Kategoria: Sensacja, thriller, horror Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1913

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Opis ebooka The Gloved Hand - Burton E. Stevenson

Excerpt: I was genuinely tired when I got back to the office, that Wednesday afternoon, for it had been a trying day—the last of the series of trying days which had marked the progress of the Minturn case; and my feeling of depression was increased by the fact that our victory had not been nearly so complete as I had hoped it would be. Besides, there was the heat; always, during the past ten days, there had been the heat, unprecedented for June, with the thermometer climbing higher and higher and breaking a new record every day. As I threw off coat and hat and dropped into the chair before my desk, I could see the heat-waves quivering up past the open windows from the fiery street below. I turned away and closed my eyes, and tried to evoke a vision of white surf falling upon the beach, of tall trees swaying in the breeze, of a brook dropping gently between green banks.

Opinie o ebooku The Gloved Hand - Burton E. Stevenson

Fragment ebooka The Gloved Hand - Burton E. Stevenson


Copyright: This work was published before 1923 and is in the public domain in the USA only.
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I was genuinely tired when I got back to the office, that Wednesday afternoon, for it had been a trying day—the last of the series of trying days which had marked the progress of the Minturn case; and my feeling of depression was increased by the fact that our victory had not been nearly so complete as I had hoped it would be. Besides, there was the heat; always, during the past ten days, there had been the heat, unprecedented for June, with the thermometer climbing higher and higher and breaking a new record every day.

As I threw off coat and hat and dropped into the chair before my desk, I could see the heat-waves quivering up past the open windows from the fiery street below. I turned away and closed my eyes, and tried to evoke a vision of white surf falling upon the beach, of tall trees swaying in the breeze, of a brook dropping gently between green banks.

"Fountains that frisk and sprinkle
The moss they overspill;
Pools that the breezes crinkle,"…

and then I stopped, for the door had opened. I unclosed my eyes to see the office-boy gazing at me in astonishment. He was a well-trained boy, and recovered himself in an instant.

"Your mail, sir," he said, laid it at my elbow, and went out.

I turned to the letters with an interest the reverse of lively. The words of Henley's ballade were still running through my head—

"Vale-lily and periwinkle;
Wet stone-crop on the sill;
The look of leaves a-twinkle
With windlets,"…

Again I stopped, for again the door opened, and again the office-boy appeared.

"Mr. Godfrey, sir," he said, and close upon the words, Jim Godfrey entered, looking as fresh and cool and invigorating as the fountains and brooks and pools I had been thinking of.

"How do you do it, Godfrey?" I asked, as he sat down.

"Do what?"

"Keep so fit."

"By getting a good sleep every night. Do you?"

I groaned as I thought of the inferno I called my bedroom.

"I haven't really slept for a week," I said.

"Well, you're going to sleep to-night. That's the reason I'm here. I saw you in court this afternoon—one glance was enough."

"Yes," I assented; "one glance would be. But what's the proposition?"

"I'm staying at a little place I've leased for the summer up on the far edge of the Bronx. I'm going to take you up with me to-night and I'm going to keep you there till Monday. That will give you five nights' sleep and four days' rest. Don't you think you deserve it?"

"Yes," I agreed with conviction, "I do;" and I cast my mind rapidly over the affairs of the office. With the Minturn case ended, there was really no reason why I should not take a few days off.

"You'll come, then?" said Godfrey, who had been following my thoughts. "Don't be afraid," he added, seeing that I still hesitated. "You won't find it dull."

I looked at him, for he was smiling slightly and his eyes were very bright.

"Won't I?"

"No," he said, "for I've discovered certain phenomena in the neighbourhood which I think will interest you."

When Godfrey spoke in that tone, he could mean only one thing, and my last vestige of hesitation vanished.

"All right," I said; "I'll come."

"Good. I'll call for you at the Marathon about ten-thirty. That's the earliest I can get away," and in another moment he was gone.

So was my fatigue, and I turned with a zest to my letters and to the arrangements necessary for a three days' absence. Then I went up to my rooms, put a few things into a suit-case, got into fresh clothes, mounted to the Astor roof-garden for dinner, and a little after ten was back again at the Marathon. I had Higgins bring my luggage down, and sat down in the entrance-porch to wait for Godfrey.

Just across the street gleamed the lights of the police-station where he and I had had more than one adventure. For Godfrey was the principal police reporter of the Record; it was to him that journal owed those brilliant and glowing columns in which the latest mystery was described and dissected in a way which was a joy alike to the intellect and to the artistic instinct. For the editorial policy of theRecord, for its attitude toward politics, Wall Street, the trusts, "society," I had only aversion and disgust; but whenever the town was shaken with a great criminal mystery, I never missed an issue.

Godfrey and I had been thrown together first in the Holladay case, and that was the beginning of a friendship which had strengthened with the years. Then came his brilliant work in solving the Marathon mystery, in which I had also become involved. I had appealed to him for help in connection with that affair at Elizabeth; and he had cleared up the remarkable circumstances surrounding the death of my friend, Philip Vantine, in the affair of the Boule cabinet. So I had come to turn to him instinctively whenever I found myself confronting one of those intricate problems which every lawyer has sometimes to untangle.

Reciprocally, Godfrey sometimes sought my assistance; but, of course, it was only with a very few of his cases that I had any personal connection. The others I had to be content to follow, as the general public did, in the columns of the Record, certain that it would be the first to reach the goal. Godfrey had a peculiar advantage over the other police reporters in that he had himself, years before, been a member of the detective force, and had very carefully fostered and extended the friendships made at that time. He was looked on rather as an insider, and he was always scrupulously careful to give the members of the force every bit of credit they deserved—sometimes considerably more than they deserved.

In consequence, he had the entree at times when other reporters were rigorously barred.

It was nearly eleven o'clock before Godfrey arrived that evening, but I was neither surprised nor impatient. I knew how many and unexpected were the demands upon his time; and I always found a lively interest in watching the comings and goings at the station across the way—where, alas, the entrances far exceeded the exits! But finally, a car swung in from the Avenue at a speed that drew my eyes, and I saw that Godfrey was driving it.

"Jump in," he said, pushing out his clutch and pausing at the curb; and as I grabbed my suit-case and sprang to the seat beside him, he let the clutch in again and we were off. "No time to lose," he added, as he changed into high, and turned up Seventh Avenue.

At the park, he turned westward to the Circle, and then northward again out Amsterdam Avenue. There was little traffic, and we were soon skimming along at a speed which made me watch the cross-streets fearfully. In a few minutes we were across the Harlem and running northward along the uninteresting streets beyond. At this moment, it occurred to me that Godfrey was behaving singularly as though he were hastening to keep an appointment; but I judged it best not to distract his attention from the street before us, and restrained the question which rose to my lips.

At last, the built-up portion of the town was left behind; we passed little houses in little yards, then meadows and gardens and strips of woodland, with a house only here and there. We were no longer on a paved street, but on a macadam road—a road apparently little used, for our lamps, sending long streamers of light ahead of us, disclosed far empty stretches, without vehicle of any kind. There was no moon, and the stars were half-obscured by a haze of cloud, while along the horizon to the west, I caught the occasional glow of distant lightning.

And then the sky was suddenly blotted out, and I saw that we were running along an avenue of lofty trees. The road at the left was bordered by a high stone wall, evidently the boundary of an important estate. We were soon past this, and I felt the speed of the car slacken.

"Hold tight!" said Godfrey, turned sharply through an open gateway, and brought the car to a stop. Then, snatching out his watch, he leaned forward and held it in the glare of the side-lamp. "Five minutes to twelve," he said. "We can just make it. Come on, Lester."

He sprang from the car, and I followed, realising that this was no time for questions.

"This way," he said, and held out a hand to me, or I should have lost him in the darkness. We were in a grove of lofty trees, and at the foot of one of these, Godfrey paused. "Up with, you," he added; "and don't lose any time," and he placed my hand upon the rung of a ladder.

Too amazed to open my lips, I obeyed. The ladder was a long one, and, as I went up and up, I could feel Godfrey mounting after me. I am not expert at climbing ladders, even by daylight, and my progress was not rapid enough to suit my companion, for he kept urging me on. But at last, with a breath of relief, I felt that I had reached the top.

"What now?" I asked.

"Do you see that big straight limb running out to your right?"

"Yes," I said, for my eyes were growing accustomed to the darkness.

"Sit down on it, and hold on to the ladder."

I did so somewhat gingerly, and in a minute Godfrey was beside me.

"Now," he said, in a voice low and tense with excitement, "look out, straight ahead. And remember to hold on to the ladder."

I could see the hazy mist of the open sky, and from the fitful light along the horizon, I knew that we were looking toward the west. Below me was a mass of confused shadows, which I took for clumps of shrubbery.

Then I felt Godfrey's hand close upon my arm.

"Look!" he said.

For an instant, I saw nothing; then my eyes caught what seemed to be a new star in the heavens; a star bright, sharp, steel blue—

"Why, it's moving!" I cried.

He answered with a pressure of the fingers.

The star was indeed moving; not rising, not drifting with the breeze, but descending, descending slowly, slowly… . I watched it with parted lips, leaning forward, my eyes straining at that falling light.

"Falling" is not the word; nor is "drifting." It did not fall and it did not drift. It deliberately descended, in a straight line, at a regular speed, calmly and evenly, as though animated by some definite purpose. Lower and lower it sank; then it seemed to pause, to hover in the air, and the next instant it burst into a shower of sparks and vanished.

And those sparks fell upon the shoulders of two white-robed figures, standing apparently in space, their arms rigidly extended, their faces raised toward the heavens.


Mechanically I followed Godfrey down the ladder, and, guided by the flaring lights, made my way back to the car. I climbed silently into my seat, while Godfrey started the motor. Then we rolled slowly up the driveway, and stopped before the door of a house standing deep among the trees.

"Wait for me here a minute," Godfrey said, and, when I had got out, handed me my suit-case, and then drove the car on past the house, no doubt to its garage.

He was soon back, opened the house-door, switched on the lights, and waved me in.

"Here we are," he said. "I'll show you your room," and he led the way up the stairs, opening a door in the hall at the top. "This is it," he added, and switched on the lights here also. "The bath-room is right at the end of the hall. Wash up, if you need to, and then come down, and we will have a good-night smoke."

It was a pleasant room, with the simplest of furniture. The night-breeze ruffled the curtains at the windows, and filled the room with the cool odour of the woods—how different it was from the odour of dirty asphalt! But I was in no mood to linger there—I wanted an explanation of that strange light and of those two white-robed figures. So I paused only to open my grip, change into a lounging-coat, and brush off the dust of the journey. Then I hastened downstairs.

Godfrey met me at the stair-foot, and led the way into what was evidently a lounging-room. A tray containing some cold meat, bread and butter, cheese, and a few other things, stood on a side-table, and to this Godfrey added two bottles of Bass.

"No doubt you're hungry after the ride," he said. "I know I am," and he opened the bottles. "Help yourself," and he proceeded to make himself a sandwich. "You see, I live the simple life out here. I've got an old couple to look after the place—Mr. and Mrs. Hargis. Mrs. Hargis is an excellent cook—but to ask her to stay awake till midnight would be fiendish cruelty. So she leaves me a lunch in the ice-box, and goes quietly off to bed. I'll give you some berries for breakfast such as you don't often get in New York—and the cream—wait till you try it! Have a cigar?"

"No," I said, sitting down very content with the world, "I've got my pipe," and I proceeded to fill up.

Godfrey took down his own pipe from the mantelshelf and sat down opposite me. A moment later, two puffs of smoke circled toward the ceiling.

"Now," I said, looking at him, "go ahead and tell me about it."

Godfrey watched a smoke-ring whirl and break before he answered.

"About ten days ago," he began, "just at midnight, I happened to glance out of my bedroom window, as I was turning in, and caught a glimpse of a queer light apparently sinking into the tree-tops. I thought nothing of it; but two nights later, at exactly the same time, I saw it again. I watched for it the next night, and again saw it—just for an instant, you understand, as it formed high in the air and started downward. The next night I was up a tree and saw more of it; but it was not until night before last that I found the place from which the whole spectacle could be seen. The trees are pretty thick all around here, and I doubt if there is any other place from which those two figures would be visible."

"Then there were two figures!" I said, for I had begun to think that my eyes had deceived me.

"There certainly were."

"Standing in space?"

"Oh, no; standing on a very substantial roof."

"But what is it all about?" I questioned. "Why should that light descend every midnight? What is the light, anyway?"

"That's what I've brought you out here to find out. You've got four clear days ahead of you—and I'll be at your disposal from midnight on, if you happen to need me."

"But you must have some sort of idea about it," I persisted. "At least you know whose roof those figures were standing on."

"Yes, I know that. The roof belongs to a man named Worthington Vaughan. Ever hear of him?"

I shook my head.

"Neither had I," said Godfrey, "up to the time I took this place. Even yet, I don't know very much. He's the last of an old family, who made their money in real estate, and are supposed to have kept most of it. He's a widower with one daughter. His wife died about ten years ago, and since then he has been a sort of recluse, and has the reputation of being queer. He has been abroad a good deal, and it is only during the last year that he has lived continuously at this place next door, which is called Elmhurst. That's about all I've been able to find out. He certainly lives a retired life, for his place has a twelve-foot wall around it, and no visitors need apply."

"How do you know?"

"I tried to make a neighbourly call yesterday, and wasn't admitted. Mr. Vaughan was engaged. Getting ready for his regular midnight hocus-pocus, perhaps!"

I took a meditative puff or two.

"Is it hocus-pocus, Godfrey?" I asked, at last. "If it is, it's a mighty artistic piece of work."

"And if it isn't hocus-pocus, what is it?" Godfrey retorted. "A spiritual manifestation?"

I confess I had no answer ready. Ideas which seem reasonable enough when put dimly to oneself, become absurd sometimes when definitely clothed with words.

"There are just two possibilities," Godfrey went on. "Either it's hocus-pocus, or it isn't. If it is, it is done for some purpose. Two men don't go out on a roof every night at midnight and fire off a Roman candle and wave their arms around, just for the fun of the thing."

"It wasn't a Roman candle," I pointed out. "A Roman candle is visible when it's going up, and bursts and vanishes at the top of its flight. That light didn't behave that way at all. It formed high in the air, remained there stationary for a moment, gradually grew brighter, and then started to descend. It didn't fall, it came down slowly, and at an even rate of speed. And it didn't drift away before the breeze, as it would have done if it had been merely floating in the air. It descended in a straight line. It gave me the impression of moving as though a will actuated it—as though it had a distinct purpose. There was something uncanny about it!"

Godfrey nodded thoughtful agreement.

"I have felt that," he said, "and I admit that the behaviour of the light is extraordinary. But that doesn't prove it supernatural. I don't believe in the supernatural. Especially I don't believe that any two mortals could arrange with the heavenly powers to make a demonstration like that every night at midnight for their benefit. That's too absurd!"

"It is absurd," I assented, "and yet it isn't much more absurd than to suppose that two men would go out on the roof every night to watch a Roman candle, as you call it, come down. Unless, of course, they're lunatics."

"No," said Godfrey, "I don't believe they're lunatics—at least, not both of them. I have a sort of theory about it; but it's a pretty thin one, and I want you to do a little investigating on your own account before I tell you what it is. It's time we went to bed. Don't get up in the morning till you're ready to. Probably I'll not see you till night; I have some work to do that will take me off early. But Mrs. Hargis will make you comfortable, and I'll be back in time to join you in another look at the Roman candle!"

He uttered the last words jestingly, but I could see that the jest was a surface one, and that, at heart, he was deeply serious. Evidently, the strange star had impressed him even more than it had me—though perhaps in a different manner.

I found that it had impressed me deeply enough, for I dreamed about it that night—dreamed, and woke, only to fall asleep and dream and wake again. I do not remember that I saw any more in the dream than I had seen with my waking eyes, but each time I awoke trembling with apprehension and bathed in perspiration. As I lay there the second time, staring up into the darkness and telling myself I was a fool, there came a sudden rush of wind among the trees outside; then a vivid flash of lightning and an instant rending crash of thunder, and then a steady downpour of rain. I could guess how the gasping city welcomed it, and I lay for a long time listening to it, as it dripped from the leaves and beat against the house. A delightful coolness filled the room, an odour fresh and clean; and when, at last, with nerves quieted, I fell asleep again, it was not to awaken until the sun was bright against my curtains.


I glanced at my watch, as soon as I was out of bed, and saw that it was after ten o'clock. All the sleep I had lost during the hot nights of the previous week had been crowded into the last nine hours; I felt like a new man, and when, half an hour later, I ran downstairs, it was with such an appetite for breakfast as I had not known for a long time.

There was no one in the hall, and I stepped out through the open door to the porch beyond, and stood looking about me. The house was built in the midst of a grove of beautiful old trees, some distance back from the road, of which I could catch only a glimpse. It was a small house, a story and a half in height, evidently designed only as a summer residence.

"Good morning, sir," said a voice behind me, and I turned to find a pleasant-faced, grey-haired woman standing in the doorway.

"Good morning," I responded. "I suppose you are Mrs. Hargis?"

"Yes, sir; and your breakfast's ready."

"Has Mr. Godfrey gone?"

"Yes, sir; he left about an hour ago. He was afraid his machine would waken you."

"It didn't," I said, as I followed her back along the hall. "Nothing short of an earthquake would have wakened me. Ah, this is fine!"

She had shown me into a pleasant room, where a little table was set near an open window. It made quite a picture, with its white cloth and shining dishes and plate of yellow butter, and bowl of crimson berries, and—but I didn't linger to admire it. I don't know when I have enjoyed breakfast so much. Mrs. Hargis, after bringing in the eggs and bacon and setting a little pot of steaming coffee at my elbow, sensibly left me alone to the enjoyment of it. Ever since that morning, I have realised that, to start the day exactly right, a man should breakfast by himself, amid just such surroundings, leisurely and without distraction. A copy of the morning's Record was lying on the table, but I did not even open it. I did not care what had happened in the world the day before!

At last, ineffably content, I stepped out upon the driveway at the side of the house, and strolled away among the trees. At the end of a few minutes, I came to the high stone wall which bounded the estate of the mysterious Worthington Vaughan, and suddenly the wish came to me to see what lay behind it. Without much difficulty, I found the tree with the ladder against it, which we had mounted the night before. It was a long ladder, even in the daytime, but at last I reached the top, and settled myself on the limb against which it rested. Assuring myself that the leaves hid me from any chance observer, I looked down into the grounds beyond the wall.

There was not much to see. The grounds were extensive and had evidently been laid out with care, but there was an air of neglect about them, as though the attention they received was careless and inadequate. The shrubbery was too dense, grass was invading the walks, here and there a tree showed a dead limb or a broken one. Near the house was a wide lawn, designed, perhaps, as a tennis-court or croquet-ground, with rustic seats under the trees at the edge.

About the house itself was a screen of magnificent elms, which doubtless gave the place its name, and which shut the house in completely. All I could see of it was one corner of the roof. This, however, stood out clear against the sky, and it was here, evidently, that the mysterious midnight figures had been stationed. As I looked at it, I realised the truth of Godfrey's remark that probably from no other point of vantage but just this would they be visible.

It did not take me many minutes to exhaust the interest of this empty prospect, more especially since my perch was anything but comfortable, and I was just about to descend, when two white-robed figures appeared at the edge of the open space near the house and walked slowly across it. I settled back into my place with a tightening of interest which made me forget its discomfort, for that these were the two star-worshippers I did not doubt.

The distance was so great that their faces were the merest blurs; but I could see that one leaned heavily upon the arm of the other, as much, or so it seemed to me, for moral as for physical support. I could see, too, that the hair of the feebler man was white, while that of his companion was jet black. The younger man's face appeared so dark that I suspected he wore a beard, and his figure was erect and vigorous, in the prime of life, virile and full of power.

He certainly dominated the older man. I watched them attentively, as they paced back and forth, and the dependence of the one upon the other was very manifest. Both heads were bent as though in earnest talk, and for perhaps half an hour they walked slowly up and down. Then, at a sign of fatigue from the older figure, the other led him to a garden-bench, where both sat down.

The elder man, I told myself, was no doubt Worthington Vaughan. Small wonder he was considered queer if he dressed habitually in a white robe and worshipped the stars at midnight! There was something monkish about the habits which he and his companion wore, and the thought flashed into my mind that perhaps they were members of some religious order, or some Oriental cult or priesthood. And both of them, I added to myself, must be a little mad!

As I watched, the discussion gradually grew more animated, and the younger man, springing to his feet, paced excitedly up and down, touching his forehead with his fingers from time to time, and raising his hands to heaven, as though calling it as a witness to his words. At last the other made a sign of assent, got to his feet, bent his head reverently as to a spiritual superior and walked slowly away toward the house. The younger man stood gazing after him until he passed from sight, then resumed his rapid pacing up and down, evidently deeply moved.

At last from the direction of the house came the flutter of a white robe. For a moment, I thought it was the old man returning; then as itemerged fully from among the trees, I saw that it was a woman—a young woman, I guessed, from her slimness, and from the mass of dark hair which framed her face. And then I remembered that Godfrey had told me that Worthington Vaughan had a daughter.

The man was at her side in an instant, held out his hand, and said something, which caused her to shrink away. She half-turned, as though to flee, but the other laid his hand upon her arm, speaking earnestly, and, after a moment, she permitted him to lead her to a seat. He remained standing before her, sometimes raising his hands to heaven, sometimes pointing toward the house, sometimes bending close above her, and from time to time making that peculiar gesture of touching his fingers to his forehead, whose meaning I could not guess. But I could guess at the torrent of passionate words which poured from his lips, and at the eager light which was in his eyes!

The woman sat quite still, with bowed head, listening, but making no sign either of consent or refusal. Gradually, the man grew more confident, and at last stooped to take her hand, but she drew it quickly away, and, raising her head, said something slowly and with emphasis. He shook his head savagely, then, after a rapid turn up and down, seemed to agree, bowed low to her, and went rapidly away toward the house. The woman sat for some time where he had left her, her face in her hands; then, with a gesture of weariness and discouragement, crossed the lawn and disappeared among the trees.

For a long time I sat there motionless, my eyes on the spot where she had disappeared, trying to understand. What was the meaning of the scene? What was it the younger man had urged so passionately upon her, but at which she had rebelled? What was it for which he had pled so earnestly? The obvious answer was that he pled for her love, that he had urged her to become his wife; but the answer did not satisfy me. His attitude had been passionate enough, but it had scarcely been lover-like. It had more of admonition, of warning, even of threat, than of entreaty in it. It was not the attitude of a lover to his mistress, but of a master to his pupil.

And what had been the answer, wrung from her finally by his insistence—the answer to which he had at first violently dissented, and then reluctantly agreed?

No doubt, if these people had been garbed in the clothes of every day, I should have felt at the outset that all this was none of my business, and have crept down the ladder and gone away. But their strange dress gave to the scene an air at once unreal and theatrical, and not for an instant had I felt myself an intruder. It was as though I were looking at the rehearsal of a drama designed for the public gaze and enacted upon a stage; or, more properly, a pantomime, dim and figurative, but most impressive. Might it not, indeed, be a rehearsal of some sort—private theatricals—make-believe? But that scene at midnight—that could not be make-believe! No, nor was this scene in the garden. It was in earnest—in deadliest earnest; there was about it something sinister and threatening; and it was the realisation of this—the realisation that there was something here not right, something demanding scrutiny—which kept me chained to my uncomfortable perch, minute after minute.

But nothing further happened, and I realised, at last, that if I was to escape an agonising cramp in the leg, I must get down. I put my feet on the ladder, and then paused for a last look about the grounds. My eye was caught by a flutter of white among the trees. Someone was walking along one of the paths; in a moment, straining forward, I saw it was the woman, and that she was approaching the wall.

And then, as she came nearer, I saw that she was not a woman at all, but a girl—a girl of eighteen or twenty, to whom the flowing robes gave, at a distance, the effect of age. I caught only a glimpse of her face before it was hidden by a clump of shrubbery, but that glimpse told me that it was a face to set the pulses leaping. I strained still farther forward, waiting until she should come into sight again… .

Along the path she came, with the sunlight about her, kissing her hair, her lips, her cheeks—and the next instant her eyes were staring upwards into mine.

I could not move. I could only stare down at her. I saw the hot colour sweep across her face; I saw her hand go to her bosom; I saw her turn to flee. Then, to my amazement, she stopped, as though arrested by a sudden thought, turned toward me again, and raised her eyes deliberately to mine.

For fully a minute she stood there, her gaze searching and intent, as though she would read my soul; then her face hardened with sudden resolution. Again she put her hand to her bosom, turned hastily toward the wall, and disappeared behind it.

The next instant, something white came flying over it, and fell on the grass beneath my tree. Staring down at it, I saw it was a letter.