Dark Hollow by Anna Katharine Green - HTML preview
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One of the lodgers at the Claymore Inn had great cause for complaint the next morning. A restless tramping over his head had kept him awake all night. That it was intermittent had made it all the more intolerable. Just when he thought it had stopped, it would start up again,--to and fro, to and fro, as regular as clockwork and much more disturbing.
But the complaint never reached Mrs. Averill. The landlady had been restless herself. Indeed, the night had been one of thought and feeling to more than one person in whom we are interested. The feeling we can understand; the thought-- that is, Mrs. Averill's thought--we should do well to follow.
The one great question which had agitated her was this: Should she trust the judge? Ever since the discovery which had changed Reuther's prospects, she had instinctively looked to this one source for aid and sympathy. Her reasons she has already given. His bearing during the trial, the compunction he showed in uttering her husband's sentence were sufficient proof to her that for all his natural revulsion against the crime which had robbed him of his dearest friend, he was the victim of an undercurrent of sympathy for the accused which could mean but one thing--a doubt of the prisoner's actual guilt.
But her faith had been sorely shaken in the interview just related. He was not the friend she had hoped to find. He had insisted upon her husband's guilt, when she had expected consideration and a thoughtful recapitulation of the evidence; and he had remained unmoved, or but very little moved, by the disappointment of his son--his only remaining link to life.
Why? Was the alienation between these two so complete as to block out natural sympathy? Had the separation of years rendered them callous to every mutual impression? She dwelt in tenderness upon the bond uniting herself and Reuther and could not believe in such unresponsiveness. No parent could carry resentment or even righteous anger so far as that. Judge Ostrander might seem cold,-- both manner and temper would naturally be much affected by his unique and solitary mode of life,--but at heart he must love Oliver. It was not in nature for it to be otherwise. And yet--
It was at this point in her musing that there came one of the breaks in her restless pacing. She was always of an impulsive temperament, and always giving way to it. Sitting down before paper and ink she wrote the following lines:
My Darling if Unhappy Child:
I know that this sudden journey on my part must strike you as cruel, when, if ever, you need your mother's presence and care. But the love I feel for you, my Reuther, is deep enough to cause you momentary pain for the sake of the great good I hope to bring you out of this shadowy quest. I believe, what I said to you on leaving, that a great injustice was done your father. Feeling so, shall I remain quiescent and see youth and love slip from you, without any effort on my part to set this matter straight? I cannot. I have done you the wrong of silence when knowledge would have saved you shock and bitter disillusion, but I will not add to my fault the inertia of a cowardly soul. Have patience with me, then; and continue to cherish those treasures of truth and affection which you may one day feel free to bestow once more upon one who has a right to each and all of them.
This is your mother's prayer.
It was not easy for her to sign herself thus. It was a name which she had tried her best to forget for twelve long, preoccupied years. But how could she use any other in addressing her daughter who had already declared her intention of resuming her father's name, despite the opprobrium it carried and the everlasting bar it must in itself raise between herself and Oliver Ostrander?
A groan broke from her lips as she rapidly folded that name in, and hid it out of sight in the envelope she as rapidly addressed.
But her purpose had been accomplished, or would be when once this letter reached Reuther. With these words in declaration against her she could not retreat from the stand she had therein taken. It was another instance of burning one's ships upon disembarking, and the effect made upon the writer showed itself at once in her altered manner. Henceforth, the question should be not what awaited her, but how she should show her strength in face of the opposition she now expected to meet from this clear-minded, amply equipped lawyer and judge she had called to her aid.
"A task for his equal, not for an ignorant, untried woman like myself," she thought; and, following another of her impulses, she leaped from her seat at the table and rushed across to her dresser on which she placed two candles, one at her right and another at her left. Then she sat down between them and in the stillness of midnight surveyed herself in the glass, as she might survey the face of a stranger.
What did she see? A countenance no longer young, and yet with some of the charm of youth still lingering in the brooding eyes and in the dangerous curves of a mobile and expressive mouth. But it was not for charm she was looking, but for some signs of power quite apart from that of sex. Did her face express intellect, persistence and, above all, courage? The brow was good;--she would so characterise it in another. Surely a woman with such a forehead might do something even against odds. Nor was her chin weak; sometimes she had thought it too pronounced for beauty; but what had she to do with beauty now? And the neck so proudly erect! the heaving breast! the heart all aflame! Defeat is not for such; or only such defeat as bears within it the germ of future victory.
Is her reading correct? Time will prove. Meanwhile she will have confidence in herself, and that this confidence might be well founded she decided to spend the rest of the night in formulating her plans and laying out her imaginary campaign. Leaving the dresser she recommenced that rapid walking to and fro which was working such havoc in the nerves of the man in the room below her. When she paused, it was to ransack a trunk and bring out a flat wallet filled with newspaper clippings, many of them discoloured by time, and all of them showing marks of frequent handling.
A handling now to be repeated. For after a few moments spent in arranging them, she deliberately set about their complete reperusal, a task in which it has now become necessary for us to join her.
The first was black with old head-lines:
CRIME IN DARK HOLLOW
Algernon Etheridge, One of Our Most Esteemed Citizens, Waylaid and Murdered at Long Bridge.
A DIRECT CLUE TO THE MURDERER
The Stick With Which the Crime was Committed Easily Traced to Its Owner. The Landlord of Claymore Tavern in the Toils. He Denies His Guilt But Submits Sullenly to Arrest.
"Last evening Shelby's clean record was blackened by outrageous crime. Some time after nightfall a carter was driving home by Factory Road, when just as he was nearing Long Bridge one of his horses shied so violently that he barely escaped being thrown from his seat. As he had never known the animal to shy like this before, he was curious enough to get down and look about him for the cause. Dark Hollow is never light, but it is impenetrable after dark, and not being able to see anything, he knelt down in the road and began to feel about with his hand. This brought results. In a few moments he came upon the body of a man lying without movement, and seemingly without life.
"Long Bridge is not a favourite spot at night, and, knowing that in all probability an hour might elapse before assistance would arrive in the shape of another passer-by, he decided to carry his story straight to Claymore Tavern. Afterwards he was heard to declare that it was fortunate his horses were headed that way instead of the other, or he might have missed seeing the skulking figure which slipped down into the ravine as he made the turn at the far end of the bridge--a figure which had no other response to his loud 'Hola!' than a short cough, hurriedly choked back. He could not see the face or identify the figure, but he knew the cough. He had heard it a hundred times; and, saying to himself, 'I'll find fellers enough at the tavern, but there's one I won't find there and that's John Scoville,' he whipped his horse up the hill and took the road to Claymore.
"And he was right. A dozen fellows started up at his call, but Scoville was not among them. He had been out for two hours; which the carter having heard, he looked down, but said nothing except 'Come along, boys! I'll drive you to the turn of the bridge.'
"But just as they were starting Scoville appeared. He was hatless and dishevelled and reeled heavily with liquor. He also tried to smile, which made the carter lean quickly down and with very little ceremony drag him up into the cart. So with Scoville amongst them they rode quickly back to the bridge, the landlord coughing, the men all grimly silent.
"In crossing the bridge he made more than one effort to escape, but the men were determined, and when they finally stooped over the man lying in Dark Hollow, he was in their midst and was forced to stoop also.
"One flash of the lantern told the dismal tale. The man was not only dead, but murdered. His forehead had been battered in with a knotted stick; all his pockets hung out empty; and from the general disorder of his dress it was evident that his watch had been torn away by a ruthless hand. But the face they failed to recognise till some people, running down from the upper town where the alarm had by this time spread, sent up the shout of 'It's Mr. Etheridge! Judge Ostrander's great friend. Let some one run and notify the judge.'
"But the fact was settled long before the judge came upon the scene, and another fact too. In beating the bushes, they had lighted on a heavy stick. When it was brought forward and held under the strong light made by a circle of lanterns, a big movement took place in the crowd. The stick had been recognised. Indeed, it was well known to all the Claymore men. They had seen it in Scoville's hands a dozen times. Even he could not deny its ownership; explaining, or trying to, that he had been in the ravine looking for this stick only a little while before, and adding, as he met their eyes:
"'I lost it in these woods this afternoon. I hadn't anything to do with this killing.'
"He had not been accused; but he found it impossible to escape after this, and when at the instance of Coroner Haines he was carefully looked over and a small red ribbon found in one of his pockets, he was immediately put under arrest and taken to the city lock-up. For the ribbon had been identified as well as the stick. Oliver Ostrander, who had accompanied his father to the scene of crime, declared that he had observed it that very afternoon, dangling from one end of Mr. Etheridge's watch-chain where it had been used to fasten temporarily a broken link.
"As we go to press we hear that Judge Ostrander has been prostrated by this blow. The deceased had been playing chess up at his house, and in taking the short cut home had met with his death.
"Long Bridge should be provided with lights. It is a dangerous place for foot passengers on a dark night."
A later paragraph.
"The detectives were busy this morning, going over the whole ground in the vicinity of the bridge.
"They were rewarded by two important discoveries. The impression of a foot in a certain soft place halfway up the bluff; and a small heap of fresh earth nearby which, on being dug into, revealed the watch of the murdered man. The broken chain lay with it.
"The footprint has been measured. It coincides exactly with the shoe worn that night by the suspect.
"The case will be laid before the Grand Jury next week."
"The prisoner continues to deny his guilt. The story he gives out is to the effect that he left the tavern some few minutes before seven o'clock, to look for his child who had wandered into the ravine. That he entered the woods from the road running by his house, and was searching the bushes skirting the stream when he heard little Reuther's shout from somewhere up on the bluff. He had his stick with him, for he never went out without it, but, finding it in his way, he leaned it against a tree and went plunging up the bluff without it. Why he didn't call out the child's name he doesn't know; he guessed he thought he would surprise her; and why, when he got to the top of the bluff and didn't find her, he should turn about for his stick instead of hunting for her on the road, he also fails to explain, saying again, he doesn't know. What circumstances force him to tell and what he declares to be true is this: That instead of going back diagonally through the woods to the lone chestnut where he had left his stick, he crossed the bridge and took the path running along the edge of the ravine: That in doing this he came upon the body of a man in the black recesses of the Hollow, a man so evidently beyond all help that he would have hurried by without a second look if it had not been for the watch he saw lying on the ground close to the dead man's side. It was a very fine watch, and it seemed like tempting Providence to leave it lying there exposed to the view of any chance tramp who might come along. It seemed better for him to take it into his own charge till he found some responsible person willing to carry it to Police Headquarters. So, without stopping to consider what the consequences might be to himself, he tore it away by the chain from the hold it had on the dead man's coat and put it in his pocket. He also took some other little things; after which he fled away into town, where the sight of a saloon was too much for him and he went in to have a drink to take the horrors out of him. Since then, the detectives have followed all his movements and know just how much liquor he drank and to whom, in tipsy bravado, he showed the contents of his pockets. But he wasn't so far gone as not to have moments of apprehension when he thought of the dead man lying with his feet in Dark Hollow, and of the hue and cry which would soon be raised, and what folks might think if that accursed watch he had taken so innocently should be found in his pocket. Finally his fears overcame his scruples, and, starting for home, he stopped at the bluff, meaning to run down over the bridge and drop the watch as near as possible to the spot where he had found it. But as he turned to descend, he heard a team approaching from the other side and, terrified still more, he dashed into the woods, and, tearing up the ground with his hands, buried his booty in the loose soil, and made for home. Even then he had no intention of appropriating the watch, only of safe-guarding himself, nor did he have any hand at all in the murder of Mr. Etheridge. This he would swear to; also, to the leaving of the stick where he said.
"It is understood that in case of his indictment, his lawyer will follow the line of defence thus indicated."
"To-day, John Scoville was taken to the tree where he insists he left his stick. It is a big chestnut some hundred and fifty feet beyond the point where the ravine turns west. It has a big enough trunk for a stick to stand upright against it, as was shown by Inspector Snow who had charge of this affair. But we are told that after demonstrating this fact with the same bludgeon which had done its bloody work in the Hollow, the prisoner showed a sudden interest in this weapon and begged to see it closer. This being granted, he pointed out where a splinter or two had been freshly whittled from the handle, and declared that no knife had touched it while it remained in his hands. But, as he had no evidence to support this statement (a knife having been found amongst the other effects taken from his pocket at the time of his arrest), the impression made by this declaration is not likely to go far towards influencing public opinion in his favour.
"A true bill was found to-day against John Scoville for the murder of Algernon Etheridge."
A third clipping:
"We feel it our duty, as the one independent paper of this city, to insist upon the right of a man to the consideration of the public till a jury of his peers has pronounced upon his guilt and thus rendered him a criminal before the law. The way our hitherto sufficiently respected citizen, John Scoville, has been maligned and his every fault and failing magnified for the delectation of a greedy public is unworthy of a Christian community. No man saw him kill Algernon Etheridge, and he himself denies most strenuously that he did so, yet from the first moment of his arrest till now, not a voice has been raised in his favour, or the least account taken of his defence. Yet he is the husband of an estimable wife and the father of a child of such exceptional loveliness that she has been the petted darling of high and low ever since John Scoville became the proprietor of Claymore Tavern. "Give the man a chance. It is our wish to see justice vindicated and the guilty punished; but not before the jury has pronounced its verdict."
"The Star was his only friend," sighed Deborah Scoville, as she laid this clipping aside and took up another headed by a picture of her husband. This picture she subjected to the same scrutiny she had just given to her own reflection in the glass: "Seeing him anew," as she said to herself, "after all these years of determined forgetfulness."
It was not an unhandsome face. Indeed, it was his good looks which had prevailed over her judgment in the early days of their courtship. Reuther had inherited her harmony of feature from him,- -the chiselled nose, the well-modelled chin, and all the other physical graces which had made him a fine figure behind his bar. But even with the softening of her feelings towards him since she had thus set herself up in his defence, Deborah could not fail to perceive under all these surface attractions an expression of unreliability, or, as some would say, of actual cruelty. Ruddy- haired and fair of skin, he should have had an optimistic temperament; but, on the contrary, he was of a gloomy nature, and only infrequently social. No company was better for his being in it. Never had she seen any man sit out the evening with him without effort. Yet the house had prospered. How often had she said to herself, in noting these facts: "Yet the house prospers!" There was always money in the till even when the patronage was small. Their difficulties were never financial ones. She was still living on the proceeds of what they had laid by in those old days.
Her mind continued to plunge back. He had had no business worries; yet his temper was always uncertain. She had not often suffered from it herself, for her ascendency over men extended even to him. But Reuther had shrunk before it more than once--the gentle Reuther, who was the refined, the etherealised picture of himself. And he had loved the child as well as he could love anybody. Great gusts of fondness would come over him at times, and then he would pet and cajole the child almost beyond a parent's prerogative. But he was capable of striking her too--had struck her frequently. And for nothing--an innocent look; a shrinking movement; a smile when he wasn't in the mood for smiles. It was for this Deborah had hated him; and it was for this the mother in her now held him responsible for the doubts which had shadowed their final parting. Was not the man, who could bring his hand down upon so frail and exquisite a creature as Reuther was in those days, capable of any act of violence? Yes; but in this case he had been guiltless. She could not but concede this even while yielding to extreme revulsion as she laid his picture aside.
The next slip she took up contained an eulogy of the victim.
"The sudden death of Algernon Etheridge has been in more than one sense a great shock to the community. Though a man of passive rather than active qualities, his scholarly figure, long, lean and bowed, has been seen too often in our streets not to be missed, when thus suddenly withdrawn. His method of living; the rigid habits of an almost ascetic life; such an hour for this thing, such an hour for that--his smile, which made you soon forget his irascibility and pride of learning; made up a character unique in our town and one that we can ill afford to spare. The closed doors of the little cottage, so associated with his name that it will be hard to imagine it occupied by any one else, possess a pathos of their own which is felt by young and old alike. The gate that never would latch, the garden, where at a stated hour in the morning his bowed figure would always be seen hoeing or weeding or raking, the windows without curtains showing the stacks of books within, are eloquent of a presence gone, which can never be duplicated. Alone on its desolate corner, it seems to mourn the child, the boy, the man who gave it life, and made it, in its simplicity, more noted and more frequently pointed at than any other house in town.
"Why he should have become the target of Fate is one of the mysteries of life. His watch, which aside from his books was his most valuable possession, was the gift of Judge Ostrander. That it should be associated in any way with the tragic circumstances of his death is a source of the deepest regret to the unhappy donor."
This excerpt she hardly looked at; but the following she studied carefully:
"Judge Ostrander has from the first expressed a strong desire that some associate judge should be called upon to preside over the trial of John Scoville for the murder of Algernon Etheridge. But Judge Saunders' sudden illness and Judge Dole's departure for Europe have put an end to these hopes. Judge Ostrander will take his seat on the bench as usual next Monday. Fortunately for the accused, his well-known judicial mind will prevent any unfair treatment of the defence."
"The prosecution, in the able hands of District Attorney Foss, made all its points this morning. Unless the defence has some very strong plea in the background, the verdict seems foredoomed. A dogged look has replaced the callous and indifferent sneer on the prisoner's face, and sympathy, if sympathy there is, is centred entirely upon the wife, the able, agreeable and bitterly humiliated landlady of Claymore Tavern. She it is who has attracted the most attention during this trial, little as she seems to court it."
"Only one new detail of evidence was laid before the jury to-day. Scoville has been known for some time to have a great hankering after a repeating watch. He had once seen that of Algernon Etheridge, and was never tired of talking about it. Several witnesses testified to his various remarks on this subject. Thus the motive for his dastardly assault upon an unoffending citizen, which to many minds has seemed lacking, has been supplied.
"The full particulars of this day's proceedings will be found below."
We omit these to save repetition; but they were very carefully conned by Deborah Scoville. Also the following:
"The defence is in a line with the statement already given out. The prisoner acknowledges taking the watch but from motives quite opposed to those of thievery. Unfortunately he can produce no witnesses to substantiate his declaration that he had heard voices in the direction of the bridge while he was wandering the woods in search of his lost child. No evidence of any other presence there is promised or likely to be produced. It was thought that when his wife was called to the stand she might have something to say helpful to his case. She had been the one to ultimately find and lead home the child, and, silent as she had been up to this time, it has been thought possible that she might swear to having heard these voices also.
"But her testimony was very disappointing. She had seen nobody, heard nobody but the child whom she had found playing with stones in the old ruin. Though by a close calculation of time she could not have been far from Dark Hollow at the instant of the crime, yet neither on direct or cross-examination could anything more be elicited from her than what has been mentioned above. Nevertheless, we feel obliged to state that, irreproachable as her conduct was on the stand, the impression she made was, on the whole, whether intentionally or unintentionally, unfavourable to her husband.
"Some anxiety was felt during the morning session that an adjournment would have to be called, owing to some slight signs of indisposition on the part of the presiding judge. But he rallied very speedily, and the proceedings continued without interruption."
The exclamation escaped the lips of Deborah Scoville as she laid this clipping aside. "I remember his appearance well. He had the ghost of one of those attacks, the full force of which I was a witness to this morning. I am sure of this now, though nobody thought of it then. I happened to glance his way as I left the stand, and he was certainly for one minute without consciousness of himself or his surroundings. But it passed so quickly it drew little attention; not so, the attack of to-day. What a misfortune rests upon this man. Will they let him continue on the bench when his full condition is known?" These were her thoughts, as she recalled that day and compared it with the present.
There were other slips, which she read but which we may pass by. The fate of the prisoner was in the hands of a jury. The possibility suggested by the defence made no appeal to men who had the unfortunate prisoner under their eye at every stage of the proceedings. The shifty eye, the hang-dog look, outweighed the plea of his counsel and the call for strict impartiality from the bench. He was adjudged guilty of murder in the first degree, and sentence called for.
. . . . . . .
This was the end; and as she read these words, the horror which overwhelmed her was infinitely greater than when she heard them uttered in that fatal court room. For then she regarded him as guilty and deserving his fate and now she knew him to be innocent.
Well, well! too much dwelling on this point would only unfit her for what lay before her on the morrow. She would read no more. Sleep were a better preparation for her second interview with the judge than this reconsideration of facts already known to their last detail.
Alas, when her eyelids finally obeyed the dictates of her will, the first glimmering rays of dawn were beginning to scatter the gloom of her darkened chamber!