Frederick’s arrest had been conducted so quietly that no hint of the matter reached the village before the next morning. Then the whole town broke into uproar, and business was not only suspended, but the streets and docks overflowed with gesticulating men and excited women, carrying on in every corner and across innumerable doorsteps the endless debate which such an action on the part of the police necessarily opened.
But the most agitated face, though the stillest tongue, was not to be seen in town that morning, but in a little cottage on an arid hill-slope overlooking the sea. Here Sweetwater sat and communed with his great monitor, the ocean, and only from his flashing eye and the firm set of his lips could the mother of Sweetwater see that the crisis of her son’s life was rapidly approaching, and that on the outcome of this long brooding rested not only his own self-satisfaction, but the interests of the man most dear to them.
Suddenly, from that far horizon upon which Sweetwater’s eye rested with a look that was almost a demand, came an answer that flushed him with a hope as great as it was unexpected. Bounding to his feet, he confronted his mother with eager eyes and outstretched hand.
“Give me money, all the money we have in the house. I have an idea that may be worth all I can ever make or can ever hope to have. If it succeeds, we save Frederick Sutherland; if it fails, I have only to meet another of Knapp’s scornful looks. But it won’t fail; the inspiration came from the sea, and the sea, you know, is my second mother!”
What this inspiration was he did not say, but it carried him presently into town and landed him in the telegraph office.
The scene later in the day, when Frederick entered the village under the guardianship of the police, was indescribable. Mr. Sutherland had insisted upon accompanying him, and when the well-loved figure and white head were recognised, the throng, which had rapidly collected in the thoroughfare leading to the depot, succumbed to the feelings occasioned by this devotion, and fell into a wondering silence.
Frederick had never looked better. There is something in the extremity of fate which brings out a man’s best characteristics, and this man, having much that was good in him, showed it at that moment as never before in his short but over-eventful life. As the carriage stopped before the court-house on its way to the train, a glimpse was given of his handsome head to those who had followed him closest, and as there became visible for the first time in his face, so altered under his troubles, a likeness to their beautiful and commanding Agatha, a murmur broke out around him that was half a wail and half a groan, and which affected him so that he turned from his father, whose hand he was secretly holding, and taking the whole scene in with one flash of his eye, was about to speak, when a sudden hubbub broke out in the direction of the telegraph office, and a man was seen rushing down the street holding a paper high over his head. It was Sweetwater.
“News!” he cried. “News! A cablegram from the Azores! A Swedish sailor —”
But here a man with more authority than the amateur detective pushed his way to the carriage and took off his hat to Mr. Sutherland.
“I beg your pardon,” said he, “but the prisoner will not leave town to-day. Important evidence has just reached us.”
Mr. Sutherland saw that it was in Frederick’s favour and fainted on his son’s neck. As the people beheld his head fall forward, and observed the look with which Frederick received him in his arms, they broke into a great shout.
“News!” they shrieked. “News! Frederick Sutherland is innocent! See! the old man has fainted from joy!” And caps went up and tears fell, before a mother’s son of them knew what grounds he had for his enthusiasm.
Later, they found they were good and substantial ones. Sweetwater had remembered the group of sailors who had passed by the corner of Agatha’s house just as Batsy fell forward on the window-sill, and cabling to the captain of the vessel, at the first port at which they were likely to put in, was fortunate enough to receive in reply a communication from one of the men, who remembered the words she shouted. They were in Swedish and none of his mates had understood them, but he recalled them well. They were:
“Hjelp! Hjelp! Frun håller på alb döda sig. Hon har en knif. Hjelp! Hjelp!”
“Help! Help! My mistress kills herself. She has a knife. Help! Help!”
The impossible had occurred. Batsy was not dead, or at least her testimony still remained and had come at Sweetwater’s beck from the other side of the sea to save her mistress’s son.
Sweetwater was a made man. And Frederick? In a week he was the idol of the town. In a year — but let Agnes’s contented face and happy smile show what he was then. Sweet Agnes, who first despised, then encouraged, then loved him, and who, next to Agatha, commanded the open worship of his heart.
Agatha is first, must be first, as anyone can see who beholds him, on a certain anniversary of each year, bury his face in the long grass which covers the saddest and most passionate heart which ever yielded to the pressure of life’s deepest tragedy.
This web edition published by:
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University of Adelaide
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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55