The Mayor's Wife HTML version

21. The Cipher
Hitherto I had mainly admired Mrs. Packard's person and the extreme charm of
manner which never deserted her, no matter how she felt. Now I found myself
compelled to admire the force and quality of her mind, her readiness to meet
emergencies and the tact with which she had availed herself of the superstition
latent in the Irish temperament. For I had no more faith in the explanation she
had seen fit to give these ignorant girls than I had in the apparition itself. Emotion
such as she had shown called for a more matter-of-fact basis than the one she
had ascribed to it. No unreal and purely superstitious reason would account for
the extreme joy and self-abandonment with which she had hailed the possibility
of Mr. Steele's death. The "no" she had given me when I asked if she considered
this man her husband's enemy had been a lying no. To her, for some cause as
yet unexplained, the secretary was a dangerous ally to the man she loved; an
ally so near and so dangerous that the mere rumor of his death was capable of
lifting her from the depths of despondency into a state of abnormal exhilaration
and hope. Now why? What reason had she for this belief, and how was it in my
power to solve the mystery which I felt to be at the bottom of all the rest?
But one means suggested itself. I was now assured that Mrs. Packard would
never take me into her actual confidence, any more than she had taken her
husband. What I learned must be in spite of her precautions. The cipher of which
I had several specimens might, if properly read, give me the clue I sought. I had
a free hour before me. Why not employ it in an endeavor to pick out the meaning
of those odd Hebraic characters? I had in a way received her sanction to do so-if
I could; and if I should succeed, what shadows might it not clear from the path of
the good man whose interests it was my chief duty to consult?
Ciphers have always possessed a fascination for me. This one, from the variety
of its symbols, offered a study of unusual interest. Collecting the stray specimens
which I had picked up, I sat down in my cozy little room and laid them all out
before me, with the following result:
[transcriber's note: the symbols cannot be converted to ASCII so I have shown
them as follows:]
[] is a Square
[-] is sides and bottom of a square,
C is top, bottom and left side of a square,
L is left side and bottom of a square,,