Hamlet.— Do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in shape of a camel?
Polonius.— By the mass, and ’tis like a camel indeed.
Hamlet.— Methinks it is like a weasel.
Polonius.— It is back’d like a weasel.
SHORTLY after the adjournment of court, Mr. Ferris summoned the two detectives to his office.
“We have a serious question before us to decide,” said he. “Are we to go on with the prosecution or are we to stop? I should like to hear your views on the subject.”
Hickory was, as usual, the first to speak.
“I should say, stop,” he cried. “This fresh applicant for the honor of having slain the Widow Clemmens deserves a hearing at least.”
“But,” hurriedly interposed Byrd, “you don’t give any credit to her story now, even if you did before the prisoner spoke? You know she did not commit the crime herself, whatever she may choose to declare in her anxiety to shield the prisoner. I hope, sir,” he proceeded, glancing at the District Attorney, “that you have no doubts as to Miss Dare’s innocence?”
But Mr. Ferris, instead of answering, turned to Hickory and said:
“Miss Dare, in summoning you to confirm her statement, relied, I suppose, upon the fact of your having been told by Professor Darling’s servant-maid that she — that is, Miss Dare — was gone from the observatory when the girl came for her on the morning of the murder?”
“A strong corroborative fact, if true?”
“But is it true? In the explanation which Miss Dare gave me last night of this affair, she uttered statements essentially different from those she made in court to-day. She then told me she was in the observatory when the girl came for her; that she was looking through a telescope which was behind a high rack filled with charts; and that —— Why do you start?”
“I didn’t start,” protested Hickory.
“I beg your pardon,” returned Mr. Ferris.
“Well, then, if I did make such a fool of myself, it was because so far her story is plausible enough. She was in that very position when I visited the observatory, you remember, and she was so effectually concealed I didn’t see her or know she was there, till I looked behind the rack.”
“Very good!” interjected Mr. Ferris. “And that,” he resumed, “she did not answer the girl or make known her presence, because at the moment the girl came in she was deeply interested in watching something that was going on in the town.”
“In the town!” repeated Byrd.
“Yes; the telescope was lowered so as to command a view of the town, and she had taken advantage of its position (as she assured me last night) to consult the church clock.”
“The church clock!” echoed Byrd once more. “And what time did she say it was?” breathlessly cried both detectives.
“Five minutes to twelve.”
“A critical moment,” ejaculated Byrd. “And what was it she saw going on in the town at that especial time?”
“I will tell you,” returned the District Attorney, impressively. “She said — and I believed her last night and so recalled her to the stand this morning — that she saw Craik Mansell fleeing toward the swamp from Mrs. Clemmens’ dining-room door.”
Both men looked up astonished.
“That was what she told me last night. To-day she comes into court with this contradictory story of herself being the assailant and sole cause of Mrs. Clemmens’ death.”
“But all that is frenzy,” protested Byrd. “She probably saw from your manner that the prisoner was lost if she gave this fact to the court, and her mind became disordered. She evidently loves this Mansell, and as for me, I pity her.”
“So do I,” assented the District Attorney; “still ——”
“Is it possible,” Byrd interrupted, with feeling, as Mr. Ferris hesitated, “that you do doubt her innocence? After the acknowledgments made by the prisoner too?”
Rising from his seat, Mr. Ferris began slowly to pace the floor.
“I should like each of you,” said he, without answering the appeal of Byrd, “to tell me why I should credit what she told me in conversation last night rather than what she uttered upon oath in the court-room to-day?”
“Let me speak first,” rejoined Byrd, glancing at Hickory. And, rising also, he took his stand against the mantel-shelf where he could partially hide his face from those he addressed. “Sir,” he proceeded, after a moment, “both Hickory and myself know Miss Dare to be innocent of this murder. A circumstance which we have hitherto kept secret, but which in justice to Miss Dare I think we are now bound to make known, has revealed to us the true criminal. Hickory, tell Mr. Ferris of the deception you practised upon Miss Dare in the hut.”
The surprised, but secretly gratified, detective at once complied. He saw no reason for keeping quiet about that day’s work. He told how, by means of a letter purporting to come from Mansell, he had decoyed Imogene to an interview in the hut, where, under the supposition she was addressing her lover, she had betrayed her conviction of his guilt, and advised him to confess it.
Mr. Ferris listened with surprise and great interest.
“That seems to settle the question,” he said.
But it was now Hickory’s turn to shake his head.
“I don’t know,” he remonstrated. “I have sometimes thought she saw through the trick and turned it to her own advantage.”
“How to her own advantage?”
“To talk in such a way as to make us think Mansell was guilty.”
“Stuff!” said Byrd; “that woman?”
“More unaccountable things have happened,” was the weak reply of Hickory, his habitual state of suspicion leading him more than once into similar freaks of folly.
“Sir,” said Mr. Byrd, confidingly, to the District Attorney, “let us run over this matter from the beginning. Starting with the supposition that the explanation she gave you last night was the true one, let us see if the whole affair does not hang together in a way to satisfy us all as to where the real guilt lies. To begin, then, with the meeting in the woods ——”
“Wait,” interrupted Hickory; “there is going to be an argument here; so suppose you give your summary of events from the lady’s standpoint, as that seems to be the one which interests you most.”
“I was about to do so,” Horace assured him, heedless of the rough fellow’s good-natured taunt. “To make my point, it is absolutely necessary for us to transfer ourselves into her position and view matters as they gradually unfolded themselves before her eyes. First, then, as I have before suggested, let us consider the interview held by this man and woman in the woods. Miss Dare, as we must remember, was not engaged to Mr. Mansell; she only loved him. Their engagement, to say nothing of their marriage, depended upon his success in life — a success which to them seemed to hang solely upon the decision of Mrs. Clemmens concerning the small capital he desired her to advance him. But in the interview which Mansell had held with his aunt previous to the meeting between the lovers, Mrs. Clemmens had refused to loan him this money, and Miss Dare, whose feelings we are endeavoring to follow, found herself beset by the entreaties of a man who, having failed in his plans for future fortune, feared the loss of her love as well. What was the natural consequence? Rebellion against the widow’s decision, of course — a rebellion which she showed by the violent gesture which she made — and then a determination to struggle for her happiness, as she evinced when, with most unhappy ambiguity of expression, she begged him to wait till the next day before pressing his ring upon her acceptance, because, as she said:
“‘A night has been known to change the whole current of a person’s affairs.’
“To her, engrossed with the one idea of making a personal effort to alter Mrs. Clemmens’ mind on the money question, these words seemed innocent enough. But the look with which he received them, and the pause that followed, undoubtedly impressed her, and prepared the way for the interest she manifested when, upon looking through the telescope the next day, she saw him flying in that extraordinary way from his aunt’s cottage toward the woods. Not that she then thought of his having committed a crime. As I trace her mental experience, she did not come to that conclusion till it was forced upon her. I do not know, and so cannot say, how she first heard of the murder ——”
“She was told of it on the street-corner,” interpolated Mr. Ferris.
“Ah, well, then, fresh from this vision of her lover hasting from his aunt’s door to hide himself in the woods beyond, she came into town and was greeted by the announcement that Mrs. Clemmens had just been assaulted by a tramp in her own house. I know this was the way in which the news was told her, from the expression of her face as she entered the house. I was standing at the gate, you remember, when she came up, and her look had in it determination and horror, but no special fear. In fact, the words she dropped show the character of her thoughts at that time. She distinctly murmured in my hearing: ‘No good can come of it, none.’ As if her mind were dwelling upon the advantages which might accrue to her lover from his aunt’s death, and weighing them against the foul means by which that person’s end had been hastened. Yet I will not say but she may have been influenced in the course which she took by some doubt or apprehension of her own. The fact that she came to the house at all, and, having come, insisted upon knowing all the details of the assault, seem to prove she was not without a desire to satisfy herself that suspicion rightfully attached itself to the tramp. But not until she saw her lover’s ring on the floor (the ring which she had with her own hand dropped into the pocket of his coat the day before) and heard that the tramp had justified himself and was no longer considered the assailant, did her true fear and horror come. Then, indeed, all the past rose up before her, and, believing her lover guilty of this crime, she laid claim to the jewel as the first and only alternative that offered by which she might stand between him and the consequences of his guilt. Her subsequent agitation when the dying woman made use of the exclamation that indissolubly connected the crime with a ring, speaks for itself. Nor was her departure from the house any too hurried or involuntary, when you consider that the vengeance invoked by the widow, was, in Miss Dare’s opinion, called down upon one to whom she had nearly plighted her troth. What is the next act in the drama? The scene in the Syracuse depot. Let me see if I cannot explain it. A woman who has once allowed herself to suspect the man she loves of a murderous deed, cannot rest till she has either convinced herself that her suspicions are false, or until she has gained such knowledge of the truth as makes her feel justified in her seeming treason. A woman of Miss Dare’s generous nature especially. What does she do, then? With the courage that characterizes all her movements, she determines upon seeing him, and from his own lips, perhaps, win a confession of guilt or innocence. Conceiving that his flight was directed toward the Quarry Station, and thence to Buffalo, she embraced the first opportunity to follow him to the latter place. As I have told you, her ticket was bought for Buffalo, and to Buffalo she evidently intended going. But chancing to leave the cars at Syracuse, she was startled by encountering in the depot the very man with whom she had been associating thoughts of guilt. Shocked and thrown off her guard by the unexpectedness of the occurrence, she betrays her shrinking and her horror. ‘Were you coming to see me?’ she asks, and recoils, while he, conscious at the first glimpse of her face that his guilt has cost him her love, starts back also, uttering, in his shame and despair, words that were similar to hers, ‘Were you coming to see me?’”
“Convinced without further speech, that her worst fears had foundation in fact, she turns back toward her home. The man she loved had committed a crime. That it was partly for her sake only increased her horror sevenfold. She felt as if she were guilty also, and, with sudden remorse, remembered how, instead of curbing his wrath the day before she had inflamed it by her words, if not given direction to it by her violent gestures. That fact, and the self-blame it produced, probably is the cause why her love did not vanish with her hopes. Though he was stained by guilt, she felt that it was the guilt of a strong nature driven from its bearings by the conjunction of two violent passions — ambition and love; and she being passionate and ambitious herself, remained attached to the man while she recoiled from his crime.
“This being so, she could not, as a woman, wish him to suffer the penalty of his wickedness. Though lost to her, he must not be lost to the world. So, with the heroism natural to such a nature, she shut the secret up in her own breast, and faced her friends with courage, wishing, if not hoping, that the matter would remain the mystery it promised to be when she stood with us in the presence of the dying woman.
“But this was not to be, for suddenly, in the midst of her complacency, fell the startling announcement that another man — an innocent man — one, too, of her lover’s own standing, if not hopes, had by a curious conjunction of events so laid himself open to the suspicion of the authorities as to be actually under arrest for this crime. ’Twas a danger she had not foreseen, a result for which she was not prepared.
“Startled and confounded she let a few days go by in struggle and indecision, possibly hoping, with the blind trust of her sex, that Mr. Hildreth would be released without her interference. But Mr. Hildreth was not released, and her anxiety was fast becoming unendurable, when that decoy letter sent by Hickory reached her, awakening in her breast for the first time, perhaps, the hope that Mansell would show himself to be a true man in this extremity, and by a public confession of guilt release her from the task of herself supplying the information which would lead to his commitment.
“And, perhaps, if it had really fallen to the lot of Mansell to confront her in the hut and listen to her words of adjuration and appeal, he might have been induced to consent to her wishes. But a detective sat there instead of her lover, and the poor woman lived to see the days go by without any movement being made to save Mr. Hildreth. At last — was it the result of the attempt made by this man upon his life? — she put an end to the struggle by acting for herself. Moved by a sense of duty, despite her love, she sent the letter which drew attention to her lover, and paved the way for that trial which has occupied our attention for so many days. But — mark this, for I think it is the only explanation of her whole conduct — the sense of justice that upheld her in this duty was mingled with the hope that her lover would escape conviction if he did not trial. The one fact which told the most against him — I allude to his flight from his aunt’s door on the morning of the murder, as observed by her through the telescope — was as yet a secret in her own breast, and there she meant it to remain unless it was drawn forth by actual question. But it was not a fact likely to be made the subject of question, and drawing hope from that consideration, she prepared herself for the ordeal before her, determined, as I actually believe, to answer with truth all the inquiries that were put to her.
“But in an unexpected hour she learned that the detectives were anxious to know where she was during the time of the murder. She heard Hickory question Professor Darling’s servant-girl, as to whether she was still in the observatory, and at once feared that her secret was discovered. Feared, I say — I conjecture this — but what I do not conjecture is that with the fear, or doubt, or whatever emotion it was she cherished, a revelation came of the story she might tell if worst came to worst, and she found herself forced to declare what she saw when the clock stood at five minutes to twelve on that fatal day. Think of your conversation with the girl Roxana,” he went on to Hickory, “and then think of that woman crouching behind the rack, listening to your words, and see if you can draw any other conclusion from the expression of her face than that of triumph at seeing a way to deliver her lover at the sacrifice of herself.”
As Byrd waited for a reply, Hickory reluctantly acknowledged:
“Her look was a puzzler, that I will allow. She seemed glad ——”
“There,” cried Byrd, “you say she seemed glad; that is enough. Had she had the weight of this crime upon her conscience, she would have betrayed a different emotion from that. I pray you to consider the situation,” he proceeded, turning to the District Attorney, “for on it hangs your conviction of her innocence. First, imagine her guilty. What would her feelings be, as, hiding unseen in that secret corner, she hears a detective’s voice inquiring where she was when the fatal blow was struck, and hears the answer given that she was not where she was supposed to be, but in the woods — the woods which she and every one know lead so directly to Mrs. Clemmens’ house, she could without the least difficulty hasten there and back in the hour she was observed to be missing? Would she show gladness or triumph even of a wild or delirious order? No, even Hickory cannot say she would. Now, on the contrary, see her as I do, crouched there in the very place before the telescope which she occupied when the girl came to the observatory before, but unseen now as she was unseen then, and watch the change that takes place in her countenance as she hears question and answer and realizes what confirmation she would receive from this girl if she ever thought fit to declare that she was not in the observatory when the girl sought her there on the day of the murder. That by this act she would bring execration if not death upon herself, she does not stop to consider. Her mind is full of what she can do for her lover, and she does not think of herself.
“But an enthusiasm like this is too frenzied to last. As time passes by and Craik Mansell is brought to trial, she begins to hope she may be spared this sacrifice. She therefore responds with perfect truth when summoned to the stand to give evidence, and does not waver, though question after question is asked her, whose answers cannot fail to show the state of her mind in regard to the prisoner’s guilt. Life and honor are sweet even to one in her condition; and if her lover could be saved without falsehood it was her natural instinct to avoid it.
“And it looked as if he would be saved. A defence both skilful and ingenious had been advanced for him by his counsel — a defence which only the one fact so securely locked in her bosom could controvert. You can imagine, then, the horror and alarm which must have seized her when, in the very hour of hope, you approached her with the demand which proved that her confidence in her power to keep silence had been premature, and that the alternative was yet to be submitted to her of destroying her lover or sacrificing herself. Yet, because a great nature does not succumb without a struggle, she tried even now the effect of the truth upon you, and told you the one fact she considered so detrimental to the safety of her lover.
“The result was fatal. Though I cannot presume to say what passed between you, I can imagine how the change in your countenance warned her of the doom she would bring upon Mansell if she went into court with the same story she told you. Nor do I find it difficult to imagine how, in one of her history and temperament, a night of continuous brooding over this one topic should have culminated in the act which startled us so profoundly in the court-room this morning. Love, misery, devotion are not mere names to her, and the greatness which sustained her through the ordeal of denouncing her lover in order that an innocent man might be relieved from suspicion, was the same that made it possible for her to denounce herself that she might redeem the life she had thus deliberately jeopardized.
“That she did this with a certain calmness and dignity proves it to have been the result of design. A murderess forced by conscience into confession would not have gone into the details of her crime, but blurted out her guilt, and left the details to be drawn from her by question. Only the woman anxious to tell her story with the plausibility necessary to insure its belief would have planned and carried on her confession as she did.
“The action of the prisoner, in face of this proof of devotion, though it might have been foreseen by a man, was evidently not foreseen by her. To me, who watched her closely at the time, her face wore a strange look of mingled satisfaction and despair — satisfaction in having awakened his manhood, despair at having failed in saving him. But it is not necessary for me to dilate on this point. If I have been successful in presenting before you the true condition of her mind during this struggle, you will see for yourself what her feelings must be now that her lover has himself confessed to a fact, to hide which she made the greatest sacrifice of which mortal is capable.”
Mr. Ferris, who, during this lengthy and exhaustive harangue, had sat with brooding countenance and an anxious mien, roused himself as the other ceased, and glanced with a smile at Hickory.
“Well,” said he, “that’s good reasoning; now let us hear how you will go to work to demolish it.”
The cleared brow, the playful tone of the District Attorney showed the relieved state of his mind. Byrd’s arguments had evidently convinced him of the innocence of Imogene Dare.
Hickory, seeing it, shook his head with a gloomy air.
“Sir,” said he, “I can’t demolish it. If I could tell why Mansell fled from Widow Clemmens’ house at five minutes to twelve I might be able to do so, but that fact stumps me. It is an act consistent with guilt. It may be consistent with innocence, but, as we don’t know all the facts, we can’t say so. But this I do know, that my convictions with regard to that man have undergone a change. I now as firmly believe in his innocence as I once did in his guilt.”
“What has produced the change?” asked Mr. Ferris.
“Well,” said Hickory, “it all lies in this. From the day I heard Miss Dare accuse him so confidently in the hut, I believed him guilty; from the moment he withdrew his defence, I believed him innocent.”
Mr. Ferris and Mr. Byrd looked at him astonished. He at once brought down his fist in vigorous assertion on the table.
“I tell you,” said he, “that Craik Mansell is innocent. The truth is, he believes Miss Dare guilty, and so stands his trial, hoping to save her.”
“And be hung for her crime?” asked Mr. Ferris.
“No; he thinks his innocence will save him, in spite of the evidence on which we got him indicted.”
But the District Attorney protested at this.
“That can’t be,” said he; “Mansell has withdrawn the only defence he had.”
“On the contrary,” asserted Hickory, “that very thing only proves my theory true. He is still determined to save Miss Dare by every thing short of a confession of his own guilt. He won’t lie. That man is innocent.”
“And Miss Dare is guilty?” said Byrd.
“Shall I make it clear to you in the way it has become clear to Mr. Mansell?”
As Byrd only answered by a toss of his head, Hickory put his elbows on the table, and checking off every sentence with the forefinger of his right hand, which he pointed at Mr. Ferris’ shirt-stud, as if to instil from its point conviction into that gentleman’s bosom, he proceeded with the utmost composure as follows:
“To commence, then, with the scene in the woods. He meets her. She is as angry at his aunt as he is. What does she do? She strikes the tree with her hand, and tells him to wait till to-morrow, since a night has been known to change the whole current of a person’s affairs. Now tell me what does that mean? Murder? If so, she was the one to originate it. He can’t forget that. It has stamped itself upon Mansell’s memory, and when, after the assassination of Mrs. Clemmens, he recalls those words, he is convinced that she has slain Mrs. Clemmens to help him.”
“But, Mr. Hickory,” objected Mr. Ferris, “this assumes that Mr. Mansell is innocent, whereas we have exceedingly cogent proof that he is the guilty party. There is the circumstance of his leaving Widow Clemmens’ house at five minutes to twelve.”
To which Hickory, with a twinkle in his eye, replied:
“I won’t discuss that; it hasn’t been proved, you know. Miss Dare told you she saw him do this, but she wouldn’t swear to it. Nothing is to be taken for granted against my man.”
“Then you think Miss Dare spoke falsely?”
“I don’t say that. I believe that whatever he did could be explained if we knew as much about it as he does. But I’m not called upon to explain any thing which has not appeared in the evidence against him.”
“Well, then, we’ll take the evidence. There is his ring, found on the scene of murder.”
“Exactly,” rejoined Hickory. “Dropped there, as he must suppose, by Miss Dare, because he didn’t know she had secretly restored it to his pocket.”
Mr. Ferris smiled.
“You don’t see the force of the evidence,” said he. “As she had restored it to his pocket, he must have been the one to drop it there.”
“I am willing to admit he dropped it there, not that he killed Mrs. Clemmens. I am now speaking of his suspicions as to the assassin. When the betrothal ring was found there, he suspects Miss Dare of the crime, and nothing has occurred to change his suspicions.”
“But,” said the District Attorney, “how does your client, Mr. Mansell, get over this difficulty; that Miss Dare, who has committed a murder to put five thousand dollars into his pocket, immediately afterward turns round and accuses him of the crime — nay more, furnishes evidence against him!”
“You can’t expect the same consistency from a woman as from a man. They can nerve themselves up one moment to any deed of desperation, and take every pains the next to conceal it by a lie.”
“Men will do the same; then why not Mansell?”
“I am showing you why I know that Mansell believes Miss Dare guilty of a murder. To continue, then. What does he do when he hears that his aunt has been murdered? He scratches out the face of Miss Dare in a photograph; he ties up her letters with a black ribbon as if she were dead and gone to him. Then the scene in the Syracuse depot! The rule of three works both ways, Mr. Byrd, and if she left her home to solve her doubts, what shall be said of him? The recoil, too — was it less on his part than hers? And, if she had cause to gather guilt from his manner, had he not as much cause to gather it from hers? If his mind was full of suspicion when he met her, it became conviction before he left; and, bearing that fact in your mind, watch how he henceforth conducted himself. He does not come to Sibley; the woman he fears to encounter is there. He hears of Mr. Hildreth’s arrest, reads of the discoveries which led to it, and keeps silent. So would any other man have done in his place, at least till he saw whether this arrest was likely to end in trial. But he cannot forget he had been in Sibley on the fatal day, or that there may be some one who saw his interview with Miss Dare. When Byrd comes to him, therefore, and tells him he is wanted in Sibley, his first question is, ‘Am I wanted as a witness?’ and, even you have acknowledged, Mr. Ferris, that he seemed surprised to find himself accused of the crime. But, accused, he takes his course and keeps to it. Brought to trial, he remembers the curious way in which he crossed the river, and thus cut short the road to the station; and, seeing in it great opportunities for a successful defence, chooses Mr. Orcutt for his counsel, and trusts the secret to him. The trial goes on; acquittal seems certain, when suddenly she is recalled to the stand, and he hears words which make him think she is going to betray him by some falsehood, when, instead of following the lead of the prosecution, she launches into a personal confession. What does he do? Why, rise and hold up his hand in a command for her to stop. But she does not heed, and the rest follows as a matter of course. The life she throws away he will not accept. He is innocent, but his defence is false! He says so, and leaves the jury to decide on the verdict. There can be no doubt,” Hickory finally concluded, “that some of these circumstances are consistent only with his belief that Miss Dare is a murderess: such, for instance, as his scratching out her face in the picture. Others favor the theory in a less degree, but this is what I want to impress upon both your minds,” he declared, turning first to Mr. Ferris and then to Mr. Byrd: “If any fact, no matter how slight, leads us to the conviction that Craik Mansell, at any time after the murder, entertained the belief that Miss Dare committed it, his innocence follows as a matter of course. For the guilty could never entertain a belief in the guilt of any other person.”
“Yes,” said Mr. Ferris, “I admit that, but we have got to see into Mr. Mansell’s mind before we can tell what his belief really was.”
“No,” was Hickory’s reply; “let us look at his actions. I say that that defaced picture is conclusive. One day he loves that woman and wants her to marry him; the next, he defaces her picture. Why? She had not offended him. Not a word, not a line, passes between them to cause him to commit this act. But he does hear of his aunt’s murder, and he does recall her sinister promise: ‘Wait; there is no telling what a day will bring forth.’ I say that no other cause for his act is shown except his conviction that she is a murderess.”
“But,” persisted Mr. Ferris, “his leaving the house, as he acknowledges he did, by this unfrequented and circuitous road?”
“I have said before that I cannot explain his presence there, or his flight. All I am now called upon to show is, some fact inconsistent with any thing except a belief in this young woman’s guilt. I claim I have shown it, and, as you admit, Mr. Ferris, if I show that, he is innocent.”
“Yes,” said Byrd, speaking for the first time; “but we have heard of people manufacturing evidence in their own behalf.”
“Come, Byrd,” replied Hickory, “you don’t seriously mean to attack my position with that suggestion. How could a man dream of manufacturing evidence of such a character? A murderer manufactures evidence to throw suspicion on other people. No fool could suppose that scratching out the face of a girl in a photograph and locking it up in his own desk, would tend to bring her to the scaffold, or save him from it.”
“And, yet,” rejoined Byrd, “that very act acquits him in your eyes. All that is necessary is to give him credit for being smart enough to foresee that it would have such a tendency in the eyes of any person who discovered the picture.”
“Then,” said Hickory, “he would also have to foresee that she would accuse herself of murder when he was on trial for it, and that he would thereupon withdraw his defence. Byrd, you are foreseeing too much. My friend Mansell possesses no such power of looking into the future as that.”
“Your friend Mansell!” repeated Mr. Ferris, with a smile. “If you were on his jury, I suppose your bias in his favor would lead you to acquit him of this crime?”
“I should declare him ‘Not guilty,’ and stick to it, if I had to be locked up for a year.”
Mr. Ferris sank into an attitude of profound thought. Horace Byrd, impressed by this, looked at him anxiously.
“Have your convictions been shaken by Hickory’s ingenious theory?” he ventured to inquire at last.
Mr. Ferris abstractedly replied:
“This is no time for me to state my convictions. It is enough that you comprehend my perplexity.” And, relapsing into his former condition, he remained for a moment wrapped in silence, then he said: “Byrd, how comes it that the humpback who excited so much attention on the day of the murder was never found?”
Byrd, astonished, surveyed the District Attorney with a doubtful look that gradually changed into one of quiet satisfaction as he realized the significance of this recurrence to old theories and suspicions. His answer, however, was slightly embarrassed in tone, though frank enough to remind one of Hickory’s blunt-spoken admissions.
“Well,” said he, “I suppose the main reason is that I made no attempt to find him.”
“Do you think that you were wise in that, Mr. Byrd?” inquired Mr. Ferris, with some severity.
“I can find him for you to-day, if you want him,” he declared.
“You can? You know him, then?”
“Very well. Mr. Ferris,” he courteously remarked, “I perhaps should have explained to you at the time, that I recognized this person and knew him to be an honest man; but the habits of secrecy in our profession are so fostered by the lives we lead, that we sometimes hold our tongue when it would be better for us to speak. The humpback who talked with us on the court-house steps the morning Mrs. Clemmens was murdered, was not what he seemed, sir. He was a detective; a detective in disguise; a man with whom I never presume to meddle — in other words, our famous Mr. Gryce.”
“Gryce! — that man!” exclaimed Mr. Ferris, astounded.
“Yes, sir. He was in disguise, probably for some purpose of his own, but I knew his eye. Gryce’s eye isn’t to be mistaken by any one who has much to do with him.”
“And that famous detective was actually on the spot at the time this murder was discovered, and you let him go without warning me of his presence?”
“Sir,” returned Mr. Byrd, “neither you nor I nor any one at that time could foresee what a serious and complicated case this was going to be. Besides, he did not linger in this vicinity, but took the cars only a few minutes after he parted from us. I did not think he wanted to be dragged into this affair unless it was necessary. He had important matters of his own to look after. However, if suspicion had continued to follow him, I should have notified him of the fact, and let him speak for himself. But it vanished so quickly in the light of other developments, I just let the matter drop.”
The impatient frown with which Mr. Ferris received this acknowledgment showed he was not pleased.
“I think you made a mistake,” said he. Then, after a minute’s thought, added: “You have seen Gryce since?”
“Yes, sir; several times.”
“And he acknowledged himself to have been the humpback?”
“You must have had some conversation with him, then, about this murder? He was too nearly concerned in it not to take some interest in the affair?”
“Yes, sir; Gryce takes an interest in all murder cases.”
“Well, then, what did he have to say about this one? He gave an opinion, I suppose?”
“No, sir. Gryce never gives an opinion without study, and we detectives have no time to study up an affair not our own. If you want to know what Gryce thinks about a crime, you have got to put the case into his hands.”
Mr. Ferris paused and seemed to ruminate. Seeing this, Mr. Byrd flushed and cast a side glance at Hickory, who returned him an expressive shrug.
“Mr. Ferris,” ventured the former, “if you wish to consult with Mr. Gryce on this matter, do not hesitate because of us. Both Hickory and myself acknowledge we are more or less baffled by this case, and Gryce’s judgment is a good thing to have in a perplexity.”
“You think so?” queried the District Attorney.
“I do,” said Byrd.
Mr. Ferris glanced at Hickory.
“Oh, have the old man here if you want him,” was that detective’s blunt reply. “I have nothing to say against your getting all the light you can on this affair.”
“Very good,” returned Mr. Ferris. “You may give me his address before you go.”
“His address for to-night is Utica,” observed Byrd. “He could be here before morning, if you wanted him.”
“I am in no such hurry as that,” returned Mr. Ferris, and he sank again into thought.
The detectives took advantage of his abstraction to utter a few private condolences in each other’s ears.
“So it seems we are to be laid on the shelf,” whispered Hickory.
“Yes, for which let us be thankful,” answered Byrd.
“Why? Are you getting tired of the affair?”
A humorous twinkle shone for a minute in Hickory’s eye.
“Pooh!” said he, “it’s just getting interesting.”
“Opinions differ,” quoth Byrd.
“Not much,” retorted Hickory.
Something in the way he said this made Byrd look at him more intently. He instantly changed his tone.
“Old fellow,” said he, “you don’t believe Miss Dare committed this crime any more than I do.”
A sly twinkle answered him from the detective’s half-shut eye.
“All that talk of having seen through your disguise in the hut is just nonsense on your part to cover up your real notion about it. What is that notion, Hickory? Come, out with it; let us understand each other thoroughly at last.”
“Do I understand you?”
“You shall, when you tell me just what your convictions are in this matter.”
“Well, then,” replied Hickory, with a short glance at Mr. Ferris, “I believe (it’s hard as pulling teeth to own it) that neither of them did it: that she thought him guilty and he thought her so, but that in reality the crime lies at the door of some third party totally disconnected with either of them.”
“Such as Gouverneur Hildreth?” whispered Byrd.
“Such — as — Gouverneur Hildreth,” drawled Hickory.
The two detectives eyed each other, smiled, and turned with relieved countenances toward the District Attorney. He was looking at them with great earnestness.
“That is your joint opinion?” he remarked.
“It is mine,” cried Hickory, bringing his fist down on the table with a vim that made every individual article on it jump.
“It is and it is not mine,” acquiesced Byrd, as the eye of Mr. Ferris turned in his direction. “Mr. Mansell may be innocent — indeed, after hearing Hickory’s explanation of his conduct, I am ready to believe he is — but to say that Gouverneur Hildreth is guilty comes hard to me after the long struggle I have maintained in favor of his innocence. Yet, what other conclusion remains after an impartial view of the subject? None. Then why should I shrink from acknowledging I was at fault, or hesitate to admit a defeat where so many causes combined to mislead me?”
“Which means you agree with Hickory?” ventured the District Attorney.
Mr. Byrd slowly bowed.
Mr. Ferris continued for a moment looking alternately from one to the other; then he observed:
“When two such men unite in an opinion, it is at least worthy of consideration.” And, rising, he took on an aspect of sudden determination. “Whatever may be the truth in regard to this matter,” said he, “one duty is clear. Miss Dare, as you inform me, has been — with but little idea of the consequences, I am sure — allowed to remain under the impression that the interview which she held in the hut was with her lover. As her belief in the prisoner’s guilt doubtless rests upon the admissions which were at that time made in her hearing, it is palpable that a grave injustice has been done both to her and to him by leaving this mistake of hers uncorrected. I therefore consider it due to Miss Dare, as well as to the prisoner, to undeceive her on this score before another hour has passed over our heads. I must therefore request you, Mr. Byrd, to bring the lady here. You will find her still in the court-house, I think, as she requested leave to remain in the room below till the crowd had left the streets.”
Mr. Byrd, who, in the new light which had been thrown on the affair by his own and Hickory’s suppositions, could not but see the justice of this, rose with alacrity to obey.
“I will bring her if she is in the building,” he declared, hurriedly leaving the room.
“And if she is not,” Mr. Ferris remarked, with a glance at the consciously rebuked Hickory, “we shall have to follow her to her home, that is all. I am determined to see this woman’s mind cleared of all misapprehensions before I take another step in the way of my duty.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50