Mysteries follow one another so closely in a great city that the reading
public and the friends of Johnny Bellchambers have ceased to marvel
at his sudden and unexplained disappearance nearly a year ago. This
particular mystery has now been cleared up, but the solution is so
strange and incredible to the mind of the average man that only a select
few who were in close touch with Bellchambers will give it full
Johnny Bellchambers, as is well known, belonged to the intrinsically
inner circle of the _Úlite_. Without any of the ostentation of the
fashionable ones who endeavor to attract notice by eccentric display of
wealth and show he still was _au fait_ in everything that gave deserved
lustre to his high position in the ranks of society.
Especially did he shine in the matter of dress. In this he was the
despair of imitators. Always correct, exquisitely groomed, and possessed
of an unlimited wardrobe, he was conceded to be the best-dressed man in
New York, and, therefore, in America. There was not a tailor in Gotham
who would not have deemed it a precious boon to have been granted the
privilege of making Bellchambers' clothes without a cent of pay. As he
wore them, they would have been a priceless advertisement. Trousers
were his especial passion. Here nothing but perfection would he notice.
He would have worn a patch as quickly as he would have overlooked a
wrinkle. He kept a man in his apartments always busy pressing his ample
supply. His friends said that three hours was the limit of time that he
would wear these garments without exchanging.
Bellchambers disappeared very suddenly. For three days his absence
brought no alarm to his friends, and then they began to operate the
usual methods of inquiry. All of them failed. He had left absolutely no
trace behind. Then the search for a motive was instituted, but none was
found. He had no enemies, he had no debts, there was no woman. There
were several thousand dollars in his bank to his credit. He had never
showed any tendency toward mental eccentricity; in fact, he was of a
particularly calm and well-balanced temperament. Every means of tracing
the vanished man was made use of, but without avail. It was one of those
cases--more numerous in late years--where men seem to have gone out like
the flame of a candle, leaving not even a trail of smoke as a witness.
In May, Tom Eyres and Lancelot Gilliam, two of Bellchambers' old
friends, went for a little run on the other side. While pottering around
in Italy and Switzerland, they happened, one day, to hear of a monastery
in the Swiss Alps that promised something outside of the ordinary
tourist-beguiling attractions. The monastery was almost inaccessible to
the average sightseer, being on an extremely rugged and precipitous spur
of the mountains. The attractions it possessed but did not advertise
were, first, an exclusive and divine cordial made by the monks that was
said to far surpass benedictine and chartreuse. Next a huge brass bell
so purely and accurately cast that it had not ceased sounding since it
was first rung three hundred years ago. Finally, it was asserted that no
Englishman had ever set foot within its walls. Eyres and Gilliam decided
that these three reports called for investigation.
It took them two days with the aid of two guides to reach the monastery
of St. Gondrau. It stood upon a frozen, wind-swept crag with the snow
piled about it in treacherous, drifting masses. They were hospitably
received by the brothers whose duty it was to entertain the infrequent
guest. They drank of the precious cordial, finding it rarely potent and
reviving. They listened to the great, ever-echoing bell, and learned
that they were pioneer travelers, in those gray stone walls, over the
Englishman whose restless feet have trodden nearly every corner of the
At three o'clock on the afternoon they arrived, the two young Gothamites
stood with good Brother Cristofer in the great, cold hallway of the
monastery to watch the monks march past on their way to the refectory.
They came slowly, pacing by twos, with their heads bowed, treading
noiselessly with sandaled feet upon the rough stone flags. As the
procession slowly filed past, Eyres suddenly gripped Gilliam by the arm.
"Look," he whispered, eagerly, "at the one just opposite you now--the
one on this side, with his hand at his waist--if that isn't Johnny
Bellchambers then I never saw him!"
Gilliam saw and recognized the lost glass of fashion.
"What the deuce," said he, wonderingly, "is old Bell doing here? Tommy,
it surely can't be he! Never heard of Bell having a turn for the
religious. Fact is, I've heard him say things when a four-in-hand didn't
seem to tie up just right that would bring him up for court-martial
before any church."
"It's Bell, without a doubt," said Eyres, firmly, "or I'm pretty badly
in need of an oculist. But think of Johnny Bellchambers, the Royal High
Chancellor of swell togs and the Mahatma of pink teas, up here in cold
storage doing penance in a snuff-colored bathrobe! I can't get it
straight in my mind. Let's ask the jolly old boy that's doing the
Brother Cristofer was appealed to for information. By that time the
monks had passed into the refectory. He could not tell to which one they
referred. Bellchambers? Ah, the brothers of St. Gondrau abandoned their
worldly names when they took the vows. Did the gentlemen wish to speak
with one of the brothers? If they would come to the refectory and
indicate the one they wished to see, the reverend abbot in authority
would, doubtless, permit it.
Eyres and Gilliam went into the dining hall and pointed out to Brother
Cristofer the man they had seen. Yes, it was Johnny Bellchambers. They
saw his face plainly now, as he sat among the dingy brothers, never
looking up, eating broth from a coarse, brown bowl.
Permission to speak to one of the brothers was granted to the two
travelers by the abbot, and they waited in a reception room for him to
come. When he did come, treading softly in his sandals, both Eyres and
Gilliam looked at him in perplexity and astonishment. It was Johnny
Bellchambers, but he had a different look. Upon his smooth-shaven face
was an expression of ineffable peace, of rapturous attainment, of
perfect and complete happiness. His form was proudly erect, his eyes
shone with a serene and gracious light. He was as neat and well-groomed
as in the old New York days, but how differently was he clad! Now he
seemed clothed in but a single garment--a long robe of rough brown
cloth, gathered by a cord at the waist, and falling in straight, loose
folds nearly to his feet. He shook hands with his visitors with his old
ease and grace of manner. If there was any embarrassment in that meeting
it was not manifested by Johnny Bellchambers. The room had no seats;
they stood to converse.
"Glad to see you, old man," said Eyres, somewhat awkwardly. "Wasn't
expecting to find you up here. Not a bad idea though, after all.
Society's an awful sham. Must be a relief to shake the giddy whirl and
retire to--er--contemplation and--er--prayer and hymns, and those
"Oh, cut that, Tommy," said Bellchambers, cheerfully. "Don't be afraid
that I'll pass around the plate. I go through these thing-um-bobs with
the rest of these old boys because they are the rules. I'm Brother
Ambrose here, you know. I'm given just ten minutes to talk to you
fellows. That's rather a new design in waistcoats you have on, isn't it,
Gilliam? Are they wearing those things on Broadway now?"
"It's the same old Johnny," said Gilliam, joyfully. "What the devil--I
mean why-- Oh, confound it! what did you do it for, old man?"
"Peel the bathrobe," pleaded Eyres, almost tearfully, "and go back with
us. The old crowd'll go wild to see you. This isn't in your line, Bell.
I know half a dozen girls that wore the willow on the quiet when you
shook us in that unaccountable way. Hand in your resignation, or get a
dispensation, or whatever you have to do to get a release from this ice
factory. You'll get catarrh here, Johnny--and-- My God! you haven't any
Bellchambers looked down at his sandaled feet and smiled.
"You fellows don't understand," he said, soothingly. "It's nice of you
to want me to go back, but the old life will never know me again. I
have reached here the goal of all my ambitions. I am entirely happy
and contented. Here I shall remain for the remainder of my days. You
see this robe that I wear?" Bellchambers caressingly touched the
straight-hanging garment: "At last I have found something that will not
bag at the knees. I have attained--"
At that moment the deep boom of the great brass bell reverberated
through the monastery. It must have been a summons to immediate
devotions, for Brother Ambrose bowed his head, turned and left the
chamber without another word. A slight wave of his hand as he passed
through the stone doorway seemed to say a farewell to his old friends.
They left the monastery without seeing him again.
And this is the story that Tommy Eyres and Lancelot Gilliam brought back
with them from their latest European tour.