Hand and Ring, by Anna Katharine Green

15. The End of a Tortuous Path.

Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.

Hamlet.

THE arrest of Mr. Hildreth had naturally quieted public suspicion by fixing attention upon a definite point, so that when Mr. Byrd returned to Sibley he found that he could pursue whatever inquiries he chose without awakening the least mistrust that he was on the look-out for the murderer of Mrs. Clemmens.

The first use he made of his time was to find out if Mr. Mansell, or any man answering to his description, had been seen to take the train from the Sibley station on the afternoon or evening of the fatal Tuesday. The result was unequivocal. No such person had been seen there, and no such person was believed to have been at the station at any time during that day. This was his first disappointment.

He next made the acquaintance of the conductors on that line of street-cars by means of which he believed Mr. Mansell to have made his escape. But with no better result. Not one of them remembered having taken up, of late, any passenger from the terminus, of the appearance described by Mr. Byrd.

And this was his second disappointment.

His next duty was obviously to change his plan of action and make the town of Monteith the centre of his inquiries. But he hesitated to do this till he had made one other visit to the woods in whose recesses he still believed the murderer to have plunged immediately upon dealing the fatal blow.

He went by the way of the street railroad, not wishing to be again seen crossing the bog, and arrived at the hut in the centre of the glade without meeting any one or experiencing the least adventure.

This time he went in, but nothing was to be seen save bare logs, a rough hearth where a fire had once been built, and the rudest sort of bench and table; and hurrying forth again, he looked doubtfully up and down the glade in pursuit of some hint to guide him in his future researches.

Suddenly he received one. The thick wall of foliage which at first glance revealed but the two outlets already traversed by him, showed upon close inspection a third path, opening well behind the hut, and leading, as he soon discovered, in an entirely opposite direction from that which had taken him to West Side. Merely stopping to cast one glance at the sun, which was still well overhead, he set out on this new path. It was longer and much more intricate than the other. It led through hollows and up steeps, and finally out into an open blackberry patch, where it seemed to terminate. But a close study of the surrounding bushes, soon disclosed signs of a narrow and thread-like passage curving about a rocky steep. Entering this he presently found himself drawn again into the woods, which he continued to traverse till he came to a road cut through the heart of the forest, for the use of the lumbermen. Here he paused. Should he turn to the right or left? He decided to turn to the right. Keeping in the road, which was rough with stones where it was not marked with the hoofs of both horses and cattle, he walked for some distance. Then he emerged into open space again, and discovered that he was on the hillside overlooking Monteith, and that by a mile or two’s further walk over the highway that was dimly to be descried at the foot of the hill, he would reach the small station devoted to the uses of the quarrymen that worked in this place.

There was no longer any further doubt that this route, and not the other, had been the one taken by Mr. Mansell on that fatal afternoon. But he was determined not to trust any further to mere surmises; so hastening down the hill, he made his way in the direction of the highway, meaning to take the walk alluded to, and learn for himself what passengers had taken the train at this point on the Tuesday afternoon so often mentioned.

But a barrier rose in his way. A stream which he had barely noticed in the quick glance he threw over the landscape from the brow of the hill, separated with quite a formidable width of water the hillside from the road, and it was not till he wandered back for some distance along its banks, that he found a bridge. The time thus lost was considerable, but he did not think of it; and when, after a long and weary tramp, he stepped upon the platform of the small station, he was so eager to learn if he had correctly followed the scent, that he forgot to remark that the road he had taken was any thing but an easy or feasible one for a hasty escape.

The accommodation-trains, which alone stop at this point, had both passed, and he found the station-master at leisure. A single glance into his honest and intelligent face convinced the detective that he had a reliable man to deal with. He at once commenced his questions.

“Do many persons besides the quarrymen take the train at this place?” asked he.

“Not many,” was the short but sufficiently good-natured rejoinder. “I guess I could easily count them on the fingers of one hand,” he laughed.

“You would be apt to notice, then, if a strange gentleman got on board here at any time, would you not?”

“Guess so; not often troubled that way, but sometimes — sometimes.”

“Can you tell me whether a young man of very dark complexion, heavy mustache, and a determined, if not excited, expression, took the cars here for Monteith, say, any day last week?”

“I don’t know,” mused the man. “Dark complexion, you say, large mustache; let me see.”

“No dandy,” Mr. Byrd carefully explained, “but a strong man, who believes in work. He was possibly in a state of somewhat nervous hurry,” he went on, suggestively, “and if he wore an overcoat at all, it was a gray one.”

The face of the man lighted up.

“I seem to remember,” said he. “Did he have a very bright blue eye and a high color?”

Mr. Byrd nodded.

“And did he carry a peculiarly shaped bag, of which he was very careful?”

“I don’t know,” said Mr. Byrd, but remembering the model, added with quick assurance, “I have no doubt he did”; which seemed to satisfy the other, for he at once cried:

“I recollect such a person very well. I noticed him before he got to the station; as soon in fact as he came in sight. He was walking down the highway, and seemed to be thinking about something. He’s of the kind to attract attention. What about him, sir?”

“Nothing. He was in trouble of some kind, and he went from home without saying where he was going; and his friends are anxious about him, that is all. Do you think you could swear to his face if you saw it?”

“I think I could. He was the only stranger that got on to the cars that afternoon.”

“Do you remember, then, the day?”

“Well, no, now, I don’t.”

“But can’t you, if you try? Wasn’t there something done by you that day which will assist your memory?”

Again that slow “Let me see” showed that the man was pondering. Suddenly he slapped his thigh and exclaimed:

“You might be a lawyer’s clerk now, mightn’t you; or, perhaps, a lawyer himself? I do remember that a large load of stone was sent off that day, and a minute’s look at my book —— It was Tuesday,” he presently affirmed.

Mr. Byrd drew a deep breath. There is sadness mixed with the satisfaction of such a triumph.

“I am much obliged to you,” he said, in acknowledgment of the other’s trouble. “The friends of this gentleman will now have little difficulty in tracing him. There is but one thing further I should like to make sure of.”

And taking from his memorandum-book the picture he kept concealed there, he showed him the face of Mr. Mansell, now altered to a perfect likeness, and asked him if he recognized it.

The decided Yes which he received made further questions unnecessary.

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