- CHAPTER XIII A BLOOD RED ROSE
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A BLOOD RED ROSE
THE coroner is an elderly physician, easy-going, and non-progressive; able to live without work, and thankful because of this. But yet to disappear altogether from the public gaze is not to his taste, and so the office of coroner is agreeable to him, and he fills it, as might be expected, easily, without fear or flurry.
If he has an ambition it is to be on good terms with the upper side of things, and with this in mind he conducts the inquest upon the body of Felix Chetwynde.
Convinced, himself, that the case is "just a plain suicide," he consults Hope at the last moment, and finding that it is her wish to have the examination as brief and free from sensational features and needless inquiry as possible he conducts it on those lines, and the result is self-evident.
He conducts his inquiry with the agility of a hippopotamus, and cross-questions with the clear insight of an owl at noonday.
Miss Cassandra is first called. She saw Felix for the last time shortly before noon. He wore his | | 154 outing or bicycle suit--yes, the same in which he was found dead--and he went down the lawn and toward the stables. She thought he spoke with Bob, the lad of all work, but was not sure. She never saw him again in life.
"Not at luncheon?"
"No, we seldom lunched together; my nephew was a late riser, usually, and he was seldom about the house at the luncheon hour." Nothing is said of the bicycle lesson up and down the terrace, and about the lawn. It is a sore topic to Miss Cassandra now. There were no outside observers, and the servants were discreet and loyal to the ladies of the villa.
Hope could tell of her home-coming, her anxiety, her ride in the morning, and of little else.
"I met Mr. Glynne and his friend, Mr. Harley," she says, at this point; "and they at once proffered their aid. I rode to Redlands but could get no news of my brother, save that he had ridden through the grounds in the afternoon and on toward the Heights." She ends her testimony by describing young Harley's arrival at Redlands; his discovery, and her own wild ride to the Heights.
"I found the bridge gone," she says collectedly, "but my brother's body lay just across the ravine, not far beyond the ruin of the bridge. It was, partly concealed by the bushes, but I knew it was he at once. I recognised the dress and the wheel."
Fred Harley tells of his discovery of the body, and there is much talk of its inaccessible position owing to the downfall of the bridge. How this occurred was a question to be investigated later.| | 155
There must have been some shock, some heavy weight.
Sitting aloof, Sheriff Cook nods to his own inner consciousness. "It shall be investigated, my dear sir," he thinks grimly, "I'll attend to that."
Loyd Hilton is called. He was first told of Mr. Chetwynde's absence when meeting Miss Hope Chetwynde on the morning of the discovery, &c. He was standing beside her horse when Mr. Harley told his startling news. He last met Felix Chetwynde on the day before his death. They met at Lee and came home together, both of them stopping at the house of Seth Warner, who was a genius in the repairing of wheels. Both left their wheels there, and each went his way homeward on foot. No, he knew nothing of the fallen bridge, nor how it fell. He had met Terence Glynne on the afternoon of the day when Mr. Chetwynde must have met his death, and had been told by him--Glynne--that the bridge over the ravine was considered unsafe.
Terence Glynne corroborated all this; told of his meeting with Miss Chetwynde, and what happened after.
"Harley and I separated," he said here, "he to go by one path towards the Heights, I by the other. I suppose I rode carelessly, for the paths have been gone over quite carefully for the use of cyclers, at any rate I took a header and tore a long slit in my tyre. I had no tool bag with me to mend it, and when I got up I limped considerably. I sat down then, about half-way up the path, and there Harley found me when he came down with the terrible news."| | 156
So much for the inquest and its result, which was a verdict of a mixed character.
"The deceased came to his death by a pistol-shot fired, accidently or of purpose, by his own hand."
And so this act of the drama was ended, and the villa--cleared of the curious and the professional hunter of horrors--stood silent and shuttered, with the body of the dead embalmed and awaiting the last rites, lying uncoffined and resting upon rug and trestles of sable in the long drawing-room, which is closed, darkened, and heavy with the odour of flowers which lie thick upon the coffin and the sables beneath.
"Hope," says Aunt Cassandra, as the two sit opposite each other before an almost untasted luncheon, "if you do not eat you will break down before the end of the afternoon. It will be horribly trying."
"I know it, Auntie; but I shall not break down."
Silence for a little, and then Aunt Cassandra speaks again, this time almost severely.
"Hope--can you reconcile yourself to this state of things? To let this verdict of possible suicide stand--unchallenged?"
Hope puts down her teacup, and looks up, her eyes flashing.
"I shall challenge that verdict, Aunt Cass, when I can disprove it, not sooner! And I mean to disprove it, if money and skill can do it. But--there must be no mistake. If Felix Chetwynde has met with foul play, he shall be vindicated--revenged! There is a mystery behind all this, and I do not mean to risk having a worse discovery laid bare to | | 157 the public eye. If Felix had an enemy, we are taking the surest way to find him out, when we openly accept the coroner's verdict and secretly hunt for the truth, whatever it may be. I have had some strange thoughts, Auntie; and, when all is over, I will open my mind to you, and--you must help me."
"I will, Hope! And--I believe I can!"
Half an hour before the final ceremony that shall convey Felix Chetwynde's body to earth begins, Hope, arrayed now, for the first time, in trailing black garments, comes down to the morning-room, and, standing at the vine-shaded bay window, looks out upon the lawn and rear terrace.
The funeral service is to be as private as possible; but the movement of chairs, the opening of doors, the murmur of low voices can be faintly heard when she lingers, heavy-eyed and heavier-hearted, waiting and dreading the last ordeal.
Presently her attention is caught by a boy who comes slowly along the lower terrace, trundling a shabby bicycle.
At the end of the terrace, where it joins the next above, he lets the wheel rest against the embankment and comes on toward the house, slowly, and eyeing its windows with evident interest and anxiety. He has crossed the lawn, and is passing the vine-shrouded window which stands open, when the gardener, coming from the greenhouse with a handful of white gladioli blooms, stops him with a sharp word.
What does he mean by prowling there? What does he want?| | 158
"I came--I want so much to see--him--the dead gentleman. He--he used to be very--kind to me."
"Well, young 'un, you've come too late; even if you was let in at all, and--"
Hope Chetwynde has noiselessly opened the door upon the side veranda, and is standing just above them.
"Come here, my boy. Kelly, you may go."
The lad does not stir, and Hope looks more closely at him, starting slightly as she recognises in him the strange lad of the railway train.
"Do you wish to see my brother--before the coffin is closed?" she asks gently.
"Your--brother!" The boy starts now and comes toward her as if impelled against himself. "Is he--your--BROTHER?"
"Certainly! Why do you seem surprised? I am Miss Chetwynde."
The lad's head is drooping; she can only see the quivering chin as he answers, "I didn't know--that Fe--that he had a sister."
"He has. At least a half-sister, and I am she. Come in, I will take you to him myself."
Slowly, with hanging head, the boy follows her; in the hall they pass Aunt Cassandra, who looks keenly at the lad but passes on in silence.
Opening the door of the room, in which the curtains have already been lifted letting in a mellow half light, Hope beckons the boy inside and toward the open casket, herself standing near the door with face half averted.
The room is painfully still, and the lad stands so | | 159 long that she wonders and moves restlessly. Then, for his back is toward her, he glances quickly over his shoulder, draws closer to the casket, and, can she be mistaken? he bends low over it, one hand moves swiftly toward his heart, then over the coffin as if touching the dead hands. Then she sees the slight shoulders shaken, hears a low sob, and turns her own face away.
The next moment he is standing beside her. "Thank you! I will go now," he says; and though she bids him stay and see the end, he shakes his head, going, in advance of her, by the way he came.
At the door of the morning-room he pauses.
"Is--is the young lady--his sweetheart--here?"
A little frown crosses Hope's face at what seems like idle curiosity, and she shakes her head.
"No," she says coldly, "she is not."
How she regrets this answer before many days!
"Hope!" She has been standing some moments at the open door, from which she has watched the exit of the strange lad, and she starts from her sad reverie at the sound of her aunt's voice. "What are you doing child? They are about to close the coffin--come." Her aunt's hand, within her arm, draws her gently toward the drawing-room again, and the undertaker, with his lugubrious face--solemnity, measured, like the depth of the crape, by the length of the purse--tiptoes solemnly out as they pass in.
By the coffin's side the two stand, and the spinster looks and weeps. As for Hope, her whole face quivers and her fingers clutch each other; then she | | 160 notes that a lock of hair just above the temple is fallen from its place, and stoops to gently put it back, and, stooping thus, she glances askance at the elder lady, moves slightly, while seeming to adjust the ferns and drooping lilies just over the still breast, and thus, while this act suggests to her aunt a closer inspection of the flowers at the coffin's foot, Hope slips her hand beneath the lid, and brings into view something which was not there, she knows, when the lower half of the coffin lid was placed above the crossed hands and lifeless heart half an hour since.
It is a blood-red rose, half blown, and partly crushed; and Hope, after one quick glance, thrusts it back, pushing it with gentle, trembling touch close to the folded hands and out of sight. Then she presses a soft kiss upon the cold brow, and taking her aunt's hand says in a whisper, "Come."
At the door Aunt Cassandra says, with one of those strange telepathic touches which now and then startle us, and arouse our wonder and awe--
"Hope, who was that strange boy?"
"I--he did not give his name. He asked to see--him."
"Um! His face puzzled me. I had only a glimpse, but--it reminds me of--"
"Ah--there it is! I don't know."
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