An American Tragedy Chapter 42

Two letters, which arrived at this time and simultaneously, but accentuated the difficulty of all this.

Pine Point Landing, June 10


How is my pheet phing? All whytie? It’s just glorious up here. Lots of people already here and more coming every day. The Casino and golf course over at Pine Point are open and lots of people about. I can hear Stuart and Grant with their launches going up toward Gray’s Inlet now. You must hurry and come up, dear. It’s too nice for words. Green roads to gallop through, and swimming and dancing at the Casino every afternoon at four. Just back from a wonderful gallop on Dickey and going again after luncheon to mail these letters. Bertine says she’ll write you a letter to-day or tomorrow good for any week-end or any old time, so when Sonda says come, you come, you hear, else Sonda whip hard. You baddie, good boy.

Is he working hard in the baddie old factory? Sonda wisses he was here wiss her instead. We’d ride and drive and swim and dance. Don’t forget your tennis racquet and golf clubs. There’s a dandy course on the Casino grounds.

This morning when I was riding a bird flew right up under Dickey’s heels. It scared him so that he bolted, and Sonda got all switched and scratched. Isn’t Clydie sorry for his Sonda?

She is writing lots of notes to-day. After lunch and the ride to catch the down mail, Sonda and Bertine and Nina going to the Casino. Don’t you wish you were going to be there? We could dance to “Taudy.” Sonda just loves that song. But she has to dress now. More to-morrow, baddie boy. And when Bertine writes, answer right away. See all ’ose dots? Kisses. Big and little ones. All for baddie boy. And wite Sonda every day and she’ll write ’oo.

More kisses.

To which Clyde responded eagerly and in kind in the same hour. But almost the same mail, at least the same day, brought the following letter from Roberta.

Biltz, June 10th.


I am nearly ready for bed, but I will write you a few lines. I had such a tiresome journey coming up that I was nearly sick. In the first place I didn’t want to come much (alone) as you know. I feel too upset and uncertain about everything, although I try not to feel so now that we have our plan and you are going to come for me as you said.

(At this point, while nearly sickened by the thought of the wretched country world in which she lived, still, because of Roberta’s unfortunate and unavoidable relation to it, he now experienced one of his old time twinges of remorse and pity in regard to her. For after all, this was not her fault. She had so little to look forward to—nothing but her work or a commonplace marriage. For the first time in many days, really, and in the absence of both, he was able to think clearly—and to sympathize deeply, if gloomily. For the remainder of the letter read:)

But it’s very nice here now. The trees are so beautifully green and the flowers in bloom. I can hear the bees in the orchard whenever I go near the south windows. On the way up instead of coming straight home I decided to stop at Homer to see my sister and brother-in-law, since I am not so sure now when I shall see them again, if ever, for I am resolved that they shall see me respectable, or never at all any more. You mustn’t think I mean anything hard or mean by this. I am just sad. They have such a cute little home there, Clyde—pretty furniture, a victrola and all, and Agnes is so very happy with Fred. I hope she always will be. I couldn’t help thinking of what a dear place we might have had, if only my dreams had come true. And nearly all the time I was there Fred kept teasing me as to why I don’t get married, until I said, “Oh, well, Fred, you mustn’t be too sure that I won’t one of these days. All good things come to him who waits, you know.” “Yes, unless you just turn out to be a waiter,” was the way he hit me back.

But I was truly glad to see mother again, Clyde. She’s so loving and patient and helpful. The sweetest, dearest mother that ever, ever was. And I just hate to hurt her in any way. And Tom and Emily, too. They have had friends here every evening since I’ve been here—and they want me to join in, but I hardly feel well enough now to do all the things they want me to do—play cards and games—dance.

(At this point Clyde could not help emphasizing in his own mind the shabby home world of which she was a part and which so recently he had seen—that rickety house! those toppling chimneys! Her uncouth father. And that in contrast to such a letter as this other from Sondra.)

Father and mother and Tom and Emily just seem to hang around and try to do things for me. And I feel remorseful when I think how they would feel if they knew, for, of course, I have to pretend that it is work that makes me feel so tired and depressed as I am sometimes. Mother keeps saying that I must stay a long time or quit entirely and rest and get well again, but she just don’t know of course—poor dear. If she did! I can’t tell you how that makes me feel sometimes, Clyde. Oh, dear!

But there, I mustn’t put my sad feelings over on you either. I don’t want to, as I told you, if you will only come and get me as we’ve agreed. And I won’t be like that either, Clyde. I’m not that way all the time now. I’ve started to get ready and do all the things it’ll take to do in three weeks and that’s enough to keep my mind off everything but work. But you will come for me, won’t you, dear? You won’t disappoint me any more and make me suffer this time like you have so far, for, oh, how long it has been now—ever since I was here before at Christmas time, really. But you were truly nice to me. I promise not to be a burden on you, for I know you don’t really care for me any more and so I don’t care much what happens now, so long as I get out of this. But I truly promise not to be a burden on you.

Oh, dear, don’t mind this blot. I just don’t seem to be able to control myself these days like I once could.

But as for what I came for. The family think they are clothes for a party down in Lycurgus and that I must be having a wonderful time. Well, it’s better that way than the other. I may have to come as far as Fonda to get some things, if I don’t send Mrs. Anse, the dressmaker, and if so, and if you wanted to see me again before you come, although I don’t suppose you do, you could. I’d like to see you and talk to you again if you care to, before we start. It all seems so funny to me, Clyde, having these clothes made and wishing to see you so much and yet knowing that you would rather not do this. And yet I hope you are satisfied now that you have succeeded in making me leave Lycurgus and come up here and are having what you call a good time. Are they so very much better than the ones we used to have last summer when we went about to the lakes and everywhere? But whatever they are, Clyde, surely you can afford to do this for me without feeling too bad. I know it seems hard to you now, but you don’t want to forget either that if I was like some that I know, I might and would ask more. But as I told you I’m not like that and never could be. If you don’t really want me after you have helped me out like I said, you can go.

Please write me, Clyde, a long, cheery letter, even though you don’t want to, and tell me all about how you have not thought of me once since I’ve been away or missed me at all—you used to, you know, and how you don’t want me to come back and you can’t possibly come up before two weeks from Saturday if then.

Oh, dear, I don’t mean the horrid things I write, but I’m so blue and tired and lonely that I can’t help it at times. I need some one to talk to—not just any one here, because they don’t understand, and I can’t tell anybody.

But there, I said I wouldn’t be blue or gloomy or cross and yet I haven’t done so very well this time, have I? But I promise to do better next time—tomorrow or next day, because it relieves me to write to you, Clyde. And won’t you please write me just a few words to cheer me up while I’m waiting, whether you mean it or not, I need it so. And you will come, of course. I’ll be so happy and grateful and try not to bother you too much in any way.

Your lonely


And it was the contrast presented by these two scenes which finally determined for him the fact that he would never marry Roberta—never—nor even go to her at Biltz, or let her come back to him here, if he could avoid that. For would not his going, or her return, put a period to all the joys that so recently in connection with Sondra had come to him here—make it impossible for him to be with Sondra at Twelfth Lake this summer—make it impossible for him to run away with and marry her? In God’s name was there no way? No outlet from this horrible difficulty which now confronted him?

And in a fit of despair, having found the letters in his room on his return from work one warm evening in June, he now threw himself upon his bed and fairly groaned. The misery of this! The horror of his almost insoluble problem! Was there no way by which she could be persuaded to go away—and stay—remain at home, maybe for a while longer, while he sent her ten dollars a week, or twelve, even—a full half of all his salary? Or could she go to some neighboring town—Fonda, Gloversville, Schenectady—she was not so far gone but what she could take care of herself well enough as yet, and rent a room and remain there quietly until the fatal time, when she could go to some doctor or nurse? He might help her to find some one like that when the time came, if only she would be willing not to mention his name.

But this business of making him come to Biltz, or meeting her somewhere, and that within two weeks or less. He would not, he would not. He would do something desperate if she tried to make him do that—run away—or—maybe go up to Twelfth Lake before it should be time for him to go to Biltz, or before she would think it was time, and then persuade Sondra if he could—but oh, what a wild, wild chance was that—to run away with and marry him, even if she wasn’t quite eighteen—and then—and then—being married, and her family not being able to divorce them, and Roberta not being able to find him, either, but only to complain—well, couldn’t he deny it—say that it was not so—that he had never had any relationship, other than that which any department head might have with any girl working for him. He had not been introduced to the Gilpins, nor had he gone with Roberta to see that Dr. Glenn near Gloversville, and she had told him at the time, she had not mentioned his name.

But the nerve of trying to deny it!

The courage it would take.

The courage to try to face Roberta when, as he knew, her steady, accusing, horrified, innocent blue eyes would be about as difficult to face as anything in all the world. And could he do that? Had he the courage? And would it all work out satisfactorily if he did? Would Sondra believe him—once she heard?

But just the same in pursuance of this idea, whether finally he executed it or not, even though he went to Twelfth Lake, he must write Sondra a letter saying that he was coming. And this he did at once, writing her passionately and yearningly. At the same time he decided not to write Roberta at all. Maybe call her on long distance, since she had recently told him that there was a neighbor near-by who had a telephone, and if for any reason he needed to reach her, he could use that. For writing her in regard to all this, even in the most guarded way, would place in her hands, and at this time, exactly the type of evidence in regard to this relationship which she would most need, and especially when he was so determined not to marry her. The trickery of all this! It was low and shabby, no doubt. Yet if only Roberta had agreed to be a little reasonable with him, he would never have dreamed of indulging in any such low and tricky plan as this. But, oh, Sondra! Sondra! And the great estate that she had described, lying along the west shore of Twelfth Lake. How beautiful that must be! He could not help it! He must act and plan as he was doing! He must!

And forthwith he arose and went to mail the letter to Sondra. And then while out, having purchased an evening paper and hoping via the local news of all whom he knew, to divert his mind for the time being, there, upon the first page of the Times-Union of Albany, was an item which read:



Because of his own great interest in canoeing, and indeed in any form of water life, as well as his own particular skill when it came to rowing, swimming, diving, he now read with interest:

Pancoast, Mass., June 7th…. What proved to be a fatal boat ride for two, apparently, was taken here day before yesterday by an unidentified man and girl who came presumably from Pittsfield to spend the day at Pass Lake, which is fourteen miles north of this place.

Tuesday morning a man and a girl, who said to Thomas Lucas, who conducts the Casino Lunch and Boat House there, that they were from Pittsfield, rented a small row-boat about ten o’clock in the morning and with a basket, presumably containing lunch, departed for the northern end of the lake. At seven o’clock last evening, when they did not return, Mr. Lucas, in company with his son Jeffrey, made a tour of the lake in his motor boat and discovered the row-boat upside down in the shallows near the north shore, but no trace of the occupants. Thinking at the time that it might be another instance of renters having decamped in order to avoid payment, he returned the boat to his own dock

But this morning, doubtful as to whether or not an accident had occurred, he and his assistant, Fred Walsh, together with his son, made a second tour of the north shore and finally came upon the hats of both the girl and the man floating among some rushes near the shore. At once a dredging party was organized, and by three o’clock to-day the body of the girl, concerning whom nothing is known here, other than that she came here with her companion, was brought up and turned over to the authorities. That of the man has not yet been found. The water in the immediate vicinity of the accident in some places being over thirty feet deep, it is not certain whether the trolling and dredging will yield the other body or not. In the case of a similar accident which took place here some fifteen years ago, neither body was ever recovered.

To the lining of the small jacket which the girl wore was sewed the tag of a Pittsfield dealer. Also in her shoe lining was stamped the name of Jacobs of this same city. But other than these there was no evidence as to her identity. It is assumed by the authorities here that if she carried a bag of any kind it lies at the bottom of the lake.

The man is recalled as being tall, dark, about thirty-five years of age, and wore a light green suit and straw hat with a white and blue band. The girl appears to be not more than twenty-five, five feet five inches tall, and weighs 130 pounds. She wore her hair, which was long and dark brown, in braids about her forehead. On her left middle finger is a small gold ring with an amethyst setting. The police of Pittsfield and other cities in this vicinity have been notified, but as yet no word as to her identity has been received.

This item, commonplace enough in the usual grist of summer accidents, interested Clyde only slightly. It seemed odd, of course, that a girl and a man should arrive at a small lake anywhere, and setting forth in a small boat in broad daylight thus lose their lives. Also it was odd that afterwards no one should be able to identify either of them. And yet here it was. The man had disappeared for good. He threw the paper down, little concerned at first, and turned to other things—the problem that was confronting him really—how he was to do. But later—and because of that, and as he was putting out the light before getting into bed, and still thinking of the complicated problem which his own life here presented, he was struck by the thought (what devil’s whisper?—what evil hint of an evil spirit?)—supposing that he and Roberta—no, say he and Sondra—(no, Sondra could swim so well, and so could he)—he and Roberta were in a small boat somewhere and it should capsize at the very time, say, of this dreadful complication which was so harassing him? What an escape? What a relief from a gigantic and by now really destroying problem! On the other hand—hold—not so fast!—for could a man even think of such a solution in connection with so difficult a problem as his without committing a crime in his heart, really—a horrible, terrible crime? He must not even think of such a thing. It was wrong—wrong—terribly wrong. And yet, supposing,—by accident, of course—such a thing as this did occur? That would be the end, then, wouldn’t it, of all his troubles in connection with Roberta? No more terror as to her—no more fear and heartache even as to Sondra. A noiseless, pathless, quarrelless solution of all his present difficulties, and only joy before him forever. Just an accidental, unpremeditated drowning—and then the glorious future which would be his!

But the mere thinking of such a thing in connection with Roberta at this time—(why was it that his mind persisted in identifying her with it?) was terrible, and he must not, he must not, allow such a thought to enter his mind. Never, never, never! He must not. It was horrible! Terrible! A thought of murder, no less! Murder?!!! Yet so wrought up had he been, and still was, by the letter which Roberta had written him, as contrasted with the one from Sondra—so delightful and enticing was the picture of her life and his as she now described it, that he could not for the life of him quite expel that other and seemingly easy and so natural a solution of all his problem—if only such an accident could occur to him and Roberta. For after all he was not planning any crime, was he? Was he not merely thinking of an accident that, had it occurred or could it but occur in his case…. Ah—but that “could it but occur.” There was the dark and evil thought about which he must not, he must not think. He MUST NOT. And yet—and yet,… He was an excellent swimmer and could swim ashore, no doubt—whatever the distance. Whereas Roberta, as he knew from swimming with her at one beach and another the previous summer, could not swim. And then—and then—well and then, unless he chose to help her, of course….

As he thought, and for the time, sitting in the lamplight of his own room between nine-thirty and ten at night, a strange and disturbing creepiness as to flesh and hair and finger-tips assailed him. The wonder and the horror of such a thought! And presented to him by this paper in this way. Wasn’t that strange? Besides, up in that lake country to which he was now going to Sondra, were many, many lakes about everywhere—were there not? Scores up there where Sondra was. Or so she had said. And Roberta loved the out-of-doors and the water so—although she could not swim—could not swim—could not swim. And they or at least he was going where lakes were, or they might, might they not—and if not, why not? since both had talked of some Fourth of July resort in their planning, their final departure—he and Roberta.

But, no! no! The mere thought of an accident such as that in connection with her, however much he might wish to be rid of her—was sinful, dark and terrible! He must not let his mind run on any such things for even a moment. It was too wrong—too vile—too terrible! Oh, dreadful thought! To think it should have come to him! And at this time of all times—when she was demanding that he go away with her!



The murder of Roberta!

But to escape her of course—this unreasonable, unshakable, unchangeable demand of hers! Already he was quite cold, quite damp—with the mere thought of it. And now—when—when—! But he must not think of that! The death of that unborn child, too!!

But how could any one even think of doing any such thing with calculation—deliberately? And yet—many people were drowned like that—boys and girls—men and women—here and there—everywhere the world over in the summer time. To be sure, he would not want anything like that to happen to Roberta. And especially at this time. He was not that kind of a person, whatever else he was. He was not. He was not. He was not. The mere thought now caused a damp perspiration to form on his hands and face. He was not that kind of a person. Decent, sane people did not think of such things. And so he would not either—from this hour on.

In a tremulous state of dissatisfaction with himself—that any such grisly thought should have dared to obtrude itself upon him in this way—he got up and lit the lamp—re-read this disconcerting item in as cold and reprobative way as he could achieve, feeling that in so doing he was putting anything at which it hinted far from him once and for all. Then, having done so, he dressed and went out of the house for a walk—up Wykeagy Avenue, along Central Avenue, out Oak, and then back on Spruce and to Central again—feeling that he was walking away from the insinuating thought or suggestion that had so troubled him up to now. And after a time, feeling better, freer, more natural, more human, as he so much wished to feel—he returned to his room, once more to sleep, with the feeling that he had actually succeeded in eliminating completely a most insidious and horrible visitation. He must never think of it again! He must never think of it again. He must never, never, never think of it—never.

And then falling into a nervous, feverish doze soon thereafter, he found himself dreaming of a savage black dog that was trying to bite him. Having escaped from the fangs of the creature by waking in terror, he once more fell asleep. But now he was in some very strange and gloomy place, a wood or a cave or narrow canyon between deep hills, from which a path, fairly promising at first, seemed to lead. But soon the path, as he progressed along it, became narrower and narrower and darker, and finally disappeared entirely. And then, turning to see if he could not get back as he had come, there directly behind him were arrayed an entangled mass of snakes that at first looked more like a pile of brush. But above it waved the menacing heads of at least a score of reptiles, forked tongues and agate eyes. And in front now, as he turned swiftly, a horned and savage animal—huge, it was—its heavy tread crushing the brush—blocked the path in that direction. And then, horrified and crying out in hopeless desperation, once more he awoke—not to sleep again that night.