Hand and Ring, by Anna Katharine Green

45. Mr. Gryce Says Good-Bye.

There still are many rainbows in your sky.

Byron.

“HELEN?”

“Yes, Imogene.”

“What noise is that? The people seem to be shouting down the street. What does it mean?”

Helen Richmond — whom we better know as Helen Darling — looked at the worn, fever-flushed countenance of her friend, and for a moment was silent; then she whispered:

“I have not dared to tell you before, you seemed so ill; but I can tell you now, because joyful news never hurts. The people shout because the long and tedious trial of an innocent man has come to an end. Craik Mansell was acquitted from the charge of murder this morning.”

“Acquitted! O Helen!”

“Yes, dear. Since you have been ill, very strange and solemn revelations have come to light. Mr. Orcutt ——”

“Ah!” cried Imogene, rising up in the great arm-chair in which she was half-sitting and half-reclining. “I know what you are going to say. I was with Mr. Orcutt when he died. I heard him myself declare that fate had spoken in his death. I believe Mr. Orcutt to have been the murderer of Mrs. Clemmens, Helen.”

“Yes, there can be no doubt about that,” was the reply.

“It has been proved then?”

“Yes.”

Moved to the depths of her being, Imogene covered her face with her hands. Presently she murmured:

“I do not understand it. Why should such a great man as he have desired the death of a woman like her? He said it was all for my sake. What did he mean, Helen?”

“Don’t you know?” questioned the other, anxiously.

“How should I? It is the mystery of mysteries to me.”

“Ah, then you did not suspect that she was his wife?”

“His wife!” Imogene rose in horror.

“Yes,” repeated the little bride with decision. “She was his lawfully wedded wife. They were married as long ago as when we were little children.”

“Married! And he dared to approach me with words of love! Dared to offer himself to me as a husband while his hands were still wet with the life-blood of his wife! O the horror of it! The amazing wickedness and presumption of it!”

“He is dead,” whispered the gentle little lady at her side.

With a sigh of suppressed feeling, Imogene sank back.

“I must not think of him,” she cried. “I am not strong enough. I must think only of Craik. He has been acquitted, you say — acquitted.”

“Yes, and the whole town is rejoicing.”

A smile, exquisite as it was rare, swept like a sunbeam over Imogene’s lips.

“And I rejoice with the rest,” she cried. Then, as if she felt all speech to be a mockery, she remained for a long time silent, gazing with ever-deepening expression into the space before her, till Helen did not know whether the awe she felt creeping over her sprang from admiration of her companion’s suddenly awakened beauty or from a recognition of the depths of that companion’s emotions. At last Imogene spoke:

“How came Mr. Mansell to be acquitted? Mr. Gryce did not tell me to look for any such reinstatement as that. The most he bade me expect was that Mr. Ferris would decline to prosecute Mr. Mansell any further, in which event he would be discharged.”

“I know,” said Helen, “but Mr. Mansell was not satisfied with that. He demanded a verdict from the jury. So Mr. Ferris, with great generosity, asked the Judge to recommend the jury to bring in a verdict of acquittal, and when the Judge hesitated to do this, the foreman of the jury himself rose, and intimated that he thought the jury were ready with their verdict. The Judge took advantage of this, and the result was a triumphant acquittal.”

“O Helen, Helen!”

“That was just an hour ago,” cried the little lady, brightly, “but the people are not through shouting yet. There has been a great excitement in town these last few days.”

“And I knew nothing of it!” exclaimed Imogene. Suddenly she looked at Helen. “How did you hear about what took place in the court-room to-day?” she asked.

“Mr. Byrd told me.”

“Ah, Mr. Byrd?”

“He came to leave a good-bye for you. He goes home this afternoon.”

“I should like to have seen Mr. Byrd,” said Imogene.

“Would you?” queried the little lady, quietly shaking her head. “I don’t know; I think it is just as well you did not see him,” said she.

But she made no such demur when a little while later Mr. Gryce was announced. The fatherly old gentleman had evidently been in that house before, and Mrs. Richmond was not the woman to withstand a man like him.

He came immediately into the room where Imogene was sitting. Evidently he thought as Helen did, that good news never hurts.

“Well!” he cried, taking her trembling hand in his, with his most expressive smile. “What did I tell you? Didn’t I say that if you would only trust me all would come right? And it has, don’t you see? Right as a trivet.”

“Yes,” she returned; “and I never can find words with which to express my gratitude. You have saved two lives, Mr. Gryce: his — and mine.”

“Pooh! pooh!” cried the detective, good-humoredly. “You mustn’t think too much of any thing I have done. It was the falling limb that did the business. If Mr. Orcutt’s conscience had not been awakened by the stroke of death, I don’t know where we should have been to-day. Affairs were beginning to look pretty dark for Mansell.”

Imogene shuddered.

“But I haven’t come here to call up unpleasant memories,” he continued. “I have come to wish you joy and a happy convalescence.” And leaning toward her, he said, with a complete change of voice: “You know, I suppose, why Mr. Mansell presumed to think you guilty of this crime?”

“No,” she murmured, wearily; “unless it was because the ring he believed me to have retained was found on the scene of murder.”

“Bah!” cried Mr. Gryce, “he had a much better reason than that.”

And with the air of one who wishes to clear up all misunderstandings, he told her the words which her lover had overheard Mrs. Clemmens say when he came up to her dining-room door.

The effect on Imogene was very great. Hoping to hide it, she turned away her face, showing in this struggle with herself something of the strength of her old days. Mr. Gryce watched her with interest.

“It is very strange,” was her first remark. “I had such reasons for thinking him guilty; he such good cause for thinking me so. What wonder we doubted each other. And yet I can never forgive myself for doubting him; I can sooner forgive him for doubting me. If you see him ——”

“If I see him?” interrupted the detective, with a smile.

“Yes,” said she. “If you see him tell him that Imogene Dare thanks him for his noble conduct toward one he believed to be stained by so despicable a crime, and assure him that I think he was much more justified in his suspicions than I was in mine, for there were weaknesses in my character which he had ample opportunities for observing, while all that I knew of him was to his credit.”

“Miss Dare,” suggested the detective, “couldn’t you tell him this much better yourself?”

“I shall not have the opportunity,” she said.

“And why?” he inquired.

“Mr. Mansell and I have met for the last time. A woman who has stained herself by such declarations as I made use of in court the last time I was called to the stand has created a barrier between herself and all earthly friendship. Even he for whom I perjured myself so basely cannot overleap the gulf I dug between us two that day.”

“But that is hard,” said Mr. Gryce.

“My life is hard,” she answered.

The wise old man, who had seen so much of life and who knew the human heart so well, smiled, but did not reply. He turned instead to another subject.

“Well,” he declared, “the great case is over! Sibley, satisfied with having made its mark in the world, will now rest in peace. I quit the place with some reluctance myself. ’Tis a mighty pretty spot to do business in.”

“You are going?” she asked.

“Immediately,” was the reply. “We detectives don’t have much time to rest.” Then, as he saw how deep a shadow lay upon her brow, added, confidentially: “Miss Dare, we all have occasions for great regret. Look at me now. Honest as I hold myself to be, I cannot blind myself to the fact that I am the possible instigator of this crime. If I had not shown Mr. Orcutt how a man like himself might perpetrate a murder without rousing suspicion, he might never have summoned up courage to attempt it. For a detective with a conscience, that is a hard thought to bear.”

“But you were ignorant of what you were doing,” she protested. “You had no idea there was any one present who was meditating crime.”

“True; but a detective shouldn’t be ignorant. He ought to know men; he has opportunity enough to learn them. But I won’t be caught again. Never in any company, not if it is composed of the highest dignitaries in the land, will I ever tell again how a crime of any kind can be perpetrated without risk. One always runs the chance of encountering an Orcutt.”

Imogene turned pale. “Do not speak of him,” she cried. “I want to forget that such a man ever lived.”

Mr. Gryce smiled again.

“It is the best thing you can do,” said he. “Begin a new life, my child; begin a new life.”

And with this fatherly advice, he said good-bye, and she saw his wise, kind face no more.

The hour that followed was a dreary one for Imogene. Her joy at knowing Craik Mansell was released could not blind her to the realization of her own ruined life. Indeed she seemed to feel it now as never before; and as the slow minutes passed, and she saw in fancy the strong figure of Mansell surrounded by congratulating admirers and friends, the full loneliness of her position swept over her, and she knew not whether to be thankful or not to the fever for having spared her blighted and dishonored life.

Mrs. Richmond, seeing her so absorbed, made no attempt at consolation. She only listened, and when a step was heard, arose and went out, leaving the door open behind her.

And Imogene mused on, sinking deeper and deeper into melancholy, till the tears, which for so long a time had been dried at their source, welled up to her eyes and fell slowly down her cheeks. Their touch seemed to rouse her. Starting erect, she looked quickly around as if to see if anybody was observing her. But the room seems quite empty, and she is about to sink back again with a sigh when her eyes fall on the door-way and she becomes transfixed. A sturdy form is standing there! A manly, eager form in whose beaming eyes and tender smile shine a love and a purpose which open out before her quite a different future from that which her fancy had been so ruthlessly picturing.

This web edition published by:

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The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/green/anna_katharine/hand_and_ring/chapter45.html

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