Which of you have done this?
What have we here?
MR. FERRIS sat in his office in a somewhat gloomy frame of mind. There had been bad news from the jail that morning. Mr. Hildreth had attempted suicide the night before, and was now lying in a critical condition at the hospital.
Mr. Ferris himself had never doubted this man’s guilt. From Hildreth’s first appearance at the inquest, the District Attorney had fixed upon him as the murderer of Mrs. Clemmens, and up to this time he had seen no good and substantial reason for altering his opinion.
Even the doubts expressed by Mr. Byrd had moved him but little. Mr. Byrd was an enthusiast, and, naturally enough, shrank from believing a gentleman capable of such a crime. But the other detective’s judgment was unswayed, and he considered Hildreth guilty. It was not astonishing, then, that the opinion of Mr. Ferris should coincide with that of the older and more experienced man.
But the depth of despair or remorse which had led Mr. Hildreth to this desperate attempt upon his own life had struck the District Attorney with dismay. Though not over-sensitive by nature, he could not help feeling sympathy for the misery that had prompted such a deed, and while secretly regarding this unsuccessful attempt at suicide as an additional proof of guilt, he could not forbear satisfying himself by a review of the evidence elicited at the inquest, that the action of the authorities in arresting this man had been both warrantable and necessary.
The result was satisfactory in all but one point. When he came to the widow’s written accusation against one by the name of Gouverneur Hildreth, he was impressed by a fact that had hitherto escaped his notice. This was the yellowness of the paper upon which the words were written. If they had been transcribed a dozen years before, they would not have looked older, nor would the ink have presented a more faded appearance. Now, as the suspected man was under twenty-five years of age, and must, therefore, have been a mere child when the paper was drawn up, the probability was that the Gouverneur intended was the prisoner’s father, their names being identical.
But this discovery, while it robbed the affair of its most dramatic feature, could not affect in any serious way the extreme significance of the remaining real and compromising facts which told so heavily against this unfortunate man. Indeed, the well-known baseness of the father made it easier to distrust the son, and Mr. Ferris had just come to the conclusion that his duty compelled him to draw up an indictment of the would-be suicide, when the door opened, and Mr. Byrd and Mr. Hickory came in.
To see these two men in conjunction was a surprise to the District Attorney. He, however, had no time to express himself on the subject, for Mr. Byrd, stepping forward, immediately remarked:
“Mr. Hickory and I have been in consultation, sir; and we have a few facts to give you that we think will alter your opinion as to the person who murdered Mrs. Clemmens.”
“Is this so?” cried Mr. Ferris, looking at Hickory with a glance indicative of doubt.
“Yes, sir,” exclaimed that not easily abashed individual, with an emphasis decided enough to show the state of his feelings on the subject. “After I last saw you a woman came in my way and put into my hands so fresh and promising a clue, that I dropped the old scent at once and made instanter for the new game. But I soon found I was not the only sportsman on this trail. Before I had taken a dozen steps I ran upon this gentleman, and, finding him true grit, struck up a partnership with him that has led to our bringing down the quarry together.”
“Humph!” quoth the District Attorney. “Some very remarkable discoveries must have come to light to influence the judgment of two such men as yourselves.”
“You are right,” rejoined Mr. Byrd. “In fact, I should not be surprised if this case proved to be one of the most remarkable on record. It is not often that equally convincing evidence of guilt is found against two men having no apparent connection.”
“And have you collected such evidence?”
“And who is the person you consider equally open to suspicion with Mr. Hildreth?”
“Craik Mansell, Mrs. Clemmens’ nephew.”
The surprise of the District–Attorney was, as Mr. Hickory in later days remarked, nuts to him. The solemn nature of the business he was engaged upon never disturbed this hardy detective’s sense of the ludicrous, and he indulged in one of his deepest chuckles as he met the eye of Mr. Ferris.
“One never knows what they are going to run upon in a chase of this kind, do they, sir?” he remarked, with the greatest cheerfulness. “Mr. Mansell is no more of a gentleman than Mr. Hildreth; yet, because he is the second one of his caste who has attracted our attention, you are naturally very much surprised. But wait till you hear what we have to tell you. I am confident you will be satisfied with our reasons for suspecting this new party.” And he glanced at Mr. Byrd, who, seeing no cause for delay, proceeded to unfold before the District Attorney the evidence they had collected against Mr. Mansell.
It was strong, telling, and seemingly conclusive, as we already know; and awoke in the mind of Mr. Ferris the greatest perplexity of his life. It was not simply that the facts urged against Mr. Mansell were of the same circumstantial character and of almost the same significance as those already urged against Mr. Hildreth, but that the association of Miss Dare’s name with this new theory of suspicion presented difficulties, if it did not involve consequences, calculated to make any friend of Mr. Orcutt quail. And Mr. Ferris was such a friend, and knew very well the violent nature of the shock which this eminent lawyer would experience at discovering the relations held by this trusted woman toward a man suspected of crime.
Then Miss Dare herself! Was this beautiful and cherished woman, hitherto believed by all who knew her to be set high above the reach of reproach, to be dragged down from her pedestal and submitted to the curiosity of the rabble, if not to its insinuations and reproach? It seemed hard; even to this stern, dry searcher among dead men’s bones, it seemed both hard and bitter. And yet, because he was an honest man, he had no thought of paltering with his duty. He could only take time to make sure what that duty was. He accordingly refrained from expressing any opinion in regard to Mr. Mansell’s culpability to the two detectives, and finally dismissed them without any special orders.
But a day or two after this he sent for them again, and said:
“Since I have seen you I have considered, with due carefulness, the various facts presented me in support of your belief that Craik Mansell is the man who assailed the Widow Clemmens, and have weighed them against the equally significant facts pointing toward Mr. Hildreth as the guilty party, and find but one link lacking in the former chain of evidence which is not lacking in the latter; and that is this: Mrs. Clemmens, in the one or two lucid moments which returned to her after the assault, gave utterance to an exclamation which many think was meant to serve as a guide in determining the person of her murderer. She said, ‘Ring,’ as Mr. Byrd here will doubtless remember, and then ‘Hand,’ as if she wished to fix upon the minds of those about her that the hand uplifted against her wore a ring. At all events, such a conclusion is plausible enough, and led to my making an experiment yesterday, which has, for ever, set the matter at rest in my own mind. I took my stand at the huge clock in her house, just in the attitude she was supposed to occupy when struck, and, while in this position, ordered my clerk to advance upon me from behind with his hands clasped about a stick of wood, which he was to bring down within an inch of my head. This was done, and while his arm was in the act of descending, I looked to see if by a quick glance from the corner of my eye I could detect the broad seal ring I had previously pushed upon his little finger. I discovered that I could; that indeed it was all of the man which I could distinctly see without turning my head completely around. The ring, then, is an important feature in this case, a link without which any chain of evidence forged for the express purpose of connecting a man with this murder must necessarily remain incomplete and consequently useless. But amongst the suspicious circumstances brought to bear against Mr. Mansell, I discern no token of a connection between him and any such article, while we all know that Mr. Hildreth not only wore a ring on the day of the murder, but considered the circumstance so much in his own disfavor, that he slipped it off his finger when he began to see the shadow of suspicion falling upon him.”
“You have, then, forgotten the diamond I picked up from the floor of Mrs. Clemmens’ dining-room on the morning of the murder?” suggested Mr. Byrd with great reluctance.
“No,” answered the District Attorney, shortly. “But Miss Dare distinctly avowed that ring to be hers, and you have brought me no evidence as yet to prove her statement false. If you can supply such proof, or if you can show that Mr. Mansell had that ring on his hand when he entered Mrs. Clemmens’ house on the fatal morning — another fact, which, by-the-way, rests as yet upon inference only — I shall consider the case against him as strong as that against Mr. Hildreth; otherwise, not.”
Mr. Byrd, with the vivid remembrance before him of Miss Dare’s looks and actions in the scene he had witnessed between her and the supposed Mansell in the hut, smiled with secret bitterness over this attempt of the District Attorney to shut his eyes to the evident guiltiness of this man.
Mr. Ferris saw this smile and instantly became irritated.
“I do not doubt any more than yourself,” he resumed, in a changed voice, “that this young man allowed his mind to dwell upon the possible advantages which might accrue to himself if his aunt should die. He may even have gone so far as to meditate the commission of a crime to insure these advantages. But whether the crime which did indeed take place the next day in his aunt’s house was the result of his meditations, or whether he found his own purpose forestalled by an attack made by another person possessing no less interest than himself in seeing this woman dead, is not determined by the evidence you bring.”
“Then you do not favor his arrest?” inquired Mr. Byrd.
“No. The vigorous measures which were taken in Mr. Hildreth’s case, and the unfortunate event to which they have led, are terrible enough to satisfy the public craving after excitement for a week at least. I am not fond of driving men to madness myself, and unless I can be made to see that my duty demands a complete transferal of my suspicions from Hildreth to Mansell, I can advise nothing more than a close but secret surveillance of the latter’s movements until the action of the Grand Jury determines whether the evidence against Mr. Hildreth is sufficient to hold him for trial.”
Mr. Byrd, who had such solid, if private and uncommunicable, reasons for believing in the guilt of Craik Mansell, was somewhat taken aback at this unlooked-for decision of Mr. Ferris, and, remembering the temptation which a man like Hickory must feel to make his cause good at all hazards, cast a sharp look toward that blunt-spoken detective, in some doubt as to whether he could be relied upon to keep his promise in the face of this manifest disappointment.
But Hickory had given his word, and Hickory remained firm; and Mr. Byrd, somewhat relieved in his own mind, was about to utter his acquiescence in the District Attorney’s views, when a momentary interruption occurred, which gave him an opportunity to exchange a few words aside with his colleague.
“Hickory,” he whispered, “what do you think of this objection which Mr. Ferris makes?”
“I?” was the hurried reply. “Oh, I think there is something in it.”
“Something in it?”
“Yes. Mr. Mansell is the last man to wear a ring, I must acknowledge. Indeed, I took some pains while in Buffalo to find out if he ever indulged in any such vanity, and was told decidedly No. As to the diamond you mentioned, that is certainly entirely too rich a jewel for a man like him to possess. I— I am a afraid the absence of this link in our chain of evidence is fatal. I shouldn’t wonder if the old scent was the best, after all.”
“But Miss Dare — her feelings and her convictions, as manifested by the words she made use of in the hut?” objected Mr. Byrd.
“Oh! she thinks he is guilty, of course!”
She thinks! Mr. Byrd stared at his companion for a minute in silence. She thinks! Then there was a possibility, it seems, that it was only her thought, and that Mr. Mansell was not really the culpable man he had been brought to consider him.
But here an exclamation, uttered by Mr. Ferris, called their attention back to that gentleman. He was reading a letter which had evidently been just brought in, and his expression was one of amazement, mixed with doubt. As they looked toward him they met his eye, that had a troubled and somewhat abashed expression, which convinced them that the communication he held in his hand was in some way connected with the matter under consideration.
Surprised themselves, they unconsciously started forward, when, in a dry and not altogether pleased tone, the District Attorney observed:
“This affair seems to be full of coincidences. You talk of a missing link, and it is immediately thrust under your nose. Read that!”
And he pushed toward them the following epistle, roughly scrawled on a sheet of common writing-paper:
If Mr. Ferris is anxious for justice, and can believe that suspicion does not always attach itself to the guilty, let him, or some one whose business it is, inquire of Miss Imogene Dare, of this town, how she came to claim as her own the ring that was picked up on the floor of Mrs. Clemmens’ house.
“Well!” cried Mr. Byrd, glancing at Hickory, “what are we to think of this?”
“Looks like the work of old Sally Perkins,” observed the other, pointing out the lack of date and signature.
“So it does,” acquiesced Mr. Byrd, in a relieved tone. “The miserable old wretch is growing impatient.”
But Mr. Ferris, with a gloomy frown, shortly said:
“The language is not that of an ignorant old creature like Sally Perkins, whatever the writing may be. Besides, how could she have known about the ring? The persons who were present at the time it was picked up are not of the gossiping order.”
“Who, then, do you think wrote this?” inquired Mr. Byrd.
“That is what I wish you to find out,” declared the District Attorney.
Mr. Hickory at once took it in his hand.
“Wait,” said he, “I have an idea.” And he carried the letter to one side, where he stood examining it for several minutes. When he came back he looked tolerably excited and somewhat pleased. “I believe I can tell you who wrote it,” said he.
“Who?” inquired the District Attorney.
For reply the detective placed his finger upon a name that was written in the letter.
“Imogene Dare?” exclaimed Mr. Ferris, astonished.
“She herself,” proclaimed the self-satisfied detective.
“What makes you think that?” the District Attorney slowly asked.
“Because I have seen her writing, and studied her signature, and, ably as she has disguised her hand in the rest of the letter, it betrays itself in her name. See here.” And Hickory took from his pocket-book a small slip of paper containing her autograph, and submitted it to the test of comparison.
The similarity between the two signatures was evident, and both Mr. Byrd and Mr. Ferris were obliged to allow the detective might be right, though the admission opened up suggestions of the most formidable character.
“It is a turn for which I am not prepared,” declared the District Attorney.
“It is a turn for which we are not prepared,” repeated Mr. Byrd, with a controlling look at Hickory.
“Let us, then, defer further consideration of the matter till I have had an opportunity to see Miss Dare,” suggested Mr. Ferris.
And the two detectives were very glad to acquiesce in this, for they were as much astonished as he at this action of Miss Dare, though, with their better knowledge of her feelings, they found it comparatively easy to understand how her remorse and the great anxiety she doubtless felt for Mr. Hildreth had sufficed to drive her to such an extreme and desperate measure.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55