Hand and Ring, by Anna Katharine Green

18. A Brace of Detectives.

Hath this fellow no feeling of his business?

Hamlet.

No action, whether foul or fair,

Is ever done, but it leaves somewhere

A record.

Longfellow.

“SO there are two of us! I thought as much when I first set eyes upon your face in Buffalo!”

This exclamation, uttered in a dry and musing tone, woke Mr. Byrd from the stupor into which this astonishing discovery had thrown him. Advancing upon the stranger, who in size, shape, and coloring was almost the fac-simile of the person he had so successfully represented, Mr. Byrd looked him scrutinizingly over.

The man bore the ordeal with equanimity; he even smiled.

“You don’t recognize me, I see.”

Mr. Byrd at once recoiled.

“Ah!” cried he, “you are that Jack-in-the-box, Brown!”

Alias Frank Hickory, at your service.”

This name, so unexpected, called up a flush of mingled surprise and indignation to Mr. Byrd’s cheek.

“I thought ——” he began.

“Don’t think,” interrupted the other, who, when excited, affected laconicism, “know.” Then, with affability, proceeded, “You are the gentleman ——” he paid that much deference to Mr. Byrd’s air and manner, “who I was told might lend me a helping hand in this Clemmens affair. I didn’t recognize you before, sir. Wouldn’t have stood in your way if I had. Though, to be sure, I did want to see this matter through myself. I thought I had the right. And I’ve done it, too, as you must acknowledge, if you have been present in this terrible place very long.”

This self-satisfied, if not boastful, allusion to a scene in which this strange being had played so unworthy, if not unjustifiable, a part, sent a thrill of revulsion through Mr. Byrd. Drawing hastily back with an instinct of dislike he could not conceal, he cast a glance through the thicket of trees that spread beyond the open door, and pointedly asked:

“Was there no way of satisfying yourself of the guilt of Craik Mansell, except by enacting a farce that may lead to the life-long remorse of the woman out of whose love you have made a trap?”

A slow flush, the first, possibly, that had visited the hardy cheek of this thick-skinned detective for years, crept over the face of Frank Hickory.

“I don’t mean she shall ever know,” he sullenly protested, kicking at the block upon which he had been sitting. “But it was a mean trick,” he frankly enough admitted the next moment. “If I hadn’t been the tough old hickory knot that I am, I couldn’t have done it, I suppose. The storm, too, made it seem a bit trifling. But —— Well, well!” he suddenly interjected, in a more cheerful tone, “’tis too late now for tears and repentance. The thing is done, and can’t be undone. And, at all events, I reckon we are both satisfied now as to who killed Widow Clemmens!”

Mr. Byrd could not resist a slight sarcasm. “I thought you were satisfied in that regard before?” said he. “At least, I understood that at a certain time you were very positive it was Mr. Hildreth.”

“So I was,” the fellow good-naturedly allowed; “so I was. The byways of a crime like this are dreadful dark and uncertain. It isn’t strange that a fellow gets lost sometimes. But I got a jog on my elbow that sent me into the right path,” said he, “as, perhaps, you did too, sir, eh?”

Not replying to this latter insinuation, Mr. Byrd quietly repeated:

“You got a jog on your elbow? When, may I ask?”

“Three days ago, just!” was the emphatic reply.

“And from whom?”

Instead of replying, the man leaned back against the wall of the hut and looked at his interlocutor in silence.

“Are we going to join hands over this business?” he cried, at last, “or are you thinking of pushing your way on alone after you have got from me all that I know?”

The question took Mr. Byrd by surprise.

He had not thought of the future. He was as yet too much disturbed by his memories of the past. To hide his discomfiture, he began to pace the floor, an operation which his thoroughly wet condition certainly made advisable.

“I have no wish to rob you of any glory you may hope to reap from the success of the plot you have carried on here to-day,” he presently declared, with some bitterness; “but if this Craik Mansell is guilty, I suppose it is my duty to help you in the collection of all suitable and proper evidence against him.”

“Then,” said the other, who had been watching him with rather an anxious eye, “let us to work.” And, sitting down on the table, he motioned to Mr. Byrd to take a seat upon the block at his side.

But the latter kept up his walk.

Hickory surveyed him for a moment in silence, then he said:

“You must have something against this young man, or you wouldn’t be here. What is it? What first set you thinking about Craik Mansell?”

Now, this was a question Mr. Byrd could not and would not answer. After what had just passed in the hut, he felt it impossible to mention to this man the name of Imogene Dare in connection with that of the nephew of Mrs. Clemmens. He therefore waived the other’s interrogation and remarked:

“My knowledge was rather the fruit of surmise than fact. I did not believe in the guilt of Gouverneur Hildreth, and so was forced to look about me for some one whom I could conscientiously suspect. I fixed upon this unhappy man in Buffalo; how truly, your own suspicions, unfortunately, reveal.”

“And I had to have my wits started by a horrid old woman,” murmured the evidently abashed Hickory.

“Horrid old woman!” repeated Mr. Byrd. “Not Sally Perkins?”

“Yes. A sweet one, isn’t she?”

Mr. Byrd shuddered.

“Tell me about it,” said he, coming and sitting down in the seat the other had previously indicated to him.

“I will, sir; I will: but first let’s look at the weather. Some folks would think it just as well for you to change that toggery of yours. What do you say to going home first, and talking afterward?”

“I suppose it would be wise,” admitted Mr. Byrd, looking down at his garments, whose decidedly damp condition he had scarcely noticed in his excitement. “And yet I hate to leave this spot till I learn how you came to choose it as the scene of the tragi-comedy you have enacted here to-day, and what position it is likely to occupy in the testimony which you have collected against this young man.”

“Wait, then,” said the bustling fellow, “till I build you the least bit of a fire to warm you. It won’t take but a minute,” he averred, piling together some old sticks that cumbered the hearth, and straightway setting a match to them. “See! isn’t that pleasant? And now, just cast your eye at this!” he continued, drawing a comfortable-looking flask out of his pocket and handing it over to the other with a dry laugh. “Isn’t this pleasant?” And he threw himself down on the floor and stretched out his hands to the blaze, with a gusto which the dreary hour he had undoubtedly passed made perfectly natural, if not excusable.

“I thank you,” said Mr. Byrd; “I didn’t know I was so chilled,” and he, too, enjoyed the warmth. “And, now,” he pursued, after a moment, “go on; let us have the thing out at once.”

But the other was in no hurry. “Very good, sir,” he cried; “but, first, if you don’t mind, suppose you tell me what brought you to this hut to-day?”

“I was on the look-out for clues. In my study of the situation, I decided that the murderer of Mrs. Clemmens escaped, not from the front, but from the back, of the house. Taking the path I imagined him to have trod, I came upon this hut. It naturally attracted my attention, and to-day I came back to examine it more closely in the hope of picking up some signs of his having been here, or at least of having passed through the glade on his way to the deeper woods.”

“And what, if you had succeeded in this, sir? What, if some token of his presence had rewarded your search?”

“I should have completed a chain of proof of which only this one link is lacking. I could have shown how Craik Mansell fled from this place on last Tuesday afternoon, making his way through the woods to the highway, and thence to the Quarry Station at Monteith, where he took the train which carried him back to Buffalo.”

“You could! — show me how?”

Mr. Byrd explained himself more definitely.

Hickory at once rose.

“I guess we can give you the link,” he dryly remarked. “At all events, suppose you just step here and tell me what conclusion you draw from the appearance of this pile of brush.”

Mr. Byrd advanced and looked at a small heap of hemlock that lay in a compact mass in one corner.

“I have not disturbed it,” pursued the other. “It is just as it was when I found it.”

“Looks like a pillow,” declared Mr. Byrd. “Has been used for such, I am sure; for see, the dust in this portion of the floor lies lighter than elsewhere. You can almost detect the outline of a man’s recumbent form,” he went on, slowly, leaning down to examine the floor more closely. “As for the boughs, they have been cut from the tree with a knife, and ——” Lifting up a sprig, he looked at it, then passed it over to Hickory, with a meaning glance that directed attention to one or two short hairs of a dark brown color, that were caught in the rough bark. “He did not even throw his pocket-handkerchief over the heap before lying down,” he observed.

Mr. Hickory smiled. “You’re up in your business, I see.” And drawing his new colleague to the table, he asked him what he saw there.

At first sight Mr. Byrd exclaimed: “Nothing,” but in another moment he picked up an infinitesimal chip from between the rough logs that formed the top of this somewhat rustic piece of furniture, and turning it over in his hand, pronounced it to be a piece of wood from a lead-pencil.

“Here are several of them,” remarked Mr. Hickory, “and what is more, it is easy to tell just the color of the pencil from which they were cut. It was blue.”

“That is so,” assented Mr. Byrd.

“Quarrymen, charcoal-burners, and the like are not much in the habit of sharpening pencils,” suggested Hickory.

“Is the pencil now to be found in the pocket of Mr. Mansell a blue one?”

“It is.”

“Have you any thing more to show me?” asked Mr. Byrd.

“Only this,” responded the other, taking out of his pocket the torn-off corner of a newspaper. “I found this blowing about under the bushes out there,” said he. “Look at it and tell me from what paper it was torn.”

“I don’t know,” said Mr. Byrd; “none that I am acquainted with.”

“You don’t read the Buffalo Courier?”

“Oh, is this ——”

“A corner from the Buffalo Courier? I don’t know, but I mean to find out. If it is, and the date proves to be correct, we won’t have much trouble about the little link, will we?”

Mr. Byrd shook his head and they again crouched down over the fire.

“And, now, what did you learn in Buffalo?” inquired the persistent Hickory.

“Not much,” acknowledged Mr. Byrd. “The man Brown was entirely too ubiquitous to give me my full chance. Neither at the house nor at the mill was I able to glean any thing beyond an admission from the landlady that Mr. Mansell was not at home at the time of his aunt’s murder. I couldn’t even learn where he was on that day, or where he had ostensibly gone? If it had not been for the little girl of Mr. Goodman ——”

“Ah, I had not time to go to that house,” interjected the other, suggestively.

“I should have come home as wise as I went,” continued Mr. Byrd. “She told me that on the day before Mr. Mansell returned, he wrote to her father from Monteith, and that settled my mind in regard to him. It was pure luck, however.”

The other laughed long and loud.

“I didn’t know I did it up so well,” he cried. “I told the landlady you were a detective, or acted like one, and she was very ready to take the alarm, having, as I judge, a motherly liking for her young boarder. Then I took Messrs. Chamberlin and Harrison into my confidence, and having got from them all the information they could give me, told them there was evidently another man on the track of this Mansell, and warned them to keep silence till they heard from the prosecuting attorney in Sibley. But I didn’t know who you were, or, at least, I wasn’t sure; or, as I said before, I shouldn’t have presumed.”

The short, dry laugh with which he ended this explanation had not ceased, when Mr. Byrd observed:

“You have not told me what you gathered in Buffalo.”

“Much,” quoth Hickory, reverting to his favorite laconic mode of speech. “First, that Mansell went from home on Monday, the day before the murder, for the purpose, as he said, of seeing a man in New York about his wonderful invention. Secondly, that he never went to New York, but came back the next evening, bringing his model with him, and looking terribly used up and worried. Thirdly, that to get this invention before the public had been his pet aim and effort for a whole year. That he believed in it as you do in your Bible, and would have given his heart’s blood, if it would have done any good, to start the thing, and prove himself right in his estimate of its value. That the money to do this was all that was lacking, no one believing in him sufficiently to advance him the five thousand dollars considered necessary to build the machine and get it in working order. That, in short, he was a fanatic on the subject, and often said he would be willing to die within the year if he could first prove to the unbelieving capitalists whom he had vainly importuned for assistance, the worth of the discovery he believed himself to have made. Fourthly — but what is it you wish to say, sir?”

“Five thousand dollars is just the amount Widow Clemmens is supposed to leave him,” remarked Mr. Byrd.

“Precisely,” was the short reply.

“And fourthly?” suggested the former.

“Fourthly, he was in the mill on Wednesday morning, where he went about his work as usual, until some one who knew his relation to Mrs. Clemmens looked up from the paper he was reading, and, in pure thoughtlessness, cried, ‘So they have killed your aunt for you, have they?’ A barbarous jest, that caused everybody near him to start in indignation, but which made him recoil as if one of these thunderbolts we have been listening to this afternoon had fallen at his feet. And he didn’t get over it,” Hickory went on. “He had to beg permission to go home. He said the terrible news had made him ill, and indeed he looked sick enough, and continued to look sick enough for days. He had letters from Sibley, and an invitation to attend the inquest and be present at the funeral services, but he refused to go. He was threatened with diphtheria, he declared, and remained away from the mill until the day before yesterday. Some one, I don’t remember who, says he went out of town the very Wednesday he first heard the news; but if so, he could not have been gone long, for he was at home Wednesday night, sick in bed, and threatened, as I have said, with the diphtheria. Fifthly ——”

“Well, fifthly?”

“I am afraid of your criticisms,” laughed the rough detective. “Fifthly is the result of my poking about among Mr. Mansell’s traps.”

“Ah!” frowned the other, with a vivid remembrance of that picture of Miss Dare, with its beauty blotted out by the ominous black lines.

“You are too squeamish for a detective,” the other declared. “Guess you’re kept for the fancy business, eh?”

The look Mr. Byrd gave him was eloquent. “Go on,” said he; “let us hear what lies behind your fifthly.”

“Love,” returned the man. “Locked in the drawer of this young gentleman’s table, I found some half-dozen letters tied with a black ribbon. I knew they were written by a lady, but squeamishness is not a fault of mine, and so I just allowed myself to glance over them. They were from Miss Dare, of course, and they revealed the fact that love, as well as ambition, had been a motive power in determining this Mansell to make a success out of his invention.”

Leaning back, the now self-satisfied detective looked at Mr. Byrd.

“The name of Miss Dare,” he went on, “brings me to the point from which we started. I haven’t yet told you what old Sally Perkins had to say to me.”

“No,” rejoined Mr. Byrd.

“Well,” continued the other, poking with his foot the dying embers of the fire, till it started up into a fresh blaze, “the case against this young fellow wouldn’t be worth very much without that old crone’s testimony, I reckon; but with it I guess we can get along.”

“Let us hear,” said Mr. Byrd.

“The old woman is a wretch,” Hickory suddenly broke out. “She seems to gloat over the fact that a young and beautiful woman is in trouble. She actually trembled with eagerness as she told her story. If I hadn’t been rather anxious myself to hear what she had to say, I could have thrown her out of the window. As it was, I let her go on; duty before pleasure, you see — duty before pleasure.”

“But her story,” persisted Mr. Byrd, letting some of his secret irritation betray itself.

“Well, her story was this: Monday afternoon, the day before the murder, you know, she was up in these very woods hunting for witch-hazel. She had got her arms full and was going home across the bog when she suddenly heard voices. Being of a curious disposition, like myself, I suppose, she stopped, and seeing just before her a young gentleman and lady sitting on an old stump, crouched down in the shadow of a tree, with the harmless intent, no doubt, of amusing herself with their conversation. It was more interesting than she expected, and she really became quite tragic as she related her story to me. I cannot do justice to it myself, and I sha’n’t try. It is enough that the man whom she did not know, and the woman whom she immediately recognized as Miss Dare, were both in a state of great indignation. That he spoke of selfishness and obstinacy on the part of his aunt, and that she, in the place of rebuking him, replied in a way to increase his bitterness, and lead him finally to exclaim: ‘I cannot bear it! To think that with just the advance of the very sum she proposes to give me some day, I could make her fortune and my own, and win you all in one breath! It is enough to drive a man mad to see all that he craves in this world so near his grasp, and yet have nothing, not even hope, to comfort him.’ And at that, it seems, they both rose, and she, who had not answered any thing to this, struck the tree before which they stood, with her bare fist, and murmured a word or so which the old woman couldn’t catch, but which was evidently something to the effect that she wished she knew Mrs. Clemmens; for Mansell — of course it was he — said, in almost the same breath, ‘And if you did know her, what then?’ A question which elicited no reply at first, but which finally led her to say: ‘Oh! I think that, possibly, I might be able to persuade her.’ All this,” the detective went on, “old Sally related with the greatest force; but in regard to what followed, she was not so clear. Probably they interrupted their conversation with some lovers’ by-play, for they stood very near together, and he seemed to be earnestly pleading with her. ‘Do take it,’ old Sally heard him say. ‘I shall feel as if life held some outlook for me, if you only will gratify me in this respect.’ But she answered: ‘No; it is of no use. I am as ambitious as you are, and fate is evidently against us,’ and put his hand back when he endeavored to take hers, but finally yielded so far as to give it to him for a moment, though she immediately snatched it away again, crying: ‘I cannot; you must wait till to-morrow.’ And when he asked: ‘Why to-morrow?’ she answered: ‘A night has been known to change the whole current of a person’s affairs.’ To which he replied: ‘True,’ and looked thoughtful, very thoughtful, as he met her eyes and saw her raise that white hand of hers and strike the tree again with a passionate force that made her fingers bleed. And she was right,” concluded the speaker. “The night, or if not the night, the next twenty-four hours, did make a change, as even old Sally Perkins observed. Widow Clemmens was struck down and Craik Mansell became the possessor of the five thousand dollars he so much wanted in order to win for himself a fortune and a bride.”

Mr. Byrd, who had been sitting with his face turned aside during this long recital, slowly rose to his feet. “Hickory,” said he, and his tone had an edge of suppressed feeling in it that made the other start, “don’t let me ever hear you say, in my presence, that you think this young and beautiful woman was the one to suggest murder to this man, for I won’t hear it. And now,” he continued, more calmly, “tell me why this babbling old wretch did not enliven the inquest with her wonderful tale. It would have been a fine offset to the testimony of Miss Firman.”

“She said she wasn’t fond of coroners and had no wish to draw the attention of twelve of her own townsfolk upon herself. She didn’t mean to commit herself with me,” pursued Hickory, rising also. “She was going to give me a hint of the real state of affairs; or, rather, set me working in the right direction, as this little note which she tucked under the door of my room at the hotel will show. But I was too quick for her, and had her by the arm before she could shuffle down the stairs. It was partly to prove her story was true and not a romance made up for the occasion, that I lured this woman here this afternoon.”

“You are not as bad a fellow as I thought,” Mr. Byrd admitted, after a momentary contemplation of the other’s face. “If I might only know how you managed to effect this interview.”

“Nothing easier. I found in looking over the scraps of paper which Mansell had thrown into the waste-paper basket in Buffalo, the draft of a note which he had written to Miss Dare, under an impulse which he afterward probably regretted. It was a summons to their usual place of tryst at or near this hut, and though unsigned, was of a character, as I thought, to effect its purpose. I just sent it to her, that’s all.”

The nonchalance with which this was said completed Mr. Byrd’s astonishment.

“You are a worthy disciple of Gryce,” he asserted, leading the way to the door.

“Think so?” exclaimed the man, evidently flattered at what he considered a great compliment. “Then shake hands,” he cried, with a frank appeal Mr. Byrd found it hard to resist. “Ah, you don’t want to,” he somewhat ruefully declared. “Will it change your feelings any if I promise to ignore what happened here to-day — my trick with Miss Dare and what she revealed and all that? If it will, I swear I won’t even think of it any more if I can help it. At all events, I won’t tattle about it even to the superintendent. It shall be a secret between you and me, and she won’t know but what it was her lover she talked to, after all.”

“You are willing to do all this?” inquired Mr. Byrd.

“Willing and ready,” cried the man. “I believe in duty to one’s superiors, but duty doesn’t always demand of one to tell every thing he knows. Besides, it won’t be necessary, I imagine. There is enough against this poor fellow without that.”

“I fear so,” ejaculated Mr. Byrd.

“Then it is a bargain?” said Hickory.

“Yes.”

And Mr. Byrd held out his hand.

The rain had now ceased and they prepared to return home. Before leaving the glade, however, Mr. Byrd ran his eye over the other’s person and apparel, and in some wonder inquired:

“How do you fellows ever manage to get up such complete disguises? I declare you look enough like Mr. Mansell in the back to make me doubt even now who I am talking to.”

“Oh,” laughed the other, “it is easy enough. It’s my specialty, you see, and one in which I am thought to excel. But, to tell the truth, I hadn’t much to contend with in this case. In build I am famously like this man, as you must have noticed when you saw us together in Buffalo. Indeed, it was our similarity in this respect that first put the idea of personifying him into my head. My complexion had been darkened already, and, as for such accessories as hair, voice, manner, dress, etc., a five-minutes’ study of my model was sufficient to prime me up in all that — enough, at least, to satisfy the conditions of an interview which did not require me to show my face.”

“But you did not know when you came here that you would not have to show your face,” persisted Mr. Byrd, anxious to understand how this man dared risk his reputation on an undertaking of this kind.

“No, and I did not know that the biggest thunderstorm of the season was going to spring up and lend me its darkness to complete the illusion I had attempted. I only trusted my good fortune — and my wits,” he added, with a droll demureness. “Both had served me before, and both were likely to serve me again. And, say she had detected me in my little game, what then? Women like her don’t babble.”

There was no reply to make to this, and Mr. Byrd’s thoughts being thus carried back to Imogene Dare and the unhappy revelations she had been led to make, he walked on in a dreary silence his companion had sufficient discretion not to break.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/green/anna_katharine/hand_and_ring/chapter18.html

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