Bring me unto my trial when you will.
“HE is here.”
Mr. Ferris threw aside his cigar, and looked up at Mr. Byrd, who was standing before him.
“You had no difficulty, then?”
“No, sir. He acted like a man in hourly expectation of some such summons. At the very first intimation of your desire to see him in Sibley, he rose from his desk, with what I thought was a meaning look at Mr. Goodman, and after a few preparations for departure, signified he was ready to take the next train.”
“And did he ask no questions?”
“Only one. He wished to know if I were a detective. And when I responded ‘Yes,’ observed with an inquiring look: ‘I am wanted as a witness, I suppose.’ A suggestion to which I was careful to make no reply.”
Mr. Ferris pushed aside his writing and glanced toward the door. “Show him in, Mr. Byrd,” said he.
A moment after Mr. Mansell entered the room.
The District Attorney had never seen this man, and was struck at once by the force and manliness of his appearance. Half-rising from his seat to greet the visitor, he said:
“I have to beg your pardon, Mr. Mansell. Feeling it quite necessary to see you, I took the liberty of requesting you to take this journey, my own time being fully occupied at present.”
Mr. Mansell bowed — a slow, self-possessed bow — and advancing to the table before which the District Attorney sat, laid his hand firmly upon it and said:
“No apologies are needed.” Then shortly, “What is it you want of me?”
The words were almost the same as those which had been used by Mr. Hildreth under similar circumstances, but how different was their effect! The one was the utterance of a weak man driven to bay, the other of a strong one. Mr. Ferris, who was by no means of an impressible organization, flashed a look of somewhat uneasy doubt at Mr. Byrd, and hesitated slightly before proceeding.
“We have sent for you in this friendly way,” he remarked, at last, “in order to give you that opportunity for explaining certain matters connected with your aunt’s sudden death which your well-known character and good position seem to warrant. We think you can do this. At all events I have accorded myself the privilege of so supposing; and any words you may have to say will meet with all due consideration. As Mrs. Clemmens’ nephew, you, of course, desire to see her murderer brought to justice.”
The slightly rising inflection given to the last few words made them to all intents and purposes a question, and Mr. Byrd, who stood near by, waited anxiously for the decided Yes which seemed the only possible reply under the circumstances, but it did not come.
Surprised, and possibly anxious, the District Attorney repeated himself.
“As her nephew,” said he, “and the inheritor of the few savings she has left behind her, you can have but one wish on this subject, Mr. Mansell?”
But this attempt succeeded no better than the first. Beyond a slight compression of the lips, Mr. Mansell gave no manifestation of having heard this remark, and both Mr. Ferris and the detective found themselves forced to wonder at the rigid honesty of a man who, whatever death-giving blow he may have dealt, would not allow himself to escape the prejudice of his accusers by assenting to a supposition he and they knew to be false.
Mr. Ferris did not press the question.
“Mr. Mansell,” he remarked instead, “a person by the name of Gouverneur Hildreth is, as you must know, under arrest at this time, charged with the crime of having given the blow that led to your aunt’s death. The evidence against him is strong, and the public generally have no doubt that his arrest will lead to trial, if not to conviction. But, unfortunately for us, however fortunately for him, another person has lately been found, against whom an equal show of evidence can be raised, and it is for the purpose of satisfying ourselves that it is but a show, we have requested your presence here to-day.”
A spasm, vivid as it was instantaneous, distorted for a moment the powerful features of Craik Mansell at the words, “another person,” but it was gone before the sentence was completed; and when Mr. Ferris ceased, he looked up with the steady calmness which made his bearing so remarkable.
“I am waiting to hear the name of this freshly suspected person,” he observed.
“Cannot you imagine?” asked the District Attorney, coldly, secretly disconcerted under a gaze that held his own with such steady persistence.
The eyeballs of the other flashed like coals of fire.
“I think it is my right to hear it spoken,” he returned.
This display of feeling restored Mr. Ferris to himself.
“In a moment, sir,” said he. “Meanwhile, have you any objections to answering a few questions I would like to put to you?”
“I will hear them,” was the steady reply.
“You know,” said the District Attorney, “you are at perfect liberty to answer or not, as you see fit. I have no desire to entrap you into any acknowledgments you may hereafter regret.”
“Speak,” was the sole response he received.
“Well, sir,” said Mr. Ferris, “are you willing to tell me where you were when you first heard of the assault which had been made upon your aunt?”
“I was in my place at the mill.”
“And — pardon me if I go too far — were you also there the morning she was murdered?”
“Mr. Mansell, if you could tell us where you were at that time, it would be of great benefit to us, and possibly to yourself.”
Having shown his surprise, or, possibly, his alarm, by the repetition of the other’s words, Craik Mansell paused and looked slowly around the room until he encountered Mr. Byrd’s eye. There was a steady compassion in the look he met there that seemed to strike him with great force, for he at once replied that he was away from home, and stopped — his glance still fixed upon Mr. Byrd, as if, by the very power of his gaze, he would force the secrets of that detective’s soul to the surface.
“Mr. Mansell,” pursued the District Attorney, “a distinct avowal on your part of the place where you were at that time, would be best for us both, I am sure.”
“Do you not already know?” inquired the other, his eye still upon Horace Byrd.
“We have reason to think you were in this town,” averred Mr. Ferris, with an emphasis calculated to recall the attention of his visitor to himself.
“And may I ask,” Craik Mansell quietly said, “what reason you can have for such a supposition? No one could have seen me here, for, till to-day I have not entered the streets of this place since my visit to my aunt three months ago.”
“It was not necessary to enter the streets of this town to effect a visit to Mrs. Clemmens’ house, Mr. Mansell.”
There was the faintest hint of emotion in the intonation he gave to that one word, but it vanished before he spoke his next sentence.
“And how,” asked he, “can a person pass from Sibley Station to the door of my aunt’s house without going through the streets?”
Instead of replying, Mr. Ferris inquired:
“Did you get out at Sibley Station, Mr. Mansell?”
But the other, with unmoved self-possession, returned:
“I have not said so.”
“Mr. Mansell,” the District Attorney now observed, “we have no motive in deceiving or even in misleading you. You were in this town on the morning of your aunt’s murder, and you were even in her house. Evidence which you cannot dispute proves this, and the question that now arises, and of whose importance we leave you to judge, is whether you were there prior to the visit of Mr. Hildreth, or after. Any proof you may have to show that it was before will receive its due consideration.”
A change, decided as it was involuntary, took place in the hitherto undisturbed countenance of Craik Mansell. Leaning forward, he surveyed Mr. Ferris with great earnestness.
“I asked that man,” said he, pointing with a steady forefinger at the somewhat abashed detective, “if I were not wanted here simply as a witness, and he did not say No. Now, sir,” he continued, turning back with a slight gesture of disdain to the District Attorney, “was the man right in allowing me to believe such a fact, or was he not? I would like an answer to my question before I proceed further, if you please.”
“You shall have it, Mr. Mansell. If this man did not answer you, it was probably because he did not feel justified in so doing. He knew I had summoned you here in the hope of receiving such explanations of your late conduct as should satisfy me you had nothing to do with your aunt’s murder. The claims upon my consideration, which are held by certain persons allied to you in this matter”— Mr. Ferris’ look was eloquent of his real meaning here —“are my sole justification for this somewhat unusual method of dealing with a suspected man.”
A smile, bitter, oh, how bitter in its irony! traversed the firm-set lips of Craik Mansell for a moment, then he bowed with a show of deference to the District Attorney, and settling into the attitude of a man willing to plead his own cause, responded:
“It would be more just, perhaps, if I first heard the reasons you have for suspecting me, before I attempt to advance arguments to prove the injustice of your suspicions.”
“Well,” said Mr. Ferris, “you shall have them. If frankness on my part can do aught to avert the terrible scandal which your arrest and its consequent developments would cause, I am willing to sacrifice thus much to my friendship for Mr. Orcutt. But if I do this, I shall expect an equal frankness in return. The matter is too serious for subterfuge.”
The other merely waved his hand.
“The reasons,” proceeded Mr. Ferris, “for considering you a party as much open to suspicion as Mr. Hildreth, are several. First, we have evidence to prove your great desire for a sum of money equal to your aunt’s savings, in order to introduce an invention which you have just patented.
“Secondly, we can show that you left your home in Buffalo the day before the assault, came to Monteith, the next town to this, alighted at the remote station assigned to the use of the quarrymen, crossed the hills and threaded the woods till you came to a small hut back of your aunt’s house, where you put up for the night.
“Thirdly, evidence is not lacking to prove that while there you visited your aunt’s once, if not twice; the last time on the very morning she was killed, entering the house in a surreptitious way by the back door, and leaving it in the same suspicious manner.
“And fourthly, we can prove that you escaped from this place as you had come, secretly, and through a difficult and roundabout path over the hills.
“Mr. Mansell, these facts, taken with your reticence concerning a visit so manifestly of importance to the authorities to know, must strike even you as offering grounds for a suspicion as grave as that attaching to Mr. Hildreth.”
With a restraint marked as it was impressive, Mr. Mansell looked at the District Attorney for a moment, and then said:
“You speak of proof. Now, what proof have you to give that I put up, as you call it, for a night, or even for an hour, in the hut which stands in the woods back of my aunt’s house?”
“This,” was Mr. Ferris’ reply. “It is known you were in the woods the afternoon previous to the assault upon your aunt, because you were seen there in company with a young lady with whom you were holding a tryst. Did you speak, sir?”
“No!” was the violent, almost disdainful, rejoinder.
“You did not sleep at your aunt’s, for her rooms contained not an evidence of having been opened for a guest, while the hut revealed more than one trace of having been used as a dormitory. I could even tell you where you cut the twigs of hemlock that served you for a pillow, and point to the place where you sat when you scribbled over the margin of the Buffalo Courier with a blue pencil, such as that I now see projecting from your vest pocket.”
“It is not necessary,” replied the young man, heavily frowning. Then with another short glance at Mr. Ferris, he again demanded:
“What is your reason for stating I visited my aunt’s house on the morning she was murdered? Did any one see me do it? or does the house, like the hut, exhibit traces of my presence there at that particular time?”
There was irony in his tone, and a disdain almost amounting to scorn in his wide-flashing blue eyes; but Mr. Ferris, glancing at the hand clutched about the railing of the desk, remarked quietly:
“You do not wear the diamond ring you carried away with you from the tryst I mentioned? Can it be that the one which was picked up after the assault, on the floor of Mrs. Clemmens’ dining-room, could have fallen from your finger, Mr. Mansell?”
A start, the first this powerfully repressed man had given, showed that his armor of resistance had been pierced at last.
“How do you know,” he quickly asked, “that I carried away a diamond ring from the tryst you speak of?”
“Circumstances,” returned the District Attorney, “prove it beyond a doubt. Miss Dare ——”
Oh, the indescribable tone of this exclamation! Mr. Byrd shuddered as he heard it, and looked at Mr. Mansell with a new feeling, for which he had no name.
“Miss Dare,” repeated the District Attorney, without, apparently, regarding the interruption, “acknowledges she returned you the ring which you endeavored at that interview to bestow upon her.”
“Ah!” The word came after a moment’s pause. “I see the case has been well worked up, and it only remains for me to give you such explanations as I choose to make. Sir,” declared he, stepping forward, and bringing his clenched hand down upon the desk at which Mr. Ferris was sitting, “I did not kill my aunt. I admit that I paid her a visit. I admit that I stayed in the woods back of her house, and even slept in the hut, as you have said; but that was on the day previous to her murder, and not after it. I went to see her for the purpose of again urging the claims of my invention upon her. I went secretly, and by the roundabout way you describe, because I had another purpose in visiting Sibley, which made it expedient for me to conceal my presence in the town. I failed in my efforts to enlist the sympathies of my aunt in regard to my plans, and I failed also in compassing that other desire of my heart of which the ring you mention was a token. Both failures unnerved me, and I lay in that hut all night. I even lay there most of the next morning; but I did not see my aunt again, and I did not lift my hand against her life.”
There was indescribable quiet in the tone, but there was indescribable power also, and the look he levelled upon the District Attorney was unwaveringly solemn and hard.
“You deny, then, that you entered the widow’s house on the morning of the murder?”
“It is, then, a question of veracity between you and Miss Dare?”
“She asserts she gave you back the ring you offered her. If this is so, and that ring was in your possession after you left her on Monday evening, how came it to be in the widow’s dining-room the next morning, if you did not carry it there?”
“I can only repeat my words,” rejoined Mr. Mansell.
The District Attorney replied impatiently. For various reasons he did not wish to believe this man guilty.
“You do not seem very anxious to assist me in my endeavors to reach the truth,” he observed. “Cannot you tell me what you did with the ring after you left Miss Dare? Whether you put it on your finger, or thrust it into your pocket, or tossed it into the marsh? If you did not carry it to the house, some one else must have done so, and you ought to be able to help us in determining who.”
But Mr. Mansell shortly responded:
“I have nothing to say about the ring. From the moment Miss Dare returned it to me, as you say, it was, so far as I am concerned, a thing forgotten. I do not know as I should ever have thought of it again, if you had not mentioned it to me to-day. How it vanished from my possession only to reappear upon the scene of murder, some more clever conjurer than myself must explain.”
“And this is all you have to say, Mr. Mansell?”
“This is all I have to say.”
“Byrd,” suggested the District Attorney, after a long pause, during which the subject of his suspicions had stood before him as rigid and inscrutable as a statue in bronze, “Mr. Mansell would probably like to go to the hotel, unless, indeed, he desires to return immediately to Buffalo.”
Craik Mansell at once started forward.
“Do you intend to allow me to return to Buffalo?” he asked.
“Yes,” was the District Attorney’s reply.
“You are a good man,” broke involuntarily from the other’s lips, and he impulsively reached out his hand, but as quickly drew it back with a flush of pride that greatly became him.
“I do not say,” quoth Mr. Ferris, “that I exempt you from surveillance. As prosecuting attorney of this district, my duty is to seek out and discover the man who murdered Mrs. Clemmens, and your explanations have not been as full or as satisfactory as I could wish.”
“Your men will always find me at my desk in the mill,” said Mr. Mansell, coldly. And, with another short bow, he left the attorney’s side and went quickly out.
“That man is innocent,” declared Mr. Ferris, as Horace Byrd leaned above him in expectation of instructions to keep watch over the departing visitor.
“The way in which he held out his hand to me spoke volumes.”
The detective cast a sad glance at Craik Mansell’s retreating figure.
“You could not convince Hickory of that fact,” said he.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09