"What have I said about no man knowing? Bartow knows. In his dumbness, his deafness, he has surprised my secret, and shows that he has done so by his peering looks, his dissatisfied ways, and a jealousy at which I could shout aloud in mirth, if I were not more tempted to shriek aloud in torment. A dumb serving-man, picked up I have almost forgotten where, jealous of my weakness for John Poindexter's daughter! He was never jealous of my feeling for Evelyn. Yet till the day I dared fate by seeking out and looking for the second time upon the woman whose charms I had scorned, her name often resounded through these rooms, and my eyes dwelt upon but one spot, and that was where her picture hangs in the woeful beauty which has become my reproach.
"I have had a great surprise. The starling, which has been taught to murmur Evelyn's name, to-day shrieked out, 'Eva! Eva!' My first impulse was to wring its neck, my next to take it from its cage and hide it in my bosom. But I did neither. I am still a man.
"Bartow will wring that bird's neck if I do not. This morning I caught him with his hand on the cage and a murderous light in his eye, which I had no difficulty in understanding. Yet he cannot hear the word the wretched starling murmurs. He only knows it is a word, a name, and he is determined to suppress it. Shall I string the cage up out of this old fellow's reach? His deafness, his inability to communicate with others, the exactness with which he obeys my commands as given him by my colored slides, his attention to my every wish, consequent upon his almost animal love for my person, are necessary to me now, while the bird—Ah! there it goes again, 'Eva! Eva!'
"Is it hate or love I feel, abhorrence or passion? Love would seek to save, but I have no thought of saving her, since she has acknowledged her love for Thomas, and since he—Oh, it is not now for Evelyn's sake I plan revenge, but for my own! These nights and days of torture—the revelation I have had of my own nature—the consent I was forced to give to a marriage which means bliss to them and anguish beyond measure to me—all this calls for vengeance, and they will not escape, these two. I have laid my plans deep. I have provided for every contingency. It has taken time, thought, money. But the result is good. If they cross the threshold of my circular study, they must consent to my will or perish here, and I with them. Oh, they shall never live and be happy! Thomas need not think it. John Poindexter need not think it! I might have forgotten the oath made on my father's crossed arms, but I will never forget the immeasurable griefs of these past months or the humiliation they have brought me. My own weakness is to be avenged—my unheard-of, my intolerable weakness. Remember Evelyn? Remember Felix! Ah, again! Eva! Eva! Eva!"
WHY THE IRON SLIDE REMAINED STATIONARY.
The rest must be told in Thomas's own words, as it forms the chief part of the confession he made before the detectives:
According to my promise, I took my young wife to Felix's house on the day and at the hour proposed. We went on foot, for it was not far from the hotel where we were then staying, and were received at the door by an old servant who I had been warned could neither speak nor hear. At sight of him and the dim, old-fashioned hall stretching out in aristocratic gloom before us, Eva turned pale and cast me an inquiring look. But I reassured her with a smile that most certainly contradicted my own secret dread of the interview before us, and taking her on my arm, followed the old man down the hall, past the open drawing-room door (where I certainly thought we should pause), into a room whose plain appearance made me frown, till Bartow, as I have since heard him called, threw aside the portiere at one end and introduced us into my brother's study, which at that moment looked like fairyland, or would have, if Felix, who was its sole occupant, had not immediately drawn our attention to himself by the remarkable force of his personality, never so impressive as at that moment.
Eva, to whom I had said little of this brother, certainly nothing which would lead her to anticipate seeing either so handsome a man or one of such mental poise and imposing character, looked frightened and a trifle awe-struck. But she advanced quite bravely toward him, and at my introduction smiled with such an inviting grace that I secretly expected to see him more or less disarmed by it.
And perhaps he was, for his already pale features turned waxy in the yellow glare cast by the odd lantern over our heads, and the hand he had raised in mechanical greeting fell heavily, and he could barely stammer out some words of welcome. These would have seemed quite inadequate to the occasion if his eyes which were fixed on her face, had not betrayed the fact that he was not without feeling, though she little realized the nature of that feeling or how her very life (for happiness is life) was trembling in the balance under that indomitable will.
I who did know—or thought I did—cast him an imploring glance, and, saying that I had some explanations to make, asked if Mrs. Adams might not rest here while we had a few words apart.
He answered me with a strange look. Did he feel the revolt in my tone and understand then as well as afterward what the nature of my compliance had been? I shall never know. I only know that he stopped fumbling with some small object on the table before him, and, bowing with a sarcastic grace that made me for the first time in my intercourse with him feel myself his inferior, even in size, led the way to a small door I had failed to notice up to this moment.
"Your wife will find it more comfortable here," he observed, with slow pauses in his speech that showed great, but repressed, excitement. And he opened the door into what had the appearance of a small but elegant sleeping-apartment. "What we have to say cannot take long. Mrs. Adams will not find the wait tedious."
"No," she smiled, with a natural laugh, born, as I dare hope, of her perfect happiness. Yet she could not but have considered the proceeding strange, and my manner, as well as his, scarcely what might be expected from a bridegroom introducing his bride to his only relative.
"I will call you—" I began, but the vision of her dimpled face above the great cluster of roses she carried made me forget to complete my sentence, and the door closed, and I found myself face to face with Felix.
He was breathing easier, and his manner seemed more natural now that we were alone, yet he did not speak, but cast a strange, if not inquiring, glance about the room (the weirdest of apartments, as you all well know), and seeming satisfied with what he saw, why I could not tell, led the way up to the large table which from the first had appeared to exert a sort of uncanny magnetism upon him, saying:
"Come further away. I need air, breathing place in this close room, and so must you. Besides, why should she hear what we have to say? She will know the worst soon enough. She seems a gentle-hearted woman."
"An angel!" I began, but he stopped me with an imperious gesture.
"We will not discuss your wi—Mrs. Adams," he protested. "Where is John Poindexter?"
"At the hotel," I rejoined. "Or possibly he has returned home. I no longer take account of his existence. Felix, I shall never leave my wife. I had rather prove recreant to the oath I took before I realized the worth of the woman whose happiness I vowed to destroy. This is what I have come to tell you. Make it easy for me, Felix. You are a man who has loved and suffered. Let us bury the past; let us——"
Had I hoped I could move him? Perhaps some such child's notion had influenced me up to this moment. But as these words left my lips, nay, before I had stumbled through them, I perceived by the set look of his features, which were as if cast in bronze, that I might falter, but that he was firm as ever, firmer, it seemed to me, and less easy to be entreated.
Yet what of that? At the worst, what had I to fear? A struggle which might involve Eva in bitter unpleasantness and me in the loss of a fortune I had come to regard almost as my own. But these were petty considerations. Eva must know sooner or later my real name and the story of her father's guilt. Why not now? And if we must start life poor, it was yet life, while a separation from her——
Meanwhile Felix had spoken, and in language I was least prepared to hear.
"I anticipated this. From the moment you pleaded with me for the privilege of marrying her, I have looked forward to this outcome and provided against it. Weakness on the part of her bridegroom was to be expected; I have, therefore, steeled myself to meet the emergency; for your oath must be kept!"
Crushed by the tone in which these words were uttered, a tone that evinced power against which any ordinary struggle would end in failure, I cast my eyes about the room in imitation of what I had seen him do a few minutes before. There was nothing within sight calculated to awaken distrust, and yet a feeling of distrust (the first I had really felt) had come with the look he had thrown above and around the mosque-like interior of the room he called his study. Was it the calm confidence he showed, or the weirdness of finding myself amid Oriental splendors and under the influence of night effects in high day and within sound of the clanging street cars and all the accompanying bustle of every-day traffic? It is hard to say; but from this moment on I found myself affected by a vague affright, not on my own account, but on hers whose voice we could plainly hear humming a gay tune in the adjoining apartment. But I was resolved to suppress all betrayal of uneasiness. I even smiled, though I felt the eyes of Evelyn's pictured countenance upon me; Evelyn's, whose portrait I had never lost sight of from the moment of entering the room, though I had not given it a direct look and now stood with my back to it. Felix, who faced it, but who did not raise his eyes to it, waited a moment for my response, and finding that my words halted, said again:
"That oath must be kept!"
This time I found words with which to answer. "Impossible!" I burst out, flinging doubt, fear, hesitancy, everything I had hitherto trembled at to the winds. "It was in my nature to take it, worked upon as I was by family affection, the awfulness of our father's approaching death, and a thousand uncanny influences all carefully measured and prepared for this end. But it is not in my nature to keep it after four months of natural living in the companionship of a man thirty years removed from his guilt, and of his guileless and wholly innocent daughter. And you cannot drive me to it, Felix. No man can force another to abandon his own wife because of a wicked oath taken long before he knew her. If you think your money——"
"Money?" he cried, with a contempt that did justice to my disinterestedness as well as his own. "I had forgotten I had it. No, Thomas, I should never weigh money against the happiness of living with such a woman as your wife appears to be. But her life I might. Carry out your threat; forget to pay John Poindexter the debt we owe him, and the matter will assume a seriousness for which you are doubtless poorly prepared. A daughter dead in her honeymoon will be almost as great a grief to him as a dishonored one. And either dead or dishonored he must find her, when he comes here in search of the child he cannot long forget. Which shall it be? Speak!"
Was I dreaming? Was this Felix? Was this myself? And was it in my ears these words were poured?
With a spring I reached his side where he stood close against the table, and groaned rather than shrieked the words:
"You would not kill her! You do not meditate a crime of blood—here—on her—the innocent—the good——"
"No," he said; "it will be you who will do that. You who will not wish to see her languish—suffer—go mad—Thomas, I am not the raving being you take me for. I am merely a keeper of oaths. Nay, I am more. I have talents, skill. The house in which you find yourself is proof of this. This room—see, it has no outlet save those windows, scarcely if at all perceptible to you, above our heads, and that opening shielded now by a simple curtain, but which in an instant, without my moving from this place, I can so hermetically seal that no man, save he be armed with crowbar and pickaxe, could enter here, even if man could know of our imprisonment, in a house soon to be closed from top to bottom by my departing servant."
"May God protect us!" fell from my lips, as, stiff with horror, I let my eyes travel from his determined face, first to the windows high over my head and then to the opening of the door, which, though but a few steps from where I stood, was as far as possible from the room into which my darling had been induced to enter.
Felix, watching me, uttered his explanations as calmly as if the matter were one of every-day significance. "You are looking for the windows," he remarked. "They are behind those goblin faces you see outlined on the tapestries under the ceiling. As for the door, if you had looked to the left when you entered, you would have detected the edge of a huge steel plate hanging flush with the casing. This plate can be made to slide across that opening in an instant just by the touch of my hand on this button. This done, no power save such as I have mentioned can move it back again, not even my own. I have forces at my command for sending it forward, but none for returning it to its place. Do you doubt my mechanical skill or the perfection of the electrical apparatus I have caused to be placed here? You need not, Thomas; nor need you doubt the will that has only to exert itself for an instant to—Shall I press the button, brother?"
"No, no!" I shouted in a frenzy, caused rather by my knowledge of the nature of this man than any especial threat apparent in his voice or gesture. "Let me think; let me know more fully what your requirements are—what she must suffer if I consent—and what I."
He let his hand slip back, that smooth white hand which I had more than once surveyed in admiration. Then he smiled.
"I knew you would not be foolish," he said. "Life has its charms even for hermits like me; and for a beau garcon such as you are——"
"Hush!" I interposed, maddened into daring his full anger. "It is not my life I am buying, but hers, possibly yours; for it seems you have planned to perish with us. Is it not so?"
"Certainly," was his cold reply. "Am I an assassin? Would you expect me to live, knowing you to be perishing?"
I stared aghast. Such resolve, such sacrifice of self to an idea was beyond my comprehension.
"Why—what?" I stammered. "Why kill us, why kill yourself——"
The answer overwhelmed me.
"Remember Evelyn!" shrilled a voice, and I paused, struck dumb with a superstitious horror I had never believed myself capable of experiencing. For it was not Felix who spoke, neither was it any utterance of my own aroused conscience. Muffled, strange, and startling it came from above, from the hollow spaces of that high vault lit with the golden glow that henceforth can have but one meaning for me—death.
"What is it?" I asked. "Another of your mechanical contrivances?"
He smiled; I had rather he had frowned.
"Not exactly. A favorite bird, a starling. Alas! he but repeats what he has heard echoed through the solitude of these rooms. I thought I had smothered him up sufficiently to insure his silence during this interview. But he is a self-willed bird, and seems disposed to defy the wrappings I have bound around him; which fact warns me to be speedy and hasten our explanations. Thomas, this is what I require: John Poindexter—you do not know where he is at this hour, but I do—received a telegram but now, which, if he is a man at all, will bring him to this house in a half-hour or so from the present moment. It was sent in your name, and in it you informed him that matters had arisen which demanded his immediate attention; that you were on your way to your brother's (giving him this address), where, if you found entrance, you would await his presence in a room called the study; but that—and here you will see how his coming will not aid us if that steel plate is once started on its course—if the possible should occur and your brother should be absent from home, then he was to await a message from you at the Plaza. The appearance of the house would inform him whether he would find you and Eva within; or so I telegraphed him in your name.
"Thomas, if Bartow fulfils my instructions—and I have never know him to fail me—he will pass down these stairs and out of this house in just five minutes. As he is bound on a long-promised journey, and as he expects me to leave the house immediately after him, he has drawn every shade and fastened every lock. Consequently, on his exit, the house will become a tomb, to which, just two weeks from to-day, John Poindexter will be called again, and in words which will lead to a demolition which will disclose—what? Let us not forestall the future, our horrible future, by inquiring. But Thomas, shall Bartow go? Shall I not by signs he comprehends more readily than other men comprehend speech indicate to him on his downward passage to the street that I wish him to wait and open the door to the man whom we have promised to overwhelm in his hour of satisfaction and pride? You have only to write a line—see! I have made a copy of the words you must use, lest your self-command should be too severely taxed. These words left on this table for his inspection—for you must go and Eva remain—will tell him all he needs to know from you. The rest can come from my lips after he has read the signature, which in itself will confound him and prepare the way for what I have to add. Have you anything to say against this plan? Anything, I mean, beyond what you have hitherto urged? Anything that I will consider or which will prevent my finger from pressing the button on which it rests?"
I took up the paper. It was lying on the table, where it had evidently been inscribed simultaneously with or just before our entrance into the house, and slowly read the few lines I saw written upon it. You know them, but they will acquire a new significance from your present understanding of their purpose and intent:
I return you back your daughter. Neither she nor you will ever see me again. Remember Evelyn!
"You wish me to sign these words, to put them into my own handwriting, and so to make them mine? Mine!" I repeated.
"Yes, and to leave them here on this table for him to see when he enters. He might not believe any mere statement from me in regard to your intentions."
I was filled with horror. Love, life, human hopes, the world's friendships—all the possibilities of existence, swept in one concentrated flood of thought and feeling through my outraged consciousness, and I knew I could never put my name to such a blasphemy of all that was sacred to man's soul. Tossing the paper in his face, I cried:
"You have gone too far! Better her death, better mine, better the destruction of us all, than such dishonor to the purest thing heaven ever made. I refuse, Felix—I refuse. And may God have mercy on us all!"
The moment was ghastly. I saw his face change, his finger tremble where it hovered above the fatal button; saw—though only in imagination as yet—the steely edge of that deadly plate of steel advancing beyond the lintel, and was about to dare all in a sudden grapple with this man, when a sound from another direction caught my ear, and looking around in terror of the only intrusion we could fear, beheld Eva advancing from the room in which we had placed her.
That moment a blood-red glow took the place of the sickly yellow which had hitherto filled every recess of this weird apartment. But I scarcely noticed the change, save as it affected her pallor and gave to her cheeks the color that was lacking in the roses at her belt.
Fearless and sweet as in the hour when she first told me that she loved me, she approached and stood before us.
"What is this?" she cried. "I have heard words that sound more like the utterances of some horrid dream than the talk of men and brothers. What does it mean, Thomas? What does it mean, Mr. ——"
"Cadwalader," announced Felix, dropping his eyes from her face, but changing not a whit his features or posture.
"Cadwalader?" The name was not to her what it was to her father. "Cadwalader? I have heard that name in my father's house; it was Evelyn's name, the Evelyn who——"
"Whom you see painted there over your head," finished Felix, "my sister, Thomas's sister—the girl whom your father—but I spare you, child though you be of a man who spared nothing. From your husband you may learn why a Cadwalader can never find his happiness with a Poindexter. Why thirty or more years after that young girl's death, you who were not then born are given at this hour the choice between death and dishonor. I allow you just five minutes in which to listen. After that you will let me know your joint decision. Only you must make your talk where you stand. A step taken by either of you to right or left, and Thomas knows what will follow."
Five minutes, with such a justification to make, and such a decision to arrive at! I felt my head swim, my tongue refuse its office, and stood dumb and helpless before her till the sight of her dear eyes raised in speechless trust to mine flooded me with a sense of triumph amid all the ghastly terrors of the moment, and I broke out in a tumult of speech, in excuses, explanations, all that comes to one in a more than mortal crisis.
She listened, catching my meaning rather from my looks than my words. Then as the minutes fled and my brother raised a warning hand, she turned toward him, and said:
"You are in earnest? We must separate in shame or perish in this prison-house with you?"
His answer was mere repetition, mechanical, but firm:
"You have said it. You have but one minute more, madam."
She shrank, and all her powers seemed leaving her, then a reaction came, and a flaming angel stood where but a moment before the most delicate of women weakly faltered; and giving me a look to see if I had the courage or the will to lift my hand against my own flesh and blood (alas for us both! I did not understand her) caught up an old Turkish dagger lying only too ready to her hand, and plunged it with one sideways thrust into his side, crying:
"We cannot part, we cannot die, we are too young, too happy!"
It was sudden; the birth of purpose in her so unexpected and so rapid that Felix, the ready, who was prepared for all contingencies, for the least movement or suggestion of escape, faltered and pressed, not the fatal button, but his heart.
One impulsive act on the part of a woman had overthrown all the fine-spun plans of the subtlest spirit that ever attempted to work its will in the face of God and man.
But I did not think of this then; I did not even bestow a thought upon the narrowness of our escape, or the price which the darling of my heart might be called upon to pay for this supreme act of self-defence. My mind, my heart, my interest were with Felix, in whom the nearness of death had called up all that was strongest and most commanding in his strong and commanding spirit.
Though struck to the heart, he had not fallen. It was as if the will which had sustained him through thirty years of mental torture held him erect still, that he might give her, Eva, one look, the like of which I had never seen on mortal face, and which will never leave my heart or hers until we die. Then as he saw her sink shudderingly down and the delicate woman reappear in her pallid and shrunken figure, he turned his eyes on me and I saw,—good God!—a tear well up from those orbs of stone and fall slowly down his cheek, fast growing hollow under the stroke of death.
"Eva! Eva! I love Eva!" shrilled the voice which once before had startled me from the hollow vault above.
Felix heard, and a smile faint as the failing rush of blood through his veins moved his lips and brought a revelation to my soul. He, too, loved Eva!
When he saw I knew, the will which had kept him on his feet gave way, and he sank to the floor murmuring:
"Take her away! I forgive. Save! Save! She did not know I loved her."
Eva, aghast, staring with set eyes at her work, had not moved from her crouching posture. But when she saw that speaking head fall back, the fine limbs settle into the repose of death, a shock went through her which I thought would never leave her reason unimpaired.
"I've killed him!" she murmured. "I've killed him!" and looking wildly about, her eyes fell on the cross that hung behind us on the wall. It seemed to remind her that Felix was a Catholic. "Bring it!" she gasped. "Let him feel it on his breast. It may bring him peace—hope."
As I rushed to do her bidding, she fell in a heap on the floor.
"Save!" came again from the lips we thought closed forever in death. And realizing at the words both her danger and the necessity of her not opening her eyes again upon this scene, I laid the cross in his arms, and catching her up from the floor, ran with her out of the house. But no sooner had I caught sight of the busy street and the stream of humanity passing before us, than I awoke to an instant recognition of our peril. Setting my wife down, I commanded life back into her limbs by the force of my own energy, and then dragging her down the steps, mingled with the crowd, encouraging her, breathing for her, living in her till I got her into a carriage and we drove away.
For the silence we have maintained from that time to this you must not blame Mrs. Adams. When she came to herself—which was not for days—she manifested the greatest desire to proclaim her act and assume its responsibility. But I would not have it. I loved her too dearly to see her name bandied about in the papers; and when her father was taken into our confidence, he was equally peremptory in enjoining silence, and shared with me the watch I now felt bound to keep over her movements.
But alas! His was the peremptoriness of pride rather than love. John Poindexter has no more heart for his daughter than he had for his wife or that long-forgotten child from whose grave this tragedy has sprung. Had Felix triumphed he would never have wrung the heart of this man. As he once said, when a man cares for nothing and nobody, not even for himself, it is useless to curse him.
As for Felix himself, judge him not, when you realize, as you now must, that his last conscious act was to reach for and put in his mouth the paper which connected Eva with his death. At the moment of death his thought was to save, not to avenge. And this after her hand had struck him.
A silence more or less surcharged with emotion followed this final appeal. Then, while the various auditors of this remarkable history whispered together and Thomas Adams turned in love and anxiety toward his wife, the inspector handed back to Mr. Gryce the memorandum he had received from him.
It presented the following appearance:
1. Why a woman who was calm enough to stop and arrange her hair during the beginning of an interview should be wrought up to such a pitch of frenzy and exasperation before it was over as to kill with her own hand a man she had evidently had no previous grudge against. (Remember the comb found on the floor of Mr. Adams's bedroom.)
2. What was the meaning of the following words, written just previous to this interview by the man thus killed: "I return you your daughter. Neither you nor she will ever see me again. Remember Evelyn!"
3. Why was the pronoun "I" used in this communication? What position did Mr. Felix Adams hold toward this young girl qualifying him to make use of such language after her marriage to his brother?
4. And having used it, why did he, upon being attacked by her, attempt to swallow the paper upon which he had written these words, actually dying with it clinched between his teeth?
5. If he was killed in anger and died as monsters do (her own word), why did his face show sorrow rather than hate, and a determination as far as possible removed from the rush of over-whelming emotions likely to follow the reception of a mortal blow from the hand of an unexpected antagonist?
6. Why, if he had strength to seize the above-mentioned paper and convey it to his lips, did he not use that strength in turning on a light calculated to bring him assistance, instead of leaving blazing the crimson glow which, according to the code of signals as now understood by us, means: "Nothing more required just now. Keep away?"
7. What was the meaning of the huge steel plate found between the casings of the doorway, and why did it remain at rest within its socket at this, the culminating, moment of his life?
8. An explanation of how old Poindexter came to appear on the scene so soon after the event. His words as overheard were: "It is Amos' son, not Amos!" Did he not know whom he was to meet in this house? Was the condition of the man lying before him with a cross on his bosom and a dagger in his heart less of a surprise to him than the personality of the victim?
[Sidenote: Not Answered]
9. Remember the conclusions we have drawn from Bartow's pantomime. Mr. Adams was killed by a left-handed thrust. Watch for an acknowledgment that the young woman is left-handed, and do not forget that an explanation is due why for so long a time she held her other arm stretched out behind her.
10. Why did the bird whose chief cry is "Remember Evelyn!" sometimes vary it with "Poor Eva! Lovely Eva! Who would strike Eva?" The story of this tragedy, to be true, must show that Mr. Adams knew his brother's bride both long and well.
11. If Bartow is, as we think, innocent of all connection with this crime save as witness, why does he show such joy at its result? This may not reasonably be expected to fall within the scope of Thomas Adams's confession, but it should not be ignored by us. This deaf-and-dumb servitor was driven mad by the fact which caused him joy. Why?
[Footnote 2: It must be remembered that the scraps of writing in Felix's hand had not yet been found by the police. The allusions in them to Bartow show him to have been possessed by a jealousy which probably turned to delight when he saw his master smitten down by the object of that master's love and his own hatred. How he came to recognize in the bride of another man the owner of the name he so often saw hovering on the lips of his master, is a question to be answered by more astute students of the laws of perception than myself. Probably he spent much of his time at the loophole on the stairway, studying his master till he understood his every gesture and expression.]
12. Notice the following schedule. It has been drawn up after repeated experiments with Bartow and the various slides of the strange lamp which cause so many different lights to shine out in Mr. Adams's study:
White light—Water wanted. Green light—Overcoat and hat to be brought. Blue light—Put back books on shelves. Violet light—Arrange study for the night. Yellow light—Watch for next light. Red light—Nothing wanted; stay away.
The last was on at the final scene. Note if this fact can be explained by Mr. Adams's account of the same.
* * * * *
Two paragraphs alone lacked complete explanation. The first, No. 9, was important. The description of the stroke dealt by Mr. Adams's wife did not account for this peculiar feature in Bartow's pantomime. Consulting with the inspector, Mr. Gryce finally approached Mr. Adams and inquired if he had strength to enact before them the blow as he had seen it dealt by his wife.
The startled young man looked the question he dared not ask. In common with others, he knew that Bartow had made some characteristic gestures in endeavoring to describe this crime, but he did not know what they were, as this especial bit of information had been carefully held back by the police. He, therefore, did not respond hastily to the suggestion made him, but thought intently for a moment before he thrust out his left hand and caught up some article or other from the inspector's table and made a lunge with it across his body into an imaginary victim at his right. Then he consulted the faces about him with inexpressible anxiety. He found little encouragement in their aspect.
"You would make your wife out left-handed," suggested Mr. Gryce. "Now I have been watching her ever since she came into this place, and I have seen no evidence of this."
"She is not left-handed, but she thrust with her left hand, because her right was fast held in mine. I had seized her instinctively as she bounded forward for the weapon, and the convulsive clutch of our two hands was not loosed till the horror of her act made her faint, and she fell away from me to the floor crying: 'Tear down the cross and lay it on your brother's breast. I would at least see him die the death of a Christian.'"
Mr. Gryce glanced at the inspector with an air of great relief. The mystery of the constrained attitude of the right hand which made Bartow's pantomime so remarkable was now naturally explained, and taking up the blue pencil which the inspector had laid down, he wrote, with a smile, a very decided "answered" across paragraph No. 9.
A few minutes later Mr. Gryce was to be seen in the outer room, gazing curiously at the various persons there collected. He was seeking an answer to a question that was still disturbing his mind, and hoped to find it there. He was not disappointed. For in a quiet corner he encountered the amiable form of Miss Butterworth, calmly awaiting the result of an interference which she in all probability had been an active agent in bringing about.
He approached and smilingly accused her of this. But she disclaimed the fact with some heat.
"I was simply there," she explained. "When the crisis came, when this young creature learned that her husband had left suddenly for New York in the company of two men, then—why then, it became apparent to every one that a woman should be at her side who understood her case and the extremity in which she found herself. And I was that woman."
"You are always that woman," he gallantly replied, "if by the phrase you mean being in the right place at the right time. So you are already acquainted with Mrs. Adams's story?"
"Yes; the ravings of a moment told me she was the one who had handled the dagger that slew Mr. Adams. Afterward, she was able to explain the cause of what has seemed to us such a horrible crime. When I heard her story, Mr. Gryce, I no longer hesitated either as to her duty or mine. Do you think she will be called upon to answer for this blow? Will she be tried, convicted?"
"Madam, there are not twelve men in the city so devoid of intelligence as to apply the name of crime to an act which was so evidently one of self-defence. No true bill will be found against young Mrs. Adams. Rest easy."
The look of gloom disappeared from Miss Butterworth's eyes.
"Then I may return home in peace," she cried. "It has been a desperate five hours for me, and I feel well shaken up. Will you escort me to my carriage?"
Miss Butterworth did not look shaken up. Indeed, in Mr. Gryce's judgment, she had never appeared more serene or more comfortable. But she was certainly the best judge of her own condition; and after satisfying herself that the object of her care was reviving under the solicitous ministrations of her husband, she took the arm which Mr. Gryce held out to her and proceeded to her carriage.
As he assisted her in, he asked a few questions about Mr. Poindexter.
"Why is not Mrs. Adams's father here? Did he allow his daughter to leave him on such an errand as this without offering to accompany her?"
The answer was curtness itself:
"Mr. Poindexter is a man without heart. He came with us to New York, but refused to follow us to Police Headquarters. Sir, you will find that the united passions of three burning souls, and a revenge the most deeply cherished of any I ever knew or heard of, have been thrown away on a man who is positively unable to suffer. Do not mention old John Poindexter to me. And now, if you will be so good, tell the coachman to drive me to my home in Gramercy Park. I have put my finger in the police pie for the last time, Mr. Gryce—positively for the last time." And she sank back on the carriage cushions with an inexorable look, which, nevertheless, did not quite conceal a quiet complacency which argued that she was not altogether dissatisfied with herself or the result of her interference in matters usually considered at variance with a refined woman's natural instincts.
Mr. Gryce, in repressing a smile, bowed lower even than his wont, and, under the shadow of this bow, the carriage drove off. As he walked slowly back, he sighed. Was he wondering if a case of similar interest would ever bring them together again in consultation?