By Max Brand (Frederick Schiller Faust, 1892-1944).
First appearance: Munsey’s Magazine, August 1919.
Short short story (5 pages).
Online at Roy Glashan's Library HERE (illustrated) and Pulpgen HERE (no illos).
"The story has to do with probably the oldest combination known to stories—a hero, a villain, and a beautiful woman. The hero was young, handsome, talent-ed; the villain was middle-aged and rather stout, and smoked big black cigars; the beautiful woman was very beautiful."As this tongue-in-cheek, topsy-turvy take on the old-timey melodrama commences, defense attorney John Barrett is explaining to his wife why he is completely convinced of who did in a miserly old skinflint and why he won't be defending the malicious malefactor whodunit:
"This is the case," he said. "Harry McCurtney killed his uncle, William McCurt-ney. He did it by putting poison in the Scotch whisky which old William was drinking to the health of his nephew. A maid saw Harry put something into his uncle's glass. She afterward got hold of the vial of poison, out of which only a few drops had been poured. There was enough left to kill ten men. When old McCurtney died that night, the maid called in the police and had Harry arrested. She produced the vial of poison as evidence. The case was easily made out. A druggist has sworn that the poison was purchased from him by young Harry McCurtney. Tomorrow the jury is certain to bring a verdict of guilty against this man. That, in brief, is the case of the man you want me to defend."Elizabeth, his young wife, however, begs to differ:
"Your brevity has destroyed everything worthwhile in the case. You have left out the fact that William McCurtney was a heartless old ruffian—a miser, hated by everyone and hating everyone. You have left out the fact"—here her voice lower-ed and grew musically gentle as only the voice of a woman of culture can grow—"you have left out the fact, John, that Harry McCurtney is a rare soul, an artist, a man unequipped for battling with the world. With the fortune he inherits from his uncle he would lead a beautiful, an ideal existence. He would do good to the world. He is—he is—a chosen spirit, John!"And just when you think the situation can't be more fraught with emotion, she drops this bombshell on him:
"There is another reason why you must defend McCurtney," she said. "I love him!"We're pretty sure that not even Perry Mason ever found himself in a predicament quite like this one . . .
~ John Barrett:
". . . everyone can see that the man is a villain. The way he chews that long black cigar, for instance, emitting slow, luxurious puffs, is sufficient proof. No one but a villain really enjoys good tobacco; but to pile Pelion on Ossa, there are other proofs—lots of them. He has a square, bulging jaw, a straight-lipped, cruel mouth, a great hawk nose, and keen eyes buried under the overhanging shelter of shaggy brows. He is frowning in his villainous way and looking down."
~ Mrs. Elizabeth Barrett:
"She is very, very beautiful; a black-haired type with questioning, dark eyes. She is dressed in black, too, filmy over the arms, so that the rose tint of flesh shines through. She reclines in an easy chair with her head pillowed gracefully and canted somewhat to one side, while she studies the villain and defies him."
~ Harry McCurtney:
"He was very young; he was very handsome. The brown eyes were as soft and liquid as the eyes of a thoughtful Byron—or a calf. That tall forehead and that long, pale face—they brought home all the romantic melancholy of life to a woman under thirty. Even the twelve good men and true felt some ruth as they glanced on him who was about to die; but being hardheaded fellows, those twelve, they looked away again and cleared their throats and frowned. Metaphorically speaking, they were rolling up their sleeves and preparing to grasp the knife from the hands of blind justice."
- ONTOS recently spent some time with a far more serious Max Brand (HERE).
The bottom line: "We sleep in separate rooms, we have dinner apart, we take separate vacations—we're doing everything we can to keep our marriage together."
— Rodney Dangerfield