Hand and Ring, by Anna Katharine Green

23. Mr. Orcutt.

What is it she does now?

Macbeth.

My resolution’s plac’d, and I have nothing

Of woman in me. Now, from head to foot

I am marble — constant.

Antony and Cleopatra.

THESE words rang in the ears of Mr. Ferris. For he felt himself disturbed by them. Hickory did not believe Mr. Mansell innocent.

At last he sent for that detective.

“Hickory,” he asked, “why do you think Mansell, rather than Hildreth, committed this crime?”

Now this query, on the part of the District Attorney, put Hickory into a quandary. He wished to keep his promise to Horace Byrd, and yet he greatly desired to answer his employer’s question truthfully. Without any special sympathies of his own, he yet had an undeniable leaning toward justice, and justice certainly demanded the indictment of Mansell. He ended by compromising matters.

“Mr. Ferris,” said he, “when you went to see Miss Dare the other day, what did you think of her state of mind?”

“That it was a very unhappy one.”

“Didn’t you think more than that, sir? Didn’t you think she believed Mr. Mansell guilty of this crime?”

“Yes,” admitted the other, with reluctance.

“If Miss Dare is attached to Mr. Mansell, she must feel certain of his guilt to offer testimony against him. Her belief should go for something, sir; for much, it strikes me, when you consider what a woman she is.”

This conversation increased Mr. Ferris’ uneasiness. Much as he wished to spare the feelings of Miss Dare, and, through her, those of his friend, Mr. Orcutt, the conviction of Mansell’s criminality was slowly gaining ground in his mind. He remembered the peculiar manner of the latter during the interview they had held together; his quiet acceptance of the position of a suspected man, and his marked reticence in regard to the ring. Though the delicate nature of the interests involved might be sufficient to explain his behavior in the latter regard, his whole conduct could not be said to be that of a disinterested man, even if it were not necessarily that of a guilty one. In whatever way Mr. Ferris looked at it, he could come to but one conclusion, and that was, that justice to Hildreth called for such official attention to the evidence which had been collected against Mansell as should secure the indictment of that man against whom could be brought the more convincing proof of guilt.

Not that Mr. Ferris meant, or in anywise considered it good policy, to have Mansell arrested at this time. As the friend of Mr. Orcutt, it was manifestly advisable for him to present whatever evidence he possessed against Mansell directly to the Grand Jury. For in this way he would not only save the lawyer from the pain and humiliation of seeing the woman he so much loved called up as a witness against the man who had successfully rivalled him in her affections, but would run the chance, at least, of eventually preserving from open knowledge, the various details, if not the actual facts, which had led to this person being suspected of crime. For the Grand Jury is a body whose business it is to make secret inquisition into criminal offences. Its members are bound by oath to the privacy of their deliberations. If, therefore, they should find the proofs presented to them by the District Attorney insufficient to authorize an indictment against Mansell, nothing of their proceedings would transpire. While, on the contrary, if they decided that the evidence was such as to oblige them to indict Mansell instead of Hildreth, neither Mr. Orcutt nor Miss Dare could hold the District Attorney accountable for the exposures that must follow.

The course, therefore, of Mr. Ferris was determined upon. All the evidence in his possession against both parties, together with the verdict of the coroner’s jury, should go at once before the Grand Jury; Mansell, in the meantime, being so watched that a bench-warrant issuing upon the indictment would have him safely in custody at any moment.

But this plan for saving Mr. Orcutt’s feelings did not succeed as fully as Mr. Ferris hoped. By some means or other the rumor got abroad that another man than Hildreth had fallen under the suspicion of the authorities, and one day Mr. Ferris found himself stopped on the street by the very person he had for a week been endeavoring to avoid.

“Mr. Orcutt!” he cried, “how do you do? I did not recognize you at first.”

“No?” was the sharp rejoinder. “I’m not myself nowadays. I have a bad cold.” With which impatient explanation he seized Mr. Ferris by the arm and said: “But what is this I hear? You have your eye on another party suspected of being Mrs. Clemmens’ murderer?”

The District Attorney bowed uneasily. He had hoped to escape the discussion of this subject with Mr. Orcutt.

The lawyer observed the embarrassment his question had caused, and instantly turned pale, notwithstanding the hardihood which a long career at the bar had given him.

“Ferris,” he pursued, in a voice he strove hard to keep steady, “we have always been good friends, in spite of the many tilts we have had together before the court. Will you be kind enough to inform me if your suspicions are founded upon evidence collected by yourself, or at the instigation of parties professing to know more about this murder than they have hitherto revealed?”

Mr. Ferris could not fail to understand the true nature of this question, and out of pure friendship answered quietly:

“I have allowed myself to look with suspicion upon this Mansell — for it is Mrs. Clemmens’ nephew who is at present occupying our attention — because the facts which have come to light in his regard are as criminating in their nature as those which have transpired in reference to Mr. Hildreth. The examination into this matter, which my duty requires, has been any thing but pleasant to me, Mr. Orcutt. The evidence of such witnesses as will have to be summoned before the Grand Jury, is of a character to bring open humiliation, if not secret grief, upon persons for whom I entertain the highest esteem.”

The pointed way in which this was said convinced Mr. Orcutt that his worst fears had been realized. Turning partly away, but not losing his hold upon the other’s arm, he observed with what quietness he could:

“You say that so strangely, I feel forced to put another question to you. If what I have to ask strikes you with any surprise, remember that my own astonishment and perplexity at being constrained to interrogate you in this way, are greater than any sensation you can yourself experience. What I desire to know is this. Among the witnesses you have collected against this last suspected party, there are some women, are there not?”

The District Attorney gravely bowed.

“Ferris, is Miss Dare amongst them?”

“Orcutt, she is.”

With a look that expressed his secret mistrust the lawyer gave way to a sudden burst of feeling.

“Ferris,” he wrathfully acknowledged, “I may be a fool, but I don’t see what she can have to say on this subject. It is impossible she should know any thing about the murder; and, as for this Mansell ——” He made a violent gesture with his hand, as if the very idea of her having any acquaintance with the nephew of Mrs. Clemmens were simply preposterous.

The District Attorney, who saw from this how utterly ignorant the other was concerning Miss Dare’s relations to the person named, felt his embarrassment increase.

“Mr. Orcutt,” he replied, “strange as it may appear to you, Miss Dare has testimony to give of value to the prosecution, or she would not be reckoned among its witnesses. What that testimony is, I must leave to her discretion to make known to you, as she doubtless will, if you question her with sufficient consideration. I never forestall matters myself, nor would you wish me to tell you what would more becomingly come from her own lips. But, Mr. Orcutt, this I can say: that if it had been given me to choose between the two alternatives of resigning my office and of pursuing an inquiry which obliges me to submit to the unpleasantness of a judicial investigation a person held in so much regard by yourself, I would have given up my office with pleasure, so keenly do I feel the embarrassment of my position and the unhappiness of yours. But any mere resignation on my part would have availed nothing to save Miss Dare from appearing before the Grand Jury. The evidence she has to give in this matter makes the case against Mansell as strong as that against Hildreth, and it would be the duty of any public prosecutor to recognize the fact and act accordingly.”

Mr. Orcutt, who had by the greatest effort succeeded in calming himself through this harangue, flashed sarcastically at this last remark, and surveyed Mr. Ferris with a peculiar look.

“Are you sure,” he inquired in a slow, ironical tone, “that she has not succeeded in making it stronger?”

The look, the tone, were unexpected, and greatly startled Mr. Ferris. Drawing nearer to his friend, he returned his gaze with marked earnestness.

“What do you mean?” he asked, with secret anxiety.

But the wary lawyer had already repented this unwise betrayal of his own doubts. Meeting his companion’s eye with a calmness that amazed himself, he remarked, instead of answering:

“It was through Miss Dare, then, that your attention was first drawn to Mrs. Clemmens’ nephew?”

“No,” disclaimed Mr. Ferris, hastily. “The detectives already had their eyes upon him. But a hint from her went far toward determining me upon pursuing the matter,” he allowed, seeing that his friend was determined upon hearing the truth.

“So then,” observed the other, with a stern dryness that recalled his manner at the bar, “she opened a communication with you herself?”

“Yes.”

It was enough. Mr. Orcutt dropped the arm of Mr. Ferris, and, with his usual hasty bow, turned shortly away. The revelation which he believed himself to have received in this otherwise far from satisfactory interview, was one that he could not afford to share — that is, not yet; not while any hope remained that circumstances would so arrange themselves as to make it unnecessary for him to do so. If Imogene Dare, out of her insane desire to free Gouverneur Hildreth from the suspicion that oppressed him, had resorted to perjury and invented evidence tending to show the guilt of another party — and remembering her admissions at their last interview and the language she had used in her letter of farewell, no other conclusion offered itself — what alternative was left him but to wait till he had seen her before he proceeded to an interference that would separate her from himself by a gulf still greater than that which already existed between them? To be sure, the jealousy which consumed him, the passionate rage that seized his whole being when he thought of all she dared do for the man she loved, or that he thought she loved, counselled him to nip this attempt of hers in the bud, and by means of a word to Mr. Ferris throw such a doubt upon her veracity as a witness against this new party as should greatly influence the action of the former in the critical business he had in hand. But Mr. Orcutt, while a prey to unwonted passions, had not yet lost control of his reason, and reason told him that impulse was an unsafe guide for him to follow at this time. Thought alone — deep and concentrated thought — would help him out of this crisis with honor and safety. But thought would not come at call. In all his quick walk home but one mad sentence formulated itself in his brain, and that was: “She loves him so, she is willing to perjure herself for his sake!” Nor, though he entered his door with his usual bustling air and went through all the customary observances of the hour with an appearance of no greater abstraction and gloom than had characterized him ever since the departure of Miss Dare, no other idea obtruded itself upon his mind than this: “She loves him so, she is willing to perjure herself for his sake!”

Even the sight of his books, his papers, and all that various paraphernalia of work and study which gives character to a lawyer’s library, was insufficient to restore his mind to its usual condition of calm thought and accurate judgment. Not till the clock struck eight and he found himself almost without his own volition at Professor Darling’s house, did he realize all the difficulties of his position and the almost intolerable nature of the undertaking which had been forced upon him by the exigencies of the situation.

Miss Dare, who had refused to see him at first, came into his presence with an expression that showed him with what reluctance she had finally responded to his peremptory message. But in the few heavy moments he had been obliged to wait, he had schooled himself to expect coldness if not absolute rebuff. He therefore took no heed of the haughty air of inquiry which she turned upon him, but came at once to the point, saying almost before she had closed the door:

“What is this you have been doing, Imogene?”

A flush, such as glints across the face of a marble statue, visited for a moment the still whiteness of her set features, then she replied:

“Mr. Orcutt, when I left your house I told you I had a wretched and unhappy duty to perform, that, when once accomplished, would separate us forever. I have done it, and the separation has come; why attempt to bridge it?”

There was a sad weariness in her tone, a sad weariness in her face, but he seemed to recognize neither. The demon jealousy — that hindrance to all unselfish feeling — had gripped him again, and the words that came to his lips were at once bitter and masterful.

“Imogene,” he cried, with as much wrath in his tone as he had ever betrayed in her presence, “you do not answer my question. I ask you what you have been doing, and you reply, your duty. Now, what do you mean by duty? Tell me at once and distinctly, for I will no longer be put off by any roundabout phrases concerning a matter of such vital importance.”

“Tell you?” This repetition of his words had a world of secret anguish in it which he could not help but notice. She did not succumb to it, however, but continued in another moment: “You said to me, in the last conversation we held together, that Gouverneur Hildreth could not be released from his terrible position without a distinct proof of innocence or the advancement of such evidence against another as should turn suspicion aside from him into a new and more justifiable quarter. I could not, any more than he, give a distinct proof of his innocence; but I could furnish the authorities with testimony calculated to arouse suspicion in a fresh direction, and I did it. For Gouverneur Hildreth had to be saved at any price —at any price.”

The despairing emphasis she laid upon the last phrase went like hot steel to Mr. Orcutt’s heart, and made his eyes blaze with almost uncontrollable passion.

Je ne vois pas la necessité,” said he, in that low, restrained tone of bitter sarcasm which made his invective so dreaded by opposing counsel. “If Gouverneur Hildreth finds himself in an unfortunate position, he has only his own follies and inordinate desire for this woman’s death to thank for it. Because you love him and compassionate him beyond all measure, that is no reason why you should perjure yourself, and throw the burden of his shame upon a man as innocent as Mr. Mansell.”

But this tone, though it had made many a witness quail before it, neither awed nor intimidated her.

“You — you do not understand,” came from her white lips. “It is Mr. Hildreth who is perfectly innocent, and not ——” But here she paused. “You will excuse me from saying more,” she said. “You, as a lawyer, ought to know that I should not be compelled to speak on a subject like this except under oath.”

“Imogene!” A change had passed over Mr. Orcutt. “Imogene, do you mean to affirm that you really have charges to make against Craik Mansell; that this evidence you propose to give is real, and not manufactured for the purpose of leading suspicion aside from Hildreth?”

It was an insinuation against her veracity he never could have made, or she have listened to, a few weeks before; but the shield of her pride was broken between them, and neither he nor she seemed to give any thought to the reproach conveyed in these words.

“What I have to say is the truth,” she murmured. “I have not manufactured any thing.”

With an astonishment he took no pains to conceal, Mr. Orcutt anxiously surveyed her. He could not believe this was so, yet how could he convict her of falsehood in face of that suffering expression of resolve which she wore. His methods as a lawyer came to his relief.

“Imogene,” he slowly responded, “if, as you say, you are in possession of positive evidence against this Mansell, how comes it that you jeopardized the interests of the man you loved by so long withholding your testimony?”

But instead of the flush of confusion which he expected, she flashed upon him with a sudden revelation of feeling that made him involuntarily start.

“Shall I tell you?” she replied. “You will have to know some time, and why not now? I kept back the truth,” she replied, advancing a step, but without raising her eyes to his, “because it is not the aspersed Hildreth that I love, but ——”

Why did she pause? What was it she found so hard to speak? Mr. Orcutt’s expression became terrible.

“But the other,” she murmured at last.

“The other!”

It was now her turn to start and look at him in surprise, if not in some fear.

“What other?” he cried, seizing her by the hand. “Name him. I will have no further misunderstanding between us.”

“Is it necessary?” she asked, with bitterness. “Will Heaven spare me nothing?” Then, as she saw no relenting in the fixed gaze that held her own, whispered, in a hollow tone: “You have just spoken the name yourself — Craik Mansell.”

“Ah!”

Incredulity, anger, perplexity, all the emotions that were seething in this man’s troubled soul, spoke in that simple exclamation. Then silence settled upon the room, during which she gained control over herself, and he the semblance of it if no more. She was the first to speak.

“I know,” said she, “that this avowal on my part seems almost incredible to you; but it is no more so than that which you so readily received from me the other day in reference to Gouverneur Hildreth. A woman who spends a month away from home makes acquaintances which she does not always mention when she comes back. I saw Mr. Mansell in Buffalo, and ——” turning, she confronted the lawyer with her large gray eyes, in which a fire burned such as he had never seen there before —“and grew to esteem him,” she went on. “For the first time in my life I found myself in the presence of a man whose nature commanded mine. His ambition, his determination, his unconventional and forcible character woke aspirations within me such as I had never known myself capable of before. Life, which had stretched out before me with a somewhat monotonous outlook, changed to a panorama of varied and wonderful experiences, as I listened to his voice and met the glance of his eye; and soon, before he knew it, and certainly before I realized it, words of love passed between us, and the agony of that struggle began which has ended —— Ah, let me not think how, or I shall go mad!”

Mr. Orcutt, who had watched her with a lover’s fascination during all this attempted explanation, shivered for a moment at this last bitter cry of love and despair, but spoke up when he did speak, with a coldness that verged on severity.

“So you loved another man when you came back to my home and listened to the words of passion which came from my lips, and the hopes of future bliss and happiness that welled up from my heart?”

“Yes,” she whispered, “and, as you will remember, I tried to suppress those hopes and turn a deaf ear to those words, though I had but little prospect of marrying a man whose fortunes depended upon the success of an invention he could persuade no one to believe in.”

“Yet you brought yourself to listen to those hopes on the afternoon of the murder,” he suggested, ironically.

“Can you blame me for that?” she cried, “remembering how you pleaded, and what a revulsion of feeling I was laboring under?”

A smile bitter as the fate which loomed before him, and scornful as the feelings that secretly agitated his breast, parted Mr. Orcutt’s pale lips for an instant, and he seemed about to give utterance to some passionate rejoinder, but he subdued himself with a determined effort, and quietly waiting till his voice was under full control, remarked with lawyer-like brevity at last:

“You have not told me what evidence you have to give against young Mansell?”

Her answer came with equal brevity if not equal quietness.

“No; I have told Mr. Ferris; is not that enough?”

But he did not consider it so. “Ferris is a District Attorney,” said he, “and has demanded your confidence for the purposes of justice, while I am your friend. The action you have taken is peculiar, and you may need advice. But how can I give it or how can you receive it unless there is a complete understanding between us?”

Struck in spite of herself, moved perhaps by a hope she had not allowed herself to contemplate before, she looked at him long and earnestly.

“And do you really wish to help me?” she inquired. “Are you so generous as to forgive the pain, and possibly the humiliation, I have inflicted upon you, and lend me your assistance in case my testimony works its due effect, and he be brought to trial instead of Mr. Hildreth?”

It was a searching and a pregnant question, for which Mr. Orcutt was possibly not fully prepared, but his newly gained control did not give way.

“I must insist upon hearing the facts before I say any thing of my intentions,” he averred. “Whatever they may be, they cannot be more startling in their character than those which have been urged against Hildreth.”

“But they are,” she whispered. Then with a quick look around her, she put her mouth close to Mr. Orcutt’s ear and breathed:

“Mr. Hildreth is not the only man who, unseen by the neighbors, visited Mrs. Clemmens’ house on the morning of the murder. Craik Mansell was there also.”

“Craik Mansell! How do you know that? Ah,” he pursued, with the scornful intonation of a jealous man, “I forgot that you are lovers.”

The sneer, natural as it was, perhaps, seemed to go to her heart and wake its fiercest indignation.

“Hush,” cried she, towering upon him with an ominous flash of her proud eye. “Do not turn the knife in that wound or you will seal my lips forever.” And she moved hastily away from his side. But in another instant she determinedly returned, saying: “This is no time for indulging in one’s sensibilities. I affirm that Craik Mansell visited his aunt on that day, because the ring which was picked up on the floor of her dining-room — you remember the ring, Mr. Orcutt?”

Remember it! Did he not? All his many perplexities in its regard crowded upon him as he made a hurried bow of acquiescence.

“It belonged to him,” she continued. “He had bought it for me, or, rather, had had the diamond reset for me — it had been his mother’s. Only the day before, he had tried to put it on my finger in a meeting we had in the woods back of his aunt’s house. But I refused to allow him. The prospect ahead was too dismal and unrelenting for us to betroth ourselves, whatever our hopes or wishes might be.”

“You — you had a meeting with this man in the woods the day before his aunt was assaulted,” echoed Mr. Orcutt, turning upon her with an amazement that swallowed up his wrath.

“Yes.”

“And he afterward visited her house?”

“Yes.”

“And dropped that ring there?”

“Yes.”

Starting slowly, as if the thoughts roused by this short statement of facts were such as demanded instant consideration, Mr. Orcutt walked to the other side of the room, where he paced up and down in silence for some minutes. When he returned it was the lawyer instead of the lover who stood before her.

“Then, it was the simple fact of finding this gentleman’s ring on the floor of Mrs. Clemmens’ dining-room that makes you consider him the murderer of his aunt?” he asked, with a tinge of something like irony in his tone.

“No,” she breathed rather than answered. “That was a proof, of course, that he had been there, but I should never have thought of it as an evidence of guilt if the woman herself had not uttered, in our hearing that tell-tale exclamation of ‘Ring and Hand,’ and if, in the talk I held with Mr. Mansell the day before, he had not betrayed —— Why do you stop me?” she whispered.

“I did not stop you,” he hastily assured her. “I am too anxious to hear what you have to say. Go on, Imogene. What did this Mansell betray? I— I ask as a father might,” he added, with some dignity and no little effort.

But her fears had taken alarm, or her caution been aroused, and she merely said:

“The five thousand dollars which his aunt leaves him is just the amount he desired to start him in life.”

“Did he wish such an amount?” Mr. Orcutt asked.

“Very much.”

“And acknowledged it in the conversation he had with you?”

“Yes.”

“Imogene,” declared the lawyer, “if you do not want to insure Mr. Mansell’s indictment, I would suggest to you not to lay too great stress upon any talk you may have held with him.”

But she cried with unmoved sternness, and a relentless crushing down of all emotion that was at once amazing and painful to see:

“The innocent is to be saved from the gallows, no matter what the fate of the guilty may be.”

And a short but agitated silence followed which Mr. Orcutt broke at last by saying:

“Are these all the facts you have to give me?”

She started, cast him a quick look, bowed her head, and replied:

“Yes.”

There was something in the tone of this assertion that made him repeat his question.

“Are these all the facts you have to give me?”

Her answer came ringing and emphatic now.

“Yes,” she avowed —“all.”

With a look of relief, slowly smoothing out the deep furrows of his brow, Mr. Orcutt, for the second time, walked thoughtfully away in evident consultation with his own thoughts. This time he was gone so long, the suspense became almost intolerable to Imogene. Feeling that she could endure it no longer, she followed him at last, and laid her hand upon his arm.

“Speak,” she impetuously cried. “Tell me what you think; what I have to expect.”

But he shook his head.

“Wait,” he returned; “wait till the Grand Jury has brought in a bill of indictment. It will, doubtless, be against one of these two men; but I must know which, before I can say or do any thing.”

“And do you think there can be any doubt about which of these two it will be?” she inquired, with sudden emotion.

“There is always doubt,” he rejoined, “about any thing or every thing a body of men may do. This is a very remarkable case, Imogene,” he resumed, with increased sombreness; “the most remarkable one, perhaps, that has ever come under my observation. What the Grand Jury will think of it; upon which party, Mansell or Hildreth, the weight of their suspicion will fall, neither I nor Ferris, nor any other man, can prophesy with any assurance. The evidence against both is, in so far as we know, entirely circumstantial. That you believe Mr. Mansell to be the guilty party ——”

“Believe!” she murmured; “I know it.”

“That you believe him to be the guilty party,” the wary lawyer pursued, as if he had not heard her “does not imply that they will believe it too. Hildreth comes of a bad stock, and his late attempt at suicide tells wonderfully against him; yet, the facts you have to give in Mansell’s disfavor are strong also, and Heaven only knows what the upshot will be. However, a few weeks will determine all that, and then ——” Pausing, he looked at her, and, as he did so, the austerity and self-command of the lawyer vanished out of sight, and the passionate gleam of a fierce and overmastering love shone again in his eyes. “And then,” he cried, “then we will see what Tremont Orcutt can do to bring order out of this chaos.”

There was so much resolve in his look, such a hint of promise in his tone, that she flushed with something almost akin to hope.

“Oh, generous ——” she began.

But he stopped her before she could say more.

“Wait,” he repeated; “wait till we see what action will be taken by the Grand Jury.” And taking her hand, he looked earnestly, if not passionately, in her face. “Imogene,” he commenced, “if I should succeed ——” But there he himself stopped short with a quick recalling of his own words, perhaps. “No,” he cried, “I will say no more till we see which of these two men is to be brought to trial.” And, pressing her hand to his lips, he gave her one last look in which was concentrated all the secret passions which had been called forth by this hour, and hastily left the room.

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