Hand and Ring, by Anna Katharine Green

33. A Late Discovery.

Oh, torture me no more, I will confess.

King Lear.

WITH the cross-examination of Hickory, the defence rested, and the day being far advanced, the court adjourned.

During the bustle occasioned by the departure of the prisoner, Mr. Byrd took occasion to glance at the faces of those most immediately concerned in the trial.

His first look naturally fell upon Mr. Orcutt. Ah! all was going well with the great lawyer. Hope, if not triumph, beamed in his eye and breathed in every movement of his alert and nervous form. He was looking across the court-room at Imogene Dare, and his features wore a faint smile that indelibly impressed itself upon Mr. Byrd’s memory. Perhaps because there was something really peculiar and remarkable in its expression, and perhaps because of the contrast it offered to his own feelings of secret doubt and dread.

His next look naturally followed that of Mr. Orcutt and rested upon Imogene Dare. Ah! she was under the spell of awakening hope also. It was visible in her lightened brow, her calmer and less studied aspect, her eager and eloquently speaking gaze yet lingering on the door through which the prisoner had departed. As Mr. Byrd marked this look of hers and noted all it revealed, he felt his emotions rise till they almost confounded him. But strong as they were, they deepened still further when, in another moment, he beheld her suddenly drop her eyes from the door and turn them slowly, reluctantly but gratefully, upon Mr. Orcutt. All the story of her life was in that change of look; all the story of her future, too, perhaps, if —— Mr. Byrd dared not trust himself to follow the contingency that lurked behind that if, and, to divert his mind, turned his attention to Mr. Ferris.

But he found small comfort there. For the District Attorney was not alone. Hickory stood at his side, and Hickory was whispering in his ear, and Mr. Byrd, who knew what was weighing on his colleague’s mind, found no difficulty in interpreting the mingled expression of perplexity and surprise that crossed the dark, aquiline features of the District Attorney as he listened with slightly bended head to what the detective had to say. That look and the deep, anxious frown which crossed his brow as he glanced up and encountered Imogene’s eye, remained in Mr. Byrd’s mind long after the court-room was empty and he had returned to his hotel. It mingled with the smile of strange satisfaction which he had detected on Mr. Orcutt’s face, and awakened such a turmoil of contradictory images in his mind that he was glad when Hickory at last came in to break the spell.

Their meeting was singular, and revealed, as by a flash, the difference between the two men. Byrd contented himself with giving Hickory a look and saying nothing, while Hickory bestowed upon Byrd a hearty “Well, old fellow!” and broke out into a loud and by no means unenjoyable laugh.

“You didn’t expect to see me mounting the rostrum in favor of the defence, did you?” he asked, after he had indulged himself as long as he saw fit in the display of this somewhat unseasonable mirth. “Well, it was a surprise. But I’ve done it for Orcutt now!”

“You have?”

“Yes, I have.”

“But the prosecution has closed its case?”

“Bah! what of that?” was the careless reply. “The District Attorney can get it reopened. No Court would refuse that.”

Horace surveyed his colleague for a moment in silence.

“So Mr. Ferris was struck with the point you gave him?” he ventured, at last.

“Well, sufficiently so to be uneasy,” was Hickory’s somewhat dry response.

The look with which Byrd answered him was eloquent. “And that makes you cheerful?” he inquired, with ill-concealed sarcasm.

“Well, it has a slight tendency that way,” drawled the other, seemingly careless of the other’s expression, if, indeed, he had noted it. “You see,” he went on, with a meaning wink and a smile of utter unconcern, “all my energies just now are concentrated on getting myself even with that somewhat too wide-awake lawyer.” And his smile broadened till it merged into a laugh that was rasping enough to Byrd’s more delicate and generous sensibilities.

“Sufficiently so to be uneasy!” Yes, that was it. From the minute Mr. Ferris listened to the suggestion that Miss Dare had not told all she knew about the murder, and that a question relative to where she had been at the time it was perpetrated would, in all probability, bring strange revelations to light, he had been awakened to a most uncomfortable sense of his position and the duty that was possibly required of him. To be sure, the time for presenting testimony to the court was passed, unless it was in the way of rebuttal; but how did he know but what Miss Dare had a fact at her command which would help the prosecution in overturning the strange, unexpected, yet simple theory of the defence? At all events, he felt he ought to know whether, in giving her testimony she had exhausted her knowledge on this subject, or whether, in her sympathy for the accused, she had kept back certain evidence which if presented might bring the crime more directly home to the prisoner. Accordingly, somewhere toward eight o’clock in the evening, he sought her out with the bold resolution of forcing her to satisfy him on this point.

He did not find his task so easy, however, when he came into direct contact with her stately and far from encouraging presence, and met the look of surprise not unmixed with alarm with which she greeted him. She looked very weary, too, and yet unnaturally excited, as if she had not slept for many nights, if indeed she had rested at all since the trial began. It struck him as cruel to further disturb this woman, and yet the longer he surveyed her, the more he studied her pale, haughty, inscrutable face, he became the more assured that he would never feel satisfied with himself if he did not give her an immediate opportunity to disperse at once and forever these freshly awakened doubts.

His attitude or possibly his expression must have betrayed something of his anxiety if not of his resolve, for her countenance fell as she watched him, and her voice sounded quite unnatural as she strove to ask to what she was indebted for this unexpected visit.

He did not keep her in suspense.

“Miss Dare,” said he, not without kindness, for he was very sorry for this woman, despite the inevitable prejudice which her relations to the accused had awakened, “I would have given much not to have been obliged to disturb you to-night, but my duty would not allow it. There is a question which I have hitherto omitted to ask ——”

He paused, shocked; she was swaying from side to side before his eyes, and seemed indeed about to fall. But at the outreaching of his hand she recovered herself and stood erect, the noblest spectacle of a woman triumphing over the weakness of her body by the mere force of her indomitable will, that he had ever beheld.

“Sit down,” he gently urged, pushing toward her a chair. “You have had a hard and dreary week of it; you are in need of rest.”

She did not refuse to avail herself of the chair, though, as he could not help but notice, she did not thereby relax one iota of the restraint she put upon herself.

“I do not understand,” she murmured; “what question?”

“Miss Dare, in all you have told the court, in all that you have told me, about this fatal and unhappy affair, you have never informed us how it was you first came to hear of it. You were ——”

“I heard it on the street corner,” she interrupted, with what seemed to him an almost feverish haste.

“First?”

“Yes, first.”

“Miss Dare, had you been in the street long? Were you in it at the time the murder happened, do you think?”

“I in the street?”

“Yes,” he repeated, conscious from the sudden strange alteration in her look that he had touched upon a point which, to her, was vital with some undefined interest, possibly that to which the surmises of Hickory had supplied a clue. “Were you in the street, or anywhere out-of-doors at the time the murder occurred? It strikes me that it would be well for me to know.”

“Sir,” she cried, rising in her sudden indignation, “I thought the time for questions had passed. What means this sudden inquiry into a matter we have all considered exhausted, certainly as far as I am concerned.”

“Shall I show you?” he cried, taking her by the hand and leading her toward the mirror near by, under one of those impulses which sometimes effect so much. “Look in there at your own face and you will see why I press this question upon you.”

Astonished, if not awed, she followed with her eyes the direction of his pointing finger, and anxiously surveyed her own image in the glass. Then, with a quick movement, her hands went up before her face — which till that moment had kept its counsel so well — and, tottering back against a table, she stood for a moment communing with herself, and possibly summoning up her courage for the conflict she evidently saw before her.

“What is it you wish to know?” she faintly inquired, after a long period of suspense and doubt.

“Where were you when the clock struck twelve on the day Mrs. Clemmens was murdered?”

Instantly dropping her hands, she turned toward him with a sudden lift of her majestic figure that was as imposing as it was unexpected.

“I was at Professor Darling’s house,” she declared, with great steadiness.

Mr. Ferris had not expected this reply, and looked at her for an instant almost as if he felt inclined to repeat his inquiry.

“Do you doubt my word?” she queried. “Is it possible you question my truth at a time like this?”

“No, Miss Dare,” he gravely assured her. “After the great sacrifice you have publicly made in the interests of justice, it would be worse than presumptuous in me to doubt your sincerity now.”

She drew a deep breath, and straightened herself still more proudly.

“Then am I to understand you are satisfied with the answer you have received?”

“Yes, if you will also add that you were in the observatory at Professor Darling’s house,” he responded quickly, convinced there was some mystery here, and seeing but one way to reach it.

“Very well, then, I was,” she averred, without hesitation.

“You were!” he echoed, advancing upon her with a slight flush on his middle-aged cheek, that evinced how difficult it was for him to pursue this conversation in face of the haughty and repellant bearing she had assumed. “You will, perhaps, tell me, then, why you did not see and respond to the girl who came into that room at this very time, with a message from a lady who waited below to see you?”

“Ah!” she cried, succumbing with a suppressed moan to the inexorable destiny that pursued her in this man, “you have woven a net for me!”

And she sank again into a chair, where she sat like one stunned, looking at him with a hollow gaze which filled his heart with compassion, but which had no power to shake his purpose as a District Attorney.

“Yes,” he acknowledged, after a moment, “I have woven a net for you, but only because I am anxious for the truth, and desirous of furthering the ends of justice. I am confident you know more about this crime than you have ever revealed, Miss Dare; that you are acquainted with some fact that makes you certain Mr. Mansell committed this murder, notwithstanding the defence advanced in his favor. What is this fact? It is my office to inquire. True,” he admitted, seeing her draw back with denial written on every line of her white face, “you have a right to refuse to answer me here, but you will have no right to refuse to answer me to-morrow when I put the same question to you in the presence of judge and jury.”

“And”— her voice was so husky he could but with difficulty distinguish her words —“do you intend to recall me to the stand to-morrow?”

“I am obliged to, Miss Dare.”

“But I thought the time for examination was over; that the witnesses had all testified, and that nothing remained now but for the lawyers to sum up.”

“When in a case like this the prisoner offers a defence not anticipated by the prosecution, the latter, of course, has the right to meet such defence with proof in rebuttal.”

“Proof in rebuttal? What is that?”

“Evidence to rebut or prove false the matters advanced in support of the defence.”

“Ah!”

“I must do it in this case — if I can, of course.”

She did not reply.

“And even if the testimony I desire to put in is not rebuttal in its character, no unbiassed judge would deny to counsel the privilege of reopening his case when any new or important fact has come to light.”

As if overwhelmed by a prospect she had not anticipated, she hurriedly arose and pointed down the room to a curtained recess.

“Give me five minutes,” she cried; “five minutes by myself where no one can look at me, and where I can think undisturbed upon what I had better do.”

“Very well,” he acquiesced; “you shall have them.”

She at once crossed to the small retreat.

“Five minutes,” she reiterated huskily, as she lifted the curtains aside; “when the clock strikes nine I will come out.”

“You will?” he repeated, doubtfully.

“I will.”

The curtains fell behind her, and for five long minutes Mr. Ferris paced the room alone. He was far from easy. All was so quiet behind that curtain — so preternaturally quiet. But he would not disturb her; no, he had promised, and she should be left to fight her battle alone. When nine o’clock struck, however, he started, and owned to himself some secret dread. Would she come forth or would he have to seek her in her place of seclusion? It seemed he would have to seek her, for the curtains did not stir, and by no sound from within was any token given that she had heard the summons. Yet he hesitated, and as he did so, a thought struck him. Could it be there was any outlet from the refuge she had sought? Had she taken advantage of his consideration to escape him? Moved by the fear, he hastily crossed the room. But before he could lay his hand upon the curtains, they parted, and disclosed the form of Imogene.

“I am coming,” she murmured, and stepped forth more like a faintly-breathing image than a living woman.

His first glance at her face convinced him she had taken her resolution. His second, that in taking it she had drifted into a state of feeling different from any he had observed in her before, and of a sort that to him was wholly inexplicable. Her words when she spoke only deepened this impression.

illustration
“The curtains parted and disclosed the form of Imogene. ‘I am coming,’ she murmured, and stepped forth.”

“Mr. Ferris,” said she, coming very near to him in evident dread of being overheard, “I have decided to tell you all. I hoped never to be obliged to do this. I thought enough had been revealed to answer your purpose. I— I believed Heaven would spare me this last trial, let me keep this last secret. It was of so strange a nature, so totally out of the reach of any man’s surmise. But the finger of God is on me. It has followed this crime from the beginning, and there is no escape. By some strange means, some instinct of penetration, perhaps, you have discovered that I know something concerning this murder of which I have never told you, and that the hour I spent at Professor Darling’s is accountable for this knowledge. Sir, I cannot struggle with Providence. I will tell you all I have hitherto hidden from the world if you will promise to let me know if my words will prove fatal, and if he — he who is on trial for his life — will be lost if I give to the court my last evidence against him?”

“But, Miss Dare,” remonstrated the District Attorney, “no man can tell ——” He did not finish his sentence. Something in the feverish gaze she fixed upon him stopped him. He felt that he could not palter with a woman in the grasp of an agony like this. So, starting again, he observed: “Let me hear what you have to say, and afterward we will consider what the effect of it may be; though a question of expediency should not come into your consideration, Miss Dare, in telling such truths as the law demands.”

“No?” she broke out, giving way for one instant to a low and terrible laugh which curdled Mr. Ferris’ blood and made him wish his duty had led him into the midst of any other scene than this.

But before he could remonstrate with her, this harrowing expression of misery had ceased, and she was saying in quiet and suppressed tones:

“The reason I did not see and respond to the girl who came into the observatory on the morning of Mrs. Clemmens’ murder is, that I was so absorbed in the discoveries I was making behind the high rack which shuts off one end of the room, that any appeal to me at that time must have passed unnoticed. I had come to Professor Darling’s house, according to my usual custom on Tuesday mornings, to study astronomy with his daughter Helen. I had come reluctantly, for my mind was full of the secret intention I had formed of visiting Mrs. Clemmens in the afternoon, and I had no heart for study. But finding Miss Darling out, I felt a drawing toward the seclusion I knew I should find in the observatory, and mounting to it, I sat down by myself to think. The rest and quiet of the place were soothing to me, and I sat still a long time, but suddenly becoming impressed with the idea that it was growing late, I went to the window to consult the town-clock. But though its face could be plainly seen from the observatory, its hands could not, and I was about to withdraw from the window when I remembered the telescope, which Miss Darling and I had, in a moment of caprice a few days before, so arranged as to command a view of the town. Going to it, I peered through it at the clock.” Stopping, she surveyed the District Attorney with breathless suspense. “It was just five minutes to twelve,” she impressively whispered.

Mr. Ferris felt a shock.

“A critical moment!” he exclaimed. Then, with a certain intuition of what she was going to say next, inquired: “And what then, Miss Dare?”

“I was struck by a desire to see if I could detect Mrs. Clemmens’ house from where I was, and shifting the telescope slightly, I looked through it again, and ——”

“What did you see, Miss Dare?”

“I saw her dining-room door standing ajar and a man leaping headlong over the fence toward the bog.”

The District Attorney started, looked at her with growing interest, and inquired:

“Did you recognize this man, Miss Dare?”

She nodded in great agitation.

“Who was he?”

“Craik Mansell.”

“Miss Dare,” ventured Mr. Ferris, after a moment, “you say this was five minutes to twelve?”

“Yes, sir,” was the faint reply.

“Five minutes later than the time designated by the defence as a period manifestly too late for the prisoner to have left Mrs. Clemmens’ house and arrived at the Quarry Station at twenty minutes past one?”

“Yes,” she repeated, below her breath.

The District Attorney surveyed her earnestly, perceiving she had not only spoken the truth, but realized all which that truth implied, and drew back a few steps muttering ironically to himself:

“Ah, Orcutt! Orcutt!”

Breathlessly she watched him, breathlessly she followed him step by step like some white and haunting spirit.

“You believe, then, this fact will cost him his life?” came from her lips at last.

“Don’t ask me that, Miss Dare. You and I have no concern with the consequences of this evidence.”

“No concern?” she repeated, wildly. “You and I no concern? Ah!” she went on, with heart-piercing sarcasm, “I forgot that the sentiments of the heart have no place in judicial investigation. A criminal is but lawful prey, and it is every good citizen’s duty to push him to his doom. No matter if one is bound to that criminal by the dearest ties which can unite two hearts; no matter if the trust he has bestowed upon you has been absolute and unquestioning, the law does not busy itself with that. The law says if you have a word at your command which can destroy this man, give utterance to it; and the law must be obeyed.”

“But, Miss Dare ——” the District Attorney hastily intervened, startled by the feverish gleam of her hitherto calm eye.

But she was not to be stopped, now that her misery had at last found words.

“You do not understand my position, perhaps,” she continued. “You do not see that it has been my hand, and mine only, which, from the first, has slowly, remorselessly pushed this man back from the point of safety, till now, now, I am called upon to drag from his hand the one poor bending twig to which he clings, and upon which he relies to support him above the terrible gulf that yawns at his feet. You do not see ——”

“Pardon me,” interposed Mr. Ferris again, anxious, if possible, to restore her to herself. “I see enough to pity you profoundly. But you must allow me to remark that your hand is not the only one which has been instrumental in hurrying this young man to his doom. The detectives ——”

“Sir,” she interrupted in her turn, “can you, dare you say, that without my testimony he would have stood at any time in a really critical position? — or that he would stand in jeopardy of his life even now, if it were not for this fact I have to tell?”

Mr. Ferris was silent.

“Oh, I knew it, I knew it!” she cried. “There will be no doubt concerning whose testimony it was that convicted him, if he is sentenced by the court for this crime. Ah, ah, what an enviable position is mine! What an honorable deed I am called upon to perform! To tell the truth at the expense of the life most dear to you. It is a Roman virtue! I shall be held up as a model to my sex. All the world must shower plaudits upon the woman who, sooner than rob justice of its due, delivered her own lover over to the hangman.”

Pausing in her passionate burst, she turned her hot, dry eyes in a sort of desperation upon his face.

“Do you know,” she gurgled in his ear, “some women would kill themselves before they would do this deed.”

Struck to his heart in spite of himself, Mr. Ferris looked at her in alarm — saw her standing there with her arms hanging down at her sides, but with her two hands clinched till they looked as if carved from marble — and drew near to her with the simple hurried question of:

“But you?”

“I?” she laughed again — a low, gurgling laugh, that yet had a tone in it that went to the other’s heart and awoke strange sensations there. “Oh, I shall live to respond to your questions. Do not fear that I shall not be in the court-room to-morrow.”

There was something in her look and manner that was new. It awed him, while it woke all his latent concern.

“Miss Dare,” he began, “you can believe how painful all this has been to me, and how I would have spared you this misery if I could. But the responsibilities resting upon me are such ——”

He did not go on; why should he? She was not listening. To be sure, she stood before him, seemingly attentive, but the eyes with which she met his were fixed upon other objects than any which could have been apparent to her in his face; and her form, which she had hitherto held upright, was shaking with long, uncontrollable shudders, which, to his excited imagination, threatened to lay her at his feet.

He at once started toward the door for help. But she was alive to his movements if not to his words. Stopping him with a gesture, she cried:

“No — no! do not call for any one; I wish to be alone; I have my duty to face, you know; my testimony to prepare.” And rousing herself she cast a peculiar look about the room, like one suddenly introduced into a strange place, and then moving slowly toward the window, threw back the curtain and gazed without. “Night!” she murmured, “night!” and after a moment added, in a deep, unearthly voice that thrilled irresistibly upon Mr. Ferris’ ear: “And a heaven full of stars!”

Her face, as she turned it upward, wore so strange a look, Mr. Ferris involuntarily left his position and crossed to her side. She was still murmuring to herself in seeming unconsciousness of his presence. “Stars!” she was repeating; “and above them God!” And the long shudders shook her frame again, and she dropped her head and seemed about to fall into her old abstraction when her eye encountered that of the District Attorney, and she hurriedly aroused herself.

“Pardon me,” she exclaimed, with an ill-concealed irony, particularly impressive after her tone of the moment before, “have you any thing further to exact of me?”

“No,” he made haste to reply; “only before I go I would entreat you to be calm ——”

“And say the word I have to say to-morrow without a balk and without an unnecessary display of feeling,” she coldly interpolated. “Thanks, Mr. Ferris, I understand you. But you need fear nothing from me. There will be no scene — at least on my part — when I rise before the court to give my testimony to-morrow. Since my hand must strike the fatal blow, it shall strike — firmly!” and her clenched fist fell heavily on her own breast, as if the blow she meditated must first strike there.

The District Attorney, more moved than he had deemed it possible for him to be, made her a low bow and withdrew slowly to the door.

“I leave you, then, till to-morrow,” he said.

“Till to-morrow.”

Long after he had passed out, the deep meaning which informed those two words haunted his memory and disturbed his heart. Till to-morrow! Alas, poor girl! and after to-morrow, what then?

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