Hand and Ring, by Anna Katharine Green

21. Heart’s Martyrdom.

Oh that a man might know

The end of this day’s business, ere it come;

But it sufficeth that the day will end,

And then the end is known!

Julius Cæsar.

MR. FERRIS’ first impulse upon dismissing the detectives had been to carry the note he had received to Mr. Orcutt. But a night’s careful consideration of the subject convinced him that the wisest course would be to follow the suggestions conveyed in the letter, and seek a direct interview with Imogene Dare.

It was not an agreeable task for him to undertake. Miss Dare was a young lady whom he had always held in the highest esteem. He had hoped to see her the wife of his friend, and would have given much from his own private stock of hope and happiness to have kept her name free from the contumely which any association with this dreadful crime must necessarily bring upon it. But his position as prosecuting attorney of the county would not allow him to consult his feelings any further in a case of such serious import. The condition of Mr. Hildreth was, to say the least, such as demanded the most impartial action on the part of the public officials, and if through any explanation of Miss Dare the one missing link in the chain of evidence against another could be supplied, it was certainly his duty to do all he could to insure it.

Accordingly at a favorable hour the next day, he made his appearance at Mr. Orcutt’s house, and learning that Miss Dare had gone to Professor Darling’s house for a few days, followed her to her new home and requested an interview.

She at once responded to his call. Little did he think as she came into the parlor where he sat, and with even more than her usual calm self-possession glided down the length of that elegant apartment to his side, that she had just come from a small room on the top floor, where, in the position of a hired seamstress, she had been engaged in cutting out the wedding garments of one of the daughters of the house.

Her greeting was that of a person attempting to feign a surprise she did not feel.

“Ah,” said she, “Mr. Ferris! This is an unexpected pleasure.”

But Mr. Ferris had no heart for courtesies.

“Miss Dare,” he began, without any of the preliminaries which might be expected of him, “I have come upon a disagreeable errand. I have a favor to ask. You are in the possession of a piece of information which it is highly necessary for me to share.”

“I?”

The surprise betrayed in this single word was no more than was to be expected from a lady thus addressed, neither did the face she turned so steadily toward him alter under his searching gaze.

“If I can tell you any thing that you wish to know,” she quietly declared, “I am certainly ready to do so, sir.”

Deceived by the steadiness of her tone and the straightforward look of her eyes, he proceeded, with a sudden releasement from his embarrassment, to say:

“I shall have to recall to your mind a most painful incident. You remember, on the morning when we met at Mrs. Clemmens’ house, claiming as your own a diamond ring which was picked up from the floor at your feet?”

“I do.”

“Miss Dare, was this ring really yours, or were you misled by its appearance into merely thinking it your property? My excuse for asking this is that the ring, if not yours, is likely to become an important factor in the case to which the murder of this unfortunate woman has led.”

“Sir ——” The pause which followed the utterance of this one word was but momentary, but in it what faint and final hope may have gone down into the depths of everlasting darkness God only knows. “Sir, since you ask me the question, I will say that in one sense of the term it was mine, and in another it was not. The ring was mine, because it had been offered to me as a gift the day before. The ring was not mine, because I had refused to take it when it was offered.”

At these words, spoken with such quietness they seemed like the mechanical utterances of a woman in a trance, Mr. Ferris started to his feet. He could no longer doubt that evidence of an important nature lay before him.

“And may I ask,” he inquired, without any idea of the martyrdom he caused, “what was the name of the person who offered you this ring, and from whom you refused to take it?”

“The name?” She quavered for a moment, and her eyes flashed up toward heaven with a look of wild appeal, as if the requirement of this moment was more than even she had strength to meet. Then a certain terrible calm settled upon her, blotting the last hint of feeling from her face, and, rising up in her turn, she met Mr. Ferris’ inquiring eye, and slowly and distinctly replied:

“It was Craik Mansell, sir. He is a nephew of Mrs. Clemmens.”

It was the name Mr. Ferris had come there to hear, yet it gave him a slight shock when it fell from her lips — perhaps because his mind was still running upon her supposed relations with Mr. Orcutt. But he did not show his feelings, however, and calmly asked:

“And was Mr. Mansell in this town the day before the assault upon his aunt?”

“He was.”

“And you had a conversation with him?”

“I had.”

“May I ask where?”

For the first time she flushed; womanly shame had not yet vanished entirely from her stricken breast; but she responded as steadily as before:

“In the woods, sir, back of Mrs. Clemmens’ house. There were reasons”— she paused —“there were good reasons, which I do not feel obliged to state, why a meeting in such a place was not discreditable to us.”

Mr. Ferris, who had received from other sources a full version of the interview to which she thus alluded, experienced a sudden revulsion of feeling against one he could not but consider as a detected coquette; and, drawing quickly back, made a gesture such as was not often witnessed in those elegant apartments.

“You mean,” said he, with a sharp edge to his tone that passed over her dreary soul unheeded, “that you were lovers?”

“I mean,” said she, like the automaton she surely was at that moment, “that he had paid me honorable addresses, and that I had no reason to doubt his motives or my own in seeking such a meeting.”

“Miss Dare,”— all the District Attorney spoke in the manner of Mr. Ferris now — “if you refused Mr. Mansell his ring, you must have returned it to him?”

She looked at him with an anguish that bespoke her full appreciation of all this question implied, but unequivocally bowed her head.

“It was in his possession, then,” he continued, “when you left him on that day and returned to your home?”

“Yes,” her lips seemed to say, though no distinct utterance came from them.

“And you did not see it again till you found it on the floor of Mrs. Clemmens’ dining-room the morning of the murder?”

“No.”

“Miss Dare,” said he, with greater mildness, after a short pause, “you have answered my somewhat painful inquiries with a straightforwardness I cannot sufficiently commend. If you will now add to my gratitude by telling me whether you have informed any one else of the important facts you have just given me, I will distress you by no further questions.”

“Sir,” said she, and her attitude showed that she could endure but little more, “I have taken no one else into my confidence. Such knowledge as I had to impart was not matter for idle gossip.”

And Mr. Ferris, being thus assured that his own surmises and that of Hickory were correct, bowed with the respect her pale face and rigid attitude seemed to demand, and considerately left the house.

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