It is to be hoped that the well-dressed lady of uncertain age who was to be seen late that afternoon in a remote corner of the hotel piazza at Belleville had not chosen a tale requiring great concentration of mind, for her eyes (rather fine ones in their way, showing both keenness and good nature) seemed to find more to interest them in the scene before her than in the pages she so industriously turned over.
The scene was one calculated to interest an idle mind, no doubt. First, there was the sea, a wide expanse of blue, dotted by numerous sails; then the beach, enlivened by groups of young people dressed like popinjays in every color; then the village street, and, lastly, a lawn over which there now and then strayed young couples with tennis rackets in their hands or golf sticks under their arms. Children, too — but children did not seem to interest this amiable spinster. (There could be no doubt about her being a spinster.) She scarcely glanced at them twice, while a young married pair, or even an old gentleman, if he were only tall and imperious-looking, invariably caused her eyes to wander from her book, which, by the way, she held too near for seeing, or such might have been the criticism of a wary observer.
This criticism, if criticism it would be called, could not have been made of the spruce, but rather feeble octogenarian at the other end of the piazza. He was evidently absorbed in the novel he held so conspicuously open, and which, from the smiles now and then disturbing the usual placidity of his benevolent features, we can take for granted was sufficiently amusing. Yet right in the midst of it, and certainly before he had finished his chapter, he closed his book and took out a newspaper, which he opened to its full width before sitting down to peruse its columns. At the same moment the lady at the other end of the piazza could be seen looking over her spectacles at two gentlemen who just at that moment issued from the great door opening between her and the elderly person just alluded to. Did she know them, or was it only her curiosity that was aroused? From the way she banged together her book and rose, it looked as if she had detected old acquaintances in the distinguished-looking pair who were now advancing slowly toward her. But if so, she could not have been overjoyed to see them, for after the first hint of their approach in her direction she turned, with an aspect of some embarrassment, and made her way out upon the lawn, where she stood with her back to these people, caressing a small dog in a way that betrayed her total lack of sympathy with these animals, which were evidently her terror when she was sufficiently herself to be swayed by her natural impulses.
The two gentlemen, on the contrary, with an air of total indifference to her proximity, continued their walk until they reached the end of the piazza, and then turned and proceeded mechanically to retrace their steps.
Their faces now being brought within view of the elderly person who was so absorbed in his newspaper, the latter shifted that sheet the merest trifle, possibly because the sun struck his eyes too directly, possibly because he wished to catch sight of two very remarkable men. If so, the opportunity was good, as they stopped within a few feet of his chair. One of them was elderly, as old as, if not older than, the man watching him; but he was of that famous Scotch stock whose members are tough and hale at eighty. This toughness he showed not only in his figure, which was both upright and graceful, but in the glance of his calm, cold eye, which fell upon everybody and everything unmoved, while that of his young, but equally stalwart companion seemed to shrink with the most acute sensitiveness from every person he met, save the very mild old reader of news near whom they now paused for a half-dozen words of conversation.
“I don’t think it does me any good,” was the young man’s gloomy remark. “I am wretched when with her, and doubly wretched when I try to forget myself for a moment out of her sight. I think we had better go back. I had rather sit where she can see me than have her wonder — Oh, I will be careful; but you must remember how unnerving is the very silence I am obliged to keep about what is destroying us all. I am nearly as ill as she.”
Here they drew off, and their apparently disinterested hearer turned the page of his paper. It was five minutes before they came back. This time it was the old gentleman who was speaking, and as he was more discreet than his companion or less under the influence of his feelings, his voice was lower and his words less easy to be distinguished.
“Escape? South coast — she will forget to watch you for — a clinging nature — impetuous, but foolishly affectionate — you know that — no danger — found out — time — a cheerful home — courage — happiness — all forgotten.”
A gesture from the young man as he moved away showed that he did not share these hopes. Meanwhile Miss Butterworth — you surely have recognized Miss Butterworth — had her opportunities too. She was still stooping over the dog, which wriggled under her hand, yet did not offer to run away, fascinated perhaps by that hesitating touch which he may or may not have known had never inflicted itself upon a dog before. But her ears, and attention, were turned toward two girls chatting on a bench near her as freely as if they were quite alone on the lawn. They were gossiping about a fellow-inmate of the big hotel, and Miss Butterworth listened intently after hearing them mention the name Adams. These are some of the words she caught:
“But she is! I tell you she is sick enough to have a nurse and a doctor. I caught a glimpse of her as I was going by her room yesterday, and I never saw two such big eyes or such pale cheeks. Then, look at him! He must just adore her, for he won’t speak to another woman, and just moves about in that small, hot room all day. I wonder if they are bride and groom? They are young enough, and if you have noticed her clothes ——”
“Oh, don’t talk about clothes. I saw her the first day she came, and was the victim of despair until she suddenly got sick and so couldn’t wear those wonderful waists and jackets. I felt like a dowdy when I saw that pale blue ——”
“Oh, well, blue becomes blondes. You would look like a fright in it. I didn’t care about her clothes, but I did feel that it was all up with us if she chose to talk, or even to smile, upon the few men that are good enough to stay out a week in this place. Yet she isn’t a beauty; she has not a good nose, nor a handsome eye, nor even an irreproachable complexion. It must be her mouth, which is lovely, or her walk — did you notice her walk? It was just as if she were floating; that is, before she fell down in that faint. I wonder why she fainted. Nobody was doing anything, not even her husband. But perhaps that was what troubled her. I noticed that for some cause he was looking very serious — and when she had tried to attract his attention two or three times and failed, she just fell from her chair to the floor. That roused him. He has hardly left her since.”
“I don’t think they look very happy, do you, for so rich and handsome a couple?”
“Perhaps he is dissipated. I have noticed that the old gentleman never leaves them.”
“Well, well, he may be dissipated; handsome men are very apt to be. But I wouldn’t care if ——”
Here the dog gave a yelp and bolted. Miss Butterworth had unconsciously pinched him, in her indignation, possibly, at the turn these rattle-pated young ladies’ conversation was taking. This made a diversion, and the young girls moved off, leaving Miss Butterworth without occupation. But a young man who at that moment crossed her path gave her enough to think about.
“You recognize them? There is no mistake?” he whispered.
“None; the one this way is the young man I saw leave Mr. Adams’s house, and the other is the old gentleman who came in afterward.”
“Mr. Gryce advises you to return home. He is going to arrest the young man.” And Sweetwater passed on.
Miss Butterworth strolled to a seat and sat down. She felt weak; she seemed to see that young wife, sick, overwhelmed, struggling with her great fear, sink under this crushing blow, with no woman near her capable of affording the least sympathy. The father did not impress her as being the man to hold up her fainting head or ease her bruised heart. He had an icy look under his polished exterior which repelled this keen-eyed spinster, and as she remembered the coldness of his ways, she felt herself seized by an irresistible impulse to be near this young creature when the blow fell, if only to ease the tension of her own heartstrings, which at that moment ached keenly over the part she had felt herself obliged to play in this matter.
But when she rose to look for Mr. Gryce, she found him gone; and upon searching the piazza for the other two gentlemen, she saw them just vanishing round the corner in the direction of a small smoking-room. As she could not follow them, she went upstairs, and, meeting a maid in the upper hall, asked for Mrs. Adams. She was told that Mrs. Adams was sick, but was shown the door of her room, which was at the end of a long hall. As all the halls terminated in a window under which a sofa was to be found, she felt that circumstances were in her favor, and took her seat upon the sofa before her in a state of great complacency. Instantly a sweet voice was heard through the open transom of the door behind which her thoughts were already concentrated.
“Where is Tom? Oh, where is Tom? Why does he leave me? I’m afraid of what he may be tempted to do or say down on those great piazzas alone.”
“Mr. Poindexter is with him,” answered a voice, measured, but kind. “Mr. Adams was getting very tired, and your father persuaded him to go down and have a smoke.”
“I must get up; indeed I must get up. Oh! the camphor — the ——”
There was a bustle; this poor young wife had evidently fainted again.
Miss Butterworth cast very miserable glances at the door.
Meanwhile in that small and retired smoking-room a terrible scene was in progress. The two gentlemen had lit their cigars and were sitting in certain forced attitudes that evinced their non-enjoyment of the weed each had taken out of complaisance to the other, when an old man, strangely serious, strangely at home, yet as strangely a guest of the house like themselves, came in, and shut the door behind him.
“Gentlemen,” he at once announced, “I am Detective Gryce of the New York police, and I am here — but I see that one of you at least knows why I am here.”
One? Both of them! This was evident in a moment. No denial, no subterfuge was possible. At the first word uttered in the strange, authoritative tone which old detectives acquire after years of such experiences, the young man sank down in sudden collapse, while his companion, without yielding so entirely to his emotions, showed that he was not insensible to the blow which, in one moment, had brought destruction to all their hopes.
When Mr. Gryce saw himself so completely understood, he no longer hesitated over his duty. Directing his full attention to Mr. Adams, he said, this time with some feeling, for the misery of this young man had impressed him:
“You are wanted in New York by Coroner D— — whose business it is to hold an inquest over the remains of Mr. Felix Adams, of whose astonishing death you are undoubtedly informed. As you and your wife were seen leaving that gentleman’s house a few minutes before he expired, you are naturally regarded as valuable witnesses in determining whether his death was one of suicide or murder.”
It was an accusation, or so nearly one, that Mr. Gryce was not at all surprised to behold the dark flush of shame displace the livid terror which but an instant before had made the man before him look like one of those lost spirits we sometimes imagine as flitting across the open mouth of hell. But he said nothing, seemingly had no power to do so, and his father-in-law was about to make some effort to turn aside this blow when a voice in the hall outside was heard inquiring for Mr. Adams, saying that his wife had fainted again and required his help.
The young husband started, cast a look full of despair at Mr. Poindexter, and thrusting his hand against the door as if to hold it shut, sank on his knees before Mr. Gryce, saying:
“She knows! She suspects! Her nature is so sensitive.”
This he managed to utter in gasps as the detective bent compassionately over him. “Don’t, don’t disturb her! She is an angel, a saint from heaven. Let me bear the blame — he was my brother — let me go with you, but leave her in ignorance ——”
Mr. Gryce, with a vivid sense of justice, laid his hand on the young man’s arm.
“Say nothing,” he enjoined. “My memory is good, and I would rather hear nothing from your lips. As for your wife, my warrant does in no way include her; and if you promise to come with me quietly, I will even let you bid her adieu, so that you do it in my presence.”
The change which passed over the young man’s face at these significant words was of a nature to surprise Mr. Gryce. Rising slowly, he took his stand by Mr. Poindexter, who, true to his inflexible nature, had scarcely moved in limb and feature since Mr. Gryce came in.
“What have you against me?” he demanded. And there was a surprising ring to his voice, as if courage had come with the necessity of the moment. “Of what am I accused? I want you to tell me. I had rather you would tell me in so many words. I cannot leave in peace until you do.”
Mr. Poindexter made a movement at this, and cast a half-suspicious, half-warning glance at his son-in-law. But the young man took no notice of his interference. He kept his eye on the detective, who quietly took out his warrant.
At this instant the door shook.
“Lock it!” was the hoarse command of the accused man. “Don’t let any one pass that door, even if it is to bring the tidings of my wife’s death.”
Mr. Gryce reached out his hand, and turned the key in the lock. Young Adams opened the paper which he had taken from the detective’s hand, and while his blood-shot eyes vainly sought to master the few lines there written, Mr. Poindexter attracted the attention of Mr. Gryce, and, fixing him with his eye, formed his lips with three soundless words:
“For murder? Him?”
The detective’s bow and a very long-drawn sigh from his son-in-law answered him simultaneously. With a curious lift of his upper lip, which showed his teeth somewhat unpleasantly for a moment, he drew back a step, and sank into his previous immobility.
“I am indebted to you,” declared the young man. “Now I know where I stand. I am quite ready to go with you and stand trial, if such be deemed necessary by the officials in New York. You,” he cried, turning with almost an air of command to the old gentleman beside him, “will watch over Eva. Not like a father, sir, but like a mother. You will be at her side when she wakes, and, if possible, leave her only when she sleeps. Do not let her suffer — not too much. No newspapers, no gossiping women. Watch! watch! as I would watch, and when I come back — for I will come back, will I not?” he appealed to Mr. Gryce, “my prayers will bless you and ——” A sob stuck in his throat, and he turned for a minute aside; then he took the detective’s arm quite calmly and remarked:
“I do not want to say good-by to my wife. I cannot bear it. I had rather go straight from here without another glance at her unconscious face. When I have told my story, for I shall tell it to the first man who asks me, I may find courage to write her. Meanwhile, get me away as quickly as you can. Time enough for the world to know my shame to-morrow.”
Mr. Gryce tapped on the window overlooking the piazza. A young man stepped in.
“Here is a gentleman,” he cried, “who finds himself forced to return in great haste to New York. See that he gets to the train in time, without fuss and without raising the least comment. I will follow with his portmanteau. Mr. Poindexter, you are now at liberty to attend your suffering daughter.” And with a turn of the key, he unlocked the door, and one of the most painful scenes of his long life was over.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55