At that end of the room which we were facing was a platform, railed off, and on it a great high desk, at which a rather undersized man sat, leaning his head on a beautiful white plump hand, and looking up at the ceiling as if he were thinking. His face was round, fair and unlined, and had it not been for his mop of grizzled hair I would have thought him quite young.
"That is Judge Kelland, who tries the case," father whispered.
I felt a wonder that he should seem so uninterested in what was going on. In front of his desk, but below the platform, a man was writing at a little table covered with papers; and in front of this again was another table, larger and quite long, at which a number of men were sitting. Nearest us Mr. Dingley sat with another gentleman, small, slim and very calm looking. They had their heads together, evidently talking; and next to them was a young man who seemed to be making jottings in a note-book. Beyond him I could make out no more than vague heads and elbows, on account of the movement of the crowd. To the right of this long table and on a line with our places was something I recognized as the jury box, the heads of some of the men in it showing quaintly over the high side.
From one thing to another my eyes traveled hastily, taking them in unconsciously, for the one figure I was looking for—that I had expected to see before all others, standing up in the prisoner's dock, the centering point for all eyes—I could not find. The only thing that might have been a prisoner's dock, a small railed inclosure on the right hand of the judge's desk, was empty. But presently there was a shift in the restless gathering, some people, who had been standing up, sat down; and I saw a little more of the long table, first a space, where no one was sitting, and then the broad back of a man, who had shifted in his chair as if to face the person next to him. In a moment he had turned back again, and leaned forward, and there, in the little space through the crowd,—a profile like a picture in a frame,—I saw Johnny Montgomery's face.
The start it gave me may have been pure astonishment, I saw it so suddenly and it looked so different. All the dishevelment, the defiance and anger were gone. His black hair was brushed down, smooth and burnished as a crow's breast. The stock and the great black satin bow beneath his chin were as immaculate and as perfectly arranged as father's, and his face itself was calm, almost sweet in expression.
I had been expecting to find a prisoner in a dock, and here he was, dressed like any other distinguished young gentleman in the court room, and sitting among the lawyers. All at once he put up his hand to push back his hair, and I saw that his hands were free. I felt a sense of unspeakable relief, as if he had already been acquitted. The only thing that seemed to set him apart from others was that expression of his, which was troubling in its very sweetness, as if he were not trying to combat or oppose anything; as if he had foreseen to the end what would happen, and had given himself up from the first.
Then a voice, high and sing-song, seeming to come from nowhere, began calling out something which I couldn't understand, and the Mexican I had seen in the witness room rose from the crowd and shuffled up into the little railed inclosure. The gentleman who was sitting with Mr. Dingley got up and began asking questions in a weary monotonous voice, to which the Mexican replied that his name was Manuel Gora, that he was a Mexican by birth, and by occupation a barkeeper; that at present he was without employment, but that previous to the seventh of May he had for ten years been in the employment of Martin Rood.
I could hear the stir all over the court room, and my own heart began to beat.
"Ah!" The gentleman who was on his feet seemed to shake off his apathy and grew very, emphatic, "Now, Mr. Gora—on the night of May the sixth where were you?"
The man answered in a low voice that all that night he had been in Mr. Rood's gambling-hall.
"Go on, tell us and the gentlemen of the jury all that you remember of the occurrences of that night and of the morning of the seventh until six-thirty o'clock."
When the Mexican began speaking all the rustle died out in the court, and in the deep silence his precise, mincing utterance made every word distinct. He had gone on duty at six-thirty o'clock, he said; the hall had closed at eleven, it being Sunday night, and at that hour Mr. Rood had not yet come home. He had locked the doors and sat up until two. Then Mr. Rood came, and went immediately to bed.
Here the lawyer interrupted, "Do I understand you that Mr. Rood lived at the gambling-hall?"
No, the man said, but he had rooms upstairs which he often used. After Mr. Rood had retired he had himself gone to his own room, which was also up-stairs, but in the back of the house. He was not yet asleep when he heard the bell at the side door ring. "And then," the Mexican said, "I went to Mr. Rood's door and asked if I should go down-stairs. Mr. Rood said, 'No,' and then he said, 'Curse him, no, I won't let him in.' But after the bell had rung three times more, he called me and said, 'Go down, Manuel, let him in. I will come down in a few minutes.'
"After that I went down and let in Mr. Montgomery."
"One moment, Mr. Gora." The lawyer who was standing had raised his hand. "Was there anything in Mr. Rood's manner which led you to suppose he had feared a visit from Mr. Montgomery?"
The man who had been sitting next the prisoner was on his feet. "Object, your Honor, to the form of the question, as being—" He mumbled the rest, I couldn't get a word of it.
The judge brought his eyes down from the ceiling, looked at the big man who was calling out to him; then said in a conversational voice: "Objection sustained." Then looking at the other man, "Change the form of the question."
"Father," I whispered, "that man who just now objected, isn't he Mr. Jackson? Hasn't he been at the house to dinner?"
"Yes, and one of the best lawyers in the city; but he is defending Montgomery, I am sorry!"
"Did Mr. Rood," the first lawyer began again, "show surprise when you told him there was some one at the door?"
"No, sir." The man hesitated. "He was angry."
Mr. Dingley's lawyer looked triumphantly at the lawyer for the defense; then he again turned to the witness. "Had you ever seen the person you let in before?"
"Very often. He came a great deal to play."
"Can you point him out?"
The Mexican peered at the crowd. "He is sitting the third from the end at that table."
There was a sigh that seemed to come from the whole court room. I tried to get a glimpse of Johnny Montgomery's face, but too many people were standing up, and moving chairs, and when the flutter subsided a little I was able to catch the witness' voice going on.
"Then I brought them some drinks, and Mr. Rood told me to go to bed. They were left alone down there when I had gone up-stairs. I went to sleep. I was waked up in the very early morning by quarreling voices, and before I was wide-awake I heard a pistol shot. I ran down the stairs and out into the back of the house, as I do when there is trouble, and wait until I think it is over. Then, after listening a while, everything perfectly quiet, I go out into the bar where I left them and it was empty; but on the floor I see a pistol; I look at it and it is discharged; then I go into the other rooms, no one. Then I hear the crowd crying, I look out the door—there I see him!"
It seemed to me I couldn't bear to hear any more, and I stopped my ears until I saw the lawyer for the prosecution sit down. But as soon as he was down the lawyer for the defense was on his feet, and had begun asking a lot of questions that seemed to me very foolish, and very little concerned with Johnny Montgomery. Then, without seeming to have made any point at all, Mr. Jackson sat down; the Mexican came down from the witness-stand, the judge left his place and went out through a door at the back, and a man who had been hovering on the outskirts of the lawyers' table, hurried to Mr. Dingley, and whispered something to him. Instead of coming over to speak with us, as I had expected, Mr. Dingley went hastily out of the room. Father left me to speak with a man on the other side of the court; and, among all the standing and walking and going out, Johnny Montgomery and I were the only ones who sat quite still.
As yet I saw him in profile. He was leaning forward, his elbows on the table; now and then he ran his fingers through his hair. Once I thought he was going to drop his head in his hands; but after an instant's drooping he threw it up sharply with a sort of shake that tossed the long locks out of his eyes, and faced around in his chair and saw me. He didn't seem surprised at finding me there. I couldn't be sure that he had not known just where I was all the while; but though he looked at me so steadily it was not, somehow, like a stare. He did not look, at me quite as if I were a human being, but as if I were a statue or a picture. He was the one who turned away. Then I sat looking at the back of his head.
There was a murmur of talk all through the room, but above it I heard two men behind me greeting each other.
One said, "Well, what's the game? Is she a stricken widow or a hopeful fiancee?"
"A little of both, I guess," the other answered. "She's been pretty good to Rood—ten years—but he was getting gray and fat, and the fair Carlotta herself is nearing the age when a woman begins to yearn for beauty and youth. There's one thing I will say for her, though, she seems, to be hard hit. I never saw the man Carlotta would turn her little finger over for before, and she's going in for acquittal with all she's got."
"It's scandalous, that's what it is!" I heard the first speaker bring down his fist on his open palm.
"Oh, I don't know," the other said. "I think it's pretty decent of her, and she may manage it. Great is Carlotta!'"
They moved away, and I sat still, staring stupidly at the back of Johnny Montgomery's head. The cool callous tones of the men knocked on my heart like blows. I was amazed at the familiar way they spoke of the Spanish Woman, in spite of all her dignity, and commanding beauty; but to hear them speaking of Johnny Montgomery as if he belonged too her was intolerable. It was ridiculous! Of course it might be that she was interested in his case, might even be in love with him; but that he should care for her—
I was so unnerved that I didn't notice father's reappearance until he leaned over and touched my arm.
"You will probably be called next," he said. Then, he must have felt me trembling and supposed it to be nervousness. "Remember, for the honor of the family," he whispered, smiling.
The lawyers and the men who had been writing were all coming back to their places; and then Mr. Dingley hurried in, and down the aisle to where we were.
"My dear Fred," he began; and then I couldn't hear any more, because he pulled father by the arm until they stood a little farther off from me, where they talked very earnestly for some moments. Father looked perfectly disgusted.
"Next time, be very sure before you order our presence in court," he said as he came back to his chair. "I am capable of great disagreeableness, as you know."
Mr. Dingley smiled and rubbed his hands, and said these little unexpected things would turn up. Then, as the judge was coming into the room, he hastened back into his place. Father threw his coat over his arm and said, "Come along, Ellie."
"What is the matter?" I asked.
"Oh, one of their infernal technical hitches. After insisting on your presence this morning, your testimony is not required."
I got up very slowly. I couldn't resist sending one glance toward where Johnny Montgomery was sitting, and as I did so he turned his head. It was the same quiet gaze he had given me before. It must have been only my fancy that saw something wistful in it; but I hated to go. I felt as if I were leaving him alone in the hands of his enemies. It seemed impossible for me to remember that of all those enemies he had I was the very worst.
THE SECOND DAY IN COURT
As father and I crossed the lower hall, "Do you believe all these stories about the Spanish Woman are true?" I asked.
He looked at me quickly. "What stories?"
"Why, I heard them talking in court to-day; and last night,—I didn't mean to,—I overheard you and Mr. Dingley as you came out of the study."
Father looked grim. "It is with those stories they will try to convict him." He took a few more strides before he added, "If they can prove that Montgomery wanted to cut out Rood they'll have a bad case against him." He didn't speak again until he put me in the carriage. Then he said, "I hope that you will get this matter out of your mind. I hate to have you think about it."
I said I would try. Indeed, after that last remark of father's about Montgomery wanting to cut out Rood it seemed to me that, if I didn't quickly get something else into my mind, I should go crazy. So while the carriage bounded over the cobblestones, I was busy planning—the menu for dinner to-morrow, where to leave my ear-rings to be mended, how to do over my blue silk gown, and where had been the error in the butcher's bill. My thoughts rushed from one little thing to another, afraid for an instant to let go.
Upon arriving home, Abby hanging over the banisters, wanted to hear about the court proceedings; but I called out to her that my testimony hadn't been required—and would she please get out the apricots, and after luncheon I would make that sauce she had been after me to do for the last week.
She seemed astonished, but gratified, at my unwonted energy. I had been an absolutely useless creature about the house for so long. Now I hurried through luncheon, and attacked the apricots as if my life were staked on getting them halved, stoned, and boiling.
"Good Heavens, child, how you rush!" Abby protested. "There's no such great haste." But she did not know that I was trying to run away from an idea.
In the intervals of preserving I dived into the cellar and brought up my rose and lilac plants; and the afternoon was spent in running hot-cheeked from the stove to the garden, digging, carefully sprinkling, while Abby lowered the roots; then packing the earth and patting with all my might; darting back to the kitchen again to ladle out the steaming stuff into jars and strenuously to screw on their covers.
But for all my wearing of myself out, through the steam of the cooking pots, between the leaves of the rose-bushes, the pursuing idea would lift its head. The picture of the Spanish Woman as she stood in the witness room, the golden glimmer of her hair, her wonderful white waxy face, and the way her eyes had sparkled at me through her lashes, returned to my memory, powerful as the odor of her flower. I compared her with that flower—luxurious and perfect looking, as if she had grown in a hothouse; and with that strange overwhelming characteristic which drew, in spite of all disliking. It was useless to cry, "I do not like you and I will not believe in you." There were two things I had to acknowledge—her will, and her power of seduction. Hadn't I felt the light of it as she had stood looking at me?
Finally, when wearied out, I lay in bed that night, the idea I had been fleeing overtook me; and I gave up and looked it in the face. "Well, yes, and suppose he does love her? Should that surprise me so much? How should he help it? She is so beautiful!"
Still that admission had been forced out of me in a moment of weakness, between my pillow and the dark; and I was determined it should not get hold of me with its swarm of attendant tormenting thoughts. I was resolved to go into court, thinking of nothing but just that small measure of evidence which was mine to give; and to come away again, turning my back upon the whole matter, and taking up again the round of my daily employments.
This heroic resolution was knocked on the head the next morning by father's announcing that I was not summoned for the opening of the court,—and he added parenthetically Lord knew when!—but might be called for any time that afternoon, so I was to hold myself in readiness. This left me in a miserable state of uncertainty, which was not improved by seeing my name in the Alta, as witness, just above an exhortation to the people of San Francisco to see that justice was done, even if the law failed in its work.
The best course seemed to be the immolation of myself in the long neglected house work. A vigorous sweeping of my room, the preparation of an elaborate luncheon salad, and the total rearrangement of the parlor furniture might help to get rid of that heart-beating expectation—soothing, and bulwarking me around with domesticity. But the excitement of the city kept invading my retreat, as if it were so full of that great matter that it had to spill over even into houses where it wasn't wanted. The first ripple had been the sight of my name in the paper that morning; but the wave went quite over me when, just before luncheon, Hallie rushed in. She had been at the trial all the morning, and had only just seen the Alta with my name.
She hugged me a number of times, with exclamations of how awful but fascinating it must be, to be a witness, and what was it I knew—why hadn't I told her—she would never have divulged one word of it—though of course if I was under oath! Still, couldn't I tell her all about it now?
I believe that Hallie's respect for me had taken a leap with the news of my position, and when I explained that I was still under oath, and couldn't tell anybody anything until I told it from the witness-stand, she looked at me with positive awe.
She stayed to luncheon, and it was a trying but most exciting meal. Alas for my elaborate salad! We might have been eating india-rubber for all we knew or cared. For Hallie poured forth all the history of the trial, from the time I left the court room, and I would not have stopped her had it been possible to do so.
It seemed that the afternoon of the opening day a man who was a waiter at the Poodle Dog was put on the stand. This was the new witness Mr. Dingley had spoken of. He told how Mr. Rood had been at supper in the restaurant at about midnight, how Mr. Montgomery had come in with another gentleman, and gone up to the table where Rood was sitting. While he did so the other gentleman sat at a table near the door. Mr. Rood and Mr. Montgomery did not have supper together, the waiter said; did not even drink together. They talked only for a few minutes, and he thought they were disagreeing because, though their voices were not loud, they sounded angry. Then Mr. Rood got up suddenly, overturning his chair, and said, "I won't hear anything from you," and though he had not finished supper, paid his bill and went out of the restaurant. Mr. Montgomery had waited a few moments before he followed him. The gentleman who had sat near the door had been the last to leave the restaurant.
"And then," said Hallie, warming to her narrative, "they called the man who had come into the Poodle Dog with Johnny, and what do you think! it was Willie Felton."
"Not the one who went to dancing-school with us, and had such red cheeks?" I wondered.
"His cheeks aren't red now," said Hallie; "and he has wrinkles all around his eyes, just like an old man. He has been awfully dissipated. And, oh Ellie, you should have seen him sitting up there looking at Mr. Dingley and looking at Mr. Jackson, and biting his nails, and never daring to look at Johnny Montgomery. He said he had met Johnny about twelve o'clock that night, by chance on Montgomery Street. They had walked a little way together, and Johnny had said, 'I am going away to-morrow,' and Willie Felton asked was he going to the races. Johnny laughed and said, 'No. I am going to some place I've never seen before, and I'm not coming back until everybody has forgotten me.' He behaved queerly, seemed to be very much excited; although, Willie said, he was sure he hadn't been drinking.
"As they came to the Poodle Dog Johnny said, 'There is some one here I want to speak to.' And after they were inside he said, 'Excuse me a moment,' so Willie Felton took a table near the door, saw Johnny talk with Rood, saw Rood upset his chair as he went out, and Johnny follow him out of the door. When he himself got outside, he said that Rood was nowhere in sight and that Johnny was standing looking up Montgomery Street. He seemed to be very angry. Willie said, 'Where are you going?' and Johnny turned on him and said, 'I'll tell you where I'm going—I am going about my business!' and then he walked quickly away up the street in the same direction that Rood had taken.
"While he was telling about it," Hallie went on, "Mr. Jackson kept interrupting, saying, 'Object, your Honor,' and making it awfully hard to follow the testimony. Then another young man was called, and he didn't tell any story. They had a hard time even making him answer questions. But he did tell that he knew the quarrel between Rood and Johnny began three years ago at the time of the California Bank shortage, when Johnny said that Rood had lied himself out of prison and an innocent man in.
"Oh," I cried, "I'm so glad!"
Hallie looked as if she thought I was crazy; but I explained that what I really was glad of was that the quarrel had been Rood's, and not Johnny's fault; indeed that it had shown Johnny to be in the right, at least that once.
"Well," Hallie declared, "he does need a good word, I must say!"
This morning, she informed me, had been awfully stupid,—just cross-examining, and interrupting; but finally they did call some one new—a Mexican woman. And she testified that for two years Carlotta Valencia's friends had known her as Mrs. Rood. "And then mother wouldn't let me stay any longer," Hallie lamented, "because she said the woman wasn't a proper person. But I wanted awfully to hear what else she said!"
Here Abby came in, and remarked that if we were going to talk all day we would better go somewhere else and give Lee a chance to clear off the table.
The garden has lovely places in which to sit, so we went out there and took the rustic bench in the shade of the cypress hedge.
"But what does Johnny Montgomery's lawyer say?" I asked, for that was really the point of interest for me.
"Why, he claims that Rood committed suicide, because he was despondent over something—business I guess; and of course they did find a discharged revolver in the bar. The weak spot in that, father says, is that the bullet Rood was shot with is much too small for that revolver."
I knew there was a far weaker point in the defense than that, and I wondered, in the face of it, how I was ever going to drag my unwilling spirit up into the witness-box. The summons might come at any moment,—might come now, while we sat talking with our feet in the sun and the cypress shadow cool upon our foreheads.
At four o'clock father came stepping out of the conservatory, calling out, "What young person will give a tired man a cup of tea?" Then, noticing my questioning look, "No summons for us to-day," he said; so I ran in to fetch the tea-table.
Tea in the garden was a rare event. The few warm spring days gave the opportunity, and nothing was prettier than the scarlet lacquer tray with the Nankin cups set out under the heliotrope vines. I asked whether this was any special celebration, and father said yes; it was a farewell complimentary to him. He had to go out of town to-night. He hated to be away over Sunday, he explained, but there was business at Alma which he must look into sometime during the next five days; and week days for the present would be out of the question—by which I knew he meant he must stay on account of the trial. Then he stopped being sensible, and began teasing Hallie about her latest beau. He loves to do that, because she takes it all so seriously, and never sees that he is joking her. Just as she was protesting that she had no serious intentions toward the person in question, two young men came around the path from the front of the house. Hallie's beau and Jack Tracy, who had fluttered my sentiment a short time before by asking me to marry him. But now he was too bubbling over with importance to remember to look sentimental.
Had we heard the latest sensation, they wanted to know? Montgomery had tried to break jail. Came mighty near doing it, too!
I had been holding a cup and saucer when he began speaking, and when he stopped it was on the brick path in a hundred pieces.
"Poppycock," father said, "the town is full of rumors."
But, no, they said, it was true enough. They had it from good authority. It seemed that the sheriff had been bribed. Just how and by whom I couldn't make out, because every one was talking at once. But the sheriff had been removed, "pending trial," said Jack Tracy, and the deputy was acting in his place.
"But," I said, "if it wasn't Mr. Montgomery who bribed the sheriff, how can you tell he really wanted to escape?"
Then every one laughed, and I stooped over and began picking up the pieces of the Nankin cup, so that no one should see how I was blushing, but my hands shook so that it was all I could do to hold the pieces. What in the world was the matter with me lately? There was no reason in my behaving like this, as if Johnny Montgomery had been an old friend. I excused myself on the pretext of having father's bag to pack, and escaped into the house. "All the same," I said to myself, "I don't believe he tried to get out, or even really wanted to. From the way he looked in the court I am sure he doesn't care what happens to him."
But oh, I did wish he cared a little more; how I wished that some one could show, in his behalf, one contradictory piece of evidence; so that all the testimony wouldn't seem to be narrowing down to one point where there would be room for but one thing I could believe him to be!
THE SPANISH WOMAN'S HOUSE
Sunday, which found me sole mistress of the place, was beautiful, warm, and beguiling. That lovely locked-in feeling, which comes only when the streets are quiet, and no tradesmen, not even the postman, comes knocking, soothed me after the days of tension and expectancy.
Abby went off early to church, and I took a book out to the rustic seat by the heliotrope. At about half-past ten Mr. Dingley came through the conservatory; but he was used to coming in and out of the house so much that his joining me in the garden was no more of an invasion than if he had been one of the family. He said father had told him he was to be out of town, and he had come around to see how the household was getting on. We sat there very comfortably in the warm sun, aimlessly talking, hearing the sweet notes of church bells. I was just about to resume my book when Lee put his head out of the conservatory door.
"Some one to see you, Miss Ellie," he announced, and disappeared abruptly before I could ask who.
I went in, fearing it would prove to be some girl whom I did not know well, who had called out of mere curiosity. I was surprised to find, awaiting me in the hall, a person whom I did not know at all—whom I had never even seen before. It was a half-grown shuffling Mexican, with a blank and stupid face, looking as if he might be some one's stable-boy. But as soon as he saw me, he produced from some pocket and presented to me with remarkable swiftness and dexterity, a small immaculate white note. It was addressed to me, and the writing was not Estrella Mendez's small copper-plate script, but a larger, bolder, more dashing hand, scarcely like a woman's.
"To the Senorita Elenora:" it began,—and I wondered whether it could be from one of mother's old friends, for she had had several among the great Spanish families of the north. "I am asking if you will honor me with your presence for a short hour this morning," the letter ran. "It is impossible that I come to you, for I am ill. But there is a very great reason why I must see you. It is a matter touching justice. You will not fail." It was signed "Carlotta Valencia."
I read the signature twice over, and then the letter. No, my eyes were not playing tricks. But still, could it be some practical joke? I put the envelope to my face. Ah, it was she, it was the perfume of that flower! She had really written; she had summoned me.
The very fact that she had communicated with me, this being who was not as I was, whose life seemed as irrevocably separated from mine, as if she inhabited another planet, was amazing. And as for those expressions in her letter, "a very great matter," "touching justice," I dared not think what I wanted to believe.
I carried the note out into the garden. "I don't know how to answer this," I said, handing it to Mr. Dingley.
He read it, and whistled. "Well!" he said; and then, "there's one thing sure; you will not go alone!"
"Why, you don't mean to say I'm to go!" I cried.
He looked inquiringly. "Why not?"
"Oh, but father doesn't even like me to speak her name."
Mr. Dingley coughed. "Quite right, quite right! That is, of course, under ordinary circumstances. But in affairs of this sort, where state's evidence is concerned, we are obliged to lay personal feeling aside. Now from this letter," and Mr. Dingley tapped the little sheet which he held before him, "I gather that the Senora Valencia may have some information concerning this case of ours now going forward. Of course if it's incriminating, the state must have it. On the other hand, if it should tend to exonerate the defendant, of course we shall be very glad."
I murmured, "Oh, yes!" The hope of a possible means of clearing Johnny Montgomery went flushing through me.
If the Spanish Woman had anything to say I knew it would be in his favor. Still, there was something strange about it. "But if she has this information," I asked, "why doesn't she tell it in the court?"
"My dear Miss Ellie, why indeed? We never know why women do things. But it has been my experience in legal cases, and especially in criminal ones, that women will often give evidence in some such high-fantastic way as this, which could never be got out of them through the proper channel,—that is by means of cross-examination, in court. Now she's evidently taken a fancy to tell you something, and I feel it is our duty to see just how much is in it."
"Oh, yes," I said again, but this time more faintly, for when I thought of whom I was to face, some cowardly thing in me wavered, "But are you sure it's—safe?"
Mr. Dingley laughed. "My dear Miss Ellie, we don't live in the dark ages!"
He made me feel ashamed of my hesitations. I went back into the hall, told the Mexican in Spanish, yes, that I would come quickly. He seemed satisfied with this verbal message, and I watched him shuffle down the steps, in spite of his loose-hung gait, with admirable quickness. Then I told Lee that I was going out; dinner at half-past two, all as simply and usually as if I had been intending merely to stroll over to the beach. But there the usualness of things ended.
Mr. Dingley did not at all take the way I expected, the most direct and open way by the broad easy streets, where at this hour of Sunday the church-goers were promenading; but we went roundabout, through unexpected short cuts, and then across the empty stretches of the sand-lots toward where the long gray facade of the convent stretched; and close beside it the high fence with the latticed top which surrounded the Spanish Woman's house. Above the fence the roof and the small windows beneath the eaves were just visible. As we drew near my heart beat quickly, and still I felt that, as when I was a child, I was only going to pass it. But we turned, and I realized I was actually stopping at the gate.
This was so high it was merely a door cut in the fence, allowing no glimpse of what was within, and instead of immediately opening it, Mr. Dingley rapped upon it with the iron knocker, whose lion head had been wont to snarl at me years ago. I heard a sharp clicking as of something being unlocked, and the gate opened. But after we were inside I got an uncanny shock, for excepting ourselves there was not a soul to be seen.
"Clever contrivance that," said Mr. Dingley, glancing up. And then I noticed a wire which ran from the fastening of the gate to its top, and from there in a straight line to the house. But even this discovery didn't remove my uneasy sense of being in an enchantment.
Around us were weedy grass plots, bushes smothering in vines, broken flower urns, a dry and weather-stained fountain; and to and fro across the neglect of it all moved the shadows of the restless eucalyptus trees. A brick path, very mossy and giving uncertain foothold, ran straight to the front of the house—a blank-looking facade, all the shutters closed over the windows, and a deeply hooded door.
Mr. Dingley gave the bell handle a vigorous pull, but not the faintest tinkle reechoed through the interior. We waited. There wasn't a sound of any one inside approaching through the hall. I was fully prepared to be admitted by the same unseen agency that had moved the gate. But when, quite suddenly, the door opened, I was aware of a figure, very dimly seen in the gloom of the hall. We were allowed to enter without a question, without a word; and as quickly the door closed upon us. After the broad sunlight the hall seemed so dark, I could but sense high ceilings and hanging draperies above my head, and feel beneath my feet the soft depth of a carpet. All that my eyes could distinguish was the little white glimmer of Mr. Dingley's card as he handed it to the person who had opened the door.
We were led through several rooms; but either they were interior rooms without windows, or else the windows were closely muffled, for they were so dark I could hardly find my way. But when at last our conductor drew back a curtain, a tempered light streamed upon us, and showed me that the cornices of the anteroom where we were standing were gilded, that the carpet which I was crushing under my feet, was the color of wine, and every fold of the velvet curtain where it took the light like a ruby. The servant, holding it back, was a strange creature, with a tightly closed mouth, and eyes that looked as if he kept them open only a crack to see out of, but not on any account to let any one peep in. He waved at the room in front of us, and then, still silent as an apparition, returned, disappearing into the gloom through which we had come, carrying Mr. Dingley's card with him. I followed Mr. Dingley into the great apartment, which I thought must be the sala of the house, and sat down in the midst of its magnificence.
It was in strange contrast to the neglect of the garden without; and to my eyes it was novel in character. There were dark portraits in old gold frames on the wall; curtains shutting out all light, but the faintest and most colored; mirrors multiplying the tapestries and marble statues, and seeming to extend the very walls of the room itself. I kept catching glimpses of figures standing in these delusive vistas, and then, with a start, realizing they were but myself. Presently the servant returned. I saw multiple images of him advancing upon me from all sides as if to surround me. They flitted, disappeared, and the real presence bowed.
"The Senora wishes to say she is too ill to descend to the sala. Will the Senorita graciously come up-stairs?"
Mr. Dingley turned to me. "That's about as I expected. Then I will wait for you here."
Involuntarily I took hold of his coat, "But you said I shouldn't go alone!"
"Oh, of course, of course," he smiled. "I meant I'd come with you to the house. That's one matter. But to go up-stairs, that's hardly possible! Don't you see, Miss Ellie," he lowered his voice, "it's quite probable this is just a ruse to get rid of me? She would hardly want to speak before a third party."
The reminder that the Spanish Woman was going to speak, and the probability of what that speech might mean was enough to make me relinquish Mr. Dingley's coat, and send me in the wake of the serving-man with almost a light heart.
He led me out of the sala, not by the curtained way through which we had come, but by a door opening on a little entry, and from that up a stair, which was not at all like the stairway I had seen in the large entrance hall. I had never been in a house so bewilderingly built. I followed down halls that dwindled into passageways and so quickly did my guide move, so far he kept in front of me that even when my blue bow dropped from my hair pat upon the floor I dared not stoop to pick it up for fear of losing sight of him. I kept on ascending unexpected little steps; entered doors that opened abruptly as panels in the wall, branched off into yet narrower halls, and finally was ushered into what seemed a sort of anteroom, with only a few chairs furnishing it, and a great extent of polished floor stretching out in front of me to a curtain which hung across one whole side of it. There was a sweet though rather close odor, which wrought powerfully upon my imagination. Walking cautiously, since the floor seemed as slippery as glass, I followed my conductor. He drew the curtain aside a little—enough to let me slip through—said something in Spanish, some one musical word which I did not understand, and the curtain closed behind me. I stood there feeling like a doll, absurd, small and lost.
I was aware of a greater sense of air and sun than I had had since I entered the house, of a farther extent of that shining floor, broken by great opaque oblongs which absorbed light and gave out colors beautiful and dim; of a uniform even interplay of color upon all sides of me, as if the walls were hung with tapestry of one pattern; but all I was really intensely conscious of was a seated figure. She was sitting almost profile to me, with her back to the light, which fell splendidly upon the full length of her hair, hanging quite to the floor. She was wrapped in something silk, of two shifting colors, green and copper, uncovering the neck and leaving a most beautiful arm bare to the shoulder. A maid was brushing her hair, bending low with each measured stroke. At my appearance she straightened, stopped, and stepped back. It looked really as if she sank away into the shadow; and the Spanish Woman rose and came toward me, holding out her hand. The colors in her gown seemed fairly alive, and whether it was really a woven pattern of copper serpents rushing through green water, or only an accident of my fancy and the twisted lights, I couldn't determine. But, looking in her face, I thought, "Oh, surely Mr. Dingley is right. It isn't that she is ill, but only that she wants to talk with me alone." Like her hand, her voice was soft and warm.
"You are very kind," she said. There was hardly a trace of accent in her speech, only a delicate precision that made it delightful. "You see, I have been sick, and am yet too weak to go out upon the street. It is why I have given you the trouble to come to me." And still keeping my hand she led me to a chair and gently, prettily pushed me into it. There was something persuasive in her very touch. Then, taking her seat again, "Maria, prondo!" she cried; and the maid coming forward gathered up the mass of hair, twisted it deftly into a sort of crown around her head, filling it with gold-colored hair-pins, tucked into its coil a single tuberose; then collecting the combs and brushes went softly out of the room.
The Spanish Woman sat there, resting her chin in her hand, looking at me with a pleasant rather smiling expression; and I thought she was a great deal less overwhelming than I had expected, though she was even more beautiful. "You have seen Mr. Montgomery?" she began. I thought it was only a question in form.
I said, "Oh, yes, I first saw him several years ago, dancing at a ball."
She gave me a keen glance. "Yes, and later than that?"
"Then, then," I stammered, for I was at a loss to know whether she knew what my evidence was to be, "then once or twice on the street, and yesterday in court."
"Well, and what do you think of him?"
"Why I—I don't know him."
She made an amused little sound in her throat. "Yet you have seen him three times. Once would have been enough. Surely you can tell me at least one thing—do you think he looks like a murderer?"
"Oh, no!" I murmured.
Her eyes never left me. "But you do not think well of him; he is perhaps repulsive to you?"
"Oh, no!" I whispered. There was a painful tightness around my heart, and my head felt on fire. It was not the Spanish Woman but I who seemed to be telling the story.
She gave a quick nod, as if my answers thus far had satisfied her. "You do not believe him to be a murderer, you do not even think him unpleasant, and yet you will go into the court and swear away his freedom—perhaps his life?"
"I said I thought he did not look like a murderer," I desperately insisted, "but I can't help—"
"I know, my child, just what you are going to say," she interrupted. "You are going to say the words they have taught you—that it is your duty, and all that! And do you not know that the law is just a great machine of rules, and that this is one of them: that you must tell whatever you have seen, no matter how unjust, no matter what harm it does? It is for that reason I do not go to the law. I come to you, who are a woman like me, and have compassion. You say you do not know this man, but you have seen him. You can not be quite blind to what he is. He has been rash and foolish, and it is true that he has made angry some very virtuous citizens"—she rolled out the last two words with a curl of her handsome lip—"but he is a most lovable and charming boy, and the most brave! Can't you see by his face that he could not do an evil thing? He was dragged into this affair as a matter of honor; the quarrel was a fair and open one."
A joyful feeling went through me at her words—the first really kind, saving words I had heard spoken of him. I almost loved her for them; and the expectation that the next moment I was to hear the explanation of them held me, leaning forward in my chair, breathless.
She made a little imploring movement toward me with her open hands. "It would be cruel, cruel for a gentle, tender-hearted girl like you to speak such words against him!" A faint color was beginning to shine in her cheeks, and her eyes had opened wide their wonderful blacks.
"But," I cried, "if you know something in his favor why don't you go into court and tell them about it? If only you would speak to them as you do to me, I know they would believe you! They couldn't help it!"
She shot a quick glance at me, half suspicious, half fierce; but immediately it softened into a rather sad smile. "That is very gracious of you, to speak so; but about the court do not make a mistake! The words I have, the things I know, are not those that speak to the mind but to the heart. All that the lawyers take count of are the facts; and for the jury, they would be more swayed by one word a little innocent-eyed girl will say, than by the most eloquent plea I could offer. It is you who will sway this balance of justice. Do not try to escape from that responsibility. Think, think, of how, when you saw him come out of the door, he looked at you, and with his eyes implored you to be silent!"
I stared at her, terribly wrought upon by the memory she had called up of that look; astounded that she had known of it, had even been able to translate its meaning for me.
"Yes," she said, smiling, "I know all about it. And then you ran home and told them." Her voice grew very caressing. "But that was in the moment when you had lost your head. Now that you have had time to think it all over, now that you know how much it means—oh, surely, you will not speak again! I beg you, in human mercy, not that you plead for him, not that you tell a false story, but only as you are a woman, keep silence, keep silence!"
I listened with increasing dismay, as the hot words poured from her lips; and, with the end, a revulsion of feeling took me, a lost and bewildered sense of being completely astray. It was not to tell me anything she had called me hither—oh, quite the opposite!—it was to try to close my lips. If I hadn't been so blinded by my obstinate hopes I might have thought of this before! I might have saved myself the ordeal; for I had felt the very heart in me weaken at the picture of him her words called up.
"If I could make myself believe as you do," I said, "that what I have to tell will condemn him, even though he is innocent, I should want, myself, to die. But I can't believe, I can't think, that God can be so unjust as to let him be condemned when he is innocent!"
She let her head drop back, and laughed a little. "You will find, my child, that it is men who control the affairs of the earth; and that if you believe any such fine things of them you will be disappointed. As for the lawyers, they will convict an innocent man as merrily as they will eat their dinner, if only the popular cry is loud enough, and they can get enough of what they call their evidence against him. Do not expect any miraculous intervention on his behalf."
"I don't," I cried stoutly. "But some one must know the truth of what has really happened; and that person surely will come forward and tell what he knows before he will let Mr. Montgomery be condemned. Oh, if only I knew, nothing should keep me from saying it!"
She had drawn herself upright in her chair, her face whiter than her flower, her clenched hands resting on either arm; and now she slowly rose to her feet. Standing there she seemed fairly to tower above me, and looking down with her eyes glimmering upon me through her lashes. "What if he is guilty?" she said slowly.
The room around me grew dreamy. My head felt light. All the things I had ever believed in seemed to have fallen far, far below me, tiny and inconsequent. I closed my hands hard around the arms of my chair. I clung to it as if it had been my last principle of faith. "I have given my word," I said, "and even if I had not, I should have to tell the truth. It is a question of honor."
She stood a moment longer with her hands still clenched and slightly raised, as if she were going to strike a blow—myself, or her own breast. Then she let them fall limp, and, lifting her shoulders with a superb little scornful motion, "Ah, I thought you were only a fool," she said. "I see, you are cold."
She turned sharply about, and crossed the room to where something which looked like a large bench stood against the wall, covered with gold-colored velvet. I saw her fling back the covering and kneel beside it, fumbling with the lid. I heard the clicking of what seemed a series of locks. At last she turned her head and spoke, "Come here!"
I rose and went slowly over to where she knelt in the shadow.
I seemed involuntarily to obey those imperious words. I took the seat she indicated, a carved stool, drawn near the chest, and saw her just lifting out a long string of blue flashing stars. It was like a toy, like one of those strings you hang upon a Christmas tree, only a hundred times more brilliant. "See how pretty!" she said, and ran it through her fingers in a little blue stream; then, with an easy motion of her wrist, she tossed it around my shoulders. She put her hand down into the chest and brought out a long, long string of pearls—if pearls had ever been so large—long as the rosaries I used to string of oak balls, and dropped it over my head. I felt the great weight of it upon my neck.
"Look," she said, and taking up a velvet case, opened it, and showed me, lying on the crimson satin bed, a necklace like a wreath of light. There was no misunderstanding the preciousness of that. The shock of the realization of what they were sent the blood into my face. Her eyes laughed at me with a gleam that seemed devilish. She threw the box into my lap. She took out rings and covered my fingers with them, drops of blood, red, and brilliant green, and rainbow colors. I couldn't seem to speak or move. I thought she must be mad.
"Here," she said, and leaning toward me, deftly pulled out the pins and took off my hat. Then in both her hands she lifted something from the chest, and, before I could stop her she had pressed it down upon my head. Then she rose. Her face was flushed; her lips parted eagerly on her gleaming teeth. She caught my hand and pulled me in front of a great mirror that hung upon the wall.
I saw reflected there a small, shrinking figure, with a white face, in a white dress, crowned with a circlet of gold, and hung with necklaces that made brightness in the shadow. I heard the Spanish Woman's voice speaking excitedly close beside my cheek.
"There is not their like in this state, in this country. Some of those have come out of the greatest houses in Spain. They will make you rich, they will make you beautiful! They are nothing to me; I will give them to you, every one, to keep for ever! Take them—take them all! And go away! Just for three little days; until the trial is over!"
I shrank from her in mere amazement. In the first moment I did not take in what she meant.
"No, but listen," she cried, catching at me, "I can make it easy for you to go. I have influence—I will help you—I will hide you! We will arrange the story."
I raised my hands to my head. Now I was choking with anger, with tears. "Do you think I would do for these, what I would not do for him?" I lifted the circlet off my head, but my hands shook so that it fell, and rolled on the floor between us, and I believe we both forgot it. "Do you suppose I don't care as much as you do? I would do anything in the world to clear him of this charge. But you don't understand—to clear him! I can't hush it and hide it. It wouldn't make it come right, and I don't believe he wants me to. I don't believe that is what he meant. I know he would hate me if I saved him with such a lie!"
She grew white. A small sharp shadow came on each side of her mouth. Her lips parted with a sort of gasp. "What do you know about saving or dying; what do you know about hating or loving? You would not lie—oh, no! You would save him—if he were innocent! Why, you child, I would save him the same if he had killed fifty! You are so precious of your little self, and your little virtue! Virtue? Pah! I love him—and that is my virtue!"
Something in the triumphant ring of her voice, in the very strength of her passion itself, for the moment made her noble. Beside her I felt myself small, mean and wretched.
It seemed to me I was in a nightmare and never should awake. I pulled the necklaces, the bracelets, the rings, off me, struggling with the tangled chains and stubborn clasps. I shook my hand free of the last jewel, and then snatching up my turban, pinned it on with trembling fingers, and all the while she stood looking silently at me. One could not tell what was behind her face. But when, at last, I had taken up the little ball of my gloves and stood before her, she spoke in a very soft voice:
"Pardon me, I have lost my wits. But you are made of a material—I do not know it—but it is not flesh and blood. Nevertheless we must not part bad friends."
She turned to the table and, pushing aside the jewels as if they had been colored glass, pulled toward her a tray, and took up a glass decanter. She poured two glasses of wine, and taking one, gracefully held it out to me. "Will you not drink to his acquittal?" she asked.
"Forgive me," I said, "if I do not drink to it. I will wish for it with all my heart. That will be the same."
"But it is not," she said, advancing, with her bright eyes fixed upon me. "To drink—that is a deed which shows the good will. The rest is but words. Come, you have spoken of great things you would do for him if only you could. Well, here is one small thing. Let me see you make good your words!" Her voice was so sweetly coaxing my hand hesitated toward the glass. Then, as she thought I was going to take it, something in the expectant, intense look of her caught me; and a dreadful thought flashed into my mind.
I shrank back. "No," I said, "I can not!"
But she was fairly upon me with it. She was leaning over me. "Drink, yes, drink!" She thrust it upon me.
"No, no!" I cried in terror. "I will not!" I flung up my hand with the impulse to keep it off me, and struck the glass, and overturned it.
She stepped backward and set down the tray with a clang. There was no perceptible change in her face, but suddenly she had become terrible. "You shall never go out of my house," she said.
My ears wouldn't believe, my senses rejected the meaning of those words. "You would not do such a thing—you would not dare!"
She threw back her head until I could see the great column of her white throat swell, and laughed. "I tell you, my pretty little girl, I would fling away a dozen such as you for only the chance of saving him!"
I saw that she meant it—I understood how well!—I felt like a little dry stick in a river, like a leaf in the wind. I looked behind me. The windows did not open into the outer air but into a tightly closed conservatory. The sound that was struggling in my throat was a scream, but suppose it would only call in some of her creatures before Mr. Dingley should hear! I looked squarely into her face, and I am sure, in that moment, that I understood what death might mean. "I am going," I said, very quietly, and walked across the room toward the curtains.
She did not try to stop me, and every unobstructed step I took forward I thought, with increasing terror, "What is it that she means to do?" When I reached the closed curtain the grasp of her hands, which I had dreaded; was the least of my fears. The anteroom was empty, but as I passed its threshold I heard her move across the inner room, and then a bell rang, away down in the lower part of the house. There is no describing the feeling that was in me when, with the sound of that uncanny signal in my ears, I opened the door into the grizzly maze of passageways.
I remembered that I had turned to the right in coming in, so now I turned to the left, and hurried down that narrow, unlighted way that led me directly to another door. But I remembered that and opened it and stepped through into another hall. Here were three branching ways, and it was only one of these, of course, which would bring me to the sala door. The others might plunge me into Heaven knew what places of the house, or what hands! There was no time to hesitate, I must choose and chance it! There was not one thing—window, furniture or color—to distinguish them. Yet in my agony of mind I gave a glance down one and two of them; and on the floor of the second, a few yards from me some small, light-colored object was lying. I ran forward and stooped. It was the blue bow that had fallen from my hair.
I picked it up with a rush of thankfulness. This was an incident in a fairy tale! It seemed an omen of safety, and as I held it in my hand I fairly ran along the passage and came at last triumphantly out into the hall, which I remembered, broad and carpeted with red.
Down the stairs I hastened, my heart going quick with the alarms of my escape, opened the door at the foot of it and came into the little entry. As I entered it I fancied a sound. It was like a step, very soft, so soft as to be hardly audible, not behind me, not on the other side of the door in front of me, but somewhere beyond the entry partition on my right. It was there, I reckoned, that one of those dark anterooms, through which we had approached the sala, must be. The flesh of my back was pricking, but I was almost safe. Once let me reach Mr. Dingley and I knew that somehow he would get us out. With a great effort I pulled open the heavy door into the sala.
"Oh, I—" I began; but then I stopped. The room was so large that it took me some moments to make sure it was empty. Mr. Dingley was not there.
I stood perfectly still in that stupendous place. Everything in me seemed to have stopped moving, too—my blood and my heart. And, in the listening pause, there came again unmistakably, soft, stealthy footsteps, sounding beyond the heavy curtain of the door—sounding as if creatures were gathering in those dark rooms that lay between me and the outer hall.
I didn't scream. I didn't want to. I walked quite quietly across the room to one of the heavily curtained windows at the back, and pulled the hangings aside.
In front of me, not three feet from the window was the blank face of the convent wall rising straight up, higher than I could see. I looked downward. The stone pavement, which I could just make out in the gloom, must have been ten feet below. Nevertheless I had a wild thought that, if the worst came, I could at least fling myself down the narrow cleft; and in that mind I took hold of the window-frame. I had no hope that I could move it, even after I had stirred the heavy locks; but, with the pressure of all my weight against it, slowly the two sides of the casement opened out. As the dusty panes of glass swung away from before me my eye caught a singular irregularity in the surface of the wall. About on a level with the window-sill was a niche in the masonry, perhaps three feet square, and looking to be the depth of the wall itself. The back of it seemed to be made of a dark substance—darker than the bricks—through which shone twinkling glimpses of daylight.
I climbed upon the window-sill, and, taking hold of the upper edge of one of the casements, swung myself by this. I felt myself hovering an instant in mid-air. Then my feet had found the niche. I crouched, and, groping forward with one hand, grasped a stout tangle of vines. Releasing the casement I half-dragged, half-swung myself into the opening in the wall. I clung there a moment trembling, catching my breath, before I realized that the dark mass at the back of the niche was merely ivy, some of which I had grasped, tearing quite a little opening, and through this I could see a blessed glimpse of blue sky.
Putting my eyes close to this peep-hole I looked downward and saw below me the grass plots of the convent garden. A great tangle of bushes was at the foot of the wall, but in spite of that it looked a dreadful drop. I glanced over my shoulder into the room behind me, and thought I saw a shadow moving down the floor. I do not know how I turned myself in the cramped space where I knelt. All I could remember afterward was the feel of the edge of the rough masonry under my fingers; the tearing of the ivy as my body crushed through it; the straining of my arms as I swung downward. I gave one horrified glance into the depths of the garden; then closed my eyes and let go.
I could not tell how long a time had passed, but gradually out of complete consciousness, grew up the sense of a wretched throbbing. I thought it was my head. I opened my eyes and found I was looking straight up into the sky. I lay staring at it, it was so wonderfully soft and blue. Presently the wind swayed a green branch into my line of vision; at sight of that the query of where I was came into my mind.
I moved my head and felt the crackle of twigs at my cheek. I was lying in a mass of ivy and lemon verbena bushes, and at one side of me rose the great face of a wall. The memory of what had happened returned. I scrambled to a sitting posture. My head was so dizzy that I had to catch at the bushes to hold myself upright, and my body felt sore and shaken, but the impulse to get away from the house, whose windows overlooking the convent wall still spied upon me, carried me to my feet.
Through the shrubbery I peered at the garden beyond. There was a level green lawn, with sedate paths marching around it, but no black hooded figures were moving there in ones or twos or in solemn file, as I had been wont to see them. I walked rather uncertainly forward across the grass, across the dank and mossy paths, and into the shadowy length of the corridor. This, too, was empty, and at one end of it a little door, with a grill across it, seemed as effectually to bar me out as the Spanish Woman's house had shut me in. In my dazed state the only thing I could think of doing, to call the attention of the place to my presence, was to seize the grill in both hands and shake it with all my weakened strength. It made quite a rattling, and then I heard hurrying feet, and presently the small, startled face of a nun peered through the grating.
"I want to see the Mother Superior," I said in a trembling voice.
She looked at me sharply, and, I thought, a little as if she were frightened. "Why didn't you ring the bell?" she asked.
"The bell? What bell?" I stammered, for the only bell I could call to mind was the bell the Spanish Woman had rung. Then, as the sister appeared to be about to draw back, "Oh, please, please," I cried, "take me to the Mother Superior! I am in great trouble!"
There was a pause; then a little rustling, then a whispering of voices behind the grating, and another face, rounder and larger than the first, peered out; and a more sympathetic voice said: "Poor little creature! and her hat is all on one side!"
Then, after some further deliberation, in which one of the voices seemed to be protesting that it was afraid of something, the nun who had come first disappeared,—I could hear the sound of her feet hastening away,—and the second opened the grating and drew me in. She led me down a narrow, musty-smelling hall and into a dull little room where she made me sit down, and put my hat straight, and smoothed my hair very kindly but rather clumsily with hands like white pincushions. At last, with the timid nun following furtively at her heels, the Mother Superior came. She was a thin woman in flowing robes, with a great white sheer coif around her delicate face; and she looked at me very kindly and benevolently while I stammered out the essentials of my story—how the Spanish Woman had tried to keep me in her house, and how I got out of the window and through a hole in the wall and so down into the garden. When I came to this point in my tale, "But those windows are closed up!" cried one of the nuns. "And the wall is eight feet!" cried the other, "and there is no hole in it! It would be impossible!"
The Mother Superior shook her head at them, and said to me: "Can you tell me where you live, my child?"
I thought it odd that there should be any doubt in her mind as to that, but I eagerly gave her the number and the street. "And if you will only send for a carriage," I said, "because I am afraid I am too tired to walk, I should like to go home."
"It will be best to notify your parents," she said in a soothing voice, "and they will fetch you away."
"But there is no one there now, except Abby, and she is lame and very old. Father is not in town. He will not be back until night, and I can perfectly well go home alone!" I was beginning to feel desperate, as I thought I never should get out of the place.
She smiled and said, "Well, we will see! Give me your father's name." She looked surprised when she heard it and not quite as if she believed me, but all she said was, "Now you must lie down and rest a little while before you go out."
I protested that I did not feel tired, and indeed my anxiety to get away had wiped out all memory of my bruises. But in the end I had to follow the round-faced nun up the bare, cement stairway to another small room. It seemed strange after the luxurious glooms of the Spanish Woman's house, to be in this bare, whitewashed place, where all the light fell unobstructed through little, narrow windows placed high up in the walls. There were no mirrors here, not one, to reflect one's figure; and it was only when I had taken off my hat that I discovered what a wreck it was, crushed absurdly out of shape; and my hair was half down. The nun helped me to unwind and brush it out, and I heard her murmuring at my back, "When I was young my hair was as long as this."
And then she coaxed me to lie down on a little bed. I felt her cover me up; but when she tried to make me drink something from a glass a hideous memory sprang in my mind, and I had struck and knocked the glass out of her hand before I could think what I was doing. I heard her muttering anxiously to herself as she picked the pieces up, and then I was left alone.
With confused puzzles moving through my mind I lay there, tense, feverish, tossing, each moment expecting some one to come and tell me I could go home. Finally, I seemed at last really to be going. The only trouble was that the nuns told me I could not leave unless I left as a bride, and they had no satin and no orange flowers.
I was startled out of this fancy by voices sounding loud upon the edge of my dream. One said angrily, "In the first place you ought never to have taken her to that infernal house, either for the sake of getting evidence or any other thing." The second retorted, "Well, I wanted to keep her out of the whole business. It was you who insisted on dragging her in; and once you get into this sort of thing difficult situations often present themselves."
My eyes opened wide, and in the faint light of the floating candle flames, just above me, I saw Mr. Dingley's face. "You weren't there! Why weren't you there?" I said, sitting up.
"You see," a woman's voice that I thought was the Mother Superior's, put in, "she says and does such strange things that I dared not let her go out into the street alone."
Then, with an unutterable sense of relief, I recognized father's voice. "Yes, that was quite right. She was better here." And he sat down on the edge of the bed.
"Oh, take me home!" I cried.
He smiled, and said, with that same exasperating sort of reassurance which the Mother Superior had used, "Yes, we are going immediately."
They all made me feel as if they thought that I didn't know what I was talking about.
"Either every one is crazy," I thought, "or the whole world is in some plot against me, and they have deceived father, too." Of course my mind knew that to be ridiculous, but everything conspired to make familiar people strange. What was it Mr. Dingley had been telling father just before I returned to consciousness? "Perhaps after I am alone with father at home I can get him to listen to what I want to say," I thought.
But there were many reasons why this undertaking was much more difficult than I had supposed.
In the first place, it was Mr. Dingley who began by asking me where I had gone. He had been waiting in the front hall for me all the while, he said, and how had I got out without his seeing me? He had hunted all through the rooms on the lower floor, and not finding me, had gone back to our house, supposing I had returned; and from there had set out in search of me.
It sounded very reasonable, and I was at a loss to understand why it didn't seem probable to me. Then, when we reached home, we found a person waiting—a detective Mr. Dingley had sent for—and to him and to Mr. Dingley as well as to father, I had to tell my story. It came out in bits and snatches, with questions and answers, Mr. Dingley's all mixed in with mine; and when they did let me speak uninterruptedly I was so excited that the words came tumbling out, all confused. It seemed to me, too, that father was much more anxious over the fact that I was feverish and had a lump on my forehead, than the fact that the Spanish Woman had offered me that glass of wine, and then said I should never leave the house. But he said the thing should be investigated; and Mr. Dingley said something about making inquiries to-night; and finally all three went out together, leaving me in a wretched state of anxiety and doubt.
It seemed to me that none of them at all understood the situation, and it was so wonderfully clear, in my own mind, so enormous and astounding in its menace, that I was woefully puzzled to see how they could have missed it. But I was to learn no more until the following day, when, lying in bed, stiff and sore, with every muscle in my arms and shoulders aching, father came in with that unwontedly grave and puzzled face that the poor dear had worn so often since the beginning of the whole miserable experience.
The detective and police had been to the Spanish Woman's house, he said, and had interviewed her. She had told them quite frankly that she had indeed sent for me to come to her, and had implored me not to give the evidence which I was expected to give; because she said she fully believed it to be false—that the pistol I had thought I had seen in Johnny Montgomery's hand must have been a fancy of mine, and that she could not bear to have such damaging testimony given so recklessly. She had thought, so she said, that being a woman she might perhaps know better how to elicit the real facts of the case from me, since the men,—lawyers, police officers and even my father,—might very well have frightened away my memory by their manner of going about it. But when I had been so obstinate, she said, she had lost her head and become angry, and that had frightened me. She said she had tried in every way to reassure me; but I had resisted all her offers of hospitality, and finally, becoming hysterical, had struck a glass of wine which she had offered me, out of her hand, and rushed out of the room, before she could stop me or even discover why I had so suddenly fled.
Mr. Dingley, father went on, had explained that he had been waiting for me, as he had said he would, down-stairs; but at the moment when I had come he had not been in the sala.
I could only stare at father. These didn't seem to be at all the same experiences which I had been through so short a time before; and yet, when I considered, I couldn't contradict a thing. The incidents were there, but somehow they all sounded perfectly harmless. I felt bewildered. Beside these mild-looking facts my actions seemed those of a madwoman.
Furthermore, father went on, Mr. Dingley had said that when he went through the sala afterward, searching for me, the windows had been closed and locked fast and the police had declared there was no hole in the convent wall, and that the wall itself would have been a difficult drop even for a man.
I pounced upon this as a tangible fact. "Then some one in the house must have closed and locked the window again; and there was a hole in the wall, or how could I have gone through it? The drop was very bad indeed, for my hat was crushed out of shape."
Poor father looked very much puzzled. "But about the wine—I don't understand. Why did you do that?"
The answer was ready at my amazed lips, but I stopped it, for now at last I began to see. I began to see how, without that peculiar intent look with which the Spanish Woman had handed me the wine-glass, nor the menacing gesture with which she had thrust it upon me, the episode of the wine that had seemed to me so threatening became a mere empty courtesy; and indeed, separated from the sinister appearance of the moment, not one episode that had taken place in that extraordinary house which could not be explained away! I knew past any doubting, that the Spanish Woman had tried to bribe me, had tried to poison me, and failing that would have detained me by force, if I had not got out of the window. And, if I should tell him the whole adventure now while it was so burning fresh in my own mind, with all its suggestive atmosphere, its eloquent details, couldn't I make him see it as I saw it? No. The Spanish Woman had blown the magic breath of her plausibility, her ingenuity, upon the poor little substance of my true story, and had scattered it like ash. It was too much of an undertaking, even supposing it to be possible, to bring together the pieces again. And a vaguer but even more insistent voice, prompted, "Then suppose he does believe me? What will it mean to Johnny Montgomery?" It seemed to me that I had been enough of a Spartan as far as that man was considered.
I looked up at father and said, "She frightened me—the Spanish Woman frightened me, and so I ran away."
How readily he took this up, showed me it was the explanation he expected. "Yes, I know. It would be quite natural," he said soothingly. "You have been much over-wrought, and this infernal performance has thrown you into hysterics. But that wall, child—an awful drop!" He laughed a little, but I could see how much moved he was. "I hope to see that courage displayed in a worthier cause some time."
I did not tell him how worthy the cause this time had been, how were it not for that bold leap of mine there would have been no star witness for the people to-morrow.
Something in my noncommittal air seemed to touch father, and make him still look anxiously at me. "Of course, Dingley is going to have the matter investigated further. The woman will probably be arrested, if only on suspicion."
But that evening he told me that Mr. Dingley had said nothing had been elicited from her that would warrant such a thing; and though father seemed vexed and dissatisfied, he argued what could one do if there was no evidence to fasten upon?
I did not answer; I knew it would be of no use, Mr. Dingley's explanations were so reasonable. But since I had talked with father that morning a piece of news had come to me which had only succeeded in strengthening my belief in the meaning of the Spanish Woman's actions. This was brought me by Hallie, my envoy extraordinary, who had wormed it out of her mother who had got it from Mr. Ferguson.
It seemed that on Saturday, just after Hallie had left the court, the Spanish Woman had taken the witness-stand and testified that she had been Rood's wife. Mr. Ferguson said this was ridiculous to suppose, yet no one, not even Mr. Dingley, had challenged her statement. She denied there had ever been any trouble between the two men. She said she had been interested in Mr. Montgomery as a woman might be who was old enough to be his mother, but that Rood had been her husband and that she had loved and been faithful to him. She was wonderfully calm and convincing, Mr. Ferguson had said, and it looked at first as if her testimony would help the defense very much, but when Mr. Dingley's associate began cross-examining her, he seemed to turn her testimony inside out, and then it appeared that her evidence had been the worst thing possible for the prisoner. For if Rood had stood so firmly in Montgomery's way, the lawyer argued, that would give the very strongest motive for the shooting.
"Wasn't it dreadful!" Hallie exclaimed. "When she wanted so much to help him, to find she had only made things worse. Father said that when she realized how the evidence had been turned against him she grew as white as death."
From this I was able to understand better why the Spanish Woman had been willing to take the terrible chance involved in sending for me to come to her house. She must have been desperate. But, what I could not understand was, why had not Mr. Dingley challenged any of her testimony in the court? Why was it always his associate?
I had a sense of things going on under the surface which even my father did not suspect. There was plenty of news flying about in plain hearing and sight—news of mob law preached from the custom-house steps; news of the double guard at the jail so there would be no second chance of escape—all these things I heard without their being able to rouse in me any special interest. My mind was fixed on the under-currents. I couldn't explain them to father because I didn't understand them myself, only felt them. I felt as if I and all the rest had been handled, were being handled now, by a baffling and subtle power which one could not lay hands upon, because it seemed, as if by magic, to be able to erase the evidence of its action.
There was no telling, I thought, what the Spanish Woman might not manage to do. Yes, even though I seemed to be safe; for hadn't she, in a fashion, conjured me out of Mr. Dingley's protection? Her power of persuasion—it was that which was her magic! Thus far father was the only one who seemed untouched by it. Even I had felt the pressure of it. Those appeals she had made when she had begged me to remember how Johnny Montgomery had implored me, as she said, with his look, to be silent—they had nearly undone me, and still they haunted me.
"But I don't believe he wanted it, I don't believe he would want anything so cowardly! and I know I do not want him at that price." This last reflection of mine astonished myself. What could I have meant by that? Oh, of course, that I did not want him released at that price! But was it probable that whether he were released or convicted it would be in any way for my happiness? Suppose, with her dark power, she was going to be the enchantress to-morrow. Was she again going to scatter, in some unforeseen and uncombatible way, all my testimony, and triumphantly see the prisoner acquitted? Oughtn't I to be glad that he would be free? Ah, that was the strange part of it! For it appeared to me that in such an acquittal there would be something doubly guilty; something that would send him out of the court under a deeper shadow than ever he had found in prison; something that would pledge him to her for ever. It was that last thought of all I could least endure.
THE LAST DAY OF THE TRIAL
After the restless crowd—craning necks; shifting feet, half-caught sentences—excited, alert, like a nervous horse dancing at a shadow, ready at the vaguest rumor to rush into a sensation, how quiet, prosaic, and even peaceful the court room seemed! That morning when we entered it was only partly filled, and in the space behind the railing the clerk of the court was scribbling, the lawyers were lolling, certain individuals looking like janitors were wandering idly about, and at his high desk the judge was writing steadily, his fine, white hand moving across the paper, his eyes now and then glancing aside as if he were thinking and paying no attention at all to what was going on in the room around him. It was reassuring in a way, as if after all nothing remarkable were going to happen.
Some women came in all in a group, among them Hallie Ferguson, her mother hanging back in her wake, as if she were being towed along in spite of herself. Hallie came over to where we sat, and began to whisper in my ear some long story of something which she was deeply absorbed in at the moment. This, too, had a habitual and pleasant feeling about it. Even when, with a black veil over her face, sweeping in folds down the length of her dress, the Spanish Woman came in, it was hard to believe that she was that same terrible creature who had stood before me only the day before yesterday telling me I should never leave her house.
She took one of the chairs which had been placed along the wall, so that instead of facing the judge's desk, she fronted the crowd, and threw her veil back. She looked white, whiter than I had ever seen her, as if she were deeply powdered, and this had the effect of a mask. I have never seen a human face so calm or so indifferently sweet as hers, and she sat as motionless as if she had been carved there. One heard the whisperings around the room, saw the nudges and the twisting of heads, but it was as if she did not see or know them. Then the interest of the room turned toward the door. With that queer instinct of a crowd, which knows before it sees, the whole room know that the prisoner was coming before there was a glimpse of him visible.
He walked up the aisle, looking remarkably fresh and calm, as if he were here on the merest matter of business. As soon as he was seated he turned his head and glanced behind him, and I thought his eyes rested first on that place where I had sat the week before; but they did not linger there a moment, sweeping on in a half circle around the room, glancing over me so quickly that I could not tell at all whether he had noticed me. I thought he had been looking for some one, though it couldn't have been the Spanish Woman, since she sat in plain sight on the other side of the room.
The court filled rapidly. Young men whom I knew came in, and evidently one or two of these knew Johnny Montgomery; for they walked up and into the railed inclosure where he sat, shook hands with him and stood talking with him. I could not but believe that at any time he pleased. he could rise and leave the court as freely as those others could have done. The thing going on here which they called a trial had the appearance of being just a pretense—a play.
At last one of the men who had been wandering aimlessly among the tables came forward and intoned those words which I could never understand, but which, nevertheless, always brought quick order. Then there was some exchange of words between the lawyers on the other side of the rail, now with the judge, now with one another; and now it was the clerk of the court who was speaking; and I couldn't repress the absurd feeling of surprise that they should turn their backs and mumble so, since it appeared irresistibly to me that we were an audience, and the thing was being done for our benefit.
I was trying to make out what it was that Mr. Jackson had been saying to the judge since it seemed to make for much smiling, when above the rustle and whisper I heard again the voice of the clerk calling out. There was a moment's wait. Then he raised his tone; I heard, and the words went pealing through me:
"Eleanor Fenwick, Eleanor Fenwick!"
I sat gazing pitifully at him while he chanted it out in that monotonous, singing voice.
"Ellie!" father whispered.
I rose, then realized with a sense of desertion that father was not coming with me. I would have to be alone. Feeling strange, oh very strange, with the echo of my own name still ringing in my ears, I pattered up the aisle toward that railing. As I advanced I felt as if I were walking away from all the world. I heard the movement and the stir of it behind me. In front I saw only the faces of the lawyers, of the clerk, of the judge, and these all seemed without any feeling, as if they were not people at all.
I found myself standing in front of the railing, and two men were facing me, one the clerk of the court, who was holding an open book. I had an impression that they were speaking to me, still in those monotonous, artificial voices, as if they were not saying anything with human meaning in it, and while they spoke they held their hands up, palm out, and I held mine. The next thing I knew I was mounting into the little raised and railed-in seat on the left hand of the judge's desk.
"What is it that is going to happen here?" I thought. I turned and took the chair, and found myself facing a mass,—a monster,—numberless heads and eyes, all gazing at me. A cold sensation of fear went over me, like a great wave, closing my throat, and making my head feel as if it were fitted with a cap of ice. "Oh, I can not, I can not!" I kept repeating to myself.
But, while it still seemed to me as if I should never make another sound, I heard a voice asking me my name. I recognized it as Mr. Dingley's. To see him standing up there and gravely, as if he had never seen me before, putting that question was indeed absurd. It was impossible to be frightened with such laughable procedure. He asked me my age, my place of residence, when he knew both very well, then, where had I been walking when I heard the shot; and with these questions I was familiar, having answered them all the day in the library, so it made the speaking now a little easier. And finally when he said: "Now tell the court and the gentlemen of the jury as well as you can remember exactly what you saw," my only thought was, "Oh, how often I have repeated this before! Will there never be an end of it?"
But as I began, I was aware that the judge's pen, which had been steadily scratching ever since the court had opened, had ceased; and, as I went on, all the rustling and whispering in the room fell silent. The stillness made the place seem immense, and for a little while my voice went on through the silence like a tiny thread. And now it had stopped. I had come to the end of what I knew. It had been so small a thing to say! But the silence was so deep I dared not look around. I kept my eyes on Mr. Dingley's face, and thought it looked very strange and worn.
"Can you," he began, in his ponderous official voice, each word coming down heavily upon my ears, "Can you positively identify this person you describe with the revolver?"
I believe that my "Yes" was a movement of the lips and a bend of the head.
"Do you see him here in this court?"
The very idea of looking again at that terrible mass of heads and eyes, all watching me, like some fabulous dragon, brought back the sickening panic. But, queerly enough, when my eyes did move across them, I saw only a dark, impersonal blur, and then the one face. It appeared, in the indefiniteness around it, singularly near and distinct. He was looking at me with that gentle, sweet expression which my sick fancy hinted he never showed except when he looked at me. And he was smiling, reassuringly, as if he were encouraging me to go on; as if he would have me to understand that no great issues hung upon what I was going to say, that really what was happening was not so very momentous after all.
"He is sitting there," I said. "The third from the end of the bench, next to Mr. Jackson."
Instantly voices of officers rang all about the court, crying, "Order, order!" though there had been no sound, only a great stir, which seemed to pass across the crowd, and which the next moment might have become articulate. I sat trembling, wondering what it all meant, clasping my hands tightly in my lap. All the back of the hall was crowded with men, and most of these looked like street-loungers, unshaven and rough. They stood so close together they hid the door, and seemed to sway and press forward upon the room; and I thought, "There are a great many Mexicans in here."
Mr. Dingley asked me more questions—if I had heard voices quarreling, and I had not; which side of the street had been in sunshine, and what color dress I had worn. I told him, thinking that this was nonsense again. And then Mr. Jackson said something to the judge, Mr. Dingley sat down, and Mr. Jackson leaned on the railing, making me think of a figure on the stage, and asked me why had I gone out at that early hour of the morning, what had been my business, how had it happened that I was walking through such a street as Dupont, and how did I suppose the doors of the saloon had happened to be open so early? It was all in such a tone as made my cheeks burn with a sense of shame and indignation, though I could not see what he was getting at. Then suddenly he veered and demanded how could I tell that the handle of the revolver had been mother-of-pearl when it had fallen on the shady side of the street, how large was it exactly, how had Johnny Montgomery held it, how had he thrown it, then—quickly leaning toward me—could I produce this revolver?
At this there were sounds from the back of the court like hisses, and voices choked off on the first syllable by rappings and calls of "Order!" The small man who was Mr. Dingley's associate attorney was calling out, "I object, your Honor," very fiercely.
I felt faint, and did not know in the least what was the trouble. I began to answer that I had not touched the revolver, but the judge smiled at me, and said in his conversational voice: only now it was not indifferent but very kind, "You needn't answer that question."
So I said, "Thank you." And Mr. Jackson said, "That will do," and I noticed that some of the jurors were smiling, but quite nicely, so I didn't mind that, as I went down out of the witness-box.
"Can it be that this is all I am to do?" I thought. "Is it over?" I had expected this for so long in my days and in my dreams; and the moment had come and had passed so quickly. And here was father waiting for me.