Hand and Ring, by Anna Katharine Green

36. A Mistake Rectified.

If circumstances lead me, I will find

Where truth is hid, though it were hid, indeed,

Within the centre.

Hamlet.

IF Mr. Ferris, in seeking this interview with Miss Dare, had been influenced by any hope of finding her in an unsettled and hesitating state of mind, he was effectually undeceived, when, after a few minutes’ absence, Mr. Byrd returned with her to his presence. Though her physical strength was nearly exhausted, and she looked quite pale and worn, there was a steady gleam in her eye, which spoke of an unshaken purpose.

Seeing it, and noting the forced humility with which she awaited his bidding at the threshold, the District Attorney, for the first time perhaps, realized the power of this great, if perverted, nature, and advancing with real kindness to the door, he greeted her with as much deference as he ever showed to ladies, and gravely pushed toward her a chair.

She did not take it. On the contrary, she drew back a step, and looked at him in some doubt, but a sudden glimpse of Hickory’s sturdy figure in the corner seemed to reassure her, and merely stopping to acknowledge Mr. Ferris’ courtesy by a bow, she glided forward and took her stand by the chair he had provided.

A short and, on his part, somewhat embarrassing pause followed. It was broken by her.

“You sent for me,” she suggested. “You perhaps want some explanation of my conduct, or some assurance that the confession I made before the court to-day was true?”

If Mr. Ferris had needed any further proof than he had already received that Imogene Dare, in presenting herself before the world as a criminal, had been actuated by a spirit of devotion to the prisoner, he would have found it in the fervor and unconscious dignity with which she uttered these few words. But he needed no such proof. Giving her, therefore, a look full of grave significance, he replied:

“No, Miss Dare. After my experience of the ease with which you can contradict yourself in matters of the most serious import, you will pardon me if I say that the truth or falsehood of your words must be arrived at by some other means than any you yourself can offer. My business with you at this time is of an entirely different nature. Instead of listening to further confessions from you, it has become my duty to offer one myself. Not on my own behalf,” he made haste to explain, as she looked up, startled, “but on account of these men, who, in their anxiety to find out who murdered Mrs. Clemmens, made use of means and resorted to deceptions which, if their superiors had been consulted, would not have been countenanced for a moment.”

“I do not understand,” she murmured, looking at the two detectives with a wonder that suddenly merged into alarm as she noticed the embarrassment of the one and the decided discomfiture of the other.

Mr. Ferris at once resumed:

“In the weeks that have elapsed since the commission of this crime, it has been my lot to subject you to much mental misery, Miss Dare. Provided by yourself with a possible clue to the murder, I have probed the matter with an unsparing hand. Heedless of the pain I was inflicting, or the desperation to which I was driving you, I asked you questions and pressed you for facts as long as there seemed questions to ask or facts to be gained. My duty and the claims of my position demanded this, and for it I can make no excuse, notwithstanding the unhappy results that have ensued. But, Miss Dare, whatever anxiety I may have shown in procuring the conviction of a man I believed to be a criminal, I have never wished to win my case at the expense of justice and right; and had I been told before you came to the stand that you had been made the victim of a deception calculated to influence your judgment, I should have hastened to set you right with the same anxiety as I do now.”

“Sir — sir ——” she began.

But Mr. Ferris would not listen.

“Miss Dare,” he proceeded with all the gravity of conviction, “you have uttered a deliberate perjury in the court-room to-day. You said that you alone were responsible for the murder of Mrs. Clemmens, whereas you not only did not commit the crime yourself but were not even an accessory to it. Wait!” he commanded, as she flashed upon him a look full of denial, “I would rather you did not speak. The motive for this calumny you uttered upon yourself lies in a fact which may be modified by what I have to reveal. Hear me, then, before you stain yourself still further by a falsehood you will not only be unable to maintain, but which you may no longer see reason for insisting upon. Hickory, turn around so Miss Dare can see your face. Miss Dare, when you saw fit to call upon this man to upbear you in the extraordinary statements you made to-day, did you realize that in doing this you appealed to the one person best qualified to prove the falsehood of what you had said? I see you did not; yet it is so. He if no other can testify that a few weeks ago, no idea of taking this crime upon your own shoulders had ever crossed your mind; that, on the contrary, your whole heart was filled with sorrow for the supposed guilt of another, and plans for inducing that other to make a confession of his guilt before the world.”

“This man!” was her startled exclamation. “It is not possible; I do not know him; he does not know me. I never talked with him but once in my life, and that was to say words I am not only willing but anxious for him to repeat.”

“Miss Dare,” the District Attorney pursued, “when you say this you show how completely you have been deceived. The conversation to which you allude is not the only one which has passed between you two. Though you did not know it, you held a talk with this man at a time in which you so completely discovered the secrets of your heart, you can never hope to deceive us or the world by any story of personal guilt which you may see fit to manufacture.”

“I reveal my heart to this man!” she repeated, in a maze of doubt and terror that left her almost unable to stand. “You are playing with my misery, Mr. Ferris.”

The District Attorney took a different tone.

“Miss Dare,” he asked, “do you remember a certain interview you held with a gentleman in the hut back of Mrs. Clemmens’ house, a short time after the murder?”

“Did this man overhear my words that day?” she murmured, reaching out her hand to steady herself by the back of the chair near which she was standing.

“Your words that day were addressed to this man.”

“To him!” she repeated, staggering back.

“Yes, to him, disguised as Craik Mansell. With an unjustifiable zeal to know the truth, he had taken this plan for surprising your secret thoughts, and he succeeded, Miss Dare, remember that, even if he did you and your lover the cruel wrong of leaving you undisturbed in the impression that Mr. Mansell had admitted his guilt in your presence.”

But Imogene, throwing out her hands, cried impetuously:

“It is not so; you are mocking me. This man never could deceive me like that!”

But even as she spoke she recoiled, for Hickory, with ready art, had thrown his arms and head forward on the table before which he sat, in the attitude and with much the same appearance he had preserved on the day she had come upon him in the hut. Though he had no assistance from disguise and all the accessories were lacking which had helped forward the illusion on the former occasion, there was still a sufficient resemblance between this bowed figure and the one that had so impressed itself upon her memory as that of her wretched and remorseful lover, that she stood rooted to the ground in her surprise and dismay.

“You see how it was done, do you not?” inquired Mr. Ferris. Then, as he saw she did not heed, added: “I hope you remember what passed between you two on that day?”

As if struck by a thought which altered the whole atmosphere of her hopes and feelings, she took a step forward with a power and vigor that recalled to mind the Imogene of old.

“Sir,” she exclaimed, “let that man turn around and face me!”

Hickory at once rose.

“Tell me,” she demanded, surveying him with a look it took all his well-known hardihood to sustain unmoved, “was it all false — all a trick from the beginning to the end? I received a letter — was that written by your hand too? Are you capable of forgery as well as of other deceptions?”

The detective, who knew no other way to escape from his embarrassment, uttered a short laugh. But finding a reply was expected of him, answered with well-simulated indifference:

“No, only the address on the envelope was mine; the letter was one which Mr. Mansell had written but never sent. I found it in his waste-paper basket in Buffalo.”

“Ah! and you could make use of that?”

“I know it was a mean trick,” he acknowledged, dropping his eyes from her face. “But things do look different when you are in the thick of ’em than when you take a stand and observe them from the outside. I— I was ashamed of it long ago, Miss Dare”— this was a lie; Hickory never was really ashamed of it —“and would have told you about it, but I thought ‘mum’ was the word after a scene like that.”

She did not seem to hear him.

“Then Mr. Mansell did not send me the letter inviting me to meet him in the hut on a certain day, some few weeks after Mrs. Clemmens was murdered?”

“No.”

“Nor know that such a letter had been sent?”

“No.”

“Nor come, as I supposed he did, to Sibley? nor admit what I supposed he admitted in my hearing? nor listen, as I supposed he did, to the insinuations I made use of in the hut?”

“No.”

Imbued with sudden purpose and energy, she turned upon the District Attorney.

“Oh, what a revelation to come to me now!” she murmured.

Mr. Ferris bowed.

“You are right,” he assented; “it should have come to you before. But I can only repeat what I have previously said, that if I had known of this deception myself, you would have been notified of it previous to going upon the stand. For your belief in the prisoner’s guilt has necessarily had its effect upon the jury, and I cannot but see how much that belief must have been strengthened, if it was not actually induced, by the interview which we have just been considering.”

Her eyes took on fresh light; she looked at Mr. Ferris as if she would read his soul.

“Can it be possible ——” she breathed, but stopped as suddenly as she began. The District Attorney was not the man from whom she could hope to obtain any opinion in reference to the prisoner’s innocence.

Mr. Ferris, noting her hesitation and understanding it too, perhaps, moved toward her with a certain kindly dignity, saying:

“I should be glad to utter words that would give you some comfort, Miss Dare, but in the present state of affairs I do not feel as if I could go farther than bid you trust in the justice and wisdom of those who have this matter in charge. As for your own wretched and uncalled-for action in court to-day, it was a madness which I hope will be speedily forgotten, or, if not forgotten, laid to a despair almost too heavy for mortal strength to endure.”

“Thank you,” she murmured; but her look, the poise of her head, the color that quivered through the pallor of her cheek, showed she was not thinking of herself. Doubt, the first which had visited her since she became convinced that Craik Mansell was the destroyer of his aunt’s life, had cast a momentary gleam over her thoughts, and she was conscious of but one wish, and that was to understand the feelings of the men before her.

But she soon saw the hopelessness of this, and, sinking back again into her old distress as she realized how much reason she still had for believing Craik Mansell guilty, she threw a hurried look toward the door as if anxious to escape from the eyes and ears of men interested, as she knew, in gleaning her every thought and sounding her every impulse.

Mr. Ferris at once comprehended her intention, and courteously advanced.

“Do you wish to return home?” he asked.

“If a carriage can be obtained.”

“There can be no difficulty about that,” he answered; and he gave Hickory a look, and whispered a word to Mr. Byrd, that sent them both speedily from the room.

When he was left alone with her, he said:

“Before you leave my presence, Miss Dare, I wish to urge upon you the necessity of patience. Any sudden or violent act on your part now would result in no good, and lead to much evil. Let me, then, pray you to remain quiet in your home, confident that Mr. Orcutt and myself will do all in our power to insure justice and make the truth evident.”

She bowed, but did not speak; while her impatient eye, resting feverishly on the door, told of her anxiety to depart.

“She will need watching,” commented Mr. Ferris to himself, and he, too, waited impatiently for the detectives’ return. When they came in he gave Imogene to their charge, but the look he cast Byrd contained a hint which led that gentleman to take his hat when he went below to put Miss Dare into her carriage.

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