Upon his bloody finger he doth wear
A precious ring.
Make me to see it; or at the least so prove it,
That the probation bear no hinge nor loop
To hang a doubt on.
MR. GRYCE did not believe that Imogene Dare had visited Mrs. Clemmens before the assault, or, indeed, had held any communication with her. Therefore, when Mansell declared that he had never told his aunt of the attachment between himself and this young lady, the astute detective at once drew the conclusion that the widow had never known of that attachment, and consequently that the words which the prisoner had overheard must have referred, not to himself, as he supposed, but to some other man, and, if to some other man — why to the only one with whom Miss Dare’s name was at that time associated; in other words, to Mr. Orcutt!
Now it was not easy to measure the importance of a conclusion like this. For whilst there would have been nothing peculiar in this solitary woman, with the few thousands in the bank, boasting of her power to separate her nephew from the lady of his choice, there was every thing that was significant in her using the same language in regard to Miss Dare and Mr. Orcutt. Nothing but the existence of some unsuspected bond between herself and the great lawyer could have accounted, first, for her feeling on the subject of his marriage; and, secondly, for the threat of interference contained in her very emphatic words — a bond which, while evidently not that of love, was still of a nature to give her control over his destiny, and make her, in spite of her lonely condition, the selfish and determined arbitrator of his fate.
What was that bond? A secret shared between them? The knowledge on her part of some fact in Mr. Orcutt’s past life, which, if revealed, might serve as an impediment to his marriage? In consideration that the great mystery to be solved was what motive Mr. Orcutt could have had for killing this woman, an answer to this question was manifestly of the first importance.
But before proceeding to take any measures to insure one, Mr. Gryce sat down and seriously asked himself whether there was any known fact, circumstantial or otherwise, which refused to fit into the theory that Mr. Orcutt actually committed this crime with his own hand, and at the time he was seen to cross the street and enter Mrs. Clemmens’ house. For, whereas the most complete chain of circumstantial evidence does not necessarily prove the suspected party to be guilty of a crime, the least break in it is fatal to his conviction. And Mr. Gryce wished to be as fair to the memory of Mr. Orcutt as he would have been to the living man.
Beginning, therefore, with the earliest incidents of the fatal day, he called up, first, the letter which the widow had commenced but never lived to finish. It was a suggestive epistle. It was addressed to her most intimate friend, and showed in the few lines written a certain foreboding or apprehension of death remarkable under the circumstances. Mr. Gryce recalled one of its expressions. “There are so many,” wrote she, “to whom my death would be more than welcome.” So many! Many is a strong word; many means more than one, more than two; many means three at least. Now where were the three? Hildreth, of course, was one, Mansell might very properly be another, but who was the third? To Mr. Gryce, but one name suggested itself in reply. So far, then, his theory stood firm. Now what was the next fact known? The milkman stopped with his milk; that was at half-past eleven. He had to wait a few minutes, from which it was concluded she was up-stairs when he rapped. Was it at this time she was interrupted in her letter-writing? If so, she probably did not go back to it, for when Mr. Hildreth called, some fifteen minutes later, she was on the spot to open the door. Their interview was short; it was also stormy. Medicine was the last thing she stood in need of; besides, her mind was evidently preoccupied. Showing him the door, she goes back to her work, and, being deaf, does not notice that he does not leave the house as she expected. Consequently her thoughts go on unhindered, and, her condition being one of anger, she mutters aloud and bitterly to herself as she flits from dining-room to kitchen in her labor of serving up her dinner. The words she made use of have been overheard, and here another point appears. For, whereas her temper must have been disturbed by the demand which had been made upon her the day before by her favorite relative and heir, her expressions of wrath at this moment were not levelled against him, but against a young lady who is said to have been a stranger to her, her language being: “You think you are going to marry him, Imogene Dare; but I tell you you never shall, not while I live.” Her chief grievance, then, and the one thing uppermost in her thoughts, even at a time when she felt that there were many who desired her death, lay in this fact that a young and beautiful woman had manifested, as she supposed, a wish to marry Mr. Orcutt, the word him which she had used, necessarily referring to the lawyer, as she knew nothing of Imogene’s passion for her nephew.
But this is not the only point into which it is necessary to inquire. For to believe Mr. Orcutt guilty of this crime one must also believe that all the other persons who had been accused of it were truthful in the explanations which they gave of the events which had seemingly connected them with it. Now, were they? Take the occurrences of that critical moment when the clock stood at five minutes to twelve. If Mr. Hildreth is to be believed, he was at that instant in the widow’s front hall musing on his disappointment and arranging his plans for the future; the tramp, if those who profess to have watched him are to be believed, was on the kitchen portico; Craik Mansell on the dining-room door-step; Imogene Dare before her telescope in Professor Darling’s observatory. Mr. Hildreth, with two doors closed between him and the back of the house, knew nothing of what was said or done there, but the tramp heard loud talking, and Craik Mansell the actual voice of the widow raised in words which were calculated to mislead him into thinking she was engaged in angry altercation with the woman he loved. What do all three do, then? Mr. Hildreth remains where he is; the tramp skulks away through the front gate; Craik Mansell rushes back to the woods. And Imogene Dare? She has turned her telescope toward Mrs. Clemmens’ cottage, and, being on the side of the dining-room door, sees the flying form of Craik Mansell, and marks it till it disappears from her sight. Is there any thing contradictory in these various statements? No. Every thing, on the contrary, that is reconcilable.
Let us proceed then. What happens a few minutes later? Mr. Hildreth, tired of seclusion and anxious to catch the train, opens the front door and steps out. The tramp, skulking round some other back door, does not see him; Imogene, with her eye on Craik Mansell, now vanishing into the woods, does not see him; nobody sees him. He goes, and the widow for a short interval is as much alone as she believed herself to be a minute or two before when three men stood, unseen by each other, at each of the three doors of her house. What does she do now?
Why, she finishes preparing her dinner, and then, observing that the clock is slow, proceeds to set it right. Fatal task! Before she has had an opportunity to finish it, the front door has opened again, Mr. Orcutt has come in, and, tempted perhaps by her defenceless position, catches up a stick of wood from the fireplace and, with one blow, strikes her down at his feet, and rushes forth again with tidings of her death.
Now, is there any thing in all this that is contradictory? No; there is only something left out. In the whole of this description of what went on in the widow’s house, there has been no mention made of the ring — the ring which it is conceded was either in Craik Mansell’s or Imogene Dare’s possession the evening before the murder, and which was found on the dining-room floor within ten minutes after the assault took place. If Mrs. Clemmens’ exclamations are to be taken as an attempt to describe her murderer, then this ring must have been on the hand which was raised against her, and how could that have been if the hand was that of Mr. Orcutt? Unimportant as it seemed, the discovery of this ring on the floor, taken with the exclamations of the widow, make a break in the chain that is fatal to Mr. Gryce’s theory. Yet does it? The consternation displayed by Mr. Orcutt when Imogene claimed the ring and put it on her finger may have had a deeper significance than was thought at the time. Was there any way in which he could have come into possession of it before she did? and could it have been that he had had it on his hand when he struck the blow? Mr. Gryce bent all his energies to inquire.
First, where was the ring when the lovers parted in the wood the day before the murder? Evidently in Mr. Mansell’s coat-pocket. Imogene had put it there, and Imogene had left it there. But Mansell did not know it was there, so took no pains to look after its safety. It accordingly slipped out; but when? Not while he slept, or it would have been found in the hut. Not while he took the path to his aunt’s house, or it would have been found in the lane, or, at best, on the dining-room door-step. When, then? Mr. Gryce could think of but one instant, and that was when the young man threw his coat from one arm to the other at the corner of the house toward the street. If it rolled out then it would have been under an impetus, and, as the coat was flung from the right arm to the left, the ring would have flown in the direction of the gate and fallen, perhaps, directly on the walk in front of the house. If it had, its presence in the dining-room seemed to show it had been carried there by Mr. Orcutt, since he was the next person who went into the house.
But did it fall there? Mr. Gryce took the only available means to find out.
Sending for Horace Byrd, he said to him:
“You were on the court-house steps when Mr. Orcutt left and crossed over to the widow’s house?”
“Were you watching him? Could you describe his manner as he entered the house; how he opened the gate; or whether he stopped to look about him before going in?”
“No, sir,” returned Byrd; “my eyes may have been on him, but I don’t remember any thing especial that he did.”
Somewhat disappointed, Mr. Gryce went to the District Attorney and put to him the same question. The answer he received from him was different. With a gloomy contraction of his brow, Mr. Ferris said:
“Yes, I remember his look and appearance very well. He stepped briskly, as he always did, and carried his head —— Wait!” he suddenly exclaimed, giving the detective a look in which excitement and decision were strangely blended. “You think Mr. Orcutt committed this crime; that he left us standing on the court-house steps and crossed the street to Mrs. Clemmens’ house with the deliberate intention of killing her, and leaving the burden of his guilt to be shouldered by the tramp. Now, you have called up a memory to me that convinces me this could not have been. Had he had any such infernal design in his breast he would not have been likely to have stopped as he did to pick up something which he saw lying on the walk in front of Mrs. Clemmens’ house.”
“And did Mr. Orcutt do that?” inquired Mr. Gryce, with admirable self-control.
“Yes, I remember it now distinctly. It was just as he entered the gate. A man meditating a murder of this sort would not be likely to notice a pin lying in his path, much less pause to pick it up.”
“How if it were a diamond ring?”
“A diamond ring?”
“Mr. Ferris,” said the detective, gravely, “you have just supplied a very important link in the chain of evidence against Mr. Orcutt. The question is, how could the diamond ring which Miss Dare is believed to have dropped into Mr. Mansell’s coat-pocket have been carried into Mrs. Clemmens’ house without the agency of either herself or Mr. Mansell? I think you have just shown.” And the able detective, in a few brief sentences, explained the situation to Mr. Ferris, together with the circumstances of Mansell’s flight, as gleaned by him in his conversation with the prisoner.
The District Attorney was sincerely dismayed. The guilt of the renowned lawyer was certainly assuming positive proportions. Yet, true to his friendship for Mr. Orcutt, he made one final effort to controvert the arguments of the detective, and quietly said:
“You profess to explain how the ring might have been carried into Mrs. Clemmens’ house, but how do you account for the widow having used an exclamation which seems to signify it was on the hand which she saw lifted against her life?”
“By the fact that it was on that hand.”
“Do you think that probable if the hand was Mr. Orcutt’s?”
“Perfectly so. Where else would he be likely to put it in the preoccupied state of mind in which he was? In his pocket? The tramp might have done that, but not the gentleman.”
Mr. Ferris looked at the detective with almost an expression of fear.
“And how came it to be on the floor if Mr. Orcutt put it on his finger?”
“By the most natural process in the world. The ring made for Miss Dare’s third finger was too large for Mr. Orcutt’s little finger, and so slipped off when he dropped the stick of wood from his hand.”
“And he left it lying where it fell?”
“He probably did not notice its loss. If, as I suppose, he had picked it up and placed it on his finger, mechanically, its absence at such a moment would not be observed. Besides, what clue could he suppose a diamond ring he had never seen before, and which he had had on his finger but an instant, would offer in a case like this?”
“You reason close,” said the District Attorney; “too close,” he added, as he recalled, with painful distinctness, the look and attitude of Mr. Orcutt at the time this ring was first brought into public notice, and realized that so might a man comport himself who, conscious of this ring’s association with the crime he had just secretly perpetrated, sees it claimed and put on the finger of the woman he loves.
Mr. Gryce, with his usual intuition, seemed to follow the thoughts of the District Attorney.
“If our surmises are correct,” he remarked, “it was a grim moment for the lawyer when, secure in his immunity from suspicion, he saw Miss Dare come upon the scene with eager inquiries concerning this murder. To you, who had not the clue, it looked as if he feared she was not as innocent as she should be; but, if you will recall the situation now, I think you will see that his agitation can only be explained by his apprehension of her intuitions and an alarm lest her interest sprang from some mysterious doubt of himself.”
Mr. Ferris shook his head with a gloomy air, but did not respond.
“Miss Dare tells me,” the detective resumed, “that his first act upon their meeting again at his house was to offer himself to her in marriage. Now you, or any one else, would say this was to show he did not mistrust her, but I say it was to find out if she mistrusted him.”
Still Mr. Ferris remained silent.
“The same reasoning will apply to what followed,” continued Mr. Gryce. “You cannot reconcile the thought of his guilt with his taking the case of Mansell and doing all he could to secure his acquittal. But you will find it easier to do so when I tell you that, without taking into consideration any spark of sympathy which he might feel for the man falsely accused of his crime, he knew from Imogene’s lips that she would not survive the condemnation of her lover, and that, besides this, his only hope of winning her for his wife lay in the gratitude he might awaken in her if he succeeded in saving his rival.”
“You are making him out a great villain,” murmured Mr. Ferris, bitterly.
“And was not that the language of his own countenance as he lay dying?” inquired the detective.
Mr. Ferris could not say No. He had himself been too deeply impressed by the sinister look he had observed on the face of his dying friend. He therefore confined himself to remarking, not without sarcasm:
“And now for the motive of this hideous crime — for I suppose your ingenuity has discovered one before this.”
“It will be found in his love for Miss Dare,” returned the detective; “but just how I am not prepared to-day to say.”
“His love for Miss Dare? What had this plain and homespun Mrs. Clemmens to do with his love for Miss Dare?”
“She was an interference.”
“Ah, that, sir, is the question.”
“So then you do not know?”
Mr. Gryce was obliged to shake his head.
The District Attorney drew himself up. “Mr. Gryce,” said he, “the charge which has been made against this eminent man demands the very strongest proof in order to substantiate it. The motive, especially, must be shown to have been such as to offer a complete excuse for suspecting him. No trivial or imaginary reason for his wishing this woman out of the world will answer in his case. You must prove that her death was absolutely necessary to the success of his dearest hopes, or your reasoning will only awaken distrust in the minds of all who hear it. The fame of a man like Mr. Orcutt is not to be destroyed by a passing word of delirium, or a specious display of circumstantial evidence such as you evolve from the presence of the ring on the scene of murder.”
“I know it,” allowed Mr. Gryce, “and that is why I have asked for a week.”
“Then you still believe you can find such a motive?”
The smile which Mr. Gryce bestowed upon the favored object then honored by his gaze haunted the District Attorney for the rest of the week.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55