Hand and Ring, by Anna Katharine Green

27. The Great Trial.

Othello.— What dost thou think?

Iago.— Think, my lord?

Othello.— By heav’n, he echoes me.

As if there was some monster in his thought

Too hideous to be shown.

Othello.

SIBLEY was in a stir. Sibley was the central point of interest for the whole country. The great trial was in progress and the curiosity of the populace knew no bounds.

In a room of the hotel sat our two detectives. They had just come from the court-house. Both seemed inclined to talk, though both showed an indisposition to open the conversation. A hesitation lay between them; a certain thin vail of embarrassment that either one would have found it hard to explain, and yet which sufficed to make their intercourse a trifle uncertain in its character, though Hickory’s look had lost none of its rude good-humor, and Byrd’s manner was the same mixture of easy nonchalance and quiet self-possession it had always been.

It was Hickory who spoke at last.

“Well, Byrd?” was his suggestive exclamation.

“Well, Hickory?” was the quiet reply.

“What do you think of the case so far?”

“I think”— the words came somewhat slowly —“I think that it looks bad. Bad for the prisoner, I mean,” he explained the next moment with a quick flush.

“Your sympathies are evidently with Mansell,” Hickory quietly remarked.

“Yes,” was the slow reply. “Not that I think him innocent, or would turn a hair’s breadth from the truth to serve him.”

“He is a manly fellow,” Hickory bluntly admitted, after a moment’s puff at the pipe he was smoking. “Do you remember the peculiar straightforwardness of his look when he uttered his plea of ‘Not guilty,’ and the tone he used too, so quiet, yet so emphatic? You could have heard a pin drop.”

“Yes,” returned Mr. Byrd, with a quick contraction of his usually smooth brow.

“Have you noticed,” the other broke forth, after another puff, “a certain curious air of disdain that he wears?”

“Yes,” was again the short reply.

“I wonder what it means?” queried Hickory carelessly, knocking the ashes out of his pipe.

Mr. Byrd flashed a quick askance look at his colleague from under his half-fallen lids, but made no answer.

“It is not pride alone,” resumed the rough-and-ready detective, half-musingly; “though he’s as proud as the best of ’em. Neither is it any sort of make-believe, or I wouldn’t be caught by it. ’Tis —’tis — what?” And Hickory rubbed his nose with his thoughtful forefinger, and looked inquiringly at Mr. Byrd.

“How should I know?” remarked the other, tossing his stump of a cigar into the fire. “Mr. Mansell is too deep a problem for me.”

“And Miss Dare too?”

And Miss Dare.”

Silence followed this admission, which Hickory broke at last by observing:

“The day that sees her on the witness stand will be interesting, eh?”

“It is not far off,” declared Mr. Byrd.

“No?”

“I think she will be called as a witness to-morrow.”

“Have you noticed,” began Hickory again, after another short interval of quiet contemplation, “that it is only when Miss Dare is present that Mansell wears the look of scorn I have just mentioned.”

“Hickory,” said Mr. Byrd, wheeling directly about in his chair and for the first time surveying his colleague squarely, “I have noticed this. That ever since the day she made her first appearance in the court-room, she has sat with her eyes fixed earnestly upon the prisoner, and that he has never answered her look by so much as a glance in her direction. This has but one explanation as I take it. He never forgets that it is through her he has been brought to trial for his life.”

Mr. Byrd uttered this very distinctly, and with a decided emphasis. But the impervious Hickory only settled himself farther back in his chair, and stretching his feet out toward the fire, remarked dryly:

“Perhaps I am not much of a judge of human nature, but I should have said now that this Mansell was not a man to treat her contemptuously for that. Rage he might show or hatred, but this quiet ignoring of her presence seems a little too dignified for a criminal facing a person he has every reason to believe is convinced of his guilt.”

“Ordinary rules don’t apply to this man. Neither you nor I can sound his nature. If he displays contempt, it is because he is of the sort to feel it for the woman who has betrayed him.”

“You make him out mean-spirited, then, as well as wicked?”

“I make him out human. More than that,” Mr. Byrd resumed, after a moment’s thought, “I make him out consistent. A man who lets his passions sway him to the extent of committing a murder for the purpose of satisfying his love or his ambition, is not of the unselfish cast that would appreciate such a sacrifice as Miss Dare has made. This under the supposition that our reasons for believing him guilty are well founded. If our suppositions are false, and the crime was not committed by him, his contempt needs no explanation.”

“Just so!”

The peculiar tone in which this was uttered caused Mr. Byrd to flash another quick look at his colleague. Hickory did not seem to observe it.

“What makes you think Miss Dare will be called to the witness stand to-morrow?” he asked.

“Well I will tell you,” returned Byrd, with the sudden vivacity of one glad to turn the current of conversation into a fresh channel. “If you have followed the method of the prosecution as I have done, you will have noticed that it has advanced to its point by definite stages. First, witnesses were produced to prove the existence of motive on the part of the accused. Mr. Goodman was called to the witness stand, and, after him, other business men of Buffalo, all of whom united in unqualified assertions of the prisoner’s frequently-expressed desire for a sum of money sufficient to put his invention into practical use. Next, the amount considered necessary for this purpose was ascertained and found to be just covered by the legacy bequeathed him by his aunt; after which, ample evidence was produced to show that he knew the extent of her small fortune, and the fact that she had by her will made him her heir. Motive for the crime being thus established, they now proceeded to prove that he was not without actual opportunity for perpetrating it. He was shown to have been in Sibley at the time of the murder. The station-master at Monteith was confronted with the prisoner, also old Sally Perkins. Then you and I came before the court with our testimony, and whatever doubt may have remained as to his having been in a position to effect his aunt’s death, and afterward escape unnoticed by means of the path leading over the hills to Monteith Quarry station, was swept away. What remains? To connect him with the murder itself, by some, strong link of circumstantial evidence, such as the ring provides. And who is it that can give testimony regarding the ring? — Miss Dare.”

“Hem! Well, she will do it,” was the dry remark of Hickory.

“She will be obliged to do it,” was the emphatic response of Byrd.

And again their glances crossed in a furtive way both seemed ready to ignore.

“What do you think of Orcutt?” Hickory next inquired.

“He is very quiet.”

“Too quiet, eh?”

“Perhaps. Folks that know him well declare they never before saw him conduct a case in so temperate a manner. He has scarcely made an effort at cross-examination, and, in fact, has thus far won nothing for the defence except that astonishing tribute to the prisoner’s character given by Mr. Goodman.”

“Mr. Goodman is Mansell’s friend.”

“I know it; but his short, decisive statements told upon the jury. Such a man as he made Mansell out to be is just the sort to create an impression on a body of men like them.”

“Orcutt understands a jury.”

“Orcutt understands his case. He knows he can make nothing by attempting to shake the evidence which has been presented by the prosecution; the facts are too clear, and the witnesses which have been called to testify are of too reliable a character. Whatever defence he contemplates, it will not rest upon a denial of any of the facts brought to light through our efforts, or the evidence of such persons as Messrs. Goodman and Harrison.”

“No.”

“The question is, then, in what will it lie? Some strong point, I warrant you, or he would not hold himself and his plans so completely in reserve. But what strong point? I acknowledge the uncertainty troubles me.”

“I don’t wonder,” rejoined Hickory. “So it does me.”

And a constraint again fell between them that lasted till Hickory put his pipe in his pocket and signified his intention of returning to his own apartments.

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