The Trees of Pride HTML version

III. The Mystery Of The Well
Cyprian Paynter did not know what he expected to see rise out of the well--the
corpse of the murdered man or merely the spirit of the fountain. Anyhow, neither
of them rose out of it, and he recognized after an instant that this was, after all,
perhaps the more natural course of things. Once more he pulled himself
together, walked to the edge of the well and looked down. He saw, as before, a
dim glimmer of water, at that depth no brighter than ink; he fancied he still heard
a faint convulsion and murmur, but it gradually subsided to an utter stillness.
Short of suicidally diving in, there was nothing to be done. He realized that, with
all his equipment, he had not even brought anything like a rope or basket, and at
length decided to return for them. As he retraced his steps to the entrance, he
recurred to, and took stock of, his more solid discoveries. Somebody had gone
into the wood, killed the Squire and thrown him down the well, but he did not
admit for a moment that it was his friend the poet; but if the latter had actually
been seen coming out of the wood the matter was serious. As he walked the
rapidly darkening twilight was cloven with red gleams, that made him almost
fancy for a moment that some fantastic criminal had set fire to the tiny forest as
he fled. A second glance showed him nothing but one of those red sunsets in
which such serene days sometimes close.
As he came out of the gloomy gate of trees into the full glow he saw a dark figure
standing quite still in the dim bracken, on the spot where he had left the
woodcutter. It was not the woodcutter.
It was topped by a tall black hat of a funeral type, and the whole figure stood so
black against the field of crimson fire that edged the sky line that he could not for
an instant understand or recall it. When he did, it was with an odd change in the
whole channel of his thoughts.
"Doctor Brown!" he cried. "Why, what are you doing up here?"
"I have been talking to poor Martin," answered the doctor, and made a rather
awkward movement with his hand toward the road down to the village. Following
the gesture, Paynter dimly saw another dark figure walking down in the blood-red
distance. He also saw that the hand motioning was really black, and not merely
in shadow; and, coming nearer, found the doctor's dress was really funereal,
down to the detail of the dark gloves. It gave the American a small but queer
shock, as if this were actually an undertaker come up to bury the corpse that
could not be found.
"Poor Martin's been looking for his chopper," observed Doctor Brown, "but I told
him I'd picked it up and kept it for him. Between ourselves, I hardly think he's fit to
be trusted with it." Then, seeing the glance at his black garb, he added: "I've just
been to a funeral. Did you know there's been another loss? Poor Jake the
fisherman's wife, down in the cottage on the shore, you know. This infernal fever,
of course."
As they both turned, facing the red evening light, Paynter instinctively made a
closer study, not merely of the doctor's clothes, but of the doctor. Dr. Burton
Brown was a, tall, alert man, neatly dressed, who would otherwise have had an