Claimed!, by Francis Stevens

Chapter VI.

White Horses

Novel Excitement On Atlantic City Beach. Insane Man Frightens Early Morning Crowd, Then Leaps from Pier — Identity of Suicide Undiscovered.
(Atlantic City, July 24.)

At 8 A.M. this morning a man appeared walking up the beach from the direction of the inlet. He was leading a horse by a halter, and attracted some attention because of the animal’s beauty. It was snow-white, and apparently a thoroughbred. The board walk was unusually thronged for that hour. Many had come out to view the effect of last night’s unseasonable storm, and while most of these early risers kept to the board walk, a few were on the beach, and among them two lifeguards.

When the man leading this horse encountered the pair of guards, one of them, Jimmy Dolan, accosted him and, in a joking way, asked if he meant to give the horse a swim. The man, who was well-dressed but hatless, splashed with mud, and, according to Dolan, rather wild-eyed, made a muttered reply, in which the guards could distinguish only some reference to an “archangel,” and passed on. Suspicious, Dolan turned and followed him.

A few yards further along the man halted, and drew something from under his coat. Dolan caught the flash of steel, saw that it was a knife, and jumped for him. The maniac made a slash at Dolan, missed him, and cut a gash in the horse’s neck, when the spirited animal plunged, and, wrenching away its halter, made off at a gallop along the beach. With a shriek the lunatic started to pursue, but when Dolan again attempted to seize him, he evaded the guard and dashed up a near-by flight of steps to the boardwalk. The crowd made way before his wildly brandished knife, and, turning, he vaulted the low gate-railing of Clancy’s Recreation Pier, rushed out to the end of the pier, where another low rail fronts the open water, and springing upon it with a mad yell, flung himself headlong into the sea. Though guards put out a boat immediately, it was impossible to save him.

SPECIAL EXTRA!
(Tremont, July 25.)

The insane man who committed suicide by springing from Claney’s Pier in Atlantic City has been identified as in all probability Mr. Jacob Lutz of this city, who disappeared Tuesday, July 15, and whose family and friend, have been since vainly trying to trace his whereabouts. While the body has not been recovered, Mr. Sam Trimble, owner of a farm near Absecon, New Jersey, has come forward with information. Yesterday afternoon, it seems, a well-dressed man visited his farm, and said that he understood Trimble had a white horse he wished to sell. This was true, but the horse was a blooded animal. Mirror, out of Sunlight, by Chalmers III, and Trimble wanted a higher price than the stranger wanted to pay.

In the end, he induced Trimble to knock off five hundred dollars, and made an immediate payment of the remaining three thousand in bills of large denomination, which he seemed to have with him for that purpose. He also gave Trimble his business card, showing him to be Jacob Lutz, the curio dealer, whose store is at No. 901 Forest Street, in Tremont.

It was then nearly night, but to Trimble’s surprise Mr. Lutz insisted on leading the horse away with him. He had come on foot, and when Trimble last saw him he was going toward Absecon. How he made the journey from Absecon to Atlantic is not known. He had told Trimble that he did not know how to ride, and that it was no use putting a saddle on Mirror, as he would be afraid to mount him.

When seen on the beach this morning, both horse and man were liberally splashed with marsh-mud, and it is supposed that the unfortunate Mr. Lutz, in a fit of temporary insanity, had somehow managed to make his way through the storm on foot across the swamps, waterways, and bridges from Absecon to Atlantic.

Mr. Lutz was well and favorably known in Tremont, and it is with deep regret —

Having read thus far in the late extra of the Tremont Inquirer, Dr. Vanaman returned hastily to the beginning and read it all through over again. This was the first paper he had seen that day, and old Robinson, who had been perusing it throughout luncheon, had just tossed it to him with a kind of malicious grin and passed on out of the dining-room, leaving his niece and the doctor to make what they might of the news. That it had some bearing on the uncanny mystery of the green casket, Vanaman was sure as if Robinson had told him so in words, instead of merely casting him that malicious leer along with the paper.

Another nerve-racking night had passed since his conversation with Leilah in the library. The strain of those weirdly dreadful invasions was telling far more heavily on the young man than on old Robinson himself. After that first night, the latter had suffered no more seizures of the sort that caused Leilah to call in Dr. Vanaman. Between darkness and dawn each night the illusion, or hallucination, or phantom of the green sea-tide would invade his sleeping-chamber; last night the phenomenon had recurred three times within eight hours.

But though at each climax, when the phantom waters swirled up in a frothing mass and the supreme terror threatened, Robinson would awaken and shout vociferously for help, he no longer lost consciousness afterward nor failed to sleep with enviable soundness through the peaceful interims.

With Vanaman the case was maddeningly different. Hours he would lie awake, every nerve on edge, waiting, expectant. Then sudden sleep would catch him unawares, and he would awaken perhaps a bare half hour later to the trancelike horror of fear which he could by no effort escape till Robinson’s voice shrieked his name, and he would leap, as if galvanized, to the rescue.

That the frightened vision vanished instantly thereafter was some consolation, but hardly enough to make him in love with his task.

Only one consideration, in fact, lent Vanaman the courage and endurance to go on. He was very positive that should he desert, Leilah would be called to take his place as watchman. As it was, she always roused when her uncle called, but at least she did not have to sit or lie in that room and endure the waking nightmare which preceded the shrill alarm.

And now this shocking news of Lutz. Vanaman had a reason of his own, which he did not impart to Leilah, for associating the white horse episode with their own problem, When she in turn had read of the dealer’s suicide and the singular actions that preceded it, the doctor was relieved to see that, though shocked, the woman seemed to accept the newspaper account at face value. That the obvious insanity of Lutz had led him to involve a white horse in the details of his tragic end meant nothing to her, and Vanaman was glad, very glad that it did not.

If she lacked the necessary knowledge, or if, having that knowledge, her mind had failed to make the association his had leaped to, then by all means let her remain ignorant. There was dismay enough for her in the situation without the added horror of guessing why Lutz had bought the white horse.

Hope of tracing the original owner of the green box through the dealer was now, of course, definitely ended. Vanaman had, however, written to the person in new York whose presence in Tremont was necessary to the success of that second plan, of which he had spoken vaguely to Leilah, and had also mailed a carefully traced facsimile of the scarlet inscription to an acquaintance of his, Professor Bowers Shelbach.

The latter gentleman, if any one, should be able to give him a translation. Though but a few years older than Vanaman, Shelbach was a linguist and archeologist of considerable fame. The doctor had made his acquaintance in college days and the two had become sufficiently intimate to warrant this claim on the young professor’s erudition.

Till he should receive replies to these letters, however, there seemed no more he could do, save endure, and for the alleviation of that misery he had the growing though rather dangerous joy of Leilah’s companionship.

Vanaman was trying very hard to keep his feeling for the woman within the bounds of friendship. The Robinson millions stood between, and he must keep within those bounds, or be judged a fortune-hunter. But even in what he sternly termed friendship her mere presence was delight, and the continual humiliation of Robinson’s snarling tyranny was robbed of half its sting by her comradeship.

One thing he had made up his mind to. Sold into practical slavery as he found himself, at least an hour or so each day must be his own to get away from Robinson’s house, from Robinson’s self, and from Robinson’s darling treasure, the green box. Yesterday his announcement to this effect had been very unpleasantly received, and though he had ended by simply putting on his hat and going, all through the long, energetic tramp he took, his ears had burned with memory of certain terms applied to himself in Leilah’s presence for which he would have soundly thrashed any other man than her uncle.

To-day, however, greatly to his surprise, shortly after luncheon the old man not only reminded him almost courteously that a couple of hours off duty were due him, but actually suggested that Leilah also might be the better for an airing.

“‘Tain’t jest any young chap I’d let Leilah go round with alone,” he said, with his usual blunt crudeness. “But I reckon she’s right safe with you, and I don’t need either one of ye round me for a while. Course, if you’ve got any business to tend to, doctor, and don’t want the gal along —”

“I shall be delighted — deeply, very deeply honored if Miss Robinson will accept my escort,” broke in Vanaman, red to the ears.

The woman’s face, not unnaturally, had also assumed a lovely but painful shade of crimson; but as their eyes met, the humorous aspect of the situation struck them both, and embarrassment passed in a silent flash of amusement. Robinson’s keen glance was fixed on his precious box, not them, and he continued, apparently unaware that he had created any embarrassment to be relieved:

“If ye want to, ye can take out the roadster, Leilah. But don’t run her over that new road they’re laying — beyond the park, like ye did last time. Mind. I don’t grudge ye the use of the car, Leilah, but we ought to have some sense and remember that new macadam is hard on the tire-casings. And don’t —”

“If Dr. Vanaman is willing, I should prefer walking to taking out the car,” interposed Leilah.

“Suit yourselves,” grumbled her amiable relative. “But don’t neither of ye go round saying I treat my own flesh and blood mean, and make ye foot it to save the price of gasoline. I ain’t mean, only I like what I own to be took care of.”

“You have never been mean to me, uncle,” assured Leilah, and quite amazingly to Vanaman, the woman bent for a brief moment over the stooped, hawklike old tyrant and kissed him.

Later, as they strolled rather aimlessly up the boulevard, she said quietly:

“Uncle Jesse has always been very good to me, Dr. Vanaman. If he is a little trying at times, and I seem impatient, you mustn’t misunderstand.”

“When the time comes that I see you impatient under any circumstances I’ll try not to misunderstand,” the doctor retorted rather grimly.

“Oh, but I often am,” laughed the woman. “Really, I have my own large share of the Robinson temper, and I sometimes think it has been very good for me to live with a person who is a trifle unreasonable occasionally; I’ve acquired a fair amount of self-control. Shall we turn into the River Drive? It’s very pretty along here.”

They did, and it was, as she said, very pretty, for the trees arched above it tunnel-like, and to the right rolled the Delaware, darkly aflash, like polished steel in the slanting sunlight. Just now the broad current was anomalously flowing up-stream, for the Delaware knows the sea and her sullen waters are brackish and controlled by his tides many miles from the coast.

“The river is still very high,” observed the woman presently.

“It is the inflowing tide,” said Vanaman; then wished he had not spoken, or that they had not come to walk by the river.

By tacit consent, they had avoided reference to that which made each night a somber horror to them both. They had come out to get away for a short time at least from even thinking of it; and had chosen a path beside which the sea-tide’s self rushed by, driving backward the river’s sweeter waters!

And as if that were not enough — as if fate were determined that they should by no chance, nor for the briefest interval forget — out of a by-way that joined the Drive came a man, and he was leading a white horse.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30