Suddenly he faced Deborah again. The crisis of feeling had passed, and he looked almost cold.
“You have had advisers,” said he. “Who are they?”
“I have talked with Mr. Black.”
The judge’s brows met.
“Well, you were wise,” said he. Then shortly, “What is his attitude?”
Feeling that her position was fast becoming intolerable she falteringly replied, “Friendly to you and Oliver but, even without all the reasons which move me, sharing my convictions.”
“He has told you so?”
“Not directly; but there was no misjudging his opinion of the necessity you were under to explain, the mysteries of your life. AND IT WAS YESTERDAY WE TALKED; NOT TODAY.”
Like words thrown into a void, these slow, lingering, half-uttered phrases seemed to awaken an echo which rung not only in his inmost being, but in hers. Not till in both natures silence had settled again (the silence of despair, not peace), did he speak. When he did, it was simply to breathe her name.
Startled, for it had always before been Madam, she looked up to find him standing very near her and with his hand held out.
“I am going through deep waters,” said he. “Am I to have your support?”
“O, Judge Ostrander, how can you doubt it?” she cried, dropping her hand into his, and her eyes swimming with tears. “But what can I do? If I remain here I will be questioned. If I fly — but, possibly, that is what you want; — for me to go — to disappear — to take Reuther and sink out of all men’s sight forever. If this is your wish, I am ready to do it. Gladly will we be gone — now — at once — this very night if you say so.”
His disclaimer was peremptory.
“No; not that. I ask no such sacrifice. Neither would it avail. There is but one thing which can reinstate Oliver and myself in the confidence and regard of these people. Cannot you guess it, madam? I mean your own restored conviction that the sentence passed upon John Scoville was a just one. Once satisfied of this, your temperament is such that you would be our advocate whether you wished it or no. Your very silence would be eloquent.”
“Convince me; I am willing to have you, Judge Ostrander. But how can you do so? A shadow stands between my wishes and the belief you mention. The shadow cast by Oliver as he made his way towards the bridge, with my husband’s bludgeon in his hand.”
“Did you see him strike the blow? Were there any opportune shadows to betray what happened between the instant of — let us say Oliver’s approach and the fall of my friend? Much can happen in a minute, and this matter is one of minutes. Granted that the shadow you saw was that of Oliver, and the stick he carried was the one under which Algernon succumbed, what is to hinder the following from, having occurred. The stick which Oliver may have caught up in an absent frame of mind becomes burdensome; he has broken his knife against a knot in the handle and he is provoked. Flinging the bludgeon down, he hurries up the embankment and so on into town. John Scoville, lurking in the bushes, sees his stick fall and regains it at or near the time Algernon Etheridge steps into sight at the end of the bridge beyond Dark Hollow. Etheridge carries a watch greatly desired by the man who finds himself thus armed. The place is quiet; the impulse to possess himself of this watch is sudden and irresistible, and the stick falls on Etheridge’s head. Is there anything impossible or even improbable about all this? Scoville had a heart open to crime, Oliver not. This I knew when I sat upon the bench at his trial; and now you shall know it too. Come! I have something to show you.”
He turned towards the door and mechanically she followed. Her thoughts were all in a whirl. She did not know what to make of him or of herself. The rooted dread of weeks was stirring in its soil. This suggestion of the transference of the stick from hand to hand was not impossible. Only Scoville had sworn to her, and that, too, upon their child’s head, that he had not struck this blow. And she had believed him after finding the cap; AND SHE BELIEVED HIM NOW. Yes, against her will, she believed him now. Why? and again, why?
They had crossed the hall and he was taking the turn to his room.
“Enter,” said he, lifting the curtain.
Involuntarily she recoiled. Not from him, but from the revelation she felt to be awaiting her in this place of unguessed mystery. Looking back into the space behind her, she caught a fleeting glimpse of Reuther hovering on a distant threshold. Leaving the judge, without even a murmured word of apology, she ran to the child, embraced her, and promised to join her soon; and then, satisfied with the comfort thus gained, she returned quickly to where the judge still awaited her, with his hand on the curtain.
“Forgive me,” said she; and meeting with no reply, stood trembling while he unlocked the door and ushered her in.
A new leaf in the history of this old crime was about to be turned.
Once within the room, he became his courteous self once more. “Be seated,” he begged, indicating a chair in the half gloom. As she took it, the room sprang into sudden light. He had pulled the string which regulated the curtains over the glazed panes in the ceiling. Then as quickly all was gloom again; he had let the string escape from his hand.
“Half light is better,” he muttered in vague apology.
It was a weird beginning to an interview whose object was as yet incomprehensible to her. One minute a blinding glimpse of the room whose details were so varied that many of them still remained unknown to her — the next, everything swept again into shadow through which the tall form of the genius of the place loomed with melancholy suggestion!
She was relieved when he spoke.
“Mrs. Scoville (not Deborah now) have you any confidence in Oliver’s word?”
She did not reply at once. Too much depended upon a simple yes or no. Her first instinctive cry would have been YES, but if Oliver had been guilty and yet held back his dreadful secret all these years, how could she believe his word, when his whole life had been a lie?
“Has there ever been anything in his conversation as you knew it in Detroit to make you hesitate to reply?” the judge persisted, as she continued speechless.
“No; nothing. I had every confidence in his assertions. I should have yet, if it were not for this horror.”
“Forget it for a moment. Recall his effect upon you as a man, a prospective son-in-law — for you meant him to marry Reuther.”
“I trusted him. I would trust him in many ways yet.”
“Would you trust him enough to believe that he would tell you the truth if you asked him point-blank whether his hands were clean of crime?”
“Yes.” The word came in a whisper; but there was no wavering in it. She had felt the conviction dart like an arrow through her mind that Oliver might slay a man in his hate — might even conceal his guilt for years — but that he could not lie about it when brought face to face with an accuser like herself.
“Then I will let you read something he wrote at my request these many years ago: An experience — the tale of one awful night, the horrors of which, locked within his mind and mine, have never been revealed to a third person. That you should share our secret now, is not only necessary but fitting. It becomes the widow of John Scoville to know what sort of a man she persists in regarding innocent. Wait here for me.”
With a quick step he wound his way among the various encumbering pieces of furniture, to the door opening into his bedroom. A breathless moment ensued, during which she heard his key turn in the lock, followed by the repeating sound of his footsteps, as he wended his way inside to a point she could only guess at from her knowledge of the room, to be a dresser in one of the corners. Here he lingered so long that, without any conscious volition of her own — almost in spite of her volition which would have kept her where she was — she found herself on her feet, then moving step by step, more cautiously than he, in and out of huddling chairs and cluttering tables till she came to a stand-still before the reflection (in some mirror, no doubt) of the judge’s tall form, bending not over the dresser, as she had supposed, but before a cupboard in the wall — a cupboard she had never seen, in a wall she had never seen, but now recognised for the one hitherto concealed by the great carpet rug. He had a roll of paper in his hand, which he bundled together as he dropped the curtain back into place and then stopped to smooth it out over the floor with the precision of long habit. All this she saw in the mirror as though she had been at his back in the other room; but when she beheld him turn, then panic seized her and she started breathlessly for the spot where he had left her, glad that there was so little light, and praying that he might be deaf to her steps, which, gently as they fell, sounded portentously loud in her own ears.
She had reached her chair, but she had not had time to reseat herself when she beheld him approaching with the bundle of loose sheets clutched in his hand.
“I want you to sit here and read,” said he, laying the manuscript down on a small table near the wall under a gas-jet which he immediately lighted. “I am going back to my own desk. If you want to speak, you may; I shall not be working.” And she heard his footsteps retreating again in and out among the furniture till he reached his own chair and sat before his own table.
This ended all sound in the room excepting the beating of her own heart, which had become tumultuous.
How could she sit there and read words, with the blood pounding in her veins and her eyes half blind with terror and excitement? It was only the necessity of the case which made it possible. She knew that she would never be released from that spot until she had read what had been placed before her. Thank God! the manuscript was legible. Oliver’s handwriting possessed the clearness of print. She had begun to read before she knew it, and having begun, she never paused till she reached the end.
I was fifteen. It was my birthday and I had my own ideas of how I wanted to spend it. My hobby was modelling. My father had no sympathy with this hobby. To him it was a waste of time better spent in study or such sports as would fit me for study. But he had never absolutely forbidden me to exercise my talent this way, and when on the day I mention I had a few hours of freedom, I decided to begin a piece of work of which I had long dreamed. This was the remodelling in clay of an exquisite statue which had greatly aroused my admiration.
This statue stood in a forbidden place. It was one of the art treasures of the great house on the bluff commonly called Spencer’s Folly. I had seen this marble once, when dining there with father, and was so impressed by its beauty, that it haunted me night and day, standing out white and wonderful in my imagination, against backgrounds of endless variation. To copy its lovely lines, to caress with a creative hand those curves of beauty instinct, as I then felt, with soul, became my one overmastering desire — a desire which soon deepened into purpose. The boy of fifteen would attempt the impossible. I procured my clay and then awaited my opportunity. It came, as I have said, on my birthday.
There was no one living in the house at this time. Mr. Spencer had gone West for the winter. The servants had been dismissed, and the place closed. Only that morning I had heard one of his boon companions say, “Oh, Jack’s done for. He’s found a pretty widow in the Sierras, and there’s no knowing now when we’ll drink his health again in Spencer’s Folly:” a statement which wakened but one picture in my mind and that was a long stretch of empty rooms teeming with art treasures amid which one gem rose supreme — the gem which through his reckless carelessness, I now proposed to make my own, if loving fingers and the responsive clay would allow it.
What to every other person in town would have seemed an insuperable obstacle to this undertaking, was no obstacle to me. I KNEW HOW TO GET IN. One day in my restless wanderings about a place which had something of the nature of a shrine to me, I had noticed that one of the windows (a swinging one) overlooking the ravine, moved as the wind took it. Either the lock had given way or it had not been properly fastened. If I could only bring myself to disregard the narrowness of the ledge separating the house from the precipice beneath, I felt that I could reach this window and sever the vines sufficiently for my body to press in; and this I did that night, finding, just as I had expected, that once a little force was brought to bear upon the sash, it yielded easily, offering a free passage to the delights within.
In all this I experienced little fear, but once inside, I began to realise the hazard of my adventure, as hanging at full length from the casement, I meditated on the drop I must take into what to my dazed eyes looked like an absolute void. This taxed my courage; but after a moment of sheer fright, I let myself go — I had to — and immediately found myself standing upright in a space so narrow I could touch the walls on either side. It was a closet I had entered, opening, as I soon discovered, into the huge dining-hall where I had once sat beside my father at the one formal meal of my life.
I remembered that room; it had made a great impression upon me, and some light finding its way through the panes of uncurtained glass which topped each of the three windows overlooking the ravine, I soon was able to find the door leading into the drawing~room.
I had brought a small lantern in the bag slung to my shoulders, but I had not hitherto dared to use it on account of the transparency of the panes I have mentioned; but once in the perfectly dark recesses of the room beyond, I drew it out, and without the least fear of detection boldly turned it upon the small alcove where stood the object of my adoration.
It was another instance of the reckless confidence of youth. I was on the verge of one of the most appalling adventures which could befall a man, and yet no premonition disturbed the ecstasy with which I knelt before the glimmering marble and unrolled my bundle of wet clay.
I was not a complete fool. I only meant to attempt a miniature copy, but my presumption led me to expect it to be like — yes, like — oh, I never doubted it!
But when, after a few minutes of rapturous contemplation of the proportions which have been the despair of all lesser adepts than the great sculptor who conceived them, I began my work, oh, then I began to realise a little the nature of the task I had undertaken and to ask myself whether if I stayed all night I could finish it to my mind. It was during one of these moments of hesitation that I heard the first growl of distant thunder. But it made little impression upon me, and I returned to my work with renewed glow — renewed hope. I felt so secure in my shell of darkness, with only the one small beam lighting up my model and my own fingers busy with the yielding clay.
But the thunder growled again and my head rose, this time in real alarm. Not because of that far-off struggle of the elements with which I had nothing to do and hardly sensed, but because of a nearer sound, an indistinguishable yet strangely perturbing sound, suggesting a step — no, it was a voice, or if not a voice, some equally sure token of an approaching presence on the porch in front. Some one going by on the road two hundred feet away must have caught the gleam of my lantern through some unperceived crack in the parlour shutters. In another minute I should hear a shout at the window, or, perhaps, the pounding of a heavy hand on the front door. I hated the interruption, but otherwise I was but little disturbed. Whoever it was, he could not by any chance find his way in. Nevertheless, I discreetly closed the shutter of my lantern and began groping my way back to my own place of exit. I had reached the dining-room door, when the blood suddenly stopped in my veins. Another sound had reached my ear; an unmistakable one this time — the rattling of a key in its lock. A man — two men were entering by the great front door. They came in on a swoop of wind which seemed to carry everything before it. I heard a loud laugh, coarsened by drink, and the tipsy exclamation of a voice I knew:
“There! shut the door, can’t you, before it’s blown from its hinges? You’ll find everything jolly here. Wine, lights, solitude in which to finish our game and a roaring good opportunity to sleep afterwards. No servants, no porters, not a soul to disturb us. This is my house and it’s a corker. I might be away for a year and”— here there was the crackling of a match —“I’ve only to use my night-key to find everything a man wants right to my hand.”
The answer I failed to catch. I was simply paralysed by terror. Should their way lay through the drawing-room! My clay, my tools were all lying there, and my unfinished model. Mr. Spencer was not an unkind man, but he was very drunk, and I had heard that whisky makes a brute of the most good-natured. He would trample on my work; perhaps he would destroy my tools and then hunt the house till he found me. I did not know what to expect; meantime, lights began to flame up; the room where I stood was no longer a safe refuge, and creeping like a cat, I began to move towards the closet door. Suddenly I made a dart for it; the two men, trampling heavily on the marble floor of the hall were coming my way. I could hear their rude talk — rude to me, though one of them called himself a gentleman. As the door of the room opened to admit them, I succeeded in shutting that of the closet into which I had flung myself — or almost so. I did not dare to latch it, for they were already in the room and might hear me.
“This is the spot for us,” came in Spencer’s most jovial tones. “Big table, whisky handy, cards right here in my pocket. Wait, till I strike a light!”
But the lightning anticipated him. As he spoke, the walls which surrounded me, the walls which surrounded them, leapt into glaring view and I heard the second voice cry out:
“I don’t like that! Let’s wait till the storm is over. I can’t play with such candles as those flaring about us.”
“Damn it! you won’t know what candles you are playing by when once you see the pile I’ve got ready for you. I’m in for a big bout. You have ten dollars and I have a thousand. I’ll play you for that ten. If, in the meantime, you get my thousand, why, it’ll be because you’re the better man.”
“I don’t like it, I say. There, SEE!”
A flood of white light had engulfed the house. My closet, with its whitewashed walls flared about me like the mouth of a furnace.
“See, yourself!” came the careless retort, and with the words a gas-jet shot up, then two, then all that the room contained. “How’s that? What’s a flash more or less now!”
I heard no answer, only the slap of the cards as they were flung onto the table; then the clatter of a key as it was turned in some distant lock and the quick question:
“Rum, or whisky. Irish or Scotch?”
“Whisky and Irish.”
“Good! but you’ll drink it alone.”
The bottles were brought forward and they sat down one on each side of the dusty mahogany table. The man facing me was Spencer, the other sat with his back my way, but I could now and then catch a glimpse of his profile as he started at some flash or lifted his head in terror of the thunder-claps.
“We’ll play till the hands point to three,” announced Spencer, taking out his watch and laying it down where both could see it. “Do you agree to that? — Unless I win and your funds go a-begging before the hour.”
“I agree.” The tone was harsh; it was almost smothered. The man was staring at the watch; there was a strange set look to his figure; a pausing as of thought — of sinister thought, I should now say; then I never stopped to characterise it; it was followed too quickly by a loud laugh and a sudden grab at the cards.
“You’ll win! I feel it in my bones,” came in encouraging tones from the rich man. “If you do”— here the storm lulled and his voice sank to an encouraging whisper —“you can buy the old tavern up the road. It’s going for a song; and then we’ll be neighbours and can play — play —”
Thunder! — a terrific peal. It shook the house; it shook my boyish heart, but it no longer had power to move the two gamesters. The fever of play had reached its height, and I heard nothing more from their lips, but such phrases as belong to the game. Why didn’t I take advantage of their absorption to fly? The sill above my head was within easy reach, the sash was open and no sound that I could make would reach them in this hurly-burly of storm. Why then, with all this invitation to escape, did I remain crouched in my dark retreat with eyes fixed on the narrow crack before me which, under some impulse of movement in the walls about, had widened sufficiently for me to see all that I have related? I do not know, unless I was hypnotised by the glare of expression on those men’s faces.
I remember that it was my first glimpse of the human countenance under the sway of wicked and absorbing passions. Hitherto my dreams had all been of beauty — of lovely shapes or noble figures cast in heroic mould. Henceforth, these ideal groups must visit my imagination mixed with the bulging eyes of greed and the contortions of hate masking their hideousness under false smiles or hiding them behind the motions of riotous jollity. I was horrified, I was sickened, and I was frightened to the very soul, but the fascination of the spectacle held me; I watched the men and I watched the play and soon I forgot the tempest also, or remembered it only when my small retreat flared into sudden whiteness, or some gust, heavier than the rest, toppled the bricks from the chimneys above us and sent them crashing down upon the rain-soaked roof.
The stranger was winning. I saw the heap of bills beside him grow and grow while that of his opponent dwindled. I saw the latter smile — smile softly at each toss of his losings across the board; but there was no mirth in his smile, nor was there any common satisfaction in the way the other’s hand closed over his gains.
“He will have it all,” I thought. “The Claymore Tavern will soon change owners;” and I was holding my breath over the final stake when suddenly the house gave a lurch, resettled, then lurched again. The tempest had become a hurricane, and with its first swoop a change took place in the stranger’s luck.
The bills which had all gone one way began slowly to recross the board, first singly, then in handfuls. They fell within Spencer’s grasp, and the smile with which he hailed their return was not the smile with which he had seen them go, but a steady grin such as I had beheld on the faces of sculptured demons. It frightened me, this smile. I could see nothing else; but, when at another crashing peal I ducked my head, I found on lifting it that my eyes sought instinctively the rigid back of the stranger instead of the open face of Spencer. The passion of the winner was nothing to that of the loser; and from this moment on, I saw but the one figure, and thrilled to the one hope — that an opportunity would soon come for me to see the face of the man whose back told such a tale of fury and suspense.
But it remained fixed on Spencer, and the cards. The roof might fall — he was past heeding. A bill or two only lay now at his elbow, and I could perceive the further stiffening of his already rigid muscles as he dealt out the cards. Suddenly hard upon a rattling peal which seemed to unite heaven and earth, I heard shouted out:
“Half-past two! The game stops at three.”
“Damn your greedy eyes!” came back in a growl. Then all was still, fearfully still, both in the atmosphere outside and in that within, during which I caught sight of the stranger’s hand moving slowly around to his back and returning as slowly forward, all under cover of the table-top and a stack of half-empty bottles.
I was inexperienced. I knew nothing of the habits or the ways of such men as these, but the alarm of innocence in the face of untold, unsuspected but intuitively felt evil, seized me at this stealthy movement, and I tried to rise — tried to shriek — but could not; for events rushed upon us quicker than I could speak or move.
“I can buy the Claymore Tavern, can I? Well, I’m going to,” rang out into the air as the speaker leaped to his feet. “Take that, you cheat! And that! And that!” And the shots rang out — one, two, three!
Spencer was dead in his Folly. I had seen him rise, throw up his hands and then fall in a heap among the cards and glasses.
Silence! Not even Heaven spoke.
Then the man who stood there alone turned slightly and I saw his face. I have seen it many times since; I have seen it at Claymore Tavern. Distorted up to this moment by a thousand emotions — all evil ones — it was calm now with the realisation of his act, and I could make no mistake as to his identity. Later I will mention his name.
Glancing first at his victim, then at the pistol still smoking in his hand, he put the weapon back in his pocket, and began gathering up the money for which he had just damned his soul. To get it all, he had to move an arm of the body sprawling along the board. But he did not appear to mind. When every bill was in his pockets, he reached out his hand for the watch. Then I saw him smile. He smiled as he shut the case, he smiled as he plunged it in after the bills. There was gloating in this smile. He seemed to have got what he wanted more than when he fingered the bills. I was stiff with horror. I was not conscious of noting these details, but I saw them every one. Small things make an impression when the mind is numb under the effect of a great blow.
Next moment I woke to a realisation of myself and all the danger of my own position. He was scanning very carefully the room about him. His eyes were travelling slowly — very slowly but certainly, in my direction. I saw them pause — concentrate their glances and fix them straight and full upon mine. Not that he saw me. The crack through which we were peering each in our several ways was too narrow for that. But the crack itself — that was what he saw and the promise it gave of some room beyond. I was a creature frozen. But when he suddenly turned away instead of plunging towards me with his still smoking pistol, I had the instinct to make a leap for the window over my head and clutch madly at its narrow sill in a wild attempt at escape.
But the effort ended precipitately. Terror had got me by the hair, and terror made me look back. The crack had widened still further, and what I now saw through it glued me to the wall and held me there transfixed, with dangling feet and starting eyeballs.
He was coming towards me — a straining, panting figure — half carrying, half dragging, the dead man who flopped aside from his arms.
God! what was I to do now! How meet those cold, indifferent eyes filled only with thoughts of his own safety and see them flare again with murderous impulse and that impulse directed towards myself! I couldn’t meet them; I couldn’t stay; but how fly when not a muscle responded. I had to stay — hanging from the sill and praying — praying — till my senses blurred and I knew nothing till on a sudden they cleared again, and I woke to the blessed realisation that the door had been pushed against my slender figure, hiding it completely from his sight, and that this door was now closed again and this time tightly, and I was safe — safe!
The relief sent the perspiration in a reek from every pore; but the icy revulsion came quickly. As I drew up my knees to get a better purchase on the sill, heaven’s torch was suddenly lit up, the closet became a pit of dazzling whiteness amid which I saw the blot of that dead body, with head propped against the wall and eyes —
Remember, I was but fifteen. The legs were hunched up and almost touched mine. I could feel them — though there was no contact — pushing me — forcing me from my frail support. Would it lighten again? Would I have to see — No! any risk first. The window — I no longer thought of it. It was too remote, too difficult. The door — the door — there was my way — the only way which would rid me instantly of any proximity to this hideous object. I flung myself at it — found the knob — turned it and yelled aloud — My foot had brushed against him. I knew the difference and it sent me palpitating over the threshold; but no further. Love of life had returned with my escape from that awful prison-house, and I halted in the semidarkness into which I had plunged, thanking Heaven for the thunder peal which had drowned my loud cry.
For I was not yet safe. He was still there. He had turned out all lights but one, but this was sufficient to show me his tall figure straining up to put out this last jet.
Another instant and darkness enveloped the whole place. He had not seen me and was going. I could hear the sound of his feet as he went stumbling in his zigzag course towards the door. Then every sound both on his part and on mine was lost in a swoop of down~falling rain and I remember nothing more till out of the blankness before me, he started again into view, within the open doorway where in the glare of what he called heaven’s candles he stood, poising himself to meet the gale which seemed ready to catch him up and whirl him with other inconsequent things into the void of nothingness. Then darkness settled again and I was left alone with Murder; — all the innocence of my youth gone, and my soul a very charnel house.
I had to re-enter that closet; I had to take the only means of escape proffered. But I went through it as we go through the horrors of nightmare. My muscles obeyed my volition, but my sensibilities were no longer active. How I managed to draw myself up to that slippery sill all reeking now with rain, or save myself from falling to my death in the whirling blast that carried everything about me into the ravine below, I do not know.
I simply did it and escaped all — lightning-flash and falling limb, and the lasso of swirling winds — to find myself at last lying my full length along the bridge amid a shock of elements such as nature seldom sports with. Here I clung, for I was breathless, waiting with head buried in my arm for the rain to abate before I attempted a further escape from the place which held such horror for me!
But no abatement came, and feeling the bridge shaking under me almost to cracking, I began to crawl, inch by inch, along its gaping boards till I reached its middle.
There God stopped me.
For, with a clangour as of rending worlds, a bolt, hot from the zenith, sped down upon the bluff behind me, throwing me down again upon my face and engulfing sense and understanding for one wild moment. Then I sprang upright and with a yell of terror sped across the rocking boards beneath me to the road, no longer battling with my desire to look back; no longer asking myself when and how that dead man would be found; no longer even asking my own duty in the case; for Spencer’s Folly was on fire and the crime I had just seen perpetrated there would soon be a crime stricken from the sight of men forever.
In the flare of its tremendous burning I found my way up through the forest road to my home and into my father’s presence. He like everybody else was up that night, and already alarmed at my continued absence.
“Spencer’s Folly is on fire,” I cried, as he cast dismayed eyes at my pallid and dripping figure. “If you go to the door, you can see it!”
But I told him nothing more.
Perhaps other boys of my age can understand my silence.
I not only did not tell my father, but I told nobody, even after the discovery of Spencer’s charred body in the closet so miraculously preserved. With every day that passed, it became harder to part with this baleful secret. I felt it corroding my thoughts and destroying my spirits, and yet I kept still. Only my taste for modelling was gone. I have never touched clay since.
Claymore Tavern did change owners. When I heard that a man by the name of Scoville had bought it, I went over to see Scoville. He was the man. Then I began to ask myself what I ought to do with my knowledge, and the more I asked myself this question, and the more I brooded over the matter, the less did I feel like taking, not the public, but my father, into my confidence.
I had never doubted his love for me, but I had always stood in great awe of his reproof, and I did not know where I was to find courage to tell him all the details of this adventure.
There is one thing I did do, however. I made certain inquiries here and there, and soon satisfied myself as to how Scoville had been able to come into town, commit this horrid deed and escape without any one but myself being the wiser. Spencer and he had come from the west en route to New York without any intention of stopping off in Shelby. But once involved in play, they got so interested that when within a few miles of the town, Spencer proposed that they should leave the train and finish the game in his own house. Whether circumstances aided them, or Spencer took some extraordinary precautions against being recognised, will never be known. But certain it is that he escaped all observation at the station and even upon the road. When Scoville returned alone, the storm had reached such a height that the roads were deserted, and he, being an entire stranger here at that time, naturally attracted no attention, and so was able to slip away on the next train with just the drawback of buying a new ticket. I, a boy of fifteen, trespassing where I did not belong, was the only living witness of what had happened on this night of dreadful storm, in the house which was now a ruin.
I realised the unpleasantness of the position in which this put me, but not its responsibility. Scoville, ignorant that any other breast than his own held the secret of that hour of fierce temptation and murder, naturally scented no danger and rejoiced without stint in his new acquisition. What evil might I not draw down upon myself by disturbing him in it at this late day. If I were going to do anything, I should have done it at first — so I reasoned, and let the matter slide. I became interested in school and study, and the years passed and I had almost forgotten the occurrence, when suddenly the full remembrance came back upon me with a rush. A man — my father’s friend — was found murdered in sight of this spot of old-time horror, and Scoville was accused of the act.
I was older now and saw my fault in all its enormity. I was guilty of that crime — or so I felt in the first heat of my sorrow and despair. I may even have said so — in dreams or in some of my self~absorbed broodings. Though I certainly had not lifted the stick against Mr. Etheridge, I had left the hand free which did, and this was a sufficient occasion for remorse — or so I truly felt.
I was so affected by the thought that even my father, with his own weight of troubles, noticed my care-worn face and asked me for an explanation. But I held him off until the verdict was reached, and then I told him. I had not liked his looks for some time; they seemed to convey some doubt of the justice of this man’s sentence, and I felt that if he had such doubts, they might be eased by this certainty of Scoville’s murderous tendencies and unquestionable greed.
And they were; but as Scoville was already doomed, we decided that it was unnecessary to make public his past offences. However, with an eye upon future contingencies, my father exacted from me in writing this full account of my adventure, which with all the solemnity of an oath I here declare to be the true story of what befell me in the house called Spencer’s Folly, on the night of awful storm, September Eleventh, 1895.
Witnesses to above signature,
ARCHIBALD OSTRANDER, BELA JEFFERSON.
Shelby. . . . . . . . November 7, 1898.
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