Hand and Ring, by Anna Katharine Green

39. Mr. Gryce.

What you have spoke, it may be so, perchance.

This tyrant, whose sole name blisters our tongues,

Was once thought honest.

Macbeth.

AN hour later, as Mr. Ferris was leaving the house in company with Dr. Tredwell, he felt himself stopped by a slight touch on his arm. Turning about he saw Hickory.

“Beg pardon, sirs,” said the detective, with a short bow, “but there’s a gentleman, in the library who would like to see you before you go.”

They at once turned to the room indicated. But at sight of its well-known features — its huge cases of books, its large centre-table profusely littered with papers, the burnt-out grate, the empty arm-chair — they paused, and it was with difficulty they could recover themselves sufficiently to enter. When they did, their first glance was toward the gentleman they saw standing in a distant window, apparently perusing a book.

“Who is it?” inquired Mr. Ferris of his companion.

“I cannot imagine,” returned the other.

Hearing voices, the gentleman advanced.

“Ah,” said he, “allow me to introduce myself. I am Mr. Gryce, of the New York Detective Service.”

“Mr. Gryce!” repeated the District Attorney, in astonishment.

The famous detective bowed. “I have come,” said he, “upon a summons received by me in Utica not six hours ago. It was sent by a subordinate of mine interested in the trial now going on before the court. Horace Byrd is his name. I hope he is well liked here and has your confidence.”

“Mr. Byrd is well enough liked,” rejoined Mr. Ferris, “but I gave him no orders to send for you. At what hour was the telegram dated?”

“At half-past eleven; immediately after the accident to Mr. Orcutt.”

“I see.”

“He probably felt himself inadequate to meet this new emergency. He is a young man, and the affair is certainly a complicated one.”

The District Attorney, who had been studying the countenance of the able detective before him, bowed courteously.

“I am not displeased to see you,” said he. “If you have been in the room above ——”

The other gravely bowed.

“You know probably of the outrageous accusation which has just been made against our best lawyer and most-esteemed citizen. It is but one of many which this same woman has made; and while it is to be regarded as the ravings of lunacy, still your character and ability may weigh much in lifting the opprobrium which any such accusation, however unfounded, is calculated to throw around the memory of my dying friend.”

“Sir,” returned Mr. Gryce, shifting his gaze uneasily from one small object to another in that dismal room, till all and every article it contained seemed to partake of his mysterious confidence, “this is a world of disappointment and deceit. Intellects we admired, hearts in which we trusted, turn out frequently to be the abodes of falsehood and violence. It is dreadful, but it is true.”

Mr. Ferris, struck aghast, looked at the detective with severe disapprobation.

“Is it possible,” he asked, “that you have allowed yourself to give any credence to the delirious utterances of a man suffering from a wound on the head, or to the frantic words of a woman who has already abused the ears of the court by a deliberate perjury?” While Dr. Tredwell, equally indignant and even more impatient, rapped with his knuckles on the table by which he stood, and cried:

“Pooh, pooh, the man cannot be such a fool!”

A solemn smile crossed the features of the detective.

“Many persons have listened to the aspersion you denounce. Active measures will be needed to prevent its going farther.”

“I have commanded silence,” said Dr. Tredwell. “Respect for Mr. Orcutt will cause my wishes to be obeyed.”

“Does Mr. Orcutt enjoy the universal respect of the town?”

“He does,” was the stern reply.

“It behooves us, then,” said Mr. Gryce, “to clear his memory from every doubt by a strict inquiry into his relations with the murdered woman.”

“They are known,” returned Mr. Ferris, with grim reserve. “They were such as any man might hold with the woman at whose house he finds it convenient to take his daily dinner. She was to him the provider of a good meal.”

Mr. Gryce’s eye travelled slowly toward Mr. Ferris’ shirt stud.

“Gentlemen,” said he, “do you forget that Mr. Orcutt was on the scene of murder some minutes before the rest of you arrived? Let the attention of people once be directed toward him as a suspicious party, and they will be likely to remember this fact.”

Astounded, both men drew back.

“What do you mean by that remark?” they asked.

“I mean,” said Mr. Gryce, “that Mr. Orcutt’s visit to Mrs. Clemmens’ house on the morning of the murder will be apt to be recalled by persons of a suspicious tendency as having given him an opportunity to commit the crime.”

“People are not such fools,” cried Dr. Tredwell; while Mr. Ferris, in a tone of mingled incredulity and anger, exclaimed:

“And do you, a reputable detective, and, as I have been told, a man of excellent judgment, presume to say that there could be found any one in this town, or even in this country, who could let his suspicions carry him so far as to hint that Mr. Orcutt struck this woman with his own hand in the minute or two that elapsed between his going into her house and his coming out again with tidings of her death?”

“Those who remember that he had been a participator in the lengthy discussion which had just taken place on the court-house steps as to how a man might commit a crime without laying himself open to the risk of detection, might — yes, sir.”

Mr. Ferris and the coroner, who, whatever their doubts or fears, had never for an instant seriously believed the dying words of Mr. Orcutt to be those of confession, gazed in consternation at the detective, and finally inquired:

“Do you realize what you are saying?”

Mr. Gryce drew a deep breath, and shifted his gaze to the next stud in Mr. Ferris’ shirt-front.

“I have never been accused of speaking lightly,” he remarked. Then, with quiet insistence, asked: “Where was Mrs. Clemmens believed to get the money she lived on?”

“It is not known,” rejoined the District Attorney.

“Yet she left a nice little sum behind her?”

“Five thousand dollars,” declared the coroner.

“Strange that, in a town like this, no one should know where it came from?” suggested the detective.

The two gentlemen were silent.

“It was a good deal to come from Mr. Orcutt in payment of a single meal a day!” continued Mr. Gryce.

“No one has ever supposed it did come from Mr. Orcutt,” remarked Mr. Ferris, with some severity.

“But does any one know it did not?” ventured the detective.

Dr. Tredwell and the District Attorney looked at each other, but did not reply.

“Gentlemen,” pursued Mr. Gryce, after a moment of quiet waiting, “this is without exception the most serious moment of my life. Never in the course of my experience — and that includes much — have I been placed in a more trying position than now. To allow one’s self to doubt, much less to question, the integrity of so eminent a man, seems to me only less dreadful than it does to you; yet, for all that, were I his friend, as I certainly am his admirer, I would say: ‘Sift this matter to the bottom; let us know if this great lawyer has any more in favor of his innocence than the other gentlemen who have been publicly accused of this crime.’”

“But,” protested Dr. Tredwell, seeing that the District Attorney was too much moved to speak, “you forget the evidences which underlay the accusation of these other gentlemen; also that of all the persons who, from the day the widow was struck till now, have been in any way associated with suspicion, Mr. Orcutt is the only one who could have had no earthly motive for injuring this humble woman, even if he were all he would have to be to first perform such a brutal deed and then carry out his hypocrisy to the point of using his skill as a criminal lawyer to defend another man falsely accused of the crime.”

“I beg your pardon, sir,” said the detective, “but I forget nothing. I only bring to the consideration of this subject a totally unprejudiced mind and an experience which has taught me never to omit testing the truth of a charge because it seems at first blush false, preposterous, and without visible foundation. If you will recall the conversation to which I have just alluded as having been held on the court-house steps on the morning Mrs. Clemmens was murdered, you will remember that it was the intellectual crime that was discussed — the crime of an intelligent man, safe in the knowledge that his motive for doing such a deed was a secret to the world.”

“My God!” exclaimed Mr. Ferris, under his breath, “the man seems to be in earnest!”

“Gentlemen,” pursued Mr. Gryce, with more dignity than he had hitherto seen fit to assume, “it is not my usual practice to express myself as openly as I have done here to-day. In all ordinary cases I consider it expedient to reserve intact my suspicions and my doubts till I have completed my discoveries and arranged my arguments so as to bear out with some show of reason whatever statement I may feel obliged to make. But the extraordinary features of this affair, and the fact that so many were present at the scene we have just left, have caused me to change my usual tactics. Though far from ready to say that Mr. Orcutt’s words were those of confession, I still see much reason to doubt his innocence, and, feeling thus, am quite willing you should know it in time to prepare for the worst.”

“Then you propose making what has occurred here public?” asked Mr. Ferris, with emotion.

“Not so,” was the detective’s ready reply. “On the contrary, I was about to suggest that you did something more than lay a command of silence upon those who were present.”

The District Attorney, who, as he afterward said, felt as if he were laboring under some oppressive nightmare, turned to the coroner and said:

“Dr. Tredwell, what do you advise me to do? Terrible as this shock has been, and serious as is the duty it possibly involves, I have never allowed myself to shrink from doing what was right simply because it afforded suffering to myself or indignity to my friends. Do you think I am called upon to pursue this matter?”

The coroner, troubled, anxious, and nearly as much overwhelmed as the District Attorney, did not immediately reply. Indeed, the situation was one to upset any man of whatever calibre. Finally he turned to Mr. Gryce.

“Mr. Gryce,” said he, “we are, as you have observed, friends of the dying man, and, being so, may miss our duty in our sympathy. What do you think ought to be done, in justice to him, the prisoner, and the positions which we both occupy?”

“Well, sirs,” rejoined Mr. Gryce, “it is not usual, perhaps, for a man in my position to offer actual advice to gentlemen in yours; but if you wish to know what course I should pursue if I were in your places, I should say: First, require the witnesses still lingering around the dying man to promise that they will not divulge what was there said till a week has fully elapsed; next, adjourn the case now before the court for the same decent length of time; and, lastly, trust me and the two men you have hitherto employed, to find out if there is any thing in Mr. Orcutt’s past history of a nature to make you tremble if the world hears of the words which escaped him on his death-bed. We shall probably need but a week.”

“And Miss Dare?”

“Has already promised secrecy.”

There was nothing in all this to alarm their fears; every thing, on the contrary, to allay them.

The coroner gave a nod of approval to Mr. Ferris, and both signified their acquiescence in the measures proposed.

Mr. Gryce at once assumed his usual genial air.

“You may trust me,” said he, “to exercise all the discretion you would yourselves show under the circumstances. I have no wish to see the name of such a man blasted by an ineffaceable stain.” And he bowed as if about to leave the room.

But Mr. Ferris, who had observed this movement with an air of some uneasiness, suddenly stepped forward and stopped him.

“I wish to ask,” said he, “whether superstition has had any thing to do with this readiness on your part to impute the worst meaning to the chance phrases which have fallen from the lips of our severely injured friend. Because his end seems in some regards to mirror that of the widow, have you allowed a remembrance of the words she made use of in the face of death to influence your good judgment as to the identity of Mr. Orcutt with her assassin?”

The face of Mr. Gryce assumed its grimmest aspect.

“Do you think this catastrophe was necessary to draw my attention to Mr. Orcutt? To a man acquainted with the extraordinary coincidence that marked the discovery of Mrs. Clemmens’ murder, the mystery must be that Mr. Orcutt has gone unsuspected for so long.” And assuming an argumentative air, he asked:

“Were either of you two gentlemen present at the conversation I have mentioned as taking place on the court-house steps the morning Mrs. Clemmens was murdered?”

“I was,” said the District Attorney.

“You remember, then, the hunchback who was so free with his views?”

“Most certainly.”

“And know, perhaps, who that hunchback was?”

“Yes.”

“You will not be surprised, then, if I recall to you the special incidents of that hour. A group of lawyers, among them Mr. Orcutt, are amusing themselves with an off-hand chat concerning criminals and the clumsy way in which, as a rule, they plan and execute their crimes. All seem to agree that a murder is usually followed by detection, when suddenly a stranger speaks and tells them that the true way to make a success of the crime is to choose a thoroughfare for the scene of tragedy, and employ a weapon that has been picked up on the spot. What happens? Within five minutes after this piece of gratuitous information, or as soon as Mr. Orcutt can cross the street, Mrs. Clemmens is found lying in her blood, struck down by a stick of wood picked up from her own hearth-stone. Is this chance? If so, ’tis a very curious one.”

“I don’t deny it,” said Doctor Tredwell.

“I believe you never did deny it,” quickly retorted the detective. “Am I not right in saying that it struck you so forcibly at the time as to lead you into supposing some collusion between the hunchback and the murderer?”

“It certainly did,” admitted the coroner.

“Very well,” proceeded Mr. Gryce. “Now as there could have been no collusion between these parties, the hunchback being no other person than myself, what are we to think of this murder? That it was a coincidence, or an actual result of the hunchback’s words?”

Dr. Tredwell and Mr. Ferris were both silent.

“Sirs,” continued Mr. Gryce, feeling, perhaps, that perfect openness was necessary in order to win entire confidence, “I am not given to boasting or to a too-free expression of my opinion, but if I had been ignorant of this affair, and one of my men had come to me and said: ‘A mysterious murder has just taken place, marked by this extraordinary feature, that it is a precise reproduction of a supposable case of crime which has just been discussed by a group of indifferent persons in the public street,’ and then had asked me where to look for the assassin, I should have said: ‘Search for that man who heard the discussion through, was among the first to leave the group, and was the first to show himself upon the scene of murder.’ To be sure, when Byrd did come to me with this story, I was silent, for the man who fulfilled these conditions was Mr. Orcutt.”

“Then,” said Mr. Ferris, “you mean to say that you would have suspected Mr. Orcutt of this crime long ago if he had not been a man of such position and eminence?”

“Undoubtedly,” was Mr. Gryce’s reply.

If the expression was unequivocal, his air was still more so. Shocked and disturbed, both gentlemen fell back. The detective at once advanced and opened the door.

It was time. Mr. Byrd had been tapping upon it for some minutes, and now hastily came in. His face told the nature of his errand before he spoke.

“I am sorry to be obliged to inform you ——” he began.

“Mr. Orcutt is dead?” quickly interposed Mr. Ferris.

The young detective solemnly bowed.

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