“Between the acting of a dreadful thing,
And the first motion, all the interim is
Like a phantasma or a hideous dream;
The genius and the mortal instruments
Are then in council; and the state of a man,
Like to a little Kingdom, suffers then
The nature of an insurrection.”
I AM not a bad man; I am only an intense one. Ambition, love, jealousy, hatred, revenge — transitory emotions with some, are terrific passions with me. To be sure, they are quiet and concealed ones, coiled serpents that make no stir till aroused; but then, deadly in their spring and relentless in their action. Those who have known me best have not known this. My own mother was ignorant of it. Often and often have I heard her say: “If Trueman only had more sensibility! If Trueman were not so indifferent to everything! In short, if Trueman had more power in him!”
It was the same at school. No one understood me. They thought me meek; called me Dough-face. For three years they called me this, then I turned upon them. Choosing out their ringleader, I felled him to the ground, laid him on his back, and stamped upon him. He was handsome before my foot came down; afterwards — Well, it is enough he never called me Dough-face again. In the store I entered soon after, I met with even less appreciation. Regular at my work and exact in my performance of it, they thought me a good machine and nothing more. What heart, soul, and feeling could a man have who never sported, never smoked, and never laughed? I could reckon up figures correctly, but one scarcely needed heart or soul for that. I could even write day by day and month by month without showing a flaw in my copy; but that only argued I was no more than they intimated, a regular automaton. I let them think so, with the certainty before me that they would one day change their minds as others had done. The fact was, I loved nobody well enough, not even myself, to care for any man’s opinion. Life was well-nigh a blank to me; a dead level plain that had to be traversed whether I would or not. And such it might have continued to this day if I had never met Mary Leavenworth. But when, some nine months since, I left my desk in the counting-house for a seat in Mr. Leavenworth’s library, a blazing torch fell into my soul whose flame has never gone out, and never will, till the doom before me is accomplished.
She was so beautiful! When, on that first evening, I followed my new employer into the parlor, and saw this woman standing up before me in her half-alluring, half-appalling charm, I knew, as by a lightning flash, what my future would be if I remained in that house. She was in one of her haughty moods, and bestowed upon me little more than a passing glance. But her indifference made slight impression upon me then. It was enough that I was allowed to stand in her presence and look unrebuked upon her loveliness. To be sure, it was like gazing into the flower-wreathed crater of an awakening volcano. Fear and fascination were in each moment I lingered there; but fear and fascination made the moment what it was, and I could not have withdrawn if I would.
And so it was always. Unspeakable pain as well as pleasure was in the emotion with which I regarded her. Yet for all that I did not cease to study her hour by hour and day by day; her smiles, her movement, her way of turning her head or lifting her eyelids. I had a purpose in this. I wished to knit her beauty so firmly into the warp and woof of my being that nothing could ever serve to tear it away. For I saw then as plainly as now that, coquette though she was, she would never stoop to me. No; I might lie down at her feet and let her trample over me; she would not even turn to see what it was she had stepped upon. I might spend days, months, years, learning the alphabet of her wishes; she would not thank me for my pains or even raise the lashes from her cheek to look at me as I passed. I was nothing to her, could not be anything unless — and this thought came slowly — I could in some way become her master.
Meantime I wrote at Mr. Leavenworth’s dictation and pleased him. My methodical ways were just to his taste. As for the other member of the family, Miss Eleanore Leavenworth — she treated me just as one of her proud but sympathetic nature might be expected to do. Not familiarly, but kindly; not as a friend, but as a member of the household whom she met every day at table, and who, as she or any one else could see, was none too happy or hopeful.
Six months went by. I had learned two things; first, that Mary Leavenworth loved her position as prospective heiress to a large fortune above every other earthly consideration; and secondly, that she was in the possession of a secret which endangered that position. What this was, I had for some time no means of knowing. But when later I became convinced it was one of love, I grew hopeful, strange as it may seem. For by this time I had learned Mr. Leavenworth’s disposition almost as perfectly as that of his niece, and knew that in a matter of this kind he would be uncompromising; and that in the clashing of these two wills something might occur which would give me a hold upon her. The only thing that troubled me was the fact that I did not know the name of the man in whom she was interested. But chance soon favored me here. One day — a month ago now — I sat down to open Mr. Leavenworth’s mail as usual. One letter — shall I ever forget it? ran thus:
“March I, 1876.”
MR. HORATIO LEAVENWORTH:
“DEAR SIR — You have a niece whom you love and trust, one, too, who seems worthy of all the love and trust that you or any other man can give her; so beautiful, so charming, so tender is she in face, form, manner, and conversation. But, dear sir, every rose has its thorn, and your rose is no exception to this rule. Lovely as she is, charming as she is, tender as she is, she is not only capable of trampling on the rights of one who trusted her, but of bruising the heart and breaking the spirit of him to whom she owes all duty, honor, and observance.
“If you don’t believe this, ask her to her cruel, bewitching face, who and what is her humble servant, and yours.
“Henry Ritchie Clavering.”
If a bombshell had exploded at my feet, or the evil one himself appeared at my call, I would not have been more astounded. Not only was the name signed to these remarkable words unknown to me, but the epistle itself was that of one who felt himself to be her master: a position which, as you know, I was myself aspiring to occupy. For a few minutes, then, I stood a prey to feelings of the bitterest wrath and despair; then I grew calm, realizing that with this letter in my possession I was virtually the arbitrator of her destiny. Some men would have sought her there and then and, by threatening to place it in her uncle’s hand, won from her a look of entreaty, if no more; but I— well, my plans went deeper than that. I knew she would have to be in extremity before I could hope to win her. She must feel herself slipping over the edge of the precipice before she would clutch at the first thing offering succor. I decided to allow the letter to pass into my employer’s hands. But it had been opened! How could I manage to give it to him in this condition without exciting his suspicion? I knew of but one way; to let him see me open it for what he would consider the first time. So, waiting till he came into the room, I approached him with the letter, tearing off the end of the envelope as I came. Opening it, I gave a cursory glance at its contents and tossed it down on the table before him.
“That appears to be of a private character,” said I, “though there is no sign to that effect on the envelope.”
He took it up while I stood there. At the first word he started, looked at me, seemed satisfied from my expression that I had not read far enough to realize its nature, and, whirling slowly around in his chair, devoured the remainder in silence. I waited a moment, then withdrew to my own desk. One minute, two minutes passed in silence; he was evidently rereading the letter; then he hurriedly rose and left the room. As he passed me I caught a glimpse of his face in the mirror. The expression I saw there did not tend to lessen the hope that was rising in my breast.
By following him almost immediately up-stairs I ascertained that he went directly to Mary’s room, and when in a few hours later the family collected around the dinner table, I perceived, almost without looking up, that a. great and insurmountable barrier had been raised between him and his favorite niece.
Two days passed; days that were for me one long and unrelieved suspense. Had Mr. Leavenworth answered that letter? Would it all end as it had begun, without the appearance of the mysterious Clavering on the scene? I could not tell.
Meanwhile my monotonous work went on, grinding my heart beneath its relentless wheel. I wrote and wrote and wrote, till it seemed as if my life blood went from me with every drop of ink I used. Always alert and listening, I dared not lift my head or turn my eyes at any unusual sound, lest I should seem to be watching. The third night I had a dream; I have already told Mr. Raymond what it was, and hence will not repeat it here. One correction, however, I wish to make in regard to it. In my statement to him I declared that the face of the man whom I saw lift his hand against my employer was that of Mr. Clavering. I lied when I said this. The face seen by me in my dream was my own. It was that fact which made it so horrible to me. In the crouching figure stealing warily down-stairs, I saw as in a glass the vision of my own form. Otherwise my account of the matter was true.
This vision had a tremendous effect upon me. Was it a premonition? a forewarning of the way in which I was to win this coveted creature for my own? Was the death of her uncle the bridge by which the impassable gulf between us might be spanned? I began to think it might be; to consider the possibilities which could make this the only path to my elysium; even went so far as to picture her lovely face bending gratefully towards me through the glare of a sudden release from some emergency in which she stood. One thing was sure; if that was the way I must go, I had at least been taught how to tread it; and all through the dizzy, blurred day that followed, I saw, as I sat at my work, repeated visions of that stealthy, purposeful figure stealing down the stairs and entering with uplifted pistol into the unconscious presence of my employer. I even found myself a dozen times that day turning my eyes upon the door through which it was to come, wondering how long it would be before my actual form would pause there. That the moment was at hand I did not imagine. Even when I left him that night after drinking with him the glass of sherry mentioned at the inquest, I had no idea the hour of action was so near. But when, not three minutes after going upstairs, I caught the sound of a lady’s dress rustling through the hall, and listening, heard Mary Leavenworth pass my door on her way to the library, I realized that the fatal hour was come; that something was going to be said or done in that room which would make this deed necessary. What? I determined to ascertain. Casting about in my mind for the means of doing so, I remembered that the ventilator running up through the house opened first into the passage-way connecting Mr. Leavenworth’s bedroom and library, and, secondly, into the closet of the large spare room adjoining mine. Hastily unlocking the door of the communication between the rooms, I took my position in the closet. Instantly the sound of voices reached my ears; all was open below, and standing there, I was as much an auditor of what went on between Mary and her uncle as if I were in the library itself. And what did I hear? Enough to assure me my suspicions were correct; that it was a moment of vital interest to her; that Mr. Leavenworth, in pursuance of a threat evidently made some time since, was in the act of taking steps to change his will, and that she had come to make an appeal to be forgiven her fault and restored to his favor. What that fault was, I did not learn. No mention was made of Mr. Clavering as her husband. I only heard her declare that her action had been the result of impulse, rather than love; that she regretted it, and desired nothing more than to be free from all obligations to one she would fain forget, and be again to her uncle what she was before she ever saw this man. I thought, fool that I was, it was a mere engagement she was alluding to, and took the insanest hope from these words; and when, in a moment later I heard her uncle reply, in his sternest tone, that she had irreparably forfeited her claims to his regard and favor, I did not need her short and bitter cry of shame and disappointment, or that low moan for some one to help her, for me to sound his death-knell in my heart. Creeping back to my own room, I waited till I heard her reascend, then I stole forth. Calm as I had ever been in my life, I went down the stairs just as I had seen myself do in my dream, and knocking lightly at the library door, went in. Mr. Leavenworth was sitting in his usual place writing.
“Excuse me,” said I as he looked up, “I have lost my memorandum-book, and think it possible I may have dropped it in the passage-way when I went for the wine.” He bowed, and I hurried past him into the closet. Once there, I proceeded rapidly into the room beyond, procured the pistol, returned, and almost before I realized what I was doing, had taken up my position behind him, aimed, and fired. The result was what you know. Without a groan his head fell forward on his hands, and Mary Leavenworth was the virtual possessor of the thousands she coveted.
My first thought was to procure the letter he was writing. Approaching the table, I tore it out from under his hands, looked at it, saw that it was, as I expected, a summons to his lawyer, and thrust it into my pocket, together with the letter from Mr. Clavering, which I perceived lying spattered with blood on the table before me. Not till this was done did I think of myself, or remember the echo which that low, sharp report must have made in the house. Dropping the pistol at the side of the murdered man, I stood ready to shriek to any one who entered that Mr. Leavenworth had killed himself. But I was saved from committing such a folly. The report had not been heard, or if so, had evidently failed to create an alarm. No one came, and I was left to contemplate my work undisturbed and decide upon the best course to be taken to avoid detection. A moment’s study of the wound made in his head by the bullet convinced me of the impossibility of passing the affair off as a suicide, or even the work of a burglar. To any one versed in such matters it was manifestly a murder, and a most deliberate one. My one hope, then, lay in making it as mysterious as it was deliberate, by destroying all due to the motive and manner of the deed. Picking up the pistol, I carried it into the other room with the intention of cleaning it, but finding nothing there to do it with, came back for the handkerchief I had seen lying on the floor at Mr. Leavenworth’s feet. It was Miss Eleanore’s, but I did not know it till I had used it to clean the barrel; then the sight of her initials in one corner so shocked me I forgot to clean the cylinder, and only thought of how I could do away with this evidence of her handkerchief having been employed for a purpose so suspicious. Not daring to carry it from the room, I sought for means to destroy it; but finding none, compromised the matter by thrusting it deep down behind the cushion of one of the chairs, in the hope of being able to recover and burn it the next day. This done, I reloaded the pistol, locked it up, and prepared to leave the room. But here the horror which usually follows such deeds struck me like a thunderbolt and made me for the first time uncertain in my action. I locked the door on going out, something I should never have done. Not till I reached the top of the stairs did I realize my folly; and then it was too late, for there before me, candle in hand, and surprise written on every feature of her face, stood Hannah, one of the servants, looking at me.
“Lor, sir, where have you been?” she cried, but strange to say, in a low tone. “You look as if you had seen a ghost.” And her eyes turned suspiciously to the key which I held in my hand.
I felt as if some one had clutched me round the throat. Thrusting the key into my pocket, I took a step towards her. “I will tell you what I have seen if you will come down-stairs,” I whispered; “the ladies will be disturbed if we talk here,” and smoothing my brow as best I could, I put out my hand and drew her towards me. What my motive was I hardly knew; the action was probably instinctive; but when I saw the look which came into her face as I touched her, and the alacrity with which she prepared to follow me, I took courage, remembering the one or two previous tokens I had had of this girl’s unreasonable susceptibility to my influence; a susceptibility which I now felt could be utilized and made to serve my purpose.
Taking her down to the parlor floor, I drew her into the depths of the great drawing-room, and there told her in the least alarming way possible what had happened to Mr. Leavenworth. She was of course intensely agitated, but she did not scream; — the novelty of her position evidently bewildering her — and, greatly relieved, I went on to say that I did not know who committed the deed, but that folks would declare it was I if they knew I had been seen by her on the stairs with the library key in my hand. “But I won’t tell,” she whispered, trembling violently in her fright and eagerness. “I will keep it to myself. I will say I didn’t see anybody.” But I soon convinced her that she could never keep her secret if the police once began to question her, and, following up my argument with a little cajolery, succeeded after a long while in winning her consent to leave the house till the storm should be blown over. But that given, it was some little time before I could make her comprehend that she must depart at once and without going back after her things. Not till I brightened up her wits by a promise to marry her some day if she only obeyed me now, did she begin to look the thing in the face and show any evidence of the real mother wit she evidently possessed. “Mrs. Belden would take me in,” said she, “if I could only get to R——. She takes everybody in who asks, her; and she would keep me, too, if I told her Miss Mary sent me. But I can’t get there to-night.”
I immediately set to work to convince her that she could. The midnight train did not leave the city for a half-hour yet, and the distance to the depot could be easily walked by her in fifteen minutes. But she had no money! I easily supplied that. And she was afraid she couldn’t find her way! I entered into minutest directions. She still hesitated, but at length consented to go, and with some further understanding of the method I was to employ in communicating with her, we went down-stairs. There we found a hat and shawl of the cook’s which I put on her, and in another moment we were in the carriage yard. “Remember, you are to say nothing of what has occurred, no matter what happens,” I whispered in parting injunction as she turned to leave me. “Remember, you are to come and marry me some day,” she murmured in reply, throwing her arms about my neck. The movement was sudden, and it was probably at this time she dropped the candle she had unconsciously held clenched in her hand till now. I promised her, and she glided out of the gate.
Of the dreadful agitation that followed the disappearance of this girl I can give no better idea than by saying I not only committed the additional error of locking up the house on my re-entrance, but omitted to dispose of the key then in my pocket by flinging it into the street or dropping it in the hall as I went up. The fact is, I was so absorbed by the thought of the danger I stood in from this girl, I forgot everything else. Hannah’s pale face, Hannah’s look of terror, as she turned from my side and flitted down the street, were continually before me. I could not escape them; the form of the dead man lying below was less vivid. It was as though I were tied in fancy to this woman of the white face fluttering down the midnight streets. That she would fail in something — come back or be brought back — that I should find her standing white and horror-stricken on the front steps when I went down in the morning, was like a nightmare to me. I began to think no other result possible; that she never would or could win her way unchallenged to that little cottage in a distant village; that I had but sent a trailing flag of danger out into the world with this wretched girl; — danger that would come back to me with the first burst of morning light!
But even those thoughts faded after a while before the realization of the peril I was in as long as the key and papers remained in my possession. How to get rid of them! I dared not leave my room again, or open my window. Some one might see me and remember it. Indeed I was afraid to move about in my room. Mr. Leavenworth might hear me. Yes, my morbid terror had reached that point — I was fearful of one whose ears I myself had forever closed, imagined him in his bed beneath and wakeful to the least sound.
But the necessity of doing something with these evidences of guilt finally overcame this morbid anxiety, and drawing the two letters from my pocket — I had not yet undressed — I chose out the most dangerous of the two, that written by Mr. Leavenworth himself, and, chewing it till it was mere pulp, threw it into a corner; but the other had blood on it, and nothing, not even the hope of safety, could induce me to put it to my lips. I was forced to lie with it clenched in my hand, and the flitting image of Hannah before my eyes, till the slow morning broke. I have heard it said that a year in heaven seems like a day; I can easily believe it. I know that an hour in hell seems an eternity!
But with daylight came hope. Whether it was that the sunshine glancing on the wall made me think of Mary and all I was ready to do for her sake, or whether it was the mere return of my natural stoicism in the presence of actual necessity, I cannot say. I only know that I arose calm and master of myself. The problem of the letter and key had solved itself also. Hide them? I would not try to! Instead of that I would put them in plain sight, trusting to that very fact for their being overlooked. Making the letter up into lighters, I carried them into the spare room and placed them in a vase. Then, taking the key in my hand, went down-stairs, intending to insert it in the lock of the library door as I went by. But Miss Eleanore descending almost immediately behind me made this impossible. I succeeded, however, in thrusting it, without her knowledge, among the filagree work of the gas-fixture in the second hall, and thus relieved, went down into the breakfast room as self-possessed a man as ever crossed its threshold. Mary was there, looking exceedingly pale and disheartened, and as I met her eye, which for a wonder turned upon me as I entered, I could almost have laughed, thinking of the deliverance that had come to her, and of the time when I should proclaim myself to be the man who had accomplished it.
Of the alarm that speedily followed, and my action at that time and afterwards, I need not speak in detail. I behaved just as I would have done if I had had no hand in the murder. I even forbore to touch the key or go to the spare room, or make any movement which I was not willing all the world should see. For as things stood, there was not a shadow of evidence against me in the house; neither was I, a hard-working, uncomplaining secretary, whose passion for one of his employer’s nieces was not even mistrusted by the lady herself, a person to be suspected of the crime which threw him out of a fair situation. So I performed all the duties of my position, summoning the police, and going for Mr. Veeley, just as I would have done if those hours between me leaving Mr. Leavenworth for the first time and going down to breakfast in the morning had been blotted from my consciousness.
And this was the principle upon which I based my action at the inquest. Leaving that half-hour and its occurrences out of the question, I resolved to answer such questions as might be put me as truthfully as I could; the great fault with men situated as I was usually being that they lied too much, thus committing themselves on unessential matters. But alas, in thus planning for my own safety, I forgot one thing, and that was the dangerous position in which I should thus place Mary Leavenworth as the one benefited by the crime. Not till the inference was drawn by a juror, from the amount of wine found in Mr. Leavenworth’s glass in the morning, that he had come to his death shortly after my leaving him, did I realize what an opening I had made for suspicion in her direction by admitting that I had heard a rustle on the stair a few minutes after going up. That all present believed it to have been made by Eleanore, did not reassure me. She was so completely disconnected with the crime I could not imagine suspicion holding to her for an instant. But Mary — If a curtain had been let down before me, pictured with the future as it has since developed, I could not have seen more plainly what her position would be, if attention were once directed towards her. So, in the vain endeavor to cover up my blunder, I began to lie. Forced to admit that a shadow of disagreement had been lately visible between Mr. Leavenworth and one of his nieces, I threw the burden of it upon Eleanore, as the one best able to bear it. The consequences were more serious than I anticipated. Direction had been given to suspicion which every additional evidence that now came up seemed by some strange fatality to strengthen. Not only was it proved that Mr. Leavenworth’s own pistol had been used in the assassination, and that too by a person then in the house, but I myself was brought to acknowledge that Eleanore had learned from me, only a little while before, how to load, aim, and fire this very pistol — a coincidence mischievous enough to have been of the devil’s own making.
Seeing all this, my fear of what the ladies would admit when questioned became very great. Let them in their innocence acknowledge that, upon my ascent, Mary had gone to her uncle’s room for the purpose of persuading him not to carry into effect the action he contemplated, and what consequences might not ensue! I was in a torment of apprehension. But events of which I had at that time no knowledge had occurred to influence them. Eleanore, with some show of reason, as it seems, not only suspected her cousin of the crime, but had informed her of the fact, and Mary, overcome with terror at finding there was more or less circumstantial evidence supporting the suspicion, decided to deny whatever told against herself, trusting to Eleanore’s generosity not to be contradicted. Nor was her confidence misplaced. Though, by the course she took, Eleanore was forced to deepen the prejudice already rife against herself, she not only forbore to contradict her cousin, but when a true answer would have injured her, actually refused to return any, a lie being something she could not utter, even to save one especially endeared to her.
This conduct of hers had one effect upon me. It aroused my admiration and made me feel that here was a woman worth helping if assistance could be given without danger to myself. Yet I doubt if my sympathy would have led me into doing anything, if I had not perceived, by the stress laid upon certain well-known matters, that actual danger hovered about us all while the letter and key remained in the house. Even before the handkerchief was produced, I had made up my mind to attempt their destruction; but when that was brought up and shown, I became so alarmed I immediately rose and, making my way under some pretence or other to the floors above, snatched the key from the gas-fixture, the lighters from the vase, and hastening with them down the hall to Mary Leavenworth’s room, went in under the expectation of finding a fire there in which to destroy them. But, to my heavy disappointment, there were only a few smoldering ashes in the grate, and, thwarted in my design, I stood hesitating what to do, when I heard some one coming up-stairs. Alive to the consequences of being found in that room at that time, I cast the lighters into the grate and started for the door. But in the quick move I made, the key flew from my hand and slid under a chair. Aghast at the mischance, I paused, but the sound of approaching steps increasing, I lost all control over myself and fled from the room. And indeed I had no time to lose. I had barely reached my own door when Eleanore Leavenworth, followed by two servants, appeared at the top of the staircase and proceeded towards the room I had just left. The sight reassured me; she would see the key, and take some means of disposing of it; and indeed I always supposed her to have done so, for no further word of key or letter ever came to my ears. This may explain why the questionable position in which Eleanore soon found herself awakened in me no greater anxiety. I thought the suspicions of the police rested upon nothing more tangible than the peculiarity of her manner at the inquest and the discovery of her handkerchief on the scene of the tragedy. I did not know they possessed what might be called absolute proof of her connection with the crime. But if I had, I doubt if my course would have been any different. Mary’s peril was the one thing capable of influencing me, and she did not appear to be in peril. On the contrary, every one, by common consent, seemed to ignore all appearance of guilt on her part. If Mr. Gryce, whom I soon learned to fear, had given one sign of suspicion, or Mr. Raymond, whom I speedily recognized as my most persistent though unconscious foe, had betrayed the least distrust of her, I should have taken warning. But they did not, and, lulled into a false security by their manner, I let the days go by without suffering any fears on her account. But not without many anxieties for myself. Hannah’s existence precluded all sense of personal security. Knowing the determination of the police to find her, I trod the verge of an awful suspense continually.
Meantime the wretched certainty was forcing itself upon me that I had lost, instead of gained, a hold on Mary Leavenworth. Not only did she evince the utmost horror of the deed which had made her mistress of her uncle’s wealth, but, owing, as I believed, to the influence of Mr. Raymond, soon gave evidence that she was losing, to a certain extent, the characteristics of mind and heart which had made me hopeful of winning her by this deed of blood. This revelation drove me almost insane. Under the terrible restraint forced upon me, I walked my weary round in a state of mind bordering on frenzy. Many and many a time have I stopped in my work, wiped my pen and laid it down with the idea that I could not repress myself another moment, but I have always taken it up again and gone on with my task. Mr. Raymond has sometimes shown his wonder at my sitting in my dead employer’s chair. Great heaven! it was my only safeguard. By keeping the murder constantly before my mind, I was enabled to restrain myself from any inconsiderate action.
At last there came a time when my agony could be no longer suppressed. Going down the stairs one evening with Mr. Raymond, I saw a strange gentleman standing in the reception room, looking at Mary Leavenworth in a way that would have made my blood boil, even if I had not heard him whisper these words: “But you are my wife, and know it, whatever you may say or do!”
It was the lightning-stroke of my life. After what I had done to make her mine, to hear another claim her as already his own, was stunning, maddening! It forced a demonstration from me. I had either to yell in my fury or deal the man beneath some tremendous blow in my hatred. I did not dare to shriek, so I struck the blow. Demanding his name from Mr. Raymond, and hearing that it was, as I expected, Clavering, I flung caution, reason, common sense, all to the winds, and in a moment of fury denounced him as the murderer of Mr. Leavenworth.
The next instant I would have given worlds to recall my words. What had I done but drawn attention to myself in thus accusing a man against whom nothing could of course be proved! But recall now was impossible. So, after a night of thought, I did the next best thing: gave a superstitious reason for my action, and so restored myself to my former position without eradicating from the mind of Mr. Raymond that vague doubt of the man which my own safety demanded. But I had no intention of going any further, nor should I have done so if I had not observed that for some reason Mr. Raymond was willing to suspect Mr. Clavering. But that once seen, revenge took possession of me, and I asked myself if the burden of this crime could be thrown on this man. Still I do not believe that any active results would have followed this self-questioning if I had not overheard a whispered conversation between two of the servants, in which I learned that Mr. Clavering had been seen to enter the house on the night of the murder, but was not seen to leave it. That determined me. With such a fact for a starting-point, what might I not hope to accomplish? Hannah alone stood in my way. While she remained alive I saw nothing but ruin before me. I made up my mind to destroy her and satisfy my hatred of Mr. Clavering at one blow. But how? By what means could I reach her without deserting my post, or make away with her without exciting fresh suspicion? The problem seemed insolvable; but Trueman Harwell had not played the part of a machine so long without result. Before I had studied the question a day, light broke upon it, and I saw that the only way to accomplish my plans was to inveigle her into destroying herself.
No sooner had this thought matured than I hastened to act upon it. Knowing the tremendous risk I ran, I took every precaution. Locking myself up in my room, I wrote her a letter in printed characters — she having distinctly told me she could not read writing — in which I played upon her ignorance, foolish fondness, and Irish superstition, by telling her I dreamed of her every night and wondered if she did of me; was afraid she didn’t, so enclosed her a. little charm, which, if she would use according to directions, would give her the most beautiful visions. These directions were for her first to destroy my letter by burning it, next to take in her hand the packet I was careful to enclose, swallow the powder accompanying it, and go to bed. The powder was a deadly dose of poison and the packet was, as you know, a forged confession falsely criminating Henry Clavering. Enclosing all these in an envelope in the corner of which I had marked a cross, I directed it, according to agreement, to Mrs. Belden, and sent it.
Then followed the greatest period of suspense I had yet endured. Though I had purposely refrained from putting my name to the letter, I felt that the chances of detection were very great. Let her depart in the least particular from the course I had marked out for her, and fatal results must ensue. If she opened the enclosed packet, mistrusted the powder, took Mrs. Belden into her confidence, or even failed to burn my letter, all would be lost. I could not be sure of her or know the result of my scheme except through the newspapers. Do you think I kept watch of the countenances about me? devoured the telegraphic news, or started when the bell rang? And when, a few days since, I read that short paragraph in the paper which assured me that my efforts had at least produced the death of the woman I feared, do you think I experienced any sense of relief?
But of that why speak? In six hours had come the summons from Mr. Gryce, and — let these prison walls, this confession itself, tell the rest. I am no longer capable of speech or action.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50