BY ANNA KATHARINE GREEN (MRS. CHARLES ROHLFS)
AUTHOR OF "THE LEAVENWORTH CASE," "THAT AFFAIR NEXT DOOR" "LOST
MAN'S LANE," ETC.
THIS BOOK IS INSCRIBED TO MY FRIEND
PROFESSOR A. V. DICEY
OF OXFORD, ENGLAND
THE PURPLE ORCHID
I—A Cry on the Hill
II—One Night's Work
III—The Empty Drawer
IV—The Full Drawer
V—A Spot on the Lawn
VI—"Breakfast is Served, Gentlemen!"
VIII—"A Devil That Understands Men"
IX—A Grand Woman
X—Detective Knapp Arrives
XI—The Man with a Beard
XIV—A Final Temptation
XV—The Zabels Visited
XVI—Local Talent at Work
XVII—The Slippers, the Flower, and What Sweetwater Made of Them
XVIII—Some Leading Questions
XX—A Surprise for Mr. Sutherland
THE MAN OF NO REPUTATION
XXIII—A Sinister Pair
XXIV—In the Shadow of the Mast
XXVI—The Adventure of the Parcel
XXVII—The Adventure of the Scrap of Paper and the Three Words
XXVIII—"Who Are You?" XXIX—Home Again
HAD BATSY LIVED!
XXX—What Followed the Striking of the Clock
XXXI—A Witness Lost
XXXII—Why Agatha Webb will Never be Forgotten in Sutherlandtown
XXXIII—Father and Son
XXXIV—"Not When They Are Young Girls"
XXXV—Sweetwater Pays His Debt at Last to Mr. Sutherland
THE PURPLE ORCHID
A CRY ON THE HILL
The dance was over. From the great house on the hill the guests
had all departed and only the musicians remained. As they filed
out through the ample doorway, on their way home, the first faint
streak of early dawn became visible in the east. One of them, a
lank, plain-featured young man of ungainly aspect but penetrating
eye, called the attention of the others to it.
"Look!" said he; "there is the daylight! This has been a gay night
"Too gay," muttered another, starting aside as the slight figure
of a young man coming from the house behind them rushed hastily
by. "Why, who's that?"
As they one and all had recognised the person thus alluded to, no
one answered till he had dashed out of the gate and disappeared in
the woods on the other side of the road. Then they all spoke at
"It's Mr. Frederick!"
"He seems in a desperate hurry."
"He trod on my toes."
"Did you hear the words he was muttering as he went by?"
As only the last question was calculated to rouse any interest, it
alone received attention.
"No; what were they? I heard him say something, but I failed to
catch the words."
"He wasn't talking to you, or to me either, for that matter; but I
have ears that can hear an eye wink. He said: 'Thank God, this
night of horror is over!' Think of that! After such a dance and
such a spread, he calls the night horrible and thanks God that it
is over. I thought he was the very man to enjoy this kind of
"So did I."
"And so did I."
The five musicians exchanged looks, then huddled in a group at the
"He has quarrelled with his sweetheart," suggested one.
"I'm not surprised at that," declared another. "I never thought it
would be a match."
"Shame if it were!" muttered the ungainly youth who had spoken
As the subject of this comment was the son of the gentleman whose
house they were just leaving, they necessarily spoke low; but
their tones were rife with curiosity, and it was evident that the
topic deeply interested them. One of the five who had not
previously spoken now put in a word:
"I saw him when he first led out Miss Page to dance, and I saw him
again when he stood up opposite her in the last quadrille, and I
tell you, boys, there was a mighty deal of difference in the way
he conducted himself toward her in the beginning of the evening
and the last. You wouldn't have thought him the same man. Reckless
young fellows like him are not to be caught by dimples only. They
"Or family, at least; and she hasn't either. But what a pretty
girl she is! Many a fellow as rich as he and as well connected
would be satisfied with her good looks alone."
"Good looks!" High scorn was observable in this exclamation, which
was made by the young man whom I have before characterised as
ungainly. "I refuse to acknowledge that she has any good looks. On
the contrary, I consider her plain."
"Oh! Oh!" burst in protest from more than one mouth. "And why does
she have every fellow in the room dangling after her, then?" asked
the player on the flageolet.
"She hasn't a regular feature."
"What difference does that make when it isn't her features you
notice, but herself?"
"I don't like her."
A laugh followed this.
"That won't trouble her, Sweetwater. Sutherland does, if you
don't, and that's much more to the point. And he'll marry her yet;
he can't help it. Why, she'd witch the devil into leading her to
the altar if she took a notion to have him for her bridegroom."
"There would be consistency in that," muttered the fellow just
addressed. "But Mr. Frederick—"
"Hush! There's some one on the doorstep. Why, it's she!"
They all glanced back. The graceful figure of a young girl dressed
in white was to be seen leaning toward them from the open doorway.
Behind her shone a blaze of light—the candles not having been yet
extinguished in the hall—and against this brilliant background
her slight form, with all its bewitching outlines, stood out in
"Who was that?" she began in a high, almost strident voice,
totally out of keeping with the sensuous curves of her strange,
sweet face. But the question remained unanswered, for at that
moment her attention, as well as that of the men lingering at the
gate, was attracted by the sound of hurrying feet and confused
cries coming up the hill.
"Murder! Murder!" was the word panted out by more than one harsh
voice; and in another instant a dozen men and boys came rushing
into sight in a state of such excitement that the five musicians
recoiled from the gate, and one of them went so far as to start
back toward the house. As he did so he noticed a curious thing.
The young woman whom they had all perceived standing in the door a
moment before had vanished, yet she was known to possess the
keenest curiosity of any one in town.
"Murder! Murder!" A terrible and unprecedented cry in this old,
God-fearing town. Then came in hoarse explanation from the
jostling group as they stopped at the gate: "Mrs. Webb has been
killed! Stabbed with a knife! Tell Mr. Sutherland!"
As the musicians heard this name, so honoured and so universally
beloved, they to a man uttered a cry. Mrs. Webb! Why, it was
impossible. Shouting in their turn for Mr. Sutherland, they all
"Not Mrs. Webb!" they protested. "Who could have the daring or the
heart to kill HER?"
"God knows," answered a voice from the highway. "But she's dead—
we've just seen her!"
"Then it's the old man's work," quavered a piping voice. "I've
always said he would turn on his best friend some day. 'Sylum's
the best place for folks as has lost their wits. I—"
But here a hand was put over his mouth, and the rest of the words
was lost in an inarticulate gurgle. Mr. Sutherland had just
appeared on the porch.
He was a superb-looking man, with an expression of mingled
kindness and dignity that invariably awakened both awe and
admiration in the spectator. No man in the country—I was going to
say no woman was more beloved, or held in higher esteem. Yet he
could not control his only son, as everyone within ten miles of
the hill well knew.
At this moment his face showed both pain and shock.
"What name are you shouting out there?" he brokenly demanded.
"Agatha Webb? Is Agatha Webb hurt?"
"Yes, sir; killed," repeated a half-dozen voices at once. "We've
just come from the house. All the town is up. Some say her husband
"No, no!" was Mr. Sutherland's decisive though half-inaudible
response. "Philemon Webb might end his own life, but not Agatha's.
It was the money—"
Here he caught himself up, and, raising his voice, addressed the
crowd of villagers more directly.
"Wait," said he, "and I will go back with you. Where is
Frederick?" he demanded of such members of his own household as
stood about him.
No one knew.
"I wish some one would find my son. I want him to go into town
"He's over in the woods there," volunteered a voice from without.
"In the woods!" repeated the father, in a surprised tone.
"Yes, sir; we all saw him go. Shall we sing out to him?"
"No, no; I will manage very well without him." And taking up his
hat Mr. Sutherland stepped out again upon the porch.
Suddenly he stopped. A hand had been laid on his arm and an
insinuating voice was murmuring in his ear:
"Do you mind if I go with you? I will not make any trouble."
It was the same young lady we have seen before.
The old gentleman frowned—he who never frowned and remarked
"A scene of murder is no place for women."
The face upturned to his remained unmoved.
"I think I will go," she quietly persisted. "I can easily mingle
with the crowd."
He said not another word against it. Miss Page was under pay in
his house, but for the last few weeks no one had undertaken to
contradict her. In the interval since her first appearance on the
porch, she had exchanged the light dress in which she had danced
at the ball, for a darker and more serviceable one, and perhaps
this token of her determination may have had its influence in
silencing him. He joined the crowd, and together they moved down-
hill. This was too much for the servants of the house. One by one
they too left the house till it stood absolutely empty. Jerry
snuffed out the candles and shut the front door, but the side
entrance stood wide open, and into this entrance, as the last
footstep died out on the hillside, passed a slight and resolute
figure. It was that of the musician who had questioned Miss Page's
ONE NIGHT'S WORK
Sutherlandtown was a seaport. The village, which was a small one,
consisted of one long street and numerous cross streets running
down from the hillside and ending on the wharves. On one of the
corners thus made, stood the Webb house, with its front door on
the main street and its side door on one of the hillside lanes. As
the group of men and boys who had been in search of Mr. Sutherland
entered this last-mentioned lane, they could pick out this house
from all the others, as it was the only one in which a light was
still burning. Mr. Sutherland lost no time in entering upon the
scene of tragedy. As his imposing figure emerged from the darkness
and paused on the outskirts of the crowd that was blocking up
every entrance to the house, a murmur of welcome went up, after
which a way was made for him to the front door.
But before he could enter, some one plucked him by the sleeve.
"Look up!" whispered a voice into his ear.
He did so, and saw a woman's body hanging half out of an upper
window. It hung limp, and the sight made him sick, notwithstanding
his threescore years of experience.
"Who's that?" he cried. "That's not Agatha Webb."
"No, that's Batsy, the cook. She's dead as well as her mistress.
We left her where we found her for the coroner to see."
"But this is horrible," murmured Mr. Sutherland. "Has there been a
As he uttered these words, he felt another quick pressure on his
arm. Looking down, he saw leaning against him the form of a young
woman, but before he could address her she had started upright
again and was moving on with the throng. It was Miss Page.
"It was the sight of this woman hanging from the window which
first drew attention to the house," volunteered a man who was
standing as a sort of guardian at the main gateway. "Some of the
sailors' wives who had been to the wharves to see their husbands
off on the ship that sailed at daybreak, saw it as they came up
the lane on their way home, and gave the alarm. Without that we
might not have known to this hour what had happened."
"But Mrs. Webb?"
"Come in and see."
There was a board fence about the simple yard within which stood
the humble house forever after to be pointed out as the scene of
Sutherlandtown's most heartrending tragedy. In this fence was a
gate, and through this gate now passed Mr. Sutherland, followed by
his would-be companion, Miss Page. A path bordered by lilac bushes
led up to the house, the door of which stood wide open. As soon as
Mr. Sutherland entered upon this path a man approached him from
the doorway. It was Amos Fenton, the constable.
"Ah, Mr. Sutherland," said he, "sad business, a very sad business!
But what little girl have you there?"
"This is Miss Page, my housekeeper's niece. She would come.
Inquisitiveness the cause. I do not approve of it."
"Miss Page must remain on the doorstep. We allow no one inside
excepting yourself," he said respectfully, in recognition of the
fact that nothing of importance was ever undertaken in Sutherland
town without the presence of Mr. Sutherland.
Miss Page curtsied, looking so bewitching in the fresh morning
light that the tough old constable scratched his chin in grudging
admiration. But he did not reconsider his determination. Seeing
this, she accepted her defeat gracefully, and moved aside to where
the bushes offered her more or less protection from the curiosity
of those about her. Meanwhile Mr. Sutherland had stepped into the
He found himself in a small hall with a staircase in front and an
open door at the left. On the threshold of this open door a man
stood, who at sight of him doffed his hat. Passing by this man,
Mr. Sutherland entered the room beyond. A table spread with
eatables met his view, beside which, in an attitude which struck
him at the moment as peculiar, sat Philemon Webb, the well-known
master of the house.
Astonished at seeing his old friend in this room and in such a
position, he was about to address him, when Mr. Fenton stopped
"Wait!" said he. "Take a look at poor Philemon before you disturb
him. When we broke into the house a half-hour ago he was sitting
just as you see him now, and we have let him be for reasons you
can easily appreciate. Examine him closely, Mr. Sutherland; he
won't notice it."
"But what ails him? Why does he sit crouched against the table? Is
he hurt too?"
"No; look at his eyes."
Mr. Sutherland stooped and pushed aside the long grey locks that
half concealed the countenance of his aged friend.
"Why," he cried, startled, "they are closed! He isn't dead?"
"No, he is asleep."
"Yes. He was asleep when we came in and he is asleep yet. Some of
the neighbours wanted to wake him, but I would not let them. His
wits are not strong enough to bear a sudden shock."
"No, no, poor Philemon! But that he should sit sleeping here while
she—But what do these bottles mean and this parade of supper in a
room they were not accustomed to eat in?"
"We don't know. It has not been eaten, you see. He has swallowed a
glass of port, but that is all. The other glasses have had no wine
in them, nor have the victuals been touched."
"Seats set for three and only one occupied," murmured Mr.
Sutherland. "Strange! Could he have expected guests?"
"It looks like it. I didn't know that his wife allowed him such
privileges; but she was always too good to him, and I fear has
paid for it with her life."
"Nonsense! he never killed her. Had his love been anything short
of the worship it was, he stood in too much awe of her to lift his
hand against her, even in his most demented moments."
"I don't trust men of uncertain wits," returned the other. "You
have not noticed everything that is to be seen in this room."
Mr. Sutherland, recalled to himself by these words, looked quickly
about him. With the exception of the table and what was on and by
it there was nothing else in the room. Naturally his glance
returned to Philemon Webb.
"I don't see anything but this poor sleeping man," he began.
"Look at his sleeve."
Mr. Sutherland, with a start, again bent down. The arm of his old
friend lay crooked upon the table, and on its blue cotton sleeve
there was a smear which might have been wine, but which was—
As Mr. Sutherland became assured of this, he turned slightly pale
and looked inquiringly at the two men who were intently watching
"This is bad," said he. "Any other marks of blood below stairs?"
"No; that one smear is all."
"Oh, Philemon!" burst from Mr. Sutherland, in deep emotion. Then,
as he looked long and shudderingly at his friend, he added slowly:
"He has been in the room where she was killed; so much is evident.
But that he understood what was done there I cannot believe, or he
would not be sleeping here like a log. Come, let us go up-stairs."
Fenton, with an admonitory gesture toward his subordinate, turned
directly toward the staircase. Mr. Sutherland followed him, and
they at once proceeded to the upper hall and into the large front
room which had been the scene of the tragedy.
It was the parlour or sitting-room of this small and unpretentious
house. A rag carpet covered the floor and the furniture was of the
plainest kind, but the woman who lay outstretched on the stiff,
old-fashioned lounge opposite the door was far from being in
accord with the homely type of her surroundings. Though the victim
of a violent death, her face and form, both of a beauty seldom to
be found among women of any station, were so majestic in their
calm repose, that Mr. Sutherland, accustomed as he was to her
noble appearance, experienced a shock of surprise that found vent
in these words:
"Murdered! she? You have made some mistake, my friends. Look at
But even in the act of saying this his eyes fell on the blood
which had dyed her cotton dress and he cried:
"Where was she struck and where is the weapon which has made this
"She was struck while standing or sitting at this table," returned
the constable, pointing to two or three drops of blood on its
smooth surface. "The weapon we have not found, but the wound shows
that it was inflicted by a three-sided dagger."
"A three-sided dagger?"
"I didn't know there was such a thing in town. Philemon could have
had no dagger."
"It does not seem so, but one can never tell. Simple cottages like
these often contain the most unlooked-for articles."
"I cannot imagine a dagger being among its effects," declared Mr.
Sutherland. "Where was the body of Mrs. Webb lying when you came
"Where you see it now. Nothing has been moved or changed."
"She was found here, on this lounge, in the same position in which
we see her now?"
"But that is incredible. Look at the way she lies! Hands crossed,
eyes closed, as though made ready for her burial. Only loving
hands could have done this. What does it mean?"
"It means Philemon; that is what it means Philemon."
Mr. Sutherland shuddered, but said nothing. He was dumbfounded by
these evidences of a crazy man's work. Philemon Webb always seemed
so harmless, though he had been failing in mind for the last ten
"But" cried Mr. Sutherland, suddenly rousing, "there is another
victim. I saw old woman Batsy hanging from a window ledge, dead."
"Yes, she is in this other room; but there is no wound on Batsy."
"How was she killed, then?"
"That the doctors must tell us."
Mr. Sutherland, guided by Mr. Fenton's gesture, entered a small
room opening into the one in which they stood. His attention was
at once attracted by the body of the woman he had seen from below,
lying half in and half out of the open window. That she was dead
was evident; but, as Mr. Fenton had said, no wound was to be seen
upon her, nor were there any marks of blood on or about the place
where she lay.
"This is a dreadful business," groaned Mr. Sutherland, "the worst
I have ever had anything to do with. Help me to lift the woman in;
she has been long enough a show for the people outside."
There was a bed in this room (indeed, it was Mrs. Webb's bedroom),
and upon this poor Batsy was laid. As the face came uppermost both
gentlemen started and looked at each other in amazement. The
expression of terror and alarm which it showed was in striking
contrast to the look of exaltation to be seen on the face of her
THE EMPTY DRAWER
As they re-entered the larger room, they were astonished to come
upon Miss Page standing in the doorway. She was gazing at the
recumbent figure of the dead woman, and for a moment seemed
unconscious of their presence.
"How did you get in? Which of my men was weak enough to let you
pass, against my express instructions?" asked the constable, who
was of an irritable and suspicious nature.
She let the hood drop from her head, and, turning, surveyed him
with a slow smile. There was witchery in that smile sufficient to
affect a much more cultivated and callous nature than his, and
though he had been proof against it once he could not quite resist
the effect of its repetition.
"I insisted upon entering," said she. "Do not blame the men; they
did not want to use force against a woman." She had not a good
voice and she knew it; but she covered up this defect by a choice
of intonations that carried her lightest speech to the heart.
Hard-visaged Amos Fenton gave a grunt, which was as near an
expression of approval as he ever gave to anyone.
"Well! well!" he growled, but not ill-naturedly, "it's a morbid
curiosity that brings you here. Better drop it, girl; it won't do
you any good in the eyes of sensible people."
"Thank you," was her demure reply, her lips dimpling at the
corners in a way to shock the sensitive Mr. Sutherland.
Glancing from her to the still outlines of the noble figure on the
couch, he remarked with an air of mild reproof:
"I do not understand you, Miss Page. If this solemn sight has no
power to stop your coquetries, nothing can. As for your curiosity,
it is both ill-timed and unwomanly. Let me see you leave this
house at once, Miss Page; and if in the few hours which must
elapse before breakfast you can find time to pack your trunks, you
will still farther oblige me."
"Oh, don't send me away, I entreat you."
It was a cry from her inner heart, which she probably regretted,
for she instantly sought to cover up her inadvertent self-betrayal
by a submissive bend of the head and a step backward. Neither Mr.
Fenton nor Mr. Sutherland seemed to hear the one or see the other,
their attention having returned to the more serious matter in
"The dress which our poor friend wears shows her to have been
struck before retiring," commented Mr. Sutherland, after another
short survey of Mrs. Webb's figure. "If Philemon—"
"Excuse me, sir," interrupted the voice of the young man who had
been left in the hall, "the lady is listening to what you say. She
is still at the head of the stairs."
"She is, is she!" cried Fenton, sharply, his admiration for the
fascinating stranger having oozed out at his companion's rebuff.
"I will soon show her—" But the words melted into thin air as he
reached the door. The young girl had disappeared, and only a faint
perfume remained in the place where she had stood.
"A most extraordinary person," grumbled the constable, turning
back, but stopping again as a faint murmur came up from below.
"The gentleman is waking," called up a voice whose lack of music
was quite perceptible at a distance.
With a bound Mr. Fenton descended the stairs, followed by Mr.
Miss Page stood before the door of the room in which sat Philemon
Webb. As they reached her side, she made a little bow that was
half mocking, half deprecatory, and slipped from the house. An
almost unbearable sensation of incongruity vanished with her, and
Mr. Sutherland, for one, breathed like a man relieved.
"I wish the doctor would come," Fenton said, as they watched the
slow lifting of Philemon Webb's head. "Our fastest rider has gone
for him, but he's out Portchester way, and it may be an hour yet
before he can get here."
Mr. Sutherland had advanced and was standing by his old friend's
"Philemon, what has become of your guests? You've waited for them
here until morning."
The old man with a dazed look surveyed the two plates set on
either side of him and shook his head.
"James and John are getting proud," said he, "or they forget, they
James and John. He must mean the Zabels, yet there were many
others answering to these names in town. Mr. Sutherland made
"Philemon, where is your wife? I do not see any place set here for
"Agatha's sick, Agatha's cross; she don't care for a poor old man
"Agatha's dead and you know it," thundered back the constable,
with ill-judged severity. "Who killed her? tell me that. Who
A sudden quenching of the last spark of intelligence in the old
man's eye was the dreadful effect of these words. Laughing with
that strange gurgle which proclaims an utterly irresponsible mind,
"The pussy cat! It was the pussy cat. Who's killed? I'm not
killed. Let's go to Jericho."
Mr. Sutherland took him by the arm and led him up-stairs. Perhaps
the sight of his dead wife would restore him. But he looked at her
with the same indifference he showed to everything else.
"I don't like her calico dresses," said he. "She might have worn
silk, but she wouldn't. Agatha, will you wear silk to my funeral?"
The experiment was too painful, and they drew him away. But the
constable's curiosity had been roused, and after they had found
some one to take care of him, he drew Mr. Sutherland aside and
"What did the old man mean by saying she might have worn silk? Are
they better off than they seem?" Mr. Sutherland closed the door
"They are rich," he declared, to the utter amazement of the other.
"That is, they were; but they may have been robbed; if so,
Philemon was not the wretch who killed her. I have been told that
she kept her money in an old-fashioned cupboard. Do you suppose
they alluded to that one?"
He pointed to a door set in the wall over the fireplace, and Mr.
Fenton, perceiving a key sticking in the lock, stepped quickly
across the floor and opened it. A row of books met his eyes, but
on taking them down a couple of drawers were seen at the back.
"Are they locked?" asked Mr. Sutherland.
"One is and one is not."
"Open the one that is unlocked."
Mr. Fenton did so.
"It is empty," said he.
Mr. Sutherland cast a look toward the dead woman, and again the
perfect serenity of her countenance struck him.
"I do not know whether to regard her as the victim of her
husband's imbecility or of some vile robber's cupidity. Can you
find the key to the other drawer?"
"I will try."
"Suppose you begin, then, by looking on her person. It should be
in her pocket, if no marauder has been here."
"It is not in her pocket."
"Hanging to her neck, then, by a string?"
"No; there is a locket here, but no key. A very handsome locket,
Mr. Sutherland, with a child's lock of golden hair—"
"Never mind, we will see that later; it is the key we want just
"What is it?"
"It is in her hand; the one that lies underneath."
"Ah! A point, Fenton."
"A great point."
"Stand by her, Fenton. Don't let anyone rob her of that key till
the coroner comes, and we are at liberty to take it."
"I will not leave her for an instant."
"Meanwhile, I will put back these books."
He had scarcely done so when a fresh arrival occurred. This time
it was one of the village clergymen.
THE FULL DRAWER
This gentleman had some information to give. It seems that at an
early hour of this same night he had gone by this house on his way
home from the bedside of a sick parishioner. As he was passing the
gate he was run into by a man who came rushing out of the yard, in
a state of violent agitation. In this man's hand was something
that glittered, and though the encounter nearly upset them both,
he had not stopped to utter an apology, but stumbled away out of
sight with a hasty but infirm step, which showed he was neither
young nor active. The minister had failed to see his face, but
noticed the ends of a long beard blowing over his shoulder as he
Philemon was a clean-shaven man.
Asked if he could give the time of this encounter, he replied that
it was not far from midnight, as he was in his own house by half-
"Did you glance up at these windows in passing?" asked Mr. Fenton.
"I must have; for I now remember they were both lighted."
"Were the shades up?"
"I think not. I would have noticed it if they had been."
"How were the shades when you broke into the house this morning?"
inquired Mr. Sutherland of the constable.
"Just as they are now; we have moved nothing. The shades were both
down—one of them over an open window."
"Well, we may find this encounter of yours with this unknown man a
matter of vital importance, Mr. Crane."
"I wish I had seen his face."
"What do you think the object was you saw glittering in his hand?"
"I should not like to say; I saw it but an instant."
"Could it have been a knife or an old-fashioned dagger?"
"It might have been."
"Alas! poor Agatha! That she, who so despised money, should fall a
victim to man's cupidity! Unhappy life, unhappy death! Fenton, I
shall always mourn for Agatha Webb."
"Yet she seems to have found peace at last," observed the
minister. "I have never seen her look so contented." And leading
Mr. Sutherland aside, he whispered: "What is this you say about
money? Had she, in spite of appearances, any considerable amount?
I ask, because in spite of her humble home and simple manner of
living, she always put more on the plate than any of her
neighbours. Besides which, I have from time to time during my
pastorate received anonymously certain contributions, which, as
they were always for sick or suffering children—"
"Yes, yes; they came from her, I have no doubt of it. She was by
no means poor, though I myself never knew the extent of her means
till lately. Philemon was a good business man once; but they
evidently preferred to live simply, having no children living—"
"They have lost six, I have been told."
"So the Portchester folks say. They probably had no heart for
display or for even the simplest luxuries. At all events, they did
not indulge in them."
"Philemon has long been past indulging in anything."
"Oh, he likes his comfort, and he has had it too. Agatha never
"But why do you think her death was due to her having money?"
"She had a large sum in the house, and there are those in town who
"And is it gone?"
"That we shall know later."
As the coroner arrived at this moment, the minister's curiosity
had to wait. Fortunately for his equanimity, no one had the
presumption to ask him to leave the room.
The coroner was a man of but few words, and but little given to
emotion. Yet they were surprised at his first question:
"Who is the young woman standing outside there, the only one in
Mr. Sutherland, moving rapidly to the window, drew aside the
"It is Miss Page, my housekeeper's niece," he explained. "I do not
understand her interest in this affair. She followed me here from
the house and could hardly be got to leave this room, into which
she intruded herself against my express command."
"But look at her attitude!" It was Mr. Fenton who spoke. "She's
crazier than Philemon, it seems to me."
There was some reason for this remark. Guarded by the high fence
from the gaze of the pushing crowd without, she stood upright and
immovable in the middle of the yard, like one on watch. The hood,
which she had dropped from her head when she thought her eyes and
smile might be of use to her in the furtherance of her plans, had
been drawn over it again, so that she looked more like a statue in
grey than a living, breathing woman. Yet there was menace in her
attitude and a purpose in the solitary stand she took in that
circle of board-girded grass, which caused a thrill in the breasts
of those who looked at her from that chamber of death.
"A mysterious young woman," muttered the minister.
"And one that I neither countenance nor under-stand," interpolated
Mr. Sutherland. "I have just shown my displeasure at her actions
by dismissing her from my house."
The coroner gave him a quick look, seemed about to speak, but
changed his mind and turned toward the dead woman.
"We have a sad duty before us," said he.
The investigations which followed elicited one or two new facts.
First, that all the doors of the house were found unlocked; and,
secondly, that the constable had been among the first to enter, so
that he could vouch that no disarrangement had been made in the
rooms, with the exception of Batsy's removal to the bed.
Then, his attention being drawn to the dead woman, he discovered
the key in her tightly closed hand.
"Where does this key belong?" he asked.
They showed him the drawers in the cupboard.
"One is empty," remarked Mi. Sutherland. "If the other is found to
be in the same condition, then her money has been taken. That key
she holds should open both these drawers."
"Then let it be made use of at once. It is important that we
should know whether theft has been committed here as well as
murder." And drawing the key out, he handed it to Mr. Fenton.
The constable immediately unlocked the drawer and brought it and
its contents to the table.
"No money here," said he.
"But papers as good as money," announced the doctor. "See! here
are deeds and more than one valuable bond. I judge she was a
richer woman than any of us knew."
Mr. Sutherland, meantime, was looking with an air of
disappointment into the now empty drawer.
"Just as I feared," said he. "She has been robbed of her ready
money. It was doubtless in the other drawer."
"How came she by the key, then?"
"That is one of the mysteries of the affair; this murder is by no
means a simple one. I begin to think we shall find it full of
"Batsy's death, for instance?"
"O yes, Batsy! I forgot that she was found dead too."
"Without a wound, doctor."
"She had heart disease. I doctored her for it. The fright has
"The look of her face confirms that."
"Let me see! So it does; but we must have an autopsy to prove it."
"I would like to explain before any further measures are taken,
how I came to know that Agatha Webb had money in her house," said
Mr. Sutherland, as they stepped back into the other room. "Two
days ago, as I was sitting with my family at table, old gossip
Judy came in. Had Mrs. Sutherland been living, this old crone
would not have presumed to intrude upon us at mealtime, but as we
have no one now to uphold our dignity, this woman rushed into our
presence panting with news, and told us all in one breath how she
had just come from Mrs. Webb; that Mrs. Webb had money; that she
had seen it, she herself; that, going into the house as usual
without knocking, she had heard Agatha stepping overhead and had
gone up; and finding the door of the sitting-room ajar, had looked
in, and seen Agatha crossing the room with her hands full of
bills; that these bills were big bills, for she heard Agatha cry,
as she locked them up in the cupboard behind the book-shelves, 'A
thousand dollars! That is too much money to have in one's house';
that she, Judy, thought so too, and being frightened at what she
had seen, had crept away as silently as she had entered and run
away to tell the neighbours. Happily, I was the first she found up
that morning, but I have no doubt that, in spite of my express
injunctions, she has since related the news to half the people in
"Was the young woman down yonder present when Judy told this
story?" asked the coroner, pointing towards the yard.
Mr. Sutherland pondered. "Possibly; I do not remember. Frederick
was seated at the table with me, and my housekeeper was pouring
out the coffee, but it was early for Miss Page. She has been
putting on great airs of late."
"Can it be possible he is trying to blind himself to the fact that
his son Frederick wishes to marry this girl?" muttered the
clergyman into the constable's ear.
The constable shook his head. Mr. Sutherland was one of those
debonair men, whose very mildness makes them impenetrable.
A SPOT ON THE LAWN
The coroner, on leaving the house, was followed by Mr. Sutherland.
As the fine figures of the two men appeared on the doorstep, a
faint cheer was heard from the two or three favoured persons who
were allowed to look through the gate. But to this token of
welcome neither gentleman responded by so much as a look, all
their attention being engrossed by the sight of the solitary
figure of Miss Page, who still held her stand upon the lawn.
Motionless as a statue, but with her eyes fixed upon their faces,
she awaited their approach. When they were near her she thrust one
hand from under her cloak, and pointing to the grass at her feet,
They hastened towards her and bent down to examine the spot she
"What do you find there?" cried Mr. Sutherland, whose eyesight was
"Blood," responded the coroner, plucking up a blade of grass and
surveying it closely.
"Blood," echoed Miss Page, with so suggestive a glance that Mr.
Sutherland stared at her in amazement, not understanding his own
"How were you able to discern a stain so nearly imperceptible?"
asked the coroner.
"Imperceptible? It is the only thing I see in the whole yard," she
retorted, and with a slight bow, which was not without its element
of mockery, she turned toward the gate.
"A most unaccountable girl," commented the doctor. "But she is
right about these stains. Abel," he called to the man at the
gate, "bring a box or barrel here and cover up this spot. I don't
want it disturbed by trampling feet."
Abel started to obey, just as the young girl laid her hand on the
gate to open it.
"Won't you help me?" she asked. "The crowd is so great they won't
let me through."
"Won't they?" The words came from without. "Just slip out as I
slip in, and you'll find a place made for you."
Not recognising the voice, she hesitated for a moment, but seeing
the gate swaying, she pushed against it just as a young man
stepped through the gap. Necessarily they came face to face.
"Ah, it's you," he muttered, giving her a sharp glance.
"I do not know you," she haughtily declared, and slipped by him
with such dexterity she was out of the gate before he could
But he only snapped his finger and thumb mockingly at her, and
smiled knowingly at Abel, who had lingered to watch the end of
"Supple as a willow twig, eh?" he laughed. "Well, I have made
whistles out of willows before now, and hallo! where did you get
He was pointing to a rare flower that hung limp and faded from
"This? Oh, I found it in the house yonder. It was lying on the
floor of the inner room, almost under Batsy's skirts. Curious sort
of flower. I wonder where she got it?"
The intruder betrayed at once an unaccountable emotion. There was
a strange glitter in his light green eyes that made Abel shift
rather uneasily on his feet. "Was that before this pretty minx you
have just let out came in here with Mr. Sutherland?"
"O yes; before anyone had started for the hill at all. Why, what
has this young lady got to do with a flower dropped by Batsy?"
"She? Nothing. Only—and I have never given you bad advice, Abel—
don't let that thing hang any longer from your buttonhole. Put it
into an envelope and keep it, and if you don't hear from me again
in regard to it, write me out a fool and forget we were ever chums
when little shavers."
The man called Abel smiled, took out the flower, and went to cover
up the grass as Dr. Talbot had requested. The stranger took his
place at the gate, toward which the coroner and Mr. Sutherland
were now advancing, with an air that showed his great anxiety to
speak with them. He was the musician whom we saw secretly entering
the last-mentioned gentleman's house after the departure of the
As the coroner paused before him he spoke. "Dr. Talbot," said he,
dropping his eyes, which were apt to betray his thoughts too
plainly, "you have often promised that you would give me a job if
any matter came up where any nice detective work was wanted. Don't
you think the time has come to remember me?"
"You, Sweetwater? I'm afraid the affair is too deep for an
inexperienced man's first effort. I shall have to send to Boston
for an expert. Another time, Sweetwater, when the complications
are less serious."
The young fellow, with a face white as milk, was turning away.
"But you'll let me stay around here?" he pleaded, pausing and
giving the other an imploring look.
"O yes," answered the good-natured coroner. "Fenton will have work
enough for you and half a dozen others. Go and tell him I sent
"Thank you," returned the other, his face suddenly losing its
aspect of acute disappointment. "Now I shall see where that flower
fell," he murmured.
"BREAKFAST IS SERVED, GENTLEMEN!"
Mr. Sutherland returned home. As he entered the broad hall he met
his son, Frederick. There was a look on the young man's face such
as he had not seen there in years.
"Father," faltered the youth, "may I have a few words with you?"
The father nodded kindly, though it is likely he would have much
preferred his breakfast; and the young man led him into a little
sitting-room littered with the faded garlands and other tokens of
the preceding night's festivities.
"I have an apology to make," Frederick began, "or rather, I have
your forgiveness to ask. For years" he went on, stumbling over his
words, though he gave no evidence of a wish to restrain them—"for
years I have gone contrariwise to your wishes and caused my
mother's heart to ache and you to wish I had never been born to be
a curse to you and her."
He had emphasised the word mother, and spoke altogether with force
and deep intensity. Mr. Sutherland stood petrified; he had long
ago given up this lad as lost.
"I—I wish to change. I wish to be as great a pride to you as I
have been a shame and a dishonour. I may not succeed at once; but
I am in earnest, and if you will give me your hand—"
The old man's arms were round the young man's shoulders at once.
"Frederick!" he cried, "my Frederick!"
"Do not make me too much ashamed," murmured the youth, very pale
and strangely discomposed. "With no excuse for my past, I suffer
intolerable apprehension in regard to my future, lest my good
intentions should fail or my self-control not hold out. But the
knowledge that you are acquainted with my resolve, and regard it
with an undeserved sympathy, may suffice to sustain me, and I
should certainly be a base poltroon if I should disappoint you or
He paused, drew himself from his father's arms, and glanced almost
solemnly out of the window. "I swear that I will henceforth act as
if she were still alive and watching me."
There was strange intensity in his manner. Mr. Sutherland regarded
him with amazement. He had seen him in every mood natural to a
reckless man, but never in so serious a one, never with a look of
awe or purpose in his face. It gave him quite a new idea of
"Yes," the young man went on, raising his right hand, but not
removing his eyes from the distant prospect on which they were
fixed, "I swear that I will henceforth do nothing to discredit her
memory. Outwardly and inwardly, I will act as though her eye were
still upon me and she could again suffer grief at my failures or
thrill with pleasure at my success."
A portrait of Mrs. Sutherland, painted when Frederick was a lad of
ten, hung within a few feet of him as he spoke. He did not glance
at it, but Mr. Sutherland did, and with a look as if he expected
to behold a responsive light beam from those pathetic features.
"She loved you very dearly," was his slow and earnest comment. "We
have both loved you much more deeply than you have ever seemed to
"I believe it," responded the young man, turning with an
expression of calm resolve to meet his father's eye. "As proof
that I am no longer insensible to your affection, I have made up
my mind to forego for your sake one of the dearest wishes of my
heart. Father" he hesitated before he spoke the word, but he spoke
it firmly at last,—"am I right in thinking you would not like
Miss Page for a daughter?"
"Like my housekeeper's niece to take the place in this house once
occupied by Marietta Sutherland? Frederick, I have always thought
too well of you to believe you would carry your forgetfulness of
me so far as that, even when I saw that you were influenced by her
"You did not do justice to my selfishness, father. I did mean to
marry her, but I have given up living solely for myself, and she
could never help me to live for others. Father, Amabel Page must
not remain in this house to cause division between you and me."
"I have already intimated to her the desirability of her quitting
a home where she is no longer respected," the old gentleman
declared. "She leaves on the 10.45 train. Her conduct this morning
at the house of Mrs. Webb—who perhaps you do not know was most
cruelly and foully murdered last night—was such as to cause
comment and make her an undesirable adjunct to any gentleman's
Frederick paled. Something in these words had caused him a great
shock. Mr. Sutherland was fond enough to believe that it was the
news of this extraordinary woman's death. But his son's words, as
soon as lie could find any, showed that his mind was running on
Amabel, whom he perhaps had found it difficult to connect even in
the remotest way with crime.
"She at this place of death? How could that be? Who would take a
young girl there?"
The father, experiencing, perhaps, more compassion for this soon-
to-be-disillusioned lover than he thought it incumbent upon him to
show, answered shortly, but without any compromise of the unhappy
"She went; she was not taken. No one, not even myself, could keep
her back after she had heard that a murder had been committed in
the town. She even intruded into the house; and when ordered out
of the room of death took up her stand in the yard in front, where
she remained until she had the opportunity of pointing out to us a
stain of blood on the grass, which might otherwise have escaped
"Impossible!" Frederick's eye was staring; he looked like a man
struck dumb by surprise or fear. "Amabel do this? You are mocking
me, sir, or I may be dreaming, which may the good God grant."
His father, who had not looked for so much emotion, eyed his son
in surprise, which rapidly changed to alarm as the young man
faltered and fell back against the wall.
"You are ill, Frederick; you are really ill. Let me call down Mrs.
Harcourt. But no, I cannot summon her. She is this girl's aunt."
Frederick made an effort and stood up.
"Do not call anybody," he entreated. "I expect to suffer some in
casting this fascinating girl out of my heart. Ultimately I will
conquer the weakness; indeed I will. As for her interest in Mrs.
Webb's death"—how low his voice sank and how he trembled!" she
may have been better friends with her than we had any reason to
suppose. I can think of no other motive for her conduct.
Admiration for Mrs. Webb and horror—-"
"Breakfast is served, gentlemen!" cried a thrilling voice behind
them. Amabel Page stood smiling in the doorway.
"Wait a moment, I must speak to you." It was Amabel who was
holding Frederick back. She had caught him by the arm as he was
about leaving the room with his father, and he felt himself
obliged to stop and listen.
"I start for Springfield to-day," she announced. "I have another
relative there living at the house. When shall I have the pleasure
of seeing you in my new home?"
"Never." It was said regretfully, and yet with a certain
brusqueness, occasioned perhaps by over-excited feeling. "Hard as
it is for me to say it, Amabel, it is but just for me to tell you
that after our parting here to-day we will meet only as strangers.
Friendship between us would be mockery, and any closer
relationship has become impossible."
It had cost him an immense effort to say these words, and he
expected, fondly expected, I must admit, to see her colour change
and her head droop. But instead of this she looked at him steadily
for a moment, then slipped her hand down his arm till she reached
his palm, which she pressed with sudden warmth, drawing him into
the room as she did so, and shutting the door behind them. He was
speechless, for she never had looked so handsome or so glowing.
Instead of showing depression or humiliation even, she confronted
him with a smile more dangerous than any display of grief, for it
contained what it had hitherto lacked, positive and irresistible
admiration. Her words were equally dangerous.
"I kiss your hand, as the Spaniards say." And she almost did so,
with a bend of her head, which just allowed him to catch a glimpse
of two startling dimples.
He was astounded. He thought he knew this woman well, but at this
moment she was as incomprehensible to him as if he had never made
a study of her caprices and sought an explanation for her ever-
"I am sensible of the honour," said he, "but hardly understand how
I have earned it."
Still that incomprehensible look of admiration continued to
illumine her face.
"I did not know I could ever think so well of you," she declared.
"If you do not take care, I shall end by loving you some day."
"Ah!" he ejaculated, his face contracting with sudden pain; "your
love, then, is but a potentiality. Very well, Amabel, keep it so
and you will be spared much misery. As for me, who have not been
as wise as you—-"
"Frederick!" She had come so near he did not have the strength to
finish. Her face, with its indefinable charm, was raised to his,
as she dropped these words one by one from her lips in lingering
cadence: "Frederick—do you love me, then, so very much?"
He was angry; possibly because he felt his resolution failing him.
"You know!" he hotly began, stepping back. Then with a sudden
burst of feeling, that was almost like prayer, he resumed: "Do not
tempt me, Amabel. I have trouble enough, without lamenting the
failure of my first steadfast purpose."
"Ah!" she said, stopping where she was, but drawing him toward her
by every witchery of which her mobile features were capable; "your
generous impulse has strengthened into a purpose, has it? Well,
I'm not worth it, Frederick."
More and more astounded, understanding her less than ever, but
charmed by looks that would have moved an anchorite, he turned his
head away in a vain attempt to escape an influence that was so
rapidly undermining his determination.
She saw the movement, recognised the weakness it bespoke, and in
the triumph of her heart allowed a low laugh to escape her.
Her voice, as I have before said, was unmusical though effective;
but her laugh was deliciously sweet, especially when it was
restrained to a mere ripple, as now.
"You will come to Springfield soon," she avowed, slipping from
before him so as to leave the way to the door open.
"Amabel!" His voice was strangely husky, and the involuntary
opening and shutting of his hands revealed the emotion under which
he was labouring. "Do you love me? You have acknowledged it now
and then, but always as if you did not mean it. Now you
acknowledge that you may some day, and this time as if you did
mean it. What is the truth? Tell me, without coquetry or
dissembling, for I am in dead earnest, and—-" He paused, choked,
and turned toward the window where but a few minutes before he had
taken that solemn oath. The remembrance of it seemed to come back
with the movement. Flushing with a new agitation, he wheeled upon
her sharply. "No, no," he prayed, "say nothing. If you swore you
did not love me I should not believe it, and if you swore that you
did I should only find it harder to repeat what must again be
said, that a union between us can never take place. I have given
my solemn promise to—-"
"Well, well. Why do you stop? Am I so hard to talk to that the
words will not leave your lips?"
"I have promised my father I will never marry you. He feels that
he has grounds of complaint against you, and as I owe him
He stopped amazed. She was looking at him intently, that same low
laugh still on her lips.
"Tell the truth," she whispered. "I know to what extent you
consider your father's wishes. You think you ought not to marry me
after what took place last night. Frederick, I like you for this
evidence of consideration on your part, but do not struggle too
relentlessly with your conscience. I can forgive much more in you
than you think, and if you really love me—-"
"Stop! Let us understand each other." He had turned mortally pale,
and met her eyes with something akin to alarm. "What do you allude
to in speaking of last night? I did not know there was anything
said by us in our talk together—-"
"I do not allude to our talk."
"Or—or in the one dance we had—-"
"Frederick, a dance is innocent."
The word seemed to strike him with the force of a blow.
"Innocent," he repeated, "innocent?" becoming paler still as the
full weight of her meaning broke gradually upon him.
"I followed you into town," she whispered, coming closer, and
breathing the words into his ear. "But what I saw you do there
will not prevent me from obeying you if you say: 'Follow me
wherever I go, Amabel; henceforth our lives are one.'"
It was all he said, but it seemed to create a gulf between them.
In the silence that followed, the evil spirit latent beneath her
beauty began to make itself evident even in the smile which no
longer called into view the dimples which belong to guileless
mirth, while upon his face, after the first paralysing effect of
her words had passed, there appeared an expression of manly
resistance that betrayed a virtue which as yet had never appeared
in his selfish and altogether reckless life.
That this was more than a passing impulse he presently made
evident by lifting his hand and pushing her slowly back.
"I do not know what you saw me do," said he; "but whatever it was,
it can make no difference in our relations."
Her whisper, which had been but a breath before, became scarcely
"I did not pause at the gate you entered," said she. "I went in
A gasp of irresistible feeling escaped him, but he did not take
his eyes from her face.
"It was a long time before you came out," she went on, "but
previous to that time the shade of a certain window was thrust
"Hush!" he commanded, in uncontrollable passion, pressing his hand
with impulsive energy against her mouth. "Not another word of
that, or I shall forget you are a woman or that I have ever loved
Her eyes, which were all she had remaining to plead with, took on
a peculiar look of quiet satisfaction, and power. Seeing it, he
let his hand fall and for the first time began to regard her with
anything but a lover's eyes.
"I was the only person in sight at that time," she continued. "You
have nothing to fear from the world at large."
The word made its own echo; she had no need to emphasise it even
by a smile. But she watched him as it sunk into his consciousness
with an intentness it took all his strength to sustain. Suddenly
her bearing and expression changed. The few remains of sweetness
in her face vanished, and even the allurement which often lasts
when the sweetness is gone, disappeared in the energy which now
took possession of her whole threatening and inflexible
"Marry me," she cried, "or I will proclaim you to be the murderer
of Agatha Webb."
She had seen the death of love in his eyes.
"A DEVIL THAT UNDERSTANDS MEN"
Frederick Sutherland was a man of finer mental balance than he
himself, perhaps, had ever realised. After the first few moments
of stupefaction following the astounding alternative which had
been given him, he broke out with the last sentence she probably
expected to hear:
"What do you hope from a marriage with me, that to attain your
wishes you thus sacrifice every womanly instinct?"
She met him on his own ground.
"What do I hope?" She actually glowed with the force of her secret
desire. "Can you ask a poor girl like me, born in a tenement
house, but with tastes and ambitions such as are usually only
given to those who can gratify them? I want to be the rich Mr.
Sutherland's daughter; acknowledged or unacknowledged, the wife of
one who can enter any house in Boston as an equal. With a position
like that I can rise to anything. I feel that I have the natural
power and aptitude. I have felt it since I was a small child."
"And for that—-" he began.
"And for that," she broke in, "I am quite willing to overlook a
blot on your record. Confident that you will never repeat the risk
of last night, I am ready to share the burden of your secret
through life. If you treat me well, I am sure I can make that
burden light for you."
With a quick flush and an increase of self-assertion, probably not
anticipated by her, he faced the daring girl with a desperate
resolution that showed how handsome he could be if his soul once
got control of his body.
"Woman," he cried, "they were right; you are little less than a
Did she regard it as a compliment? Her smile would seem to say so.
"A devil that understands men," she answered, with that slow dip
of her dimples that made her smile so dangerous. "You will not
hesitate long over this matter; a week, perhaps."
"I shall not hesitate at all. Seeing you as you are, makes my
course easy. You will never share any burden with me as my wife."
Still she was not abashed.
"It is a pity," she whispered; "it would have saved you such
unnecessary struggle. But a week is not long to wait. I am certain
of you then. This day week at twelve o'clock, Frederick."
He seized her by the arm, and lost to everything but his rage,
shook her with a desperate hand.
"Do you mean it?" he cried, a sudden horror showing itself in his
face, notwithstanding his efforts to conceal it.
"I mean it so much," she assured him, "that before I came home
just now I paid a visit to the copse over the way. A certain
hollow tree, where you and I have held more than one tryst,
conceals within its depths a package containing over one thousand
dollars. Frederick, I hold your life in my hands."
The grasp with which he held her relaxed; a mortal despair settled
upon his features, and recognising the impossibility of further
concealing the effect of her words upon him, he sank into a chair
and covered his face with his hands. She viewed him with an air of
triumph, which brought back some of her beauty. When she spoke it
was to say:
"If you wish to join me in Springfield before the time I have set,
well and good. I am willing that the time of our separation should
be shortened, but it must not be lengthened by so much as a day.
Now, if you will excuse me, I will go and pack my trunks."
He shuddered; her voice penetrated him to the quick.
Drawing herself up, she looked down on him with a strange mixture
of passion and elation.
"You need fear no indiscretion on my part, so long as our
armistice lasts," said she. "No one can drag the truth from me
while any hope remains of your doing your duty by me in the way I
And still he did not move.
Was it her voice that was thus murmuring his name? Can the tiger
snarl one moment and fawn the next?
"Frederick, I have a final word to say—a last farewell. Up to
this hour I have endured your attentions, or, let us say, accepted
them, for I always found you handsome and agreeable, if not the
master of my heart. But now it is love that I feel, love; and love
with me is no fancy, but a passion—do you hear?—a passion which
will make life a heaven or hell for the man who has inspired it.
You should have thought of this when you opposed me."
And with a look in which love and hatred contended for mastery,
she bent and imprinted a kiss upon his forehead. Next moment she
Or so he thought. But when, after an interval of nameless recoil,
he rose and attempted to stagger from the place, he discovered
that she had been detained in the hall by two or three men who had
just come in by the front door.
"Is this Miss Page?" they were asking.
"Yes, I am Miss Page—Amabel Page" she replied with suave
politeness. "If you have any business with me, state it quickly,
for I am about to leave town."
"That is what we wish to prevent," declared a tall, thin young man
who seemed to take the lead. "Till the inquest has been held over
the remains of Mrs. Webb, Coroner Talbot wishes you to regard
yourself as a possible witness."
"Me?" she cried, with an admirable gesture of surprise and a wide
opening of her brown eyes that made her look like an astonished
child. "What have I got to do with it?"
"You pointed out a certain spot of blood on the grass, and—well,
the coroner's orders have to be obeyed, miss. You cannot leave the
town without running the risk of arrest"
"Then I will stay in it," she smiled. "I have no liking for
arrests," and the glint of her eye rested for a moment on
Frederick. "Mr. Sutherland," she continued, as that gentleman
appeared at the dining-room door, "I shall have to impose upon
your hospitality for a few days longer. These men here inform me
that my innocent interest in pointing out to you that spot of
blood on Mrs. Webb's lawn has awakened some curiosity, and that I
am wanted as a witness by the coroner."
Mr. Sutherland, with a quick stride, lessened the distance between
himself and these unwelcome intruders. "The coroner's wishes are
paramount just now," said he, but the look he gave his son was not
soon forgotten by the spectators.
A GRAND WOMAN
There was but one topic discussed in the country-side that day,
and that was the life and character of Agatha Webb.
Her history had not been a happy one. She and Philemon had come
from Portchester some twenty or more years before to escape the
sorrows associated with their native town. They had left behind
them six small graves in Portchester churchyard; but though
evidences of their affliction were always to be seen in the
countenances of either, they had entered with so much purpose into
the life of their adopted town that they had become persons of
note there till Philemon's health began to fail, when Agatha quit
all outside work and devoted herself exclusively to him. Of her
character and winsome personality we can gather some idea from the
various conversations carried on that day from Portchester Green
to the shipyards in Sutherlandtown.
In Deacon Brainerd's cottage, the discussion was concerning
Agatha's lack of vanity; a virtue not very common at that time
among the women of this busy seaport.
"For a woman so handsome," the good deacon was saying "(and I
think I can safely call her the finest-featured woman who ever
trod these streets), she showed as little interest in dress as
anyone I ever knew. Calico at home and calico at church, yet she
looked as much of a lady in her dark-sprigged gowns as Mrs.
Webster in her silks or Mrs. Parsons in her thousand-dollar
As this was a topic within the scope of his eldest daughter's
intelligence she at once spoke up: "I never thought she needed to
dress so plainly. I don't believe in such a show of poverty
myself. If one is too poor to go decent, all right; but they say
she had more money than most anyone in town. I wonder who is going
to get the benefit of it?"
"Why, Philemon, of course; that is, as long as he lives. He
doubtless had the making of it."
"Is it true that he's gone clean out of his head since her death?"
interposed a neighbour who had happened in.
"So they say. I believe widow Jones has taken him into her house."
"Do you think," asked a second daughter with becoming hesitation,
"that he had anything to do with her death? Some of the neighbours
say he struck her while in one of his crazy fits, while others
declare she was killed by some stranger, equally old and almost as
"We won't discuss the subject," objected the deacon. "Time will
show who robbed us of the greatest-hearted and most capable woman
in these parts."
"And will time show who killed Batsy?" It was a morsel of a girl
who spoke; the least one of the family, but the brightest. "I'm
sorry for Batsy; she always gave me cookies when I went to see
"Batsy was a good girl for a Swede," allowed the deacon's wife,
who had not spoken till now. "When she first came into town on the
spars of that wrecked ship we all remember, there was some
struggle between Agatha and me as to which of us should have her.
But I didn't like the task of teaching her the name of every pot
and pan she had to use in the kitchen, so I gave her up to Agatha;
and it was fortunate I did, for I've never been able to understand
her talk to this day."
"I could talk with her right well," lisped the little one. "She
never called things by their Swedish names unless she was worried;
and I never worried her."
"I wonder if she would have worshipped the ground under your feet,
as she did that under Agatha's?" asked the deacon, eying his wife
with just the suspicion of a malicious twinkle in his eye.
"I am not the greatest-hearted and most capable woman in town,"
retorted his wife, clicking her needles as she went on knitting.
In Mr. Sprague's house on the opposite side of the road, Squire
Fisher was relating some old tales of bygone Portchester days. "I
knew Agatha when she was a girl," he avowed. "She had the grandest
manners and the most enchanting smile of any rich or poor man's
daughter between the coast and Springfield. She did not dress in
calico then. She wore the gayest clothes her father could buy.
her, and old Jacob was not without means to make his daughter the
leading figure in town. How we young fellows did adore her, and
what lengths we went to win one of her glorious smiles! Two of us,
John and James Zabel, have lived bachelors for her sake to this
very day; but I hadn't courage enough for that; I married and"—
something between a sigh and a chuckle filled out the sentence.
"What made Philemon carry off the prize? His good looks?"
"Yes, or his good luck. It wasn't his snap; of that you may be
sure. James Zabel had the snap, and he was her first choice, too,
but he got into some difficulty—I never knew just what it was,
but it was regarded as serious at the time—and that match was
broken off. Afterwards she married Philemon. You see, I was out of
it altogether; had never been in it, perhaps; but there were three
good years of my life in which I thought of little else than
Agatha. I admired her spirit, you see. There was something more
taking in her ways than in her beauty, wonderful as that was. She
ruled us with a rod of iron, and yet we worshipped her. I have
wondered to see her so meek of late. I never thought she would be
satisfied with a brick-floored cottage and a husband of failing
wits. But no one, to my knowledge, has ever heard a complaint from
her lips; and the dignity of her afflicted wife-hood has far
transcended the haughtiness of those days when she had but to
smile to have all the youth of Portchester at her feet."
"I suppose it was the loss of so many children that reconciled her
to a quiet life. A woman cannot close the eyes of six children,
one after the other, without some modification taking place in her
"Yes, she and Philemon have been unfortunate; but she was a
splendid looking girl, boys. I never see such grand-looking women
In a little one-storied cottage on the hillside a woman was
nursing a baby and talking at the same time of Agatha Webb.
"I shall never forget the night my first baby fell sick," she
faltered; "I was just out of bed myself, and having no nearer
neighbours then than now, I was all alone on the hillside, Alec
being away at sea. I was too young to know much about sickness,
but something told me that I must have help before morning or my
baby would die. Though I could just walk across the floor, I threw
a shawl around me, took my baby in my arms, and opened the door. A
blinding gust of rain blew in. A terrible storm was raging and I
had not noticed it, I was so taken up with the child.
"I could not face that gale. Indeed, I was so weak I fell on my
knees as it struck me and became dripping wet before I could drag
myself inside. The baby began to moan and everything was turning
dark before me, when I heard a strong, sweet voice cry out in the
"'Is there room in this house for me till the storm has blown by?
I cannot see my way down the hillside.'
"With a bursting heart I looked up. A woman was standing in the
doorway, with the look of an angel in her eyes. I did not know
her, but her face was one to bring comfort to the saddest heart.
Holding up my baby, I cried:
"'My baby is dying; I tried to go for the doctor, but my knees
bent under me. Help me, as you are a mother—I—-'
"I must have fallen again, for the next thing I remember I was
lying by the hearth, looking up into her face, which was bending
over me. She was white as the rag I had tied about my baby's
throat, and by the way her breast heaved she was either very much
frightened or very sorry.
"'I wish you had the help of anyone else,' said she. 'Babies
perish in my arms and wither at my breast. I cannot touch it, much
as I yearn to. But let me see its face; perhaps I can tell you
what is the matter with it.'
"I showed her the baby's face, and she bent over it, trembling
very much, almost as much indeed as myself.
"'It is very sick,' she said, 'but if you will use the remedies I
advise, I think you can save it.' And she told me what to do, and
helped me all she could; but she did not lay a finger on the
little darling, though from the way she watched it I saw that her
heart was set on his getting better. And he did; in an hour he was
sleeping peacefully, and the terrible weight was gone from my
heart and from hers. When the storm stopped, and she could leave
the house, she gave me a kiss; but the look she gave him meant
more than kisses. God must have forgotten her goodness to me that
night when He let her die so pitiable a death."
At the minister's house they were commenting upon the look of
serenity observable in her dead face.
"I have known her for thirty years," her pastor declared, "and
never before have I seen her wear a look of real peace. It is
wonderful, considering the circumstances. Do you think she was so
weary of her life's long struggle that she hailed any release from
it, even that of violence?"
A young man, a lawyer, visiting them from New York, was the only
one to answer.
"I never saw the woman you are talking about," said he, "and know
nothing of the circumstances of her death beyond what you have
told me. But from the very incongruity between her expression and
the violent nature of her death, I argue that there are depths to
this crime which have not yet been sounded."
"What depths? It is a simple case of murder followed by theft. To
be sure we do not yet know the criminal, but money was his motive;
that is clear enough."
"Are you ready to wager that that is all there is to it?"
This was a startling proposition to the minister.
"You forget my cloth," said he.
The young man smiled. "That is true. Pardon me. I was only anxious
to show how strong my conviction was against any such easy
explanation of a crime marked by such contradictory features."
Two children on the Portchester road were exchanging boyish
"Do you know what I think about it?" asked one.
"Naw! How should I?"
"Wall, I think old Mrs. Webb got the likes of what she sent. Don't
you know she had six children once, and that she killed every one
"Yes, I heard her tell granny once all about it. She said there
was a blight on her house—I don't know what that is; but I guess
it's something big and heavy—and that it fell on every one of her
children, as fast as they came, and killed 'em."
"Then I'm glad I ben't her child."
Very different were the recollections interchanged between two
middle-aged Portchester women.
"She was drinking tea at my house when her sister Sairey came
running in with the news that the baby she had left at home wasn't
quite right. That was her first child, you know."
"Yes, yes, for I was with her when that baby came," broke in the
other, "and such joy as she showed when they told her it was alive
and well I never saw. I do not know why she didn't expect it to be
alive, but she didn't, and her happiness was just wonderful to
"Well, she didn't enjoy it long. The poor little fellow died
young. But I was telling you of the night when she first heard he
was ailing. Philemon had been telling a good story, and we were
all laughing, when Sairey came in. I can see Agatha now. She
always had the most brilliant eyes in the county, but that day
they were superbly dazzling. They changed, though, at the sight of
Sairey's face, and she jumped to meet her just as if she knew what
Sairey was going to say before ever a word left her lips. 'My
baby!' (I can hear her yet.) 'Something is the matter with the
baby!' And though Sairey made haste to tell her that he was only
ailing and not at all ill, she turned upon Philemon with a look
none of us ever quite understood; he changed so completely under
it, just as she had under Sairey's; and to neither did the old
happiness ever return, for the child died within a week, and when
the next came it died also, and the next, till six small innocents
lay buried in yonder old graveyard."
"I know; and sad enough it was too, especially as she and Philemon
were both fond of children. Well, well, the ways of Providence are
past rinding out! And now she is gone and Philemon—-"
"Ah, he'll follow her soon; he can't live without Agatha."
Nearer home, the old sexton was chattering about the six
gravestones raised in Portchester churchyard to these six dead
infants. He had been sent there to choose a spot in which to lay
the mother, and was full of the shock it gave him to see that line
of little stones, telling of a past with which the good people of
Sutherlandtown found it hard to associate Philemon and Agatha
"I'm a digger of graves," he mused, half to himself and half to
his old wife watching him from the other side of the hearthstone.
"I spend a good quarter of my time in the churchyard; but when I
saw those six little mounds, and read the inscriptions over them,
I couldn't help feeling queer. Think of this! On the first tiny
headstone I read these words:"
Son of Philemon and Agatha Webb,
Died, Aged Six Weeks.
God be merciful to me a sinner!
"Now what does that mean? Did you ever hear anyone say?"
"No," was his old wife's answer. "Perhaps she was one of those
Calvinist folks who believe babies go to hell if they are not
"But her children were all baptised. I've been told so; some of
them before she was well out of her bed. 'God be merciful to me a
sinner!' And the chick not six weeks old! Something queer about
that, dame, if it did happen more than thirty years ago."
"What did you see over the grave of the child who was killed in
her arms by lightning?"
"'And he was not, for God took him.'"
Farmer Waite had but one word to say:
"She came to me when my Sissy had the smallpox; the only person in
town who would enter my doors. More than that; when Sissy was up
and I went to pay the doctor's bill I found it had been settled. I
did not know then who had enough money and compassion to do this
for me; now I do."
Many an act of kindness which had been secretly performed in that
town during the last twenty years came to light on that day, the
most notable of which was the sending of a certain young lad to
school and his subsequent education as a minister.
But other memories of a sweeter and more secret nature still came
up likewise, among them the following:
A young girl, who was of a very timid but deeply sensitive nature,
had been urged into an engagement with a man she did not like.
Though the conflict this occasioned her and the misery which
accompanied it were apparent to everybody, nobody stirred in her
behalf but Agatha. She went to see her, and, though it was within
a fortnight of the wedding, she did not hesitate to advise the
girl to give him up, and when the poor child said she lacked the
courage, Agatha herself went to the man and urged him into a
display of generosity which saved the poor, timid thing from a
life of misery. They say this was no easy task for Agatha, and
that the man was sullen for a year. But the girl's gratitude was
Of her daring, which was always on the side of right and justice,
the stories were numerous; so were the accounts, mostly among the
women, of her rare tenderness and sympathy for the weak and the
erring. Never was a man talked to as she talked to Jake Cobleigh
the evening after he struck his mother, and if she had been in
town on the day when Clarissa Mayhew ran away with that
Philadelphia adventurer many said it would never have happened,
for no girl could stand the admonition, or resist the pleading, of
this childless mother.
It was reserved for Mr. Halliday and Mr. Sutherland to talk of her
mental qualities. Her character was so marked and her manner so
simple that few gave attention to the intellect that was the real
basis of her power. The two mentioned gentlemen, however,
appreciated her to the full, and it was while listening to their
remarks that Frederick was suddenly startled by some one saying to
"You are the only person in town who have nothing to say about
Agatha Webb. Didn't you ever exchange any words with her?—for I
can hardly believe you could have met her eye to eye without
having some remark to make about her beauty or her influence."
The speaker was Agnes Halliday, who had come in with her father
for a social chat. She was one of Frederick's earliest playmates,
but one with whom he had never assimilated and who did not like
him. He knew this, as did everyone else in town, and it was with
some hesitation he turned to answer her.
"I have but one recollection," he began, and for the moment got no
farther, for in turning his head to address his young guest he had
allowed his gaze to wander through the open window by which she
sat, into the garden beyond, where Amabel could be seen picking
flowers. As he spoke, Amabel lifted her face with one of her
suggestive looks. She had doubtless heard Miss Halliday's remark.
Recovering himself with an effort, he repeated his words: "I have
but one recollection of Mrs. Webb that I can give you. Years ago
when I was a lad I was playing on the green with several other
boys. We had had some dispute about a lost ball, and I was
swearing angrily and loud when I suddenly perceived before me the
tall form and compassionate face of Mrs. Webb. She was dressed in
her usual simple way, and had a basket on her arm, but she looked
so superior to any other woman I had ever met that I did not know
whether to hide my face in her skirts or to follow my first
impulse and run away. She saw the emotion she had aroused, and
lifting up my face by the chin, she said: 'Little boy, I have
buried six children, all of them younger than you, and now my
husband and myself live alone. Often and often have I wished that
one at least of these darling infants might have been spared us.
But had God given me the choice of having them die young and
innocent, or of growing up to swear as I have heard you to-day, I
should have prayed God to take them, as He did. You have a mother.
Do not break her heart by taking in vain the name of the God she
reveres.' And with that she kissed me, and, strange as it may seem
to you, in whatever folly or wickedness I have indulged, I have
never made use of an oath from that day to this—and I thank God
There was such unusual feeling in his voice, a feeling that none
had ever suspected him capable of before, that Miss Halliday
regarded him with astonishment and quite forgot to indulge in her
usual banter. Even the gentlemen sat still, and there was a
momentary silence, through which there presently broke the
incongruous sound of a shrill and mocking laugh.
It came from Amabel, who had just finished gathering her bouquet
in the garden outside.
DETECTIVE KNAPP ARRIVES
Meanwhile, in a small room at the court-house, a still more
serious conversation was in progress. Dr. Talbot, Mr. Fenton, and
a certain able lawyer in town by the name of Harvey, were in close
discussion. The last had broken the silence of years, and was
telling what he knew of Mrs. Webb's affairs.
He was a shrewd man, of unblemished reputation. When called upon
to talk, he talked well, but he much preferred listening, and was,
as now appeared, the safest repository of secrets to be found in
all that region. He had been married three times, and could still
count thirteen children around his board, one reason, perhaps, why
he had learned to cultivate silence to such a degree. Happily, the
time had come for him to talk, and he talked. This is what he
"Some fifteen years ago Philemon Webb came to me with a small sum
of money, which he said he wished to have me invest for his wife.
It was the fruit of a small speculation of his and he wanted it
given unconditionally to her without her knowledge or that of the
neighbours. I accordingly made out a deed of gift, which he signed
with joyful alacrity, and then after due thought and careful
investigation, I put the money into a new enterprise then being
started in Boston. It was the best stroke of business I ever did
in my life. At the end of a year it paid double, and after five
had rolled away the accumulated interest had reached such a sum
that both Philemon and myself thought it wisest to let her know
what she was worth and what was being done with the money. I was
in hopes it would lead her to make some change in her mode of
living, which seemed to me out of keeping with her appearance and
mental qualifications; while he, I imagine, looked for something
more important still—a smile on the face which had somehow lost
the trick of merriment, though it had never acquired that of ill
nature. But we did not know Agatha; at least I did not. When she
learned that she was rich, she looked at first awestruck and then
heart-pierced. Forgetting me, or ignoring me, it makes no matter
which, she threw herself into Philemon's arms and wept, while he,
poor faithful fellow, looked as distressed as if he had brought
news of failure instead of triumphant success. I suppose she
thought of her buried children, and what the money would have been
to her if they had lived; but she did not speak of them, nor am I
quite sure they were in her thoughts when, after the first
excitement was over, she drew back and said quietly, but in a tone
of strong feeling, to Philemon: 'You meant me a happy surprise,
and you must not be disappointed. This is heart money; we will use
it to make our townsfolk happy.' I saw him glance at her dress,
which was a purple calico. I remember it because of that look and
because of the sad smile with which she followed his glance. 'Can
we not afford now,' he ventured, 'a little show of luxury, or at
least a ribbon or so for this beautiful throat of yours?' She did
not answer him; but her look had a rare compassion in it, a
compassion, strange to say, that seemed to be expended upon him
rather than upon herself. Philemon swallowed his disappointment.
'Agatha is right,' he said to me. 'We do not need luxury. I do not
know how I so far forgot myself as to mention it.' That was ten
years ago, and every day since then her property has increased. I
did not know then, and I do not know now, why they were both so
anxious that all knowledge of their good fortune should be kept
from those about them; but that it was to be &o kept was made very
evident to me; and, notwithstanding all temptations to the
contrary, I have refrained from uttering a word likely to give
away their secret. The money, which to all appearance was the
cause of her tragic and untimely death, was interest money which I
was delegated to deliver her. I took it to her day before
yesterday, and it was all in crisp new notes, some of them
twenties, but most of them tens and fives. I am free to say there
was not such another roll of fresh money in town."
"Warn all shopkeepers to keep a sharp lookout for new bills in the
money they receive," was Dr. Talbot's comment to the constable.
"Fresh ten-and twenty-dollar bills are none too common in this
town. And now about her will. Did you draw that up, Harvey?"
"No. I did not know she had made one. I often spoke to her about
the advisability of her doing so, but she always put me off. And
now it seems that she had it drawn up in Boston. Could not trust
her old friend with too many secrets, I suppose."
"So you don't know how her money has been left?"
"No more than you do."
Here an interruption occurred. The door opened and a slim young
man, wearing spectacles, came in. At sight of him they all rose.
"Well?" eagerly inquired Dr. Talbot.
"Nothing new," answered the young man, with a consequential air.
"The elder woman died from loss of blood consequent upon a blow
given by a small, three-sided, slender blade; the younger from a
stroke of apoplexy, induced by fright."
"Good! I am glad to hear my instincts were not at fault. Loss of
blood, eh? Death, then, was not instantaneous?"
"Strange!" fell from the lips of his two listeners. "She lived,
yet gave no alarm."
"None that was heard," suggested the young doctor, who was from
"Or, if heard, reached no ears but Philemon's," observed the
constable. "Something must have taken him upstairs."
"I am not so sure," said the coroner, "that Philemon is not
answerable for the whole crime, notwithstanding our failure to
find the missing money anywhere in the house. How else account for
the resignation with which she evidently met her death? Had a
stranger struck her, Agatha Webb would have struggled. There is no
sign of struggle in the room."
"She would have struggled against Philemon had she had strength to
struggle. I think she was asleep when she was struck."
"Ah! And was not standing by the table? How about the blood there,
"Shaken from the murderer's fingers in fright or disgust."
"There was no blood on Philemon's fingers."
"No; he wiped them on his sleeve."
"If he was the one to use the dagger against her, where is the
dagger? Should we not be able to find it somewhere about the
"He may have buried it outside. Crazy men are super naturally
"When you can produce it from any place inside that board fence, I
will consider your theory. At present I limit my suspicions of
Philemon to the half-unconscious attentions which a man of
disordered intellect might give a wife bleeding and dying under
his eyes. My idea on the subject is—-"
"Would you be so kind as not to give utterance to your ideas until
I have been able to form some for myself?" interrupted a voice
from the doorway.
As this voice was unexpected, they all turned. A small man with
sleek dark hair and expressionless features stood before them.
Behind him was Abel, carrying a hand-bag and umbrella.
"The detective from Boston," announced the latter. Coroner Talbot
"You are in good time," he remarked. "We have work of no ordinary
nature for you."
The man failed to look interested. But then his countenance was
not one to show emotion.
"My name is Knapp," said he. "I have had my supper, and am ready
to go to work. I have read the newspapers; all I want now is any
additional facts that have come to light since the telegraphic
dispatches were sent to Boston. Facts, mind you; not theories. I
never allow myself to be hampered by other persons' theories."
Not liking his manner, which was brusque and too self-important
for a man of such insignificant appearance, Coroner Talbot
referred him to Mr. Fenton, who immediately proceeded to give him
the result of such investigations as he and his men had been able
to make; which done, Mr. Knapp put on his hat and turned toward
"I will go to the house and see for myself what is to be learned
there," said he. "May I ask the privilege of going alone?" he
added, as Mr. Fenton moved. "Abel will see that I am given
"Show me your credentials," said the coroner. He did so. "They
seem all right, and you should be a man who understands his
business. Go alone, if you prefer, but bring your conclusions
here. They may need some correcting."
"Oh, I will return," Knapp nonchalantly remarked, and went out,
having made anything but a favourable impression upon the
"I wish we had shown more grit and tried to handle this thing
ourselves," observed Mr. Fenton. "I cannot bear to think of that
cold, bloodless creature hovering over our beloved Agatha."
"I wonder at Carson. Why should he send us such a man? Could he
not see the matter demanded extraordinary skill and judgment?"
"Oh, this fellow may have skill. But he is so unpleasant. I hate
to deal with folks of such fish-like characteristics. But who is
this?" he asked as a gentle tap was heard at the door. "Why, it's
Loton. What can he want here?"
The man whose presence in the doorway had called out this
exclamation started at the sound of the doctor's heavy voice, and
came very hesitatingly forward. He was of a weak, irritable type,
and seemed to be in a state of great excitement.
"I beg pardon," said he, "for showing myself. I don't like to
intrude into such company, but I have something to tell you which
may be of use, sirs, though it isn't any great thing, either."
"Something about the murder which has taken place?" asked the
coroner, in a milder tone. He knew Loton well, and realised the
advisability of encouragement in his case.
"The murder! Oh, I wouldn't presume to say anything about the
murder. I'm not the man to stir up any such subject as that. It's
about the money—or some money—more money than usually falls into
my till. It—it was rather queer, sirs, and I have felt the
flutter of it all day. Shall I tell you about it? It happened last
night, late last night, sirs, so late that I was in bed with my
wife, and had been snoring, she said, four hours."
"What money? New money? Crisp, fresh bills, Loton?" eagerly
questioned Mr. Fenton.
Loton, who was the keeper of a small confectionery and bakery
store on one of the side streets leading up the hill, shifted
uneasily between his two interrogators, and finally addressed
himself to the coroner:
"It was new money. I thought it felt so at night, but I was sure
of it in the morning. A brand-new bill, sir, a—But that isn't
the queerest thing about it. I was asleep, sir, sound asleep, and
dreaming of my courting days (for I asked Sally at the circus,
sirs, and the band playing on the hill made me think of it), when
I was suddenly shook awake by Sally herself, who says she hadn't
slept a wink for listening to the music and wishing she was a girl
again. 'There's a man at the shop door,' cries she. 'He's a-
calling of you; go and see what he wants.' I was mad at being
wakened. Dreaming is pleasant, specially when clowns and kissing
get mixed up in it, but duty is duty, and so into the shop I
stumbled, swearing a bit perhaps, for I hadn't stopped for a light
and it was as dark as double shutters could make it. The hammering
had become deafening. No let up till I reached the door, when it
"'What is it?' I cried. 'Who's there and what do you want?'
"A trembling voice answered me. 'Let me in,' it said. 'I want to
buy something to eat. For God's sake, open the door!'
"I don't know why I obeyed, for it was late, and I did not know
the voice, but something in the impatient rattling of the door
which accompanied the words affected me in spite of myself, and I
slowly opened my shop to this midnight customer.
"'You must be hungry,' I began. But the person who had crowded in
as soon as the opening was large enough wouldn't let me finish.
"'Bread! I want bread, or crackers, or anything that you can find
easiest,' he gasped, like a man who had been running. 'Here's
money'; and he poked into my hand a bill so stiff that it rattled.
'It's more than enough,' he hastened to say, as I hesitated over
it, 'but never mind that; I'll come for the change in the
"'Who are you? I cried. 'You are not Blind Willy, I'm sure.'
"But his only answer was 'Bread!' while he leaned so hard against
the counter I felt it shake.
"I could not stand that cry of 'Bread!' so I groped about in the
dark, and found him a stale loaf, which I put into his arms, with
a short, 'There! Now tell me what your name is.'
"But at this he seemed to shrink into himself; and muttering
something that might pass for thanks, he stumbled towards the door
and rushed hastily out. Running after him, I listened eagerly to
his steps. They went up the hill."
"And the money? What about the money?" asked the coroner. "Didn't
he come back for the change?"
"No. I put it in the till, thinking it was a dollar bill. But when
I came to look at it in the morning, it was a twenty; yes, sirs, a
This was startling. The coroner and the constable looked at each
other before looking again at him.
"And where is that bill now?" asked the former. "Have you brought
it with you?"
"I have, sir. It's been in and out of the till twenty times to-
day. I haven't known what to do with it. I don't like to think
wrong of anybody, but when I heard that Mrs. Webb (God bless her!)
was murdered last night for money, I couldn't rest for the weight
of this thing on my conscience. Here's the bill, sir. I wish I had
let the old man rap on my door till morning before I had taken it
They did not share this feeling. A distinct and valuable clew
seemed to be afforded them by the fresh, crisp bill they saw in
his hand. Silently Dr. Talbot took it, while Mr. Fenton, with a
shrewd look, asked:
"What reasons have you for calling this mysterious customer old? I
thought it was so dark you could not see him."
The man, who looked relieved since he had rid himself of the bill,
eyed the constable in some perplexity.
"I didn't see a feature of his face," said he, "and yet I'm sure
he was old. I never thought of him as being anything else."
"Well, we will see. And is that all you have to tell us?"
His nod was expressive, and they let him go.
An hour or so later Detective Knapp made his reappearance.
"Well," asked the coroner, as he came quietly in and closed the
door behind him, "what's your opinion?"
"Simple case, sir. Murdered for money. Find the man with a flowing
THE MAN WITH A BEARD
There were but few men in town who wore long beards. A list was
made of these and handed to the coroner, who regarded it with a
"Not a man whose name is here would be guilty of a misdemeanour,
let alone a crime. You must look outside of our village population
for the murderer of Agatha Webb."
"Very likely, but tell me something first about these persons,"
urged Knapp. "Who is Edward Hope?"
"A watch repairer; a man of estimable character."
"And Sylvester Chubb?"
"A farmer who, to support his mother, wife, and seven children,
works from morning till sundown on his farm, and from sundown till
11 o'clock at night on little fancy articles he cuts out from wood
and sells in Boston."
"John Barker, Thomas Elder, Timothy Sinn?"
"All good men; I can vouch for every one of them."
"And John Zabel, James Zabel?"
"Irreproachable, both of them. Famous shipbuilders once, but the
change to iron shipbuilding has thrown them out of business. Pity,
too, for they were remarkable builders. By the by, Fenton, we
don't see them at church or on the docks any more."
"No, they keep very much to themselves; getting old, like
"Lively boys once. We must hunt them up, Fenton. Can't bear to see
old friends drop away from good company. But this isn't business.
You need not pause over their names, Knapp."
But Knapp had slipped out.
We will follow him.
Walking briskly down the street, he went up the steps of a certain
house and rang the bell. A gentleman with a face not entirely
unknown to us came to the door.
The detective did not pause for preliminaries.
"Are you Mr. Crane?" he asked,—"the gentleman who ran against a
man coming out of Mrs. Webb's house last night?"
"I am Mr. Crane," was the slightly surprised rejoinder, "and I was
run against by a man there, yes."
"Very well," remarked the detective, quietly, "my name is Knapp. I
have been sent from Boston to look into this matter, and I have an
idea that you can help me more than any other man here in
Sutherlandtown. Who was this person who came in contact with you
so violently? You know, even if you have been careful not to
mention any names."
"You are mistaken. I don't know; I can't know. He wore a sweeping
beard, and walked and acted like a man no longer young, but beyond
"Mr. Crane, excuse me, but I know men. If you had no suspicion as
to whom that person was you would not look so embarrassed. You
suspect, or, at least, associate in your own mind a name with the
man you met. Was it either of these you see written here?"
Mr. Crane glanced at the card on which the other had scribbled a
couple of names, and started perceptibly.
"You have me," said he; "you must be a man of remarkable
The detective smiled and pocketed his card. The names he thus
concealed were John Zabel, James Zabel.
"You have not said which of the two it was," Knapp quietly
"No," returned the minister, "and I have not even thought. Indeed,
I am not sure that I have not made a dreadful mistake in thinking
it was either. A glimpse such as I had is far from satisfactory;
and they are both such excellent men—-"
"Eight! You did make a mistake, of course, I have not the least
doubt of it. So don't think of the matter again. I will find out
who the real man was; rest easy."
And with the lightest of bows, Knapp drew off and passed as
quickly as he could, without attracting attention, round the
corner to the confectioner's.
Here his attack was warier. Sally Loton was behind the counter
with her husband, and they had evidently been talking the matter
over very confidentially. But Knapp was not to be awed by her
small, keen eye or strident voice, and presently succeeded in
surprising a knowing look on the lady's face, which convinced him
that in the confidences between husband and wife a name had been
used which she appeared to be less unwilling to impart than he.
Knapp, consequently, turned his full attention towards her, using
in his attack that oldest and subtlest weapon against the sex—
"My dear madam," said he, "your good heart is apparent; your
husband has confided to you a name which you, out of fear of some
mistake, hesitate to repeat. A neighbourly spirit, ma'am, a very
neighbourly spirit; but you should not allow your goodness to
defeat the ends of justice. If you simply told us whom this man
resembled we would be able to get some idea of his appearance."
"He didn't resemble anyone I know," growled Loton. "It was too
dark for me to see how he looked."
"His voice, then? People are traced by their voices."
"I didn't recognise his voice."
Knapp smiled, his eye still on the woman.
"Yet you have thought of someone he reminded you of?"
The man was silent, but the wife tossed her head ever so lightly.
"Now, you must have had your reasons for that. No one thinks of a
good and respectable neighbour in connection with the buying of a
loaf of bread at mid-night with a twenty-dollar bill, without some
"The man wore a beard. I felt it brush my hand as he took the
"Good! That is a point."
"Which made me think of other men who wore beards."
"As, for instance—-"
The detective had taken from his pocket the card which he had used
with such effect at the minister's, and as he said these words
twirled it so that the two names written upon it fell under Sally
Loton's inquisitive eyes. The look with which she read them was
enough. John Zabel, James Zabel.
"Who told you it was either of these men?" she asked.
"You did," he retorted, pocketing the card with a smile.
"La, now! Samuel, I never spoke a word," she insisted, in anxious
protest to her husband, as the detective slid quietly from the
The Hallidays lived but a few rods from the Sutherlands. Yet as it
was dusk when Miss Halliday rose to depart, Frederick naturally
offered his services as her escort.
She accepted them with a slight blush, the first he had ever seen
on her face, or at least had ever noted there. It caused him such
surprise that he forgot Amabel's presence in the garden till they
came upon her at the gate.
"A pleasant evening," observed that young girl in her high,
"Very," was Miss Halliday's short reply; and for a moment the two
faces were in line as he held open the gate before his departing
They were very different faces in feature and expression, and till
that night he had never thought of comparing them. Indeed, the
fascination which beamed from Amabel Page's far from regular
features had put all others out of his mind, but now, as he
surveyed the two girls, the candour and purity which marked
Agnes's countenance came out so strongly under his glance that
Amabel lost all attraction for him, and he drew his young
neighbour hastily away.
Amabel noted the movement and smiled. Her contempt for Agnes
Halliday's charms amounted to disdain.
She might have felt less confidence in her own had she been in a
position to note the frequent glances Frederick cast at his old
playmate as they proceeded slowly up the road. Not that there was
any passion in them—he was too full of care for that; but the
curiosity which could prompt him to turn his head a dozen times in
the course of so short a walk, to see why Agnes Halliday held her
face so persistently away from him, had an element of feeling in
it that was more or less significant. As for Agnes, she was so
unlike her accustomed self as to astonish even herself. Whereas
she had never before walked a dozen steps with him without
indulging in some sharp saying, she found herself disinclined to
speak at all, much less to speak lightly. In mutual silence, then,
they reached the gateway leading into the Halliday grounds. But
Agnes having passed in, they both stopped and for the first time
looked squarely at each other. Her eyes fell first, perhaps
because his had changed in his contemplation of her. He smiled as
he saw this, and in a half-careless, half-wistful tone, said
"Agnes, what would you think of a man who, after having committed
little else but folly all his life, suddenly made up his mind to
turn absolutely toward the right and to pursue it in face of every
obstacle and every discouragement?"
"I should think," she slowly replied, with one quick lift of her
eyes toward his face, "that he had entered upon the noblest effort
of which man is capable, and the hardest. I should have great
sympathy for that man, Frederick."
"Would you?" he said, recalling Amabel's face with bitter aversion
as he gazed into the womanly countenance he had hitherto slighted
as uninteresting. "It is the first kind word you have ever given
me, Agnes. Possibly it is the first I have ever deserved."
And without another word he doffed his hat, saluted her, and
vanished down the hillside.
She remained; remained so long that it was nearly nine when she
entered the family parlour. As she came in her mother looked up
and was startled at her unaccustomed pallor.
"Why, Agnes," cried her mother, "what is the matter?"
Her answer was inaudible. What was the matter? She dreaded, even
feared, to ask herself.
Meantime a strange scene was taking place in the woods toward
which she had seen Frederick go. The moon, which was particularly
bright that night, shone upon a certain hollow where a huge tree
lay. Around it the underbrush was thick and the shadow dark, but
in this especial place the opening was large enough for the rays
to enter freely. Into this circlet of light Frederick Sutherland
had come. Alone and without the restraint imposed upon him by
watching eyes, he showed a countenance so wan and full of trouble
that it was well it could not be seen by either of the two women
whose thoughts were at that moment fixed upon him. To Amabel it
would have given a throb of selfish hope, while to Agnes it would
have brought a pang of despair which might have somewhat too
suddenly interpreted to her the mystery of her own sensations.
He had bent at once to the hollow space made by the outspreading
roots just mentioned, and was feeling with an air of confidence
along the ground for something he had every reason to expect to
find, when the shock of a sudden distrust seized him, and he flung
himself down in terror, feeling and feeling again among the fallen
leaves and broken twigs, till a full realisation of his misfortune
reached him, and he was obliged to acknowledge that the place was
Overwhelmed at his loss, aghast at the consequences it must entail
upon him, he rose in a trembling sweat, crying out in his anger
"She has been here! She has taken it!" And realising for the first
time the subtlety and strength of the antagonist pitted against
him, he forgot his new resolutions and even that old promise made
in his childhood to Agatha Webb, and uttered oath after oath,
cursing himself, the woman, and what she had done, till a casual
glance at the heavens overhead, in which the liquid moon hung calm
and beautiful, recalled him to himself. With a sense of shame, the
keener that it was a new sensation in his breast, he ceased his
vain repinings, and turning from the unhallowed spot, made his way
with deeper and deeper misgivings toward a home made hateful to
him now by the presence of the woman who was thus bent upon his
He understood her now. He rated at its full value both her
determination and her power, and had she been so unfortunate as to
have carried her imprudence to the point of surprising him by her
presence, it would have taken more than the memory of that day's
solemn resolves to have kept him from using his strength against
her. But she was wise, and did not intrude upon him in his hour of
anger, though who could say she was not near enough to hear the
sigh which broke irresistibly from his lips as he emerged from the
wood and approached his father's house?
A lamp was still burning in Mr. Sutherland's study over the front
door, and the sight of it seemed to change for a moment the
current of Frederick's thoughts. Pausing at the gate, he
considered with himself, and then with a freer countenance and a
lighter step was about to proceed inward, when he heard the sound
of a heavy breather coming up the hill, and hesitated—why he
hardly knew, except that every advancing step occasioned him more
or less apprehension.
The person, whoever it was, stopped before reaching the brow of
the hill, and, panting heavily, muttered an oath which Frederick
heard. Though it was no more profane than those which had just
escaped his own lips in the forest, it produced an effect upon him
which was only second in intensity to the terror of the discovery
that the money he had so safely hidden was gone.
Trembling in every limb, he dashed down the hill and confronted
the person standing there.
"You!" he cried, "you!" And for a moment he looked as if he would
like to fell to the ground the man before him.
But this man was a heavyweight of no ordinary physical strength
and adroitness, and only smiled at Frederick's heat and
"I thought I would be made welcome," he smiled, with just the hint
of sinister meaning in his tone. Then, before Frederick could
speak: "I have merely saved you a trip to Boston; why so much
anger, friend? You have the money; of that I am positive."
"Hush! We can't talk here," whispered Frederick. "Come into the
grounds, or, what would be better, into the woods over there."
"I don't go into any woods with you," laughed the other; "not
after last night, my friend. But I will talk low; that's no more
than fair; I don't want to put you into any other man's power,
especially if you have the money."
"Wattles,"—Frederick's tone was broken, almost unintelligible,—
"what do you mean by your allusion to last night? Have you dared
to connect me—-"
"Pooh! Pooh!" interrupted the other, good-humouredly. "Don't let
us waste words over a chance expression I may have dropped. I
don't care anything about last night's work, or who was concerned
in it. That's nothing to me. All I want, my boy, is the money, and
that I want devilish bad, or I would not have run up here from
Boston, when I might have made half a hundred off a countryman
Lewis brought in from the Canada wilds this morning."
"Wattles, I swear—-"
But the hand he had raised was quickly drawn down by the other.
"Don't," said the older man, shortly. "It won't pay, Sutherland.
Stage-talk never passed for anything with me. Besides, your white
face tells a truer story than your lips, and time is precious. I
want to take the 11 o'clock train back. So down with the cash.
Nine hundred and fifty-five it is, but, being friends, we will let
the odd five go."
"Wattles, I was to bring it to you to-morrow, or was it the next
day? I do not want to give it to you to-night; indeed, I cannot,
but—Wattles, wait, stop! Where are you going?"
"To see your father. I want to tell him that his son owes me a
debt; that this debt was incurred in a way that lays him liable to
arrest for forgery; that, bad as he thinks you, there are facts
which can be picked up in Boston which would render Frederick
Sutherland's continued residence under the parental roof
impossible; that, in fact, you are a scamp of the first water, and
that only my friendship for you has kept you out of prison so
long. Won't that make a nice story for the old gentleman's ears!"
"Wattles—I—oh, my God! Wattles, stop a minute and listen to me.
I have not got the money. I had enough this morning to pay you,
had it legitimately, Wattles, but it has been stolen from me and—
"I will also tell him," the other broke in, as quietly as if
Frederick had not uttered a word, "that in a certain visit to
Boston you lost five hundred dollars on one hand; that you lost it
unfairly, not having a dollar to pay with; that to prevent scandal
I be came your security, with the understanding that I was to be
paid at the end of ten days from that night; that you thereupon
played again and lost four hundred and odd more, so that your debt
amounted to nine hundred and fifty-five dollars; that the ten days
passed without payment; that, wanting money, I pressed you and
even resorted to a threat or two; and that, seeing me in earnest,
you swore that the dollars should be mine within five days; that
instead of remaining in Boston to get them, you came here; and
that this morning at a very early hour you telegraphed that the
funds were to hand and that you would bring them down to me to-
morrow. The old gentleman may draw conclusions from this,
Sutherland, which may make his position as your father anything
but grateful to him. He may even—Ah, you would try that game,
The young man had flung himself at the older man's throat as if he
would choke off the words he saw trembling on his lips. But the
struggle thus begun was short. In a moment both stood panting, and
Frederick, with lowered head, was saying humbly:
"I beg pardon, Wattles, but you drive me mad with your suggestions
and conclusions. I have not got the money, but I will try and get
it. Wait here."
"For ten minutes, Sutherland; no longer! The moon is bright, and I
can see the hands of my watch distinctly. At a quarter to ten, you
will return here with the amount I have mentioned, or I will seek
it at your father's hands in his own study."
Frederick made a hurried gesture and vanished up the walk. Next
moment he was at his father's study door.
Mr. Sutherland was busily engaged with a law paper when his son
entered his presence, but at sigh of that son's face, he dropped
the paper with an alacrity which Frederick was too much engaged
with his own thoughts to notice.
"Father," he began without preamble or excuse, "I am in serious
and immediate need of nine hundred and fifty dollars. I want it so
much that I ask you to make me a check for that amount to-night,
conscious though I am that you have every right to deny me this
request, and that my debt to you already passes the bound of
presumption on my part and indulgence on yours. I cannot tell you
why I want it or for what. That belongs to my past life, the
consequences of which I have not yet escaped, but I feel bound to
state that you will not be the loser by this material proof of
confidence in me, as I shall soon be in a position to repay all my
debts, among which this will necessarily stand foremost."
The old gentleman looked startled and nervously fingered the paper
he had let fall. "Why do you say you will soon be in a position to
repay me? What do you mean by that?"
The flash, which had not yet subsided from the young man's face,
ebbed slowly away as he encountered his father's eye.
"I mean to work," he murmured. "I mean to make a man of myself as
soon as possible."
The look which Mr. Sutherland gave him was more inquiring than
"And you need this money for a start?" said he.
Frederick bowed; he seemed to be losing the faculty of speech. The
clock over the mantel had told off five of the precious moments.
"I will give it to you," said his father, and drew out his check-
book. But he did not hasten to open it; his eyes still rested on
"Now," murmured the young man. "There is a train leaving soon. I
wish to get it away on that train."
His father frowned with natural distrust.
"I wish you would confide in me," said he.
Frederick did not answer. The hands of the clock were moving on.
"I will give it to you; but I should like to know what for."
"It is impossible for me to tell you," groaned the young man,
starting as he heard a step on the walk without.
"Your need has become strangely imperative," proceeded the other.
"Has Miss Page—-"
Frederick took a step forward and laid his hand on his father's
"It is not for her," he whispered. "It goes into other hands."
Mr. Sutherland, who had turned over the document as his son
approached, breathed more easily. Taking up his pen, he dipped it
in the ink. Frederick watched him with constantly whitening cheek.
The step on the walk had mounted to the front door.
"Nine hundred and fifty?" inquired the father.
"Nine hundred and fifty," answered the son.
The judge, with a last look, stooped over the book. The hands of
the clock pointed to a quarter to ten.
"Father, I have my whole future in which to thank you," cried
Frederick, seizing the check his father held out to him and making
rapidly for the door. "I will be back before midnight." And he
flung himself down-stairs just as the front door opened and
Wattles stepped in.
"Ah," exclaimed the latter, as his eye fell on the paper
fluttering in the other's hand, "I expected money, not paper."
"The paper is good," answered Frederick, drawing him swiftly out
of the house. "It has my father's signature upon it."
"Your father's signature?"
Wattles gave it a look, then slowly shook his head at Frederick.
"Is it as well done as the one you tried to pass off on Brady?"
Frederick cringed, and for a moment looked as if the struggle was
too much for him. Then he rallied and eying Wattles firmly, said:
"You have a right to distrust me, but you are on the wrong track,
Wattles. What I did once, I can never do again; and I hope I may
live to prove myself a changed man. As for that check, I will soon
prove its value in your eyes. Follow me up-stairs to my father."
His energy—the energy of despair, no doubt seemed to make an
impression on the other.
"You might as well proclaim yourself a forger outright, as to
force your father to declare this to be his signature," he
"I know it," said Frederick.
"Yet you will run that risk?"
"If you oblige me."
Wattles shrugged his shoulders. He was a magnificent-looking man
and towered in that old colonial hall like a youthful giant.
"I bear you no ill will," said he. "If this represents money, I am
satisfied, and I begin to think it does. But listen, Sutherland.
Something has happened to you. A week ago you would have put a
bullet through my head before you would have been willing to have
so compromised yourself. I think I know what that something is. To
save yourself from being thought guilty of a big crime you are
willing to incur suspicion of a small one. It's a wise move, my
boy, but look out! No tricks with me or my friendship may not
hold. Meantime, I cash this check to-morrow." And he swung away
through the night with a grand-opera selection on his lips.
A FINAL TEMPTATION
Frederick looked like a man thoroughly exhausted when the final
echo of this hateful voice died away on the hillside. For the last
twenty hours he had been the prey of one harrowing emotion after
another, and human nature could endure no more without rest.
But rest would not come. The position in which he found himself,
between Amabel and the man who had just left, was of too
threatening a nature for him to ignore. But one means of escape
presented itself. It was a cowardly one; but anything was better
than to make an attempt to stand his ground against two such
merciless antagonists; so he resolved upon flight.
Packing up a few necessaries and leaving a letter behind him for
his father, he made his way down the stairs of the now darkened
house to a door opening upon the garden. To his astonishment he
found it unlocked, but, giving little heed to this in his
excitement, he opened it with caution, and, with a parting sigh
for the sheltering home he was about to leave forever, stepped
from the house he no longer felt worthy to inhabit.
His intention was to take the train at Portchester, and that he
might reach that place without inconvenient encounters, he decided
to proceed by a short cut through the fields. This led him north
along the ridge that overlooks the road running around the base of
the hill. He did not think of this road, however, or of anything,
in fact, but the necessity of taking the very earliest train out
of Portchester. As this left at 3.30 A.M., he realised that he
must hasten in order to reach it. But he was not destined to take
it or any other train out of Portchester that night, for when he
reached the fence dividing Mr. Sutherland's grounds from those of
his adjoining neighbour, he saw, drawn up in the moonlight just at
the point where he had intended to leap the fence, the form of a
woman with one hand held out to stop him.
It was Amabel.
Confounded by this check and filled with an anger that was nigh to
dangerous, he fell back and then immediately sprang forward.
"What are you doing here?" he cried. "Don't you know that it is
eleven o'clock and that my father requires the house to be closed
at that hour?"
"And you?" was her sole retort; "what are you doing here? Are you
searching for flowers in the woods, and is that valise you carry
the receptacle in which you hope to put your botanical specimens?"
With a savage gesture he dropped the valise and took her fiercely
by the shoulders.
"Where have you hidden my money?" he hissed. "Tell me, or—-"
"Or what?" she asked, smiling into his face in a way that made him
lose his grip.
"Or—or I cannot answer for myself," he proceeded, stammering. "Do
you. think I can endure everything from you because you are a
woman? No; I will have those bills, every one of them, or show
myself your master. Where are they, you incarnate fiend?"
It was an unwise word to use, but she did not seem to heed it.
"Ah," she said softly, and with a lingering accent, as if his
grasp of her had been a caress to which she was not entirely
averse. "I did not think you would discover its loss so soon. When
did you go to the woods, Frederick? And was Miss Halliday with
He had a disposition to strike her, but controlled himself. Blows
would not avail against the softness of this suave, yet merciless,
being. Only a will as strong as her own could hope to cope with
this smiling fury; and this he was determined to show, though,
alas! he had everything to lose in a struggle that robbed her of
nothing but a hope which was but a baseless fabric at best; for he
was more than ever determined never to marry her.
"A man does not need to wait long to miss his own," said he. "And
if you have taken this money, which, you do not deny, you have
shown yourself very short-sighted, for danger lies closer to the
person holding this money than to the one you vilify by your
threats. This you will find, Amabel, when you come to make use of
the weapon with which you have thought to arm yourself."
"Tut, tut!" was her contemptuous reply. "Do you consider me a
child? Do I look like a babbling infant, Frederick?"
Her face, which had been lifted to his in saying this, was so
illumined, both by her smile, which was strangely enchanting for
one so evil, and by the moon-light, which so etherialises all that
it touches, that he found himself forced to recall that other
purer, truer face he had left at the honeysuckle porch to keep
down a last wild impulse toward her, which would have been his
undoing, both in this world and the next, as he knew.
"Or do I look simply like a woman?" she went on, seeing the
impression she had made, and playing upon it. "A woman who
understands herself and you and all the secret perils of the game
we are both playing? If I am a child, treat me as a child; but if
I am a woman—-"
"Stand out of my way!" he cried, catching up his valise and
striding furiously by her. "Woman or child, know that I will not
be your plaything to be damned in this world and in the next."
"Are you bound for the city of destruction?" she laughed, not
moving, but showing such confidence in her power to hold him back
that he stopped in spite of himself. "If so, you are taking the
direct road there and have only to hasten. But you had better
remain in your father's house; even if you are something of a
prisoner there, like my very insignificant self. The outcome will
be more satisfactory, even if you have to share your future with
"And what course will you take," he asked, pausing with his hand
on the fence, "if I decide to choose destruction without you,
rather than perdition with you?"
"What course? Why, I shall tell Dr. Talbot just enough to show you
to be as desirable a witness in the impending inquest as myself.
The result I leave to your judgment. But you will not drive me to
this extremity. You will come back and—"
"Woman, I will never come back. I shall have to dare your worst in
a week and will begin by daring you now. I—"
But he did not leap the fence, though he made a move to do so, for
at that moment a party of men came hurrying by on the lower road,
one of whom was heard to say:
"I will bet my head that we will put our hand on Agatha Webb's
murderer to-night. The man who shoves twenty-dollar bills around
so heedlessly should not wear a beard so long it leads to
It was the coroner, the constable, Knapp, and Abel on their way to
the forest road on which lived John and James Zabel.
Frederick and Amabel confronted each other, and after a moment's
silence returned as if by a common impulse towards the house.
"What have they got in their heads?" queried she. "Whatever it is,
it may serve to occupy them till the week of your probation is
He did not answer. A new and overwhelming complication had been
added to the difficulties of his situation.
THE ZABELS VISITED
Let us follow the party now winding up the hillside.
In a deeply wooded spot on a side road stood the little house to
which John and James Zabel had removed when their business on the
docks had terminated. There was no other dwelling of greater or
lesser pretension on the road, which may account for the fact that
none of the persons now approaching it had been in that
neighbourhood for years, though it was by no means a long walk
from the village in which they all led such busy lives.
The heavy shadows cast by the woods through which the road
meandered were not without their effect upon the spirits of the
four men passing through them, so that long before they reached
the opening in which the Zabel cottage stood, silence had fallen
upon the whole party. Dr. Talbot especially looked as if he little
relished this late visit to his old friends, and not till they
caught a glimpse of the long sloping roof and heavy chimney of the
Zabel cottage did he shake off the gloom incident to the nature of
"Gentlemen," said he, coming to a sudden halt, "let us understand
each other. We are about to make a call on two of our oldest and
most respectable townsfolk. If in the course of that call I choose
to make mention of the twenty-dollar bill left with Loton, well
and good, but if not, you are to take my reticence as proof of my
own belief that they had nothing to do with it."
Two of the party bowed; Knapp, only, made no sign.
"There is no light in the window," observed Abel. "What if we find
them gone to bed?"
"We will wake them," said the constable. "I cannot go back without
being myself assured that no more money like that given to Loton
remains in the house."
"Very well," remarked Knapp, and going up to the door before him,
he struck a resounding knock sufficiently startling in that place
But loud as the summons was it brought no answer. Not only the
moon-lighted door, but the little windows on each side of it
remained shut, and there was no evidence that the knock had been
"Zabel! John Zabel!" shouted the constable, stepping around the
side of the house. "Get up, my good friends, and let an old crony
in. James! John! Late as it is, we have business with you. Open
the door; don't stop to dress."
But this appeal received no more recognition than the first, and
after rapping on the window against which he had flung the words,
he came back and looked up and down the front of the house.
It had a solitary aspect and was much less comfortable-looking
than he had expected. Indeed, there were signs of poverty, or at
least of neglect, about the place that astonished him. Not only
had the weeds been allowed to grow over the doorstep, but from the
unpainted front itself bits of boards had rotted away, leaving
great gaps about the window-ledges and at the base of the sunken
and well-nigh toppling chimney. The moon flooding the roof showed
up all these imperfections with pitiless insistence, and the torn
edges of the green paper shades that half concealed the rooms
within were plainly to be seen, as well as the dismantled knocker
which hung by one nail to the old cracked door. The vision of
Knapp with his ear laid against this door added to the forlorn and
sinister aspect of the scene, and gave to the constable, who
remembered the brothers in their palmy days when they were the
life and pride of the town, a by no means agreeable sensation, as
he advanced toward the detective and asked him what they should do
"Break down the door!" was the uncompromising reply. "Or, wait!
The windows of country houses are seldom fastened; let me see if I
cannot enter by some one of them."
"Better not," said the coroner, with considerable feeling. "Let us
exhaust all other means first." And he took hold of the knob of
the door to shake it, when to his surprise it turned and the door
opened. It had not been locked.
Rather taken aback by this, he hesitated. But Knapp showed less
scruple. Without waiting for any man's permission, he glided in
and stepped cautiously, but without any delay, into a room the
door of which stood wide open before him. The constable was about
to follow when he saw Knapp come stumbling back.
"Devilish work," he muttered, and drew the others in to see.
Never will any of these men forget the sight that there met their
On the floor near the entrance lay one brother, in a streak of
moonlight, which showed every feature of his worn and lifeless
face, and at a table drawn up in the centre of the room sat the
other, rigid in death, with a book clutched in his hand.
Both, had been dead some time, and on the faces and in the aspects
of both was visible a misery that added its own gloom to the
pitiable and gruesome scene, and made the shining of the great
white moon, which filled every corner of the bare room, seem a
mockery well-nigh unendurable to those who contemplated it. John,
dead in his chair! James, dead on the floor!
Knapp, who of all present was least likely to feel the awesome
nature of the tragedy, was naturally the first to speak.
"Both wear long beards," said he, "but the one lying on the floor
was doubtless Loton's customer. Ah!" he cried, pointing at the
table, as he carefully crossed the floor. "Here is the bread, and-
-" Even he had his moments of feeling. The appearance of that loaf
had stunned him; one corner of it had been gnawed off.
"A light! let us have a light!" cried Mr. Fenton, speaking for the
first time since his entrance. "These moonbeams are horrible; see
how they cling to the bodies as if they delighted in lighting up
these wasted and shrunken forms."
"Could it have been hunger?" began Abel, tremblingly following
Knapp's every movement as he struck a match and lit a lantern
which he had brought in his pocket.
"God help us all if it was!" said Fenton, in a secret remorse no
one but Dr. Talbot understood. "But who could have believed it of
men who were once so prosperous? Are you sure that one of them has
gnawed this bread? Could it not have been—"
"These are the marks of human teeth," observed Knapp, who was
examining the loaf carefully. "I declare, it makes me very
uncomfortable, notwithstanding it's in the line of regular
experiences." And he laid the bread down hurriedly.
Meantime, Mr. Fenton, who had been bending over another portion of
the table, turned and walked away to the window.
"I am glad they are dead," he muttered. "They have at least shared
the fate of their victims. Take a look under that old handkerchief
lying beside the newspaper, Knapp."
The detective did so. A three-edged dagger, with a curiously
wrought handle, met his eye. It had blood dried on its point, and
was, as all could see, the weapon with which Agatha Webb had been
LOCAL TALENT AT WORK
"Gentlemen, we have reached the conclusion of this business sooner
than I expected," announced Knapp. "If you will give me just ten
minutes I will endeavour to find that large remainder of money we
have every reason to think is hidden away in this house."
"Stop a minute," said the coroner. "Let me see what book John is
holding so tightly. Why," he exclaimed, drawing it out and giving
it one glance, "it is a Bible."
Laying it reverently down he met the detective's astonished glance
and seriously remarked:
"There is some incongruity between the presence of this book and
the deed we believe to have been performed down yonder."
"None at all," quoth the detective. "It was not the man in the
chair, but the one on the floor, who made use of that dagger. But
I wish you had left it to me to remove that book, sir."
"You? and why? What difference would it have made?"
"I would have noticed between what pages his finger was inserted.
Nothing like making yourself acquainted with every detail in a
case like this."
Dr. Talbot gazed wistfully at the book. He would have liked to
know himself on what especial passage his friend's eyes had last
"I will stand aside," said he, "and hear your report when you are
The detective had already begun his investigations.
"Here is a spot of blood," said he. "See! on the right trouser leg
of the one you call James. This connects him indisputably with the
crime in which this dagger was used. No signs of violence on his
body. She was the only one to receive a blow. His death is the
result of God's providence."
"Or man's neglect," muttered the constable.
"There is no money in any of their pockets, or on either wasted
figure," the detective continued, after a few minutes of silent
search. "It must be hidden in the room, or—look through that
The coroner, glad of an opportunity to do something, took up the
book, and ran hurriedly through its leaves, then turned it and
shook it out over the table. Nothing fell out; the bills must be
looked for elsewhere.
"The furniture is scanty," Abel observed, with an inquiring look
"Very, very scanty," assented the constable, still with that
biting remorse at his heart.
"There is nothing in this cupboard," pursued the detective,
swinging open a door in the wall, "but a set of old china more or
Abel started. An old recollection had come up. Some weeks before,
he had been present when James had made an effort to sell this
set. They were all in Warner's store, and James Zabel (he could
see his easy attitude yet, and hear the off-hand tones with which
he tried to carry the affair off) had said, quite as if he had
never thought of it before: "By the by, I have a set of china at
the house which came over in the Mayflower. John likes it, but it
has grown to be an eyesore to me, and if you hear of anybody who
has a fancy for such things, send him up to the cottage. I will
let it go for a song." Nobody answered, and James disappeared. It
was the last time, Abel remembered, that he had been seen about
"I can't stand it," cried the lad. "I can't stand it. If they died
of hunger I must know it. I am going to take a look at their
larder." And before anyone could stop him he dashed to the rear of
The constable would have liked to follow him, but he looked about
the walls of the room instead. John and James had been fond of
pictures and had once indulged their fancy to the verge of
extravagance, but there were no pictures on the walls now, nor was
there so much as a candlestick on the empty and dust-covered
mantel. Only on a bracket in one corner there was a worthless
trinket made out of cloves and beads which had doubtless been
given them by some country damsel in their young bachelor days.
But nothing of any value anywhere, and Mr. Fenton felt that he now
knew why they had made so many visits to Boston at one time, and
why they always returned with a thinner valise than they took
away. He was still dwelling on the thought of the depths of misery
to which highly respectable folks can sink without the knowledge
of the nearest neighbours, when Abel came back looking greatly
"It is the saddest thing I ever heard of," said he. "These men
must have been driven wild by misery. This room is sumptuous in
comparison to the ones at the back; and as for the pantry, there
is not even a scrap there a mouse could eat. I struck a match and
glanced into the flour barrel. It looked as if it had been licked.
I declare, it makes a fellow feel sick."
The constable, with a shudder, withdrew towards the door.
"The atmosphere here is stifling," said he. "I must have a breath
of out-door air."
But he was not destined to any such immediate relief. As he moved
down the hall the form of a man darkened the doorway and he heard
an anxious voice exclaim:
"Ah, Mr. Fenton, is that you? I have been looking for you
It was Sweetwater, the young man who had previously shown so much
anxiety to be of service to the coroner.
Mr. Fenton looked displeased.
"And how came you to find me here?" he asked.
"Oh, some men saw you take this road, and I guessed the rest."
"Oh, ah, very good. And what do you want, Sweetwater?"
The young man, who was glowing with pride and all alive with an
enthusiasm which he had kept suppressed for hours, slipped up to
the constable and whispered in his ear: "I have made a discovery,
sir. I know you will excuse the presumption, but I couldn't bring
myself to keep quiet and follow in that other fellow's wake. I had
to make investigations on my own account, and—and"—stammering in
his eagerness "they have been successful, sir. I have found out
who was the murderer of Agatha Webb."
The constable, compassionating the disappointment in store for
him, shook his head, with a solemn look toward the room from which
he had just emerged. "You are late, Sweetwater," said he. "We have
found him out ourselves, and he lies there, dead."
It was dark where they stood and Sweetwater's back was to the
moonlight, so that the blank look which must have crossed his face
at this announcement was lost upon the constable. But his
consternation was evident from the way he thrust out either hand
to steady himself against the walls of the narrow passageway, and
Mr. Fenton was not at all surprised to hear him stammer out:
"Dead! He! Whom do you mean by he, Mr. Fenton?"
"The man in whose house we now are," returned the other. "Is there
anyone else who can be suspected of this crime?"
Sweetwater gave a gulp that seemed to restore him to himself.
"There are two men living here, both very good men, I have heard.
Which of them do you mean, and why do you think that either John
or James Zabel killed Agatha Webb?"
For reply Mr. Fenton drew him toward the room in which such a
great heart-tragedy had taken place.
"Look," said he, "and see what can happen in a Christian land, in
the midst of Christian people living not fifty rods away. These
men are dead, Sweetwater, dead from hunger. The loaf of bread you
see there came too late. It was bought with a twenty-dollar bill,
taken from Agatha Webb's cupboard drawer."
Sweetwater, to whom the whole scene seemed like some horrible
nightmare, stared at the figure of James lying on the floor, and
then at the figure of John seated at the table, as if his mind had
failed to take in the constable's words.
"Dead!" he murmured. "Dead! John and James Zabel. What will happen
next? Is the town under a curse?" And he fell on his knees before
the prostrate form of James, only to start up again as he saw the
eyes of Knapp resting on him.
"Ah," he muttered, "the detective!" And after giving the man from
Boston a close look he turned toward Mr. Fenton.
"You said something about this good old man having killed Agatha
Webb. What was it? I was too dazed to take it in."
Mr. Fenton, not understanding the young man's eagerness, but
willing enough to enlighten him as to the situation, told him what
reasons there were for ascribing the crime in the Webb cottage to
the mad need of these starving men. Sweetwater listened with open
eyes and confused bearing, only controlling himself when his eyes
by chance fell upon the quiet figure of the detective, now moving
softly to and fro through the room.
"But why murder when he could have had his loaf for the asking?"
remonstrated Sweetwater. "Agatha Webb would have gone without a
meal any time to feed a wandering tramp; how much more to supply
the necessities of two of her oldest and dearest friends!"
"Yes," remarked Fenton, "but you forget or perhaps never knew that
the master passion of these men was pride. James Zabel ask for
bread! I can much sooner imagine him stealing it; yes, or striking
a blow for it, so that the blow shut forever the eyes that saw him
"You don't believe your own words, Mr. Fenton. How can you?"
Sweetwater's hand was on the breast of the accused man as he
spoke, and his manner was almost solemn. "You must not take it for
granted," he went on, his green eyes twinkling with a curious
light, "that all wisdom comes from Boston. We in Sutherlandtown
have some sparks of it, if they have not yet been recognised. You
are satisfied"—here he addressed himself to Knapp—"that the blow
which killed Agatha Webb was struck by this respectable old man?"
Knapp smiled as if a child had asked him this question; but he
answered him good-humouredly enough.
"You see the dagger lying here with which the deed was done, and
you see the bread that was bought from Loton with a twenty-dollar
bill of Agatha Webb's money. In these you can read my answer."
"Good evidence," acknowledged Sweetwater—"very good evidence,
especially when we remember that Mr. Crane met an old man rushing
from her gateway with something glittering in his hand. I never
was so beat in my life, and yet—and yet—if I could have a few
minutes of quiet thought all by myself I am certain I could show
you that there is more to this matter than you think. Indeed, I
know that there is, but I do not like to give my reasons till I
have conquered the difficulties presented by these men having had
the twenty-dollar bill."
"What fellow is this?" suddenly broke in Knapp.
"A fiddler, a nobody," quietly whispered Mr. Fenton in his ear.
Sweetwater heard him and changed in a twinkling from the
uncertain, half-baffled, wholly humble person they had just seen,
to a man with a purpose strong enough to make him hold up his head
with the best.
"I am a musician," he admitted, "and I play on the violin for
money whenever the occasion offers, something which you will yet
congratulate yourselves upon if you wish to reach the root of this
mysterious and dastardly crime. But that I am a nobody I deny, and
I even dare to hope that you will agree with me in this estimate
of myself before this very night is over. Only give me an
opportunity for considering this subject, and the permission to
walk for a few minutes about this house."
"That is my prerogative," protested the detective firmly, but
without any display of feeling. "I am the man employed to pick up
whatever clews the place may present."
"Have you picked up all that are to be found in this room?" asked
Knapp shrugged his shoulders. He was very well satisfied with
"Then give me a chance," prayed Sweetwater. "Mr. Fenton," he urged
more earnestly, "I am not the fool you take me for. I feel, I
know, I have a genius for this kind of thing, and though I am not
prepossessing to look at, and though I do play the fiddle, I swear
there are depths to this affair which none of you have as yet
sounded. Sirs, where are the nine hundred and eighty dollars in
bills which go to make up the clean thousand that was taken from
the small drawer at the back of Agatha Webb's cupboard?"
"They are in some secret hiding-place, no doubt, which we will
presently come upon as we go through the house," answered Knapp.
"Umph! Then I advise you to put your hand on them as soon as
possible," retorted Sweetwater. "I will confine myself to going
over the ground you have already investigated." And with a sudden
ignoring of the others' presence, which could only have sprung
from an intense egotism or from an overwhelming belief in his own
theory, he began an investigation of the room that threw the
other's more commonplace efforts entirely in the shade.
Knapp, with a slight compression of his lips, which was the sole
expression of anger he ever allowed himself, took up his hat and
made his bow to Mr. Fenton.
"I see," said he, "that the sympathy of those present is with
local talent. Let local talent work, then, sir, and when you feel
the need of a man of training and experience, send to the tavern
on the docks, where I will be found till I am notified that my
services are no longer required."
"No, no!" protested Mr. Fenton. "This boy's enthusiasm will soon
evaporate. Let him fuss away if he will. His petty business need
not interrupt us."
"But he understands himself," whispered Knapp. "I should think he
had been on our own force for years."
"All the more reason to see what he's up to. Wait, if only to
satisfy your curiosity. I shan't let many minutes go by before I
pull him up."
Knapp, who was really of a cold and unimpressionable temperament,
refrained from further argument, and confined himself to watching
the young man, whose movements seemed to fascinate him.
"Astonishing!" Mr. Fenton heard him mutter to himself. "He's more
like an eel than a man." And indeed the way Sweetwater wound
himself out and in through that room, seeing everything that came
under his eye, was a sight well worth any professional's
attention. Pausing before the dead man on the floor, he held the
lantern close to the white, worn face. "Ha!" said he, picking
something from the long beard, "here's a crumb of that same bread.
Did you see that, Mr. Knapp?"
The question was so sudden and so sharp that the detective came
near replying to it; but he bethought himself, and said nothing.
"That settles which of the two gnawed the loaf," continued
The next minute he was hovering over the still more pathetic
figure of John, sitting in the chair.
"Sad! Sad!" he murmured.
Suddenly he laid his finger on a small rent in the old man's faded
vest. "You saw this, of course," said he, with a quick glance over
his shoulder at the silent detective.
No answer, as before.
"It's a new slit," declared the officious youth, looking closer,
"and—yes—there's blood on its edges. Here, take the lantern, Mr.
Fenton, I must see how the skin looks underneath. Oh, gentlemen,
no shirt! The poorest dockhand has a shirt! Brocaded vest and no
shirt; but he's past our pity now. Ah, only a bruise over the
heart. Sirs, what did you make out of this?"
As none of them had even seen it, Knapp was not the only one to
"Shall I tell you what I make out of it?" said the lad, rising
hurriedly from the floor, which he had as hurriedly examined.
"This old man has tried to take his life with the dagger already
wet with the blood of Agatha Webb. But his arm was too feeble. The
point only pierced the vest, wiping off a little blood in its
passage, then the weapon fell from his hand and struck the floor,
as you will see by the fresh dent in the old board I am standing
on. Have you anything to say against these simple deductions?"
Again the detective opened his lips and might have spoken, but
Sweetwater gave him no chance.
"Where is the letter he was writing?" he demanded. "Have any of
you seen any paper lying about here?"
"He was not writing," objected Knapp; "he was reading; reading in
that old Bible you see there."
Sweetwater caught up the book, looked it over, and laid it down,
with that same curious twinkle of his eye they had noted in him
"He was writing," he insisted. "See, here is his pencil." And he
showed them the battered end of a small lead-pencil lying on the
edge of his chair.
"Writing at some time," admitted Knapp.
"Writing just before the deed," insisted Sweetwater. "Look at the
fingers of his right hand. They have not moved since the pencil
fell out of them."
"The letter, or whatever it was, shall be looked for," declared
Sweetwater bowed, his eyes roving restlessly into every nook and
corner of the room.
"James was the stronger of the two," he remarked; "yet there is no
evidence that he made any attempt at suicide."
"How do you know that it was suicide John attempted?" asked
someone. "Why might not the dagger have fallen from James's hand
in an effort to kill his brother?"
"Because the dent in the floor would have been to the right of the
chair instead of to the left," he returned. "Besides, James's hand
would not have failed so utterly, since he had strength to pick up
the weapon afterward and lay it where you found it."
"True, we found it lying on the table," observed Abel, scratching
his head in forced admiration of his old schoolmate.
"All easy, very easy," Sweetwater remarked, seeing the wonder in
every eye. "Matters like those are for a child's reading, but what
is difficult, and what I find hard to come by, is how the twenty-
dollar bill got into the old man's hand. He found it here, but
"Found it here? How do you know that?"
"Gentlemen, that is a point I will make clear to you later, when I
have laid my hand on a certain clew I am anxiously seeking. You
know this is new work for me and I have to advance warily. Did any
of you gentlemen, when you came into this room, detect the
faintest odour of any kind of perfume?"
"Perfume?" echoed Abel, with a glance about the musty apartment.
Sweetwater shook his head with a discouraged air, but suddenly
brightened, and stepping quickly across the floor, paused at one
of the windows. It was that one in which the shade had been drawn.
Peering at this shade he gave a grunt.
"You must excuse me for a minute," said he; "I have not found what
I wanted in this room and now must look outside for it. Will
someone bring the lantern?"
"I will," volunteered Knapp, with grim good humour. Indeed, the
situation was almost ludicrous to him.
"Bring it round the house, then, to the ground under this window,"
ordered Sweetwater, without giving any sign that he noticed or
even recognised the other's air of condescension. "And, gentlemen,
please don't follow. It's footsteps I am after, and the fewer we
make ourselves, the easier will it be for me to establish the clew
I am after."
Mr. Fenton stared. What had got into the fellow?
The lantern gone, the room resumed its former appearance.
Abel, who had been much struck by Sweetwater's mysterious
manoeuvres, drew near Dr. Talbot and whispered in his ear: "We
might have done without that fellow from Boston."
To which the coroner replied:
"Perhaps so, and perhaps not. Sweetwater has not yet proved his
case; let us wait till he explains himself." Then, turning to the
constable, he showed him an old-fashioned miniature, which he had
found lying on James's breast, when he made his first examination.
It was set with pearls and backed with gold and was worth many
meals, for the lack of which its devoted owner had perished.
"Agatha Webb's portrait," explained Talbot, "or rather Agatha
Gilchrist's; for I presume this was painted when she and James
"She was certainly a beauty," commented Fenton, as he bent over
the miniature in the moonlight. "I do not wonder she queened it
over the whole country."
"He must have worn it where I found it for the last forty years,"
mused the doctor. "And yet men say that love is a fleeting
passion. Well, after coming upon this proof of devotion, I find it
impossible to believe James Zabel accountable for the death of one
so fondly remembered. Sweetwater's instinct was truer than
"Or ours," muttered Fenton.
"Gentlemen," interposed Abel, pointing to a bright spot that just
then made its appearance in the dark outline of the shade before
alluded to, "do you see that hole? It was the sight of that prick
in the shade which sent Sweetwater outside looking for footprints.
See! Now his eye is to it" (as the bright spot became suddenly
eclipsed). "We are under examination, sirs, and the next thing we
will hear is that he's not the only person who's been peering into
this room through that hole."
He was so far right that the first words of Sweetwater on his re-
entrance were: "It's all O. K., sirs. I have found my missing
clew. James Zabel was not the only person who came up here from
the Webb cottage last night." And turning to Knapp, who was losing
some of his supercilious manner, he asked, with significant
emphasis: "If, of the full amount stolen from Agatha Webb, you
found twenty dollars in the possession of one man and nine hundred
and eighty dollars in the possession of another, upon which of the
two would you fix as the probable murderer of the good woman?"
"Upon him who held the lion's share, of course."
"Very good; then it is not in this cottage you will find the
person most wanted. You must look—But there! first let me give
you a glimpse of the money. Is there anyone here ready to
accompany me in search of it? I shall have to take him a quarter
of a mile farther up-hill."
"You have seen the money? You know where it is?" asked Dr. Talbot
and Mr. Fenton in one breath.
"Gentlemen, I can put my hand on it in ten minutes."
At this unexpected and somewhat startling statement Knapp looked
at Dr. Talbot and Dr. Talbot looked at the constable, but only the
"That is saying a good deal. But no matter. I am willing to credit
the assertion. Lead on, Sweetwater; I'll go with you."
Sweetwater seemed to grow an inch taller in his satisfied vanity.
"And Dr. Talbot?" he suggested.
But the coroner's duty held him to the house and he decided not to
accompany them. Knapp and Abel, however, yielded to the curiosity
which had been aroused by these extraordinary promises, and
presently the four men mentioned started on their small expedition
up the hill.
Sweetwater headed the procession. He had admonished silence, and
his wish in this regard was so well carried out that they looked
more like a group of spectres moving up the moon-lighted road,
than a party of eager and impatient men. Not till they turned into
the main thoroughfare did anyone speak. Then Abel could no longer
restrain himself and he cried out:
"We are going to Mr. Sutherland's."
But Sweetwater quickly undeceived him.
"No," said he, "only into the woods opposite his house."
But at this Mr. Fenton drew him back.
"Are you sure of yourself?" he said. "Have you really seen this
money and is it concealed in this forest?"
"I have seen the money," Sweetwater solemnly declared, "and it is
hidden in these woods."
Mr. Fenton dropped his arm, and they moved on till their way was
blocked by the huge trunk of a fallen tree.
"It is here we are to look," cried Sweetwater, pausing and
motioning Knapp to turn his lantern on the spot where the shadows
lay thickest. "Now, what do you see?" he asked.
"The upturned roots of a great tree," said Mr. Fenton.
"And under them?"
"A hole, or, rather, the entrance to one."
"Very good; the money is in that hole. Pull it out, Mr. Fenton."
The assurance with which Sweetwater spoke was such that Mr. Fenton
at once stooped and plunged his hand into the hole. But when,
after a hurried search, he drew it out again, there was nothing in
it; the place was empty. Sweetwater stared at Mr. Fenton amazed.
"Don't you find anything?" he asked. "Isn't there a roll of bills
in that hole?"
"No," was the gloomy answer, after a renewed attempt and a second
disappointment. "There is nothing to be found here. You are
labouring under some misapprehension, Sweetwater."
"But I can't be. I saw the money; saw it in the hand of the person
who hid it there. Let me look for it, constable. I will not give
up the search till I have turned the place topsy-turvy."
Kneeling down in Mr. Fenton's place, he thrust his hand into the
hole. On either side of him peered the faces of Mr. Fenton and
Knapp. (Abel had slipped away at a whisper from Sweetwater.) They
were lit with a similar expression of anxious interest and growing
doubt. His own countenance was a study of conflicting and by no
means cheerful emotions. Suddenly his aspect changed. With a quick
twist of his lithe, if awkward, body, he threw himself lengthwise
on the ground, and began tearing at the earth inside the hole,
like a burrowing animal.
"I cannot be mistaken. Nothing will make me believe it is not
here. It has simply been buried deeper than I thought. Ah! What
did I tell you? See here! And see here!"
Bringing his hands into the full blaze of the light, he showed two
rolls of new, crisp bills.
"They were lying under half a foot of earth," said he, "but if
they had been buried as deep as Grannie Fuller's well, I'd have
Meantime Mr. Fenton was rapidly counting one roll and Knapp the
other. The result was an aggregate sum of nine hundred and eighty
dollars, just the amount Sweetwater had promised to show them.
"A good stroke of business," cried Mr. Fenton. "And now,
Sweetwater, whose is the hand that buried this treasure? Nothing
is to be gained by preserving silence on this point any longer."
Instantly the young man became very grave. With a quick glance
around which seemed to embrace the secret recesses of the forest
rather than the eager faces bending towards him, he lowered his
voice and quietly said:
"The hand that buried this money under the roots of this old tree
is the same which you saw pointing downward at the spot of blood
in Agatha Webb's front yard."
"You do not mean Annabel Page!" cried Mr. Fenton, with natural
"Yes, I do; and I am glad it is you who have named her."
THE SLIPPERS, THE FLOWER, AND WHAT SWEETWATER MADE OF THEM
A half-hour later these men were all closeted with Dr. Talbot in
the Zabel kitchen. Abel had rejoined them, and Sweetwater was
telling his story with great earnestness and no little show of
"Gentlemen, when I charge a young woman of respectable appearance
and connections with such a revolting crime as murder, I do so
with good reason, as I hope presently to make plain to you all.
"Gentlemen, on the night and at the hour Agatha Webb was killed, I
was playing with four other musicians in Mr. Sutherland's hallway.
From the place where I sat I could see what went on in the parlour
and also have a clear view of the passageway leading down to the
garden door. As the dancing was going on in the parlour I
naturally looked that way most, and this is how I came to note the
eagerness with which, during the first part of the evening,
Frederick Sutherland and Amabel Page came together in the
quadrilles and country dances. Sometimes she spoke as she passed
him, and sometimes he answered, but not always, although he never
failed to show he was pleased with her or would have been if
something—perhaps it was his lack of confidence in her, sirs—had
not stood in the way of a perfect understanding. She seemed to
notice that he did not always respond, and after a while showed
less inclination to speak herself, though she did not fail to
watch him, and that intently. But she did not watch him any more
closely than I did her, though I little thought at the time what
would come of my espionage. She wore a white dress and white
shoes, and was as coquettish and seductive as the evil one makes
them. Suddenly I missed her. She was in the middle of the dance
one minute and entirely out of it the next. Naturally I supposed
her to have slipped aside with Frederick Sutherland, but he was
still in sight, looking so pale and so abstracted, however, I was
sure the young miss was up to some sort of mischief. But what
mischief? Watching and waiting, but no longer confining my
attention to the parlour, I presently espied her stealing along
the passageway I have mentioned, carrying a long cloak which she
rolled up and hid behind the open door. Then she came back humming
a gay little song which didn't deceive me for a moment. 'Good!'
thought I, 'she and that cloak will soon join company.' And they
did. As we were playing the Harebell mazurka I again caught sight
of her stealthy white figure in that distant doorway. Seizing the
cloak, she wrapped it round her, and with just one furtive look
backwards, seen, I warrant, by no one but myself, she vanished in
the outside dark. 'Now to note who follows her!' But nobody
followed her. This struck me as strange, and having a natural love
for detective work, in spite of my devotion to the arts, I
consulted the clock at the foot of the stairs, and noting that it
was half-past eleven, scribbled the hour on the margin of my
music, with the intention of seeing how long my lady would linger
outside alone. Gentlemen, it was two hours before I saw her face
again. How she got back into the house I do not know. It was not
by the garden door, for my eye seldom left it; yet at or near
half-past one I heard her voice on the stair above me and saw her
descend and melt into the crowd as if she had not been absent from
it for more than five minutes. A half-hour later I saw her with
Frederick again. They were dancing, but not with the same spirit
as before, and even while I watched them they separated. Now where
was Miss Page during those two long hours? I think I know, and it
is time I unburdened myself to the police.
"But first I must inform you of a small discovery I made while the
dance was still in progress. Miss Page had descended the stairs,
as I have said, from what I now know to have been her own room.
Her dress was, in all respects, the same as before, with one
exception—her white slippers had been exchanged for blue ones.
This seemed to show that they had been rendered unserviceable, or
at least unsightly, by the walk she had taken. This in itself was
not remarkable nor would her peculiar escapade have made more than
a temporary impression upon my curiosity if she had not afterward
shown in my presence such an unaccountable and extraordinary
interest in the murder which had taken place in the town below
during the very hours of her absence from Mr. Sutherland's ball.
This, in consideration of her sex, and her being a stranger to the
person attacked, was remarkable, and, though perhaps I had no
business to do what I did, I no sooner saw the house emptied of
master and servants than I stole softly back, and climbed the
stairs to her room. Had no good followed this intrusion, which, I
am quite ready to acknowledge, was a trifle presumptuous, I would
have held my peace in regard to it; but as I did make a discovery
there, which has, as I believe, an important bearing on this
affair, I have forced myself to mention it. The lights in the
house having been left burning, I had no difficulty in finding her
apartment. I knew it by the folderols scattered about. But I did
not stop to look at them. I was on a search for her slippers, and
presently came upon them, thrust behind an old picture in the
dimmest corner of the room. Taking them down, I examined them
closely. They were not only soiled, gentlemen, but dreadfully cut
and rubbed. In short, they were ruined, and, thinking that the
young lady herself would be glad to be rid of them, I quietly put
them into my pocket, and carried them to my own home. Abel has
just been for them, so you can see them for yourselves, and if
your judgment coincides with mine, you will discover something
more on them than mud."
Dr. Talbot, though he stared a little at the young man's confessed
theft, took the slippers Abel was holding out and carefully turned
them over. They were, as Sweetwater had said, grievously torn and
soiled, and showed, beside several deep earth-stains, a mark or
two of a bright red colour, quite unmistakable in its character.
"Blood," declared the coroner. "There is no doubt about it. Miss
Page was where blood was spilled last night."
"I have another proof against her," Sweetwater went on, in full
enjoyment of his prominence amongst these men, who, up to now, had
barely recognised his existence. "When, full of the suspicion that
Miss Page had had a hand in the theft which had taken place at
Mrs. Webb's house, if not in the murder that accompanied it, I
hastened down to the scene of the tragedy, I met this young woman
issuing from the front gate. She had just been making herself
conspicuous by pointing out a trail of blood on the grass plot.
Dr. Talbot, who was there, will remember how she looked on that
occasion; but I doubt if he noticed how Abel here looked, or so
much as remarked the faded flower the silly boy had stuck in his
"—me if I did!" ejaculated the coroner.
"Yet that flower has a very important bearing on this case. He had
found it, as he will tell you, on the floor near Batsy's skirts,
and as soon as I saw it in his coat, I bade him take it out and
keep it, for, gentlemen, it was a very uncommon flower, the like
of which can only be found in this town in Mr. Sutherland's
conservatory. I remember seeing such a one in Miss Page's hair,
early in the evening. Have you that flower about you, Abel?"
Abel had, and being filled with importance too, showed it to the
doctor and to Mr. Fenton. It was withered and faded in hue, but it
was unmistakably an orchid of the rarest description.
"It was lying near Batsy," explained Abel. "I drew Mr. Fenton's
attention to it at the time, but he scarcely noticed it."
"I will make up for my indifference now," said that gentleman.
"I should have been shown that flower," put in Knapp.
"So you should," acknowledged Sweetwater, "but when the detective
instinct is aroused it is hard for a man to be just to his rivals;
besides, I was otherwise occupied. I had Miss Page to watch.
Happily for me, you had decided that she should not be allowed to
leave town till after the inquest, and so my task became easy.
This whole day I have spent in sight of Mr. Sutherland's house,
and at nightfall I was rewarded by detecting her end a prolonged
walk in the garden by a hurried dash into the woods opposite. I
followed her and noted carefully all that she did. As she had just
seen Frederick Sutherland and Miss Halliday disappear up the road
together, she probably felt free to do as she liked, for she
walked very directly to the old tree we have just come from, and
kneeling down beside it pulled from the hole underneath something
which rattled in her hand with that peculiar sound we associate
with fresh bank-notes. I had approached her as near as I dared,
and was peering around a tree trunk, when she stooped down again
and plunged both hands into the hole. She remained in this
position so long that I did not know what to make of it. But she
rose at last and turned toward home, laughing to herself in a
wicked but pleased way that did not tend to make me think any more
of her. The moon was shining very brightly by this time and I
could readily perceive every detail of her person. She held her
hands out before her and shook them more than once as she trod by
me, so I was sure there was nothing in them, and this is why I was
so confident we should find the money still in the hole.
"When I saw her enter the house, I set out to find you, but the
court-house room was empty, and it was a long time before I
learned where to look for you. But at last a fellow at Brighton's
corner said he saw four men go by on their way to Zabel's cottage,
and on the chance of finding you amongst them, I turned down here.
The shock you gave me in announcing that you had discovered the
murderer of Agatha Webb knocked me over for a moment, but now I
hope you realise, as I do, that this wretched man could never have
had an active hand in her death, notwithstanding the fact that one
of the stolen bills has been found in his possession. For, and
here is my great point, the proof is not wanting that Miss Page
visited this house as well as Mrs. Webb's during her famous
escapade; or at least stood under the window beneath which I have
just been searching. A footprint can be seen there, sirs, a very
plain footprint, and if Dr. Talbot will take the trouble to
compare it with the slipper he holds in his hand, he will find it
to have been made by the foot that wore that slipper."
The coroner, with a quick glance from the slipper in his hand up
to Sweetwater's eager face, showed a decided disposition to make
the experiment thus suggested. But Mr. Fenton, whose mind was full
of the Zabel tragedy, interrupted them with the question:
"But how do you explain by this hypothesis the fact of James Zabel
trying to pass one of the twenty-dollar bills stolen from Mrs.
Webb's cupboard? Do you consider Miss Page generous enough to give
him that money?"
"You ask ME that, Mr. Fenton. Do you wish to know what I think
of the connection between these two great tragedies?"
"Yes; you have earned a voice in this matter; speak, Sweetwater."
"Well, then, I think Miss Page has made an effort to throw the
blame of her own misdoing on one or both of these unfortunate old
men. She is sufficiently cold-blooded and calculating to do so;
and circumstances certainly favoured her. Shall I show how?"
Mr. Fenton consulted Knapp, who nodded his head. The Boston
detective was not without curiosity as to how Sweetwater would
prove the case.
"Old James Zabel had seen his brother sinking rapidly from
inanition; this their condition amply shows. He was weak himself,
but John was weaker, and in a moment of desperation he rushed out
to ask a crumb of bread from Agatha Webb, or possibly—for I have
heard some whispers of an old custom of theirs to join Philemon at
his yearly merry-making and so obtain in a natural way the bite
for himself and brother he perhaps had not the courage to ask for
outright. But death had been in the Webb cottage before him, which
awful circumstance, acting on his already weakened nerves, drove
him half insane from the house and sent him wandering blindly
about the streets for a good half-hour before he reappeared in his
own house. How do I know this? From a very simple fact. Abel here
has been to inquire, among other things, if Mr. Crane remembers
the tune we were playing at the great house when he came down the
main street from visiting old widow Walker. Fortunately he does,
for the trip, trip, trip in it struck his fancy, and he has found
himself humming it over more than once since. Well, that waltz was
played by us at a quarter after midnight, which fixes the time of
the encounter at Mrs. Webb's gateway pretty accurately. But, as
you will soon see, it was ten minutes to one before James Zabel
knocked at Loton's door. How do I know this? By the same method of
reasoning by which I determined the time of Mr. Crane's encounter.
Mrs. Loton was greatly pleased with the music played that night,
and had all her windows open in order to hear it, and she says we
were playing 'Money Musk' when that knocking came to disturb her.
Now, gentlemen, we played 'Money Musk' just before we were called
out to supper, and as we went to supper promptly at one, you can
see just how my calculation was made. Thirty-five minutes, then,
passed between the moment James Zabel was seen rushing from Mrs.
Webb's gateway and that in which he appeared at Loton's bakery,
demanding a loaf of bread, and offering in exchange one of the
bills which had been stolen from the murdered woman's drawer.
Thirty-five minutes! And he and his brother were starving. Does it
look, then, as if that money was in his possession when he left
Mrs. Webb's house? Would any man who felt the pangs of hunger as
he did, or who saw a brother perishing for food before his eyes,
allow thirty-five minutes to elapse before he made use of the
money that rightfully or wrongfully had come into his hand? No;
and so I say that he did not have it when Mr. Crane met him. That,
instead of committing crime to obtain it, he found it in his own
home, lying on his table, when, after his frenzied absence, he
returned to tell his dreadful news to the brother he had left
behind him. But how did it come there? you ask. Gentlemen,
remember the footprints under the window. Amabel Page brought it.
Having seen or perhaps met this old man roaming in or near the
Webb cottage during the time she was there herself, she conceived
the plan of throwing upon him the onus of the crime she had
herself committed, and with a slyness to be expected from one so
crafty, stole up to his home, made a hole in the shade hanging
over an open window, looked into the room where John sat, saw that
he was there alone and asleep, and, creeping in by the front door,
laid on the table beside him the twenty-dollar bill and the bloody
dagger with which she had just slain Agatha Webb. Then she stole
out again, and in twenty minutes more was leading the dance in Mr.
"Well reasoned!" murmured Abel, expecting the others to echo him.
But, though Mr. Fenton and Dr. Talbot looked almost convinced,
they said nothing, while Knapp, of course, was quiet as an oyster.
Sweetwater, with an easy smile calculated to hide his
disappointment, went on as if perfectly satisfied.
"Meanwhile John awakes, sees the dagger, and thinks to end his
misery with it, but finds himself too feeble. The cut in his vest,
the dent in the floor, prove this, but if you call for further
proof, a little fact, which some, if not all, of you seem to have
overlooked, will amply satisfy you that this one at least of my
conclusions is correct. Open the Bible, Abel; open it, not to
shake it for what will never fall from between its leaves, but to
find in the Bible itself the lines I have declared to you he wrote
as a dying legacy with that tightly clutched pencil. Have you
"No," was Abel's perplexed retort; "I cannot see any sign of
writing on flyleaf or margin."
"Are those the only blank places in the sacred book? Search the
leaves devoted to the family record. Now! what do you find there?"
Knapp, who was losing some of his indifference, drew nearer and
read for himself the scrawl which now appeared to every eye on the
discoloured page which Abel here turned uppermost.
"Almost illegible," he said; "one can just make out these words:
'Forgive me, James—tried to use dagger—found lying—but hand
wouldn't—dying without—don't grieve—true men—haven't disgraced
ourselves—God bless—' That is all."
"The effort must have overcome him," resumed Sweetwater in a voice
from which he carefully excluded all signs of secret triumph, "and
when James returned, as he did a few minutes later, he was
evidently unable to ask questions, even if John was in a condition
to answer them. But the fallen dagger told its own story, for
James picked it up and put it back on the table, and it was at
this minute he saw, what John had not, the twenty-dollar bill
lying there with its promise of life and comfort. Hope revives; he
catches up the bill, flies down to Loton's, procures a loaf of
bread, and comes frantically back, gnawing it as he runs; for his
own hunger is more than he can endure. Re-entering his brother's
presence, he rushes forward with the bread. But the relief has
come too late; John has died in his absence; and James, dizzy with
the shock, reels back and succumbs to his own misery. Gentlemen,
have you anything to say in contradiction to these various
For a moment Dr. Talbot, Mr. Fenton, and even Knapp stood silent;
then the last remarked, with pardonable dryness:
"All this is ingenious, but, unfortunately, it is up set by a
little fact which you yourself have overlooked. Have you examined
attentively the dagger of which you have so often spoken, Mr.
"Not as I would like to, but I noticed it had blood on its edge,
and was of the shape and size necessary to inflict the wound from
which Mrs. Webb died."
"Very good, but there is something else of interest to be observed
on it. Fetch it, Abel."
Abel, hurrying from the room, soon brought back the weapon in
question. Sweetwater, with a vague sense of disappointment
disturbing him, took it eagerly and studied it very closely. But
he only shook his head.
"Bring it nearer to the light," suggested Knapp, "and examine the
little scroll near the top of the handle."
Sweetwater did so, and at once changed colour. In the midst of the
scroll were two very small but yet perfectly distinct letters;
they were J. Z.
"How did Amabel Page come by a dagger marked with the Zabel
initials?" questioned Knapp. "Do you think her foresight went so
far as to provide herself with a dagger ostensibly belonging to
one of these brothers? And then, have you forgotten that when Mr.
Crane met the old man at Mrs. Webb's gateway he saw in his hand
something that glistened? Now what was that, if not this dagger?"
Sweetwater was more disturbed than he cared to acknowledge.
"That just shows my lack of experience," he grumbled. "I thought I
had turned this subject so thoroughly over in my mind that no one
could bring an objection against it."
Knapp shook his head and smiled. "Young enthusiasts like yourself
are great at forming theories which well-seasoned men like myself
must regard as fantastical. However," he went on, "there is no
doubt that Miss Page was a witness to, even if she has not
profited by, the murder we have been considering. But, with this
palpable proof of the Zabels' direct connection with the affair, I
would not recommend her arrest as yet."
"She should be under surveillance, though," intimated the coroner.
"Most certainly," acquiesced Knapp.
As for Sweetwater, he remained silent till the opportunity came
for him to whisper apart to Dr. Talbot, when he said:
"For all the palpable proof of which Mr. Knapp speaks—the J. Z.
on the dagger, and the possibility of this being the object he was
seen carrying out of Philemon Webb's gate—I maintain that this
old man in his moribund condition never struck the blow that
killed Agatha Webb. He hadn't strength enough, even if his
lifelong love for her had not been sufficient to prevent him."
The coroner looked thoughtful.
"You are right," said he; "he hadn't strength enough. But don't
expend too much energy in talk. Wait and see what a few direct
questions will elicit from Miss Page."
SOME LEADING QUESTIONS
Frederick rose early. He had slept but little. The words he had
overheard at the end of the lot the night before were still
ringing in his ears. Going down the back stairs, in his anxiety to
avoid Amabel, he came upon one of the stablemen.
"Been to the village this morning?" he asked.
"No, sir, but Lem has. There's great news there. I wonder if
anyone has told Mr. Sutherland."
"What news, Jake? I don't think my father is up yet."
"Why, sir, there were two more deaths in town last night—the
brothers Zabel; and folks do say (Lem heard it a dozen times
between the grocery and the fish market) that it was one of these
old men who killed Mrs. Webb. The dagger has been found in their
house, and most of the money. Why, sir, what's the matter? Are you
Frederick made an effort and stood upright. He had nearly fallen.
"No; that is, I am not quite myself. So many horrors, Jake. What
did they die of? You say they are both dead—both?"
"Yes, sir, and it's dreadful to think of, but it was hunger, sir.
Bread came too late. Both men are mere skeletons to look at. They
have kept themselves close for weeks now, and nobody knew how bad
off they were. I don't wonder it upset you, sir. We all feel it a
bit, and I just dread to tell Mr. Sutherland."
Frederick staggered away. He had never in his life been so near
mental and physical collapse. At the threshold of the sitting-room
door he met his father. Mr. Sutherland was looking both troubled
and anxious; more so, Frederick thought, than when he signed the
check for him on the previous night. As their eyes met, both
showed embarrassment, but Frederick, whose nerves had been highly
strung by what he had just heard, soon controlled himself, and
surveying his father with forced calmness, began:
"This is dreadful news, sir."
But his father, intent on his own thought, hurriedly interrupted
"You told me yesterday that everything was broken off between you
and Miss Page. Yet I saw you reenter the house together last night
a little while after I gave you the money you asked for."
"I know, and it must have had a bad appearance. I entreat you,
however, to believe that this meeting between Miss Page and myself
was against my wish, and that the relations between us have not
been affected by anything that passed between us."
"I am glad to hear it, my son. You could not do worse by yourself
than to return to your old devotion."
"I agree with you, sir." And then, because he could not help it,
Frederick inquired if he had heard the news.
Mr. Sutherland, evidently startled, asked what news; to which
"The news about the Zabels. They are both dead, sir,—dead from
hunger. Can you imagine it!"
This was something so different from what his father had expected
to hear, that he did not take it in at first. When he did, his
surprise and grief were even greater than Frederick had
anticipated. Seeing him so affected, Frederick, who thought that
the whole truth would be no harder to bear than the half, added
the suspicion which had been attached to the younger one's name,
and then stood back, scarcely daring to be a witness to the
outraged feelings which such a communication could not fail to
awaken in one of his father's temperament.
But though he thus escaped the shocked look which crossed his
father's countenance, he could not fail to hear the indignant
exclamation which burst from his lips, nor help perceiving that it
would take more than the most complete circumstantial evidence to
convince his father of the guilt of men he had known and respected
for so many years.
For some reason Frederick experienced great relief at this, and
was bracing himself to meet the fire of questions which his
statement must necessarily call forth, when the sound of
approaching steps drew the attention of both towards a party of
men coming up the hillside.
Among them was Mr. Courtney, Prosecuting Attorney for the
district, and as Mr. Sutherland recognised him he sprang forward,
saying, "There's Courtney; he will explain this."
Frederick followed, anxious and bewildered, and soon had the
doubtful pleasure of seeing his father enter his study in company
with the four men considered to be most interested in the
elucidation of the Webb mystery.
As he was lingering in an undecided mood in the small passageway
leading up-stairs he felt the pressure of a finger on his
shoulder. Looking up, he met the eyes of Amabel, who was leaning
toward him over the banisters. She was smiling, and, though her
face was not without evidences of physical languor, there was a
charm about her person which would have been sufficiently
enthralling to him twenty-four hours before, but which now caused
him such a physical repulsion that he started back in the effort
to rid his shoulder from her disturbing touch.
She frowned. It was an instantaneous expression of displeasure
which was soon lost in one of her gurgling laughs.
"Is my touch so burdensome?" she demanded. "If the pressure of one
finger is so unbearable to your sensitive nerves, how will you
relish the weight of my whole hand?"
There was a fierceness in her tone, a purpose in her look, that
for the first time in his struggle with her revealed the full
depth of her dark nature. Shrinking from her appalled, he put up
his hand in protest, at which she changed again in a twinkling,
and with a cautious gesture toward the room into which Mr.
Sutherland and his friends had disappeared, she whispered
"We may not have another chance to confer together. Understand,
then, that it will not be necessary for you to tell me, in so many
words, that you are ready to link your fortunes to mine; the
taking off of the ring you wear and your slow putting of it on
again, in my presence, will be understood by me as a token that
you have reconsidered your present attitude and desire my silence
Frederick could not repress a shudder.
For an instant he was tempted to succumb on the spot and have the
long agony over. Then his horror of the woman rose to such a pitch
that he uttered an execration, and, turning away from her face,
which was rapidly growing loathsome to him, he ran out of the
passageway into the garden, seeing as he ran a persistent vision
of himself pulling off the ring and putting it back again, under
the spell of a look he rebelled against even while he yielded to
"I will not wear a ring, I will not subject myself to the
possibility of obeying her behest under a sudden stress of fear or
fascination," he exclaimed, pausing by the well-curb and looking
over it at his reflection in the water beneath. "If I drop it here
I at least lose the horror of doing what she suggests, under some
involuntary impulse." But the thought that the mere absence of the
ring from his finger would not stand in the way of his going
through the motions to which she had just given such significance,
deterred him from the sacrifice of a valuable family jewel, and he
left the spot with an air of frenzy such as a man displays when he
feels himself on the verge of a doom he can neither meet nor
As he re-entered the house, he felt himself enveloped in the
atmosphere of a coming crisis. He could hear voices in the upper
hall, and amongst them he caught the accents of her he had learned
so lately to fear. Impelled by something deeper than curiosity and
more potent even than dread, he hastened toward the stairs. When
half-way up, he caught sight of Amabel. She was leaning back
against the balustrade that ran across the upper hall, with her
hands gripping the rail on either side of her and her face turned
toward the five men who had evidently issued from Mr. Sutherland's
study to interview her.
As her back was to Frederick he could not judge of the expression
of that face save by the effect it had upon the different men
confronting her. But to see them was enough. From their looks he
could perceive that this young girl was in one of her baffling
moods, and that from his father down, not one of the men present
knew what to make of her.
At the sound his feet made, a relaxation took place in her body
and she lost something of the defiant attitude she had before
maintained. Presently he heard her voice:
"I am willing to answer any questions you may choose to put to me
here; but I cannot consent to shut myself in with you in that
small study; I should suffocate."
Frederick could perceive the looks which passed between the five
men assembled before her, and was astonished to note that the
insignificant fellow they called Sweetwater was the first to
"Very well," said he; "if you enjoy the publicity of the open
hall, no one here will object. Is not that so, gentlemen?"
Her two little fingers, which were turned towards Frederick, ran
up and down the rail, making a peculiar rasping noise, which for a
moment was the only sound to be heard. Then Mr. Courtney said:
"How came you to have the handling of the money taken from Agatha
Webb's private drawer?"
It was a startling question, but it seemed to affect Amabel less
than it did Frederick. It made him start, but she only turned her
head a trifle aside, so that the peculiar smile with which she
prepared to answer could be seen by anyone standing below.
"Suppose you ask something less leading than that, to begin with,"
she suggested, in her high, unmusical voice. "From the searching
nature of this inquiry, you evidently believe I have information
of an important character to give you concerning Mrs. Webb's
unhappy death. Ask me about that; the other question I will answer
The aplomb with which this was said, mixed as it was with a
feminine allurement of more than ordinary subtlety, made Mr.
Sutherland frown and Dr. Talbot look perplexed, but it did not
embarrass Mr. Courtney, who made haste to respond in his dryest
"Very well, I am not particular as to what you answer first. A
flower worn by you at the dance was found near Batsy's skirts,
before she was lifted up that morning. Can you explain this, or,
rather, will you?"
"You are not obliged to, you know," put in Mr. Sutherland, with
his inexorable sense of justice. "Still, if you would, it might
rob these gentlemen of suspicions you certainly cannot wish them
"What I say," she remarked slowly, "will be as true to the facts
as if I stood here on my oath. I can explain how a flower from my
hair came to be in Mrs. Webb's house, but not how it came to be
found under Batsy's feet. That someone else must clear up." Her
little finger, lifted from the rail, pointed toward Frederick, but
no one saw this, unless it was that gentleman himself. "I wore a
purple orchid in my hair that night, and there would be nothing
strange in its being afterward picked up in Mrs. Webb's house,
because I was in that house at or near the time she was murdered."
"You in that house?"
"Yes, as far as the ground floor; no farther." Here the little
finger stopped pointing. "I am ready to tell you about it, sirs,
and only regret I have delayed doing so so long, but I wished to
be sure it was necessary. Your presence here and your first
question show that it is."
There was suavity in her tone now, not unmixed with candour.
Sweetwater did not seem to relish this, for he moved uneasily and
lost a shade of his self-satisfied attitude. He had still to be
made acquainted with all the ins and outs of this woman's
"We are waiting," suggested Dr. Talbot.
She turned to face this new speaker, and Frederick was relieved
from the sight of her tantalising smile.
"I will tell my story simply," said she, "with the simple
suggestion that you believe me; otherwise you will make a mistake.
While I was resting from a dance the other night, I heard two of
the young people talking about the Zabels. One of them was
laughing at the old men, and the other was trying to relate some
half-forgotten story of early love which had been the cause, she
thought, of their strange and melancholy lives. I was listening to
them, but I did not take in much of what they were saying till I
heard behind me an irascible voice exclaiming: 'You laugh, do you?
I wonder if you would laugh so easily if you knew that these two
poor old men haven't had a decent meal in a fortnight?' I didn't
know the speaker, but I was thrilled by his words. Not had a good
meal, these men, for a fortnight! I felt as if personally guilty
of their suffering, and, happening to raise my eyes at this minute
and seeing through an open door the bountiful refreshments
prepared for us in the supper room, I felt guiltier than ever.
Suddenly I took a resolution. It was a queer one, and may serve to
show you some of the oddities of my nature. Though I was engaged
for the next dance, and though I was dressed in the flimsy
garments suitable to the occasion, I decided to leave the ball and
carry some sandwiches down to these old men. Procuring a bit of
paper, I made up a bundle and stole out of the house without
having said a word to anybody of my intention. Not wishing to be
seen, I went out by the garden door, which is at the end of the
"Just as the band was playing the Harebell mazurka," interpolated
Startled for the first time from her careless composure by an
interruption of which it was impossible for her at that time to
measure either the motive or the meaning, she ceased to play with
her fingers on the baluster rail and let her eyes rest for a
moment on the man who had thus spoken, as if she hesitated between
her desire to annihilate him for his impertinence and a fear of
the cold hate she saw actuating his every word and look. Then she
went on, as if no one had spoken:
"I ran down the hill recklessly. I was bent on my errand and not
at all afraid of the dark. When I reached that part of the road
where the streets branch off, I heard footsteps in front of me. I
had overtaken someone. Slackening my pace, so that I should not
pass this person, whom I instinctively knew to be a man, I
followed him till I came to a high board fence. It was that
surrounding Agatha Webb's house, and when I saw it I could not
help connecting the rather stealthy gait of the man in front of me
with a story I had lately heard of the large sum of money she was
known to keep in her house. Whether this was before or after this
person disappeared round the corner I cannot say, but no sooner
had I become certain that he was bent upon entering this house
than my impulse to follow him became greater than my precaution,
and turning aside from the direct path to the Zabels', I hurried
down High Street just in time to see the man enter Mrs. Webb's
"It was a late hour for visiting, but as the house had lights in
both its lower and upper stories, I should by good rights have
taken it for granted that he was an expected guest and gone on my
way to the Zabels'. But I did not. The softness with which this
person stepped and the skulking way in which he hesitated at the
front gate aroused my worst fears, and after he had opened that
gate and slid in, I was so pursued by the idea that he was there
for no good that I stepped inside the gate myself and took my
stand in the deep shadow cast by the old pear tree on the right-
hand side of the walk. Did anyone speak?"
There was a unanimous denial from the five gentlemen before her,
yet she did not look satisfied.
"I thought I heard someone make a remark," she repeated, and
paused again for a half-minute, during which her smile was a
study, it was so cold and in such startling contrast to the vivid
glances she threw everywhere except behind her on the landing
where Frederick stood listening to her every word.
"We are very much interested," remarked Mr. Courtney. "Pray, go
Drawing her left hand from the balustrade where it had rested, she
looked at one of her fingers with an odd backward gesture.
"I will," she said, and her tone was hard and threatening. "Five
minutes, no longer, passed, when I was startled by a loud and
terrible cry from the house, and looking up at the second-story
window from which the sound proceeded, I saw a woman's figure
hanging out in a seemingly pulseless condition. Too terrified to
move, I clung trembling to the tree, hearing and not hearing the
shouts and laughter of a dozen or more men, who at that minute
passed by the corner on their way to the wharves. I was dazed, I
was choking, and only came to myself when, sooner or later, I do
not know how soon or how late, a fresh horror happened. The woman
whom I had just seen fall almost from the window was a serving
woman, but when I heard another scream I knew that the mistress of
the house was being attacked, and rivetting my eyes on those
windows, I beheld the shade of one of them thrown back and a hand
appear, flinging out something which fell in the grass on the
opposite side of the lawn. Then the shade fell again, and hearing
nothing further, I ran to where the object flung out had fallen,
and feeling for it, found and picked up an old-fashioned dagger,
dripping with blood. Horrified beyond all expression, I dropped
the weapon and retreated into my former place of concealment.
"But I was not satisfied to remain there. A curiosity, a
determination even, to see the man who had committed this
dastardly deed, attacked me with such force that I was induced to
leave my hiding-place and even to enter the house where in all
probability he was counting the gains he had just obtained at the
price of so much precious blood. The door, which he had not
perfectly closed behind him, seemed to invite me in, and before I
had realised my own temerity, I was standing in the hall of this
The interest, which up to this moment had been breathless, now
expressed itself in hurried ejaculations and broken words; and Mr.
Sutherland, who had listened like one in a dream, exclaimed
eagerly, and in a tone which proved that he, for the moment at
least, believed this more than improbable tale:
"Then you can tell us if Philemon was in the little room at the
moment when you entered the house?"
As everyone there present realised the importance of this
question, a general movement took place and each and all drew
nearer as she met their eyes and answered placidly:
"Yes; Mr. Webb was sitting in a chair asleep. He was the only
person I saw."
"Oh, I know he never committed this crime," gasped his old friend,
in a relief so great that one and all seemed to share it.
"Now I have courage for the rest. Go on, Miss Page."
But Miss Page paused again to look at her finger, and give that
sideways toss to her head that seemed so uncalled for by the
situation to any who did not know of the compact between herself
and the listening man below.
"I hate to go back to that moment," said she; "for when I saw the
candles burning on the table, and the husband of the woman who at
that very instant was possibly breathing her last breath in the
room overhead, sitting there in unconscious apathy, I felt
something rise in my throat that made me deathly sick for a
moment. Then I went right in where he was, and was about to shake
his arm and wake him, when I detected a spot of blood on my finger
from the dagger I had handled. That gave me another turn, and led
me to wipe off my finger on his sleeve."
"It's a pity you did not wipe off your slippers too," murmured
Again she looked at him, again her eyes opened in terror upon the
face of this man, once so plain and insignificant in her eyes, but
now so filled with menace she inwardly quaked before it, for all
her apparent scorn.
"Slippers," she murmured.
"Did not your feet as well as your hands pass through the blood on
She disdained to answer him.
"I have accounted for the blood on my hand," she said, not looking
at him, but at Mr. Courtney. "If there is any on my slippers it
can be accounted for in the same way." And she rapidly resumed her
narrative. "I had no sooner made my little finger clean I never
thought of anyone suspecting the old gentleman when I heard steps
on the stairs and knew that the murderer was coming down, and in
another instant would pass the open door before which I stood.
"Though I had been courageous enough up to that minute, I was
seized by a sudden panic at the prospect of meeting face to face
one whose hands were perhaps dripping with the blood of his
victim. To confront him there and then might mean death to me, and
I did not want to die, but to live, for I am young, sirs, and not
without a prospect of happiness before me. So I sprang back, and
seeing no other place of concealment in the whole bare room,
crouched down in the shadow of the man you call Philemon. For one,
two minutes, I knelt there in a state of mortal terror, while the
feet descended, paused, started to enter the room where I was,
hesitated, turned, and finally left the house."
"Miss Page, wait, wait," put in the coroner. "You saw him; you can
tell who this man was?"
The eagerness of this appeal seemed to excite her. A slight colour
appeared in her cheeks and she took a step forward, but before the
words for which they so anxiously waited could leave her lips, she
gave a start and drew back with, an ejaculation which left a more
or less sinister echo in the ears of all who heard it.
Frederick had just shown himself at the top of the staircase.
"Good-morning, gentlemen," said he, advancing into their midst
with an air whose unexpected manliness disguised his inward
agitation. "The few words I have just heard Miss Page say interest
me so much, I find it impossible not to join you."
Amabel, upon whose lips a faint complacent smile had appeared as
he stepped by her, glanced up at these words in secret
astonishment at the indifference they showed, and then dropped her
eyes to his hands with an intent gaze which seemed to affect him
unpleasantly, for he thrust them immediately behind him, though he
did not lower his head or lose his air of determination.
"Is my presence here undesirable?" he inquired, with a glance
towards his father.
Sweetwater looked as if he thought it was, but he did not presume
to say anything, and the others being too interested in the
developments of Miss Page's story to waste any time on lesser
matters, Frederick remained, greatly to Miss Page's evident
"Did you see this man's face?" Mr. Courtney now broke in, in
Her answer came slowly, after another long look in Frederick's
"No, I did not dare to make the effort. I was obliged to crouch
too close to the floor. I simply heard his footsteps."
"See, now!" muttered Sweetwater, but in so low a tone she did not
hear him. "She condemns herself. There isn't a woman living who
would fail to look up under such circumstances, even at the risk
of her life."
Knapp seemed to agree with him, but Mr. Courtney, following his
one idea, pressed his former question, saying:
"Was it an old man's step?"
"It was not an agile one."
"And you did not catch the least glimpse of the man's face or
"Not a glimpse."
"So you are in no position to identify him?"
"If by any chance I should hear those same footsteps coming down a
flight of stairs, I think I should be able to recognise them," she
allowed, in the sweetest tones at her command.
"She knows it is too late for her to hear those of the two dead
Zabels," growled the man from Boston.
"We are no nearer the solution of this mystery than we were in the
beginning," remarked the coroner.
"Gentlemen, I have not yet finished my story," intimated Amabel,
sweetly. "Perhaps what I have yet to tell may give you some clew
to the identity of this man."
"Ah, yes; go on, go on. You have not yet explained how you came to
be in possession of Agatha's money."
"Just so," she answered, with another quick look at Frederick, the
last she gave him for some time. "As soon, then, as I dared, I ran
out of the house into the yard. The moon, which had been under a
cloud, was now shining brightly, and by its light I saw that the
space before me was empty and that I might venture to enter the
street. But before doing so I looked about for the dagger I had
thrown from me before going in, but I could not find it. It had
been picked up by the fugitive and carried away. Annoyed at the
cowardice which had led me to lose such a valuable piece of
evidence through a purely womanish emotion, I was about to leave
the yard, when my eyes fell on the little bundle of sandwiches
which I had brought down from the hill and which I had let fall
under the pear tree, at the first scream I had heard from the
house. It had burst open and two or three of the sandwiches lay
broken on the ground. But those that were intact I picked up, and
being more than ever anxious to cover up by some ostensible errand
my absence from the party, I rushed away toward the lonely road
where these brothers lived, meaning to leave such fragments as
remained on the old doorstep, beyond which I had been told such
"It was now late, very late, for a girl like myself to be out,
but, under the excitement of what I had just seen and heard, I
became oblivious to fear, and rushed into those dismal shadows as
into transparent daylight. Perhaps the shouts and stray sounds of
laughter that came up from the wharves where a ship was getting
under way gave me a certain sense of companionship. Perhaps—but
it is folly for me to dilate upon my feelings; it is my errand you
are interested in, and what happened when I approached the Zabels'
The look with which she paused, ostensibly to take breath, but in
reality to weigh and criticise the looks of those about her, was
one of those wholly indescribable ones with which she was
accustomed to control the judgment of men who allowed themselves
to watch too closely the ever-changing expression of her weird yet
charming face. But it fell upon men steeled against her
fascinations, and realising her inability to move them, she
proceeded with her story before even the most anxious of her
hearers could request her to do so.
"I had come along the road very quietly," said she, "for my feet
were lightly shod, and the moonlight was too bright for me to make
a misstep. But as I cleared the trees and came into the open place
where the house stands I stumbled with surprise at seeing a figure
crouching on the doorstep I had anticipated finding as empty as
the road. It was an old man's figure, and as I paused in my
embarrassment he slowly and with great feebleness rose to his feet
and began to grope about for the door. As he did so, I heard a
sharp tinkling sound, as of something metallic falling on the
doorstone, and, taking a quick step forward, I looked over his
shoulder and espied in the moonlight at his feet a dagger so like
the one I had lately handled in Mrs. Webb's yard that I was
overwhelmed with astonishment, and surveyed the aged and feeble
form of the man who had dropped it with a sensation difficult to
describe. The next moment he was stooping for the weapon, with a
startled air that has impressed itself distinctly upon my memory,
and when, after many feeble attempts, he succeeded in grasping it,
he vanished into the house so suddenly that I could not be sure
whether or not he had seen me standing there.
"All this was more than surprising to me, for I had never thought
of associating an old man with this crime. Indeed, I was so
astonished to find him in possession of this weapon that I forgot
all about my errand and only wondered how I could see and know
more. Fearing detection, I slid in amongst the bushes and soon
found myself under one of the windows. The shade was down and I
was about to push it aside when I heard someone moving about
inside and stopped. But I could not restrain my curiosity, so
pulling a hairpin from my hair, I worked a little hole in the
shade and through this I looked into a room brightly illumined by
the moon which shone in through an adjoining window. And what did
I see there?" Her eye turned on Frederick. His right hand had
stolen toward his left, but it paused under her look and remained
motionless. "Only an old man sitting at a table and—" Why did she
pause, and why did she cover up that pause with a wholly
inconsequential sentence? Perhaps Frederick could have told,
Frederick, whose hand had now fallen at his side. But Frederick
volunteered nothing, and no one, not even Sweetwater, guessed all
that lay beyond that AND which was left hovering in the air to be
finished—-when? Alas! had she not set the day and the hour?
What she did say was in seeming explanation of her previous
sentence. "It was not the same old man I had seen on the doorstep,
and while I was looking at him I became aware of someone leaving
the house and passing me on the road up-hill. Of course this ended
my interest in what went on within, and turning as quickly as I
could I hurried into the road and followed the shadow I could just
perceive disappearing in the woods above me. I was bound,
gentlemen, as you see, to follow out my adventure to the end. But
my task now became very difficult, for the moon was high and shone
down upon the road so distinctly that I could not follow the
person before me as closely as I wished without running the risk
of being discovered by him. I therefore trusted more to my ear
than to my eye, and as long as I could hear his steps in front of
me I was satisfied. But presently, as we turned up this very hill,
I ceased to hear these steps and so became confident that he had
taken to the woods. I was so sure of this that I did not hesitate
to enter them myself, and, knowing the paths well, as I have every
opportunity of doing, living, as we do, directly opposite this
forest, I easily found my way to the little clearing that I have
reason to think you gentlemen have since become acquainted with.
But though from the sounds I heard I was assured that the person I
was following was not far in advance of me, I did not dare to
enter this brilliantly illumined space, especially as there was
every indication of this person having completed whatever task he
had set for himself. Indeed, I was sure that I heard his steps
coming back. So, for the second time, I crouched down in the
darkest place I could find and let this mysterious person pass me.
When he had quite disappeared, I made my own retreat, for it was
late, and I was afraid of being missed at the ball. But later, or
rather the next day, I recrossed the road and began a search for
the money which I was confident had been left in the woods
opposite, by the person I had been following. I found it, and when
the man here present who, though a mere fiddler, has presumed to
take a leading part in this interview, came upon me with the bills
in my hand, I was but burying deeper the ill-gotten gains I had
"Ah, and so making them your own," quoth Sweetwater, stung by the
sarcasm in that word fiddler.
But with a suavity against which every attack fell powerless, she
met his significant look with one fully as significant, and
"If I had wanted the money for myself I would not have risked
leaving it where the murderer could find it by digging up a few
handfuls of mould and a bunch of sodden leaves. No, I had another
motive for my action, a motive with which few, if any, of you will
be willing to credit me. I wished to save the murderer, whom I had
some reason, as you see, for thinking I knew, from the
consequences of his own action."
Mr. Courtney, Dr. Talbot, and even Mr. Sutherland, who naturally
believed she referred to Zabel, and who, one and all, had a
lingering tenderness for this unfortunate old man, which not even
this seeming act of madness on his part could quite destroy, felt
a species of reaction at this, and surveyed the singular being
before them with, perhaps, the slightest shade of relenting in
their severity. Sweetwater alone betrayed restlessness, Knapp
showed no feeling at all, while Frederick stood like one
petrified, and moved neither hand nor foot.
"Crime is despicable when it results from cupidity only," she went
on, with a deliberateness so hard that the more susceptible of her
auditors shuddered. "But crime that springs from some imperative
and overpowering necessity of the mind or body might well awaken
sympathy, and I am not ashamed of having been sorry for this
frenzied and suffering man. Weak and impulsive as you may consider
me, I did not want him to suffer on account of a moment's madness,
as he undoubtedly would if he were ever found with Agatha Webb's
money in his possession, so I plunged it deeper into the soil and
trusted to the confusion which crime always awakens even in the
strongest mind, for him not to discover its hiding-place till the
danger connected with it was over."
"Ha! wonderful! Devilish subtle, eh? Clever, too clever!" were
some of the whispered exclamations which this curious explanation
on her part brought out. Yet only Sweetwater showed his open and
entire disbelief of the story, the others possibly remembering
that for such natures as hers there is no governing law and no
To Sweetwater, however, this was but so much display of feminine
resource and subtlety. Though he felt he should keep still in the
presence of men so greatly his superiors, he could not resist
"Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. I should never have
attributed any such motive as you mention to the young girl I saw
leaving this spot with many a backward glance at the hole from
which we afterwards extracted the large sum of money in question.
But say that this reburying of stolen funds was out of
consideration for the feeble old man you describe as having
carried them there, do you not see that by this act you can be
held as an accessory after the fact?"
Her eyebrows went up and the delicate curve of her lips was not
without menace as she said:
"You hate me, Mr. Sweetwater. Do you wish me to tell these
The flush which, notwithstanding this peculiar young man's nerve,
instantly crimsoned his features, was a surprise to Frederick. So
was it to the others, who saw in it a possible hint as to the real
cause of his persistent pursuit of this young girl, which they had
hitherto ascribed entirely to his love of justice. Slighted love
makes some hearts venomous. Could this ungainly fellow have once
loved and been disdained by this bewitching piece of
It was a very possible assumption, though Sweetwater's blush was
the only answer he gave to her question, which nevertheless had
amply served its turn.
To fill the gap caused by his silence, Mr. Sutherland made an
effort and addressed her himself.
"Your conduct," said he, "has not been that of a strictly
honourable person. Why did you fail to give the alarm when you re-
entered my house after being witness to this double tragedy?"
Her serenity was not to be disturbed.
"I have just explained," she reminded him, "that I had sympathy
for the criminal."
"We all have sympathy for James Zabel, but—"
"I do not believe one word of this story," interposed Sweetwater,
in reckless disregard of proprieties. "A hungry, feeble old man,
like Zabel, on the verge of death, could not have found his way
into these woods. You carried the money there yourself, miss; you
"Hush!" interposed the coroner, authoritatively; "do not let us go
too fast—yet. Miss Page has an air of speaking the truth, strange
and unaccountable as it may seem. Zabel was an admirable man once,
and if he was led into theft and murder, it was not until his
faculties had been weakened by his own suffering and that of his
"Thank you," was her simple reply; and for the first time every
man there thrilled at her tone. Seeing it, all the dangerous
fascination of her look and manner returned upon her with double
force. "I have been unwise," said she, "and let my sympathy run
away with my judgment. Women have impulses of this kind sometimes,
and men blame them for it, till they themselves come to the point
of feeling the need of just such blind devotion. I am sure I
regret my short-sightedness now, for I have lost esteem by it,
while he—" With a wave of the hand she dismissed the subject, and
Dr. Talbot, watching her, felt a shade of his distrust leave him,
and in its place a species of admiration for the lithe, graceful,
bewitching personality before them, with her childish impulses and
womanly wit which half mystified and half imposed upon them.
Mr. Sutherland, on the contrary, was neither charmed from his
antagonism nor convinced of her honesty. There was something in
this matter that could not be explained away by her argument, and
his suspicion of that something he felt perfectly sure was shared
by his son, toward whose cold, set face he had frequently cast the
most uneasy glances. He was not ready, however, to probe into the
subject more deeply, nor could he, for the sake of Frederick, urge
on to any further confession a young woman whom his unhappy son
professed to love, and in whose discretion he had so little
confidence. As for Sweetwater, he had now fully recovered his
self-possession, and bore himself with great discretion when Dr.
Talbot finally said:
"Well, gentlemen, we have got more than we expected when we came
here this morning. There remains, however, a point regarding which
we have received no explanation. Miss Page, how came that orchid,
which I am told you wore in your hair at the dance, to be found
lying near the hem of Batsy's skirts? You distinctly told us that
you did not go up-stairs when you were in Mrs. Webb's house."
"Ah, that's so!" acquiesced the Boston detective dryly. "How came
that flower on the scene of the murder?"
She smiled and seemed equal to the emergency.
"That is a mystery for us all to solve," she said quietly, frankly
meeting the eyes of her questioner.
"A mystery it is your business to solve," corrected the district
attorney. "Nothing that you have told us in support of your
innocence would, in the eyes of the law, weigh for one instant
against the complicity shown by that one piece of circumstantial
evidence against you."
Her smile carried a certain high-handed denial of this to one
heart there, at least. But her words were humble enough.
"I am aware of that," said she. Then, turning to where Sweetwater
stood lowering upon her from out his half-closed eyes, she
impetuously exclaimed: "You, sir, who, with no excuse an
honourable person can recognise, have seen fit to arrogate to
yourself duties wholly out of your province, prove yourself equal
to your presumption by ferreting out, alone and unassisted, the
secret of this mystery. It can be done, for, mark, I did not
carry that flower into the room where it was found. This I am
ready to assert before God and before man!"
Her hand was raised, her whole attitude spoke defiance and—hard
as it was for Sweetwater to acknowledge it—truth. He felt that he
had received a challenge, and with a quick glance at Knapp, who
barely responded by a shrug, he shifted over to the side of Dr.
Amabel at once dropped her hand.
"May I go?" she now cried appealingly to Mr. Courtney. "I really
have no more to say, and I am tired."
"Did you see the figure of the man who brushed by you in the wood?
Was it that of the old man you saw on the doorstep?"
At this direct question Frederick quivered in spite of his dogged
self-control. But she, with her face upturned to meet the scrutiny
of the speaker, showed only a childish kind of wonder. "Why do you
ask that? Is there any doubt about its being the same?"
What an actress she was! Frederick stood appalled. He had been
amazed at the skill with which she had manipulated her story so as
to keep her promise to him, and yet leave the way open for that
further confession which would alter the whole into a denunciation
of himself which he would find it difficult, if not impossible, to
meet. But this extreme dissimulation made him lose heart. It
showed her to be an antagonist of almost illimitable resource and
"I did not suppose there could be any doubt," she added, in such a
natural tone of surprise that Mr. Courtney dropped the subject,
and Dr. Talbot turned to Sweetwater, who for the moment seemed to
have robbed Knapp of his rightful place as the coroner's
"Shall we let her go for the present?" he whispered. "She does
look tired, poor girl."
The public challenge which Sweetwater had received made him wary,
and his reply was a guarded one:
"I do not trust her, yet there is much to confirm her story. Those
sandwiches, now. She says she dropped them in Mrs. Webb's yard
under the pear tree, and that the bag that held them burst open.
Gentlemen, the birds were so busy there on the morning after the
murder that I could not but notice them, notwithstanding my
absorption in greater matters. I remember wondering what they were
all pecking at so eagerly. But how about the flower whose presence
on the scene of guilt she challenges me to explain? And the money
so deftly reburied by her? Can any explanation make her other than
accessory to a crime on whose fruits she lays her hand in a way
tending solely to concealment? No, sirs; and so I shall not relax
my vigilance over her, even if, in order to be faithful to it, I
have to suggest that a warrant be made out for her imprisonment."
"You are right," acquiesced the coroner, and turning to Miss Page,
he told her she was too valuable a witness to be lost sight of,
and requested her to prepare to accompany him into town.
She made no objection. On the contrary her cheeks dimpled, and she
turned away with alacrity towards her room. But before the door
closed on her she looked back, and, with a persuasive smile,
remarked that she had told all she knew, or thought she knew at
the time. But that perhaps, after thinking the matter carefully
over, she might remember some detail that would throw some extra
light on the subject.
"Call her back!" cried Mr. Courtney. "She is withholding
something. Let us hear it all."
But Mr. Sutherland, with a side look at Frederick, persuaded the
district attorney to postpone all further examination of this
artful girl until they were alone. The anxious father had noted,
what the rest were too preoccupied to observe, that Frederick had
reached the limit of his strength and could not be trusted to
preserve his composure any longer in face of this searching
examination into the conduct of a woman from whom he had so lately
The next day was the day of Agatha's funeral. She was to be buried
in Portchester, by the side of her six children, and, as the day
was fine, the whole town, as by common consent, assembled in the
road along which the humble cortege was to make its way to the
From the windows of farmhouses, from between the trees of the few
scattered thickets along the way, saddened and curious faces
looked forth till Sweetwater, who walked as near as he dared to
the immediate friends of the deceased, felt the impossibility of
remembering them all and gave up the task in despair.
Before one house, about a mile out of town, the procession paused,
and at a gesture from the minister everyone within sight took off
their hats, amid a hush which made almost painfully apparent the
twittering of birds and the other sounds of animate and inanimate
nature, which are inseparable from a country road. They had
reached widow Jones's cottage in which Philemon was then staying.
The front door was closed, and so were the lower windows, but in
one of the upper casements a movement was perceptible, and in
another instant there came into view a woman and man, supporting
between them the impassive form of Agatha's husband. Holding him
up in plain sight of the almost breathless throng below, the woman
pointed to where his darling lay and appeared to say something to
Then there was to be seen a strange sight. The old man, with his
thin white locks fluttering in the breeze, leaned forward with a
smile, and holding out his arms, cried in a faint but joyful tone:
"Agatha!" Then, as if realising for the first time that it was
death he looked upon, and that the crowd below was a funeral
procession, his face altered and he fell back with a low
heartbroken moan into the arms of those who supported him.
As his white head disappeared from sight, the procession moved on,
and from only one pair of lips went up that groan of sorrow with
which every heart seemed surcharged. One groan. From whose lips
did it come? Sweetwater endeavoured to ascertain, but was not
able, nor could anyone inform him, unless it was Mr. Sutherland,
whom he dared not approach.
This gentleman was on foot like the rest, with his arm fast linked
in that of his son Frederick. He had meant to ride, for the
distance was long for men past sixty; but finding the latter
resolved to walk, he had consented to do the same rather than be
separated from his son.
He had fears for Frederick—he could hardly have told why; and as
the ceremony proceeded and Agatha was solemnly laid away in the
place prepared for her, his sympathies grew upon him to such an
extent that he found it difficult to quit the young man for a
moment, or even to turn his eyes away from the face he had never
seemed to know till now. But as friends and strangers were now
leaving the yard, he controlled himself, and assuming a more
natural demeanour, asked his son if he were now ready to ride
back. But, to his astonishment, Frederick replied that he did not
intend to return to Sutherland town at present; that he had
business in Portchester, and that he was doubtful as to when he
would be ready to return. As the old gentleman did not wish to
raise a controversy, he said nothing, but as soon as he saw
Frederick disappear up the road, he sent back the carriage he had
ordered, saying that he would return in a Portchester gig as soon
as he had settled some affairs of his own, which might and might
not detain him there till evening.
Then he proceeded to a little inn, where he hired a room with
windows that looked out on the high-road. In one of these windows
he sat all day, watching for Frederick, who had gone farther up
But no Frederick appeared, and with vague misgivings, for which as
yet he had no name, he left the window and set out on foot for
It was now dark, but a silvery gleam on the horizon gave promise
of the speedy rising of a full moon. Otherwise he would not have
attempted to walk over a road proverbially dark and dismal.
The churchyard in which they had just laid away Agatha lay in his
course. As he approached it he felt his heart fail, and stopping a
moment at the stone wall that separated it from the highroad, he
leaned against the trunk of a huge elm that guarded the gate of
entrance. As he did so he heard a sound of repressed sobbing from
some spot not very far away, and, moved by some undefinable
impulse stronger than his will, he pushed open the gate and
entered the sacred precincts.
Instantly the weirdness and desolation of the spot struck him. He
wished, yet dreaded, to advance. Something in the grief of the
mourner whose sobs he had heard had seized upon his heart-strings,
and yet, as he hesitated, the sounds came again, and forgetting
that his intrusion might not prove altogether welcome, he pressed
forward, till he came within a few feet of the spot from which the
He had moved quietly, feeling the awesomeness of the place, and
when he paused it was with a sensation of dread, not to be
entirely explained by the sad and dismal surroundings. Dark as it
was, he discerned the outline of a form lying stretched in
speechless misery across a grave; but when, impelled by an almost
irresistible compassion, he strove to speak, his tongue clove to
the roof of his mouth and he only drew back farther into the
He had recognised the mourner and the grave. The mourner was
Frederick and the grave that of Agatha Webb.
A few minutes later Mr. Sutherland reappeared at the door of the
inn, and asked for a gig and driver to take him back to
Sutherlandtown. He said, in excuse for his indecision, that he had
undertaken to walk, but had found his strength inadequate to the
exertion. He was looking very pale, and trembled so that the
landlord, who took his order, asked him if he were ill. But Mr.
Sutherland insisted that he was quite well, only in a hurry, and
showed the greatest impatience till he was again started upon the
For the first half-mile he sat perfectly silent. The moon was now
up, and the road stretched before them, flooded with light. As
long as no one was to be seen on this road, or on the path running
beside it, Mr. Sutherland held himself erect, his eyes fixed
before him, in an attitude of anxious inquiry. But as soon as any
sound came to break the silence, or there appeared in the distance
ahead of them the least appearance of a plodding wayfarer, he drew
back, and hid himself in the recesses of the vehicle. This
happened several times. Then his whole manner changed. They had
just passed Frederick, walking, with bowed head, toward
But he was not the only person on the road at this time. A few
minutes previously they had passed another man walking in the same
direction. As Mr. Sutherland mused over this he found himself
peering through the small window at the back of the buggy,
striving to catch another glimpse of the two men plodding behind
him. He could see them both, his son's form throwing its long
shadow over the moonlit road, followed only too closely by the man
whose ungainly shape he feared to acknowledge to himself was
growing only too familiar in his eyes.
Falling into a troubled reverie, he beheld the well-known houses,
and the great trees under whose shadow he had grown from youth to
manhood, flit by him like phantoms in a dream. But suddenly one
house and one place drew his attention with a force that startled
him again into an erect attitude, and seizing with one hand the
arm of the driver, he pointed with the other at the door of the
cottage they were passing, saying in choked tones:
"See! see! Something dreadful has happened since we passed by here
this morning. That is crape, Samuel, crape, hanging from the
"Yes, it is crape," answered the driver, jumping out and running
up the path to look. "Philemon must be dead; the good Philemon."
Here was a fresh blow. Mr. Sutherland bowed before it for a
moment, then he rose hurriedly and stepped down into the road
beside the driver.
"Get in again," said he, "and drive on. Ride a half-mile, then
come back for me. I must see the widow Jones."
The driver, awed both by the occasion and the feeling it had
called up in Mr. Sutherland, did as he was bid and drove away. Mr.
Sutherland, with a glance back at the road lie had just traversed,
walked painfully up the path to Mrs. Jones's door.
A moment's conversation with the woman who answered his summons
proved the driver's supposition to be correct. Philemon had passed
away. He had never rallied from the shock he had received. He had
joined his beloved Agatha on the day of her burial, and the long
tragedy of their mutual life was over.
"It is a mercy that no inheritor of their misfortune remains,"
quoth the good woman, as she saw the affliction her tidings caused
in this much-revered friend.
The assent Mr. Sutherland gave was mechanical. He was anxiously
studying the road leading toward Portchester.
Suddenly he stepped hastily into the house.
"Will you be so good as to let me sit down in your parlour for a
few minutes?" he asked. "I should like to rest there for an
instant alone. This final blow has upset me."
The good woman bowed. Mr. Sutherland's word was law in that town.
She did not even dare to protest against the ALONE which he had so
pointedly emphasised, but left him after making him, as she said,
comfortable, and went back to her duties in the room above.
It was fortunate she was so amenable to his wishes, for no sooner
had her steps ceased to be heard than Mr. Sutherland rose from the
easy-chair in which he had been seated, and, putting out the lamp
widow Jones had insisted on lighting, passed directly to the
window, through which he began to peer with looks of the deepest
A man was coming up the road, a young man, Frederick. As Mr.
Sutherland recognised him he leaned forward with increased
anxiety, till at the appearance of his son in front his scrutiny
grew so strained and penetrating that it seemed to exercise a
magnetic influence upon Frederick, causing him to look up.
The glance he gave the house was but momentary, but in that glance
the father saw all that he had secretly dreaded. As his son's eye
fell on that fluttering bit of crape, testifying to another death
in this already much-bereaved community, he staggered wildly, then
in a pause of doubt drew nearer and nearer till his fingers
grasped this symbol of mourning and clung there. Next moment he
was far down the road, plunging toward home in a state of great
A half-hour afterwards Mr. Sutherland reached home. He had not
overtaken Frederick again, or even his accompanying shadow.
Ascertaining at his own door that his son had not yet come in, but
had been seen going farther up the hill, he turned back again into
the road and proceeded after him on foot.
The next place to his own was occupied by Mr. Halliday. As he
approached it he caught sight of a man standing half in and half
out of the honeysuckle porch, whom he at first thought to be
Frederick. But he soon saw that it was the fellow who had been
following his son all the way from Portchester, and, controlling
his first movement of dislike, he stepped up to him and quietly
"Sweetwater, is this you?"
The young man fell back and showed a most extraordinary agitation,
quickly suppressed, however. "Yes, sir, it is no one else. Do you
know what I am doing here?"
"I fear I do. You have been to Portchester. You have seen my son—
Sweetwater made a hurried, almost an entreating, gesture.
"Never mind that, Mr. Sutherland. I had rather you wouldn't say
anything about that. I am as much broken up by what I have seen as
you are. I never suspected him of having any direct connection
with this murder; only the girl to whom he has so unfortunately
attached himself. But after what I have seen, what am I to think?
what am I to do? I honour you; I would not grieve you; but—but—
oh, sir, perhaps you can help me out of the maze into which I have
stumbled. Perhaps you can assure me that Mr. Frederick did not
leave the ball at the time she did. I missed him from among the
dancers. I did not see him between twelve and three, but perhaps
you did; and—and—"
His voice broke. He was almost as profoundly agitated as Mr.
Sutherland. As for the latter, who found himself unable to
reassure the other on this very vital point, having no remembrance
himself of having seen Frederick among his guests during those
fatal hours, he stood speechless, lost in abysses, the depth and
horror of which only a father can appreciate. Sweetwater respected
his anguish and for a moment was silent himself. Then he burst
"I had rather never lived to see this day than be the cause of
shame or suffering to you. Tell me what to do. Shall I be deaf,
Here Mr. Sutherland found voice.
"You make too much of what you saw," said he. "My boy has faults
and has lived anything but a satisfactory life, but he is not as
bad as you would intimate. He can never have taken life. That
would be incredible, monstrous, in one brought up as he has been.
Besides, if he were so far gone in evil as to be willing to
attempt crime, he had no motive to do so; Sweetwater, he had no
motive. A few hundred dollars but these he could have got from me,
and did, but—"
Why did the wretched father stop? Did he recall the circumstances
under which Frederick had obtained these last hundreds from him?
They were not ordinary circumstances, and Frederick had been in no
ordinary strait. Mr. Sutherland could not but acknowledge to
himself that there was something in this whole matter which
contradicted the very plea he was making, and not being able to
establish the conviction of his son's innocence in his own mind,
he was too honourable to try to establish it in that of another.
His next words betrayed the depth of his struggle:
"It is that girl who has ruined him, Sweetwater. He loves but
doubts her, as who could help doing after the story she told us
day before yesterday? Indeed, he has doubted her ever since that
fatal night, and it is this which has broken his heart, and not—
not—" Again the old gentleman paused; again he recovered himself,
this time with a touch of his usual dignity and self-command.
"Leave me," he cried. "Nothing that you have seen has escaped me;
but our interpretations of it may differ. I will watch over my son
from this hour, and you may trust my vigilance."
"You have a right to command me," said he. "You may have
forgotten, but I have not, that I owe my life to you. Years ago—
perhaps you can recall it—it was at the Black Pond—I was going
down for the third time and my mother was screaming in terror on
the bank, when you plunged in and—Well, sir, such things are
never forgotten, and, as I said before, you have only to command
me." He turned to go, but suddenly came back. There were signs of
mental conflict in his face and voice. "Mr. Sutherland, I am not a
talkative man. If I trust your vigilance you may trust my
discretion. Only I must have your word that you will convey no
warning to your son."
Mr. Sutherland made an indefinable gesture, and Sweetwater again
disappeared, this time not to return. As for Mr. Sutherland, he
remained standing before Mr. Halliday's door. What had the young
man meant by this emphatic repetition of his former suggestion?
That he would be quiet, also, and not speak of what he had seen?
Why, then—But to the hope thus given, this honest-hearted
gentleman would yield no quarter, and seeing a duty before him, a
duty he dare not shirk, he brought his emotions, violent as they
were, into complete and absolute subjection, and, opening Mr.
Halliday's door, entered the house. They were old neighbours, and
ceremony was ignored between them.
Finding the hall empty and the parlour door open he walked
immediately into the latter room. The sight that met his eyes
never left his memory. Agnes, his little Agnes, whom he had always
loved and whom he had vainly longed to call by the endearing name
of daughter, sat with her face towards him, looking up at
Frederick. That young gentleman had just spoken to her, or she had
just received something from his hand for her own was held out and
her expression was one of gratitude and acceptance. She was not a
beautiful girl, but she had a beautiful look, and at this moment
it was exalted by a feeling the old gentleman had once longed, but
now dreaded inexpressibly, to see there. What could it mean? Why
did she show at this unhappy crisis, interest, devotion, passion
almost, for one she had regarded with open scorn when it was the
dearest wish of his heart to see them united? It was one of the
contradictions of our mysterious human nature, and at this crisis
and in this moment of secret heart-break and miserable doubt it
made the old gentleman shrink, with his first feeling of actual
The next moment Agnes had risen and they were both facing him.
Mr. Sutherland forced himself to speak lightly.
"Ah, Frederick, do I find you here?" The latter question had more
constraint in it.
Frederick smiled. There was an air of relief about him, almost of
"I was just leaving," said he. "I was the bearer of a message to
Miss Halliday." He had always called her Agnes before.
Mr. Sutherland, who had found his faculties confused by the
expression he had surprised on the young girl's face, answered
with a divided attention:
"And I have a message to give you. Wait outside on the porch for
me, Frederick, till I exchange a word with our little friend
Agnes, who had thrust something she held into a box that lay
beside her on a table, turned with a confused blush to listen.
Mr. Sutherland waited till Frederick had stepped into the hall.
Then he drew Agnes to one side and remorselessly, persistently,
raised her face toward him till she was forced to meet his
benevolent but searching regard.
"Do you know," he whispered, in what he endeavoured to make a
bantering tone, "how very few days it is since that unhappy boy
yonder confessed his love for a young lady whose name I cannot
bring myself to utter in your presence?"
The intent was kind, but the effect was unexpectedly cruel. With a
droop of her head and a hurried gasp which conveyed a mixture of
entreaty and reproach, Agnes drew back in a vague endeavour to
hide her sudden uneasiness. He saw his mistake, and let his hands
"Don't, my dear," he whispered. "I had no idea it would hurt you
to hear this. You have always seemed indifferent, hard even,
toward my scapegrace son. And this was right, for—for—" What
could he say, how express one-tenth of that with which his breast
was labouring! He could not, he dared not, so ended, as we have
intimated, by a confused stammering.
Agnes, who had never before seen this object of her lifelong
admiration under any serious emotion, felt an impulse of remorse,
as if she herself had been guilty of occasioning him
embarrassment. Plucking up her courage, she wistfully eyed him.
"Did you imagine," she murmured, "that I needed any warning
against Frederick, who has never honoured me with his regard, as
he has the young lady you cannot mention? I'm afraid you don't
know me, Mr. Sutherland, notwithstanding I have sat on your knee
and sometimes plucked at your beard in my infantile insistence
"I am afraid I don't know you," he answered. "I feel that I know
nobody now, not even my son."
He had hoped she would look up at this, but she did not.
"Will my little girl think me very curious and very impertinent if
I ask her what my son Frederick was saying when I came into the
She looked up now, and with visible candour answered him
immediately and to the point:
"Frederick is in trouble, Mr. Sutherland. He has felt the need of
a friend who could appreciate this, and he has asked me to be that
friend. Besides, he brought me a packet of letters which he
entreated me to keep for him. I took them, Mr. Sutherland, and I
will keep them as he asked me to do, safe from everybody's
inspection, even my own."
Oh! why had he questioned her? He did not want to know of these
letters; he did not want to know that Frederick possessed anything
which he was afraid to retain in his own possession.
"My son did wrong," said he, "to confide anything to your care
which he did not desire to retain in his own home. I feel that I
ought to see these letters, for if my son is in trouble, as you
say, I, his father, ought to know it."
"I am not sure about that," she smiled. "His trouble may be of a
different nature than you imagine. Frederick has led a life that
he regrets. I think his chief source of suffering lies in the fact
that it is so hard for him to make others believe that he means to
do differently in the future."
"Does he mean to do differently?"
She flushed. "He says so, Mr. Sutherland. And I, for one, cannot
help believing him. Don't you see that he begins to look like
Mr. Sutherland was taken aback. He had noticed this fact, and had
found it a hard one to understand. To ascertain what her
explanation of it might be, he replied at once:
"There is a change in him—a very evident change. What is the
occasion of it? To what do you ascribe it, Agnes?"
How breathlessly he waited for her answer! Had she any suspicion
of the awful doubts which were so deeply agitating himself that
night? She did not appear to have.
"I hesitate," she faltered, "but not from any doubt of Frederick,
to tell you just what I think lies at the bottom of the sudden
change observable in him. Miss Page (you see, I can name her, if
you cannot) has proved herself so unworthy of his regard that the
shock he has received has opened his eyes to certain failings of
his own which made his weakness in her regard possible. I do not
know of any other explanation. Do you?"
At this direct question, breathed though it was by tender lips,
and launched in ignorance of the barb which carried it to his
heart, Mr. Sutherland recoiled and cast an anxious look upon the
door. Then with forced composure he quietly said: "If you who are
so much nearer his age, and, let me hope, his sympathy, do not
feel sure of his real feelings, how should I, who am his father,
but have never been his confidant?"
"Oh," she cried, holding out her hands, "such a good father! Some
day he will appreciate that fact as well as others. Believe it,
Mr. Sutherland, believe it." And then, ashamed of her glowing
interest, which was a little more pronounced than became her
simple attitude of friend toward a man professedly in love with
another woman, she faltered and cast the shyest of looks upward at
the face she had never seen turned toward her with anything but
kindness. "I have confidence in Frederick's good heart," she
added, with something like dignity.
"Would God that I could share it!" was the only answer she
received. Before she could recover from the shock of these words,
Mr. Sutherland was gone.
Agnes was more or less disconcerted by this interview. There was a
lingering in her step that night, as she trod the little white-
embowered chamber sacred to her girlish dreams, which bespake an
overcharged heart; a heart that, before she slept, found relief in
these few words whispered by her into the night air, laden with
the sweetness of honeysuckles:
"Can it be that he is right? Did I need such a warning,—I, who
have hated this man, and who thought that it was my hatred which
made it impossible for me to think of anything or anybody else
since we parted from each other last night? O me, if it is so!"
And from the great, wide world without, tremulous with moonlight,
the echo seemed to come back:
"Woe to thee, Agnes Halliday, if this be so!"
A SURPRISE FOR MR. SUTHERLAND
Meanwhile Mr. Sutherland and Frederick stood facing each other in
the former's library. Nothing had been said during their walk down
the hill, and nothing seemed likely to proceed from Frederick now,
though his father waited with great and growing agitation for some
explanation that would relieve the immense strain on his heart. At
last he himself spoke, dryly, as we all speak when the heart is
fullest and we fear to reveal the depth of our emotions.
"What papers were those you gave into Agnes Halliday's keeping?
Anything which we could not have more safely, not to say
discreetly, harboured in our own house?"
Frederick, taken aback, for he had not realised that his father
had seen these papers, hesitated for a moment; then he boldly
"They were letters—old letters—which I felt to be better out of
this house than in it. I could not destroy them, so I gave them
into the guardianship of the most conscientious person I know. I
hope you won't demand to see those letters. Indeed, sir, I hope
you won't demand to see them. They were not written for your eye,
and I would rather rest under your displeasure than have them in
any way made public."
Frederick showed such earnestness, rather than fear, that Mr.
Sutherland was astonished.
"When were these letters written?" he asked. "Lately, or before—
You say they are old; how old?"
Frederick's breath came easier.
"Some of them were written years ago—most of them, in fact. It is
a personal matter—every man has such. I wish I could have
destroyed them. You will leave them with Agnes, sir?"
"You astonish me," said Mr. Sutherland, relieved that he could at
least hope that these letters were in nowise connected with the
subject of his own frightful suspicions. "A young girl, to whom
you certainly were most indifferent a week ago, is a curious
guardian of letters you decline to show your father."
"I know it," was Frederick's sole reply.
Somehow the humility with which this was uttered touched Mr.
Sutherland and roused hopes he had supposed dead. He looked his
son for the first time directly in the eye, and with a beating
"Your secrets, if you have such, might better be entrusted to your
father. You have no better friend—" and there he stopped with a
horrified, despairing feeling of inward weakness. If Frederick had
committed a crime, anything would be better than knowing it.
Turning partially aside, he fingered the papers on the desk before
which he was standing. A large envelope, containing some legal
document, lay before him. Taking it up mechanically, he opened it.
Frederick as mechanically watched him.
"I know," said the latter, "that I have no better friend. You have
been too good, too indulgent. What is it, father? You change
colour, look ill, what is there in that paper?"
Mr. Sutherland straightened himself; there was a great reserve of
strength in this broken-down man yet. Fixing Frederick with a gaze
more penetrating than any he had yet bestowed upon him, he folded
his hands behind him with the document held tightly between them,
"When you borrowed that money from me you did it like a man who
expected to repay it. Why? Whence did you expect to receive the
money with which to repay me? Answer, Frederick; this is your hour
Frederick turned so pale his father dropped his eyes in mercy.
"Confess?" he repeated. "What should I confess? My sins? They are
too many. As for that money, I hoped to return it as any son might
hope to reimburse his father for money advanced to pay a gambler's
debt. I said I meant to work. My first money earned shall be
offered to you. I—"
"Well? Well?" His father was holding the document he had just
read, opened out before his eyes.
"Didn't you expect THIS?" he asked. "Didn't you know that that
poor woman, that wretchedly murdered, most unhappy woman, whose
death the whole town mourns, had made you her heir? That by the
terms of this document, seen by me here and now for the first
time, I am made executor and you the inheritor of the one hundred
thousand dollars or more left by Agatha Webb?"
"No!" cried Frederick, his eyes glued to the paper, his whole face
and form expressing something more akin to terror than surprise.
"Has she done this? Why should she? I hardly knew her."
"No, you hardly knew her. And she? She hardly knew you; if she had
she would have abhorred rather than enriched you. Frederick, I had
rather see you dead than stand before me the inheritor of Philemon
and Agatha Webb's hard-earned savings."
"You are right; it would be better," murmured Frederick, hardly
heeding what he said. Then, as he encountered his father's eye
resting upon him with implacable scrutiny, he added, in weak
repetition: "Why should she give her money to me? What was I to
her that she should will me her fortune?"
The father's finger trembled to a certain line in the document,
which seemed to offer some explanation of this; but Frederick did
not follow it. He had seen that his father was expecting a reply
to the question he had previously put, and he was casting about in
his mind how to answer it.
"When did you know of this will?" Mr. Sutherland now repeated.
"For know of it you did before you came to me for money."
Frederick summoned up his full courage and confronted his father
"No," said he, "I did not know of it. It is as much of a surprise
to me as it is to you."
He lied. Mr. Sutherland knew that he lied and Frederick knew that
he knew it. A shadow fell between them, which the older, with that
unspeakable fear upon him roused by Sweetwater's whispered
suspicions, dared no longer attempt to lift.
After a few minutes in which Frederick seemed to see his father
age before his eyes, Mr. Sutherland coldly remarked:
"Dr. Talbot must know of this will. It has been sent here to me
from Boston by a lawyer who drew it up two years ago. The coroner
may not as yet have heard of it. Will you accompany me to his
office to-morrow? I should like to have him see that we wish to be
open with him in an affair of such importance."
"I will accompany you gladly," said Frederick, and seeing that his
father neither wished nor was able to say anything further, he
bowed with distant ceremony as to a stranger and quietly withdrew.
But when the door had closed between them and only the memory of
his father's changed countenance remained to trouble him, he
paused and laid his hand again on the knob, as if tempted to
return. But he left without doing so, only to turn again at the
end of the hall and gaze wistfully back. Yet he went on.
As he opened his own door and disappeared within, he said half
"Easy to destroy me now, Amabel. One word and I am lost!"
THE MAN OF NO REPUTATION
And what of Sweetwater, in whose thoughts and actions the interest
When he left Mr. Sutherland it was with feelings such as few who
knew him supposed him capable of experiencing. Unattractive as he
was in every way, ungainly in figure and unprepossessing of
countenance, this butt of the more favoured youth in town had a
heart whose secret fires were all the warmer for being so
persistently covered, and this heart was wrung with trouble and
heavy with a struggle that bade fair to leave him without rest
that night, if not for many nights to come. Why? One word will
explain. Unknown to the world at large and almost unknown to
himself, his best affections were fixed upon the man whose
happiness he thus unexpectedly saw himself destined to destroy. He
loved Mr. Sutherland.
The suspicion which he now found transferred in his own mind from
the young girl whose blood-stained slippers he had purloined
during the excitement of the first alarm, to the unprincipled but
only son of his one benefactor, had not been lightly embraced or
thoughtlessly expressed. He had had time to think it out in all
its bearings. During that long walk from Portchester churchyard to
Mr. Halliday's door, he had been turning over in his mind
everything that he had heard and seen in connection with this
matter, till the dim vision of Frederick's figure going on before
him was not more apparent to his sight than was the guilt he so
deplored to his inward understanding.
He could not help but recognise him as the active party in the
crime he had hitherto charged Amabel with. With the clew offered
by Frederick's secret anguish at the grave of Agatha, he could
read the whole story of this detestable crime as plainly as if it
had been written in letters of fire on the circle of the
surrounding darkness. Such anguish under such circumstances on the
part of such a man could mean but one thing—remorse; and remorse
in the breast of one so proverbially careless and corrupt, over
the death of a woman who was neither relative nor friend, could
have but one interpretation, and that was guilt.
No other explanation was possible. Could one be given, or if any
evidence could be adduced in contradiction of this assumption, he
would have dismissed his new suspicion with more heartiness even
than he had embraced his former one. He did not wish to believe
Frederick guilty. He would have purchased an inner conviction of
his innocence almost at the price of his own life, not because of
any latent interest in the young man himself, but because he was
Charles Sutherland's son, and the dear, if unworthy, centre of all
that noble man's hopes, aims, and happiness. But he could come
upon no fact capable of shaking his present belief. Taking for
truth Amabel's account of what she had seen and done on that fatal
night—something which he had hesitated over the previous day, but
which he now found himself forced to accept or do violence to his
own secret convictions—and adding to it such facts as had come to
his own knowledge in his self-imposed role of detective, he had
but to test the events of that night by his present theory of
Frederick's guilt, to find them hang together in a way too
complete for mistake.
For what had been his reasons for charging Amabel herself with the
guilt of a crime she only professed to have been a partial witness
They were many.
First—The forced nature of her explanations in regard to her
motive for leaving a merry ball and betaking herself to the
midnight road in her party dress and slippers. A woman of her
well-known unsympathetic nature might use the misery of the Zabels
as a pretext for slipping into town at night, but never would be
influenced by it as a motive.
Second—The equally unsatisfactory nature of the reasons she gave
for leaving the course she had marked out for herself and entering
upon the pursuit of an unknown man into a house in which she had
no personal interest and from which she had just seen a bloody
dagger thrown out. The most callous of women would have shrunk
from letting her curiosity carry her thus far.
Third—The poverty of her plea that, after having braved so much
in her desire to identify this criminal, she was so frightened at
his near approach as to fail to lift her head when the opportunity
was given her to recognise him.
Fourth—Her professed inability to account for the presence of the
orchid from her hair being found in the room with Batsy.
Fifth—Her evident attempt to throw the onus of the crime on an
old man manifestly incapable from physical causes of committing
Sixth—The improbability, which she herself should have
recognised, of this old man, in his extremely weak condition,
ignoring the hiding-places offered by the woods back of his own
house, for the sake of one not only involving a long walk, but
situated close to a much-frequented road, and almost in view of
the Sutherland mansion.
Seventh—The transparent excuse of sympathy for the old man and
her desire to save him from the consequences of his crime, which
she offered in extenuation of her own criminal avowal of having
first found and then reburied the ill-gotten gains she had come
upon in her persistent pursuit of the flying criminal. So
impulsive an act might be consistent with the blind compassion of
some weak-headed but warm-hearted woman, but not with her self-
interested nature, incapable of performing any heroic deed save
from personal motives or the most headlong passion.
Lastly—The weakness of her explanation in regard to the cause
which led her to peer into the Zabel cottage through a hole made
in the window-shade. Curiosity has its limits even in a woman's
breast, and unless she hoped to see more than was indicated by her
words, her action was but the precursor of a personal entrance
into a room where we have every reason to believe the twenty-
dollar bill was left.
A telling record and sufficient to favour the theory of her
personal guilt if, after due thought, certain facts in
contradiction to this assumption had not offered themselves to his
mind even before he thought of Frederick as the unknown man she
had followed down the hillside, as, for instance:
This crime, if committed by her, was done deliberately and with a
premeditation antedating her departure from the ballroom. Yet she
went upon this errand in slippers, white slippers at that,
something which so cool and calculating a woman would have
avoided, however careless she might have shown herself in other
Again, guilt awakens cunning, even in the dullest breast; but she,
keen beyond most men even, and so self-poised that the most
searching examination could not shake her self-control, betrayed
an utter carelessness as to what she did with these slippers on
her return, thrusting them into a place easily accessible to the
most casual search. Had she been conscious of guilt and thus
amenable to law, the sight of blood and mud-stains on those
slippers would have appalled her, and she would have made some
attempt to destroy them, and not put them behind a picture and
Again, would she have been so careless with a flower she knew to
be identified with herself? A woman who deliberately involves
herself in crime has quick eyes; she would have seen that flower
fall. At all events, if she had been immediately responsible for
its being on the scene of crime she would, with her quick wit,
have found some excuse or explanation for it, instead of defying
her examiners with some such words as these: "It is a fact for you
to explain. I only know that I did not carry this flower into that
room of death."
Again, had she been actuated in her attempt to fix the crime on
old James Zabel by a personal consciousness of guilt and a
personal dread, she would not have stopped at suggestion in her
allusions to the person she watched burying the treasure in the
woods. Instead of speaking of him as a shadow whose flight she had
followed at a distance, she would have described his figure as
that of the same old man she had seen enter the Zabel cottage a
few minutes before, there being no reason for indefiniteness on
this point, her conscience being sufficiently elastic for any
falsehood that would further her ends. And lastly, her manner,
under the examination to which she had been subjected, was not
that of one who felt herself under a personal attack. It was a
strange, suggestive, hesitating manner, baffling alike to him who
had more or less sounded her strange nature and to those who had
no previous knowledge of her freaks and subtle intellectual power,
and only reaching its height of hateful charm and mysterious
daring when Frederick appeared on the scene and joined, or seemed
to join, himself to the number of her examiners.
Now, let all suspicion of her as an active agent in this crime be
dropped, assume Frederick to be the culprit and she the simple
accessory after the fact, and see how inconsistencies vanish, and
how much more natural the whole conduct of this mysterious woman
Amabel Page left a merry dance at midnight and stole away into the
Sutherland garden in her party dress and slippers—why? Not to
fulfil an errand which anyone who knows her cold and unsympathetic
nature can but regard as a pretext, but because she felt it
imperative to see if her lover (with whose character, temptations,
and necessities she was fully acquainted, and in whose excited and
preoccupied manner she had probably discovered signs of a secretly
growing purpose) meant indeed to elude his guests and slip away to
town on the dangerous and unholy enterprise suggested by their
mutual knowledge of the money to be obtained there by one daring
enough to enter a certain house open like their own to midnight
She followed at such an hour and into such a place, not an unknown
man casually come upon, but her lover, whom she had tracked from
the garden of his father's house, where she had lain in wait for
him. It took courage to do this, but a courage no longer beyond
the limit of feminine daring, for her fate was bound up in his and
she could not but feel the impulse to save him from the
consequences of crime, if not from the crime itself.
As for the aforementioned flower, what more natural than that
Frederick should have transferred it from her hair to his
buttonhole during some of their interviews at the ball, and that
it should have fallen from its place to the floor in the midst of
his possible struggle with Batsy?
And with this assumption of her perfect knowledge as to who the
man was who had entered Mrs. Webb's house, how much easier it is
to understand why she did not lift her head when she heard him
descend the stairs! No woman, even one so depraved as she, would
wish to see the handsome face of her lover in the glare of a
freshly committed crime, and besides she might very easily be
afraid of him, for a man has but a blow for the suddenly detected
witness of his crime unless that witness is his confidant, which
from every indication Sweetwater felt bound to believe Amabel was
Her flight to the Zabel cottage, after an experience which would
madden most women, can now be understood. She was still following
her lover. The plan of making Agatha's old and wretched friend
amenable for her death originated with Frederick and not with
Amabel. It was he who first started for the Zabel cottage. It was
he who left the bank bill there. This is all clear, and even the
one contradictory fact of the dagger having been seen in the old
man's hand was not a stumbling-block to Sweetwater. With the
audacity of one confident of his own insight, he explained it to
himself thus: The dagger thrown from the window by the assassin,
possibly because he knew of Zabel's expected visit there that
night, fell on the grass and was picked up by Amabel, only to be
flung down again in the brightest part of the lawn. It was lying
there then, when, a few minutes later and before either Frederick
or Amabel had left the house, the old man entered the yard in a
state of misery bordering on frenzy. He and his brother were
starving, had been starving for days. He was too proud to own his
want, and too loyal to his brother to leave him for the sake of
the food prepared for them both at Agatha's house, and this was
why he had hesitated over his duty till this late hour, when his
own secret misery or, perhaps, the hope of relieving his brother
drove him to enter the gate he had been accustomed to see open
before him in glad hospitality. He finds the lights burning in the
house above and below, and encouraged by the welcome they seem to
hold out, he staggers up the path, ignorant of the tragedy which
was at that very moment being enacted behind those lighted
windows. But half-way toward the house he stops, the courage which
has brought him so far suddenly fails, and in one of those quick
visions which sometimes visit men in extremity, he foresees the
astonishment which his emaciated figure is likely to cause in
these two old friends, and burying his face in his hands he stops
and bitterly communes with himself before venturing farther. Fatal
stop! fatal communing! for as he stands there he sees a dagger,
his own old dagger, how lost or how found he probably did not stop
to ask, lying on the grass and offering in its dumb way
suggestions as to how he might end this struggle without any
further suffering. Dizzy with the new hope, preferring death to
the humiliation he saw before him in Agatha's cottage, he dashes
out of the yard, almost upsetting Mr. Crane, who was passing by on
his homeward way from an errand of mercy. A little while later
Amabel comes upon him lying across his own doorstep. He has made
an effort to enter, but his long walk and the excitement of this
last bitter hour have been too much for him. As she watches him he
gains strength and struggles to his feet, while she, aghast at the
sight of the dagger she had herself flung down in Agatha's yard,
and dreading the encounter between this old man and the lover she
had been following to this place, creeps around the house and
looks into the first window she finds open. What does she expect
to see? Frederick brought face to face with this desperate figure
with its uplifted knife. But instead of that she beholds another
old man seated at a table and—Amabel had paused when she reached
that AND—and Sweetwater had not then seen how important this
pause was, but now he understood it. Now he saw that if she had
not had a subtle purpose in view, that if she had wished to tell
the truth rather than produce false inferences in the minds of
those about her calculated to save the criminal as she called him,
she would have completed her sentence thus: "I saw an old man
seated at a table and Frederick Sutherland standing over him." For
Sweetwater had no longer a doubt that Frederick was in that room
at that moment. What further she saw, whether she was witness to
an encounter between this intruder and James, or whether by some
lingering on the latter's part Frederick was able to leave the
house without running across him, was a matter of comparative
unimportance. What is of importance is that he did leave it and
that Amabel, knowing it was Frederick, strove to make her auditors
believe it was Zabel, who carried the remainder of the money into
the woods. Yet she did not say so, and if her words on this
subject could be carefully recalled, one would see that it was
still her lover she was following and no old man, tottering on the
verge of the grave and only surviving because of the task he was
bent on performing.
Amabel's excuse for handling the treasure, and for her reburial of
the same, comes now within the bounds of possibility. She hoped to
share this money some day, and her greed was too great for her to
let such an amount lie there untouched, while her caution led her
to bury it deeper, even at the risk of the discovery she was too
inexperienced to fear.
That she should forget to feign surprise when the alarm of murder
was raised was very natural, and so was the fact that a woman with
a soul so blunted to all delicate instincts, and with a mind so
intent upon perfecting the scheme entered into by the murderer of
throwing the blame upon the man whose dagger had been made use of,
should persist in visiting the scene of crime and calling
attention to the spot where that dagger had fallen. And so with
her manner before her examiners. Baffling as that manner was, it
still showed streaks of consistency, when you thought of it as the
cloak of a subtle, unprincipled woman, who sees amongst her
interlocutors the guilty man whom by a word she can destroy, but
whom she exerts herself to save, even at the cost of a series of
bizarre explanations. She was playing with a life, a life she
loved, but not with sincerity sufficient to rob the game of a
certain delicate, if inconceivable, intellectual enjoyment.
[Footnote: That Sweetwater in his hate, and with no real clew to
the real situation, should come so near the truth as in this last
supposition, shows the keenness of his insight.]
And Frederick? Had there been anything in his former life or in
his conduct since the murder to give the lie to these heavy doubts
against him? On the contrary. Though Sweetwater knew little of the
dark record which had made this young man the disgrace of his
family, what he did know was so much against him that he could
well see that the distance usually existing between simple
dissipation and desperate crime might be easily bridged by some
great necessity for money. Had there been such a necessity?
Sweetwater found it easy to believe so. And Frederick's manner?
Was it that of an honest man simply shocked by the suspicions
which had fallen upon the woman he loved? Had he, Sweetwater, not
observed certain telltale moments in his late behaviour that
required a deeper explanation even than this?
The cry, for instance, with which he had rushed from the empty
ballroom into the woods on the opposite side of the road! Was it a
natural cry or an easily explainable one? "Thank God! this
terrible night is over!" Strange language to be uttered by this
man at such a time and in such a place, if he did not already know
what was to make this night of nights memorable through all this
region. He did know, and this cry which had struck Sweetwater
strangely at the time and still more strangely when he regarded it
simply as a coincidence, now took on all the force of a revelation
and the irresistible bubbling up in Frederick's breast of that
remorse which had just found its full expression on Agatha's
To some that remorse and all his other signs of suffering might be
explained by his passion for the real criminal. But to Sweetwater
it was only too evident that an egotist like Frederick Sutherland
cannot suffer for another to such an extent as this, and that a
personal explanation must be given for so personal a grief, even
if that explanation involves the dreadful charge of murder.
It was when Sweetwater reached this point in his reasoning that
Frederick disappeared beneath Mr. Halliday's porch, and Mr.
Sutherland came up behind him. After the short conversation in
which Sweetwater saw his own doubts more than reflected in the
uneasy consciousness of this stricken father, he went home and the
struggle of his life began.
Sweetwater had promised Mr. Sutherland that he would keep counsel
in regard to his present convictions concerning Frederick's guilt;
but this he knew he could not do if he remained in Sutherlandtown
and fell under the pitiless examination of Mr. Courtney, the
shrewd and able prosecuting attorney of the district. He was too
young, too honest, and had made himself too conspicuous in this
affair to succeed in an undertaking requiring so much
dissimulation, if not actual falsehood. Indeed, he was not sure
that in his present state of mind he could hear Frederick's name
mentioned without flushing, and slight as such a hint might be, it
would be enough to direct attention to Frederick, which once done
could but lead to discovery and permanent disgrace to all who bore
the name of Sutherland.
What was he to do then? How avoid a consequence he found himself
absolutely unable to face? It was a problem which this night must
solve for him. But how? As I have said, he went down to his house
Sweetwater was not a man of absolute rectitude. He was not so much
high-minded as large-hearted. He had, besides, certain foibles. In
the first place, he was vain, and vanity in a very plain man is
all the more acute since it centres in his capabilities, rather
than in his appearance. Had Sweetwater been handsome, or even
passably attractive, he might have been satisfied with the
approbation of demure maidens and a comradeship with his fellows.
But being one who could hope for nothing of this kind, not even
for a decent return to the unreasoning heart-worship he felt
himself capable of paying, and which he had once paid for a few
short days till warned of his presumption by the insolence of the
recipient, he had fixed his hope and his ambition on doing
something which would rouse the admiration of those about him and
bring him into that prominence to which he felt himself entitled.
That he, a skilful musician, should desire to be known as a
brilliant detective, is only one of the anomalies of human nature
which it would be folly and a waste of time on our part to
endeavour to explain. That, having chosen to exercise his wits in
this way, he should so well succeed that he dared not for his life
continue in the work he had so publicly undertaken, occasioned in
him a pang of disappointment almost as insufferable as that
brought by the realisation of what his efforts were likely to
bring upon the man to whose benevolence he owed his very life.
Hence his struggle, which must be measured by the extent of his
desires and the limitations which had been set to his nature by
his surroundings and the circumstances of his life and daily
If we enter with him into the humble cottage where he was born and
from which he had hardly strayed more than a dozen miles in the
twenty-two years of his circumscribed life, we may be able to
understand him better.
It was an unpainted house perched on an arid hillside, with
nothing before it but the limitless sea. He had found his way to
it mechanically, but as he approached the narrow doorway he paused
and turned his face towards the stretch of heaving waters, whose
low or loud booming had been first his cradle song and then the
ceaseless accompaniment of his later thoughts and aspirations. It
was heaving yet, ceaselessly heaving, and in its loud complaint
there was a sound of moaning not always to be found there, or so
it seemed to Sweetwater in his present troubled mood.
Sighing as this sound reached his ear, and shuddering as its
meaning touched his heart, Sweetwater pushed open the door of his
small house, and entered.
"It is I, mamsie!" he shouted, in what he meant to be his usual
voice; but to a sensitive ear—and what ear is so sensitive as a
mother's?—there was a tremble in it that was not wholly natural.
"Is anything the matter, dear?" called out that mother, in reply.
The question made him start, though he replied quickly enough, and
in more guarded tones:
"No, mamsie. Go to sleep. I'm tired, that's all."
Would to God that was all! He recalled with envy the days when he
dragged himself into the house at sundown, after twelve long hours
of work on the docks. As he paused in the dark hallway and
listened till he heard the breathing of her who had called him
DEAR—the only one in the world who ever had or ever would call
him DEAR—he had glimpses of that old self which made him question
if his self-tutoring on the violin, and the restless ambition
which had driven him out of the ways of his ancestors into strange
attempts for which he was not prepared by any previous discipline,
had brought him happiness or improved his manhood. He was forced
to acknowledge that the sleep of those far-distant nights of his
busy boyhood was sweeter than the wakefulness of these later days,
and that it would have been better for him, and infinitely better
for her, if he had remained at the carpenter's bench and been
satisfied with a repetition of his father's existence.
His mother was the only person sharing that small house with him,
and once assured that she was asleep, he lighted a lamp in the
empty kitchen and sat down.
It was just twelve o'clock. This, to anyone accustomed to this
peculiar young man's habits, had nothing unusual in it. He was
accustomed to come home late and sit thus by himself for a short
time before going up-stairs. But, to one capable of reading his
sharp and none too mobile countenance, there was a change in the
character of the brooding into which he now sank, which, had that
mother been awake to watch him, would have made every turn of his
eye and movement of his hand interesting and important.
In the first place, the careless attitude into which he had fallen
was totally at variance with the restless glance which took in
every object in that well-known room so associated with his mother
and her daily work that he could not imagine her in any other
surroundings, and wondered sometimes if she would seem any longer
his mother if transplanted to other scenes and engaged in other
Little things, petty objects of household use or ornament, which
he had seen all his life without specially noticing them, seemed
under the stress of his present mood to acquire a sudden
importance and fix themselves indelibly in his memory. There, on a
nail driven long before he was born, hung the little round lid-
holder he had pieced together in his earliest years and presented
to his mother in a gush of pride greater than any he had since
experienced. She had never used it, but it always hung upon the
one nail in the one place, as a symbol of his love and of hers.
And there, higher up on the end of the shelf barren enough of
ornaments, God wot, were a broken toy and a much-defaced primer,
mementos likewise of his childhood; and farther along the wall, on
a sort of raised bench, a keg, the spigot of which he was once
guilty of turning on in his infantile longing for sweets, only to
find he could not turn it back again until all the floor was
covered with molasses, and his appetite for the forbidden
gratified to the full. And yonder, dangling from a peg, never
devoted to any other use, hung his father's old hat, just where he
had placed it on the fatal morning when he came in and lay down on
the sitting-room lounge for the last time; and close to it,
lovingly close to it, Sweetwater thought, his mother's apron, the
apron he had seen her wear at supper, and which he would see her
wear at breakfast, with all its suggestions of ceaseless work and
patient every-day thrift.
Somehow, he could not bear the sight of that apron. With the
expectation now forming in his mind, of leaving this home and
leaving this mother, this symbol of humble toil became an
intolerable grief to him. Jumping up, he turned in another
direction; but now another group of objects equally eloquent came
under his eye. It was his mother's work-basket he saw, with a
piece of sewing in it intended for him, and as if this were not
enough, the table set for two, and at his place a little covered
dish which held the one sweetmeat he craved for breakfast. The
spectacles lying beside her plate told him how old she was, and as
he thought of her failing strength and enfeebled ways, he jumped
up again and sought another corner. But here his glances fell on
his violin, and a new series of emotions awakened within him. He
loved the instrument and played as much from natural intuition as
acquired knowledge, but in the plan of action he had laid out for
himself his violin could have no part. He would have to leave it
behind. Feeling that his regrets were fast becoming too much for
him, he left the humble kitchen and went up-stairs. But not to
sleep. Locking the door (something he never remembered doing
before in all his life), he began to handle over his clothes and
other trivial belongings. Choosing out a certain strong suit, he
laid it out on the bed and then went to a bureau drawer and drew
out an old-fashioned wallet. This he opened, but after he had
counted the few bills it contained he shook his head and put them
all back, only retaining a little silver, which he slipped into
one of the pockets of the suit he had chosen. Then he searched for
and found a little Bible which his mother had once given him. He
was about to thrust that into another pocket, but he seemed to
think better of this, too, for he ended by putting it back into
the drawer and taking instead a bit from one of his mother's old
aprons which he had chanced upon on the stairway. This he placed
as carefully in his watch pocket as if it had been the picture of
a girl he loved. Then he undressed and went to bed.
Mrs. Sweetwater said afterwards that she never knew Caleb to talk
so much and eat so little as he did that next morning at
breakfast. Such plans as he detailed for unmasking the murderer of
Mrs. Webb! Such business for the day! So many people to see! It
made her quite dizzy, she said. And, indeed, Sweetwater was more
than usually voluble that morning,—perhaps because he could not
bear his mother's satisfied smile; and when he went out of the
house it was with a laugh and a cheery "Good-bye, mamsie" that was
in spiking contrast to the irrepressible exclamation of grief
which escaped him when the door was closed between them. Ah, when
should he enter those four walls again, and when should he see the
He proceeded immediately to town. A ship was preparing to sail
that morning for the Brazils, and the wharves were alive with
bustle. He stopped a moment to contemplate the great hulk rising
and falling at her moorings, then he passed on and entered the
building where he had every reason to expect to find Dr. Talbot
and Knapp in discussion. It was very important to him that morning
to learn just how they felt concerning the great matter absorbing
him, for if suspicion was taking the direction of Frederick, or if
he saw it was at all likely to do so, then would his struggle be
cut short and all necessity for leaving town be at an end. It was
to save Frederick from this danger that he was prepared to cut all
the ties binding him to this place, and nothing short of the
prospect of accomplishing this would make him willing to undergo
such a sacrifice.
"Well, Sweetwater, any news, eh?" was the half-jeering, half-
condescending greeting he received from the coroner.
Sweetwater, who had regained entire control over his feelings as
soon as he found himself under the eye of this man and the
supercilious detective he had attempted to rival, gave a careless
shrug and passed the question on to Knapp. "Have you any news?" he
Knapp, who would probably not have acknowledged it if he had,
smiled the indulgent smile of a self-satisfied superior and
uttered a few equivocal sentences. This was gall and wormwood to
Sweetwater, but he kept his temper admirably and, with an air of
bravado entirely assumed for the occasion, said to Dr. Talbot:
"I think I shall have something to tell you soon which will
materially aid you in your search for witnesses. By to-morrow, at
least, I shall know whether I am right or wrong in thinking I have
discovered an important witness in quite an unexpected quarter."
Sweetwater knew of no new witness, but it was necessary for him
not only to have a pretext for the move he contemplated, but to so
impress these men with an idea of his extreme interest in the
approaching proceedings, that no suspicion should ever arise of
his having premeditated an escape from them. He wished to appear
the victim of accident; and this is why he took nothing from his
home which would betray any intention of leaving it.
"Ha! indeed!" ejaculated the coroner with growing interest. "And
may I ask——"
"Please," urged Sweetwater, with a side look at Knapp, "do not ask
me anything just yet. This afternoon, say, after I have had a
certain interview with—What, are they setting sails on the
Hesper already?" he burst out, with a quick glance from the window
at the great ship riding at anchor a little distance from them in
the harbour. "There is a man on her I must see. Excuse me—Oh, Mr.
He fell back in confusion. That gentleman had just entered the
room in company with Frederick.
A SINISTER PAIR
"I beg your pardon," stammered Sweetwater, starting aside and
losing on the instant all further disposition to leave the room.
Indeed, he had not the courage to do so, even if he had had the
will. The joint appearance of these two men in this place, and at
an hour so far in advance of that which usually saw Mr. Sutherland
enter the town, was far too significant in his eyes for him to
ignore it. Had any explanation taken place between them, and had
Mr. Sutherland's integrity triumphed over personal considerations
to the point of his bringing Frederick here to confess?
Meanwhile Dr. Talbot had risen with a full and hearty greeting
which proved to Sweetwater's uneasy mind that notwithstanding
Knapp's disquieting reticence no direct suspicion had as yet
fallen on the unhappy Frederick. Then he waited for what Mr.
Sutherland had to say, for it was evident he had come there to say
something. Sweetwater waited, too, frozen almost into immobility
by the fear that it would be something injudicious, for never had
he seen any man so changed as Mr. Sutherland in these last twelve
hours, nor did it need a highly penetrating eye to detect that the
relations between him and Frederick were strained to a point that
made it almost impossible for them to more than assume their old
confidential attitude. Knapp, knowing them but superficially, did
not perceive this, but Dr. Talbot was not blind to it, as was
shown by the inquiring look he directed towards them both while
Mr. Sutherland spoke at last.
"Pardon me for interrupting you so early," said he, with a certain
tremble in his voice which Sweetwater quaked to hear. "For certain
reasons, I should be very glad to know, WE should be very glad to
know, if during your investigations into the cause and manner of
Agatha Webb's death, you have come upon a copy of her will."
Talbot was at once interested, so was Knapp, while Sweetwater
withdrew further into his corner in anxious endeavour to hide his
blanching cheek. "We have found nothing. We do not even know that
she has made a will."
"I ask," pursued Mr. Sutherland, with a slight glance toward
Frederick, who seemed, at least in Sweetwater's judgment, to have
braced himself up to bear this interview unmoved, "because I have
not only received intimation that she made such a will, but have
even been entrusted with a copy of it as chief executor of the
same. It came to me in a letter from Boston yesterday. Its
contents were a surprise to me. Frederick, hand me a chair. These
accumulated misfortunes—for we all suffer under the afflictions
which have beset this town—have made me feel my years."
Sweetwater drew his breath more freely. He thought he might
understand by this last sentence that Mr. Sutherland had come here
for a different cause than he had at first feared. Frederick, on
the contrary, betrayed a failing ability to hide his emotion. He
brought his father a chair, placed it, and was drawing back out of
sight when Mr. Sutherland prevented him by a mild command to hand
the paper he had brought to the coroner.
There was something in his manner that made Sweetwater lean
forward and Frederick look up, so that the father's and son's eyes
met under that young man's scrutiny. But while he saw meaning in
both their regards, there was nothing like collusion, and, baffled
by these appearances, which, while interesting, told him little or
nothing, he transferred his attention to Dr. Talbot and Knapp, who
had drawn together to see what this paper contained.
"As I have said, the contents of this will are a surprise to me,"
faltered Mr. Sutherland. "They are equally so to my son. He can
hardly be said to have been a friend even of the extraordinary
woman who thus leaves him her whole fortune."
"I never spoke with her but twice," exclaimed Frederick with a
studied coldness, which was so evidently the cloak of inner
agitation that Sweetwater trembled for its effect, notwithstanding
the state of his own thoughts, which were in a ferment. Frederick,
the inheritor of Agatha Webb's fortune! Frederick, concerning whom
his father had said on the previous night that he possessed no
motive for wishing this good woman's death! Was it the discovery
that such a motive existed which had so aged this man in the last
twelve hours? Sweetwater dared not turn again to see. His own face
might convey too much of his own fears, doubts, and struggle.
But the coroner, for whose next words Sweetwater listened with
acute expectancy, seemed to be moved simply by the unexpectedness
of the occurrence. Glancing at Frederick with more interest than
he had ever before shown him, he cried with a certain show of
"A pretty fortune! A very pretty fortune!" Then with a deprecatory
air natural to him in addressing Mr. Sutherland, "Would it be
indiscreet for me to ask to what our dear friend Agatha alludes in
her reference to your late lamented wife?" His finger was on a
clause of the will and his lips next minute mechanically repeated
what he was pointing at:
"'In remembrance of services rendered me in early life by Marietta
Sutherland, wife of Charles Sutherland of Sutherlandtown, I
bequeath to Frederick, sole child of her affection, all the
property, real and personal, of which I die possessed.' Services
rendered! They must have been very important ones," suggested Dr.
Mr. Sutherland's expression was one of entire perplexity and
"I do not remember my wife ever speaking of any special act of
kindness she was enabled to show Agatha Webb. They were always
friends, but never intimate ones. However, Agatha could be trusted
to make no mistake. She doubtless knew to what she referred. Mrs.
Sutherland was fully capable of doing an extremely kind act in
For all his respect for the speaker, Dr. Talbot did not seem quite
satisfied. He glanced at Frederick and fumbled the paper uneasily.
"Perhaps you were acquainted with the reason for this legacy—this
large legacy," he emphasised.
Frederick, thus called upon, nay, forced to speak, raised his
head, and without perhaps bestowing so much as a thought on the
young man behind him who was inwardly quivering in anxious
expectancy of some betrayal on his part which would precipitate
disgrace and lifelong sorrow on all who bore the name of
Sutherland, met Dr. Talbot's inquiring glance with a simple
earnestness surprising to them all, and said:
"My record is so much against me that I am not surprised that you
wonder at my being left with Mrs. Webb's fortune. Perhaps she did
not fully realise the lack of estimation in which I am deservedly
held in this place, or perhaps, and this would be much more like
her, she hoped that the responsibility of owing my independence to
so good and so unfortunate a woman might make a man of me."
There was a manliness in Frederick's words and bearing that took
them all by surprise. Mr. Sutherland's dejection visibly
lightened, while Sweetwater, conscious of the more than vital
interests hanging upon the impression which might be made by this
event upon the minds of the men present, turned slightly so as to
bring their faces into the line of his vision.
The result was a conviction that as yet no real suspicion of
Frederick had seized upon either of their minds. Knapp's face was
perfectly calm and almost indifferent, while the good coroner, who
saw this and every other circumstance connected with this affair
through the one medium of his belief in Amabel's guilt, was
surveying Frederick with something like sympathy.
"I fear," said he, "that others were not as ignorant of your
prospective good fortune as you were yourself," at which
Frederick's cheek turned a dark red, though he said nothing, and
Sweetwater, with a sudden involuntary gesture indicative of
resolve, gazed for a moment breathlessly at the ship, and then
with an unexpected and highly impetuous movement dashed from the
room crying loudly:
"I've seen him! I've seen him! he's just going on board the ship.
Wait for me, Dr. Talbot. I'll be back in fifteen minutes with such
Here the door slammed. But they could hear his hurrying footsteps
as he plunged down the stairs and rushed away from the building.
It was an unexpected termination to an interview fast becoming
unbearable to the two Sutherlands, but no one, not even the old
gentleman himself, took in its full significance.
He was, however, more than agitated by the occurrence and could
hardly prevent himself from repeating aloud Sweetwater's final
word, which after their interview at Mr. Halliday's gate, the
night before, seemed to convey to him at once a warning and a
threat. To keep himself from what he feared might prove a self-
betrayal, he faltered out in very evident dismay:
"What is the matter? What has come over the lad?"
"Oh!" cried Dr. Talbot, "he's been watching that ship for an hour.
He is after some man he has just seen go aboard her. Says he's a
new and important witness in this case. Perhaps he is. Sweetwater
is no man's fool, for all his small eyes and retreating chin. If
you want proof of it, wait till he comes back. He'll be sure to
have something to say."
Meanwhile they had all pressed forward to the window. Frederick,
who carefully kept his face out of his father's view, bent half-
way over the sill in his anxiety to watch the flying figure of
Sweetwater, who was making straight for the dock, while Knapp,
roused at last, leaned over his shoulder and pointed to the
sailors on the deck, who were pulling in the last ropes,
preparatory to sailing.
"He's too late: they won't let him aboard now. What a fool to hang
around here till he saw his man, instead of being at the dock to
nab him! That comes of trusting a country bumpkin. I knew he'd
fail us at the pinch. They lack training, these would-be
detectives. See, now! He's run up against the mate, and the mate
pushes him back. His cake is all dough, unless he's got a warrant.
Has he a warrant, Dr. Talbot?"
"No," said the coroner, "he didn't ask for one. He didn't even
tell me whom he wanted. Can it be one of those two passengers you
see on the forward deck, there?"
It might well be. Even from a distance these two men presented a
sinister appearance that made them quite marked figures among the
crowd of hurrying sailors and belated passengers.
"One of them is peering over the rail with a very evident air of
anxiety. His eye is on Sweetwater, who is dancing with impatience.
See, he is gesticulating like a monkey, and—By the powers, they
are going to let him go aboard!"
Mr. Sutherland, who had been leaning heavily against the window-
jamb in the agitation of doubt and suspense which Sweetwater's
unaccountable conduct had evoked, here crossed to the other side
and stole a determined look at Frederick. Was his son personally
interested in this attempt of the amateur detective? Did he know
whom Sweetwater sought, and was he suffering as much or more than
himself from the uncertainty and fearful possibilities of the
moment? He thought he knew Frederick's face, and that he read
dread there, but Frederick had changed so completely since the
commission of this crime that even his father could no longer be
sure of the correct meaning either of his words or expression.
The torture of the moment continued.
"He climbs like a squirrel," remarked Dr. Talbot, with a touch of
enthusiasm. "Look at him now—he's on the quarterdeck and will be
down in the cabins before you can say Jack Robinson. I warrant
they have told him to hurry. Captain Dunlap isn't the man to wait
five minutes after the ropes are pulled in."
"Those two men have shrunk away behind some mast or other," cried
Knapp. "They are the fellows he's after. But what can they have to
do with the murder? Have you ever seen them here about town, Dr.
"Not that I remember; they have a foreign air about them. Look
like South Americans."
"Well, they're going to South America. Sweetwater can't stop
them. He has barely time to get off the ship himself. There goes
the last rope! Have they forgotten him? They're drawing up the
"No: the mate stops them; see, he's calling the fellow. I can hear
his voice, can't you? Sweetwater's game is up. He'll have to leave
in a hurry. What's the rumpus now?"
"Nothing, only they've scattered to look for him; the fox is down
in the cabins and won't come up, laughing in his sleeve, no doubt,
at keeping the vessel waiting while he hunts up his witness."
"If it's one of those two men he's laying a trap for he won't
snare him in a hurry. They're sneaks, those two, and—Why, the
sailors are coming back shaking their heads. I can almost hear
from here the captain's oaths."
"And such a favourable wind for getting out of the harbour!
Sweetwater, my boy, you are distinguishing yourself. If your
witness don't pan out well you won't hear the last of this in a
"It looks as if they meant to sail without waiting to put him
ashore," observed Frederick in a low tone, too carefully modulated
not to strike his father as unnatural.
"By jingoes, so it does!" ejaculated Knapp. "There go the sails!
The pilot's hand is on the wheel, and Dr. Talbot, are you going to
let your cunning amateur detective and his important witness slip
away from you like this?"
"I cannot help myself," said the coroner, a little dazed himself
at this unexpected chance. "My voice wouldn't reach them from this
place; besides they wouldn't heed me if it did. The ship is
already under way and we won't see Sweetwater again till the
pilot's boat comes back."
Mr. Sutherland moved from the window and crossed to the door like
a man in a dream. Frederick, instantly conscious of his departure,
turned to follow him, but presently stopped and addressing Knapp
for the first time, observed quietly:
"This is all very exciting, but I think your estimate of this
fellow Sweetwater is just. He's a busybody and craves notoriety
above everything. He had no witness on board, or, if he had, it
was an imaginary one. You will see him return quite crestfallen
before night, with some trumped-up excuse of mistaken identity."
The shrug which Knapp gave dismissed Sweetwater as completely from
the affair as if he had never been in it.
"I think I may now regard myself as having this matter in my sole
charge," was his curt remark, as he turned away, while Frederick,
with a respectful bow to Dr. Talbot, remarked in leaving:
"I am at your service, Dr. Talbot, if you require me to testify at
the inquest in regard to this will. My testimony can all be
concentrated into the one sentence, 'I did not expect this
bequest, and have no theories to advance in explanation of it.'
But it has made me feel myself Mrs. Webb's debtor, and given me a
justifiable interest in the inquiry which, I am told, you open to-
morrow into the cause and manner of her death. If there is a
guilty person in this case, I shall raise no barrier in the way of
And while the coroner's face still showed the embarrassment which
this last sentence called up, his mind being now, as ever, fixed
on Amabel, Frederick offered his arm to his father, whose
condition was not improved by the excitements of the last half-
hour, and proceeded to lead him from the building.
Whatever they thought, or however each strove to hide their
conclusions from the other, no words passed between them till they
came in full sight of the sea, on a distant billow of which the
noble-ship bound for the Brazils rode triumphantly on its outward
course. Then Mr. Sutherland remarked, with a suggestive glance at
"The young man who has found an unexpected passage on that vessel
will not come back with the pilot."
Was the sigh which was Frederick's only answer one of relief? It
certainly seemed so.
IN THE SHADOW OP THE MAST
Mr. Sutherland was right. Sweetwater did not return with the
pilot. According to the latter there was no Sweetwater on board
the ship to return. At all events the minutest search had not
succeeded in finding him in the cabins, though no one had seen him
leave the vessel, or, indeed, seen him at all after his hasty dash
below decks. It was thought on board that he had succeeded in
reaching shore before the ship set sail, and the pilot was
suitably surprised at learning this was not so. So were
Sweetwater's friends and associates with the exception of a
certain old gentleman living on the hill, and Knapp the detective.
He, that is the latter, had his explanation at his tongue's end:
"Sweetwater is a fakir. He thought he could carry off the honours
from the regular force, and when he found he couldn't he quietly
disappeared. We shall hear of him again in the Brazils."
An opinion that speedily gained ground, so that in a few hours
Sweetwater was all but forgotten, save by his mother, whose heart
was filled with suspense, and by Mr. Sutherland, whose breast was
burdened by gratitude. The amazing fact of Frederick, the village
scapegrace and Amabel's reckless, if aristocratic, lover, having
been made the legatee of the upright Mrs. Webb's secret savings
had something to do with this. With such a topic at hand, not only
the gossips, but those who had the matter of Agatha's murder in
hand, found ample material to occupy their thoughts and tongues,
without wasting time over a presumptuous busybody, who had not
wits enough to know that five minutes before sailing-time is an
unfortunate moment in which to enter a ship.
And where was Sweetwater, that he could not be found on the shore
or on the ship? We will follow him and see. Accustomed from his
youth to ramble over the vessels while in port, he knew this one
as well as he did his mother's house. It was, therefore, a
surprise to the sailors when, shortly after the departure of the
pilot, they came upon him lying in the hold, half buried under a
box which had partially fallen upon him. He was unconscious, or
appeared to be so, and when brought into open light showed marks
of physical distress and injury; but his eye was clear and his
expression hardly as rueful as one would expect in a man who finds
himself en route for the Brazils with barely a couple of dollars
in his pocket and every prospect of being obliged to work before
the mast to earn his passage. Even the captain noticed this and
eyed him with suspicion. But Sweetwater, rousing to the
necessities of the occasion, forthwith showed such a mixture of
discouragement and perplexity that the honest sailor was deceived
and abated half at least of his oaths. He gave Sweetwater a
hammock and admitted him to the mess, but told him that as soon as
his bruises allowed him to work he should show himself on deck or
expect the rough treatment commonly bestowed on stowaways.
It was a prospect to daunt some men, but not Sweetwater. Indeed it
was no more than he had calculated upon when he left his savings
behind with his old mother and entered upon this enterprise with
only a little change in his pocket. He had undertaken out of love
and gratitude to Mr. Sutherland to rid Frederick of a dangerous
witness and he felt able to complete the sacrifice. More than
that, he was even strangely happy for a time. The elation of the
willing victim was his, that is for a few short hours, then he
began to think of his mother. How had she borne his sudden
departure? What would she think had befallen him, and how long
would he have to wait before he could send her word of his safety?
If he was to be of real service to the man he venerated, he must
be lost long enough for the public mind to have become settled in
regard to the mysteries of the Webb murder and for his own
boastful connection with it to be forgotten. This might mean years
of exile. He rather thought it did; meanwhile his mother! Of
himself he thought little.
By sundown he felt himself sufficiently recovered from his bruises
to go up on deck. It was a mild night, and the sea was running in
smooth long waves that as yet but faintly presaged the storm
brewing on the distant horizon. As he inhaled the fresh air, the
joy of renewed health began to infuse its life into his veins and
lift the oppression from his heart, and, glad of a few minutes of
quiet enjoyment, he withdrew to a solitary portion of the deck and
allowed himself to forget his troubles in contemplation of the
rapidly deepening sky and boundless stretch of waters.
But such griefs and anxieties as weighed upon this man's breast
are not so easily shaken off. Before he realised it his thoughts
had recurred to the old theme, and he was wondering if he was
really of sufficient insignificance in the eyes of his fellow-
townsmen not to be sought for and found in that distant country to
which he was bound. Would they, in spite of his precautions,
suspect that he had planned this evasion and insist on his return,
or would he be allowed to slip away and drop out of sight like the
white froth he was watching on the top of the ever-shifting waves?
He had boasted of possessing a witness. Would they believe that
boast and send a detective in search of him, or would they take
his words for the bombast they really were and proceed with their
investigations in happy relief at the loss of his intrusive
As this was a question impossible for him to answer, he turned to
other thoughts and fretted himself for a while with memories of
Amabel's disdain and Frederick's careless acceptance of a
sacrifice he could never know the cost of, mixed strangely with
relief at being free of it all and on the verge of another life.
As the dark settled, his head fell farther and farther forward on
the rail he was leaning against, till he became to any passing eye
but a blurred shadow mixing with other shadows equally immovable.
Unlike them, however, his shadow suddenly shifted. Two men had
drawn near him, one speaking pure Spanish and the other English.
The English was all that Sweetwater could understand, and this
half of the conversation was certainly startling enough. Though he
could not, of coarse, know to what or whom it referred, and though
it certainly had nothing to do with him, or any interest he
represented or understood, he could not help listening and
remembering every word. The English-speaking man uttered the first
sentence he comprehended. It was this:
"Shall it be to-night?"
The answer was in Spanish.
Again the English voice:
"He has come up. I saw him distinctly as he passed the second
More Spanish; then English:
"You may if you want to, but I'll never breathe easy while he's on
the ship. Are you sure he's the fellow we fear?"
A rapid flow of words from which Sweetwater got nothing. Then
slowly and distinctly in the sinister tones he had already begun
to shiver at:
"Very good. The R. F. A. should pay well for this," with the quick
addition following a hurried whisper: "All right! I'd send a dozen
men to the bottom for half that money. But 'ware there! Here's a
fellow watching us! If he has heard—"
Sweetwater turned, saw two desperate faces projected toward him,
realised that something awful, unheard of, was about to happen,
and would have uttered a yell of dismay, but that the very
intensity of his fright took away his breath. The next minute he
felt himself launched into space and enveloped in the darkness of
the chilling waters. He had been lifted bodily and flung headlong
into the sea.
Sweetwater's one thought as he sank was, "Now Mr. Sutherland need
fear me no longer."
But the instinct of life is strong in every heart, and when he
found himself breathing the air again he threw out his arms wildly
and grasped a spar.
It was life to him, hope, reconnection with his kind. He clutched,
clung, and, feeling himself floating, uttered a shout of mingled
joy and appeal that unhappily was smothered in the noise of the
waters and the now rapidly rising wind.
Whence had come this spar in his desperate need? He never knew,
but somewhere in his remote consciousness an impression remained
of a shock to the waves following his own plunge into the water,
which might mean that this spar had been thrown out after him,
perhaps by the already repentant hands of the wretches who had
tossed him to his death. However it came, or from whatever source,
it had at least given him an opportunity to measure his doom and
realise the agonies of hope when it alternates with despair.
The darkness was impenetrable. It was no longer that of heaven,
but of the nether world, or so it seemed to this dazed soul,
plunged suddenly from dreams of exile into the valley of the
shadow of death. And such a death! As he realised its horrors, as
he felt the chill of night and the oncoming storm strike its
piercing fangs into his marrow, and knew that his existence and
the hope of ever again seeing the dear old face at the fireside
rested upon the strength of his will and the tenacity of his life-
clutch, he felt his heart fail, and the breath that was his life
cease in a gurgle of terror. But he clung on, and, though no
comfort came, still clung, while vague memories of long-ago
shipwrecks, and stories told in his youth of men, women, and
children tossing for hours on a drifting plank, flashed through
his benumbed brain, and lent their horror to his own sensations of
apprehension and despair.
He wanted to live. Now that the dread spectre had risen out of the
water and had its clutch on his hair, he realised that the world
held much for him, and that even in exile he might work and love
and enjoy God's heaven and earth, the green fields and the blue
sky. Not such skies as were above him now. No, this was not sky
that overarched him, but a horrible vault in which the clouds,
rushing in torn masses, had the aspect of demons stooping to
contend for him with those other demons that with long arms and
irresistible grip were dragging at him from below. He was alone on
a whirling spar in the midst of a midnight ocean, but horror and a
pitiless imagination made this conflict more than that of the
elements, and his position an isolation beyond that of man removed
from his fellows. He was almost mad. Yet he clung.
Suddenly a better frame of mind prevailed. The sky was no lighter,
save as the lightning came to relieve the overwhelming darkness by
a still more overwhelming glare, nor were the waves less
importunate or his hold on the spar more secure; but the horror
seemed to have lifted, and the practical nature of the man
reasserted itself. Other men had gone through worse dangers than
these and survived to tell the tale, as he might survive to tell
his. The will was all—will and an indomitable courage; and he had
will and he had courage, or why had he left his home to dare a
hard and threatening future purely from a sentiment of gratitude?
Could he hold on long enough, daylight would come; and if, as he
now thought possible, he had been thrown into the sea within
twenty hours after leaving Sutherlandtown, then he must be not far
from Cape Cod, and in the direct line of travel from New York to
Boston. Rescue would come, and if the storm which was breaking
over his head more and more furiously made it difficult for him to
retain his hold, it certainly would not wreck his spar or drench
him more than he was already drenched, while every blast would
drive him shoreward. The clinging was all, and filial love would
make him do that, even in the semi-unconsciousness which now and
then swept over him. Only, would it not be better for Mr.
Sutherland if he should fail and drop away into the yawning chasms
of the unknown world beneath? There were moments when he thought
so, and then his clutch perceptibly weakened; but only once did he
come near losing his hold altogether. And that was when he thought
he heard a laugh. A laugh, here in the midst of ocean! in the
midst of storm! a laugh! Were demons a reality, then? Yes; but the
demon he had heard was of his own imagination; it had a face of
Medusa sweetness and the laugh—Only Amabel's rang out so
thrillingly false, and with such diabolic triumph. Amabel, who
might be laughing in her dreams at this very moment of his supreme
misery, and who assuredly would laugh if conscious of his
suffering and aware of the doom to which his self-sacrifice had
brought him. Amabel! the thought of her made the night more dark,
the waters more threatening, the future less promising. Yet he
would hold on if only to spite her who hated him and whom he hated
almost as much as he loved Mr. Sutherland.
It was his last conscious thought for hours. When morning broke he
was but a nerveless figure, with sense enough to cling, and that
THE ADVENTURE OF THE PARCEL
"A man! Haul him in! Don't leave a poor fellow drifting about like
The speaker, a bluff, hearty skipper, whose sturdy craft had
outridden one of the worst storms of the season, pointed to our
poor friend Sweetwater, whose head could just be seen above the
broken spar he clung to. In another moment a half-dozen hands were
stretched for him, and the insensible form was drawn in and laid
on a deck which still showed the results of the night's fierce
conflict with the waters.
"Damn it! how ugly he is!" cried one of the sailors, with a leer
at the half-drowned man's face. "I'd like to see the lass we'd
please in saving him. He's only fit to poison a devil-fish!"
But though more than one laugh rang out, they gave him good care,
and when Sweetwater came to life and realised that his blood was
pulsing warmly again through his veins, and that a grey sky had
taken the place of darkness, and a sound board supported limbs
which for hours had yielded helplessly to the rocking billows, he
saw a ring of hard but good-natured faces about him and realised
quite well what had been done for him when one of them said:
"There! he'll do now; all hands on deck! We can get into New
Bedford in two days if this wind holds. Nor' west!" shouted the
skipper to the man at the tiller. "We'll sup with our old women in
New Bedford! It was the only word Sweetwater heard. So, he was no
farther away from Sutherlandtown than that. Evidently Providence
had not meant him to escape. Or was it his fortitude that was
being tried? A man as humble as he might easily be lost even in a
place as small as New Bedford. It was his identity he must
suppress. With that unrecognised he might remain in the next
village to Sutherlandtown without fear of being called up as a
witness against Frederick. But could he suppress it? He thought he
could. At all events he meant to try.
"What's your name?" were the words he now heard shouted in his
"Jonathan Briggs," was his mumbled reply. "I was blown off a
ship's deck in the gale last night."
"The Proserpine." It was the first name that suggested itself to
"Oh, I thought it might have been the Hesper; she foundered off
here last night."
"Foundered? The Hesper?" The hot blood was shooting now through
"Yes, we just picked up her name-board. That was before we got a
hold on you."
Foundered! The ship from which he had been so mercilessly thrown!
And all on board lost, perhaps. He began to realise the hand of
Providence in his fate.
"It was the Hesper I sailed on. I'm not just clear yet in my head.
My first voyage was made on the Proserpine. Well, bless the gale
that blew me from that deck!"
He seemed incoherent, and they left him again for a little while.
When they came back he had his story all ready, which imposed upon
them just so far as it was for their interest. Their business on
this coast was not precisely legitimate, and when they found he
simply wanted to be set on shore, they were quite willing to do
thus much for him. Only they regretted that he had barely two
dollars and his own soaked clothing to give in exchange for the
motley garments they trumped up among them for his present
comfort. But he, as well as they, made the best of a bad bargain,
he especially, as his clothes, which would be soon scattered among
half a dozen families, were the only remaining clew connecting him
with his native town. He could now be Jonathan Briggs indeed. Only
who was Jonathan Briggs, and how was he to earn a living under
these unexpected conditions?
At the end of a couple of days he was dexterously landed on the
end of a long pier, which they passed without stopping, on their
way to their own obscure anchorage. As he jumped from the rail to
the pier and felt again the touch of terra firma he drew a long
breath of uncontrollable elation. Yet he had not a cent in the
world, no friends, and certainly no prospects. He did not even
know whether to turn to the right or the left as he stepped out
upon the docks, and when he had decided to turn to the right as
being on the whole more lucky, he did not know whether to risk his
fortune in the streets of the town or to plunge into one of the
low-browed drinking houses whose signs confronted him on this
He decided that his prospects for a dinner were slim in any case,
and that his only hope of breaking fast that day lay in the use he
might make of one of his three talents. Either he must find a
fiddle to play on, a carpenter's bench to work at, or a piece of
detective shadowing to do. The last would bring him before the
notice of the police, which was just the thing he must avoid; so
it was fiddling or carpentry he must seek, either of which would
be difficult to obtain in his present garb. But of difficulties
Sweetwater was not a man to take note. He had undertaken out of
pure love for a good man to lose himself. He had accomplished
this, and now was he to complain because in doing so he was likely
to go hungry for a day or two? No; Amabel might laugh at him, or
he might fancy she did, while struggling in the midst of rapidly
engulfing waters, but would she laugh at him now? He did not think
she would. She was of the kind who sometimes go hungry themselves
in old age. Some premonition of this might give her a fellow
He came to a stand before a little child sitting on an ill-kept
doorstep. Smiling at her kindly, he waited for her first
expression to see how he appeared in the eyes of innocence. Not so
bad a man, it seemed, though his naturally plain countenance was
not relieved by the seaman's cap and knitted shirt he wore. For
she laughed as she looked at him, and only ran away because there
wasn't room for him to pass beside her.
Comforted a little, he sauntered on, glancing here and there with
that sharp eye of his for a piece of work to be done. Suddenly he
came to a halt. A market-woman had got into an altercation with an
oysterman, and her stall had been upset in the contention, and her
vegetables were rolling here and there. He righted her stall,
picked up her vegetables, and in return got two apples and a red
herring he would not have given to a dog at home. Yet it was the
sweetest morsel he had ever tasted, and the apples might have been
grown in the garden of the Hesperides from the satisfaction and
pleasure they gave this hungry man. Then, refreshed, he dashed
into the town. It should now go hard but he would earn a night's
The day was windy and he was going along a narrow street, when
something floated down from a window above past his head. It was a
woman's veil, and as he looked up to see where it came from he met
the eyes of its owner looking down from an open casement above
him. She was gesticulating, and seemed to point to someone up the
street. Glad to seize at anything which promised emolument or
adventure, he shouted up and asked her what she wanted.
"That man down there!" she cried; "the one in a long black coat
going up the street. Keep after him and stop him; tell him the
telegram has come. Quick, quick, before he gets around the corner!
He will pay you; run!"
Sweetwater, with joy in his heart,—for five cents was a boon to
him in the present condition of his affairs,—rushed after the man
she had pointed out and hastily stopped him.
"Someone," he added, "a woman in a window back there, bade me run
after you and say the telegram has come. She told me you would pay
me," he added, for he saw the man was turning hastily back,
without thinking of the messenger. "I need the money, and the run
was a sharp one."
With a preoccupied air, the man thrust his hand into his pocket,
pulled out a coin, and handed it to him. Then he walked hurriedly
off. Evidently the news was welcome to him. But Sweetwater stood
rooted to the ground. The man had given him a five-dollar gold
piece instead of the nickel he had evidently intended.
How hungrily Sweetwater eyed that coin! In it was lodging, food,
perhaps a new article or so of clothing. But after a moment of
indecision which might well be forgiven him, he followed speedily
after the man and overtook him just as he reached the house from
which the woman's veil had floated.
"Sir, pardon me; but you gave me five dollars instead of five
cents. It was a mistake; I cannot keep the money."
The man, who was not just the sort from whom kindness would be
expected, looked at the money in Sweetwater's palm, then at the
miserable, mud-bespattered clothes he wore (he had got that mud
helping the poor market-woman), and stared hard at the face of the
man who looked so needy and yet returned him five dollars.
"You're an honest fellow," he declared, not offering to take back
the gold piece. Then, with a quick glance up at the window, "Would
you like to earn that money?"
Sweetwater broke out into a smile, which changed his whole
"Wouldn't I, sir?"
The man eyed him for another minute with scrutinising intensity.
Then he said shortly:
"Come up-stairs with me."
They entered the house, went up a flight or two, and stopped at a
door which was slightly ajar.
"We are going into the presence of a lady," remarked the man.
"Wait here until I call you."
Sweetwater waited, the many thoughts going through his mind not
preventing him from observing all that passed.
The man, who had left the door wide open, approached the lady who
was awaiting him, and who was apparently the same one who had sent
Sweetwater on his errand, and entered into a low but animated
conversation. She held a telegram in her hand which she showed
him, and then after a little earnest parley and a number of
pleading looks from them both toward the waiting Sweetwater, she
disappeared into another room, from which she brought a parcel
neatly done up, which she handed to the man with a strange
gesture. Another hurried exchange of words and a meaning look
which did not escape the sharp eye of the watchful messenger, and
the man turned and gave the parcel into Sweetwater's hands.
"You are to carry this," said he, "to the town hall. In the second
room to the right on entering you will see a table surrounded by
chairs, which at this hour ought to be empty. At the head of the
table you will find an arm-chair. On the table directly in front
of this you will lay this packet. Mark you, directly before the
chair and not too far from the edge of the table. Then you are to
come out. If you see anyone, say you came to leave some papers for
Mr. Gifford. Do this and you may keep the five dollars and
Sweetwater hesitated. There was something in the errand or in the
manner of the man and woman that he did not like.
"Don't potter!" spoke up the latter, with an impatient look at her
watch. "Mr. Gifford will expect those papers."
Sweetwater's sensitive fingers closed on the package he held. It
did not feel like papers.
"Are you going?" asked the man.
Sweetwater looked up with a smile. "Large pay for so slight a
commission," he ventured, turning the packet over and over in his
"But then you will execute it at once, and according to the
instructions I have given you," retorted the man. "It is your
trustworthiness I pay for. Now go."
Sweetwater turned to go. After all it was probably all right, and
five dollars easily earned is doubly five dollars. As he reached
the staircase he stumbled. The shoes he wore did not fit him.
"Be careful, there!" shouted the woman, in a shrill, almost
frightened voice, while the man stumbled back into the room in a
haste which seemed wholly uncalled for. "If you let the packet
fall you will do injury to its contents. Go softly, man, go
Yet they had said it held papers!
Troubled, yet hardly knowing what his duty was, Sweetwater
hastened down the stairs, and took his way up the street. The town
hall should be easy to find; indeed, he thought he saw it in the
distance. As he went, he asked himself two questions: Could he
fail to deliver the package according to instructions, and yet
earn his money? And was there any way of so delivering it without
risk to the recipient or dereliction of duty to the man who had
intrusted it to him and whose money he wished to earn? To the
first question his conscience at once answered no; to the second
the reply came more slowly, and before fixing his mind
determinedly upon it he asked himself why he felt that this was no
ordinary commission. He could answer readily enough. First, the
pay was too large, arguing that either the packet or the placing
of the packet in a certain position on Mr. Gifford's table was of
uncommon importance to this man or this woman. Secondly, the
woman, though plainly and inconspicuously clad, had the face of a
more than ordinarily unscrupulous adventuress, while her companion
was one of those saturnine-faced men we sometimes meet, whose
first look puts us on our guard and whom, if we hope nothing from
him, we instinctively shun. Third, they did not look like
inhabitants of the house and rooms in which he found them. Nothing
beyond the necessary articles of furniture was to be seen there;
not a trunk, not an article of clothing, nor any of the little
things that mark a woman's presence in a spot where she expects to
spend a day or even an hour. Consequently they were transients and
perhaps already in the act of flight. Then he was being followed.
Of this he felt sure. He had followed people himself, and
something in his own sensations assured him that his movements
were under surveillance. It would, therefore, not do to show any
consciousness of this, and he went on directly and as straight to
his goal as his rather limited knowledge of the streets would
allow. He was determined to earn this money and to earn it without
disadvantage to anyone. And he thought he saw his way.
At the entrance of the town hall he hesitated an instant. An
officer was standing in the doorway, it would be easy to call his
attention to the packet he held and ask him to keep his eye on it.
But this might involve him with the police, and this was
something, as we know, which he was more than anxious to avoid. He
reverted to his first idea.
Mixing with the crowd just now hurrying to and fro through the
long corridors, he reached the room designated and found it, as he
had been warned he should, empty.
Approaching the table, he laid down the packet just as he had been
directed, in front of the big arm chair, and then, casting a
hurried look towards the door and failing to find anyone watching
him, he took up a pencil lying near-by and scrawled hastily across
the top of the packet the word "Suspicious." This he calculated
would act as a warning to Mr. Gifford in case there was anything
wrong about the package, and pass as a joke with him, and even the
sender, if there was not. And satisfied that he had both earned
his money and done justice to his own apprehensions, he turned to
retrace his steps. As before, the corridors were alive with
hurrying men of various ages and appearance, but only two
attracted his notice. One of these was a large, intellectual-
looking man, who turned into the room from which he had just
emerged, and the other a short, fair man, with a countenance he
had known from boyhood. Mr. Stone of Sutherlandtown was within ten
paces of him, and he was as well known to the good postmaster as
the postmaster was to him. Could anyone have foreseen such a
Turning his back with a slow slouch, he made for a rear door he
saw swinging in and out before him. As he passed through he cast a
quick look behind him. He had not been recognised. In great relief
he rushed on, knocking against a man standing against one of the
"Halloo!" shouted this man.
Sweetwater stopped. There was a tone of authority in the voice
which he could not resist.
THE ADVENTURE OF THE SCRAP OF PAPER AND THE THREE WORDS
"What are you trying to do? Why do you fall over a man like that?
Are you drunk?"
Sweetwater drew himself up, made a sheepish bow, and muttered
"Excuse me, sir. I'm in a hurry; I'm a messenger."
The man who was not in a hurry seemed disposed to keep him for a
moment. He had caught sight of Sweetwater's eye, which was his one
remarkable feature, and he had also been impressed by that word
messenger, for he repeated it with some emphasis.
"A messenger, eh? Are you going on a message now?"
Sweetwater, who was anxious to get away from the vicinity of Mr.
Stone, shrugged his shoulders in careless denial, and was pushing
on when the gentleman again detained him.
"Do you know," said he, "that I like your looks? You are not a
beauty, but you look like a fellow who, if he promised to do a
thing, would do it and do it mighty well too."
Sweetwater could not restrain a certain movement of pride. He was
honest, and he knew it, but the fact had not always been so openly
"I have just earned five dollars by doing a commission for a man,"
said he, with a straightforward look. "See, sir. It was honestly
The man, who was young and had a rather dashing but inscrutable
physiognomy, glanced at the coin Sweetwater showed him and
betrayed a certain disappointment.
"So you're flush," said he. "Don't want another job?"
"Oh, as to that," said Sweetwater, edging slowly down the street,
"I'm always ready for business. Five dollars won't last forever,
and, besides, I'm in need of new togs."
"Well, rather," retorted the other, carelessly following him. "Do
you mind going up to Boston?"
Boston! Another jump toward home.
"No," said Sweetwater, hesitatingly, "not if it's made worth my
while. Do you want your message delivered to-day?"
"At once. That is, this evening. It's a task involving patience
and more or less shrewd judgment. Have you these qualities, my
friend? One would not judge it from your clothes."
"My clothes!" laughed Sweetwater. Life was growing very
interesting all at once. "I know it takes patience to WEAR them,
and as for any lack of judgment I may show in their choice, I
should just like to say I did not choose them myself, sir; they
fell to me promiscuous-like as a sort of legacy from friends.
You'll see what I'll do in that way if you give me the chance to
earn an extra ten."
"Ah, it's ten dollars you want. Well, come in here and have a
drink and then we'll see."
They were before a saloon house of less than humble pretensions,
and as he followed the young gentleman in it struck him that it
was himself rather than his well-dressed and airy companion who
would be expected to drink here. But he made no remark, though he
intended to surprise the man by his temperance.
"Now, look here," said the young gentleman, suddenly seating
himself at a dingy table in a very dark corner and motioning
Sweetwater to do the same; "I've been looking for a man all day to
go up to Boston for me, and I think you'll do. You know Boston?"
Sweetwater had great command over himself, but he flushed slightly
at this question, though it was so dark where he sat with this man
that it made very little difference.
"I have been there," said he.
"Very well, then, you will go again to-night. You will arrive
there about seven, you will go the rounds of some half-dozen
places whose names I will give you, and when you come across a
certain gentleman whom I will describe to you, you will give him—
"Not a package?" Sweetwater broke out with a certain sort of dread
of a repetition of his late experience.
"No, this slip on which two words are written. He will want one
more word, but before you give it to him you must ask for your ten
dollars. You'll get them," he answered in response to a glance of
suspicion from Sweetwater. Sweetwater was convinced that he had
got hold of another suspicious job. It made him a little serious.
"Do I look like a go-between for crooks?" he asked himself. "I'm
afraid I'm not so much of a success as I thought myself." But he
said to the man before him: "Ten dollars is small pay for such
business. Twenty-five would be nearer the mark."
"Very well, he will give you twenty-five dollars. I forgot that
ten dollars was but little in advance of your expenses."
"Twenty-five if I find him, and he is in funds. What if I don't?"
"Except your ticket; that I'll give you."
Sweetwater did not know what to say. Like the preceding job it
might be innocent and it might not. And then, he did not like
going to Boston, where he was liable to meet more than one who
"There is no harm in the business," observed the other,
carelessly, pushing a glass of whiskey which had just been served
him toward Sweetwater. "I would even be willing to do it myself,
if I could leave New Bedford to-night, but I can't. Come! It's as
easy as crooking your elbow."
"Just now you said it wasn't," growled Sweetwater, drinking from
his glass. "But no matter about that, go ahead, I'll do it. Shall
I have to buy other clothes?"
"I'd buy a new pair of trousers," suggested the other. "The rest
you can get in Boston. You don't want to be too much in evidence,
Sweetwater agreed with. him. To attract attention was what he most
dreaded. "When does the train start?" he asked.
The young man told him.
"Well, that will give me time to buy what I want. Now, what are
The young man gave him a memorandum, containing four addresses.
"You will find him at one of these places," said he. "And now to
know your man when you see him. He is a large, handsome fellow,
with red hair and a moustache like the devil. He has been hurt,
and wears his left hand in a sling, but he can play cards, and
will be found playing cards, and in very good company too. You
will have to use your discretion in approaching him. When once he
sees this bit of paper, all will be easy. He knows what these two
words mean well enough, and the third one, the one that is worth
twenty-five dollars to you, is FREDERICK."
Sweetwater, who had drunk half his glass, started so at this word,
which was always humming in his brain, that he knocked over his
tumbler and spilled what was left in it.
"I hope I won't forget that word," he remarked, in a careless
tone, intended to carry off his momentary show of feeling.
"If you do, then don't expect the twenty-five dollars," retorted
the other, finishing his own glass, but not offering to renew
Sweetwater laughed, said he thought he could trust his memory, and
rose. In a half-hour he was at the depot, and in another fifteen
minutes speeding out of New Bedford on his way to Boston.
He had had but one anxiety—that Mr. Stone might be going up to
Boston too. But, once relieved of this apprehension, he settled
back, and for the first time in twelve hours had a minute in which
to ask himself who he was, and what he was about. Adventure had
followed so fast upon adventure that he was in a more or less
dazed condition, and felt as little capable of connecting event
with event as if he had been asked to recall the changing pictures
of a kaleidoscope. That affair of the packet, now, was it or was
it not serious, and would he ever know what it meant or how it
Like a child who had been given a pebble, and told to throw it
over the wall, he had thrown and run, giving a shout of warning,
it is true, but not knowing, nor ever likely to know, where the
stone had fallen, or what it was meant to do. Then this new
commission on which he was bent—was it in any way connected with
the other, or merely the odd result of his being in the right
place at the right moment? He was inclined to think the latter.
And yet how odd it was that one doubtful errand should be followed
by another, in a town no larger than New Bedford, forcing him from
scene to scene, till he found himself speeding toward the city he
least desired to enter, and from which he had the most to fear!
But brooding over a case like this brings small comfort. He felt
that he had been juggled with, but he neither knew by whose hand
nor in what cause. If the hand was that of Providence, why he had
only to go on following the beck of the moment, while if it was
that of Fate, the very uselessness of struggling with it was
apparent at once. Poor reasoning, perhaps, but no other offered,
and satisfied that whatever came his intentions were above
question, he settled himself at last for a nap, of which he
certainly stood in good need. When he awoke he was in Boston.
The first thing he did was to show his list of addresses and
inquire into what quarter they would lead him. To his surprise he
found it to be the fashionable quarter. Two of them were names of
well-known club-houses, a third that of a first-class restaurant,
and the fourth that of a private house on Commonwealth Avenue.
Heigho! and he was dressed like a tramp, or nearly so!
"Queer messenger, I, for such kind of work," thought he. "I wonder
why he lighted on such a rough-looking customer. He must have had
his reasons. I wonder if he wished the errand to fail. He bore
himself very nonchalantly at the depot. When I last saw him his
face and attitude were those of a totally unconcerned man. Have I
been sent on a fool's chase after all?"
The absurdity of this conclusion struck him, however, as he
reasoned: "Why, then, should he have paid my fare? Not as a
benefit to me, of course, but for his own ends, whatever they
might be. Let us see, then, what those ends are. So now for the
gentleman of the red hair who plays cards with one arm in a
He thought that he might get entrance into the club-houses easily
enough. He possessed a certain amount of insinuation when
necessity required, and, if hard-featured, had a good expression
which in unprejudiced minds defied criticism. Of porters and
doorkeepers he was not afraid, and these were the men he must
At the first club-house he succeeded easily enough in getting word
with the man waiting in the large hall, and before many minutes
learned that the object of his search was not to be found there
that evening. He also learned his name, which was a great step
towards the success of his embassy. It was Wattles, Captain
Wattles, a marked man evidently, even in this exclusive and
Armed with this new knowledge, be made his way to the second
building of the kind and boldly demanded speech with Captain
Wattles. But Captain Wattles had not yet arrived and he went out
again this time to look him up at the restaurant.
He was not there. As Sweetwater was going out two gentlemen came
in, one of whom said to the other in passing:
"Sick, do you say? I thought Wattles was made of iron."
"So he was," returned the other, "before that accident to his arm.
Now the least thing upsets him. He's down at Haberstow's."
That was all; the door was swung to between them. Sweetwater had
received his clew, but what a clew! Haberstow's? Where was that?
Thinking the bold course the best one, he re-entered the
restaurant and approached the gentlemen he had just seen enter.
"I heard you speak the name of Captain Wattles," said he. "I am
hunting for Captain Wattles. Can you tell me where he is?"
He soon saw that he had struck the wrong men for information. They
not only refused to answer him, but treated him with open disdain.
Unwilling to lose time, he left them, and having no other
resource, hastened to the last place mentioned on his list.
It was now late, too late to enter a private house under ordinary
circumstances, but this house was lighted up, and a carriage stood
in front of it; so he had the courage to run up the steps and
consult the large door-plate visible from the sidewalk. It read
Fortune had favoured him better than he expected.
He hesitated a moment, then decided to ring the bell. But before
he had done so, the door opened and an old gentleman appeared
seeing a younger man out. The latter had his arm in a sling, and
bore himself with a fierceness that made his appearance somewhat
alarming; the other seemed to be in an irate state of mind.
"No apologies!" the former was saying. "I don't mind the night
air; I'm not so ill as that. When I'm myself again we'll have a
little more talk. My compliments to your daughter, sir. I wish you
a very good evening, or rather night."
The old gentleman bowed, and as he did so Sweetwater caught a
glimpse (it was the shortest glimpse in the world) of a sweet face
beaming from a doorway far down the hall. There was pain in it and
a yearning anxiety that made it very beautiful; then it vanished,
and the old gentleman, uttering some few sarcastic words, closed
the door, and Sweetwater found himself alone and in darkness.
The kaleidoscope had been given another turn.
Dashing down the stoop, he came upon the gentleman who had
preceded him, just as he was seating himself in the carriage.
"Pardon me," he gasped, as the driver caught up the reins; "you
have forgotten something." Then, as Captain Wattles looked hastily
out, "You have forgotten me."
The oath that rang out from under that twitching red moustache was
something to startle even him. But he clung to the carriage window
and presently managed to say:
"A messenger, sir, from New Bedford. I have been on the hunt for
you for two hours. It won't keep, sir, for more than a half-hour
longer. Where shall I find you during that time?"
Captain Wattles, on whom the name New Bedford seemed to have made
some impression, pointed up at the coachman's box with a growl, in
which command mingled strangely with menace. Then he threw himself
back. Evidently the captain was not in very good humour.
Sweetwater, taking this as an order to seat himself beside the
driver, did so, and the carriage drove off. It went at a rapid
pace, and before he had time to propound more than a question or
two to the coachman, it stopped before a large apartment-house in
a brilliantly lighted street.
Captain Wattles got out, and Sweetwater followed him. The former,
who seemed to have forgotten Sweetwater, walked past him and
entered the building with a stride and swing that made the plain,
lean, insignificant-looking messenger behind him feel smaller than
ever. Indeed, he had never felt so small, for not only was the
captain a man of superb proportions and conspicuous bearing, but
he possessed, in spite of his fiery hair and fierce moustache,
that beaute de diable which is at once threatening and imposing.
Added to this, he was angry and so absorbed in his own thoughts
that he would be very apt to visit punishment of no light
character upon anyone who interfered with him. A pleasing prospect
for Sweetwater, who, however, kept on with the dogged
determination of his character up the first flight of stairs and
then up another till they stopped, Captain Wattles first and
afterwards his humble follower, before a small door into which the
captain endeavoured to fit a key. The oaths which followed his
failure to do this were not very encouraging to the man behind,
nor was the kick which he gave the door after the second more
successful attempt calculated to act in a very reassuring way upon
anyone whose future pay for a doubtful task rested upon this man's
The darkness which met them both on the threshold of this now open
room was speedily relieved by a burst of electric light, that
flooded the whole apartment and brought out the captain's
swaggering form and threatening features with startling
distinctness. He had thrown off his hat and was relieving himself
of a cloak in a furious way that caused Sweetwater to shrink back,
and, as the French say, efface himself as much as possible behind
a clothes-tree standing near the door. That the captain had
entirely forgotten him was evident, and for the present moment
that gentleman was too angry to care or even notice if a dozen men
stood at the door. As he was talking all this time, or rather
jerking out sharp sentences, as men do when in a towering rage,
Sweetwater was glad to be left unnoticed, for much can be gathered
from scattered sentences, especially when a man is in too reckless
a frame of mind to weigh them. He, therefore, made but little
movement and listened; and these are some of the ejaculations and
scraps of talk he heard:
"The old purse-proud fool! Honoured by my friendship, but not
ready to accept me as his daughter's suitor! As if I would lounge
away hours that mean dollars to me in his stiff old drawing-room,
just to hear his everlasting drone about stocks up and stocks
down, and politics gone all wrong. He has heard that I play cards,
and—How pretty she looked! I believe I half like that girl, and
when I think she has a million in her own right—Damn it, if I
cannot win her openly and with papa's consent, I will carry her
off with only her own. She's worth the effort, doubly worth it,
and when I have her and her money—Eh! Who are you?"
He had seen Sweetwater at last, which was not strange, seeing that
he had turned his way, and was within two feet of him.
"What are you doing here, and who let you in? Get out, or—"
"A message, Captain Wattles! A message from New Bedford. You have
forgotten, sir; you bade me follow you."
It was curious to see the menace slowly die out of the face of
this flushed and angry man as he met Sweetwater's calm eye and
unabashed front, and noticed, as he had not done at first, the
slip of paper which the latter resolutely held out.
"New Bedford; ah, from Campbell, I take it. Let me see!" And the
hand which had shook with rage now trembled with a very different
sort of emotion as he took the slip, cast his eyes over it, and
then looked back at Sweetwater.
Now, Sweetwater knew the two words written on that paper. He could
see out of the back of his head at times, and he had been able to
make out these words when the man in New Bedford was writing them.
"Happenings; Afghanistan," with the figures 2000 after the latter.
Not much sense in them singly or in conjunction, but the captain,
muttering them over to himself, consulted a little book which he
took from his breast pocket and found, or seemed to, a clew to
their meaning. It could only have been a partial one, however, for
in another instant he turned on Sweetwater with a sour look and a
"Is this all?" he shouted. "Does he call this a complete message?"
"There is another word," returned Sweetwater, "which he bade me
give you by word of mouth; but that word don't go for nothing.
It's worth just twenty-five dollars. I've earned it, sir. I came
up from New Bedford on purpose to deliver it to you."
Sweetwater expected a blow, but he only got a stare.
"Twenty-five dollars," muttered the captain. "Well, it's fortunate
that I have them. And who are you?" he asked. "Not one of
Campbell's pick-ups, surely?"
"I am a confidential messenger," smiled Sweetwater, amused against
his will at finding a name for himself. "I carry messages and
execute commissions that require more or less discretion in the
handling. I am paid well. Twenty-five dollars is the price of this
"So you have had the honour of informing me before," blustered the
other with an attempt to hide some serious emotion. "Why, man,
what do you fear? Don't you see I'm hurt? You could knock me over
with a feather if you touched my game arm."
"Twenty-five dollars," repeated Sweetwater.
The captain grew angrier. "Dash it! aren't you going to have them?
What's the word?"
But Sweetwater wasn't going to be caught by chaff.
"C. O. D.," he insisted firmly, standing his ground, though
certain that the blow would now fall. But no, the captain laughed,
and tugging away with his one free hand at his pocket, he brought
out a pocketbook, from which he managed deftly enough to draw out
three bills. "There," said he, laying them on the table, but
keeping one long vigorous finger on them. "Now, the word."
Sweetwater laid his own hand on the bills.
"Frederick," said he.
"Ah!" said the other thoughtfully, lifting his finger and
proceeding to stride up and down the room. "He's a stiff one. What
he says, he will do. Two thousand dollars! and soon, too, I
warrant. Well, I'm in a devil of a fix at last." He had again
forgotten the presence of Sweetwater.
Suddenly he turned or rather stopped. His eye was on the
messenger, but he did not even see him. "One Frederick must offset
the other," he cried. "It's the only loophole out," and he threw
himself into a chair from which he immediately sprang up again
with a yell. He had hurt his wounded arm.
Pandemonium reigned in that small room for a minute, then his eye
fell again on Sweetwater, who, under the fascination of the
spectacle offered him, had only just succeeded in finding the knob
of the door. This time there was recognition in his look.
"Wait!" he cried. "I may have use for you too. Confidential
messengers are hard to come by, and one that Campbell would employ
must be all right. Sit down there! I'll talk to you when I'm
Sweetwater was not slow in obeying this command. Business was
booming with him. Besides, the name of Frederick acted like a
charm upon him. There seemed to be so many Fredericks in the
world, and one of them lay in such a curious way near his heart.
Meanwhile the captain reseated himself, but more carefully. He had
a plan or method of procedure to think out, or so it seemed, for
he sat a long time in rigid immobility, with only the scowl of
perplexity or ill-temper on his brow to show the nature of his
thoughts. Then he drew a sheet of paper toward him, and began to
write a letter. He was so absorbed over this letter and the
manipulation of it, having but one hand to work with, that
Sweetwater determined upon a hazardous stroke. The little book
which the captain had consulted, and which had undoubtedly
furnished him with a key to those two incongruous words, lay on
the floor not far from him, having been flung from its owner's
hand during the moments of passion and suffering I have above
mentioned. To reach this book with his foot, to draw it toward
him, and, finally, to get hold of it with his hand, was not
difficult for one who aspired to be a detective, and had already
done some good work in that direction. But it was harder to turn
the leaves and find the words he sought without attracting the
attention of his fierce companion. He, however, succeeded in doing
this at last, the long list of words he found on every page being
arranged alphabetically. It was a private code for telegraphic or
cable messages, and he soon found that "Happenings" meant: "Our
little game discovered; play straight until I give you the wink."
And that "Afghanistan" stood for: "Hush money." As the latter was
followed by the figures I have mentioned, the purport of the
message needed no explanation, but the word "Frederick" did. So he
searched for that, only to find that it was not in the book. There
was but one conclusion to draw. This name was perfectly well known
between them, and was that of the person, no doubt, who laid claim
to the two thousand dollars.
Satisfied at holding this clew to the riddle, he dropped the book
again at his side and skilfully kicked it far out into the room.
Captain Wattles had seen nothing. He was a man who took in only
one thing at a time.
The penning of that letter went on laboriously. It took so long
that Sweetwater dozed, or pretended to, and when it was at last
done, the clock on the mantelpiece had struck two.
"Halloo there, now!" suddenly shouted the captain, turning on the
messenger. "Are you ready for another journey?"
"That depends," smiled Sweetwater, rising sleepily and advancing.
"Haven't got over the last one yet, and would rather sleep than
start out again."
"Oh, you want pay? Well, you'll get that fast enough if you
succeed in your mission. This letter" he shook it with an
impatient hand—"should be worth two thousand five hundred dollars
to me. If you bring me back that money or its equivalent within
twenty-four hours, I will give you a clean hundred of it. Good
enough pay, I take it, for five hours' journey. Better than sleep,
eh? Besides, you can doze on the cars."
Sweetwater agreed with him in all these assertions. Putting on his
cap, he reached for the letter. He didn't like being made an
instrument for blackmail, but he was curious to see to whom he was
about to be sent. But the captain had grown suddenly wary.
"This is not a letter to be dropped in the mailbox," said he. "You
brought me a line here whose prompt delivery has prevented me from
making a fool of myself to-night. You must do as much with this
one. It is to be carried to its destination by yourself, given to
the person whose name you will find written on it, and the answer
brought back before you sleep, mind you, unless you snatch a wink
or so on the cars. That it is night need not disturb you. It will
be daylight before you arrive at the place to which this is
addressed, and if you cannot get into the house at so early an
hour, whistle three times like this—listen and one of the windows
will presently fly up. You have had no trouble finding me; you'll
have no trouble finding him. When you return, hunt me up as you
did to-night. Only you need not trouble yourself to look for me at
Haberstow's," he added under his breath in a tone that was no
doubt highly satisfactory to himself. "I shall not be there. And
now, off with you!" he shouted. "You've your hundred dollars to
make before daylight, and it's already after two."
Sweetwater, who had stolen a glimpse at the superscription on the
letter he held, stumbled as he went out of the door. It was
directed, as he had expected, to a Frederick, probably to the
second one of whom Captain Wattles had spoken, but not, as he had
expected, to a stranger. The name on the letter was Frederick
Sutherland, and the place of his destination was Sutherlandtown.
"WHO ARE YOU?"
The round had come full circle. By various chances and a train of
circumstances for which he could not account, he had been turned
from his first intention and was being brought back stage by stage
to the very spot he had thought it his duty to fly from. Was this
fate? He began to think so, and no longer so much as dreamed of
struggling against it. But he felt very much dazed, and walked
away through the now partially deserted streets with an odd sense
of failure that was only compensated by the hope he now cherished
of seeing his mother again, and being once more Caleb Sweetwater
He was clearer, however, after a few blocks of rapid walking, and
then he began to wonder over the contents of the letter he held,
and how they would affect its recipient. Was it a new danger he
was bringing him? Instead of aiding Mr. Sutherland in keeping his
dangerous secret, was he destined to bring disgrace upon him, not
only by his testimony before the coroner, but by means of this
letter, which, whatever it contained, certainly could not bode
good to the man from whom it was designed to wrest two thousand
five hundred dollars?
The fear that he was destined to do so grew upon him rapidly, and
the temptation to open the letter and make himself master of its
contents before leaving town at last became so strong that his
sense of honour paled before it, and he made up his mind that
before he ventured into the precincts of Sutherlandtown he would
know just what sort of a bombshell he was carrying into the
Sutherland family. To do this he stopped at the first respectable
lodging-house he encountered and hired a room. Calling for hot
water "piping hot," he told them—he subjected the letter to the
effects of steam and presently had it open. He was not
disappointed in its contents, save that they were even more
dangerous than he had anticipated. Captain Wattles was an old
crony of Frederick's and knew his record better than anyone else
in the world. From this fact and the added one that Frederick had
stood in special need of money at the time of Agatha Webb's
murder, the writer had no hesitation in believing him guilty of
the crime which opened his way to a fortune, and though under
ordinary circumstances he would, as his friend Frederick already
knew, be perfectly willing to keep his opinions to himself, he was
just now under the same necessity for money that Frederick had
been at that fatal time, and must therefore see the colour of two
thousand five hundred dollars before the day was out if Frederick
desired to have his name kept out of the Boston papers. That it
had been kept out up to this time argued that the crime had been
well enough hidden to make the alternative thus offered an
There was no signature.
Sweetwater, affected to an extent he little expected, resealed the
letter, made his excuses to the landlord, and left the house. Now
he could see why he had not been allowed to make his useless
sacrifice. Another man than himself suspected Frederick, and by a
word could precipitate the doom he already saw hung too low above
the devoted head of Mr. Sutherland's son to be averted.
"Yet I'll attempt that too," burst impetuously from his lips. "If
I fail, I can but go back with a knowledge of this added danger.
If I succeed, why I must still go back. From some persons and from
some complications it is useless to attempt flight."
Returning to the club-house he had first entered in his search for
Captain Wattles, he asked if that gentleman had yet come in. This
time he was answered by an affirmative, though he might almost as
well have not been, for the captain was playing cards in a private
room and would not submit to any interruption.
"He will submit to mine," retorted Sweetwater to the man who had
told him this. "Or wait; hand him back this letter and say that
the messenger refuses to deliver it."
This brought the captain out, as he had fully expected it would.
"Why, what—" began that gentleman in a furious rage.
But Sweetwater, laying his hand on the arm he knew to be so
sensitive, rose on tiptoe and managed to whisper in the angry
"You are a card-sharp, and it will be easy enough to ruin you.
Threaten Frederick Sutherland and in two weeks you will be
boycotted by every club in this city. Twenty-five hundred dollars
won't pay you for that."
This from a nondescript fellow with no grains of a gentleman about
him in form, feature, or apparel! The captain stared nonplussed,
too much taken aback to be even angry.
Suddenly he cried:
"How do you know all this? How do you know what is or is not in
the letter I gave you?"
Sweetwater, with a shrug that in its quiet significance seemed to
make him at once the equal of his interrogator, quietly pressed
the quivering limb under his hand and calmly replied:
"I know because I have read it. Before putting my head in the
lion's mouth, I make it a point to count his teeth," and lifting
his hand, he drew back, leaving the captain reeling.
"What is your name? Who are you?" shouted out Wattles as
Sweetwater was drawing off.
It was the third time he had been asked that question within
twenty-four hours, but not before with this telling emphasis. "Who
are you, I say, and what can you do to me—?"
"I am—But that is an insignificant detail unworthy of your
curiosity. As to what I can do, wait and see. But first burn that
And turning his back he fled out of the building, followed by
oaths which, if not loud, were certainly deep and very far-
It was the first time Captain Wattles had met his match in
On his way to the depot, Sweetwater went into the Herald office
and bought a morning paper. At the station he opened it. There was
one column devoted to the wreck of the Hesper, and a whole half-
page to the proceedings of the third day's inquiry into the cause
and manner of Agatha Webb's death. Merely noting that his name was
mentioned among the lost, in the first article, he began to read
the latter with justifiable eagerness. The assurance given in
Captain Wattles's letter was true. No direct suspicion had as yet
fallen on Frederick. As the lover of Amabel Page, his name was
necessarily mentioned, but neither in the account of the inquest
nor in the editorials on the subject could he find any proof that
either the public or police had got hold of the great idea that he
was the man who had preceded Amabel to Agatha's cottage. Relieved
on this score, Sweetwater entered more fully into the particulars,
and found that though the jury had sat three days, very little
more had come to light than was known on the morning he made that
bold dash into the Hesper. Most of the witnesses had given in
their testimony, Amabel's being the chief, and though no open
accusation had been made, it was evident from the trend of the
questions put to the latter that Amabel's connection with the
affair was looked upon as criminal and as placing her in a very
suspicious light. Her replies, however, as once before, under a
similar but less formal examination, failed to convey any
recognition on her part either of this suspicion or of her own
position; yet they were not exactly frank, and Sweetwater saw, or
thought he saw (naturally failing to have a key to the situation),
that she was still working upon her old plan of saving both
herself and Frederick, by throwing whatever suspicion her words
might raise upon the deceased Zabel. He did not know, and perhaps
it was just as well that he did not at this especial juncture,
that she was only biding her time—now very nearly at hand—and
that instead of loving Frederick, she hated him, and was
determined upon his destruction. Reading, as a final clause, that
Mr. Sutherland was expected to testify soon in explanation of his
position as executor of Mrs. Webb's will, Sweetwater grew very
serious, and, while no change took place in his mind as to his
present duty, he decided that his return must be as unobtrusive as
possible, and his only too timely reappearance on the scene of the
inquiry kept secret till Mr. Sutherland had given his evidence and
retired from under the eyes of his excited fellow-citizens.
"The sight of me might unnerve him," was Sweetwater's thought,
"precipitating the very catastrophe we dread. One look, one word
on his part indicative of his inner apprehensions that his son had
a hand in the crime which has so benefited him, and nothing can
save Frederick from the charge of murder. Not Knapp's skill, my
silence, or Amabel's finesse. The young man will be lost."
He did not know, as we do, that Amabel's finesse was devoted to
winning a husband for herself, and that, in the event of failure,
the action she threatened against her quondam lover would be
precipitated that very day at the moment when the clock struck
. . . . . .
Sweetwater arrived home by the way of Portchester. He had seen one
or two persons he knew, but, so far, had himself escaped
recognition. The morning light was dimly breaking when he strode
into the outskirts of Sutherlandtown and began to descend the
hill. As he passed Mr. Halliday's house he looked up, and was
astonished to see a light burning in one deeply embowered window.
Alas! he did not know how early one anxious heart woke during
those troublous days. The Sutherland house was dark, but as he
crept very close under its overhanging eaves he heard a deep sigh
uttered over his head, and knew that someone was up here also in
anxious expectation of a day that was destined to hold more than
even he anticipated.
Meanwhile, the sea grew rosy, and the mother's cottage was as yet
far off. Hurrying on, he came at last under the eye of more than
one of the early risers of Sutherlandtown.
"What, Sweetwater! Alive and well!"
"Hey, Sweetwater, we thought you were lost on the Hesper!"
"Halloo! Home in time to see the pretty Amabel arrested?" Phrases
like these met him at more than one corner; but he eluded them
all, stopping only to put one hesitating question. Was his mother
Home fears had made themselves felt with his near approach to that
humble cottage door.
HAD BATSY LIVED!
WHAT FOLLOWED THE STEIKING OF THE CLOCK
It was the last day of the inquest, and to many it bade fair to be
the least interesting. All the witnesses who had anything to say
had long ago given in their testimony, and when at or near noon
Sweetwater slid into the inconspicuous seat he had succeeded in
obtaining near the coroner, it was to find in two faces only any
signs of the eagerness and expectancy which filled his own breast
to suffocation. But as these faces were those of Agnes Halliday
and Amabel Page, he soon recognised that his own judgment was not
at fault, and that notwithstanding outward appearances and the
languid interest shown in the now lagging proceedings, the moment
presaged an event full of unseen but vital consequence.
Frederick was not visible in the great hall; but that he was near
at hand soon became evident from the change Sweetwater now saw in
Amabel. For while she had hitherto sat under the universal gaze
with only the faint smile of conscious beauty on her inscrutable
features, she roused as the hands of the clock moved toward noon,
and glanced at the great door of entrance with an evil expectancy
that startled even Sweetwater, so little had he really understood
the nature of the passions labouring in that venomous breast.
Next moment the door opened, and Frederick and his father came in.
The air of triumphant satisfaction with which Amabel sank back
into her seat was as marked in its character as her previous
suspense. What did it mean? Sweetwater, noting it, and the vivid
contrast it offered to Frederick's air of depression, felt that
his return had been well timed.
Mr. Sutherland was looking very feeble. As he took the chair
offered him, the change in his appearance was apparent to all who
knew him, and there were few there who did not know him. And,
startled by these evidences of suffering which they could not
understand and feared to interpret even to themselves, more than
one devoted friend stole uneasy glances at Frederick to see if he
too were under the cloud which seemed to envelop his father almost
But Frederick was looking at Amabel, and his erect head and
determined aspect made him a conspicuous figure in the room. She
who had called up this expression, and alone comprehended it
fully, smiled as she met his eye, with that curious slow dipping
of her dimples which had more than once confounded the coroner,
and rendered her at once the admiration and abhorrence of the
crowd who for so long a time had had the opportunity of watching
Frederick, to whom this smile conveyed a last hope as well as a
last threat, looked away as soon as possible, but not before her
eyes had fallen in their old inquiring way to his hands, from
which he had removed the ring which up to this hour he had
invariably worn on his third finger. In this glance of hers and
this action of his began the struggle that was to make that day
memorable in many hearts.
After the first stir occasioned by the entrance of two such
important persons the crowd settled back into its old quietude
under the coroner's hand. A tedious witness was having his slow
say, and to him a full attention was being given in the hope that
some real enlightenment would come at last to settle the questions
which had been raised by Amabel's incomplete and unsatisfactory
testimony. But no man can furnish what he does not possess, and
the few final minutes before noon passed by without any addition
being made to the facts which had already been presented for
As the witness sat down the clock began to strike. As the slow,
hesitating strokes rang out, Sweetwater saw Frederick yield to a
sudden but most profound emotion. The old fear, which we
understand, if Sweetwater did not, had again seized the victim of
Amabel's ambition, and under her eye, which was blazing full upon
him now with a fell and steady purpose, he found his right hand
stealing toward the left in the significant action she expected.
Better to yield than fall headlong into the pit one word of hers
would open. He had not meant to yield, but now that the moment had
come, now that he must at once and forever choose between a course
that led simply to personal unhappiness and one that involved not
only himself, but those dearest to him, in disgrace and sorrow, he
felt himself weaken to the point of clutching at whatever would
save him from the consequences of confession. Moral strength and
that tenacity of purpose which only comes from years of self-
control were too lately awakened in his breast to sustain him now.
As stroke after stroke fell on the ear, he felt himself yielding
beyond recovery, and had almost touched his finger in the
significant action of assent which Amabel awaited with breathless
expectation, when—was it miracle or only the suggestion of his
better nature?—the memory of a face full of holy pleading rose
from the past before his eyes and with an inner cry of "Mother!"
he flung his hand out and clutched his father's arm in a way to
break the charm of his own dread and end forever the effects of
the intolerable fascination that was working upon him. Next minute
the last stroke of noon rang out, and the hour was up which Amabel
had set as the limit of her silence.
A pause, which to their two hearts if to no others seemed
strangely appropriate, followed the cessation of these sounds,
then the witness was dismissed, and Amabel, taking advantage of
the movement, was about to lean toward Mr. Courtney, when
Frederick, leaping with a bound to his feet, drew all eyes towards
himself with the cry:
"Let me be put on my oath. I have testimony to give of the utmost
importance in this case."
The coroner was astounded; everyone was astounded. No one had
expected anything from him, and instinctively every eye turned
towards Amabel to see how she was affected by his action.
Strangely, evidently, for the look with which she settled back in
her seat was one which no one who saw it ever forgot, though it
conveyed no hint of her real feelings, which were somewhat
Frederick, who had forgotten her now that he had made up his mind
to speak, waited for the coroner's reply.
"If you have testimony," said that gentleman after exchanging a
few hurried words with Mr. Courtney and the surprised Knapp, "you
can do no better than give it to us at once. Mr. Frederick
Sutherland, will you take the stand?"
With a noble air from which all hesitation had vanished, Frederick
started towards the place indicated, but stopped before he had
taken a half-dozen steps and glanced back at his father, who was
visibly succumbing under this last shock.
"Go!" he whispered, but in so thrilling a tone it was heard to the
remotest corner of the room. "Spare me the anguish of saying what
I have to say in your presence. I could not bear it. You could not
bear it. Later, if you will wait for me in one of these rooms, I
will repeat my tale in your ears, but go now. It is my last
There was a silence; no one ventured a dissent, no one so much as
made a gesture of disapproval. Then Mr. Sutherland struggled to
his feet, cast one last look around him, and disappeared through a
door which had opened like magic before him. Then and not till
then did Frederick move forward.
The moment was intense. The coroner seemed to share the universal
excitement, for his first question was a leading one and brought
out this startling admission:
"I have obtruded myself into this inquiry and now ask to be heard
by this jury, because no man knows more than I do of the manner
and cause of Agatha Webb's death. This you will believe when I
tell you that I was the person Miss Page followed into Mrs.
Webb's house and whom she heard descend the stairs during the
moment she crouched behind the figure of the sleeping Philemon."
It was more, infinitely more, than anyone there had expected. It
was not only an acknowledgment but a confession, and the shock,
the surprise, the alarm, which it occasioned even to those who had
never had much confidence in this young man's virtue, was almost
appalling in its intensity. Had it not been for the consciousness
of Mr. Sutherland's near presence the feeling would have risen to
outbreak; and many voices were held in subjection by the
remembrance of this venerated man's last look, that otherwise
would have made themselves heard in despite of the restrictions of
the place and the authority of the police.
To Frederick it was a moment of immeasurable grief and
humiliation. On every face, in every shrinking form, in subdued
murmurs and open cries, he read instant and complete condemnation,
and yet in all his life from boyhood up to this hour, never had he
been so worthy of their esteem and consideration. But though he
felt the iron enter his soul, he did not lose his determined
attitude. He had observed a change in Amabel and a change in
Agnes, and if only to disappoint the vile triumph of the one and
raise again the drooping courage of the other, he withstood the
clamour and began speaking again, before the coroner had been able
to fully restore quiet.
"I know," said he, "what this acknowledgment must convey to the
minds of the jury and people here assembled. But if anyone who
listens to me thinks me guilty of the death I was so unfortunate
as to have witnessed, he will be doing me a wrong which Agatha
Webb would be the first to condemn. Dr. Talbot, and you, gentlemen
of the jury, in the face of God and man, I here declare that Mrs.
Webb, in my presence and before my eyes, gave to herself the blow
which has robbed us all of a most valuable life. She was not
It was a solemn assertion, but it failed to convince the crowd
before him. As by one impulse men and women broke into a tumult.
Mr. Sutherland was forgotten and cries of "Never! She was too
good! It's all calumny! A wretched lie!" broke in unrestrained
excitement from every part of the large room. In vain the coroner
smote with his gavel, in vain the local police endeavoured to
restore order; the tide was up and over-swept everything for an
instant till silence was suddenly restored by the sight of Amabel
smoothing out the folds of her crisp white frock with an
incredulous, almost insulting, smile that at once fixed attention
again on Frederick. He seized the occasion and spoke up in a tone
of great resolve.
"I have made an assertion," said he, "before God and before this
jury. To make it seem a credible one I shall have to tell my own
story from the beginning. Am I allowed to do so, Mr. Coroner?"
"You are," was the firm response.
"Then, gentlemen," continued Frederick, still without looking at
Amabel, whose smile had acquired a mockery that drew the eyes of
the jury toward her more than once during the following recital,
"you know, and the public generally now know, that Mrs. Webb has
left me the greater portion of the money of which she died
possessed. I have never before acknowledged to anyone, not even to
the good man who awaits this jury's verdict on the other side of
that door yonder, that she had reasons for this, good reasons,
reasons of which up to the very evening of her death I was myself
ignorant, as I was ignorant of her intentions in my regard, or
that I was the special object of her attention, or that we were
under any mutual obligations in any way. Why, then, I should have
thought of going to her in the great strait in which I found
myself on that day, I cannot say. I knew she had money in her
house; this I had unhappily been made acquainted with in an
accidental way, and I knew she was of kindly disposition and quite
capable of doing a very unselfish act. Still, this would not seem
to be reason enough for me to intrude upon her late at night with
a plea for a large loan of money, had I not been in a desperate
condition of mind, which made any attempt seem reasonable that
promised relief from the unendurable burden of a pressing and
disreputable debt. I was obliged to have money, a great deal of
money, and I had to have it at once; and while I know that this
will not serve to lighten the suspicion I have brought upon myself
by my late admissions, it is the only explanation I can give you
for leaving the ball at my father's house and hurrying down
secretly and alone into town to the little cottage where, as I had
been told early in the evening, a small entertainment was being
given, which would insure its being open even at so late an hour
as midnight. Miss Page, who will, I am sure, pardon the
introduction of her name into this narrative, has taken pains to
declare to you that in the expedition she herself made into town
that evening, she followed some person's steps down-hill. This is
very likely true, and those steps were probably mine, for after
leaving the house by the garden door, I came directly down the
main road to the corner of the lane running past Mrs. Webb's
cottage. Having already seen from the hillside the light burning
in her upper windows, I felt encouraged to proceed, and so
hastened on till I came to the gate on High Street. Here I had a
moment of hesitation, and thoughts bitter enough for me to recall
them at this moment came into my mind, making that instant,
perhaps, the very worst in my life; but they passed, thank God,
and with no more desperate feeling than a sullen intention of
having my own way about this money, I lifted the latch of the
front door and stepped in.
"I had expected to find a jovial group of friends in her little
ground parlour, or at least to hear the sound of merry voices and
laughter in the rooms above; but no sounds of any sort awaited me;
indeed the house seemed strangely silent for one so fully lighted,
and, astonished at this, I pushed the door ajar at my left and
looked in. An unexpected and pitiful sight awaited me. Seated at a
table set with abundance of untasted food, I saw the master of the
house with his head sunk forward on his arms, asleep. The expected
guests had failed to arrive, and he, tired out with waiting, had
fallen into a doze at the board.
"This was a condition of things for which I was not prepared. Mrs.
Webb, whom I wished to see, was probably upstairs, and while I
might summon her by a sturdy rap on the door beside which I stood,
I had so little desire to wake her husband, of whose mental
condition I was well aware, that I could not bring myself to make
any loud noise within his hearing. Yet I had not the courage to
retreat. All my hope of relief from the many difficulties that
menaced me lay in the generosity of this great-hearted woman, and
if out of pusillanimity I let this hour go by without making my
appeal, nothing but shame and disaster awaited me. Yet how could I
hope to lure her down-stairs without noise? I could not, and so,
yielding to the impulse of the moment, without any realisation, I
here swear, of the effect which my unexpected presence would have
on the noble woman overhead, I slipped up the narrow staircase,
and catching at that moment the sound of her voice calling out to
Batsy, I stepped up to the door I saw standing open before me and
confronted her before she could move from the table before which
she was sitting, counting over a large roll of money.
"My look (and it was doubtless not a common look, for the sight of
a mass of money at that moment, when money was everything to me,
roused every lurking demon in my breast) seemed to appall, if it
did not frighten her, for she rose, and meeting my eye with a gaze
in which shock and some strange and poignant agony totally
incomprehensible to me were strangely blended, she cried out:
"'No, no, Frederick! You don't know what you are doing. If you
want my money, take it; if you want my life, I will give it to you
with my own hand. Don't stain yours—don't—'
"I did not understand her. I did not know until I thought it over
afterward that my hand was thrust convulsively into my breast in a
way which, taken with my wild mien, made me look as if I had come
to murder her for the money over which she was hovering. I was
blind, deaf to everything but that money, and bending madly
forward in a state of mental intoxication awful enough for me to
remember now, I answered her frenzied words by some such broken
exclamations as these:
"'Give, then! I want hundreds—thousands—now, now, to save
myself! Disgrace, shame, prison await me if I don't have them.
Give, give!' And my hand went out toward it, not toward her; but
she mistook the action, mistook my purpose, and, with a heart-
broken cry, to save me, ME, from crime, the worst crime of which
humanity is capable, she caught up a dagger lying only too near
her hand in the open drawer against which she leaned, and in a
moment of fathomless anguish which we who can never know more than
the outward seeming of her life can hardly measure, plunged
against it and—I can tell you no more. Her blood and Batsy's
shriek from the adjoining room swam through my consciousness, and
then she fell, as I supposed, dead upon the floor, and I, in
scarcely better case, fell also.
"This, as God lives, is the truth concerning the wound found in
the breast of this never-to-be-forgotten woman."
The feeling, the pathos, the anguish even, to be found in his tone
made this story, strange and incredible as it seemed, appear for
the moment plausible.
"And Batsy?" asked the coroner.
"Must have fallen when we did, for I never heard her voice after
the first scream. But I shall speak of her again. What I must now
explain is how the money in Mrs. Webb's drawer came into my
possession, and how the dagger she had planted in her breast came
to be found on the lawn outside. When I came to myself, and that
must have been very soon, I found that the blow of which I had
been such a horrified witness had not yet proved fatal. The eyes I
had seen close, as I had supposed, forever, were now open, and she
was looking at me with a smile that has never left my memory, and
"'There is no blood on you,' she murmured. 'You did not strike the
blow. Was it money only that you wanted, Frederick? If so, you
could have had it without crime. There are five hundred dollars on
that table. Take them and let them pave your way to a better life.
My death will help you to remember.' Do these words, this action
of hers, seem incredible to you, sirs? Alas! alas! they will not
when I tell you"—and here he cast one anxious, deeply anxious,
glance at the room in which Mr. Sutherland was hidden—"that
unknown to me, unknown to anyone living but herself, unknown to
that good man from whom it can no longer be kept hidden, Agatha
Webb was my mother. I am Philemon's son and not the offspring of
Charles and Marietta Sutherland!"
A WITNESS LOST
Like a wave suddenly lifted the whole assemblage rose in surprise
if not in protest. But there was no outburst. The very depth of
the feelings evoked made all ebullition impossible, and as one
sees the billow pause ere it breaks, and gradually subside, so
this crowd yielded to its awe, and man by man sank back into his
seat till quiet was again restored, and only a circle of listening
faces confronted the man who had just stirred a whole roomful to
its depths. Seeing this, and realising his opportunity, Frederick
at once entered into the explanations for which each heart there
"This will be overwhelming news to him who has cared for me since
infancy. You have heard him call me son; with what words shall I
overthrow his confidence in the truth and rectitude of his long-
buried wife and make him know in his old age that he has wasted
years of patience upon one who was not of his blood or lineage?
The wonder, the incredulity you manifest are my best excuse for my
long delay in revealing the secret entrusted to me by this dying
An awed silence greeted these words. Never was the interest of a
crowd more intense or its passions held in greater restraint. Yet
Agnes's tears flowed freely, and Amabel's smiles—well, their
expression had changed; and to Sweetwater, who alone had eyes for
her now, they were surcharged with a tragic meaning, strange to
see in one of her callous nature.
Frederick's voice broke as he proceeded in his self-imposed task.
"The astounding fact which I have just communicated to you was
made known by my mother, with the dagger still plunged in her
breast. She would not let me draw it out. She knew that death
would follow that act, and she prized every moment remaining to
her because of the bliss she enjoyed of seeing and having near her
her only living child. The love, the passion, the boundless
devotion she showed in those last few minutes transformed me in an
instant from a selfish brute into a deeply repentant man. I knelt
before her in anguish. I made her feel that, wicked as I had been,
I was not the conscienceless wretch she had imagined, and that she
was mistaken as to the motives which led me into her presence. And
when I saw, by her clearing brow and peaceful look, that I had
fully persuaded her of this, I let her speak what words she would,
and tell, as she was able, the secret tragedy of her life.
"It is a sacred story to me, and if you must know it, let it be
from her own words in the letters she left behind her. She only
told me that to save me from the fate of the children who had
preceded me, the five little girls and boys who had perished
almost at birth in her arms, she had parted from me in early
infancy to Mrs. Sutherland, then mourning the sudden death of her
only child; that this had been done secretly and under
circumstances calculated to deceive Mr. Sutherland, consequently
he had never known I was not his own child, and in terror of the
effect which the truth might have upon him she enjoined me not to
enlighten him now, if by any sacrifice on my part I could
rightfully avoid it; that she was happy in having me hear the
truth before she died; that the joy which this gave her was so
great she did not regret her fatal act, violent and uncalled for
as it was, for it had showed her my heart and allowed me to read
hers. Then she talked of my father, by whom I mean him whom you
call Philemon; and she made me promise I would care for him to the
last with tenderness, saying that I would be able to do this
without seeming impropriety, since she had willed me all her
fortune under this proviso. Finally, she gave me a key, and
pointing out where the money lay hidden, bade me carry it away as
her last gift, together with the package of letters I would find
with it. And when I had taken these and given her back the key,
she told me that but for one thing she would die happy. And though
her strength and breath were fast failing her, she made me
understand that she was worried about the Zabels, who had not come
according to a sacred custom between them, to celebrate the
anniversary of her wedding, and prayed me to see the two old
gentlemen before I slept, since nothing but death or dire distress
would have kept them from gratifying the one whim of my father's
failing mind. I promised, and with perfect peace in her face, she
pointed to the dagger in her breast.
"But before I could lay my hand upon it she called for Batsy. 'I
want her to hear me declare before I go,' said she, 'that this
stroke was delivered by myself upon myself.' But when I rose to
look for Batsy I found that the shock of her mistress's fatal act
had killed her and that only her dead body was lying across the
window-sill of the adjoining room. It was a chance that robbed me
of the only witness who could testify to my innocence, in case my
presence in this house of death should become known, and realising
all the danger in which it threw me, I did not dare to tell my
mother, for fear it would make her last moments miserable. So I
told her that the poor woman had understood what she wished, but
was too terrified to move or speak; and this satisfied my mother
and made her last breath one of trust and contented love. She died
as I drew the dagger from her breast, and seeing this, I was
seized with horror of the instrument which had cost me such a dear
and valuable life and flung it wildly from the window. Then I
lifted her and laid her where you found her, on the sofa. I did
not know that the dagger was an old-time gift of her former lover,
James Zabel, much less that it bore his initials on the handle."
He paused, and the awe occasioned by the scene he had described
was so deep and the silence so prolonged that a shudder passed
over the whole assemblage when from some unknown quarter a single
cutting voice arose in this one short, mocking comment:
"Oh, the fairy tale!"
Was it Amabel who spoke? Some thought so and looked her way, but
they only beheld a sweet, tear-stained face turned with an air of
moving appeal upon Frederick as if begging pardon for the wicked
doubts which had driven him to this defence.
Frederick met that look with one so severe it partook of
harshness; then, resuming his testimony, he said:
"It is of the Zabel brothers I must now speak, and of how one of
them, James by name, came to be involved in this affair.
"When I left my dead mother's side I was in such a state of mind
that I passed with scarcely so much as a glance the room where my
new-found father sat sleeping. But as I hastened on toward the
quarter where the Zabels lived, I was seized by such compunction
for his desolate state that I faltered in my rapid flight and did
not arrive at the place of my destination as quickly as I
intended. When I did I found the house dark and the silence
sepulchral. But I did not turn away. Remembering my mother's
anxiety, an anxiety so extreme it disturbed her final moments, I
approached the front door and was about to knock when I found it
open. Greatly astonished, I at once passed in, and, seeing my way
perfectly in the moonlight, entered the room on the left, the door
of which also stood open. It was the second house I had entered
unannounced that night, and in this as in the other I encountered
a man sitting asleep by the table.
"It was John, the elder of the two, and, perceiving that he was
suffering for food and in a condition of extreme misery, I took
out the first bill my hand encountered in my overfull pockets and
laid it on the table by his side. As I did so he gave a sigh, but
did not wake; and satisfied that I had done all that was wise and
all that even my mother would expect of me under the
circumstances, and fearing to encounter the other brother if I
lingered, I hastened away and took the shortest path home. Had I
been more of a man, or if my visit to Mrs. Webb had been actuated
by a more communicable motive, I would have gone at once to the
good man who believed me to be of his own flesh and blood, and
told him of the strange and heart-rending adventure which had
changed the whole tenor of my thoughts and life, and begged his
advice as to what I had better do under the difficult
circumstances in which I found myself placed. But the memory of a
thousand past ingratitudes, together with the knowledge of the
shock which he could not fail to receive on learning at this late
day, and under conditions at once so tragic and full of menace,
that the child which his long-buried wife had once placed in his
arms as his own was neither of her blood nor his, rose up between
us and caused me not only to attempt silence, but to secrete in
the adjoining woods the money I had received, in the vain hope
that all visible connection between myself and my mother's tragic
death would thus be lost. You see I had not calculated on Miss
The flash he here received from that lady's eyes startled the
crowd, and gave Sweetwater, already suffering under shock after
shock of mingled surprise and wonder, his first definite idea that
he had never rightly understood the relations between these two,
and that something besides justice had actuated Amabel in her
treatment of this young man. This feeling was shared by others,
and a reaction set in in Frederick's favour, which even affected
the officials who were conducting the inquiry. This was shown by
the difference of manner now assumed by the coroner and by the
more easily impressed Sweetwater, who had not yet learned the
indispensable art of hiding his feelings. Frederick himself felt
the change and showed it by the look of relief and growing
confidence he cast at Agnes.
Of the questions and answers which now passed between him and the
various members of the jury I need give no account. They but
emphasised facts already known, and produced but little change in
the general feeling, which was now one of suppressed pity for all
who had been drawn into the meshes of this tragic mystery. When he
was allowed to resume his seat, the name of Miss Amabel Page was
She rose with a bound. Nought that she had anticipated had
occurred; facts of which she could know nothing had changed the
aspect of affairs and made the position of Frederick something so
remote from any she could have imagined, that she was still in the
maze of the numberless conflicting emotions which these
revelations were calculated to call out in one who had risked all
on the hazard of a die and lost. She did not even know at this
moment whether she was glad or sorry he could explain so cleverly
his anomalous position. She had caught the look he had cast at
Agnes, and while this angered her, it did not greatly modify her
opinion that he was destined for herself. For, however other
people might feel, she did not for a moment believe his story. She
had not a pure enough heart to do so. To her all self-sacrifice
was an anomaly. No woman of the mental or physical strength of
Agatha Webb would plant a dagger in her own breast just to prevent
another person from committing a crime, were he lover, husband, or
son. So Amabel believed and so would these others believe also
when once relieved of the magnetic personality of this
extraordinary witness. Yet how thrilling it had been to hear him
plead his cause so well! It was almost worth the loss of her
revenge to meet his look of hate, and dream of the possibility of
turning it later into the old look of love. Yes, yes, she loved
him now; not for his position, for that was gone; not even for his
money, for she could contemplate its loss; but for himself, who
had so boldly shown that he was stronger than she and could
triumph over her by the sheer force of his masculine daring.
With such feelings, what should she say to these men; how conduct
herself under questions which would be much more searching now
than before? She could not even decide in her own mind. She must
let impulse have its way.
Happily, she took the right stand at first. She did not endeavour
to make any corrections in her former testimony, only
acknowledging that the flower whose presence on the scene of death
had been such a mystery, had fallen from her hair at the ball and
that she had seen Frederick pick it up and put it in his
buttonhole. Beyond this, and the inferences it afterward awakened
in her mind, she would not go, though many present, and among them
Frederick, felt confident that her attitude had been one of
suspicion from the first, and that it was to follow him rather
than to supply the wants of the old man, Zabel, she had left the
ball and found her way to Agatha Webb's cottage.
WHY AGATHA WEBB WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN IN SUTHERLANDTOWN
Meanwhile Sweetwater had been witness to a series of pantomimic
actions that interested him more than Amabel's conduct under this
final examination. Frederick, who had evidently some request to
make or direction to give, had sent a written line to the coroner,
who, on reading it, had passed it over to Knapp, who a few minutes
later was to be seen in conference with Agnes Halliday. As a
result, the latter rose and left the room, followed by the
detective. She was gone a half-hour, then simultaneously with her
reappearance, Sweetwater saw Knapp hand a bundle of letters to the
coroner, who, upon opening them, chose out several which he
proceeded to read to the jury. They were the letters referred to
by Frederick as having been given to him by his mother. The first
was dated thirty-five years previously and was in the handwriting
of Agatha herself. It was directed to James Zabel, and was read
amid a profound hush.
You are too presumptuous. When I let you carry me away from John
in that maddening reel last night, I did not mean you to draw the
inference you did. That you did draw it argues a touch of vanity
in a man who is not alone in the field where he imagines himself
victor. John, who is humbler, sees some merit in—well, in
Frederick Snow, let us say. So do I, but merit does not always
win, any more than presumption. When we meet, let it be as
friends, but as friends only. A girl cannot be driven into love.
To ride on your big mare, Judith, is bliss enough for my twenty
years. Why don't you find it so too? I think I hear you say you
do, but only when she stops at a certain gate on Portchester
highway. Folly! there are other roads and other gates, though if I
should see you enter one—There! my pen is galloping away with me
faster than Judith ever did, and it is time I drew rein. Present
my regards to John—But no; then he would know I had written you a
letter, and that might hurt him. How could he guess it was only a
scolding letter, such as it would grieve him to receive, and that
it does not count for anything! Were it to Frederick Snow, now—
There! some horses are so hard to pull up—and so are some pens. I
will come to a standstill, but not before your door.
Respectfully your neighbour,
I know I have a temper, a wicked temper, and now you know it too.
When it is roused, I forget love, gratitude, and everything else
that should restrain me, and utter words I am myself astonished
at. But I do not get roused often, and when all is over I am not
averse to apologising or even to begging forgiveness. My father
says my temper will undo me, but I am much more afraid of my heart
than I am of my temper. For instance, here I am writing to you
again just because I raised my riding-whip and said—But you know
what I said, and I am not fond of recalling the words, for I
cannot do so without seeing your look of surprise and contrasting
it with that of Philemon's. Yours had judgment in it, while
Philemon's held only indulgence. Yet I liked yours best, or should
have liked it best if it were not for the insufferable pride which
is a part of my being. Temper such as mine OUGHT to surprise you,
yet would I be Agatha Gilchrist without it? I very much fear not.
And not being Agatha Gilchrist, should I have your love? Again I
fear not. James, forgive me. When I am happier, when I know my own
heart, I will have less provocation. Then, if that heart turns
your way, you will find a great and bountiful serenity where now
there are lowering and thunderous tempests. Philemon said last
night that he would be content to have my fierce word o' mornings,
if only I would give him one drop out of the honey of my better
nature when the sun went down and twilight brought reflection and
love. But I did not like him any the better for saying this. YOU
would not halve the day so. The cup with which you would refresh
yourself must hold no bitterness. Will it not have to be
proffered, then, by other hands than those of
MR. PHILEMON WEBB.
You are persistent. I am willing to tell YOU, though I shall never
confide so much to another, that it will take a stronger nature
than yours, and one that loves me less, to hold me faithful and
make me the happy, devoted wife which I must be if I would not be
a demon. I cannot, I dare not, marry where I am not held in a
passionate, self-forgetful subjection. I am too proud, too
sensitive, too little mistress of myself when angry or aroused.
If, like some strong women, I loved what was weaker than myself,
and could be controlled by goodness and unlimited kindness, I
might venture to risk living at the side of the most indulgent and
upright man I know. But I am not of that kind. Strength only can
command my admiration or subdue my pride. I must fear where I
love, and own for husband him who has first shown himself my
So do not fret any more for me, for you, less than any man I know,
will ever claim my obedience or command my love. Not that I will
not yield my heart to you, but that I cannot; and, knowing that I
cannot, feel it honest to say so before any more of your fine,
young manhood is wasted. Go your ways, then, Philemon, and leave
me to the rougher paths my feet were made to tread. I like you now
and feel something like a tender regard for your goodness, but if
you persist in a courtship which only my father is inclined to
smile upon, you will call up an antagonism that can lead to
nothing but evil, for the serpent that lies coiled in my breast
has deadly fangs, and is to be feared, as you should know who have
more than once seen me angry.
Do not blame John or James Zabel, or Frederick Snow, or even
Samuel Barton for this. It would be the same if none of these men
existed. I was not made to triumph over a kindly nature, but to
yield the haughtiest heart in all this county to the gentle but
firm control of its natural master. Do you want to know who that
master is? I cannot tell you, for I have not yet named him to
I am going away. I am going to leave Portchester for several
months. I am going to see the world. I did not tell you this last
night for fear of weakening under your entreaties, or should I say
commands? Lately I have felt myself weakening more than once, and
I want to know what it means. Absence will teach me, absence and
the sight of new faces. Do you quarrel with this necessity? Do you
think I should know my mind without any such test? Alas! James, it
is not a simple mind and it baffles me at times. Let us then give
it a chance. If the glow and glamour of elegant city life can make
me forget certain snatches of talk at our old gate, or that night
when you drew my hand through your arm and softly kissed my
fingertips, then I am no mate for you, whose love, however
critical, has never wavered, but has made itself felt, even in
rebuke, as the strongest, sweetest thing that has entered my
turbulent life. Because I would be worthy of you, I submit to a
separation which will either be a permanent one or the last that
will ever take place between you and me. John will not bear this
as well as you, yet he does not love me as well, possibly because
to him I am simply a superior being, while to you I am a loving
but imperfect woman who wishes to do right but can only do so
under the highest guidance.
I feel that I owe you a letter because you have been so patient.
You may show it to James if you like, but I mean it for you as an
old and dear friend who will one day dance at my wedding.
I am living in a whirl of enjoyment. I am seeing and tasting of
pleasures I have only dreamed about till now. From a farmhouse
kitchen to Mrs. Andrews's drawing-room is a lively change for a
girl who loves dress and show only less than daily intercourse
with famous men and brilliant women. But I am bearing it nobly and
have developed tastes I did not know I possessed; expensive
tastes, John, which I fear may unfit me for the humble life of a
Portchester matron. Can you imagine me dressed in rich brocade,
sitting in the midst of Washington's choicest citizens and
exchanging sallies with senators and judges? You may find it hard,
yet so it is, and no one seems to think I am out of place, nor do
I feel so, only—do not tell James—there are movements in my
heart at times which make me shut my eyes when the lights are
brightest, and dream, if but for an instant, of home and the
tumble-down gateway where I have so often leaned when someone (you
know who it is now, John, and I shall not hurt you too deeply by
mentioning him) was saying good-night and calling down the
blessings of Heaven upon a head not worthy to receive them.
Does this argue my speedy return? Perhaps. Yet I do not know.
There are fond hearts here also, and a life in this country's
centre would be a great life for me if only I could forget the
touch of a certain restraining hand which has great power over me
even as a memory. For the sake of that touch shall I give up the
grandeur and charm of this broad life? Answer, John. You know him
and me well enough now to say.
I do not understand your letter. You speak in affectionate terms
of everybody, yet you beg me to wait and not be in a hurry to
return. Why? Do you not realise that such words only make me the
more anxious to see old Portchester again? If there is anything
amiss at home, or if James is learning to do without me—but you
do not say that; you only intimate that perhaps I will be better
able to make up my mind later than now, and hint of great things
to come if I will only hold my affections in check a little
longer. This is all very ambiguous and demands a fuller
explanation. So write to me once more, John, or I shall sever
every engagement I have made here and return.
Your letter is plain enough this time. James read the letter I
wrote you about my pleasure in the life here and was displeased at
it. He thinks I am growing worldly and losing that simplicity
which he has always looked upon as my most attractive
characteristic. So! so! Well, James is right; I am becoming less
the country girl and more the woman of the world every day I
remain here. That means I am becoming less worthy of him. So—But
whatever else I have to say on this topic must be said to him. For
this you will pardon me like the good brother you are. I cannot
help my preference. He is nearer my own age; besides, we were made
for each other.
I am not worldly; I am not carried away by the pleasures and
satisfactions of this place,—at least not to the point of
forgetting what is dearer and better. I have seen Washington, I
have seen gay life; I like it, but I LOVE Portchester.
Consequently I am going to return to Portchester, and that very
soon. Indeed I cannot stay away much longer, and if you are glad
of this, and if you wish to be convinced that a girl who has been
wearing brocade and jewels can content herself quite gaily again
with calico, come up to the dear old gate a week from now and you
will have the opportunity. Do you object to flowers? I may wear a
flower in my hair.
Your wayward but ever-constant
Why must I write? Why am I not content with the memory of last
night? When one's cup is quite full, a cup that has been so long
in filling,—must some few drops escape just to show that a great
joy like mine is not satisfied to be simply quiescent? I have
suffered so long from uncertainty, have tried you and tried myself
with so tedious an indecision, that, now I know no other man can
ever move my heart as you have done, the ecstasy of it makes me
over-demonstrative. I want to tell you that I love you; that I do
not simply accept your love, but give you back in fullest measure
all the devotion you have heaped upon me in spite of my many
faults and failings. You took me to your heart last night, and
seemed satisfied; but it does not satisfy me that I just let you
do it without telling you that I am proud and happy to be the
chosen one of your heart, and that as I saw your smile and the
proud passion which lit up your face, I felt how much sweeter was
the dear domestic bliss you promised me than the more brilliant
but colder life of a statesman's wife in Washington.
I missed the flower from my hair when I went back to my room last
night. Did you take it, dear? If so, do not cherish it. I hate to
think of anything withering on your breast. My love is deathless,
James, and owns no such symbol as that. But perhaps you are not
thinking of my love, but of my faults. If so, let the flower
remain where you have put it; and when you gaze on it say, "Thus
is it with the defects of my darling; once in full bloom, now a
withered remembrance. When I gathered her they began to fade." O
James, I feel as if I never could feel anger again.
I do not, I cannot, believe it. Though you said to me on going
out, "Your father will explain," I cannot content myself with his
explanations and will never believe what he said of you except you
confirm his accusations by your own act. If, after I have told you
exactly what passed between us, you return me this and other
letters, then I shall know that I have leaned my weight on a
hollow staff, and that henceforth I am to be without protector or
comforter in this world.
O James, were we not happy! I believed in you and felt that you
believed in me. When we stood heart to heart under the elm tree
(was it only last night?) and you swore that if it lay in the
power of earthly man to make me happy, I should taste every sweet
that a woman's heart naturally craved, I thought my heaven had
already come and that now it only remained for me to create yours.
Yet that very minute my father was approaching us, and in another
instant we heard these words:
"James, I must talk with you before you make my daughter forget
herself any further." Forget herself! What had happened? This was
not the way my father had been accustomed to talk, much as he had
always favoured the suit of Philemon Webb, and pleased as he would
have been had my choice fallen on him. Forget herself! I looked at
you to see how these insulting words would affect you. But while
you turned pale, or seemed to do so in the fading moonlight, you
were not quite so unprepared for them as I was myself, and instead
of showing anger, followed my father into the house, leaving me
shivering in a spot which had held no chill for me a moment
before. You were gone—how long? To me it seemed an hour, and
perhaps it was. It would seem to take that long for a man's face
to show such change as yours did when you confronted me again in
the moonlight. Yet a lightning stroke makes quick work, and
perhaps my countenance in that one minute showed as great a change
as yours. Else why did you shudder away from me, and to my
passionate appeal reply with this one short phrase: "Your father
will explain"? Did you think any other words than yours would
satisfy me, or that I could believe even him when he accused you
of a base and dishonest act? Much as I have always loved and
revered my father, I find it impossible not to hope that in his
wish to see me united to Philemon he has resorted to an unworthy
subterfuge to separate us; therefore I give you our interview word
for word. May it shock you as much as it shocked me. Here is what
he said first:
"Agatha, you cannot marry James Zabel. He is not an honest man. He
has defrauded me, ME, your father, of several thousand dollars. In
a clever way, too, showing him to be as subtle as he is
unprincipled. Shall I tell you the wretched story, my girl? He has
left me to do so. He sees as plainly as I do that any
communication between you two after the discovery I have this day
made would be but an added offence. He is at least a gentleman,
which is something, considering how near he came to being my son-
I may have answered. People do cry out when they are stabbed,
sometimes, but I rather think I did not say a word, only looked a
disdain which at that minute was as measureless as my belief in
you. YOU dishonest? YOU—Or perhaps I laughed; that would have
been truer to my feeling; yes, I must have laughed.
My father's next words indicated that I did something.
"You do not believe in his guilt," he went on, and there was a
kindness in his tone which gave me my first feeling of real
terror. "I can readily comprehend that, Agatha. He has been in my
office and acted under my eye for several years now, and I had
almost as much confidence in him as you had, notwithstanding the
fact that I liked him much better as my confidential clerk than as
your probable or prospective husband. He has never held the key to
my heart; would God he never had to yours! But he was a good and
reliable man in the office, or so I thought, and I gave into his
hand much of the work I ought to have done myself, especially
since my health has more or less failed me. My trust he abused. A
month ago—it was during that ill turn you remember I received a
letter from a man I had never expected to hear from again. He was
in my debt some ten thousand dollars, and wrote that he had
brought with him as much of this sum as he had been able to save
in the last five years, to Sutherlandtown, where he was now laid
up with a dangerous illness from which he had small hope of
recovering. Would I come there and get it? He was a stranger and
wished to take no one into his confidence, but he had the money
and would be glad to place it in my hands. He added that as he was
a lone man, without friends or relatives to inherit from him, he
felt a decided pleasure at the prospect of satisfying his only
creditor, and devoutly hoped he would be well enough to realise
the transaction and receive my receipt. But if his fever increased
and he should be delirious or unconscious when I reached him, then
I was to lift up the left-hand corner of the mattress on which he
lay and take from underneath his head a black wallet in which I
would find the money promised me. He had elsewhere enough to pay
all his expenses, so that the full contents of the wallet were
"I remembered the man and I wanted the money; so, not being able
to go for it myself, I authorised James Zabel to collect it for
me. He started at once for Sutherlandtown, and in a few hours
returned with the wallet alluded to. Though I was suffering
intensely at the time, I remember distinctly the air with which he
laid it down and the words with which he endeavoured to carry off
a certain secret excitement visible in him. 'Mr. Orr was alive,
sir, and fully conscious; but he will not outlive the night. He
seemed quite satisfied with the messenger and gave up the wallet
without any hesitation.' I roused up and looked at him. 'What has
shaken you up so?' I asked. He was silent a moment before
replying. 'I have ridden fast,' said he; then more slowly, 'One
feels sorry for a man dying alone and amongst strangers.' I
thought he showed an unnecessary emotion, but paid no further heed
to it at the time.
"The wallet held two thousand and more dollars, which was less
than I expected, but yet a goodly sum and very welcome. As I was
counting it over I glanced at the paper accompanying it. It was an
acknowledgment of debt and mentioned the exact sum I should find
in the wallet—$2753.67. Pointing them out to James, I remarked,
'The figures are in different ink from the words. How do you
account for that?' I thought his answer rather long in coming,
though when it did come it was calm, if not studied. 'I presume,'
said he, 'that the sum was inserted at Sutherlandtown, after Mr.
Orr was quite sure just how much he could spare for the
liquidation of this old debt.' 'Very likely,' I assented, not
bestowing another thought upon the matter.
"But to-day it has been forced back upon my attention in a curious
if not providential way. I was over in Sutherlandtown for the
first time since my illness, and having some curiosity about my
unfortunate but honest debtor, went to the hotel and asked to see
the room in which he died. It being empty they at once showed it
to me; and satisfied that he had been made comfortable in his last
hours, I was turning away, when I espied on a table in one corner
an inkstand and what seemed to be an old copy-book. Why I stopped
and approached this table I do not know, but once in front of it I
remembered what Zabel had said about the figures, and taking up
the pen I saw there, I dipped it in the ink-pot and attempted to
scribble a number or two on a piece of loose paper I found in the
copy-book. The ink was thick and the pen corroded, so that it was
not till after several ineffectual efforts that I succeeded in
making any strokes that were at all legible. But when I did, they
were so exactly similar in colour to the numbers inserted in Mr.
Orr's memorandum (which I had fortunately brought with me) that I
was instantly satisfied this especial portion of the writing had
been done, as James had said, in this room, and with the very pen
I was then handling. As there was nothing extraordinary in this, I
was turning away, when a gust of wind from the open window lifted
the loose sheet of paper I had been scribbling on and landed it,
the other side up, on the carpet. As I stooped for it I saw
figures on it, and feeling sure that they had been scrawled there
by Mr. Orr in his attempt to make the pen write, I pulled out the
memorandum again and compared the two minutely. They were the work
of the same hand, but the figures on the stray leaf differed from
those in the memorandum in a very important particular. Those in
the memorandum began with a 2, while those on the stray sheet
began with a 7—a striking difference. Look, Agatha, here is the
piece of paper just as I found it. You see here, there, and
everywhere the one set of figures, 7753.67. Here it is hardly
legible, here it is blotted with too much ink, here it is faint
but sufficiently distinct, and here—well, there can be no mistake
about these figures, 7753.67; yet the memorandum reads, $2753.67,
and the money returned to me amounts to $2753.67—a clean five
thousand dollars' difference."
Here, James, my father paused, perhaps to give me a commiserating
look, though I did not need it; perhaps to give himself a moment
in which to regain courage for what he still had to say. I did not
break the silence; I was too sure of your integrity; besides, my
tongue could not have moved if it would; all my faculties seemed
frozen except that instinct which cried out continually within me:
"No! there is no fault in James. He has done no wrong. No one but
himself shall ever convince me that he has robbed anyone of
anything except poor me of my poor heart." But inner cries of this
kind are inaudible and after a moment's interval my father went
"Five thousand dollars is no petty sum, and the discrepancy in the
two sets of figures which seemed to involve me in so considerable
a loss set me thinking. Convinced that Mr. Orr would not be likely
to scribble one number over so many times if it was not the one
then in his mind, I went to Mr. Forsyth's office and borrowed a
magnifying-glass, through which I again subjected the figures in
the memorandum to a rigid scrutiny. The result was a positive
conviction that they had been tampered with after their first
writing, either by Mr. Orr himself or by another whom I need not
name. The 2 had originally been a 7, and I could even see where
the top line of the 7 had been given a curl and where a horizontal
stroke had been added at the bottom.
"Agatha, I came home as troubled a man as there was in all these
parts. I remembered the suppressed excitement which had been in
James Zabel's face when he handed me over the money, and I
remembered also that you loved him, or thought you did, and that,
love or no love, you were pledged to marry him. If I had not
recalled all this I might have proceeded more warily. As it was, I
took the bold and open course and gave James Zabel an opportunity
to explain himself. Agatha, he did not embrace it. He listened to
my accusations and followed my finger when I pointed out the
discrepancy between the two sets of figures, but he made no
protestations of innocence, nor did he show me the front of an
honest man when I asked if he expected me to believe that the
wallet had held only two thousand and over when Mr. Orr handed it
over to him. On the contrary he seemed to shrink into himself like
a person whose life has been suddenly blasted, and replying that
he would expect me to believe nothing except his extreme
contrition at the abuse of confidence of which he had been guilty,
begged me to wait till to-morrow before taking any active steps in
the matter. I replied that I would show him that much
consideration if he would immediately drop all pretensions to your
hand. This put him in a bad way; but he left, as you see, with
just a simple injunction to you to seek from me an explanation of
his strange departure. Does that look like innocence or does it
look like guilt?"
I found my tongue at this and passionately cried: "James Zabel's
life, as I have known it, shows him to be an honest man. If he has
done what you suggest, given you but a portion of the money
entrusted to him and altered the figures in the memorandum to suit
the amount he brought you, then there is a discrepancy between
this act and all the other acts of his life which I find it more
difficult to reconcile than you did the two sets of figures in Mr.
Orr's handwriting. Father, I must hear from his own lips a
confirmation of your suspicions before I will credit them."
And this is why I write you so minute an account of what passed
between my father and myself last night. If his account of the
matter is a correct one, and you have nothing to add to it in way
of explanation, then the return of this letter will be token
enough that my father has been just in his accusations and that
the bond between us must be broken. But if—O James, if you are
the true man I consider you, and all that I have heard is a
fabrication or mistake, then come to me at once; do not delay, but
come at once, and the sight of your face at the gate will be
enough to establish your innocence in my eyes.
AGATHA. The letter that followed this was very short:
The package of letters has been received. God help me to bear this
shock to all my hopes and the death of all my girlish beliefs. I
am not angry. Only those who have something left to hold on to in
life can be angry.
My father tells me he has received a packet too. It contained five
thousand dollars in ten five-hundred-dollar notes. James! James!
was not my love enough, that you should want my father's money
I have begged my father, and he has promised me, to keep the cause
of this rupture secret. No one shall know from either of us that
James Zabel has any flaw in his nature.
The next letter was dated some months later. It is to Philemon:
The gloves are too small; besides, I never wear gloves. I hate
their restraint and do not feel there is any good reason for
hiding my hands, in this little country town where everyone knows
me. Why not give them to Hattie Weller? She likes such things,
while I have had my fill of finery. A girl whose one duty is to
care for a dying father has no room left in her heart for
It is impossible. I have had my day of love and my heart is quite
dead. Show your magnanimity by ceasing to urge me any longer to
forget the past. It is all you can do for
You WILL have my hand though I have told you that my heart does
not go with it. It is hard to understand such persistence, but if
you are satisfied to take a woman of my strength against her will,
then God have mercy upon you, for I will be your wife.
But do not ask me to go to Sutherlandtown. I will live here. And
do not expect to keep up your intimacy with the Zabels. There is
no tie of affection remaining between James and myself, but if I
am to shed that half-light over your home which is all I can
promise and all that you can hope to receive, then keep me from
all influence but your own. That this in time may grow sweet and
dear to me is my earnest prayer to-day, for you are worthy of a
I am going to be married. My father exacts it and there is no good
reason why I should not give him this final satisfaction. At least
I do not think there is; but if you or your brother differ from
Say good-bye to James from me. I pray that his life may be
peaceful. I know that it will be honest.
My father is worse. He fears that if we wait till Tuesday he will
not be able to see us married. Decide, then, what our duty is; I
am ready to abide by your pleasure.
The following is from John Zabel to his brother James, and is
dated one day after the above:
When you read this I will be far away, never to look in your face
again, unless you bid me. Brother, brother, I meant it for the
best, but God was not with me and I have made four hearts
miserable without giving help to anyone.
When I read Agatha's letter—the last for more reasons than one
that I shall ever receive from her—I seemed to feel as never
before what I had done to blast your two lives. For the first time
I realised to the full that but for me she might have been happy
and you the respected husband of the one grand woman to be found
in Portchester. That I had loved her so fiercely myself came back
to me in reproach, and the thought that she perhaps suspected that
the blame had fallen where it was not deserved roused me to such a
pitch that I took the sudden and desperate resolution of telling
her the truth before she gave her hand to Philemon. Why the daily
sight of your misery should not have driven me before to this act,
I cannot tell. Some remnants of the old jealousy may have been
still festering in my heart; or the sense of the great distance
between your self-sacrificing spirit and the selfishness of my
weaker nature risen like a barrier between me and the only noble
act left for a man in my position. Whatever the cause, it was not
till to-day the full determination came to brave the obloquy of a
full confession; but when it did come I did not pause till I
reached Mr. Gilchrist's house and was ushered into his presence.
He was lying on the sitting-room lounge, looking very weak and
exhausted, while on one side of him stood Agatha and on the other
Philemon, both contemplating him with ill-concealed anxiety. I had
not expected to find Philemon there, and for a moment I suffered
the extreme agony of a man who has not measured the depth of the
plunge he is about to take; but the sight of Agatha trembling
under the shock of my unexpected presence restored me to myself
and gave me firmness to proceed. Advancing with a bow, I spoke
quickly the one word I had come there to say.
"Agatha, I have done you a great wrong and I am here to undo it.
For months I have felt driven to confession, but not till to-day
have I possessed the necessary courage. NOW, nothing shall hinder
I said this because I saw in both Mr. Gilchrist and Philemon a
disposition to stop me where I was. Indeed Mr. Gilchrist had risen
on his elbow and Philemon was making that pleading gesture of his
which we know so well.
Agatha alone looked eager. "What is it?" she cried. "I have a
right to know." I went to the door, shut it, and stood with my
back against it, a figure of shame and despair; suddenly the
confession burst from me. "Agatha," said I, "why did you break
with my brother James? Because you thought him guilty of theft;
because you believed he took the five thousand dollars out of the
sum entrusted to him by Mr. Orr for your father. Agatha, it was
not James who did this it was I; and James knew it, and bore the
blame of my misdoing because he was always a loyal soul and took
account of my weakness and knew, alas! too well, that open shame
would kill me."
It was a weak plea and merited no reply. But the silence was so
dreadful and lasted so long that I felt first crushed and then
terrified. Raising my head, for I had not dared to look any of
them in the face, I cast one glance at the group before me and
dropped my head again, startled. Only one of the three was looking
at me, and that was Agatha. The others had their heads turned
aside, and I thought, or rather the passing fancy took me, that
they shrank from meeting her gaze with something of the same shame
and dread I myself felt. But she! Can I ever hope to make you
realise her look, or comprehend the pang of utter self-abasement
with which I succumbed before it? It was so terrible that I seemed
to hear her utter words, though I am sure she did not speak; and
with some wild idea of stemming the torrent of her reproaches, I
made an effort at explanation, and impetuously cried: "It was not
for my own good, Agatha, not for self altogether, I did this. I
too loved you, madly, despairingly, and, good brother as I seemed,
I was jealous of James and hoped to take his place in your regard
if I could show a greater prosperity and get for you those things
his limited prospects denied him. You enjoy money, beauty, ease; I
could see that by your letters, and if James could not give them
to you and I could—Oh, do not look at me like that! I see now
that millions could not have bought you."
"Despicable!" was all that came from her lips. At which I
shuddered and groped about for the handle of the door. But she
would not let me go. Subduing with an unexpected grand self-
restraint the emotions which had hitherto swelled too high in her
breast for either speech or action, she thrust out one arm to stay
me and said in short, commanding tones: "How was this thing done?
You say you took the money, yet it was James who was sent to
collect it—or so my father says." Here she tore her looks from me
and cast one glance at her father. What she saw I cannot say, but
her manner changed and henceforth she glanced his way as much as
mine and with nearly as much emotion. "I am waiting to hear what
you have to say," she exclaimed, laying her hand on the door over
my head so as to leave me no opportunity for escape. I bowed and
attempted an explanation.
"Agatha," said I, "the commission was given to James and he rode
to Sutherlandtown to perform it. But it was on the day when he was
accustomed to write to you, and he was not easy in his mind, for
he feared he would miss sending you his usual letter. When,
therefore, he came to the hotel and saw me in Philemon's room—I
was often there in those days, often without Philemon's knowing
it—he saw, or thought he did, a way out of his difficulties.
Entering where I was, he explained to me his errand, and we being
then—though never, alas! since—one in everything but the secret
hopes he enjoyed, he asked me if I would go in his stead to Mr.
Orr's room, present my credentials, and obtain the money while he
wrote the letter with which his mind was full. Though my jealousy
was aroused and I hated the letter he was about to write, I did
not see how I could refuse him; so after receiving such
credentials as he himself carried, and getting full instructions
how to proceed, I left him writing at Philemon's table and
hastened down the hall to the door he had pointed out. If
Providence had been on the side of guilt, the circumstances could
not have been more favourable for the deception I afterwards
played. No one was in the hall, no one was with Mr. Orr to note
that it was I instead of James who executed Mr. Gilchrist's
commission. But I was thinking of no deception then. I proceeded
quite innocently on my errand, and when the feeble voice of the
invalid bade me enter, I experienced nothing but a feeling of
compassion for a man dying in this desolate way, alone. Of course
Mr. Orr was surprised to see a stranger, but after reading Mr.
Gilchrist's letter which I handed him, he seemed quite satisfied
and himself drew out the wallet at the head of his bed and handed
it over. 'You will find,' said he, 'a memorandum inside of the
full amount, $7758.67. I should like to have returned Mr.
Gilchrist the full ten thousand which I owe him, but this is all I
possess, barring a hundred dollars which I have kept for my final
expenses.' 'Mr. Gilchrist will be satisfied,' I assured him.
'Shall I make you out a receipt?' He shook his head with a sad
smile. 'I shall be dead in twenty-four hours. What good will a
receipt do me?' But it seemed unbusinesslike not to give it, so I
went over to the table, where I saw a pen and paper, and
recognising the necessity of counting the money before writing a
receipt, I ran my eye over the bills, which were large, and found
the wallet contained just the amount he had named. Then I glanced
at the memorandum. It had evidently been made out by him at some
previous time, for the body of the writing was in firm characters
and the ink blue, while the figures were faintly inscribed in
muddy black. The 7 especially was little more than a straight
line, and as I looked at it the devil that is in every man's
nature whispered at first carelessly, then with deeper and deeper
insistence: 'How easy it would be to change that 7 to a 2! Only a
little mark at the top and the least additional stroke at the
bottom and these figures would stand for five thousand less. It
might be a temptation to some men.' It presently became a
temptation to me; for, glancing furtively up, I discovered that
Mr. Orr had fallen either into a sleep or into a condition of
insensibility which made him oblivious to my movements. Five
thousand dollars! just the sum of the ten five-hundred-dollar
bills that made the bulk of the amount I had counted. In this
village and at my age this sum would raise me at once to
comparative independence. The temptation was too strong for
resistance. I succumbed to it, and seizing the pen before me, I
made the fatal marks. When I went back to James the wallet was in
my hand, and the ten five-hundred-dollar bills in my breast
Agatha had begun to shudder. She shook so she rattled the door
against which I leaned.
"And when you found that Providence was not so much upon your side
as you thought, when you saw that the fraud was known and that
your brother was suspected of it—"
"Don't!" I pleaded, "don't make me recall that hour!"
But she was inexorable. "Recall that and every hour," she
commanded. "Tell me why he sacrificed himself, why he sacrificed
me, to a cur—"
She feared her own tongue, she feared her own anger, and stopped.
"Speak," she whispered, and it was the most ghastly whisper that
ever left mortal lips. I was but a foot from her and she held me
as by a strong enchantment. I could not help obeying her.
"To make it all clear," I pursued, "I must go back to the time I
rejoined James in Philemon's room. He had finished his letter when
I entered and was standing with it, sealed, in his hand. I may
have cast it a disdainful glance. I may have shown that I was no
longer the same man I had been when I left him a half-hour before,
for he looked curiously at me for a moment previous to saying:
"'Is that the wallet you have there? Was Mr. Orr conscious, and
did he give it to you himself?' 'Mr. Orr was conscious,' I
returned,—and I didn't like the sound of my own voice, careful as
I was to speak naturally,—' but he fainted just before I came
out, and I think you had better ask the clerk as you go down to
send someone up to him.'
"James was weighing the pocket-book in his hand. 'How much do you
think there is in here? The debt was ten thousand.' I had turned
carelessly away and was looking out of the window. 'The memorandum
inside gives the figures as two thousand,' I declared. 'He
apologises for not sending the full amount. He hasn't it.' Again I
felt James looking at me. Why? Could he see that guilty wad of
bills lying on my breast? 'How came you to read the memorandum?'
he asked. 'Mr. Orr wished me to. I looked at it to please him.'
This was a lie—the first I had ever uttered. James's eyes had not
moved. 'John,' said he, 'this little bit of business seems to have
disturbed you. I ought to have attended to it myself. I am quite
sure I ought to have attended to it myself.' 'The man is dying,' I
muttered. 'You escaped a sad sight. Be satisfied that you have got
the money. Shall I post that letter for you?' He put it jealously
in his pocket, and again I saw him look at me, but he said nothing
more except that he repeated that same phrase, 'I ought to have
attended to it myself. Agatha might better have waited.' Then he
went out; but I remained till Philemon came home. My brother and
myself were no longer companions; a crime divided us,—a crime he
could not suspect, yet which made itself felt in both our hearts
and prepared him for the revelation made to him by Mr. Gilchrist
some weeks after. That night he came to Sutherlandtown, where I
was, and entered my bedroom—not in the fraternal way of the old
days, but as an elder enters the presence of a younger. 'John,' he
said, without any preamble or preparation, 'where are the five
thousand dollars you kept back from Mr. Gilchrist? The memorandum
said seven and you delivered to me only two.' There are death-
knells sounded in every life; those words sounded mine, or would
have if he had not immediately added: 'There! I knew you had no
stamina. I have taken your crime on myself, who am really to blame
for it, since I delegated my duty to another, and you will only
have to bear the disgrace of having James Zabel for a brother. In
exchange, give me the money; it shall be returned to-morrow. You
cannot have disposed of it already. After which, you, or rather I,
will be in the eyes of the world only a thief in intent, not in
fact.' Had he only stopped there!—but he went on: 'Agatha is lost
to me, John. In return, be to me the brother I always thought you
up to the unhappy day the sin of Achan came between us.'
"YOU were lost to him! It was all I heard. YOU were lost to him!
Then, if I acknowledged the crime I should not only take up my own
burden of disgrace, but see him restored to his rights over the
only woman I had ever loved. The sacrifice was great and my virtue
was not equal to it. I gave him back the money, but I did not
offer to assume the responsibility of my own crime."
In what a hard tone she spoke!
"I have had to see Philemon gradually assume the rights James once
"John," she asked,—she was under violent self-restraint,—"why do
you come now?"
I cast my eyes at Philemon. He was standing, as before, with his
eyes turned away. There was discouragement in his attitude,
mingled with a certain grand patience. Seeing that he was better
able to bear her loss than either you or myself, I said to her
very low, "I thought you ought to know the truth before you gave
your final word. I am late, but I would have been TOO LATE a week
Her hand fell from the door, but her eyes remained fixed on my
face. Never have I sustained such a look; never will I encounter
"It is too late NOW," she murmured. "The clergyman has just gone
who united me to Philemon."
The next minute her back was towards me; she had faced her father
and her new-made husband.
"Father, you knew this thing!" Keen, sharp, incisive, the words
rang out. "I saw it in your face when he began to speak."
Mr. Gilchrist drooped slightly; lie was a very sick man and the
scene had been a trying one.
"If I did," was his low response, "it was but lately. You were
engaged then to Philemon. Why break up this second match?"
She eyed him as if she found it difficult to credit her ears. Such
indifference to the claims of innocence was incredible to her. I
saw her grand profile quiver, then the slow ebbing from her cheek
of every drop of blood indignation had summoned there.
"And you, Philemon?" she suggested, with a somewhat softened
aspect. "You committed this wrong ignorantly. Never having heard
of this crime, you could not know on what false grounds I had been
separated from James."
I had started to escape, but stopped just beyond the threshold of
the door as she uttered these words. Philemon was not as ignorant
as she supposed. This was evident from his attitude and
"Agatha," he began, but at this first word, and before he could
clasp the hands held helplessly out before her, she gave a great
cry, and staggering back, eyed both her father and himself in a
frenzy of indignation that was all the more uncontrollable from
the superhuman effort which she had hitherto made to suppress it.
"You too!" she shrieked. "You too! and I have just sworn to love,
honour, and obey you! Love YOU! Honour YOU! the unconscionable
But here Mr. Gilchrist rose. Weak, tottering, quivering with
something more than anger, he approached his daughter and laid his
finger on her lips.
"Be quiet!" he said. "Philemon is not to blame. A month ago he
came to me and prayed that as a relief to his mind I would tell
him why you had separated yourself from James. He had always
thought the match, had fallen through on account of some foolish
quarrel or incompatibility, but lately he had feared there was
something more than he suspected in this break, something that he
should know. So I told him why you had dismissed James; and
whether he knew James better than we did, or whether he had seen
something in his long acquaintance with these brothers which
influenced his judgment, he said at once: 'This cannot be true of
James. It is not in his nature to defraud any man; but John—I
might believe it of John. Isn't there some complication here?' I
had never thought of John, and did not see how John could be mixed
up with an affair I had supposed to be a secret between James and
myself, but when we came to locate the day, Philemon remembered
that on returning to his room that night, he had found John
awaiting him. As his room was not five doors from that occupied by
Mr. Orr, he was convinced that there was more to this matter than
I had suspected. But when he laid the matter before James, he did
not deny that John was guilty, but was peremptory in wishing you
not to be told before your marriage. He knew that you were engaged
to a good man, a man that your father approved, a man that could
and would make you happy. He did not want to be the means of a
second break, and besides, and this, I think, was at the bottom of
the stand he took, for James Zabel was always the proudest man I
ever knew,—he never could bear, he said, to give to one like
Agatha a name which he knew and she knew was not entirely free
from reproach. It would stand in the way of his happiness and
ultimately of hers; his brother's dishonour was his. So while he
still loved you, his only prayer was that after you were safely
married and Philemon was sure of your affection, he should tell
you that the man you once regarded so favourably was not unworthy
of that regard. To obey him, Philemon has kept silent, while I—
Agatha, what are you doing? Are you mad, my child?"
She looked so for the moment. Tearing off the ring which she had
worn but an hour, she flung it on the floor. Then she threw her
arms high up over her head and burst out in an awful voice:
"Curses on the father, curses on the husband, who have combined to
make me rue the day I was born! The father I cannot disown, but
It was Mr. Gilchrist who dared her fury. Philemon said nothing.
"Hush! he may be the father of your children. Don't curse—"
But she only towered the higher and her beauty, from being simply
majestic, became appalling.
"Children!" she cried. "If ever I bear children to this man, may
the blight of Heaven strike them as it has struck me this day. May
they die as my hopes have died, or, if they live, may they bruise
his heart as mine is bruised, and curse their father as—"
Here I fled the house. I was shaking as if this awful denunciation
had fallen on my own head. But before the door closed behind me, a
different cry called me back. Mr. Gilchrist was lying lifeless on
the floor, and Philemon, the patient, tender Philemon, had taken
Agatha to his breast and was soothing her there as if the words
she had showered upon him had been blessings instead of the most
fearful curses which had ever left the lips of mortal woman.
The next letter was in Agatha's handwriting. It was dated some
months later and was stained and crumpled more than any other in
the whole packet. Could Philemon once have told why? Were these
blotted lines the result of his tears falling fast upon them,
tears of forty years ago, when he and she were young and love had
been, doubtful? Was the sheet so yellowed and so seamed because it
had been worn on his breast and folded and unfolded so often?
Philemon, thou art in thy grave, sleeping sweetly at last by thy
deeply idolised one, but these marks of feeling still remain
indissolubly connected with the words that gave them birth.
You are gone for a day and a night only, but it seems a lengthened
absence to me, meriting a little letter. You have been so good to
me, Philemon, ever since that dreadful hour following our
marriage, that sometimes—I hardly dare yet to say always—I feel
that I am beginning to love you and that God did not deal with me
so harshly when He cast me into your arms. Yesterday I tried to
tell you this when you almost kissed me at parting. But I was
afraid it was a momentary sentimentality and so kept still. But
to-day such a warm well-spring of joy rises in my heart when I
think that to-morrow the house will be bright again, and that in
place of the empty wall opposite me at table I shall see your
kindly and forbearing face, I know that the heart I had thought
impregnable has begun to yield, and that daily gentleness, and a
boundless consideration from one who had excuse for bitter
thoughts and recrimination, are doing what all of us thought
impossible a few short months ago.
Oh, I am so happy, Philemon, so happy to love where it is now my
duty to love; and if it were not for that dreadful memory of a
father dying with harsh words in his ears, and the knowledge that
you, my husband, yet not my husband, are bearing ever about with
you echoes of words that in another nature would have turned
tenderness into gall, I could be merry also and sing as I go about
the house making it pleasant and comfortable against your speedy
return. As it is I can but lay my hand softly on my heart as its
beatings grow too impetuous and say, "God bless my absent Philemon
and help him to forgive me! I forgive him and love him as I never
thought I could."
That you may see that these are not the weak outpourings of a
lonely woman, I will here write that I heard to-day that John and
James Zabel have gone into partnership in the ship-building
business, John's uncle having left him a legacy of several
thousand dollars. I hope they will do well. James, they say, is
full of business and is, to all appearance, perfectly cheerful.
This relieves me from too much worry in his regard. God certainly
knew what kind of a husband I needed. May you find yourself
equally blessed in your wife.
Another letter to Philemon, a year later:
Hasten home, Philemon; I do not like these absences. I am just now
too weak and fearful. Since we knew the great hope before us, I
have looked often in your face for a sign that you remembered what
this hope cannot but recall to my shuddering memory. Philemon,
Philemon, was I mad? When I think what I said in my rage, and then
feel the little life stirring about my heart, I wonder that God
did not strike me dead rather than bestow upon me the greatest
blessing that can come to woman. Philemon, Philemon, if anything
should happen to the child! I think of it by day, I think of it by
night. I know you think of it too, though you show me such a
cheerful countenance and make such great plans for the future.
"Will God remember my words, or will He forget? It seems as if my
reason hung upon this question."
A note this time in answer to one from John Zabel:
Thank you for words which could have come from nobody else. My
child is dead. Could I expect anything different? If I did, God
has rebuked me.
Philemon thinks only of me. We understand each other so perfectly
now that our greatest suffering comes in seeing each other's pain.
My load I can bear, but HIS—Come and see me, John; and tell James
our house is open to him. We have all done wrong, and are caught
in one net of misfortune. Let it make us friends again.
Below this in Philemon's hand:
My wife is superstitious. Strong and capable as she is, she has
regarded this sudden taking off of our first-born as a sign that
certain words uttered by her on her marriage day, unhappily known
to you and, as I take it, to James also, have been remembered by
the righteous God above us. This is a weakness which I cannot
combat. Can you, who alone of all the world beside know both it
and its cause, help me by a renewed friendship, whose cheerful and
natural character may gradually make her forget? If so, come like
old neighbours, and dine with us on our wedding day. If God sees
that we have buried the past and are ready to forgive each other
the faults of our youth, perhaps He will further spare this good
woman. I think she will be able to bear it. She has great strength
except where a little child is concerned. That alone can
henceforth stir the deepest recesses of her heart.
After this, a gap of years. One, two, three, four, five children
were laid away to rest in Portchester churchyard, then Philemon
and she came to Sutherlandtown; but not till after a certain event
had occurred, best made known by this last letter to Philemon:
Our babe is born, our sixth and our dearest, and the reproach of
its first look had to be met by me alone. Oh, why did I leave you
and come to this great Boston where I have no friend but Mrs.
Sutherland? Did I think I could break the spell of fate or
providence by giving birth to my last darling among strangers? I
shall have to do something more than that if I would save this
child to our old age. It is borne in upon me like fate that never
will a child prosper at my breast or survive the clasp of my arms.
If it is to live it must be reared by others. Some woman who has
not brought down the curse of Heaven upon her by her own
blasphemies must nourish the tender frame and receive the blessing
of its growing love. Neither I nor you can hope to see recognition
in our babe's eye. Before it can turn upon us with love, it will
close in its last sleep and we will be left desolate. What shall
we do, then, with this little son? To whose guardianship can we
entrust it? Do you know a man good enough or a woman sufficiently
tender? I do not, but if God wills that our little Frederick
should live, He will raise up someone. By the pang of possible
separation already tearing my heart, I believe that He WILL raise
up someone. Meanwhile I do not dare to kiss the child, lest I
should blight it. He is so sturdy, Philemon, so different from all
the other five.
I open this to add that Mrs. Sutherland has just been in—with her
five-weeks-old infant. His father is away, too, and has not yet
seen his boy; and this is their first after ten years of marriage.
Oh, that my future opened before me as brightly as hers!
The next letter opens with a cry:
Philemon! Come to me, Philemon! I have done what I threatened. I
have made the sacrifice. Our child is no longer ours, and now,
perhaps, he may live. But oh, my breaking heart! my empty arms!
Help me to bear my desolation, for it is for life. We will never
have another child.
And where is it? Ah, that is the wonder of it. Near you, Philemon,
yet not too near. Mrs. Sutherland has it, and you may have seen
its little face through the car window if you were in the station
last night when the express passed through to Sutherlandtown. Ah!
but she has her burden to bear too. An awful, secret burden like
my own, only she will have the child—for, Philemon, she has taken
it in lieu of her own, which died last night in my sight; and Mr.
Sutherland does not know what she has done, and never will, if you
keep the secret as I shall, for the sake of the life our little
innocent has thus won.
What do I mean and how was it all? Philemon, it was God's work,
all but the deception, and that is for the good of all, and to
save four broken hearts. Listen. Yesterday, only yesterday,—it
seems a month ago,—Mrs. Sutherland came again to see me with her
baby in her arms. Mr. Sutherland is expected home, as you know,
this week, and she was about to start out for Sutherlandtown so as
to be in her own house when he came. The baby was looking well and
she was the happiest of women; for the one wish of his heart and
hers had been fulfilled and she was soon going to have the bliss
of showing the child to his father. My own babe was on the bed
asleep, and I, who am feeling wonderfully strong, was sitting up
in a little chair as far away from him as possible, not out of
hatred or indifference—oh, no!—but because he seemed to rest
better when left entirely by himself and not under the hungry look
of my eye. Mrs. Sutherland went over to look at it. "Oh, he is
fair like my baby," she said, "and almost as sturdy, though mine
is a month older." And she stooped down and kissed him. Philemon,
he smiled for her, though he never had for me. I saw it with a
greedy longing that almost made me cry out. Then I turned to her
and we talked.
Of what? I cannot remember now. At home we had never been intimate
friends. She is from Sutherlandtown and I am from Portchester, and
the distance of nine miles is enough to estrange people. But here,
each with a husband absent and a darling infant lying asleep under
our eyes, interests we have never thought identical drew us to one
another and we chatted with ever-increasing pleasure—when
suddenly Mrs. Sutherland jumped up in a terrible fright. The
infant she had been rocking on her breast was blue; the next
minute it shuddered; the next—it lay in her arms DEAD!
I hear the shriek yet with which she fell with it still in her
arms to the floor. Fortunately no other ears were open to her cry.
I alone saw her misery. I alone heard her tale. The child had been
poisoned, Philemon, poisoned by her. She had mistaken a cup of
medicine for a cup of water and had given the child a few drops in
a spoon just before setting out from her hotel. She had not known
at the time what she had done, but now she remembered that the
fatal cup was just like the other and that the two stood very near
together. Oh, her innocent child, and oh, her husband!
It seemed as if the latter thought would drive her wild. "He has
so wished for a child," she moaned. "We have been married ten
years and this baby seemed to have been sent from heaven. He will
curse me, he will hate me, he will never be able after this to
bear me in his sight." This was not true of Mr. Sutherland, but it
was useless to argue with her. Instead of attempting it, I took
another way to stop her ravings. Lifting the child out of her
hands, I first listened at its heart, and then, finding it was
really dead,—Philemon, I have seen too many lifeless children not
to know,—I began slowly to undress it. "What are you doing?" she
cried. "Mrs. Webb, Mrs. Webb, what are you doing?" For reply I
pointed to the bed, where two little arms could be seen feebly
fluttering. "You shall have my child," I whispered. "I have
carried too many babies to the tomb to dare risk bringing up
another." And catching her poor wandering spirit with my eye, I
held her while I told her my story.
Philemon, I saved that woman. Before I had finished speaking I saw
the reason return to her eye and the dawning of a pitiful hope in
her passion-drawn face. She looked at the child in my arms and
then she looked at the one in the bed, and the long-drawn sigh
with which she finally bent down and wept over our darling told me
that my cause was won. The rest was easy. When the clothes of the
two children had been exchanged, she took our baby in her arms and
prepared to leave. Then I stopped her. "Swear," I cried, holding
her by the arm and lifting my other hand to heaven, "swear you
will be a mother to this child! Swear you will love it as your own
and rear it in the paths of truth and righteousness!" The
convulsive clasp with which she drew the baby to her breast
assured me more than her shuddering "I swear!" that her heart had
already opened to it. I dropped her arm and covered my face with
my hands. I could not see my darling go; it was worse than death
for the moment it was worse than death. "O God, save him!" I
groaned. "God, make him an honour—" But here she caught me by the
arm. Her clutch was frenzied, her teeth were chattering. "Swear in
your turn!" she gasped. "Swear that if I do a mother's duty by
this boy, you will keep my secret and never, never reveal to my
husband, to the boy, or to the world that you have any claims upon
him!" It was like tearing the heart from my breast with my own
hand, but I swore, Philemon, and she in her turn drew back. But
suddenly she faced me again, terror and doubt in all her looks.
"Your husband!" she whispered. "Can you keep such a secret from
him? You will breathe it in your dreams." "I shall tell him," I
answered. "Tell him!" The hair seemed to rise on her forehead and
she shook so that I feared she would drop the babe. "Be careful!"
I cried. "See! you frighten the babe. My husband has but one heart
with me. What I do he will subscribe to. Do not fear Philemon." So
I promised in your name. Gradually she grew calmer. When I saw she
was steady again, I motioned her to go. Even my more than mortal
strength was failing, and the baby—Philemon, I had never kissed
it and I did not kiss it then. I heard her feet draw slowly
towards the door, I heard her hand fall on the knob, heard it
turn, uttered one cry, and then—-
They found me an hour after, lying along the floor, clasping the
dead infant in my arms. I was in a swoon, and they all think I
fell with the child, as perhaps I did, and that its little life
went out during my insensibility. Of its features, like and yet
unlike our boy's, no one seems to take heed. The nurse who cared
for it is gone, and who else would know that little face but me?
They are very good to me, and are full of self-reproaches for
leaving me so long in my part of the building alone. But though
they watch me now, I have contrived to write this letter, which
you will get with the one telling of the baby's death and my own
dangerous condition. Destroy it, Philemon, and then COME. Nothing
in all the world will give me comfort but your hand laid under my
head and your true eyes looking into mine. Ah, we must love each
other now, and live humbly! All our woe has come from my early
girlish delight in gay and elegant things. From this day on I
eschew all vanities and find in your affection alone the solace
which Heaven will not deny to our bewildered hearts. Perhaps in
this way the blessing that has been denied us will be visited on
our child, who will live. I am now sure, to be the delight of our
hearts and the pride of our eyes, even though we are denied the
bliss of his presence and affection.
Mrs. Sutherland was not seen to enter or go out of my rooms. Being
on her way to the depot, she kept on her way, and must be now in
her own home. Her secret is safe, but ours—oh, you will help me
to preserve it! Help me not to betray—tell them I have lost five
babies before this one—delirious—there may be an inquest—she
must not be mentioned—let all the blame fall on me if there is
blame—I fell—there is a bruise on the baby's forehead—and—and-
-I am growing incoherent—I will try and direct this and then
[A scrawl for the name.]
Under it these words:
Though bidden to destroy this, I have never dared to do so. Some
day it may be of inestimable value to us or our boy. PHILEMON
This was the last letter found in the first packet. As it was laid
down, sobs were heard all over the room, and Frederick, who for
some time now had been sitting with his head in his hands,
ventured to look up and say: "Do you wonder that I endeavoured to
keep this secret, bought at such a price and sealed by the death
of her I thought my mother and of her who really was? Gentlemen,
Mr. Sutherland loved his wife and honoured her memory. To tell
him, as I shall have to within the hour, that the child she placed
in his arms twenty-five years ago was an alien, and that all his
love, his care, his disappointment, and his sufferings had been
lavished on the son of a neighbour, required greater courage than
to face doubt on the faces of my fellow-townsmen, or anything, in
short, but absolute arraignment on the charge of murder. Hence my
silence, hence my indecision, till this woman"—here he pointed a
scornful finger at Amabel, now shrinking in her chair—"drove me
to it by secretly threatening me with a testimony which would have
made me the murderer of my mother and the lasting disgrace of a
good man who alone has been without blame from the beginning to
the end of this desperate affair. She was about to speak when I
forestalled her. My punishment, if I deserve such, will be to sit
and hear in your presence the reading of the letters still
remaining in the coroner's hands."
These letters were certain ones written by Agatha to her
unacknowledged son. They had never been sent. The first one dated
from his earliest infancy, and its simple and touching hopefulness
sent a thrill through every heart. It read as follows:
Three years old, my darling! and the health flush has not faded
from your cheek nor the bright gold from your hair.
Oh, how I bless Mrs. Sutherland that she did not rebuke me when
your father and I came to Sutherlandtown and set up our home where
I could at least see your merry form toddling through the streets,
holding on to the hand of her who now claims your love. My
darling, my pride, my angel, so near and yet so far removed, will
you ever know, even in the heaven to which we all look for joy
after our weary pilgrimage is over, how often in this troublous
world, and in these days of your early infancy, I have crept out
of my warm bed, dressed myself, and, without a word to your
father, whose heart it would break, gone out and climbed the steep
hillside just to look at the window of your room to see if it were
light or dark and you awake or sleeping? To breathe the scent of
the eglantine which climbs up to your nursery window, I have
braved the night-damps and the watching eyes of Heaven; but you
have a child's blissful ignorance of all this; you only grow and
grow and live, my darling, LIVE!—which is the only boon I crave,
the only recompense I ask.
Have I but added another sin to my account and brought a worse
vengeance on myself than that of seeing you die in your early
infancy? Frederick, my son, my son, I heard you swear to-day! Not
lightly, thoughtlessly, as boys sometimes will in imitation of
their elders, but bitterly, revengefully, as if the seeds of evil
passions were already pushing to life in the boyish breast I
thought so innocent. Did you wonder at the strange woman who
stopped you? Did you realise the awful woe from which my
commonplace words sprang? No, no, what grown mind could take that
in, least of all a child's? To have forsworn the bliss of
motherhood and entered upon a life of deception for THIS! Truly
Heaven is implacable and my last sin is to be punished more
inexorably than my first.
There are worse evils than death. This I have always heard, but
now I know it. God was merciful when He slew my babes, and I,
presumptous in my rebellion, and the efforts with which I tried to
prevent His work. Frederick, you are weak, dissipated, and without
conscience. The darling babe, the beautiful child, has grown into
a reckless youth whose impulses Mr. Sutherland will find it hard
to restrain, and over whom his mother—do I call her your
mother?—has little influence, though she tries hard to do a
mother's part and save herself and myself from boundless regret.
My boy, my boy, do you feel the lack of your own mother's vigour?
Might you have lived under my care and owned a better restraint
and learned to work and live a respectable life in circumstances
less provocative of self-indulgence? Such questions, when they
rise, are maddening. When I see them form themselves in Philemon's
eyes I drive them out with all the force of my influence, which is
still strong over him. But when they make way in my own breast, I
can find no relief, not even in prayer. Frederick, were I to tell
you the truth about your parentage, would the shock of such an
unexpected revelation make a man of you? I have been tempted to
make the trial, at times. Deep down in my heart I have thought
that perhaps I should best serve the good man who is growing grey
under your waywardness, by opening up before you the past and
present agonies of which you are the unconscious centre. But I
cannot do this while SHE lives. The look she gave me one day when
I approached you a step too near at the church door, proves that
it would be the killing of her to reveal her long-preserved secret
now. I must wait her death, which seems near, and then—
No, I cannot do it. Mr. Sutherland has but one staff to lean on,
and that is you. It may be a poor one, a breaking one, but it is
still a staff. I dare not take it away—I dare not. Ah, if
Philemon was the man he was once, he might counsel me, but he is
only a child now; just as if God had heard my cry for children and
had given me—HIM.
More money, and still more money! and I hate it except for what it
will do for the poor and incapable about me. How strange are the
ways of Providence! To us who have no need of aught beyond a
competence, money pours in almost against our will, while to those
who long and labour for it, it comes not, or comes so slowly the
life wears out in the waiting and the working. The Zabels, now!
Once well-to-do ship-builders, with a good business and a home
full of curious works of art, they now appear to find it hard to
obtain even the necessities of life. Such are the freaks of
fortune; or should I say, the dealings of an inscrutable
Providence? Once I tried to give something out of my abundance to
these old friends, but their pride stood in the way and the
attempt failed. Worse than that. As if to show that benefits
should proceed from them to me rather than from me to them, James
bestowed on me a gift. It is a strange one,—nothing more nor less
than a quaint Florentine dagger which I had often admired for its
exquisite workmanship. Was it the last treasure he possessed? I am
almost afraid so. At all events it shall lie here in my table-
drawer where I alone can see it. Such sights are not good for
Philemon. He must have cheerful objects before him, happy faces
such as mine tries to be. But ah!
I would gladly give my life if I could once hold you in my arms,
my erring but beloved son. Will the day ever come when I can? Will
you have strength enough to hear my story and preserve your peace
and let me go down to the grave with the memory of one look, one
smile, that is for me alone? Sometimes I foresee this hour and am
happy for a few short minutes; and then some fresh story of your
recklessness is wafted through the town and—
What stopped her at this point we shall never know. Some want of
Philemon's, perhaps. At all events she left off here and the
letter was never resumed. It was the last secret outpouring of her
heart. With this broken sentence Agatha's letters terminated. .
. . . . . .
That afternoon, before the inquiry broke up, the jury brought in
their verdict. It was:
"Death by means of a wound inflicted upon herself in a moment of
terror and misapprehension."
It was all his fellow-townsmen could do for Frederick.
FATHER AND SON
But Frederick's day of trial was not yet over. There was a closed
door to open and a father to see (as in his heart he still called
Mr. Sutherland). Then there were friends to face, and foes, under
conditions he better than anyone else, knew were in some regards
made worse rather than better by the admissions and revelations of
this eventful day—Agnes, for instance. How could he meet her pure
gaze? But it was his father he must first confront, his father to
whom he would have to repeat in private the tale which robbed the
best of men of a past, and took from him a son, almost a wife,
without leaving him one memory calculated to console him.
Frederick was so absorbed in this anticipation that he scarcely
noticed the two or three timid hands stretched out in
encouragement toward him, and was moving slowly toward the door
behind which his father had disappeared so many hours before, when
he was recalled to the interests of the moment by a single word,
uttered not very far from him. It was simply, "Well?" But it was
uttered by Knapp and repeated by Mr. Courtney.
Frederick shuddered, and was hurrying on when he found himself
stopped by a piteous figure that, with appealing eyes and timid
gestures, stepped up before him. It was Amabel.
"Forgive!" she murmured, looking like a pleading saint. "I did not
know—I never dreamed—you were so much of a man, Frederick: that
you bore such a heart, cherished such griefs, were so worthy of
love and a woman's admiration. If I had—"
Her expression was eloquent, more eloquent than he had ever seen
it, for it had real feeling in it; but he put her coldly by.
"When my father's white hairs become black again, and the story of
my shame is forgotten in this never-forgetting world, then come
back and I will forgive you."
And he was passing on when another touch detained him. He turned,
this time in some impatience, only to meet the frank eyes of
Sweetwater. As he knew very little of this young man, save that he
was the amateur detective who had by some folly of his own been
carried off on the Hesper, and who was probably the only man saved
from its wreck, he was about to greet him with some commonplace
phrase of congratulation, when Sweetwater interrupted him with the
"I only wanted to say that it may be easier for you to approach
your father with the revelations you are about to make if you knew
that in his present frame of mind he is much more likely to be
relieved by such proofs of innocence as you can give him than
overwhelmed by such as show the lack of kinship between you. For
two weeks Mr. Sutherland has been bending under the belief of your
personal criminality in this matter. This was his secret, which
was shared by me."
"Yes, by me! I am more closely linked to this affair than you can
readily imagine. Some day I may be able to explain myself, but not
now. Only remember what I have said about your father—pardon me,
I should perhaps say Mr. Sutherland—and act accordingly. Perhaps
it was to tell you this that I was forced back here against my
will by the strangest series of events that ever happened to a
man. But," he added, with a sidelong look at the group of men
still hovering about the coroner's table, "I had rather think it
was for some more important office still. But this the future will
show,—the future which I seem to see lowering in the faces over
And, waiting for no reply, he melted into the crowd.
Frederick passed at once to his father.
No one interrupted them during this solemn interview, but the
large crowd that in the halls and on the steps of the building
awaited Frederick's reappearance showed that the public interest
was still warm in a matter affecting so deeply the heart and
interests of their best citizen. When, therefore, that long-closed
door finally opened and Frederick was seen escorting Mr.
Sutherland on his arm, the tide of feeling which had not yet
subsided since Agatha's letters were read vented itself in one
great sob of relief. For Mr. Sutherland's face was calmer than
when they had last seen it, and his step more assured, and he
leaned, or made himself lean, on Frederick's arm, as if to impress
upon all who saw them that the ties of years cannot be shaken off
so easily, and that he still looked upon Frederick as his son.
But he was not contented with this dumb show, eloquent as it was.
As the crowd parted and these two imposing figures took their way
down the steps to the carriage which had been sent for them, Mr.
Sutherland cast one deep and long glance about him on faces he
knew and on faces he did not know, on those who were near and
those who were far, and raising his voice, which did not tremble
as much as might have been expected, said deliberately:
"My son accompanies me to his home. If he should afterwards be
wanted, he will be found at his own fireside. Good-day, my
friends. I thank you for the goodwill you have this day shown us
Then he entered the carriage.
The solemn way in which Frederick bared his head in acknowledgment
of this public recognition of the hold he still retained on this
one faithful heart, struck awe into the hearts of all who saw it.
So that the carriage rolled off in silence, closing one of the
most thrilling and impressive scenes ever witnessed in that time-
"NOT WHEN THEY ARE YOUNG GIRLS"
But, alas! all tides have their ebb as well as flow, and before
Mr. Sutherland and Frederick were well out of the main street the
latter became aware that notwithstanding the respect with which
his explanations had been received by the jury, there were many of
his fellow-townsmen who were ready to show dissatisfaction at his
being allowed to return in freedom to that home where he had still
every prospect of being called the young master. Doubt, that seed
of ramifying growth, had been planted in more than one breast, and
while it failed as yet to break out into any open manifestation,
there were evidences enough in the very restraint visible in such
groups of people as they passed that suspicion had not been
suppressed or his innocence established by the over-favourable
verdict of the coroner's jury.
To Mr. Sutherland, suffering now from the reaction following all
great efforts, much, if not all, of this quiet but significant
display of public feeling passed unnoticed. But to Frederick,
alive to the least look, the least sign that his story had not
been accepted unquestioned, this passage through the town was the
occasion of the most poignant suffering.
For not only did these marks of public suspicion bespeak possible
arraignment in the future, but through them it became evident that
even if he escaped open condemnation in the courts, he could never
hope for complete reinstatement before the world, nor, what was to
him a still deeper source of despair, anticipate a day when
Agnes's love should make amends to him for the grief and errors of
his more than wayward youth. He could never marry so pure a being
while the shadow of crime separated him from the mass of human
beings. Her belief in his innocence and the exact truth of his
story (and he was confident she did believe him) could make no
difference in this conclusion. While he was regarded openly or in
dark corners or beside the humblest fireside as a possible
criminal, neither Mr. Sutherland nor her father, nor his own heart
even, would allow him to offer her anything but a friend's
gratitude, or win from her anything but a neighbour's sympathy;
yet in bidding good-bye to larger hopes and more importunate
desires, he parted with the better part of his heart and the only
solace remaining in this world for the boundless griefs and tragic
experiences of his still young life. He had learned to love
through suffering, only to realise that the very nature of his
suffering forbade him to indulge in love.
And this seemed a final judgment, even in this hour of public
justification. He had told his story and been for the moment
believed, but what was there in his life, what was there in the
facts as witnessed by others, what was there in his mother's
letters and the revelation of their secret relationship, to
corroborate his assertions, or to prove that her hand and not his
had held the weapon when the life-blood gushed from her devoted
breast? Nothing, nothing; only his word to stand against all human
probabilities and natural inference; only his word and the
generous nature of the great-hearted woman who had thus perished!
Though a dozen of his fellow-citizens had by their verdict
professed their belief in his word and given him the benefit of a
doubt involving his life as well as his honour, he, as well as
they, knew that neither the police nor the general public were
given to sentimentality, and that the question of his guilt still
lay open and must remain so till his dying day. For from the
nature of things no proof of the truth was probable. Batsy being
dead, only God and his own heart could know that the facts of that
awful half-hour were as he had told them.
Had God in His justice removed in this striking way his only
witness, as a punishment for his sins and his mad indulgence in
acts so little short of crime as to partake of its guilt and merit
He was asking himself this question as he bent to fasten the gate.
His father had passed in, the carriage had driven off, and the
road was almost solitary—but not quite. As he leaned his arm over
the gate and turned to take a final glance down the hillside, he
saw, with what feelings no one will ever know, the light figure of
Agnes advancing on the arm of her father.
He would have drawn back, but a better impulse intervened and he
stood his ground. Mr. Halliday, who walked very close to Agnes,
cast her an admonitory glance which Frederick was not slow in
interpreting, then stopped reluctantly, perhaps because he saw her
falter, perhaps because he knew that an interview between these
two was unavoidable and had best be quickly over.
Frederick found his voice first.
"Agnes," said he, "I am glad of this opportunity for expressing my
gratitude. You have acted like a friend and have earned my eternal
consideration, even if we never speak again."
There was a momentary silence. Her head, which had drooped under
his greeting, rose again. Her eyes, humid with feeling, sought his
"Why do you speak like that?" said she. "Why shouldn't we meet?
Does not everyone recognise your innocence, and will not the whole
world soon see, as I have, that you have left the old life behind
and have only to be your new self to win everyone's regard?"
"Agnes," returned Frederick, smiling sadly as he observed the
sudden alarm visible in her father's face at these enthusiastic
words, "you know me perhaps better than others do and are prepared
to believe my words and my more than unhappy story. But there are
few like you in the world. People in general will not acquit me,
and if there was only one person who doubted "—Mr. Halliday began
to look relieved—"I would fail to give any promise of the new
life you hope to see me lead, if I allowed the shadow under which
I undoubtedly rest to fall in the remotest way across yours. You
and I have been friends and will continue such, but we will hold
little intercourse in future, hard as I find it to say so. Does
not Mr. Halliday consider this right? As your father he must."
Agnes's eyes, leaving Frederick's for a moment, sought her
father's. Alas! there was no mistaking their language. Sighing
deeply, she again hung her head.
"Too much care for people's opinion," she murmured, "and too
little for what is best and noblest in us. I do not recognise the
necessity of a farewell between us any more than I recognise that
anyone who saw and heard you to-day can believe in your guilt."
"But there are so many who did not hear and see me. Besides" (here
he turned a little and pointed to the garden in his rear), "for
the past week a man—I need not state who, nor under what
authority he acts—has been in hiding under that arbour, watching
my every movement, and almost counting my sighs. Yesterday he left
for a short space, but to-day he is back. What does that argue,
dear friend? Innocence, completely recognised, does not call for
The slight frame of the young girl bending so innocently toward
him shuddered involuntarily at this, and her eyes, frightened and
flashing, swept over the arbour before returning to his face.
"If there is a watcher there, and if such a fact proves you to be
in danger of arrest for a crime you never committed, then it
behooves your friends to show where they stand in this matter, and
by lending their sympathy give you courage and power to meet the
trials before you."
"Not when they are young girls," murmured Frederick, and casting a
glance at Mr. Halliday, he stepped softly back.
Agnes flushed and yielded to her father's gentle pressure. "Good-
bye, my friend," she said, the quiver in her tones sinking deep
into Frederick's heart. "Some day it will be good-morrow," and her
head, turned back over her shoulder, took on a beautiful radiance
that fixed itself forever in the hungry heart of him who watched
it disappear. When she was quite gone, a man not the one whom
Frederick had described, as lying in hiding in the arbour, but a
different one, in fact, no other than our old friend the
constable—advanced around the corner of the house and presented a
paper to him.
It was the warrant for his arrest on a charge of murder.
SWEETWATER PAYS HIS DEBT AT LAST TO MR. SUTHERLAND
Frederick's arrest had been conducted so quietly that no hint of
the matter reached the village before the next morning. Then the
whole town broke into uproar, and business was not only suspended,
but the streets and docks overflowed with gesticulating men and
excited women, carrying on in every corner and across innumerable
doorsteps the endless debate which such an action on the part of
the police necessarily opened.
But the most agitated face, though the stillest tongue, was not to
be seen in town that morning, but in a little cottage on an arid
hill-slope overlooking the sea. Here Sweetwater sat and communed
with his great monitor, the ocean, and only from his flashing eye
and the firm set of his lips could the mother of Sweetwater see
that the crisis of her son's life was rapidly approaching, and
that on the outcome of this long brooding rested not only his own
self-satisfaction, but the interests of the man most dear to them.
Suddenly, from that far horizon upon which Sweetwater's eye rested
with a look that was almost a demand, came an answer that flushed
him with a hope as great as it was unexpected. Bounding to his
feet, he confronted his mother with eager eyes and outstretched
"Give me money, all the money we have in the house. I have an idea
that may be worth all I can ever make or can ever hope to have. If
it succeeds, we save Frederick Sutherland; if it fails, I have
only to meet another of Knapp's scornful looks. But it won't fail;
the inspiration came from the sea, and the sea, you know, is my
What this inspiration was he did not say, but it carried him
presently into town and landed him in the telegraph office.
. . . . . .
The scene later in the day, when Frederick entered the village
under the guardianship of the police, was indescribable. Mr.
Sutherland had insisted upon accompanying him, and when the well-
loved figure and white head were recognised, the throng, which had
rapidly collected in the thoroughfare leading to the depot,
succumbed to the feelings occasioned by this devotion, and fell
into a wondering silence.
Frederick had never looked better. There is something in the
extremity of fate which brings out a man's best characteristics,
and this man, having much that was good in him, showed it at that
moment as never before in his short but over-eventful life. As the
carriage stopped before the court-house on its way to the train, a
glimpse was given of his handsome head to those who had followed
him closest, and as there became visible for the first time in his
face, so altered under his troubles, a likeness to their beautiful
and commanding Agatha, a murmur broke out around him that was half
a wail and half a groan, and which affected him so that he turned
from his father, whose hand he was secretly holding, and taking
the whole scene in with one flash of his eye, was about to speak,
when a sudden hubbub broke out in the direction of the telegraph
office, and a man was seen rushing down the street holding a paper
high over his head. It was Sweetwater.
"News!" he cried. "News! A cablegram from the Azores! A Swedish
But here a man with more authority than the amateur detective
pushed his way to the carriage and took off his hat to Mr.
"I beg your pardon," said he, "but the prisoner will not leave
town to-day. Important evidence has just reached us."
Mr. Sutherland saw that it was in Frederick's favour and fainted
on his son's neck. As the people beheld his head fall forward, and
observed the look with which Frederick received him in his arms,
they broke into a great shout.
"News!" they shrieked. "News! Frederick Sutherland is innocent!
See! the old man has fainted from joy!" And caps went up and tears
fell, before a mother's son of them knew what grounds he had for
Later, they found they were good and substantial ones. Sweetwater
had remembered the group of sailors who had passed by the corner
of Agatha's house just as Batsy fell forward on the window-sill,
and cabling to the captain of the vessel, at the first port at
which they were likely to put in, was fortunate enough to receive
in reply a communication from one of the men, who remembered the
words she shouted. They were in Swedish and none of his mates had
understood them, but he recalled them well. They were:
"Hjelp! Hjelp! Frun haller pa alb doda sig. Hon har en knif.
"Help! Help! My mistress kills herself. She has a knife. Help!
The impossible had occurred. Batsy was not dead, or at least her
testimony still remained and had come at Sweetwater's beck from
the other side of the sea to save her mistress's son.
. . . . . .
Sweetwater was a made man. And Frederick? In a week he was the
idol of the town. In a year—but let Agnes's contented face and
happy smile show what he was then. Sweet Agnes, who first
despised, then encouraged, then loved him, and who, next to
Agatha, commanded the open worship of his heart.
Agatha is first, must be first, as anyone can see who beholds him,
on a certain anniversary of each year, bury his face in the long
grass which covers the saddest and most passionate heart which
ever yielded to the pressure of life's deepest tragedy.
Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.