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Title: Agatha Webb
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 "Agatha Webb" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



AGATHA WEBB

BY ANNA KATHARINE GREEN (MRS. CHARLES ROHLFS)

AUTHOR OF "THE LEAVENWORTH CASE," "THAT AFFAIR NEXT DOOR" "LOST MAN'S
LANE," ETC.



THIS BOOK IS INSCRIBED TO MY FRIEND

PROFESSOR A. V. DICEY

OF OXFORD, ENGLAND



CONTENTS

BOOK I

THE PURPLE ORCHID

     I--A Cry on the Hill
    II--One Night's Work
   III--The Empty Drawer
    IV--The Full Drawer
     V--A Spot on the Lawn
    VI--"Breakfast is Served, Gentlemen!"
   VII--"Marry Me"
  VIII--"A Devil That Understands Men"
    IX--A Grand Woman
     X--Detective Knapp Arrives
    XI--The Man with a Beard
   XII--Wattles Comes
  XIII--Wattles Goes
   XIV--A Final Temptation
    XV--The Zabels Visited
   XVI--Local Talent at Work
  XVII--The Slippers, the Flower, and What Sweetwater Made of Them
 XVIII--Some Leading Questions
   XIX--Poor Philemon
    XX--A Surprise for Mr. Sutherland


BOOK II

THE MAN OF NO REPUTATION

   XXI--Sweetwater Reasons
  XXII--Sweetwater Acts
 XXIII--A Sinister Pair
  XXIV--In the Shadow of the Mast
   XXV--In Extremity
  XXVI--The Adventure of the Parcel
 XXVII--The Adventure of the Scrap of Paper and the Three Words
XXVIII--"Who Are You?" 
  XXIX--Home Again


BOOK III

HAD BATSY LIVED!

   XXX--What Followed the Striking of the Clock
  XXXI--A Witness Lost
 XXXII--Why Agatha Webb will Never be Forgotten in Sutherlandtown
XXXIII--Father and Son
 XXXIV--"Not When They Are Young Girls"
  XXXV--Sweetwater Pays His Debt at Last to Mr. Sutherland



BOOK I

THE PURPLE ORCHID


I

A CRY ON THE HILL


The dance was over. From the great house on the hill the guests had all
departed and only the musicians remained. As they filed out through the
ample doorway, on their way home, the first faint streak of early dawn
became visible in the east. One of them, a lank, plain-featured young
man of ungainly aspect but penetrating eye, called the attention of the
others to it.

"Look!" said he; "there is the daylight! This has been a gay night for
Sutherlandtown."

"Too gay," muttered another, starting aside as the slight figure of a
young man coming from the house behind them rushed hastily by. "Why,
who's that?"

As they one and all had recognised the person thus alluded to, no one
answered till he had dashed out of the gate and disappeared in the woods
on the other side of the road. Then they all spoke at once.

"It's Mr. Frederick!"

"He seems in a desperate hurry."

"He trod on my toes."

"Did you hear the words he was muttering as he went by?"

As only the last question was calculated to rouse any interest, it alone
received attention.

"No; what were they? I heard him say something, but I failed to catch
the words."

"He wasn't talking to you, or to me either, for that matter; but I have
ears that can hear an eye wink. He said: 'Thank God, this night of
horror is over!' Think of that! After such a dance and such a spread, he
calls the night horrible and thanks God that it is over. I thought he
was the very man to enjoy this kind of thing."

"So did I."

"And so did I."

The five musicians exchanged looks, then huddled in a group at the gate.

"He has quarrelled with his sweetheart," suggested one.

"I'm not surprised at that," declared another. "I never thought it would
be a match."

"Shame if it were!" muttered the ungainly youth who had spoken first.

As the subject of this comment was the son of the gentleman whose house
they were just leaving, they necessarily spoke low; but their tones were
rife with curiosity, and it was evident that the topic deeply interested
them. One of the five who had not previously spoken now put in a word:

"I saw him when he first led out Miss Page to dance, and I saw him again
when he stood up opposite her in the last quadrille, and I tell you,
boys, there was a mighty deal of difference in the way he conducted
himself toward her in the beginning of the evening and the last. You
wouldn't have thought him the same man. Reckless young fellows like him
are not to be caught by dimples only. They want cash."

"Or family, at least; and she hasn't either. But what a pretty girl she
is! Many a fellow as rich as he and as well connected would be satisfied
with her good looks alone."

"Good looks!" High scorn was observable in this exclamation, which was
made by the young man whom I have before characterised as ungainly. "I
refuse to acknowledge that she has any good looks. On the contrary, I
consider her plain."

"Oh! Oh!" burst in protest from more than one mouth. "And why does she
have every fellow in the room dangling after her, then?" asked the
player on the flageolet.

"She hasn't a regular feature."

"What difference does that make when it isn't her features you notice,
but herself?"

"I don't like her."

A laugh followed this.

"That won't trouble her, Sweetwater. Sutherland does, if you don't, and
that's much more to the point. And he'll marry her yet; he can't help
it. Why, she'd witch the devil into leading her to the altar if she took
a notion to have him for her bridegroom."

"There would be consistency in that," muttered the fellow just
addressed. "But Mr. Frederick--"

"Hush! There's some one on the doorstep. Why, it's she!"

They all glanced back. The graceful figure of a young girl dressed in
white was to be seen leaning toward them from the open doorway. Behind
her shone a blaze of light--the candles not having been yet extinguished
in the hall--and against this brilliant background her slight form, with
all its bewitching outlines, stood out in plain relief.

"Who was that?" she began in a high, almost strident voice, totally out
of keeping with the sensuous curves of her strange, sweet face. But the
question remained unanswered, for at that moment her attention, as well
as that of the men lingering at the gate, was attracted by the sound of
hurrying feet and confused cries coming up the hill.

"Murder! Murder!" was the word panted out by more than one harsh voice;
and in another instant a dozen men and boys came rushing into sight in a
state of such excitement that the five musicians recoiled from the gate,
and one of them went so far as to start back toward the house. As he did
so he noticed a curious thing. The young woman whom they had all
perceived standing in the door a moment before had vanished, yet she was
known to possess the keenest curiosity of any one in town.

"Murder! Murder!" A terrible and unprecedented cry in this old,
God-fearing town. Then came in hoarse explanation from the jostling
group as they stopped at the gate: "Mrs. Webb has been killed! Stabbed
with a knife! Tell Mr. Sutherland!"

Mrs. Webb!

As the musicians heard this name, so honoured and so universally
beloved, they to a man uttered a cry. Mrs. Webb! Why, it was impossible.
Shouting in their turn for Mr. Sutherland, they all crowded forward.

"Not Mrs. Webb!" they protested. "Who could have the daring or the heart
to kill HER?"

"God knows," answered a voice from the highway. "But she's dead--we've
just seen her!"

"Then it's the old man's work," quavered a piping voice. "I've always
said he would turn on his best friend some day. 'Sylum's the best place
for folks as has lost their wits. I--"

But here a hand was put over his mouth, and the rest of the words was
lost in an inarticulate gurgle. Mr. Sutherland had just appeared on the
porch.

He was a superb-looking man, with an expression of mingled kindness and
dignity that invariably awakened both awe and admiration in the
spectator. No man in the country--I was going to say no woman was more
beloved, or held in higher esteem. Yet he could not control his only
son, as everyone within ten miles of the hill well knew.

At this moment his face showed both pain and shock.

"What name are you shouting out there?" he brokenly demanded. "Agatha
Webb? Is Agatha Webb hurt?"

"Yes, sir; killed," repeated a half-dozen voices at once. "We've just
come from the house. All the town is up. Some say her husband did it."

"No, no!" was Mr. Sutherland's decisive though half-inaudible response.
"Philemon Webb might end his own life, but not Agatha's. It was the
money--"

Here he caught himself up, and, raising his voice, addressed the crowd
of villagers more directly.

"Wait," said he, "and I will go back with you. Where is Frederick?" he
demanded of such members of his own household as stood about him.

No one knew.

"I wish some one would find my son. I want him to go into town with me."

"He's over in the woods there," volunteered a voice from without.

"In the woods!" repeated the father, in a surprised tone.

"Yes, sir; we all saw him go. Shall we sing out to him?"

"No, no; I will manage very well without him." And taking up his hat Mr.
Sutherland stepped out again upon the porch.

Suddenly he stopped. A hand had been laid on his arm and an insinuating
voice was murmuring in his ear:

"Do you mind if I go with you? I will not make any trouble."

It was the same young lady we have seen before.

The old gentleman frowned--he who never frowned and remarked shortly:

"A scene of murder is no place for women."

The face upturned to his remained unmoved.

"I think I will go," she quietly persisted. "I can easily mingle with
the crowd."

He said not another word against it. Miss Page was under pay in his
house, but for the last few weeks no one had undertaken to contradict
her. In the interval since her first appearance on the porch, she had
exchanged the light dress in which she had danced at the ball, for a
darker and more serviceable one, and perhaps this token of her
determination may have had its influence in silencing him. He joined the
crowd, and together they moved down-hill. This was too much for the
servants of the house. One by one they too left the house till it stood
absolutely empty. Jerry snuffed out the candles and shut the front door,
but the side entrance stood wide open, and into this entrance, as the
last footstep died out on the hillside, passed a slight and resolute
figure. It was that of the musician who had questioned Miss Page's
attractions.



II

ONE NIGHT'S WORK


Sutherlandtown was a seaport. The village, which was a small one,
consisted of one long street and numerous cross streets running down
from the hillside and ending on the wharves. On one of the corners thus
made, stood the Webb house, with its front door on the main street and
its side door on one of the hillside lanes. As the group of men and boys
who had been in search of Mr. Sutherland entered this last-mentioned
lane, they could pick out this house from all the others, as it was the
only one in which a light was still burning. Mr. Sutherland lost no time
in entering upon the scene of tragedy. As his imposing figure emerged
from the darkness and paused on the outskirts of the crowd that was
blocking up every entrance to the house, a murmur of welcome went up,
after which a way was made for him to the front door.

But before he could enter, some one plucked him by the sleeve.

"Look up!" whispered a voice into his ear.

He did so, and saw a woman's body hanging half out of an upper window.
It hung limp, and the sight made him sick, notwithstanding his
threescore years of experience.

"Who's that?" he cried. "That's not Agatha Webb."

"No, that's Batsy, the cook. She's dead as well as her mistress. We left
her where we found her for the coroner to see."

"But this is horrible," murmured Mr. Sutherland. "Has there been a
butcher here?"

As he uttered these words, he felt another quick pressure on his arm.
Looking down, he saw leaning against him the form of a young woman, but
before he could address her she had started upright again and was moving
on with the throng. It was Miss Page.

"It was the sight of this woman hanging from the window which first drew
attention to the house," volunteered a man who was standing as a sort of
guardian at the main gateway. "Some of the sailors' wives who had been
to the wharves to see their husbands off on the ship that sailed at
daybreak, saw it as they came up the lane on their way home, and gave
the alarm. Without that we might not have known to this hour what had
happened."

"But Mrs. Webb?"

"Come in and see."

There was a board fence about the simple yard within which stood the
humble house forever after to be pointed out as the scene of
Sutherlandtown's most heart-rending tragedy. In this fence was a gate,
and through this gate now passed Mr. Sutherland, followed by his
would-be companion, Miss Page. A path bordered by lilac bushes led up to
the house, the door of which stood wide open. As soon as Mr. Sutherland
entered upon this path a man approached him from the doorway. It was
Amos Fenton, the constable.

"Ah, Mr. Sutherland," said he, "sad business, a very sad business! But
what little girl have you there?"

"This is Miss Page, my housekeeper's niece. She would come.
Inquisitiveness the cause. I do not approve of it."

"Miss Page must remain on the doorstep. We allow no one inside excepting
yourself," he said respectfully, in recognition of the fact that nothing
of importance was ever undertaken in Sutherlandtown without the
presence of Mr. Sutherland.

Miss Page curtsied, looking so bewitching in the fresh morning light
that the tough old constable scratched his chin in grudging admiration.
But he did not reconsider his determination. Seeing this, she accepted
her defeat gracefully, and moved aside to where the bushes offered her
more or less protection from the curiosity of those about her. Meanwhile
Mr. Sutherland had stepped into the house.

He found himself in a small hall with a staircase in front and an open
door at the left. On the threshold of this open door a man stood, who at
sight of him doffed his hat. Passing by this man, Mr. Sutherland entered
the room beyond. A table spread with eatables met his view, beside
which, in an attitude which struck him at the moment as peculiar, sat
Philemon Webb, the well-known master of the house.

Astonished at seeing his old friend in this room and in such a position,
he was about to address him, when Mr. Fenton stopped him.

"Wait!" said he. "Take a look at poor Philemon before you disturb him.
When we broke into the house a half-hour ago he was sitting just as you
see him now, and we have let him be for reasons you can easily
appreciate. Examine him closely, Mr. Sutherland; he won't notice it."

"But what ails him? Why does he sit crouched against the table? Is he
hurt too?"

"No; look at his eyes."

Mr. Sutherland stooped and pushed aside the long grey locks that half
concealed the countenance of his aged friend.

"Why," he cried, startled, "they are closed! He isn't dead?"

"No, he is asleep."

"Asleep?"

"Yes. He was asleep when we came in and he is asleep yet. Some of the
neighbours wanted to wake him, but I would not let them. His wits are
not strong enough to bear a sudden shock."

"No, no, poor Philemon! But that he should sit sleeping here while
she--But what do these bottles mean and this parade of supper in a room
they were not accustomed to eat in?"

"We don't know. It has not been eaten, you see. He has swallowed a glass
of port, but that is all. The other glasses have had no wine in them,
nor have the victuals been touched."

"Seats set for three and only one occupied," murmured Mr. Sutherland.
"Strange! Could he have expected guests?"

"It looks like it. I didn't know that his wife allowed him such
privileges; but she was always too good to him, and I fear has paid for
it with her life."

"Nonsense! he never killed her. Had his love been anything short of the
worship it was, he stood in too much awe of her to lift his hand against
her, even in his most demented moments."

"I don't trust men of uncertain wits," returned the other. "You have not
noticed everything that is to be seen in this room."

Mr. Sutherland, recalled to himself by these words, looked quickly about
him. With the exception of the table and what was on and by it there was
nothing else in the room. Naturally his glance returned to Philemon
Webb.

"I don't see anything but this poor sleeping man," he began.

"Look at his sleeve."

Mr. Sutherland, with a start, again bent down. The arm of his old friend
lay crooked upon the table, and on its blue cotton sleeve there was a
smear which might have been wine, but which was--blood.

As Mr. Sutherland became assured of this, he turned slightly pale and
looked inquiringly at the two men who were intently watching him.

"This is bad," said he. "Any other marks of blood below stairs?"

"No; that one smear is all."

"Oh, Philemon!" burst from Mr. Sutherland, in deep emotion. Then, as he
looked long and shudderingly at his friend, he added slowly:

"He has been in the room where she was killed; so much is evident. But
that he understood what was done there I cannot believe, or he would not
be sleeping here like a log. Come, let us go up-stairs."

Fenton, with an admonitory gesture toward his subordinate, turned
directly toward the staircase. Mr. Sutherland followed him, and they at
once proceeded to the upper hall and into the large front room which had
been the scene of the tragedy.

It was the parlour or sitting-room of this small and unpretentious
house. A rag carpet covered the floor and the furniture was of the
plainest kind, but the woman who lay outstretched on the stiff,
old-fashioned lounge opposite the door was far from being in accord with
the homely type of her surroundings. Though the victim of a violent
death, her face and form, both of a beauty seldom to be found among
women of any station, were so majestic in their calm repose, that Mr.
Sutherland, accustomed as he was to her noble appearance, experienced a
shock of surprise that found vent in these words:

"Murdered! she? You have made some mistake, my friends. Look at her
face!"

But even in the act of saying this his eyes fell on the blood which had
dyed her cotton dress and he cried:

"Where was she struck and where is the weapon which has made this
ghastly wound?"

"She was struck while standing or sitting at this table," returned the
constable, pointing to two or three drops of blood on its smooth
surface. "The weapon we have not found, but the wound shows that it was
inflicted by a three-sided dagger."

"A three-sided dagger?"

"Yes."

"I didn't know there was such a thing in town. Philemon could have had
no dagger."

"It does not seem so, but one can never tell. Simple cottages like these
often contain the most unlooked-for articles."

"I cannot imagine a dagger being among its effects," declared Mr.
Sutherland. "Where was the body of Mrs. Webb lying when you came in?"

"Where you see it now. Nothing has been moved or changed."

"She was found here, on this lounge, in the same position in which we
see her now?"

"Yes, sir."

"But that is incredible. Look at the way she lies! Hands crossed, eyes
closed, as though made ready for her burial. Only loving hands could
have done this. What does it mean?"

"It means Philemon; that is what it means Philemon."

Mr. Sutherland shuddered, but said nothing. He was dumbfounded by these
evidences of a crazy man's work. Philemon Webb always seemed so
harmless, though he had been failing in mind for the last ten years.

"But" cried Mr. Sutherland, suddenly rousing, "there is another victim.
I saw old woman Batsy hanging from a window ledge, dead."

"Yes, she is in this other room; but there is no wound on Batsy."

"How was she killed, then?"

"That the doctors must tell us."

Mr. Sutherland, guided by Mr. Fenton's gesture, entered a small room
opening into the one in which they stood. His attention was at once
attracted by the body of the woman he had seen from below, lying half in
and half out of the open window. That she was dead was evident; but, as
Mr. Fenton had said, no wound was to be seen upon her, nor were there
any marks of blood on or about the place where she lay.

"This is a dreadful business," groaned Mr. Sutherland, "the worst I have
ever had anything to do with. Help me to lift the woman in; she has been
long enough a show for the people outside."

There was a bed in this room (indeed, it was Mrs. Webb's bedroom), and
upon this poor Batsy was laid. As the face came uppermost both gentlemen
started and looked at each other in amazement. The expression of terror
and alarm which it showed was in striking contrast to the look of
exaltation to be seen on the face of her dead mistress.



III

THE EMPTY DRAWER


As they re-entered the larger room, they were astonished to come upon
Miss Page standing in the doorway. She was gazing at the recumbent
figure of the dead woman, and for a moment seemed unconscious of their
presence.

"How did you get in? Which of my men was weak enough to let you pass,
against my express instructions?" asked the constable, who was of an
irritable and suspicious nature.

She let the hood drop from her head, and, turning, surveyed him with a
slow smile. There was witchery in that smile sufficient to affect a much
more cultivated and callous nature than his, and though he had been
proof against it once he could not quite resist the effect of its
repetition.

"I insisted upon entering," said she. "Do not blame the men; they did
not want to use force against a woman." She had not a good voice and she
knew it; but she covered up this defect by a choice of intonations that
carried her lightest speech to the heart. Hard-visaged Amos Fenton gave
a grunt, which was as near an expression of approval as he ever gave to
anyone.

"Well! well!" he growled, but not ill-naturedly, "it's a morbid
curiosity that brings you here. Better drop it, girl; it won't do you
any good in the eyes of sensible people."

"Thank you," was her demure reply, her lips dimpling at the corners in a
way to shock the sensitive Mr. Sutherland.

Glancing from her to the still outlines of the noble figure on the
couch, he remarked with an air of mild reproof:

"I do not understand you, Miss Page. If this solemn sight has no power
to stop your coquetries, nothing can. As for your curiosity, it is both
ill-timed and unwomanly. Let me see you leave this house at once, Miss
Page; and if in the few hours which must elapse before breakfast you can
find time to pack your trunks, you will still farther oblige me."

"Oh, don't send me away, I entreat you."

It was a cry from her inner heart, which she probably regretted, for she
instantly sought to cover up her inadvertent self-betrayal by a
submissive bend of the head and a step backward. Neither Mr. Fenton nor
Mr. Sutherland seemed to hear the one or see the other, their attention
having returned to the more serious matter in hand.

"The dress which our poor friend wears shows her to have been struck
before retiring," commented Mr. Sutherland, after another short survey
of Mrs. Webb's figure. "If Philemon--"

"Excuse me, sir," interrupted the voice of the young man who had been
left in the hall, "the lady is listening to what you say. She is still
at the head of the stairs."

"She is, is she!" cried Fenton, sharply, his admiration for the
fascinating stranger having oozed out at his companion's rebuff. "I will
soon show her--" But the words melted into thin air as he reached the
door. The young girl had disappeared, and only a faint perfume remained
in the place where she had stood.

"A most extraordinary person," grumbled the constable, turning back, but
stopping again as a faint murmur came up from below.

"The gentleman is waking," called up a voice whose lack of music was
quite perceptible at a distance.

With a bound Mr. Fenton descended the stairs, followed by Mr.
Sutherland.

Miss Page stood before the door of the room in which sat Philemon Webb.
As they reached her side, she made a little bow that was half mocking,
half deprecatory, and slipped from the house. An almost unbearable
sensation of incongruity vanished with her, and Mr. Sutherland, for one,
breathed like a man relieved.

"I wish the doctor would come," Fenton said, as they watched the slow
lifting of Philemon Webb's head. "Our fastest rider has gone for him,
but he's out Portchester way, and it may be an hour yet before he can
get here."

"Philemon!"

Mr. Sutherland had advanced and was standing by his old friend's side.

"Philemon, what has become of your guests? You've waited for them here
until morning."

The old man with a dazed look surveyed the two plates set on either side
of him and shook his head.

"James and John are getting proud," said he, "or they forget, they
forget."

James and John. He must mean the Zabels, yet there were many others
answering to these names in town. Mr. Sutherland made another effort.

"Philemon, where is your wife? I do not see any place set here for her!"

"Agatha's sick, Agatha's cross; she don't care for a poor old man like
me."

"Agatha's dead and you know it," thundered back the constable, with
ill-judged severity. "Who killed her? tell me that. Who killed her?"

A sudden quenching of the last spark of intelligence in the old man's
eye was the dreadful effect of these words. Laughing with that strange
gurgle which proclaims an utterly irresponsible mind, he cried:

"The pussy cat! It was the pussy cat. Who's killed? I'm not killed.
Let's go to Jericho."

Mr. Sutherland took him by the arm and led him up-stairs. Perhaps the
sight of his dead wife would restore him. But he looked at her with the
same indifference he showed to everything else.

"I don't like her calico dresses," said he. "She might have worn silk,
but she wouldn't. Agatha, will you wear silk to my funeral?"

The experiment was too painful, and they drew him away. But the
constable's curiosity had been roused, and after they had found some one
to take care of him, he drew Mr. Sutherland aside and said:

"What did the old man mean by saying she might have worn silk? Are they
better off than they seem?" Mr. Sutherland closed the door before
replying.

"They are rich," he declared, to the utter amazement of the other. "That
is, they were; but they may have been robbed; if so, Philemon was not
the wretch who killed her. I have been told that she kept her money in
an old-fashioned cupboard. Do you suppose they alluded to that one?"

He pointed to a door set in the wall over the fireplace, and Mr. Fenton,
perceiving a key sticking in the lock, stepped quickly across the floor
and opened it. A row of books met his eyes, but on taking them down a
couple of drawers were seen at the back.

"Are they locked?" asked Mr. Sutherland.

"One is and one is not."

"Open the one that is unlocked."

Mr. Fenton did so.

"It is empty," said he.

Mr. Sutherland cast a look toward the dead woman, and again the perfect
serenity of her countenance struck him.

"I do not know whether to regard her as the victim of her husband's
imbecility or of some vile robber's cupidity. Can you find the key to
the other drawer?"

"I will try."

"Suppose you begin, then, by looking on her person. It should be in her
pocket, if no marauder has been here."

"It is not in her pocket."

"Hanging to her neck, then, by a string?"

"No; there is a locket here, but no key. A very handsome locket, Mr.
Sutherland, with a child's lock of golden hair--"

"Never mind, we will see that later; it is the key we want just now."

"Good heavens!"

"What is it?"

"It is in her hand; the one that lies underneath."

"Ah! A point, Fenton."

"A great point."

"Stand by her, Fenton. Don't let anyone rob her of that key till the
coroner comes, and we are at liberty to take it."

"I will not leave her for an instant."

"Meanwhile, I will put back these books."

He had scarcely done so when a fresh arrival occurred. This time it was
one of the village clergymen.



IV

THE FULL DRAWER


This gentleman had some information to give. It seems that at an early
hour of this same night he had gone by this house on his way home from
the bedside of a sick parishioner. As he was passing the gate he was run
into by a man who came rushing out of the yard, in a state of violent
agitation. In this man's hand was something that glittered, and though
the encounter nearly upset them both, he had not stopped to utter an
apology, but stumbled away out of sight with a hasty but infirm step,
which showed he was neither young nor active. The minister had failed to
see his face, but noticed the ends of a long beard blowing over his
shoulder as he hurried away.

Philemon was a clean-shaven man.

Asked if he could give the time of this encounter, he replied that it
was not far from midnight, as he was in his own house by half-past
twelve.

"Did you glance up at these windows in passing?" asked Mr. Fenton.

"I must have; for I now remember they were both lighted."

"Were the shades up?"

"I think not. I would have noticed it if they had been."

"How were the shades when you broke into the house this morning?"
inquired Mr. Sutherland of the constable.

"Just as they are now; we have moved nothing. The shades were both
down--one of them over an open window."

"Well, we may find this encounter of yours with this unknown man a
matter of vital importance, Mr. Crane."

"I wish I had seen his face."

"What do you think the object was you saw glittering in his hand?"

"I should not like to say; I saw it but an instant."

"Could it have been a knife or an old-fashioned dagger?"

"It might have been."

"Alas! poor Agatha! That she, who so despised money, should fall a
victim to man's cupidity! Unhappy life, unhappy death! Fenton, I shall
always mourn for Agatha Webb."

"Yet she seems to have found peace at last," observed the minister. "I
have never seen her look so contented." And leading Mr. Sutherland
aside, he whispered: "What is this you say about money? Had she, in
spite of appearances, any considerable amount? I ask, because in spite
of her humble home and simple manner of living, she always put more on
the plate than any of her neighbours. Besides which, I have from time to
time during my pastorate received anonymously certain contributions,
which, as they were always for sick or suffering children--"

"Yes, yes; they came from her, I have no doubt of it. She was by no
means poor, though I myself never knew the extent of her means till
lately. Philemon was a good business man once; but they evidently
preferred to live simply, having no children living--"

"They have lost six, I have been told."

"So the Portchester folks say. They probably had no heart for display or
for even the simplest luxuries. At all events, they did not indulge in
them."

"Philemon has long been past indulging in anything."

"Oh, he likes his comfort, and he has had it too. Agatha never stinted
him."

"But why do you think her death was due to her having money?"

"She had a large sum in the house, and there are those in town who knew
this."

"And is it gone?"

"That we shall know later."

As the coroner arrived at this moment, the minister's curiosity had to
wait. Fortunately for his equanimity, no one had the presumption to ask
him to leave the room.

The coroner was a man of but few words, and but little given to emotion.
Yet they were surprised at his first question:

"Who is the young woman standing outside there, the only one in the
yard?"

Mr. Sutherland, moving rapidly to the window, drew aside the shade.

"It is Miss Page, my housekeeper's niece," he explained. "I do not
understand her interest in this affair. She followed me here from the
house and could hardly be got to leave this room, into which she
intruded herself against my express command."

"But look at her attitude!" It was Mr. Fenton who spoke. "She's crazier
than Philemon, it seems to me."

There was some reason for this remark. Guarded by the high fence from
the gaze of the pushing crowd without, she stood upright and immovable
in the middle of the yard, like one on watch. The hood, which she had
dropped from her head when she thought her eyes and smile might be of
use to her in the furtherance of her plans, had been drawn over it
again, so that she looked more like a statue in grey than a living,
breathing woman. Yet there was menace in her attitude and a purpose in
the solitary stand she took in that circle of board-girded grass, which
caused a thrill in the breasts of those who looked at her from that
chamber of death.

"A mysterious young woman," muttered the minister.

"And one that I neither countenance nor understand," interpolated Mr.
Sutherland. "I have just shown my displeasure at her actions by
dismissing her from my house."

The coroner gave him a quick look, seemed about to speak, but changed
his mind and turned toward the dead woman.

"We have a sad duty before us," said he.

The investigations which followed elicited one or two new facts. First,
that all the doors of the house were found unlocked; and, secondly, that
the constable had been among the first to enter, so that he could vouch
that no disarrangement had been made in the rooms, with the exception of
Batsy's removal to the bed.

Then, his attention being drawn to the dead woman, he discovered the key
in her tightly closed hand.

"Where does this key belong?" he asked.

They showed him the drawers in the cupboard.

"One is empty," remarked Mi. Sutherland. "If the other is found to be in
the same condition, then her money has been taken. That key she holds
should open both these drawers."

"Then let it be made use of at once. It is important that we should know
whether theft has been committed here as well as murder." And drawing
the key out, he handed it to Mr. Fenton.

The constable immediately unlocked the drawer and brought it and its
contents to the table.

"No money here," said he.

"But papers as good as money," announced the doctor. "See! here are
deeds and more than one valuable bond. I judge she was a richer woman
than any of us knew."

Mr. Sutherland, meantime, was looking with an air of disappointment into
the now empty drawer.

"Just as I feared," said he. "She has been robbed of her ready money. It
was doubtless in the other drawer."

"How came she by the key, then?"

"That is one of the mysteries of the affair; this murder is by no means
a simple one. I begin to think we shall find it full of mysteries."

"Batsy's death, for instance?"

"O yes, Batsy! I forgot that she was found dead too."

"Without a wound, doctor."

"She had heart disease. I doctored her for it. The fright has killed
her."

"The look of her face confirms that."

"Let me see! So it does; but we must have an autopsy to prove it."

"I would like to explain before any further measures are taken, how I
came to know that Agatha Webb had money in her house," said Mr.
Sutherland, as they stepped back into the other room. "Two days ago, as
I was sitting with my family at table, old gossip Judy came in. Had Mrs.
Sutherland been living, this old crone would not have presumed to
intrude upon us at mealtime, but as we have no one now to uphold our
dignity, this woman rushed into our presence panting with news, and told
us all in one breath how she had just come from Mrs. Webb; that Mrs.
Webb had money; that she had seen it, she herself; that, going into the
house as usual without knocking, she had heard Agatha stepping overhead
and had gone up; and finding the door of the sitting-room ajar, had
looked in, and seen Agatha crossing the room with her hands full of
bills; that these bills were big bills, for she heard Agatha cry, as she
locked them up in the cupboard behind the book-shelves, 'A thousand
dollars! That is too much money to have in one's house'; that she, Judy,
thought so too, and being frightened at what she had seen, had crept
away as silently as she had entered and run away to tell the neighbours.
Happily, I was the first she found up that morning, but I have no doubt
that, in spite of my express injunctions, she has since related the news
to half the people in town."

"Was the young woman down yonder present when Judy told this story?"
asked the coroner, pointing towards the yard.

Mr. Sutherland pondered. "Possibly; I do not remember. Frederick was
seated at the table with me, and my housekeeper was pouring out the
coffee, but it was early for Miss Page. She has been putting on great
airs of late."

"Can it be possible he is trying to blind himself to the fact that his
son Frederick wishes to marry this girl?" muttered the clergyman into
the constable's ear.

The constable shook his head. Mr. Sutherland was one of those debonair
men, whose very mildness makes them impenetrable.



V

A SPOT ON THE LAWN


The coroner, on leaving the house, was followed by Mr. Sutherland. As
the fine figures of the two men appeared on the doorstep, a faint cheer
was heard from the two or three favoured persons who were allowed to
look through the gate. But to this token of welcome neither gentleman
responded by so much as a look, all their attention being engrossed by
the sight of the solitary figure of Miss Page, who still held her stand
upon the lawn. Motionless as a statue, but with her eyes fixed upon
their faces, she awaited their approach. When they were near her she
thrust one hand from under her cloak, and pointing to the grass at her
feet, said quietly:

"See this?"

They hastened towards her and bent down to examine the spot she
indicated.

"What do you find there?" cried Mr. Sutherland, whose eyesight was not
good.

"Blood," responded the coroner, plucking up a blade of grass and
surveying it closely.

"Blood," echoed Miss Page, with so suggestive a glance that Mr.
Sutherland stared at her in amazement, not understanding his own
emotion.

"How were you able to discern a stain so nearly imperceptible?" asked
the coroner.

"Imperceptible? It is the only thing I see in the whole yard," she
retorted, and with a slight bow, which was not without its element of
mockery, she turned toward the gate.

"A most unaccountable girl," commented the doctor. "But she is right
about these stains. Abel," he called to the man at the gate, "bring a
box or barrel here and cover up this spot. I don't want it disturbed by
trampling feet."

Abel started to obey, just as the young girl laid her hand on the gate
to open it.

"Won't you help me?" she asked. "The crowd is so great they won't let me
through."

"Won't they?" The words came from without. "Just slip out as I slip in,
and you'll find a place made for you."

Not recognising the voice, she hesitated for a moment, but seeing the
gate swaying, she pushed against it just as a young man stepped through
the gap. Necessarily they came face to face.

"Ah, it's you," he muttered, giving her a sharp glance.

"I do not know you," she haughtily declared, and slipped by him with
such dexterity she was out of the gate before he could respond.

But he only snapped his finger and thumb mockingly at her, and smiled
knowingly at Abel, who had lingered to watch the end of this encounter.

"Supple as a willow twig, eh?" he laughed. "Well, I have made whistles
out of willows before now, and hallo! where did you get that?"

He was pointing to a rare flower that hung limp and faded from Abel's
buttonhole.

"This? Oh, I found it in the house yonder. It was lying on the floor of
the inner room, almost under Batsy's skirts. Curious sort of flower. I
wonder where she got it?"

The intruder betrayed at once an unaccountable emotion. There was a
strange glitter in his light green eyes that made Abel shift rather
uneasily on his feet. "Was that before this pretty minx you have just
let out came in here with Mr. Sutherland?"

"O yes; before anyone had started for the hill at all. Why, what has
this young lady got to do with a flower dropped by Batsy?"

"She? Nothing. Only--and I have never given you bad advice, Abel--don't
let that thing hang any longer from your buttonhole. Put it into an
envelope and keep it, and if you don't hear from me again in regard to
it, write me out a fool and forget we were ever chums when little
shavers."

The man called Abel smiled, took out the flower, and went to cover up
the grass as Dr. Talbot had requested. The stranger took his place at
the gate, toward which the coroner and Mr. Sutherland were now
advancing, with an air that showed his great anxiety to speak with them.
He was the musician whom we saw secretly entering the last-mentioned
gentleman's house after the departure of the servants.

As the coroner paused before him he spoke. "Dr. Talbot," said he,
dropping his eyes, which were apt to betray his thoughts too plainly,
"you have often promised that you would give me a job if any matter came
up where any nice detective work was wanted. Don't you think the time
has come to remember me?"

"You, Sweetwater? I'm afraid the affair is too deep for an inexperienced
man's first effort. I shall have to send to Boston for an expert.
Another time, Sweetwater, when the complications are less serious."

The young fellow, with a face white as milk, was turning away.

"But you'll let me stay around here?" he pleaded, pausing and giving the
other an imploring look.

"O yes," answered the good-natured coroner. "Fenton will have work
enough for you and half a dozen others. Go and tell him I sent you."

"Thank you," returned the other, his face suddenly losing its aspect of
acute disappointment. "Now I shall see where that flower fell," he
murmured.



VI

"BREAKFAST IS SERVED, GENTLEMEN!"


Mr. Sutherland returned home. As he entered the broad hall he met his
son, Frederick. There was a look on the young man's face such as he had
not seen there in years.

"Father," faltered the youth, "may I have a few words with you?"

The father nodded kindly, though it is likely he would have much
preferred his breakfast; and the young man led him into a little
sitting-room littered with the faded garlands and other tokens of the
preceding night's festivities.

"I have an apology to make," Frederick began, "or rather, I have your
forgiveness to ask. For years" he went on, stumbling over his words,
though he gave no evidence of a wish to restrain them--"for years I have
gone contrariwise to your wishes and caused my mother's heart to ache
and you to wish I had never been born to be a curse to you and her."

He had emphasised the word mother, and spoke altogether with force and
deep intensity. Mr. Sutherland stood petrified; he had long ago given up
this lad as lost.

"I--I wish to change. I wish to be as great a pride to you as I have
been a shame and a dishonour. I may not succeed at once; but I am in
earnest, and if you will give me your hand--"

The old man's arms were round the young man's shoulders at once.

"Frederick!" he cried, "my Frederick!"

"Do not make me too much ashamed," murmured the youth, very pale and
strangely discomposed. "With no excuse for my past, I suffer intolerable
apprehension in regard to my future, lest my good intentions should fail
or my self-control not hold out. But the knowledge that you are
acquainted with my resolve, and regard it with an undeserved sympathy,
may suffice to sustain me, and I should certainly be a base poltroon if
I should disappoint you or her twice."

He paused, drew himself from his father's arms, and glanced almost
solemnly out of the window. "I swear that I will henceforth act as if
she were still alive and watching me."

There was strange intensity in his manner. Mr. Sutherland regarded him
with amazement. He had seen him in every mood natural to a reckless man,
but never in so serious a one, never with a look of awe or purpose in
his face. It gave him quite a new idea of Frederick.

"Yes," the young man went on, raising his right hand, but not removing
his eyes from the distant prospect on which they were fixed, "I swear
that I will henceforth do nothing to discredit her memory. Outwardly and
inwardly, I will act as though her eye were still upon me and she could
again suffer grief at my failures or thrill with pleasure at my
success."

A portrait of Mrs. Sutherland, painted when Frederick was a lad of ten,
hung within a few feet of him as he spoke. He did not glance at it, but
Mr. Sutherland did, and with a look as if he expected to behold a
responsive light beam from those pathetic features.

"She loved you very dearly," was his slow and earnest comment. "We have
both loved you much more deeply than you have ever seemed to realise,
Frederick."

"I believe it," responded the young man, turning with an expression of
calm resolve to meet his father's eye. "As proof that I am no longer
insensible to your affection, I have made up my mind to forego for your
sake one of the dearest wishes of my heart. Father" he hesitated before
he spoke the word, but he spoke it firmly at last,--"am I right in
thinking you would not like Miss Page for a daughter?"

"Like my housekeeper's niece to take the place in this house once
occupied by Marietta Sutherland? Frederick, I have always thought too
well of you to believe you would carry your forgetfulness of me so far
as that, even when I saw that you were influenced by her attractions."

"You did not do justice to my selfishness, father. I did mean to marry
her, but I have given up living solely for myself, and she could never
help me to live for others. Father, Amabel Page must not remain in this
house to cause division between you and me."

"I have already intimated to her the desirability of her quitting a home
where she is no longer respected," the old gentleman declared. "She
leaves on the 10.45 train. Her conduct this morning at the house of Mrs.
Webb--who perhaps you do not know was most cruelly and foully murdered
last night--was such as to cause comment and make her an undesirable
adjunct to any gentleman's family."

Frederick paled. Something in these words had caused him a great shock.
Mr. Sutherland was fond enough to believe that it was the news of this
extraordinary woman's death. But his son's words, as soon as he could
find any, showed that his mind was running on Amabel, whom he perhaps
had found it difficult to connect even in the remotest way with crime.

"She at this place of death? How could that be? Who would take a young
girl there?"

The father, experiencing, perhaps, more compassion for this
soon-to-be-disillusioned lover than he thought it incumbent upon him to
show, answered shortly, but without any compromise of the unhappy truth:

"She went; she was not taken. No one, not even myself, could keep her
back after she had heard that a murder had been committed in the town.
She even intruded into the house; and when ordered out of the room of
death took up her stand in the yard in front, where she remained until
she had the opportunity of pointing out to us a stain of blood on the
grass, which might otherwise have escaped our attention."

"Impossible!" Frederick's eye was staring; he looked like a man struck
dumb by surprise or fear. "Amabel do this? You are mocking me, sir, or I
may be dreaming, which may the good God grant."

His father, who had not looked for so much emotion, eyed his son in
surprise, which rapidly changed to alarm as the young man faltered and
fell back against the wall.

"You are ill, Frederick; you are really ill. Let me call down Mrs.
Harcourt. But no, I cannot summon her. She is this girl's aunt."

Frederick made an effort and stood up.

"Do not call anybody," he entreated. "I expect to suffer some in casting
this fascinating girl out of my heart. Ultimately I will conquer the
weakness; indeed I will. As for her interest in Mrs. Webb's death"--how
low his voice sank and how he trembled!" she may have been better
friends with her than we had any reason to suppose. I can think of no
other motive for her conduct. Admiration for Mrs. Webb and horror---"

"Breakfast is served, gentlemen!" cried a thrilling voice behind them.
Amabel Page stood smiling in the doorway.



VII

"MARRY ME"


"Wait a moment, I must speak to you." It was Amabel who was holding
Frederick back. She had caught him by the arm as he was about leaving
the room with his father, and he felt himself obliged to stop and
listen.

"I start for Springfield to-day," she announced. "I have another
relative there living at the house. When shall I have the pleasure of
seeing you in my new home?"

"Never." It was said regretfully, and yet with a certain brusqueness,
occasioned perhaps by over-excited feeling. "Hard as it is for me to say
it, Amabel, it is but just for me to tell you that after our parting
here to-day we will meet only as strangers. Friendship between us would
be mockery, and any closer relationship has become impossible."

It had cost him an immense effort to say these words, and he expected,
fondly expected, I must admit, to see her colour change and her head
droop. But instead of this she looked at him steadily for a moment, then
slipped her hand down his arm till she reached his palm, which she
pressed with sudden warmth, drawing him into the room as she did so, and
shutting the door behind them. He was speechless, for she never had
looked so handsome or so glowing. Instead of showing depression or
humiliation even, she confronted him with a smile more dangerous than
any display of grief, for it contained what it had hitherto lacked,
positive and irresistible admiration. Her words were equally dangerous.

"I kiss your hand, as the Spaniards say." And she almost did so, with a
bend of her head, which just allowed him to catch a glimpse of two
startling dimples.

He was astounded. He thought he knew this woman well, but at this moment
she was as incomprehensible to him as if he had never made a study of
her caprices and sought an explanation for her ever-shifting
expressions.

"I am sensible of the honour," said he, "but hardly understand how I
have earned it."

Still that incomprehensible look of admiration continued to illumine her
face.

"I did not know I could ever think so well of you," she declared. "If
you do not take care, I shall end by loving you some day."

"Ah!" he ejaculated, his face contracting with sudden pain; "your love,
then, is but a potentiality. Very well, Amabel, keep it so and you will
be spared much misery. As for me, who have not been as wise as you---"

"Frederick!" She had come so near he did not have the strength to
finish. Her face, with its indefinable charm, was raised to his, as she
dropped these words one by one from her lips in lingering cadence:
"Frederick--do you love me, then, so very much?"

He was angry; possibly because he felt his resolution failing him. "You
know!" he hotly began, stepping back. Then with a sudden burst of
feeling, that was almost like prayer, he resumed: "Do not tempt me,
Amabel. I have trouble enough, without lamenting the failure of my first
steadfast purpose."

"Ah!" she said, stopping where she was, but drawing him toward her by
every witchery of which her mobile features were capable; "your generous
impulse has strengthened into a purpose, has it? Well, I'm not worth it,
Frederick."

More and more astounded, understanding her less than ever, but charmed
by looks that would have moved an anchorite, he turned his head away in
a vain attempt to escape an influence that was so rapidly undermining
his determination.

She saw the movement, recognised the weakness it bespoke, and in the
triumph of her heart allowed a low laugh to escape her.

Her voice, as I have before said, was unmusical though effective; but
her laugh was deliciously sweet, especially when it was restrained to a
mere ripple, as now.

"You will come to Springfield soon," she avowed, slipping from before
him so as to leave the way to the door open.

"Amabel!" His voice was strangely husky, and the involuntary opening and
shutting of his hands revealed the emotion under which he was labouring.
"Do you love me? You have acknowledged it now and then, but always as if
you did not mean it. Now you acknowledge that you may some day, and this
time as if you did mean it. What is the truth? Tell me, without coquetry
or dissembling, for I am in dead earnest, and---" He paused, choked, and
turned toward the window where but a few minutes before he had taken
that solemn oath. The remembrance of it seemed to come back with the
movement. Flushing with a new agitation, he wheeled upon her sharply.
"No, no," he prayed, "say nothing. If you swore you did not love me I
should not believe it, and if you swore that you did I should only find
it harder to repeat what must again be said, that a union between us can
never take place. I have given my solemn promise to---"

"Well, well. Why do you stop? Am I so hard to talk to that the words
will not leave your lips?"

"I have promised my father I will never marry you. He feels that he has
grounds of complaint against you, and as I owe him everything---"

He stopped amazed. She was looking at him intently, that same low laugh
still on her lips.

"Tell the truth," she whispered. "I know to what extent you consider
your father's wishes. You think you ought not to marry me after what
took place last night. Frederick, I like you for this evidence of
consideration on your part, but do not struggle too relentlessly with
your conscience. I can forgive much more in you than you think, and if
you really love me---"

"Stop! Let us understand each other." He had turned mortally pale, and
met her eyes with something akin to alarm. "What do you allude to in
speaking of last night? I did not know there was anything said by us in
our talk together---"

"I do not allude to our talk."

"Or--or in the one dance we had---"

"Frederick, a dance is innocent."

The word seemed to strike him with the force of a blow.

"Innocent," he repeated, "innocent?" becoming paler still as the full
weight of her meaning broke gradually upon him.

"I followed you into town," she whispered, coming closer, and breathing
the words into his ear. "But what I saw you do there will not prevent me
from obeying you if you say: 'Follow me wherever I go, Amabel;
henceforth our lives are one.'"

"My God!"

It was all he said, but it seemed to create a gulf between them. In the
silence that followed, the evil spirit latent beneath her beauty began
to make itself evident even in the smile which no longer called into
view the dimples which belong to guileless mirth, while upon his face,
after the first paralysing effect of her words had passed, there
appeared an expression of manly resistance that betrayed a virtue which
as yet had never appeared in his selfish and altogether reckless life.

That this was more than a passing impulse he presently made evident by
lifting his hand and pushing her slowly back.

"I do not know what you saw me do," said he; "but whatever it was, it
can make no difference in our relations."

Her whisper, which had been but a breath before, became scarcely
audible.

"I did not pause at the gate you entered," said she. "I went in after
you."

A gasp of irresistible feeling escaped him, but he did not take his eyes
from her face.

"It was a long time before you came out," she went on, "but previous to
that time the shade of a certain window was thrust aside, and---"

"Hush!" he commanded, in uncontrollable passion, pressing his hand with
impulsive energy against her mouth. "Not another word of that, or I
shall forget you are a woman or that I have ever loved you."

Her eyes, which were all she had remaining to plead with, took on a
peculiar look of quiet satisfaction, and power. Seeing it, he let his
hand fall and for the first time began to regard her with anything but a
lover's eyes.

"I was the only person in sight at that time," she continued. "You have
nothing to fear from the world at large."

"Fear?"

The word made its own echo; she had no need to emphasise it even by a
smile. But she watched him as it sunk into his consciousness with an
intentness it took all his strength to sustain. Suddenly her bearing and
expression changed. The few remains of sweetness in her face vanished,
and even the allurement which often lasts when the sweetness is gone,
disappeared in the energy which now took possession of her whole
threatening and inflexible personality.

"Marry me," she cried, "or I will proclaim you to be the murderer of
Agatha Webb."

She had seen the death of love in his eyes.



VIII

"A DEVIL THAT UNDERSTANDS MEN"


Frederick Sutherland was a man of finer mental balance than he himself,
perhaps, had ever realised. After the first few moments of stupefaction
following the astounding alternative which had been given him, he broke
out with the last sentence she probably expected to hear:

"What do you hope from a marriage with me, that to attain your wishes
you thus sacrifice every womanly instinct?"

She met him on his own ground.

"What do I hope?" She actually glowed with the force of her secret
desire. "Can you ask a poor girl like me, born in a tenement house, but
with tastes and ambitions such as are usually only given to those who
can gratify them? I want to be the rich Mr. Sutherland's daughter;
acknowledged or unacknowledged, the wife of one who can enter any house
in Boston as an equal. With a position like that I can rise to anything.
I feel that I have the natural power and aptitude. I have felt it since
I was a small child."

"And for that---" he began.

"And for that," she broke in, "I am quite willing to overlook a blot on
your record. Confident that you will never repeat the risk of last
night, I am ready to share the burden of your secret through life. If
you treat me well, I am sure I can make that burden light for you."

With a quick flush and an increase of self-assertion, probably not
anticipated by her, he faced the daring girl with a desperate resolution
that showed how handsome he could be if his soul once got control of his
body.

"Woman," he cried, "they were right; you are little less than a devil."

Did she regard it as a compliment? Her smile would seem to say so.

"A devil that understands men," she answered, with that slow dip of her
dimples that made her smile so dangerous. "You will not hesitate long
over this matter; a week, perhaps."

"I shall not hesitate at all. Seeing you as you are, makes my course
easy. You will never share any burden with me as my wife."

Still she was not abashed.

"It is a pity," she whispered; "it would have saved you such unnecessary
struggle. But a week is not long to wait. I am certain of you then. This
day week at twelve o'clock, Frederick."

He seized her by the arm, and lost to everything but his rage, shook her
with a desperate hand.

"Do you mean it?" he cried, a sudden horror showing itself in his face,
notwithstanding his efforts to conceal it.

"I mean it so much," she assured him, "that before I came home just now
I paid a visit to the copse over the way. A certain hollow tree, where
you and I have held more than one tryst, conceals within its depths a
package containing over one thousand dollars. Frederick, I hold your
life in my hands."

The grasp with which he held her relaxed; a mortal despair settled upon
his features, and recognising the impossibility of further concealing
the effect of her words upon him, he sank into a chair and covered his
face with his hands. She viewed him with an air of triumph, which
brought back some of her beauty. When she spoke it was to say:

"If you wish to join me in Springfield before the time I have set, well
and good. I am willing that the time of our separation should be
shortened, but it must not be lengthened by so much as a day. Now, if
you will excuse me, I will go and pack my trunks."

He shuddered; her voice penetrated him to the quick.

Drawing herself up, she looked down on him with a strange mixture of
passion and elation.

"You need fear no indiscretion on my part, so long as our armistice
lasts," said she. "No one can drag the truth from me while any hope
remains of your doing your duty by me in the way I have suggested."

And still he did not move.

"Frederick?"

Was it her voice that was thus murmuring his name? Can the tiger snarl
one moment and fawn the next?

"Frederick, I have a final word to say--a last farewell. Up to this hour
I have endured your attentions, or, let us say, accepted them, for I
always found you handsome and agreeable, if not the master of my heart.
But now it is love that I feel, love; and love with me is no fancy, but
a passion--do you hear?--a passion which will make life a heaven or hell
for the man who has inspired it. You should have thought of this when
you opposed me."

And with a look in which love and hatred contended for mastery, she bent
and imprinted a kiss upon his forehead. Next moment she was gone.

Or so he thought. But when, after an interval of nameless recoil, he
rose and attempted to stagger from the place, he discovered that she had
been detained in the hall by two or three men who had just come in by
the front door.

"Is this Miss Page?" they were asking.

"Yes, I am Miss Page--Amabel Page" she replied with suave politeness.
"If you have any business with me, state it quickly, for I am about to
leave town."

"That is what we wish to prevent," declared a tall, thin young man who
seemed to take the lead. "Till the inquest has been held over the
remains of Mrs. Webb, Coroner Talbot wishes you to regard yourself as a
possible witness."

"Me?" she cried, with an admirable gesture of surprise and a wide
opening of her brown eyes that made her look like an astonished child.
"What have I got to do with it?"

"You pointed out a certain spot of blood on the grass, and--well, the
coroner's orders have to be obeyed, miss. You cannot leave the town
without running the risk of arrest"

"Then I will stay in it," she smiled. "I have no liking for arrests,"
and the glint of her eye rested for a moment on Frederick. "Mr.
Sutherland," she continued, as that gentleman appeared at the
dining-room door, "I shall have to impose upon your hospitality for a
few days longer. These men here inform me that my innocent interest in
pointing out to you that spot of blood on Mrs. Webb's lawn has awakened
some curiosity, and that I am wanted as a witness by the coroner."

Mr. Sutherland, with a quick stride, lessened the distance between
himself and these unwelcome intruders. "The coroner's wishes are
paramount just now," said he, but the look he gave his son was not soon
forgotten by the spectators.



IX

A GRAND WOMAN


There was but one topic discussed in the country-side that day, and that
was the life and character of Agatha Webb.

Her history had not been a happy one. She and Philemon had come from
Portchester some twenty or more years before to escape the sorrows
associated with their native town. They had left behind them six small
graves in Portchester churchyard; but though evidences of their
affliction were always to be seen in the countenances of either, they
had entered with so much purpose into the life of their adopted town
that they had become persons of note there till Philemon's health began
to fail, when Agatha quit all outside work and devoted herself
exclusively to him. Of her character and winsome personality we can
gather some idea from the various conversations carried on that day from
Portchester Green to the shipyards in Sutherlandtown.

In Deacon Brainerd's cottage, the discussion was concerning Agatha's
lack of vanity; a virtue not very common at that time among the women of
this busy seaport.

"For a woman so handsome," the good deacon was saying "(and I think I
can safely call her the finest-featured woman who ever trod these
streets), she showed as little interest in dress as anyone I ever knew.
Calico at home and calico at church, yet she looked as much of a lady in
her dark-sprigged gowns as Mrs. Webster in her silks or Mrs. Parsons in
her thousand-dollar sealskin."

As this was a topic within the scope of his eldest daughter's
intelligence she at once spoke up: "I never thought she needed to dress
so plainly. I don't believe in such a show of poverty myself. If one is
too poor to go decent, all right; but they say she had more money than
most anyone in town. I wonder who is going to get the benefit of it?"

"Why, Philemon, of course; that is, as long as he lives. He doubtless
had the making of it."

"Is it true that he's gone clean out of his head since her death?"
interposed a neighbour who had happened in.

"So they say. I believe widow Jones has taken him into her house."

"Do you think," asked a second daughter with becoming hesitation, "that
he had anything to do with her death? Some of the neighbours say he
struck her while in one of his crazy fits, while others declare she was
killed by some stranger, equally old and almost as infirm."

"We won't discuss the subject," objected the deacon. "Time will show who
robbed us of the greatest-hearted and most capable woman in these
parts."

"And will time show who killed Batsy?" It was a morsel of a girl who
spoke; the least one of the family, but the brightest. "I'm sorry for
Batsy; she always gave me cookies when I went to see Mrs. Webb."

"Batsy was a good girl for a Swede," allowed the deacon's wife, who had
not spoken till now. "When she first came into town on the spars of that
wrecked ship we all remember, there was some struggle between Agatha and
me as to which of us should have her. But I didn't like the task of
teaching her the name of every pot and pan she had to use in the
kitchen, so I gave her up to Agatha; and it was fortunate I did, for
I've never been able to understand her talk to this day."

"I could talk with her right well," lisped the little one. "She never
called things by their Swedish names unless she was worried; and I never
worried her."

"I wonder if she would have worshipped the ground under your feet, as
she did that under Agatha's?" asked the deacon, eying his wife with just
the suspicion of a malicious twinkle in his eye.

"I am not the greatest-hearted and most capable woman in town," retorted
his wife, clicking her needles as she went on knitting.

In Mr. Sprague's house on the opposite side of the road, Squire Fisher
was relating some old tales of bygone Portchester days. "I knew Agatha
when she was a girl," he avowed. "She had the grandest manners and the
most enchanting smile of any rich or poor man's daughter between the
coast and Springfield. She did not dress in calico then. She wore the
gayest clothes her father could buy. her, and old Jacob was not without
means to make his daughter the leading figure in town. How we young
fellows did adore her, and what lengths we went to win one of her
glorious smiles! Two of us, John and James Zabel, have lived bachelors
for her sake to this very day; but I hadn't courage enough for that; I
married and"--something between a sigh and a chuckle filled out the
sentence.

"What made Philemon carry off the prize? His good looks?"

"Yes, or his good luck. It wasn't his snap; of that you may be sure.
James Zabel had the snap, and he was her first choice, too, but he got
into some difficulty--I never knew just what it was, but it was regarded
as serious at the time--and that match was broken off. Afterwards she
married Philemon. You see, I was out of it altogether; had never been in
it, perhaps; but there were three good years of my life in which I
thought of little else than Agatha. I admired her spirit, you see. There
was something more taking in her ways than in her beauty, wonderful as
that was. She ruled us with a rod of iron, and yet we worshipped her. I
have wondered to see her so meek of late. I never thought she would be
satisfied with a brick-floored cottage and a husband of failing wits.
But no one, to my knowledge, has ever heard a complaint from her lips;
and the dignity of her afflicted wife-hood has far transcended the
haughtiness of those days when she had but to smile to have all the
youth of Portchester at her feet."

"I suppose it was the loss of so many children that reconciled her to a
quiet life. A woman cannot close the eyes of six children, one after the
other, without some modification taking place in her character."

"Yes, she and Philemon have been unfortunate; but she was a splendid
looking girl, boys. I never see such grand-looking women now."

In a little one-storied cottage on the hillside a woman was nursing a
baby and talking at the same time of Agatha Webb.

"I shall never forget the night my first baby fell sick," she faltered;
"I was just out of bed myself, and having no nearer neighbours then than
now, I was all alone on the hillside, Alec being away at sea. I was too
young to know much about sickness, but something told me that I must
have help before morning or my baby would die. Though I could just walk
across the floor, I threw a shawl around me, took my baby in my arms,
and opened the door. A blinding gust of rain blew in. A terrible storm
was raging and I had not noticed it, I was so taken up with the child.

"I could not face that gale. Indeed, I was so weak I fell on my knees as
it struck me and became dripping wet before I could drag myself inside.
The baby began to moan and everything was turning dark before me, when I
heard a strong, sweet voice cry out in the roadway:

"'Is there room in this house for me till the storm has blown by? I
cannot see my way down the hillside.'

"With a bursting heart I looked up. A woman was standing in the doorway,
with the look of an angel in her eyes. I did not know her, but her face
was one to bring comfort to the saddest heart. Holding up my baby, I
cried:

"'My baby is dying; I tried to go for the doctor, but my knees bent
under me. Help me, as you are a mother--I--- '

"I must have fallen again, for the next thing I remember I was lying by
the hearth, looking up into her face, which was bending over me. She was
white as the rag I had tied about my baby's throat, and by the way her
breast heaved she was either very much frightened or very sorry.

"'I wish you had the help of anyone else,' said she. 'Babies perish in
my arms and wither at my breast. I cannot touch it, much as I yearn to.
But let me see its face; perhaps I can tell you what is the matter with
it.'

"I showed her the baby's face, and she bent over it, trembling very
much, almost as much indeed as myself.

"'It is very sick,' she said, 'but if you will use the remedies I
advise, I think you can save it.' And she told me what to do, and helped
me all she could; but she did not lay a finger on the little darling,
though from the way she watched it I saw that her heart was set on his
getting better. And he did; in an hour he was sleeping peacefully, and
the terrible weight was gone from my heart and from hers. When the storm
stopped, and she could leave the house, she gave me a kiss; but the look
she gave him meant more than kisses. God must have forgotten her
goodness to me that night when He let her die so pitiable a death."

At the minister's house they were commenting upon the look of serenity
observable in her dead face.

"I have known her for thirty years," her pastor declared, "and never
before have I seen her wear a look of real peace. It is wonderful,
considering the circumstances. Do you think she was so weary of her
life's long struggle that she hailed any release from it, even that of
violence?"

A young man, a lawyer, visiting them from New York, was the only one to
answer.

"I never saw the woman you are talking about," said he, "and know
nothing of the circumstances of her death beyond what you have told me.
But from the very incongruity between her expression and the violent
nature of her death, I argue that there are depths to this crime which
have not yet been sounded."

"What depths? It is a simple case of murder followed by theft. To be
sure we do not yet know the criminal, but money was his motive; that is
clear enough."

"Are you ready to wager that that is all there is to it?"

This was a startling proposition to the minister.

"You forget my cloth," said he.

The young man smiled. "That is true. Pardon me. I was only anxious to
show how strong my conviction was against any such easy explanation of a
crime marked by such contradictory features."

Two children on the Portchester road were exchanging boyish confidences.

"Do you know what I think about it?" asked one.

"Naw! How should I?"

"Wall, I think old Mrs. Webb got the likes of what she sent. Don't you
know she had six children once, and that she killed every one of them?"

"Killed'em--she?"

"Yes, I heard her tell granny once all about it. She said there was a
blight on her house--I don't know what that is; but I guess it's
something big and heavy--and that it fell on every one of her children,
as fast as they came, and killed 'em."

"Then I'm glad I ben't her child."

Very different were the recollections interchanged between two
middle-aged Portchester women.

"She was drinking tea at my house when her sister Sairey came running in
with the news that the baby she had left at home wasn't quite right.
That was her first child, you know."

"Yes, yes, for I was with her when that baby came," broke in the other,
"and such joy as she showed when they told her it was alive and well I
never saw. I do not know why she didn't expect it to be alive, but she
didn't, and her happiness was just wonderful to see."

"Well, she didn't enjoy it long. The poor little fellow died young. But
I was telling you of the night when she first heard he was ailing.
Philemon had been telling a good story, and we were all laughing, when
Sairey came in. I can see Agatha now. She always had the most brilliant
eyes in the county, but that day they were superbly dazzling. They
changed, though, at the sight of Sairey's face, and she jumped to meet
her just as if she knew what Sairey was going to say before ever a word
left her lips. 'My baby!' (I can hear her yet.) 'Something is the matter
with the baby!' And though Sairey made haste to tell her that he was
only ailing and not at all ill, she turned upon Philemon with a look
none of us ever quite understood; he changed so completely under it,
just as she had under Sairey's; and to neither did the old happiness
ever return, for the child died within a week, and when the next came it
died also, and the next, till six small innocents lay buried in yonder
old graveyard."

"I know; and sad enough it was too, especially as she and Philemon were
both fond of children. Well, well, the ways of Providence are past
rinding out! And now she is gone and Philemon---"

"Ah, he'll follow her soon; he can't live without Agatha."

Nearer home, the old sexton was chattering about the six gravestones
raised in Portchester churchyard to these six dead infants. He had been
sent there to choose a spot in which to lay the mother, and was full of
the shock it gave him to see that line of little stones, telling of a
past with which the good people of Sutherlandtown found it hard to
associate Philemon and Agatha Webb.

"I'm a digger of graves," he mused, half to himself and half to his old
wife watching him from the other side of the hearthstone. "I spend a
good quarter of my time in the churchyard; but when I saw those six
little mounds, and read the inscriptions over them, I couldn't help
feeling queer. Think of this! On the first tiny headstone I read these
words:"

  STEPHEN,

  Son of Philemon and Agatha Webb,

  Died, Aged Six Weeks.

  God be merciful to me a sinner!

"Now what does that mean? Did you ever hear anyone say?"

"No," was his old wife's answer. "Perhaps she was one of those Calvinist
folks who believe babies go to hell if they are not baptised."

"But her children were all baptised. I've been told so; some of them
before she was well out of her bed. 'God be merciful to me a sinner!'
And the chick not six weeks old! Something queer about that, dame, if it
did happen more than thirty years ago."

"What did you see over the grave of the child who was killed in her arms
by lightning?"

"This:

"'And he was not, for God took him.'"

Farmer Waite had but one word to say:

"She came to me when my Sissy had the smallpox; the only person in town
who would enter my doors. More than that; when Sissy was up and I went
to pay the doctor's bill I found it had been settled. I did not know
then who had enough money and compassion to do this for me; now I do."

Many an act of kindness which had been secretly performed in that town
during the last twenty years came to light on that day, the most notable
of which was the sending of a certain young lad to school and his
subsequent education as a minister.

But other memories of a sweeter and more secret nature still came up
likewise, among them the following:

A young girl, who was of a very timid but deeply sensitive nature, had
been urged into an engagement with a man she did not like. Though the
conflict this occasioned her and the misery which accompanied it were
apparent to everybody, nobody stirred in her behalf but Agatha. She went
to see her, and, though it was within a fortnight of the wedding, she
did not hesitate to advise the girl to give him up, and when the poor
child said she lacked the courage, Agatha herself went to the man and
urged him into a display of generosity which saved the poor, timid thing
from a life of misery. They say this was no easy task for Agatha, and
that the man was sullen for a year. But the girl's gratitude was
boundless.

Of her daring, which was always on the side of right and justice, the
stories were numerous; so were the accounts, mostly among the women, of
her rare tenderness and sympathy for the weak and the erring. Never was
a man talked to as she talked to Jake Cobleigh the evening after he
struck his mother, and if she had been in town on the day when Clarissa
Mayhew ran away with that Philadelphia adventurer many said it would
never have happened, for no girl could stand the admonition, or resist
the pleading, of this childless mother.

It was reserved for Mr. Halliday and Mr. Sutherland to talk of her
mental qualities. Her character was so marked and her manner so simple
that few gave attention to the intellect that was the real basis of her
power. The two mentioned gentlemen, however, appreciated her to the
full, and it was while listening to their remarks that Frederick was
suddenly startled by some one saying to him:

"You are the only person in town who have nothing to say about Agatha
Webb. Didn't you ever exchange any words with her?--for I can hardly
believe you could have met her eye to eye without having some remark to
make about her beauty or her influence."

The speaker was Agnes Halliday, who had come in with her father for a
social chat. She was one of Frederick's earliest playmates, but one with
whom he had never assimilated and who did not like him. He knew this, as
did everyone else in town, and it was with some hesitation he turned to
answer her.

"I have but one recollection," he began, and for the moment got no
farther, for in turning his head to address his young guest he had
allowed his gaze to wander through the open window by which she sat,
into the garden beyond, where Amabel could be seen picking flowers. As
he spoke, Amabel lifted her face with one of her suggestive looks. She
had doubtless heard Miss Halliday's remark.

Recovering himself with an effort, he repeated his words: "I have but
one recollection of Mrs. Webb that I can give you. Years ago when I was
a lad I was playing on the green with several other boys. We had had
some dispute about a lost ball, and I was swearing angrily and loud when
I suddenly perceived before me the tall form and compassionate face of
Mrs. Webb. She was dressed in her usual simple way, and had a basket on
her arm, but she looked so superior to any other woman I had ever met
that I did not know whether to hide my face in her skirts or to follow
my first impulse and run away. She saw the emotion she had aroused, and
lifting up my face by the chin, she said: 'Little boy, I have buried six
children, all of them younger than you, and now my husband and myself
live alone. Often and often have I wished that one at least of these
darling infants might have been spared us. But had God given me the
choice of having them die young and innocent, or of growing up to swear
as I have heard you to-day, I should have prayed God to take them, as He
did. You have a mother. Do not break her heart by taking in vain the
name of the God she reveres.' And with that she kissed me, and, strange
as it may seem to you, in whatever folly or wickedness I have indulged,
I have never made use of an oath from that day to this--and I thank God
for it."

There was such unusual feeling in his voice, a feeling that none had
ever suspected him capable of before, that Miss Halliday regarded him
with astonishment and quite forgot to indulge in her usual banter. Even
the gentlemen sat still, and there was a momentary silence, through
which there presently broke the incongruous sound of a shrill and
mocking laugh.

It came from Amabel, who had just finished gathering her bouquet in the
garden outside.



X

DETECTIVE KNAPP ARRIVES


Meanwhile, in a small room at the court-house, a still more serious
conversation was in progress. Dr. Talbot, Mr. Fenton, and a certain able
lawyer in town by the name of Harvey, were in close discussion. The last
had broken the silence of years, and was telling what he knew of Mrs.
Webb's affairs.

He was a shrewd man, of unblemished reputation. When called upon to
talk, he talked well, but he much preferred listening, and was, as now
appeared, the safest repository of secrets to be found in all that
region. He had been married three times, and could still count thirteen
children around his board, one reason, perhaps, why he had learned to
cultivate silence to such a degree. Happily, the time had come for him
to talk, and he talked. This is what he said:

"Some fifteen years ago Philemon Webb came to me with a small sum of
money, which he said he wished to have me invest for his wife. It was
the fruit of a small speculation of his and he wanted it given
unconditionally to her without her knowledge or that of the neighbours.
I accordingly made out a deed of gift, which he signed with joyful
alacrity, and then after due thought and careful investigation, I put
the money into a new enterprise then being started in Boston. It was the
best stroke of business I ever did in my life. At the end of a year it
paid double, and after five had rolled away the accumulated interest had
reached such a sum that both Philemon and myself thought it wisest to
let her know what she was worth and what was being done with the money.
I was in hopes it would lead her to make some change in her mode of
living, which seemed to me out of keeping with her appearance and mental
qualifications; while he, I imagine, looked for something more important
still--a smile on the face which had somehow lost the trick of
merriment, though it had never acquired that of ill nature. But we did
not know Agatha; at least I did not. When she learned that she was rich,
she looked at first awestruck and then heart-pierced. Forgetting me, or
ignoring me, it makes no matter which, she threw herself into Philemon's
arms and wept, while he, poor faithful fellow, looked as distressed as
if he had brought news of failure instead of triumphant success. I
suppose she thought of her buried children, and what the money would
have been to her if they had lived; but she did not speak of them, nor
am I quite sure they were in her thoughts when, after the first
excitement was over, she drew back and said quietly, but in a tone of
strong feeling, to Philemon: 'You meant me a happy surprise, and you
must not be disappointed. This is heart money; we will use it to make
our townsfolk happy.' I saw him glance at her dress, which was a purple
calico. I remember it because of that look and because of the sad smile
with which she followed his glance. 'Can we not afford now,' he
ventured, 'a little show of luxury, or at least a ribbon or so for this
beautiful throat of yours?' She did not answer him; but her look had a
rare compassion in it, a compassion, strange to say, that seemed to be
expended upon him rather than upon herself. Philemon swallowed his
disappointment. 'Agatha is right,' he said to me. 'We do not need
luxury. I do not know how I so far forgot myself as to mention it.' That
was ten years ago, and every day since then her property has increased.
I did not know then, and I do not know now, why they were both so
anxious that all knowledge of their good fortune should be kept from
those about them; but that it was to be so kept was made very evident to
me; and, notwithstanding all temptations to the contrary, I have
refrained from uttering a word likely to give away their secret. The
money, which to all appearance was the cause of her tragic and untimely
death, was interest money which I was delegated to deliver her. I took
it to her day before yesterday, and it was all in crisp new notes, some
of them twenties, but most of them tens and fives. I am free to say
there was not such another roll of fresh money in town."

"Warn all shopkeepers to keep a sharp lookout for new bills in the money
they receive," was Dr. Talbot's comment to the constable. "Fresh ten-and
twenty-dollar bills are none too common in this town. And now about her
will. Did you draw that up, Harvey?"

"No. I did not know she had made one. I often spoke to her about the
advisability of her doing so, but she always put me off. And now it
seems that she had it drawn up in Boston. Could not trust her old friend
with too many secrets, I suppose."

"So you don't know how her money has been left?"

"No more than you do."

Here an interruption occurred. The door opened and a slim young man,
wearing spectacles, came in. At sight of him they all rose.

"Well?" eagerly inquired Dr. Talbot.

"Nothing new," answered the young man, with a consequential air. "The
elder woman died from loss of blood consequent upon a blow given by a
small, three-sided, slender blade; the younger from a stroke of
apoplexy, induced by fright."

"Good! I am glad to hear my instincts were not at fault. Loss of blood,
eh? Death, then, was not instantaneous?"

"No."

"Strange!" fell from the lips of his two listeners. "She lived, yet gave
no alarm."

"None that was heard," suggested the young doctor, who was from another
town.

"Or, if heard, reached no ears but Philemon's," observed the constable.
"Something must have taken him up-stairs."

"I am not so sure," said the coroner, "that Philemon is not answerable
for the whole crime, notwithstanding our failure to find the missing
money anywhere in the house. How else account for the resignation with
which she evidently met her death? Had a stranger struck her, Agatha
Webb would have struggled. There is no sign of struggle in the room."

"She would have struggled against Philemon had she had strength to
struggle. I think she was asleep when she was struck."

"Ah! And was not standing by the table? How about the blood there,
then?"

"Shaken from the murderer's fingers in fright or disgust."

"There was no blood on Philemon's fingers."

"No; he wiped them on his sleeve."

"If he was the one to use the dagger against her, where is the dagger?
Should we not be able to find it somewhere about the premises?"

"He may have buried it outside. Crazy men are supernaturally cunning."

"When you can produce it from any place inside that board fence, I will
consider your theory. At present I limit my suspicions of Philemon to
the half-unconscious attentions which a man of disordered intellect
might give a wife bleeding and dying under his eyes. My idea on the
subject is---"

"Would you be so kind as not to give utterance to your ideas until I
have been able to form some for myself?" interrupted a voice from the
doorway.

As this voice was unexpected, they all turned. A small man with sleek
dark hair and expressionless features stood before them. Behind him was
Abel, carrying a hand-bag and umbrella.

"The detective from Boston," announced the latter. Coroner Talbot rose.

"You are in good time," he remarked. "We have work of no ordinary nature
for you."

The man failed to look interested. But then his countenance was not one
to show emotion.

"My name is Knapp," said he. "I have had my supper, and am ready to go
to work. I have read the newspapers; all I want now is any additional
facts that have come to light since the telegraphic dispatches were sent
to Boston. Facts, mind you; not theories. I never allow myself to be
hampered by other persons' theories."

Not liking his manner, which was brusque and too self-important for a
man of such insignificant appearance, Coroner Talbot referred him to Mr.
Fenton, who immediately proceeded to give him the result of such
investigations as he and his men had been able to make; which done, Mr.
Knapp put on his hat and turned toward the door.

"I will go to the house and see for myself what is to be learned there,"
said he. "May I ask the privilege of going alone?" he added, as Mr.
Fenton moved. "Abel will see that I am given admittance."

"Show me your credentials," said the coroner. He did so. "They seem all
right, and you should be a man who understands his business. Go alone,
if you prefer, but bring your conclusions here. They may need some
correcting."

"Oh, I will return," Knapp nonchalantly remarked, and went out, having
made anything but a favourable impression upon the assembled gentlemen.

"I wish we had shown more grit and tried to handle this thing
ourselves," observed Mr. Fenton. "I cannot bear to think of that cold,
bloodless creature hovering over our beloved Agatha."

"I wonder at Carson. Why should he send us such a man? Could he not see
the matter demanded extraordinary skill and judgment?"

"Oh, this fellow may have skill. But he is so unpleasant. I hate to deal
with folks of such fish-like characteristics. But who is this?" he asked
as a gentle tap was heard at the door. "Why, it's Loton. What can he
want here?"

The man whose presence in the doorway had called out this exclamation
started at the sound of the doctor's heavy voice, and came very
hesitatingly forward. He was of a weak, irritable type, and seemed to be
in a state of great excitement.

"I beg pardon," said he, "for showing myself. I don't like to intrude
into such company, but I have something to tell you which may be of use,
sirs, though it isn't any great thing, either."

"Something about the murder which has taken place?" asked the coroner,
in a milder tone. He knew Loton well, and realised the advisability of
encouragement in his case.

"The murder! Oh, I wouldn't presume to say anything about the murder.
I'm not the man to stir up any such subject as that. It's about the
money--or some money--more money than usually falls into my till. It--it
was rather queer, sirs, and I have felt the flutter of it all day. Shall
I tell you about it? It happened last night, late last night, sirs, so
late that I was in bed with my wife, and had been snoring, she said,
four hours."

"What money? New money? Crisp, fresh bills, Loton?" eagerly questioned
Mr. Fenton.

Loton, who was the keeper of a small confectionery and bakery store on
one of the side streets leading up the hill, shifted uneasily between
his two interrogators, and finally addressed himself to the coroner:

"It was new money. I thought it felt so at night, but I was sure of it
in the morning. A brand-new bill, sir, a--But that isn't the queerest
thing about it. I was asleep, sir, sound asleep, and dreaming of my
courting days (for I asked Sally at the circus, sirs, and the band
playing on the hill made me think of it), when I was suddenly shook
awake by Sally herself, who says she hadn't slept a wink for listening
to the music and wishing she was a girl again. 'There's a man at the
shop door,' cries she. 'He's a-calling of you; go and see what he
wants.' I was mad at being wakened. Dreaming is pleasant, specially when
clowns and kissing get mixed up in it, but duty is duty, and so into the
shop I stumbled, swearing a bit perhaps, for I hadn't stopped for a
light and it was as dark as double shutters could make it. The hammering
had become deafening. No let up till I reached the door, when it
suddenly ceased.

"'What is it?' I cried. 'Who's there and what do you want?'

"A trembling voice answered me. 'Let me in,' it said. 'I want to buy
something to eat. For God's sake, open the door!'

"I don't know why I obeyed, for it was late, and I did not know the
voice, but something in the impatient rattling of the door which
accompanied the words affected me in spite of myself, and I slowly
opened my shop to this midnight customer.

"'You must be hungry,' I began. But the person who had crowded in as
soon as the opening was large enough wouldn't let me finish.

"'Bread! I want bread, or crackers, or anything that you can find
easiest,' he gasped, like a man who had been running. 'Here's money';
and he poked into my hand a bill so stiff that it rattled. 'It's more
than enough,' he hastened to say, as I hesitated over it, 'but never
mind that; I'll come for the change in the morning.'

"'Who are you? I cried. 'You are not Blind Willy, I'm sure.'

"But his only answer was 'Bread!' while he leaned so hard against the
counter I felt it shake.

"I could not stand that cry of 'Bread!' so I groped about in the dark,
and found him a stale loaf, which I put into his arms, with a short,
'There! Now tell me what your name is.'

"But at this he seemed to shrink into himself; and muttering something
that might pass for thanks, he stumbled towards the door and rushed
hastily out. Running after him, I listened eagerly to his steps. They
went up the hill."

"And the money? What about the money?" asked the coroner. "Didn't he
come back for the change?"

"No. I put it in the till, thinking it was a dollar bill. But when I
came to look at it in the morning, it was a twenty; yes, sirs, a
twenty!"

This was startling. The coroner and the constable looked at each other
before looking again at him.

"And where is that bill now?" asked the former. "Have you brought it
with you?"

"I have, sir. It's been in and out of the till twenty times to-day. I
haven't known what to do with it. I don't like to think wrong of
anybody, but when I heard that Mrs. Webb (God bless her!) was murdered
last night for money, I couldn't rest for the weight of this thing on my
conscience. Here's the bill, sir. I wish I had let the old man rap on my
door till morning before I had taken it from him."

They did not share this feeling. A distinct and valuable clew seemed to
be afforded them by the fresh, crisp bill they saw in his hand. Silently
Dr. Talbot took it, while Mr. Fenton, with a shrewd look, asked:

"What reasons have you for calling this mysterious customer old? I
thought it was so dark you could not see him."

The man, who looked relieved since he had rid himself of the bill, eyed
the constable in some perplexity.

"I didn't see a feature of his face," said he, "and yet I'm sure he was
old. I never thought of him as being anything else."

"Well, we will see. And is that all you have to tell us?"

His nod was expressive, and they let him go.

An hour or so later Detective Knapp made his reappearance.

"Well," asked the coroner, as he came quietly in and closed the door
behind him, "what's your opinion?"

"Simple case, sir. Murdered for money. Find the man with a flowing
beard."



XI

THE MAN WITH A BEARD


There were but few men in town who wore long beards. A list was made of
these and handed to the coroner, who regarded it with a grim smile.

"Not a man whose name is here would be guilty of a misdemeanour, let
alone a crime. You must look outside of our village population for the
murderer of Agatha Webb."

"Very likely, but tell me something first about these persons," urged
Knapp. "Who is Edward Hope?"

"A watch repairer; a man of estimable character."

"And Sylvester Chubb?"

"A farmer who, to support his mother, wife, and seven children, works
from morning till sundown on his farm, and from sundown till 11 o'clock
at night on little fancy articles he cuts out from wood and sells in
Boston."

"John Barker, Thomas Elder, Timothy Sinn?"

"All good men; I can vouch for every one of them."

"And John Zabel, James Zabel?"

"Irreproachable, both of them. Famous ship--builders once, but the change
to iron ship-building has thrown them out of business. Pity, too, for
they were remarkable builders. By the by, Fenton, we don't see them at
church or on the docks any more."

"No, they keep very much to themselves; getting old, like ourselves,
Talbot."

"Lively boys once. We must hunt them up, Fenton. Can't bear to see old
friends drop away from good company. But this isn't business. You need
not pause over their names, Knapp."

But Knapp had slipped out.

We will follow him.

Walking briskly down the street, he went up the steps of a certain house
and rang the bell. A gentleman with a face not entirely unknown to us
came to the door.

The detective did not pause for preliminaries.

"Are you Mr. Crane?" he asked,--"the gentleman who ran against a man
coming out of Mrs. Webb's house last night?"

"I am Mr. Crane," was the slightly surprised rejoinder, "and I was run
against by a man there, yes."

"Very well," remarked the detective, quietly, "my name is Knapp. I have
been sent from Boston to look into this matter, and I have an idea that
you can help me more than any other man here in Sutherlandtown. Who was
this person who came in contact with you so violently? You know, even if
you have been careful not to mention any names."

"You are mistaken. I don't know; I can't know. He wore a sweeping beard,
and walked and acted like a man no longer young, but beyond that---"

"Mr. Crane, excuse me, but I know men. If you had no suspicion as to
whom that person was you would not look so embarrassed. You suspect, or,
at least, associate in your own mind a name with the man you met. Was it
either of these you see written here?"

Mr. Crane glanced at the card on which the other had scribbled a couple
of names, and started perceptibly.

"You have me," said he; "you must be a man of remarkable perspicacity."

The detective smiled and pocketed his card. The names he thus concealed
were John Zabel, James Zabel.

"You have not said which of the two it was," Knapp quietly suggested.

"No," returned the minister, "and I have not even thought. Indeed, I am
not sure that I have not made a dreadful mistake in thinking it was
either. A glimpse such as I had is far from satisfactory; and they are
both such excellent men---"

"Eight! You did make a mistake, of course, I have not the least doubt of
it. So don't think of the matter again. I will find out who the real man
was; rest easy."

And with the lightest of bows, Knapp drew off and passed as quickly as
he could, without attracting attention, round the corner to the
confectioner's.

Here his attack was warier. Sally Loton was behind the counter with her
husband, and they had evidently been talking the matter over very
confidentially. But Knapp was not to be awed by her small, keen eye or
strident voice, and presently succeeded in surprising a knowing look on
the lady's face, which convinced him that in the confidences between
husband and wife a name had been used which she appeared to be less
unwilling to impart than he. Knapp, consequently, turned his full
attention towards her, using in his attack that oldest and subtlest
weapon against the sex--flattery.

"My dear madam," said he, "your good heart is apparent; your husband has
confided to you a name which you, out of fear of some mistake, hesitate
to repeat. A neighbourly spirit, ma'am, a very neighbourly spirit; but
you should not allow your goodness to defeat the ends of justice. If you
simply told us whom this man resembled we would be able to get some idea
of his appearance."

"He didn't resemble anyone I know," growled Loton. "It was too dark for
me to see how he looked."

"His voice, then? People are traced by their voices."

"I didn't recognise his voice."

Knapp smiled, his eye still on the woman.

"Yet you have thought of someone he reminded you of?"

The man was silent, but the wife tossed her head ever so lightly.

"Now, you must have had your reasons for that. No one thinks of a good
and respectable neighbour in connection with the buying of a loaf of
bread at midnight with a twenty-dollar bill, without some positive
reason."

"The man wore a beard. I felt it brush my hand as he took the loaf."

"Good! That is a point."

"Which made me think of other men who wore beards."

"As, for instance---"

The detective had taken from his pocket the card which he had used with
such effect at the minister's, and as he said these words twirled it so
that the two names written upon it fell under Sally Loton's inquisitive
eyes. The look with which she read them was enough. John Zabel, James
Zabel.

"Who told you it was either of these men?" she asked.

"You did," he retorted, pocketing the card with a smile.

"La, now! Samuel, I never spoke a word," she insisted, in anxious
protest to her husband, as the detective slid quietly from the store.



XII

WATTLES COMES


The Hallidays lived but a few rods from the Sutherlands. Yet as it was
dusk when Miss Halliday rose to depart, Frederick naturally offered his
services as her escort.

She accepted them with a slight blush, the first he had ever seen on her
face, or at least had ever noted there. It caused him such surprise that
he forgot Amabel's presence in the garden till they came upon her at the
gate.

"A pleasant evening," observed that young girl in her high, unmusical
voice.

"Very," was Miss Halliday's short reply; and for a moment the two faces
were in line as he held open the gate before his departing guest.

They were very different faces in feature and expression, and till that
night he had never thought of comparing them. Indeed, the fascination
which beamed from Amabel Page's far from regular features had put all
others out of his mind, but now, as he surveyed the two girls, the
candour and purity which marked Agnes's countenance came out so strongly
under his glance that Amabel lost all attraction for him, and he drew
his young neighbour hastily away.

Amabel noted the movement and smiled. Her contempt for Agnes Halliday's
charms amounted to disdain.

She might have felt less confidence in her own had she been in a
position to note the frequent glances Frederick cast at his old playmate
as they proceeded slowly up the road. Not that there was any passion in
them--he was too full of care for that; but the curiosity which could
prompt him to turn his head a dozen times in the course of so short a
walk, to see why Agnes Halliday held her face so persistently away from
him, had an element of feeling in it that was more or less significant.
As for Agnes, she was so unlike her accustomed self as to astonish even
herself. Whereas she had never before walked a dozen steps with him
without indulging in some sharp saying, she found herself disinclined to
speak at all, much less to speak lightly. In mutual silence, then, they
reached the gateway leading into the Halliday grounds. But Agnes having
passed in, they both stopped and for the first time looked squarely at
each other. Her eyes fell first, perhaps because his had changed in his
contemplation of her. He smiled as he saw this, and in a half-careless,
half-wistful tone, said quietly:

"Agnes, what would you think of a man who, after having committed little
else but folly all his life, suddenly made up his mind to turn
absolutely toward the right and to pursue it in face of every obstacle
and every discouragement?"

"I should think," she slowly replied, with one quick lift of her eyes
toward his face, "that he had entered upon the noblest effort of which
man is capable, and the hardest. I should have great sympathy for that
man, Frederick."

"Would you?" he said, recalling Amabel's face with bitter aversion as he
gazed into the womanly countenance he had hitherto slighted as
uninteresting. "It is the first kind word you have ever given me, Agnes.
Possibly it is the first I have ever deserved."

And without another word he doffed his hat, saluted her, and vanished
down the hillside.

She remained; remained so long that it was nearly nine when she entered
the family parlour. As she came in her mother looked up and was startled
at her unaccustomed pallor.

"Why, Agnes," cried her mother, "what is the matter?"

Her answer was inaudible. What was the matter? She dreaded, even feared,
to ask herself.

Meantime a strange scene was taking place in the woods toward which she
had seen Frederick go. The moon, which was particularly bright that
night, shone upon a certain hollow where a huge tree lay. Around it the
underbrush was thick and the shadow dark, but in this especial place the
opening was large enough for the rays to enter freely. Into this circlet
of light Frederick Sutherland had come. Alone and without the restraint
imposed upon him by watching eyes, he showed a countenance so wan and
full of trouble that it was well it could not be seen by either of the
two women whose thoughts were at that moment fixed upon him. To Amabel
it would have given a throb of selfish hope, while to Agnes it would
have brought a pang of despair which might have somewhat too suddenly
interpreted to her the mystery of her own sensations.

He had bent at once to the hollow space made by the outspreading roots
just mentioned, and was feeling with an air of confidence along the
ground for something he had every reason to expect to find, when the
shock of a sudden distrust seized him, and he flung himself down in
terror, feeling and feeling again among the fallen leaves and broken
twigs, till a full realisation of his misfortune reached him, and he was
obliged to acknowledge that the place was empty.

Overwhelmed at his loss, aghast at the consequences it must entail upon
him, he rose in a trembling sweat, crying out in his anger and dismay:

"She has been here! She has taken it!" And realising for the first time
the subtlety and strength of the antagonist pitted against him, he
forgot his new resolutions and even that old promise made in his
childhood to Agatha Webb, and uttered oath after oath, cursing himself,
the woman, and what she had done, till a casual glance at the heavens
overhead, in which the liquid moon hung calm and beautiful, recalled him
to himself. With a sense of shame, the keener that it was a new
sensation in his breast, he ceased his vain repinings, and turning from
the unhallowed spot, made his way with deeper and deeper misgivings
toward a home made hateful to him now by the presence of the woman who
was thus bent upon his ruin.

He understood her now. He rated at its full value both her determination
and her power, and had she been so unfortunate as to have carried her
imprudence to the point of surprising him by her presence, it would have
taken more than the memory of that day's solemn resolves to have kept
him from using his strength against her. But she was wise, and did not
intrude upon him in his hour of anger, though who could say she was not
near enough to hear the sigh which broke irresistibly from his lips as
he emerged from the wood and approached his father's house?

A lamp was still burning in Mr. Sutherland's study over the front door,
and the sight of it seemed to change for a moment the current of
Frederick's thoughts. Pausing at the gate, he considered with himself,
and then with a freer countenance and a lighter step was about to
proceed inward, when he heard the sound of a heavy breather coming up
the hill, and hesitated--why he hardly knew, except that every advancing
step occasioned him more or less apprehension.

The person, whoever it was, stopped before reaching the brow of the
hill, and, panting heavily, muttered an oath which Frederick heard.
Though it was no more profane than those which had just escaped his own
lips in the forest, it produced an effect upon him which was only second
in intensity to the terror of the discovery that the money he had so
safely hidden was gone.

Trembling in every limb, he dashed down the hill and confronted the
person standing there.

"You!" he cried, "you!" And for a moment he looked as if he would like
to fell to the ground the man before him.

But this man was a heavyweight of no ordinary physical strength and
adroitness, and only smiled at Frederick's heat and threatening
attitude.

"I thought I would be made welcome," he smiled, with just the hint of
sinister meaning in his tone. Then, before Frederick could speak: "I
have merely saved you a trip to Boston; why so much anger, friend? You
have the money; of that I am positive."

"Hush! We can't talk here," whispered Frederick. "Come into the grounds,
or, what would be better, into the woods over there."

"I don't go into any woods with you," laughed the other; "not after last
night, my friend. But I will talk low; that's no more than fair; I don't
want to put you into any other man's power, especially if you have the
money."

"Wattles,"--Frederick's tone was broken, almost unintelligible,--"what
do you mean by your allusion to last night? Have you dared to connect
me---"

"Pooh! Pooh!" interrupted the other, good-humouredly. "Don't let us
waste words over a chance expression I may have dropped. I don't care
anything about last night's work, or who was concerned in it. That's
nothing to me. All I want, my boy, is the money, and that I want
devilish bad, or I would not have run up here from Boston, when I might
have made half a hundred off a countryman Lewis brought in from the
Canada wilds this morning."

"Wattles, I swear---"

But the hand he had raised was quickly drawn down by the other.

"Don't," said the older man, shortly. "It won't pay, Sutherland.
Stage-talk never passed for anything with me. Besides, your white face
tells a truer story than your lips, and time is precious. I want to take
the 11 o'clock train back. So down with the cash. Nine hundred and
fifty-five it is, but, being friends, we will let the odd five go."

"Wattles, I was to bring it to you to-morrow, or was it the next day? I
do not want to give it to you to-night; indeed, I cannot, but--Wattles,
wait, stop! Where are you going?"

"To see your father. I want to tell him that his son owes me a debt;
that this debt was incurred in a way that lays him liable to arrest for
forgery; that, bad as he thinks you, there are facts which can be picked
up in Boston which would render Frederick Sutherland's continued
residence under the parental roof impossible; that, in fact, you are a
scamp of the first water, and that only my friendship for you has kept
you out of prison so long. Won't that make a nice story for the old
gentleman's ears!"

"Wattles--I--oh, my God! Wattles, stop a minute and listen to me. I have
not got the money. I had enough this morning to pay you, had it
legitimately, Wattles, but it has been stolen from me and---"

"I will also tell him," the other broke in, as quietly as if Frederick
had not uttered a word, "that in a certain visit to Boston you lost five
hundred dollars on one hand; that you lost it unfairly, not having a
dollar to pay with; that to prevent scandal I became your security,
with the understanding that I was to be paid at the end of ten days from
that night; that you thereupon played again and lost four hundred and
odd more, so that your debt amounted to nine hundred and fifty-five
dollars; that the ten days passed without payment; that, wanting money,
I pressed you and even resorted to a threat or two; and that, seeing me
in earnest, you swore that the dollars should be mine within five days;
that instead of remaining in Boston to get them, you came here; and that
this morning at a very early hour you telegraphed that the funds were to
hand and that you would bring them down to me to-morrow. The old
gentleman may draw conclusions from this, Sutherland, which may make his
position as your father anything but grateful to him. He may even--Ah,
you would try that game, would you?"

The young man had flung himself at the older man's throat as if he would
choke off the words he saw trembling on his lips. But the struggle thus
begun was short. In a moment both stood panting, and Frederick, with
lowered head, was saying humbly:

"I beg pardon, Wattles, but you drive me mad with your suggestions and
conclusions. I have not got the money, but I will try and get it. Wait
here."

"For ten minutes, Sutherland; no longer! The moon is bright, and I can
see the hands of my watch distinctly. At a quarter to ten, you will
return here with the amount I have mentioned, or I will seek it at your
father's hands in his own study."

Frederick made a hurried gesture and vanished up the walk. Next moment
he was at his father's study door.



XIII

WATTLES GOES


Mr. Sutherland was busily engaged with a law paper when his son entered
his presence, but at sight of that son's face, he dropped the paper with
an alacrity which Frederick was too much engaged with his own thoughts
to notice.

"Father," he began without preamble or excuse, "I am in serious and
immediate need of nine hundred and fifty dollars. I want it so much that
I ask you to make me a check for that amount to-night, conscious though
I am that you have every right to deny me this request, and that my debt
to you already passes the bound of presumption on my part and indulgence
on yours. I cannot tell you why I want it or for what. That belongs to
my past life, the consequences of which I have not yet escaped, but I
feel bound to state that you will not be the loser by this material
proof of confidence in me, as I shall soon be in a position to repay all
my debts, among which this will necessarily stand foremost."

The old gentleman looked startled and nervously fingered the paper he
had let fall. "Why do you say you will soon be in a position to repay
me? What do you mean by that?"

The flash, which had not yet subsided from the young man's face, ebbed
slowly away as he encountered his father's eye.

"I mean to work," he murmured. "I mean to make a man of myself as soon
as possible."

The look which Mr. Sutherland gave him was more inquiring than
sympathetic.

"And you need this money for a start?" said he.

Frederick bowed; he seemed to be losing the faculty of speech. The clock
over the mantel had told off five of the precious moments.

"I will give it to you," said his father, and drew out his check-book.
But he did not hasten to open it; his eyes still rested on his son.

"Now," murmured the young man. "There is a train leaving soon. I wish to
get it away on that train."

His father frowned with natural distrust.

"I wish you would confide in me," said he.

Frederick did not answer. The hands of the clock were moving on.

"I will give it to you; but I should like to know what for."

"It is impossible for me to tell you," groaned the young man, starting
as he heard a step on the walk without.

"Your need has become strangely imperative," proceeded the other. "Has
Miss Page---"

Frederick took a step forward and laid his hand on his father's arm.

"It is not for her," he whispered. "It goes into other hands."

Mr. Sutherland, who had turned over the document as his son approached,
breathed more easily. Taking up his pen, he dipped it in the ink.
Frederick watched him with constantly whitening cheek. The step on the
walk had mounted to the front door.

"Nine hundred and fifty?" inquired the father.

"Nine hundred and fifty," answered the son.

The judge, with a last look, stooped over the book. The hands of the
clock pointed to a quarter to ten.

"Father, I have my whole future in which to thank you," cried Frederick,
seizing the check his father held out to him and making rapidly for the
door. "I will be back before midnight." And he flung himself down-stairs
just as the front door opened and Wattles stepped in.

"Ah," exclaimed the latter, as his eye fell on the paper fluttering in
the other's hand, "I expected money, not paper."

"The paper is good," answered Frederick, drawing him swiftly out of the
house. "It has my father's signature upon it."

"Your father's signature?"

"Yes."

Wattles gave it a look, then slowly shook his head at Frederick.

"Is it as well done as the one you tried to pass off on Brady?"

Frederick cringed, and for a moment looked as if the struggle was too
much for him. Then he rallied and eying Wattles firmly, said:

"You have a right to distrust me, but you are on the wrong track,
Wattles. What I did once, I can never do again; and I hope I may live to
prove myself a changed man. As for that check, I will soon prove its
value in your eyes. Follow me up-stairs to my father."

His energy--the energy of despair, no doubt seemed to make an impression
on the other.

"You might as well proclaim yourself a forger outright, as to force your
father to declare this to be his signature," he observed.

"I know it," said Frederick.

"Yet you will run that risk?"

"If you oblige me."

Wattles shrugged his shoulders. He was a magnificent-looking man and
towered in that old colonial hall like a youthful giant.

"I bear you no ill will," said he. "If this represents money, I am
satisfied, and I begin to think it does. But listen, Sutherland.
Something has happened to you. A week ago you would have put a bullet
through my head before you would have been willing to have so
compromised yourself. I think I know what that something is. To save
yourself from being thought guilty of a big crime you are willing to
incur suspicion of a small one. It's a wise move, my boy, but look out!
No tricks with me or my friendship may not hold. Meantime, I cash this
check to-morrow." And he swung away through the night with a grand-opera
selection on his lips.



XIV

A FINAL TEMPTATION


Frederick looked like a man thoroughly exhausted when the final echo of
this hateful voice died away on the hillside. For the last twenty hours
he had been the prey of one harrowing emotion after another, and human
nature could endure no more without rest.

But rest would not come. The position in which he found himself, between
Amabel and the man who had just left, was of too threatening a nature
for him to ignore. But one means of escape presented itself. It was a
cowardly one; but anything was better than to make an attempt to stand
his ground against two such merciless antagonists; so he resolved upon
flight.

Packing up a few necessaries and leaving a letter behind him for his
father, he made his way down the stairs of the now darkened house to a
door opening upon the garden. To his astonishment he found it unlocked,
but, giving little heed to this in his excitement, he opened it with
caution, and, with a parting sigh for the sheltering home he was about
to leave forever, stepped from the house he no longer felt worthy to
inhabit.

His intention was to take the train at Portchester, and that he might
reach that place without inconvenient encounters, he decided to proceed
by a short cut through the fields. This led him north along the ridge
that overlooks the road running around the base of the hill. He did not
think of this road, however, or of anything, in fact, but the necessity
of taking the very earliest train out of Portchester. As this left at
3.30 A.M., he realised that he must hasten in order to reach it. But he
was not destined to take it or any other train out of Portchester that
night, for when he reached the fence dividing Mr. Sutherland's grounds
from those of his adjoining neighbour, he saw, drawn up in the moonlight
just at the point where he had intended to leap the fence, the form of a
woman with one hand held out to stop him.

It was Amabel.

Confounded by this check and filled with an anger that was nigh to
dangerous, he fell back and then immediately sprang forward.

"What are you doing here?" he cried. "Don't you know that it is eleven
o'clock and that my father requires the house to be closed at that
hour?"

"And you?" was her sole retort; "what are you doing here? Are you
searching for flowers in the woods, and is that valise you carry the
receptacle in which you hope to put your botanical specimens?"

With a savage gesture he dropped the valise and took her fiercely by the
shoulders.

"Where have you hidden my money?" he hissed. "Tell me, or---"

"Or what?" she asked, smiling into his face in a way that made him lose
his grip.

"Or--or I cannot answer for myself," he proceeded, stammering. "Do you.
think I can endure everything from you because you are a woman? No; I
will have those bills, every one of them, or show myself your master.
Where are they, you incarnate fiend?"

It was an unwise word to use, but she did not seem to heed it.

"Ah," she said softly, and with a lingering accent, as if his grasp of
her had been a caress to which she was not entirely averse. "I did not
think you would discover its loss so soon. When did you go to the woods,
Frederick? And was Miss Halliday with you?"

He had a disposition to strike her, but controlled himself. Blows would
not avail against the softness of this suave, yet merciless, being. Only
a will as strong as her own could hope to cope with this smiling fury;
and this he was determined to show, though, alas! he had everything to
lose in a struggle that robbed her of nothing but a hope which was but a
baseless fabric at best; for he was more than ever determined never to
marry her.

"A man does not need to wait long to miss his own," said he. "And if you
have taken this money, which, you do not deny, you have shown yourself
very short-sighted, for danger lies closer to the person holding this
money than to the one you vilify by your threats. This you will find,
Amabel, when you come to make use of the weapon with which you have
thought to arm yourself."

"Tut, tut!" was her contemptuous reply. "Do you consider me a child? Do
I look like a babbling infant, Frederick?"

Her face, which had been lifted to his in saying this, was so illumined,
both by her smile, which was strangely enchanting for one so evil, and
by the moonlight, which so etherialises all that it touches, that he
found himself forced to recall that other purer, truer face he had left
at the honeysuckle porch to keep down a last wild impulse toward her,
which would have been his undoing, both in this world and the next, as
he knew.

"Or do I look simply like a woman?" she went on, seeing the impression
she had made, and playing upon it. "A woman who understands herself and
you and all the secret perils of the game we are both playing? If I am a
child, treat me as a child; but if I am a woman---"

"Stand out of my way!" he cried, catching up his valise and striding
furiously by her. "Woman or child, know that I will not be your
plaything to be damned in this world and in the next."

"Are you bound for the city of destruction?" she laughed, not moving,
but showing such confidence in her power to hold him back that he
stopped in spite of himself. "If so, you are taking the direct road
there and have only to hasten. But you had better remain in your
father's house; even if you are something of a prisoner there, like my
very insignificant self. The outcome will be more satisfactory, even if
you have to share your future with me."

"And what course will you take," he asked, pausing with his hand on the
fence, "if I decide to choose destruction without you, rather than
perdition with you?"

"What course? Why, I shall tell Dr. Talbot just enough to show you to be
as desirable a witness in the impending inquest as myself. The result I
leave to your judgment. But you will not drive me to this extremity. You
will come back and--"

"Woman, I will never come back. I shall have to dare your worst in a
week and will begin by daring you now. I--"

But he did not leap the fence, though he made a move to do so, for at
that moment a party of men came hurrying by on the lower road, one of
whom was heard to say:

"I will bet my head that we will put our hand on Agatha Webb's murderer
to-night. The man who shoves twenty-dollar bills around so heedlessly
should not wear a beard so long it leads to detection."

It was the coroner, the constable, Knapp, and Abel on their way to the
forest road on which lived John and James Zabel.

Frederick and Amabel confronted each other, and after a moment's silence
returned as if by a common impulse towards the house.

"What have they got in their heads?" queried she. "Whatever it is, it
may serve to occupy them till the week of your probation is over."

He did not answer. A new and overwhelming complication had been added to
the difficulties of his situation.



XV

THE ZABELS VISITED


Let us follow the party now winding up the hillside.

In a deeply wooded spot on a side road stood the little house to which
John and James Zabel had removed when their business on the docks had
terminated. There was no other dwelling of greater or lesser pretension
on the road, which may account for the fact that none of the persons now
approaching it had been in that neighbourhood for years, though it was
by no means a long walk from the village in which they all led such busy
lives.

The heavy shadows cast by the woods through which the road meandered
were not without their effect upon the spirits of the four men passing
through them, so that long before they reached the opening in which the
Zabel cottage stood, silence had fallen upon the whole party. Dr. Talbot
especially looked as if he little relished this late visit to his old
friends, and not till they caught a glimpse of the long sloping roof and
heavy chimney of the Zabel cottage did he shake off the gloom incident
to the nature of his errand.

"Gentlemen," said he, coming to a sudden halt, "let us understand each
other. We are about to make a call on two of our oldest and most
respectable townsfolk. If in the course of that call I choose to make
mention of the twenty-dollar bill left with Loton, well and good, but if
not, you are to take my reticence as proof of my own belief that they
had nothing to do with it."

Two of the party bowed; Knapp, only, made no sign.

"There is no light in the window," observed Abel. "What if we find them
gone to bed?"

"We will wake them," said the constable. "I cannot go back without being
myself assured that no more money like that given to Loton remains in
the house."

"Very well," remarked Knapp, and going up to the door before him, he
struck a resounding knock sufficiently startling in that place of
silence.

But loud as the summons was it brought no answer. Not only the
moon-lighted door, but the little windows on each side of it remained
shut, and there was no evidence that the knock had been heard.

"Zabel! John Zabel!" shouted the constable, stepping around the side of
the house. "Get up, my good friends, and let an old crony in. James!
John! Late as it is, we have business with you. Open the door; don't
stop to dress."

But this appeal received no more recognition than the first, and after
rapping on the window against which he had flung the words, he came back
and looked up and down the front of the house.

It had a solitary aspect and was much less comfortable-looking than he
had expected. Indeed, there were signs of poverty, or at least of
neglect, about the place that astonished him. Not only had the weeds
been allowed to grow over the doorstep, but from the unpainted front
itself bits of boards had rotted away, leaving great gaps about the
window-ledges and at the base of the sunken and well-nigh toppling
chimney. The moon flooding the roof showed up all these imperfections
with pitiless insistence, and the torn edges of the green paper shades
that half concealed the rooms within were plainly to be seen, as well as
the dismantled knocker which hung by one nail to the old cracked door.
The vision of Knapp with his ear laid against this door added to the
forlorn and sinister aspect of the scene, and gave to the constable, who
remembered the brothers in their palmy days when they were the life and
pride of the town, a by no means agreeable sensation, as he advanced
toward the detective and asked him what they should do now.

"Break down the door!" was the uncompromising reply. "Or, wait! The
windows of country houses are seldom fastened; let me see if I cannot
enter by some one of them."

"Better not," said the coroner, with considerable feeling. "Let us
exhaust all other means first." And he took hold of the knob of the door
to shake it, when to his surprise it turned and the door opened. It had
not been locked.

Rather taken aback by this, he hesitated. But Knapp showed less scruple.
Without waiting for any man's permission, he glided in and stepped
cautiously, but without any delay, into a room the door of which stood
wide open before him. The constable was about to follow when he saw
Knapp come stumbling back.

"Devilish work," he muttered, and drew the others in to see.

Never will any of these men forget the sight that there met their eyes.

On the floor near the entrance lay one brother, in a streak of
moonlight, which showed every feature of his worn and lifeless face, and
at a table drawn up in the centre of the room sat the other, rigid in
death, with a book clutched in his hand.

Both, had been dead some time, and on the faces and in the aspects of
both was visible a misery that added its own gloom to the pitiable and
gruesome scene, and made the shining of the great white moon, which
filled every corner of the bare room, seem a mockery well-nigh
unendurable to those who contemplated it. John, dead in his chair!
James, dead on the floor!

Knapp, who of all present was least likely to feel the awesome nature of
the tragedy, was naturally the first to speak.

"Both wear long beards," said he, "but the one lying on the floor was
doubtless Loton's customer. Ah!" he cried, pointing at the table, as he
carefully crossed the floor. "Here is the bread, and--" Even he had his
moments of feeling. The appearance of that loaf had stunned him; one
corner of it had been gnawed off.

"A light! let us have a light!" cried Mr. Fenton, speaking for the first
time since his entrance. "These moonbeams are horrible; see how they
cling to the bodies as if they delighted in lighting up these wasted and
shrunken forms."

"Could it have been hunger?" began Abel, tremblingly following Knapp's
every movement as he struck a match and lit a lantern which he had
brought in his pocket.

"God help us all if it was!" said Fenton, in a secret remorse no one but
Dr. Talbot understood. "But who could have believed it of men who were
once so prosperous? Are you sure that one of them has gnawed this bread?
Could it not have been--"

"These are the marks of human teeth," observed Knapp, who was examining
the loaf carefully. "I declare, it makes me very uncomfortable,
notwithstanding it's in the line of regular experiences." And he laid
the bread down hurriedly.

Meantime, Mr. Fenton, who had been bending over another portion of the
table, turned and walked away to the window.

"I am glad they are dead," he muttered. "They have at least shared the
fate of their victims. Take a look under that old handkerchief lying
beside the newspaper, Knapp."

The detective did so. A three-edged dagger, with a curiously wrought
handle, met his eye. It had blood dried on its point, and was, as all
could see, the weapon with which Agatha Webb had been killed.



XYI

LOCAL TALENT AT WORK


"Gentlemen, we have reached the conclusion of this business sooner than
I expected," announced Knapp. "If you will give me just ten minutes I
will endeavour to find that large remainder of money we have every
reason to think is hidden away in this house."

"Stop a minute," said the coroner. "Let me see what book John is holding
so tightly. Why," he exclaimed, drawing it out and giving it one glance,
"it is a Bible."

Laying it reverently down he met the detective's astonished glance and
seriously remarked:

"There is some incongruity between the presence of this book and the
deed we believe to have been performed down yonder."

"None at all," quoth the detective. "It was not the man in the chair,
but the one on the floor, who made use of that dagger. But I wish you
had left it to me to remove that book, sir."

"You? and why? What difference would it have made?"

"I would have noticed between what pages his finger was inserted.
Nothing like making yourself acquainted with every detail in a case like
this."

Dr. Talbot gazed wistfully at the book. He would have liked to know
himself on what especial passage his friend's eyes had last rested.

"I will stand aside," said he, "and hear your report when you are done."

The detective had already begun his investigations.

"Here is a spot of blood," said he. "See! on the right trouser leg of
the one you call James. This connects him indisputably with the crime in
which this dagger was used. No signs of violence on his body. She was
the only one to receive a blow. His death is the result of God's
providence."

"Or man's neglect," muttered the constable.

"There is no money in any of their pockets, or on either wasted figure,"
the detective continued, after a few minutes of silent search. "It must
be hidden in the room, or--look through that Bible, sirs."

The coroner, glad of an opportunity to do something, took up the book,
and ran hurriedly through its leaves, then turned it and shook it out
over the table. Nothing fell out; the bills must be looked for
elsewhere.

"The furniture is scanty," Abel observed, with an inquiring look about
him.

"Very, very scanty," assented the constable, still with that biting
remorse at his heart.

"There is nothing in this cupboard," pursued the detective, swinging
open a door in the wall, "but a set of old china more or less nicked."

Abel started. An old recollection had come up. Some weeks before, he had
been present when James had made an effort to sell this set. They were
all in Warner's store, and James Zabel (he could see his easy attitude
yet, and hear the off-hand tones with which he tried to carry the affair
off) had said, quite as if he had never thought of it before: "By the
by, I have a set of china at the house which came over in the Mayflower.
John likes it, but it has grown to be an eyesore to me, and if you hear
of anybody who has a fancy for such things, send him up to the cottage.
I will let it go for a song." Nobody answered, and James disappeared. It
was the last time, Abel remembered, that he had been seen about town.

"I can't stand it," cried the lad. "I can't stand it. If they died of
hunger I must know it. I am going to take a look at their larder." And
before anyone could stop him he dashed to the rear of the house.

The constable would have liked to follow him, but he looked about the
walls of the room instead. John and James had been fond of pictures and
had once indulged their fancy to the verge of extravagance, but there
were no pictures on the walls now, nor was there so much as a
candlestick on the empty and dust-covered mantel. Only on a bracket in
one corner there was a worthless trinket made out of cloves and beads
which had doubtless been given them by some country damsel in their
young bachelor days. But nothing of any value anywhere, and Mr. Fenton
felt that he now knew why they had made so many visits to Boston at one
time, and why they always returned with a thinner valise than they took
away. He was still dwelling on the thought of the depths of misery to
which highly respectable folks can sink without the knowledge of the
nearest neighbours, when Abel came back looking greatly troubled.

"It is the saddest thing I ever heard of," said he. "These men must have
been driven wild by misery. This room is sumptuous in comparison to the
ones at the back; and as for the pantry, there is not even a scrap there
a mouse could eat. I struck a match and glanced into the flour barrel.
It looked as if it had been licked. I declare, it makes a fellow feel
sick."

The constable, with a shudder, withdrew towards the door.

"The atmosphere here is stifling," said he. "I must have a breath of
out-door air."

But he was not destined to any such immediate relief. As he moved down
the hall the form of a man darkened the doorway and he heard an anxious
voice exclaim:

"Ah, Mr. Fenton, is that you? I have been looking for you everywhere."

It was Sweetwater, the young man who had previously shown so much
anxiety to be of service to the coroner.

Mr. Fenton looked displeased.

"And how came you to find me here?" he asked.

"Oh, some men saw you take this road, and I guessed the rest."

"Oh, ah, very good. And what do you want, Sweetwater?"

The young man, who was glowing with pride and all alive with an
enthusiasm which he had kept suppressed for hours, slipped up to the
constable and whispered in his ear: "I have made a discovery, sir. I
know you will excuse the presumption, but I couldn't bring myself to
keep quiet and follow in that other fellow's wake. I had to make
investigations on my own account, and--and"--stammering in his eagerness
"they have been successful, sir. I have found out who was the murderer
of Agatha Webb."

The constable, compassionating the disappointment in store for him,
shook his head, with a solemn look toward the room from which he had
just emerged. "You are late, Sweetwater," said he. "We have found him
out ourselves, and he lies there, dead."

It was dark where they stood and Sweetwater's back was to the moonlight,
so that the blank look which must have crossed his face at this
announcement was lost upon the constable. But his consternation was
evident from the way he thrust out either hand to steady himself against
the walls of the narrow passageway, and Mr. Fenton was not at all
surprised to hear him stammer out:

"Dead! He! Whom do you mean by he, Mr. Fenton?"

"The man in whose house we now are," returned the other. "Is there
anyone else who can be suspected of this crime?"

Sweetwater gave a gulp that seemed to restore him to himself.

"There are two men living here, both very good men, I have heard. Which
of them do you mean, and why do you think that either John or James
Zabel killed Agatha Webb?"

For reply Mr. Fenton drew him toward the room in which such a great
heart-tragedy had taken place.

"Look," said he, "and see what can happen in a Christian land, in the
midst of Christian people living not fifty rods away. These men are
dead, Sweetwater, dead from hunger. The loaf of bread you see there came
too late. It was bought with a twenty-dollar bill, taken from Agatha
Webb's cupboard drawer."

Sweetwater, to whom the whole scene seemed like some horrible nightmare,
stared at the figure of James lying on the floor, and then at the figure
of John seated at the table, as if his mind had failed to take in the
constable's words.

"Dead!" he murmured. "Dead! John and James Zabel. What will happen next?
Is the town under a curse?" And he fell on his knees before the
prostrate form of James, only to start up again as he saw the eyes of
Knapp resting on him.

"Ah," he muttered, "the detective!" And after giving the man from Boston
a close look he turned toward Mr. Fenton.

"You said something about this good old man having killed Agatha Webb.
What was it? I was too dazed to take it in."

Mr. Fenton, not understanding the young man's eagerness, but willing
enough to enlighten him as to the situation, told him what reasons there
were for ascribing the crime in the Webb cottage to the mad need of
these starving men. Sweetwater listened with open eyes and confused
bearing, only controlling himself when his eyes by chance fell upon the
quiet figure of the detective, now moving softly to and fro through the
room.

"But why murder when he could have had his loaf for the asking?"
remonstrated Sweetwater. "Agatha Webb would have gone without a meal any
time to feed a wandering tramp; how much more to supply the necessities
of two of her oldest and dearest friends!"

"Yes," remarked Fenton, "but you forget or perhaps never knew that the
master passion of these men was pride. James Zabel ask for bread! I can
much sooner imagine him stealing it; yes, or striking a blow for it, so
that the blow shut forever the eyes that saw him do it."

"You don't believe your own words, Mr. Fenton. How can you?"
Sweetwater's hand was on the breast of the accused man as he spoke, and
his manner was almost solemn. "You must not take it for granted," he
went on, his green eyes twinkling with a curious light, "that all wisdom
comes from Boston. We in Sutherlandtown have some sparks of it, if they
have not yet been recognised. You are satisfied"--here he addressed
himself to Knapp--"that the blow which killed Agatha Webb was struck by
this respectable old man?"

Knapp smiled as if a child had asked him this question; but he answered
him good-humouredly enough.

"You see the dagger lying here with which the deed was done, and you see
the bread that was bought from Loton with a twenty-dollar bill of Agatha
Webb's money. In these you can read my answer."

"Good evidence," acknowledged Sweetwater--"very good evidence,
especially when we remember that Mr. Crane met an old man rushing from
her gateway with something glittering in his hand. I never was so beat
in my life, and yet--and yet--if I could have a few minutes of quiet
thought all by myself I am certain I could show you that there is more
to this matter than you think. Indeed, I know that there is, but I do
not like to give my reasons till I have conquered the difficulties
presented by these men having had the twenty-dollar bill."

"What fellow is this?" suddenly broke in Knapp.

"A fiddler, a nobody," quietly whispered Mr. Fenton in his ear.

Sweetwater heard him and changed in a twinkling from the uncertain,
half-baffled, wholly humble person they had just seen, to a man with a
purpose strong enough to make him hold up his head with the best.

"I am a musician," he admitted, "and I play on the violin for money
whenever the occasion offers, something which you will yet congratulate
yourselves upon if you wish to reach the root of this mysterious and
dastardly crime. But that I am a nobody I deny, and I even dare to hope
that you will agree with me in this estimate of myself before this very
night is over. Only give me an opportunity for considering this subject,
and the permission to walk for a few minutes about this house."

"That is my prerogative," protested the detective firmly, but without
any display of feeling. "I am the man employed to pick up whatever clews
the place may present."

"Have you picked up all that are to be found in this room?" asked
Sweetwater calmly.

Knapp shrugged his shoulders. He was very well satisfied with himself.

"Then give me a chance," prayed Sweetwater. "Mr. Fenton," he urged more
earnestly, "I am not the fool you take me for. I feel, I know, I have a
genius for this kind of thing, and though I am not prepossessing to look
at, and though I do play the fiddle, I swear there are depths to this
affair which none of you have as yet sounded. Sirs, where are the nine
hundred and eighty dollars in bills which go to make up the clean
thousand that was taken from the small drawer at the back of Agatha
Webb's cupboard?"

"They are in some secret hiding-place, no doubt, which we will presently
come upon as we go through the house," answered Knapp.

"Umph! Then I advise you to put your hand on them as soon as possible,"
retorted Sweetwater. "I will confine myself to going over the ground you
have already investigated." And with a sudden ignoring of the others'
presence, which could only have sprung from an intense egotism or from
an overwhelming belief in his own theory, he began an investigation of
the room that threw the other's more commonplace efforts entirely in the
shade.

Knapp, with a slight compression of his lips, which was the sole
expression of anger he ever allowed himself, took up his hat and made
his bow to Mr. Fenton.

"I see," said he, "that the sympathy of those present is with local
talent. Let local talent work, then, sir, and when you feel the need of
a man of training and experience, send to the tavern on the docks, where
I will be found till I am notified that my services are no longer
required."

"No, no!" protested Mr. Fenton. "This boy's enthusiasm will soon
evaporate. Let him fuss away if he will. His petty business need not
interrupt us."

"But he understands himself," whispered Knapp. "I should think he had
been on our own force for years."

"All the more reason to see what he's up to. Wait, if only to satisfy
your curiosity. I shan't let many minutes go by before I pull him up."

Knapp, who was really of a cold and unimpressionable temperament,
refrained from further argument, and confined himself to watching the
young man, whose movements seemed to fascinate him.

"Astonishing!" Mr. Fenton heard him mutter to himself. "He's more like
an eel than a man." And indeed the way Sweetwater wound himself out and
in through that room, seeing everything that came under his eye, was a
sight well worth any professional's attention. Pausing before the dead
man on the floor, he held the lantern close to the white, worn face.
"Ha!" said he, picking something from the long beard, "here's a crumb of
that same bread. Did you see that, Mr. Knapp?"

The question was so sudden and so sharp that the detective came near
replying to it; but he bethought himself, and said nothing.

"That settles which of the two gnawed the loaf," continued Sweetwater.

The next minute he was hovering over the still more pathetic figure of
John, sitting in the chair.

"Sad! Sad!" he murmured.

Suddenly he laid his finger on a small rent in the old man's faded vest.
"You saw this, of course," said he, with a quick glance over his
shoulder at the silent detective.

No answer, as before.

"It's a new slit," declared the officious youth, looking closer,
"and--yes--there's blood on its edges. Here, take the lantern, Mr.
Fenton, I must see how the skin looks underneath. Oh, gentlemen, no
shirt! The poorest dockhand has a shirt! Brocaded vest and no shirt; but
he's past our pity now. Ah, only a bruise over the heart. Sirs, what did
you make out of this?"

As none of them had even seen it, Knapp was not the only one to remain
silent.

"Shall I tell you what I make out of it?" said the lad, rising hurriedly
from the floor, which he had as hurriedly examined. "This old man has
tried to take his life with the dagger already wet with the blood of
Agatha Webb. But his arm was too feeble. The point only pierced the
vest, wiping off a little blood in its passage, then the weapon fell
from his hand and struck the floor, as you will see by the fresh dent in
the old board I am standing on. Have you anything to say against these
simple deductions?"

Again the detective opened his lips and might have spoken, but
Sweetwater gave him no chance.

"Where is the letter he was writing?" he demanded. "Have any of you seen
any paper lying about here?"

"He was not writing," objected Knapp; "he was reading; reading in that
old Bible you see there."

Sweetwater caught up the book, looked it over, and laid it down, with
that same curious twinkle of his eye they had noted in him before.

"He was writing," he insisted. "See, here is his pencil." And he showed
them the battered end of a small lead-pencil lying on the edge of his
chair.

"Writing at some time," admitted Knapp.

"Writing just before the deed," insisted Sweetwater. "Look at the
fingers of his right hand. They have not moved since the pencil fell out
of them."

"The letter, or whatever it was, shall be looked for," declared the
constable.

Sweetwater bowed, his eyes roving restlessly into every nook and corner
of the room.

"James was the stronger of the two," he remarked; "yet there is no
evidence that he made any attempt at suicide."

"How do you know that it was suicide John attempted?" asked someone.
"Why might not the dagger have fallen from James's hand in an effort to
kill his brother?"

"Because the dent in the floor would have been to the right of the chair
instead of to the left," he returned. "Besides, James's hand would not
have failed so utterly, since he had strength to pick up the weapon
afterward and lay it where you found it."

"True, we found it lying on the table," observed Abel, scratching his
head in forced admiration of his old schoolmate.

"All easy, very easy," Sweetwater remarked, seeing the wonder in every
eye. "Matters like those are for a child's reading, but what is
difficult, and what I find hard to come by, is how the twenty-dollar
bill got into the old man's hand. He found it here, but how--"

"Found it here? How do you know that?"

"Gentlemen, that is a point I will make clear to you later, when I have
laid my hand on a certain clew I am anxiously seeking. You know this is
new work for me and I have to advance warily. Did any of you gentlemen,
when you came into this room, detect the faintest odour of any kind of
perfume?"

"Perfume?" echoed Abel, with a glance about the musty apartment. "Rats,
rather."

Sweetwater shook his head with a discouraged air, but suddenly
brightened, and stepping quickly across the floor, paused at one of the
windows. It was that one in which the shade had been drawn.

Peering at this shade he gave a grunt.

"You must excuse me for a minute," said he; "I have not found what I
wanted in this room and now must look outside for it. Will someone bring
the lantern?"

"I will," volunteered Knapp, with grim good humour. Indeed, the
situation was almost ludicrous to him.

"Bring it round the house, then, to the ground under this window,"
ordered Sweetwater, without giving any sign that he noticed or even
recognised the other's air of condescension. "And, gentlemen, please
don't follow. It's footsteps I am after, and the fewer we make
ourselves, the easier will it be for me to establish the clew I am
after."

Mr. Fenton stared. What had got into the fellow?

The lantern gone, the room resumed its former appearance.

Abel, who had been much struck by Sweetwater's mysterious manoeuvres,
drew near Dr. Talbot and whispered in his ear: "We might have done
without that fellow from Boston."

To which the coroner replied:

"Perhaps so, and perhaps not. Sweetwater has not yet proved his case;
let us wait till he explains himself." Then, turning to the constable,
he showed him an old-fashioned miniature, which he had found lying on
James's breast, when he made his first examination. It was set with
pearls and backed with gold and was worth many meals, for the lack of
which its devoted owner had perished.

"Agatha Webb's portrait," explained Talbot, "or rather Agatha
Gilchrist's; for I presume this was painted when she and James were
lovers."

"She was certainly a beauty," commented Fenton, as he bent over the
miniature in the moonlight. "I do not wonder she queened it over the
whole country."

"He must have worn it where I found it for the last forty years," mused
the doctor. "And yet men say that love is a fleeting passion. Well,
after coming upon this proof of devotion, I find it impossible to
believe James Zabel accountable for the death of one so fondly
remembered. Sweetwater's instinct was truer than Knapp's."

"Or ours," muttered Fenton.

"Gentlemen," interposed Abel, pointing to a bright spot that just then
made its appearance in the dark outline of the shade before alluded to,
"do you see that hole? It was the sight of that prick in the shade which
sent Sweetwater outside looking for footprints. See! Now his eye is to
it" (as the bright spot became suddenly eclipsed). "We are under
examination, sirs, and the next thing we will hear is that he's not the
only person who's been peering into this room through that hole."

He was so far right that the first words of Sweetwater on his
re-entrance were: "It's all O. K., sirs. I have found my missing clew.
James Zabel was not the only person who came up here from the Webb
cottage last night." And turning to Knapp, who was losing some of his
supercilious manner, he asked, with significant emphasis: "If, of the
full amount stolen from Agatha Webb, you found twenty dollars in the
possession of one man and nine hundred and eighty dollars in the
possession of another, upon which of the two would you fix as the
probable murderer of the good woman?"

"Upon him who held the lion's share, of course."

"Very good; then it is not in this cottage you will find the person most
wanted. You must look--But there! first let me give you a glimpse of the
money. Is there anyone here ready to accompany me in search of it? I
shall have to take him a quarter of a mile farther up-hill."

"You have seen the money? You know where it is?" asked Dr. Talbot and
Mr. Fenton in one breath.

"Gentlemen, I can put my hand on it in ten minutes."

At this unexpected and somewhat startling statement Knapp looked at Dr.
Talbot and Dr. Talbot looked at the constable, but only the last spoke.

"That is saying a good deal. But no matter. I am willing to credit the
assertion. Lead on, Sweetwater; I'll go with you."

Sweetwater seemed to grow an inch taller in his satisfied vanity. "And
Dr. Talbot?" he suggested.

But the coroner's duty held him to the house and he decided not to
accompany them. Knapp and Abel, however, yielded to the curiosity which
had been aroused by these extraordinary promises, and presently the four
men mentioned started on their small expedition up the hill.

Sweetwater headed the procession. He had admonished silence, and his
wish in this regard was so well carried out that they looked more like a
group of spectres moving up the moon-lighted road, than a party of eager
and impatient men. Not till they turned into the main thoroughfare did
anyone speak. Then Abel could no longer restrain himself and he cried
out:

"We are going to Mr. Sutherland's."

But Sweetwater quickly undeceived him.

"No," said he, "only into the woods opposite his house."

But at this Mr. Fenton drew him back.

"Are you sure of yourself?" he said. "Have you really seen this money
and is it concealed in this forest?"

"I have seen the money," Sweetwater solemnly declared, "and it is hidden
in these woods."

Mr. Fenton dropped his arm, and they moved on till their way was blocked
by the huge trunk of a fallen tree.

"It is here we are to look," cried Sweetwater, pausing and motioning
Knapp to turn his lantern on the spot where the shadows lay thickest.
"Now, what do you see?" he asked.

"The upturned roots of a great tree," said Mr. Fenton.

"And under them?"

"A hole, or, rather, the entrance to one."

"Very good; the money is in that hole. Pull it out, Mr. Fenton."

The assurance with which Sweetwater spoke was such that Mr. Fenton at
once stooped and plunged his hand into the hole. But when, after a
hurried search, he drew it out again, there was nothing in it; the place
was empty. Sweetwater stared at Mr. Fenton amazed.

"Don't you find anything?" he asked. "Isn't there a roll of bills in
that hole?"

"No," was the gloomy answer, after a renewed attempt and a second
disappointment. "There is nothing to be found here. You are labouring
under some misapprehension, Sweetwater."

"But I can't be. I saw the money; saw it in the hand of the person who
hid it there. Let me look for it, constable. I will not give up the
search till I have turned the place topsy-turvy."

Kneeling down in Mr. Fenton's place, he thrust his hand into the hole.
On either side of him peered the faces of Mr. Fenton and Knapp. (Abel
had slipped away at a whisper from Sweetwater.) They were lit with a
similar expression of anxious interest and growing doubt. His own
countenance was a study of conflicting and by no means cheerful
emotions. Suddenly his aspect changed. With a quick twist of his lithe,
if awkward, body, he threw himself lengthwise on the ground, and began
tearing at the earth inside the hole, like a burrowing animal.

"I cannot be mistaken. Nothing will make me believe it is not here. It
has simply been buried deeper than I thought. Ah! What did I tell you?
See here! And see here!"

Bringing his hands into the full blaze of the light, he showed two rolls
of new, crisp bills.

"They were lying under half a foot of earth," said he, "but if they had
been buried as deep as Grannie Fuller's well, I'd have unearthed them."

Meantime Mr. Fenton was rapidly counting one roll and Knapp the other.
The result was an aggregate sum of nine hundred and eighty dollars, just
the amount Sweetwater had promised to show them.

"A good stroke of business," cried Mr. Fenton. "And now, Sweetwater,
whose is the hand that buried this treasure? Nothing is to be gained by
preserving silence on this point any longer."

Instantly the young man became very grave. With a quick glance around
which seemed to embrace the secret recesses of the forest rather than
the eager faces bending towards him, he lowered his voice and quietly
said:

"The hand that buried this money under the roots of this old tree is the
same which you saw pointing downward at the spot of blood in Agatha
Webb's front yard."

"You do not mean Amabel Page!" cried Mr. Fenton, with natural surprise.

"Yes, I do; and I am glad it is you who have named her."



XVII

THE SLIPPERS, THE FLOWER, AND WHAT SWEETWATER MADE OF THEM


A half-hour later these men were all closeted with Dr. Talbot in the
Zabel kitchen. Abel had rejoined them, and Sweetwater was telling his
story with great earnestness and no little show of pride.

"Gentlemen, when I charge a young woman of respectable appearance and
connections with such a revolting crime as murder, I do so with good
reason, as I hope presently to make plain to you all.

"Gentlemen, on the night and at the hour Agatha Webb was killed, I was
playing with four other musicians in Mr. Sutherland's hallway. From the
place where I sat I could see what went on in the parlour and also have
a clear view of the passageway leading down to the garden door. As the
dancing was going on in the parlour I naturally looked that way most,
and this is how I came to note the eagerness with which, during the
first part of the evening, Frederick Sutherland and Amabel Page came
together in the quadrilles and country dances. Sometimes she spoke as
she passed him, and sometimes he answered, but not always, although he
never failed to show he was pleased with her or would have been if
something--perhaps it was his lack of confidence in her, sirs--had not
stood in the way of a perfect understanding. She seemed to notice that
he did not always respond, and after a while showed less inclination to
speak herself, though she did not fail to watch him, and that intently.
But she did not watch him any more closely than I did her, though I
little thought at the time what would come of my espionage. She wore a
white dress and white shoes, and was as coquettish and seductive as the
evil one makes them. Suddenly I missed her. She was in the middle of the
dance one minute and entirely out of it the next. Naturally I supposed
her to have slipped aside with Frederick Sutherland, but he was still in
sight, looking so pale and so abstracted, however, I was sure the young
miss was up to some sort of mischief. But what mischief? Watching and
waiting, but no longer confining my attention to the parlour, I
presently espied her stealing along the passageway I have mentioned,
carrying a long cloak which she rolled up and hid behind the open door.
Then she came back humming a gay little song which didn't deceive me for
a moment. 'Good!' thought I, 'she and that cloak will soon join
company.' And they did. As we were playing the Harebell mazurka I again
caught sight of her stealthy white figure in that distant doorway.
Seizing the cloak, she wrapped it round her, and with just one furtive
look backwards, seen, I warrant, by no one but myself, she vanished in
the outside dark. 'Now to note who follows her!' But nobody followed
her. This struck me as strange, and having a natural love for detective
work, in spite of my devotion to the arts, I consulted the clock at the
foot of the stairs, and noting that it was half-past eleven, scribbled
the hour on the margin of my music, with the intention of seeing how
long my lady would linger outside alone. Gentlemen, it was two hours
before I saw her face again. How she got back into the house I do not
know. It was not by the garden door, for my eye seldom left it; yet at
or near half-past one I heard her voice on the stair above me and saw
her descend and melt into the crowd as if she had not been absent from
it for more than five minutes. A half-hour later I saw her with
Frederick again. They were dancing, but not with the same spirit as
before, and even while I watched them they separated. Now where was Miss
Page during those two long hours? I think I know, and it is time I
unburdened myself to the police.

"But first I must inform you of a small discovery I made while the dance
was still in progress. Miss Page had descended the stairs, as I have
said, from what I now know to have been her own room. Her dress was, in
all respects, the same as before, with one exception--her white slippers
had been exchanged for blue ones. This seemed to show that they had been
rendered unserviceable, or at least unsightly, by the walk she had
taken. This in itself was not remarkable nor would her peculiar escapade
have made more than a temporary impression upon my curiosity if she had
not afterward shown in my presence such an unaccountable and
extraordinary interest in the murder which had taken place in the town
below during the very hours of her absence from Mr. Sutherland's ball.
This, in consideration of her sex, and her being a stranger to the
person attacked, was remarkable, and, though perhaps I had no business
to do what I did, I no sooner saw the house emptied of master and
servants than I stole softly back, and climbed the stairs to her room.
Had no good followed this intrusion, which, I am quite ready to
acknowledge, was a trifle presumptuous, I would have held my peace in
regard to it; but as I did make a discovery there, which has, as I
believe, an important bearing on this affair, I have forced myself to
mention it. The lights in the house having been left burning, I had no
difficulty in finding her apartment. I knew it by the folderols
scattered about. But I did not stop to look at them. I was on a search
for her slippers, and presently came upon them, thrust behind an old
picture in the dimmest corner of the room. Taking them down, I examined
them closely. They were not only soiled, gentlemen, but dreadfully cut
and rubbed. In short, they were ruined, and, thinking that the young
lady herself would be glad to be rid of them, I quietly put them into my
pocket, and carried them to my own home. Abel has just been for them, so
you can see them for yourselves, and if your judgment coincides with
mine, you will discover something more on them than mud."

Dr. Talbot, though he stared a little at the young man's confessed
theft, took the slippers Abel was holding out and carefully turned them
over. They were, as Sweetwater had said, grievously torn and soiled, and
showed, beside several deep earth-stains, a mark or two of a bright red
colour, quite unmistakable in its character.

"Blood," declared the coroner. "There is no doubt about it. Miss Page
was where blood was spilled last night."

"I have another proof against her," Sweetwater went on, in full
enjoyment of his prominence amongst these men, who, up to now, had
barely recognised his existence. "When, full of the suspicion that Miss
Page had had a hand in the theft which had taken place at Mrs. Webb's
house, if not in the murder that accompanied it, I hastened down to the
scene of the tragedy, I met this young woman issuing from the front
gate. She had just been making herself conspicuous by pointing out a
trail of blood on the grass plot. Dr. Talbot, who was there, will
remember how she looked on that occasion; but I doubt if he noticed how
Abel here looked, or so much as remarked the faded flower the silly boy
had stuck in his buttonhole."

"--me if I did!" ejaculated the coroner.

"Yet that flower has a very important bearing on this case. He had found
it, as he will tell you, on the floor near Batsy's skirts, and as soon
as I saw it in his coat, I bade him take it out and keep it, for,
gentlemen, it was a very uncommon flower, the like of which can only be
found in this town in Mr. Sutherland's conservatory. I remember seeing
such a one in Miss Page's hair, early in the evening. Have you that
flower about you, Abel?"

Abel had, and being filled with importance too, showed it to the doctor
and to Mr. Fenton. It was withered and faded in hue, but it was
unmistakably an orchid of the rarest description.

"It was lying near Batsy," explained Abel. "I drew Mr. Fenton's
attention to it at the time, but he scarcely noticed it."

"I will make up for my indifference now," said that gentleman.

"I should have been shown that flower," put in Knapp.

"So you should," acknowledged Sweetwater, "but when the detective
instinct is aroused it is hard for a man to be just to his rivals;
besides, I was otherwise occupied. I had Miss Page to watch. Happily for
me, you had decided that she should not be allowed to leave town till
after the inquest, and so my task became easy. This whole day I have
spent in sight of Mr. Sutherland's house, and at nightfall I was
rewarded by detecting her end a prolonged walk in the garden by a
hurried dash into the woods opposite. I followed her and noted carefully
all that she did. As she had just seen Frederick Sutherland and Miss
Halliday disappear up the road together, she probably felt free to do as
she liked, for she walked very directly to the old tree we have just
come from, and kneeling down beside it pulled from the hole underneath
something which rattled in her hand with that peculiar sound we
associate with fresh bank-notes. I had approached her as near as I
dared, and was peering around a tree trunk, when she stooped down again
and plunged both hands into the hole. She remained in this position so
long that I did not know what to make of it. But she rose at last and
turned toward home, laughing to herself in a wicked but pleased way that
did not tend to make me think any more of her. The moon was shining very
brightly by this time and I could readily perceive every detail of her
person. She held her hands out before her and shook them more than once
as she trod by me, so I was sure there was nothing in them, and this is
why I was so confident we should find the money still in the hole.

"When I saw her enter the house, I set out to find you, but the
court-house room was empty, and it was a long time before I learned
where to look for you. But at last a fellow at Brighton's corner said he
saw four men go by on their way to Zabel's cottage, and on the chance of
finding you amongst them, I turned down here. The shock you gave me in
announcing that you had discovered the murderer of Agatha Webb knocked
me over for a moment, but now I hope you realise, as I do, that this
wretched man could never have had an active hand in her death,
notwithstanding the fact that one of the stolen bills has been found in
his possession. For, and here is my great point, the proof is not
wanting that Miss Page visited this house as well as Mrs. Webb's during
her famous escapade; or at least stood under the window beneath which I
have just been searching. A footprint can be seen there, sirs, a very
plain footprint, and if Dr. Talbot will take the trouble to compare it
with the slipper he holds in his hand, he will find it to have been made
by the foot that wore that slipper."

The coroner, with a quick glance from the slipper in his hand up to
Sweetwater's eager face, showed a decided disposition to make the
experiment thus suggested. But Mr. Fenton, whose mind was full of the
Zabel tragedy, interrupted them with the question:

"But how do you explain by this hypothesis the fact of James Zabel
trying to pass one of the twenty-dollar bills stolen from Mrs. Webb's
cupboard? Do you consider Miss Page generous enough to give him that
money?"

"You ask ME that, Mr. Fenton. Do you wish to know what _I_ think of the
connection between these two great tragedies?"

"Yes; you have earned a voice in this matter; speak, Sweetwater."

"Well, then, I think Miss Page has made an effort to throw the blame of
her own misdoing on one or both of these unfortunate old men. She is
sufficiently cold-blooded and calculating to do so; and circumstances
certainly favoured her. Shall I show how?"

Mr. Fenton consulted Knapp, who nodded his head. The Boston detective
was not without curiosity as to how Sweetwater would prove the case.

"Old James Zabel had seen his brother sinking rapidly from inanition;
this their condition amply shows. He was weak himself, but John was
weaker, and in a moment of desperation he rushed out to ask a crumb of
bread from Agatha Webb, or possibly--for I have heard some whispers of
an old custom of theirs to join Philemon at his yearly merry-making and
so obtain in a natural way the bite for himself and brother he perhaps
had not the courage to ask for outright. But death had been in the Webb
cottage before him, which awful circumstance, acting on his already
weakened nerves, drove him half insane from the house and sent him
wandering blindly about the streets for a good half-hour before he
reappeared in his own house. How do I know this? From a very simple
fact. Abel here has been to inquire, among other things, if Mr. Crane
remembers the tune we were playing at the great house when he came down
the main street from visiting old widow Walker. Fortunately he does, for
the trip, trip, trip in it struck his fancy, and he has found himself
humming it over more than once since. Well, that waltz was played by us
at a quarter after midnight, which fixes the time of the encounter at
Mrs. Webb's gateway pretty accurately. But, as you will soon see, it was
ten minutes to one before James Zabel knocked at Loton's door. How do I
know this? By the same method of reasoning by which I determined the
time of Mr. Crane's encounter. Mrs. Loton was greatly pleased with the
music played that night, and had all her windows open in order to hear
it, and she says we were playing 'Money Musk' when that knocking came to
disturb her. Now, gentlemen, we played 'Money Musk' just before we were
called out to supper, and as we went to supper promptly at one, you can
see just how my calculation was made. Thirty-five minutes, then, passed
between the moment James Zabel was seen rushing from Mrs. Webb's gateway
and that in which he appeared at Loton's bakery, demanding a loaf of
bread, and offering in exchange one of the bills which had been stolen
from the murdered woman's drawer. Thirty-five minutes! And he and his
brother were starving. Does it look, then, as if that money was in his
possession when he left Mrs. Webb's house? Would any man who felt the
pangs of hunger as he did, or who saw a brother perishing for food
before his eyes, allow thirty-five minutes to elapse before he made use
of the money that rightfully or wrongfully had come into his hand? No;
and so I say that he did not have it when Mr. Crane met him. That,
instead of committing crime to obtain it, he found it in his own home,
lying on his table, when, after his frenzied absence, he returned to
tell his dreadful news to the brother he had left behind him. But how
did it come there? you ask. Gentlemen, remember the footprints under the
window. Amabel Page brought it. Having seen or perhaps met this old man
roaming in or near the Webb cottage during the time she was there
herself, she conceived the plan of throwing upon him the onus of the
crime she had herself committed, and with a slyness to be expected from
one so crafty, stole up to his home, made a hole in the shade hanging
over an open window, looked into the room where John sat, saw that he
was there alone and asleep, and, creeping in by the front door, laid on
the table beside him the twenty-dollar bill and the bloody dagger with
which she had just slain Agatha Webb. Then she stole out again, and in
twenty minutes more was leading the dance in Mr. Sutherland's parlour."

"Well reasoned!" murmured Abel, expecting the others to echo him. But,
though Mr. Fenton and Dr. Talbot looked almost convinced, they said
nothing, while Knapp, of course, was quiet as an oyster.

Sweetwater, with an easy smile calculated to hide his disappointment,
went on as if perfectly satisfied.

"Meanwhile John awakes, sees the dagger, and thinks to end his misery
with it, but finds himself too feeble. The cut in his vest, the dent in
the floor, prove this, but if you call for further proof, a little fact,
which some, if not all, of you seem to have overlooked, will amply
satisfy you that this one at least of my conclusions is correct. Open
the Bible, Abel; open it, not to shake it for what will never fall from
between its leaves, but to find in the Bible itself the lines I have
declared to you he wrote as a dying legacy with that tightly clutched
pencil. Have you found them?"

"No," was Abel's perplexed retort; "I cannot see any sign of writing on
flyleaf or margin."

"Are those the only blank places in the sacred book? Search the leaves
devoted to the family record. Now! what do you find there?"

Knapp, who was losing some of his indifference, drew nearer and read for
himself the scrawl which now appeared to every eye on the discoloured
page which Abel here turned uppermost.

"Almost illegible," he said; "one can just make out these words:
'Forgive me, James--tried to use dagger--found lying--but hand
wouldn't--dying without--don't grieve--true men--haven't disgraced
ourselves--God bless--' That is all."

"The effort must have overcome him," resumed Sweetwater in a voice from
which he carefully excluded all signs of secret triumph, "and when James
returned, as he did a few minutes later, he was evidently unable to ask
questions, even if John was in a condition to answer them. But the
fallen dagger told its own story, for James picked it up and put it back
on the table, and it was at this minute he saw, what John had not, the
twenty-dollar bill lying there with its promise of life and comfort.
Hope revives; he catches up the bill, flies down to Loton's, procures a
loaf of bread, and comes frantically back, gnawing it as he runs; for
his own hunger is more than he can endure. Re-entering his brother's
presence, he rushes forward with the bread. But the relief has come too
late; John has died in his absence; and James, dizzy with the shock,
reels back and succumbs to his own misery. Gentlemen, have you anything
to say in contradiction to these various suppositions?"

For a moment Dr. Talbot, Mr. Fenton, and even Knapp stood silent; then
the last remarked, with pardonable dryness:

"All this is ingenious, but, unfortunately, it is up set by a little
fact which you yourself have overlooked. Have you examined attentively
the dagger of which you have so often spoken, Mr. Sweetwater?"

"Not as I would like to, but I noticed it had blood on its edge, and was
of the shape and size necessary to inflict the wound from which Mrs.
Webb died."

"Very good, but there is something else of interest to be observed on
it. Fetch it, Abel."

Abel, hurrying from the room, soon brought back the weapon in question.
Sweetwater, with a vague sense of disappointment disturbing him, took it
eagerly and studied it very closely. But he only shook his head.

"Bring it nearer to the light," suggested Knapp, "and examine the little
scroll near the top of the handle."

Sweetwater did so, and at once changed colour. In the midst of the
scroll were two very small but yet perfectly distinct letters; they were
J. Z.

"How did Amabel Page come by a dagger marked with the Zabel initials?"
questioned Knapp. "Do you think her foresight went so far as to provide
herself with a dagger ostensibly belonging to one of these brothers? And
then, have you forgotten that when Mr. Crane met the old man at Mrs.
Webb's gateway he saw in his hand something that glistened? Now what was
that, if not this dagger?"

Sweetwater was more disturbed than he cared to acknowledge.

"That just shows my lack of experience," he grumbled. "I thought I had
turned this subject so thoroughly over in my mind that no one could
bring an objection against it."

Knapp shook his head and smiled. "Young enthusiasts like yourself are
great at forming theories which well-seasoned men like myself must
regard as fantastical. However," he went on, "there is no doubt that
Miss Page was a witness to, even if she has not profited by, the murder
we have been considering. But, with this palpable proof of the Zabels'
direct connection with the affair, I would not recommend her arrest as
yet."

"She should be under surveillance, though," intimated the coroner.

"Most certainly," acquiesced Knapp.

As for Sweetwater, he remained silent till the opportunity came for him
to whisper apart to Dr. Talbot, when he said:

"For all the palpable proof of which Mr. Knapp speaks--the J. Z. on the
dagger, and the possibility of this being the object he was seen
carrying out of Philemon Webb's gate--I maintain that this old man in
his moribund condition never struck the blow that killed Agatha Webb. He
hadn't strength enough, even if his lifelong love for her had not been
sufficient to prevent him."

The coroner looked thoughtful.

"You are right," said he; "he hadn't strength enough. But don't expend
too much energy in talk. Wait and see what a few direct questions will
elicit from Miss Page."



XVIII

SOME LEADING QUESTIONS


Frederick rose early. He had slept but little. The words he had
overheard at the end of the lot the night before were still ringing in
his ears. Going down the back stairs, in his anxiety to avoid Amabel, he
came upon one of the stablemen.

"Been to the village this morning?" he asked.

"No, sir, but Lem has. There's great news there. I wonder if anyone has
told Mr. Sutherland."

"What news, Jake? I don't think my father is up yet."

"Why, sir, there were two more deaths in town last night--the brothers
Zabel; and folks do say (Lem heard it a dozen times between the grocery
and the fish market) that it was one of these old men who killed Mrs.
Webb. The dagger has been found in their house, and most of the money.
Why, sir, what's the matter? Are you sick?"

Frederick made an effort and stood upright. He had nearly fallen.

"No; that is, I am not quite myself. So many horrors, Jake. What did
they die of? You say they are both dead--both?"

"Yes, sir, and it's dreadful to think of, but it was hunger, sir. Bread
came too late. Both men are mere skeletons to look at. They have kept
themselves close for weeks now, and nobody knew how bad off they were. I
don't wonder it upset you, sir. We all feel it a bit, and I just dread
to tell Mr. Sutherland."

Frederick staggered away. He had never in his life been so near mental
and physical collapse. At the threshold of the sitting-room door he met
his father. Mr. Sutherland was looking both troubled and anxious; more
so, Frederick thought, than when he signed the check for him on the
previous night. As their eyes met, both showed embarrassment, but
Frederick, whose nerves had been highly strung by what he had just
heard, soon controlled himself, and surveying his father with forced
calmness, began:

"This is dreadful news, sir."

But his father, intent on his own thought, hurriedly interrupted him.

"You told me yesterday that everything was broken off between you and
Miss Page. Yet I saw you reenter the house together last night a little
while after I gave you the money you asked for."

"I know, and it must have had a bad appearance. I entreat you, however,
to believe that this meeting between Miss Page and myself was against my
wish, and that the relations between us have not been affected by
anything that passed between us."

"I am glad to hear it, my son. You could not do worse by yourself than
to return to your old devotion."

"I agree with you, sir." And then, because he could not help it,
Frederick inquired if he had heard the news.

Mr. Sutherland, evidently startled, asked what news; to which Frederick
replied:

"The news about the Zabels. They are both dead, sir,--dead from hunger.
Can you imagine it!"

This was something so different from what his father had expected to
hear, that he did not take it in at first. When he did, his surprise and
grief were even greater than Frederick had anticipated. Seeing him so
affected, Frederick, who thought that the whole truth would be no harder
to bear than the half, added the suspicion which had been attached to
the younger one's name, and then stood back, scarcely daring to be a
witness to the outraged feelings which such a communication could not
fail to awaken in one of his father's temperament.

But though he thus escaped the shocked look which crossed his father's
countenance, he could not fail to hear the indignant exclamation which
burst from his lips, nor help perceiving that it would take more than
the most complete circumstantial evidence to convince his father of the
guilt of men he had known and respected for so many years.

For some reason Frederick experienced great relief at this, and was
bracing himself to meet the fire of questions which his statement must
necessarily call forth, when the sound of approaching steps drew the
attention of both towards a party of men coming up the hillside.

Among them was Mr. Courtney, Prosecuting Attorney for the district, and
as Mr. Sutherland recognised him he sprang forward, saying, "There's
Courtney; he will explain this."

Frederick followed, anxious and bewildered, and soon had the doubtful
pleasure of seeing his father enter his study in company with the four
men considered to be most interested in the elucidation of the Webb
mystery.

As he was lingering in an undecided mood in the small passageway leading
up-stairs he felt the pressure of a finger on his shoulder. Looking up,
he met the eyes of Amabel, who was leaning toward him over the
banisters. She was smiling, and, though her face was not without
evidences of physical languor, there was a charm about her person which
would have been sufficiently enthralling to him twenty-four hours
before, but which now caused him such a physical repulsion that he
started back in the effort to rid his shoulder from her disturbing
touch.

She frowned. It was an instantaneous expression of displeasure which was
soon lost in one of her gurgling laughs.

"Is my touch so burdensome?" she demanded. "If the pressure of one
finger is so unbearable to your sensitive nerves, how will you relish
the weight of my whole hand?"

There was a fierceness in her tone, a purpose in her look, that for the
first time in his struggle with her revealed the full depth of her dark
nature. Shrinking from her appalled, he put up his hand in protest, at
which she changed again in a twinkling, and with a cautious gesture
toward the room into which Mr. Sutherland and his friends had
disappeared, she whispered significantly:

"We may not have another chance to confer together. Understand, then,
that it will not be necessary for you to tell me, in so many words, that
you are ready to link your fortunes to mine; the taking off of the ring
you wear and your slow putting of it on again, in my presence, will be
understood by me as a token that you have reconsidered your present
attitude and desire my silence and--myself."

Frederick could not repress a shudder.

For an instant he was tempted to succumb on the spot and have the long
agony over. Then his horror of the woman rose to such a pitch that he
uttered an execration, and, turning away from her face, which was
rapidly growing loathsome to him, he ran out of the passageway into the
garden, seeing as he ran a persistent vision of himself pulling off the
ring and putting it back again, under the spell of a look he rebelled
against even while he yielded to its influence.

"I will not wear a ring, I will not subject myself to the possibility of
obeying her behest under a sudden stress of fear or fascination," he
exclaimed, pausing by the well-curb and looking over it at his
reflection in the water beneath. "If I drop it here I at least lose the
horror of doing what she suggests, under some involuntary impulse." But
the thought that the mere absence of the ring from his finger would not
stand in the way of his going through the motions to which she had just
given such significance, deterred him from the sacrifice of a valuable
family jewel, and he left the spot with an air of frenzy such as a man
displays when he feels himself on the verge of a doom he can neither
meet nor avert.

As he re-entered the house, he felt himself enveloped in the atmosphere
of a coming crisis. He could hear voices in the upper hall, and amongst
them he caught the accents of her he had learned so lately to fear.
Impelled by something deeper than curiosity and more potent even than
dread, he hastened toward the stairs. When half-way up, he caught sight
of Amabel. She was leaning back against the balustrade that ran across
the upper hall, with her hands gripping the rail on either side of her
and her face turned toward the five men who had evidently issued from
Mr. Sutherland's study to interview her.

As her back was to Frederick he could not judge of the expression of
that face save by the effect it had upon the different men confronting
her. But to see them was enough. From their looks he could perceive that
this young girl was in one of her baffling moods, and that from his
father down, not one of the men present knew what to make of her.

At the sound his feet made, a relaxation took place in her body and she
lost something of the defiant attitude she had before maintained.
Presently he heard her voice:

"I am willing to answer any questions you may choose to put to me here;
but I cannot consent to shut myself in with you in that small study; I
should suffocate."

Frederick could perceive the looks which passed between the five men
assembled before her, and was astonished to note that the insignificant
fellow they called Sweetwater was the first to answer.

"Very well," said he; "if you enjoy the publicity of the open hall, no
one here will object. Is not that so, gentlemen?"

Her two little fingers, which were turned towards Frederick, ran up and
down the rail, making a peculiar rasping noise, which for a moment was
the only sound to be heard. Then Mr. Courtney said:

"How came you to have the handling of the money taken from Agatha Webb's
private drawer?"

It was a startling question, but it seemed to affect Amabel less than it
did Frederick. It made him start, but she only turned her head a trifle
aside, so that the peculiar smile with which she prepared to answer
could be seen by anyone standing below.

"Suppose you ask something less leading than that, to begin with," she
suggested, in her high, unmusical voice. "From the searching nature of
this inquiry, you evidently believe I have information of an important
character to give you concerning Mrs. Webb's unhappy death. Ask me about
that; the other question I will answer later."

The aplomb with which this was said, mixed as it was with a feminine
allurement of more than ordinary subtlety, made Mr. Sutherland frown and
Dr. Talbot look perplexed, but it did not embarrass Mr. Courtney, who
made haste to respond in his dryest accents:

"Very well, I am not particular as to what you answer first. A flower
worn by you at the dance was found near Batsy's skirts, before she was
lifted up that morning. Can you explain this, or, rather, will you?"

"You are not obliged to, you know," put in Mr. Sutherland, with his
inexorable sense of justice. "Still, if you would, it might rob these
gentlemen of suspicions you certainly cannot wish them to entertain."

"What I say," she remarked slowly, "will be as true to the facts as if I
stood here on my oath. I can explain how a flower from my hair came to
be in Mrs. Webb's house, but not how it came to be found under Batsy's
feet. That someone else must clear up." Her little finger, lifted from
the rail, pointed toward Frederick, but no one saw this, unless it was
that gentleman himself. "I wore a purple orchid in my hair that night,
and there would be nothing strange in its being afterward picked up in
Mrs. Webb's house, because I was in that house at or near the time she
was murdered."

"You in that house?"

"Yes, as far as the ground floor; no farther." Here the little finger
stopped pointing. "I am ready to tell you about it, sirs, and only
regret I have delayed doing so so long, but I wished to be sure it was
necessary. Your presence here and your first question show that it is."

There was suavity in her tone now, not unmixed with candour. Sweetwater
did not seem to relish this, for he moved uneasily and lost a shade of
his self-satisfied attitude. He had still to be made acquainted with all
the ins and outs of this woman's remarkable nature.

"We are waiting," suggested Dr. Talbot.

She turned to face this new speaker, and Frederick was relieved from the
sight of her tantalising smile.

"I will tell my story simply," said she, "with the simple suggestion
that you believe me; otherwise you will make a mistake. While I was
resting from a dance the other night, I heard two of the young people
talking about the Zabels. One of them was laughing at the old men, and
the other was trying to relate some half-forgotten story of early love
which had been the cause, she thought, of their strange and melancholy
lives. I was listening to them, but I did not take in much of what they
were saying till I heard behind me an irascible voice exclaiming: 'You
laugh, do you? I wonder if you would laugh so easily if you knew that
these two poor old men haven't had a decent meal in a fortnight?' I
didn't know the speaker, but I was thrilled by his words. Not had a good
meal, these men, for a fortnight! I felt as if personally guilty of
their suffering, and, happening to raise my eyes at this minute and
seeing through an open door the bountiful refreshments prepared for us
in the supper room, I felt guiltier than ever. Suddenly I took a
resolution. It was a queer one, and may serve to show you some of the
oddities of my nature. Though I was engaged for the next dance, and
though I was dressed in the flimsy garments suitable to the occasion, I
decided to leave the ball and carry some sandwiches down to these old
men. Procuring a bit of paper, I made up a bundle and stole out of the
house without having said a word to anybody of my intention. Not wishing
to be seen, I went out by the garden door, which is at the end of the
dark hall--"

"Just as the band was playing the Harebell mazurka," interpolated
Sweetwater.

Startled for the first time from her careless composure by an
interruption of which it was impossible for her at that time to measure
either the motive or the meaning, she ceased to play with her fingers on
the baluster rail and let her eyes rest for a moment on the man who had
thus spoken, as if she hesitated between her desire to annihilate him
for his impertinence and a fear of the cold hate she saw actuating his
every word and look. Then she went on, as if no one had spoken:

"I ran down the hill recklessly. I was bent on my errand and not at all
afraid of the dark. When I reached that part of the road where the
streets branch off, I heard footsteps in front of me. I had overtaken
someone. Slackening my pace, so that I should not pass this person, whom
I instinctively knew to be a man, I followed him till I came to a high
board fence. It was that surrounding Agatha Webb's house, and when I saw
it I could not help connecting the rather stealthy gait of the man in
front of me with a story I had lately heard of the large sum of money
she was known to keep in her house. Whether this was before or after
this person disappeared round the corner I cannot say, but no sooner had
I become certain that he was bent upon entering this house than my
impulse to follow him became greater than my precaution, and turning
aside from the direct path to the Zabels', I hurried down High Street
just in time to see the man enter Mrs. Webb's front gateway.

"It was a late hour for visiting, but as the house had lights in both
its lower and upper stories, I should by good rights have taken it for
granted that he was an expected guest and gone on my way to the Zabels'.
But I did not. The softness with which this person stepped and the
skulking way in which he hesitated at the front gate aroused my worst
fears, and after he had opened that gate and slid in, I was so pursued
by the idea that he was there for no good that I stepped inside the gate
myself and took my stand in the deep shadow cast by the old pear tree on
the right-hand side of the walk. Did anyone speak?"

There was a unanimous denial from the five gentlemen before her, yet she
did not look satisfied.

"I thought I heard someone make a remark," she repeated, and paused
again for a half-minute, during which her smile was a study, it was so
cold and in such startling contrast to the vivid glances she threw
everywhere except behind her on the landing where Frederick stood
listening to her every word.

"We are very much interested," remarked Mr. Courtney. "Pray, go on."

Drawing her left hand from the balustrade where it had rested, she
looked at one of her fingers with an odd backward gesture.

"I will," she said, and her tone was hard and threatening. "Five
minutes, no longer, passed, when I was startled by a loud and terrible
cry from the house, and looking up at the second-story window from which
the sound proceeded, I saw a woman's figure hanging out in a seemingly
pulseless condition. Too terrified to move, I clung trembling to the
tree, hearing and not hearing the shouts and laughter of a dozen or more
men, who at that minute passed by the corner on their way to the
wharves. I was dazed, I was choking, and only came to myself when,
sooner or later, I do not know how soon or how late, a fresh horror
happened. The woman whom I had just seen fall almost from the window was
a serving woman, but when I heard another scream I knew that the
mistress of the house was being attacked, and rivetting my eyes on those
windows, I beheld the shade of one of them thrown back and a hand
appear, flinging out something which fell in the grass on the opposite
side of the lawn. Then the shade fell again, and hearing nothing
further, I ran to where the object flung out had fallen, and feeling for
it, found and picked up an old-fashioned dagger, dripping with blood.
Horrified beyond all expression, I dropped the weapon and retreated into
my former place of concealment.

"But I was not satisfied to remain there. A curiosity, a determination
even, to see the man who had committed this dastardly deed, attacked me
with such force that I was induced to leave my hiding-place and even to
enter the house where in all probability he was counting the gains he
had just obtained at the price of so much precious blood. The door,
which he had not perfectly closed behind him, seemed to invite me in,
and before I had realised my own temerity, I was standing in the hall of
this ill-fated house."

The interest, which up to this moment had been breathless, now expressed
itself in hurried ejaculations and broken words; and Mr. Sutherland, who
had listened like one in a dream, exclaimed eagerly, and in a tone which
proved that he, for the moment at least, believed this more than
improbable tale:

"Then you can tell us if Philemon was in the little room at the moment
when you entered the house?"

As everyone there present realised the importance of this question, a
general movement took place and each and all drew nearer as she met
their eyes and answered placidly:

"Yes; Mr. Webb was sitting in a chair asleep. He was the only person I
saw."

"Oh, I know he never committed this crime," gasped his old friend, in a
relief so great that one and all seemed to share it.

"Now I have courage for the rest. Go on, Miss Page."

But Miss Page paused again to look at her finger, and give that sideways
toss to her head that seemed so uncalled for by the situation to any who
did not know of the compact between herself and the listening man below.

"I hate to go back to that moment," said she; "for when I saw the
candles burning on the table, and the husband of the woman who at that
very instant was possibly breathing her last breath in the room
overhead, sitting there in unconscious apathy, I felt something rise in
my throat that made me deathly sick for a moment. Then I went right in
where he was, and was about to shake his arm and wake him, when I
detected a spot of blood on my finger from the dagger I had handled.
That gave me another turn, and led me to wipe off my finger on his
sleeve."

"It's a pity you did not wipe off your slippers too," murmured
Sweetwater.

Again she looked at him, again her eyes opened in terror upon the face
of this man, once so plain and insignificant in her eyes, but now so
filled with menace she inwardly quaked before it, for all her apparent
scorn.

"Slippers," she murmured.

"Did not your feet as well as your hands pass through the blood on the
grass?"

She disdained to answer him.

"I have accounted for the blood on my hand," she said, not looking at
him, but at Mr. Courtney. "If there is any on my slippers it can be
accounted for in the same way." And she rapidly resumed her narrative.
"I had no sooner made my little finger clean I never thought of anyone
suspecting the old gentleman when I heard steps on the stairs and knew
that the murderer was coming down, and in another instant would pass the
open door before which I stood.

"Though I had been courageous enough up to that minute, I was seized by
a sudden panic at the prospect of meeting face to face one whose hands
were perhaps dripping with the blood of his victim. To confront him
there and then might mean death to me, and I did not want to die, but to
live, for I am young, sirs, and not without a prospect of happiness
before me. So I sprang back, and seeing no other place of concealment in
the whole bare room, crouched down in the shadow of the man you call
Philemon. For one, two minutes, I knelt there in a state of mortal
terror, while the feet descended, paused, started to enter the room
where I was, hesitated, turned, and finally left the house."

"Miss Page, wait, wait," put in the coroner. "You saw him; you can tell
who this man was?"

The eagerness of this appeal seemed to excite her. A slight colour
appeared in her cheeks and she took a step forward, but before the words
for which they so anxiously waited could leave her lips, she gave a
start and drew back with, an ejaculation which left a more or less
sinister echo in the ears of all who heard it.

Frederick had just shown himself at the top of the staircase.

"Good-morning, gentlemen," said he, advancing into their midst with an
air whose unexpected manliness disguised his inward agitation. "The few
words I have just heard Miss Page say interest me so much, I find it
impossible not to join you."

Amabel, upon whose lips a faint complacent smile had appeared as he
stepped by her, glanced up at these words in secret astonishment at the
indifference they showed, and then dropped her eyes to his hands with an
intent gaze which seemed to affect him unpleasantly, for he thrust them
immediately behind him, though he did not lower his head or lose his air
of determination.

"Is my presence here undesirable?" he inquired, with a glance towards
his father.

Sweetwater looked as if he thought it was, but he did not presume to say
anything, and the others being too interested in the developments of
Miss Page's story to waste any time on lesser matters, Frederick
remained, greatly to Miss Page's evident satisfaction.

"Did you see this man's face?" Mr. Courtney now broke in, in urgent
inquiry.

Her answer came slowly, after another long look in Frederick's
direction.

"No, I did not dare to make the effort. I was obliged to crouch too
close to the floor. I simply heard his footsteps."

"See, now!" muttered Sweetwater, but in so low a tone she did not hear
him. "She condemns herself. There isn't a woman living who would fail to
look up under such circumstances, even at the risk of her life."

Knapp seemed to agree with him, but Mr. Courtney, following his one
idea, pressed his former question, saying:

"Was it an old man's step?"

"It was not an agile one."

"And you did not catch the least glimpse of the man's face or figure?"

"Not a glimpse."

"So you are in no position to identify him?"

"If by any chance I should hear those same footsteps coming down a
flight of stairs, I think I should be able to recognise them," she
allowed, in the sweetest tones at her command.

"She knows it is too late for her to hear those of the two dead Zabels,"
growled the man from Boston.

"We are no nearer the solution of this mystery than we were in the
beginning," remarked the coroner.

"Gentlemen, I have not yet finished my story," intimated Amabel,
sweetly. "Perhaps what I have yet to tell may give you some clew to the
identity of this man."

"Ah, yes; go on, go on. You have not yet explained how you came to be in
possession of Agatha's money."

"Just so," she answered, with another quick look at Frederick, the last
she gave him for some time. "As soon, then, as I dared, I ran out of the
house into the yard. The moon, which had been under a cloud, was now
shining brightly, and by its light I saw that the space before me was
empty and that I might venture to enter the street. But before doing so
I looked about for the dagger I had thrown from me before going in, but
I could not find it. It had been picked up by the fugitive and carried
away. Annoyed at the cowardice which had led me to lose such a valuable
piece of evidence through a purely womanish emotion, I was about to
leave the yard, when my eyes fell on the little bundle of sandwiches
which I had brought down from the hill and which I had let fall under
the pear tree, at the first scream I had heard from the house. It had
burst open and two or three of the sandwiches lay broken on the ground.
But those that were intact I picked up, and being more than ever anxious
to cover up by some ostensible errand my absence from the party, I
rushed away toward the lonely road where these brothers lived, meaning
to leave such fragments as remained on the old doorstep, beyond which I
had been told such suffering existed.

"It was now late, very late, for a girl like myself to be out, but,
under the excitement of what I had just seen and heard, I became
oblivious to fear, and rushed into those dismal shadows as into
transparent daylight. Perhaps the shouts and stray sounds of laughter
that came up from the wharves where a ship was getting under way gave me
a certain sense of companionship. Perhaps--but it is folly for me to
dilate upon my feelings; it is my errand you are interested in, and what
happened when I approached the Zabels' dreary dwelling."

The look with which she paused, ostensibly to take breath, but in
reality to weigh and criticise the looks of those about her, was one of
those wholly indescribable ones with which she was accustomed to control
the judgment of men who allowed themselves to watch too closely the
ever-changing expression of her weird yet charming face. But it fell
upon men steeled against her fascinations, and realising her inability
to move them, she proceeded with her story before even the most anxious
of her hearers could request her to do so.

"I had come along the road very quietly," said she, "for my feet were
lightly shod, and the moonlight was too bright for me to make a misstep.
But as I cleared the trees and came into the open place where the house
stands I stumbled with surprise at seeing a figure crouching on the
doorstep I had anticipated finding as empty as the road. It was an old
man's figure, and as I paused in my embarrassment he slowly and with
great feebleness rose to his feet and began to grope about for the door.
As he did so, I heard a sharp tinkling sound, as of something metallic
falling on the doorstone, and, taking a quick step forward, I looked
over his shoulder and espied in the moonlight at his feet a dagger so
like the one I had lately handled in Mrs. Webb's yard that I was
overwhelmed with astonishment, and surveyed the aged and feeble form of
the man who had dropped it with a sensation difficult to describe. The
next moment he was stooping for the weapon, with a startled air that has
impressed itself distinctly upon my memory, and when, after many feeble
attempts, he succeeded in grasping it, he vanished into the house so
suddenly that I could not be sure whether or not he had seen me standing
there.

"All this was more than surprising to me, for I had never thought of
associating an old man with this crime. Indeed, I was so astonished to
find him in possession of this weapon that I forgot all about my errand
and only wondered how I could see and know more. Fearing detection, I
slid in amongst the bushes and soon found myself under one of the
windows. The shade was down and I was about to push it aside when I
heard someone moving about inside and stopped. But I could not restrain
my curiosity, so pulling a hairpin from my hair, I worked a little hole
in the shade and through this I looked into a room brightly illumined by
the moon which shone in through an adjoining window. And what did I see
there?" Her eye turned on Frederick. His right hand had stolen toward
his left, but it paused under her look and remained motionless. "Only an
old man sitting at a table and--" Why did she pause, and why did she
cover up that pause with a wholly inconsequential sentence? Perhaps
Frederick could have told, Frederick, whose hand had now fallen at his
side. But Frederick volunteered nothing, and no one, not even
Sweetwater, guessed all that lay beyond that AND which was left hovering
in the air to be finished--- when? Alas! had she not set the day and the
hour?

What she did say was in seeming explanation of her previous sentence.
"It was not the same old man I had seen on the doorstep, and while I was
looking at him I became aware of someone leaving the house and passing
me on the road up-hill. Of course this ended my interest in what went on
within, and turning as quickly as I could I hurried into the road and
followed the shadow I could just perceive disappearing in the woods
above me. I was bound, gentlemen, as you see, to follow out my adventure
to the end. But my task now became very difficult, for the moon was high
and shone down upon the road so distinctly that I could not follow the
person before me as closely as I wished without running the risk of
being discovered by him. I therefore trusted more to my ear than to my
eye, and as long as I could hear his steps in front of me I was
satisfied. But presently, as we turned up this very hill, I ceased to
hear these steps and so became confident that he had taken to the woods.
I was so sure of this that I did not hesitate to enter them myself, and,
knowing the paths well, as I have every opportunity of doing, living, as
we do, directly opposite this forest, I easily found my way to the
little clearing that I have reason to think you gentlemen have since
become acquainted with. But though from the sounds I heard I was assured
that the person I was following was not far in advance of me, I did not
dare to enter this brilliantly illumined space, especially as there was
every indication of this person having completed whatever task he had
set for himself. Indeed, I was sure that I heard his steps coming back.
So, for the second time, I crouched down in the darkest place I could
find and let this mysterious person pass me. When he had quite
disappeared, I made my own retreat, for it was late, and I was afraid of
being missed at the ball. But later, or rather the next day, I recrossed
the road and began a search for the money which I was confident had been
left in the woods opposite, by the person I had been following. I found
it, and when the man here present who, though a mere fiddler, has
presumed to take a leading part in this interview, came upon me with the
bills in my hand, I was but burying deeper the ill-gotten gains I had
come upon."

"Ah, and so making them your own," quoth Sweetwater, stung by the
sarcasm in that word fiddler.

But with a suavity against which every attack fell powerless, she met
his significant look with one fully as significant, and quietly said:

"If I had wanted the money for myself I would not have risked leaving it
where the murderer could find it by digging up a few handfuls of mould
and a bunch of sodden leaves. No, I had another motive for my action, a
motive with which few, if any, of you will be willing to credit me. I
wished to save the murderer, whom I had some reason, as you see, for
thinking I knew, from the consequences of his own action."

Mr. Courtney, Dr. Talbot, and even Mr. Sutherland, who naturally
believed she referred to Zabel, and who, one and all, had a lingering
tenderness for this unfortunate old man, which not even this seeming act
of madness on his part could quite destroy, felt a species of reaction
at this, and surveyed the singular being before them with, perhaps, the
slightest shade of relenting in their severity. Sweetwater alone
betrayed restlessness, Knapp showed no feeling at all, while Frederick
stood like one petrified, and moved neither hand nor foot.

"Crime is despicable when it results from cupidity only," she went on,
with a deliberateness so hard that the more susceptible of her auditors
shuddered. "But crime that springs from some imperative and overpowering
necessity of the mind or body might well awaken sympathy, and I am not
ashamed of having been sorry for this frenzied and suffering man. Weak
and impulsive as you may consider me, I did not want him to suffer on
account of a moment's madness, as he undoubtedly would if he were ever
found with Agatha Webb's money in his possession, so I plunged it deeper
into the soil and trusted to the confusion which crime always awakens
even in the strongest mind, for him not to discover its hiding-place
till the danger connected with it was over."

"Ha! wonderful! Devilish subtle, eh? Clever, too clever!" were some of
the whispered exclamations which this curious explanation on her part
brought out. Yet only Sweetwater showed his open and entire disbelief of
the story, the others possibly remembering that for such natures as hers
there is no governing law and no commonplace interpretation.

To Sweetwater, however, this was but so much display of feminine
resource and subtlety. Though he felt he should keep still in the
presence of men so greatly his superiors, he could not resist saying:

"Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. I should never have
attributed any such motive as you mention to the young girl I saw
leaving this spot with many a backward glance at the hole from which we
afterwards extracted the large sum of money in question. But say that
this reburying of stolen funds was out of consideration for the feeble
old man you describe as having carried them there, do you not see that
by this act you can be held as an accessory after the fact?"

Her eyebrows went up and the delicate curve of her lips was not without
menace as she said:

"You hate me, Mr. Sweetwater. Do you wish me to tell these gentlemen
why?"

The flush which, notwithstanding this peculiar young man's nerve,
instantly crimsoned his features, was a surprise to Frederick. So was it
to the others, who saw in it a possible hint as to the real cause of his
persistent pursuit of this young girl, which they had hitherto ascribed
entirely to his love of justice. Slighted love makes some hearts
venomous. Could this ungainly fellow have once loved and been disdained
by this bewitching piece of unreliability?

It was a very possible assumption, though Sweetwater's blush was the
only answer he gave to her question, which nevertheless had amply served
its turn.

To fill the gap caused by his silence, Mr. Sutherland made an effort and
addressed her himself.

"Your conduct," said he, "has not been that of a strictly honourable
person. Why did you fail to give the alarm when you re-entered my house
after being witness to this double tragedy?"

Her serenity was not to be disturbed.

"I have just explained," she reminded him, "that I had sympathy for the
criminal."

"We all have sympathy for James Zabel, but--"

"I do not believe one word of this story," interposed Sweetwater, in
reckless disregard of proprieties. "A hungry, feeble old man, like
Zabel, on the verge of death, could not have found his way into these
woods. You carried the money there yourself, miss; you are the--"

"Hush!" interposed the coroner, authoritatively; "do not let us go too
fast--yet. Miss Page has an air of speaking the truth, strange and
unaccountable as it may seem. Zabel was an admirable man once, and if he
was led into theft and murder, it was not until his faculties had been
weakened by his own suffering and that of his much-loved brother."

"Thank you," was her simple reply; and for the first time every man
there thrilled at her tone. Seeing it, all the dangerous fascination of
her look and manner returned upon her with double force. "I have been
unwise," said she, "and let my sympathy run away with my judgment. Women
have impulses of this kind sometimes, and men blame them for it, till
they themselves come to the point of feeling the need of just such blind
devotion. I am sure I regret my short-sightedness now, for I have lost
esteem by it, while he--" With a wave of the hand she dismissed the
subject, and Dr. Talbot, watching her, felt a shade of his distrust
leave him, and in its place a species of admiration for the lithe,
graceful, bewitching personality before them, with her childish impulses
and womanly wit which half mystified and half imposed upon them.

Mr. Sutherland, on the contrary, was neither charmed from his antagonism
nor convinced of her honesty. There was something in this matter that
could not be explained away by her argument, and his suspicion of that
something he felt perfectly sure was shared by his son, toward whose
cold, set face he had frequently cast the most uneasy glances. He was
not ready, however, to probe into the subject more deeply, nor could he,
for the sake of Frederick, urge on to any further confession a young
woman whom his unhappy son professed to love, and in whose discretion he
had so little confidence. As for Sweetwater, he had now fully recovered
his self-possession, and bore himself with great discretion when Dr.
Talbot finally said:

"Well, gentlemen, we have got more than we expected when we came here
this morning. There remains, however, a point regarding which we have
received no explanation. Miss Page, how came that orchid, which I am
told you wore in your hair at the dance, to be found lying near the hem
of Batsy's skirts? You distinctly told us that you did not go up-stairs
when you were in Mrs. Webb's house."

"Ah, that's so!" acquiesced the Boston detective dryly. "How came that
flower on the scene of the murder?"

She smiled and seemed equal to the emergency.

"That is a mystery for us all to solve," she said quietly, frankly
meeting the eyes of her questioner.

"A mystery it is your business to solve," corrected the district
attorney. "Nothing that you have told us in support of your innocence
would, in the eyes of the law, weigh for one instant against the
complicity shown by that one piece of circumstantial evidence against
you."

Her smile carried a certain high-handed denial of this to one heart
there, at least. But her words were humble enough.

"I am aware of that," said she. Then, turning to where Sweetwater stood
lowering upon her from out his half-closed eyes, she impetuously
exclaimed: "You, sir, who, with no excuse an honourable person can
recognise, have seen fit to arrogate to yourself duties wholly out of
your province, prove yourself equal to your presumption by ferreting
out, alone and unassisted, the secret of this mystery. It can be done,
for, mark, _I_ did not carry that flower into the room where it was
found. This I am ready to assert before God and before man!"

Her hand was raised, her whole attitude spoke defiance and--hard as it
was for Sweetwater to acknowledge it--truth. He felt that he had
received a challenge, and with a quick glance at Knapp, who barely
responded by a shrug, he shifted over to the side of Dr. Talbot.

Amabel at once dropped her hand.

"May I go?" she now cried appealingly to Mr. Courtney. "I really have no
more to say, and I am tired."

"Did you see the figure of the man who brushed by you in the wood? Was
it that of the old man you saw on the doorstep?"

At this direct question Frederick quivered in spite of his dogged
self-control. But she, with her face upturned to meet the scrutiny of
the speaker, showed only a childish kind of wonder. "Why do you ask
that? Is there any doubt about its being the same?"

What an actress she was! Frederick stood appalled. He had been amazed at
the skill with which she had manipulated her story so as to keep her
promise to him, and yet leave the way open for that further confession
which would alter the whole into a denunciation of himself which he
would find it difficult, if not impossible, to meet. But this extreme
dissimulation made him lose heart. It showed her to be an antagonist of
almost illimitable resource and secret determination.

"I did not suppose there could be any doubt," she added, in such a
natural tone of surprise that Mr. Courtney dropped the subject, and Dr.
Talbot turned to Sweetwater, who for the moment seemed to have robbed
Knapp of his rightful place as the coroner's confidant.

"Shall we let her go for the present?" he whispered. "She does look
tired, poor girl."

The public challenge which Sweetwater had received made him wary, and
his reply was a guarded one:

"I do not trust her, yet there is much to confirm her story. Those
sandwiches, now. She says she dropped them in Mrs. Webb's yard under the
pear tree, and that the bag that held them burst open. Gentlemen, the
birds were so busy there on the morning after the murder that I could
not but notice them, notwithstanding my absorption in greater matters. I
remember wondering what they were all pecking at so eagerly. But how
about the flower whose presence on the scene of guilt she challenges me
to explain? And the money so deftly reburied by her? Can any explanation
make her other than accessory to a crime on whose fruits she lays her
hand in a way tending solely to concealment? No, sirs; and so I shall
not relax my vigilance over her, even if, in order to be faithful to it,
I have to suggest that a warrant be made out for her imprisonment."

"You are right," acquiesced the coroner, and turning to Miss Page, he
told her she was too valuable a witness to be lost sight of, and
requested her to prepare to accompany him into town.

She made no objection. On the contrary her cheeks dimpled, and she
turned away with alacrity towards her room. But before the door closed
on her she looked back, and, with a persuasive smile, remarked that she
had told all she knew, or thought she knew at the time. But that
perhaps, after thinking the matter carefully over, she might remember
some detail that would throw some extra light on the subject.

"Call her back!" cried Mr. Courtney. "She is withholding something. Let
us hear it all."

But Mr. Sutherland, with a side look at Frederick, persuaded the
district attorney to postpone all further examination of this artful
girl until they were alone. The anxious father had noted, what the rest
were too preoccupied to observe, that Frederick had reached the limit of
his strength and could not be trusted to preserve his composure any
longer in face of this searching examination into the conduct of a woman
from whom he had so lately detached himself.



XIX

POOR PHILEMON


The next day was the day of Agatha's funeral. She was to be buried in
Portchester, by the side of her six children, and, as the day was fine,
the whole town, as by common consent, assembled in the road along which
the humble cortege was to make its way to the spot indicated.

From the windows of farmhouses, from between the trees of the few
scattered thickets along the way, saddened and curious faces looked
forth till Sweetwater, who walked as near as he dared to the immediate
friends of the deceased, felt the impossibility of remembering them all
and gave up the task in despair.

Before one house, about a mile out of town, the procession paused, and
at a gesture from the minister everyone within sight took off their
hats, amid a hush which made almost painfully apparent the twittering of
birds and the other sounds of animate and inanimate nature, which are
inseparable from a country road. They had reached widow Jones's cottage
in which Philemon was then staying.

The front door was closed, and so were the lower windows, but in one of
the upper casements a movement was perceptible, and in another instant
there came into view a woman and man, supporting between them the
impassive form of Agatha's husband. Holding him up in plain sight of the
almost breathless throng below, the woman pointed to where his darling
lay and appeared to say something to him.

Then there was to be seen a strange sight. The old man, with his thin
white locks fluttering in the breeze, leaned forward with a smile, and
holding out his arms, cried in a faint but joyful tone: "Agatha!" Then,
as if realising for the first time that it was death he looked upon, and
that the crowd below was a funeral procession, his face altered and he
fell back with a low heartbroken moan into the arms of those who
supported him.

As his white head disappeared from sight, the procession moved on, and
from only one pair of lips went up that groan of sorrow with which every
heart seemed surcharged. One groan. From whose lips did it come?
Sweetwater endeavoured to ascertain, but was not able, nor could anyone
inform him, unless it was Mr. Sutherland, whom he dared not approach.

This gentleman was on foot like the rest, with his arm fast linked in
that of his son Frederick. He had meant to ride, for the distance was
long for men past sixty; but finding the latter resolved to walk, he had
consented to do the same rather than be separated from his son.

He had fears for Frederick--he could hardly have told why; and as the
ceremony proceeded and Agatha was solemnly laid away in the place
prepared for her, his sympathies grew upon him to such an extent that he
found it difficult to quit the young man for a moment, or even to turn
his eyes away from the face he had never seemed to know till now. But as
friends and strangers were now leaving the yard, he controlled himself,
and assuming a more natural demeanour, asked his son if he were now
ready to ride back. But, to his astonishment, Frederick replied that he
did not intend to return to Sutherlandtown at present; that he had
business in Portchester, and that he was doubtful as to when he would be
ready to return. As the old gentleman did not wish to raise a
controversy, he said nothing, but as soon as he saw Frederick disappear
up the road, he sent back the carriage he had ordered, saying that he
would return in a Portchester gig as soon as he had settled some affairs
of his own, which might and might not detain him there till evening.

Then he proceeded to a little inn, where he hired a room with windows
that looked out on the high-road. In one of these windows he sat all
day, watching for Frederick, who had gone farther up the road.

But no Frederick appeared, and with vague misgivings, for which as yet
he had no name, he left the window and set out on foot for home.

It was now dark, but a silvery gleam on the horizon gave promise of the
speedy rising of a full moon. Otherwise he would not have attempted to
walk over a road proverbially dark and dismal.

The churchyard in which they had just laid away Agatha lay in his
course. As he approached it he felt his heart fail, and stopping a
moment at the stone wall that separated it from the high-road, he leaned
against the trunk of a huge elm that guarded the gate of entrance. As he
did so he heard a sound of repressed sobbing from some spot not very far
away, and, moved by some undefinable impulse stronger than his will, he
pushed open the gate and entered the sacred precincts.

Instantly the weirdness and desolation of the spot struck him. He
wished, yet dreaded, to advance. Something in the grief of the mourner
whose sobs he had heard had seized upon his heart-strings, and yet, as
he hesitated, the sounds came again, and forgetting that his intrusion
might not prove altogether welcome, he pressed forward, till he came
within a few feet of the spot from which the sobs issued.

He had moved quietly, feeling the awesomeness of the place, and when he
paused it was with a sensation of dread, not to be entirely explained by
the sad and dismal surroundings. Dark as it was, he discerned the
outline of a form lying stretched in speechless misery across a grave;
but when, impelled by an almost irresistible compassion, he strove to
speak, his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth and he only drew back
farther into the shadow.

He had recognised the mourner and the grave. The mourner was Frederick
and the grave that of Agatha Webb.

A few minutes later Mr. Sutherland reappeared at the door of the inn,
and asked for a gig and driver to take him back to Sutherlandtown. He
said, in excuse for his indecision, that he had undertaken to walk, but
had found his strength inadequate to the exertion. He was looking very
pale, and trembled so that the landlord, who took his order, asked him
if he were ill. But Mr. Sutherland insisted that he was quite well, only
in a hurry, and showed the greatest impatience till he was again started
upon the road.

For the first half-mile he sat perfectly silent. The moon was now up,
and the road stretched before them, flooded with light. As long as no
one was to be seen on this road, or on the path running beside it, Mr.
Sutherland held himself erect, his eyes fixed before him, in an attitude
of anxious inquiry. But as soon as any sound came to break the silence,
or there appeared in the distance ahead of them the least appearance of
a plodding wayfarer, he drew back, and hid himself in the recesses of
the vehicle. This happened several times. Then his whole manner changed.
They had just passed Frederick, walking, with bowed head, toward
Sutherlandtown.

But he was not the only person on the road at this time. A few minutes
previously they had passed another man walking in the same direction. As
Mr. Sutherland mused over this he found himself peering through the
small window at the back of the buggy, striving to catch another glimpse
of the two men plodding behind him. He could see them both, his son's
form throwing its long shadow over the moonlit road, followed only too
closely by the man whose ungainly shape he feared to acknowledge to
himself was growing only too familiar in his eyes.

Falling into a troubled reverie, he beheld the well-known houses, and
the great trees under whose shadow he had grown from youth to manhood,
flit by him like phantoms in a dream. But suddenly one house and one
place drew his attention with a force that startled him again into an
erect attitude, and seizing with one hand the arm of the driver, he
pointed with the other at the door of the cottage they were passing,
saying in choked tones:

"See! see! Something dreadful has happened since we passed by here this
morning. That is crape, Samuel, crape, hanging from the doorpost
yonder!"

"Yes, it is crape," answered the driver, jumping out and running up the
path to look. "Philemon must be dead; the good Philemon."

Here was a fresh blow. Mr. Sutherland bowed before it for a moment, then
he rose hurriedly and stepped down into the road beside the driver.

"Get in again," said he, "and drive on. Ride a half-mile, then come back
for me. I must see the widow Jones."

The driver, awed both by the occasion and the feeling it had called up
in Mr. Sutherland, did as he was bid and drove away. Mr. Sutherland,
with a glance back at the road he had just traversed, walked painfully
up the path to Mrs. Jones's door.

A moment's conversation with the woman who answered his summons proved
the driver's supposition to be correct. Philemon had passed away. He had
never rallied from the shock he had received. He had joined his beloved
Agatha on the day of her burial, and the long tragedy of their mutual
life was over.

"It is a mercy that no inheritor of their misfortune remains," quoth the
good woman, as she saw the affliction her tidings caused in this
much-revered friend.

The assent Mr. Sutherland gave was mechanical. He was anxiously studying
the road leading toward Portchester.

Suddenly he stepped hastily into the house.

"Will you be so good as to let me sit down in your parlour for a few
minutes?" he asked. "I should like to rest there for an instant alone.
This final blow has upset me."

The good woman bowed. Mr. Sutherland's word was law in that town. She
did not even dare to protest against the ALONE which he had so pointedly
emphasised, but left him after making him, as she said, comfortable, and
went back to her duties in the room above.

It was fortunate she was so amenable to his wishes, for no sooner had
her steps ceased to be heard than Mr. Sutherland rose from the
easy-chair in which he had been seated, and, putting out the lamp widow
Jones had insisted on lighting, passed directly to the window, through
which he began to peer with looks of the deepest anxiety.

A man was coming up the road, a young man, Frederick. As Mr. Sutherland
recognised him he leaned forward with increased anxiety, till at the
appearance of his son in front his scrutiny grew so strained and
penetrating that it seemed to exercise a magnetic influence upon
Frederick, causing him to look up.

The glance he gave the house was but momentary, but in that glance the
father saw all that he had secretly dreaded. As his son's eye fell on
that fluttering bit of crape, testifying to another death in this
already much-bereaved community, he staggered wildly, then in a pause of
doubt drew nearer and nearer till his fingers grasped this symbol of
mourning and clung there. Next moment he was far down the road, plunging
toward home in a state of great mental disorder.

A half-hour afterwards Mr. Sutherland reached home. He had not overtaken
Frederick again, or even his accompanying shadow. Ascertaining at his
own door that his son had not yet come in, but had been seen going
farther up the hill, he turned back again into the road and proceeded
after him on foot.

The next place to his own was occupied by Mr. Halliday. As he approached
it he caught sight of a man standing half in and half out of the
honeysuckle porch, whom he at first thought to be Frederick. But he soon
saw that it was the fellow who had been following his son all the way
from Portchester, and, controlling his first movement of dislike, he
stepped up to him and quietly said:

"Sweetwater, is this you?"

The young man fell back and showed a most extraordinary agitation,
quickly suppressed, however. "Yes, sir, it is no one else. Do you know
what I am doing here?"

"I fear I do. You have been to Portchester. You have seen my son--"

Sweetwater made a hurried, almost an entreating, gesture.

"Never mind that, Mr. Sutherland. I had rather you wouldn't say anything
about that. I am as much broken up by what I have seen as you are. I
never suspected him of having any direct connection with this murder;
only the girl to whom he has so unfortunately attached himself. But
after what I have seen, what am I to think? what am I to do? I honour
you; I would not grieve you; but--but--oh, sir, perhaps you can help me
out of the maze into which I have stumbled. Perhaps you can assure me
that Mr. Frederick did not leave the ball at the time she did. I missed
him from among the dancers. I did not see him between twelve and three,
but perhaps you did; and--and--"

His voice broke. He was almost as profoundly agitated as Mr. Sutherland.
As for the latter, who found himself unable to reassure the other on
this very vital point, having no remembrance himself of having seen
Frederick among his guests during those fatal hours, he stood
speechless, lost in abysses, the depth and horror of which only a father
can appreciate. Sweetwater respected his anguish and for a moment was
silent himself. Then he burst out:

"I had rather never lived to see this day than be the cause of shame or
suffering to you. Tell me what to do. Shall I be deaf, dumb--"

Here Mr. Sutherland found voice.

"You make too much of what you saw," said he. "My boy has faults and has
lived anything but a satisfactory life, but he is not as bad as you
would intimate. He can never have taken life. That would be incredible,
monstrous, in one brought up as he has been. Besides, if he were so far
gone in evil as to be willing to attempt crime, he had no motive to do
so; Sweetwater, he had no motive. A few hundred dollars but these he
could have got from me, and did, but--"

Why did the wretched father stop? Did he recall the circumstances under
which Frederick had obtained these last hundreds from him? They were not
ordinary circumstances, and Frederick had been in no ordinary strait.
Mr. Sutherland could not but acknowledge to himself that there was
something in this whole matter which contradicted the very plea he was
making, and not being able to establish the conviction of his son's
innocence in his own mind, he was too honourable to try to establish it
in that of another. His next words betrayed the depth of his struggle:

"It is that girl who has ruined him, Sweetwater. He loves but doubts
her, as who could help doing after the story she told us day before
yesterday? Indeed, he has doubted her ever since that fatal night, and
it is this which has broken his heart, and not--not--" Again the old
gentleman paused; again he recovered himself, this time with a touch of
his usual dignity and self-command. "Leave me," he cried. "Nothing that
you have seen has escaped me; but our interpretations of it may differ.
I will watch over my son from this hour, and you may trust my
vigilance."

Sweetwater bowed.

"You have a right to command me," said he. "You may have forgotten, but
I have not, that I owe my life to you. Years ago--perhaps you can recall
it--it was at the Black Pond--I was going down for the third time and my
mother was screaming in terror on the bank, when you plunged in
and--Well, sir, such things are never forgotten, and, as I said before,
you have only to command me." He turned to go, but suddenly came back.
There were signs of mental conflict in his face and voice. "Mr.
Sutherland, I am not a talkative man. If I trust your vigilance you may
trust my discretion. Only I must have your word that you will convey no
warning to your son."

Mr. Sutherland made an indefinable gesture, and Sweetwater again
disappeared, this time not to return. As for Mr. Sutherland, he remained
standing before Mr. Halliday's door. What had the young man meant by
this emphatic repetition of his former suggestion? That he would be
quiet, also, and not speak of what he had seen? Why, then--But to the
hope thus given, this honest-hearted gentleman would yield no quarter,
and seeing a duty before him, a duty he dare not shirk, he brought his
emotions, violent as they were, into complete and absolute subjection,
and, opening Mr. Halliday's door, entered the house. They were old
neighbours, and ceremony was ignored between them.

Finding the hall empty and the parlour door open he walked immediately
into the latter room. The sight that met his eyes never left his memory.
Agnes, his little Agnes, whom he had always loved and whom he had vainly
longed to call by the endearing name of daughter, sat with her face
towards him, looking up at Frederick. That young gentleman had just
spoken to her, or she had just received something from his hand for her
own was held out and her expression was one of gratitude and acceptance.
She was not a beautiful girl, but she had a beautiful look, and at this
moment it was exalted by a feeling the old gentleman had once longed,
but now dreaded inexpressibly, to see there. What could it mean? Why did
she show at this unhappy crisis, interest, devotion, passion almost, for
one she had regarded with open scorn when it was the dearest wish of his
heart to see them united? It was one of the contradictions of our
mysterious human nature, and at this crisis and in this moment of secret
heart-break and miserable doubt it made the old gentleman shrink, with
his first feeling of actual despair.

The next moment Agnes had risen and they were both facing him.

"Good-evening, Agnes."

Mr. Sutherland forced himself to speak lightly.

"Ah, Frederick, do I find you here?" The latter question had more
constraint in it.

Frederick smiled. There was an air of relief about him, almost of
cheerfulness.

"I was just leaving," said he. "I was the bearer of a message to Miss
Halliday." He had always called her Agnes before.

Mr. Sutherland, who had found his faculties confused by the expression
he had surprised on the young girl's face, answered with a divided
attention:

"And I have a message to give you. Wait outside on the porch for me,
Frederick, till I exchange a word with our little friend here."

Agnes, who had thrust something she held into a box that lay beside her
on a table, turned with a confused blush to listen.

Mr. Sutherland waited till Frederick had stepped into the hall. Then he
drew Agnes to one side and remorselessly, persistently, raised her face
toward him till she was forced to meet his benevolent but searching
regard.

"Do you know," he whispered, in what he endeavoured to make a bantering
tone, "how very few days it is since that unhappy boy yonder confessed
his love for a young lady whose name I cannot bring myself to utter in
your presence?"

The intent was kind, but the effect was unexpectedly cruel. With a droop
of her head and a hurried gasp which conveyed a mixture of entreaty and
reproach, Agnes drew back in a vague endeavour to hide her sudden
uneasiness. He saw his mistake, and let his hands drop.

"Don't, my dear," he whispered. "I had no idea it would hurt you to hear
this. You have always seemed indifferent, hard even, toward my
scapegrace son. And this was right, for--for--" What could he say, how
express one-tenth of that with which his breast was labouring! He could
not, he dared not, so ended, as we have intimated, by a confused
stammering.

Agnes, who had never before seen this object of her lifelong admiration
under any serious emotion, felt an impulse of remorse, as if she herself
had been guilty of occasioning him embarrassment. Plucking up her
courage, she wistfully eyed him.

"Did you imagine," she murmured, "that I needed any warning against
Frederick, who has never honoured me with his regard, as he has the
young lady you cannot mention? I'm afraid you don't know me, Mr.
Sutherland, notwithstanding I have sat on your knee and sometimes
plucked at your beard in my infantile insistence upon attention."

"I am afraid I don't know you," he answered. "I feel that I know nobody
now, not even my son."

He had hoped she would look up at this, but she did not.

"Will my little girl think me very curious and very impertinent if I ask
her what my son Frederick was saying when I came into the room?"

She looked up now, and with visible candour answered him immediately and
to the point:

"Frederick is in trouble, Mr. Sutherland. He has felt the need of a
friend who could appreciate this, and he has asked me to be that friend.
Besides, he brought me a packet of letters which he entreated me to keep
for him. I took them, Mr. Sutherland, and I will keep them as he asked
me to do, safe from everybody's inspection, even my own."

Oh! why had he questioned her? He did not want to know of these letters;
he did not want to know that Frederick possessed anything which he was
afraid to retain in his own possession.

"My son did wrong," said he, "to confide anything to your care which he
did not desire to retain in his own home. I feel that I ought to see
these letters, for if my son is in trouble, as you say, I, his father,
ought to know it."

"I am not sure about that," she smiled. "His trouble may be of a
different nature than you imagine. Frederick has led a life that he
regrets. I think his chief source of suffering lies in the fact that it
is so hard for him to make others believe that he means to do
differently in the future."

"Does he mean to do differently?"

She flushed. "He says so, Mr. Sutherland. And I, for one, cannot help
believing him. Don't you see that he begins to look like another man?"

Mr. Sutherland was taken aback. He had noticed this fact, and had found
it a hard one to understand. To ascertain what her explanation of it
might be, he replied at once:

"There is a change in him--a very evident change. What is the occasion
of it? To what do you ascribe it, Agnes?"

How breathlessly he waited for her answer! Had she any suspicion of the
awful doubts which were so deeply agitating himself that night? She did
not appear to have.

"I hesitate," she faltered, "but not from any doubt of Frederick, to
tell you just what I think lies at the bottom of the sudden change
observable in him. Miss Page (you see, I can name her, if you cannot)
has proved herself so unworthy of his regard that the shock he has
received has opened his eyes to certain failings of his own which made
his weakness in her regard possible. I do not know of any other
explanation. Do you?"

At this direct question, breathed though it was by tender lips, and
launched in ignorance of the barb which carried it to his heart, Mr.
Sutherland recoiled and cast an anxious look upon the door. Then with
forced composure he quietly said: "If you who are so much nearer his
age, and, let me hope, his sympathy, do not feel sure of his real
feelings, how should I, who am his father, but have never been his
confidant?"

"Oh," she cried, holding out her hands, "such a good father! Some day he
will appreciate that fact as well as others. Believe it, Mr. Sutherland,
believe it." And then, ashamed of her glowing interest, which was a
little more pronounced than became her simple attitude of friend toward
a man professedly in love with another woman, she faltered and cast the
shyest of looks upward at the face she had never seen turned toward her
with anything but kindness. "I have confidence in Frederick's good
heart," she added, with something like dignity.

"Would God that I could share it!" was the only answer she received.
Before she could recover from the shock of these words, Mr. Sutherland
was gone.

Agnes was more or less disconcerted by this interview. There was a
lingering in her step that night, as she trod the little white-embowered
chamber sacred to her girlish dreams, which bespake an overcharged
heart; a heart that, before she slept, found relief in these few words
whispered by her into the night air, laden with the sweetness of
honeysuckles:

"Can it be that he is right? Did I need such a warning,--I, who have
hated this man, and who thought that it was my hatred which made it
impossible for me to think of anything or anybody else since we parted
from each other last night? O me, if it is so!"

And from the great, wide world without, tremulous with moonlight, the
echo seemed to come back:

"Woe to thee, Agnes Halliday, if this be so!"



XX

A SURPRISE FOR MR. SUTHERLAND


Meanwhile Mr. Sutherland and Frederick stood facing each other in the
former's library. Nothing had been said during their walk down the hill,
and nothing seemed likely to proceed from Frederick now, though his
father waited with great and growing agitation for some explanation that
would relieve the immense strain on his heart. At last he himself spoke,
dryly, as we all speak when the heart is fullest and we fear to reveal
the depth of our emotions.

"What papers were those you gave into Agnes Halliday's keeping? Anything
which we could not have more safely, not to say discreetly, harboured in
our own house?"

Frederick, taken aback, for he had not realised that his father had seen
these papers, hesitated for a moment; then he boldly said:

"They were letters--old letters--which I felt to be better out of this
house than in it. I could not destroy them, so I gave them into the
guardianship of the most conscientious person I know. I hope you won't
demand to see those letters. Indeed, sir, I hope you won't demand to see
them. They were not written for your eye, and I would rather rest under
your displeasure than have them in any way made public."

Frederick showed such earnestness, rather than fear, that Mr. Sutherland
was astonished.

"When were these letters written?" he asked. "Lately, or before--You say
they are old; how old?"

Frederick's breath came easier.

"Some of them were written years ago--most of them, in fact. It is a
personal matter--every man has such. I wish I could have destroyed them.
You will leave them with Agnes, sir?"

"You astonish me," said Mr. Sutherland, relieved that he could at least
hope that these letters were in nowise connected with the subject of his
own frightful suspicions. "A young girl, to whom you certainly were most
indifferent a week ago, is a curious guardian of letters you decline to
show your father."

"I know it," was Frederick's sole reply.

Somehow the humility with which this was uttered touched Mr. Sutherland
and roused hopes he had supposed dead. He looked his son for the first
time directly in the eye, and with a beating heart said:

"Your secrets, if you have such, might better be entrusted to your
father. You have no better friend--" and there he stopped with a
horrified, despairing feeling of inward weakness. If Frederick had
committed a crime, anything would be better than knowing it. Turning
partially aside, he fingered the papers on the desk before which he was
standing. A large envelope, containing some legal document, lay before
him. Taking it up mechanically, he opened it. Frederick as mechanically
watched him.

"I know," said the latter, "that I have no better friend. You have been
too good, too indulgent. What is it, father? You change colour, look
ill, what is there in that paper?"

Mr. Sutherland straightened himself; there was a great reserve of
strength in this broken-down man yet. Fixing Frederick with a gaze more
penetrating than any he had yet bestowed upon him, he folded his hands
behind him with the document held tightly between them, and remarked:

"When you borrowed that money from me you did it like a man who expected
to repay it. Why? Whence did you expect to receive the money with which
to repay me? Answer, Frederick; this is your hour for confession."

Frederick turned so pale his father dropped his eyes in mercy.

"Confess?" he repeated. "What should I confess? My sins? They are too
many. As for that money, I hoped to return it as any son might hope to
reimburse his father for money advanced to pay a gambler's debt. I said
I meant to work. My first money earned shall be offered to you. I--"

"Well? Well?" His father was holding the document he had just read,
opened out before his eyes.

"Didn't you expect THIS?" he asked. "Didn't you know that that poor
woman, that wretchedly murdered, most unhappy woman, whose death the
whole town mourns, had made you her heir? That by the terms of this
document, seen by me here and now for the first time, I am made executor
and you the inheritor of the one hundred thousand dollars or more left
by Agatha Webb?"

"No!" cried Frederick, his eyes glued to the paper, his whole face and
form expressing something more akin to terror than surprise. "Has she
done this? Why should she? I hardly knew her."

"No, you hardly knew her. And she? She hardly knew you; if she had she
would have abhorred rather than enriched you. Frederick, I had rather
see you dead than stand before me the inheritor of Philemon and Agatha
Webb's hard-earned savings."

"You are right; it would be better," murmured Frederick, hardly heeding
what he said. Then, as he encountered his father's eye resting upon him
with implacable scrutiny, he added, in weak repetition: "Why should she
give her money to me? What was I to her that she should will me her
fortune?"

The father's finger trembled to a certain line in the document, which
seemed to offer some explanation of this; but Frederick did not follow
it. He had seen that his father was expecting a reply to the question he
had previously put, and he was casting about in his mind how to answer
it.

"When did you know of this will?" Mr. Sutherland now repeated. "For know
of it you did before you came to me for money."

Frederick summoned up his full courage and confronted his father
resolutely.

"No," said he, "I did not know of it. It is as much of a surprise to me
as it is to you."

He lied. Mr. Sutherland knew that he lied and Frederick knew that he
knew it. A shadow fell between them, which the older, with that
unspeakable fear upon him roused by Sweetwater's whispered suspicions,
dared no longer attempt to lift.

After a few minutes in which Frederick seemed to see his father age
before his eyes, Mr. Sutherland coldly remarked:

"Dr. Talbot must know of this will. It has been sent here to me from
Boston by a lawyer who drew it up two years ago. The coroner may not as
yet have heard of it. Will you accompany me to his office to-morrow? I
should like to have him see that we wish to be open with him in an
affair of such importance."

"I will accompany you gladly," said Frederick, and seeing that his
father neither wished nor was able to say anything further, he bowed
with distant ceremony as to a stranger and quietly withdrew. But when
the door had closed between them and only the memory of his father's
changed countenance remained to trouble him, he paused and laid his hand
again on the knob, as if tempted to return. But he left without doing
so, only to turn again at the end of the hall and gaze wistfully back.
Yet he went on.

As he opened his own door and disappeared within, he said half audibly:

"Easy to destroy me now, Amabel. One word and I am lost!"



BOOK II

THE MAN OF NO REPUTATION


XXI

SWEETWATER REASONS


And what of Sweetwater, in whose thoughts and actions the interest now
centres?

When he left Mr. Sutherland it was with feelings such as few who knew
him supposed him capable of experiencing. Unattractive as he was in
every way, ungainly in figure and unprepossessing of countenance, this
butt of the more favoured youth in town had a heart whose secret fires
were all the warmer for being so persistently covered, and this heart
was wrung with trouble and heavy with a struggle that bade fair to leave
him without rest that night, if not for many nights to come. Why? One
word will explain. Unknown to the world at large and almost unknown to
himself, his best affections were fixed upon the man whose happiness he
thus unexpectedly saw himself destined to destroy. He loved Mr.
Sutherland.

The suspicion which he now found transferred in his own mind from the
young girl whose blood-stained slippers he had purloined during the
excitement of the first alarm, to the unprincipled but only son of his
one benefactor, had not been lightly embraced or thoughtlessly
expressed. He had had time to think it out in all its bearings. During
that long walk from Portchester churchyard to Mr. Halliday's door, he
had been turning over in his mind everything that he had heard and seen
in connection with this matter, till the dim vision of Frederick's
figure going on before him was not more apparent to his sight than was
the guilt he so deplored to his inward understanding.

He could not help but recognise him as the active party in the crime he
had hitherto charged Amabel with. With the clew offered by Frederick's
secret anguish at the grave of Agatha, he could read the whole story of
this detestable crime as plainly as if it had been written in letters of
fire on the circle of the surrounding darkness. Such anguish under such
circumstances on the part of such a man could mean but one
thing--remorse; and remorse in the breast of one so proverbially
careless and corrupt, over the death of a woman who was neither relative
nor friend, could have but one interpretation, and that was guilt.

No other explanation was possible. Could one be given, or if any
evidence could be adduced in contradiction of this assumption, he would
have dismissed his new suspicion with more heartiness even than he had
embraced his former one. He did not wish to believe Frederick guilty. He
would have purchased an inner conviction of his innocence almost at the
price of his own life, not because of any latent interest in the young
man himself, but because he was Charles Sutherland's son, and the dear,
if unworthy, centre of all that noble man's hopes, aims, and happiness.
But he could come upon no fact capable of shaking his present belief.
Taking for truth Amabel's account of what she had seen and done on that
fatal night--something which he had hesitated over the previous day, but
which he now found himself forced to accept or do violence to his own
secret convictions--and adding to it such facts as had come to his own
knowledge in his self-imposed role of detective, he had but to test the
events of that night by his present theory of Frederick's guilt, to find
them hang together in a way too complete for mistake.

For what had been his reasons for charging Amabel herself with the guilt
of a crime she only professed to have been a partial witness to?

They were many.

First--The forced nature of her explanations in regard to her motive for
leaving a merry ball and betaking herself to the midnight road in her
party dress and slippers. A woman of her well-known unsympathetic nature
might use the misery of the Zabels as a pretext for slipping into town
at night, but never would be influenced by it as a motive.

Second--The equally unsatisfactory nature of the reasons she gave for
leaving the course she had marked out for herself and entering upon the
pursuit of an unknown man into a house in which she had no personal
interest and from which she had just seen a bloody dagger thrown out.
The most callous of women would have shrunk from letting her curiosity
carry her thus far.

Third--The poverty of her plea that, after having braved so much in her
desire to identify this criminal, she was so frightened at his near
approach as to fail to lift her head when the opportunity was given her
to recognise him.

Fourth--Her professed inability to account for the presence of the
orchid from her hair being found in the room with Batsy.

Fifth--Her evident attempt to throw the onus of the crime on an old man
manifestly incapable from physical causes of committing it.

Sixth--The improbability, which she herself should have recognised, of
this old man, in his extremely weak condition, ignoring the
hiding-places offered by the woods back of his own house, for the sake
of one not only involving a long walk, but situated close to a
much-frequented road, and almost in view of the Sutherland mansion.

Seventh--The transparent excuse of sympathy for the old man and her
desire to save him from the consequences of his crime, which she offered
in extenuation of her own criminal avowal of having first found and then
reburied the ill-gotten gains she had come upon in her persistent
pursuit of the flying criminal. So impulsive an act might be consistent
with the blind compassion of some weak-headed but warm-hearted woman,
but not with her self-interested nature, incapable of performing any
heroic deed save from personal motives or the most headlong passion.

Lastly--The weakness of her explanation in regard to the cause which led
her to peer into the Zabel cottage through a hole made in the
window-shade. Curiosity has its limits even in a woman's breast, and
unless she hoped to see more than was indicated by her words, her action
was but the precursor of a personal entrance into a room where we have
every reason to believe the twenty-dollar bill was left.

A telling record and sufficient to favour the theory of her personal
guilt if, after due thought, certain facts in contradiction to this
assumption had not offered themselves to his mind even before he thought
of Frederick as the unknown man she had followed down the hillside, as,
for instance:

This crime, if committed by her, was done deliberately and with a
premeditation antedating her departure from the ballroom. Yet she went
upon this errand in slippers, white slippers at that, something which so
cool and calculating a woman would have avoided, however careless she
might have shown herself in other regards.

Again, guilt awakens cunning, even in the dullest breast; but she, keen
beyond most men even, and so self-poised that the most searching
examination could not shake her self-control, betrayed an utter
carelessness as to what she did with these slippers on her return,
thrusting them into a place easily accessible to the most casual search.
Had she been conscious of guilt and thus amenable to law, the sight of
blood and mud-stains on those slippers would have appalled her, and she
would have made some attempt to destroy them, and not put them behind a
picture and forgotten them.

Again, would she have been so careless with a flower she knew to be
identified with herself? A woman who deliberately involves herself in
crime has quick eyes; she would have seen that flower fall. At all
events, if she had been immediately responsible for its being on the
scene of crime she would, with her quick wit, have found some excuse or
explanation for it, instead of defying her examiners with some such
words as these: "It is a fact for you to explain. I only know that I did
not carry this flower into that room of death."

Again, had she been actuated in her attempt to fix the crime on old
James Zabel by a personal consciousness of guilt and a personal dread,
she would not have stopped at suggestion in her allusions to the person
she watched burying the treasure in the woods. Instead of speaking of
him as a shadow whose flight she had followed at a distance, she would
have described his figure as that of the same old man she had seen enter
the Zabel cottage a few minutes before, there being no reason for
indefiniteness on this point, her conscience being sufficiently elastic
for any falsehood that would further her ends. And lastly, her manner,
under the examination to which she had been subjected, was not that of
one who felt herself under a personal attack. It was a strange,
suggestive, hesitating manner, baffling alike to him who had more or
less sounded her strange nature and to those who had no previous
knowledge of her freaks and subtle intellectual power, and only reaching
its height of hateful charm and mysterious daring when Frederick
appeared on the scene and joined, or seemed to join, himself to the
number of her examiners.

Now, let all suspicion of her as an active agent in this crime be
dropped, assume Frederick to be the culprit and she the simple accessory
after the fact, and see how inconsistencies vanish, and how much more
natural the whole conduct of this mysterious woman appears.

Amabel Page left a merry dance at midnight and stole away into the
Sutherland garden in her party dress and slippers--why? Not to fulfil an
errand which anyone who knows her cold and unsympathetic nature can but
regard as a pretext, but because she felt it imperative to see if her
lover (with whose character, temptations, and necessities she was fully
acquainted, and in whose excited and preoccupied manner she had probably
discovered signs of a secretly growing purpose) meant indeed to elude
his guests and slip away to town on the dangerous and unholy enterprise
suggested by their mutual knowledge of the money to be obtained there by
one daring enough to enter a certain house open like their own to
midnight visitors.

She followed at such an hour and into such a place, not an unknown man
casually come upon, but her lover, whom she had tracked from the garden
of his father's house, where she had lain in wait for him. It took
courage to do this, but a courage no longer beyond the limit of feminine
daring, for her fate was bound up in his and she could not but feel the
impulse to save him from the consequences of crime, if not from the
crime itself.

As for the aforementioned flower, what more natural than that Frederick
should have transferred it from her hair to his buttonhole during some
of their interviews at the ball, and that it should have fallen from its
place to the floor in the midst of his possible struggle with Batsy?

And with this assumption of her perfect knowledge as to who the man was
who had entered Mrs. Webb's house, how much easier it is to understand
why she did not lift her head when she heard him descend the stairs! No
woman, even one so depraved as she, would wish to see the handsome face
of her lover in the glare of a freshly committed crime, and besides she
might very easily be afraid of him, for a man has but a blow for the
suddenly detected witness of his crime unless that witness is his
confidant, which from every indication Sweetwater felt bound to believe
Amabel was not.

Her flight to the Zabel cottage, after an experience which would madden
most women, can now be understood. She was still following her lover.
The plan of making Agatha's old and wretched friend amenable for her
death originated with Frederick and not with Amabel. It was he who first
started for the Zabel cottage. It was he who left the bank bill there.
This is all clear, and even the one contradictory fact of the dagger
having been seen in the old man's hand was not a stumbling-block to
Sweetwater. With the audacity of one confident of his own insight, he
explained it to himself thus: The dagger thrown from the window by the
assassin, possibly because he knew of Zabel's expected visit there that
night, fell on the grass and was picked up by Amabel, only to be flung
down again in the brightest part of the lawn. It was lying there then,
when, a few minutes later and before either Frederick or Amabel had left
the house, the old man entered the yard in a state of misery bordering
on frenzy. He and his brother were starving, had been starving for days.
He was too proud to own his want, and too loyal to his brother to leave
him for the sake of the food prepared for them both at Agatha's house,
and this was why he had hesitated over his duty till this late hour,
when his own secret misery or, perhaps, the hope of relieving his
brother drove him to enter the gate he had been accustomed to see open
before him in glad hospitality. He finds the lights burning in the house
above and below, and encouraged by the welcome they seem to hold out, he
staggers up the path, ignorant of the tragedy which was at that very
moment being enacted behind those lighted windows. But half-way toward
the house he stops, the courage which has brought him so far suddenly
fails, and in one of those quick visions which sometimes visit men in
extremity, he foresees the astonishment which his emaciated figure is
likely to cause in these two old friends, and burying his face in his
hands he stops and bitterly communes with himself before venturing
farther. Fatal stop! fatal communing! for as he stands there he sees a
dagger, his own old dagger, how lost or how found he probably did not
stop to ask, lying on the grass and offering in its dumb way suggestions
as to how he might end this struggle without any further suffering.
Dizzy with the new hope, preferring death to the humiliation he saw
before him in Agatha's cottage, he dashes out of the yard, almost
upsetting Mr. Crane, who was passing by on his homeward way from an
errand of mercy. A little while later Amabel comes upon him lying across
his own doorstep. He has made an effort to enter, but his long walk and
the excitement of this last bitter hour have been too much for him. As
she watches him he gains strength and struggles to his feet, while she,
aghast at the sight of the dagger she had herself flung down in Agatha's
yard, and dreading the encounter between this old man and the lover she
had been following to this place, creeps around the house and looks into
the first window she finds open. What does she expect to see? Frederick
brought face to face with this desperate figure with its uplifted knife.
But instead of that she beholds another old man seated at a table
and--Amabel had paused when she reached that AND--and Sweetwater had not
then seen how important this pause was, but now he understood it. Now he
saw that if she had not had a subtle purpose in view, that if she had
wished to tell the truth rather than produce false inferences in the
minds of those about her calculated to save the criminal as she called
him, she would have completed her sentence thus: "I saw an old man
seated at a table and Frederick Sutherland standing over him." For
Sweetwater had no longer a doubt that Frederick was in that room at that
moment. What further she saw, whether she was witness to an encounter
between this intruder and James, or whether by some lingering on the
latter's part Frederick was able to leave the house without running
across him, was a matter of comparative unimportance. What is of
importance is that he did leave it and that Amabel, knowing it was
Frederick, strove to make her auditors believe it was Zabel, who carried
the remainder of the money into the woods. Yet she did not say so, and
if her words on this subject could be carefully recalled, one would see
that it was still her lover she was following and no old man, tottering
on the verge of the grave and only surviving because of the task he was
bent on performing.

Amabel's excuse for handling the treasure, and for her reburial of the
same, comes now within the bounds of possibility. She hoped to share
this money some day, and her greed was too great for her to let such an
amount lie there untouched, while her caution led her to bury it deeper,
even at the risk of the discovery she was too inexperienced to fear.

That she should forget to feign surprise when the alarm of murder was
raised was very natural, and so was the fact that a woman with a soul so
blunted to all delicate instincts, and with a mind so intent upon
perfecting the scheme entered into by the murderer of throwing the blame
upon the man whose dagger had been made use of, should persist in
visiting the scene of crime and calling attention to the spot where that
dagger had fallen. And so with her manner before her examiners. Baffling
as that manner was, it still showed streaks of consistency, when you
thought of it as the cloak of a subtle, unprincipled woman, who sees
amongst her interlocutors the guilty man whom by a word she can destroy,
but whom she exerts herself to save, even at the cost of a series of
bizarre explanations. She was playing with a life, a life she loved, but
not with sincerity sufficient to rob the game of a certain delicate, if
inconceivable, intellectual enjoyment. [Footnote: That Sweetwater in his
hate, and with no real clew to the real situation, should come so near
the truth as in this last supposition, shows the keenness of his
insight.]

And Frederick? Had there been anything in his former life or in his
conduct since the murder to give the lie to these heavy doubts against
him? On the contrary. Though Sweetwater knew little of the dark record
which had made this young man the disgrace of his family, what he did
know was so much against him that he could well see that the distance
usually existing between simple dissipation and desperate crime might be
easily bridged by some great necessity for money. Had there been such a
necessity? Sweetwater found it easy to believe so. And Frederick's
manner? Was it that of an honest man simply shocked by the suspicions
which had fallen upon the woman he loved? Had he, Sweetwater, not
observed certain telltale moments in his late behaviour that required a
deeper explanation even than this?

The cry, for instance, with which he had rushed from the empty ballroom
into the woods on the opposite side of the road! Was it a natural cry or
an easily explainable one? "Thank God! this terrible night is over!"
Strange language to be uttered by this man at such a time and in such a
place, if he did not already know what was to make this night of nights
memorable through all this region. He did know, and this cry which had
struck Sweetwater strangely at the time and still more strangely when he
regarded it simply as a coincidence, now took on all the force of a
revelation and the irresistible bubbling up in Frederick's breast of
that remorse which had just found its full expression on Agatha's grave.

To some that remorse and all his other signs of suffering might be
explained by his passion for the real criminal. But to Sweetwater it was
only too evident that an egotist like Frederick Sutherland cannot suffer
for another to such an extent as this, and that a personal explanation
must be given for so personal a grief, even if that explanation involves
the dreadful charge of murder.

It was when Sweetwater reached this point in his reasoning that
Frederick disappeared beneath Mr. Halliday's porch, and Mr. Sutherland
came up behind him. After the short conversation in which Sweetwater saw
his own doubts more than reflected in the uneasy consciousness of this
stricken father, he went home and the struggle of his life began.



XXII

SWEETWATER ACTS


Sweetwater had promised Mr. Sutherland that he would keep counsel in
regard to his present convictions concerning Frederick's guilt; but this
he knew he could not do if he remained in Sutherlandtown and fell under
the pitiless examination of Mr. Courtney, the shrewd and able
prosecuting attorney of the district. He was too young, too honest, and
had made himself too conspicuous in this affair to succeed in an
undertaking requiring so much dissimulation, if not actual falsehood.
Indeed, he was not sure that in his present state of mind he could hear
Frederick's name mentioned without flushing, and slight as such a hint
might be, it would be enough to direct attention to Frederick, which
once done could but lead to discovery and permanent disgrace to all who
bore the name of Sutherland.

What was he to do then? How avoid a consequence he found himself
absolutely unable to face? It was a problem which this night must solve
for him. But how? As I have said, he went down to his house to think.

Sweetwater was not a man of absolute rectitude. He was not so much
high-minded as large-hearted. He had, besides, certain foibles. In the
first place, he was vain, and vanity in a very plain man is all the more
acute since it centres in his capabilities, rather than in his
appearance. Had Sweetwater been handsome, or even passably attractive,
he might have been satisfied with the approbation of demure maidens and
a comradeship with his fellows. But being one who could hope for nothing
of this kind, not even for a decent return to the unreasoning
heart-worship he felt himself capable of paying, and which he had once
paid for a few short days till warned of his presumption by the
insolence of the recipient, he had fixed his hope and his ambition on
doing something which would rouse the admiration of those about him and
bring him into that prominence to which he felt himself entitled. That
he, a skilful musician, should desire to be known as a brilliant
detective, is only one of the anomalies of human nature which it would
be folly and a waste of time on our part to endeavour to explain. That,
having chosen to exercise his wits in this way, he should so well
succeed that he dared not for his life continue in the work he had so
publicly undertaken, occasioned in him a pang of disappointment almost
as insufferable as that brought by the realisation of what his efforts
were likely to bring upon the man to whose benevolence he owed his very
life. Hence his struggle, which must be measured by the extent of his
desires and the limitations which had been set to his nature by his
surroundings and the circumstances of his life and daily history.

If we enter with him into the humble cottage where he was born and from
which he had hardly strayed more than a dozen miles in the twenty-two
years of his circumscribed life, we may be able to understand him
better.

It was an unpainted house perched on an arid hillside, with nothing
before it but the limitless sea. He had found his way to it
mechanically, but as he approached the narrow doorway he paused and
turned his face towards the stretch of heaving waters, whose low or loud
booming had been first his cradle song and then the ceaseless
accompaniment of his later thoughts and aspirations. It was heaving yet,
ceaselessly heaving, and in its loud complaint there was a sound of
moaning not always to be found there, or so it seemed to Sweetwater in
his present troubled mood.

Sighing as this sound reached his ear, and shuddering as its meaning
touched his heart, Sweetwater pushed open the door of his small house,
and entered.

"It is I, mamsie!" he shouted, in what he meant to be his usual voice;
but to a sensitive ear--and what ear is so sensitive as a
mother's?--there was a tremble in it that was not wholly natural.

"Is anything the matter, dear?" called out that mother, in reply.

The question made him start, though he replied quickly enough, and in
more guarded tones:

"No, mamsie. Go to sleep. I'm tired, that's all."

Would to God that was all! He recalled with envy the days when he
dragged himself into the house at sundown, after twelve long hours of
work on the docks. As he paused in the dark hallway and listened till he
heard the breathing of her who had called him DEAR--the only one in the
world who ever had or ever would call him DEAR--he had glimpses of that
old self which made him question if his self-tutoring on the violin, and
the restless ambition which had driven him out of the ways of his
ancestors into strange attempts for which he was not prepared by any
previous discipline, had brought him happiness or improved his manhood.
He was forced to acknowledge that the sleep of those far-distant nights
of his busy boyhood was sweeter than the wakefulness of these later
days, and that it would have been better for him, and infinitely better
for her, if he had remained at the carpenter's bench and been satisfied
with a repetition of his father's existence.

His mother was the only person sharing that small house with him, and
once assured that she was asleep, he lighted a lamp in the empty kitchen
and sat down.

It was just twelve o'clock. This, to anyone accustomed to this peculiar
young man's habits, had nothing unusual in it. He was accustomed to come
home late and sit thus by himself for a short time before going
up-stairs. But, to one capable of reading his sharp and none too mobile
countenance, there was a change in the character of the brooding into
which he now sank, which, had that mother been awake to watch him, would
have made every turn of his eye and movement of his hand interesting and
important.

In the first place, the careless attitude into which he had fallen was
totally at variance with the restless glance which took in every object
in that well-known room so associated with his mother and her daily work
that he could not imagine her in any other surroundings, and wondered
sometimes if she would seem any longer his mother if transplanted to
other scenes and engaged in other tasks.

Little things, petty objects of household use or ornament, which he had
seen all his life without specially noticing them, seemed under the
stress of his present mood to acquire a sudden importance and fix
themselves indelibly in his memory. There, on a nail driven long before
he was born, hung the little round lid-holder he had pieced together in
his earliest years and presented to his mother in a gush of pride
greater than any he had since experienced. She had never used it, but it
always hung upon the one nail in the one place, as a symbol of his love
and of hers. And there, higher up on the end of the shelf barren enough
of ornaments, God wot, were a broken toy and a much-defaced primer,
mementos likewise of his childhood; and farther along the wall, on a
sort of raised bench, a keg, the spigot of which he was once guilty of
turning on in his infantile longing for sweets, only to find he could
not turn it back again until all the floor was covered with molasses,
and his appetite for the forbidden gratified to the full. And yonder,
dangling from a peg, never devoted to any other use, hung his father's
old hat, just where he had placed it on the fatal morning when he came
in and lay down on the sitting-room lounge for the last time; and close
to it, lovingly close to it, Sweetwater thought, his mother's apron, the
apron he had seen her wear at supper, and which he would see her wear at
breakfast, with all its suggestions of ceaseless work and patient
every-day thrift.

Somehow, he could not bear the sight of that apron. With the expectation
now forming in his mind, of leaving this home and leaving this mother,
this symbol of humble toil became an intolerable grief to him. Jumping
up, he turned in another direction; but now another group of objects
equally eloquent came under his eye. It was his mother's work-basket he
saw, with a piece of sewing in it intended for him, and as if this were
not enough, the table set for two, and at his place a little covered
dish which held the one sweetmeat he craved for breakfast. The
spectacles lying beside her plate told him how old she was, and as he
thought of her failing strength and enfeebled ways, he jumped up again
and sought another corner. But here his glances fell on his violin, and
a new series of emotions awakened within him. He loved the instrument
and played as much from natural intuition as acquired knowledge, but in
the plan of action he had laid out for himself his violin could have no
part. He would have to leave it behind. Feeling that his regrets were
fast becoming too much for him, he left the humble kitchen and went
up-stairs. But not to sleep. Locking the door (something he never
remembered doing before in all his life), he began to handle over his
clothes and other trivial belongings. Choosing out a certain strong
suit, he laid it out on the bed and then went to a bureau drawer and
drew out an old-fashioned wallet. This he opened, but after he had
counted the few bills it contained he shook his head and put them all
back, only retaining a little silver, which he slipped into one of the
pockets of the suit he had chosen. Then he searched for and found a
little Bible which his mother had once given him. He was about to thrust
that into another pocket, but he seemed to think better of this, too,
for he ended by putting it back into the drawer and taking instead a bit
from one of his mother's old aprons which he had chanced upon on the
stairway. This he placed as carefully in his watch pocket as if it had
been the picture of a girl he loved. Then he undressed and went to bed.

Mrs. Sweetwater said afterwards that she never knew Caleb to talk so
much and eat so little as he did that next morning at breakfast. Such
plans as he detailed for unmasking the murderer of Mrs. Webb! Such
business for the day! So many people to see! It made her quite dizzy,
she said. And, indeed, Sweetwater was more than usually voluble that
morning,--perhaps because he could not bear his mother's satisfied
smile; and when he went out of the house it was with a laugh and a
cheery "Good-bye, mamsie" that was in spiking contrast to the
irrepressible exclamation of grief which escaped him when the door was
closed between them. Ah, when should he enter those four walls again,
and when should he see the old mother?

He proceeded immediately to town. A ship was preparing to sail that
morning for the Brazils, and the wharves were alive with bustle. He
stopped a moment to contemplate the great hulk rising and falling at her
moorings, then he passed on and entered the building where he had every
reason to expect to find Dr. Talbot and Knapp in discussion. It was very
important to him that morning to learn just how they felt concerning the
great matter absorbing him, for if suspicion was taking the direction of
Frederick, or if he saw it was at all likely to do so, then would his
struggle be cut short and all necessity for leaving town be at an end.
It was to save Frederick from this danger that he was prepared to cut
all the ties binding him to this place, and nothing short of the
prospect of accomplishing this would make him willing to undergo such a
sacrifice.

"Well, Sweetwater, any news, eh?" was the half-jeering,
half-condescending greeting he received from the coroner.

Sweetwater, who had regained entire control over his feelings as soon as
he found himself under the eye of this man and the supercilious
detective he had attempted to rival, gave a careless shrug and passed
the question on to Knapp. "Have you any news?" he asked.

Knapp, who would probably not have acknowledged it if he had, smiled the
indulgent smile of a self-satisfied superior and uttered a few equivocal
sentences. This was gall and wormwood to Sweetwater, but he kept his
temper admirably and, with an air of bravado entirely assumed for the
occasion, said to Dr. Talbot:

"I think I shall have something to tell you soon which will materially
aid you in your search for witnesses. By to-morrow, at least, I shall
know whether I am right or wrong in thinking I have discovered an
important witness in quite an unexpected quarter."

Sweetwater knew of no new witness, but it was necessary for him not only
to have a pretext for the move he contemplated, but to so impress these
men with an idea of his extreme interest in the approaching proceedings,
that no suspicion should ever arise of his having premeditated an escape
from them. He wished to appear the victim of accident; and this is why
he took nothing from his home which would betray any intention of
leaving it.

"Ha! indeed!" ejaculated the coroner with growing interest. "And may I
ask----"

"Please," urged Sweetwater, with a side look at Knapp, "do not ask me
anything just yet. This afternoon, say, after I have had a certain
interview with--What, are they setting sails on the Hesper already?" he
burst out, with a quick glance from the window at the great ship riding
at anchor a little distance from them in the harbour. "There is a man on
her I must see. Excuse me--Oh, Mr. Sutherland!"

He fell back in confusion. That gentleman had just entered the room in
company with Frederick.



XXIII

A SINISTER PAIR


"I beg your pardon," stammered Sweetwater, starting aside and losing on
the instant all further disposition to leave the room.

Indeed, he had not the courage to do so, even if he had had the will.
The joint appearance of these two men in this place, and at an hour so
far in advance of that which usually saw Mr. Sutherland enter the town,
was far too significant in his eyes for him to ignore it. Had any
explanation taken place between them, and had Mr. Sutherland's integrity
triumphed over personal considerations to the point of his bringing
Frederick here to confess?

Meanwhile Dr. Talbot had risen with a full and hearty greeting which
proved to Sweetwater's uneasy mind that notwithstanding Knapp's
disquieting reticence no direct suspicion had as yet fallen on the
unhappy Frederick. Then he waited for what Mr. Sutherland had to say,
for it was evident he had come there to say something. Sweetwater
waited, too, frozen almost into immobility by the fear that it would be
something injudicious, for never had he seen any man so changed as Mr.
Sutherland in these last twelve hours, nor did it need a highly
penetrating eye to detect that the relations between him and Frederick
were strained to a point that made it almost impossible for them to more
than assume their old confidential attitude. Knapp, knowing them but
superficially, did not perceive this, but Dr. Talbot was not blind to
it, as was shown by the inquiring look he directed towards them both
while waiting.

Mr. Sutherland spoke at last.

"Pardon me for interrupting you so early," said he, with a certain
tremble in his voice which Sweetwater quaked to hear. "For certain
reasons, I should be very glad to know, WE should be very glad to know,
if during your investigations into the cause and manner of Agatha Webb's
death, you have come upon a copy of her will."

"No."

Talbot was at once interested, so was Knapp, while Sweetwater withdrew
further into his corner in anxious endeavour to hide his blanching
cheek. "We have found nothing. We do not even know that she has made a
will."

"I ask," pursued Mr. Sutherland, with a slight glance toward Frederick,
who seemed, at least in Sweetwater's judgment, to have braced himself up
to bear this interview unmoved, "because I have not only received
intimation that she made such a will, but have even been entrusted with
a copy of it as chief executor of the same. It came to me in a letter
from Boston yesterday. Its contents were a surprise to me. Frederick,
hand me a chair. These accumulated misfortunes--for we all suffer under
the afflictions which have beset this town--have made me feel my years."

Sweetwater drew his breath more freely. He thought he might understand
by this last sentence that Mr. Sutherland had come here for a different
cause than he had at first feared. Frederick, on the contrary, betrayed
a failing ability to hide his emotion. He brought his father a chair,
placed it, and was drawing back out of sight when Mr. Sutherland
prevented him by a mild command to hand the paper he had brought to the
coroner.

There was something in his manner that made Sweetwater lean forward and
Frederick look up, so that the father's and son's eyes met under that
young man's scrutiny. But while he saw meaning in both their regards,
there was nothing like collusion, and, baffled by these appearances,
which, while interesting, told him little or nothing, he transferred his
attention to Dr. Talbot and Knapp, who had drawn together to see what
this paper contained.

"As I have said, the contents of this will are a surprise to me,"
faltered Mr. Sutherland. "They are equally so to my son. He can hardly
be said to have been a friend even of the extraordinary woman who thus
leaves him her whole fortune."

"I never spoke with her but twice," exclaimed Frederick with a studied
coldness, which was so evidently the cloak of inner agitation that
Sweetwater trembled for its effect, notwithstanding the state of his own
thoughts, which were in a ferment. Frederick, the inheritor of Agatha
Webb's fortune! Frederick, concerning whom his father had said on the
previous night that he possessed no motive for wishing this good woman's
death! Was it the discovery that such a motive existed which had so aged
this man in the last twelve hours? Sweetwater dared not turn again to
see. His own face might convey too much of his own fears, doubts, and
struggle.

But the coroner, for whose next words Sweetwater listened with acute
expectancy, seemed to be moved simply by the unexpectedness of the
occurrence. Glancing at Frederick with more interest than he had ever
before shown him, he cried with a certain show of enthusiasm:

"A pretty fortune! A very pretty fortune!" Then with a deprecatory air
natural to him in addressing Mr. Sutherland, "Would it be indiscreet for
me to ask to what our dear friend Agatha alludes in her reference to
your late lamented wife?" His finger was on a clause of the will and his
lips next minute mechanically repeated what he was pointing at:

"'In remembrance of services rendered me in early life by Marietta
Sutherland, wife of Charles Sutherland of Sutherlandtown, I bequeath to
Frederick, sole child of her affection, all the property, real and
personal, of which I die possessed.' Services rendered! They must have
been very important ones," suggested Dr. Talbot.

Mr. Sutherland's expression was one of entire perplexity and doubt.

"I do not remember my wife ever speaking of any special act of kindness
she was enabled to show Agatha Webb. They were always friends, but never
intimate ones. However, Agatha could be trusted to make no mistake. She
doubtless knew to what she referred. Mrs. Sutherland was fully capable
of doing an extremely kind act in secret."

For all his respect for the speaker, Dr. Talbot did not seem quite
satisfied. He glanced at Frederick and fumbled the paper uneasily.

"Perhaps you were acquainted with the reason for this legacy--this large
legacy," he emphasised.

Frederick, thus called upon, nay, forced to speak, raised his head, and
without perhaps bestowing so much as a thought on the young man behind
him who was inwardly quivering in anxious expectancy of some betrayal on
his part which would precipitate disgrace and lifelong sorrow on all who
bore the name of Sutherland, met Dr. Talbot's inquiring glance with a
simple earnestness surprising to them all, and said:

"My record is so much against me that I am not surprised that you wonder
at my being left with Mrs. Webb's fortune. Perhaps she did not fully
realise the lack of estimation in which I am deservedly held in this
place, or perhaps, and this would be much more like her, she hoped that
the responsibility of owing my independence to so good and so
unfortunate a woman might make a man of me."

There was a manliness in Frederick's words and bearing that took them
all by surprise. Mr. Sutherland's dejection visibly lightened, while
Sweetwater, conscious of the more than vital interests hanging upon the
impression which might be made by this event upon the minds of the men
present, turned slightly so as to bring their faces into the line of his
vision.

The result was a conviction that as yet no real suspicion of Frederick
had seized upon either of their minds. Knapp's face was perfectly calm
and almost indifferent, while the good coroner, who saw this and every
other circumstance connected with this affair through the one medium of
his belief in Amabel's guilt, was surveying Frederick with something
like sympathy.

"I fear," said he, "that others were not as ignorant of your prospective
good fortune as you were yourself," at which Frederick's cheek turned a
dark red, though he said nothing, and Sweetwater, with a sudden
involuntary gesture indicative of resolve, gazed for a moment
breathlessly at the ship, and then with an unexpected and highly
impetuous movement dashed from the room crying loudly:

"I've seen him! I've seen him! he's just going on board the ship. Wait
for me, Dr. Talbot. I'll be back in fifteen minutes with such a
witness--"

Here the door slammed. But they could hear his hurrying footsteps as he
plunged down the stairs and rushed away from the building.

It was an unexpected termination to an interview fast becoming
unbearable to the two Sutherlands, but no one, not even the old
gentleman himself, took in its full significance.

He was, however, more than agitated by the occurrence and could hardly
prevent himself from repeating aloud Sweetwater's final word, which
after their interview at Mr. Halliday's gate, the night before, seemed
to convey to him at once a warning and a threat. To keep himself from
what he feared might prove a self-betrayal, he faltered out in very
evident dismay:

"What is the matter? What has come over the lad?"

"Oh!" cried Dr. Talbot, "he's been watching that ship for an hour. He is
after some man he has just seen go aboard her. Says he's a new and
important witness in this case. Perhaps he is. Sweetwater is no man's
fool, for all his small eyes and retreating chin. If you want proof of
it, wait till he comes back. He'll be sure to have something to say."

Meanwhile they had all pressed forward to the window. Frederick, who
carefully kept his face out of his father's view, bent half-way over the
sill in his anxiety to watch the flying figure of Sweetwater, who was
making straight for the dock, while Knapp, roused at last, leaned over
his shoulder and pointed to the sailors on the deck, who were pulling in
the last ropes, preparatory to sailing.

"He's too late: they won't let him aboard now. What a fool to hang
around here till he saw his man, instead of being at the dock to nab
him! That comes of trusting a country bumpkin. I knew he'd fail us at
the pinch. They lack training, these would-be detectives. See, now! He's
run up against the mate, and the mate pushes him back. His cake is all
dough, unless he's got a warrant. Has he a warrant, Dr. Talbot?"

"No," said the coroner, "he didn't ask for one. He didn't even tell me
whom he wanted. Can it be one of those two passengers you see on the
forward deck, there?"

It might well be. Even from a distance these two men presented a
sinister appearance that made them quite marked figures among the crowd
of hurrying sailors and belated passengers.

"One of them is peering over the rail with a very evident air of
anxiety. His eye is on Sweetwater, who is dancing with impatience. See,
he is gesticulating like a monkey, and--By the powers, they are going to
let him go aboard!"

Mr. Sutherland, who had been leaning heavily against the window-jamb in
the agitation of doubt and suspense which Sweetwater's unaccountable
conduct had evoked, here crossed to the other side and stole a
determined look at Frederick. Was his son personally interested in this
attempt of the amateur detective? Did he know whom Sweetwater sought,
and was he suffering as much or more than himself from the uncertainty
and fearful possibilities of the moment? He thought he knew Frederick's
face, and that he read dread there, but Frederick had changed so
completely since the commission of this crime that even his father could
no longer be sure of the correct meaning either of his words or
expression.

The torture of the moment continued.

"He climbs like a squirrel," remarked Dr. Talbot, with a touch of
enthusiasm. "Look at him now--he's on the quarterdeck and will be down
in the cabins before you can say Jack Robinson. I warrant they have told
him to hurry. Captain Dunlap isn't the man to wait five minutes after
the ropes are pulled in."

"Those two men have shrunk away behind some mast or other," cried Knapp.
"They are the fellows he's after. But what can they have to do with the
murder? Have you ever seen them here about town, Dr. Talbot?"

"Not that I remember; they have a foreign air about them. Look like
South Americans."

"Well, they're going to South America. Sweetwater can't stop them. He
has barely time to get off the ship himself. There goes the last rope!
Have they forgotten him? They're drawing up the ladder."

"No: the mate stops them; see, he's calling the fellow. I can hear his
voice, can't you? Sweetwater's game is up. He'll have to leave in a
hurry. What's the rumpus now?"

"Nothing, only they've scattered to look for him; the fox is down in the
cabins and won't come up, laughing in his sleeve, no doubt, at keeping
the vessel waiting while he hunts up his witness."

"If it's one of those two men he's laying a trap for he won't snare him
in a hurry. They're sneaks, those two, and--Why, the sailors are coming
back shaking their heads. I can almost hear from here the captain's
oaths."

"And such a favourable wind for getting out of the harbour! Sweetwater,
my boy, you are distinguishing yourself. If your witness don't pan out
well you won't hear the last of this in a hurry."

"It looks as if they meant to sail without waiting to put him ashore,"
observed Frederick in a low tone, too carefully modulated not to strike
his father as unnatural.

"By jingoes, so it does!" ejaculated Knapp. "There go the sails! The
pilot's hand is on the wheel, and Dr. Talbot, are you going to let your
cunning amateur detective and his important witness slip away from you
like this?"

"I cannot help myself," said the coroner, a little dazed himself at this
unexpected chance. "My voice wouldn't reach them from this place;
besides they wouldn't heed me if it did. The ship is already under way
and we won't see Sweetwater again till the pilot's boat comes back."

Mr. Sutherland moved from the window and crossed to the door like a man
in a dream. Frederick, instantly conscious of his departure, turned to
follow him, but presently stopped and addressing Knapp for the first
time, observed quietly:

"This is all very exciting, but I think your estimate of this fellow
Sweetwater is just. He's a busybody and craves notoriety above
everything. He had no witness on board, or, if he had, it was an
imaginary one. You will see him return quite crestfallen before night,
with some trumped-up excuse of mistaken identity."

The shrug which Knapp gave dismissed Sweetwater as completely from the
affair as if he had never been in it.

"I think I may now regard myself as having this matter in my sole
charge," was his curt remark, as he turned away, while Frederick, with a
respectful bow to Dr. Talbot, remarked in leaving:

"I am at your service, Dr. Talbot, if you require me to testify at the
inquest in regard to this will. My testimony can all be concentrated
into the one sentence, 'I did not expect this bequest, and have no
theories to advance in explanation of it.' But it has made me feel
myself Mrs. Webb's debtor, and given me a justifiable interest in the
inquiry which, I am told, you open to-morrow into the cause and manner
of her death. If there is a guilty person in this case, I shall raise no
barrier in the way of his conviction."

And while the coroner's face still showed the embarrassment which this
last sentence called up, his mind being now, as ever, fixed on Amabel,
Frederick offered his arm to his father, whose condition was not
improved by the excitements of the last half-hour, and proceeded to lead
him from the building.

Whatever they thought, or however each strove to hide their conclusions
from the other, no words passed between them till they came in full
sight of the sea, on a distant billow of which the noble-ship bound for
the Brazils rode triumphantly on its outward course. Then Mr. Sutherland
remarked, with a suggestive glance at the vessel:

"The young man who has found an unexpected passage on that vessel will
not come back with the pilot."

Was the sigh which was Frederick's only answer one of relief? It
certainly seemed so.



XXIV

IN THE SHADOW OP THE MAST


Mr. Sutherland was right. Sweetwater did not return with the pilot.
According to the latter there was no Sweetwater on board the ship to
return. At all events the minutest search had not succeeded in finding
him in the cabins, though no one had seen him leave the vessel, or,
indeed, seen him at all after his hasty dash below decks. It was thought
on board that he had succeeded in reaching shore before the ship set
sail, and the pilot was suitably surprised at learning this was not so.
So were Sweetwater's friends and associates with the exception of a
certain old gentleman living on the hill, and Knapp the detective. He,
that is the latter, had his explanation at his tongue's end:

"Sweetwater is a fakir. He thought he could carry off the honours from
the regular force, and when he found he couldn't he quietly disappeared.
We shall hear of him again in the Brazils."

An opinion that speedily gained ground, so that in a few hours
Sweetwater was all but forgotten, save by his mother, whose heart was
filled with suspense, and by Mr. Sutherland, whose breast was burdened
by gratitude. The amazing fact of Frederick, the village scapegrace and
Amabel's reckless, if aristocratic, lover, having been made the legatee
of the upright Mrs. Webb's secret savings had something to do with this.
With such a topic at hand, not only the gossips, but those who had the
matter of Agatha's murder in hand, found ample material to occupy their
thoughts and tongues, without wasting time over a presumptuous busybody,
who had not wits enough to know that five minutes before sailing-time is
an unfortunate moment in which to enter a ship.

And where was Sweetwater, that he could not be found on the shore or on
the ship? We will follow him and see. Accustomed from his youth to
ramble over the vessels while in port, he knew this one as well as he
did his mother's house. It was, therefore, a surprise to the sailors
when, shortly after the departure of the pilot, they came upon him lying
in the hold, half buried under a box which had partially fallen upon
him. He was unconscious, or appeared to be so, and when brought into
open light showed marks of physical distress and injury; but his eye was
clear and his expression hardly as rueful as one would expect in a man
who finds himself en route for the Brazils with barely a couple of
dollars in his pocket and every prospect of being obliged to work before
the mast to earn his passage. Even the captain noticed this and eyed him
with suspicion. But Sweetwater, rousing to the necessities of the
occasion, forthwith showed such a mixture of discouragement and
perplexity that the honest sailor was deceived and abated half at least
of his oaths. He gave Sweetwater a hammock and admitted him to the mess,
but told him that as soon as his bruises allowed him to work he should
show himself on deck or expect the rough treatment commonly bestowed on
stowaways.

It was a prospect to daunt some men, but not Sweetwater. Indeed it was
no more than he had calculated upon when he left his savings behind with
his old mother and entered upon this enterprise with only a little
change in his pocket. He had undertaken out of love and gratitude to Mr.
Sutherland to rid Frederick of a dangerous witness and he felt able to
complete the sacrifice. More than that, he was even strangely happy for
a time. The elation of the willing victim was his, that is for a few
short hours, then he began to think of his mother. How had she borne his
sudden departure? What would she think had befallen him, and how long
would he have to wait before he could send her word of his safety? If he
was to be of real service to the man he venerated, he must be lost long
enough for the public mind to have become settled in regard to the
mysteries of the Webb murder and for his own boastful connection with it
to be forgotten. This might mean years of exile. He rather thought it
did; meanwhile his mother! Of himself he thought little.

By sundown he felt himself sufficiently recovered from his bruises to go
up on deck. It was a mild night, and the sea was running in smooth long
waves that as yet but faintly presaged the storm brewing on the distant
horizon. As he inhaled the fresh air, the joy of renewed health began to
infuse its life into his veins and lift the oppression from his heart,
and, glad of a few minutes of quiet enjoyment, he withdrew to a solitary
portion of the deck and allowed himself to forget his troubles in
contemplation of the rapidly deepening sky and boundless stretch of
waters.

But such griefs and anxieties as weighed upon this man's breast are not
so easily shaken off. Before he realised it his thoughts had recurred to
the old theme, and he was wondering if he was really of sufficient
insignificance in the eyes of his fellow-townsmen not to be sought for
and found in that distant country to which he was bound. Would they, in
spite of his precautions, suspect that he had planned this evasion and
insist on his return, or would he be allowed to slip away and drop out
of sight like the white froth he was watching on the top of the
ever-shifting waves? He had boasted of possessing a witness. Would they
believe that boast and send a detective in search of him, or would they
take his words for the bombast they really were and proceed with their
investigations in happy relief at the loss of his intrusive assistance?

As this was a question impossible for him to answer, he turned to other
thoughts and fretted himself for a while with memories of Amabel's
disdain and Frederick's careless acceptance of a sacrifice he could
never know the cost of, mixed strangely with relief at being free of it
all and on the verge of another life. As the dark settled, his head fell
farther and farther forward on the rail he was leaning against, till he
became to any passing eye but a blurred shadow mixing with other shadows
equally immovable.

Unlike them, however, his shadow suddenly shifted. Two men had drawn
near him, one speaking pure Spanish and the other English. The English
was all that Sweetwater could understand, and this half of the
conversation was certainly startling enough. Though he could not, of
coarse, know to what or whom it referred, and though it certainly had
nothing to do with him, or any interest he represented or understood, he
could not help listening and remembering every word. The
English-speaking man uttered the first sentence he comprehended. It was
this:

"Shall it be to-night?"

The answer was in Spanish.

Again the English voice:

"He has come up. I saw him distinctly as he passed the second mast."

More Spanish; then English:

"You may if you want to, but I'll never breathe easy while he's on the
ship. Are you sure he's the fellow we fear?"

A rapid flow of words from which Sweetwater got nothing. Then slowly and
distinctly in the sinister tones he had already begun to shiver at:

"Very good. The R. F. A. should pay well for this," with the quick
addition following a hurried whisper: "All right! I'd send a dozen men
to the bottom for half that money. But 'ware there! Here's a fellow
watching us! If he has heard--"

Sweetwater turned, saw two desperate faces projected toward him,
realised that something awful, unheard of, was about to happen, and
would have uttered a yell of dismay, but that the very intensity of his
fright took away his breath. The next minute he felt himself launched
into space and enveloped in the darkness of the chilling waters. He had
been lifted bodily and flung headlong into the sea.



XXV

IN EXTREMITY


Sweetwater's one thought as he sank was, "Now Mr. Sutherland need fear
me no longer."

But the instinct of life is strong in every heart, and when he found
himself breathing the air again he threw out his arms wildly and grasped
a spar.

It was life to him, hope, reconnection with his kind. He clutched,
clung, and, feeling himself floating, uttered a shout of mingled joy and
appeal that unhappily was smothered in the noise of the waters and the
now rapidly rising wind.

Whence had come this spar in his desperate need? He never knew, but
somewhere in his remote consciousness an impression remained of a shock
to the waves following his own plunge into the water, which might mean
that this spar had been thrown out after him, perhaps by the already
repentant hands of the wretches who had tossed him to his death. However
it came, or from whatever source, it had at least given him an
opportunity to measure his doom and realise the agonies of hope when it
alternates with despair.

The darkness was impenetrable. It was no longer that of heaven, but of
the nether world, or so it seemed to this dazed soul, plunged suddenly
from dreams of exile into the valley of the shadow of death. And such a
death! As he realised its horrors, as he felt the chill of night and the
oncoming storm strike its piercing fangs into his marrow, and knew that
his existence and the hope of ever again seeing the dear old face at the
fireside rested upon the strength of his will and the tenacity of his
life-clutch, he felt his heart fail, and the breath that was his life
cease in a gurgle of terror. But he clung on, and, though no comfort
came, still clung, while vague memories of long-ago shipwrecks, and
stories told in his youth of men, women, and children tossing for hours
on a drifting plank, flashed through his benumbed brain, and lent their
horror to his own sensations of apprehension and despair.

He wanted to live. Now that the dread spectre had risen out of the water
and had its clutch on his hair, he realised that the world held much for
him, and that even in exile he might work and love and enjoy God's
heaven and earth, the green fields and the blue sky. Not such skies as
were above him now. No, this was not sky that overarched him, but a
horrible vault in which the clouds, rushing in torn masses, had the
aspect of demons stooping to contend for him with those other demons
that with long arms and irresistible grip were dragging at him from
below. He was alone on a whirling spar in the midst of a midnight ocean,
but horror and a pitiless imagination made this conflict more than that
of the elements, and his position an isolation beyond that of man
removed from his fellows. He was almost mad. Yet he clung.

Suddenly a better frame of mind prevailed. The sky was no lighter, save
as the lightning came to relieve the overwhelming darkness by a still
more overwhelming glare, nor were the waves less importunate or his hold
on the spar more secure; but the horror seemed to have lifted, and the
practical nature of the man reasserted itself. Other men had gone
through worse dangers than these and survived to tell the tale, as he
might survive to tell his. The will was all--will and an indomitable
courage; and he had will and he had courage, or why had he left his home
to dare a hard and threatening future purely from a sentiment of
gratitude? Could he hold on long enough, daylight would come; and if, as
he now thought possible, he had been thrown into the sea within twenty
hours after leaving Sutherlandtown, then he must be not far from Cape
Cod, and in the direct line of travel from New York to Boston. Rescue
would come, and if the storm which was breaking over his head more and
more furiously made it difficult for him to retain his hold, it
certainly would not wreck his spar or drench him more than he was
already drenched, while every blast would drive him shoreward. The
clinging was all, and filial love would make him do that, even in the
semi-unconsciousness which now and then swept over him. Only, would it
not be better for Mr. Sutherland if he should fail and drop away into
the yawning chasms of the unknown world beneath? There were moments when
he thought so, and then his clutch perceptibly weakened; but only once
did he come near losing his hold altogether. And that was when he
thought he heard a laugh. A laugh, here in the midst of ocean! in the
midst of storm! a laugh! Were demons a reality, then? Yes; but the demon
he had heard was of his own imagination; it had a face of Medusa
sweetness and the laugh--Only Amabel's rang out so thrillingly false,
and with such diabolic triumph. Amabel, who might be laughing in her
dreams at this very moment of his supreme misery, and who assuredly
would laugh if conscious of his suffering and aware of the doom to which
his self-sacrifice had brought him. Amabel! the thought of her made the
night more dark, the waters more threatening, the future less promising.
Yet he would hold on if only to spite her who hated him and whom he
hated almost as much as he loved Mr. Sutherland.

It was his last conscious thought for hours. When morning broke he was
but a nerveless figure, with sense enough to cling, and that was all.



XXVI

THE ADVENTURE OF THE PARCEL


"A man! Haul him in! Don't leave a poor fellow drifting about like
that."

The speaker, a bluff, hearty skipper, whose sturdy craft had outridden
one of the worst storms of the season, pointed to our poor friend
Sweetwater, whose head could just be seen above the broken spar he clung
to. In another moment a half-dozen hands were stretched for him, and the
insensible form was drawn in and laid on a deck which still showed the
results of the night's fierce conflict with the waters.

"Damn it! how ugly he is!" cried one of the sailors, with a leer at the
half-drowned man's face. "I'd like to see the lass we'd please in saving
him. He's only fit to poison a devil-fish!"

But though more than one laugh rang out, they gave him good care, and
when Sweetwater came to life and realised that his blood was pulsing
warmly again through his veins, and that a grey sky had taken the place
of darkness, and a sound board supported limbs which for hours had
yielded helplessly to the rocking billows, he saw a ring of hard but
good-natured faces about him and realised quite well what had been done
for him when one of them said:

"There! he'll do now; all hands on deck! We can get into New Bedford in
two days if this wind holds. Nor' west!" shouted the skipper to the man
at the tiller. "We'll sup with our old women in forty-eight hours!"

New Bedford! It was the only word Sweetwater heard. So, he was no
farther away from Sutherlandtown than that. Evidently Providence had not
meant him to escape. Or was it his fortitude that was being tried? A man
as humble as he might easily be lost even in a place as small as New
Bedford. It was his identity he must suppress. With that unrecognised he
might remain in the next village to Sutherlandtown without fear of being
called up as a witness against Frederick. But could he suppress it? He
thought he could. At all events he meant to try.

"What's your name?" were the words he now heard shouted in his ear.

"Jonathan Briggs," was his mumbled reply. "I was blown off a ship's deck
in the gale last night."

"What ship?"

"The Proserpine." It was the first name that suggested itself to him.

"Oh, I thought it might have been the Hesper; she foundered off here
last night."

"Foundered? The Hesper?" The hot blood was shooting now through his
veins.

"Yes, we just picked up her name-board. That was before we got a hold on
you."

Foundered! The ship from which he had been so mercilessly thrown! And
all on board lost, perhaps. He began to realise the hand of Providence
in his fate.

"It was the Hesper I sailed on. I'm not just clear yet in my head. My
first voyage was made on the Proserpine. Well, bless the gale that blew
me from that deck!"

He seemed incoherent, and they left him again for a little while. When
they came back he had his story all ready, which imposed upon them just
so far as it was for their interest. Their business on this coast was
not precisely legitimate, and when they found he simply wanted to be set
on shore, they were quite willing to do thus much for him. Only they
regretted that he had barely two dollars and his own soaked clothing to
give in exchange for the motley garments they trumped up among them for
his present comfort. But he, as well as they, made the best of a bad
bargain, he especially, as his clothes, which would be soon scattered
among half a dozen families, were the only remaining clew connecting him
with his native town. He could now be Jonathan Briggs indeed. Only who
was Jonathan Briggs, and how was he to earn a living under these
unexpected conditions?

At the end of a couple of days he was dexterously landed on the end of a
long pier, which they passed without stopping, on their way to their own
obscure anchorage. As he jumped from the rail to the pier and felt again
the touch of terra firma he drew a long breath of uncontrollable
elation. Yet he had not a cent in the world, no friends, and certainly
no prospects. He did not even know whether to turn to the right or the
left as he stepped out upon the docks, and when he had decided to turn
to the right as being on the whole more lucky, he did not know whether
to risk his fortune in the streets of the town or to plunge into one of
the low-browed drinking houses whose signs confronted him on this
water-lane.

He decided that his prospects for a dinner were slim in any case, and
that his only hope of breaking fast that day lay in the use he might
make of one of his three talents. Either he must find a fiddle to play
on, a carpenter's bench to work at, or a piece of detective shadowing to
do. The last would bring him before the notice of the police, which was
just the thing he must avoid; so it was fiddling or carpentry he must
seek, either of which would be difficult to obtain in his present garb.
But of difficulties Sweetwater was not a man to take note. He had
undertaken out of pure love for a good man to lose himself. He had
accomplished this, and now was he to complain because in doing so he was
likely to go hungry for a day or two? No; Amabel might laugh at him, or
he might fancy she did, while struggling in the midst of rapidly
engulfing waters, but would she laugh at him now? He did not think she
would. She was of the kind who sometimes go hungry themselves in old
age. Some premonition of this might give her a fellow feeling.

He came to a stand before a little child sitting on an ill-kept
doorstep. Smiling at her kindly, he waited for her first expression to
see how he appeared in the eyes of innocence. Not so bad a man, it
seemed, though his naturally plain countenance was not relieved by the
seaman's cap and knitted shirt he wore. For she laughed as she looked at
him, and only ran away because there wasn't room for him to pass beside
her.

Comforted a little, he sauntered on, glancing here and there with that
sharp eye of his for a piece of work to be done. Suddenly he came to a
halt. A market-woman had got into an altercation with an oysterman, and
her stall had been upset in the contention, and her vegetables were
rolling here and there. He righted her stall, picked up her vegetables,
and in return got two apples and a red herring he would not have given
to a dog at home. Yet it was the sweetest morsel he had ever tasted, and
the apples might have been grown in the garden of the Hesperides from
the satisfaction and pleasure they gave this hungry man. Then,
refreshed, he dashed into the town. It should now go hard but he would
earn a night's lodging.

The day was windy and he was going along a narrow street, when something
floated down from a window above past his head. It was a woman's veil,
and as he looked up to see where it came from he met the eyes of its
owner looking down from an open casement above him. She was
gesticulating, and seemed to point to someone up the street. Glad to
seize at anything which promised emolument or adventure, he shouted up
and asked her what she wanted.

"That man down there!" she cried; "the one in a long black coat going up
the street. Keep after him and stop him; tell him the telegram has come.
Quick, quick, before he gets around the corner! He will pay you; run!"

Sweetwater, with joy in his heart,--for five cents was a boon to him in
the present condition of his affairs,--rushed after the man she had
pointed out and hastily stopped him.

"Someone," he added, "a woman in a window back there, bade me run after
you and say the telegram has come. She told me you would pay me," he
added, for he saw the man was turning hastily back, without thinking of
the messenger. "I need the money, and the run was a sharp one."

With a preoccupied air, the man thrust his hand into his pocket, pulled
out a coin, and handed it to him. Then he walked hurriedly off.
Evidently the news was welcome to him. But Sweetwater stood rooted to
the ground. The man had given him a five-dollar gold piece instead of
the nickel he had evidently intended.

How hungrily Sweetwater eyed that coin! In it was lodging, food, perhaps
a new article or so of clothing. But after a moment of indecision which
might well be forgiven him, he followed speedily after the man and
overtook him just as he reached the house from which the woman's veil
had floated.

"Sir, pardon me; but you gave me five dollars instead of five cents. It
was a mistake; I cannot keep the money."

The man, who was not just the sort from whom kindness would be expected,
looked at the money in Sweetwater's palm, then at the miserable,
mud-bespattered clothes he wore (he had got that mud helping the poor
market-woman), and stared hard at the face of the man who looked so
needy and yet returned him five dollars.

"You're an honest fellow," he declared, not offering to take back the
gold piece. Then, with a quick glance up at the window, "Would you like
to earn that money?"

Sweetwater broke out into a smile, which changed his whole countenance.

"Wouldn't I, sir?"

The man eyed him for another minute with scrutinising intensity. Then he
said shortly:

"Come up-stairs with me."

They entered the house, went up a flight or two, and stopped at a door
which was slightly ajar.

"We are going into the presence of a lady," remarked the man. "Wait here
until I call you."

Sweetwater waited, the many thoughts going through his mind not
preventing him from observing all that passed.

The man, who had left the door wide open, approached the lady who was
awaiting him, and who was apparently the same one who had sent
Sweetwater on his errand, and entered into a low but animated
conversation. She held a telegram in her hand which she showed him, and
then after a little earnest parley and a number of pleading looks from
them both toward the waiting Sweetwater, she disappeared into another
room, from which she brought a parcel neatly done up, which she handed
to the man with a strange gesture. Another hurried exchange of words and
a meaning look which did not escape the sharp eye of the watchful
messenger, and the man turned and gave the parcel into Sweetwater's
hands.

"You are to carry this," said he, "to the town hall. In the second room
to the right on entering you will see a table surrounded by chairs,
which at this hour ought to be empty. At the head of the table you will
find an arm-chair. On the table directly in front of this you will lay
this packet. Mark you, directly before the chair and not too far from
the edge of the table. Then you are to come out. If you see anyone, say
you came to leave some papers for Mr. Gifford. Do this and you may keep
the five dollars and welcome."

Sweetwater hesitated. There was something in the errand or in the manner
of the man and woman that he did not like.

"Don't potter!" spoke up the latter, with an impatient look at her
watch. "Mr. Gifford will expect those papers."

Sweetwater's sensitive fingers closed on the package he held. It did not
feel like papers.

"Are you going?" asked the man.

Sweetwater looked up with a smile. "Large pay for so slight a
commission," he ventured, turning the packet over and over in his hand.

"But then you will execute it at once, and according to the instructions
I have given you," retorted the man. "It is your trustworthiness I pay
for. Now go."

Sweetwater turned to go. After all it was probably all right, and five
dollars easily earned is doubly five dollars. As he reached the
staircase he stumbled. The shoes he wore did not fit him.

"Be careful, there!" shouted the woman, in a shrill, almost frightened
voice, while the man stumbled back into the room in a haste which seemed
wholly uncalled for. "If you let the packet fall you will do injury to
its contents. Go softly, man, go softly!"

Yet they had said it held papers!

Troubled, yet hardly knowing what his duty was, Sweetwater hastened down
the stairs, and took his way up the street. The town hall should be easy
to find; indeed, he thought he saw it in the distance. As he went, he
asked himself two questions: Could he fail to deliver the package
according to instructions, and yet earn his money? And was there any way
of so delivering it without risk to the recipient or dereliction of duty
to the man who had intrusted it to him and whose money he wished to
earn? To the first question his conscience at once answered no; to the
second the reply came more slowly, and before fixing his mind
determinedly upon it he asked himself why he felt that this was no
ordinary commission. He could answer readily enough. First, the pay was
too large, arguing that either the packet or the placing of the packet
in a certain position on Mr. Gifford's table was of uncommon importance
to this man or this woman. Secondly, the woman, though plainly and
inconspicuously clad, had the face of a more than ordinarily
unscrupulous adventuress, while her companion was one of those
saturnine-faced men we sometimes meet, whose first look puts us on our
guard and whom, if we hope nothing from him, we instinctively shun.
Third, they did not look like inhabitants of the house and rooms in
which he found them. Nothing beyond the necessary articles of furniture
was to be seen there; not a trunk, not an article of clothing, nor any
of the little things that mark a woman's presence in a spot where she
expects to spend a day or even an hour. Consequently they were
transients and perhaps already in the act of flight. Then he was being
followed. Of this he felt sure. He had followed people himself, and
something in his own sensations assured him that his movements were
under surveillance. It would, therefore, not do to show any
consciousness of this, and he went on directly and as straight to his
goal as his rather limited knowledge of the streets would allow. He was
determined to earn this money and to earn it without disadvantage to
anyone. And he thought he saw his way.

At the entrance of the town hall he hesitated an instant. An officer was
standing in the doorway, it would be easy to call his attention to the
packet he held and ask him to keep his eye on it. But this might involve
him with the police, and this was something, as we know, which he was
more than anxious to avoid. He reverted to his first idea.

Mixing with the crowd just now hurrying to and fro through the long
corridors, he reached the room designated and found it, as he had been
warned he should, empty.

Approaching the table, he laid down the packet just as he had been
directed, in front of the big arm chair, and then, casting a hurried
look towards the door and failing to find anyone watching him, he took
up a pencil lying near-by and scrawled hastily across the top of the
packet the word "Suspicious." This he calculated would act as a warning
to Mr. Gifford in case there was anything wrong about the package, and
pass as a joke with him, and even the sender, if there was not. And
satisfied that he had both earned his money and done justice to his own
apprehensions, he turned to retrace his steps. As before, the corridors
were alive with hurrying men of various ages and appearance, but only
two attracted his notice. One of these was a large, intellectual-looking
man, who turned into the room from which he had just emerged, and the
other a short, fair man, with a countenance he had known from boyhood.
Mr. Stone of Sutherlandtown was within ten paces of him, and he was as
well known to the good postmaster as the postmaster was to him. Could
anyone have foreseen such a chance!

Turning his back with a slow slouch, he made for a rear door he saw
swinging in and out before him. As he passed through he cast a quick
look behind him. He had not been recognised. In great relief he rushed
on, knocking against a man standing against one of the outside pillars.

"Halloo!" shouted this man.

Sweetwater stopped. There was a tone of authority in the voice which he
could not resist.



XXVII

THE ADVENTURE OF THE SCRAP OF PAPER AND THE THREE WORDS


"What are you trying to do? Why do you fall over a man like that? Are
you drunk?"

Sweetwater drew himself up, made a sheepish bow, and muttered pantingly:

"Excuse me, sir. I'm in a hurry; I'm a messenger."

The man who was not in a hurry seemed disposed to keep him for a moment.
He had caught sight of Sweetwater's eye, which was his one remarkable
feature, and he had also been impressed by that word messenger, for he
repeated it with some emphasis.

"A messenger, eh? Are you going on a message now?"

Sweetwater, who was anxious to get away from the vicinity of Mr. Stone,
shrugged his shoulders in careless denial, and was pushing on when the
gentleman again detained him.

"Do you know," said he, "that I like your looks? You are not a beauty,
but you look like a fellow who, if he promised to do a thing, would do
it and do it mighty well too."

Sweetwater could not restrain a certain movement of pride. He was
honest, and he knew it, but the fact had not always been so openly
recognised.

"I have just earned five dollars by doing a commission for a man," said
he, with a straightforward look. "See, sir. It was honestly earned."

The man, who was young and had a rather dashing but inscrutable
physiognomy, glanced at the coin Sweetwater showed him and betrayed a
certain disappointment.

"So you're flush," said he. "Don't want another job?"

"Oh, as to that," said Sweetwater, edging slowly down the street, "I'm
always ready for business. Five dollars won't last forever, and,
besides, I'm in need of new togs."

"Well, rather," retorted the other, carelessly following him. "Do you
mind going up to Boston?"

Boston! Another jump toward home.

"No," said Sweetwater, hesitatingly, "not if it's made worth my while.
Do you want your message delivered to-day?"

"At once. That is, this evening. It's a task involving patience and more
or less shrewd judgment. Have you these qualities, my friend? One would
not judge it from your clothes."

"My clothes!" laughed Sweetwater. Life was growing very interesting all
at once. "I know it takes patience to WEAR them, and as for any lack of
judgment I may show in their choice, I should just like to say I did not
choose them myself, sir; they fell to me promiscuous-like as a sort of
legacy from friends. You'll see what I'll do in that way if you give me
the chance to earn an extra ten."

"Ah, it's ten dollars you want. Well, come in here and have a drink and
then we'll see."

They were before a saloon house of less than humble pretensions, and as
he followed the young gentleman in it struck him that it was himself
rather than his well-dressed and airy companion who would be expected to
drink here. But he made no remark, though he intended to surprise the
man by his temperance.

"Now, look here," said the young gentleman, suddenly seating himself at
a dingy table in a very dark corner and motioning Sweetwater to do the
same; "I've been looking for a man all day to go up to Boston for me,
and I think you'll do. You know Boston?"

Sweetwater had great command over himself, but he flushed slightly at
this question, though it was so dark where he sat with this man that it
made very little difference.

"I have been there," said he.

"Very well, then, you will go again to-night. You will arrive there
about seven, you will go the rounds of some half-dozen places whose
names I will give you, and when you come across a certain gentleman whom
I will describe to you, you will give him--"

"Not a package?" Sweetwater broke out with a certain sort of dread of a
repetition of his late experience.

"No, this slip on which two words are written. He will want one more
word, but before you give it to him you must ask for your ten dollars.
You'll get them," he answered in response to a glance of suspicion from
Sweetwater. Sweetwater was convinced that he had got hold of another
suspicious job. It made him a little serious. "Do I look like a
go-between for crooks?" he asked himself. "I'm afraid I'm not so much of
a success as I thought myself." But he said to the man before him: "Ten
dollars is small pay for such business. Twenty-five would be nearer the
mark."

"Very well, he will give you twenty-five dollars. I forgot that ten
dollars was but little in advance of your expenses."

"Twenty-five if I find him, and he is in funds. What if I don't?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing?"

"Except your ticket; that I'll give you."

Sweetwater did not know what to say. Like the preceding job it might be
innocent and it might not. And then, he did not like going to Boston,
where he was liable to meet more than one who knew him.

"There is no harm in the business," observed the other, carelessly,
pushing a glass of whiskey which had just been served him toward
Sweetwater. "I would even be willing to do it myself, if I could leave
New Bedford to-night, but I can't. Come! It's as easy as crooking your
elbow."

"Just now you said it wasn't," growled Sweetwater, drinking from his
glass. "But no matter about that, go ahead, I'll do it. Shall I have to
buy other clothes?"

"I'd buy a new pair of trousers," suggested the other. "The rest you can
get in Boston. You don't want to be too much in evidence, you know."

Sweetwater agreed with. him. To attract attention was what he most
dreaded. "When does the train start?" he asked.

The young man told him.

"Well, that will give me time to buy what I want. Now, what are your
instructions?"

The young man gave him a memorandum, containing four addresses. "You
will find him at one of these places," said he. "And now to know your
man when you see him. He is a large, handsome fellow, with red hair and
a moustache like the devil. He has been hurt, and wears his left hand in
a sling, but he can play cards, and will be found playing cards, and in
very good company too. You will have to use your discretion in
approaching him. When once he sees this bit of paper, all will be easy.
He knows what these two words mean well enough, and the third one, the
one that is worth twenty-five dollars to you, is FREDERICK."

Sweetwater, who had drunk half his glass, started so at this word, which
was always humming in his brain, that he knocked over his tumbler and
spilled what was left in it.

"I hope I won't forget that word," he remarked, in a careless tone,
intended to carry off his momentary show of feeling.

"If you do, then don't expect the twenty-five dollars," retorted the
other, finishing his own glass, but not offering to renew Sweetwater's.

Sweetwater laughed, said he thought he could trust his memory, and rose.
In a half-hour he was at the depot, and in another fifteen minutes
speeding out of New Bedford on his way to Boston.

He had had but one anxiety--that Mr. Stone might be going up to Boston
too. But, once relieved of this apprehension, he settled back, and for
the first time in twelve hours had a minute in which to ask himself who
he was, and what he was about. Adventure had followed so fast upon
adventure that he was in a more or less dazed condition, and felt as
little capable of connecting event with event as if he had been asked to
recall the changing pictures of a kaleidoscope. That affair of the
packet, now, was it or was it not serious, and would he ever know what
it meant or how it turned out?

Like a child who had been given a pebble, and told to throw it over the
wall, he had thrown and run, giving a shout of warning, it is true, but
not knowing, nor ever likely to know, where the stone had fallen, or
what it was meant to do. Then this new commission on which he was
bent--was it in any way connected with the other, or merely the odd
result of his being in the right place at the right moment? He was
inclined to think the latter. And yet how odd it was that one doubtful
errand should be followed by another, in a town no larger than New
Bedford, forcing him from scene to scene, till he found himself speeding
toward the city he least desired to enter, and from which he had the
most to fear!

But brooding over a case like this brings small comfort. He felt that he
had been juggled with, but he neither knew by whose hand nor in what
cause. If the hand was that of Providence, why he had only to go on
following the beck of the moment, while if it was that of Fate, the very
uselessness of struggling with it was apparent at once. Poor reasoning,
perhaps, but no other offered, and satisfied that whatever came his
intentions were above question, he settled himself at last for a nap, of
which he certainly stood in good need. When he awoke he was in Boston.

The first thing he did was to show his list of addresses and inquire
into what quarter they would lead him. To his surprise he found it to be
the fashionable quarter. Two of them were names of well-known
club-houses, a third that of a first-class restaurant, and the fourth
that of a private house on Commonwealth Avenue. Heigho! and he was
dressed like a tramp, or nearly so!

"Queer messenger, I, for such kind of work," thought he. "I wonder why
he lighted on such a rough-looking customer. He must have had his
reasons. I wonder if he wished the errand to fail. He bore himself very
nonchalantly at the depot. When I last saw him his face and attitude
were those of a totally unconcerned man. Have I been sent on a fool's
chase after all?"

The absurdity of this conclusion struck him, however, as he reasoned:
"Why, then, should he have paid my fare? Not as a benefit to me, of
course, but for his own ends, whatever they might be. Let us see, then,
what those ends are. So now for the gentleman of the red hair who plays
cards with one arm in a sling."

He thought that he might get entrance into the club-houses easily
enough. He possessed a certain amount of insinuation when necessity
required, and, if hard-featured, had a good expression which in
unprejudiced minds defied criticism. Of porters and doorkeepers he was
not afraid, and these were the men he must first encounter.

At the first club-house he succeeded easily enough in getting word with
the man waiting in the large hall, and before many minutes learned that
the object of his search was not to be found there that evening. He also
learned his name, which was a great step towards the success of his
embassy. It was Wattles, Captain Wattles, a marked man evidently, even
in this exclusive and aristocratic club.

Armed with this new knowledge, he made his way to the second building of
the kind and boldly demanded speech with Captain Wattles. But Captain
Wattles had not yet arrived and he went out again this time to look him
up at the restaurant.

He was not there. As Sweetwater was going out two gentlemen came in, one
of whom said to the other in passing:

"Sick, do you say? I thought Wattles was made of iron."

"So he was," returned the other, "before that accident to his arm. Now
the least thing upsets him. He's down at Haberstow's."

That was all; the door was swung to between them. Sweetwater had
received his clew, but what a clew! Haberstow's? Where was that?

Thinking the bold course the best one, he re-entered the restaurant and
approached the gentlemen he had just seen enter.

"I heard you speak the name of Captain Wattles," said he. "I am hunting
for Captain Wattles. Can you tell me where he is?"

He soon saw that he had struck the wrong men for information. They not
only refused to answer him, but treated him with open disdain. Unwilling
to lose time, he left them, and having no other resource, hastened to
the last place mentioned on his list.

It was now late, too late to enter a private house under ordinary
circumstances, but this house was lighted up, and a carriage stood in
front of it; so he had the courage to run up the steps and consult the
large door-plate visible from the sidewalk. It read thus:

HABERSTOW.

Fortune had favoured him better than he expected.

He hesitated a moment, then decided to ring the bell. But before he had
done so, the door opened and an old gentleman appeared seeing a younger
man out. The latter had his arm in a sling, and bore himself with a
fierceness that made his appearance somewhat alarming; the other seemed
to be in an irate state of mind.

"No apologies!" the former was saying. "I don't mind the night air; I'm
not so ill as that. When I'm myself again we'll have a little more talk.
My compliments to your daughter, sir. I wish you a very good evening, or
rather night."

The old gentleman bowed, and as he did so Sweetwater caught a glimpse
(it was the shortest glimpse in the world) of a sweet face beaming from
a doorway far down the hall. There was pain in it and a yearning anxiety
that made it very beautiful; then it vanished, and the old gentleman,
uttering some few sarcastic words, closed the door, and Sweetwater found
himself alone and in darkness.

The kaleidoscope had been given another turn.

Dashing down the stoop, he came upon the gentleman who had preceded him,
just as he was seating himself in the carriage.

"Pardon me," he gasped, as the driver caught up the reins; "you have
forgotten something." Then, as Captain Wattles looked hastily out, "You
have forgotten me."

The oath that rang out from under that twitching red moustache was
something to startle even him. But he clung to the carriage window and
presently managed to say:

"A messenger, sir, from New Bedford. I have been on the hunt for you for
two hours. It won't keep, sir, for more than a half-hour longer. Where
shall I find you during that time?"

Captain Wattles, on whom the name New Bedford seemed to have made some
impression, pointed up at the coachman's box with a growl, in which
command mingled strangely with menace. Then he threw himself back.
Evidently the captain was not in very good humour.

Sweetwater, taking this as an order to seat himself beside the driver,
did so, and the carriage drove off. It went at a rapid pace, and before
he had time to propound more than a question or two to the coachman, it
stopped before a large apartment-house in a brilliantly lighted street.

Captain Wattles got out, and Sweetwater followed him. The former, who
seemed to have forgotten Sweetwater, walked past him and entered the
building with a stride and swing that made the plain, lean,
insignificant-looking messenger behind him feel smaller than ever.
Indeed, he had never felt so small, for not only was the captain a man
of superb proportions and conspicuous bearing, but he possessed, in
spite of his fiery hair and fierce moustache, that _beauté de diable_
which is at once threatening and imposing. Added to this, he was angry
and so absorbed in his own thoughts that he would be very apt to visit
punishment of no light character upon anyone who interfered with him. A
pleasing prospect for Sweetwater, who, however, kept on with the dogged
determination of his character up the first flight of stairs and then up
another till they stopped, Captain Wattles first and afterwards his
humble follower, before a small door into which the captain endeavoured
to fit a key. The oaths which followed his failure to do this were not
very encouraging to the man behind, nor was the kick which he gave the
door after the second more successful attempt calculated to act in a
very reassuring way upon anyone whose future pay for a doubtful task
rested upon this man's good nature.

The darkness which met them both on the threshold of this now open room
was speedily relieved by a burst of electric light, that flooded the
whole apartment and brought out the captain's swaggering form and
threatening features with startling distinctness. He had thrown off his
hat and was relieving himself of a cloak in a furious way that caused
Sweetwater to shrink back, and, as the French say, efface himself as
much as possible behind a clothes-tree standing near the door. That the
captain had entirely forgotten him was evident, and for the present
moment that gentleman was too angry to care or even notice if a dozen
men stood at the door. As he was talking all this time, or rather
jerking out sharp sentences, as men do when in a towering rage,
Sweetwater was glad to be left unnoticed, for much can be gathered from
scattered sentences, especially when a man is in too reckless a frame of
mind to weigh them. He, therefore, made but little movement and
listened; and these are some of the ejaculations and scraps of talk he
heard:

"The old purse-proud fool! Honoured by my friendship, but not ready to
accept me as his daughter's suitor! As if I would lounge away hours that
mean dollars to me in his stiff old drawing-room, just to hear his
everlasting drone about stocks up and stocks down, and politics gone all
wrong. He has heard that I play cards, and--How pretty she looked! I
believe I half like that girl, and when I think she has a million in her
own right--Damn it, if I cannot win her openly and with papa's consent,
I will carry her off with only her own. She's worth the effort, doubly
worth it, and when I have her and her money--Eh! Who are you?"

He had seen Sweetwater at last, which was not strange, seeing that he
had turned his way, and was within two feet of him.

"What are you doing here, and who let you in? Get out, or--"

"A message, Captain Wattles! A message from New Bedford. You have
forgotten, sir; you bade me follow you."

It was curious to see the menace slowly die out of the face of this
flushed and angry man as he met Sweetwater's calm eye and unabashed
front, and noticed, as he had not done at first, the slip of paper which
the latter resolutely held out.

"New Bedford; ah, from Campbell, I take it. Let me see!" And the hand
which had shook with rage now trembled with a very different sort of
emotion as he took the slip, cast his eyes over it, and then looked back
at Sweetwater.

Now, Sweetwater knew the two words written on that paper. He could see
out of the back of his head at times, and he had been able to make out
these words when the man in New Bedford was writing them.

"Happenings; Afghanistan," with the figures 2000 after the latter.

Not much sense in them singly or in conjunction, but the captain,
muttering them over to himself, consulted a little book which he took
from his breast pocket and found, or seemed to, a clew to their meaning.
It could only have been a partial one, however, for in another instant
he turned on Sweetwater with a sour look and a thundering oath.

"Is this all?" he shouted. "Does he call this a complete message?"

"There is another word," returned Sweetwater, "which he bade me give you
by word of mouth; but that word don't go for nothing. It's worth just
twenty-five dollars. I've earned it, sir. I came up from New Bedford on
purpose to deliver it to you."

Sweetwater expected a blow, but he only got a stare.

"Twenty-five dollars," muttered the captain. "Well, it's fortunate that
I have them. And who are you?" he asked. "Not one of Campbell's
pick-ups, surely?"

"I am a confidential messenger," smiled Sweetwater, amused against his
will at finding a name for himself. "I carry messages and execute
commissions that require more or less discretion in the handling. I am
paid well. Twenty-five dollars is the price of this job."

"So you have had the honour of informing me before," blustered the other
with an attempt to hide some serious emotion. "Why, man, what do you
fear? Don't you see I'm hurt? You could knock me over with a feather if
you touched my game arm."

"Twenty-five dollars," repeated Sweetwater.

The captain grew angrier. "Dash it! aren't you going to have them?
What's the word?"

But Sweetwater wasn't going to be caught by chaff.

"C. O. D.," he insisted firmly, standing his ground, though certain that
the blow would now fall. But no, the captain laughed, and tugging away
with his one free hand at his pocket, he brought out a pocket-book, from
which he managed deftly enough to draw out three bills. "There," said
he, laying them on the table, but keeping one long vigorous finger on
them. "Now, the word."

Sweetwater laid his own hand on the bills.

"Frederick," said he.

"Ah!" said the other thoughtfully, lifting his finger and proceeding to
stride up and down the room. "He's a stiff one. What he says, he will
do. Two thousand dollars! and soon, too, I warrant. Well, I'm in a devil
of a fix at last." He had again forgotten the presence of Sweetwater.

Suddenly he turned or rather stopped. His eye was on the messenger, but
he did not even see him. "One Frederick must offset the other," he
cried. "It's the only loophole out," and he threw himself into a chair
from which he immediately sprang up again with a yell. He had hurt his
wounded arm.

Pandemonium reigned in that small room for a minute, then his eye fell
again on Sweetwater, who, under the fascination of the spectacle offered
him, had only just succeeded in finding the knob of the door. This time
there was recognition in his look.

"Wait!" he cried. "I may have use for you too. Confidential messengers
are hard to come by, and one that Campbell would employ must be all
right. Sit down there! I'll talk to you when I'm ready."

Sweetwater was not slow in obeying this command. Business was booming
with him. Besides, the name of Frederick acted like a charm upon him.
There seemed to be so many Fredericks in the world, and one of them lay
in such a curious way near his heart.

Meanwhile the captain reseated himself, but more carefully. He had a
plan or method of procedure to think out, or so it seemed, for he sat a
long time in rigid immobility, with only the scowl of perplexity or
ill-temper on his brow to show the nature of his thoughts. Then he drew
a sheet of paper toward him, and began to write a letter. He was so
absorbed over this letter and the manipulation of it, having but one
hand to work with, that Sweetwater determined upon a hazardous stroke.
The little book which the captain had consulted, and which had
undoubtedly furnished him with a key to those two incongruous words, lay
on the floor not far from him, having been flung from its owner's hand
during the moments of passion and suffering I have above mentioned. To
reach this book with his foot, to draw it toward him, and, finally, to
get hold of it with his hand, was not difficult for one who aspired to
be a detective, and had already done some good work in that direction.
But it was harder to turn the leaves and find the words he sought
without attracting the attention of his fierce companion. He, however,
succeeded in doing this at last, the long list of words he found on
every page being arranged alphabetically. It was a private code for
telegraphic or cable messages, and he soon found that "Happenings"
meant: "Our little game discovered; play straight until I give you the
wink." And that "Afghanistan" stood for: "Hush money." As the latter was
followed by the figures I have mentioned, the purport of the message
needed no explanation, but the word "Frederick" did. So he searched for
that, only to find that it was not in the book. There was but one
conclusion to draw. This name was perfectly well known between them, and
was that of the person, no doubt, who laid claim to the two thousand
dollars.

Satisfied at holding this clew to the riddle, he dropped the book again
at his side and skilfully kicked it far out into the room. Captain
Wattles had seen nothing. He was a man who took in only one thing at a
time.

The penning of that letter went on laboriously. It took so long that
Sweetwater dozed, or pretended to, and when it was at last done, the
clock on the mantelpiece had struck two.

"Halloo there, now!" suddenly shouted the captain, turning on the
messenger. "Are you ready for another journey?"

"That depends," smiled Sweetwater, rising sleepily and advancing.
"Haven't got over the last one yet, and would rather sleep than start
out again."

"Oh, you want pay? Well, you'll get that fast enough if you succeed in
your mission. This letter" he shook it with an impatient hand--"should
be worth two thousand five hundred dollars to me. If you bring me back
that money or its equivalent within twenty-four hours, I will give you a
clean hundred of it. Good enough pay, I take it, for five hours'
journey. Better than sleep, eh? Besides, you can doze on the cars."

Sweetwater agreed with him in all these assertions. Putting on his cap,
he reached for the letter. He didn't like being made an instrument for
blackmail, but he was curious to see to whom he was about to be sent.
But the captain had grown suddenly wary.

"This is not a letter to be dropped in the mailbox," said he. "You
brought me a line here whose prompt delivery has prevented me from
making a fool of myself to-night. You must do as much with this one. It
is to be carried to its destination by yourself, given to the person
whose name you will find written on it, and the answer brought back
before you sleep, mind you, unless you snatch a wink or so on the cars.
That it is night need not disturb you. It will be daylight before you
arrive at the place to which this is addressed, and if you cannot get
into the house at so early an hour, whistle three times like
this--listen and one of the windows will presently fly up. You have had
no trouble finding me; you'll have no trouble finding him. When you
return, hunt me up as you did to-night. Only you need not trouble
yourself to look for me at Haberstow's," he added under his breath in a
tone that was no doubt highly satisfactory to himself. "I shall not be
there. And now, off with you!" he shouted. "You've your hundred dollars
to make before daylight, and it's already after two."

Sweetwater, who had stolen a glimpse at the superscription on the letter
he held, stumbled as he went out of the door. It was directed, as he had
expected, to a Frederick, probably to the second one of whom Captain
Wattles had spoken, but not, as he had expected, to a stranger. The name
on the letter was Frederick Sutherland, and the place of his destination
was Sutherlandtown.



XXVIII

"WHO ARE YOU?"


The round had come full circle. By various chances and a train of
circumstances for which he could not account, he had been turned from
his first intention and was being brought back stage by stage to the
very spot he had thought it his duty to fly from. Was this fate? He
began to think so, and no longer so much as dreamed of struggling
against it. But he felt very much dazed, and walked away through the now
partially deserted streets with an odd sense of failure that was only
compensated by the hope he now cherished of seeing his mother again, and
being once more Caleb Sweetwater of Sutherlandtown.

He was clearer, however, after a few blocks of rapid walking, and then
he began to wonder over the contents of the letter he held, and how they
would affect its recipient. Was it a new danger he was bringing him?
Instead of aiding Mr. Sutherland in keeping his dangerous secret, was he
destined to bring disgrace upon him, not only by his testimony before
the coroner, but by means of this letter, which, whatever it contained,
certainly could not bode good to the man from whom it was designed to
wrest two thousand five hundred dollars?

The fear that he was destined to do so grew upon him rapidly, and the
temptation to open the letter and make himself master of its contents
before leaving town at last became so strong that his sense of honour
paled before it, and he made up his mind that before he ventured into
the precincts of Sutherlandtown he would know just what sort of a
bombshell he was carrying into the Sutherland family. To do this he
stopped at the first respectable lodging-house he encountered and hired
a room. Calling for hot water "piping hot," he told them--he subjected
the letter to the effects of steam and presently had it open. He was not
disappointed in its contents, save that they were even more dangerous
than he had anticipated. Captain Wattles was an old crony of Frederick's
and knew his record better than anyone else in the world. From this fact
and the added one that Frederick had stood in special need of money at
the time of Agatha Webb's murder, the writer had no hesitation in
believing him guilty of the crime which opened his way to a fortune, and
though under ordinary circumstances he would, as his friend Frederick
already knew, be perfectly willing to keep his opinions to himself, he
was just now under the same necessity for money that Frederick had been
at that fatal time, and must therefore see the colour of two thousand
five hundred dollars before the day was out if Frederick desired to have
his name kept out of the Boston papers. That it had been kept out up to
this time argued that the crime had been well enough hidden to make the
alternative thus offered an important one.

There was no signature.

Sweetwater, affected to an extent he little expected, resealed the
letter, made his excuses to the landlord, and left the house. Now he
could see why he had not been allowed to make his useless sacrifice.
Another man than himself suspected Frederick, and by a word could
precipitate the doom he already saw hung too low above the devoted head
of Mr. Sutherland's son to be averted.

"Yet I'll attempt that too," burst impetuously from his lips. "If I
fail, I can but go back with a knowledge of this added danger. If I
succeed, why I must still go back. From some persons and from some
complications it is useless to attempt flight."

Returning to the club-house he had first entered in his search for
Captain Wattles, he asked if that gentleman had yet come in. This time
he was answered by an affirmative, though he might almost as well have
not been, for the captain was playing cards in a private room and would
not submit to any interruption.

"He will submit to mine," retorted Sweetwater to the man who had told
him this. "Or wait; hand him back this letter and say that the messenger
refuses to deliver it."

This brought the captain out, as he had fully expected it would.

"Why, what--" began that gentleman in a furious rage.

But Sweetwater, laying his hand on the arm he knew to be so sensitive,
rose on tiptoe and managed to whisper in the angry man's ear:

"You are a card-sharp, and it will be easy enough to ruin you. Threaten
Frederick Sutherland and in two weeks you will be boycotted by every
club in this city. Twenty-five hundred dollars won't pay you for that."

This from a nondescript fellow with no grains of a gentleman about him
in form, feature, or apparel! The captain stared nonplussed, too much
taken aback to be even angry.

Suddenly he cried:

"How do you know all this? How do you know what is or is not in the
letter I gave you?"

Sweetwater, with a shrug that in its quiet significance seemed to make
him at once the equal of his interrogator, quietly pressed the quivering
limb under his hand and calmly replied:

"I know because I have read it. Before putting my head in the lion's
mouth, I make it a point to count his teeth," and lifting his hand, he
drew back, leaving the captain reeling.

"What is your name? Who are you?" shouted out Wattles as Sweetwater was
drawing off.

It was the third time he had been asked that question within twenty-four
hours, but not before with this telling emphasis. "Who are you, I say,
and what can you do to me--?"

"I am--But that is an insignificant detail unworthy of your curiosity.
As to what I can do, wait and see. But first burn that letter."

And turning his back he fled out of the building, followed by oaths
which, if not loud, were certainly deep and very far-reaching.

It was the first time Captain Wattles had met his match in audacity.



XXIX

HOME AGAIN


On his way to the depot, Sweetwater went into the Herald office and
bought a morning paper. At the station he opened it. There was one
column devoted to the wreck of the Hesper, and a whole half-page to the
proceedings of the third day's inquiry into the cause and manner of
Agatha Webb's death. Merely noting that his name was mentioned among the
lost, in the first article, he began to read the latter with justifiable
eagerness. The assurance given in Captain Wattles's letter was true. No
direct suspicion had as yet fallen on Frederick. As the lover of Amabel
Page, his name was necessarily mentioned, but neither in the account of
the inquest nor in the editorials on the subject could he find any proof
that either the public or police had got hold of the great idea that he
was the man who had preceded Amabel to Agatha's cottage. Relieved on
this score, Sweetwater entered more fully into the particulars, and
found that though the jury had sat three days, very little more had come
to light than was known on the morning he made that bold dash into the
Hesper. Most of the witnesses had given in their testimony, Amabel's
being the chief, and though no open accusation had been made, it was
evident from the trend of the questions put to the latter that Amabel's
connection with the affair was looked upon as criminal and as placing
her in a very suspicious light. Her replies, however, as once before,
under a similar but less formal examination, failed to convey any
recognition on her part either of this suspicion or of her own position;
yet they were not exactly frank, and Sweetwater saw, or thought he saw
(naturally failing to have a key to the situation), that she was still
working upon her old plan of saving both herself and Frederick, by
throwing whatever suspicion her words might raise upon the deceased
Zabel. He did not know, and perhaps it was just as well that he did not
at this especial juncture, that she was only biding her time--now very
nearly at hand--and that instead of loving Frederick, she hated him, and
was determined upon his destruction. Reading, as a final clause, that
Mr. Sutherland was expected to testify soon in explanation of his
position as executor of Mrs. Webb's will, Sweetwater grew very serious,
and, while no change took place in his mind as to his present duty, he
decided that his return must be as unobtrusive as possible, and his only
too timely reappearance on the scene of the inquiry kept secret till Mr.
Sutherland had given his evidence and retired from under the eyes of his
excited fellow-citizens.

"The sight of me might unnerve him," was Sweetwater's thought,
"precipitating the very catastrophe we dread. One look, one word on his
part indicative of his inner apprehensions that his son had a hand in
the crime which has so benefited him, and nothing can save Frederick
from the charge of murder. Not Knapp's skill, my silence, or Amabel's
finesse. The young man will be lost."

He did not know, as we do, that Amabel's finesse was devoted to winning
a husband for herself, and that, in the event of failure, the action she
threatened against her quondam lover would be precipitated that very day
at the moment when the clock struck twelve.

       .       .       .       .       .       .

Sweetwater arrived home by the way of Portchester. He had seen one or
two persons he knew, but, so far, had himself escaped recognition. The
morning light was dimly breaking when he strode into the outskirts of
Sutherlandtown and began to descend the hill. As he passed Mr.
Halliday's house he looked up, and was astonished to see a light burning
in one deeply embowered window. Alas! he did not know how early one
anxious heart woke during those troublous days. The Sutherland house was
dark, but as he crept very close under its overhanging eaves he heard a
deep sigh uttered over his head, and knew that someone was up here also
in anxious expectation of a day that was destined to hold more than even
he anticipated.

Meanwhile, the sea grew rosy, and the mother's cottage was as yet far
off. Hurrying on, he came at last under the eye of more than one of the
early risers of Sutherlandtown.

"What, Sweetwater! Alive and well!"

"Hey, Sweetwater, we thought you were lost on the Hesper!"

"Halloo! Home in time to see the pretty Amabel arrested?" Phrases like
these met him at more than one corner; but he eluded them all, stopping
only to put one hesitating question. Was his mother well?

Home fears had made themselves felt with his near approach to that
humble cottage door.



BOOK III

HAD BATSY LIVED!


XXX

WHAT FOLLOWED THE STRIKING OF THE CLOCK


It was the last day of the inquest, and to many it bade fair to be the
least interesting. All the witnesses who had anything to say had long
ago given in their testimony, and when at or near noon Sweetwater slid
into the inconspicuous seat he had succeeded in obtaining near the
coroner, it was to find in two faces only any signs of the eagerness and
expectancy which filled his own breast to suffocation. But as these
faces were those of Agnes Halliday and Amabel Page, he soon recognised
that his own judgment was not at fault, and that notwithstanding outward
appearances and the languid interest shown in the now lagging
proceedings, the moment presaged an event full of unseen but vital
consequence.

Frederick was not visible in the great hall; but that he was near at
hand soon became evident from the change Sweetwater now saw in Amabel.
For while she had hitherto sat under the universal gaze with only the
faint smile of conscious beauty on her inscrutable features, she roused
as the hands of the clock moved toward noon, and glanced at the great
door of entrance with an evil expectancy that startled even Sweetwater,
so little had he really understood the nature of the passions labouring
in that venomous breast.

Next moment the door opened, and Frederick and his father came in. The
air of triumphant satisfaction with which Amabel sank back into her seat
was as marked in its character as her previous suspense. What did it
mean? Sweetwater, noting it, and the vivid contrast it offered to
Frederick's air of depression, felt that his return had been well timed.

Mr. Sutherland was looking very feeble. As he took the chair offered
him, the change in his appearance was apparent to all who knew him, and
there were few there who did not know him. And, startled by these
evidences of suffering which they could not understand and feared to
interpret even to themselves, more than one devoted friend stole uneasy
glances at Frederick to see if he too were under the cloud which seemed
to envelop his father almost beyond recognition.

But Frederick was looking at Amabel, and his erect head and determined
aspect made him a conspicuous figure in the room. She who had called up
this expression, and alone comprehended it fully, smiled as she met his
eye, with that curious slow dipping of her dimples which had more than
once confounded the coroner, and rendered her at once the admiration and
abhorrence of the crowd who for so long a time had had the opportunity
of watching her.

Frederick, to whom this smile conveyed a last hope as well as a last
threat, looked away as soon as possible, but not before her eyes had
fallen in their old inquiring way to his hands, from which he had
removed the ring which up to this hour he had invariably worn on his
third finger. In this glance of hers and this action of his began the
struggle that was to make that day memorable in many hearts.

After the first stir occasioned by the entrance of two such important
persons the crowd settled back into its old quietude under the coroner's
hand. A tedious witness was having his slow say, and to him a full
attention was being given in the hope that some real enlightenment would
come at last to settle the questions which had been raised by Amabel's
incomplete and unsatisfactory testimony. But no man can furnish what he
does not possess, and the few final minutes before noon passed by
without any addition being made to the facts which had already been
presented for general consideration.

As the witness sat down the clock began to strike. As the slow,
hesitating strokes rang out, Sweetwater saw Frederick yield to a sudden
but most profound emotion. The old fear, which we understand, if
Sweetwater did not, had again seized the victim of Amabel's ambition,
and under her eye, which was blazing full upon him now with a fell and
steady purpose, he found his right hand stealing toward the left in the
significant action she expected. Better to yield than fall headlong into
the pit one word of hers would open. He had not meant to yield, but now
that the moment had come, now that he must at once and forever choose
between a course that led simply to personal unhappiness and one that
involved not only himself, but those dearest to him, in disgrace and
sorrow, he felt himself weaken to the point of clutching at whatever
would save him from the consequences of confession. Moral strength and
that tenacity of purpose which only comes from years of self-control
were too lately awakened in his breast to sustain him now. As stroke
after stroke fell on the ear, he felt himself yielding beyond recovery,
and had almost touched his finger in the significant action of assent
which Amabel awaited with breathless expectation, when--was it miracle
or only the suggestion of his better nature?--the memory of a face full
of holy pleading rose from the past before his eyes and with an inner
cry of "Mother!" he flung his hand out and clutched his father's arm in
a way to break the charm of his own dread and end forever the effects of
the intolerable fascination that was working upon him. Next minute the
last stroke of noon rang out, and the hour was up which Amabel had set
as the limit of her silence.

A pause, which to their two hearts if to no others seemed strangely
appropriate, followed the cessation of these sounds, then the witness
was dismissed, and Amabel, taking advantage of the movement, was about
to lean toward Mr. Courtney, when Frederick, leaping with a bound to his
feet, drew all eyes towards himself with the cry:

"Let me be put on my oath. I have testimony to give of the utmost
importance in this case."

The coroner was astounded; everyone was astounded. No one had expected
anything from him, and instinctively every eye turned towards Amabel to
see how she was affected by his action.

Strangely, evidently, for the look with which she settled back in her
seat was one which no one who saw it ever forgot, though it conveyed no
hint of her real feelings, which were somewhat chaotic.

Frederick, who had forgotten her now that he had made up his mind to
speak, waited for the coroner's reply.

"If you have testimony," said that gentleman after exchanging a few
hurried words with Mr. Courtney and the surprised Knapp, "you can do no
better than give it to us at once. Mr. Frederick Sutherland, will you
take the stand?"

With a noble air from which all hesitation had vanished, Frederick
started towards the place indicated, but stopped before he had taken a
half-dozen steps and glanced back at his father, who was visibly
succumbing under this last shock.

"Go!" he whispered, but in so thrilling a tone it was heard to the
remotest corner of the room. "Spare me the anguish of saying what I have
to say in your presence. I could not bear it. You could not bear it.
Later, if you will wait for me in one of these rooms, I will repeat my
tale in your ears, but go now. It is my last entreaty."

There was a silence; no one ventured a dissent, no one so much as made a
gesture of disapproval. Then Mr. Sutherland struggled to his feet, cast
one last look around him, and disappeared through a door which had
opened like magic before him. Then and not till then did Frederick move
forward.

The moment was intense. The coroner seemed to share the universal
excitement, for his first question was a leading one and brought out
this startling admission:

"I have obtruded myself into this inquiry and now ask to be heard by
this jury, because no man knows more than I do of the manner and cause
of Agatha Webb's death. This you will believe when I tell you that _I_
was the person Miss Page followed into Mrs. Webb's house and whom she
heard descend the stairs during the moment she crouched behind the
figure of the sleeping Philemon."

It was more, infinitely more, than anyone there had expected. It was not
only an acknowledgment but a confession, and the shock, the surprise,
the alarm, which it occasioned even to those who had never had much
confidence in this young man's virtue, was almost appalling in its
intensity. Had it not been for the consciousness of Mr. Sutherland's
near presence the feeling would have risen to outbreak; and many voices
were held in subjection by the remembrance of this venerated man's last
look, that otherwise would have made themselves heard in despite of the
restrictions of the place and the authority of the police.

To Frederick it was a moment of immeasurable grief and humiliation. On
every face, in every shrinking form, in subdued murmurs and open cries,
he read instant and complete condemnation, and yet in all his life from
boyhood up to this hour, never had he been so worthy of their esteem and
consideration. But though he felt the iron enter his soul, he did not
lose his determined attitude. He had observed a change in Amabel and a
change in Agnes, and if only to disappoint the vile triumph of the one
and raise again the drooping courage of the other, he withstood the
clamour and began speaking again, before the coroner had been able to
fully restore quiet.

"I know," said he, "what this acknowledgment must convey to the minds of
the jury and people here assembled. But if anyone who listens to me
thinks me guilty of the death I was so unfortunate as to have witnessed,
he will be doing me a wrong which Agatha Webb would be the first to
condemn. Dr. Talbot, and you, gentlemen of the jury, in the face of God
and man, I here declare that Mrs. Webb, in my presence and before my
eyes, gave to herself the blow which has robbed us all of a most
valuable life. She was not murdered."

It was a solemn assertion, but it failed to convince the crowd before
him. As by one impulse men and women broke into a tumult. Mr. Sutherland
was forgotten and cries of "Never! She was too good! It's all calumny! A
wretched lie!" broke in unrestrained excitement from every part of the
large room. In vain the coroner smote with his gavel, in vain the local
police endeavoured to restore order; the tide was up and over-swept
everything for an instant till silence was suddenly restored by the
sight of Amabel smoothing out the folds of her crisp white frock with an
incredulous, almost insulting, smile that at once fixed attention again
on Frederick. He seized the occasion and spoke up in a tone of great
resolve.

"I have made an assertion," said he, "before God and before this jury.
To make it seem a credible one I shall have to tell my own story from
the beginning. Am I allowed to do so, Mr. Coroner?"

"You are," was the firm response.

"Then, gentlemen," continued Frederick, still without looking at Amabel,
whose smile had acquired a mockery that drew the eyes of the jury toward
her more than once during the following recital, "you know, and the
public generally now know, that Mrs. Webb has left me the greater
portion of the money of which she died possessed. I have never before
acknowledged to anyone, not even to the good man who awaits this jury's
verdict on the other side of that door yonder, that she had reasons for
this, good reasons, reasons of which up to the very evening of her death
I was myself ignorant, as I was ignorant of her intentions in my regard,
or that I was the special object of her attention, or that we were under
any mutual obligations in any way. Why, then, I should have thought of
going to her in the great strait in which I found myself on that day, I
cannot say. I knew she had money in her house; this I had unhappily been
made acquainted with in an accidental way, and I knew she was of kindly
disposition and quite capable of doing a very unselfish act. Still, this
would not seem to be reason enough for me to intrude upon her late at
night with a plea for a large loan of money, had I not been in a
desperate condition of mind, which made any attempt seem reasonable that
promised relief from the unendurable burden of a pressing and
disreputable debt. I was obliged to have money, a great deal of money,
and I had to have it at once; and while I know that this will not serve
to lighten the suspicion I have brought upon myself by my late
admissions, it is the only explanation I can give you for leaving the
ball at my father's house and hurrying down secretly and alone into town
to the little cottage where, as I had been told early in the evening, a
small entertainment was being given, which would insure its being open
even at so late an hour as midnight. Miss Page, who will, I am sure,
pardon the introduction of her name into this narrative, has taken pains
to declare to you that in the expedition she herself made into town that
evening, she followed some person's steps down-hill. This is very likely
true, and those steps were probably mine, for after leaving the house by
the garden door, I came directly down the main road to the corner of the
lane running past Mrs. Webb's cottage. Having already seen from the
hillside the light burning in her upper windows, I felt encouraged to
proceed, and so hastened on till I came to the gate on High Street. Here
I had a moment of hesitation, and thoughts bitter enough for me to
recall them at this moment came into my mind, making that instant,
perhaps, the very worst in my life; but they passed, thank God, and with
no more desperate feeling than a sullen intention of having my own way
about this money, I lifted the latch of the front door and stepped in.

"I had expected to find a jovial group of friends in her little ground
parlour, or at least to hear the sound of merry voices and laughter in
the rooms above; but no sounds of any sort awaited me; indeed the house
seemed strangely silent for one so fully lighted, and, astonished at
this, I pushed the door ajar at my left and looked in. An unexpected and
pitiful sight awaited me. Seated at a table set with abundance of
untasted food, I saw the master of the house with his head sunk forward
on his arms, asleep. The expected guests had failed to arrive, and he,
tired out with waiting, had fallen into a doze at the board.

"This was a condition of things for which I was not prepared. Mrs. Webb,
whom I wished to see, was probably up-stairs, and while I might summon
her by a sturdy rap on the door beside which I stood, I had so little
desire to wake her husband, of whose mental condition I was well aware,
that I could not bring myself to make any loud noise within his hearing.
Yet I had not the courage to retreat. All my hope of relief from the
many difficulties that menaced me lay in the generosity of this
great-hearted woman, and if out of pusillanimity I let this hour go by
without making my appeal, nothing but shame and disaster awaited me. Yet
how could I hope to lure her down-stairs without noise? I could not, and
so, yielding to the impulse of the moment, without any realisation, I
here swear, of the effect which my unexpected presence would have on the
noble woman overhead, I slipped up the narrow staircase, and catching at
that moment the sound of her voice calling out to Batsy, I stepped up to
the door I saw standing open before me and confronted her before she
could move from the table before which she was sitting, counting over a
large roll of money.

"My look (and it was doubtless not a common look, for the sight of a
mass of money at that moment, when money was everything to me, roused
every lurking demon in my breast) seemed to appall, if it did not
frighten her, for she rose, and meeting my eye with a gaze in which
shock and some strange and poignant agony totally incomprehensible to me
were strangely blended, she cried out:

"'No, no, Frederick! You don't know what you are doing. If you want my
money, take it; if you want my life, I will give it to you with my own
hand. Don't stain yours--don't--'

"I did not understand her. I did not know until I thought it over
afterward that my hand was thrust convulsively into my breast in a way
which, taken with my wild mien, made me look as if I had come to murder
her for the money over which she was hovering. I was blind, deaf to
everything but that money, and bending madly forward in a state of
mental intoxication awful enough for me to remember now, I answered her
frenzied words by some such broken exclamations as these:

"'Give, then! I want hundreds--thousands--now, now, to save myself!
Disgrace, shame, prison await me if I don't have them. Give, give!' And
my hand went out toward it, not toward her; but she mistook the action,
mistook my purpose, and, with a heart-broken cry, to save me, ME, from
crime, the worst crime of which humanity is capable, she caught up a
dagger lying only too near her hand in the open drawer against which she
leaned, and in a moment of fathomless anguish which we who can never
know more than the outward seeming of her life can hardly measure,
plunged against it and--I can tell you no more. Her blood and Batsy's
shriek from the adjoining room swam through my consciousness, and then
she fell, as I supposed, dead upon the floor, and I, in scarcely better
case, fell also.

"This, as God lives, is the truth concerning the wound found in the
breast of this never-to-be-forgotten woman."

The feeling, the pathos, the anguish even, to be found in his tone made
this story, strange and incredible as it seemed, appear for the moment
plausible.

"And Batsy?" asked the coroner.

"Must have fallen when we did, for I never heard her voice after the
first scream. But I shall speak of her again. What I must now explain is
how the money in Mrs. Webb's drawer came into my possession, and how the
dagger she had planted in her breast came to be found on the lawn
outside. When I came to myself, and that must have been very soon, I
found that the blow of which I had been such a horrified witness had not
yet proved fatal. The eyes I had seen close, as I had supposed, forever,
were now open, and she was looking at me with a smile that has never
left my memory, and never will.

"'There is no blood on you,' she murmured. 'You did not strike the blow.
Was it money only that you wanted, Frederick? If so, you could have had
it without crime. There are five hundred dollars on that table. Take
them and let them pave your way to a better life. My death will help you
to remember.' Do these words, this action of hers, seem incredible to
you, sirs? Alas! alas! they will not when I tell you"--and here he cast
one anxious, deeply anxious, glance at the room in which Mr. Sutherland
was hidden--"that unknown to me, unknown to anyone living but herself,
unknown to that good man from whom it can no longer be kept hidden,
Agatha Webb was my mother. I am Philemon's son and not the offspring of
Charles and Marietta Sutherland!"



XXXI

A WITNESS LOST


Impossible! Incredible!

Like a wave suddenly lifted the whole assemblage rose in surprise if not
in protest. But there was no outburst. The very depth of the feelings
evoked made all ebullition impossible, and as one sees the billow pause
ere it breaks, and gradually subside, so this crowd yielded to its awe,
and man by man sank back into his seat till quiet was again restored,
and only a circle of listening faces confronted the man who had just
stirred a whole roomful to its depths. Seeing this, and realising his
opportunity, Frederick at once entered into the explanations for which
each heart there panted.

"This will be overwhelming news to him who has cared for me since
infancy. You have heard him call me son; with what words shall I
overthrow his confidence in the truth and rectitude of his long-buried
wife and make him know in his old age that he has wasted years of
patience upon one who was not of his blood or lineage? The wonder, the
incredulity you manifest are my best excuse for my long delay in
revealing the secret entrusted to me by this dying woman."

An awed silence greeted these words. Never was the interest of a crowd
more intense or its passions held in greater restraint. Yet Agnes's
tears flowed freely, and Amabel's smiles--well, their expression had
changed; and to Sweetwater, who alone had eyes for her now, they were
surcharged with a tragic meaning, strange to see in one of her callous
nature.

Frederick's voice broke as he proceeded in his self-imposed task.

"The astounding fact which I have just communicated to you was made
known by my mother, with the dagger still plunged in her breast. She
would not let me draw it out. She knew that death would follow that act,
and she prized every moment remaining to her because of the bliss she
enjoyed of seeing and having near her her only living child. The love,
the passion, the boundless devotion she showed in those last few minutes
transformed me in an instant from a selfish brute into a deeply
repentant man. I knelt before her in anguish. I made her feel that,
wicked as I had been, I was not the conscienceless wretch she had
imagined, and that she was mistaken as to the motives which led me into
her presence. And when I saw, by her clearing brow and peaceful look,
that I had fully persuaded her of this, I let her speak what words she
would, and tell, as she was able, the secret tragedy of her life.

"It is a sacred story to me, and if you must know it, let it be from her
own words in the letters she left behind her. She only told me that to
save me from the fate of the children who had preceded me, the five
little girls and boys who had perished almost at birth in her arms, she
had parted from me in early infancy to Mrs. Sutherland, then mourning
the sudden death of her only child; that this had been done secretly and
under circumstances calculated to deceive Mr. Sutherland, consequently
he had never known I was not his own child, and in terror of the effect
which the truth might have upon him she enjoined me not to enlighten him
now, if by any sacrifice on my part I could rightfully avoid it; that
she was happy in having me hear the truth before she died; that the joy
which this gave her was so great she did not regret her fatal act,
violent and uncalled for as it was, for it had showed her my heart and
allowed me to read hers. Then she talked of my father, by whom I mean
him whom you call Philemon; and she made me promise I would care for him
to the last with tenderness, saying that I would be able to do this
without seeming impropriety, since she had willed me all her fortune
under this proviso. Finally, she gave me a key, and pointing out where
the money lay hidden, bade me carry it away as her last gift, together
with the package of letters I would find with it. And when I had taken
these and given her back the key, she told me that but for one thing she
would die happy. And though her strength and breath were fast failing
her, she made me understand that she was worried about the Zabels, who
had not come according to a sacred custom between them, to celebrate the
anniversary of her wedding, and prayed me to see the two old gentlemen
before I slept, since nothing but death or dire distress would have kept
them from gratifying the one whim of my father's failing mind. I
promised, and with perfect peace in her face, she pointed to the dagger
in her breast.

"But before I could lay my hand upon it she called for Batsy. 'I want
her to hear me declare before I go,' said she, 'that this stroke was
delivered by myself upon myself.' But when I rose to look for Batsy I
found that the shock of her mistress's fatal act had killed her and that
only her dead body was lying across the window-sill of the adjoining
room. It was a chance that robbed me of the only witness who could
testify to my innocence, in case my presence in this house of death
should become known, and realising all the danger in which it threw me,
I did not dare to tell my mother, for fear it would make her last
moments miserable. So I told her that the poor woman had understood what
she wished, but was too terrified to move or speak; and this satisfied
my mother and made her last breath one of trust and contented love. She
died as I drew the dagger from her breast, and seeing this, I was seized
with horror of the instrument which had cost me such a dear and valuable
life and flung it wildly from the window. Then I lifted her and laid her
where you found her, on the sofa. I did not know that the dagger was an
old-time gift of her former lover, James Zabel, much less that it bore
his initials on the handle."

He paused, and the awe occasioned by the scene he had described was so
deep and the silence so prolonged that a shudder passed over the whole
assemblage when from some unknown quarter a single cutting voice arose
in this one short, mocking comment:

"Oh, the fairy tale!"

Was it Amabel who spoke? Some thought so and looked her way, but they
only beheld a sweet, tear-stained face turned with an air of moving
appeal upon Frederick as if begging pardon for the wicked doubts which
had driven him to this defence.

Frederick met that look with one so severe it partook of harshness;
then, resuming his testimony, he said:

"It is of the Zabel brothers I must now speak, and of how one of them,
James by name, came to be involved in this affair.

"When I left my dead mother's side I was in such a state of mind that I
passed with scarcely so much as a glance the room where my new-found
father sat sleeping. But as I hastened on toward the quarter where the
Zabels lived, I was seized by such compunction for his desolate state
that I faltered in my rapid flight and did not arrive at the place of my
destination as quickly as I intended. When I did I found the house dark
and the silence sepulchral. But I did not turn away. Remembering my
mother's anxiety, an anxiety so extreme it disturbed her final moments,
I approached the front door and was about to knock when I found it open.
Greatly astonished, I at once passed in, and, seeing my way perfectly in
the moonlight, entered the room on the left, the door of which also
stood open. It was the second house I had entered unannounced that
night, and in this as in the other I encountered a man sitting asleep by
the table.

"It was John, the elder of the two, and, perceiving that he was
suffering for food and in a condition of extreme misery, I took out the
first bill my hand encountered in my overfull pockets and laid it on the
table by his side. As I did so he gave a sigh, but did not wake; and
satisfied that I had done all that was wise and all that even my mother
would expect of me under the circumstances, and fearing to encounter the
other brother if I lingered, I hastened away and took the shortest path
home. Had I been more of a man, or if my visit to Mrs. Webb had been
actuated by a more communicable motive, I would have gone at once to the
good man who believed me to be of his own flesh and blood, and told him
of the strange and heart-rending adventure which had changed the whole
tenor of my thoughts and life, and begged his advice as to what I had
better do under the difficult circumstances in which I found myself
placed. But the memory of a thousand past ingratitudes, together with
the knowledge of the shock which he could not fail to receive on
learning at this late day, and under conditions at once so tragic and
full of menace, that the child which his long-buried wife had once
placed in his arms as his own was neither of her blood nor his, rose up
between us and caused me not only to attempt silence, but to secrete in
the adjoining woods the money I had received, in the vain hope that all
visible connection between myself and my mother's tragic death would
thus be lost. You see I had not calculated on Miss Amabel Page."

The flash he here received from that lady's eyes startled the crowd, and
gave Sweetwater, already suffering under shock after shock of mingled
surprise and wonder, his first definite idea that he had never rightly
understood the relations between these two, and that something besides
justice had actuated Amabel in her treatment of this young man. This
feeling was shared by others, and a reaction set in in Frederick's
favour, which even affected the officials who were conducting the
inquiry. This was shown by the difference of manner now assumed by the
coroner and by the more easily impressed Sweetwater, who had not yet
learned the indispensable art of hiding his feelings. Frederick himself
felt the change and showed it by the look of relief and growing
confidence he cast at Agnes.

Of the questions and answers which now passed between him and the
various members of the jury I need give no account. They but emphasised
facts already known, and produced but little change in the general
feeling, which was now one of suppressed pity for all who had been drawn
into the meshes of this tragic mystery. When he was allowed to resume
his seat, the name of Miss Amabel Page was again called.

She rose with a bound. Nought that she had anticipated had occurred;
facts of which she could know nothing had changed the aspect of affairs
and made the position of Frederick something so remote from any she
could have imagined, that she was still in the maze of the numberless
conflicting emotions which these revelations were calculated to call out
in one who had risked all on the hazard of a die and lost. She did not
even know at this moment whether she was glad or sorry he could explain
so cleverly his anomalous position. She had caught the look he had cast
at Agnes, and while this angered her, it did not greatly modify her
opinion that he was destined for herself. For, however other people
might feel, she did not for a moment believe his story. She had not a
pure enough heart to do so. To her all self-sacrifice was an anomaly. No
woman of the mental or physical strength of Agatha Webb would plant a
dagger in her own breast just to prevent another person from committing
a crime, were he lover, husband, or son. So Amabel believed and so would
these others believe also when once relieved of the magnetic personality
of this extraordinary witness. Yet how thrilling it had been to hear him
plead his cause so well! It was almost worth the loss of her revenge to
meet his look of hate, and dream of the possibility of turning it later
into the old look of love. Yes, yes, she loved him now; not for his
position, for that was gone; not even for his money, for she could
contemplate its loss; but for himself, who had so boldly shown that he
was stronger than she and could triumph over her by the sheer force of
his masculine daring.

With such feelings, what should she say to these men; how conduct
herself under questions which would be much more searching now than
before? She could not even decide in her own mind. She must let impulse
have its way.

Happily, she took the right stand at first. She did not endeavour to
make any corrections in her former testimony, only acknowledging that
the flower whose presence on the scene of death had been such a mystery,
had fallen from her hair at the ball and that she had seen Frederick
pick it up and put it in his buttonhole. Beyond this, and the inferences
it afterward awakened in her mind, she would not go, though many
present, and among them Frederick, felt confident that her attitude had
been one of suspicion from the first, and that it was to follow him
rather than to supply the wants of the old man, Zabel, she had left the
ball and found her way to Agatha Webb's cottage.



XXXII

WHY AGATHA WEBB WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN IN SUTHERLANDTOWN


Meanwhile Sweetwater had been witness to a series of pantomimic actions
that interested him more than Amabel's conduct under this final
examination. Frederick, who had evidently some request to make or
direction to give, had sent a written line to the coroner, who, on
reading it, had passed it over to Knapp, who a few minutes later was to
be seen in conference with Agnes Halliday. As a result, the latter rose
and left the room, followed by the detective. She was gone a half-hour,
then simultaneously with her reappearance, Sweetwater saw Knapp hand a
bundle of letters to the coroner, who, upon opening them, chose out
several which he proceeded to read to the jury. They were the letters
referred to by Frederick as having been given to him by his mother. The
first was dated thirty-five years previously and was in the handwriting
of Agatha herself. It was directed to James Zabel, and was read amid a
profound hush.

DEAR JAMES:

You are too presumptuous. When I let you carry me away from John in that
maddening reel last night, I did not mean you to draw the inference you
did. That you did draw it argues a touch of vanity in a man who is not
alone in the field where he imagines himself victor. John, who is
humbler, sees some merit in--well, in Frederick Snow, let us say. So do
I, but merit does not always win, any more than presumption. When we
meet, let it be as friends, but as friends only. A girl cannot be driven
into love. To ride on your big mare, Judith, is bliss enough for my
twenty years. Why don't you find it so too? I think I hear you say you
do, but only when she stops at a certain gate on Portchester highway.
Folly! there are other roads and other gates, though if I should see you
enter one--There! my pen is galloping away with me faster than Judith
ever did, and it is time I drew rein. Present my regards to John--But
no; then he would know I had written you a letter, and that might hurt
him. How could he guess it was only a scolding letter, such as it would
grieve him to receive, and that it does not count for anything! Were it
to Frederick Snow, now--There! some horses are so hard to pull up--and
so are some pens. I will come to a standstill, but not before your door.

Respectfully your neighbour,

AGATHA GILCHRIST.

  DEAR JAMES:

I know I have a temper, a wicked temper, and now you know it too. When
it is roused, I forget love, gratitude, and everything else that should
restrain me, and utter words I am myself astonished at. But I do not get
roused often, and when all is over I am not averse to apologising or
even to begging forgiveness. My father says my temper will undo me, but
I am much more afraid of my heart than I am of my temper. For instance,
here I am writing to you again just because I raised my riding-whip and
said--But you know what I said, and I am not fond of recalling the
words, for I cannot do so without seeing your look of surprise and
contrasting it with that of Philemon's. Yours had judgment in it, while
Philemon's held only indulgence. Yet I liked yours best, or should have
liked it best if it were not for the insufferable pride which is a part
of my being. Temper such as mine OUGHT to surprise you, yet would I be
Agatha Gilchrist without it? I very much fear not. And not being Agatha
Gilchrist, should I have your love? Again I fear not. James, forgive me.
When I am happier, when I know my own heart, I will have less
provocation. Then, if that heart turns your way, you will find a great
and bountiful serenity where now there are lowering and thunderous
tempests. Philemon said last night that he would be content to have my
fierce word o' mornings, if only I would give him one drop out of the
honey of my better nature when the sun went down and twilight brought
reflection and love. But I did not like him any the better for saying
this. YOU would not halve the day so. The cup with which you would
refresh yourself must hold no bitterness. Will it not have to be
proffered, then, by other hands than those of

AGATHA GILCHRIST?

MR. PHILEMON WEBB.

Respected Sir:

You are persistent. I am willing to tell YOU, though I shall never
confide so much to another, that it will take a stronger nature than
yours, and one that loves me less, to hold me faithful and make me the
happy, devoted wife which I must be if I would not be a demon. I cannot,
I dare not, marry where I am not held in a passionate, self-forgetful
subjection. I am too proud, too sensitive, too little mistress of myself
when angry or aroused. If, like some strong women, I loved what was
weaker than myself, and could be controlled by goodness and unlimited
kindness, I might venture to risk living at the side of the most
indulgent and upright man I know. But I am not of that kind. Strength
only can command my admiration or subdue my pride. I must fear where I
love, and own for husband him who has first shown himself my master.

So do not fret any more for me, for you, less than any man I know, will
ever claim my obedience or command my love. Not that I will not yield my
heart to you, but that I cannot; and, knowing that I cannot, feel it
honest to say so before any more of your fine, young manhood is wasted.
Go your ways, then, Philemon, and leave me to the rougher paths my feet
were made to tread. I like you now and feel something like a tender
regard for your goodness, but if you persist in a courtship which only
my father is inclined to smile upon, you will call up an antagonism that
can lead to nothing but evil, for the serpent that lies coiled in my
breast has deadly fangs, and is to be feared, as you should know who
have more than once seen me angry.

Do not blame John or James Zabel, or Frederick Snow, or even Samuel
Barton for this. It would be the same if none of these men existed. I
was not made to triumph over a kindly nature, but to yield the
haughtiest heart in all this county to the gentle but firm control of
its natural master. Do you want to know who that master is? I cannot
tell you, for I have not yet named him to myself.

DEAR JAMES:

I am going away. I am going to leave Portchester for several months. I
am going to see the world. I did not tell you this last night for fear
of weakening under your entreaties, or should I say commands? Lately I
have felt myself weakening more than once, and I want to know what it
means. Absence will teach me, absence and the sight of new faces. Do you
quarrel with this necessity? Do you think I should know my mind without
any such test? Alas! James, it is not a simple mind and it baffles me at
times. Let us then give it a chance. If the glow and glamour of elegant
city life can make me forget certain snatches of talk at our old gate,
or that night when you drew my hand through your arm and softly kissed
my fingertips, then I am no mate for you, whose love, however critical,
has never wavered, but has made itself felt, even in rebuke, as the
strongest, sweetest thing that has entered my turbulent life. Because I
would be worthy of you, I submit to a separation which will either be a
permanent one or the last that will ever take place between you and me.
John will not bear this as well as you, yet he does not love me as well,
possibly because to him I am simply a superior being, while to you I am
a loving but imperfect woman who wishes to do right but can only do so
under the highest guidance.

DEAR JOHN:

I feel that I owe you a letter because you have been so patient. You may
show it to James if you like, but I mean it for you as an old and dear
friend who will one day dance at my wedding.

I am living in a whirl of enjoyment. I am seeing and tasting of
pleasures I have only dreamed about till now. From a farmhouse kitchen
to Mrs. Andrews's drawing-room is a lively change for a girl who loves
dress and show only less than daily intercourse with famous men and
brilliant women. But I am bearing it nobly and have developed tastes I
did not know I possessed; expensive tastes, John, which I fear may unfit
me for the humble life of a Portchester matron. Can you imagine me
dressed in rich brocade, sitting in the midst of Washington's choicest
citizens and exchanging sallies with senators and judges? You may find
it hard, yet so it is, and no one seems to think I am out of place, nor
do I feel so, only--do not tell James--there are movements in my heart
at times which make me shut my eyes when the lights are brightest, and
dream, if but for an instant, of home and the tumble-down gateway where
I have so often leaned when someone (you know who it is now, John, and I
shall not hurt you too deeply by mentioning him) was saying good-night
and calling down the blessings of Heaven upon a head not worthy to
receive them.

Does this argue my speedy return? Perhaps. Yet I do not know. There are
fond hearts here also, and a life in this country's centre would be a
great life for me if only I could forget the touch of a certain
restraining hand which has great power over me even as a memory. For the
sake of that touch shall I give up the grandeur and charm of this broad
life? Answer, John. You know him and me well enough now to say.

DEAR JOHN:

I do not understand your letter. You speak in affectionate terms of
everybody, yet you beg me to wait and not be in a hurry to return. Why?
Do you not realise that such words only make me the more anxious to see
old Portchester again? If there is anything amiss at home, or if James
is learning to do without me--but you do not say that; you only intimate
that perhaps I will be better able to make up my mind later than now,
and hint of great things to come if I will only hold my affections in
check a little longer. This is all very ambiguous and demands a fuller
explanation. So write to me once more, John, or I shall sever every
engagement I have made here and return.

DEAR JOHN:

Your letter is plain enough this time. James read the letter I wrote you
about my pleasure in the life here and was displeased at it. He thinks I
am growing worldly and losing that simplicity which he has always looked
upon as my most attractive characteristic. So! so! Well, James is right;
I am becoming less the country girl and more the woman of the world
every day I remain here. That means I am becoming less worthy of him.
So--But whatever else I have to say on this topic must be said to him.
For this you will pardon me like the good brother you are. I cannot help
my preference. He is nearer my own age; besides, we were made for each
other.

DEAR JAMES:

I am not worldly; I am not carried away by the pleasures and
satisfactions of this place,--at least not to the point of forgetting
what is dearer and better. I have seen Washington, I have seen gay life;
I like it, but I LOVE Portchester. Consequently I am going to return to
Portchester, and that very soon. Indeed I cannot stay away much longer,
and if you are glad of this, and if you wish to be convinced that a girl
who has been wearing brocade and jewels can content herself quite gaily
again with calico, come up to the dear old gate a week from now and you
will have the opportunity. Do you object to flowers? I may wear a flower
in my hair.

Your wayward but ever-constant

AGATHA.

DEAR JAMES:

Why must I write? Why am I not content with the memory of last night?
When one's cup is quite full, a cup that has been so long in
filling,--must some few drops escape just to show that a great joy like
mine is not satisfied to be simply quiescent? I have suffered so long
from uncertainty, have tried you and tried myself with so tedious an
indecision, that, now I know no other man can ever move my heart as you
have done, the ecstasy of it makes me over-demonstrative. I want to tell
you that I love you; that I do not simply accept your love, but give you
back in fullest measure all the devotion you have heaped upon me in
spite of my many faults and failings. You took me to your heart last
night, and seemed satisfied; but it does not satisfy me that I just let
you do it without telling you that I am proud and happy to be the chosen
one of your heart, and that as I saw your smile and the proud passion
which lit up your face, I felt how much sweeter was the dear domestic
bliss you promised me than the more brilliant but colder life of a
statesman's wife in Washington.

I missed the flower from my hair when I went back to my room last night.
Did you take it, dear? If so, do not cherish it. I hate to think of
anything withering on your breast. My love is deathless, James, and owns
no such symbol as that. But perhaps you are not thinking of my love, but
of my faults. If so, let the flower remain where you have put it; and
when you gaze on it say, "Thus is it with the defects of my darling;
once in full bloom, now a withered remembrance. When I gathered her they
began to fade." O James, I feel as if I never could feel anger again.

DEAR JAMES:

I do not, I cannot, believe it. Though you said to me on going out,
"Your father will explain," I cannot content myself with his
explanations and will never believe what he said of you except you
confirm his accusations by your own act. If, after I have told you
exactly what passed between us, you return me this and other letters,
then I shall know that I have leaned my weight on a hollow staff, and
that henceforth I am to be without protector or comforter in this world.

O James, were we not happy! I believed in you and felt that you believed
in me. When we stood heart to heart under the elm tree (was it only last
night?) and you swore that if it lay in the power of earthly man to make
me happy, I should taste every sweet that a woman's heart naturally
craved, I thought my heaven had already come and that now it only
remained for me to create yours. Yet that very minute my father was
approaching us, and in another instant we heard these words:

"James, I must talk with you before you make my daughter forget herself
any further." Forget herself! What had happened? This was not the way my
father had been accustomed to talk, much as he had always favoured the
suit of Philemon Webb, and pleased as he would have been had my choice
fallen on him. Forget herself! I looked at you to see how these
insulting words would affect you. But while you turned pale, or seemed
to do so in the fading moonlight, you were not quite so unprepared for
them as I was myself, and instead of showing anger, followed my father
into the house, leaving me shivering in a spot which had held no chill
for me a moment before. You were gone--how long? To me it seemed an
hour, and perhaps it was. It would seem to take that long for a man's
face to show such change as yours did when you confronted me again in
the moonlight. Yet a lightning stroke makes quick work, and perhaps my
countenance in that one minute showed as great a change as yours. Else
why did you shudder away from me, and to my passionate appeal reply with
this one short phrase: "Your father will explain"? Did you think any
other words than yours would satisfy me, or that I could believe even
him when he accused you of a base and dishonest act? Much as I have
always loved and revered my father, I find it impossible not to hope
that in his wish to see me united to Philemon he has resorted to an
unworthy subterfuge to separate us; therefore I give you our interview
word for word. May it shock you as much as it shocked me. Here is what
he said first:

"Agatha, you cannot marry James Zabel. He is not an honest man. He has
defrauded me, ME, your father, of several thousand dollars. In a clever
way, too, showing him to be as subtle as he is unprincipled. Shall I
tell you the wretched story, my girl? He has left me to do so. He sees
as plainly as I do that any communication between you two after the
discovery I have this day made would be but an added offence. He is at
least a gentleman, which is something, considering how near he came to
being my son-in-law."

I may have answered. People do cry out when they are stabbed, sometimes,
but I rather think I did not say a word, only looked a disdain which at
that minute was as measureless as my belief in you. YOU dishonest?
YOU--Or perhaps I laughed; that would have been truer to my feeling;
yes, I must have laughed.

My father's next words indicated that I did something.

"You do not believe in his guilt," he went on, and there was a kindness
in his tone which gave me my first feeling of real terror. "I can
readily comprehend that, Agatha. He has been in my office and acted
under my eye for several years now, and I had almost as much confidence
in him as you had, notwithstanding the fact that I liked him much better
as my confidential clerk than as your probable or prospective husband.
He has never held the key to my heart; would God he never had to yours!
But he was a good and reliable man in the office, or so I thought, and I
gave into his hand much of the work I ought to have done myself,
especially since my health has more or less failed me. My trust he
abused. A month ago--it was during that ill turn you remember I received
a letter from a man I had never expected to hear from again. He was in
my debt some ten thousand dollars, and wrote that he had brought with
him as much of this sum as he had been able to save in the last five
years, to Sutherlandtown, where he was now laid up with a dangerous
illness from which he had small hope of recovering. Would I come there
and get it? He was a stranger and wished to take no one into his
confidence, but he had the money and would be glad to place it in my
hands. He added that as he was a lone man, without friends or relatives
to inherit from him, he felt a decided pleasure at the prospect of
satisfying his only creditor, and devoutly hoped he would be well enough
to realise the transaction and receive my receipt. But if his fever
increased and he should be delirious or unconscious when I reached him,
then I was to lift up the left-hand corner of the mattress on which he
lay and take from underneath his head a black wallet in which I would
find the money promised me. He had elsewhere enough to pay all his
expenses, so that the full contents of the wallet were mine.

"I remembered the man and I wanted the money; so, not being able to go
for it myself, I authorised James Zabel to collect it for me. He started
at once for Sutherlandtown, and in a few hours returned with the wallet
alluded to. Though I was suffering intensely at the time, I remember
distinctly the air with which he laid it down and the words with which
he endeavoured to carry off a certain secret excitement visible in him.
'Mr. Orr was alive, sir, and fully conscious; but he will not outlive
the night. He seemed quite satisfied with the messenger and gave up the
wallet without any hesitation.' I roused up and looked at him. 'What has
shaken you up so?' I asked. He was silent a moment before replying. 'I
have ridden fast,' said he; then more slowly, 'One feels sorry for a man
dying alone and amongst strangers.' I thought he showed an unnecessary
emotion, but paid no further heed to it at the time.

"The wallet held two thousand and more dollars, which was less than I
expected, but yet a goodly sum and very welcome. As I was counting it
over I glanced at the paper accompanying it. It was an acknowledgment of
debt and mentioned the exact sum I should find in the wallet--$2753.67.
Pointing them out to James, I remarked, 'The figures are in different
ink from the words. How do you account for that?' I thought his answer
rather long in coming, though when it did come it was calm, if not
studied. 'I presume,' said he, 'that the sum was inserted at
Sutherlandtown, after Mr. Orr was quite sure just how much he could
spare for the liquidation of this old debt.' 'Very likely,' I assented,
not bestowing another thought upon the matter.

"But to-day it has been forced back upon my attention in a curious if
not providential way. I was over in Sutherlandtown for the first time
since my illness, and having some curiosity about my unfortunate but
honest debtor, went to the hotel and asked to see the room in which he
died. It being empty they at once showed it to me; and satisfied that he
had been made comfortable in his last hours, I was turning away, when I
espied on a table in one corner an inkstand and what seemed to be an old
copy-book. Why I stopped and approached this table I do not know, but
once in front of it I remembered what Zabel had said about the figures,
and taking up the pen I saw there, I dipped it in the ink-pot and
attempted to scribble a number or two on a piece of loose paper I found
in the copy-book. The ink was thick and the pen corroded, so that it was
not till after several ineffectual efforts that I succeeded in making
any strokes that were at all legible. But when I did, they were so
exactly similar in colour to the numbers inserted in Mr. Orr's
memorandum (which I had fortunately brought with me) that I was
instantly satisfied this especial portion of the writing had been done,
as James had said, in this room, and with the very pen I was then
handling. As there was nothing extraordinary in this, I was turning
away, when a gust of wind from the open window lifted the loose sheet of
paper I had been scribbling on and landed it, the other side up, on the
carpet. As I stooped for it I saw figures on it, and feeling sure that
they had been scrawled there by Mr. Orr in his attempt to make the pen
write, I pulled out the memorandum again and compared the two minutely.
They were the work of the same hand, but the figures on the stray leaf
differed from those in the memorandum in a very important particular.
Those in the memorandum began with a 2, while those on the stray sheet
began with a 7--a striking difference. Look, Agatha, here is the piece
of paper just as I found it. You see here, there, and everywhere the one
set of figures, 7753.67. Here it is hardly legible, here it is blotted
with too much ink, here it is faint but sufficiently distinct, and
here--well, there can be no mistake about these figures, 7753.67; yet
the memorandum reads, $2753.67, and the money returned to me amounts to
$2753.67--a clean five thousand dollars' difference."

Here, James, my father paused, perhaps to give me a commiserating look,
though I did not need it; perhaps to give himself a moment in which to
regain courage for what he still had to say. I did not break the
silence; I was too sure of your integrity; besides, my tongue could not
have moved if it would; all my faculties seemed frozen except that
instinct which cried out continually within me: "No! there is no fault
in James. He has done no wrong. No one but himself shall ever convince
me that he has robbed anyone of anything except poor me of my poor
heart." But inner cries of this kind are inaudible and after a moment's
interval my father went on:

"Five thousand dollars is no petty sum, and the discrepancy in the two
sets of figures which seemed to involve me in so considerable a loss set
me thinking. Convinced that Mr. Orr would not be likely to scribble one
number over so many times if it was not the one then in his mind, I went
to Mr. Forsyth's office and borrowed a magnifying-glass, through which I
again subjected the figures in the memorandum to a rigid scrutiny. The
result was a positive conviction that they had been tampered with after
their first writing, either by Mr. Orr himself or by another whom I need
not name. The 2 had originally been a 7, and I could even see where the
top line of the 7 had been given a curl and where a horizontal stroke
had been added at the bottom.

"Agatha, I came home as troubled a man as there was in all these parts.
I remembered the suppressed excitement which had been in James Zabel's
face when he handed me over the money, and I remembered also that you
loved him, or thought you did, and that, love or no love, you were
pledged to marry him. If I had not recalled all this I might have
proceeded more warily. As it was, I took the bold and open course and
gave James Zabel an opportunity to explain himself. Agatha, he did not
embrace it. He listened to my accusations and followed my finger when I
pointed out the discrepancy between the two sets of figures, but he made
no protestations of innocence, nor did he show me the front of an honest
man when I asked if he expected me to believe that the wallet had held
only two thousand and over when Mr. Orr handed it over to him. On the
contrary he seemed to shrink into himself like a person whose life has
been suddenly blasted, and replying that he would expect me to believe
nothing except his extreme contrition at the abuse of confidence of
which he had been guilty, begged me to wait till to-morrow before taking
any active steps in the matter. I replied that I would show him that
much consideration if he would immediately drop all pretensions to your
hand. This put him in a bad way; but he left, as you see, with just a
simple injunction to you to seek from me an explanation of his strange
departure. Does that look like innocence or does it look like guilt?"

I found my tongue at this and passionately cried: "James Zabel's life,
as I have known it, shows him to be an honest man. If he has done what
you suggest, given you but a portion of the money entrusted to him and
altered the figures in the memorandum to suit the amount he brought you,
then there is a discrepancy between this act and all the other acts of
his life which I find it more difficult to reconcile than you did the
two sets of figures in Mr. Orr's handwriting. Father, I must hear from
his own lips a confirmation of your suspicions before I will credit
them."

And this is why I write you so minute an account of what passed between
my father and myself last night. If his account of the matter is a
correct one, and you have nothing to add to it in way of explanation,
then the return of this letter will be token enough that my father has
been just in his accusations and that the bond between us must be
broken. But if--O James, if you are the true man I consider you, and all
that I have heard is a fabrication or mistake, then come to me at once;
do not delay, but come at once, and the sight of your face at the gate
will be enough to establish your innocence in my eyes.

AGATHA. 

The letter that followed this was very short:

DEAR JAMES:

The package of letters has been received. God help me to bear this shock
to all my hopes and the death of all my girlish beliefs. I am not angry.
Only those who have something left to hold on to in life can be angry.

My father tells me he has received a packet too. It contained five
thousand dollars in ten five-hundred-dollar notes. James! James! was not
my love enough, that you should want my father's money too?

I have begged my father, and he has promised me, to keep the cause of
this rupture secret. No one shall know from either of us that James
Zabel has any flaw in his nature.

The next letter was dated some months later. It is to Philemon:

DEAR PHILEMON:

The gloves are too small; besides, I never wear gloves. I hate their
restraint and do not feel there is any good reason for hiding my hands,
in this little country town where everyone knows me. Why not give them
to Hattie Weller? She likes such things, while I have had my fill of
finery. A girl whose one duty is to care for a dying father has no room
left in her heart for vanities.

DEAR PHILEMON:

It is impossible. I have had my day of love and my heart is quite dead.
Show your magnanimity by ceasing to urge me any longer to forget the
past. It is all you can do for

AGATHA.

DEAR PHILEMON:

You WILL have my hand though I have told you that my heart does not go
with it. It is hard to understand such persistence, but if you are
satisfied to take a woman of my strength against her will, then God have
mercy upon you, for I will be your wife.

But do not ask me to go to Sutherlandtown. I will live here. And do not
expect to keep up your intimacy with the Zabels. There is no tie of
affection remaining between James and myself, but if I am to shed that
half-light over your home which is all I can promise and all that you
can hope to receive, then keep me from all influence but your own. That
this in time may grow sweet and dear to me is my earnest prayer to-day,
for you are worthy of a true wife.

AGATHA.

DEAR JOHN:

I am going to be married. My father exacts it and there is no good
reason why I should not give him this final satisfaction. At least I do
not think there is; but if you or your brother differ from me--Say
good-bye to James from me. I pray that his life may be peaceful. I know
that it will be honest.

AGATHA.

DEAR PHILEMON:

My father is worse. He fears that if we wait till Tuesday he will not be
able to see us married. Decide, then, what our duty is; I am ready to
abide by your pleasure.

AGATHA.

The following is from John Zabel to his brother James, and is dated one
day after the above:

DEAR JAMES:

When you read this I will be far away, never to look in your face again,
unless you bid me. Brother, brother, I meant it for the best, but God
was not with me and I have made four hearts miserable without giving
help to anyone.

When I read Agatha's letter--the last for more reasons than one that I
shall ever receive from her--I seemed to feel as never before what I had
done to blast your two lives. For the first time I realised to the full
that but for me she might have been happy and you the respected husband
of the one grand woman to be found in Portchester. That I had loved her
so fiercely myself came back to me in reproach, and the thought that she
perhaps suspected that the blame had fallen where it was not deserved
roused me to such a pitch that I took the sudden and desperate
resolution of telling her the truth before she gave her hand to
Philemon. Why the daily sight of your misery should not have driven me
before to this act, I cannot tell. Some remnants of the old jealousy may
have been still festering in my heart; or the sense of the great
distance between your self-sacrificing spirit and the selfishness of my
weaker nature risen like a barrier between me and the only noble act
left for a man in my position. Whatever the cause, it was not till
to-day the full determination came to brave the obloquy of a full
confession; but when it did come I did not pause till I reached Mr.
Gilchrist's house and was ushered into his presence.

He was lying on the sitting-room lounge, looking very weak and
exhausted, while on one side of him stood Agatha and on the other
Philemon, both contemplating him with ill-concealed anxiety. I had not
expected to find Philemon there, and for a moment I suffered the extreme
agony of a man who has not measured the depth of the plunge he is about
to take; but the sight of Agatha trembling under the shock of my
unexpected presence restored me to myself and gave me firmness to
proceed. Advancing with a bow, I spoke quickly the one word I had come
there to say.

"Agatha, I have done you a great wrong and I am here to undo it. For
months I have felt driven to confession, but not till to-day have I
possessed the necessary courage. NOW, nothing shall hinder me."

I said this because I saw in both Mr. Gilchrist and Philemon a
disposition to stop me where I was. Indeed Mr. Gilchrist had risen on
his elbow and Philemon was making that pleading gesture of his which we
know so well.

Agatha alone looked eager. "What is it?" she cried. "I have a right to
know." I went to the door, shut it, and stood with my back against it, a
figure of shame and despair; suddenly the confession burst from me.
"Agatha," said I, "why did you break with my brother James? Because you
thought him guilty of theft; because you believed he took the five
thousand dollars out of the sum entrusted to him by Mr. Orr for your
father. Agatha, it was not James who did this it was I; and James knew
it, and bore the blame of my misdoing because he was always a loyal soul
and took account of my weakness and knew, alas! too well, that open
shame would kill me."

It was a weak plea and merited no reply. But the silence was so dreadful
and lasted so long that I felt first crushed and then terrified. Raising
my head, for I had not dared to look any of them in the face, I cast one
glance at the group before me and dropped my head again, startled. Only
one of the three was looking at me, and that was Agatha. The others had
their heads turned aside, and I thought, or rather the passing fancy
took me, that they shrank from meeting her gaze with something of the
same shame and dread I myself felt. But she! Can I ever hope to make you
realise her look, or comprehend the pang of utter self-abasement with
which I succumbed before it? It was so terrible that I seemed to hear
her utter words, though I am sure she did not speak; and with some wild
idea of stemming the torrent of her reproaches, I made an effort at
explanation, and impetuously cried: "It was not for my own good, Agatha,
not for self altogether, I did this. I too loved you, madly,
despairingly, and, good brother as I seemed, I was jealous of James and
hoped to take his place in your regard if I could show a greater
prosperity and get for you those things his limited prospects denied
him. You enjoy money, beauty, ease; I could see that by your letters,
and if James could not give them to you and I could--Oh, do not look at
me like that! I see now that millions could not have bought you."

"Despicable!" was all that came from her lips. At which I shuddered and
groped about for the handle of the door. But she would not let me go.
Subduing with an unexpected grand self-restraint the emotions which had
hitherto swelled too high in her breast for either speech or action, she
thrust out one arm to stay me and said in short, commanding tones: "How
was this thing done? You say you took the money, yet it was James who
was sent to collect it--or so my father says." Here she tore her looks
from me and cast one glance at her father. What she saw I cannot say,
but her manner changed and henceforth she glanced his way as much as
mine and with nearly as much emotion. "I am waiting to hear what you
have to say," she exclaimed, laying her hand on the door over my head so
as to leave me no opportunity for escape. I bowed and attempted an
explanation.

"Agatha," said I, "the commission was given to James and he rode to
Sutherlandtown to perform it. But it was on the day when he was
accustomed to write to you, and he was not easy in his mind, for he
feared he would miss sending you his usual letter. When, therefore, he
came to the hotel and saw me in Philemon's room--I was often there in
those days, often without Philemon's knowing it--he saw, or thought he
did, a way out of his difficulties. Entering where I was, he explained
to me his errand, and we being then--though never, alas! since--one in
everything but the secret hopes he enjoyed, he asked me if I would go in
his stead to Mr. Orr's room, present my credentials, and obtain the
money while he wrote the letter with which his mind was full. Though my
jealousy was aroused and I hated the letter he was about to write, I did
not see how I could refuse him; so after receiving such credentials as
he himself carried, and getting full instructions how to proceed, I left
him writing at Philemon's table and hastened down the hall to the door
he had pointed out. If Providence had been on the side of guilt, the
circumstances could not have been more favourable for the deception I
afterwards played. No one was in the hall, no one was with Mr. Orr to
note that it was I instead of James who executed Mr. Gilchrist's
commission. But I was thinking of no deception then. I proceeded quite
innocently on my errand, and when the feeble voice of the invalid bade
me enter, I experienced nothing but a feeling of compassion for a man
dying in this desolate way, alone. Of course Mr. Orr was surprised to
see a stranger, but after reading Mr. Gilchrist's letter which I handed
him, he seemed quite satisfied and himself drew out the wallet at the
head of his bed and handed it over. 'You will find,' said he, 'a
memorandum inside of the full amount, $7758.67. I should like to have
returned Mr. Gilchrist the full ten thousand which I owe him, but this
is all I possess, barring a hundred dollars which I have kept for my
final expenses.' 'Mr. Gilchrist will be satisfied,' I assured him.
'Shall I make you out a receipt?' He shook his head with a sad smile. 'I
shall be dead in twenty-four hours. What good will a receipt do me?' But
it seemed unbusinesslike not to give it, so I went over to the table,
where I saw a pen and paper, and recognising the necessity of counting
the money before writing a receipt, I ran my eye over the bills, which
were large, and found the wallet contained just the amount he had named.
Then I glanced at the memorandum. It had evidently been made out by him
at some previous time, for the body of the writing was in firm
characters and the ink blue, while the figures were faintly inscribed in
muddy black. The 7 especially was little more than a straight line, and
as I looked at it the devil that is in every man's nature whispered at
first carelessly, then with deeper and deeper insistence: 'How easy it
would be to change that 7 to a 2! Only a little mark at the top and the
least additional stroke at the bottom and these figures would stand for
five thousand less. It might be a temptation to some men.' It presently
became a temptation to me; for, glancing furtively up, I discovered that
Mr. Orr had fallen either into a sleep or into a condition of
insensibility which made him oblivious to my movements. Five thousand
dollars! just the sum of the ten five-hundred-dollar bills that made the
bulk of the amount I had counted. In this village and at my age this sum
would raise me at once to comparative independence. The temptation was
too strong for resistance. I succumbed to it, and seizing the pen before
me, I made the fatal marks. When I went back to James the wallet was in
my hand, and the ten five-hundred-dollar bills in my breast pocket."

Agatha had begun to shudder. She shook so she rattled the door against
which I leaned.

"And when you found that Providence was not so much upon your side as
you thought, when you saw that the fraud was known and that your brother
was suspected of it--"

"Don't!" I pleaded, "don't make me recall that hour!"

But she was inexorable. "Recall that and every hour," she commanded.
"Tell me why he sacrificed himself, why he sacrificed me, to a cur--"

She feared her own tongue, she feared her own anger, and stopped.
"Speak," she whispered, and it was the most ghastly whisper that ever
left mortal lips. I was but a foot from her and she held me as by a
strong enchantment. I could not help obeying her.

"To make it all clear," I pursued, "I must go back to the time I
rejoined James in Philemon's room. He had finished his letter when I
entered and was standing with it, sealed, in his hand. I may have cast
it a disdainful glance. I may have shown that I was no longer the same
man I had been when I left him a half-hour before, for he looked
curiously at me for a moment previous to saying:

"'Is that the wallet you have there? Was Mr. Orr conscious, and did he
give it to you himself?' 'Mr. Orr was conscious,' I returned,--and I
didn't like the sound of my own voice, careful as I was to speak
naturally,--' but he fainted just before I came out, and I think you had
better ask the clerk as you go down to send someone up to him.'

"James was weighing the pocket-book in his hand. 'How much do you think
there is in here? The debt was ten thousand.' I had turned carelessly
away and was looking out of the window. 'The memorandum inside gives the
figures as two thousand,' I declared. 'He apologises for not sending the
full amount. He hasn't it.' Again I felt James looking at me. Why? Could
he see that guilty wad of bills lying on my breast? 'How came you to
read the memorandum?' he asked. 'Mr. Orr wished me to. I looked at it to
please him.' This was a lie--the first I had ever uttered. James's eyes
had not moved. 'John,' said he, 'this little bit of business seems to
have disturbed you. I ought to have attended to it myself. I am quite
sure I ought to have attended to it myself.' 'The man is dying,' I
muttered. 'You escaped a sad sight. Be satisfied that you have got the
money. Shall I post that letter for you?' He put it jealously in his
pocket, and again I saw him look at me, but he said nothing more except
that he repeated that same phrase, 'I ought to have attended to it
myself. Agatha might better have waited.' Then he went out; but I
remained till Philemon came home. My brother and myself were no longer
companions; a crime divided us,--a crime he could not suspect, yet which
made itself felt in both our hearts and prepared him for the revelation
made to him by Mr. Gilchrist some weeks after. That night he came to
Sutherlandtown, where I was, and entered my bedroom--not in the
fraternal way of the old days, but as an elder enters the presence of a
younger. 'John,' he said, without any preamble or preparation, 'where
are the five thousand dollars you kept back from Mr. Gilchrist? The
memorandum said seven and you delivered to me only two.' There are
death-knells sounded in every life; those words sounded mine, or would
have if he had not immediately added: 'There! I knew you had no stamina.
I have taken your crime on myself, who am really to blame for it, since
I delegated my duty to another, and you will only have to bear the
disgrace of having James Zabel for a brother. In exchange, give me the
money; it shall be returned to-morrow. You cannot have disposed of it
already. After which, you, or rather I, will be in the eyes of the world
only a thief in intent, not in fact.' Had he only stopped there!--but he
went on: 'Agatha is lost to me, John. In return, be to me the brother I
always thought you up to the unhappy day the sin of Achan came between
us.'

"YOU were lost to him! It was all I heard. YOU were lost to him! Then,
if I acknowledged the crime I should not only take up my own burden of
disgrace, but see him restored to his rights over the only woman I had
ever loved. The sacrifice was great and my virtue was not equal to it. I
gave him back the money, but I did not offer to assume the
responsibility of my own crime."

"And since?"

In what a hard tone she spoke!

"I have had to see Philemon gradually assume the rights James once
enjoyed."

"John," she asked,--she was under violent self-restraint,--"why do you
come now?"

I cast my eyes at Philemon. He was standing, as before, with his eyes
turned away. There was discouragement in his attitude, mingled with a
certain grand patience. Seeing that he was better able to bear her loss
than either you or myself, I said to her very low, "I thought you ought
to know the truth before you gave your final word. I am late, but I
would have been TOO LATE a week from now."

Her hand fell from the door, but her eyes remained fixed on my face.
Never have I sustained such a look; never will I encounter such another.

"It is too late NOW," she murmured. "The clergyman has just gone who
united me to Philemon."

The next minute her back was towards me; she had faced her father and
her new-made husband.

"Father, you knew this thing!" Keen, sharp, incisive, the words rang
out. "I saw it in your face when he began to speak."

Mr. Gilchrist drooped slightly; he was a very sick man and the scene
had been a trying one.

"If I did," was his low response, "it was but lately. You were engaged
then to Philemon. Why break up this second match?"

She eyed him as if she found it difficult to credit her ears. Such
indifference to the claims of innocence was incredible to her. I saw her
grand profile quiver, then the slow ebbing from her cheek of every drop
of blood indignation had summoned there.

"And you, Philemon?" she suggested, with a somewhat softened aspect.
"You committed this wrong ignorantly. Never having heard of this crime,
you could not know on what false grounds I had been separated from
James."

I had started to escape, but stopped just beyond the threshold of the
door as she uttered these words. Philemon was not as ignorant as she
supposed. This was evident from his attitude and expression.

"Agatha," he began, but at this first word, and before he could clasp
the hands held helplessly out before her, she gave a great cry, and
staggering back, eyed both her father and himself in a frenzy of
indignation that was all the more uncontrollable from the superhuman
effort which she had hitherto made to suppress it.

"You too!" she shrieked. "You too! and I have just sworn to love,
honour, and obey you! Love YOU! Honour YOU! the unconscionable wretch
who--"

But here Mr. Gilchrist rose. Weak, tottering, quivering with something
more than anger, he approached his daughter and laid his finger on her
lips.

"Be quiet!" he said. "Philemon is not to blame. A month ago he came to
me and prayed that as a relief to his mind I would tell him why you had
separated yourself from James. He had always thought the match had
fallen through on account of some foolish quarrel or incompatibility,
but lately he had feared there was something more than he suspected in
this break, something that he should know. So I told him why you had
dismissed James; and whether he knew James better than we did, or
whether he had seen something in his long acquaintance with these
brothers which influenced his judgment, he said at once: 'This cannot be
true of James. It is not in his nature to defraud any man; but John--I
might believe it of John. Isn't there some complication here?' I had
never thought of John, and did not see how John could be mixed up with
an affair I had supposed to be a secret between James and myself, but
when we came to locate the day, Philemon remembered that on returning to
his room that night, he had found John awaiting him. As his room was not
five doors from that occupied by Mr. Orr, he was convinced that there
was more to this matter than I had suspected. But when he laid the
matter before James, he did not deny that John was guilty, but was
peremptory in wishing you not to be told before your marriage. He knew
that you were engaged to a good man, a man that your father approved, a
man that could and would make you happy. He did not want to be the means
of a second break, and besides, and this, I think, was at the bottom of
the stand he took, for James Zabel was always the proudest man I ever
knew,--he never could bear, he said, to give to one like Agatha a name
which he knew and she knew was not entirely free from reproach. It would
stand in the way of his happiness and ultimately of hers; his brother's
dishonour was his. So while he still loved you, his only prayer was that
after you were safely married and Philemon was sure of your affection,
he should tell you that the man you once regarded so favourably was not
unworthy of that regard. To obey him, Philemon has kept silent, while
I--Agatha, what are you doing? Are you mad, my child?"

She looked so for the moment. Tearing off the ring which she had worn
but an hour, she flung it on the floor. Then she threw her arms high up
over her head and burst out in an awful voice:

"Curses on the father, curses on the husband, who have combined to make
me rue the day I was born! The father I cannot disown, but the
husband--"

"Hush!"

It was Mr. Gilchrist who dared her fury. Philemon said nothing.

"Hush! he may be the father of your children. Don't curse--"

But she only towered the higher and her beauty, from being simply
majestic, became appalling.

"Children!" she cried. "If ever I bear children to this man, may the
blight of Heaven strike them as it has struck me this day. May they die
as my hopes have died, or, if they live, may they bruise his heart as
mine is bruised, and curse their father as--"

Here I fled the house. I was shaking as if this awful denunciation had
fallen on my own head. But before the door closed behind me, a different
cry called me back. Mr. Gilchrist was lying lifeless on the floor, and
Philemon, the patient, tender Philemon, had taken Agatha to his breast
and was soothing her there as if the words she had showered upon him had
been blessings instead of the most fearful curses which had ever left
the lips of mortal woman.

The next letter was in Agatha's handwriting. It was dated some months
later and was stained and crumpled more than any other in the whole
packet. Could Philemon once have told why? Were these blotted lines the
result of his tears falling fast upon them, tears of forty years ago,
when he and she were young and love had been doubtful? Was the sheet so
yellowed and so seamed because it had been worn on his breast and folded
and unfolded so often? Philemon, thou art in thy grave, sleeping sweetly
at last by thy deeply idolised one, but these marks of feeling still
remain indissolubly connected with the words that gave them birth.

DEAR PHILEMON:

You are gone for a day and a night only, but it seems a lengthened
absence to me, meriting a little letter. You have been so good to me,
Philemon, ever since that dreadful hour following our marriage, that
sometimes--I hardly dare yet to say always--I feel that I am beginning
to love you and that God did not deal with me so harshly when He cast me
into your arms. Yesterday I tried to tell you this when you almost
kissed me at parting. But I was afraid it was a momentary sentimentality
and so kept still. But to-day such a warm well-spring of joy rises in my
heart when I think that to-morrow the house will be bright again, and
that in place of the empty wall opposite me at table I shall see your
kindly and forbearing face, I know that the heart I had thought
impregnable has begun to yield, and that daily gentleness, and a
boundless consideration from one who had excuse for bitter thoughts and
recrimination, are doing what all of us thought impossible a few short
months ago.

Oh, I am so happy, Philemon, so happy to love where it is now my duty to
love; and if it were not for that dreadful memory of a father dying with
harsh words in his ears, and the knowledge that you, my husband, yet not
my husband, are bearing ever about with you echoes of words that in
another nature would have turned tenderness into gall, I could be merry
also and sing as I go about the house making it pleasant and comfortable
against your speedy return. As it is I can but lay my hand softly on my
heart as its beatings grow too impetuous and say, "God bless my absent
Philemon and help him to forgive me! I forgive him and love him as I
never thought I could."

That you may see that these are not the weak outpourings of a lonely
woman, I will here write that I heard to-day that John and James Zabel
have gone into partnership in the ship-building business, John's uncle
having left him a legacy of several thousand dollars. I hope they will
do well. James, they say, is full of business and is, to all appearance,
perfectly cheerful. This relieves me from too much worry in his regard.
God certainly knew what kind of a husband I needed. May you find
yourself equally blessed in your wife.

Another letter to Philemon, a year later:

DEAR PHILEMON:

Hasten home, Philemon; I do not like these absences. I am just now too
weak and fearful. Since we knew the great hope before us, I have looked
often in your face for a sign that you remembered what this hope cannot
but recall to my shuddering memory. Philemon, Philemon, was I mad? When
I think what I said in my rage, and then feel the little life stirring
about my heart, I wonder that God did not strike me dead rather than
bestow upon me the greatest blessing that can come to woman. Philemon,
Philemon, if anything should happen to the child! I think of it by day,
I think of it by night. I know you think of it too, though you show me
such a cheerful countenance and make such great plans for the future.
"Will God remember my words, or will He forget? It seems as if my reason
hung upon this question."

A note this time in answer to one from John Zabel:

DEAR JOHN:

Thank you for words which could have come from nobody else. My child is
dead. Could I expect anything different? If I did, God has rebuked me.

Philemon thinks only of me. We understand each other so perfectly now
that our greatest suffering comes in seeing each other's pain. My load I
can bear, but HIS--Come and see me, John; and tell James our house is
open to him. We have all done wrong, and are caught in one net of
misfortune. Let it make us friends again.

Below this in Philemon's hand:

My wife is superstitious. Strong and capable as she is, she has regarded
this sudden taking off of our first-born as a sign that certain words
uttered by her on her marriage day, unhappily known to you and, as I
take it, to James also, have been remembered by the righteous God above
us. This is a weakness which I cannot combat. Can you, who alone of all
the world beside know both it and its cause, help me by a renewed
friendship, whose cheerful and natural character may gradually make her
forget? If so, come like old neighbours, and dine with us on our wedding
day. If God sees that we have buried the past and are ready to forgive
each other the faults of our youth, perhaps He will further spare this
good woman. I think she will be able to bear it. She has great strength
except where a little child is concerned. That alone can henceforth stir
the deepest recesses of her heart.

After this, a gap of years. One, two, three, four, five children were
laid away to rest in Portchester churchyard, then Philemon and she came
to Sutherlandtown; but not till after a certain event had occurred, best
made known by this last letter to Philemon:

DEAREST HUSBAND:

Our babe is born, our sixth and our dearest, and the reproach of its
first look had to be met by me alone. Oh, why did I leave you and come
to this great Boston where I have no friend but Mrs. Sutherland? Did I
think I could break the spell of fate or providence by giving birth to
my last darling among strangers? I shall have to do something more than
that if I would save this child to our old age. It is borne in upon me
like fate that never will a child prosper at my breast or survive the
clasp of my arms. If it is to live it must be reared by others. Some
woman who has not brought down the curse of Heaven upon her by her own
blasphemies must nourish the tender frame and receive the blessing of
its growing love. Neither I nor you can hope to see recognition in our
babe's eye. Before it can turn upon us with love, it will close in its
last sleep and we will be left desolate. What shall we do, then, with
this little son? To whose guardianship can we entrust it? Do you know a
man good enough or a woman sufficiently tender? I do not, but if God
wills that our little Frederick should live, He will raise up someone.
By the pang of possible separation already tearing my heart, I believe
that He WILL raise up someone. Meanwhile I do not dare to kiss the
child, lest I should blight it. He is so sturdy, Philemon, so different
from all the other five.

I open this to add that Mrs. Sutherland has just been in--with her
five-weeks-old infant. His father is away, too, and has not yet seen his
boy; and this is their first after ten years of marriage. Oh, that my
future opened before me as brightly as hers!

The next letter opens with a cry:

Philemon! Come to me, Philemon! I have done what I threatened. I have
made the sacrifice. Our child is no longer ours, and now, perhaps, he
may live. But oh, my breaking heart! my empty arms! Help me to bear my
desolation, for it is for life. We will never have another child.

And where is it? Ah, that is the wonder of it. Near you, Philemon, yet
not too near. Mrs. Sutherland has it, and you may have seen its little
face through the car window if you were in the station last night when
the express passed through to Sutherlandtown. Ah! but she has her burden
to bear too. An awful, secret burden like my own, only she will have the
child--for, Philemon, she has taken it in lieu of her own, which died
last night in my sight; and Mr. Sutherland does not know what she has
done, and never will, if you keep the secret as I shall, for the sake of
the life our little innocent has thus won.

What do I mean and how was it all? Philemon, it was God's work, all but
the deception, and that is for the good of all, and to save four broken
hearts. Listen. Yesterday, only yesterday,--it seems a month ago,--Mrs.
Sutherland came again to see me with her baby in her arms. Mr.
Sutherland is expected home, as you know, this week, and she was about
to start out for Sutherlandtown so as to be in her own house when he
came. The baby was looking well and she was the happiest of women; for
the one wish of his heart and hers had been fulfilled and she was soon
going to have the bliss of showing the child to his father. My own babe
was on the bed asleep, and I, who am feeling wonderfully strong, was
sitting up in a little chair as far away from him as possible, not out
of hatred or indifference--oh, no!--but because he seemed to rest better
when left entirely by himself and not under the hungry look of my eye.
Mrs. Sutherland went over to look at it. "Oh, he is fair like my baby,"
she said, "and almost as sturdy, though mine is a month older." And she
stooped down and kissed him. Philemon, he smiled for her, though he
never had for me. I saw it with a greedy longing that almost made me cry
out. Then I turned to her and we talked.

Of what? I cannot remember now. At home we had never been intimate
friends. She is from Sutherlandtown and I am from Portchester, and the
distance of nine miles is enough to estrange people. But here, each with
a husband absent and a darling infant lying asleep under our eyes,
interests we have never thought identical drew us to one another and we
chatted with ever-increasing pleasure--when suddenly Mrs. Sutherland
jumped up in a terrible fright. The infant she had been rocking on her
breast was blue; the next minute it shuddered; the next--it lay in her
arms DEAD!

I hear the shriek yet with which she fell with it still in her arms to
the floor. Fortunately no other ears were open to her cry. I alone saw
her misery. I alone heard her tale. The child had been poisoned,
Philemon, poisoned by her. She had mistaken a cup of medicine for a cup
of water and had given the child a few drops in a spoon just before
setting out from her hotel. She had not known at the time what she had
done, but now she remembered that the fatal cup was just like the other
and that the two stood very near together. Oh, her innocent child, and
oh, her husband!

It seemed as if the latter thought would drive her wild. "He has so
wished for a child," she moaned. "We have been married ten years and
this baby seemed to have been sent from heaven. He will curse me, he
will hate me, he will never be able after this to bear me in his sight."
This was not true of Mr. Sutherland, but it was useless to argue with
her. Instead of attempting it, I took another way to stop her ravings.
Lifting the child out of her hands, I first listened at its heart, and
then, finding it was really dead,--Philemon, I have seen too many
lifeless children not to know,--I began slowly to undress it. "What are
you doing?" she cried. "Mrs. Webb, Mrs. Webb, what are you doing?" For
reply I pointed to the bed, where two little arms could be seen feebly
fluttering. "You shall have my child," I whispered. "I have carried too
many babies to the tomb to dare risk bringing up another." And catching
her poor wandering spirit with my eye, I held her while I told her my
story.

Philemon, I saved that woman. Before I had finished speaking I saw the
reason return to her eye and the dawning of a pitiful hope in her
passion-drawn face. She looked at the child in my arms and then she
looked at the one in the bed, and the long-drawn sigh with which she
finally bent down and wept over our darling told me that my cause was
won. The rest was easy. When the clothes of the two children had been
exchanged, she took our baby in her arms and prepared to leave. Then I
stopped her. "Swear," I cried, holding her by the arm and lifting my
other hand to heaven, "swear you will be a mother to this child! Swear
you will love it as your own and rear it in the paths of truth and
righteousness!" The convulsive clasp with which she drew the baby to her
breast assured me more than her shuddering "I swear!" that her heart had
already opened to it. I dropped her arm and covered my face with my
hands. I could not see my darling go; it was worse than death--for the
moment it was worse than death. "O God, save him!" I groaned. "God, make
him an honour--" But here she caught me by the arm. Her clutch was
frenzied, her teeth were chattering. "Swear in your turn!" she gasped.
"Swear that if I do a mother's duty by this boy, you will keep my secret
and never, never reveal to my husband, to the boy, or to the world that
you have any claims upon him!" It was like tearing the heart from my
breast with my own hand, but I swore, Philemon, and she in her turn drew
back. But suddenly she faced me again, terror and doubt in all her
looks. "Your husband!" she whispered. "Can you keep such a secret from
him? You will breathe it in your dreams." "I shall tell him," I
answered. "Tell him!" The hair seemed to rise on her forehead and she
shook so that I feared she would drop the babe. "Be careful!" I cried.
"See! you frighten the babe. My husband has but one heart with me. What
I do he will subscribe to. Do not fear Philemon." So I promised in your
name. Gradually she grew calmer. When I saw she was steady again, I
motioned her to go. Even my more than mortal strength was failing, and
the baby--Philemon, I had never kissed it and I did not kiss it then. I
heard her feet draw slowly towards the door, I heard her hand fall on
the knob, heard it turn, uttered one cry, and then----

They found me an hour after, lying along the floor, clasping the dead
infant in my arms. I was in a swoon, and they all think I fell with the
child, as perhaps I did, and that its little life went out during my
insensibility. Of its features, like and yet unlike our boy's, no one
seems to take heed. The nurse who cared for it is gone, and who else
would know that little face but me? They are very good to me, and are
full of self-reproaches for leaving me so long in my part of the
building alone. But though they watch me now, I have contrived to write
this letter, which you will get with the one telling of the baby's death
and my own dangerous condition. Destroy it, Philemon, and then COME.
Nothing in all the world will give me comfort but your hand laid under
my head and your true eyes looking into mine. Ah, we must love each
other now, and live humbly! All our woe has come from my early girlish
delight in gay and elegant things. From this day on I eschew all
vanities and find in your affection alone the solace which Heaven will
not deny to our bewildered hearts. Perhaps in this way the blessing that
has been denied us will be visited on our child, who will live. I am now
sure, to be the delight of our hearts and the pride of our eyes, even
though we are denied the bliss of his presence and affection.

Mrs. Sutherland was not seen to enter or go out of my rooms. Being on
her way to the depot, she kept on her way, and must be now in her own
home. Her secret is safe, but ours--oh, you will help me to preserve it!
Help me not to betray--tell them I have lost five babies before this
one--delirious--there may be an inquest--she must not be mentioned--let
all the blame fall on me if there is blame--I fell--there is a bruise on
the baby's forehead--and--and--I am growing incoherent--I will try and
direct this and then love--love--O God!

[A scrawl for the name.]

Under it these words:

Though bidden to destroy this, I have never dared to do so. Some day it
may be of inestimable value to us or our boy. PHILEMON WEBB.

This was the last letter found in the first packet. As it was laid down,
sobs were heard all over the room, and Frederick, who for some time now
had been sitting with his head in his hands, ventured to look up and
say: "Do you wonder that I endeavoured to keep this secret, bought at
such a price and sealed by the death of her I thought my mother and of
her who really was? Gentlemen, Mr. Sutherland loved his wife and
honoured her memory. To tell him, as I shall have to within the hour,
that the child she placed in his arms twenty-five years ago was an
alien, and that all his love, his care, his disappointment, and his
sufferings had been lavished on the son of a neighbour, required greater
courage than to face doubt on the faces of my fellow-townsmen, or
anything, in short, but absolute arraignment on the charge of murder.
Hence my silence, hence my indecision, till this woman"--here he pointed
a scornful finger at Amabel, now shrinking in her chair--"drove me to it
by secretly threatening me with a testimony which would have made me the
murderer of my mother and the lasting disgrace of a good man who alone
has been without blame from the beginning to the end of this desperate
affair. She was about to speak when I forestalled her. My punishment, if
I deserve such, will be to sit and hear in your presence the reading of
the letters still remaining in the coroner's hands."

These letters were certain ones written by Agatha to her unacknowledged
son. They had never been sent. The first one dated from his earliest
infancy, and its simple and touching hopefulness sent a thrill through
every heart. It read as follows:

Three years old, my darling! and the health flush has not faded from
your cheek nor the bright gold from your hair.

Oh, how I bless Mrs. Sutherland that she did not rebuke me when your
father and I came to Sutherlandtown and set up our home where I could at
least see your merry form toddling through the streets, holding on to
the hand of her who now claims your love. My darling, my pride, my
angel, so near and yet so far removed, will you ever know, even in the
heaven to which we all look for joy after our weary pilgrimage is over,
how often in this troublous world, and in these days of your early
infancy, I have crept out of my warm bed, dressed myself, and, without a
word to your father, whose heart it would break, gone out and climbed
the steep hillside just to look at the window of your room to see if it
were light or dark and you awake or sleeping? To breathe the scent of
the eglantine which climbs up to your nursery window, I have braved the
night-damps and the watching eyes of Heaven; but you have a child's
blissful ignorance of all this; you only grow and grow and live, my
darling, LIVE!--which is the only boon I crave, the only recompense I
ask.

Have I but added another sin to my account and brought a worse vengeance
on myself than that of seeing you die in your early infancy? Frederick,
my son, my son, I heard you swear to-day! Not lightly, thoughtlessly, as
boys sometimes will in imitation of their elders, but bitterly,
revengefully, as if the seeds of evil passions were already pushing to
life in the boyish breast I thought so innocent. Did you wonder at the
strange woman who stopped you? Did you realise the awful woe from which
my commonplace words sprang? No, no, what grown mind could take that in,
least of all a child's? To have forsworn the bliss of motherhood and
entered upon a life of deception for THIS! Truly Heaven is implacable
and my last sin is to be punished more inexorably than my first.

There are worse evils than death. This I have always heard, but now I
know it. God was merciful when He slew my babes, and I, presumptous in
my rebellion, and the efforts with which I tried to prevent His work.
Frederick, you are weak, dissipated, and without conscience. The darling
babe, the beautiful child, has grown into a reckless youth whose
impulses Mr. Sutherland will find it hard to restrain, and over whom his
mother--do _I_ call her your mother?--has little influence, though she
tries hard to do a mother's part and save herself and myself from
boundless regret. My boy, my boy, do you feel the lack of your own
mother's vigour? Might you have lived under my care and owned a better
restraint and learned to work and live a respectable life in
circumstances less provocative of self-indulgence? Such questions, when
they rise, are maddening. When I see them form themselves in Philemon's
eyes I drive them out with all the force of my influence, which is still
strong over him. But when they make way in my own breast, I can find no
relief, not even in prayer. Frederick, were I to tell you the truth
about your parentage, would the shock of such an unexpected revelation
make a man of you? I have been tempted to make the trial, at times. Deep
down in my heart I have thought that perhaps I should best serve the
good man who is growing grey under your waywardness, by opening up
before you the past and present agonies of which you are the unconscious
centre. But I cannot do this while SHE lives. The look she gave me one
day when I approached you a step too near at the church door, proves
that it would be the killing of her to reveal her long-preserved secret
now. I must wait her death, which seems near, and then--No, I cannot do
it. Mr. Sutherland has but one staff to lean on, and that is you. It may
be a poor one, a breaking one, but it is still a staff. I dare not take
it away--I dare not. Ah, if Philemon was the man he was once, he might
counsel me, but he is only a child now; just as if God had heard my cry
for children and had given me--HIM.

More money, and still more money! and I hate it except for what it will
do for the poor and incapable about me. How strange are the ways of
Providence! To us who have no need of aught beyond a competence, money
pours in almost against our will, while to those who long and labour for
it, it comes not, or comes so slowly the life wears out in the waiting
and the working. The Zabels, now! Once well-to-do ship-builders, with a
good business and a home full of curious works of art, they now appear
to find it hard to obtain even the necessities of life. Such are the
freaks of fortune; or should I say, the dealings of an inscrutable
Providence? Once I tried to give something out of my abundance to these
old friends, but their pride stood in the way and the attempt failed.
Worse than that. As if to show that benefits should proceed from them to
me rather than from me to them, James bestowed on me a gift. It is a
strange one,--nothing more nor less than a quaint Florentine dagger
which I had often admired for its exquisite workmanship. Was it the last
treasure he possessed? I am almost afraid so. At all events it shall lie
here in my table-drawer where I alone can see it. Such sights are not
good for Philemon. He must have cheerful objects before him, happy faces
such as mine tries to be. But ah!

I would gladly give my life if I could once hold you in my arms, my
erring but beloved son. Will the day ever come when I can? Will you have
strength enough to hear my story and preserve your peace and let me go
down to the grave with the memory of one look, one smile, that is for me
alone? Sometimes I foresee this hour and am happy for a few short
minutes; and then some fresh story of your recklessness is wafted
through the town and--What stopped her at this point we shall never
know. Some want of Philemon's, perhaps. At all events she left off here
and the letter was never resumed. It was the last secret outpouring of
her heart. With this broken sentence Agatha's letters terminated..

......

That afternoon, before the inquiry broke up, the jury brought in their
verdict. It was:

"Death by means of a wound inflicted upon herself in a moment of terror
and misapprehension."

It was all his fellow-townsmen could do for Frederick.



XXXIII

FATHER AND SON


But Frederick's day of trial was not yet over. There was a closed door
to open and a father to see (as in his heart he still called Mr.
Sutherland). Then there were friends to face, and foes, under conditions
he better than anyone else, knew were in some regards made worse rather
than better by the admissions and revelations of this eventful
day--Agnes, for instance. How could he meet her pure gaze? But it was
his father he must first confront, his father to whom he would have to
repeat in private the tale which robbed the best of men of a past, and
took from him a son, almost a wife, without leaving him one memory
calculated to console him. Frederick was so absorbed in this
anticipation that he scarcely noticed the two or three timid hands
stretched out in encouragement toward him, and was moving slowly toward
the door behind which his father had disappeared so many hours before,
when he was recalled to the interests of the moment by a single word,
uttered not very far from him. It was simply, "Well?" But it was uttered
by Knapp and repeated by Mr. Courtney.

Frederick shuddered, and was hurrying on when he found himself stopped
by a piteous figure that, with appealing eyes and timid gestures,
stepped up before him. It was Amabel.

"Forgive!" she murmured, looking like a pleading saint. "I did not
know--I never dreamed--you were so much of a man, Frederick: that you
bore such a heart, cherished such griefs, were so worthy of love and a
woman's admiration. If I had--"

Her expression was eloquent, more eloquent than he had ever seen it, for
it had real feeling in it; but he put her coldly by.

"When my father's white hairs become black again, and the story of my
shame is forgotten in this never-forgetting world, then come back and I
will forgive you."

And he was passing on when another touch detained him. He turned, this
time in some impatience, only to meet the frank eyes of Sweetwater. As
he knew very little of this young man, save that he was the amateur
detective who had by some folly of his own been carried off on the
Hesper, and who was probably the only man saved from its wreck, he was
about to greet him with some commonplace phrase of congratulation, when
Sweetwater interrupted him with the following words:

"I only wanted to say that it may be easier for you to approach your
father with the revelations you are about to make if you knew that in
his present frame of mind he is much more likely to be relieved by such
proofs of innocence as you can give him than overwhelmed by such as show
the lack of kinship between you. For two weeks Mr. Sutherland has been
bending under the belief of your personal criminality in this matter.
This was his secret, which was shared by me."

"By you?"

"Yes, by me! I am more closely linked to this affair than you can
readily imagine. Some day I may be able to explain myself, but not now.
Only remember what I have said about your father--pardon me, I should
perhaps say Mr. Sutherland--and act accordingly. Perhaps it was to tell
you this that I was forced back here against my will by the strangest
series of events that ever happened to a man. But," he added, with a
sidelong look at the group of men still hovering about the coroner's
table, "I had rather think it was for some more important office still.
But this the future will show,--the future which I seem to see lowering
in the faces over there."

And, waiting for no reply, he melted into the crowd.

Frederick passed at once to his father.

No one interrupted them during this solemn interview, but the large
crowd that in the halls and on the steps of the building awaited
Frederick's reappearance showed that the public interest was still warm
in a matter affecting so deeply the heart and interests of their best
citizen. When, therefore, that long-closed door finally opened and
Frederick was seen escorting Mr. Sutherland on his arm, the tide of
feeling which had not yet subsided since Agatha's letters were read
vented itself in one great sob of relief. For Mr. Sutherland's face was
calmer than when they had last seen it, and his step more assured, and
he leaned, or made himself lean, on Frederick's arm, as if to impress
upon all who saw them that the ties of years cannot be shaken off so
easily, and that he still looked upon Frederick as his son.

But he was not contented with this dumb show, eloquent as it was. As the
crowd parted and these two imposing figures took their way down the
steps to the carriage which had been sent for them, Mr. Sutherland cast
one deep and long glance about him on faces he knew and on faces he did
not know, on those who were near and those who were far, and raising his
voice, which did not tremble as much as might have been expected, said
deliberately:

"My son accompanies me to his home. If he should afterwards be wanted,
he will be found at his own fireside. Good-day, my friends. I thank you
for the goodwill you have this day shown us both."

Then he entered the carriage.

The solemn way in which Frederick bared his head in acknowledgment of
this public recognition of the hold he still retained on this one
faithful heart, struck awe into the hearts of all who saw it. So that
the carriage rolled off in silence, closing one of the most thrilling
and impressive scenes ever witnessed in that time-worn village.



XXXIV

"NOT WHEN THEY ARE YOUNG GIRLS"


But, alas! all tides have their ebb as well as flow, and before Mr.
Sutherland and Frederick were well out of the main street the latter
became aware that notwithstanding the respect with which his
explanations had been received by the jury, there were many of his
fellow-townsmen who were ready to show dissatisfaction at his being
allowed to return in freedom to that home where he had still every
prospect of being called the young master. Doubt, that seed of ramifying
growth, had been planted in more than one breast, and while it failed as
yet to break out into any open manifestation, there were evidences
enough in the very restraint visible in such groups of people as they
passed that suspicion had not been suppressed or his innocence
established by the over-favourable verdict of the coroner's jury.

To Mr. Sutherland, suffering now from the reaction following all great
efforts, much, if not all, of this quiet but significant display of
public feeling passed unnoticed. But to Frederick, alive to the least
look, the least sign that his story had not been accepted unquestioned,
this passage through the town was the occasion of the most poignant
suffering.

For not only did these marks of public suspicion bespeak possible
arraignment in the future, but through them it became evident that even
if he escaped open condemnation in the courts, he could never hope for
complete reinstatement before the world, nor, what was to him a still
deeper source of despair, anticipate a day when Agnes's love should make
amends to him for the grief and errors of his more than wayward youth.
He could never marry so pure a being while the shadow of crime separated
him from the mass of human beings. Her belief in his innocence and the
exact truth of his story (and he was confident she did believe him)
could make no difference in this conclusion. While he was regarded
openly or in dark corners or beside the humblest fireside as a possible
criminal, neither Mr. Sutherland nor her father, nor his own heart even,
would allow him to offer her anything but a friend's gratitude, or win
from her anything but a neighbour's sympathy; yet in bidding good-bye to
larger hopes and more importunate desires, he parted with the better
part of his heart and the only solace remaining in this world for the
boundless griefs and tragic experiences of his still young life. He had
learned to love through suffering, only to realise that the very nature
of his suffering forbade him to indulge in love.

And this seemed a final judgment, even in this hour of public
justification. He had told his story and been for the moment believed,
but what was there in his life, what was there in the facts as witnessed
by others, what was there in his mother's letters and the revelation of
their secret relationship, to corroborate his assertions, or to prove
that her hand and not his had held the weapon when the life-blood gushed
from her devoted breast? Nothing, nothing; only his word to stand
against all human probabilities and natural inference; only his word and
the generous nature of the great-hearted woman who had thus perished!
Though a dozen of his fellow-citizens had by their verdict professed
their belief in his word and given him the benefit of a doubt involving
his life as well as his honour, he, as well as they, knew that neither
the police nor the general public were given to sentimentality, and that
the question of his guilt still lay open and must remain so till his
dying day. For from the nature of things no proof of the truth was
probable. Batsy being dead, only God and his own heart could know that
the facts of that awful half-hour were as he had told them.

Had God in His justice removed in this striking way his only witness, as
a punishment for his sins and his mad indulgence in acts so little short
of crime as to partake of its guilt and merit its obloquy?

He was asking himself this question as he bent to fasten the gate. His
father had passed in, the carriage had driven off, and the road was
almost solitary--but not quite. As he leaned his arm over the gate and
turned to take a final glance down the hillside, he saw, with what
feelings no one will ever know, the light figure of Agnes advancing on
the arm of her father.

He would have drawn back, but a better impulse intervened and he stood
his ground. Mr. Halliday, who walked very close to Agnes, cast her an
admonitory glance which Frederick was not slow in interpreting, then
stopped reluctantly, perhaps because he saw her falter, perhaps because
he knew that an interview between these two was unavoidable and had best
be quickly over.

Frederick found his voice first.

"Agnes," said he, "I am glad of this opportunity for expressing my
gratitude. You have acted like a friend and have earned my eternal
consideration, even if we never speak again."

There was a momentary silence. Her head, which had drooped under his
greeting, rose again. Her eyes, humid with feeling, sought his face.

"Why do you speak like that?" said she. "Why shouldn't we meet? Does not
everyone recognise your innocence, and will not the whole world soon
see, as I have, that you have left the old life behind and have only to
be your new self to win everyone's regard?"

"Agnes," returned Frederick, smiling sadly as he observed the sudden
alarm visible in her father's face at these enthusiastic words, "you
know me perhaps better than others do and are prepared to believe my
words and my more than unhappy story. But there are few like you in the
world. People in general will not acquit me, and if there was only one
person who doubted "--Mr. Halliday began to look relieved--"I would fail
to give any promise of the new life you hope to see me lead, if I
allowed the shadow under which I undoubtedly rest to fall in the
remotest way across yours. You and I have been friends and will continue
such, but we will hold little intercourse in future, hard as I find it
to say so. Does not Mr. Halliday consider this right? As your father he
must."

Agnes's eyes, leaving Frederick's for a moment, sought her father's.
Alas! there was no mistaking their language. Sighing deeply, she again
hung her head.

"Too much care for people's opinion," she murmured, "and too little for
what is best and noblest in us. I do not recognise the necessity of a
farewell between us any more than I recognise that anyone who saw and
heard you to-day can believe in your guilt."

"But there are so many who did not hear and see me. Besides" (here he
turned a little and pointed to the garden in his rear), "for the past
week a man--I need not state who, nor under what authority he acts--has
been in hiding under that arbour, watching my every movement, and almost
counting my sighs. Yesterday he left for a short space, but to-day he is
back. What does that argue, dear friend? Innocence, completely
recognised, does not call for such guardianship."

The slight frame of the young girl bending so innocently toward him
shuddered involuntarily at this, and her eyes, frightened and flashing,
swept over the arbour before returning to his face.

"If there is a watcher there, and if such a fact proves you to be in
danger of arrest for a crime you never committed, then it behooves your
friends to show where they stand in this matter, and by lending their
sympathy give you courage and power to meet the trials before you."

"Not when they are young girls," murmured Frederick, and casting a
glance at Mr. Halliday, he stepped softly back.

Agnes flushed and yielded to her father's gentle pressure. "Good-bye, my
friend," she said, the quiver in her tones sinking deep into Frederick's
heart. "Some day it will be good-morrow," and her head, turned back over
her shoulder, took on a beautiful radiance that fixed itself forever in
the hungry heart of him who watched it disappear. When she was quite
gone, a man not the one whom Frederick had described, as lying in hiding
in the arbour, but a different one, in fact, no other than our old
friend the constable--advanced around the corner of the house and
presented a paper to him.

It was the warrant for his arrest on a charge of murder.



XXXV

SWEETWATER PAYS HIS DEBT AT LAST TO MR. SUTHERLAND


Frederick's arrest had been conducted so quietly that no hint of the
matter reached the village before the next morning. Then the whole town
broke into uproar, and business was not only suspended, but the streets
and docks overflowed with gesticulating men and excited women, carrying
on in every corner and across innumerable doorsteps the endless debate
which such an action on the part of the police necessarily opened.

But the most agitated face, though the stillest tongue, was not to be
seen in town that morning, but in a little cottage on an arid hill-slope
overlooking the sea. Here Sweetwater sat and communed with his great
monitor, the ocean, and only from his flashing eye and the firm set of
his lips could the mother of Sweetwater see that the crisis of her son's
life was rapidly approaching, and that on the outcome of this long
brooding rested not only his own self-satisfaction, but the interests of
the man most dear to them.

Suddenly, from that far horizon upon which Sweetwater's eye rested with
a look that was almost a demand, came an answer that flushed him with a
hope as great as it was unexpected. Bounding to his feet, he confronted
his mother with eager eyes and outstretched hand.

"Give me money, all the money we have in the house. I have an idea that
may be worth all I can ever make or can ever hope to have. If it
succeeds, we save Frederick Sutherland; if it fails, I have only to meet
another of Knapp's scornful looks. But it won't fail; the inspiration
came from the sea, and the sea, you know, is my second mother!"

What this inspiration was he did not say, but it carried him presently
into town and landed him in the telegraph office.

       .       .       .       .       .       .

The scene later in the day, when Frederick entered the village under the
guardianship of the police, was indescribable. Mr. Sutherland had
insisted upon accompanying him, and when the well-loved figure and white
head were recognised, the throng, which had rapidly collected in the
thoroughfare leading to the depot, succumbed to the feelings occasioned
by this devotion, and fell into a wondering silence.

Frederick had never looked better. There is something in the extremity
of fate which brings out a man's best characteristics, and this man,
having much that was good in him, showed it at that moment as never
before in his short but over-eventful life. As the carriage stopped
before the court-house on its way to the train, a glimpse was given of
his handsome head to those who had followed him closest, and as there
became visible for the first time in his face, so altered under his
troubles, a likeness to their beautiful and commanding Agatha, a murmur
broke out around him that was half a wail and half a groan, and which
affected him so that he turned from his father, whose hand he was
secretly holding, and taking the whole scene in with one flash of his
eye, was about to speak, when a sudden hubbub broke out in the direction
of the telegraph office, and a man was seen rushing down the street
holding a paper high over his head. It was Sweetwater.

"News!" he cried. "News! A cablegram from the Azores! A Swedish
sailor--"

But here a man with more authority than the amateur detective pushed his
way to the carriage and took off his hat to Mr. Sutherland.

"I beg your pardon," said he, "but the prisoner will not leave town
to-day. Important evidence has just reached us."

Mr. Sutherland saw that it was in Frederick's favour and fainted on his
son's neck. As the people beheld his head fall forward, and observed the
look with which Frederick received him in his arms, they broke into a
great shout.

"News!" they shrieked. "News! Frederick Sutherland is innocent! See! the
old man has fainted from joy!" And caps went up and tears fell, before a
mother's son of them knew what grounds he had for his enthusiasm.

Later, they found they were good and substantial ones. Sweetwater had
remembered the group of sailors who had passed by the corner of Agatha's
house just as Batsy fell forward on the window-sill, and cabling to the
captain of the vessel, at the first port at which they were likely to
put in, was fortunate enough to receive in reply a communication from
one of the men, who remembered the words she shouted. They were in
Swedish and none of his mates had understood them, but he recalled them
well. They were:

"Hjelp! Hjelp! Frun håller på alb döda sig. Hon har en knif. Hjelp!
Hjelp!"

In English:

"Help! Help! My mistress kills herself. She has a knife. Help! Help!"

The impossible had occurred. Batsy was not dead, or at least her
testimony still remained and had come at Sweetwater's beck from the
other side of the sea to save her mistress's son.

       .       .       .       .       .       .

Sweetwater was a made man. And Frederick? In a week he was the idol of
the town. In a year--but let Agnes's contented face and happy smile show
what he was then. Sweet Agnes, who first despised, then encouraged, then
loved him, and who, next to Agatha, commanded the open worship of his
heart.

Agatha is first, must be first, as anyone can see who beholds him, on a
certain anniversary of each year, bury his face in the long grass which
covers the saddest and most passionate heart which ever yielded to the
pressure of life's deepest tragedy.

THE END





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