and looked up. The man was paymaster of a large hat factory. "Confound it! Everybody wants what I haven't got! Won't twenty-dollar bills do?"

"No. The directors voted tokens of appreciation to the old employees. My special instructions were to pay it in gold."

Mr. Haskell glanced at his stack of gold pieces. "I haven't got it here. I'll have to go down to the vault." The line moved angrily.

"Confound it all! Look at the string—and almost twelve!" He picked up his bunch of keys, and turned around—paused—then threw the keys upon a desk in the corner of the cage, where a young man sat, listing checks on an adding machine. "Go down to my vault, Moore, and bring up that sack of gold lying on the floor just inside the door."

He turned to the window again. "Step aside, please; he'll be back in a moment." The next man in line moved up and laughed. Mr. Haskell looked at him, saw that his eyes were directed to the corner of the cage, and glanced around. The assistant teller sat at his desk, immovable, his hand poised over the keyboard of the machine, his eyes fixed on the bunch of keys. "Looks like he's hypnotized," said the man.

"Well, well, get busy, Moore!" ordered Mr. Haskell sharply.

"Yes, sir—yes, sir!" And the young man sprang up, a frightened look on his white face. Mr. Haskell eyed him a moment, undecided, then turned reluctantly to the window again.

The young man pressed back the spring lock on the door in the rear of the cage, and passed out. He threaded his way through the maze of bookkeepers' desks, the bunch of keys clasped in his hand, his eyes fixed straight before him. He knew now that he would do it—knew that he had always thought of doing it—knew that he had only been waiting a favorable moment. The plan which had been lurking in the hidden chambers of his mind sprang into sudden birth, and he was powerless before the strong temptation.

He passed down the steps to the basement, where the vaults were located. As he approached, the bunch of keys swinging from his hand, the watchman rolled back the iron gate, and admitted him to the vault room. Before him was an immense cavern, with the great door of many tons thrown wide open. He stepped inside—into the money vault—into the very heart of the bank.

The vault was divided into compartments, each a miniature vault in itself, guarded by a steel door which closed with lock and key. In some were kept the reserve funds of the bank—currency and securities. There was a compartment, also, for each of the tellers, and the first one on his right was Mr. Haskell's. He inserted the key into the lock and threw open the door.

When he had done this he was completely shielded from outside observation, as the door of the subvault extended more than halfway across the main entrance.

As he stood there, packages of money stacked high on the shelves—money in sacks—bills, gold, silver—the very air freighted with its odor—as he stood thus, a dizziness seized upon him. Impulse—that destroyer of multitudes of men—laid its hot hand upon his reason. He fought against it—hesitated—yielded.

With eager, trembling fingers, he unbuttoned his office coat, then his vest, then his shirt. He tightened the belt around his waist, reached up to the topmost shelf, and from the farthest corner took a bundle of bills. The top one was for fifty dollars, and upon the bands which held the package together was stamped two thousand dollars. He slipped the bundle inside his shirt, and reached up again, then again and again, until he had seven packages pressed close against his body.

Afraid that more might bulk too large and arouse suspicion, he quickly buttoned his shirt and vest and coat, ran his hands over himself to feel that the bundles lay flat and even, and stooped to pick up the sack of gold.

In that moment of stooping, a lightning flash of reason illumined the madness of his act. Outraged conscience sprang up in arms. He saw himself a malefactor, the hand of society against him, branded a felon by the law, lashed by the scourge of his own guilt. He straightened up, and began to tear open his coat; then he heard voices without the vault.

"I say, Tom, did you see Moore down here?"

"Yes; he's inside the vault," replied the watchman.

Footsteps approached. Moore hastily buttoned his coat, and reached for the sack of gold. The head of an office boy appeared in the doorway, "Say, Moore, old Haskell's about to have a fit upstairs. He sent me to look for you," said the boy, with a grin.

Moore did not answer. He closed the door, locked it, and, with the bag of money in his hand, he left the vault. Fate had intervened. One mad moment had changed the course of his life.

At the rattling of the cage door, Mr. Haskell stepped back and released the lock.

"It took you a long time!" he grumbled, taking the sack and keys from the young man's hand.

Moore muttered something about "stopped to get a drink of water," and, taking his seat at the desk, resumed his operations on the adding machine.

Soon the hands on the great clock touched twelve, and the official banking day was over. The last few stragglers were served. Mr. Haskell hung out the tin sign bearing the word "Closed" before his window, and began to count his cash. Moore worked steadily away on the machine. The other tellers, their currency counted, turned out the lights in their cages, and carried their trays of money down to their compartments in the vault. One by one the clerks and bookkeepers, through with the day's work, left the building.

Presently Mr. Haskell stepped back and looked down the line of darkened cages. "All gone, eh? Great Scott, this was a beastly day! I'm glad tomorrow's Sunday. About through, Moore?"

"Just finished," answered the assistant, clearing the machine.

"Good! Help me carry this stuff down to the vault. I've got to hurry. Got an engagement for two o'clock."

Moore picked up several sacks of money, and waited while Mr. Haskell turned out the light in the cage. They passed out into the deserted banking room.

"All right, Mr. Wade," said Mr. Haskell, as they passed the cashier's desk.

The three of them—Moore first with the bags of money, then Haskell carrying the tray of bills, last the cashier— descended to the vault room.

The Getaway

The trying moment had come. Moore hardly breathed with suppressed excitement. Haskell thrust the key into the lock of his compartment, and threw open the door. He placed his tray upon a shelf, then turned and took the sacks from Moore. These he put beside the tray. He stepped back, shut the door, and locked it. As they passed out of the vault, Moore drew a long breath, and wiped the sweat from his face.

The cashier was setting the time locks. "Forty-three and one-half hours, Mr. Haskell," he said, working on the dials.

"Right!"

The watchman swung the ponderous door into place. The cashier laid hold on the wheel and turned it. There was a clicking of bolts, a falling of levers into place, and Moore knew that until half past eight Monday morning his secret was safe.

He wished the others "Good night" in a strange, unnatural voice. His lips were so dry that they cracked as he parted them to speak. He went upstairs to the lockers, put on his hat and coat, and five minutes later was on the street.

As he passed down the crowded sidewalk he was conscious of a curious sense of elation which mingled strangely with the hateful torture of his thoughts. Did he not have pressed warm and close against his body what all this hurrying throng was striving for? Money—money! Truly it was money made the world go round. He had it—it was his—a fortune—thousands of dollars. Power was his. Freedom was his. Could he keep them ? He smiled grimly at the thought.

His plan began to shape itself in his mind. He would take a train to Philadelphia in order to baffle pursuit, and at once embark for South America. By midnight he would be miles out on the Atlantic. With forty hours' start, he should be able to elude the hue and cry. He stepped into a cigar store and telephoned the railroad ticket office. A train left for Philadelphia at four o'clock. He had no time to lose.

He boarded a street car, and in twenty minutes dismounted at his corner. He walked halfway up the block, ran quickly up a flight of stone steps to the door, and thrust his key into the lock. As he opened the door he was met by the dank, musty smell peculiar to boarding houses of the second class.

He glanced down the empty hall, then, softly closing the door, he tiptoed to the stairway, and cautiously ascended to the second floor.

Safely in his own room, he locked the door, and, taking a cigarette box from his pocket, placed the last cigarette it held between his lips, and threw the empty box into a corner.

For a moment he stood puffing rapidly, his face pale and nervously twitching, his hand trembling as he took the cigarette from his feverish lips. At last he unbuttoned his shirt and took the money, package by package, from its hiding place, throwing it upon a small center table.

When he had taken it all out, he sank down upon a chair and stared at it.

And so it was for this—this handful of faded and dirty bills—that he had bartered his honor, his peace of mind, his quietude of soul? For this he had become an outcast, a wanderer upon the face of the earth! Who for all this wealth would give him back the right to walk with honest men? How now could he look upon the world and say that it was good? All was black and murky, discolored by the guilt upon his soul. He laughed aloud discordantly, and rocked his body to and fro in an agony of vain remorse.

If only the boy had stayed away one little moment longer! If only one of the other clerks had been sent for the gold! If only … Cursed, cursed fate that had conspired to undo him!

Once he thought of taking the money back and confessing. No, that was impossible. The irrevocableness of his act sickened him. How could he erase from men's minds the knowledge of his guilt ? Would they not rather pity him as a weak fool, too cowardly to carry out the thievery he had devised?

And the others—clerks, bookkeepers, tellers, Mr. Haskell, honest men all, poor, hard-working, struggling along on meager salaries, heads of families all—all—upon all would fall the shadow of his guilt. Mistrust would light upon all.

Once before a clerk had stolen, and had been detected. It took six months to dissipate the vague suspicion which hovered over the bank.

The Confession

Philip jerked upright in his seat, and seized a pad of paper which lay upon the table. He would do what he could in reparation. So far as lay within his power, he would make amends. Having no pen and ink, he took a lead pencil from his pocket and wrote:

Mr. Haskell: This letter will not be delivered to you before nine o'clock Monday morning, and by that time I will be out of reach. God help me, I cannot tell why I have done what I have done. It was a moment of madness. Already I repent and am miserable. I write you this, not in a spirit of bravado, but merely so that no innocent party shall suffer. I have no accomplices —no one else is guilty—I am alone. I hope that no one else will be implicated. I assume all responsibility. Thank you for past kindnesses.

Philip Moore.

He put the note in an envelope, which he addressed to Haskell, care City Bank.

He sealed the letter, feeling a warm glow of charity and good will run through him at the act of justice he had done. At least, he would bear the consequences of his wrongdoing. He felt almost heroic. His crime had been dignified. With returning ease of mind came thoughts of escape. He dragged a battered suit case from beneath the bed. Into this he packed the money, then filled the case with clothes from his trunk.

This done, he searched his pockets for a cigarette, then remembered that he had used the last one. He glanced at his watch. It was two o'clock. To idle away an hour or more without the solace of tobacco was impossible. He arose from his chair, and, picking up the letter, left the room, locking the door after him.

He dropped the letter into the mail box on the corner; then, as the lid fell with a clang, thought that he might just as well have waited until later. However, it did not matter—the bank's mail was not delivered until Monday morning. He purchased four packages of cigarettes from the corner druggist, and returned to his room. All was as he had left it.

The Discovery

He busied himself going through his trunk, seeing if there was anything else he cared to take, and burned a few letters. He moved about leisurely, taking a mental farewell of the cheap little room and its contents. He took a five-dollar bill from his pocket, and put it on the dresser for the landlady, then remembered that he would need money for his railroad and steamship tickets. It would not do to be always unpacking his bag.

Undoing the fastenings of the suit case, and, reaching under the clothing, he drew out a bundle of bills. He slipped ten or twelve bills from beneath the bands, and then—with mouth agape and starting eyeballs—stood looking at what he held. He dropped the package, and, in an ecstasy of madness, tore open the other bundles. All were the same. They were dummies. Some one had been before him. The top and the bottom bill of each package were genuine—all between were worthless.

He sank down upon the bed, and for a long time he sat staring straight before him, his mind a wild jumble of unmanageable thoughts. What did it mean? Who had done it? What was he to do with this secret he had stumbled on? Flight was impossible now that he had practically no money. Should he go back to the bank on Monday morning and resume his duties as usual? And then there flashed across his mind the remembrance of the letter he had posted.

With the thought he leaped to his feet in an agony of fear. He had convicted himself of a crime of which, though guilty in intention, he was almost guiltless of execution. The room swirled around him, and he was near to fainting; and then out of his madness came the way of escape. He would go to Mr. Haskell, confess all, and throw himself upon the teller's mercy. No other course was possible. There was nothing else to do.

In feverish haste, he crammed the bundles into the suit case, locked it, and thrust it beneath the bed. He left the room, locking the door after him, and almost ran to the corner drug store.

Moore was so nervous that he could hardly find the number in the telephone directory of the hotel where Mr. Haskell lived. It seemed an age before the operator gave him the connection. He was told by the clerk that Mr. Haskell was not in his room.

He remembered that the teller had spoken of an engagement for the afternoon. He left the drug store, and wandered up and down the street. In a half hour he tried again, with the same result. He kept on telephoning every half hour, but it was almost eight o'clock when he got Mr. Haskell on the wire.

"Hello, Mr. Haskell! This is Moore. I must see you at once—but it is most important; it's about the bank. I will come to your rooms—all right; I'll be there in twenty minutes."

Hanging up the receiver, he wiped the sweat from his forehead. A clerk was watching him curiously, but he paid no attention to him, and hastily left the store.

He boarded a street car, and stood on the rear platform, trying to think how he should word what he had to say. Mr. Haskell was a bachelor, with apartments at the Buckingham Hotel, he had told Philip over the telephone that he had an engagement for the evening, and the young man was in a turmoil of anxiety lest the teller leave his rooms before he could get to him.

At last he reached the hotel, and was shown to Mr. Haskell's rooms by a bell boy. He knocked upon the door with a hand that shook until his knuckles rattled against the panel.

The Confession, part 2

At the word to enter, he opened the door and stepped into the room. He was in a magnificently furnished library, or study, lined with books and pictures. The furniture was heavy and luxurious. In the center of the room stood a massive table, on which was an electrolier, whose colored globe threw the recesses of the room into shadow. Just beyond the table stood Mr. Haskell, in evening dress, a lighted match held to the cigar between his lips. Philip closed the door and crossed the room.

"Hello, Moore! What the deuce brings you here at this time of night? You'll have to make your visit short. I'm just going out."

Philip placed his hat upon the table, and, coming around, stood before his superior. "I'm sorry, Mr. Haskell, but I'm afraid that what I have to tell you will spoil your evening's pleasure. It's about the bank."

"Well, go on."

"Mr. Haskell, I've been a clerk at the Third National five years. I've always been honest, but lately something has been the matter with me. At first I had great hopes for the future, but advancement was slow—very slow. I didn't seem to attract much attention. I began to get discontented, and my life seemed gray and monotonous. Then there was the money—money everywhere. When a man gets to feeling like I did, he must watch himself all the time when there is money around.

"I can't tell you how I came to do it. I've been afraid of it for a long time. Several times I was on the point of giving up my position because I couldn't trust myself. I lost my head today, and did it."

"Did what?" asked Haskell, in a harsh voice.

"Stole. I had been thinking about it for six months—thinking that I would until I came to believe that I must. I tried to put the thought away from me, but I couldn't. The harder I tried to get it out of my mind the more I thought of it. By trying to reason myself into being an honest man, I badgered myself into being a thief. I'm sick—that's what I am—brain sick."

"Here's the deuce to pay!" ejaculated Haskell, pushing forward a couple of chairs. "Sit down. Why do you tell me this ? How much have you taken?"

"Next to nothing," replied Philip, sitting down on the edge of the chair, and boring one hand nervously into the other. "You remember when you sent me down for that bag of gold this morning?"

"Yes; go ahead."

"While I was in the vault I took seven bundles of bills from your compartment, and put them inside my shirt."

"Good Heavens!" Haskell leaned forward in his seat, the blood rushing up his face in waves, his eyes blazing.

"From where did you take this money?"

"From your reserve currency on the top shelf," answered Philip, watching the other in amazement.

Haskell leaped to his feet and paced the room, cursing under his breath, puffing furiously at his cigar. Philip watched him—astonished at the other's passion.

"Well, go ahead!" burst out Haskell, after a turn or two. "Don't sit there like a graven image! What next ? Did virtue triumph in the end?"

"No, sir, I'm sorry to say it didn't. I went home, fully resolved to take a steamer tonight and leave the country. When I got home I happened to open one of the bundles; then I opened them all. Mr. Haskell, some one has been tampering with your reserve funds. I had seven bundles of old Confederate bills. Only the top and bottom bills were genuine."

Haskell took out his handkerchief and wiped his face. "Good heavens, Moore, this is dreadful! Whom do you suspect?"

"Mr. Haskell, you don't know how glad I am to hear you say that. You believe what I am telling you?" asked Philip eagerly.

"Of course I believe you. If you were not speaking the truth you wouldn't be here. Why should I not believe you?"

Philip drew a long breath. "Thanks for your confidence. It makes the rest easy. I am sure you will help me."

"Why—what do you mean?"

"Before I discovered that the packages were dummies, I mailed a letter to you, confessing to the robbery and freeing any one else of suspicion."

"You—you did what?"

"Mailed you a confession. I didn't want any one else to bear the blame. The letter will be delivered to you Monday morning. I came here tonight to ask you to give it back to me—unopened."

"The letter is in the mail now?"

"Yes, sir."

The Discovery, Part 2

For fully a minute Haskell stood before Philip, staring into his face; then he turned away, put his cigar into his mouth, and, finding that it had burned out, lighted a fresh one. He walked up and down the room a few times; finally he came up to Philip, and, in slow, even words, said: "Moore, I am the man who tampered with the reserves."

"You!" cried Philip, staggering back.

"Yes, I. Do you think that no one ever steals except a professional thug and a half-starved forty-dollar-a-month clerk? I've lost money in speculation—all I had. Then I tried to get it back—with other people's money—like the fool I am! I fixed up the dummy packages, and stole from the reserve funds. I lost again, and stole more. I've lived in a hell for the past three months. Every time a teller asked me for money I thought I was discovered. Every time a bank examiner entered the door I broke into a cold sweat. At every meeting of the directors I had to half fill myself with whisky to brace myself for the shock I thought was coming. I've been walking the plank, and expected every moment to come to the end. Heavens! It's awful, awful, I tell you!"

The words rushed from his lips in a torrent, tripping over each other. He paced the room, carried away with excitement.

Philip stared at him, speechless. Haskell came quickly toward him, talking rapidly: "But that's all over now, Moore. We'll fix it—fix it so that we both get what we want. You— money. Me—peace."

They stood close together, staring each into the other's pale face.

"Don't you see?" breathed Haskell. "I'll give you a thousand dollars to-night. You can catch a steamer in an hour. Monday I'll express you nine thousand dollars to Paris. I'll take the money from the reserves. I've stolen so much now that a few thousand more will make no difference. I'll find excuses for your absence—lull suspicion—delay investigation. When you are safely out of reach I'll bring out your confession. Then we'll laugh at them, Moore—you in Paris—I here—safe—in peace!"

He sank down into a chair, and covered his face with his hands, his body shaken by a paroxysm of hysterical sobs.

Philip watched the bowed figure, striving to comprehend. At last—

"I'll not do it!" he burst out passionately. "I'll not do it!"

Haskell lowered his hands and looked blankly up.

"Not do it!"

Then, springing to his feet: "Why, you fool, weren't you going to steal the money?"

"Yes; but I didn't get away with it, and I'm glad of it. Do you think I want to change places with you? Did the money make you happy? Look at what you are now—a wreck, a liar, a thief, and a coward—yes, a coward. You want to shift the responsibility for what you have done to another. Bah! I'm a hundred times better man than you are. I accepted the consequences of my wrong; I even wrote a letter proclaiming myself the thief. I didn't shirk. I was willing to pay for what I had done."

"Curse your heroics! Will you do as I say?"

"No—once and for all—no!"

Haskell looked steadily at him for a moment; then, going to the door, he locked it, and put the key into his pocket. Coming back to the table, he pulled open a drawer, and took out a revolver.

"By Heaven, you will, though!" he said, with a snarl. "You'll take the money, and leave town tonight, or else tomorrow morning you'll be in jail."

"What do you mean?" stammered Philip, starting back.

"Simply that I'll have you arrested for stealing from the bank. Have you forgotten the confession you mailed me?"

"You wouldn't use that against me!" cried Philip wildly. "Why, I'll tell the truth! I'll tell them what you have told me tonight."

"That for what you'll tell them!" jeered Haskell, snapping his fingers. "Do you think they'll listen to you?"

"What is your word against mine, backed up by your written confession? I'll send you to the penitentiary for ten years."

"Let me out of here!" panted Philip, losing all self-control. "Let me out of here! I'll go to the postal authorities. I'll beg them to give me back the letter. You shan't have it."

"I will have it!" said Haskell coldly. "Now, sit down, and don't make a fool of yourself. Will you leave the city if I give you the money?"

"No—a thousand times!"

The Deal

'All right—now, listen to me. I'm going to keep you here all night. I have a lock box at the post office in which all my personal mail, even if it is addressed to me in care of the bank, is placed. I rented it to receive my numerous communications from bucket shops and stockbrokers. It would never do to have such mail coming to the bank. I had no idea it would serve me such a good turn as it has today. Early tomorrow morning I will send a bell boy down for the mail. When your confession is in my hands I'll give you one last chance to decide. If you refuse my offer, I'll have you arrested, and accuse you of the theft as certain as that my name is Wilbur Haskell. Now, that's all. There is no use arguing about this thing. Go into my bedroom if you like, and lie down. I'll sit up and watch. If you prefer to keep me company, all right."

He took off his dress coat, and, putting on a lounging robe which lay on a chair, he dropped the revolver into the capacious pocket of the gown. He brought cigars, cigarettes, and a decanter of brandy from a cellarette, and placed them upon the table.

"Sit down, Moore; we might as well be comfortable. We have a long wait before us." He drew a chair to the table, and poured out liquor for them both.

Philip sank down into a seat, his face white and agonized. "Mr. Haskell— please—please don't make me do this thing! Look at me! I'm not a thief. Think of the temptation, think of the gray sameness of my life! Give me another chance!"

Haskell slowly placed his glass upon the table. "What's the use, Moore? You would do it again. You talk about the sameness of your life. What about mine? You couldn't stand it for five years; I've been up against it for twenty. I tell you, it would get you again—a man can't fight it down forever. Now, what's the use of sitting there hugging up to your misery like a sick kitten to a hot brick? Here are your friends, my boy—make the most of them." He tapped his fingers on the decanter, then rattled the loose silver in his pocket. His manner and speech chilled Philip to the heart.

The hours dragged wearily into the past. Few noises came up from the street. Passing footsteps ceased to echo in the corridor. In the brooding silence the two men sat, Philip rousing himself now and then to make a plea for mercy, plunging back again into a sea of trouble at the cold, heartless reply to his appeal, struggling vainly in the net which enmeshed him. Haskell, sure of his power, watched his victim, now sneering, now snarling, now amused, now half angry. Then would come a long term of silence, broken only by the scratching of a match or the tinkle of a glass.

The east began to redden. Presently a beam of sunlight flashed into the room and put the electric light to shame. Haskell pushed back his chair and arose.

The Bellboy

"At last the day is here!"

He went to the window, and, raising it a little, stood drawing the crisp air into his lungs with thrown-out chest.

Philip watched him, his face gray and drawn from the long strain.

"Mr. Haskell," he asked, "do you still intend to do as you said you would?"

Haskell closed the window, and, coming to the table, turned out the electrolier. "I most assuredly do. Have you made up your mind?"

Philip did not answer, and after a moment's silence Haskell pressed a call for a bell boy. He came back to the table, and removed the decanter and glasses, whistling softly.

At a knock on the door, he took the key from his pocket, and opened the door a little way. "Oh, it's you, is it, Peter? I want you to bring me up some coffee and some sandwiches—any kind will do. Bring two cups and saucers, and come back here yourself."

In a few moments the boy returned with a coffee percolator and some sandwiches upon a tray. Haskell opened the door for him, and he brought the things forward to the table.

"Now, Peter," said Haskell, standing before the boy, with his hands in his pockets and a smile on his lips, "I want you to do something for me. Here is some money and a key. Take a taxicab, and go down to the post office. The key is for lock box No. 68. Open the box, and bring the mail here. You may keep the change. Hurry, now!"

When the boy had left the room Haskell started toward the door as if to lock it, then turned around, with a laugh. "No need to keep you under lock and key, eh, Moore? I guess you are just as anxious to stay as I am to have you."

He went to the percolator, and drew two cups of coffee.

"There's something will make things look brighter, Moore. Help yourself to sugar and cream.'' He took up a sandwich, and began to eat.

"Mr. Haskell," said Philip, with dry lips, pushing aside the cup, "this is a dreadful thing you are about to do. Do you realize that, either way, you are ruining my life?"

"Oh, come now; I'm only obeying the first law of nature. You don't suppose I am anxious to change all this" —waving his hand—"for a striped suit and a four-by-eight cell? You wouldn't, either. I wish you would take my advice and my—or, rather, the bank's— money, and make tracks for Europe. You've helped me out of a mess, and I appreciate it. I'm not a bad sort; I'm mighty sorry for you. But as long as it must be one of us, why, naturally I'd rather it would be you than me."

"But why me ?" asked Philip bitterly. "Why don't you play the man, and pay for it yourself? I haven't done you any wrong."

"Well, console yourself with the thought that it is often the innocent who suffer. I'm not going to argue my actions on moral grounds. I'm satisfied with results as they are." He lighted a cigarette, and sipped his coffee.

The Letter

Philip arose, and began to pace the floor. " As he neared the door he heard a step in the corridor, then a knock. Instantly he called out: "Is that you, Peter?"

"Yes, sir."

"How many letters have you ?"

"Three, sir."

"One addressed in pencil—the stamp upside down?"

"Yes, sir."

"Remember that letter!"

He turned around, and faced Haskell. The teller was on his feet, his revolver leveled at Philip.

"Get away from that door!" Haskell snarled under his breath.

Philip's face was white, and the hand of death seemed on his heart. He did not move.

"Get away from that door, or I'll kill you!"

"You wouldn't dare! They'd know the letter wasn't in your hands."

Haskell's face was fearfully distorted. His eyes seemed starting from his head. He had the appearance of a man completely unnerved. The crisis had taken him off his guard.

Philip backed slowly toward the door, keeping his eyes fixed on the spasmodically working face of Haskell. It was horrible—the sight of this man trying to work himself up to the point of killing another man.

"You don't dare shoot!" Philip spoke in a whisper, forcing the thought rather than the words across the space which separated them. "You don't dare! You're a coward—that's what you are. You're afraid of blood—red blood. You're a coward—a coward!"

His hand slid along the door and found the knob.

"You haven't got the nerve to shoot! It's an awful thing to kill a man. You see the death watch—the little door—the chair." He turned the doorknob slowly. "And then you're a coward—don't forget—a coward!"

He waited.

"My God, you're right! I can't!" The cry was wrung from Haskell's agonized lips. "I can't—I can't!"

He turned suddenly and rushed toward the bedroom, stumbled blindly, cursing incoherently, the revolver clutched tightly in his hand.

Philip jerked open the door, and, seizing the startled bell boy, pulled him into the room. "Get the police—quick! Something—something dreadful will happen!"

He grasped the letters from the boy's hand, then pushed him toward the door.

Suddenly a shot, rang out from the inner room, followed by a groan and the crash of a heavy fall. Then silence. Philip stared into the blanched face of the boy. A wreath of blue smoke floated through the bedroom doorway.

~ The End ~

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