For twenty-two years Mark Melcher had walked from his drugstore to his house at
exactly 5 o'clock. Methodical Mark was. For twenty-two years he had been greeted
respectfully along the way by men and women who had grown old with him.
Dignified and kindly Mark was. "Wouldn't hurt a fly," as Bob Barstow, the
sheriff, often said. Emily Holden was a mighty pretty girl of about 22. The
schoolteacher, and a good one. She had come to Willowville early in September
and by Christmas she was dead in love with Andrew Fellows. Old Man Fellows – he
wasn't so very old, though – was the richest man in town and a head of school
board. So, naturally, he saw a lot of Emily Holden, and after a spell she was
gone over him – like some women get over a man. Well, Emily came into Mark
Melcher's drugstore one day and got behind the prescription counter and began to
talk on something awful. Mark listened to her story, and while she was telling
it his eyes got to looking mighty ugly. "And you say Andrew Fellows is the man?"
he demanded when she got through.
"Oh, I have been such a fool." Emily sobbed. "But I loved him so, and he
promised to marry me. And now he threatens to tell something he says he knows
about me, Mr. Melcher. Something he says is terrible. Oh, what shall I do, Mr.
Melcher?" Mark put his arms around Emily Holden and held her close and cried. It
was awful. Pretty soon he pulled himself together and went to the bank and
cashed a fat check. Then he came back and gave Emily the money.
"You go," he said, "to this address"- he gave her the name of somebody in New
York-"and tell the lady there all about it. Tell her Mark Melcher sent you. And
don't you ever come back to Willowville, Emily." Emily insisted she wouldn't
take the money, of course. But Mark just took her in his arms and kissed her
mighty tenderly and made her do it. Then, when she was gone, he got behind his
prescription counter again and waited. He had made up his mind to kill Old Man
Fellows, to confess, and to let them hang him if they wanted to. Pretty soon Old
Man Fellows came in to ask for some of the eyewash he usually bought. "Got a new
kind, Andrew," Mark said slowly. "Smell nice too". He went behind the counter
and got a half-ounce of prussic acid. The pure stuff, undiluted. Then he let Old
Man Fellows take a little whiff of it. "Smells sort of like peach blossoms,"
said Old Man Fellows. "Kind of nice, isn't it?" "It's nice," said Mark, "and
just as good for the eyes as it smells. I've only got this much, but I'll let
you have it, same price as the other". Old Man Fellows smiled. Mark smiled too,
for he knew that a single drop of pure prussic acid inside the eye would kill
Old Man Fellows almost as quick as lightning. Old Man Fellows paid over his
money and started to leave. It was 5 o'clock, so Mark went along with him. At
his house Mark turned in and bade his friend good-bye.
Early next morning the news spread like wildfire. Mrs. Thompson, Old Man
Fellows' house-keeper had found him deader than a doomail when she went upstairs
to see what had kept him so long before breakfast. Near her master she had found
a little bottle, and gripped in Old Man Fellows' hand, so tightly that he had
crushed it, an eyedropper.
At 5 o'clock that afternoon Mark Melcher closed his store, locked it, and walked
over to the sheriff's office. He was going to confess, and clear his conscience,
and make his peace with God, even if they hanged him for it. He didn't care now
what would happen.
'Bob," he said to the sheriff. "I've come to give myself up. I killed Andrew
Fellows". The sheriff started to laugh, but one look at Mark's eyes stopped him.
Wild-looking and sort of glassy they were – like crazy people's eyes. The
sheriff told Mark to sit down and went outside for a minute to whisper something
to his deputy. "Mark Melcher's going crazy", he said. "He thinks he's killed Old
Man Fellows. Can you beat it? Why, Mark wouldn't hurt a fly. Too bad! They were
friends for years, those two. Guess it must have hit Mark pretty bad". That news
spread like wildfire, too. Mark Melcher had gone kind of crazy over Old Man
Fellows' death. Wasn't it shame? And Mark such a fine man. So sympathetic. Too
sympathetic, he was, worrying himself crazy over his friend's death because he
had sold him some poison. As if he could have known that Old Man Fellows was
going to commit suicide, like the coroner said! He got to wandering around
Willowville, telling everybody he had killed Old Man Fellows. Folks would
listen, shake their heads, and say, "That's too bad, Mark. That's too bad". Then
they would walk on. Pretty soon Mark got so nervous that he would wake up at
night and scream. His housekeeper left him. They put Mark away in Doe Smith's
sanatorium. Everybody says it's too bad and they can't imagine how Mark Melcher
ever got the idea that he killed Old Man Fellows. But then, Willowville folks
don't know to this day that Emily Holden was Mark Melcher's daughter, that Mark
had never been married, and that Old Man Fellows was the only human being on
earth who knew those things.