Part 5 out of 7
Timothy Cook stopped to wipe his forehead, as if overcome with the
very recollection, and Mr. Gryce took the opportunity to remark:
"You say there were two ladies; now where was the other one at this
"She was there, sir; but I didn't mind much about her, I was so
taken up with the handsome one and the way she had of smiling when any
one looked at her. I never saw the beat."
I felt a quick thrill go through me.
"Can you remember the color of her hair or eyes?"
"No, sir; I had a feeling as if she wasn't dark, and that is all I
"But you remember her face?"
Mr. Gryce here whispered me to procure two pictures which I would
find in a certain drawer in his desk, and set them up in different
parts of the room unbeknown to the man.
"You have before said," pursued Mr. Gryce, "that you have no
remembrance of her name. Now, how was that? Weren't you called upon to
sign the certificate?"
"Yes, sir; but I am most ashamed to say it; I was in a sort of
maze, and didn't hear much, and only remember it was a Mr. Clavering
she was married to, and that some one called some one else Elner, or
something like that. I wish I hadn't been so stupid, sir, if it would
have done you any good."
"Tell us about the signing of the certificate," said Mr. Gryce.
"Well, sir, there isn't much to tell. Mr. Stebbins asked me to put
my name down in a certain place on a piece of paper he pushed towards
me, and I put it down there; that is all."
"Was there no other name there when you wrote yours?"
"No, sir. Afterwards Mr. Stebbins turned towards the other lady,
who now came forward, and asked her if she wouldn't please sign it,
too; and she said,' yes,' and came very quickly and did so."
"And didn't you see her face then?"
"No, sir; her back was to me when she threw by her veil, and I
only saw Mr. Stebbins staring at her as she stooped, with a kind of
wonder on his face, which made me think she might have been something
worth looking at too; but I didn't see her myself."
"Well, what happened then?"
"I don't know, sir. I went stumbling out of the room, and didn't
see anything more."
"Where were you when the ladies went away?"
"In the garden, sir. I had gone back to my work."
"You saw them, then. Was the gentleman with them?"
"No, sir; that was the queer part of it all. They went back as they
came, and so did he; and in a few minutes Mr. Stebbins came out where
I was, and told me I was to say nothing about what I had seen, for it
was a secret."
"Were you the only one in the house who knew anything about it?
Weren't there any women around?"
"No, sir; Miss Stebbins had gone to the sewing circle."
I had by this time some faint impression of what Mr. Gryce's
suspicions were, and in arranging the pictures had placed one, that of
Eleanore, on the mantel-piece, and the other, which was an uncommonly
fine photograph of Mary, in plain view on the desk. But Mr. Cook's back
was as yet towards that part of the room, and, taking advantage of the
moment, I returned and asked him if that was all he had to tell us
about this matter.
"Then," said Mr. Gryce, with a glance at Q, "isn't there something
you can give Mr. Cook in payment for his story? Look around, will you?"
Q nodded, and moved towards a cupboard in the wall at the side of
the mantel-piece; Mr. Cook following him with his eyes, as was natural,
when, with a sudden start, he crossed the room and, pausing before the
mantelpiece, looked at the picture of Eleanore which I had put there,
gave a low grunt of satisfaction or pleasure, looked at it again, and
walked away. I felt my heart leap into my throat, and, moved by what
impulse of dread or hope I cannot say, turned my back, when suddenly I
heard him give vent to a startled exclamation, followed by the words:
"Why! here she is; this is her, sirs," and turning around saw him
hurrying towards us with Mary's picture in his hands.
I do not know as I was greatly surprised. I was powerfully excited,
as well as conscious of a certain whirl of thought, and an unsettling
of old conclusions that was very confusing; but surprised? No. Mr.
Gryce's manner had too well prepared me.
"This the lady who was married to Mr. Clavering, my good man? I
guess you are mistaken," cried the detective, in a very incredulous
"Mistaken? Didn't I say I would know her anywhere? This is the
lady, if she is the president's wife herself." And Mr. Cook leaned over
it with a devouring look that was not without its element of homage.
"I am very much astonished," Mr. Gryce went on, winking at me in a
slow, diabolical way which in another mood would have aroused my
fiercest anger. "Now, if you had said the other lady was the one "--
pointing to the picture on the mantelpiece,"! shouldn't have wondered."
"She? I never saw that lady before; but this one --would you mind
telling me her name, sirs?"
"If what you say is true, her name is Mrs. Clavering."
"Clavering? Yes, that was his name."
"And a very lovely lady," said Mr. Gryce. "Morris, haven't you
found anything yet?"
Q, for answer, brought forward glasses and a bottle.
But Mr. Cook was in no mood for liquor. I think he was struck with
remorse; for, looking from the picture to Q, and from Q to the picture,
"If I have done this lady wrong by my talk, I '11 never forgive
myself. You told me I would help her to get her rights; if you have
deceived me ----"
"Oh, I haven't deceived you," broke in Q, in his short, sharp way.
"Ask that gentleman there if we are not all interested in Mrs.
Clavering getting her due."
He had designated me; but I was in no mood to reply. I longed to
have the man dismissed, that I might inquire the reason of the great
complacency which I now saw overspreading Mr. Gryce's frame, to his
"Mr. Cook needn't be concerned," remarked Mr. Gryce. "If he will
take a glass of warm crink to fortify him for his walk, I think he may
go to the lodgings Mr. Morris has provided for him without fear. Give
the gent a glass, and let him mix for himself."
But it was full ten minutes before we were delivered of the man and
his vain regrets. Mary's image had called up every latent feeling in
his heart, and I could but wonder over a loveliness capable of swaying
the low as well as the high. But at last he yielded to the seductions
of the now wily _Q,_ and departed.
Left alone with Mr. Gryce, I must have allowed some of the confused
emotions which filled my breast to become apparent on my countenance;
for after a few minutes of ominous silence, be exclaimed very grimly,
and yet with a latent touch of that complacency I had before noticed:
"This discovery rather upsets you, doesn't it? Well, it don't me,"
shutting his mouth like a trap. "I expected it."
"Your conclusions must differ very materially from mine," I
returned; "or you would see that this discovery alters the complexion
of the whole affair."
"It does not alter the truth."
"What is the truth?"
Mr. Gryce's very legs grew thoughtful; his voice sank to its deepest
tone. "Do you very much want to know?"
"Want to know the truth? What else are we after?"
"Then," said he, "to my notion, the complexion of things has
altered, but very much for the better. As long as Eleanore was believed
to be the wife, her action in this matter was accounted for; but the
tragedy itself was not. Why should Eleanore or Eleanore's husband wish
the death of a man whose bounty they believed would end with his life?
But with Mary, the heiress, proved the wife!--I tell you, Mr.
Raymond, it all hangs together now. You must never, in reckoning up an
affair of murder like this, forget who it is that most profits by the
deceased man's death."
"But Eleanore's silence? her concealment of certain proofs and
evidences in her own breast--how will you account for that? I can
imagine a woman devoting herself to the shielding of a husband from the
consequences of crime; but a cousin's husband, never."
Mr. Gryce put his feet very close together, and softly grunted.
"Then you still think Mr. Clavering the assassin of Mr. Leavenworth?"
I could only stare at him in my sudden doubt and dread. "Still
think?" I repeated.
"Mr. Clavering the murderer of Mr. Leavenworth?"
"Why, what else is there to think? You don't--you can't--suspect
Eleanore of having deliberately undertaken to help her cousin out of a
difficulty by taking the life of their mutual benefactor?"
"No," said Mr. Gryce; "no, I do not think Eleanore Leavenworth
had any hand in the business."
"Then who--" I began, and stopped, lost in the dark vista that was
opening before me.
"Who? Why, who but the one whose past deceit and present necessity
demanded his death as a relief? Who but the beautiful, money-loving,
I leaped to my feet in my sudden horror and repugnance. "Do not
mention the name! You are wrong; but do not speak the name."
"Excuse me," said he; "but it will have to be spoken many times,
and we may as well begin here and now--who then but Mary Leavenworth;
or, if you like it better, Mrs. Henry Clavering? Are you so much
surprised? It has been my thought from the beginning."
XXVI. MR. GRYCE EXPLAINS HIMSELF
"Sits the wind in that corner?"
--Much Ado about Nothing.
I DO not propose to enter into a description of the mingled feelings
aroused in me by this announcement. As a drowning man is said to live
over in one terrible instant the events of a lifetime, so each word
uttered in my hearing by Mary, from her first introduction to me in her
own room, on the morning of the inquest, to our final conversation on
the night of Mr. Clavering's call, swept in one wild phantasmagoria
through my brain, leaving me aghast at the signification which her
whole conduct seemed to acquire from the lurid light which now fell
"I perceive that I have pulled down an avalanche of doubts about
your ears," exclaimed my companion from the height of his calm
superiority. "You never thought of this possibility, then, yourself?"
"Do not ask me what I have thought. I only know I will never
believe your suspicions true. That, however much Mary may have been
benefited by her uncle's death, she never had a hand in it; actual
hand, I mean."
"And what makes you so sure of this?"
"And what makes you so sure of the contrary? It is for you to
prove, not for me to prove her innocence."
"Ah," said Mr. Gryce, in his slow, sarcastic way, "you recollect
that principle of law, do you? If I remember rightly, you have not
always been so punctilious in regarding it, or wishing to have it
regarded, when the question was whether Mr. Clavering was the assassin
"But he is a man. It does not seem so dreadful to accuse a man of
a crime. But a woman! and such a woman! I cannot listen to it; it is
horrible. Nothing short of absolute confession on her part will ever
make me believe Mary Leavenworth, or any other woman, committed this
deed. It was too cruel, too deliberate, too----"
"Read the criminal records," broke in Mr. Gryce.
But I was obstinate. "I do not care for the criminal records. All
the criminal records in the world would never make me believe Eleanore
perpetrated this crime, nor will I be less generous towards her cousin
Mary Leavenworth is a faulty woman, but not a guilty one."
"You are more lenient in your judgment of her than her cousin was,
"I do not understand you," I muttered, feeling a new and yet more
fearful light breaking upon me.
"What! have you forgotten, in the hurry of these late events, the
sentence of accusation which we overheard uttered between these ladies
on the morning of the inquest?"
"You believed it to have been spoken by Mary to Eleanore?"
"Of course; didn't you?"
Oh, the smile which crossed Mr. Gryce's face! "Scarcely. I left
that baby-play for you. I thought one was enough to follow on that
The light, the light that was breaking upon me! "And do you mean
to say it was Eleanore who was speaking at that time? That I have been
laboring all these weeks under a terrible mistake, and that you could
have righted me with a word, and did not?"
"Well, as to that, I had a purpose in letting you follow your own
lead for a while. In the first place, I was not sure myself which spoke;
though I had but little doubt about the matter. The voices are, as
you must have noticed, very much alike, while the attitudes in which we
found them upon entering were such as to be explainable equally by the
supposition that Mary was in the act of launching a denunciation, or in
that of repelling one. So that, while I did not hesitate myself as to
the true explanation of the scene before me, I was pleased to find you
accept a contrary one; as in this way both theories had a chance of
being tested; as was right in a case of so much mystery. You
accordingly took up the affair with one idea for your starting-point,
and I with another. You saw every fact as it developed through the
medium of Mary's belief in Eleanore's guilt, and I through the
opposite. And what has been the result? With you, doubt,
contradiction, constant unsettlement, and unwarranted resorts to
strange sources for reconcilement between appearances and your own
convictions; with me, growing assurance, and a belief which each and
every development so far has but served to strengthen and make more
Again that wild panorama of events, looks, and words swept before
me. Mary's reiterated assertions of her cousin's innocence, Eleanore's
attitude of lofty silence in regard to certain matters which might be
considered by her as pointing towards the murderer.
"Your theory must be the correct one," I finally admitted; "it
was undoubtedly Eleanore who spoke. She believes in Mary's guilt, and I
have been blind, indeed, not to have seen it from the first."
"If Eleanore Leavenworth believes in her cousin's criminality, she
must have some good reasons for doing so."
I was obliged to admit that too. "She did not conceal in her bosom
that telltale key,--found who knows where?--and destroy, or seek
to destroy, it and the letter which introduced her cousin to the public
as the unprincipled destroyer of a trusting man's peace, for nothing."
"And yet you, a stranger, a young man who have never seen Mary
Leavenworth in any other light than that in which her coquettish nature
sought to display itself, presume to say she is innocent, in the face
of the attitude maintained from the first by her cousin!"
"But," said I, in my great unwillingness to accept his conclusions,
"Eleanore Leavenworth is but mortal. She may have been mistaken in her
inferences. She has never stated what her suspicion was founded upon;
nor can we know what basis she has for maintaining the attitude you
speak of. Clavering is as likely as Mary to be the assassin, for all we
know, and possibly for all she knows."
"You seem to be almost superstitious in your belief in Clavering's
I recoiled. Was I? Could it be that Mr. Harwell's fanciful
conviction in regard to this man had in any way influenced me to the
detriment of my better judgment?
"And you may be right," Mr. Gryce went on. "I do not pretend to be
set in my notions. Future investigation may succeed in fixing something
upon him; though I hardly think it likely. His behavior as the secret
husband of a woman possessing motives for the commission of a crime has
been too consistent throughout."
"All except his leaving her."
"No exception at all; for he hasn't left her."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that, instead of leaving the country, Mr. Clavering has
only made pretence of doing so. That, in place of dragging himself off
to Europe at her command, he has only changed his lodgings, and can now
be found, not only in a house opposite to hers, but in the window of
that house, where he sits day after day watching who goes in and out of
her front door."
I remembered his parting injunction to me, in that memorable
interview we had in my office, and saw myself compelled to put a new
construction upon it.
"But I was assured at the Hoffman House that he had sailed for
Europe, and myself saw the man who professes to have driven him to the
"And Mr. Clavering returned to the city after that?"
"In another carriage, and to another house."
"And you tell me that man is all right?"
"No; I only say there isn't the shadow of evidence against him as
the person who shot Mr. Leavenworth."
Rising, I paced the floor, and for a few minutes silence fell
between us. But the clock, striking, recalled me to the necessity of
the hour, and, turning, I asked Mr. Gryce what he proposed to do now.
"There is but one thing I can do," said he.
"And that is?"
"To go upon such lights as I have, and cause the arrest of Miss
I had by this time schooled myself to endurance, and was able to
hear this without uttering an exclamation. But I could not let it pass
without making one effort to combat his determination.
"But," said I, "I do not see what evidence you have, positive
enough in its character, to warrant extreme measures. You have yourself
intimated that the existence of motive is not enough, even though taken
with the fact of the suspected party being in the house at the time of
the murder; and what more have you to urge against Miss Leavenworth?"
"Pardon me. I said 'Miss Leavenworth'; I should have said
"Eleanore? What! when you and all unite in thinking that she alone
of all these parties to the crime is utterly guiltless of wrong?"
"And yet who is the only one against whom positive testimony of
any kind can be brought."
I could but acknowledge that.
"Mr. Raymond," he remarked very gravely; "the public is becoming
clamorous; something must be done to satisfy it, if only for the
moment. Eleanore has laid herself open to the suspicion of the police,
and must take the consequences of her action. I am sorry; she is a
noble creature; I admire her; but justice is justice, and though I
think her innocent, I shall be forced to put her under arrest
"But I cannot be reconciled to it. It is doing an irretrievable
injury to one whose only fault is an undue and mistaken devotion to an
unworthy cousin. If Mary is the----."
"Unless something occurs between now and tomorrow morning," Mr.
Gryce went on, as if I had not spoken.
I tried to realize it; tried to face the fact that all my efforts
had been for nothing, and failed.
"Will you not grant me one more day?" I asked in my desperation.
"What to do?"
Alas, I did not know. "To confront Mr. Clavering, and force from
him the truth."
"To make a mess of the whole affair!" he growled. "No, sir; the
die is cast. Eleanore Leavenworth knows the one point which fixes this
crime upon her cousin, and she must tell us that point or suffer the
consequences of her refusal."
I made one more effort.
"But why to-morrow? Having exhausted so much time already in our
inquiries, why not take a little more; especially as the trail is
constantly growing warmer? A little more moling----"
"A little more folderol!" exclaimed Mr. Gryce, losing his temper.
"No, sir; the hour for moling has passed; something decisive has got
to be done now; though, to be sure, if I could find the one missing
link I want----"
"Missing link? What is that?"
"The immediate motive of the tragedy; a bit of proof that Mr.
Leavenworth threatened his niece with his displeasure, or Mr. Clavering
with his revenge, would place me on the vantage-point at once; no
arresting of Eleanore then! No, my lady! I would walk right into your
own gilded parlors, and when you asked me if I had found the murderer
yet, say 'yes,' and show you a bit of paper which would surprise you!
But missing links are not so easily found. This has been moled for, and
moled for, as you are pleased to call our system of investigation, and
totally without result. Nothing but the confession of some one of these
several parties to the crime will give us what we want. I will tell you
what I will do," he suddenly cried. "Miss Leavenworth has desired me
to report to her; she is very anxious for the detection of the
murderer, you know, and offers an immense reward. Well, I will gratify
this desire of hers. The suspicions I have, together with my reasons
for them, will make an interesting disclosure. I should not greatly
wonder if they produced an equally interesting confession."
I could only jump to my feet in my horror.
"At all events, I propose to try it. Eleanore is worth that much
risk any way."
"It will do no good," said I. "If Mary is guilty, she will never
confess it. If not----"
"She will tell us who is."
"Not if it is Clavering, her husband."
"Yes; even if it is Clavering, her husband. She has not the
devotion of Eleanore."
That I could but acknowledge. She would hide no keys for the sake of
shielding another: no, if Mary were accused, she would speak. The
future opening before us looked sombre enough. And yet when, in a short
time from that, I found myself alone in a busy street, the thought that
Eleanore was free rose above all others, filling and moving me till my
walk home in the rain that day has become a marked memory of my life.
It was only with nightfall that I began to realize the truly critical
position in which Mary stood if Mr. Gryce's theory was correct. But,
once seized with this thought, nothing could drive it from my mind.
Shrink as I would, it was ever before me, haunting me with the direst
forebodings. Nor, though I retired early, could I succeed in getting
either sleep or rest. All night I tossed on my pillow, saying over to
myself with dreary iteration: "Something must happen, something will
happen, to prevent Mr. Gryce doing this dreadful thing." Then I would
start up and ask what could happen; and my mind would run over various
contingencies, such as,--Mr. Clavering might confess; Hannah might
come back; Mary herself wake up to her position and speak the word I
had more than once seen trembling on her lips. But further thought
showed me how unlikely any of these things were to happen, and it was
with a brain utterly exhausted that I fell asleep in the early dawn, to
dream I saw Mary standing above Mr. Gryce with a pistol in her hand. I
was awakened from this pleasing vision by a heavy knock at the door.
Hastily rising, I asked who was there. The answer came in the shape of
an envelope thrust under the door. Raising it, I found it to be a note.
It was from Mr. Gryce, and ran thus:
"Come at once; Hannah Chester is found."
"So we have reason to think."
When? where? by whom?"
"Sit down, and I will tell you."
Drawing up a chair in a flurry of hope and fear, I sat down by Mr.
"She is not in the cupboard," that person dryly assured me, noting
without doubt how my eyes went travelling about the room in my anxiety
and impatience. "We are not absolutely sure that she is anywhere. But
word has come to us that a girl's face believed to be Hannah's has been
seen at the upper window of a certain house in--don't start-- R----,
where a year ago she was in the habit of visiting while at the hotel
with the Misses Leavenworth. Now, as it has already been determined
that she left New York the night of the murder, by the ------ ----
Railroad, though for what point we have been unable to ascertain, we
consider the matter worth inquiring into."
"If she is there," resumed Mr. Gryce, "she is secreted; kept very
close. No one except the informant has ever seen her, nor is there any
suspicion among the neighbors of her being in town."
"Hannah secreted at a certain house in R----? Whose house?"
Mr. Gryce honored me with one of his grimmest smiles. "The name of
the lady she's with is given in the communication as Belden; Mrs. Amy
"Amy Belden! the name found written on a torn envelope by Mr.
Clavering's servant girl in London?"
I made no attempt to conceal my satisfaction. "Then we are upon
the verge of some discovery; Providence has interfered, and Eleanore
will be saved! But when did you get this word?"
"Last night, or rather this morning; Q brought it."
"It was a message, then, to Q?"
"Yes, the result of his molings while in R----, I suppose."
"Whom was it signed by?"
"A respectable tinsmith who lives next door to Mrs. B."
"And is this the first you knew of an Amy Belden living in R----?"
"Widow or wife?"
"Don't know; don't know anything about her but her name."
"But you have already sent Q to make inquiries?"
"No; the affair is a little too serious for him to manage alone. He
is not equal to great occasions, and might fail just for the lack of a
keen mind to direct him."
"I wish you to go. Since I cannot be there myself, I know of no one
else sufficiently up in the affair to conduct it to a successful issue.
You see, it is not enough to find and identify the girl. The present
condition of things demands that the arrest of so important a witness
should be kept secret. Now, for a man to walk into a strange house in a
distant village, find a girl who is secreted there, frighten her,
cajole her, force her, as the case may be, from her hiding-place to a
detective's office in New York, and all without the knowledge of the
next-door neighbor, if possible, requires judgment, brains, genius.
Then the woman who conceals her I She must have her reasons for doing
so; and they must be known. Altogether, the affair is a delicate one.
Do you think you can manage it?"
"I should at least like to try."
Mr. Gryce settled himself on the sofa. "To think what pleasure I am
losing on your account!" he grumbled, gazing reproachfully at his
helpless limbs. "But to business. How soon can you start?"
"Good! a train leaves the depot at 12.15. Take that. Once in
R----, it will be for you to decide upon the means of making Mrs.
Belden's acquaintance without arousing her suspicions. Q, who will
follow you, will hold himself in readiness to render you any assistance
you may require. Only this thing is to be understood: as he will
doubtless go in disguise, you are not to recognize him, much less
interfere with him and his plans, till he gives you leave to do so, by
some preconcerted signal. You are to work in your way, and he in his,
till circumstances seem to call for mutual support and countenance. I
cannot even say whether you will see him or not; he may find it
necessary to Keep um. of the way; but you may be sure of one thing,
that he will know where you are, and that the display of, well, let us
say a red silk handkerchief--have you such a thing?"
"I will get one."
"Will be regarded by him as a sign that you desire his presence or
assistance, whether it be shown about your person or at the window of
"And these are all the instructions you can give me?" I said, as
"Yes, I don't know of anything else. You must depend largely upon
your own discretion, and the exigencies of the moment. I cannot tell
you now what to do. Your own wit will be the best guide. Only, if
possible, let me either hear from you or see you by to-morrow at this
And he handed me a cipher in case I should wish to telegraph.
BOOK III. HANNAH
XXVII. AMY BELDEN
"A merrier man
Within the limits of becoming mirth,
I never spent an hour's talk withal."
--Love's Labour's Last.
I HAD a client in R---- by the name of Monell; and it was from him I
had planned to learn the best way of approaching Mrs. Belden. When,
therefore, I was so fortunate as to meet him, almost on my arrival,
driving on the long road behind his famous trotter Alfred, I regarded
the encounter as a most auspicious beginning of a very doubtful
"Well, and how goes the day?" was his exclamation as, the first
greetings passed, we drove rapidly into town.
"Your part in it goes pretty smoothly," I returned; and thinking I
could never hope to win his attention to my own affairs till I had
satisfied him in regard to his, I told him all I could concerning the
law-suit then pending; a subject so prolific of question and answer,
that we had driven twice round the town before he remembered he had a
letter to post. As it was an important one, admitting of no delay, we
hasted at once to the post-office, where he went in, leaving me outside
to watch the rather meagre stream of goers and comers who at that time
of day make the post-office of a country town their place of
rendezvous. Among these, for some reason, I especially noted one
middle-aged woman; why, I cannot say; her appearance was anything but
remarkable. And yet when she came out, with two letters in her hand,
one in a large and one in might be induced to give a bed to a friend of
mine who is very anxious to be near the post-office on account of a
business telegram he is expecting, and which when it comes will demand
his immediate attention." And Mr. Monell gave me a sly wink of his eye,
little imagining how near the mark he had struck.
"You need not say that. Tell her I have a peculiar dislike to
sleeping in a public house, and that you know of no one better fitted
to accommodate me, for the short time I desire to be in town, than
"And what will be said of my hospitality in allowing you under
these circumstances to remain in any other house than my own?"
"I don't know; very hard things, no doubt; but I guess your
hospitality can stand it."
"Well, if you persist, we will see what can be done." And driving
up to a neat white cottage of homely, but sufficiently attractive
appearance, he stopped.
"This is her house," said he, jumping to the ground; "let's go in
and see what we can do."
Glancing up at the windows, which were all closed save the two on
the veranda overlooking the street, I thought to myself, "If she has
anybody in hiding here, whose presence in the house she desires to keep
secret, it is folly to hope she will take me in, however well
recommended I may come." But, yielding to the example of my friend, I
alighted in my turn and followed him up the short, grass-bordered walk
to the front door.
"As she has no servant, she will come to the door herself, so be
ready," he remarked as he knocked.
I had barely time to observe that the curtains to the window at my
left suddenly dropped, when a hasty step made itself heard within, and
a quick hand drew open the door; and I saw before me the woman whom I
had observed at the post-office, and whose action with the letters had
struck me as peculiar. I recognized her at first glance, though she was
differently dressed, and had evidently passed through some worry or
excitement that had altered the expression of her countenance, and made
her manner what it was not at that time, strained and a trifle
uncertain. But I saw no reason for thinking she remembered me. On the
contrary, the look she directed towards me had nothing but inquiry in
it, and when Mr. Monell pushed me forward with the remark, "A friend
of mine; in fact my lawyer from New York," she dropped a hurried
old-fashioned curtsey whose only expression vas a manifest desire to
appear sensible of the honor conferred upon her, through the mist of a
certain trouble that confused everything about her,
"We have come to ask a favor, Mrs. Belden; but may we not come in?
"said my client in a round, hearty voice well calculated to recall a
person's thoughts into their proper channel. "I have heard many times
of your cosy home, and am glad of this opportunity of seeing it." And
with a blind disregard to the look of surprised resistance with which
she met his advance, he stepped gallantly into the little room whose
cheery red carpet and bright picture-hung walls showed invitingly
through the half-open door at our left.
Finding her premises thus invaded by a sort of French _coup
d'etat,_ Mrs. Belden made the best of the situation, and pressing me
to enter also, devoted herself to hospitality. As for Mr. Monell, he
quite blossomed out in his endeavors to make himself agreeable; so
much so, that I shortly found myself laughing at his sallies, though my
heart was full of anxiety lest, after all, our efforts should fail of
the success they certainly merited. Meanwhile, Mrs. Belden softened
more and more, joining in the conversation with an ease hardly to be
expected from one in her humble circumstances. Indeed, I soon saw she
was no common woman. There was a refinement in her speech and manner,
which, combined with her motherly presence and gentle air, was very
pleasing. The last woman in the world to suspect of any underhanded
proceeding, if she had not shown a peculiar hesitation when Mr. Monell
broached the subject of my entertainment there.
"I don't know, sir; I would be glad, but," and she turned a very
scrutinizing look upon me, "the fact is, I have not taken lodgers of
late, and I have got out of the way of the whole thing, and am afraid I
cannot make him comfortable. In short, you will have to excuse me."
"But we can't," returned Mr. Monell. "What, entice a fellow into a
room like this"--and he cast a hearty admiring glance round the
apartment which, for all its simplicity, both its warm coloring and
general air of cosiness amply merited, "and then turn a cold shoulder
upon him when he humbly entreats the honor of staying a single night in
the enjoyment of its attractions? No, no, Mrs. Belden; I know you too
well for that. Lazarus himself couldn't come to your door and be turned
away; much less a good-hearted, clever-headed young gentleman like my
"You are very good," she began, an almost weak love of praise
showing itself for a moment in her eyes; "but I have no room prepared.
I have been house-cleaning, and everything is topsy-turvy. Mrs. Wright.
now, over the way----"
"My young friend is going to stop here," Mr. Mouell broke in, with
frank positiveness. "If I cannot have him at my own house,--and for
certain reasons it is not advisable,--I shall at least have the
satisfaction of knowing he is in the charge of the best housekeeper in
"Yes," I put in, but without too great a show of interest; "I
should be sorry, once introduced here, to be obliged to go elsewhere."
The troubled eye wavered away from us to the door.
"I was never called inhospitable," she commenced; "but everything
in such disorder. What time would you like to come?"
"I was in hopes I might remain now," I replied; "I have some
letters to write, and ask nothing better than for leave to sit here and
At the word letters I saw her hand go to her pocket in a movement
which must have been involuntary, for her countenance did not change,
and she made the quick reply:
"Well, you may. If you can put up with such poor accommodations as
I can offer, it shall not be said I refused you what Mr. Monell is
pleased to call a favor."
And, complete in her reception as she had been in her resistance,
she gave us a pleasant smile, and, ignoring my thanks, bustled out with
Mr. Monell to the buggy, where she received my bag and what was,
doubtless, more to her taste, the compliments he was now more than ever
ready to bestow upon her.
"I will see that a room is got ready for you in a very short space
of time," she said, upon re-entering. "Meanwhile, make yourself at
home here; and if you wish to write, why I think you will find
everything for the purpose in these drawers." And wheeling up a table
to the easy chair in which I sat, she pointed to the small compartments
beneath, with an air of such manifest desire to have me make use of
anything and everything she had, that I found myself wondering over my
position with a sort of startled embarrassment that was not remote from
"Thank you; I have materials of my own," said I, and hastened to
open my bag and bring out the writing-case, which I always carried with
"Then I will leave you," said she; and with a quick bend and a
short, hurried look out of the window, she hastily quitted the room.
I could hear her steps cross the hall, go up two or three stairs,
pause, go up the rest of the flight, pause again, and then pass on. I
was left on the first floor alone.
XXVIII. A WEIRD EXPERIENCE
"Flat burglary an ever was committed."
--Much Ado about Nothing.
THE first thing I did was to inspect with greater care the room in
which I sat.
It was a pleasant apartment, as I have already said; square, sunny,
and well furnished. On the floor was a crimson carpet, on the walls
several pictures, at the windows, cheerful curtains of white,
tastefully ornamented with ferns and autumn leaves; in one corner an
old melodeon, and in the centre of the room a table draped with a
bright cloth, on which were various little knick-knacks which, without
being rich or expensive, were both pretty and, to a certain extent,
ornamental. But it was not these things, which I had seen repeated in
many other country homes, that especially attracted my attention, or
drew me forward in the slow march which I now undertook around the
room. It was the something underlying all these, the evidences which I
found, or sought to find, not only in the general aspect of the room,
but in each trivial object I encountered, of the character,
disposition, and history of the woman with whom I now had to deal. It
was for this reason I studied the daguerreotypes on the mantel-piece,
the books on the shelf, and the music on the rack; for this and the
still further purpose of noting if any indications were to be found of
there being in the house any such person as Hannah.
First then, for the little library, which I was pleased to see
occupied one corner of the room. Composed of a few well-chosen books,
poetical, historical, and narrative, it was of itself sufficient to
account for the evidences of latent culture observable in Mrs. Belden's
conversation. Taking out a well-worn copy of _Byron,_ I opened it.
There were many passages marked, and replacing the book with a mental
comment upon her evident impressibility to the softer emotions, I
turned towards the melodeon fronting me from the opposite wall. It was
closed, but on its neatly-covered top lay one or two hymn-books, a
basket of russet apples, and a piece of half-completed knitting work.
I took up the latter, but was forced to lay it down again without a
notion for what it was intended. Proceeding, I next stopped before a
window opening upon the small yard that ran about the house, and
separated it from the one adjoining. The scene without failed to
attract me, but the window itself drew my attention, for, written with
a diamond point on one of the panes, I perceived a row of letters
which, as nearly as I could make out, were meant for some word or
words, but which utterly failed in sense or apparent connection.
Passing it by as the work of some school-girl, I glanced down at the
work-basket standing on a table at my side. It was full of various
kinds of work, among which I spied a pair of stockings, which were much
too small, as well as in too great a state of disrepair, to belong to
Mrs. Belden; and drawing them carefully out, I examined them for any
name on them. Do not start when I say I saw the letter H plainly marked
upon them. Thrusting them back, I drew a deep breath of relief, gazing,
as I did so, out of the window, when those letters again attracted my
What could they mean? Idly I began to read them backward, when--
But try for yourself, reader, and judge of my surprise! Elate at the
discovery thus made, I sat down to write my letters. I had barely
finished them, when Mrs. Belden came in with the announcement that
supper was ready. "As for your room," said she, "I have prepared my
own room for your use, thinking you would like to remain on the first
floor." And, throwing open a door at my side, she displayed a
small, but comfortable room, in which I could dimly see a bed, an
immense bureau, and a shadowy looking-glass in a dark, old-fashioned
"I live in very primitive fashion," she resumed, leading the way
into the dining-room; "but I mean to be comfortable and make others
"I should say you amply succeeded," I rejoined, with an
appreciative glance at her well-spread board.
She smiled, and I felt I had paved the way to her good graces in a
way that would yet redound to my advantage.
Shall I ever forget that supper! its dainties, its pleasant
freedom, its mysterious, pervading atmosphere of unreality: and the
constant sense which every bountiful dish she pressed upon me brought
of the shame of eating this woman's food with such feelings of
suspicion in my heart! Shall I ever forget the emotion I experienced
when I first perceived she had something on her mind, which she longed,
yet hesitated, to give utterance to! Or how she started when a cat
jumped from the sloping roof of the kitchen on to the grass-plot at the
back of the house; or how my heart throbbed when I heard, or thought I
heard, a board creak overhead! We were in a long and narrow room which
seemed, curiously enough, to run crosswise of the house, opening on one
side into the parlor, and on the other into the small bedroom, which
had been allotted to my use.
"You live in this house alone, without fear?" I asked, as Mrs.
Belden, contrary to my desire, put another bit of cold chicken on my
plate. "Have you no marauders in this town: no tramps, of whom a
solitary woman like you might reasonably be afraid?"
"No one will hurt me," said she; "and no one ever came here for
food or shelter but got it."
"I should think, then, that living as you do, upon a railroad, you
would be constantly overrun with worthless beings whose only trade is
to take all they can get without giving a return."
"I cannot turn them away. It is the only luxury I have: to feed the
"But the idle, restless ones, who neither will work, nor let others
"Are still the poor."
Mentally remarking, here is the woman to shield an unfortunate who
has somehow become entangled in the meshes of a great crime, I drew
back from the table As I did so, the thought crossed me that, in case
there was any such person in the house as Hannah, she would take the
opportunity of going up-stairs with something for her to eat; and that
she might not feel hampered by my presence, I stepped out on the
veranda with my cigar.
While smoking it, I looked about for Q. I felt that the least token
of his presence in town would be very encouraging at this time. But it
seemed I was not to be afforded even that small satisfaction. If _Q_
was anywhere near, he was lying very low.
Once again seated with Mrs. Belden (who I know came down-stairs with
an empty plate, for going into the kitchen for a drink, I caught her in
the act of setting it down on the table), I made up my mind to wait a
reasonable length of time for what she had to say; and then, if she did
not speak, make an endeavor on my own part to surprise her secret.
But her avowal was nearer and of a different nature from what I
expected, and brought its own train of consequences with it.
"You are a lawyer, I believe," she began, taking down her knitting
work, with a forced display of industry.
"Yes," I said; "that is my profession."
She remained for a moment silent, creating great havoc in her work I
am sure, from the glance of surprise and vexation she afterwards threw
it. Then, in a hesitating voice, remarked:
"Perhaps you may be willing, then, to give me some advice. The
truth is, I am in a very curious predicament; one from which I don't
know how to escape, and yet which demands immediate action. I should
like to tell you about it; may I?"
"You may; I shall be only too happy to give you any advice in my
She drew in her breath with a sort of vague relief, though her
forehead did not lose its frown.
"It can all be said in a few words. I have in my possession a
package of papers which were intrusted to me by two ladies, with the
understanding that I should neither return nor destroy them without the
full cognizance and expressed desire of both parties, given in person
or writing. That they were to remain in my hands till then, and that
nothing or nobody should extort them from me."
"That is easily understood," said I; for she stopped.
"But, now comes word from one of the ladies, the one, too, most
interested in the matter, that, for certain reasons, the immediate
destruction of those papers is necessary to her peace and safety."
"And do you want to know what your duty is in this case?"
"Yes," she tremulously replied.
I rose. I could not help it: a flood of conjectures rushing in
tumult over me.
"It is to hold on to the papers like grim death till released from
your guardianship by the combined wish of both parties.,"
"Is that your opinion as a lawyer?"
"Yes, and as a man. Once pledged in that way, you have no choice.
It would be a betrayal of trust to yield to the solicitations of one
party what you have undertaken to return to both. The fact that grief
or loss might follow your retention of these papers does not release
you from your bond. You have nothing to do with that; besides, you are
by no means sure that the representations of the so-called interested
party are true. You might be doing a greater wrong, by destroying in
this way, what is manifestly considered of value to them both, than by
preserving the papers intact, according to compact."
"But the circumstances? Circumstances alter cases; and in short,
it seems to me that the wishes of the one most interested ought to be
regarded, especially as there is an estrangement between these ladies
which may hinder the other's consent from ever being obtained."
"No," said I; "two wrongs never make a right; nor are we at
liberty to do an act of justice at the expense of an injustice. The
papers must be preserved, Mrs. Belden."
Her head sank very despondingly; evidently it had been her wish to
please the interested party. "Law is very hard," she said; "very
"This is not only law, but plain duty," I remarked. "Suppose a
case different; suppose the honor and happiness of the other party
depended upon the preservation of the papers; where would your duty be
"A contract is a contract," said I, "and cannot be tampered with.
Having accepted the trust and given your word, you are obliged to
fulfil, to the letter, all its conditions. It would be a breach of
trust for you to return or destroy the papers without the mutual
An expression of great gloom settled slowly over her features. "I
suppose you are right," said she, and became silent.
Watching her, I thought to myself, "If I were Mr. Gryce, or even Q,
I would never leave this seat till I had probed this matter to the
bottom, learned the names of the parties concerned, and where those
precious papers are hidden, which she declares to be of so much
importance." But being neither, I could only keep her talking upon the
subject until she should let fall some word that might serve as a guide
to my further enlightenment; I therefore turned, with the intention of
asking her some question, when my attention was attracted by the figure
of a woman coming out of the back-door of the neighboring house, who,
for general dilapidation and uncouthness of bearing, was a perfect type
of the style of tramp of whom we had been talking at the supper table.
Gnawing a crust which she threw away as she reached the street, she
trudged down the path, her scanty dress, piteous in its rags and soil,
flapping in the keen spring wind, and revealing ragged shoes red with
the mud of the highway.
"There is a customer that may interest you," said I.
Mrs. Belden seemed to awake from a trance. Rising slowly, she looked
out, and with a rapidly softening gaze surveyed the forlorn creature
"Poor thing!" she muttered; "but I cannot do much for her
to-night. A good supper is all I can give her."
And, going to the front door, she bade her step round the house to
the kitchen, where, in another moment, I heard the rough creature's
voice rise in one long "Bless you!" that could only have been
produced by the setting before her of the good things with which Mrs.
Belden's larder seemed teeming.
But supper was not all she wanted. After a decent length of time,
employed as I should judge in mastication, I heard her voice rise once
more in a plea for shelter.
"The barn, ma'am, or the wood-house. Any place where I can lie out
of the wind." And she commenced a long tale of want and disease, so
piteous to hear that I was not at all surprised when Mrs. Belden told
me, upon re-entering, that she had consented, notwithstanding her
previous determination, to allow the woman to lie before the kitchen
fire for the night.
"She has such an honest eye," said she; "and charity is my only
The interruption of this incident effectually broke up our
conversation. Mrs. Belden went up-stairs, and for some time I was left
alone to ponder over what I had heard, and determine upon my future
course of action. I had just reached the conclusion that she would be
fully as liable to be carried away by her feelings to the destruction
of the papers in her charge, as to be governed by the rules of equity I
had laid down to her, when I heard her stealthily descend the stairs
and go out by the front door. Distrustful of her intentions, I took up
my hat and hastily followed her. She was on her way down the main
street, and my first thought was, that she was bound for some
neighbor's house or perhaps for the hotel itself; but the settled swing
into which she soon altered her restless pace satisfied me that she had
some distant goal in prospect; and before long I found myself passing
the hotel with its appurtenances, even the little schoolhouse, that was
the last building at this end of the village, and stepping out into the
country beyond. What could it mean?
But still her fluttering figure hasted on, the outlines of her form,
with its close shawl and neat bonnet, growing fainter and fainter in
the now settled darkness of an April night; and still I followed,
walking on the turf at the side of the road lest she should hear my
footsteps and look round. At last we reached a bridge. Over this I
could hear her pass, and then every sound ceased. She had paused, and
was evidently listening. It would not do for me to pause too, so
gathering myself into as awkward a shape as possible, I sauntered by
her down the road, but arrived at a certain point, stopped, and began
retracing my steps with a sharp lookout for her advancing figure, till
I had arrived once more at the bridge. She was not there.
Convinced now that she had discovered my motive for being in her
house and, by leading me from it, had undertaken to supply Hannah with
an opportunity for escape, I was about to hasten back to the charge I
had so incautiously left, when a strange sound heard at my left
arrested me. It came from the banks of the puny stream which ran under
the bridge, and was like the creaking of an old door on worn-out hinges.
Leaping the fence, I made my way as best I could down the sloping
field in the direction from which the sound came. It was quite dark,
and my progress was slow; so much so, that I began to fear I had
ventured upon a wild-goose chase, when an unexpected streak of
lightning shot across the sky, and by its glare I saw before me what
seemed, in the momentary glimpse I had of it, an old barn. From the
rush of waters near at hand, I judged it to be somewhere on the edge of
the stream, and consequently hesitated to advance, when I heard the
sound of heavy breathing near me, followed by a stir as of some one
feeling his way over a pile of loose boards; and presently, while I
stood there, a faint blue light flashed up from the interior of the
barn, and I saw, through the tumbled-down door that faced me, the form
of Mrs. Belden standing with a lighted match in her hand, gazing round
on the four walls that encompassed her. Hardly daring to breathe, lest
I should alarm her, I watched her while she turned and peered at the
roof above her, which was so old as to be more than half open to the
sky, at the flooring beneath, which was in a state of equal
dilapidation, and finally at a small tin box which she drew from under
her shawl and laid on the ground at her feet. The sight of that box at
once satisfied me as to the nature of her errand. She was going to hide
what she dared not destroy; and, relieved upon this point, I was about
to take a step forward when the match went out in her hand. While she
was engaged in lighting another, I considered that perhaps it would be
better for me not to arouse her apprehensions by accosting her at this
time, and thus endanger the success of my main scheme; but to wait till
she was gone, before I endeavored to secure the box. Accordingly I
edged my way up to the side of the barn and waited till she should
leave it, knowing that if I attempted to peer in at the door, I ran
great risk of being seen, owing to the frequent streaks of lightning
which now flashed about us on every side. Minute after minute went by,
with its weird alternations of heavy darkness and sudden glare; and
still she did not come. At last, just as I was about to start
impatiently from my hiding-place, she reappeared, and began to withdraw
with faltering steps toward the bridge. When I thought her quite out of
hearing, I stole from my retreat and entered the barn. It was of course
as dark as Erebus, but thanks to being a smoker I was as well provided
with matches as she had been, and having struck one, I held it up; but
the light it gave was very feeble, and as I did not know just where to
look, it went out before I had obtained more than a cursory glimpse of
the spot where I was. I thereupon lit another; but though I confined
my attention to one place, namely, the floor at my feet, it too went
out before I could conjecture by means of any sign seen there where she
had hidden the box. I now for the first time realized the difficulty
before me. She had probably made up her mind, before she left home, in
just what portion of this old barn she would conceal her treasure; but
I had nothing to guide me: I could only waste matches. And I did waste
them. A dozen had been lit and extinguished before I was so much as
sure the box was not under a pile of debris that lay in one corner, and
I had taken the last in my hand before I became aware that one of the
broken boards of the floor was pushed a little out of its proper
position. One match! and that board was to be raised, the space beneath
examined, and the box, if there, lifted safely out. I concluded not to
waste my resources, so kneeling down in the darkness, I groped for the
board, tried it, and found it to be loose. Wrenching at it with all my
strength, I tore it free and cast it aside; then lighting my match
looked into the hole thus made. Something, I could not tell what, stone
or box, met my eye, but while I reached for it, the match flew out of
my hand. Deploring my carelessness, but determined at all hazards to
secure what I had seen, I dived down deep into the hole, and in another
moment had the object of my curiosity in my hands. It was the box!
Satisfied at this result of my efforts, I turned to depart, my one
wish now being to arrive home before Mrs. Belden. Was this possible?
She had several minutes the start of me; I would have to pass her on
the road, and in so doing might be recognized. Was the end worth the
risk? I decided that it was.
Regaining the highway, I started at a brisk pace. For some little
distance I kept it up, neither overtaking nor meeting any one. But
suddenly, at a turn in the road, I came unexpectedly upon Mrs. Belden,
standing in the middle of the path, looking back. Somewhat
disconcerted, I hastened swiftly by her, expecting her to make some
effort to stop me. But she let me pass without a word. Indeed, I doubt
now if she even saw or heard me. Astonished at this treatment, and
still more surprised that she made no attempt to follow me, I looked
back, when I saw what enchained her to the spot, and made her so
unmindful of my presence. The barn behind us was on fire!
Instantly I realized it was the work of my hands; I had dropped a
half-extinguished match, and it had fallen upon some inflammable
Aghast at the sight, I paused in my turn, and stood staring. Higher
and higher the red flames mounted, brighter and brighter glowed the
clouds above, the stream beneath; and in the fascination of watching
it all, I forgot Mrs. Belden. But a short, agitated gasp in my vicinity
soon recalled her presence to my mind, and drawing nearer, I heard her
exclaim like a person speaking in a dream, "Well, I didn't mean to do
it"; then lower, and with a certain satisfaction in her tone, "But
it's all right, any way; the thing is lost now for good, and Mary will
be satisfied without any one being to blame."
I did not linger to hear more; if this was the conclusion she had
come to, she would not wait there long, especially as the sound of
distant shouts and running feet announced that a crowd of village boys
was on its way to the scene of the conflagration.
The first thing I did, upon my arrival at the house, was to assure
myself that no evil effects had followed my inconsiderate desertion of
it to the mercies of the tramp she had taken in; the next to retire to
my room, and take a peep at the box. I found it to be a neat tin
coffer, fastened with a lock. Satisfied from its weight that it
contained nothing heavier than the papers of which Mrs. Belden had
spoken, I hid it under the bed and returned to the sitting-room. I had
barely taken a seat and lifted a book when Mrs. Belden came in.
"Well!" cried she, taking off her bonnet and revealing a face much
flushed with exercise, but greatly relieved in expression; "this _u_
a night! It lightens, and there is a fire somewhere down street, and
altogether it is perfectly dreadful out. I hope you have not been
lonesome," she continued, with a keen searching of my face which I bore
in the best way I could. "I had an errand to attend to, but didn't
expect to stay so long."
I returned some nonchalant reply, and she hastened from the room to
fasten up the house.
I waited, but she did not come back; fearful, perhaps, of betraying
herself, she had retired to her own apartment, leaving me to take care
of myself as best I might. I own that I was rather relieved at this.
The fact is, I did not feel equal to any more excitement that night,
and was glad to put off further action until the next day. As soon,
then, as the storm was over, I myself went to bed, and, after several
ineffectual efforts, succeeded in getting asleep.
XXIX. THE MISSING WITNESS
"I fled and cried out death."
The voice was low and searching; it reached me in my dreams, waked
me, and caused me to look up. Morning had begun to break, and by its
light I saw, standing in the open door leading into the dining-room,
the forlorn figure of the tramp who had been admitted into the house
the night before. Angry and perplexed, I was about to bid her be gone,
when, to my great surprise, she pulled out a red handkerchief from her
pocket, and I recognized Q.
"Read that," said he, hastily advancing and putting a slip of
paper into my hand. And, without another word or look, left the room,
closing the door behind him.
Rising in considerable agitation, I took it to the window, and by
the rapidly increasing light, succeeded in making out the rudely
scrawled lines as follows:
"She is here; I have seen her; in the room marked with a cross in
the accompanying plan. Wait till eight o'clock, then go up. I will
contrive some means of getting Mrs. B---- out of the house."
Sketched below this was the following plan of the upper floor:
Hannah, then, was in the small back room over the dining-room, and I
had not been deceived in thinking I had heard steps overhead, the
evening before. Greatly relieved, and yet at the same time much moved
at the near prospect of being brought face to face with one who we had
every reason to believe was acquainted with the dreadful secret
involved in the Leavenworth murder, I lay down once more, and
endeavored to catch another hour's rest. But I soon gave up the effort
in despair, and contented myself with listening to the sounds of
awakening life which now began to make themselves heard in the house
As Q had closed the door after him, I could only faintly hear Mrs.
Belden when she came down-stairs. But the short, surprised exclamation
which she uttered upon reaching the kitchen and finding the tramp gone
and the back-door wide open, came plainly enough to my ears, and for a
moment I was not sure but that Q had made a mistake in thus leaving so
unceremoniously. But he had not studied Mrs. Belden's character in
vain. As she came, in the course of her preparations for breakfast,
into the room adjoining mine, I could hear her murmur to herself:
"Poor thing! She has lived so long in the fields and at the
roadside, she finds it unnatural to be cooped up in the house all
The trial of that breakfast! The effort to eat and appear
unconcerned, to chat and make no mistake,--may I never be called upon
to go through such another! But at last it was over, and I was left
free to await in my own room the time for the dreaded though
much-to-be-desired interview. Slowly the minutes passed; eight o'clock
struck, when, just as the last vibration ceased, there came a loud
knock at the backdoor, and a little boy burst into the kitchen, crying
at the top of his voice: "Papa's got a fit! Oh, Mrs. Belden! papa's
got a fit; do come!"
Rising, as was natural, I hastened towards the kitchen, meeting Mrs.
Belden's anxious face in the doorway.
"A poor wood-chopper down the street has fallen in a fit," she
said. "Will you please watch over the house while I see what I can do
for him? I won't be absent any longer than I can help."
And almost without waiting for my reply, she caught up a shawl,
threw it over her head, and followed the urchin, who was in a state of
great excitement, out into the street.
Instantly the silence of death seemed to fill the house, and a dread
the greatest I had ever experienced settled upon me. To leave the
kitchen, go up those stairs, and confront that girl seemed for the
moment beyond my power; but, once on the stair, I found myself
relieved from the especial dread which had overwhelmed me, and
possessed, instead, of a sort of combative curiosity that led me to
throw open the door which I saw at the top with a certain fierceness
new to my nature, and not altogether suitable, perhaps, to the occasion.
I found myself in a large bedroom, evidently the one occupied by
Mrs. Belden the night before. Barely stopping to note certain evidences
of her having passed a restless night, I passed on to the door leading
into the room marked with a cross in the plan drawn for me by Q. It was
a rough affair, made of pine boards rudely painted. Pausing before it,
I listened. All was still. Raising the latch, I endeavored to enter.
The door was locked. Pausing again, I bent my ear to the keyhole. Not a
sound came from within; the grave itself could not have been stiller.
Awe-struck and irresolute, I looked about me and questioned what I had
best do. Suddenly I remembered that, in the plan Q had given me, I had
seen intimation of another door leading into this same room from the
one on the opposite side of the hall. Going hastily around to it, I
tried it with my hand. But it was as fast as the other. Convinced at
last that nothing was left me but force, I spoke for the first time,
and, calling the girl by name, commanded her to open the door.
Receiving no response, I said aloud with an accent of severity:
"Hannah Chester, you are discovered; if you do not open the door,
we shall be obliged to break it down; save us the trouble, then, and
Still no reply.
Going back a step, I threw my whole weight against the door. It
creaked ominously, but still resisted.
Stopping only long enough to be sure no movement had taken place
within, I pressed against it once more, this time with all my strength,
when it flew from its hinges, and I fell forward into a room so
stifling, chill, and dark that I paused for a moment to collect my
scattered senses before venturing to look around me. It was well I did
so. In another moment, the pallor and fixity of the pretty Irish face
staring upon me from amidst the tumbled clothes of a bed, drawn up
against the wall at my side, struck me with so deathlike a chill that,
had it not been for that one instant of preparation, I should have been
seriously dismayed. As it was, I could not prevent a feeling of sickly
apprehension from seizing me as I turned towards the silent figure
stretched so near, and observed with what marble-like repose it lay
beneath the patchwork quilt drawn across it, asking myself if sleep
could be indeed so like death in its appearance. For that it was a
sleeping woman I beheld, I did not seriously doubt. There were too many
evidences of careless life in the room for any other inference. The
clothes, left just as she had stepped from them in a circle on the
floor; the liberal plate of food placed in waiting for her on the
chair by the door,
--food amongst which I recognized, even in this casual glance, the
same dish which we had had for breakfast
--all and everything in the room spoke of robust life and reckless
belief in the morrow.
And yet so white was the brow turned up to the bare beams of the
unfinished wall above her, so glassy the look of the half-opened eyes,
so motionless the arm lying half under, half over, the edge of the
coverlid that it was impossible not to shrink from contact with a
creature so sunk in unconsciousness. But contact seemed to be
necessary; any cry which I could raise at that moment would be
ineffectual enough to pierce those dull ears. Nerving myself,
therefore, I stooped and lifted the hand which lay with its telltale
scar mockingly uppermost, intending to speak, call, do something,
anything, to arouse her. But at the first touch of her hand on mine an
unspeakable horror thrilled me. It was not only icy cold, but stiff.
Dropping it in my agitation, I started back and again surveyed the
face. Great God! when did life ever look like that? What sleep ever
wore such pallid hues, such accusing fixedness? Bending once more I
listened at the lips. Not a breath, nor a stir. Shocked to the core of
my being, I made one final effort. Tearing down the clothes, I laid my
hand upon her heart. It was pulseless as stone.
XXX. BURNED PAPER
"I could have better spared a better man."
I DO not think I called immediately for help. The awful shock of
this discovery, coming as it did at the very moment life and hope were
strongest within me; the sudden downfall which it brought of all the
plans based upon this woman's expected testimony; and, worst of all,
the dread coincidence between this sudden death and the exigency in
which the guilty party, whoever it was, was supposed to be at that hour
were much too appalling for instant action. I could only stand and
stare at the quiet face before me, smiling in its peaceful rest as if
death were pleasanter than we think, and marvel over the providence
which had brought us renewed fear instead of relief, complication
instead of enlightenment, disappointment instead of realization. For
eloquent as is death, even on the faces of those unknown and unloved by
us, the causes and consequences of this one were much too important to
allow the mind to dwell upon the pathos of the scene itself. Hannah,
the girl, was lost in Hannah the witness.
But gradually, as I gazed, the look of expectation which I perceived
hovering about the wistful mouth and half-open lids attracted me, and I
bent above her with a more personal interest, asking myself if she were
quite dead, and whether or not immediate medical assistance would be of
any avail. But the more closely I looked, the more certain I became
that she had been dead for some hours; and the dismay occasioned by
this thought, taken with the regrets which I must ever feel, that I had
not adopted the bold course the evening before, and, by forcing my way
to the hiding-place of this poor creature, interrupted, if not
prevented the consummation of her fate, startled me into a realization
of my present situation; and, leaving her side, I went into the next
room, threw up the window, and fastened to the blind the red
handkerchief which I had taken the precaution to bring with me.
Instantly a young man, whom I was fain to believe Q, though he bore
not the least resemblance, either in dress or facial expression to any
renderings of that youth which I had yet seen, emerged from the
tinsmith's house, and approached the one I was in.
Observing him cast a hurried glance in my direction, I crossed the
floor, and stood awaiting him at the head of the stairs.
"Well?" he whispered, upon entering the house and meeting my
glance from below; "have you seen her?"
"Yes," I returned bitterly, "I have seen her!"
He hurriedly mounted to my side. "And she has confessed?"
"No; I have had no talk with her." Then, as I perceived him
growing alarmed at my voice and manner, I drew him into Mrs. Belden's
room and hastily inquired: "What did you mean this morning when you
informed me you had seen this girl? that she was in a certain room
where I might find her?"
"What I said."
"You have, then, been to her room?"
"No; I have only been on the outside of it. Seeing a light, I
crawled up on to the ledge of the slanting roof last night while both
you and Mrs. Belden were out, and, looking through the window, saw her
moving round the room." He must have observed my countenance change,
for he stopped. "What is to pay?" he cried.
I could restrain myself no longer. "Come," I said, "and see for
yourself!" And, leading him to the little room I had just left, I
pointed to the silent form lying within. "You told me I should find
Hannah here; but you did not tell me I should find her in this
"Great heaven!" he cried with a start: "not dead?"
"Yes," I said, "dead."
It seemed as if he could not realize it. "But it is impossible!"
he returned. "She is in a heavy sleep, has taken a narcotic----"
"It is not sleep," I said, "or if it is, she will never wake. Look!"
And, taking the hand once more in mine, I let it fall in its stone
weight upon the bed.
The sight seemed to convince him. Calming down, he stood gazing at
her with a very strange expression upon his face. Suddenly he moved and
began quietly turning over the clothes that were lying on the floor.
"What are you doing?" I asked. "What are you looking for?"
"I am looking for the bit of paper from which I saw her take what
I supposed to be a dose of medicine last night. Oh, here it is!" he
cried, lifting a morsel of paper that, lying on the floor under the
edge of the bed, had hitherto escaped his notice.
"Let me see!" I anxiously exclaimed.
He handed me the paper, on the inner surface of which I could dimly
discern the traces of an impalpable white powder.
"This is important," I declared, carefully folding the paper
together. "If there is enough of this powder remaining to show that
the contents of this paper were poisonous, the manner and means of the
girl's death are accounted for, and a case of deliberate suicide made
"I am not so sure of that," he retorted. "If I am any judge of
countenances, and I rather flatter myself I am, this girl had no more
idea she was taking poison than I had. She looked not only bright but
gay; and when she tipped up the paper, a smile of almost silly triumph
crossed her face. If Mrs. Belden gave her that dose to take, telling
her it was medicine----"
"That is something which yet remains to be learned; also whether
the dose, as you call it, was poisonous or not. It may be she died of
He simply shrugged his shoulders, and pointed first at the plate of
breakfast left on the chair, and secondly at the broken-down door.
"Yes," I said, answering his look, "Mrs. Belden has been in here
this morning, and Mrs. Belden locked the door when she went out; but
that proves nothing beyond her belief in the girl's hearty condition."
"A belief which that white face on its tumbled pillow did not seem
"Perhaps in her haste she may not have looked at the girl, but have
set the dishes down without more than a casual glance in her direction?"
"I don't want to suspect anything wrong, but it is such a
This was touching me on a sore point, and I stepped back. "Well,"
said I, "there is no use in our standing here busying ourselves with
conjectures. There is too much to be done. Come!" and I moved
hurriedly towards the door.
"What are you going to do?" he asked. "Have you forgotten this
is but an episode in the one great mystery we are sent here to unravel?
If this girl has come to her death by some foul play, it is our
business to find it out."
"That must be left for the coroner. It has now passed out of our
"I know; but we can at least take full note of the room and
everything in it before throwing the affair into the hands of
strangers. Mr. Gryce will expect that much of us, I am sure."
"I have looked at the room. The whole is photographed on my mind. I
am only afraid I can never forget it."
"And the body? Have you noticed its position? the lay of the
bed-clothes around it? the lack there is of all signs of struggle or
fear? the repose of the countenance? the easy fall of the hands?"
"Yes, yes; don't make me look at it any more."
"Then the clothes hanging on the wall? "--rapidly pointing out
each object as he spoke. "Do you see? a calico dress, a shawl,--not
the one in which she was believed to have run away, but an old black
one, probably belonging to Mrs. Belden. Then this chest,"--opening
it,--" containing a few underclothes marked,--let us see, ah, with the
name of the lady of the house, but smaller than any she ever wore;
made for Hannah, you observe, and marked with her own name to prevent
suspicion. And then these other clothes lying on the floor, all new,
all marked in the same way. Then this--Halloo! look here!" he
Going over to where he stood I stooped down, when a wash-bowl half
full of burned paper met my eye.
"I saw her bending over something in this corner, and could not
think what it was. Can it be she is a suicide after all? She has
evidently destroyed something here which she didn't wish any one to
"I do not know," I said. "I could almost hope so."
"Not a scrap, not a morsel left to show what it was; how
"Mrs. Belden must solve this riddle," I cried.
"Mrs. Belden must solve the whole riddle," he replied; "the secret
of the Leavenworth murder hangs upon it." Then, with a lingering look
towards the mass of burned paper, "Who knows but what that was a
The conjecture seemed only too probable.
"Whatever it was," said I, "it is now ashes, and we have got to
accept the fact and make the best of it."
"Yes," said he with a deep sigh; "that's so; but Mr. Gryce will
never forgive me for it, never. He will say I ought to have known it
was a suspicious circumstance for her to take a dose of medicine at the
very moment detection stood at her back."
"But she did not know that; she did not see you."
"We don't know what she saw, nor what Mrs. Belden saw. Women are a
mystery; and though I flatter myself that ordinarily I am a match for
the keenest bit of female flesh that ever walked, I must say that in
this case I feel myself thoroughly and shamefully worsted."
"Well, well," I said, "the end has not come yet; who knows what a
talk with Mrs. Belden will bring out? And, by the way, she will be
coming back soon, and I must be ready to meet her. Everything depends
upon finding out, if I can, whether she is aware of this tragedy or
not. It is just possible she knows nothing about it."
And, hurrying him from the room, I pulled the door to behind me, and
led the way down-stairs.
"Now," said I, "there is one thing you must attend to at once. A
telegram must be sent Mr. Gryce acquainting him with this unlooked-for
"All right, sir," and Q started for the door.
"Wait one moment," said I. "I may not have another opportunity to
mention it. Mrs. Belden received two letters from the postmaster
yesterday; one in a large and one in a small envelope; if you could
find out where they were postmarked----"
Q put his hand in his pocket. "I think I will not have to go far
to find out where one of them came from. Good George, I have lost it!"
And before I knew it, he had returned up-stairs.
That moment I heard the gate click.
XXXI. "Thereby hangs a tale."
--Taming of the Shrew.
"IT was all a hoax; nobody was ill; I have been
imposed upon, meanly imposed upon!" And Mrs. Belden, flushed and
panting, entered the room where I was, and proceeded to take off her
bonnet; but whilst doing so paused, and suddenly exclaimed: "What is
the matter? How you look at me! Has anything happened?"
"Something very serious has occurred," I replied; "you have been
gone but a little while, but in that time a discovery has been made--"
I purposely paused here that the suspense might elicit from her some
betrayal; but, though she turned pale, she manifested less emotion than
I expected, and I went on--"which is likely to produce very
To my surprise she burst violently into tears. "I knew it, I knew
it!" she murmured. "I always said it would be impossible to keep it
secret if I let anybody into the house; she is so restless. But I
forget," she suddenly said, with a frightened look; "you haven't told
me what the discovery was. Perhaps it isn't what I thought; perhaps----"
I did not hesitate to interrupt her. "Mrs. Belden," I said, "I
shall not try to mitigate the blow. A woman who, in the face of the
most urgent call from law and justice, can receive into her house and
harbor there a witness of such importance as Hannah, cannot stand in
need of any great preparation for hearing that her efforts, have been
too successful, that she has accomplished her design of suppressing
valuable testimony, that law and justice are outraged, and that the
innocent woman whom this girl's evidence might have saved stands for
ever compromised in the eyes of the world, if not in those of the
officers of the law."
Her eyes, which had never left me during this address, flashed wide
"What do you mean?" she cried. "I have intended no wrong; I have
only tried to save people. I--I--But who are you? What have you
got to do with all this? What is it to you what I do or don't do? You
said you were a lawyer. Can it be you are come from Mary Leavenworth to
see how I am fulfilling her commands, and----"
"Mrs. Belden," I said, "it is of small importance now as to who I
am, or for what purpose I am here. But that my words may have the more
effect, I will say, that whereas I have not deceived you, either as to
my name or position, it is true that I am the friend of the Misses
Leavenworth, and that anything which is likely to affect them, is of
interest to me. When, therefore, I say that Eleanore Leavenworth is
irretrievably injured by this gill's death----"
"Death? What do you mean? Death!"
The burst was too natural, the tone too horror-stricken for me to
doubt for another moment as to this woman's ignorance of the true state
"Yes," I repeated, "the girl you have been hiding so long and so
well is now beyond your control. Only her dead body remains, Mrs.
I shall never lose from my ears the shriek which she uttered, nor
the wild, "I don't believe it! I don't believe it!" with which she
dashed from the room and rushed up-stairs.
Nor that after-scene when, in the presence of the dead, she stood
wringing her hands and protesting, amid sobs of the sincerest grief and
terror, that she knew nothing of it; that she had left the girl in the
best of spirits the night before; that it was true she had locked her
in, but this she always did when any one was in the house; and that if
she died of any sudden attack, it must have been quietly, for she had
heard no stir all night, though she had listened more than once, being
naturally anxious lest the girl should make some disturbance that would
"But you were in here this morning?" said I.
"Yes; but I didn't notice. I was in a hurry, and thought she was
asleep; so I set the things down where she could get them and came
right away, locking the door as usual."
"It is strange she should have died this night of all others. Was
she ill yesterday?"
"No, sir; she was even brighter than common; more lively. I never
thought of her being sick then or ever. If I had----"
"You never thought of her being sick?" a voice here interrupted.
"Why, then, did you take such pains to give her a dose of medicine last
night?" And Q entered from the room beyond.
"I didn't!" she protested, evidently under the supposition it was
I who had spoken. "Did I, Hannah, did I, poor girl?" stroking the
hand that lay in hers with what appeared to be genuine sorrow and
"How came she by it, then? Where she did she get it if you didn't
give it to her?"
This time she seemed to be aware that some one besides myself was
talking to her, for, hurriedly rising, she looked at the man with a
wondering stare, before replying.
"I don't know who you are, sir; but I can tell you this, the girl
had no medicine,--took no dose; she wasn't sick last night that I know
"Yet I saw her swallow a powder."
"Saw her!--the world is crazy, or I am--saw her swallow a
powder! How could you see her do that or anything else? Hasn't she
been shut up in this room for twenty-four hours?"
"Yes; but with _a_ window like that in the roof, it isn't so
very difficult to see into the room, madam."
"Oh," she cried, shrinking, "I have a spy in the house, have I?
But I deserve it; I kept her imprisoned in four close walls, and never
came to look at her once all night. I don't complain; but what was it
you say you saw her take? medicine? poison?"
"I didn't say poison."
"But you meant it. You think she has poisoned herself, and that I
had a hand in it!"
"No," I hastened to remark, "he does not think you had a hand in
it. He says he saw the girl herself swallow something which he believes
to have been the occasion of her death, and only asks you now where she
"How can I tell? I never gave her anything; didn't know she had
Somehow, I believed her, and so felt unwilling to prolong the
present interview, especially as each moment delayed the action which I
felt it incumbent upon us to take. So, motioning Q to depart upon his
errand, I took Mrs. Belden by the hand and endeavored to lead her from
the room. But she resisted, sitting down by the side of the bed with
the expression, "I will not leave her again; do not ask it; here is
my place, and here I will stay," while Q, obdurate for the first time,
stood staring severely upon us both, and would not move, though I urged
him again to make haste, saying that the morning was slipping away, and
that the telegram to Mr. Gryce ought to be sent.
"Till that woman leaves the room, I don't; and unless you promise to
take my place in watching her, I don't quit the house."
Astonished, I left her side and crossed to him.
"You carry your suspicions too far," I whispered, "and I think
you are too rude. We have seen nothing, I am sure, to warrant us in any
such action; besides, she can do no harm here; though, as for watching
her, I promise to do that much if it will relieve your mind."
"I don't want her watched here; take her below. I cannot leave
while she remains."
"Are you not assuming a trifle the master?"
"Perhaps; I don't know. If I am, it is because I have something in
my possession which excuses my conduct."
"What is that? the letter?"
Agitated now in my turn, I held out my hand. "Let me see," I said.
"Not while that woman remains in the room."
Seeing him implacable, I returned to Mrs. Belden.
"I must entreat you to come with me," said I. "This is not a
common death; we shall be obliged to have the coroner here and others.
You had better leave the room and go below."
"I don't mind the coroner; he is a neighbor of mine; his coming
won't prevent my watching over the poor girl until he arrives."
"Mrs. Belden," I said, "your position as the only one conscious of
the presence of this girl in your house makes it wiser for you not to
invite suspicion by lingering any longer than is necessary in the room
where her dead body lies."
"As if my neglect of her now were the best surety of my good
intentions towards her in time past!"
"It will not be neglect for you to go below with me at my earnest
request. You can do no good here by staying; will, in fact, be doing
harm. So listen to me or I shall be obliged to leave you in charge of
this man and go myself to inform the authorities."
This last argument seemed to affect her, for with one look of
shuddering abhorrence at _Q_ she rose, saying, "You have me in
your power," and then, without another word, threw her handkerchief
over the girl's face and left the room. In two minutes more I had the
letter of which _Q_ had spoken in my hands.
"It is the only one I could find, sir. It was in the pocket of the
dress Mrs. Belden had on last night. The other must be lying around
somewhere, but I haven't had time to find it. This will do, though, I
think. You will not ask for the other."
Scarcely noticing at the time with what deep significance he spoke,
I opened the letter. It was the smaller of the two I had seen her draw
under her shawl the day before at the post-office, and read as follows:
"DEAR, DEAR FRIEND:
"I am in awful trouble. You who love me must know it. I cannot
explain, I can only make one prayer. Destroy what you have,
to-day, instantly, without question or hesitation. The consent
of any one else has nothing to do with it. You must obey. I am
lost if you refuse. Do then what I ask, and save
"ONE WHO LOVES YOU."
It was addressed to Mrs. Belden; there was no signature or date,
only the postmark New York; but I knew the handwriting. It was Mary
"A damning letter!" came in the dry tones which Q seemed to think
fit to adopt on this occasion. "And a damning bit of evidence against
the one who wrote it, and the woman who received it!"
"A terrible piece of evidence, indeed," said I, "if I did not
happen to know that this letter refers to the destruction of something
radically different from what you suspect. It alludes to some papers in
Mrs. Belden's charge; nothing else."
"Are you sure, sir?"
"Quite; but we will talk of this hereafter. It is time you sent
your telegram, and went for the coroner."
"Very well, sir." And with this we parted; he to perform his role
and I mine.
I found Mrs. Belden walking the floor below, bewailing her
situation, and uttering wild sentences as to what the neighbors would
say of her; what the minister would think; what Clara, whoever that
was, would do, and how she wished she had died before ever she had
meddled with the affair.
Succeeding in calming her after a while, I induced her to sit down
and listen to what I had to say. "You will only injure yourself by
this display of feeling," I remarked, "besides unfitting yourself for
what you will presently be called upon to go through." And, laying
myself out to comfort the unhappy woman, I first explained the
necessities of the case, and next inquired if she had no friend upon
whom she could call in this emergency.
To my great surprise she replied no; that while she had kind
neighbors and good friends, there was no one upon whom she could call
in a case like this, either for assistance or sympathy, and that,
unless I would take pity on her, she would have to meet it alone--" As
I have met everything," she said, "from Mr. Belden's death to the loss
of most of my little savings in a town fire last year."
I was touched by this,--that she who, in spite of her weakness and
inconsistencies of character, possessed at least the one virtue of
sympathy with her kind, should feel any lack of friends.
Unhesitatingly, I offered to do what I could for her, providing she
would treat me with the perfect frankness which the case demanded. To
my great relief, she expressed not only her willingness, but her strong
desire, to tell all she knew. "I have had enough secrecy for my whole
life," she said. And indeed I do believe she was so thoroughly
frightened, that if a police-officer had come into the house and asked
her to reveal secrets compromising the good name of her own son, she
would have done so without cavil or question. "I feel as if I wanted
to take my stand out on the common, and, in the face of the whole
world, declare what I have done for Mary Leavenworth. But first," she
whispered, "tell me, for God's sake, how those girls are situated. I
have not dared to ask or write. The papers say a good deal about
Eleanore, but nothing about Mary; and yet Mary writes of her own peril
only, and of the danger she would be in if certain facts were known.
What is the truth? I don't want to injure them, only to take care of
"Mrs. Belden," I said, "Eleanore Leavenworth has got into her
present difficulty by not telling all that was required of her. Mary
Leavenworth--but I cannot speak of her till I know what you have to
divulge. Her position, as well as that of her cousin, is too anomalous
for either you or me to discuss. What we want to learn from you is, how
you became connected with this affair, and what it was that Hannah knew
which caused her to leave New York and take refuge here."
But Mrs. Belden, clasping and unclasping her hands, met my gaze with
one full of the most apprehensive doubt. "You will never believe me,"
she cried; "but I don't know what Hannah knew. I am in utter ignorance
of what she saw or heard on that fatal night; she never told, and I
never asked. She merely said that Miss Leavenworth wished me to secrete
her for a short time; and I, because I loved Mary Leavenworth and
admired her beyond any one I ever saw, weakly consented, and----"
"Do you mean to say," I interrupted, "that after you knew of the
murder, you, at the mere expression of Miss Leavenworth's wishes,
continued to keep this girl concealed without asking her any questions
or demanding any explanations?"
"Yes, sir; you will never believe me, but it is so. I thought that,
since Mary had sent her here, she must have her reasons; and--and--I
cannot explain it now; it all looks so differently; but I did do as I
"But that was very strange conduct. You must have had strong reason
for obeying Mary Leavenworth so blindly."
"Oh, sir," she gasped, "I thought I understood it all; that Mary,
the bright young creature, who had stooped from her lofty position to
make use of me and to love me, was in some way linked to the criminal,
and that it would be better for me to remain in ignorance, do as I was
bid, and trust all would come right. I did not reason about it; I only
followed my impulse. I couldn't do otherwise; it isn't my nature. When
I am requested to do anything for a person I love, I cannot refuse."
"And you love Mary Leavenworth; a woman whom you yourself seem to
consider capable of a great crime?"
"Oh, I didn't say that; I don't know as I thought that. She might
be in some way connected with it, without being the actual perpetrator.
She could never be that; she is too dainty."
"Mrs. Belden," I said, "what do you know of Mary Leavenworth which
makes even that supposition possible?"
The white face of the woman before me flushed. "I scarcely know
what to reply," she cried. "It is a long story, and----"
"Never mind the long story," I interrupted. "Let me hear the one
"Well," said she, "it is this; that Mary was in an emergency from
which nothing but her uncle's death could release her."
"Ah, how's that?"
But here we were interrupted by the sound of steps on the porch,
and, looking out, I saw _Q_ entering the house alone. Leaving Mrs.
Belden where she was, I stepped into the hall.
"Well," said I, "what is the matter? Haven't you found the coroner?
Isn't he at home?"
"No, gone away; off in a buggy to look after a man that was found
some ten miles from here, lying in a ditch beside a yoke of oxen."