That Affair Next Door, by Anna Katherine Green

xlii.

With Miss Butterworth’s Compliments.

They tell me that Mr. Gryce has never been quite the same man since the clearing up of this mystery; that his confidence in his own powers is shaken, and that he hints, more often than is agreeable to his superiors, that when a man has passed his seventy-seventh year it is time for him to give up active connection with police matters. I do not agree with him. His mistakes, if we may call them such, were not those of failing faculties, but of a man made oversecure in his own conclusions by a series of old successes. Had he listened to me— But I will not pursue this suggestion. You will accuse me of egotism, an imputation I cannot bear with equanimity and will not risk; modest depreciation of myself being one of the chief attributes of my character.*

* My attention has been called to the fact that I have not confessed whether it was owing to a mistake made by Mr. Gryce or myself, that Franklin Van Burnam was identified as the man who had entered the adjoining house on the night of the murder. Well, the truth is, neither of us was to blame for that. The man I identified (it was while watching the guests who attended Mrs. Van Burnam’s funeral, you remember) was really Mr. Stone; but owing to the fact that this latter gentleman had lingered in the vestibule till he was joined by Franklin and that they had finally entered together, some confusion was created in the mind of the man on duty in the hall, so that when Mr. Gryce asked him who it was that came in immediately after the four who arrived together, he answered Mr. Franklin Van Burnam; being anxious to win his superior’s applause and considering that person much more likely to merit the detective’s attention than a mere friend of the family like Mr. Stone. In punishment for this momentary display of egotism, he has been discharged from the force, I believe. — A. B.

Howard Van Burnam bore his release, as he had his arrest, with great outward composure. Mr. Gryce’s explanation of his motives in perjuring himself before the Coroner was correct, and while the mass of people wondered at that instinct of pride which led him to risk the imputation of murder sooner than have the world accuse his wife of an unwomanly action, there were others who understood his peculiarities, and thought his conduct quite in keeping with what they knew of his warped and over-sensitive nature.

That he has been greatly moved by the unmerited fate of his weak but unfortunate wife, is evident from the sincerity with which he still mourns her.

I had always understood that Franklin had never been told of the peril in which his good name had stood for a few short hours. But since a certain confidential conversation which took place between us one evening, I have come to the conclusion that the police were not so reticent as they made themselves out to be. In that conversation he professed to thank me for certain good offices I had done him and his, and waxing warm in his gratitude, confessed that without my interference he would have found himself in a strait of no ordinary seriousness; “For,” said he, “there has been no over-statement of the feelings I cherished toward my sister-in-law, nor was there any mistake made in thinking that she uttered some very desperate threats against me during the visit she paid me at my office on Monday. But I never thought of ridding myself of her in any way. I only thought of keeping her and my brother apart till I could escape the country. When therefore he came into the office on Tuesday morning for the keys of our father’s house, I felt such a dread of the two meeting there, that I left immediately after my brother for the place where she had told me she would await a final message from me. I hoped to move her by one final plea, for I love my brother sincerely, notwithstanding the wrong I once did him. I was therefore with her in another place at the very time I was thought to be with her at the Hotel D— — a fact which greatly hampered me, as you can see, when I was requested by the police to give an account of how I spent that day. When I left her it was to seek my brother. She had told me of her deliberate intention of spending the night in the Gramercy Park house; and as I saw no way of her doing this without my brother’s connivance, I started in search of him, meaning to stick to him when I found him, and keep him away from her till that night was over. I was not successful in my undertaking. He was locked in his rooms it seems, packing up his effects for flight — we always had the same instincts even when boys — and receiving no answer to my knock, I hastened away to Gramercy Park to keep a watch over the house against my brother coming there. This was early in the evening, and for hours afterwards I wandered like a restless spirit in and out of those streets, meeting no one I knew, not even my brother, though he was wandering about in very much the same manner, and with very much the same apprehensions.

“The duplicity of the woman became very evident to me the next morning. In my last interview with her she had shown no relenting in her purpose towards me, but when I entered my office after this restless night in the streets, I found lying on my desk her little hand-bag, which had been sent down from Mrs. Parker’s. In it was the letter, just as you divined, Miss Butterworth. I had hardly got over the shock of this most unexpected good fortune when the news came that a woman had been found dead in my father’s house. What was I to think? That it was she, of course, and that my brother had been the man to let her in there. Miss Butterworth,” this is how he ended, “I make no demands upon you, as I have made no demands upon the police, to keep the secret contained in that letter from my much-abused brother. Or, rather, it is too late now to keep it, for I have told him all there was to tell, myself, and he has seen fit to overlook my fault, and to regard me with even more affection than he did before this dreadful tragedy came to harrow up our lives.”

Do you wonder I like Franklin Van Burnam?

The Misses Van Burnam call upon me regularly, and when they say “Dear old thing!” now, they mean it.

Of Miss Althorpe I cannot trust myself to speak. She was, and is, the finest woman I know, and when the great shadow now hanging over her has lost some of its impenetrability, she will be a useful one again, or I do not rightly read the patient smile which makes her face so beautiful in its sadness.

Olive Randolph has, at my request, taken up her abode in my house. The charm which she seems to have exerted over others she has exerted over me, and I doubt if I shall ever wish to part with her again. In return she gives me an affection which I am now getting old enough to appreciate. Her feeling for me and her gratitude to Miss Althorpe are the only treasures left her out of the wreck of her life, and it shall be my business to make them lasting ones.

The fate of Randolph Stone is too well known for me to enlarge upon it. But before I bid farewell to his name, I must say that after that curt confession of his, “Yes, I did it, in the way and for the motive she alleged,” I have often tried to imagine the contradictory feelings with which he must have listened to the facts as they came out at the inquest, and convinced, as he had every reason to be, that the victim was his wife, heard his friend Howard not only accept her for his, but insist that he was the man who accompanied her to that house of death. He has never lifted the veil from those hours, and he never will, but I would give much of the peace of mind which has lately come to me, to know what his sensations were, not only at that time, but when, on the evening, after the murder, he opened the papers and read that the woman whom he had left for dead with her brain pierced by a hat-pin, had been found on that same floor crushed under a fallen cabinet; and what explanation he was ever able to make to himself for a fact so inexplicable.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37