Hand and Ring, by Anna Katharine Green

44. The Widow Clemmens.


The secret that so long had hovered

Upon the misty verge of Truth.


“WELL, and what have you to say?” It was Mr. Ferris who spoke. The week which Mr. Gryce had demanded for his inquiries had fully elapsed, and the three detectives stood before him ready with their report.

It was Mr. Gryce who replied.

“Sir,” said he, “our opinions have not been changed by the discoveries which we have made. It was Mr. Orcutt who killed Mrs. Clemmens, and for the reason already stated that she stood in the way of his marrying Miss Dare. Mrs. Clemmens was his wife.”

“His wife?”

“Yes, sir; and, what is more, she has been so for years; before either of them came to Sibley, in fact.”

The District Attorney looked stunned.

“It was while they lived West,” said Byrd. “He was a poor school-master, and she a waitress in some hotel. She was pretty then, and he thought he loved her. At all events, he induced her to marry him, and then kept it secret because he was afraid she would lose her place at the hotel, where she was getting very good wages. You see, he had the makings in him of a villain even then.”

“And was it a real marriage?”

“There is a record of it,” said Hickory.

“And did he never acknowledge it?”

“Not openly,” answered Byrd. “The commonness of the woman seemed to revolt him after he was married to her, and when in a month or so he received the summons East, which opened up before him the career of a lawyer, he determined to drop her and start afresh. He accordingly left town without notifying her, and actually succeeded in reaching the railway depot twenty miles away before he was stopped. But here, a delay occurring in the departure of the train, she was enabled to overtake him, and a stormy scene ensued. What its exact nature was, we, of course, cannot say, but from the results it is evident that he told her his prospects had changed, and with them his tastes and requirements; that she was not the woman he thought her, and that he could not and would not take her East with him as his wife: while she, on her side, displayed full as much spirit as he, and replied that if he could desert her like this he wasn’t the kind of a man she could live with, and that he could go if he wished; only that he must acknowledge her claims upon him by giving her a yearly stipend, according to his income and success. At all events, some such compromise was effected, for he came East and she went back to Swanson. She did not stay there long, however; for the next we know she was in Sibley, where she set up her own little house-keeping arrangements under his very eye. More than that, she prevailed upon him to visit her daily, and even to take a meal at her house, her sense of justice seeming to be satisfied if he showed her this little attention and gave to no other woman the place he denied her. It was the weakness shown in this last requirement that doubtless led to her death. She would stand any thing but a rival. He knew this, and preferred crime to the loss of the woman he loved.”

“You speak very knowingly,” said Mr. Ferris. “May I ask where you received your information?”

It was Mr. Gryce who answered.

“From letters. Mrs. Clemmens was one of those women who delight in putting their feelings on paper. Fortunately for us, such women are not rare. See here!” And he pulled out before the District Attorney a pile of old letters in the widow’s well-known handwriting.

“Where did you find these?” asked Mr. Ferris.

“Well,” said Mr. Gryce, “I found them in rather a curious place. They were in the keeping of old Mrs. Firman, Miss Firman’s mother. Mrs. Clemmens, or, rather, Mrs. Orcutt, got frightened some two years ago at the disappearance of her marriage certificate from the place where she had always kept it hidden, and, thinking that Mr. Orcutt was planning to throw her off, she resolved to provide herself with a confidante capable of standing by her in case she wished to assert her rights. She chose old Mrs. Firman. Why, when her daughter would have been so much more suitable for the purpose, it is hard to tell; possibly the widow’s pride revolted from telling a woman of her own years the indignities she had suffered. However that may be, it was to the old lady she told her story and gave these letters — letters which, as you will see, are not written to any special person, but are rather the separate leaves of a journal which she kept to show the state of her feelings from time to time.”

“And this?” inquired Mr. Ferris, taking up a sheet of paper written in a different handwriting from the rest.

“This is an attempt on the part of the old lady to put on paper the story which had been told her. She evidently thought herself too old to be entrusted with a secret so important, and, fearing loss of memory, or perhaps sudden death, took this means of explaining how she came into possession of her cousin’s letters. ‘T was a wise precaution. Without it we would have missed the clue to the widow’s journal. For the old lady’s brain gave way when she heard of the widow’s death, and had it not been for a special stroke of good-luck on my part, we might have remained some time longer in ignorance of what very valuable papers she secretly held in her possession.”

“I will read the letters,” said Mr. Ferris.

Seeing from his look that he only waited their departure to do so, Mr. Gryce and his subordinates arose.

“I think you will find them satisfactory,” drawled Hickory.

“If you do not,” said Mr. Gryce, “then give a look at this telegram. It is from Swanson, and notifies us that a record of a marriage between Benjamin Orcutt — Mr. Orcutt’s middle name was Benjamin — and Mary Mansell can be found in the old town books.”

Mr. Ferris took the telegram, the shade of sorrow settling heavier and heavier on his brow.

“I see,” said he, “I have got to accept your conclusions. Well, there are those among the living who will be greatly relieved by these discoveries. I will try and think of that.”

Yet, after the detectives were gone, and he sat down in solitude before these evidences of his friend’s perfidy, it was many long and dreary moments before he could summon up courage to peruse them. But when he did, he found in them all that Mr. Gryce had promised. As my readers may feel some interest to know how the seeming widow bore the daily trial of her life, I will give a few extracts from these letters. The first bears date of fourteen years back, and was written after she came to Sibley:

“NOVEMBER 8, 1867. — In the same town! Within a stone’s throw of the court-house, where, they tell me, his business will soon take him almost every day! Isn’t it a triumph? and am I not to be congratulated upon my bravery in coming here? He hasn’t seen me yet, but I have seen him. I crept out of the house at nightfall on purpose. He was sauntering down the street and he looked — it makes my blood boil to think of it — he looked happy.”

“NOVEMBER 10, 1867. — Clemmens, Clemmens — that is my name, and I have taken the title of widow. What a fate for a woman with a husband in the next street! He saw me to-day. I met him in the open square, and I looked him right in the face. How he did quail! It just does me good to think of it! Perk and haughty as he is, he grew as white as a sheet when he saw me, and though he tried to put on airs and carry it off with a high hand, he failed, just as I knew he would when he came to meet me on even ground. Oh, I’ll have my way now, and if I choose to stay in this place where I can keep my eye on him, he won’t dare to say No. The only thing I fear is that he will do me a secret mischief some day. His look was just murderous when he left me.”

“FEBRUARY 24, 1868. — Can I stand it? I ask myself that question every morning when I get up. Can I stand it? To sit all alone in my little narrow room and know that he is going about as gay as you please with people who wouldn’t look at me twice. It’s awful hard; but it would be worse still to be where I couldn’t see what he was up to. Then I should imagine all sorts of things. No, I will just grit my teeth and bear it. I’ll get used to it after a while.”

“OCTOBER 7, 1868. — If he says he never loved me he lies. He did, or why did he marry me? I never asked him to. He teased me into it, saying my saucy ways had bewitched him. A month after, it was common ways, rude ways, such ways as he wouldn’t have in a wife. That’s the kind of man he is.”

“MAY 11, 1869. — One thing I will say of him. He don’t pay no heed to women. He’s too busy, I guess. He don’t seem to think of any thing but to get along, and he does get along remarkable. I’m awful proud of him. He’s taken to defending criminals lately. They almost all get off.”

“OCTOBER 5, 1870. — He pays me but a pittance. How can I look like any thing, or hold my head up with the ladies here if I cannot get enough together to buy me a new fall hat. I will not go to church looking like a farmer’s wife, if I haven’t any education or any manners. I’m as good as anybody here if they but knew it, and deserve to dress as well. He must give me more money.”

“NOVEMBER 2, 1870. — No, he sha’n’t give me a cent more. If I can’t go to church I will stay at home. He sha’n’t say I stood in his way of becoming a great man. He is too good for me. I saw it to-day when he got up in the court to speak. I was there with a thick veil over my face, for I was determined to know whether he was as smart as folks say or not. And he just is! Oh, how beautiful he did look, and how everybody held their breaths while he was speaking! I felt like jumping up and saying: ‘This is my husband; we were married three years ago.’ Wouldn’t I have raised a rumpus if I had! I guess the poor man he was pleading for would not have been remembered very long after that. My husband! the thought makes me laugh. No other woman can call him that, anyhow. He is mine, mine, mine, and I mean he shall stay so.”

“JANUARY 9, 1871. — I feel awful blue to-night. I have been thinking about those Hildreths. How they would like to have me dead! And so would Tremont, though he don’t say nothing. I like to call him Tremont; it makes me feel as if he belonged to me. What if that wicked Gouverneur Hildreth should know I lived so much alone? I don’t believe he would stop at killing me! And my husband! He is equal to telling him I have no protector. Oh, what a dreadful wickedness it is in me to put that down on paper! It isn’t so — it isn’t so; my husband wouldn’t do me any harm if he could. If ever I’m found dead in my bed, it will be the work of that Toledo man and of nobody else.”

“MARCH 2, 1872. — I hope I am going to have some comfort now. Tremont has begun to pay me more money. He had to. He isn’t a poor man any more, and when he moves into his big house, I am going to move into a certain little cottage I have found, just around the corner. If I can’t have no other pleasures, I will at least have a kitchen I can call my own, and a parlor too. What if there don’t no company come to it; they would if they knew. I’ve just heard from Adelaide; she says Craik is getting to be a big boy, and is so smart.”

“JUNE 10, 1872. — What’s the use of having a home? I declare I feel just like breaking down and crying. I don’t want company: if women folks, they’re always talking about their husbands and children; and if men, they’re always saying: ‘My wife’s this, and my wife’s that.’ But I do want him. It’s my right; what if I couldn’t say three words to him that was agreeable, I could look at him and think: ‘This splendid gentleman is my husband, I ain’t so much alone in the world as folks think.’ I’ll put on my bonnet and run down the street. Perhaps I’ll see him sitting in the club-house window!”

“EVENING. — I hate him. He has a hard, cruel, wicked heart. When I got to the club-house window he was sitting there, so I just went walking by, and he saw me and came out and hustled me away with terrible words, saying he wouldn’t have me hanging round where he was; that I had promised not to bother him, and that I must keep my word, or he would see me — he didn’t say where, but it’s easy enough to guess. So — so! he thinks he’ll put an end to my coming to see him, does he? Well, perhaps he can; but if he does, he shall pay for it by coming to see me. I’ll not sit day in and day out alone without the glimpse of a face I love, not while I have a husband in the same town with me. He shall come, if it is only for a moment each day, or I’ll dare every thing and tell the world I am his wife.”

“JUNE 16, 1872. — He had to consent! Meek as I have been, he knows it won’t do to rouse me too much. So to-day he came in to dinner, and he had to acknowledge it was a good one. Oh, how I did feel when I saw his face on the other side of the table! I didn’t know whether I hated him or loved him. But I am sure now I hated him, for he scarcely spoke to me all the time he was eating, and when he was through, he went away just as a stranger would have done. He means to act like a boarder, and, goodness me, he’s welcome to if he isn’t going to act like a husband! The hard, selfish —— Oh, oh, I love him!”

“AUGUST 5, 1872. — It is no use; I’ll never be a happy woman. Tremont has been in so regularly to dinner lately, and shown me such a kind face, I thought I would venture upon a little familiarity. It was only to lay my hand upon his arm, but it made him very angry, and I thought he would strike me. Am I then actually hateful to him? or is he so proud he cannot bear the thought of my having the right to touch him? I looked in the glass when he went out. I am plain and homespun, that’s a fact. Even my red cheeks are gone, and the dimples which once took his fancy. I shall never lay the tip of a finger on him again.”

“FEBRUARY 13, 1873. — What shall I cook for him to-day? Some thing that he likes. It is my only pleasure, to see how he does enjoy my meals. I should think they would choke him; they do me sometimes. But men are made of iron — ambitious men, anyhow. Little they care what suffering they cause, so long as they have a good time and get all the praises they want. He gets them more and more every day. He will soon be as far above me as if I had married the President himself. Oh, sometimes when I think of it and remember he is my own husband, I just feel as if some awful fate was preparing for him or me!”

“JUNE 7, 1873. — Would he send for me if he was dying? No. He hates me; he hates me.”

“SEPTEMBER 8, 1874. — Craik was here to-day; he is just going North to earn a few dollars in the logging business. What a keen eye he has for a boy of his years! I shouldn’t wonder if he made a powerful smart man some day. If he’s only good, too, and kind to his women-folks, I sha’n’t mind. But a smart man who is all for himself is an awful trial to those who love him. Don’t I know? Haven’t I suffered? Craik must never be like him.”

“DECEMBER 21, 1875. — One thousand dollars. That’s a nice little sum to have put away in the bank. So much I get out of my husband’s fame, anyhow. I think I will make my will, for I want Craik to have what I leave. He’s a fine lad.”

“FEBRUARY 19, 1876. — I was thinking the other day, suppose I did die suddenly. It would be dreadful to have the name of Clemmens put on my tombstone! But it would be. Tremont would never let the truth be known, if he had to rifle my dead body for my marriage certificate. What shall I do, then? Tell anybody who I am? It seems just as if I couldn’t. Either the whole world must know it, or just himself and me alone. Oh, I wish I had never been born!”

“JUNE 17, 1876. — Why wasn’t I made handsome and fine and nice? Think where I would be if I was! I’d be in that big house of his, curtesying to all the grand folks as go there. I went to see it last night. It was dark as pitch in the streets, and I went into the gate and all around the house. I walked upon the piazza too, and rubbed my hand along the window-ledges and up and down the doors. It’s mighty nice, all of it, and there sha’n’t lie a square inch on that whole ground that my foot sha’n’t go over. I wish I could get inside the house once.”

“JULY 1, 1876. — I have done it. I went to see Mr. Orcutt’s sister. I had a right. Isn’t he away, and isn’t he my boarder, and didn’t I want to know when he was coming home? She’s a soft, good-natured piece, and let me peek into the library without saying a word. What a room it is! I just felt like I’d been struck when I saw it and spied his chair setting there and all those books heaped around and the fine things on the mantel-shelf and the pictures on the walls. What would I do in such a place as that? I could keep it clean, but so could any gal he might hire. Oh, me! Oh, me! I wish he’d given me a chance. Perhaps if he had loved me I might have learned to be quiet and nice like that silly sister of his.”

“JANUARY 12, 1877. — Some women would take a heap of delight in having folks know they were the wife of a great man, but I find lots of pleasure in being so without folks knowing it. If I lived in his big house and was called Mrs. Orcutt, why, he would have nothing to be afraid of and might do as he pleased; but now he has to do what I please. Sometimes, when I sit down of an evening in my little sitting-room to sew, I think how this famous man whom everybody is afraid of has to come and go just as humble me wants him to; and it makes me hug myself with pride. It’s as if I had a string tied round his little finger, which I can pull now and then. I don’t pull it much; but I do sometimes.”

“MARCH 30, 1877. — Gouverneur Hildreth is dead. I shall never be his victim, at any rate. Shall I ever be the victim of anybody? I don’t feel as if I cared now. For one kiss I would sell my life and die happy.

“There is a young Gouverneur, but it will be years before he will be old enough to make me afraid of him.”

“NOVEMBER 16, 1878. — I should think that Tremont would be lonely in that big house of his. If he had a heart he would. They say he reads all the time. How can folks pore so over books? I can’t. I’d rather sit in my chair and think. What story in all the books is equal to mine?”

“APRIL 23, 1879. — I am growing very settled in my ways. Now that Tremont comes in almost every day, I’m satisfied not to see any other company. My house affairs keep me busy too. I like to have it all nice for him. I believe I could almost be happy if he’d only smile once in a while when he meets my eye. But he never does. Oh, well, we all have our crosses, and he’s a very great man.”

“JANUARY 18, 1880. — He went to a ball last night. What does it mean? He never seemed to care for things like that. Is there any girl he is after?”

“FEBRUARY 6, 1880. — Oh, he has been riding with a lady, has he? It was in the next town, and he thought I wouldn’t hear. But there’s little he does that I don’t know about; let him make himself sure of that. I even know her name; it is Selina Pratt. If he goes with her again, look out for a disturbance. I’ll not stand his making love to another woman.”

“MAY 26, 1880. — My marriage certificate is missing. Can it be that Tremont has taken it? I have looked all through the desk where I have kept it for so many years, but I cannot find it. He was left alone in the house a few minutes the other day. Could he have taken the chance to rob me of the only proof I have that we are man and wife? If he has he is a villain at heart, and is capable of doing any thing, even of marrying this Pratt girl who he has taken riding again. The worst is that I dare not accuse him of having my certificate; for if he didn’t take it and should find out it is gone, he’d throw me off just as quick as if he had. What shall I do then? Something. He shall never marry another woman while I live.”

“MAY 30, 1880. — The Pratt girl is gone. If he cared for her it was only for a week, like an old love I could mention. I think I feel safe again, only I am convinced some one ought to know my secret besides myself. Shall it be Emily? No. I’d rather tell her mother.”

“JUNE 9TH, 1880. — I am going to Utica. I shall take these letters with me. Perhaps I shall leave them. For the last time, then, let me say ‘I am the lawful wife of Tremont Benjamin Orcutt, the lawyer, who lives in Sibley, New York.’ We were married in Swanson, Nevada, on the 3d of July, 1867, by a travelling minister, named George Sinclair.

“MARY ANN ORCUTT, Sibley, N. Y.”


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55