Hand and Ring, by Anna Katharine Green

38. Unexpected Words.

It will have blood: they say, blood will have blood.

Stones have been known to move, and trees to speak;

Augurs and understood relations have,

By magot-pies and choughs and rooks, brought forth

The secret’st man of blood.

. . .

Foul whisperings are abroad; unnatural deeds

Do breed unnatural troubles; infected minds

To their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets.

Macbeth.

“MR. ORCUTT dead?”

“Dying, sir.”

“How, when, where?”

“In his own house, sir. He has been struck down by a falling limb.”

The District Attorney, who had been roused from his bed to hear these evil tidings, looked at the perturbed face of the messenger before him — who was none other than Mr. Byrd — and with difficulty restrained his emotion.

“I sympathize with your horror and surprise,” exclaimed the detective, respectfully. Then, with a strange mixture of embarrassment and agitation, added: “It is considered absolutely necessary that you come to the house. He may yet speak — and — and — you will find Miss Dare there,” he concluded, with a peculiarly hesitating glance and a rapid movement toward the door.

Mr. Ferris, who, as we know, cherished a strong feeling of friendship for Mr. Orcutt, stared uneasily at the departing form of the detective.

“What do you say?” he repeated. “Miss Dare there, in Mr. Orcutt’s house?”

The short “Yes,” and the celerity with which Mr. Byrd vanished, gave him the appearance of one anxious to escape further inquiries.

Astonished, as well as greatly distressed, the District Attorney made speedy preparations for following him, and soon was in the street. He found it all alive with eager citizens, who, notwithstanding the lateness of the hour, were rushing hither and thither in search of particulars concerning this sudden calamity; and upon reaching the house itself, found it wellnigh surrounded by an agitated throng of neighbors and friends.

Simply pausing at the gate to cast one glance at the tree and its fallen limb, he made his way to the front door. It was immediately opened. Dr. Tredwell, whose face it was a shock to encounter in this place, stood before him, and farther back a group of such favored friends as had been allowed to enter the house. Something in the look of the coroner, as he silently reached forth his hand in salutation, added to the mysterious impression which had been made upon Mr. Ferris by the manner, if not words, of Mr. Byrd. Feeling that he was losing his self-command, the District Attorney grasped the hand that was held out to him, and huskily inquired if Mr. Orcutt was still alive.

The coroner, who had been standing before him with a troubled brow and lowered eyes, gravely bowed, and quietly leading the way, ushered him forward to Mr. Orcutt’s bedroom door. There he paused and looked as if he would like to speak, but hastily changing his mind, opened the door and motioned the District Attorney in. As he did so, he cast a meaning and solemn look toward the bed, then drew back, watching with evident anxiety what the effect of the scene before him would have upon this new witness.

A stupefying one it seemed, for Mr. Ferris, pausing in his approach, looked at the cluster of persons about the bed, and then drew his hand across his eyes like a man in a maze. Suddenly he turned upon Dr. Tredwell with the same strange look he had himself seen in the eyes of Byrd, and said, almost as if the words were forced from his lips:

“This is no new sight to us, doctor; we have been spectators of a scene like this before.”

That was it. As nearly as the alteration in circumstances and surroundings would allow, the spectacle before him was the same as that which he had encountered months before in a small cottage at the other end of the town. On the bed a pallid, senseless, but slowly breathing form, whose features, stamped with the approach of death, stared at them with marble-like rigidity from beneath the heavy bandages which proclaimed the injury to be one to the head. At his side the doctor — the same one who had been called in to attend Mrs. Clemmens — wearing, as he did then, a look of sombre anticipation which Mr. Ferris expected every instant to see culminate in the solemn gesture which he had used at the widow’s bedside before she spoke. Even the group of women who clustered about the foot of the couch wore much the same expression as those who waited for movement on the part of Mrs. Clemmens; and had it not been for the sight of Imogene Dare sitting immovable and watchful on the farther side of the bed, he might almost have imagined he was transported back to the old scene, and that all this new horror under which he was laboring was a dream from which he would speedily be awakened.

But Imogene’s face, her look, her air of patient waiting, were not to be mistaken. Attention once really attracted to her, it was not possible for it to wander elsewhere. Even the face of the dying man and the countenance of the watchful physician paled in interest before that fixed look which, never wavering, never altering, studied the marble visage before her, for the first faint signs of reawakening consciousness. Even his sister, who, if weak of mind, was most certainly of a loving disposition, seemed to feel the force of the tie that bound Imogene to that pillow; and, though she hovered nearer and nearer the beloved form as the weariful moments sped by, did not presume to interpose her grief or her assistance between the burning eye of Imogene and the immovable form of her stricken brother.

The hush that lay upon the room was unbroken save by the agitated breaths of all present.

“Is there no hope?” whispered Mr. Ferris to Dr. Tredwell, as, seeing no immediate prospect of change, they sought for seats at the other side of the room.

“No; the wound is strangely like that which Mrs. Clemmens received. He will rouse, probably, but he will not live. Our only comfort is that in this case it is not a murder.”

The District Attorney made a gesture in the direction of Imogene.

“How came she to be here?” he asked.

Dr. Tredwell rose and drew him from the room.

“It needs some explanation,” he said; and began to relate to him how Mr. Orcutt was escorting Miss Dare to the gate when the bough fell which seemed likely to rob him of his life.

Mr. Ferris, through whose mind those old words of the widow were running in a way that could only be accounted for by the memories which the scene within had awakened —“May the vengeance of Heaven light upon the head of him who has brought me to this pass! May the fate that has come upon me be visited upon him, measure for measure, blow for blow, death for death!”— turned with impressive gravity and asked if Miss Dare had not been hurt.

But Dr. Tredwell shook his head.

“She is not even bruised,” said he.

“And yet was on his arm?”

“Possibly, though I very much doubt it.”

“She was standing at his side,” uttered the quiet voice of Mr. Byrd in their ear; “and disappeared when he did, under the falling branch. She must have been bruised, though she says not. I do not think she is in a condition to feel her injuries.”

“You were present, then,” observed Mr. Ferris, with a meaning glance at the detective.

“I was present,” he returned, with a look the District Attorney did not find it difficult to understand.

“Is there any thing you ought to tell me?” Mr. Ferris inquired, when a moment or so later the coroner had been drawn away by a friend.

“I do not know,” said Byrd. “Of the conversation that passed between Miss Dare and Mr. Orcutt, but a short portion came to our ears. It is her manner, her actions, that have astonished us, and made us anxious to have you upon the spot.” And he told with what an expression of fear she had fled from her interview with Mr. Orcutt in the library, and then gave, as nearly as he could, an account of what had passed between them before the falling of the fatal limb. Finally he said: “Hickory and I expected to find her lying crushed and bleeding beneath, but instead of that, no sooner was the bough lifted than she sprang to her knees, and seeing Mr. Orcutt lying before her insensible, bent over him with that same expression of breathless awe and expectation which you see in her now. It looks as if she were waiting for him to rouse and finish the sentence that was cut short by this catastrophe.”

“And what was that sentence?”

“As near as I can recollect, it was this: ‘If any man suffers for this crime it shall not be Craik Mansell, but ——’ He did not have time to say whom.”

“My poor friend!” ejaculated Mr. Ferris, “cut down in the exercise of his duties! It is a mysterious providence — a very mysterious providence!” And crossing again to the sick-room, he went sadly in.

He found the aspect unchanged. On the pillow the same white, immovable face; at the bedside the same constant and expectant watchers. Imogene especially seemed scarcely to have made a move in all the time of his absence. Like a marble image watching over a form of clay she sat silent, breathless, intent — a sight to draw all eyes and satisfy none; for her look was not one of grief, nor of awe, nor of hope, yet it had that within it which made her presence there seem a matter of right even to those who did not know the exact character of the bond which united her to the unhappy sufferer.

Mr. Ferris, who had been only too ready to accept Mr. Byrd’s explanation of her conduct, allowed himself to gaze at her unhindered.

Overwhelmed, as he was, by the calamity which promised to rob the Bar of one of its most distinguished advocates, and himself of a long-tried friend, he could not but feel the throb of those deep interests which, in the estimation of this woman at least, hung upon a word which those dying lips might utter. And swayed by this feeling, he unconsciously became a third watcher, though for what, and in hope of what, he could scarcely have told, so much was he benumbed by the suddenness of this great catastrophe, and the extraordinary circumstances by which it was surrounded.

And so one o’clock came and passed.

It was not the last time the clock struck before a change came. The hour of two went by, then that of three, and still, to the casual eye, all remained the same. But ere the stroke of four was heard, Mr. Ferris, who had relaxed his survey of Imogene to bestow a fuller attention upon his friend, felt an indefinable sensation of dismay assail him, and rising to his feet, drew a step or so nearer the bed, and looked at its silent occupant with the air of a man who would fain shut his eyes to the meaning of what he sees before him. At the same moment Mr. Byrd, who had just come in, found himself attracted by the subtle difference he observed in the expression of Miss Dare. The expectancy in her look was gone, and its entire expression was that of awe. Advancing to the side of Mr. Ferris, he glanced down at the dying lawyer. He at once saw what it was that had so attracted and moved the District Attorney. A change had come over Mr. Orcutt’s face. Though rigid still, and unrelieved by any signs of returning consciousness, it was no longer that of the man they knew, but a strange face, owning the same features, but distinguished now by a look sinister as it was unaccustomed, filling the breasts of those who saw it with dismay, and making any contemplation of his countenance more than painful to those who loved him. Nor did it decrease as they watched him. Like that charmed writing which appears on a blank paper when it is subjected to the heat, the subtle, unmistakable lines came out, moment by moment, on the mask of his unconscious face, till even Imogene trembled, and turned an appealing glance upon Mr. Ferris, as if to bid him note this involuntary evidence of nature against the purity and good intentions of the man who had always stood so high in the world’s regard. Then, satisfied, perhaps, with the expression she encountered on the face of the District Attorney, she looked back; and the heavy minutes went on, only more drearily, and perhaps more fearfully, than before.

Suddenly — was it at a gesture of the physician, or a look from Imogene? — a thrill of expectation passed through the room, and Dr. Tredwell, Mr. Ferris, and a certain other gentleman who had but just entered at a remote corner of the apartment, came hurriedly forward and stood at the foot of the bed. At the same instant Imogene rose, and motioning them a trifle aside, with an air of mingled entreaty and command, bent slowly down toward the injured man. A look of recognition answered her from the face upon the pillow, but she did not wait to meet it, nor pause for the word that evidently trembled on his momentarily conscious lip. Shutting out with her form the group of anxious watchers behind her, she threw all her soul into the regard with which she held him enchained; then slowly, solemnly, but with unyielding determination, uttered these words, which no one there could know were but a repetition of a question made a few eventful hours ago: “If Craik Mansell is not the man who killed Mrs. Clemmens, do you, Mr. Orcutt, tell us who is!” and, pausing, remained with her gaze fixed demandingly on that of the lawyer, undeterred by the smothered exclamations of those who witnessed this scene and missed its clue or found it only in the supposition that this last great shock had unsettled her mind.

The panting sufferer just trembling on the verge of life thrilled all down his once alert and nervous frame, then searching her face for one sign of relenting, unclosed his rigid lips and said, with emphasis:

“Has not Fate spoken?”

Instantly Imogene sprang erect, and, amid the stifled shrieks of the women and the muttered exclamations of the men, pointed at the recumbent figure before them, saying:

“You hear! Tremont Orcutt declares upon his death-bed that it is the voice of Heaven which has spoken in this dreadful calamity. You who were present when Mrs. Clemmens breathed her imprecations on the head of her murderer, must know what that means.”

Mr. Ferris, who of all present, perhaps, possessed the greatest regard for the lawyer, gave an ejaculation of dismay at this, and bounding forward, lifted her away from the bedside he believed her to have basely desecrated.

“Madwoman,” he cried, “where will your ravings end? He will tell no such tale to me.”

But when he bent above the lawyer with the question forced from him by Miss Dare’s words, he found him already lapsed into that strange insensibility which was every moment showing itself more and more to be the precursor of death.

The sight seemed to rob Mr. Ferris of his last grain of self-command. Rising, he confronted the dazed faces of those about him with a severe look.

“This charge,” said he, “is akin to that which Miss Dare made against herself in the court yesterday morning. When a woman has become crazed she no longer knows what she says.”

But Imogene, strong in the belief that the hand of Heaven had pointed out the culprit for whom they had so long been searching, shook her head in quiet denial, and simply saying, “None of you know this man as I do,” moved quietly aside to a dim corner, where she sat down in calm expectation of another awakening on the part of the dying lawyer.

It came soon — came before Mr. Ferris had recovered himself, or Dr. Tredwell had had a chance to give any utterance to the emotions which this scene was calculated to awaken.

Rousing as the widow had done, but seeming to see no one, not even the physician who bent close at his side, Mr. Orcutt lifted his voice again, this time in the old stentorian tones which he used in court, and clearly, firmly exclaimed:

“Blood will have blood!” Then in lower and more familiar accents, cried: “Ah, Imogene, Imogene, it was all for you!” And with her name on his lips, the great lawyer closed his eyes again, and sank for the last time into a state of insensibility.

Imogene at once rose.

“I must go,” she murmured; “my duty in this place is done.” And she attempted to cross the floor.

But the purpose which had sustained her being at an end, she felt the full weight of her misery, and looking in the faces about her, and seeing nothing there but reprobation, she tottered and would have fallen had not a certain portly gentleman who stood near by put forth his arm to sustain her. Accepting the support with gratitude, but scarcely pausing to note from what source it came, she turned for an instant to Mr. Ferris.

“I realize,” said she, “with what surprise you must have heard the revelation which has just come from Mr. Orcutt’s lips. So unexpected is it that you cannot yet believe it, but the time will come when, of all the words I have spoken, these alone will be found worthy your full credit: that not Craik Mansell, not Gouverneur Hildreth, not even unhappy Imogene Dare herself, could tell you so much of the real cause and manner of Mrs. Clemmens’ death as this man who lies stricken here a victim of Divine justice.”

And merely stopping to cast one final look in the direction of the bed, she stumbled from the room. A few minutes later and she reached the front door; but only to fall against the lintel with the moan:

“My words are true, but who will ever believe them?”

“Pardon me,” exclaimed a bland and fatherly voice over her shoulder, “I am a man who can believe in any thing. Put your confidence in me, Miss Dare, and we will see — we will see.”

Startled by her surprise into new life, she gave one glance at the gentleman who had followed her to the door. It was the same who had offered her his arm, and whom she supposed to have remained behind her in Mr. Orcutt’s room. She saw before her a large comfortable-looking personage of middle age, of no great pretensions to elegance or culture, but bearing that within his face which oddly enough baffled her understanding while it encouraged her trust. This was the more peculiar in that he was not looking at her, but stood with his eyes fixed on the fading light of the hall-lamp, which he surveyed with an expression of concern that almost amounted to pity.

“Sir, who are you?” she tremblingly asked.

Dropping his eyes from the lamp, he riveted them upon the veil she held tightly clasped in her right hand.

“If you will allow me the liberty of whispering in your ear, I will soon tell you,” said he.

She bent her weary head downward; he at once leaned toward her and murmured a half-dozen words that made her instantly start erect with new light in her eyes.

“And you will help me?” she cried.

“What else am I here for?” he answered.

And turning toward a quiet figure which she now saw for the first time standing on the threshold of a small room near by, he said with the calmness of a master:

“Hickory, see that no one enters or leaves the sick-room till I return.” And offering Imogene his arm, he conducted her into the library, the door of which he shut to behind them.

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