- CHAPTER XXIX A FALSE FRIEND
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A FALSE FRIEND
AFTER dispatching her note to her aunt, Hope Chetwynde grows restless, and her restlessness becomes a fever of impatience, when the messenger returns, soon and alone, bearing this note from the spinster--
"When the Sheriff comes bring him at once to Redlands. Tell him that I was right about 'the key.' He will understand and come readily.--AUNT C."
"I should say so, indeed," ejaculates Sheriff Cook, when he has read this message, promptly placed in his hands upon his appearance at the villa. "Yes, indeed! Order your horse, Miss Chetwynde, and let's be off! I can explain a little, perhaps, on the way. Ah, that aunt of yours is worth a dozen blundering men!"
"But our business? " objects Hope, rebelliously. "I don't want to go to Redlands."
"We are going there on our business, nothing less, and every moment may have its risk! Dying people don't wait for laggard mourners."| | 308
"Is--is some one dying, then?" Hope pales instantly.
"Some one was seriously hurt last night. No more questions, Mademoiselle, until we are in the saddle. Then I shall have enough to tell you to last us to Redlands."
As they mounted their horses Hope observed a long slender object, wrapped in paper and hung by a string over his saddle-bow.
"Are you carrying a sword so carefully concealed?" she asked carelessly, with an effort to curb her anxiety, and to seem at ease.
"No," he replied briefly. "I am carrying a cane which is a weapon, nevertheless." And he was silent until they were out upon the highway; then he reined in his horse, and when she had done the same, he asked, a kindly look in his serious eyes--
"Shall I give you the result of my journey in one lump, Miss Chetwynde?"
"Yes," she whispered, her face paling.
"Then--it is as you feared."
"And he was not--" she paused.
"He was not--Felix Chetwynde."
As the Sheriff led Hope up the steps at Redlands, for she seemed weak almost to faintness, he asked--"Have I your permission to use this information as seems best to me?"
"Yes. Tell the truth, all of it! It is hard, it is pitiful, when I think of my brother; but I am glad that it is--as it is!"
At the door Mrs. Hilton met them; and Aunt Cass, pale and weary-looking, was hurrying toward them | | 309 down the stairs. The sheriff went forward apace to meet her, and put out his hand.
"Well?" The syllable was a question.
"It is true! It is she. She is sleeping now, and will sleep some time, half an hour at least;" then, as the others draw near she lowers her voice, and for some moments they talk earnestly.
"That will be best," she says at the end, "and I will come down. The doctor is with her; he says it is our only chance."
As she turned away the sheriff addresses Mrs. Hilton.
"Madam, will you call your daughter? Miss Chetwynde has consented that I shall relate in the presence of your family my experience while looking into the matter of the Heights. It concerns you all; and as I see Mr. Hilton and his friend Glynne on the lake shore, I will also ask them to join us."
"It is true," Hope adds, in response to Mrs. Hilton's inquiring glance. "You have a right to know it all It concerns you all, and," with a weary half smile, "it changes everything."
A moment later, Hilton, with the set look of a man to whom Fate has said her last word, and who expects nothing, yet will not yield; Glynne, puzzled, embarrassed, and eagerly expectant; Lorna, with her sadly wondering gaze; and Hope, schooled to calmness, and with the look of one from whose shoulders a burden has been lifted, all are seated in the drawing-room, eyeing the sheriff, who is speaking apart with Mrs. Hilton, but who ceases as Miss Cassandra enters the room.
"The doctor will inform us of any change," she | | 310 says, as she seats herself near Hope. "And--I think there is little time to spare."
"In that case," says the sheriff, standing facing the group with his back to the mantelpiece, "I will explain. We have reached the end of the strange complication surrounding the death of the man you have all known as Felix Chetwynde, and before I add more, let me say to you, Mrs. Hilton, that I have just now been confirmed in a belief I have held from the first--I and your daughter. She, reaching her conclusions at a bound, through the wonderful intuition--telepathy would be the better name for it--which is the gift of some natures where the ties of blood are so close--I through my slower reasoning faculties. This belief, now become a fact, is that it was not your bullet, Hilton, that slew this man.
"At the beginning of this search Doctor Jarvis told Miss Hope Chetwynde that he had extracted the ball from the brain of the dead man, unknown to the coroner, and that this ball did not fit the weapon, which proved to be the dead man's own property, and which Mr. Hilton had used that day. I will only add that the weapon which the ball does fit is now in my possession, and that on the day after the tragedy I found the bullet from Chetwynde's pistol lodged in the tree beneath which the body was found. This may explain to all of you why, during all the public clamour, I made no attempt to arrest Mr. Hilton, although I kept a strict watch upon his movements, until I became assured that he did use Chetwynde's pistol, and of this I became certain by degrees. I have already, at different times, made known to Miss Hope Chetwynde such progress as | | 311 I made--at least the certain discoveries. Later a suspicion took form in my mind, which I did not venture to put into words until one night, spent at the villa, during which I occupied her brother's room, and examined his correspondence, the entire contents of his writing-desk, in fact, 'as well as other things.'"
The sheriff has kept on with his speech, allowing Loyd no opening for questions, and giving him time meanwhile to recover from the shock of the happy news. Aid now as the young man essayed to speak he waved him to silence--
"Not yet, Hilton! You can talk presently. In fact, I intend, after a little, to ask you to give us your full and complete version of the events of that half-hour on the Heights. Now I must simply sketch my own movements.
"It was some time before I became assured that you, Mr. Hilton, were on the scene that day, and this was only when I had traced your movements from the time of your meeting with Mr. Glynne, here, to your arrival at the Heights, or a week after the event."
"I would like," broke in Glynne here, "to know how you did that?"
"I began," smiled the sheriff, "by convincing myself that neither of you were elsewhere at that time; and then by much questioning and beating about the bush--for you have staunch friends, gentlemen, at home and abroad--I traced you, both of you, to the Heights with your wheels.
"At about this time a bit of information given me by Miss Hope Chetwynde, merely in passing, and | | 312 not as a thing of importance, began to suggest to me that this matter might be much more complicated than it seemed. Miss Hope had told me of a lad who asked leave to look at the dead man on the day, and almost at the hour, of his burial. I gave it only a passing thought then, but later, when Miss Cassandra Chetwynde told of a visit made by her to the cemetery, and of finding a quantity of roses--red roses--on the new-made grave, Miss Hope was reminded that this lad had slyly thrust red rose inside the coffin lid on the day of his visit.
"Now, I had already learned that red roses often appeared upon that grave, and was about to develop matters in a new direction, when I chanced upon certain documents in Chetwynde's desk.
"I had discovered the tracks made by Mr. Glynne's flying leap at the edge of the ravine. At first I took them for signs of a struggle there. I had ferreted out the hiring of the mules by Chetwynde, and how they had brought down the bridge. I had found the missing fence boards at the bottom of the ravine; I had found Mr. Glynne's little tool bag, lost off his wheel at the Heights; I had also studied the character of Chetwynde, as it was known among men. And I had constructed from all this, together with Miss Hilton's statement of what she could recall, a theory, namely, that Chetwynde, determined to win a bride, by fair means or other, had arranged his plans. I had also learned of the horse and buggy hired by him and waiting near by, how he had beguiled the lady to the spot best suited to his purpose, and, by using his strong mesmeric powers, was about to force her to flee | | 313 with him, when her brother, coming to warn them of the unsafe bridge, arrived at the critical moment, and, unable to reach the miscreant, had fired at him across the ravine; after which Glynne had come to the rescue, as you already know."
Here, for the first time, Lorna lifts her flushed face to look, oh, so penitently, at Terry, and meeting his eyes, lets her own drop quickly.
"I had arrived at this stage, and would doubtless have moved upon the enemy--yourselves gentlemen,"--bowing to Terry and Loyd--"with a pair of warrants, for principal and accessory, when Miss Cassandra's discovery saved me from making a donkey of myself. It was really Miss Cassandra Chetwynde who put me upon the right track. Miss Chetwynde," bowing to the little spinster, "may I tell your adventures as you told them to me?"
Aunt Cass nods, and the sheriff briefly relates the visit to the cemetery; the discovery of the roses; the meeting with Mrs. Myers; how that lady appeared later, under his escort, at the doors of the villa, and how the two became guests; how Miss Cassandra had discovered the lady guest in bicycle costume, in spite of her denial of any knowledge of the wheel; and, finally, of the spinster's visit to the widow Rice and its results.
"And now," he says, becoming at once graver and more severe of countenance, "I have to tell you of my discoveries in the dead man's room."
He turns his gaze towards Hope, as if asking her consent and forbearance; and she, interpreting the look, says firmly--
"Tell all, Mr. Cook. Our friends have the right to know. In a way, it concerns them all!"| | 314
"I had observed," the sheriff resumes, "on more than one occasion signs of anxiety and uneasiness in Miss Hope Chetwynde, which led me to think that her mind was burdened with some doubt, fear, or suspicion of which she could not bring herself to speak; and when she came to me one day and placed in my hand that article"--pointing to the stick which he had unwrapped and placed upon the table--"which, as you all now know, was found beside the body, and offered me for the first time, the freedom of her brother's closed-up rooms and effects, I know that this unspoken anxiety related in some manner to Chetwynde.
"Now, this man, all his life, must have had strong faith in his lucky star; for he took serious risks, was careless, in fact. Among his papers and scattered letters I found occasional notes--memoranda, it would seem--jotted down for his own guidance. And there was a little book full of these." He draws from his pocket a little red morocco note-book, and opens it. "Let me read you a paragraph or two--
"'Item.--Must not forget that F. C. was always good to little sister.'
"'Item.--Not to forget that F. C. was fond of cats, dogs, and birds, and was a studious fellow. Oh, lor!'
"'Item.--Bear in mind that F. C. is fond of books, music, and "refined plays."'
"These items, and more of the same sort, furnished me with suggestions of a new and startling nature. Why, I asked myself, should Felix Chetwynde make such notes as these? I turned from the desk to a myself where such a man would be most likely to | | 315 keep his most private and secret documents. Looking about the rooms, I noticed a small trunk bearing marks of much travel. I drew it out and looked it over. At one end was a large canvas-lined card or label, one of the sort meant to withstand water. It was nailed on with so many stout brass-headed nails that it made me wonder, and it was so large that it could have contained the name, Felix Chetwynde, several times over, and have space to spare. I had come to the villa prepared for work, and I had in my pocket the little implement which helped me to draw those nails with considerable effect. I must admit I had decided that the big label covered something, and I found myself right.
"When it was at length removed, I found that a name had been outlined upon the trunk leather with brass nails like those I had removed. The nails had been drawn out, but the perforations remained, and they formed a name--it was not that of Felix Chetwynde."
He paused a moment, but no one spoke. There was absolute silence in the room.
"It did not take me long after this discovery," he went on, "to force a way into the trunk. At some other time I will tell of my investigations more in detail; just now I need only say that I found a mass of evidence, such as handkerchief having two sets of initials, pipes and knives bearing the monogram W. B., and sheets of paper bearing evidence that an attempt to copy another's handwriting had been persistently followed up, and took for future use this note-book, a woman's picture, a soldier's journal, and an old 'tintype,' so called--a faded picture of | | 316 two young men in uniform, who in size, form, and feature resembled each other."
He took from his pocket the pictures and the journal, and laid them upon the mantel beside him; while all, save Hope and Aunt Cass, looked and listened in wonder.
"With these to aid me," he went on, "I set out in search of history; and, unlike most students, I read my history backward. I went first to the school where you, Loyd, and Glynne also, I believe, passed your last year of school-life, in company with the man whose death has caused us all to come together here to-day. I showed the faded picture of the two 'regulars' to the three of the faculty who had been longest in the college, and asked them which one was, in their opinion, Felix Chetwynde. With one accord they pointed out the one on the right of the picture. Then I visited the academy in another state, where young Chetwynde, in his parents' lifetime and for one year after their death, was sent to school.
"It was more difficult to find any who remembered him; but I finally found one of the old teachers still there, though not then in the academy, and he named for me two young men, formerly Chetwynde's class-mates, and now in business together in the university town, and these all declared, on seeing the picture, that the one on the left was Felix Chetwynde.
"My next journey and search was longer and more difficult. But the journal gave me the name and number of the company and regiment in which Felix Chetwynde, under the name of Hall, had been | | 317 a sergeant. After some time I found an old regimental officer or two--one of them formerly the captain of the company to which Hall had belonged, and also several re-enlisted men. One and all, these identified the soldier on the left in this picture as Sergeant Hall, and the one on the right as a young man named Beale--at one time a man in the ranks and of the same mess with Hall.
"From the officer, who in Hall's day had been Captain Lewis--Colonel Lewis now--I learned these facts, for which this journal," holding up the worn little book, "had in part, at least, prepared me.
"In the summer of 1889 Hall and Lieutenant Beale, who had not ceased to be friends because of the promotion of the latter, were sent out with a part of their company, under Captain Lewis, to settle some little difficulty in one of the far western reserves. They were soon to be mustered out, and they came back from their foray some two weeks before that time.
"When only half a day's ride from camp, Hall was hurt by a fall from a half-broken horse, and was sent, under care of Lieutenant Beale, to the nearest ranche, the trip to camp being a rough one and too long for one in Hall's condition.
"They went to the ranche of one Jim Harch, and here, on the second day, Sergeant Hall died of his wounds. He left all his belongings and his farewell messages to his friends in the care of Lieutenant Beale, in whom he trusted implicitly.
"Two weeks later Beale, still in camp a two hours' brisk ride from the ranche where Hall died, was mustered out, and he left the west hastily and in | | 318 very bad order, taking with him the farewell messages and the effects of poor Hall, and also the pretty daughter of Jim Harch, the owner of the ranche."
While uttering these last words the door has opened slowly; and looking up as he pauses, the sheriff meets the eye of Dr. Jarvis.
"You will understand why I have told you this tale of western life," he says, "when I add that the dead man, known to the west as Private Hall, was, in reality, Felix Chetwynde; and that the man who was killed at the Heights was his false friend, Lieutenant Willard Beale, who, profiting by his resemblance to his friend, and knowing his history, has usurped his place. One word more, and then we are to hear the last word, the solution of the mystery surrounding the death of the false Felix Chetwynde, and that word lifts the last doubt, the last suspicion, from either of you gentlemen. Neither the pistol of the dead man--in your hands, Mr. Hilton--nor the other weapon, lately discharged and lying in your room--you did not know that I had looked so near home, did you?--took this man's life. This did!" and he holds up before them the silver-mounted cane. "It looks innocent enough. In reality it is an air-gun. I have submitted it to expert gunsmiths, and they tell me that there are not half a dozen such in all the world."
"And now," turning toward Miss Cassandra, "we have all to thank Miss Cassandra Chetwynde for the final solution of this strange affair. But for her quick instinct in the beginning, her keen eye for faces and expressions under any disguise, her courage, and finally her Christian kindness to | | 319 unfortunate and suffering transgressor, the cloud might still hang over this house! Doctor, at last we await your directions."
"She wishes to see Miss Chetwynde," says Doctor Jarvis, and nods toward Aunt Cass, who leaves the room quickly, the doctor remaining near the door.
During her brief absence not a loud word is spoken; only Lorna, leaning toward her brother, puts out her hand to him; and Mrs. Hilton, seated between the two girls, places a hand upon Hope's, and presses it gently, whispering--
"It is better so, is it not?"
"Oh, so much better," murmurs the girl. "My poor Felix died a true man and honest, if reckless and a rover. Mr. Cook has brought me a letter from the Captain Lewis of whom he has spoken. It is sad, but far, far better than the other."
"Did you never doubt him?" meaning, of course, the false Felix.
"From the first I could have been tortured by doubts if I had not fought them back, charging all changes, all that seemed unlike my tender-hearted, generous young brother, to a wild life among wild, rough men."
And now the door opens.
"Come," says the spinster. "I will lead the way; and Lorna, my dear, she must not see you, and you must have charity. Doctor Jarvis will place you where she cannot know of your presence. I want you all to hear her."
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