- CHAPTER XXVIII WITH THE SHERIFF
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WITH THE SHERIFF
LITTLE things sometimes turn the tides of great events.
When Sheriff Cook arrived at Lee, after his two weeks' absence, he meant to see Hope Chetwynde without delay. But the first word addressed him upon his arrival was from a friend and near neighbour, and it told him of his sister's illness. She had been ill three days, and the case was now grown critical. Without waiting for more, Thomas Cook galloped with all haste to his sister's, and his own country home.
All that day his thoughts were given to the sufferer, and he hardly left the house, But at noon of the second day the favourable change of the morning was confirmed, and pronounced permanent, and then he hastened to town.
He had scarcely arrived at his office when Miss Cassandra Chetwynde appeared, and when he had heard her tale of the Redlands ghost he modified his plans.
"The ghost, taken alone, would hardly justify me, perhaps, in changing the order of my doings," he | | 294 said after some thought. "But when I consider the mysterious rumour concerning Loyd Hilton, and reflect that the rumour and the ghost have appeared almost simultaneously, I find the ghost of interest. I meant to visit you at the villa this evening, Miss Chetwynde, but as you intend to be absent, and the matter can very well be kept until to-morrow, I will come to Redlands myself some time near midnight. I shall not announce myself, and--do not look for me, Miss Cassandra. It is the ghost I shall come to see. I know the place to be haunted--in the opinion of the fishermen, at least. But the ghost has only recently taken shape." And so they parted. "My dear, I have promised to spend the night at Redlands. You won't mind being left for that time will you?" This is what Miss Cassandra has said to Hope before setting out for her "ghostly" vigil, and it is all she has said, upon this subject; and Hope is not surprised. Aunt Cass is not given to explanations, on the one side; and Hope, on the other, would have let no thought of fear or the proprieties come between herself and any wish or plan of her Aunt Cassandra's, and fear the girl had none. Neither, at this time, did she object to a little solitude. She had so much to think of, and so much to hope for. Now the sheriff had intended, before the visit of Aunt Cass, to go to the villa that night, believing that his arrival was by now known to Hope. But this was not the case, and so the spinster assured him. Hope's seclusion, and her lack of interest in small mundane matters, kept from her knowledge the | | 295 items of daily interest known to most, and in this case Aunt Cass, the only one at the villa who knew of the sheriff's return, had been purposely silent, so that when, soon after her aunt had set out for Redlands, Hope received a note from Sheriff Cook, it aroused her to interest and action.
The note simply announced Mr. Cook's return, and the fact that he would visit her on the following morning at ten o'clock.
And now Hope wished earnestly for her Aunt Cass, for the doubts and fears, so long pent up, now that they were soon to be confirmed or dissipated, seemed to clamour for utterance, and there could be no other listener but her sensible, sympathetic aunt.
Early next morning Hope sends a note to Redlands informing her aunt of the sheriffs return, in all innocence of heart, and begging her to be at home without fail to meet him at ten o'clock.
At nine o'clock, his good steed awaiting him, Sheriff Cook is standing at his outer office door studying the situation.
When he left Redlands last night Doctor Jarvis was in attendance, and had pronounced the case critical. There is an injury to the skull, he said, which must in time affect the brain; and there are other internal injuries, the extent and seriousness of which he has not yet fathomed. There is also a dislocated wrist.
The injured one is still insensible, and as there seems nothing more for him to do then, he prepares to go. As he bids Aunt Cass goodbye at the door of the sick room, she says impressively--| | 296
"When she speaks--if she ever does speak--and the doctor thinks it possible, I think you will be interested in what she may have to say--that is, if I have not made a mistake."
"A mistake! How?"
"Merely in the matter of identity." And she will say no more.
The sheriff is thinking of this, and is asking himself if it is not possible to go by the shortest route to Redlands and still reach the villa at ten o'clock, when some one comes up the steps, and he turns to confront Terence Glynne.
The young man's face is anxious, and he asks for a few words with the sheriff in a tone at once so grave and businesslike, that, in spite of his own haste and preoccupation, the officer turns and silently unlocks his door.
Two thoughts have occupied the mind of Terence Glynne since his parting from Lorna Hilton at her own door yesterday: one that Lorna, whose vivacious sweetness and dainty beauty were made for happiness, was overwhelmed with sorrow, sorrow which, as he now believed, was blighting her health and preying upon her mind, and all because the cloud upon the fair fame of the brother she loved and believed in, seemed growing heavier and more threatening, with no hope of its lifting or changing. The other was the thought, the belief, that he, and he alone, may lift this cloud--for her sake.
Shut out as he is, and has been, from the confidence of Hope and the sheriff, while worthy of both, and believing the return of the sheriff to mean the beginning of hostilities against Loyd, and his | | 297 arrest for Felix Chetwynde's murder; tortured with anxiety for the result of this climax, so feared and dreaded by Lorna, and never guessing the latent courage and strength of the girl seemingly so delicate--Glynne has come with a fixed purpose, which he announces to the sheriff with an abruptness which actually startles that usually collected and calm official.
"Mr. Cook, I have come, at the last moment, I am sorry to have to say, to give myself up for the shooting of Felix Chetwynde. I don't intend to make my confession needlessly black, nor more sensational than must be. I wish you could make it appear that I have not confessed, but that you have discovered my secret, but--"
"Look here, Glynne--"
"One moment, please; let me have it out, and make an end of it. It is true that I warned Loyd that the bridge was unsafe! It is also true--though you may not have known it--that I followed him--"
"Oh--um!" The sheriff has fallen into an attitude of intent listening, noting closely every shade upon the young man's face.
"I followed him, and saw--saw what has been described to you, I believe, but as a thing to be held back from the public if possible. I mean--the scene between Chetwynde and--Hilton's sister."
"I saw this. I saw him take her away. Hilton, I mean. You know of this, too?"
The officer merely nods. What he is hearing seems, somehow, to be highly gratifying to him.| | 298
"What you may not know is, that I found a way to cross the ravine. I was boiling with rage! I could have throttled the man with my two hands! I could have hurled him into the ravine--if I had not had a weapon at hand. Mr. Cook, you and the doctor have marvelled at the direction from which the fatal shot must have come. You could not reconcile it with such facts as you knew. If you had turned your thoughts toward me--towards another direction, or, if you had investigated closely, you might have thought of--"
"Stop! Without more words, are you offering yourself as guilty in the place of Loyd Hilton?"
"And--do you intend to make a full--confession?"
"No! My conscience does not urge me to that."
"Yet you distinctly claim to be the man who shot Chetwynde?"
"That is what I claim, and I have wondered, more than once, why your suspicion has never been directed toward me."
The sheriff turns and silently unlocks a drawer in the desk beside him.
"Did it ever occur to you that I had turned the eye of suspicion towards you--perhaps?"
"You!" Glynne's start is unmistakable, and, for a moment, his face is tell-tale. Then he pulls himself together again. "After all," he murmurs, "I don't know why it should surprise me!"
"Nor I." The sheriff suddenly takes from the desk drawer one of those small oblong leather tool bags used by the bicycle rider, and carried strapped | | 299 upon his wheel. "Do you recognise that, Mr. Glynne?"
"That!" Terry catches at the thing and turns it over in his hand. "Why, it's my tool bag!" he exclaims, in unaffected surprise. "Here's my name upon it!"
"When did you last see that little article?"
"Why, I missed--" Again he recovers himself. "Am I compelled to answer? I think not."
"You need not. I found your bicycle bag at the Heights, near a tree only a few paces from where the body was found."
"Ah!" Terry catches his breath.
"But that is not all, Mr. Glynne. Let me show you how well prepared I am for this visit. At first I did look upon Hilton as the person most likely to have done the deed. But the downfall of the bridge set me to studying things up there very closely, and one day--I had already found the little bag--I discovered, close to the edge of the ravine, traces of what I at first thought to have been a struggle. But a few days later I chanced to kick a long pole out of my path, and then to wonder how it came there. Taking it up in my hands, I discovered that one end had been sharpened, and that particles of dry earth still clung to it. Taking it to the place where I had found the footprints, I examined closely, and concluded that some one--an athlete he must have been--had leaped the ravine by the aid of that pole."
"You were very shrewd," said Glynne gravely. "I admit it; I crossed by aid of the pole."| | 300
"Next day," goes on the sheriff, "I prowled a little further out and around the place near the bridge, and found that some boards had been wrenched from the nearest fence. One could see little in the depths of that ravine, owing to its narrowness, and so I lowered myself down with the rope ladder I captured from the Hervey burglars, and, under the old bridge, just as they had been dropped, I found the missing fence boards. When, by inquiry, I found that the boards had been in place--the fence repaired, in fact--just two days before the tragedy, you can guess at my conclusions. Possibly you know something of that, too?"
"I know all about it. But, having confessed the deed, Mr. Cook, I will say no more--at least, not now."
"As you please." The sheriff shuts the leather case away in his desk again, saying in a low, stern tone, and with his back turned to his visitor, "I keep this, of course. Do you know of any reason why I should not put you under instant arrest?"
Again Glynne started, and this time flushed hotly, and again he restrained his first impulse.
"If I had not been fully prepared for that possibility," he replies, "I should not have come to you."
"Well--I dislike to do--!" the sheriff, who having turned back now faces the window, stops short.
"Glynne," he says hastily, "Mrs. Hilton and her daughter are coming up the steps. Do you wish to meet them?"
"Not if it can be avoided."| | 301
"Then I must ask you to step into that alcove behind the screen. There is a chair there. I will manage matters as I best can for all of us. I fancy they are only bringing me--a message."
There is no time for hesitating, and reluctant, doubtful, Glynne slips behind the screen, and within the same moment the ladies are in the room.
As they enter, the sheriff meets them, hat in hand.
"You were going out?" Mrs. Hilton says regretfully. "Can you give us, give Miss Hilton, just five minutes?"
He bows, and before he has opened his lips Lorna is speaking.
"Mr. Cook, my errand may seem to you the weak, almost foolish whim of a fanciful girl, but I must tell you of something which has just come, fully--to my mind."
Without naming her brother, or Terence Glynne, she tells how, when about to faint in the wood, about to fall, in fact, she had seen a face--or so fancied; for at first she doubted, thinking it might have been a vision of her sick brain. She describes the face looking down, and her memory of something darting swiftly downward, something like a stick or long weapon. She tells of her doubts and fears, and finally of her experience of the previous day; of her ride to the Heights with Aunt Cass, and the sudden appearance of a face looking out at her from the bushes; of her recognition of it, and of the vivid return of her memory.
She was sure now that she had seen the face on the day of Felix Chetwynde's death, sure that it was no vision, no fancy.| | 302
"And how," asks the sheriff, "do you connect this face with the shooting of Mr. Chetwynde?"
"How! I have known, always, from the very first moment, that Loyd was innocent, and yet some one shot Mr. Chetwynde! May not this be the guilty person? Why not? The face, I know it now, looked down from the tree just overhead."
"And--the something that fell: do you know what that was?"
Again he turns to his desk, opening, this time, the long deep drawer beneath the writing-leaf, takes out something wrapped about with rolled paper, and stripping off this covering, holds it out before her eyes.
"Did it look like this?"
For a moment Lorna starts as if fascinated, puts out her hand toward it, and then draws it back.
"Yes!" she declares breathlessly, "yes! it was like that, I am sure. It was long, and dark, and the silver ornaments shone as it fell. What is it?"
"It is a cane, and a somewhat odd one. Will you take it and show me how, in what way, it fell--whether straight down, as if purposely dropped, or over and over, as if it had slipped from the hand."
Lorna takes the cane and holds it aloft.
"It came straight down like this," she says, and lets the stick fall from her hand. It strikes the floor with a queer little clicking sound, and suddenly the sheriff pounces upon it, and has it in his hands, bending over it, and turning it this way and that. Then he holds it out for them to see.
"I've broken it!" cries Lorna; and indeed it would seem so, for certain of the silver knob-like | | 303 mountings and scroll-shaped ornaments were loosened and displaced.
For a moment the sheriff continues to examine the singular stick, then he looks up and smiles across at Lorna.
"You have broken a web, Miss Hilton! A web of circumstantial evidence strong enough to destroy your brother, but for this!" holding up the cane.
"What is it?" they both ask breathlessly.
"It is a cunningly contrived air-gun: the work of some French genius, I'll dare swear. It shoots without noise, and I believe the bullet taken from Felix Chetwynde's head will be found to fit it." Then, seeing Lorna's bewildered look, he exclaims, "Is it possible that you do not know that this weapon, for it is a weapon, was found close beside the dead man?"
"There is much that she did not hear," interposes Mrs. Hilton, "because of her illness, and the doctor's orders."
The sheriff turns to Lorna.
"Miss Hilton," he says, with grave kindness, "I wish this thing might have happened earlier, or that your friends had recognised the courage which I feel sure is in you. For I honestly believe that if there had been perfect frankness between us, we should have been spared the complications which have followed the death of young Chetwynde. As it is, I have had to work out the case by myself, and if the finger of suspicion has pointed to your brother--"
"My brother is innocent!"
"I hope we may prove it so. Of one thing I am | | 304 sure--he would have been the first to come to me and tell his story, but for the fear of its effect upon you. Your friends hoped to spare you all knowledge of the truth. It was for your sake, too, that Miss Hope Chetwynde refrained, at first--until I already knew the main facts, indeed--from telling me what she might have told. And last, Mr. Terence Glynne has held his tongue, also for your sake, until your brother's name became mixed in the public mind, at least, with this wretched affair, and he too has chosen to sacrifice himself on the altar of friendship."
Lorna's face flushes, her eyes droop, and her lip trembles.
"I won't stop now to describe the manner in which this rumour started. It did not begin with Miss Chetwynde, nor with myself, for we both are your friends; but Mr. Terence Glynne has proved himself the staunchest friend of all."
"How?" Lorna's voice is the merest whisper.
"By attempting to shift from your brother's shoulders to his own the burden of accusation. By denouncing himself instead."
"Oh!" cried Lorna, "why did he do it?" and, she covers her face with her hands, while Mrs. Hilton, hitherto so silent, asks slowly, gravely--
"Did he say he did it?"
"Not in so many words," and the sheriff smiles.
"Do you believe he did it?"
"Not the least in the world! If he had, he would never have let your brother figure for a moment as a suspected man. Ladies, I must ask you to defer further discussion for a little time. And now, how is your waif, your captured ghost?"| | 305
"In a most critical condition," replies Mrs. Hilton, "but conscious this morning."
"Have you learned who she is?"
"No; Miss Cassandra Chetwynde is with her constantly, and we," with a meaning glance toward Lorna, "have been shut out by her stern command."
"Which is just what I must do for you. I am due at the villa this morning on business of importance, ladies, and if you will allow me to bid you adieu for a short time, I think I can promise you some news before night."
When the ladies had withdrawn, Terence Glynne came from behind the screen, a look of reproach upon his face.
"Mr. Cook, how could you?"
"Mr. Glynne, how could you try to impose upon an old bird, like myself, with such a chaffy story? Why, you can't even lie, much more commit a murder. You may have felt like shooting Chetwynde; we all do mental murder at some time or other. But you never did it, otherwise, though, I'll confess that when I found your little tool bag I did feel, for a moment, that you were worth watching, but I think I know now how the bag came where it was found; but that's another story, as they say. And now I am going to turn you out. Seriously, though, Glynne, 'twas a plucky thing for you to do, especially as I happen to know that you were on the ground. And when I consider your height and muscle as compared with Hilton's agility, I incline to the belief that it was you who took that flying leap across the ravine."
"We will waive that question, Mr. Cook. I see | | 306 you are well informed. But tell me, why must you tell those ladies that I had made an attempt at high theatricals, and failed through my lack of wit, as I now see that I did."
"Then you admit that you didn't shoot?"
"Sometimes I wish to heaven I had! I only lacked the weapon."
"Well, honestly, I couldn't resist. I wanted that dainty lass to know what a brave man will do for--a friend. And it was a brave thing, Glynne, for I have at hand now enough circumstantial evidence against you to make your case a close call should it ever have come to court. It is this," and he lays a hand upon the air-gun, "which may, and will, I hope, set Loyd Hilton and yourself beyond all danger or doubt. And now I must be off! Look here, Glynne, you are one of the interested; you may be able to elucidate some point for us. I want you to ask no questions, but go, say in an hour from now, to Redlands. Go to see Loyd, and stick to him until you see me or are ordered off. This is business on the square! I want you there--I may need you; will you go?"
"If you put it that way, Mr. Cook, I can't refuse, of course," and Terence Glynne bows himself out with a very grave face.
"Gad!" mutters the sheriff, as he prepares for the third time to set out. "I am going forth to fight an unknown quantity, and my success, I fear, must depend upon--Aunt Cass."
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