The Mill Mystery
12. Dwight Pollard
He was standing with his back to me, and to all appearance was unconscious
that he was under the surveillance of any eye. I had thus a moment in which to
collect my energies and subdue my emotions; and I availed myself of it to such
good purpose that by the time he had put the board back into its place I was
ready to face him. He did not turn round, however; so, after a moment of silent
suspense, I mounted the last stair, and thinking of nothing, hoping for nothing,
wishing for nothing, stood waiting, with my eyes fixed on the domino he was now
rapidly folding into smaller compass.
And thus I stood, like a pallid automaton, when the instant came for him to
change his position, and he saw me. The cry that rose to his lips but did not
escape them, the reel which his figure gave before it stiffened into marble,
testified to the shock he had received, and also to the sense of unreality with
which my appearance in this wise must have impressed him. His look, his
attitude were those of a man gazing upon a spectre, and as I met his glance with
mine, I was conscious of a feeling of unreality myself, as if the whole occurrence
were a dream, and he and I but shadows which another moment would dissolve.
But alas! this was no more a dream than were the other strange and tragic
events which had gone before; and in an instant we both knew it, and were
standing face to face with wretched inquiry in the looks we fixed upon each other
across the domino which had fallen from his hands. He was the first to speak.
"Miss Sterling!" he exclaimed, in a light tone, cruelly belied by the trembling lips
from which it issued, "by what fortunate chance do I see you again, and in a
place I should have thought to be the last you would be likely to visit?"
"By the same chance," I rejoined, "which appears to have brought you here. The
desire to make sure if what I heard about the mill having been used as a
secreting place for certain mysterious articles, was true." And I pointed to the
mask and domino lying at my feet.
His eye, which had followed the direction of my finger, grew dark and troubled.
"Then it was your hand--" he impetuously began.
"Which disturbed these garments before you? Yes. And I shall make no apology
for the action," I continued, "since it was done in the hope of proving false certain
insinuations which had been made to me in your regard."
"Insinuations?" he repeated.
"Yes," I declared, in an agony between my longing to hear him vindicate himself
and the desire to be true to the obligations I was under to Ada Reynolds.
"Insinuations of the worst, the most terrible, character." Then, as I saw him fall
back, stricken in something more than his pride, I hastened to inquire: "Have you
an enemy in town, Mr. Pollard?"
He composed himself with a start, looked at me fixedly, and replied in what
struck me as a strange tone even for such an occasion as this: