THE FATAL SHOT
“Thank God, Una,” Jack cried, “you remember it now even better than I do!”
“Remember it!” I answered, holding my brow with my hands to keep the flood of thought from bursting it to fragments. “Remember it! Why, it comes back to me like waves of fire and burns me. I remember every word, every act, every gesture. I lifted my head slowly, Jack, and looked over the screen at him. In the twilight, I saw him there—the man I called my father—holding the bottle to your face, that wicked bottle of chloroform, with his revolver in one hand, and a calm smile like a fiend’s playing hatefully and cruelly round that grave-looking mouth of his. I never saw any man look so ghastly in my life. I was rooted to the spot with awe and terror. I dared hardly cry out or move. Yet I knew this was murder. He would kill you! He would kill you! He was trying to poison you before my very eyes. Oh, heaven, how I hated him! He was no father of mine. He had never been my father. And he was murdering the man I loved best in the world. For I loved you better than life, Jack! Oh, the strain of it was terrible! I see it all now. I live it all over again. With one wild bound I leapt forward, and, hardly knowing what I did, I pressed the button, turned off the current from the battery, and rushed wildly upon him. I suppose the knob I pressed not only released you, but set the photographic machine at work automatically. But I didn’t know it then. At any rate, I remember now, in the seconds that followed, flash came fast after flash. There was a sudden illumination. The room was lighter than day. It grew alternately bright as noon and then dark as pitch again by contrast. And by the light of the flashes, I saw you, half-dazed with the chloroform, standing helpless there.
“I rushed up and caught the man’s arm. He was never my father! He dropped the bottle and struggled hard for possession of the pistol. First he pointed it at you, then at me, then at you again. He meant to shoot you. I was afraid it would go off. With a terrible effort I twisted his wrist awry, in the mad force of passion, and wrenched the revolver away from him. He jumped at my throat, still silent, but fierce like a tiger at bay. I eluded him, and sprang back. Then I remember no more, except that I stood with the pistol pointed at him. Next, came a flash, a loud roar. And then, in a moment, the Picture. He lay dead on the floor in his blood. And my Second State began. And from that day, for months, I was like a little child again.”
Jack looked at me as I paused.
“And then?” he went on in a very low voice, half prompting me.
“And then all I can remember,” I said, “is how you got out of the window. But I didn’t know when I saw you, it was you or anyone else. That was my Second State then. The shot seemed to end all. What comes next is quite different. It belongs to the new world. There, my life stopped dead short and began all over again.”