But as we approached the group of curious people which now filled up the whole highway in front of Mother Jane’s cottage, I broke from the nightmare into which this last discovery had thrown me, and, turning to William, said with a resolute air:
“You and your sisters are not of one mind regarding these disappearances. You ascribe them to Deacon Spear, but they — whom do they ascribe them to?”
“I shouldn’t think it would take a woman of your wit to answer that question.”
The rebuke was deserved. I had wit, but I had refused to exercise it; my blind partiality for a man of pleasing exterior and magnetic address had prevented the cool play of my usual judgment, due to the occasion and the trust which had been imposed in me by Mr. Gryce. Resolved that this should end, no matter at what cost to my feelings, I quietly said:
“You allude to Mr. Trohm.”
“That is the name,” he carelessly assented. “Girls, you know, let their prejudices run away with them. An old grudge ——”
“Yes,” I tentatively put in; “he persecuted your mother, and so they think him capable of any wickedness.”
The growl which William gave was not one of dissent.
“But I don’t care what they think,” said he, looking down at the heap of fruit which lay between us. “I’m Trohm’s friend, and don’t believe one word they choose to insinuate against him. What if he didn’t like what my mother did! We didn’t like it either, and ——”
“William,” I calmly remarked, “if your sisters knew that Silly Rufus had been found in Deacon Spear’s barn they would no longer do Mr. Trohm this injustice.”
“No; that would settle them; that would give me a triumph which would last long after this matter was out of the way.”
“Very well, then,” said I, “I am going to bring about this triumph. I am going to tell Mr. Gryce at once what we have discovered in Deacon Spear’s barn.”
And without waiting for his ah, yes, or no, I jumped from the buggy and made my way to the detective’s side.
His welcome was somewhat unexpected. “Ah, fresh news!” he exclaimed. “I see it in your eye. What have you chanced upon, madam, in your disinterested drive into town?”
I thought I had eliminated all expression from my face, and that my words would bring a certain surprise with them. But it is useless to try to surprise Mr. Gryce.
“You read me like a book,” said I; “I have something to add to the situation. Mr. Gryce, I have just come from the other end of the lane, where I found a clue which may shorten the suspense of this weary day, and possibly save Lucetta from the painful task she has undertaken in our interests. Mr. Chittenden’s ring ——”
I paused for the exclamation of encouragement he is accustomed to give on such occasions, and while I paused, prepared for my accustomed triumph. He did not fail me in the exclamation, nor did I miss my expected triumph.
“Was not found by Mother Jane, or even brought to her in any ordinary way or by any ordinary messenger. It came to her on a pigeon’s neck, the pigeon you will find lying dead among the bushes in the Knollys yard.”
He was amazed. He controlled himself, but he was very visibly amazed. His exclamations proved it.
“Madam! Miss Butterworth! This ring — Mr. Chittenden’s ring, whose presence in her hut we thought an evidence of guilt, was brought to her by one of her pigeons?”
“So she told me. I aroused her fury by showing her the empty husk in which it had been concealed. In her rage at its loss, she revealed the fact I have just mentioned. It is a curious one, sir, and one I am a little proud to have discovered.”
“Curious? It is more than curious; it is bizarre, and will rank, I am safe in prophesying, as one of the most remarkable facts that have ever adorned the annals of the police. Madam, when I say I envy you the honor of its discovery, you will appreciate my estimate of it — and you. But when did you find this out, and what explanation are you able to give of the presence of this ring on a pigeon’s neck?”
“Sir, to your first question I need only reply that I was here two hours or so ago, and to the second that everything points to the fact that the ring was attached to the bird by the victim himself, as an appeal for succor to whoever might be fortunate enough to find it. Unhappily it fell into the wrong hands. That is the ill-luck which often befalls prisoners.”
“Yes. Cannot you imagine a person shut up in an inaccessible place making some such attempt to communicate with his fellow-creatures?”
“But what inaccessible place have we in ——”
“Wait,” said I. “You have been in Deacon Spear’s barn.”
“Certainly, many times.” But the answer, glib as it was, showed shock. I began to gather courage.
“Well,” said I, “there is a hiding-place in that barn which I dare declare you have not penetrated.”
“Do you think so, madam?”
“A little loft way up under the eaves, which can only be reached by clambering over the rafters. Didn’t Deacon Spear tell you there was such a place?”
“No, but ——”
“William, then?” I inexorably pursued. “He says he pointed such a spot out to you, and that you pooh-poohed at it as inaccessible and not worth the searching.”
“William is a — Madam, I beg your pardon, but William has just wit enough to make trouble.”
“But there is such a place there,” I urged; “and, what is more, there is some one hidden in it now. I saw him myself.”
“You saw him?”
“Saw a part of him; in short, saw his hand. He was engaged in scattering crumbs for the pigeons.”
“That does not look like starvation,” smiled Mr. Gryce, with the first hint of sarcasm he had allowed himself to make use of in this interview.
“No,” said I; “but the time may not have come to inflict this penalty on Silly Rufus. He has been there but a few days, and — well, what have I said now?”
“Nothing, ma’am, nothing. But what made you think the hand you saw belonged to Silly Rufus?”
“Because he was the last person to disappear from this lane. The last — what am I saying? He wasn’t the last. Lucetta’s lover was the last. Mr. Gryce, could that hand have belonged to Mr. Ostrander?”
I was intensely excited; so much so that Mr. Gryce made me a warning gesture.
“Hush!” he whispered; “you are attracting attention. That hand was the hand of Mr. Ostrander; and the reason why I did not accept William Knollys’ suggestion to search the Deacon’s barn-loft was because I knew it had been chosen as a place of refuge by this missing lover of Lucetta.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09