Never have I felt such relief as when, upon my resuscitation, I remembered that I had put upon paper all the events and all the suspicions which had troubled me during that fatal night of January the 28th, sixteen years before. With that in my possession, I could confront any suspicion which might arise, and it was this thought which lent to my bearing at this unhappy time a dignity and self-possession which evidently surprised the two gentlemen.
“You seem more shocked than astonished,” was Mr. Tamworth’s first remark, as, mistress once more of myself, I led the way out of that horrible room into one breathing less of death and the charnel house.
“You are right,” said I. “Mysteries which have troubled me for years are now in the way of being explained by this discovery. I knew that something either fearful or precious had been left in the keeping of this house or grounds; but I did not know what this something was, and least of all did I suspect that its hiding place was between walls whose turns and limitations I thought I knew as well as I do the paths of my garden.”
“You speak riddles,” Dr. Kenyon now declared. “You knew that something fearful or precious had been left in your house —”
“Pardon me,” I interrupted; “I said house or grounds. I thought it was in the grounds, for how could I think that the house could, without my knowledge, hold anything of the nature I have just suggested?”
“You knew, then, that a person had been murdered?”
“No,” I persisted, with a strange calmness, considering how agitated I was, both by my memories and the fears I could not but entertain for the future; “I know nothing; nor can I, even with the knowledge of this discovery, understand or explain what took place in my house sixteen years ago.”
And in a few hurried words I related the story of the mysterious couple who had occupied that room on the night of January 27, 1775.
They listened to me as if I were repeating a fairy tale, and as I noted the sympathizing air with which Dr. Kenyon tried to hide his natural incredulity, I again congratulated myself that I had been a weak enough woman to keep an account of the events which had so impressed me.
“You think I am drawing upon my imagination,” I quietly remarked, as silence fell upon my narration.
“By no means,” the doctor began, hurriedly; “but the details you give are so open to question, and the conclusions you expect us to draw from them are so serious, that I wish, for your own sake, we had heard something of the Urquharts, and your doubts and suspicions in their regard, before we had made the discovery which points to death and crime. You see I speak plainly, Mrs. Truax.”
“You cannot speak too plainly, Doctor Kenyon; and my opinion so entirely coincides with yours that I am going to furnish you with what you ask.” And without heeding their looks of astonishment, I rang the bell for one of the girls, and sent her to a certain drawer in my desk for the folded paper which she would find there.
“Here!” I exclaimed, as the paper was brought, “read this, and you will soon see how I felt about the Urquharts on the evening of the day they left us.”
And I put into their hands the record I had made of that day’s experience.
While they were reading it, I puzzled myself with questions. If this body which we had just found sepulchered in my house was, as the initials in the ring seemed to declare, that of Honora Urquhart, who was the woman who passed for her at the time of the departure of this accused couple from my doors? I was with them, and saw the lady, and supposed her to be the same I had entertained at my table the night before. But then I chiefly noted her dress and height, and did not see her face, which was hidden by her veil, and did not hear her voice beyond the short and somewhat embarrassed laugh she gave at some little incident which had occurred. But Hetty had seen her, and had even received money from her hand; and Hetty could not have been deceived, nor was Hetty a girl to be bribed. How was I, then, to understand the matter? And where, in case another woman had taken Mrs. Urquhart’s place, had that woman come from?
I thought of the low window, and the ease with which any one could climb into it; and then, with a flash of startled conviction, I thought of the huge box.
“Great heavens!” I ejaculated, feeling the hair stir anew on my forehead. “Can it be that he brought her in that? That she was with them all the time, and that the almost hellish tragedy to which this ring points was the scheme of two vile and murderous lovers to suppress an unhappy wife that stood in the way of their desires?”
I could not think it. I could not believe that any man could be so void of mercy, or any woman so lost to every instinct of decency, as to plan, and then coolly carry out to the end, a crime so unheard of in its atrocity. There must be some other explanation of the facts before us. Why, the date in the ring is enough. If that speaks true, the marriage between Edwin Urquhart and the gentle Honora was but a day old, and even the worst of men take time to weary of their wives before they take measures against them. Yet, the look and manner of the man! His affection for the box, and his manifest indifference for his wife! And, lastly, and most convincing of all, this awful token in the room beyond! What should I, what could I think!
At this point in my surmises I grew so faint that I turned to Dr. Kenyon and Mr. Tamworth for relief. They had just finished my record of the past, and were looking at each other in surprise and horror.
“It surpasses the most atrocious deeds of the middle ages,” quoth Mr. Tamworth.
“In a country deemed civilized,” finished the doctor.
“Then you think,” I tremblingly began —
“That you have harbored two demons under your roof, Mrs. Truax. There seems to be no doubt that the woman who went away with Mr. Urquhart was not the woman who came with him. She lies here, while the other —”
He paused, and Mr. Tamworth took up the word.
“It seems to have been a strangely triumphant piece of villainy. The woman who profited by it must have had great self-control and force of character. Don’t you think so, doctor?”
“Unquestionably,” was the firm reply.
“You do not say how you account for her presence here,” I now reluctantly intimated.
“I think she was hidden in the great box. It was large enough for that, was it not, Mrs. Truax?”
I nodded, much agitated.
“His care of it, his call for a supper, the change in its weight, and the fact that its contents were of a different character in going than coming, all point to the fact of its having been used for the purpose we intimated. It strikes one as most horrible, but history furnishes us with precedents of attempts equally daring, and if the box was well furnished with holes — did you notice any breathing places in it?”
“No,” I returned; “but I did not cast two glances at the box. I was jealous of it, for the young wife’s sake, though, as God knows, I had little idea of what it contained, and merely noticed that it was big and clumsy, and capable of holding many books.”
“Yet you must have noticed, even in a cursory glance, whether its top or sides were broken by holes.”
“They were not, but —”
“I do remember, now, that he flung his traveling-cloak across it just as the men went to lift it from the wagon, and that the cloak remained upon it all the time it was in their hands, and until after we had all left the room. But it was taken away later, for when I went in the second time, I saw it lying across the chair.”
“And the box?”
“Was hidden by the foot of the bed behind which he had dragged it.”
“And the cloak? Was it over the box when it went out?”
“No; but I have thought since we have been talking, that the box might have been turned over after its occupant left it. The holes, if there were any, would thus be on the bottom, and would escape our detection.”
“Very possible, but the sand with which we supposed the box had been filled would have sifted through.”
“Not if a good firm piece of stuff was laid in first, and there were plenty of such in the secret chamber.”
“That is true. But Burritt, you write, was listening at the door, and yet you mention no remarks of his concerning any noises heard by him from within. And noise must have been made if this was done, as it must have had to be done after the tragedy.”
“I know I do not,” was the hurried reply. “But Burritt probably did not remain at the door all the time. There is a window seat at the end of the corridor, and upon it he probably lolled during the few hours of his watch. Besides, you must remember that Burritt left his post some time before daylight. He had his duties to attend to, some of which necessitated his being in the stables by four o’clock, at least.”
“I see; and so the affair prospered, as most very daring deeds do, and they escaped without suspicion, or rather without suspicion pointed enough to lead to their being followed. I wonder where they escaped to, and if in all the years that have elapsed, they have for one moment imagined that they were happy.”
“Happy!” was my horrified exclamation. “Oh, if I could find them! If I could drag them both to this room and make them keep company with their victim for a week, I should feel it too slight a retribution for them.”
“Heaven has had its eye upon them. We have been through fearful crises since that day, and much unrighteous as well as righteous blood has been shed in this land. They may both be dead.”
“I do not believe it,” I muttered. “Such wretches never die.” Then, with a renewed remembrance of Hetty, I remarked: “Curses on the duties that kept me out of this room on that fatal morning. Had I seen the woman’s face, this horrid crime would at least been spared its triumph. But I was obliged to send Hetty, and she saw nothing strange in the woman, though she received money from her hand, and —”
“Where is Hetty?” interrupted the doctor.
“She is married, and lives in the next town.”
“So, so. Well, we must hunt her up to-morrow, and see what she has to say about the matter now.”
But we soon found ourselves too impatient to wait till the morrow, so after we had eaten a good supper in a cheerful room, Dr. Kenyon mounted his horse, and rode away to the farm house where Hetty lived. While he was gone, Mr. Tamworth summoned up courage to re-enter that cave of horror, and bring out the contents of the oak chest we had seen there. These were mostly stuffs in a more or less good state of preservation, and all the assistance they lent to the understanding of the tragedy that mystified us was the fact that the chest contained nothing, nor the room itself, of sufficient substance to help the wicked Urquhart in giving weight to the box which he had emptied of its living freight. This is doubtless the reason he resorted to the garden for the sand and stone he found there.
Dr. Kenyon returned about midnight, and was met at the door by Mr. Tamworth and myself.
“Well?” I cried, in great excitement.
“Just as I supposed,” he returned. “She did not see the lady’s face either. The latter was in bed, and the girl took it for granted that the arm and hand which reached her out a silver piece from between the bed curtains were those of Mrs. Urquhart.”
“My house is cursed!” was my sudden exclamation. “It has not only lent itself to the success of the most demoniacal scheme that ever entered into the heart of man, but it has kept its secret so long that all hope of explaining its details or reaching the guilty must be abandoned.”
“Not so,” quoth Mr. Tamworth. “Though an old man, I dedicate myself to this task. You will hear again of the Urquharts.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50