When she returned to her office she found Miss Renner waiting for her in response to a telephone message. The two women had seen much of each other after their meeting at the League House and a deep regard had sprung up between them. For the time being, Miss Renner was doing special work on one of the New York papers, and lending her voice to the suffrage cause between assignments. They exchanged greetings, and then the little Westerner said quietly, "You wanted me?"
Miss Holland looked at her long and searchingly. "Yes, I both want and need you, my dear. Your paper has been rather vindictive in its pursuit of evidence against Dr. Earl. I want you to go to the district attorney and ask him personally to examine the inside of the lid of the box which contained the fruit, also the scalloped paper that covered the fruit. If he does so, he will find that a green gage, an apricot or a plum, which was seedless, of course, rested on top of the paper, and was crushed against the lid of the box. The stain is quite distinct on both paper and cover, and shows that there was only one such piece of fruit placed there. Of course, it contained the poison, and was placed on top, because it would naturally be eaten first."
Carroll Renner looked at her in amazement.
"If I do that he will order the immediate arrest of Dr. Earl; it will put him in jail and possibly lead to his conviction. Is that what you desire?" She looked up at the taller woman searchingly.
"Surely I do—if he is guilty," Miss Holland replied, without changing her expression. "There is no doubt that it will cause his immediate arrest," she added, "but even that is preferable to this suspense with everybody suspecting him and no opportunity to defend himself."
She turned away, and Carroll slipped her arm about her waist. "Dear Silvia, I'll go—on one condition."
"And that is?" came in a rather muffled voice.
"That you will defend him yourself!" said Miss Renner. Miss Holland turned and caught her in her arms. "I can't do that," she said. "I couldn't, anyhow, without being asked, and besides, he will need the most skillful criminal lawyer in New York to defend him. I should make a sorry mess of it."
Carroll drew her down on a settee and held her hands firmly. "You might just as well be a man, if you are going to talk like that—always ready to let women go ahead until something really worth while comes along, and then saying 'only a man can do big, difficult things.' After all you've said, are you going to hesitate when it comes to crossing professional swords with a man? Come now, promise me; if I go to the district attorney, you will defend him."
"But I have not been employed, or even asked to defend him," she insisted. "You must see how unprofessional it would be, Carroll."
"Professional! that's what the doctors say when they refuse to save your life because they don't want to be discourteous to a fellow practitioner," answered Carroll. "Well, if the life of the man I loved was at stake I wouldn't wait for somebody to come and hire me to defend him!"
"Carroll!" cried Silvia.
"Silvia!" she retorted. "Will your highness deign to accept employment if it is offered you by his family?"
"Oh, Carroll, I can't let you drum up business——"
"You should be shaken, Silvia," her friend answered. "Of course everybody in the country knows that you live in daily fear of the poorhouse, and keep an advertising bureau busy trying to find you employment! However, I suspected you would make these silly objections, so I told Frank Earl yesterday that he ought to move heaven and earth to get you to defend his brother. He nearly fell on my neck, and he is now giving me absent treatment or holding a thought that I may succeed in making you see that you could do more for the doctor than any other New York lawyer."
"That isn't true, Carroll," she said. "I wish it were, but it isn't, and I haven't been able to think of any one that I want to see take up his defense."
"Naturally, because you know you ought to do it yourself. Now listen to me." Miss Renner put her hands on Silvia's shoulders. "We haven't known each other long, but it doesn't follow that we don't know each other well. If John Earl were my brother I should give you no peace until you promised to defend him, not alone because you have the requisite skill as an attorney, but because you would give this case the devotion, the insight, that are not to be bought with money. Now you know my terms; shall I go to the district attorney?"
Silvia kissed her impulsively. "Yes, dear; go—go at once!" Her eyes filled and her exquisite voice quivered with the strain of the emotion she could no longer conceal. "Oh, Carroll, I'm glad to have you now; come back to me afterward and tell me all about it!"
THE ARREST OF DR. JOHN EARL
Early the next morning Dr. John Earl was arrested for the murder of Emma Bell and was remanded by the magistrate to The Tombs without bail to await the action of the grand jury, which was soon to convene. Both he and his family had foreseen the event, and he had made the necessary arrangements for the conduct of his business. Humiliating as his arrest was, they all bore it with Spartan courage, and prepared to ransack the earth, if need be, to establish his innocence.
Leonora Kimball and her mother returned from Bar Harbor to find their city friends almost unanimously arrayed against Dr. Earl, and they were not themselves in the best humor with the tide of ill fortune that had swept them into these muddy currents. They went immediately to The Tombs, and in the interview that followed Dr. Earl insisted that Leonora should consider herself released from her engagement so long as the least taint was attached to his name in connection with this charge. She protested that this was the hour of his need, and she could not think of such a thing, but he caught the tone of doubt in her voice, and the lack of genuine sympathy in her manner. There passed rapidly through his mind the thought that the electric chair might be just ahead of him; a long imprisonment might be his fate; he might lose the affection of friends and the respect of strangers, but if in this hour of bitter ordeal, guilty or innocent, whichever she might believe, his affianced wife did not show supreme faith and devotion, he was indeed a beggar in the realm of love. Carroll's ominous words about the malign stars that governed her fate recurred to his mind, and he thought of his contest with himself, and his decision when, defying the possibility of separation, inharmony or divorce, he elected to keep his plighted troth whatever his post-nuptial fate might be.
But in the recesses of his prison he had yearned for love, for the divine, illuminating rays that had lighted the path of many a martyr to the stake; of many a hero to the cannon's mouth; of not a few convicts to the gallows; of many a sublime philosopher to the dungeon or the ax—and all his misfortunes seemed but fleecy down compared to the weight which this sense of isolation and aloofness from the tenderness of the world brought to him. He looked at her fair young face, clouded and troubled now with doubts and annoyance, and with a sinking heart he realized that her personal vexation loomed as large upon the horizon of her mind as the shame and danger that had overtaken him.
"For the present, dear, you are absolved from any obligation to me," he said very gravely. "When I am released I shall, of course, give you the opportunity to reconsider if you choose to do so, but in the meantime you are entirely free; it must be so, dearest."
She made no reply, but lifted her face to his for their farewell kiss, and her mother was not able to stifle her sigh of relief until they had passed beyond the prison walls. As they left, Frank entered the room, and the glance he cast after the departing form of the elder lady was not exactly amiable, but he kept his peace.
"It is time, Jack, that you were thinking of somebody to take charge of your case. You know I'm not familiar with criminal law, or the New York practice; I'll do my best, but you must have a skilled lawyer in command."
"I have already given the matter deep thought, but I have not made up my mind. There's Littlefield, but hiring him or any other noted criminal lawyer is equivalent to pleading guilty," answered Jack. "What do you suggest?"
"I'm not in a position to make suggestions myself that are really valuable," Frank replied, "and of the hundreds that have been made there has been but one that really appealed to me. That came from my Colorado friend—Miss Renner; but this is a matter where you must be the sole judge, and I want you to make your own selection, regardless of any other person's ideas."
"Miss Renner is a very keen woman," Jack said, a gleam of curiosity in his manner. "I should like to hear her proposition; it is sure to be original, anyhow."
Frank answered rather hesitatingly. "At first, I was enthusiastic about it, but I fear you will not approve of trusting your life to a woman, and I don't urge it in any way; Miss Renner wants us to employ Silvia Holland."
"Miss Holland defend me? Will she—would she be willing to do it?" Jack asked, in startled tones.
"Carroll Renner says she will," Frank answered, "and she is curiously correct in her judgments of people, and they have been pretty close this last summer."
Earl gave a sigh of relief. "Then by all means employ her at once," he said. "I not trust my life to a woman? Dear Frank, when is there ever a time when man does not trust his fate to woman? The infant owes his existence to a woman; the boy would make sad progress in the world were it not for the woman. The young man would drop back to barbarism but for her, and where would you and I be but for that dear, sweet sister of ours? Simply because the Twentieth Century woman is breaking away from the old, destructive life of the parasite and endeavoring to fulfill her destiny on earth, is no reason for believing that she does not still possess all the noble qualities that have characterized her since the world began. Not only have I no prejudices against, but a decided partiality for a woman defender," and so the matter was settled.
Silvia went to consult with Earl every day that she was in the city, and strongly advised against any attempt to secure bail, as sure to open anew the charges and innuendoes which were already but dimly remembered by the New York public. She took personal charge of every phase of the case, and although Frank was associated with her he asked few questions and she volunteered but little information. A week later she spent several days in Boston and stopped at Providence on her way back, but aside from telling his family where she had been she gave no intimation either of her purposes or the results of her trip, and cautioned every one to give nothing to the press.
"What did you do with the box of candied fruit you bought at Thompson's candy store when you were in Boston?" she demanded of Dr. Earl at her first interview after her return.
For a moment he looked dazed. "Box of candied fruit—I didn't buy any—oh, yes; wait a minute. While at Magnolia, I wished to pay a visit to some old friends who live in East Boston; they have a youngster in the family, and I bought the candied fruit for her at the same time I bought the pecans which I sent to Alice; but do you know, a curious thing happened to that package of candied fruit. I put it on the seat beside me while crossing the ferry, and then took up a magazine article I was much interested in, and when I rose to leave the boat the package was gone. I hadn't been conscious that any one was near enough to take it, but there was a crowd on the boat, and my package disappeared; naturally, I didn't mention it to my friends."
The look she bent upon him was full of perplexity. "Of course it can't be traced," she said to herself. "Did the box have the name of the store, or any name of a manufacturer or dealer upon it? Try and remember," she said.
"Really, I cannot say; I didn't notice, except that the clerk wrapped it in plain white paper," he replied.
"Were you in Providence on this trip, or have you been there recently?" she continued.
"Not in four years," he answered and she gave an involuntary sigh of relief.
"Have you expressed any annoyance to your medical friends over the development of tuberculosis in the knee of little Alice Bell, or have you stated that the case baffled you?" she asked with considerable concern.
"Yes, I have said to at least two surgeons that I was annoyed at what I believe to be the recurrence of an old condition, but never that I was baffled. It is perfectly simple."
"How I wish I could find that letter," she said, more to herself than to him. "The post-office department has ransacked the country for it, but it seems to have disappeared as completely as did your package on the boat. I do wish I could clear up two or three things to my own satisfaction, but you can't help me, and there is no need of annoying you with them." She looked about the small room set aside for the consultation of prisoners with their counsel, but gained no inspiration from the bare walls, and rose to go, extending her hand as she did so.
"You do believe in my innocence?" he asked.
She gave no direct answer in words, but as her eyes met his he knew that he was no longer alone in his struggles, and whatever her belief in the merits of his case, her faith in him was supreme.
"It is not a question of what I believe," she said at last, "but of what the State can prove on the one hand, and what we shall be able to show on the other."
"You are worried," he said quickly.
"Yes," she said, "I am; your life may be at stake, and if I fail to clear you every one in the country will say that I should never have taken this case, and they will be right. Even now, Dr. Earl, are you certain it would not be better to employ counsel eminent in this branch of the profession? I shall be very glad to serve in second place."
"This is no time for flattery or false sentiment, and I shall attempt neither," he said, "as you know, I prefer thorough methods in all professions, and those methods require rather more of the psychological than the usual practitioner employs. I think we are quite agreed in that. For that and other ample reasons I prefer to leave my case just where it is."
The look that the blue eyes flashed up to the brown ones was pleased and proud, and something that she saw there sent a quick flush to her cheek, and though her heart was heavy her step was light as she left the gloomy building.
Her car was waiting at the door, and calmly seated therein was Carroll Renner. Silvia greeted her eagerly. "Of all persons on earth you are the one I was most wishing to see," she said. "How did you happen to come here?"
"I got your telepathy, Silvia, dear," she answered, with a squeeze of the hand, "when on mischief bent about three blocks from here, and decided to come by this cheerful edifice on the chance that you might be here. I saw the car, introduced myself to your chauffeur and climbed in. I must say," she added, "that you were an unconscionable time. Now, what can I do for you?"
"Let's go and have luncheon somewhere," answered Silvia, "and I'll tell you all about it."
"No," said the newspaper woman, "I have to interview a Mrs. Somebody or other who has just come to town to teach us how to connect our trolleys with psychic wires, or our subliminal minds with ethereal vibrations. She's stopping at the Buckingham, and if you want to take me out there I'll be glad of the lift, for I'm short on time, and we can talk on the way."
"Surely, I'll take you gladly," Silvia answered, giving the directions to the chauffeur, "and since I've wasted so much of your afternoon, I'll send back for you, and have you taken to the office if you're going there, or to your own hotel, unless you'll come and dine with me; I'm alone to-night."
"Thank you," Miss Renner answered; "I would be glad to get back home, for I've a wretched headache; not that I'm particularly comfortable there, for it's been abominably warm the last few days."
Silvia gave a sigh of relief. "Has it? Well, that makes it easier for me to ask a favor of you. But first tell me, Carroll, are you timid—nervous?"
"Do you mean am I given to 'seein' things at night'?" Carroll asked. "I don't know how it will be after I have my seance with Mrs. Whoever-it-is I'm going to see, but when I'm reasonably abstemious I'm not given to ingrowing nerves. What do you want me to do?"
"I want you to go and live in what was Mrs. Bell's home. I had paid the rent for her up to the end of October, and after her death I took charge of the place. Of course, I couldn't send Alice back there, but I went and got her clothes and toys and I've been there a number of times. I had a new lock put on, and have taken a maid there and kept it in order, so all you'll have to do will be to send up your trunk."
"Certainly I'll go," Carroll answered soberly, "but what do you expect to gain by it? Of course you have a motive."
"Yes," answered the other woman, "I have, but it isn't the sort of thing one can speak of, except in the closest confidence. I haven't mentioned it even to Frank Earl, whose interest in this case is at least as great as mine, and you mustn't. I haven't been practicing law so very long, but I've heard that all lawyers, who are really worth while, are superstitious about talking over a case before it goes to trial. They don't tell their clients more than a bare outline, and I believe it is true, for surely I've found myself more fanciful than I ever was before. The day before Mrs. Bell was found dead in her room she wrote to Alice; it was a very short letter, and she excused herself by saying that she was very tired, having written me a long letter. Naturally, Alice showed me the letter, and I remarked at the time that it was strange mine hadn't come by the same mail. Then after the tragedy it slipped my mind for a day or so, and when I made inquiries it had not been received, or if it had, the servants said it was forwarded to me here. I made more inquiries, but nothing could be found in my office, though there was a bunch of mail from Nutwood. The longer I thought of it the more anxious I became to find that letter, and when I was employed in this case it seemed to me absolutely imperative that I should do so. I have seen all the postal authorities here who could have any knowledge of the letter, or its possible disposition, and have written to Washington, but all in vain. I am sure it would clear up several matters that are troubling me greatly."
"Couldn't the letter have been returned to Mrs. Bell's apartment, through some error in the address? She would not have mailed an important letter without the return address," said Carroll practically.
"That was my idea exactly, so when it didn't come I looked for it there; several letters addressed to her had been delivered, but there was no sign of this one. Now, I can't tell why, but I feel as if I want somebody in that house. Was there ever anything more utterly unreasonable than that? I wouldn't dare tell any one but you; I can't explain it, but neither can I rid myself of the feeling, and I was going to seek you, to ask if you will undertake this for me. All I want is that you shall put in whatever time you spend in your own apartment there. Nothing may come of it, but you have no idea what a relief it will be to me if you will not be too much inconvenienced, and you have no dread of the rather morbid associations."
"I'll do it," Carroll answered. "There are too many other people in the building for me to be afraid of anything alive, and as for the dead—well, I shouldn't be afraid of her either. I can't tell you why, but I believe this is a good move." She gave a little shiver. "I hope the new lock is a strong one, Silvia; I should hate to have the murderer come back to the scene of his crime."
DR. EARL IS INDICTED FOR MURDER
The grand jury returned an indictment against Dr. John Earl for the murder of Mrs. Emma Bell. There could be but one grade of homicide in this kind of a case, and he was accordingly charged with murder in the first degree and his trial was set for Tuesday of the following week.
Frank came to see him early Saturday morning. "The neighbors of Mrs. Bell will be at the trial in full force to tell of your daily visits there at all sorts of ungodly hours. Their gossip indicates that they believe you had a very serious affair on with her, and this, together with the claim of the surgeons that you botched the operation on the child's leg, furnishes a fairly powerful motive for the crime, at least in the public mind. Jack," he asked, with a mixture of doubt and anxiety, "did you really have an affair with her?"
"Nonsense, Frank, nonsense," answered his brother. "It is true that I went there at rather unusual hours; I was pretty busy, and when I found she was in the habit of sitting up until after midnight I used to drop in there when I was through for the day. I don't think I ever went there later than nine-thirty or ten, and I seldom stayed more than fifteen or twenty minutes. Later on I was, and I still am, greatly worried about the child. Of course my operation didn't produce tuberculosis; that is silly, but it serves the purposes of jealous rivals. When I found this tubercular condition developing I asked her mother a great many questions; it seemed to me so improbable that it should have occurred when the child was really having better care than usual, judging from their surroundings, that I sought to learn whether it was not a recurrence of some trouble she had apparently outgrown, and from her mother's answers I think there is absolutely no doubt that this is true. You will readily see, under the circumstances, that I did not time my visits watch in hand, but the charge of a liaison there would be ridiculous were it not so vulgar and malicious. There was some sort of a tragedy in the woman's life, but I have no idea whatever as to its nature."
"With your handwriting on both the outside and inside of the package, your intimate relations with the family, the complications of this surgical case, the fact that you were practically in Boston at the time the package was mailed, and the total lack of suspicion of any one else," said Frank, checking the indictments off on his fingers, "they have a fairly convincing case against you, old man, and if you know anything that can break these theories down now is the time to divulge it."
"Naturally, if there were anything of the kind you imply, it would be easier for me to discuss it with you than with my leading counsel," his brother replied, "but equally, of course, in such a case, I should not have employed a woman to defend me; certainly not such a rabid feminist as Miss Holland. I have told her all I know, all I can conjecture, but candidly, Frank, I fear she is greatly worried over the outcome. I know the difficulty in overcoming gossip and prejudice and jealousy, and if that cannot be done I fear I must pay the penalty of being the target of their shafts. Crushing as that is, there is one haunting thought that is even more intolerable," he concluded.
"And that is?"
"That the last thought of that unhappy woman was that I sent the candied fruit. She may have realized in that brief second of time that it caused her death. I hope to prove my innocence to the world, but she has passed beyond the reach of proof."
"She has also passed beyond the need of it," answered his brother quickly. "Why don't you comfort yourself with the thought that, no matter who else may be deceived, wherever she is, she knows the truth?"
There had been something akin to despair in his voice, and Frank noticed how trouble had deepened the lines in his face. "Brace up, old fellow," he said huskily. "We'll get a line on something before we go to trial."
Dr. Earl did not see Leonora or hear from her directly again after their interview, but the Sunday following the announcement that Miss Holland had been employed to defend him, an item appeared in the society columns of the New York papers stating that their engagement had been terminated. He sighed when he read it, whether from sorrow or relief he could scarcely have told himself. But he fully realized at this time that the vital heart-beats of genuine love are not always inspired by plighted troth, neither is the latter always a product of the former, and he marveled at his own lack of understanding in so readily accepting a superficial substitute for the real article. The Ramseys gave every evidence of their devotion, seeing him daily, and there were not wanting a few staunch friends, and numerous former patients showed their loyalty, but as the day of his trial approached he found himself thinking more and more of the four devoted souls who had done and would do all for him that was humanly possible.
A GREAT MURDER TRIAL BEGINS
Although the court officials had taken the precaution to admit spectators only by cards issued from the sheriff's office, the famous old room in the Criminal Courts Building was jammed to its very doors at the opening of the trial of Dr. John Earl for the murder of Mrs. Emma Bell, for it must be remembered sheriffs are elected by popular vote and have friends in all walks of life. So there were business men and street urchins, ladies of fashion and washerwomen, members of the learned professions and hoboes, scholars and draymen, students of psychology and the merely curious, advocates in frock-coats and counsellors in jackets, attracted by the ever-living fascination of seeing a human being fighting for his life, with the added interest in this case of the novelty of seeing that fight made by a woman attorney.
Many tragic memories cling to this old room. Here other doctors had been convicted and sentenced to the electric chair for sending poison through the mails. Here more ordinary individuals had been acquitted by displaying more skill in the transaction than had been shown by the doctors. Here had been tried all sorts of murder cases, with all sorts of defenses, from self-preservation with an ax to the irresponsibility of a brain-storm. From that old-fashioned witness chair, on its high platform, enough tales of tragedy had been told, if bound in books, to fill a good-sized library; enough tears had been shed to atone for a thousand crimes; enough pathos shown to have broken a million hearts; enough perjury committed to substantiate David's somewhat sweeping assertion.
From that high perch against the wall had emanated the technical rulings, or the broad principles of justice that had made society tremble for its safety, or caused it to repose in security.
From that old counsel's table some of the greatest lawyers of the world had measured steel in weird combats over sending human souls into the mysterious Beyond.
On this day, the district attorney sat at one side of the table, with his assistants, grave, severe, determined-looking officers of the law. On the other side sat a beautiful young woman, with luminous eyes, a spirituelle countenance, but a firm and earnest manner and perfect poise. Behind her sat the younger brother of the prisoner. At her side was the prisoner himself, grave in mien, courageous in bearing, collected in deportment. Back of them were Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey. Among the witnesses for the defense was Dr. Morris, saturnine, mocking, indifferent.
Thus organized society arrayed itself against a portion of its own elements. Thus organized society spoke through the cold impassiveness of its own laws, while its elements spoke through personal emotions and human passions. Thus organized society appealed to itself to protect itself, while its elements appealed for human kindness and universal charity.
Such is the situation in every criminal trial.
It took three days to obtain a jury of proper qualification and sufficient disinterestedness to satisfy both sides. All the other lawyers watched with interest the methods employed by the "woman lawyer" in asking her voir dire questions and in exercising her right to challenge, and most of them agreed that she asked no useless questions and showed rare judgment in her peremptory challenges.
The next day on the convening of court the district attorney outlined his case with circumstantial detail. He related in spectacular fashion the first meeting of Dr. Earl and the Bells at the suffrage ball, and dwelt insinuatingly upon the interest manifested by Dr. Earl in the child at the time of the accident. Either inadvertently, or by design, he referred in slighting tones to the part played at this meeting by the "volunteer nurse," but his sentence was never completed, for Silvia addressed the Court.
"May it please the Court," she said—and her manner was unmistakable—"I have no right, and neither do I intend, to complain of any respectful reference made to me during the course of this trial, either as an individual, or as an attorney for this defendant, but I shall insist now and hereafter that I must be referred to with the respect and consideration due my, as yet, unsullied membership in the legal profession and my reputation as a private citizen."
There was no opportunity for a ruling by the Court, for the district attorney promptly disclaimed any intention of disrespect, and begged her pardon for any words susceptible of such construction. It was evident that her interruption produced a most favorable impression upon Court, jury and spectators, and if any came to scoff at the weakness of the "woman attorney" they remained to admire the strength of the female advocate. The district attorney continued, warmed into greater determination to make a lasting impression upon the jury as to the guilt of the defendant.
He followed Dr. Earl on his numerous visits to the Bell home; dwelt upon the unusual hour of many of them; agreed to prove more than ordinary intimacy between Mrs. Bell and the defendant; showed the defects in his surgery and the terrible results, which promised permanently to cripple the child; exhibited the handwriting upon the box and placed beside it the handwriting of Dr. Earl to undisputed legal documents; stated that the defense would scarcely claim that the handwriting was not his; asserted that they had positive proof that Dr. Earl had purchased a box of candied fruit of the exact size and character of this box just prior to the time it was mailed, and that Dr. Earl was in Boston at the time of the mailing of the package.
From his recital it was clear that much thorough detective work had been done in the case for the State.
"Now, gentlemen of the jury, as to the motive," he went on. "A powerful incentive existed for the commission of this crime. Dr. Earl had been engaged for some time to marry into one of the most prominent and wealthy families in this city and the wedding was to have taken place this month. The advertisement that followed his spectacular professional performance at the suffrage ball brought him an enormous practice. To have the public learn that this piece of surgery upon which his reputation was based was in reality a case of malpractice meant ruin. To have his married life disturbed by the appearance of a wronged woman meant destruction to his domestic happiness, so he planned that the poison should be sent to wipe out this family on the eve of his wedding and before any damage had been done him in either of these directions. You must confess it was a skillful job. Only one piece of poisoned fruit in the box, and that so arranged as not to disturb its contents. Whether mother or daughter got this piece of candied fruit first, the other was doomed, for a kiss from those dying lips would have conveyed a like fate, so powerful was this solution. The only thing that thwarted his nefarious purpose to kill them both was the absence of the child, who was in the country, a fact entirely unknown to Dr. Earl."
This and much more of like import furnished the closing portion of his statement to the jury, and when he finished it was apparent that his recital had made a deep impression upon every person in the courtroom. The atmosphere was charged with serious import to Dr. Earl.
His sister had moved closer to him and was holding his hand. Her husband came nearer, and Frank turned and gave him a reassuring glance. His expressive face showed deep concern rather than worry.
As soon as the district attorney resumed his seat Silvia arose and deathlike stillness fell upon the courtroom. "With your permission, your honor, I will reserve my statement of defense until the State has closed its case."
"Certainly, that is your privilege," replied the Judge.
Then there was a buzz of excited whispering. "What does it mean?" "Is she afraid to state her defense after that terrific arraignment of the defendant?" "Oh, there comes in the timidity of woman!" said an old and skilled criminal lawyer. "Does she not realize that it is a fatal evidence of weakness not to state a defense at the opening of the trial?"
But the district attorney had called his first witness and the bailiff rapped loudly for order. For three days the State put witness after witness on the stand and by expert medical testimony, by toxicologists, by direct and inferential testimony, the district attorney more than proved the case which he had outlined to the jury.
That the child was probably permanently crippled from tuberculosis of the knee and that the tuberculosis resulted from faulty surgery was the opinion of the three surgical experts called upon that point, but upon cross-examination Silvia forced each of them to admit that it was possible that a former tubercular condition had recurred. She also forced the unwilling admission that so far as the fracture of the leg was concerned the bones had knit perfectly. The most damaging testimony was that of a neighbor woman, who had overheard Mrs. Bell exclaim to herself on the very day of the poisoning, "I will force him to marry me or I will kill him!"
Pressed on cross-examination as to what she saw as well as heard, she related how she had passed Mrs. Bell's door, which was open, and had seen Mrs. Bell with a document of some kind in one hand and a pen in the other, and had heard her utter this exclamation. When asked why she assumed that the statement must refer to Dr. Earl, she replied with some feeling that no other man had been seen around the apartment since Mrs. Bell moved in, the first of April.
A young woman, a clerk in Thompson's candy store in Boston, identified Dr. Earl as the purchaser of a box of candied fruit a few days before the poisoning. On cross-examination she said it was a box of identical proportions with the one marked "Exhibit A." Silvia asked her if the boxes from their store did not always bear the firm name on the lid and she admitted that they did, and swore that the one purchased by Dr. Earl had the firm name on the outside of the lid in gilt letters. Then Silvia showed her the box which had contained the poisoned fruit and asked her to state on oath whether or not that was the box in which she had sold Dr. Earl the fruit and she declared that it was not. Then she asked her if Dr. Earl had purchased any loose pieces of fruit, and she testified that he had not.
Silvia produced a box and asked the witness if it were not from the Thompson store. She answered that it was.
"Did not Dr. Earl also purchase a box of pecans at the time that he bought the fruit and is not this the box in which the pecans were packed?" Silvia continued.
The girl seemed to study for a few moments. "Yes, I do remember," she said, "he did buy a box of pecans the same day he bought the candied fruit and this box may have contained them, for it is from our store. I want to add, though, that I had forgotten about the nuts when the district attorney asked his questions here and when I was examined in Boston."
"How did you happen to forget about the nuts and remember about the candied fruit?" asked Silvia.
"There was nothing to recall the pecans to my mind until you mentioned them just now, but I remember that Dr. Earl bought them first and returned afterward and bought the fruit."
On redirect examination the district attorney got an admission from the clerk that at several places in Boston, which she mentioned, boxes could be obtained without any name on the lid, but that the Thompson store never carried them.
The testimony of this clerk that the box presented by the district attorney had not come from their store, was the only rift in the otherwise dense cloud of incriminating evidence for the State, and the prosecution closed its case with perceptible gloom hanging over every person connected with the defense, and the jury was grave of face, as men well may be who have the life of a fellow being in their hands.
The prosecution closed at four-thirty and Silvia asked for an adjournment until morning to open her case. The request was granted, and New York spent the night wondering what the "woman lawyer" would do the next day. In the cafes, clubs, hotels, between acts in the theatres, little else was discussed, and the consensus of opinion was that she was doomed to defeat in this her first big trial.
Progressive women grieved over the outlook, for it spelled much of disaster to the woman movement if she should be humiliatingly vanquished. Her friends championed her cause as best they could, vigorously, but not with the genuine enthusiasm they would like to have felt.
New York had never before been so interested in a criminal trial.
A WOMAN AND SPOOKS FIND A LETTER
The trial had been in progress some six days when the State rested its case. None of the family or friends of the defendant underestimated the impression created by the array of facts marshalled by the district attorney. The evidence, though wholly circumstantial, was nevertheless sinister and deadly.
Hilda Ramsey, white and worn, kissed her brother with quivering lips and went out of the court leaning on her husband's arm, and making no pretense of concealing her suffering. Neither her belief in her brother's innocence, nor her confidence in Silvia's ability to prove it, could counteract the pain and humiliation of the past weeks. Ramsey wrung his brother-in-law's hand, and gave him a look more eloquent than words, and Frank bade him brace up. "'Thrice is he armed that hath his quarrel just,' you know, old fellow," he said, with a slap on the shoulder.
There was a grayish pallor on Silvia's face as she gave her client her hand, but he was as composed and almost as cheerful as if he were but "a looker-on in Vienna" as he once more assured her and Frank of his entire confidence in a verdict of acquittal.
"If you will pardon me," he said, looking at Silvia kindly, "I will change places with you and be the counsellor for a moment, and advise you to eat a good dinner of very simple things, then disconnect your telephone and go to bed and read Omar till you fall asleep; there are times when it is an immense comfort to remember that—
"'He that tossed you down into the Field, He knows about it all—He knows! He knows!'"
His quiet voice acted like a tonic, and her face was full of gratitude as she bade him goodnight, and turned to confer with Frank. Carroll stood by the reporters' tables, irresolutely, until presently Silvia beckoned her. The two women exchanged looks which were enigmatical to Frank, but evidently perfectly intelligible to them, for Carroll turned away with a sound like a strangled sob, and the pall of weariness and depression which had lifted for a moment again settled over Silvia, now that there were no longer any prying or unfriendly eyes upon them. Without another word she turned and went down to her car. Frank waited until Carroll gathered up her "copy," and then they went out into the street together.
"Why didn't you go home with Miss Holland?" he asked. "She looked as if she wanted you; I supposed she was going to ask you when she called you over."
"Not she," answered the girl. "She knows better than to prepare for the great day of her life by gabbling half the night. Besides, I'm too blue to be of any use to her."
"Anything happened?" he asked, too absorbed in his own affairs to give other matters more than perfunctory attention.
"Yes," she said, vexation in her voice. "I've fallen down on an assignment, the biggest I've had since I came to New York, and I'm all broken up over it."
He turned and looked at her, conscious of a sense of disappointment all out of proportion to the occasion. It was the first time he had ever known her to fail in comprehension or sympathy; that she could even remember, let alone obtrude, a small personal grievance of her own in the face of the tragedy that surrounded them, was so utterly out of keeping with her character that he looked at her in amazement, and it took him several minutes to control his voice so as to make the proper politely concerned query as to the demands of the city editor which had proved too much for her well-known ability.
"It wasn't the city editor," she said, too unhappy to notice the icy timbre of his voice. "It's a good thing to disappoint them once in a while; keeps 'em from expecting you to outdo the labors of Hercules in time to beat the morning papers. No, it was something I was to do for Silvia, and I can't make good; at least I haven't, and I'm at the end of my resources."
In spite of the fact that it was still broad daylight, and a crowded thoroughfare, Frank Earl stopped and gave her hand a cordial grip that made her wince. "You're all right," he said. "You're all right. Now let's go and have dinner."
"Are you not going to the Ramseys'?" she asked, evidently taking it for granted that the family would wish to be together at such a time.
"Oh, no," he answered. "Hilda will go straight to bed, poor girl; and Ramsey will sit beside her and dab cologne on her forehead, and after a while he'll coax her to eat a cracker and drink some tea, and he'll have his dinner right there beside her. You don't know the turtle-doves. I don't hanker for my own society to-night, but I shall have to put up with it unless you take pity on me."
"I can't, Frank," she answered. "I simply can't eat when my mind is so upset; I'm going straight home."
"And make your supper on crackers and tea, I suppose," he said disgustedly. "Well, in that case, I'll go for a tramp and try to get rid of the cobwebs in my brain, and the stuffy air of that courtroom. I always feel as if twenty centuries of alleged justice, injustice and malpractice looked down upon me when I get into court; that's one reason why I'm no good as a trial lawyer. Here, isn't this your street?"
"Yes, no—I don't live where I did any more just now," she answered lucidly. He stopped and looked at her and smiled in spite of every everything. "I've sent in my copy, and you can walk up with me, if you want to."
They walked on in silence; Frank was evidently thinking deeply, and Carroll was following some weary round of conjecture for the thousandth time when she stopped at her number. Frank looked at it and then at her, startled out of his usual debonair manner for once.
"Yes," she answered. "I've been living here for some time, but that wasn't for publication, so I kept my other room, and had my mail go there as usual. Silvia desired it."
"She hasn't left any stone unturned," he said musingly. "I wonder what was in that letter!"
"Oh, she has told you, then?" Carroll asked.
"About Mrs. Bell's letter to her? Oh, yes, she told me to-night, just before you joined us; I thought you knew about it. Anyhow, it seems to be gone beyond recall. Don't you intend to invite me in? Well, of all the inhospitable persons! I'll see you in the morning," and lifting his hat he went on up the Avenue.
Carroll climbed the two flights slowly and unlocked her door. The suite across the hall had been vacated by a superstitious tenant the week after the murder, and the family immediately below had moved away that morning. As Carroll closed the door behind her she was conscious of a sense of oppression. It was not fear, which is a simple, concrete emotion, easily understood; it was not even so subtle as dread of any abstract thing, ghost or goblin damned. She gave her shoulders a little shake, as if the sensation were some tangible thing to be thrown off, and laying aside her hat and gloves she went through to the buffet kitchen and put the kettle on. She returned to the sitting-room and looked about her uneasily, and then put on a house gown and slippers, and arranged her tea-tray. There were but four rooms in the apartment, in addition to the kitchenette, and but one of them offered much in the way of light or ventilation, so Carroll lived in the front room, as Emma Bell had lived there; she worked there, as Emma Bell had worked; she looked upon the same nondescript blue wall paper, and the few pictures that relieved its monotony. With some misty idea, similar to that of the French "confrontation," she had brought none of her own books or belongings to disturb the suggestion of the room as it had been. There were three large windows, through which the city lights were beginning to shine; under one of these and across that end of the room was a divan, covered with a bright rug; opposite and against the other wall was a desk, with a chair before it, and bookshelves, and a corner cupboard which held a plentiful supply of tea-things. Between the two windows nearest it was a tea-table, which evidently served a double purpose, for underneath was a basketful of neatly folded sewing. By the table was the high-armed mission rocking-chair in which the dead woman had been found. Opposite was the little sewing-chair, usually occupied by Alice when she and her mother had supper together at the table, which had been a gift of Silvia's. Evidently it had been a fancy of Mrs. Bell's to set the chair for the child before she opened the fatal box, and Carroll had kept both chairs in their relative positions. The doorway into the alcove bedroom was concealed by a portiere.
There was nothing in the desk now but some of Carroll's writing materials; everything in the room had been ransacked at the time of its mistress' death, and Silvia had herself searched carefully for anything that might afford a possible clue. Sometimes she even thought that some one, possessing a key, had entered the place and removed all evidence while that ghastly witness still sat in the chair, for there were no letters, no papers, nothing. Immediately after going there to stay, Carroll had gone over the tiny place with systematic care. There was no upholstered furniture in which anything could have been concealed; even the divan was a rattan affair; there were only rugs upon the floors. The mattress revealed nothing, and though she laboriously examined every picture, there was nothing concealed back of them or within the frames.
"Don't you think the letter was mailed?" Silvia asked her, and she had replied that while it probably had been, the chances were that a rough draft of it had been written, and preserved somewhere, and it was for this that she searched until it became evident that the slight resources of the flat were exhausted.
It was rather a poor little place, woefully lacking in the closets and cubby-holes so dear to women, and yet, as Carroll sat there in the child's place, with her second cup of strong tea getting cold beside her, she found herself looking at the other chair expectantly, and the empty desk seemed watching her; she was resentfully conscious that everything in that room knew the truth, everything save its human occupant with her keen mind, her active brain. The hours passed and still she sat there, waiting, waiting. There were the usual noises, commonplace and mysterious, to be found in vacant houses, but about nine o'clock she became conscious that there were sounds in the recently vacated flat below. Evidently the family had come back for some last articles which they had left behind. They were a quiet old couple with whom Carroll had exchanged greetings now and then on the stairs; the old lady had told her they were going to live with their daughter. Carroll roused herself and lit the gas, and a little while later there came a tap at the door. She was frightened for a second, the sound was so unexpected, and then with a laugh at her foolishness she went to the door and opened it, revealing an old man, her neighbor from the floor below. He held a rather heavy package in his arms, and explained, rather shamefacedly, that they had no high-chair, and when their little grandchild was brought to visit them Mrs. Bell had been accustomed to lend them her big dictionary. "Not bein' literary she didn't need it, and the very afternoon of the day she died I came up to borrow it, same as usual; she had stepped out, but the door was ajar, and the dictionary lying right on the end of the divan, so I took it, and when I brought it back after supper I couldn't get in, and after the trouble my wife wrapped it up and put it away for safe-keeping, Miss, and forgot it till we come to move," he finished breathlessly.
He put the package on the divan, and Carroll talked with him a few moments longer, and then locked the door upon his retreating form and went to the window, and stood there, looking out, yet seeing nothing. It was beginning to rain, and the cool, damp air was pleasant, but she shivered and turned back to the room that still kept its silent mistress' secret, as she had kept it, even in death. The little clock on the mantel struck ten, and there was a quick, light step on the stair, and a brisk knock at her door. As she opened it, Frank stood there, shaking the drops of water from his hat.
"I've had my walk," he said, "I've got over my gloom; I've lost my grouch, but I still have my appetite with me. Now come on, like a good fellow, and let's have supper."
"Oh, go away, Frank," she said, almost crying with vexation. "I was almost on the verge of something when you came."
"That's what I thought," he said cheerfully. "I said, 'She'll drink a pint of strong tea and sit there in the dark until the rugs begin to wiggle and the wall paper glowers at her.' You're on the verge of nervous prostration; that's what you're on the verge of, and nothing else. Now come along, or have I got to come over there and make you?" He noticed her negligee. "Put on your frock, and I'll wait, but hurry."
"It's raining," she demurred, "and I haven't my raincoat here."
"I brushed by one in the hall," he said, and stepping back he lifted down a somewhat shabby gray raincoat and flung it toward her. She picked it up, and slipped it on. It was large, but still she could wear it, and while she stood in the middle of the room hesitating, she slipped her hands into the capacious pockets.
"Well?" demanded Frank impatiently.
The girl did not answer, but stood staring ahead of her. Slowly she raised her left hand, pressing the thumb between her eyebrows, and taking the right hand from the raincoat pocket, she stretched it out, the fingers groping uncertainly. She turned so white that the young man in the doorway stared, frightened, yet under a spell that forbade his moving. Suddenly the trembling, questioning hand grew rigid, and without an instant's hesitation she turned and walked to the divan, and laid her hand upon the bundle.
"It is here, Frank," she said quietly. "Turn up the light, and cut this cord."
He did so, and as the paper fell away from the dictionary, she opened the heavy volume and their eyes fell upon a large manila envelope plainly addressed to "Miss Silvia Holland, City Investment Building, New York." The girl laid her hand upon it.
"Wait a minute; let me tell you what happened," she said. "When the postman came she gave him the letter for Alice, and he gave her the box. She didn't give him this letter because she hadn't stamps enough—see, it has but one—or perhaps she meant to use it as a threat; there was somebody who had a motive for killing her. The woman across the hall called her and she slipped this envelope into the dictionary and went out, leaving her door open; old Mr. Dillon came up and got the book; he's just been telling me about it. They never opened it, and after her body was found—Mrs. Bell's, I mean—his wife was so upset that she went to her daughter, and they forgot it entirely until to-night. When Mrs. Bell came back, she opened the package the postman had given her, and she never had a chance to miss anything after that."
She lifted her hand, and Frank picked up the envelope and looked at it and then at her.
"I believe you have solved the mystery," he said, "and that all you have not learned will be revealed when Silvia opens this envelope. Oh, this is wonderful, Carroll! I'll get a taxi, and we'll go to her at once."
"I wouldn't," said the girl. "It'll be nearly midnight by the time we can get there, and if it is bad news—which it isn't—there's nothing she can do to-night, and if it is good—and I am sure it is, for us at least—it can wait until morning. Whichever it is, she needs a night's sleep before she faces any new complication."
She took the envelope and looked at it again, and then at Frank Earl. With a little laugh she clutched it to her bosom, and holding out the other hand to him, she said, "Now, I'm ready to go to the kitchen and cook anything there is to be found in this section of New York!"
"Carroll," he said, humbly, "would you mind if I proposed to you once more? We seem to need you in our family."
SILVIA HOLLAND'S GREAT PLEA TO THE JURY
Hours before court time the next morning an immense crowd packed the streets around the building, and when the doors were opened it was useless to attempt the enforcement of the ticket rule. When the court convened the space outside the rail was jammed with a crowd that threatened to overflow the space inside which was reserved for members of the legal profession, witnesses, and the family of the defendant. It was an orderly crowd, however, and the tension of silence was so complete that it held them in a kind of paralysis of attention when the gavel fell and the stentorian voice of the bailiff called his "Hear ye." As soon as he sat down the Court recognized Silvia. She took her place at the end of the counsel table with a few papers within reach. The district attorney noticed with satisfaction that they were very few. She was gowned in pure white, and her hair rippled back from her broad forehead, and with head proudly erect and with easy, natural pose, she faced the jury, which gave her instant and absorbed attention. She spoke slowly, deliberately, and her soft, musical voice was heard distinctly in every corner of the courtroom.
"Gentlemen of the Jury: Human life is the greatest mystery in a universe of mystery. It springs into existence with the knowledge of the ages coursing through its sensibilities and inherently possessing all of the passion and prejudice of countless centuries. Where it started none of us knows. Where the aeons ahead of us destine it to end none of us can tell. Deliberately to blot from this earth and its service that which comes into the world so divinely equipped with knowledge and inspiration requires both sublime courage and indescribable depravity; sublime courage to invite the hostility of the vast, complicated, mysterious forces that are embodied in a human life, however humble it may be; indescribable depravity to destroy the most useful and the most beautiful product of this earth.
"Yet the statute in this and other American States for the punishment of those who take human life is made to apply but to a fraction of those guilty of such offense. The individual who shoots or otherwise takes the life of another is always prosecuted and generally punished. The association, whose culpable neglect of the ordinary dictates of humanity in making its employees safe, is not even prosecuted for factory girls destroyed in a fire, for miners entombed in the earth, for passengers and trainmen hurled to their death that dividends may be wrung from soft roadbeds and rotten rails, for excursion boats so built as to prevent the saving of passengers in case of accident; and what must be said of those economic and social conditions that drive thousands to self-destruction every year and that destroy all Christian and political ideals, the proper development of which would preclude the possibility of crime!
"You, gentlemen, represent the collected society of which I am a part, and the fact is worth your consideration at least, that under the system of woman parasitism, dependence, and, in a way, slavery, the rugged qualities of strength of purpose, of womanly self-reliance, of constantly expanding mental and moral natures that so distinguished our foremothers, and which mean so much to the character of children, which in turn mean so much to the character of the citizen and the nation, have largely disappeared.
"In every consideration of crime, its cause should be of interest to those who represent the State. I am not seeking to minimize or palliate or excuse whatever crime may have been committed in this case, but that society which is seeking its own safety and perpetuity cannot too strongly be urged to beware of the universal menace to its existence, as well as to guard against those individuals that war only against individuals. So I appeal to you in this case, if crime there be, to deal with the perpetrator of such crime with all due justice, but with that mercy and consideration which these thoughts may suggest, and which we owe to the weaker members of society.
"Whatever crime was committed in this case sprang from the old order of our existence, which is rapidly passing away; it was nurtured in that soil which most of us cultivate too much, and which produces envy, malice, hatred, uncharitableness and other destructive and despoiling human traits. I have no quarrel with the character of the testimony with which it is sought to convict the defendant, for circumstantial evidence is the most reliable, the most convincing, the least subject to perjury of any evidence recognized by the law, and, as I shall undertake to demonstrate to you, it is absolutely unassailable when each link of the chain fits perfectly in every other one. I am not unmindful of the very strong case which the district attorney has made against the defendant, and it may be that his contention is the correct one. That is a matter for you to determine."
There was a little stir in the courtroom at this extraordinary statement, and Hilda looked at her husband and then at her brother and the hot flush of resentment dyed her white face to the hair.
"The motive of malpractice on the child," Silvia went on evenly, "and a troublesome liaison with the mother do, indeed, seem to be powerful, but what can be said for those motives when I prove to your entire satisfaction that the setting of this fracture and the subsequent treatment and final results are among some of the best ever attending such cases in this large city; that the tuberculosis of the knee is the recurrence of a disease which had attacked the child five years before in the glands of the neck and which broke forth afresh in the knee because of her low physical condition and the immediate injury to the knee; that what I shall present will so conclusively prove the impossibility of a liaison between Dr. Earl and Mrs. Bell that there cannot even remain the suspicion of such a thing?
"The mystery of her support since last April I alone can clear up with checks and other evidence so convincing in character as to leave no doubt. It is embarrassing but necessary to bring myself as a witness into this trial. I found this poor woman with a great and secret sorrow, not knowing how to earn a living and by industrial independence develop the best qualities of her nature, and I undertook to teach her self-reliance and to lead her into the new life of social and economic freedom. Had she been thus trained from girlhood this tragedy would have been impossible, and her life would have been full of beauty, for I have never known a sweeter character. In the meantime I loaned—not gave, but loaned her the money to live upon. She would have resented a gift. She was making splendid progress with her fine sewing, and would soon have been independent of any financial aid. But the sorrow which hung over her, and which all this time was and still is a mystery to me, seemed to dominate her life, as I will presently show you.
"It was the ghost of the old environment, of the old parasitical age, when women were so easily enslaved with the promise of idle luxury and transient caresses, stalking into the midst of a nobler effort and beckoning her backward while yet the understanding and courage were not sufficiently seasoned. Later I shall go into these things more fully.
"I will prove to you by the proper Federal officials that, owing to a change of design by the government, the ten-cent stamps on this package, bearing this particular vignette, could only be purchased in three or four post-offices in the United States for several months before and at the time the package was mailed, and the only place east of the post-office at St. Louis was in Providence, Rhode Island, and I shall also prove that the defendant has not been in Providence in four years. You will notice that stamps to the value of sixty cents were placed on the parcel, when half that amount would have been sufficient, showing that whoever mailed it did not care to have it officially weighed.
"Another circumstance worthy your attention is that poisoning by hydrocyanic acid is so easily recognized that it has seldom been used for purposes of murder, except in cases where the person committing the crime felt safe as to his own identity, and desired to make it appear that some one else had done the deed."
She paused in her recital and cast a glance at a large, muscular man, seated among a group of witnesses for the defense. He gave her an almost imperceptible nod in the affirmative, and she went on slowly and impressively:
"What is more, gentlemen of the jury, this candied fruit was not purchased in Boston, but in Providence, and the person buying it insisted on a perfectly plain box, without any name upon it; he also bought several separate pieces of similar fruit."
There was a buzz of excitement in the human hive, which the bailiff suppressed by a sharp rap of his gavel. Those who had caught the signal turned their eyes from Silvia to the large man, but there was nothing in his impassive demeanor to attract attention.
The defendant and his family were evidently as much at sea as were the others in the courtroom as to the significance of these assertions, but the look of worry had entirely disappeared from the face of Dr. Earl.
"It is true," she went on, "that I had taken the little girl to the country for a week when this awful crime was committed, but Dr. Earl knew nothing of this, and the evidence is already so clear as to need no further illumination that the person who sent the poisoned candy was aware of the fact that the child was not at home, and would not be for several days at least. So clear is it that Dr. Earl did not know the child was in the country that I will prove to you that he sent to her city address a box of pecans which were forwarded by her mother to the country, and I will offer in evidence the box in which they were sent. The person who mailed this box had designs on one victim only, and had the child been at home she would undoubtedly have been the one killed, for she would have been certain to receive the first piece. With all due deference to the learned district attorney, and while his theory is possible that a kiss given and received might have caused the death of the other, the probability is so remote that a person skilled in the knowledge of poisons and their effects, as Dr. Earl is, would scarcely have undertaken to poison two people in this clumsy and uncertain fashion, when the placing of two pieces of candied fruit instead of one on the top of the box was all that was necessary to insure the end desired."
She paused again, and gave the large man another look, and then exhibited a card to the jury, which she had been holding in her hand from the beginning of her address.
"No, gentlemen, the poison was intended for but one person, and that person partook of it," she said sadly and earnestly. She held a picture postal so the jury could see it. "This postcard, as you see, was sent to Mrs. Bell from Magnolia a few days before the crime occurred. It is dated August 5th; her death took place August 9th. Look at the address on this card, and at the message on the other side. Now let me show you a strange thing, which cannot be merely a coincidence."
She took the outer layer of thin white paper that had wrapped the box, on which were the stamps and the address, and laid it over the same address on the card, and the length and formation of each letter were identical, the punctuation marks and the lines of shading were the same, on paper and card.
"You see how this has been done," she said. "The address on the paper is written with an indelible pencil. Ink would have spread and blotted. We shall prove to you that the address on the box was copied by tracing from this identical card, as also were the closing words on the card with the initials which were traced on the paper that is pasted on the top of the box—'With best wishes to you and Alice. J. E.'"
The district attorney protested to the Court against so much detail and proof going into an opening statement, and the Judge looked inquiringly at Silvia.
"I know I am pursuing an unusual course," she replied, "but I promise your honor, and also the honorable district attorney, that I will not abuse my privilege, and if you gentlemen will bear with me I am certain that I shall be able to render a distinct service to the State."
The Judge had followed her carefully, and being one of those wearers of the ermine who believe that substantial justice rather than technical results should be the aim of courts in criminal trials, said to the district attorney, "I am certain that Miss Holland fully understands the rules of procedure in this court and will adhere to them as strictly as the nature of her defense will permit. If I think she is overstepping them, I will stop her."
Silvia gave another glance at the large man. His eyes were on the little group by his side at the time, but the silence caused him to turn to her again, and after another affirmative nod she resumed.
"It is difficult for me to cause pain to anything that lives. I feel that the ant, with its wonderful little organism, is as much entitled to the uses and joys of this dear old world as I am. When I enlisted in this case it was to defend a man whom I felt certain was innocent, not to bring any other person to the bar of justice, and even now, if I could clear the fair name of my client from the remotest suspicion of ever having thought of this crime, without injury to another, I should much prefer to do so. Not that I am unmindful of my duty as a citizen, but I am more conscious of the tenderer feelings that are of necessity appealed to in such a case.
"When in the discharge of my duty I found suspicious footprints leading elsewhere I spent hours determining what course I should pursue in this complicated situation. The sequel will give all of you, in the jury box and in this courtroom, an opportunity to decide whether my course has been the right one. God knows I have prayed to be shown another way, but I could discover none."
She paused, and the tears were glistening in her eyes and her voice trembled, but she regained her self-control at once.
"Before I did aught else, I had two skilled detectives watch the suspected person; their observations were all too convincing. It was Eugene Aram again telling his dream to the child, but this time the guilt was acted.
"Then down I cast me on my face, And first began to weep, For I knew my secret then was one That earth refused to keep: Or land or sea, though he should be Ten thousand fathoms deep.
"So wills the fierce, avenging sprite, Till blood for blood atones! Ay, though he's buried in a cave, And trodden down with stones, And years have rotted off his flesh— The world shall see his bones!"
Once more the tears shone in her eyes, tears that were the only consolation one wretched soul in that courtroom was ever to know, but she dashed them away impatiently.
"To prevent injustice, and possible injury, the suspected man has been kept under surveillance ever since."
Again there was a murmur of voices over the courtroom, and Frank, who had entered hastily, just after she began her address, called her attention to a large envelope which he laid on the table before her. She looked at him, and then at the envelope, and gave an involuntary start of surprise and a hastily stifled exclamation. "The missing letter!" she said, under her breath, and hastily tore it open, and glanced at the first and last pages, while the bailiff restored order.
"I must beg your honor's indulgence," she said, "for a few moments. This letter contains information of vital importance, and as your honor sees, it has just come into my hands."
The Judge granted her request, and while she hastily read the document, the excited murmur swelled again in spite of the glaring bailiff. In a few minutes she turned to the Judge.
"Your honor," she said, "this is a letter to me written by Mrs. Bell only a few hours before her death; I can easily prove her handwriting, and in any event, it is sworn to before a notary. The matter contained therein will end this trial. That I can use it as part of the res gesta, I have no doubt. I will submit it to the district attorney and ask him to examine it, and then give it to your honor. In the interest of justice and my client I would like to read it to the jury at this time."
She handed the letter to the district attorney, and while he read it she seated herself and conferred with Frank. "Where in the world did you get it?" she asked.
"Carroll and spooks," he began, and then went on more seriously, "but where on earth did you hide yourself? We have been madly tearing around New York, and telephoning all over the adjacent territory in a wild endeavor to find you and get this into your hands. I'm not going to tell you about the letter itself; that's Carroll's story. We've been to the Studios, and everywhere else we thought there was a possibility of finding you, and waited at your office until the last minute in the hope that you'd come there."
"I spent the night at Nutwood, making a last search for the letter," she said. "It was only a chance, but I felt that I couldn't give it up. This morning I motored down, and we had some delay, so that I had to come directly here. But it's all right."
The Judge finished reading the letter, and called Silvia to the bench, where they held a whispered conversation with the district attorney, glancing once or twice toward the little group of witnesses where the large man sat. Then Silvia returned to her seat, and the district attorney gave some hurried directions to a deputy, who immediately left the room, while the Judge gave whispered instructions to a bailiff, who stationed himself at the general entrance.
"You may read the letter, Miss Holland," said the Judge, and the tension in the courtroom grew almost intolerable as she rose, holding the letter in shaking hands, and began reading:
"'NEW YORK, August 9.
"'MY DEAR MISS HOLLAND:
"'The secret I have longed and yet hesitated to tell you must now be disclosed. Of course my trouble has been caused by a man, a man whom I have known a long time and loved too well. He was here day before yesterday and we had a stormy interview—which he says shall be the last. For a long time his manner has been changed toward me, and for the last few months he has neglected me. He didn't seem to like it when I got acquainted with you, or when you paid so much attention to Allie; he said he didn't see what you wanted of her, and asked me how you came to take her to the country and when she would be back, and wanted to know if I had told you or Dr. Earl of my relations with him. I said certainly not, and when I reproached him for not coming to see me he said he couldn't come here. Since Allie was hurt, I have only met him a few times. Sometimes I have been happy when I was with him, for I loved, and I love him, better than my life, but I have not wanted to deceive you, and every day the old life has grown harder to bear. I think I have always believed that he would marry me, as he promised in the beginning, until this summer. Now I see that, more than he has deceived me, I have deceived myself, as every woman deceives herself when she forgets the honor of the present for promises that are to be redeemed in the future.
"'I had made up my mind to break away from this life and try to begin over again; you had shown me the way, and I saw the means by which I could support myself and Allie, and not be beholden to him. God knows I never wanted to take his money, and when it was grudgingly given it was worse than gall and wormwood to have to ask him for it. I did not mean to see him any more, for when I look into his face I forget everything except the days when he did love me. I meant to tear him out of my heart, and devote my life to Allie.
"'And then, Miss Holland, I made the discovery that has made me desperate, the one discovery that tells a woman she is helpless, and that not only her whole future, but that of another, depend upon the whim of a man. I demanded that he should keep his promise; I will not permit a child of mine to go through the world bearing the brand of illegitimacy, and I told him so plainly. Perhaps I was wrong to lose my temper and threaten him, but I am half mad. I told him I might bear the blame, and the pain, but that if he allowed me to go through this dreadful time alone that he should share the shame, if I dragged him through the courts to fasten it on him.
"'I don't wonder much that he was infuriated with me, or that he threatened to kill me if I didn't let him alone. He said he hadn't the money to give me all I needed, but if I would be sensible and not make a fuss and a scandal, when he married the rich woman he expected to win that he would give me a fortune ample for myself and my children for the balance of my life. I think it was the thought of his marrying another woman when my child was coming into the world fatherless that made me beside myself, but I could not bear it and I said some dreadful things.
"'Now, I want to know what I can do, or if there is any law to defend a woman who makes a mistake; if there is, I know you will find it. I am going to swear to this, so you will know that I am in earnest, and will not back out like so many women do.
"'One other thing I think I ought to tell you. While we were talking he picked up the postal Dr. Earl sent me, from Magnolia, and then he began all over again and talked awfully about him. I don't know why, but he hates him and will injure him if he can.
"'You will find this at your office when you get back from the country; even now I can't bear to tell the whole truth, and yet I suppose you must know it if you are to help me. What fools women are, Miss Holland; I ought to hate him, and yet if it were to be the last word I should ever write—now, as I always have, I love Orrin Morris.
"'Your unhappy friend, 'EMMA BELL.'"
Silvia had scarcely finished the letter, pausing instinctively before she read the name of the guilty man, when the large man, who had been furtively keeping guard of the little group of witnesses where Dr. Morris was seated, sprang toward Morris in a vain attempt to knock from his hand a vial which he but that instant had touched to his lips. At the same moment a smaller man on the other side of the group made a similar effort, but they were both too late. Almost instantly the doomed man became rigid, a slight froth appeared on his lips, the pupils of his eyes dilated and the lids opened in a wide and horrible stare. There was a general rush in his direction on the part of the medical men gathered for the trial, but the first of the physicians to gain his side saw the hopelessness of any effort to save him and waved the crowd back. In less than five minutes he was dead, and in the sudden appalled silence the bailiffs cleared a way and removed the body, a considerable portion of the curious crowd following.
Every day during the trial Dr. Morris had occupied practically the same seat in the courtroom. His naturally colorless face gave no indication of the emotions within, and when Silvia's address told him all too plainly that his deeds were to be publicly uncovered, he turned a trifle more livid, but otherwise gave no evidence of his feelings. He had known for several days that he was under surveillance and he understood, at last, that the reason for his subpoena as an expert for the defense was to keep him constantly in attendance on the court, but he faced his ordeal with resolute will, if not with supreme courage. As often before during his career he had carefully scanned the path he was to tread and was prepared for every emergency. When the fatal exposure came, which he had hoped until the last might be withheld, he was determined that none should know aught from his lips concerning its truth or falsity. They might speculate as to the significance of his death by his own hand, but he would neither say nor do anything that would throw additional light upon the subject.
Poor Morris! Other learned professional men before him had sought to mystify the world as to their misdeeds by blotting out their own lives, not realizing that every accusing finger of the seen and the unseen world would be instinctively and unerringly pointed toward their mortal remains with the final and irrevocable verdict—"Suicide is confession."
When quiet was restored the Court ordered the defendant to come forward, and Silvia, trembling with emotion, stepped to the front of the Judge's bench with him.
"It is quite evident, sir," began the Judge, clearing his throat, "that a mistake has been made in your case. Not an intentional one, or one that could have been avoided, apparently. The manner in which you have been defended leaves not a vestige of suspicion attaching to you either in connection with this matter, your professional qualifications or your standing as a citizen. Let me assure you that such a result, under the circumstances, is most gratifying to all of the officers of the law, for our purpose is to guard society by punishing the guilty and protecting the innocent. Sir, you are discharged as a defendant in this case."
Great applause greeted this speech from the Court, and the district attorney added his own tribute, while Silvia was given an impromptu reception by jurors, court officers and spectators. When this was over, and the throng that had surrounded her and her client went their way on the quest of new sensations, she found herself standing alone with him before the bench, in almost the identical spot where he had entered his plea of "Not guilty" a few weeks before. The Ramseys and Frank and Carroll were eagerly waiting their turn to shower congratulations upon them, but as John Earl took both her hands in his, Silvia was unconscious of all else. The eyes she lifted to his were swimming in happy tears that could not drown the love they revealed. He dared not trust his voice for more. Besides, what more was there to say? For all the world lay in the single word—"Silvia!"
* * * * *
In a short time, Jack and Silvia were absorbed in their respective professions, but never failing in their duty to the great world movement that was making real the prophecy of England's poetic seer:
"We two will serve them both in aiding her— Will clear away the parasitic forms That seem to keep her up but drag her down— Will leave her space to burgeon out of all Within her—let her make herself her own To give or keep, to live and learn and be All that not harms distinctive womanhood."
There was no "task" to their duties, for the all-powerful though subtle inspiration of genuine love made each day only a part of a splendid dream which they felt could never end.
And the love that leads to high endeavor and unlocks the storehouses of human progress crowned their efforts with success, and humanity was better and nobler for their deeds and example.