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Title: X Y Z - A Detective Story
Author: Green, Anna Katharine, 1846-1935
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "X Y Z - A Detective Story" ***

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    X

    Y

    Z

    A DETECTIVE STORY

    BY

    ANNA KATHARINE GREEN

    AUTHOR OF "THE LEAVENWORTH CASE," "A STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE," ETC.

    NEW YORK

    G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS

    27 & 29 WEST 23D STREET

    1883



    COPYRIGHT BY
    G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
    1883



X. Y. Z.

A STORY TOLD BY A DETECTIVE.



I.

THE MYSTERIOUS RENDEZVOUS.


Sometimes in the course of his experience, a detective, while engaged in
ferreting out the mystery of one crime, runs inadvertently upon the clue
to another. But rarely has this been done in a manner more unexpected or
with attendant circumstances of greater interest than in the instance I
am now about to relate.

For some time the penetration of certain Washington officials had been
baffled by the clever devices of a gang of counterfeiters who had
inundated the western portion of Massachusetts with spurious Treasury
notes. Some of the best talent of the Secret Service had been expended
upon the matter, but with no favorable result, when, one day, notice
was received at Washington that a number of suspicious-looking letters,
addressed to the simple initials, X. Y. Z., Brandon, Mass., were being
daily forwarded through the mails of that region; and it being deemed
possible that a clue had at last been offered to the mystery in hand, I
was sent northward to investigate.

It was in the middle of June, 1881, and the weather was simply
delightful. As I stepped from the cars at Brandon and looked up the long
straight street with its double row of maple trees sparkling fresh and
beautiful in the noonday sun, I thought I had never seen a prettier
village or entered upon any enterprise with a lighter or more hopeful
heart.

Intent on my task, I went straight to the post-office, and after coming
to an understanding with the postmaster, proceeded at once to look over
the mail addressed to the mysterious X. Y. Z.

I found it to consist entirely of letters. They were about a dozen in
number, and were, with one exception, similar in general appearance and
manner of direction, though inscribed in widely different handwritings,
and posted from various New England towns. The exception to which I
allude had these few extra words written in the lower left-hand corner
of the envelope: "_To be kept till called for._" As I bundled up the
letters preparatory to thrusting them back into the box, I noticed that
the latter was the only one in a blue envelope, all the others being in
the various shades of cream-color and buff.

"Who is in the habit of calling for these letters?" I asked of the
postmaster.

"Well," said he, "I don't know his name. The fact is nobody knows him
around here. He usually drives up in a buggy about nightfall, calls for
letters addressed to X. Y. Z., and having got them, whips up his horse
and is off again before one can say a word."

"Describe him," said I.

"Well, he is very lean and very lank. In appearance he is both green and
awkward. His complexion is pale, almost sickly. Were it not for his eye,
which is keen and twinkling, I should call him an extremely
inoffensive-looking person."

The type was not new to me. "I should like to see him," said I.

"You will have to wait till nightfall, then," returned the postmaster.
"He never comes till about dusk. Drop in here, say at seven o'clock, and
I will see that you have the opportunity of handing him his mail."

I nodded acquiescence to this and sauntered out of the enclosure devoted
to the uses of the post-office. As I did so I ran against a young man
who was hurriedly approaching from the other end of the store.

"Your pardon," he cried; and I turned to look at him, so gentlemanly was
his tone, and so easy the bow with which he accompanied this simple
apology.

He was standing before the window of the post-office, waiting for his
mail; a good-looking, well-made young man, of a fine countenance, but
with a restless eye, whose alert yet anxious expression I could not but
note even in the casual glance I gave him. There appeared to be some
difficulty in procuring him his mail, and each minute he was kept
waiting seemed to increase his impatience almost beyond the bounds of
endurance. I saw him lean forward and gasp out a hurried word to the
postmaster, and was idly wondering over his anxiety and its probable
causes, when I heard a hasty exclamation near me, and looking around,
saw the postmaster himself beckoning to me from the door of the
enclosure. I immediately hastened forward.

"I don't know what it means," he whispered; "but here is a young man,
different from any who have been here before, asking for a letter
addressed to X. Y. Z."

"A letter?" I repeated.

"Yes, a letter."

"Give him the whole batch and see what he does," I returned, drawing
back where I could myself watch the result of my instructions. The
postmaster did as I requested. In another moment I saw the young man
start with amazement as a dozen letters were put in his hand. "These are
not all for me!" he cried, but even as he made the exclamation, drew to
one side, and with a look of mingled perplexity and concern, began
opening them one after another, his expression deepening to amazement as
he glanced at their contents. The one in the blue envelope, however,
seemed to awaken quite different emotions. With an unconscious look of
relief, he hastily read the short letter it contained, then with a quick
gesture, folded it up and thrust it back into the envelope he held,
together with the other letters, in his left hand.

"There must be another X. Y. Z.," said he, approaching the window of the
post-office and handing back all the letters he had received, with the
exception of the one in the blue envelope, which with a quick movement
he had separated from the rest and thrust into his coat-pocket. "I can
lay claim to none of these." And with a repetition of his easy bow he
turned away and hurriedly quitted the store, followed by the eyes of
clerks and customers, to whom he was evidently as much of a stranger as
he was to me. Without hesitation I went to the door and looked after
him. He was just crossing the street to the tavern on the other side of
the way. I saw him enter, felt that he was safe to remain there for a
few minutes, and conscious of the great opportunity awaiting me,
hastened back to the postmaster.

"Well," cried I, in secret exultation, "our plan has worked admirably.
Let me see the letters. As they have been opened, and through no fault
of ours, a peep at them now in the cause of justice will harm none but
the guilty."

The postmaster demurred, but I soon overcame his scruples; and taking
down the letters once more, hastily investigated their contents. I own
that I was considerably disappointed at the result. In fact, I found
nothing that pointed toward the counterfeiters; only in each letter a
written address, together with fifty cents' worth of stamps.

"Some common fraud," I exclaimed. "One of those cheap affairs where, for
fifty cents enclosed, a piece of information calculated to insure
fortune to the recipient is promised by return of mail."

And disgusted with the whole affair I bundled up the letters, and was
about to replace them in the box for the third time when I discovered
that it still held a folded paper. Drawing this out, I opened it and
started in fresh amazement. If I was not very much mistaken in the
appearance of the letter in the blue envelope which I had seen the
young man read with so much interest, this was certainly it. But how
came it here? Had I not seen him thrust it back into its envelope and
afterward put envelope and all into his pocket? But here was no
envelope, and here was the letter. By what freak of necromancy had it
been transferred from its legitimate quarters to this spot? I could not
imagine. Suddenly I remembered that his hand had been full of the other
letters when he put, or endeavored to put, this special one back into
its envelope, and however unaccountable it may seem, it must be that
from haste or agitation he had only succeeded in thrusting it between
two letters instead of into the envelope, as he supposed. Whether or not
this explanation be true, there was no doubt about my luck being in the
ascendant. Mastering my satisfaction, I read these lines written in what
appeared to be a disguised hand.

     "All goes well. The time has come; every thing is in train, and
     success is certain. Be in the shrubbery at the northeast corner
     of the grounds at 9 P.M. precisely; you will be given a mask
     and such other means as are necessary to insure you the
     accomplishment of the end you have in view. He cannot hold out
     against a surprise. The word, by which you will know your
     friends, is
                                                   COUNTERFEIT."

"Ah, ha!" thought I, "this is more like it." And moved by a sudden
impulse, I hastily copied the letter into my memorandum-book, and then
returning to the original, scratched out with my penknife the word
northeast and carefully substituting that of southwest put the letter
back into the box, in the hope that when he came to consult the envelope
in his pocket (as he would be sure to do sooner or later) he would miss
its contents and return to the post-office in search of it.

Nor was I mistaken. I had scarcely accomplished my task, when he
reëntered the store, asked to see the letters he had returned, and
finding amongst them the one he had lost, disappeared with it back to
the tavern. "If he is surprised to read southwest this time instead of
northeast, he will think his memory played him false in the first
instance," cried I, in inward comment over my last doubtful stroke of
policy; and turning to the postmaster, I asked him what place there was
in the vicinity which could be said to possess grounds and a shrubbery.

"There is but one," he returned, "Mr. Benson's. All the rest of the
folks are too poor to indulge in any such gimcracks."

"And who is Mr. Benson?"

"Well, he is Mr. Benson, the richest man in these parts and the least
liked as I take it. He came here from Boston two years ago and built a
house fit for a king to live in. Why, nobody knows, for he seems to take
no pleasure in it. His children do though, and that is all he cares for
I suppose. Young Mr. Benson especially seems to be never tired of
walking about the grounds, looking at the trees and tying up the vines.
Miss Carrie is different; all she wants is company. But little of that
has her father ever allowed her till this very day. He seems to think
nobody is good enough to sit down in his parlors; and yet he don't sit
there himself, the strange man! but is always shut up in his library or
some other out-of-the-way place."

"A busy man?"

"I suppose so, but no one ever sees any thing he does."

"Writes, perhaps?"

"I don't know; he never talks about himself."

"How did he get his money?"

"That we don't know. It seems to accumulate without his help or
interference. When he came here he was called rich, but to-day he is
said to be worth three times what he was then."

"Perhaps he speculates?"

"If he does, it must be through his son, for he never leaves home
himself."

"Has two children, you say?"

"Yes, a son and a daughter: a famous young man, the son; not so much
liked, perhaps, as universally respected. He is too severe and reticent
to be a favorite, but no one ever found him doing any thing unworthy of
himself. He is the pride of the county, and if he were a bit suaver in
manner might have been in Congress at this minute."

"How old?"

"Thirty, I should say."

"And the girl?"

"Twenty-five, perhaps."

"A mother living?"

"No; there were some strange stories of her having died a year or so
before they came here, under circumstances of a somewhat distressing
nature, but they themselves say nothing about it."

"It seems to me they don't say much about any thing."

"That's just it; they are the most reserved people you ever saw. It
isn't from them we have heard there is another son floating somewhere
about the world. They never speak of him, and what's more, they never
write to him; as who should know better than myself?"

An interruption here occurred, and I took the opportunity to saunter out
into the crowd of idlers always to be found hanging around a country
store at mail-time. My purpose was, as you may conceive, to pick up any
stray bits of information that might be floating about concerning these
Bensons. Not that I had as yet discovered any thing definite connecting
this respectable family with the gang of counterfeiters upon whose
track I had been placed; but business is business, and no clue, however
slight or unpromising in its nature, is to be neglected when the way is
as dark as that which lay before me. With an easy smile, therefore,
calculated to allay apprehension and awaken confidence, I took my stand
among these loungers. But I soon found that I need do nothing to start
the wheel of gossip on the subject of the Bensons. It was already going,
and that with a force and spirit that almost took my breath away.

"A fancy ball!" were the first words I heard. "The Bensons give a fancy
ball, when they never had three persons at a time in their house
before!"

"Yes, and what's more, they are going to have folks over from Clayton
and Lawrence and Hollowell and devil knows where. It's to be a smash up,
a regular fandango, with masks and all that kind of nonsense."

"They say Miss Carrie teased her father till he had to give in in
self-defence. It's her birthday or something like that, and she _would_
have a party."

"But such a party! who ever heard the like in a respectable town like
this! It's wicked, that's what I call it, downright wicked to cover up
the face God has given you and go strutting around in clothes a
Christian man might well think borrowed from the Evil One if he had to
wear them in any decent company. All wrong, I say, all wrong, and I am
astonished at Mr. Benson. To keep his doors shut as he has, and then to
open them in a burst to all sorts of folly. We are not invited at our
house."

"Nor we, nor we," shouted some half dozen.

"And I don't know of any one in this town who is," cried a burly man,
presumably a butcher by trade. "We are not good enough for the Bensons.
They say he is even going to be mean enough to shut the gates and not
let a soul inside who hasn't a ticket. And they are going to light up
the grounds too!"

"We can peep through the fence."

"Much we will see that way. If you had said climb it--"

"We can't climb it. Big John is going to be there and Tom Henshaw. They
mean to keep their good times to themselves, just as they have kept
every thing else. It's a queer set they are anyway, and the less we
have to do with them the better."

"I should like to see Hartley Benson in masquerade costume, I would."

"Oh, he won't wear any of the fol-de-rol; he's too dignified." And with
that there fell a sudden hush over the crowd, for which I was at a loss
to account, till, upon looking up, I saw approaching on horseback, a
young man in whom I had no difficulty in recognizing the subject of the
last remark.

Straight, slight, elegant in appearance, but with an undoubted reserve
of manner apparent even at a distance, he rode up to where I stood, and
casting a slight glance around, bowed almost imperceptibly, and
alighted. A boy caught the bridle of his horse, and Mr. Benson, without
a word or further look, passed quickly into the office, leaving a
silence behind him that was not disturbed till he returned with what was
evidently his noonday mail. Remounting his horse, he stopped a moment to
speak to a man who had just come up, and I seized the opportunity to
study his face. I did not like it. It was handsome without doubt; the
features were regular, the complexion fair, the expression gentlemanly
if not commanding; but I did not like it. It was too impenetrable
perhaps; and to a detective anxious to probe a man for his motives, this
is ever a most fatal defect. His smile was without sunshine; his glance
was an inquiry, a rebuke, a sarcasm, every thing but a revelation. As he
rode away he carried with him the thought of all, yet I doubt if the
admiration he undoubtedly inspired, was in a single case mixed with any
warmer feeling than that of pride in a fellow townsman they could not
understand. "Ice," thought I; "ice in all but its transparency!" So much
for Benson the son.

The ball was to take place that very night; and the knowledge of this
fact threw a different light over the letter I had read. The word _mask_
had no longer any special significance, neither the word _counterfeit_,
and yet such was the tenor of the note itself, and such the exaggerated
nature of its phrases, I could not but feel that some plot of a
reprehensible if not criminal nature was in the process of formation,
which, as a rising young detective engaged in a mysterious and elusive
search, it behooved me to know. And moved by this consideration, I
turned to a new leaf in my memorandum-book, and put down in black and
white the following facts thus summarily collected:

"A mysterious family with a secret.

"Rich, but with no visible means of wealth.

"Secluded, with no apparent reason for the same.

"A father who is a hermit.

"A son who is impenetrable.

"A daughter whose tastes are seldom gratified.

"The strange fact of a ball being given by this family after years of
reserve and non-intercourse with their neighbors.

"The still stranger fact of it being a masquerade, a style of
entertainment which, from its novelty and the opportunities it affords,
makes this departure from ordinary rules seem marked and startling.

"The discovery of a letter appointing a rendezvous between two persons
of the male sex, in the grounds of the party giving this ball, in which
the opportunities afforded by a masquerade are to be used for forwarding
some long-cherished scheme."

At the bottom of this I wrote a deduction:

"Some connection between one or more members of this family giving the
ball, and the person called to the rendezvous; the entertainment being
used as a blind if not as a means."

It was now four o'clock, five hours before the time of rendezvous. How
should I employ the interval? A glance at the livery-stable hard by,
determined me. Procuring a horse, I rode out on the road toward Mr.
Benson's, for the purpose of reconnoitring the grounds; but as I
proceeded I was seized by an intense desire to penetrate into the midst
of this peculiar household, and judge for myself whether it was worth
while to cherish any further suspicions in regard to this family. But
how to effect such an entrance? What excuse could I give for my
intrusion that would be likely to serve me on a day of such tumult and
preoccupation? I looked up and down the road as if for inspiration. It
did not come. Meanwhile, the huge trees that surrounded the house had
loomed in sight, and presently the beauties of lawn and parterre began
to appear beyond the high iron fence, through which I could catch now
and then short glimpses of hurrying forms, as lanterns were hung on the
trees and all things put in readiness for the evening's entertainment.
Suddenly a thought struck me. If Mr. Benson was the man they said, he
was not engaged in any of these arrangements. Mr. Benson was a hermit.
Now what could I say that would interest a hermit? I racked my brains; a
single idea came. It was daring in its nature, but what of that! The
gate must be passed, Mr. Benson must be seen--or so my adventurous
curiosity decided,--and to do it, something must be ventured. Taking out
my card, which was simply inscribed with my name, I wrote on it,
"_Business private and immediate_," and assuming my most gentlemanly and
inoffensive manner, rode calmly through the gate to the front of the
house. If I had been on foot I doubt if I would have been allowed to
pass by the servant lounging about in that region, but the horse carried
me through in more senses than one, and almost before I realized it, I
found myself pausing before the portico, in full view of a dozen or more
busy men and boys.

Imitating the manner of Mr. Benson at the post-office, I jumped from my
horse and threw the bridle to the boy nearest me. Instantly and before I
could take a step, a servant issued from the open door, and with an
expression of anxiety somewhat surprising under the circumstances, took
his stand before me in a way to hinder my advance.

"Mr. Benson does not receive visitors to-day," said he.

"I am not a visitor," replied I; "I have business with Mr. Benson," and
I handed him my card, which he looked at with a doubtful expression.

"Mr. Benson's commands are not to be disobeyed," persisted the man. "My
master sees no one to-day."

"But this is an exceptional case," I urged, my curiosity rising at this
unexpected opposition. "My business is important and concerns him. He
cannot refuse to see me."

The servant shook his head with what appeared to me to be an unnecessary
expression of alarm, but nevertheless retreated a step, allowing me to
enter. "I will call Mr. Hartley," cried he.

But that was just what I did not wish. It was Benson the father I had
come to see, and I was not to be baffled in this way.

"Mr. Hartley won't do," said I, in my lowest but most determined
accents. "If Mr. Benson is not ill, I must beg to be admitted to his
presence." And stepping inside the small reception room at my right, I
sat down on the first chair I came to.

The man stood for a moment confounded at my pertinacity, then with a
last scrutinizing look, that took in every detail of my person and
apparel, drew slowly off, shaking his head and murmuring to himself.

Meanwhile the mingled splendor and elegance of my surroundings were
slowly making their impression upon me. The hall by which I had entered
was spacious and imposing; the room in which I sat, a model of beauty in
design and finish. I was allowing myself the luxury of studying its
pictures and numerous works of art, when the sound of voices reached my
ear from the next room. A man and woman were conversing there in
smothered tones, but my senses are very acute, and I had no difficulty
in overhearing what was said.

"Oh, what an exciting day this has been!" cried the female voice. "I
have wanted to ask you a dozen times what you think of it all. Will he
succeed this time? Has he the nerve to embrace his opportunity, or what
is more, the tact to make one? Failure now would be fatal. Father--"

"Hush!" broke in the other voice, in a masculine tone of repressed
intensity. "Do not forget that success depends upon your prudence. One
whisper of what you are about, and the whole scheme is destroyed."

"I will be careful; only do you think that all is going well and as we
planned it?"

"It will not be my fault if it does not," was the reply, uttered with an
accent so sinister I was conscious of a violent surprise when, in the
next instant, the other, with a burst of affectionate fervor, cried in
an ardent tone:

"Oh, how good you are, and what a comfort you are to me!"

I was just pondering over the incongruity thus presented, when the
servant returned with my card.

"Mr. Benson wishes to know the nature of your business," said he, in a
voice I was uncomfortably conscious must penetrate to the next room and
awake its inmates to a knowledge of my proximity.

"Let me have the card," said I; and taking it, I added to my words the
simple phrase, "_On behalf of the Constable of the town_," remembering I
had heard the postmaster say this position was held by his brother.
"There," said I, "carry that back to your master."

The servant took the card, glanced down at the words I had written,
started and hastily drew back. "You had better come," said he, leading
the way into the hall.

I was only too glad to comply; in fact, escape from that room seemed
imperative. But just as I was crossing the threshold, a sudden, quick
cry, half joyful, half fearful, rose behind me, and turning, I met the
eyes of a young lady peering upon me from a lifted _portière_, with an
expression of mingled terror and longing that would have astonished me
greatly, if it had not instantly disappeared at the first sight of my
face.

"Pardon me," she exclaimed, drawing back with an embarrassed movement
into the room from which she had emerged. But soon recovering herself,
she stepped hastily forward, and ignoring me, said to the servant at my
side: "Jonas, who is this gentleman, and where are you taking him?"

With a bow, Jonas replied: "He comes on business, miss, and Mr. Benson
consents to see him."

"But I thought my father had expressly commanded that no one was to be
allowed to enter the library to-day," she exclaimed, but in a musing
tone that asked for no response. And hastily as we passed down the hall,
I could not escape the uneasy sense that her eager eyes were following
us as we went.

"Too much emotion for so small a matter, and a strange desire on the
part of every one to keep Mr. Benson from being intruded upon to-day,"
was my mental comment. And I was scarcely surprised when upon our
arrival at the library door we found it locked. However, a knock,
followed by a few whispered words on the part of the servant, served to
arouse the hermit within, and with a quick turn of the key, the door
flew back on its hinges, and the master of the house stood before me.

It was a moment to be remembered: first, because the picture presented
to my eyes was of a marked and impressive character; and secondly,
because something in the expression of the gentleman before me showed
that he had received a shock at my introduction which was not to be
expected after the pains which had been taken to prepare his mind for my
visit. He was a tall, remarkable-looking man, with a head already
whitened, and a form which, if not bowed, had only retained its upright
carriage by means of the indomitable will that betrayed itself in his
eyes. Seen against the rich background of the stained-glass window that
adorned one end of the apartment, his stern, furrowed face and eagerly
repellant aspect imprinted itself upon me like a silhouette, while the
strong emotion I could not but detect in his bearing, lent to the whole
a poetic finish that made it a living picture which, as I have said, I
have never been able to forget.

"You have come from the constable of the town," said he, in a firm, hard
tone, impressive as his look. "May I ask for what purpose?"

Looking around, I saw the servant had disappeared. "Sir," said I,
gathering up my courage, as I became convinced that in this case I had a
thoroughly honest man to deal with, "you are going to give a fancy ball
to-night. Such an event is a novelty in these parts, and arouses much
curiosity. Some of the men about town have even been heard to threaten
to leap the fences and steal a look at your company, whether you will or
not. Mr. White wants to know whether you need any assistance in keeping
the grounds clear of all but your legitimate guests; if so, he is ready
to supply whatever force you may need."

"Mr. White is very kind," returned Mr. Benson, in a voice which, despite
his will-power, showed that his agitation had in some unaccountable way
been increased by my communication. "I had not thought of any such
contingency," he murmured, moving over to a window and looking out. "An
invasion of rowdies would not be agreeable. They might even find their
way into the house." He paused and cast a sudden look at me. "Who are
you?" he abruptly asked.

The question took me by surprise, but I answered bravely if not calmly:
"I am a man who sometimes assists Mr. White in the performance of his
duties, and in case you need it, will be the one to render you
assistance to-night. A line to Mr. White, if you doubt me----"

A wave of his meagre hand stopped me. "Do you think you could keep out
of my house to-night, any one I did not wish to enter?" he asked.

"I should at least like to try."

"A ticket is given to every invited guest; but if men are going to climb
the fences, tickets will amount to but little."

"I will see that the fences are guarded," cried I, gratified at the
prospect of being allowed upon the scene of action. "I can hinder any
one from coming in that way, if----" Here I paused, conscious of
something, I could hardly say what, that bade me be cautious and weigh
my words well. "If you desire it and will give me the authority to act
for you," I added in a somewhat more indifferent tone.

"I do desire it," he replied shortly, moving over to the table and
taking up a card. "Here is a ticket that will insure you entrance into
the grounds; the rest you will manage without scandal. I do not want any
disturbance, but if you see any one hanging about the house or peering
into the windows or attempting to enter in any way except through the
front door, you are to arrest them, no matter who they are. I have an
especial reason for desiring my wishes attended to in this regard," he
went on, not noticing the preoccupation that had seized me, "and will
pay well if on the morrow I find that every thing has gone off according
to my desires."

"Money is a powerful incentive to duty," I rejoined, with marked
emphasis, directing a sly glance at the mirror opposite, in whose depths
I had but a moment before been startled by the sudden apparition of the
pale and strongly agitated face of young Mr. Benson, who was peering
from a door-way half hidden by a screen at our back. "I will be on hand
to-night." And with what I meant to be a cynical look, I made my bow and
disappeared from the room.

As I expected, I was met at the front door by Mr. Hartley. "A word with
you," said he. "Jonas tells me you are from the constable of the town.
May I ask what has gone amiss that you come here to disturb my father on
a day like this?"

His tone was not unkind, his expression not without suavity. If I had
not had imprinted on my memory the startling picture of his face as I
had seen it an instant before in the mirror, I should have been tempted
to believe in his goodness and integrity at this moment. As it was, I
doubted him through and through, yet replied with frankness and showed
him the ticket I had received from his father.

"And you are going to make it your business to guard the grounds
to-night?" he asked, gloomily glancing at the card in my hand as if he
would like to annihilate it.

"Yes," said I.

He drew me into a small room half filled with plants.

"Now," said he, "see here. Such a piece of interference is entirely
uncalled for, and you have been alarming my father unnecessarily. There
are no rowdies in this town, and if one or two of the villagers should
get into the grounds, where is the harm? They cannot get into the house
even if they wanted to, which they don't. I do not wish this, our first
show of hospitality, to assume a hostile aspect, and whatever my
father's expectations may be, I must request you to curtail your duties
as much as possible and limit them to responding by your presence when
called upon."

"But your father has a right to expect the fullest obedience to his
wishes," I protested. "He would not be satisfied if I should do no more
than you request, and I cannot afford to disappoint him."

He looked at me with a calculating eye, and I expected to see him put
his hand in his pocket; but Hartley Benson played his cards better than
that. "Very well," said he, "if you persist in regarding my father's
wishes as paramount, I have nothing to say. Fulfil your duties as you
conceive them, but don't look for my support if any foolish misadventure
makes you ashamed of yourself." And drawing back, he motioned me out of
the room.

I felt I had received a check, and hurried out of the house. But
scarcely had I entered upon the walk that led down to the gate, when I
heard a light step behind me. Turning, I encountered the pretty daughter
of the house, the youthful Miss Carrie.

"Wait," she cried, allowing herself to display her emotion freely in
face and bearing. "I have heard who you are from my brother," she
continued, approaching me with a soft grace that at once put me upon my
guard. "Now, tell me who are the rowdies that threaten to invade our
grounds?"

"I do not know their names, miss," I responded; "but they are a
rough-looking set you would not like to see among your guests."

"There are no very rough-looking men in our village," she declared; "you
must be mistaken in regard to them. My father is nervous and easily
alarmed. It was wrong to arouse his fears."

I thought of that steady eye of his, of force sufficient to hold in awe
a regiment of insurgents, and smiled at her opinion of my understanding.

"Then you do not wish the grounds guarded," I said, in as indifferent a
tone as I could assume.

"I do not consider it necessary."

"But I have already pledged myself to fulfil your father's commands."

"I know," she said, drawing a step nearer, with a most enchanting smile.
"And that was right under the circumstances; but we, his children, who
may be presumed to know more of social matters than a recluse,--I,
especially," she added, with a certain emphasis, "tell you it is not
necessary. We fear the scandal it may cause; besides, some of the guests
may choose to linger about the grounds under the trees, and would be
rather startled at being arrested as intruders."

"What, then, do you wish me to do?" I asked, leaning toward her, with an
appearance of yielding.

"To accept this money," she murmured, blushing, "and confine yourself
to-night to remaining in the background unless called upon."

This was a seconding of her brother's proposition with a vengeance.
Taking the purse she handed me, I weighed it for a moment in my hand,
and then slowly shook my head. "Impossible," I cried; "but"--and I fixed
my eyes intently upon her countenance--"if there is any one in
particular whom you desire me to ignore, I am ready to listen to a
description of his person. It has always been my pleasure to accommodate
myself as much as possible to the whims of the ladies."

It was a bold stroke that might have cost me the game. Indeed, I half
expected she would raise her voice and order some of the men about her
to eject me from the grounds. But instead of that she remained for a
moment blushing painfully, but surveying me with an unfaltering gaze
that reminded me of her father's.

"There _is_ a person," said she, in a low, restrained voice, "whom I am
especially anxious should remain unmolested, whatever he may or may not
be seen to do. He is a guest," she went on, a sudden pallor taking the
place of her blushes, "and has a right to be here; but I doubt if he at
once enters the house, and I even suspect he may choose to loiter awhile
in the grounds before attempting to join the company. I ask you to allow
him to do so."

I bowed with an appearance of great respect. "Describe him," said I.

For a moment she faltered, with a distressed look I found it difficult
to understand. Then, with a sudden glance over my person, exclaimed:
"Look in the glass when you get home and you will see the _fac-simile_
of his form, though not of his face. He is fair, whereas you are dark."
And with a haughty lift of her head calculated to rob me of any
satisfaction I might have taken in her words, she stepped slowly back.

I stopped her with a gesture. "Miss," said I, "take your purse before
you go. Payment of any service I may render your father will come in
time. This affair is between you and me, and I hope I am too much of a
gentleman to accept money for accommodating a lady in so small a matter
as this."

But she shook her head. "Take it," said she, "and assure me that I may
rely on you."

"You may rely on me without the money," I replied, forcing the purse
back into her hand.

"Then I shall rest easy," she returned, and retreated with a lightsome
air toward the house.

The next moment I was on the highway with my thoughts. What did it all
mean? Was it, then, a mere love affair across which I had foolishly
stumbled, and was I busying myself unnecessarily about a rendezvous that
might mean no more than an elopement from under a severe father's eye?
Taking out the note which had led to all these efforts on my part, I
read it for the third time.

     "All goes well. The time has come; every thing is in train, and
     success is certain. Be in the shrubbery at the northeast corner
     of the grounds at 9 P.M. precisely; you will be given a mask
     and such other means as are necessary to insure you the
     accomplishment of the end you have in view. He cannot hold out
     against a surprise. The word by which you will know your
     friends is
                                                   COUNTERFEIT."

A love-letter of course; and I had been a fool to suppose it any thing
else. The young people are to surprise the old gentleman in the presence
of their friends. They have been secretly married perhaps, who knows,
and take this method of obtaining a public reconciliation. But that word
"_Counterfeit_," and the sinister tone of Hartley Benson as he said: "It
shall not fail through lack of effort on my part!" Such a word and such
a tone did not rightly tally with this theory. Few brothers take such
interest in their sister's love affairs as to grow saturnine over them.
There was, beneath all this, something which I had not yet penetrated.
Meantime my duty led me to remain true to the one person of whose
integrity of purpose I was most thoroughly convinced.

Returning to the village, I hunted up Mr. White and acquainted him with
what I had undertaken in his name; and then perceiving that the time was
fast speeding by, strolled over to the tavern for my supper.

The stranger was still there, walking up and down the sitting-room. He
joined us at the table, but I observed he scarcely tasted his food, and
both then and afterward manifested the same anxious suspense that had
characterized his movements from the time of our first encounter.



II.

THE BLACK DOMINO.


At half past eight I was at my post. The mysterious stranger, still
under my direct surveillance, had already entered the grounds and taken
his stand in the southwest corner of the shrubbery, thereby leaving me
free to exercise my zeal in keeping the fences and gates free of
intruders. At nine the guests were nearly if not all assembled; and
promptly at the hour mentioned in the note so often referred to, I stole
away from my post and hid myself amid the bushes that obscured the real
place of rendezvous.

It was a retired spot, eminently fitted for a secret meeting. The lamps,
which had been hung in profusion through the grounds, had been
studiously excluded from this quarter. Even the broad blaze of light
that poured from the open doors and windows of the brilliantly
illuminated mansion, sent no glimmer through the broad belt of
evergreens that separated this retreat from the open lawn beyond. All
was dark, all was mysterious, all was favorable to the daring plan I had
undertaken. In silence I awaited the sound of approaching steps.

My suspense was of short duration. In a few moments I heard a low rustle
in the bushes near me, then a form appeared before my eyes, and a man's
voice whispered:

"Is there any one here?"

My reply was to glide quietly into view.

Instantly he spoke again, this time with more assurance.

"Are you ready for a counterfeit?"

"I am ready for any thing," I returned, in smothered tones, hoping by
thus disguising my voice, to lure him into a revelation of the true
purpose of this mysterious rendezvous.

But instead of the explanations I expected, the person before me made a
quick movement, and I felt a domino thrown over my shoulders.

"Draw it about you well," he murmured; "there are lynx eyes in the crowd
to-night." And while I mechanically obeyed, he bent down to my ear and
earnestly continued: "Now listen, and be guided by my instructions. You
will not be able to enter by the front door, as it is guarded, and you
cannot pass without removing your mask. But the window on the left-hand
balcony is at your service. It is open, and the man appointed to keep
intruders away, has been bribed to let you pass. Once inside the house,
join the company _sans céremonie_; and do not hesitate to converse with
any one who addresses you by the countersign. Promptly at ten o'clock
look around you for a domino in plain black. When you see him move,
follow him, but with discretion, so that you may not seem to others to
be following. Sooner or later he will pause and point to a closed door.
Notice that door, and when your guide has disappeared, approach and
enter it without fear or hesitation. You will find yourself in a small
apartment connecting with the library.

"There is but one thing more to say. If the wineglass you will observe
on the library table smells of wine, you may know your father has had
his nightly potion and gone to bed. But if it contains nothing more than
a small white powder, you may be certain he has yet to return to the
library, and that by waiting, you will have the long-wished-for
opportunity of seeing him."

And pausing for no reply, my strange companion suddenly thrust a mask
into my hand and darted from the circle of trees that surrounded us.

For a moment I stood dumbfounded at the position in which my
recklessness had placed me. All the folly, the impertinence even, of the
proceeding upon which I had entered, was revealed to me in its true
colors, and I mentally inquired what could have induced me to thus
hamper myself with the details of a mystery so entirely removed from the
serious matter I had in charge. Resolved to abandon the affair, I made a
hasty attempt to disengage myself from the domino in which I had been so
unceremoniously enveloped. But invisible hands seemed to restrain me. A
vivid remembrance of the tone in which these final instructions had been
uttered returned to my mind, and while I recognized the voice as that of
Hartley Benson, I also recognized the almost saturnine intensity of
expression which had once before imbued his words with a significance
both forcible and surprising. The secret, if a purely family one, was of
no ordinary nature; and at the thought I felt my old interest revive.
All the excuses with which I had hitherto silenced my conscience
recurred to me with fresh force, and mechanically donning my mask, I
prepared to follow out my guide's instructions to the last detail.

The window to which I had been directed stood wide open. Through it came
the murmur of music and the hum of gay voices. Visions of a motley crowd
decked in grotesque costumes passed constantly before my eyes. Sight and
sound combined to allure me. Hurrying to the window, I stepped
carelessly in.

A low guttural "Hugh!" at once greeted me. It was from a mask in full
Indian costume, whom I saw leaning with a warrior's well-known dignity
against the embrasure of the window by which I had entered. Giving him a
scrutinizing glance, I came to the conclusion he was a young and not
inelegant man; and impelled by a reasonable curiosity as to how I looked
myself, I cast my eyes down upon my own person. I found my appearance
sufficiently striking. The domino, in which I was wrapped was of a
brilliant yellow hue, covered here and there with black figures
representing all sorts of fantastic creatures, from hobgoblins of a
terrible type, to merry Kate Greenaway silhouettes. "Humph!" thought I,
"it seems I am not destined to glide unnoticed amid the crowd."

The first person who approached me was a gay little shepherdess.

"Ah, ha!" was the sportive exclamation with which she greeted me. "Here
is one of my wandering sheep!" And with a laugh, she endeavored to hook
me to her side by means of her silver crook.

But this blithesome puppet possessed no interest for me. So with a growl
and a bound I assured her I was nothing more than a wolf in sheep's
clothing, and would eat her up if she did not run away; at which she
gayly laughed and vanished, and for a moment I was left alone. But only
for a moment. A masked lady, whom I had previously observed standing
upright and solitary in a distant corner of the room, now approached,
and taking me by the arm, led me eagerly to one side.

"Oh, Joe!" she whispered, "is it you? How glad I am to have you here,
and how I hope we are going to be happy at last!"

Fearing to address a person seemingly so well acquainted with the young
man whose place I had usurped, I merely pressed, with most perfidious
duplicity, the little hand that was so confidingly clasped in mine. It
seemed to satisfy her, for she launched at once into ardent speech.

"Oh, Joe, I have been so anxious to have you with us once again! Hartley
is a good brother, but he is not my old playmate. Then father will be so
much happier if you only succeed in making him forget the past."

Seeing by this that it was Miss Carrie Benson with whom I had to deal, I
pressed the little hand again, and tenderly drew her closer to my side.
That I felt all the time like a villain of the blackest dye, it is quite
unnecessary for me to state.

"Has Hartley told you just what you are to do?" was her next remark.
"Father is very determined not to relent and has kept himself locked in
his library all day, for fear you should force yourself upon his
presence. I could never have gained his consent to give this ball if I
had not first persuaded him it would serve as a means to keep you at a
distance; that if you saw the house thronged with guests, natural
modesty would restrain you from pushing yourself forward. I think he
begins to distrust his own firmness. He fears he will melt at the sight
of you. He has been failing this last year and--" A sudden choke stopped
her voice.

I was at once both touched and alarmed; touched at the grief which
showed her motives to be pure and good, and alarmed at the position in
which I had thrust myself to the apparent detriment of these same
laudable motives. Moved by a desire to right matters, I ventured to
speak:

"And do you think," I whispered, in purposely smothered accents, "that
if he sees me he will relent?"

"I am sure of it. He yearns over you, Joe; and if he had not sworn never
to speak to you again, he would have sent for you long ago. Hartley
believes as well as I that the time for reconciliation has come."

"And is Hartley," I ventured again, not without a secret fear of the
consequences, "really anxious for reconciliation?"

"Oh, Joe! can you doubt it? Has he not striven from the first to make
father forget? Would he encourage you to come here to-night, furnish you
with a disguise, and consent to act both as your champion and adviser,
if he did not want to see you and father friends again? You don't
understand Hartley; you never have. You would not have repelled his
advances so long, if you had realized how truly he had forgiven every
thing and forgotten it. Hartley has the pride of a person who has never
done wrong himself. But even pride gives way before brotherly affection;
and you have suffered so much and so long, poor Joe!"

"So, so," thought I, "Joe is then the aggressor!" And for a moment, I
longed to be the man I represented, if only to clasp this dear little
sister in my arms and thank her for her goodness. "You are a darling," I
faintly articulated, inwardly determined to rush forthwith into the
garden, hand over my domino to the person for whom it was intended, and
make my escape from a scene which I had so little right to enjoy. But
at this instant an interruption occurred which robbed me of my
companion, but kept me effectually in my place. A black domino swept by
us, dragging Miss Benson from my side, while at the same time a harsh
voice whispered in my ear:

"To counterfeit wrong when one is right, necessarily opens one to
misunderstanding."

I started, recognizing in this mode of speech a _friend_, and therefore
one from whom I could not escape without running the risk of awakening
suspicion.

"That is true," I returned, hoping by my abrupt replies to cut short
this fresh colloquy and win a speedy release.

But something in my answer roused the interest of the person at my side,
and caused a display of emotion that led to quite an opposite result
from what I desired.

"You awaken a thousand conjectures in my mind by that reply," exclaimed
my friend, edging me a little farther back from the crowd. "I have
always had my doubts about--about--" he paused, hunting for the proper
phrase--"about your having done what they said," he somewhat lamely
concluded. "It was so unlike you. But now I begin to see the presence of
a possibility that might perhaps explain much we never understood. Joe,
my boy, you never said you were innocent, but----"

"Who are you?" I asked boldly, peering into the twinkling eyes that
shone upon me from his sedate mask. "In the discussion of such matters
as these, it would be dreadful to make a mistake."

"And don't you recognize your Uncle Joe?" he asked, with a certain
plaintive reproach somewhat out of keeping with his costume of "potent,
grave, and reverend signior." "I came over from Hollowell on purpose,
because Carrie intimated that you were going to make one final effort to
see your father. Edith is here too," he murmured, thrusting his face
alarmingly near mine. "She would not stay away, though we were all
afraid she might betray herself; her emotions are so quick. Poor child!
_she_ never doubted you; and if my suspicions are correct----"

"Edith?" I interrupted,--"Edith?" An Edith was the last person I
desired to meet under these circumstances. "Where is she?" I tremulously
inquired, starting aside in some dismay at the prospect of encountering
this unknown quantity of love and devotion.

But my companion, seizing me by the arm, drew me back. "She is not far
away; of that you may be sure. But it will never do for you to try and
hunt her up. You would not know her in her mask. Besides, if you remain
still she will come to you."

That was just what I feared, but upon looking round and seeing no
suspicious-looking damsel anywhere near me, I concluded to waive my
apprehensions on her account and proceed to the development of an idea
that had been awakened by the old gentleman's words.

"You are right," I acquiesced, edging, in my turn, toward the curtained
recess of a window near by. "Let us wait here, and meantime you shall
tell me what your suspicions are, for I feel the time has come for the
truth to be made known, and who could better aid me in proclaiming it
than you who have always stood my friend?"

"That is true," he murmured, all eagerness at once. Then in a lower tone
and with a significant gesture: "There _is_ something, then, which has
never been made known? Edith was right when she said you did not steal
the bonds out of your father's desk?"

As he paused and looked me in the face, I was obliged to make some
reply. I chose one of the non-committal sort.

"Don't ask me!" I murmured, turning away with every appearance of
profound agitation.

He did not suspect the ruse.

"But, my boy, I shall have to ask you; if I am to help you out of this
scrape, I must know the truth. Yet if it is as I suspect, I can see why
you should hesitate even now. You are a generous fellow, Joe, but even
generosity can be carried past its proper limits."

"Uncle," I exclaimed, leaning over him and whispering tremulously in his
ear, "what are your suspicions? If I hear you give utterance to them,
perhaps it will not be so hard for me to speak."

He hesitated, looked all about us with a questioning glance, put his
mouth to my ear, and whispered:

"If I should use the name of Hartley in connection with what I have to
say, would you be so very much surprised?"

With a quick semblance of emotion, I drew back.

"You think--" I tremulously commenced, and as suddenly broke off.

"That it was he who did it, and that you, knowing how your father loved
him and built his hopes upon him, bore the blame of it yourself."

"Ha!" I exclaimed, with a deep breath as of relief. The suspicions of
Uncle Joe were worth hearing.

He seemed to be satisfied with the ejaculation, and with an increase of
eagerness in his tone, went quickly on:

"Am I not right, my boy? Is not this the secret of your whole conduct
from that dreadful day to this?"

"Don't ask me," I again pleaded, taking care, however, to draw a step
nearer and exclaim in almost the same breath: "Why should you think it
must necessarily have been one of us? What did _you_ know that you
should be so positive it was either he or I who committed this
dishonest action?"

"What did I know? Why, what everybody else did. That your father,
hearing a noise in his study one night, rose up quietly and slipped to
the door of communication in time to hear a stealthy foot leave the room
and proceed down the hall toward the apartment usually occupied by you
and your brother; that, alarmed and filled with vague distrust, he at
once lit the lamp, only to discover his desk had been forcibly broken
into and a number of coupon bonds taken out; that, struck to the heart,
he went immediately to the room where you and your brother lay, found
him lying quiet, and to all appearance asleep, while you looked flushed
and with difficulty met his eye; that without hesitation he thereupon
accused you of theft, and began to search the apartment; that he found
the bonds, as we both know, in a cupboard at the head of your bed, and
when you were asked if you had put them there you remained silent, and
neither then nor afterward made any denial of being the one who stole
them."

A mournful "Yes" was all the reply I ventured upon.

"Now it never seemed to occur to your father to doubt your guilt. The
open window and the burglar's jimmy found lying on the floor of the
study, being only so many proofs, to his mind, of your deep calculation
and great duplicity. But I could not help thinking, even on that
horrible morning, that your face did not wear a look of guilt so much as
it did that of firm and quiet resolution. But I was far from suspecting
the truth, my boy, or I should never have allowed you to fall a victim
to your father's curse, and be sent forth like a criminal from home and
kindred. If only for Edith's sake I would have spoken--dear, trusting,
faithful girl that she is!"

"But--but--" I brokenly ejaculated, anxious to gain as much of the truth
as was possible in the few minutes allotted me; "what has awakened your
suspicions at this late day? Why should you doubt Hartley now, if you
did not then?"

"Well, I cannot really say. Perhaps Edith's persistent aversion to your
brother has had something to do with it. Then he has grown cold and
hard, while you have preserved your boyish freshness and affection. I--I
don't like him, that is the truth; and with my dislike arose doubts,
and--and--well, I cannot tell how it is, but I will believe you if you
say he was the one to blame in this matter; and what is more, your
father will believe you too; for he does not feel the same satisfaction
in Hartley's irreproachable character that he used to, and--and--"

A sudden movement in the crowd stopped him. A tall, graceful-looking
woman clad entirely in white had just entered the room and seemed to be
making her way toward us.

"There is Edith!" he declared. "She is hunting for the yellow domino
ornamented with black that she has been told conceals her lover. Shall I
go and fetch her here, or will you wait until she spies you of her own
accord?"

"I will wait," I uneasily replied, edging nearer to the window with the
determination of using it as a means of escape if my companion only gave
me the chance. "See! she is in the hands of an old Jew, who seems to be
greatly taken with the silver trimmings on her sleeves. Suppose you
improve the opportunity to slip away," I laughingly suggested. "Lovers'
meetings are not usually of an order to interest third parties."

"Aren't they, you rogue!" retorted the old gentleman, giving me a jocose
poke in the ribs. "Well, well, I suppose you are right. But you have not
told me--"

"I will tell you every thing in an hour," I hastily assured him. "I am
going to meet my father in the library, and after he has heard the
truth, you shall be admitted and all will be explained."

"That is only fair," he replied. "Your father has the first rights, of
course. But Joe, my boy, remember I am not over and above patient of
disposition, and don't keep me waiting too long." And with an
affectionate squeeze of my hand, he stepped out from the recess where we
stood and made his way once more into the throng.

No sooner had he left my side than I threw up the window. "Now is the
time for the real Joe to appear upon the scene," was my mental
decision. "I have done for him what he as a gentleman would probably
never do for himself--pumped this old party and got every thing in trim
for Hartley's discomfiture. But the courting business is another matter;
also the interview with the outraged father in the library. That cannot
be done by proxy; so here goes for a change of actors."

And with reckless disregard of consequences, I prepared to jump from the
window, when a sudden light flashed over the lawn beneath and I saw I
was at least twelve feet from the ground.

"Well," I exclaimed, drawing hastily back; "such a leap as that is too
much to expect of any man!" And with the humiliating consciousness of
being caught in a trap, I proceeded to close the window.

"Joe!"

'Twas a low whisper, but how thrilling! Turning, I greeted, with the
show of fervor I considered necessary to the occasion, the white-veiled
lady who had glided into my retreat.

"Did you think I was never coming, Joe? Everybody who could get in my
way certainly managed to do so. Then Hartley is so suspicious, and
followed me with his eyes so persistently, I did not dare show my
designs too plainly. It is only this minute he left my side. If you had
been anywhere else I do not know as I should have succeeded even now in
getting a word with you--oh!"

This exclamation was called forth by a sudden movement that took place
near us. The curtain was drawn back and a tall man dressed in a black
domino glanced in, gave us a scrutinizing look, bowed, and dropped the
curtain again.

"Hartley," she whisperingly explained.

I took her by the hand; there was no help for it; gesture and a
lover-like demeanor must, in this case, supply the place of speech.

"Hush!" she entreated. (Not that I had spoken.) "I dare not stay. When
you have seen your father, perhaps I will have courage to join you; but
now it would be better for me to go." And her eyes roamed toward the
curtain, while the little hand I held in mine grew cold and slightly
trembled.

I pressed that little hand, but, as you may well believe, did not urge
her to remain. Yet she did not seem in a hurry to depart, and I do not
know what complications might have ensued, if another movement in the
curtain had not reawakened her fears and caused her, notwithstanding her
evident reluctance, to start quickly away.

I did not linger long behind her. Scarcely had the curtain fallen from
her hand than I stepped hastily forth. But alas for my hopes of escape!
No sooner had I joined the group of merry-makers circling about the open
door, than I felt a touch on my arm, and looking up, saw before me the
Black Domino. The hour of ten had struck and my guide to the library was
at hand. There was no alternative left me but to follow him.



III.

AN UNEXPECTED CALAMITY.


Five minutes passed, during which I threaded more laughing groups and
sauntered down more mysterious passage-ways than I would care to count.
Still the mysterious Black Domino glided on before me, leading me from
door to door till my patience was nearly exhausted, and I had well-nigh
determined to give him the slip and make my way at once to the garden,
and the no-doubt-by-this-time-highly-impatient Joe.

But before I had the opportunity of carrying out this scheme, the
ominous Black Domino paused, and carelessly pointing to a door at the
termination of a narrow corridor, bowed, and hastily withdrew.

"Now," said I, as soon as I found myself alone, "shall I proceed with
this farce, or shall I end it? To go on means to interview Mr. Benson,
acquaint him with what has come to my knowledge during the last half
hour in which I have so successfully personified his son, and by these
means perhaps awake him to the truth concerning this serious matter of
Joseph's innocence or Hartley's guilt; while to stop now implies nothing
more nor less than a full explanation with his son, a man of whose
character, manners, and disposition I know little or nothing."

Either alternative presented infinite difficulties, but of the two the
former seemed to me more feasible and less embarrassing. At all events,
in talking with Mr. Benson, I should not have the sensibilities of a
lover to contend with, and however unfortunate in its results our
interview might be, would be at the mercy of old blood instead of young,
a point always to be considered in a case where one's presumption has
been carried beyond the bounds of decorum.

Unlocking the door, I stepped, as I had been told I should, into a small
room adjoining the library. All around me were books. Even the door by
which I had entered was laden with them, so that when it was closed, all
vestige of the door itself disappeared. Across the opening into the
library stood a screen, and it was not until I had pushed this somewhat
aside that I was able to look into that room.

My first glance assured me it was empty. Stark and bare of any occupant,
the high-backed chairs loomed in the funereal gloom, while on the table,
toward which I inadvertently glanced, stood a decanter with a solitary
wineglass at its side. Instantly I remembered what had been told me
concerning that glass, and stepping forward, I took it up and looked at
it.

Immediately I heard, or thought I heard, an exclamation uttered
somewhere near me. But upon glancing up and down the room and perceiving
no one, I concluded I was mistaken, and deliberately proceeded to
examine the wineglass and assure myself that no wine had as yet been
poured upon the powder I found in it. Satisfied at last that Mr. Benson
had not yet taken his usual evening potion, I put the glass back and
withdrew again to my retreat.

I do not think another minute could have elapsed, before I heard a step
in the room behind me. A door leading into an adjoining apartment had
opened and Mr. Benson had come in. He passed immediately to the table,
poured out the wine upon the powder, and drank it off without a moment's
hesitation. I heard him sigh as he put the glass down.

With a turn of my hand I slipped off both domino and mask, and prepared
to announce my presence by tapping on the lintel of the door beside
which I stood. But a sudden change in Mr. Benson's lofty figure startled
me. He was swaying, and the arms which had fallen to his side were
moving with a convulsive action that greatly alarmed me. But almost
instantly he recovered himself, and paced with a steady step toward the
hall door, which at that moment resounded with a short loud knock.

"Who is there?" he asked, with every appearance of his usual sternness.

"Hartley," was the reply.

"Are you alone?" the old gentleman again queried, making a move as if to
unlock the door.

"Carrie is with me; no one else," came in smothered accents from
without.

Mr. Benson at once turned the key, but no sooner had he done so than he
staggered back. For an instant or two of horror he stood oscillating
from side to side, then his frame succumbed, and the terrified eyes of
his children beheld his white head lying low, all movement and
appearance of life gone from the form that but a moment before towered
so proudly before them.

With a shriek, the daughter flung herself down at his side, and even the
cheek of Hartley Benson grew white as he leaned over his father's
already inanimate body.

"He is dead!" came in a wild cry from her lips. "See! he does not
breathe. Oh! Hartley, what could have happened? Do you think that Joe--"

"Hush!" he exclaimed, with a furtive glance around him. "He may be here;
let me look. _If Joe has done this_--" He did not continue, but rose,
and with a rapid tread began to cross the floor in my direction.

In a flash I realized my situation. To be found by him now, without a
domino, and in the position of listener, would be any thing but
desirable. But I knew of no way of escape, or so for the moment it
seemed. But great emergencies call forth sudden resources. In the quick
look I inadvertently threw around me, I observed that the _portière_
hanging between me and the library was gathered at one side in very
heavy folds. If I could hide behind them perhaps I might elude the
casual glance he would probably cast into my place of concealment. At
all events it was worth trying, and at the thought I glided behind the
curtain. I was not disappointed in my calculations. Arrived at the door,
he looked in, perceived the domino lying in a heap on the floor, and
immediately drew back with an exclamation of undoubted satisfaction.

"He is gone," said he, crossing back to his sister's side. Then in a
tone of mingled irony and bitterness, hard to describe, cried aloud with
a glance toward the open door: "He has first killed his father and then
fled. Fool that I was to think he could be trusted!"

A horrified "Hartley!" burst from his sister's lips and a suppressed but
equally vehement "Villain!" from mine; but neither of us had time for
more, for almost at the same instant the room filled with frightened
guests, among which I discerned the face and form of the old servant
Jonas, and the flowing robes and the white garments of Uncle Joe and the
graceful Edith.

To describe the confusion that followed would be beyond my powers,
especially as my attention was at the time not so much directed to the
effect produced by this catastrophe, as to the man whom, from the moment
Mr. Benson fell to the floor, I regarded as my lawful prey. He did not
quake and lose his presence of mind in this terrible crisis. He was
gifted with too much self-control to betray any unseemly agitation even
over such a matter as his father's sudden death. Once only did I detect
his lip tremble, and that was when an elderly gentleman (presumably a
doctor) exclaimed after a careful examination of the fallen man:

"This is no case of apoplexy, gentlemen!"

Then indeed Mr. Hartley Benson shivered, and betrayed an emotion for
which I considered myself as receiving a due explanation when, a few
minutes later, I observed the same gentleman lay his hand upon the
decanter and glass that stood on the table, and after raising them one
after the other to his nose, slowly shake his head, and with a furtive
look around him, lock them both in a small cupboard that opened over the
mantel-piece.



IV.

IN THE LIBRARY.


Mr. Benson was really dead. The fact being announced, most of the guests
withdrew. In ten minutes after he fell, the room was comparatively
clear. Only the various members of the family, together with the
gentleman I have already mentioned, remained behind; and, even of these,
the two ladies were absent, they having followed the body into the
adjoining room, where it had been reverently carried by the attached
Jonas and another servant whose face I did not see.

"A most unlooked-for catastrophe," burst from the lips of Uncle Joe.
"Did you ever suspect he was a victim to heart disease?" he now asked,
this time with looks directed toward the doctor.

"No," came from that gentleman in a short, sharp way, which made Hartley
Benson's pale face flush, though his eye did not waver from its steady
solemn look toward the door through which his father's form had just
been carried. "Mr. Benson was sound through and through a month ago. I
know, because I examined him previous to his making his will. There was
no heart disease then; that I am ready to take my oath upon."

Hartley Benson's rigid look unfastened itself from the door and turned
slowly toward the sombre face of the speaker, while Uncle Joe, with an
increased expression of distress, looked slowly around as if he half
hoped, half feared to behold his favorite nephew advance upon them from
some shadowy corner.

"My father consulted you, then?" said the former, in his slow, reserved
way. "Did not that evince some suspicion of disease on his part?"

"Possibly; a man in a despondent frame of mind will often imagine he has
some deadly complaint or other. But he was quite sound; too sound, he
seemed to think. Your father was not a happy man, Mr. Benson."

There was meaning in the tone, and I was not surprised to observe
Hartley draw back. "Why," said he, "do you think--"

"I think nothing," broke in the doctor; "only"--and here he brought down
his hand vigorously upon the table--"there has been prussic acid in the
glass from which Mr. Benson drank this evening. The smell of bitter
almonds is not to be mistaken."

An interval of silent horror followed this announcement, then a vehement
"Great Heaven!" broke from the lips of Uncle Joe, while Hartley Benson,
growing more and more rigid in his bearing, fixed his eyes on the
doctor's face and barely ejaculated:

"Poison?"

"I say this," continued the doctor, too intent upon his own theory to
notice either the growth of a terrible fear on the face of Uncle Joe, or
the equally remarkable expression of subdued expectation on that of the
son, "because long experience has taught me the uselessness of trying to
hide such a fact as suicide, and also because, being the coroner of the
county, it is my duty to warn you that an investigation will have to
take place which will require certain precautions on my part, such as
the sealing up of his papers, etc."

"That is true," came from the lips of both brother and son, over whom a
visible change had passed at the word "suicide."

"But I cannot think--" the former began in an agitated voice.

"That my father would do such a deed," interposed the latter. "It does
not seem probable, and yet he was a very wretched man, and grief will
often drive the best of us to despair."

Uncle Joe gave his nephew a strange look, but said no more. The doctor
went quietly on:

"I do not know what your father's troubles were, but that he committed
suicide I greatly fear, unless it can be proved the acid was taken by
mistake, a conclusion which does not seem probable, for from the smell
of the decanter it is evident the acid was mixed with the wine, in which
I now remember advising him to take the nightly powder I prescribed to
him for quite a trivial disorder a few days ago. The only thing that
puzzles me is, why, if he meditated death, he should have troubled
himself to take this powder. And yet it is certain he did take it, for
there is still some of the sediment of it remaining in the bottom of the
glass."

"He took the powder because it was already in the glass," broke in
Hartley, in a heavy tone of voice. "My sister put it there before she
went up stairs to dress. I think she was afraid he would forget it. My
father was very careless about small matters."

"He was careful enough not to poison any one else in the family," quoth
the doctor. "There was scarcely a drop left in the decanter; he took the
whole dose."

"I beg your pardon, sirs, but is it suicide you are talking about?"
cried a voice suddenly over their shoulders, making them all start.
Jonas, the servant, had entered from the inner room, and unseen by all
but myself, had been listening to the last few words as if his life
depended upon what they had to say. "If it is, why I have a bit of an
observation of my own to make that may help you to settle the matter."

"You! What have you to say?" quoth the doctor, turning in surprise at
the confident tone of voice in which the man spoke.

"Not much, I am sure," cried Hartley, to whom the appearance at that
moment of his father's old servant was evidently most unwelcome.

"That is for you to judge, gentlemen. I can only tell you what I've
seen, and that not ten minutes ago. Mr. Hartley, do you mind the man in
the yellow dress that was flitting about the parlors all the evening?"

"Good heavens!" burst in uncontrollable agitation from Uncle Joe; and he
caught his nephew by the arm with a look that called back the old rigid
expression to the latter's face.

"Yes," was the quiet reply; "I remember seeing such a person."

"Well, sirs, I don't know as you will think any thing of it, but a
little while ago I was walking up and down the balcony outside there,
when I happened to look into this room, and I saw that man in the yellow
dress leaning over this very table, looking into the wineglass Miss
Carrie had put there for master. He had it in his hand, and his head was
down very close to it, but what he did to it or to the decanter either,
I am sure, sirs, I don't know, for I was that frightened at seeing this
spectre in the room master had kept locked all day, that I just slipped
off the balcony and ran round the house to find Mr. Hartley. But you
wasn't in the parlors, sir, nor Miss Carrie neither, and when I got to
this room, there was master lying dead on the floor, and everybody
crowding around him horror-struck."

"Humph!" ejaculated the doctor, looking at Uncle Joe, who had sunk in a
heap into the arm-chair his nephew abstractedly pushed toward him.

"You see, sirs," Jonas resumed, with great earnestness, "Mr. Benson, for
some reason or other, had been very particular about keeping his own
room to-day. The library door was locked as early as six this morning,
and he would let no one in without first asking who was there. That's
why I felt so dumbfoundered at seeing this yellow man in the room;
besides----"

But no sooner had the good man arrived at this point than he stopped,
with a gasp, and after a quick look at Hartley, flushed, and drew back
in a state of great agitation and embarrassment. Evidently a suspicion
had just crossed the mind of this old and attached servant as to whom
the Yellow Domino might be.

"Well, well," cried the doctor, "go on; let us hear the rest."

"I--I have nothing more to say," mumbled the man, while Hartley, with an
equal display of embarrassment, motioned the discomfited servant to
withdraw, and turned as if to hide his face over some papers on the
table.

"I think the man in the yellow domino had better be found," quoth the
physician, dryly, glancing from Hartley to the departing form of the
servant, with a sharp look. "At all events it would be well enough for
us to know who he is."

"I don't see--" began Uncle Joe, but stopped as he perceived the face of
Hartley Benson slowly composing itself. Evidently he was as much
interested as myself in observing what this not-easily-to-be-understood
man would say and do in this sudden crisis.

We were not long left in doubt.

"Doctor," he began, in a slow, hesitating tone, well calculated to
produce the effect he desired, "we unfortunately already know who wore a
yellow domino this evening. My brother Joe----"

"Hush!" implored his uncle, laying a hand on his nephew's arm with a
quick look of distress not lost on the doctor.

"Brother?" repeated the latter. "Pardon me, I did not know----Ah, but I
do remember now to have heard that Mr. Benson had another son."

The face of Hartley grew graver and graver. "My brother has been
alienated from my father for some time, so you have never seen him here.
But to-night he hoped, or made me think he hoped, to effect a
reconciliation; so I managed, with my sister, to provide him with the
domino necessary to insure him an entrance here. Indeed, I did more; I
showed him a private door by which he could find his way into the
library, never suspecting any harm could come of son and father meeting
even in this surreptitious way. I--I loved my brother, and
notwithstanding the past, had confidence in him. Nor can I think now he
had any thing to do with the----" Here the voice of this inimitable
actor broke in well-simulated distress. He sank on a chair and put his
hands before his face.

The doctor had no reason to doubt this man. He therefore surveyed him
with a look of grave regard.

"Mr. Benson," said he, "you have my profoundest sympathy. A tragedy like
this in a family of such eminent respectability, is enough to overwhelm
the stoutest heart. If your brother is here----"

"Dr. Travis," broke in the other, rising and grasping the physician's
hand with an appearance of manly impulse impressive in one usually so
stern and self contained, "you are, or were, my father's friend; can you
or will you be ours? Dreadful as it is to think, my father undoubtedly
committed suicide. He had a great dread of this day. It is the
anniversary of an occurrence harrowing for him to remember. My
brother--you see I shall have to break the secrecy of years--was
detected by him in the act of robbing his desk three years ago
to-night, and upon each and every recurrence of the day, has returned to
his father's house to beg for the forgiveness and restoration to favor
which he lost by that deed of crime. Hitherto my father has been able to
escape his importunities, by absence or the address of his servants, but
to-day he seemed to have a premonition that his children were in league
against him, notwithstanding Carrie's ruse of the ball, and the
knowledge may have worked upon him to that extent that he preferred
death to a sight of the son that had ruined his life and made him the
hermit you have seen."

The doctor fell into the trap laid for him with such diabolical art.

"Perhaps; but if that is so, why is your brother not here? Only a few
minutes could have elapsed between the time that Jonas saw him leaning
over the table with the glass in his hand and the moment when you and
your sister entered this room in face of your father's falling form. He
must have been present, therefore, when your father came from his
bedroom, if not when he drank the fatal glass; why, then, did he take
such pains to escape, if actuated by no keener emotion than horror at a
father's suicide?"

"I do not know, I cannot say; but that he himself put the poison in the
decanter I will not believe. A thief is not necessarily a parricide.
Even if he were in great straits and needed the money my father's will
undoubtedly leaves him, he would think twice before he ran the risk of
making Carrie and myself his natural enemies. No, no, if my father has
died from poison, it was through a mistake, or by the administration of
his own hand, never by that of Joe Benson's."

"Ah, and has anybody here present dared to charge _him_ with such a
deed!"

With a start both gentlemen turned; an accusing spirit stood before
them.

"Edith!" broke from Hartley's lips. "This is no place for you! Go back!
go back!"

"My place is where the name of Joseph Benson is uttered," she proudly
answered, "whether the words be for good or evil. I am his betrothed
wife as you know, and again I ask, who has dared to utter an
insinuation, however light, that he, the tender son and generous
brother, has had a criminal hand in his father's awful death?"

"No one! no one!" essayed Hartley, taking her hand with a weak attempt
at soothing. "I was but saying----"

But she turned from him with a gesture of repugnance, and taking a step
toward the doctor, looked him entreatingly in the face. "You have not
been expressing doubts of Mr. Benson's youngest son, because he happened
to wear a disguise and be present when Mr. Benson fell? You do not know
Joe, sir; nobody in this town knows him. His own father was ignorant of
his worth; but we know him, Uncle Joe and I, and we know he could never
do a deed that could stamp him either as a dishonorable or a criminal
man. If Mr. Benson has died from poison, I should as soon think _this_
man had a hand in it as his poor exiled brother." And in a burst of
uncontrollable wrath and indignation, she pointed, with a sudden
gesture, at the startled Hartley.

But that worthy, though evidently taken aback, was not to be caught so
easily.

"Edith, you forget yourself," said he, with studied self-possession.
"The horrors of this dreadful occurrence have upset you. I do not wonder
at it myself, but the doctor will not so readily understand you. Miss
Underhill has been strangely attached to my brother," he went on,
turning to the latter with an apologetic smile that made Uncle Joe grind
his teeth in silent wrath. "They were engaged previous to the affair of
which I have just made mention, and naturally she could never bring
herself to consider him guilty of a crime which, once acknowledged, must
necessarily act as a bar of separation between them. She calls him a
martyr, a victim, an exile, any thing but what he actually is. Indeed,
she seems really to believe in his innocence, while we,"--he paused and
looked up at his sister Carrie who had entered the room,--"while we," he
went on slowly and sadly, taking this new ally softly by the hand, "know
only too well that the unhappy boy was in every respect guilty of the
crime for which his father exiled him. But that is neither here nor
there; the dreadful subject before us is not what he once did, but
whether his being here to-night has had any thing to do with my
father's death. I cannot think it has, and yet----"

The subtle inflection of his voice spoke volumes. This great actor had
evidently been driven to bay.

"O Hartley!" came in a terrified cry from his sister; "what is this? You
cannot think, they cannot think, Joe could do any thing so dreadful as
that?" while over the face of Edith passed a look of despair, as she saw
the countenance of the doctor slowly fill with the gloom of suspicion,
and even the faithful Uncle Joe turn away as if he too had been touched
by the blight of a secret doubt.

"Ah, but I wish Joe were here himself!" she cried with startling
emphasis. "He should speak, even if it brought ruin amongst us."

But the doctor was a man not to be moved by so simple a thing as a
woman's unreasoning emotion.

"Yes, the Yellow Domino would be very welcome just now," he allowed,
with grim decision.

"That he is not here is the most damning fact of all," Hartley slowly
observed. "He fled when he saw our father fall."

"But he shall come back," Edith vehemently declared.

"If he does, I shall need no further proof of his innocence," said Uncle
Joe.

"Nor I, so that he comes to-night," returned the doctor.

"Then be satisfied, for here he is," I exclaimed from my retreat; and
drawing the mask over my face, and hastily enveloping myself in the
yellow domino, I stepped forth into full view of the crowd around the
table.



V.

THE YELLOW DOMINO.


A mingled sound of shrieks and exclamations greeted me.

"Joe!" cried Edith, bounding forward.

But I waved her back, and turned with a severe gesture toward Hartley
Benson.

"What are your reasons," I demanded, "for thinking the poisoning that
has taken place here was the work of the Yellow Domino?"

"Do you ask me?" he retorted, after a moment's pause, during which my
voice echoed through the room, waking strange gleams of doubt on the
faces of more than one person present. "You wish to dare me, then?" he
hissed, coming a step nearer.

"I wish to know what the Yellow Domino has done that you or any one
should consider him as responsible for the tragedy that has here taken
place," I steadily replied.

"Are you not my brother, then?" he cried, in mingled rage and anxiety.
"Was it not you I met under the evergreens and supplied with a yellow
domino, in order to give you the opportunity of seeing our father
to-night and effecting the reconciliation which you had so long desired?
Are you not he who afterward followed me to this room and hid himself in
the closet from which you have just come, all for the purpose, as you
said, of throwing yourself at your father's feet and begging pardon for
a past of which you had long ago repented? Or are you some reckless
buffoon who has presumed to step into the domino my brother left behind
him, and careless of the terrible trouble that has overwhelmed this
family, come here with your criminal jests to puzzle and alarm us?"

"I am the man to whom you gave the domino, if that is what you wish to
know, Hartley Benson; and I am the man whom you led into the ambush of
this closet, for such reasons as your own conscience must inform you. If
the Yellow Domino put poison into Mr. Benson's wine, then upon me must
lie the burden of the consequences, for I alone have worn the disguise
of this mask from the moment we met under the evergreens till now, as I
think may be proved by this gentleman you call Uncle Joe, and this lady
you address as Edith."

This mode of attack had the desired effect.

"Who are you?" burst from Hartley's lips, now blanched to the color of
clay. "Unmask him, doctor; let us see the man who dares to play us
tricks on such a night as this!"

"Wait!" cried I, motioning back not only the doctor, but Uncle Joe and
the ladies--the whole group having started forward at Hartley's words.
"Let us first make sure I am the Yellow Domino who has been paraded
through the parlors this evening. Miss Benson, will you pardon me if I
presume to ask you what were the words of salutation with which you
greeted me to-night?"

"Oh!" she cried, in a tremble of doubt and dismay, "I do not know as I
can remember; something about being glad to see you, I believe, and my
hope that your plans for the evening might succeed."

"To which," said I, "I made no audible reply, but pressed your hand in
mine, with the certainty you were a _friend_ though you had not used the
word 'Counterfeit.'"

"Yes, yes," she returned, blushing and wildly disturbed, as she had
reason to be.

"And you, Uncle Joe," I went on; "what were your words? How did you
greet the man you had been told was your erring nephew?"

"I said: 'To counterfeit wrong when one is right, necessarily opens one
to a misunderstanding.'"

"To which ambiguous phrase I answered, as you will remember, with a
simple, 'That is true,' a reply by the way that seemed to arouse your
curiosity and lead to strange revelations."

"God defend us!" cried Uncle Joe.

The exclamation was enough. I turned to the trembling Edith.

"I shall not attempt," said I, "to repeat or ask you to repeat any
conversation which may have passed between us, for you will remember it
was too quickly interrupted by Mr. Benson for us to succeed in uttering
more than a dozen or so words. However, you will do me the kindness to
acknowledge your belief that I am the man who stood with you behind the
parlor curtains an hour ago."

"I will," she replied, with a haughty lift of her head that spoke more
loudly than her blushes.

"It only remains, then, for Mr. Benson to assure himself I am the person
who followed him to the closet. I know of no better way of his doing
this than to ask him if he remembers the injunctions which he was
pleased to give me, when he bestowed upon me this domino."

"No,--that is,--whatever they were, they were given to the man I
supposed to be my brother."

"Ha, then; it was to your _brother_," I rejoined, "you gave that hint
about the glass I would find on the library table; saying that if it did
not smell of wine I would know your father had not had his nightly
potion and would yet come to the library to drink it;--an intimation, as
all will acknowledge, which could have but the one result of leading me
to go to the table and take up the glass and look into it in the
suspicious manner which has been reported to you."

He was caught in his own toils and saw it. Muttering a deep curse, he
drew back, while a startled "Humph!" broke from the doctor, followed by
a quick, "Is that true? Did you tell him that, Mr. Benson?"

For reply the now thoroughly alarmed villain leaped at my throat. "Off
with that toggery! Let us see your face! I shall and will know who you
are."

But I resisted for another moment while I added: "It is, then,
established to your satisfaction that I am really the man who has worn
the yellow domino this evening. Very well, now look at me, one and all,
and say if you think I am likely to be a person to destroy Mr. Benson."
And with a quick gesture I threw aside my mask, and yielded the fatal
yellow domino to the impatient hands of Mr. Hartley Benson.

The result was a cry of astonishment from those to whom the face thus
revealed was a strange one, and a curse deep and loud from him to whom
the shock of that moment's surprise must have been nearly overwhelming.

"Villain!" he shrieked, losing his self-possession in a sudden burst of
fury; "spy! informer! I understand it all now. You have been set over
me by my brother. Instructed by him, you have dared to enter this house,
worm yourself into its secrets, and by a deviltry only equalled by your
presumption, taken advantage of your position to poison my father and
fling the dreadful consequences of your crime in the faces of his
mourning family. It was a plot well laid; but it is foiled, sir, foiled,
as you will see when I have you committed to prison to-morrow."

"Mr. Benson," I returned, shaking him loose as I would a feather, "this
is all very well; but in your haste and surprise you have made a slight
mistake. You call me a spy; so I am; but a spy backed by the United
States Government is not a man to be put lightly into prison. I am a
detective, sir, connected at present with the Secret Service at
Washington. My business is to ferret out crime and recognize a rogue
under any disguise and in the exercise of any vile or deceptive
practices." And I looked him steadily in the face.

Then indeed his cheek turned livid, and the eye which had hitherto
preserved its steadiness sought the floor.

"A detective!" murmured Miss Carrie, shrinking back from the cringing
form of the brother whom, but a few hours before, she had deemed every
thing that was noble and kind.

"A detective!" echoed Edith, brightening like a rose in the sunshine.

"In government employ!" repeated Uncle Joe, honoring me with a stare
that was almost comic in its mingled awe and surprise.

"Yes," I rejoined; "if any one doubts me, I have papers with me to
establish my identity. By what means I find myself in this place, a
witness of Mr. Benson's death and the repository of certain family
secrets, it is not necessary for me to inform you. It is enough that I
am here, have been here for a good hour, posted behind that curtain;
that I heard Jonas' exclamation as he withdrew from the balcony, saw Mr.
Benson come in from his bedroom, drink his glass of wine, and afterward
fall at the feet of his son and daughter; and that having been here, and
the witness of all this, I can swear that if Mr. Benson drank poison
from yonder decanter, he drank poison that was put into it before either
he or the Yellow Domino entered this room. Who put it there, it is for
you to determine; my duty is done for to-night." And with a bow I
withdrew from the group about me and crossed to the door.

But Miss Carrie's voice, rising in mingled shame and appeal, stopped me.
"Don't go," said she; "not at least until you tell me where my brother
Joseph is. Is he in this town, or has he planned this deception from a
distance? I--I am an orphan, sir, who at one blow has lost not only a
dearly beloved father but, as I fear, a brother too, in whom, up to this
hour, I have had every confidence. Tell me, then, if any support is left
for a most unhappy girl, or whether I must give up all hopes of even my
brother Joe's sympathy and protection."

"Your brother Joe," I replied, "has had nothing to do with my appearance
here. He and I are perfect strangers; but if he is a tall,
broad-shouldered, young man, shaped something like myself, but with a
ruddy cheek and light curling hair, I can tell you I saw such a person
enter the shrubbery at the southwest corner of the garden an hour or so
ago."

"No, he is here!" came in startling accents over my shoulders. And with
a quick leap Joe Benson sprang by me and stood handsome, tall, and
commanding in the centre of the room. "Hartley! Carrie! Edith! what is
this I hear? My father stricken down, my father dying or dead, and I
left to wander up and down through the shrubbery, while you knelt at his
bedside and received his parting blessing? Is this the recompense you
promised me, Hartley? this your sisterly devotion, Carrie? this your
love and attention to my interests, Edith?"

"O Joe, dear Joe, do not blame us!" Carrie made haste to reply. "We
thought you were here. A man _was_ here, that man behind you, simulating
you in every regard, and to him we gave the domino, and from him we have
learned----"

"What?" sprang in thundering tones from the young giant's throat as he
wheeled on his heel and confronted me.

"That your brother Hartley is a villain," I declared, looking him
steadily in the eye.

"God!" was his only exclamation as he turned slowly back and glanced
toward his trembling brother.

"Sir," said I, taking a step toward Uncle Joe, who, between his
eagerness to embrace the new-comer and his dread of the consequences of
this unexpected meeting, stood oscillating from one side to the other in
a manner ridiculous enough to see, "what do you think of the propriety
of uttering aloud and here, the suspicions which you were good enough to
whisper into my ears an hour ago? Do you see any reason for altering
your opinion as to which of the two sons of Mr. Benson invaded his desk
and appropriated the bonds afterward found in their common apartment,
when you survey the downfallen crest of the one and compare it with the
unfaltering look of the other?"

"No," he returned, roused into sudden energy by the start given by
Hartley. And advancing between the brothers, he looked first at one and
then at the other with a long, solemn gaze that called out the color on
Hartley's pale cheek and made the crest of Joe rise still higher in
manly pride and assertion. "Joe," said he, "for three years now your
life has lain under a shadow. Accused by your father of a dreadful
crime, you have resolutely refused to exonerate yourself,
notwithstanding the fact that a dear young girl waited patiently for the
establishment of your innocence in order to marry you. To your family
this silence meant guilt, but to me and mine it has told only a tale of
self-renunciation and devotion. Joe, was I right in this? was Edith
right? The father you so loved, and feared to grieve, is dead. Speak,
then: Did you or did you not take the bonds that were found in the
cupboard at the head of your bed three years ago to-night? The future
welfare, not only of this faithful child but of the helpless sister,
who, despite her belief in your guilt, has clung to you with unwavering
devotion, depends upon your reply."

"Let my brother speak," was the young man's answer, given in a steady
and nobly restrained tone.

"Your brother will not speak," his uncle returned. "Don't you see you
must answer for yourself? Say, then: Are you the guilty man your father
thought you, or are you not? Let us hear, Joe."

"I am not!" avowed the young man, bowing his head in a sort of noble
shame that must have sent a pang of anguish through the heart of his
brother.

"Oh, I knew it, I knew it!" came from Edith's lips in a joyous cry, as
she bounded to his side and seized him by one hand, just as his sister
grasped the other in a burst of shame and contrition that showed how far
she was removed from any participation in the evil machinations of her
elder brother.

The sight seemed to goad Hartley Benson to madness. Looking from one to
the other, he uttered a cry that yet rings in my memory: "Carrie! Edith!
do you both forsake me, and all because of a word which any villain
might have uttered? Is this the truth and constancy of women? Is this
what I had a right to expect from a sister, a--a friend? Carrie, you at
least always gave me your trust,--will you take it away because a
juggling spy and a recreant brother have combined to destroy me?"

But beyond a wistful look and a solemn shake of the head, Carrie made no
response, while Edith, with her eyes fixed on the agitated countenance
of her lover, did not even seem to hear the words of pleading that were
addressed to her.

The shock of the disappointment was too much for Hartley Benson.
Clenching his hand upon his breast, he gave one groan of anguish and
despair and sank into a chair, inert and helpless. But before we could
any of us take a step toward him, before the eyes of the doctor and mine
could meet in mutual understanding, he had bounded again to his feet,
and in a burst of desperation seized the chair in which he sat, and held
it high above his head.

"Fools! dotards!" he exclaimed, his eyes rolling in frenzy from face to
face, but lingering longest on mine, as if there he read the true secret
of his overthrow, as well as the promise of his future doom. "You think
it is all over with me; that there is nothing left for you to do but to
stand still and watch how I take my defeat. But I am a man who never
acknowledges defeat. There is still a word I have to say that will make
things a little more even between us. Listen for it, you. It will not be
long in coming, and when you hear it, let my brother declare how much
enjoyment he will ever get out of his victory."

And whirling the chair about his head, he plunged through our midst
into the hall without.

For an instant we stood stupefied, then Carrie Benson's voice rose in
one long, thrilling cry, and with a bound she rushed toward the door. I
put out my hand to stop her, but it was not necessary. Before she could
cross the threshold the sudden, sharp detonation of a pistol-shot was
heard in the hall, and we knew that the last dreadful word of that
night's tragedy had been spoken.

       *       *       *       *       *

The true secret of Hartley Benson's action in this matter was never
discovered. That he planned his father's violent death, no one who was
present at the above interview ever doubted. That he went further than
that, and laid his plans in such a manner that the blame, if blame
ensued, should fall upon his innocent brother, was equally plain,
especially after the acknowledgment we received from Jonas, that he went
out on the balcony and looked in the window at the special instigation
of his young master. But why this arch villain, either at his own risk
or at that of the man he hated, felt himself driven to such a revolting
crime, will never be known; unless, indeed, the solution be found in his
undoubted passion for the beautiful Edith, and in the accumulated
pressure of certain secret debts for whose liquidation he dared not
apply to his father.

I never revealed to this family the true nature of the motives which
actuated me in my performance of the part I played that fatal night. It
was supposed by Miss Carrie and the rest, that I was but obeying
instructions given me by Mr. Benson; and I never undeceived them. I was
too much ashamed of the curiosity which was the mainspring of my action
to publish each and every particular of my conduct abroad; though I
could not but congratulate myself upon its results when, some time
afterward, I read of the marriage of Joe and Edith.

       *       *       *       *       *

The counterfeiters were discovered and taken, but not by me.

                     FINIS.



       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's notes:

Punctuation has been standardised.

Page 92 replaced "repositor" with "repository" (a witness of Mr.
Benson's death and the repository of certain family secrets)





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