Hand and Ring, by Anna Katharine Green

13. The Fly.

Like — but oh! how different.

Wordsworth.

THE paper mill of Harrison, Goodman & Chamberlain was situated in one of the main thoroughfares of Buffalo. It was a large but otherwise unpretentious building, and gave employment to a vast number of operatives, mostly female.

Some of these latter might have been surprised, and possibly a little fluttered, one evening, at seeing a well-dressed young gentleman standing at the gate as they came forth, gazing with languid interest from one face to another, as if he were on the look-out for some one of their number.

But they would have been yet more astonished could they have seen him still lingering after the last one had passed, watching with unabated patience the opening and shutting of the small side door devoted to the use of the firm, and such employés as had seats in the office. It was Mr. Byrd, and his purpose there at this time of day was to see and review the whole rank and file of the young men employed in the place, in the hope of being able to identify the nephew of Mrs. Clemmens by his supposed resemblance to the person whose character of face and form had been so minutely described to him.

For Mr. Byrd was a just man and a thoughtful one, and knowing this identification to be the key-stone of his lately formed theory, desired it to be complete and of no doubtful character. He accordingly held fast to his position, watching and waiting, seemingly in vain, for the dark, powerful face and the sturdily-built frame of the gentleman whose likeness he had attempted to draw in conjunction with that of Miss Dare. But, though he saw many men of all sorts and kinds issue from one door or another of this vast building, not one of them struck him with that sudden and unmistakable sense of familiarity which he had a right to expect, and he was just beginning to doubt if the whole framework of his elaborately-formed theory was not destined to fall into ruins, when the small door, already alluded to, opened once more, and a couple of gentlemen came out.

The appearance of one of them gave Mr. Byrd a start. He was young, powerfully built, wore a large mustache, and had a complexion of unusual swarthiness. There was character, too, in his face, though not so much as Mr. Byrd had expected to see in the nephew of Mrs. Clemmens. Still, people differ about degrees of expression, and to his informant this face might have appeared strong. He was dressed in a business suit, and was without an overcoat — two facts that made it difficult for Mr. Byrd to get any assistance from the cut and color of his clothes.

But there was enough in the general style and bearing of this person to make Mr. Byrd anxious to know his name. He, therefore, took it upon himself to follow him — a proceeding which brought him to the corner just in time to see the two gentlemen separate, and the especial one in whom he was interested, step into a car.

He succeeded in getting a seat in the same car, and for some blocks had the pleasure of watching the back of the supposed Mansell, as he stood on the front platform with the driver. Then others got in, and the detective’s view was obstructed, and presently — he never could tell how it was — he lost track of the person he was shadowing, and when the chance came for another sight of the driver and platform, the young man was gone.

Annoyed beyond expression, Mr. Byrd went to a hotel, and next day sent to the mill and procured the address of Mr. Mansell. Going to the place named, he found it to be a very respectable boarding-house, and, chancing upon a time when more or less of the rooms were empty, succeeded in procuring for himself an apartment there.

So here he was a fixture in the house supposed by him to hold the murderer of Mrs. Clemmens. When the time for dinner came, and with it an opportunity for settling the vexed question of Mr. Mansell’s identity not only with the man in the Syracuse depot, but with the person who had eluded his pursuit the day before, something of the excitement of the hunter in view of his game seized upon this hitherto imperturbable detective, and it was with difficulty he could sustain his usual rôle of fashionable indifference.

He arrived at the table before any of the other boarders, and presently a goodly array of amiable matrons, old and young gentlemen, and pretty girls came filing into the room, and finally — yes, finally — the gentleman whom he had followed from the mill the day before, and whom he now had no hesitation in fixing upon as Mr. Mansell.

But the satisfaction occasioned by the settlement of this perplexing question was dampened somewhat by a sudden and uneasy sense of being himself at a disadvantage. Why he should feel thus he did not know. Perhaps the almost imperceptible change which took place in that gentleman’s face as their eyes first met, may have caused the unlooked-for sensation; though why Mr. Mansell should change at the sight of one who must have been a perfect stranger to him, was more than Mr. Byrd could understand. It was enough that the latter felt he had made a mistake in not having donned a disguise before entering this house, and that, oppressed by the idea, he withdrew his attention from the man he had come to watch, and fixed it upon more immediate and personal matters.

The meal was half over. Mr. Byrd who, as a stranger of more than ordinary good looks and prepossessing manners, had been placed by the obliging landlady between her own daughter and a lady of doubtful attractions, was endeavoring to improve his advantages and make himself as agreeable as possible to both of his neighbors, when he heard a lady near him say aloud, “You are late, Mr. Mansell,” and, looking up in his amazement, saw entering the door —— Well, in the presence of the real owner of this name, he wondered he ever could have fixed upon the other man as the original of the person that had been described to him. The strong face, the sombre expression, the herculean frame, were unique, and in the comparison which they inevitably called forth, made all other men in the room look dwarfed if not actually commonplace.

Greatly surprised at this new turn of affairs, and satisfied that he at last had before him the man who had confronted Miss Dare in the Syracuse depot, he turned his attention back to the ladies. He, however, took care to keep one ear open on the side of the new-comer, in the hope of gleaning from his style and manner of conversation some notion of his disposition and nature.

But Craik Mansell was at no time a talkative man, and at this especial period of his career was less inclined than ever to enter into the trivial debates or good-natured repartee that was the staple of conversation at Mrs. Hart’s table.

So Mr. Byrd’s wishes in this regard were foiled. He succeeded, however, in assuring himself by a square look, into the other’s face, that to whatever temptation this man may have succumbed, or of whatever crime he may have been guilty, he was by nature neither cold, cruel, nor treacherous, and that the deadly blow, if dealt by him, was the offspring of some sudden impulse or violent ebullition of temper, and was being repented of with every breath he drew.

But this discovery, though it modified Mr. Byrd’s own sense of personal revolt against the man, could not influence him in the discharge of his duty, which was to save another of less interesting and perhaps less valuable traits of character from the consequences of a crime he had never committed. It was, therefore, no more than just, that, upon withdrawing from the table, he should endeavor to put himself in the way of settling that second question, upon whose answer in the affirmative depended the rightful establishment of his secret suspicions.

That was, whether this young man was at or near the house of his aunt at the time when she was assaulted.

Mrs. Hart’s parlors were always thrown open to her boarders in the evening.

There, at any time from seven to ten, you might meet a merry crowd of young people intent upon enjoying themselves, and usually highly successful in their endeavors to do so. Into this throng Mr. Byrd accordingly insinuated himself, and being of the sort to win instant social recognition, soon found he had but to make his choice in order to win for himself that tête-à-tête conversation from which he hoped so much. He consequently surveyed the company with a critical eye, and soon made up his mind as to which lady was the most affable in her manners and the least likely to meet his advances with haughty reserve, and having won an introduction to her, sat down at her side with the stern determination of making her talk about Mr. Mansell.

“You have a very charming company here,” he remarked; “the house seems to be filled with a most cheerful class of people.”

“Yes,” was the not-unlooked-for reply. “We are all merry enough if we except Mr. Mansell. But, of course, there is excuse for him. No one expects him to join in our sports.”

“Mr. Mansell? the gentleman who came in late to supper?” repeated Mr. Byrd, with no suggestion of the secret satisfaction he felt at the immediate success of his scheme.

“Yes, he is in great trouble, you know; is the nephew of the woman who was killed a few days ago at Sibley, don’t you remember? The widow lady who was struck on the head by a man of the name of Hildreth, and who died after uttering something about a ring, supposed by many to be an attempt on her part to describe the murderer?”

“Yes,” was the slow, almost languid, response; “and a dreadful thing, too; quite horrifying in its nature. And so this Mr. Mansell is her nephew?” he suggestively repeated. “Odd! I suppose he has told you all about the affair?”

“He? Mercy! I don’t suppose you could get him to say anything about it to save your life. He isn’t of the talking sort. Besides, I don’t believe he knows any more about it than you or I. He hasn’t been to Sibley.”

“Didn’t he go to the funeral?”

“No; he said he was too ill; and indeed he was shut up one whole day with a terrible sore throat. He is the heir, too, of all her savings, they say; but he won’t go to Sibley. Some folks think it is queer, but I——”

Here her eyes wandered and her almost serious look vanished in a somewhat coquettish smile. Following her gaze with his own, Mr. Byrd perceived a gentleman approaching. It was the one he had first taken for Mr. Mansell.

“Beg pardon,” was the somewhat abrupt salutation with which this person advanced. “But they are proposing a game in the next room, and Miss Clayton’s assistance is considered absolutely indispensable.”

“Mr. Brown, first allow me to make you acquainted with Mr. Byrd,” said the light-hearted damsel, with a gracious inclination. “As you are both strangers, it is well for you to know each other, especially as I expect you to join in our games.”

“Thank you,” protested Mr. Brown, “but I don’t play games.” Then seeing the deep bow of acquiescence which Mr. Byrd was making, added, with what appeared to be a touch of jealousy, “Except under strong provocation,” and holding out his arm, offered to escort the young lady into the next room.

With an apologetic glance at Mr. Byrd, she accepted the attention proffered her, and speedily vanished into the midst of the laughing group that awaited her.

Mr. Byrd found himself alone.

“Check number one,” thought he; and he bestowed any thing but an amiable benediction upon the man who had interrupted him in the midst of so promising a conversation.

His next move was in the direction of the landlady’s daughter, who, being somewhat shy, favored a retired nook behind the piano. They had been neighbors at table, and he could at once address her without fear of seeming obtrusive.

“I do not see here the dark young gentleman whom you call Mr. Mansell?” he remarked, inquiringly.

“Oh, no; he is in trouble. A near relative of his was murdered in cold blood the other day, and under the most aggravating circumstances. Haven’t you heard about it? She was a Mrs. Clemmens, and lived in Sibley. It was in all the papers.”

“Ah, yes; I remember about it very well. And so he is her nephew,” he went on, recklessly repeating himself in his determination to elicit all he could from these young and thoughtless misses. “A peculiar-looking young man; has the air of thoroughly understanding himself.”

“Yes, he is very smart, they say.”

“Does he never talk?”

“Oh, yes; that is, he used to; but, since his aunt’s death, we don’t expect it. He is very much interested in machinery, and has invented something ——”

“Oh, Clara, you are not going to sit here,” interposed the reproachful voice of a saucy-eyed maiden, who at this moment peeped around the corner of the piano. “We want all the recruits we can get,” she cried, with a sudden blush, as she encountered the glance of Mr. Byrd. “Do come, and bring the gentleman too.” And she slipped away to join that very Mr. Brown who, by his importunities, had been the occasion of the former interruption from which Mr. Byrd had suffered.

“That man and I will quarrel yet,” was the mental exclamation with which the detective rose. “Shall we join your friends?” asked he, assuming an unconcern he was far from feeling.

“Yes, if you please,” was the somewhat timid, though evidently pleased, reply.

And Mr. Byrd noted down in his own mind check number two.

The game was a protracted one. Twice did he think to escape from the merry crowd he had entered, and twice did he fail to do so. The indefatigable Brown would not let him slip, and it was only by a positive exertion of his will that he finally succeeded in withdrawing himself.

“I wish to have a word with your mother,” he explained, in reply to the look of protest with which Miss Hart honored his departure. “I hear she retires early; so you will excuse me if I leave somewhat abruptly.”

And to Mrs. Hart’s apartment he at once proceeded, and, by dint of his easy assurance, soon succeeded in leading her, as he had already done the rest, into a discussion of the one topic for which he had an interest. He had not time, however, to glean much from her, for, just as she was making the admission that Mr. Mansell had not been home at the time of the murder, a knock was heard at the door, and, with an affable bow and a short, quick stare of surprise at Mr. Byrd, the ubiquitous Mr. Brown stepped in and took a seat on the sofa, with every appearance of intending to make a call.

At this third check, Mr. Byrd was more than annoyed. Rising, however, with the most amiable courtesy, he bowed his acknowledgments to the landlady, and, without heeding her pressing invitation to remain and make the acquaintance of Mr. Brown, left the room and betook himself back to the parlors.

He was just one minute too late. The last of the boarders had gone up-stairs, and only an empty room met his eyes.

He at once ascended to his own apartment. It was on the fourth floor. There were many other rooms on this floor, and for a moment he could not remember which was his own door. At last, however, he felt sure it was the third one from the stairs, and, going to it, gave a short knock in case of mistake, and, hearing no reply, opened it and went in.

The first glance assured him that his recollection had played him false, and that he was in the wrong room. The second, that he was in that of Mr. Mansell. The sight of the small model of a delicate and intricate machine that stood in full view on a table before him would have been sufficient assurance of this fact, even if the inventor himself had been absent. But he was there. Seated at a table, with his back to the door, and his head bowed forward on his arms, he presented such a picture of misery or despair, that Mr. Byrd felt his sympathies touched in spite of himself, and hastily stumbling backward, was about to confusedly withdraw, when a doubt struck him as to the condition of the deathly, still, and somewhat pallid figure before him, and, stepping hurriedly forward, he spoke the young man’s name, and, failing to elicit a response, laid his hand on his shoulder, with an apology for disturbing him, and an inquiry as to how he felt.

The touch acted where the voice had failed. Leaping from his partly recumbent position, Craik Mansell faced the intruder with indignant inquiry written in every line of his white and determined face.

“To what do I owe this intrusion?” he cried, his nostrils expanding and contracting with an anger that proved the violence of his nature when aroused.

“First, to my carelessness,” responded Mr. Byrd; “and, secondly ——” But there he paused, for the first time in his life, perhaps, absolutely robbed of speech. His eye had fallen upon a picture that the other held clutched in his vigorous right hand. It was a photograph of Imogene Dare, and it was made conspicuous by two heavy black lines which had been relentlessy drawn across the face in the form of a cross. “Secondly,” he went on, after a moment, resolutely tearing his gaze away from this startling and suggestive object, “to my fears. I thought you looked ill, and could not forbear making an effort to reassure myself that all was right.”

“Thank you,” ejaculated the other, in a heavy weariful tone. “I am perfectly well.” And with a short bow he partially turned his back, with a distinct intimation that he desired to be left alone.

Mr. Byrd could not resist this appeal. Glad as he would have been for even a moment’s conversation with this man, he was, perhaps unfortunately, too much of a gentleman to press himself forward against the expressed wishes even of a suspected criminal. He accordingly withdrew to the door, and was about to open it and go out, when it was flung violently forward, and the ever-obtrusive Brown stepped in.

This second intrusion was more than unhappy Mr. Mansell could stand. Striding passionately forward, he met the unblushing Brown at full tilt, and angrily pointing to the door, asked if it was not the custom of gentlemen to knock before entering the room of strangers.

“I beg pardon,” said the other, backing across the threshold, with a profuse display of confusion. “I had no idea of its being a stranger’s room. I thought it was my own. I— I was sure that my door was the third from the stairs. Excuse me, excuse me.” And he bustled noisily out.

This precise reproduction of his own train of thought and action confounded Mr. Byrd.

Turning with a deprecatory glance to the perplexed and angry occupant of the room, he said something about not knowing the person who had just left them; and then, conscious that a further contemplation of the stern and suffering countenance before him would unnerve him for the duty he had to perform, hurriedly withdrew.

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Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 22:17