The Circular Study, by Anna Katherine Green

Chapter 7

Amos’s Son.

Miss Butterworth had been brought up in a strict school of manners. When she sat, she sat still; when she moved, she moved quickly, firmly, but with no unnecessary disturbance. Fidgets were unknown to her. Yet when she found herself alone after this interview, it was with difficulty she could restrain herself from indulging in some of those outward manifestations of uneasiness which she had all her life reprobated in the more nervous members of her own sex. She was anxious, and she showed it, like the sensible woman she was, and was glad enough when Mr. Gryce finally returned and, accosting her with a smile, said almost gayly:

“Well, that is seen to! And all we have to do now is to await the result. Madam, have you any further ideas? If so, I should be glad to have the benefit of them.”

Her self-possession was at once restored.

“You would?” she repeated, eying him somewhat doubtfully. “I should like to be assured of the value of the one I have already advanced, before I venture upon another. Let us enter into a conference instead; compare notes; tell, for instance, why neither of us look on Bartow as the guilty man.”

“I thought we had exhausted that topic. Your suspicions were aroused by the young couple you saw leaving the house, while mine — well, madam, to you, at least, I may admit that there is something in the mute’s gestures and general manner which conveys to my mind the impression that he is engaged in rehearsing something he has seen, rather than something he has done; and as yet I have seen no reason for doubting the truth of this impression.”

“I was affected in the same way, and would have been, even if I had not already had my suspicions turned in another direction. Besides, it is more natural for a man to be driven insane by another’s act than by his own.”

“Yes, if he loved the victim.”

“And did not Bartow?”

“He does not mourn Mr. Adams.”

“But he is no longer master of his emotions.”

“Very true; but if we take any of his actions as a clew to the situation, we must take all. We believe from his gestures that he is giving us a literal copy of acts he has seen performed. Then, why pass over the gleam of infernal joy that lights his face after the whole is over? It is as if he rejoiced over the deed, or at least found immeasurable satisfaction in it.”

“Perhaps it is still a copy of what he saw; the murderer may have rejoiced. But no, there was no joy in the face of the young man I saw rushing away from this scene of violence. Quite the contrary. Mr. Gryce, we are in deep waters. I feel myself wellnigh submerged by them.”

“Hold up your head, madam. Every flood has its ebb. If you allow yourself to go under, what will become of me?”

“You are disposed to humor, Mr. Gryce. It is a good sign. You are never humorous when perplexed. Somewhere you must see daylight.”

“Let us proceed with our argument. Illumination frequently comes from the most unexpected quarter.”

“Very well, then, let us put the old man’s joy down as one of the mysteries to be explained later. Have you thought of him as a possible accomplice?”

“Certainly; but this supposition is open to the same objection as that which made him the motive power in this murder. One is not driven insane by an expected horror. It takes shock to unsettle the brain. He was not looking for the death of his master.”

“True. We may consider that matter as settled. Bartow was an innocent witness of this crime, and, having nothing to fear, may be trusted to reproduce in his pantomimic action its exact features.”

“Very good. Continue, madam. Nothing but profit is likely to follow an argument presented by Miss Butterworth.”

The old detective’s tone was serious, his manner perfect; but Miss Butterworth, ever on the look-out for sarcasm from his lips, bridled a little, though in no other way did she show her displeasure.

“Let us, then, recall his precise gestures, remembering that he must have surprised the assailant from the study doorway, and so have seen the assault from over his master’s shoulder.”

“In other words, directly in front of him. Now what was his first move?”

“His first move, as now seen, is to raise his right arm and stretch it behind him, while he leans forward for the imaginary dagger. What does that mean?”

“I should find it hard to say. But I did not see him do that. When I came upon him, he was thrusting with his left hand across his own body — a vicious thrust and with his left hand. That is a point, Mr. Gryce.”

“Yes, especially as the doctors agree that Mr. Adams was killed by a left-handed blow.”

“You don’t say! Don’t you see the difficulty, then?”

“The difficulty, madam?”

“Bartow was standing face to face with the assailant. In imitating him, especially in his unreasoning state of mind, he would lift the arm opposite to the one whose action he mimics, which, in this case, would be the assailant’s right. Try, for the moment, to mimic my actions. See! I lift this hand, and instinctively (nay, I detected the movement, sir, quickly as you remembered yourself), you raise the one directly opposite to it. It is like seeing yourself in a mirror. You turn your head to the right, but your image turns to the left.”

Mr. Gryce’s laugh rang out in spite of himself. He was not often caught napping, but this woman exercised a species of fascination upon him at times, and it rather amused than offended him, when he was obliged to acknowledge himself defeated.

“Very good! You have proved your point quite satisfactorily; but what conclusions are to be drawn from it? That the man was not left-handed, or that he was not standing in the place you have assigned to him?”

“Shall we go against the doctors? They say that the blow was a left-handed one. Mr. Gryce, I would give anything for an hour spent with you in Mr. Adams’s study, with Bartow free to move about at his will. I think we would learn more by watching him for a short space of time than in talking as we are doing for an hour.”

It was said tentatively, almost timidly. Miss Butterworth had some sense of the temerity involved in this suggestion even if, according to her own declaration, she had no curiosity. “I don’t want to be disagreeable,” she smiled.

She was so far from being so that Mr. Gryce was taken unawares, and for once in his life became impulsive.

“I think it can be managed, madam; that is, after the funeral. There are too many officials now in the house, and ——”

“Of course, of course,” she acceded. “I should not think of obtruding myself at present. But the case is so interesting, and my connection with it so peculiar, that I sometimes forget myself. Do you think”— here she became quite nervous for one of her marked self-control —“that I have laid myself open to a summons from the coroner?”

Mr. Gryce grew thoughtful, eyed the good lady, or rather her folded hands, with an air of some compassion, and finally replied:

“The facts regarding this affair come in so slowly that I doubt if the inquest is held for several days. Meanwhile we may light on those two young people ourselves. If so, the coroner may overlook your share in bringing them to our notice.”

There was a sly emphasis on the word, and a subtle humor in his look that showed the old detective at his worst. But Miss Butterworth did not resent it; she was too full of a fresh confession she had to make.

“Ah,” said she, “if they had been the only persons I encountered there. But they were not. Another person entered the house before I left it, and I may be obliged to speak of him.”

“Of him? Really, madam, you are a mine of intelligence.”

“Yes, sir,” was the meek reply; meek, when you consider from whose lips it came. “I ought to have spoken of him before, but I never like to mix matters, and this old gentleman ——”

“Old gentleman!”

“Yes, sir, very old and very much of a gentleman, did not appear to have any connection with the crime beyond knowing the murdered man.”

“Ah, but that’s a big connection, ma’am. To find some one who knew Mr. Adams — really, madam, patience has its limits, and I must press you to speak.”

“Oh, I will speak! The time has come for it. Besides, I’m quite ready to discuss this new theme; it is very interesting.”

“Suppose we begin, then, by a detailed account of your adventures in this house of death,” dryly suggested the detective. “Your full adventures, madam, with nothing left out.”

“I appreciate the sarcasm, but nothing has been left out except what I am about to relate to you. It happened just as I was leaving the house.”

“What did? I hate to ask you to be more explicit. But, in the interests of justice ——”

“You are quite right. As I was going out, then, I encountered an elderly gentleman coming in. His hand had just touched the bell handle. You will acknowledge that it was a perplexing moment for me. His face, which was well preserved for his years, wore an air of expectation that was almost gay. He glanced in astonishment at mine, which, whatever its usual serenity, certainly must have borne marks of deep emotion. Neither of us spoke. At last he inquired politely if he might enter, and said something about having an appointment with some one in the study. At which I stepped briskly enough aside, I assure you, for this might mean — What did you say? Did I close the door? I assuredly did. Was I to let the whole of —— Street into the horrors of this house at a moment when a poor old man — No, I didn’t go out myself. Why should I? Was I to leave a man on the verge of eighty — excuse me, not every man of eighty is so hale and vigorous as yourself — to enter such a scene alone? Besides, I had not warned him of the condition of the only other living occupant of the house.”

“Discreet, very. Quite what was to be expected of you, Miss Butterworth. More than that. You followed him, no doubt, with careful supervision, down the hall.”

“Most certainly! What would you have thought of me if I had not? He was in a strange house; there was no servant to guide him, he wanted to know the way to the study, and I politely showed him there.”

“Kind of you, madam — very. It must have been an interesting moment to you.”

“Very interesting! Too interesting! I own that I am not made entirely of steel, sir, and the shock he received at finding a dead man awaiting him, instead of a live one, was more or less communicated to me. Yet I stood my ground.”

“Admirable! I could have done no better myself. And so this man who had an appointment with Mr. Adams was shocked, really shocked, at finding him lying there under a cross, dead?”

“Yes, there was no doubting that. Shocked, surprised, terrified, and something more. It is that something more which has proved my perplexity. I cannot make it out, not even in thinking it over. Was it the fascination which all horrible sights exert on the morbid, or was it a sudden realization of some danger he had escaped, or of some difficulty yet awaiting him? Hard to say, Mr. Gryce, hard to say; but you may take my word for it that there was more to him in this meeting than an unexpected stumbling upon a dead man where he expected to find a live one. Yet he made no sound after that first cry, and hardly any movement. He just stared at the figure on the floor; then at his face, which he seemed to devour, at first with curiosity, then with hate, then with terror, and lastly — how can I express myself? — with a sort of hellish humor that in another moment might have broken into something like a laugh, if the bird, which I had failed to observe up to this moment, had not waked in its high cage, and, thrusting its beak between the bars, shrilled out in the most alarming of tones: ‘Remember Evelyn!’ That startled the old man even more than the sight on the floor had done. He turned round, and I saw his fist rise as if against some menacing intruder, but it quickly fell again as his eyes encountered the picture which hung before him, and with a cringe painful to see in one of his years, he sidled back till he reached the doorway. Here he paused a minute to give another look at the man outstretched at his feet, and I heard him say:

“‘It is Amos’s son, not Amos! Is it fatality, or did he plan this meeting, thinking ——’

“But here he caught sight of my figure in the antechamber beyond, and resuming in an instant his former debonair manner, he bowed very low and opened his lips as if about to ask a question. But he evidently thought better of it, for he strode by me and made his way to the front door without a word. Being an intruder myself, I did not like to stop him. But I am sorry now for the consideration I showed him; for just before he stepped out, his emotion — the special character of which, I own to you, I find impossible to understand — culminated in a burst of raucous laughter which added the final horror to this amazing adventure. Then he went out, and in the last glimpse I had of him before the door shut he wore the same look of easy self-satisfaction with which he had entered this place of death some fifteen minutes before.”

“Remarkable! Some secret history there! That man must be found. He can throw light upon Mr. Adams’s past. ‘Amos’s son,’ he called him? Who is Amos? Mr. Adams’s name was Felix. Felix, the son of Amos. Perhaps this connection of names may lead to something. It is not a common one, and if given to the papers, may result in our receiving a clew to a mystery which seems impenetrable. Your stay in Mr. Adams’s house was quite productive, ma’am. Did you prolong it after the departure of this old man?”

“No, sir, I had had my fill of the mysterious, and left immediately after him. Ashamed of the spirit of investigation which had led me to enter the house, I made a street boy the medium of my communication to the police, and would have been glad if I could have so escaped all responsibility in the matter. But the irony of fate follows me as it does others. A clew was left of my presence, which involves me in this affair, whether I will or no. Was the hand of Providence in this? Perhaps. The future will tell. And now, Mr. Gryce, since my budget is quite empty and the hour late, I will take my leave. If you hear from that bit of paper ——”

“If I hear from it in the way you suggest I will let you know. It will be the least I can do for a lady who has done so much for me.”

“Now you flatter me — proof positive that I have stayed a minute longer than was judicious. Good evening, Mr. Gryce. What? I have not stayed too long? You have something else to ask.”

“Yes, and this time it is concerning a matter personal to yourself. May I inquire if you wore the same bonnet yesterday that you do to-day?”

“No, sir. I know you have a good reason for this question, and so will not express my surprise. Yesterday I was in reception costume, and my bonnet was a jet one ——”

“With long strings tied under the chin?”

“No, sir, short strings; long strings are no longer the fashion.”

“But you wore something which fell from your neck?”

“Yes, a boa — a feather boa. How came you to know it, sir? Did I leave my image in one of the mirrors?”

“Hardly. If so, I should not have expected it to speak. You merely wrote the fact on the study table top. Or so I have dared to think. You or the young lady — did she wear ribbons or streamers, too?”

“That I cannot say. Her face was all I saw, and the skirt of a dove-colored silk dress.”

“Then you must settle the question for me in this way. If on the tips of that boa of yours you find the faintest evidence of its having been dipped in blood, I shall know that the streaks found on the top of the table I speak of were evidences of your presence there. But if your boa is clean, or was not long enough to touch that dying man as you leaned over him, then we have proof that the young lady with the dove-colored plumes fingered that table also, instead of falling at once into the condition in which you saw her carried out.”

“I fear that it is my boa which will tell the tale: another proof of the fallibility of man, or, rather, woman. In secret search for clews I left behind me traces of my own presence. I really feel mortified, sir, and you have quite the advantage of me.”

And with this show of humility, which may not have been entirely sincere, this estimable lady took her departure.

Did Mr. Gryce suffer from any qualms of conscience at having elicited so much and imparted so little? I doubt it. Mr. Gryce’s conscience was quite seared in certain places.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37