Hand and Ring, by Anna Katharine Green

25. Among Telescopes and Charts.

Tarry a little — there is something else.

Merchant of Venice.

GOUVERNEUR HILDRETH was discharged and Craik Mansell committed to prison to await his trial.

Horace Byrd, who no longer had any motive for remaining in Sibley, had completed all his preparations to return to New York. His valise was packed, his adieus made, and nothing was left for him to do but to step around to the station, when he bethought him of a certain question he had not put to Hickory.

Seeking him out, he propounded it.

“Hickory,” said he, “have you ever discovered in the course of your inquiries where Miss Dare was on the morning of the murder?”

The stalwart detective, who was in a very contented frame of mind, answered up with great cheeriness:

“Haven’t I, though! It was one of the very first things I made sure of. She was at Professor Darling’s house on Summer Avenue.”

“At Professor Darling’s house?” Mr. Byrd felt a sensation of dismay. Professor Darling’s house was, as you remember, in almost direct communication with Mrs. Clemmens’ cottage by means of a path through the woods. As Mr. Byrd recalled his first experience in threading those woods, and remembered with what suddenness he had emerged from them only to find himself in full view of the West Side and Professor Darling’s spacious villa, he stared uneasily at his colleague and said:

“It is train time, Hickory, but I cannot help that. Before I leave this town I must know just what she was doing on that morning, and whom she was with. Can you find out?”

Can I find out?

The hardy detective was out of the door before the last word of this scornful repetition had left his lips.

He was gone an hour. When he returned he looked very much excited.

“Well!” he ejaculated, breathlessly, “I have had an experience.”

Mr. Byrd gave him a look, saw something he did not like in his face, and moved uneasily in his chair.

“You have?” he retorted. “What is it? Speak.”

“Do you know,” the other resumed, “that the hardest thing I ever had to do was to keep my head down in the hut the other day, and deny myself a look at the woman who could bear herself so bravely in the midst of a scene so terrible. Well,” he went on, “I have to-day been rewarded for my self-control. I have seen Miss Dare.”

Horace Byrd could scarcely restrain his impatience.

“Where?” he demanded. “How? Tell a fellow, can’t you?”

“I am going to,” protested Hickory. “Cannot you wait a minute? I had to wait forty. Well,” he continued more pleasantly as he saw the other frown, “I went to Professor Darling’s. There is a girl there I have talked to before, and I had no difficulty in seeing her or getting a five minutes’ chat with her at the back-gate. Odd how such girls will talk! She told me in three minutes all I wanted to know. Not that it was so much, only ——”

“Do get on,” interrupted Mr. Byrd. “When did Miss Dare come to the house on the morning Mrs. Clemmens was murdered, and what did she do while there?”

“She came early; by ten o’clock or so, I believe, and she sat, if she did sit, in an observatory they have at the top of the house: a place where she often used to go, I am told, to study astronomy with Professor Darling’s oldest daughter.”

“And was Miss Darling with her that morning? Did they study together all the time she was in the house?”

“No; that is, the girl said no one went up to the observatory with Miss Dare; that Miss Darling did not happen to be at home that day, and Miss Dare had to study alone. Hearing this,” pursued Hickory, answering the look of impatience in the other’s face, “I had a curiosity to interview the observatory, and being — well, not a clumsy fellow at softsoaping a girl — I at last succeeded in prevailing upon her to take me up. Byrd, will you believe me when I tell you that we did it without going into the house?”

“What?”

“I mean,” corrected the other, “without entering the main part of the building. The professor’s house has a tower, you know, at the upper angle toward the woods, and it is in the top of that tower he keeps his telescopes and all that kind of thing. The tower has a special staircase of its own. It is a spiral one, and opens on a door below that connects directly with the garden. We went up these stairs.”

“You dared to?”

“Yes; the girl assured me every one was out of the house but the servants, and I believed her. We went up the stairs, entered the observatory ——”

“It is not kept locked, then?”

“It was not locked to-day — saw the room, which is a curious one — glanced out over the view, which is well worth seeing, and then ——”

“Well, what?”

“I believe I stood still and asked the girl a question or two more. I inquired,” he went on, deprecating the other’s impatience by a wave of his nervous hand, “when Miss Dare came down from this place on the morning you remember. She answered that she couldn’t quite tell; that she wouldn’t have remembered any thing about it at all, only that Miss Tremaine came to the house that morning, and wanting to see Miss Dare, ordered her to go up to the observatory and tell that lady to come down, and that she went, but to her surprise did not find Miss Dare there, though she was sure she had not gone home, or, at least, hadn’t taken any of the cars that start from the front of the house, for she had looked at them every one as they went by the basement window where she was at work.”

“The girl said this?”

“Yes, standing in the door of this small room, and looking me straight in the eye.”

“And did you ask her nothing more? Say nothing about the time, Hickory, or — or inquire where she supposed Miss Dare to have gone?”

“Yes, I asked her all this. I am not without curiosity any more than you are, Mr. Byrd.”

“And she replied?”

“Oh, as to the time, that it was somewhere before noon. Her reason for being sure of this was that Miss Tremaine declined to wait till another effort had been made to find Miss Dare, saying she had an engagement at twelve which she did not wish to break.”

“And the girl’s notions about where Miss Dare had gone?”

“Such as you expect, Byrd. She said she did not know any thing about it, but that Miss Dare often went strolling in the garden, or even in the woods when she came to Professor Darling’s house, and that she supposed she had gone off on some such walk at this time, for, at one o’clock or thereabouts, she saw her pass in the horse-car on her way back to the town.”

“Hickory, I wish you had not told me this just as I am going back to the city.”

“Wish I had not told it, or wish I had not gone to Professor Darling’s house as you requested?”

“Wish you had not told it. I dare not wish the other. But you spoke of seeing Miss Dare; how was that? Where did you run across her?”

“Do you want to hear?”

“Of course, of course.”

“But I thought ——”

“Oh, never mind, old boy; tell me the whole now, as long as you have told me any. Was she in the house?”

“I will tell you. I had asked the girl all these questions, as I have said, and was about to leave the observatory and go below when I thought I would cast another glance around the curious old place, and in doing so caught a glimpse of a huge portfolio of charts, as I supposed, standing upright in a rack that stretched across the further portion of the room. Somehow my heart misgave me when I saw this rack, and, scarcely conscious what it was I feared, I crossed the floor and looked behind the portfolio. Byrd, there was a woman crouched there — a woman whose pallid cheeks and burning eyes lifted to meet my own, told me only too plainly that it was Miss Dare. I have had many experiences,” Hickory allowed, after a moment, “and some of them any thing but pleasant to myself, but I don’t think I ever felt just as I did at that instant. I believe I attempted a bow — I don’t remember; or, at least, tried to murmur some excuse, but the look that came into her face paralyzed me, and I stopped before I had gotten very far, and waited to hear what she would say. But she did not say much; she merely rose, and, turning toward me, exclaimed: ‘No apologies; you are a detective, I suppose?’ And when I nodded, or made some other token that she had guessed correctly, she merely remarked, flashing upon me, however, in a way I do not yet understand: ‘Well, you have got what you desired, and now can go.’ And I went, Byrd, went; and I felt puzzled, I don’t know why, and a little bit sore about the heart, too, as if —— Well, I can’t even tell what I mean by that if. The only thing I am sure of is, that Mansell’s cause hasn’t been helped by this day’s job, and that if this lady is asked on the witness stand where she was during the hour every one believed her to be safely shut up with the telescopes and charts, we shall hear ——”

“What?”

“Well, that she was shut up with them, most likely. Women like her are not to be easily disconcerted even on the witness stand.”

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