Hand and Ring, by Anna Katharine Green

42. Consultations.

That he should die is worthy policy;

But yet we want a color for his death;

’Tis meet he be condemned by course of law.

Henry vi.

MR. GRYCE was perfectly aware that the task before him was a difficult one. To be himself convinced that Mr. Orcutt had been in possession of a motive sufficient to account for, if not excuse, this horrible crime was one thing; to find out that motive and make it apparent to the world was another. But he was not discouraged. Summoning his two subordinates, he laid the matter before them.

“I am convinced,” said he, “that Mrs. Clemmens was a more important person to Mr. Orcutt than her plain appearance and humble manner of life would suggest. Do either of you know whether Mr. Orcutt’s name has ever been associated with any private scandal, the knowledge of which might have given her power over him?”

“I do not think he was that kind of a man,” said Byrd. “Since morning I have put myself in the way of such persons as I saw disposed to converse about him, and though I have been astonished to find how many there are who say they never quite liked or altogether trusted this famous lawyer, I have heard nothing said in any way derogatory to his private character. Indeed, I believe, as far as the ladies were concerned, he was particularly reserved. Though a bachelor, he showed no disposition to marry, and until Miss Dare appeared on the scene was not known to be even attentive to one of her sex.”

“Some one, however, I forget who, told me that for a short time he was sweet on a certain Miss Pratt,” remarked Hickory.

“Pratt? Where have I heard that name?” murmured Byrd to himself.

“But nothing came of it,” Hickory continued. “She was not over and above smart they say, and though pretty enough, did not hold his fancy. Some folks declare she was so disappointed she left town.”

“Pratt, Pratt!” repeated Byrd to himself. “Ah! I know now,” he suddenly exclaimed. “While I stood around amongst the crowd, the morning Mrs. Clemmens was murdered, I remember overhearing some one say how hard she was on the Pratt girl.”

“Humph!” ejaculated Mr. Gryce. “The widow was hard on any one Mr. Orcutt chose to admire.”

“I don’t understand it,” said Byrd.

“Nor I,” rejoined Mr. Gryce; “but I intend to before the week is out.” Then abruptly: “When did Mrs. Clemmens come to this town?”

“Fifteen years ago,” replied Byrd.

“And Orcutt — when did he first put in an appearance here?”

“At very much the same time, I believe.”

“Humph! And did they seem to be friends at that time?”

“Some say Yes, some say No.”

“Where did he come from — have you learned?”

“From some place in Nebraska, I believe.”

“And she?”

“Why, she came from some place in Nebraska too!”

“The same place?”

“That we must find out.”

Mr. Gryce mused for a minute; then he observed:

“Mr. Orcutt was renowned in his profession. Do you know any thing about his career — whether he brought a reputation for ability with him, or whether his fame was entirely made in this place?”

“I think it was made here. Indeed, I have heard that it was in this court he pleaded his first case. Don’t you know more about it, Hickory?”

“Yes; Mr. Ferris told me this morning that Orcutt had not opened a law-book when he came to this town. That he was a country schoolmaster in some uncivilized district out West, and would never have been any thing more, perhaps, if the son of old Stephen Orcutt had not died, and thus made a vacancy in the law-office here which he was immediately sent for to fill.”

“Stephen Orcutt? He was the uncle of this man, wasn’t he?”

“Yes.”

“And quite a lawyer too?”

“Yes, but nothing like Tremont B. He was successful from the start. Had a natural aptitude, I suppose — must have had, to pick up the profession in the way he did.”

“Boys,” cried Mr. Gryce, after another short ruminative pause, “the secret we want to know is of long standing; indeed, I should not be surprised if it were connected with his life out West. I will tell you why I think so. For ten years Mrs. Clemmens has been known to put money in the bank regularly every week. Now, where did she get that money? From Mr. Orcutt, of course. What for? In payment for the dinner he usually took with her? No, in payment of her silence concerning a past he desired kept secret.”

“But they have been here fifteen years and she has only received money for ten.”

“She has only put money in the bank for ten; she may have been paid before that and may not. I do not suppose he was in a condition to be very lavish at the outset of his career.”

“You advise us, then, to see what we can make out of his early life out West?”

“Yes; and I will see what I can make out of hers. The link which connects the two will be found. Mr. Orcutt did not say: ‘It was all for you, Imogene,’ for nothing.”

And, dismissing the two young men, Mr. Gryce proceeded to the house of Mr. Orcutt, where he entered upon an examination of such papers and documents as were open to his inspection, in the hope of discovering some allusion to the deceased lawyer’s early history. But he was not successful. Neither did a like inspection of the widow’s letters bring any new facts to light. The only result which seemed to follow these efforts was an increased certainty on his part that some dangerous secret lurked in a past that was so determinedly hidden from the world, and resorting to the only expedient now left to him, he resolved to consult Miss Firman, as being the only person who professed to have had any acquaintance with Mrs. Clemmens before she came to Sibley. To be sure, she had already been questioned by the coroner, but Mr. Gryce was a man who had always found that the dryest well could be made to yield a drop or two more of water if the bucket was dropped by a dexterous hand. He accordingly prepared himself for a trip to Utica.

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