The Mill Mystery
21. The Vat
I quivered with shame, for I felt my heart sink. But there was no pause in the
smooth, sarcastic tones behind me. "When a man persists in judging of his duty
contrary to the dictates of reason, he must expect restraint from those who
understand his position better than he does himself."
"Then," quoth I, with suddenly acquired strength, "I am to understand that the
respectable family of Pollard finds itself willing to resort to the means and
methods of highwaymen in order to compass its ends and teach me my duty."
"You are," a determined voice returned.
At that word, uttered as it was in a tone inexorable as fate, my last ray of hope
went out. The voice was that of a woman.
I however, made a strong effort for the preservation of my dignity and person.
"And will Samuel Pollard's oldest and best-beloved son, the kind- hearted and
honest Dwight, lend himself to a scheme of common fraud and violence?" I
The reply came in his brother's most sarcastic tones. "Dwight has left us," he
declared. "We have no need of honesty or kind- heartedness here. What we want
for this business is an immovable determination."
Startled, I looked up. The lantern which had hitherto swung from the hand of my
guide stood on the floor. By its light three things were visible. First, that we stood
at the head of a staircase descending into a depth of darkness which the eye
could not pierce; secondly, that in all the area about me but two persons stood;
and third, that of these two persons one of them was masked and clad in a long
black garment, such as is worn at masquerade balls under the name of a
domino. Struck with an icy chill, I looked down again. Why had I allowed myself
to be caught in such a trap? Why had I not followed Mr. Nicholls immediately to
Boston when I heard that he was no longer in town? Or, better still, why had I not
manufactured for myself a safeguard in the form of a letter to that gentleman,
informing him of the important document which I held, and the danger in which it
possibly stood from the family into whose toils I had now fallen? I could have
cursed myself for my dereliction.
"David Barrows," came in imperative tones from the masked figure, "will you tell
us where this will is?"
"No," I returned.
"Is it not on your person?" the inquisitorial voice pursued.
"It is not," I answered, firmly, thankful that I spoke the truth in this.
"It is in your rooms, then; in your desk, perhaps?"
I remained silent.
"Is it in your rooms?" the indomitable woman proceeded.