An American Tragedy Chapter 7

From Friday morning until the following Tuesday noon, moving amid such scenes as previously had so exhilarated and enthralled him, Clyde was now compelled to suffer the most frightful fears and dreads. For, although met by Sondra, as well as Bertine, at the door of the Cranston lodge, and shown by them to the room he was to occupy, he could not help but contrast every present delight here with the danger of his immediate and complete destruction.

As he had entered, Sondra had poutingly whispered, so that Bertine might not hear: “Baddie! Staying down there a whole week when you might have been up here. And Sondra planning everything for you! You ought to have a good spanking. I was going to call up to-day to see where you were.” Yet at the same time her eyes conveying the infatuation that now dominated her.

And he, in spite of his troubled thoughts achieving a gay smile,—for once in her presence even the terror of Roberta’s death, his own present danger appeared to dwindle. If only all went well, now,—nothing were traced to him! A clear path! A marvelous future! Her beauty! Her love! Her wealth. And yet, after being ushered to his room, his bag having been carried in before him, at once becoming nervous as to the suit. It was damp and wrinkled. He must hide it on one of the upper shelves of a closet, maybe. And the moment he was alone and the door locked, taking it out, wet and wrinkled, the mud of the shores of Big Bittern still about the legs—yet deciding perhaps not—perhaps he had better keep it locked in his bag until night when he could better decide what to do. Yet tying up in a single bundle, in order to have them laundered, other odds and ends he had worn that day. And, as he did so, terribly, sickeningly conscious of the mystery and drama as well as the pathos of his life—all he had contacted since his arrival in the east, how little he had in his youth. How little he had now, really. The spaciousness and grandeur of this room as contrasted with the one he occupied in Lycurgus. The strangeness of his being here at all after yesterday. The blue waters of this bright lake without as contrasted with the darker ones of Big Bittern. And on the green-sward that reached from this bright, strong, rambling house, with its wide veranda and striped awnings to the shore of the lake itself, Stuart Finchley and Violet Taylor, together with Frank Harriet and Wynette Phant, in the smartest of sport clothes, playing tennis, while Bertine and Harley Baggott lolled in the shade of a striped marquee swing.

And, he himself, after bathing and dressing, assuming a jocular air although his nerves remained tense and his mood apprehensive. And then descending to where Sondra and Burchard Taylor and Jill Trumbull were laughing over some amusing experiences in connection with motor-boating the day before. Jill Trumbull called to him as he came out: “Hello, Clyde! Been playing hookey or what? I haven’t seen you in I don’t know when.” And he, after smiling wistfully at Sondra, craving as never before her sympathy as well as her affection, drawing himself up on the railing of the veranda and replying, as smoothly as he could: “Been working over at Albany since Tuesday. Hot down there. It’s certainly fine to be up here to-day. Who’s all up?” And Jill Trumbull, smiling: “Oh, nearly every one, I guess. I saw Vanda over at the Randalls’ yesterday. And Scott wrote Bertine he was coming to the Point next Tuesday. It looks to me as though no one was going over to Greenwood much this year.” And then a long and intense discussion as to why Greenwood was no longer what it had been. And then Sondra exclaiming: “That reminds me! I have to phone Bella to-day. She promised to come up to that horse show over at Bristol week after next, sure.” And then more talk of horses and dogs. And Clyde, listening intently in his anxiety to seem an integral part of it all, yet brooding on all that so desperately concerned him. Those three men. Roberta. Maybe they had found her body by now—who could tell, yet saying to himself—why so fearsome? Was it likely that in that depth of water—fifty feet maybe, for all he knew—that they would find her? Or that they could ever identify him with Clifford Golden or Carl Graham? How could they? Hadn’t he really and truly covered his tracks except for those three men? Those three men! He shivered, as with cold, in spite of himself.

And then Sondra, sensing a note of depression about him. (She had determined from his obvious lack of equipment on his first visit that perhaps the want of money was at the bottom of his present mood, and so proposed later this day to extract seventy-five dollars from her purse and force that upon him in order that at no point where petty expenditures should be required, should he feel the least bit embarrassed during his stay this time.) And after a few moments, thinking of the short golf course, with its variety of concealing hazards for unseen kisses and embraces, she now jumped up with: “Who’s for a mixed foursome? Come on, Jill, Clyde, Burch! I’ll bet Clyde and I can turn in a lower card than you two can!”

“I’ll take that!” exclaimed Burchard Taylor, rising and straightening his yellow and blue striped sweater, “even if I didn’t get in until four this morning. How about you, Jilly? If you want to make that for the lunches, Sonny, I’ll take it.”

And at once Clyde wincing and chilling, for he was thinking of the miserable twenty-five dollars left him from all his recent ghastly adventures. And a lunch for four here would cost not less than eight or ten dollars! Perhaps more. At the same time, Sondra, noting his expression, exclaimed: “That’s a go!” and drawing near to Clyde tapped him gently with her toe, exclaiming: “But I have to change. I’ll be right down. In the meantime, Clyde, I’ll tell you what you do—go and find Andrew and tell him to get the clubs, will you? We can go over in your boat, can’t we, Burchy?” And Clyde, hurrying to find Andrew, and thinking of the probable cost of the lunch if he and Sondra were defeated, but being caught up with by Sondra and seized by the arm. “Wait a minute, honey, I’ll be right back.” Then dashing up the steps to her room, and in a moment down again, a handful of bills she had reserved shut tightly in her little fist: “Here, darling, quick!” she whispered, taking hold of one of Clyde’s coat pockets and putting the money into it. “Ssh! Not a word, now! Hurry! It’s to pay for the lunch in case we lose, and some other things. I’ll tell you afterwards. Oh, but I do love you, baby boy!” And then, her warm, brown eyes fixed on him for a moment in profound admiration, dashing up the stairs again, from where she called: “Don’t stand there, silly! Get the golf clubs! The golf clubs!” And she was gone.

And Clyde, feeling his pocket and realizing that she had given him much—plenty, no doubt, for all of his needs while here, as well as to escape if need be. And exclaiming to himself: “Darling!” “Baby girl!” His beautiful, warm, generous Sondra! She loved him so—truly loved him. But if ever she should find out! Oh, God! And yet all for her, if she only knew. All for her! And then finding Andrew and returning with him carrying the bags.

And here was Sondra again, dancing down in a smart green knitted sports costume. And Jill in a new cap and blouse which made her look like a jockey, laughing at Burchard who was at the wheel of the boat. And Sondra calling back to Bertine and Harley Baggott in the swing as she was passing: “Hey, fellows! You won’t come, eh?”


“Casino Golf Club.”

“Oh, too far. See you after lunch on the beach, though.”

And then Burchard shooting the boat out in the lake with a whir that set it bounding like a porpoise—and Clyde gazing half in a dream, half delight and hope and the other half a cloud of shadow and terror, with arrest and death, maybe, stalking close behind. For in spite of all his preliminary planning, he was beginning to feel that he had made a mistake in openly coming out of the wood this morning. And yet had it not been best, since the only alternative was that of remaining there by day and coming out at night and following the shore road on foot to Sharon? That would have required two or three days. And Sondra, anxious as well as curious about the delay, might have telephoned to Lycurgus, thereby raising some question in regard to him which might have proved dangerous later might it not?

But here now, this bright day, with seemingly no cares of any kind, for these others at least, however dark and bleak his own background might be. And Sondra, all gayety because of his presence, now jumping up, her bright scarf held aloft in one hand like a pennant, and exclaiming foolishly and gayly: “Cleopatra sailing to meet—to meet—who was it she was sailing to meet, anyhow?”

“Charlie Chaplin,” volunteered Taylor, at the same time proceeding to ricochet the boat as roughly and erratically as possible in order to make her lose her balance.

“Oh, you silly!” returned Sondra, spreading her feet sufficiently apart to maintain her equilibrium, and adding for the benefit of Burchard: “No, you don’t either, Burchy,” then continuing: “Cleopatra sailing, a-a-oh, I know, aquaplaning,” and throwing her head back and her arms wide, while the boat continued to jump and lurch like a frightened horse.

“See if you can upset me now, Burchy,” she called.

And Burchard, throwing the boat from side to side as swiftly as he dared, with Jill Trumbull, anxious for her own safety, calling: “Oh, say, what do you want to do? Drown us all?” at which Clyde winced and blanched as though struck.

At once he felt sick, weak. He had never imagined that it was going to be like this; that he was going to suffer so. He had imagined that it was all going to be different. And yet here he was, blanching at every accidental and unintended word! Why, if he were put to any real test—an officer descending on him unexpectedly and asking him where he had been yesterday and what he knew of Roberta’s death—why, he would mumble, shiver, not be able to talk, maybe—and so give his whole case away wouldn’t he! He must brace up, try to look natural, happy—mustn’t he—for this first day at least.

Fortunately in the speed and excitement of the play, the others seemed not to notice the startling effect of the remark upon him, and he managed by degrees to recover his outward composure. Then the launch approached the Casino and Sondra, wishing to execute some last showy stunt, jumped up and catching the rail pulled herself up, while the boat rolled past only to reverse later. And Clyde, because of a happy smile in his direction, was seized by an uncontrollable desire for her—her love, sympathy, generosity, courage. And so now, to match her smiles, he jumped up and after assisting Jill to the steps, quickly climbed up after her, pretending a gayety and enthusiasm that was as hollow inwardly as outwardly it was accurate.

“Gee! Some athlete you are!”

And then on the links a little later with her, and under her guidance and direction, playing as successful a game as it was possible with his little experience and as troubled as he was. And she, because of the great delight of having him all to herself in shadowy hazards where they might kiss and embrace, beginning to tell him of a proposed camping trip which she, Frank Harriet, Wynette Phant, Burchard Taylor, her brother Stuart, Grant Cranston and Bertine, as well as Harley Baggott, Perley Haynes, Jill Trumbull and Violet Taylor, had been organizing for a week, and which was to begin on the morrow afternoon, with a motor trip thirty miles up the lake and then forty miles east to a lake known as Bear, along which, with tents and equipment, they were to canoe to certain beaches and scenes known only to Harley and Frank. Different days, different points. The boys would kill squirrels and catch fish for food. Also there would be moonlight trips to an inn that could be reached by boat, so they said. A servant or two or three from different homes was to accompany them, as well as a chaperon or two. But, oh, the walks in the woods! The opportunities for love—canoe trips on the lake—hours of uninterrupted love-making for at least a week!

In spite of all that had occurred thus far to give him pause, he could not help thinking that whatever happened, was it not best to go? How wonderful to have her love him so! And what else here could he do? It would take him out of this, would it not—farther and farther from the scene of the—of the—accident and in case any one were looking for any one who looked like him, for instance—well, he would not be around where he could be seen and commented upon. Those three men.

Yet, as it now instantly occurred to him, under no circumstances must he leave here without first finding out as definitely as possible whether any one was as yet suspected. And once at the Casino, and for the moment left alone, he learned on inquiring at the news stand that there would be no Albany, Utica, or any local afternoon paper there until seven or seven-thirty. He must wait until then to know.

And so although after the lunch there was swimming and dancing, then a return to the Cranstons with Harley Baggott and Bertine—Sondra going to Pine Point, with an agreement to meet him afterwards at the Harriets’ for dinner—still his mind was on the business of getting these papers at the first possible opportunity. Yet unless, as he now saw, he was so fortunate as to be able to stop on his way from the Cranstons’ to the Harriets’ and so obtain one or all, he must manage to come over to this Casino in the morning before leaving for Bear Lake. He must have them. He must know what, if anything, was either being said or done so far in regard to that drowned couple.


But on his way to Harriets’ he was not able to get the papers. They had not come. And none at the Harriets’ either, when he first arrived. Yet sitting on the veranda about a half hour later, talking with the others although brooding as to all this, Sondra herself appeared and said: “Oh, say, people! I’ve got something to tell you. Two people were drowned this morning or yesterday up at Big Bittern, so Blanche Locke was telling me just now over the phone. She’s up at Three Mile Bay to-day and she says they’ve found the body of the girl but not the man yet. They were drowned in the south part of the lake somewhere, she said.”

At once Clyde sat up, rigid and white, his lips a bloodless line, his eyes fixed not on anything here but rather the distant scene at Big Bittern—the tall pines, the dark water closing over Roberta. Then they had found her body. And now would they believe that his body was down there, too, as he had planned? But, listen! He must hear in spite of his dizziness.

“Gee, that’s tough!” observed Burchard Taylor, stopping his strumming on a mandolin. “Anybody we know?”

“She says she didn’t hear yet.”

“I never did like that lake,” put in Frank Harriet. “It’s too lonely. Dad and I and Mr. Randall were up there fishing last summer, but we didn’t stay long. It’s too gloomy.”

“We were up there three weeks ago—don’t you remember, Sondra?” added Harley Baggott. “You didn’t care for it.”

“Yes, I remember,” replied Sondra. “A dreadfully lonely place. I can’t imagine any one wanting to go up there for anything.”

“Well, I only hope it isn’t any one we know from around here,” added Burchard, thoughtfully. “It would put a crimp in the fun around here for a while, anyhow.”

And Clyde unconsciously wet his dry lips with his tongue and swallowed to moisten his already dry throat.

“I don’t suppose any of to-day’s papers would have anything about it yet. Has any one looked?” inquired Wynette Phant, who had not heard Sondra’s opening remark.

“There ain’t no papers,” commented Burchard Taylor. “Besides, it’s not likely yet, didn’t Sondra say she just heard it from Blanche Locke over the phone? She’s up near there.”

“Oh, yes, that’s right.”

And yet might not that small local afternoon paper of Sharon—The Banner, wasn’t it—have something as to this? If only he could see it yet to-night!

But another thought! For Heaven’s sake! It came to him now for the first time. His footprints! Were there any in the mud of that shore? He had not even stopped to look, climbing out so hastily as he did. And might there not have been? And then would they not know and proceed to follow him—the man those three men saw? Clifford Golden! That ride down this morning. His going out to the Cranstons’ in their car. That wet suit over in the room at the Cranstons’! Had any one in his absence been in his room as yet to look, examine, inquire—open his bag, maybe? An officer? God! It was there in his bag. But why in his bag or anywhere else near him now? Why had he not hidden it before this—thrown it in the lake here, maybe, with a stone in it? That would keep it down. God! What was he thinking in the face of such a desperate situation as this? Supposing he did need the suit!

He was now up, standing—mentally and physically frozen really—his eyes touched with a stony glaze for the moment. He must get out of here. He must go back there, at once, and dispose of that suit—drop it in the lake—hide it somewhere in those woods beyond the house! And yet—he could not do that so swiftly, either—leave so instantly after this light conversation about the drowning of those two people. How would that look?

And as instantly there came the thought—no—be calm—show no trace of excitement of any kind, if you can manage it—appear cool—make some unimportant remark, if you can.

And so now, mustering what nervous strength he had, and drawing near to Sondra, he said: “Too bad, eh?” Yet in a voice that for all its thinly-achieved normality was on the borderline of shaking and trembling. His knees and his hands, also.

“Yes, it certainly is,” replied Sondra, turning to him alone now. “I always hate to hear of anything like that, don’t you? Mother worries so about Stuart and me fooling around these lakes as it is.”

“Yes, I know.” His voice was thick and heavy. He could scarcely form the words. They were smothered, choked. His lips tightened to a thinner white line than before. His face grew paler still.

“Why, what’s the matter, Clydie?” Sondra asked, of a sudden, looking at him more closely. “You look so pale! Your eyes. Anything wrong? Aren’t you feeling well to-night, or is it this light out here?”

She turned to look at some of the others in order to make sure, then back at him. And he, feeling the extreme importance of looking anything but the way she was describing him now drew himself up as best he could, and replied: “Oh, no. It must be the light, I guess. Sure, it’s the light. I had—a—a hard day yesterday, that’s all. I shouldn’t have come over to-night, I suppose.” And then achieving the weirdest and most impossible of smiles. And Sondra, gazing most sympathetically, adding: “Was he so tired? My Clydie-mydie boy, after his work yesterday. Why didn’t my baby boy tell me that this morning instead of doing all that we did to-day? Want me to get Frank to run you down to the Cranstons’ now? Or maybe you’d like to go up in his room and lie down? He won’t mind, I know. Shall I ask him?”

She turned as if to speak to Frank, but Clyde, all but panic-stricken by this latest suggestion, and yet angling for an excuse to leave, exclaimed earnestly and yet shakily: “Please, please don’t, darling. I—I—don’t want you to. I’ll be all right. I’ll go up after a bit if I want to, or maybe home a little early, if you’re going after a while, but not now. I’m not feeling as good as I should, but I’ll be all right.”

Sondra, because of his strained and as she now fancied almost peevish tone, desisted with: “All right, honey. All right. But if you don’t feel well, I wish you would let me get Frank to take you down or go upstairs. He won’t mind. And then after a while—about ten-thirty—I’ll excuse myself and you can go down with me to your place. I’ll take you there before I go home and whoever else wants to go. Won’t my baby boy do something like that?”

And Clyde saying: “Well, I think I’ll go up and get a drink, anyhow.” And disappearing in one of the spacious baths of the Harriet home, locking the door and sitting down and thinking, thinking—of Roberta’s body recovered, of the possibilities of a bruise of some kind, of the possibility of the print of his own feet in the mud and sandy loam of the shore; of that suit over at the Cranstons’, the men in the wood, Roberta’s bag, hat and coat, his own liningless hat left on the water—and wondering what next to do. How to act! How to talk! Whether to go downstairs to Sondra now and persuade her to go, or whether to stay and suffer and agonize? And what would the morrow’s papers reveal? What? What? And was it wise, in case there was any news which would make it look as though eventually he was to be sought after, or in any way connected with this, to go on that proposed camping trip to-morrow! Or, wiser, to run away from here? He had some money now. He could go to New York, Boston, New Orleans where Ratterer was—but oh, no—not where any one knew him.

Oh, God! The folly of all his planning in connection with all this to date! The flaws! Had he ever really planned it right from the start? Had he ever really imagined, for instance, that Roberta’s body would be found in that deep water? And yet, here it was—risen so soon—this first day—to testify against him! And although he had signed as he had on those registers up there, was it not possible now, on account of those three men and that girl on that boat, for him to be traced? He must think, think, think! And get out of here as soon as possible, before anything really fatal in connection with that suit should happen.

Growing momentarily weaker and more terrorized, he now decided to return to Sondra below, and say that he was really feeling quite sick and that if she did not object he would prefer to go home with her, if she could arrange it. And consequently, at ten-thirty, when the evening still had hours to go, Sondra announced to Burchard that she was not feeling well and would he run her and Clyde and Jill down to her place, but that she would see them all on the morrow in time for the proposed departure for Bear Lake.

And Clyde, though brooding as to whether this early leaving on his part was not another of those wretched errors which had seemed to mark every step of this desperate and murderous scheme so far, finally entering the swift launch and being raced to the Cranston lodge in no time. And once there, excusing himself to Burchard and Sondra as nonchalantly and apologetically as might be, and then hurrying to his own room only to find the suit as he had left it—no least evidence that any one had been there to disturb the serenity of his chamber. Just the same, nervously and suspiciously, he now took it out and tied it up, and then waiting and listening for a silent moment in which to slip from the house unobserved—finally ambled out as though going for a short walk. And then, by the shore of the lake—about a quarter of a mile distant from the house—seeking out a heavy stone and tying the suit to that. And then throwing it out into the water, as far as his strength would permit. And then returning, as silently and gloomily and nervously as he had gone, and brooding and brooding as to what the morrow might reveal and what, if any appeared to question him, he would say.