- CHAPTER XII "YOUR BROTHER WAS MURDERED"
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"YOUR BROTHER WAS MURDERED"
FELIX CHETWYNDE is brought to the villa; not across the ravine, but carefully, tenderly by way of Lakeville and Lee, the longest but the gentlest route, and before the afternoon is well begun he lies in his own room silent, handsome, and for ever asleep. Upon his face a look which none can interpret, so stern, so set, so strong, it is so different from the careless, half-smiling, sometimes cynical, but never severe face of the living Felix Chetwynde.
There is little doubt in the public mind concerning his fate. He lay in the attitude of one fallen suddenly, his face upturned, his arms thrown out, the embracing greenery all about him, half hiding the body, wholly concealing the face; and near him, as if it may have been thrown from the dying hand, a pistol, his own pistol, as is readily proved. While his wheel, bearing his initials upon a shield-shaped little silver plate upon the handlebar, is found leaning against a tree not far away. True, there is no reason, no definite reason, that is, for such an act, but then there are those who can | | 148 remember now--and such deeds act wonderfully as a stimulus to a certain class of memories--that Felix Chetwynde has been moody at times of late, while others hint at possible financial embarrassments and losses at play.
A disappointment in love is also hinted at. As for the possibility of murder, in broad daylight, and in such a place, it is hardly reasonable! Besides, his watch, ring, and purse--all are upon the body when found. And then--"There must be a motive for murder," they say.
Then, there is the possibility of accident. Felix is known to have been a reckless and hasty shot. May not his weapon have caught in the bushes?
Of course there must be an inquest, and this is put off for a night and a day, in order to give the sheriff of the county, a man with opinions and methods of his own, time to "look over the ground."
During these first two days Aunt Cassandra stands staunchly at the helm with silent, compressed lips, steady hand, and practical good sense.
She has feared that Hope might break down utterly; but the girl had been, from the first, strangely still, calm, and self-contained. In fact, she has so manifestly preferred seclusion and her own thoughts or grief, that her aunt has given over all efforts at consolation, and has contented herself with standing between the girl and her two importunate consolers.
"I confess that I cannot understand Hope," the spinster says to Mrs. Hilton, on the day after the discovery of the body. "It has been a terrible blow to her, but she takes it most strangely for one | | 149 of her years. I sometimes fear that the shock, the suddenness of the blow, has induced an abnormal state of nervous strain, and stopped the natural expression of her grief; she does not weep, she neither sobs nor sleeps, and she never mentions her brother's name."
"Has she not talked with you--to express her thoughts, her opinions, that is?"
"No, not from the very first, and yet she thinks--I know it--she thinks and grows more silent constantly. Only this morning she said to me, when I tried to draw her into conversation, thinking it would be a relief to her, 'Auntie, I can't talk yet. My mind is in confusion. When things become clearer to me I will come to you for help."'
"Yes. That is what she said. What she meant I cannot guess."
On the morning of the inquest Doctor Jarvis comes out from Lee early, and upon his wheel, to see Hope. His message is urgent, and he is taken by Hope's own maid to the pretty suite to which the girl seldom admits a visitor. She receives him in her sitting-room, she will not name it boudoir, and stands before him pale and cold, with dark circles beneath her eyes, and all in white: simple and severe, but with no hint of mourning. She gives him her hand in silence, and awaits his speech with her eyes questioning his face.
"Miss Chetwynde," he begins, "I do not know your wishes in regard to this coming inquest. I have not learned whether you wish to make it a thorough inquiry, or merely the form of one as required by law."| | 150
"Doctor--I do not understand?"
Doctor Jarvis is a young man, tall, pale, and with keen, shrewd eyes; he studies her face a moment, then asks a question.
"Do you intend to go into the question of your brother's death thoroughly, Miss Chetwynde? or are you convinced that it is--a suicide?"
"I am convinced of nothing! And when I can see my way I intend to know--if the truth can be known--how Felix Chetwynde died!"
"Ah! now we understand each other thus far. Now, do you wish your inquiries to be made openly, publicly, or in a private manner?"
"Privately, by all means, as much as possible! Why should I make my brother's death a thing of gossip conjecture and malicious guess-work for this strange community?"
"That is what I wish to know for myself, and for Sheriff Cook. The inquest, thus, will be merely a form, and the sheriff and myself will make our discoveries known to you, personally, whenever you will hear us."
She came close up to him, quickly, and with a firm movement--
"Tell me what you mean?" she demanded sharply.
"I will speak for myself, of course, if you wish it, now. You will do well to hear the sheriff later. That is his message, his advice, through me to you."
"Very well, go on." Hope sinks upon the nearest chair, and motions him to the one opposite. Her voice is constrained, her manner that of one held in leash by a strong will.
"When I examined your brother," he began, with- | | 151 out availing himself of the proffered seat, "I pronounced his death due to a pistol shot in the head, and said no more. The truth, which I have not made known, even to the sheriff, is this. Your brother was shot in the top of the head, and it could not have been possible for him to inflict such a wound in such a place."
"Do you mean"--she breaks off helplessly; she is shaking like a reed.
"I mean this. Your brother was murdered! No chance shot ever yet struck in such a place; either he was stooping when shot, or he was fired upon by some one directly above him."
"Then you think that he was--murdered? You believe it?"
"And the sheriff? does he think so too?"
"For the same reasons?"
"Tell me what they are; why need I wait?"
"As you like. Cook has found the marks of a struggle upon the very verge of the ravine. In the soft soil there, some twenty yards below the place where the body lay, are the prints of heels, as if someone had been well-nigh pushed over the edge; there are evidences of a fallen body just there, the dry leaves being crushed into the soft indented earth. Then there has been a horse and a vehicle of some sort tied in a thicket near the wood road, which is now almost disused. The case is not so simple as it looks upon the surface."
"I have felt that from the first! And yet I could | | 152 wish for a yet stronger proof that Felix Chetwynde did not die the death of a coward, by his own hand and his own weapon."
"I will give it to you unknown to the coroner, who believes it to be beyond reach; I probed for and found the bullet."
"It does not fit the pistol that is said to have been your brother's."
"Doctor!" Hope rises and comes close to him, a new look of resolve in her face. "I thank you; you can't know what you have done for me! Until now I have not dared to believe that my brother was not a suicide! Now let the inquest go on, and when it is over I will ask you to advise me where to look for the right person to take charge of the search for the truth and the murderer. Until my brother's name is fully vindicated I would rather the sensation hunters did not know that there is a doubt or an effort to clear up the mystery."
Doctor Jarvis stands for a moment as if hesitating, then--
"If you ask my advice," he said slowly, "I would recommend Sheriff Cook as the man to hunt this matter home. He is a man with a natural bent toward the solving of just such riddles. He would serve you faithfully, and I don't think you can find a better man."
"Thank you," she said. "I believe you are right. Fortunately our summer visits to Lee before we took the villa had given us opportunity to know Mr. Cook a little. I like him. He is a strong and brave man."
"He is all that, and more," agreed the doctor, and took his leave.
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