"You weren't called down here to open the family's private letters," I said hotly.
"I was called down here to find out who stole Colonel Gaylord's bonds, and I've done it."
I was silent for a moment. This letter from the brokers staggered me. April twenty-ninth was the date of the robbery, and I could think of no explanation. Clancy, noticing my silence, elaborated his theory with a growing air of triumph.
"This Mose was left behind the night of the robbery with orders to rouse the house while Radnor was away. Mose is a good actor and he fooled you. The obvious suspicion was that the ghost had stolen the bonds and you set out to find him—a somewhat difficult task as he existed only in Mose's imagination. I think when you reflect upon the evidence, you will see that my explanation is convincing."
"It isn't in the least convincing," I retorted. "Mose was not acting; he saw something that frightened him half out of his senses. And that something was not Radnor masquerading as a ghost, for Radnor was out of the house when the robbery took place."
"Not necessarily. The robbery took place early in the evening before all this rumpus occurred. Even if Mose did see a ghost, the ghost had nothing to do with it."
"You have absolutely no proof of that; it is nothing but surmise."
Clancy smiled with an air of patient tolerance.
"How about the letter?" he inquired. "How do you explain that?"
"I don't explain it; it is none of my business. But I dare say Radnor will do so readily enough—there he is going toward the stables; we will call him over."
"No, hold on, I haven't finished what I want to say. I was employed by Colonel Gaylord to find out who stole the bonds and I have done so. But the Colonel did not suspect the direction my investigations would take or he never would have engaged me. Now I am wondering if it would not be kinder not to let him know? He's had trouble enough with his elder son; Radnor is all he has left. The young man seems to me like a really decent fellow—I dare say he'll straighten up and amount to something yet. Probably he considered the money as practically his already; anyway he's been decent to me and I should like to do him a service. Now say we three talk it over together and settle it out of court as it were. I've put in my time down here and I've got to have my pay, but perhaps it would be better all around if I took it from the young man rather than his father."
This struck me as the best way out of the muddle, and a very fair proposition, considering Clancy's point of view. I myself did not for an instant credit his suspicions, but I thought the wisest thing to do was to tell Rad just how the matter stood and let him explain in regard to the letter. I left Clancy waiting in the summer house while I went in search of Rad. I wished to be the one to do the explaining as I knew he was not likely to take any such accusation calmly.
I found him in the stables, and putting my hand on his shoulder, marched him back toward the garden.
"Rad," I said, "Clancy has formed his conclusions as to how the bonds left the safe, and I want you to convince him that he is mistaken."
"Well? Let's hear his conclusions."
"He thinks that you took them when you took the money."
"You mean that I stole them?"
"That's what he thinks."
"He does, does he? Well he can prove it!"
Radnor broke away from me and strode toward the summer house. The detective received his onslaught placidly; his manner suggested that he was used to dealing with excitable young men.
"Sit down, Mr. Gaylord, and let's discuss this matter quietly. If you listen to reason, I assure you it will go no further."
"Do you mean to say that you accuse me of stealing those bonds?" Radnor shouted.
Clancy held up a warning hand.
"Don't talk so loud; someone will hear you. Sit down." He nodded toward a seat on the other side of the little rustic table. "I will explain the matter as I see it, and if you can disprove any of my statements I shall be more than glad to have you."
Radnor subsided and listened scowlingly while the detective outlined his theory in a perfectly non-personal way, and ended by producing the letter.
"Where did you get that?" Rad demanded.
"Out of your coat pocket which I hooked over the transom of the door." He made the statement imperturbably; it was evidently a matter of everyday routine.
"So you enter gentlemen's houses as their guest and spend your time sneaking about reading their private correspondence?"
An angry gleam appeared in Clancy's eye and he rose to his feet.
"I did not come to your house as your guest. I came on business for Colonel Gaylord. Now that my business is completed I will make my report to him and go."
Radnor rose also.
"It's a lie, and you haven't a word of proof to show."
Clancy significantly tapped the pocket that held the letter.
"That," said Radnor contemptuously, "refers to two bonds which I bought last winter with some money I got from selling a mortgage. I preferred to have the investment in bonds because they are more readily negotiable. I left them at my broker's as collateral for another investment I was making. Last week I needed some ready money and wrote to them to sell. My statement can easily be substantiated; no reputable detective would ever base any such absurd charge on the contents of a letter he did not understand."
"Of course," said the detective, "we have tried to get at the matter from the other end; but Jacoby, Haight & Company refuse to discuss the affairs of their clients. I did not press the point as I did not want to stir up comment. However," he smiled, "I must confess, Mr. Gaylord, that I think your explanation a trifle fishy. Perhaps you will answer one question. Did you mail your letter to them in Kennisburg the night of the robbery with a special delivery stamp?"
"It happens that I did, but it was merely a coincidence and has nothing to do with the robbery."
"Will you be kind enough to explain why you drove to Kennisburg in the night and why you needed the money so suddenly?"
"No, I will not. That is a matter which concerns, me alone."
"Very well! As it happens I do not base my charge on the letter; I had already formed my opinion before I knew of its existence. Do you deny that you yourself have encouraged the belief in the ghost among the negroes? That on more than one occasion, you, or your accomplice, Cat-Eye Mose, have masqueraded as the ghost? That, while you were pretending to Colonel Gaylord to be as much puzzled by the matter as he, you were in truth at the bottom of the whole business?"
Radnor glanced uneasily at me and hesitated before replying.
"No," he said at length, "I don't deny that, but I do affirm that it has nothing to do with the robbery."
The detective laughed.
"You must excuse me, Mr. Gaylord, if I stick to the opinion that I have solved the puzzle."
He turned with a motion toward the house, and Radnor barred the entrance.
"Do you think I lie when I say I know nothing of those bonds?"
"Yes, Mr. Gaylord, I do."
For a moment I thought that Radnor was going to strike him, but I pulled him back and turned to Clancy.
"He knows nothing about the bonds," said I, "but nevertheless you must not take any such story to Colonel Gaylord. He is an old man, and while he would not believe his son guilty of theft, still it would worry him. There is something else that happened that night—entirely uncriminal—but which we do not wish him to hear about. Therefore I am not going to let you go to him with this nonsensical tale that you have cooked up."
This was a trial shot on my part but it hit the bull's-eye. Radnor stared but said nothing; and the detective visibly wavered.
"Now," I added, taking out my checkbook, "suppose I pay you what you would have received had you discovered the bonds, and dispense with your further services?"
"That's just as you say. I feel that I've done the job and am entitled to the money. If you wish to pay it, all right; otherwise I get it from Colonel Gaylord. I received a retaining fee and was to have two hundred dollars more when I located the bonds. In order not to stir up any bad feeling I'm willing to take that two hundred dollars from you and drop the matter."
"It's blackmail!" said Radnor.
"Keep still, Rad," I said. "It's very accommodating of Mr. Clancy to see it this way."
I wrote out a check and tossed it to the detective.
"Now go to Colonel Gaylord," I said, "tell him that you have been unsuccessful in finding any clue; that the bonds will almost certainly be marketed in the city, and that your only hope of tracing them is to work from the other end. Then pack your bag and go. A carriage will be ready to take you to the Junction in half an hour."
"Just wait a moment, Mr. Clancy," Rad called after him as he turned away. He drew a note book from his pocket and ripping out a page scrawled across the face:
"JACOBY, HAIGHT AND CO.
"Gentlemen:—You will oblige me by answering any questions which the bearer of this note may ask concerning my past transactions with you.
"RADNOR F. GAYLORD."
"There," said Rad, thrusting it toward him, "kindly make use of that when you get to Washington, and in the future I should advise you to base your charges on something a little more substantial."
His manner was insultingly contemptuous, but Clancy swallowed it with smiling good nature.
"I shall be interested in continuing the investigation," he observed as he pocketed the paper and withdrew.
THE ROBBERY REMAINS A MYSTERY
So we got rid of the detective. But matters did not readily settle down again into their old relations. The Colonel was irritable, and Rad was moody and sullen. He showed no tendency to confide in me as to the truth about the ha'nt, and I did not probe the matter further. In a day or so he brought me three hundred dollars, to cover the amount I had loaned him, together with the "blackmail," as he insisted upon calling it. The money, he informed me, was from the proceeds of the bonds he had sold. He showed me at the same time several letters from his brokers establishing beyond a doubt that the story he had told was true. As to the stolen bonds, their whereabouts was as much a mystery as ever, and Rad appeared to take not the slightest interest in the matter. Since the detective had been summoned, he had washed his hands of all responsibility.
I think it was the morning after Clancy's departure that Solomon handed me a pale blue envelope bearing in the upper left-hand corner the device of the Post-Dispatch. I laughed as I ripped it open; I had almost forgotten Terry's existence. It contained a characteristic pencil scrawl slanting across a sheet of yellow copy paper.
"Arnold Crosby, Esq. "Turnips Farm, Pumpkin Corners, Va.
"Enclosed please find clipping. Are the facts straight and have the missing bonds turned up? If not, don't you want me to run down and find them for you? Should like to meet an authenticated ghost. Wouldn't be a bad Sunday feature article. Give it my love. Is it a man or lady? Things are also moving nicely in New York—two murders and a child abducted in one week.
"How are crops? "Yours truly, "T. P. "Wire me if you want me."
The clipping was headed, "Spook Cracks Safe," and was a fairly accurate account of the ha'nt and the robbery. It ended with the remark that the mystery was as yet unsolved, but that the best detective talent in the country had been engaged on the case.
I tossed the letter to Radnor with a laugh; he had already heard of Terry's connection with the Patterson-Pratt affair.
"Perhaps we couldn't do better than to get him down," I suggested; "he's most abnormally keen at ferreting out a mystery that promises any news—if any one can learn the truth about those bonds, he can."
"I don't want to know the truth," Radnor growled. "I'm sick of the very name of bonds."
And this had been his attitude from the moment the detective left. My own insistence that it was our duty to track down the thief met with nothing but a shrug. Another person might have suspected that this apathy only proved his own culpability in the theft, but such a suspicion never for a moment crossed my mind. He was, as he said, sick of the very name of bonds, and with a person of his temperament that ended the matter. Though I did not comprehend his attitude, still I took him at his word. There was something about Rad's straightforward way of looking one in the eye that impelled belief. As I had heard the Colonel boast, a Gaylord could not tell a lie.
The things a Gaylord could and could not do, were, I acknowledge, to a Northern ethical sense a trifle mystifying. A Gaylord might drink and gamble and fail to pay his debts (not his gambling debts; his tailor and his grocer); he might be the hero of many doubtful affairs with women; he might in a sudden fit of passion commit a murder—there was more than one killing in the family annals—but under no circumstances would his "honah" permit him to tell a lie. The reservation struck me somewhat humorously as an anti-climax. But nevertheless I believed it. When Rad said he knew nothing of the stolen bonds I dismissed the possibility from my mind.
Though I was relieved to feel that he was not guilty, still I was worried and nervous over the matter. I felt that it was criminal not to do something, and yet my hands were tied. I could scarcely undertake an investigation myself, for every clue led across the trail of the ha'nt, and that, Rad made it clear, was forbidden ground. The Colonel, meanwhile, was comparatively quiet, as he supposed the detective was still working on the case. I accordingly did nothing, but I kept my eyes open, hoping that something would turn up.
Rad's temper was absolutely unbearable for the first week after the detective left. The reason had nothing to do with the stolen bonds, but was concerned entirely with Polly Mathers's behavior. She barely noticed Rad's existence, so occupied was she with the ecstatic young sheriff. What the trouble was, I did not know, but I suspected that it was the whispered conjectures in regard to the ha'nt.
I remember one evening in particular that she snubbed him in the face of the entire neighborhood. We had arrived at a party a trifle late to find Polly as usual the center of a laughing group of young men, all clamoring for dances. They widened their circle to admit Rad in a way which tacitly acknowledged his prior claim. He inquired with his most deferential bow what dances she had saved for him. Polly replied in an off-hand manner that she was sorry but her card was already full. Rad shrugged nonchalantly, and sauntering toward the door, disappeared for the rest of the night. When he turned up at Four-Pools early in the morning, his horse, Uncle Jake informed me, looked as if it had been ridden by "de debbil hisself."
With Radnor in this state, and the Colonel growing daily more irritable over the continued mystery of the bonds, it is not strange that matters between them were at a high state of tension. As I saw more of the Colonel's treatment of Rad, I came to realize that there was considerable excuse for Jefferson's wildness. While he was a kind man at heart, still he had an ungovernable temper, and an absolutely tyrannical desire to rule every one about him. His was the only free will allowed on the place. He attempted to treat Rad at twenty-two much as he had done at twelve. A few months before my arrival (I heard this later) he had even struck him, whereupon Radnor had turned on his heel and walked out of the house, and had only consented to come back two weeks later when he heard that the old man was ill. If two men ever needed a woman to manage them, these were the two. I think that if my aunt had lived, most of the trouble would have been avoided.
Rad was not the only one, however, who felt the Colonel's irritation over the robbery. His treatment of the servants was harsh and even cruel. Everybody on the place went about in a half-cowed fashion. He treated Mose like a dog. Why the fellow stood it, I don't know. The Colonel seemed never to have learned that the old slave days were over and that he no longer owned the negroes body and soul. His government of the plantation was in the manner of a despot. Everybody—from his own son to the merest pickaninny—was at the mercy of his caprice. When he was in good humor, he was kindness itself to the darkies; when he was in bad humor, he vented his anger on whoever happened to be nearest.
I shall never forget the feeling of indignation with which I first saw him strike a man. A strange negro was caught one morning in the neighborhood of the chicken coop, and was brought up to the house by two of the stable-men. My uncle, who was standing on the portico steps waiting for his horse, was in a particularly savage mood, as he had just come from an altercation with Radnor. The man said that he was hungry and asked for work. But the Colonel, almost without waiting to hear him speak, fell upon him in a fit of blind rage, slashing him half a dozen times over the head and shoulders with his heavy riding crop. The negro, who was a powerfully built fellow, instead of standing up and defending himself like a man, crouched on the ground with his arms over his head.
"Please, Cunnel Gaylord," he whimpered, "le' me go! I ain't done nuffen. I ain't steal no chickens. For Gord's sake, doan whip me!"
I sprang forward with an angry exclamation and grasped my uncle's arm. The fellow was on his feet instantly and off down the lane without once glancing back. The Colonel stood a moment looking from my indignant face to the man disappearing in the distance, and burst out laughing.
"I reckon I won't be troubled with him any more," he remarked as he mounted and rode away, his good humor apparently quite restored.
I confess that it took me some time to get over that scene. But the worst of it was that he treated his own servants in the same summary fashion. The thing that puzzled me most was the way in which they received it. Mose, being always at hand, was cuffed about more than any negro on the place, but as far as I could make out, it only seemed to increase his love and veneration for the Colonel. I don't believe the situation could ever be intelligible to a Northern man.
So matters stood when I had been a month at Four-Pools. My vacation had lasted long enough, but I was supremely comfortable and very loath to go. The first few weeks of May had been, to my starved city eyes, a dazzling pageant of beauty. The landscape glowed with yellow daffodils, pink peach blossoms, and the bright green of new wheat; the fields were alive with the frisky joyousness of spring lambs and colts, turned out to pasture. It was with a keen feeling of reluctance that I faced the prospect of New York's brick and stone and asphalt. My work was calling, but I lazily postponed my departure from day to day.
Things at the plantation seemed to have settled into their old routine. The whereabouts of the bonds was still a mystery, but the ha'nt had returned to his grave—at least, in so far as any manifestations affected the house. I believe that the "sperrit of de spring-hole" had been seen rising once or twice from a cloud of sulphurous smoke, but the excitement was confined strictly to the negro quarters. No man on the place who valued a whole skin would have dared mention the word "ha'nt" in Colonel Gaylord's presence. Relations between Rad and his father were rather less strained, and matters on the whole were going pleasantly enough, when there suddenly fell from a clear sky the strange and terrible series of events which changed everything at Four-Pools.
THE EXPEDITION TO LURAY
Toward eleven o'clock one morning, the Colonel, Radnor and I were established in lounging chairs in the shade of a big catalpa tree on the lawn. It was a warm day, and Rad and I were just back from a tramp to the upper pasture—a full mile from the house. We were addressing ourselves with considerable zest to the frosted glasses that Solomon had just placed on the table, when we became aware of the sound of galloping hoofs, and a moment later Polly Mathers and her sorrel mare, Tiger Lilly, appeared at the end of the sunflecked lane. An Irish setter romped at her side, and the three of them made a picture. The horse's shining coat, the dog's silky hair and Polly's own red gold curls were almost of a color. I believe the little witch had chosen the two on purpose. In her dark habit and mannish hat, with sparkling cheeks and laughing eyes, she was as pretty an apparition as ever enhanced a May morning. She waved her crop gaily and rode toward us across the lawn.
"Howdy!" she called, in a droll imitation of the mountain dialect. "Ain't you-uns guine to ask me to 'light a while, an' set a bit, an' talk a spell?"
Radnor's face had flushed quickly as he perceived who the rider was, but he held himself stiffly in the background while the Colonel and I did the honors. It was the first time, I know, that Polly and Rad had met since the night she refused to dance with him; and her appearance could only be interpreted as a desire to make amends.
She sprang lightly to the ground, turned Tiger Lilly loose to graze about the lawn, and airily perched herself on the arm of a chair. There was nothing in her manner, at least, to suggest that her relations with any one of us were strained. After a few moments of neighborly gossip with the Colonel and me—Rad was monosyllabic and remote—she arrived at her errand. Some friends from Savannah were stopping at the Hall on their way to the Virginia hot springs, and, as is usual, when strangers visit the valley, they were planning an expedition to Luray Cave. The cave was on the other side of the mountains about ten miles from Four-Pools. Since I had not yet visited it (that was at least the reason she gave) she had come to ask the three of us to join the party on the following day.
Rad was sulky at first, and rather curtly declined on the ground that he had to attend to some business. But Polly scouted his excuse, and added significantly that Jim Mattison had not been asked. He accepted this mark of repentance with a pleased flush, and before she rode away, he had become his former cheerful self again. The Colonel also demurred on the ground that he was getting too old for such diversions, but Polly laid her hands upon his shoulders and coaxed him into acquiescence—even a mummy must have unbent before such persuasion. As a matter of fact though, the Colonel was only too pleased with his invitation. It flattered him to be included with the young people, and he was immensely fond of Polly.
It struck me suddenly as I watched her, how like she was to that other girl, of eighteen years before. There danced in Polly's eyes the same eager joy of life that vitalized the face of the portrait over the mantelpiece upstairs. The resemblance for a moment was almost startling; I believe the same thought had come to Colonel Gaylord. The old man's eyes dwelt upon her with a sadly wistful air; and I like to feel that it was of Nannie he was thinking.
Radnor and I had been invited to a dance that same evening at a neighboring country house, but when the time came, I begged off on the plea of wishing to rest for the ride the next morning. The real reason, I fancy, was that I too was suffering from a touch of Radnor's trouble; and, since I had no chance of winning her, it was the part of wisdom to keep out of hearing of Polly's laugh. In any case, I went to bed and to sleep, while Rad went to the party, and I have never known exactly what happened that night.
I rose early the next morning, and as I went down stairs I saw Solomon crawling around on his hands and knees on the parlor floor, collecting the remnants of a French clock which had stood on the mantelpiece.
"How did that clock come to be broken?" I asked a trifle sharply, thinking I had caught him in a bad piece of carelessness.
"Cayn't say, sah," Solomon returned, rising on his knees and looking at me mournfully. "I specs ole Marsa been chastisin' young Marsa again. It's powe'ful destructive on de brick-yuh-brack."
I went on out of doors, wondering sadly if Radnor could have been drinking, and accusing myself for not having gone to the party and kept him straight. It was evident at breakfast that something serious had happened between him and his father. The Colonel appeared unusually grave, and Rad, after a gruff "good morning," sat staring at his plate in a dogged silence. Throughout the meal he scarcely so much as exchanged a glance with his father. I tried to talk as if I noticed nothing; and in the course of the somewhat one-sided conversation, happened to mention our proposed trip to Luray. Rad returned that he had visited the cave a good many times and did not care about going. I was puzzled at this, for I knew that the cave was not the chief attraction, but I discreetly dropped the subject and shortly after we rose from the table.
As I left the room I saw the Colonel walk over and lay his hand on Radnor's arm.
"You will change your mind and go, my boy," he said.
But Rad shook the hand off roughly and turned away. As I went on out to the stables to give orders about the horses, I felt in anything but the proper spirits for a day of merry-making. However much the Colonel may have been to blame in their quarrel of the night before—and the French clock told its own story—still I could not help but feel that Rad should have borne with him more patiently. The scene I had just witnessed in the dining-room made me miserable. The Colonel was a proud man and apology came hard for him, his son might at least have met him half way.
Going upstairs to my room a few minutes later, I caught a glimpse through the open door, of someone standing before the mantelpiece. Thinking it was Radnor waiting to consult me, I hurried forward and reached the threshold before I realized that it was the Colonel. He was standing with folded arms before the picture, his eyes, gleaming from under beetling brows, were devouring it hungrily, line by line. His face was set rigidly with a look—whether of sorrow or loneliness or remorse, I do not know; but I do know that it was the saddest expression I have ever seen on any human face. It was as if, in a single illuminating flash, he had looked into his own soul, and seen the ruin that his ungoverned pride and passion had wrought against those he loved the most.
So absorbed had he been with his thoughts, that he had not heard my step. I turned and stole away, realizing suddenly that he was an old man, broken, infirm; that his life with its influence for good or evil was already at an end; he could never change his character now, no matter how keenly he might realize his defects. Poor little Nannie's wilfulness was at last forgiven, but the forgiveness was fifteen years too late. Why could not that moment of insight have come earlier to Colonel Gaylord, have come in time to save him from his mistakes?
I passed out of doors again, pondering somewhat bitterly the exigencies of human life. The bright spring morning with its promise of youth and joy seemed jarringly out of tune. The beauty was but surface deep, I told myself pessimistically; underneath it was a cruel world. Before me in the garden path, a jubilant robin was pulling an unhappy angle worm from the ground, and a little farther on, under a blossoming apple tree, the kitchen cat was breakfasting on a baby robin. The double spectacle struck me as significant of life. I was casting about for some philosophical truths to fit it, when my revery was interrupted by a shout from Radnor.
I turned to find the horses—three of them—waiting at the portico steps. Rad was going then after all. He and his father had evidently patched up some sort of a truce, but I soon saw that it was only a truce. The two avoided crossing eyes, and as we rode along they talked to me instead of to each other.
The party met at Mathers Hall. The plan was for us to ride to Luray that morning, spend most of the afternoon there, and then return to the Hall for a supper and dance in the evening. The elder ladies took the carriage, while the rest of us went on horseback, a couple of servants following in the buckboard with the luncheon. Mose, bare-feet, linsey-woolsey and all, was brought along to act as guide and he was fairly purring with contentment at the importance it gave him over the other negroes. It seems that he had been in the habit of finding his way around in the cave ever since he was a little shaver, and he knew the route, Radnor told me, better than the professional guides. He knew it so well, in fact, that the entire neighborhood was in the habit of borrowing him whenever expeditions were being planned to Luray.
We left our horses at the village hotel, and after eating a picnic lunch in the woods, set out to make the usual round of the cave. Luray has since been lighted with electricity and laid out in cement walks, but the time of which I am writing was before its exploitation by the railroad, and the cavern was still in its natural state. Each of us carried either candles or a torch, and the guides were supplied with calcium lights which they touched off at intervals whenever there was any special object of interest. This was the first cavern of any size that I had ever visited and I was so taken up with examining the rock formations and keeping my torch from burning my hands that I did not pay much attention to the disposal of the rest of the party. It took over two hours to make the round, and we must have walked about five miles. What with the heavy damp air and the slippery path, I, for one, was glad to get out into the sunshine again.
I joined the group about Polly Mathers and casually asked if she knew where Radnor had gone.
"I haven't seen him for some time; I think he must have come out before us," she replied. "And unless I am mistaken, Colonel Gaylord," she added, turning to my uncle, "he left my coat on that broken column above Crystal Lake. I am afraid that he isn't a very good cavalier."
The Colonel, I imagine, had been a very good cavalier in his own youth, and I do not think that he had entirely outgrown it.
"I will repair his fault, Miss Polly," the old man returned with a courtly bow, "and prove to you that the boy does not take after his father in lack of gallantry."
"No, indeed, Colonel Gaylord!" Polly exclaimed. "I was only joking; I shouldn't think of letting you go back after it. One of the servants can get it."
I shortly after ran across Mose and sent him back for the coat, and the incident was forgotten. We straggled back to the hotel in twos and threes; the horses were brought out, and we got off amidst general confusion.
I rode beside the carriage for a couple of miles exchanging courtesies with Mrs. Mathers, and then galloped ahead to join the other riders. I was surprised to see neither my uncle nor Radnor anywhere in sight, and inquired as to their whereabouts.
"I thought they were riding with you," said Polly, wheeling to my side. "You don't suppose," she asked quickly, "that the Colonel was foolish enough to go back for my coat, and we've left him behind?"
One of the men laughed.
"He has a horse, Miss Polly, and he knows how to use it. I dare say, even if we did leave him behind, that he can find his way home."
"I sent Mose back for the coat," I remarked. "The Colonel probably feels that he has had enough frivolity for one day, and has preferred to ride straight on to Four-Pools."
It occurred to me that Rad and his father had ridden home together to make up their quarrel, and the reflection added considerably to my peace of mind. I had felt vaguely uncomfortable over the matter all day, for I knew that the old man was always miserable after a misunderstanding with his son, and I strongly suspected that Radnor himself was far from happy.
When we arrived at Mathers Hall, Polly slipped from her saddle and came running up to me as I was about to dismount. She laid her hand on the bridle and asked, in the sweetest way possible, if I would mind riding back to the plantation to see if the Colonel were really there, as she could not help feeling anxious about him. I noticed with a smile that she made no comment on the younger man's defection, though I strongly suspected that she was no less interested in that. I turned about and galloped off again, willing enough to do her bidding, though I could not help reflecting that it would have been just as easy for her, and considerably easier for me, had she developed her anxiety a few miles back.
When I reached the four corners where the road to Four-Pools branches off from the valley turnpike, I saw the wagon coming with the two Mathers negroes in it, but without any sign of Mose. I drew up and waited for them.
"Hello, boys!" I called. "What's become of Mose?"
"Dat's moh 'n I can say, Mista Ahnold," one of the men returned. "We waited foh him a powe'ful while, but it 'pears like he's 'vaporated. I reckon he's took to de woods an' is gwine to walk home. Dat Cat-Eye Mose, he's monstrous fond ob walkin'!"
I do not know why this incident should have aroused my own anxiety, but I pushed on to the plantation with a growing feeling of uneasiness. Nothing had been seen of either the Colonel or Mose, Solomon informed me, but he added with an excited rolling of his eyes:
"Marse Rad, he come back nearly an hour ago an' stomp roun' like he mos' crazy, an' den went out to de gahden."
I followed him and found him sitting in the summer house with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands.
"What's the matter, Rad?" I cried in alarm. "Has anything happened to your father?"
He looked up with a start at the sound of my voice, and I saw that his face was pale.
"My father?" he asked in a dazed way. "I left him in the cave. Why do you ask?"
"He didn't come back with the rest of us, and Polly asked me to find him."
"He's old enough to take care of himself," said Radnor without looking up.
I hesitated a moment, uncertain what to do, and then turned back to the stables to order a fresh horse. To my astonishment I found the stable-men gathered in a group about Rad's mare, Jennie Loo. She was dashed with foam and trembling, and appeared to be about used up. The men fell back and eyed me silently as I approached.
"What's happened to the horse?" I cried. "Did she run away?"
One of the men "reckoned" that "Marse Rad" had been whipping her.
"Whipping her!" I exclaimed in dismay. It was unbelievable, for no one as a rule was kinder to animals than Radnor; and as for his own Jennie Loo, he couldn't have cared more for her if she had been a human being. There was no mistaking it however. She was crossed and recrossed with thick welts about the withers; it was evident that the poor beast had been disgracefully handled.
Uncle Jake volunteered that Rad had galloped straight into the stable, had dropped the bridle and walked off without a word; and he added the opinion that a "debbil had done conjured him." I was inclined to agree. There seemed to be something in the air that I did not understand, and my anxiety for the Colonel suddenly rushed back fourfold. I wheeled about and ordered a horse in an unnecessarily sharp tone, and the men jumped to obey me.
It was just sunset as I mounted again and galloped down the lane. For the second time that day I set out along the lonely mountain road leading to Luray, but this time with a vague fear gripping at my heart. Why had Radnor acted so strangely, I asked myself again and again. Could it be connected with last night's quarrel? And where was the Colonel, and where was Mose?
THE TRAGEDY OF THE CAVE
It was almost dark by the time I reached the village of Luray. I galloped up to the hotel where we had left our horses that morning and without dismounting called out to the loafers on the veranda to ask if anyone had seen Colonel Gaylord. Two or three of them, glad of a diversion, got up and sauntered out to the stepping-stone where I waited, to discuss the situation.
What was the matter? they inquired. Hadn't the Colonel gone home with the rest of the party?
No, he had not, I returned impatiently, and I wanted to know if any of them had seen him.
They consulted together and finally decided that no one had seen him, and at this the stable boy vouchsafed the information that Red Pepper was still in the barn.
"I thought maybe the Colonel was intending to make me a present of that horse," the landlord observed with a grin, as he joined the group.
A chuckle ran around the circle at this sally. It was evident that the Colonel did not have a reputation in the county for making presents. I impatiently gathered up my reins and one of the men remarked:
"I reckon young Gaylord got home in good time. He was in an almighty hurry when he started. He didn't stop for no farewells."
With numerous interruptions and humorous interpolations, they finally managed to tell me in their exasperatingly slow drawl that Rad had come back to the hotel that afternoon before the rest of the party, had drunk two glasses of brandy, called for his horse, and galloped off without speaking a word to anyone except to swear at the stable boy. The speaker finished with the assertion that in his opinion Rad Gaylord and Jeff Gaylord were cut out of the same block.
I shifted my seat uneasily. This information did not tend to throw any light on the question of the Colonel's whereabouts, and I was in no mood just then to listen to any more gossip about Rad.
"I'm not looking for young Gaylord," I said shortly. "I know where he is. It's the Colonel I'm after. Neither he nor Cat-Eye Mose have come back, and I'm afraid they're lost in the cave."
The men laughed at this. People didn't get lost in the cave, they said. All anyone had to do was to follow the path; and besides, if the Colonel was with Mose he couldn't get lost if he tried. Mose knew the cave so well that he could find his way around it in the dark. Colonel Gaylord had probably met some friends in the village and driven home with them.
But I would not be satisfied with an explanation of that sort. The Colonel, I knew, was not in the habit of abandoning horses in any such casual manner; and even supposing he had gone home with some friends, he would scarcely have taken Mose along.
I dismounted, turned my horse over to the stable boy, and announced that the cave must be searched. This request was received with some amusement. The idea of getting out a search party for Cat-Eye Mose struck them as peculiarly ludicrous. But I insisted, and finally one of the men who was in the habit of acting as guide, took his feet down from the veranda railing with a grunt of disapproval and shambled into the house after some candles and a lantern. Two or three of the others joined the expedition after a good deal of chaffing at my expense.
We set out for the mouth of the cave by a short cut that led across the fields. It was quite dark by this time, and as there was no moon our one lantern did not go far toward lighting the path. We stumbled along over plowed ground and through swampy pastures to the music of croaking frogs and whip-poor-wills. At first the way was enlivened by humorous suggestions on the part of my companions as to what had become of Colonel Gaylord, but as I did not respond very freely to their bantering, they finally fell silent with only an occasional imprecation as someone stubbed his toe or caught his clothing on a brier. After a half hour or so of plodding we came to a clear path through the woods and in a few minutes reached the mouth of the cave.
A rough little shanty was built over the entrance. It was closed by a ramshackle door which a child could have opened without any difficulty; there was at least no danger of the Colonel's having been locked inside. Lighting our candles, we descended the rough stone staircase into the first great vault, which forms a sort of vestibule to the caverns. With our hands to our mouths we hallooed several times and then held our breath while we waited for an answer. The only sound which came out of the stillness was the occasional drip of water or the flap of a bat's wing. Had the Colonel been lost in any of the winding passages he must have heard us and replied, for the slightest sound is audible in such a cavern, echoing and re-echoing as it does through countless vaulted galleries. The silence, however, instead of assuring me that he was not there only increased my uneasiness. What if he had slipped on the wet clay, and having injured himself, was lying unconscious in the darkness?
The men wished to turn back, but I insisted that we go as far as the broken column which lies in a little gallery above Crystal Lake. That was the place where the coat had been left, and we could at least find out if either the Colonel or Mose had returned for it. We set out in single file along the damp clay path, the light from our few candles only serving to intensify the blackness around us. The huge white forms of the stalactites seemed to follow us like ghosts in the gloom; every now and then a bat flapped past our faces, and I wondered with a shiver how anyone could get up courage to go alone into such a hole as that.
"Crystal Lake" is a shallow pool lying in a sort of bowl. On the farther side the path runs up seven or eight feet above the water along the broken edge of a cliff. A few steps beyond the pool the path diverges sharply to the left and opens into the little gallery of the broken column.
Just as we were about to ascend the two or three stone steps leading to the incline, the guide in front stopped short, and clutching me by the arm pointed a shaking forefinger toward the pool.
"What's that?" he gasped.
I strained my eyes into the darkness but I could see nothing.
"There, that black thing under the bank," he said, raising his candle and throwing the light over the water.
We all saw it now and recognized it with a thrill of horror. It was the body of Colonel Gaylord. He was lying on his face at the bottom of the pool, and with outstretched arms was clutching the mud in his hands. The still water above him was as clear as crystal but was tinged with red.
"It's my uncle!" I cried, springing forward. "He's fallen over the bank. He may not be dead."
But they held me back.
"He's as dead as he ever will be," the guide said grimly. "An' what's more, Colonel Gaylord warn't the man to drown in three foot o' water without making a struggle. This ain't no accident. It's murder! We must go back an' get the coroner. It's agen the law to touch the body until he comes."
It went to my heart to leave the old man lying there at the bottom of that pool, but I could not prevail on one of them to help me move him. The coroner must be brought, they stubbornly insisted, and they restrained me forcibly when I would have waded into the water. We turned back with shaking knees and hurried toward the mouth of the cave, slipping and sliding in the wet clay as we ran. I, for one, felt as though a dozen assassins were following our footsteps in the dark. And all the time I had a sickening feeling that my uncle's death only foreshadowed a more terrible tragedy. The guide's: "This ain't no accident; it's murder," kept running in my head, and much as I tried to drive the thought from me, a horrible suspicion came creeping to my mind that I knew who the murderer must be.
THE SHERIFF VISITS FOUR-POOLS
We found the coroner and told our story. He sent word to Kennisburg, the county-seat, for the sheriff to come; and then having called a doctor and three or four other witnesses, we set out again for the cave. The news of the tragedy had spread like wild-fire, and half the town of Luray would have accompanied us had the coroner not forcibly prevented it. He stationed two men at the entrance of the cave to keep the crowd from pushing in. I myself should have been more than willing to wait outside, but I felt that it was my duty by Radnor to be present. If any discoveries were made I wished to be the first to know it.
It was sad business and I will not dwell upon it. One side of the old man's head had been fractured by a heavy blow. He had been dead several hours when we found him, but the doctor could not be certain whether drowning, or the injury he had sustained, had been the immediate cause of death. Dangling from a jagged piece of rock half way down the cliff, we found Polly Mathers's coat, torn and drabbled with mud. The clay path above the pool was trampled in every direction 'way out to the brink of the precipice; it was evident, even to the most untrained observer, that a fierce struggle of some sort had taken place. I was the first one to examine the marks, and as I knelt down and held the light to the ground, I saw with a thrill of mingled horror and hope that one pair of feet had been bare. Mose had taken part in the struggle, and dreadful as was the assurance, it was infinitely better than that other suspicion.
"It was Mose who committed the murder!" I cried to the coroner as I pointed to the foot-prints in the clay.
He bent over beside me and examined the marks.
"Ah——Mose was present," he said slowly, "but so was someone else. See, here is the print of the Colonel's boot and there beside it is the print of another boot; it is fully an inch broader."
But it was difficult to make out anything clearly, so trampled was the path. Our whole party had passed over the very spot not an hour before the tragedy. Whatever the others could see, I, myself, was blind to everything but the indisputable fact that Mose had been there.
As we were making ready to start back to the mouth of the cave, a cry from one of the men called our attention again to the scene of the struggle. He held up in his hand a small, gleaming object which he had found trodden into the path. It was a silver match box covered with dents and mud and marked "R. F. G." I recognized it instantly; I had seen Radnor take it from his pocket a hundred times. As I looked at it now my hope seemed to vanish and that same sickening suspicion rushed over me again. The men eyed each other silently, and I did not have to ask what they were thinking of. We turned without comments and started on our journey back to the village. The body was carried to the hotel to await the coroner's permission to take it home to Four-Pools. There was nothing more for me to do, and with a heavy heart I mounted again to return to the plantation.
Scarcely had I left the stable yard when I heard hoofs pounding along behind me in the darkness, and Jim Mattison galloped up with two of his men.
"If you are going to Four-Pools we will ride with you," he said, falling into pace beside me while the officers dropped behind. "I might as well tell you," he added, "that it looks black for Radnor. I'm sorry, but it's my duty to keep him under arrest until some pretty strong counter-evidence turns up."
"Where's Cat-Eye Mose?" I cried. "Why don't you arrest him?"
The sheriff made a gesture of disdain.
"That's nonsense. Everyone in the county knows Cat-Eye Mose. He wouldn't hurt a fly. If he was present at the time of the crime it was to help his master, and the man who killed Colonel Gaylord killed him too. I've known him all my life and I can swear he's innocent."
"You've known Radnor all your life," I returned bitterly.
"Yes," he said, "I have—and Jefferson Gaylord, too."
I rode on in silence and I do not think I ever hated anyone as, for the moment, I hated the man beside me. I knew that he was thinking of Polly Mathers, and I imagined that I could detect an undertone of triumph in his voice.
"It's well known," he went on, half to himself and half to me, "that Radnor sometimes had high words with his father; and to-day, they tell me at the hotel, he came back alone without waiting for the others, and while his horse was being saddled he drank off two glasses of brandy as if they had been water. All the men on the veranda marked how white his face was, and how he cursed the stable boy for being slow. It was evident that something had happened in the cave, and what with finding his match box at the scene of the crime—circumstantial evidence is pretty strong against him."
I was too miserable to think of any answer; and, the fellow finally having the decency to keep quiet, we galloped the rest of the way in silence.
Though it must have been long after midnight when we reached the house, lights were still burning in the downstairs rooms. We rode up to the portico with considerable clamor and dismounted. One of the men held the horses while Mattison and the other followed me into the house. Rad himself, hearing the noise of our arrival, came to the door to meet us. He was quite composed again and spoke in his usual manner.
"Hello, Arnold! Did you find him, and is the party over?"
He stopped uncertainly as he caught sight of the others. They stepped into the hall and stood watching him a moment without saying anything. I tried to tell him but the words seemed to stick in my throat.
"A—a terrible thing has happened, Rad," I stammered out.
"What's the matter?" he asked, a sudden look of anxiety springing to his face.
"I am sorry, Rad," Mattison replied, "but it is my duty to arrest you."
"To arrest me, for what?" he asked with a half laugh.
"For the murder of your father."
Radnor put out his hand against the wall to steady himself, and his lips showed white in the lamp light. At the sight of his face I could have sworn that he was not acting, and that the news came with as much of a shock to him as it had to me.
"My father murdered!" he gasped. "What do you mean?"
"His dead body was found in the cave, and circumstantial evidence points to you."
He seemed too dazed to grasp the words and Mattison said it twice before he comprehended.
"Do you mean he's dead?" Rad repeated. "And I quarrelled with him last night and wouldn't make it up—and now it's too late."
"I must warn you," the sheriff returned, "that whatever you say will be used against you."
"I am innocent," said Radnor, brokenly, and without another word he prepared to go. Mattison drew some hand-cuffs from his pocket, and Radnor looked at them with a dark flush.
"You needn't be afraid. I am not going to run away," he said. Mattison dropped them back again with a muttered apology.
I went out to the stable with one of the men and helped to saddle Jennie Loo. I felt all the time as though I had hold of the rope that was going to hang him. When we came back he and the sheriff were standing on the portico, waiting. Rad appeared to be more composed than any of us, but as I wrung his hand I noticed that it was icy cold.
"I'll attend to everything," I said, "and don't worry, my boy. We'll get you off."
"Don't worry!" He laughed shortly as he leaped into the saddle. "It's not myself I'm worrying over; I am innocent," and he suddenly leaned forward and scanned my face in the light from the open door. "You believe me?" he asked quickly.
"Yes," I cried, "I do! And what's more, I'll prove you're innocent."
I MAKE A PROMISE TO POLLY
The next few days were a nightmare to me. Even now I cannot think of that horrible period of suspense and doubt without a shudder. The coroner set to work immediately upon his preliminary investigation, and every bit of evidence that turned up only seemed to make the proof stronger against Radnor.
It is strange how ready public opinion is to believe the worst of a man when he is down. No one appeared to doubt Rad's guilt, and feeling ran high against him. Colonel Gaylord was a well-known character in the countryside, and in spite of his quick temper and rather imperious bearing he had been a general favorite. At the news of his death a wave of horror and indignation swept through the valley. Among the roughs in the village I heard not infrequent hints of lynching; and even among the more conservative element, the general opinion seemed to be that lawful hanging was too honorable a death for the perpetrator of so brutal a crime.
I have never been able to understand the quick and general belief in the boy's guilt, but I have always suspected that the sheriff did not do all in his power to quiet the feeling. It was to a large extent, however, the past reasserting itself. Though Radnor's record was not so black as it was painted, still, it was not so white as it should have been. People shook their heads and repeated stories of how wild he had been as a boy, and how they had always foreseen some such end as this. Reports of the quarrels with his father were told and retold until they were magnified beyond all recognition. The old scandals about Jeff were revived again, and the general opinion seemed to be that the Gaylord boys were degenerates through and through. Rad's personal friends stood by him staunchly; but they formed a pitifully small minority compared to the general sensation-seeking public.
I visited Radnor in the Kennisburg jail on the morning of my uncle's funeral and found him quite broken in spirit. He had had time to think over the past, and with his father lying dead at Four-Pools, it had not been pleasant thinking. Now that it was too late, he seemed filled with remorse over his conduct toward the old man, and he dwelt continually on the fact of his having been unwilling to make up the quarrel of the night before the murder. In this mood of contrition he mercilessly accused himself of things I am sure he had never done. I knew that the jailer was listening to every word outside, and I became unspeakably nervous for fear he would say something which could be twisted into an incriminating confession. He did not seem to comprehend in the least the danger of his own position; he was entirely taken up with the horror of his father's death. As I was leaving, however, he suddenly grasped my hand with tears in his eyes.
"Tell me, Arnold, do people really believe me guilty?"
I knew by "people" he meant Polly Mathers; but I had not had an opportunity to speak with her alone since the day of the tragedy.
"I haven't talked to anyone but the sheriff," I returned.
"Mattison would be glad enough to prove it," Radnor said bitterly, and he turned his back and stood staring through the iron bars of the window, while I went out and the jailer closed the door and locked it.
All through the funeral that afternoon I could scarcely keep my eyes from Polly Mathers's face. She appeared so changed since the day of the picnic that I should scarcely have known her for the same person; it seemed incredible that three days could make such a difference in a bright, healthy, vigorous girl. All her youthful vivacity was gone; she was pale and spiritless with deep rings beneath her eyes and the lids red with crying. After the services were over, I approached her a moment as she stood in her black dress aloof from the others at the edge of the little family burying-ground. She greeted me with a tremulous smile, and then as her glance wandered back to the pile of earth that two men were already shoveling into the grave, her eyes quickly filled with tears.
"I loved him as much as if he were my own father," she cried, "and it's my fault that he's dead. I made him go!"
"No, Polly, it is not your fault," I said decisively. "It was a thing which no one could foresee and no one could help."
She waited a moment trying to steady her voice, then she looked up pleadingly in my face.
"Radnor is innocent; tell me you believe it."
"I am sure he is innocent," I replied.
"Then you can clear him—you're a lawyer. I know you can clear him!"
"You may trust me to do my best, Polly."
"I hate Jim Mattison!" she exclaimed, with a flash of her old fire. "He swears that Rad is guilty and that he will prove him so. Rad may have done some bad things, but he's a good man—better than Jim Mattison ever thought of being."
"Polly," I said with a touch of bitterness, "I wish you might have realized that truth earlier. Rad is at heart as splendid a chap as ever lived, and his friends ought never to have allowed him to go astray."
She looked away without answering, and then in a moment turned back to me and held out her hand.
"Good-by. When you see him again please tell him what I said."
As she turned away I looked after her, puzzled. I was sure at last that she was in love with Radnor, and I was equally sure that he did not know it; for in spite of his sorrow at his father's death and of the suspicion that rested on him, I knew that he would not have been so completely crushed had he felt that she was with him. Why must this come to him now too late to do him any good, when he had needed it so much before? I felt momentarily enraged at Polly. It seemed somehow as if the trouble might have been avoided had she been more straightforward. Then at the memory of her pale face and pleading eyes I relented. However thoughtless she had been before, she was changed now; this tragedy had somehow made a woman of her over night. When Radnor came at last to claim her, they would each, perhaps, be worthier of the other.
I returned to the empty house that night and sat down to look the facts squarely in the face. I had hitherto been so occupied with the necessary preparations for the funeral, and with instituting a search for Cat-Eye Mose, that I had scarcely had time to think, let alone map out any logical plan of action. Radnor was so stunned by the blow that he could barely talk coherently, and as yet I had had no satisfactory interview with him.
Immediately after the Colonel's death, I had very hastily run over his private papers, but had found little to suggest a clue. Among some old letters were several from Nannie's husband, written at the time of her sickness and death; their tone was bitter. Could the man have accomplished a tardy revenge for past insults? I asked myself. But investigation showed this theory to be most untenable. He was still living in the little Kansas village where she had died, had married again, and become a peaceful plodding citizen. It required all his present energy to support his wife and children—I dare say the brief episode of his first marriage had almost faded from his mind. There was not the slightest chance that he could be implicated.
I sifted the papers again, thoroughly and painstakingly, but found nothing that would throw any light upon the mystery. While I was still engaged with this task, a message came from the coroner saying that the formal inquest would begin at ten o'clock the next morning in the Kennisburg court-house. This gave me no chance to plan any sort of campaign, and I could do little more than let matters take their course. I hoped however that in the progress of the inquest, some clue would be brought to light which would render Radnor's being remanded for trial impossible.
So far, I had to acknowledge, the evidence against him appeared overwhelming. A motive was supplied in the fact that the Colonel's death would leave him his own master and a rich man. The well-known fact of their frequent quarrels, coupled with Radnor's fierce temper and somewhat revengeful disposition, was a very strong point in his disfavor; added to this, the suspicious circumstances of the day of the tragedy—the fact that he was not with the rest of the party when the crime must have been committed, the alleged print of his boots and the finding of the match box, his subsequent perturbed condition—everything pointed to him as the author of the crime. It was a most convincing chain of circumstantial evidence.
Considering the data that had come to light, there seemed to be only one alternative, and that was that Cat-Eye Mose had committed the murder. I clung tenaciously to this belief; but I found, in the absence of any further proof or any conceivable motive, that few people shared it with me. The marks of his bare feet proved conclusively that he had been, in whatever capacity, an active participator in the struggle.
"He was there to aid his master," the sheriff affirmed, "and being a witness to the crime, it was necessary to put him out of the way."
"Why hide the body of one and not the other?" I asked.
"To throw suspicion on Mose."
This was the universal opinion; no one, from the beginning, would listen to a word against Mose. In his case, as well as in Radnor's, the past was speaking. Through all his life, they said, he had faithfully loved and served the Colonel, and if necessity required, he would willingly have died for him.
But for myself, I continued to believe in the face of all opposition, that Mose was guilty. It was more a matter of feeling with me than of reasoning. I had always been suspicious of the fellow; a man with eyes like that was capable of anything. The objection which the sheriff raised that Colonel Gaylord was both larger and stronger than Mose and could easily have overcome him, proved nothing to my mind. Mose was a small man, but he was long-armed and wirey, doubtless far stronger than he looked; besides, he had been armed, and the nature of his weapon was clear. The floor of the cave was strewn with scores of broken stalactites; nothing could have made a more formidable weapon than one of these long pieces of jagged stone used as a club.
As to the motive for the crime, who could tell what went on in the slow workings of his mind? The Colonel had struck him more than once—unjustly, I did not doubt—and though he seemed at the moment to take it meekly, might he not have been merely biding his time? His final revenge may have been the outcome of many hoarded grievances that no one knew existed. The fellow was more than half insane. What more likely than that he had attacked his master in a fit of animal passion; and then, terrified at the result, escaped to the woods? That seemed to me the only plausible explanation.
No facts had come out concerning the ha'nt or the robbery, and I do not think that either was connected in the public mind with the murder. But to my mind the death of Colonel Gaylord was but the climax of the long series of events which commenced on the night of my arrival with the slight and ludicrous episode of the stolen roast chicken. I had been convinced at the time that Mose was at the bottom of it, and I was convinced now that he was also at the bottom of the robbery and the murder. How Radnor had got drawn into the muddle of the ha'nt, I could not fathom; but I suspected that Mose had hoodwinked him as he had the rest of us.
Assuming that my theory was right, then Mose was hiding; and all my energies from the beginning had been bent toward his discovery. The low range of mountains which lay between Four-Pools Plantation and the Luray valley was covered thickly with woods and very sparsely settled. Mose knew every foot of the ground; he had wandered over these mountains for days at a time, and must have been familiar with many hiding places. It was in this region that I hoped to find him.
Immediately after the Colonel's death I had offered a large reward either for Mose's capture, or for any information regarding his whereabouts. His description had been telegraphed all up and down the valley and every farmer was on the alert. Bands of men had been formed and the woods scoured for him, but as yet without result. I was hourly expecting, however, that some clue would come to light.
The sheriff, on the other hand, in pursuance of his theory that Mose had been murdered, had been no less indefatigable in his search for the body. The river had been dragged, the cave and surrounding woods searched, but nothing had been found. Mose had simply vanished from the earth and left no trace.
To my disappointment the morning still brought no news; I had hoped to have something definite before the inquest opened. I rode into Kennisburg early in order to hold a conference with Radnor, and get from him the facts in regard to his own and Mose's connection with the ha'nt. My former passivity in the matter struck me now as almost criminal; perhaps had I insisted in probing it to the bottom, my uncle might have been living still. I entered Radnor's cell determined not to leave it until I knew the truth.
But I met with an unexpected obstacle. He refused absolutely to discuss the question.
"Radnor," I cried at last, "are you trying to shield any one? Do you know who killed your father?"
"I know no more about who killed my father than you do."
"Do you know about the ha'nt?"
"Yes," he said desperately, "I do; but it is not connected with either the robbery or the murder and I cannot talk about it."
I argued and pleaded but to no effect. He sat on his cot, his head in his hands staring at the floor, stubbornly refusing to open his lips. I gave over pleading and stormed.
"It's no use, Arnold," he said finally. "I won't tell you anything about the ha'nt; it doesn't enter into the case."
I sat down again and patiently outlined my theory in regard to Mose.
"It is impossible," he declared. "I have known Mose all my life, and I have never yet known him to betray a trust. He loved my father as much as I did, and if my life defended on it, I should swear that he was faithful."
"Rad," I beseeched, "I am not only your attorney, I am your friend; whatever you say to me is as if it had never been said. I must know the truth."
He shook his head.
"I have nothing to say."
"You have got to have something to say," I cried. "You have got to go on the stand and make an absolutely open and straightforward statement of everything bearing on the case. You have got to appear anxious to find and punish the man who murdered your father. You have got to gain public sympathy, and before you go on the stand you owe it to yourself and me to leave nothing unexplained between us."
He raised his eyes miserably to mine.
"Must I go on?" he asked. "Can't I refuse to testify—I don't see that they can punish me for contempt of court; I'm already in prison."
"They can hang you," said I, bluntly.
He buried his face in his hands with a groan.
"Arnold," he pleaded, "don't make me face all those people. You can see what a state my nerves are in; I haven't slept for three nights." He held out his hand to show me how it trembled. "I can't talk—I don't know what I'm saying. You don't know what you're urging me to do."
My anger at his stubbornness vanished in a sudden spasm of pity. The poor fellow was scarcely more than a boy! Though I was completely in the dark as to what he was holding back and why he was doing it, yet I felt instinctively that his motives were honorable.
"Rad," I said, "it would help your cause to be open with me, and if you are remanded for trial before the grand jury you must in the end tell me everything. But now I will not insist. Probably nothing will come up about the ha'nt. I can of course refuse to let you speak on the ground of incriminating evidence, but that is the last stand I wish to take. We must gain public opinion on our side and to that end you must testify yourself. You must force every person present to believe that you are incapable of telling a falsehood—I believe that already and so does Polly Mathers."
Radnor's face flushed and a quick light sprang into his eyes.
"What do you mean?"
I repeated what Polly had said and I added my own interpretation. The effect was electrical. He straightened his shoulders with an air of trying to throw off his despondency.
"I'll do my best," he promised. "Heaven knows I'd like to know the truth as well as you—this doubt is simply hell!"
A knock sounded on the door and a sheriff's officer informed us that the hearing was about to begin.
"You haven't explained your actions on the day of the murder," I said hurriedly. "I must have a reason."
"That's all right—it will come out. If you just keep 'em off the ha'nt, I'll clear everything else."
"If you do that," said I, immeasurably relieved, "there'll be no danger of your being held for trial." I rose and held out my hand. "Courage, my boy; remember that you are going to prove your innocence, not only for your own, but for Polly's sake."
The coroner's court was packed; and though here and there I caught a face that I knew to be friendly to Radnor, the crowd was made up for the most part of morbid sensation seekers, eager to hear and believe the worst.
The District Attorney was present; indeed he and the coroner and Jim Mattison were holding a whispered consultation when I entered the room, and I did not doubt but that the three had been working up the case together. The thought was not reassuring; a coroner, with every appearance of fairness, may still bias a jury by the form his questions take. And I myself was scarcely in a position to turn the trend of the inquiry; I doubt if a lawyer ever went to an inquisition with less command of the facts than I had.
The first witness called was the doctor who made the autopsy. After his testimony had been dwelt upon with what seemed to me needless detail, the facts relating to the finding of the body were brought forward. From this, the investigation veered to the subject of Radnor's strange behavior on the afternoon of the murder. The landlord, stable boy and several hangers-on of the Luray Hotel were called to the stand; their testimony was practically identical, and I did not attempt to question its truth.
"What time did Radnor Gaylord come back to the hotel?" the coroner asked of "old man Tompkins," the landlord.
"I reckon it must 'a' been 'long about three in the afternoon."
"Please describe exactly what occurred."
"Well, we was sittin' on the veranda talkin' about one thing and another when we see young Gaylord comin' across the lot, his head down and his hands in his pockets walkin' fast. He yelled to Jake, who was washin' off a buggy at the pump, to saddle his horse and be quick about it. Then he come up the steps and into the bar-room and called for brandy. He drunk two glasses straight off without blinkin'."
"Had he ordered anything to drink in the morning when they left their horses?" the coroner interrupted at this point.
"No, he didn't go into the bar-room—and it wasn't usually his custom to slight us either."
A titter ran around the room and the coroner rapped for order. "This is not the place for any cheap witticisms; you will kindly confine yourself to answering my questions.—Did Mr. Gaylord appear to have been drinking when he returned from the cave?"
The landlord closed his right eye speculatively. "No, I can't say as he exactly appeared like he'd been drinking," he said with the air of a connoisseur, "but he did seem to be considerably upset about something. He looked mad enough to bite; his face was pale, and his hand trembled when he raised his glass. Three or four noticed it and wondered—"
"Very well," interrupted the coroner, "what did he do next?"
"He went out to the stable yard and swore at the boy for being slow. And he tightened the surcingle himself with such a jerk that the mare plunged and he struck her. He is usually pretty cranky about the way horses is treated, and we wondered—"
He was stopped again and invited to go on without wondering.
"Well, let me see," said the witness, imperturbably. "He jumped into the saddle and slashing the mare across the flanks, started off in a cloud o' dust, without so much as looking back. We was all surprised at this 'cause he's usually pretty friendly, and we talked about it after; but we didn't think nothing particular till the news o' the murder come that evening, when we naturally commenced to put two and two together."
At this point I protested and the landlord was excused. "Jake" Henley, the stable boy, was called. His testimony practically covered the same ground and corroborated what the landlord had said.
"You say he swore at you for being slow?" the coroner asked.
Jake nodded with a grin. "I don't remember just the words—I get swore at so much that it don't make the impression it might—but it was good straight cussin' all right."
"And he struck you as being agitated?"
Jake's grin broadened. "I think you might say agitated," he admitted guardedly. "He was mad enough to begin with, an' now the brandy was gettin' to work. Besides, he was in an all-fired hurry to leave before the rest o' the party come back, an' while I was bringin' out the horse, he heard 'em laughin'. They wasn't in sight yet, but they was makin' a lot o' noise. One o' the girls had stepped on a snake an' was squealin' loud enough to hear her two miles off."
"And Gaylord left before any of them saw him?"
The boy nodded. "He got off all right. 'You forgot to pay for your horse,' I yelled after him, and he threw me fifty cents and it landed in the watering-trough."
This ended his testimony.
Several members of the picnic party were next called upon, and nothing very damaging to Radnor was produced. He seemed to be in his usual spirits before entering the cave, and no one, it transpired, had seen him after he came out, though this was not noted at the time. Also, no one had noticed him in conversation with his father. The coroner dwelt upon this point, but elicited no information one way or the other.
Polly Mathers was not present. She had been subpoenaed, but had become too ill and nervous to stand the strain, and the doctor had forbidden her attendance. The coroner, however, had taken her testimony at the house, and his clerk read it aloud to the jury. It dealt merely with the matter of the coat and where she had last seen Radnor.
"Question. 'Did you notice anything peculiar in the behavior of Radnor Gaylord on the day of his father's death?'
"Answer. 'Nothing especially peculiar—no.'
"Q. 'Did you see any circumstance which led you to suspect that he and his father were not on good terms?'
"A. 'No, they both appeared as usual.'
"Q. 'Did you speak to Radnor in the cave?'
"A. 'Yes, we strolled about together for a time and he was carrying my coat. He laid it down on the broken column and forgot it. I forgot it too and didn't think of it again until we were out of the cave. Then I happened to mention it in Colonel Gaylord's presence, and I suppose he went back for it.'
"Q. 'You didn't see Radnor Gaylord after he left the cave?'
"A. 'No, I didn't see him after we left the gallery of the broken column. The guide struck off a calcium light to show us the formation of the ceiling. We spent about five minutes examining the room, and after that we all went on in a group. Radnor had not waited to see the room, but had gone on ahead in the direction of the entrance.'"
So much for Polly's testimony—which added nothing.
Solomon, frightened almost out of his wits, was called on next, and his testimony brought out the matter of the quarrel between Colonel Gaylord and Radnor. Solomon told of finding the French clock, and a great many things besides which I am sure he made up. I wished to have his testimony ruled out, but the coroner seemed to feel that it was suggestive—as it undoubtedly was—and he allowed it to remain.
Radnor himself was next called to the stand. As he took his place a murmur of excitement swept over the room and there was a general straining forward. He was composed and quiet, and very very sober—every bit of animation had left his face.
The coroner commenced immediately with the subject of the quarrel with his father on the night before the murder, and Radnor answered all the questions frankly and openly. He made no attempt to gloss over any of the details. What put the matter in a peculiarly bad light, was the fact that the cause of the quarrel had been over a question of money. Rad had requested his father to settle a definite amount on him so that he would be independent in the future, and his father had refused. They had lost their tempers and had gone further than usual; in telling the story Radnor openly took the blame upon himself where, in several instances, I strongly suspected that it should have been laid at the door of the Colonel. But in spite of the fact that the story revealed a pitiable state of affairs as between father and son, his frankness in assuming the responsibility won for him more sympathy than had been shown since the murder.
"How did the clock get broken?" the coroner asked.
"My father knocked it off the mantelpiece onto the floor."
"He did not throw it at you as Solomon surmised?"
Radnor raised his head with a glint of anger.
"It fell on the floor and broke."
"Have you often had quarrels with your father?"
"Occasionally. He had a quick temper and always wished his own way, and I was not so patient with him as I should have been."
"What did you quarrel about?"
"What, for instance?"
"Sometimes because he thought I spent too much money, sometimes over a question of managing the estate; occasionally because he had heard gossip about me."
"What do you mean by 'gossip'?"
"Stories that I'd been gambling or drinking too much."
"Were the stories true?"
"They were always exaggerated."
"And this quarrel the night before his death was more serious than usual?"
"You did not speak to each other at the breakfast table?"
Radnor's face was set in strained lines; it was evident that this was a very painful subject.
"Did you have any conversation later?"
"Only a few words."
"Please repeat what was said."
Radnor appeared to hesitate and then replied a trifle wearily that he did not remember the exact words; that it was merely a recapitulation of what had been said the night before. Upon being urged to give the gist of the conversation he replied that his father had wished to make up their quarrel, but on the old basis, and he had refused. The Colonel had repeated that he was still too young a man to give over his affairs into the hands of another,—that he had a good many years before him in which he intended to be his own master. Radnor had replied that he was too old a man to be treated any longer as a boy, and that he would go away and work where he would be paid for what he did.
"And may I ask," the coroner inquired placidly, "whether you had any particular work in mind when you made that statement, or was it merely a figure of rhetoric calculated to bring Colonel Gaylord to terms?"
Rad scowled and said nothing, and the rest of his answers were terseness itself.
"Did you and your father have any further conversation on the ride over, or in the course of the day?"
"You purposely avoided meeting each other?"
"I suppose so."
"Then those words after breakfast when you threatened to leave home were absolutely the last words you ever spoke to your father?"
It was a subject Radnor did not like to think about. His lips trembled slightly and he answered with a visible effort.
A slight murmur ran around the room, partly of sympathy, partly of doubt.
The coroner put the same question again and Radnor repeated his answer, this time with a flush of anger. The coroner paused a moment and then continued without comment:
"You entered the cave with the rest of the party?"
"But you left the others before they had made the complete round?"
"Why was that?"
"I was not particularly interested. I had seen the cave many times before."
"Where did you leave the party?"
"I believe in the gallery of the broken column."
"You left the cave immediately?"
"Did you enter it again?"
"You forgot Miss Mathers's coat and left it in the gallery of the broken column?"
"So it would seem."
"Did you not think of that later and go back for it?"
Radnor snapped out his answer. "No, I didn't think anything about the coat."
"Are you in the habit of leaving young ladies' coats about in that off-hand way?"
A titter ran about the room, and Rad did not deign to notice this question.
I was indignant that the boy should be made to face such an ordeal. This was not a regular trial and the coroner had no right to be more obnoxious than his calling required. There was a glint of anger in Radnor's eyes; and I was uneasily aware that he no longer cared what impression he made. His answers to the rest of the questions were as short as the English language permitted.
"What did you do after leaving the cave?"
"Please go into more detail. What did you do immediately after leaving the cave?"
"Strolled through the woods."
"For how long?"
"I don't know."
"How long do you think?"
"Possibly half an hour."
"Then what did you do?"
"Returned to the hotel, ordered my horse and rode home."
"Why did you not wait for the rest of the party?"
"Didn't feel like it."
The question was repeated in several ways, but Radnor stubbornly refused to discuss the matter. He had promised me, the last thing before coming to the hearing, that he would clear up the suspicious points in regard to his conduct on the day of the crime. I took him in hand myself, but I could get nothing more from him than the coroner had elicited. For some reason he had veered completely, and his manner warned me not to push the matter. I took my seat and the questioning continued.
"Mr. Gaylord," said the coroner, severely, "you have heard the evidence respecting your peculiar behavior when you returned to the hotel. Three witnesses have stated that you were in an unnaturally perturbed condition. Is this true?"
Radnor supposed it must be true. He did not wish to question the gentlemen's veracity. He did not remember himself what he had done, but there seemed to be plenty of witnesses who did remember.
"Can you give any reasons for your strange conduct?"
"I have told you several times already that I can not. I did not feel well, and that is all there was to it."
A low murmur of incredulity ran around the room. It was evident to everyone that he was holding something back, and I could see that he was fast losing the sympathy he had gained in the beginning. I myself was at a loss to account for his behavior; as I was absolutely in the dark, however, I could do nothing but let matters take their course. Radnor was excused with this, and the next half hour was spent in a consideration of the foot-prints that were found in the clay path at the scene of the murder. The marks of Cat-Eye Mose were admitted immediately, but the others occasioned considerable discussion. Facsimiles of the prints were produced and compared with the riding boots which the Colonel and Radnor had worn at the time. The Colonel's print was unmistakable, but I myself did not think that the alleged print of Radnor's boot tallied very perfectly with the boot itself. The jury seemed satisfied however, and Radnor was called upon for an explanation. His only conjecture was that it was the print he had left when he passed over the path on his way to the entrance.
The print was not in the path, he was informed; it was in the wet clay on the edge of the precipice.
Radnor shrugged. In that case it could not be the print of his boot. He had kept to the path.
In regard to the match box he was equally unsatisfactory. He acknowledged that it was his, but could no more account for its presence in the path than the coroner himself.
"When do you remember having seen it last?" the coroner inquired.
Radnor pondered. "I remember lending it to Mrs. Mathers when she was building a fire in the woods to make the coffee; after that I don't remember anything about it."
"How do you account for its presence at the scene of the murder?"
"I can only conjecture that it must have dropped from my pocket without my noticing it on my way out of the cave."
The coroner observed that it was an unfortunate coincidence that he had dropped it in just that particular spot.
This effectually stopped Radnor's testimony. Not another word could be elicited from him on the subject, and he was finally dismissed and Mrs. Mathers called to the stand.
She remembered borrowing the match box, but then someone had called her away and she could not remember what she had done with it. She thought she must have returned it because she always did return things, but she was not at all sure. Very possibly she had kept it, and dropped it herself on her way out of the cave.
It was evident that she did not wish to say anything which would incriminate Radnor; and she was really too perturbed to remember what she had done. Several other people were questioned, but no further light could be thrown on the subject of the match box; and so it remained in the end, as it had been in the beginning, merely a very nasty piece of circumstantial evidence.
This ended the hearing for the day, and the inquest was postponed until ten o'clock the following morning. So far, no word had been dropped touching the ha'nt, but I was filled with apprehension as to what the next day would bring forth. I knew that if the subject came up, it would end once for all Radnor's chances of escaping trial before the grand jury. And that would mean, at the best, two months more of prison. What it would mean at the worst I did not like to consider.
THE JURY'S VERDICT
My first glance about the room the next morning, showed me only too plainly what direction the inquiry was going to take. In the farther corner half hidden by Mattison's broad back sat Clancy, the Washington detective. I recognized him with an angry feeling of discouragement. If we were to have his version of the stolen bonds, Radnor's last hope of gaining public sympathy was gone.
Radnor was the first person to be called to the stand. He had not noticed the detective, and I did not have a chance to inform him of his presence. The coroner plunged immediately into the question of the robbery and the ha'nt, and it was only too evident from Radnor's troubled eyes that it was a subject he did not wish to talk about.
"You have recently had a robbery at your house, Mr. Gaylord?"
"Please describe just what was stolen."
"Five bonds—Government four per cents—a bag of coin—about twenty dollars in all—and two deeds and an insurance policy."
"You have not been able to trace the thief?"
"In spite of every effort?"
"Well, we naturally looked into the matter."
"But you have been able to form no theory as to how the bonds were stolen?"
"No, I have no theory whatever."
"You employed a detective I believe?"
"And he arrived at no theory?"
Radnor hesitated visibly while he framed an answer.
"He arrived at no theory which successfully covered the facts."
"But he did have a theory as to the whereabouts of the bonds, did he not?"
"Yes—but it was without any foundation and I prefer not to go into it."
The coroner abandoned the point. "Mr. Gaylord, there has lately been a rumor among the negroes working at your place, in regard to the appearance of a ghost, has there not?"
"Can you offer any light on the subject?"
"The negroes are superstitious and easily frightened, when the rumor of a ghost gets started it grows. The most of the stories existed only in their own imaginations."
"You believe then that there was no foundation whatever to any of the stories?"
"I should rather not go into that."
"Mr. Gaylord, do you believe that the ghost had any connection with the robbery?"
"No, I do not."
"Do you think that the ghost had any connection with the murder of your father?"
"No!" said Radnor.
"That is all, Mr. Gaylord.—James Clancy."
At the name Radnor suddenly raised his head and half turned back as if to speak, but thinking better of it, he resumed his chair and watched the approach of the detective with an angry frown. Clancy did not glance at Radnor, but gave his evidence in a quick incisive way which forced the breathless attention of every one in the room. He told without interruption the story of his arrival at Four-Pools and his conclusions in regard to the ha'nt and the theft; he omitted, however, all mention of the letter.
"Am I to understand that you never made your conclusions known to Colonel Gaylord?" the coroner asked.
"No, I had been employed by him, but I thought under the circumstances it was kinder to leave him in ignorance."
"That was a generous stand to take. I suppose you lost something in the way of a fee?"
The detective looked slightly uncomfortable over the question.
"Well, no, as it happened I didn't. There was a sort of cousin—Mr. Crosby"—he nodded toward me—"visiting in the house and he footed the bill. He seemed to think the young man hadn't intended to steal, and that it would be pleasanter all around if I left it for them to settle between themselves."
"I protest!" I cried. "I distinctly stated my conviction that Radnor Gaylord knew nothing of the bonds, and I paid him to get rid of him because I did not wish him troubling Colonel Gaylord with any such made-up story."
"Mr. Clancy is testifying," observed the coroner. "Now, Mr. Clancy, as I understand it, you discovered as you supposed the guilty man, and instead of going to your employer with the story and receiving your pay from him, you accepted it from the person you had accused—or at least from his friend?"
"I've explained the circumstances; it was a mere matter of accommodation."
"I suppose you know what such accommodation is called?"
"If you mean it was blackmail—that's false! At least," he added, quickly relapsing into good nature, "it was a mighty generous kind of blackmail. I could have got my pay fast enough from the Colonel but I didn't want to stir up trouble. We all know that it isn't the innocent who pay blackmail," he added parenthetically.
"Do you mean to insinuate that Mr. Crosby is implicated?"
"Lord no! He's as innocent as a lamb. Young Gaylord was too smart for him; he hoodwinked him as well as the Colonel into believing the bonds were stolen while he was out of the house."
A smile ran around the room and the detective was excused. I sprang to my feet.
"One moment!" I said. "I should like to ask Mr. Clancy some questions."
The young man was turned over to me, plainly against his wishes.
"What proof have you, Mr. Clancy, that the bonds were not stolen while Mr. Gaylord was out of the house?"
"Well, my investigations led me to the belief that he stole them, and that being the case, it must have been done before he left the house."
"I see! And your investigations concerned themselves largely with a letter which you filched from Mr. Gaylord's coat pocket in the night, did they not?"
"Not entirely—the letter merely struck me as corroborative evidence, though I have since learned—"
"Mr. Clancy," I interrupted sternly, "did you not tell me at the time, that that letter was absolute proof of his guilt—yes or no?"
"I may have said so but—"
"Mr. Clancy, will you kindly repeat what was in that letter."
"It referred to some bonds; I don't know that I can recall the exact words."
"Then I must request you to read it," I returned, picking it out from a bundle of papers on the table and handing it to him. "I am sorry to take up so much time with a matter that has nothing to do with the murder," I added to the coroner, "but you yourself brought up the subject and it is only fair to hear the whole story."